Chapter #525

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      +
+  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  +
+  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      +
+  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  +
+  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    +
+  way, shape, or form.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1991-7 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons   +
+  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  +
+  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   +
+  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    +
+  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them.           +
+                                                                   +
+                                  Thomas Miller                    +
+                                  tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Belphanior      (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief   (CN) +
+    Otto            8th/10th level dwarven fighter/thief      (CN) +
+    the wispy thing                                            (N) +
+                                                                   +
+    Aja             9th level human priestess of Wee Jas       (N) +
+    Jutokai         7th level human archer                    (LN) +
+    Kinichi         7th level human tracker                    (N) +
+    Razor Charlie   9th level human fighter                   (CN) +
+    Skektek        12th level human wizard                    (CN) +
+    Ys             13th level reptilian fighter               (LN) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        9/23/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        nighttime                                           +
+  Place:       the remote mountain town of Helgate                 +
+  Climate:     cold                                                +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "The great questions of the time are not solved by speculation   +
+   and major decisions...but by blood and iron."                   +
+                                             - Otto von Bismarck   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





               DXXV.  And on the Seventh Day...





  In the aftermath of both the tomb battle and the Helgate battle,
most of the major players in Helgate are resting and recuperating.
However, in the dark castle's dining hall, some of them are busy
pondering and strategizing...

Otto:  (pacing about)  I think we're gonna move before too much
  longer.
Victoria:  Where?  And why?
Otto:  (not one to mentally stumble while concealing the whole truth
  from somebody, he thinks and speaks fast)  Belphanior suspects
  that the undead and the ruffians were sent by the same person or
  persons.  It's just a matter of time before he finds out who.
Victoria:  Oh.  And then he wants to take revenge?
Otto:  (nods)
Victoria:  I can understand that...but what could the connection
  between the two be?  Who sent them, and why?
Otto:  I'm sure the thugs that Charlie and the others captured will
  know something.
Belphanior:  (striding into the chamber)  No longer a concern.
Otto:  How's that?
Belphanior:  Suffice it to say that I've confirmed my...suspicions
  about the source of our troubles.
Victoria:  You tortured the prisoners?
Belphanior:  Not quite, but they told me what I wanted to know.
Victoria:  I could have gotten that information much more easily,
  you know.
Belphanior:  Hmm.
Otto:  In any case, it doesn't matter now.  So what's next?
Belphanior:  More research.  I just came here to tell you that we
  won't be moving out until at least tomorrow.  (he looks around)
  Where is everybody?
Otto:  They're all asleep, or resting, or whatever.  I told them to
  be ready for action at a moment's notice.
Belphanior:  Good, then.  I have a week - I'd better not waste a
  single day of it.  (he turns and leaves)
Victoria:  (appears confused, and promptly walks to a window)  See
  you later.  (she jumps out, disappearing into the night)
Otto:  A week...can Belphanior possibly save Victoria from a fate
  worse then undeath in a mere seven days?





                         DAY 1:  9/24/576

  Late morning.  Some of the marshals were eating breakfast; most had
finished it.  In Otto and Ys' cases, they had a bit of a problem...

Aja:  (frowning)  What?
Otto:  It's true.  (he holds up one arm, displaying dozens of tiny
  red dots)  Whatever that red mist-thing in the tomb was, the
  wounds it inflicted on Ys and me aren't healing.  The blood just
  keeps...seeping out through the skin where the thing touched us.
Ys:  Truly bizarre.
Aja:  I thought you had magical means of healing your wounds?
Otto:  I do...and for the first time I can recall, it's not working.
Ys:  Aye.  Is it possible that the creature's touch was magical in
  nature?  After all, it _was_ in the company of various undead.
Aja:  (nods)  It's definitely possible...no, probable.  Given what
  you've told me, it makes perfect sense.
Otto:  So what now?
Aja:  Now, we try some more powerful healing magic.  Sit down.

  Aja's temple was still under construction, but she had a number
of basic amenities:  a table, chairs, an old but fancy couch.  In
an adjacent workroom, several benches and shelves held various and
sundry tools, potions, and other equipment, little of which held
any meaning for Otto.  As he understood it, the building when
completed could then be blessed by the high priestess herself.
After this was done, the place would be ready for proper worship
of the goddess Wee Jas.

Otto:  What are you casting on me?
Aja:  A simple- no, a complex healing spell.  (she smiles)  You're
  not afraid, are you?
Otto:  No, though I don't care for magic when I can help it.
Aja:  Well, you can't, so grin and bear it.
Ys:  I'd be happy to go first, if you'd like-
Otto:  No, that's okay.  I'm fine.  (to Aja)  Let's do it.
Aja:  (works a spell, her hands glowing with a purple light)
Otto:  This is a healing spell?
Aja:  Yes.  Now be silent.

  The violet glow enveloped Otto, making his skin tingle with a
sensation that was not unpleasant.  The multitudes of tiny, strange
wounds on his upper arm bubbled and hissed, but did not vanish as
Aja expected.

Aja:  Hmmmm.
Otto:  Err...what now?
Aja:  A more powerful spell.  If this doesn't work, we'll have to
  seek outside help.
Ys:  We have confidence in your abilities.
Aja:  Glad to hear it.  (she begins working another spell)

  This time, the nimbus was darker, nearly black in color.  Otto
twitched in his chair as energy coursed through his body; the tiny
wounds glowed with a bright crimson color.  His arm stung as if it
was being showered in molten wax - but the wounds were disappearing,
one by one!  Within moments, they were all gone, leaving only dozens
of tiny scars to mark their passing.

Otto:  (sweating)  Whew.
Aja:  (visibly drained)  A...powerful foe, that mist you fought.
  This task was almost beyond my abilities.
Ys:  (frowns)  Are you sure you have enough power left for another
  such spell?
Aja:  Actually, no.  I don't.  Forgive me, my friend, but you'll
  have to wait until tomorrow.
Ys:  (shrugs, then puts his hand on her shoulder, lightly)  Not a
  problem.  I can wait.
Aja:  Thanks for understanding.
Otto:  No, it's we who should be thanking _you_.  I owe you one.
Aja:  We'll see.

  Everyone, on-duty or otherwise, was prepared for a mission at
any given moment.  However, it wasn't until after midday that
Belphanior, suffused with excitement, appeared with a plan.

Otto:  What's the word?
Belphanior:  I still haven't found exactly what I'm after.
Otto:  Then why do you look so happy?
Belphanior:  (his grin changes to a grimace)  I'm not happy...
  merely anxious...even anticipatory.
Razor Charlie:  Big words...but what do they mean?
Belphanior:  I've found nothing here, but that's because my
  tomes and scrolls don't constitute a library.  And that got
  me to thinking, I _need_ a library...which in turn reminded
  me of the biggest, greatest library around:  Greyhawk!
Skektek:  (walks into the room)  Ah, that'd do it.
Belphanior:  It certainly will, which is why we're going there
  shortly.
Otto:  Wouldn't it be...less conspicuous if you just went, then
  came back and got us when you found what you wanted?
Belphanior:  Probably, but I can't cast these massive teleport
  spells left and right.  We need to skip unnecessary steps,
  and that means bringing everyone along right from step one.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)  Should be fun.
Skektek:  We'll need food...lodgings - a safe place to stay.
Belphanior:  Not to fear, I think I've got us covered on that
  account.
Otto:  I'd better alert Ys, Aja, and the others.
Belphanior:  Gather everything you'd need for a week-long trip.
  Weapons, equipment, supplies - don't take any chances.  There's
  no telling where we'll end up.  (he looks around)  Maybe Angus
  should accompany us.
Otto:  I doubt it - he'd stand out like a sore thumb.  As it is,
  we'll have enough trouble hiding Ys.
Belphanior:  Hmm, true.  Perhaps someday I'll find a way to shrink
  Angus at will.

  Before dusk had fallen, they were packed, prepared, and on their
way...

Belphanior:  (preparing to work his magic)  Now remember what I told
  you...
Skektek:  Yes, yes - no fighting or magic in the city.
Jutokai:  No trouble of any kind.
Kinichi:  Not even brawling.
Otto:  They'd come down on us like a ton of bricks.
Ys:  They?
Otto:  Greyhawk dipshits.
Ys:  Ah.
Razor Charlie:  Bah.  Let them come.
Belphanior:  It shouldn't come to that.  I've got friends in Greyhawk,
  as you all know.  With any luck, we can be in and out of there like
  the wind, before any of the idiots recognize me.
Aja:  But if they do?
Belphanior:  We'll burn that bridge when we come to it.
Skektek:  Oh boy.

  Shortly, they were off, blinking out of Helgate and bound to re-
appear elsewhere.  Mere moments after they left, a swirling mist
floated into the chamber, quickly coalescing into a human form.

Victoria:  Damn!  Missed them...

  The vampiress looked around, searching for any sign of where the
others might have gone.  An intelligent woman, she realized that
Belphanior was excluding her on purpose, operating during the day
when she had no say in the matter.  She was fairly certain that
whatever he was doing, it was for a good cause; yet, she didn't
like being uninvolved.  To be sure, she felt useless at the moment,
and it was not a feeling she cared for.



  Elsewhere, within the Free City of Greyhawk, a certain drow wizard
was lounging around in his mansion's immense study...

Alindyar:  (eyeing the order of the books in one shelf)  No, no...
  this shall never work.  (with a hand gesture, he sends one of his
  invisible servants to pull all the books off of the shelf)
invisible servant:  (perhaps exasperated)

  Suddenly, there came a loud knocking at the front door.  There
was no need to answer it, for Alindyar was eager to try out a new
spell he'd whipped up.

Alindyar:  (quickly works the magic of the simple spell)

  A blue shimmering marked the air in front of the wizard's face,
moments later becoming a window of sorts.  Within its confines was
an image of those outside the mansion's front door; this trick was
based around a special prism the drow had built into that door's
peephole.  The spell worked - too well, thought the drow as he saw
who had come to visit.

Alindyar:  Aie.  (he frowns, then snaps his fingers as his spell
  dissolves)

  Behind the door, the drow's stone golem came to life and moved
to open the portal.  By the time Belphanior and his companions had
been ushered inside by the huge construct, Alindyar was entering
the foyer.

Alindyar:  Greetings, and well met!
Belphanior:  Hi there...sorry to drop in like this-
Alindyar:  Not an issue.  Indeed, I was somewhat bored.
Belphanior:  Working hard?
Alindyar:  Not today - 'tis a city holiday, which means no classes,
  which means I get to mill about here while Lyra is away.
Belphanior:  Away?
Alindyar:  She went to the markets, in search of something or other.
Belphanior:  Hmm, maybe that's for the better.
Alindyar:  Pardon?
Belphanior:  Well, I'm kind of in dire straits, and I thought you
  might be able to help, or at least have some ideas.
Alindyar:  I...see.  (to Otto and the others)  Please, do come in.
  (he leads them toward a den)  Make yourselves comfortable; the
  servants will bring you drinks if you'd like.
Razor Charlie:  (seeing no servants, he grimaces)
Alindyar:  (to Belphanior)  We shall talk in the study.

  While the others made themselves comfortable, the two elves went
to the study.  Alindyar chose a plush-looking leather chair and
took a seat, folding his arms.

Alindyar:  So...what sort of help do you need?
Belphanior:  Well, it's kind of a long story...
Alindyar:  I've got all day.

  For the next ten minutes, Belphanior relayed all of the recent
events - the undead near Helgate, the journey to the tomb, the
challenges within, and the discussion with the lich Skorvus.  At
his tale's end, Belphanior leaned back, crossing his arms behind
his head.

Belphanior:  And that, you see, is my problem.  I need information
  that I don't have...anything I can find about this Skorvus
  character and his boss Xusia - and _his_ boss Or-
Alindyar:  No!  Remember - do not say that name!
Belphanior:  Err...right.  Anyhow, the more I know about him, the
  better...and more about this "Isle of Woe" would also be useful.
Alindyar:  Frankly, I'm surprised that Skorvus told you anything at
  all about his master Xusia.  We all know that villains aren't apt
  to reveal information unnecessarily.
Belphanior:  I'm sure he had some purpose.
Alindyar:  Aye.  Anyhow, if 'tis information you seek, then 'tis
  information we'll get.
Belphanior:  How's that?
Alindyar:  What you need, my friend, is the resources of the Guild
  libraries.
Belphanior:  (grins)  I was hoping you'd say that.  (he frowns)  But
  can you get me in?
Alindyar:  I can do damn near anything I want.
Belphanior:  Oh.

  In the den...

Kinichi:  (growing restless)  We need to get moving.  This boredom
  grates on me.
Jutokai:  What could they be talking about in there?
Otto:  Whatever it is, rest assured it's important.
Skektek:  I'd imagine he's going to come out here soon and tell us
  that he needs some time in the libraries of Greyhawk's Guild of
  Wizardry.  (he muses thoughtfully)  Hmm, I wonder if he can get me
  in?
Aja:  And what would you do if he could?
Skektek:  Soak up knowledge like a sponge.
Razor Charlie:  (dozing lightly, he keeps one eye half-open)  Zz.
Ys:  (yawns)
wispy thing:  (also yawns, mimicking Ys)  Snrrr.
Belphanior:  (re-enters the room, Alindyar trailing close behind)
  Okay, here's the deal:  I need some time in the libraries here.
Skektek:  (to the others in general)  Told you.
Belphanior:  Until I've found some clues on what I need to know,
  we're dead in the water...so you can either stay here, or go out
  into the city for a few hours.
Alindyar:  Will all of you be needing a place to stay?
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Don't know, but if so, I'd planned
  on them staying at the Green Dragon.
Alindyar:  The Green Dragon has burned down.
Belphanior:  Oh.  Oh, yeah.
Alindyar:  We can worry about details later - let us make haste to
  the libraries.
Belphanior:  Right.  (to his marshals)  If you go out, stick together.
Aja:  Is this place that dangerous?  I've never heard that-
Belphanior:  I don't want you to stay together for your own safety.
  I want you to stay together so I can find you when it's time.
Aja:  Of course.
Belphanior:  (to Alindyar)  They can't get into your house when
  you're away, right?
Alindyar:  Correct.  Any such attempts would be...foolhardy.
Otto:  I know my way around the city pretty well.  How about we just
  meet you here at midnight?
Belphanior:  That almost certainly won't be enough time.  (he thinks
  for a moment)  Skektek.
Skektek:  Eh?
Belphanior:  Do you have the spell of Sending?
Skektek:  Nope.  I favor the destructive ones...
Belphanior:  Well, I do have it.  When we're ready, I'll contact
  you, and you can let everyone know.
Skektek:  Right.
Otto:  Sounds like a plan.
Ys:  We're to sally forth into Greyhawk then?
Aja:  Looks that way.

  A short while later, the larger group had gone down one street,
while Belphanior and Alindyar headed for the library...

Belphanior:  I hate to leave them like that.
Alindyar:  They seem more than capable of handling themselves.
Belphanior:  Yeah, but I feel like I'm dicking them around, wasting
  their time here when all they really want is some action.
Alindyar:  With the problems you face right now, your actions are
  perfectly justified.  As are mine.
Belphanior:  Eh?
Alindyar:  Once I told you that I wanted revenge on that foul demon
  lord.  That is still the case.
Belphanior:  Why?  For Ged?
Alindyar:  For Lyra.  You may recall the Necros incident...
Belphanior:  Ah.
Alindyar:  Ultimately, the demon lord was responsible, and thus it
  is that he must pay.
Belphanior:  Believe me, he's going to pay in spades.
Alindyar:  Let's make it happen.

  Hours later, the two were sequestered in a corner of the vast
building that housed the Guild of Wizardry's libraries.  With the
help of Jawal Severnain, the dark elf who ran the library, they
had selected stacks of old books and scrolls.  Indeed, Jawal had
already been more than helpful, and even now he was away looking
for "better source material" on the subject at hand.

Belphanior:  Does that Jawal guy owe you a favor or something?
  He's being awfully helpful.
Alindyar:  Not precisely, but he has assisted me in the past, as
  I researched spells.  (he frowns)  In many ways, we are two of
  a kind.
Belphanior:  Whatever the case, I'm glad he's around.  It would
  have taken us hours - maybe days - to find all these materials
  on our own.
Alindyar:  (thumbing through one tome)  Most of this is merely
  general information about demons...and general references to
  you-know-who.
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  What I need to know about is the
  undead aspect...what sorts of powers and control he possesses.
  Specifically, what hope is there - if any - for Victoria to
  resist his influence?
Alindyar:  Perhaps an item of some sort...an artifact or relic?
Belphanior:  Something...anything.

  While the pair (and Jawal Severnain) worked into the night,
others were having an easier time of it.  Within the Blue Dragon
Tavern, things were rolling right along...

Jutokai:  (rolls an empty glass along the table, then catches
  it with lightning speed as it falls off the table's edge)
Kinichi:  What are you about?
Jutokai:  Nothing.
Otto:  Let's keep it under control - nobody gets drunk.  There's
  no telling what may happen, or when.
Skektek:  (drinking a fiery red wine)  I never drink to excess.
  Well, almost never.
Aja:  (drinking a lighter white wine)  Your loss.
Kinichi:  (sipping a cheap and bitter mead)  Mmm.
Jutokai:  (refills his mug from the mead-flagon)  Not bad, my
  friend.
Kinichi:  It's the closest thing to the meads of my homeland
  that I've been able to find.
Razor Charlie:  (his back to the wall, he drinks an ale so dark
  that it might be tar, as he glances around the tavern's large
  common room)
Ys:  (clad in a huge, baggy robe to hide his skin, he guzzles a
  pitcher of grog as if it was water, with no apparent effects)
  I cannot help but feel that everyone is looking at me.
Otto:  Nah, it's just your imagination.
other tavern-goers:  (pretty much staring at Ys whenever they
  think no one's looking)
Razor Charlie:  (turns and glares at one such patron)
patron:  Eep.  (he scurries away)
wispy thing:  (unseen by all, he flies along through the rafters
  above)  Yrrrp!

  Hours passed, and eventually the dangerous but low-key group
from Helgate purchased a block of rooms in a nearby inn, and
settled down for the night.  Elsewhere in Greyhawk, a certain
trio of learned ones was still burning the midnight oil.  They
had gone through dozens of tomes and scrolls, seldom finding
anything of use.  Even when a reference was located, it was
more often than not a mere paragraph of information, and even
then usually one they already knew.  The process had long ago
passed the point of being tedious or frustrating; it was now
beginning to drive them crazy.  However, in the midst of bad
luck, there finally and inexplicably came a ray of hope.

Belphanior:  Dammit...(he rubs his eyes)
Alindyar:  We are getting nowhere.
Jawal:  Or somewhere close by.
Belphanior:  (cracks open a previously-unsearched book, opening
  it to a random page)  What the hell is it going to take to-
  (he stops in mid-gripe, his eyes wide)
Alindyar:  Eh?
Jawal:  What's wrong?
Belphanior:  What's this...?  (he flips a page back)  Whoa...
Alindyar:  What?  What _is_ it?!?
Jawal:  (exasperated)  This had better not be another false-
Belphanior:  (excited)  Look, look here!  Maybe we've been
  chasing the wrong kind of information!
Alindyar:  (eyes the opened pages)  This is a detailed account
  of some warrior...
Belphanior:  A skeleton warrior!
Alindyar:  ...aye, a skeletal warrior, who...hmm...
Jawal:  (scrutinizing the text)  Oh my!  This being - this
  _undead_ being - challenged Orcus' mastery!
Belphanior:  Successfully, too.  That's it!  All we have to do
  is find him and learn his secrets!
Alindyar:  (cocks an eyebrow)  You do realize that you propose
  to locate and bargain with a powerful undead lord?
Belphanior:  Bargaining is a last resort, but whatever it takes,
  I'm prepared to do it.
Jawal:  Are you sure about this?
Belphanior:  It's a chance, amid a sea of false clues and dead
  ends.  I'm going for it.
Alindyar:  I cannot accompany you, you know.
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Wouldn't ask you to.  You've
  done enough - more than enough - and besides, I've got my own
  reinforcements right here in the city.
Alindyar:  Aye, though I'd wager they must all be fast asleep
  by now.
Belphanior:  Hmm, maybe I should wait until tomorrow to embark
  on this quest.
Jawal:  A sensible idea.  Besides, you look like you could use
  some rest.
Belphanior:  (yawns)  I'm too tired to sleep.
Alindyar:  (frowns)
Belphanior:  It was a joke.  I don't know if I can sleep, knowing
  what I do now, but I'll try.
Jawal:  (eyeing the scattered books and scrolls they've perused
  tonight)  And I'll clean up this mess.
Belphanior:  No, let me-
Jawal:  Go home.  Get some rest.  I'll take care of it.
Belphanior:  (clasps the drow's hand)  I owe you one.  Whenever
  you need something I can help with, just name it.
Jawal:  (smiles)  Get some rest.

  Alindyar returned home, trying to think of some tactful way to
explain to Lyra what was going on.  Belphanior found some little
hole-in-the-wall inn and got himself a room for the night.  As he
retired, a normal-looking man in normal-looking clothes, out on
an abnormal drinking binge this night, just happened to spot the
elf before he closed and locked his door.

Sental Nurev:  (blinks once, then again, as he realizes the full
  import of this)





                         DAY 2:  9/25/576

  Morning.  Belphanior should, by all accounts, have slept until
midday, but he refused to rest until the current dilemma was over.
Thus it was that he found his people early, and had them prepare
for the next leg of the journey...

Otto:  We're going _where_?
Belphanior:  Death's Vale.
Otto:  Never heard of it.
Skektek:  I have.
Otto:  (turns)  And...?
Skektek:  (looking meek)  Well, just rumors and legends, really...
Otto:  Let's hear 'em.
Skektek:  There exists, somewhere in a far fringe of the world, a
  remote valley.  Once a lush paradise, it has become a twisted
  perversion of its former self...due to the influence of an undead
  lord who made his home there.  It is said that the very trees and
  grasses of the place are alive with evil power, and that nothing
  living ever emerges from the fell place.
Belphanior:  Well-put, Skektek.  I couldn't have said it better
  myself.
Skektek:  Err...thanks.
Otto:  We'd better go brief the others.

  In an adjacent room...

Aja:  Now hold still, you big baby.
Ys:  (impassive, he doesn't even grin)  Just get this over with.
Aja:  (works her healing magic)
Ys:  (sits there, letting the magic work its course)
Aja:  (frowns)  That's...odd.
Jutokai:  What?
Aja:  My spell's taking longer than it should...it's almost as if
  he's resisting it.
Ys:  (opens his eyes wide)  Not I.
Aja:  What, then?
Jutokai:  (pretty much ignorant of such matters, he turns to
  Kinichi)  So...any word on what we're going to do?
Kinichi:  (sighs, pausing from the knife-sharpening he was busying
  himself with)  Nothing.
Jutokai:  (claps the other on the back, lightly)  Fear not, my
  friend.  We won't be in this city for much longer, I'm sure.
Kinichi:  I hope not.  I didn't sign on to grow fat and weak in a
  city's walls.
Belphanior:  (enters the room)  Then you'll be glad to hear that
  we're going on an outdoor adventure.
Kinichi:  Eh?
Razor Charlie:  (dozing in a corner, his feet propped up on a table,
  he opens his eyes suddenly, alert)
Belphanior:  We're leaving by midday, so get ready.
Aja:  How are we getting there?  And where is "there" anyway?
Belphanior:  Death's Vale.  It's far to the north...somewhere in
  the Forlorn forest.  We'll be teleporting there with Alindyar.
Skektek:  Good.  We could use his power.
Aja:  You're not jealous?
Skektek:  Let's be realistic here.  The Vale is a dangerous place,
  and we're going to need all the help we can get.
Belphanior:  You've gotten confused, people.  Alindyar's taking us
  there - he's not staying to help us plumb the valley's secrets.
Skektek:  Oh.
Otto:  (to Skektek)  Your magic had better be at its peak, wizard.
Ys:  (stands, flexing his huge arms)  Ah.  I feel good.
Aja:  (smiles)  Then my magic did work.
Ys:  (nods)
Skektek:  Death's Vale...
Belphanior:  And we're counting on you to find it, once we get near.
Otto:  The rest of us will have to keep each other alive once we get
  inside the vale.
Jutokai:  (thinking that maybe he'd better purchase some extra arrows
  before they leave)
Otto:  What about afterward...after Death's Vale.  What about...the
  Isle of Woe?
Belphanior:  We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, but I've
  discerned the isle's location as well.  When the time comes, we
  _will_ be ready - but we have to take this one step at a time.
wispy thing:  (flies out of a crack in the wall)  Spaaa!  (it does
  flips in the air above Belphanior's head)
Belphanior:  (glances at the thing)  Uh...okay, then.  I'm going to
  get Alindyar; you people wait here, and be ready.  (he departs)
Jutokai:  Well, here we go.
Kinichi:  Hm.
Otto:  I'll take care of checking us out of this place.  Did every-
  body get all the supplies they need?
everybody:  (nods)
wispy thing:  Vroot!

  In the streets of Greyhawk...

Belphanior:  (walking along, he notices a shadowy form out of the
  corner of his eye, but plays it cool, never breaking stride as
  he walks around a corner into an alley)

  With the elf out of sight, the cloaked figure paused, surveying
the scene for long moments before carefully, meticulously moving
forward.  The person followed Belphanior's trail, heading into the
alley cautiously...only to find it empty!

figure:  (muttering in surprise, it moves more deeply into the dark
  alley)

  Suddenly, Belphanior appeared from nowhere, lunging out at the
pursuer.  He clamped one arm around the figure's neck, cutting off
any potential shout or scream, while his other arm pinioned the
cloaked one's arms.  In moments, the elf had dragged the person
back into a shadowy niche.

Belphanior:  You'd better be someone I know, because unless you
  have a damned good reason for following me, you're about to
  become a murder statistic!
figure:  (its hood falls back, revealing its face)
Belphanior:  You!  Sental Nurev!
Sental:  (his eyes wide, he makes muffled sounds as he tries to
  talk)
Belphanior:  Oops, sometimes I forget my own strength.  (in a flash,
  he releases his chokehold and produces a dagger, holding it to the
  other's throat)  If you cry for help, you die - and you know I'll
  do it.
Sental:  (nods, gasping for breath)
Belphanior:  Now:  explain yourself.
Sental:  (still catching his breath)  Y- you have...to pay...
Belphanior:  Pay?  Pay for what?
Sental:  C- crimes...against the city...
Belphanior:  Crimes?  (he grins)  Oh!  You mean defending myself
  against someone who was trying to kill me - and killing him first.
Sental:  (nods)
Belphanior:  What an utter crock of shit!  Sental, have you _ever_
  been in a life-or-death, combat situation?
Sental:  Uh...sure.
Belphanior:  When was the last time?
Sental:  Err...(he thinks)
Belphanior:  (pushes his dagger a little harder against the other's
  throat)  Think a little faster, would you?  I'm kinda pressed for
  time right now.
Sental:  Years!  It's been years!  What do you want from me?!?
Belphanior:  I should say, what do _you_ want from _me_?  Every time
  I come to this city, you hound me like a fucking dog.
Sental:  (smiling angrily)  Don't forget the ones I sent after you
  once you left Greyhawk.
Belphanior:  That was YOU?!?  (his eyes narrow, and his false one
  glows with a dim red light)  You want to die today, don't you?
Sental:  (shrugs)  Why hold back anger from one who's about to kill
  you?
Belphanior:  Hmm, good point.
Sental:  Torin checked in with me after the...incident at the tomb,
  and he was assembling a new band to track you again - but I never
  heard from him after that.
Belphanior:  Don't worry, you won't hear from him ever again.
Sental:  Ah...another addition to your death-toll.
Belphanior:  (puts his dagger in his teeth, then whirls in anger,
  bodily picking the other up and slamming him back against a door
  in the alcove)

  The door gave way, and Sental fell back into an empty cellar full
of hay.

Belphanior:  (stalks after Greyhawk's Captain-General)  Don't you
  get it?!?  You're a hypocrite!  Your methods make you no different
  from me!  (he picks Sental up with one hand, slamming him into a
  stone wall)
Sental:  Ungh!
Belphanior:  I should kill you right now - it would be the sensible
  thing to do.  But that would have repercussions, which I don't
  need right now.  So, in an attempt to settle this once and for all,
  I'm going to let you live.
Sental:  You are?
Belphanior:  That's right.  I'm in a real bad mood, and I have better
  things to do.  The woman I love has five days to live unless I can
  find an answer and beat what seem like insurmountable odds.  You
  and your problems don't even rank!  (he realizes that he's slamming
  Sental against the wall with each phrase, and stops, frowning)  I'd
  suggest that you consider my words carefully and re-think your mad
  plot for revenge.  Let it go - let it go right now, today, here.
  Because if you don't...well, remember that death-toll of mine that
  you were talking about?
Sental:  (nods weakly)
Belphanior:  I guarantee you that if we meet on hostile terms one
  more time, you and your entire family will die.  Your friends will
  die.  Your friend's friends will die.  Your neighbors will die.
  Your farm animals will die.
Sental:  (pales)
Belphanior:  Get the idea?  Even if you kill me, someone will avenge
  me, upon you and yours.  You have my word.
Sental:  (still pale)
Belphanior:  On the other hand...if we have no more hostilities, you
  instead have my word that I'll never bother you, and that I won't
  break any more of your laws.
Sental:  (not sure what to say)
Belphanior:  Is it a deal, or not?  I've got to get going, and I
  want to know if you're bathing in water or blood tonight.
Sental:  ...water it is.
Belphanior:  (claps the other on the shoulder)  Good move, Sental!
  (he turns and walks toward the shattered door)  You made the right
  decision.  (he leaves)
Sental:  (slumps to the floor, an utterly defeated man)

  A short while later, Belphanior and Alindyar prepared to leave and
meet the others.

Lyra:  I don't understand why you have to go.
Alindyar:  Fear not, my dear - I am just assisting them in reaching
  their destination.  (he winks cannily at her)  I shall be back
  before lunch.
Lyra:  I still don't like it.
Belphanior:  (feeling like he's in the middle of a domestic dispute)
  It's for a good cause, Lyra.  Victoria's life hangs in the balance
  here!
Lyra:  Oh.  Well, maybe I can help, if you give more details about
  the problem?
Belphanior:  No time for that.  Sorry.  (he and Alindyar head for
  the door)
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Read my mind...you will find that what
  I have said is true.  After I drop them off, I shall return post-
  haste.  There is no danger, and Belphanior must fulfill this quest
  himself - not with our interference.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Interference was never my plan...but
  suit yourself.  (she heads upstairs)

  Soon, the complete party, plus Alindyar, was walking out one of
the Free City's many gates.

Skektek:  Someone explain to me again why we have to be outside the
  city to do this.
Alindyar:  (patiently, as if scolding a wayward child)  One of my
  station cannot simply teleport at will, within Greyhawk's walls.
  It tends to...attract attention.
Skektek:  Attention?
Alindyar:  Have you ever heard of Bigby?  Mordenkainen?  Otiluke?
Skektek:  Sure...who hasn't?
Alindyar:  (nods)  As I said...attention.
Aja:  (to Ys)  Did your wounds heal up okay?
Ys:  (grins toothily)  Aye.
Aja:  Glad to hear it.  I was fairly sure I could heal everyone
  else with my magic, but you were an unknown quantity until now.
Ys:  I am not a quantity.  I am Ys.
Aja:  (smiles)
Razor Charlie:  (watching the clouds in the sky)
Kinichi:  What're you thinking about?
Razor Charlie:  The coming fight.
Jutokai:  I figured you were looking at the shapes the clouds made.
Razor Charlie:  That too.
wispy thing:  (floats along upside-down, eyeing the clouds, then
  barks at Razor Charlie)  Quarr.
Razor Charlie:  (ignores the wisp)
wispy thing:  (not to be ignored, it flies into Charlie's backpack)
Razor Charlie:  (still ignores the wisp)
Kinichi:  What an odd little being.
Jutokai:  Otto says that Belphanior still doesn't know what it is.
Kinichi:  I'd wager that no one knows.
Razor Charlie:  Not me.
Otto:  (checking the increasing distance between the group and the
  city walls)
Belphanior:  (to Alindyar)  You know, I keep wondering if I should
  have stopped by and talked to Peldor...even for a short time.
Alindyar:  (shrugs)  Peldor and Tanya have their hands full right
  now.  It would do no good for him to also have to worry about your
  problems.
Belphanior:  Hmm...true.
Otto:  (intentionally changes the topic of conversation)  Are we far
  enough away yet?
Alindyar:  (surveys their location)  Aye...we should get on the
  downside of that hillock, there.

  They did so, and momentarily, the drow was ready to work his spell.

Alindyar:  (spellcasting)
Skektek:  (to Belphanior)  I'm curious...what sort of variation on
  the standard teleport is this spell he's working?
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  I'm not sure.  It has something to do with
  homing in on a site seen through a crystal ball or other scrying
  device.  All I really know is that we'd be in trouble if we had
  to get where we're going by conventional means.
Kinichi:  We'd never make it in time.
Aja:  In time for what, exactly?
Otto:  Don't worry about it right now.
Ys:  I, for one, would like to know what we're dealing with here.
Jutokai:  Nothing, yet.
wispy thing:  (flies out of Razor Charlie's pack)  Naarf!
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at the wisp)
wispy thing:  Yrrrp.  (it flies into Belphanior's pack)
Alindyar:  Is everyone ready?  (seeing nods and thumbs-up, he
  continues)  Link hands, please.
Jutokai:  Do we have to?
Alindyar:  It would be most unfortunate if we lost one of you to
  the nether regions between time and space.
Jutokai:  Oh.  (he joins hands along with the others, completing
  the circle)  This is so corny.
Aja:  Jutokai...shut up.
Alindyar:  Vale of Death...here we come.
wispy thing:  Brfff!

  The dark elf began glowing with a violet nimbus, which quickly
spread to the others.  With a bright flash, they were gone!





                         DAY 3:  9/26/576

  Dusk.  The outer reaches of the Forlorn Forest, in the north-
eastern region of the Rovers' Barrens, near White Fanged Bay.
After arriving to the south of the vast forest's edge yesterday,
and then bidding Alindyar farewell, they'd entered the timberlands.
Moving quickly, they'd been able to cover a lot of ground before
nightfall, and had made camp for the night.  For whatever reason,
the night had passed uneventfully.  A friendly disagreement had
arisen between Otto and Kinichi as to the reason, with Otto calling
it a bad omen that nothing was around to attack them, and Kinichi
pronouncing it normal for the outer verges of a forest.
  Regardless of the reason, refreshed from relatively uninterrupted
sleep, they had broken camp and resumed their trek after breakfast.
If nothing else, the forest was a majestic place.  Its trees, great
evergreens of significant age, towered high above the adventurers,
their branches allowing only traces of sunlight to penetrate through
to the forest floor.  The weather was cold, but not unbearably so,
and a cool breeze blew through the giant trees.
  Kinichi was at last in his element; at the border of the forest
he'd taken over.  Ever since their arrival, he had led the others
through the woodlands, setting a grueling pace which not everyone
could keep.  If he'd been alone, the ranger probably would have
continued marching after dark; as it was, Belphanior had found it
necessary to tell him to slow down from time to time.
  Though they didn't know exactly where in the Forlorn Forest
their goal was, they had a general idea thanks to Jawal Severnain
and his tomes.  Kinichi had used the sun's position in the sky to
keep the group on track, and he'd used his knowledge of the land
to keep alert for the telltale terrain of a valley.  They'd had
no success by the time night fell last night; this held true yet
again, as the sunlight faded and dusk found them much deeper into
the forest than last evening.  They made camp within the silent,
dark forest; tired bones, muscles, and joints finally got some
muchly-deserved rest.
  To make things even more unpleasant, it was rather cold.  Though
autumn had only barely begun, they were far enough north for frost
to form on the ground...especially at night.  Tents and bedrolls
were drawn tight, but there was no campfire.  Kinichi didn't want
to alert every denizen of the forest to their presence, and
Belphanior agreed with him.

Skektek:  But it's _cold_.
Belphanior:  Don't worry - I made sure all of you were equipped
  with the best bedrolls possible.  They're lightweight, yet good
  in even freezing climes.  (he smiles thinly)  You'll be okay.
Skektek:  Perhaps, but it won't be enjoyable.
Otto:  You'll survive it...do you know why?
Skektek:  Huh?
Otto:  You'll survive it because there's no other choice.  We're
  out here, there's no turning back, and there'll be no fire.  So
  grin and bear it.
Skektek:  (casts a foul glance at the dwarf)
Belphanior:  (watching Kinichi fortify the campsite)  Skektek...do
  you have any spells that might be useful for traps or wards here?
Skektek:  Hmm...let me check.
Aja:  (to Kinichi)  What are you doing?
Kinichi:  A few alarms and snares around the camp's edge...just in
  case.  You never know what can creep up in the wee hours.
Aja:  You're really enjoying this, aren't you?
Kinichi:  I'm happy to say that I am.  I've been cooped up in cities
  too long.  It's a pleasant change to be out here where I belong,
  tracking and surviving in the wild.
Aja:  It's a hell of a night to have to sleep alone, eh?  (she
  wanders away)
Kinichi:  (taken aback, he just kneels there, a section of rope
  dangling in his hands)
wispy thing:  (floating nearby)  Nrp, nrp.
Kinichi:  (eyes the wisp warily, then grumbles and resumes his trap-
  setting)

  As the final touches were put on the camp's wards, the adventurers
settled down to quick, simple meals, and sentry duties were assigned.

Belphanior:  I'll take the first watch, Otto the second, and Charlie
  the third.  Two hours each.
Ys:  No watch for me?
Skektek:  Or me...(to Aja)  Then again, I need a good night's sleep
  if my magic's to be potent tomorrow.
Aja:  Bah.  (she returns to her meal)
Skektek:  (apparently not cognizant of the fact that he no longer has
  an attentive audience)  Of course, with this cold and no fire of
  any kind, I'll be lucky to get even a bit of sleep tonight.

  Nearby...

Jutokai:  Maybe I should let him use my magical weatherproof tent.
Kinichi:  (idly chewing on some beef jerky)  D'you think he'd stop
  bitching then?
Jutokai:  (shrugs)  Who the hell knows?  It's worth a try.

  Elsewhere...

Ys:  (takes Belphanior aside)  Why didn't you give me a shift at
  guard duty?
Belphanior:  No reason in particular.  Why?
Ys:  I feel...wasted.
Belphanior:  Nonsense.  It was totally random.  (he glances at
  Skektek, who is still whining)  Well, almost totally.  Don't read
  anything into it.
Ys:  Not I.

  Soon, everyone had settled down, save for Belphanior, who was on
the first watch.  Despite the cold, they managed to stay warm enough
(even Skektek) and sleep came surprisingly quickly.  All was quiet
save for the noises of the forest, the chirps and squeaks and such.
Belphanior's watch was uneventful, as was Otto's; it wasn't until
Razor Charlie's turn, a couple of hours before dawn, that the forest
denizens chose to make their move.  The knife-throwing warrior was
lying against a tree, his legs crossed, contemplating things known
only to himself as he scanned the dark forest around the campsite.

Razor Charlie:  (hears a very faint twig-snapping sound, and scans
  the dark woodland with his eyes, not revealing that he heard any-
  thing at all)

  Suddenly, several things happened at once.  Charlie yelled an
alarm, just as huge, hairy forms sprung from the darkness all
around.  However, not all of the attackers made it into the camp;
several of them discovered Kinichi's traps in harsh, painful ways.

giant wolf #1:  (bounding to the attack, it suddenly falls into a
  pit, impaling itself on the sharp, barbed spikes within)  Yelp!
giant wolf #2:  (trips a snare, and is yanked into the air by a
  loop of cord that just tightened around its leg)  Graaar!  (it
  hangs there, suspended and pawing at the air)  Raaarr!
giant wolf #3:  (triggers a swinging spiked branch, but avoids the
  deadly trap)  Graaar!  (it leaps upon Razor Charlie)  Snarl!
giant wolf #4:  (bounds over a small shrub and barrels into the
  just-awakened Skektek)  Graar!
giant wolf #5:  (jumps at Aja, but she ducks, and it lands behind
  her, turning to attack)
giant wolf #6:  (leaps upon Ys)
giant wolf #7:  (also leaps upon Ys)
giant wolf #8:  (tears into Belphanior as he gets to his feet)
giant wolf #9:  (faces off against Otto, who was more toward the
  middle of the camp and thus not an immediate target)
giant wolf #10:  (similarly faces off against Jutokai)
giant wolf #11:  (similarly faces off against Kinichi)
giant wolf #12:  (prepares to pounce upon whoever survives its
  fellows' attack)
giant wolf #13:  (likewise)
wispy thing:  (flies at the last wolf)  Sssss!
giant wolf #13:  (confused)  Grrrr...?

  And the battle was on!

giant wolf #3:  (tears and mauls Razor Charlie with its claws and
  teeth)  Graaarg!
Razor Charlie:  (stolid, he endures the wounds until he gets an
  opening...and grabs the wolf's head, driving his thumbs into its
  eyes!)
giant wolf #3:  AWOOOOO!  (it backs off, holwing and dancing in
  agony)
Razor Charlie:  (slashed and bloody, he crouches, then pounces on
  the wounded animal, locking one corded arm around its throat)
giant wolf #3:  (pawing the air in a futile attempt to dislodge
  this unwelcome grappling foe)  Rrrrr...
Razor Charlie:  (draws one of his knives and slashes the wolf's
  throat)

giant wolf #4:  (brings its jaws together on Skektek's shoulder...
  and several of its teeth snap off)  Yipe!
Skektek:  (utterly unharmed)  Hah!  You didn't think I'd keep
  myself unprotected, did you?
giant wolf #4:  Rrr...(it prepares to pounce again)
Skektek:  (points a ringed finger at the animal, releasing an arc
  of electricity from the ring)
giant wolf #4:  (blasted, it lights up, and then its fur ignites
  in flames)  YOWWWWWWLL!  (it cavorts about wildly)

giant wolf #5:  (facing Aja, who has produced a small, black,
  silver-bladed sickle)  Grrrr...
Aja:  (brandishes the weapon, which is glowing slightly)
giant wolf #5:  (pounces)  Raargh!
Aja:  (slashes the animal with the enchanted sickle, producing a
  long cut on its side)
giant wolf #5:  (its attack goes awry, merely scratching the
  priestess rather than gutting her)  Yowl!
Aja:  (sidesteps, keeping her weapon between her and the foe)

giant wolf #6:  (clinging to Ys' back, it tries to rip the flesh
  from its foe...but quickly realizes that this is no easy prey
  like the smaller adventurers)  Grrr?
giant wolf #7:  (leaping to the attack)  Graaar!
Ys:  (catches the foe in midair, one powerful hand latching onto
  its backbone)
giant wolf #7:  Yelp!
Ys:  Away with you, little pup.  (hurls the beast away with all
  his might)
giant wolf #7:  YOWWwwwwwww..(it lands somewhere far away)
Ys:  (turns his attention to the other assailant, which has torn
  several shallow gouges in his armor and skin)  Ha.  (he grabs
  the wolf's head with both hands, and snaps its neck suddenly)
giant wolf #6:  <CRACK>  (dies)
Ys:  (tosses the body aside and gets his bearings)

giant wolf #8:  (slashing and biting at Belphanior)  Graaar!
Belphanior:  (unable to get his sword to bear, at this close range,
  he rams his gauntleted swordarm between the wolf's slavering jaws
  and begins punching it in the ribs with his other hand)
giant wolf #8:  (hurt but not deterred, it rakes a clawed paw across
  the elf's shoulder)
Belphanior:  AARRGH!
giant wolf #8:  (trying to free its jaws for a bite attack)  Grrr...
Razor Charlie:  (off to one side, he hurls a knife into the wolf's
  skull)
giant wolf #8:  YIPE!  (it reels to the ground, convulsing in pain)
Belphanior:  (wasting no time, he leaps to his knees and brings his
  sword down on the fallen foe)
giant wolf #8:  (nearly decapitated, it thrashes about while blood
  spurts everywhere)
Belphanior:  (to Charlie)  Thanks.
Razor Charlie:  (hurls another knife at giant wolf #12)
giant wolf #12:  (its foreleg pierced, it howls in pain)  Yowllll...
Razor Charlie:  (advances, throwing more blades as he moves)

giant wolf #9:  (leaps at Otto)
Otto:  (takes two claw-blows across his leather armor, then slashes
  with his shortsword)
giant wolf #9:  (cut along one foreleg, it backs away)
Otto:  Yaaaaaa!  (he charges madly)
giant wolf #9:  (taken somewhat aback, it hesitates a moment before
  also charging)
Otto:  (slashes high with his sword, while producing his knife for
  a low blow)
giant wolf #9:  (manages to close its jaws on the dwarf's arm, but
  then realizes that it's just been gutted)  GRAAARrrr...(it loosens
  its jaws, sinking to the ground)
Otto:  (bleeding badly, he staggers about)  Argh...

giant wolf #10:  (bounds onto Jutokai)
Jutokai:  (unable to ready an arrow in time, he goes down, using
  his longbow to keep the beast's jaws from rending his face)
giant wolf #10:  (ripping at the archer with its claws, it scores
  several wounds)
Jutokai:  Argh!  Ungh!  Aaaaaarg!
giant wolf #10:  (suddenly lifted high into the air)  Rrrr?
Ys:  (holding the animal by its rear legs, he swings it like a club)
giant wolf #5:  (meancing Aja, it gets clobbered)
Ys:  (picks up the dazed wolf #5)  Hah.  (with one wolf in each big
  hand, he brings them both to bear on a nearby tree)
giant wolves #10 and #5:  (both hit the tree's thick trunk with
  enough force to break necks and crush skulls)
Ys:  (drops the two battered corpses)

giant wolf #11:  (leaps at Kinichi)
Kinichi:  (hurls his bola as the foe launches itself from the ground)
giant wolf #11:  (twists in midair as the weighted cord finds its
  neck, the metal weights spinning around to lock the weapon in
  place)  Graaar!  (it hits the ground, clawing at the cord wound
  tightly around its neck)
Kinichi:  (pounces upon the beast, sword flashing)
giant wolf #11:  (gutted in one stroke, and beheaded in another, it
  dies)  Urk.

giant wolf #13:  (pawing the air where the wispy thing floats)  Grr.
wispy thing:  (taunts the animal)  Snrrp!
Jutokai:  (having gotten to his feet and prepared his bow, he lets
  a shaft fly, hitting the wolf in its side)
giant wolf #13:  Yip!  (it turns, preparing to flee)
Jutokai:  (lands another arrow, this one in the beast's neck)
Kinichi:  (moves in and hacks at the wounded wolf, finishing it)

Skektek:  (pointing a wand at wolf #4, who is ablaze and incognizant
  of anything else)
Razor Charlie:  (pushes the wizard's wand aside)
Skektek:  What the hell are you doing?!?
Aja:  You can't light the whole forest on fire!
Razor Charlie:  (hurls a knife at the burning animal's head, taking
  it down)
Aja:  (finishes the beast with a swift stroke of her sickle)  Ahh.

  The battle done, the adventurers regrouped.  Almost everyone was
hurt, with Otto and Belphanior the most seriously wounded.  Spells
and potions were put to use, as the party got its bearings.

Belphanior:  Whew.
Otto:  You were having some trouble there...
Belphanior:  I couldn't get my sword to bear, that's all.
Otto:  Get yourself a boot knife, like I have.
Belphanior:  A good suggestion...
Aja:  (her wounds mysteriously healed, she works curative magic on
  Belphanior)
Kinichi:  (kneeling by the body of the wolf he finished, he produces
  a curved knife and goes to work)
Razor Charlie:  (binding his wounds, he pauses to watch)
Skektek:  Uh...what are you doing, Kinichi?
Kinichi:  (holds aloft a gory object)
Jutokai:  It's an old custom among his tribe.
Skektek:  It is?  What is?  What tribal custom?
Jutokai:  By eating the heart of a slain animal, he will gain its
  strength.
Skektek:  (watches, wide-eyed, as Kinichi enjoys his grisly feast)
Aja:  How...interesting.
Ys:  An understatement.
Otto:  Hmm.  (he and Belphanior exchange glances)
wispy thing:  (flies about, searching for more wolves)  Spaaa!
Belphanior:  Wolves...undoubtedly a greeting party sent by that
  which we seek.
Aja:  I think it's past time that you told us everything.
Skektek:  Agreed.  We can't effectively fight a foe we know nothing
  about.
Belphanior:  (sighs, then nods)  You're right, it is time.

  The elf spent a short while briefing them on what they were going
up against and why.  When he had finished, the others exchanged
worried glances.

Aja:  A _death knight_?!?  Do you have any idea how powerful a foe
  that is?
Belphanior:  Yes.  Next question?
Skektek:  Uh...I don't know if this affair is something we should be
  rushing into...
Razor Charlie:  Quit bitching.  You're getting paid for this.
Otto:  We're not rushing into anything.  And we may not even have to
  fight the death knight.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I only seek information.  We may be able to
  barter with the undead lord.
Kinichi:  Well, he's already attacked us.  A good start to any
  barter.
Ys:  (stands, an act which silences everyone)  Enough.  Victoria has
  fought alongside us all - she is one of our own.  If she needs
  help, then I for one will heed the call of duty.  (he glares at
  the others)  As should you all.
Aja:  I'm not saying we shouldn't or can't do this.  I'm just saying
  that we need to think it through.
Belphanior:  There's no thinking to be done.  (he glances at the
  brightening sky)  When day breaks, we must move, and move fast.
  We must find this Vale of Death before night falls again and the
  death knight is at the peak of his power.  Kinichi, can you find
  this valley?
Kinichi:  Yes.  If it's here, I'll find it.
Jutokai:  Maybe those wolves' tracks will provide us a clue as to
  the valley's general direction.
Belphanior:  Aja, you should be thinking about the most effective
  countermeasures against undead.
Aja:  I already have been.
Belphanior:  All right, then.  Everybody eat, clean up, and get
  ready - we move within the hour.





                         END OF PART ONE









                         DAY 4:  9/27/576

  They moved rapidly, seldom pausing to rest or eat.  Kinichi led
the group, following the terrain and the wolves' tracks.  He was
greatly abetted by Belphanior, who cast a spell of flying and took
to the air.  From this vantage point, the elf was able to not only
keep an eye out for the vale, but also watch for any daytime ambushes
that might lie in wait ahead.
  In the end, it was Belphanior's effort that led the group to its
destination.  Before midday, the elf had spotted a great sunken area
in the distance - an area that could be a valley!  Returning to the
ground, he talked with Kinichi, then carried the tracker high into
the air, that he too might see.

Belphanior:  What do you think?
Kinichi:  It's definitely a valley.  I would've gotten us there in
  time, but we'll save a few hours now that I know where it is.
Belphanior:  Good.  Time is getting short.
Kinichi:  But we've got three days left.
Belphanior:  Like I said, time is getting short.
Kinichi:  Yeah...well, get me down from here and we'll get underway.

  The elf returned Kinichi to the ground, and the group set off at
a fast clip.  Skektek couldn't maintain the pace, so he used his
magic fly above the forest floor.  Aja, too, used a spell to get
off the ground; these two being in the air with Belphanior gave the
latter an idea.

Belphanior:  When we get where we're going, you two stay back and
  watch.  I want you as our aces in the hole, in case something
  goes wrong.
Skektek:  (nods)  Makes sense to me.
Aja:  Of course it does - you're happy to avoid a fight.
Skektek:  What?!?  Woman, I'll-
Belphanior:  (his eye glows bright red)  Enough!  Not now!  Save it
  for the enemy!
Skektek:  (casts a dark glance at Aja)  Sure.
Aja:  (frowns at Belphanior)  Okay.
Belphanior:  We'll be there by midday, so just keep cool and be ready
  for action.

  On the ground below...

Razor Charlie:  (glances at those in the sky)  Damned wizards're too
  good to stay down here with us.
Otto:  I'm sure they're just talking wizard talk.
Jutokai:  Yeah, right.  (to Kinichi)  What do you think?
Kinichi:  (eyeing the ground as he leads the party along)  I'm busy.
Ys:  Not to fear, Belphanior knows what he's doing.
wispy thing:  Spaaa.
Jutokai:  I wonder if we're even headed in the right direction.
Kinichi:  (smirks)
Jutokai:  (grins)  Just kidding.

  Within an hour, there was no longer any doubt that they were
nearing the Vale of Death.  The change was gradual, yet distinct;
trees and plants became more and more wilted...stunted.  The forest
floor ceased to smell fresh and natural, instead becoming dank and
putrid.  Soon, the chirps of birds and insects had ceased - there
was no life to be seen or heard, anywhere.  The vegetation was no
longer green and brown, but rather a dull shade of grey.  Even the
mighty trees, reaching great heights and girths, appeared lifeless.
This effect was something more than the simple lack of life found
in dead trees...it was beyond even that.

Ys:  (to Kinichi)  Are there such things as undead trees?
Kinichi:  (clearly awed by the place)  I have no idea...

  Further along, things became even more sinister...

Jutokai:  (points to the skeletal remains of some small animal)
  Now there's a telltale sign if I ever saw one.
Kinichi:  (pokes at the minute corpse with his sword-point)  Looks
  like a rat, or a squirrel.
Otto:  I think the forest floor's sloping a bit here.
Kinichi:  (nods)  A valley is near, that much is certain.
Ys:  But is it _the_ valley?
Kinichi:  We'll know soon enough.
Razor Charlie:  (checks his knives)
small skeletal animal:  (unseen to all, after they pass, it twitches,
  then gets to its feet and creeps after them)

  The slight, barely noticeable downslope soon became a pronounced
hillside, and they had to move with caution lest they slip and fall.
The dead leaves, though grey or black, were still unstable footing.

Kinichi:  Definite valley potential here.
Otto:  Everyone, keep your eyes open.  I don't know exactly what a
  death knight is, but it can't be good.  Be ready for trouble.
Ys:  I'm always ready.
Jutokai:  (strings his longbow)
Razor Charlie:  (scans the forest suspiciously as he marches)
wispy thing:  (flies ahead)  Fssss.

  A very short while later, they broke out of the forest and into
an open area.  It began as a small clearing, but then continued in
a single direction, a wide swath of treeless space at the bottom
of the evergreen-lined valley slopes.  At the center (and bottom)
of this linear section of open space was a narrow, shallow creek
whose waters were as black as tar.

wispy thing:  (doubles back, behind the party, and spots the small
  skeletal animal that's trailing the party)  Pffft?
small skeletal animal:  (stops in place, motionless)
wispy thing:  (grimaces toothily)  Spork.
small skeletal animal:  (turns and creeps away)
wispy thing:  (excited, it flies after the thing)  Spfff!
Jutokai:  What the hell was that?!?
Razor Charlie:  Forget that - look there.

  The warrior was pointing to the black creek; dozens of small
skeletal things, similar to the first, were drinking from the dark
waters.

Kinichi:  How the hell can they drink when they don't have stomachs?
Otto:  Don't ask me, man.
Ys:  (shrugs)  'Tis a strange world.

  They followed the course of the dead creek with their gazes, and
saw that it led along the valley's bottom, on a slight downhill
grade.  They had started at one end of the valley, the end that held
the creek's source.  Now, the way was obvious...

Kinichi:  I don't like this.
Jutokai:  (sarcastically)  Which part - the skeletal animals at the
  water, or the dead trees all around us?
Kinichi:  Yes.
Otto:  Well, we're here to find the death knight, so let's move on.
Ys:  Indeed.  If the denizens of this foul place wish to speak to
  us, let them come.
Razor Charlie:  What if they want to attack us?
Ys:  Well, then, let them come too.
Otto:  (checks the sky for the aerial support, but sees nothing)
Jutokai:  Where'd they go?
Otto:  My guess is that they're invisible.  Now stop looking up there
  before you give away their position.
Ys:  You think we are being watched?
Otto:  Undoubtedly.
Kinichi:  (nods)  Never have I sensed so much life...that wasn't
  really life.  (he gestures in random directions)  Just look around
  you.  The trees, the "animals", the creek - and I'd bet that's just
  the tip of the iceberg.
Jutokai:  What's an iceberg?
Kinichi:  I'll explain it some other time.  We need to focus all our
  attention to the task at hand.
Otto:  Yeah.  (they move onward)

  The adventurers marched, carefully but briskly, along the valley
floor to one side of the black creek.  For reasons nobody could quite
put a finger on, they gave the dark waterway a wide berth.

skeletal frog:  (pokes its bony, fleshless head above the water's
  surface)  Mgrk.

  After a short time, the group halted and prepared to defend them-
selves - for the way ahead was blocked by an odd humanoid of some
sort.  Its grey skin was lifeless and bloated, swollen as if it
was a waterskin filled to bursting.  Pale white eyes, lacking any
pupils or other distinctive features, filled its eyesockets.  The
thing's gaping mouth contained broken, jagged teeth.  Whatever it
was, it might have once been human; now, however, it was something
far less than human.

thing:  Gh- gh- ghk.
Jutokai:  Aie.
Razor Charlie:  (sneers at the thing)
Otto:  (notices that several more of the bizarre things, not exactly
  identical but closely resembling their fellow, are approaching
  from behind the first)  Heads up, people.  Don't attack unless they
  do first.  (he readies his crossbow)  But be ready.
Kinichi:  (readies his bola)  Those monsters look ready to pop...we
  need spears.
Ys:  (draws his sword)  My sword will suffice.
Otto:  Nobody make a move.

  In the air, the three invisible spellcasters watched and prepared
to make their moves...

Belphanior:  Hold off, until the things attack them.  If they attack.
Skektek:  But-
Belphanior:  Keep it in check, mister.
Aja:  And if they do attack?
Belphanior:  Then we blast them, hard and fast.
Skektek:  Oh boy.

  As they readied their spells, though, they too were approached by
possible foes - in this case, floating heads, severed from whatever
bodies they used to belong to.  The heads' tongues lolled, black and
bloated; their eyes had rolled far back into their sockets, so that
only the whites were still visible.
  The fact that the three adventurers were invisible didn't seem to
bother the onrushing heads; they moved straight toward the trio.  As
the things neared, the spellcasters saw that their foes' flesh was
rotted and putrid.

Aja:  I don't think they're going to stop...
Belphanior:  ...three, four, five.  I make out five targets.
Skektek:  I'm on it - say the word.
Aja:  Wait - I was going to try and control-
Belphanior:  (waits until the heads are undoubtedly attacking)  Now!
Aja:  Oh, damn it.
Skektek:  (releases his magic missiles)  Ha!

  A fiery bolt streaked toward each of the five creatures, and the
magical missiles blasted the heads, one after another.  The bolts of
energy didn't stop the undead foes, but they did pave the way for
Belphanior's attack...

Belphanior:  (launches a web, shrouding all five heads at once)
floating heads:  (struggling with the sticky strands, they only
  manage to get themselves tangled worse)
Aja:  (checking out the scene below, she begins working a spell)
Skektek:  (eyeing the snared heads warily, he turns to Belphanior)
  What are you going to do with these things now?
Belphanior:  Beats me.
floating heads:  (begin chewing on the web's strands, an effort that
  only leads to lost teeth and jawbones)
Belphanior:  I can't ground them, and I can't drag them down without
  getting myself tangled up too.
Skektek:  (holds up his wand of fireballs, grinning)  Allow me to
  offer an alternative.

  On the ground...

bloated corpse-thing #1:  (lurches toward the adventurers)  Eyaaaah.
Jutokai:  (fires an arrow, hitting the thing in the neck)

  The creature barely staggered, but of more interest was the wound
made by the arrow's razor-sharp head.  From the hole torn in the
foe's waxy skin, there issued a trickle of small, white, wriggling
things.

Jutokai:  Ugh.
Kinichi:  Hit it again!
Jutokai:  (nocks an arrow)  I'll try for the leg this time.  (he
  does so, his next shaft piercing the foe's ankle)
bloated corpse-thing #1:  (begins limping as it shuffles along)  Ggg.
Kinichi:  So they _can_ be hurt.
Jutokai:  Just be glad I had a chance to bring my bow to bear, not
  like in the forest.
bloated corpse-thing #2:  (pushes the wounded one aside and advances
  on the adventurers, drooling and babbling incoherently)  Gwaaah...
bloated corpse-thing #3:  (follows the other)  Eghhhh.
Ys:  Enough of this nonsense.  (he steps forth and slashes mightily,
  slicing both foes in half at the waist)
bloated corpse-thing #2:  (falls to the ground in two halves, hordes
  of worms spilling from the gaping wounds)  Ghakkk.
bloated corpse-thing #3:  (likewise)  Ghukkk.
Otto:  Wow.  Nice move, Ys.
Ys:  (beats his sword on the ground, to get the worms off of it)
  Thanks.
Razor Charlie:  (hurls one of his nonmagical knives at another foe)
bloated corpse-thing #4:  (hit in the forehead, it ignores the
  blade and keeps coming)  Errrrrk.
Otto:  (produces a flask of oil and slings it at the thing)
bloated corpse-thing #4:  (looks around blankly as the oil douses
  its body)  Ghuuuuk.
Otto:  (gets out his bottle containing the oil of fiery burning, and
  hurls it with all his might)
bloated corpse-thing #4:  (engulfed in flames)  Gwaaaaaaaaaa.  (it
  shuffles around, blazing)
bloated corpse-thing #5:  (approaches)  Grnnnn.
Ys:  (still trying to clean worms from his sword, he looks up just
  in time)  What?  (he leaps back as the thing lunges)

  Suddenly, help came from on high:  Aja completed her spellcasting,
and a dozen sticks lying about on the ground transformed into coiled
snakes!

Aja:  Attack those corpses!
snakes:  (ignore her)
Aja:  What?!?

  The priestess, as well as her allies on the ground, noticed an odd
thing then:  the snakes created by her spell were utterly without
flesh or skin.  Instead, they were merely animated skeletons of
snakes, though they did have fangs.

undead snake:  (slithers toward Ys)  Sss!
Ys:  (steps on the thing, smashing it into dust)  Beware!  These
  snakes mean us harm!
Otto:  Shit.
Aja:  Double shit.
bloated corpse-thing #5:  (facing Ys)  Brrrak!
Ys:  Go away.  (he raises his sword)
bloated corpse-thing #5:  (belches a noxious green cloud into Ys'
  face)
Ys:  (reels, coughing)  Argh!  (he staggers about, holding his
  gigantic sword but useless for the time being)  Ghak!
bloated corpse-thing #5:  (heads for Ys)  Grgl!
Otto:  (crossbow in hand, he fires a bolt, hitting the thing in one
  knee)
bloated corpse-thing #5:  (reels, almost falls down, then shuffles
  along, much more slowly than before)
Otto:  Fuck this - why are we even engaging these things?!?  Go for
  their legs!
Jutokai:  Got it.  (he fires an arrow, hitting another foe in the
  ankle)
bloated corpse-thing #6:  (trips over its arrow-stricken foot and
  falls, spewing worms onto the ground)
bloated corpse-thing #7:  (shuffles past its fellow)

  There was a thunderous BOOM from above just then, and they all
looked up to see Skektek's fireball engulf the webbed, floating
undead heads.

Skektek:  Look out below!
flaming bundle of webbed undead heads:  (drifts down from the sky)
Otto:  Move!  Move it, people!  (he grabs Ys and tries to tug him
  out of harm's way)  Unf!
Ys:  (coughing and rubbing at his eyes)  Ghak!
Otto:  Come on!  We have to move, NOW!
Razor Charlie:  (grabs Ys' other arm and helps Otto steer him clear
  of the falling, flaming bundle)
bloated corpse-thing #6:  (caught under the falling inferno, it is
  engulfed in flames)  Graaaaa!
Kinichi:  (having hefted a sizable, forked dead tree branch, he
  charges at the last foe)
bloated corpse-thing #7:  (caught in the forked branches, it is
  pushed back...into the flaming mess that just landed behind it)
  Skraaaa!  (it ignites)  Skaaaa!
Jutokai:  (still sending arrows into various wounded foes, he makes
  sure that none of them will ever walk again)
Belphanior:  (lands)  Forget the wounded enemies, people - let's
  keep moving.
Otto:  Fine by me.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at one of the unmoving, worm-filled bodies
  that Ys sliced in two)  Me too.

  After a healthy dose of water was splashed into his eyes and mouth,
Ys was able to walk in a straight line and breathe normally.

Jutokai:  What did that thing hit you with?
Ys:  No idea...it was like looking into the face of a corpse and
  inhaling deeply...
Aja:  The breath of death.
Kinichi:  Is that what you call it?
Aja:  I don't know - I just made it up.
Otto:  (spies something in the distance)  Hey...
Belphanior:  Yeah, I see it.  (he squints, his crystal eye gleaming)
  Whoa, shit.  (to everyone)  Heads up, people!  Unless there's two
  of them here, that's our death knight riding toward us!

  Weapons and spells were prepared in haste, and the party spread
out widely, to be less susceptible to large-area attacks.  As the
dark speck in the distance grew larger, they could make out a huge,
powerful mount.  The black horse's wings spanned at least twenty
feet, and resembled those of a gigantic bat.  Those terrifying
wings beat the air with a loud, leathery flapping sound, driving
the demonic steed forward with surprising speed.  Its eyes glowed
bright red, and plumes of hot breath escaped from its mouth into
the cold air.
  Fearsome as the horse was, its rider commanded even greater respect
and awe.  Had he been on the ground, the man would have stood nearly
seven feet tall.  Undead though he was, his gleaming black armor was
shaped as if filled by one of Arnold's muscle and bulk.  The plate
mail was obviously well-oiled and cared for, as was the great sword
in a dragon-hide sheath at the knight's side.  The knight's left arm
held a large, square shield; its outer face bore the insignia of a
red lion over a white castle.
  The death knight's helmet was large and finely-worked, tapering
into a row of sharp spikes at the top.  The fearsome helm covered
the entirety of its wearer's head, and a lowered visor shielded the
knight's eyes.  A bright crimson glow could be seen behind the metal
grille of the black visor...and that glow pierced even the hardiest
of the adventurers' souls.
  The score of dark, hovering wraith-things that followed in the
death knight's wake seemed almost insignificant in comparison to
their master.

Gorath:  (speaks in a deep, hollow voice)  Who dares to invade my
  kingdom?
Belphanior:  (steps forth from his band)  I-
Gorath:  We have met before, elf.
Belphanior:  (taken aback)  Then you remember...?
Gorath:  I never forget anything.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Gorath:  I have seen you briefly...once, while I was temporarily
  allied with a certain weak dolt who fancied himself a mage.
Belphanior:  (nods)
Gorath:  I recall leaving that battle, despite the efforts of a
  rather irritating grey elf, because the conflict was no longer
  worth my while.
Belphanior:  That elf is now dead.
Gorath:  You shall soon join him.
Belphanior:  (dares to speak a bit more boldly, but is very careful
  to build it up slowly so as not to offend)  We haven't come to
  fight.
Gorath:  Nonsense.  None who intrude upon my vale do so without
  cause.  Even I have lost count of those I have had to put out of
  my misery over the years.
Belphanior:  My apologies.  We were unsure how to properly proceed,
  and were attacked while trying to find out.
Gorath:  (glances about)  You made a good accounting of yourselves,
  no?
Belphanior:  We're no amateurs.
Gorath:  Bah.  You have faced only the weakest of my slaves thus far.
Belphanior:  And we hope to face no more.  (he slowly, carefully puts
  his sword back in its sheath)  I harbor no hostile intentions.
Gorath:  (cocks his head, ever so slightly)  I...sense that what you
  say is true.  (he crosses his arms)  It is not often that I am
  puzzled - and this intrigues me.  You have bought yourself an
  audience, elf.
Belphanior:  My thanks.
Skektek:  Why is he being so nice to-
Otto:  Sh!
Gorath:  (ignores those he deems to be Belphanior's retainers,
  continuing his conversation with the elf)  Who are you, then, and
  what do you want with me?
Belphanior:  (looking around at the strange wilderness they stand in)
  Perhaps we could retreat to a more appropriate location, to talk of
  these things?
Gorath:  No.  Outsiders never enter my sanctum...alive.  This place
  is as good as any for you to make your case.  Now, I ask again:
  who are you, elf, and what is your business here?
Belphanior:  I am Belphanior, and I believe we have a certain enemy
  in common.
Gorath:  Curiouser and curiouser.  Who is this enemy?
Belphanior:  A certain grossly fat demon lord, whose power waxes
  supreme over undead.
Gorath:  (the red glow behind his visor brightens)  HIM?!?
Belphanior:  That very one.
Gorath:  (angrily)  A bitter enemy, indeed.
Otto:  (tenses for action, if necessary)
Belphanior:  I seek your wisdom...your counsel regarding that demon
  lord.
Gorath:  Why?  Why seek _my_ counsel?
Belphanior:  It is said that you successfully defied that foul one
  once.  I know not how, but you surely do - and that is a secret
  that I must have, at any cost.
Gorath:  Why?
Belphanior:  A woman, one whom I care for greatly, is in grave
  danger on account of our mutual enemy.  The only way I can save
  her is with your help.
Gorath:  A woman...(he pauses for a long moment)  Come with me, elf.
  We shall speak of this.

  Throughout this conversation, the wraiths and spectres attending
Gorath had floated about, awaiting their master's command to take
the lives and souls of the mortals.  Now, however, they parted like
leaves in the wind to allow the death knight and the elf to pass.
Their fell master didn't even have to tell them to move; they simply
knew.

Jutokai:  (looking around, worried)  What do we do?
Otto:  We wait...right here.  Don't move, don't do anything even
  remotely suspicious.

  Meanwhile, Gorath led Belphanior to a slightly elevated outcropping
of rock to one side of the valley's walls.  He then turned to face
his guest.

Belphanior:  Your minions aren't going to guard you?
Gorath:  Understand:  you pose no danger to me.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Gorath:  I simply see no need for all of my servants to hear this
  particular conversation.
Belphanior:  Uh...because they're undead, and the foe of whom I
  spoke could use them to find out?
Gorath:  Very perceptive.  My power over my subjects is absolute,
  but at the same time, they are weaker links in the chain that
  is my might.
Belphanior:  So you're going to help me?
Gorath:  Not at all.
Belphanior:  But-
Gorath:  The demon lord is an enemy.  An enemy's enemy is a friend.
  You, however, fall somewhere in the middle.  I will tell you what
  you came to hear; how you proceed with that knowledge depends on
  you.
Belphanior:  Uh...thanks.
Gorath:  And this knowledge will not be without its price.  But
  first...some details.  This woman of yours, who you claim is in
  grave danger from the demon lord...
Belphanior:  (nods)
Gorath:  She is undead herself, then?
Belphanior:  A vampiress, yes.
Gorath:  And the fat tub of lard has made some kind of a threat
  against her, to strike at you?
Belphanior:  Something like that.
Gorath:  And thus you seek some way to shield her from that one's
  vast power?
Belphanior:  Yes.
Gorath:  (glares at Belphanior)  Perhaps you seek to cure her of
  her vampirism.
Belphanior:  (frowns)  Are you reading my mind?
Gorath:  To an extent.  I can sense your emotions and interpret
  them.
Belphanior:  Wonderful.
Gorath:  (ignores the sarcasm)  You might stop to ask this woman of
  yours if she _wants_ to be "cured."
Belphanior:  Why?
Gorath:  Long experience.  Anyhow, to the matter at hand:  I have
  succeeded in escaping the demon lord's grasp, and he can never
  again bother me directly.  However, this was a unique turn of
  events, one which you cannot duplicate.
Belphanior:  I have to try.
Gorath:  No.  I escaped one otherworldly being's wrath by making a
  pact with another.
Belphanior:  Another demon lord?
Gorath:  Another power that controls death...a greater power than
  even Orcus.  The price, however, did not include a "cure" but
  rather involved long and tedious servitude...the doing of dark
  deeds.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Gorath:  I seriously doubt that you wish this upon your woman.
Belphanior:  No, you're right.  That wouldn't work at all.
Gorath:  Do you have any power over Orcus, any signed pact or
  agreement of any kind?
Belphanior:  (smiles thinly)  A parchment wherein he promises
  not to attack, or send minions to attack, any of those who
  confronted him at that particular time.  The problem is, my
  vampiric companion wasn't present for that treaty.
Gorath:  Ah.  That does present a problem.  Who or what gave you
  the ultimatum regarding your woman?
Belphanior:  Some lich called "Skorvus."
Gorath:  That name is unfamiliar to me.
Belphanior:  What can I do?
Gorath:  The demon lord is a lying bastard, but he is also bound
  by the law of pacts.  He cannot attack you, nor can his direct
  servants.  I would suggest venturing to the lair of this Skorvus
  and confronting him with force.  Another option would be to give
  Skorvus and his master whatever it is they want.
Belphanior:  These aren't really options.
Gorath:  (shrugs)  But they are alternatives.
Belphanior:  (grits his teeth)  I'm going to go find Skorvus, and
  his master Xusia, and bring their kingdom down around their-
Gorath:  (stiffens)  Xusia?
Belphanior:  Eh?
Gorath:  Did you say "Xusia"?
Belphanior:  Yes, why?
Gorath:  Skorvus I know not, but Xusia is another matter entirely.
Belphanior:  Oh.  It's a chain of command, I think, with the demon
  lord atop them all.
Gorath:  Xusia is supposed to be dead.  What is his involvement in
  all of this?
Belphanior:  Skorvus dropped his name in conversation.
Gorath:  If Xusia is alive, elf, you and your kind have much to
  fear.
Belphanior:  My kind?
Gorath:  Mortals.
Belphanior:  Who is this Xusia?
Gorath:  Xusia was the most powerful of Orcus' worldly generals,
  some millennia ago when the Oerth was young.  His mortal life was
  spent amongst the Suel empire, and his power grew to such levels
  that death could not rein it in.
Belphanior:  What happened?
Gorath:  Xusia was eventually destroyed - or so the legend goes -
  amidst a great battle, one whose components you may know as the
  Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire.
Belphanior:  Those events do ring bells...
Gorath:  It is improbable, though not impossible, that the arch-
  lich has returned to plague your world.
Belphanior:  And yours.
Gorath:  (shakes his head slightly)  This is not my world, and I am
  in no danger from what Xusia and Orcus will do to it.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Gorath:  You, however, are.  But that is not my concern.  (he crosses
  his mighty arms)  This discourse is at a close, but I will give you
  one bit of information that may prove useful.  Xusia wields - or at
  least used to wield - an unholy relic of great power, a scepter of
  great power, tipped with a large ruby crystal.  Much of his power
  may be tied to this item, especially if he has recently awakened and
  is still regaining his strength.
Belphanior:  Hmm, thanks.  I'll remember that.
Gorath:  Now go forth and deal with the demon lord's minions any way
  you see fit, but be aware that more is at stake here than your
  personal concerns.  Much more.  And bear in mind that no power on
  Oerth can protect your lady from the Demon Lord.  It is the curse
  of unlife.
Belphanior:  Err...thanks for the tip.
Gorath:  You have heard more than I have ever told any mortal.  Be
  thankful that I choose to let you leave my valley, and know that
  someday I will come a-calling for you to return this favor.  (his
  visor glows brightly)  Now gather your servants and go.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I will.

  Shortly, the troupe from Helgate was outward-bound, heading away
from the Vale of Death and its bizarre inhabitants.  Belphanior
related the details of his conversation with the death knight.

Otto:  So that's it?!?  All of this journeying and fighting was for
  nothing?
Belphanior:  Not for nothing.  I learned more information - valuable
  information - and we're walking out of here without a fight, which
  is more than I expected.
Skektek:  What about Gorath?  Will his monsters let us pass from the
  area without incident?
Belphanior:  I suspect they will.  Remember, anything I do to hurt
  Skorvus or the others will probably please Gorath.  In a way, I'm
  being used...but if that's what it takes to get Victoria out of
  this mess, then so be it.
Razor Charlie:  (sneers at nobody in general)
wispy thing:  (makes faces at Charlie)  Aaarp?
Aja:  I wonder what Gorath did to become a death knight.
Ys:  I wonder what "favor" he will demand in the future.
Belphanior:  Irrelevant, both questions.  We need to focus on the
  matter at hand.
Kinichi:  Speaking of which...where _is_ this Isle of Woe, and how
  are we going to get there in the next three days?
Belphanior:  Now that, I have covered.  I didn't study up too much
  on Xusia or Gorath, but I did have more luck with the Isle of Woe.
Jutokai:  Where - and what - exactly is it?
Belphanior:  It's located well off the coast of eastern Blackmoor,
  beyond a large peninsula which contains no cities or towns...only
  ruins.  This peninsula is known locally as Hell's Tongue, and it
  happens to be the closest landmark to the reported location of
  the isle we seek.
Otto:  Uh, don't get me wrong - I don't doubt your power - but how
  _are_ we going to get there from here, in time?
Belphanior:  Simple.  I'm going to pull another miracle out of my
  hat.
Skektek:  But you're not wearing a hat.
Belphanior:  It's that good a miracle...





                         DAY 5:  9/28/576

  The grasslands outside the Forlorn Forest, midday.  The party,
while not up to full strength, was well-rested and healed, and its
members' magic was replenished.  The adventurers had made haste in
leaving the forest, and indeed, the journey out had seemed to pass
more quickly than the journey in.  Perhaps that was the evil magic
of the place; whatever the case, only the gods knew.
  Breakfast was done, and camp was broken.  Belphanior was preparing
some mighty incantation, judging from the myriad components and bits
of material he had spread all about.

wispy thing:  (examines some of the unusual items)  Pfsss?
Skektek:  (points to a lump of odd stone)  Is that a piece of the
  legendary Philosopher's Stone?  I never-
Belphanior:  Don't touch anything!
Skektek:  (looks offended)
Belphanior:  (softens his tone a bit)  Sorry.  It's just that I'll
  need everything I've got here, plus a little luck, if this is to
  work.
Skektek:  Oh.
Aja:  What exactly are you up to, anyway?
Belphanior:  Long ago, I came into possession of the spellbook of
  a powerful wizard, one Kronos.  Aside from several new and useful
  spells - all of which I've yet to fully understand - his tome has
  the procedure to summon his skyship.
Skektek:  Skyship?!?  As in a ship that soars among the clouds?
Belphanior:  (nods)
Aja:  Wow.  That _would_ prove useful.
Belphanior:  Especially in this circumstance.
Otto:  (wanders over)  How do we get ahold of this skyship?
Belphanior:  Kronos' spellbook contains a unique and complicated
  spell, which I am about to attempt.  If all works properly, this
  incantation will take us to the skyship.
Aja:  That spell could be dangerous to the skyship's master, if
  others got their hands on it.
Belphanior:  That's why it's a unique spell.  Fortunately, I happen
  to possess it.  (he looks around)  Gather everybody and prepare.
  I don't know if this is going to work like a teleport, or open a
  portal of some kind, or something else entirely, but we need to be
  ready.

  Shortly, the elf was casting the ancient, arcane spell as the other
adventurers watched in awe.  At first, nothing seemed amiss, not even
to this bunch who had teleported magically in the past.  However, the
sky quickly grew cloudy, thunder rumbling somewhere above, and they
knew that something was about to happen...something mighty.

Skektek:  (looking around apprehensively)
Jutokai:  I don't like this.
Kinichi:  Me neither.  (to Aja)  What do you make of it?
Aja:  I have no idea.
Razor Charlie:  (crosses his arms and waits)
wispy thing:  (hovers in place, gazing upward)  Sprrd...
Otto:  Let's just see what happens.
Ys:  (scans the sky, one huge hand covering his eyes)

  Suddenly, within the clouds above, a yawning hole opened; at the
same time, puffs of thick mist appeared all around them.  Within a
few moments, they could see nothing - not even each other.

Skektek:  (swats at the fog)  Hey!  Hey!  This isn't funny.
Ys:  Somehow, I doubt it was meant to be.
Kinichi:  Jutokai, we're not on Oerth anymore.
Jutokai:  (trying to figure out where everyone is)  No shit.
Aja:  Belphanior?
Otto:  Where'd he go?
Aja:  Belphanior!
Belphanior:  (somewhere nearby)  Relax, I'm here.
Skektek:  What's going on?
Belphanior:  I think we'll know in a very short while.  The mists
  are parting.
Kinichi:  They are?  (he notices the mist dropping away)  Ah, so
  they are.

  Momentarily, the adventurers could see one another again, though
that wasn't the most interesting thing anymore.  They now stood
upon a cottony white surface, which shifted slightly beneath their
feet but otherwise seemed stable.  In all directions, it was the
same:  a puffy, semi-solid white landscape.  It was difficult to
discern exactly how far this extended, because the horizon was made
up of the same stuff.  Above them was a bright, clear blue sky.

Skektek:  It can't be.
Kinichi:  (to Aja)  You don't suppose...
Aja:  (to Belphanior)  Are we...you know?
Belphanior:  In the clouds?  (he shrugs)  Maybe.  Probably.  Hell,
  your guess is as good as mine.
Jutokai:  Whoa.
Ys:  (shrugs)  I always wanted to walk in the clouds.
Belphanior:  But if the spell worked, then where's that damned sky-
  ship?
Otto:  (spots something jutting from a white mass nearby)  I'm
  guessing that's it.

  The dwarf was pointing to the prow of some vessel; the long, thin
platform of wood was much like that of any seafaring ship.  Steel
bands reinforced it, all along its length, and a steel railing lined
both sides.  The platform was about two feet wide and appeared quite
sturdy.  All around the prow, or whatever it was, clouds swirled,
obscuring the full details of the object.

Kinichi:  (makes a sign holy to his native tribe)
Aja:  You're really worried about this, aren't you?
Kinichi:  It's not...right.
Belphanior:  Well, get over it, because we need to have a look.
  (without further hesitation, he heads for the strange ship)  I
  think I see a mast there.
Ys:  (lumbers after the elf)  Be careful-

  As the adventurers approached the seemingly-misplaced ship, they
realized that whatever the vessel was, its owner had not left it
unguarded.  From the very air and clouds themselves, strange and
terrible guardians sprang into existence.  Between the group and
the ship, there towered a broad humanoid made entirely of clouds.
To one flank, a man-sized (if not shaped) whirlwind rose from the
fluffy "ground."  On another flank hovered a cloud of translucent
air, amidst which glowed two crimson eyes.  Somewhere above, there
was a sound like a powerful gust of wind, as an unseen foe swooped
about.

Belphanior:  Spread out, everyone!  Don't make yourselves targets-
  (he reels, struck by a cloudy fist which just appeared from the
  terrain before him)  Ungh!
cloud golem:  (removes its arm from the cloudy ground, and stands
  erect, advancing on the elf)  HO.

  The others, however, hadn't needed to be told; they were already
on the move, readying their own attacks and defenses.

Ys:  (steps forward to engage the gigantic cloud golem and protect
  Belphanior)  Try attacking someone your own size.  (he swings his
  gigantic sword in a deadly arc)
cloud golem:  (ignores the blade, which passes right through it)
  HO, HO, HO.
Ys:  Uh-oh.

  The punch that followed sent the huge reptilian sailing right over
Otto's head; the dwarf ducked out of reflex more than need as he
watched his massive ally land in the almost-soft cloudy ground some
distance away.

Otto:  (calling upon his magical cloak, he takes to the air like a
  bat, avoiding the golem's next blow)  Heh.  (from the sky, he
  draws a bead on the foe)  Let's see if an enchanted bolt will
  hurt you...(he lets such a missile fly)
cloud golem:  (keeps advancing as the bolt passes through its face)
Otto:  Shit.

  Nearby, the man-sized whirlwind had reached Jutokai, and the
archer's arrow went awry as the foe's winds whipped and ripped at
him.

Jutokai:  Argh!
Kinichi:  Hold fast!  (he slashes at the whirlwind with his sword)
man-sized whirlwind:  (blows the tracker away before his weapon can
  hit)
Kinichi:  (knocked back)  Unf!
Skektek:  (working some spell)  Fear not, I'll blast that thing
  into obl-  (he falls as something invisible flies down and strikes
  him in the back)  Argh!  (he lies on the cloudy ground, groaning
  in pain)
wispy thing:  (flies up, toward the unseen foe)  Spork!
unseen foe:  (growls)

Razor Charlie:  (realizing that his knives aren't going to do much
  good against foes such as these, he turns to Aja)  Don't just
  stand there - do something!
Aja:  I have no power over nature magic...(she produces her scroll
  and peruses it frantically)
man-sized whirlwind:  (heads for Aja)
Razor Charlie:  (moves to block the thing's advance, hoping to buy
  Aja enough time to cast some spell)

cloud golem:  (moving toward Belphanior)
Otto:  (still flying around in the air above, he hurls his newly-
  acquired magical spear)  Take that!
spear:  (circles around and hits Otto in the back)
Otto:  Fuck...(he drifts downward)
cloud golem:  (waits for him below)

Ys:  (gets to his feet, recovering his sword)
translucent cloud with red eyes:  (floats toward the reptilian)
Ys:  Eh?
translucent cloud with red eyes:  (engulfs Ys)
Ys:  (unable to breathe, he claws at that which surrounds him)  ...
translucent cloud with red eyes:  (keeps itself around Ys)
Skektek:  (having used his boots to levitate out of harm's way)
  Hey, you.
translucent cloud with red eyes:  (its eyes swivel to regard the
  wizard)
Skektek:  (releases his spell, causing a powerful gust of wind to
  buffet the thing)
translucent cloud with red eyes:  (shredded, it disperses, and its
  eyes vanish)
Ys:  (on his knees, coughing and drawing in great breaths of air)
  Ghak...ack...
Skektek:  You okay, big guy?
Ys:  I'll...be fine...shortly...

  Nearby, the unseen foe was somehow doing battle with the wispy
thing...

unseen foe:  (growling and snarling)
wispy thing:  Sssss!

  There was a sound then, a sound like the rending of something
fleshy; it was followed by the sound of rushing air.  The wispy
thing grinned.

wispy thing:  Spaaa!  (it flits about, its immaterial teeth biting
  at unseen morsels)  Spk!

  Nearby, Razor Charlie's efforts to defend Aja seemed pointless...

Razor Charlie:  Hey, you, get off of my cloud.
man-sized whirlwind:  (buffets Razor Charlie aside)
Razor Charlie:  (bloody and bruised, he falls)  Argh.
Aja:  (completes the scroll-casting, summoning a small dusty
  whirlwind)
small dusty whirlwind:  (charges the larger whirlwind...and promptly
  vanishes into it!)
larger whirlwind:  (makes a sound not unlike a belch)
Aja:  Oops.

  The cloud golem waited to catch Otto as he fell from the sky;
the man-sized whirlwind bore down on Aja.  Belphanior had gotten
to his feet and was in action, as was Ys.  Skektek still floated
above their heads, working another spell.  Razor Charlie, Jutokai,
and Kinichi were out of commission, as was the plummeting Otto.

cloud golem:  (awaiting the dwarf, who is falling faster now, with
  clenched fists)  HO, HO, HO.
Belphanior:  (completes a spell, generating a small globe of white
  matter directly beneath the cloud golem)
cloud golem:  (its legs ice over)  HO?

  As they watched in awe, the huge foe froze, inch by inch, the
absolute cold creeping up its body.

Belphanior:  Everyone back away - that shit _will_ spread!
Otto:  (hits the ground at a fair rate of speed, though his fall
  is broken both by his bat-wing-cloak and the semi-soft cloudy
  ground)  Ungh.  (he sits up and looks around)  What the fuck's
  going on?
Ys:  (lumbers forth, grabs the dwarf from of the spreading icy area,
  then leaps back)
man-sized whirlwind:  (attacks Aja, its winds ripping at her body)
Aja:  Aargh!
Skektek:  (casts a spell, bringing a fusillade of fiery meteors
  down upon the whirlwind)
man-sized whirlwind:  (slowed for a moment, but not stopped, it
  repels the missiles one by one)
Skektek:  Shit!  Why won't it die?
Belphanior:  Force isn't the answer to everything...(he blinks)
  Aha!  That's it!
Skektek:  Huh?
Belphanior:  (spellcasting)  Force...

  As the wind-creature bore down on Aja, who had crawled a fair
distance away during the respite, Belphanior completed his spell.
A translucent dome of force instantly surrounded the foe!

man-sized whirlwind:  (flying about within this prison, it bounces
  off of the magical barrier)
Belphanior:  That should hold him for awhile.
Skektek:  But we have to destroy it!
Belphanior:  Not if we're long gone when that force-dome expires.
  (to everyone)  Gather the wounded and unconscious - we're boarding
  that ship.
cloud golem:  (frozen solid, along with the cloud-ground in the
  immediate vicinity, it towers there, unmoving)
Ys:  (sallies forth and, with a single great blow, brings his huge
  sword down into the frozen foe)
frozen cloud golem:  (shatters into a million pieces)
Ys:  Payback is hell.  (he sheaths his sword)
Belphanior:  (smirks)
Skektek:  (to the elf)  That was a hell of a maneuver, freezing
  the blasted thing.  How'd you know it would work?
Belphanior:  Well, I didn't, but I figured that clouds contained
  a lot of water, and water can be frozen...
wispy thing:  (hovering around the elf's head)  Yrrrp.
Ys:  (carrying Kinichi and Jutokai over his shoulders)
Belphanior:  (slings the also-unconscious Razor Charlie over his
  shoulder)  Otto, you take the point and scout as we go.
Otto:  (still a little woozy)  Okay.
Aja:  (following behind)  Make sure these unconscious ones don't
  drop any of their items while you're carrying them.

  They made their way to the ship's prow; as expected, it was
attached to a ship!  None of the adventurers was an expert on ships
(like Ged had been, Belphanior reflected bitterly to himself) but
this vessel was of medium size.  A small coaster, or round ship, it
had two masts but no sails.  The vessel was about seventy feet long
and perhaps twenty wide.

  In all respects, though, it perfectly resembled a seafaring ship;
in the sea, a vessel like this would require a crew of about twenty
sailors.

Skektek:  Maybe that's what it is.
Otto:  Then how the hell did it get up here?
Aja:  We're not really sure that we're "up" anywhere.
Belphanior:  If things go the way I intend for them to, we'll have
  the answer to this question shortly.
Skektek:  (eyeing the ship apprehensively)  No oarholes...no oars.
Aja:  If it flies through the sky, it won't need any.
Skektek:  Oh, yeah.

  In a snap, Belphanior had flown onto the ship and secured a rope
for the others to board with...most of the others.  The wounded
were carried aboard and revived, their wounds bandaged and healed
as best as possible.  As for Skektek, he muttered something about
not climbing any rope.

Skektek:  (levitates himself onto the vessel)

  The ship's main deck was tiered slightly, such that it was higher
in the center with a somewhat lower elevation fore and aft.  Atop
this raised midship section, or forecastle, was a small enclosed
cabin with large portholes on all sides.  Above this cabin - rising
_through_ it, actually - was the main mast, atop which was a crow's
nest.  From the main deck, steps led from fore and aft up onto the
forecastle, upon which rested the enclosed cabin with its single
door to the aft side.
  Behind (aft of) the forecastle, more steps led back down to the
main deck, and nearby was a large hatch which probably led to a
cargo hold below.  Further back was a smaller raised sterncastle,
without a cabin but elevated a man's height above the main deck.
In front (fore) of the forecastle and cabin was the second, smaller
mast; after that was more open deck followed by the ship's prow.



                              ||                <-- main mast
secondary mast -->  ||        ||__
             _______||________|___\___________  <-- bridge/f'castle
             \_        //     //             /
               \______//      \\            /
stern           \_____________//___________/        bow

            |-------------- 70' --------------|



  At all points, the deck was guarded by an ornate metal railing
which stood a good four feet higher than the planks of the deck.
Those planks, they noticed as they roamed, were fashioned of some
polished, extremely hard wood.

Otto:  Could be bronzewood.  (he produces a piece of blackroot and
  begins chewing on it)
Razor Charlie:  Blackroot?
Otto:  Here, want some?  (he hands a sprig of the stuff to Charlie)
Razor Charlie:  (nods his thanks, grimacing)

  The ship was in remarkable condition, but that didn't really
interest Belphanior at the moment.

Belphanior:  Ys, Otto, Charlie - go below and make sure it's secure.
  Jutokai, Kinichi - sweep the top deck one more time, check for
  anything we've missed, then join the others.  Aja, Skektek - with
  me; we're going to figure out how this thing works.
wispy thing:  (exploring the ship in its own way)  Pffft.  (it flies
  up to the crow's nest)

  Everyone rushed off to fulfill their tasks...

Jutokai:  This deck's clean as a whistle.  Hey, d'you think we're
  really going to go flying off into the sky?
Kinichi:  It's looking more and more like it...
Jutokai:  We'd better make sure we're nowhere near the edge of the
  deck, then, when we get moving.
Kinichi:  I heard that.

  On the main deck, Belphanior checked the cabin's door carefully
before he opened it.  The cabin was big enough for four people to
fit in, slightly cramped, and contained a large, spoked steering
wheel as well as other, less prominent controls.

Belphanior:  This is definitely the bridge.  (he regards the various
  knobs, levers, and other arcane devices)  Can't be much different
  from the sky balloon.
Skektek:  The what?
Belphanior:  In the past, I sometimes flew in a giant sky balloon.
Aja:  How odd.
Belphanior:  There was nothing odd about it.
Skektek:  (pointing to the weird markings that decorate the devices)
  What are those...instructions, perhaps?
Belphanior:  That's my guess.  Let's make sure we use spells to
  check everything for traps and glyphs before we experiment...

  Aft of the bridge, Ys lifted the heavy hatch, propping it up with
a handy beam that rested nearby.  Wide steps led into the darkness
below, and he turned to the others.

Ys:  Shall we?
Otto:  Let's.
Razor Charlie:  (lights a torch, handing it to Otto)
Ys:  Let me take that.
Otto:  No, if there's anything nasty down there, we'll need your
  sword, and you'll need our light.
Razor Charlie:  And my knives.
Otto:  Of course.
Ys:  (shrugs, and steps down into the hold)

  The broad steps held the big reptilian's weight, which was fairly
remarkable in and of itself.  It didn't take the explorers long to
find something even more remarkable, though.

Otto:  Good gods...
Ys:  Loot!

  The hold was sizable, capable of holding about fifty tons when
fully loaded.  At the moment, however, it was only fractionally full,
which meant that the piles of gold, silver, and other precious metals
still amounted to a fortune.

wispy thing:  (floating over the loot, grinning)  Vroot!

  Coins, ingots, raw chunks of ore, worked pieces of jewelry - it
was all there, and in plentiful quantities.

Ys:  It would seem that the last voyage of this vessel was a rather
  successful one.
Otto:  And now, their loss is our gain.  (he whistles)  No wonder
  those creatures were left here to guard the ship.
Ys:  I still estimate the vessel itself to have more value than
  anything one could put inside it.
Otto:  (nods)  Practically...yes.
Razor Charlie:  (staring at the treasure)  Hmph.

  They made an extensive search of the hold, which was divided into
several sections.  One of these contained a variety of supplies,
everything from ropes and rigging to kegs of rum.  In this hold
they also found a large, folded sail which glowed in the dim light
of the ship's belly.

Otto:  (hands the sail to Razor Charlie)  Take this to Belphanior.
  He may be looking for it.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces, then takes the folded sail away)
Ys:  (enters the hold, raising his arm so Charlie can get by)  The
  hold over there contains spare planks and woodworking tools.
Otto:  Yeah, it looks like this ship's ready for anything.
Ys:  But is it ready for what we intend to do with it?
Otto:  Let's hope so.

  In the bridge, Belphanior and the other two had figured out the
rudiments of the ship's operation.  The wheel, obviously, controlled
port and starboard motion.  A large lever of some unknown metal
protruded up from the floor, limited to forward and backward motion
only; they believed this to control a rudder that guided the ship's
ascent and descent.  A smaller lever was mounted in the wood of the
console; strange markings decorated the wood to the right of this
lever.  Though these markings weren't directly readable, they did
follow a logical pattern, with equally-spaced notches along the
lever's range of motion.  The adventurers figured that this lever
controlled the ship's speed.
  The question that remained, however, was that of starting the
ship into motion.  Belphanior had found a disc of grey metal, about
a half-foot across, with a hand-shaped indentation on its surface.
By the looks of it, this depression was scaled for a right hand of
average size.  However, putting his right hand into this indentation
caused nothing to happen.

Belphanior:  Dammit!  Why isn't it working?
Razor Charlie:  (walks into the cabin, holding a large folded sail)
  Here.
Belphanior:  (cracks a grin)  We can't sail without a sail, now can
  we?

  Hoisting the sail proved to be no problem, because as soon as
the thing touched the mast, it unfolded itself!  Lengths of thick
rope appeared from the sail's edges and tied themselves in the
appropriate places, with perfect knots worthy of the crustiest
sailor.  In only moments, the sail was fully raised and ready to
go.

Belphanior:  I'm going back to try the hand-print thing again.
Skektek:  (follows the elf, fascinated)
Aja:  (goes to find and warn the others that something might be
  about to happen)

  On the ship's bridge, Belphanior and Skektek regarded the weird
controls.

Skektek:  The moment of truth...
Belphanior:  Well, here goes nothing.  (he puts his hand into the
  indentation)  Whoa.

  The metal began to glow, reshaping itself around the elf's hand.
The immediate effect of this was that the indentation now matched his
right hand perfectly.  The second, and more practical, effect was
that the ship rumbled, its sail billowing with wind that wasn't
there a moment before.

Belphanior:  (clenches his fist, raising it in triumph)  Folks, I
  believe we're in business!

  Keeping the altitude controls at their midpoint, the elf used the
big lever carefully, edging it forward to the first notch past its
resting point.  The ship moved forward, very slowly; clouds broke
beneath it, wisps of white whirling in its wake.

wispy thing:  (flies from outside the ship into the cargo hold)
  Yrrrp!
Ys:  (raises his sword high)  Hoist the sails, you scurvy dogs!
Otto:  (eyes the big reptilian)  Huh?
Ys:  (shrugs, grinning toothily)  I've always wanted to say that.
Kinichi:  (holding the railing, he looks over)  I still can't see
  a damn thing.
Jutokai:  That might be a good thing.
Ys:  (looking around as the ship drifts forward)  We need a parrot.

  Back on the bridge...

Skektek:  Incredible!
Belphanior:  It is...it truly is.
Aja:  (having joined them in the bridge)  What mighty magic this
  ship's builder must have wielded...!
Razor Charlie:  (having never left the bridge, he looks out through
  the main porthole in the bridge's front, frowning)
Skektek:  (pointing ahead)  Is that a break in the clouds, up there?
Aja:  I think so.

  A few moments later, any doubts they had about the altitude of
the cloud-surface were instantly and fully dispelled.  They could
see the land below them...FAR below them.  The forest was nothing
more than a green mass, such was their current height.  It was
breathtaking and terrible, all at once.

Kinichi:  (feeling rather queasy)  Ugh...(he hangs onto the railing
  and looks as if he might throw up)
Jutokai:  (helps his friend get back, away from the rail)  Whoa,
  there, we can't have you falling off.
Kinichi:  I hate heights.  They make me sick.
Jutokai:  You're...airsick.  But why didn't you get ill before, in
  the forest when Belphanior flew you up to have a look?
Kinichi:  That was different.  We're a lot higher now.  (he looks
  around)  Do you think anyone saw that?
Jutokai:  Maybe not, but somebody down there might. (he grins and
  nods toward the railing)
Ys:  (looking at a cloud, he whistles loudly)

  As Belphanior piloted the skyship from the bridge, he quickly got
the feel of the vessel, learning which controls he'd been right (and
wrong) about.  He discovered that certain of the devices only came
to life when the skyship was in motion; among these were a compass
and (he guessed) some kind of altitude monitor.
  Once he was satisfied with his operative skills, he had Aja warn
the others; she and Skektek remained in the bridge with him, while
everyone else went down into the hold and shut the hatch.  After
climbing to an altitude that he figured would keep them clear of
mountains, and turning the ship to the correct heading (northwest)
for Blackmoor, the elf gradually eased the skyship to a higher rate
of speed.
  The wondrous vessel was practically zooming through the sky now,
the wind rushing past with enough force to carry a strong man over
the side like a leaf caught in a gale.  Those in the hold below,
unable to see what was going on, had good cause to be nervous, sick,
or both.  However, none of that mattered to Belphanior; his priority
was reaching the Isle of Woe within a day.  His only thoughts were
hopes that this skyship could meet that goal.





                         END OF PART TWO









         DAY 6:  Brewfest day 1 (the day after 9/28/576)

  Morning.  The skyship cut through the sky, a sleek brown streak
against the blue backdrop above the Oerth.  They'd made good time,
the skyship moving even faster then Belphanior had first predicted.
They expected to reach Blackmoor and the Isle of Woe by midday.
  In the bridge, several of the adventurers talked about the newly-
discovered trials and tribulations of flying through the sky on a
ship.

Skektek:  I hope we don't have to fight...we'd fall off.
Aja:  Some of the others were worried about that - there's just too
  much wind on deck.
Belphanior:  I don't think it's always going to be like this...only
  when we're traveling at these speeds.
Skektek:  (nods)  Kinichi will be glad to hear that.
Belphanior:  Speaking of high speeds, once we get some downtime, I
  want to get the smaller sail up too.  I'm not sure we need it at
  this point, but it would be better to travel about fully rigged.
Aja:  I wonder what other mysteries we will find, and solve, on this
  ship.

  They'd found a hatch in the floor of the bridge, leading down into
the hold.  This portal only opened if a lever on the control panel
was pulled; indeed, the first time they discovered it, Skektek had
fallen down the stairs.  Luckily for him, nothing was hurt but his
pride.
  After that little mishap, Belphanior had decided not to try any
more unknown levers or knobs.  There would always be time for such
experiments later, but for now, he was confident that he could move
the ship around.  Other, less important issues reared their heads
while the adventurers sped toward their dark destination...

Otto:  (enters the bridge)  We need to talk.
Belphanior:  Sure.
Otto:  (eyes Skektek and Aja)  Alone.
Belphanior:  (nods to them, and they both descend into the hold)
Otto:  I don't think they were too happy about that.
Belphanior:  They'll get over it.  What's the problem?
Otto:  (crosses his arms)  Everyone's heard about the loot in the
  hold, and some of the guys are starting to wonder if they'll get
  a share.
Belphanior:  (retorts in disbelief)  What?
Otto:  (shrugs)  Just thought I'd let you know.
Belphanior:  Treasure...how can they think about that at a time like
  this?
Otto:  How can they not?  Have you seen the treasure?
Belphanior:  (smiles thinly)  No, I haven't.  I've been here, at the
  helm, making sure we don't run into anything.
Otto:  Sleep?
Belphanior:  I've been taking combat naps...I don't need much sleep.
Otto:  Well, yeah, you do.  But that's not important right now.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  Treasure...the gods know I don't need any more.
  Okay, tell them that as far as I'm concerned, they can each have
  an equal share - _if_ we succeed in this mission.
Otto:  Right.  (he goes back down into the hold)

  Belphanior cursed to himself.  After all, what could an employer
do, really?  Even a single share of that hoard was more than all the
marshals put together made in a year.  Yet, it was their right, and
he couldn't deny them their rightful spoils.  At least not while the
Victoria issue remained unresolved...



  Below decks, the others had done a fair bit of exploring and
mapping.  Certain sections of the ship had the look and feel of
crew's quarters to them.



--------------------------------------------------------------------
                  THE SKYSHIP'S LOWER HOLDS:

A  main cargo hold (2 decks high)             __|   = 5'
B  armory area                            // or \\  = stairs
C  stairway up and down                      ||     = mast
D  first mate's cabin                       ....    = portholes
E  captain's cabin                            $     = door
F  supplies storage                               : = landing by stairs
G  food & drink storage
H  officer quarters (5 cabins)
I  guest cabin
J  lower crew quarters (17 small berths) & mess
K  magical power room



                              ||                      <-- main mast
secondary mast -->  ||        ||__
             _______||________|___\___________        <-- bridge
             \_        //     //             /    1
               \______//      \\            /     2
stern           \_____________//___________/      3   bow

               _________.___.___.___.___._
              /        |     __  | D |    \_.     1 (upper deck)
             |    A     \ B :C_| |__ |_ E    \
             |          /   :___\  ___$    _./
              \________|.___.___._|_.___._/

                 _________________________
                /     | F      __ | | | | \.      2 (middle deck)
               |  A   |_______|_  | | | | I \
               |      | G     |__  _ H_ $  ./
                \_____|___________|__|__|_/

                  ________________________
                 /    | | | | __  | | | | \       3 (lower deck)
                |     $       __|  J     __|
                |  K  |                    |
                 \____|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_/

--------------------------------------------------------------------

  The vessel was a truly magnificent thing; they realized now that
it didn't _need_ a crew of 20-30 - after all, its sails needed no
tending during normal travel.  The cabins allowed six, plus a guest
or two, relatively comfortable quarters.  The berths on the lowest
deck could easily accommodate seventeen others, and twice that if
necessary.  Given that in most seafaring vessels of the day, troops
were used to being packed together like fish in a barrel below decks,
the quartering capacity of this skyship wasn't bad.

Belphanior:  Somehow I don't see Kronos landing on hostile beaches,
  err, castles, to unload scores of soldiers.
Skektek:  It sounds like you knew this Kronos.
Belphanior:  I knew him only briefly - we kinda locked him in an old
  tomb with some dipshits.
Skektek:  Oh.
Aja:  That should make for a good story.
Otto:  It already has, but not for here or now.

  The time was fast approaching - already, Blackmoor stretched out
far beneath them.  Everyone crowded into the bridge to get a good
look, save for Ys (who wouldn't fit) and Razor Charlie (who simply
didn't care.)

Jutokai:  (peering down at the world)  I think I see why they call
  it Blackmoor.
Belphanior:  There's nothing good there.  Nothing.  In my time, I've
  encountered, among other things, a vampire lord and a vampiric
  baron in Blackmoor.
Aja:  Sounds like you have a thing for vampires.
Belphanior:  Just lucky, I guess.
Otto:  How long until we get there?
Belphanior:  I'm guessing less than an hour.  In fact, we're going
  to stop once we see the Isle below.
Kinichi:  To prepare?
Belphanior:  (nods)  There are a number of spells that can help in
  battle, or invasion, if cast early.
Skektek:  Now we're talking.
Aja:  What's our plan?
Belphanior:  To do whatever it takes.

  They cruised along for a while longer; then, suddenly but rather
gracefully, the skyship came to a stop.

Ys:  The time has come.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)  Party time.
Belphanior:  (descends into the hold, followed by those who were in
  the bridge with him)  We're there.
Jutokai:  The Isle?
Belphanior:  It's right below us.  Well, not _right_ below us, since
  after all, we're several thousand feet up-
Kinichi:  So what's the plan of attack?
Belphanior:  Well...I've been thinking about this, and technically
  we were invited.  We should be able to get inside without a fight,
  though I can't say for sure.  I figure we'll be greeted by some
  weird kinds of undead, but I'll demand that they take me to their
  leader.
Aja:  Good plan so far.
Otto:  So we'll get deep inside the place?
Belphanior:  (nods)  I'm assuming we'll be in a castle or tomb of
  some sort.  Once we actually _see_ the leader - Xusia - I'll
  talk to him, stall him as long as I can.  Then I plan to catch
  him by surprise, overwhelm him and his forces, and take him
  hostage.
Aja:  Hostage?  A lich?
Belphanior:  Only long enough to trade his safety for Victoria's.
Otto:  (a rumble rolls through his chest)  Easier said than done.
Belphanior:  I'm betting that the demon lord won't want to see his
  most powerful Oerthly agent eliminated.
Skektek:  Let's hope so, because if not...(he shakes his head)  "Up
  the creek without a paddle" would be putting it mildly.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)
Belphanior:  I'm willing to bet that Xusia is more important to our
  enemy than Victoria.
Kinichi:  It's not without risk.
Belphanior:  Nothing is.  Once the fighting begins, don't hesitate.
  We'll only have one shot at this.  Everyone and everything, save
  for Xusia, is expendable.
Razor Charlie:  No friendlies.
Belphanior:  Right you are.  In addition to other precursory spells,
  be aware that I'm going to cast a spell of Sending before we land.
  This spell will allow me to, at a later time of my choosing,
  mentally send a brief message to any one of you.  You'll hear the
  thoughts in your mind; I want each of you to be ready in case I
  have to play that card.
Skektek:  You're thinking you might have to come up with a tactic
  on the fly, and you don't want the enemy to know?
Belphanior:  Yup.  And everyone remember that we're going to have
  to move quickly.  Our protective spells stand to expire, and
  every moment will count.  Let's be ready to descend ten minutes
  from now.
Otto:  (bites off a piece of blackroot and locks his jaw down on it)

  Preparations were made.  Belphanior protected himself with a
stoneskin, and cast other spells to augment the range, area of
effect, and duration of future spells he might cast today.  Aja
did a last-minute prayer to her death goddess.  Skektek reviewed
his arsenal of destructive spells, mentally ordering them for
maximum effectiveness upon foes.  Jutokai checked his arrows and
strung his enchanted longbow.  Kinichi stretched his joints and
muscles before oiling his sword.  Otto mixed together several
jars of poison and other harmful stuff, and sorted it so that
everything was in some pouch and pocket that he could get to in
a flash.  Razor Charlie had no need to similarly arrange his
throwing knives, since they were already neatly lined up within
his vest; he instead made sure that each one was razor-sharp.
As for Ys, he merely rested against a bulkhead, dozing lightly.

wispy thing:  (floats above the reptilian's head)  Sprrd.
Ys:  (opens one eye halfway)

  The calm before the storm didn't last long, though; Belphanior
soon went back up to the bridge and prepared to take the skyship
down.

Belphanior:  (pulls a lever, sounding a bell that is somehow heard
  throughout the ship)

  The great skyship began its descent, moving straight down through
the sky.  Those in the bridge had an excellent view through that
cabin's spacious portholes, and as they neared the island below,
details became visible.  At first, the Isle of Woe appeared much as
any other island.  It wasn't too large, perhaps a mile wide, and it
was sparsely covered with a carpet of trees.
  However, as they drew closer, ever-closer, they began to see some
rather alarming things.  The bulk of the island was a single large
mountain, a peak of heavy black stone that had somehow been shaped
to resemble a huge skull!  The "mouth" was met by a single, wide
road that wound up from the beach.  All other flanks of the "skull"
were protected by jagged reefs and brutally sloped cliffs, and the
waves smashed against these with enough force to send spray high
into the air.  There was no way that a conventional ocean-based
attack would have any hope of success here.
  The trees that they'd seen from high above were dark and twisted
things, evil in appearance.  It was probable that they might truly
be alive, ready to animate and attack invaders who ranged too close.
However, the trees weren't the only sinister elements of the island.
In the waters beyond the reefs, huge fins glided through the dark
water, and occasionally, a gigantic tail or snout could be seen.
The sky above the isle was guarded, too - huge, skeletal monsters
that only vaguely resembled anything batlike, swooped and circled
above the isle.
  All in all, the isle was a terrifying place, even from the air...
and now they had to land there.

Otto:  (to Belphanior)  Kinda looks like a certain other nasty
  fortress we recently visited...
Belphanior:  (nods)
Aja:  It looks like the kind of place where a lich would want to
  live.
Skektek:  How would you know?
Aja:  It's my business to know these things.
Skektek:  But why here?  Why this island?
Belphanior:  My guess is that he needed someplace remote to build
  his power base back up again.  After all, he'd been dead for a
  few thousand years.
Kinichi:  Makes me wonder why he decided to come back.
Otto:  Who knows?  Maybe some dumbass dug him up by accident.
Jutokai:  If so, that was a big mistake.
Ys:  (peering at the isle below them)  Whereabouts shall we land?
Belphanior:  We're not landing.
Skektek:  We're not?  But-
Belphanior:  No way am I going to risk some undead getting its slimy
  hands on this ship.  We'll group together and fly down.
Razor Charlie:  Fly?
Belphanior:  Those who can fly will carry those who can't, via rope
  or floating disc or something.  Don't worry about it.



  A short while later, the party had landed on a section of open
beach.  The isle's master wasted no time greeting them, either; a
band of several dozen undead moved from the dim forest and formed
a half-circle around the new arrivals.

shriveled little wight:  (points at the elf)  Xusia awaits.
Belphanior:  Let's go.
wight:  Only you.  The rest stay here.
Belphanior:  Not a chance.  Everyone comes with me.  (he locks eyes
  with the creature)
wight:  (weighs its orders against its common sense, and decides not
  to risk its master's wrath by getting into a fight with the guest)
  Come, then.

  They marched up the winding road, heading toward the great dark
castle with its gaping mouth of a gate.  The wide pathway was lined
on either side with spears of petrified wood, buried in the ground
butt-first.  Atop each of these was fixed a skull; some of these
were human, others demi-human or humanoid, and yet others were of
types unknown to the adventurers.
  The undead escort herded them along, giving the impression that
they wanted nothing more than to defy their master's orders and
swarm upon the mortals.  Weapon-hands were kept ready, and spell
formulas in the forefront of thoughts.  However, Belphanior proved
correct:  the undead didn't attack them, but rather led them up the
road and through the gate.  This latter was raised at the moment,
and closely resembled a carven mouth; its bottom edge was a row of
stone teeth.

Skektek:  I'm sure I've heard somewhere that walking through a
  portal like this is a _really_ bad idea.
Belphanior:  Quiet.

  They couldn't help but be impressed at the fortress' sheer size
and layout.  It put other castles to shame; besides being greater
in size, it was incredibly complex.  Passages and rooms zigged and
zagged, with doors and stairways in such abundance that keeping
track of them quickly became an impossibility.  Perhaps that was
the intention; whatever the case, Belphanior soon realized that
his group was completely and irrevocably lost.
  The castle was not without its own flavor of denizens, either.
At every turn, the unwilling guests spotted rotting zombies, pale
ghouls, grinning skeletons, and such.  Some of the undead were
merely weird variants, such as the skeleton with the mouthful of
sharp fangs and the pointed horns on its skull.  Other undead were
new species altogether, such as the zombie fashioned entirely from
a single huge pumpkin-vine and the slithering mass that closely
resembled the living oozes Belphanior had encountered in his
travels with one notable difference:  it was the unmistakable
color of blood.
  They had little time to take in these sights, however; they were
being moved along at a relatively rapid pace, considering their
undead escorts.  Several large, grand staircases were ascended; at
least one of these was constructed entirely of bones, perhaps in
imitation of the Demon Lord's old palace.  They moved through a
high arched hallway, climbed a series of shallow but broad steps,
and approached a pair of huge double doors.  These portals were
fashioned of petrified wood, chalk-white in color, and in the
center of each was embedded a polished skull.  The skulls' eyes
glowed with a black fire as the adventurers approached...and then
the twin doors swung inward.
  Beyond was a vast hall, its length and breadth dotted with thick
pillars that held up the high ceiling.  The walls were covered with
foul murals and tapestries, depicting scenes of carnage and gore
that were terrible to behold.  The carven columns were works of art
themselves, each resembling some bizarre and fearsome undead being.
Despite all this, though, their gazes were riveted to the raised
platform at the great hall's far end.  Atop this raised area was
a large throne of obsidian.  In this massive seat rested a figure
draped in a jet-black cloak.  As they approached, this being raised
its hooded head, and blackness _within_ the hood's shadows peered
at them.  Dark, skeletal talons protruded from the robe's sleeves;
in one of these hands was clutched a black metal scepter, tipped
with a red crystal that pulsed faintly.
  Standing at the seated figure's right was another robed being,
this one familiar to Belphanior.

Belphanior:  Skorvus!
Skorvus:  (remains silent)
Belphanior:  (perhaps fifty feet away now, he raises his voice)
  Acknowledge me, you bastard!
Skorvus:  (still remains silent)
Belphanior:  Dammit-
seated figure:  (speaks in a deep, raspy voice whose timbre sends
  chills down the spines of the living)  Skorvus will not speak
  because he awaits my command.
Belphanior:  You must be Xusia.
Xusia:  Very perceptive.  Let us waste no time.  You are here
  because you have considered my master's offer and are prepared
  to accept it.
Belphanior:  Like you said...let's waste no time.  (he coughs)

  This was the prearranged signal for the others to ready their
weapons and spells for combat.  They'd rehearsed a general attack
plan while en route to the isle, and upon execution of Belphanior's
second signal, battle would break out.  If all went according to
plan, this battle would be in the mortals' favor due to the element
of surprise.

Xusia:  (awaits Belphanior's answer)
Belphanior:  Your master's offer is a generous one, considering-
Xusia:  (leans forward slightly)
Otto:  (twitches)
Belphanior:  -but he can take it and shove it up his ass!

  With that, the party spread out and went into combat mode.  Using
an enchantment from his ring of spell storing, Belphanior leaped
across the chamber, landing right beside Xusia.

Belphanior:  (draws Blackrazor in one fluid motion and steps behind
  the lich)
Xusia:  (turns around, his scepter's tip glowing)

  An invisible wall of force sprang up suddenly, knocking Belphanior
back a short distance and foiling his plan.

Xusia:  You fool!  Did you think I would leave myself unprotected?
Belphanior:  Not really...(he begins working a spell)
Skorvus:  (nearby, he also begins spellcasting)

  Reinforcements poured into the room as if summoned by a single
thought from Xusia.  Needless to say, these forces consisted of all
types and shapes of undead, and they vastly outnumbered the mortals.

Ys:  Time to play.  (he draws his sword, stepping forth to meet the
  foes)
Skektek:  This is no game.  (he zaps a large section of the floor
  with a rock-to-mud spell, causing several dozen undead to sink
  into the newly-created morass)
Kinichi:  (moves to back up Ys)
Aja:  (grasps her holy symbol and follows Kinichi)
Razor Charlie:  (produces two knives and moves so that he can get a
  clear field of fire)
Otto:  (raises his crossbow and flanks Charlie)
wispy thing:  Spork!  (it flies between the charging adventurers
  and heads toward the undead)
Jutokai:  (turns from the undead horde, instead firing his first
  arrow at Skorvus)
Skorvus:  (hit in the shoulder, his spell is ruined)  Argh!  An
  enchanted shaft!
Jutokai:  I aim to please.

  With Skorvus' spell incomplete, Belphanior was able to conclude
his own spell without a problem.  A black glow issued from his hands
and hit Xusia's wall of force, dissolving it in a shower of sparks.

Xusia:  All too predictable.  (he releases his own spell, and a huge
  claw of green force appears, grabbing Belphanior)
Belphanior:  Ungh!  (he struggles, to no avail)  Argh!  (the claw
  squeezes more tightly, crushing him)  ARGH!
Jutokai:  (fires a second arrow, this one at Xusia, but the magical
  shaft bounces off of Xusia's black robe)
Xusia:  Bah.
Ys:  (facing the oncoming undead horde)  Come and get it.
Aja:  (steps around the giant reptilian)  Here let me try first.
  (she brandishes her holy symbol, which glows brightly)

  The priestess' turning had an effect, but not the expected one.
She had intended to take control of some of the undead, and then
command them to attack the others.  Instead - probably due to the
sheer power of Xusia - the affected foes simply dissolved into
dust.

Aja:  What?!?
Kinichi:  (unaware that Aja didn't get the effect she anticipated,
  he smiles as he watches a dozen undead foes perish)  Good work!
  Now stand aside.
Ys:  Aye, the time has come for action.

  The reptilian took on the undead who'd avoided both Skektek's mud
and Aja's deadly turning.  He accounted himself well; his range and
strength were, as usual, overpowering.  Foes who attacked him died
in twos and threes, seldom even coming close to hitting him.  The
problem, of course, was the ones that slipped around him.

ghoul:  (moves around Ys' left flank, and eyes his leg, gnashing its
  filthy fangs)  Ssss!
Kinichi:  Sorry, no lunch for you today.  (he slashes the thing,
  splitting its head open)
ghoul:  Graaar!  (it falls, spewing dead grey matter from the gory
  wound)
zombie:  (wanders around Ys' whirling sword, heading for Otto, who
  is aiming his crossbow at some other foe)
Razor Charlie:  (hurls a blade, imbedding it in one of the zombie's
  eye sockets)
zombie:  Rrr?  (it gropes at its face)
Razor Charlie:  (charges suddenly, kicking the slow-moving creature
  back...into the mud)
zombie:  <sploosh>  Rrr?  (having landed on its back, it sinks)
wispy thing:  (ignoring the massed undead ranks, it zeroes in on a
  hovering ghost)
ghost:  (senses that something is amiss, and looks around, curious)
Otto:  (fires his crossbow bolt at Skorvus, but misses)  Damn!



Skorvus:  (completes a spell, and a vaguely shimmering field pops
  up around him)
Jutokai:  (fires an arrow at Skorvus, but the missile bounces
  off of the shimmering field)  Damn.
Xusia:  (guides his force-claw as it holds Belphanior in place,
  helpless)  You should have considered Orcus' offer more seriously.
Belphanior:  Fuck you-  (crushed further by the great green claw, he
  tries to break free, without any luck - the thing is too strong)
  AAARGH!
Skektek:  (having noticed Belphanior's dilemma, he launches a great
  bolt of lightning directly at Xusia)
Xusia:  (laughs deeply as the electricity fries the stone all around
  him)
Skektek:  Fuck me, he's immune!
Belphanior:  (not so immune, he is shocked as well as crushed further)
  AAARGH!
Skektek:  Dammit.
Otto:  (using his magical cloak, he takes to the air, flying close
  to the ceiling as he moves toward Skorvus, Xusia, and Belphanior)
Ys:  (still fighting undead, he hews through their ranks as if they
  were nothing more than thin shoots of bamboo)
Aja:  (turns seven more undead foes, her victims dropping from the
  ranks as they melt into dust)
Kinichi:  (backs up Ys and protects Aja, his swordplay quick and
  efficient)
Razor Charlie:  (backs up Kinichi, hurling blades every which way)
Jutokai:  (fires another arrow at Skorvus, but again, the shaft is
  repelled by the shimmering shield)
ghost:  (within the undead ranks, it looks around, perhaps sensing
  a kindred spirit)
wispy thing:  (floats before the ghost)
ghost:  Eh?
wispy thing:  Ozzzz.  (it vanishes...into the ghost's body!)
ghost:  (jerks about wildly)



Skorvus:  (working a spell, he waves his hands about, as crystals
  of ice float in the air)
Otto:  (swoops down at the lich, fairly silently)
Skorvus:  (grasps the newly-formed ball of ice in his hand, then
  hurls it at the bulk of foes)

  The sphere exploded amidst the adventurers, blasting them with a
frigid wave of icy cold!

Ys:  (avoids serious harm simply because he's at the very fringe
  of the blast radius)  Brr.  (he whirls, decapitating a pumpkin-
  headed zombie-like foe)
Kinichi:  (right in the middle of the explosion)  Argh!  (he falls)
Razor Charlie:  (at the edge of the explosion, he is knocked back,
  but not frozen too badly)  Unf.
Aja:  (behind Kinichi, she is blasted fairly seriously, and falls,
  shivering)
Jutokai:  (completely out of the radius of the cold-blast, he sends
  an arrow into a nearby ghoul's face)
Skektek:  (also out of the blast range)  Whew, that was close.  (he
  correctly ascertains that the pair of liches are more of a threat
  than the horde of undead, he concentrates his efforts there)

  The wizard cast a spell of feeblemindedness at Xusia, and for
an instant, the lich paused in his manipulations...but then the
force-claw tightened, and Xusia continued, unaffected.

Skektek:  Well, shit.

  Meanwhile, undead were getting around Ys, who couldn't stop the
entire wide swath of them.  The adventurers, most of them wounded
or fallen,  would be overrun in short order unless something
changed.

Jutokai:  (draws another arrow, suddenly finding that he has a few
  dozen targets to choose from)

  Nearby...

wispy thing:  (controlling the ghost, it attempts to Magic Jar
  Skorvus)

  At the hall's far end...

Skorvus:  (surveys the carnage he has wrought, pleased)  Ha.
  (suddenly, he is distracted by the wispy thing/ghost's possession
  attempt)  What?!?
Otto:  (swooping down from above, he barrels into Skorvus, sword-
  first, and slashes the lich's rotten neck open)
Skorvus:  Aieee!  (he gropes at the attacker)
Otto:  (touched by the lich's chill grasp, he turns cold and loses
  strength...but yet manages to stab the foe again, in the heart)
Skorvus:  Agh!
Xusia:  (still crushing Belphanior with his mutated version of
  Bigby's Crushing Hand)  Your allies are either slain or falling.
  (his force-claw tightens its grip)  Death calls for you, elf.
Belphanior:  Argh...ungh...(he uses his previously-cast spell of
  Sending to relay a brief mental message to Jutokai)  Scepter...
  argh...destroy it...
Jutokai:  Huh?  (he looks at Xusia, and realizes what Belphanior
  wants)

  The archer selected his mightiest magical shaft and nocked it,
saying a prayer to his native god as he drew the string back.  He
and his weapon were one, all the skill and experience he possessed
channeled into this one shot.  He couldn't afford to miss.  He just
couldn't.

Jutokai:  (releases his breath, letting the arrow fly)

  The enchanted shaft flew as if in slow motion, at least from the
archer's perspective.  It flew straight and true, however, and in
the instant before it hit home, Jutokai felt his heart flutter.
  Then, there was a tremendous explosion, one that shook the hall
and pretty much knocked everybody down.  Belphanior, released at
last, flew aside, smashing into a wall with brutal force.  Xusia,
however, was more seriously injured; great chunks of his shriveled
flesh were torn out, and his body was charred in several places.
Of his scepter, only a half-melted cylinder of black metal remained.

Xusia:  My scepter...nooooo....(he staggers about)
Belphanior:  (breathing raggedly, he somehow finds the strength to
  get to his feet and approach the lich from behind)
Otto:  (standing atop Skorvus, with one boot across the lich's
  neck, he grabs a vial from his belt, opens it, and rams it into
  the foe's mouth)  Chew on this!
Skorvus:  (finds the taste of acid a rather unpleasant one)  Glrgh!

  Nearby...

Aja:  (lies on the floor, shivering and half-conscious)  Brr.
Jutokai:  (still marveling at his shot)
Kinichi:  (weakly crawls over to Aja, opens his potion of extra-
  healing, and pours it into her mouth)
Aja:  <glug>
Kinichi:  (drops the potion bottle, and collapses)  Urk.
Aja:  (sits up, realizes what just happened, and begins casting a
  powerful curative spell on the fallen tracker)
Razor Charlie:  (gets to his feet, painfully)  Urg.
Skektek:  (preparing a chain lightning to blast the undead horde
  that has moved too close to the party, he looks around)  Huh?
Ys:  (pauses in his mowing down of undead, for they too have paused
  to look at Xusia)

  The lich stood awkwardly, for Belphanior's blade was at its
throat.  There was no chance of Xusia escaping this; Blackrazor
was pressed tightly against the lich's neck, and had already
drawn blood, such was Belphanior's anger.

Belphanior:  (to Xusia)  Not a word.  Not a motion.  If you even
  twitch, your head rolls, and to hell with the consequences.  I
  must warn you, though - Blackrazor is ready to take your soul.
Xusia:  (doesn't move)
Belphanior:  (to everyone else)  The battle ends now, or else
  Xusia's life ends.
various undead:  (remain still)
Belphanior:  Skorvus...
Skorvus:  (gagging on acid, he sits up, but can't speak)
Otto:  (stands over the lich, exhausted)
Belphanior:  Oh, never mind.  Orcus!
Xusia:  (blinks)
Belphanior:  ORCUS!  I know you're watching, or listening, or what-
  ever it is you do.  I demand an audience, right now, or your
  right-hand man on this world dies.  (he moves his sword slightly,
  drawing a few more drops of blood from Xusia's throat)  I mean
  it!

  The air before them shimmered and shifted, black motes of energy
dancing about.  The stench of brimstone assailed their nostrils, and
a booming sound, like that of thunder, resounded through the great
hall.  Within the area of the changing air, an orange-skinned head
appeared.  It was the broad head of a ram, but with the features of
a human...a demonic head...the head of Orcus!

Orcus avatar:  HA, HA, HA.
Belphanior:  What are you laughing about?  I've got your best and
  most powerful general held hostage here.
Orcus avatar:  INDEED...BUT WHAT WILL YOU DO NOW?
Belphanior:  Now?  Now I intend to bargain for Victoria's freedom.
Orcus avatar:  BARGAIN?  (it shakes its head)  THERE WILL BE NO
  BARGAINING.
Belphanior:  Oh?  Why not?
Orcus avatar:  I COULD HAVE TAKEN YOUR WOMAN AND BROUGHT HER HERE.
  I STILL COULD, IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE.
Belphanior:  (looking around uneasily)  Swell.
Orcus avatar:  OR, IF I WANTED TO, I COULD SIMPLY KILL YOU NOW AND
  BE DONE WITH IT.
Belphanior:  Is that so?
Orcus avatar:  YES.  YES, IT IS.
Belphanior:  (suddenly having doubts about the practicality of his
  plan here)
Orcus avatar:  I WAS STILL COUNTING ON YOU TURNING TO MY SIDE,
  THOUGH.
Belphanior:  You'd be counting wrong, then.  I'm not going to do it.
Orcus avatar:  ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, BELPHANIOR, YOU _WILL_ SERVE ME.
  (its face grows livid with rage)  PREPARE NOW TO REAP MY WRATH-

  Their discourse was interrupted then as a purple glow bathed the
hall in dazzling rays.  This weird light penetrated even the most
distant of the huge chamber's nooks and crannies.  The undead that
were scattered about recoiled from these rays; even Xusia and his
lieutenant Skorvus shielded their eyes.

Orcus avatar:  (frowns)  WHAT?!?
Belphanior:  (stares, confused, his blade still a mere movement away
  from ending Xusia's existence)
Orcus avatar:  THIS- THIS CANNOT BE!
Belphanior:  What?  What cannot be?!?
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  (materializes before Belphanior, Xusia,
  and the Orcus-avatar)  YOU HAVE BEEN IGNORING THE RULES, DEMON
  LORD.
Orcus avatar:  (gapes stupidly)
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  (blinks)  YOUR PRESENCE ON THIS PLANE
  HAS BEEN FREQUENT AND SIGNIFICANT.
Orcus avatar:  N- NO...
Belphanior:  Would someone _please_ tell me what the hell is going
  on here?
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  AMONG DEITIES GREAT AND SMALL, THERE
  MUST BE A BALANCE.  EXCESSIVE INTERFERENCE ON THIS PLANE, OR ANY
  OTHER OF THE COMMON PLANES, IS INTOLERABLE.
Belphanior:  Excessive?  (he points at the Orcus-avatar)  Him?  No
  way...
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  ORCUS' MEDDLING HAS FINALLY ATTRACTED
  THE ATTENTION OF CERTAIN...OTHERS OF US.
Belphanior:  I don't really understand.
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  MORTALS ARE NOT MEANT TO UNDERSTAND.
  SUFFICE IT TO SAY THAT ANY FUTURE MEDDLING ON ORCUS' PART WILL BE
  BALANCED WITH SHOWS OF POWER FROM OTHER DEITIES.  AND NONE OF US
  WANT THAT, DO WE, ORCUS?
Orcus avatar:  (almost sheepishly)  NO.
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  VERY WELL, THEN.  LEAVE THIS PLANE
  IMMEDIATELY, AND HAVE A CARE.  IN THE FUTURE, THERE WILL BE...
  REPERCUSSIONS FOR YOUR ACTIVITY.
Orcus avatar:  (fades away)

  Without any warning or build-up, Belphanior and his entire party
found themselves on the deck of their skyship.  The yellow eye was
still there, too, hovering before the elf.

Belphanior:  Whoa!
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  IF THE DEMON LORD HAS ANY SENSE ABOUT
  HIM, HE WILL DESIST IN THIS SORT OF BEHAVIOR.
Belphanior:  Uh...what if he doesn't?
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  IF NOT...THEN TENSIONS WILL...ESCALATE.
Belphanior:  But what about Victoria?
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  YOUR ENEMY SHALL NOT BOTHER HER AGAIN.
Belphanior:  But...I was trying to cure her.
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  THERE IS NO CURE FOR HER CONDITION...
  SAVE DESTRUCTION.
Belphanior:  But...?!
brightly-glowing yellow eye:  BALANCE HAS BEEN RESTORED.  FAREWELL,
  YEA.  (it vanishes with a flash)
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Damn...I don't know whether to be
  grateful, or not...
Otto:  Uh...I know what you mean.  Be grateful that we're all still
  alive, considering what we've been up to this day.
Skektek:  (scratching his head)  Folks, I believe we've just been
  privy to a power play among gods.
Aja:  (nods)  Incredible.
Jutokai:  (somewhat dazzled by the things he's just seen, he remains
  silent)
Kinichi:  (ditto)
Ys:  How very...enlightening.  Who would have suspected that these
  beings maintained a balance of this kind?
Otto:  Who, indeed?
Razor Charlie:  (disinterested in these things, he sneers at the
  wispy thing)
wispy thing:  (makes a face)  Spork!
Belphanior:  (walks over to the rail and looks down)  No isle...
  wherever we are, it's not close to where we were.
Otto:  I guess we'd better head for home...
wispy thing:  Yrrrp!





next:      finally...the new Green Dragon Inn!
ftp:       ftp.myths.com in /pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
           ftp.nol.net in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
           ftp.tas.gov.au/misc/stories
www:       http://www.myths.com/pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
           http://www.shobaki.org/adventurers
homepage:  http://www.gatech.edu/oit/oe/design/thomas/adv/adv.html
mail:      tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu       (preferred)
           thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu         (emergency)
notes:     Thus concludes the first half-year's work following my
  break from writing.  At this pace, we're looking at 50 episodes
  (plus whatever else) per year.  Granted, this is slower than the
  pace I've maintained in the past, but then again, I don't make
  my living doing this.  I have a lot of things going on, and I
  see no signs of this changing.
    A brief update on my life during the fall of 1997:  the soft-
  ball team had a final fall season, September through November,
  in which many people officially or unofficially quit, we always
  had to hunt for sub players, and the level of play was generally
  lackluster.  Even I am glad there's a 3-month break, and I plan
  to use the time constructively as I hone my running and lifting
  programs.  I expect to be bulked up to 200+ (I'm now 185) and
  be able to run 10K races fast and with ease, by February 1998
  when softball season starts back up.
    In August 1997, my roommate and I got a kitten.  It has many
  names, but the primary one is Gringo.  Gringo's a good little
  cat who enjoys helping out with such tasks as tying shoelaces,
  unloading the dishwasher, putting socks on, eating, cooking,
  cleaning, typing...you name it, Gringo does it.  Awesome.
    At the end of November 1997, we moved a short ways out of
  downtown Atlanta, into a nicer apartment and a nicer area.  We
  also gained a third roommate for this new, larger apartment:
  Jason (you may recall him from the Mardi Gras 1996 story.)  Along
  with Jason comes his kitten, plus some hellacious speakers.

    About this episode and this story arc:  the original plan was
  to have a 50K story, tops.  Well, it turned out differently -
  this one easily sets the new record.  In fact, as you know by
  now, I had to break it into _three_ parts!

    For those who think Victoria's going to take Belphanior's
  actions lightly...think again!  This issue/argument will be
  addressed in future episodes.

    Some have asked what real-life ethnic groups certain of
  Helgate's adventurers correspond to, so here's a rough idea:

  Jutokai           Hawaiian, Polynesian
  Kinichi           American Indian
  Razor Charlie     Hispanic
  Eduardo           Hispanic
  Aja               white girl

    Last but not least, here's a tentative idea of what to expect
  for the beginning of 1998:

  * Adventurers - will continue as before
  * Lost Tales - will continue as before, until #25 (the last one)
  * NEW STUFF - rather than commit to any continuing series, I'll
    probably release pilots for each of the following and play it
    by ear after that:
    * Misadventurers - think "Dirty Dozen" meets fantasy
    * ???????????????? - a new fantasy story, unbound by AD&D rules
    * Rogue Squad - sci-fi military stories set in "Star Frontiers"
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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