Chapter #810

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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       +
+   1991-2004 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        +
+   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:          5/2/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         the coastal city of Ekul, east of the Vast Swamp       +
+   Climate:       temperate                                              +
+   "You have to kill them all.  Otherwise what's the point?"             +
+                                     Paul Kersey, from _Death Wish 3_    +

                        DCCCX.  The Pelisso

  Three days have passed since the adventurers defeated the black dragon
within the Vast Swamp.  Since then, they have emerged from the marshes,
trekked southward along the coast, found a small town, purchased horses,
and ridden to the port city of Ekul.  Now they dine in a private room in
a nice tavern...

Skektek:  Time sure flies when you're having fun.
Belphanior:  Truth be told, I'm not having fun.  I've lost my golem, my
  belt of ogre strength, my magical boots and cloak, and that gemstone
  that aided me against poisons.
Otto:  That damned dragon's acid breath got a bunch of my stuff too.
  Not that I'd ever use a flute that controls undead, mind you, but...
  (he shrugs)
Sir Dremel:  (looks mortified)
Skektek:  (to Belphanior)  Never fear - you can take it out on the band
  of clowns we're hunting for.
Ys:  Don't they call that a circus?
Skektek:  Hah.

  The loss of the melted items had been even worse because, try as they
might, they'd simply been unable to locate the dragon's treasure hoard.
As everyone knew, all dragons kept some treasure; one of the size they
killed was certainly keeping a fairly large stash somewhere.  The only
problem was...they hadn't been able to find it.  Belphanior's magical
eye, various spells of detection, Jenna's scrying, a day of searching -
all had yielded the same result:  nothing.  Ys had theorized that the
dragon might have secreted its treasure in some deep, hidden chamber
beneath the swamp; as none of them could see in that murk, or breathe
water, they hadn't the means to execute an underwater search.  This hit
Otto particularly hard since one of the magical items he'd lost to the
dragon's acid breath had been a necklace that allowed him to breathe
underwater.  It hit Belphanior particularly hard too, since it was his
slaying of the dragon, and taking of its soul, that disallowed the
option of speaking with its corpse to learn anything.
  It had been a very frustrated group of individuals who - after half a
day of wet, dirty searching - had been forced to give it up.

Otto:  Just thinking about that pisses me off.
Belphanior:  Look at the bright side:  though the dragon's treasure was
  surely great, it won't match up to that which we seek in the Pelisso
Elgon:  You're also forgetting that we can always return one day, when
  we have the time and the means, and find that dragon's loot.
Razor Charlie:  (mumbling something under his breath)
wispy thing:  (chasing a fly)  brrrp!
Belphanior:  We will return one day...and perhaps soon.  Just one more
  item on a long list of loose ends.
Skektek:  Yeah...weren't you saying something about the skyship?
Belphanior:  Only that I sure do miss it.

  The elf's thoughts drifted back to a little more than a year ago, in
the uncharted reaches of the Solnor Ocean...the Isle of Panagaea.  That
mythical place had been located after much searching, but as the group
flew over the isle, a gigantic and immensely powerful bird had attacked.
That battle had left the skyship damaged and sinking, and eventually it
had fallen to the water below, where it sunk despite the best efforts
of Belphanior and the archmage Parekh.

Otto:  Remember those giant sharks...they were all over the place as we
  made our way ashore.
Belphanior:  True, but also recall that we crash-landed on the water not
  too far from shore.  That skyship's in shallow water, which at least
  is something.
Skektek:  I hear you.  I once heard about a salvage effort involving
  some treasure-laden galleon in deep was a total disaster.
  Spells wouldn't work to raise the thing, and several of the wizards
  involved got eaten by giant octopi.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces to himself, wondering what an "octopi" is)
Belphanior:  I'm not saying we can raise the skyship, only that it's
  worth a try at some point.
Skektek:  Agreed.  (he frowns)  Riding in that skyship sure beat the
  conventional methods...both in time and difficulty.
Belphanior:  Like I said, it's on my list.
Otto:  While we're debating lost's a shame that the
  weapons cache in Helgate got destroyed.  We could sure use some of
  that stuff on this little adventure.
Belphanior:  (sadly)  Yeah.  The weapons of another dimension...and I
  was so busy saving them for a rainy day that I never really got the
  chance to use them.  (he shrugs)  Getting Angus back was one thing,
  but that other stuff was too would never survive tons
  of rock collapsing on it.
Otto:  Yeah, I know.
Elgon:  (tired of listening to discussion of lost treasures he knows
  nothing about, he changes the subject)  So what's next?  Where do we
  go from here?
Sir Dremel:  (shoveling food into his mouth)  Aye...the Pelisso Swamp
  is close to this city, a short trip by sea?
Belphanior:  (nods)  We'll book passage on some, that won't
  work, will it?  We can't count on them to stick around.
Otto:  Unless you pay them enough.
Skektek:  Or scare the hell out of them so that they don't dare leave.
Belphanior:  The folding boat's too small for a days-long voyage.
Ys:  We could get our own, we need a crew.
Belphanior:  Too bad the Book of Beasts can't summon a bunch of rowers.
Sir Dremel:  Book of Beasts?  What is that?
Belphanior:  (smirks)  It's a magical summoning book which I can use
  to bring animals and monsters to our aid.  Everything from giant dogs
  to orcs, from lizards to manticores.
Sir Dremel: do you choose what sort of things are summoned?
Belphanior:  Oh, it's completely random.  The only sure thing is that
  they have to obey the owner of the book.
Sir Dremel:  Aie.  (he looks perturbed)  And you would _use_ this in a
Otto:  (helpfully)  A battle with evil.
Belphanior:  Would I use it?  (he laughs out loud, pointing with his
  fork)  Hell yes, I'd use it.  In fact, before we make our move on
  whoever we find in the Pelisso, I intend to use the Book multiple
  times, and summon as many monsters as I can to help us make a swift
  and powerful attack.
Sir Dremel:  Mmm.
Belphanior:  I'll wager that you end up appreciating the help I summon,
  too.  Remember:  an ogre may be evil, but if you make it go up against
  a death knight, the ogre is working for good.
Skektek:  (smirks)  For about five seconds, at least.
Elgon:  (turns to Jenna)  Has Istus provided any insight about what's to
Jenna:  I'll be praying and communing with her tonight, and morning will
  bring whatever answers she cares to share.
Razor Charlie:  (lazily wondering where he can find a good, enthusiastic

  After supper, they spent the night in Ekul, getting some much-needed
rest.  Morning found the bulk of the group replenishing supplies and
food while Belphanior sought out a ship to take them to the continent's
tip upon which the Pelisso Swamp waited.  There was only one problem...

old captain:  It ain't that easy, sonny.
Belphanior:  What's the problem?  I pay you, you take me there, wait for
  me offshore.  No danger for you.
old captain:  (takes a puff of his pipe)  Don't have to go ashore to
  find trouble in those parts, no sir.  (he grunts)  They say there's
  sea monsters in them parts...big 'uns, too.  Nobody goes around there,
  not the ships of the Spindrift Isles, nor the Lordship.
Belphanior:  There's got to be someone here who's willing to make the
  voyage...who's not afraid.
old captain:  (squints)  Oh, I'm not afraid, sonny.  I'll do it, but the
  cost'll be high.  I've got to retire soon, you know.
Belphanior:  (eyes the old man, who has to be at least seventy, and
  smirks)  How much?
old captain:  Triple my normal fare.
Belphanior:  Which is...?
old captain:  (names a figure)
Belphanior:  Done.  When can we leave?
old captain:  Err...umm...I can have 'er ready by tomorrow.
Belphanior:  We'll be here at dawn.  Oh, and one more thing...
old captain:  Eh?
Belphanior:  We - my friends and I - aren't the sort of people who take
  kindly to piracy, extortion, threats, and the like.  Just so you know.
old captain:  Heh.  This isn't the domain of the Sea Princes, sonny...
  but I get your point.
Belphanior:  (nods, then turns and leaves)

  Belphanior would have paid ten times the agreed-upon price to have a
shot at Xusia's unknown treasures (and a shot, literally, at those who
would be guarding them.)  What use was mere gold, in a world where the
true power lay in magic?  No, coinage was the unenlightened person's
measure of success and power; for Belphanior, it was only a means to
an end.  The elf headed back to the marketplace to find the others,
quite pleased with himself and the current state of events.
  The next morning, the group boarded the old captain's ship, bringing
all the supplies they'd acquired in Ekul.  There was the normal stuff,
like food, water, torches, rope, sacks, tarps, and such.  Then there
were other things that one or another of the adventurers had thought it
necessary to bring.

Otto:  Barrels of oil.
Skektek:  How many?
Otto:  A dozen.
Skektek:  Bah.  One fireball could-
Otto:  -could ignite a whole lot more if a barrel of oil had first been
  used to douse the area.
Skektek:  Point.
Elgon:  And barrels of holy water.
Jenna:  Barrels?  What's wrong with flagons?
Elgon:  (shrugs)  It never hurts.
Ys:  (grins toothily)  Besides, I can hurl a barrel just as easily as
  anyone else can hurl a flask.
Otto:  Holy water's fine, but I intend to use fire as much as possible
  against these undead...burning oil, burning caltrops, flaming bolts,
  oiled ropes to snare destruction.  (he gets a gleam in
  his eye)  No mercy.
Belphanior:  Not a shred.
Razor Charlie:  (poking through a small chest full of throwing knives,
  he turns to Jenna)  Can you bless these before we go to fight?
Jenna:  Of course...well, not _all_ of them, surely?
Razor Charlie:  (grins crookedly)
Sir Dremel:  (polishing his holy sword, which really doesn't need the
  effort, since it's shining brightly)
Otto:  That isn't your brother's sword, is it?
Sir Dremel:  No, mine isn't as powerful...but it also has no will of its
  own.  It simply becomes more powerful against evil.
Otto:  (glad to not have to share the company of a talking holy weapon)

  The old captain's ship was a small coaster, a two-masted ship perhaps
sixty feet long.  The crew was small, a score of sailors, and when they
weren't busy running their ship, they stole quizzical glances at Ys.
For the most part, the adventurers kept to themselves, and the sailors
left them be, for they could see that this was a group of people about
to go to war.
  The weather was good, the skies clear, and the waters calm and well-
patrolled by warships from the Lordship of the Isles.  Pirates weren't
a concern (not that they ever had been for Belphanior) and it only took
them five days to sail around the Hepmona peninsula and sight the sickly
brownish-green expanse, beginning at the shore, that marked the northern
boundary of the Pelisso Swamp.

Belphanior:  (to the old captain)  Well, old-timer, this is it.  We're
  taking a boat ashore-
old captain:  One of my boats?
Belphanior:  No, I brought my own.  (he begins the process of unfolding
  his magical boat)
old captain:  Well, hot-damn!  Look at that!
Belphanior:  As I was saying, we're taking this boat and going ashore.
  We'll need you to stay here for a week, as agreed.  If we're not back
  or haven't contacted you by then, you can go home.
old captain:  (listening to his crewmen grumble)  A week...that's a long
  time, and we can't fish for food here - no sea life lives offshore of
  that swamp.
Belphanior:  That's why I took the liberty of bringing your crew some
  extra rations.
Ys:  (heaves a large chest out of the portable hole, setting it on the
  deck and then opening it)  There you go, friends.
crewmen:  (gasping and whispering)
Belphanior:  Dried meats and fish...loaves of bread...fresh fruits and
  vegetables...and there are a couple of barrels of wine in there too.
crewmen:  (clapping each other on the back happily)
Belphanior:  I figured a present like this might help lift all of your
  spirits during your wait.
old captain:  Aye, that it did.
Belphanior:  (joins the rest of his people in the folding boat)  A week,
  no less.
old captain:  (shakes hands with the elf)  Count on it.

  They left the ship behind, rowing toward shore.  The water was dirty
here, and stunk as badly as the swamp they were about to enter.  True
to the captain's word, no fish or other aquatic life inhabited the water
off the Pelisso's shore.  The greenish marshland stretched to the east
as far as they could see, but entering its northwestern point wouldn't
be a problem.

Belphanior:  The map Pallin gave me shows our destination clearly, and
  it's not far into the swamp from this entry point...maybe a day's
  march, depending on the exact terrain.
Otto:  (looking up at the sky)  It'll be dusk in a few hours.  We'd be
  smart to delay our entry into the swamp until tomorrow...and camp on
  shore, or better yet, to the west, away from the swamp.
Belphanior:  (nods)  My thoughts exactly.  (to the others)  I want all
  the usual precautions - traps, alarms, posted guards.  Elgon, some
  kind of illusion to mask our presence would really come in handy.
Elgon:  I'm on it.

  The rest of the day - and the night - were silent and uneventful.  If
there were any swamp creatures, they stayed in the swamp; if there were
any savages here, they feared the swamp and the surrounding area.  Otto
and Belphanior had both worried that undead might be on patrol, or even
simply wandering, due to the high chance of undead lurking at the spot
marked on Pallin's map, where they were headed.  All were surprised at
dawn by the uneventful night.

Skektek:  Maybe they know we're coming.
Belphanior:  I doubt it...if it was me, and I did, I'd have attacked.
Otto:  Unless their manpower is so low that they can't afford to send
  anything out to get us, and instead have to let us come to them, so
  they can do more damage with less.
Belphanior:  Well, we need all the daylight we have today.  Let's get
  going.  (he looks at Pallin's map, where a large black "X", in magical
  ink, pulses on the parchment)  I'm going to become invisible and fly
  ahead...see what I can see ahead of you.  (he hands the map to Otto)
  I'll whistle like a bird before I come back and land, so you won't
  shoot me out of the sky.
Otto:  Right.
Sir Dremel:  That's good thinking...clever.
Belphanior:  You should see my plans for when we find the evil ones.
Skektek:  I hope it involves a fireball or two.
Sir Dremel:  (thinking of his slain brother)  As do I.
Belphanior:  Tough fights call for tough tactics.

  After the elf vanished from sight and took to the air, the others
entered the swamp.  The good news was that the ground wasn't too watery
or muddy, but rather a thin and dry layer of mud.  There was also good
visibility, for the trees were tall, thin, and widely-spaced.  The bad
news was that the temperature and humidity were rather high, and the
tiny biting insects made it worse.  Only Ys was unbothered by these
pests, which seemed to travel in small swarms as well as individually
(and relatively unseen, given the dozens of annoying bites without any
apparent culprits.)

Ys:  Something about my skin and blood...they don't like it.
Skektek:  Don't sound so jolly.

  There was no days-long march, no grueling journey to the place they
sought.  Belphanior simply reappeared as planned, bearing important news.

Belphanior:  (lands on the muddy ground)  I found it...right where the
  map shows it.  It's less than half an hour's march ahead of us now.
Otto:  What exactly is "it"?
Belphanior:  A small half-built temple.  They did a pretty good job of
  disguising its presence, but my magical eye saw the truth.
Elgon:  (smirks)
Belphanior:  It's little more than a hut, actually, but I'm guessing a
  lot more lies beneath.
Skektek:  Not for long.
Belphanior:  (to Skektek)  I know we need fire and lightning and all of
  your favorite tricks for this battle, but remember that we're seeking
  the treasures of Xusia.  Many of them may be in paper form...and
  therefore flammable and easily-destroyed.  Which is not what I want.
Skektek:  Aie...good point.
Belphanior:  Just try and think, if possible, before you use any heavy-
  duty magic.  That's all.
Skektek:  Gotcha.

  Soon, they had staked out the temple, though to everyone else it
looked like a large clump of bushes.

Elgon:  Well, I see a temple too.  (he scratches his head)  Illusions
  never were much good against my people.
Belphanior:  Good, then you can help spot any others I might miss.

  The party took concealed positions about a hundred feet from the
target, speaking only in whispered voices.  Belphanior considered using
a spell of silence to mask the temple, but decided that any benefit
thus gained wouldn't be worth the risk of those inside detecting the

Belphanior:  (uses his sword to cast a haste spell upon himself)  That
  should speed things up.  Blackrazor, unfortunately, only lets me use
  the haste on myself, no others-
Skektek:  (working a spell)  I can haste all of us...if you're all
  willing, that is?

  There wasn't a single party member who would say no to doubling their
speed for this battle, and shortly, that had been accomplished.

Belphanior:  You all know the plan, as we discussed.  Any last-minute

  Seeing that there were none, the elf took an arcane tome from his
portable hole and opened it.  The Book of Beasts had many summoning
powers, and he began utilizing them to an extent never before tried
since he'd acquired the book.  Allies began to materialize...five
orcs, four gnolls, three bugbears, two ogres, a minotaur, a troll,
and a hill giant.

Skektek:  Well, there's a definite pattern here.
Belphanior:  Whew.  (he surveys these troops, obviously weary from the
  effort of summoning them with the book)  I know all of you can hear
  and understand me.  I've summoned you here for a reason:  to take
  that temple.  There's a sack of gold in it for each of you once the
  battle is done.  (he points at the temple)  Now get to it.

  The humanoids didn't need any more urging; they charged toward the
temple, fanning out as they neared it.  As expected, defenders emerged
to combat these intruders:  skeletons, zombies, ghouls, and a few
more powerful undead.

Belphanior:  One thing's for sure:  we won't see any vampires right now,
  in broad daylight.
wispy thing:  nrrrp.
Sir Dremel:  (knuckles white on his sword's handle)  We must join the-
Belphanior:  No, we won't.  Let the shock troops get killed, then we'll
  have a better idea of who and what we're facing.  (he opens the Book
  of Beasts again and begins working one of its more powerful spells)

  While the humanoids and undead fought by the temple, and the other
adventurers readied spells or weapons, Belphanior polymorphed a large
rock into a stone golem, and sent it toward the fray with a specific

Elgon:  Whoa.  That isn't real-
Belphanior:  It's real enough to do the one thing I need it to do.
Skektek:  When do we move in?
Belphanior:  About now...everyone spread out, take the temple from all
  directions.  Don't get too close - I'll act first, and then you'll
  know it's time.  (he turns invisible)
Otto:  Let's go, people - move out!

  Near the temple, all was violence and gore.  Fallen humanoids and
undead (or parts of undead) were everywhere.  The giant, the troll,
one ogre, and a half-dozen of the smaller humanoids still lived; the
rest had fallen.  The minotaur had been felled by a mummy, before it
had fallen to the giant's war-club.  One ogre had been mobbed by six
wights, but they had been hacked to bits by the other attackers.  Now,
the surviving humanoids faced the temple's doorway - little more than
a small archway, actually.

hill giant:  (pointing to the entrance, he yells something)
orcs:  (two of them, they charge in, weapons flashing)

  Only a few moments later, terrible screams issued from the interior
of the temple.  Just then, the polymorph-golem reached the temple, and
carried out its orders.

polymorph-golem:  (grabs one of the temple's exterior walls and pulls
  upward and outward)

  The temple shook as the wall came loose; the summoned help moved to
the next wall and did the same thing.  At this point, the rest of the
structure collapsed, and the false golem began moving the larger stone
chunks out of the way.  There wasn't much need, though - most of the
debris had fallen down a large, wide stairway that had lain within
the outer structure.  In fact, something stirred in the rubble and dust

polymorph-golem:  (hit by a gray beam, it turns back into a rock)
gnoll:  (standing there with its sword ready, it is hit by a black ray
  and falls, one leg withered into a fleshless stick)  Aieeeee!

  A horrific sight greeted all those present:  a six-foot-wide spherical
body, topped with eyes on stalks, rose from the stairway below.  It was
a beholder, no doubt about that - except that its body was mostly rotted
away, with numerous round ribs protruding.  Some of the stalked eyes
were missing, and the larger central eye was milky and diseased.

undead beholder:  WAUGH.

next:      Xusia's legacy
released:  3/5/04
notes:     I promise you two things about the next couple of episodes:
  one, they will wrap up this story arc, and two, that the revelations
  found within will blow you away.

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