Chapter #993

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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       +
+   1991-2014 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Date:          5/3/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the sky castle, in the clouds above Oerth's surface    +
+   Climate:       cold outside, warm inside                              +
+   "And what you really fear is inside yourself.  You fear your own      +
+    power.  You fear your anger...the drive to do great or terrible      +
+    things."                                                             +
+                                              - from _Batman Begins_     +

                   CMXCIII.  Taking Care of Business

  With the assault on the underground city of vampires and the rescue
of Neera behind them, Belphanior has spent the last few days focusing
on dealing with some of the many loose ends in his life...

Neera:  The Crown of Thorns is gone, then?
Belphanior:  (nods)  Immersed in holy water for three days and nights,
  and then bathed in a sunray cast by one who knows no sins.  Just as
  you directed.  The crown is now dust.
Neera:  Good.  We had no use for an item that subjected its wearer to
  immeasurable pain while keeping him or her alive, if only barely.
Belphanior:  I've done a lot of questionable things, but torture isn't
  one of them.
Neera:  It was a shame we had to destroy the Book of the Dead, too...all
  that lore about the undead...think of the things we could have learned.
Belphanior:  Yes, but when the price of reading the book and gaining its
  knowledge is gradual and irreversible transformation into an undead
  creature...well, that reward just isn't worth the cost.

  Actually, the elf was lying.  He hated to lie to Neera, but while he
trusted her utterly, there were some secrets that had to remain secrets.
He didn't want to risk her being in danger from knowing things that could
be extracted via ESP or other magical means.  Two days ago, he had taken
the Book of the Dead to Kronos, figuring that the lich could read through
its pages without peril.  Thus far, the exchange of information and items
with the reclusive lich had proven highly beneficial, and Belphanior knew
that he could always call upon the other to peruse the tome if some bit
of information became necessary.  While there, they had briefly discussed
the potent combination of a certain pair of artifacts...

  Kronos:  (points to the sextant, and the loom, both of which the elf
    holds)  The Loom of Ages, and the Eye of Celestian.  One allows you
    to peer back into the past; the other allows you to travel to any
    place you wish.  (he frowns)  I would imagine that the grey elf
    Pallin desires to possess the latter item.
  Belphanior:  He does, very badly.  But he shall remain disappointed.
    It was I who found Xusia's secret dungeons.  It was I who risked my
    life, and those of my companions, exploring those dungeons.  So it
    will be I who wields the Eye, and all the other treasures.
  Kronos:  I would advise that you continue to practice with them and
    master their use.  These two artifacts are a potent combination, as
    you well know from your recent trials and tribulations in Skava-Ra.
    One who wields them both can do many things.  Great things.
  Belphanior:  And I intend to.

  That had been the extent of this most recent visit with Kronos, who
had seemed genuinely pleased to add the unholy tome to his collection.
That same day, Belphanior had also visited the Free City of Greyhawk,
a place where he had two items of business.  First was a stop at the
temple of Istus, where he spoke with a high priestess and offered his
condolences (plus a large donation).  While not overtly religious in
any conventional sense, the elf wished to stay in the good graces of
his former associate's deity, and it wasn't as if he lacked the funds
in any case.  His second stop was at the Green Dragon Inn, both to get
Bosco back home and to talk with Peldor...

Bosco:  (wanders off into the kitchen)
Peldor:  I was wondering when you'd show up.
Belphanior:  Is there...?
Peldor:  Yes.  Word has been left.
Belphanior:  (waits a few moments, then finally speaks up again)  Don't
  you have a piece of paper for me, or something like that?
Peldor:  No need.  I memorized the message.  (he leans in, lowering his
  voice)  Be at the Market Quarter, at the intersection of Griffon Way
  and Blade Alley, at midday exactly.  Not early, not late.
Belphanior:  When?
Peldor:  I'd suggest the next midday that happens, which is in about an
  hour.  My guess is that he sends someone to check for you each day,
  figuring that one day you'll be standing there and then your deal can
  be concluded.
Belphanior:  I see.  (he frowns)  Why couldn't he just meet me here?
Peldor:  One, because I don't want such business taking place in my
  establishment.  Two, because when dealing with one such as...him, you
  always, without exception, do things his way.  (he shrugs)
Belphanior:  Well, I can respect that.

  It had been over a month since the elf had contracted the services of
the master assassin known as Whisper.  A large sum had been paid for the
location and current activities of the sole member of Xusia's alliance
who was both alive and still (presumably) on this plane of existence.  A
short time after talking with Peldor, Belphanior stood at the designated
place, at the designated time, watching and waiting.  Since he was using
his magical eye to check passers-by for powerful enchanted auras, he was
quite surprised to get passed a note from a young street urchin.

Belphanior:  (muttering to himself)  Makes sense that he'd use a third
  party...(he reads the note, which specifies another location and also
  uses the word "now")  Okay, then.

  The new location turned out to be a seedy dive, one of the dirtiest
taverns in the city.  As the elf walked in and scanned the tables, he
soon locked eyes with a filthy-looking bum occupying a table in a back
corner...and immediately knew that this was the individual with whom he
needed to speak.

bum:  (waves a hand)  Have a seat, my friend.
Belphanior:  (does so)  Your disguises are many.
bum:  As they must be.

  As with the last time they had met, Belphanior scrutinized the other
with the full powers of his enchanted eye, and was amazed by the overall
power of the myriad magical auras emanating from all of the items worn
or carried by the man.

bum:  I'll make this brief.  The one you seek has traveled to a distant
  land...a very distant land.
Belphanior:  Figures.  And where might that be?
bum:  The master thief Fenris currently resides in the Sultanate of Zeif,
  far to the west, on the very edge of the known Flanaess.
Belphanior:  (nods, exhaling quietly)  That is distant.
bum:  In answer to your next question...he appears to have retired there.
Belphanior:  What?
bum:  He showed up in the city two years ago, bought a small house, and
  took a menial job in a stable.  Six months later, he was the owner of
  the stable and its horses.  Six months after that, he bought a larger
  home and retired from the daily business of running his business.  For
  the past year or so, he has been living the life of a minor but wealthy
  aristocrat - a new name and identity, as expected.  His chief hobbies
  these days appear to be breeding decent horses, drinking fine wine, and
  romancing a number of women simultaneously.
Belphanior:  Wow.  (he shakes his head)  Did you memorize all of that?
bum:  I did.
Belphanior:  So that's the fate of Fenris:  retirement.
bum:  I'm not one to speculate, but perhaps he grew weary of the life of
  a master thief, especially after the great battle at Xusia's fortress
  and the defeat of that group.  There is some logical precedent for that
  sort of radical shift in careers.
Belphanior:  It's not what I expected, but it does make sense.
bum:  If you wish him slain, I can do that.  It will be much easier now
  that the research has been done.
Belphanior:  And impressive research it was.  Dare I ask how you tracked
  him down and learned all of this?
bum:  I wouldn't.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  No, I don't want him dead.  He was never in direct
  conflict with me, and he doesn't know me, and in any event he seems to
  no longer be a threat anyway.
bum:  As you wish.  Naturally, if you change your mind, I can finish the
  job, for an appropriate fee.
Belphanior:  Naturally.  But enough of the one formerly known as Fenris.
  (he places his hands on the table and looks the other in the eye)  I've
  got more work for you - challenging and perhaps dangerous work - if you
  want it.
bum:  Go on.

  A short time later, Belphanior returned to the Green Dragon Inn to pass
on some news to Peldor.

Peldor:  (pushes the small sack back to the elf)  I don't want to hold
  this payment for him, or for anyone!  I'm not a damn bank for people
  who aren't around to deal with each other directly!
Belphanior:  I need you to be, just this one time.  I don't know when
  he'll be ready to accept or refuse the job, and I might be anywhere at
  the time.
Peldor:  (sighs)
Belphanior:  (hands over a smaller pouch)
Peldor:  What the hell is this?
Belphanior:  Your fee for holding the assassin's money.  It's ten percent
  of the value of his payment.  Aside from being a small fortune, it's
  easy don't even have to do anything to earn it.
Peldor:  Except hold onto ten times the amount for you.
Belphanior:  Not for me.  For Whisper.
Peldor:  You're that sure he'll take the job?
Belphanior:  Aside from being a lot of money for him if he does, I think
  the challenge will interest him.  I figure it's maybe half the work of
  his normal sort of contract, but he gets paid the full price.  Who can
  argue with that?  Plus it's important in the big scheme of things.
Peldor:  Who exactly do you want him to kill?
Belphanior:  Not kill.  Find.  I'll do the killing myself, later on.
  (he cracks his knuckles)  It's the Crimson Blades.  I want to know
  where they are...who they are...what they're up to...everything.
Peldor:  (whistles)  That's a tall order, my friend.
Belphanior:  Which is why I'm hiring the very best.

  Midday saw the elf back in the sky castle, where he enjoyed lunch and
checked in on other efforts.

Neera:  The items carried by Jenna - the ones you didn't give away, at
  any rate, are just three in number.  We've got some magical robes of
Belphanior:  You can have them, or maybe save them for the new priest,
  whenever we find one.
Neera:  I've already got a cloak.  Besides, I can't wear the clothes of
  someone who died.
Belphanior:  The new priest, then.  What else?
Neera:  She had a mace with ties to the elemental plane of earth, but it
  has vanished.  I'd assume the vampires took it when they took her.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I'll make sure to let the appropriate people know,
  in case it turns up in the loot from Skava-Ra.
Neera:  She also possessed a holy chalice, which they didn't touch.
Belphanior:  Because it was holy, I'd wager.
Neera:  Or perhaps because it was stashed away in her room and they never
  went there.  It purifies and makes holy any water put into it.
Belphanior:  Now that could be useful.
Neera:  Quite.  Her last item is a bag which can produce powerful winds
  several times each day, upon command once it is opened.
Belphanior:  Also useful.  What about Elgon's items?
Neera:  He didn't have much, really...just an amulet that allows the
  wearer to assume the form of a small animal, and-
Belphanior:  I didn't know that.  Which small animal?
Neera:  A badger.  A honey badger.
Belphanior:  How interesting.  Okay, what else did he have?
Neera:  From the moon gateway, a miniature ship sealed, impossibly,
  within a small bottle.  (she leads him over to the bottle, which is
  resting on a shelf)  As I once mentioned, this device requires only a
  single word of command to transform itself into a full-size warship,
  complete with sails and rigging.  I think I originally said it would
  be a frigate, but I underestimated the marvelous power of the thing.
  It's actually a small galleon - you can clearly see the three masts
  and multiple sails.  I figure this vessel, when in full-size form,
  will have three full decks and be over a hundred feet long.
Belphanior:  If only it came with the hundred or so crew we'd need to
  properly operate it...
Neera:  Not to mention I still haven't figured out that one magical word
  we need in order to activate the thing.
Belphanior:  Hmm, better not try that up here in the sky.  We need a body
  of water to fully test it.
Neera:  (smirks)  Very astute.
Belphanior:  So five items between the two of them...okay.  Keep all of
  those for now, and we'll use or assign them as appropriate.
Neera:  (nods)

  In addition to Neera, two others had been doing some training recently.
The sound of Razor Charlie's knives hitting their wooden targets, over
and over again, was a strange complement to the lack of noise made by
Otto as he scaled a crude climbing wall he had set up ouside the castle.

Otto:  (grins sheepishly while perched twenty feet up on handholds the
  size and shape of small rocks)  I've gotten rusty.
Razor Charlie:  (whirls and sends a knife into the center of the head
  painted onto one wooden target)  I haven't.
Hope:  (practicing with a recently-acquired magical rod, she aims the
  dual-pronged thing at a glass vase, and concentrates...causing the
  vessel to shatter suddenly)  It works!
Skektek:  Yeah, whatever.  Not the most useful thing in the world, to
  tell the truth.  Unless you're facing a golem made of glass.  Hah.
Hope:  (glares at the other wizard)  Keep running your mouth, and I'll
  test my other magical rod, the one that destroys magical auras.
Otto:  It's not his fault.  He can't help but be a smart-ass.
Skektek:  That's for sure.  (he turns to address Ys, who is busy tending
  the small outdoor garden in the castle's courtyard)  Shouldn't you be
  practicing too?
Ys:  (examining a turnip, he grins, exposing rows of sharp teeth)  Heh.
Belphanior:  (walks outside, pleased to see everyone staying busy and
  in relatively good spirits)  Who's up for a trip to the Vast Swamp?
Skektek:  Time to go find Angus, is it?

+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   iron golem                                                            +
+   Date:          5/3/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          afternoon                                              +
+   Place:         the Vast Swamp                                         +
+   Climate:       chilly and damp                                        +

Belphanior:  (holding the Eye of Celestian as the party finds itself on
  solid footing in a large clearing amidst the swamp)  I was even able
  to make sure we didn't arrive waist-deep in water.
Skektek:  Wow.  That thing will revolutionize the way we travel.
Belphanior:  Indeed it will.  I'm trying to get as much practice with it
  as I can.  So far, it seems perfectly capable of transporting a dozen
  of us, to any destination that I've got a clear vision of in my mind.
Hope:  So it's like a spell of teleportation, except no spellcasting is
Belphanior:  Right.  I'm pleased that we found it...damn pleased.  The
  acquisition and use of lost wonders like this...makes everything we do
  worthwhile.  (he puts the powerful magical sextant away)
Otto:  (checking his weapons)  Everyone good?
Razor Charlie:  Check.
wispy thing:  (floating lazily above the party)  yrrrp.
Skektek:  It's odd that Ys didn't want to come along.
Belphanior:  Yeah.

  The elf actually had a suspicion about this; ever since the vampires'
attack on the sky castle, they had all been on edge.  Neera was too busy
to accompany the others to the swamp, and Ys might have reasoned that
Belphanior wouldn't want to leave her there alone, so perhaps that was
why he remained behind in the castle.  This was just a guess, but the
elf was pleased that he hadn't had to ask for a volunteer to remain there
with Neera.

Belphanior:  Whoa.  (he ceases his musings and draws his sword)  Folks,
  we've got company...about two dozen, closing fast.

  Momentarily, a horde of scaly humanoids burst from the surrounding
vegetation and into the clearing.  They didn't even try to communicate
with the adventurers, they just leaped to the attack with wild abandon.
Unfortunately for them, their intended prey was far from helpless, and
possessed of far greater skills and abilities...

Otto:  (puts a bolt through the eye of the nearest foe)
Razor Charlie:  (hits one lizard-man in the throat with a hurled knife,
  dropping it, then whirls and sends a second knife into the open mouth
  of another, these two enemies falling and tripping up many of their
Skektek:  (takes advantage of this, frying a dozen of the things with a
  sudden chain of lightning launched from his ring)  Oh yeah!
Hope:  (launches a sheet of fire from her outstretched hands, burning
  and dropping four attackers)
Belphanior:  (having waited for all of the others to make their various
  attacks, he now dashes forth and lops the head off of a foe)  Ahhhh...
  (without hesitation, he leaps at another lizard-man, burying his black
  blade in its skull and taking this foe's life-force as well)  Yes!
lizard-man #13:  Graaaah!  (it rakes the elf with its claws, opening a
  series of deep gashes along his back)
Belphanior:  (without hesitation, he grabs the foe by the neck with one
  powerful hand, withdraws his sword from the previous victim with the
  other, then stabs the new attacker in the heart)
lizard-man #13:  (gasps and dies, its eyes rolling back in its head)
Belphanior:  Ahhhhhh.

  Truth be told, the elf had needed an opportunity like this, as it had
been a long time since his dark sword had fed.  Its will was strong, and
became stronger over time, when not fed.  While he had never experienced
a serious contest of wills with the cursed blade, he also had no desire
to, and would have soon sought out some sort of battle in order to sate
the weapon.  Such a grim endeavor would have been made alone, of course.
Except for possibly Otto, none of the team had any real idea about the
sword's secret hunger for souls...and Belphanior preferred it that way.
  Anyhow, the battle with the lizard-men, such as it was, quickly saw
its conclusion.

Skektek:  (eyeing the corpses in disgust)  Those things weren't very
Otto:  Human and demi-human flesh is probably a rare delicacy in these
  parts.  And these things look half-starved.  Hunger trumped common
  sense for them today, and they paid the price.
Razor Charlie:  (retrieving his throwing knives from the corpses)
Hope:  What a tidy little battle.  Gods know they're not all this easy.
Belphanior:  (stands, the cuts on his back now healed)  No, but we're
  not complaining.  (he regards his black blade, upon which no drops or
  stains of blood ever collect, then sheathes the weapon)  Everyone okay?
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at the various burned or bloody corpses that
  now surround them)
Otto:  We're all good.  The golem you brought didn't even get a chance
  to do anything.
Belphanior:  But he will.
Hope:  What now?
Skektek:  (to Hope)  This swamp is where it all began for us, and for
  you.  Well, sort of.
Hope:  What the hell are you talking about?
Otto:  He means that we came here a little over a year ago, seeking the
  hidden lair and treasures of Xusia.  This swamp is where we fought the
  black dragon that melted the iron golem we've come here to reclaim...
  and it's also where we assaulted a small, well-hidden temple of evil,
  commanded by Drusilla, the vampiress before you are who you are now.
Razor Charlie:  (nods at her, grimacing)  Things are better for you now,
  trust me.
Hope:  Um...okay.
Belphanior:  It's no big deal.  Not your fault what you were before.  In
  any event, we beat the guardians, including the old you and an undead
  beholder, and found the first teleportation gateway in the depths of
  that temple.  From there...well, we've been all over the world.
Skektek:  Literally.  Xusia had a couple dozen secret bases.
Hope:  Wow.
Otto:  What treasures we found.  (he frowns)  But dangers too...terrible
Belphanior:  But that's old news.  Today, I want to find what's left of
  old Angus.  When last we saw him, he was fighting the dragon that held
  him in both hands, and fighting hard.
Skektek:  Until that damned worm barfed acid all over him at point-blank
  range.  His head and arms were pretty much melted away, and he was left
  there in the swamp's waters, a bubbling, smoking lump of metal.  (he
  turns to Belphanior)  Hey, if I remember correctly, didn't you say at
  the time that you couldn't fix him?  That he was too far gone?
Belphanior:  I the time.  And I was wrong, because I wasn't
  looking at the situation the right way.  Back then, I noted that he
  couldn't be brought back from the dead, that he didn't have a soul or
  any sort of consciousness.  Which is true.  But...
Otto:  (his curiosity piqued)  But?
Belphanior:  He's a _thing_, a construct of iron, enchanted and animated
  into artificial life.  Being partially melted by acid, I believe, just
  broke him, like you might hit a stone wall and break part of it off.
  As we all know, stone walls can be fixed with brick and mortar...and
  I believe that if we find the equivalent - which will surely involve
  ore and powerful magic - then we can most likely restore Angus to his
  former glory.
Razor Charlie:  That would kick ass.

  Due to the fact that they had arrived very close to the site of that
past battle with the black dragon, and thanks to the keen powers of
Belphanior's magical eye, it didn't take much time to find what they
were looking for...

Belphanior:  (points)  There!
Skektek:  I don't see anything.
Belphanior:  That's because it's underwater.  (he addresses the iron
  golem he brought along)  Walk in the water, in that direction, until
  you find the large mass of metal beneath those murky waters...and then
  bring it back to me.
iron golem:  (moves to obey, wading into the slimy murk of the swamp)
Otto:  I hope there's no quicksand down there, or we'll have double the
Belphanior:  He'll be fine.  We fought the dragon here and ranged all
  around, and no one sunk, not even Angus.

  The iron golem moved through the water, slowly and ponderously, until
there was a sudden CLANG of metal hitting metal.  The construct reached
down, grabbed hold of whatever was under the water, and began to pull as
it moved backward, seemingly an inch at a time.

Skektek:  This is taking forever.
Hope:  What would you do, boil the swamp water away?
Skektek:  Hmm, not a bad idea...

  Eventually, the iron golem - now slick and covered in grime - dragged
the prize out of the swamp's waters.

Otto:  Wow, it really is him.
Belphanior:  I knew it would be.

  Before them was the lower half, and much of the upper half, of the
massive golem:  two thick legs and a torso.  One arm ended at the elbow,
while the other was missing entirely, as was the head.  Those areas had
severe acid damage, the metallic stumps ragged and burned.  Also, every
inch of the damaged golem's exposed surface was covered in a thick layer
of rust, beneath all the muck and grime.

Skektek:  (sighs)  We've got some work ahead of us.
Belphanior:  Yeah, but we've also got four wizards and a ton of magical
  and monetary resources.  We can do this.
Otto:  Are we visiting the temple-gateway while we're here?
Belphanior:  Not today.  No need.  (he eyes Hope questioningly)
Hope:  (shakes her head)  I have no great desire to revisit a place I
  inhabited in my past life.  Err, unlife.
Belphanior:  Very well.

  Very shortly, they were home in the sky castle.  While some of them
got to work cleaning the remains of Angus, Belphanior and Otto discussed
options to fill Jenna's role on the team.

Belphanior:  She was actually quite addition to her curative
  spells and other magic, she could turn undead, and glimpse the future.
Otto:  And that spell she once used to learn what was in Hope- Drusilla's
  mind, that was good.  It's unfortunate that priests who adventure with
  us seem to be cursed to die early deaths.  (he sighs)  I guess I'll go
  to the Wild Coast and find another one.
Belphanior:  Why there?  Why not Greyhawk?
Otto:  Well, we're more likely to find someone who fits in with us in a
  place like the Coast.  Or to put it another way, priests of Heironeous
  would never work with us for long, not with the things we do and the
  ways we do them.
Belphanior:  (smirks)  True.  Sometimes I wonder if we should just stock
  up on potions of healing and vials of holy water, and try it that way.
Otto:  It could save someone's life.  Literally.  (he frowns)  I guess
  that wasn't funny.
Belphanior:  (raises an eyebrow)
Otto:  I'll start looking tomorrow.  It's not as easy as people think,
  finding new people for our group.  They have to have a certain set of
  skills, be willing to risk their lives on a daily basis, be able to
  handle the more unusual aspects of what we do, like living in a castle
  amidst the clouds and teleporting all over the place.  Which begs the
  question, what the hell would we do if we ever got someone who didn't
  work out?  If they quit or we fired them, they could go tell anyone
  they wanted about some of our secrets.
Belphanior:  I guess one solution would be to utilize Blackrazor, but
  that seems a little extreme.  I guess we'll have to cross that bridge
  when we come to it.  Use your better judgment when talking to potential
  new priests, I guess - I'd rather get no one than get someone who won't
  work out.
Otto:  Gotcha.
Belphanior:  We also have to do some finding of another sort...because
  we now have at least four vampires out there on the loose and possibly
  seeking revenge on us.
Otto:  The two from Xusia's last dungeon, who got away via tiny holes in
  the walls and floor...and the big vampire general who Yod Ironbeard was
  fighting...and this other one who we never saw, the female sorceress.
Belphanior:  And Victoria, though I wouldn't classify her as hostile
  based on her actions in Skava-Ra.  There's a chance she regrouped with
  Ulruk, elsewhere, after the battle.  Not sure how that would end up,
  either.  If that guy wants revenge, I doubt she'll be able to convince
  him otherwise.
Otto:  So what will we do?  How will we find them?
Belphanior:  The most direct method would be to find a way to assume
  gaseous form like they did, and just follow the hole.  But they'd be
  crazy not to have sealed it up as quickly as possible after using it.
  Too bad we had other priorities at the time, besides chasing them down
  right then and there.
Otto:  Hmm.  Can you use that loom-thing to see where they went?
Belphanior:  I don't think it works that way.  Since they left that one
  chamber and went somewhere else, I can't just "follow" them by watching
  the past.  We may have to use scrying magic to find them.  Ditto for
  Ulruk and Victoria, who bolted using magical means.  (he cracks his
  knuckles)  We might have to come back to this one.
Otto:  I doubt the ones from Skava-Ra will try anything anytime soon.  I
  mean, they don't even know who had what roles, among all those involved
  in the assault on their city.  You're not automatically going to be at
  the top of their revenge list.  And if they're smart, they'll flee far
  away and never come back...if those forces could beat them in their own
  city, they could beat them anywhere.
Belphanior:  I'll look into it.  (he yawns)  Almost time to call it a day.

  Soon, the elf had retreated to the suite he shared with Neera, and here
they now discussed his last order of business.

Neera:  I've actually been studying and scrying various peoples' items
  for much of the last few days.
Belphanior:  I don't know how you find the time to do everything you do.
  (he cracks his neck)  But I'm glad you do it.
Neera:  (shrugs)  Some people fight battles.  I figure things out.
Belphanior:  So what have we got?
Neera:  Otto's got a noose that will animate and strangle a victim, upon
  command.  It's mildly evil, but nothing near as bad as some of the things
  we've destroyed.
Belphanior:  Such a weapon could come in handy, especially for him.
Neera:  That shortsword he recently acquired is a nice weapon, but moreso
  against lycanthropes, especially werewolves.  We may not know the full
  extent of its powers until he faces one of those creatures.
Belphanior:  (recalling the time he had to fight a whole pack, by himself,
  he smiles at the memory)
Neera:  Razor Charlie doesn't have anything we haven't already identified.
  As for Skektek, he has a ring that stores and casts spells, but it's a
  more powerful variant, probably unique.
Belphanior:  How so?
Neera:  It can hold seven spells, and they can be any spells he wishes...
  even the most powerful ones.  The ring is currently empty, but it won't
  be for long now that I've told him what it can do.
Belphanior:  Heh.
Neera:  He also has an amulet, found in the moon gateway, that we've been
  thinking can summon an army.  I've ascertained that it's actually the
  fabled Talisman of Stratos, one of the ancient gods of war.  We still
  don't know the command word or words, which is unfortunate because this
  is a single-use item, meaning we can't just experiment because we don't
  want to waste its power.
Belphanior:  Which is...?
Neera:  I can't be sure until we actually try, but it will most likely
  summon forth a spirit army to fight on its wielder's behalf.  Which
  brings up another problem:  such an artifact will only release its
  magic for a warrior.  In Skektek's hands, it is useless.
Belphanior:  He won't like that.
Neera:  It's not my fault.  (she checks the parchment containing her
  list)  Now Ys has some interesting things, and I don't mean the potion
  of intimidation.
Belphanior:  Heh.
Neera:  We'd discussed donating his great cursed horned helm to Nenya for
  her museum, but another option would be to test out his curse-breaking
  totem on the helm...see if it works.  Which it might not, if it's not
  so powerful and the helm is.
Belphanior:  Interesting.
Neera:  I guess my point is, we all need to bear in mind that Ys carries
  something that could nullify or even destroy any cursed items we might
  come across in our adventures.
Belphanior:  Excellent.
Neera:  He also has a primitive relic, a rod with a shrunken head on its
  tip...that item will part waters for a time, when touched to their
  surface.  It obviously wouldn't work in an ocean, but should come in
  handy when dealing with smaller bodies of water.  And...he has a walnut
  the size of a fist.  As far as I can tell, planting the thing will
  result in the quick growth of a gigantic tree.  (she frowns)  Another
  one-use item, but an interesting one.
Belphanior:  (wondering who comes up with these things)
Neera:  Hope has very few magical items, comparitively, and all have been
  studied already.  That leaves you and me.
Belphanior:  Okay.
Neera:  I've had the crown of Panagaea for quite some time, but it turns
  out that its sole power is to allow me to comprehend the stone tablets
  we found there.  I guess I should transcribe all of that knowledge into
  a book someday.
Belphanior:  If you can, you should.
Neera:  (nods)  That's all for my possessions.  Now for you...there's so
  much.  The figurine of the three-headed dog, which has always been more
  or less uncontrollable...that's not going to change.  There's no way to
  control the beast.  So unleash it at your peril.
Belphanior:  (smirks)  Everyone's peril.
Neera:  You should test the Fork of Doom sometime, and see just how
  powerful its powers of command are.
Belphanior:  Someday...
Neera:  And don't forget that you have a sphere of annihilation still in
  Xusia's vault, and you have the talisman to control it.
Belphanior:  Talisman or no talisman, I don't want that sphere anywhere
  around us here.  It's too dangerous, and unpredictable.  Those things
  creep me out.
Neera:  They creep _everyone_ out.
Belphanior:  What's left?
Neera:  Two unknowns.  First, that small triangular piece of smooth black
  stone, from Xusia's vaults.  We loaned that to Parekh to see if she
  could figure it out.
Belphanior:  Oh yeah.  (he realizes that he needs to compile a list of
  all of his items that he's loaned to others, and reclaim them at some
Neera:  Second, we have the small adamantine box we found here in the sky
  castle when we first arrived.  As you know, while it radiates a rather
  powerful magical aura, it also lacks seams or hinges, and nothing's yet
  worked to open it or tell us what's inside.
Belphanior:  And that frustrates me.
Neera:  As it does me.  I'll keep working on it.
Belphanior:  Excellent.  (he yawns again)  I've got to get to bed before
  I pass out.
Neera:  I'll join you.

next:       I'm honestly not sure, but I'll figure it out in time
released:   3/1/2014
notes:      Oddly enough, much as episode 992 was mostly written during
  the big Atlanta snowstorm of 28-30 January 2014, this very next episode
  was mostly written during the sequel snowstorm we had, 10-14 February
  2014.  Two in one year hasn't happened as long as I've lived in this
  fine state (which is quite a long while, more than three decades).

    Fenris was last seen in episode 782, which took place on 4/27/579.
  So it's been just over two years since anyone saw him, and now thanks
  to Whisper's recon, we know what he's been up to.

    Angus was last seen in episode 809, which took place on 4/27/580.
  He was mentioned a couple of times after that, but this episode marks
  his first official reappearance (albeit in a still-nonfunctional form).

    I think I resolved (or at least tackled) all of the major loose ends
  that Belphanior still had, in this episode.  It seems that my writing
  output has increased a bit in late 2013 and early 2014.  I'll try to
  keep that up.

    Here's a bit of good news:  I recently realized that I probably won't
  be stopping at episode 1000.  There's too much left to do.  So once I'd
  had that epiphany, it was like a great weight was lifted off of my back.
  You see, for the last few years, after I'd planned to have 1000 be the
  end, everything I wrote was kind of forced to fit in a finite amount of
  space - I had placed a limit on myself, and it impacted what and how I
  was writing the stories.  So I've realized this, and I'm removing the
  artificial limit.  I'll just do what I do, and if that means there are
  episodes with numbers higher than be it.
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