Chapter #663

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

+     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       +
+     Aja            9th level human priestess of Wee Jas                 +
+     Neko           7th level human female thief                         +
+     Skektek       12th level human wizard                               +
+     Zhao           8th level human swordsman                            +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Dave-O          local guide                                           +
+   Date:           3/1/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           morning                                               +
+   Place:          Mount Aeon, on the eastern edge of the Hellfurnaces   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "I only have one rule:  everyone fights.  No one quits.               +
+    If you don't do your job, I'll kill you myself."                     +
+                                           - from _Starship Troopers_    +

                     DCLXIII.  The First Challenge

  After venturing partway up Mount Aeon, the adventurers encountered a
mysterious sphinx-like creature whose message was simple and cryptic:
the party must face three challenges before they can reach the peak's
summit and, presumably, the Oracle of Espyria.

Belphanior:  Since we're not in a dungeon setting here, I assume that
  these challenges will be of the monstrous sort...and solved by battle.
Gorgo:  Good.  I've got no time for riddles and puzzles.

  They had made camp at dusk last night, and despite several of the party
members' suspicions, no foes - human or otherwise - had attacked under
cover of darkness.  Now, it was morning, the sun's bright rays tinted red
thanks to the steam coming from the mountaintop above.  They rode along
the path, which wound ever-onward...and upward.

Mongo:  This is too easy...
Aja:  Unless we're being herded to our doom.
Skektek:  All I have to say is this:  if our doom waits ahead, it's going
  to have to eat a lightning bolt or two before it claims us.
Belphanior:  (nods to himself, pleased with the other wizard's attitude)
Bosco:  (takes to the air, his winged boots flapping)  I'm going to go
  scout ahead.
Belphanior:  Sounds good to me.  I'll be there momentarily.

  At the outset of this quest, the elf had held serious misgivings toward
Bosco; lately, however, the halfling had been less his reckless self and
more a useful, unselfish companion.  Belphanior was fairly pleased with
this development, because it meant that the chance of Bosco doing something
monumentally stupid was far less than usual.  The marshals from Helgate had
forged themselves into a cohesive unit that thrived on teamwork and proper
communication, and Belphanior would have had little tolerance for a kink
thrown into the works.
  What Belphanior didn't know was that Bosco was on his best behavior for
a very good reason.  The halfling knew that sooner or later, his past would
catch up to him; when that happened, he wanted Belphanior on his side and
ready to help.  If that meant a little less skimming, scheming, and stealing
than he was used to, well...Bosco could live with that.  Then again, he knew
that if the lost trove of Panagaea turned out to actually exist, he'd be set
for life.

Bosco:  (babbling to himself as he flies along, about a hundred feet ahead of
  the others)  Emperor Bosco...lord of all he surveys...

  The halfling almost didn't see the beast until it was too late.  Almost.

Bosco:  Whaaaaaaaah!  (he pulls up, then flies backward and up, furiously)

  Sitting in the path ahead was something that could only have come straight
out of a nightmare.  It had the body of a huge lion, though the rear portion
was dark and perhaps scaled.  Red wings sprouted from its back - dragon's
wings, which fit in with the red-scaled dragon head to one side.  There were
two other heads, the central one being that of a lion, the other resembling
a dark-skinned bull or something of that sort.  The monstrosity stood almost
seven feet at the shoulder, and was over ten feet in length.

Bosco:  Wow, what an ugly beast!  After this they'll have to call me Bosco,
  Hodgepodge-Monster Slayer-
beast:  (paws the ground as its dragon head rears up and lets loose a great
  gout of flaming breath, right at the halfling)  Blaaaaargh!
Bosco:  (barely dodges the fiery discharge, and is still singed)  EyoWWWWW!
  (he flies back toward the others at top speed)
beast:  (takes to the air, following the halfling, its heads snapping at the
  air)  Graaaaaar!

  As it turned out, though, Belphanior had seen the stream of fire, and was
ready for battle when the monster came around a bend in the road, hot on
Bosco's winged heels.

Belphanior:  Hell, I was expecting a dragon.  (he sends a cone of cold right
  at the fearsome beast)
beast:  (partially evades the freezing blast, and lands in front of the group,
  its wings iced over)  Graaaargh!
Dave-O:  Aie!  (he faints)
Skektek:  (preparing to launch his bolt of lightning)
beast:  (lets another flaming breath loose in the party's general direction)

  Bosco hadn't quite had time to warn them about the range and span of the
monster's fiery breath, so they had to find out first-hand.  It wasn't a
pleasant experience.

Dave-O:  (incinerated, along with everything he carried)
Belphanior:  (at the fringe of the flames, he avoids serious harm)
Skektek:  (at the rear of the party, he is only lightly burned, though his
  spell is disrupted)  Damn!
Zhao:  (leaps to the side, his cloak on fire)
Mongo:  (caught directly in the brunt of the blast, he barely feels anything)
Neko:  (fortunate enough to be standing directly behind Mongo, she barely
  gets singed)  What the...?
Gorgo:  (next to Mongo, he is burned fairly badly, his skin blistering and
  his hair and beard ablaze)  AAARGH!

  Their counterattack was relatively disjointed, but then again, many of them
were close to the monster, and many of them had melee weapons ready...

Mongo:  (hurls Stormcrest, scoring a direct hit on the beast's flank)  Yeah!
beast:  (suffers a row of cracked ribs)  GRAAARGH!
Zhao:  (leaps in, twin swords flashing, even as Mongo's hammer sails back)
beast:  (its dark bull-like head turns, loosing a cone of gray vapor)
Zhao:  Ack.  (he falls to the ground, his body and swords rapidly turning to
Belphanior:  Shit!
Neko:  Whoa.  (she reconsiders the attack she was about to make)
Gorgo:  (reconsiders nothing, as he is in great pain and utterly infuriated
  at the moment)  AAAAARGH!  (he charges in, spiked mace swinging wildly)
beast:  (meets the berserk dwarf with its lion's head and both front claws)

  Gorgo was raked across the chest and leg and bitten in one shoulder, the
blood spraying from his wounds - but he gave as good as he got, his mace's
sharp spikes tearing deeply into the lion's head.

beast:  (blood and brains leaking from its split-open head)  RAARGH!
Gorgo:  GRAAAARGH!  (he grabs the lion's head in a headlock and begins
  trying to rip it from the monster's body)  AAARGH!

Belphanior:  Crap, I can barely tell them apart.
Mongo:  Gorgo gets like this sometimes.
Bosco:  (flies down, placing a perfect backstab between the beast's wings)
beast:  (weakening now)  GRRrrrrgh...
Belphanior:  (having moved around to the side, he slashes with Blackrazor,
  nearly severing one of the beast's rear legs)  Hit it now, while it's
  weak, before it can breathe on anybody again!
Mongo:  I'm on it.  (he lets Stormcrest fly once more, the hammer smashing
  the dragon-head into bloody pulp)
Gorgo:  (sprayed with gore and still berserk, he doesn't even notice the
  closeness of his cousin's attack)
beast:  (thrashing more and more weakly now)
Belphanior:  (darts in, his sword sinking deep into the thing's side)
beast:  Blech.  (it spits blood from its bull-like head, shudders, and
Belphanior:  Whew.
Mongo:  Good job, everybody.
Skektek:  Speak for yourself.  I didn't even get to do anything.
Mongo:  I'm sure you'll get a chance, soon enough.
Neko:  What are we going to do about Zhao?  He's a statue!
Belphanior:  I don't have the spell to fix this...Skektek?
Skektek:  (examining his burns)  Nope.
Belphanior:  Shit.
Aja:  I can cure our wounds, but I can't change stone back to flesh.
Skektek:  I could use some of that healing magic.
Mongo:  So could Gorgo.
Gorgo:  (stalking about, his berserker rage slowly dissipating)  Grr...
Neko:  Is he ever going to calm down?
Mongo:  Yeah.  Just leave him be for a little while.
Neko:  (shakes her head)  Whatever.  (she kicks at the ashes that used
  to be Dave-O)  Our guide is toast.
Belphanior:  We don't need him anymore.
Mongo:  He wasn't too useful to begin with, anyway.
Bosco:  (standing atop the beast's bloody, beaten corpse)  What the hell
  is this thing, anyway?
Belphanior:  Not a chimera, though doubtless it's related somehow.
Skektek:  That one head looked kind of like a gorgon's head...
Mongo:  Hey, who gives a fuck?  It's dead.

  Wounds were bound, burns soothed by magic, and weapons cleaned.  Gorgo
was the worst off, yet he insisted on continuing the journey without any
more rest.  Belphanior, Skektek, and Bosco were less seriously burned.
Since nobody had the necessary spell to restore Zhao to flesh, and since
they were a long way from home, a compromise was reached:  the stony form
of the swordsman was put inside Belphanior's portable hole, wrapped in
empty sacks to cushion it from bouncing around.  Belphanior vowed to take
care of Zhao's condition as soon as an opportunity presented itself.
  Miraculously, all of the horses were still about, and were easily

Mongo:  (notices that one of his rings is glowing brightly)  Hmm.
Belphanior:  Ring of fire resistance?
Mongo:  Yeah...though it's never glowed like that before.
Belphanior:  I can look into this for you, if you want, once we get some
  spare time.
Mongo:  Maybe.  We'll see.
Skektek:  (eyes the corpse of the weird monster as they ride onward)  One
  down, two to go.

  Their number diminished by two - one permanently - the party resumed its
ascent of Mount Aeon.

next:      the second challenge
released:  8/7/00
notes:     Gorgimera.  I'm going for a more mythological feel with this
  part of the story arc - like the tales of the Greeks, with their gods
  and monsters.

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