Chapter #998

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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       +
+   1991-2015 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     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Balthus        lean, veteran human tracker                            +
+   Date:          5/7/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         the northeastern reaches of the Crystalmist mountains  +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "The truth is, to try robbing us would be so futile that only         +
+    a complete fool would attempt it."                                   +
+   "Yeah...or a complete madman."                                        +
+                                - from _For a Few Dollars More_ (1965)   +

                   CMXCVIII.  Unwelcome Visitors

  After making their way into the Crystalmist Mountains and defeating
multiple monstrous foes, the group has entered the caverns beneath the
peak known as Crystal Fang...where they have experienced a series of
tremors before coming under attack by a gigantic subterranean worm!

Skektek:  Holy shit!  That thing ate Ys!
Otto:  And Razor Charlie's next!  Blast the worm!
Neera:  (already on it, she hits the monster with a sheet of blazing
purple worm:  (roars, backing away twenty feet in a moment's time)
Skektek:  Now I'll-

  The worm suddenly roared again, but rather than lunge forward, it began
thrashing from side to side, shaking the walls of the surrounding tunnel
with each impact.

purple worm:  (suddenly spews forth a great gout of black blood)
Otto:  What the hell?

  Something burst from the side of the worm's body - something big, sharp,
and covered in gore.

purple worm:  (thrashes about some more, as a hole widens about ten feet
  behind its head)

Ys:  (pushes his upper torso through the gash he just cut in the worm's
purple worm:  (writhes in pain, roaring incessantly)
Belphanior:  (charges forward, stabbing the monster through one eye as
  Otto fires a well-aimed bolt into the other)
Ys:  (still only half-free, he chops at the worm's head with his axe)

  Badly wounded but unable to move backward, or to advance forward due
to the adventurers attacking it from the front, the monster thrashed in
place, scraping Ys against the tunnel wall and knocking him loose.  The
worm roared again, its fanged maw open wide - which allowed Skektek to
deposit a lightning bolt right down its throat.  The resulting blast
caused the worm to spasm one last time, after which it was still.  Smoke
drifted from its now-slack maw, as well as the huge hole in its side.

Ys:  (covered from head to toe in black gore, he stands wearily)  I need
  a bath.

  The reptilian was in good shape, considering what had just happened to
him; being swallowed whole had actually been a good thing, as he had the
strength to cut his way out rather quickly.  A smaller, weaker victim
would have been forced into the worm's digestive tract and become a meal.
While he took a few moments to recover and clean up a bit, the party
prepared to move on.

Belphanior:  We'll need to break for the night soon, but I want a safe
  place to camp.
Otto:  "Safe" is a relative term down here.
Belphanior:  No doubt.  (to Balthus)  You said we were nearly through
  these caves.  Can we get outside again before nightfall?
Balthus:  (updating his map of the tunnels, he looks up)  Provided that
  we don't encounter any delays...yes.

  They soon forged onward, leaving behind the bloody, smoking corpse of
the purple worm.  They had no way of knowing that the slain monster's
recent burrowing had come dangerously close to a long-buried underground
chamber below...a crypt whose doors were now slightly ajar thanks to the
tremors caused by the worm's thrashing during the battle...

  A short while later, the group emerged from yet another narrow tunnel
into a massive natural cavern, whose hundred-foot ceiling was dotted with
stalactites, the larger of which connected with corresponding stalagmites
on the floor to create stone pillars that spanned the height of the huge
chamber.  The underground space was about two hundred feet long, almost
that in width, and had a set of steps at the far end, carved from the

Balthus:  Those steps lead up and around, to a small passage which winds
  a bit before opening to the outside.  We're on the far side of the
  mountain now.
Belphanior:  Excellent.  Let's check it out.  (he leads the way across
  the cavern)

  The group was about halfway across the chamber when they first felt
the chill.  It was as if a cold winter wind had blown by...except there
was, of course, no wind down here.  Almost as one, the adventurers felt
a _presence_ in the room, behind them, and turned even as a low, raspy
voice spoke for the first time in perhaps centuries.

voice:  Why have you disturbed my slumber?

  The speaker was some sort of knight, clad in ornate plate mail armor
and bearing a large shield on one arm and a longsword in the other.  A
tattered black cape billowed behind this individual as if moved by some
weird arcane breeze, and bits of shadow floated around the knight like
slow-moving bats.
  Behind this grim knight were two other individuals.  One was some sort
of wraith, hovering a foot above the stone floor, its inky body entirely
composed of intangible shadowy matter, its eyes glowing like twin crimson
embers within the dark vagueness of its face.  The third new arrival was,
based on its appearance, a fifteen-foot tall zombie giant.  This bizarre
trio of creatures had emerged from the same tunnel through which the
party had come here, and they now stood just inside the cavern.

grim knight:  I ask again:  why have you disturbed my slumber?
Belphanior:  (holds up his hands in a peaceful gesture)  We mean no harm.
  We're just passing through, and have no problem with you.
grim knight:  This is a holy place...sacred.  (he points his sword in the
  elf's direction)
Belphanior:  There's no need for-

  A thin white beam shot from the tip of the knight's sword, expanding
as it went, such that it was a small cone by the time it exploded near
Belphanior.  The elf and his companions had instinctively scattered the
instant they realized they were under attack, but some of them had still
felt the effects of the chilly blast.

Balthus:  (having been knocked from his feet, his upper body is covered
  in white frost)  Urgh...
Neera:  (also knocked down, stunned and shivering)
Razor Charlie:  (having taken some damage from the burst of cold, he gets
  to his feet, grimacing)
Belphanior:  (regards his left arm and shoulder, which are covered in
  frost and numb, then regards the grim knight once more)  All right.
  _Now_ we have a problem.
grim knight:  (steps aside, as about a dozen pale, dirty ghouls charge
  from behind him and head toward the party)
Irina:  (steps forth, raising her holy symbol)  Begone!

  The ghouls were destroyed, vaporized before they could advance a step

grim knight:  (nods, his plan successful)  A priest?  I'll deal with you
  later.  (he drops a thick wall of ice between Irina and the rest of the
  party, cutting her off)
Skektek:  (launches a great forked lightning bolt at the knight)

  The mighty charge of electricity arced toward the evil knight...and
then, suddenly and defying all logic, it rebounded before hitting the
foe, arcing back at Skektek!

Skektek:  (hit dead-on by his own spell, which explodes in a blast that
  melts the stone floor beneath the wizard, blackens the nearby floor,
  and generates copious amounts of smoke)
Otto:  Shit!  I can't believe this.  (he fires a bolt at the knight, but
  his missile bounces off of its armor)
grim knight:  Bah.  You use the weapon of a coward.
wraith-thing:  (floats toward Hope at a high rate of speed)  Sss...
Hope:  (quickly working a spell)
zombie giant:  (lumbers toward the party)
Ys:  (moves to challenge the big undead)
Belphanior:  (sheathes Blackrazor, suspecting that it will not function
  optimally against these foes, and wishes he had the Moonsword readily
  handy, which he does not)  Dammit.  (he uses his ring of spell storing
  to cast a spell of jumping, and leaps away, landing fifty feet to the
grim knight:  Some leader.  (he moves toward Otto)  Cowards and rogues,
  all of you.
Hope:  (hits the wraith with a sheet of magical flames, causing it to
wraith-thing:  (writhes as portions of its shadowy body are burned away,
  the black vapor quickly dissipating)  Sss...(it closes in on Hope)
Hope:  (realizes that she can't outrun the thing)  Ack.
Razor Charlie:  (recovered now, he throws first one knife and then another
  at the creature)
wraith-thing:  (ignores the blades, which simply pass through its spectral
  body, and envelops Hope, intending to drain the life force from her)

  Both the undead being and the sorceress got a fairly major surprise
then...for nothing happened!

wraith-thing:  (having expected to be dining on life energy)  Sss...?
Hope:  (having expecting to be weakened by the thing's foul touch)  What?


Ys:  (swings his huge sword at the zombie giant, taking a chunk out of
  its side)  What?!?

  Something was wrong...for the reptilian's blow should have cut the foe
in half.  It was as if the big zombie was denser, or tougher, or somehow
resistant to damage.  As Ys quickly learned, that wasn't the only unusual
thing about this opponent.

zombie giant:  (moving with surprising speed, it backhands the attacker)
Ys:  (knocked back twenty feet, he realizes that this foe is also much
  stronger than him)  Ungh!
zombie giant:  (lumbers toward Ys as the reptilian shakily gets to his

  Just then, a tremendous bolt of lightning hit the giant zombie squarely
in the chest, knocking it away from Ys with a huge burned crater in its
rotting chest.

Skektek:  There's more where that came from, you ugly bastard.
Ys:  What...I thought you got blasted...
Skektek:  By my own lightning?  (he smirks)  I did, but my ring protects
  me from lightning attacks...especially its own.
Ys:  Good to hear.  Now I have an idea, but I need your help...
Skektek:  (listening)  You want me to cast WHAT ?!?

  Elsewhere in the huge cavern...

grim knight:  (closing in on Otto)  Draw that little sword, dwarf.  Let
  us see the measure of your skill.
Otto:  (produces a vial, suddenly hurling it at the foe)  Let us instead
  see how you like...holy water!
grim knight:  (splashed by the contents of the vial as it shatters)  What-
Otto:  (draws his sword in a blur, charging forward to take advantage of
  the surprise)
grim knight:  (bashes the dwarf with his shield, a powerful blow that
  knocks him away)  Bah.  (he advances on Otto, who is getting to his
  feet painfully)

  The knight paused then as a throwing knife - or more precisely, the
handle of one - suddenly protruded from one eye-slit of his helm.

grim knight:  Aaaaaaaaaargh!
Otto:  Wow, hell of a throw there.  Silver?
Razor Charlie:  Yup.  Figured if holy water hurt him...(he shrugs, then
  produces another silver throwing knife)

  A while ago, Razor Charlie had commissioned the forging of a half-dozen
special throwing knives, made to his exact, strict specifications.  Not
only were they made of a silver-and-steel alloy, but they had also been
blessed by a temple.  His logic was that anything requiring silver to
hurt it would also be hurt, perhaps moreso, by a blessed weapon.  This
theory seemed to be correct, judging from the angry, painful cursing of
the grim knight in the present battle.

Ys:  (backing away from the zombie giant, toward the wall of ice brought
  into existence by the grim knight)
zombie giant:  (lumbers toward the reptilian, as fast as it can)
Ys:  (holds his ground...until the very last moment, when he leaps aside
  as the giant's fist passes within inches of his head)

  The gigantic undead creature, having missed with its attack, whirled
about to stop its charge and pursue the foe...or would have done that,
if there hadn't been a thick coating of grease on the cavern floor, just
behind the spot Ys had been standing.  This substance, magically created
thanks to a spell from Skektek, extended all the way to the icy wall, and
so did the undead giant's charge.

zombie giant:  (hits the frozen barrier with tremendous force, shaking
  the floor and putting a sizable crack in the ice-wall)
Skektek:  Well, I'll be damned.  It worked.  (he hits the giant, and the
  wall, with another great bolt of lightning, destroying one shoulder and
  arm of the former and knocking a hole in the latter)

  The grim knight had recovered by now, and faced Otto, speaking a single
arcane word of power.

Otto:  (reels, unable to think coherently or act)  Whoa...
grim knight:  (turns to Razor Charlie)  Now.  Knife-thrower.  Let us see
  if you can find more chinks in my armor before I slice you to bits.
Razor Charlie:  (raises another of his silver knives)  I'll damn well try.
Belphanior:  (leaping again, he lands on the back of the knight, and in
  a single swift motion brings the tip of a wand to the eye-slit that
  doesn't have a knife protruding from it, speaking a command word)

  The elf's wand pumped a volley of acidic spheres right into the face
of the opponent, basically filling his helmet with acid from which there
was no escape.

grim knight:  (falls to his knees, his gauntleted hands clutching either
  side of his helmet, from which acrid vapors are boiling out)

  Nearby, another combatant entered (or, actually, re-entered) the fray...

Irina:  (steps through the break in the wall of ice, glances around, then
  heads for the wraith-thing, brandishing her holy symbol)
wraith-thing:  (having given up hope on draining Hope's life force, it
  now moves toward the next-closest foe)
Neera:  (having recovered enough to sit up, she is still nowhere near
  ready to fight or defend herself)
wispy thing:  (moves to intercept the undead attacker, and perhaps buy
  Neera a little time)  Sssss!
wraith-thing:  Sss...?
Neera:  (looks around)  What the hell is going on?
Irina:  You!  Shadow-being!
wraith-thing:  (turns to regard her, then recoils from the holy symbol
  she holds)  Sss...
Skektek:  (hits the thing with a volley of magic missiles, ripping away
  chunks of its shadowy body)
wraith-thing:  (flees in a different direction)  Sss...!
Hope:  (launches a stream of fire at the undead creature's back, melting
  away much of its remaining form)
zombie giant:  (lies on the stony floor, struggling to get to its feet, a
  task made difficult by the lack of one arm)
Ys:  (taking careful aim at the foe, he chops at one of its knees with
  all his might, severing that foot and ensuring that the thing won't be
  walking around anytime soon)
zombie giant:  (flails about)
Razor Charlie:  (having recovered a flask of oil from the still-stunned
  Otto, he hurls it at the creature, dousing it, then lights a torch and
  ignites the big zombie)  Bet this works too.
zombie giant:  (set ablaze, its rotten flesh burns with a horrid stench)

  The battle was won, and the remaining foes destroyed in short order.
Their mere presence here brought up certain questions, though, so it was
convenient that Balthus was not only alive, but now awake.

Balthus:  -weren't here before, I'm sure of it!  They must have come from
  some side passage, or buried chamber, maybe exposed by the tunnelings
  of that purple worm.
Belphanior:  That actually makes sense.  After we get everyone checked
  and recovered, we'll do a quick search.  (he regards Otto, who is still
Irina:  Don't worry about him...he'll be fine in a short time.  The spell
  cast on him is only temporary, and he's strong.
Belphanior:  (nods, then turns to Balthus, who is brushing frost from his
  armor)  Can you scout the exit passage and make sure all is well?  (to
  Charlie)  Go with him, just in case there's something waiting up there
  for us.
Balthus:  Right.  (he heads toward the far end of the cavern, accompanied
  by the grimacing Charlie)
Irina:  (regards the tracker as he moves out of earshot)  Fortunate, that
  he survived.  We need him to find the dragon.
Belphanior:  In theory.  He seems like a decent fellow.  Hopefully he can
  lead us to that which we seek.

  When they were ready and able, the group first checked the exit to the
outside (which was exactly where Balthus had said it was) and then moved
back into the tunnel they'd entered the big cavern from.  A short time
later, they did indeed find the place from which the undead had come:  a
section of the tunnel, just past where they'd fought the purple worm, had
a freshly-formed fissure that led into another passage, this one older
and larger than the main ones.  It was about fifteen feet square, dotted
with ancient cobwebs, and smelled musty.

  ____main tunnel
 |        ____side passage
 V       |

&        &
(       % }  <-- cave-in
 \     |  |
  }   /   |
  \  /    |
   %/ /|  |
     / |  |
    {  |  |
    |  |  |
   &   |  |

  To the north, the passage ended abruptly in a cave-in, which as far as
they could ascertain was impassable.  To the south, however, the passage
led into a small series of chambers, the most interesting of which was a
crypt.  Its double doors were open, and beyond was a small, dark room.

Otto:  The insignia on those matches what was on that knight's
  shield and armor.
Belphanior:  I figure this was his crypt, and it was sealed long ago, and
  the movements of that big worm exposed this place to the other tunnels.
Skektek:  And woke him up.
Belphanior:  Was he a death knight?
Irina:  Hard to tell, but given the powers he exhibited...yes, I think he

  They had, of course, confiscated what treasure they could from the foes.
The zombie giant and the wraith-thing hadn't had anything, and the armor
worn by the knight had begun to decay upon his demise, as had what was
left of his helm.  His shield had been non-magical, but his sword emanated
a strong aura of magic (and perhaps more importantly, no aura of evil).
Neera figured the sword was some sort of frost brand, with powers and
properties related to cold, but that would bear further investigation in
the near future.  For now, they wanted to see what was in this old crypt,
home to a powerful undead and his minions, sealed and buried down here
beneath the mountain for only the gods knew how long.
  Within the small chamber was a stone pedestal, atop which was a massive
stone coffin, whose lid was ajar.  Within the coffin were the remnants of
what had once been fine pillows, now just tatters of rotted cloth and bits
of decayed fabric.  Amidst these ruined burial trappings were a half-dozen
large rubies, an empty vial whose contents must have long ago evaporated,
a pale white stone about the size and shape of a small loaf of bread, a
rotted cloak, and a small copper drinking horn.  The salvageable treasure
was taken, and the group returned to the large cavern, and then made their
way out of the complex and into the early-evening air outside!

Hope:  (breathes in the fresh air)  Ahhhhh.
Otto:  (to Belphanior)  Are we camping here, or in the cavern?
Belphanior:  We'll use the cavern, after sealing or safeguarding the way
  down into the depths.  I don't want any more undead appearing from the
  cavern system and attacking us.

  As night fell, they fortified the exit cavern, made camp, dressed their
wounds, ate supper, and set guard shifts.  Fortunately, there were no
incidents overnight, and the weary explorers actually got some rest for
a change.

+   Date:          5/8/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the northeastern reaches of the Crystalmist mountains  +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +

Belphanior:  Today's the day?
Balthus:  (nods)  We'll venture to the small lake I told you about, and
  from there it should be a simple matter to find the dragon.
Otto:  (chuckles at the absurdity of having to use the words "simple",
  "find", and "dragon" in the same sentence)
Irina:  (to Hope)  I never used to have conversations like this before
  I joined your team.

  After a quick breakfast, they set out from the base of the mountain,
making their way into the thick woodlands that stretched northward for
countless leagues.  Balthus was locked in, focused on retracing steps
he'd last taken years ago, and that was a good thing.  He was serious
about finding the dragon, especially now, with the quarry close at hand.
He led them along at a brisk pace, avoiding obstacles and taking the
fastest paths through the forest.  A couple of hours after leaving the
caverns at the base of the peak known as Crystal Fang, the party came
upon a small lake, and sure enough, a quick exploration led them to find
dozens of dragon prints near the water!

Balthus:  (bends down to examine one of the tracks)  These are fairly
  fresh, too...a day at most.
Skektek:  How are we going to track the thing back to its home?
Belphanior:  You're not thinking tactically.  We don't need to track it
  anywhere; we'll just hide here and wait for it to come back.
Skektek:  (his eyes light up)  Ahhhh.
Belphanior:  Here's the deal...we'll take up multiple positions around
  the lake, and remain hidden.  We'll post two sentries at all times,
  to watch the sky.  If the dragon approaches, we can put our plan into
Skektek:  And what _is_ the plan?  Are we going to blast it from several
  different angles?  Maybe lead off with a lightning bolt, followed by a
Belphanior:  Actually, I'll attempt to negotiate.  There's no reason to
  fight if we can barter peacefully.
Otto:  Huh?  (he whirls around, crossbow in hand, but sees no one)
Skektek:  Who said that?
voice #2:  (coming from a different direction now, and perhaps a bit
  above the party as well)  NEGOTIATE?

  Around the time the adventurers realized there was a bat flying around
nearby, the bat...changed.  There really weren't any sufficient words to
describe the transformation of a small bat into a three-hundred-foot long
dragon, but the sight was riveting to behold.  This wyrm was unlike any
that they had ever seen before:  its scales were a dark violet hue, and
two heads sprung from its massive body, each at the tip of a long and
sinuous neck.  The heads, each the size of a small hut, bore weird curved
horns above gleaming purple eyes.

purple dragon:  (settles to the ground, its rear half immersed in the
  lake)  AH.
Belphanior:  Well, I didn't expect this.
purple dragon's other head:  (rears around to glare at the party)
Belphanior:  Or that.

next:       Mesoloth
released:   4/10/2015
notes:      It's been a while since I've done this, are seven
  movies that I just might go see in the theater this year (with my
  hatred of talkers and phone users in theaters, and associated risk
  of confrontation, I've personally found it best to avoid the theaters
  unless a movie has the potential to be I don't venture
  to a theater lightly).

  Avengers:  Age of Ultron (5/1/15) - The first one was damn near the
    perfect movie, and all of the same actors and creators are back,
    so how can it go wrong?  (Actually, don't answer that.)

  Maggie (5/8/15) - Schwarzenegger and zombies.  Enough said.  Who cares
    if he's 67 years old?

  Mad Max:  Fury Road (5/15/15) - Not sure what to expect from this one,
    but just the chance that it's as insane as 1981's "The Road Warrior"
    warrants consideration for theatrical viewing.

  Jurassic World (6/12/15) - I'm counting on this to be an impressive,
    dinosaur-filled spectacle worthy of seeing in a theater.

  Terminator Genisys (7/1/15) - Schwarzenegger and terminators.  I'm
    worried due to the remake factor, but here's hoping it's good.

  Spectre (11/6/15) - New Bond, apparently with extra doses of espionage
    and secret evil organizations...I didbn't even know this one was on
    the way, but the trailer has me excited for it.

  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens (12/18/15) - I may wait a week for this
   one, so that I don't have to sit in the theater with people who dress
   up as characters from the other movies, but this one should entertain.

  Here are six more I won't actually go to the theater to see, but would
definitely watch later, and probably buy for my collection:

  The Transporter:  Refueled (6/19/15)
  Ant-Man (7/17/15)
  Hitman:  Agent 47 (8/28/15)
  Victor Frankenstein (10/2/15)
  Steve Jobs (10/9/15)
  Hunger Games #3b (11/20/15)

  And lastly, here are the supposed 2015 blockbuster movies that I likely
won't bother to see at all, either because they're sequels to movies that
I didn't care for in the first place, or they're unnecessary remakes:
  Poltergeist, Mission Impossible, Fantastic Four, Paranormal Activity #5.
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