Chapter #875

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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       +
+   1991-2005 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/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          7/3/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         unknown                                                +
+   Climate:       dry and cool                                           +
+   "What are you doing?"                                                 +
+   "Thinning the herd."                                                  +
+                                               - from _Death Wish 3_     +

                   DCCCLXXV.  Unwilling Participants

  The latest gateway jump has deposited the explorers in the midst of a

Otto:  (having just appeared from the gateway, he blinks)  This may be
  a stupid question, but why are we in the middle of a fight between
  drow and undead?
Elgon:  And why are we in the Underdark?
Belphanior:  Never mind all that now.  I'm not sure what's going on here,
  but chances are we'll have to fight our way out...or at least fight
  some foes off until we can re-activate the gateway and leave this

  Someone (something) must have heard the elf's words, for just then, a
mummy rounded the corner, peering into the alcove.

mummy:  Ghak.  (it shuffles toward the party)
Skektek:  (having just emerged from the gateway, he stares, eyes wide)
Belphanior:  Heads up, people!
Skektek:  (points one hand at the bandage-wrapped undead)  Say no more.

  A bolt of lightning shot from the wizard's ring, blasting the mummy
into a smoldering pile of ashes.

Belphanior:  Good work.  (he turns to Jenna, who just stepped through
  the gateway)
Jenna:  Was that a mummy?
Skektek:  It was.
Razor Charlie:  (appears, looking around)  A battle.  Hmph.
Otto:  (sheathes his sword and readies his crossbow)
Belphanior:  (points with his sword)  We need to defend this alcove
  until we can use the gateway to get the hell out of here.
wispy thing:  (appears, gnashing its intangible teeth as it surveys the
  situation)  aaarp?

  A moment later, a dark elf darted past the alcove...and then backed
up, regarding the adventurers.

dark elf:  (says something in drow, and begins making hasty motions with
  his hands)
Razor Charlie:  (without any hesitation, he hurls a knife)

  The dark elf reeled, gasping, the blade protruding from his neck.  He
may or may not have been mortally wounded, but Belphanior rendered the
point moot by leaping forth and decapitating the foe with a swing of his
black blade.

Skektek:  Mummies, dark elves...I wonder what's going on out there?
Belphanior:  It doesn't matter.  There are no sides here except us and
  anyone else.
Otto:  Everyone else.  (he fires a crossbow bolt at another dark elf who
  approaches, hitting the foe in the eye and downing him)
Razor Charlie:  Nice shot.
Otto:  Thanks.  (he begins loading another bolt into his weapon)
Ys:  (having just appeared, he looks around, confused)  I take it we've
  not entered another empty, quiet gateway chamber.
Belphanior:  (peeks out of the alcove, surveying the situation)

  The alcove was one of a dozen or so, arranged around the perimeter of
a large hall.  The hall's architecture was just like that of the alcove
and every other dark elf lair any of them had ever seen in the Underdark.
The stonework was simple at first glance, or from a distance, but up close
it displayed sweeping lines and intricate detail.  There were many columns
which supported an arched ceiling; the hall was vast, about a hundred feet
long and at least half that wide.
  It contained at least a dozen dark elves, several giant spiders, and a
pair of drider - horrible hybrids with the upper torso of a dark elf and
the body of a giant spider.  These forces were doing battle with a horde
of various undead, numbering about twenty total.  Most of these were
mummies, but there were a couple of gigantic, hulking zombies and one
skeleton.  This latter undead was jet-black, its bones resembling sleek,
polished ebony.  It moved with notable speed and agility, as a deft human
or elf might, and it held a curved sword in one bony hand.

dark elf wizard:  (launches a miniature fireball at an approaching mummy)
mummy:  (bursts into flame, yet keeps advancing even as bits of fiery
  debris fall from its body)
other mummy:  (mercilessly throttling a dark elven warrior)
gigantic zombie:  (lumbers toward a dark elven priestess, who quickly
  backs away)
other dark elven priestess:  (summons a floating flail of black energy,
  which begins striking the big zombie with its many whips)
gigantic zombie:  (staggers onward, making no move to defend itself as
  the flesh is lashed from its decomposing body)
first dark elven priestess:  (creates a huge mass of webs on and around
  the zombie, pinning it to the stony floor)
black skeleton:  (charging toward the nearest dark elf, a male wizard)
dark elf wizard:  (launches a volley of blazing spheres at the skeleton,
  but they bounce off of its body)
black skeleton:  (charges at the dark elf, slashing rapidly with its
dark elf wizard:  (falls, his chest sliced open)
black skeleton:  (turns and charges toward the dark elven priestesses)
Belphanior:  Interesting.
Skektek:  Wouldn't it be prudent to just launch a fireball - or two, or
  even three - into the room, and hopefully incinerate everybody?
Belphanior:  Let's just watch for now - no need to waste more magic or
  draw any more attention to ourselves.  (he rubs his chin)  Good idea,
Ys:  (matter-of-factly, to Skektek)  Of course, we would require some
  sort of shield or barrier to protect ourselves from the fireballs, in
  the event that they fill the entire chamber.
Skektek:  (annoyed)  I would have worked that part out.  I was mainly
  thinking of how nice it would be to incinerate all the drow and undead.
  (he watches the unfolding battle, a frown on his angular face)  Bah.
Razor Charlie:  (to Skektek)  It sounded good to me.
Belphanior:  Me too, but this is a no-brainer:  we let the two sides
  fight and wear each other down.  That way, whoever's left over will be
  weakened, which is good for us.

  Just then, Belphanior spotted the individual he'd been looking for, the
one who he suspected was here somewhere.  In the rear ranks of the undead
horde, busily working magic, was a regal figure in a gray robe, standing
seven feet tall.

Al-arakara:  (weaving some mighty spell, he claps his hands, and a dozen
  more mummies appear in the middle of the room, instantly making their
  way toward the outnumbered drow)
Otto:  (muttering)  He plays for keeps, doesn't he?
Belphanior:  Yeah.  In a way,  I admire it.  Too bad we're going to have
  to kill the son of a bitch.

  Belphanior didn't really want to fight the mummy king - not without a
lot of advance planning and preparation, as was the case last time - but
the current circumstances didn't allow him much choice.  Turning around
and fleeing through the gateway was certainly an option, but that would
do nothing to prevent Al-arakara from using other gateways to plunder the
secrets of Xusia - secrets that Belphanior had long been planning to take
for himself.  Almost since the beginning of the gateway adventures, the
elf had sensed that whatever treasures Xusia had scattered across the
world wouldn't wait.  If he didn't get them, someone else would, sooner
or later.  Belphanior didn't intend to allow that to happen.

Belphanior:  Okay, here's the plan.  I'm going to wait for both sides to
  kill each other off some more, and when the mummy-king looks distracted
  I'm going to make a magical leap toward him...and use my hourglass to
  stop the flow of time, just like I did when we last fought him.
Otto:  What about his magical defenses?  Last time, you hacked at his
  neck about a dozen times, and it didn't kill him.
Belphanior:  (smirks)  I have a new plan.  Trust me on this.

  They waited, the others preparing spells or other attacks that would
best help Belphanior when the elf made his move.  He watched...and he
waited...and then, he struck.

Al-arakara:  (seems a bit dazed after causing a crack to open in the
  stone floor beneath three drow, who fall in just before the crack
  closes itself, crushing them into pulp)
Belphanior:  Now.  (he uses his magical ring to effect a mighty leap)

  The elf sailed through the air, landing a short distance behind the
regal mummy-king.

Belphanior:  (holds up the hourglass, moments away from invoking its
  mighty powers)
Al-arakara:  (turns around, smiling thinly)  Not this time.

  With that, the mummy-king vanished from sight, leaving a small black
sphere in his wake.

Belphanior:  Shit.  (he uses the hourglass, stopping time in the area
  where the mummy-king was standing)

  The black sphere was about six inches across; whatever it might be, it
was also caught in the time least for a short while.

Belphanior:  Crap.  (he begins running, full-tilt, toward the alcove)

  The elf didn't have the time or the ability to figure out what the
black sphere was, much less prevent it from doing whatever it was going
to do.  The best hope now was to get back to the gateway and get the
hell out of here, before things got worse.  Unfortunately, various
combatants took note of him as he darted across the hall.

mummy:  (lurches toward the elf, intending to intercept his flight, but
  unwittingly enters the hourglass' area of effect, and freezes in place)
Belphanior:  (keeps sprinting)
other mummy:  (closer to the alcove, it also sees the running elf and
  begins moving to block his escape)
Skektek:  (launches a lightning bolt, blasting the mummy apart)  Why's
  Belphanior running?
Elgon:  And where's the mummy-king?
Otto:  No questions - just cover him so he can get back here in one piece.
  (he makes a snap decision)  Skektek, get the gateway ready; as soon as
  Belphanior's back in this alcove, we're leaving.
Skektek:  Right.  (he dashes over to the gateway's metal dial)

  In the middle of the hall, Belphanior's race to safety was stopped by
a dark elf warrior, wielding a sword in each hand.

dark elf warrior:  (hefts the twin shortswords, smiling thinly)
Belphanior:  (uses his ring again, throwing a web at the drow as he darts
  around the foe, then keeps sprinting toward the alcove)
dark elf warrior:  (cursing as he hacks at the sticky strands of webbing)

  Just then, the effects of Kronos' hourglass ceased, and the black sphere
rapidly began expanding!

Otto:  (reloading his crossbow after firing a bolt at a nearby dark elven
  wizard, he pauses)  What the hell...?

  The sphere was now ten feet wide, its surface rippling...and then it
suddenly melted, becoming liquid that immediately began spreading across
the hall.  Everywhere it touched anything, there was hissing and bubbling.

dark elven priestess:  (working a spell to fend off one of the giant
  zombies, she whirls, an instant too late)

  The black liquid flowed across the unfortunate dark elf's feet like the
tide might flow across the feet of someone walking at a beach...except
with much different results...

dark elven priestess:  (screams as her feet dissolve)

  A moment later, she fell into the widening super-puddle of acid, her
body quickly vanishing.  The giant zombie seemed to sense the danger, but
it was too slow, and in short order, it too was gone.

Jenna:  That's horrible!
Belphanior:  (runs into the alcove, only now looking back as the last
  remnants of the zombie dissolve)  Holy shit...
Otto:  We're cranking up the gateway.  I assumed you'd want to get the
  hell out of here.
Belphanior:  Good job.  (he begins casting a spell)  I'm not sure how the
  mummy-king knew what I was up to - maybe he planned ahead, or maybe he
  got lucky.  Either way, we're not sticking around to find out.  (he
  finishes his incantations, and a wall of force appears in a curved arc
  just outside the alcove's entrance, blocking it from the rest of the
  huge hall)

  A moment later, the acid flowed into the barrier - and then a most
amazing thing happened.

Belphanior:  (watches as the wall of force vanishes, and the acid flows
  toward the alcove)  Oh, shit.  (to the others)  That stuff's going to
  fill this entire room, and destroy everything within.
Skektek:  That won't be us; the gateway's ready.
Belphanior:  Good job.  We're out of here.
Skektek:  (he steps into the mist)
Otto:  (ushering the others into the gateway)  Let's go, let's go!
Belphanior:  (looks back, noting that the black skeleton is running in
  their direction)  Hmm.
Otto:  Are we going to fight that thing?
Belphanior:  No...not with that acid filling the room as fast as it is.
  Come on, let's get the hell out of here.  (he watches Otto leap into
  the gateway, and then follows a moment later)

next:       back to the ocean-voyage arc for a bit
released:   6/3/05
notes:      This is a sizable multiple-of-25 episode that had good battle
  yet didn't get overly complicated.  We've got 25 episodes until number
  900, and in that span, I intend to finish the two open story arcs
  (voyage and gateways) and then move on to other things beginning with
  episode 901.

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