Chapter #894

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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       +
+   1991-2005 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 +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          18th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Date:          7/7/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         an abandoned complex deep within the Pelisso Swamp     +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "We have trouble."                                                    +
+   "Trouble?  I call it sport."                                          +
+              - Mr. Hyde, from _The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen_   +

                   DCCCXCIV.  The Power of Mongo

  After exploring a small, deserted gateway complex situated beneath a
dense jungle, the party has used the magical portal again, and journeyed
to another new, unknown destination...

Belphanior:  (steps from the mists, looking around, his sword ready and
  his magical eye gleaming)

  The first thing the elf noticed was that the room he now stood in was
hot - not an intense, burning heat but rather a dry heat.  There was no
humidity as in the last destination.

Belphanior:  (looks around, surveying the surrounding room)

  The chamber was octagonal, about thirty feet across.  In the wall
behind Belphanior was mounted the gateway arch, fashioned of bright
yellow stone.  In the wall directly ahead was a stone door, its handle
a shallow indention with a notch.  To either side of the stone door,
a torch rested in a wall sconce; these had ignited themselves when the
elf stepped into the room.

Otto:  (appears from the mists)  I think Skektek was right about a "sun"
  rune marking a hot place...whew!
Belphanior:  Yep.  (he points to the door)  Let's check that for traps
  and such.  Blackrazor's not warning me of any souls on the other side,
  but I don't want to be hasty or careless.
Otto:  Right.  (he darts over to the door)
Mongo:  (steps from the gateway)  No enemies?
Belphanior:  Shh.  We don't know yet.
Mongo:  (grins, hefting his hammer)  Right.

  By the time Belphanior had joined Otto at the stone door, everyone
else had arrived and been apprised of the situation.

Belphanior:  As far as I can tell, this door's perfectly normal.
Otto:  (nods)  No traps, either, though it is a thick, heavy door.  The
  floor bears some vague, old marks of the door's last was
  quite some time ago.
wispy thing:  (floating near the door of stone)  pfsss?
Elgon:  As for the torches, they bear a simple enchantment which causes
  them to light up whenever anyone's in this room.
Skektek:  That's suspicious - a lich wouldn't need torchlight to see.
Belphanior:  Agreed.  (he points at the stone door)  It's time.
Mongo:  (grabs the portal's unusual handle)  Want me to pull it open?
Belphanior:  (nods)  Everyone, be ready.

  The dwarf pulled on the handle, and the door swung inward with
surprising ease.  Belphanior stepped into the room beyond...and halted
in his tracks.

Belphanior:  Hmmm.

  Ahead was a sizable hall, about a hundred feet long and fifty wide.
Its ceiling was at least thirty feet high and arched, tapering upward
to a central point.  Some of the adventurers had seen such architecture
in lands to the far west of the Flanaess.

Belphanior:  That doesn't necessarily mean that's where we are now.
Otto:  (eyeing the ceiling)  Looks like paintings...old, crumbling,
  faded ones.
Elgon:  There's another exit at the end of this hall...double doors.
Belphanior:  Yeah, i see them.  (he scans the chamber with his crystal
  eye)  Hmm.
Skektek:  What is it?
Mongo:  Foes?
Belphanior: souls.  The place does have a strong aura of magic,
wispy thing:  sprrd.
Otto:  What should we do?
Belphanior:  The only thing we can do:  march through this hall and see
  where those doors lead.

  They made it halfway through the large hall before the guardians came.
Bursting through the stone floor, they appeared quickly and efficiently,
from the left and right sides of the hall.  Those at the far ends moved
around to block the exits and flank the intruders.

Belphanior:  No wonder I didn't sense their souls.

  The party was now surrounded by a dozen gigantic scorpions - but these
were no flesh and blood foes!  Rather, they were fashioned of stone,
which didn't appear to diminish their speed or agility as they moved in
for the kill.

Belphanior:  Let's take them - fast, before they overwhelm us!  (he uses
  his ring to cast a spell of flying upon himself, and takes to the air)
Razor Charlie:  (realizing that he has no real means of damaging these
  stony foes, he wonders if their tail-stingers contain poison)  Damn.
Otto:  (fires his crossbow, the bolt hitting the nearest scorpion and
  bouncing off)  Shit.  My crossbow's not going to be much use here.
Skektek:  Don't worry, I've got your back.  (he uses his new ring to
  unleash a chain of lightning, which blasts Otto's target and then jumps
  from scorpion to scorpion, blasting each and leaving them charred and
  smoking)  Hah!
Elgon:  They're still alive...and moving this way.  Charlie, Otto - get
  ready; I'm about to change shape into a gigantic bird and fly all three
  of us out of the middle of this deathtrap.
Skektek:  Hey!  What about me?
wispy thing:  (grinning in amusement)  sprrp!
Mongo:  (hefts his hammer)  Don't sweat it.
Skektek:  What?  Why not?
Mongo:  Because I'm about to thin their ranks.  (he hurls his hammer at
  the nearest scorpion, which is scuttling toward Skektek and Otto)

  Mongo and Stormcrest had always been a fearsome combination, but today
had seen the addition of yet another dwarven relic.  The belt of strength
bolstered Mongo's power beyond anything he'd had before...and the stone
scorpion was the first to feel that power.

stone scorpion #7:  (hit by Stormcrest, it shatters into hundreds of
Mongo:  More!  More power!  (he catches the hammer and turns to another
  of the rocky monsters)  You!  You're next!  (he lets the hammer fly
stone scorpion #8:  (struck by the hammer, it breaks into three or four
  rather large fragments)

  The stone scorpions were unintelligent, and thus didn't have morale
issues; their goal was simply to attack and destroy all intruders.  While
Mongo was busy throwing his hammer (and because Elgon had just flown up
and away with Charlie and Otto) other scorpions had moved around to
flank the dwarven warrior.

stone scorpion #9:  (closing in on the dwarf, it is suddenly covered by
  a web cast by the flying Belphanior)
stone scorpion #10:  (bears down on Mongo)
Mongo:  Oh, no you don't.  (he hurls Stormcrest at a very short range,
  shattering the thing's rocky head)  Fucker-
Belphanior:  Mongo, look out!
stone scorpion #11:  (flails its stinger at the hammerless dwarf)

  Mongo whirled, just as the stinger bounced off of his armor with a
dull CLANG.  The dwarf's next action was purely instinctive; he was toe-
to-toe with a large monster that was intent on killing him, and he had
to do something.

Mongo:  (punches the stone scorpion)
stone scorpion #11:  (knocked back thirty feet, it hits a wall and ends
  up on its back, several legs and its stinger broken off)
Mongo:  Whoa.  (still surprised at his own strength, he catches his
  hammer as it returns)
Belphanior:  (hovering above)  By the gods...he's stronger than ever.

  Meanwhile, Skektek blasted another of the things, point-blank, with a
bolt of lightning.

stone scorpion #12:  (knocked back, it lands on its back, its rocky
  body cracked and smoking)
Skektek:  That'll teach you.

  The wizard had intended to buy some time with his first spell or two,
and then attempt to ply his elemental rod, but the stone scorpions had
proven somewhat resistant to his lightning, plus his three companions
had fled the scene thanks to Elgon.

wispy thing:  (floating near one of the stone monsters' heads)  sssss!
stone scorpion #1:  (ignores the wisp)
Skektek:  (to Mongo, as they're surrounded by the six remaining monsters)
  Shit, they've flanked us.  Any bright ideas?
Mongo:  Are you kidding?  (he hurls Stormcrest, demolishing one of the
  things, and doesn't even wait for the hammer to come back before wading
  into the reach of another)
stone scorpion #2:  (punched in the head by the dwarf, it then finds
  itself picked up by one leg and hurled across the hall)
Mongo:  YAAAARGH!  (he catches Stormcrest and leaps toward another of the
  stone scorpions, swinging madly)
stone scorpion #3:  (broken in half by a single blow, as rubble flies
Skektek:  Damn...
Mongo:  You were saying something about being surrounded?

  The battle didn't last long after that.  Belphanior changed a large
section of the floor from rock into mud, which took care of two of the
three remaining, undamaged foes and one of the damaged ones.  The rest
were summarily reduced to rubble by Mongo and his hammer.

Otto:  I'd say that belt agrees with you.
Mongo:  Hell yeah.
Otto:  Any chance I can get a refund on our trade?
Mongo:  (glares at the other dwarf)
Otto:  (grins)  Whoa, relax!  I'm just kidding!
wispy thing:  (hovering near Belphanior)  sprrd...
Belphanior:  Hm.

  The great hall was a mess:  rubble was everywhere, a large swath of
the floor was now mud, and the walls and floor were cracked in several

Belphanior:  (casts a dispelling upon the mud, changing it into an uneven
  area of solid rock)  That'll take care of that - no stone scorpions
  climbing their way out of the mud.
Skektek:  Good.  Those things were...well, they were tough.
Elgon:  Anything's tough when it's immune to illusions due to being
Razor Charlie:  Or knives, because it's made of rock.
Otto:  Same deal for my bolts.  (he looks at his new crossbow)  Great
  weapon, against humans or any normal foe.  Against things made out of
  solid rock...(he sighs)
Elgon:  We got lucky.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at the smashed remains of one of the foes)
Mongo:  Hey, enough complaining and feeling sorry.  We won, didn't we?
Belphanior:  (nods, clapping his friend on the shoulder)  That we did,
  and you led the way.  (he looks around)  I guess it's time to see what
  lies behind those double doors at the end of the hall.

  The doors were made of stone, like the one used to enter this hall.
No traps or magic were found on the door, but there was something else.

Otto:  (kneels)  Sand...on the floor.
Elgon:  (examining the seams around the doors)  These aren't quite
  airtight...feel the heat coming through the bottom and middle?
Belphanior:  (nods)  Let's open these.
Mongo:  There's no handle...I'll push one open, just a bit, and someone
  else peek out and see what's beyond.
Belphanior:  Sounds good.  Ready?
Mongo:  (nods, setting his shoulder against one of the doors)
Belphanior:  One...two...three!

  The stone door inched outward, admitting a blast of desert heat and
a small bit of sand.

Belphanior:  (shades his eyes with one hand)  It's a desert out there.

  As best as they could tell, the doorway was set in the middle of a
sand dune, within an endless expanse of bright, hot desert.

Otto:  (shielding his eyes from the blazing sun overhead)  Well, here we
Elgon:  But where is "here" ?
Belphanior:  Good question.  This definitely isn't the Sea of Dust; its
  sand isn't the same.
Mongo:  You mean it's not actually ashes.
Belphanior:  (recalling their previous adventures into that wasteland)
Otto:  (looking around at the scorched sands that extend as far as the
  eye can see, in every direction)  There's only one other desert this
  big, in all the Flanaess:  the Bright Desert.
Skektek:  (gazes out onto the sands)  You think that's where we are?
Otto:  I think it's a good guess.  These sands are unusually white,
  which is supposed to be one aspect of the Bright Desert.
Belphanior:  (still empowered by his spell of flying, he rises into the
  dry, hot air to get a better look at things)
Otto:  (watches the elf ascend)  I guess we're about to find out if
  there's anything worth exploring around here.
Skektek:  I'd say probably not.
Elgon:  Why would they build a gateway to...nowhere?
Razor Charlie:  Maybe it's not nowhere.
Mongo:  Maybe it's somewhere.  Hey, everywhere is somewhere.
Otto:  There could be a strategic importance to the Bright Desert, or
  wherever it is we are.
Skektek:  Or some hidden magic.  (he thinks of his as-yet-untried rod
  with its elemental powers)
Belphanior:  (descending from the sky above, rubbing his eyes)
Otto:  What did you see up there?
Belphanior:  Lots of sand...the winds are a little stronger up above.
  To answer the question, though...nothing.  There's nothing here but
  sand, in all directions.  Whatever desert we've stepped into, we seem
  to have arrived right in the middle of it.  I mean literally - we're
  standing at the edge of a depression in the desert, like a bowl.
Skektek:  If there's nothing to be seen, then we can leave-
Belphanior:  (shudders)  Whoa.
Skektek:  -eh?
Otto:  What is it?
Belphanior:  A soul...a _strong_ soul...approaches.
Razor Charlie:  (looking around)  I don't see anything.
Elgon:  (eyeing the sky)  Neither do-  wait.  Something's flying in
  this direction.  (he points)
Otto:  There's nothing up there.
Elgon:  You can't see it because it's invisible.
wispy thing:  (looking somewhat alarmed, it flits about madly)  brrrn!
Belphanior:  Back to the door!  We need to get down into the hall!

  They scrambled toward the open door, but only some of them made it
through before the entire area was assaulted with a tremendous blast of
scorching air and swirling sand.  The exposed adventurers were buffeted
about like rag dolls, spun around and knocked to the ground by the
powerful hot wind.  Sand tore at their clothes and flesh, choked their
mouths and noses, and stung their eyes.  The force, heat, and fury of
the attack was more than enough to slay an average, unprotected person.
  Moments later, the source of the deadly blast landed in the middle of
the "bowl" Belphanior had noticed from above...a depression in the sand
of the desert that marked its lair, its home.  The dragon was more than
a hundred feet long, counting its tail; it was a rare breed, one whose
existence was unknown to most scholars and adventurers, one that could
only be found in the hottest deserts.  Its scales were the dull yellow
of desert sands...a dull yellow that was somewhat gray and dusty.  Even
the dragon's teeth, claws, and horns were this same hue.

yellow dragon:  (looks around, sniffing the air)  GRRRRR.  (it regards
  the spot where the intruders had been standing, then cocks its head
  to stare at the door to the complex below, which is slightly ajar and
  now half-blocked by sand)  RRRRRRRR...
Mongo:  (stands up, sand cascading off of his armored form, and glares
  at the dragon standing a mere thirty feet away)  Hah.  (he spits out
  sand)  Is that the best you've got?
yellow dragon:  GRRRAAAARGH!  (it lumbers toward the dwarf, intending
  to trample him)
Mongo:  (draws back his hammer arm)

  By their very nature (solitary and remote) the yellow species of dragon
didn't speak any tongue besides its own, so this one had no smart remarks
or dire threats for Mongo.  That was just as well, for its charge was cut
short by what felt like a hit by another dragon, or something just as big
and powerful.

yellow dragon:  (dazed, its skull cracked, it rears back)  GRRRRR...(it
  pauses as blood begins leaking from its nose)  RRRRR?
Mongo:  (catches his hammer)  There's plenty more pain where that came
  from!  (he runs toward the dragon, waving his hammer)

  The wyrm was still in a confused state of shock - shock that such a
tiny foe had hit it so hard.  In fact, disbelief must have been a factor
in the dragon's unwillingness to back away; rather than be cautious, it
lunged toward the prey again.

yellow dragon:  (opens its gaping maw, intending to eat the dwarf in one
Mongo:  (wallops the dragon across the head, causing it to rear back and
  then fall over, backwards)  Take that, you fucker!
yellow dragon:  (staggering around, the ground shaking with every dazed
  step)  RRRRR...
Mongo:  (shouting furiously)  That's what you get for attacking us and
  breathing all over us!  Nobody kills my friends and gets away with it!
Belphanior:  (flies past the dwarf)  We're not dead.
Skektek:  Not at all.  (he launches a lightning bolt at the dragon, the
  great blast tearing a chunk out of its body and leaving a shallow,
  blackened crater)  See?
Mongo:  But how...?  And where are the others?
Otto:  (brushing sand from his face, he readies his crossbow)  Charlie,
  Elgon, and I reached the door and ducked inside before the dragon's
  breath hit.  Those two are still in there, coughing and blinded, but
  they'll live.  As for me, I guess I got lucky.  (he takes aim at the
  dragon)  Well, talk about a can't-miss shot...
Mongo:  You should get back in there and wait.  Your bolts aren't even
  going to make this thing blink.
Otto:  (grimly)  The day I don't help in a fight is the day I die.
Mongo:  But I think that's what the dragon wants...

  Nearby, the airborne Belphanior had taken advantage of the dragon's
wounded condition, flying down and stabbing it in the head.  He'd been
aiming for an eye, but the dragon wasn't completely out of it, and had
turned its head at the last moment.

yellow dragon:  (bleeding from the deep stabbing wound below one eye)
  RAAAARGH!  (it swipes at the troublesome elf with one huge claw)
Belphanior:  (knocked away, he tumbles through the air and lands in the
  sand a hundred feet away, battered and bloody)  Urgh...
yellow dragon:  (turns to face Skektek)
Otto:  (standing next to the wizard, he aims and fires his crossbow)
yellow dragon:  (ignores the tiny bolt that just stuck in its snout)
Skektek:  Let me try.  (he points his elemental rod and speaks a word
  of ancient Suel dialect)

  Despite not being able to practice and experiment with the rod while
in Parekh's home, Skektek had still found a little time here and there
to test this recent addition to his magical arsenal.  So far, he'd only
learned two command words for the rod; one of them involved fire, which
he doubted would be much use against this particular type of dragon.

Skektek:  (points the rod at the wyrm, and a great jet of water gushes
  forth, dousing the huge monster)

  The torrent of water was powerful, and lasted for perhaps a count of
five; against a human-sized foe or even a giant, it would have been a
decent attack.  Against the gigantic dragon, however, it had about the
same effect as dousing a person with a bucket of water.

yellow dragon:  (sputtering, it glares at the wizard as water drips from
  its scaly head)
Otto:  (to Skektek)  Well, you really got him that time!
Skektek:  (staring at the rod)  It's not my fault!  I just need more
  time to practice!
Otto:  (raises his crossbow as the dragon inhales deeply)  I think we're
  out of time.
Mongo:  Think again.  (he raises his hammer)

  A short while earlier, the dwarf had moved away from Otto and Skektek,
figuring that at the least he'd make more targets for the dragon, and
at best, he'd be able to move around and flank it if it chose to attack
someone else.  This proved to be a wise move, as Stormcrest smashed into
the wyrm's side, knocking the breath from it and probably saving Skektek
and Otto from dragon breath.

yellow dragon:  RRRRAAARGH!  (coughing blood, it begins flapping its
  wings, and rises into the air, obviously intending to flee or at least
  put some distance between itself and the adventurers)
Belphanior:  (having regained his senses, he flies after the beast)  We
  can't let it get away!
Skektek:  I'm trying!  (he uses his ring to create an ice storm around
  the dragon)
Belphanior:  (flying behind the dragon, he backs off as sleet and snow
  bombard the monster, right there in midair)
yellow dragon:  (struggling to keep itself airborne)
Skektek:  (to Otto, as they both stand on the desert ground)  Bet you
  never saw an ice storm in the middle of a desert.
Otto:  Can't say that I have.
wispy thing:  (suddenly floating nearby)  spaaa.
Skektek:  That's easy for you to say.

  Any chance that the badly-wounded dragon had of getting away was
ruined when Mongo hurled his hammer again.  The mighty weapon, thrown
with a strength greater than any giant's, hit it in its right wing,
shattering bone and smashing muscle.  The huge wyrm plummeted from the
sky, smashing into the desert floor with enough force to knock Skektek
and Otto from their feet.

Mongo:  (catching his hammer, he charges over to the dragon, which is
  struggling to inhale so it can breathe on its foes again)  Attack us,
  will you?  (he smashes the dragon in the head)  Try to burn us with
  your damned breath, did you?!?  (he hits the beast again)  Well, I'll
  teach you to-
Belphanior:  It's dead, Mongo.
Mongo:  -to...I'll...(he looks at the dragon, then at Belphanior)  Hah.
  It _is_ dead.
Belphanior:  Mostly thanks to you.  (he eyes the raised hammer)  Easy,
  now.  The fight's over.
Mongo:  Yeah...yeah, I know.  (he grins)  I wish I could explain to
  you how it feels, to have this hammer and this belt and this armor,
  all working together to beat foes and win battles...hell, win wars,
  if I wanted to.
Belphanior:  I have no doubt.  (he eyes the gigantic corpse)  But for
  now, the battle's over.  Time to rest and recuperate.
Mongo:  (nods)

  Wounds were bound, weapons cleaned, companions checked.  As Otto had
stated, Razor Charlie and Elgon were fine; they'd been blinded by the
sandy breath of the dragon, and were just now regaining their sight.

Elgon:  (rubbing his eyes)  I hope nobody thinks this was intentional,
  or cowardice.
Razor Charlie:  Hell no.
Belphanior:  Don't worry - I would never have thought that.  You're
  lucky to be alive, considering the dragon's breath.
Elgon:  (points to Razor Charlie)  He had the speed - if he hadn't
  pulled me along with him, I'd be dead, for sure.
wispy thing:  frrrn.
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)  Happy to help.
Belphanior:  Now...(he looks around)  I don't want to stay in this
  desert any longer than absolutely necessary, but we at least owe it
  to ourselves to search for the dragon's treasure.

  This endeavor, however, was destined to bear no fruit.  They saw
nothing, their magical means detected nothing, an airborne search
revealed nothing.  Whatever hoard the wyrm might have had, if any, was
simply not here.

Skektek:  He probably stashed it somewhere else...somewhere he flew to
Otto:  It could be days away, even if we could search in every direction
  at once.
Belphanior:  (sadly)  We're not ready for this, not today anyway.  We'll
  return to the gateway and go elsewhere.
Elgon:  (tending to a cut on the elf's arm)  You mean try another one
  of the gateway destinations?
Belphanior:  (nods)  There are four that remain unexplored.
Mongo:  I say we try another place.  We're not badly wounded, and the
  day is still young.

next:       what lies within the "iron" gateway
released:   10/14/05
notes:      This is actually what I'd consider a pivotal point in Mongo's
  life and career.  He's now carrying three battle-oriented artifacts or
  relics, two of which are dwarven in nature.  His power has grown to
  levels never seen before.  If this was a real live campaign, it would
  be time to think about divine ascension and retiring the character.
    In the big picture of things, you can now think of Mongo's adventures
  as being in one of two stages:  before the belt and after the belt.  He
  has always been a one-man (or one-dwarf) battalion, but now it's time
  to think of him as a one-dwarf ARMY.
    In case you're wondering, yes, this was in the plans for him for quite
  some time, I'd just put it on the back burner.  He lucked out with the
  belt from Xusia's hoard (an item that was stored away because neither
  the lich nor any of his minions could use it) and the world around our
  dwarven hero will never be the same.

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