Chapter #283

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                                +   +
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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.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1995 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                    +
+                          +
+  Rillen       17th level human warrior                      (N)   +
+  Date:        3/5/575 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        morning                                             +
+  Place:       near the peak of the Dark Mountain                  +
+  Climate:     cold                                                +
+  "He's a killer who doesn't kill...murder's only killing          +
+   without a license.  Everybody kills."                           +
+                             - Arthur Bishop, from _The Mechanic_  +

              CCLXXXIII.  The Secret of Dark Mountain

  Rillen's quest for revenge is almost complete, for he now nears
the summit of the mysterious and foreboding Dark Mountain....

Rillen:  (walking along an old footpath, which may or may not have
  seen recent use)  Hmm.  (he stops, spotting another severed head
  mounted atop a pole)

  This one was much like the last:  bloody, decayed, and gruesome.
Resolutely, the warrior barely gave it a second glance as he forged
onward and upward.

  Only moments later, Rillen stopped, warned perhaps by some sixth
sense.  Staff in hand, he slowly turned, scanning the surrounding
forest for...who knew what?

Rillen:  (knuckles white on his staff, he sets his jaw)

  Without warning, a figure, clad entirely in black, dropped from a
nearby tree, landing next to Rillen without a sound.  Of average
height, for a human, the figure bore a long, straight sword, which
whistled from its sheath in one fluid motion.  Rillen was immediately
reminded of his counterpart on the alternate Oerth, except that this
fellow before him clearly intended to attack and slay him.
  Rillen of course wanted no part of that, so he began twirling his
staff, slowly, as he backed up.  The black-clad one moved silently
closer, its sword poised to strike...and then, with a lightning-fast
swing of the sword, the battle had begun!  Rillen blocked the blade
with his staff, causing the attacker to pause for an instant, as if
surprised.  Rillen's staff was, of course, highly magical, and could
not be cut by any normal sword, perhaps not even by a magical one.
The delay was only momentary, though, and the foe began to press him,
the razor-sharp sword gleaming as it missed Rillen by inches, again
and again.  Then, suddenly, Rillen was hit, a wide slice in his
stomach; had the foe's sword cut mere inches deeper, the warrior's
guts would be decorating the ground!
  There was no doubt about it - this attacker meant business, and
was an experienced swordsman.  Rillen decided to try and end the
fight as quickly as possible, before he was gutted or decapitated.
Blocking one sword-stroke, and then another, he pushed the foe's
blade away and then poked his staff outward, toward the swordsman's
stomach.  The fellow grunted in pain, and staggered back; he had
clearly not been expecting a strike of such speed and power.  As
sword met staff again, Rillen flipped one end of his weapon around,
catching his opponent in the face.
  Falling to his knees, the foe quickly did a reverse jump and flip,
landing on his feet within moments.  His sword flashed as he moved
in for another attack - but Rillen also closed, staff twirling in
wide arcs.  The big warrior's staff was the longer weapon, and so
he was able to strike before the deadly sword neared his body.  One
blunt end of the staff hit the foe in the nose - a perfect strike
which drove the black-clad swordsman's nose directly into his brain,
killing him instantly.  The slain foe crumpled to the ground, and
Rillen rested for a moment, leaning on his staff as he eyed the
  Presently, he kneeled next to the corpse, reaching for its mask
to see for sure what the foe looked like.  Just then, however, the
body began hissing, and a thin mist escaped from the seams of the
black suit.  As this happened, the suit began to crumple, as if the
body within was vanishing.  Indeed, scant moments later, all that
remained of the slain foe was his black suit, and that, too, began
to disintegrate, dissolving into a fine black mist.  This vapor had
dissipated into the air before Rillen had time to comprehend what
was happening.

Rillen:  (frowns as he pokes at the area where the body was just
  lying)  That's odd.  (he finds a wide sash of cloth with which to
  bind his stomach wound, and begins doing so)

  Were the foes he now faced more than human?  Or less?  There was
only one way to find out, and Rillen continued climbing the mild
slope as he headed for the mountaintop.  From here on out, he took
care to tread silently and stick to the shadows; although no thief,
he was not unskilled in certain of their arts.  A short time later,
Rillen neared a clearing ahead; it was surrounded by a palisade of
thick, sharp logs.  He estimated the barrier's height at about ten
feet, and each log was almost a foot thick.  The wall was perhaps
two hundred feet away when Rillen suddenly found himself facing two
more of the black-garbed foes, who had appeared from nowhere!  One
of the new arrivals wielded a sword, but the other bore some strange
weapon, a short rod and scythe at the end of a black rope.  This odd
but lethal-looking weapon swung in arcs, in the air before its user.
  Rillen could leave nothing to chance, and so he concentrated more
this time.  The foes moved in, one on either side, but Rillen stood
his ground.  When the simultaneous attacks came, the big warrior
leaped upward, parrying both weapons with his staff and then kicking
to both sides.  This trick worked halfway, for while one foe dodged
Rillen's booted foot, the other was struck in the head, and fell,
stunned.  Rillen landed, then charged, staff before him, taking the
fight to the black-clad foe.  The man's rope-blade flashed as he
tried to cleave Rillen in two, but the big warrior was too quick,
and he batted aside the odd weapon's blade, hitting the opponent
squarely in the chest with his staff.  The attacker backed up a few
steps...and Rillen ducked as he heard something behind him!  The
other foe's sword whistled by overhead, missing Rillen's head by
several feet.  The warrior quickly turned, toppling the attacker
with a foot sweep.  Wasting no time, for he was beginning to see
how these black-clad ones fought, Rillen leaped far to one side,
avoiding another weapon-swipe from the first attacker.  Well,
almost - the foe's razor-sharp blade had opened a shallow gash
along his leg.  The rope-knife's return swing caught Rillen in his
right arm, another shallow cut which nonetheless weakened the big
warrior that much more.
  Both attackers now stood, facing him once more.  Rillen realized
that unless he did something quickly, the pair would wear him down
until he made one mistake, and then...
  Leaping forth before the foes could split and attack as before,
Rillen struck at both simultaneously.  One ducked, but the other
was clipped in the shoulder, almost falling.  Rillen reversed his
staff and struck this foe in the neck, crushing his windpipe and
voicebox.  The man fell, clutching his throat and gurgling - the
first sound Rillen had heard any of these black-garbed foes make.
Blocking the other's sword strike, the warrior used his long staff
to strike at his opponent whenever an opening presented itself.
Granted, there weren't many, but he did get in a couple of good
blows, in the process suffering another cut, this one on his right
arm.  However, his next staff-strike hit the foe in one hand, and
Rillen heard bones crunch.  The man was still holding his sword,
amazingly, so Rillen disarmed him with another blow, then delivered
a kick that snapped the attacker's neck.
  Turning to the other one, he saw that this foe had gotten to his
feet - but shakily, for he was clearly still wounded.  Rillen opted
to strike while the striking was good, and bashed the man in the
head, specifically the temple.  The foe dropped like a rock, and
Rillen heard a hiss from behind him; turning, he saw that the first
foe he had slain was now disintegrating.  Within moments, the other
one was, too, leaving the tired and bleeding warrior alone at the
edge of the clearing.

  Hastily binding his wounds, Rillen crept toward the log palisade,
taking care to watch for any other foes.  None presented themselves,
though, and so he leaped upward, grabbing the cone of one log right
below the sharpened point.  Hoisting himself up, he beheld a strange
and impressive scene.
  Within the palisade was an open area, about two hundred feet in
diameter.  Built into this, against the inside of the wooden wall,
were small huts and buildings.  At the center of the open area was
some kind of arena, perhaps thirty feet in diameter.  It was bounded
by several tall, thin wooden posts, each of which bore a standard
at its top - the same symbol that Rillen's medallion bore!
  Brow furrowing in anger, the warrior scanned the complex to see
what else he could see.  There were a lot of training aids, mostly
similar to those Rillen had used in the old monastery.  This implied
some sort of martial artistry, and based on Rillen's previous fights
with the black-clad ones, it was a strange, but effective one.  But
were those black-clad swordsmen the keepers of this place, he asked
himself?  A moment later, he had his answer, for black-clad figures
began emerging from the huts, buildings, and even the shadows within
the palisade.  They congregated in the center, around the arena-type
place; he counted two dozen of them.  They began chanting, a strange
cacophony in some weird language...
  Rillen had had enough.  He normally wouldn't judge these people
before trying to talk with them, despite the evidence, but three of
them had attacked him.  There was no chance of him surviving a fight
against two dozen, either.  Thus, he improvised.

Rillen:  (grabs his horn of Valhalla, eyes the black-clad ones
  within the complex, then winds the horn)

  Those gathered about the arena instantly turned, but by then, a
band of seven hulking warriors had appeared on the inside of the
palisade.  These men frothed at the lips, such was their battle
rage, and all Rillen had to do was point.  The berserkers charged
toward the black-clad ones, hurling spears and then swinging huge
battleaxes as they roared with anticipation.
  Rillen was hardly done, though.  He put the horn away and took
the blue crystal pyramid, holding it up to his face, where he could
see the tiny flames dancing within.

Rillen:  The time has come.  (he hurls the pyramid to the earthen
  floor within the palisade, where it shatters quietly)  Eh?

  Suddenly, there was a tremor, and from the shards of the broken
pyramid rose a dancing flame, which grew larger and larger until it
stood fully fifteen feet tall.  The thing had no definite shape, but
it did resemble the elementals that Rillen had seen Ged and some of
the others call forth in the past.  To be sure, though, this one was
much larger and more ominous, and its heat singed Rillen, forcing him
to back away, covering his face.

fire elemental king:  (speaking in a high-pitched, yet regal voice)
  I am FREE!  (to Rillen)  Thou...Thou hast freed me...
Rillen:  I have.
fire elemental king:  What is thy wish?
Rillen:  Yonder lie black-clad foes, even now fighting my warriors
  there.  The black-garbed ones must die - every last one of them.
  Then burn this entire place - raze it to the ground.
fire elemental king:  That is all thou dost wish of me?
Rillen:  (as an afterthought)  The forest around us must not burn.
fire elemental king:  Mortal, thy bidding shalt be done.  Stand back.
  (it begins moving toward the center of the palisade, toward the
  arena and the battle in progress there)

  Actually, there wasn't much of a battle, for the black-garbed ones
had proven to be deadly from a distance as well as up close.  They
had mostly avoided the berserkers' hurled spears, only one black-
clad fellow going down in that hail of missiles.  They had responded
by hurling small, razor-sharp discs of metal, dropping several of
the berserkers before they could close to melee.  Those Valhallans
who remained finally engaged the foes, but were badly outnumbered,
fairly outskilled, and summarily slaughtered.
  That was when the fire elemental king arrived on the scene.  It
reared to its full height, looming over the black-garbed ones, and
a blazing wall of flames grew outward from it, to left and right,
quickly ringing the foes within a deadly miniature palisade of fire.
The fire-lord then began to rain white-hot flames upon the trapped
ones; the black-clad ones died without screaming, a concept which
unnerved Rillen.
  It didn't unnerve him totally, though, for as he spotted one of
the dark ones outside the ring of fire, he loosed an arrow, piercing
the man's neck and dropping him like a sack of grain.  Rillen had
figured that one or two of the strange foes might be out and about,
thus escaping the deadly flames.  After all, there had been two foes
on guard duty, apparently, outside the complex.  Another of the men
leaped from the fire-ring, blazing brightly in the cold winter air.
Rillen dropped him within moments, though it took two arrows.  There
was no sure reckoning with one who was burning alive.
  By the time the fire elemental king had incinerated all the foes
within the arena, Rillen had slain two more with his bow.  One had
been able to dodge his first arrow - another seeming impossibility
that shocked the big warrior - but a second arrow found its mark in
the foe's head, and that was that.

  Rillen watched, awestruck, as the monstrous elemental roamed the
complex within the wooden wall; everywhere it went, buildings and
huts burst into flame.  It wasn't long at all before the entire
place was ablaze, and the warrior was forced to back away, more
than fifty feet from the palisade.  The flames burned much hotter
and faster than normal fire, and it had barely seemed like moments
before the place was a large, perfectly round circle of smoldering
ash and soot.  The fire elemental king sailed toward Rillen.

fire elemental king:  Thy task is done.
Rillen:  My thanks, great one.
fire elemental king:  I shalt now depart.  (it vanishes, leaving
  a small cloud of smoke and a stench of brimstone)
Rillen:  (slumps to the ground, exhausted)

  Several days later, Rillen emerged from the wooded slopes of Dark
Mountain, entering the village at the peak's base.  He sought out
the stableboy whom he had left his horse with, just to let the lad
know that a silver coin was his if he had the mount ready to go by
dawn the next morning.  Rillen then went to an inn, the village's
only inn.  It wasn't much of a place, but the beds were warm and the
fires high.  He paid for a night's lodging and a supper, ate the
latter, then retired to enjoy the former.
  The next day, Rillen rode out of town, passing the old shepherd
at the outskirts of the village.

shepherd:  Ho, there, young fellow.  (he squints, then looks shocked)
  You came back?!?
Rillen:  That I did.
shepherd:  But...the dangers of Dark Mountain...
Rillen:  I suspect that they won't be bothering anyone again.  (he
  mumbles something else, under his breath)
shepherd:  Eh?  What was that?  You'll have to speak up, sonny, for
  my ears aren't what they used to be.
Rillen:  I said, my nightmares are over, too.

next:   we rotate on to see what someone else is up to
ftp: in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
notes:  The idea of ninjas who dissolve when killed came from the
  great writer and artist Frank Miller, in the classic _Wolverine_
  limited series of the early 1980s.  I don't know if I ever told
  you, but I have almost three thousand comics, valued at about
  twenty thousand dollars.
    I know you're probably wondering who the black-clad ones were,
  and why they massacred the monastery.  It's a mystery, isn't it?
  Mysteries are good.

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