Chapter #912

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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       +
+   1991-2006 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        +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+                                                                         +
+   Parekh         18th level human female wizard                         +
+   Drak           14th level human barbarian warrior                     +
+   Pallin         17th level grey elven wizard of Celestian              +
+   Date:          8/23/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         Parekh's home (exact location unknown)                 +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +
+   "I'm a priest, not a saint."                                          +
+                           - from _The Count of Monte Cristo_ (2002)     +

                  CMXII.  An Irrelevant Debate

  While talking with Parekh and Pallin, Belphanior has witnessed some
apparent treachery towards Otto...

  The dwarf was unnaturally stiff and unmoving, with his eyes, mouth,
and arms all in positions that could not have been maintained normally.
In a single motion, Belphanior drew his sword and spun around, instantly
arriving at the only possible conclusion.

Belphanior:  (glaring at Pallin, but keeping Parekh and Drak in his
  field of view)  What the fuck have you done to him?
Pallin:  (his hands in view and motionless)  Your perception was as
  swift as I expected.  But fear not, your companion is - and will
  remain - uninjured; all I have done is stop time around him.  What
  will be discussed now is for your ears, not his.
Drak:  (looking vaguely uncomfortable, he finds himself wishing that he
  could be somewhere else)
Belphanior:  (angrily)  This is not the action of a trusted ally.
Parekh:  "Trusted allies" is what we may no longer be.  The truth is,
  you've used us, just as you've used others all your life - and we in
  turn have used you for our ends.  Plots within plots, hidden schemes
  and secret goals, and even friends who are trusted at one level are
  merely tools at another.  Knowledge withheld for justifiable reasons.
  This is all familiar to you, of course.
Belphanior:  (flatly, almost emotionlessly)  A trap.  (His eyes dart
  around the room, finding nothing helpful, but his sword detects the
  the presence of another soul nearby, which he assumes is another
  wizard with some powerful spell aimed at him)
Parekh:  I've never been one to hide behind words.  A trap it is, but
  we are not your enemy.
Belphanior:  (realizes his options are extremely limited, as they are
  familiar with his equipment and tactics)  I'm _so_ glad to hear that.
  What's the point of this, then?
Parekh:  The point is that there has been an unforeseen development,
  one that you might very well object to - and we're all aware of the
  fate that befalls people to whom you object.
Belphanior:  You're not putting me in a very receptive mood.
Parekh:  I'm not trying to.  I've asked someone else to do that.

  The door opened and closed, admitting perhaps the one person the elf
never, ever expected to see in this place.

Rob:  Hello, old friend.
Belphanior:  (speechless, but still quite angry)
Rob:  Yes, a bit awkward.  Well, just to start the conversation, I want
  you to know that I appreciate your intentions concerning what you did
  in Monmurg, if not all of the results.  At least you took a stand and
  acted on your beliefs.
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Whenever you talk like that, it reminds
  me how much you've changed from the bumbling half-wit pain-in-the-ass
  I once knew.
Rob:  (smiles gently)  And whenever there is massive destruction, it
  reminds me how little _you've_ changed since the beginning.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  I remember how you, me and Pallin were the last ones
  standing in the battle against Xusia, which explains how they know
  you, but not why they called you in.  I sincerely hope you're not
  here to proselytize, because I'm sure as hell not in the mood.
Rob:  Not in the slightest.  I'm here simply because they think I am
  the only one that you might permit to work magic upon you.
Belphanior:  (looking darkly at Parekh and Pallin)  Don't be too sure.
Rob:  Regardless, I have been granted a powerful spell which will
  permanently purge certain memories from your mind.  I'm hoping to
  cast it upon you shortly.
Belphanior:  (quite bothered now)  A spell?  A memory-altering spell?
  On me?  Why would I allow that to happen?
Rob:  Because if you don't, neither of us will leave this room alive.
  You will die because they are prepared to kill you, and I will die
  because you'll take me with you.  (he gestures at Blackrazor, which
  is only a few feet from him)
Belphanior:  You're risking your life just to do this?
Rob:  We're about to find out.
Belphanior:  (facing Parekh once again)  So what's so important that
  you have to tell me and then make me forget, or else kill me for?
Parekh:  It's quite simple.  Prince Creon lives, and rules in Monmurg.
Belphanior:  (flabbergasted)  That's not possible.  I killed him myself
  a short time ago, and Blackrazor absorbed his soul!  (he thinks for
  a moment)  What have you done?  A clone?  A doppleganger?
Pallin:  No and no, and "we" have done nothing.  We have not deceived
  you in any way.
Parekh:  Your earlier deduction was correct; though we backed your
  attack, we never expected such death and destruction.
Belphanior:  I'll take that as a compliment.
Parekh:  As you should, for I doubt anyone else could have achieved what
  you did.  Nevertheless, when you succeeded to the extent you did, we
  had no contingency planned.  But someone else did...Alindyar and Lyra,
  for reasons of their own, seized the moment and re-created the Prince,
  using flesh and blood from the still-living man as the genesis.
Belphanior:  (recalls the various wounds on Creon when he was captured)
Pallin:  Knowing that you would slay him sooner or later, they saw a
  chance to install a puppet capable of stepping into the power vacuum
  that resulted from your various attacks on Monmurg.  Normally there
  would still be too many authority figures - political, religious,
  royal, military - to effectuate such a charade, but the aftermath of
  your actions left an ideal situation, and they were determined to take
  advantage of it.
Belphanior:  So...they're going to, what, run the city?  Why?
Rob:  Apparently, you are not the only one with a dislike of slavery.
Parekh:  That is one clear impetus, but there are certainly others.
  For instance, where on Oerth can dark elves openly wield such power?
  Surely you know they would never be tolerated in a true position of
  ultimate authority.  Alindyar realized as soon as he was healed that
  this was his chance of a lifetime to make real changes while remaining
  unknown.  You've been with him long enough to know that while power
  is one thing he seeks, fame is not.  This sort of action suits him,
  and well.
Belphanior:  Agreed, but what does he hope to accomplish that couldn't
  better be done with blood and fire?
Parekh:  Let us show you.
Pallin:  (makes an arcane gesture, and the ceiling above opens wide,
  allowing a huge sphere to descend to eye level)  Surely you recall the
  Eye of Fharlanghn?
Belphanior:  (nods angrily)
Parekh:  (gestures to the sphere as various scenes begin to materialize
  within its depths)  What we've seen in the last day is that "Prince
  Creon" has organized most of the remaining troops to maintain order
  and prevent looting, as well as granted complete freedom to all
  slaves, outlawed slavery, and sent new ambassadors to Keoland and the
Belphanior:  (thoughtfully)  That's actually a pretty clever move, since
  both of those kingdoms have long claimed to oppose slavery and the Sea
  Princes' use of it.  If they _don't_ help out right away, they'll be
  revealed as hypocrites.  We'll see if they're just talk.  (sourly)
  You probably know that I talked to the king of Keoland personally,
  right before we mounted our attack?
Parekh:  To be honest, no.  We are allies enough that we haven't been
  spying on your every move.  But what is paramount to us now is the
  current situation in Monmurg, and what the other cities will think.
Pallin:  Already, several buildings have been restored to help those
  injured.  People are beginning to rally.  With his extraordinary
  control over reality, Alindyar and his mate might actually be able to
  bring order to the chaos you created, saving many lives and building
  a stable future for the entire area.
Drak:  (helpfully)  Plus, this fixes the problem of what to do about the
  thousands of ex-slaves running around mad.
Belphanior:  (considers)  They'll never pull it off.  The false Creon
  will be overthrown or slain, and then-
Parekh:  (tensely)  Who are you to deny someone else's idea?  You have
  your methods, and they have theirs.  Certainly they're as entitled to
  try as you were.  I don't see how they can worsen the
  long as the strings remain hidden.
Pallin:  And _that_ is the dilemma we faced.  We did not want you to
  know the truth behind the false prince, since you just made thousands
  of new enemies, and have quite possibly doomed yourself to be the most
  hunted person in existence.  The risk is too high that you'll be caught
  and tortured, ruining what they are striving to build.  On the other
  hand, you would obviously find out about the "survivor" very quickly,
  and just as obviously try to do something about it.
Belphanior:  Damn right I would.  (thinks carefully)  So you told me,
  rather than letting me find out on my own where I couldn't be talked
  down...and now that I know the secret, you're determined to keep my
  mouth shut about it, eh?
Pallin:  That sums it up, yes.
Belphanior:  No, it doesn't.  What's the use in telling me this if
  you're going to erase it from my memory?  This is a pointless waste of
Rob:  I can clarify that.  This magic is extremely selective, not the
  simple low-level brute-force sort of spell you're probably familiar
  with.  I'll clear the _details_ from your mind, but the base _feeling_
  will remain.  That is why it is now so important for you to not only
  understand, but believe:  you'll be certain that this man's existence
  is tolerable without recollecting _why_, and that you have no desire
  to attack any of the other cities at this time.
Belphanior:  (sarcastically)  I find myself wondering what you people
  will do when the "new" Monmurg fails, brought down by the same basic
  people and attitudes that we're failing to deal with while we have
  them by the balls.
Parekh:  (frowns)
Belphanior:  I can see you've got no interest in debating it, but I'll
  tell you anyway, one more time:  you're wasting a golden opportunity
  to destroy a kingdom.
Parekh:  No, we're taking a golden opportunity to _rebuild_ a kingdom
  the way it should be.
Belphanior:  Bah.  (to Rob)  So your memory magic won't work effectively
  if I don't co-operate?
Rob:  Without a deep, willing assurance within your own self, this entire
  exercise would indeed accomplish nothing.
Belphanior:  I still don't like it, no matter how much you justify it.
Pallin:  We're not asking you to like it.  Sometimes things just happen,
  and we have to deal with it for the greater good of all.
Parekh:  The question you have to ask yourself is this:  are you truly
  fighting slavery, or are you on a violent rampage just for the sake of
  bloodletting?  If the former - which is what you've always claimed -
  then the best way to _defeat_ slavery in the Hold of the Sea Princes,
  without needless loss of life and property, is to let this new chapter
  take its course.  Granted, there are ways in which it could fail, but
  it might also succeed, and if that happens, the benefits clearly make
  the attempt worthwhile.
Pallin:  But for the new Creon's protection, and that of the new Hold,
  your knowledge of the false ruler must be removed.
Rob:  I assure you, it's painless and quite harmless.
Belphanior:  (glares at all of them)
Parekh:  Your companions will have no interest in this matter on their
  own; as always, they will simply follow your lead...even Otto.  Once
  you say the situation is tolerable, they won't question it.  You are
  the driving force, and it is you who must be contained.  (she pauses)
  Contained, not controlled.
Belphanior:  What about Otto there?  He, too, knows that the true Creon
  has been slain.
Rob:  My spell will easily work on his mind, as he is not a spellcaster.
Parekh:  It's a lot like the way a Feeblemind spell works only on those
  who work magic, except this is sort of reversed.
Rob:  (to Belphanior)  With you, the process is helped greatly by the
  subject's compliance, as I said already.
Belphanior:  This isn't very reassuring.
Rob:  Bear in mind that I refuse to affect either of you without your
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)
Pallin:  Think of the balance here:  if you don't do this, you will be
  the greatest risk possible to the rise of a new, slavery-free Hold of
  the Sea Princes.  The secret in your head could someday bring it all
  crashing down.
Belphanior:  (sarcastically)  And the three of you are no risk?  How
Pallin:  We were not there, no object owned by us was there, and we
  had taken magical precautions against being associated with your
  venture, even before this current situation.  I assure you, no one
  will link us to Prince Creon.  (frowns)  Either of them.
Belphanior:  (gazes sideways at Rob, who is waiting patiently)  Yet you
  involve another person, just to remove the threat I represent?  That
  doesn't make-  (he ponders briefly)  Ah, of course.  A new temple for
  a certain lawful good deity will soon be built and consecrated in
  Monmurg, I'd wager...a beach-head for religion from the north.
Rob:  (shrugs)  Call it what you will, but it's obvious that priests who
  heal the injured and feed the hungry are better than an army trying to
  conquer or reclaim the city.  I've already called for some volunteers
  to prepare to sail from Gradsul, to help with the suffering - and yes,
  accept new worshippers.  Assuredly, it will help to support the
  prince's new "enlightened" persona amongst the people, leading to an
  overall improvement in every way.
Parekh:  For what it's worth, Alindyar and Lyra know nothing of this;
  they are simply doing what they will-
Belphanior:  I disagree - they're far too intelligent to have failed to
  think ahead.  But it doesn't matter, does it?  You're already bound
  and determined to see this through anyway.
Rob:  It might have occurred to you that I myself am being used by
  these archmagi.
Belphanior:  (nods, as that very thought had indeed been going through
  his mind as he tried to decide whether to submit or not)  Tools.
Rob:  My friend, your chosen path in life - to worship no god - has
  its advantages, but my path has a few as well.  I am a high priest of
  Trithereon, and I stand for truth and retribution.  I swear to you
  that this spell will have no permanent effect upon you beyond what
  I stated earlier:  no other part of your mind will I touch or even
  examine, and only the origin of the puppet prince will I remove.  I
  do this of my own will, and I cannot be deceived in this, for my deity
  himself guides me.
Belphanior:  (glares at Parekh and Pallin angrily, then turns to Rob)
  Get it over with.

next:       a break from all this
released:   3/24/06
notes:      Every so often - and it's exceedingly rare - I write some
  episodes and then get hit with a great idea that radically reshapes
  those episodes, and I end up rewriting much of them.  That happened
  here.  One good side-effect of this is that I don't have to deal with
  further attacks on the Sea Princes, plus it gives that kingdom a good
  chance to improve all by itself.  The arc ends in a way that it could
  not possibly have ended with my old game plan (having Belphanior wage
  a long, complicated war against the Hold.)
    This will of course free Belphanior up for other adventures...

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