Chapter #1050

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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       +
+   1991-2020 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     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+     Poulos       gigantic, beefy former slave with scimitar             +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+     Williamson   a young human soldier                                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+                                                                         +
+   Benjamin       a human bricklayer-turned-fighter                      +
+   Paige          a human female warrior                                 +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          unknown (just over three weeks since arrival)          +
+   Time:          night                                                  +
+   Place:         an unknown land on the far side of the mists           +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "He had crashed through the barrier.  He had stopped worrying and     +
+    started relaxing.  He was up on that plateau where you just did      +
+    whatever needed doing.  I knew that place.  I lived there."          +
+                                  - from _Killing Floor_, by Lee Child   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   ML.  Siege, Ermoor, and Beyond





  After regrouping, the entire party (bolstered by a few new allies) is
now situated in one place, several hours into what promises to be a very
long night.

Belphanior:  (peers out into the gradually-increasing darkness, one hand
  resting on the pommel of the sword sheathed at his side)  Actually...I
  feel pretty good about this.

  The thirty-foot-wide, twenty-foot deep ditch that surrounded their camp
had sheer sides - by design as Hope had done the digging with her magic.
Zombies periodically stumbled over the edge and fell into the deep trench,
but had no chance of climbing up onto this side...unless they suddenly
demonstrated ability they hadn't used in previous encounters.  To be safe,
the warriors constantly patrolled the perimeter of the square of land.
This duty fell to two rotating shifts of three; the current one consisted
of Razor Charlie, Williamson, and Poulos.  The other shift - Otto, Paige,
and Benjamin - were resting, and would relieve the first three in a couple
of hours.  This patrolling rotation would alternate several times during
the course of the evening and night.

Razor Charlie:  (holding a blazing torch during this patrol, as that will
  prove a more effective weapon against any undead than his thrown knives,
  especially in the dark)

  The sentries constantly walked the perimeter of the inner section; it
was somewhat boring work, but was also necessary.  The zombies which had
wandered (and fallen) into the ditch thus far only numbered in the dozens,
but there were plenty more out there.  If enough of them got piled up, it
was conceivable that some could reach the camp.  To fend off the darkness
brought by sunset, multiple spells of light had been cast upon poles set
into the ground around the perimeter.  While this undoubtedly helped to
attract more of the creatures, it also ensured that those adventurers
lacking night vision (which was most of them) could clearly see into the
ditch below at all times.  Belphanior and Otto's eyes had already gotten
used to the light level in the camp; it was annoying to them, but not a
major issue.
  Barrels of oil were distributed throughout the camp, for use on large
concentrations of zombies if that became necessary.  Other measures that
had been discussed included minor offensive or immobilizing spells (magic
missiles, acid arrows, burning hands, webs, and the like.)  Additionally,
the large piles of displaced dirt on the far side of the square ditch -
which helped reduce the number of zombies that made it into the excavated
barrier - could be pulled back into the ditch by magic.  This would bury
anything within that area, but would also make it easier for other foes
to cross.
  If more drastic measures were required at some point, then the sorts
of large-scale destructive spells favored by Skektek would be employed.
And, as strategized by Hope and explained to the others, the absolute
last-ditch defensive measure would be a wall of fire.  This was both a
powerful and versatile option:  it could completely protect the square
section of land that held the party and their horses, it would basically
incinerate anything approaching it from the outside while remaining cool
and safe on the inside, and it could be maintained for quite some time.
If or when the wall of fire were to fail, other types of magical barriers
could be conjured into place within its bounds.  And of course, all the
while, the other two wizards could take to the air and bombard attackers
from a safe position.  This sequence of tactics for a progressively-
worsening situation wasn't ideal, but it did give them a structured plan
in case things got worse.
  Until then, of course, Hope and Skektek were sleeping, so that their
magical abilities would be at full strength when needed.  As usual in
these sorts of situations, Belphanior had no desire to sleep, and he
wanted one wizard awake during the night anyway.  Plus his magic was at
nearly full strength.  Thus, he roamed the square section of campsite,
thinking and re-thinking things in his head.

Belphanior:  (continues mumbling to himself)
Irina:  (approaches)  What's that?

  Like the elf, the priestess of Istus had been unable to sleep; the two
of them were basically extra sentries, positioned in the central area to
add a separate set of eyes beyond the three who constantly patrolled the
camp's edge.

Belphanior:  I was thinking how ironic it is that we, the "extra eyes" of
  the campsite right now, are both missing one.
Irina:  Heh.
Belphanior:  I've been meaning to ask you...did your ability to see and
  react diminish with the loss of an eye?  (he doesn't wait for an answer)
  Mine definitely has, and it's affecting everything I do - from fighting
  to targeting my spells to seeing distant objects, especially when I'm
  in the air.  I'm wondering what you did, or do, to compensate for the
  missing eye.
Irina:  (sighs)  This can be dealt with, if not fully overcome, but that
  will take time and work.  At first, everything's a bit...off, as you
  just said.  The trick is to practice - with weapons, spells, whatever -
  until you get used to using only one eye.  Assuming we get home fairly
  soon, I'm not sure this will be worth your-
Belphanior:  (holds up a hand)  It's worth the effort, to me.  Once we're
  free of this zombie situation, I'd like to do some sparring, with you
  guiding and advising me.  It could mean the difference between life and
  death sometime soon.
Irina:  Very well.  I'll teach you everything I know about this.
Belphanior:  Thanks.  (he gazes out into the night)  So you couldn't sleep
  either?
Irina:  (frowns as yet another low moan comes from a zombie somewhere out
  there in the darkness beyond the camp)  Are you kidding?
Belphanior:  Point.
Irina:  I can't sleep at a time like this - I'd rather be out here where
  I'll be among the first to know if things get bad.  (she frowns)  And I
  don't need much sleep anyway.  It would be a different matter if Istus'
  power was within my reach, because then I'd be praying for her magic
  every night, and needing more rest afterward.  But...right now, that's
  not the case, and so I'm only a warrior.
Belphanior:  A hell of a warrior.
Irina:  (shrugs)  Speaking of which, what's the story with that woman you
  found out there?
Belphanior:  Paige?  Hmm.  I don't have all the details yet - it didn't
  really seem like the right time to ask - but apparently she was part of
  an adventuring party that got overwhelmed and slaughtered.  I watched
  her dispatch her last companion before he could become a zombie.  She
  seems competent enough.  Most people wouldn't have been able to deal
  with that, especially the way she did.  No hesitation at all - she just
  did what needed to be done.
Irina:  Well, we can certainly use her in this situation.  Every single
  person who can fight increases our chances.
Belphanior:  I have no doubt that we'll survive this - none.  My concern
  lies in the finding of a way back home, and then actually getting there.
Irina:  (nods, amazed at the elf's unwavering, intense focus on the long-
  term problem while simultaneously dealing with the shorter-term one)
Belphanior:  (looks out into the darkness again, as the low, keening moans
  of the undead continue)
Irina:  That's...eerie.  They just never stop.
Williamson:  (approaches, his crossbow ready in his hands, as his patrol
  route brings him past the other two)
Belphanior:  How goes it?
Williamson:  So far, so good.  More of them have fallen into the moat,
  but so far they're just milling around down there.  They can't get up
  here.
Irina:  Or haven't figured out how to, just yet.  (she shudders)
Belphanior:  Don't worry.  If they do, we've got a plan to deal with it.
Williamson:  (notes a zombie that continues to try to climb up this side
  of the ditch)  These things don't give up, do they?  (he raises his
  crossbow, and lines up a head shot...then pauses)
zombie #116:  (groping at the sheer side of the depression, it slips and
  falls for the third time since the young warrior has been watching it)
Williamson:  (sighs)
Belphanior:  Why don't you just shoot it?
Williamson:  (lowers his crossbow)  What's the point?  That one's not any
  threat, not right now anyway.  Better to save my bolts for when they
  actually count.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Good choice.
Williamson:  (shaking his head, he continues with his sentry duty, walking
  away)
Irina:  The kid's brave, I'll give him that.
Belphanior:  They all are...Poulos, Benjamin...Paige...
Irina:  We're gathering quite a collection, aren't we?
Belphanior:  (simply nods)

  The priestess decided to try again to get some rest, and headed for the
center of the camp, leaving the elf by himself.  The next hours passed
much the same...those who were awake watched the darkness, chatting for
short periods when passing one another...the sentry rotation then changed
in the middle of the night...and most of the zombies who approached the
area eventually spilled into the ditch, falling over its far side.  From
there, they either stood up (if they were able) or else crawled around on
their bellies; either way, they all eventually made their way to the side
of the ditch's wall closer to the camp.  Upon reaching the sheer twenty-
foot wall that protected the site, they tried and failed to ascend, most
often falling on their backs...and then rising up to try again.  It would
have been comical if not for the fact that the things were lethal, their
rotted minds focused on consuming the flesh of the living.

Benjamin:  (passes by Belphanior's current location)  They seem somewhat
  predictable.  Although I'm not sure why some of them aren't walking up
  to the edge and falling in, like most of the others.  Could those ones
  be more intelligent?
Belphanior:  I hope not.

  It randomly occurred to the elf that the ditch actually wasn't a moat,
not unless it was filled with water, or something else.  Oil would have
been ideal.

Belphanior:  Anything new?
Benjamin:  No.  I hope those we just relieved can get some rest.  I know
  I didn't get much.
Belphanior:  You'll learn, over time.  All warriors and soldiers develop
  that skill eventually...the ability to grab short naps and get rest, in
  the middle of these sorts of situations.
Benjamin:  But do their situations involve walking corpses that eat the
  flesh of the living?  (shaking his head, he wanders away, holding his
  torch in one hand while his other hand keeps drifting back to the sword
  sheathed at his side)

  A short time later, the next of the roving sentries approached...

Paige:  (having opted not to carry a torch, she simply walks past, her
  sword strapped to her side and a short bow slung across her back)
Belphanior:  A bow, too?
Paige:  (shrugs)  I just strung it after I woke up.  It'll come in handy
  for picking off those things from a distance.
Belphanior:  No doubt.  Did you sleep well?
Paige:  (shrugs)  Aside from vague dreams about the undead devouring my
  entire previous adventuring party, I slept just fine.
Belphanior:  This may seem like a strange question, but are you sure that
  they're all dead...no hope of rescue?
Paige:  It would be a little late for that now, but yes, I'm sure.  As in
  no doubt.
Belphanior:  Is there anything worth salvaging from them...magic items,
  spellbooks, and the like?
Paige:  I already took care of that.  I've got our wizard's spellbook in
  my pack.  (she shakes her head)  You're welcome to it, but to be honest,
  I doubt there's anything in there you can use.  From what little I've
  seen, you people are more skilled and command more magic than our wizard
  ever did.  (she glances briefly up to the sky)  Gods rest his soul.
Belphanior:  Ah, I see.  (he pauses)  Tell me more about your old group.
Paige:  There were seven of us...the wizard and priest, a paladin, another
  warrior, a couple of thieves, and me.  The priest and paladin - Cabala
  and Koris, respectively - were in trouble right from the start, as their
  holy powers didn't work for long here.  Like I told you before, the two
  spellcasters were the first to be bitten and die.  (she frowns)  Well,
  really we had to kill them once they turned, so they died twice.  (sadly)
  Olnam was the wizard's name...he was a nice old fellow, always a perfect
  gentleman.  And one of the thieves, Dyna, fled...but didn't make it far.
  The warrior Avvro lost his mind and charged headlong into the zombies,
  sword flashing wildly...and was taken down within moments.  The paladin
  sacrificed himself to give us a chance to get away - me and Nathan, the
  one I had to dispatch when you found me.  He was the other thief.
Belphanior:  Damn.
Paige:  It's done now.  (she stares into the darkness beyond the torches'
  light)  And now I'm here.
Belphanior:  Well, hopefully we'll fare better.  We were lucky in that we
  realized the nature of those things before any of us got bitten.  And,
  of course, we've got three wizards...one of whom specializes in spells
  of mass destruction.
Paige:  Good.  We'll need that.  What about the rest?
Belphanior:  Most of them have been with me for a long time.
Paige:  One can tell, by the way you talk and work together.  If I had to
  guess, I'd say the big guy is new - he seems a little quiet and aloof.
  And the dark-skinned fellow; that one is brave, but hasn't got too much
  experience in this sort of thing.  And of course, the rosy-cheeked kid
  with the crossbow.
Belphanior:  (nods)  A very accurate assessment.  You certainly do pay
  attention to things.
Paige:  I find that I live longer that way.

  Otto was now approaching, which meant that Paige had stayed put for too
long and needed to get back to her patrol.  Without a word acknowledging
that, she simply began walking again, at a slightly faster pace in order
to get the guard rotation spaced out properly again.

Otto:  (drily)  It's probably not wise to spend too much time making idle
  chatter with the sentries, you know.
Belphanior:  Agreed.  It won't happen again.  (he regards the dwarf)  So
  other than that, what's on your mind?
Otto:  Other than the possibility that my wounds from the fight with the
  werewolf lord will cause me to suffer that curse with every full moon?
  Heh.  I was just thinking about our first adventure together, with the
  fog and the ghost-things inside it.  Remember that?
Belphanior:  Who could forget it?  That was a harrowing time...much like
  this one right now.  I guess the one does kind of resemble the other.
Otto:  I could ask why the hell these things keep happening to us, but
  I already know the answer.  We all do.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Some people just weren't destined to die of boredom.
Otto:  I'd rather not die at all, but that remains to be seen.  What are
  your thoughts on our chances here?
Belphanior:  We're not going to die here.  If all else failed - even the
  last-ditch wall of fire plan - our wizards could fly everyone away from
  here.  I don't want to do that - it would be a pain and we'd lose the
  wagon, the horses, and the supplies - but if we had to, we _could_
  escape that way.  But that would be a last-ditch measure, and we have
  other options anyway.
Otto:  How's that?
Belphanior:  Well, if we wanted to, we could blast the hell out of a bunch
  of those things, make a bridge with a spell, and drive that war-wagon
  out of here.  And maybe we will, but it's best to wait until dawn, when
  we can see clearly and when everyone's rested.
Otto:  Yup, that's kind of what I was thinking.  It'd be nice if we had
  a hundred barrels of oil...then we could immolate all the ones in that
  ditch.
Belphanior:  That would make Skektek's day.
Otto:  Or his month, or his year.  But sadly for him and for us, we just
  don't have enough oil.  (he regards the ditch) There's really no harm
  in leaving them there...it's not like they'll ever climb out.  Unless
  it rains, filling the ditch with water, and they eventually float up
  above the edge.
Belphanior:  Or if enough of them fall in, and they start to pile up, and
  climb over each other.
Otto:  Hmm...yep, that would do it.
Belphanior:  The good news is, Hope dug the ditch fairly wide, so it will
  take a lot of those things to fill it up.
Otto:  If that happens in any spot, we should drop a web on the group,
  hit them with some oil, and then ignite the whole bunch.  That's what
  I say.
Belphanior:  That sounds like a plan.  I can handle a few webs, so we
  won't need to wake the other wizards up.  It all depends on what they
  do, and we'll have to keep a close watch on them.  We should be okay,
  and have plenty of warning if we're not, but one mistake could change
  everything drastically.
Otto:  Okay, we'll see how it goes.  (he leaves to continue his patrol
  of the camp's perimeter)
Belphanior:  (noting the gradually-increasing numbers of zombies now in
  the ditch, he decides to join the others on perimeter patrol and bolster
  its strength to four people)

  The zombies seemed endless, despite some earlier efforts to thin their
ranks.  Before doing his studying and then going to sleep, Skektek had
bombarded several large clusters of undead - those far beyond the outer
edge of the ditch - with destructive spells.  This had taken care of at
least several score of the creatures, which at the time had seemed to
make a significant dent in their numbers.  However, it was easy to forget
that now, as the ditch slowly filled and more zombies shambled out of the
darkness beyond the excavated barrier.  Belphanior was beginning to think
that an entire settlement - probably the nearby Ermoor - had already been
overrun, and these were its people.  Or, more accurately, had once been.
Partial evidence of that had already been noted:  some of the undead were
garbed in clothing appropriate to common occupations...a butcher's apron
here, a chambermaid's uniform there, and so on.  The problem was clear:
how do you fight an enemy force numbering in the thousands, but scattered
all over the place?
  Then again, the zombies were slowly massing around the camp, so if the
party could escape quickly - ideally with the wagon and all the horses -
it might be possible to wipe out the vast majority of the undead with a
well-placed spell or two.  Or five.  Or ten.  Skektek would love it, and
despite the situation, Belphanior had to smile.
  Minutes crept by, and occasionally became hours.  The long night dragged
on, the weary adventurers remaining vigilant as they monitored the massing
undead.  Two times, the zombies had reached sufficient mass to present a
risk; both times, Belphanior had covered the cluster with a web, and Otto
had then torched the things (and Hope had been right - the resulting smell
was absolutely horrible.)  Several other times, the elf had targeted foes
who seemed particularly aggressive with their climbing efforts, blasting
them with magical missiles, acid arrows, or sheets of flame.  While these
small victories were quite satisfying, they didn't really do much in the
big scheme of things.  It was now obvious that the real question wasn't
whether the zombies would overrun the ditch - but rather, when.

  It didn't happen during the night, thanks to the sentries' efforts as
well as well-timed and -aimed magic, bolts, and arrows.  Dawn saw the
party's ammunition seriously depleted, and most of them exhausted...but
nothing had yet crawled out of the ditch.  And the better news was that
Hope and Skektek were relatively well-rested - and ready for action.

Belphanior:  This is what I want to do.  (he briefly outlines the plan
  that he came up with during the wee hours of the night)  I'll admit
  that I'm really tired, and may not be thinking clearly, so any of you
  can feel free to speak up.
Skektek:  I like it, but you probably already knew I would.
Hope:  It's sound.  My plan allowed us to fortify and rest, and damned
  if it didn't work, at least just long enough.  Now, your new plan will
  get us out of there, and also take care of almost all of those things,
  at least the ones gathered here.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Good.  And after we're broken free, I can get some
  rest myself.

  There wasn't anything novel or surprising about the elf's idea; it was
the same strategy he'd discussed with Otto during the latter's overnight
patrol.  A short time later - when everyone was awake, packed, briefed,
and prepared - the group put the plan into action.  Skektek used a flying
spell to become airborne, and was delighted to find that the concentration
of zombies was even more dense than they had dared hope.  There were very
few stragglers anywhere nearby; instead, the large square ditch and the
surrounding area were full of the undead.  This was a predictable side
effect of having a well-lit camp full of people and animals all night
long:  the rotting, hungry creatures had been drawn to it like moths to
a flame.  After the wizard conveyed this to the others, Hope then used
another powerful digging spell to construct an earthen bridge across the
gap; Otto drove the war-wagon across the rampart, followed by those on
horseback and the riderless horses.  As the vehicle passed, Williamson
and Poulos dumped open barrels of oil into the trench from either side,
the flammable liquid quickly flowing around numerous zombies' feet.
  This left Skektek hovering in the sky above the vacated campsite and
the huge ditch surrounding it, staring down at several hundred zombies
packed fairly tightly together.

Skektek:  Oh, yeah.

  Once the party was a safe distance away, the skinny wizard launched not
one but two immense fireballs into the massed creatures below.  The first
detonated in the midst of the tightest concentration of the things, and
incinerated at least a hundred of them, its flames not only filling the
ditch but also reaching numerous foes on the ground above.  Many zombies
not destroyed outright were instead set ablaze, and lumbered about like
animated torches until they fell into the ditch or just collapsed.  Once
the fires died down, Skektek flew around until he found the next-largest
grouping...at which point he hit them with the second fireball.
  In the distance, the others watched the inferno...

Paige:  Well, he certainly seems to be having fun.
Hope:  (shrugs)  Playing with fire...it's what he does.
Irina:  (frowns, somewhat concerned)  What if he uses up all of those
  spells and doesn't have any for later?  The day is young.
Belphanior:  Not to worry.  I told him to hold at least three fireballs
  or lightning bolts in reserve, just in case we need them later.
Irina:  Ah.  Good.
Razor Charlie:  (thinking about all of these zombies, he just grimaces)
Benjamin:  (to Belphanior)  You said "later"...where are we headed now?
Belphanior:  Ermoor.  From what you said, it's the closest settlement of
  any size, and we need to warn them, or else help them if they're in
  trouble.
Otto:  If they're in trouble, we likely won't be able to help them.  Is
  it wise to risk our lives fighting in a large, crowded city?
Paige:  He's right.  We don't have the numbers or the ability to fight
  street to street.  Trying to do that would only get us surrounded and
  then eaten.
Belphanior:  (holds up his hands)  I'm not saying we'll do that, or even
  need to.  We just need to warn the city, and let them know what's going
  on.
Paige:  You mean in case they haven't already noticed that the living dead
  are roaming the countryside?
Hope:  I'm sure they've noticed by now, and closed their gates to defend
  the town.
Poulos:  (frowns)  Let us hope they open those gates for us, then.
Belphanior:  We'll deal with all of this once we arrive.  (to Benjamin)
  This road will take us there?
Benjamin:  It's a straight shot.  We should get there by midday.
Belphanior:  Good.  We'll keep moving, but everyone needs to keep alert.
  If you see any zombies that we won't just pass without incident, ride
  out ahead and deal with them - but do it in pairs.  No one goes alone,
  and no one gets out of sight of the main group.  If we encounter any
  larger groups, we'll handle those with spells.  (he addresses Hope and
  Skektek)  Don't use up all of your pure offensive spells - mix in webs,
  pyrotechnics, even gusts of wind if those will keep the things out of
  our path.  Whatever you do - kill, slow down, trip, distract - try and
  do it to as many of them as possible, with any one spell.  (he again
  addresses the entire group)  We have to conserve our resources, think
  strategically, and be careful  - but we'll make it to Ermoor.
Benjamin:  What then?  It's a decent-sized place, but I'm not sure they
  can hold out forever against hordes of those things.
Belphanior:  We'll help them.  I figure we can fortify the place, then
  use our magic to patrol the area and systematically wipe out all the
  undead.
Otto:  (frowns)
Belphanior:  It's either that, or let the town be overrun.  And it won't
  hurt us to have a safe haven to rest, recuperate, and resupply.

  With that, they continued on their way, the big wagon moving steadily
along the road, the riders alongside.  There actually weren't that many
zombies roaming about, and very few of them were anywhere close to the
road.  The ones who did get too close were dealt with in a novel manner,
something Belphanior had been wanting to try after hearing Hope's account
of the previous day's challenges.  After moving out well in front of the
wagon, the elf employed the power of the silver rod with the small metal
fist to conjure forth a large disembodied hand - and used it to sweep the
road clear of any zombies in the way.  This tactic, while demanding his
constant concentration and focus, helped ease the burden on the others
and allowed the wagon to move faster.  Naturally, those on horseback were
able to dispatch the few creatures that ventured too close to the wagon,
using the buddy system suggested by Belphanior.  In fact, the elf's plan
was working surprisingly well, to the point where the adventurers began
to question why this was so.

Hope:  (scanning the plains all around)  Where are all the zombies?  It
  was much, much worse than this yesterday.
Irina:  I know.  It's as if they all came to visit our camp last night...
  which, while possible for those who could see it, wouldn't make sense
  for others beyond line of sight.
Skektek:  (still flying above, he sees something in the distance, does a
  double-take, then drops down to alert the others)  Heads up, everyone!
  I've spotted the town in the distance!
Williamson:  But that's a good thing, isn't it?
Skektek:  Yeah, but the large number of zombies roaming the area between
  here and there isn't.

  As they neared Ermoor, it quickly became apparent that the skinny wizard
wasn't exaggerating.  Dozens of small farmsteads dotted the land around
the town, and they were fairly well infested with undead.

Otto:  Hmm.
Belphanior:  (having drawn back to rejoin the main group when Skektek
  descended)  What do you think?
Otto:  They've congregated around all the small huts, it looks like.  We
  should have a clear path, more or less, to the town's gates if we keep
  moving and keeping the road ahead clear.
Belphanior:  I'll take care of it.  Stay alert, everyone - we're almost
  there.  (with that, he spurs his horse forward once more, pulling out
  ahead of the party and almost immediately using the summoned hand to
  swat a couple of zombies out of the road)
Hope:  (seeing this, she mutters to herself)  Bigby's Cow Catcher.  Heh.

  Meanwhile, Skektek flew ahead to scope out Ermoor and make sure its
gates were open.  If they weren't, they needed to be; and if the town's
residents weren't agreeable, an entrance could always be blasted open.
Of course, then the town's defenses wouldn't be intact, which defeated
the purpose of going there in the first place.

Skektek:  I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  I'm sure they-

  The wizard stopped talking to himself as he got a good look at the town
below - its walls, its buildings and streets, and its people.

Skektek:  Shit.

  There would be no resting, recuperating, fortifying, patrolling, or any
other such activities...for the town of Ermoor had already been overrun by
the undead.  Smoke that he'd assumed was from chimneys and cooking fires
now turned out to be from burning buildings.  The place was now fully
occupied by staggering, decomposed forms, milling about aimlessly amidst
the streets and buildings.  Bloodstains and bits of gore were everywhere,
and the smell - even from his airborne position - was overpowering.

Skektek:  (coughing, he quickly covers his mouth with a piece of cloth,
  and flies around above the town, surveying it from all angles)

  Ermoor's main gates were closed tightly, and bolted - which suggested
that one or more infected victims had gotten inside, then later bitten and
turned others.  It wouldn't have taken long...one person could have bitten
another, the two of them subsequently biting two more, and so on.  With a
shake of his head, Skektek ceased his mental musings as he realized that
the others needed to know what had happened, before they got any closer to
this grim city of the dead.  Shortly, the wizard had signaled Belphanior
to drop back and rejoin the wagon, and then he shared his observations
with everyone.

Belphanior:  What?!
Skektek:  It's completely infested.
Hope:  You make it sound like they're bugs or something.
Skektek:  They might as well be...they wander around, they eat, and they
  make more of themselves.  If that's not a bug, I don't know what is.
  (he frowns)  Besides, I hate bugs.
Paige:  I just step on them.
Benjamin:  (shakes his head sadly, thinking about the people he knew in
  the town)
Otto:  So Ermoor isn't going to work - that much is obvious.  Where the
  hell are we going to go?
Skektek:  There was a road on the far side of the city, continuing west.
Benjamin:  Yes...that leads on to the Black Forest, a few hours' ride.
Williamson:  Maybe we could get into the town, clear one tower, fortify
  it, then work our way through the rest of the place afterward.
Razor Charlie:  (idly flipping one of his throwing knives around in his
  hand, he grimaces at this idea)
Irina:  That would be awfully risky.
Paige:  Not to mention a hell of a lot of work.  We're good, but we're
  not that good.
Skektek:  (raises his hands)  It doesn't matter.  That idea won't work.
  If you'd seen the town, you'd understand - it's completely overrun.
Poulos:  Not to mention we know nothing about its layout.  We can't move
  and fight in a place like that.
Otto:  So why don't we just burn it to the ground?
Skektek:  Yes!  Now you're talking!
Hope:  What if there are people still alive in there?  I mean regular
  people, not bitten, just hiding somewhere?
Paige:  So what?  We can try and look for them, but then one of us might
  get bitten!
Benjamin:  I agree.  And I know - knew - people in Ermoor.  It hurts to
 admit it, but they're all gone now, and going in there won't change that.
Paige:  Right.  There's nothing we can do without risking diminishing our
  own numbers.
Hope:  I didn't take you for one who'd be afraid.
Paige:  (rests her hand on her sword's pommel)  Choose your next words
  carefully, sorceress.  I am not afraid to die - but I'm also not going
  to throw my life away needlessly.
Poulos:  (silently moves to interpose himself between the warrior-woman
  and Hope)
Paige:  Really?  You're not going to stop me, big boy.  If I want to get
  by, I'll go through you.
Poulos:  (arms crossed impassively)  You can try.
Belphanior:  (raises his voice)  ENOUGH!  (he looks around angrily)  We're
  not going to do this.  Arguing with each other isn't going to make a bad
  situation any better.

  The elf definitely had their attention now; the newer people hadn't ever
seen him angry, and those who had been with him for longer hadn't seen him
angry in quite some time.  His jaw was clenched firmly, and his one good
eye blazed with a fierce intensity.

Belphanior:  (working a spell)  I'm going to go have a look around the
  town.  The rest of you make your way around the town, giving it a wide
  berth, and take the road west.  Otto's in charge.  I'll be back shortly.
  (he begins working a spell of flying)
Otto:  Right.  We'll proceed with the same plan as before - riders scout
  ahead and around, cutting down any zombies nearby.  Skektek, you're in
  the air for scouting duty; save your magic unless you absolutely have to
  use it.
Skektek:  (floats up from the ground)  Got it.

  Moments later, Belphanior was already in motion, speeding toward the
unfortunate town.  He flew low, soon passing over its outer wall and then
skimming over buildings' roofs and between towers both cylindrical and
square.  It was just like Skektek had described it:  death, blood, gore,
plus the ever-present low moaning of the zombies...and the ripe, rotting
smell wafting up from their massed ranks.  It didn't seem likely that
anyone remained alive below, but the elf scrutinized the town carefully,
and also listened for any sound that might mean the presence of survivors
down there somewhere.
  At one point, he thought he saw someone on a rooftop, but it turned out
to be one of the undead whose tattered cloak was tossed about by the wind,
giving the thing the appearance of a faster-moving living person.  Another
time, a waving individual on a high rampart was revealed to have several
bites on his limbs, so Belphanior left him there.  It was both sickening
and frustrating, seeing so many zombies who had likely been regular people
just days ago...people unaware of the impending doom in their land.
  After many long moments of flying around the town, he had just given up
and was about to rejoin the others...when he saw a large section of white
cloth fluttering in the wind, one corner somehow fastened to the window
of one stone tower.  Moving closer, he discovered a half-open window, and
someone within.

Belphanior:  Ho, in the tower!
woman:  (appears in the window almost immediately)  Help!  Help me!
Belphanior:  (hovering outside)  Stand back, until I can see whether or
  not you've been bitten by any of those things.
woman:  Bitten?  Me?  How could that be possible, since I've been locked
  up here for two days?

  Nevertheless, the woman stepped back from the window, allowing the elf
to climb in (after first checking the room to make sure no one else was
hiding within.)  Once he'd had a closer look, Belphanior realized that
this was a noblewoman of some sort - that much was obvious by her fine
clothes as well as her bearing and speech.  A tall but slender woman of
perhaps fifty, she was still attractive; her fine facial features were
framed by long, straight gray hair.  The elf's first impression was that
she was intelligent, in a shrewd and practical way.

Belphanior:  (seeing no evidence of bites, other wounds, blood, soiled
  clothing, or any other struggle)  Do you have any injuries?
Miriam:  No, I was lucky to get away, but I acted early and quickly.
Belphanior: And you've been up here, alone, for two days?
noblewoman:  (nods)  That's when it started.  At first we thought it was
  some kind of riot, but then other people starting acting strangely...and
  biting others...eating them.  There was talk about the creatures coming
  from the Black Forest, to the west, but I don't know if there was time
  to confirm that before everything went to hell.  The servants were all
  either bitten or had fled, so I took as much bread and fruit as I could
  carry and made my way up here, locking every door behind me.  I thought
  about going back down, but you can hear their moans everywhere, and
  anyway, it's quite obvious that the town is overrun.  There's nowhere
  to go.  (she frowns)  Who are you, anyhow?
Belphanior:  Call me Belphanior.
noblewoman:  I'm Miriam.  I used to be Countess Miriam...but I seriously
  doubt titles mean much here anymore.  (she frowns again)  What are you
  doing flying around outside?
Belphanior:  There's no time to explain that right now.  All you need to
  know is that I'm part of a larger group, we're leaving, and I can take
  you out of here if you want - but we have to go now.
Miriam:  (considers this for a moment)  Done.  Do I need to bring anything
  with me?  Food, supplies?
Belphanior:  No, but you'll need to have no fear of heights.
Miriam:  That won't be a problem.

  The elf had decided that Miriam was telling the truth, as she had no
evidence of injuries or struggle and was level-headed and calm.  Moments
later, he left the tower, carrying the woman in his arms as he flew away
and left Ermoor behind.

Miriam:  What will happen to it?
Belphanior:  I'm not sure.  Popular ideas have included razing it to the-
  (he notices something, and stops flying for a moment, gazing around in
  various directions)  That's odd.
Miriam:  What?
Belphanior:  Close your eyes - we're going a bit higher.

  The elf ascended then - quite a bit higher, actually - for he needed to
see if his first impression was correct.  When he had his answer, he made
haste for the road leading west, away from Ermoor and towards the distant
forest.  A short time later, he rejoined the main party, surprising them
with yet another new addition and calling a temporary halt to the journey.

Belphanior:  (puts her in the driver's seat of the wagon, next to Otto)
Otto:  Who's this?
Belphanior:  Miriam, late of Ermoor.  (to Miriam)  You just became our
  new lookout.  Do whatever Otto here tells you.
Miriam:  Very well.
Otto:  (looking her over and noting no fighting or spellcasting skills,
  he remains dubious)
Belphanior:  (to everyone)  I noticed something while flying high above.
  Something very interesting.
Skektek:  (wondering what he missed)  Do tell.
Belphanior:  There are large numbers of zombies roaming around that forest
  just to the west.  It almost looks like they're coming out of it.  And
  something Miriam here said...makes me wonder if something in the forest
  is causing all of this.
Hope:  Something like what?
Belphanior:  I don't know, but it might be worth finding out.
Otto:  Agreed, but we can't drive this wagon into that forest - there's
  likely no path, and even if there was, it will be tough to maneuver and
  fight in dense woods.
Paige:  Sounds like it'll be tough to even get there.
Belphanior:  Yea...and the same holds true for if we use horses.  Hmm.

  The answer then came to the elf suddenly and clearly; it was more than
a little extreme, but it was also the most direct solution to the problem.
Within moments, he and Skektek were airborne and headed for the woodland.

Belphanior:  I obviously won't be joining you, so be careful - and don't
  land for any reason.  We can't afford to send a rescue party in there.
Skektek:  Before long, you won't have to.  (he frowns)  You're sure you
  want this done?  I certainly don't mind, but it's a little...extreme.
Belphanior:  Sometimes extreme situations call for extreme measures.  And
  I'm tired of running.
Skektek:  Alright then.  (he flies away, westward bound)

  Belphanior turned and headed back toward the wagon and riders; after
all, he wasn't needed for Skektek's mission, and wanted multiple wizards
in the main party.  They were headed into an area with a denser population
of zombies, and would need all the resources they had.

Miriam:  I don't mean to start asking questions right away, but...why are
  we heading _toward_ the Black Forest and the greater number of monsters
  there?
Belphanior:  Because I think we might have a chance to find the cause of
  all this, and end it.
Miriam:  Oh.  (she pauses)  But wasn't it mentioned that there was no safe
  way to get through the woodlands?
Belphanior:  That's true.
Miriam:  Then...how are we going to do it?
Belphanior:  You'll see.
Otto:  (having already guessed the plan, he smirks, muttering to himself)
  Should be any time now...

  And indeed it was.  First, they noticed a faint plume of smoke in the
distance.  By the time they got closer, it had become a massive plume.

Miriam:  (gaping)  The forest is on fire!
Belphanior:  Well, of course.  Someone or something really powerful may
  be holed up in there...and if not, then there are still hundreds - if
  not thousands - of zombies lurking amidst those trees.  (he shrugs)
  And now they will lurk no more.
Paige:  Interesting tactic.
Miriam:  You...you burned the entire forest down to avoid having to fight
  all those things?
Belphanior:  Not yet, I haven't.  I'd say it's only partially ablaze at
  this point...but give it a little time.  (he smiles thinly)  Besides,
  technically, Skektek did it, not me.
Miriam:  (somewhat mortified at all of this, and the elf's attitude, she
  moves her jaws silently, at a loss for words)
Otto:  (unable to help himself, he joins in)  Look at the bright side...
  we'll all be plenty warm tonight.

  It was late afternoon when they reached the forest's edge...or what
used to be its edge.  Now it was just a huge, smoking mass of embers and
charred wood (some of which was still burning.)  Skektek had deliberately
started the fire at the edge of the forest so that this area would burn
down first, but it still wasn't passable.  The heat was intense enough to
keep them back a good distance, and no progress into the area would be
possible for some time.  The horses didn't care for the burnt smell from
the west, and made that known with nervous sounds and stomping.
  Somewhere in the distance, deeper in the woodland, the fires continued
unseen - except for the huge quantities of smoke wafting up into the sky.

Hope:  What now?  It could be days before we can ride through there.
Belphanior:  I don't intend to wait.  Or ride.  (he casts another spell
  of flying)  Skektek, you're with me.  Otto, you take charge here; if
  any zombies come back anytime soon, deal with them however you need to.
  If things get bad, make another camp surrounded by a trench.
Otto:  Right.
Hope:  (somewhat pleased that her previous defensive tactic was such a
  success, but also annoyed that her casting of it seems to have been
  taken for granted)
Belphanior:  But, judging from the number of charred skeletons I see all
  over the place, I doubt too many of the things will show up here anytime
  soon.
Paige:  (glancing into the razed forest)  Well, we sure know they won't
  be coming out of there.
Belphanior:  Anyway, we'll be back soon - this won't take long.
Hope:  (drily)  That's what you said last time.

  The two wizards once more went airborne, and headed deeper into (over,
technically) the remains of the forest.  At first, they had to adjust
their altitude, to fly well above the intense heat which would otherwise
impede or injure them.  Belphanior wasn't sure what he was looking for,
exactly - only that it would likely be unusual.  They actually found two
such things.  The first was a large settlement of some sort, perhaps a
league into the forest; it had obviously burned to the ground now.  Based
on its layout and some of the blackened metal tools amidst the ruins, he
guessed it had once been some sort of logging camp.

Skektek:  Yeah...and it could have been the source of the outbreak.
Belphanior:  Or at least the first group of victims.  This place looks
  like it housed at least a couple hundred people.

  The second thing was definitely out of place, about as much as anything
could be.  Roughly another league beyond the remains of the forest camp
was a long, deep furrow in the ground.  This wasn't covered up by the
remains of fallen, burned trees because it had cleared the forest itself
when it was made.  Perhaps five hundred feet in length, and about twenty
wide, this was no less than a great gouge in the world's surface.  At one
end, it was shallow, then gradually deepened toward the far end, which was
a good fifty feet below the forest floor.
  Flying toward the deeper end of the gigantic furrow, the pair of wizards
saw the object that had fallen from above and made the long mark.  It was
a sizable boulder-like object, about five feet in diameter with a rough,
pitted surface.  The stone - if that's what it actually was - glowed with
a purplish-black light as it rested within the end of the huge furrow.

Skektek:  What the hell...is that?
Belphanior:  I'm not sure, but let's not get too close.  I know magic, and
  evil, when I see it.

  The elf was likely correct, for even several hundred feet away from the
weird object, they felt slightly weak and nauseous.  Backing away until
those unpleasant feelings subsided, they pondered the nature of what they
were seeing.

Skektek:  What do you think?
Belphanior:  Best guess?  This thing fell from the sky, tore its way into
  the forest floor here...then someone from the nearby camp investigated
  and somehow became the first zombie or zombies.  From there...(he lets
  the thought trail away)
Skektek:  It wouldn't have taken long.  Once the whole camp was infected,
  the zombies would have emerged from the forest and into the countryside.
Belphanior:  Or, as I suspect is the case, infected other such camps and
  settlements, in and around this woodland.
Skektek:  (nods)  That would explain the large numbers of zombies, and the
  fact that many are still in this area.  (he eyes the spherical object in
  the ground)  And all on account of...that.
Belphanior:  We should destroy it.
Skektek:  If we can.
Belphanior:  And we should hurry.  I'm starting to feel queasy again, even
  though we moved away.  I get the uncanny feeling that the thing's power
  radiates in pulses, and can reach victims at great distances.
Skektek:  Then let's be rid of it.  (he begins a spell, and soon launches
  a massive lightning bolt at the rough sphere)

  The electrical energy blasted away the earth at the end of the impact
crater, spraying chunks of charred earth everywhere and shaking the ground
in the nearby area.  However, when the smoke and dust cleared, the thing
was still there...intact and still glowing.

Skektek:  Shit.
Belphanior:  Let me try.  (he works the incantation to dispel magic, then
  focuses it on the sunken sphere at the end of the long furrow)

  Nothing happened.  The weird purplish-black light continued to emanate
from the thing.

Belphanior:  Let's try disintegration.
Skektek:  Okay.

  A few moments passed, and then the two wizards looked at each other.

Belphanior:  Whenever you're ready.
Skektek:  Uh...I don't have that one memorized today.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Skektek:  I picked the chain-lightning this time.  Two of them.  (shrugs)
  Which I usually do, actually.
Belphanior:  And I took the globe of invulnerability, and something else-
  Well, crap.
Skektek:  (sighs)  Hope?
Belphanior:  (nods)  Hope.
Skektek:  Okay, but we're both going.  I really don't want to stay here
  alone...I don't like the looks of that thing.
Belphanior:  I was thinking the same.

  A relatively short flight later, they had traded Skektek for Hope (so
that one wizard would be with the others at all times.)  On the bright
side, no zombies had been seen, although the adventurers were certain
that wouldn't be the case for much longer.  While Skektek explained what
was going on to the others, Belphanior and Hope departed, heading back
into the burned woodland.  They sailed rapidly through the air, passing
over the remains of the logging camp before soon coming upon the great
furrow in the ground and the strange sphere at its end.

Hope:  That...hurts my eyes just to look at.  And I see what you mean
  about the uneasy sensation - I feel it too.  (she moves back, flying
  fifty feet higher)  Ah, better.
Belphanior:  Well, you know what to do.
Hope:  It's fortunate that I had the disintegration spell memorized.
Belphanior:  Yeah, it sure is.
Hope:  It's quite a useful spell.  You guys should consider memorizing
  it more often, you know.
Belphanior:  Point made.  (he gestures to the thing below)  Now, whenever
  you're ready, feel free to test your magic.
Hope:  (completes her spell, sending a thin green beam of pure destructive
  energy down into the craggy sphere)

  The weird object glowed bright green for an instant - and then was gone.
At that very moment, the near-constant nauseating sensation that they had
been experiencing vanished.

Belphanior:  Damn, it worked.
Hope:  What are you so surprised about?  Of course it worked.  Not many
  things can withstand that spell...definitely not many non-spell things.
  Have some faith.
Belphanior:  Er...of course.  Come on, let's go down there and see what's
  left.
Hope:  If anything.

  All that remained of the strange meteor - if that was indeed what it had
been - was a bit of purple dust on the ground.

Belphanior:  I don't even like that.  (he retrieves the small vial of acid
  that he got from Otto before first entering the forest, and pours the
  potent liquid over the dust, causing the mixture to bubble and produce
  wisps of acrid smoke)
Hope:  Feel better now?
Belphanior:  Definitely.  Let's get back to the others now - we've got to
  figure out our next move.

  Shortly, the party had regrouped just outside the edge of the decimated
forest.

Skektek:  (looks to the west, where a huge column of smoke can be seen)
  Damn.  I almost feel bad now.
Paige:  You shouldn't.  It's not like an army of druids is going to come
  after you for ruining their woodland.
Skektek:  One would hope not.
Otto:  What now?
Belphanior:  Now, we head back to the town.  I want to know if destroying
  that thing stopped the zombies.
Benjamin:  I can save you the trouble.  (he points in one direction)  A
  short time after you and Hope left, I spotted a zombie, just one all by
  itself, moving toward us.  It must have been missing part of one leg or
  something, because it was really moving slowly and kept falling down,
  then getting back up.  I was getting ready to go deal with it.
Hope:  And...?
Benjamin:  Exactly.  Where is it?  (he draws his sword and heads in that
  direction)
Poulos:  (holding his giant scimitar in one hand, he follows)  I'll help.
Benjamin:  That creature's been gone for a while now, and I doubt that it
  just turned and wandered away.

  The others also followed, one by one; all were eager to see what might
have happened to the creature.  Only Otto stayed, since someone had to
watch the wagon and its team of horses.  Besides, the spot Benjamin had
specified was only a few hundred feet away, and they all arrived there to
find something amazing.

Benjamin:  (points with his sword)  I think we have the answer.
Paige:  It...melted.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces as he eyes the decayed skeleton, from which all
  the flesh has fallen like a pot roast left to boil for far too long)
Hope:  That's just gross.
Poulos:  This thing will trouble us no more.  (he looks around)  Nor
  will any others, I would venture to guess.
Hope:  (to Belphanior)  I'm no expert on undead, but your theory makes
  sense.  Destroying the strange rock - which was obviously sent by the
  gods - rendered the creatures inert.  (to Irina)  What do you think?
Irina:  (nods)  It would seem so.
Belphanior:  Well, the credit goes to Hope.  That was good work.
Hope:  My pleasure, believe me.
Belphanior:  Come on, everyone.  Let's rejoin Otto and the wagon, and get
  moving.
Skektek:  Where to now?
Belphanior:  We'll head back toward the town.  Since it's now empty of
  zombies, we can forage for supplies and other things...maybe we'll find
  spellbooks, or magical items.
Miriam:  Or survivors.  That would be nice.
Hope:  (puts a hand on the older woman's shoulder)  We'll do our best.
Miriam:  Thank you, dear.
Irina:  (frowns, wonders what gods might hold sway in this forsaken land,
  and why they would do things like sending that object down into the
  world)

  The party, now eleven strong if one counted the noblewoman, headed back
east, toward Ermoor.  A few of them rode in the huge wagon, but most were
on horseback.  They were looking forward to finding a secure place to rest
and spend the night - preferably one with walls and locked doors - before
searching the empty city on the morrow.
  Alas, it was not to be.  As they moved along the road at a rapid pace,
they suddenly found themselves headed right for a familiar sight:  the
wall of mist.  One moment, the sky was clear and the town visible in the
distance; the next, the curtain of mists was directly ahead, stretching
from ground up out of sight above.

Miriam:  (screams)
Otto:  (slows the wagon...to no avail, as the thick mists now completely
  surround the party)  Shit.  (to Belphanior)  What do you think?
Belphanior:  I think someone or something doesn't want us to make it to
  Ermoor.  We might as well keep moving ahead, since we're surrounded by
  this stuff.  Just go slowly.

  As before, the mists themselves weren't swirling, rolling, or moving in
any particular way; they simply floated in place all around the group.
The air grew cooler, and remained dry.  All sounds ceased, save those
made by the adventurers, their horses, or their wagon.  Weapons, items,
and spells were readied as the party advanced through the mist.  They got
the impression that, had they not chosen to move, the mists would have
moved around them and still taken the group to wherever it was they led.
  After an indeterminable period, a vaguely different area gradually took
shape through the mists ahead.  The vapors faded away, and then were gone,
leaving the adventurers amidst a completely different landscape.

Skektek:  Whoa.

  They were positioned atop one edge of a deep valley, which stretched
away to the left and right as far as the eye could see.  On this side,
a lengthy, gently-sloping road wound down to the bottom - a journey of
perhaps half an hour at a normal pace.  The base of the valley contained
a large unwalled town with numerous arched rooftops.  High stone chimneys
breathed their smoke up into the sky, and dozens of windows shone light
into the dusk.

Otto:  Dusk?  It was just late afternoon before.
Belphanior:  Not anymore.

  On the opposite side of the valley - a distance that had to be much
greater than it looked from here - a jagged peak of rock dominated the
landscape.  Atop this was a sprawling old castle, its towers jutting
upward as if reaching for the dark sky.

Paige:  Well, that's not ominous.










  Elsewhere, in a place beyond mortal comprehension, this scene played
out in the middle of a large round table of jet-black stone.  Whatever
the nature of the viewing - for it had to do with power almost as old as
time itself - perhaps more significant were the ones doing the viewing.
An unknown number of shadowy figures were seated around that dark table,
watching these latest events just as they had watched everything that
had happened to the party since its arrival...just as they had watched
everything that had happened to Paige's group upon their own arrival...
just as they had watched and manipulated countless events and countless
individuals, for an unknown number of eons.  Whether they did such things
for a greater purpose, or simply for their own amusement, would never be
known.  They had taken a particular interest in the tall, ruthless elf
some time ago...and so, when his recent adventure in the dragon's lair
had led to an accidental rift in time and space, they had been ready...
and so the elf and his companions now resided in their world.  It was a
world of horrors, of nightmares, of all the things that had terrified
and haunted people since the very dawn of time.  Thus far, the elf had
surprised and entertained them with his prowess, his will to live and
triumph, his utter unpredictability, and his strange sense of right and
wrong.  He had proven his ability, courage, and persistence in the Barony
of Tarkus.  Then he had shown unexpected mercy and compassion in the land
suffering from the ghoulish plague they had sent.  The time had come for
a new challenge...one that would provide the elf the opportunity to have
what he most desired, if only he was willing to pay the price and damn
himself.





next:       back to Neera and the others on Oerth
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   11/27/20
notes:      As you read this, Thanksgiving 2020 will have just ended (but
  the long holiday weekend will still be underway, for those who celebrate
  such.)  I've reached 1050 and that amazes me as I think about it.  When
  this calendar year began, I'd been idle with my writing for over two
  years.  I just didn't have the urge or desire during that time.  Then I
  kind of randomly decided to finish and publish episode 1015 on March 13
  but at that time I had no idea what was about to happen.  No one did.
  Eight months later, we're still living in a world dominated and changed,
  probably forever, by covid-19.  It brings me great satisfaction that
  during this entire time, I was able to provide you with an episode each
  and every week, without fail, no matter what was happening in my life.

    And, like I always try to do for either a multiple-of-50 episode or
  a holiday-break episode (and this is both) I've given you a jumbo-sized
  one this time.  At 60K in size, this one's 4-6 times the size of the
  average episode.  I hope you enjoyed it.  One of my stated goals to
  myself for 1050 was "it will not end until they've completely dealt
  with the zombie situation and moved on to somewhere else."  And I kept
  my word!

    As I actually type these words after finishing this episode, it's the
  beginning of October and I've got a healthy stash of episodes done and
  in the firing tube - enough to cover me for October and November.  And
  assuming my writing habits continue as they have been, while you read
  this at the end of November 2020, I should have at least 4-5 more done
  and held in reserve, for release in December.

    I'll leave you with teases for two major future story arcs; these are
  the possible names that could be given to those overall plotlines, were
  they to ever be collected in a trade paperback:  "Killer of Giants" and
  "Godslayer"...I hope that's enough to get you excited.  (But remember,
  first Belphanior and company must find a way to leave these dark lands
  and get back to their homeworld!)
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



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