Chapter #807

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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       +
+   1991-2004 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        +
+   Angus          iron golem                                             +
+   Sir Dremel     11th level human paladin of Heironeous                 +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  10th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          4/25/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the Vast Swamp                                         +
+   Climate:       cold and damp                                          +
+   "Isn't there a trail or something?"                                   +
+   "This _is_ the trail."                                                +
+                                                - from _Hard Target_     +

                     DCCCVII.  The Swamp King

  Mere hours have passed since the party has entered the Vast Swamp, but
already they find the place most unpleasant...

Elgon:  This stinks worse than those ettins we fought last night.
Otto:  It helps to dab a bit of cloth in some wine and stuff it in each
Elgon:  The tricks of the surface world are without end, it seems.  (he
  busies himself searching for a scrap of cloth while mumbling quietly)
  I wanted to get away from the depths of the earth and see the world
  above...guess I have to take the bad with the good.
Belphanior:  (smirks)

  At the elf's urging, Elgon had revealed his true nature to the entire
group, though in a tactful way to avoid offending anyone.  As it had
turned out, no one really cared much about where the gnome came from...
as long as he could hold his own and have value in the battles to come.

Jenna:  (almost trips over a gnarled, mud-covered root)  Ungh-
Razor Charlie:  (catches her by the arm, returning her to her feet)
  Mind those roots.

  They'd had to abandon their horses almost immediately upon entering
the swamp, for there were no roads or other paths.  Forcing the animals
across muddy, tangled ground would only result in broken legs and more
misery - not to mention that fully half of the mounts had refused to
enter the swampland.  Skektek had commented that perhaps the animals
had more sense than their riders.  It had been a shame to let good
horses go, especially this far from civilization, but they definitely
couldn't have gone far into the swamp.  Of course, that meant more work
for the adventurers, since they had to carry their own gear now while
walking, not riding.

Belphanior:  (snaps his fingers)  Damn, I've been so stupid.  Everyone
  stop.  (he rummages through his pockets, finally holding up a large,
  folded piece of black cloth that resembles felt)  I just solved the
  problem of the gear - and Angus, for that matter.

  The iron golem had been having a difficult time in the swampland, for
he wasn't the most agile of creatures.  His normally slow marching speed
was even slower in the marsh, and when they got into the depths of the
swamp, mud and quicksand would become a true danger for Angus.

Elgon:  Is that a portable hole?
Belphanior:  It is.  Comes in damn handy too.
Elgon:  (peering inside)  Is that a keg of wine I see in there?
Belphanior:  Yeah.  I tend to keep all sorts of useful things handy...
  (to Angus)  Angus - climb into here.
Angus:  (obeys, and vanishes into the extradimensional space)
Belphanior:  See?
Elgon:  Heh.
Otto:  Angus just weighs too much to be tromping through this kind of
Belphanior:  (to the others)  Okay, anything you don't need can be kept
  in here for the time being.

  With great pleasure, they all divested themselves of backpacks, bags,
pouches, extra weapons, and anything else that weighed them down and
wouldn't be of direct use in a sudden battle.  It was amazing how such
a simple thing could make a difference, but even Jenna had a bit more
spring in her step now.

Belphanior:  Not used to this kind of travel?
Jenna:  Not at all.  I have made journeys and fought monsters, but never
  like these past few weeks.  Still, it is my destiny to travel alongside
  you right now-
Belphanior:  It is?
Jenna:  (nods)  Otherwise, why would I be here?
Belphanior:  (muttering something to himself about insane deities and
  confused followers)

  The plan was simple:  head due east, using the sun as a simple yet
accurate guide, and cut through the swamp and right across the Tilvanot
Peninsula.  It would be rough going, but it would also save them weeks.

Belphanior:  (to Skektek)  I really miss the airship.
Skektek:  I hear you.
Elgon:  At least all of you are tall enough to wade.  When you're less
  than four feet tall, like me, this is even less pleasant.
Jenna:  This may be a stupid question, but what will we do if we find
  water deeper than our knees?
Otto:  (absentmindedly wiping grime off of his sword's blade)  Do your
  divinations tell you that we're about to find water?
Jenna:  No, but my eyes do.  (she points ahead)

  The muddy ground and occasional puddles gave way to true swampland:
dark, murky water several feet deep, or more.  Slime-covered tree trunks
rose up out of the water here and there, their branches forming a green
canopy perhaps forty feet above.  The trees were spaced far enough apart
that even a large boat could move between them with ease.

Belphanior:  (smirks, again rummaging through his pouches and pockets)

  The elf produced a small wooden box, and spoke some arcane syllables.
The box unfolded itself and became a large boat, complete with oars and
a rudder!  The expression of gratification on Elgon's face was priceless,
and he was one of the first to help pull the boat to the water's edge.
Momentarily, they had all boarded, and the boat was pushed off from the

Belphanior:  I'll steer, and we'll need two oarsmen at a time.  We'll
  take turns - Otto and Elgon, Charlie and...Dremel-
Sir Dremel:  (looks annoyed at first, then softens his expression)  In
  dire times, all must partake of the brute labor.
Razor Charlie:  (grimacing at the paladin)  Sure.
Ys:  (merrily)  When my turn comes, I can pull both oars by myself.
Belphanior:  Okay, that's fine.  Three rotations.  Jenna and Skektek,
  you're both on lookout duty.  One of you take the front, the other
  keep watch behind us.  And don't forget to look upward too - anything
  could be lurking in those trees.
Skektek:  (thankful to be exempt from physical labor)  Gotcha.
Jenna:  (nods)  I'm having a premonition...that we will soon do battle
  with foes from above.
Belphanior:  Well, that may be.  As I said, keep a good watch.
Jenna:  I shall cast an augury as well, to warn us of any danger in our
Belphanior:  You do that.
wispy thing:  (flies a little ahead of the boat)  fssss.  (he quickly
  becomes preoccupied with a large dragonfly, and begins chasing it)
Belphanior:  (he and Otto exchange shrugs)
Ys:  (whistles some odd tune to himself, grinning toothily)
Otto:  What are you so damn happy about?
Ys:  (gestures to the surrounding swamp)  These are my natural environs.
  I'm actually comfortable here...the air, the smells, even the moisture
  in this season agrees with me.
Otto:  Hmm, makes sense.
Belphanior:  Hell, he's got a point anyway, about the moisture - if it
  wasn't winter, this place would be like an oven.  We should really
  be thankful.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)

  Onward they went, moving through the heart of the swamp.  It was
fairly easy going now, with the boat and the rotating rowing duties.
They made good time and didn't even have to stop to eat or rest due
to the rotation of oarsmen.

Ys:  (grinning)  I am an oar-reptile.  (he swings both oars in a mighty
  sweep, moving them rapidly across the swamp's surface)

  The most progress was definitely made during the reptilian's turns at
rowing; he was big enough and strong enough to more than equal any other
two of the adventurers, who hadn't ever rowed together enough to perform
as efficiently as Ys could by himself.

Razor Charlie:  (taking a short catnap)  Zz.
Sir Dremel:  Without the heat, a swamp isn't nearly as bad.
Skektek:  Make no mistake, holy one...there are monsters around us here.
  They're just not choosing to attack, or be seen.

  Indeed, the sightings had been many:  a ten-foot water snake, gliding
along the murky water's surface...nasty-looking birds with long, pointed
snouts...winged insects with two-foot wingspans.  Thus far, none of them
had seen fit to test the adventurers' mettle.

Otto:  Perhaps you spoke too soon...look, over there by the roots of that
  huge tree.
Skektek:  Gods be damned...
Jenna:  Aie.
Belphanior:  Quiet, everyone.  No noise.

  They were passing by the sprawling, complex root system of a gigantic
rotten tree, perhaps two hundred feet to the starboard side.  What had
first appeared to be another dead tree, fallen and half-sunken in the
swamp, was now _watching_ them with dull yellow eyes the size of dinner

Ys:  (calmly pulls the oars up into the boat, reducing the disturbance
  made by the boat)  Hmm.
Belphanior:  What do you think...a giant croc?
Otto:  Or a giant alligator.  I've seen one in the sewers of Greyhawk.
  Well, I didn't get a really good look at it, but believe me, it was
  down there.
Elgon:  The Beast.
Belphanior:  Pardon?
Elgon:  My people have been exploring those sewers for decades, and we
  know that the Beast is no urban legend or wives' tale.  That thing's
  been down there for years, growing, always growing.  There are parts
  of the lower sewers that even the deep gnomes stay away from.
Otto:  (eyeing the gigantic predator in the distance)  Let's hope this
  one's calmer than the one beneath Greyhawk.
Skektek:  If it comes at us, I'm thinking a lightning bolt.  Yeah.
Belphanior:  If it comes at us, it'll go under the water...until the
  moment of the attack.  I think our best bet is to coast as we're now
  doing, steer quietly, and put some distance between us and that big
Sir Dremel:  Besides which, even a lightning bolt might barely faze it.
  Look at the size of that's surely at least fifty feet long.
Ys:  I was guessing eighty.
Razor Charlie:  (wakes from his nap)  Why've we slowed down?

  Fortunately, the great swamp beast didn't move, showing no signs of
regarding the boat or its occupants as prey.  This was a good thing, as
no one - not even the overly-confident Skektek - wanted a waterborne
fight with something that big and fearsome.  Despite their apparent
safety, no one put a row back in the water or made any sudden movements
for a full half-hour, by which time the boat had floated into a small
cove between the roots of two giant trees.  Even when they were underway
again, all who weren't rowing couldn't help but cast frequent, nervous
glances back the way they'd come.  Conversation and unnecessary noise
had also been reduced to a bare minimum.

Otto:  (muttering)  There's just something about gigantic alligators.

  By early afternoon, they began looking for a place to make a good,
defensible camp - for that process could take hours, and might never
yield an ideal site.  As fate would have it, though, they came upon
the perfect campsite...except it was already occupied.

Belphanior:  (sits up suddenly)  Whoa!  Souls...dozens of them, no,
  maybe a hundred.
Otto:  Where?
Belphanior:  Ahead and above us.  In the trees.
Razor Charlie:  (he and Dremel cease their rowing)
Belphanior:  No sound again, everyone.
Elgon:  I'm hiding us.  (working an illusion, he causes their boat to
  appear as a big floating log)

  On the branches above, the bullywug lookouts blinked and scratched
their heads.  Not the brightest of creatures, these evil frog-men had
no way to be sure if they'd just seen a boat full of food or a big
rotting log.  Two of them began arguing about it in their guttural,
croaking language.

bullywug guard #1:  It a log.  Me saw it!
bullywug guard #2:  Me saw too...not log, but people.
bullywug guard #1:  People!  (he points to the log that floats by
  beneath them)  No people, stupid.  Log!
bullywug guard #2:  Me saw people.  (he sniffs the air)  Me _smell_
  people!  You smell people?
bullywug guard #1:  (sniffs)  No.
bullywug guard #2:  Hmph.  (he eyes the log again, then shakes his head
  sadly)  Guess you right.
bullywug guard #3:  (smacks both of them)  Quiet, you.  It not people,
  no people come from that direction.  (he nods, wide-eyed)  Swamp King
  there, remember?  (he smacks guard #2's head again)  No one get past
  Swamp King.
bullywug guard #1:  Yeah!  Yeah!  Me right, see?  See?
bullywug guard #2:  (grumbling to himself)

  Aboard the "log" below, the adventurers were having a brief, whispered

Otto:  Pass through, or try to talk with them?
Belphanior:  We really could use one of their treetop perches as a camp
  for the night.  Maybe we can buy them off with a bit of gold.
Sir Dremel:  I don't know...I sense an aura of chaos and evil here...
Belphanior:  Quite possibly, but I'll give it a shot.  Whether we stay
  the night here in peace, or with them in pieces, this is where we'll

  Beyond the first platform that held the three guards, a small tree-
town bustled with activity, all of it taking place a good fifty feet
above the swamp.  A dozen or so platforms, fashioned of branches and
leaves all woven together, were connected by larger branches.  Numerous
frog-people crawled along branches, leapt from platform to platform,
and carried on other seemingly routine activity.
  Such activity was interrupted abruptly by a floating, red-cloaked
elf, who floated through the air toward the things, hands out with
palms facing them.  While the elf's concealed companions heard him
speak out in a strange croaking tongue, the frog-men understood the
intruder's words...

Belphanior:  I mean you no harm-
bullywug chieftain:  Get him!  Kill, kill, kill!
Belphanior:  (muttering)  Well, at least that dispenses with the usual
  meaningless formalities.

  The bullywugs were leaping from their tree perches, sailing through
the air to attack the elf with primitive spears.  He flew backwards,
evading the first few attackers, but then met another with Blackrazor.
That foe fell to the swamp below, blood gushing from the stump of its

Belphanior:  (narrowly avoids another leaping attacker, and realizes
  that he's an easy target, even flying, given the things' surprising
  leaping ability)  Dammit-
bullywug #74:  Grok!  (it leaps onto the elf's back, clawing at his
Belphanior:  Enough!  (he reaches back, grabs the thing's arm, and
  yanks with all of his magically-boosted strength)
bullywug #74:  (unwilling to let go with its other arm and feet, it
  shrieks in pain as the arm is torn from its socket)  Aaaargh!  (it
  lets go, falling to the swamp as dark blood spurts from the stump)
Belphanior:  (swats another attacker with the severed arm, batting
  the thing aside)  Ugh.  (he drops the arm and flies back, hoping to
  escape the frog-mens' leaping range)

  All of this had happened in a matter of moments, and now the elf's
allies launched their own carefully-coordinated attack as Elgon let
his illusion slip away.  Skektek hit multiple bullywugs with magic
missiles, every one of which struck a foe, knocking them off their
perches more from surprise than any fatal damage.  Otto shot one foe
with his crossbow, poisoning it as well as crippling one of its legs,
then reloaded while eyeing his next target.  Jenna snared a group of
the web-toed foes in a magical net, dragging them from their branch
down into the water.  Ys, Sir Dremel, and Razor Charlie guarded the
boat (and Jenna and Elgon) from those bullywugs in the water - all of
whom were now attacking the boat after regaining their balance.  It
was Elgon, however, whose attack had the most impact.  He conjured up
an illusion he thought might work well against these primitive enemies.
A huge snake appeared amidst the trees, its serpentine body coiled
around numerous branches.  The scaly enemies went completely berserk,
leaping intentionally from their safe perches to get away from the
giant snake.

Elgon:  Damn, that worked frighteningly well.
Otto:  Maybe their god's enemy is a giant snake.
Ys:  (growls at a charging bullywug)  Raaaar.
bullywug #33:  Aiieeeeek!  (it drops its spear, turning and splashing
  away in full retreat)
Ys:  Ha.
Sir Dremel:  (cuts a leaping foe inhalf, sending its pieces whizzing
  away in different directions)  Watch the large tree, there - a legion
  of foes awaits.
Jenna:  (looks up into that tree's branches)  There must be two score
  of them in there.
Otto:  Maybe it's the main camp.
Skektek:  Not anymore.  (he launches a lightning bolt at the huge tree's

  There was a loud, earsplitting CRACK as the gigantic tree's trunk was
demolished by the spell.

Skektek:  TIM-BER!

  The tree seemed to fall in slow motion (and fortunately away from the
adventurers' boat and the main battle, thanks to Skektek's keen aim.)
No less than thirty bullywugs leapt into the water as the huge tree hit
the swamp, causing a tremendous splash.  Unfortunately, the foes seemed
unfazed by the impact, and now leaped to the attack, their little green
legs churning up the murky water.

Skektek:  (frantically working a spell)  Shit.  I'll never get them all
  in time-
Sir Dremel:  (raises his sword)  Then we shall.

  No one would ever know if the boat's defenders would have been sorely
tested, or merely chopped their amphibian foes into fish food...for a
new combatant had entered the fray.  It had merely been curious when it
began following the strange log hours ago, but it was also quite hungry.
Its animal mind, however dim, knew that sometimes one meal would lead to
places where more food waited.  It had almost given up and headed else-
where when the battle began; the churning of feet and the scent of blood
in the water had signaled a waiting feast.

giant alligator:  (bursts from the murky water right behind the mob of
  charging bullywugs)  RRRRRRR!

  The thing was still half underwater, but the part they could see was
at least thirty feet long.  Huge jaws, with teeth the size of shovel
blades, closed on several bullywugs at once.  Screams of terror and
agony mixed with the sounds of rending flesh and crunching bone.  The
giant alligator whipped its tail around, swatting two frog-men who
were trying to flee, and then lunged forward, devouring three others.

Skektek:  Holy shit!
wispy thing:  (staring at the giant alligator)  braaaft.
Otto:  We need to get up into the trees, now!
Belphanior:  (flies down, grabbing Otto)  I'll get you up there, one by
  one if I have to.
Otto:  Get me to one of those platforms and I'll tie a rope, that might
Belphanior:  Right.

  Down on the boat...

Elgon:  It won't take that monster long to eat all of those things, and
  then it'll come after us.
Ys:  (grabs a nearby tree just as he sees Belphanior deposit Otto on a
  large platform high above)  We need to climb, here.
Elgon:  Say no more.  (he puts his pick away and takes to the branches)
  This is easy compared to some of the walls I've climbed.
Belphanior:  (flies down, grabbing Jenna and carrying her up toward Otto)
Otto:  (ties off a long rope and begins lowering it)
wispy thing:  (looking around)  sprrr...
Sir Dremel:  It might be advisable to hurry.  Yonder beast has nearly
  run out of frog-people to devour.
Skektek:  (eyeing numerous terrified bullywugs on branches above, he sees
  a dozen or so making their way toward the platform where Otto has tied
  the rope he's lowering)  Hmm.

  Momentarily, the wizard launched a small ball of flame...just enough
to force the stalking foes off of their branch.  They landed in the
water, thrashing about madly, in pain from their burns.

giant alligator:  RRRRR?  (it heads for this new commotion)
Elgon:  (twenty feet up, he nods approvingly)  Well done.
Razor Charlie:  To hell with this.  If he can climb a tree, so can I.
  (he grabs the lowest branch and begins his own ascent)
Belphanior:  (flies back down)  Who's next?  Dremel?  Ys?  Skektek?
Skektek:  (casting another spell)  In all the excitement, it almost
  slipped my mind that I can fly, too.  (he chuckes)  I'm fine, take
  someone else.
Ys:  I am too heavy, I fear.  Take the knight, here.
Sir Dremel:  No, never, I insist on being the last one-
Belphanior:  (grabs the paladin, with an effort, and hoists him into the
  air)  You're the last one, then I fly back down and get my
  sense risking that beast thinking the boat is more food...
Ys:  (sheathes his sword, takes hold of the rope Otto just lowered, and
  begins climbing)
Otto:  That's top-quality rope - it'll hold you!
Ys:  (muttering to himself)  I certainly hope so.

  By the time everyone was safely up (or close enough) the alligator had
eaten every bullywug in sight, and was searching for more.

Otto:  It must like the way they taste.
giant alligator:  (nudges a tree gently, causing it to sway a bit)
bullywugs:  (clutching the branches above, they croak in fear)
Skektek:  It's smart, too.
giant alligator:  (looking around hungrily, blood oozing from its mouth)
Otto:  I bet it just smells one of them at the base of the tree.
Skektek:  Better them than us.  (he launches a small lightning bolt at
  the base of the large branch that supports most of the croaking foes)

  The branch, already bowed somewhat under the combined weight of a dozen
bullywugs, snapped off, sending the screaming humanoids plunging into the
swamp and certain doom.

Otto:  (drily)  We're running out of things to feed that gator.

  It was true:  the local bullywug population had been reduced to a mere
handful, scattered here and there in the treetops.  Surely a few had made
a getaway, but the majority were slain, and almost all of those had been
eaten by the monstrous alligator.

giant alligator:  (scouring the water for bodies, or body parts)
Belphanior:  I have an idea.  (he points to a lone bullywug clinging to
  a nearby branch)  I'll hit that guy with a haste spell...then, Elgon,
  you hit him with an illusion that makes him look like a giant cow or
  something similarly beefy...then Skektek, nip him with a magic missile
  or two, just enough to knock him out of the tree and send him running.
Skektek:  ...and then the alligator will give chase!
Otto:  Freeing us up to get our boat and move onward.
Belphanior:  Well, I've scanned the area ahead, beyond where we are now.
  It's dry land again, with a lot of trees.  I don't think the alligator
  can follow us in there.  So, if we can get rid of it, even for a short
  time, we can sail the boat a few hundred feet and then walk to safety.
Elgon:  My illusions aren't the most perfect in the world, but I think I
  can fool a giant animal's senses of sight and smell.

  The implementation of the adventurers' plan was as humorous as it was
effective.  The bullywug looked confused after being hasted, and it had
no way to know that it looked like a large, obese cow after Elgon cast
his spell.  Skektek's magic missile hit it right in the rear end, and it
dropped from the treetops, shrieking in pain and then fear.  The giant
alligator immediately turned that way, roaring loudly, so the bullywug
turned and fled, churning the water with his sprinting and leaping.

Otto:  It's working!  The gator's chasing him!
Belphanior:  Let's hurry - there's no telling how long it'll be fooled.
Skektek:  Or when the frog-man will trip and fall, and get munched.

  Belphanior went down first, recovering the boat (which had drifted away
a bit) and getting it back near the rope.  Soon, they were all back and
rowing hard, eager to escape the area and get back on dry land.  There was
no sign of the giant alligator, though they had to kill a stray bullywug
that got in their way.  Before long, the folding boat was folded up and
the adventurers walked on land once more.

Belphanior:  I know we were going to make that place our camp, but it's
  too risky, with all the blood in the water.  I don't want to deal with
  that big bastard again.  We'll find a campsite somewhere on land now.

next:      strange ways
released:  2/13/04
notes:     There really is a shortage of good giant alligator/crocodile
  movies out there.  The best of these, _Alligator_, is available on DVD
  for those of you lucky enough to be in Europe (region 2) since it hasn't
  been released in region 1 just yet.  My movie review site has plenty of
  reviews of giant monster movies as well as other movies.
    On another topic, if anyone asks me how Razor Charlie can climb trees
  (or anything else) since he's not a thief, I will have to once again
  state that beginning with episode 801, all official rules of the AD&D
  game are out the door.  If a strong, wiry fellow sees a tree with many
  branches, he is physically capable of climbing it.  So simple!

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