Chapter #830

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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        +
+   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:          5/23/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         an oddly overgrown chamber in some unknown dungeon     +
+   Climate:       warm and humid                                         +
+   "Everything lost is meant to be found."                               +
+                            - from _Tomb Raider:  The Cradle of Life_    +

                    DCCCXXX.  Ferocious Foliage

  While exploring the gateway room in the latest secret hideaway of
Xusia, the party has come under attack from animated vegetation!

            /\       |         |
           /  \      |    *    #   <--- gateway arch
          /____\     |_________|

                                               * = party
          __50'_     |---100'--|

Otto:  (pulled to the floor by a vine around his ankle)  Unf!

  The entire floor, in fact, was now a seething mass of thin, snaking
green vines.  In addition, a number of large, wavy flowers had risen up
and opened, facing the adventurers.  It was painfully apparent that all
of this plant life had been hiding beneath a disguise of dead (or at
least seemingly-dead) grass and vines.

Belphanior:  Everyone scatter, now!  (he leaps to one side and rolls
  away as a cluster of tiny darts whizzes past, fired from one of the
  wavy flowers)  Shit!  (he slashes at a vine that writhes toward him,
  nicking it)
Elgon:  (jumps away as several vines creep toward his ankles)
Otto:  (hacking at the vine around his ankle, he finds it dense and
  highly resistant to edged weapons)  Dammit!  These things are tough!
Ys:  (swings his gigantic sword, chopping through a number of vines that
  menace the others)  Bah.
Jenna:  (finishing a spell, she fails to see a couple of vines heading
  her way)
Razor Charlie:  Look out!  (he leaps onto one of them, smashing it with
  his boot)

  This effort wasn't enough, though, and the vine quickly wrapped itself
around the warrior's leg, as did another vine moments later.

Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at the vines, and then begins sawing away at
  one of them with a knife)
Jenna:  (to Belphanior)  I sense a central presence...maybe a mind of
  some kind...if we could find it, we could stop all of these drones'
  attacks.  (she gasps suddenly, hit by a cluster of the tiny darts
  fired by one of the flowers)
Otto:  Damn...(he finds his sword-arm held by a new vine)  We've got to
  do something!
Skektek:  (menaced by several creeping vines, he does the first thing
  that occurs to him, launching a lightning bolt at the vines and also
  the entire area of the room behind them)

  It was a gut reaction, both helpful and problematic at the same time.
A wide swath of the tenacious vines and attacking flowers was burned
away, replaced by a wide, black scorch mark on the floor.  Those plants
near the lightning's path were burned and wilted.  Even the ones not hit
by the attack were still affected; they began quivering, as if in pain,
and those wrapped around various adventurers uncoiled and thrashed about
  On the down side, the chamber was now filled with thick, acrid fumes
that made it impossible to see anything.

Skektek:  (coughing)  Damn-
Belphanior:  (covers his mouth with a fold of his cloak)  Everyone head
  for the door, fast, before we die from smoke inhalation!  I'll lead
  the way in case there's something we have to fight.  Ys, hack apart
  any vines still in our way.  Charlie, grab Jenna!

  The elf wasted no time putting a spell of light upon a chunk of dead
vine, and he dashed forth, lighting the way for the others.  The door at
the far side of the room had no traps or magic that his crystal eye could
detect, so he opened it carefully, standing to one side.  Beyond was a
long, narrow chamber - obviously a storage room of some sort.  Its walls
to left and right were lined with small shelves, which were filled with
bottles and vials...but Belphanior didn't worry about that just yet.  He
focused on guiding everyone into this area, where they could breathe and
see and not have to worry about dangerous plant life.

Belphanior:  (pulls Skektek through the doorway)  That's everybody.  (he
  slams the door)  Whew.
Skektek:  (still coughing)  Sorry, guys...I sometimes don't have time to
  think things through when confronted with attackers, and that room was
  smaller than it looked.
Otto:  Hey, you killed the fuckers.  No worries.
Elgon:  (looking at the shelves in awe)  This may be the world's biggest
  potion cache.
Belphanior:  Maybe, but I wouldn't want to be the one doing a taste test
  on them.  We need to do some magical checking...after we figure out
  if Jenna's okay.

  The priestess was unconscious, and the skin where the darts had hit
her was a bright shade of red.  Elgon used a spell to draw out whatever
poison was in her body, and the wound instantly faded, almost to nothing.

Elgon:  I think it was just sleep poison.
Otto:  I bet that plant-thing had some hidden mouth somewhere, ready to
  eat whatever sleeping victims it could get.
Skektek:  (chuckles)  Not anymore.
Otto:  I wonder, was this a trap by Xusia, or something else?
Belphanior:  I'd guess something else...maybe some kind of experiment
  gone wrong, or something that got in through a crack in the wall...
  though, as an undead being, Xusia probably wouldn't have had much to
  fear from the plant-things anyway.
Jenna:  (stirs, then sits up)  What happened?
Belphanior:  Some bad flowers.  (he looks around)  We need to secure the
  area.  Otto and Elgon, check the far end of this room for exits or
  anything else.  Ys and Charlie, watch our rear, in case some of those
  plants yet live.
Skektek:  Impossible.
Belphanior:  Maybe, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen.
wispy thing:  (appears from behind a shelf)  spfff!
Belphanior:  (to Jenna)  Are you feeling well enough to work some magic?
Jenna:  (nods)  I think so.
Belphanior:  (gestures to the hundreds of potions on the shelves)  Then
  can you give us a general idea of which ones are worth taking, without
  someone having to sip or scry every single one?
Jenna:  I can try.  (she begins spellcasting)

  The results of their various explorations and divinations were quite
encouraging.  Jenna was having problems determining the exact nature of
the potions only because of their sheer number - there were hundreds.
A full examination and sorting would take a number of hours, and a lot
more magic and effort.  However, at the far end of the storeroom was a
small, magically locked door; once this was checked and its protections
bypassed, it opened to reveal a small stone staircase winding upward.
A hundred feet up, this spiral stairway ended at a platform with another
magically locked door.  Beyond it was a large stone portal with a lever,
like that found in the previous hideaway; raising the lever raised the
door, exposing a bright, sunny day outdoors and rolling grassland as far
as the eye could see.

Belphanior:  (putting a cupped hand over his eyes, he scans the horizon)
  That speck out there may be a town or village.
Jenna:  (concentrating)  Quite likely.
Otto:  Good.  We need some fresh air anyway.
Jenna:  And some rest.
Ys:  And some good food.

  The only question was how to prevent the thick stone door from closing
after they left (in case it had some kind of enchantment to not remain
open for long.)  There was no lever on the outside, and if it decided to
close itself after they left, there was nothing they could do to stop it
or block it.

Otto:  There's nothing around here to use to block it trees,
  boulders, or such.
Ys:  (eyeing the thick, heavy door in its open position)  This portal
  would probably crush anything we used to try and block it, anyway.
Belphanior:  Let's not worry about it.  If it closes, we'll teleport to
  safety if need be.  No sense worrying about how to bypass a problem
  when we have other alternatives.
Skektek:  True...but what we do need to worry about is how we're going
  to find this exact spot when we return from the village.  I mean, this
  place is set into a small, grassy hillock, which looks exactly like all
  the other small, grassy hillocks around here.
Jenna:  I can handle that.  (she begins working a spell)  My magic will
  mark this place - in a way only I can detect - and we'll then know
  exactly where to return.
Belphanior:  (nods in approval)

  After a lunch break and rest, they began the march toward the distant
speck - which was indeed a small town, as they saw after an hour of
travel.  By dusk, they had reached the place:  a small but prosperous
settlement that appeared to make a living by farming.  The question of
where in the world they were, exactly, had been racing through all the
adventurers' minds.  The answer turned out to be simple, yet surprising.

Belphanior:  Come again?
villager:  Furyondy.  This is the farming town of Shrubbage...we're a
  few days' ride to the west of the city of Willip.
Belphanior:  Ah.  (he looks around)  Well, thanks.

  Shortly, the group held a discussion while having drinks and snacks
at a corner table of a tavern...

Belphanior:  Furyondy.  I guess it makes sense...the lich wouldn't have
  all of his secret hideaways in remote places.
Otto:  Hell, this would be perfect for a scouting force, or even an
  invasion force.  The door we emerged from was hidden among hillocks
  and high grass, and its outside was covered in dirt and grass too.
  When the door's closed, nobody would ever find it.  Xusia could have
  sent scouts through it, into Furyondy.
Ys:  (nods)  A very strategic location, this.
Razor Charlie:  (drains his beer, then grimaces)
Elgon:  How do you drink that dark, bitter stuff?
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)  It's good.
Jenna:  (makes a face, then turns to Belphanior)  So what next?
Belphanior:  I have no great desire, or reason, to stay in Furyondy.
  We'll rest here, then buy some cheap horses and ride back to the
  gateway in the morning.
Skektek:  And see where it leads next?
Belphanior:  Right.
Otto:  There may not be cheap horses...this is a small farming town and
  it's late spring.  I'd say let's hire a cart to take us back out to
  the gateway, but then we might have a curious farmer poking around.
Belphanior:  Agreed.  We need horses, and price is no object.  (he
  smirks)  Especially since I have enough money to buy a hundred towns
  like this.  Horses, I say.
Otto:  (nods)

  The next twelve hours were uneventful; they purchased a few fresh
supplies, arranged for seven horses to be saddled and ready at dawn,
found decent lodging, and got a good night's sleep.  Morning found the
group ready to depart the small town.

Ys:  (points at the largest of the seven horses)  That animal may not
  be able to hold my weight.
horse #7:  (eyes the reptilian unhappily)

  Eventually, the adventurers were off, and they reached the gateway
in less than an hour.

Belphanior:  I knew these horses were a good idea.
Skektek:  It beats walking.
Elgon:  What will become of them now?
Otto:  I'd guess they'll head back to town.  Maybe some kid will find
  them and make some money selling them back.

  They found the gateway door wide open, with some leaves and dirt
now in the top chamber.  the small, magically-locked door had shut and
locked itself, so that had to be bypassed.  They pulled the lever and
brought the exterior door down, then headed into the depths of the small
dungeon, and back to the gateway chamber.  The charred remains of the
animated plants littered the gateway room, and the adventurers noticed
something odd:  bits and pieces of the plant life had begun to bloom and
sprout once more.

Belphanior:  The damn thing's regenerating.
Skektek:  Maybe I should blast it again.
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Not if we're leaving...don't waste the
  magic.  Besides, it'll take this thing days to be dangerous again.
  (he considers whether someone like Al-arakara might ever venture to
  this place, somehow)  Heh.
Otto:  So where next?  Which rune?
Skektek:  I've deciphered a couple more, in addition to those we knew
  about before...

  It was eventually decided to try the dial setting corresponding to
the "crystal" or "gem" rune.

Skektek:  That's my rough interpretation, anyway.
Otto: sounds promising.
Belphanior:  Or at least interesting.  (he activates the gateway, and
  steps forward, leading the party by example)

  As the elf entered the magical mists, his last conscious thought was
that something was wrong...badly, terribly wrong.

next:       a nasty surprise
released:   7/23/04
notes:      I grow bored of this arc, and I know why, and it's the same
  thing as always:  I have trouble writing in high-power/magic settings.
  It's not that I can't - it's that I don't like it and I don't enjoy it.
  So many people advise me to just "tune it down" a little, but I can't
  just change the way the fictional world runs after 10 years and 800+
  episodes.  At the same time, I hesitate to officially and truly end
  the saga, because then things become final and all my doors are closed.
    Same old problems.  I just didn't want anyone to think that they'd
  gone away.

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