Chapter #738

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                                   +   +
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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 GOOD:                                                             +
+     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                        +
+       giant horned beetle (summoned by Belphanior)                      +
+     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                        +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   THE BAD:                                                              +
+     Chargrim                 archmage                                   +
+       huge invisible demon                                              +
+     Lord Rammstein           warrior                                    +
+       8 fanatical followers  warriors                                   +
+     Kalenon                  high priest of Hextor                      +
+       acolyte                priest of Hextor                           +
+     ancient elf              wizard                                     +
+     Sydaar                   master thief                               +
+     Orgthrok                 dwarven warrior                            +
+     Yorgi                    halfling thief                             +
+     Krom                     hunter                                     +
+     Snake                    assassin                                   +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   THE UGLY:                                                             +
+     red armored being with gigantic sword                               +
+     white diseased being                                                +
+     black emaciated being                                               +
+     pale being with black scythe                                        +
+   Date:           the week between 3/579 and 4/579 C.Y. (Common Year)   +
+   Time:           indeterminate                                         +
+   Place:          the final chamber of the lost tomb of Panagaea        +
+   Climate:        grim                                                  +
+   "No exceptions - everybody pays the price."                           +
+                                           - from _Last Man Standing_    +

                     DCCXXXVIII.  Three's a Crowd

  The battle has just gotten even more chaotic with the arrival of the
Crimson Blades...

Chargrim:  (wrapping up his spellcasting, he looks at the elf)  I'm about
  ready - you know what to do.
ancient elf:  (nods)
Sydaar:  (eyeing the battle in the domed chamber ahead)  How do we know
  which are the ones we've been following, and which aren't?
Chargrim:  You must be kidding.  (he launches his fireball into the room)

  Chargrim was an archmage, and his fireballs tended to be bigger, hotter,
and generally deadlier than those of lesser wizards.  The explosion went
off in the center of the big room, instantly filling it with flames.

Orgthrok:  What the fuck - you'll roast us all!
Chargrim:  Relax.

  A wall of flame shot toward the Crimson Blades and the entrance they
stood in...and stopped abruptly, coming up against an invisible barrier
that spanned the entire opening between the domed area and the treasure
chamber before.

ancient elf:  (muttering to himself)
Chargrim:  All according to plan, you see.  When the flames burn down,
  we'll go in there, mop up any of the foes who might be immune to fire.
  Simple, efficient...and then we'll retrieve all the treasure in those
  other rooms.
Krom:  (thinking of all those piles of coins and stacks of ingots)  That
  could take some doing.
Chargrim:  No matter.  We'll have all the time we need, once no foes
  remain to oppose us.
Kalenon:  Well usual.

  It took a while for all the fire to die out, and when it did, they
moved into the large room, cautiously.  There seemed to be no need, for
the scene was one of carnage and charred death.  The entire chamber,
save for pedestal and coffins in the room's center, was coated in black
ash.  As for those who had been within as the fireball exploded, their
conditions varied...

  Near the epicenter of the blast, Mongo stood unharmed, protected as
he was by both the invulnerable coat of Arnd and his ring of fire
resistance.  In fact, that latter item was now glowing brightly, which
it had never done before.  Of course, many of Mongo's other items,
including clothing, were burned, melted, or otherwise destroyed.  The
dwarf himself, however, was utterly unharmed.  He'd guessed what was
coming and thrown himself over the prone form of Gorgo, which had most
likely saved the latter's life.  Gorgo was only slightly singed, though
still weakened and unable to fight thanks to the enfeebling touch of
the thin black being.
  As for that particular foe...its rocky prison was now a puddle of hot
lava, and though it should have been baked like a potato, it was merely
charred and smoking - and free once more.  Completely ignoring Mongo and
Gorgo, it now headed right toward the Crimson Blades.
  Parekh had also survived, as might be expected of one with her power
and resourcefulness.  Still, her protections hadn't left her completely
unharmed - if only because the attack had been a complete surprise - and
her robes were tattered and burned, and she was a bit dazed.

  Another group of combatants hadn't fared so well.  Though the big,
red-armored being was intact like its fellow, those around it had come
to some harm.  Drak, while protected by a magical amulet, didn't have
complete immunity to fire like Mongo; he was badly burned, and shrunk
down to normal size.  Bosco had just regained his senses and taken to
the air again, flying straight up as he saw the fireball coming.  The
ceiling, unfortunately, had stopped his flight, and he, too, was badly
hurt, his clothes and items a charred mess.  In fact, he'd fallen the
entire fifty feet to the floor, slamming into it with a great deal of

  Of the four guardians, the diseased white one had apparently been
most susceptible to the fire, its sickly flesh blistering, burning,
and melting.  As the foe weakened, so did its ill effects on Boltar;
this, combined with the searing flames and Boltar's holy healing-rod,
actually _helped_ the high priest of Pholtus.  The relic held powerful
curative magic, conferring certain beneficial effects on its possessor.
To a large extent, the sickness and rotting was reversed, the ravaged
flesh healed.  Of course, Boltar was still quite weak, as would be
expected of one who had just finally beaten a long, tough illness.

  The fourth of the strange foes, the pale one with the scythe, had
never felt the flames, as they'd died within twenty feet of its body.
This had one really beneficial (if random) side-effect:  both Ys and
Razor Charlie had just been close enough that they'd benefitted from
the anti-magic field, escaping certain death.
  Speaking of certain death, the scythe-wielding one turned its full
attention to the new arrivals, and like its fellows, began heading that

  There were a few incidentals.  For one, the giant horned beetle,
while possessed of a thick, hard shell, had not been immune to fire.
Consequently, it had roasted to death instantly.  On the other end of
the chamber, nearest to the Crimson Blades, Otto and Jutokai and Skektek
had also gotten the worst of the fireball.  All had magical armor or
clothing, but that wasn't much against a blast of the size and power
that this one had.  All three adventurers were felled by the explosion,
badly burned or dead, and lay there unmoving.

  Neera, simultaneously protected and trapped within Parekh's force-
bubble, had enjoyed the best view that a noncombatant would ever have
of a fireball explosion at ground zero.  She had been within the fiery
inferno, yet utterly unharmed by it, watching as the flames washed over
her and everything else.  And now, she was still unharmed, protected,
and immobile.

  And then there was Belphanior.  The elf had been forced to do a lot
of fast thinking just now.  Flying, hasted, and invisible, he'd seen
the new arrivals show up, and barely had time to protect himself using
his cube of force.  After the fireball, he had found it necessary to
make a choice:  attack the foes right away, or let them move into the
room and get distracted by whoever survived the fireball.  He'd opted
to let them move in, just a bit...both to catch them with their guard
down and because he, too, wanted to see who had survived the blast,
doubly so given that he would only get one surprise attack.
  The fact that the four strange beings were relatively unharmed was
merely a strategic bonus.

Belphanior:  (completes the casting of one of his most powerful spells)

  The elf brought into existence a twenty-foot-cubic cage of force,
right where the majority of the Crimson Blades were now dispersing and
heading into the chamber.  The "bars" of this magical prison were many
and close, with only half-inch gaps between them.

Yorgi:  What the hell?!?  Where'd this come from?
Krom:  (grabs the "bars" of the cage, trying to bend them)  Grrrrr...
Kalenon:  What?  Where?  There must have been one of them that we didn't
  know about.
Chargrim:  To be dealt with, as soon as I dispel this cage.  (he works a
Kalenon's acolyte:  (waits to follow his master's lead)
Lord Rammstein:  Make it quick, would you?  (to the five of his eight
  fanatical warrior followers who aren't in the cage)  Go forth and slay,
  in Hextor's name!
five warriors:  (heed the order, moving out)

  Outside the cage...

Orgthrok:  (possessed of battle-rage fueled by his unholy axe, he charges
  at the foes, heedless of the force-cage that holds some of his fellows
  behind him)
Sydaar:  (having also been far enough away to avoid being caught in the
  cage, she goes invisible and skirts the four beings, heading instead in
  the direction of Parekh, Mongo, and Gorgo)
Chargrim's invisible demon:  (needing no instruction from its master, it
  swoops toward the oncoming foes)
ancient elf:  (previously airborne himself, and having spied and identified
  Belphanior as the source of the cage)  Ah.  (he floats toward the elf,
  working some magic of his own)
Snake:  (having vanished from sight, he takes a wide-arc approach to the
  four oncoming beings, intending to wait for the most opportune moment
  before striking)

  Elsewhere in the room...

Mongo:  (looks at Parekh)  What now?
Parekh:  Honestly, I'd say that if those four bastard things from hell are
  ignoring us in favor of our new friends over there...let's leave well
  enough alone.
Mongo:  (eyes the wounded Gorgo)
Parekh:  Tell you what - you work on gathering all of our wounded, and I'll
  worry about the battle.
Mongo:  No way!
Parekh:  Trust me, only magic's going to get us out of this.
Mongo:  (shaking his head)  Fine.  (he begins trying to figure out if it
  would be easier to bring Gorgo to the other fallen, or them to Gorgo)
Parekh:  (deciding what spell to cast and who to cast it at)


ancient elf:  (finishes whatever it is that he's doing)

  Belphanior suddenly found himself held fast, arms pinned to his sides
(at painful angles, even) by a gigantic purple claw!

Belphanior:  Dammit-
ancient elf:  (closing his fist)  Time to die.
Belphanior:  Aaaargh!


Neera:  (watches the pale, scythe-wielding being as it approaches)  Aaa!

  The force-bubble, caught within the thing's anti-magic field, abruptly

Neera:  Oh no...oh no...
pale being with scythe:  (walks right by, headed for the Crimson Blades)
Neera:  What?
Ys:  (a short distance away, he waves for her to get over there)
Neera:  (runs toward them)
Razor Charlie:  (still holding the two knives he's not had a chance to
  throw)  What now?
Ys:  We should regroup with Parekh and Mongo, over there.  And retrieve
  Drak and Bosco on the way.
Razor Charlie:  Good a plan as any.  (he puts his knives away)
Ys:  I just see no point in rejoining a battle that's passed us by, at
  least for the moment.
Razor Charlie:  (nods)


Parekh:  (spellcasting, as she intends to save Belphanior)
Sydaar:  (closes in, her sword stabbing in a vicious attack)
Parekh:  Argh!  (she falls to her knees, her spell ruined)

  The wizard's steelskin spell had saved her from injury, but that
protection wouldn't hold out forever, and the thief was already moving
in again, with lethal speed and intent.

Sydaar:  (raining blows on Parekh, not giving her the chance to cast
  any spell or use any item)
Mongo:  Hey!

  Just then, Chargrim's invisible demon swooped down, intending to
smash Mongo to a pulp.  However, the dwarf's armor bore many mighty
enchantments, one of which was a ward against foes such as the demon.
By the time the latter realized the presence of this enchantment, it
was moving too fast.

huge invisible demon:  (forced to turn away at the last moment, it
  hits the floor hard enough to make a small crater)  Grrrr...
Mongo:  What the...(he whirls, hammer swinging, and bashes the unseen
  foe)  Fucker!
huge invisible demon:  (knocked back twenty feet, and hurt, it yet takes
  to the air again)
Mongo:  (hearing the flap of huge wings)  Uh-oh.

  The demon swooped again, slamming into the dwarf with such force that
his helm was knocked from his head.

Mongo:  Ungh!  (he finds himself hoisted up into the air by the still-
  invisible foe, unseen claws gripping him by the back and legs)  Argh!

  Elsewhere, Ys and Razor Charlie had retrieved the limp bodies of Drak
and Bosco, respectively, though they now had to think about putting them
down in order to help Parekh.  The decision was made for them, though.

Ys:  AARGH!  (he arches his back suddenly, dropping Drak's body as he
  falls face-forward)
Neera:  Aaaaaie!
Razor Charlie:  What the fuck?
Snake:  (fades into view, his longsword blue with the reptilian's
Razor Charlie:  (sets Bosco's body on the floor, drawing two knives)

  As for Orgthrok and the five of Rammstein's warrior-fanatics who
weren't in the cage...they had learned the hard way that the guardians
of this tomb were not to be taken lightly.

Orgthrok:  (wounded, weakened and ill, he stands amidst the grisly
  remains of Rammstein's five warriors)  Urgh...
red-armored being:  (swings its huge sword)

  The dwarf's armor held, keeping him from being cut in two, but he
still flew through the air like a ball hit by a stick, slamming into
the wall with such force that the ancient stone cracked before the
dwarf slid down to the floor, unmoving.

Yorgi:  (having assumed gaseous form to escape the cage, he floats
  over the four beings, waiting for the right time to materialize)
pale being with scythe:  (looks up...and inhales)
Yorgi-gas:  (very much against its will, it is sucked toward and then
  INTO the foe's mouth)
pale being with scythe:  (closes its mouth, and continues onward)

  As for those in the forcecage, they had just escaped, thanks to the
magic of Chargrim.  However, they found themselves confronted by four
apparitions out of a nightmare.

Lord Rammstein:  (to his remaining three followers)  CHARGE!

  The big warrior had seen the other followers die hard and fast at
the hands of the four strange beings, but he refused to believe that
with his skill, strength, experience, and weapons, he could lose.

Lord Rammstein:  (watches as one of his followers' heads whizzes
  past, leaking blood in its wake)  Hmm.
Kalenon:  (working some dire magic of Hextor)

  A small green cloud appeared over the foes, pouring caustic rain down
upon them.  Kalenon, however, hadn't been able to see that the pale being
negated magic in a radius around itself.  The acid storm never came close
to touching any of the four, though it did a number on the floor, each
droplet of acid burning a tiny hole in the stone.

Kalenon:  By Hextor!
acolyte:  (watches his spiritual flail fizzle out before it can attack)
Krom:  (sizes these beings up, preparing to leap into action after
  all the magic has been launched)
Chargrim:  (points his black wooden staff at the foursome)

  Twin bolts of lightning forked out, arcing right toward the foes...
and then they, too, fizzled and died before ever hitting anyone.

Chargrim:  (raises an eyebrow)
Krom:  What, did you think yours would work when no one else's did?
Chargrim:  The time has come for a new tactic.
Krom:  That's for damn sure.

next:      finale
released:  5/10/01
notes:     I'd originally intended for this arc to end with 737...and
  then with 738...but this battle just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
  Oh well, these things happen.

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