Chapter #786

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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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      15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+     Skektek       13th level human wizard                               +
+     Ys            14th level reptilian fighter                          +
+   Deryck          11th level half-elven ranger                          +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger                               +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+   Pallin                     grey elven wizard                          +
+   Rob             16th level human priest                               +
+   St. Wilhelm                human fighter/priest of St. Cuthbert       +
+   Date:           4/27/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           early evening                                         +
+   Place:          the Fortress of the Nine                              +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "Justice is truth in action."                                         +
+                                                  - Benjamin Disraeli    +

               DCCLXXXVI.  ...But Someone's Gotta Do It

  Belphanior, Rob, and Pallin have returned to the great hall after
learning about the battle of armies outside the fortress.  Here, they
find more companions up and about than when they left...

Mongo:  There you are.  About time.
Ys:  (nods to Belphanior)
Belphanior:  Mongo!  Ys!  How are you?
Ys:  Fair.  Any sudden movements cause my head to throb madly, not
  unlike the ceremonial drums used by the wild savages of Hepmonaland.
  But I am slowly improving.
Mongo:  Yeah, yeah, I'm okay.  (motions to the others nearby)  Word is
  that we're gonna sweep through this place now... I hope you didn't
  think you would start without me.
Belphanior:  (smiles)  Wouldn't dream of it.  In fact, we just took a
  walk so that you'd have time to wake up.
Mongo:  Hmph.
Rob:  (counting people and estimating party strength)  Magi, fighters,
  priests.  This is a good omen:  at least two of each.  (he realizes
  that some confusion is occuring)  Pallin?  What's the problem?
Halbarad:  It's me.  Something is...wrong with me.
Rob:  (immediately concerned)  Are you dying?  What wounds-
Pallin:  (shaking his head)  No, no, nothing like that.  He's simply
  rejecting magic.  Quite bizarre, really.  (studies the ranger again)
  Rather interesting, in a technical sense.
Mongo:  What are you babbling about?
Halbarad:  It started with my gauntlets.  I've had them for years, and
  they've never failed to bolster my strength, but now they do nothing
  for me.
Pallin:  (nodding)  At first, we simply assumed that the magical items
  themselves had lost their power, for whatever reason.  But when Deryck
  tried them on, they worked as well as ever.
Deryck:  (displays the gauntlets which are still on his arms, but says
Pallin:  (rambling on)  We then tried rings, potions, and a few spells;
  none of them had any effect at all.  But neither is this occurring in
  an area effect!  You see, this ranger fought not one but two beholders
  today, charging directly at them while being bathed in their rays.
  And not just ordinary beholders, but king-like monsters with strange
  powers!  My hypothesis is that being bathed in the anti-magic rays
  at close range, then completely drenched in the preternatural gore
  which burst from the central eye when he sliced it open, has left
  Halbarad in a condition wherein magic no longer affects him directly!
  Truly, a case like this is worthy of being written-
Rob:  (interrupting quickly before the scholarly wizard's eyes glaze
  over)  Yes, yes, fine, thank you.  (turning to the ranger)  Perhaps
  you would be better off remaining here, if you cannot be healed...
Halbarad:  No.  My life has always been at risk; I see little difference
  now.  Besides, my armor is still effective, my bow is still good, and
  most importantly, my weapons still have their magical effect upon
  their targets.  It is only when the magic is to have an effect on me
  that it fails.
Mongo:  (making a mental note to be careful charging beholders in the
  future)  Man, that sucks.
Skektek:  It's fucking freaky.
Halbarad:  If there's exploration and fighting to be done, count me in.
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  Your choice.  (he frowns)  Hey, doesn't that also
  make you immune to magical attacks?
Skektek:  Sure does.  I fired a single magical missile at him and it
  just fizzled out.  You know as well as I do that there's no way that
  should happen - it must be his condition that stopped it.
Mongo:  Wow, immune to magic spells!
Halbarad:  (snorts)  The more fool I, were I to count on that happening
  every time.  For all I know, this effect will wear off at any moment.
Pallin:  Oh, I doubt that.  I can see the distinct-
Rob:  Enough.  We need to get started, and that means deciding not only
  where we go, but who goes.
Belphanior:  Otto and Charlie aren't ready for combat, so I'd like to
  leave them here to secure this area as a fallback --- ideally, they'd
  be supported by a couple squads of troops from the armies outside.
Rob:  Good idea, I'll arrange for it.  (he surveys the assemblage)  I
  think it's safe to assume that everyone else is coming along, but I'd
  rather not leave our fallen here.  Let's take ten to arrange for their
  care, with those outside, and then we'll delve into the guts of this

  They were nine:  Belphanior, Skektek, and Ys...Halbarad and Deryck...
Rob and Pallin and St. Wilhelm...and Mongo.

  After sharing details of how each party had breached the fortress,
they decided to move up to the top where Rob's group had entered - the
dragon's cavern - and then work their way back down past the ground
level and into the dungeons which Belphanior's group had ascended
through.  Wilhelm had spent his time performing inventory while the
rest had been examining Halbarad, and his findings were both good and
  The slain foes had, individually and collectively, a large number of
magical items - some of them very powerful.  However, a number of these
were also highly evil, and besides, whether evil or not, these things
would take time and effort to properly identify.  The heroes had neither
at this time.  Still, the list was impressive...

  Xusia the lich             bracers, 2 rings, robe*
  Skorvus the lich           amulet, ring, wand (snapped)
  Ulrich the anti-paladin    chain mail, ring, sword*, orb
  Absalon the monk           bracers, sandals, twin rods of cancellation

  And then there were those who had fled with all their items (Ythuus,
Cespedes, and the mostly-invisible thief Fenris) or simply had no items
(the beholder Bodok.)
  Belphanior did not, of course, mention the items taken from Orzo and
his dwarven priest - items which, except for a belt of strength that
Belphanior wore and a dwarven throwing hammer that Otto was carrying,
were stashed in Belphanior's bag of holding.  The elf had briefly given
thought to sharing these items with the others, but none of them were
directly useful, being either keyed to dwarves (the armors, battleaxe,
throwing axe) or unknown (rings, mace.)  In situations like this, people
tended to prefer their own familiar weapons.  It would have been one
thing if he'd seen, say, Orzo cast a fireball from his battleaxe, or
something like that...but in this case, these additional items merely
complicated things.
  Of greater concern were those items recently destroyed in battle,
items that would not be available to the eight explorers now.  Deryck's
flame tongue longsword was history; fortunately, he had a dancing sword
as well.  Pallin had lost a scroll and a wand, but could do without both
items.  Actually, those who had lost more magical items were the same
ones unable to come along on this exploration now, in most cases because
the same forces that had destroyed items had destroyed flesh.

  After the necessary arrangements, the group set out to do the necessary
scouring and delving.  This task would normally have been a long and
arduous process, but it was made infinitely easier by the lack of guards
or other foes.  On top of that, the wizards and priests were constantly
checking everything for evil, magic, traps, and the like.
  They started at the top, the aerie containing the dragon's lair.  Here,
they recovered the magic items of the slain priest of Nerull:  a robe, a
ring, and a horn, this last item readiating great evil.  The dragon's
cavern itself held too much treasure to fully carry out, so they simply
took what they could; most of these things were monetary, not magical,
in nature anyway.  One item of note on this level was the huge metallic
scythe held in the hands of the statue of Nerull, within the temple here.
This weapon was powerful, but also evil; it could not be recovered, for
merely touching it shocked the one doing so with an intense blast of icy
cold.  They were forced to leave it, which was fine with most of them

Belphanior:  Maybe we can come back later and figure out a way to claim
St. Wilhelm:  Or destroy it.

  From here, it was necessary to take the long stairway down to the
level above the ground floor - this was where the battle with the mob
of beholders had eventually taken place.  Almost everything here was
oriented toward the quartering, outfitting, and training of soldiers.
The exception was the private chambers of the general who had slain
Marcus...General Kael.  His chambers contained a variety of treasures
magical and monetary, as well as a number of trophies on the walls or
mounted on pedestals.  It seemed that the deceased general had slain
a number of mighty beasts in his time, and enjoyed being reminded of
that fact.

Belphanior:  I admire this guy, in a way.
Pallin:  You have got to be kidding.
Belphanior:  (just shrugs)

  They also found a frightened girl of about eighteen here.  She was
not evil, nor was she lying in anything she said, which wasn't much.
It seemed that the general had simply been keeping her in here to
clean and cook.  Since they couldn't take her with them, they opted
to send her outside, which Pallin accomplished with a spell.  After
this, they descended, via stairs rather than the gaping hole in the
  The ground level was mostly business:  barracks and mess halls for the
troops who manned the fortress.  To its east was a series of rooms that
had obviously been the quarters for giants; these areas yielded much in
the way of monetary treasure.  There were a few guardians left here - a
huge pyrohydra and a pack of hell hounds - but these were dispatched from
a distance, using spells of cold and ice.  The final chamber in this area
must have been the home of the huge fire giant Gog, and chests within
yielded more monetary treasure (including a foot-wide nugget of silver
and a number of solid gold ingots) as well as some magic items suited
more for wizards than giants.
  The other area of note was behind the great hall where the battle had
taken place.  Here, several passages led to private chambers.  One such
passage ended in a tunnel going down into the floor - perhaps the entry
to some great worm's lair.

Rob:  Or that beholder.  Beholders.
Belphanior:  Good point.  Since they fly, not walk, this sort of lair
  makes perfect sense.
Mongo:  But exploring it doesn't, unless we can all fly.
Pallin:  Don't forget the possibility that more beholders lurk down
  there, somewhere.
Halbarad:  Perhaps this could be returned to later.
Belphanior:  Perhaps we could pour a few casks of oil down there and
  then throw a torch after them.  All the anti-magic rays in the world
  won't stop that tactic.
Mongo:  Crispy critters.

  Another passage ended abruptly.  Traces of strong magic could still be
felt here, but whatever it was no longer worked.

Pallin:  I sense that it is teleportation magic.  One of these "Nine"
  must have had a lair, or an escape route, keyed to this alcove.
Deryck:  Can you make it work?  We should chase these beings down and
  finish them when possible.
Pallin:  (shakes his head)  It would take some experimentation.  Like
  the tunnels leading down, this might be best returned to after the
  primary explorations are done.

  A third passage led to a complex maze of small, square rooms connected
by doors.  Almost every one had a trap on it, and Mongo got so mad about
this that he simply began smashing the maze apart from a distance, using
his hammer.  Meanwhile, most of the others checked a fourth passage (that
led to an empty series of suites, probably guest rooms) and a fifth (that
led to a series of four spherical chambers, all of which were completely
  Mongo's efforts had finally gotten him into a small bedchamber, which
contained basic furniture and nothing else.  Unlike the guest quarters,
though, this place had obviously been used, and recently.

Belphanior:  Dammit.
Rob:  Eh?
Belphanior:  Too many of them got away.  I hate this.  (he frowns)  I've
  got no plans for the immediate future.  I may make it my mission to
  track down and kill all of these clowns.
Halbarad:  I may join you in that endeavor.
Deryck:  Aye, and I as well.

  The level below contained the forges of Orzo, which held some gemstones
and coinage, as well as a number of tools and a great quantity of metal
ore.  It was here that Belphanior found the barrels of oil he desired for
the tunnel entrance above; he kept making noises about taking care of
that at some point.  The entire eastern half of this level was different;
its air was clean and crisp, its passages perfectly cut.  There was a
problem, however: not fifty feet onto the bridge that led over a great
pool of water into the guts of this area, a great flood of lava rushed
out of the eastern exit, at the far end of the bridge.

Belphanior:  Holy shit!

  At first, it seemed inconceivable that the lava could ever progress
to any significant degree, given the gigantic amount of water in here
and the depth of the pool.  However, the lava continued to rush in, and
though it would take a while, the end result was clear to deduce.

Rob:  It's going to cover the water and rise to this bridge.
Ys:  If unchecked, it may even flow out into the western part of this
Mongo:  Is there any way to get past the lava and find out where it's
  coming from?  And maybe stop it?
Pallin:  My powers are great, but not that great.  I cannot journey
  through molten lava for hundreds of feet, unable to see where I am
  going and not knowing what I am looking for.
Skektek:  Well, I can create some magical walls at the entry to this
  room...that would hopefuly keep the lava from advancing beyond this
Halbarad:  Will that work?
Skektek:  It should.  If I layer the barriers - a wall of force, then
  one of stone, for example - the lava will cool and solidify against
  the wall of force before the latter expires.  Then, with a wall of
  stone right underneath, the lava should be held in check.
Belphanior:  (wondering what treasures might lie beyond the lava, if
  they're not already destroyed)  Dammit.  Okay, that sounds like a

  They retreated back into the main hallway, and Skektek conjured five
walls in succession - a wall of force, three of stone one after another,
then another wall of force.

Skektek:  If that doesn't stop the lava and form a plug, nothing will.
Mongo:  Do you think we should risk going further down?
Pallin:  Yes.  I can teleport us all out of here if necessary.
Belphanior:  So can I.
Pallin:  (glares at the other elf)
Belphanior:  Just pointing that out.
Halbarad:  It doesn't matter to me who casts it, since it won't affect
  me anyway.  (he sets his jaw)  Although I am more than willing to
  take the risk.  Let's move on.

  With nothing left to explore here, they descended again, entering the
level inhabited by the drow and their gigantic spider, where Belphanior
and his crew had entered via the Underdark.  It was here, actually,
that they found the most valuable treasure; the drow had amassed quite
a fortune.  Coinage, gemstones, jewelry, and ingots were here in great
abundance, and a number of magical items were recovered, including a
rather finely-crafted longsword of mithril which radiated great power
and no evil.  This level was not without guardians, however; numerous
spiders had to be slain, as well as a stone golem in one of the larger
quarters.  Belphanior knew that there would doubtless have been even
more guardians, except for the rampage of the purple worm he'd brought
into play here.  He didn't mention this to the others, though, instead
letting them assume that something or someone else had caused all the
cracked walls and floors and such.
  The one major snag was the temple of Lolth; the 30' high statue of
the goddess within this gigantic temple-hall radiated an evil so great
that some of the explorers were actually forced to turn back in fear.
This was something that had not happened to any of the adventurers in
quite some time, and it bothered and intimidated them.  A hasty debate
ended with the decision to fireball the temple, which was doubly useful
since it eliminated the dozens of giant spiders that had begun to appear
in there, slowly making their way toward the intruders.

  With this done, there was nothing else obvious to explore or find.
It was late at night - the end of a day filled with fighting, a day
that had seen much death and destruction.  All of them were exhausted
and needed rest.  The decision was made to quit for the night, having
accomplished the main objective.  On the morrow, a more detailed search
could be done in the hope of finding new levels or chambers.

Belphanior:  I won't rest until we've found Xusia's chambers.  I refuse
  to believe that he didn't have some kind of lair here.

next:      Alindyar cleans up
released:  12/29/01
notes:     I guess you probably know that I could have caused this
  exploration to span ten episodes.  I really was tired of writing
  about the fortress, though.

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