Chapter #981

previous chapter (#980)                                                                  next chapter (#982)

                                   +   +
                                 +       +
                               +           +
                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      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       +
+   1991-2011 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        +
+   Bosco          12th level halfling thief                              +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Jenna          9th level female human priestess of Istus              +
+   Neera          11th level female human sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Date:          4/7/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          mid-morning                                            +
+   Place:         an abandoned complex deep within the Pelisso Swamp     +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +
+   "How the hell do you know that?"                                      +
+   "Because I'm a genius."                                               +
+                                           - from _Armageddon_ (1998)    +

                   CMLXXXI.  Unnatural Preserve

  After discovering the existence of a smaller subset of teleportation
gateways, Belphanior and company have explored the first two, finding a
relatively small and useless complex before exploring a large, sprawling
one containing hundreds of undead troops.  This place, commanded by a
powerful wraith, was eventually cleaned out by Belphanior and his allies
and its leader destroyed.  After a couple days of rest, the elf is now
ready to proceed anew with his strange and dangerous explorations...

Belphanior:  So now three new gateways remain to be visited.
Neera:  (nods)  "Beast", "Fire", and "Danger."
Belphanior:  We'll see just what "Fire" means, very shortly.

  The elf had already obtained an update from Neera about her research
on Mongo's enchanted helm:  there was no update.

  Neera:  -only been a few days.  I need more time...a lot more time.
  Belphanior:  It's fine.
  Neera:  And even if I am able to unlock the magicks of this helm, it's
    not going to be easy to re-create them in another item...especially
    a small one like a ring.
  Belphanior:  Just keep at it...there's no great rush.
  Neera:  Not like your explorations of these new gateways.
  Belphanior:  (shrugs)  We've been over this.  They could contain lost
    treasure, weapons, knowledge...
  Neera:  I know, I know.  Just be careful...and come back.
  Belphanior:  I always come back.

Belphanior:  (smirking)
Skektek:  What's so funny?
Belphanior:  Nothing.

  The party now stood in the familiar chamber beneath the Pelisso Swamp,
a chamber which they now knew led to a newly-discovered and previously-
secret gateway.  This, in turn, could access the other "new" ones, which
was exactly what they were about to do.

Belphanior:  (looks around)  Everyone ready?  Good.  Let's go.

  A short time (and two teleportations later) the group found themselves
in a new gateway chamber, emerging from an arch of yellow and red stone,
the two colors mixing together in a mottled pattern.  That wasn't the most
noticeable aspect of the room, however - it was hot.  Mind-numbingly hot.

Belphanior:  (blinks)

  The room was small, square, and built completely of dark gray metal.
In fact, the gateway arch wasn't built into the wall behind it, but
instead stood out from the wall.  A thick metal door was set into the
wall opposite the gateway; in addition to a hefty doorknob, it was barred
with a thick beam of wood.

          |     |               |__    10'
          |#    ]               #      gateway arch
          |_____|               ]      barred metal door

Otto:  (already wiping sweat from his brow, he frowns)  Why would someone
  bar a metal door with a wooden beam?
Belphanior:  It's symbolic more than functional - that beam is highly
  magical, and I'm guessing it serves to protect the door in ways other
  than physical.
Jenna:  (looking around uneasily)  We're in great danger here.
Skektek:  (touches one of the metal walls)  Ouch!
Hope:  (smirks to herself)
Belphanior:  (looking around)  This entire room is magical - walls and
  floor and ceiling, and that door, and the gateway of course.  It's the
  wooden beam that radiates the most magic, though.
Jenna:  (completes a scrying spell)  Ah, and no wonder.  That beam's sole
  purpose is to keep that door sealed - it's radiating protective magic
  like mad.
Bosco:  (wanders toward the door, thinking about touching the wooden
  beam, but then decides against it)  Nah.
Skektek:  (muttering to himself)  By the gods, he does learn.
Belphanior:  (studies the door)  No hinges on this side, so it opens
  outward.  It's inherently stout, but also has some spells cast upon
  it, probably permanent ones.  And it's barred by this beam, which I'm
  guessing can't be moved with mere physical force.
Ys:  All indications point to the opening of the door as a very bad idea,
  in all probability.
Razor Charlie:  (nods)  This room has the feel of a tomb.
wispy thing:  (hovering lazily)  sprrd.
Belphanior:  No problem, guys - I agree.  We're obviously somewhere
  dangerous, we just have to figure out where.  (to Jenna)  Can you find
  out for us?
Jenna:  Yes.  (she begins spellcasting)
Hope:  I don't like this place.
Bosco:  Me either.
Hope:  It just doesn't feel right.
Jenna:  (finishes her spell, and looks around, and frowns)  We're in the
Otto:  That makes sense.  I wonder if it's the northern end, or the s-
Jenna:  No, I mean we're IN THE HELLFURNACES.  Inside an active volcano
  in the heart of the mountain range.  We may very well be surrounded by
  molten lava.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I figured it was something like that.
Bosco:  Yikes.  (he looks around anxiously)
Skektek:  Well, look at the bright side:  better to be here than the
  elemental plane of fire.
Hope:  Not much difference, judging by the heat in this room.
Bosco:  No kidding.  (he wipes sweat from his brow)  We're really cooking
  here.  (to Belphanior)  Can we leave now?
Belphanior:  Yeah, I think we'd better.  It's pretty obvious that there's
  nothing here except incredible heat, and perhaps a fiery death if we're
  dumb enough to open that door.  (he frowns)  We might be able to explore
  it some other time, with the right protective measures - but not today.

  With that, they took their leave of this small but dangerous gateway;
by midday, they were once again in the secret gateway.  After a break
for lunch, they pondered the two unexplored destinations that remained.

Skektek:  We're down to two:  "Beast" and "Danger."
Belphanior:  Let's save "Danger" for last.  Just because.
Otto:  Good idea.
Skektek:  Yeah, it seems pretty cut and dried to me.  I still think
  "Beast" means some sort of fearsome guardian, protecting some great
Bosco:  I sure hope so!
Belphanior:  We'll soon find out.

  Due to the gateway's powerful teleportation magic, they soon stepped
forth into a new gateway chamber, emerging from an archway of very pale
pink stone.  The room was small and square, with a thick metal door set
into the opposite wall, barred on this side with a thick beam of wood.

          |     |               |__    10'
          #     ]               #      gateway arch
          |_____|               ]      barred metal door

  On the stone floor by the door were the remains of a skeletal warrior.
It had been torn in half and its skull was crushed; its sword lay on the
floor five feet away, and its armor was scratched and dented in numerous

Razor Charlie:  (grimaces as a knife appears in his hand)  Is it...?
Jenna:  (studying the thing)  No, it's dead.  I mean _really_ dead, even
  for an undead.
Bosco:  (a little confused)
Skektek:  But who would have killed an undead inside a place run by the
Otto:  (wanders toward a far corner of the room)  I think I know.

  The dwarf was crouched beside a withered corpse, which had once been
some kind of ape.  Even in its current desiccated state, it had quite
obviously once been powerfully-muscled.  Perhaps six feet tall in its
life, the creature was covered in short black hair.  Its hands and feet
were both tipped in thick, sharp claws; its lips had drawn back in death
to reveal fearsome fangs.

Ys:  It's some sort of humanoid ape.
Hope:  And obviously a carnivorous one.
Jenna:  What happened here?

  There were obvious signs of a fight:  claw marks on some walls, the
state of the skeletal warrior and its armor, and long-dried bloodstains
on the floor that matched wounds on the shriveled corpse of the ape.

Bosco:  Maybe this was a man once, and the ape-thing killed him and ate
  him.  (he shudders)
Otto:  Nope.  If that was the case, there would be signs of such on the
  skeleton...chewing marks, bones broken open, and so forth.
Jenna:  Agreed.  This skeleton was already a skeleton when the ape-thing
  fought it.
Belphanior:  I'd venture to guess that...somehow, these two got locked
  in this room, and fought to the death.  The ape-thing won, destroying
  the skeleton, but had no way to get out...and so it starved to death
  in here.
Bosco:  Why didn't it just move the wooden beam and open the door?
Belphanior:  (eyeing the heavy beam)  Because this is enchanted.

  A quick tug on the beam confirmed that - the thing was held fast in
place, beyond any normal ability to move.

Ys:  (after several of the others have tried, he steps forward and grabs
  the beam with both hands)  Ungh!

  The reptilian was possessed of strength far greater than any human (or
ape) and with a great effort, he was able to lift the beam and toss it

Hope:  You didn't have to do that - a spell would have-
Ys:  (shrugs)  What use is being bigger and stronger than everyone else
  if you do not actually use that strength once in a while?
Hope:  Well, if you say so.

  The outer side of the door (and the stone around it on that side) was
covered with bloody scratches, the fluid long-dried and now a dull brown
in color.

Otto:  (studying the scratches, none of which have seriously damaged the
  door or stonework)  Those marks resemble the ones on the skeleton's
  armor...maybe there were more of the ape-things outside here, trying
  to get into that room after it was closed and barred.

  Beyond the metal door was a ten-foot wide passage that ran left-right
as far as they could see.  It immediately became apparent that this
passage was actually a ledge that wound around in an enormous circle,
well over a thousand feet in diameter.  The "inner" wall of the passage
was fashioned of a transparent material that allowed them to look into
the gigantic area within the circular ledge.

                |  :
                |  :
                |  :
           _____|  :
          |     |  :               |__    10'
          #      / :               #      gateway arch
          |_____|  :               /      metal door
                |  :               :      glasteel wall
                |  :
                |  :
                |  :

  The passage - and thus the viewing "window" - was only ten feet high,
but its construction enabled people anywhere in the huge passage to look
down upon the area within and below.  The walkway encircled a gigantic
section of land about fifty feet below, made up of a mix of grassy plains
and forested areas.  One side featured a huge outcropping of rock which
rose about thirty feet above the rest, and a small river flowed across
the base of this mountainous part.  The entire region was bathed in
bright sunlight which shone from above.

Skektek:  What...the...hell...?
Jenna:  It's like a wilderness area, but underground.
Otto:  That's impossible.
Jenna:  Tell me about it.
Razor Charlie:  Maybe it's not real.
Belphanior:  (scanning the immense area below)  Actually, it is.  What
  we're looking at definitely isn't an illusion, nor is it magical.  (he
  shakes his head)  An underground world.
Ys:  Technically, it's not a world.  It _does_ have a boundary.
Belphanior:  Yeah.  (he taps on the transparent floor-to-ceiling wall
  that stands between the walkway and the wilderness below)  Glasteel.
  All the strength of steel, with the transparency of glass.
Skektek:  (looking left and right)  That's a hell of a lot of glasteel
  to conjure up.  Why would someone do this?
Hope:  And how is the sun getting in here, if it's underground?
Jenna:  Or are we even underground?  Maybe this gateway is partially
  outdoors - just because all the other ones were underground, doesn't
  mean this one is.
Belphanior:  (nods)  That remains to be discovered.
Bosco:  You can say that again!  (he frowns)  We _are_ going to go down
  there and explore, right?
Belphanior:  Eventually.  First we need to secure this walkway...across
  its entire span.  For all we know, there are other doors and passages
  leading elsewhere.

  With that, they set out to the left (in other words, to walk the huge
round passage in a clockwise direction.)  They soon realized that the
window material wasn't true glasteel, but rather some variant.  The view
through it was one-way - those inside the wilderness area could not see
into the passageway.

        b/        \
       /            \           |__    ~ 125'
      |              |           a     door to gateway room
     a|              |           b     skeletal remains
      |              |
       \            /

  About an eighth of the way around the perimeter, they found the bones
of three of the ape-things - and all of them had been gnawed clean of
any flesh, and split open as well for the marrow.  Several bits and
pieces of other skeletons - human ones - were strewn about.  Old, dried
bloodstains were everywhere.

Bosco:  Ugh.  This stinks.
Otto:  (looking around warily)  Literally.  (he kneels down, examining
  the remains)  Been here a while, though - these aren't fresh.
Skektek:  What do you figure happened?
Otto:  The ape-things fought someone else here; whoever survived ate
  all the remains.
Jenna:  This looks to me like the work of ghouls-

  Just then, a faint scraping noise became audible from the walkway far
ahead...but it was gradually getting louder.  Due to the light coming in
from the central "wilderness" chamber, the adventurers were able to see
just fine, but that didn't mean they were going to just stand by and wait
to see who or what approached...

Skektek:  (readies a spell)  Come and get it.
Ys:  You're not going to just blast away, are you?
Skektek:  Are you kidding?  Unless I see a friendly face, that's exactly
  what I'm going to do.

  It didn't take long; as the sounds of someone approaching got louder,
a guttural gibbering could also be heard...and then they burst into view
at last:  a pack of a dozen gray-skinned figures, clawing and loping
their way toward the party.

Jenna:  Ghouls - and they look ravenous!  (she raises her holy symbol)
  I'll turn them-
Skektek:  (ignoring her, he lets a lightning bolt fly, vaporizing the
  teeming mass of undead and anything in the passage behind them)
Jenna:  (standing there staring at the smoking section of walkway ahead,
  and the dozen newly-created gray stains on the floor)  -or not.
Skektek:  (grins heartily)
Bosco:  Phew!  That stinks!
Belphanior:  This place is becoming interesting.
Hope:  That's not the word I'd use.
Belphanior:  Well, I don't mean interesting in and of itself, though the
  central area with the trees and river might be.  I mean the _mysteries_ what happened in the first room, what these ape-things are,
  who's in charge here...those sorts of things.

  Once the passage cooled down from the lightning strike, they continued
moving clockwise around the gigantic central area.  By now, they had come
to realize that there were living things down there:  birds flew, small
animals scurried about, and even a few larger ones could be seen now and

Otto:  Another question...why didn't those ghouls just go down there and
  eat, if they were so damned hungry?  It's like a game preserve, fully
  stocked and there for the taking.
Belphanior:  They must not have been able to get down there, for some
Ys:  Maybe there's no door leading from here to the environs below.

  They continued along the gently-curving passage that circled the huge
area, pausing every so often to gaze into the "preserve" and wonder as
to its construction and purpose.  Here and there, random debris was
strewn in the corridor - a bone here, a tatter of cloth there - and in
some places there were faint scrapes on this side of the glasteel viewing

Belphanior:  It seems pretty obvious that someone or something on this
  side wanted to get down there, but wasn't able to.
Bosco:  (points out a rotted, gray-skinned severed arm off to one side)
  You know, I'll feel a whole lot better when we know we're the only ones
  walking around in this place.
Skektek:  I'll second that idea.

        b/        \c
       /            \           |__    ~ 125'
      |              |           a     door to gateway room
     a|              |           b     skeletal remains
      |              |           c     open door to cage
       \            /

  A good distance further along the outer passage, they came across an
open door.  More precisely, it had been torn nearly off its hinges, a
metal plate lying askew and warped to the side of its doorway.  Beyond
this wreckage was a raised portcullis of thick metal bars, and then was
a room that resembled a cage.  A cursory examination of this area gave
the explorers the impression that it had once held some sort of wild
animals.  The cage-like chamber faced the glasteel viewing window/wall,
but otherwise didn't interrupt the large, circular passage that the group
had been walking along.

Belphanior:  Theory time.  I think the ape-things lived in here, and at
  some point they somehow got out and overwhelmed the undead who guarded
  and patrolled this area.  Over time - probably between the time we put
  an end to Xusia and now - the two sides fought, eventually wiping each
  other out.
Jenna:  Who knows how long it took?
Otto:  It lasted a while, judging by the remains we've found.
Skektek:  It would be nice to assume that both sides are completely dead
  now, but we won't know until we finish exploring this big passage.
wispy thing:  (nonchalantly)  frrrp.
Otto:  Actually, we won't _truly_ know until we split our forces, and do
  a thorough search of the passage, moving along it in both directions,
  to ensure that no one or no thing is simply staying across from us and
  remaining in hiding.
Belphanior:  (nods)  My thoughts exactly.  (he surveys the group for a
  few long moments)  Otto, Skektek, Charlie, and Bosco - you four head
  back the way we came.  The rest - Hope, Jenna, and Ys - will come with
  me and we'll continue onward.  Eventually we should meet about halfway
  around this perimeter passage.  And then we can perhaps declare it safe
  and turn our attention to the wilderness area below.
Skektek:  Shouldn't we have more people in the group that's heading on
  into the unknown?
Belphanior:  We should, if we could safely assume that nothing is coming
  around from the area behind us.  Since we can't, the backward-heading
  force needs to be just as capable.  (he looks around, sword drawn)  No
  more delay.  Let's get to it.
wispy thing:  (flits back and forth between the two sub-groups as they
  form up, eventually joining the one containing Belphanior)  snrrr...

  While the Otto-led quartet turned back and began the trek toward the
point of entry and the gateway, Belphanior's team moved onward, every
sense alert for foes or traps.  However, the next thing they found was
neither.  At the halfway point of the long passage, directly opposite
from the gateway room, they came upon the means of entry into the large
wilderness area below.  If not for Belphanior's magically-enhanced eye
and its keen senses, they might have missed the portal entirely.  It was
fashioned of glasteel like the viewing window all around it, and merged
almost seamlessly with that material.  Only a hairline crack gave away
its presence; a handle of glasteel opened a locking mechanism of glasteel
built into the hatch.

wispy thing:  (hovering hear the unusual door, curious)  pfsss?

  It was worth noting that the handle, and the area around it, was badly
scratched - but completely undamaged.  Judging by the look of the entire
locking mechanism, great physical strength would be required to turn the
handle and open the hatch.

Belphanior:  This is really quite ingenious...not the sort of thing I'd
  expect from Xusia.
Jenna:  I got the same impression about the color-coding of the various
  gateways.  These don't seem like things an undead being would do.
Hope:  True, but from everything you've told me, he was a human and a
  powerful wizard long before he was a lich.  Perhaps some vestige of
  "normal" thinking is retained in such a mind.
Ys:  I, for one, care not to know the workings of such things.
Belphanior:  (remains silent about how understanding one's enemy, even
  a slain enemy, can often lead to great treasure and power)  Right.  (he
  studies the translucent hatch in detail)  This door's obviously closed
  and locked...and just as obvious is the need for flying or levitation
  magic of some sort if one wants to get safely down to the ground fifty
  feet below us.  (he frowns)  As planned, we'll leave this alone for now
  and continue to explore the rest of the passage.

        b/        \c
       /            \           |__    ~ 125'
      |              |           a     door to gateway room
     a|              |d          b     skeletal remains
      |              |           c     open door to cage
       \            /            d     hatch leading down into wilds

  They moved on, traversing roughly one-quarter of the passage's total
circumference without seeing anything more than scattered bloodstains,
remnants of both living and undead creatures, and scratches in the wall
or glasteel window.  All of these were sporadic as well as unremarkable,
the next discovery of interest coming about halfway between the hatch
and the gateway.  Here they found a narrow passage leading away from the
main one; it led to several small rooms, all of which were laboratories
and all of which had been thoroughly trashed.  Stone slabs and tables
had been overturned; fine surgical tools had been violently thrown about,
and the mangled remains of corpses littered two of the small chambers.
One room held the tattered wastes of what had once been a collection of

Belphanior:  Hmm...
Hope:  What do you make of this?
Belphanior:  Maybe Xusia, or his minions, or whoever worked here...maybe
  they sometimes removed animals from the habitat below and brought them
  up here for dissection.
Ys:  Perhaps, when the conflict took place as you theorized, the apes
  came here and took some measure of revenge for such treatment.
Jenna:  (shudders)  The very idea of undead breeding living creatures
  and then studying and experimenting on them...ugh.  (she shivers)
Belphanior:  (angrily)  I agree; this is a foul place, for foul deeds.
  On the bright side, it appears that the wilderness below, and all of
  its fauna, are now living free of undead machinations.  (he pauses
Hope:  What is it?
Belphanior:  ...bright side...hmm...(he looks around)  Soon.
Jenna:  (confused)  Eh?
Belphanior:  Soon.  Let's finish the circumnavigation of the outer
  passage first.

        b/        \c
       /            \           |__    ~ 125'
      |              |           a     door to gateway room
     a|              |d          b     skeletal remains
      |              |           c     open door to cage
       \            /            d     hatch leading down into wilds
        \_________/              e     laboratories

  They soon did so, finding no other foes; apparently, the pack of ghouls
that had attacked them earlier was the victorious party in any conflicts
that had taken place previously.  The two smaller parties met near the
gateway chamber and regrouped, now able to safely conclude that no foes
remained to menace them.

Otto:  At least not up here.  Who knows what lurks down there?
Belphanior:  I say that nothing lurks...nothing undead, at any rate.
  Don't you see?  This was a place for Xusia to study everything he was
  not:  natural, living animals.  I can't say why - maybe he was looking
  for weaknesses he could exploit with undead magic - but it's obvious
  that whatever he was doing here, he didn't want to contaminate that
  nature preserve below.  When he needed something from below, he just
  retrieved it, probably by magic.  The ghouls weren't able to open the
  glasteel hatch to get down there, though they probably tried for days.
Skektek:  What about the sunlight bathing that area?  Not only wouldn't
  undead want to see it, but it makes no sense that we could be this far
  underground and yet have sunlght like what we've seen.  I was talking
  to Otto while we backtracked, and he believes we're quite a ways below
  the world's surface.
Otto:  (nods)
Belphanior:  I have an idea about that too, but first, we need a better
  idea of where exactly we are.  Jenna?
Jenna:  Stand by.  (she begins spellcasting)
Belphanior:  (eyeing the wilderness beyond the glasteel)  It's still
Skektek:  What's this about?  Do you think there's some sort of magical
  sunlight generated by Xusia?
Belphanior:  I think it's something even more clever than that.
Jenna:  (mumbling to herself as she completes her divinations)  We're
  underground, indeed...beneath the Barrens, under the hills to the north
  and east of that region.
Belphanior:  (to Skektek)  I've been studying the ceiling of the cavern
  below, and my suspicion is that if we went in there, flew up to the
  top, and searched it, we'd find several shafts.  They'll be narrow, so
  that nothing can get in or out through them.  At least one will supply
  fresh rainwater from the surface above, while perhaps another will be
  filled with a system of mirrors, to reflect sunlight from above and
  ensure that it retains all its luster as it makes its way down here.
Hope:  Interesting ideas.
Belphanior:  It avoids the need for magic to be put into play, though I
  can't say why Xusia would prefer one method over another.
Razor Charlie:  What about air to breathe?  Animals need that.
Belphanior:  Simple:  the trees and plants produce air, just as people
  and animals exhale the things that plants need to thrive.
Otto:  (eyes the elf quizzically)
Belphanior:  I learned that from an alchemist long ago.
Skektek:  So, assuming your ideas are right - though the "how" and "why"
  probably aren't important, as we're standing here looking at this game
  preserve down below - what do we do with it?  Explore it?  Destroy it?
Belphanior:  No point in either.  I didn't sniff out any magic from down
  there, and I doubt Xusia would have hidden anything there anyway, based
  on the other things we've learned here.  No, we'll just leave it alone.
  Let nature just...take its course.
Jenna:  Spoken like a ranger or druid.
Belphanior:  Which I'm not, but I did spend years adventuring with the
  likes of Halbarad and Peyote.  I'm sure they'd agree with me that this
  entire place will eventually become overgrown with plant and animal
  life.  And that it's better off doing so without our interference.
Otto:  Especially now that we've finished off the undead that yet lurked
wispy thing:  nrrff.
Skektek:  So what now?  Are we returning to the regular world?
Belphanior:  I figure it's about dusk by now, in the real world.  We'll
  return to the base camp in the Pelisso gateway, rest and have supper.
  Tomorrow morning, we shall venture to the sole remaining destination,
  the only one that remains a mystery to us:  the "danger" gateway!

next:       I saved the best for last.  I'm not kidding.
released:   8/26/2011
notes:      There's an updated gateways file on at the URL
  just above.  I figure I can finish the gateways in anywhere from 2-5
  episodes, depending on how long they are.  I have big plans for the
  final gateway; let's just say that its rune isn't "danger" without
  good reason.
    I apologize for the extreme delay since episode 980 and this one.
  Some personal matters have kept me busy with other things, and while
  I won't go into details at this time, they are major, perhaps life-
  changing events.

previous chapter (#980)                                                                  next chapter (#982)