Chapter #1125

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                                   +   +
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                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic VI      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       +
+   1991-2022 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!                                          +
+   ALPHA TEAM (attack initiation)                                        +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+     Lyra         14th level female drow wizard                          +
+     roc          gigantic bird serving as airborne mount                +
+     army         illusionary; 5,000 cavalry, infantry, archers          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   BETA TEAM (immediate second wave, striking from air)                  +
+                                                                         +
+   Bosco          14th level halfling thief                              +
+   The complete Host of Kaloth                                           +
+     white king       15' iron golem with hammer and axe                 +
+     white queen      25' titaness with mattock                          +
+     black king       30' cyclops                                        +
+     black queen      death naga                                         +
+     white bishop     tall, grey-haired high priest                      +
+     white bishop 2   short, balding, cheerful high priest               +
+     black bishop 1   gaunt, bearded high priest                         +
+     black bishop 2   volatile, aggressive war-priest                    +
+     2 white knights  noble centaurs with longbow                        +
+     2 black knights  jet-black horses w/sharp hooves, fire breath       +
+     2 white rooks    10' ivory golems with shortsword                   +
+     2 black rooks    8' ebony golems with spiked fists                  +
+     8 white pawns    white-armored warriors with longswords             +
+     8 black pawns    black-armored warriors with spiked maces           +
+   Parekh           18th level female human wizard, innovator            +
+     Drak           15th level human barbarian                           +
+   Dexitheseus      17th level human wizard, jack of all trades          +
+   Oakly Greenleaf  14th level human Great Druid of Obad-Hai             +
+   Relmar           18th level human high priest of Pelor                +
+   Wu               18th level human wizard, transmuter                  +
+     6 elite ogre magi                                                   +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   GAMMA TEAM (third wave, striking from ground via giant portal)        +
+                                                                         +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+     Poulos        8th level human warrior                               +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian, teleporter  +
+     Socrates     large albino hound                                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+                                                                         +
+   (and arriving after the portal is opened)                             +
+   Cespedes       19th level human wizard, elementalist                  +
+     Talos        adamantine golem                                       +
+     iron dwarf   insane, armored berserker (pulled into another world)  +
+     air elemental                                                       +
+     earth elemental                                                     +
+     dust para-elemental                                                 +
+     lightning quasi-elemental                                           +
+     mineral quasi-elemental                                             +
+   Kronos         ancient lich wizard                                    +
+     Frigaar      white dragon                                           +
+     Glacius      white dragon                                           +
+     iron golem                                                          +
+     stone golems, 2                                                     +
+     skeletal infantry (357 skeletal warriors w/armor and weapons)       +
+   Tenser         21st level human wizard                                +
+     Cymria       12th/11th level female sylvan elf fighter/wizard       +
+     Batavius     6th level human priest of Heironeous                   +
+     Boothe       7th level human paladin of Heironeous                  +
+     Leznurp      extraplanar ki-rin                                     +
+     Sparnock     7th level human warrior                                +
+     17 mounted elven archers from the Celadon Forest                    +
+     40 light cavalry w/lances, swords                                   +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   DELTA TEAM (fourth wave, striking from ground via foot travel)        +
+                                                                         +
+   Irina          14th/7th level female human priestess/warrior          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Paige          13th level human female warrior                        +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   desert centaur allies (143)                                           +
+   Date:          5/1/586 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the Brass Hills, within the Bright Desert              +
+   Climate:       hot and dry                                            +
+   “In a fair fight I’d kill you."                                       +
+   "That’s not incentive for me to fight fair, is it?"                   +
+           - from _Pirates of the Caribbean:  Curse of the Black Pearl_  +

                   MCXXV.  The Fate of Rary

  In the face of surprising and overwhelming odds, the archmage Rary has
emerged from his tower...and is now preparing to play a great and terrible
trump card.

Rary:  (takes a deep breath, readying himself to begin working a special

  Few present - and none of the attackers - knew it, but in the depths of
the fortress complex rested a colossal metal automaton which the wizard
had been working on for many months.  Over a hundred feet long, this giant
mechanical dragon was the equal - in size, strength, and sheer destructive
capability - of any flesh-and-blood dragon.  It could not only fly, but
also emit deadly eye-beams of searing energy...and also breathe immense
gouts of flame.  While the thing wasn't fully complete and functional, it
yet had enough offensive might to turn the tide of this battle.

Rary:  (begins the process of opening a portal between the dungeon level
  far below and the hills outside his fortress)

  Most of the combatants hadn't noticed the wizard, so abruptly had he
appeared.  However, there were exceptions.  One was the blue-clad Tenser,
who had earlier put into place potent magicks to make him aware, should
his hated enemy be near.  Tenser gave the foe no warning, lashing out in
a fury with a meteor strike that promised to obliterate not only the man
atop the tower, but the tower itself.

Tenser:  Yes!  Yes-  (he frowns as the potent barrage is deflected away
  from the elderly wizard by some previously-unseen barrier, which now
  shimmers with a slight greenish hue all around Rary)  No!  Damn it!

  The top of the tower beneath the foe's feet crumbled and collapsed, but
Rary remained in place, hovering in the air thanks to some sort of magic
that he'd doubtless cast before appearing.

Rary:  (glances balefully at the distant Tenser)

  Without a second thought, the white-haired mage produced a unique and
potent wand - a treasure he'd unearthed long ago from the scarred ruins
of a long-ago battle between armies of wizards - and invoked its mighty
powers, sending a pair of huge fireballs arcing toward the other.  These
weren't enough to overcome Tenser's defenses, but they did drive him back
and give him pause.  For good measure, Rary spent the next few minutes
choosing other targets amidst the battle below, dropping immense fiery
blasts across multiple groups of attackers (often with no regard for the
safety of his own forces who happened to be too close).  He even hit a
couple of airborne foes with fireballs, sending one of them plummeting
to the ground in a lazily-spinning mass of burnt feathers and flesh.  The
aged wizard's eyes were alight with a manic gleam as he dispensed fiery
destruction to his enemies; he had long ago turned to evil, and had no
qualms about doing whatever was necessary to further his aims.  Rary was
as one possessed, ranging to and fro with the fireball wand...until its
immense store of power was depleted.  Discarding the now-inert weapon,
the wizard once more began his efforts to bring his great dragon-construct
forth into the world, where he intended to have it finish the job that
his cavalcade of fireballs had begun.  Between the now-thinned ranks of
his foes and the multiple protective barriers and defenses that protected
him, the Archmage of Ket rightfully expected to succeed.
  However, Tenser wasn't the only one who had noticed Rary's arrival; in
fact, there was another who had been _expecting_ it.  On the hilly ground
below, near the outer walls of the fortress, Belphanior had carefully and
patiently worked to bring the catapult-wagon as close as possible to that
tower.  It had not been easy, especially with things like golems and magic
in play all over the place; one of the stone horses that pulled the wagon
had been crushed by a golem that had been hurled through the air, making
further progress difficult.  When Belphanior had gotten the wagon fairly
close to the fortress, a nearby explosion had caused the catapult to tip
over and fall over, also damaging one of the wagon's wheels in the process
and rendering it immobile.  However, none of that mattered, as both the
catapult and wagon had now served their purpose and were no longer needed.
The elf had immediately activated his cube of force, encasing both himself
and the contents of the wagon within an unseen and impenetrable barrier of
force.  Moments later, he'd worked a spell to render himself invisible as
well....and the waiting had begun.  It was stressful and arduous; at one
point a chunk of falling stone hit the cube-shell and bounced off, while
scant moments later a fireball exploded nearby and bathed the area in
blazing flames.  Men, skeletons, and beasts ran past, fighting or fleeing
or seeking better positions; noise and fury were everywhere.  It was even
possible that somewhere, some of Belphanior's allies were perishing in the
fighting while he hid, concealed, in the battlefield.  But he had a plan,
which was as unusual as it was potentially effective...and so the elf had
waited, within his hiding place... until the appearance of Rary, his quick
deflection of Tenser's attack, his mad blasting spree with the fireball
wand, and now his focus on some unknown effort.

Belphanior:  (quietly)  This is it.  (he quickly turns to the wagon full
  of catapult stones, using his augmented strength to move several of them
  out of the way until he uncovers the stout metal box concealed beneath
  the rest of the ammunition)  Aha.  (gripping the opening mechanism of
  this heavy box, he glances briefly at Rary floating and spellcasting in
  the air above...steels himself...and pulls the heavy lid open, exposing
  the dull grey sphere within)

  This tactic - the cornerstone to Belphanior's plan and a foolproof way
to defeat a wizard - had previously been the subject of a great deal of
heated discussion during the planning phase of this assault.  The elf had
at first considered not even telling the others, out of concern for Rary
finding out during the battle via some sort of ESP magic.  He'd also been
worried that some of the other magi would attempt to veto the use of the
anti-magic sphere.  In the end, Belphanior had gone ahead and shared the
idea with the other wizards, explaining that he wanted and needed their
full trust and hadn't wanted to surprise them with the complete negation
of all magic in the middle of the fight.  Using the sphere's weird, potent
properties, he'd pointed out that the powerful and dangerous Rary could be
rendered helpless - and slain, which would be a simple matter for the elf
given his natural speed and fighting ability.  Some of the others hadn't
liked the idea, but in the end the group had agreed to go along with it.
They would just need to be careful not to fly too high above the ground,
or allow themselves to be surrounded by enemy troops.  The agreed-upon
plan was that if or when Rary showed up, Belphanior would trigger his
sphere as quickly as possible; the others would need to pay very careful
attention so that they could act accordingly when the time came.
  And now, that time had come, and gone.  With the lid open, all magic
and magical effects in the vicinity were instantly and completely negated
by the immense magic-nullifying power of the sphere within the lead box.
Belphanior felt his spellcasting powers leave him, and his cubic wall of
force ceased to exist.  Every summoned creature on both sides - daemons,
aerial servants, elementals, Alindyar's entire illusionary army, and the
surviving members of the Host of Kaloth - vanished.  Kronos' skeletons
ceased to move, having become inert without magic to guide them.  And the
airborne foe above suddenly plummeted from the sky in sudden and complete
surprise.  Rary had experienced magic-negating effects several times in
his long adventuring career - the beam from the large eye of a beholder
and small areas within dungeons, as two examples - but this anti-magic
zone was much larger and more powerful in effect.  All of that and more
flashed through his mind in the handful of moments it took him to drop
from the air, bouncing off of the damaged section of his tower's roof -
stonework that would have stopped his fall had it been intact rather than
missing a large piece from to Tenser's disintegration beam.  Rary fell a
hundred feet, screaming in rage before he smashed into the ground, not
far from the elf who'd caused this potent effect across the battlefield.

Belphanior:  (dashes over toward Rary, in the process engaging and quickly
  dispatching a couple of the mage's warriors who had moved to defend him)

  It was possible that the allies would have won the day without the help
of the anti-magic sphere - there was no real way to know what might have
happened.  But Belphanior had seen no need to take the chance; if he got
the opportunity to take Rary out, he fully intended to use it, whatever
the cost; the evil wizard was too dangerous to be left alive.
  The elf also had a backup measure, in case the battle went unfavorably.
The gnome Judhon, who possessed great skill with devices and mechanisms,
had been commissioned to produce a timing trigger, a tiny but intricate
construction that would count down the passing of several hours.  At the
end of that span, if it had not been reset, the thing would initiate a
small but powerful magical explosion designed to blow open the box that
held the anti-magic sphere.  This had given Belphanior a fail-safe means
of interrupting events:  if the battle went well, he would simply reset
the timer, delaying the widespread anti-magic effect; this process could
be repeated until the battle was well and truly over.  And if the battle
did not go well, then eventually the trigger would spring on its own, as
designed, detonating the box's lock and causing the anti-magic effect.
  In any case, the implemented backup measure had not been necessary;
from the moment he'd taken hold of the box's lid, the elf had known that
this day would end well.

Belphanior:  (regards the broken form of the wizard)
Rary:  Urgh...(he looks up at the elf through eyes tinged red with blood)
  H- how did you...
Belphanior:  The plan - the real plan - wasn't to hit you from four sides
  simultaneously, overwhelming you with superior numbers and power.  That
  might have worked anyway, but the real aim was to draw you out of your
  fortress, where you could be dealt with directly.  (he smiles grimly)
Rary:  Why...?
Belphanior:  There are many reasons, and each person here today has their
  own.  Some bear grudges from your past actions.  Others fear what you
  might someday have done.  (he frowns)  For my part, I doubt I'd have
  ever gotten involved or cared, except that you invaded my home, robbed
  my treasures, and threatened my woman.  (he grabs the bloody form by
  the collar, dragging the other across the ground)

  The elf brought Rary over to the heavy leaden box, which rested at an
angle atop the tilted wagon, now surrounded by displaced catapult stones.

Belphanior:  (props the dying wizard up against one of the wagon's intact
  wheels, then regards him briefly before putting one hand on the open lid
  of the thick lead box)  Rary the traitor.  (he draws his sword, putting
  its tip at the old wizard's throat)
Rary:  (gasping)
Belphanior:  I now hold you accountable for your crimes.  The sentence is

  Without another word, the elf pushed the sword's point through Rary's
throat, at the same time heaving the great box's lid closed.  As he felt
magical energy begin to permeate his form once more, he also heard the
first whispers from his dark blade as it quickly returned to sentience.
Rary's death-gurgle grew more pronounced as the life-force left his dying
body, coursing into the sword and its wielder.

Belphanior:  Ahhhh.  (fully invigorated and alert now, he steps back as
  the corpse falls over on the ground)
Parekh:  (walks over, wiping ash from her brow but otherwise unharmed)
  That potent.  (she eyes the crumpled body on the ground)
  I'm not sure we talked about just killing him outright.
Belphanior:  (grimly)  No, we didn't.
Parekh:  (somewhat stunned by the suddenness and finality of this)  So
  that's it?  Rary is slain, once and for all?
Belphanior:  (holds his sword out, eyeing the black blade which reflects
  no light at all)  Blackrazor can be a difficult weapon to wield...but
  it guarantees results.  (he sheathes the weapon, and begins gazing all
  around)  How goes the rest of the fight?
Parekh:  It's more or less over, especially with all of the wizard's
  summoned help now gone, thanks to...(she gestures at the now-sealed
  metal box)  That.  (she glares at him, annoyed)  I still don't agree
  with your tactic; I believe the group of us could have defeated him
  under our own power.  Still...there's no denying the results.
Belphanior:  You're damn right about that.  The sphere gave us a massive
  tactical item that he never knew about, never could have
  anticipated, and - once it was close enough - never could have stopped.
  And now we're now rid of the most powerful single adversary in this
  region.  (he nods to her)  Now let's mop things up.  (he turns, casting
  a spell and taking to the air as he begins surveying the battlefield,
  searching for foes to mop up now that Rary is no more)

  Elsewhere - to the east and south of the fortress - another battle was
raging.  This one had less sorcerous power and no strange magical allies,
but was of great importance nonetheless.  As Otto's team - accompanied by
a sizable force of centaurs after that hasty alliance several days ago -
charged toward the Brass Hills and Rary's stronghold, they had seen right
away that their approach would not be easy.  Several hundred cavalry and
a similar number of archers had charged through the hills to meet them.

  Otto:  Isn't that the banner of-
  centaur war-chieftain:  Robilar.  He's a mighty lord and leader of men,
    and a staunch ally of the wizard Rary.
  Otto:  Well, we never thought it would be easy...
  Paige:  (grinning, she checks her sword as they ride)  Let's have at
    them, then!
  centaur war-chieftain:  (raises his voice, shouting a war-cry to his
    people as they thunder toward Robilar's forces)

  The famed Lord Robilar was Rary's ally and co-conspirator in his past
and present doings.  A skilled warrior and former adventurer, Robilar -
whose deeds were many, and some of them legendary - had been part of the
base treachery on the Day of the Great Signing...and along with the old
wizard, Robilar had fled to the Bright Desert, accompanied by a small but
fanatically loyal group of henchmen, hirelings, and other followers as
well as a small but well-trained military force.  It was Robilar who had
done the bulk of the work to build the army which fought for Rary today,
an army that likely would have grown by leaps and bounds, given another
year or two.
  And now, he was leading his small but skilled force toward the five
adventurers and their centaur allies.  Of course, the attackers were not
without power of their own...

Skektek:  (in the sky above, invisible and flying, he drops a fireball
  into the heart of Robilar's approaching cavalry)

  Some wizards would have preferred to wait, so that any opposing spell-
casters might act first and thus reveal themselves.  Not Skektek; his way
was to act quickly and thin the foes' ranks.  And the detonation of his
spell did just that, the explosion of flames incinerating scores of riders
and their mounts and blasting even more to the ground.  It was a decisive
first move, and one that greatly softened up the defenders, preventing
those archers from loosing their first volley of arrows.  The centaurs
had no such problem, and launched a deadly rain of their own arrows into
Robilar's troops...and then, moments later, the forces met in a violent
clash of steel!  Blades and spears flashed, and armor deflected blows...
or else gave way beneath them.  The four adventurers on the ground fought
as a group, all from horseback, behind the front rank of centaurs.  Paige
and Irina engaged in melee, while behind them Otto plied his crossbow and
Razor Charlie threw small but deadly knives.  And above, Skektek did what
he could to provide his friends with air support.

Skektek:  (launches a series of magic missiles, each of the bolts hitting
  a different attacker and providing precious seconds for those on the
  ground to deal with them)
Otto:  (fires his crossbow, the bolt going right through the eye-slit of
  one distracted foe's helm)
Paige:  (her sword blazing with flames, she dispatches another soldier,
  knocking the man from his horse with a cleft skull)
Irina:  (dodges a spear, then bashes the weapon aside before catching its
  owner with her backswing, denting his helmet and knocking him senseless)
Razor Charlie:  (hurls knives at unprotected joints and unarmored foes,
  the razor-sharp blades more often than not finding flesh and drawing
Otto:  (hits another soldier in the chest with a bolt)
Skektek:  (above, he drops a large cloud of toxic vapor atop a densely-
  packed group of enemy soldiers)

  It seemed that the foes, too, had a wizard...for Skektek was suddenly
hit by an arc of lightning from a nearby point in the air!

enemy wizard:  (becomes visible, although his grin vanishes as he realizes
  that his lightning bolt had no effect against Skektek)
Skektek:  (thanking the protective properties of his thunder ring, he
  retaliates with his own lightning bolt, incinerating the other wizard
  right there in midair)
enemy wizard:  (now a charred, smoking mass, his corpse drops from the
Skektek:  Hah-  (he reels as a barrage of tiny meteorites blast him)
  Argh!  Urgh!  Ungh!
other enemy wizard:  (becomes visible in the air nearby)
Skektek:  (eyeing the multiple smoking blast marks across his body, and
  feeling the pain of the wounds beneath)  Dammit...
other enemy wizard:  (an older human female, she mutters to herself as she
  points a wand at Skektek, firing a cone of foam that engulfs him and
  renders him unable to cast - or aim - spells)
Skektek:  (sputtering and cursing as his foam-covered form hovers in the
other enemy wizard:  (prepares a more powerful and lethal spell)

  The woman recoiled suddenly, as a crossbow bolt lodged in her rear end.

Otto:  (several hundred feet below, he grins, pleased at the accuracy of
  the shot he just made, enchanted crossbow or no)
Razor Charlie:  Hell of a shot.  (he whirls and throws a knife, the blade
  spearing the sword-hand of a soldier)


other enemy wizard:  (turns to regard the bolt, only the head of which
  has pierced the flesh of her rump)  You have _got_ to be kidding me-

  As the poison took effect, the woman's vision swam...and then she lost
consciousness and fell from the sky.  She was dead before her body smashed
into the ground.

Skektek:  (wipes the foam away from his face, still sputtering but ready
  for battle)  Wh-  What?  Where?  (he looks down and quickly guesses what
  must have happened)

  Below, the battle had clearly turned in the favor of the adventurers and
centaurs.  Skektek's initial magical attacks had evened the odds, turning
a numerically superior force into a one roughly equal in volume...but the
centaurs were stronger and more powerful warriors, and Robilar's force was
clearly losing.  Perhaps hoping to vanquish the key foes and yet turn the
tide, that mighty lord himself now entered the fray - albeit in a manner
that allowed him to deliver a potent surprise attack.  Invisible along
with his metal destrier, the warrior sped toward Otto and the others; as
he neared, his loyal troops - used to the unique sound of the metallic
warhorse - got the hell out of the way.  The unseen Robilar then wound a
highly magical trumpet, which emitted a mighty blast of sound that struck
the foes with tremendous force.  Otto, Irina, Paige, and Razor Charlie
were all knocked from their mounts and fell to the ground, stunned and
deafened, bleeding from their ears and noses.  A number of the centaurs,
including their chieftain, suffered the same fate; most of them simply
keeled over, disoriented and unable to stand.  Even the strongest of them
still wobbled on their hooved feet, unable to fight until such time as
their senses returned.

Robilar:  (becomes visible now, as does his horse)

  The evil lord barreled toward the adventurers, swinging a gigantic sword
whose blade appeared to be fashioned of black ice.  Whether it was truly
ice - or steel, or something else entirely - the weapon inflicted terrible
wounds with every swing.  Centaurs who stood in the warrior's path were
swatted out of the way, bloody and broken, for the attacker possessed the
strength of a giant thanks to a powerful magical belt he wore.  Without
the slightest hesitation, Lord Robilar attacked the dazed Otto, who had
just gotten back to his feet.  The dwarf's leather armor kept the blade
from cleaving into his flesh, but just barely; as it was, he was knocked
twenty feet away, landing in a bloody heap, a number of his ribs broken.

Otto:  (rolls over, blood trickling from his mouth)  Urgh...
Paige:  (also on her feet, she shakes her head to try and clear it, then
  raises her sword in a desperate attempt to parry the foe's next attack)
Lord Robilar:  (knocks the flaming sword out of her hands, then kicks her
  aside)  You...may be worth sparing.  I haven't had a good woman in far
  too-  Eh?  (he pauses as a knife bounces from his armor)
Razor Charlie:  (standing nearby, he readies another knife)

  The lean warrior's enchanted bracers had allowed him to avoid the brunt
of the horn's blasting attack, and so he had recovered a bit faster than
his companions.  Unfortunately, the evil lord's plate mail armor covered
his body completely, with few weak points which a knife might be able to
pierce.  Still, Irina was lying on the ground behind him, dazed, and the
others were out of commission for now.  Razor Charlie was the only one who
could act at the moment.

Razor Charlie:  (takes aim, then throws the second knife)
Lord Robilar:  (expertly brings his shield up, deflecting the weapon)

  Thanks to his augmented strength, the warrior was able to wield his huge
sword with just one arm, which left the other free to use his shield.  In
a sudden burst of speed, he spurred his horse forward, using the shield
to bash Razor Charlie (who still wasn't fully recovered from the earlier

Razor Charlie:  (knocked away, he grimaces painfully as he lands atop the
  corpse of a slain soldier, the man's spear still clutched in one bloody
  hand)  Ungh.
Lord Robilar:  (glancing at the still-stunned Irina, he readies his sword
  for a killing blow, the first of several that he intends)  Time to put
  you lot out of my misery, then win this battle, and then join the main
  one.  This day can still be won-

  The warrior's monologue was interrupted, quite harshly, by a great bolt
of lightning from above.  The blast had been sourced and aimed such that
it drove its target away from the fallen adventurers; Robilar's armored
body dug a furrow in the ground as it was driven about thirty feet back,
torn and smoking as small arcs of electricity yet danced across it.

Skektek:  (grinning triumphantly)  Forgot about me, didn't you?
Lord Robilar:  (a bit confused as to why his ring of spell turning didn't
  stop this attack, he gets to his feet painfully)

  The mighty warrior was now looking the worse for wear; his helm had
been torn from his head by the blast, and his dark beard and mane were
badly singed in a number of places.  Black burn marks were visible on his
face and neck as well as his armor.  Still, the foe had a lot of fight
left in him.

Lord Robilar:  (roaring in rage, he drops his shield, reaching once again
  for the horn on his belt as he looks up at the airborne Skektek)  You're
  not safe up there, wizard!  I'll crush your bones to powder, and then
  use your companions' skulls for drinking-mugs!
Razor Charlie:  (having recovered enough to attack again, he hurls the
  dead soldier's spear at the foe whose back is now to him)

  As his friends knew, knives weren't the only thing the scarred warrior
was good at throwing.  His cast was perfect (which it almost had to be,
given the short range and the vulnerability of the target) and the spear's
point pierced the back of Robilar's neck, emerging from the other side in
a great gout of blood as the man's throat was torn open.

Lord Robilar:  Ghaaaaaaak!  (he falls to his knees)
Skektek:  (fires a thin green beam, which instantly vaporizes the foe,
  leaving only a scattering of dust as all that remains of the infamous
  co-conspirator of Rary)
Razor Charlie:  (looking up, he nods at Skektek, cracking the thinnest
  of smiles)
Skektek:  (nods in return, then turns his attention to the single largest
  remaining knot of enemy troops, working another spell)

  As that battle wrapped up, the main one nearer the fortress was about
done.  Things were a mess, no doubt about it.  With the vast bulk of the
more unusual combatants now gone - dispelled either before or by the
appearance of the anti-magic sphere - the slain and wounded littered the
area.  The casualties included a mix of Paynim warriors, desert nomads,
the ugly humanoids known as norkers, and some infantry and archers from
Tenser's small force.  Certain of these forces (the Paynim soldiers and
some of the local nomads) had fought to the end, refusing to surrender
and thus forcing the attackers to continue the battle longer than should
have been necessary...and with a higher body count.  But there were other
and more unusual dead and injured as well.  One of the two white dragon
siblings had been badly wounded due to a fireball, then fallen from the
sky, landing hard enough to shatter every bone in one wing and shoulder.
Drak had gone toe-to-toe with one of Rary's iron golems, and had a dozen
broken ribs to show for it.  Dexitheseus had withstood one of the barrage
of sudden fireballs a short time earlier, but his magical staff and robe
had not survived the attack.  Oakly Greenleaf had been mauled by one of
the metallic wolf-automatons before causing a mass of thorny vines to
sprout from the ground and entrap the foe; the druid now mopped at the
blood flowing from the row of jagged lines across his shirt and flesh.
The high priest Relmar, without any hostile undead to fight, had instead
utilized a spiritual hammer to great effect, then evaded the attacks of
an invisible aerial servant...only to fall prey to a lightning bolt from
the roof-based projector.  His magical protections and natural resilience
had saved his life, but he would need time to recover from the shock.  Wu
had spent the entire battle in dragon form, as he tended and preferred to
do; the few wounds he'd suffered during the battle mostly healed when he
reverted back to his natural human form.  Most of his ogre mage retinue
had been injured in the fighting, whether by spell or blade, but their
inherent magical powers (namely the ability to assume gaseous form) had
kept any of them from being slain.
  Alindyar had remained atop the roc and in control of the astounding
army he'd created...right up until the bird was winged by one of Rary's
fireballs.  As it subsequently fell from the sky, in a rough and only
somewhat-controlled spiral descent, the dark elf's concentration had
understandably lapsed.  Even then, due to the power of the illusion and
the method of its creation, it persisted and continued to occupy Rary's
forces.  Only with the opening of the thick lead box and the unleashing
of the anti-magic sphere's odd radiations was the master illusion finally
dispelled...but by then, it had served its purpose.  As for the pair of
dark elves, they were shaken and a bit dizzy, but survived the roc's rough
landing.  Another of Belphanior's allies had nearly met his end this day;
Bosco had fallen into the grasp of an enemy he couldn't see or fight, and
had only been released when that foe inadvertently collided with something
else in the chaos of the fighting.  A stray bolt of lightning had struck
the halfling, not only rendering him senseless (and causing him to bleed
from his mouth, nose, and ears) but also knocking or burning several of
his worn or carried items...which were then crushed beneath the foot of
an iron golem.  If not for the intervention of Oakly Greenleaf, who had
used summoned magical branches to whisk the small ally out of harm's way,
the long and storied legend of Bosco might well have ended this day.  As
it was, the halfling now sat on a small boulder, trying to recover his
senses and clean up the blood that matted his face and neck.
  Hope and Pallin, with the defensive help of Poulos and Ys, had fought
with magic and avoided any serious harm.  The few foes who somehow got
around (not past) their spells were easily repelled by the blades of the
hulking warriors.  Aside from Tenser, the other wizards who had arrived
through the portal - Cespedes and Kronos - had wreaked great havoc upon
the enemy force without any harm to themselves.  The iron dwarf was gone,
drawn into some other plane.  The huge adamantine golem, Talos, was - as
expected - unscathed; having run out of enemies to demolish, it stood by
awaiting further commands.  As for Otto, his companions, and the force of
centaurs from the desert to the east...they had fought well, winning their
small but decisive skirmish against the cavalry and other soldiers who had
come out to challenge their approach.  The high point of that side battle
had been the demise of Rary's ally and general, the evil lord Robilar.  It
had taken everything that Otto and the others had, and they were all badly
wounded...but they had come out ahead.

Kronos:  (flies over, landing on the hilltop where Belphanior stands)  A
  fruitful day.
Belphanior:  Indeed.
Parekh:  (soon joins them on the raised area of ground, where they stand
  and silently observe the survivors moving amongst the fallen)  And so it
Belphanior:  (looking past the ruined fortress, to the hills, and then the
  desert beyond)  No...and so it _begins_.

next:       some side missions both minor and major
released:   9/16/2022
notes:      Whew.  By the time you read this, it won't matter, but I
  actually wrote this one and the last two (1123-1124-1125, the entire
  Rary saga) in a single holiday weekend in mid-June 2022.  I'd had a
  touch of writer's block (and real-life distractions) in the weeks
  before, but as I entered the long weekend, I said to myself "no more
  messing around, this fucker's getting written before I go back to
  work."  And it got done.
    I want to reiterate a couple of things, which I won't bring up again:
      1)  The point of the arc wasn't the fight with Rary, but rather
          what might come after.  Rary's presence was just a stepping
          stone for obstacle that needed to be removed.
      2)  This is the first major deviation from canon that I've done.
          While there have been other, smaller ones of varying impact
          (the objective of the Isle of the Ape quest, the early demise
          of Org Nenshen, the events in the Hold of the Sea Princes) I
          am really taking a big and daring leap now.  But it had to
          happen sooner or later, and later is now.  I hope you'll take
          the leap with me, and see where it goes!

    Speaking of that, now that I've completed the big's time for
  a break.  I need to rest and recharge, and attend to some other matters
  in my life.  I'll start back in January 2023 with episode 1126, which
  will see the wizards dealing with this region they've just won.
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