Chapter #341

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                                  +
                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic II      +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +
                                  +

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      +
+  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  +
+  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      +
+  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  +
+  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    +
+  way, shape, or form.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1991-6 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons   +
+  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  +
+  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   +
+  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    +
+  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them...         +
+                                                                   +
+                                  Thomas Miller                    +
+                                  tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  THE PARTY (or a current splinter of it, anyway):                 +
+                                                                   +
+  Belphanior   14th/14th/14th lvl elven fighter/mage/thief  (CN/E) +
+  Otto         7th/8th level dwarven fighter/thief            (CN) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        12/15/575 C.Y. (Common Year)                        +
+  Time:        early evening                                       +
+  Place:       the mountain town of Helgate                        +
+  Climate:     very cold                                           +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "They're all dead...they just don't know it yet."                +
+                                               - from _The Crow_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                     CCCXLI.  Full Circle





  Striding slowly and methodically along Helgate's main street,
Belphanior surveyed the town and its inhabitants.  Few met his gaze,
and none were able to hold it for more than a fleeting moment.  The
elf ruled the town, and he knew it - and so did everyone else.  It
wasn't such a bad thing, provided that one's ends weren't at odds
with Belphanior's.  Stopping before a noisy but run-down tavern,
identified by a weatherbeaten sign as the Scoundrel's Den, the elf
looked this way and that, then entered the dim establishment.
  The ruckus within was even louder than the din audible from the
street.  Bawdy songs and brawls alike were in full swing, and every
so often, a bottle sailed by overhead, to crash against some wall
or even someone's head.  Belphanior smiled, a crooked smile that
betrayed his amusement.  Despite all that he had achieved over the
recent decade, he still enjoyed places like this.  There was a
certain...flavor in such establishments, a flavor that promised
violence and perhaps death.
  Looking around, the elf chose a worn table in one corner.  It was
occupied by a sleeping, drunken fellow, but Belphanior rectified
this situation by hauling the man up and away, depositing him on the
hard floor.  The drunkard was apparently still satisfied with his
situation, if his continued snores were any indication.  Taking the
newly-empty seat, Belphanior flagged down a waitress, a buxom woman
who started when she realized who had just sat down.  Yet, she came
over to take his order, her face trembling ever so slightly.

Belphanior:  Whiskey.
wench:  Shot or glass?
Belphanior:  Bottle.
wench:  Gotcha.
Belphanior:  (frowning)  Bring a glass, too.
wench:  Coming right up.  (she dashes away)

  To be sure, Belphanior was in a drinking mood, for he was elated
and excited.  He had been for nearly a day, ever since the fight at
the Sword and Cup, during which he had first had the pleasure of
meeting the warrior-woman Victoria.  No, "warrior-woman" wasn't
quite the right term, he mused to himself.  Perhaps "assassin" was
a more appropriate description.  She had moved with exceptional
grace, and struck with deadly accuracy, her sword flashing in all
sorts of lethal ways.  He had first thought the weapon a rapier,
but had soon realized that it was more akin to a cutlass, though
its straight, single-edged blade didn't quite fit into any single
category.  Not unlike Victoria herself, he thought to himself yet
again.  She was everything that he liked in a woman:  frightfully
attractive, darkly mysterious, and extremely deadly.  All that, and
she had a sense of humor too!
  In the course of the post-battle conversation (which had lasted
well into the night) Belphanior had actually learned very little
about Victoria.  She was one of those people who answered questions
with questions, turning conversations to her favor and learning far
more than she revealed.  Only after she had departed, in the depths
of the night hours, had the elf realized that he had practically
told the woman his entire life story!  Amazing...truly amazing.  Had
Belphanior been a more normal sort of person, he might even have
been scared.
  The serving wench brought his bottle of whiskey, and made to open
it.

Belphanior:  (holds up a clenched fist)  Leave it.  (he flips the
  woman a golden coin)
wench:  (surprised to have been paid, she makes herself scarce)

  Uncorking the bottle, Belphanior poured himself a glass of whiskey
and downed it in a single motion.  The strong drink burned his mouth
and throat like liquid fire, which was just the way he liked it.  A
refill later, the elf leaned back against the wall, again thinking
to himself.  It made sense, and at the same time didn't, that he
should be attracted to Victoria, or anyone.  Although she was about
as close to his idea of perfect as a woman could get, Belphanior
wasn't the sort of person who stayed with one woman for very long.
Once, decades ago, he had allowed himself to become emotionally
involved with someone.  The result had been disastrous, and in the
process of leaving that particular town, there had been two deaths
and a burning building.  No, he thought, it would simply not do to
let himself get close to anyone.
  Then why was he still totally and inexorably attracted to the dark-
tressed Victoria?  Damn!  Slamming his fist on the table, Belphanior
cracked the wood and drew the gazes and mutters of several nearby
patrons.  Calming down, he drained his third glassful of whiskey;
luckily, the glass hadn't been knocked over by the impact of his
fist on the table.  By now, Belphanior was feeling fairly relaxed,
despite the outburst; at the rate he was going, it would soon be
time for another bottle.  Time to slow down, he muttered to himself.
  Earlier that day, he had conferred with Eduardo, and confirmed his
own findings:  Victoria was nowhere to be found.  No one had seen
her, and no one knew anything.  If she had left town, there were no
witnesses.  It just didn't make any sense.  And where was Otto, who
had departed days ago to round up "more help", as he had put it?
He should have been back by now.  What might happen if more of the
bandits with red armbands showed up?
  What indeed, the elf thought to himself, and smiled grimly.  In
light of his current lack of support, today's spell selection had
been a particularly violent one.  Let any bandits who dared come,
then!  They would die like the rest, by spell or by sword.
  As if on cue, Blackrazor tingled, heralding the presence of a
large number of newly-arrived souls.  Outside, probably, the elf
mused to himself as he capped his whiskey bottle.  If there was to
be a fight, there was no sense in letting good liquor go to waste.
About the time the elf was preparing a spell, the tavern's main door
burst open violently, admitting a number of rough-looking men, demi-
humans, and humanoids.  Belphanior grimaced, for there were more
than two dozen of them, and every single one wore a red armband.
  Looking about, the first few bandits quickly spotted the elf, and
muttered amongst themselves, drawing swords or hefting other weapons.

first bandit:  (a large, hairy fellow with a massive battleaxe)
  There he is...just like she said.
second bandit:  Shh!
third bandit:  What's the harm?  He'll be a corpse ere much longer.
fourth bandit:  'sides, he can't possibly hear us.

  The bandits approached, and every tavern patron who was anywhere
near Belphanior suddenly got far away.

Belphanior:  (steepling his fingers, around which tiny motes of fire
  dance, unseen by the bandits)  You people have something to say to
  me?
first bandit:  If you're the one who killed our buddies, yeah.
Belphanior:  Too bad.  (his eye glows brightly)
first bandit:  Just trying to make conversation.
Belphanior:  Make it somewhere else.
second bandit:  That's enough outta you, smartass-
Belphanior:  (stands, suddenly)  It's only enough when I _say_ it's
  enough.
first bandit:  (waves his axe)  All right, boys!  Let's do it!

  Crossbows were raised, for the bandits had learned at least one
thing from the news of their comrades' demise.  However, for every
thing that someone could learn about Belphanior, there was another
thing that they hadn't learned.

Belphanior:  (releases his spell, spraying a sheet of flame across
  the nearest bandits and blinding the rest, momentarily)  Idiots.
  (he overturns a larger table and ducks behind it, casting another
  spell)

  Recovering from the flaming surprise, the bandits in the rear rank
let their missile weapons fly.  However, Belphanior was safely covered
behind the toppled table, and bolts thudded into the thick wood rather
than his flesh.  As some foes reloaded, others charged in, planning
to overwhelm the elf before he could cast a second spell.  However,
the charred, smoking bodies of their dead companions blocked their
way, delaying them for a few moments...and then, a sphere of blackest
darkness dropped down upon a large section of the tavern's common
room!  Yells and screams ensued, for Belphanior had much experience
at blind-fighting, and waded through the darkness sphere, dealing
death to any who came near.  Unlike the bandits, he didn't have to
worry about hitting any allies; anyone and everyone who approached
was an enemy.
  Belphanior was exultant as he moved through the darkness, slaying
foes.  His eye seethed with power, and drove his bloodlust to new and
greater heights.  Had light been visible around him, the eye's glow
would have been bright indeed.  Sensing a foe to one side, the elf
stabbed outward, and was rewarded with a cry and a gurgle.  Moments
later, another bandit fell to a slash he couldn't see.
  Emerging from one side of the sphere, Belphanior paused, surprised.
There, across the bar, was the raven-haired Victoria, dressed in a
racy, red leather outfit, her sword flashing as she parried blows
and slew foes!

Belphanior:  Ah!  (absolutely elated, he shouts across the room)
  Victoria!
Victoria:  (flashes him a lusty smile as she cleaves a foe's head
  in two)  You didn't think I'd leave a town that was this exciting,
  did you?  (she dances away from the slain bandit, parrying the
  blow of another as she spins gracefully)
Belphanior:  Hmm, I guess not.  (engrossed as he is, he fails to
  spot a foe rushing in from the side until the bandit's sword is
  arcing toward him)  Whoa!
bandit:  Die, elf!
Belphanior:  (partially deflects the blow, and the foe's sword cuts
  along his side...and is blocked by some unseen barrier)
bandit:  What?!?
Belphanior:  Don't puzzle over it.  (he dispatches the foe with a
  sword-thrust, and Blackrazor drinks yet again)  Ahhhh...

  The elf was pleased to see that a wide swath had been cleared
amidst the foes.  The burning hands had slain or dropped almost a
dozen, due more to the element of surprise than the heat and flames.
Between his own efforts and those of the wild, seemingly-dancing
Victoria, at least five other bandits were dead.  Still, that left
more than ten bandits, most of whom were rear-rank crossbowmen.
Even now, they pointed their weapons at the two warriors, letting
an organized barrage of bolts loose.  As half of them reloaded,
the other half fired, taking their time in order to ensure that
they hit their targets and covered the reloading efforts of their
companions.  Obviously, these were well-drilled warriors, and
Belphanior would never get a third spell cast in such conditions.

Belphanior:  (aware that even a stoneskin won't hold up for long)
  Damn!  (as bolts bounce from his body, he dives under a nearby
  table)
Victoria:  (halfway across the bar, she makes a tremendous leap,
  ignoring the bolts that nick or hit her, and lands behind the
  bar)
Felix:  (the owner and bartender of this place, he is ducked
  fearfully behind the bar)  Aie!
Victoria:  (puts a finger to her red lips)  Shh.

  Uprooting the table beneath which he had taken cover, Belphanior
ripped it loose from the floor and used it as a shield while he,
too, ran for the bar.

Belphanior:  Gangway!  (he lets go of the table and sails over the
  bartop, landing hard amidst broken glass and other debris)  Oof!
Victoria:  Nice landing.
Belphanior:  (sits up, shards of glass and wood sticking from his
  back)  Thanks.  (he breaks off the butt of a crossbow bolt, then
  pushes the thing through his wounded arm)
Victoria:  (watching in fascination)
Felix:  You've got another one in your side.
Belphanior:  Oh, so I do.  Thanks for the tip.

  A steady hail of bolts, and a few arrows as well, now, rained over
the top of the bar.  Any time one of the trio behind the bar showed
a head or limb, several missiles zipped by.  The bandits had their
foes pinned down, and they knew it.  There would be no escape.

Belphanior:  (grabbing a rag, he soaks it in a puddle of spilled ale
  and binds his wound, gritting his teeth in a grim smile)  Argh!
Victoria:  You enjoy the pain.
Belphanior:  Usually.  Pain's just a tool, if you can focus it.
Victoria:  A...useful trait.
Felix:  What're we gonna do?  (he watches as an arrow whizzes by
  overhead)
Belphanior:  (unasked, he helps Victoria remove a bolt from her leg)
  Well, the way I figure it, they'll soon decide to use burning
  missiles, and just fire this place.
Felix:  (wringing his hands)  Aie!
Victoria:  Fire, then?  (she smiles painfully as Belphanior pulls
  the bolt through her wound)  Is this as good for you as it is for
  me?
Belphanior:  Definitely.  (he wipes blood from his hands, and binds
  her wound with a strip of cloth torn from his shirt)
Felix:  What're you gonna _do_?!?  (he begins sobbing)
Victoria:  (looks disgusted)  Oh, be silent, would you?
Belphanior:  (looking around, he grabs a bottle of whiskey, just
  like the one he was drinking, earlier)
Victoria:  What do you intend to do with that?
Belphanior:  This.  (he uncorks the bottle and takes a swig from it,
  then offers the bottle to Victoria)
Victoria:  (takes the bottle, and then a long pull of whiskey; when
  she puts the bottle down, her eyes seem aglow)  Ahh!
Belphanior:  My sentiments exactly.

  Just then, a flaming bolt landed in the wall overhead, burning
pitch dripping from the oily rag that wrapped its shaft.

Belphanior:  Uh-oh.  A few more of those, and this place'll go up
  in flames.
Felix:  Aieeeeee-
Victoria:  (hits the man across the head with her sword-pommel)
Felix:  (slumps to the floor, silent)
Belphanior:  Thanks.
Victoria:  Don't mention it.  So, what shall we do?  I do not intend
  to die this day.
Belphanior:  Oh, I like your tone of voice.  It has a certain..force
  of will.
Victoria:  (nods, smiling)
Belphanior:  Well, I don't plan on dying, either.  I've got a half-
  dozen spells that'll get us out of this situation-

  Suddenly, there was a wild scream from the other side of the bar;
Belphanior and Victoria exchanged confused glances.  Something broke
with a loud "crash", and a second yell - surely a death cry - echoed
in the tavern's dining room.

Belphanior:  What the hell is going on...?  (as one, he and Victoria
  peek over the bartop)

  It only took them a moment to ascertain the cause of this new,
unexpected commotion:  Otto had arrived!  Better yet, the dwarf was
not alone; besides the guard-captain Herbert, he fought alongside a
tall man armed with a trident.  These three had apparently stormed
into the tavern and taken the crossbow-wielding bandits by complete
and deadly surprise.  To one side, Herbert cut down an axe-wielding
bandit; on another side, the man with the trident parried a foe's
longsword several times before impaling the foe with his long, sharp
weapon.  Back and far to one side, another of Otto's allies was busy
hurling knives into the backs of bandits; this fellow looked familiar
to Belphanior, but the latter couldn't quite place him.
  There was no time, though; dousing the flaming bolt with a half-
full pail of water, Belphanior then leapt from behind the bar and
buried his sword in the neck of the nearest foe.

Otto:  Aha!  So _there_ you are!
Belphanior:  What kept you?
Otto:  (shrugs)  I was on vacation.  (he bats aside a foe's weapon
  and slays the man with a slash to the throat)

  Victoria rejoined the fray as well, vaulting over the bar to
cross blades with a stocky bandit.  Strong as the man might have
been, Victoria was faster, and within moments she stood over the
foe's twitching body, smiling sweetly.

Belphanior:  (looks around, and sees that no foes remain)  It's
  over.  (he stumbles toward Otto, for the wound in his side is
  still bleeding)  How'd you know about this little scuffle?
Otto:  Well, we had just gotten into town, and Eduardo practically
  ran into me.  As soon as he told me...us-  (he gestures to his
  two companions, and Herbert)  -we got here as fast as we could.
  (he eyes the carnage)  Say, you weren't _losing_, were you?
Belphanior:  Of course not.
Otto:  (nods, smiling)
Herbert:  (surveying the bodies strewn about the tavern)  That's
  two taverns in two days, Belphanior.
Belphanior:  Don't worry, I don't intend to go for three.  The time
  has come to clean up the source of all these problems...the only
  remaining loose end:  Nerg.
Victoria:  (having joined Belphanior, she wipes her bloody sword on
  a slain foe's tunic)  What is a "Nerg"?
Belphanior:  The leader of these dolts.
Otto:  (stares at the tall woman, then at Belphanior, then at the
  woman again)  Uh...Nerg's dead.
Belphanior:  Really?  What brings us this good news?
Otto:  According to Eduardo, he was one of these bandits.  (he
  waves his sword at the various corpses)  Nerg, it appears, led
  the final attack himself.
Victoria:  Final?
Otto:  Yep.  This was, how shall I say, the last charge of the red-
  armband brigade.
Belphanior:  (looking somewhat surprised)  You mean to tell me that
  we just killed the _entire_ gang?
Otto:  Yup.
Belphanior:  (smiles widely)  Outstanding.





next:   introductions
ftp:    ftp.digex.net in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
www:    http://www.gatech.edu/oit/oe/design/thomas/adv.html
mail:   tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu  (preferred)
        thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu    (emergency)
notes:  Please note my new email address.
    Thanks to Patrick Weeks for pointing out the name "Victoria"
  which I finally chose.  It was a tough call, and I got a number of
  other good names.  I just wanted to let all of you who submitted
  them that I appreciate it.
    A side note:  the "red-armband" gang was indeed a parody of
  the similar gang found in _Tombstone_, and they were never meant
  to provide more than a trifling threat.  Rather, they were a story
  device which I used to accomplish some other things.  Just so you
  know.

  Now for more fanmail...this batch covers the first two post-
Belphanior stories:  332-333.
  I'm going to have to cut the fanmail into smaller pieces, due to
a news-posting problem with files that contain more fanmail than
story.



>>  Okay, you are just toying with us now! I was expecting a Helgate
>>  story -- I had even closed the blinds and turned down the lights
>>  when I saw the stories in my mailbox -- but instead we get a
>>  Peldor/Bosco story. I guess that's one way to break up the
>>  tension!
>>
>>  Leonard



>>  Thomas,
>>
>>  I can't believe you stopped with Belphanior!!!  Well I guess you
>>  have been working on him for a while and its time for a change.
>>
>>  Boy, Bosco sure can be annoying.  If I were Vinnie, I would start
>>  setting up a few live capture traps to try and get Bosco in line.
>>  Peldor might have to start thinking about the ferrets stealing
>>  from the customers.
>>
>>  Lyra's problem is a difficult one.  I think that it was written
>>  appropriately, and am curious about Alyndar's response.
>>
>>  Keep them coming,
>>
>>  Marcus



  Some ferret name suggestions - forgive me if yours doesn't appear,
I lost some mail recently:

>>  Peter, Paul, and Mary?
>>  Skippy, Tippy, and Nippy?
>>  Yakko, Wakko, and Dot?
>>  Rico, Nico, and Tico?
>>  Streak, Sneak, and Sleek?
>>  Rob, Nick, and uh?
>>
>>  Rance



>>  the most obvious answer i can come up with is: Moe, Larry, and Curly.
>>
>>  but then that's _too_ obvious.
>>
>>  how about something rogue related, like:
>>
>>  wiley, crafty, and sneaky
>>
>>  or maybe something like:
>>
>>  ghost, shadow, and wraith
>>
>>  or even something like:
>>
>>  inky, blinky, and stinky
>>
>>  ok, now i'm scraping the barrel so i'll go back to work.
>>
>>  have fun,
>>
>>  matt h.



>>  Fagin, Dodger and Swift
>>
>>  John



>>  Portos, Athos (Athos?), and Aramos.  (the three musketeers)
>>  Veni, Vidi, Vici  ("I came, I saw, I conquered")
>>  Winken, Blinken, and Nod. (I don't know where these are from)
>>  Manny, Moe, and Jack.
>>  Tom, Dick, and Harry.
>>  Larry, Moe, and Curly.
>>  Fee, Fie, and Fum.  (Bosco doesn't need a Foe)
>>
>>  Keep up the good--I mean great--work.
>>
>>  Dave



>>  Whoa, you've added a lot of substance in one short amount of
>>  time. This must have been difficult to write!

  Yeaaaaap.

>>  Alindyar is being a butt-head. I think you've handled writing
>>  for him quite well: he would be angry, but he's putting his
>>  anger and feelings before Lyra! ..this IS a typical reaction.
>>
>>  Leonard



>>  Certainly an interesting storyline.  A tough topic to tackle
>>  realistically.
>>
>>  Rance



>>  Alindyar may dedicate himself to finding the source of the
>>  problem though.  Studies in demonology to the point where he
>>  might find it beneficial to actually travel there to destroy
>>  their foes.  As munchkin as that seems in other stories I
>>  have heard, in this case, it would be the only way to sate
>>  his, and Belphanior's most direct fears and anxieties.
>>
>>  Patrick



>>  Wow.  Issues that I totally didn't think of!  The reactions
>>  seemed very  real to me.  It was also interesting to see
>>  Alindyar using his magic as if it was second nature, as if
>>  levitating was as natural as walking around Peldor.  I'm
>>  wondering what Alindyar is going to do now.  Most likely he's
>>  going to get into some kind of altercation (he's an  Adventurer
>>  after all! :)
>>
>>  Gabe



>>   Alindyar, pissed off?  This ought to be good.  Of course, if
>>  Lyra was raped, what would happen to both of them if they
>>  found out she was pregnant because of it, if that is even
>>  possible....?
>>
>>  Looking forward to the next one,
>>
>>  Regards,
>>
>>  Tom

  I don't even want to think about _that_ right now...



>>  O'Boy O'boy.....
>>
>>  Alindyar as Rob Roy.....and no one around to ventilate his
>>  anger on.....except for Orcus himself.
>>  Our dark elven friend will probably have to kick some serious
>>  ass to get this out of his system, but Orcus is a number too,
>>  big.....isn't he?
>>
>>  Stig E.



>>  An excellent character piece, Thomas.  Especially given the
>>  sensitive nature of the topic you are trying to deal with.
>>  I'm looking forward to seeing how you deal with it in the
>>  short and long term.
>>
>>  Keep up the good work.  I think this could be one of your
>>  more interesting storylines.  Not that I don't enjoy the
>>  occasional buckling of the swash, but dealing with issues
>>  like this in a fantasy world takes more than a bit of
>>  courage.
>>
>>              Greg



>>  Excellent episode!  I must say that Alindyar's reaction is
>>  roughly approximate to what mine would be in similar
>>  circumstances.  Of course, I'm not an extremely dangerous
>>  drow mage...
>>  I look forward to the destruction of Orcus (or whoever it
>>  was who thought up the scheme).  I remain
>>
>>  Yours,
>>  Robert



>>  ...and the last thing I was wondering about concerns the
>>  current story thread about Alindyar and Lyra.  Yow.  You're
>>  moving into some daring (and painful) territory.  I don't
>>  know how enthused you are about doing a lot of research for
>>  these stories, but I think it would pay off if you were to
>>  consult some rape-counseling services, action groups, and
>>  so on, so you can handle this plotline with the seriousness
>>  and care it deserves.
>>
>>  Although, to be honest, I think that'd be an awfully harsh
>>  thing to do.  They're both extremely intelligent, and should
>>  be able to avoid pitfalls like that; Alindyar especially
>>  should realize that.  And besides, of all the adventurers,
>>  these are the two who have had the worst karma.  I mean,
>>  Alindyar's lost all his possessions at least twice.  They
>>  deserve some _good_ luck for a change.
>>
>>  Ryan

  Good point.  I keep forgetting to give them some good luck too.



>>  EXTREMELY minor point about Lyra and Alindyar:
>>
>>  Since the baddies were torturing the party, wouldn't they have
>>  done their deeds to lyra in front of Alindyar, or perhaps even
>>  the entire party, knowing that that site would be as bad or
>>  worse than any physical torture to Alindyar?
>>
>>  Maybe the guards were doing it without anyone else knowing?
>>
>>  Or maybe you didn't come up with this plot line until the other
>>  was out the door? :-|
>>
>>  Jim

  You called it, dude.



>>  Despite my quivering guts 8-), I must applaud you for not
>>  shying from the obvious (if not wanted to face) consequences.
>>
>>        Rob



  And now some author-commentary on this story arc:  it was _very_
tough to write.  I didn't enjoy it, but I kept at it, to see how
it would turn out.  Several times I thought about not using it, but
in the end I decided to be brave and daring and do the story.  If
nothing else, I'm glad it generated so much discussion.
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