Chapter #900

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                                   +   +
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                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       +
+   1991-2005 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!                                          +
+   Belphanior     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+                                                                         +
+   Neera          11th level human female sage/astrologer                +
+   Parekh         18th level human female wizard                         +
+   Date:          7/21/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         Parekh's home (exact location unknown)                 +
+   Climate:       pleasant                                               +
+   "There's a very definite difference between me and you.  It's         +
+    ambition."                                                           +
+                         - Rau, from _Fist of the North Star_ season 2   +

                   CM.  Loose Ends Tied Up

  Almost two full weeks have passed since the last use of the gateways;
Belphanior and his party have returned to Parekh's home, where they have
been resting and tying up loose ends and questions.

Neera:  The moon?!?  Wow.  I wish I could have been there to see it.
Belphanior:  Well, you can.  The gateway will take you there, if you
Neera:  Which moon are we talking about?  From your description, it
  sounds like Luna, not Celene...though it's not like they've ever been
Parekh:  Now _that_ would be an adventure.
Belphanior:  As I said, we checked out the entire complex, such as it
  was.  I didn't want to deal with going outside, not knowing what sort
  of climate or conditions were there on the we just used the
  gateway to return to Oerth.
Skektek:  "Return to Oerth"...that just sounds neat.
Elgon:  Well, Mongo sure was happy when we returned.  His strength came
  back right away.
Belphanior:  (nods, absentmindedly wondering what unknown dangers and
  treasures might lie hidden on the moon)  Yep.
Parekh:  All in all, it's been quite a series of adventures for your
Skektek:  Our group..."our group"...we need some kind of catchy name,
  you know...something like the Circle of Eight or the Crimson Blades.
Elgon:  How about "The Misfits" ?
Razor Charlie:  (shakes his head, not understanding)
Otto:  Bah.  (he makes some notes on a parchment)
Jenna:  (watching the wispy thing fly around the room)
wispy thing:  fssss.
Mongo:  (asleep in his chair, snoring lightly)

  They were gathered around a stout table, laden with fine food and drink
thanks to their hostess, the archmagess Parekh.  Belphanior had spent
much of his time in recent days poring over magic items, notes, and other
evidence from all the recent journeys through the teleportation gateways.
The others had been gathered here at his request for a supper that was
also a treasure-dividing and planning session.

Belphanior:  (enters the room, followed by Parekh and Neera)
Neera:  (carrying an armful of scrolls and parchments, she dumps them
  all on the table)
Mongo:  (wakes up abruptly)  Huh?
Belphanior:  I've called you all here for three reasons.  First, we need
  to identify the powers and properties of all the magical items found
  in the various gateway complexes we've spent recent weeks exploring.
  Second, we need to summarize those gateways - which ones led where,
  which still pose threats, and so on.  Third, we have to decide our
  next course of action.
Elgon:  We, the Misfits.
Belphanior:  (sharply)  Eh?
Elgon:  Err, nothing.
Belphanior:  I've asked Parekh and Neera to sit in here; they've helped
  immensely with the magic item research, and I expect that they'll be
  involved for some time yet.
Parekh:  (takes a seat, an inscrutable expression on her face)
Belphanior:  I think the best thing is to break the gateways and their
  dungeon complexes into categories.  (he consults some notes)  First,
  we've got the ones that still pose a definite threat:  Al-arakara's
  lair in the Sea of Dust, the Underdark gateway, and the one we think
  leads to the city of vampires.  These three pose a great potential
  danger to anyone who goes there.
Parekh:  Or a danger if those on the other end figure out how to use
  the teleporters to travel to the other gateways...
Belphanior:  (nods)  Fortunately, there are only three of these high-risk
  gateways, which is three too many for my liking, but we can deal with
  them in due time.
Parekh:  (looking concerned)  The sooner, the better.
Belphanior:  There is one medium-risk gateway:  "grass" which we found
  to be overgrown with murderous, animated plants.
Otto:  That was no fun.
Belphanior:  Maybe someday, we'll get Peyote to help us deal with that
Mongo:  I don't know if it'd be worth having to listen to his nonsense.
Otto:  Heh.
Belphanior:  Next we've got the gateways that pose no immediate threat;
  these are ones that lead somewhere, but are now unoccupied: "muck",
  "ice", "earth", "sleep", "king", "darkness", "tree", "sun", "moon",
  and "cut."  These ten gateways lead to a variety of climates, and one
  or two might prove useful given their locations.  Most of the magical
  weapons and items we recovered were contained in some of these ten
Skektek:  (checking his notes)  Three, one, ten...that's fourteen so far.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Then there are the gateways that are useless for one
  reason or another:  the "iron" one, which is a one-way trap...the "gem"
  one, which is damaged and sent us to separate, random places...the one
  beneath the ocean, which is at least partially flooded...and last, the
  two gateways that have been destroyed, in Blackmoor and the ruins of
  the Fortress of the Nine.
Skektek:  That covers them all.
Belphanior:  So there we have it:  three that lead to major danger, one
  that leads to minor danger, ten that are empty, three that are useless,
  and two that have been destroyed.  It's taken us two months, but we've
  succeeded in journeying to, and exploring, all of these gateways.
Elgon:  Whew.
Mongo:  (rubs his eyes)
Belphanior:  And now to the list of treasures gained in said journeys...

  item            where found       summary              who got it
  talisman        swamp gateway     key to armory        Belphanior
  longsword       frozen gateway
  great axe       frozen gateway
  spiked mace     frozen gateway    evil
  whip            frozen gateway    evil
  spear           frozen gateway
  pike            frozen gateway
  wand            water gateway     elemental conduit    Skektek
  plate mail      water gateway     plate of the deep    ?
  trident         water gateway     water/control        ?
  spear           armory gateway    fork of doom         Belphanior
  blue rod        armory gateway    golem controller     Belphanior
  crossbow        armory gateway    generates bolts      Otto
  ring            armory gateway    spell storing        Skektek
  dagger          armory gateway    always hits          Razor Charlie
  bracer          armory gateway    speed                Razor Charlie
  amulet          armory gateway    animal form          Elgon
  belt            armory gateway    super-strength       Mongo
  bracelet        armory gateway    healing/health       Ys
  horned helm     armory gateway    cursed/comatose      Ys
  longsword       armory gateway    sunlight/holy        Parekh
  mace            armory gateway    ??                   Jenna
  chalice         armory gateway    holy                 Jenna
  black ruby      darkness gateway
  noose           darkness gateway
  broken tablet   darkness gateway
  white book      moon gateway
  paintbrush      moon gateway
  silver helm     moon gateway
  longsword       moon gateway
  bottle w/ship   moon gateway
  amulet          moon gateway
  large cylinder  darkness gateway  highly Evil          NOT TAKEN
  winged man      moon gateway      in magical stasis    NOT DISTURBED

Parekh:  Impressive.
Belphanior:  It seems that the lich was hoarding all sorts of things.
  We've noticed a few trends:  all of the water-gateway items have to
  do with water or sea life, all of the darkness-gateway items are at
  least a bit Evil, all of the moon-gateway items are Good, and so on.
Skektek:  Yeah, let's hear the lowdown on the most recent items.
Neera:  It's been a busy two weeks for me, and I still don't have all
  the answers, but I'll tell you what I know.  Four of the six weapons
  from the icy gateway - the longsword, great axe, spear, and pike - are
  powerful offensive weapons, with strong attack powers...but they're
  otherwise unremarkable.  The spiked mace and whip bear Evil auras,
  with good reason:  wounds inflicted by both will remain open and
  continue to bleed unless magical healing is applied.
Parekh:  A subtle, yet powerful enchantment.
Neera:  (nods)  The longsword seems to have some sort of cold-related
  aura, but I haven't been able to narrow it down further than that.
  Moving on to items found in the armory gateway...Jenna's mace is, of
  course, meant for a warrior.
Jenna:  As I said, I plan to trade it for something I can use.
Neera:  Trade with care, then, for the mace is a powerful weapon tied
  to the Elemental Plane of Earth.  A direct hit on a foe will convey
  a strong shock, as if struck by a small boulder.  In addition, this
  weapon is unusually potent when used to attack beings with ties to
  rock or the earth.
Jenna:  Ahh.
Neera:  The black ruby, I'm sorry to say, has defied all of my attempts
  at scrying.  I sense that great caution is required; I'm not inclined
  to rush into that effort.
Parekh:  We'd like to keep it here and work on it further.
Belphanior:  (nods)
Neera:  The well-worn noose is a minor relic of evil, known in myth as
  the Assassin's Knot.  If placed around a victim's neck, it simply
  constricts, crushing the throat until the victim is slain.  Once this
  process begins, no worldly power can cut the noose or stop it from
Otto:  Handy.
Neera:  If you're an assassin.  I'm not, which brings me to the stone
  tablet, broken neatly into two pieces...well, this is something more
  for sages than warriors-
Mongo:  How's that?  I could throw it and hit a giant at twenty paces.
Neera:  Perhaps, but you couldn't use it to translate any spoken word
  from any language into a form you could understand.  This tablet is
  ancient - I believe it predates the lich who stashed it away - and it
  grants this translation power to its wielder.  It may also have some
  similar power over written languages, but I've been unable to discern
  that thus far.
Belphanior:  (nods)  If there was ever an item suitable for your share
  of this treasure, Neera, the tablet would be it.
Parekh:  (smiles)  Indeed it would.
Neera:  Now on to the "Good" usual, these are generally
  harder to scry than the "Evil" items...their powers are more often
  subtler, and their existence less documented.  The book and the
  paintbrush have been especially tough - I don't have any real answers
  about those yet.  The book is some kind of magical tome, perhaps
  containing spells, but it won't open and I haven't been able to make
  it open.  The brush radiates strong illusionary magic, but that's all
  I know so far.
Belphanior:  (wondering what's in the book)
Razor Charlie:  (sneering at the idea of a magical paintbrush)
Neera:  The helm's mysteries were a lot easier to decipher, and before
  anybody asks, no, it's not the opposite of the one that Ys tried on.
  This silver helm is intended for a warrior, and confers complete
  protection against all mental probing and attacks...ESP, empathic
  and psionic powers, charming, feeblemind, and the like.
Mongo:  (suddenly realizes that the only piece of powerful magical armor
  he's missing is a good helm)
Neera:  As for this longsword, you'll notice that it's forged of white
  metal.  This metal defies my attempts to identify it, and I suspect
  that it's actually from the stars, or another world.  While the weapon
  doesn't appear to be sentient in any way, it is powerful beyond all
Belphanior:  (leans forward, quite interested in this claim)  How so?
Neera:  Well...(she sighs)  Simply put, it's a holy weapon of exceeding
  power.  From what I can tell - and this would need to be tested - any
  undead creature slain by this blade is instantly reborn in their
  living, mortal form.
Parekh:  (her eyes widen)  Impossible!
Belphanior:  Such a weapon...would have had to be forged by the gods
Neera:  Yep.
Skektek:  (whistles)
Belphanior:  But would they still be evil...or changed to good?  And
  what if they had been ancient and wizened before becoming undead?
  Would the transformation make them young again?
Neera:  (puts her hands up)  I don't have these answers!  I'm just
  relaying the results of my scrying, augmented by a few passages found
  in ancient history books.  Legends tell of this weapon - most often
  called the Moonsword, if "most often" can apply to three references
  from among my entire library.  The myths have it sent down from the
  heavens to become the bane of all undead.
Otto:  I can see why.
Parekh:  (locks eyes with Belphanior)  Such a weapon is perhaps best
  left out of the main lot of divisible treasure.
Belphanior:  Possibly.  Any decision made about the sword would likely
  be...hasty.  We shall see.  (he silently wonders what he'd do if he
  encountered another blade that was more desirable than Blackrazor)
Neera:  This bottle, containing a miniature ship, requires only a single
  word of command to change itself into a full-size frigate, complete
  with sails and rigging.  Simple and very useful, really...except that
  I haven't yet figured out the crucial word needed to activate it.
Parekh:  I'm sure you will, eventually.  What of the amulet?
Neera:  The a strange device.  It's a one-use item, made by
  some long-forgotten high priest of a war god.  If the bearer hurls it
  to the ground and speaks a certain incantation...well, this may sound
  a little silly, but supposedly, "an army shall rise."  I've got no
  idea what kind of army, or how big, of even if that's true.  If it is,
  this isn't the sort of thing you want to waste on a test.
Mongo:  Damn right.
Skektek:  What about the two powerful things we left behind in their
Neera:  The large black metallic cylinder in the "darkness" gateway,
  from the description given, is some kind of slumbering demon, godling,
  or similar Evil power.  I'd have to see it myself to get a better
  guess, but I think you did the right thing by leaving it alone.  As
  for the glowing, winged fellow in the "moon" gateway, he sounds like
  a captive solar or planetar...basically an angel.  The lich probably
  bested him in battle at some point, and imprisoned him in suspended
  animation.  Again, I'd have to see it personally to say for sure, or
  at least have a better idea.
Parekh:  Needless to say, both of these slumbering powers should be
  handled with caution.
Belphanior:  No worries on that account.  I think a return trip to one
  or both places - with suitable reinforcements - will be in order.  For
  now, we'll divide up the rest of the treasure.  We could draw straws,
  but I thought it might be best for the most people if I assigned the
  items myself.

  item            where found       summary              who got it
  talisman        swamp gateway     key to armory        Belphanior
  longsword       frozen gateway    frost brand          ?
  great axe       frozen gateway    +4 weapon
  spiked mace     frozen gateway    +3 weapon, wounding  ?
  whip            frozen gateway    +3 weapon, wounding  ?
  spear           frozen gateway    +4 weapon            ?
  pike            frozen gateway    +4 weapon            ?
  wand            water gateway     elemental conduit    Skektek
  plate mail      water gateway     plate of the deep    ?
  trident         water gateway     water/control        ?
  spear           armory gateway    fork of doom         Belphanior
  blue rod        armory gateway    golem controller     Belphanior
  crossbow        armory gateway    generates bolts      Otto
  ring            armory gateway    spell storing        Skektek
  dagger          armory gateway    always hits          Razor Charlie
  bracer          armory gateway    speed                Razor Charlie
  amulet          armory gateway    animal form          Elgon
  belt            armory gateway    super-strength       Mongo
  bracelet        armory gateway    healing/health       Ys
  horned helm     armory gateway    cursed/comatose      Ys
  longsword       armory gateway    sunlight/holy        Parekh
  mace            armory gateway    earthy               Jenna
  chalice         armory gateway    holy                 Jenna
  black ruby      darkness gateway  ?                    ?
  noose           darkness gateway  assassin's knot      ?
  broken tablet   darkness gateway  translator           ?
  white book      moon gateway      ?                    ?
  paintbrush      moon gateway      illusionary?         ?
  silver helm     moon gateway      mental protection    ?
  longsword       moon gateway      undead resurrector   ?
  bottle w/ship   moon gateway      becomes real ship    ?
  amulet          moon gateway      an army shall rise   ?
  large cylinder  darkness gateway  highly Evil          NOT TAKEN
  winged man      moon gateway      in magical stasis    NOT DISTURBED

Belphanior:  I propose this...Charlie gets the whip, Ys gets the great
  axe, Mongo gets the other four ice-gateway weapons-
Mongo:  Whoa, hold on!
Belphanior:  Eh?
Mongo:  I don't want to be the one who gets all the random magical
  weapons just because I'm a warrior.
Belphanior:  Well, Ys got two and you got four-
Mongo:  I don't want four.  In fact, I don't want any of them.  What I
  _do_ want is the silver helm.
Belphanior:  What?!?
Mongo:  You heard me.  A helm is the only major piece of armor that I
  don't already have, and that helm is perfect for my needs.  I think
  I did my share in the fighting, so I should get the one thing I want.
Belphanior:  (not sure how to deal with this unexpected anger)  But we
  need to-
Mongo:  I bet no one else even wants the helm!  (he looks around)
Otto:  I don't wear helms.
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)  Not me.
Jenna:  Certainly not me.
Elgon:  I _can't_ wear a helmet, it's forbidden by my deity.
Skektek:  And I'm, of course, a wizard.  (he thinks about saying "and
  Ys already has a helm" but refrains)
Mongo:  See?
Belphanior:  (sighs)  Fine, but on one condition: you have to lend us
  your battle prowess for one more campaign, possibly the toughest one
Mongo:  (grins)  No battle is too tough for me, and I have no plans for
  the near future - you can count me in!
Belphanior:  Okay then, the helm is yours.  (he rubs his aching head)
  And...Ys gets the pike and the great axe anyway, and the other three
  weapons from the ice gateway can go into my portable hole for now,
  possibly to be traded in the future.  Otto gets the noose, Skektek
  gets the amulet, Elgon gets the bottle/ship, Neera gets the tablet.
  The plate mail and trident from the water gateway will also go into
  the portable hole, for possible later use or bartering.  We'll leave
  the black ruby with Parekh and Neera, who will try to decipher its
  mysteries.  Same for the white book and the paintbrush, which require
  further research.  I'll hang onto the Moonsword for now, with the goal
  of testing its powers as soon as is feasible.
Jenna:  What about me?
Belphanior:  Well, aside from weapons and armor, we're short one magical
  item.  You can have any of the leftover weapons or armor if you want...
Jenna:  (thinking about the plate mail and how she's never worn heavy
  armor in her life, and isn't about to start now, she frowns)
Belphanior:  ...or you can wait until we have an opportunity to trade
  for something you _can_ use, and you'll get it at that time.
Jenna:  (somewhat annoyed)  I'll wait and see, then.
Belphanior:  Very well.  So, it's all divided now...

  item            where found       summary              who got it
  talisman        swamp gateway     key to armory        Belphanior
  longsword       frozen gateway    frost brand          (common)
  great axe       frozen gateway    +4 weapon            Ys
  spiked mace     frozen gateway    +3 weapon, wounding  (common)
  whip            frozen gateway    +3 weapon, wounding  Razor Charlie
  spear           frozen gateway    +4 weapon            (common)
  pike            frozen gateway    +4 weapon            Ys
  wand            water gateway     elemental conduit    Skektek
  plate mail      water gateway     plate of the deep    (common)
  trident         water gateway     water/control        (common)
  spear           armory gateway    fork of doom         Belphanior
  blue rod        armory gateway    golem controller     Belphanior
  crossbow        armory gateway    generates bolts      Otto
  ring            armory gateway    spell storing        Skektek
  dagger          armory gateway    always hits          Razor Charlie
  bracer          armory gateway    speed                Razor Charlie
  amulet          armory gateway    animal form          Elgon
  belt            armory gateway    super-strength       Mongo
  bracelet        armory gateway    healing/health       Ys
  horned helm     armory gateway    cursed/comatose      Ys
  longsword       armory gateway    sunlight/holy        Parekh
  mace            armory gateway    earthy               Jenna
  chalice         armory gateway    holy                 Jenna
  black ruby      darkness gateway  ?                    Parekh *
  noose           darkness gateway  assassin's knot      Otto
  broken tablet   darkness gateway  translator           Neera
  white book      moon gateway      ?                    Parekh *
  paintbrush      moon gateway      illusionary?         Parekh *
  silver helm     moon gateway      mental protection    Mongo
  longsword       moon gateway      undead resurrector   Belphanior *
  bottle w/ship   moon gateway      becomes real ship    Elgon
  amulet          moon gateway      an army shall rise   Skektek

* requires further research/testing to determine true nature
"common" = in portable hole, group property to be used or traded later

Belphanior:  And that's that.
Skektek:  I still see some loose ends, though.
Belphanior:  Let's see if they match my list.  One:  we need to get Ys
  back to normal, by reversing whatever spell that horned helm has put
  him under.  Two:  we have three gateways that lead to trouble, and if
  any one of them is used by those on the other side, the entire gateway
  network could be compromised.  Three:  the black metal cylinder in the
  darkness gateway.  Four:  the winged being in the moon gateway.  Five:
  the score of golems in the armory gateway.
Parekh:  Golems?  You didn't mention any golems...
Belphanior:  I have plans for them, big plans.  I didn't take any of this
  last crop of powerful magic items because I've already got the blue rod
  to control the golems.
Parekh:  That hardly seems fair-
Belphanior:  It's as fair as anything else.  We explored the gateways,
  we took the risks, we collected the treasure - and I think that latter
  has been divided fairly, more or less, over the course of our gateway
Otto:  (crosses his arms and stares at Parekh)  He's got a point.
Mongo:  (nods)
Skektek:  Yeah.
Parekh:  (curbs her growing anger, and smiles)  Fair enough - all of you
  did take the real risks.  Neera and I merely serve as advisors.
Neera:  And as a safe haven to base your travels out of.
Parekh:  (smirks)  True.
Belphanior:  (softens his tone a bit)  Besides, don't criticize my plans
  for the golems until you've heard them.
Parekh:  When might that happen?
Belphanior:  Soon...but only after we've knocked out most or all of the
  five items on our list of loose ends.  (he eyes Parekh)  Your help with
  these loose ends would, of course, be much appreciated.
Parekh:  I'll do what I can.
Belphanior:  (stands)  I have much to do tomorrow, and must get to bed
  early.  We'll all talk more within a day or two.

  With that, the elf exited the room, walking down one hall and then
another as he headed back toward his guest suite.  Otto and the others,
still uncomfortable at the tensions from the meeting, stayed where they

Otto:  (pours himself a tall glass of ale)  Hmm.
Mongo:  Well, that sure was interesting.  (takes a small keg of beer and
  raises it above his head, drinking right from the miniature barrel)
Razor Charlie:  (sits silently, brooding)
Jenna:  No treasure for me.  I feel...cheated.
Skektek:  Let me tell you something - and I only say this because you
  haven't been with us that long - sometimes in the short term, the elf
  makes choices that seem wrong, or unfair.  But in the long term, you
  _will_ be taken care of if you stay with him.  Just give him a chance.
Otto:  (pauses in his ale-drinking)  Well spoken.
Jenna:  I want to believe you, but it's just difficult...I'm angry at
  the moment.
Skektek:  Trust me.  Belphanior will make it up to you, in due time.
Jenna:  Well, I hope so.
Parekh:  (frowning, she knits her brow...and vanishes from the room)
Elgon:  Whoa.
Otto:  (puts his glass down)
Neera:  Well, isn't anybody going to say anything?
Otto:  Like what?
Neera:  Belphanior's mad with power!  Can't anyone see that?
Skektek:  No he's not.  He's just got more ambition than the average
Otto:  Belphanior's fine.  There's just a lot going on...and planning
  to handle it all, in the right way and in the right order, is quite
  a daunting task, even for him.
Neera:  Bah!  (she storms angrily out of the room)
Skektek:  What's her problem?
Otto:  You want the truth?
Elgon:  We can handle it.
Otto:  We don't know.
Elgon:  (sighs)

  Actually, Otto was fairly sure that he knew exactly what Neera's real
"problem" was, but he didn't want to say it out loud.  There was always
the chance that he was wrong, but he didn't think so...not this time.

  Elsewhere in the sprawling mansion that Parekh called home, Belphanior
stalked down a hallway, alone and a little upset.  More than one person
had challenged his leadership just now, and that bothered him.  Was he
losing control, or was the group just stressed, even after two weeks of
rest from their intense bout of adventuring?  Beyond this issue was the
plethora of loose ends that now lay before Belphanior and the others...
which gateway-reachable dangers to eliminate next, which unknown places
to explore further...and then there were other issues, such as the need
for a more permanent, more private headquarters or home for himself and
the others.  They had been making use - extensive use - of Parekh's
hidden, magical dwelling place for many weeks now, but that could not
stand as a long-term solution.  The sorceress had been kind enough to
loan Belphanior an enchanted amulet that he could use to teleport into
a certain spot within her domicile; he had been using that after each
gateway adventure, but he wanted something of this sort that was subject
only to his own wishes.  Parekh was unquestionably useful to have as an
ally, but at some point he had to provide the same sorts of benefits for
his people.  Helgate had been good, but its time was long past, and some
other such solution was now necessary.
  The elf didn't get much time to ponder any of these things, as a robed
figure appeared in the hall before him.

Parekh:  Enough.
Belphanior:  What?
Parekh:  The treasure division didn't bother me, nor does helping you and
  your group out with lodgings or magic.  I consider myself a reasonable
  person, with patience well above that of the average person.
Belphanior:  Then why are you so upset now?
Parekh:  Golems.  Twenty.  Why didn't you mention this before?
Belphanior:  (crosses his arms)  I'm only going to say this once, and I
  would sincerely hope that you believe I'm telling the truth.  I never
  intended to keep those golems a secret.  I simply considered them to
  be part of my share of the treasure.  My short-term plan is to use them
  to guard the Pelisso Swamp complex from any of the foes beyond those
  three "dangerous" gateways.  This accomplishes two things:  one, it
  gets the golems removed from where they were left, and into my direct
  care.  Two, it guards the familiar entry point we've been using for
  the gateways.
Parekh:  (spreads her hands)  Fair enough, but what about your stated
  long-range plans?  From the way you're talking, I expect something
  major, and probably quite dangerous.
Belphanior:  Major, yes.  Dangerous, possibly, but less so if properly
  planned and executed.
Parekh:  Interesting.  You realize, of course, that I want to hear it.
  Especially if you want my help...I need to know.

  A thin smile crossed Belphanior's face, and then he uttered a single
sentence.  Parekh's expression went from curiosity to amazement, and
then to disbelief.

Parekh:  You can't be serious!
Belphanior:  I'm dead serious, believe me.
Parekh:  Such a thing has never been attempted in the history of the
Belphanior:  There's a first time for everything...and no one will see
  it coming.
Parekh:  But how do you plan to-
Belphanior:  (raises a hand)  You wanted to know, and I told you.  The
  details aren't all worked out, which is why I need more time.  Give
  me that time, and you'll be privy to the entire plan.  Fair enough?
Parekh:  (sighs, and nods)
Belphanior:  And this is our little secret, yes?
Parekh:  You have my word.
Belphanior:  Excellent.  I'll get some sleep, then.  (he walks past her,
  heading for the hallway that leads to his guest chambers)

  Parekh was left standing in the hall, still alarmed by what she'd just
been told.  Of course, as the owner and creator of this entire dwelling
place, she was intimately aware of all visitors, and so she turned to
face Otto as he rounded the corner, hands on his hips.

Parekh:  (smiles)  I trust you're not here to try your new magical noose
  on me.
Otto:  (matter-of-factly)  Not a chance.  You're too valuable an ally.
Parekh:  (loses the smile)  Oh.  Err...glad to hear it.
Otto:  You're not the first to hear of his plans, you know.  He and I
  have already discussed it.
Parekh:  Surely you're not jealous?
Otto:  Not at all.  I'm glad he bounced the idea off of someone else's
  head - I was getting tired of being the only one who had to think about
Parekh:  You don't think he's losing his edge, do you?
Otto:  (shakes his head)  Not one bit.  If anything, he's at his peak
  right now.  Given all the weapons and tools we just gained, plus what
  he had, plus the aid of allies like you...he might pull it off.
Parekh:  You honestly think so?
Otto:  Would I be here if I didn't?
Parekh:  Good point.  (she frowns)  Why _are_ you here?
Otto:  I was going to try and talk to Belphanior, but now that I've run
  into you, I've changed my mind.  We need to talk about Neera.  I don't
  think she shows it in public, in front of others, but privately she
  cares a lot about Belphanior, and now she's worried about his actions
  and ambitions.
Parekh:  Why are you telling me this?
Otto:  Clearly she looks up to you.  I thought you might be able to
  talk to some sense into her.
Parekh:  You're afraid she'll stop him?
Otto:  I'm afraid she'll try to tag along, and get hurt or killed, and
  maybe get him hurt or killed by virtue of being a distraction.  It
  could have happened at the Tomb of Panagaea, but she got lucky then.
  (he sighs)  I just don't want to see anyone come to harm.
Parekh:  (chuckles)  You're so right, but yet at the same time so wrong.
Otto:  (frowns)  Excuse me?  I don't understand.
Parekh:  Neera worries about him, not because she cares but because she's
  madly in love with him.
Otto:  What?!?
Parekh:  She's been attracted to him from the very beginning, and there
  was a past encounter, on a ship, I believe...
Otto:  (rubbing his beard)  Could be.  That would make some sense.
Parekh:  She's stayed here, helping me, out of blind loyalty to him, but
  it's been driving her crazy.  We've talked about it - a lot - while you
  have all been away exploring the gateways.  She resolved to confront
  him after the gateway adventures were all wrapped up...and then, for
  the last two weeks, she's stalled and used the magic item research as
  an excuse.  I have a feeling, though, that she's going to go talk with
  him - tonight.
Otto:  Hmmmm.
Parekh:  I know, I know.  It could be a case of fatal attraction if ever
  there was one.  But it doesn't fall to you, or I, to make these sorts
  of decisions for our friends.  Sometimes, for better or worse, things
  must take their natural course.
Otto:  I-  (he nods)  You know, you're right.  It's probably best to
  just see what happens.
Parekh:  I'm sure you know this already, but you'll find no finer sage
  or historian as willing to help as Neera.  And it's not like she's
  defenseless - while no archmage, she can use magic and cast some
  spells.  I know she's not as...lethal as some in your little band,
  but a good group contains a diverse assortment of skills and types.
Otto:  Yeah, no denying that.
Parekh:  I'm just asking you to think about these things.
Otto:  (nods again)  I will.
Parekh:  Very well.  (she frowns, then turns back to the dwarf)  You
  know, I'm glad we had this little talk.  I think it benefitted both
  of us.
Otto:  Agreed.  (he yawns)  We'll see what happens.
Parekh:  Indeed.  (she knits her brow, and vanishes)
Otto:  Goodnight, then.  (he heads away to his guest quarters)

  As for Belphanior, he now approached his own room, only to pause just
outside the door.  The elf's sword, present at all times (even times of
peace like the last couple of weeks) tingled at his side, alerting him
to the presence of someone in his room.  He had a notion about who it
might be, and when he opened the door, he was proven right.

Neera:  Good evening.
Belphanior:  Well, hello again.  (he enters the chamber and closes the

next:       to be determined
released:   11/25/05
notes:      In the 1980s, I was a regular reader of _The Uncanny X-Men_
  by Chris Claremont.  He used to juggle a dozen or more plot lines and
  story arcs, and I remember thinking "wow, if he'd only give us some
  kind of periodic recap of all the loose ends, so we'd have a list,
  damn that would be nice to see from an author."
    This lesson stuck with me, and causes me to write stories like
  this, in which the reader gets a comprehensive list of loose ends,
  along with status/resolution of each, or at least a "to-do" list by
  the characters.
    The latter part of this episode was something I'd intended to do
  all along, but had forgotten about until a recent bit of fanmail
  reminded me of my intentions, and Neera's.
    One last bit of wrap-up:  as of this writing, here's where each of
  the major characters is, time- and location- wise:
    - Alindyar, Lyra, Peldor, Bosco      1/4/580 C.Y.     Greyhawk
    - Halbarad, Peyote, Rillen           7/4/580 C.Y.     lost continent
    - Belphanior, Mongo                  7/21/580 C.Y.    Parekh's home
    I will try to get everyone polarized, or at least the first group
  caught up, even if I have to do a fast-forward of six months for them.
    I'll get back to the others (and try to get more story time for the
  ones who have been neglected <cough> Peldor <cough>) very shortly.
    Anyway, so here we are:  the 900th episode.  I usually start each
  calendar year at a multiple of 50, churn out one per week for the
  first 50 weeks of the year, and then take most of December off before
  picking up again in January.  Somehow, in 2005, I got a little ahead
  of schedule, because you'll be reading this the day after Thanksgiving
  and I'll be taking a much-needed break for all of December.  Enjoy
  whatever holidays you choose to observe, and look for episode 901 on
  Friday, 6 January 2006.

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