Chapter #823

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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        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome 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:          5/22/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         unknown                                                +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "The only thing that keeps me from becoming fighting evil." +
+                                     - from _Beowulf_ (the sci-fi movie) +

                       DCCCXXIII.  Granularity

  The adventurers have just used one of Xusia's teleportation gateways
for the first time...

Belphanior:  (emerges from the mist, sword in hand)  Whoa.

  The elf found himself standing in front of an archway almost identical
to the one he'd just walked through, except this one was built of pale
yellow stones.  Also, it stood atop a raised, four-sided platform that
resembled a short, flat pyramid.  This dais was contained within a much
larger chamber of the same shape - in essence, a small pyramid within a
large pyramidial room.

Belphanior:  (turns around to regard the stone arch)

  The thing was filled with thick, swirling mist, and to its right was
a red stone, surrounded by a metal dial.  Before Belphanior had time to
examine the dial, a short figure appeared from the mist.

Otto:  (looking around, hand on his sword-hilt)  We're not in the Pelisso
Belphanior:  No, but at least this room seems to be vacant.
Otto:  (turns around and touches the mist, but nothing happens)  One-way
  portal, just like she said.
Ys:  (lumbers through the mists, nearly bowling the other two over)  What
  place is this?  (he looks around, scaly head surveying the chamber)

  Before the others arrived, Belphanior and Otto did some exploring.  The
room was square, about a hundred feet on a side and just as high, its
ceiling a tapering four-sided point.  The raised platform with the arch
was in the exact center of the room, the arch about five feet above the
floor, reached by a few short steps leading up from the floor.  The only
visible exit was a large double door in the center of the wall facing the
arch's opening (the side that they were emerging from.)

Skektek:  I wonder if we're really in the Sea of Dust.
Belphanior:  Beneath it, more likely.
Ys:  I've always wanted to see a Sea of Dust.
Otto:  Well, now's your chance.
Jenna:  (spellcasting)
Elgon:  (looking around)  As someone who's sensitive to rock and earth,
  I'm sure of one thing:  we're quite a ways below ground.
Razor Charlie:  (looking around warily)  Hmph.
wispy thing:  (hovers over the arch, circling it)  aaarp?  (after a few
  moments, it flies away toward the double doors)  pfsss.
Belphanior:  Everyone spread out, check out this room.  Be extra-careful.
  We don't know what's here, or even quite where we are for sure.
Jenna:  (looks up, down, and all around)  Actually, now I do.
Otto:  (notices that her eyes are glowing)  Huh?
Jenna:  I have called on Istus to divine our true location.  We're indeed
  in the Sea of Dust - in fact, deep within it, far from any semblance of
  civilization, far from any known mark on any map.
Belphanior:  Well, at least we know the gateway worked.

  In short order, the chamber was scouted and found to have nothing of
interest.  Skektek wanted to make some notes about the teleportation arch
and its metal dial, but Belphanior vetoed that idea.

Belphanior:  Later.  For now, we have to see what's out there.
Otto:  Before it sees us.
Skektek:  But-
Belphanior:  We'll come back later.  (he points to the door)  Otto and I
  will check that for traps, physical or magical.  Ys, Skektek - be ready
  to deal with anything on the other side, once we open it.  The rest of
  you, fall in.

  A quick but thorough examination detected no traps on the double doors
(and no souls waiting on the other side of the portal) so the group
prepared for the worst...and the doors were opened.

Belphanior:  (peering into a narrow corridor)  Hmm.

  The passage was thirty feet long, opening into a larger chamber just
beyond.  Torches burned in wall sconces every ten feet, and the room
ahead held several more, spaced about its perimeter.  The chamber was a
hemisphere, domed at the top and flat at the floor, perhaps fifty feet
across.  In the center was a gigantic chalice, filled to overflowing with
sand; half-buried within this sand were several weapons and pieces of

Otto:  Interesting...but it could be a trap.
Belphanior:  Too bad Bosco's not here.  (he scans the chalice and its
  contents with his crystal eye)'s all magical, and powerfully
  so...the chalice, the sand, the weapons and jewelry.  Odd.
Skektek:  We could blast it, you know.
Belphanior:  But then we'd never know what that treasure was, or how
  powerful it might have been.  Remember why we're here.
Otto:  We're here to kill our enemies.  Loot should be second priority.
Belphanior:  (thinking about this, he nods)  You're right.  Okay, we'll
  search the room, but everyone be on the lookout...and no one go near
  that chalice just yet.

  They fanned out, moving into the chamber.  It didn't appear to have
any exits, though...

Otto:  (turns around to look at the passage they used to enter this
  room)  Oh, hell.

  The entire entrance was sealing itself off, a thick slab of stone
sliding down from the passage's ceiling with a resounding "thud."

Belphanior:  Everyone, be ready-

  Suddenly, the torches in the chamber went out, plunging the entire area
into darkness!  Those with infravision could see nothing except their
companions, though a faint rasping sound was now audible from somewhere

wispy thing:  (somewhere above the adventurers)  snrrd.
Otto:  Ys, Charlie, Skektek, Jenna - stay where you are!
Skektek:  Hey, don't worry.
Otto:  We'll find a way to get some light in here!
Jenna:  I'm about to do that - everyone, cover your eyes!

  Remaining calm, Jenna opened a thick pouch of black cloth at her side,
removing a small, hard object.  In the next instant, she hurled it at
the stone floor with all her might - and its outer shell broke apart,
filling the chamber with a piercingly bright light.

Otto:  Damn, girl!  What is that thing?
Jenna:  Light-sphere, coated with dried plaster.  It's just a ball of
  clay until you break open its outer shell, and then...instant light.
Belphanior:  Good work.
Skektek:  (points at the chalice full of sand and treasure in the center
  of the room)  Look!

  The sand was swirling...shifting...forming itself into a huge shape.
The weapons and jewelry clattered to the floor, and the chalice rolled

Otto:  It's some kind of sand-creature...

  By the time the sand had coalesced into a grainy, ten-foot-tall form,
Skektek's volley of magic missiles was launched.  The bolts flew right
for the thing, every one of them scoring a perfect hit...and yet there
was no apparent effect.

sand-thing:  (heads toward the adventurers at a high rate of speed, its
  lower half flowing rather than walking with legs, stray grains of sand
  whirling in its wake)

  The adventurers responded quickly and efficiently.  Belphanior and Ys
charged to intercept the foe, giving the spellcasters time to prepare
their own attacks.  Otto and Charlie moved to the sides and used their
weapons to strike from a distance.  Unfortunately, neither fired bolt
nor thrown blade slowed the thing at all, instead sinking into the foe's
sandy body.

Otto:  Dammit!

  Ys and Belphanior quickly found that their swords had the same basic
problem:  they bit deeply, as the monster made no attempt to dodge or
parry the attacks...but the blades just passed through the thing's body
without effect.

sand-thing:  (lashes out with an "arm")

  Belphanior dodged, and if this had been a normal foe with a normal arm,
the elf would have avoided the attack.  However, the thing's arm spread
out as it swung, and Belphanior found himself stung and scraped by what
felt like a wall of sand.

Belphanior:  (half-blinded and choking, he falls back)  Ghak!
Ys:  Have at you, then.  (he attempts to slice the thing in half at the
sand-thing:  (though the sword passed entirely through its midsection,
  it neither falls apart nor hesitates, instead blasting the reptilian
  with a sudden cone of sand)
Ys:  Argh!  (he staggers back, having the same problems as Belphanior)
wispy thing:  (darts down around the thing's head, or at least the area
  where a head would be if the thing was a person)  sssss!
sand-thing:  (completely ignores the wisp)

  Just then, a tremendous blast of electrical energy slammed into the
foe, courtesy of Skektek.  A large portion of the thing's middle body was
instantly fused into dull glass.

Skektek:  Heh.  Everyone knows that lightning turns sand into glass.
  That ought to stop the thing.
sand-thing:  (while the glassy part of it falls to the ground, the rest
  of its sand-body flows away, toward Skektek, reforming once more into
  the same vaguely-humanoid shape)
Elgon:  It's a little smaller now, but still deadly.

  The foe made an odd sound then, sort of a deep "whoosh", and a large
wall of scouring sand bore down on Skektek and Elgon.  Before they had
time to react, they were knocked back and down by the force of the wall,
their eyes stinging and their throats dry and coughing.

Razor Charlie:  (to Otto)  Any ideas?
Otto:  Maybe...I think Skektek was onto something, though indirectly.
  (he rummages in a pocket)  Can you distract that thing?
Razor Charlie:  Uh...sure.

  The sand-thing was now turning toward those it hadn't yet attacked -
Otto, Jenna, and Razor Charlie.  Its attention was distracted suddenly
as Charlie sprinted past it, heading for the far side of the room.

Razor Charlie:  (regards the thing as he dashes by it)
sand-thing:  (immediately gives chase)

  Charlie was in great shape, and could outrun most men half his age,
but even so, the sand-thing bore down on him, rapidly gaining ground.

sand-thing:  (flowing along the floor)
Razor Charlie:  (looks back)  Shit.

  Suddenly, there was a great splashing sound...and Charlie was soaked
with water!

Razor Charlie:  Huh?

  The sand-thing, however, was completely waterlogged, more mud than sand
now.  Otto stood nearby, looking like he'd just thrown something.  Water
covered the entire area nearby, causing all the loose sand to stick to
the floor.

Jenna:  Clever tactic.  (she begins working a spell)

  The sand-thing was trying to rear up and attack someone - anyone - but
it was now mud, and seemed to be having trouble doing anything.  This
trouble was exacerbated when Jenna summoned even more water, drenching
the foe again.

Belphanior:  Get back, all of you.  I'll finish this!

  The elf was already spellcasting, and as his companions retreated, the
creature struggled to regain its vague form and move away...but its muddy
state prevented it from doing so with any speed.  Belphanior finished his
spell, and the foe instantly turned into solid rock, becoming a bizarre-
looking statue.

Skektek:  Mud to rock!
Belphanior:  (rubbing grit out of his eye)  I always said that if you're
  going to learn a spell, it pays to learn the reverse while you're at
  it.  (to Otto and Jenna)  Good job there.
Jenna:  (smiles thinly)  I was just following Otto's lead.
Otto:  Well, I had those water-spheres...but I got the idea from Skektek
  when he used lightning to change the thing's body.
Skektek:  (shrugs)  Hell, I was just trying to blast it to bits.  No big
  strategy there.
Belphanior:  Good job anyway, all of you.  (he looks around, verifying
  that everyone is okay)  Let's check this room and find a way out.

  The chalice, weapons, and jewelry were gathered, and found to have the
weakest of enchantments.

Belphanior:  Probably just a token aura, to fool us...the sand was the
  real magic, and since it was inside and all around these items, we were
Otto:  That was probably the intention.
deep, regal voice:  Of course it was the intention.  I couldn't leave the
  gateway unguarded, and now I know why.  I must admit, though, that I'm
  surprised you were able to defeat my sand para-elemental.  I shall have
  to find a more effective guardian now.

next:      Al-arakara
released:  6/4/04
notes:     There are two ways this could go, and as I sit here typing
  this, I don't know which of the two I'll choose.

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