Chapter #474

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                                  +
                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic III     +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +
                                  +

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    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.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Belphanior     (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief    (CN) +
+    Otto           8th/9th level dwarven fighter/thief        (CN) +
+    Victoria      11th level female vampiric human fighter    (NE) +
+                                                                   +
+  Helgate's town guards:                                           +
+    Aja           10th level female human priestess of Wee Jas(LN) +
+    Jutokai        7th level human fighter/archer              (N) +
+    Kinichi        7th level human ranger                     (CG) +
+    Razor Charlie  8th level human fighter                    (CN) +
+    Skektek        8th level human wizard                     (CN) +
+    Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                 (N) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        5/7/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        after midnight                                      +
+  Place:       deep within the mines of Helgate                    +
+  Climate:     cold and dry                                        +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way          +
+   comes..."                                                       +
+                                                - from _Macbeth_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





         CDLXXIV.  The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel





  The companions have just slain a pack of bizarre, pale-skinned
humanoid foes.  Now, they prepare to venture further into the caves
beyond Helgate's mines.

Belphanior:  Into that tunnel, I say - that's where the answer lies.
Skektek:  (mumbling)  I'm not sure I know the question.
Otto:  (eyes the black puddles of goo warily)  Those things had
  better not start oozing toward us.
Jutokai:  Or come back as undead...
Kinichi:  Not likely, seeing as how their bodies are gone now.
Jutokai:  True.
Aja:  Anyhow, they didn't resemble any undead that I've ever seen.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Besides, they had souls, a fact that Blackrazor
  can attest to.
Blackrazor:  (pulses in the elf's hand)

  Carefully, guided by Skektek's magical light and Razor Charlie's
torch, they proceeded along the crude tunnel.  Several of them had
already concluded that infravision was useless here - the slain foes
possessed practically no body heat, and anything else that lurked
down here was likely to be similarly cold-natured.

Ys:  (gazes into the darkness ahead with his huge, vertically-slitted
  eyes)
Belphanior:  Can you see anything?
Ys:  I see everything.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Kinichi:  (leading the party, along with Ys, he checks the ground as
  the reptilian covers the unknown area ahead)
Razor Charlie:  (watching the darkness behind the party, uneasily)
Jutokai:  (keeps his bow ready as he scans the surrounding passage)
Victoria:  (intrigued by this mystery, she keeps her thoughts to
  herself)

  They followed the passage for a short distance, until it split into
several branches of approximately equal size.  Belphanior left it to
Kinichi to choose one, and the tracker did, using a chunk of chalk to
mark the wall.

Otto:  Good trick.
Kinichi:  (shrugs)  I want to make sure I can get my bearings, later.

  The new passage twisted and wound for a bit, then ended in a small
cavern, from which several other passages exited.

Skektek:  This is insane.
Jutokai:  This is worse than insane.
Kinichi:  (frowning)
Belphanior:  What is it?
Kinichi:  (points to some shallow marks in the rocky floor)  Those
  might be tracks, but if they are, I'm not sure what made them, or
  how long ago.
Victoria:  (peers around Belphanior's head)  They look like furrows
  in the stone.
Kinichi:  They are.  Not too deep, either...(he frowns again)  I've
  got no idea what these mean.

  One passage led into a small cavernous chamber, within which were
the remains of something's lair.

Otto:  Straw...rocks...what's this about?
Kinichi:  (examining the stuff)  This hasn't been disturbed in a
  while...(he spies a track)  Ah, what's this?
Belphanior:  I don't know, what is it?
Kinichi:  Looks like a small humanoid...more than one.  I think they
  had a lair here.  Kobolds, maybe.
Skektek:  But why would kobolds have been here?
Razor Charlie:  (sneers in disdain as he steps on a pile of hard,
  petrified dung)

  Finding nothing else of interest here, they returned to the main
maze of tunnels and resumed their explorations...

Belphanior:  (spies something in one passage, to his left side)  Eh?

  While the others eyed the various exits, nervously, the elf moved
toward the one particular passage, sword ready.  Within instants, the
others had noticed his actions; Skektek moved to cover him with some
spell, even as Otto and Jutokai raised their missile weapons.

Belphanior:  What the hell...
ghostly form:  (sails forth from the darkness, right at Belphanior)
Jutokai:  (fires an arrow at the apparition, but the missile flies
  right through the thing)  What?!?
Otto:  (likewise, his attack misses)  Damn!
Belphanior:  (leaps back, slashing at the form which darts around his
  body)  Fuck...!  (Blackrazor passes harmlessly through the thing)
Victoria:  (frowns)

  Belphanior suddenly stopped, squinting with his single eye at the
vague but somehow familiar shape which now orbits his head.

Belphanior:  It's...
wispy thing:  Spk!
Otto:  Huh.
Kinichi:  Watch out, it's-
Belphanior:  An old "friend".
wispy thing:  (sailing around Belphanior's head, slowly now)  Yrrrp!
Jutokai:  What the hell _is_ that thing?!?
Otto:  (shrugs)  I was never quite sure.
Belphanior:  (sees all eyes turn to him, and also shrugs)  It's the
  wispy thing.
Ys:  Ah, that explains it all.
wispy thing:  (flies up to the huge reptilian, making odd faces at
  him)  Pfsss?
Ys:  (sticks his forked tongue out at the thing)
wispy thing:  (looks the other up and down, and finally loses interest)
  Pffft.  (it flies over to Victoria)  Fssss.
Victoria:  How...odd.
Otto:  (to Belphanior, in a hushed tone as the others watch the wispy
  thing with fascination or confusion)  What's it doing _here_?
Belphanior:  Beats me.  We haven't seen it for years...ever since
  Lao Khan's island.
Otto:  Why would it come back now...in these caverns?
Belphanior:  Your guess is as good as mine.
Aja:  (listening in)  Maybe there is no reason.
Otto:  Eh?
Aja:  The thing may just be a wandering spirit of some kind, one with
  neither master nor home.
Belphanior:  You don't know all the facts.
Aja:  True, but I can still make an educated guess.
Skektek:  (rubbing his white-stubbled chin)  Amazing.
wispy thing:  (sniffing at Kinichi's boots)
Kinichi:  (to Jutokai)  What should I do?
Jutokai:  I don't know...just try not to spook it.
Kinichi:  _Me_ spook _it_?!?
Razor Charlie:  (sneers at the wispy thing as it approaches him)
wispy thing:  (sneers back)  Snrrr.
Razor Charlie:  Hnh.
wispy thing:  (goes back to Belphanior, its little immaterial head
  tilting toward one tunnel in particular)  Fssss.
Belphanior:  He wants us to go that way?
Otto:  You tell me - you're the one who knows him.
Belphanior:  Hmm.
wispy thing:  (eyes the tunnel again, and grins toothily)  Fssss!
Belphanior:  (considering the options)  Okay, everyone - we go that
  way.
Kinichi:  (frowns)  Fuck that.  I'm not listening to a puff of smoke,
  and besides, these tracks lead the other way-
Belphanior:  I'm sure they do, but we're going this way.
Kinichi:  (shakes his head, and moves to lead the party once more)
  Very well.
wispy thing:  (suddenly darts into the tunnel, vanishing from sight)
  Yrrrp!
Otto:  Well.
Kinichi:  (turns back to Belphanior)  What now?
Belphanior:  ...we follow him, but carefully.
Kinichi:  I'd do it no other way.

  Follow they did.  One thing was quickly obvious:  this tunnel was
different from the others.  Moisture clung to its walls and ceiling,
hanging in large drops from thick spiderwebs.  This wetness soon
turned to slime, a greenish-black stuff that resembled nothing they'd
ever seen before.  Kinichi took the torch from Razor Charlie and poked
its flame into the glistening stuff, which sizzled and bubbled.

Kinichi:  I don't think it's dangerous slime, but nothing's certain.
Aja:  I thought you were a tracker extraordinaire, a master ranger-
Kinichi:  Lady, I'm the best there is - on the surface world.  Down
  here, everything's different.  If you don't like it, you lead the
  way.
Aja:  (fuming, probably because she knows he's right)
Belphanior:  Enough.
Skektek:  I could blast the whole tunnel...clean all of this crap off
  the walls.
Jutokai:  Wouldn't that roast the little ghost?
Victoria:  I doubt it.
Belphanior:  (nods)  That thing's unaffected by such conventional
  attacks.  But...let's hold off for now with the wanton destruction.
  I want to see what's at the end of this tunnel.

  Before long, the elf got his wish, as the nine companions stepped
out into a titanic underground cavern.  Its walls were covered with
phosphorescent slime, like that found in the tunnel save that the
stuff in here glowed dimly, bathing the enormous cavern in a dull
light.  From the ceiling hung huge stalactites; the chamber's floor
was uneven, covered sporadically with stalagmites.

Jutokai:  (confused)  Which are the stalagmites?
Kinichi:  Don't you remember?  The stalactites are the hanging ones,
  because-
Victoria:  Shh!

  Something stirred in the center of the vast chamber, something that
was massive...grim...and evil.  Hidden within a dense field of huge
stalagmites, the unknown menace seemed to absorb light and heat.  Just
looking at it made them uneasy.

Ys:  Aie.
Belphanior:  (getting an odd pulse from Blackrazor as he faces the
  center of the cavern)  Whatever that is, it's got a soul unlike any
  other.
Victoria:  It's something...old...and evil.
Razor Charlie:  (frowns)
Belphanior:  Evil?  Evil as in...?
Victoria:  Pure evil...power beyond mere boundaries of life and death.
Aja:  I sense it too...
Skektek:  What are you people _saying_?
Otto:  Whatever it is, it doesn't sound good.
wispy thing:  (floats near the party, eyeing the dark thing uneasily)
  Sprrd...

  The shape, whatever it might be, was now moving, emerging from its
hiding-place and coming toward them.





next:      confrontation, and a battle like no other
ftp:       ftp.digex.net in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
           ftp.nol.net in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
           ftp.tas.gov.au/misc/stories
www:       http://www.access.digex.net/~dpm
           http://www3.hmc.edu/~kshobaki/adventurers
homepage:  http://www.gatech.edu/oit/oe/design/thomas/adv.html
mail:      tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu       (preferred)
           thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu         (emergency)
notes:     I meant to bring back the wispy thing dozens of episodes
  ago, but I always kept forgetting.  Not this time!
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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