Chapter #801

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2004 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!                                          +
+   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                          +
+   Date:           3/3/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           dusk                                                  +
+   Place:          the northeastern reaches of the Yatil Mountain range  +
+   Climate:        wet and cold                                          +
+   "The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad."    +
+                                                        - Salvador Dali  +

                      DCCCI.  New Beginnings

  The cold rain beat down mercilessly on the lone figure as he rode
through the mountain pass.  He sat astride a great black horse that knew
neither fatigue nor discomfort, thanks to certain dark magicks.  As for
the rider, it was within his means to shield himself from the elements,
but he was no weakling to be bothered by cold or water.  Truth be told,
he actually found such weather pleasant.
  On the trail ahead, six figures skulked in the shadows, waiting for
their apparently unwitting prey.  These men, all seasoned and ruthless
bandits, employed scouting and hidden trails above to spot those passing
through and set up ambushes.  They had turned a tidy profit in recent
weeks, for there had been an unusual amount of traffic through these
parts.  The larger groups - those numbering more than a handful, or any
with obvious armed guards or large wagons - had been ignored.  These
were jackals, not wolves, and they only made challenges they knew they
could win.
  Of course, it had never occured to them, especially on this cold, wet,
miserable night, that they now hunted one who could turn the tables...

lone rider:  (spurs his mount around a bend in the road, only to find
  the way blocked by three crossbow-wielding figures)
bandit #1:  Halt, there!  (he raises his weapon)  Off the horse, and be
  quick about it!
bandit #2:  (fingers his crossbow's trigger)
bandit #3:  (wonders why the victim isn't saying anything)
bandit #4:  (along with two of his fellows, he drops into place behind
  the rider)
bandit #5:  (sword ready, he barks another challenge)  Off the damned
  horse, now!
bandit #6:  (holds a spear at the ready, should the rider try to turn
  and make a break for it)

  The lone rider's response was sudden and powerful:  he raised both
hands, and from those hands, blazing projectiles issued forth, blasting
the crossbow-wielding attackers who stood before him!  All three fell,
dropping their weapons, as the foe with the spear made a mighty cast.
The weapon's razor-sharp point whizzed toward the rider's mount, on a
direct and deadly trajectory for the horse's neck...until just a moment
before that impact, when the weapon careened away in a random direction
as if it had hit some invisible shield.
  The rider wasted no time, practically leaping out of his saddle, right
at the other three attackers.  One of those bandits fired his crossbow,
the bolt taking the rider in the chest, but glancing off harmlessly, a
metallic ringing sound betraying the presence of armor beneath that wet
cloak.  The bandit didn't get a second chance, as the rider unsheathed
a jet-black blade and stabbed forth, all in one motion, neatly spearing
the foe's throat.  As another bandit yelled and charged, his own sword
coming down in a deadly arc, the rider casually sidestepped the attack,
bringing his fist into the attacker's face with enough force to break
the latter's neck.  The third of the bandits at the rear flank backed
up, spear held before him, unsure what to make of this mysterious foe
who had seemed like easy prey but had just killed or injured five men
in as many moments.

bandit #6:  St- stay back!
Belphanior:  Not a chance.  (he darts forward gracefully, parrying the
  stabbing spear then swinging his dark blade around to lop the foe's
  head from his shoulders)

  As his grim blade sucked the slain man's life force and transferred
it directly and instantly to him, the elf stood straighter, invigorated
and refreshed, hours of weariness replaced by raw power.  He turned and
made his way back to the three bandits he'd felled with his magical
missiles.  One was dead, his head a smoking lump of blackened flesh;
the other two, including the apparent leader, were writhing in pain on
the muddy ground.

Belphanior:  (walks over, sword held at his side)
bandit #1:
Belphanior:  You have attacked and killed people under my protection,
  people bound for work in one of my interests.  There is no mercy.  (he
  runs the man through, then turns to the last bandit and does the same)
  The days of mercy are over.

  The elf didn't bother to loot or even check the corpses; it had been a
while since the contents of a few brigands' pockets had any chance of
interesting him.  He simply dragged the bodies off the road, making one
big pile, and left them for the hyenas, vultures, and worms.  Without a
look back, he got back on his horse and continued his journey as if
nothing had happened.

  Half a day later and a fair distance away, the rain had stopped, the
clouds parted, allowing the sun to cast its rays on a cold mountain day.
The elf rode toward the the place he'd recently departed:  the ruins of
Helgate.  Once a small and desolate mining town, it had flourished for
years under the hard but fair rule of the elf and his cohorts, who ran
the place from the dark castle that loomed over the town and the mines.
All of that had changed, though, when two nearby kingdoms had gone to
battle over the town due to its strategic location just off of the
mountain pass.  Due to various factors, including a powerful undead
spirit and a number of powerful magical weapons, the entire town and
almost everyone in it had been destroyed.  In the end, only a handful
of people walked away from the place, and the day of Helgate has truly
  Subsequently, Belphanior had been one of a band that researched,
located, and looted the tombs of a lost civilization, amassing a vast
fortune that defied counting.  With his share of this hoard, the elf
was now in a position to realize certain of which was a
near-total excavation of the ruins of his castle in Helgate.  Truth be
told, he was searching for two particular items...

Belphanior:  How goes it?
Otto:  All's well.  (he eyes the elf)  Did you find them?
Belphanior:  Yep.
Skektek:  I know you wanted to keep me here, to have a wizard at the
  excavation just in case, but I still don't see why you couldn't just
  assemble a force to go hunt those bandits down.
Belphanior:  The best way to catch hunters is to pose as prey.  Any sort
  of large, organized posse would have only scared them away.  Instead,
  I did it alone, and now they're dead and won't bother anyone again.
Ys:  (lifts a gigantic boulder and sets it aside, drawing amazed glances
  from the scores of dwarven workers who toil at the rubble)  I would
  push that further out of the way, but it might get rolling and crush

  Despite the fact that Belphanior had hired several hundred dwarves to
do the digging, Ys has insisted on helping.  The big reptilian had made
some vague reference to keeping fit and then thrown himself into the
work.  As skilled and hard-working as the dwarves were (and they should
be, given what they were being paid) they were still happy to have an
immensely strong, eight-foot lizard-man aiding in the digging.

Ys:  (yawns, his rows of fangs exposed for all to see)
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)

  Four months had passed since the reunion party in the City of Greyhawk.
Belphanior had used one of those months to rest and ponder ideas, another
two to find, assemble, and transport the dwarves and their supplies and
equipment here, and the last month had been spent on pure labor:  digging
and moving and propping and then more digging.  The castle had been huge,
and getting to the bottom of that pile to unearth the things Belphanior
sought was a monumental task indeed.  Normally, magic would have been
employed to assist in the excavation, but one of those items lost within
the rubble was an anti-magic sphere, and its eldritch rays permeated the
entire ruin.  Nevertheless, such a treasure had myriad uses, especially
to one such as Belphanior; once he had gotten his priorities in order,
he knew that he had to engineer and finance its recovery.
  The other item buried somewhere deep within the castle's wreckage was
the elf's iron golem, Angus.  A massive humanoid composed entirely of
dull grey metal, Angus had been built by Belphanior many years ago and
was as rare as he was powerful.  Had the anti-magic sphere not been in
his vicinity, Angus probably would have used his great strength to break
himself out of the rubble by now.  However, with the thing somewhere
nearby and casting its rays in all directions, Angus was as inert as any
other gigantic lump of iron.  Ideally, Belphanior mused to himself, the
diggers would first recover the sphere, which would make the finding and
freeing of Angus quite a bit easier.  In any event, the elf did not plan
to leave this site until he had both of his lost prizes back.

  As it turned out, they'd been close at the time of Belphanior's ploy
and execution of the brigands.  Three days later, just after the mass
lunch break, one troop of miners hit paydirt...

dwarf:  (swings his pick, resulting in a sudden metallic ringing noise)
  Oy!  (others quickly gather around him)
Skektek:  (feels his already-weak powers wane further)  Ack...that may
  be it.
Belphanior:  The sphere...yes...(he dashes over to the horde of dwarves)

  Sure enough, there it was, in all its dull gray glory:  a most ordinary
ball of rock, neither shiny nor smooth.  Appearances were deceiving in
this case, however; this nondescript boulder could completely negate the
powers of the mightiest archmage or the fiercest demon.  It had already
saved Belphanior on one occasion, and he intended to see it used for his
ends in the future.

Belphanior:  Careful, there...let's get it out and hoisted up.

  The sphere's rays could in fact be blocked, but only by a special sort
of container fashioned from certain materials.  Belphanior had previously
possessed such a device, a large box of thick metals with strong blocking
properties, and had it rigged up so he could open it by mechanical means;
that whole setup had been destroyed when the castle had collapsed.  All
he wanted now was a way to contain the sphere, to have it either "on" or
"off", so he'd commissioned another container.  It hadn't been cheap at
all, but money was no object, and time wasn't something the elf had been
lacking either.
  And so it was that he watched, immensely satisfied, as dozens of dwarves
used pulleys and levers and ropes to pull the anti-magic sphere from the
rubble that surrounded it and move it into the huge, oddly-angled metal
box.  This took a few minutes, during which Belphanior and his henchmen
discussed the next step.

Skektek:  As soon as that lid's closed, we'll know if the box works.
Belphanior:  It will work, and we'll then have full magic powers back in
  action here.
Otto:  And Angus will be found?
Belphanior:  I expect him to be up and about by the end of the day.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at the stormclouds above)  Hrmph.
Ys:  (walks over, dusting his scaly hands off)  Nothing like a good day's
  honest work.
Belphanior:  Soon to be complete.
Otto:  And what then?
Belphanior:  What then?  What then, indeed.  (he smirks)

  Actually, the elf had significant plans.  He had to address the recent
(and future, if nothing was done) lack of a priest or healer of any sort
in his merry little band.  The problem was that few priests worth their
salt would willingly and wittingly go along with the sorts of adventures
that the elf tended to have.  A follower of some grim, dangerous deity
would be ideal, but many of them either tended to not specialize in
curative magics or else had their own agenda.  Any business arrangement
that involved a higher power on another plane of existence always made
Belphanior tread with extreme caution.  From his experience, many gods
were a lot like petulant or angry children, except a hell of a lot more
  Be this as it may, however, the elf faced a larger decision:  whether
or not to settle down again and have a stable base of operations.  The
advantages of doing this would be many:  stability, some semblance of
normalcy, a secure location in which to pool his power and hatch his
schemes.  However, there were also advantages to being mobile:  no need
to find and hold a place, no chance of someone getting in while he was
away, greater amounts of excitement.
  It was a toss-up, any way he looked at it, so Belphanior was leaning
toward a compromise.  If he made certain investments and also laid in
caches of money and equipment in a handful of safe yet strategic places
around the world, diversifying his holdings, he could then be free to
travel at will with a minimum of things to carry around or worry about.
This meshed perfectly with one of his next goals:  to determine whether
or not the arch-lich Xusia had hidden his own caches, somewhere in the
world.  Despite the many efforts of his own crew and other wizards,
there had been no clue or hint of any of Xusia's lairs or treasures.
Belphanior simply refused to settle for that - the slain undead lord
was far too powerful and had been around far too long to leave nothing
behind.  Whoever found Xusia's hoard would have great and terrible
  It only momentarily occurred to Belphanior that he already had great
and terrible power, and he wasn't yet sure what he'd do with even more.
  In any case, he had spent a goodly portion of the last four months
thinking and analyzing facts and conjectures, and he'd come up with a
theory, as he'd recently told the archmage Parekh during one of his
visits to her sanctum...

  Belphanior:  ...I'm sure of it.
  Parekh:  You think that Xusia had built other gateways, even if the
    one within his fortress no longer worked?
  Belphanior:  It makes total sense.  He must have had books, weapons,
    and such in his lair that we invaded - yet not a trace was to be
    found.  We did find that alcove, which Pallin determined held
    traces of strong and unusual teleportation magic.  And the missing
    piece, which I finally realized when I put two and two together,
    was the melted stone arch beneath Baron Albert's castle in Blackmoor.
    The sample we took from that place turned out to have the EXACT SAME
    enchantment.  Albert was a powerful undead...Xusia was a powerful
  Parekh:  Ah.
  Belphanior:  Yes.  Yes!  I think they were in cahoots and had some
    kind of portal set up from one place to the other.  That sure would
    explain some things.
  Parekh:  And they destroyed the portal when...?
  Belphanior:  Someone - maybe Xusia, I'm not sure - destroyed the one
    on the Blackmoor side sometime after we killed Albert.  And someone
    got rid of the one in Xusia's fortress, probably right before we
    attacked the place.
  Parekh:  (somewhat excited now)  An ally of the lich?  Perhaps fleeing
    and determined to lessen the gains of any who defeated Xusia...
  Belphanior:  Exactly.  We have the auras of both places, so now I'm
    thinking that with the help of one well-versed in transportation
    forms of magic-
  Parekh:  Like Pallin?
  Belphanior:  Right.  With his help, we should be able to track these
    unique energies down to...well, to wherever the slain lich's hoard
  Parekh:  And whoever took it.  And has it right now.
  Belphanior:  Do you think Pallin would help out with this?
  Parekh:  (smiles coyly)  He will.  We all will.
  Belphanior:  All?
  Parekh:  You may recall that I have been annoyed with Greyhawk's
    Circle of Eight ever since they vetoed me for being a woman.
  Belphanior:  Wait, they have a woman in their group now-
  Parekh:  What I spoke of happened many years ago.  Anyway, there are
    others who were also kept out, for whatever reason...gender, age,
    alignment, even political reasons.  We've decided to make our own
    clique of archmagi.  One that actually gets things done, instead of
    coming up with spells that get named after them, and other similar
    wastes of time.
  Belphanior:  Whoa.
  Parekh:  (grins)  A good idea, eh?  Anyway, Pallin is one of this
    number, and I will make sure he'll help you track down the things
    from Xusia's lair.
  Belphanior:  Much thanks.

  The elf smiled thinly, pleased to finally be closing in on the loot
that he'd sought for so long.  Some would call his theory mere conjecture
supplanted by wishful thinking, but he was confident:  the mystery of
these ruined stone archways in powerful undead foes' lairs would soon
be unraveled, leading to untold power...

  All of this thinking was interrupted by a loud metallic "CLANG" - the
anti-magic sphere was sealed within its thick container!

Skektek:  (feels power surging through him)  It worked!
Belphanior:  (likewise)  Indeed.
Otto:  (smirks)  And that means that any time now, we'll be hearing from-

  There was a terrific grinding noise, as if large boulders were being
forcibly ground together.  The ground trembled, and in a certain region
of the dig, small rocks dislodged, rolling this way and that.  As the
dwarven miners backed away, muttering, dust began to rise from that area.

Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)
Skektek:  (wondering what spell he should bring into play here)  What
  the hell...?
Otto:  (smirks)  You haven't figured it out yet?
Skektek:  Not-

  A huge iron fist burst forth from the rubble, eliciting gasps from the

Belphanior:  Welcome back, Angus.

  Within moments, the golem had freed itself from the wreckage of the
castle.  Dirt and grime covered Angus' massive form, and more than a few
scratches crisscrossed his iron skin.  Nevertheless, it was obvious to
all that the iron golem was completely functional.

Belphanior:  Skektek, you ought to blast him with a fireball later on,
  when no one's around.  That's how he heals damage, and better to be
  safe than sorry.
Skektek:  (grins)  Some target practice?  My pleasure.

  However, there was another surprise hiding in the castle ruins...

wispy thing:  (flies out from a crack between some rocks)  brfff!
Otto:  Holy shit!
wispy thing:  yrrrp.
Belphanior:  Now this, I did not expect.  (he eyes the wisp)  Where in
  hell's name have you been for the last couple of years?
wispy thing:  rnnnr.
Skektek:  Maybe he was trapped here when the sphere first came into play
  during that big battle.
Otto:  Or maybe he roamed around for a while, then returned here.
Belphanior:  Only the wisp knows.

  For the first time in a while, Belphanior had the sense of immense
satisfaction that only comes with having taken care of multiple nagging
loose ends and problems.  He now felt ready and able to tackle the task
ahead:  finding, once and for all, anything left behind by Xusia upon
his demise.

next:      on the trail of Xusia's secrets
released:  1/1/04
notes:     About two years ago, I said for the last time something I'd
  been saying on and off for years:  I was done writing Adventurers due
  to various reasons.  You and I both know that there were, and are, more
  of their stories to tell.  Since I have the time now, and since I've
  accomplished the main things I set out to accomplish previously, I have
  now decided to take another stab into further Adventurers stories.
    It took me several weeks to think about this and figure out whether
  or not it was the right decision.  Once that was done, I realized that
  I still had to choose which direction to go in.  One choice was to just
  pick up where I'd left off, and continue from where I'd left off in and
  around episode 800.  The other choice was to jump into the future (or
  perhaps an alternate one) and have all-new adventures with their kids
  in a non-continuity setting.  After two years' worth of debating this
  with myself and a select few others, I've decided to go with the first
  option, and just continue with the characters that the readers know and
  love (or in some cases, hate.)
    Time will tell if this was the right decision.  In the meantime, I
  give you new stories and also these important caveats:
    1)  I'm not writing regularly - just when I can and want to
    2)  I'm not writing permanently - if/when I get too busy, I'll stop
    3)  not all of the old characters will turn up now (I'll probably
        do little to no stories of those with families)
    4)  I'm going to try to ignore rules and terms as best as I can, but
        when they are mentioned, they will be 2nd edition - I don't have
        the time or patience to learn 3rd edition

    And with that, we're off and running!  Here's a brief recap of all
  the history behind the Xusia machinations mentioned in this episode.

  626 - Belphanior, Bosco take melted stone sample from Baron Albert's
  688 - Xusia mentions to the Nine about destroying the Baron Albert
  786 - Pallin determines that the non-working fortress arch has traces
    of teleportation magic
  790 - lack of results from searching for Xusia treasure

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