Chapter #924

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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       +
+   1991-2006 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                           +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Date:          9/6/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         the city of Stoink, capital of the Bandit Kingdoms     +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "His plans never work right.  They just work."                        +
+                                      - Amy Allen, from _The A-Team_     +

                   CMXXIV.  Covert Mission

  Belphanior hadn't been in Stoink for long, but he already knew that
he didn't like the place.  It wasn't a matter of the city merely being
dangerous - Belphanior didn't mind that at all - but it was decrepit,
both physically and morally.  More often than not, the streets, shops,
and buildings were run-down and dirty.  Poverty was everywhere, as were
thieves and vagabonds.  The city seemed to thrive on the buying and
selling of stolen goods, and it was possible that slavery existed here,
in some kind of black market.  The elf had a feeling that if he looked
hard enough, he'd find that the black market wasn't far removed from the
"real" market.
  However, that wasn't why he and the others were here.  They'd arrived
in twos and threes over the last two days, some of them in disguise.  Ys
would have stood out even in disguise, but Elgon's magic was able to mask
the eight-foot-tall reptilian's true appearance for hours at a time.  It
would take careful planning to make sure that the reptilian wasn't out in
plain sight anytime the spell was due to wear off...but Belphanior's
planning was careful _and_ efficient...and also quick.  It helped that
he had some inside information - information which told him exactly where
to go in Stoink, and exactly who to talk to once he got there.  He and
the others had left their various rented rooms and met in a place Otto
had already scouted out:  an upper floor of an abandoned building across
the street from the true target.  Here, they had done a final review of
the plan, and then split up as necessary.
  That had been hours ago, just before dusk.  Now, as the attack began,
it was dark - which would facilitate some of their methods - but not so
dark that the city's night-life was yet fully active.  The target was a
large, old building three stories high.  There were some guards, on the
main ground-floor entrance, but the windows weren't barred and the roof
wasn't regularly patrolled.  This was because the single item of real
value within the building was kept there by people who didn't want it
known that it was there.  Heavily-reinforced windows, numerous armed
guards, and the like would have given the secret away, which was not an
acceptable option.  Thus, the place appeared just like any other old
building in this part of Stoink:  occupied but not really noteworthy.

  Belphanior and his companions planned to fully exploit this fact now,
tonight.  The elf was invisible and airborne, moving slowly toward one
third-floor window that hadn't shown any sign of occupancy in the last
two days.  As he got closer, he realized that there actually _were_
guards in some windows, and on the roof - they were just out of sight,
unobtrusive and in some cases hidden.  To be fair, Belphanior wouldn't
have noticed them at all if not for his sword's soul-detecting powers.
He ignored them, sailing right through the window into the dark, dusty
room beyond.  His crystal eye's special forms of vision compensated for
the darkness, allowing him to see that the small room was sealed, its
thick wooden door locked from the other side.

Belphanior:  (smiles in the darkness as he retrieves his lockpicks and
  goes to work on the lock, despite the darkness)

  Belphanior had finally implemented something he'd been thinking about
for a long while:  the strategic presence/preparation of defensive magic
on his person.  Such protections broke down into four basic categories.
Constant protections were those conferred by magic items, whether worn
or carried; examples included the elf's periapts of proof vs poison and
wound closure.  The next class of defenses were battle protections, those
spells cast or powers used right before a fight or other risky situation.
Examples of these included the spells of stoneskin and protection from
normal missiles, as well as Blackrazor's haste power.  The third type of
personal defenses were situational protections, those only brought into
play in major battles or against specific powerful foes.  Some of these
were simply too powerful to employ before every single battle (e.g. the
spells of anti-magic shell and globe of invulnerability, or items like
the hourglass of Kronos) while others had inherent drawbacks (e.g. wall
of force, because it limited his mobility.)  The fourth and final defense
type was special protections - ongoing measures that didn't directly
apply to any given situation.  These were powerful spells with rather
complicated elements, often cast far in advance of the time when they
would be used; examples included spells of contingency and cloning.  In
Belphanior's case, these magics were a bit beyond his current ability,
but the categorization still fit and was important, so he included it
in his strategizing.
  The result of all this advance planning was that right now, as he
headed into a potentially dangerous situation, Belphanior was in full
"battle protections" mode.  He had the use of infravision, ultravision,
detection of magic and traps and secret doors, superior vision, and was
immune to blindness.  He could sense souls, was immune to charm and fear
magic, and was hasted.  He possessed significant resistance to poison,
and his body's normal healing processes were greatly augmented.  Besides
these item-conferred protections, the elf had also cast stoneskin and
protection from normal missiles spells upon himself.  He didn't just have
an unfair advantage - he had about a dozen of them.

Belphanior:  (unlocks the door, puts his picks away, and puts a few drops
  of oil on each hinge before pulling the door open)

  Blackrazor was in his hand, and it silently let him know of each and
every soul nearby.  The toughest challenge would be the landing on this
third floor, which passed by several doors on its way to the staircase
leading down to the floor below.  In the nearly-absolute darkness, it
would have been impossible for a normal person to see the rickety wooden
flooring of the landing, or the caltrops that had been spread all over
its length.  However, Belphanior was not a normal person, and he simply
flew - slowly and carefully, in case there were wires strung anywhere -
over the simple but effective alarms.  From the nature of these pseudo-
traps and the locations of the nearby souls, he realized that the third
floor (probably the entire third floor) was basically unoccupied, an
apparently easily-accessible entry point for would-be intruders.  Thus
far, it had been too easy...far too easy.  The elf's senses were on full
alert as he floated down to the second floor, and it was then that he
began to detect the various traps.  Several steps within the stairway
were false, triggering hidden bolt traps that would skewer whoever had
triggered those false steps.  Another section of the stairway, lower
down, had a pressure plate that would drop a large net from the ceiling
and completely entrap the victim and anyone within ten feet.
  Naturally, forewarned was forearmed, and Belphanior was able to bypass
all of this and approach a door on the second floor, away from the trap
zone.  Behind this door was a single soul - presumably a sentry - and it
was time to begin the process of elimination.

  Meanwhile, in the vacant building that faced Belphanior's current
location, the others watched and waited...

Otto:  (patiently watching the other building)  Nothing so far...not the
  slightest noise or sign that they found him.
Skektek:  We can certainly make some noise, if it's called for.
Otto:  We'll stick to the plan, taking no action unless we hear or see
  any commotion - which means they spotted him - or if he doesn't come
  back within an hour - which means they captured him.
Mongo:  Either way works for me, though the second would be a lot more
Otto:  This isn't about fun, it's about getting what we came here to
Razor Charlie:  (silently wishes he had gone into the building as well,
  since this is his kind of mission)
Ys:  (sitting against a wall, he dozes)
Elgon:  My magic could have helped Belphanior in there.
Otto:  Yeah, but he seemed to think he'd have a better chance if he
  went in alone.
Jenna:  We shall see.
Skektek:  (idly wonders where the wispy thing is)

  Across the street, Belphanior had worked quickly.  The lone sentry was
quickly slain, as were two others in another room on the same floor.  The
elf had moved down to the ground floor, where at least a dozen others
waited.  Unfortunately, this was the farthest that his information got
him; he knew what city and what building his quarry was located in, but
not where _within_ the building.  As Belphanior pondered this problem,
he noted that two souls were getting closer, and so he blended into the
shadows of a doorway within the hallway he was walking through.

guard #1:  (opens the door and enters the hallway)  -so I say to her,
  "Hell no, I won't put up with that!"
guard #2:  Heh, heh.  (he closes the door, and the two of them walk
  down the hall)  Sounds like a good-  (he gurgles, almost inaudibly)
guard #1:  What the hell?!?  (he turns to face the elf, whose bloody
  sword is pointed right at him)
Belphanior:  If you make one sound, or one move, I'll run you through.
  I have some questions that-
guard #1:  (goes for his sword, at the same time he lets out a loud yell)

  The yell quickly turned into a scream, but the damage was done:  there
were shouts and rapid footsteps from elsewhere on the floor, and all
hope of a quiet, smooth mission were dashed.

  Those who waited in the adjacent building were quickly alerted about
the change in plan, as a section of wall abruptly exploded outward, the
blast showering the street with rubble.  Some of the chunks of rock were
on fire, testifying to the magical nature of the explosion.

Skektek:  Holy shit!
Otto:  Okay, we rehearsed this.  Let's move, people - you know the plan.

next:       the fight for the mysterious prize of this mission
released:   6/16/06
notes:      It occurs to me that despite what my stories or any other
  AD&D stories might show, real magic-using individuals are quite rare,
  ditto for adventurers.  I'd say for every one person who can cast
  spells, there are 99 who can't.  For every exceptional individual
  (like Belphanior) there are 999 who are normal in every way.  My point
  is that not all gangs in all cities would have magical protections in
  their hideout.

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