Chapter #990

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

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2013 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        +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+   Rob            17th level human priest of Trithereon                  +
+   Yod Ironbeard  21st level dwarven warrior-king                        +
+   Bram           15th level human ranger, vampire hunter                +
+   Date:          4/19/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         Parekh's home (exact location unknown)                 +
+   Climate:       temperate                                              +
+   "Apparently you like a little edge."                                  +
+   "All I can get."                                                      +
+                                         - from _Dirty Harry_ (1971)     +

                   CMXC.  Gathering of Intelligence

  After giving an explanatory and somewhat-rousing speech to the various
individuals assembled to deal with the potentially world-threatening
problem posed by Skava-Ra, Belphanior has retreated to a smaller room
to plan further.  However, no sooner had he closed the door and taken
a seat...than he received a most unexpected and unusual visitor...

Belphanior:  (sitting there trying to figure out what to do next, he
  suddenly becomes aware of a presence in the room, although his sword
  doesn't sense it first)  Eh?
middle-aged woman:  (having appeared in another chair sometime in
  the last few moments, she has the bearing and attire of a haughty
Belphanior:  What the-  (lightning-fast, his hand reaches for the
  handle of the sword at his side)
middle-aged woman:  You needn't bother with that.  I'm here to help.
Belphanior:  (realizes that somehow, inexplicably, he hasn't drawn
  his blade yet)  What is this, the week of random visitors popping
  in whenever they damn well please?
middle-aged woman:  (just stares at him, unamused)  Calm yourself.
Belphanior:  (now aware that something is undoubtedly amiss here)  How
  did you get in here?  Who are you?  And what do you want?
middle-aged woman:  I represent Istus, Lady of Our Fate.  (she shrugs)
  As such, I come and go as I please.
Belphanior:  Apparently.  But you still haven't answered the third
middle-aged woman:  Being aware, naturally, of your current dilemma, I
    have come to offer you guidance.
Belphanior:  Guidance?
middle-aged woman:  Guidance.  Specifically this:  the Loom of Ages
  can give you a significant advantage in what's to come, but you must
  be careful with its use.
Belphanior:  Is this about time travel?
middle-aged woman:  Time is but one thread in a much greater tapestry,
  as you shall soon learn.
Belphanior:  I will?  (he frowns)  All that aside, assuming that you
  are who you say you are...why in the world are you helping me?  I'd
  been given to understand that followers of Istus don't interfere in
  the natural course of events, especially if everything is already
middle-aged woman:  Questions of interference aside, there is the
  matter of one of our high priestesses being slain by these vampires
  you seek.  Such offenses are not to be taken lightly.
Belphanior:  Well, at least _that_, I can understand.
middle-aged woman:  Not revenge, so much as not allowing a precedent
  to be set.
Belphanior:  Call it whatever you want, I guess.
middle-aged woman:  (nods)  As I said, I've not come to interfere...
  I've come to make sure that _you_ don't interfere.
Belphanior:  (growing frustrated)  What?
middle-aged woman:  Use the Loom, but carefully.  Heed my words.
Belphanior:  What makes you think I'll use this...guidance you've
middle-aged woman:  (smiles cryptically)  You will.  Fortunately, as
  we both know, you will have...assistance with the Loom's use.  (she
  suddenly vanishes)
Belphanior:  What the hell...?  I hate it when people do that.  Is
  nothing sacred?  (he looks around)  Why am I talking to myself?

  The elf quickly made ready to do what he would have eventually done
anyway - for the mysterious woman's words only clarified the thoughts
he had already been having.  While he didn't understand why Istus would
send an emissary to speak to him like this, he figured it probably had
something to do with the murder of one of her high priestesses.  While
he didn't fully grasp the message, he knew someone who would...and so it
was that, less than an hour after leaving the meeting chamber and then
speaking with the strange woman, the elf stood in a chilly room within
a remote mountaintop fortress, speaking with an individual who was almost
two thousand years old.

Kronos:  ...I see.
Belphanior:  (spreads his hands)  Again, I'm not asking for you to be
  directly involved - we have plenty of powerful forces arrayed to save
  the world from an eternal night filled with vampires.  I just need an
  edge for this battle, and I believe the Loom of Ages can give me that
  edge.  I'm here to find out exactly what its powers are, and how I can
  best use them.
Kronos:  You wish, perhaps, to use the Loom to travel through time?  Go
  back many years and dispose of key vampires before they can ever become
Belphanior:  Well, I won't lie:  the thought had crossed my mind.
Kronos:  Then you'll be disappointed, because that's impossible.
Belphanior:  Eh?
Kronos:  Let me elaborate...provide some background material.  Time is
  not the same as the physical three dimensions that anchor this plane
  of existence, or even similar to a "fourth dimension" such as, say,
  the Astral Plane.  Even given the ability, one cannot just move back
  and forth in time indiscriminately, not without repercussions.  This
  is most easily demonstrated by the time-travel paradox:  if you were
  to somehow go back in time and slay one of your ancestors, then it
  follows that you, yourself, would never be how, then, could
  you ever have existed in the first place?
Belphanior:  Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Kronos:  Very, very few individuals know the truth, the answer to that
  paradox...and it is this:  parallel realities.
Belphanior:  Do tell.
Kronos:  Actually travelling back in time and altering the past does not
  alter YOUR past - it causes another reality to spring into existence,
  identical to the "primary" one except diverging at that key point.
Belphanior:  My adventuring companions and I once journeyed to an
  alternate world, in which each of us had a duplicate, most of whom
  were opposite or at least different.  Was that...this?  What you're
  talking about?
Kronos:  Possibly, although I cannot answer that without more information.
  But know this:  from the moment of its creation, each new parallel
  reality is just as real, just as...valid as the original that it was
  generated from.  It's just divergent.  (he studies the elf's reaction
  carefully)  Is this making sense to you?
Belphanior:  Yes, although it raises questions.  How many of these other
  realities can exist?
Kronos:  An infinite number.
Belphanior:  And how many are there?  Actually?
Kronos:  An infinite number?  No one knows.  The truth is, items capable
  of creating them - in other words, items capable of traveling through
  time and spawning parallel realities - are so rare that even the gods
  battle over possession of such.
Belphanior:  Can the Loom do this?
Kronos:  (sighs)  Yes.  I hope that my brief explanation of the nature
  of the timestream has made you understand that just because you _can_
  travel through time, doesn't mean that you _should_.
Belphanior:  More to the point, it would serve no purpose.  Even if I
  went back in time and prevented the creation of Skava-Ra itself, that
  would only be the case in the new parallel reality that I'd caused to
  be born - not the "real" reality that we're in right now.
Kronos:  Excellent.  You do understand.
Belphanior:  And I'm disappointed.  What's the value of such an item if
  it can't be used?
Kronos:  Ah...but there is more than one way to use such an prize.  For
  example, consider that the Loom can also provide a viewing window into
  this reality, but at other points in time - so that one could merely
  observe, but not touch, or be detected, and thus not influence events
  at the different point in the time stream.  No new reality would be
  created - merely a controlled glimpse into the past times of this one.
Belphanior:  (his eyes gleam)  It can do that?
Kronos:  Of course.  Such a feat is minor compared to actually _moving_
  the bearer through time.  Think of it as simply scrying, only through
  time instead of space.
Belphanior:  Does the bearer need to be in the same location, spatially,
  as the subject of the scrying?
Kronos:  It helps, but isn't absolutely necessary.  This is a function of
  how well you can remember and visualize the location, subject, or item
  in your mind.  It helps to have an item from the desired scrying target
  at hand.  This is not unlike the destinations of teleportation magic.
Belphanior:  So let me see if I understand correctly...I could use the
  Loom to peek back at various times in history...and watch the events
  unfold as if I had been there myself?
Kronos:  Correct.
Belphanior:  This would allow me to see not only _what_ happened in the
  past, but _how_ and _why_ it happened...
Kronos:  (nods, pleased)  You seem to have finally comprehended the true
  value of the Loom.
Belphanior:  Yes, I have.  And there is much that I need to learn.
Kronos:  And time is short, given what you told me when you first arrived
  here today.
Belphanior:  Let's not waste any, then.  Every hour those vampires have
  Neera is an hour too long.  At this point, every moment counts.
Kronos:  (regards the elf curiously)  That won't be an issue.  However
  one utilizes the Loom...when that work is finished, the user returns
  to their original reality at the exact point in time when they left.
Belphanior:  You mean we could spend a couple of days studying the past,
  but lose no time in the present?
Kronos:  Of course.
Belphanior:  Outstanding.  Let's get to it.  I want to look back in time
  to the very origins of Skava-Ra...I want to know everything.
Kronos:  Very well.  Before we...depart on this journey, I have something
  you might be able to use.  (he snaps his fingers, and a potion bottle
  appears in his hand, the fiery liquid within glowing a bright orange)
  This is a formula I developed and used during my first, mortal life.
  You have heard of "vitality" potions?
Belphanior:  Yep.
Kronos:  This is a more potent one.  It will not only restore you to
  optimal rest and strength, but keep you at that point for a further
  ten days without any need for food, drink, or sleep.  It also provides
  total immunity from poison, disease, weakness, withering, aging, and
  the like.  Finally, it confers a moderate regenerative effect.
Belphanior:  Wow.
Kronos:  This is the last one I possess, as I've not had the need to
  create more for quite some time now.  It will help you tolerate not
  only the impending trip through time, but also the battle that lies
Belphanior:  My thanks.  Should I...?
Kronos:  (nods)  Now would be a good time.

  Some might have wondered why Belphanior trusted the lich not to offer
him poison or some similar concoction; there were two reasons.  Firstly,
he simply trusted the lich based on their past interactions and his
judgment of character.  Secondly, Belphanior now wore two earrings:  the
one from the recent dungeon complex defended him against mental attacks,
while the other was his previously-possessed ring of truth.  Had Kronos
spoken any lies during this conversation, Belphanior would have known.

Belphanior:  (quaffs the orange liquid, and immediately feels totally
  revitalized and full of vigor)  Ahh.
Kronos:  A useful drought, that.  (he hefts the Loom of Ages)  It would
  help if we had some item or memento from Skava-Ra...
Belphanior:  (removes a tattered scrap of old cloth from a pocket)  You
  mean like this?
Kronos:  What is it?
Belphanior:  I found several like it in my home; they must have been
  ripped loose during my peoples' battle with the vampires who took
  Neera and the ancient unholy jawbone.
Kronos:  Excellent.  (he holds the Loom out)  Touch this, and think of
  that bit of fabric, and think of all the times you were ever down in
  the depths of the world near that subterranean city...
Belphanior:  (does so)
Kronos:  Concentrate!  Drive all other thoughts from your mind, and
  focus completely and totally on your quarry.

  Truth be told, the degree of focus required was beyond the mental
ability of more than ninety-nine percent of the world's population;
fortunately, Belphanior had remarkably strong willpower and motivation.
The room faded out, replaced by gray haze similar to that experienced
during the gateway teleportations.  However, there were no physical
side-effects here; rather than moving through space, it seemed like
space was moving around _him_.

Kronos:  Yes...we are getting there.  Keep concentrating!
Belphanior:  (thinks of everything he knows about Skava-Ra and the
  vampires, including the scrap of cloth, his past near-misses in the
  vicinity of the city, and his memories of Victoria)

  Without realizing it, the elf had kept his eyes shut tightly for a
while; suddenly he sensed that something was different, and opened his
eyes to behold a strange and wondrous sight.

Belphanior:  Whoa.

  The elf, along with Kronos and the Loom, was now mostly transparent,
like ghosts of some kind.  The area around them, however, looked and
sounded and _felt_ totally real.  Or unreal, depending upon one's point
of view.  Belphanior looked upward, at the cavern ceiling two thousand
feet above, that distant surface speckled with stars like those of the
night sky.  Beneath this colossal dome was the city itself:  a dense
conglomeration of several hundred towers, connected at street level by
dark stone roads and also at higher levels by narrow, arched bridges of
sinister architecture.  At the center of the city was a huge central
tower, perhaps five hundred feet high, around which the city sprawled
for several thousand feet in all directions.  Its outer perimeter was
a hundred-foot-high rampart of black stone, with higher guard towers
set at intervals along its entire length.  Outside the outer wall were
fields of purple grass and brown mold, which were being tended by scores
of chained humans.

Belphanior:  This isn't-  (to Kronos)  How far back are we observing
Kronos:  Five hundred years, give or take a decade.
Belphanior:  We need to go back farther...I want to see the laying of
  the city's foundation.  Can we do that?
Kronos:  Of course.  (he makes an adjustment on the loom, and the scene
  before them fades away)

  Logically, Belphanior knew that they hadn't actually left Kronos'
castle in the mountains - the Loom was simply transporting their
consciousnesses through time and space.  Or was it?  Before he could
think more on the subject, a new vista appeared around them:  the same
huge cavern, only now it was utterly empty, devoid of habitation and
filled with fields of strange fungus, from which rose stalagmites at
random points.

Belphanior:  This must be before the city...okay.
Kronos:  About four thousand years ago, actually.  Now we must move
  forward...slowly...until the point where vampires first enter this
  cavern and begin construction of their city.  (he stops, regarding
  the elf)  Actually, you should operate the Loom, so that you learn.
Belphanior:  Fine by me.

  The lich showed him how to activate and adjust the arcane device; it
was actually fairly simple.  A series of thin silvery threads was wound
around a pair of wooden rods within a wooden frame; adjusting the exact
position of these rods along the frame controlled the point in time that
the user would be able to witness.  An attached shuttle could be rotated
to make minute adjustments, fine-tuning the "destination."  Although he
had never used a loom before in his life, Belphanior quickly figured out
the basic operation of this rather unique one, and proceeded to spend
the next few hours (or at least his perception of them) watching the
history of Skava-Ra unfold.  He often made adjustments in order to jump
forward a bit, but also slowed to real-time speeds at times so that he
could actually observe and listen to conversations that had happened
long ago.  A couple of times, he even went backward to hear something
again, to make sure he'd heard it correctly.
  This was the sort of endeavor that tended to utterly absorb one's
attention, and thanks to the potion he'd imbibed, Belphanior experienced
no fatigue at all.  Kronos, ever-patient, never rushed the elf during
the observation of times past (to be sure, the lich was also learning
from the past events being viewed.)  At long last - and after seeing not
only Skava-Ra's past, but also the more recent events there - Belphanior
was finally done.

Belphanior:  (lets go of the Loom, finding himself and Kronos "back" in
  their normal location)  Whoa.  That was...well, words can't really
  describe it.
Kronos:  You are a quick study, having used the device successfully in
  your first attempt.
Belphanior:  I like to think I have a certain clarity of purpose here.
  (he cracks his knuckles)  And now that I've...witnessed the building
  of Skava-Ra from all those centuries ago, I know the best way to attack
  the city.
Kronos:  And that - the window into the past - is the true value of the
  Loom of Ages.
Belphanior:  Damn right.  Which reminds me, I've got one last question
  for you, before I go:  where exactly did the Loom of Ages come from?
  Who created it?
Kronos:  Why...Istus, the Lady of Fate, of course.  I'm surprised you
  had to ask.
Belphanior:  So she creates this mighty artifact of time, this loom, and
  then lets it loose into the world, knowing full well the risks of its
Kronos:  (shrugs)  The ways of gods are strange, to be sure.
Belphanior:  No kidding.  At least the ways of mortals I can understand.
  (he thinks of Skava-Ra, the vampires, the murder of Jenna, and the
  kidnapping of Neera, and clenches one fist)  I understand...and soon,
  so shall they.

  Despite spending hours of perceived time using the Loom, the elf
found that it wasn't even dusk when he rejoined a much smaller circle
of planners back at Parekh's home.  He had some good ideas about how
to assault Skava-Ra, but first it was necessary to fully understand
the various forces that would be involved in that endeavor.  To this
end, Belphanior and just five others now conferred in a smaller room...

Belphanior:  As I said before, we need to come up with one hell of a
  plan...but before we can do that, it's necessary to fully understand
  the forces at our disposal here.

  It was obviously impossible to have several dozen individuals sitting
around making strategy for the assault on Skava-Ra, so a smaller group
of key players had been chosen:  Belphanior, Alindyar, Parekh, Rob, Bram,
and Yod Ironbeard.  This combination ensured that every sub-group of
those involved was represented, although in two cases the involvement
was more of a demand.

Alindyar:  If you wish me to risk my life, and that of Lyra, then I shall
  be involved in the planning process.  (he shrugs)  'Tis that simple.
Yod:  (slowly clenches and unclenches one mighty fist)  And there's no
  way in hell that a campaign this big will be planned only by wizards.
  (he nods to the others, who are all of course wizards)  No offense
  meant to present company, of course...but the ground forces need to
  be represented in this discussion, as well.
Belphanior:  Perfectly understandable.  So let's review the forces we've
  assembled.  I'm bringing my usual team:  Otto and Charlie are effective
  fighters both up close and at a distance, while Ys brings formidible
  strength to bear on any foes within range of his sword.  Skektek and
  Hope are both competent, battle-tested wizards.
Bram:  We can take certain measures to aid them against the vampires...
  things like blessing people's clothing, sprinkling holy water over
  them, holy symbols, silver, garlic...such things won't always work,
  depending on the individual vampire and its weaknesses, but it can't
Belphanior:  We'll see.  I agree that it can't hurt to add anything and
  everything possible to our attacks and defenses.  Sometimes the very
  smallest of things can make all the difference.  (he scribbles some
  notes on a parchment) addition to my people, I can bring to
  bear a sizable number of golems - the stronger, more durable ones at
Yod Ironbeard:  How many golems?
Belphanior:  Ten stone plus six iron.  I...inherited them from Xusia,
  you could say.
Yod Ironbeard:  Sixteen golems is a huge tactical advantage, one we'll
  have to figure out how to best use during our attack.
Belphanior:  If nothing else, the golems can provide the sort of heavy
  destructive power needed to break through walls and crush non-vampire
  opposition troops.
Yod Ironbeard:  (nods approvingly)  It's good.
Belphanior:  And let's not forget about Mongo...he's certainly a force
  to be reckoned with.
Rob:  He's like a golem as far as sheer destructive power, except that
  he can do it from a distance too.
Belphanior:  Now what about the other hero-types, both those I know and
  those I don't?
Parekh:  Myself, Drak, and Pallin you already know...likewise, Alindyar
  and Lyra, and Mongo.  Rob will, I assume, bring some serious clerical
  power to this endeavor?
Rob:  (nods)  In addition to myself, Trithereon will be represented by
  a contingent of priests.
Belphanior:  That's good.  And let's not forget Bosco.
Alindyar:  Who could forget Bosco?  I just hope he can avoid getting
  himself killed at Skava-Ra.
Belphanior:  I've noticed, over the years, that Bosco always seems to
  find a way to survive, no matter what the odds or the situation.  In
  this case, though, I question whether we really need him.
Alindyar:  If nothing else, he possesses a magical chess set whose
  pieces animate to fight for him...consisting of a well-balanced mix
  of warriors, wizards, priests, and monsters, this force is a small
  army unto itself.
Belphanior:  Hmm, that's good to know...if somewhat surprising.
Alindyar:  Bosco is always surprising.
Yod Ironbeard:  Aside from myself, my battle mount, and my twin halfling
  warrior henchmen, I plan to bring a small force of veteran dwarves to
  lead into battle.
Belphanior:  (wondering what sort of warhorse a dwarven king rides into
  battle)  Okay.
Parekh:  Let us not forget the wizards Dexitheseus and Wu, both of whom
  are accomplished magi with decades of experience.  St. Wilhelm you
  may remember from the battle for the Fortress of the Nine...
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  Vaguely.
Parekh:  Likewise Sir Drexel, newly returned to the realm of the living,
  and his twin brother Sir Dremel.
Rob:  Twins, and unusual.
Belphanior:  I hope they don't engage in some sort of rivalry during all
  of this.
Rob:  They're high-ranking, powerful, experienced paladins and we're
  attacking a city of evil undead.  I doubt they'll be fretting over
  trivial matters.
Belphanior:  Good point.  Here's another one:  how did Drexel get well
  again?  I recall hearing something pretty dire about his...condition
  after he fell in the battle at Xusia's fortress.
Yod Ironbeard:  We assembled a small but powerful force and ventured
  into one of the Nine Hells, where we eventually found and recovered
  his soul after a tough battle against a horde of devils led by an
Belphanior:  Nine Hells?  Arch-fiend?  (he frowns, somewhat dubious)
   You're not serious?
Yod Ironbeard:  Of course I am.  I never joke about things like that.
Belphanior:  Oh.  Okay then.  (he looks around)  Who else?
Parekh:  Ahem...whether you like it or not, we can claim the archmage
  Cespedes among our ranks for this assault.
Belphanior:  No, I don't like it.  We fought against him once...why would
  he help us now?
Parekh:  (somewhat irritated)  Let's put this to rest once and for all;
  it's quite long overdue, and I should have dealt with it before now.
  Cespedes was involved with Xusia's group of Nine because it was a good
  opportunity to gain some knowledge and material - an endeavor which
  was successful, incidentally.  I doubt Cespedes would have followed
  through with all of Xusia's plans, had it come to that - he valued his
  own pursuits far more than those of the lich.  It was a temporary, if
  ill-advised, alliance and one that's been over for a long time now.
  Your...sighting of him in the underwater gateway was merely him keeping
  track of an underwater experiment that he'd begun previously.
Belphanior:  Well, I'd been wondering about less mystery for
  me to solve later, I suppose.
Parekh:  Cespedes now sides with us, whether anyone likes it or not, and
  I'll vouch for him, as will Pallin.  Besides, did not your own Razor
  Charlie once attack you with thrown blades and intent to kill, before
  you recruited him and he became a faithful henchman of yours?
Belphanior:  (spreads his hands)  Fine, fine.  I get it.  Cespedes is a
  good guy now.  I'll deal with it.
Parekh:  Plus, he controls two rather powerful allies:  the iron dwarf
  and the adamantine golem.  Remember those?
Belphanior:  Those are some powerful allies.  (he smirks)  This is like
  a dream team.
Rob:  True, but remember, we're going up against a true nightmare.  The
  streets of Skava-Ra run with the blood of the innocent, and the dark
  reaches of that city are the grave of evil.
Bram:  Metephorically.  To me, the place is a nest of vermin that need
  to be flushed out and destroyed.
Yod Ironbeard:  Vermin they may be, but they are exceptionally dangerous
  vermin.  Dangerous vermin require special methods...speaking of which,
  who are these vampire hunters you have assembled, and what do they
  have to offer?
Bram: the simplest terms addition to myself,
  there's a big strong flesh golem that actually thinks and talks, a
  minotaur berserker, a werewolf warrior, a half-vampire ninja, a priest
  of indeterminate faith, and a vampire-sensing wizard who looks like a
Yod Ironbeard:  (nods)  I've seen worse.
Bram:  I've got a wealth of vampire-hunting experience, and a weapon or
  two that are exceptionally effective against them.  As does Yuki, the
  half-vampire warrior from the far West.
Rob:  Don't get offended, but I've got to ask this:  can we trust such
  a person when we're fighting a city of vampires?
Bram:  Yes, utterly.  Her hatred of vampires surpasses even mine, and I
  lost my wife to them.  I can only imagine what rage drives her.  In
  any event, she's a lethal vampire-killing machine, completely devoid
  of mercy toward the undead.  Nothing to worry about there.
Belphanior:  So, your cane and Yuki's sword - what exactly are their
  powers against vampires?  We need to know all such details in order
  to devise the best strategy.
Bram:  (hefts his ebony cane, with its gleaming, pointed silver tip)
  This is my oldest and most trusted companion in my crusade against the
  undead.  The cane itself is made from a single branch from a most holy
  tree, and is virtually unbreakable.  Its silver tip can be used to
  stake vampires.  (he waves the cane lightly, slicing the air with the
  sharp tip)  Wounds inflicted on vampires by this cane heal as if the
  vampire was a normal other words, no regeneration.
Rob:  That's handy.
Bram:  It is, but the sword that Yuki bears is mightier still.  Its blade
  isn't silver, and it isn't black ore, it's just...something else.  I'm
  not really sure what it's made of.  What I do know is that I've seen
  her sever an abnormally high number of vampire limbs and heads with
  that weapon.
Belphanior:  But that won't kill them...they just revert to gaseous form,
Bram:  True, but forcing that change takes a vampire out of the fight and
  renders it helpless for a time.  It's the next best thing to an outright
Belphanior:  Mm, true.
Bram:  My only other advice on my current vampire hunters applies to two
  others of them.  Rezzik, in his werewolf form, retains his normal mind
  and needn't be worried about, as far as attacking allies.
Rob:  I never worried about anything like that...probably because I've
  never had any werewolf allies.
Bram:  And Elias, the flesh golem.  He actually has a mind...this means
  that he can learn and adapt.  A number of foes have underestimated
  him, thinking him a mindless automaton, and thereby sealed their doom.
Belphanior:  I'm sure that will prove useful.  (he consults the notes
  he's been taking)  All of these people will prove useful.  But we're
  still lacking a plan of attack.
Yod Ironbeard:  Obviously we can't just charge into the city.
Belphanior:  No, we can't.  I've come up with a half-dozen possible ways
  to attack the place, but I can't decide which of them is most likely to
  be successful.
Rob:  I commend you.
Belphanior:  Why's that?
Rob:  You're remaining objective about this.  Rather than worrying about
  your missing companion, you're stepping back and looking at the whole,
  larger situation.  (he pauses)  Or at least, you appear to be.
Belphanior:  (frowns)
Bram:  The priest brings up a good point.  This is about more than the
  life of one person.  Any distraction could be catastrophic for us as
  we battle the vampires.
Belphanior:  (glares at the vampire hunter, his mercurial temper rising
  in an instant)  Wait, are you people saying that I'm not focused on this?
Rob:  Not...err...
Belphanior:  Because if that's what you think, you can get the hell out
  of my way and I'll do it myself, just like I did at Xusia's fortress.
  I don't need-
Parekh:  (slams her small fist on the table with surprising force)  That
  is ENOUGH!

  This got the attention of all five of the others, whether they were
participating in the argument or not.

Parekh:  We're not going to bicker and argue here!  (to Belphanior)  I
  care for Neera as much as you - she's like a younger sister to me, and
  I refuse to leave her fate in the hands of bloodsucking creatures of
  the night.  Her rescue won't be forgotten in this endeavor.  (to Rob
  and Bram)  You needn't worry that anyone's priorities are unbalanced.
  Belphanior has always succeeded in the past, and he knows what's at
  stake here, and I trust him - as will you.  (she looks around with a
  glare on her face)  End...of...discussion.
Belphanior:  (never missing a beat, he takes the momentum and rolls with
  it)  As I said, there are a number of ways to do this, but here's what
  I suggest:  a graduated assault, in waves.
Yod Ironbeard:  (leans on his mighty battleaxe)  Explain further.
Belphanior:  Logically, we're likely to encounter three different types
  of opposition:  physical barriers like city walls...magical attacks
  from those vampires that can cast spells...and physical attacks from
  the vampires and their minions.
Yod Ironbeard:  So we have to be ready for any of those things, and we
  also have to devise an attack that can breach the city's defenses, and
  get us inside.
Belphanior:  First we hit them with something powerful but without risk
  to us - a salvo of fireballs, lightning bolts, meteors, whatever.  We
  follow that with an unstoppable force - a bunch of golems, probably -
  to take down the city's outer walls.  Then the main force follows.  Of
  course, we can send a smaller, secondary force into the city, or have
  a more effective main attack, if we can find another way in - and I'll
  be working on that tonight.
Rob:  How?  How can you gather the necessary information overnight?
Belphanior:  Actually, I already have.  I just need to think about it,
  analyze it.  I'll be ready by tomorrow.
Parekh:  That all sounds good, but do we have the time?
Belphanior:  I figure we need a full day, even with much magical help,
  to gather all of our forces and fully prepare.  If the rest of you can
  handle that, I'll come up with a detailed plan and then run it by all
  of you.
Yod Ironbeard:  Fair enough.
Alindyar:  I still find myself curious about _how_ you have learned what
  you - we - need to know.
Belphanior:  Simple:  I time-traveled into the past and researched what
  I needed to know.  (he sighs)  Look, I don't have time to explain any
  further right now.  (he stands and heads out of the room)  If the rest
  of you can keep things moving and organized here, I'll be free to focus
  on my part of things.  Let's re-convene tomorrow, and we can finalize
  things.  (he leaves)
Alindyar:  Most troubling.
Parekh:  I wouldn't worry about him.  He knows what he's doing, and if
  he learned anything useful, so much the better.  In the meantime, we
  should put our heads together and see what we can come up with to give
  our side every possible advantage during an attack on a city full of
  vampires.  This includes gathering and analyzing what we know about
  vampires, and also anticipating all their typical - and atypical -
  attacks, defense, and so they can affect our forces, and what
  we can do to protect ourselves against them.  (she turns to Bram)  I'm
  counting on you for that.
Bram:  (nods grimly)
Yod Ironbeard:  I'll need some assistance to gather the dwarves and the
  other help.
Parekh:  Not a problem - we have plenty of wizards.
Rob:  We also need to think about the fact that the vampires must know
  someone will be coming.  If their high priests think to scry us...
Parekh:  Even if they know _who_ and _where_ to attempt to eavesdrop,
  it won't do them any good - not here.  Neither they nor anyone else
  can spy on us here; this place stands outside the normal realm of
Yod Ironbeard:  (looking skeptical)
Alindyar:  (nods)  'Tis true, actually.  I sensed it the very instant I
  arrived here.
Yod Ironbeard:  Oh.
Bram:  (has a sudden idea)  I, too, shall need magical transport...for
  there is someone I believe can be of great help to us...someone I have
  not spoken to in a long time...
Parekh:  It will be done.  One thing we've got right now is plenty of
Rob:  And priests.
Yod Ironbeard:  And warriors.
Alindyar:  And everything else, it would appear, based on the assembled
  host that Belphanior spoke to earlier today.
Parekh:  I second that.  This very idea is basically insane, but with
  the right forces, the right intelligence, and the right plan...victory
  is possible.

next:       it begins
released:   5/10/2013
notes:      For quite a while now, I've been thinking about time travel,
  studying various theories, seeing how it was explained in books and
  movies...knowing that at some point in my stories, it would turn up
  and require explanation.  So finally, here we are.  The "anything you
  do when you go back in time creates a diverging reality and it's like
  a tree with an infinite number of branches" explanation made the most
  sense to me.  A TRUE abuse of such power would be to try things to see
  how they turn out, then abandon the divergent reality you just created.
  Anyway, you can study it more here:

    Before you readers see the next episode, 991, it might make sense
  (and help all of us) if I released some sort of mini-module having to
  do with Skava-Ra, kind of like the one I did for Greyspire.  I doubt
  I have time to fully flesh it out into a complete module, but just
  detailing the basics of the city would be useful for the remainder of
  this story arc and the battles to come.
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