Chapter #676

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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       +
+     Eduardo        3rd level human thief                                +
+     Jutokai        8th level human archer                               +
+     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                            +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Boltar          high priest of Pholtus                                +
+   Drak            rather cultured barbarian warrior                     +
+   Parekh          dark-skinned female wizard                            +
+                                                                         +
+   Nigel Bloodstone, general of Perrenland                               +
+     one soldier from Perrenland                                         +
+   Date:           3/3/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           dawn                                                  +
+   Place:          the ruins of Helgate                                  +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "I didn't think it would end like this."                              +
+   "We're not dead yet."                                                 +
+                                          - from _For Your Eyes Only_    +

                    DCLXXVI.  The Morning After

  Morning found the survivors of the battle weary and bedraggled.  It
wasn't a pretty sight.

Belphanior:  (looking around)  And so it ends.
Otto:  Could be worse.
Parekh:  We could _all_ be dead.
Boltar:  As opposed to some of us...

  The anti-magic sphere had caused more problems that it solved, for
with its rays permeating the collapsed castle - not to mention the
entire town below - it was impossible to dig out the dead.  Without
the aid of magic, the task would literally have taken hundreds of
laborers hundreds of hours.  The survivors had neither.  In fact,
just to get their various wounds and ills healed, they would have
to venture far outside the town.

Otto:  We can't even dig the damned thing out, can we?
Belphanior:  Nope.  Not a chance.  Not without magic, which we can't
  bring to bear.
Otto:  The sphere's got to be deep under all that rock.
Skektek:  If we can't even dig out our dead, there's no point in
  thinking about digging out the sphere.

  Lost and buried were Aja, Victoria, Daphne, Phoebe, Angus, Bram,
Marko, and all but one of the Perrenland soldiers.  Some of these
(notably Aja and Bram) had apparently been dead or dying before the
castle collapsed anyway.  Belphanior had stayed up all night, hoping
and waiting for Victoria to emerge from the ruins in mist form, but
she hadn't, and now it was daytime.  He knew that, had she been able,
she would have turned up by now.  He just didn't know what else he
could do to find her, at this point.
  Those who had survived weren't much better off, though.  Jutokai
had a broken arm and leg, both of them messy fractures in which the
bone jutted out through the skin.  Skektek was even worse off, for
both of his legs and most of his ribcage had been crushed.  The wizard
was near-death, but stubbornly hanging on; as soon as they could rig
a way to safely transport him, he would be taken outside the town
where proper healing magic could be applied to his grievous wounds.
  Young Eduardo had been rather fortunate, for a large slab of stone
had wedged above him, protecting him from serious harm.  Gorgo had
somehow been blown clear when the rubble began to fall, and thanks
to his armor, he'd lived (though the mail was dented so badly in one
place that it actually bit into his chest.)  Mongo had been pinned
beneath a large boulder, but his armor hadn't bent or collapsed, so
it had just been a matter of rolling the big rock off of him.
  As for Drak, his giant-size and strength had been negated by the
sphere, which left him in the thick of the collapse.  It was bad
enough that he'd been gutted before the castle caved in, but now
his left arm was severed above the elbow.  Like Skektek, he was in
critical condition and required immediate, powerful healing.  It
was a wonder that he'd held on for this long.

Mongo:  (to Boltar)  You've got your work cut out for you.
Boltar:  (sighs)  Yes, I know.

  The high priest of Pholtus, along with Parekh, Belphanior, Otto, Nigel
Bloodstone, and a single soldier from Perrenland, had lucked out.  A
piece of the roof had fallen directly over them and kept them from being
crushed.  Luckier still was Razor Charlie, who had somehow escaped with
only cuts and bruises despite being in the very thick of things.

Bosco:  How'd you pull that off?
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)

  For his part, Bosco had nothing to complain about; he'd been airborne
when the anti-magic sphere came into play, and the force of the collapse
had blown him clear of the castle.  The halfling had spent the last hour
getting down from the tree he'd landed in.
  And then there was Ys, who'd been smashed through the floor by the
huge slab of rock that fell on him.  This had turned out to be a good
thing, for upon hitting the floor beneath, the reptilian had gone one
way and the slab another.  When the castle's upper portion fell, Ys had
been in the process of finding stairs to get back up to the battle.  Not
only had he avoided all the falling rock and rubble, but with his great
(and non-magically-conferred) strength, he'd been instrumental in digging
out the survivors.

Ys:  (utterly exhausted, he slumps against a half-obliterated wall)
Otto:  The gods were with us today, that's for sure.
Bosco:  Which gods?
Otto:  All of 'em, I think.
Nigel Bloodstone:  No doubt in my mind.  (to the single remaining soldier
  from his force)  Are you okay, son?
single remaining Perrenland soldier:  Yes, sir.
Belphanior:  We need to get moving...get away from the sphere.
Parekh:  (staggering weakly)  Ugh...
Belphanior:  Is this your first time in an anti-magic zone?
Parekh:  Yes, and I don't like it.  We need to get away from here...far
  away from here.  (to Boltar)  Are Drak and the other wounded ready to
Boltar:  (wearily)  Yes.
Otto:  Then let's get to it.  Time's a-wasting.

  It seemed to take forever to get out of the ruins of the castle and
traverse the winding path down to the town.  There was no sign of the
pale Incus and his carriage.  The spellcasters felt a little better as
they put distance between themselves and the sphere, though not enough
so to work any magic or benefit from any items...yet.
  Once in the town proper, they encountered a few straggling undead.
Some of these eyed the party hungrily, but none stayed around to make
a fight of it.

Otto:  Even undead know when _not_ to fuck with someone.

  They didn't see a single living person in the entire town.  Only
the dead, and the undead, were still about.

Belphanior:  Looks like everyone in town was either slain or fled.

  As they walked from one end of town to the other, they called out
in case anyone was hiding, barricaded indoors, and so on.  Sadly,
nobody came out to greet them, and they concluded that there were
indeed no survivors.  The place was a smoking wasteland; almost all
of its buildings were crushed, burned, or both.  Bodies - dead and
undead - littered the streets.  Weapons and blood were everywhere.
They'd all seen carnage on battlefields, but this sort of destruction
didn't belong in a small town, and it unsettled them greatly.
  Magical powers didn't begin to return until a good five minutes'
march out of town.  First to "return" were the powerful artifacts:
Mongo's armor and hammer, a strange wand that Boltar possessed, and
perhaps other items possessed by Parekh and Drak.

Belphanior:  (to Otto)  The sphere's influence is less than it was on
  Lao Khan's island...must be all that rock covering the thing up this
Otto:  Not to mention that the rock probably contains a lot of ore.
  Doesn't metal block magic and other auras?
Parekh:  (nods)  It certainly does.
Boltar:  I should be ready to work some healing magic shortly.
Belphanior:  We'd all be much obliged.

  They finally stopped in a clearing off of the path leading between
Helgate and the main mountain pass to the east.  While Boltar worked
mighty healing magics, mostly using the unusual wand he carried,
Parekh took care of the Zhao problem...

Zhao:  (changed from stone back to flesh)  Where am I?
Belphanior: can I put this?

  The elf proceeded to give the swordsman a brief but thorough summary
of the chain of events that had taken place since the latter's stoning.

Zhao:  (sitting on a small boulder, cracking his knuckles)  I can't
  believe this.  Everything that happened, and I was a statue through
  it all.
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  Sorry.  Things got going too fast.
Parekh:  Almost too fast.  (she begins working another spell)
Belphanior:  What now?
Parekh:  I'm going to see if I can locate Bram and Marko, and in fact
  anyone within the ruins of that castle.
Belphanior:  But the anti-magic sphere-
Parekh:  To hell with it.  I have to try.


Parekh:  Damn!
Belphanior:  What?
Parekh:  It's no use.  That cursed sphere is preventing my scrying
  magic from telling me anything.  Well, except that there's no one
  alive in the entire town.
Belphanior:  Are you sure?
Parekh:  (angrily)  Of course I'm sure.  Bear in mind that none of us
  wanted to lose Bram or Marko.
Belphanior:  Hmm.

  While Parekh fumed and tried to come up with other ideas, Belphanior
and Mongo had a chat to the side.

Mongo:  What now?
Belphanior:  Panagaea, I suppose.  (he wistfully eyes the ruined town
  in the distance)  Damn.
Mongo:  Sorry, man.
Belphanior:  I should have known it was too good to last.  The sad
  thing is, I really felt that I was getting somewhere there...really
  building something strong, something lasting.
Mongo:  It wasn't to be.
Belphanior:  I guess not.
Mongo:  You gonna go back in search of your dead sometime?
Belphanior:  Don't know'd be pretty easy to find them and do
  the digging, except we can't use magic because of the sphere.  It's
  a classic chicken-and-egg situation.
Mongo:  Yeah, you'd need miners...lots of miners.
Belphanior:  I think it's safe to say that nobody will ever get that
  anti-magic sphere, not without a thousand diggers and many weeks.
  (he has a sudden flash of inspiration)  But just the same...if we
  can't have it, nobody should.  (he turns to Mongo)  I have a favor
  to ask.
Mongo:  Sure, name it.

  The others were astonished to see Belphanior walk a short ways
toward the ruined town, a large and ornate horn in hand.  When the
elf winded the thing, the ground shook...even in the distance.
While the buried sphere prevented the horn of siege from obliterating
the town directly, it couldn't stop earth tremors from outside its
area of influence from having effects inside that same area.  The
mountain to one side of the town, opposite from the castle ruins,
trembled slightly...and then a huge chunk of it broke free, causing
a great rockslide that quickly and completely buried the town.

Bosco:  Wow.
Parekh:  What did you do that for?
Belphanior:  To give our dead comrades a suitable tombstone...and to
  send a message.
Otto:  Loud and clear, I'd say.
Nigel Bloodstone:  And on that note...
Belphanior:  Eh?
Nigel Bloodstone:  We must be going.  I have nothing to say - no
  apologies, no regrets, no further conflicts.  I really don't want
  to think about it any more until I get back to Perrenland.  If even
Belphanior:  Fair enough.  Our paths had best not cross again.

  The elf didn't even look as the general from Perrenland and his one
surviving soldier took their leave, heading back to the main pass,
there to turn and begin the long, hard trip north.

Mongo:  Think he'll make it?
Otto:  It's possible.  He has a way of pulling through these things.
Belphanior:  (keeps impassively silent)
Bosco:  (to Mongo)  Hey, where'd you get that wicked-looking axe?
Mongo:  Oh, this?  I took it from that Tonga Dun clown after I snapped
  his spine.  It's got a good heft to it.
Bosco:  Cool.
Otto:  (to Belphanior)  That reminds realize that you just
  buried all of the stuff you didn't carry around with you?
Belphanior:  I got the good stuff - had it either in my portable hole
  or up there on board the skyship.
Otto:  Always carry around that which you can't afford to lose...good
Belphanior:  I think that, more or less, all of our crew did the same
Otto:  You know, we never did figure out what happened to Neko...
Belphanior:  At this point, that's the least of my worries.  If she
  made it, she made it; if not, there's nothing we can do for her now.
Otto:  Well put.  And we're not the only ones who lost companions.
  (he regards Boltar and Parekh, who are both attending to Drak)
Belphanior:  Hmm, I have another idea...

next:      many, many episodes of everyone except Belphanior and company
released:  9/21/00
notes:     Why did Helgate have to die?  Well, it boils down to this:
  change is sometimes necessary, and life isn't fair.

    Another issue, one that's been lingering but will undoubtedly be
  brought up by this episode:  does or does not anti-magic affect the
  undead?  In other words, are undead intrinsically magical, or not?
  To be honest, I don't know and don't want to make a call either way,
  so I'll leave it at this:  _this_ anti-magic sphere apparently didn't
  negate _these_ particular undead.  Why?  Maybe the zone weakens with
  increased range.  Maybe undead aren't inherently magical.  Maybe the
  sphere's rays are blocked by lots of rock.  Who knows?  Who cares?

    What does this bode for Victoria's chances of survival?  You may
  learn more after episode 700.  Then again, you may not.  Wiping out
  some of my cast allows me the freedom to put new, different ideas into

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