Chapter #944

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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       +
+   1991-2006 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     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Neera          11th level human female sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Date:          10/14/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         the skies over the Azure Sea                           +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional."                     +
+                                                        - Max Lucado     +

                   CMXLIV.  A Great Debate

  A week after the ambush at (and subsequent destruction of) the remote
Sea Princes outpost of Ganarec, Belphanior and crew are headed back in
that direction.  The skyship has been underway for about half a day, and
those within are finalizing their upcoming plan of attack...

Neera:  I hope this one doesn't exclude me again.
Belphanior:  I never exclude anybody.  It's just a matter of who does
  what...a lot of times, it's inadvisable to just throw everyone into
  a certain fight.
Neera:  Hmmph.
Skektek:  So what _is_ the plan, anyway?
Otto:  Or more to the point, what did you learn from that captured mage?
Belphanior:  It's pretty simple, actually.  There's no trouble coming
  from Monmurg, but rather, some of the other "secondary" cities in the
  Hold.  This last attempt to stop us was engineered by other leaders
  from that nation...specifically the Grandee of Westkeep, the Prince of
  Toli, the Plar of Hool, and the Commodores of the Isles.  The Grandee
  of Westkeep seems to the main conspirator here, which isn't surprising
  considering what Mongo, me, and some others did in that city, many
  years ago.
Mongo:  Sounds like Westkeep didn't learn its lesson.
Belphanior:  And it's time for another lesson.
Otto:  How can we be sure the prisoner was telling the truth, or that he
  actually knew what was going on?
Jenna:  My magic - Istus' magic - is...impeccable.  Unless the man was a
  complete and unwitting dupe, who had been given false information, he
  spoke the truth.
Belphanior:  And if he was fed the wrong facts, they all would have had
  to get the same wrong facts, because there'd have been no way to know
  which enemy we'd capture.  (he shakes his head)  No, their goal in
  Ganarec was to trick us, and defeat us.  And now they'll pay for the
Neera:  Did you ever stop to consider that taking further action of this
  sort will just make you more of a target?
Belphanior:  To be honest, it doesn't matter to me.  I'm already their
  target, and for better or worse, that can't be undone.  As long as
  I've pissed them off and they're after me, I might as well do my best
  to finish this thing.
Elgon:  I see her point.  This little war may never end; every noble of
  the Hold who you eliminate will just have their place taken by someone
Neera:  That's what I mean - this enemy is like a hydra.  If you chop
  off one head, another will just take its place.
Belphanior:  Then I'll have to chop faster, and more brutally.  (he
  looks around)  This mission - all of them, in fact - are voluntary.
  If you don't want to be part of the effort, you don't have to be here.
  All of you know that, so I can only conclude that you _do_ want to be
  here.  (he frowns, wondering when his companions began to question his
  goals and decisions anyway)
Skektek:  Well, I just have one question...what the hell kind of title
  is "Grandee" ?
Mongo:  (grins) does sound kind of stupid.

  The dwarf was in much better spirits since following Neera's advice
to simply remove his strength-belt while aboard the skyship.  While this
made him somewhat uncomfortable ("nervous" might have been a better word)
he was at least free from the nausea he'd suffered from before.

Ys:  So we are now journeying to Westkeep...and what will we do once we
  get there?
Belphanior:  We're going to eliminate its ruler.  These people have to
  learn, one way or the other.
Elgon:  You're going to assassinate a head of state?
Skektek:  Ooh, "assassinate" is such a harsh word.  (he smirks)
Belphanior:  (to Elgon)  The Grandee is not innocent - we've proven that.
  He's one of a few ringleaders responsible for the capture and enslavement
  of thousands or innocent people.
Elgon:  (puts his hands out)  I realize that.  I'm trying to point out
  that whatever he's done, you can't just swoop in there, kill him, and
  swoop right back out.
Belphanior:  Sure I can.
Elgon:  You can, yes, but then they'll double the pressure to capture or
  kill you.  The whole problem of us being chased-
Belphanior:  Me, being chased.
Elgon:  -you being chased...that whole problem will just get worse if you
  try to fix it this way.
Belphanior:  What else can I do?  They're after me anyway, so I might as
  well give them a better reason.
Ys:  I believe this is what is classically referred to as a "chicken and
  egg" situation.
Belphanior:  Right.  Once it got rolling, there was never any possible
  outcome except for a steady arms escalation.  (he frowns)  Maybe a more
  covert approach was called for.
Otto:  Whatever the case may be, it's too late now.
Belphanior:  Damn right.  I won't spend the rest of my life looking over
  my shoulder, like a hunted dog.
Elgon:  (quietly)  It's not just your life we're talking about here.

  That comment brought a long silence from everyone, especially Belphanior,
who was suddenly deep in thought.

Belphanior:  (suddenly walks over to the skyship's controls and tinkers
  with a couple, causing the skyship to come to a gradual stop)
Elgon:  Err, I didn't mean to disrupt all your plans - I'm just trying to
  take an outside approach, and play devil's advocate.
Belphanior:  An appropriate analogy.  Okay, given that we can't change the
  past, here are the options as I see them, regarding this overall problem.
  One, we continue to be proactive, killing them before they can kill us.
  This will help us keep more of an upper hand, but it will also be a lot
  of effort, and will further escalate the situation.  This is my natural
  tendency, because it more or less allows us to go on the offensive and
  shape the course of events.  Two, we back down from any further action
  on our part, and just let them come to us, and do our best to anticipate
  and outwit them when it happens.  This is a lot less work for us, but it
  also makes their attacks easier for them to plan and execute.  I could
  go with this option, but I don't like it as much because it limits the
  other things we can do, or if we run free and wild, it makes us much
  easier targets.  Three, we avoid the conflict entirely, by fleeing to
  some place where it's difficult for them to find us, or attack us.  One
  such place might be Parekh's home, while another would be any kingdom
  or other place whose ruler sides with us and our past actions against
  the Sea Princes.  I don't like this option at all; aside from the fact
  that it translates to us fleeing, it also makes us dependent on another,
  outside power or ruler.  I really don't think this is a good time to
  build a new trust with anyone.  The only people we can really count on,
  and even then it's questionable, are those we knew before the Monmurg
  attack.  (he sighs)  Which isn't really very many.
Ys:  But despite being few in number, those we can rely on...are powerful
  allies.  Look at the bright side.
Mongo:  That's a damn good point.  I mean, look at me - I've stuck with
  you throughout this whole thing, and I'm not bailing out now that it's
  gotten bad.
Belphanior:  (claps the dwarf on one armored shoulder)  And you have my
  gratitude, more than you know - you all do.  (he frowns)  We just have
  to find a way out of this escalation of conflict that we're embroiled
  in.  None of the three approaches we just discussed is perfect, and
  they each have their own problems.
Neera:  Then might I suggest...option four?

next:       an unforseen solution
released:   11/3/06
notes:      The basic gist of the discussion in this episode applies to
  so many things, I can't even begin to name them all...modern politics
  and conflicts, the Cold War, just about any recent war, religion, "The
  A-Team"...the list goes on and on.  I haven't quite written myself into
  a corner here, but it's close; Belphanior can't get the hounds off his
  back without taking actions that will bring more hounds to the chase.
  What do you do?  Keep killing the dogs, and hope their handlers give up?
  Kill the handlers, knowing that more will take their place?  Or maybe
  disappear forever?
    Please don't send me answers or ideas.  I already know what's coming
  and what's going to happen, and how this dilemma will be dealt with.

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