Chapter #965

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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       +
+   1991-2007 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        +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   iron golem     one of Belphanior's golems captured from Xusia         +
+   stone golem    one of Belphanior's golems captured from Xusia         +
+                                                                         +
+   Kronos         extremely powerful lich                                +
+   ~300 zombies   battalion of unusually powerful zombie warriors        +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Neera          11th level human female sage/astrologer                +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Date:          12/3/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         somewhere deep within the Sea of Dust                  +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "Effort is the difference between victory and defeat."                +
+                                                            - unknown    +

                   CMLXV.  Battle Beneath the Dunes

  After fighting his way through a room full of undead and attacking a
mysterious but hostile robed figure, Mongo has had an unpleasant surprise
as Stormcrest failed to return to his hand after being thrown...

Mongo:  Well, that's not good.
robed figure:  (walks out of the exit passageway, spellcasting)
Mongo:  Shit.

  The dwarf didn't know what had happened to his warhammer, but he wasn't
going to just stand there and wait for the foe to cast some spell.  With
a loud battle-cry, Mongo charged toward the robed figure, fists raised.

  He made it to within ten feet of the enemy, before the very rock of
the chamber's floor rose up all around him!  In moments, Mongo's body
was completely encased in stone, which instantly hardened into a hemi-
spherical prison that jutted out of the floor.

Al-arakara:  So much for that.

  The ancient mummy-king was an exceptionally fast learner, and after
the massive blow he'd suffered from that hammer the first time, he had
no desire to experience such pain a second time.  A simple illusionary
decoy had given the dwarf a false target, and when that mighty hammer
flew, the trap had been fully sprung.  A small bubble of force, its
location fixed and immobile, now held the weapon in place within the
exit passageway.  Better yet, the hammer's wielder - who appeared to
be a skilled dwarven warrior - was now entombed in solid rock, where
there would be no escape as he suffocated.
  Quite pleased with himself, Al-arakara stepped out to survey the domed
chamber and the battle that raged within...and was immediately hit by a
thick lightning bolt, the powerful blast of pure energy knocking him back
into the exit passage yet another time.

Belphanior:  (on the opposite side of the domed chamber, he nods with
  approval)  Nice.
Skektek:  Thanks.  (he lowers his hand and switches rings)  And thanks
  for reversing my petrification.  What now?
Belphanior:  Now, we go finish him off before he recovers.  (he turns to
  his golems)  Follow.

  Both wizards were flight-capable, so they simply sailed right over the
masses of fighting undead that filled the big room.  Meanwhile, the pair
of golems (one iron, one stone) walked through all the fighting undead,
neither attacking nor defending themselves, just moving from one end to
the other.  A few of the undead from both sides attacked one or the other
golem, without any success or reaction.  One particularly slow-moving
zombie found itself in harm's way...

dumb zombie:  (falls and gets its head crushed beneath the metal foot of
  the iron golem)  Rrrr-  <SQUORLCH>
iron golem:  (marches ahead, uncaring)

  Meanwhile, at the far end of the domed chamber, the rough bubble of
solid rock which imprisoned Mongo quivered, ever so slightly.

  As for Belphanior and Skektek, by the time they reached the opening to
the exit passageway, Al-arakara had apparently recovered, judging from
the spray of daggers that burst forth from that corridor without warning.

Belphanior:  Look out!  (he purposely flies into Skektek, knocking him
  out of the path of the dozens of small blades)
Skektek:  Hey-

  Belphanior's stoneskin absorbed the impact of the five blades that hit
him, but he was unharmed, as was Skektek.

Skektek:  (spots Al-arakara, and ceases his complaining to Belphanior)
  So one bolt wasn't enough for you, eh?  (he brandishes his elemental
  rod)  Here, have another.

  The powerful quasi-artifact flared to life, but so did the mummy-king's
next spell, as a huge claw of pure force appeared in the air between the
undead lord and his two mortal foes.  This claw actually _caught_ the
miniature fireball that Skektek had launched, and the talons closed into
a fist, smothering the blast with a muffled THUMP.

Belphanior:  I thought you were going to hit him with another lightning
Skektek:  I was trying to fake him out.  It would have worked, too.
Belphanior:  (unsure whether he can get a spell around that gigantic
  interposing force-claw, he instead releases his three-headed dog, the
  alter-ego of the tiny figurine he got in the Tomb of Panagaea)
wild three-headed hound:  (barks savagely with all three heads at once,
  then bounds madly in the direction of Al-arakara)

  The elf was trying hard to execute his attacks on the spur of the
moment, so that any ESPing efforts from Al-arakara would have the least
possible chance of success.  The tactic worked well this time:  if the
mummy-king moved the force-claw to stop the ferocious hound, he would
expose himself to another spell...and if he kept the claw in place to
shield against spell attacks, the summoned beast would tear into him.
It seemed that Al-arakara didn't consider the triple-headed dog to be a
serious threat, for the force-claw remained in place.

wild three-headed hound:  (snarling and drooling, it leaps at the mummy-
  king, ripping and clawing and biting with powerful jaws and claws)
Al-arakara:  (reels, arms flying madly as he tries in vain to protect
  himself against this savage attack)

  Had the dog been a normal animal - even a war dog - this would have
been no contest, for the mummy-king possessed inhuman strength as well
as touch-inflicted attacks.  However, the three-headed hound was far
more powerful and aggressive than any normal animal, and it was also
magic in nature, which rendered it immune to a number of ill effects.
Al-arakara's steelskin spell was seriously depleted by the previous
attacks of Mongo and Skektek, and it wasn't long before the summoned
dog's savage mauling began to inflict real wounds and cause real pain.
The mummy-king was unable to work even the easiest spell while being
attacked so aggressively, as all of his attention was focused on keeping
himself from being bitten by three snapping, snarling sets of powerful
jaws and sharp teeth.
  Meanwhile, Belphanior and Skektek moved around the force-claw, each
of them taking one side (left and right) as they closed the distance
between themselves and Al-arakara.  However, this gigantic claw - which
was undoubtedly a spell in the same spirit as the traditional Bigby's
hand spells - possessed a mind of its own, moving to stop Skektek as
he tried to fly around it.  Actually, it didn't just stop him, but also
swiped at him, slashing four gashes in his clothing and flesh!

Skektek:  Aaaargh!  (he immediately flies back, away from the suddenly-
  more-dangerous floating claw now)  What the hell?!?
Belphanior:  (darts around the other side, heading for the struggling
  forms of Al-arakara and the three-headed hound)

  The elf was very close to believing that he had the mummy-king at a
disadvantage and could exploit that, slaying the powerful foe once and
for all...and then everything came apart.

giant skeletal snake:  (moves noisily out of the exit passage, past Al-
  arakara and the three-headed dog, and lunges at Belphanior)

  The thing was about twenty feet long, and really consisted of little
more than a giant skeletal snake spine topped with a fanged skull.  Even
so, it had long, sharp teeth that could easily impale a foe...

Belphanior:  (leaps back, barely avoiding the fangs as they snap at the
  spot where he just stood)  Damn!  (he readies his sword)

  Further reinforcements were emerging from that passage now...serious

bone golem:  (fully ten feet tall, and covered with long, jagged spikes
  of bleached white bone)
warrior-mummies:  (two of them, wearing plate mail armor and bearing
  longswords, they move out to flank the golem)
wizard-mummy:  (clad in rotting black robes, it points at the three-headed
  dog, and a volley of magical missiles spurt forth, blasting the beast
  about its heads and body)
Belphanior:  No,
Al-arakara:  (given this brief respite, he stands up, gesturing wildly
  with his hands)
giant force-claw:  (instantly responds, leaving Skektek alone and flying
  over to the three-headed dog, which is back on its feet and far angrier
  than before, if that is possible)

  The huge spectral hand grabbed the wild animal suddenly, unaffected by
its claws and teeth...and hurled it across the large room, where it fell
amidst the battling undead warriors and out of sight.

  And nearby, unnoticed by all, the rough blister of rock that contained
Mongo cracked, a tiny and almost imperceptible fissure that gradually
worked its way down the surface of the stony mass.

Belphanior:  (tries to parry another attack by the giant skeletal snake,
  but find that his edged weapon is of very little use against the bony
giant skeletal snake:  (opens a long gash across the elf's arm with one
  of its fangs)
Al-arakara:  (looks around, then clenches his fists slowly)  The time has
  come to end this.
Otto:  That sounds good to me.

  The dwarf - as well as Ys, Razor Charlie, and Jenna - had grouped at
the other end of the large domed chamber and then fought their way across
it.  Weary and covered in gore, they now stood here, ready to reinforce
Belphanior and Skektek.  Better yet, both of the golems Belphanior had
brought had crossed the room on their own and now stood behind the elf,
awaiting his next command.  Neither side made a move, each waiting for
orders from its leader; those two leaders now glared at one another with
more than a little contempt.

Belphanior:  Heh.
Al-arakara:  You should not have returned here, for the-  (he pauses,
  looking around slowly) amiss.
Kronos:  (appears suddenly, twenty feet above the floor and just behind
  Belphanior)  A most astute observation, my old enemy.

next:       finale
released:   4/13/07
notes:      I'll probably write a rant about it this week, but if you
  haven't seen _Grind House_, you should.  It's more than three hours
  of pure, chaotic entertainment and I highly recommend it.

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