Chapter #1101

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                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic VI      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2022 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+   ADVENTURERS AND ALLIES                                                +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+     Lyra         14th level female drow wizard                          +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+     Hope         16th level female human wizard                         +
+       Poulos      8th level human warrior                               +
+     Irina        14th/7th level female human priestess/warrior          +
+     Otto         12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+     Paige        13th level human female warrior                        +
+     Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                             +
+     Skektek      14th level human wizard                                +
+     Ys           14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Cespedes       19th level human wizard, elementalist                  +
+     iron dwarf   insane, armored berserker                              +
+     Talos        adamantine golem                                       +
+   Dexitheseus    17th level human wizard, jack of all trades            +
+   Kronos         extremely powerful lich                                +
+     Frigaar      white dragon                                           +
+     Glacius      white dragon                                           +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+     Drak         15th level human barbarian                             +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian, teleporter  +
+     Socrates     large albino hound                                     +
+   Wu             18th level human wizard, transmuter                    +
+   Date:          4/13/586 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the Black Crown, within the Corusk Mountains           +
+   Climate:       extremely cold                                         +
+   "You've lost."                                                        +
+   "I don't know how to lose."                                           +
+   "You'll learn."                                                       +
+                  - from _Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice_           +

                   MCI.  New World Order

  After venturing to a realm beyond time and space and emerging victorious
over the evil group known as the Crimson Blades, Belphanior and the bulk
of his team returned to Oerth.  However, their elation was short-lived as
they learned that a single day in that other realm had translated to almost
five years in their world!

Belphanior:  Gods damn it.
Parekh:  Well...the list of things I need to worry about just got an awful
  lot longer.
Kronos:  There's more, I'm afraid.  The world has not been quiet while we
  were away.  (he gestures to the floating globe)  From what I can tell,
  the Flanaess has been embroiled in all-out war for the past two years.
  Kingdoms have fallen...old rulers have been overthrown or perished, and
  new ones have risen...the dead freely roam some regions, while others
  are menaced by fiends and worse.  (he stares at the hovering sphere, his
  expression unreadable)  The very boundaries of the Flanaess have changed
Belphanior:  I need to get back to the vaul-  to Neera and the others.
Irina:  We need to work some healing magic on our wounded first.  (she
  surveys the unconscious - Hope, Skektek, Poulos, and Ys - who are still
  resting on invisible platforms, not to mention Razor Charlie and Paige,
  both of whom are walking wounded at the moment)
Belphanior:  That can wait.  There's no telling-
Irina:  (firmly)  There's no telling whether we'll need their weapons and
  magic later today, and they're in no condition to travel.  I've managed
  to stabilize everyone, but I need just a bit more time to further heal
  their wounds.
Kronos:  I can help with that effort - I have a substantial stock of the
  potions used by the living to heal wounds and cure ills.  (he snaps his
  fingers, and some unseen minion moves into action)  Those shall be here
Belphanior:  (fuming somewhat)
Irina:  Not everyone has a life-stealing blade that overcomes all of their
  wounds within moments.  Just give me an hour.  (she locks eyes with the
  elf)  It's the best move.  Trust me.
Otto:  (gently)  She's right.  Neera has waited five years - another hour
  won't hurt.
Kronos:  And in that time, I can scry the surrounding world and gain a
  better idea of all that has transpired in our...absence.
Belphanior:  Very well.

  The next hour passed slowly for some, but quickly for others.  Irina
utilized some of the magical elixirs provided by the lich to further heal
the assorted wounds of her companions.  Those who had been unconscious
since the battle now woke up and gradually regained their senses; the
others were restored to near-perfect health.  The priestess of Istus also
tended to the other wounded, such as Drak, Dexitheseus, and the pale hound
Socrates.  Cespedes employed the magicks necessary to keep his minions,
the gigantic adamantine golem and the iron dwarf, quiet and out of the way
of the other efforts.  As for the other wizards present, they employed
their own spells and other powers to gauge for themselves the happenings
in the outside world.
  More or less an hour later, Kronos had seen all he needed to; he now
addressed the assembled group.

Kronos:  Doubtless some of you have learned part or all of what has
  transpired while we were away.  I suggest that I deliver a summary
  here and now; in addition to my ability to peer into the past using
  time-oriented magic, I have other means at my disposal.  I have seen all
  I need to see to understand what happened while we were...away.
Parekh:  Fine by me.  I'm sure you've been able to learn more than the
  rest of us, as you said.  I'm honestly just glad that my home remains
  intact and untouched.
Dexitheseus:  It's likely that, after the overall situation is explained,
  each of us will need to return to his or her home - or tower, or lair,
  or fortress, or whatever - to attend to affairs there.
Belphanior:  That's for damn sure.
Kronos:  Then, without further ado, let us begin.  This is complicated but 
  I will do my best to be succinct.  Please don't interrupt me with any
  questions you may have; I do not expect everyone to know about every
  kingdom and its history, but much of that factors into this.  The threat 
  of Iuz distracted and split the power of Furyondy, and even when he then
  vanished for more than threescore years, the damage was done.
Belphanior:  (thinking about something he found and read in Drusilla's
  lair, mentioning an adventuring party who had somehow imprisoned Iuz
  and eight other gods or godlings beneath the legendary Castle Greyhawk,
  only for them to be freed later by a different group exploring those
  same deep, dark dungeons)
Kronos:  Another preexisting element was the insanity prevalent in the
  Great Kingdom of Aerdy, whose latest ruler dealt with infernal fiends
  as well as his own insanity and depravity, but yet had ambitions of
  conquest.  And the third factor involved the secret machinations of the
  group now known to all as the Scarlet Brotherhood, its infiltration of
  numerous kingdoms and their courts, and their covert assemblage of an
  army of savages from the wild lands far to the south.
Belphanior:  (vaguely uneasy as he realizes that he's also heard some of
  this before, although it consisted of disparate bits and pieces that he
  couldn't possibly have connected into the larger tapestry that the lich
  is now weaving)
Kronos:  The barbarian tribes of the frigid northeast, who had sporadically
  preyed on the lands to the south through small raids, unified under some
  forgotten god who returned and promised to lead them to their destiny.
  And he did, although he turned out to be no barbarian god at all, but
  rather the demigod Iuz playing the role of supreme trickster.  But none
  knew that at the time, and so he drove those unified barbarian hordes
  southward, where - led by the king of Stonefist himself - they attacked
  and demolished the Duchy of Tenh.  Many underestimated their resolve and
  leadership, for they then attempted to press on rather than returning
  north as expected.  Most of the tribes had begun to doubt their new god
  by this time, but although the ruse was soon up and the alliance of the
  northern barbarian hordes collapsed, the damage had been done.  Tenh was
  no more, now occupied by the savage forces of Stonefist...and Iuz had
  successfully diverted all attention away from his own lands to the west.
Otto:  (taking this all in, he holds his dozen questions, as Kronos had
Paige:  (unfamiliar with any of these lands, she yet listens in rapt
  fascination as the tale of a world at war continues to unfold)
Kronos:  With his trickery complete in the north, Iuz returned to his own
  land and not only consolidated his power there but also staged a coup
  within the Horned Society, replacing its Hierarchs with his own fiendish
  minions.  Meanwhile, King Belvor of Furyondy heeded the lessons learned
  thus far in this madness, and strengthened his borders.  He also reached
  out to his neighbors and supposed allies in Veluna and the Shield Lands,
  but unfortunately the latter's ruler did not take the request seriously
  enough.  Iuz' forces made exploratory forays, but the bulk of his armies
  moved through the Bandit Kingdoms and flanked the Shield Lands, sacking
  their largest cities and effectively ending that kingdom's existence.
Belphanior:  The Shield Lands...gone.
Kronos:  Essentially, yes.  King Belvor then scrambled to muster existing
  troops and gather new ones from surrounding lands.  These forces soon
  faced Iuz' humanoids in the Battle of Critwall Bridge, finally stopping
  their march and dealing Iuz a major blow.  Simultaneously, Belvor sent
  emissaries to his allies - Celene, Bissel, Veluna, the Ulek regions, and
  Keoland - imploring them to act and join the effort, lest the whole of
  the northern kingdoms fall in short order.  Meanwhile, to the east, King
  Archbold of Nyrond acted swiftly, the shock of Tenh's fall still fresh
  in his memory.  With something to prove both to his kingdom's allies and
  himself, Archbold personally led his army north to Tenh, where they soon
  engaged in a series of fierce battles which culminated in the invading
  barbarians' advance being checked.
Otto:  (recalling that Lord Marcus hailed from Tenh, he wonders about the
  fate of that mercenary commander)
Kronos:  Meanwhile, Iuz did not rest on his laurels, instead gathering an
  army of humanoids from the Vesve Forest and marching into Furyondy.  A
  desperate band of Highfolk and knights managed to slow the orcs' advance
  enough to give the capital city of Chendl time to prepare its defenses.
  Unfortunately, it was soon surrounded and besieged by the orcish hordes.
  It was a difficult time for King Belvor - his kingdom was pressed on all
  sides by enemies, his supposed allies would not commit any significant
  forces to help, his people were terrified about all of this, and now his
  capital city was under attack.  Thankfully, word soon came of imminent
  support from Nyrond and Veluna, and the king rallied his spirit and his
  forces.  Using his most veteran troops (combined with sound tactics and
  well-employed magic) Belvor was able to strike a series of decisive
  blows to the humanoids around Chendl, ultimately routing them and ending
  the city's siege.  In the larger view of things, both Iuz and Furyondy
  were severely depleted in troops and supplies; the battles now paused
  as both of those kingdoms tried to rest and regroup.
Belphanior:  So far, this only seems like a couple of battles between
  long-feuding nations.  How did it then spread to encompass the entire
Kronos:  (basically ignoring the direct question as he continues)  Aerdy
  entered the war.  The Overking had long coveted the neighboring lands
  of Nyrond and Almor.  With Archbold away in the conflict to the north,
  along with the bulk of the Nyrondese armies, the time was ripe to make
  a move.  Ivid convinced the humanoids of the Bone March to ally with
  him, and also enlisted the aid of his own North Province - and, after a
  period of delay and excuses, his South Province as well.  Filling out
  the Overking's ranks were mercenaries hired with the last of the Great
  Kingdom's once-mighty monetary reserves.  While not fully cohesive, the
  overall Aerdian force was substantial in its size, and the mad Overking
  was equally substantial in his ambition.  His forces struck in multiple
  directions, striking out at Sunndi, Almor, Nyrond, and the Free City of
  Irongate simultaneously.
Otto:  (whistles)  Holy shit.
Kronos:  That was no doubt the reaction of a number of lands and their
  people.  In Almor's case, its prelate had long watched the events in
  neighboring Aerdy, and was ready...or as ready as any much smaller and
  hopelessly-outnumbered nation could be when so threatened.  The Prelate
  wisely appointed a daring young knight - one Osson - as commander of all
  forces.  Osson was one who used unconventional tactics, and did the last
  thing anyone would have expected:  he took the offensive, leading half
  of his forces east in a series of daring raids whose success depended
  on speed and flexibility.  Through a combination of surprise, aggressive
  tactics, quick movement, inept Aerdian leadership, and a bit of luck
  Osson was able to win one battle after another, and advance deep into
  the heart of Aerdy.  Eventually, his good fortune ran out, as he became
  trapped deep within the enemy lands with no way back to Almor and no
  apparent means of escape.  Osson and his remaining troops eventually
  headed east, into the See of Medegia...and surprisingly (though not
  astonishingly, given his insanity) the Overking did nothing to support
  that land, whose rulers had defied him in the recent past.  Perhaps the
  most significant outcome of Osson's campaign deep into hostile kingdoms
  was that Almor gained the time it needed to gather support from allies
  and strengthen its defenses.
Irina:  (now recalls some predictions within her goddess' temples, in the
  recent past, involving great changes in the world)  Hmm.
Kronos:  All conflicts stalled with the coming of winter in 582 C.Y. as
  cold, wind, and rain gave pause to both the humanoid hordes of Iuz and
  the weary, frustrated armies of the Great Kingdom.  Aside from Almor,
  both Nyrond and Furyondy benefitted from this lull in the fighting,
  regrouping and planning on their separate battlefronts during those cold
  months.  The historic Eastern Pact formally allied the nations of the
  Iron League - as well as the County of Urnst - with Nyrond and Almor.
  However, a short time later, a coup changed rulers for the Lordship of
  the Isles, which then left the alliance and proclaimed its support for
  the Scarlet Brotherhood.
Belphanior:  (frowns)
Kronos:  The Lordship's withdrawal from the pact spelled doom for Osson
  and his men, trapped in Medegia, whose last option for escape had rested
  with the ships of that nation.
Belphanior:  I have heard of rumblings about the Brotherhood insinuating
  its agents into the courts of the world.  Those rumors would seem to be
Kronos:  Another treaty then followed - the Treaty of Niole Dra, uniting
  Keoland with the Gran March, the Yeomanry, the Ulek states, and Celene.
  Iuz likewise solidified alliances with Ket and Tusmit, as well as the
  wild beasts of the Crystalmist Mountains.  As spring approached, all of
  these lands prepared to send their forces into the existing conflicts.
  But yet another army was born, and rising, in a most unexpected place:
  the Pomarj, where a chief named Turrosh Mak had risen to rulership of
  all the humanoid tribes.  Orcs, goblins, ogres, trolls, and more were
  united in common cause as Mak promised them the chance to reclaim their
  rightful lands from times past.  Neighboring lands, preoccupied with
  the conflicts already in play, failed to see the birth of this empire
  where none had stood before.  Turrosh Mak began his army's march with
  easy victories in the Wild Coast, then turned southwest toward the
  Principality of Ulek.  The demi-humans there were taken by surprise,
  and gradually driven back until they finally entrenched themselves in
  the southern arm of the Lortmil Mountains and stopped the advance of
  the humanoid forces.  Turrosh Mak knew that his army was essentially
  undisciplined and needed conquests to keep their morale, so rather than
  press his attack in Ulek, he aimed his forces north, toward Celene.  As
  the bulk of the more experienced soldiers were away, the initial defense
  fell to a ragtag band of men, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and elves.
  The Battle of Celene Pass was as fierce and it was epic:  severely
  outnumbered, the defenders repelled one assault after another over a
  period of several days of constant fighting.  As hope dwindled, help
  finally came thanks to runners earlier dispatched to Ulek; by the time
  they arrived, barely three dozen of the exhausted defenders remained
  alive.  Their heroic and impossible effort had stopped the humanoids'
  advance, and Turrosh Mak found himself dealing with squabbles back in
  the Pomarj.  Thus, his efforts were halted for the time being.  The
  Ulek states intended to counterattack, but were too weak...and Celene
  refused to assist them and perhaps break the back of Turrosh Mak's
  horde.  That elven nation's queen, her judgment clouded by fear and
  distrust, not only withdrew any aid for Ulek but recalled all of her
  forces from Furyondy.  The elves retreated into their land and closed
  its borders, content to let the outside world fight its own battles.
Otto:  (sadly)  Typical.
Kronos:  As for the brave Commandant Osson and his men, still trapped in
  Medegia...enemies surrounded them on land and sea, and their outlook
  was grim.  They made their last stand just past the Flanmi River; only
  a handful escaped their doom that day, and the final fate of Osson
  remains unknown.  The local inhabitants had done nothing to help, and
  likely soon wished they had:  the Overking wasted no time plundering
  and ravaging Medegia.  The only silver lining in this dark cloud was
  the fact that Ivid's largest army, so utterly focused on despoiling the
  conquered See of Medegia, was away from other fighting for quite some
  time.  Unfortunately, Almor fell in the end anyway, beneath the combined
  might of the various Aerdian and Bone March forces.  The Flinty Hills
  were overrun by humanoids, preventing Nyrond from rendering aid as the
  evil armies sacked the Prelacy of Almor and massacred its people and
  rulers, showing no mercy at all.  The fall of its capital, Chathold,
  was known as the Day of Dust because of all the powerful magic that
  was employed to destroy it.
Otto:  So Almor is no more?
Kronos:  It is gone...passed from the face of the Flanaess.
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Tenh...the Shield Lands...Almor.
Kronos:  (flatly)  I am only halfway done with this tale.  To the west,
  Iuz now faced a mighty alliance of nations...the armies of Furyondy,
  Veluna, Gran March, the Uleks, Keoland, and the Yeomanry.  The evil
  one's only allies were the Horned Society and Stonefist - until the
  army of Ket, Iuz' newest ally, made its way into Bissel.  The latter
  nation's forces moved to block that advance, but then massive numbers
  of giants and monsters began swarming from the Crystalmists into the
  lands of Geoff and Sterich.  These new combatants split the forces of
  Good (notably Ulek and Keoland) but due to politics and delays, both
  Geoff and Sterich were overrun by beasts.  The same fate almost befell
  the Yeomanry, but its defenders - used to fighting such foes - were
  able to repel the attackers, though they lacked the means to actually
  counterattack and dislodge the monsters from their mountainous lairs.
  These skirmishes, known as the "Giant Troubles", effectively prevented
  the Yeomanry from sending any additional reinforcements to Furyondy.
  (he pauses for a moment)  In the aftermath of the Pomarj invasion and
  the battles with giants, Iuz struck at Furyondy yet again, hoping to
  secure victory there once and for all.  Fortunately, his forces were
  stopped for the most part, and counterattacks - bolstered by the elves
  of the Vesve Forest and rangers of Highvale - systematically wiped out
  the orcish tribal grounds.  This gradually eliminated Iuz' capability
  to gather reinforcements and replenish his armies.  At the same time,
  on another battlefront to the west, Bissel faced defeat at the swords
  of the armies of Ket, and was forced to surrender; this ended their
  involvement in the wars and gave Ket control of the vital trade route
  through the Bramblewood Gap.  Things were not looking good for the
Belphanior:  I'll say.
Kronos:  Thankfully, evil was weakened by its own nature, in this case the
  sheer madness of Ivid V, Overking of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy.  His
  judgment was clouded by insane delusions of his own military genius and
  the lack of such genius on the part of his generals.  Accordingly, he
  decided to personally assume command of all his forces, and executed
  all but the most favored of his generals.
Otto:  I trust that didn't end well for him?
Kronos:  Hardly.  The ensuing campaign was a complete disaster.  Emboldened
  by the triumph over Almor, Ivid sent his armies into Nyrond but attempted
  to control and guide them from his throne in Aerdy, far to the east.  The
  delays and confusion of this method resulted in rampant chaos, made even
  worse by the remaining generals' fear of execution for even the smallest
  mistake, actual or perceived.  Battles were lost, predictably resulting
  in more executions at the orders of the Overking.  It was an impossible
  situation for any military leader, and led to anyone in charge of an
  Aerdian force following the same course of action:  doing nothing at all
  in an effort to survive.  Nyrond had little trouble winning battle after
  battle and repelling the attacking forces, and the vicious circle then
  continued.  Ivid's priests devised a fiendish way to promise their king
  greater control over the generals who he perceived as being problematic.
  Those commanders were slain and then reanimated as undead creatures, but
  this did not, of course, solve the underlying problem of the king being
  insane and having no ability to direct armies to win wars.  The animus
  effort quickly grew to include not just generals but also any nobles in
  his court.  Ivid considered this a great reward, but the nobles thought
  otherwise; winning the Overking's favor had become as undesirable as
  incurring his wrath.  Ivid's previous fears of rebellion became a self-
  fulfilling prophecy, and in due course he was assassinated.  Celebration
  quickly turned to mourning, however, as he was somehow reanimated in the
  same manner as so many of his generals and nobles.  The revivified ruler
  was even worse in undeath than he'd been in life; he lashed out at both
  the guilty and the innocent, and hundreds were put to death for reasons
  real or imagined, or sometimes for no reason at all.  This marked Ivid's
  new title of the Undying One, also known as Ivid the Undying.
Belphanior:  (thinking about what a kingdom ruled by such undead would be
  like, he recalls the vampire city of Skava-Ra)
Kronos:  Unfortunately for him, the actions of Ivid sparked the beginning
  of the end for his Great Kingdom.  His cousin, the Herzog of the North
  Province, rebelled and defected, focusing on stopping the attacking
  forces of Nyrond.  Then the Herzog of the South re-asserted his hold
  over his kingdom...and then, one by one, nobles living and undead all
  made their moves, grabbing for power in a mad rush that undermined the
  authority of the Overking and shattered the Great Kingdom into more than
  a hundred smaller, disjointed pieces.  This marked the end of that once-
  great empire.
Otto:  And good riddance.
Kronos:  At this point, the Scarlet Brotherhood - which had been largely
  silent thus far - finally made an overt move.  For the last year, it
  had watched and waited, its agents infiltrating other kingdoms both Good
  and Evil, passively working to prevent decisive victories where they
  could.  At times, they had worked to draw certain parties into the war,
  or keep intact those regions that served as buffers between the more
  powerful kingdoms and the Brotherhood itself.  The Lordship of the Isles
  had covertly come under their control as well, allowing them a measure
  of influence over events in the Iron League.  Now that Aerdy had fallen
  into madness, death, and chaos...the mysterious ruler of the Scarlet
  Brotherhood launched his next initiative.  A threat to the Sea Princes
  to submit to Brotherhood control or die was immediately backed up by a
  night of swift and decisive assassinations, and the Sea Princes quickly
  surrendered.  Their mighty fleet of ships was soon employed to bring a
  new army to the Flanaess:  strange and savage warriors from the jungles
  to the south.  There, in distant Hepmonaland, the Brotherhood had been
  at work for many months.  Far from civilization, their secret efforts
  to recruit and prepare the savages now paid off, as those fierce and
  powerful warriors arrived on the main continent ready for battle and
  blood.  Idee and Onnwal fell in short order, while Irongate was more
  fortunate, its ruler executing or expelling every Brotherhood agent he
  could.  He was able to hold the line against the attacking horde.  To
  the west, a force from Keoland stopped the invasion both by sea and then
  land.  At this point, the Brotherhood stopped its attempts to expand,
  instead focusing on fully assuming control of the regions it had just
  gained.  Theirs was a long view, with a master plan beyond the winning
  of the next battle or the taking of the next kingdom.
Belphanior:  (muttering)  That monk we fought, who Alindyar captured...he
  was apparently part of the Scarlet Brotherhood.
Otto:  (nods)  Then he'll be a valuable prisoner and possible source of
Kronos:  If he knows anything...there are ways of making him talk.  So,
  the war had been raging for two years, and all of its many participants
  both major and minor, Evil and Good, were tired and exhausted.  Ideas
  for treaties and peace began to circulate and be heard, and eventually
  all nations agreed on a peace conference to be held in the Free City of
  Greyhawk.  It was called the Great Council, and consisted of countless
  ambassadors representing virtually every remaining nation, state, land,
  or free city in the Flanaess.  The peace talks took six months and were
  quite tense, often filled with bickering and open arguments.  Finally,
  after all that time, a pact had been agreed upon by nearly all of the
  nations present, and the Day of the Great Signing came.  And it was then
  that the final act of the war played out.  From what was later able to
  be determined, there was a secret plot to annihilate the entire group
  assembled that day.  A few members of the Circle of Eight discovered
  this plan at the last moment, and took swift action to prevent it from
  happening.  They were successful, as their efforts triggered the massive
  explosion early, destroying the Grand Hall just before everyone assembled
  there...but the cost was terrible indeed.  In the great magical battle of
  that day, two of the Circle - Otiluke and Tenser - were slain, their
  murderer soon found to be a third member of the Circle, the archmage
  Rary.  His motives remain unknown; some think he sought to gain further
  power by killing all of the ambassadors and causing mass chaos and civil
  unrest.  Others theorize that Rary was a pawn of some insidious evil,
  perhaps Iuz, perhaps the Scarlet Brotherhood, perhaps even some other
  player as yet unknown.  The debate continues to this day, as the wizard
  and his allies escaped into the Bright Desert and have not yet been
  found and dealt with.
Belphanior:  Otiluke...Tenser...Rary.  Wow.
Kronos:  So after that, once order was restored and fearing any further
  disruptions, the conference attendees resolved to end the various
  conflicts.  They hurriedly signed the Pact of Greyhawk, putting an end
  to the widespread turmoil that has gained the somewhat inaccurate title
  of "Greyhawk Wars."
Otto:  Huh.
Kronos:  But things did not end there.  While the year that followed was
  known as the Year of Peace, there was no lack of significant events.
  Some nations and cities strove to rebuild, while others decayed further.
  The Free City of Dyvers has strengthened its position and relations
  with nearby nations.  Orcish pirates have begun to appear in the Sea of
  Gearnat.  The Circle of Eight's Jallarzi Sallavarian was kidnapped by
  the demon Tuerny, though later rescued by the Circle and their allies.
  A clone of Tenser was recovered, but he then left the Circle of Eight,
  which was only returned to full strength with the additions of the
  wizards Warnes Starcoat, Alhamazad the Wise, and Theodain Eriason.
Belphanior:  (realizes that some of those at the Center of Time might
  well have missed their chance at one of those vacant spots, due to
  being absent from Oerth)
Parekh:  (thinking the same exact thing, and remembering past rebuffs of
  her attempts to make inroads toward membership in the Circle, she just
Kronos:  Shortly thereafter, Onnwal began a series of campaigns to take
  back most of its lands from the Scarlet Brotherhood.  King Archbold of
  Nyrond was poisoned in a coup attempt, but it failed and he survived.
  Keoland initiated efforts to retake Sterich from the orcs infesting it.
  (he pauses for effect)  And last but certainly not least, Canon Hazen
  of Veluna used a powerful relic, the Crook of Rao, to purge all fiends
  from the lands of the Flanaess.  That unique ceremony, which required
  the participation of many dozens of high priests - and possibly some
  archmagi as well - became known as the Flight of Fiends.
Belphanior: significant.
Kronos:  It certainly was - and is - given that beings from other planes
  made up a large part of the power base of Iuz the Evil.  (he pauses)
  So that happened in the last month; you are all caught up now.
Paige:  That was one hell of a story.  (she grabs a jug of wine and takes
  a long draught)
Otto:  (still trying to think of all the questions he has about this five-
  year sequence of events)
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)

  This wasn't the elf's first exposure to some of the motivations and
possible outcomes about which he'd just been briefed.  Months before, he
had read through Drusilla's journal; among the fascinating secrets within
that tome had been mention of Iuz expanding his influence following his
sudden escape from the depths of Castle Greyhawk...and the growth of the
strange society of monks and assassins known as the Scarlet Brotherhood.
And now, after hearing about the events of the last few years, the elf was
more than a little upset.

Belphanior:  I should have known.
Parekh:  What's that?
Belphanior:  I had the clues, but I ignored them as I pursued lost tombs,
  untold riches, powerful artifacts, and raw power.  And I lost sight of
  the fact that _knowledge_ is power, too.
Parekh:  You can't take the blame for these wars and all their fallout.
  Just as you couldn't have prevented any of it.
Belphanior:  Maybe not.  Or maybe.  (he frowns)  Do you know what's really
Otto:  What's that?
Belphanior:  Imagine...whoever was driving one or more of the machinations
  that led to the worldwide wars...imagine that they knew we could easily
  influence outcomes, or even prevent them.  And when I say "we" I mean
  this larger group - you, Kronos...and you, Parekh...Alindyar...Lyra...
  everyone.  This collection of wizards could have - would have - made a
  huge difference as these wars unfolded.  Ditto for the Crimson Blades,
  if you think about it.  (he pauses)  So perhaps a series of events was
  arranged, maybe, to rid Oerth of all of us...ideally permanently, if we
  all killed each other, but if not permanently, at least for the years
  needed to execute the plans and the wars.
Parekh:  (blinks, once and then several times)  By the gods...I hate to
  say it, given what it would mean...but you might well be right.
Belphanior:  That's what worries me.  Some unknown party, with much to
  lose if we interfered, allowed a certain artifact to fall into the
  wrong hands - specifically, the Crimson Blades - knowing that would get
  the attention of Kronos, and that he would then need allies...the only
  allies he could muster after recently awakening from his centuries-long
Kronos:  (nods) not beyond the realm of possibility.
Belphanior:  The whole thing wouldn't have been that hard to plan and
  arrange.  And then we each did what we were expected to do...we each
  played our part, and in doing so, removed ourselves from the board of
  the largest game ever played in this world.
Kronos:  Actually, a similar thing happened to the Circle of Eight in the
  months before the Wars.  They were lured into a battle that was stacked
  against them, and virtually the entire group was slain by an evil lord
  in possession of and controlled by a pair of unholy artifacts.  This
  fell individual, one Halmadar the Cruel, is said to be neither living
  nor dead but rather trapped between both states.  Only Mordenkainen, who
  was not present for that conflict, survived; it took him years to bring
  his companions back via the use of pre-prepared clones.  So it was that
  the Circle of Eight was not able to play a major role in the wars that
  shook the world.
Belphanior:  Right.  (he frowns, now almost certain that some other, as-
  yet-unknown power is at play here, manipulating even archmagi as if they
  were pawns on some great game board)  This is most troublesome.  (he
  now addresses the group in general)  So what do we know of these new
  members of the Circle of Eight, the ones who joined within the last year?
Kronos:  I was already familiar with them, and others, as I make it a
  priority to know of all archmagi in the world.  Warnes Starcoat is a
  human from the Duchy of Urnst, and a one-time mentor of Jallarzi
  Sallavarian.  He defeated the Weird of Gnatmarsh, and was one of the
  group that recovered the Crook of Rao.  He wears the highly-magical
  Starcoat, hence his surname.  (he pauses, but only briefly)  Alhamazad
  the Wise hails from the faraway land of Zeif, though he is known to be
  a wanderer who calls no one place home.  (he glances at Irina)  And he
  venerates Istus, Lady of Fate.  Generally unassuming and polite, he is
  said to be a master of summoning and elemental magic.
Irina:  (wondering how she might be able to use that wizard's link to
  Istus, for the good of all)
Belphanior:  (already thinking the exact same thing)  Hmm.
Kronos:  Theodain Eriason is an elf and the first non-human member of the
  Circle.  A native of the Yeomanry, he is tall, gaunt, and arrogant; he
  also advocates greater and proactive involvement in the affairs of the
  world.  (to Belphanior)  You and he might get along.
Belphanior:  Probably.  He sounds a lot like me.
Otto:  (to no one in particular)  So what the hell do we do now?
Parekh:  This is a lot to take in...five years gone, battles and turmoil
  across the Flanaess, entire kingdoms gone, the rise of evil, massive
  changes in the Circle of Eight, and perhaps a plot behind it all.  This
  will not stand - it cannot stand - but that can be revisited.  First, I
  believe we all have friends and interests to check on.
Belphanior:  Agreed.

  The elf's primary concern was Neera and the others, after which he had
to figure out where he and his companions fit into this changed world.  It
would also be prudent to find out how Peldor, Halbarad, and others had
weathered the recent conflicts - if they were even still alive.

Belphanior:  (turns to that portion of the gathered group that comprises
  his team)  Listen up.  We're heading back to regroup with Neera, and
  from there we'll catch up with old adventuring companions and determine
  our next steps.

  After that, the elf wasted no time leaving the frozen Corusk Mountains,
using magic to instantly return to the remote location within the Yatil
Mountains that housed the subterranean vault where he'd left Neera and her
two charges.

Belphanior:  (appears, along with the others, on the narrow mountain ledge
  above and outside the hidden underground complex that had once been the
  lair of the dragon Mesoloth)
Otto:  (brushes frost from his arm)  It's cold here, but still a hell of
  a lot warmer than where we were.
Paige:  Thank the gods for teleportation magic.
Hope:  (smirks)  Or you could thank the wizard who cast it.
Paige:  Heh.
Belphanior:  I still can't believe we've been gone for almost five years.
  (he sighs)  I told Neera that we'd be back later that same day.
Irina:  It _is_ the same day, from our point of view.  Feels weird.
Paige:  (shrugs)  This already happened to me before...the sudden shift
  from one world, known and familiar, to another.  You're actually better
  off than I was - at least you're still on your own world, just a few
  years later.
Belphanior:  Good point.  Once we're inside and have regrouped with the
  others, I'll feel better about all of this.
Otto:  Well, then, I've got some bad news for you.

  The dwarf had started moving along the ledge toward the particular
section of the cliff face that covered the passage beyond, within the
mountain...and he'd seen that a large section of rock was simply gone.

Belphanior:  (draws his sword, an action that Otto has also taken)  This
  isn't good.

  Normally, the elf would have led the way as the group used means both
magical and physical to bypass the various defenses that protected the
chambers below.  However, the massive missing portion of stone allowed
them direct access into the mountain.

Belphanior:  Damn it.  (cursing, he leads the way into the series of
  passages and chambers between the outdoors and the vault below, the
  others following him)

  No one had to be told to be on the alert, with weapons and spells ready
for anything they might encounter.  However, nothing blocked their way;
every barrier was gone, every trap sprung or disarmed.  Whoever had done
this hadn't gotten away easy:  in several locations along the path, long-
dried bloodstains dotted the walls and floors, telling of traps that had
functioned as intended.  At one juncture, a huge blade was sunk into one
wall where that trap had claimed some victim, given the dried blood and
bits of bone around and below the trap.

Razor Charlie:  No bodies.
Belphanior:  Whoever came this way likely removed their prevent
  someone from later speaking with the corpses and maybe finding out what
  happened.  Smart move, and it tells me we're dealing with professionals.
Otto:  (quietly looking around)  Is there any...
Belphanior:  (using his magical eye to check for any traps left behind by
  whoever came here, and his dark sword to search for souls)

  The good news was that there were no traps or other obstacles between
them and the vault.  The bad news was that when they reached the bottom
of the series of passages and finally stepped into the subterranean room,
it was completely empty.  Shelves and cases that had held countless books
and magical items were now empty, completely bare.  It was quite a shocking
sight, especially given that from the adventurers' perspective, they had
just been here days before and seen these same shelves completely full.

Skektek:  (staggering about as if in physical distress)  No...the tomes,
  the scrolls...the items...all gone.
Belphanior:  (tightens his grip on his sword, his knuckles white)  Neera.

next:       solving the mystery
released:   4/1/2022
notes:      So I could have just pointed readers to one of the plethora
  of accounts of the Greyhawk Wars...but it seemed better to have that
  handled in-story, and a concise narrative account was the best method
  to accomplish that.  If you want to read the canon document that this
  episode drew from, just do a google search for "The Official History of
  the Greyhawk Wars" (it was written by David "Zeb" Cook, edited by J.
  Robert King, and prepared by Roger E. Moore, just to give credit to the
  best of my ability.)
    If you're keeping track, the group was "away" for a total of 4 years
  and 9 months (from 7/19/581 through 4/13/586.)  And now, with all the
  events from that span recapped and in my canon, all is synchronized.
  The Wars happened and are over, and more or less I've so far stuck to
  published Greyhawk canon (there are some exceptions e.g. in canon, the
  Crook of Rao was on the Isle of the Ape and found by others, while in
  my writing, the Adventurers went to the Isle of the Ape, and they found
  the Wand of Orcus there.)
    I just wrote "so far" because I do realize it will be impossible to
  simultaneously do my own thing and still stick with official, published
  canon.  Figuring all of that out is going to take a great deal of time
  and effort, which is why I needed the recent break, and why new episodes
  can't come out every week like in most of 2020-2021.  But I feel fairly
  confident that I can mesh everything together and continue to produce
  entertaining stories.

    On a side note, my original draft of this episode had Belphanior's
  team returning to the Vault, meeting up with an older and wiser Neera-
  Arusha-Judhon, and then Neera relating the events of the Wars.  After
  I wrote it, I realized that it would be more interesting to have the
  place plundered and the other three missing.  We'll see how this plays
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