Chapter #808

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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:          4/26/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the Vast Swamp                                         +
+   Climate:       cold and damp                                          +
+   "Childhood's over the moment you know you're gonna die."              +
+                                                     - from _The Crow_   +

                     DCCCVIII.  A Dire Prediction

  After fighting a tree-dwelling bullywug tribe and escaping a gigantic
swamp alligator, the adventurers have camped the night on solid ground.
Morning finds them tired and sore.

Otto:  -and I had a dream about a giant alligator.
Belphanior:  Heh.
Ys:  The trees here are more densely placed than in the wet portion of
  the swamp.  I suspect we are safe from that gargantuan.
Skektek:  If we weren't, we'd have found out by now.
Elgon:  Maybe it got full.  It did eat a few dozen frog-people.
Sir Dremel:  Has anyone a guess as to how far are we through this mire?
Belphanior:  No guesses, but before dusk last night I flew up above the
  treetop canopy...way up, to have a look.  We're a little more than
  halfway through the swamp proper, it looks like.
Sir Dremel:  Ah.
Otto:  That's still a lot of nasty terrain, though.
Jenna:  I spoke with Istus last night in my sleep.  She portends our
  escape from this swamp, but not before facing a most dire challenge.
Belphanior:  Really?  What sort of challenge?
Jenna:  A stalker in darkness...ancient evil, seeking to protect its
  domain here.
Belphanior:  (recalling the time he and others from the original band
  of adventurers came to the Vast Swamp to find the lair of the demi-
  lich Acererak)  Hmmmm.
Jenna:  (looking a bit pale)
Otto:  (to Jenna)  And what else?
Jenna:  Pardon?
Otto:  There's more - I can see it on your face.
Jenna:  I'm not...not sure how to say this, of our party will
  not be leaving this swamp. going to fall.

  The group was silent.  Even the wispy thing ceased its looping flights
and hovered nearby, frowning.

Elgon:  One will die...
Ys:  Dire news, this.
Razor Charlie:  (frowns, then cracks his knuckles)
Belphanior:  (somewhat upset)  Tell me more - who will die, and how?
Jenna:  That is all.  When Istus sees fit to grant answers, they are
  simple and vague.
Belphanior:  Damn it.  (he almost punches a tree in anger)  What-  would
  altering our course change anything?  Maybe avoid this evil you speak
Jenna:  (shakes her head)  It doesn't work that way.  What is meant to
  be, will be.
Ys:  The bell tolls.
Skektek:  I'll be ready with the lightning, then.
Sir Dremel:  And I with the sword.  If it is my day to die, I will give
  an accounting worthy of the legends.
Belphanior:  Everyone just calm down.  We're not sure what's going to

  Privately, though, the elf had a terrible feeling that the priestess
of fate was right.  He hadn't known her that long, or seen that much of
her abilities, but the way she had voiced her premonition...something
about it had convinced the elf.  Shortly, as they got moving again, he
spoke with Otto about it...

Otto:  You think she's on target?
Belphanior:  Well, she's a high priestess of the goddess of fate and
  divination.  We know that deities exist and grant some of their power
  to their followers.  And we're in the middle of the biggest swamp on
  Oerik.  (he shakes his head)  I have to believe that she's right.
Otto:  (nods sadly)  That's pretty much how I thought it through.
Belphanior:  We face death almost every day.  This prediction shouldn't
  change anything.
Otto: to just do what we always do.  Well, maybe just a
  little more carefully.

  Nearby, other conversations were going on, or else people pondered
their thoughts alone.  Perhaps not surprisingly, no one seemed to want
to be near Jenna, much less talk to her.  She wasn't surprised - this
was something that high priestesses of Istus were taught to expect, and
trained to deal with.  She could only do what she could do; her deity
had indicated a desire for Jenna to accompany and assist Belphanior, so
that was that.
  As for Skektek and Razor Charlie, they were dealing with the fateful
prediction the same way each of them always had handled challenge.
Skektek put on a bold, brash front; any fear or apprehension he might
have had didn't show.  Razor Charlie just grimaced and went about his
normal business, as if nothing had ever been said.  In fact, the two
were busy discussing some of Charlie's magical possessions...

Skektek:  -no way both of those magical amulets work at the same time,
  if you're wearing both of them.
Razor Charlie:  Why?
Skektek:  That's just the way of most magic items.
Razor Charlie:  (frowns)  Never thought about it.

  One of the knife-throwing warrior's protective amulets was ornate,
fashioned of silver with a blood-red ruby set within.  This device was
a powerful ward against vampires, though Charlie had only benefitted
from it on a couple of occasions.  If this amulet was finely-worked
and pleasing to the eye, his other amulet was simple and cheap-looking.
It consisted of a worn leather thong from which hung a small, shapeless
lump of wood.  The thing wouldn't fetch more than a few coppers in any
common marketplace...but if one used a spell to detect magical auras,
one would see that the item was exceptionally powerful.  Actually, it
was unique - a minor artifact of Keogh, likely the same legendary figure
responsible for certain healing ointments.  This amulet granted Charlie
rapid healing abilities, as well as protecting him from other harm.  If
the party had gone up against a legion of vampires, then one amulet was
the clear choice.  Recently, however, the healing amulet was by far the
more useful.

Skektek:  I'm just saying that if you wear them both, then neither are
  likely to work.  Think of it this way:  Ys carries a big-ass sword
  which takes all of his strength to use effectively.  If he tried to
  wield two such swords, he'd collapse under the strain and end up
  not fighting at all.  And this, my friend, (gesturing towards the
  lump of wood) is definitely a big-ass amulet.  Were you wearing the
  other during any of our recent battles?
Razor Charlie:  Nope.
Skektek:  I'd say keep it stashed away, then, for the day when-  (he
  glances at Belphanior, who is a goodly distance away, talking with
  Otto)  -we once again encounter Victoria.
Razor Charlie:  I hear you, man.

  Sir Dremel was regaling the others with tales of his past crusades
and good deeds, and before anyone knew it, it was lunchtime.  They
had made good time, as the ground had been solid and the undergrowth
minimal.  They rested in a large clearing, ringed by moss-covered
trees and a foot or so of brush.

Sir Dremel:  If the remainder of our path is like this, we'll be free
  of the swamp in a couple of days.
Belphanior:  True, but I wouldn't count on it.
Otto:  (munching on some dried meat, he looks around quizzically)
Jenna:  You sense it too?
Otto:  Yeah...something's wrong.
Jenna:  (nods)
Sir Dremel:  I detect no evil.
Belphanior:  Nor I, souls.

  Nevertheless, the elf had been through enough in his life that he
knew not to ignore multiple opinions such as this.

Belphanior:  (draws his sword)  What do you think-
Otto:  (snaps his fingers)  There are no birds, animals, even insects.
  It's dead quiet here.
wispy thing:  (floating near a small bush with dull red flowers which
  is twitching slightly)  pfsss?
small bush:  (several of its flowers slowly swivels around to face the
  preoccupied adventurers)
wispy thing:  sprrd...
Belphanior:  (notices the wispy thing orbiting a small, dark-flowered
  bush)  Eh?
wispy thing:  (flying in rapid circles now)  brrrn!

  Before anyone could react, the crimson flowers trembled, then made a
hissing sound.

Otto:  Ow!  (he looks down at his arm, where a cluster of tiny thorn-
  like projectiles just hit him)  What the hell?  (he drops his sword,
  clutching at the wounded arm with his other arm)

  Other flowers now fired these strange darts, or swiveled to face the
adventurers.  Another cluster of the things bounced off of Sir Dremel's
full plate mail, while a third lodged in the back of Razor Charlie's
leather armor.

Belphanior:  These flowers are alive!  (he leaps to one side as a
  cluster of the flower-darts whizzes through the space just occupied
  by his face)  And they're aiming at us!

  The flowers, as it turned out, were the least of their problems.

Otto:  (lying on the ground fighting whatever venom came with the darts
  that hit him)  My arm's going numb-  what the hell?!?  (he finds his
  bad arm and one leg snared by writhing vines)
Ys:  (attacked by about a dozen of the vines, he hacks at them with his
  sword, but more just snake around his legs, including the severed
  pieces)  What is this madness?
Jenna:  (armor-less, she is hit and taken down by a cluster of fired
Sir Dremel:  (points around them all with his sword)  Look!  The bushes
  are alive too!

  It was true.  The underbrush had risen up from its initial height of
about a foot, forming a ten-foot wall of thorny brambles all around the

Belphanior:  Where's Peyote now that we finally need him?  (he uses
  a stored spell from his ring to make a great leap, landing in the
  middle of the largest cluster of the dart-firing flowers)  Die!  (he
  swings his sword in a great circle, chopping a dozen flowers from
  their branches)
Razor Charlie:  (picks up Otto's dropped shortsword and begins hacking
  at the vines that have Ys' legs snared)
Ys:  My thanks.

  Just then, a large branch swung down from above, swatting Charlie
away like a fly.  When the warrior landed, three of the creeping vines
instantly snaked toward him.

Elgon:  (working a spell, he is interrupted by another swinging branch,
  which knocks him into a nearby tree trunk)

  There was only one tree moving and attacking them, and it was easily
distinguishable from the non-animated trees around the clearing.  Its
trunk and limbs were dark and dull, and it was making a weird moaning
sound as it attacked.

Skektek:  (looks up)  Well, I'll be damned.
Sir Dremel:  (meets a swinging branch with his sword, saving Skektek
  from being knocked senseless)  Get with the fight, wizard!
Skektek:  I am!  (he points his wand of walls and speaks a command word)

  A blazing wall of flame leapt up all around them - at the exact same
radius as the wall of hedges that had risen up.  The result was just as
Skektek intended:  the brambles went up instantly.  The resultant wave
of heat was stifling and made eyes water - but it also wilted the rest
of the thorn-firing flowers.

Belphanior:  (notices the dark tree tremble momentarily as it pauses
  in its attacks)
Skektek:  (snared by a vine, he falls)  Whoa!
Belphanior:  (dodges a swinging branch from the dark tree, and makes
  another great leap, landing on a high branch of a normal tree and
  out of the range of the attacking branches)  Now to take out that
  damned tree.  (he begins spellcasting)
Ys:  (completely immobilized from the waist down, he continues to hack
  at vines with his sword)
Elgon:  (having gotten back to his feet, he produces a handful of tiny
  darts, and throws one at a thick vine that holds one of the big
  reptilian's feet)

  The dart exploded on contact, coating the vine with sizzling acid.
The gnome quickly threw another dart, which began burning through a
second vine.  A branch swung down at Elgon, but he dodged it and threw
a third dart at the vine that held Skektek.

  Above, Belphanior finished his spell, launching a blazing sheet of
fire at the attacking tree, right at the height where all of its large
branches grew from the trunk.  The wood caught fire instantly, and the
tree howled in pain, a high-pitched moan that resembled a strong gust
of wind blowing through a forest.  Below, all of the vines released
their hold, instead thrashing about wildly.  Skektek had been watching
the action while freeing himself, and he followed Belphanior's attack
with a small fireball from another wand.  The hostile tree was well
and truly ablaze now, and threatened to ignite nearby trees.

Belphanior:  (holding a piece of black cloth in his hand)  Skektek -
  get the circular fire out!  I'll handle the tree!  Everyone else
  get clear, I'm going to cut it down that way!

  Shortly, the elf had unfolded and opened the portable hole, and a
large iron form emerged.  Per Belphanior's orders, Angus tackled the
burning tree at the base, shaking it - and then kept ramming it, over
and over again.  The tree's branches flailed wildly at the golem, but
had no effect as it continued its attack.  Anyone or anything living
would have been unable to keep up this attack, due to the repeated
bone-breaking impacts, but Angus was made of iron and felt no pain.
The tree's trunk cracked, then broke, and the golem pulled the tree
down.  Meanwhile, Skektek had doused his own fire with a surrounding
wall of ice.

Ys:  Brr.
Skektek:  (uses a cone of cold to douse the flames from the fallen
  tree)  Whew.  (to Belphanior)  I hope you're happy...I've used about
   half of my daily spell arsenal just in this clearing.  (he smirks)
Belphanior:  Don't worry about that.  (he heads over to Otto, who is
  being tended to by Sir Dremel)
Sir Dremel:  (uses his holy powers to neutralize the poison that runs
  through the dwarf's veins)  Rest easy.
Otto:  Urgh...thanks.  (even in his weakened state, he finds the raw
  strength to stand up)  Better tend to Jenna, there.  I don't think
  that poison was meant to kill, just to paralyze.
Sir Dremel:  Right.

  Elgon and Charlie were pretty banged around; the gnome used a spell
to heal his cuts and bruises, while Charlie's were already fading away.

Razor Charlie:  (grasps the amulet of Keogh, muttering something about
  Skektek being right)
Sir Dremel:  (looking around at all the charred vegetation)  Never, in
  all my crusades and campaigns, have I seen evil such as this.
Belphanior:  Maybe it's not _evil_...but just plants that survive by
  attacking and somehow eating people.
Skektek:  I recall a similar tale from somewhere.  (he shrugs)
Ys:  The ways of the swamp vegetation are strange indeed.
Jenna:  (moans something and sits up)
Sir Dremel:  (helps the priestess to her feet)  There, milady.
Jenna:  (looking around wearily)  There are times that I wish I could
  wear armor, and this is one of them.

  Belphanior didn't bother to scold her for falling so quickly in a
combat situation; it was obvious that she was aware of the problem.
With any luck, she would prove her worth sometime soon.  The elf knew
that if she didn't, she's probably die in combat.  That would certainly
be ironic, he thought - if the death she predicted turned out to be her
  They resumed their journey shortly, and made good time for the rest
of the afternoon.  A flight above the treetops revealed that they were
almost clear of the swamp - perhaps half a day's march.

Belphanior:  I don't think we'll make it by dusk.  Everyone start keeping
  an eye out for a good, defensible place to camp for the night.

  They ended up making camp beneath the base of a fallen tree; the way
in which the dead tree's roots spread out in all directions made it
easily defensible.  Ys moved some other logs to make a low, crude wall,
and Otto set some traps beyond, and Jenna cast her spell of alerting.
Much to everyone's surprise, however, nothing bothered them during the
the night.  Morning found them marching rapidly, eager to get out of
the swamp.

Skektek:  (to Jenna)  We may defy your prediction before this day's done.
Jenna:  (looking around sadly)
Belphanior:  (eyeing the area ahead)  We're back to water...we're going
  to have to get through more wetland before we escape this place.  I'll
  ready the boat.

  The water was only a couple of feet deep in most places, but it was
within their means to keep from getting wet and they did so.  If nothing
else, Elgon was certainly relieved.  Besides, there was always the danger
of underwater snakes and such.  Angus was stashed away in Belphanior's
portable hole, the boat was unfolded, and shortly, they rowed through
the swamp, ever-vigilant for threatening creatures above, on, or below
the murky, oily water.  However, aside from the occasional small water
snake, airborne bird, or stinging insect, all was clear.  The water was
still only a couple of feet deep, judging from tests done with the oars,
and the trees were widely-spaced, perhaps thirty feet apart on average.
The daylight filtered through the treetops, and while it didn't provide
bright light, it was definitely enough to see by.  Spirits were high as
the group continued eastward.

Belphanior:  It can't be more than an hour or two...and we're making good
Ys:  (rowing both oars)  And it's good exercise!
wispy thing:  yrrrp.
Jenna:  (shaking her head)  We must be careful...Istus is never wrong.
Skektek:  Maybe not until now.
Elgon:  (eyeing the surrounding trees nervously)
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)

Sir Dremel:  (winces suddenly)  By Heironeous...there is evil here.  Very
  great evil!
Otto:  (looking around)  I don't see-
Belphanior:  (grabs Blackrazor's handle)  Evil or not, I'm sensing a very
  powerful soul nearby.

  Suddenly, several small clouds of gnats appeared as if from nowhere,
buzzing around the party's heads.  At the same time, a horrible stench
issued from the surrounding water, adding to the distraction by making
them cough and their eyes water.  The water was churning madly now, all
around the boat.

Belphanior:  (draws his sword)  We're about to be attacked-

  A monstrous, dark form rose from the swamp, water cascading from its
black, armored hide.  The thing dwarfed the boat and its occupants, and
reared its horned head back, growling between teeth the size of daggers.

black dragon:  (roars suddenly and angrily)

next:      someone falls, forever
released:  2/20/04
notes:     Some of the hostile plants here were actually from an old,
  never-played adventure I designed for the Misadventurers, way back in
  the 1980s when they were a separate group and I'd not yet played the
  campaign that led to the Adventurers.

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