Chapter #992

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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       +
+   1991-2014 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:          4/28/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the deep subterranean city of Skava-Ra                 +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+   "You're not just responsible for making good have     +
+    to be responsible for the bad ones."                                 +
+                                                     - from _The Core_   +

                   CMXCII.  Exodus From Skava-Ra

  After perhaps the most eventful four-day span of his life, Belphanior
and various friends or allies are out of harm's way - while the vampiric
population of Skava-Ra (along with their sinister plans) are no more.
However, the victory has proven quite costly...

Belphanior:  This is twice now...first Ged, and now Rob.  My battles,
  their sacrifice.  (he looks around, shaking his head)  What's the damn
Parekh:  You're blaming yourself needlessly.  It wasn't just _your_
  battle.  The vampires would have eventually come to the surface world
  and wreaked havoc, and most likely would have been more difficult to
  stop at that point.  We all knew this.  Rob knew it too.
Belphanior:  I understand what you're saying.  It just doesn't make this
  any easier.

  A week had passed since the invasion of the underground city and the
battle with the vampire god-king Yegyar.  Much had happened since then,
the first order of business having been dealing with the dead or wounded.
The Hand of Oblivion appeared to live up to its name:  not only was Rob
gone, but there seemed to be no way to bring him back.  Every spell or
divination that had been tried yielded nothing.  Aside from the lost high
priest of Trithereon, the dead included Rezzik (victim of a Slay Living
spell), Hrothgar (burned to death), and Melancon (disintegrated).  Holy
magic of great power had served to bring the first two back, but Melancon
was well and truly lost.
  Several others (Ys, Sir Dremel, Wu, St. Wilhelm, and Elias) had been
at death's door due to falls from great heights.  Ys was the most gravely
injured of these, and had taken the better part of the week (and quite a
lot of curative magic and other efforts) to recover.  Janus and Parekh
had been in pretty bad shape due to burns and poison, respectively.  A
number of other allies (Otto, Hope, Razor Charlie, Skektek, Bram, Bosco,
Neera, Sir Drexel, Alindyar, and Lyra) had suffered serious wounds, and
in some cases loss of life energy thanks to Yegyar's unholy powers.  The
wizard Pallin had been blinded by powerful magic before being blasted by
prismatic spray; this blindness took multiple tries by multiple clerics
to reverse.
  To be sure, even the least-injured of the major players - Mongo, Yuki,
and Belphanior - had cuts or broken bones.  Overall casualties from the
battle, however, were another story.  Belphanior had lost three of his
stone golems and one of his iron golems to various causes, and only two
of Rob's six acolytes had survived the fighting.  Pallin's great pale
hound, Socrates, had fallen early in the fighting, although it was able
to be rejuvenated due to its magical nature.  Yod Ironbeard's faithful
hench-halflings, Spikey and Sparkey, had fought their last battle with
their liege, perishing thanks to deadly magic from opposing wizards and
priests.  Two-thirds of Yod's dwarven henchmen had also fallen in battle,
as had about half of Bosco's summoned host of Kaloth (although the latter
would of course be able to return in the future, as they were part of a
minor artifact).  Sir Drexel's henchman Limbor, the grey elven wizard and
priest, had been taken down by powerful unholy magic, and his various
diseases and other ailments had required four days and twice as many
priests to cure.
  Only the wispy thing (being immaterial) and the adamantine golem
(being indestructible) had escaped that day's fighting without any harm
  Those who survived kept reminding themselves that the greater cause
had been served, the vampires stopped, and that everyone had contributed
something to the overall effort.

  Despite the obliteration of Yegyar, there had been no time to rest.
Although the vast majority of the vampires had been destroyed (either
by Alindyar's rift-portal to the sunny sky of the world above, or via
absorption from Yegyar) there were still those few dozen who had changed
to mist-form and escaped to hidden coffins in various dwellings within
the city.  Thus, after the defeat of the vampire-king, Belphanior and
Bram had gathered those survivors still able to fight and gone hunting.
Janus, though gravely wounded at the time, had insisted on helping track
down the surviving vampires' resting places, and his potent abilities of
undead detection had proven critical in the effort.  Rather than having
to look through each and every building, tower, and basement in the
entire city, the hunters had been able to go straight to the sites where
vampires hid as they recuperated.  These few remaining vampires had then
been dispatched for good; that process had taken many hours, and was gory
work, but had been necessary.
  Aside from Victoria (who had departed Skava-Ra on her own terms) two
of the city's more prominent vampires had escaped the assault.  Yod
reported that after fighting Ulruk to a standstill - a battle in which
both were sorely pressed and badly wounded - the gigantic vampire warrior
had suddenly turned and fled, a short time before Yegyar's absorption of
the unlife-force of all other vampires.  This led some of the adventurers
to theorize that perhaps Ulruk had somehow known of this possibility, and
hadn't wanted to be around for the experience.  Regardless, the hulking
general had used unknown magic to depart the city, at which point Yod had
been unable to pursue him.
  As for the vampiress Sadira - who Belphanior had learned about while
scrying with the Loom of Fate, but who had never been seen or fought
by any of the attacking parties - she was assumed to have quickly and
quietly fled the city early in the assault.  As with Ulruk, some effort
would eventually have to be made to locate and deal with this escaped
(but potentially dangerous) adversary.
  Naturally, a significant number of magical weapons, armor, and other
items had been recovered after all of the vampires were dealt with.  A
few were found to be infused with unholy enchantments; these had been
destroyed.  However, this still left many hundreds of magical weapons,
suits or pieces of armor, and shields as the spoils of war.  These items
were of widely-assorted make, spanning thousands of years of history and
a variety of cultures both current and forgotten.  In addition, the halls
and towers of the city contained countless sources of ancient knowledge:
musty tomes, tattered scrolls, and so forth.  All in all, this haul was
breathtaking in its sheer quantity, and seemed too good to be true.

Otto:  (surveying the multiple piles of swords and other weapons, he
  again shakes his head in amazement)  Damn.  You could equip an army
  with all this.
Razor Charlie:  It'd be one hell of an army.

  These two, along with Ys, had been put in charge of collecting and
taking inventory of all the recovered weapons and armor.

Bosco:  (eyeing a sleek dagger, he begins to reach for it until he sees
  the others eyeing him)  One hell of an army!
Otto:  You know what was decided, Bosco.  This stuff gets divided up
  later, not now.

  Similarly, most of the major players had now taken on (or been given)
specific tasks to handle.  Bram and his group were triple-checking the
city to make sure nothing had been missed.  Alindyar, Lyra, Cespedes,
and the various golems were working on clearing out rubble using magical
and physical means - a somewhat complimentary task to that of Bram and
his people.  Neera and Hope, assisted by the elven wizard/priest Limbor,
were leading the effort to recover and sort all of the city's knowledge
and lore.  A team comprised of Skektek, Ys, Parekh, and Drak was slowly
and methodically securing the city, exploring and then sealing off its
secret entrances.  Yod, Mongo, Sir Drexel, and Sir Dremel were in charge
of organizing a force to guard the remnants of the main gate.
  This had left Pallin, Dexitheseus, St. Wilhelm, Wu, and Rob's two
surviving (though somewhat dejected) acolytes - a random bunch to be
sure - the unusual job of dealing with another byproduct of the victory:
the two thousand former slaves who had now been freed and needed a place
to go (and help getting there).  These people were pale, generally meek
folks who had never known any other existence than serving as sustainable
food source for the vampire population of Skava-Ra.  Most of them seemed
unable to comprehend the idea that they were now free, much less the idea
of any existence outside of the slave pens of the underground city.  The
priest-types (with magical aid from Dexitheseus and Wu) worked to explain
things and reassure these people, even as Drak did his best to organize
and account for them all.  When they were deemed ready to broaden their
horizons, they were gathered in orderly groups and lined up, and then
Pallin opened a sizable magical portal to the world above (after making
sure that it was a nice, sunny day in the world above).
  Thus it was that approximately two thousand people, who had never known
a life free of terrifying servitude, emerged from the depths of the world
and set foot on Oerth proper.  It had been a glorious, if emotional moment
both for them and some of their rescuers.  Of course, simply freeing these
people and bringing them to the surface world wasn't enough - they also
needed some sort of new life, some structure.  To that end, Belphanior
and others had worked with those in charge of Rob's domain to set aside
plots of farmland and material to build small homes on them.  When the
two thousand refugees emerged into the sunlight, they already had their
basic needs accounted for, including the foundation for a future.

+   Date:          4/28/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         Rob's domain, west of Niole Dra, capital of Keoland    +
+   Climate:       pleasant                                               +

  It had been a little over a year since Belphanior had last visited the
lands of Rob, but it had grown by leaps and bounds, as it seemed to do
each time he saw it after an absence.  As far as the eye could see, lush
farmlands stretched across great expanses of plains and the occasional
gentle hill.  It was all dominated by the great three hundred foot high
cathedral, from which three great wings protruded, forming a gigantic
triskelion-shaped structure resembling the symbol of Trithereon.  Each
of the three wings was itself a huge angled building, a hundred feet tall
and covered with towers and windows.  The overall diameter of this main
structure was roughly a thousand feet, and it was surrounded by smaller
buildings, both attached and free-standing.  Around all of this was the
thick stone rampart, a dozen feet high and built in a perfect circle some
five thousand feet across.  Four gates led out of the complex, but only
one - the great eastern gate - was open on a regular basis.  From this
gate, the great road led away, between the farmlands, winding east in the
direction of Niole Dra.  This pathway was thirty feet wide, its stones
smooth and straight, and either side was lined with tall, healthy trees.
  Overall, there had to be nearly a thousand individual farming plots,
taking into account the new ones for the former slave families of Skava-
Ra.  This meant a farming population of perhaps five thousand, plus the
thousand soldiers and half that many priests and acolytes of Trithereon.

Belphanior:  We really appreciate you taking in all of those people.
Father Adam:  (waves a hand)  Not a problem.  It wouldn't have been
  possible without your generous donation.  With Trithereon's blessing,
  we will welcome those people and help them begin their new lives here.

  The elderly cleric looked like someone's kindly father, but he was a
powerful high priest and had been Rob's right hand since the beginning
of the great temple complex's construction.  The man had great wisdom,
plus knowledge of all aspects of the place, as well as Rob's estate.  It
also didn't hurt that Father Adam had the backing and blessing of their
great deity, Trithereon.

Belphanior:  Excellent.  I knew they were down there in that dark city,
  but I just hadn't thought about what to do with them if we won the war
  against the vampires.  Honestly, I had to focus my planning on actually
  _winning_ that war.
Father Adam:  Understandable.
Belphanior:  Listen...about Rob-
Father Adam:  (holds up a hand)  Son, I can tell that you're upset and
  perhaps feeling guilty about the fate of Rob.  (he regards the elf
  sternly)  Please don't be.  Rob was many things, but he knew what he
  was getting into and what was at risk.  He died as he lived - serving
  others and fighting evil.  That's all there is to it.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Well said.
Father Adam:  Again, are you sure you've no interest in converting to
  our faith?  We could use someone with your...skills to help-
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  If it's all the same to you, I'd rather
  wander along on my own course for a while longer.  Sometimes, the best
  way to find and combat the evils of the world is to think the way they
  do.  It's what I'm best at.
Father Adam:  (bows)  Very well.

  With this done, Belphanior soon returned to the usual neutral ground
where post-victory decisions were made, and things decided...

+   Date:          4/28/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          afternoon                                              +
+   Place:         Parekh's home (exact location unknown)                 +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +

Belphanior:  So.  The remaining vampires in the city have been found and
  destroyed, our dead counted, our wounded healed, the plunder from the
  city taken and inventoried, and the slaves freed and given a new life.
Parekh:  Not a bad day's work.
Otto:  More like a week.
Belphanior:  And the arcane formula for the true dweomer, along with its
  material components, had been secured.
Parekh:  And we'll study it, I promise you.  While that particular spell
  isn't quite so useful to non-vampires, the methods by which its magic
  functions, and was created, can perhaps be deciphered, given enough
Alindyar:  Aye, I am sure of that.  With sufficient time and effort, we
  can unlock the secrets of all such magicks.
Belphanior:   I'm looking forward to that.  (he frowns)
Neera:  What is it?
Belphanior:  I was just would be nice if we got some damn
  credit for what we did.  I mean all of us, not just me...the battle
  for Skava-Ra, the defeat of the vampires, the prevention of their evil
  plan.  Who's going to know what happened down there?
Cespedes:  I can assure you that a number of archmagi and high priests
  in the world are already aware.
Mongo:  Wizard gossip, eh?
Cespedes:  Actually, no.  Such matters simply have...a way of being known
  to certain powers.
Belphanior:  (claps Cespedes on the shoulder)  I apologize, Cespedes.  I
  was wrong about you, and should have given you the benefit of the doubt
  as my colleagues did.  You proved yourself in Skava-Ra.
Cespedes:  (not the most personable of people, he is unsure how to react
  to this)  Very...well.
Pallin:  We still have to decide what to do with the city.
Parekh:  Hmm?
Pallin:  Skava-Ra.  By now, its contents are more or less cleaned out,
  and the last vampires found and destroyed.  The city lies empty, dare
  I say haunted by its former evil.  We should destroy it, just to be
Otto:  Or flood it with holy water.  (he frowns)  Though I guess that
  would really take some doing.
Yod Ironbeard:  Collapsing the cavern would be the most direct way, and
  the longest-lasting.  (he shrugs)  It wouldn't do to have a tribe of
  goblins move there, or something like that.
Parekh:  We can look into this in the near future.
Mongo:  I'd be happy to help, using my earthquake-horn.
Wu:  (cackles to himself for no reason)
Parekh:  Thank you for that, good Mongo.
Belphanior:  I can't help but wonder what we'd have done if some of the
  vampires survived.
Bram:  We'd have had a lot more killing to do, after the main battle-
Belphanior:  That's not what I meant.  Early in that day's events, before
  we knew what would happen, I'd actually been thinking about cutting a
  deal with whoever would have been left in charge, maybe that Drakov
  guy...something like "you vampires stay down here and out of the way,
  and leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone."  But then there'd be
  the issue of what they would have had for food, because I wouldn't have
  let them keep the slaves.  And eventually, I suppose one of them would
  have gotten the idea to rebel against the, it was much
  better the way it happened.  Having _all_ of the vampires destroyed was
  a more preferable outcome.  (he pauses)  Well, all except the few who
Otto:  (frowns to himself, pretty sure that the elf is making a mental
  list, right now, of surviving enemies who need to be found and slain)

  It had been decided that the great quantity of magical weapons, suits
of armor, and shields taken from Skava-Ra would be kept in Rob's temple.
This allowed the items to be repurposed for positive endeavors, with the
understanding that the contents of the trove would always be available to
Belphanior, Mongo, Parekh, etc if any of those individuals ever had need
of such armament.
  The knowledge of Skava-Ra - in the form of dusty tomes, ancient scrolls,
and the like - would be jointly retained by Parekh and the other magi,
and researched/used as they had time or need.  As with the weapons, there
was an understanding here that the material would be available to any who
desired to use it.

Neera:  Wouldn't it be great if we could just merge all of these types of
  information repositories into one gigantic central library?

  With all of the various matters settled, farewells were said and toasts
were made, and eventually people headed back to their homes and regular

+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   stone golems, 3                                                       +
+   iron golems, 2                                                        +
+   Date:          4/28/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         the sky castle, in the clouds above Oerth's surface    +
+   Climate:       cold outside, warm inside                              +

  At long last, everyone was back in the sky castle.  Thankfully, the
carnage from the battle with the vampires was cleaned up, thanks to
Hope's clever use of magically-summoned servants to undertake this work
while the adventurers were away.  Fires burned in fireplaces, hot food
and cold drinks were had by all, and the companions remembered their
fallen comrade.

Belphanior:  (raises a cup)  To Jenna.  She always gave us her best,
  whether predicting future events, philosophizing about past ones, or
  using her magic to quell foes in battle.
all:  (raising their own glasses)  To Jenna.
Belphanior:  (thinks back to all those who have fallen while fighting
  by his side over the years)  Elgon...Aja...Jutokai...Kinichi...Zhao...
  and now Jenna.  Damn.
Otto:  Weren't there some others, even before those?
Belphanior:  Maybe.  Probably.  It gets hard to remember after a while.
Hope:  (stands)  I'm new, I know that.  But I've learned a lot about all
  of you in a short well as your deeds.  I will say only this:
  the sacrifices made by your departed companions were not in vain...far
  from it.  Each and every one meant something.  I mean, this time, we
  probably saved the world from rule under vampires!  THIS TIME.  There
  were obviously other times, before that, where other evil fates were
  avoided, thanks to the actions of all of us - we who are here, and
  those who no longer are.  (she looks around)  What more can one ask
  for out of life, but to accomplish these great deeds and victories?
Belphanior:  Right you are, Hope.  (he raises his cup again)  To the

  The others took up the cheer, and it was like a burden had been lifted
from their minds.  They would never forget their lost friends, but the
time for mourning was done.

Belphanior:  (drains his cup, and sets it down on the table)
Otto:  So...what now?
Belphanior:  It's time to pursue loose ends and tie them up.
Skektek:  What loose ends would those be?
Belphanior:  Some of them are people, some of them are things.  Some will
  be easier than others.
Ys:  Let us review, then.
Belphanior:  We need to decide whether to destroy the evil magical items
  we found in Xusia's last dungeon...and if so, how.  Speaking of nearly-
  forgotten magical items, we also have to deal with those that belonged
  to Elgon.  (he sighs)  And, I suppose, Jenna.
Neera:  These things are easily attainable.
Belphanior:  Yeah, they're what I'd call the "easy" ones.  Another would
  be recovering the remains of Angus, melted by acid somewhere in the
  Vast Swamp.
Skektek:  Why?  Sentimental reasons?
Belphanior:  I'm wondering if he could be repaired.  The raw material
  necessary for an iron golem, alone, is worth a fortune in time and
  preparatory magic.
Otto:  It would be good to have the big guy back.
Ys:  I hesitate to mention this so soon after...well, we need some sort
  of priest for our team here.
Hope:  (nods)  Sad to say, but he's right.
Skektek:  Priests in our group have a pretty low life expectancy.
Belphanior:  Everyone in our group does.  That's the nature of the job.
  But let's not get off topic; there are other, more immediate things to
  deal with.  More than a month ago, I commissioned the tracking of the
  sole surviving member of the Nine whose whereabouts we don't know.  It
  is time to check the communication drops and see what progress has been
  made there.  Similar, but not related, is our need to learn more about
  the group we encountered in Panagaea...the Crimson Blades.
Neera:  Perhaps some sagely work can help with that effort.
Belphanior:  And we have some very powerful items - both from Xusia's
  vault and other endeavors - that need to be identified as to their
  origins and uses.
Neera:  (nods)  It's long past time for those mysteries to be deciphered.
Belphanior:  Last but certainly not least, we now have multiple groups of
  vampires who escaped battles:  the pair from Xusia's dungeon who went
  gaseous and got away, and the ones from Skava-Ra, that big general and
  the female one.
Skektek:  Are you worried that they're out there somewhere, plotting
  their revenge?
Belphanior:  In their position...I would be.  It's got to be dealt with.
  All of these things have to be dealt with.

next:       knocking out the list
released:   2/7/2014
notes:      I actually started this one in late December 2013, but the
  vast majority of it ended up being written during off-days from work
  thanks to the great snow apocalypse in Atlanta, January 28-30 2014.
    This episode was pretty much wrap-up.  I thought about taking care
  of all the loose ends, all in this one episode, but it seemed better
  to do that in another, separate episode.  I also realized that there's
  something else that has to be way or another, I need to
  revisit the group stranded on the weird island beyond civilization.
  They've been there for almost a year of game time, or episode 977 in
  real time, which means July 2010.  That's THREE AND A HALF YEARS since
  I've chosen to deal with Rillen, Peyote, Halbarad, and the rest.  The
  reason has to do with me writing myself into an odd little corner with
  that plotline...but I have to deal with it, somehow, at some point.
  Just saying.
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