Chapter #225

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                                +
                              +   +
                            +       +
                          +           +
                        +               +
                      +                   +
                    +                       +
                  +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                    +                       +
                      +      Epic II      +
                        +               +
                          +           +
                            +       +
                              +   +
                                +

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells,    +
+  and other terms used in these stories are the property of  +
+  TSR, Inc.  However, this does not mean that TSR in any     +
+  way endorses or authorizes their use, and any such items   +
+  contained within these stories should not be considered    +
+  representative of TSR in any way, shape, or form.          +
+    Due to the nature of the Internet, these stories have    +
+  been widely available since 1991.  I have given them to    +
+  the world freely, and have never intended to market them   +
+  or in any way make money.  However, due to TSR, Inc.'s     +
+  copyright restrictions, old episodes of the Adventurers    +
+  are no longer being archived on any ftp site anywhere.     +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    The player characters contained in these writings are    +
+  copyright 1994 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any   +
+  persons or characters either real or fictional is utterly  +
+  coincidental.  Copying and/or distribution of these tales  +
+  is permissible only under the sole condition that no part  +
+  of them will be used or sold for profit.  In that case, I  +
+  hope you enjoy them...                                     +
+                                                             +
+                            Thomas Miller                    +
+                            tmiller@cimmeria.oit.gatech.edu  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   THE PARTY (or more accurately, a fragment of it):         +
+                                                             +
+   Belphanior    13th/14th/14th level high elven w/m/t  (CN) +
+   Rillen        17th level human warrior                (N) +
+                                                             +
+   Otto, a dwarf                                (guest star) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:    9/19/574 C.Y. (Common Year)                      +
+   Time:    evening                                          +
+   Place:   the island of Lao Khan, amid the Dramidj Ocean   +
+   Climate: cool                                             +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "I didn't come here to fight."                            +
+   "Then you shouldn't have come here at all!"               +
+                                        - from _Pale Rider_  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                CCXXV.  The Tournament





  After an extensive and arduous journey, Rillen, accompanied
by Belphanior and Otto, has stepped off the barge onto the
island of the Imperial Mystic Lord, Lao Khan.  Since all magic
is nullified on the island, the wispy thing has vanished, and
Belphanior is in a rather weakened state.

Belphanior:  (having fashioned an eyepatch, he has covered his
  left eye, the magical one)  I don't like this island.

  As dusk fell, they, and other warriors, followed the guide
toward the palace of their host.

guide:  Allow me to introduce myself.  I an Szen Szing, most
  humble servant to his Imperial Majesty the Khan.
Otto:  Hi there.
guide:  (ignores the dwarf, and talks as the group walks up
  a rocky, sloped pathway)  As you can see, the island is
  primarily mountainous, and about a league in diameter.  In
  its center is Lao Khan's fortress, replete with fields for
  training and combat.  (they top the hills they've been
  walking up)

  Before them was an ominous fortress, constructed in the
center of the island.  Its tall spires rose like needles
into the air, and thick walls protected the place on all
quarters.

Belphanior:  (muttering)  Not that a siege could take place
  out here, this being an island and such...
Otto:  Oh, come on.  There's gotta be a way.
tall, skinny warrior:  (chuckles)  Sure, pal.
Szen Szing:  (looks offended)  None have attacked this place.
  None _dare_ to attack this place.

  They walked down a slope now, on a paved road that led
right up to the large gates of the fortress.  These gates
were currently open, though a ten-foot tall armored guard
stood to either side.

midget warrior:  (stares in awe at the twin titans)
Szen Szing:  His Imperial Majesty prefers to have mighty
  guardians.  Granted, the lack of magic...hinders this,
  but those are among the greatest of warriors.
Rillen:  (reminded of the huge armored warrior that he beat
  in the trials, a while ago)  Hmm.

  Soon, they entered the large castle, and were directed to
a large feasting hall.  The place was the most impressive
such hall that they had ever seen.  A high ceiling was
decorated with glinting chandeliers; the walls were covered
with huge, rare paintings and murals.  Silver torch sconces
were mounted in the walls, and statues, carvings, and other
works of art occupied pedestals on the fringes of the hall.
All of these were fashioned of precious metals or rare stone
(or both) and were quite breathtaking.
  Warriors of every race, size, and disposition were now
gathered here.  All types of races were represented in
this place:  Oerdian, Flan, Sueloise, Baklunish, and many
combinations thereof.  Some of them weren't even human...

two-headed fanged fellow:  (glares at Rillen)  Grr.
Rillen:  Hmph.
Otto:  (wondering what kind of tournament this is)

  Of course (and honestly, contrary to Otto's expectations)
this tournament wasn't open only to men.  There were at
least half a dozen female warriors at the feast, ranging
from a seven-foot tall amazonian to a short, slender lass
in a blue hood and cloak.

Otto:  Fighting babes!  I _love_ to watch fighting babes!
Belphanior:  (wondering what the hell the dwarf is talking
  about)
Rillen:  I suspect that we won't get close-up looks at most
  of the participants until the actual tournament starts.

  As Rillen and the others entered the hall, their guide
turned to them once again.

Szen Szing:  Your boatload was the last to arrive.  All of
  the expected warriors are present now.  Please be seated
  at one of the tables.

  The room was laid out such that the tables could all be
overseen from a raised dais.  Upon this was a larger table
of stout wood, at which several fierce-looking fellows
sat.  The high-backed chair in this table's center was
conspicuously empty, though.

Belphanior:  Is that the throne of Lao Khan himself?
Szen Szing:  Indeed.  The Master will be along shortly.

  They found several unoccupied places at one of the other
tables, and were seated.  The feasting hall was extremely
lavishly decorated, and prancing acrobats, jugglers, and
the like moved between the tables.

Belphanior:  Apparently this Lao Khan is a man who likes
  to entertain, and in style.
Rillen:  It appears so.
bearded warrior:  Aye.  And look there!

  The fellow was pointing at some nubile young dancing
women, here and there.  They were rather scantily dressed,
and quite lovely.

Otto:  Bah. (he looks at the table)  Where's the food?

  Just then, a metallic gong was struck, somewhere out
of sight, and dozens of servants scurried in, bearing
trays, plates, and spits.  The really impressive thing
was that they just kept coming in!  Roasted boar, pig,
lamb, fowl...steaming bread, ripe fruits, vegetables...
sparkling wine, fine ale, foaming beer...there was no
end to it.  Both quantity and quality were exceptional,
and it was clear that even the guests from faraway
lands were impressed with the variety of the food and
drink at this feast.
  Suddenly, the unseen gong rang again, and a pair of
double doors behind the elevated table opened.  Then,
a regal figure strode forth.  Tall, lean, with pale
yellowish skin, the man had long, black hair and a
thin moustache and beard, actually a goatee.  He was
clad in fine silken clothes, and wore a thin crown of
platinum, studded with valuable gems.  There was no
doubting that this was a man born and bred a noble, a
leader of men and commander of armies.  As he entered,
those at his table rose instantly, adopting rigid
postures in deference to their lord.

man:  (in a deep, rich, resounding voice)  Greetings,
  fellow warriors!  I am Lao Khan!

  Much applause followed this proclamation, as all in
the hall saluted their host.

Lao Khan:  The great tournament begins on the morrow!  At
  that time, we shall see who the mightiest warriors in the
  world truly are!  But tonight, we feast!  Eat...drink...
  and be merry!

  With that, the music and entertainment resumed, and all
present continued whatever they had been doing before the
Khan had arrived.  As for the regal one himself, he sat at
his table, nibbling at various foods, sipping wine, and
watching those in the hall with hawklike eyes.



  Many hours later, they, like most of the others in the
feasting hall, found themselves sated and tired.  Shortly,
red-robed servants showed up and led them to their quarters.
These consisted of three adjacent rooms in one hall within
a huge barracks-type building.  In each room was a large
vat of hot water, another of cold water, several clean,
dry towels, and a soft mattress and pillow.  Stout doors
separated the quarters from the outside hallway, and they
had bolts on the inside, for the guests' security.

Otto:  Not bad...not bad at all...
Rillen:  (looking around)  Hmm.
Belphanior:  You know, from the stories Mongo told me of
  the last tournament, this one seems much more difficult,
  not to mention potentially lethal.
Rillen:  Truly, these facts do not escape me.
Otto:  We've got even more cause to worry, being in this
  anti-magic zone and all.  No potions to heal you...no
  spells, just in case...nothing.
Rillen:  Nothing but my fists and feet.  Good night to you
  both.  (he closes his door)



  Some of the combatants and guests slept soundly, while
others did not, visited by their personal dreams, or perhaps
nightmares.  In any case, the night passed safely and without
incident, and all were awakened in the morning by red-robed
servants.  These fellows informed Rillen and company, along
with all the others, that they had one hour to eat, stretch,
or whatever.  Then, they were to make their way to the arena
in the fortress' center, where the tournament would begin.
While Belphanior and Otto cleaned up and breakfasted, Rillen
flexed, stretched, and practiced his moves.  Just short of
an hour later, the trio headed toward the arena.  It wasn't
too difficult to figure out, since dozens of others were also
moving in that direction.  Just outside the arena, Rillen
split from the other two.

Rillen:  I have to go this way.  (he gestures to a sloped
  section of floor leading downward)
Belphanior:  (clasps his companion's hand)  Good luck to
  you, pal.
Otto:  Yeah.  We'll be rooting for you.
Rillen:  Thanks.  (he hands Belphanior his staff, which is
  currently locked in its shortened, foot-long form)  Please
  hold onto this for me.  I don't want to leave it in my
  quarters, and weapons aren't allowed in the matches.
Belphanior:  No problem.
Rillen:  Well...(he sighs, and heads down with the other
  combatants)

  Belphanior and Otto entered the arena, which was basically
a fifty-foot square fighting area surrounded by tiered stone
benches.  On one side, rather high above the arena floor,
the vestibule of Lao Khan jutted out, allowing the lord an
unobstructed view of the arena.  With him in his private
viewing area were the same bodyguards (servants?) that had
been at his table during the feast.  Just below his booth
was mounted a large wooden board, attended by two red-robed
monks.  It was here that, for each fight, the combatants'
names would be posted for all to see.  Next to the wooden
board was a huge metal gong, next to which stood another
crimson-robed servant, bearing a big hammer.  This third
fellow's purpose was apparent to even the most dim-witted
of those in the arena.



           ------warriors------
          |                    |
          |                    $ <-- name board
          |                   /
entry hall                   |  Lao's dais
          |                   \
          |                    (  <-- gong
          |                    |
           -----spectators-----



  At the arena's floor level, the first few rows on one side
were now filled by the combatants themselves.  From these
close seats they would later descend to the arena floor to
do battle.  The whole place was open to the sky, and the
daylight shone in from above, illuminating the arena but not
creating any glare of note.  Belphanior and Otto found that
there were many spectators this year - better than half of
the benches were already full.

Otto:  Must be some sight, to watch one of these tournaments.
Belphanior:  Yeah.  I understand that they used to charge
  hundreds, even thousands of gold coins for the privilege
  of watching.
Otto:  Maybe Lao Khan doesn't care about money.
Belphanior:  Maybe not...(he eyes the lord, seated above)

  Before they knew it, the time had come!  The great gong
was sounded, and Lao Khan stood, his voice resounding in
the arena/colisseum.  The combatants and spectators alike
ceased what they were doing in order to listen.

Lao Khan:  It is time.  I shall now explain the rules of
  combat.  Firstly, no weapons are allowed, other than a
  body's natural armament.  Secondly, any fighting style
  is permitted - this is a freestyle competition, open to
  all techniques and philosophies.  Thirdly, each match
  will continue until one party or the other yields, is
  knocked unconscious, or perishes.
Otto:  (winces slightly)
Lao Khan:  With that, let us begin!  Warriors, to the
  seats there, and await your matches!

  The combatants took their seats around the arena, and
less than five minutes later, the great gong rang again,
and the first two nameplates were put up.

Belphanior:  Squanto and Norg?
Otto:  Look!

  The two combatants entered the arena, circling one another
warily.  Squanto was a stocky fellow of medium height, while
Norg was a hulking brute, perhaps half-ogrish.  With a yell,
Squanto launched himself into the air, surprising his slower
opponent.  The brutish Norg was knocked back, as blood flew
from his mashed lips.  However, Squanto quickly grew over-
confident, getting too close and allowing Norg to get a grip
on him.  The huge, apish fellow grabbed Squanto by the ankle
and swung him around, smashing him into the stone floor of
the arena, once, twice, thrice.  The bruised, beaten Squanto
tried to get up, but was unable, and Norg kicked him a few
more times, finally sending him rolling off the arena floor,
comatose and trailing blood.

crowd:  (roars with approval)
sign tenders:  (remove Squanto's sign from the wooden board)
gong banger:  (bangs the gong, proclaiming the end of this
  match)
Otto:  Cripes...
Belphanior:  Bloodier than even I expected.
Lao Khan:  (smiles to himself as his bodyguards chatter in
  excitement)

  And so it went - brute against trained artist, midget
against hulk, and so forth.  There was more to certain of
the fighters than met the eye, and only one thing was
certain every single time:  each match had one winner, and
one loser.  Most of the bouts ended bloodily, as few of
this year's fighters seemed the kind to give (or expect)
any quarter or mercy.  As for Rillen, he got his first
taste of combat early on, during the seventh bout...

Belphanior:  Who's that bum they're putting him up against?
Otto:  Never heard of him.
other spectator:  I hear Lao Khan chose the first round of
  matches himself.
Belphanior:  (gets that "so what?" look on his face)
Otto:  (eyes the spectator's pockets)

  For his first match, Rillen found himself facing a short,
stout, clumsy-looking fellow with a crooked nose and a nasty
disposition...

Rillen:  I know you...
short fellow:  Hey!  It's you!  You knocked me out of the
  tournament three years ago!
Rillen:  Snirpy...Snirpy Snotnose!  It was you who broke
  my arm, and cost me anything higher than fourth place!
Snirpy:  You'll die this time!  (he launches into a series
  of punches and kicks designed to break bones at their
  weak points, as was his specialty last time)
Rillen:  (waits, and executes a neat frontal kick at the
  last possible instant)  Hi-yah!

  The big warrior's heel connected with Snirpy's face, and
there was a loud crunching sound, signifying the smashing
of bone and cartilage.

Snirpy:  (sails back about fifteen feet, landing on the
  arena floor, where he does not move)
Rillen:  (turns to Lao Khan and bows smartly in deference
  to the host)
Lao Khan:  (to his bodyguards)  Rillen?  He has fought
  before?
bodyguard:  (reciting from the lists he has memorized)
  Yes, Lord Khan, three years ago he placed fourth despite
  a broken arm.  He was not present at either of the last
  two contests.
Rillen:  (stares at Snirpy's still form with disgust)
gong banger:  (does his thing)
sign tender:  (removes Snirpy's nameplate from the board)
red-robed assistant:  (removes Snirpy's carcass from the
  floor)

  The fighting went on for hours, some matches lasting for
seconds, others for minutes.  Besides Rillen's, there were
a few others worth noting.  Bruce, the slender yet tightly
muscled fellow who had won three years ago, was still in
peak form, dispatching his first foe easily.  Torm, the
giant warrior who had finally beaten Rillen in that same
tournament past, was still around, and if anything, the big
brute looked meaner and stronger.  In his first match, he
snapped his foe over his knee, perhaps crippling him.
  Besides these familiar faces from Rillen's past, there
were others who he now saw for the first time.  A blond-
haired woman, attractive yet lithely muscled and lightning-
fast, made mincemeat out of her opponent, drawing cheers
from the crowd.  This femme fatale's name, according to
the board, was Sonja.  Another combatant of note was named
Kubala; apparently a wild-man by nature, he was possessed
of long, sharp fingernails which he used to rake his foe,
ripping bloody ribbons of flesh from the unfortunate man.
Also worthy of mention was Gornak; this was the two-headed,
fanged creature that had eyed Rillen before the tournament.
To Gornak went the first confirmed kill, for after ducking
and dodging his opponent's attacks for awhile, he tore the
fellow's throat out, savagely and without any hesitation.
Though this act drew gasps and complaints from the audience,
Lao Khan simply sat there, smiling.

  After most of the day (and more than a hundred matches)
had passed, Rillen fought again.  This time, he squared off
against Feng Lee, a tall, slender yellow-skinned fellow,
probably of Baklunish descent.  The man had a tightly woven
ponytail tied behind his head; about six feet long, this
hair-rope swayed as the fellow danced about.

Feng Lee:  Heh heh heh...
Rillen:  Oh, come on.  (he prepares to attack)
Feng Lee:  Aie!  (he suddenly whips his hair around, lashing
  at Rillen)
Rillen:  Argh!  (he recoils, a bloody cut now on his chest)
Feng Lee:  Heh heh heh...
Rillen:  Grr...
Feng Lee:  Yai!  (he brings the hair-rope around again,
  digging a shallow furrow in Rillen's arm)
Rillen:  Yargh!  (he leaps back, narrowly dodging a third
  swipe of the preposterous but deadly hair-rope)  What in
  the...?

Otto:  Shit!  Does he have a blade in there?
Belphanior:  Shit, he just might...
Otto:  But that's against the rules!

Feng Lee:  (advances, cackling in irritating fashion)  Hee
  hee...
Rillen:  (wipes sweat from his eyes)
Feng Lee:  Gyai!  (he whips the hair around again)
Rillen:  (jumps in, catching the hair in one hand)  Shah!
Feng Lee:  Hee-
Rillen:  HAI!  (chops the foe in the head with his other
  hand)
Feng Lee:  (falls to all fours)  Urgh...
Rillen:  (wraps the hair-rope around both hands and swings
  with all his might)
Feng Lee:  (sails in a short yet powerful arc, slamming into
  the arena floor, hard)  Argh!
Rillen:  (draws the opponent toward him, and kicks him in
  the lower stomach)  Sai!
Feng Lee:  Glurgh!  (he crumples)
Rillen:  (prepares to punch the foe in the temple, then
  realizes that the man's unconscious)  Bah.  (he lets the
  foe's head drop to the floor)
Feng Lee:  <conk>
Rillen:  (raises his hands in triumph)
crowd:  (roars its approval)
Lao Khan:  (standing suddenly)  SILENCE!
crowd:  (falls quiet quickly)
Lao Khan:  (to Rillen, still standing on the platform)  He
  used a blade.  He has violated the rules.  Kill him.
Rillen:  I will not.  (climbs the steps back to his seat)

  Lao Khan watched in silence as Rillen made his way back
to his seat as the crowd began to murmur in confusion.  Lao
snapped his fingers as he sat back down.  Down on the floor
the gong-banger moved quickly over to Feng Lee's unconcious
body and raised his iron hammer overhead, looking to the
Khan.  Lao gave a quick nod and the hammer struck, dashing
Lee's brains in a single stroke.

crowd:  (many of them cheering at the splattering blood)
Lao Khan:  (staring out at the crowd)
Belphanior:  Shit!
Otto:  I think maybe Rillen shoulda done it himself.  Lao
  looks pissed.
Belphanior:  Yeah.

  Combat continued, with several other interesting incidents
taking place.  There was a veritable battle of titans as
Norg and Torm, both nearly seven feet in height, fought in
a later match.  This bout lasted nearly five minutes, with
Norg victorious in the end, hurling Torm's battered and
bloody form into the spectators.

crowd:  (roars with approval)
Otto:  Bloodthirsty lot, aren't they?
Belphanior:  I thought _we_ were supposed to be the violent
  ones.

  Also in the third round, Kubala, he of the fingernails,
slashed another foe to ribbons, this time scarring the poor
fellow permanently.  In another savage bout, Gornak the
two-headed demolished another foe, spraying blood over the
spectators.

fellow in crowd:  (sits dumbly as blood drips off his nose)
  Uh...

  Noteworthy as well was Bruce's next match, wherein he was
pitted against a wiry, scarred female fighter.  Though he
won this contest, he did it with grace and style, taking
pains not to injure or maim the woman.

woman:  (bows in defeat, then leaves the arena)
Bruce:  (bows smartly to Lao Khan, and then to the crowd)
Lao Khan:  (eyeing Bruce from high above, he murmurs
  something to one of his assistants in the booth)

  By the end of the first day's fighting, the field of
competitors had been narrowed from a couple hundred down
to a mere thirty-two.  Each remaining warrior had fought
three times, winning all, of course.  The losers either
went to the crowd section, there to watch the rest of
the tournament from the sidelines, or they were carried
out of the arena.  Of course, there were some cases in
which the winners of matches were too injured to fight
again; in these cases, their slot in the next matchup
was simply eliminated.
  Among those who remained were Rillen, Bruce, the woman
Sonja, the hulking brute Norg, Kubala of the fingernails,
the two-headed Gornak, a seven-foot tall amazon, a huge
blubberball of a man, a well-muscled midget warrior, a
hooded monk, and a skinny old man.  All of these, as well
as the others who made up the thirty-two, eyed one another
warily as they sat on their benches.

Lao Khan:  (stands)  That is all for today!  Combat shall
  conclude on the morrow!
gong-banger:  (strikes the gong)

  With that, everyone retreated to the feasting hall, or
else their quarters.  It was well into evening by this
time, and even the normally rambunctious Belphanior seemed
ready for an early bed.

Belphanior:  (yawning)  Seeya tomorrow.  (he shuts his door)
Rillen:  (flexing sore muscles and bruised limbs)  Lao Khan
  should have a masseuse available.
Otto:  Somehow, I doubt it.  (he shuts his door too)
Rillen:  (realizes that he'll need extra sleep to be fully
  ready for tomorrow's fights)  Hmm.  (he retires)

  About an hour later, all was quiet in the halls of the
guest quarters.  There were no guards around as one door
opened, releasing a silent shadow into the hallway.  The
form moved down the hall stealthily, accessing a stairway
leading both upward and downward.

Belphanior:  (opts for the downward stairs)

  From the moment they had disembarked from the ferry, the
elf had harbored suspicions about the island in general and
Lao Khan in particular.  This seemed as good a time as any
to investigate - after all, if there was nothing of note
here, why would Lao care about wandering guests?  Taking
pains to remain quiet and in the shadows, Belphanior made
his way down the stairs.
  Due to his exceptional hearing, the elf detected distant
noises, strange noises, from somewhere nearby.  He left the
winding stairway, entering a corridor with various doors on
either side.  Trying these one-by-one, he found most of them
unlocked - in fact, only the stout wooden door at the end of
the hall was locked.  Belphanior examined the keyhole, and
quickly went to work on the lock, using a pair of slender
metal picks that he conjured from his sleeve.  The lock was
a complex one, but not overly so, and he had it opened in a
matter of moments.
  Since the door didn't squeak as he pushed it open a couple
of inches, the elf didn't bother with the tiny vial of oil
he had brought.  Peering in the crack of the door with his
good eye, he witnessed a bizarre scene.  The room that the
door opened into was some kind of laboratory, probably of
the wizardly sort.  All manner of vials, pots, jars, tubes,
pipes, needles, bellows, and the like were scattered about
or connected together on a series of worktables.  As he
peered further, Belphanior started suddenly - for on one of
the tables lay a human body!
  Though he was without his usual means of detecting people
nearby (Blackrazor's powers didn't work due to the anti-
magic field on the island) he was still able to see that the
laboratory was empty now.  Entering cautiously, Belphanior
closed the door behind him, and set about inspecting the
place.  There was another door leading into the chamber; it
was on the opposite end from where he was standing.  Toward
that end were many more tables, some of which were covered
with white sheets.  A stack of folded sheets lay to one side
atop an otherwise empty table.
  As he took a closer look at the body on the table, the elf
had another shock, for the person lying there was one of
those who had been eliminated from the tournament!  More,
the man was still alive, though he appeared to be comatose.
Several tubes were sticking from bandaged areas of his arms
and legs, and vials fastened nearby fed green and black
liquids through these tubes, into the man's body.  A set of
small knives was laid out on a nearby tray; some of these
had dark blood on them.

Belphanior:  (examines a knife, and realizes that the blood
  on it is several hours old)  Hmm...

  On a hunch, he turned to the covered tables, and yanked
the sheet off of one.  Beneath was another prone body!  This
one was also breathing, but had no tubes - just bandages in
several places.  This fellow, too, appeared to be a warrior,
presumably one of those who had fought in the tournament.
Another lifted sheet revealed another such body, and there
were at least a dozen more covered tables.
  Belphanior shook his head, wondering what ghoulish work
was afoot here.  Then, suddenly, he heard sounds, from some
point beyond the door opposite to the one he entered by.
He hastily replaced the sheet on the second and third bodies
and, frantically scanning the laboratory for hiding places,
quickly decided on one, leaping beneath an assortment of
sheet-covered tables and crawling back a bit.  To find him,
someone would have to get down on the floor and look under
the tables, right at him.  The heavy shadows beneath the
tables hid him from casual view from above.
  Two red-robed monks (or more correctly put, their feet,
for that was all he could see) entered the laboratory.
They set something heavy onto one of the tables, talking
amongst themselves all the while.

monk#1:  Hurry up - there are still a dozen left back there.
monk#2:  Hmm.  This is only a total of thirty or so.  Why
  not get all of the others, tonight?
monk#3:  Fool!  Question not the missives of His Majesty!
monk#1:  Wise advice.
monk#2:  I suppose they'll get around to bringing the rest
  down...eventually.
monk#3:  Tomorrow night, at the latest.

  The trio departed, shutting the door by which they had
come.  Only after he couldn't hear their receding footsteps
anymore did Belphanior creep out from his hiding place.

Belphanior:  (looking around, he locates the table that
  just got filled)  Hmm...(he lifts the sheet, revealing a
  sleeping warrior)  No tubes or vials...they must not have
  gotten to this guy yet.  What in the hell is going on
  here...?

  Before he could ponder these mysteries further, one of
the fellows on the tables bolted upright, looked right at
the elf, and began screaming.

fellow:  AAAAAAAAAAAAAA-  (stops, as Belphanior's hand
  covers his mouth)
Belphanior:  Shhh!
fellow:  (falls back down, unconscious)
Belphanior:  (looks around, worried)

  It was too late, though.  Footsteps could now be heard
from beyond the far door; Belphanior leaped back into his
hiding place beneath the tables.

red-robed monk:  (two of them enter, from the far door)
  What's going on?
second monk:  One of the subjects has been...disturbed.
  They never scream like that unless tampered with.

  They scurried around the room, checking the prone bodies
on the tables.  Then, they began checking _underneath_ the
tables...

red-robed monk #1:  (fails to notice as Belphanior appears
  behind him, sword raised)
Belphanior:  (makes a perfect backstab, sending the monk
  crumpling to the floor)
red-robed monk #2:  (whirls)  Who-  What is the meaning of
  this?!?
Belphanior:  (levels his sword-point in the fellow's
  general direction)  It means that, unless you tell me
  what the hell's going on here, you're dead too.
monk:  Never, heretic!  (he charges the elf, fists raised)

  Considering that he was empty-handed, facing a foe with
a sword and the skill to use it, the red-robed monk fared
pretty well...for about ten seconds.  Then Belphanior's
sword connected with his neck, ending the matter.

Belphanior:  Whew.  (he quickly considers his options, and
  puts the monks onto tables, covering them with sheets
  from the spare pile)  This sure would be easier if my
  well of many worlds worked...if there was no anti-magic
  zone.  (he almost steps in a pool of blood)  Shit, I'd
  better clean that up...

  Just then, there were more sounds - at least three or
four people were heading toward the room.

Belphanior:  Dammit...(he lets discretion get the better
  part of valor, and exits via the door he came in from)

  The sneaky elf returned to his room, as quickly and
directly as he could.  Fortunately, there were still no
patrolling guards in the stairway or quartering area, and
he made it back without incident.  He was considering
entering Rillen's room, to discuss his strange findings
with the warrior, but then, approaching footsteps ruled
out that possibility.  Belphanior closed his own door
and bolted it, just as a pair of red-robed monks strolled
down the hallway.

red-robed monks:  (walk by, looking for anyone out of
  place but suspecting nothing)  Hmm.  (they take up a
  post at the end of the hall, perhaps hoping to catch
  someone trying to return to their room)

  Apparently, an alarm had been triggered somehow, and
the risk of getting caught was now too great.  The elf
stayed in his room, climbing into bed after first checking
his clothes for stray blood.  He didn't get much sleep
that night, not just because of the commotion that overtook
the fortress for the next few hours, but also because his
curiosity was piqued.



  The next morning, there was some talk at the breakfast
tables about whatever it was that had happened, but none
of those in the tournament knew what was going on, and if
the red-robed monks knew, they weren't telling.  While
Belphanior wanted to tell Rillen and Otto what he had seen
in the laboratory, no opportune moment presented itself.
Before an hour had passed, Lao Khan called for the day's
matches to begin; soon, all remaining competitors and
spectators had gathered in the arena.

Lao Khan:  (to the crowd in general)  I am _very_ upset.
  One or more of you has dared to roam the fortress last
  night.  Two of my servants are dead, slain in cold
  blood.
crowd:  (gasps, in surprise more than shock)
Rillen:  (looking around, he realizes that Belphanior and
  Otto aren't in the arena)  Hmmmmm.

  Back in Belphanior's room, the elf was relating last
night's events to Otto.

Belphanior:  Tubes!  Of this stuff...(produces a vial of
  green fluid)
Otto:  (examines the vial)  Hmm.  Wonder what it is?
  Demon piss, maybe?
Belphanior:  Who knows?  If I had the use of my magic,
  we'd find out in no time at all...but I don't.
Otto:  That doesn't mean we can't find out now.
Belphanior:  Hmm...

  Within minutes, they had gathered their equipment and
weapons, and were making their way down to the laboratory
level.  The door was locked again, and Belphanior went to
work on it.

Otto:  Uh...
Belphanior:  Way ahead of you.  (he uses a lockpick to
  trip the poison needle that somehow got added since last
  night's commotion)  Lookee here...
Otto:  Clever, aren't they?
Belphanior:  Yup.

  They opened the door a bit, peeking into the lab.  A
gruesome sight awaited them, for the short body atop the
nearest table looked familiar...

Otto:  (points silently)
Belphanior:  (nods)

  Sure enough, it was none other than Snirpy.  He was now
unconscious on the table, and several tubes were running
into his body.  Several of the red-robed monks were standing
around him, apparently implementing whatever devilish scheme
was afoot.  The men seemed to be attaching some kind of
metallic plates to Snirpy's hands and feet.  Bloody skin
was strewn about like paper on a scribe's desk.

Otto:  (watches, repulsed)
Belphanior:  (watches, interested)
red-robed monk:  (walks up behind Belphanior and Otto)
  You!  What are you doing here?
Otto:  (whirls, tossing a dagger at the man's head)
red-robed monk:  Aargh...(falls, the dagger protruding from
  one eye)
red-robed monks in lab:  (turn in surprise)  Intruders!
Belphanior:  Uh-oh.  Looks like we're caught.  (he draws
  Blackrazor)
Otto:  Yup.  (he produces two more daggers)  These babies
  are poisoned...ought to help our cause a wee bit.

  The four monks charged toward them, but their attack
was impaired by the fact that they had to go through the
doorway to get at Belphanior and Otto.

Otto:  (moves to one side of the doorway)
monk #1:  (comes through the doorway, waving a short stick
  of wood)  Aaaaaaa-
Belphanior:  (parries the first attack easily)
Otto:  (trips the monk as he comes through the door)  Oh!
  Better watch it, there.  (he pounces atop the downed
  fellow, stabbing wildly)
Belphanior:  (simultaneously vaults over the dwarf and his
  victim, blocking the doorway)  C'mon, you!
monk #2:  (charges)  Yaaaaa-
Belphanior:  (stabs out with his sword, slashing the foe's
  arm)  Take that!
monk #2:  Aie!  (he backs up, then charges again)  Yaaaa-
Belphanior:  (parries the swinging staff attack, and cuts
  the monk's head off)  Whoa!  Some people never learn...
Otto:  (rises from the mutilated body of his downed foe,
  looks around, then hurls a dagger at one of the monks
  still remaining in the laboratory)
monk #3:  (dodges aside, but still gets nicked in the
  leg)  Hah!
Otto:  Think again.
monk #3:  (collapses from the poison)
Belphanior:  Wow, that's some pretty potent stuff you've
  got there.
Otto:  I don't work with cheap supplies.
Belphanior:  That's good.  (he leaps into the lab, facing
  the now-hesitant monk #4)  Shows a certain...love of the
  art.
Otto:  So I've been told.  (joins the elf, closing the door
  and flanking the last monk from one side)
monk #4:  I'll kill you!  (he charges)

  Before long, the final foe was slain.  However, some kind
of commotion had been stirred up, for numerous footsteps
and voices could be heard, approaching from both sides.

Belphanior:  Looks like we'll have to fight our way out.
Otto:  I can deal with that.  (he produces a flask of oil)



  Meanwhile, in the arena above, the tournament continued
along its gory way.  A number of the remaining thirty-two
competitors had been eliminated, including the tall amazon
(knocked out by Sonja, in a rare woman-against-woman bout)
and the muscular midget (eliminated by the skinny old man,
who was apparently a master of some highly defensive art.)
The huge, blubbery man (whose name was Sumoa) almost got
beaten in his first match of the day, but pulled a sneaky
trick at the last minute, and pinned his opponent to the
floor, crushing the life from him.  Still, Sumoa seemed
staggered, and fell quickly in his next match, before the
fury of Bruce.
  Lao Khan watched from above, smiling in approval at some
of the fancier or more violent warriors.  Before long, only
eight remained, each having triumphed over two opponents
today.  The name-board tender consulted with Lao Khan and
his bodyguards, and then hung the remaining names up in
four final pairings:

Rillen vs Bruce
Sonja vs Kubala
Norg vs Gornak
Kalu (hooded monk-type) vs Mirimoto (skinny old man)



Rillen:  (steps into the arena, facing Bruce)  I knew it
  would come to this eventually.
Bruce:  As did I.  You have fought with much honor.
Rillen:  And you as well.  (they bow to each other, and
  then begin circling, cautiously)

  Rillen launched the first attack, a flying frontal kick,
but Bruce sidestepped it, and chopped the bigger warrior in
the shoulder, knocking him back.  Rillen, though, managed
to roll with the blow, and block Bruce's following kick.
After that, a solid punch to the foe's stomach left him
coughing.  They backed off, eyeing one another warily.

Bruce:  You are indeed skilled.  However, you have too
  much muscle.  It hinders your flexibility.
Rillen:  Perhaps.  (he moves toward the other, slowly)



  Just then, the huge double doors to the arena swung open,
and Otto entered, driving back a red-robed monk with quick
swipes of his shortsword.  Even as they burst through the
door, the dwarf dispatched the guard, sending him to the
floor with a slashed throat.

crowd:  (gasps)
Lao Khan:  (stands up)  What is the meaning of this?!?
Otto:  (yelling)  We found your little laboratory, Lao!
  We saw what you were doing to these warriors, who fought
  in your tournament!
crowd:  (begins murmuring)
Lao Khan:  Nonsense!  (he motions to some of the nearby
  guards, who begin moving down the rows of seats)
Bruce:  (looks at Rillen with a confused expression)
Rillen:  (shrugs)
Belphanior:  (staggers into the room, a limp body across
  his shoulders)  You know damn well...here is the proof!
  (he drops the body, revealing Snirpy Snotnose's tube-
  filled, bloodily flayed form to the entire crowd)  Try
  and explain away THAT!
crowd:  (falls into a hushed, startled silence)

  All eyes were now on Lao Khan and Belphanior, whose
sword was pointed up at the island's ruler.

Belphanior:  What have you been up to, Lao Khan?  Using
  these warriors as stock for some kind of mind-control
  experiment?  Or perhaps an army of the living dead?
Lao Khan:  (his face contorts with rage)
Belphanior:  (he now addresses the crowd at large, which
  includes numerous warriors who have been knocked out of
  the tournament)  Anyone notice how some of the eliminated
  fighters have simply disappeared?
spectator in crowd:  What is the meaning of this?!
other spectators:  (begin murmuring angrily)
tall warrior:  (one of those who was beaten earlier today)
  Aye!  I can count at least _three_ whom I know of, who
  are all missing now!
Lao Khan:  (trembling now, such is his anger)
Belphanior:  I bet that, if you looked in the laboratories
  downstairs, you'd find the missing warriors...isn't that
  right, Lao?
crowd:  (mills restlessly)
random warrior in crowd:  He's right!  (to Lao Khan)  How
  about an explanation?  If you're not guilty of these
  deeds, say so!
Lao Khan:  (sighs)  So much for the best-laid plans of mice
  and men...I suppose I'll just have to do this the hard
  way.  (he snaps his fingers)

  To the Khan's side moved his various retainers:  the gong-
banger, with his oversized hammer; one bodyguard, who wore
a strange pointed hat; the other bodyguard, who wielded twin
whips; last but not least, a towering armored warrior, who
bore a huge pike (he was almost identical to the one Rillen
had fought in the ancient temple)  Worse, all exits from the
arena were now blocked, as scores of Lao Khan's red-robed
monks approached, various staves, swords, and the like at
the ready.

Lao Khan:  (now speaking in a thunderous near-yell)  I am
  building a mighty army.  Any of you who join me now will
  reap great rewards later, I swear it by my ancestors!

  Many of the competitors, both those who were still in
the tournament (or had been, before this chaos broke out)
and those who had been defeated, considered this offer.

Bruce:  (spits in Lao Khan's general direction)  You have
  offended our honor here today!  I shall kill you myself!
Rillen:  And if he doesn't, I will.
Sonja:  (to Rillen and Bruce)  Count me in.
Gornak:  (looks around with his two heads, licking his
  lips and waiting for the battle to begin)
Kubala:  (likewise)
Kalu:  (speaking in a whisper)  This is bad.
Mirimoto:  (wondering what the man is talking about)
tall amazon:  I say, DEATH to Lao Khan and all his minions!
Belphanior:  Now you're talking!  (he charges the nearest
  red-robed monk)

  With that, total carnage broke out.  Most of the warriors
fought Lao Khan's troops; a few, such as Kubala and Gornak,
chose to side with the evil one, attacking the nearest
warriors with great fury.  Then there were those who just
didn't seem to care...

Norg:  (goes berserk, grabbing a red-robed monk and a small
  warrior and smashing them together)  Graaar!

  As for the audience, those who were of a mind to fight
did so; others simply tried to flee, or cowered in their
seats.  Lao Khan's men cut down some of the more helpless
ones who were attempting to flee, but then, the mass of
warriors was upon them.  Any observer would have only been
able to catch glimpses of individual combatants...

Bruce:  (kicks out in a circle, driving back an entire ring
  of Lao Khan's attacking troops)  Waugh!
Rillen:  (elbows a monk in the face, dropping him instantly)
Kubala:  (rips some martial artist's arm off)  Grrraaargh!
Kalu:  (produces a long, straight sword from somewhere and
  begins hacking away at red-robed foes)
tall amazon:  (bashes a monk in the face with her knee)
  Yaaaaah!
Mirimoto:  (dodges an attacker's charge, pivots, and hurls
  the fellow into the wall twenty feet away)
Kubala:  (shreds a skinny warrior with his claws)  Sss...
Sonja:  (leaps up, kicking out to right and left via a
  split)
red-robed monks:  (both of them are knocked back)
Rillen:  Ow...that hurts just to _look_ at.
Sonja:  (grins)

  And so it went.  While all of this was taking place, Lao
Khan attempted to make his escape from the balcony above.
He was stopped by a group of tournament warriors who had
made their way up to that level via some staircase.

tall warrior:  I believe we owe you one...
other warrior:  (cracks his knuckles)  Yeah.
Lao Khan:  Fools!  (to his henchmen)  Get them!
gong-banger:  (swings his hammer)
whip-wielder:  (cracks his twin whips)
pointy-hat:  (gazes serenely upon the foes)
huge armored warrior:  (moves in, pike raised)

  Battle broke out everywhere.  Belphanior and Otto were
in the forefront of it, to be sure...

Belphanior:  (cuts down a monk)  I want Lao Khan himself!
Otto:  (points to the balcony)  Then we need to get up
  there!  (he dodges a sword-swing, and stabs that foe in
  the leg)
Belphanior:  Hmm.  (he begins attempting to make his way
  to the arena's exit, followed by Otto)
Otto:  (stabs the leg-wounded monk again, for good measure)

  Despite the sheer number of the Khan's troops, the side
of the warriors had the edge in skill, and it wasn't long
before the tide of battle had turned in their favor.

Bruce:  (dispatches yet another of Lao's monks)  Amateurs.
Rillen:  (takes a staff blow on the shoulder, then whips
  out a fist, knocking the opponent back)  Hai!
Gornak:  (pulverizes a female warrior)  Graaaar!
tall amazon:  Hey, four-lips!  (she punches the two-headed
  creature in one face)
Gornak:  (recoils)  Argh!  (he slices out with his claws,
  wounding the amazon)
tall amazon:  Ugh...(falls to the ground)
Gornak:  (advances)  Heh heh.
Sonja:  (interposes herself)  Enough.
Gornak:  Bah.
Kalu:  (moves to Sonja's side)  She will not be fighting
  alone, abomination.
Gornak:  Yargh!  (charges)
Sonja:  (ducks the thing's sweeping hands, and plants a
  firm kick in its gut)  Heeyah!
Kalu:  (simultaneously lops off one of the creature's arms
  with his sword)
Gornak:  (falls, bleeding green blood profusely)

Kubala:  (faces off against the old man, Mirimoto)  Sss...
  (he charges, claws slashing)
Mirimoto:  Whoa there, savage one.  (sidesteps the attack,
  grabs the man's neck, and applies pressure to an unseen
  point)
Kubala:  Yaaaaargh!  (he writhes in agony, collapsing to
  the floor)

Norg:  (goes down under about a dozen red-robed monks)

Rillen:  (resting for a brief moment)  We're winning!
Bruce:  Yes.  (he glances up at Lao Khan's balcony)

Though his bodyguards were keeping the rabble from him,
Lao saw that the main battle wasn't going well for his
forces.

Lao:  These warriors are better than I could have ever hoped
  for.  If they will not join me of their own will, then I
  shall take it from them!  (he pops open a secret panel in
  the wall nearby, and pulls a lever)



  Somewhere high above, atop the tallest spire in the whole
fortress, a softly glowing black sphere sunk down, into the
stone of the tower.  More specifically, it retreated into a
special cavity fashioned of a lead and gold alloy.  As the
cavity closed, the black ball's mysterious radiations were
blocked, across the island...

Belphanior:  (amidst battle)  WHOA!
Otto:  What?!?
Belphanior:  Magic has returned!  (he rips off his eyepatch
  and celebrates his realization by cleaving a foe's head
  in two)  Yes!
Otto:  (musing as they fight)  But if we got it back...that
  means that Lao...

  On the balcony above, Lao was even now casting some spell,
his hands glowing in a red nimbus.  His bodyguards kept the
warriors at bay while the Khan worked.  The one with the
pointy hat became covered with tiny arcs of electricity,
while the other's whips now snaked and writhed, apparently
of their own free will.  The former turned to the crowd,
sending bolts of lightning that way and crisping friend and
foe alike.  The latter used his whips to choke two separate
warriors, laughing all the while.  Lao Khan himself now
paraded around in glee, obviously happy with his decision
to re-activate magic on the island.

Lao Khan:  (looks down to the arena below, with an evil
  grin, and a green nimbus appears around his hands)  I
  must possess them all!
Rillen:  (now on the balcony)  I don't think so.  (he hurls
  one of the bodyguard's chairs at Lao, smashing his hands
  and ruining his spell)
Lao Khan:  Argh!  HOW?!?
Rillen:  I climbed.  And you're finished.
bodyguards:  (move in)
Bruce:  (climbs over the rail)  I'll handle them.
Rillen:  Alone?
Belphanior:  (floats up to the balcony level)  No.

whip-wielder:  Die!  (he lashes at Bruce with his dual
  weapons)
Bruce:  (snagged by one whip, he catches the other)  Argh!
  (the whips come to life, crushing him)
Otto:  (appears from nowhere, and stabs the foe in the back)
  Hah!
whip-wielder:  Argh!  (he spasms about)
Bruce:  (to Otto)  My thanks, small friend.  I was about to
  deal with him, though.
Otto:  Ah, a little help never hurts.
Bruce:  (turns, as the big armored warrior lumbers forth
  ominously)
Otto:  Then again...

Belphanior:  (having landed, he now stalks pointy-hat)
  Time to die...(he swings Blackrazor overhead)
pointy-hat:  (arcs of electricity shoot forth from his
  hands, blasting Belphanior and knocking the sword from
  his grasp)
Belphanior:  Argh!  (he hovers near consciousness)
pointy-hat:  (sheathed in crackling arcs of electricity, he
  prepares to punch him with one lightning-powered fist)
Belphanior:  No...(his red eye glows brightly)
pointy-hat:  (suddenly implodes, as his bones and cartilage
  turn to jelly)  EYAAAAGH!
Belphanior:  (drops down, and gropes around until he finds
  Blackrazor)  Argh...(he stands, and begins hacking at the
  strangely contorted, spark-covered body)

  The pointy-hat's wearer perished messily, spilling tiny
blue sparks instead of blood.  The raw power of the victim's
soul knocked Belphanior back against a wall, hard enough to
stun him.

Belphanior:  Whoaaaa...

  Meanwhile, Rillen and Lao Khan had begun circling one
another.  If Lao tried to cast a spell, Rillen would surely
charge in and attack, catching the sorceror off-guard and
ruining his incantation.  Thus, Lao was forced to resort to
physical means to defend himself.

Lao Khan:  Bah.  I have extensive knowledge of the martial
  arts...enough, certainly, to crush a fool such as you.
Rillen:  We'll see.  (they charge each other)

  On another front, Bruce was dodging powerful blows from
the giant armored warrior.  Each missed punch smashed a new
hole in a wall or floor.

Otto:  (stabs the warrior in the calf)  Hah!
armored warrior:  (kicks the dwarf, knocking him aside)
Otto:  Argh...(he rolls around on the balcony floor, stunned)
Bruce:  (leaps toward the foe)  Hi-
armored warrior:  (just stands there)
Bruce:  -YAAAH!!!  (his kick hits the foe squarely in the
  chest)
armored warrior:  (recoils, a large dent/fissure in its
  chestplate)  ?
Bruce:  (his fist trembling, he looses a lightning-fast
  short-range punch to the foe's head)  FAI!
armored warrior:  <CRACK>

  The opponent staggered back, its head dangling loosely,
and then collapsed, falling to the floor.

Otto:  (jarred back to full consciousness by the impact)
  Uh...
Bruce:  (helps the dwarf to his feet)
Belphanior:  Nice punch.
Bruce:  Who are you?
Otto:  We're some of Rillen's friends.
Bruce:  (nodding smartly)  I see.
Belphanior:  Hey, where did Ril-  (he turns)

  Rillen and Lao were engaged in mortal combat, so to speak.
They now traded blows and blocks with lightning-fast speed,
cursing at each other all the while.

Rillen:  You must pay for what you've done!  (spins a side
  kick at the man's head)
Lao Khan:  (blocks the kick, and flips Rillen's foot away)
  Silence, fool!
Rillen:  (bounces to his feet)  Hai!  (he launches a flurry
  of punches at his foe)
Lao:  Ugh!  Agh!  (recoils before the flurry of punches)
Otto:  (on the sidelines with the others)  Maybe we should
  help him.
Belphanior:  No, I don't think he'd like that.
Bruce:  No.  This is Rillen's fight now.

  Meanwhile, the crowd-fight below was wrapping up.  Norg,
Kubala, and Gornak, along with most of the hostiles, were
history; the red-robed monks were all unconscious or dead;
Lao Khan's personal bodyguards were all defeated.  Still,
the final victory was far from assured...

Lao:  (punches Rillen, with a crimson-glowing fist)  Die!
Rillen:  (leaps aside, as the fist smashes into a wall,
  creating a small crater)
Otto:  Yow.
Lao:  Die, die, die!  (he swings the other fist, which also
  glows now)  Die-
Rillen:  (grabs the Khan's fist, holding it mere inches
  from his face)  Ungh...
Lao Khan:  Argh!
Rillen:  (crushes the man's wrist in his fist, grinning)
  Hii-
Lao Khan:  (looks around frantically, trying to break free)
Rillen:  -yaaaaAAAH!!!  (he kicks the foe in the stomach,
  which hurts even more since Lao is held in place by the
  wrist)
Lao Khan:  Argh!  (he punches Rillen in the face, breaking
  free at last)  Damn you!  (he backs up, nursing his
  smashed wrist)

  Suddenly, there were not one, but _six_ Lao Khans!

Rillen:  Waugh?
Lao Khans:  Hah, hah, hah!
Rillen:  (closes his eyes, and concentrates)
Lao Khans:  (encircle Rillen)  The time has come for the
  "fist of oblivion"...hah, hah, hah-
Rillen:  (strikes out with a knife-hand strike, hitting a
  Lao Khan in the neck)  Hai!
Lao Khans:  (all but one of them disappear)
Rillen:  (opens his eyes, and advances on the staggering
  Lao Khan who remains)
Lao Khan:  But...how?!?
Rillen:  Discipline, hard work....things I'm not sure you
  understand anymore, if you ever did.  (he picks up Lao
  Khan, by his shirt, and hoists the fellow into the air)
Otto:  Damn, that boy's _strong_.
Bruce:  He has much power.
Lao Khan:  (looking decidedly dilapidated now)  Urgh...
Rillen:  (unleashes a flurry of fast punches to the foe's
  gut, chest, and head)  Ayayayayaya!

  Moments later, Rillen tossed Lao Khan's battered and
bloody form to the ground, with disgust.

Rillen:  Whew.  He shouldn't be bothering anyone again.
  Ever.
Bruce:  (musing)  A major blight on the face of the world
  has been purged.
Belphanior:  Uh...

  On the floor, Lao Khan stirred, his eyes glowing with
a purplish-blue energy...

Lao Khan:  (staggers to his feet)  I'll kill you ALL...!
Rillen:  (leaps through the air toward the Khan, one foot
  leading the way)  No!

  The big warrior's foot connected with Lao's head, and
there was a sharp CRACK.

Lao Khan:  (falls to the ground, unmoving)
Otto:  (thinks about whether they should cut his head off
  and burn it, or something along those lines)
Bruce:  (checks for a pulse)  This time he's really dead.
Rillen:  About time.  (he picks up the body, raises it
  above his head, walks to the balcony, and hurls it to
  the arena floor below)  Ahh.

  The body landed with a wet crunching sound, and people
quickly backed away from it.

Otto:  Good riddance.
Mirimoto:  Yes.
Sonja:  He sure was a devilish bastard, though.
Lao Khan:  (on the floor below, his body dissolves into
  dust)
Rillen:  Another one bites the dust.
Bruce:  (regards the warrior quizzically)

  They surveyed the carnage, the scores of bodies, the
battle-torn arena of the usurped Khan.

Bruce:  Whew.
Kalu:  (sheathes his sword)  A good fight.
Mirimoto:  Indeed.
Sonja:  But what about the tournament?  Who will be the
  winner this year?
Rillen:  (looks around)  I think we're all the winners.





next time :  Ged's wild plan (aka Mr. Ged's wild ride)

notes     :  This episode ended up being much longer than
  I had anticipated.  At 55.2 Kb, this episode moves into
  the all-time second-place slot, behind only 175.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++




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