Chapter #674

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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       +
+     Aja            9th level human priestess of Wee Jas                 +
+     Jutokai        8th level human archer                               +
+     Neko           7th level human female thief                         +
+     Otto           8th/11th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+     Razor Charlie  9th level human fighter                              +
+     Skektek       12th level human wizard                               +
+     Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                          +
+     Zhao           8th level human swordsman (currently petrified)      +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+                                                                         +
+   unwanted visitors:                                                    +
+     Bram          enigmatic vampire hunter                              +
+     Boltar        high priest of Pholtus                                +
+     Drak          rather cultured barbarian warrior                     +
+     Ghuust        weird necromantic medium                              +
+     Marko         grizzled warrior                                      +
+     Parekh        dark-skinned female wizard                            +
+                                                                         +
+   unwanted visitors from Perrenland:                                    +
+     Nigel Bloodstone, general                                           +
+     400 heavy cavalry                                                   +
+                                                                         +
+   unwanted visitors from Ket:                                           +
+     Tonga Dun, general                                                  +
+     600 light cavalry & mounted infantry                                +
+   Date:           3/2/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          the remote mountain town of Helgate                   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "We're a peaceful people.  We don't kill our enemies, we get          +
+    get our enemies to kill each other."                                 +
+                               - from _Beneath the Planet of the Apes_   +

                         DCLXXIV.  Decimation

  The battle for Helgate is now in full, glorious, bloody swing...

Belphanior:  (spots a twenty-foot-tall warrior across the street, using
  a huge mallet to smash people and buildings alike)  What now?  Who the
  fuck are these people?
Mongo:  (peers at the unknown combatant)  He's no giant, that's for sure.
Gorgo:  Let's get down there!
Skektek:  Why bother?  I can blast all of these foes from up here, and I
  don't have to worry about random footsoldiers trying to get me.

  Just then, a number of rubbery black tentacles appeared amidst the
group, concentrated on Skektek.

Skektek:  (snared by six of the things, he falls, thrashing but basically
  helpless)  Aaargh!
Belphanior:  (snagged by a tentacle)  What?!?
Mongo:  (finds two of the things coiling around his leg and arm)  Fuck!
Gorgo:  (snared by a single tentacle)  Where'd that come from?
Neko:  (manages to dodge one of the things as it appears at her feet)
Bosco:  (already airborne)  Hey, I've seen these things before!  There's
  another wizard around here somewhere!

  A floating wizard, bearing the insignia of Perrenland on his robe, had
risen above the back side of Vergis' building and taken the party by

Bosco:  See?
Perrenland wizard:  (already working another spell)
other Perrenland wizard:  (shows up as well)

  However, with the exception of Skektek, the others weren't exactly in
big trouble...

Gorgo:  (uses his spiked mace to gouge the rubbery tentacle that persists
  in trying to crush his armored leg)  Die, why don't you?!?
Mongo:  (snaps his two tentacles with ease, hefts Stormcrest, then hurls
  it at the first wizard, the one who cast the black tentacles)
Perrenland wizard #1:  (struck in the chest by the hammer, his entire
  ribcage is crushed)  Ghak!  (he falls out of sight, dying)
Mongo:  Yeah!  (he catches his hammer)
Belphanior:  (having broken free of his tentacle too)  Sometimes I forget
  how great it is to have you around in battle.  (to Bosco)  Bosco - help
  Skektek with those tentacles.
Bosco:  Er...right.  (he goes to work, sawing at the tentacles that are
  holding the wizard)  Bosco...tentacle-cutter!
Skektek:  (being crushed)  Argh!  Hurry up!
Neko:  (realizing that there's no way she can attack that other wizard,
  she moves over to assist Bosco)

  The second wizard, however, was taking no chances.  A smart fellow,
he'd seen that the bolt of lightning had come from this rooftop, and had
figured the enemy spellcasters as a powerful bunch.  Accordingly, he
treated them with the proper respect...

Perrenland wizard #2:  (launches a fireball, then flies backward at top
Belphanior:  (in the process of working his own spell)  Oh, shit.
Mongo:  (his eyes widen)
Neko:  (instinctively leaps for the edge of the building)

  However, Mongo wore the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd, and one of that
glorious relic's powers was to siphon away magical energies.  Thus, the
fireball never burned anybody; rather, it was absorbed into Mongo's
armor, which was glowing with the raw power it had just taken in.

Mongo:  Hah!  (he eyes the wizard, high above)  Allow me to retort.
  (with a mighty throw, he sends Stormcrest hurtling into the air)
Perrenland wizard #2:  (watches as the hammer smashes through his magical
  shielding spell and hits him hard enough to drain several uses of the
  stoneskin spell he has in effect)  Ungh!
Mongo:  Damn wizards.
Belphanior:  (his previously-in-progress spell ruined)  We need to blast

  However, a third wizard from Perrenland had joined in the attack; this
one had just witnessed Mongo's apparent immunity to direct magical
attacks, and took a more strategic approach.  His spell transformed
Vergis' entire building into thick, oozing mud, dropping Belphanior,
Mongo, and Gorgo into a gigantic heap of the stuff.  Bosco remained
airborne, holding Skektek; one black tentacle yet remained, clutching
the wizard's leg.  As for Neko, she'd leapt from the building already,
and landed deftly in the street.

Kettite soldier #454:  (charges at her, sword flashing)
Neko:  (jumps aside, dodging the blow)
Kettite soldier #288:  (slashes at the young woman, opening a slice
  across her arm)
Neko:  Argh!
Perrenland soldier #183:  (stabs the Kettite)
Perrenland soldier #330:  (charges forth to help)
Kettite wizard #3:  (launches a burning hands, bathing both soldiers as
  well as Neko in searing flames)
Neko:  (having jumped to one side, she escapes the fiery death that
  claims both soldiers)  Whew.  (she realizes that her shirt is on fire)

  Dashing toward a water trough in front of someone's stables, Neko
jumped into it, dousing the flames.

  Down the street, Razor Charlie was trying to get upstairs to help
Jutokai, but there were Kettite soldiers in his way.

Razor Charlie:  (ducks behind a column as another bolt whizzes by)
Jutokai:  (appears in the stairway above, behind the soldiers)
Kettite soldier #87:  (hit in the back by the first arrow)  Argh!
Kettite soldier #88:  (whirls)  Huh?  (he takes a shaft through the
  throat)  Glurk!
Razor Charlie:  (seizes upon this distraction to throw a knife into a
  third soldier's temple, killing the man instantly)
Jutokai:  (uses his magical boots of jumping to leap down, through a
  gap in the soldiers' formation, and past Razor Charlie)
Razor Charlie:  (nods to his fellow marshal)
Jutokai:  Let's get out of here.
Razor Charlie:  Right.  (they flee, leaving the three remaining Kettite
  soldiers hiding behind cover)

  As the duo emerged into the street, a stray bolt of lightning clipped
the building's upper corner, caving it in and raining rubble down into
the street.

Kettite soldier #245:  (conked on the head with a large rock, he falls
  to the ground, unconscious)
Razor Charlie:  (sneers in that general direction)
Jutokai:  We need to find Belphanior or Otto-
Razor Charlie:  (raises a knife suddenly)  Look out!
Jamaine:  Whoa!  It's just me, Jamaine!
Claudia:  (hanging onto the old cobbler's arm, terrified)
Razor Charlie:  (lowers the knife)  Lucky for you.
Jutokai:  What the hell are you doing running around out here?
Jamaine:  (lowers his sword)  The town's crawling with soldiers, and
  they're all killing each other!
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)  Yeah, we noticed.
Claudia:  (to Jutokai)  We need to find Otto - I've got something really
  important to tell him!
Jutokai:  That's where we're headed - stick close to us.
Jamaine:  Right.

  The foursome darted down the street, in the general direction of
Belphanior's last known location...

Jutokai:  Look!  (he points at the area a few buildings down, where a
  great deal of light and noise suggests a high volume of spellcasting)
Jamaine:  I'd say we're going the right way.
Claudia:  (trembles as somewhere nearby, a fireball detonates, shaking
  the ground)
Jamaine:  Shh, it's okay.  We'll make it through this.
Jutokai:  (leads the way, his bow at the ready)

  Suddenly, they were accosted by a force of Kettites who came running
around a corner.

Razor Charlie:  (throws a knife, downing one foe)  That's it - I'm out.
Jutokai:  (nocking an arrow as he yells)  Out?!?  Don't you have some
  magical ones too?  (he fires an arrow, slaying another soldier)
Razor Charlie:  Won't waste the magic ones on these.  (just like that,
  a bullwhip is in his hands)
Jamaine:  (moving to protect Claudia, he parries a third soldier's strike,
  then brings his sword around to drive the man back)
Jutokai:  (fires another arrow, this one glancing from its target's round
  shield)  Damn!
Razor Charlie:  (with a loud CRACK, he utilizes his bullwhip on another
Kettite soldier #333:  (hit in the face, he falls, screaming and thrashing
Razor Charlie:  (smirks)
Jamaine:  (slays the soldier he was meleeing with)  Back, Claudia!  We'll
  keep you safe from-

  The cobbler was silenced by the fiery arrow of magical energy that
impaled him right through the chest!

Jamaine:  Urk.  (he falls to his knees)
Claudia:  Jamaine!
Razor Charlie:  (looking around, he spots a Kettite wizard skulking
  nearby)  There!
Jutokai:  Got him.  (with an arrow, he pins the man's hand to the shed
  behind him)
Kettite wizard #5:  Aaargh!
Jutokai:  Shit, I missed.  I was aiming for his heart.
Razor Charlie:  (produces one of his prized magical throwing knives,
  sending it at the enemy mage)  I won't.
Kettite wizard #5:  (pierced through the throat, he dies)
Jutokai:  (shoots the last of the Kettite band at close range, felling
  that soldier)  We're safe for now.  (he turns to Jamaine)  Oh, hell.
Claudia:  (cradles the lifeless body in her arms)
Razor Charlie:  He's gone.
Claudia:  It's not fair!
Jutokai:  Nothing's fair.  Come on, we've got to keep moving.
Razor Charlie:  (retrieving his knife)  I'll be right there.

  Another band of people burst from the next alley just then, causing
them to tense and raise weapons, but these faces were familiar.

Ys:  Friend Jutokai!  Well-met, I must say.
Otto:  What's going on?  Claudia, is that you?
Claudia:  They killed Jamaine!
Otto:  Bloody hell.  I _liked_ Jamaine.

  Otto and Ys were accompanied by six town guards, including their
captain Travis.

Jutokai:  What have you been up to?
Otto:  Killing invaders, taking a few casualties.  And seeing townspeople
  dead or dying - too many...Norman the banker, Sankar the carpenter,
  Tomlinson too.  It's bad, and getting worse.  (he looks around)  We
  need to find Belphanior.
Jutokai:  I think he's over that way.
Otto:  Let's get going, then.
Travis:  (to his men)  Spread out a little - we don't want to offer an
  easy target for anyone we meet.

  As the group began moving, Claudia grabbed Otto's arm with surprising

Otto:  What?
Claudia:  There's something you should know - some other foreigners are
Otto:  What are you talking about?
Claudia:  Not these Kettites, and not the other ones - someone else!
  They were in the Sword and Cup talking about hunting some vampire...!
Otto:  Vampire?!?  Are you sure?
Claudia:  (nods)  I heard it myself, before all of this fighting started.
Otto:  (sighs)  Things are falling apart, and fast-

  The fireball struck suddenly and without warning, cast by an invisible
Kettite mage who'd taken cover on a rooftop across the street.  He
recognized non-trivial combatants when he saw them, and was determined to
wipe them out.  The tremendous explosion not only incinerated most of the
group, it also made a black crater in the middle of the street and set
three buildings on fire.  Unfortunately for the adventurers and those
with them, there was no Mongo and no Invulnerable Coat of Arnd here to
siphon away the deadly flames.
  When the fire died down and the smoke cleared, only Ys still remained
standing.  His enchanted leather armor had saved him from the worst of
the fireball, but his grey scales were black, and blue pus oozed from
numerous burns.  Still, he lived.  Nearby, Jutokai - who had been on
point and thus farthest from the center of the great blast - stirred
on the ground, charred but alive.  Razor Charlie was just lying there,
burned and unconscious, but somehow he too had survived the fireball.
Otto, however, was neither moving nor breathing.  Travis, Claudia, and
the town guards were little more than ashes now.

Ys:  (realizes that whoever cast that fireball is still around)  Damn.
  (with great haste, he sheaths his sword and scoops up Otto, Razor
  Charlie, and Jutokai)

  The reptilian was in great pain, his body burned and his skin split,
but he loped away with huge strides, carrying his friends to safety.

Kettite wizard #7:  (still on his rooftop)  Impossible!  (he launches
  a volley of magical missiles)

  The barrage caught Ys in the back, causing him to stumble, but he
didn't stop or even slow down.  Before the wizard could cast any more
spells, the reptilian and his carried allies were gone, out of sight.

Kettite wizard:  Dammit.
Nigel Bloodstone:  (walking down the street, bloody and weary and seeking
  the heart of the battle)
Kettite wizard #7:  Ah, even better.  (he works a new spell)
Nigel Bloodstone:  (continues walking, his gory sword in one hand and his
  much-notched shield in the other)
Kettite wizard #7:  Hey, you down there!  Yes, you!  Chew on this!  (he
  launches a lightning bolt at the enemy general)  Hah!
Nigel Bloodstone:  (warned by the foe's bold cry, he raises his shield,
  which bears powerful enchantments indeed)
Kettite wizard #7:  (watching in amazement as the lightning bolt is
  reflected right back at him)  What?!?

  The bolt not only incinerated its caster, but it also took out the top
two floors of that building and set the one behind it on fire.  As for
the general from Perrenland, he walked on, weary but determined to deal
with things in this troublesome little town.

Nigel Bloodstone:  (regards a cut on his sword arm)
Perrenland soldier #145:  (comes limping from an alley, sword in hand)
Nigel Bloodstone:  Status report.
Perrenland soldier #145:  It's bad, sir.  Many of our number have been
  slain.  I've seen survivors, here and there, but-
Nigel Bloodstone:  Good work.  Stick with me, and we'll see what kind of
  regrouping we can do.
Perrenland soldier #145:  (heartened by the presence of his general, he
  manages a grim smile despite his wounds)  Yes, sir.

  Back at the heap of mud that was once Vergis the stonemason's home and
shop, Bosco and Skektek now stood next to the huge brown pile, wondering
what to do.

Skektek:  I suppose I could melt the mud away with a fireball, but our
  friends inside wouldn't like that very much.
Bosco:  (eyeing the melting remains of the last black tentacle, which he
  just cut from Skektek's leg)  Mongo might - he never seems to get hurt
  by fireballs.
Skektek:  Hmm.  (he curses)  Dammit, this is what I get for only having
  offensive spells in my spellbook...
Bosco:  (points into the air)  Hey, what're _they_ up to?

  The two Perrenland wizards were now engaged in a magical battle against
the single Kettite wizard who had been standing in the street.  All three
were airborne, the Perrenlanders to one side and about twenty feet apart,
the Kettite floating perhaps a hundred feet away.  Skektek was of a mind
to blast all three of them with a single destructive spell, but they
weren't close enough together, so for now he'd turned his attention to
the heap of mud in which Mongo, Gorgo, and Belphanior were trapped.

  Deep within the mud-pile, Mongo - whose magical amulet kept him from
suffocating - was blindly slogging his way through the mud.  He'd already
gotten hold of Gorgo and was pulling his cousin along with him.  With any
luck, Mongo thought, he'd find Belphanior too, and break free of the mud
before one or both of his companions suffocated.
  For Belphanior's part, he was trying to utilize his cube of force to
give himself some breathing room - literally - but since he couldn't
speak within the mud, that wasn't going to work.  Then, suddenly, he felt
cool air on his outstretched hand!  Moving sluggishly in that direction,
he burst from the mud, collapsing in the street, heaving for breath.

Bosco:  There you are!
Belphanior:  (hacking and coughing)  Wh- what?!?
Bosco:  It was simple, really.  I used my ring of special vision to look
  into the mud...I saw you, and started digging.  (he holds up both muddy
Belphanior:  (spits out more mud)  My thanks, Bosco.  You've finally
  proven your worth.
Bosco:  (looking mildly offended)  What about that time I slew the
Belphanior:  (coughs some more)
Bosco:  Well, I'd better find Mongo and get him out of there too.  (he
  goes to work, flying around the mud-heap, scrutinizing it)
Belphanior:  (shaking his head, he turns to Skektek)  How are we doing?
Skektek:  (points to the three wizards who are having their little duel)
  They need to die.
Belphanior:  You take the two, I'll take the one.  (he pauses)  Shit, all
  this damned mud is making it hard to find any of my stuff.
Skektek:  (hands the elf a wand)  Just say "frigid" and point.  (he takes
  his other wand and aims it at those in the air)

  The wizards in the air, busy fighting each other, never knew what hit
them.  Almost at the same time, a fireball and a cone of cold leapt into
the air, the former incinerating the two Perrenland wizards and the latter
blasting the Kettite wizard from the sky.  Around this same time, Mongo
burst from the mud-heap, dragging Gorgo behind him.  Bosco was babbling
something about saving three out of three, but Mongo tended to Gorgo,
scraping mud off of his cousin's face and making sure he could breathe.
Belphanior had a new inspiration just then, and after a brief delay, he
had his enchanted book of beasts out and open.

Belphanior:  Cover me if any more assholes show up.  I only need a moment
Skektek:  Sure, but what are you doing?
Belphanior:  Getting us some more help.

  The book was a minor artifact, and enabled its owner to summon monsters
with little of the pomp and circumstance (not to mention preparation and
time) that the normal spells of this sort required.  Almost before Skektek
could think of the exact method he'd use to kill the next foe who showed
up, Belphanior was done, and two new allies stood before him.

umber hulk:  (flexes its powerful clawed arms)  Gronk!
shambling mound:  (just shambles in place)
Belphanior:  (addresses both monsters directly, as the book's power allows
  him to communicate with anything he summons while using it)  Enemies are
  coming.  Be ready.  (as an afterthought, he points at the umber hulk)
  And you - don't look at me, or him, or him, or those two over there.
Skektek:  Or them.  (he points)
Belphanior:  Holy shit...

  Ys came charging over, nearly collapsing as he reached the elf.  On his
back were the unmoving forms of Otto, Razor Charlie, and Jutokai.

Belphanior:  (sizing up the reptilian's horrendously wounded form)  Are
  you okay?  What happened?
Ys:'d better help them.  Otto's dead, I think.
Otto:  (stirs, ever so slightly)
Belphanior:  That's right, he regenerates.
Ys:  Good.  (he falls to the ground, exhausted and pushed to the extent
  of even his formidable limits)
Skektek:  (hands over his healing potion)  Here, you need this a lot more
  than I do.
Ys:  (guzzles the liquid in one gulp)  My thanks.
Skektek:  (stares in morbid fascination at the reptilian's wounds,
  wondering if his potion made any difference at all)
Ys:  Yes, it helped.  You have my deepest thanks.
Belphanior:  (pours his last two healing potions down the throats of Otto
  and Jutokai, though both are still not quite conscious)

  Finally, the elf and his marshals were all together again...or mostly

Belphanior:  We still haven't found Aja...and where the hell is Neko?
Skektek:  (shrugs)  Why do you always ask me, even though I never know?
Belphanior:  Point taken.  (he looks around, shaking his head)

  The town was demolished.  Fully half of its buildings were either rubble
or burning (or both) and bodies were everywhere.  It looked like almost all
of the Kettite and Perrenland soldiers - and their mounts - were dead, the
bodies scattered throughout the town.  From what the adventurers had seen,
most of these had killed each other, especially once the spellcasters
brought their magic into play.  However, it wasn't just the combatants who
had suffered; many of Helgate's residents had been slain too, by blade or
  At this point, it wasn't much longer before a certain inevitable meeting
took place...

Bosco:  (pointing)  Hey!  Who are those clowns?
Drak:  (still twenty feet tall, he lumbers in their direction, accompanied
  by his five companions)
Bram:  (speaking loudly and clearly)  Hold!  We mean no harm!
Belphanior:  Well, there's a first on this fine day.

  On Belphanior's side, he was relatively okay, as were Mongo, Skektek,
and Bosco.  Gorgo was out of commission, at least for now.  Jutokai, Razor
Charlie, and Otto were still unconscious.  Ys was in pretty bad shape, but
yet he stood, unsheathing his huge sword another time.  The umber hulk and
the shambling mound simply waited for orders.
  On Bram's side, there were himself, the priest Boltar, the sorceress
Parekh, the gigantic mallet-wielding Drak, the grizzled veteran warrior
Marko, and the grim Ghuust (who was now translucent.)  None of these six
were seriously injured; in fact, only Drak and Marko had suffered any
minor cuts and scrapes.

Bram:  (holds up his hands)  We're not here to fight, and we're not part
  of either of these armies.
Belphanior:  Well, you must be here for something.
Bram:  In fact, we-
Belphanior:  (turns suddenly)  What?!?
Nigel Bloodstone:  (appears in the distance, striding purposefully toward
  the two small groups, sword and shield held firmly)
two dozen ragtag Perrenland soldiers:  (following their general, who
  found them in ones and twos as he made his way through the town)
Bram:  (folds his arms across his chest)
Belphanior:  Well, I guess we can try this again.

next:      some nasty surprises
released:  9/14/00
notes:     It's not over yet...but it soon will be.

  The latest rant is up:

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