Chapter #999

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



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2015 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        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   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                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Balthus        lean, veteran human tracker                            +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          5/8/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the northeastern reaches of the Crystalmist Mountains  +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "It's not too late to call this off."                                 +
+   "I think you know me better than that."                               +
+                                                                         +
+       - Oliver and Helena, from _Arrow_ episode "The Huntress Returns"  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   CMXCIX.  Mesoloth





  After spending the last several days exploring the Crystalmist mountain
range, and defeating a variety of monsters encountered along the way, the
adventurers have suddenly - and unexpectedly - found their quarry...

purple dragon:  (freshly changed to its true form, it settles its vast
  bulk to the ground, its rear half immersed in the lake)  AH.
Belphanior:  Well, I didn't expect this.
purple dragon's left head:  (rears around to glare at the party, as the
  other head eyes them from another angle)
Belphanior:  Or that.  (mustering his courage, the elf takes a single,
  careful step forward, hands held up in what he hopes is a peaceful
  gesture)  Mesoloth, I presume?
purple dragon's right head:  (nods slightly)  OF COURSE.
purple dragon's left head:  (regards the elf with a look that could be
  anything from curiosity to annoyance)

  The dragon was easily as big as any that the elf (or any of the party)
had ever seen; counting its necks and tail, it was at least three hundred
feet in total length.  Its dark violet scales shone like several thousand
interlaced shields; the hooked talons at the end of its legs gleamed like
gigantic scimitars.  The dual necks, each thicker than the height of a
tall man, were long yet flexible, and the heads at the end of each weaved
and darted as two pairs of bright purple eyes regarded the members of the
party.  Being regarded thusly was beyond intimidating - the adventurers
felt like they were somehow being assessed and analyzed.  More than one
of the group found themselves unable to meet the stare of the dragon, and
indeed, it was difficult to not just turn and flee outright.  On the lake,
numerous small waves caused by the settling of the wyrm's massive body
into the water continued to break upon the shore.

purple dragon's right head:  (cocks to the left slightly, as it studies
  Belphanior further)  INTERESTING.
purple dragon's left head:  BAH.  WE SHOULD KILL THEM ALL AND BE ON OUR
  WAY.
Belphanior:  (takes a step back)  Now, let's not be hasty-
purple dragon's right head:  CALM YOURSELF, ELF.  IF ANYONE IS TO DIE
  HERE TODAY, WE WILL CERTAINLY LET YOU KNOW FIRST.
purple dragon's left head:  (snorts, annoyed)
Razor Charlie:  (wondering what he could possibly contribute to a battle
  against a foe such as this)
Otto:  (thinking along similar lines, he figures his best move would be
  to try shooting some of his poisoned crossbow bolts into the dragon's
  eyes)
Ys:  (wondering if he could hack through one of those massive necks before
  the dragon crushed him or breathed whatever it had to breathe upon him)
Neera:  (thinking instead about whether the dragon truly has two brains,
  whether each functions independently of the other, and so on)
Belphanior:  (having already prepared himself in case he got the chance
  to speak to the dragon, he remembers to be humble and complimentary to
  the monster)  I implore you, O great wyrm...just at least hear me out.
purple dragon's right head:  INDEED WE SHALL.
purple dragon's left head:  (sighs, in the form of a loud snort that the
  adventurers can _feel_ due to the dragon's size and proximity)  THEY
  ARE CARRYING AN EXTRAORDINARY AMOUNT OF MAGICAL GEAR.  (its violet eyes
  gleam brightly as the head moves a bit closer, regarding Belphanior more
  carefully)  ESPECIALLY THIS ELF.
purple dragon's right head:  MOST EXCELLENT!  PERHAPS THEY EVEN HAVE SOME
  ITEMS THAT WE DO NOT YET POSSESS.
Skektek:  (bites his tongue before he can accidentally mutter "that's for
  damn sure" and accidentally give away information)
Belphanior:  We have traveled a long way, and overcome many perils, to
  seek your wisdom and counsel.
purple dragon's left head:  MORE LIKELY, YOU HAVE COME HERE TO SEEK OUR
  TREASURE.
purple dragon's right head:  HMPH.  (it rears about slightly, to end up
  side-by-side with the other head, both of them glaring at Belphanior)
  YOU MUST ADMIT, HE HAS A POINT.  MANY HAVE TRIED, TO BE SURE, OVER THE
  CENTURIES THAT WE HAVE LIVED HERE IN SECLUSION.
purple dragon's left head:  THEY ALWAYS COME, SEEKING THE MYTHICAL DRAGON
  MESOLOTH AND HIS FABLED TREASURE HOARD.
Belphanior:  Fabled for good reason, surely?
purple dragon's right head:  (ignores the elf's words)  PERHAPS THEY
  CANNOT HELP IT, THIS MORTAL COMPULSION TO SEEK OUT GREAT TREASURE.
purple dragon's left head:  (glares at Balthus, who looks more than a bit
  worried)
Balthus:  ulp.
purple dragon's left head:  OF COURSE, WE HAVE DONE OUR PART TO FOSTER
  THE LEGENDS, FEEDING THEM CAREFULLY WITH RUMORS AND HEARSAY, THAT THE
  UNWISE WOULD BE TEMPTED TO SEEK US OUT.
Balthus:  You did what?
Belphanior:  Shh!
purple dragon's right head:  THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE TWO DOZEN INCURSIONS
  INTO OUR DOMAIN OVER THE YEARS HAVE BEEN GUIDED BY INFORMATION PLANTED
  IN THE HUMAN CITIES AND TOWNS.
purple dragon's left head:  (assumes the probable dragonly equivalent of
  a smirk)  PLANTED BY US.

  At this, both of the dragon's huge heads began to emit a series of low,
barking sounds, alarming the adventurers...until they realized that the
dragon was actually laughing.

Belphanior:  You don't say.
purple dragon's right head:  (gathers itself from its amusement)  WE DO
  SAY, ACTUALLY.  (it nods toward Balthus)  THIS ONE HAS BROUGHT US MORE
  THAN ONE ADVENTURING PARTY, OVER THE YEARS.
purple dragon's left head:  COMPLETELY UNWITTINGLY, OF COURSE.
Balthus:  I have?  I was?
Belphanior:  Yes, for a while I wondered if he was either an agent of
  yours, or perhaps even you, in disguise.
Balthus:  You did?
purple dragon's right head:  HOW AMUSING.  BUT NO, THIS TRACKER IS BUT
  THE LATEST SCOUT WHO WE HAVE DECEIVED FOR QUITE SOME TIME.
purple dragon's left head:  A LONG WHILE, AS YOU MORTALS MEASURE TIME.
purple dragon's right head:  YES.  IT IS A COMPLEX GAME, BUT IT ALWAYS
  ENDS IN THE SAME RESULT:  MORE TREASURE FOR US.
Razor Charlie:  (to Ys)  It can't be good, them telling us all this.
purple dragon's left head:  PROBABLY NOT...FOR YOU.
Razor Charlie:  (reconsiders his previous assumptions about the hearing
  of dragons)
Belphanior:  I assure you, we are not here to steal anything.
purple dragon's right head:  EH?  HOW IS THAT AGAIN?
purple dragon's left head:  YOUR KIND ALWAYS COME HERE TO STEAL THINGS.
  IT IS IN YOUR NATURE, AND THUS PREDICTABLE.
Belphanior:  It is said that you possess, within your vast and wondrous
  treasure hoard, a certain magical item that I seek.
purple dragon's right head:  AND SO BASED ON...MERE RUMORS, YOU VENTURED
  ALL THE WAY HERE, AND WOULD RISK THE WRATH OF MESOLOTH?
Belphanior:  It wouldn't be the first time I've done such a thing.  Great
  power tends to come to those who take great steps...and great risk.
purple dragon's left head:  (frowns)  BAH.  TYPICAL.
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  I have rather great need of this item.
purple dragon's right head:  APPARENTLY.  AND YOU PLAN TO BARTER, RATHER
  THAN SIMPLY DO BATTLE WITH US?
Belphanior:  Believe me, I'd much rather negotiate peacefully.
purple dragon's left head:  A WISE CHOICE.  OBSERVE.  (it rears back on
  its long neck, deliberately turning away from the party)

  The dragon made a sound like a rasping cough (albeit a loud one due to
its immense size) and then the left head emitted a thin green beam of a
sort not unfamiliar to the adventurers, especially the wizards.  The ray
of emerald energy shot forth in a perfectly straight line, striking a
large boulder several hundred feet to the north...and disintegrating it.

wispy thing:  braaaaft.
purple dragon's left head:  (turns back to face the adventurers, its eyes
  gleaming)  THAT DEMONSTRATION, WE TRUST, WILL GIVE YOU SECOND THOUGHTS
  ABOUT THE FOLLY OF ATTACKING US.
purple dragon's right head:  WE WOULD BE INTERESTED, OF COURSE, TO HEAR
  EXACTLY WHAT IT IS YOU THINK YOU POSSESS THAT WE WOULD BE INTERESTED IN.
purple dragon's left head:  AND THAT WE CANNOT SIMPLY...TAKE.

  Belphanior's mind now raced, considering possible actions and outcomes,
different strategies for fighting this beast, rewards versus risks, and
so on.  He had always planned, of course, to attack the dragon in the
event that diplomacy failed.  However, this dragon was a new species,
one he had never heard of, and thus he had no idea what its powers and
capabilities were...and a dragon with double the number of usual heads
meant potentially double the breath weapons and magical attacks.  Worse,
the disintegration breath that had just been displayed was nothing to be
taken lightly; it was merely the last factor in a conclusion the elf had
to make for the good of his entire group:  they were not prepared, at
this time, to do battle with this unusual dragon.
  Which, of course, meant trying plan "A" and attempting to negotiate
his group's way out of this.

Belphanior:  I am prepared to spend a very, very large sum of money to
  purchase an item, should you actually possess it.
purple dragon's right head:  MONEY?  GOLD?  SILVER?  GEMS?
Belphanior:  (nods)  All, in vast quantities.
purple dragon's left head:  BAH.  WE ALREADY HAVE THAT.
purple dragon's right head:  SURELY YOU CAN OFFER SOMETHING OF MORE...
  INTEREST?
Belphanior:  I can bring you a dozen powerful magical weapons, another
  dozen powerful suits of magical armor-
purple dragon's left head:  WEAPONS?  ARMOR?  WE HAVE NO NEED OF SUCH
  THINGS.
purple dragon's right head:  NOT EVEN WHEN IN FORMS THAT CAN WEAR THEM.
Belphanior:  ...and yet another dozen assorted miscellaneous magic items.
purple dragon's left head:  THAT IS QUITE A TROVE TO OFFER AS ONE SIDE
  OF AN EXCHANGE.  WHATEVER IT IS YOU WANT FROM US MUST BE POTENT INDEED.
purple dragon's right head:  (leans in closer to Belphanior, its violet
  eyes fixed on the elf)  OUT WITH IT.  FOR WHAT WOULD YOU BARTER ALL OF
  THAT?
Belphanior:  A scroll.
purple dragon's left head:  WE HAVE DOZENS OF SCROLLS.
Belphanior:  The Seeking Scroll.
purple dragon's right head:  (stares at the elf)  SEEKING SCROLL?
purple dragon's left head:  (blinks)
Belphanior:  It's a-
purple dragon's right head:  WE KNOW WHAT IT IS.  AN ITEM SUCH AS THAT
  WILL HAVE A HIGH COST.
purple dragon's left head:  YES...A COST HIGHER THAN BATTLE MAGIC.  WHEN
  DEALING IN GOLD, ONE DOES NOT BRING COPPER TO THE TABLE.
purple dragon's right head:  YOUR BARTERING EFFORTS MUST INCLUDE AN ITEM
  OR ITEMS OF SIMILAR CALIBER.  ARE YOU STILL INTERESTED IN PURSUING THIS
  DISCUSSION?
Belphanior:  Of course.  I would never have come this far if I didn't have
  comparable things to trade.

  There was no mistaking it then; as both of the purple dragon's heads
leaned forward, and both pairs of large violet eyes widened ever so
slightly.  Belphanior had seen that expression, that body language, a
hundred times before (although perhaps never from a dragon).  At that
moment, the elf realized the creature's weakness, such as it was:  the
wyrm had a strong craving for magical items.

purple dragon's left head:  AND WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY POSSESS THAT WE
  WOULD BE INTERESTED IN?
purple dragon's right head:  INDEED, WHAT?

  The elf possessed dozens of powerful magical items, the fruits of his
years of labor and countless forays into dungeons and other dangerous
places.  While there were a few things that he wouldn't part with, not
even for the Seeking Scroll, there were others that he was prepared to
barter if necessary.

Belphanior:  A ruby skull that vastly increases one's spellcasting
  ability...the Hand of Oblivion, which can destroy even a god, it is
  said...the ancient Suel weapon known as the Fork of Doom...the Teeth
  of Orcus, which can summon an undead army...the dark tome known as the
  Book of the Dead...those are but some of the unique items I possess-
purple dragon's left head:  (shakes from side to side)  NO.  WE HAVE A
  BETTER IDEA.
purple dragon's right head:  THE BOOK?
purple dragon's left head:  AYE.  (it glances at Belphanior)  A LONG
  TIME AGO, A CERTAIN ITEM WAS STOLEN FROM US THROUGH LIES AND TRICKERY.
  FOR CENTURIES, IT HAS BEEN KEPT IN THE VAULTS OF GREYHAWK'S GUILD OF
  WIZARDRY, GUARDED DIRECTLY AND INDIRECTLY BY THE COMBINED RESOURCES
  OF THE FREE CITY'S MOST POWERFUL MAGI.
purple dragon's right head:  IT IS KNOWN AS THE BOOK OF INFINITE SPELLS.
  AND WE WANT IT BACK.
purple dragon's left head:  EVEN WITH OUR POWER, WE HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE
  TO VENTURE THERE AND UNDERTAKE THIS OURSELVES, AS DOING SO WOULD REVEAL
  OUR EXISTENCE TO THE WORLD AT LARGE.
purple dragon's right head:  A SKILLED INDIVIDUAL - ONE WITH MUCH MAGIC
  AND THE PROPER ALLIES AND RESOURCES - COULD PERHAPS RETRIEVE THIS LOST
  TREASURE, DESPITE THE SEEMINGLY-INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS AGAINST SURVIVING
  SUCH AN EFFORT.
purple dragon's left head:  GO TO GREYHAWK, ELF.  GO THERE...SOLVE THIS
  PROBLEM...SUCCEED IN THIS MISSION.  BRING TO US THE BOOK OF INFINITE
  SPELLS, AND YOU SHALL HAVE THE SEEKING SCROLL.
purple dragon's right head:  AND IF YOU FAIL...DON'T COME BACK AT ALL.
Belphanior:  (seeing no other option, and needing more time to think and
  plan, he nods)  It's a deal.  If anyone can get past all those guards
  and wards, bypass whatever mighty magical protections the Guild has,
  find this book and escape with it...it's us.  (he frowns)  This might
  take a while.
purple dragon's left head:  (snorts loudly)  AS WELL IT SHOULD.
purple dragon's right head:  WORRY NOT, ELF.  FOR US, TIME PASSES VERY
  SLOWLY INDEED.  RETURN TO THIS PLACE WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR END OF THE
  BARGAIN.
Belphanior:  A week.
purple dragon's left head:  EH?
Belphanior:  I'll be back in one week.  That's all the time I need
purple dragon's right head:  VERY WELL...ONE WEEK.

  With that, the massive wyrm reared up, its wings beginning to flap and
quickly building to the point where a powerful wind buffeted the party.
Unbelievably, especially considering its size and mass, the dragon rose
into the air, turned to the west, and flew away, gradually receding to a
purple speck in the distance.

Belphanior:  Well, that was interesting.
Skektek:  Maybe not the word I'd use.  I'm not sure how familiar you are
  with Greyhawk and its Guild of Wizardry, but pilfering their ultimate
  spellbook is a suicide mission.  The guardians and obstacles we'd have
  to overcome are...(he just shakes his head)
Otto:  It's a valid point.  How in the Nine Hells are we going to pull
  this off?
Belphanior:  The same way we've always pulled off impossible missions:
  a combination of planning, skill, experience, and the will to succeed
  despite all odds.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)
Balthus:  (looking rather forlorn, now that the expected treasure hoard
  has become a suicide mission)  Err...
Belphanior:  Sorry, friend, but you've seen and heard too much.  At this
  point, you're in this for the long haul.
Balthus:  I was afraid you were going to say something like that.
Otto:  So what now?
Belphanior:  (looks around thoughtfully)  We're leaving.  There's a lot
  to be done.



  A short time later...



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          5/8/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the Free City of Greyhawk                              +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Balthus:  (looking around uneasily)
Otto:  What's the problem?
Balthus:  I'm used to small, remote cities...nothing like this.  And then
  there's the part about robbing the-
Otto:  (holds up a hand)  Never speak openly here.  There are eyes and
  ears everywhere.
Balthus:  (nods)  Understood.  So what now?
Otto:  We find a place to stay for a couple of days, then begin scouting
  the objective and taking notes.  Good information is crucial to a good
  plan of attack.  You're helping with this part because of your skills
  and eye for detail; although this isn't the wilderness, the same basic
  ideas apply.
Balthus:  Fair enough.  And after that?
Otto:  Leave the actual process of...obtaining to Belphanior.  We're just
  here to get the lay of the land.  Over the next couple of days, we'll
  take note of every entrance to the Guild...the frequency of visitors...
  patterns of guards...strange goings-on...and so forth.
Balthus:  Very well.



  Elsewhere...



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          5/8/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the sky castle, in the clouds above Oerth's surface    +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Skektek:  (takes a seat at the large table in the castle's common/dining
  chamber)  Okay, we're safely far away from the dragon now...so what's
  the plan?  How are we going to obtain that book artifact from Greyhawk?
Hope:  Or, another potential option would be to augment our forces, then
  return to Mesoloth and hit him with everything we've got, then just take
  the Seeking Scroll.
Belphanior:  If we can beat him.  (he shakes his head)  One thing was for
  sure today:  we weren't adequately-prepared, mainly because everything
  we knew about dragons was rendered potentially useless when we found
  Mesoloth to be a new species.  So maybe I saved us by working a barter
  with the wyrm.  But I also bought us time...time for Neera to learn all
  she can about this heretofore-unknown species of dragon.
Neera:  I'm on it.  It will take some time, and certainly a trip or two,
  probably to Greyhawk for the resources there.
Irina:  And that's not ironic.
Belphanior:  Neera, you're on that.  Irina and Charlie, you're with her
  for bodyguarding-
Irina:  (about to object)
Belphanior:  -and also to stock up on supplies, and visit the temple of
  Istus to see what you can learn, and possibly what aid you can muster.
Irina:  (nods)
Belphanior:  Hope, Skektek...I want you to prepare your strongest magic,
  and also go through our armory, take stock of weapons, golems, and so
  on...and also see if there's anything I'm not thinking of that could be
  used if there's to be a fight.
Skektek:  Sounds like fun.
Hope:  The inventory?
Skektek:  No, the idea of a fight.
Ys:  What of Balthus and his errand to Greyhawk?
Belphanior:  (glances at Irina, who smirks)  That side trip was a decoy.
Skektek:  Huh?
Belphanior:  Before we encountered the dragon, I asked Irina to use her
  magic to keep an eye - so to speak - on Balthus.  My hunch was right,
  because the dragon was very subtly reading his mind the entire time.
Irina:  I don't think Balthus even knows it's happening.
Skektek:  Ah.  So you're filling his head with false ideas?
Belphanior:  Mainly the one idea, that he's actually involved in the plan
  to get the book from Greyhawk's Guild of Wizardry.  Otto will make sure
  they do a full and detailed reconaissance toward that purpose.  The rest
  of us have our own work to do over the next several days.






+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          5/15/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the northeastern reaches of the Crystalmist Mountains  +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  Seven eventful days later, the remote lake's surface was quiet on this
sunny but cold day in the depths of the Crystalmist Mountains.  Birds
chirped and insects buzzed, and the natural rhythm of the local flora and
fauna flowed and ebbed as normal...until, suddenly, it didn't.

Belphanior:  (appears, along with the rest of his group)  Hmm.  (he looks
  around warily)

  The elf held an ancient, oversized tome firmly in both hands, while the
others were armed to the teeth, ready for a difficult fight (although not
hoping for one).

Skektek:  Should someone just shout out to the dragon?
Belphanior:  No.  I'm sure it knows we're here.  Just give it time...ah.

  Small trees swayed as the approaching dragon's powerful wings brought
it to a surprisingly gentle landing.

purple dragon's left head:  YOU HAVE THE BOOK.  EXCELLENT.
purple dragon's right head:  HOW DID YOU ACQUIRE IT?  THAT SHOULD BE
  QUITE A TALE.
Belphanior:  Never mind that; my methods are my own.  (he steps forward,
  the gigantic time held forth in both hands)  I'll take that scroll now,
  as agreed.
purple dragon's left head:  NOT SO FAST, ELF.
purple dragon's right head:  WE WOULD EXAMINE THE BOOK FIRST.
Belphanior:  And I would examine the scroll first.  (he holds up the
  oversized tome with both hands, as if to dare the dragon to attack him
  and risk destroying the powerful item)
purple dragon's left head:  (cocks its head to the side, studying the
  overpowering aura emanating from the book)
purple dragon's right head:  POINT TAKEN.  BUT REMEMBER, IT WAS _YOU_ WHO
  APPROACHED _US_ IN THIS MATTER.
Belphanior:  (sighs, and walks forth, gently setting the book down before
  the dragon)  An old friend once told me to never trust a dragon, but
  I'll make an exception, this one time, due to the circumstances.

  As Belphanior backed away, unwilling to remain in close proximity to
those fearsome dual heads, the wyrm snatched up the magical book in its
huge claws.

purple dragon's left head:  AHHH.  (closes its eyes, relishing the aura
  of great magical power emanating from the item)
purple dragon's right head:  EXCELLENT.
Belphanior:  And now, my scroll?  Where is it?
purple dragon's left head:  (opens its eyes, slowly turning toward the
  elf)  YOUR FRIEND WAS RIGHT.
Belphanior:  (fumbling with something)  Eh?
purple dragon's right head:  NEVER TRUST A DRAGON.

  With that, the left head coughed once, emitting a thin green beam that
shot toward the elf...only to come up against an invisible barrier!  The
cubic force-shield, summoned with perfect timing by the always-suspicious
and therefore well-prepared Belphanior, shimmered briefly before fading
out of existence, destroyed by the disintegration attack, whose deadly
destructive energy was also consumed in the process.

purple dragon's left head:  EH?
Belphanior:  I can't say that I'm surprised-
purple dragon's right head:  (inhales as it rears back, preparing to
  unleash its own breath weapon)
Belphanior:  -and thus not unprepared.

  While the challenge of breaking into Greyhawk's Guild of Wizardry had
intrigued the elf, he had eventually decided on another course of action.
And Mesoloth, in its greedy hurry to get Belphanior's magical tome into
its grasp - not to mention the thoughts it had just read from Balthus'
mind - had not considered the possibility that the book handed over by the
elf...wasn't, in fact, the Book of Infinite Spells at all.  It was a decoy
and a trap - and an immensely powerful one at that, fashioned by a master
of such things, an individual who wielded magic capable of fooling even a
dragon, if only for a few moments.  However, the bulk of the book's great
magical aura came from the tremendous destructive energy contained within,
ready to be released upon a single, specific command.

Belphanior:  (nods briefly as he mutters something)
Mesoloth:  (both pairs of its eyes widen)

  The false artifact-book exploded in the dragon's faces, unleashing a
series of lightning bursts, one after another, each one powerful enough
to reduce a large building to ashes.  Electricity had been chosen based
on Neera's hasty but thorough research of what little was known about the
purple species of dragons...including their weaknesses.  While this sort
of dragon had some resistance to magical electricity, that resistance
wasn't total.  The key, of course, had been to deceive the dragon into
willingly handling the trapped item, rather than simply being the target
of an external magical attack (in which case its innate magic resistance
would have likely served to protect it).  A big part of the plan had been
Balthus actually believing the book was real, which is why he'd been led
to believe exactly that.
  Anyhow, the proverbial cat was out of the bag now...and the complex
plan of attack, developed over the course of an entire day during the
past week, was now in motion.  Of course, first the smoke had to clear...
although the dragon wasn't waiting.  Great wings flapped, the fumes began
to dissipate, and the wyrm slowly rose into the air.

Mesoloth's left head:  GRRRRR...
Mesoloth's right head:  YOU SHALL PAY DEARLY FOR THAT, ELF!

  Both heads were severely burned, with great pink spots where the outer
flesh had been seared away, these wounds extending twenty or thirty feet
back along the neck toward the monster's main body.  As well, several of
the magical items that it had - notably, one very powerful ring on one
of its wickedly-curved talons - had been destroyed or rendered useless
by the potent series of electrical blasts.  However, the dragon was yet
far from defeated, as evidenced by the cone of violet energy that the
right head breathed forth in the party's direction a moment later.  This
attack was actually an aggregation of dozens of smaller magic missiles;
the cone widened as it neared the adventurers, individual bolts of energy
splitting up to target each individual.  Despite having scattered already
to make themselves more difficult targets for whatever attack the dragon
mounted, Belphanior's companions found that they couldn't escape this
unusual breath weapon.  The barrage of magical bolts blasted into the
party with varying effects...

Otto:  (thanks to his magical boots, he is able to leap aside, but still
  gets hit with seven missiles)  Argh!
Razor Charlie:  (similarly, despite his own boots of speed, he cannot
  dodge the persistent magical bolts, and falls, blasted by five of the
  things)  Urgh!
Skektek:  (survives the breath attack relatively unscathed, due to his
  previously-cast stoneskin spell, but is knocked to the ground)  Oof!
Neera:  (having previously conjured up a shield spell, as her recent and
  hasty research on the dragon suggested a breath weapon consisting of
  this sort of magical energy)  Heh.  (she watches as the bolts bounce
  off of her conjured barrier)
Hope:  (having previously discussed this with Neera, she is similarly
  protected by her own shield spell)
Ys:  (instinctively grabs Irina and turns his broad back to the barrage,
  getting hit by about a dozen of the magical missiles)  Ungh.
Balthus:  (lacking a spell of shielding, he is hit by nine of the bolts)
  Aaaaargh!  (he falls, hurt and semi-conscious)
wispy thing:  (just floats there as a magic missile passes right through
  its incorporeal form)  zrrrp.

  Meanwhile, having expended both of its breath weapons in a relatively
short period of time, the dragon now sought to get airborne, where it
could have some room to work further magic without risk of any physical
attack.

Mesoloth:  (rises from the ground, its huge wings beating the air)

  Suddenly, a great black manacle appeared around one of the dragon's
rear legs; connected to it was a gigantic black chain which disappeared
into the ground.

Alindyar:  (hovering in the air nearby, legs crossed, concentrating)

  The wyrm, still in shock from the electrical explosion, tugged at the
chain tentatively, with some disbelief that such a thing could tether it
to the ground.  But the chain, each link as thick as a man's waist and
fashioned from supernatural metal, held.  Mesoloth's dual heads roared
in fury as its colossal body thrashed about, struggling and thrashing
with enough force to shake the ground and snap nearby trees...and then,
a warhammer soared through the air, electricity crackling in its wake as
it sped toward Mesoloth.  The dragon was hit squarely in its chest by
the mighty weapon known as Stormcrest, as flesh was crushed and ribs were
cracked...not to mention the huge bolt of lightning that followed, its
energy blasting the dragon as a booming thunderclap split the air.

Mesoloth's left head:  AAAAAAR-
Mesoloth's right head:  -RRRRRGGH!
Mongo:  (catches the hammer as it returns to his hand)  The elf brought
  friends.  Hope you don't mind.

  There was a lot going on in the background by now; Mesoloth commanded
a small army of assorted animals, monsters, and people who had fallen
under its control over time.  These various creatures had been assembled
in the area but commanded to hold back until actual fighting broke out.
With that condition now met, the horde of Mesoloth joined the battle!
Scores of giant ants, fast-moving and fierce, swarmed along the ground
next to a quintet of giant rats and a quartet of wolves.  Behind them
marched three gnolls and a bugbear, as well as a zombie and an insane
barbarian warrior.  In the air, a couple of giant bats joined a dozen
giant wasps to provide an attack from above.  And lumbering behind all
of these was an ancient stone golem that Mesoloth had acquired a century
ago.
  However, Belphanior had brought his own secondary force.  In addition
to the hasty recruiting of some of his oldest and most powerful friends,
he had utilized every bit of magic within the Book of Beasts, about an
hour ago, to summon some help for this fight.

huge bat:  (flies tentatively toward the giant bats, but is ripped to
  shreds in short order)
giant centipede:  (quickly finds itself overwhelmed by a dozen of the
  giant ants)
gelatinous cube:  (oozes along the ground, as ants, rats, and wolves
  simply avoid it...though it does randomly catch a piece of the huge
  bat that falls from the sky, and begins digesting that morsel)
giant constrictor snake:  (faster than it looks, it snags one of the
  gnolls as well as the zombie warrior, and begins crushing them)
Razor Charlie:  (whips his arm around, sending a throwing knife into the
  eye-socket of another gnoll, felling it)
gnoll #3:  Raaargh!  (it charges at the warrior, but stops abruptly and
  tumbles to the ground as a magical bolt from Otto's crossbow whizzes
  through the air and lodges in its throat)  Glurk.
Razor Charlie:  (hurls another knife at one of the wolves, hitting it in
  the leg and causing it to veer away with a pained yelp)
giant spider:  (before it can do much, its head is split by the axe of
  the barbarian warrior)
minotaur lizard:  (slithers forth, seeking someone to bite)  Hsssss!
giant rat:  (ventures too close to Ys, and gets stomped by one huge boot)
giant slug:  (oozes forth, leaving a slimy trail in its wake)

  Fortunately, the elf had also brought some other, less random allies as
well...

stone golem:  (heads for the opposing stone golem)
iron golem:  (marches forth, crushing one of the wolves beneath a massive
  iron foot as it lumbers in the direction of the two-headed dragon)

  For Mesoloth's part, the wyrm had quickly realized that it had a choice
to make.  On one hand, it was confined near the ground by the magical
manacle and chain.  On the other hand, a number of foes were currently
recovering from its magical breath, and grouped fairly tightly besides.
The decision was a tactical one, and the dragon made it immediately.

Mesoloth's left head:  (casts a spell, dropping a fireball amidst the
  large cluster of adventurers to one side)

  The immense blast took out Otto, Charlie, Skektek, and Balthus; those
four adventurers were knocked aside as well as unconscious (or worse; it
was hard to tell at the moment).  Ys and the three spellcasting ladies
survived due to a barrier cast by Hope mere moments ago.

Neera:  But we can't cast spells out of this shell either!
Hope:  (watching the flames roll over the invisible hemisphere beneath
  which they currently stand)  You're welcome.
Neera:  I didn't mean it that way-
Hope:  It's not a big deal.  The barrier moves with its caster, so if you
  move far enough away from me, you can do whatever you want.
Irina:  But lose the protection.
Hope:  (nods)
Ys:  I am only within this bubble because I protected all of you from
  the last attack.  (he grasps his sword)  As soon as these fires cease,
  I intend to give yonder wyrm a piece of my mind.

  Meanwhile, another of the adventurers knew little else besides the fact
that a group of his allies had just been engulfed in a great blast of
fire...

Mongo:  (attacking from another angle)  DAMN YOU!  (he hurls Stormcrest
  again, the magical hammer bashing the dragon's left head with a loud
  cracking sound)
Mesoloth's left head:  (knocked back, it rolls to one side, dazed and
  bleeding from the nostrils)
Mesoloth's right head:  (uses its telekinesis spell-like ability to grab
  the dwarf and hurl him away...right into Belphanior, interrupting the
  elf's spell and knocking him from the sky)
Belphanior:  (plummets to the ground, hitting hard enough to crack some
  ribs and knock his sword loose from its scabbard)  Ungh!
Mongo:  (lands nearby, rolling into a small boulder)  Oof!
Lyra:  (invisible and airborne somewhere high above, she launches a great
  bolt of lightning at the dragon, blasting it with enough electricity to
  set portions of its body aflame while fusing the ground into glass)

  Meanwhile, the two stone golems - Mesoloth's and Belphanior's - had
closed to punching range, and were trading blows strong enough to topple
ramparts.  As for the iron golem, it reached the dragon and drove its
blade deep into the wyrm's side.  However, the dragon struck back, one of
its rear legs kicking back with enough force to crush a small house.

iron golem:  (knocked back thirty feet)
Mesoloth's left head:  (having recovered, it uses another spell-like
  ability, dispelling the magical manacle that binds it)
Alindyar:  (raises one eyebrow, surprised at the dragon's power)
Mesoloth's right head:  (turns in the dark elf's direction)

  Free at last, Mesoloth rose rapidly into the air, its great violet
wings beating with immense force.

Mesoloth's left head:  NOW...YOU SHALL ALL PAY.
Mesoloth's right head:  INDEED.
Mongo:  (gets to his feet, holding out his hand, to which Stormcrest
  magically flies)  We'll see about that.
Mesoloth's left head:  (working another spell, it drops a series of thick
  webs right onto the dwarf)
Mongo:  Huh?

  The webbing wouldn't hold Mongo for long, but the dragon's goal was to
keep the foe's hammer out of play while launching the next attack.

Mesoloth's right head:  (eyeing the airborne Alindyar, some distance away
  and airborne, it unleashes its now-recharged breath weapon, sending
  another massive cone of magical missiles into the sky, in the direction
  of Alindyar and the nearby, newly-visible Lyra)

  Both dark elves had previously-cast magical protections upon their
bodies, and these shields were the only thing that saved them from the
overwhelming barrage of enchanted bolts.  Nevertheless, by the time the
breath weapon's energies had faded out, the dragon had already launched
another attack.

Mesoloth:  (launches a cone of cold at the airborne wizards)

  Lyra was better able to try and avoid the frigid burst, due to her
boots of flying; she was covered in snow and frost, and stunned, but
simply hovered in the air.  Alindyar, however, had been more focused on
the powerful magic he'd been wielding, and was covered with frost and
rendered unconscious by the onslaught of cold, dropping from the air
like a stone.

Mongo:  (ripping free of the webs, he watches helplessly, frustrated that
  he can level buildings but lacks the ability to stop a friend from
  splattering all over the ground)

  Neera, nearby but having moved beyond the range of Hope's anti-magic
shell, came to the rescue, conjuring a wide swath of webs between two
trees.  The dark elf landed on these, the webs flexing to break his fall
without any real impact.

Mongo:  Yeah!  (he turns to the dragon, hammer in hand)  And now...
Mesoloth's left head:  NOW YOU SHALL DIE.  THE LAST...(it pauses)
Mesoloth's right head:  EH?
wispy thing:  (flits between the dragon's heads, distracting the great
  beast)  sssss!
Mesoloth's left head:  IT CANNOT BE.
Mesoloth's right head:  THIS-

  Mongo's hurled warhammer smashed into the left head, crushing flesh
and bone and causing the dragon to thrash about painfully, dipping down
lower toward the ground...where a snarling, densely-muscled form charged
forth, bounded up a tree that had been knocked halfway down, and leaped
onto the wyrm's back!

wild three-headed hound:  (quickly bounds up the dragon's broad back and
  onto the left head, digging in with supernaturally-sharp claws as its
  trio of heads begin ripping into the larger foe's flesh)

  Dragon-hide was a tough thing, but the wyrm's left head was already
badly mangled from Mongo's hammer-blows, and the ferocious hound was able
to rip into those open wounds.  The dragon whipped its head about in a
wild frenzy, to no avail; the enchanted dog was as tenacious as it was
strong, and it maintained its clawed grip while continuing to tear into
the dragon's flesh.

wild three-headed hound:  RRRRAARRRRGH!  (one of its heads rips a shred
  of flesh from the dragon, but then another head bites into the hunk of
  bloody meat, and they begin pulling it back and forth)
Belphanior:  (muttering)  That thing really is uncontrollable.

  The elf quickly and efficiently took stock of the situation.  Otto,
Charlie, Skektek, Balthus, and Alindyar were out of commission.  Lyra
was stunned if not unconscious, but otherwise safely floating in place
above.  That left half the party still in the battle...

Mongo:  (hurls Stormcrest, targeting and hitting one of the dragon's huge
  wings, causing the wyrm to fall the short distance to the ground, where
  it lands with a tremendous impact that crushes some trees and shakes
  the ground)
Ys:  (having seen Mongo's attack and anticipated this, he charges forth
  and attacks the dragon right after it lands, his broadsword coming down
  in a great arc, its blade biting deep into one of the monster's necks)
Mesoloth's right head:  AAAARGH!  (it deftly whips around, in the process
  tearing its new wound open further, but grabs the foe in its jaws and
  bites down hard)
Ys:  Argh!  (he drops his sword and thrashes about, blue blood flowing
  freely from these newly-inflicted, terrible wounds)
Mesoloth's right head:  (flings the reptilian aside, only to find itself
  suddenly covered in webbing)

  Hope was responsible for this; the simplest of spells, a magical web,
applied directly to the dragon's mouth in order to keep it closed for at
least a few crucial moments..and every moment counted in a battle like
this.

Hope:  (wondering if canceling her anti-magic shell early, to be able to
  cast other spells, was a good idea)
Neera:  (completes her own spell, adding a second layer of webbing around
  the wyrm's snout)
Mesoloth's right head:  (shakes back and forth, trying to dislodge the
  thick webs, which is proving quite difficult due to lack of sufficient
  leverage)
Irina:  (bashes the distracted dragon's right head with the spiritual
  hammer she just summoned, opening yet another deep gash)
wild three-headed hound:  (covered in gore, it continues to tear away at
  the other head)  RRRAAAARGH!

  Nearly blinded by pain, the dragon was still able to focus enough to
accomplish a simple task:  it reached up with one foreleg, its clawed paw
grabbing the three-headed hound and pulling it free (along, however, with
several bloody chunks of the dragon's flesh).  With a contemptuous roar,
Mesoloth tossed the savage animal away; the hound crashed into the upper
branches of a tree several hundred feet away.
  However, all of this provided an opportunity for one who was fast and
bold enough...and determined enough.

Belphanior:  (using the powers of his ring of spell storing to make a
  mighty, well-timed leap, he lands right about where the hound had been,
  atop the dragon's left neck, and buries his sword in one of the dragon's
  eyes, penetrating all the way into its brain)
Mesoloth's left head:  Ack.  (it convulses, once, twice...then goes limp,
  its brain dead)
Belphanior:  (absorbing one of the dragon's twin souls through his dark
  blade)  Ahhhh...(his wounds closing up and his bruises fade as he is
  healed by the powerful infusion of life-force)
Mesoloth's right head:  WHAT?!?  (it blinks several times, in shock and
  disbelief)  NOOOOOO!

  The huge monster thrashed about, dislodging Belphanior and shaking the
ground.  Its remaining living head roared, a sound so great and terrible
that animals a league away fled in terror.

Mesoloth's right head:  (turns toward Belphanior, who is staggering to
  his feet, stunned)  YOU SHALL-  (it recoils as an enchanted warhammer
  collides with it, snapping its neck)
Mongo:  You talk too much.

  The dragon collapsed heavily to the ground, its heads and limbs now
limp.

Mongo:  (he catches the hammer as it returns to his gauntleted hand)  Is
  it...?
Belphanior:  (limps over to the wyrm's dual heads)  I've never fought a
  foe with _two_ souls, which was unusual from Blackrazor's perspective,
  but I sense nothing now.  It's dead.
Mongo:  (wipes sweat and blood from his brow)  About damn time.

  With the dragon slain, it was time to deal with the wounded; curative
magic and healing potions were used as necessary (and in this case, that
was quite a bit).  Wounds were bound, and salves were applied.  Everyone
had cuts and bruises, if not also flesh burned from fireballs or dragon
breath.  Alindyar had a dislocated shoulder, Belphanior a broken leg, Ys
a number of deep puncture wounds beneath which were broken ribs.  Balthus
had it the worst:  he had been burned and knocked unconscious by the
earlier fireball, and then in a random fluke of the battle, his unmoving
body had been trampled by the dragon at some point.  Miraculously, the
tracker was still alive, though barely.

Irina:  (working healing magic on the comatose man)  I'll say this:  he's
  got the fortitude of an ox.
Otto:  And the luck of a rabbit living in a patch of four-leaf clover.

  It was safe to say that if not for the aid of magical healing, several
of the adventurers would have perished or been permanently crippled as a
result of today's battle.  As it was, few of them felt like even moving
about.  The magical three-headed hound was returned to figurine form,
numerous small fires extinguished, and the area secured.  The rest of
the day was a time for rest, for even magically-attended wounds required
time and lack of strenuous activity to heal.  Those in the best shape to
do so made camp and set up a perimeter.

Belphanior:  (produces a small, intricate flagon)
Alindyar:  What is that?
Belphanior:  Ancient brandy from a long-dead and buried city.  Amazing,
  the things one accumulates in our profession.
Mongo:  That's for sure.
Belphanior:  This bottle is at least three thousand years old, and its
  contents would sell for a king's ransom.  (he pours three small cups of
  the rare, potent liquor and hands one to each of his long-time friends)
Alindyar:  Why are we drinking it now?
Belphanior:  Victory celebration.  I couldn't have done it without your
  help, both of you.  I am deeply indebted.
Mongo:  Bah.  (never one to savor alcohol in any form, he drains his cup
  in one gulp)  It was fun.
Alindyar:  Aye, no thanks are necessary.  'Twas no small risk here today,
  but the pact we made was fair.
Mongo:  That's for damn sure.

  To secure their help, in the week between the first encounter with the
dragon and today's battle, Belphanior had given up a lot.  For Alindyar's
aid, the highly magical paintbrush found in one of Xusia's gateways had
changed from a loan to a gift.  Mongo had been easier to convince; his
price had been a large (not small) fortune in gold, silver, and gemstones.
These were great prices to pay, of course, but Belphanior could only use
so much money, and magical items - even artifacts - that he couldn't fully
understand or use were much more useful in trade for favors.  In the elf's
mind, the deals he had made in the last week were well worth it.



  Oddly enough, nothing bothered them during the night; whether this was
due to the dragon's presence (even in death) or its probable elimination
of all other dangerous creatures in the area, was uncertain.  Morning
found everyone battered and weary, but yet much better than yesterday.

Alindyar:  (flexes his arm gently, amazed at the power of healing magic)
Mongo:  Is it time?
Belphanior:  It is.  The dragon was only the obstacle.  The reward from
  all this, from everything we went through yesterday, is its treasure.
  Somewhere nearby in these mountains, now unguarded-  (he pauses)  -or
  at least a lot LESS guarded now...is the lair of Mesoloth...and within,
  its vast hoard of riches and magic!
Balthus:  (stands, grimacing at the many aches and pains he's now feeling)
Otto:  Are you up for this?
Balthus:  For years I've wondered about the dragon and its treasure, but
  it's always eluded me.  Until now.  I've come this far, and I've fought
  and bled.  (he sets his jaw)  Let's go find it.
Skektek:  But how the hell are we going to locate it?  Scrying?  Irina's
  magic, perhaps?
Otto:  Or the old-fashioned way, searching?
Lyra:  We could search faster from the air.
Belphanior:  (readies a small, simple-looking loom)  I have a better way.
Alindyar:  (sensing the raw power of this seemingly nondescript item, he
  raises an eyebrow)
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  What is it?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  That device...it bears tremendous power, of
  a rare and special kind.

  Belphanior made his way over to the immense corpse of Mesoloth, and
concentrated, focusing the loom's magic on the fallen dragon.

Skektek:  (looking around, he wonders if they should just disintegrate
  the huge body, to avoid leaving it behind)
Belphanior:  (closes his eyes, allowing the Loom of Ages to show him the
  past history of the object before him, in this case Mesoloth)

  The elf's mind was filled with the events of yesterday's battle, these
flashing through his thoughts in reverse order via the power of the loom.
The dragon's defeat, its fireball, its breath weapons, the initial attack,
the discussions beforehand...all of these past events unspooled through
Belphanior's consciousness.  Then came the wyrm's landing in the clearing,
and then its flight to the area, from the nearby peaks, before the party
had arrived.  This was the part that interested the elf, and he paid close
attention to the past events revealed by the artifact.
  Of course, to the others, it just looked like Belphanior was standing
there, holding the spindly-looking item next to one of the slain dragon's
heads.

Belphanior:  (opens his eyes, relaxing)  Aha.
Lyra:  What?  What is it?
Belphanior:  I know where its lair is.
Lyra:  Just like that?
Belphanior:  Just like that.  Such is the power of this loom.  Presented
  at a person, place, or thing, it allows me to peer into the past and
  see what transpired before.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Is he serious?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Most likely, aye.  There has been scarce
  reason to doubt him in the past.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  That's a hell of a powerful magical item,
  then.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  From the sound of things, he has others...
  not a surprising outcome for one who constantly seeks out such things
  and ventures into harm's way to obtain them.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  He hasn't changed a bit.
Belphanior:  (done with the loom, he stashes it in his portable hole)
Irina:  Hmm.  (she frowns, quickly developing a theory that the Loom must
  have been fashioned by her goddess Istus, due to the apparent function
  and nature of its powers)
Belphanior:  Let's get moving.  We can be there by midday.
Skektek:  Is it worth flying?
Belphanior:  Not really, though you're welcome to if you want.  I didn't
  bring the skyship, but we're not going far...(he points to the nearest
  mountain)  We're headed to the lower reaches of that mountain, there.

  The majority of the journey was a relatively easy march through level
wilderness, though Lyra and Skektek flew simply because they could.  As
they neared the base of the mountain, the terrain became a bit steeper,
the shrubs giving way to larger bushes and eventually trees.  Several
different times, Belphanior also took to the air to check their location
and make sure they were on track.  There were no trails here, so the path
was unmarked and at times difficult, but they persisted, following the
elf's lead.  Finally, in the early afternoon, he stopped them at a small,
level outcropping of rock amidst the surrounding trees.

Belphanior:  We'll break for lunch here.
Skektek:  (somewhat impatient)  Are we close?
Belphanior:  (nods)

  While the others ate and rested, the elf moved about the area, noting
how its tree cover rendered it unremarkable from the sky.  If one didn't
know exactly where to look, finding this particular place would be near-
impossible, and without any paths or trails leading to it, stumbling upon
it while roaming the mountainside wasn't likely either.  The dragon had
chosen well.  Of course, random wildlife and perhaps even the occasional
intelligent being might yet come upon the outcropping, but Mesoloth had
that covered too.

Belphanior:  (eyes a large, heavy boulder just beyond the level area,
  gazing upon it carefully)

  A short time later, as his companions finished up their various lunch
efforts, the elf took Mongo over to the huge, weatherbeaten rock.

Mongo:  You want me to what?
Belphanior:  We need that moved, but slowly and carefully.  You're the
  only one with the strength.

  Indeed, the elf had instructed his golems to remain behind with the
dragon's corpse, as they would not have been suited to the wilderness
travel that the group had just undertaken.

Mongo:  No problem.  (he moves to one side of the boulder, cracks his
  knuckles, then grips the gigantic rock)  Ungh!

  The ground shook, just slightly, as the dwarf - his strength augmented
greatly by the powerful enchanted belt he wore - pulled the boulder to
the side, a couple inches at a time.  Belphanior was right there to see
whether anything truly lay beyond this natural barrier.

Belphanior:  (his eyes widen)  Yes.

  A natural tunnel, concealed behind the boulder, descended into the side
of the mountain, its darkness beckoning to the adventuring spirit within
each of those present.  The elf instructed Mongo to leave the boulder as
it now was, such that one person could fit through at a time; there was
no sense in fully exposing the hidden passage to the outside.

Neera:  (summons a small floating ball of light, which floats into the
  tunnel's entrance, illuminating natural stone steps leading downward)
Otto:  (regarding the narrow passage, which is about seven feet across)
  That dragon damn sure didn't fit through here.
Belphanior:  Not in its natural form, anyway.  I suspect it used magic to
  alter its size and shape.
Neera:  (nods)  From what little I was able to find in my rather limited
  research over the last week, that might well have been within the realm
  of its power.
Belphanior:  It also had telekinesis, as Mongo and I know from the battle.
  That's probably how it moved the boulder back into place after heading
  down into the tunnel.
Mongo:  In the old days, I would have said we need to prop this boulder
  in place, just in case...but between my power and the magic some of you
  have, I think we're good.

  They settled on a marching order that seemed best suited for the
descending passage (and any unknown dangers therein)...

                          Otto     Mongo
                       Belphanior   Skektek
                        Irina         Hope
                         Alindyar    Lyra
                         Neera    Balthus
                        Ys   Razor Charlie

wispy thing:  (just flies ahead of everyone else, without a care in the
  world)  fssss.

  The passage wound its way into the mountain at a gentle angle, meaning
there would be a descending step or two, then ten or twenty feet of level
flooring, then another couple of steps.

Mongo:  (looking around as they progress)  We've only gone down about
  fifty feet so far, but we're definitely heading into the heart of the
  mountain.  (he nods to Otto)
Otto:  I'm afraid my mountain-craft isn't quite that sharp.  I spent more
  of my youth above the ground than below it.
Mongo:  (shrugs)

  After perhaps ten minutes of marching, they found the passage blocked
by a thick iron portcullis.  Unlike some, this one didn't appear to have
a mechanism to be raised and lowered; rather, it seemed to be built into
the passage itself, its sturdy bars embedded deep within the rock on all
sides.

Skektek:  Easy enough...a rock to mud-
Alindyar:  Nay.  (he shakes his head)  The metal bars of this barrier
  extend quite a distance into the surrounding stone.  The amount of mud
  created would be...impractical.
Mongo:  I can probably rip it out-
Otto:  Slow down there.  (he begins checking for traps)
wispy thing:  (hovers before the portcullis, knowing that advancing isn't
  acceptable until the thing has been deemed safe)
Belphanior:  (scanning the sturdy bars with his crystal eye)  I don't
  see any magical traps.
Alindyar:  Nor I any illusions or other enchanted concealments.
Hope:  (muttering to Irina)  He's handy to have around.
Lyra:  He does have his uses.
Irina:  (smirks)

  They could find no traps, opening mechanisms, or evidence of opening
mechanisms.

Neera:  Odds are that the dragon changed its form into something that
  could fit through the square gaps in this thing.  Otherwise, it would
  keep out anything that came down the passage, seeing as how it's stout
  enough to resist the charge of a dozen-
Mongo:  (grabs the gate with both hands and wrenches, tearing its bars
  until they snap from their moorings in the surrounding rock)  There.
  (he gently sets the now-deformed iron grille to one side)  Onward.

  Beyond the portcullis, the passage took a more pronounced downward turn,
with rough-hewn stone steps appearing more frequently.  It also curved to
the left, just slightly.  As with the first section, this tunnel was cool
and dry, and without significant cobwebs, which meant that it had seen a
level of recent use.  Unlike many underground places of this sort, it also
didn't smell musty or stale, but instead vaguely scented, as if someone
had once burned incense or candles in here.  Theories along those lines
were halted, however, by a second portcullis, this one having slightly
smaller openings between its bars.  It was also trapped, a fact which was
noted almost instantly by Belphanior, Irina, and Alindyar.

Mongo:  (mumbling something about how Bosco would have claimed to have
  found that first)
Irina:  Bosco?  What is a Bosco?
Lyra:  He's at turns the most annoying, and the most amusing, halfling
  thief you will ever encounter.
Mongo:  (points to the gate with his hammer)  Want me to break it down
  anyway?  I could throw Stormcrest.
Belphanior:  Let's use magic.

  The elf used dispelling magic to negate the trap, which fizzled out in
a brief and contained burst of electricity.

wispy thing:  (flits over to a large spark which is arcing along the
  iron, and brushes against it, causing the spark to vanish)  zzzkk.
Irina:  (to Hope)  What _is_ that thing?
Hope:  (shrugs)  I've been with this group for months and I'm still not
  sure.
Skektek:  (checking the now-safe portcullis)  An electrical trap.
Alindyar:  And a potent one.  Most lesser spellcasters - than any of us,
  I mean - would have been hard-pressed to dispel it.  And it contained
  enough harmful energy to fell a giant.
Mongo:  Giants...bah.

  This second portcullis wasn't anchored into the surrounding walls like
the previous one, and they were able to lift it and move on.  Beyond, the
passage continued downward and into the mountain.

Balthus:  I can't say that I understand the ways of dragons, but I'm not
  really sure why any creature would want to walk this far every time it
  came home.
Alindyar:  The reasons may be multi-fold.  A lair this far underground
  offers much greater protection from scrying and other magical means of
  finding treasure.  Such a remote location would also be significantly
  more difficult to teleport into.  And then, consider the traps we have
  already encountered to this point...those were not at all trivial to
  defeat.
Balthus:  (regarding the dark elf)  You're an odd sort.
Alindyar:  Aye, perhaps.
Skektek:  Another thing...the dragon almost certainly didn't have to walk
  this passage every time.  Just to get in here, it would have had to
  change its form, so I'd imagine it became a bird or a bat or something.
  (he mimics a swooping motion with one hand)  And just flew through here
  every time.
Ys:  Or a tiny dragon, a miniature version of its normal self.
Irina:  Can they do that?
Ys:  (shrugs)  Who can say?
Neera:  What little lore I was able to find at the last minute, concerning
  purple dragons, hinted at possible shape-changing powers.
Otto:  Hold up, everyone.  We've got a door up ahead.

  The portal was rather unobtrusive:  a normal-sized door of wood banded
with iron, set into a wall of rock.  Several of the party simultaneously
realized that there was danger here...

Belphanior:  There's powerful magic in that door.
Alindyar:  Powerful and dangerous magic indeed.
Irina:  (studying the portal from afar)  It bears a curse...and a strong
  one.  (she works a spell while the others wait cautiously)
Skektek:  It looks so small and puny.
Mongo:  Yeah, I know.  I could smash it open with my hammer, from afar-
Irina:  (blinks a couple of times)  I wouldn't advise it.  The door bears
  an enchantment...a terrible fate will befall the one who tries to open
  it.
Otto:  What kind of fate?
Irina:  I cannot say for certain, but I can tell you that it would be
  well beyond my power to negate.
Skektek:  Well, that sucks.
Hope:  So what do we do?
Neera:  We could study it further, but that would take time, and such
  efforts might actually trigger it.
Mongo:  We could...no, because whoever did that would get the curse.
Ys:  (speaks to Belphanior, quietly, as the others discuss options)  May
  I suggest something?
Belphanior:  Absolutely.

  A few moments later, the big reptilian stepped forth, holding a small,
primitive wooden sculpture.

Hope:  Okay, count me confused.  What's _that_?
Ys:  I always end up with the weird treasures, but I so seldom have the
  chance to use them.  This totem came from the sky castle's treasure,
  and I've been told-  (he nods in Neera's direction)  -that it's called
  the Curse Breaker, and bears powerful magic to destroy any cursed item
  it touches.
Belphanior:  But are you willing to bet your luck, or perhaps your life,
  on that?
Ys:  (to Neera)  Do you trust the scrying you worked on this item?
Neera:  (holds up her hands)  Now wait...don't make me responsible for-
Ys:  You are not - I am.  Just tell me if you feel confident in what your
  magic told you about this item.
Neera:  I...yes.  I do.
Ys:  Good.  Because I also have a feeling about this totem.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  His logic is actually sound...and that hunk
  of wood does bear an extremely potent and unusual dweomer.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Well, that's good.
Belphanior:  Don't be hasty.  You don't have to try this.
Ys:  How the hell are we ever to learn anything about all these wondrous
  treasures we find, unless we are bold enough to actually use them?  (he
  steps forth, moving quickly toward the door)

  Belphanior wasn't sure if this was the best plan, but he also wasn't
one to hold his people back if they wanted to take a risk...and he also
had faith in Neera's abilities.

Ys:  (holds the totem out, and touches the door with it)

  There was a sudden, loud, and brief bursting sound, perhaps similar to
the sound a glass jar filled with sand might make if dropped from a great
height.  The door simply fell apart, collapsing into wooden shavings and
scraps of iron.  And Ys stood, apparently none the worse for wear.

Neera:  (darts forth)  Are you...?
Ys:  (chuckles)  I'm fine.  That didn't even tickle.  (he holds up the
  totem, eyeing it happily)  I need to use my magical items more often!
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  You were right.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Aye...and that thing may very well be one of
  the more powerful and useful relics we have ever seen.

  Behind the sundered door was a smaller, roughly-cut passage, in which
they could only fit in single file.  That didn't matter much, because
after about thirty feet and a couple of turns, this new passage opened
into a colossal natural cavern.

Mongo:  Whoa.

  The vast underground space was well over a thousand feet in diameter,
and several hundred feet high.  Its ceiling was coated in phosphorescent
lichen of some kind, which lit the bulk of the chamber just as well as a
thousand oil lamps would have.  The floor in the center of the cavern was
covered with some sort of thick, dark green foliage which had obviously
been used for the dragon's bedding, based on the huge amount of crushed
vegetation.  Around this plant life were heaped coins of all sorts, piled
ten or twenty feet high in some places.  Amidst the coins were gemstones,
items of jewelry, ingots of various metals, assorted works of art, piles
of silk and other fabrics, many different sizes of barrels, chests small
and large, sizable chunks of ivory and other rare stone, and even several
pieces of expensive furniture...among other things.

Balthus:  (gaping in awe, he is the first to speak, conveying the general
  thoughts of everyone present)  Oh my gods.





next:       how in the world will they get all of this home?
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   12/24/2015
notes:      Wow, this one took me some time to write.  I was both busy
  and slack, the latter of which I apologize for.  I always have a lot
  going on, but that's not enough excuse for a seven-month delay between
  episodes.

    So as I developed the purple dragon (sometimes during actual writing
  and other times just during random periods of thought) the big question
  I kept coming back to was...do they fight or negotiate?  Clearly there
  were pros and cons to each, and I wrestled with this for weeks until I
  realized that it was actually possible to have both.  Upon deep thought,
  it became evident that - having already written the events leading up
  to meeting the dragon, in 998, and thus facing significant unchangeable
  past history - the good guys hadn't prepared or taken the best possible
  steps to be ready for such a battle.  And from there, it quickly came
  together for me.

    Prior to writing this story (or at least the second half) I spent days
  studying the descriptions and abilities of various chromatic dragons,
  and then wrote my own for the purple dragon in general, and then for
  Mesoloth in particular, including what tactics it would use during this
  battle.

    The idea of getting Alindyar and his illusions involved was born from
  an impromptu breakfast discussion with a co-worker.  Come to think of
  it, a lot of plot elements were similarly born, popping up during random
  discussions that never had any intention of producing good ideas.

    These big battles with really powerful foes are getting tougher and
  tougher to write.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



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