Chapter #399

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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                    +
+                           +
+  THE PARTY:                                                       +
+                                                                   +
+  Bosco        11th level halfling thief                      (CN) +
+  Belphanior   (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief      (CN) +
+  Mongo        18th level dwarven fighter                     (CG) +
+  Date:        4/3/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        nighttime                                           +
+  Place:       the svirfneblin city, far beneath the surface world +
+  Climate:     moderate and dry                                    +
+  "You don't have to like it - you just have to do it."            +
+                                             - Navy SEAL saying    +

                CCCXCIX.  Bane of the Svirfneblin

  After a series of harrowing adventures, Mongo, Bosco, and the
newly-recovered Belphanior have arrived in a city of deep gnomes.
They have pressing business elsewhere, but at the moment they are
caught up in an impending battle...

Grimlok:  (rushing along a passage, with the adventurers fast on
  his heels)  This way, come.  Fight alongside Grimlok today, you
Belphanior:  Glad to hear it.  I need a good fight.
Mongo:  You're not in any shape to fight anyone.
Belphanior:  I'll be the judge of that.  (muttering)  Good thing
  your tinkers didn't tinker with Blackrazor...
Blackrazor:  (pulsing almost imperceptibly in its master's hand,
  for it senses bloodshed in the near future)
Bosco:  (trying to get ahead of the deep gnome king, he continually
  fails)  Drat!  (to Grimlok)  Where're we going, anyway?
Grimlok:  Passages leaving the city, there are.  Attacking these,
  they are.
Mongo:  Who's "they"?
Grimlok:  The fish-men, they are.  Kuo-toa!
Belphanior:  Kuo-who?
Mongo:  Kuo-toa...they're these things that dwell deep underground.
  I mean deeper than most of us.
Bosco:  And us.
Mongo:  They're like big...well, they're basically fish-people.
Belphanior:  Good.  That means they won't like fire.
Grimlok:  Think not, I do.
Bosco:  Huh?
Belphanior:  (to Grimlok)  Your enemies are my enemies.  I owe you.
Grimlok:  Help us in battle, you wish to?  Your help, we will welcome.
random svirfneblin warrior:  Not sure, I am...what help three more
  can provide.
Mongo:  Heh.  (he pats his hammer)  Just wait and see...
Grimlok:  See, we shall.

  The gnome-king led them, and numerous svirfneblin, through a series
of narrow burrows and small rooms.  It was amazing that Belphanior,
at over six feet in height, could keep up, but as usual, the elf was
full of surprises.  Soon, they could hear the din of battle ahead,
and momentarily, they were in a narrow passage, behind a press of
svirfneblin warriors.

Grimlok:  (yelling commands and asking questions to various captains)
Mongo:  What's going on?
Grimlok:  Pushing us back, they are.
Belphanior:  Must be a whole bunch of them further down this tunnel.
  An invading force, going at it one-to-one with the deep gnomes.
Grimlok:  (nods)
Mongo:  _This_ passage?!?  (to Belphanior)  Are you thinking what
  I'm thinking?
Belphanior:  (to Mongo)  Doubtful, but I see where you're headed.
Mongo:  (to Grimlok)  I need to get to the front of your ranks.  (he
  pats Stormcrest)  Me and my hammer, if you take my meaning.
Grimlok:  Understand, I do.  (he begins shouting orders to his sub-

  As one, the gnomes' rank fell back.  The svirfneblin were as brave
as any race, and their warriors didn't understand why they were being
told to retreat.  Still, they obeyed, for they were well-disciplined
and trusted their leaders' tactics.  Mongo waited in a narrow alcove
to one side of the passage, pressed tightly against the cold rock.
  When the last of the deep gnomes had come by, Mongo stepped out
into the passage, blocking it.  At last he saw the face of the enemy,
and it was scaly.  The kuo-toa were about the height of humans, but
horridly different.  Short, skinny limbs jutted out from round and
bloated torsos; the foes' heads were like those of fish, huge eyes
swiveling about on either side of the thin, fin-topped heads.  The
creatures' bodies were covered in scales, most of the body surface
a pale grey color.  The kuo-toans' underbellies were a lighter hue,
almost tannish.  The fish-mens' bodies shone, covered with a slimy
secretion of some kind.  The kuo-toa bore spears, shields, stone
knives, and other weapons, some of them rather odd in appearance.
Armor, necklaces, amulets, and bracelets adorned their bodies, all
fashioned from sea-shells and pearls.
  The kuo-toa paused only briefly as Mongo stepped out into the
narrow passage, warhammer and shield held ready.  In truth, they
mistook the dwarf for a gnome; more intelligent and cunning foes
might have been more cautious, perhaps halting the charge to see
what the enemy did.  The fish-men didn't, though, and as they made
their advance, gibbering in some bizarre gurgling language, Mongo
caught wind of their odor.  The smell of dead fish wasn't one that
he cared for, and he let his displeasure be known, in violent fashion.

Mongo:  Gangway!  (he hurls Stormcrest with all his might)

  The first few kuo-toa were slain, pulverized by the crushing force
of the giant-strength-backed hammer.  A half-dozen more were wounded
as the enchanted weapon pushed them back, jamming their ranks atop
one another in the confined passage.  Mongo caught his hammer as it
returned, and unleashed another mighty blow before the foes even had
time to catch their balance.  Scales, fish-meat, and dark grey blood
sprayed everywhere as the kuo-toa were forcibly driven back.
  Behind the armored dwarf, the svirfneblin cheered madly, rushing
in to dispatch the wounded foes left in Mongo's wake.  Belphanior and
Bosco almost got trampled in the excitement, and had to rush to keep
up.  As for Mongo, he advanced, driving all foes before him.  None
could delay, much less stop, his march, and any who tried were quickly
sent to their dark goddess.

Mongo:  Hah!  (he bashes a fish-man aside, snapping the thing's thin
  spear right before snapping its neck)  Out of the way, slimy!
kuo-toa:  (brandishes a net, hurling it desperately over the dwarf)
Mongo:  Fuck you!  (he hurls Stormcrest, which rips a hole through
  the net, then bowls the foe over)  Nets...nuts...(he shreds the
  net with his bare hands, bits of it dangling from him as he catches
  his hammer and continues onward)

  Suddenly, as was common in the depths of the world, the passage
opened into a large cavern.  Mongo spilled out, atop the survivors
of his rampage.

Mongo:  (stumbles to his feet angrily)  Away!  (he slays a groping
  fish-man with a backhanded blow of his hammer)
other kuo-toa:  (fleeing in terror before this ferocious and seemingly
  unstoppable foe)  Ggggggrbls!

  Belphanior, Bosco, Grimlok, and scores of angry svirfneblin quickly
poured out into the cavern.  All combatants, of both sides, were
using infravision here.  The deep gnomes and their allies quickly
found that the kuo-toa were significantly colder-blooded than they
were; their heat patterns were radically different to infravision.
This made it easy to distinguish friend from foe in the dark cavern,
though this held true for both sides.

Belphanior:  (leaps upon a running kuo-toa, decapitating it with a
  savage stroke)  Hah!  (he instantly absorbs the thing's life-force,
  through Blackrazor, and is strengthened)
Grimlok:  (hefts his enchanted pick, which glows softly with a bluish
  light)  Is now, the time for battle!
nearby kuo-toa:  (with nowhere left to run, it charges at Grimlok,
  waving a spear)  Ssssrlbp!

  The svirfneblin king swung his pick at the fish-man, scoring a
solid hit in the thing's shoulder.  The foe screamed, its attack
going wide, and clawed at the terrible wound.  Then, a most amazing
thing happened:  the kuo-toa dropped its weapon and clutched its
hands to its eyes, gurgling loudly if incoherently.

kuo-toa:  Sssrrrrrlp!  Ssspppppnggg!
Belphanior:  (cleaves the thing's head in two as it staggers by him)
kuo-toa:  (falls, twitching)
Belphanior:  What the hell was his problem?
Grimlok:  (raises his pick)  Sightstealer!
Belphanior:  Uh-huh.
Mongo:  Neat.
Bosco:  (not to be left out, he scampers after a wobbling fish-man,
  stabbing the foe in the back and bringing it to the ground)  Make
  way for!

  Quickly, the kuo-toa force was routed and slain.  Perhaps three
dozen of the scaly foes lay dead in the tunnel and cavern, and the
victors now had to decide what to do next.

Grimlok:  Just one of several attacking forces, that was.  More out
  there, there still are.
Bosco:  (points to a tunnel on the far side of the cavern)  I saw a
  couple of 'em escape through there!
Belphanior:  What are we waiting for?  Let's go get them, and kill
Grimlok:  (pondering)  Even further, you would help us?
Belphanior:  Absolutely.
Mongo:  (nods)  Well, what d'you say, Grimlok old boy?  Shall we go
  after them?
Bosco:  We're debating this?
Grimlok:  No debate will there be.  Pursue and slay them we must.
  (to his forces)  Forward!

  They entered the far tunnel, led by Mongo, Belphanior, Grimlok,
and Bosco, in that order.  The tunnel was dark, wet, and quiet; it
was also larger than the last one, at about six feet in width.

Grimlok:  Not one of our tunnels, is this.
Mongo:  (feels the water on the walls)  And must lead to a
  kuo-toa lair.
Bosco:  (to Grimlok)  How can they have a lair this close to your
Grimlok:  Was not here before, this passage.  Busy the kuo-toa have
  been, tunneling away.  (he frowns and turns to one of his captains)
  Heard from the border guards in this area, have we?
svirfneblin captain:  (shakes his head)  Missing they are.
Grimlok:  Settles it, then.  Complete surprise assault.
Mongo:  Are you taking heavy casualties?
Grimlok:  (nods grimly)  Already, nearly a hundred have fallen, here
  and there.
Belphanior:  If we can find the one central point that they're using
  before splitting into their attack forces, we can cripple them and
  cut off their retreat.
Grimlok:  Do this by yourself, you will?
Belphanior:  If I have to, yes.
Mongo:  You won't.
Bosco:  (eyes some slime on the tunnel's walls uneasily)  I sure hope
  this isn't a trap...
Grimlok:  No trap.  Expect us to turn them back, they did not.  Know
  you three were with us, they did not.
Mongo:  (smirks)
Belphanior:  (motions everyone to be quiet)  I sense souls nearby...
  (to Mongo)  Let me go ahead.  I can take them silently.
Mongo:  Deal.
Bosco:  Hey, I wanna-
Belphanior:  Not this time, Bosco.  (his single eye glows crimson)
Bosco:  (shuts his trap)
Belphanior:  (to Mongo)  Follow me at a goodly distance, until I find
  the kuo-toa.
Mongo:  How will we know when you find them?
Belphanior:  Oh, you'll know.  (he vanishes into the tunnel ahead)

  The tall, lean elf padded along silently, sword ready.  Before long,
he emerged from the passage, entering another subterranean cavern.
This one was much larger, however, measuring in the hundreds of feet.
Its ceiling couldn't be seen from its floor, about half of which was
covered in water, forming a natural underground lake.  Numerous side
tunnels, like the one he'd come in through, led out of the huge cavern.
Various kuo-toa were entering and exiting through these, seemingly at
  Several dozen armed kuo-toa were gathered here, babbling excitedly.
More than one turned to point directly at him, the instant he appeared
in the cavern.

Belphanior:  So much for the subtle approach...(he takes his wand of
  fireballs out)

  A kuo-toan priest pointed at the elf, and a gigantic column of water
leapt from the lake, arcing toward him.

Belphanior:  Oh shit!  (he aims the wand, but not in time)

  The elf was smashed by the column of water, the force and noise of
the blow shaking the ground and causing echoes throughout the cavern
and attached tunnel complex.  Moments later, as water flowed from
every nearby surface, the kuo-toa converged on a stunned Belphanior,
spears and nets poised for action.  Other fish-men headed into the
tunnel, in case other intruders might be en route.
  The leader of said expeditionary force suddenly flew back into the
cavern, riding a flying hammer that had crushed his chest.  Several
other kuo-toa were repelled from the tunnel, crashing back into the
cavern, and the svirfneblin poured in!  Battle was joined!

Belphanior:  (sits up, surveying his position)
kuo-toa:  (distracted by the entry of Mongo and the others, they
  turn back to the elf, babbling frantically)

  Belphanior suddenly found himself covered by several nets.  The
foes moved in, having no way of knowing who they were dealing with.

Belphanior:  (his sword-arm jutting through the netting, he impales
  one fish-man's throat with Blackrazor)  Die!
kuo-toa:  (gurgles and falls)
other kuo-toa:  (grabs the elf's arm)
Belphanior:  (uses his other arm, and a dagger, to slice through the
  net, then stab the foe in the stomach)  Get away from me, stinking

  The other kuo-toa began stabbing the elf with their barbed harpoons,
and their sheer weight of numbers overcame him.  Fortunately, Mongo
saw most of this scene, and reacted appropriately.

Mongo:  (wades into the school of kuo-toa, bashing them aside as if
  they were straw practice dummies)  Belphanior!
kuo-toa:  (prepares to backstab the dwarf with a long spear)

  The dwarf was unaware, such were the numbers he faced.  The fish-
man's pointed weapon hit Mongo's armor squarely - and shattered!

kuo-toa:  (stares dumbly at his ruined weapon, and the foe who should
  be impaled and wriggling)
Mongo:  (whirls, smashing a mailed fist into the thing's face and
  knocking it back ten feet)  Fucker!
Grimlok:  (buries his pick in another foe's head)  Strong metal
  armors, they have not seen before.  Good strong armor, they are
  unfamiliar with.
Mongo:  Heh.  Too bad - for them.

  Other svirfneblin moved to flank their king, protecting him from
random attacks and dispatching kuo-toa whenever possible.  Within
moments, Belphanior was freed, thanks to a sharp little knife that
Grimlok had on hand.  Still dazed, the elf had several harpoons
buried in him, one imbedded deeply in his shoulder.

Belphanior:  I get this thing out...(he winces painfully)
Mongo:  (grabs the harpoon shaft)  This is gonna hurt.
Belphanior:  Do it.
Mongo:  (pulls the gory weapon-tip out)
Belphanior:  AAARGH!  (he grabs Blackrazor and leaps to his feet,
  suddenly enraged)  ARRRRRRRGH!  (charging wildly at the nearest
  kuo-toa, he kills the foe with a slash to the neck)  Ahhhh.
Grimlok:  (to Mongo)  A strange one, he is.
Mongo:  We know.

  All around, the battle raged.  The kuo-toa had nets, which they
used to immobilize foes, and harpoons, which they used to spear foes
before dragging them to closer range.  Some of them also employed
pincer-staves, whose claws could trap a foe's arms at his sides if
the attack was a timely one.  Kuo-toan priests, thieves, and priest-
thieves were mixed in with the warriors, and they used clerical magic
and backstabbing to full advantage.
  On the flip side, the svirfneblin had partial magic resistance,
some more than others.  Their racial powers of illusion were great
indeed, and more than one kuo-toan foe was blinded or slain by an
attacker who appeared only as a blur.  In addition, the svirfneblin
employed finer weapons and armor; they also used stun-gas and acidic
darts, and some hurled crystal caltrops filled with sleeping gas.
  The deep gnomes also had the assistance of the adventurers, which
was a good thing indeed.

kuo-toan high priest:  (working some foul magic, his eyes swiveling
  in the direction of a large group of svirfneblin)
Bosco:  (slashes the foe from behind, ruining his spell and his
  spine)  Take _that_, fish-head!
kuo-toan high priest:  (falls, windmilling his arms wildly)  Gggrgl!
Bosco:  (stabs the fallen thing in the neck)  Ah, shaddup.
Mongo:  (ignores the pain of a harpoon point in his forearm, ripping
  the weapon from the hands of the kuo-toa who held it)  Bastard!
  (swatting the foe aside with his fist, he hurls the harpoon away
  and blocks another spear-blow with his hammer)  Damn slime-eaters!
kuo-toan warrior:  (brings a pincer-staff to bear on Mongo, trapping
  his arms against his sides)  Sssssrlp!
Mongo:  (flexes his arms)  This little toy isn't gonna hold me, you
  stupid fish!  (with a roar and a snapping of bone-claws, he rips
  the pincer-staff apart)  Hah!
kuo-toa:  (begin chattering in fear, as they have never fought an
  opponent who could do this)
Bosco:  (hurls a small glass sphere into the midst of four kuo-toa,
  producing a great puff of gas)  Hah!
Mongo:  Hey!  Where'd you get-
Bosco:  I traded with Sludg, for some light-pebbles.
Grimlok:  (sighs)
Belphanior:  (wounds one kuo-toa, slays another, then finds the wand
  which he dropped earlier)  There you are...(he picks the thing up
  and looks around)

  Fortunately (for the svirfneblin, perhaps, as well as the elf)
there was a group of kuo-toa all by themselves, toward the rear of
the cavern.  The dozen fish-men were all skilled warriors, thieves,
and priests, among the elite of the attack force.  However, they all
died just as easily as common kuo-toa when Belphanior's fireball
exploded among them.
  Except for Belphanior, who had been prepared and had shielded his
eyes, everyone in the cavern was blinded for the moment.  The elf
hadn't intended this effect, but he used it to his full advantage,
splitting the head of a nearby priest just as the kuo-toa was about
to cast some spell.  Before the others had regained their vision,
Belphanior had claimed two more enemy lives.  The life-force, while
foul, was still a powerful energy in his veins, and the elf stood
straight and walked tall, his wounds nearly healed.
  Suddenly, some unheard, unseen signal swept the kuo-toa ranks, and
they fled, taking to the water as rapidly as their webbed feet would
propel them.

Grimlok:  Getting away, they are!  Swim back to the depths they will!
  Stop them!

  Mongo's hammer flew forth again and again, smashing the farthest-
fled foes, but he was barely making a dent in the retreating forces.
It was Grimlok's high priest, the svirfneblin called Slagg, who did
something that truly turned the tide of battle.

Slagg:  (working mighty magicks)

  Suddenly, the waters of the great underground lake parted, right
up the middle!  Kuo-toa caught in this effect plopped to the wet,
rock-crusted ground that had just been the bed of the lake.  Their
destination was revealed by the sudden dry swath amidst the lake:
a large, jagged tunnel at the far end of the lake's bottom.  This
rough passage led downward and out, presumably to some unknown and
fearsome place.  The water in the tunnel, like that in the lake,
was held back by Slagg's spell.

Grimlok:  That is where they came from, so.
Belphanior:  And where they're going...
Mongo:  Not anymore.

  The dwarf moved forward a ways, then hurled Stormcrest directly
at the rock above the tunnel.  The impact shook the cavern, and made
Slagg sweat, for the svirfneblin high priest was struggling to keep
the waters parted, such was their volume.  Mongo's blow rained rubble
upon the lake floor, and he followed it with a second hammer-hurling.
This time, the first several feet of the tunnel ended up blocked by
rock and dirt.  A third blow bolstered the barrier to a height of
four feet or so.

Mongo:  Yeah!  (he continues to rain blows upon the tunnel mouth)
kuo-toa:  (realizing what's happening, some stop fleeing and move to
  attack the dwarf, while others try and make the tunnel before it
  gets sealed)
svirfneblin:  (move to engage the foes who now charge to the attack)

  Some kuo-toa came right from the parted water, emerging from the
solid water.  Belphanior and Grimlok led the repelling forces, to
left and right, while Bosco kept an eye out for any foes who might
seek to get to Slagg.  Meanwhile, Mongo continued to pound the far
tunnel-exit, with powerful and permanent effects.  No stranger to
underground construction and natural phenomena, the dwarf knew that
water might well seep through the barrier he had brought down, but
the overall water level in this cavern wouldn't change.  Thus, there
was no danger of flooding the svirfneblin city.
  And then, suddenly, his task was done; the rock shelf over the
tunnel mouth, weakened by his giant-strength hammer-blows, collapsed
completely, burying the exit as well as a half-dozen kuo-toa who were
going through it.  The remaining fish-men fought with wild abandon,
all hope of escape or reinforcement lost, but they were outnumbered.
More kuo-toa - remnants of other attack forces - filtered into the
great cavern from the other direction, through the smaller tunnels.
However, the deep gnomes were ready for them.  In addition, scores
of svirfneblin warriors arrived, at regular intervals, through the
passage the adventurers had entered by.

Belphanior:  Huh?
Grimlok:  Sent back a runner, I did, to bring reinforcements, while
  you went ahead to find this cavern.
Belphanior:  Oh.  Well, that'll do it.
Mongo:  (wipes gore from his beard)  I think we're winning.
Bosco:  (eyeing a huge kuo-toan eye which has somehow become impaled
  on his sword)  We've won.

  The halfling was right; only occasional kuo-toa remained alive,
and this was quickly being put right.  No surface war, this, with
prisoners and mercy.  The kuo-toa were evil beings who enslaved or
ate anyone they captured.  In addition, their race had been bitter
enemies with the svirfneblin for millenia.
  Everyone, even little Bosco, was wounded and gory.  Grimlok bled
from a dozen wounds, some rather serious, but the deep gnome king
was tougher than he looked.  Mongo, as usual, ignored his own wounds
as he tended to the other injured.  Belphanior was busy binding his
cuts and gashes, but he appeared to be vibrant with life after the
great series of battles.

Grimlok:  Indebted to you, our people are.
Belphanior:  Hey, no problem.
Mongo:  Any foe of gnomes is a foe of mine!
Grimlok:  Owe you a great debt, we do yet.  Shall be yours, anything
  you name.
Bosco: that you mention it...
Mongo:  (groans inwardly)
Grimlok:  (cocks his head)  Eh?
Bosco:  I need a bath.  Sewers...blood...gore.  A good bath would
  really be nice.
Grimlok:  Bath?
Slagg:  Drop this parted water-way at any instant, I could.
Mongo:  (laughing)
Belphanior:  (likewise)
Bosco:  Sheesh.

next:      the gnome-friends return to the surface world, and
             everything comes together!
ftp: in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
mail:       (preferred)
notes:     This whole side-adventure, with the svirfneblin and then
  the kuo-toa, wasn't part of the original plan.  It just kinda
  happened.  That's one of the things I really like about writing:
  spontaneous stuff can easily be incorporated into a story.

    Just so a bunch of you don't ask me later, Belphanior's remaining
  eye glows red, due to a potion he once drank.  No links to the Eye
  of Elik, which is definitely deceased.

    Evil corporate entity of the month:  Blockbuster Video/Music.
  Boycott these bastards.  They already bought out Turtle's, but at
  least they kept the old rental prices.  No more.  Now Blockbuster
  Music (formerly Turtle's) rents movies for 3 days, for $3.  And
  they've removed all NC-17, nonrated, and otherwise politically-
  incorrect titles from their rental stock.
    I won't be renting movies or buying music from any of their
  stores again.  Kinda like my TSR boycott (though they still do
  put out occasional gems, like _Faiths and Avatars_ or most of
  the Ravenloft stuff.)  Same goes for Marvel Comics; I used to get
  a good number of their titles, but nowadays...only a select few
  writers' books make it home with me.

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