Chapter #783

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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   +
+   GOOD GUYS:                                                            +
+     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                             +
+     Daffodil        11th level human female druidess                    +
+     Deryck          11th level half-elven ranger                        +
+     Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                          +
+     Pallin          grey elven wizard                                   +
+     Rob             14th (formerly 16th) level human priest             +
+   GOOD GUYS WHO ARE OUT OF IT:                                          +
+     Derider Fanshaen, female human priestess of Pelor (unconscious)     +
+     Halbarad, 15th level human ranger (dazed)                           +
+     Peyote, 12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid (polymorphed)      +
+     St. Wilhelm, human fighter/priest of St. Cuthbert (blinded)         +
+     Ys, 14th level reptilian fighter (stunned from psionic blasts)      +
+     human ex-prisoners, 2 (fled)                                        +
+   GOOD CASUALTIES:                                                      +
+     Alindyar, 18th level drow wizard (slain by meteor swarm)            +
+     Baltek, elven archer (slain by meteor swarm)                        +
+     Boltar, human priest of Pholtus (slain by death ray)                +
+     Drexel, human paladin of Heironeous (slain in battle)               +
+     Eyer, wood elven fighter/acrobat (turned to stone)                  +
+     Jerome Kasinskaia, human priest of Rao (turned to stone)            +
+     Limbor, elven wizard/priest (slain by meteor swarm)                 +
+     Lyra, 14th level female drow wizard (slain by meteor swarm)         +
+     Nenya, 9th/10th level female elven fighter/wizard (meteor swarm)    +
+     Reptar, lizardman fighter (disintegrated)                           +
+     Socrates, large albino hound (fallen in battle)                     +
+     Zephyr, large tiger (forced back into figurine form)                +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   BAD GUYS:                                                             +
+     Xusia, Suel lich archmage                                           +
+     Cespedes, human archmage                                            +
+     Ythuus, ultradaemon                                                 +
+   BAD GUYS WHO ARE OUT OF IT:                                           +
+     iron dwarf (trapped within hemispherical wall of force)             +
+   BAD CASUALTIES:                                                       +
+     Absalon, human monk (slain in battle)                               +
+     Bodok, beholder (driven insane then slain in battle)                +
+     Fenris, human thief (fled via teleportation)                        +
+     mind flayers, 5 (crushed by falling wall of iron)                   +
+     mithril mastiff (destroyed by rods of cancellation)                 +
+     Selene, female drow high priestess (buried, boiled in mud)          +
+       a dozen drow of various sorts (buried, boiled in mud)             +
+       gigantic spider (slain in battle with illusory spider)            +
+     Skorvus, lich priest (incinerated by holy fire)                     +
+     Talos, adamantine golem (sent elsewhere via planar gateway)         +
+     Ulrich, human anti-paladin of Nerull (slain by backstab)            +
+   Date:           4/27/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          the Fortress of the Nine                              +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "Hell of a place to die."                                             +
+   "There ain't no good places."                                         +
+                                                - from _Chato's Land_    +

                     DCCLXXXIII.  What Price Victory?

  Only a fraction of the combatants who started the battle are still in
the fight...

Cespedes:  (completes his spell)
Skektek:  (stiffens, his eyes rolling up into his head)
Xusia:  (spellcasting, he does _not_ complete his spell, as time stops
  around him)

Belphanior:  (holding the hourglass of Kronos, which he has just turned
  over, its sands flowing from one end into the other)

  The elf, hasted and invisible, had waited - too long, he had feared -
for the perfect opportunity.  When he saw it, he had taken it, executing
a magically-enhanced leap which put him right behind Xusia.  Now, time
was stopped in a bubble around the elf, and Xusia (as well as Rob, who
had been charging at the lich) was frozen in place.

  There were a lot of things Belphanior could have done, but he had been
dreaming of a moment like this for a long time, and now that it was here,
he wasted no time.

Belphanior:  (aiming his blow carefully, he swings, lopping Xusia's head
  from his body)  Die!

  Somehow, this wasn't enough.  Enraged, the elf laid into the lich's
body, hacking and chopping and slicing and dicing.  He wanted there to
be no chance - none whatsoever - of this hated and dangerous foe ever
menacing him or anyone else again.  By the time the sands within the
glass had run out, the lich was nothing more than a mangled pile of
rotted flesh.

Rob:  (back in normal time, he charges forth...then stops suddenly)  By
  Trithereon!  What is this?
Belphanior:  I killed him.
Rob:  (pointing to the small cloud of crackling black energy that floats
  above the lich's remains)  No, you didn't.
Belphanior:  Oh, for the love of-

  Their talk was interrupted by a tremendous thunderclap, for while those
in the hourglass' area of effect had acted (or not) the rest of the battle
had raged on.  Mongo and Deryck were trying - without luck - to penetrate
the invisible field that surrounded Cespedes; hammer and arrow bounced off
with equal lack of effect.  The archmage, meanwhile, had taken control of
Skektek, as the others learned to their dismay.

Otto:  (blasted into the air, he smashes into a wall, scorched, bloody,
  and unmoving)
Razor Charlie:  (blasted in the other direction, he falls, twitching)
Daffodil:  (just close enough to be caught in the blast, she is saved by
  her druidic resistance to electricity, but still knocked unconscious)
Skektek:  (turns to face Belphanior and Rob, working another spell)
Cespedes:  (turns to face Mongo and Deryck, also working another spell)
Pallin:  (spellcasting as he prepares to try and take Cespedes out)
Ythuus:  (appears right behind the elven mage, grabbing him by the neck)
Pallin:  (his spell ruined, he struggles in the immensely strong grip of
  the daemon)  Ghak!
Ythuus:  (teleports away, taking the foe with him)

  Pallin was a follower of Celestian, and had great command of spatial
and time-related magic, but this attack had caught him off-guard, and he
was at the daemon's mercy now, in some featureless room.  The elf sensed
that they were still in the fortress, near the battle, but that didn't
help him at all right now.

Ythuus:  (ESPing to Pallin)  You can help me - you WILL help me.
Pallin:  (instinctively, he switches to ESP as well)  What?
Ythuus:  I could kill you now, but I have need of your abilities.  Thus
  I offer you a simple bargain:  send me to Gehenna, right now, and I
  will spare your life and leave this battle.
Pallin:  What?  Why?
Ythuus:  Suffice it to say that I am an exile here, and my planar-travel
  powers have ceased to function - and it is imperative that I return
  home.  You have great powers of travel, and you will now use them to
  open a gateway to Gehenna.
Pallin:  Err-
Ythuus:  It is a fair pact.  (he tightens his grip on the elf's neck)
  And your only option.  If you even think about using a spell to try
  to escape, I will snap your neck.
Pallin:  (making the only choice he really can)  I'll do it.
Ythuus:  (lets go of the elf)  If you try to betray me by casting the
  wrong spell, you will regret it. your magic - open my
Pallin:  (begins spellcasting)  It will only stay open for a moment -
  I won't risk more of your kind coming through to this world.

  A black portal opened, a portal to another place.  This was a simple
deed for one of Pallin's skill, and whatever forces blocked the daemon's
own powers had no effect on the wizard of Celestian.

Ythuus:  (without hesitation, he heads toward the portal)  Farewell.
  We shall not meet again.  (he strides through)
Pallin:  (closes the gateway)  Whew.

  As the elf worked another spell to return himself to the battle,
Belphanior and Rob faced the flickering cloud of black energy that
still, somehow, represented Xusia.

Belphanior:  What the FUCK is that all about?!?
Rob:  He's a Suel lich - he can't be killed like normal beings.
Belphanior:  (points his sword at the cloud, his voice raised)  How
  the hell _can_ he be killed then?!?  We're too close - he can't get
  away again, don't you understand-
Rob:  (working a spell)  He won't.  Cover me.
Belphanior:  (looks around and realizes that the two of them are being
  targeted by one of _his_ group)  Shit!  (he quickly drops a sphere
  of darkness around Skektek)
Skektek:  (halts all movement and waits for further instruction from
  his controller)
Cespedes:  (busy with his own attack, he has no choice but to wait
  until he's finished before he can issue further commands to Skektek)
Belphanior:  (glancing back and forth between Rob and the darkness,
  he wonders what will emerge from within and whether he'll be able to
  deal with it)  Hurry up...
Rob:  (triumphantly)  His doom has come!

  As Belphanior watched, the high priest advanced.  The black cloud
seemed to back away, trying to flee, but Rob strode confidently and
quickly.  He swung, the empowered mace contacting the center of the
floating energy - and it exploded in flame!  Rob and Belphanior were
knocked back, singed, as the cloud blazed brightly enough to light
the entire hall, even the most remote corner.

Belphanior:  Is this normal?
Rob:  I don't know.  I've never slain a Suel lich before.  Nenya's
  research told us how to truly destroy it, but not what would happen.

  The force that was Xusia burned strong, but it also burned fast.  In
moments, not even ash marked the passing of perhaps the oldest being
on Oerth.

Belphanior:  It's over...finally over.
Rob:  (turns)  Part of it is, anyway.

  Cespedes had unleashed a volley of foot-wide iron spheres, which hit
Mongo in succession - all six of them.  Each struck with enough raw
force to break down a stone wall...and when the spell was done, Mongo
was down, battered and bloody and half-conscious.  Still he struggled
to get back to his feet.

Deryck:  (unable to hit Cespedes with his arrows due to the archmage's
  protective magic)  Dammit!

  Fortunately, the half-elf didn't have to worry any longer.  Pallin
was back, and he worked a spell that warped space in the same manner
as Belphanior's hourglass warped time.  Fields and barriers distorted
in a small, narrow tunnel between Pallin and Cespedes.

Pallin:  Shoot him, now!
Deryck:  (not needing to be told twice, he raises his bow and aims, in
  a single fluid motion)

  The arrow flew straight and true, burying itself in Cespedes' chest
right about where his heart should have been.

Cespedes:  (unable to believe this)  Ack.  (he falls)
Skektek:  (released from the controlling magic, he looks around, dazed,
  then realizes he's within darkness)  Hey!

  As Cespedes fell, so did his protective fields.  Belphanior, having
gotten over the fact that Xusia was destroyed, charged toward the foe,
intent on slaying another mighty foe this day.  However, despite being
badly wounded or perhaps dying, Cespedes had more tricks up his sleeve.

Cespedes:  (vanishes)
Belphanior:  What?
Pallin:  (looking around)  I think he's gone.
Deryck:  How can he be gone?  Why would he just...leave?
Pallin:  Because you put an arrow through his chest.  Because he was
  outnumbered.  Who knows?  (he begins casting another spell)
Belphanior:  (walks over)  What are you doing now?
Pallin:  Scanning all around, that wizard is gone...nowhere
  within a league of here.
Rob:  (also looking in every direction, including up)  I cannot sense
  him either.  No strong sources of evil, no invisible foes.  What
  of the tall daemon I saw?
Pallin:  Fear not, that one is gone from this world.
Belphanior:  Damn.  I don't like loose ends.
Rob:  (looks around)  Be glad this bloodbath wasn't worse.
Belphanior:  (also looks around, realizing how many people are dead or
  wounded, or to put it another way, how few still stand now)  Wow.

next:      mopping up
released:  12/21/01
notes:     Well, that's the end of that.  I somehow managed not to kill
  (I mean permanently kill) more of the real Adventurers, though it could
  easily have happened as I wrote.  As for Xusia...well, some will no
  doubt complain that he died too easily, especially for one of his power
  and age, but the fact remains that there's pretty much no way to defend
  against being approached by a foe you can't see, didn't know was there,
  and is hasted...and then time-stopped, hacked to bits, and hit with
  one of the two spells that can truly kill you, cast by an opposing and
  powerful high priest.  This all worked because Belphanior sat back and
  watched and waited - a tactic that could and perhaps did cost lives of
  his allies - and then struck, fast and hard, no fucking around, no
  melodrama, no punches pulled.  Nothing mattered to him except killing
  Xusia, and so he did.  It's that simple.  He used everything - people
  and resources - at his disposal, consequences be damned.

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