Chapter #974

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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                               +           +
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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       +
+   1991-2009 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!                                          +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          1/11/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         a fortress in the clouds above Oerth's surface         +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "Nothing is as certain as that the vices of leisure are gotten        +
+    rid of by being busy."                                               +
+                                                              - Seneca   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   CMLXXIV.  Calm Before the Storm





  One week has passed since Belphanior and his four companions arrived
at the sky castle, defeated a strange and deadly guardian, and explored
the central keep.  In that time, much of significance has taken place...



  First (and precursor to almost everything else) had been the contents
of the large trunk on the fourth floor of the keep.  As noted before, it
radiated many different auras, suggesting that it contained multiple and
varied magic items.  It also bore some sort of protective magic, which
Belphanior hadn't wanted to challenge until the time was right.  That
time had come after the keep was fully explored; after bypassing the
wards on the large trunk, the adventurers had opened it, revealing the
container to be larger inside than outside (similar to a bag of holding.)
Also, it contained a number of strange and wonderful magical items:
  - ornate wooden mask
  - pair of identical light blue crystals
  - small empty leather sack with tightly-drawn cord
  - crude copper amulet with black gemstone in center
  - small round shield
  - light violet robes with silver trim
  - small iron pot w/hinged lid
  - stoppered ivory tube full of dust
  - small metal box
  - large, well-worn bag
  - tiny silver bell
  - small, primitive wooden sculpture
  - fine black cloak
  - old, battered dwarven mining helmet
  - pouch of seeds
  - five potions

  The most valuable item in the trunk, however, was likely the unusual
tome at its bottom.  Its mithril bindings held a number of thin pages
of parchment; the runes on these had been deciphered to reveal detailed
notes about the properties and operation of the sky castle.  As it turned
out, the special key found in the fifth level was required to enable the
control panel...and one lever on that control panel raised/lowered the
magical shield around the castle.  It was actually that simple.  This
barrier, spherical in shape and completely transparent, blocked physical
and magical passage into and out of the castle and its grounds.  There
was no telling how or why the group had initially been transported into
the castle despite this protection; Belphanior could only assume that it
had to do with the extra-dimensional nature of their previous location
and the being who'd sent them back to Oerth.  However, according to the
mithril-bound tome (and later proven via testing) the special key itself
was proof against the castle's protective field - someone holding the key
could pass through the barrier at will.
  This presented an interesting dilemma:  if the bearer of the key used
it to raise the barrier, he could then leave by any physical or magical
means.  However, if something then happened to the bearer (or the key)
outside the castle and its field, there might theoretically be no means
of escape for any still within, much less a means of entry for anyone
else.  As Skektek had said at the time, this was the price one paid for
having security for one's castle in the sky; with treasures as wondrous
as these, things were seldom simple or easy.



  So that was the second accomplishment:  Belphanior had figured out the
secret of the castle's protective mechanism, which meant that access in
or out could be controlled.  Given the presence of other arcane levers,
knobs, and such in the keep's fifth-floor chamber, it was apparent that
other things about this strange castle could be controlled, but for now,
Belphanior was pleased with what he had learned.



  The three miscellaneous magic items found in the tower had also been
analyzed and then distributed.  The sandals from the second floor granted
their wearer a stealthy power:  total absence of sound while walking or
running.  These sandals were given to Neera.  The ring from the third
floor granted the wearer resistance to fire, and Ys now wore it.  The
wand (also found on the third floor) fired magic missiles; Skektek added
it to his collection of wands and such.



  The fourth achievement was a successful relocation of the party's
headquarters.  After learning how to shut down the protective barrier,
the elf had wasted no time leaving the castle in the clouds, quickly
locating and contacting Neera and Jenna to let them know everything that
had happened recently.  After that, the moving operation had commenced:
all the items that the elf and the others owned were moved out of the
gateway/dungeon in the Pelisso Swamp, and up into the sky castle.  It
hadn't been as much work as he'd have thought - after all, golems were
quite strong, and Belphanior had a lot of golems, and so they'd been used
to do the heavy lifting.  At the end, even the skyship had been brought
to the castle, though locating the latter had required some trial and
error.  Belphanior had used a flying spell to simply descend from the
clouds, down to the surface of the world far below...and had learned
that the castle was located high above the Griff Mountains within the
northeastern section of the Oerik continent.  Even knowing this, it had
proven most difficult for him to actually get the skyship to the castle.

  Otto:  How the hell did you pull that off, again?
  Belphanior:  It's complicated, and not worth explaining.  And if I did
    explain it, then it wouldn't be such a feat, would it?

    Belphanior had specifically avoided asking for any assistance from
  Parekh or Pallin, and he'd found it necessary to explain his reasoning
  to Neera privately...

  Neera:  But they might be able to make this easier.
  Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  I don't want their help.  Some of my -
    OUR - secrets need to remain our secrets, just as I'm sure they have
    their own secrets which they keep from me.  And probably you, now.
  Neera:  (looks insulted)
  Belphanior:  Don't take that personally.  I know you and Parekh see
    eye-to-eye on a lot of things, and share the same mentality for
    research, but you have to understand something:  she's got her own
    goals and she goes about achieving them a lot differently than I
    pursue mine.
  Neera:  I know, but...(she stops, thinking about all the possible times
    that Parekh might have said one thing and meant another, or not told
    her the entire truth about something)
  Belphanior:  You know I'm right.
  Neera:  (sighs)  It's possible.
  Belphanior:  (embraces her)  Look, I'm not saying that she's an enemy -
    far from it.  I'm just pointing out that this castle is ours, not
    hers, and I don't want her knowing everything there is to know about
    it.  (he frowns)  Hell, _I_ don't even know everything about it, not
    yet.  But I intend to find out.
  Neera:  We'll get its secrets figured out, now that I'm here to help.
    And I'll think some more about this Parekh matter.
  Belphanior:  (clenches his jaw, unseen)

  To be sure, the elf had recently gotten an uneasy feeling about Parekh
and her allies...just a vague hunch or notion, nothing definite.  If he
took a step back and tabulated all the knowledge, magic, and secrets that
Belphanior had shared with Parekh, listed next to all that she had shared
with him in return...well, he was starting to wonder if he'd been getting
the small fish so that he didn't notice the lack of bigger ones.  Being
an inherently paranoid but also highly intelligent fellow, Belphanior had
avoided sharing these thoughts with anyone so far.  He just needed more
time to think and observe, to determine if he was right or just imagining
things.  He was confident that time - and experience - would tell.



  The fifth accomplishment - though it was actually more a matter of an
inevitable confrontation finally happening - involved the resurrected
vampiress Drusilla.  Once an evil, undead sorceress, she'd previously had
her memories erased by the magic of Istus, then been contained within a
powerful magical prison for a while, and only recently been freed...to be
immediately and intentionally slain by a holy sword that brought any slain
undead being back to life as a living being.
  This was a lot for anyone to go through, mind-wiped or not; needless
to say, it had made for quite an interesting (if awkward) discussion
once the now-living Drusilla finally woke up...

  Belphanior:  (patiently)  We've been over this three times now.
  Drusilla:  It still sounds insane.  And I still don't remember anything.
  Belphanior:  You're absolutely sure?
  Drusilla:  Well, I vaguely recall a sharp pain in my chest, but it's
    foggy, like it happened in a dream and then I fell back into a deep
    slumber.  (she frowns)  Let me get this right:  you _stabbed_ me in
    the heart?
  Belphanior:  (shrugs)  It seemed prudent at the time.  The slightest
    contact would have drained the life away from anyone you touched, and
    we couldn't have that.
  Drusilla:  I see.

    Now a living woman of flesh and blood, she had a similar appearance
  to her previous undead self:  a human woman in her early thirties, of
  average height, slender build, and great beauty.  However, her shoulder-
  length hair was now whitish-blond, and her skin was a healthy white as
  opposed to a pale one.

  Belphanior:  Do you remember how to use magic?
  Drusilla:  Not exactly.  (she points at a nearby wall, and a single
    magic missile shoots from her finger, dispersing against the stone
    with a loud BANG)  But I've got a feeling that it will come back to
    me fairly easily.
  Belphanior:  Mm.
  Drusilla:  (sighs)  An entire life as a vampire, all those memories
    gone, and eight months trapped in a metal flask.  It's unbelievable.
  Belphanior:  It happened, trust me.  The others and I all witnessed
    the most recent events, at any rate.
  Drusilla:  (looking around)  The natural question for me is...what
    now?  Where will I go?  What will I do?  Are there enemies out there
    waiting for revenge on me, people whose loved ones or friends were
    killed by me when I was a-  (she frowns)  -before?
  Belphanior:  I had these same questions, and I've got an idea.

    The elf had discussed this with the others previously, before this
  conversation with Drusilla, and the reactions had ranged from totally
  positive (Otto, out of practicality) to somewhat negative (Skektek, out
  of jealousness) to surprised (Jenna and Neera) to simply ambivalent
  (Ys.)  Only Razor Charlie had expressed a truly dissenting opinion,
  which had been delivered with a mere five words ("What if she changes
  back?")  The knife-throwing warrior was obviously having some trouble
  believing that the whole undead-reversal process was permanent.  In any
  case, the group had discussed this for over an hour after exploring
  the sky-castle's keep but before confronting Drusilla, and Belphanior
  had made up his mind.

  Drusilla:  What idea?
  Belphanior:  All of your significant enemies are probably dead -
    obliterated, actually, given the nature of the one you once served
    and the allies he could bring to bear.  And all of your significant
    allies from your former life have also been slain.  You possess no
    memory and no ties to anything that came before.
  Drusilla:  All true.  So what?
  Belphanior:  Let me give you a new life.
  Drusilla:  Technically, you've already done that.
  Belphanior:  Err...true.
  Drusilla:  Just pointing that out.  (she fixes him with a firm stare)
    What are you offering, exactly?
  Belphanior:  We'll re-educate you in the ways of magic, teach you how
    to wield it once again.  As you said yourself, earlier, it should be
    a relatively quick and easy process.  Stay here with us...help us
    continue to find and decipher secrets in the world.
  Drusilla:  Xusia's secrets?
  Belphanior:  _All_ secrets.  Xusia's plans and secret caches still
    present some mysteries, but the finding of them has...opened my eyes
    to other, similar things that exist in this world.  We have done a
    lot of good, and I'm convinced that we can do much more, given time
    and effort.
  Drusilla:  (considering this)
  Belphanior:  Help us.  You wielded power...great power.  And you'll
    soon wield it again.  Help us even as you re-acquaint yourself with
    Oerth and everything on it.  It's a mutually beneficial arrangement
    for all parties, and it will also give you the chance to perhaps
    undo some of the deeds of your past.
  Drusilla:  My forgotten past.  (she frowns)  What makes you think I
    care?
  Belphanior:  (regards her, his crystal eye sparkling)  Your evil nature
    has been reversed...some would say almost tangibly so.  It's only
    natural that you now seek to atone for your past actions, even though
    they were not technically _your_ actions.  (he regards her)  Tell me
    I'm wrong.
  Drusilla:  (sadly)  No, you're not wrong.  This entire situation is
    just strange, and although I need time to fully come to terms with
    everything that has happened, it's clear to me that your offer will
    help me do that.  I accept.
  Belphanior:  Excellent.
  Drusilla:  One thing:  I refuse to be called by a name I have no memory
    of, or attachment to.  Since I'm starting over in every other way, I
    need a new name as well.  (she thinks intently, and quickly makes a
    decision)  Hope.  I will now be called Hope.
  Belphanior:  Sounds good to me.

  With that, the discussion had been completed, and shortly thereafter
the ex-vampiress had been introduced to the group as a provisional new
member (and with a permanent new name.)  It would fall upon Neera and
Skektek to help Hope re-learn her spellcasting, as Belphanior was far too
busy dealing with inventory, unpacking, and so on as the group settled
into their new home.



  There was a sixth issue to be addressed - one that Belphanior was
dealing with right now - and that was Mongo.  Because the dwarf wielded
the magical hammer Stormcrest and wore the Belt of the Titans, he was
more or less compelled to remain on solid ground as much as possible...
a fact which he made no qualms about while talking with Belphanior in the
now-empty Pelisso Swamp dungeon.

Mongo:  -I just can't live up there, and that's that.  I'm happy to help
  you kick bad guys' asses, you know that.  But you're going to have to
  come get me if you want my help.
Belphanior:  (ponders this)
Mongo:  Or tell me where to meet you.  I seem to have a way of finding
  bad guys on my own.
Belphanior:  And kicking their asses.
Mongo:  (grins)  That's right!  (he looks around at the barren walls and
  corridors of the complex)  Hell, I'd even live here if it wasn't so far
  away from the rest of the world.  But I guess this is no place for a
  true dwarf...the rock and earth here are wet and weak, from the swamp
  all around.  No, I need to be in a mountain range, or at least some
  hills.
Belphanior:  What, are you planning to gather dwarves and raise an army?
Mongo:  Nah.  I've been involved with that before, and though it has its
  moments, it really wasn't my thing.  I much prefer the small attack
  groups like what you've put together.
Belphanior:  So where will you go?
Mongo:  I might just wander.  I'm sure you can find me if you need to.
Belphanior:  As you wish.  Is there anywhere I can take you?
Mongo:  You mentioned that you were dropping by Greyhawk...that would be
  good.
Belphanior:  (nods)

  Though one of the gateways was below Greyhawk, it would have put them
amidst the sewers, which neither of them particularly wanted.  Thus, the
elf used a spell of teleportation to take himself and Mongo to the plains
outside the Free City, a few minutes' march from the gates.  Belphanior
wore a blue cloak, complete with hood; while he technically had nothing
to worry about as far as enemies among Greyhawk's authorities, he vastly
preferred to avoid any risk of being recognized.

  Soon...

Peldor:  Damn, it's good to see you guys again!
Mongo:  I couldn't agree more.  (he raises a huge mug of beer)  I really,
  really miss the old days.
Belphanior:  Yet there's no stopping progress.

  The three old friends were in a small but cozy private dining chamber
in the inn's basement.  Peldor had already explained that he'd had this
room built specifically to keep certain discussions from being overheard
by...well, by anyone.  The chamber had thick stone walls lined with plush
decorative hangings and portraits; its entrance door was stout and just
about as close to soundproof as was possible.

Peldor:  And trust me, I'd know.  (to Belphanior)  What do you mean by
  "progress" ?
Belphanior:  Only that ten years ago, we roamed the world doing the
  bidding of other people, for _their_ purposes.  Now we've all pretty
  much taken on greater responsibilities.  You rule the Thieves' Guild
  here-
Peldor:  That's a matter of opinion, and any control of the Guild is
  tenuous at best.
Belphanior:  Still, you now control others, and send them on missions and
  such.  I've run a town, and who's to say I won't someday run one again?
  In Keoland, Rob is building a huge cathedral and temple of Trithereon,
  a deity of whom he's a high priest now.  Even Arnold, somewhere to the
  cold north, has a position of authority in his town.
Peldor:  (sighs)  We got old.
Belphanior:  Not as fast as some people, but...like I said.  Progress.
Mongo:  Bah.  I, for one, don't need or want to be in charge of anybody
  or anything.  Beer and battle, that's all I need to be happy.
Peldor:  (shrugs)
Belphanior:  I was hoping that I could keep the necklace of obscurity for
  a while longer.  It...helps me as far as old enemies go.
Peldor:  I didn't know you had any old enemies...I thought you'd killed
  them all.
Belphanior:  I have, as far as I know, but there's always someone who I
  might have forgotten about.  Someday, perhaps, I'll design a massive
  and powerful trap, let them all come to me seeking revenge...and then
  crush them in my fist all at once.  Maybe not literally, but you get
  the idea.  (he smiles wistfully)  Someday.  But right now, I have other
  things on my agenda...some of which you can help me with.
Peldor:  I'm listening.
Belphanior:  What's the best way to turn a large amount of gold into some
  other form?
Mongo:  If it was me, I'd melt it...melt it into one big nugget.
Belphanior:  That's not really what I meant.  I have gold...all this gold,
  and silver, and platinum, and gemstones, ingots, jewelry...from a dozen
  great adventures.  I hate to leave it that way, though, because it could
  get stolen.
Peldor:  The easiest answer to your "problem" there is to divide the
  hoard into many smaller ones, and spread them around in many different
  places.  That way, even if you get robbed, you won't lose more than one
  piece of your fortune.
Belphanior:  True, but-
Peldor:  But what you're really asking is how to convert your money into
  something that holds value, yet cannot be stolen from you.
Belphanior:  Exactly!
Mongo:  I still recommend the gigantic golden nugget.  _That_ can't be
  stolen from you because it's just too big.
Peldor:  (picturing Bosco trying to steal such a treasure but eventually
  giving up and building a throne atop it)  Mm.
Belphanior:  So...how can I accomplish this?  Invest?
Peldor:  Yep.  I'd invest and diversify - buy some land, build some stuff
  on it, rent it out or hold it until the value goes up.  And there are
  plenty of other ways to invest...ships, castles, mines...start a farm.
  Breed horses or chickens.  Build a foundry and become a weapon-maker.
  The possibilities are endless.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I see.
Peldor:  I, myself, have dabbled in some of these areas.  You'd really be
  surprised how fast you can build up a good cashflow.
Belphanior:  I'll bear that in mind.
Peldor:  So how much do you have to invest?

  Belphanior looked around (purely by instinct) then retrieved his
portable hole and opened it, revealing a much larger extradimensional
space.  This space was filled to the brim with all sorts of monetary
treasures, everything the elf had just mentioned and more.

Peldor:  Holy crap.
Mongo:  (nearly chokes on his beer)
Belphanior:  I could use your help with the...repurposing of this money.
Peldor:  It'll take some time.
Belphanior:  Not a problem.  I've got things to attend to, so I can just
  leave it here, if that's okay.
Mongo:  I'll definitely help guard it, as I'll be staying in Greyhawk for
  a few days at least-
Peldor:  Staying at my inn, of course.
Mongo:  See?  It's only right that I help guard it, since I'm going to
  be here anyway.  (he frowns)  Damn, I must sound like Bosco.
Belphanior:  Just don't _act_ like Bosco and you'll be okay.

  A short time later, the elf had departed the Green Dragon Inn, leaving
behind a somewhat drunk Mongo, a quite bewildered Peldor, and a not-so-
small fortune.  He told them he'd be back in the near future, though he
didn't really know that for sure.  What Belphanior did know - and hadn't
revealed to the other two - was that the loot left in Greyhawk just now
was only a portion of his overall wealth.  He would never leave all his
eggs in one basket, so instead he'd handed Peldor a fairly large egg and
given him the leeway to invest it as the master thief saw fit.  What
Belphanior wanted were assets - valuable possessions that were his not
simply by virtue of possession but also by the law of the land.  He was
confident that Peldor would be able to make that happen, and so he'd set
these plans in motion today.
  With that underway, and with Mongo back on solid land and happy to be
there, Belphanior headed to Greyhawk's Market Quarter to procure fresh
supplies.  Between him and the others in the group, there was a need for
everything from spell components to oil, from rope to cheese.  As he
roamed the markets and purchased the things he needed, the elf's mind
wandered, thinking about some other concerns beyond the seven already
addressed.



  Every one of his group's members possessed enchanted weapons or armor
that they either didn't need or couldn't use.  Belphanior had considered
trying to sell all of those things in Greyhawk, but had opted against it
for several reasons.  First, selling that many enchanted items in one
place would have drawn attention to him, which was never good.  Second,
none of the adventurers needed the money, so selling off things that had
been won through sweat and blood was almost an insult.  Third, if they
ever got henchmen or guards, the assorted weapons and armor might come
in handy.  With that latter possibility in mind, Belphanior had asked all
of his group to "donate" their excess equipment to a general community
stash.  Being both loyal and practical, they had unanimously agreed, and
although some of the adventurers had more such items to lend than others,
the pool of items was still significant:
  (from Belphanior)
    plate mail of the deep
    trident of the deep
    spear +4
    spiked mace +3 of wounding
    cutlass of speed
    bastard sword of wounding
    broadsword, defender
    longsword, frost brand
    longsword, nine lives stealer
    longsword of dancing
    longsword of shocking
  (from Otto)
    battleaxe +3, vorpal
    ring of wizardry
  (from Ys)
    small shield +2
    gigantic battleaxe +3
    great axe +4
    pike +4

  It had already been decided that Neera would get the ring of wizardry,
to increase her daily spell capacity.  Also, Ys had commented on the
improbability of anyone else being able to even lift the axes and pike.
Aside from that, the rest of this store of weapons and armor would now
be used to arm future associates if and when it became necessary.



  Belphanior had recently reviewed the various defensive items and magic
that he personally carried or used.  These protections could be grouped
into four types:
  - constant (conferred by worn or carried magic items, e.g. periapts of
    proof vs poison and wound closure, as well as his enchanted eye's
    assorted detection powers)
  - battle protections (spells cast right before battle, e.g. stoneskin,
    protection from normal missiles, Blackrazor's haste power)
  - situational protections (ones only brought into play at critical
    times, e.g. anti-magic shell, globe of invulnerability, hourglass
    of Kronos, wall of force)
  - other (special/ongoing measures, e.g. spells of contingency, clones)

  As always, this meant that anytime Belphanior headed into a battle with
even minimal time to prepare, he was highly aware and capable, possessing
the use of infravision, ultravision, detection of magic and traps and
secret doors, superior vision, and immunity to blindness.  The elf could
sense souls, was immune to charm and fear magic, and was typically hasted
beforehand.  He possessed strong resistance to poison, and his body's normal
healing processes were greatly augmented.  Besides these measures, the
elf could easily have spells of stoneskin and protection from normal
missiles in effect.  He'd always felt it best to be prepared, and there
was no reason whatsoever not to use every single advantage he could bring
to bear.



  Another issue - which was now more important than ever - was that of
the teleportation gateways and their security.  Belphanior had come to
realize that the gateways were powerful and useful enough to merit
safeguarding; since the elf possessed Xusia's talisman, he had the
capability to shut down the entire network of gateways.  Accordingly,
that had been the last thing he'd done before he and Mongo left the
underground Pelisso Swamp hideout.  If and when he needed to use the
gateways again, Belphanior would re-activate them with the talisman at
that time; until then, they were inert and nonfunctional.  This would
prevent their chance use by other parties; after all, Belphanior wasn't
technically finished exploring all of them.



  With all of these matters handled, a new day had soon dawned for the
group that followed Belphanior...



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Jenna          9th level female human priestess of Istus              +
+   Neera          11th level female human sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          1/12/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         a fortress in the clouds above Oerth's surface         +
+   Climate:       cold outside, cool inside                              +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



  They had taken up residence in the sky castle, and all of their items,
treasure, and so forth were here with them.  Belphanior and Neera took
up residence in the master suite on the fourth floor.  The third floor
living quarters were claimed by Otto, Razor Charlie, Skektek, Ys.  That
left Hope and Jenna in rooms on the second floor, with two spare chambers
for guests, future team members, storage, or whatever.  The first level's
armory was now expanded significantly with the addition of the thirteen
completed golems from the armory gateway:  six stone golems, three iron
golems, and four odd ones (bone, coal, glass, black metal.)  As well,
the other seven unfinished golems were now in the armory here.
  At long last, Belphanior had used the blue metal rod to actually issue
commands to some of the golems:  four of the stone ones now stood outside
the keep's double doors as guardians, just in case anyone somehow got
past the protective barrier and into the castle grounds.



  The next couple of weeks were among the quietest and most uneventful
that any of the adventurers had ever experienced.  Each of them caught
up on whatever it was that they hadn't had time to do while roaming the
world having battles and such.  In Hope's case, this time was the most
beneficial; with a little guidance from Neera and Skektek (mostly Neera)
the newest member of the team quickly proved herself able to re-learn
whatever magical skills she'd possessed in her previous life.  And her
aptitude was not insignificant.  Many wizards had a particular area of
specialty; Skektek, for example was an invoker and tended to favor
invocation/evocation magic.  Neera was a diviner, whose expertise was
with divination spells.  The dark elf Alindyar was an illusionist and
thus a master of illusion/phantasm magic.  Belphanior had no specialty,
preferring to be merely good at all forms of magic rather than a master
of one.
  Anyhow, Hope was a transmuter, whose natural talent was alteration
magic...changing the natural motion or direction of things, creating
lights and sounds, augmenting peoples' natural abilities, altering the
innate properties of objects, and so on.  Alteration was the broadest
conventional school of magic, with the most spells, and the pale-haired
mage had already proven herself capable of some of the most powerful of
these spells...teleportation, telekinesis, polymorphing, and so forth.
This skill did not go unnoticed by some of the others, who watched from
a distance as their new companion practiced her magic in the castle's
courtyard, mentally moving a large rock back and forth in the air with
potent speed and great precision.

Skektek:  She's good.  (to Belphanior)  I hope you know what you're
  doing, inviting her to join us.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I know what I'm doing.
Skektek:  (grumbles unhappily)
Jenna:  (wonders if the wizard cast a similar vote for her, before she
  joined the group)
Neera:  I think her magic will be complementary to Skektek's, and mine.
wispy thing:  (floating around their heads)  frrrn.
Otto:  In my opinion, it can't hurt to have another experienced wizard
  around.  (he frowns)  Even if she used to be a vampire.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)  We know how to deal with those.
Belphanior:  For the last time...vampires don't totally become human, and
  then change back.  It doesn't work that way.  You're either a vampire,
  or you're a human.
Skektek:  (thinking to himself that Belphanior would know, though he
  dares not state that)
wispy thing:  (makes an odd face)  brrrd.
Belphanior:  (to everyone)  It's time to divide or assign the items we
  found in the chest on the fourth floor.  Neera's scried and divined
  all of them, and we have a pretty good idea what everything is.

  Without further ado, the plunder was claimed.

  Neera took the small round shield and the ornate wooden mask.  The
shield was barely a buckler, and specially designed for wizards; if
its owner was attacked, the shield would animate (not unlike a dancing
sword) and hover in the air to deflect blows and missiles.  The mask,
when worn, allowed the wearer to sense all forms of possession, magic
jar, and so forth.

  Razor Charlie took the fine black cloak, a cloak of darkness which
conferred invisibility but only at night.  He also got all five potions
(three of extra-healing, one of strength, and one of vitality.)

  Jenna took the tiny silver bell and the small, tightly-bound empty
leather sack.  The bell was holy, and a powerful ward against undead;
the sack was a bag of the winds which would release a mighty gust of
wind several times per day.

  Skektek got the stoppered ivory tube and the crude copper amulet.
The tube contained dust of confusion, which would have that effect upon
anyone who breathed it.  The amulet had a small black gemstone in its
center; when a command word was uttered, this stone - actually a magical
disembodied eye - would open, causing temporary blindness in anyone who
gazed upon it.

  Otto claimed the small iron pot and the large, worn bag.  The pot had
a hinged, well-fitting lid, and for good reason:  when opened, it issued
forth great gouts of thick black smoke.  Much like a decanter of endless
water, this pot theoretically had no limit to the amount it could produce
if left open.  As for the old, nasty-looking bag, it had a nasty power...
anything placed within would be crushed, as if placed between two huge
blocks of stone.

  Ys, ever the one to collect simple but odd things, took the tiny pouch
of seeds and the small, primitive wooden sculpture.  The seeds were very
powerful - a single one, when planted, would yield bountiful crops upon
the next morning.  The totem was also a potent item; a curse breaker, it
would destroy any cursed item it came into contact with.  The reptilian
considered testing this power immediately, upon the great horned helm
from the armory gateway, but decided to wait.  After all, that fearsome
helm's unknown curse could only harm someone foolish enough to put it on.

  Belphanior only took one treasure for himself, but insisted that two
others be distributed as he saw fit.  Though Hope was new to the team,
she was lacking armor, weapons, items, and so on - she didn't even have
a spellbook.  To her, Belphanior awarded the light violet robes with
silver trim; these robes conferred powerful protective magic.  As for the
old, battered dwarven mining helmet, Belphanior wanted it to go to Mongo
the next time they saw him.  The helm could only be used by a dwarf, and
it enabled the wearer to sense much detail about surrounding stonework
(both constructed and natural.)  Although Otto could have used this helm,
he also wouldn't have, whereas Mongo probably would.
  For himself, Belphanior claimed only the pair of identical light blue
crystals.  These were seeing stones, and were mystically linked, such
that two people in two places (each bearing one of the stones) could see
and speak with each other.
  The metal box turned out to be made of adamant - the strongest metal
known to man, dwarf, or god - and utterly devoid of seams, hinges, or any
other means of opening.  They only knew it was a box at all because when
shaken, it obviously contained something.  It also radiated extremely
powerful magic, and so they decided to examine it further in the near
future.

Belphanior:  A good haul, really.
Ys:  Indeed.  (to Belphanior)  What next?  We have a castle in the sky,
  a flying ship, a small army of golems, and who knows what other assets.
  What shall we do now?





next:       an unexpected loose end returns to wreak major havoc
gateways:   http://www.peldor.com/misc/gateways.php?chapter=974
ftp:        ftp.peldor.com
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   9/25/09
notes:      This would be a really good time to check all the character
  sheets online at peldor.com - they are caught them up through this
  episode, which includes all of the items people have gained recently.

    The golems were initially mentioned in episode 885 and I've been
  meaning to try and get them more involved in things.

    The possibility of using the talisman to shut down the entire network
  of gateways was first mentioned in episode 922, and I've been meaning
  since then to show that it was possible and then actually do it.

    The list of Belphanior's various protections was first tabulated in
  episode 924, but this seemed like a good time to revisit it since I'd
  updated all of the character sheets.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



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