Chapter #625

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                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2000 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!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Belphanior      14th/14th/14th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+     Angus          an iron golem                                        +
+     Aja            9th level human priestess of Wee Jas                 +
+     Jutokai        8th level human archer                               +
+     Skektek       12th level human wizard                               +
+     the wispy thing                                                     +
+     Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                          +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo         dwarven berserker                                     +
+   Otto             8th/11th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+   Date:           1/10/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           morning                                               +
+   Place:          Baron Albert's domain, in Blackmoor                   +
+   Climate:        chilly                                                +
+   "The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they're          +
+    going to be when you kill them."                                     +
+                                                             - unknown   +

                        DCXXV.  Last Stand

  The party is caught between a rock and a hard place, with a stone wall
behind them and a beholder (plus a horde of undead) in front.

Belphanior:  No, we definitely didn't prepare for this.  (he uses his
  sword to haste himself)
Baron Albert:  (waves a hand, turning a targeted area of the floor into
  thick mud)
Angus:  (sinks like a rock)
Ys:  (also sinking)  This is no illusion.
Mongo:  (pulls Gorgo back, away from the mud, just in time)  Whoa, there.
Gorgo:  What happened to the floor?
Baron Albert:  (smiling to himself)
Belphanior:  Everyone, go with the plan!  (he begins working a spell)  Go,
  go, go!

  "The plan" had been drawn up with two assumptions:  that Baron Albert
would be standing some distance from them, and that a large number of foes
would block the way to the Baron.  The beholder was a bit of an extra
problem, in fact one that would have to take the baron's place in the
attack plan, at least until it was weakened or destroyed.

Otto:  (guzzles his potion of invulnerability)
Jutokai:  (fires an arrow, hitting the large, armored body)
beholder:  Urk.
Skektek:  (hurls a lightning bolt at the monster)  Eat that, ugly!
beholder:  (zapped, it spins in place, its eyes flagellating wildly)  Glk!
Otto:  That's it!  Pound the damned thing!  (he realizes that they need
  to split up more, and uses his bat-cloak to take to the air, vanishing
  into the dark arched areas of the ceiling)
undead:  (some are dumb enough to walk into the mud, but most are moving
  around it)
Mongo:  (to Aja)  Priestess-lady, are you gonna-
Aja:  I am.  (she faces the approaching undead, chanting, and a number of
  them turn to dust)
Gorgo:  (shaking his head)  Still don't get it.  (he picks out a couple
  of skeletal warriors that didn't get tagged by Aja's turning, and runs
  headlong toward them)  Arrrrrrr!
Mongo:  (swipes at a wight that is loping toward Aja, smashing its head
  into a black pulp)  Fucker.
wispy thing:  (sails forth, aiming for a ghostly foe that is floating over
  the mud)  Spork!
Bosco:  (looking around wistfully, he sheathes his sword)  I guess it's up
  to me to save the lizard.  (he sails toward Ys, his winged boots flapping

  Meanwhile, Belphanior was trying another tactic, one he'd come up with
on the fly.  Assuming that his allies would handle the beholder and the
undead mob, the elf opted instead to go straight for Baron Albert.  One
spell from his magical ring made that a lot easier...

Belphanior:  (makes an incredible leap, hurtling over undead and well
  to the side of the beholder to land about twenty feet from the
  vampiric illusionist) Face me, scumbag.
Baron Albert:  Bah.  (he works a spell, summoning a huge black worm with
  serrated teeth set in a round maw)
Belphanior:  (blinks, then shakes his head)  Your illusions are worthless
  against me.
Baron Albert:  Someone has prepared you...
Belphanior:  Hey, give me some credit too.  (he casts a spell, sheathing
  one hand in bright flames)  And now...(he lunges, grabbing at the Baron
  with his flaming hand)

  This was the last thing that Baron Albert (or any vampire) expected,
and it worked.  The elf clutched the foe's throat, and the flames leapt
from elf to vampire.

Baron Albert:  YeaaAAARGH!  (he blazes very brightly)
Belphanior:  (steps back, already spellcasting again)

  The main battle was still raging...

Angus:  (sunken deep within the mud, he simply walks along the bottom of
  its area, slowly but surely)
Ys:  (up to his shoulders in the mud)  This is most unpleasant.
Bosco:  (flies down and grabs the reptilian by his free hand)  C'mon...
Ys:  (doesn't budge)
Bosco:  (pulling with all of his inconsiderable might)  Urgh!
Ys:  I fear that you must think of another plan.
Bosco:  What plan?!?  I don't have anything that'll float you or move
  you or stop you sinking...wait, stop...yeah!  (he rummages through
  his items)

  By now, the beholder had flown closer, almost over the mud, and some
of its small eyestalks had swiveled to cover the adventurers.

beholder:  (emits several beams from eyestalks)
Gorgo:  (bathed in one beam)
beholder:  Turn on your allies...attack them...
Gorgo:  Huh?  (he shakes his head, as if to clear cobwebs)  Why would
  I do that?
beholder:  (another of its smaller eyes focuses on Aja)
Aja:  (lifted suddenly from the floor, she is carried up and over, right
  above the horde of undead)  Yaa!
ghoul:  Drop her!
ghast:  Yeah, drop her!
wight:  (cackling and cavorting about)  Drop her, drop her, drop her!
Jutokai:  (hit by another beam, he finds his muscles and reflexes slowed
  considerably)  Dammit!
random ghoul:  (hit by a fourth beam, it is disintegrated)
Gorgo:  Holy shit!
Mongo:  Enough!  (he hurls Stormcrest, the hammer smashing into the
  beholder's side with enough force to topple a house)
beholder:  ARGH!  (it reels)
Aja:  (drops into the waiting arms of the undead)  Aieeeeee!
Gorgo:  (charges into the midst of the undead, yelling and swinging his
  spiked mace)
Bosco:  (having secured one end of his magical rope around a pillar on
  the edge of the chamber, he ties the other end around Ys' arm)
Ys:  What is this insanity?
Bosco:  Just trust me.

  The beholder was done playing around.  The dwarf's hammer had hurt more
than anything it could remember, and the monster didn't plan to feel that
pain another time.  Sighing, the thing focused its large eye, bathing most
of the attackers in a pale ray...

Mongo:  (watches as his hammer, which was on its way back, drops right in
  front of him)  What?!?
wispy thing:  Braaaaft...(in the process of possessing the ghost, he
  simply vanishes)
Skektek:  (feels the spell he was working just...cease)  Hell!
Jutokai:  (actually goes back to normal as the slowing effects of the
  smaller eye are cancelled)

  In addition, a large portion of the mud now became rock once more,
which provided the undead with a convenient means of attacking the foes
more quickly.

  Meanwhile, nearby, Baron Albert had ceased to be aflame...

Baron Albert:  You do not weaken from my touch...what _are_ you?
Belphanior:  I am death, come to claim you at last.  (he hits the
  foe with a spell of confusion)
Baron Albert:  Bah.  Try again.
Belphanior:  (working another spell, furiously)
Baron Albert:  On second thought, never mind.  I shall thrash you

  The vampire lunged forward - Belphanior had forgotten how _fast_ they
could move - and grabbed the elf by the neck.

Belphanior:  Urk!
Baron Albert:  (punches him once, then again)

  These blows would have been enough to seriously injure a normal man,
but Belphanior had cast a stoneskin before coming down here, and the
spell saved him from the smashing impacts.  As for the vampire's deadly
life-draining touch, Belphanior was protected from that thanks to his
magical amulet, the same one that allowed him to maintain close physical
contact with Victoria.  Baron Albert seemed surprised that the elf was
even still conscious...

Baron Albert:  You are a strong one indeed.  I can see why Orcus wants
Belphanior:  Urg...(he senses his magical protection beginning to give

  Across the room...

Bosco:  (talking to his magical rope)  Now...shorten!
Ys:  Oh, for the love of-

  The reptilian quieted as the rope began, amazingly, to pull him out of
the mud!

Bosco:  See?
Ys:  My apologies.

  Nearby, Aja was having a rough time of it as the undead grabbed and groped
her.  She'd always wanted to establish a rapport with the dead, but not this
way.  Her powerful undead-controlling circlet had been knocked off when she
landed, she'd dropped her holy symbol, and she couldn't even bring her sickle
to bear.

Aja:  (losing strength, life energy, and so forth)  AAAAAAAA!
Jutokai:  Fuck.  (he fires one arrow, hitting a wight through the eye and
  knocking it away)
wight:  Arghhh...
Jutokai:  (fast as lightning, he launches another arrow, hitting a ghoul
  in the ear)  Get away from her!
ghoul:  (reels, the arrow sticking out of both sides of its head)  Argh!

  As many arrows as the archer could fire, it wasn't going to be enough.
Sensing this, Otto swooped down from above.  His original target had been
the beholder, and he had been about to fly down and try a backstab, even
though the small eyes would have made that tough.  Now, instead, he saw that
he had to rescue Aja.

Otto:  (as he descends, he drops one of his magical blue marbles)

  The tiny sphere had exactly the effect that the dwarf had hoped for:  as
it hit and burst into a sizable volume of water, the undead were distracted.
This allowed Otto to fly in, grab Aja under her arms, and fly out, right
under the noses of the undead.

Otto:  (flies toward the back of the room - the safest spot)
Aja:  (bleeding, stunned, and generally not looking too good)  Uhh...
Jutokai:  (runs over and catches the priestess as Otto drops her off)  I'll
  tend to her.
Otto:  Use your bow and tend to the undead.  I don't think she's got any
  critical wounds.  (he leaps into the air, flying back toward the main
Jutokai:  (ignores the dwarf, trying to see if Aja is okay)


Mongo:  Well, if I can't throw...(he charges toward the beholder)
Gorgo:  (busy plowing through undead)  YAAAAAAR!

  The dwarf had gone absolutely berserk.  Rage and raw power fueled him at
this point, and the damage he inflicted with his spiked armor and mace was
great and terrible.  Yet, for all that, he was still outnumbered...

Gorgo:  (goes down amidst an undead swarm)  YAAAAA-
Bosco:  (watching)  That isn't good.
Ys:  No, it is not.  (he wades into the fight, not bothering with his sword,
  simply grabbing undead and hurling them aside)
Otto:  (overhead)  Ys!
Ys:  Eh?  (he looks up)
Otto:  (points at the beholder)  See if you can nail that thing!
Ys:  Hmm.  (he grabs the nearest foe, a zombie)  You'll have to do.
  (he lifts the squirming thing overhead, two-handed, and throws it at
  the beholder)

  Ys' aim was perfect:  the zombie landed on the beholder's top side,
smashing and covering most of the small eyes.  This not only distracted
it, causing the dreaded anti-magic ray to stop, but it opened the door
for Otto.

Otto:  (swoops down, his sword poised)

  The dwarf didn't go for a "back" stab, opting instead to sail over the
monster, spinning in place at the last moment.  This wouldn't have worked
if he hadn't spent many hours in Helgate over the last year, practicing
his flying and maneuvering.  Since he had, his attack worked perfectly...

beholder:  (slashed down the length of its central eye)  RAAAAARGH!  (it
  bucks in place, dislodging the zombie)
Bosco:  (lands atop the beholder, grabbing a random eyestalk in one hand
  and slicing it off with the sword in his other hand)  Witness the might
  of Bosco, Beholder-Amputator-
beholder:  (spins wildly as clear fluid sprays all over the place)
Bosco:  HeyyyYYYYY!  (he is thrown like a rider from a wild bronco, and
  sails into the air)
beholder:  (firing wildly with its eyes as it rotates in place)
wight:  (hit by a beam, it is turned to stone)
Jutokai:  (narrowly missed by another beam)  Hey!
skeleton:  (hit by a beam, it is disintegrated)
Mongo:  (having witnessed this entire spectacle, he now moves to go help
  Gorgo)  Undead!  Time to get smashed into paste!  (his full strength now
  restored, he commences with that very action, his hammer crushing foes
  with every mighty blow)
Skektek:  Negate _my_ magic, will you?  (he uses his thunder ring to send
  a massive lightning bolt right into the wounded front of the beholder)

  The beholder simply exploded.

Skektek:  (jumps back as a chunk of bloody chitinous plating lands right
  where he was standing)  Damn, I'm good.

  Meanwhile, Belphanior was being thrashed like a rag doll, and there was
little that he could do about it.  His only real weapon was Blackrazor,
but he couldn't use the sword on vampires and the like - one of its few
drawbacks.  He found himself wishing that he carried even a magical boot
knife...not that he'd have been able to reach it right now.

Belphanior:  (as he's being bashed about, some part of his subconscious
  realizes that if he can be hit, then he can also hit)  Get...the fuck...
  OFF OF ME!  (he boxes Baron Albert's ears)
Baron Albert:  Argh!
Belphanior:  (kicks out, breaking the foe's grip as he launches himself
  back and away)  <cough>
Baron Albert:  That certainly was fun.  (he begins spellcasting again)

  At the far end of the room, Jutokai put one of his best enchanted arrows
to the bowstring.  This wasn't an impossible shot, but it was a tough one.

Jutokai:  (breathes out as he lets the missile fly)

  He missed.  Rather than impaling Baron Albert through the eye, which was
what he was aiming for, Jutokai only nicked the foe's shoulder.

Baron Albert:  (his spell is ruined nonetheless)
Belphanior:  (muttering to himself)  Good work, Jutokai...(he completes his
  spell, surging forward with darkly-glowing hands to grab the vampire)
Baron Albert:  (as the spell of disintegration hits, he changes into vapor
  and floats away)
Belphanior:  Damn you!  Why won't you die?!?

  Despite the fact that there was still battle going on, the elf gave his
full attention to the vapor - more specifically, where it was going.  If
Baron Albert's vaporous form escaped and they couldn't find it, this entire
campaign would be for naught.

Belphanior:  (uses the full powers of his crystal eye to follow the vapor
  as it disappears into a small crack in one wall)  Okay, gotcha.  (he
  draws Blackrazor, nicking the stone slightly, just enough to mark the
  exact spot)

  When the elf turned to survey the battle, he found the situation to be
generally favorable, if not ideal.  Angus was pulling himself from the
mud, far from any foes or allies.  Ys and Mongo were helping Gorgo turn
the tide on the undead, and Jutokai was providing missile support.  Otto
was flying about, slashing at any undead foe he could.  Bosco seemed to
be imitating the dwarf, except that his blows weren't quite as deadly.
Aja lay near Jutokai, pale and unmoving.  Skektek stood near Jutokai,
blasting undead at his leisure with various offensive spells.

  Before long, this battle was over and they'd regrouped...

Gorgo:  Helluva fight!
Mongo:  And I didn't even have to wind the horn of siege.
Otto:  Everyone, make sure you recover anything you threw or dropped or
  otherwise lost.  Someone get Aja's holy symbol and stuff.
Belphanior:  Someone feed Aja a potion of healing.
Jutokai:  (going through her pouches)  She has one of her own...I just
  have to find it-  ah!  (he carefully pours the healing liquid down
  her throat)
Aja:  (stirs)
Jutokai:  Are you okay?
Aja:  Uhh...weak...
Mongo:  She got hit by all kinds of telling what that did
  to her.  (he shakes his head)
Belphanior:  (kneels down next to Aja)  Can you walk?
Aja:  (weakly)  If I have to.
Jutokai:  Surely this isn't the time-
Belphanior:  That vampire retreated...probably to his innermost chamber
  and his coffin.  If we don't find and kill him real soon, all of this
  will have been for nothing.  (he stands)  That's all there is to it.
  (to Bosco)  I need your x-ray vision.
Bosco:  Let's go.

  While the others followed at their own pace, Belphanior and Bosco went
back to the section of wall into which Baron Albert had vanished.

Bosco:  (eyeing the crack)  It goes back a bit...then widens, I think.
Belphanior:  I need a spell of digging...or a passwall.  Or...(he begins
Bosco:  Too bad we can't just turn the rock to mud, like that bad guy
  did on that floor back there.
Belphanior:  (eyes Bosco)  Genius or idiot savant?
Bosco:  Huh?
Belphanior:  Never mind.  (he continues his spell)

  Shortly, the elf had melted a sizable chunk of the stone into mud; it
made for messy walking, but they could see a small open area ahead.  The
efforts of Angus widened this opening considerably.  The chamber beyond
was obviously man-made.

Belphanior:  The Baron's fallback chamber.  Look there!

  Two coffins rested on pedestals in the room.  One was nearly ten feet
long, but somewhat shabby in design and make.  The other was only seven
feet long, but much more ornate, carven from black mahogany with golden

Otto:  Five gets you ten that big one's for the butler.
Belphanior:  (smiles thinly)  I won't take that bet.

  The elf rummaged through his portable hole, looking for the special
items he'd brought along in case of this very situation.

Mongo:  (watching the elf open the portable hole)  Hey, I didn't know
  you had one of those, too.
Belphanior:  It's a small one, and doesn't have the capacity that yours
  does.  (he holds up two sharp wooden stakes)
Otto:  (takes the stakes)
Gorgo:  What're those for?
Skektek:  Vampires require special killing.
Gorgo:  Vampires?  What vampires?
Mongo:  (realizes that Gorgo was so occupied in the battle that he never
  saw or realized that Baron Albert was a vampire)'ll see in
  a bit.
Belphanior:  (also recovers a small sack, setting it aside)
Otto:  (looks on, inquisitively)
Belphanior:  For after.  (to Mongo)  I'd ask you to be the hammer-man for
  this, but you'd probably drive the stake clear through the body and the
Mongo:  I accept that compliment.
Belphanior:  Thus...(he produces a silver mallet)
Otto:  Which one first?
Belphanior:  Albert's, of course.
Otto:  Right.  (he prepares to open the coffin)  Ready?
Belphanior:  Ready.  (to everyone else)  Ready?
Aja:  (holds her holy symbol ready, in case one of the vampires tries
  to leap from its coffin)
Jutokai:  (wonders how much power Aja can wield, in her current weakened

  The elf had gotten good advice on this topic before leaving Helgate,
thanks to Victoria.  He knew exactly what to do.

Belphanior:  (nods)
Otto:  (opens the black coffin, pulling its lid up)

  Baron Albert lay there, unmoving and apparently undamaged.  His arms
were crossed over his chest, and he looked like he was deep in sleep.
Belphanior figured this was what happened when a vampire was forced to
assume gaseous form.  However, he didn't waste any time thinking about
it or watching the foe.

Belphanior:  (lines the stake up, and then, in one swift and fluid
  motion, he brings the mallet down)  Die!

  The stake punched through the vampire's breastbone, sending a jet of
crimson blood gushing upward.  Baron Albert suddenly seemed very awake,
but also very powerless; his fingernails scratched weakly at the elf.

Baron Albert:  No...
Belphanior:  (hits the stake again)  Yes!

  The next few moments were incredible, even for those present who had
seen such a thing before.  Baron Albert seemed to age years, instantly,
and then his body shriveled up like that of a corpse.  From there, he
cracked and began to fall apart...and then turned to dust.

Belphanior:  (takes a small vial and sprinkles holy water over the
Otto:  Wow.  That was an impressive dying.
Belphanior:  (turns to the other coffin)  Now for the butler.

  Soon, the second grisly execution was done, and they closed that
coffin's lid as well.

Belphanior:  It's over.
Mongo:  Good.
Otto:  (looks around, wondering where the wispy thing is)
Bosco:  (looks around, wondering where the gold and gems are)
Skektek:  (looks around, wondering where the spellbooks are)

  Without too much effort, they found a false section of floor; once
this stone plate was levered up and lifted away, a small cavity was
revealed beneath.  In this cavity was a golden chest.

Bosco:  Ah.
Mongo:  It's probably nothing...not compared to...(he silences himself)

  There were traps galore - a swinging blade in the cavity, a poison
needle on the chest, and a dart trap beneath the chest - but all were
found and disarmed thanks to Otto and Bosco.  The chest contained many
wondrous treasures, both monetary and magical.

Belphanior:  We'll divvy up this loot once we're safely back aboard the
Bosco:  Fair enough.

  Meanwhile, somewhere far away and much more grim...

Xusia:  (sits up straight)  Aie!
Skorvus:  What is it, milord?
Xusia:  Baron Albert has been slain.
Skorvus:  Hmm.  That _is_ most unpleasant news, milord.
Xusia:  Not as unpleasant as things will become for whoever slew him.
  Perhaps the time has come to play our next hand...

next:      wrap-up
released:  3/27/00
notes:     My interpretation of the vampire monster description is that
  once it's reduced to gaseous form, it has to stay in the coffin for
  eight hours, helpless.
    Which, by the way, is what I should be doing this morning.  The
  Oscars were last night, and I watched them in a formal party setting
  (I even wore a tie!)  Unfortunately, I upshifted to wine after my
  6-8 beers...and this is turning out to be a very painful morning.

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