Chapter #727

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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       +
+   1991-2001 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   +
+   the Crimson Blades, a powerful and evil adventuring group             +
+   Date:           the week between 3/579 and 4/579 C.Y. (Common Year)   +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          the Solnor Ocean, far to the east of Aerdy            +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "The idea of being 'normal' didn't appeal much to him; the standards  +
+    were too low."                                                       +
+                         - from _Extreme Prejudice_, by Richard Dobbins  +

                      DCCXXVII.  Paragons

  The sleek black ship cut through the water, powered and guided by
magical forces beyond the comprehension of most who walked the world.
Standing at its prow, the archmage Chargrim stared at the seemingly
endless waters that stretched to the horizon and beyond.  His purple
robes flapped in the breeze, which was cold and bitter.  The wizard
didn't feel the cold, didn't feel the bite of the winter wind coming
off the ocean.  He had long ago ceased to become affected by such

Chargrim:  Ah.  We're close...very close.
Lord Rammstein:  (walks up to the other)  Did you say something?
Chargrim:  We near our quarry.
Lord Rammstein:  How can you know this?  I thought that you needed
  your enchanted globe to track-
Chargrim:  The globe becomes unnecessary when we're this close.
Lord Rammstein:  (ponders this, his thick arms crossed)  Oh.
Chargrim:  Are the others ready?
Lord Rammstein:  As ready as they need to be, I suppose.  (he frowns)
  Are you sure this is all leading somewhere?
Chargrim:  Nobody ventures hundreds of leagues into the middle of
  nowhere without a good reason.  The history books tell us of lost
  empires scattered across our world, far from the seats of current
Lord Rammstein:  Lost empires, eh?
Chargrim:  Something for everyone...great riches for the dwarf and
  the thief and the halfling, battle for you and others, lore and
  magic for the elf and myself...
Lord Rammstein:  Battle?  In the remains of an empire?
Chargrim:  Someone has to live there now.
Lord Rammstein:  (grins)  Ah.
Chargrim:  This is really a diversion, a warmup.  We've got important
  business waiting when we get back.
Lord Rammstein:  How's that?  Ever since we conquered the dwarven
  mountain and plundered the lost tombs of the elf-kings, there
  haven't really been any challenges.  (he stares out into the ocean)
Chargrim:  (softly)  Xusia and his allies may prove otherwise...there
  hasn't been one like him walking the world for a long time...
Lord Rammstein:  What's that?
Chargrim:  Nothing...nothing.  We'll burn that bridge when we come to
Lord Rammstein:  Good enough.
Chargrim:  Did you bring your warriors?
Lord Rammstein:  Of course.

  They were referring to the dozen men who were fanatically loyal to
the warrior lord - every one a seasoned warrior, a born killer, a
dangerous foe.  All of them wore enchanted armor and bore magical
weapons of one kind or another.  These men would lay down their lives
in a heartbeat for the glory of Lord Rammstein and the grim war-god
Hextor.  Once in a while, in some battle or dungeon, one or two of
these warrior-fanatics would perish in some violent or horrible way,
but strangely enough, new ones always seemed to show up, sooner or
  Rammstein wasn't the only one who had underlings, of course.  The
high priest Kalenon was accompanied by an acolyte whose skill and
power was still above many who called themselves high priests.
Chargrim himself had his huge and invisible familiar, the flying,
red-skinned beast.  Even now, it was somewhere above and ahead of
the ship, scouting ahead.  It pleased the archmage beyond measure
to have a demon bound to his service.

  Sighing, Chargrim turned his thoughts to the others in the party,
most of whom he'd known for more than a decade and all of whom were
examples of individuals who'd peaked in their chosen profession.
Rammstein, for example, could hold his own in single combat with
any warrior in the Flanaess, of that Chargrim had no doubt.  The
man was also an able leader of men, one who waded into battle at
the front of his ranks and inspired both himself and his fighting
companions into fanatical battle-frenzy.  More than once, the big
warrior had beaten overwhelming odds or accomplished things that
should have been impossible.  Hextor truly must have smiled upon
this particular follower.
  Kalenon, the high priest, was a lot more subtle in his devotion
and piety...until the time came to convert or slay.  Then, he was
capable of horrendous feats of evil that became the stuff of dark
tales.  Once, an entire village - men, women, and children - had
learned the hard way that Kalenon meant it when he'd said "convert
or die."  Kalenon's unholy magic was the stuff that most priests
never dreamed of calling forth:  rains of fire, great cracks in the
ground, withering spells of rot and decay, cloaking the sun in
darkness, and so on.  Like Lord Rammstein, Kalenon seemed to have
Hextor's blessing - in fact, the high priest had to, in order to
command the sort of power he did.
  The only other among their number that Chargrim considered to be
anywhere near his magical equal was the elf.  This individual had
a name, but it was long, complicated, and secret.  They just called
him "the elf" and always had, and he didn't seem to mind.  Such
worries were beneath him - how could they not be, after centuries
of life?  The elf had never revealed his age, but Chargrim had
reason to believe that the other had been around for well over a
thousand years.  The elf's power (both scope and type) certainly
supported this supposition; he commanded magic unlike any other,
and Chargrim had seen all there was to see.  His spells never
seemed to require preparation, material components, or even vocal
triggering.  If he didn't know better, Chargrim would have thought
the elf to be some kind of lich; he certainly was old enough.  Of
course, this wasn't possible, as Kalenon at least would have known
of an undead being in their midst.  No, the elf was simply old
beyond the scope of mortal were his great and terrible
  The rest were not spellcasters, and commanded no magic, but they
were to be feared and respected nonetheless.  Sydaar, for example,
wielded an enchanted sword that allowed her to always attack before
any foe.  This, combined with her unique boots, tended to enable her
to strike and then avoid attack...repeatedly.  The woman was quiet
and reserved, but when push came to shove, she was as ruthless as
they came.  The dwarf Orgthrok was the epitome of his race:  stout,
strong, aggressive, and greedy.  His battleaxe, however, was a long-
lost artifact of some war-god, and bestowed even further resilience
and strength upon the dwarf - as well as a battle-fury to rival that
of the wildest berserkers from the far North.  There had been one
time, years ago, when the dwarf had been hit by at least a dozen
arrows and spears...and had kept fighting, not feeling the pain in
the least.  The archers' surprise had been the last thing they ever
knew, before falling before the dwarf's gory axe.
  The halfling, Yorgi, was even simpler to figure out:  he had all
the greed of a halfling, coupled with a mean streak that would do an
orc proud.  Physically puny, he had other powers, conferred by magical
items, that made him more dangerous than anyone could guess.  Little
Yorgi had the ability to assume gaseous form...not only assume it, but
move about completely freely and quickly as vapor, solidifying at will
where and when he desired.  No door or window could stop him, no trap
could hold him...and he ran into a lot of them, such was his greed for
wealth.  Chargrim knew that this very greed would someday be the death
of the halfling; until then, he was a force to be taken seriously.
  Also to be reckoned with was the hunter, Krom.  This was the wild
man, the woodsman, the savage...tall, broad, feral, with clawed hands
and sharp teeth.  More animal than man, more comfortable away from
civilization than near it, he was the true primordial hunter, able to
track and kill damn near anything.  Chargrim wasn't sure if this one
was man or beast - perhaps both - primarily because he hadn't had a
lot of time around Krom, to ponder the issue.  The latter shunned the
cities for the most part, and tended to show up only when needed, and
sometimes not even then.  In this, the hunter had something in common
with the dark muse, Laryn, except that she _was_ at home in civilization
but just not obvious.  When she did choose to be obvious, however, she
was absolutely dominating, with a voice as sweet as a songbird...and
far more enchanting.  Laryn's special talent lay in her voice and its
power over mortals.  Chargrim had seen entire battalions of soldiers
stopped in their tracks by the muse's hypnotic, seductive song.  There
was no doubt that she served some dark power, perhaps even sacrificing
souls to feed it; men tended to be with her for one night only, and
then vanish.  Even the most hardened of the Crimson Blades kept a wary
eye on Laryn, out of uncertainty about the unknown, if nothing else.
  And then there was Snake...the master assassin, dealer of death.  He
wasn't physically imposing like Lord Rammstein, and didn't have the
magical power of Chargrim or the elf, or the evil devotion and faith of
Kalenon, nor the sheer fury or the dwarf or the wild demeanor of the
hunter.  Yet, all of them feared him, in one way or another.  The others
dealt death; Snake _was_ death.  He had forgotten more about killing
than most people would know in a lifetime.  His mere presence sent a
chill down the spines of those around him, as if they knew that this
man could find some way to kill them if he chose to.  Chargrim had his
doubts about Snake being a mere human, but like a lot of things, this
matter had fallen by the wayside due to lack of free time.
  The important thing, Chargrim thought to himself, was that despite
the varied nature of his companions, they could all be counted upon
to work together, efficiently, toward the accomplishment of some goal.

Chargrim:  (raises an eyebrow)  Land...(he turns to Rammstein)  Land
  ahead!  Our quarry lies directly ahead!
Rammstein:  (cracks his knuckles)  Good.

  Meanwhile, from the depths of the lost isle's forest, a band of snake-
men watched the dark ship on the horizon.  After their recent defeat at
the hands of outlanders, they had regrouped and come up with a plan of
attack.  The foes had fled to the ancient ruins, which were taboo and
had been so for longer than their elders could remember.  Yet, they had
to be found and killed, the shamans had said after speaking with the
grim god worshipped by the species.  To that effect, a summoning was in
progress...a summoning unlike any other, ever.  This time, the snake-men
were bringing their god over into this world...and the Great Scaled One
would lead them through the forbidden ruins, to the outlanders...and
then, there would be much death.

next:      we see what the Adventurers are up to
released:  4/2/01
notes:     Not at this time.

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