Chapter #1097

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                                   +   +
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                               +           +
                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic VI     +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       +
+   1991-2021 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!                                          +
+   ADVENTURERS                                                           +
+                                                                         +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+     Poulos        8th level human warrior                               +
+   Irina          14th/7th level female human priestess/warrior          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Paige          13th level human female warrior                        +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   OTHER ALLIES                                                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+     Lyra           14th level female drow wizard                        +
+   Cespedes       19th level human wizard, elementalist                  +
+     iron dwarf   insane, armored berserker                              +
+     Talos        adamantine golem                                       +
+   Dexitheseus    17th level human wizard, jack of all trades            +
+   Kronos         extremely powerful lich                                +
+     Frigaar      white dragon                                           +
+     Glacius      white dragon                                           +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+     Drak           15th level human barbarian                           +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian, teleporter  +
+     Socrates     large albino hound                                     +
+   Wu             18th level human wizard, transmuter                    +
+   Date:          unknown                                                +
+   Time:          unknown                                                +
+   Place:         the Center of Time, between known realities            +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "So...they want to fight."                                            +
+   "Can you imagine for one minute that they wouldn't?"                  +
+        - from _The Six Million Dollar Man_ episode 4.6, _Kill Oscar_    +

                   MXCVII.  Rivals' Arrival

  One moment, the rocky plain was devoid of inhabitants; the next, its
flat surface held a score of individuals who had just materialized there.

Chargrim:  (pulls his robes' purple hood back, scanning the horizon with
  his deep, silvery eyes)
Orgthrok:  (raises his axe, then scratches his armpit with his free hand,
  snorting)  Well, this place kind of matches your clothes.
Chargrim:  Desist with your foolishness at once.
Orgthrok:  (frowns, eyeing the wizard balefully)

  Beside the dwarf loomed the huge, ebon-armored form of Lord Rammstein;
next to that warlord stood the high priest Kalenon.

Lord Rammstein:  (crosses his massive arms, looking this way and that,
  his expression hidden within his great horned helmet)
Kalenon:  By Hextor's this actually the Center of Time?
Chargrim:  (nods slightly)  The Key of Fate was everything I'd hoped for,
  and more.  With the power of this place, we can-  (he pauses, as a dark
  and sinuous form glides past)  Where are you going?
Snake:  I sense others here.
Chargrim:  There are many others here...there...and all about.  (he waves
  his hands theatrically)  This is the nexus of all times - past, present,
  and future.
Snake:  (simply blinks)
Galil-Gildur:  (regards the assassin disdainfully, then turns back to the
  purple-robed wizard)  Much is....wrong about this place.
Chargrim:  True, but while time and space have different meanings here,
  we still need to-
Krom:  (leans down, inspecting the ground)  Others _have_ been here, and
  not long ago.  (he sniffs the air)  Huh.  Hard to tell for sure.  This
  place is funny.
Snake:  (drily)  As I said.
Krom:  (wipes his mouth with the back of one hairy hand, and grunts)

  In addition to these seven Crimson Blades who survived the battle in
the Lost Tomb of Panagaea - Chargrim the wizard, Kalenon the high priest,
Rammstein the unholy warrior, Orgthrok the dwarf, Snake the assassin,
Galil-Gildur the elf, and Krom the hunter - there were two other members
of the group here.  For various reasons, these two had not been present
in the Tomb of Panagaea, but they were here now, ready to add their
considerable talents to their group's strength.

Babuk:  (a lean, wiry older man clad in the robes of a monk)  We would
  be wise not to tarry here.  This place is...unnatural.
Clavius:  (a tall, skinny bald fellow with prominent cheekbones and nose
  amidst a sunken face)  Most unnatural.  (he closes his eyes, reaching
  out around him with the power of his mind)  And yet, the potential to
  be found here is tremendous.  (to Chargrim)  A good course of action,
  this one that you have set us on.
Orgthrok:  Bah.  Course, horse!  (he stomps about angrily, fussing all the
  while)  Who's there to fight around here?

  Of course, the group numbered more than just the nine remaining Crimson
Blades.  Chargrim had an invisible demon servant, although it was unknown
whether this was the same being that had accompanied the wizard to the
Lost Tomb, years ago.  A half-dozen of Rammstein's most devout, trusted
warriors had followed him here; in addition, Kalenon had brought several
dozen undead as well as a powerful elemental of water.  As for the others,
they were solitary or antisocial, and had no need of any henchmen or other

Lord Rammstein:  So what now?
Chargrim:  (gestures to a strange vortex perhaps a thousand feet distant)
  That, I think, is our destination.  (he holds a glowing blue key high)
  It is time to go forth and claim what awaits us within the time stream-

  The wizard's speech was interrupted suddenly, as a tremendous ball of
fire exploded in their midst, shaking the ground even as the entire group
was bathed in flames.

  From a magically-concealed site nearby, the attackers watched as the
inferno raged.

Skektek:  That was quite possibly the biggest fireball I've ever made.
Otto:  And it was glorious.
Paige:  If only the fire and smoke would clear so we could see who lived
  and who died.
Razor Charlie:  (watching the fires rage several hundred feet away, he
  just grimaces)
Skektek:  Not to seem overconfident, but I'd say more died than lived.
Otto:  With this group, nothing is sure.

  The quartet of adventurers were one of five teams stationed around the
vortex previously identified by Kronos (and also identified by Chargrim
upon his arrival).  The idea had been that there was no way of knowing
exactly where the Crimson Blades would arrive, so Belphanior, Kronos, and
their various allies had tried to cover all directions.  As fate would
have it, Skektek's group had been closest by far to the evildoers' point
of entry into this space between planes; per the plan they'd all agreed
on, that group - being the nearest - had then struck first.
  Unfortunately, as could now be seen in the clearing smoke and dying
flames, the massive fireball had done very little.  Although a large
crater marked the site of the detonation, not a single foe had been slain
at all.  Some had been knocked from their feet, but it seemed that all of
the group had been protected in one way or another from the searing fire.
Worse, they now knew where Skektek's group was; even as some of them moved
in that direction, the foes were already splitting up to avoid presenting
a single massed target.

  And then, all hell broke loose.  Within moments, the area surrounding
the time vortex had fully broken out in battle...a scene of complete and
utter chaos that featured fire, ice, charging foes, lightning, summoned
monsters, telekinetic attacks, flying and leaping, invisibility, bolts
and hurled knives, psionic attacks, and much more.

next:       battle is joined!
released:   10/22/2021
notes:      There was another long break between the writing of 1096 and
  this one...two whole months.  It was mostly due to more turmoil in my
  personal life (super short version:  the house we built had delays, and
  our living situation was a bit challenging).  I'm optimistic that we're
  about to emerge from that chaos in the next month or so (September 2021)
  but nothing is certain.
    In the meantime, I continue the drive toward 1100 and November 2021,
  the 30-year anniversary of these stories.
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