Chapter #736

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                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
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                               +           +
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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       +
+   1991-2001 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   +
+   Belphanior      14th/14th/14th level elven fighter/wizard/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            barbarian warrior                                     +
+   Parekh          dark-skinned female wizard                            +
+                                                                         +
+   Neera           female human sage/astrologer                          +
+                                                                         +
+   allies summoned by Belphanior:                                        +
+     ghoul                                                               +
+     bugbear                                                             +
+     minotaur                                                            +
+     ogre mage                                                           +
+     giant horned beetle                                                 +
+     black pudding                                                       +
+   Date:           the week between 3/579 and 4/579 C.Y. (Common Year)   +
+   Time:           indeterminate                                         +
+   Place:          a cavern within an isle amidst the Solnor Ocean       +
+   Climate:        mild                                                  +
+   "I've never seen anything like this."                                 +
+   "Of course you haven't.  No one has."             - from _Stargate_   +

                      DCCXXXVI.  Point of No Return

  The adventurers stand on the brink of something great and terrible:
before them are a pair of huge doors, fifty feet high, leading to what
must surely be the innermost chamber of the Lost Tomb of Panagaea.

Skektek:  (looking the doors up, down, and then up again)  Hmm, is it
  possible that you missed any runes that might be on these things?
Neera:  I suppose, but the gist of what we've seen is clear:  we're not
  supposed to enter.
Mongo:  To hell with that.  We've come too far and done too much to back
  off now.

  Belphanior's summoned monsters - the minotaur and bugbear - tried in
vain to get the doors open, such was the portals' sheer size and mass.

Otto:  Dammit.  What now?
Mongo:  More strength is called for...
Parekh:  Or perhaps some magic.
Drak:  I could grow to giant-size and help-

  This debate was cut short by the doors themselves - for they rumbled
to life, opening slowly, an inch at a time, away from the party and
inward to the area beyond.

Belphanior:  Now that's odd.  (to the summoned help)  Get in there.

  A musty odor greeted them from the large hall beyond.  Fifty feet high
and wide and a hundred in length, the chamber had a flat roof supported
along the room's edges by numerous columns built into the stone of the
walls themselves.  As in previous areas of the tomb, the walls here were
intricately-carven, bearing grand designs of times long past.  This place
was quite obviously a treasure repository, for coins of all shapes and
metals were piled high throughout its length.

Belphanior:  (scanning the piles of coins)  They look real enough.
Boltar:  Agreed.  This is no illusion.
Bosco:  (dives headfirst into the nearest mound of coinage)
Parekh:  (shakes her head)  Somehow, I knew he'd do something like that.
Mongo:  It's not the first time.

  As the party split up to explore the room, closer examination revealed
some common characteristics of the coins.

Neera:  They all bear the visage of this man on one side...he must be
  the Emperor, Hyperion...
Otto:  Check out the shapes, too...

  Different metals had been struck into different shapes.  For example,
all of the copper coins were triangular, while the silver ones were all
square in form.  Their edges are rounded, presumably so they wouldn't
wear holes in pockets and pouches, but the basic shapes were easily
distinguishable.  Some of the coins were of metals other than the usual
common ones...

Belphanior:  Fascinating.
Bosco:  (his eyes gleaming)  It sure is.
Neera:  (taking different types of coins, she quickly figures out a basic
  pattern)  So here it is...

              metal              shape
              iron               circle (thicker)
              bronze             circle
              copper             triangle
              silver             square
              gold               pentagon
              platinum           hexagon
              mithril            heptagon

Bosco:  Hey, what about electrum?
Parekh:  Electrum is little more than an alloy of silver and gold...I've
  always considered it to be pointless.
Ys:  Apparently, so did Emperor Hyperion.
Mongo:  No adamant...good.  That stuff's too rare to be showing up as
  someone's damned coinage.
Drak:  Mithril's not exactly a common metal either.
Mongo:  True.
Boltar:  Nothing about this place is common, though.
Bosco:  There aren't that many mithril piles, in fact, just
  a random one here or there.
Neera:  I think that iron was their main currency.  Look around - most
  of this is iron, and then bronze.
Gorgo:  Dammit.

  Though there was indeed a small fortune in gold, silver, and other
"true" precious metals here, the bulk of it was indeed iron or bronze,
a fact which had escaped them all at first glance.

Belphanior:  Just a sign of the shifting times, I guess...bronze and iron
  must have had more value thousands of years ago.  Still, the rest of
  it's no small sum by any means.
Mongo:  (looking around)  No way will we be able to carry even _some_ of
  this loot out of here.
bugbear:  (pockets some silver pieces)
Bosco:  (headed for the square, open archway at the end of this hall)
  There's another room beyond this one...and there's treasure in there

  Indeed, the first hall opened into a second, of the same size and shape.
This one was filled not with coins but with gems!  Precious stones were
held in bowls, jars, urns, and even barrels.  Raw or cut, round or many-
faceted, blue, green, red, violet, clear...there were thousands of gems
here for the taking!

Bosco:  (standing amidst all of this splendor)  This is the greatest thing
  that has ever happened to me.

  Again, the sheer volume of the treasure was deceptive - most of the
gemstones were small or medium - but also once again, there were some
really nice diamonds in the rough, so to speak.
  There was also another open arch, leading into another large hall, this
one containing numerous stacks of ingots and other materials in bulk.

Mongo:  Okay, I'll admit it:  this is getting better and better.

  It was as if they had scarcely enough time to gloat over one chamber's
contents before the urge to see what lay ahead took over.

Belphanior:  Okay, everyone:  listen up.
Bosco:  (pauses, a huge diamond clutched in his hand)  Huh?
Belphanior:  It's okay to move around and check this stuff out, but bear
  in mind that there might be traps here, or monsters.
Gorgo:  The only monster around is that pile of gold back there in the
  last room.
Parekh:  Actually, that brings up a good point:  where did that big black
  pudding get to?
Razor Charlie:  (jerks a thumb behind him)  Back there.
Gorgo:  With that pile of gold, maybe.
Belphanior:  That's fine - it can guard our backs, then.  I already told
  it not to come near any of us, so we should be safe.  (he clears his
  throat)  I'm not telling you that you can't take any of this stuff...
  hell, on the contrary, take all you can carry - that's what it's all
  about, why we're here.  But just be careful, and keep alert.
ogre mage:  (wastes no time taking several large gems for itself)
Belphanior:  Heh.

  As an afterthought, the elf turned to certain of his summoned monsters
to further reinforce the group's safety...

Belphanior:  (points to the ogre mage and the giant horned beetle)  You
  and you, move ahead there, to that next exit - guard the party's front.
ogre mage:  (moves that way, mumbling to itself in its native tongue
  while casually pocketing treasures it likes)
giant horned beetle:  (makes its way there as well)

  As noted before, the first treasure chamber contained only coins,
though they surely numbered in the millions.  The second one held gems
galore, while the third was obviously for raw materials.  It was these
latter two that the majority of the party focused their efforts on right
now.  Spells were cast to detect magic, not to mention traps and hidden
things.  The gemstones were fairly easy to sort though, but the third
room was more interesting.  There were ingots, stacked neatly in square, silver, and so forth, in roughly the same proportions as
the coins in the first of the treasure chambers.  As well, though, were
other places where things had once been but had apparently decayed away
into nothingness.

Neera:  Cloth,, rare wood.  There's really no telling.
  Most people never take into account what the passage of time can do
  to things - not when they're hoarding treasure, and not when they're
  finding it.
Parekh:  What we need is magical items...things lost to time and history
  that hold great secrets and power.
Drak:  (to Jutokai)  I love it when she talks like that.
Jutokai:  (smirks)

  The third chamber also held piled blocks of stone, much of which was
exotic-looking and undoubtedly rare or even unique.  Carrying such
things out of here would be far from practical, though.

Mongo:  Hell, if we're not careful, we'll fill the portable hole up
  long before we see the last of these treasure halls.
Boltar:  Which begs the question, how many of them _are_ there?
Belphanior:  I see a fourth beyond this one...and then a fifth, and a
Bosco:  (walking around with fist-sized gemstones in either hand)  This
  is a dream.  It's GOT to be.

  They worked quickly and efficiently, loading sacks, pouches, pockets,
packs, and whatever else would hold treasure.  Although there was more
here than a hundred people could have carried out, they had to get as
much as they could - it was just too hard to resist, with all the untold
loot just lying about.  The heavier stuff, like the ingots, went in the
portable hole; Mongo was careful to make sure plenty of space was left
there for treasures they had yet to find.

  When they were ready, they moved to the fourth chamber.  This one held
a variety of jewelry items, almost all of them in seeming disarray and
random positions.  Many were placed atop dark piles of dust that had
once been soft pillows; others rested in the vague remains of shelves or

Gorgo:  (grabs a crown of solid gold, inset with a dozen rubies)  Fit
  for a king!
Bosco:  Hey, give me that - I saw it first!
Gorgo:  Go to hell.
Bosco:  (grabs a diamond-studded necklace)  Trade you?
Gorgo:  Hmm.
Bosco:  Ha ha ha.
Gorgo:  (grins suddenly)  Heh!

  From the placement and nature of most of the items of jewelry, one
had to wonder if it had once adorned actual bodies here.  Whatever the
case, this was still just monetary treasure, which meant that some felt
the urge to move onward...

Belphanior:  Where's the good stuff?
Mongo:  I thought this _was_ the good stuff?
Parekh:  This is nothing...mere baubles.
Skektek:  Agreed.  I want to see what sort of magic was commanded by these
  people, in their heyday.
Drak:  I'm not sure I do.
Bosco:  Can I have your share then?

  The fifth chamber was identical to the previous four, in size, shape,
entrance, and exit.  However, it held only high shelves, wall to wall...
all of them filled with dust.

Skektek:  Noooooo...
Gorgo:  What?
Parekh:  It was a library, you fool.
Gorgo:  So?
Belphanior:  No lost lore for us.
Skektek:  (poking through some of the dust)  Scrolls, this shelf...and
  that one.  Dammit.
Neera:  It only makes sense, given all these years.  Remember what I
  said before?
Mongo:  Couldn't they have used magic to help their stuff last?
Parekh:  Even strong preservation magic can fail after a thousand years.
Skektek:  And fail it did.
Belphanior:  What a shame...what a fucking shame.
Neera:  Magic or history, the loss of either is hard.

  Not even the slightest scrap of parchment, the tiniest remnant of tome,
the smallest fragment of scroll remained.  All was dust, and the wizards
and sage were far from happy.
  The sixth treasure chamber, however, did much to allay their bad mood.

Belphanior:  (sweeps the room with his gaze)  Wow.  And all of it magical.

  The hall was filled with assorted items of all types.  Suits of armor
were propped up against walls, or in some cases collapsed.  Weapons of
every size and shape could be seen, some with the armors and some by
themselves.  Huge chests were scattered throughout the chamber, at least
one of them open to reveal a wand, some gauntlets, a staff, a cauldron,
and much more.

Bosco:  Bonanza!  (he prepares to dart into the chamber)
Belphanior:  (clamps a hand on the halfling's shoulder)  Wait.
Bosco:  But-
Belphanior:  There's something else.
Mongo:  Trap?
Belphanior:  No...magic.  Powerful.
Boltar:  And evil.
Belphanior:  Yeah, I got that too.
Parekh:  Where, exactly?
Belphanior:  From the next room.
Gorgo:  To hell with the next room - let's clean house here before moving
Mongo:  Agreed.
Skektek:  (holding up two ancient wands)  Doubly agreed.

  Again, they took all they could carry (and then some.)  The difference
was, this time the treasure was magical.  For some (such as the spell-
casters) this meant scrutinizing, picking and choosing based on magical
auras and best guesses.  For others, it meant nothing.

Gorgo:  (holding an axe in one hand and a mace in the other, he decides
  to just take both)  Yeah.

  And so it went, with treasure being taken on a large-scale level
(scooped into the portable hole) and a personal level (the pocketing
of items that appealed to each individual person.)  The process, while
every adventurer's dream, became somewhat ridiculous after a time, as
they began to forget what they'd taken even as they took new items.
  Eventually, Belphanior got the urge to go beyond the sixth hall.  The
square, open archway to the next area was identical to the others, but
the area itself wasn't.  Belphanior had most of the party stay behind
to collect more treasure, while he and a hand-picked crew - Mongo,
Boltar, Parekh, Drak, Neera, and all six of the summoned monsters -
moved into the seventh.

Otto:  (understanding that he's supposed to supervise the ex-Helgate
  crew in the claiming of as much as possible, he smirks)

  The dwarf was quick and efficient.  He had Skektek help decide which
magical items were likely to have the most worth (or power) and then
these were loaded into Mongo's portable hole.  Belphanior had done well
in convincing Mongo to leave that item here so the others could fill it
with riches.  Besides magical items, they took ingots and coins and
jewelry - everything they could.  It was funny in a way, because there
was more here than they could ever spend in a hundred lifetimes.

Belphanior:  (leads the others into the seventh hall)

  The first thing they noticed was the strange odor that wafted from
this new chamber.  The smell was unique, impossible to place - equal
parts ancient, dead, and other things for which words didn't come easily.
  As for the chamber, too, was unique.  The square archway
opened into a larger area that was basically hemispherical, and about a
hundred feet in radius.  Its domed walls/ceiling were supported by more
than a dozen thick, curving metallic struts that arched up from floor
level to join in the center of the dome above.  Unlike most of the grand
walls and ceilings elsewhere in this tomb, the stonework here was plain
and worn, completely undecorated.  There were no exits.
  The domed chamber was empty save for a round dais in its center, five
feet high and twenty in radius.  The stone of this dais was jet-black,
seeming to absorb light rather than reflect it.  Atop the platform and
spaced equally around it, like the hands of a clock, were seven immense
stone coffins, each inlaid with numerous carvings and runes.
  The six summoned monsters led the way, moving in front of the six
adventurers as all made their way to the dais and coffins.

Mongo:  Hmm, what now?
Neera:  Hyperion's resting place perhaps?
Boltar:  (grimaces, his teeth gritted)  The sense of evil
  overwhelming...FAR more powerful than any I have ever encountered.
Belphanior:  (frowns)  Okay, that's all I needed to hear.  Let's get
  some protective magic going, and we'll plan our next-

  There was a deep rumbling like distant thunder, and then the sound of
stone grating on stone...from the coffins directly ahead of the party.

Belphanior:  -move.
Parekh:  (hastily working a spell, as is Boltar)

  They would never know if their presence in the domed chamber, or in
the treasure halls, or just in the tomb itself, had caused the coffins
to open.  The important thing was that they were open, and the beings
that emerged were strange and terrible.

  The first was a slender humanoid, about eight feet tall.  Its body
was bone-white and in the advanced stages of disease.  The flesh was
bulging and discolored, with running sores and horrible lesions.  Its
eyes bled, its hair was missing in clumps, and it drooled black bile
from a nearly-toothless, slack mouth.  This thing wore no clothes, and
was sexless if only because that region was entirely unrecognizable.
  The second being was much larger and appeared to be more dangerous.
Almost ten feet tall and disproportionately broad, it was armored from
head to toe in blood-red plate mail.  Its huge, mailed hands held the
biggest sword that any of the adventurers had ever seen:  a ten-foot
weapon from point to pommel, fashioned of red metal like the armor,
and easily capable of felling a tree.  A dim red glow emanated from
the thin eyeslit of the helm atop this one's head.
  The third of this room's weird denizens was the same shape and height
as the first, but impossibly frail and emaciated, its dull black skin
stretched tight on its thin frame.  It wore a scrap of loincloth wound
about its hips, and nothing more.  It was staring at the intruders even
though its eyesockets were sunken and empty.
  The fourth and last being stood eight feet tall with an average
build.  Its flesh was pale yellowish-white, mostly covered in loose
robes.  The thing's body and face appeared normal, save for its eyes,
which were black as the darkest night and had no pupils or irises...
just pure black.  In its hands, this being held a scythe with a black
metal blade and worn wooden handle.

  These four beings, guardians or perhaps curses of the ancient tomb,
now stood and faced the adventurers.

Mongo:  Four?  But there are seven coffins.
Drak:  Don't push our luck.
Belphanior:  (eyeing the coffins)  Only four opened.
Boltar:  (working the magic of Pholtus to turn undead, his hands glow
  with holy light)  Begone, denizens of the night, makers of darkest
  evil!  BEGONE!

  The foursome ignored the priest's efforts; even the diseased one
didn't show any reaction at all during the turning attempt.  In fact,
the only result of Boltar's efforts was that the ghoul Belphanior had
summoned was caught in the turning and instantly vaporized.

Boltar:  Damn.  They either aren't undead, or...
Drak:  Or they're insanely powerful.
Neera:  Damn.
Belphanior:  What?
Neera:  I'd thought earlier that the runes warned of "eyes" but now
  I see...I misinterpreted the message, took it too literally!
Belphanior:  Just what are you saying?
Neera:  Panagaean lore tells of seven banes.  In some
  tellings, these were called the _eyes_ of the dark gods of that
  time and society.
Drak:  You're saying that we're facing gods here?
Neera:  Possibly.
Mongo:  But there're only four...
Belphanior:  And they're coming toward us!

  The four beings had begun a slow but steady march toward the party.
Though their paces and strides were all different, they kept in line
with one another, which was unnerving.

Parekh:  (completes her spell)  No time to mess around.

  Four tiny meteors sprung from her hands, hurtling toward the four
bizarre foes.

pale being with scythe:  (steps forward, moving just ahead of the

  Not one but TWO amazing things happened then:  the meteors all
shifted course so that they were headed right for that one foe, and
then they hit it and vanished...with absolutely no effect, not on
that one or the other three!

Parekh:  I'll be's like a walking magic-sink.

  The weird foes went into action then, with fearsome speed and

thin black being:  (takes a step forward)
bugbear:  (charging, it slows suddenly, as if stunned)
thin black being:  (lurches forth, grabbing the humanoid by the neck)
bugbear:  Aaargh...(it begins to shrivel and weaken, quickly collapsing
  in a contorted heap of emaciated limbs)
red armored being:  (lumbers forth, sword swinging in a great and
  fearsome arc)
minotaur:  (brings its own axe up, more as a reflex than from any hope
  of actually stopping the gigantic sword)

  The minotaur's axe snapped, and a moment later the other's blade cut
its body entirely in two, from head to crotch.  The red-armored foe
then flipped its weapon casually, spraying blood and gore everywhere.

minotaur:  (its halves drop away to either side)
ogre mage:  (facing the white, rotten foe, it hastily works a spell)
white diseased being:  (reaches out and grabs the ogre mage by one
  shoulder, barely touching his skin)
ogre mage:  Aaaaargh!  (he instantly begins to rot, his flesh falling
  away in strips)  Aieeeeee...
pale being with scythe:  (takes a step forward, its curved weapon
Mongo:  (looks at Belphanior)  I think we may have a wee bit of trouble

next:      it gets worse
released:  5/3/01
notes:     After too many exploration episodes, now we're moving fast
  and furiously into the true meaning of this tomb:  treasure, battle,
  and death.

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