Chapter #943

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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       +
+   1991-2006 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!                                          +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          10/13/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:          night                                                  +
+   Place:         the wilderness deep within the Pelisso Swamp           +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "That's the problem with you're not scared enough."      +
+                                   - from some _Lost_ season 2 episode   +

                   CMXLIII.  Campfire Tales

  Several days after the battle at Ganarec - whose conclusion was followed
by a complete leveling of the town and the execution of every survivor but
one - the group is back at their headquarters in the remote Pelisso Swamp.
Belphanior, Jenna, and Neera are busy interrogating the lone prisoner
taken from the battle, which has left the others with some time to rest
and relax.

Elgon:  Someone tell me again why we're out here, above the ground?
Otto:  We had to make an escape passage, just in case something ever went
  wrong in the complex below and the wizards were out of commission.  It's
  one of those little side projects Belphanior's been working on for some
  time now, but he recently finished it.  (he glances at Mongo)
Mongo:  With my help.  I just thought it would be nice to get some fresh
  air, build a fire, and eat some fresh roasted food.
Elgon:  Yeah, but it _stinks_ up here.
Skektek:  It's a swamp.  It's supposed to stink.
Ys:  (shrugs)  It smells fine to me.
Otto:  I don't know what Belphanior would think about this-
Mongo:  I don't care.  I'm sick of eating cold food, and we can't make a
  damn fire down there.  If Belphanior doesn't like it, he can talk to me.
  (he holds up a leg of lamb)  Besides, you can't say this isn't good.
Otto:  (nods)  One nice thing about going out on adventures is that we
  almost always get to stock up on supplies.
Mongo:  Which means good eating.  (he rips a huge bite out of his hunk
  of roasted meat, talking between bites)  Which is important.
Skektek:  If you say so.
Mongo:  (eyeing the wizard, annoyed)  Maybe we should have brought some
  marshmallows for you.
Skektek:  Bah.
Elgon:  (shakes his head)  Well, we're up here, so we might as well
  enjoy it.  Pass me some of that, would you?
Mongo:  Now that's the spirit!
Ys:  It's fortunate that we have plenty of meat to cook, because I'm
  rather hungry.
Otto:  (hears a faint sound from somewhere in the surrounding swamp, and
  turns to stare at the darkness)
Mongo:  Is something out there?
Otto:  Maybe.  Who knows?  We really haven't explored this swamp, and if
  there is anything out there, it's probably drawn to our fire and food.
Skektek:  Well, it's not like we don't have the firepower to take out
  anything dumb enough to attack us.

  Actually, even without the magical and physical power of which the
wizard spoke, the area was fairly secure.  The day the exit passage had
been completed, Otto had set a number of traps and wards, including a
number of pit traps and spikes.  The little clearing in which they now
had their bonfire was safe, but walking around beyond that area might
very well result in a broken leg, impalement on a poisoned spike, and
so forth.

Otto:  Then again, if there _is_ something out there, it's probably just
  an animal.  Xusia chose this location because it was in the middle of
  nowhere, and along with that comes a lack of people.
Mongo:  (patting his hammer)  Whatever.  If someone or something wants
  to fight, it's all the same to me.  Let 'em come.
Elgon:  It is kind of spooky,, out here all alone in the
  middle of the wilderness, in the dark.
Skektek:  Yep.  It almost makes you want to share ghost stories.  (he
  glances at Ys)  Which we've done in the past.
Ys:  (shrugs)  I have no scary stories to tell.
Otto:  I do...there've been a couple of times in the past when things
  just weren't right.  There was one time in Helgate, with a slasher...
  an insane person, or maybe a _thing_, that killed with a long, sharp
Skektek:  (nods)  I remember.
Otto:  And there was another time, before I met Belphanior, when I ran
  into some crazy family who ran an inn so they could kill and eat the
Ys:  Good lord.
Otto:  But I think the scariest thing I ever ran into was in the town
  where I first met Belphanior.  There was this weird fog rolling in...

  The dwarf proceeded to tell the tale of the fog, and the mysterious,
undiscriminating, lethal beings who lurked within that fog.  It took a
while, as Otto went into great detail, and when the story was over, all
present shuddered despite themselves...

Skektek:  That's messed up.
Elgon:  And you never figured out what the fog was, or why it came?
Ys:  Or what its denizens were?
Otto:  (shaking his head)  Nope.  I'm surprised that Belphanior hasn't
  tried, but he doesn't seem to want to know.  (he frowns)  And that's
  fine with me, because I don't really want to know either.
Mongo:  Sometimes not knowing is...just fine.
Skektek:  (glances at the dwarf)  Is that so?
Mongo:  Yeah.  There was this fortress...well, let's just call it a
  mountain, with tunnels and caverns running all around its belly.  I
  fell down a deep shaft, but then ended up floating down, but unable
  to climb back up.  It's a long story, but the point is this:  I found
  a small green egg-like thing, which I took, and then when I hit bottom
  I ran into this...thing.  It was big and humanoid, but not a person...
  it had a long head filled with teeth, and huge claws, and it took a
  lot of punishment to even hurt it.  I whacked it with Stormcrest more
  than once, and also blasted it point-blank with a lightning bolt.  It
  got up and came back for more.
Ys:  How odd.  Perhaps it was a demon of some sort?
Mongo:  I'll never know.  I threw Stormcrest another time, and I think
  I mortally wounded the thing, but I also blew out the cavern wall, and
  buried the whole place, including that damned thing.  I barely got out
  of there myself!  (he pauses)  Anyway, as soon as I got a chance after
  that, I took a good long look at that little green egg.  It was tough,
  like leather, but it was also...pulsing.  Like there was something
  alive inside, you know?  I can't really explain this...but that little
  egg made me nervous, the same exact way that the monster I fought made
  me nervous.  It just wasn't natural - it didn't belong, and all I knew
  was that I didn't want it to hatch.
Otto:  So what did you do?
Mongo:  I put it on the stone floor of a passage, picked up the heaviest
  rock I could find, and smashed that fucking thing with all my might.
  I've never regretted it, either, not even for a moment.  The thing was
  evil, somehow - I don't know if magic would have showed that, but deep
  down beneath the world's surface, all by myself, I _knew_.
Elgon:  Wow.  I didn't think anything scared you.
Mongo:  Nothing does, but that's about the closest anything ever came.
  You wanted my scary story, there it is.  I haven't told anybody until
  just now.
Otto:  Hmmm.
Skektek:  How about you, Ys?  Any tales from the dark side of life?
Ys:  I don't have a story of this sort.  I did, once, but I told it
  already.  (he nods to Otto)  Perhaps you remember?
Otto:  Yeah.  Elgon, what about you?
Elgon:  Mmmm...well...
Skektek:  What?
Elgon:  I've been in the Underdark for my entire life, up until recently
  anyway, so all I've seen has been beneath the surface of the world.
  But let me tell you, the things down there are no joke.  Monsters are
  one thing, but imagine an octopus' head atop a humanoid body...then
  realize that if they catch you, they strip away all of your thoughts
  and memories.  Friends, family...all are unconsciously, unwillingly
  stolen as the illithids absorb everything in your mind.  (he frowns)
  And then, as if that wasn't bad enough, they proceed to _eat_ your
  mind.  (he shudders)  Can you imagine that?
Mongo:  That's disgusting.
Elgon:  It's happened to more than one friend of mine.  The Underdark is
  no place to wander, alone or lost, much less both.  Even if you know
  its ways and its horrors, there are things that even the mind flayers
Mongo:  I hope they fear us, because we ran into some of them once.  Now
  I'm glad we killed them all.
Elgon:  You're not the only one.  If you killed even a handful, you most
  likely saved dozens of lives down the road.
Mongo:  Glad to hear it.  (he nods to Skektek)  What about you?
Skektek:  Well, in my time, I haven't run into too much that's just plain
  frightening, but I've heard some bone-chilling stories.  Here's one of
  them, one that I've never been able to forget.  It involved a distant
  village in a distant land.  There weren't many people there, and those
  who did live there were all families, and all close.  One day, a child
  came back from the nearby fields with a big bite mark in one arm, just
  crying and wailing and screaming.  The town priest cleaned the wound
  and tried to heal the child, but - get this - the magic _didn't work._
  The wound got worse, very quickly; the child grew seriously ill, and
  eventually lost consciousness.  His parents and the priest continued
  to care for him, but it was no use; the kid died that night.  (he looks
  around)  And then he came back.
Elgon:  Aie.
Skektek:  He rose from the dead, but not as one of the living.  He was
  pale, and moaning rather than talking, and moving slowly, but his
  parents didn't know what was happening.  How could they have?  They
  tried to console their child, and figure out what had just happened...
  and the boy bit them.  Bit them both, and started eating the flesh
  he'd just taken!
Ys:  That is...ill.
Mongo:  Didn't the priest do anything?
Skektek:  By the time this had happened, it was too late.  He tried to
  turn the undead - if that's what it really was - but that didn't work
  any better than the healing spells he'd tried earlier.  The man fled
  to get help, and by the time he returned, the mother was dead and half-
  eaten, and the father had staggered out into the village.  The others
  there didn't see this as a contagious problem - they only saw these
  people they'd known for years, and tried to help them.  I think you
  can see where this is going...
Otto:  The bitten ones died, and then came back, and bit more people.  By
  the time someone realized what was really happening, the dead must have
  outnumbered the living.
Skektek:  Very good.
Otto:  (shrugs)  It's just the way my mind works.
Mongo:  What did they do?
Skektek:  Eventually, a passing wizard who just happened to be in the
  village took control of the situation, when talking no longer worked.
  He used fire to burn the entire village to the ground, dead and living
  alike.  No cure, no attempts at a cure, just a simple and efficient
  way to stop the problem and contain what could have been a bad outbreak
  of...well, of who knows what?
Otto:  Were they undead?
Skektek:  Hard to say, but imagine this:  undead that can easily infect
  living and turn them into the same...these things can't be turned by
  priests, and the wounds they inflict can't be healed by priests.  Now
  think about what would happen if this started in a densely populated
Ys:  (shaking his scaly head)  I shudder at that thought.
Mongo:  Me too.  (he stands up)  I'm glad we already ate, because I'm
  not hungry anymore.
Elgon:  Me either.  I'm going back inside - no more tales for me tonight.

next:       the fruits of Belphanior's interrogation
released:   10/27/06
notes:      At the end of last episode, I said that the next one would be
  about "the source of these troubles" (referring to the Sea Princes' most
  recent attacks on Belphanior).  I'd forgotten that Halloween was almost
  upon us, which meant I needed to write a horror-themed story.  It took
  me a while to come up with some ideas that I hadn't used before, and by
  then, I didn't have enough time to write a long story using just one
  idea and using it well, so I did several short stories/ideas instead.
  Maybe in 2007 as the saga is winding down, I can write a long, complex
  horror episode.  Thanks to David Murphy for reminding me that the time
  was right for a Halloween story.

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