Chapter #978

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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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       +
+   1991-2010 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     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          3/12/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the Free City of Greyhawk                              +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "Put yourself in their situation."                                    +
+   "I'm not in their situation.  I'm in mine."                           +
+                  - Kyle Reese, from the _Terminator_ novelization       +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   CMLXXVIII.  Secrets Recovered





  After uncovering the last of Xusia and Drusilla's secrets - including
some history that only a handful of living people know and plots that
could potentially affect entire kingdoms - Belphanior had spent a week
in seclusion, simply thinking...and planning.  While the others had been
alarmed at the elf's sudden desire for seclusion, there had been nothing
that they could do about it.  He merely informed them that he had some
things to take care of, and then he had departed the sky castle.
  Since he wielded mighty magic, the elf's travels would be both rapid
and efficient.  Since he still wore the powerful necklace borrowed from
Peldor, he could not be scried, tracked, or otherwise located...and so
his travels would be completely secret.  Belphanior's anonymity was even
further ensured by his selective use of disguise to mask his identity;
he had many enemies in the world, and there was no sense in taking undue
risks.
  For seven days, the elf had holed up in a remote location where none
would think to look for him and none would bother him, gathering his
thoughts and planning his next moves.  After that, he'd embarked on a
series of initiatives based on the results of his week of solitude.

  His first mission involved acquiring a simple but powerful magical
item, one that was quite useful but likely not unique.  To this end,
he'd brought large amounts of coin and gemstones as well as some surplus
magical items that could be bartered for the one he needed.  He'd also
studied and mastered the necessary spells to read an item's magical aura
and verify its assorted powers and properties; there was little chance
that he'd get fooled with a weaker imitation of that which he truly
sought.  This endeavor took him three days, spent in numerous guilds and
marketplaces within three major cities; in the third, he found what he
was looking for.  The price he paid, while high, was well worth it.
  After that, he met with Parekh, a trip that had multiple motivations.
The stated purpose was to update Parekh on the status of some of Neera's
research, as well as for Belphanior to take stock of certain artifacts
he'd loaned to Parekh, such as the teardrop of the gods and the white
tome from the moon gateway.  The actual purpose was, through casual and
apparently-random conversation, to query the sorceress about certain
other matters and determine whether she was being honest and forthright
with him.  Thanks to the unusual but powerful item he'd acquired, he was
able to learn what he needed from speaking with Parekh, without her ever
suspecting his true motives.
  The third thing Belphanior needed to do required solitude once more,
and so he retreated to the same remote location where he'd spent seven
days thinking peacefully about things that didn't involve peace.  Here,
he prepared a great and powerful spell, one that taxed the upper limits
of his (or anyone's) spellcasting ability.  For an entire day, he made
preparations and readied himself to cast this most powerful of magicks.
Everything had to be precisely planned and executed; when he was finally
and completely confident that all was in readiness, he worked the magic
and cast the spell...and was almost sorry for its outcome.  At the same
time, it had been necessary in order for Belphanior to make his next
move.





  The small group of people regarded the slain monster in the center
of the cavern with a mix of curiosity and disgust...

Belphanior:  (quietly amused by these reactions)  Thank you all for
  coming on such short notice.
Pallin:  We are not accustomed to gathering very often, much less
  traveling to remote regions.  This had better be good.
Belphanior:  It will be well worth the time, I assure you.
Dexithesius:  We'll be the judge of that, young man.
Parekh:  (suppresses a chuckle)

  Belphanior had contacted Parekh previously, with some incredible news
that bore great urgency.  Following some clues and hints unearthed in
one of his previous adventures, the elf had learned the most probable
location of the Lost Arcanum - a fabled trove of spellbooks and other
lore, gathered many centuries ago but lost for just as long.  Unknown
incantations and formulae from some of the greatest magi ever to roam
Oerth were said to be part of that collection; the sheer knowledge and
power of the hoard would certainly be epic in scope.

Belphanior:  I followed up on the lead...and did a hell of a lot of
  exploring, deciphering, and puzzle-solving.  (he smirks)  And, as you
  can see, a bit of fighting...

  They stood within a large cavern, reached via a complicated series
of doors and passages.  Belphanior - who alone knew the exact location
of the outer entrance - had teleported the group to that ledge, on the
side of a mountain deep within the Crystalmists.  From the ledge, found
initially by Belphanior using complicated navigation that involved the
sun's position in the sky and certain landmarks, the elf had moved a
large boulder aside.  This action had revealed a narrow tunnel leading
into the side of the mountain.  The passage had forked several times,
but the elf had memorized the correct sequence.  There had also been
several concealed doors to pass through, some of such craftsmanship
that even these mighty archmagi had difficulty sensing them all.  After
leading the group through the maze, Belphanior had eventually brought
them into a larger area, a natural cavern a hundred feet across and
about half that high.
  This spacious area contained the gory carcass of a gigantic hydra,
half of its dozen heads severed, the rest mangled beyond recognition.
The body showed signs of multiple forms of damage - crushing blows,
spells, and so on.  The cavern had suffered from the fight, as well;
several huge furrows dotted the floor, and a great black blast mark
could be seen on one wall, while several craters had been blown into
various other areas of the chamber's walls.  A cluster of stalactites
had fallen (or been knocked loose) and were imbedded in the floor near
the monster's body.

Belphanior:  Not only did it have a bunch of heads, but each one could
  breathe fire, at will.  (he sighs)  Quite a fight.
Wu:  (notes that one fallen stalactite pins one of the hydra's heads
  to the floor)  Indeed.
Dexitheseus:  Damn, but that thing stinks!
Belphanior:  We only slew it yesterday.
Pallin:  (looks upon the odiferous remains, his nose wrinkling)
Cespedes:  (frowns)  I no longer possess a sense of smell.  (he eyes
  the cavern)  Where is this beast's nest...its droppings?
Belphanior:  It wasn't here when we entered this cavern - I suppose it
  was magically transported here, and we had to fight it.
Pallin:  (sensing a vague but recent tinge of teleportation magic on the
  huge corpse, he nods)  A typical treasure-guarding scheme...simple and
  effective.  No need to worry about feeding the thing.
Wu:  (kneels down and grabs a loose fang from one of the dead hydra's
  mouths)  I can use this.
Belphanior:  Heh.  (he points)  If you like the hydra, you'll love what's
  in the next room.

  The far side of the huge cavern contained a roughly-cut square exit
passage, ten feet wide and ten feet high.  The red-cloaked elf led them
through this; it made a couple of sharp turns before opening into a
larger, cube-shaped chamber fifty feet on a side.  Scattered across the
floor of this area were hundreds of shards of some black, volcanic
material that looked like obsidian.

Wu:  Quite magical, even in this form.  What was it?
Belphanior:  A stone golem, but unlike any other I've ever encountered.
  Spells bounced off of its rune-covered form, and only physical attacks
  had any effect.  Fortunately, we had someone who could go toe-to-toe
  with the construct.
Parekh:  (curious)  What of Mongo, and Otto, and the others?  Are they
  not here?
Belphanior:  They helped me get through all of this, to be sure...but
  once I realized what we had here, I took the group home and came right
  to you.
Pallin:  A wise move.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I knew that the splendors of the Lost Arcanum would
  be even richer if they hadn't yet been touched by idle hands attached
  to uncomprehending minds.
Cespedes:  An astute observation.
Dexitheseus:  (pointing with his staff to one corner of the cube-shaped
  chamber)  The tomes lie that way?
Belphanior:  They do.  (he strides over there and begins manipulating
  the stonework, triggering the opening of a section of the wall and
  revealing a narrow passage ahead leading into darkness)  You sense
  the great magic ahead, I am sure?
Dexitheseus:  (shrugs)  Perhaps the least of my staff's powers.  (he
  holds the wooden staff up, and its tip suddenly glows even more
  brightly, shining into the five-foot-wide passage)  As was that.
Belphanior:  We cleared all of this out before, but just in case...
  (he draws his sword)
Parekh:  After you?
Belphanior:  Of course.

  The elf led them into the passage, which was old and dusty.  After
a hundred feet or so, its floor became steps, leading downward.

Pallin:  I can see why you didn't want to teleport us directly into the
  Arcanum.  This is quite a lot of stone, and it's tinged with the sort
  of ores that make teleportation tricky.
Belphanior:  So that explains why I was having trouble with all of my
  teleportation efforts before.
Pallin:  (smiles thinly)  No cause to worry - a mountain like this is
  likely to defy even the greatest such magic.
Belphanior:  I also wanted all of you to see the guardians I had to
  beat in order to get down here.
Dexitheseus:  (leaning on his staff wearily)  How much further?
Belphanior:  Fear not - we're almost there.

  Several dozen steps later, the passage leveled out again; ten feet
from the bottom step was a short, stout door of dark wood, with thick
iron bands for reinforcement.

Belphanior:  In there lies the Lost Arcanum.  It's sealed by-
Pallin:  (completes the spell he started as they approached the door,
  and it opens outward)
Belphanior:  -the wizard lock I put on it when I left yesterday.  Seemed
  like a good precaution.  (he strides through the door, bending down a
  bit to avoid bumping his head)
Pallin:  (to Parekh)  Can you feel all the magic in there?
Parekh:  Oh, yes.

  One by one, the others followed Belphanior through the small door and
into the chamber beyond.  It was conical in shape, thirty feet across
with a ceiling perhaps fifty feet above, where the walls tapered into
a point.  At ground level, the perimeter of the chamber was lined with
shelves, many of which were sagging or broken with the ravages of time.
A large, ancient oaken table rested in the center of the floor, though
the half-dozen wooden chairs around it were old, fragile, and mostly
unserviceable.
  The state of the furniture didn't matter, though, for the real value
here was in the hundreds of books!  Many of the intact shelves (and some
of the collapsed ones) were loaded with dusty tomes and ancient librams.
Several dozen had actually fallen onto the floor, where they lay amid a
thick coat of dust.

Dexitheseus:  (breathes deeply)  The Lost Arcanum...
Wu:  Indeed!
Belphanior:  (watches the quintet of archmagi move into the room, and
  smiles thinly, pleased with his work)

  The elf followed the others into the chamber, taking a deep breath as
he realized that, in just a moment, nothing would ever be the same.  The
wizards' excitement meant that they weren't really paying attention to
Belphanior, so they didn't think anything of it when he walked to the
center of the room, grabbed the heavy oaken table, and heaved with all
of his augmented strength.

Parekh:  What the...?  (she suddenly swoons)
Pallin:  (drops the tattered book he was examining and stands upright,
  his eyes wide)  Aie!
Dexitheseus:  (staggers, as if poleaxed)  Ungh...
Wu:  (leans on a shelf for support, causing it to collapse with him
  as he falls to the floor weakly)  Unf!
Cespedes:  Ack.  (he crumbles into dust, leaving behind his black robes
  and metal skullcap)
Parekh:  (turns to regard the oaken table at the center of the room, her
  eyes widening in horror)

  The table's top was askew now, one end touching the floor while the
other jutted up at an angle.  Beneath the tilted tabletop, _within_ the
table's thick base, actually, was a large, roughly spherical object of
dull gray stone.  Something about this sphere's very existence sapped
the strength from all present in the chamber.

Pallin:  (struggling to remain standing)  Wh- What treachery...?
Belphanior:  (leans on a wall for support momentarily, as if regaining
  his bearings, he then moves over to the room's only door, closing a
  padlock on the latch attached to this side of the portal...a latch
  that nobody had any reason to notice before now)  It's pretty simple,
  really.  The anti-magic sphere can be contained by this special box,
  fashioned of strange and rare materials.  (he gestures to the "table"
  in the center of the room)  I built a false tabletop over the lid, so
  that by grabbing it and pulling it open, the sphere's magic-cancelling
  radiations would be free, as they are now.  The false table really was
  the best hiding place, given all the options.  (he moves toward Pallin)
Pallin:  (wringing his hands in spellcasting motions as he speaks some
  ancient words of great power)
Belphanior:  It won't work.  This room, and in all probability this
  entire complex, are filled with anti-magic radiations now.  You, my
  friend, have just been rendered helpless.
Pallin:  (takes a step back)  How dare you-
Belphanior:  (punches the other elf, knocking him out cold)  That's for
  all the times you ever pissed me off.

  The elf turned to the other member of the Cabal who was young, vital,
and not likely to be stunned like the much older Dexitheseus and Wu.

Parekh:  (at the door, she struggles in vain with the padlocked latch)
Belphanior:  Funny, isn't it?  Wizards who can level mountains with their
  magic aren't even able to kick down a door.  Perhaps you should have
  devoted some time to improving yourself in fields other than magic.
  (he reaches out to grab her)
Parekh:  (looking panicked)  Keep your hands off of me!  (she struggles
  furiously, but to no avail)
Belphanior:  Calm down.  I'm only going to bind your hands.  (he does
  so, quickly and efficiently, behind her back)  Honestly, I'm offended
  that you'd even think I'd do anything else.
Parekh:  How can I know what to think right now?
Belphanior:  (grabs the one chair that's fully intact, and then sets it
  upright)  Point.  (he sits her down in the rickety chair)  Stay put.

  As the helpless sorceress watched in confusion, and more than a little
apprehension, the elf produced a small glass bottle and a wad of cloth
from a pocket, and wet the latter with the former.

Parekh:  What are you doing now?
Belphanior:  Securing this situation.  (he holds the damp cloth against
  Wu's mouth and nose, and the ancient wizard collapses)
Parekh:  Aie!
Belphanior:  Relax.  (he gently lowers the man to the floor, then moves
  toward Dexitheseus)  It's just a sleeping concoction.

  The old man struggled with surprising strength, but shortly, he too
was unconscious.  Belphanior repeated the process with Pallin as well.

Belphanior:  Just in case he would have woken up early.  (he turns to
  the remains of Cespedes)  I don't suppose you can explain that...?
Parekh:  He often spoke of being sustained by magic, of having left his
  mortal body behind.  (she glares at the elf)  So you killed him here
  today by neutralizing all magic.
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  How could I have known that he needed magic to
  survive?  It's unfortunate.  (he turns to her)  Maybe I can have his
  spot in your group now?
Parekh:  (scowls silently)
Belphanior:  (eyeing the remains of Cespedes, he frowns)  I'll deal with
  him later.
Parekh:  Deal with him?  He's dead!
Belphanior:  Possibly, but the least I can do is scrape his remains up
  and put them in a container.
Parekh:  (shaking her head angrily)  Lost Arcanum, my ass.  (she looks
  around)  I'm guessing none of this is real?  How did you pull this off?
Belphanior:  There are some magical books here, sure, but also a lot more
  with powerful - but fake - auras imparted upon them.  Additionally,
  there are a number of magic items hidden behind the bookshelves; the
  aura of enchantment had to be as strong as possible.  I finally found
  a use for the dozens of powerful but extraneous magical weapons and
  armors I've collected over the years.  If it wasn't for all the strong
  magic auras in here, one of you might have noticed that some of the
  books' auras were fake.
Parekh:  Hmph.
Belphanior:  Even the dust is real - it's actually centuries old - but
  I just sprinkled it carefully over everything so this room would have
  the appearance of having been untouched for a very long time.
Parekh:  Clever.
Belphanior:  Isn't it, though?  I spent a great deal of time, money, and
  effort on this ruse; I'm quite pleased that it worked so well.
Parekh:  (shaking her head)  You found the one thing that we all craved,
  even at our levels of power.
Belphanior:  Magical spells and knowledge.  I needed something that would
  draw all of you out at the same time, and I needed you to come here so
  I could spring the trap.  Thus, the thick mountain with the rather
  unique metallic ore content - that part wasn't fake, of course.  It
  actually is quite difficult to teleport into or out of this dungeon
  complex.  (he frowns)  I had to summon the hydra, but that's different.
Parekh:  And the golem?
Belphanior:  A lot of rare black glass, which I shattered and whose bits
  I then imparted with a series of enchantments.  As I said, this entire
  thing was quite well thought out.
Parekh:  Obviously.  You're very smug - I'm surprised that Otto and the
  others aren't here to gloat with you.
Belphanior:  I'm not here to gloat, and none of them know about this.
  For their own safety, you understand.
Parekh:  That will be even more true once Drak and the others find out
  what you've done here.
Belphanior:  Nobody's going to find out.  You can't be scried here, due
  to the anti-magic field.  (he cracks his knuckles)  I never did tell
  you that I recovered the anti-magic sphere, some time ago.  A lot of
  people think of me as paranoid, often undertaking foolish or pointless
  endeavors, but my instincts proved correct once again.  (he sighs)  I
  had originally planned on "saving" the sphere for some great occasion.
  (he looks around spreading his hands)  Like this.  I even acclimated
  myself to the shock of its unique radiations, several times in the
  last few days, so that I'd be ready for the sudden loss of magic.
  After all, I needed to be able to function within the anti-magic zone,
  or at last function better than you and these others.
Parekh:  (incredulous)  You've been planning this for some time?
Belphanior:  (nods)  More or less, yes.  Yes, I have.  It was bound to
  happen sooner or later...at least, once I found out that you people
  tampered with my memory.

  Parekh's face fell at that, with defeat more than surprise.  She had
no idea that it was even possible for the elf to overcome the magical
memory block that Rob had placed upon him after the violent events in
the Hold of the Sea Princes.

Parekh:  H- how...?
Belphanior:  (rubs his temples)  Honestly?  I'm not even sure how.  My
  guess would be a combination of several things:  my own willpower...
  the caster of the spell being a priest of the god of truth as well as
  an old friend of mine...the fact that I willingly allowed the memory
  alteration to take place...and perhaps most importantly, my subsequent
  and frequent exposure to pieces of the deception as well as its very
  architects.
Parekh:  (shaking her head)  But Rob said-
Belphanior:  He was wrong - though, again, I can't claim to know why or
  how - and his spell was imperfect.  It wasn't easy to break its yoke,
  though.  For months, I've sensed, deep in my mind and thoughts, that
  _something_ wasn't right.  From time to time, I felt that I was close
  to actually remembering something, as if something long submerged was
  about to break through the surface...but it never quite did.  (he
  sighs)  I knew something was wrong, but not exactly what it might be.
Parekh:  (frowns)
Belphanior:  Anyway, after enduring these headaches - figuratively and
  literally - for many months, I recently decided to make an effort to
  learn more.  It wasn't easy or cheap, but I acquired a ring of truth.
  (he points to the band of silver in his left ear, from which dangles
  a tiny piece of lapis lazuli)  Halbarad once had one of these, though
  it was a ring for a finger, not an ear.  This one's better, too, since
  it's not cursed.  Simply put, if someone speaks a lie in my presence,
  I'll know it.
Parekh:  (thinking hard)  This explains certain aspects of our last
  talk.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I was fishing for half-truths, or half-lies.  I had
  to know if you were being completely honest with me.  (he smirks)  And
  you haven't, have you?  You've been a bad girl.
Parekh:  (says nothing)
Belphanior:  After my suspicions were confirmed, there was but one thing
  left to do:  I expended a tremendous amount of power to cast a Wish
  spell, to set my mind right.  Obviously, it worked.
Parekh:  If you remember everything you've mentioned, then you must also
  remember that we did what we did for a good reason-
Belphanior:  Although the logic of what you did was sound, it still...
  well, let's just say it pissed me off.  Yeah, that would be putting
  it mildly.  (he grits his teeth)  And finding out about your little
  memory alteration really put everything else into perspective.
Parekh:  Everything else?
Belphanior:  (nods)  It all makes sense now.  You found clues, or other
  evidence of buried magical treasure, and I then went out and risked
  life and limb to unearth it.  When I needed a little help or a little
  push in the right direction, you and Pallin were always there to give
  that assistance.  Always to your own gain, though.  You and Pallin
  recovered and repaired my skyship, and added a teleportation device
  to it - how better to keep track of me?  You also reverse-engineered
  one of the teleportation gateways - I wouldn't be surprised if you,
  or Pallin at least, has already found a way to tap into that network
  for your own ends.  And so on.  I've been suspicious for some time...
  I knew something didn't feel right.  And now I know what happened
  after Monmurg - an attack none of you even participated in directly.
  As usual.  I started seeing all kinds of patterns, once it occurred
  to me to look for them.
Parekh:  But we did come along on several of those quests ourselves!
Belphanior:  Yes, you did - when the stakes were too high, or when you
  needed to be there for some other reason, or to keep up appearances.
  I admit you did fight in person to save me, when I was about to be
  executed.  In fact, that's one reason you're still breathing right
  now.  (he frowns)  Because the other times, you people used me to do
  what you needed done.
Parekh:  It's not like that-
Belphanior:  I think it is.  And using others is bad enough, but then
  screwing around with my memories to cover up the results of turning me
 loose, and to cover your own asses, was inexcusable.  _Is_ inexcusable.
Parekh:  Listen to yourself.  You're insane!
Belphanior:  That may be, but the time's come for me to control my own
  destiny - without your help.  (he looks around at the other three
  unconscious members of the Cabal)  Any of you.
Parekh:  (now truly frightened)  What happens to us now?
Belphanior:  (holds up the cloth with the sleep-inducing liquid)  Right
  now, you sleep.  Long-term, I haven't quite decided yet.  Death would
  be one option, though that's a harsh measure and more importantly, an
  irreversible one.  More likely - much more likely - the four of you
  will be kept here in a drugged state.  That's entirely possible, and
  feasible, without the use of any magic - just natural substances found
  in plants, in nature.  I'll bet you didn't know that.
Parekh:  It honestly never occurred to me.
Belphanior:  If I opt to re-use the anti-magic sphere elsewhere, then
  of course I'll need to transfer you people to someplace very secure,
  maybe with a spell of imprisonment or similar means.  I'm sure that
  won't be easy, but I bet I can do it with a little effort.
Parekh:  What of Drak, and others who we know?  What about the magical
  simulacrum that now masquerades as Prince Creon, in Monmurg?  What
  about Rob, and Alindyar?
Belphanior:  I was afraid you'd bring Drak here with you, and that would
  have been risky for me, so I made sure there was a reason to keep him
  away.  Granted, it applied to my people as well, but as you can see,
  that all worked out fine.  (he shrugs)  I'm not that worried about
  dealing with Drak, honestly - he'll be easy to handle compared to a
  quartet, err, quintet of archmagi.  And I'll be using magic when he
  and I eventually do battle.  I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
  As for the others, well...you really need not worry about them.  Rest
  assured, I'll make the right decisions.  (he approaches)

  With that, the elf clamped the tranquilizing cloth over Parekh's mouth
and waited for her struggles to cease - a process that took only moments.

Belphanior:  Ah.  (he regards her, slumbering in the chair)

  The elf wasn't happy that things had come to this, but his displeasure
had been building for a while now, and the revelation about the memory-
tampering had made up his mind and set his entire scheme into motion.
It had been a decision that troubled him every single moment since he
first made it, but there was too much at stake.  He had plans, and this
secretive Cabal had been standing in the way of some of those plans...
at least, they had until today.  Of course, there was also the matter
of finding and raiding their homes and gaining all of their items and
knowledge, not the least of which were the items they carried on their
persons right now.  Whistling to himself merrily, Belphanior began the
somewhat-entertaining process of searching the five archmagi and taking
the numerous powerful magical items and weapons they carried on their
persons...

Belphanior:  (bolts upright, suddenly awake)  Whoa!

  Rubbing his eyes, the elf cursed at nobody in particular.  The problem
with a really good dream ending prematurely was that you'd never know
what would have happened next.  Would he have slain the members of the
Cabal, or simply kept them imprisoned through magical or other means?
Would he have taken any revenge on the high priest Rob for that one's
part in all of this?  How would he have dealt with Alindyar, Lyra, the
false Creon, and the Hold of the Sea Princes?  Would his own ego and
pride have let him allow that situation to remain as it stood today, for
the potential good of hundreds or thousands of the kingdom's citizens?
  He'd never know.  And yet, this had been a good dream...one that, he
was sure, was strongly guided by his desires.  Of course, it had given
him insights into possible long-term solutions to certain issues, should
those solutions ever become necessary.  For now, the elf's next step was
obvious, and he would begin that undertaking on the morrow.  His rest
was almost complete; casting the first Wish spell, to regain his lost
memories, had exhausted him to the point of collapse.  Casting a second
such spell, to learn about the membership of the Cabal, shortly after
the first had sent him into a deep and unintentional slumber for almost
two full days (and sparked that enjoyable dream as well.)  It had been
worth the cost, though, for thanks to the second Wish, he now knew of
the wizard Cespedes' membership in Parekh's group.  Thanks to the well-
worded nature of the spell, he also knew that the sorceress had courted
the lich-archmage Kronos for her Cabal more than three months ago, but
had not succeeded thus far.
  But that was yet another problem to be dealt with in time.  Lying back
on the pillow of the bed within the secret bolt-hole he'd recently spent
a lot of time in, Belphanior tried to return to the world of sleep and
dreams.
  He didn't have much luck.





  And so it came to pass that now, more than two full weeks after first
departing the sky castle, Belphanior was covertly in Greyhawk, knocking
on the door of his friends and adventuring companions of old, the dark
elven couple Alindyar and Lyra.

Alindyar:  (opens the door)
Belphanior:  Not surprised to see me?
Alindyar:  Nay. I was aware of your presence when you approached
  my home.
Belphanior:  (wonders how the dark elf knew, since Belphanior not only
  wears the necklace of obscurity, but, as always in Greyhawk, is also
  physically disguised)
Alindyar:  Aye, your person is magically cloaked, but your wagon is not,
  and the arrival of the latter triggered my...warning system.  Surely
  you've considered the drawback of that item?  For me to actually _see_
  an individual walking up to my door but to _sense_ only a void is as
  strong a signal as if you radiated an aura of pure evil.  Of course,
  t'was an obvious deduction that one so powerfully hidden yet walking
  unarmed and openly to my front step could only be you.  (he stands
  aside, beckoning the other to enter)
Alindyar:  'Tis true.  (he stands aside, beckoning the other to enter)

  Belphanior walked into the cavernous, regal old mansion; as always, he
couldn't fail to be impressed by the place.  Most huge homes that held
only a few inhabitants felt empty and not really lived in.  This house,
though, felt nice and cozy.  It was warm and bright, with numerous and
varied decorations adorning the walls and hallways.  Thick, expensive
carpets from distant lands covered the floors.  Rich fires blazed in the
mansion's multiple fireplaces, and the faint smell of some delicious
food was in the air.  All this, despite the fact that only the two dark
elves lived here, as Belphanior well knew.  He wondered if the vaguely
cozy feeling in the home was real, or just some sort of magic worked by
Alindyar.

Alindyar:  (leads the other into the parlor which adjoins the massive
  two-story study)  Lyra is away at the moment - something about doing
  some research in the Guild of Wizardry - so you'll have to forgive me
  for being a mediocre host.
Belphanior:  Nonsense.
Alindyar:  Can I interest you in some food or drink?  (he gestures to
  a series of shelves, all of which contain bottles and decanters of
  assorted liquors)
Belphanior:  No, thanks.
Alindyar:  (settles into a plush chair, as does his guest)  How can I
  be of assistance, then?
Belphanior:  (takes a deep breath)  We need to talk about Prince Creon.
  The false one you installed in power in Monmurg, not the real one who
  I killed.
Alindyar:  As I suspected, then.  This is no social visit.
Belphanior:  Nope.
Alindyar:  This...is a many-layered question you have asked.
Belphanior:  Let me make it simple then.  I am fully cognizant of the
  memory-alteration that was done to me.  Let's keep that as a separate
  issue, one that I know you had nothing to do with.  My concern is with
  the current state of the rulership of the Hold of the Sea Princes.
Alindyar:  (nods)  What of it?
Belphanior:  Well, it's like this.  Ten years ago, if I found out that
  some fuckers had tampered with my mind, I'd have killed them all, as
  soon as possible, with little regard for the consequences.
Alindyar:  But...?
Belphanior:  But, the fuckers in question are my friends.  Or, some of
  them are.  Or were.  (he clenches a fist)  I've not yet decided that
  for sure.  The point is, even though what happened was wrong, it did
  happen for a reason.  The goal was to protect citizens of Monmurg,
  both the innocent and the guilty...to avoid further bloodshed and
  conflict.  I guess, in the simplest possible terms, it was a matter
  of my life weighed against the lives of thousands.
Alindyar:  And which way would you have that scale tip?
Belphanior:  I'm not sure.  Some people would lay down their own lives,
  and willingly, in exchange for the lives of many more people.  Call
  me selfish, but I can't say I'd do that.  I tend to believe that my
  life is more important and meaningful than the life of the average
  person out there in the world.  Particularly the average person in the
  realm of the Sea Princes.
Alindyar:  I am not disagreeing with you-
Belphanior:  Good.  Then let me finish.  So even though I'm mad as hell
  about what was done to me, I see the logic, even if I don't agree with
  aspects of it.  And I realize that resuming my war on the Sea Princes
  might not be the best course of action.  (he glares at the dark elf)
  Assuming, of course, that the damned kingdom is stable and in better
  shape than I left it.
Alindyar:  It most assuredly is.  Lyra and I have...inspired the false
  Prince Creon with significantly more ethical morals and values than
  the slain one.  He reorganized his troops to take control of the chaos
  left from your - our - attack.  He freed all of the slaves, officially
  ended slavery, and dealt with the repercussions from the nobles of his
  land.  (he chuckles)  Dealt with some of them most...severely, thanks
  to those actually in power.
Belphanior:  Well, that's good to know.
Alindyar:  True change is wrought only over time, and seldom easily, but
  it _is_ happening.  The sending of ambassadors to Keoland and the
  Yeomanry resulted in new accords for peace and co-operation between
  those realms and the Hold.  Merchants now bring timber, ore, and other
  resources from faraway lands, rather than slaves.  The economy of the
  hold has recovered from all the damage inflicted by our attacks.  We
  have indeed brought order to chaos.
Belphanior:  Does no one suspect?  None of the other lower-level nobles
  of the Hold?  Surely someone must have figured it out by now?
Alindyar:  Nay.  While they may not agree with the "new" Prince Creon
  and his policies and ideas, those same policies and ideas have saved
  lives, rebuilt wreckage, shored up commerce, and are generally quite
  popular with the people of the kingdom, not to mention the neighboring
  lands.  Our Creon may well have enemies, but they remain in hiding,
  waiting for a more opportune time to strike.  When they show themselves
  or make a move, trust me...we will be ready and able.  This matter has
  occupied a significant amount of our time and energy, as well as that
  of others.
Belphanior:  Parekh, and Pallin, and Rob.  (he grits his teeth)  It's a
  sure bet that that last one has benefitted immensely from this entire
  situation, now that he has a shiny new temple of his god right in the
  middle of Monmurg.
Alindyar:  Aye.  Rob did achieve that, and in return, his priests saved
  many lives and eased much suffering.  Everybody won in this situation.
Belphanior:  So be it.  Okay, I just needed to know the current state of
  things, from someone I can trust.  I accept that your solution worked,
  or at least has worked so far.  (he holds up his hands)  And I won't
  interfere.
Alindyar:  Excellent.
Belphanior:  (stands)
Alindyar:  That is all you wanted to discuss?
Belphanior:  Yep.
Alindyar:  (frowns)  What of Rob, and Parekh?  Will you now seek some
  sort of vengeance?
Belphanior:  Not at this time.  Understand, though:  I'm not happy.  (he
  regards the dark elf with a serious eye)  Would you be?
Alindyar:  Nay.  I would not.
Belphanior:  Then anytime you worry about this, put yourself in my shoes
  and try to understand my point of view.
Alindyar:  (nods)
Belphanior:  Oh, there is one more thing.  I need to know that I can
  trust you to keep this discussion, and my new-found mental state, just
  between us.  Lyra I don't worry about, but I mean Parekh...and those
  others.  They mustn't know.  And I have a deal for you, and it's a good
  one.
Alindyar:  You intend to buy my silence?
Belphanior:  One way or another.  You may recall a certain paintbrush,
  a powerful artifact that I recovered from a gateway far from here?  I
  loaned it to you for study, as its powers involved illusion and the
  re-shaping of reality.  (he pauses)  Which, if I've understood any of
  what you've said in the last few years, are sort of the same thing.
Alindyar:  Aye, I am well aware of this item; its least power is greater
  than the greatest spell of many a mage in the world.
Belphanior:  Then you'll be happy to keep it - permanently - in return
  for your confidentiality?
Alindyar:  (ponders this)  Aye.
Belphanior:  (sticks out a hand)  I have your word on this?  You'll honor
  this bargain?
Alindyar:  (clasps hands with the other)  I shall.  You can rely on my
  silence.
Belphanior:  Thanks.  That's good to know.

  With that, the elf took his leave; Alindyar escorted him to the great
mansion's front door, and they bade each other farewell.  Belphanior made
his way back to the large covered carriage in which he'd arrived, and
climbed into its driver's seat.  Nobody had approached or tampered with
it in any way while Belphanior had been inside; his spells confirmed
this, and besides, parking one's carriage in front of the dark elves'
mansion all but ensured that none would approach it.
  As he took the reins and got the horses moving, Belphanior absently
rubbed the silver hoop in his ear and looked back toward the wagon's
interior, hidden by curtains and a locked door.  Inside this seemingly
normal-looking wagon was a most unusual item, sealed within a special
container.  The elf reflected that it was fortunate, on many accounts,
that he hadn't had to utilize this item after speaking with Alindyar.





  As Belphanior returned to the sky castle, he had a whole new set of
problems to worry about.  Or did he?  As he'd told Alindyar, he could
see no sensible reason to resume his war on the Hold of the Sea Princes.
Tied to that was a reluctance to confront Rob and/or Parekh about their
deception, though that was as much lack of a good battle plan as any
other reason to delay that confrontation.
  There was no one Belphanior could talk to about any of this.  Though
he trusted Otto and Neera, and certainly needed their counsel now, he
didn't trust their ability to keep their thoughts private if Parekh or
others ever chose to pry.  Without anyone to discuss his latest ideas
and strategies with, Belphanior was forced to analyze them a lot more
thoroughly himself, searching for any weaknesses or problems that might
arise.
  Putting aside, for now, any reckoning with Rob and/or Parekh, as well
as a journey to the vampire-city of Skava-Ra, the elf had come up with a
short list of things to deal with in the near future.  Two involved the
finding and destroying of past foes; the first would be harder to find
but easier to dispatch:  the sole surviving and as-yet-unaccounted-for
member of Xusia's Nine, the master thief Fenris.  Easier to find (thanks
to Drusilla's journal) but much more difficult to slay were the numerous
members of the Crimson Blades who had survived the great final battle at
Panagaea, several years ago.  Two more possible courses of action simply
involved duplicating existing magical items of great power that would
benefit Belphanior.  The vampiress Victoria had possessed a very special
enchanted ring of recall, which could instantly transport her to some
predetermined place.  Belphanior figured that, with enough time and work,
he could create one of these rings for himself; it would probably involve
spells of teleportation, contingency, and permanency as well as a method
of "keying" the ring to a chosen destination.  One thing was certain:
without that ring in his possession, the elf would have a significantly
more difficult time duplicating it.  The other mighty magical item that
Belphanior desired was already close at hand, or at least potentially so.
Mongo had ended up with the silvery helm from the moon gateway; this
item conferred total resistance to all magic having to do with the mind,
including but not limited to ESP, empathic and psionic effects, charming,
feeblemind, and mental control.  The helm was not only a tremendous prize
in its own right, but also a perfect complement to the dwarf's existing
arsenal.  It removed perhaps the single major area of vulnerability that
the dwarf had; unfortunately, Mongo having it meant that Belphanior did
not, and since the helm had already benefitted Mongo in a recent battle,
Belphanior knew from past experience that his friend would never part
with the thing now.  That meant that, somehow, the elf had to construct
his own such item.  The purpose, of course, was to keep others out of
his mind - a goal that was immensely important to him now, given recent
revelations.
  In addition to these four possible courses of action - two of which
involved journeys and battles, and two of which involved research and
magic - there was a fifth issue that Belphanior was keen to resolve.
He did not like the idea of Parekh allying herself and the others with
Kronos, not at all - and the fact that Kronos hadn't accepted Parekh's
offer meant that there was a chance that Belphanior could still keep
that from happening.  He just had to figure out how.





next:       Belphanior undertakes actionable items
gateways:   http://www.peldor.com/misc/gateways.php?chapter=978
ftp:        ftp.peldor.com
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   10/15/10
notes:      I'd been grappling for some time about how to have him get
  his lost memory back.  At the same time, I'd been holding onto a piece
  of writing which involved Belphanior's "ultimate solution" for dealing
  with Parekh and her fellow Cabal members.  I wrote it as a what-if sort
  of thing, just to clear those crazy thoughts from my head, but I didn't
  see how I could ever actually use it.  Then, once Belphanior was on the
  road to a clear memory, I realized that a dream sequence would get the
  point across and let me use that otherwise-unusable bit of work without
  actually having it happen.  Brilliant!

    Just to make it ABSOLUTELY CLEAR:  the dream only encompassed the
  part involving Parekh and the others; the acquisition of the ring of
  truth, the ensuing conversation to determine what Parekh was (half)
  lying about, and the use of the two Wish spells all actually happened.

    The next episode will feature more of the same sort of thing in this
  one, except it will actually happen instead of mostly being talked about
  in the past tense or third person.

    I wrote this one (which ended up at a sizable 43K) at random on 10/2
  and intend to turn it around pretty fast.  I know my output has been
  slow and inconsistent in the last few years, but bear in mind the major
  real-life changes I've been dealing with.  I should be able to write
  more in the fall and winter months of 2010-2011, given the 5-month
  break from softball.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++




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