Chapter #499

previous chapter (#498)                                                                  next chapter (#500)






                                  +
                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      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   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Alindyar     17th level drow mage                            (N) +
+    Lyra       13th level female drow mage                     (N) +
+  Belphanior  (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief       (CN) +
+    Otto        8th/9th level dwarven fighter/thief           (CN) +
+    the wispy thing                                                +
+  Ged          15th/14th level grey elven priest/mage         (NG) +
+    Arnold     13th level human barbarian warrior             (NG) +
+  Mongo        18th level dwarven fighter                     (CG) +
+    Gorin      10th level dwarven fighter                     (NG) +
+  Peldor       20th level human thief                          (N) +
+    Tanya       5th/11th level female human fighter/thief      (N) +
+    Bosco      11th level halfling thief                      (CN) +
+  Rillen       17th level human monk                           (N) +
+    Songa      13th level human huntress                       (N) +
+                                                                   +
+  Cynder       red Great Wyrm & unwilling guest-star          (CE) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        6/26/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        apparently daytime, though nothing is certain       +
+  Place:       one of Orcus' layers of the Abyss                   +
+  Climate:     chilly                                              +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "Science asks how. Philosophy asks why. Dragons don't care."     +
+                                   - a .signature on the internet  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                  XDIX.  Welcome to the Abyss





  After enough action to last most adventuring parties a lifetime,
our heroes find themselves in the Abyss, sucked through after
Belphanior used the Wand of Orcus to return demons to their realm.
Complicating matters, the stranger introduced as Ashe has been
revealed as their old enemy, the red dragon Cynder.  Naturally,
this situation calls for drastic measures...

Belphanior:  We have a deal, then?
Cynder:  (wags his head thoughtfully)  Yes...a deal.
Ged:  To hell with that!  We can't make a deal with...with...(he
  gestures in the huge dragon's direction)
Otto:  Maybe you'd prefer to be char-broiled?
Cynder:  Or eaten?  (he licks his lips with his forked tongue)
  Elves taste good...especially when done over a flame.
Lyra:  That's enough, now.  We don't need to be baiting and arguing
  with each other.
Rillen:  (glances at Cynder, nodding)
Ged:  (turns to Lyra, incredulously)  You're in on this too?!?  You
  and Alindyar, of all people, should realize the insanity of this
  plan!
Alindyar:  We realize the practicality of it, as well.  (ESPing to
  Lyra)  He seems quite agitated.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Who can blame him?  We'd just better
  keep a close watch on this dragon.
Belphanior:  It's a perfectly sensible truce.  He can't get home on
  his own; if there's a way to do it, we're going to figure it out.
  And the power Cynder adds to our group is significant.
Ged:  He's completely untrustworthy!  I still say-
Mongo:  That's enough.  I don't like it, but it sure beats the
  other choice.  We've got enough problems without going up against
  a dragon.  Even a red dragon.  (he glares at Cynder)
Cynder:  (hisses, steam coming from his nostrils)  Dwarf meat tastes
  pretty good too, you know...though it's a bit on the tough side.
Arnold:  (wondering how Cynder lowered his voice to a non-thunderous
  level, while still in dragon form)
Peldor:  (to one side, chatting with Tanya, his sword in his hand)
  This isn't good.
Tanya:  Agreed, but what else can we do?  If we piss the dragon off,
  he might just fly up into the air and then breathe all over us.
Peldor:  True.  We can't afford any losses at this point.  Hell, we
  can't even afford the strength such a battle would waste.
Bosco:  (trots over)  Hey, whatcha talking about?
Tanya:  Actually, we were just discussing the idea of playing cards
  against Cynder.
Bosco:  Cards?  Heck, I could beat him...I can beat anybody.
Tanya:  (shakes her head)
Peldor:  Hmm, look, I think they've made a decision...

  Nearby...

Belphanior:  Orcus said that his palace was that way...so that's the
  direction we should head.
Gorin:  I thought you said it was bad to say his name?
Ged:  Normally, it is, because doing so runs the risk of summoning
  him from the Abyss.  However, since we're now _in_ the Abyss, it's
  really a moot point.
Alindyar:  All too true.
wispy thing:  (rotating in place, it scans the surrounding wasteland)
  Sprrd.
Cynder:  The matter is settled, then.  We go that way.  (he glances
  at one of the demon corpses, which like the others has dissolved
  into a red-and-black puddle)
Bosco:  (revolted)  You're not gonna get sick from eating those, are
  you?
Cynder:  (blows a puff of steam from between his teeth)  I seriously
  doubt it.
Bosco:  Hmm.  (his face brightens)  Say, you don't play cards, do
  you?
Cynder:  No.
Bosco:  Whyever not?
Cynder:  I don't have time for such foolishness.
Bosco:  Well, now's as good a time as any to start-
Cynder:  Stop bothering me, halfling, or I'll eat you.
Bosco:  (suddenly decides that his conversation might be better
  appreciated elsewhere, and wanders over toward Gorin and Arnold)

  The odd group began marching across the bleak, forbidding waste-
lands.  The broken ground periodically spewed forth gouts of green
smoke, which proved noxious to breathe as it caused choking, watery
eyes, and runny noses.  The crimson sky was backlit by jagged bolts
of black lightning, which was bizarre since neither rain nor heavy
clouds were present above.  Indeed, this entire place was bizarre.
  And then there was the land itself.  The very rock of the ground,
besides being jagged, was inconsistent in texture and composition.
One chunk of stone would be hard and tough, while the next was shot
through with holes and deteriorated areas - almost as if it was
rotting.  Occasional rivers crossed the landscape, their "waters"
a murky black substance that was definitely not water.  Fortunately,
the wayfarers were able to keep to their path without having to
cross these rivers...for now, anyway.

Cynder:  Orcus' very own level of the Abyss...it's hard to believe.
Otto:  Why's that?
Cynder:  Because we're here.  I suppose there are worse levels of
  the Abyss to be in...such as Demogorgon's prehistoric jungles,
  or Jubilex' fungus-world, or even Yeenoghu's dry salt-plains.
Gorin:  I know I already asked this, but won't the saying of such
  names risk calling those beings?
Cynder:  Not on this plane.  Other demon lords have no desire to
  come here, where Orcus rules supreme.
Belphanior:  How come you know so much about demons and the Abyss?
Cynder:  It's a...pasttime of mine.  (he rolls his huge head to
  work out some kink in his massive, serpentine neck)  Then again,
  when you've walked through thirteen centuries like I have, you
  tend to pick up a variety of interests.
Otto:  I'll just bet.
Belphanior:  (to Cynder)  I kinda figured we were all even, after
  that last incident in the Griff Mountains.
Cynder:  Even?
Belphanior:  Even.  You know, squared away...no hard feelings, that
  sort of thing.
Cynder:  Oh.  (he frowns, exposing rows upon rows of large, sharp
  teeth)  Well, actually, if you must know, I thought that a mighty
  fine joke.
Mongo:  (finally breaks his silence)  A joke?!?  You sent us to an
  infernal hellhole-
Cynder:  (looking around, at the bleak landscape and the red sky)
  There are worse places, you know.
Mongo:  Hmm, I see your point.  But still...that shit wasn't funny!
Cynder:  Neither was the manner in which you-  (he glares at
  Belphanior)  -banished me from the buried fortress of Aranor.
  I was _not_ amused.
Belphanior:  You'd think that being freed from that place after...
  how long was it, anyway?
Cynder:  (disdainfully)  Almost two centuries.
Belphanior:  Right.  You'd think that being freed after almost two
  centuries would have been a boon...a great boon!
Cynder:  Next, you'll no doubt claim that _I_ owe _you_ a favor.
Belphanior:  (frowns)
Cynder:  (lowers his head close to Belphanior, hissing)  Your kind
  will never be even with me, elf.  Never.
Otto:  (in a hushed voice)  That dragon, he's a crafty one...
Gorin:  Yep.  What do you expect, though?
Otto:  I expected him to have eaten us by now.  (he produces a twig
  of blackroot and begins chewing on it)  I'd say we're doing pretty
  well, considering...
Ged:  (obviously bothered by this friendliness - even if it's a
  forced thing - he keeps his counsel with the drow, Peldor, and
  Tanya)  This is revolting.
Peldor:  Face it, things could be worse.
Lyra:  Don't say that, or it might come true.
Tanya:  That could be bad.
Alindyar:  An understatement, to be sure.
Ged:  We need to find that cursed fortress of Orcus.  (he eyes the
  surrounding barrens)  I don't see anything.
Peldor:  (scanning the horizon)  Me neither.
Tanya:  Orcus might have lied to us.  He seems like the sort.
Alindyar:  Aye, but this direction is as good as any other.
Ged:  I don't think so.  Orcus is devious, but he wants something to
  go to this much trouble.  Definitely the wand, probably us too.
  Unholy bastard.  He'll pay for this.
Peldor:  You kind of have to figure...if he'd wanted to kill us,
  we'd be dead already.
Lyra:  (to Ged)  Do you believe that...what Orcus said about us not
  being able to return home on our own power?
Ged:  (sighs)  I didn't...but now I do.  That was the first thing I
  tried, as we got moving - a plane shift.
Peldor:  It didn't work?
Ged:  Not only didn't it work, but it didn't even give me any sense
  of nearby planes.  This must really be Orcus' primary layer of the
  Abyss.
Cynder:  Actually, it is.  The demon prince of the undead lords it
  over several Abyssal planes, but this one agrees with all of the
  legends and whispered words of the sages and scholars.  It is
  almost certainly the dreaded four-hundred and ninety-ninth layer
  of the Abyss.
Tanya:  Are you eavesdropping on our conversation?
Cynder:  (shrugs, an odd, rippling movement for a dragon, and then
  replies matter-of-factly)  I hear everything.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  I believe it is safe to say that yon
  dragon cannot eavesdrop on _this_ conversation.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Let's hope not.  We may well need to
  formulate a plan of attack against him, before long.
Ged:  (talking to Cynder once more)  If you know so much, dragon,
  then tell me this:  where is the great palace Orcus told us about?
Cynder:  (frowns)  Probably right where he told us it would be.  The
  prince dwells in a vast palace made entirely of bones...atop a
  great mound of bone dust.
Otto:  That's a lot of bones.
Cynder:  Orcus has killed a lot of people...and demons.  In fact,
  some think that he has already conquered several alternate Prime
  Material planes.
Gorin:  Huh?  What're those?
Belphanior:  Other planes like our own...but different in some way.
Ged:  Like Oerth-2.
Gorin:  What's that?
Mongo:  (to Ged)  Gorin wasn't with us on that one, remember?
Ged:  Oh, yea.
Gorin:  (somewhat confused)
Alindyar:  You say that the demon lord controls those, in addition
  to Abyssal planes?
Cynder:  That's correct.  He rules the four-hundred ninety-seventh
  through five-hundred first layers of the Abyss...at the very least.
  (he frowns)  Then again, ruling here is a temporal thing, at best.
Lyra:  Are all of his layers like this one?
Cynder:  I don't know, but I doubt it.
Ged:  No answers...you've given us nothing, really.
Cynder:  (glares down at the relatively tiny elf)  Don't take my
  granting you this knowledge lightly, elf.  If I did not care for
  your help-
Ged:  Then you'd be stuck here until Orcus rips out your worthless
  black heart!
Cynder:  Don't interrupt me again, or I'll chew you up and decorate
  the landscape with your remains.
Ged:  (thinking of a suitable retort, he grips Lightbringer tightly)
Cynder:  Are you so eager to die, and possibly risk your friends'
  deaths as well, just to get in the last word against me?
Ged:  (remains silent, for now at least)

  There was an uncomfortable silence then, but thanks to a certain
halfling, it didn't last long...

Bosco:  (dashing alongside Cynder just to keep up)  Say, you're awful
  chatty for an evil dragon.
Cynder:  Consider that I was, after all, trapped by myself for more
  than a month.  Even I can get bored.
Bosco:  I know what you mean.  It's a good thing we freed you from
  that place - if not for your help, we'd have surely been killed
  by now.
Cynder:  The demons?
Bosco:  Yeah.  You really tore them all to bits.  Do you always do
  that in battle?
Cynder:  You ask a lot of questions, halfling.
Bosco:  (cheerfully)  I've never met a dragon before.  Well, not a
  _red_ dragon!
Cynder:  Don't be too curious.  Curious halflings don't usually fare
  well with dragons...though there was this one time-  (he breaks
  off)  What are you getting at?
Bosco:  Pardon?
Cynder:  Enough of these flattery games.  What do you want to know?
Bosco:  About what?
Cynder:  You tell me.  (he grins, flashing rows of fangs once again)
  Perhaps you're wondering how and why I ended up on Oonga's island?
Bosco:  Uh...er...
Belphanior:  (steps forth)  As a matter of fact, I was.  I would've
  figured you to have beaten anything you ran into there, and then
  found the lair, and the loot.
Cynder:  Well, that's almost what happened.  I killed several dozen
  of the isle's barbaric natives...a large plant-eating lizard...two
  of those flying lizards...even a gigantic ape.
Ged:  Not Oonga, then?
Cynder:  Not Oonga - though if he and I had met, he would have been
  added to my kill list.
Mongo:  (snickers, though not too loudly)
Lyra:  Why did you kill several dozen barbarians?
Cynder:  I got hungry.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  We must remember not to turn our backs
  to this beast.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  That would be hard to forget.
Belphanior:  (to Cynder)  so you brought a party of your own, to the
  island?
Cynder:  Why do you want to know?
Belphanior:  Just curious.  (he eyes Bosco)  Just curious about what
  could lay low a party whose number included a mighty wyrm such as
  yourself.
Cynder:  Oh, are you, now?
Belphanior:  (boldly)  I am.
Cynder:  (makes a wheezing noise that might be a sigh)  The damned
  savages...
Otto:  What's this, now?
Cynder:  As mighty as I am, I can't always surround myself with
  minions who are up to the task.
Peldor:  Yeah, we remember the jermaline.
Cynder:  (ignores the thief)  Between the foolishness and cowardice
  of my so-called warriors and priests, and the relentless attacks
  of the savages, we were worn down.  By the time we found Oonga's
  cavern, the most sensible course of action was for me to change
  my form and sneak in with the others who were still alive.
Ged:  Ashe!
Cynder:  Exactly.
Arnold:  Aaa.  Abshe.
Belphanior:  We, too, were worn down by the savages and other foes
  and dangers.  Doubtless, had our party not been so many in number,
  we too would have been ill-fated.
Alindyar:  (realizes something, and ESPs to Lyra)  He could not solve
  the riddle!  For all his intellect, the dragon was unable to solve
  the riddle of the treasure room!
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Belphanior's doing a pretty good job of
  building on the foundation Bosco laid.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Using flattery to get information?
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Exactly.
Ged:  (pretty much muttering to himself)  But why was he there in
  the first place...?
Cynder:  What's that you say?
Belphanior:  What were you doing on the isle in the first place?
  After the wand, no doubt, as we were...
Cynder:  (shakes his head)  You do not need to know everything.
Otto:  (cursing under his breath)  Damn.
Arnold:  (in the rear of the party, with Bosco, Rillen and Songa)
  What do you think of Cymber?
Bosco:  Me?  I think he's a helluva dragon...but probably a lousy
  poker player.
Arnold:  Aaa.
Bosco:  How about you?  What do you think of him?
Arnold:  Besides that he midht be able to hear us?  I think he's a
  dangerous one to have around.
Bosco:  No doubt about that...
wispy thing:  (minding its own business, it flies along behind the
  party, scanning the landscape with its immaterial little eyes)
  Pffft.
Songa:  (keeping her jaw clenched as she walks, spear in hand)
Rillen:  What's troubling you?
Songa:  (laughs)  Take your pick.
Rillen:  Hmm.
Songa:  Why do you think I'm troubled?
Rillen:  I can tell.  (he smiles)  So, if it's a lot of things...
  what's the foremost of them?
Songa:  (looks around wistfully)  You know how I feel about magic.
  I've done well to put up with it as I have, so far on this whole
  quest.  But now this...the demon-worlds?  A dragon?!?
Rillen:  It's just magic of a different kind.
Songa:  To hell with that!  I don't like it, and I don't want to!
Rillen:  (puts an arm around her)
Songa:  We don't _belong_ here, Rillen.
Rillen:  None of our group do.
Songa:  This isn't my idea of a great quest.  Great quests happen
  on normal worlds, against normal flesh-and-blood foes.  This is
  nothing fit for any warrior...any true warrior.
Rillen:  I know...I know.  But we'll deal with it; do you know why?
Songa:  Hmm?
Rillen:  We'll deal with it because we have to.  Because we have no
  other choice.  The human body and mind can do far, far more than
  one might think, when forced to.  (he smiles at her)  Does this
  sound familiar?
Songa:  (nods)  It does.
Rillen:  I promise, when this is over - and it will be over - we'll
  go back home and stay there.  No more roaming these weird places.
  Until then, we've got to persevere...we can't let the demons kill
  our fighting spirit, because if they do that, they've won...they've
  truly won.
Songa:  It's a deal.
Rillen:  Good.  Now, if we could only-

  Their conversation (and all the others) was interrupted by a
strange buzzing sound which came from above.  As the companions
watched, several large, insectoid things appeared on the horizon,
closing fast!

Ged:  Demons, or I'm no servant of Boccob!
Peldor:  Boy, you're quick.
Gorin:  (feeling somewhat lethargic as he hears the buzzing)  Uh...
Arnold:  (likewise, but he shrugs off the effect with an incredible
  force of will)
Belphanior:  (scanning the sky)  Chasme...five of 'em.
Mongo:  Make that four.  (with an incredible throw, he hurls Storm-
  crest into the air, knocking one of the approaching creatures from
  the sky)
chasme#1:  (floats weakly to the ground, its buzzing faint at this
  distance)
Cynder:  Impressive...most impressive.  (he begins flapping his huge
  wings)
Belphanior:  Why haven't you been flying this whole time?
Cynder:  I had to keep pace with you fools...and besides, it can get
  tiring.  (he begins to rise into the air)
Gorin:  (knocked down by the wind from the dragon's wings)  Hey,
  watch it!
Cynder:  (rising into the sky, he turns to the fly-like demons)
  GRAAAAAAARGH!
demons:  (break formation, perhaps fearing a breath attack)

  Cynder, however, had no such ideas.  Soaring into the demons'
midst at full speed, he rammed into the nearest of the foes and
knocked it from the sky.

chasme#1:  (nearly torn in half, it plummets to the sharp, rough
  ground)  Bzzzzzz-  <SPLAT>
Cynder:  RAAARGH!  (he turns, wheeling clumsily but effectively in
  the air)

  The other chasme opted to attack the party, both to flee the red
dragon and to seek easier prey.  However, the adventurers were not
unprepared...

Arnold:  (takes a hit on his breastplate, but retaliates with a
  wing-severing slash of his huge sword)  Ah-nold!
chasme#3:  (wounded, it flies back upward)  BZZZZ!
Rillen:  (pierces the thing's thorax with a pair of arrows)  Got
  you!
chasme#3:  (still struggling to climb, as it leaks ichor beneath
  its black body)  Bzzzzz...
Bosco:  (also flying, faster and invisible, he backstabs the thing
  aerially)  Take that, ugly!
chasme#3:  (its chitinous skull split, it falls with all the weight
  of a dead mass)
Bosco:  (fades into sight as he descends)  That's Bosco...demonic
  fly-swatter!
chasme#4:  (heading straight for Belphanior)  Bzzzzzzzzzz!
Belphanior:  (brandishes the Wand of Orcus, holding it high in one
  clenched hand)  Let's see how you like _this_!
chasme#4:  Bzzzz-  (abruptly and sharply changes its course, almost
  as if knocked aside by some eldritch force)
Belphanior:  Fuck me...it works!
chasme#4:  (reels as Lyra's flame arrow stabs into its shiny black
  belly)  Bzzzzzz!
Ged:  (following the thing with his wand, as it flies erratically
  away)  There...there...aha!  Axui!  (he engulfs the demon in
  searing flames)
chasme#4:  (its magic resistance having failed it, it burns to death
  rather quickly)
Songa:  (poised to cast a spear, she decides to save the weapon)
chasme#5:  (divebombs Tanya)  Zzzzzz!
Tanya:  (ducks the attack, swinging her sword as the monster passes
  overhead)
chasme#5:  (gashed on one flank, it circles for another pass)
Gorin:  (charging to help Tanya)  Hang on!
Peldor:  I'll take it from here.  (he points to the fly-demon)  When
  you mess with my lady, you mess with me.  (he TKs a jagged chunk
  of stone up from the ground)
chasme#5:  (scraped by the unexpected missile)  Bzzzzz!  (it turns
  for another attack...just as a shadow covers it from above)
Cynder:  (lands atop the demon, squashing it like the bug it really
  is)  Oops.
Ged:  (surveying the battlefield, wild-eyed)  Boccob!  We trounced
  them!
Mongo:  (already wiping the gore from his hammer)  Aced 'em.
Belphanior:  Too easy...all too easy.  It was just a test.
Mongo:  Huh?
Cynder:  He's right.  Orcus is merely feeling us out...checking our
  strengths and weaknesses.  (he smiles monstrously, stepping off
  of the crushed chasme)  Not that I have any weaknesses.
Otto:  Or he could be trying to wear us down.
Belphanior:  Or both.  That's what I'd do if I was him.
Arnold:  (wandering about)  Ah-nold has won again!
Bosco:  And Bosco too.
Peldor:  (shaking his head)  Nobody wins in a situation like this.
Tanya:  Not until we escape this world, anyhow.
Gorin:  (addresses Cynder, while pointing at one corpse with his
  axe)  Not hungry at the moment?
Cynder:  Eat _those_?  Come, now - I am a carnivore, not a damned
  insectivore!
Otto:  (to Gorin)  I was kinda hoping he'd eat them, so as to not
  be hungry later.
Gorin:  (nods)  Yeah, me too.
Cynder:  I prefer maidens, actually.  (he waxes nostalgic)  Ah,
  for the good old days...
Tanya:  (staring at the dragon incredulously)
Belphanior:  (examining the Wand of Orcus, muttering to himself)
  All the legends are true...or at least that one.
Otto:  What are you talking about?
Belphanior:  No demon can attack the bearer of the wand, if that
  bearer simply brandishes the relic.
Ged:  (approaching)  Yea, I think it's high time we discussed the
  wand situation.
Belphanior:  What wand situation?
Mongo:  Well...see...
Ged:  What he means to say is, we don't think it's a very good idea
  for you to hold the wand.
Belphanior:  Oh, really?  (he gestures at the demon corpses with the
  thing)  And why not?  I used it to great effect in the battle!
Lyra:  You didn't use it to _great_ effect.  Furthermore, if the
  legends are even half-right, using it to full effect would be one
  more step toward binding you to Orcus' service.
Ged:  (nods firmly)  Yea.
Belphanior:  What, you think one of you would do better with the
  damned thing?
Alindyar:  We want to keep it safe...in Mongo's portable hole.
Mongo:  (turns to Ged with a "we do?" look)
Ged:  Right.  The wand is best kept safe and out of harm's way.
Belphanior:  Bullshit!  The wand is best kept where it belongs:  as
  a weapon, on the field of battle.
Mongo:  Let's not be hasty, now-
Belphanior:  To hell with haste!  (he yells, loudly and angrily)
  This wand has vast powers, and I - _I_ - intend to use them to
  get us out of here in one piece!
Ged:  See?  My point is proven:  the wand affects you already.
Peldor:  He's right...I think.
Mongo:  Sure seems that way.  (he eyes Belphanior uneasily)
wispy thing:  (hovering above Belphanior's head, it makes an angry
  face)  Sprrd.
Ged:  Of course I'm right.  An evil relic turns its bearer toward
  evil...as Belphanior of all people should know.
Belphanior:  (grits his teeth angrily)  That may be...but we need
  to keep it handy.  And I'm the best one to do that very thing!
  I overcame the evil eye...and no damn wand will master me!
Otto:  Agreed.
Ged:  Who asked you?
Otto:  You sure didn't.
Ged:  (with an effort, he ignores the dwarf and turns back toward
  Belphanior)  Surely you remember the last time you had to deal
  with this issue.  Then, you lost an eye.  This time, you could
  lose your head!
Belphanior:  (red-faced)  Are you threatening me?!?
Ged:  Certainly not - you're doing a fine job all by yourself.
Cynder:  (suddenly squirts several tiny gouts of flame into the
  ground nearby)  AHEM.
Belphanior:  (he stops his tirade as he realizes that he's red-faced
  and practically frothing at the mouth)  Eh?
Ged:  (carefully shifting his gaze back and forth between Cynder and
  Belphanior)  Yea?
Cynder:  We have a long road ahead, and time is short.  With that
  in mind, I would surely appreciate it if you fools would cease
  your pointless and inane arguing.
Belphanior:  (turns to Cynder, then to Ged)  Yeah.
Ged:  (turns to face Cynder as well)  Look here, now - this is an
  internal matter-
Cynder:  I could fly away and find Orcus' palace on my own, you know.
Belphanior:  (springs to Ged's defense)  But you won't, because you
  need us.
Cynder:  Perhaps, but there's only so much foolishness I'm willing
  to tolerate.  I hope I make myself clear.
Belphanior:  You need us...just like we need you.
Cynder:  Bah.

  The dragon may have been angry, but he knew that the adventurers
were right; he settled for merely fuming and growling.  Belphanior
conveniently ended his debate with Ged by casting a spell of flying
on himself, and taking to the air to have a better vantage point.

Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Damn, but that was tense.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Aye...Belphanior may destroy us all,
  if he is allowed to.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  What are you saying?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  I'm not quite sure.

  The band traveled diligently onward, each of the adventurers
keeping their thoughts to themselves, or perhaps to those nearest
them.  The terrain didn't change much, though after a short time
it leveled off a bit.  Though Belphanior was aloft and Cynder
might as well have been, it was Bosco who spotted the road, with
the aid of his magical spyglass.

Bosco:  (flying a mere ten feet above the jagged terrain)  Holy cow.
  Look!  Look there!

  The halfling was pointing to a wide road of some sort, and the
group quickly made for the route.

Ged:  I'll feel a lot more comfortable if we're actually _on_ some
  kind of road or trail.
Mongo:  This thing would seem to fit the bill.
Belphanior:  Bear in mind that Orcus might have put the road here
  to lead us astray.
wispy thing:  (bobbing in the air lazily)  Spaaa.
Bosco:  You think he'd really do that?
Cynder:  Absolutely.  The chaos of the demons knows no bounds.
Tanya:  (whispering to Peldor)  He's one to talk.
Peldor:  Just keep cool, hon.

  As they neared the road, they quickly ascertained that this was
no normal highway.  Doubtless it had once been a majestic route,
but it now had the appearance of having been abandoned for years.
About twenty feet wide, its largish stones were worn and cracked,
not to mention littered with bits of bone, remnants of rotting
corpses, and frequent bloodstains (both dried and fresh.)  The
path rose a mere foot or so above the rocky terrain, but it was
a road, and they decided to take it.
  Of course, nothing was as simple as one might think.  The road
was hardly abandoned; demons and other weird creatures came and
went, going in both directions before the adventurers' unbelieving
eyes.  To one side, they saw a herd of manes, the pathetically
weak sub-demons that were both battle fodder and food here in the
Abyss.  To the other side, the adventurers observed a harem of
wicked, winged female demons.  One of these beings gestured to
the party, causing her companions to alternately giggle and hiss.

she-demon#5:  (smiling seductively at Ged)  Come, sweet elf, and
  taste the forbidden pleasures of our beds...
Ged:  Aie!
Tanya:  (to Peldor)  What the hell are those things?
Peldor:  Beats the hell out of me.
Songa:  They just might.  They seem vile enough.
Cynder:  They are merely succubi...lowly sluts of the Abyss.  They
  tend to mate with anything that moves.
Ged:  (absolutely horrified, he holds up his holy symbol)  Away,
  demonic Jezebels!
succubus#5:  Ha, ha!  Your god cannot help you here, elf...come
  hither, into our soft embrace...
Cynder:  (laughs, deeply and dangerously)  Begone, succubus, lest
  I rip the wings from your body and roast you alive.  (he spreads
  his mammoth wings lazily)
succubus#5:  (recoils in fear, and her wagon quickly moves onward)
Bosco:  I guess you showed her.
Cynder:  (shakes his massive head)  No.  If I had showed her, she
  wouldn't be alive to realize it.
Belphanior:  Heh.  (to Otto)  I like the way this guy thinks.
Otto:  (frowns)  Just remember, we're allies out of necessity, not
  friendship.
Cynder:  (regards the dwarf, and the elf)  You know, there could
  be a place for ones such as you in my service.  With your talents
  and aggressiveness, you would go far...
Belphanior:  Tempting...but not the kind of decision I'd want to
  make hastily.
Ged:  (listening in disbelief)
Cynder:  But of course.  Take all the time you wish...just remember
  not to cross me in the meantime.
Belphanior:  (his eye narrows, ever so slightly)

  They continued on their way, taking the road in the approximate
direction Orcus had indicated earlier.  All sorts of demons passed
them, and vice versa, on the road.  It was all Ged and Mongo could
do not to attack these fiends...

Ged:  They should all be destroyed.
Cynder:  No sooner would you slay one, than two would spring up to
  take its place.  The Abyss is home to countless legions of the
  things.
Ged:  (fuming)
Rillen:  The fact that they're not attacking us seems a good sign.
Mongo:  I guess they respect our power.
Arnold:  (nodding)  Yah.
Cynder:  They no doubt respect _my_ power.
Alindyar:  Also consider the fact that word may have gone before us.
  Orcus' word.
Peldor:  (considers this)  Crap.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Most likely they have been commanded
  to leave us alone, so long as we travel along the road towards
  Orcus' palace.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Not exactly a comforting thought.

  The variety of demons on the road was staggering.  In addition
to the species they had fought previously (dretch, babau, chasme,
hezrou, vrock, nalfeshnee, and so forth) there were dozens of
other kinds.  Six-headed demons...demons with tentacles instead
of hands...octopi-demons that walked on two legs...demons with
huge mouths and no eyes...skeletal demons with arms growing out
of their backs...demons that hopped along like tightly wound
springs...all these, and more, the adventurers encountered as
they went.

Cynder:  Hmm...I don't suppose any of you speak the demon tongue?
Alindyar:  That can be arranged-
Belphanior:  Allow me.  (he opens an arcane tome, flipping through
  its worn pages until he finds what he wants, and begins casting
  a spell)
Ged:  What's this?
Lyra:  He's doing something from that book...
Belphanior:  (looking around, he grabs a small, puny-looking demon
  by the hair, speaking in the demonic equivalent of Common)  You!
puny demon:  Ack!
Belphanior:  Which way to Orcus' palace?
puny demon:  (pointing, it confirms Belphanior's suspicions)  That
  way, that way!  He's that way!  You're crazy to go there, but his
  palace is that way-
Belphanior:  (tosses the thing aside and turns to his companions)
  Like he said, and like we thought...that way.  (he points)
Mongo:  (notes that the puny demon is fleeing down the road, every
  now and then casting a fearful glance back over his shoulder)
  You sure scared the shit out of him.
Gorin:  (narrowly avoids stepping in a putrid pile of black stuff
  near Belphanior)  Ugh.
wispy thing:  (grins)  Frrrp.
Belphanior:  Ha.  You've got to earn these demons' respect.
Cynder:  (smiles to himself)

  For some reason (most likely, it had something to do with the
ominous presence of Cynder) all of the passing demons left the
party alone.  Just to be on the safe side, though, Bosco kept
to the middle of the party.  More often than not, of course, the
fiends glared hatefully at the intruders - but they gave them a
relatively wide berth.
  A short while after Belphanior confirmed their course of travel,
the adventurers saw a sight that froze the blood in their veins.
The road ahead was lined with thick wooden poles, somehow set in
the rocky ground.  Upon each of these poles was an impaled corpse.
Some were fresh; others were rotting; still others were skeletal.
A wide variety of races and species were represented on the poles,
and they were contorted in a wide variety of death-poses.

Belphanior:  (regarding the various victims)  I knew it!
Peldor:  What?
Belphanior:  Impalement is more effective if you use the existing
  holes, rather than make new ones.
Cynder:  It certainly is.
Ged:  (shaking his head)
Bosco:  (his spyglass out again, he checks the horizon)  Uh...
  guys?
Alindyar:  What is it, Bosco?
Bosco:  I think we're getting close.

  In the distance was a monstrous structure, a white-walled castle
that loomed above the surrounding wastelands like a specter of
doom.

Cynder:  (squinting)  That's not stone...it's bone.
Ged:  You weren't joking, were you?
Cynder:  I never joke.  That's where Orcus dwells.
Peldor:  Sheez, and I thought the mansions in Greyhawk were big.
Tanya:  (makes a face at him)
Otto:  (wondering whose bones Orcus used to build the palace)
wispy thing:  (gazing at the terrible castle)  Snrrd...

  As they slowly neared the huge castle, they saw that its primary
tower was fashioned in the shape of a tremendously gigantic skull.
Each of the eye-sockets had to be a hundred feet wide, the mouth
much larger.  The mere sight of it sent chills down most of their
spines.

Mongo:  (raises his hammer to the sky)  Let's finish this.





next:      Orcus, a battle to end all battles, and the end of an era
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 used, for reference here and in 500, the old "Manual of
  the Planes" by Jeff Grubb.  I also used the original (there can be
  only one!) Monster Manual, combined with the 2nd edition Tanar'ri
  crap.
    On a related note, I was digging through the archives and found
  this ironic tidbit in episode #119 during the fight with the
  Balor and other demons:

    Alindyar:  Remind me, if you will, never to venture
      into the Abyss.
    Lyra:  Right.

  Ah, if they'd only known!  Of course, I didn't know either.

  Since so many people have been asking about the treasure cave
of Oonga...here's the lowdown.  The way the cave works is, you
don't see the loot offhand.  You see an empty cave, with the runes
on the walls.  If you hang around too long, you get teleported
into the extradimensional treasure space - from which there is no
escape.  On the other hand, if you solve Zagyg's little riddle,
you cause the extra-dimensional space to empty into the adjacent
cavern - treasure as well as contents of the extradimensional
trap-area.  I probably should have had a bunch of skeletons in
there with Bosco and Ashe but then again, Ashe/Cynder likely ate
them.

  The one thing I'm not sure about - the module isn't clear - is,
are the treasure and the captives in the SAME place?  I decided
no, they're in two similar but separate extradimensional spaces
that just happen to both empty upon the same condition.  (having
prisoners kept in the same room as the treasure is, in my opinion,
stupid.)  Sorry for the confusion.

  On to other news:  as you've no doubt noticed, I've been a bit
inconsistent with episode lengths between the outset of the Isle
quest and now...

  480-494 = 225935   (average episode length:  15.0 K)
  495-497 =  98462                             32.8
  498-499 =  67918                             33.9

  As you can see, the actual Isle adventures (480-497, 18 episodes)
summed to a goodly 339K.  The off-Isle adventures that followed
(498-499, 2 episodes so far with 1 to go) were only 68K total.  You
could say that I didn't pace it all out well, but I wouldn't say
that.  I just got in a writing groove from 495 onward, and began
churning out triple-size episodes.  At the same time, I wrote more
than I'd originally intended for this plotline.  Hard to explain,
but I doubt you'll complain.    :)
  On this note, expect episode 500 to be no less than 50K in length.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





previous chapter (#498)                                                                  next chapter (#500)