Chapter #806

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       +
+   Angus           iron golem                                            +
+   Sir Dremel      11th level human paladin of Heironeous                +
+   Elgon           8th/9th/11th level gnomish priest/illusionist/thief   +
+   Jenna           9th level human female priestess of Istus             +
+   Otto            10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+   Razor Charlie   10th level human fighter                              +
+   Skektek         13th level human wizard                               +
+   wispy thing     strange, intangible sentient being                    +
+   Ys              14th level reptilian fighter                          +
+   Date:           4/24/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          the hills to the west of the Vast Swamp               +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "It's not a secret, it's a surprise."                                 +
+                                           - from _Die Another Day_      +

                     DCCCVI.  Elgon's Secret

  Three days have passed since the adventurers left Naerie, the capital
of Idee, and headed south and east - directly into the heart of the
Tilvanot Peninsula.  Now, they journey through the hills that comprise
the western boundary of the Vast Swamp.

Otto:  The marshlands are near.  I can smell it.
Belphanior:  It beats sailing all the way around...and we're probably
  not going to see representatives of the Scarlet Brotherhood either.

  They'd encountered no monsters thus far, but nobody really expected
this to continue.  The land was simply too wild, too far from any sort
of civilization, and had too bad a reputation.

Elgon:  What about it, Jenna?  Does Istus tell you what beasts we shall
  come up against?
Jenna:  She already has-
Belphanior:  (glances over)  Oh, really?
Jenna:  Well, it's not exactly like that.  I can't tell you for sure that
  we'll be finding a tribe of orcs, or a pack of ghouls, or a land shark,
  or whatever.  It's more along the lines of "we'll soon be faced with
  overwhelming odds" or "one of us will lose something dear to him" or
  even "death will come knocking tonight"...though that last one is of
  course an extreme example...
Razor Charlie:  (gapes at the woman, wondering what her use is and why
  she's been allowed to join the group)
Otto:  But you have other divination skills besides trying to predict
  the future...
Jenna:  Oh, yes.  You will surely see.
wispy thing:  (frowns at the priestess)  sprrd.
Otto:  Well, here's one prediction that I think any of us can safely
  make...we won't go much farther without encountering something or

  This prediction was borne out a bit by midafternoon, when the party
was accosted by winged monsters.  One moment, they were riding their
horses along the trail...the next, shrieks of bestial rage pierced
the air as the things swooped over a hill and attacked!  They looked
like thin birds of some kind, with wingspans around six feet, wickedly
curved talons on their feet, and sharp beaks.  They were covered in
short black hair or fur, and had no forelegs to speak of, as these
appeared to be merged with their wings.

bird-thing #1:  (swoops past Belphanior, who blocks its raking attack
  with his sword)  Screee!
Belphanior:  Very dim souls, but souls nonetheless.  Blackrazor, we'll
  feast this day.
bird-thing #2:  (flies past Elgon, attempting to pick him up)  Scraaw!
Elgon:  Damn-  (he finds himself lifted from the ground, the thing's
  feet digging into his leather-armored body)  Aaargh!
Skektek:  Giant birds?!?  You've got to be kidding-
bird-thing #3:  (flies right at the wizard, talons slashing)
Skektek:  (falls clumsily back, his robes ripped a bit by the attack)
bird-thing #4:  (swoops by Razor Charlie, who is slashed but still
  leaps aside, rolls, and comes up with knives in hand)
Razor Charlie:  (throws one knife, hitting the attacker in the leg,
  but misses with a second blade)
bird-thing #5:  (makes the mistake of choosing Ys as its victim)  Scre-
Ys:  (not having time to draw his sword, he instead meets the monster's
  dive with one gigantic fist)  Away!
bird-thing #5:  (hit in its chest, it screams as ribs snap)  Scraaa!
  (weaving in the air, it flies away shakily)
Otto:  (brings his crossbow to his shoulder, aims, and fires in one
  fluid motion)
bird-thing #5:  (hit in the head with the bolt, it shrieks again, then
  totters in the air, then falls)
Otto:  Poisoned bolts'll get them every time.
bird-thing #6:  (swoops down at Sir Dremel)  Screeee!
Sir Dremel:  Never, beast!  (his sword just clears its sheath as the
  foe rakes at his armored body)  Hah!  (he grabs one of the thing's
  wings and, with a mighty effort, pulls it from the sky)

  The monsters had made a successful first strike thanks to the element
of surprise plus their natural speed, but now the adventurers were able
to bring their greater power to bear.  Skektek blasted a foe out of the
sky with a volley of magical missiles, while Jenna summoned a glowing
force-net and snared another as it attacked again.  Belphanior chased
Elgon's abductor into the air, sword flashing...but quickly realized
that the bird-thing had him beat in speed and maneuverability.

Belphanior:  I'll never retrieve the gnome this way...Skektek!
Skektek:  Here!
Belphanior:  Hit this one with some missiles...drop it from the sky!
Skektek:  Will do!  (he quickly summons another volley of magical
  bolts, which streak unerringly toward the foe)
bird-thing #2:  (hit in the head and neck, it drops Elgon)  Screeee!
Elgon:  (begins falling to the ground)  Whoa!
Belphanior:  (having positioned himself roughly beneath the bird-thing,
  he is able to catch the falling gnome by the cloak)  Gotcha.
bird-thing #4:  (flies back to attack Charlie again)  Screee!
wispy thing:  (flying beside the foe)  sssss!
bird-thing #4:  (disracted)  Scroo?
Otto:  (fires his crossbow again, hitting the thing in the chest)
bird-thing #4:  Scra!  (it wobbles in the air, then falls, poisoned
  and twitching)
Ys:  hm.  (he walks over to bird-thing #1, which is tangled in Jenna's
  magical net, and stabs it through the torso, slaying it)
Belphanior:  (lands, letting Elgon go, and dashes over to one of the
  foes wounded and stunned by Skektek's magical missiles)  Attack us,
  will you?  (he lops the monster's head from its shoulders)
Sir Dremel:  (still wrestling on the ground with his downed foe, he
  finally brings his sword to bear, piercing its neck and stopping the
  struggle)  Whew.
Belphanior:  (looking around)  Well.  They're all dead.
Otto:  But what were they?
Sir Dremel:  Foul abominations, no doubt sent to stop us from-
Ys:  They appeared to be large, hungry birds or some sort.
Sir Dremel:  (shrugs)  Evil takes many guises.
Skektek:  (checking his torn robes)  My robes!  Am I hit?
Razor Charlie:  I am...argh.

  The knife-throwing warrior had been bleeding from a trio of slashes
across his back, where his foe had initially struck.  The wounds had
been deep, but the amulet of Keogh was doing its work; even now, the
cuts were shallow, almost closed up.

Jenna:  Let me take a look at those cuts.  (she runs her fingers over
  the sliced skin)  Incredible!  I've never seen healing this rapid.
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)  Can I put my shirt back on now?
Jenna:  Yes, but you might want to get a new one - that one's nearly
  ripped to shreds.
Razor Charlie:  (not really caring how his shirt looks)  Thanks.
Jenna:  Don't mention it.  (she moves to check on the others)

  The wounds were minor, the treasure zero - but as always, the thrill
of the fight and the exultation of being alive won out in the end.  In
half an hour, they were on the move again.

Elgon:  (spurs his horse up to the front of the group, where Belphanior
  rides ahead of the others)
Belphanior:  Eh?
Elgon:  I've got to talk to you.
Belphanior:  Oh, no worries.  Not everyone can excel in their first
  battles with the team.  I'm not upset about that.
Elgon:  It's not that.
Belphanior:  (suddenly interested)  Oh?
Elgon:  (looks behind to make sure no others can hear, and keeps his
  hands open and still)  I'm not who I said I was...well, not exactly.
Belphanior:  (puts his hand on his sword-hilt)  Okay, you've got my
Elgon:  I'm not a gnome...I'm a deep gnome.  A svirfneblin.  (he pats
  the sheathed shortsword at his belt)  This isn't a sword at all, it
  merely appears to be one due to a powerful illusion.  It's actually
  a pick.
Belphanior:  (nods)  My magical eye sensed _something_ about it...and
  you in general.  But how can this be?
Elgon:  And why didn't your all-seeing eye spot the truth right away?
  (he smiles)  Think about who gave you that enchanted glass eye.

  The deep gnome was afraid for a minute that Belphanior wouldn't be
able to remember, for surely he had encountered many people.  The elf
hadn't forgotten, though...

Belphanior:  Grimlok.  King Grimlok.
Elgon:  (nods)  King Grimlok of the deep gnomes beneath the Free City
  of Greyhawk.
Belphanior:  But how...why?  I mean, why lie about who you are?
Elgon:  When you left our city, with the eye and my king's blessing,
  the favor you did for us was considered fully repaid.  However, the
  high priest Slagg soon predicted many more troubles ahead for you,
  and King Grimlok - still in your debt, he said - decided to send a
  representative to help you.
Belphanior:  Well, I've certainly had my share of troubles since I
  was down there in that underworld kingdom.
Elgon:  (shakes his head)  Your troubles, those which Slagg portended,
  have to do with dark elves...our sworn enemy.  That is why one of
  my people - me - was chosen to find you and offer whatever help he
  could.  I had always wanted to see the surface world, and I have
  the skills and experience to be of use to you.
Belphanior:  But your speech...why don't you sound...oh.
Elgon:  (grins)  Talk naturally like this, I do.  (his smile fades)
  But you're right.  To truly blend in as the type of gnome that a
  surface-dweller expects, I had to learn to speak more...normally.
Belphanior:  Ah.  (he frowns)  We encountered some dark elves in the
  Fortress of the Nine...although briefly.
Elgon:  Perhaps more of them await us in the Pelisso Swamp, then.
Belphanior:  Why are you telling just me - keeping this from the
Elgon:  King Grimlok gave me broad latitude to decide how best to
  assist you.  I don't know all of the others, so the only ones I
  can trust are you and Mongo the dwarf...and he's not here.  I'd
  have talked to you about this before, but there just hasn't been
  a good time.  (he frowns)  Oh, one thing that may help convince
  you that I'm not making this up:  Grimlok also wanted me to pass
  word to you that the strange dwarf, Darek Halfplow, is alive and
  well.  Slagg was able to restore him to life and then return him
  to the surface world.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I see.  Is there anything else I should know?
Elgon:  Well, as I said, I fight with a pick, not a shortsword.  (he
  removes his helmet, revealing a completely bald head)  The hair was
  another illusion - like all male svirfneblin, I'm bald.  (he shrugs)
  I guess you ought to know that I can't turn undead - priests of my
  race haven't the aptitude.  My magic can heal wounds, though probably
  not as well as Jenna's.  My real strengths lie in mining, illusion,
  and sneaking about.  I'm highly resistant to magic as well.  Oh, and
  my true name is Sn'rll, but while on the surface world I go by Elgon
  so let's leave it at that.
Belphanior:  That's quite a confession.  How did you know I wouldn't
  be furious?
Elgon:  One, because I offer the same skills as originally advertised
  when I joined.  Two, because I didn't have to confess all of this
  to you, and you'd never have known.  Three, because I guessed that
  you'd know I was telling the truth.  If you wish, you can have Sir
  Dremel over there verify that I'm not lying.
Belphanior:  That won't be necessary.  I can't say I like being tricked
  but...I can see why you did it.  Do you plan to tell the others?
Elgon:  I don't see the need - none of what I've told you will make
  much difference, if any, to them.  I thought it was right that you
  know the truth, that's all.
Belphanior:  Yeah.

  They all rode onward, and dusk arrived in a matter of hours, forcing
them to make camp.  Otto found a short hillock with steep sides; while
some of the others gathered what firewood they could find, the dwarf
busied himself setting traps around the top of the hill.

Otto:  (to Jenna and Elgon)  Note how I've only left one avenue of
  approach to our hilltop camp.  Be careful not to stray.
Sir Dremel:  But I can't even see any of your traps.
Otto:  That's the point.
Elgon:  And who defends that single approach?
Otto:  (sticks a thumb at Angus)  The golem.
Jenna:  This is a lot of precaution for a single night's camp.
Otto:  You haven't spent many nights out in the wilderness before now,
  have you?  Well, anyway...yes, this is a bit more than we usually do,
  but this area demands it.
Jenna:  Let me assist your protections with a ward of my own...through
  Istus' magic, we can be warned by a loud shriek if anyone or anything
  not within the spell range at its casting enters that range afterward.
Otto:  Isn't that more like wizard magic?
Jenna:  Perhaps, but each deity has its own particular specialty, or more
  than one.  Istus grants us more than one little-known divination spell,
  such as this one...and now is as good a time to use it as any.

  Once everyone was back and the fire was blazing, Jenna cast her spell
and the camp was doubly secured.

Belphanior:  What will happen if someone gets too close to us in the
Jenna:  Once anything comes within fifty feet of us, a loud shriek will
  be emitted.  It only lasts for a moment, but there will be no doubting
  its meaning.
Otto:  (yawns)  That's why I always sleep with my sword out and ready.
Ys:  Dear lady, have you had some sort of premonition about monsters at
Jenna:  No, but it never hurts to be safe.
wispy thing:  (flitting around merrily)
Jenna:  (to Belphanior)  I don't know if that wisp can truly understand
  me - or you - but it may very well trip my alarm if it wanders afar.
Belphanior:  (points to the wispy thing)  Got that?
wispy thing:  yrrrp!
Jenna:  (still in doubt, she prepares for sleep)

  Many a time, in many a land or wilderness, the adventurers had gone to
sleep fully prepared to be woken up by intruders - only to sleep all
night without any disturbance.  This was not to be a quiet night, though.

Belphanior:  (woken from a bizarre dream by the pulsing of Blackrazor)
  Eh?  (he glances around, making no sudden moves or noises)

  The elf's sword detected living beings - or more accurately, their
souls - within a greater radius than either Jenna's warding spell or
Otto's traps would reveal.  The tingling now given off by the weapon
told Belphanior that four souls had just come within fifty feet or so
of the camp.

Belphanior:  (taps Otto on the shoulder)
Otto:  (turns his head, already awake, and whispers)  I know.  I heard
  something out there.
Belphanior:  Right.  Get ready - when whatever's out there attacks, I'm
  going to light this whole place up.
Otto:  (nods)

  Moments later, an earsplitting shriek erupted from all around them;
though it was brief, it was loud, and all were awakened.  Immediately
afterward, multiple grunts of confusion and pain came from around the
hill.  Belphanior completed a quick spell which he had been readying,
bathing the hilltop and its slopes in bright light and revealing the
surprised attackers:  four huge, two-headed monsters.

Otto:  Ettins!

  About twice the height of grown men, the giant-kin had brownish skin
that was just as filthy as their furs.  All had greasy, stringy hair and
yellow, rotten teeth - and they all smelled horrible.  Each one held a
spiked club in each huge hand.  Three of the four ettins had stepped on
or walked into Otto's sharp, poisoned spike traps while charging forth
as the magical alarm died out.  With their size, neither the spikes nor
the poison was more than an annoyance, but every little bit helped the
  Of course, a couple of them were already ready.  In one fell swoop,
Belphanior had both taken away the darkness and surprised the attackers.
Otto was standing, crossbow ready, and just like that, the nearest foe
had a bolt in its shoulder.

ettin #1:  AAARGH!  (it begins cursing in some crude, guttural language)
Belphanior:  Angus!  Smash any of those that come near you!
Angus:  (completely camouflaged by branches and dirt, thanks to Otto, he
  has gone completely unnoticed by the ettins, one of whom is charging
  right past him)
ettin #2:  YAAAAAR-
Angus:  (reaches out and grabs the monster's wrist)
ettin #2:  (yelps as it is pulled up, back, and then slammed into the
  hard, rocky ground)  AAAR!
ettin #3:  (smashes through more of Otto's spikes with one club, then
  swings the other at the scrambling prey atop the hill)
Razor Charlie:  (batted aside like a dead shrub)  Ungh!
Elgon:  (getting to his feet, surprisingly alert, he swings his pick at
  the foe, connecting in its kneecap)  Take that, pungent one!
ettin #3:  AAAARGH!  (swings its first club back around)
Elgon:  (swatted aside by the gigantic club)  Argh!
Jenna:  (gets to her feet, only to find the monstrous ettin towering over
  her)  Aie!
ettin #3:  MMMM-
Sir Dremel:  (charges in to protect the woman)  Back, vermin!  (he hacks
  at the foe, slashing open one of its legs)
ettin #3:  GRAARGH!  (it pounds the paladin with both clubs, knocking him
Sir Dremel:  (feels a couple of ribs crack)  Urgh!  Damn y-
ettin #4:  (steps on the paladin, en route to Skektek)  GRAARGH!
Skektek:  Get the hell away!  (he launches a small lightning bolt from
  his ring, hitting the attacker directly in one of its leering faces)
ettin #4:  (finds one of its heads completely vaporized)  RRRRAAAARGH!
Ys:  (standing to one side)  Have at you, then.  (he swings his sword at
  the ettin's other flank)
ettin #4:  (blocks the blow with its club, but the wooden weapon is
  shattered)  AARGH!  (it leaps at Ys suddenly, tackling the reptilian
  before he can strike again with his sword)
Ys:  (along with the ettin, he goes down in a heap of flying fists)
ettin #1:  (despite the crossbow bolt in its shoulder, it charges at the
  camp, roaring in rage)  RAARGH!
Belphanior:  (dives beneath the monster's swinging clubs and slashes a
ettin #1:  (its knee sliced through, it falls, howling in agony)  EYAAA-
Belphanior:  (chops one of its heads in half)
ettin #1:  (somehow connects with one club, knocking the elf aside)
Otto:  (finding the downed brute easy prey for a backstab, he sinks his
  sword into the juncture of its two necks, spraying blood everywhere)

  Meanwhile, Angus was turning his foe into paste.  The golem had grabbed
the ettin with one iron hand, holding it securely by an arm and preventing
it from escaping.  With his other hand - a fist, actually - Angus rained
blow after blow upon the giant-kin...until finally, it stopped struggling.

ettin #3:  (looming over Jenna)  RRRRRR.
Jenna:  (about to complete a spell, though perhaps not quickly enough)
wispy thing:  (suddenly begins flying in circles around both of the foe's
  heads)  sssss!
ettin #3:  GRAAAR!  (it swings a club at the intangible pest, nearly
  hitting itself on one head)  RAAARGH!
Jenna:  (having gotten the precious moments she needed to finish her
  spell, she points at the distracted ettin, and a thin strand of some
  gray material shoots from her hand, wrapping itself around the foe's
  arms and torso)
ettin #3:  RAARGH!  (it struggles, but to no avail)
Sir Dremel:  Good work, milady.  (he gets to his feet painfully, then
  regards the helpless ettin as if unsure what to do)
Belphanior:  No time for hesitation, my friend.  (he walks up and buries
  his sword's tip in one of the ettin's brains, slaying it)  Ahhhhh...
Sir Dremel:  What?!?
Belphanior:  This is no time for hesitation.

  Nearby, the fourth ettin and Ys wrestled on the ground, forgoing their
weapons for barehanded combat.  The ettin had gotten in an early bite on
the reptilian's scaled flesh, but Ys was bringing his strength to bear.
Although five feet shorter than the ettin, the reptilian was actually
stronger, as the ettin was learning to its dismay.

Ys:  (forces one of the foe's heads away from him...back, and back yet
ettin #4:  <CRACK>  (one of its heads suddenly lolls to the side)  RAARG-
Skektek:  (from one side, he watches, waiting for Ys to get out of the
  way so a spell can be used to finish off the ettin)  Ys...move!
Ys:  I can't!  (he elbows the foe in the stomach, then turns deftly
  and gets the ettin's surviving head in a firm headlock)  Time to die,

  The ettin fought hard, trying in vain to break the reptilian's grip,
but its struggles gradually became weaker, until Ys ended the fight with
a second loud snap as he broke the foe's other neck.

Ys:  Whew.  That one was strong.
Elgon:  But not strong enough, I'd wager.
Otto:  Just goes to show you:  two heads just means twice as many weak
  points.  (to Ys)  Where'd you learn to grapple so well?  We had no
  idea you could do that.
Ys:  (proudly)  Long ago, in my homeland, I was the champion wrestler of
  my village for a time.
Skektek:  (shaking his head in wonder)

  The adventurers had suffered a few wounds, but nothing critical.  Elgon
and Razor Charlie were a little bloody from the initial attack, though
the latter's wounds were nowhere in sight.  Sir Dremel had a number of
cuts and bruises from being trampled, plus some cracked ribs.  Belphanior
had been hurt by one attack, but those cuts and broken bones were already
healed thanks to the life-force of the one ettin he'd dispatched.  Ys had
an ettin bite on one shoulder, and the sight of the bright green blood was
a bit of a shock to Jenna and Elgon.

Ys:  'Tis nothing.  I assure you, your healing spells will work on me.
Jenna:  We shall see.
Elgon:  You'd better see to it - I need to rest for a bit.  (he clutches
  his bruised side in pain as he retrieves his dropped pick)
Skektek:  (muttering to himself)  Hey, wasn't he fighting with a short-
  sword before?
Jenna:  (casts a spell of healing on Ys)
Ys:  Aaaaah.
Razor Charlie:  (watching, he thanks some grim god for his acquisition
  of the mighty healing amulet)
Jenna:  You may not need healing, but others always will.  Perhaps now
  you know what my use is and why I've been allowed to join the group.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)
Otto:  (surveying the area)  I think there were only four of them.  Big
  but dumb, these ettins - their tactics got them killed.  (to Jenna)
  Good work with that...that...rope?  Was it a spell?
Jenna:  (nods)  A Strand of Binding.  Istus grants such powers to her
  high priestesses.
Belphanior:  Comes in handy, I bet.
Sir Dremel:  (approaches the elf)  I have a question.
Belphanior:  (expecting to be grilled about slaying the defenseless ettin
  in cold blood, he grimaces)  What?
Sir Dremel:  I've adventured and crusaded with many a wizard, and seen
  a number of their creations.  I can't help but notice that your golem
  seems...smarter than others of his kind.  How is this?
Belphanior:  Angus may very well be a little sharper than a normal golem.
  It's probably a tradeoff for his smaller size - most golems are a dozen
  feet tall, you know.
Sir Dremel:  I see.
Belphanior:  Besides, he was the first golem I ever created, so you could
  say I was still learning.  (he looks around at all the blood and dead
  bodies)  At the rate we're going, we'll kill a dozen creatures a day
  while traversing this land.  (he sighs)

  Things didn't get any better the following day, either; around midday
they spotted sickly greenish terrain ahead...

Belphanior:  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...the Vast Swamp.

next:      things get murky
released:  2/6/04
notes:     Well, this is yet another episode that's 20K or more in size.
  As I said before, I'm trying to standardize on the quantity here, as
  well as the quality.

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