Chapter #500

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                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic III     +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +
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+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    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:       approaching Orcus' Palace of Bone, in the Abyss     +
+  Climate:     chilly                                              +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "We have to compromise."                                         +
+  "No.  Not even in the face of Armageddon.  Never compromise."    +
+                                         - Rorschach, _Watchmen_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                           D.  Orcus





  After roaming the Abyss, fending off wild demons, and finding a
road, the adventurers are headed toward what will surely be their
greatest challenge ever.  The sinister palace of Orcus, demon prince
of undead and the architect of various evils, lies ahead of them!

Otto:  Damned if the place doesn't get bigger as we near it...
Alindyar:  This, I fear, is no illusion.
Lyra:  If only it were.
Cynder:  It's a little too late to worry about that now, don't you
  think?
Ged:  (speechless for once, he alternates his gaze between the
  castle ahead and the impaled corpses that line the road)  By
  Boccob...this is pure evil.
Belphanior:  I think I read somewhere that this path is called the
  "Road of the Damned".
Peldor:  Well, that makes sense.
wispy thing:  Frrrp.
Cynder:  The Road of the Damned, upon which walk all the souls that
  have been lost to Orcus.
Tanya:  Stop it!  Just stop it!
Cynder:  (smiles to himself)
Ged:  (muttering)  Pure evil, I say...
Belphanior:  (frowning)  I have the feeling that it'll only get
  worse.
Tanya:  (worried)  How much worse can it get?
Peldor:  I hope that's a rhetorical question.
Mongo:  Or one of those you're not supposed to answer.
Gorin:  (stares at an impaled demon as the group slowly passes it)
  Even the demons aren't spared from his wrath...
Rillen:  Somehow, I doubt that anybody is.
Cynder:  Right you are.  This demon lord is one of the vilest of the
  vile.
Songa:  I know only one way to deal with such-
Mongo:  Now you're talking!
Arnold:  Aaa.  (he frowns dubiously)  I don't think it will be thad
  easy.
wispy thing:  (eyeing the sprawling fortress warily)  Sprrd...

  The looming castle was easily the size of the entire walled city
of Greyhawk.  Its outer walls rose several hundred feet into the
crimson sky, the barriers fashioned of countless millions of bones
of all shapes and sizes.  Many of these, they saw as they got close
enough, were skulls, their jaws gaping in horrible, silent screams.
The great wall was far from straight, the pieces along its length
and height jutting out insanely.  Still, they had no doubt that the
thing was as stout a bulwark against attack as any wall in existence.
  Within the wall, the palace sprawled madly, its halls and towers
laid out in all directions.  It appeared that new structures and
pieces had been added with the passing of time, with no regard for
architectural continuity: the entire place was an amalgam of smaller
buildings, towers, and walls.  The only thing all of these had in
common was their composition:  every last part of the weird palace
was fashioned of dry, bleached bone.  There was no organization what-
soever to the thing - it was surely the ideal example of organized
chaos.
  The central section of Orcus' home was an immense tower, easily
five hundred feet across at its widest.  This structure was built
in the shape of a gigantic skull - or perhaps it _was_ a gigantic
skull.  It was impossible to tell for sure.  Narrower at its base
and crown than in its middle, the ghastly tower dominated both the
palace surrounding it and the broken lands beyond.
  The skull-tower's "eyes" were hundred-foot wide gaping black pits
within which nothing could be seen.  The other features of the face,
however, appeared to have their uses.  Winged demons, little more
than misshapen specks at this distance, flew into and out of the
wide "mouth" of the tower.  Within the cavernous hole that loomed
where a "nose" should have been, dark red flames flickered madly.
There was no telling what that area was, or what exactly it was
used for.
  The skull-tower had "horns" atop its curving upper slope; these
were actually small towers, perhaps fifty feet high, which marked
the absolute highest point in the entire fortress.  The sheer size
of the central skull-tower was such that even its "mouth" stood a
good hundred feet above the surrounding palace buildings.
  Above, a streak of jagged black lightning flashed through the
red sky.

Otto:  (muttering)  Welcome to hell.
Ged:  What was that?
Otto:  You'd think there would be a little guy standing here with
  pointed ears, a tail, and red skin - holding up a sign that said
  "welcome to hell".
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  How bizarre.
Lyra:  (to Otto)  That's...strange.  But this is the Abyss, not the
  Hells.
Cynder:  You're right about that.  Encounters with the devils are
  no feat at all, compared to dealing with these demons.
Ged:  And you know all about it, I suppose?
Cynder:  You suppose correctly.
Mongo:  (somewhat awed by the size and appearance of the palace)
  Uh, I guess maybe some of us are wondering what I'm wondering...
  what exactly are we gonna do now?
Arnold:  Yah, good quesdion.
Tanya:  I'll admit it, I was sort of thinking along those lines
  myself.
Rillen:  It seems to me that we must find a way to get the demon
  lord to send us home.
Peldor:  Trick him, maybe?
Cynder:  Not likely.
Mongo:  Maybe we could smash his place here up...until he gets sick
  of it and decides to get rid of us.
Belphanior:  He'd just send us to the middle of an active volcano
  or something...(he frowns)  There is another option.
Lyra:  What's that?
Belphanior:  We could negotiate.
Ged:  You've got to be kidding!
Tanya:  Negotiate?  With what?
Alindyar:  (nods at the wand Belphanior holds)  That.
Belphanior:  Right.  Remember, we've got the most powerful of his
  possessions...and the nice thing about that is, he can't just
  claim it back.
Ged:  He can't?
Cynder:  No.  The wand has its own will, and its own way.  It goes
  where it wishes, and does what it wants.
Belphanior:  A good parallel is the balor, Elik, and his eye.
Bosco:  Whoa.
Cynder:  For Orcus to reclaim the wand, it must be given to him,
  willingly.
Ged:  Boccob, that's insane!
Alindyar:  Yet, 'tis a fact we can turn to our advantage.
Ged:  (realizes something)  So that's why he couldn't just go get
  the thing himself, from the isle!
Cynder:  Correct...though the power of Zagyg protected the Isle
  anyway.  Now that the wand has been removed from that place, its
  master has significantly more control to shape its course.
Otto:  But not enough to set it.
Cynder:  That's right.
Peldor:  (to Cynder)  So why did you want the wand?  What were you
  going to do with it once you got it?
Cynder:  That is none of your affair.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Perhaps he was an unwitting agent of
  Orcus...
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  If that's the case and he's realized
  it, he'll never admit it.

  All this time, they had slowly been walking along the road as
that path wound its way toward the palace's outer wall.  Now, the
party had reached that wall, and before them stood a gate of epic
proportions.  A mere portal within the three-hundred-foot outer
wall, this door was yet impressive in its own right.  No handles
or hinges were evident upon the surface of the thing.  A hundred
feet in height, and fifty in width, it was fashioned of a single
piece of pale white wood.

Cynder:  (his eyebrows, or at least their draconian equivalent,
  rise)  Bonewood!  It must be...
Belphanior:  That stuff's a myth.
Otto:  Obviously not.
Alindyar:  Bonewood...I have heard tales of this material.
Lyra:  What tales?
Alindyar:  The rarest of woods, which is found only in the lower
  planes...bonewood.  I have heard of it, long ago when I was in
  the lands of the drow.
Bosco:  Lower planes?  You mean we're at the _bottom_ of something?
Ged:  I'm afraid it's true, Bosco.
Gorin:  Where does this "bonewood" come from?  A tree?
Alindyar:  I know not.
Cynder:  (helpfully)  Bonewood grows only on the Trees of Death,
  which are rare even here in the Abyss.  (he eyes the door)  That
  slab of bonewood was no doubt cut from a single tree...amazing.
  Simply amazing.
Peldor:  If you want to talk about amazing, check that out.

  The thief was pointing at a wide moat, far too wide to jump, that
spanned the distance between the land and the palace's outer wall.
Of course, jumping would have proven useless, since that wall was
spiky and jagged.  The moat's waters were as black as night, but
despite this, they could somehow sense things swimming through its
waters.

Bosco:  Do not, I repeat, do NOT go swimming here.
Belphanior:  (eyes the dark waters)  So how do we open the damned
  drawbridge?  A spell of knocking?
Mongo:  (patting Stormcrest)  I can think of another way.
Ged:  Somehow I doubt that a Knock spell will do the trick here,
  but I'll try-
Otto:  No need.

  The drawbridge was lowering, of its own accord!  An unseen winch
could be heard, its gears cranking slowly and ominously as it spooled
out some undoubtedly massive chain.  The great bridge of bonewood
lowered...lowered...and finally slammed into place with an impact
that made the ground tremble.  They hesitated for a moment, before
Cynder pointed out that if Orcus was going to dump them in the moat,
he'd have done it already.

Cynder:  (eyeing the castle's outdoor halls and passageways, which
  are much too small for him)  Hmm.  (he concentrates, and changes
  shape, becoming the Ashe-form once more)  Ah.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  That's twice now.  I didn't know dragons
  could polymorph at will.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  It is odd.  Perhaps the wyrm possesses
  some item or bauble...?
Bosco:  It's Ashe!
Cynder:  Forget that alias...now, and ever, I am Cynder.
Bosco:  If you say so, pal.
Cynder:  I do say so.
Rillen:  (glancing around the group, at the innards of the palace,
  which lie within the great wall)  Hmm.
Songa:  (somewhat uneasy)  This place isn't...natural.

  Countless structures - buildings and walls, dilapidated and new,
normal and alien - meshed together in a chaotic mess of jutting,
overlapping bonework.  All were pale, white, and reeked of death;
merely being in this place made the adventurers uncomfortable.  Now
that they were inside, they could see more of the palace's fiendish
population.  Demons, undead, and bizarre hybrids guarded, roamed,
flew, crawled, and slithered along and around the passages of this
terrible place.
  Their musings were interrupted by large drops of green rain,
which splattered down from the angry red sky.

Tanya:  Ow!  (she grabs her forearm)
Otto:  (feels a sting on his arm, and another on his head)  Hey!
Ged:  (feels a burning pain on his shoulder)  Boccob!  Acid rain!
Mongo:  (looking around wildly)  Indoors...(he dashes up to a double
  door of stone and kicks it open)  In here!

  The party scampered into the structure, a hall which adjoined a
larger building.  Under its solid stone roof, they were protected
from the deadly rain...and free to watch the inhabitants of Orcus'
palace run about, outside.

Belphanior:  Look at that...they're not immune to the rain...
Cynder:  Did you expect them to be?
Belphanior:  I guess not.
Gorin:  The rain isn't burning the stonework of the palace.
Alindyar:  Perhaps it is acidic only to living beings, and not dead
  matter.
Ged:  Don't be so sure...(he points to a slow-moving zombie, whose
  rotting corpse is smoking and sizzling as the rain pelts it)
Lyra:  Gorin's right, though - only ambient, sentient beings seem
  to feel the rain's sting.
Alindyar:  How bizarre.
Arnold:  Rain that burns...aaa.  This is a bad place.
Gorin:  It sure is, my friend.  It sure is.
Bosco:  Who in their right mind would want to live here?  I mean,
  look at it:  red sky, steam-holes in the ground, wandering demons,
  acid rain...sheesh!
Otto:  (watching as the number of palace denizens still in the rain
  dwindles to zero)  You'd think they'd have learned by now...
Songa:  Unless the sky always looks like this.
Rillen:  The ones that didn't learn are no doubt dead now.
Otto:  Hmm, good point - and an interesting theory.
Peldor:  Acid rain.  Who'd have thought such a thing possible?
Tanya:  What kind of twisted world would have such a thing?
Mongo:  (leaning on a wall)  You know, I'd been watching that sky,
  but I wasn't sure it'd rain.  I figured the sky was rumbling like
  it was just for the hell of it...
Ged:  Unfortunately, you seem to be mistaken.  (he points)  Look
  there.

  Outside, a small, puny-looking demon had collapsed while trying
to get indoors.  It lay on the stonework pitifully as the greenish
raindrops sizzled into its mottled hide.

puny demon:  Aaaaaaaa!
Peldor:  (wordlessly, he TKs the injured thing across the wet tiles
  and into the hall)
puny demon:  Aaaaaa-  (it hits a wall and ricochets away into a side
  passage)
Cynder:  Why did you do that?
Peldor:  What, bounce him off a wall?
Cynder:  Why did you spare his life?
Peldor:  (shrugs)  Mercy is not only for the weak.
Cynder:  Nonsense.  (he eyes the passage into which the puny demon
  bounced)  I'll go eliminate him myself-
Ged:  We don't have time for such foolishness now.  Look!

  The elf was pointing to a trio of creatures that had appeared from
another side passage.  The first was an eight-foot tall, skinny thing
with a humanoid shape but the head of a jackal.  Long, curving talons
jutted from its fingers, and its grin displayed a row of sharp teeth
between which oozed a slimy drool.  The second creature had the lower
body of a scorpion and the upper body of a four-armed man - but its
head was bald, pointy-eared, and red-skinned like the rest of its
body.  Each of its arms held a wicked, curving sword from which green
venom dripped.  The third of the visitors was an unnaturally broad,
stocky hulk of a demon, whose tiny head seemed to have no neck.  Its
three eyes, beady and black, darted to and fro as they scanned the
party.

Belphanior:  (whirls to face the trio of monsters)  Who the fuck are
  you?!?
Mongo:  Here to greet us, no doubt...
Cynder:  You mean attack us.  (he snarls menacingly)
Jackal-Head:  We are not here to attack you...unless of course you
  resist.
Four-Arm:  Orcus wants you, mortals.  He wants you bad.
No-Neck:  Grop.
wispy thing:  (floating near No-Neck)  Pffft...
Jackal-Head:  (grinning)  Time to leave, now.
Ged:  And why should we go with you?
Otto:  Hey, Orcus is going to talk to us sooner or later...might as
  well be sooner.
Peldor:  That doesn't mean we have to look forward to it...(he holds
  Tanya's hand)  But we do need to do it.
Cynder:  Orcus requests an audience with us, then?
Jackal-Head:  Orcus requests nothing.  You can go willingly, or you
  can be dragged by a hundred demons.
Mongo:  It'd take more than that, ugly.
Four-Arm:  Don't waste our lord's time.
Belphanior:  We won't.  Let's go.  (he brandishes the wand, its tiny
  ram-skull seemingly glaring evilly, and the demons recoil, ever-
  so-slightly)
No-Neck:  Grnf.
wispy thing:  (having circled behind the huge hulking demon)  Pffft.
Songa:  (to Rillen)  I'm keeping my spear ready, nonetheless.  I don't
  trust these things.
Rillen:  I don't think any of us do.  (he keeps his staff ready, using
  it as a walking stick)

  They followed the trio of demons through a maze of corridors, halls,
chambers, walkways, and staircases.  Sometimes they ascended; other
times they descended.  Once in a while they walked outdoors, though
they remained covered from the acidic rain by roofs or turrets.

Jackal-Head:  Such weak creatures you are...unable to survive a mere
  rain, here in our kingdom.
Cynder:  I wonder if you could survive the rain of my breath for a
  moment, fool.
Jackal-Head:  Don't be foolish, or else I shall-
Cynder:  (snorts, and smoke wafts from his nostrils)  You'll do what?
  What will you do, to your master's guests?
Four-Arm:  (to Jackal-Head)  Let's smash them, here and now.
No-Neck:  (clenching his gigantic, powerful fists)  Grek.
Jackal-Head:  (silent for a moment, he frowns)  No...we must bring
  these dolts to the lord.  Then, though...then they will wish they
  had shown the proper respect.
Mongo:  I'll show you respect, dog-head...the kind of respect I show
  to an enemy I'm about to smash.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  This creature seeks to taunt us.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  It's working, too - at least on some of
  our number.
Cynder:  (to Jackal-Head)  Hah.  Coward.
Jackal-Head:  Silence, fool.

  The demons led them through the palace, and at every turn the
adventurers were faced with ghastly bone-walls...chambers built of
dried corpse-parts...places where bodies and parts of bodies were
strewn about.  Surprisingly, they saw few inhabitants, other than
the three that escorted them.  This was odd, for the palace was a
huge, sprawling place; they would have expected to see more demons
roaming about.

Ged:  Where in Boccob's name are the armies, the legions of demons
  and undead?  I haven't seen nearly as many as I expected...
Otto:  You're unhappy about this?!?
Cynder:  (eyes Ged drily)  Orcus' palace is a rather vacant place,
  inhabited primarily by undead.  Only a select few demons serve
  him directly.
Jackal-Head:  (beams proudly)
Cynder:  (nods in Jackal-Head's direction)  Though if such as these
  are the best that Orcus can find, times must be lean indeed.
Jackal-Head:  Bah.  Laugh now, mortals...but in the end, I'll be
  laughing, as I devour your steaming entrails from your living
  stomachs!  Hahaha!
Bosco:  Ick.
Tanya:  How revolting.
Bosco:  (to Jackal-Head)  I bet your breath smells something mean.

  The jackal-headed demon and his companions led the group along,
and they passed through further, widely-varied rooms and halls.
One was a kitchen, wherein tiny sub-demons were being chopped and
stewed by obese demons in chefs' clothing.  Another chamber was a
storeroom, in which kegs of blood and parcels of writhing worms
were stashed away for future meals.  A third room was a torture
chamber, and a well-equipped one at that - its contents rivalled
and possibly exceeded those of any such room any of them had ever
seen.  Yet another area they passed through was some kind of vast
meeting hall, in which several dozen demons, undead, and hybrid
combinations hooted and jeered at them as they passed.

Four-Arm:  (to the party in general)  You fools are the big joke
  of the day.  Everyone knows that whatever the master has in store
  for you, it will be good.
Belphanior:  How'd you like a sword through the forehead?
Jackal-Head:  Don't play the fool.  You could be ripped to pieces
  in a matter of moments.  Besides...(he grins connivingly)...you
  may appreciate what the master has to tell you.
Ged:  Somehow I doubt that.
Gorin:  (to Arnold)  This stinks.
Arnold:  (sniffing the air)  Yah, it does.
Rillen:  (looks back, as they leave the hall and enter a wide
  passage with a high, arched ceiling)
Jackal-Head:  (speaking to his two fellows in some weird demonic
  tongue; all three of them burst into laughter)
Cynder:  Hurry it up, demon - I'm getting hungry.
Jackal-Head:  You are anxious to meet your doom?
Belphanior:  He's probably just anxious for you to meet yours.
Jackal-Head:  Grr...(he points at a pair of broad, thick, sixty-
  foot doors that loom ahead)  Your little trip is over - there
  are the doors to the Hall of Bones, Orcus' throne chamber.  (he
  smiles evilly)  In there, you shall feel the wrath and might of
  the master...and so, our job here is done.
Mongo:  Let me get this straight:  you've brought us here, and now
  your boss wants to talk to us?
Jackal-Head:  Are you a fool?  Of course, that's what I said already!
  Why do you ask?
Mongo:  Well, if we're the all-important guests, then I'm sure Orcus
  won't mind if I do this.  (with a powerful swipe of his hammer, he
  smashes the demon, knocking him a good hundred feet back down the
  hall)
Cynder:  Well-done.  There may be hope for you yet.
Mongo:  Don't bet on it.
Belphanior:  (points to the doors wordlessly, as they swing open
  with a low grinding sound)  I reckon we're expected.

  Beyond the doors was a voluminous hall, stretching an incredible
five hundred feet from end to end.  At least half that distance in
width, the vast chamber's bone-white walls and weirdly arched
ceiling were supported by massive pillars.  These columns would
have appeared carven in any other place, but the adventurers knew
that they were fashioned of hundreds of whole and partial skeletons
fused together through unearthly means.  There was a pillar every
hundred feet or so; each was more than ten feet thick.
  The great hall's floor was fashioned of smoothly-polished red
stone.  However, this area was far from spotless; various stains,
bits of food and flesh, and other detritus littered its surface.
Several doorways, some almost as large as the one in which the party
now stood, led from this place.
  Scattered about the hall, with increasing frequency toward the
far end, were various sorts of demons and undead creatures.  As in
the broken lands outside, here there was a wide variety of such
beings.  These fiendish servants busied themselves eating, drinking,
and generally making merry.  Given that they were demons, though,
this was a fiendish scene, one which caused several of the adventurers
to turn away in disgust.
  In the center of this congregation, sitting atop a gigantic throne
of bone, was Orcus himself.  There could be no doubt; the demon lord
emanated an aura of pure power, and terror.  At least fifteen feet
tall, had he been standing, the fiend was a bloated, corpulent mass
of gray flesh.  His entire body was covered in goatish hair, and his
head resembled a goat's, though its great curled horns were those of
a ram.  Orcus' legs, though smaller in comparison than the rest of
his huge body, were yet powerful - the legs of an impossibly large
goat.  His arms, however, were perfectly human, and powerfully
muscled even beneath the layers of fat.  The demon prince had wide,
black, leathery wings sprouting from his back.  Orcus had a long,
writhing tail which flicked about at the base of the throne, as if
seeking victims to sting.

  This, then, was the infamous Hall of Bones - the throne room of
Orcus himself!

Ged:  Boccob...
Belphanior:  An impressive place, to be sure.
Four-Arm:  (having appeared behind the party, he keeps a noticeable
  distance from Mongo)  Down the hall, mortals.  The Master will see
  you now.
No-Neck:  (his fists twitching)  Grok.
wispy thing:  (floating along, nearby)  Sprrd.
No-Neck:  (turns to glare at the immaterial wisp)  Grnn...
wispy thing:  (glaring right back)  Sssss...
Cynder:  (glancing about the hall, he suddenly and monstrously
  re-assumes his true form, so as to properly intimidate all who see
  him)  Ah...much better.

  They began the long march toward Orcus and his retinue; the latter
body consisted of at least one of every known kind of undead creature
and demonic monster - and then some.  Now, all of these things' eyes
were upon the adventurers and the dragon, as the intruders made their
way toward Orcus' throne.

Bosco:  Long walk, from here to the there...
Cynder:  The demon lord no doubt enjoys having us march down the
  length of his hall.  It amuses him.
Belphanior:  It'd amuse me, too.
Peldor:  It doesn't amuse me...not one bit.
Otto:  (wondering what the demon prince wants with them)

  As they walked down the hall, the very walls seemed to be watching
them.  Had they not all been there together, some of the party would
doubtless have fled in terror.  The whole place exuded evil, fear,
and death - to a degree that none of them had previously experienced.
In addition to this innate effect, the members of Orcus' retinue
jeered and chattered amongst themselves, no doubt making wagers as
to the fate of the party.
  Several times, Cynder brushed against the huge supporting pillars
of the hall; however, they were even sturdier than they looked, and
the dragon's weight didn't topple them.  As the party neared Orcus'
throne, the demon prince raised his hands in greeting.

Orcus:  WELCOME, MORTAL WORMS!
Cynder:  RETURN ME HOME...NOW.
Orcus:  I THINK NOT, WYRM.  YOU, AND YOUR SERVANTS THERE, WILL HEAR
  MY WORDS.
Ged:  (raises his comparatively puny voice)  I am no servant of...
  of..._that_!
Belphanior:  (ignoring both Cynder and Ged, he boldly addresses the
  demon prince)  Let's cut right through the bullshit, shall we?
  Why have you brought us here?
Orcus:  AH...WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO KNOW?
Cynder:  (growling menacingly)  _I_ CERTAINLY WOULD.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  We should be prepared for the moment
  where battle breaks out.  I would suggest that, unlike previous
  battles of great scope, we keep together this time...grouped in
  a tight knot, preferably.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Agreed.  I'll try and pass the word down,
  without drawing attention.

  While some of her companions talked with Orcus and tried to make
sense of the situation, Lyra managed to let Tanya know what she and
Alindyar were thinking.  Tanya used the sign-language of the thieves
to alert Otto, Bosco, and Peldor to the plan.  From there, it was a
relatively simple matter to pass the word on, one-by-one, to the
others.
  Meanwhile...

Orcus:  (grins, popping a small, wriggling creature into his mouth)
  I BROUGHT YOU HERE TO MAKE YOU AN OFFER.
Ged:  What kind of offer?
Belphanior:  An offer we can't refuse?
Orcus:  SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
Cynder:  MAKE YOUR OFFER, THEN, DEMON LORD.
Orcus:  WHY?  DO YOU HAVE SOMEWHERE TO BE?  HA, HA, HA!
Cynder:  (fumes, smoke pouring from his nostrils)
Belphanior:  The dragon's right, dem-  Orcus.  Say your piece.
Orcus:  (slaps a vrock that wandered into his arm's reach)  MY OFFER
  IS SIMPLE:  I BROUGHT YOU HERE TO RECRUIT YOU.
Ged:  Aie!  (he goes white with horror, then red with rage)  Never,
  by Boccob...NEVER!
Rillen:  (shaking his head in disbelief)
Mongo:  I'll be damned...
Otto:  I think that's the general idea.
Cynder:  RECRUIT?!?
Belphanior:  Recruit?
Orcus:  YOU HEARD CORRECTLY.  I HAVE NEED OF AGENTS ON THE PRIME
  MATERIAL PLANE...EVER SINCE YOU DISPOSED OF NECROS FOR ME.
Peldor:  Hey, it was our pleasure-
Orcus:  THEN YOU REALIZE THAT YOU OWE ME...ALL OF YOU.
Songa:  (wondering what the hell the demon lord is talking about)
Bosco:  I don't owe you anything, fatso.  You never beat me at cards.
  Heck, you never even _played_ cards with me.
Orcus:  SILENCE, APPETIZER.  (he turns to Cynder)  YOU, ESPECIALLY,
  I WOULD THINK WOULD UNDERSTAND THE IMPORT OF THIS OFFER.
Cynder:  I ALREADY HAVE AN EMPIRE, OF MY OWN.
Ged:  (turning to Arnold)  He does?
Arnold:  (shrugs)  Aaa.
Orcus:  NO MATTER.  THE BENEFITS OF SERVING ME ARE MANY...(he points
  at Belphanior)  YOU KNOW OF THIS ALREADY.
Belphanior:  I wouldn't exactly call it a privilege.
Orcus:  (his tail flicks back and forth)  CALL IT WHATEVER YOU WISH.
  I CAN GRANT YOU POWERS FAR GREATER THAN THOSE ALLOWED BY YOUR
  CURRENT FORM.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  What is he talking about?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  I have no idea.
Orcus:  ALL YOU MUST DO IS CARRY OUT MY BIDDING, IN MORTAL AFFAIRS.
Belphanior:  Well, I don't know...(he holds up the Wand of Orcus)
  Perhaps you forget about this little bargaining chip.
Orcus:  (frowns)  YOU DARE TO BARTER WITH ME?!?  ME, LORD OF ALL
  UNDEAD AND THE-
Mongo:  Let me give you my answer, tubbo.
Orcus:  WHAT?!?
Mongo:  You can take your offer and shove it up your ass.
Orcus:  YOU WILL TAKE LONG YEARS TO DIE IN MY DUNGEONS, DWARF.  (he
  turns back to Belphanior)  WHAT IS IT THAT YOU THINK YOU CAN BARTER
  FOR MY WAND?
Belphanior:  I propose-
Ged:  No!  No deals!  No compromises!  Nothing!
Peldor:  (to Orcus)  You can do what you want, but you'll never
  corrupt us of your own free will.
Orcus:  I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD.  (he waves his hand, and an area
  before his throne shimmers, the very air reforming...into some
  kind of mystical viewing-window)

  This altered space somewhat resembled a giant crystal ball, and
within its depths the adventurers could see a familiar scene.  The
city of Greyhawk lay pictured in the image before them, one building
in particular...

Bosco:  Hey!  That's the Green Dragon Inn!
Orcus:  NOT FOR MUCH LONGER.  LOOK, THERE.

  The image showed shadowy forms darting about the base of the
building...and then, moments later, fires had sprung up in several
places.  The inn quickly went up in flames, as screaming, yelling
employees and patrons fled from doors and windows.  Before their
horrified eyes, the Green Dragon Inn was being destroyed!

Peldor:  (shocked)  This...is happening right now?
Orcus:  AT THIS VERY MOMENT.
Peldor:  Make it stop!  Send me there!
Orcus:  ALL YOU MUST DO IS PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO ME.
Peldor:  (whirls to face Orcus)  Never!
Orcus:  THEN THE INN...BURNS.  TO THE GROUND.  (he waves one fat
  clawed hand, and the image vanishes)
Peldor:  Aie!
Orcus:  WILL THOSE WITHIN THE INN LIVE...OR DIE?  (he shrugs)  Ha,
  ha, ha!
Cynder:  (watching with interest)
Orcus:  SUCH IS THE FATE OF ALL WHO REFUSE TO SERVE ME...AND THEIR
  FRIENDS, HOLDINGS, AND ALL THEY CHERISH.  NO ONE-  (he points at
  Cynder)  -OR NOTHING ESCAPES MY WRATH.  ALL WILL SERVE ME, OR DIE.
Cynder:  (gnashes his teeth angrily)  WE'LL SEE ABOUT-
Peldor:  (having drawn his sword, he prepares to charge the demon
  lord)  I'll kill him myself-
Mongo:  (holds Peldor back, lest the thief get himself killed)  Not
  now, Peldor.  Not right now.
Peldor:  (struggling uselessly in the dwarf's iron grasp)  Let me
  go, damn you!  Let me-
Tanya:  (grabs Peldor, hugging him as Mongo gradually releases him)
  Easy, now...it'll be okay...
Belphanior:  (glares at Orcus with his single eye, and there is no
  mistaking the intent in that gaze)  Fuck...he's never gonna let
  any of us be free...even if we ally with him...
Rillen:  (nods slightly, still in awe from the spectacle)
Ged:  Finally you see.
Cynder:  (frowns, then turns suddenly to Orcus)  FORGET THESE FOOLS,
  DEMON.  I ACCEPT YOUR OFFER.
Orcus:  EH?
Cynder:  BUT YOU MUST SEAL IT IN WRITING.  I KNOW OF THE LEGENDARY
  CUNNING OF DEMONS...A WRITTEN PACT WILL BE NECESSARY.
Orcus:  VERY WELL, THEN.  (he snaps his fingers, and a skinny bird-
  headed demon creeps forth, a scroll of skin in one hand and a quill
  formed from some beast's stinger in the other)
Cynder:  (takes the scroll from the smaller demon and lumbers closer
  to Orcus as he reads the document)  YOU WERE READY FOR THIS, NO?
Orcus:  CORRECT.  I ALWAYS GET WHAT I WANT.
Ged:  (to Belphanior)  This isn't good.
Belphanior:  No shit.
Lyra:  Do you think he's really going to sign it?
Peldor:  Looks that way.
Mongo:  I bet the next thing will be both of 'em turning on us.
Rillen:  It's possible, but do we dare take the chance?
Alindyar:  Do we dare not?
Cynder:  (takes the quill in his huge paw, regarding the scroll with
  glowing eyes)  THERE IS ONE MORE LITTLE THING, HOWEVER.
Orcus:  WHAT'S THAT?
Cynder:  RAAAAARGH!  (he belches forth a tremendous gout of white-hot
  flame, directly upon the obese demon prince)
Bosco:  Whoa!

  Orcus, his throne, and most of his vile retinue were completely
engulfed in the blazing inferno.  That end of the hall lit up like
a sun, and the adventurers recoiled from the searing heat and fire.
Had they been anywhere near Cynder, they would have been ashes now.
However, the sheer size of the hall, and the distance between them
and the dragon, saved the party this time.  Yet, it was several
moments before the adventurers were able to see the dragon's huge
form, looming before the pile of still-burning slag which had been
the entire far end of the hall.

Cynder:  (hiccups)  CYNDER SERVES NO ONE...NOT MAN, DEMON, OR GOD.
Belphanior:  You tell him...
Four-Arm:  (staring in something akin to shock)  Uh..uh...
Mongo:  (raises his hammer)  Guess what?
Four-Arm:  (belted by Stormcrest, he sails back, smashing into a
  bone-table and shattering it)
wispy thing:  (orbiting No-Neck's head, it grimaces)  Ozzzz.
No-Neck:  Grzz.  (to one side, he suddenly collapses)
Gorin:  What the hell...?
Otto:  Beats me.  Maybe he fainted.
Songa:  (looking about in disbelief)
Cynder:  (pawing through the flaming wreckage)  WHERE DID THAT FAT
  SLOB GET TO?

  Suddenly, a gigantic fist shot forth from the slag, catching the
dragon on the jaw.  A charred, burned form broke free of the melted
wreckage.

Orcus:  (rises from the ruined end of the hall)  HOW _DARE_ YOU?!?
Cynder:  (reels, but quickly regains his footing)  BAH.  CYNDER
  BOWS TO NO ONE...LEAST OF ALL YOU, DEMON SCUM!  (he charges forth,
  grabbing Orcus in his huge claws)

  Cynder was huge, hundreds of feet long; Orcus' form was massive,
but smaller than the dragon.  However, it was the bone walls of the
palace that gave way first, collapsing as the two combatants smashed
into them.  Bony rubble rained down as the melted, weakened far wall
gave way; the two titans crashed through into some other chamber,
out of sight.

Ged:  Boccob!
Mongo:  What do we do now?
Alindyar:  If we could somehow bring that viewing-area back into
  existence, we might be able to slip back into our home plane while
  Orcus is otherwise occupied.
Lyra:  Maybe...but how?
Peldor:  (stands straight, having regained his composure)  We'll just
  have to figure something out.
Belphanior:  Forget about it.  Look!

  Though most of the demonic and undead retinue had been destroyed
by Cynder's breath, a few yet lived...and new reinforcements were
pouring into the hall through scattered doors.  In some cases, new
demons simply teleported themselves in, rather than use conventional
doors.
  Despite the horde that now attacked them, the adventurers were
ready.  They had already drawn back against one wall, far from any
doors into the hall; the warriors formed a semicircle to protect
the spell-casters.  Between these two were the thieves, forming a
roving middle line of defense.

|
|A
| A      A = front line (Mongo/Gorin, Belphanior/Otto, Ged/Arnold,
| BA         Rillen, Songa)
|C  A    B = middle line (Peldor, Tanya, Bosco)
| BA     C = wizards (Alindyar, Lyra)
| A
|A
|

Ged:  (steps forth to join those in the front ranks)  Scoot over,
  would you?
Songa:  You've got to be joking.
Ged:  No joke.  With Lightbringer here, I can knock out those undead
  faster than any normal weapon.
Mongo:  He's right.
Songa:  Oh.
Rillen:  Look out - here they come!

  The battle that followed was epic in all senses of the word...too
epic for any bard or sage to know every detail of.  Suffice it to
say that the contest was a mighty example of good versus evil, of
mortals versus fiends and soulless undead.  Mongo laid about with
Stormcrest, most of his blows shattering foes with deadly force.
Gorin was his right hand, chopping vile foes aside as he protected
his liege from unseen attacks.  Next to the young dwarf, Belphanior
hacked and slew mercilessly, every slain foe only increasing his
own strength, healing his wounds even as new ones were inflicted.
Blackrazor drank deeply and richly, coming as close as it ever could
to being gorged.  At Belphanior's flank was Otto, laying about with
shortsword and barbed knife as he protected both his liege's skin
and his own.  Ged was like an elf possessed, using the heightened
strength provided by his belt to turn away any foe that menaced him.
Undead fell with every blow of Lightbringer, the morningstar blazing
with holy light, even here in the depths of the Abyss.  When the
demons, which the weapon had less power over, assailed the elf,
Arnold was there to intercept their attacks.  Intercept, and in most
cases, end - for his great sword lopped off limbs and heads alike.
The blade was a Frost Brand, and since demons were inherently fire-
using creatures, they were more susceptible to its razor-sharp edge.
Rillen and Songa worked as a team, the former driving foes back with
his quarterstaff, while the huntress finished them off with her
sharp spear-point.  There seemed to be a bit of a problem, in that
the demons weren't usually slain by her attacks, but none of the
foes broke through the front line, and that was what mattered.
  Behind the warriors and their flankers were Peldor, Tanya, and
Bosco, who worked ceaselessly to slay anything that got between
or over the front rank.  It was exhausting and gruesome work, and
even little Bosco was soon covered in gore.  Still, it had to be
done, as all of their lives were on the line.  Peldor used his
feather-tattoos' abilities and his telekinesis ring to the fullest,
and showed neither compassion nor mercy, such was his rage.  Tanya
plied her sword more carefully, but with equally deadly effect;
her boots of speed helped her avoid numerous attacks that might
otherwise have ended her part in this battle.
  In the center of the defensive phalanx, Alindyar and Lyra worked
mighty magicks to combat the foes.  Lyra first used magic missiles
(which she remembered were supposed to be rather harmful to demons)
to pelt a winged horror that flew over the heads of the warriors.
Next she blasted a group of rotting mummies with a chain lightning,
this spell blasting the entire mob to pieces.  Alindyar, meanwhile,
took the simple approach, using his Bigby-rod to produce the most
powerful of the "hand" spells.  Any demon that seemed to be getting
too close was met by the mighty force-hand, often with fatal results.
  Without a doubt, though, the most powerful weapon they had was the
dreaded Wand of Orcus.  After a short time, Belphanior realized that
only the undead were attacking him - the demons avoided him unless
first attacked.  Realizing that his efforts were better spent using
the wand to drive demons back, the elf stepped forth on his own.
One large, hefty demon that couldn't get out of the way was smitten
across the face with the wand - and fell to the floor, dead!

Belphanior:  Aha!  (the wand in one hand, Blackrazor in the other,
  he laughs as the demons recoil at the sight of him)

  Meanwhile, a certain hulking, no-necked demon lumbered toward the
battle...

No-Neck:  (grabs a nalfeshnee, hurling it aside with a sickening
  crunch)
vrock:  (nearby, it whirls)  Screeark-
No-Neck:  (rips the bird-demon in half)
Otto:  Well, would you look at that...
Ged:  By Boccob, that demon's gone berserk!

  The strangely-acting No-Neck continued its murderous rampage, in
moments clearing away the majority of the foes pressing on the
party's front ranks.  Finally, though, the hulk was met by none
other than the balor, Elik...

Elik:  Enough!  (it whips the other demon, engulfing it in flames)
No-Neck:  Sprrd...(it charges the balor, tackling him to the ground
  even as its body begins to melt from the infernal flames)
Elik:  Aargh!
Belphanior:  (sensing an opportunity, he dashes out and chops at
  the demon general's neck)
Elik:  (his head half-severed as dark blood everywhere)  AAAAARGH!
No-Neck:  (grabs the balor's head, trying to wrench it loose)  Spaaa!
Elik:  AAAAAARGH!  (it stabs No-Neck in the belly with its sword,
  ripping guts loose)
No-Neck:  Sssss!
Belphanior:  (swings Blackrazor again, completely severing the head)
  Aaaahhh...(he fairly crackles with power)

  As Elik perished, and No-Neck shortly thereafter, a familiar wisp
of a form sailed free of the tangled, bloody bodies...

wispy thing:  Spaaa!
Belphanior:  (regards the wisp, then the demons, then the wisp again)
  Fuuuck.

  The party's respite was only temporary, however, for legions of
fresh foes literally poured into the great hall.

Ged:  Boccob!  We can't keep this up forever!
Alindyar:  (calmly crushes a wounded demon with the Bigby-hand)  But
  they can.
Belphanior:  We still have to get out of this.
Lyra:  We'll never get that portal open again...we don't know how.
  And our spells won't hold out - we used too many on the isle and
  against Oonga!
Belphanior:  I was thinking of a different sort of escape...a bargain
  with Orcus.
Mongo:  But where is that fat bastard?
Peldor:  He's dead, hopefully.
Ged:  I wouldn't count on that.

  As if on cue, a towering form lumbered through the gaping hole in
the far wall...a bloody, battered, but still mighty form...

Orcus:  I HAVE RETURNED.
Belphanior:  And Cynder?
Orcus:  THE DRAGON NEED CONCERN YOU NO MORE.
Belphanior:  Too bad.  I was just beginning to like him.
Orcus:  (eyes his demons, undead, and other countless horrors, all
  of which have paused in their approach to the adventurers)
Belphanior:  Tell your minions to stay back - we're ready to deal!
Ged:  (to Belphanior)  You're mad.  Mad!
Belphanior:  If he wants the wand, and we can get home, so be it!
Ged:  We can't trust him!  What if he doesn't hold up his end of the
  deal?!?
Belphanior:  We just have to be careful.  I think I can pull this
  off, but you'll have to trust me.  All of you.
Alindyar:  I do not like this...the Circle of Eight wanted the wand
  to stay out of the demon's hands for a reason.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  If we die, Orcus gets the damned thing
  anyway.
Alindyar:  Then again, we may well have no other options.
Ged:  (rubs his aching neck)  By Boccob, this is insanity!
Peldor:  I say let him try.
Mongo:  Fuck that - we need to hit him while he's weak.
Orcus:  (laughs as his wounds stop bleeding and close up)
Mongo:  Okay, maybe not.
Rillen:  It pains me to say this, but Belphanior may have the right
  idea.
Ged:  Dammit...this defeats the whole purpose of the quest in the
  first place!  Giving him the wand makes everything we've done a
  waste of time!
Belphanior:  Probably so, but if we die...well, that's even worse.
Peldor:  (to Ged)  He's right, you know.
Ged:  Aie...
Mongo:  Belphanior, you go talk to that fat slob...but if anything
  goes wrong, I'm gonna attack.  He may have us outnumbered, but I'm
  not going easy.
Arnold:  Me neidher.
Songa:  Nor I.  (she shakes her spear, dislodging a chunk of demon-
  flesh that had been stuck on its shaft)
Orcus:  (crosses his arms and looks down upon Belphanior, as the elf
  approaches)  WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST?
Belphanior:  Simple:  you get the wand, and in return you send us
  back to our home plane-
Orcus:  (grins in triumph)
Belphanior:  -and you promise not to attack, or send minions to
  attack, any of us afterward.
Orcus:  (frowns)  YOU ARE A CLEVER ONE, ELF.
Belphanior:  I'm not done yet.  Also, you sign an agreement to the
  preceding effect.  I know that you demons - even the lords such as
  yourself - are bound by such agreements.
Orcus:  CLEVER INDEED...THIS IS WHY I HAVE HAD MY EYE ON YOU FOR A
  LONG WHILE.
Belphanior:  What's it going to be, then?
Orcus:  YOU...HAVE A BARGAIN.
Bosco:  (muttering to Peldor)  That's no bargain.  Getting a new
  wagon for coppers...that's a bargain.  Buying land for a fraction
  of what it's worth..._that's_ a bargain.  Finding-
Peldor:  Bosco, please.
Bosco:  Sorry, boss.
Belphanior:  (examining the parchment which the demon lord has
  already produced)  Always the ready one, eh?
Orcus:  NATURALLY.
Belphanior:  Whose skin is this?
Orcus:  (shrugs)  IT'S HARD TO RECALL...PROBABLY SOME PALADIN OR
  OTHER SO-CALLED "HERO".
Belphanior:  Give me a moment.  (he returns to the party with the
  document)  This things good, and binding.  It should do the trick.
Ged:  (angrily)  I don't believe it.
Alindyar:  I do.  These demons, while a tricky and canny lot, are
  indeed bound by such documents.  If Orcus signs and agrees to
  allow us to return home, and not to bother us again, then such an
  agreement is valid.
Mongo:  I leave this one up to those of you who know about such
  things.  (he shakes his head)  Madness.
Gorin:  (taking this time to bind his wounds)
Tanya:  (conferring with Peldor)  Do you think he lied about the
  inn?
Peldor:  Hard to say...I wouldn't put it past him, though.
Tanya:  If it's the truth, it's hard to accept...
Peldor:  Let's just hope we get back to find out.
Songa:  (to Rillen)  What exactly is happening here?
Rillen:  I don't know, but if it turns into another fight, let's
  give a worthy accounting of ourselves.
Songa:  (nods, and they clasp hands tightly)  I am not ready to die,
  but neither will I flee from it.

  Over the constant questions and objections of Ged, Belphanior
took the pact back to Orcus, making sure the demon lord signed it
first.

Belphanior:  (produces a quill)  Here, use this one.
Orcus:  YOU FEAR TREACHERY?
Belphanior:  Always.
Orcus:  (takes the quill and signs the document)
Belphanior:  Good.  Now, the way home.
Orcus:  (grins)  YOU DON'T TRUST ME?
Belphanior:  What do you think?

  Orcus waved his hand, and the portal opened once more, affording
a view of Greyhawk.

Orcus:  THIS IS BOTH SCRYING DEVICE AND PORTAL...IT WILL TAKE YOU
  BACK, ONCE YOU STEP INTO IT.
Alindyar:  Incredible...(he eyes the shimmering air)
Belphanior:  (to his companions)  Well, then...are we ready?
Ged:  You're asking me to jump into there without any knowledge of
  where it might lead?
Belphanior:  Well, I'd go first, but I want to be last, so that I
  can throw that wand back at him after everyone else is safe.
Ged:  (sees that the other elf is serious)  Ah...
Peldor:  To hell with this.  (he runs toward the portal)  I'm going
  through!  If you don't see me signal that all's well, you'll know!
  (he leaps into the dimensional bubble before anybody can stop him)
Tanya:  PELDOR!

  The thief's image quickly faded, growing smaller and smaller...
and then he appeared in the Greyhawk-image as he slowly floated to
the ground.  The Peldor in the image looked around, stood up in a
daze, then looked around again.  Gazing toward the city, away from
the watchers, he gave a strange hand-signal to the air.

Mongo:  What the hell...?
Belphanior:  (grins)  Thieves' cant...it means 'all is well.'
Tanya:  (smiles gratefully)  Whew.
Bosco:  (also smiling, he takes Tanya's hand)  Close one, huh?
Otto:  Well, fuck me...it worked.
Rillen:  Peldor seems to be okay.
Arnold:  (matter-of-factly)  He's Peldork.
Ged:  You pulled it off...you really did.  (he clasps hands with
  Belphanior)
Belphanior:  Groovy.  (to Orcus)  We'll be going now.  Right before
  I step through, the wand is yours.  Understand?
Orcus:  (smiling)  YOU STILL DON'T TRUST ME.
Belphanior:  I can't, I don't, and I won't.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra as they prepare to leave)  Despite my
  earlier words, I still dread this...
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  That makes two of us.  (holding hands,
  they enter the planar bubble)
Mongo:  (waiting, along with Gorin)  C'mon, I'll go last.
Belphanior:  No, I will.
Mongo:  No way.
Belphanior:  I've got the situation _under control_.  Now please,
  I insist.
Mongo:  (to Gorin)  Looks like Rillen and Songa...and Tanya and
  Bosco...made it through okay.  I guess we can go.  (he casts a
  doubtful glance at Belphanior, before he and Gorin depart behind
  the others)
Belphanior:  (tosses the wand across the floor)  Here you go.
Orcus:  (laughs as he gestures to his wand, and it flies up into
  his hand)  MY THANKS, MORTAL.
Belphanior:  Thanks for nothing, demon.  (he turns to the planar
  portal)
Ged:  Let's get out of here.
Belphanior:  (follows Ged, the two of them bringing up the party's
  rear as they walk toward the dimensional portal)  Now for a hot
  meal and a week of sleep.
Ged:  Yea.
Orcus:  (pointing at the fleeing party, his wand held firmly in
  his other hand)  HEH, HEH, HEH...
Ged:  (turns, an instant before Belphanior does, and sees Orcus
  pointing his green-glowing finger at them)  Treachery!

  As a thin green beam sprang from the demon lord's outstretched
finger, Ged threw himself at Belphanior.  The beam meant for the
taller, red-cloaked elf hit Ged instead, just as he collided with
Belphanior, pushing him forward.

Belphanior:  (turning even as he falls into the portal)  What-
Ged:  Yaa-  (he disintegrates, along with all his possessions)
Belphanior:  Ged!  (he stumbles back into the portal, which quickly
  closes in upon itself)
Orcus:  DAMN, I MISSED.  (chuckling to himself)  I NEVER MISS!
  HEH, HEH, HEH.
six-armed female demon:  What have you done, milord?
Orcus:  NEXT TIME, PERHAPS, THEY WILL PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THE
  FINER DETAILS OF THINGS THEY SIGN.  I AGREED NOT TO ATTACK THEM
  _AFTER_ THEY DEPARTED...BUT THE PACT MENTIONED NOTHING ABOUT
  ATTACKING BEFOREHAND.
marilith-demon:  Very clever, milord.
Orcus:  OF COURSE IT IS - I THOUGHT OF IT.
marilith:  Why not kill them all, milord?
Orcus:  THE ELF BELPHANIOR ESCAPED ME...BUT THE COST WAS HIGH.  I
  AM NOT DISPLEASED.





                            Epilogue

  Light.  Sound.  These and other sensations returned, vaguely, to
his senses.  Time and space were non-discernable, though definitely
present.  He opened his eyes, and beheld a large figure, surrounded
by smaller figures, all of them backlit by a blazing white light.
After gazing about for a moment, confused, he spoke.  "Where am I?
Who are you?"  The largest of the figures replied as it beckoned,
"I think you know."





next:      see below
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:     Well, that was it.  The big 500.  The death of a major
  character.  The end of an era, if you will.  I'm not really sure
  what to say, but I'll give it a try.
    500 episodes.  9.7 megabytes of data.  1885 days.  That's an
  average of one 19.4K episode every 3.77 days for more than five
  years.  Damn.  These numbers begin to awe me as I calculate them.
  Since the time I began writing the Adventurers, so many historic
  and personal events have come and gone that I couldn't begin to
  list them if I wanted to.  If you'd asked me in November 1991
  where I thought I'd be, I wouldn't have had an answer.  If you'd
  told me that I'd succeed in reaching the 500-episode mark, I'd
  have chuckled and said "sure".
    But even then, I'd probably have known, deep in my mind, that
  I'd do it.  Long ago, years before I DM-ed the party that was to
  become the Adventurers, I DM-ed another party.  By now, you've
  probably figured out their names:  Yod, Kup, Marcus, Tarl, Eyer,
  Oakly, and so forth.  Between the end of that campaign and the
  beginning of the Adventurers was a hiatus year, 1988.  This was
  an important year for me in a lot of ways (beginning of my first
  long-term relationship, first challenging quarter of college,
  getting the co-op job that enabled me to finish college and get
  me the job I have now) but in this context, I remember something
  else about that time period.  I remember thinking, sometime
  during that year, that it would be really neat if I could put all
  of the campaign's events into a novel.  Or maybe a series of them.
    Well, as you know, I ran another campaign from late 1989 through
  early 1991, and it was that one which later saw print, so to speak.
  The old campaign spawned the dream, but the new one realized it.
  I am not displeased.  At the same time, I have no great desire to
  write a "real" novel; I don't think TSR and I could work out all
  the details to our mutual satisfaction.  It doesn't matter much,
  though, because I may have reached more people through my amateur
  work than I would have through toned-down professional work.
    Looking to the future, what I want and need now is a long break
  from writing Adventurers.  I always say this, and end up lying,
  but this time I mean it.  I have several other projects I want to
  get started on, both writing and in real life.  A sabbatical of
  six months is a real possibility here.  If you're on my mailing
  list, you have two options now.  If you want to continue to get
  mailed copies of anything I write (fantasy and/or sci-fi) then do
  nothing; I'll leave you on the list.  If you want to get any new
  Adventurers-related work that comes along, but nothing else, then
  mail me and let me know and I'll put you on a different list.
    I'd like to say a few words about the death of Ged.  Someone
  was going to perish - I hinted and hinted and even outright said
  it sometimes.  But who - who would it be?  Rillen, perhaps - one
  who had already broken from the main party and seemed expendable?
  Alindyar and/or Lyra, who had finally gotten their lives in order
  and were enjoying happiness and success?  Belphanior, who of all
  the adventurers seemed the most likely to meet a premature end?
  Peldor, who had both triumphs and tragedies and had seemed to
  pass the mantle on to Bosco?  Or maybe Mongo, whose death would
  probably have been the biggest blow of all?
    But it was Ged who I finally decided on...Ged, whose attitude
  and outlook changed every so often, if never for long.  This elf,
  the character with the longest natural lifespan by far, was my
  final choice.  Why?  I don't know, and I'm not sure I want to try
  to know.  But once I chose, I was sure I'd made the right choice,
  for me, the writer.  Death is tough, and in a high-magic world,
  it's hard to take seriously.  Yet, it's a fact of life, and this
  time, it's going to be permanent.  Have no illusions about that;
  Ged will not be coming back to adventure with the party anymore.
    In conclusion, I think I've said all the things I have to say.
  Rather than compound upon the big credits list I had in episode
  #125, let me just say thanks to all of you:  readers, proofers,
  newsgroup and ftp and web site administrators...everybody.  With-
  out all of you to cheer, comment, suggest, question, and criticize,
  I wouldn't have done nearly as much as I have.  And with that, I'm
  outta here.  You'll hear from me again sometime in 1997, and at
  that time, I'll have a better idea of what the future will hold.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++




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