Chapter #779

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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   +
+   Alindyar        18th level drow wizard                                +
+   Daffodil        11th level human female druidess                      +
+   Deryck          11th level half-elven ranger                          +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger                               +
+   Lyra            14th level female drow wizard                         +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+   Nenya            9th/10th level female elven fighter/wizard           +
+   Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid              +
+   Rob             16th level human priest                               +
+                                                                         +
+   Boltar                     human priest of Pholtus                    +
+   Derider Fanshaen           female human priestess of Pelor            +
+   Sir Drexel                 human paladin of Heironeous                +
+     Limbor                   elven wizard/priest                        +
+   Eyer                       wood elven fighter/acrobat                 +
+     Baltek                   elven archer                               +
+   Jerome Kasinskaia          human priest of Rao                        +
+   Pallin                     grey elven wizard                          +
+     Socrates                 large albino hound                         +
+   St. Wilhelm                human fighter/priest of St. Cuthbert       +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   CASUALTIES:                                                           +
+     Reptar, lizardman fighter (disintegrated)                           +
+     Zephyr, large tiger (forced back into figurine form)                +
+   Date:           4/27/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          the Fortress of the Nine                              +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of          +
+    the fight in the dog."                                               +
+                                                          - Mark Twain   +

                       DCCLXXIX.  The Toll

  Beholders have surrounded the invading champions, bathing everyone
in their anti-magic beams which render the bulk of the party powerless...

           \   \               |_|  = 10'
            \   \              1-4  = beholders
             \   \             ***  = adventurers
              \   \
               \   \
                \1 2\
                 \   \_______________
                  \   ***     3     /

beholder #4:  (bellowing in the language of beholder-kin)

  None of the humans or demi-humans present could understand the words
being said, but a few of the more tactically gifted had a good idea what
they meant.

Halbarad:  Scatter!  Hit the ground!

  With practiced timing, all four beholders ceased using their anti-magic
powers and pressed the attack once more.

beholder #1:  (firing with two different eyes)
Socrates:  (hit by one of the beams, a great bloody wound opens on the
  hound's side and he falls)
Jerome:  (also hit, his movements are slowed, ruining the spell he was
  trying to cast)
beholder #2:  (launching more destructive spell effects)
Boltar:  (awash in sleet and stinging ice, his flamestrike spell is
Derider:  (also pummeled with ice)
Baltek:  (ignoring the pain, he fires an arrow at each of the orbs, hitting
  both even as the beholders dodge from side to side)
Pallin:  (saves himself and Alindyar from a hurtling ball of electricity
  by casting an anti-magic shell of his own)
Alindyar:  (his own spell ruined)  What?!  Ah, my thanks.
Limbor:  (knowing he has only seconds to complete a spell, he launches a
  spread of magic missiles at beholders #1 and #2)  Die!
Lyra:  (completes summoning a fireball from her staff)  Burn, tyrants!

  Meanwhile, on the other side of the battle...

Mongo:  (staring at his hammer, which lies inert just in front of the
  advancing beholders #3 and 4)  Fuck this!  (he pulls an axe loose from
  the straps that tie it across his back and charges)
Halbarad:  (also charging, and in the lead due to his greater footspeed)
beholder #4:  (fires a ray at Halbarad that hits him like a sledgehammer,
  sending the ranger sprawling backward into Mongo)  RAARRGGGHHH!
beholder #3:  (firing three rays, two of which hit)
Eyer:  (caught in mid-draw of his bow, he is turned to stone)
Sir Drexel:  (dodges a beam by hitting the floor again)
Rob:  (also hit, he resists the eye's power)  Never!
Peyote:  (hurls a javelin of lightning, but misses)
Daffodil:  Thornbolt!
beholder #3:  (struck by the full power of the lightning bolt, it is now
  seriously wounded)
Deryck:  (fires two arrows at the giant beholder, both of which fail to
  penetrate its armored hide)  Damn!
beholder #4:  (fires again, hitting Wilhelm)
St. Wilhelm:  St. Cuthbert, defend me!
Nenya:  (completing her spell)
beholder #4:  (yelling again in its own tongue)

  In unison, the four beholders cast their anti-magic gaze upon the party.
Lyra and Nenya watched helplessly as their spells died moments before
reaching their marks.

  The beholders' teamwork was flawless, each of the pairs of monsters
fighting with a simple but effective plan.  While one kept the anti-magic
ray trained on the invading champions, the other rotated, so that more
of its eyes were brought to bear.  For the adventurers' part, they could
charge with weapons, or try spells at those times the anti-magic rays
weren't in use, but then the smaller eyes' powers were perhaps an even
worse threat.  All of these tactics were, of course, transparent - both
sides knew exactly what the other was going to do, and how - but it was
really the only way this situation could play out.

Alindyar:  (facing the pair of beholders at the rear of the party)  I only
  need moments!  Shield me!

  Those around him took the drow mage at his word.  Boltar and Jerome
glanced at each other and hefted weapons, interposing themselves between
the beholders and the rest of the group.  The remaining spellcasters
spread out and stood poised to fire off spells as soon as they were able.
Baltek, for his part, sent a flurry of arrows streaking at the many-eyed
  At the other end of the tunnel, Halbarad had regained his footing and
was charging the floating enemies again.  Mongo was only a few steps
ahead when the great beholder bellowed its third command.

beholder #1:  (fires three beams, striking with two of them)
Boltar:  (slumps to the floor, slain by death magic)
Jerome:  (hands thrown up to protect himself, he turns to stone)
Derider:  (dodges the third beam)  Jerome!  Boltar!
Alindyar:  (concentrating, he stands rigid)
Lyra:  (using her staff, she summons a great whirlwind, buffeting the two
  beholders against the walls, ceiling, and each other)
beholder #2:  (spun about, it fires three rays, but misses wildly)
Pallin:  (casts a spell of blindness, not knowing what effect it will
  have on such a beast)
Limbor:  (summons a cone of cold, blasting both of the foes)
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  What are you doing?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Watch.

  At the other side of the battle, Halbarad and Mongo charged the smaller
beholder just as it canceled its anti-magic ray.  Halbarad closed the
remaining distance with a great leap, his battleaxe sinking deep into the
beholder's central eye, ruining it completely.

beholder #3:  AAARGH!  (it spins about dizzily, its eye spraying fluid
  everywhere)  AAAAAARGH!
Halbarad:  (hacks at the thing's body to finish it off)
beholder #4:  (flies backward, trying to put some space between itself
  and the attackers)
Mongo:  Not so fast!  (he leaps, swinging Tonga Dun's axe, but the foe
  spins to one side, causing the blow to scrape armored hide rather than
  chop through flesh)  Dammit!
beholder #4:  (uses its reverse gravity ray again, sending all of the
  nearest foes crashing toward the ceiling, ruining their spells and
  attacks)  You will never defeat Bodok!
Mongo:  (close to the giant beholder as he floats upward)  Chew on this!
  (he hurls the axe, severing one of the beholder's small eyes)

  As the great beholder screamed its rage, the entire hallway lurched
suddenly in a stomach-churning motion.

Alindyar:  (the only one still standing, he regards the hallway behind
  him that now slopes sharply upward, sealing itself and the two beholders
Derider:  What the hell was that?!?
Alindyar:  (slumping, obviously drained)  They will come out no more!
Limbor:  What about Jerome and Boltar?
Lyra:  We can help them later, but the battle isn't finished yet!

  Bodok nearly slammed into the ceiling himself as the hallway shifted
suddenly, and the great beast instinctively reverted to using its anti-
magic ray.  Mongo and the others all went falling back to the floor.
Most of the forward party was half-dazed after this repeated beating
against ceiling and floor.  As Mongo picked himself up, his hand fell on
a familiar haft.  The rear party members had seen what was happening with
the reverse gravity, but were powerless to do much about it as the anti-
magic rays were once again limiting their usefulness.

Baltek:  (selecting an arrow)  Get ready.  I'll distract him.  (lining up
  his shot with great care, he fires his arrow)
Derider:  You missed!
Baltek:  No.

  The elf had trained with only one weapon - the bow - since childhood,
and he was a master at his craft.  Over his many years, he had collected
or fashioned numerous enchanted arrows.  While such missiles wouldn't
have their full effect within an anti-magic zone or ray, they could still
be fired _through_ such areas.  The arrow that Baltek fired had indeed
arced over the largest beholder - but in doing so, it had escaped the
cone of anti-magic that emanated from that monster's central eye...such
that by the time the missile struck the ceiling, precisely where Baltek
had aimed, its full enchantment was realized, with explosive effects.

Bodok:  (looks upward with its smaller eyes as chunks of rock and
  great amounts of rubble rain down upon it)  RRRRGH?  (trying to dodge,
  its anti-magic beam goes awry, no longer bathing the adventurers in its
  area of effect)
Mongo:  (standing a mere twenty feet away, he hurls Stormcrest with all
  of his considerable might)  Pour it on!

  The eye tyrant was knocked back through the already-shattered doors,
through a small chamber and another set of weaker doors, and into a new
corridor.  Before it could recover and counterattack, Rob assaulted it
with a gust of wind, keeping it spinning and off-balance in the air as
Mongo caught his returning hammer and let it fly again.

Bodok:  (smashed back into a wall, cracking the stonework)  AARGH!

  It had been ages since the great beholder had feared for its own life,
but four of its companions had been defeated and now Bodok was badly
wounded and outnumbered.  Wildly, the creature fired as many attacks as
it could manage.

Deryck:  (buries an arrow deep in the beholder's central eye)
St. Wilhelm:  (charging, he dodges one of the rays before splitting open
  the beholder's side with a mighty blow from his cudgel)
Sir Drexel:  (struck by two multicolored beams, he stumbles in pain)
Pallin:  (pummels the beholder with fiery meteors)
Mongo:  (struck full in the chest by a ray, his armor gleams a brilliant
  white, but his aim goes wide, Stormcrest smashing a fissure in the wall)
Alindyar:  (using the Bigby-wand, he smashes Bodok into the ground)

  The already-weakened stonework fractured, a spiderweb of cracks raced
across the floor, splitting open in a dozen places...and then the floor
gave way!  A large portion of the passage - not to mention the beholder
and about half of the remaining adventurers - was dumped into the dungeon
level directly beneath!

Xusia:  (in a throne at the far end of the room, along with a number of
  allies, servants, and undead forces)  How fortuitous.

next:      the final conflict
released:  12/12/01
notes:     This is it.  Nothing will ever be the same.

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