Chapter #325

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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 1991-6 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 (more accurately, those who haven't been kidnapped):   +
+                                                                   +
+  Bosco         10th level halfling thief                     (CN) +
+  Gorin          8th level dwarven fighter                    (CG) +
+  Nenya          8th/9th level elven fighter/mage             (NG) +
+  Otto           6th/8th level dwarven fighter/thief          (CN) +
+  Tanya          5th/11th level human female fighter/thief     (N) +
+                                                                   +
+  SPECIAL GUEST STARS:                                             +
+                                                                   +
+  Drawmij       16th level human mage                          (N) +
+  Halbarad      13th level human ranger                       (NG) +
+  Peyote        11th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid       (N) +
+  Rob           15th level human priest                       (LG) +
+  Yod Ironbeard 19th level dwarven fighter and king           (CG) +
+     the earth elemental king                                  (N) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        6/10/575 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        late afternoon                                      +
+  Place:       a fortress on an island amidst the Azure Sea        +
+  Climate:     mild                                                +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "Is there gonna be a fight?"                                     +
+  "I think there must be."                                         +
+                                             - from _Wyatt Earp_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





             CCCXXV.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly





  With the aid of the earth elemental king which Yod summoned, the
party has entered the mountain fortress of the evil ones, and split
into two smaller groups to facilitate the search for their missing
companions.  Even now, one band ascends the stairs at the end of
the passage they chose...

Bosco:  (slinks up the steps, silently)
Yod:  (heading up the others, he grips his axe tightly, ready for
  any fight that might come along)
Rob:  (making hand motions to Tanya, who doesn't understand what
  he's trying to say)
Tanya:  (makes a confused face)
Nenya:  (thinking about defensive spells she could cast)

  The earth elemental king was nearby...somewhere.  Its ability to
merge with the stone of the fortress, and move through it undetected,
was uncanny.  The important thing, thought the others, was that the
mighty elemental was there if needed.  Shortly, Bosco returned from
his scouting, frowning.

Bosco:  There's an empty hall ahead.  Several exits, no guards.
Yod:  Hmm.  That's strange.
Rob:  Too many directions to go...
Tanya:  We'll just have to keep moving upward, and hope we find our
  missing friends.
Nenya:  (spellcasting)
Bosco:  What're you up to?
Nenya:  Basic defensive enchantment.
Yod:  C'mon, let's get going.  We may have hours ahead of us, yet.

  With that, they moved up into the hall.  Choosing one exit, they
marched through a narrow hallway, which took several sharp turns...
and they found themselves back in the main hall once more!

Bosco:  Odd.  (he leads them into another exit)

  This hallway wound around, meeting several others; the whole thing
seemed like an elaborate maze.  This time, they didn't return to the
main hall, but rather found the way blocked by a gigantic, ten-foot
high door of iron-banded oak.

Yod:  Ah.  Now we're getting somewhere.
Rob:  Why's that?
Tanya:  Because people only use doors like this to keep other people
  out.
Yod:  (nods)
Bosco:  Well...(he goes to work on the lock)
Nenya:  Why not use a spell to-
Bosco:  (pushes the now-unlocked door open)  No need.

  They entered another hallway, this one with roughly-hewn, ten-by-
ten foot corridors.  They chose one, but after several twists and
turns they realized that they were lost - this _was_ a maze.  They
had stopped at a four-way intersection of passages, to get their
bearings.

Yod:  I don't like this, not one bit.
Bosco:  (digging in his pack)  Now where'd I put that chalk?
Tanya:  Never mind that.
Bosco:  Why not?
Tanya:  Because we've got company!

  Indeed, the group was now surrounded by a pack of huge, muscular
monsters, dark-furred humanoids with the heads of bulls - minotaurs!
Taking full advantage of the surprise, for they had seemed to appear
from nowhere, the monstrous foes charged in, great axes swinging in
deadly arcs!

Yod:  Back!  (he hurls his own axe, point-blank, shattering the thick
  handle of the nearest minotaur's axe and chopping the thing in its
  hairy chest)
minotaur#1:  Aargh!  (it recoils, and its fellows charge past it)
Tanya:  (dashes toward a minotaur, sword flashing)

  The red-haired warrior-woman's enchanted boots carried her along
much faster than the minotaur expected, for at the last minute, she
dodged to one side, avoiding the sweep of the foe's huge axe as she
sliced a bloody furrow along its back.  Next to her, Rob had stepped
bravely forth, though his mace rested at his side.  Overconfident, a
minotaur charged the priest - only to find its feet sinking into the
very stone of the floor itself!  Surprised, the monster dropped its
great axe, and was unprepared when Rob, mace in hand, bashed it in
the head.  The minotaur reeled, bleeding, stunned, and trapped from
the waist down.  The priest, apparently satisfied with his handiwork,
moved on, mace glowing in the dim passage.
  Meanwhile, Yod's axe had ripped itself free of the minotaur's
chest and returned to its wielder's hand, leaving the direly wounded
foe on the floor, gasping for its last breaths.  By this time,
another of the towering humanoids had moved in; Yod barely ducked
under another blow, but the minotaur's backhand swipe caught him in
the side.  His mighty plate mail held, though a large bruise would
greet him later, if he survived.  Enraged, the dwarven king punched
the foe in the knee; bolstered by a powerful magical girdle, the
dwarf's gauntleted blow shattered the humanoid's knee as if it were
an egg, and the minotaur fell to the ground, screaming in pain.
Another minotaur, however, had snuck in, and now raised its axe,
intending to chop the troublesome dwarf in half.
  The terrible blow never fell, though, for the sharp blade of a
certain halfling's shortsword sliced cleanly through the minotaur's
ankle, toppling it to the floor.  Bosco quickly sprang out of the
way, avoiding both the falling minotaur and the terrible spray of
blood as he scanned the battle for other unsuspecting foes.
  There still remained two minotaurs who had not yet engaged the
adventurers, but even as these moved in, each was suddenly seized
by a gigantic hand of solid stone.  Hacking futilely at the rocky
paws of the elemental king, the minotaurs gasped for breath as the
powerful hands pulled them down, into the stone of the floor itself.
The elemental had no trouble merging back into the floor, of course,
but the minotaurs were caught between a rock and a hard place, and
moments later, the two humanoids were little more than bloody smears
on the floor.
  Tanya shrugged off a shallow slice along her arm, and slashed at
her foe, scoring a wound on its axe arm.  Next to her, Rob took a
hit on his shield, and another on his arm, before successfully
striking a minotaur in the side.  His mace flashed as it hit, and
the monster staggered, obviously stunned.  As a third foe menaced
Bosco, who had somehow allowed himself to be backed against a wall,
Nenya struck, her powerfully enchanted sword severing the monster's
arm at the elbow.  The thing staggered about, shrieking in agony,
and Bosco took full advantage of the back that suddenly faced him.
The halfling's sword hit the minotaur's spine, nearly at its lower
end, but a spine was a spine, and the monster went down, twitching.
A single blow from Nenya ended its suffering, and both companions
moved to assist their comrades.
  To be sure, little assistance was necessary at this point, for
the hardy adventurers had slain all their foes.  Several of them
were injured:  Rob, Tanya, and Yod all had minor wounds.  Even the
mighty elemental king was missing a few chips of stone from his
huge body, though he was able to regenerate his superficial wounds
in moments, drawing strength from the rock of the floor.

Yod:  Good fight!
Bosco:  Yeah.  Bosco...minotaur's bane!
Tanya:  (groans)
Nenya:  Are you okay?
Tanya:  I'm fine...it's just Bosco's insanity.
Bosco:  Insane?  Me?
Rob:  This is no time for insanity.  We've got to go on - this fight
  may have been heard by others, and we don't need to be fighting
  constantly as we go.  (he frowns)  Well, at least I don't.
Yod:  Aye.  (he turns to the elemental king)  Could you find us the
  other end of this maze, if there is one?
elemental king:  CERTAINLY.  (it gazes about, briefly)  FOLLOW ME.

  The gigantic creature moved off in a seemingly random direction,
and the stone walls of the maze melted before it.  The adventurers
happily followed in the elemental's wake, Bosco making a brief stop
to scoop up some crude gemstones he spotted in one niche.  Moments
later, the adventurers faced another door.  Beyond this, a narrow,
winding stairway led upward; they ascended it, clever Bosco in the
lead to sniff out traps.



  Meanwhile, the other group had followed their own tunnel through
several twists and turns.  Ignoring smaller side passages, they were
following the main passage; these efforts seemed rewarded when they
found a large double door of iron.

Gorin:  Is it...?
Otto:  Locked.  Yep.  (he produces a tiny steel pick and goes to work)
Drawmij:  I could use magic on doors such as these.
Halbarad:  I would rather see your magic used on the foes we will
  encounter.
Otto:  Besides, locks as simple as these won't pose any problem.  (he
  pushes one of the tall doors open an inch, and peers through)
Peyote:  What do you see, little friend?
Otto:  Shh!  (he eyes the scene beyond the door)

  The dwarf could make out the figures of a dozen filthy, crawling
creatures, humanoid but definitely not human.  His gut instinct told
him that the things were ghouls, but he backed away from the door to
confer with his companions, just the same.

Otto:  (whispering)  -and they appear to have a nest in the room's
  center.
Halbarad:  Ghouls, or I'm an orcish shaman...(he fingers his axe's
  handle)
Drawmij:  We must move quickly, lest they paralyze those of us they
  touch.
Gorin:  I can move quickly.
Peyote:  Yeah, man.  Let's do it.

  Moments later, the ghouls were surprised to see a band of warriors
break through the door.  Rising, the foul undead hissed and moved to
meet the intruders, these being their orders.  The five adventurers,
however, were faster to the attack.  Halbarad met the first ghoul
with weapons swinging, and the foe fell back, gutted and missing an
arm, before it realized what had happened.  Peyote was almost as
quick, shearing a second ghoul in two with one well-aimed slice of
his bastard sword.  Gorin, never one to be upstaged, hacked at the
ghoul nearest him, and grinned as the thing recoiled, a huge gash
spanning its chest from shoulder to hip.  The other ghouls moved in
then - only to fall into chaos as the leading three froze in place,
unable to move.  Those behind slammed into the stopped ones, and the
three adventurers backed away, having gained valuable moments to
ready their weapons again.  From the doorway behind them, Drawmij
smiled, and began work on his next spell.  As the ghouls in the rear
rank pawed and groped their way around those who were magically held
in place, a flaming crossbow bolt sunk into the closest one's face.
Doused in highly flammable oil, the missile quickly ignited the foul
undead creature's head, and the ghoul began running in small circles
and screaming.
  Halbarad, Peyote, and Gorin moved in then, slashing and stabbing
as they went.  A second flaming bolt from Otto's crossbow caught a
second ghoul, in the chest, and then a volley of magical bolts
hammered at those ghouls not involved in the melee, as they sought
to move around and flank the brave adventurers.  Peyote took a hit
on the shoulder, from a ghoul's smelly claw, but he shrugged the
chilling touch off, and slammed his blade into the top of the foe's
skull.  The ghoul's head split like a rotten melon, and the half-elf
snorted in disgust as he kicked the dying foe away.
  Just like that, the fight was over; nine ghouls lay dead on the
stone floor, and the adventurers were barely wounded.  They patted
one another on the back, cleaned their weapons, and stacked the
smelly carcasses of their slain foes in one corner.  The first of
two exits was merely a dead-end, a roughly-hewn passage that ended
after twenty feet.  The other, however, led to a thick wooden door,
banded with iron and sealed from the other side.  Otto couldn't
figure a way to open it, short of breaking it down or sawing away
a smaller section, but a spell from Drawmij opened the door with
ease.  They saw that it had been both locked and barred from the
other side; apparently, the ghouls had been intentionally kept out
of the hallway through which the adventurers now walked.  This short
passage led into a dark, dank dungeon; Otto went ahead to scout, and
reported the place deserted, save for corpses.  The group entered
the dungeon, which was well-lit by torches in wall sconces; they
quickly realized that it doubled as a torture chamber.

Peyote:  Bogus, man.
Halbarad:  (examining a shriveled body within an iron maiden)  The
  rulers of this island are cruel indeed.
Otto:  Good.  Then you won't have any problem killing them.
Halbarad:  I doubt I will, at that.
Otto:  (looking around, he whistles)  This place is _huge_, and very
  well-equipped.  Either they have a lot of prisoners, or...
Peyote:  ...or they expect to.
Halbarad:  (looks up at the high ceiling, perhaps twenty-five feet
  in height)  This may be a dining hall that was converted into a
  dungeon.  A grim joke, indeed.
Drawmij:  (eyeing a rotted body within one cell)  No one here gets
  out alive...
Gorin:  What's that?
Drawmij:  Just something I heard once.  (he looks around)  We should
  search for empty cells - cells that might have held your friends.
Halbarad:  (already doing this, he checks empty cells for any signs
  of recent prisoners)



  Even as the ranger poked through dank, dirty chambers within the
dungeon, a third party - a party of one - made its way through an
isolated stretch of the castle.  Wendell, moving as silently as death
itself, made his way along a passageway, a thin, straight sword held
easily on one hand.  Sensing motion ahead, he kept to the shadows,
creeping forward slowly and meticulously.
  Two minotaurs stood near a closed door, discussing something in
their primitive, grunting language.  The conversation came to an
abrupt halt when Wendell's sword split one of the humanoids' backs
open, slicing a precise line along its backbone.  The victim dropped
to the floor, twitching, and Wendell sidestepped its body as he moved
to face the second minotaur, who brandished a gigantic battleaxe and
came in, bellowing.

minotaur:  (looks confused, for it cannot hear its own roaring)
Wendell:  (smiles grimly, and meets the foe's charge)

  While the big bull-man used brute force, taking great sweeps and
chops with its axe, Wendell seemed a purely defensive fighter.  He
dodged, ducked, and otherwise avoided meeting the foe's weapon with
his own.  The only time the combatants' weapons even touched, in
fact, was when Wendell struck, testing the minotaur's defenses.  He
quickly found an opening he liked, and stabbed inward, around the
huge axe, to score a hit on the minotaur's shoulder.  Reeling back,
the beast grunted, again producing no noise; it was as if everything
around the two was sheathed in silence.  The poison which coated
Wendell's blade began to take its toll, and the minotaur weakened
as the moments passed.  Finally realizing which way this fight was
going, it charged in once more, determined to cut down the human
before it.  Wendell leaped aside and slashed simultaneously, and
the minotaur fell, dying.  The victor didn't even pause to check
the body, for he knew his poisons, and his skill; Wendell continued
on his way, carefully checking the door before creeping through it,
a specter of death amidst a fortress of the dead.



  Elsewhere, the other group had gotten itself into a bit of trouble.
After passing by a large pillar, they had been attacked by the thing!
Lashing out at them with long, rubbery strands - tentacles of some
kind - the monster had ensnared Rob and Nenya, and was pulling them
toward its large, fang-filled maw.

Yod:  Roper!  (he hurls his axe at the beast's single eye)
Bosco:  Huh?
Yod:  (watches with glee as his axe tears a furrow in the monster's
  head)  A roper!  We've seen a few of their kind in Thunderdelve!
Bosco:  Oh.  (he ducks as a sticky tentacle sails by overhead)
Tanya:  (snared by another tentacle, her arms are pinned)  Aie!
Bosco:  (hacks at the thing)  Hell, it won't break!
Yod:  (catches his axe, raising it overhead)  Out of the way!  (he
  chops down on the rubbery arm with all his might)

  The tentacle snapped with an odd sound, and Tanya dropped to the
floor, stunned.  Yod charged in, to try and free the other captives
before they were devoured; however, he had almost forgotten about
the elemental king.  Almost...

elemental king:  (rises from the ground behind the roper)
roper:  (turns around)
elemental king:  (hammers the monster with both gigantic fists)

  The rocky ally's assault staggered the tough foe, giving Yod a
chance to cut Nenya free.  Meanwhile, Tanya and Bosco had teamed
up to free Rob, who was batting ineffectually at the tentacle that
held him.  The roper lashed out blindly at the elemental, but found
to its dismay that the thing wasn't affected by its strength-sapping
touch.  Instead, the elemental flattened the roper with another
ground-shaking punch, and the creature burst, strange fluid oozing
from its cracked body.

Yod:  Good work!  (he helps Rob and Nenya, both of whom are reeling
  weakly)  Damn thing took their strength...(he produces a bottle
  of black fluid, pressing it to Nenya's lips)  Here, drink this.
Nenya:  Wh- what is it?
Yod:  The black blood of the earth.
Nenya:  (frowns at the bottle's stench)
Yod:  Drink - it'll help you regain your strength.
Nenya:  (sips the stuff)  Ugh!
Rob:  Here...let me try.  (he, too, has a swig of the potion, and
  immediately stands up straight)  Ah!  I _do_ feel better!
Tanya:  Good...because we've got company.  (she points to the far
  end of the hall with her sword)

  Spilling into the hall were dozens of armored warriors, swords
and axes flashing as they charged for their foes.  Amidst the ranks
of the soldiers were spell-casters, for magical missiles and hammers
rained on and around the adventurers, hitting some of them for minor
damage.

Yod:  Shit!  Must've heard the commotion...(he raises his axe)
Tanya:  (leads the others toward a side passage)  Come on!
Yod:  Run away?!?  What's this?
Tanya:  We can't stay here and fight - not even with the elemental!
  We have to find the others!
Yod:  Hmm.  (he glances at the oncoming mob)  Methinks you're right!
  (he hurls his axe in the general direction of the foes, and charges
  after his companions)

  As the dwarf-king dashed into the side passage, catching his
returning axe at the last minute, he passed Nenya, who was casting
some spell.

Yod:  Come, hurry!  They're almost here!
Nenya:  I know...(she waves her hands, and a thick sheet of ice
  forms right outside the passage's entrance, totally blocking the
  foes' approach)  Heh.  _That_ ought to hold them for a while.
Tanya:  Good job, girl.
Rob:  (using his glowing mace, he moves ahead)
Bosco:  (in the lead, he stops at a dead-end, a blank wall)  Oh.
Yod:  (from behind)  They're breaking through the ice-wall - what
  news?
Bosco:  (trying and failing to find some mechanism to open a door
  that might be here)  Not good news...
Rob:  We're trapped.  A solid wall-
Yod:  (barrels around Nenya and Rob, and slams into the wall)

  With a great CRACK, the stone shattered, spilling the dwarf into
a banquet room of some sort, wrapped in a red tapestry that had
adorned the wall.  Various troops - men, orcs, bugbears, and even
an ogre or two - looked up from their meals, surprised.

Yod:  (stands, ripping the tapestry off himself)  Hi there.
soldiers:  (all of them stand up, grabbing for their weapons)
Tanya:  (takes in the situation)  Damn, we don't have time for this!
Yod:  (throws his axe, splitting an orc in half at the waist)  We'd
  better _make_ time, then!  These enemies intend to charge!
Bosco:  (darts around Yod, sliding to a halt as he spies the foes
  in the hall)  Yikes!
Rob:  Let me cast a-
Nenya:  (launches a cone of cold into the chamber, where it explodes
  amidst the arrayed - and closely grouped - enemies, spilling them
  like tenpins)  There!
Yod:  (catches his axe, and rushes a bugbear who managed to avoid
  being slain by the blast of cold and ice)  You!
bugbear:  Huh?
Yod:  (cuts the humanoid down with a single blow)  Follow me, every-
  one!  This is a barracks if I've ever seen one, and we've got to
  hit hard and fast or we'll never get out!
Tanya:  (dashing after the dwarf, with Nenya and Rob)  Hurry up,
  Bosco!
Bosco:  I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying!  (he dashes by the table, taking
  a golden goblet from an ogre's cold, dead hand)  Whee...(ducking
  under the legs of a bugbear who was frozen in place, he slides
  along the icy stone after his companions, eventually regaining
  his footing)



  Even as that group fled, seeking to break free of the enemy barracks
and dining areas, the other group, far below, had found a strange cell
of ore-laced stone.

Peyote:  That thing gives me the creeps...don't know why...
Drawmij:  (eyeing the cell)  I do.  It bears enchantments to block all
  enchantments.
Otto:  Pardon?
Peyote:  Is that like a weapon to end all weapons?
Drawmij:  Hmm...poor choice of words on my part.  Sorry.  That cell
  will block any and all magic within, or near, it.
Gorin:  That settles it, then!  It _must_ have been where they were
  keeping the others!
voice:  How right you are...
Peyote:  Eh?

  A double door set into a nearby wall swung open, revealing several
things.  In the doorway stood a tall, gaunt figure, its robes so black
that they seemed to swallow the light.  Behind this, the one who had
spoken, the adventurers saw other foes waiting in the wings...and they
also saw some of their friends, tied to tables, racks, or chairs!  It
appeared that the adjoining room was also part of the dungeons, for
like this one, it was spacious, with a high ceiling.

black-robed one:  (sighs, an eerie sound)  Better to meet you now,
  rather then destroy half the fortress as you search.
Halbarad:  What?  Who?
black-robed figure:  I must give you fools credit:  at first, we were
  totally unaware of your presence.  However, intruders cannot fight
  random guardians and expect to remain unnoticed for long.
Peyote:  Glad to see you're in such good spirits, dude.
Otto:  (hefts his sword)  We can change that, though.
black-robed figure:  (raises both arms)  Hold, a bit more...the calm
  before the storm, if you will.  So, we go to all the trouble of
  capturing these miscreants, and their companions come looking for
  them?  And find them?  Incredible.
Peldor:  (lying strapped to a table in the second room, ores inlaid
  into the table preventing him from using his feather tattoos)  Not
  so incredible, priest - they're our friends.  Something you wouldn't
  know about.
Halbarad:  Peldor?  (he struggles to see around the black-robed one
  in the doorway)
Peldor:  Huh?  Halbarad?!?
Gorin:  Sounds like him...
black-robed one:  Yes, rest easy.  You dolts will soon be joining
  your companions...yet more undead warriors for the Great One to
  command!
Drawmij:  Never!  (he points toward the foe in the doorway, and a
  gigantic sword of shimmering force appears, striking the robed
  one)

  Some invisible barrier protected the black-robed one from harm,
but the sheer force of the blow caused him to reel back, dazed, and
knocked the double doors from their hinges.

Drawmij:  Forward!  It is imperative that we strike before they can
  prepare!
Gorin:  But what if they're _already_ prepared...?
Drawmij:  Then we'll have to rely on skill...luck...and perhaps the
  assistance of our allies.  (he holds up the blue sphere)
Peyote:  Oh, that thing...hey, man, use it!  (he charges toward
  the doorway)
Gorin:  Yeah, we'll cover you!  (he hefts his axe and follows the
  half-elf, wondering in the back of his mind where Otto got to)
Halbarad:  (also charging)

  As the ranger ran, he pulled a small stone figurine from a pouch
and dropped it on the floor, speaking a command word.  Drawmij, in
the process of smashing his summoning sphere, wondered what sort of
magic the figurine might possess.  His unasked question was promptly
answered as a gigantic tiger appeared from nowhere.  More than ten
feet long, the great cat stood as high as an elf at the shoulder; it
was covered in golden fur, beneath which sleek muscles tensed and
coiled.

Halbarad:  Forth, Zephyr!  The fight awaits!

  The huge tiger didn't need to be told twice, though; it cleared
the room in a single leap, bounding over the heads of the companions
and pouncing into the room beyond.

Drawmij:  And now...behold!  (he hurls his magical blue sphere to
  the floor, producing a blinding flash...one that no one else is
  around to see, since they have all charged into the other dungeon
  chamber)  Oh.

  Meanwhile, a full-fledged battle was in progress in that very
room.  Peyote, Gorin, and Halbarad had entered and immediately
split off, a tactic to lessen the effects of wide-range spells.
Peyote had engaged a minotaur before him, but he wasn't using his
great bastard sword.  Rather, the half-elf brandished a large,
weighted net, which he deftly tossed over the foe's head after the
thing swung and missed with its battleaxe.  The minotaur stood,
roaring as it grabbed the net, preparing to rip it to shreds.  It
never happened, though, for as the confused humanoid grunted and
strained, the enchanted net tightened about its massive frame.
Kicking the minotaur solidly in the chest, Peyote toppled it, and
then moved to engage another foe, his sword flashing as he tore
it from its sheath at last.
  Gorin had spotted several of his companions, and was making for
them.  Peldor was tied to a table, as was the nearby Belphanior.
The elf had a number of small knives and needles protruding from
his body, but he yet lived; in fact, he craned his neck to get a
better view of events, as interested in the fight as anyone else
in the room.

Belphanior:  Gorin!
Gorin:  Hah!  Bet you weren't expecting us!  (he moves toward the
  helpless elf)
Belphanior:  Get me out of this chair!
Gorin:  I'm working on it-

  The dwarf was knocked aside by a single blow from a towering foe
of solid stone.  Gorin flew away, colliding with a rack of swords
and bringing the entire thing crashing down.  The golem lumbered
after him, massive fists raised.
  Nearby, Halbarad dashed toward a blue-cloaked elven woman, but
found his way blocked by a heavily-muscled, armored guard.  With a
sweep of his axe and a stab of his dagger, the ranger dealt with
the foe, continuing on his way.  However, the guard had given the
elf the time she needed to complete her spell, and waved at her
foe, a green glow emanating from her hands.  Halbarad reeled, his
body breaking out in boils and lesions as he was wracked by some
terrible disease.

Kynn:  Ha ha!  (she snaps her fingers, and the iron dwarf appears,
  charging toward the dazed ranger)  The trap was complete, Necros!
Necros:  (in the rear of his ranks, his black robe flowing about him
  like a thing alive)  Do not count your curses yet, sorceress.
  These adventurers are powerful indeed...

  As if to prove the dark priest's statement, Halbarad's gigantic
tiger leapt toward another foe, a short, pudgy wizard garbed in
green robes.

Pumpledorf:  Aie!  (he launches an icy cone of cold at the tiger)

  The animal, possessed of unearthly reflexes, leaped to the side
as the cone was released, and it avoided the brunt of the blast.
However, the cone continued onward, striking down two armored guards
before it exploded into the ceiling, covering that rocky surface in
a thick crust of frozen snow and raining sleet down upon those below.

Kynn:  Pumpledorf, you idiot!  You're going to hit one of us if you
  keep using spells like that!
Pumpledorf:  Quiet, bitch!  Area spells are the only ones I bother
  with.
Peldor:  (lying bound, on his table)  How good for us...
Necros:  Quiet, thief.  (he frowns, the expression unseen within the
  shadows of his hood)  You had better hope some stray blast or blade
  does not hit you.
Peldor:  Heck, I didn't think about that.

  Zephyr, Halbarad's magical tiger, had pounced back to the attack,
swiping at Pumpledorf with both paws.  The wizard, however, was
protected by an earlier enchantment, and the mighty blows glanced
from his body as if they had struck a stone wall.  Zephyr paused in
confusion, but only for a moment; the magical cat had dealt with
spell-casting foes before, and it pressed its attack, knowing that
the wizard wouldn't be able to cast spells while occupied with the
tiger's claws and teeth.
  Behind the tiger, Peyote felled another foe, and found himself
faced by a skinny wizard, perhaps one from a distant western land.
The little man had appeared from nowhere, and even as the half-elf
watched, the opponent multiplied.  There were three of him...four...
no, six...finally, seven identical wizards faced him!  All of them
began casting a new spell; Peyote, not one to sit around and wait
for things to happen, was also not one to sit around and wait for
an attack that he couldn't prevent.  He did the next best thing,
running between two of the wizard-duplicates and striking at a band
of guards, so fiercely that all four of them backed away at once.
Of course, once they realized that their new foe was but one half-
elf, they circled him, blades flashing...
  Things weren't looking good for the would-be rescuers; Gorin was
wounded and facing a stone golem; Halbarad had been inflicted with
a terrible disease, and faced the mighty iron dwarf; Peyote was now
surrounded by four warriors; Otto was nowhere to be found.  Drawmij
wasn't worried about that last problem, for he had a feeling about
that dwarf.  In any case, he was prepared to deal with the problems
assailing his companions.  Having just raised his magical globe of
invulnerability, he had already begun another spell; a previously-
cast spell reduced the time required to cast spells now (others
increased the range and duration of subsequently-cast spells, and
yet another protected him with stoneskin; the crafty wizard was
well-known for his precautions.)  Before Potas Potay could release
whatever fiendish spell he was working on, Drawmij unleashed his
barrage of magical missiles.  A magical bolt hit every single one
of the seven Potas Potays, causing six to vanish instantly and the
seventh to curse loudly.  The eighth bolt sailed Necros' way, more
as a test than an actual attack; the missile dissolved without doing
the black-robed priest any harm.

  Readying weapons or spells, most of the evil ones and their servants
wondered why the wizard had chosen to make himself a target.  A moment
later, they learned the reason why, as a second wave of adventurers
swept into the dungeon.  Drawmij had wisely positioned his magical
globe to one side of the doorway, and thus wasn't trampled when Yod,
son of Yuri, son of Yor, and current king of Thunderdelve, charged
into the fray, his axe flying toward the nearest foe.

Potas Potay:  (hit in the back by the powerful artifact, he screams
  in pain, and falls, blood spurting from his mouth)  Glurrrgh!
Tanya:  Well-hurled, king of dwarves!  (sped along by her magical
  boots, she dashes toward Halbarad, slashing at the iron dwarf in
  the process)
iron dwarf:  (ignores the puny blow, retaliating with his battleaxe)
  GRAAARGH!
Tanya:  (ducks the blow, and pulls Halbarad back to safety)  Easy,
  now-  holy hells, what happened to you?!?
Halbarad:  (gasping)  Disease...
Tanya:  (half-drags the ranger back toward Rob, who just stepped
  though the doorway)  Priest!  Diseased man here!
Rob:  (catches the ranger as Tanya rushes back into battle)  What?
  (he looks the ranger over)  Oh, dear.

  In addition to the fivesome (Yod, Nenya, Tanya, Rob, and Bosco)
several of the foes they had been busy fighting mere moments before
were now in this area, having been teleported along with the
adventurers by Drawmij's magical sphere.  These foes - three orcs,
a minotaur, and an armored guard - spread out, giving the various
adventurers a wide berth, in an effort to group with their allies
here.  Nearby, the wizard Pumpledorf, quick to act once he realized
what was going on, had launched a small volley of magical meteors
in the general direction of the varied newcomers; Tanya, Halbarad,
and Rob were all hit by one or two of the things, but fought on.
  Nenya, in the meantime, had cast a spell, and the iron dwarf, on
its way toward Rob and the staggering Halbarad, was hit by a barrage
of small, exploding magical missiles.  These didn't really wound it
seriously, but they did slow it down, enough for Yod Ironbeard, axe
freshly in hand after ripping its way out of Potas Potay's back, to
interpose himself between the iron dwarf and Rob (who was tending
to Halbarad.)

Yod:  Hey, why don't you pick on someone your own size?

  Meanwhile, nearby, Kynn launched a barrage of shimmering colors at
Drawmij, but they bounced harmlessly off of his protective sphere,
evoking a curse from the elven sorceress.
  Across the room, the stone golem had attacked Gorin anew, but the
sturdy dwarf, well-trained and quick to recover, leaped aside, his
axe's blade ringing on the foe's stone hide.  The blow, which would
have felled an ogre, didn't seem to affect the golem much, and it
hurt Gorin's arm besides.

Gorin:  Damn!

  Just then, a small blade, wielded by an even smaller hand, lodged
in the golem's back.

Bosco:  (hanging by the hilt of his granite dagger, he looks down
  at the ground)  Maybe I should've looked before I leaped!

  However, the dagger, infused with powerful magic against stone
and beings of stone, slid with Bosco down the golem's back, and then
its leg, tearing a deep furrow as it went.

stone golem:  (writhes in pain, forgetting about Gorin for the moment)
Bosco:  (backs away, siding with Gorin against the limping golem)  I
  knew we were close-
Gorin:  How in the hell did you manage to make a jump like that?
Bosco:  (points at his boot)  This boot's magical, you know.

  Nearby, Drawmij was busy spellcasting, and failed to notice a slow-
moving form that crept toward him...

zombie:  (approaching from behind)
Wendell:  (appears from nowhere, his sword flashing)  Oh, no you
  don't.  (he slices the zombie nearly in half, and kicks the two
  twitching pieces away from Drawmij)
Drawmij:  (turns)  Eh?
Wendell:  (gives the wizard a thumbs-up)

  Across the room, Tanya made a wondrous discovery...

Tanya:  (spots Peldor, lying tied to a table)  PELDOR!
Peldor:  Hi, hon.
Tanya:  (sprints toward the thief)
Belphanior:  (yelling from his position, tied to the table)  Look
  out there, Tanya!

  The woman suddenly found herself facing a tall, slender figure in
grey robes:  Kheldar the assassin.  The fellow held several darts
in his hands, and smiled wanly at Tanya.

Kheldar:  You can't just stroll in here and take back what we have
  rightfully stolen.  (he raises his arms, to hurl his battery of
  darts - darts which are tipped with some dark fluid)
Tanya:  (stands still, wondering if she can dodge all of the darts)

  The assassin frowned, then, and Tanya quickly saw the reason why:
a thick, barbed crossbow bolt now transfixed the assassin's wrist.

Belphanior:  (tied to his table, he yet smiles grimly)  Welcome to
  the party, Otto.
Otto:  (becomes visible)  Well-met, old friend.  (with a deft slash
  of his knife, he frees Belphanior)
Belphanior:  (stands, naked save for a loincloth and totally unarmed)
  Free!  (he glances at Otto)  I need a weapon.
Otto:  (instantly hands the elf a wickedly barbed knife)  Have fun.
Belphanior:  No doubt about that.  (he leaps toward the assassin,
  Kheldar)

  Kheldar, though, was having none of it; poisoned though Otto's bolt
was, the assassin was protected from poisons, and the foul liquid
merely burned in his veins as he executed a surprising backward leap
and somersault, landing well out of the range of the foes.

Belphanior:  Fucker must've had magical boots...
Otto:  No time to worry about him now.  We've got to free Peldor and
  the others.
Tanya:  (moving toward Peldor once more)
Otto:  Say, where _are_ the others?
Belphanior:  (points at some other tables, behind him)  The drow are
  unconscious from the torture, and I think Arnold is too.  They cut
  out his tongue.
Otto:  Oh.
Peldor:  Mongo, Ged, and Rillen are further back, on racks or in iron
  maidens.
Tanya:  (grimaces)
Belphanior:  It's a good thing you came along - they were about to
  pull out my-

  The elf's sentence, as well as Tanya's removal of Peldor's bonds,
was interrupted by a descending column of blazing flames, which fell
upon the whole group at once!

Necros:  Forget about your other friends, for you shall soon join
  them..

  Those troublesome foes dealt with, the evil high priest turned his
attention to other aspects of the great battle, even as he began a
new spell.  Halbarad, cured of his deadly affliction by the magic of
Rob, had joined Peyote in melee, and together, the pair had slain
all four of the guards.  They had joined Zephyr, the great tiger, in
the assault upon Pumpledorf; the wizard's defenses were finally
weakening, and he had nowhere to run.  However, everything changed
in the blink of an eye, as the wizard hurled a black gem down upon
the ground.  A shimmering sheet of force radiated outward, driving
Pumpledorf's attackers back and giving him precious moments...which
he used to cast a spell, firing a colorful sheet of lights directly
at his foes.  Zephyr, closest to the wizard, was blinded for the
moment, and drew back; Peyote and Halbarad were merely stunned for
a moment.  Pumpledorf, however, didn't wait, and quickly released
a second spell.  A bolt of lightning struck the great tiger then,
a bolt which proceeded to jump onnward to others in the vicinity.
Halbarad...Peyote...a zombie...an armored guard...a wraith...all
were blasted by the wizard's spell, and Pumpledorf cackled in
glee.  Zephyr wiped at its eyes with its huge paws, trying to get
the strange colors to go away; its hide smoked from the lightning
that had wounded it.
  Nearby, Yod Ironbeard and the iron dwarf were going toe-to-toe,
exchanging blows that could shatter blocks of stone.  Neither gave
an inch, and the thunderous tremors from their fight shook the
entire dungeon.  Kynn, the elven sorceress, was busily casting a
new spell; no one appeared to have noticed her yet.  Gorin and
Bosco faced the wounded stone golem, and appeared overmatched,
even given the halfling's magical dagger.
  Still, there was no reason to take chances, Necros mused to himself
as he completed his incantation.  A legion of undead, of assorted
types, appeared between the high priest and his foes!  Skeletal
fingers, rotting hands, and withered talons groped as the ghastly
force waded into the battle.
  Rob, however, was ready, spellcasting in the rear ranks of his
side.  Drawmij spotted a figure moving stealthily toward the priest,
and made that foe the target of his next spell.  A thin beam of
nearly pure white shot forth, hitting Szen Szing, exotic rogue and
one-time survivor of Lao Khan's defeat, squarely in the chest.  The
thin man staggered in shock, frost rapidly covering his body; his
dust-tube and poisoned needle were dropped, forgotten.  The powerful
ray of freezing cold was too much for the foe, and he dropped to the
floor, frozen to death.
  Meanwhile, Gorin and Bosco were being driven back, toward a wall,
by the gigantic golem of stone.  Even the several wounds that the
halfling's dagger had inflicted hadn't stopped the thing.  However,
as it closed in for the kill, massive fists descending upon the two
puny adventurers, another pair of rocky arms rose to meet those of
the golem.  Another pair of gigantic rocky arms, larger even than
those it had caught - for the elemental king had finally arrived,
rising up from the floor before the golem!  The elemental hadn't
been teleported here along with Yod and the rest, due to its sheer
size, but it had finally arrived.  Dwarfed, the stone golem paused
for a moment; somewhere in the depths of its mind, it knew that the
foe before it was of far superior power, but it had its orders.
With a tremendous smashing sound, the two collided, causing even
the iron dwarf to take note.  As for Bosco and Gorin, they wisely
retreated, searching for other foes to engage.
  Nearby, Pumpledorf found himself in dire straits indeed; as the
huge tiger swatted at him, its claws finally dug into flesh - the
wizard's stoneskin was gone!  Roaring with rage, the animal tore
into its prey with renewed fury, and Halbarad and Peyote quickly
realized that Zephyr didn't need their help to tear the wizard to
pieces.  They turned their attention to the line of skeletons and
zombies that was moving in, and within heartbeats, battle had been
commenced.  Despite the rapid slaying of three skeletons and one
zombie, though, the two adventurers quickly found themselves out-
flanked, surrounded by the living dead.  Yet, they fought on with
fury and skill, determined not to relent while they still drew
breath.
  To one side, the assassin Kheldar rested, catching his breath.
His magical boots had allowed him to escape Belphanior and Peldor
and that group, moments before Necros - curse him! - had let loose
with his flame-column.  They had also allowed him to escape the
sharp claws and teeth of the tiger, Zephyr, for the assassin had
attacked the tiger, before it broke through Pumpledorf's defenses.
Zephyr had proven deadlier than one man with a sword, though, and
had torn three furrows in Kheldar's leather armor before the evil
assassin was able to leap away.  Before he could decide his next
course of action, though, the man sensed someone behind him, and
whirled about, to face a black-garbed fellow, known to some as
Wendell.

Wendell:  You'll fight me next.
Kheldar:  My pleasure, fool.  (he points his sword at the other)
  Prepare to meet your gods.

  As the two began their swordplay, Necros was growing upset.  A
number of his allies had fallen, or were in danger of falling, and
the foes just kept on striking, and surviving.  A situation easily
rectified, Necros mused to himself.
  Elsewhere, Bosco had wandered from the battle and consumed a
potion, increasing his strength to ridiculous levels.  He dashed
back into the fray, darting this way and that as he slashed and
hacked at undead and guards, usually from behind and by surprise.
With his newfound strength, rivaling that of the mightiest giant,
the halfling dispatched most of his foes with a single blow.  His
parade of destruction ended abruptly when he found himself facing
a shadowy undead foe - a terrible shadow!
  A distance away, Halbarad and Peyote found themselves suddenly
surrounded by thousands, even millions of tiny, whirling bits of
metal.  Before there was even time to react, the shards had sped
up, slicing and dicing in deadly little arcs.  The fact that there
were several of his undead troops in the blades' vicinity didn't
seem to bother Necros much at all, and he smiled grimly as both
adventurers stumbled out of the blade-storm, bleeding and dazed.
The undead, slower and much less well-protected, didn't even make
it out of the deadly area.  Turning his head, Necros noticed that
his earlier strike of flame had burned out, but not before it had
silenced Tanya, Otto, and Belphanior.  But that meant...Peldor was
free somewhere.  Frowning to himself, Necros quickly realized the
reason why:  Peldor, tied to the anti-magical table, had remained
unscathed by the column of flames!  Cursing, the evil high priest
scanned the huge room, but saw no sign of the escaped thief.  Then
it occurred to him:  the rogue meant to free his other companions!
Striding toward the far recesses of the dungeon, Necros eyed the
darkness, for to him it held no secrets and could hide no one, not
even a thief.  However, there _were_ no thieves here; although the
two drow, Mongo, Ged, and Arnold were still in place, Peldor was
nowhere to be found.
  Back at the main battle, Kynn crept toward Otto, who had just
sat up, rubbing his burnt beard and cursing.  The crafty and evil
elf touched the dazed dwarf, sucking away a measure of his life
force and feasting upon it herself - a useful spell, for it healed
many of her wounds even as it pulled the victim closer toward death.
Kynn's wicked happiness was short-lived, however, for Belphanior
was on his feet, his eye glowing.  The eye!

Kynn:  (backs away from the now-limp Otto)
Belphanior:  Guess what?  (winks at the elf)  You lose.
Kynn:  (feels her skeleton slowly turning into jelly)  AIEEEEEE...
Belphanior:  (turns, Otto's knife in his hand)  Who dies next?  (he
  stalks someone near him, someone who is invisible)
Peldor:  Hey!  Easy, there.
Belphanior:  Wha-  sorry...my vision's still a little fuzzy.
Peldor:  (eyeing the puddled form of Kynn)  I daresay.
Belphanior:  If I only had my sword...
Peldor:  I can do you one better.
Belphanior:  How's that?
Peldor:  Because I'm not tied to that damned anti-magic block
  anymore.  (he rubs his burned wrists)  And that means I can use
  my tattoos' powers, one of which is this.  (he rapidly phrases
  a wish, one he's had long hours of torment to plan)

  A moment later, several things happened.  Peldor and Belphanior,
in the proverbial eye of the storm, were suddenly fully equipped and
armored, with everything they had possessed before their kidnapping.
  Across the room, in the area where the other adventurers had been
placed, other wondrous things happened.  On a metallic table, Arnold
woke up, his plate mail having appeared on his body (it was quite
cold) and his sword in his hand.  The chains that bound him to the
table, though, prevented him from moving, and so he laid there,
struggling, blood in his mouth from the evil ones' torture.
  Stretched out on a twin rack, Alindyar and Lyra awoke, no longer
naked...or powerless.  They were bound, but not gagged, and Lyra
quickly began the (purely) verbal casting of a spell to untie the
ropes which held her immobile.  Unfortunately, the rare ore built
into the rack kept her spell from working, and the drow female
shook with fury.
  Hanging upside down, secured at the feet, Ged found himself in
full control of his faculties, if not his spellcasting powers - it
seemed that he had the same problem as the drow.  Even his magical
girdle wouldn't give him any strength, else he would break his feet
free and get away from the magic-sapping device he was trapped in.
  Necros, nearby, watched all of this, laughing.  He prepared to
dispatch the adventurers to a more final fate, and would have
succeeded, except that he erred.  Usually an exceptionally gifted
tactician and thinker, Necros made one mistake, one small error as
he gloated over his re-armed but helpless foes.
  He forgot about Mongo, who was nowhere near an anti-magic block.

  The dwarf, who had been trapped inside an iron maiden, burst
free in something that could only properly be called an explosion.
The lid of the chamber, a heavy chunk of iron, flew away, missing
Necros by mere feet before crashing into a wall, startling all in
earshot.  Mongo broke free of the maiden, shattering what remained
of its casing in the process.  Though bloody, wounded, and near-
exhaustion, he now had his armor, his girdle, and his hammer, plus
all his other, less immediately useful possessions.
  With a loud cry of rage, the dwarf let fly the mighty Stormcrest,
and Necros was struck squarely in the face.  The high priest's spell
was ruined, but that was the least of his problems.  Hit with a
force that would have killed a lesser priest, Necros was knocked
back, sailing across fifty feet or so before colliding with a wall
and falling.  Mongo's hammer returned, and he looked around, still
infuriated.
  Rillen, who had been locked in a cell with some large, hungry
rats, had somehow broken free, and had just torn loose the ropes
that bound the two drow.  He quickly moved to free Ged, realizing
that it was now or never.  His move was intercepted, though, by a
squad of three skeletons, unarmed but still deadly.

Rillen:  Hi-yah!  (he launches himself into the air, shattering one
  foe's ribcage with his leading foot)  Yie!  (he lands, and spins
  about, punching another undead foe's head)
skeleton#2:  (its skull explodes)
Rillen:  Sai!  (he moves to destroy the third skeleton)

  Nearby, Mongo hurled his hammer at the side of Arnold's stone-and-
ore table, and though the weapon lost all magical power upon coming
near the block, it was still nearly indestructible, and still had
giant-strength-provided inertia behind it.  The chain snapped, and
Arnold broke free, leaping off the table.

Mongo:  Let's go, Arnold!
Arnold:  (grimaces and spits out blood)
Mongo:  Oh, sorry.  I forgot.
Arnold:  (picks up Mongo's hammer, hands it to him, and grins)
Rillen:  We need to get into the fight...and do what we can.
Lyra:  (nearly fainting after getting off the rack)  Argh...it looks
  like our companions are doing fine by themselves.
Alindyar:  Aye...(he falls to the floor painfully)
Ged:  (walking around dizzily)  Oh, my aching head.

  Meanwhile, Bosco was having quite a time with the shadow he now
fought.  The halfling found, as often as not, that his blows didn't
seem to hit the thing, even though they should have.  Worse, he knew
that once the foe touched him with its chilling grasp, he would grow
weaker.  Opting for a new tactic, he reached into a pocket, grabbing
one of the enchanted light-pebbles.  With a quick toss, he sent the
thing flying at the shadow, who recoiled as the bright light bathed
it.  Bosco moved in while his opponent was blinded, and gutted it
with a great slash, spilling shadowy ichor onto the floor.  Moving
on, the dauntless halfling stabbed a drooling wight from behind,
causing the thing to pause in its fight with Peyote.  This lapse
proved fatal, for the half-elf took the distracted foe's head off
with his next blow.

Bosco:  (raises his sword in triumph)
Peyote:  Well-done, little brother!

  Across the room, the duel between Wendell and Kheldar the assassin
neared a conclusion.  Wendell, amazingly fast, had avoided major
injury; not so Kheldar, who bled freely from a dozen wounds.

Wendell:  (bats aside the other's sword, which falls to the floor)
  It is over.  (his sword-tip touches the other's neck, drawing a
  thin line of blood)
Kheldar:  Who are you, to have defeated me...the best assassin on
  Oerik?
Wendell:  I beg to differ.  _I_ am the best assassin on Oerik.
Kheldar:  What?!?  You...?!
Wendell:  (drives his sword point home, slaying the other man)

  Nearby, the elemental king was just completing the process of
rending Necros' stone golem limb from limb.

earth elemental king:  (hurls the rocky remnants aside)
Necros:  (standing nearby, he tosses a mighty spell of banishment
  at the foe)  Begone, denizen of the Earth plane!  Begone!
earth elemental king:  (forced to return to its native plane, it
  vanishes into the floor silently, leaving only a mottled area
  of stone in its wake)

  As Necros moved toward the other combatants, he covered his face
to avoid being blinded, for Rob had conjured that most hated of
spells, the accursed sunray!  Most of the undead soldiers who were
nearby were blasted out of existence, while others recoiled in pain
as the holy light shone down.  Necros cursed, wondering if perhaps
Orcus had abandoned him, but he was then struck by something he (and
no doubt all others present) had forgotten about:  Drawmij's magical
sword of force!  The glowing blade hit Necros across the chest,
wounding him grievously, and Drawmij continued its assault from
within his magical globe.  Necros staggered back, buying himself a
few moments so he could ready a magical item; pointing a rod of
black metal, he mumbled some magical words, and a horde of undead
sprouted from the stone floor.  No minor foes, these, but wights,
wraiths, and spectres; all interposed themselves between Necros and
his foes.
  Lyra, however, was having none of it; while Drawmij cut down two
wights with his magical force-sword, she finished reading something
from a scroll, and a tremendous bolt of lightning sprung forth,
exploding into the face of a wraith.  The electric blast, much like
Pumpledorf's spell earlier, continued to hit foes, for it hopped
from undead to undead, jolting every one it hit (and frying most
outright.)  Necros prepared to unleash another spell upon his foes,
but Alindyar beat him to it, tossing a vellum scroll aside as a
seven-colored beam of lights springing forth from his hand.  Even
the mighty Necros (and several of his undead minions who were in
the way) reeled before the power of the prismatic spray - and
Drawmij's force-sword was ready!  It struck the evil priest across
the chest, knocking him to his knees.  Never giving Necros a chance
to recover, Lyra hit the priest with a thin beam of fire, and a
terrible burning smell filled the air nearby.  Necros stood then,
despite the damage he had suffered, and made as if to cast another
spell.  However, it was not to be, for Alindyar had pointed his
wand, the one tipped with a tiny hand, at the evil high priest.
A gigantic hand of pure force appeared, and grasped Necros in a
deadly grip.

Necros:  (drops some spell components, unused, to the floor)
Alindyar:  Now, for your crimes...you shall die!
Lyra:  Amen to that.
Necros:  (being crushed to death)  Argh!
Drawmij:  (flies forth, landing nearby)  We mustn't let him get
  away!
Alindyar:  Fear not, for he will not.
Drawmij:  (whacks the captive across the head with the magical
  force-sword)  He's trying, even now.  Despite being held fast,
  he can still slip away.
Arnold:  (having watched all of this, he steps forth and rams his
  sword into Necros' mouth, causing black ichor to spew forth)
Lyra:  I assume that was to keep this worm from talking...
Arnold:  (nods silently)
Drawmij:  (spellcasting)
Alindyar:  Say, who _are_ you, anyhow?  Obviously an ally, but...
Drawmij:  Drawmij, of the Circle of Eight, and also local to these
  parts.
Lyra:  Quite pleased to meet you, good fellow.
Drawmij:  It would appear that you had spell scrolls among your
  possessions...a good idea, especially when you don't have a chance
  to memorize spells.
Alindyar:  Aye.  (he turns his attention back to Necros, whose foul
  blood is now pooling beneath him)

  Alindyar continued the crushing, using the hand he had summoned
with his wand; Lyra surveyed the rest of the battle.  Ged had moved
to join Rob in destroying undead, and between the two high priests,
a pincer trap of deadly effectiveness was wiping out the undead.
Rillen, too, fought on this front, his hands and feet flying fast
and furiously as he took on any foes who came near.  Peyote was
tending to the wounded, for despite his urges to be in the battle,
there were most definitely dying companions here, and someone had
to help them.

Peyote:  (casting a healing spell upon Tanya, who lives, though
  direly wounded)
random ghoul:  (pounces upon the half-elf, interrupting his spell)
  Sssss!
Peyote:  Hey!  (he stands, punching and elbowing the rotten creature
  until it lets go of him)  Bad move, dude...(he holds the ghoul at
  bay with one gauntleted hand, while grabbing for his sword with
  the other)
ghoul:  (raking and biting at the opponent)
Otto:  (appears from somewhere, his sword decapitating another ghoul
  that menaced Peyote from behind)  Ho, there.
Peyote:  Thanks, dude.

  Nearby...

Rob:  (disintegrates an entire squad of ghouls, with a wave of his
  holy symbol)  Trithereon!
Ged:  (splatters a wraith into black nothingness, with a blow of
  Lightbringer)  Boccob!
Rob:  (exchanges amused glances with the elf)
ghoul:  (moves in from behind, tackling Rob to the ground)  Ssss!
Rob:  Whoa!
Ged:  (steps over, grabbing the ghoul's clawed arm with one hand,
  and striking at its head with the other, which holds his enchanted
  morningstar)  Get off of him, scum!
ghoul:  (dissolves as the elf's weapon hits its head)
Rob:  (stands, vaporizing several zombies who have moved in)  Ged!
  They've moved in...we'll have to fight our way out of a jam, now!
Ged:  (destroys a skeleton with a single blow)  No problem!
Halbarad:  (moves to join the priests, his axe gutting a ghoul that
  was about to grab Ged)  Not at all!
Ged:  Halbarad!
Halbarad:  In the flesh.  (possessed of mighty strength, from his
  gauntlets, and great speed, from a potion, the ranger moves in
  blurs, slicing and chopping foes before they can hardly react)
  Hah!  What a fight!

  Elsewhere, Yod, joined now by Mongo, was giving the iron dwarf a
double dose of dwarvish fury.  The evil foe fought on, but it was
outmatched, plain and simple, and the two foes continued to pound
at it.

Yod:  (lands an axe-blow, denting the foe's plate mail ever so
  slightly)  Damn!  What's this thing made of?!?
Mongo:  (blocks a chop from the iron dwarf, then bashes it with
  his hammer, staggering it)  Don't know...blood and steel, maybe.
iron dwarf:  GRAAAARGH!  (it swipes at both warriors, knocking
  them back a good ten feet)  RAARGH!  (it swings its axe wildly,
  digging great chunks from the nearby floor and wall)
zombie:  (wounded from some other battle, it wanders into the
  vicinity)  Glurk...
iron dwarf:  GRAAARGH!  (it shears the undead thing in two with a
  single swipe)  RAARG!  (moving toward Mongo, it swings its axe
  high)
Mongo:  Shit, here he comes again!

  Looking back to Necros, Lyra grimaced in satisfaction.  If this
was to be the fate of the bastard, fine; the drow wizardess had
secretly hoped that the high priest could be slain in some more
permanent, more sure manner.

Alindyar:  (uncharacteristically angry)  Die, Necros!  Die!
Necros:  (still being crushed, more of his bones break)  Ugh...
Lyra:  By the gods...he can still talk!
Necros:  Yes...damn you all...but I shall have the last-
Drawmij:  (fires a thin green ray at the priest, whom he cannot
  miss at this range, especially given the huge hand that holds
  the high priest prisoner)
Necros:  -laugh-  (he glows bright green, for a moment only, then
  vanishes)
Drawmij:  _Now_ he's out of our hair for good.
Alindyar:  A disintegration...
Lyra:  Nice touch.
Drawmij:  And a necessary one.  Now to-

  Without warning, the dungeon - no, the entire _island_ - began to
quake violently!  Everyone present looked around, wondering if it
was their fate to be buried under millions of tons of rock.

Drawmij:  Quickly!  Gather everyone in a single spot!
Alindyar:  But it is not possible to teleport that many...
Drawmij:  Trust me!  (he begins spellcasting, as the drow move about,
  spreading the message)
Belphanior:  (unnoticed, he picks up and pockets a small amulet that
  was dropped by Necros, earlier)

  As he and Lyra worked to gather everyone together, Alindyar then
stopped short, frowning...

Potas Potay:  (staggering about, invisible and badly injured; he
  hopes to escape this battle somehow)
Alindyar:  (approaches, a dagger in hand)  Not so fast, vile one.
Potas:  Eh?
Alindyar:  Not all are fooled by your parlor tricks.
Potas:  (backing away, he hits a wall)
Alindyar:  (charges in, stabbing)
Potas:  Argh!  (he falls, mortally wounded)
Alindyar:  And not all illusionists rely on illusions alone.  (he
  wipes the blade on the dead man's cloak)
Lyra:  (turns to see this little scene)  Oh!
Alindyar:  Not a problem - this one shall not escape now.

  They began herding everyone present into the center of the room,
which wasn't much of a problem except for the iron dwarf.  The small
but mighty warrior, lacking any understanding of the impending quake
and probable collapse of the fortress, fought on, interested only in
crushing its foes.  Yod and Mongo, despite hitting it again and
again, simply couldn't make it stay down.  Alindyar solved this
problem, using the magical hand he had summoned; the thing grabbed
the iron dwarf, and held it fast while the adventurers regrouped,
large rocks and waves of rubble falling all around them.

Yod:  (eyeing the immobile foe)  So that's the famed iron dwarf.
Mongo:  (wipes blood from his brow, where the foe's axe collided
  with his helm)  Yeah...
Yod:  Impressive.  (they run to join the others, dodging parts of
  the collapsing ceiling)

  Momentarily, Drawmij was ready; he told everyone to clasp hands,
that no one would be left out of the spell.  Those who were dead
or unconscious were held fast by their companions.  Drawmij spoke
the words of his incantation, and in the blink of an eye, the
entire party was standing next to his underwater ship, within the
cove (which was also falling apart.)

Yod:  Hell, the whole _island's_ coming apart!
Mongo:  Island?
Drawmij:  Necros' power has been broken, and this island is now
  returning to its natural state.  It may very well sink under the
  waves.
Halbarad:  We would do well to be as far from here as possible
  when that happens.
Drawmij:  My thoughts exactly.  (he sits in his command chair, and
  quickly brings the ship to life)
Ged:  We're moving...
Nenya:  Yes.  This ship is quite a marvel.
Wendell:  (resting against a bulkhead)
Gorin:  (eyes the fellow, remembering his fight against the evil
  Kheldar, back in the dungeon)  Who exactly _are_ you, anyway?
Wendell:  I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.
Gorin:  Oh.



  Back in the depths of the fortress, the iron dwarf was suddenly
free, since Alindyar and his wand were now far away.  The mindless
creature looked around briefly, then raised its arms and shook its
axe, roaring in triumph as it saw that all of its foes had fled in
terror.
  A moment later, the upper levels of the fortress finally gave way
and collapsed, completely burying the lower levels and everything
in them.



  As Drawmij moved the ship away from the island, the adventurers,
both rescuers and rescued, breathed a sigh of relief.  All were
wounded, in one way or another; several were unconscious, while a
number of others had suffered at the hands of undead.  Pools of
blood began to form, under the chairs of the likes of Mongo, Yod,
Belphanior, Halbarad, Arnold, Rillen, Otto, and Gorin.  Tanya had
lost the use of one arm, from a poisoned sword, and Peldor cradled
his half-conscious lover in his lap, doing his best to clean the
gory wound.  Gorin's face was covered in blood, from a deep gash
atop his head.  One of Otto's ears was nearly ripped off, thanks
to the claws of a ghoul.  Halbarad grimly tied a rope around his
thigh, to stem the flow of blood from a great slashing wound above
his knee.
  All were wounded, some perhaps permanently, but they were alive,
and they had triumphed!





EPILOGUE:

  Deep within one of the lower layers of the Abyss, the demon lord
Orcus shook in rage as he (and his unfortunate entourage, all of
whom were wishing, to a demon, that they were someplace else right
now) watched these events.  The demon lord's enchanted scrying pool
shimmered, then faded, per the chaotic tyrant's whims.

Orcus:  GRAAAAARGH!  (he snatches up the closest demon, a poor,
  one-legged manes that couldn't move away fast enough, and bites
  it in two)
Balor:  (being Balor, only he dares to approach)  Lord?
Orcus:  (chewing on the sub-demon's body thoughtfully)  You, of all
  demons, should be upset.  It was you that these fools defeated,
  years past.
Balor:  (rubbing his empty eye socket)  Indeed.  Shall we find a
  way to travel to their plane now?  Some foolish wizard, perhaps?
Orcus:  No.  If we take a direct part in worldly matters, the gods
  will know, and they would not be pleased.  No, we must bide our
  time...find a new agent.
Balor:  But your highest of high priests, Necros, is dead!
Orcus:  Yes...(he stares at the remaining half of the sub-demon,
  then tosses it away)  But there is another...





next:   the passage of time
ftp:    ftp.digex.net in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
www:    http://www.gatech.edu/oit/oe/design/thomas/adv.html
notes:  Well, that's it.  It took several days, in which I added
  about 15K apiece, but it's finished.  Throughout this storyline,
  I constantly received mail proclaiming it to be a great story,
  maybe the best ever.  I think the strike of enemies unknown or
  thought dead - a strike that was well-planned and executed -
  pleased many of you.  I can only hope that the finale to the
  devious plot did it justice.  This was by far the toughest mass
  battle I've ever orchestrated.
    This would probably also be a good time and place to tell you
  that I finally bought a new vehicle:  a 1995.5 Honda Passport
  EX, with 4WD and everything else there is to have.  I can use it
  for just about everything...driving around town, long vacations,
  beach trips, other trips, camping trips...that's why they call
  'em sports utility vehicles.
    Another thing:  see _From Dusk Til Dawn_.  Damn, what a ride!
  Guns, knives, nude dancers, barfights, vampires...it's all there.
  If you can handle blood and profanity, and liked _Army of
  Darkness_, you need to see this movie.
    I'm also going to have to tell you that it's time for a break
  from writing.  This won't be a long one (I still have a lot of
  plans for our heroes) but I need a rest, probably until February
  1st or so.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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