Chapter #773

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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   +
+   Belphanior      15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+     Otto          10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+     Razor Charlie 10th level human fighter                              +
+     Skektek       13th level human wizard                               +
+     Ys            14th level reptilian fighter                          +
+                                                                         +
+   others along for the ride:                                            +
+     human ex-prisoners (3)                                              +
+   Date:           4/27/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          the depths of the Fortress of the Nine                +
+   Climate:        cool and dry                                          +
+   "He died well.  That should please you.  No bribe attempts or         +
+    blubbering."                                                         +
+                 - the Dread Pirate Roberts, from _The Princess Bride_   +

                   DCCLXXIII.  A Warrior's Fall

  Belphanior is in dire straits indeed, it would appear, after being hit
in the back and disarmed by the hurled hammer of the dwarven foe Orzo...

Belphanior:  (trying to push himself off the floor, he coughs up blood)
Orzo:  (holding the elf's cloak in one hand, he raises his axe)  Time to
  die.  (with a mighty swing, he brings the blade down)

Belphanior:  (rips at the knot holding his cloak on and slides backwards
  as the axe smashes into the floor only inches away)  Shit!
Orzo:  <CLANG>  Hah.  (he tosses the red cloak to the side)  Your luck's
  about to run out.
Belphanior:  (having retrieved a small cube from a special pocket in his
  shirt, he points it at the dwarf)
Orzo:  (reflexively leaps back and to one side)
Belphanior:  I figured you'd do that.  (he presses one face of the cube,
  causing a shimmering barrier to appear in a 10' cube all around him)
Orzo:  (tosses his hammer halfheartedly at the field, but it bounces off
  and returns to his hand)  Figures.  What kind of enemy hides behind a
  magical wall?
Otto:  (having approached invisibly and snuck up behind Orzo, he buries
  his knife to the hilt in the back of the foe's neck)  The kind with
Orzo:  Urk.  (he drops both weapons, clawing uselessly at the knife-hilt
  sticking out of the back of his neck)
Otto:  (backs away, drawing his sword)  Still got some fight left in you?
Orzo:  (affected both by his horrendous wound and the poison on Otto's
  knife, he staggers toward the dwarf)
Otto:  (glancing past Orzo)  Oh, I doubt that.
Belphanior:  (having dropped the force-field and re-armed himself, he
  leaps at Orzo from behind, slicing the dwarf's head off in a single
  stroke)  The matter's settled.  (he takes in the slain foe's life
  force)  Ahhhhh.

  While all of this had been going on, the other combatants - from both
sides - hadn't been idle.  Ys had borne the brunt of the soldiers' attack,
leaving Razor Charlie and Skektek to deal with the other enemy dwarves
and gnomes.  Fortunately, Skektek was well-prepared for such dealings;
a cluster of writhing black tentacles had held three of the four in place
until the wizard launched a lightning bolt, incinerating them on the spot.
The other, a fast-moving gnome, had been intercepted by Razor Charlie...

gnome:  Hah!  (quick as lightning, he throws a gleaming dagger at the
  scarred warrior)
Razor Charlie:  (catches the blade)  Hmf.
gnome:  (wide-eyed)  Huh?!?
Razor Charlie:  Nice knife.  (he hurls it back at its owner, burying the
  blade in one of the gnome's eyesockets)
Razor Charlie:  (gets two of his own knives and throws them, finishing
  the job)

  As for Ys...the reptilian had slain ten foes without suffering a single
scratch.  He was bigger, he was stronger, his reach was greater, and each
blow he delivered tended to be fatal.  None of the human soldiers, despite
their skill and courage, could stand against him, and none wanted to.

last remaining soldier:  (finally turns and flees)
Otto:  (shoots the man in the back, downing him)
Ys:  We could have taken him prisoner.
Otto:  Or he could have gotten away and warned someone.
Skektek:  They probably know we're here already.
Belphanior:  Maybe, but they don't know who we are or why we're here.
  They're probably going to assume we're part of the larger force that's
  attacking from the outside.

  Of the three freed prisoners, one had been slain by a random enemy
soldier (before that latter was slain in turn by Ys).  The remaining two
didn't look very happy, but they also didn't want to be left behind.  At
this point, it was likely that any non-inhabitants of the fortress would
simply be killed on sight.  Risk or no risk, the mens' best chance lay
with the roving adventurers.

man #1:  (raises the sword he appropriated from the drow barracks)  We'll
  fight or die.
man #2:  Mainly because if we _don't_ fight, we _will_ die.
man #1:  But we'll try.
Belphanior:  That's all anyone can ask.
Otto:  We should get going before more soldiers show up.  Ys is real good
  at mowing them down, but it takes time.
Ys:  Tedious, to be sure.
Belphanior:  These foes were of a higher caliber than most...though we
  don't have time to dawdle, there are a couple of things I want to
  recover from their corpses.
Otto:  (patting Orzo's axe, which now hangs at his side)  You're right
  about that.

  Using his enchanted eye, the elf scanned the bodies for the strong
magical auras that he knew existed.  The items that caught his attention
were taken and stored in the portable hole...or at least, most of them

Belphanior:  (trying on the belt that Orzo wore)  Oh, yeah.  I knew he
  couldn't be that strong naturally.  (he hands his old strength-belt to
  Otto)  That should help you, especially if you intend to throw that
Otto:  Much obliged.  (he puts the belt on, then swipes the air with the
  axe, experimentally)
Belphanior:  We can analyze the rest later, of course.  (he folds the
  portable hole up, pocketing it)
Ys:  What now?
Belphanior:  (using the idol given to him by Demogorgon, he checks all
  directions, finally pointing down the hall)  That way, and at some
  point, we go up again.
Skektek:  Do you think we're getting close?
Belphanior:  We must be, because this thing is glowing more brightly now
  than the last time I used it.

  They advanced down the hall, sidestepping the gory remains of soldiers
as well as the huge, twisted carcass of the purple worm.  Although there
were other exits - numerous ones, including one corridor that ramped down
as it led away into the unknown - the one Belphanior wanted was simply
another wide stairway leading upward.

Belphanior:  We're getting closer...a lot closer.

  These steps were actually two sets, to left and right, that then looped
around to form one central stairway, twice as wide.

Otto:  (cocking an ear)  Definitely something going on up there.
Skektek:  (to Belphanior) How about summoning some more allies?  Maybe
  a dragon, or a horde of demons?
Belphanior:  A good idea...let me see what I can do.  Everyone, get ready
  to advance.

  As the others prepared for the next phase of the assault, Belphanior
went to work.  Here, in an area plentiful with rock, he had an ideal
opportunity to use one of the summoning spells gained from the slain
foe Klark's spellbook.  Before the adventurers' eyes, the stone of the
dungeon floor gathered itself up, forming into first one shape...and then
another...and then another, and another...until there were almost a score
of rocky statues.

Belphanior:  (surveys these animated allies which are lined up before
  him, clearly awaiting commands)  Excellent.

  The constructs were man-sized but looked extraordinarily strong and
durable.  As the elf understood the spell, it would create warriors from
dirt, mud, or rock; the harder the raw material, the stronger the beings
summoned...and the rock of this place was tough stuff indeed.

Belphanior:  Better.  (to the animated statues)  Up the stairs.  Attack
  anyone you don't see here in our group right now.

  Belphanior had to give the long-dead Klark credit:  his magic was good
and efficient.  The rocky warriors not only obeyed instantly, but they
moved faster than similar constructs such as golems, marching up the steps
at perhaps the pace of a slow dwarf.

Belphanior:  Same marching order, everyone - let's follow them.  Skektek,
  be ready to launch fireballs and such, if we spot a really big group of

  With that, the party began ascending this latest stairway, heading for
the inevitable showdown with the rulers of the fortress.

next:      main level
released:  12/4/01
notes:     Not really.  I'm writing fast and this is stretching out over
  a _lot_ of episodes...but since my goal is to release all of these this
  year (2001) you're likely to experience a December in which you get one
  new episode a day, so it shouldn't be too bad.

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