Chapter #550

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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 1991-8 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons   +
+  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  +
+  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   +
+  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    +
+  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them.           +
+                                                                   +
+                                  Thomas Miller                    +
+                                  tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Alindyar     17th level drow mage                            (N) +
+    Lyra       13th level female drow mage                     (N) +
+  Belphanior   (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief      (CN) +
+    Otto         8th/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) +
+    Razor Charlie  9th level human fighter                    (CN) +
+    Skektek       12th level human wizard                     (CN) +
+    Victoria      11th level vampiric human female fighter    (NE) +
+    Ys          13th level reptilian fighter                  (LN) +
+  Bosco        12th level halfling thief                      (CN) +
+                                                                   +
+                                                                   +
+                                                                   +
+  unwanted guests:                                                 +
+                                                                   +
+  Omak             human warrior                                   +
+  Canis            human tracker                                   +
+  Ug               reptilian warrior                               +
+  Ixlin            gnome illusionist/thief                         +
+  Vybool           ogre mage warrior/wizard                        +
+  Xylus            human assassin                                  +
+  Kenso Adon       human monk                                      +
+  Grub             human priest of Tharizdun                       +
+  Wampa            human weretiger warrior                         +
+  Klark            human conjurer                                  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        1/4/577 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        nighttime                                           +
+  Place:       the remote mountain town of Helgate                 +
+  Climate:     frigid                                              +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "Are you an assassin?"                                           +
+  "I'm a soldier."                                                 +
+  "You're neither...you're an errand boy, sent by grocery          +
+   clerks to collect the bill."                                    +
+                                         - from _Apocalypse Now_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                          DL.  Homecoming





  The priest of Tharizdun waddled back into the castle's great hall,
a somber look on his face.  His corpulent form jiggled as he walked,
a living testament to the long-term effects of a decadent lifestyle
and reliance on magical items.  Still, the high priest cut an imposing
figure, for he stood well over six feet tall and weighed more than
four hundred pounds.

Omak:  Ah, Grub!  What news?
Grub:  (rubs his chubby hands together)  I can't find her.
Canis:  What?!?
Grub:  (shrugs)  I've used every divination spell I have, communing
  with dark powers and forces beyond comprehension.  (he rubs his
  triple chin)  Well, beyond any comprehension but mine.
Canis:  And?
Grub:  The vampiress isn't anywhere near us...though she might well
  be in the castle...somewhere.
Omak:  (growing irritated)  Is that the best you can do?  I thought
  you were a high priest of Tharizdun!
Grub:  I _am_ a high priest of Tharizdun.  (he turns and smiles as a
  small, winged, skeletal snake with a humanoid skull flies over and
  lands on his shoulder)  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.

  Leaving his companions frustrated, annoyed, and bewildered, the
rotund priest made his way to the chamber they'd set up as a cell
for their prisoners.  Skektek lay on the floor, his shattered hands
bound tightly behind him, a strip of cloth tied over his mouth.  In
this way, he was unable to cast even the most basic spells.  The
wizard was unconscious at the moment, probably a fortunate state of
being considering the extreme pain his broken hands caused him when-
ever he came around.

Grub:  (eyes Skektek's crumpled form as he enters the room)  Any
  change?
Wampa:  (sitting backwards in an ornate chair, he glares at Razor
  Charlie)  Nope.  This scum still won't talk.
Razor Charlie:  (tied hand and foot to the chair he's sitting in,
  he glares right back, his black eye and bloody face giving him an
  even more sinister look)
Grub:  (to Charlie)  Nothing to say, eh?
Razor Charlie:  (stares daggers at both men)
Wampa:  (laughs)  If looks could kill, eh Grub?  (he stands, then
  crosses the distance in a flash)  Maybe this will change your mind.
  (he kicks the bound warrior hard, in the stomach)
Razor Charlie:  (grunts in pain, but says nothing)
Grub:  (holding up a knife of grey bone)  Perhaps you'd like to
  reconsider.
Razor Charlie:  (ignores the big priest)
Grub:  Have it your way.  There are...methods for loosening tongues.
small winged skeletal skull-snake:  (flits about)  Brak.
Wampa:  I get the heart.
Grub:  (begins spreading tools and material components about, all
  around the room)
Wampa:  What are you doing?
Grub:  I'm going to turn this one into an undead slave.
Wampa:  But...Omak said-
Grub:  (shrugs)  Tharizdun demands sacrifices.
Wampa:  (considers this, and decides he has no problem with it)  I'm
  leaving - got to go find something to eat.
Grub:  (continues working, absorbed in his own thoughts)

  Elsewhere...

Canis:  I don't buy it.
Omak:  How's that?
Canis:  Just because that fat dolt can't find our vampiress doesn't
  mean she's not here.
Omak:  What do you suggest?
Canis:  I'll take a couple of the guys and go after her myself.
Omak:  You'd better be careful...real careful.  She's dangerous.
Canis:  I know - that's why I'll take three or four of the others.
  The real trick will be figuring out where she'd be, and why.
Omak:  Maybe she went back to the town.
Canis:  Maybe.  It really depends on where the elf would go first
  when he came back - here, or the town itself.
Omak:  I'd hate to split our forces by sending someone back down
  there.
Canis:  (sighs)  So much for the perfect ambush we were planning.
Omak:  Well.  (his brow furrows)  Take Vybool or Xylus or Kenso - or
  maybe all three - and see if you can find that bitch.
Canis:  (looks around)  Where's Klark?
Omak:  He's in the entry hallway, building us some support forces.
Canis:  It's a flea circus, if you ask me.
Omak:  Fleas don't have the power that his summoned monsters do, so
  tread lightly.
Canis:  Bah.  (he goes to collect some of the others to help him
  look for Victoria, or for that matter any other unknown foes that
  might lurk in the castle)

  Shortly, the tracker - accompanied by Ixlin, Vybool, and the newly-
returned Wampa - left the area, intent on his hunt.  This left the
reptilian Ug and the monk Kenso Adon in the great hall with Omak.
The assassin Xylus was nowhere to be found; unbeknownst to anyone
else, he roamed the upper halls of the castle, searching for the
living quarters of Belphanior.
  Omak was not happy.  Besides losing two of his group - before
even encountering Belphanior - Omak felt that he was losing control
of his forces, and of the situation.  The problem was that each of
the eleven allies he'd come here with was his own person; they were
in Omak's employ but (except for Canis) didn't really share his
dedication to the job at hand.  Sure, they wanted to fight, and to
kill foes, and gain loot - but it was only a job to them.  They
didn't share the visceral hatred that many in the lands of the Sea
Princes held for the elf who owned this castle.
  No matter, thought Omak; sometime soon, Belphanior and his allies
would return, and things would be settled.  Grumbling to himself,
the stout warrior headed to the entry hall to check on Klark's
work.

Omak:  (enters the hall)  Ack.
Klark:  (turns, smiling thinly)  What?

  The conjurer had transformed the hall into a bestiary, for many
monsters now stood, crawled, or flew here.  Should Belphanior come
through his front door right now, these summoned monsters would form
the first line of attack; otherwise, they would be allies in whatever
other battle came to be.  When he was done with his summonings, Klark
planned to disperse the monsters to strategic points within the
castle.  Even as Omak watched, in awe, Klark's incantations caused a
fiery humanoid form - a salamander from some Lower Plane - to flame
into existence.

Klark:  Ah!

  The blazing spirit joined a host of other summoned creatures in
the hall...

salamander:  (hisses and spits a glob of flame at a bugbear)
bugbear:  (a patch of its fur ignites, provoking a cry of pain
  and some frantic hand-slapping)
salamander:  (chuckles)
giant spider:  (irritated by the bugbear's panic-inspired dance, it
  shifts on its eight hairy legs)
rust monster:  (running around the spider, in circles, it chirps
  happily)
giant lizard:  (sniffing at the rust monster as it considers making
  lunch out of the thing)
leucrotta:  (paws the stone floor, angry at no one in particular)
gorgon:  (snorts, dangerous green vapors wafting from its nostrils)

Klark:  (speaks to all of his conjured allies, as he waves a hand
  upon which is worn a ring of blackest metal)  Stop your bickering
  this instant!
monsters:  (obey)
Klark:  You will stay right here, not quarreling amongst yourselves,
  until our enemies arrive.  Then, when I say so, you will attack
  them!
monsters:  (shifting about, agitated but compliant)
Omak:  Excellent.
Klark:  Of course.  (he glances at his ring, pleased)  Of course.



  Meanwhile, in the great hall, adjacent to the monster-filled entry
hall, the huge reptilian known as Ug paced back and forth.  His race
wasn't generally a patient one, and Ug in particular was eager to meet
and slay his hated enemy Ys.  Nothing else mattered to him - a fact
which he carefully kept hidden to the others.  Near the frustrated
reptilian sat a cross-legged form - the monk Kenso Adon, who quietly
meditated with the patience that Ug couldn't seem to find.  When the
time for battle came, though, Kenso would be ready in a heartbeat,
his lethal hands and feet ready for any foe.



  Another of Omak's party had a very similar outlook:  the assassin
Xylus crept through the upper levels of Belphanior's castle, seeking
the elf's private chambers.  He didn't really figure that the dark
sword he sought would be there, but other treasures might be, and
perhaps he would find some clue or means of attaining his goal with
a minimum of challenge.

  Unbeknownst to the assassin, he was mere moments from entering a
series of chambers in which the vampiress Victoria awaited.  Her
keen undead senses had already detected Xylus' approach, and she was
eager for both violence and blood.  Already, her fangs had grown to
their full length in anticipation of the kill...



  Those who hunted the vampiress, however, were pretty far off the
trail.  Canis had led his three companions along the last known
route that Victoria had taken, but he was quickly learning that
even the best tracker couldn't follow one who left no tracks.  The
side mission to find Victoria was quickly becoming an exploratory
walk through the castle.  That walk ended in the conservatory, where
the foursome discovered the remains of Victoria's previous victim,
the warrior-mage Rykooda.  The man had been hung upside-down and
naked from the ceiling, his throat ripped open, his arms splayed
out to the sides.  Some blood - but not much - had pooled beneath
his bloody corpse.  Of his clothes and magic items, there was no
sign.

Canis:  (fighting the urge to vomit)  Well, at least we know what
  happened to him.
Ixlin:  What a mess.
Wampa:  This vampiress will be a worthy opponent.
Vybool:  No, she'll be a dangerous opponent.
Wampa:  (growls, irritated)
Vybool:  (ignores the weretiger, of whom he has no fear at all)
Wampa:  (considers changing and attacking the ogre mage, but then
  his temper subsides)  Damn, I need to kill something, and soon.
Ixlin:  Save it for the enemy, that's my advice.
Canis:  (growing uneasy standing here in the open, next to the
  bloody corpse)  Come on, let's get back and report to Omak.



  Finally, in the chamber that held the prisoners Skektek and Razor
Charlie, the corpulent high priest Grub prepared to work his dark
magic on Razor Charlie.

Grub:  You should be honored.  It's not often that a mortal has the
  chance to give his soul to the Dark One and then become a servant,
  all in the same day.
Razor Charlie:  You'd better kill me soon, because if I get out of
  these ropes, you're dead meat.
Grub:  Ha!  A pun.  (he waves his knife of grey, dry bone, then
  retorts more sourly)  Enjoy your humor while you can.
Razor Charlie:  (for the hundredth time, he struggles with his
  bonds, but to no avail)
Skektek:  (awake now, he watches silently, unable to speak or even
  move his hands)

  When he'd been defeated and beaten unconscious, Charlie had then
been thoroughly searched, all of his blades - even the hidden ones
in his boots - taken away.  He could do nothing but watch as the
fat priest prepared his vile incantations...



  Such was the distribution and disposition of the intruders at the
time of Belphanior and company's return.  The elf and his companions,
weary and battered and not in the best of moods, blinked into being
right there in the great hall, not thirty feet from Omak, Ug, and
Kenso Adon.

Belphanior:  -first thing I'm going to do...is...(he eyes the three
  intruders, surprised for a moment before his look turns to one of
  anger)  Okay, I'll make this simple.  Anyone who doesn't want to
  die...had better head on out.
Otto:  Who the fuck...?
Ys:  (staring at Ug in amazement)
wispy thing:  Sprrd...
Bosco:  (staring at Ug, he looks at Ys, then back at Ug, grinning)
  Twins!
Otto:  No kidding.  He looks just like you, Ys.
Ys:  Are you blind?  We don't look at all alike.
Bosco:  Yeah...actually, that one looks bigger than you.
Ys:  In truth, I am a rather small example of my race.
Otto:  _Now_ you tell us?!?
Belphanior:  (frowns)
Jutokai:  This is not good.
Aja:  Why not?  There are only three of them.
Klark:  (in the adjacent chamber, he sends his monsters to join Omak
  and his forces)
salamander:  (its body dripping flame, it grins)  Heh.
bugbear:  (readies its large sword)  Grr.
giant spider:  (chatters its mandibles)  Clk.
rust monster:  (chirps, smelling metal it's allowed to have)  Gleep!
giant lizard:  (its forked tongue flicks out of its mouth)  Sss.
leucrotta:  (growls)  Rrr.
gorgon:  (stomps the floor, eager to attack something)  Snort!
Jutokai:  This is _really_ not good.
Belphanior:  Ah, the things you see when you don't have a fireball
  ready.
Bosco:  Who _are_ these clowns?
Lyra:  Offhand, I'd guess they've got a score to settle with our
  friend here.  (she glares at Belphanior)
Belphanior:  Hey, don't look at me!  I've never even seen these
  assholes before!
Alindyar:  Take a good look now, because here they are.

  The two groups waited in an uneasy standoff.  Belphanior's group
was surprised just to find all these people and monsters here, while
Omak's group was surprised to see people they didn't expect to see
with the elf.  Neither group knew what the other's capabilities were
and neither group wanted to make the first move, not just yet.  The
awkward standoff was interrupted by Omak.

Omak:  (speaks loudly and clearly)  I declare, in the name of the
  various and sundry lords and people of the mighty holds of-
Belphanior:  Save it.
Omak:  Eh?
Belphanior:  We'll try to leave some identifiable pieces.  (to his
  people)  Let's get them.

  As Belphanior's group sprung into action, so did the others.  The
monsters moved between Omak and the adventurers, commanded by Klark,
who had just emerged from the entry hall and was directing his
forces.  This fact did not go unnoticed by some.

Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Did you see that?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Aye.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  What do we do?
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  I suggest that we back Belphanior's
  play.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Good idea.

  Nearby...

Belphanior:  (spellcasting)
Otto:  (raises his crossbow, firing)
leucrotta:  (takes it in the eye, the shaft of the poisoned bolt
  protruding from the spewing wound)
Bosco:  Now that is one ugly monster!
Otto:  (calmly reloads)
Bosco:  (takes to the air, his winged boots flapping)
Jutokai:  (also firing, his arrows leaving his bow with great speed
  and deadly accuracy)
giant spider:  (hit by one, then another arrow, it scampers about
  in pain and panic)
Aja:  (spellcasting)
Ys:  (seemingly oblivious to all else, he heads toward Ug)
Ug:  (seeing the other reptilian, he grins, raising his gigantic
  battleaxe as he goes to meet Ys)
wispy thing:  (flies through the monstrous infantry, confronting
  Kenso Adon)  Spork!
Kenso Adon:  Ki-yah!  (he lashes out, striking at the wisp with blows
  that would have slain a human foe)
wispy thing:  (grins)  Sssss.
Omak:  (casts a magical javelin, hurling it at Belphanior)
Belphanior:  (completes his spell, sheathing his body in enchanted
  stoneskin)  Ah.  (he looks up)  What?!?

  Omak's javelin had become a bolt of lightning, which struck the elf
head-on.  Belphanior was knocked back into a wall, which was scorched
black by the electrical discharge.  Nearby, Lyra received a less
substantial shock, one which knocked her down and ruined the spell
she was casting.

Lyra:  Ack!
Alindyar:  Lyra!  (he checks her, finding that she's only stunned)
  By the gods...(he rises, infuriated, and begins spellcasting)
gorgon:  (charging in the drows' direction, some of the other
  monsters behind it)
Alindyar:  Hmm.

.
                                 ____________
                                |          Sk|
                                |    Gr  RC  |
                            ____|_____  _____|____
      ENTRY HALL           /                      \
  ____________________    /                        \
 |                    |  |                          |
 |                    |__|   KA wi                  |
/                         Kl       1          Aj
\                      __  Om  Ug   2 Ys   Ju
 |                    |  |         6     Ot       Be|
 |____________________|  |   4  5    3              |
                          \      7 Bo      Al  Ly  /
                           \__________  __________/


1 salamander             Om Omak
2 bugbear                Ug                    Ys
3 giant spider           KA Kenso Adon         wi wispy thing
4 rust monster           Kl Klark
5 giant lizard           Gr Grub               RC Razor Charlie
6 leucrotta                                    Sk Skektek
7 gorgon
                                               Be Belphanior
                         Bo Bosco              Ot Otto
                         Al Alindyar           Ju Jutokai
                         Ly Lyra               Aj Aja

.

Bosco:  (drops a marble of chaos into the midst of some of the
  monsters, the single marble bouncing and becoming two, each of
  which bounces and becomes two...and so on)
giant lizard:  (loses its footing and falls, crushing the giant
  spider, which was moving slowly anyway due to Jutokai's arrows)
giant spider:  <splat>
rust monster:  (also loses its footing, flipping upside-down and
  skidding into the south wall)  Gloop!
gorgon:  (charging at the drow, it never has a chance, and falls,
  pawing the floor in a vain attempt to regain control as it rams
  into the south doorway)
Bosco:  Hah!
Otto:  (hits the leucrotta in the neck with another poisoned bolt,
  even as the thing nears him)
leucrotta:  Rrr...(it poises to leap, then does so, with surprising
  speed and power)  Rrr!
Jutokai:  (nails the monster in the gut with an arrow, as it moves
  through the air)
leucrotta:  Argh!  (it slams into Otto, its powerful jaws snapping)
Otto:  (takes the bolt he was loading and rams it into the beast's
  throat)  Take that!  (he struggles to get his knife out as the
  badly-wounded monster bites into his arm)  AARGH!
Jutokai:  (about to lend a hand, he is distracted by the salamander
  as it stabs him with its flaming spear)  Yargh!
salamander:  (snickering as it wraps its coiled body around the
  archer)
Ys:  (wading through the chaos, he singlemindedly heads for Ug)
bugbear:  (gets in the way, its sword held high)
Ys:  (swats the humanoid with his own sword, shearing it in two)
bugbear:  (its halves fly off in different directions)
Ys:  (strides on, undaunted)
Ug:  (raises his axe as the two reptilians close with each other)
  Finally!  After years of searching...wandering...I've found you!
  Today you die!
Ys:  We shall see.
Alindyar:  (works a powerful illusion upon the two monsters nearest
  to him and Lyra)
gorgon:  (now sees and smells the nearby rust monster as the biggest,
  meatiest elk it has ever had the pleasure of hunting)
rust monster:  (now sees and smells the gorgon as the largest, most
  succulent pile of iron it has ever encountered)

  The illusion was total, and both monsters' limited intellects were
fooled completely.  They headed toward one another, meeting in the
southern doorway.  The gorgon was in for a rude surprise, though,
for its tough iron hide withered and rotted before the corrosive
attack of the rust monster.  Screaming in agony, the huge bull-beast
fled to the south, chased doggedly by the rust monster, who chirped
in happiness all the while.

Alindyar:  (now that the immediate threat is dealt with, he turns
  his attention back to Omak)
Lyra:  (gets to her feet, assesses the situation, and begins a spell
  of her own)
Belphanior:  (having recovered, he uses Blackrazor to haste himself,
  then dashes toward Omak, avoiding foes and other obstacles with
  great agility)
Kenso Adon:  (ignoring the wispy thing, he darts forth to meet the
  elf)
Belphanior:  You're dog meat, pal.  (he swings his sword)
Kenso Adon:  (ducks the black blade, punching his foe in the stomach)
Belphanior:  (saved from serious internal injury by his stoneskin,
  he is nevertheless knocked back)  Ungh!
Kenso Adon:  (vanishes from sight)
Belphanior:  Huh?  (he staggers from another blow, this one to his
  temple)  Argh!  (he falls, a victim of this bizarre and magically-
  augmented fighting style)
Kenso Adon:  (still invisible)
Aja:  (completes her spell, dispelling magic on Klark)
Klark:  (finds his next summoning interrupted, not to mention some
  of his previously-cast magical protections cancelled)  What?!?
Omak:  (now flying, he heads toward Belphanior and the invisible
  Kenso Adon)
Grub:  (waddles out of the north room, waving his hands in some
  vile incantation)
zombies:  (seven of them spring to life from nothingness and begin
  shuffling toward the battle)
Aja:  (sees this, and strides toward the undead)

.
                                 ____________
                                |          Sk|
                                |        RC  |
                            ____|_____  _____|____
      ENTRY HALL           /      8   Gr  8       \
  ____________________    /         8 8 8 8 8      \
 |                    |  |      wi                  |
 |                    |__|         KA-Be            |
/                         Kl   Om             Aj
\                      __        Ug-Ys   1-Ju
 |                    |  |             6-Ot         |
 |____________________|  |    Bo  5                 |
                          \                Al  Ly  /
                           \__________  __________/


1 salamander             Om Omak
                         Ug                    Ys
                         KA Kenso Adon         wi wispy thing
                         Kl Klark
5 giant lizard           Gr Grub               RC Razor Charlie
6 leucrotta                                    Sk Skektek

8 zombies                                      Be Belphanior
                         Bo Bosco              Ot Otto
                         Al Alindyar           Ju Jutokai
                         Ly Lyra               Aj Aja

.

Bosco:  (flying overhead on his way toward Omak and Klark, he
  notices something thanks to his ring of x-ray vision)  Huh?
 (he moves down to inspect the oddly-disturbed section of floor)
leucrotta:  (doing its best to bite Otto's hand off)
Otto:  (gets his knife in his hand, and while the foe is occupied
  with his other hand, he sinks the barbed blade into its skull)
leucrotta:  Aie!  (its jaws loosen, and it rolls over, blood
  foaming from its mouth)
Otto:  (stands, painfully, and realizes that his mangled left arm
  is broken from the elbow down, useless)
Jutokai:  (wrapped in the deadly, fiery grip of the salamander's
  coiled body, he burns and is crushed simultaneously)  Aaaargh!
salamander:  Heh, heh, heh.
Lyra:  (zaps the fire-creature with a thin white ray, hitting it
  in the back)
salamander:  (its fires are quenched as its body ices over)
Jutokai:  (slips free, crawling a short distance before collapsing
  from the pain)

  Nearby, two titans met violently...

Ug:  Die!  (swings his anchor-sized battleaxe in a great arc)
Ys:  (meets the attack with his own sword, and both reptilians
  absorb a shock that would have broken a mere man)

  The duel was terrible to behold.  They matched each other blow
for blow, each impact jarring the teeth of anyone nearby.  Ug's
battleaxe was a heavier weapon, capable of inflicting more damage,
but Ys' sword was slightly more wieldy.  Every time it seemed that
one or the other of the combatants would score a mortal blow on
the other, the attack was evaded or parried.  Then, just like that,
the tide of battle changed:  their weapons locked, Ug pulled the
sword from Ys' hands, but his grip slipped and both weapons fell
to the floor twenty feet away.

Ug:  (glares at Ys)
Ys:  (glares at Ug)
Ug:  Yaaaaar!  (he charges, as does Ys, and they meet with an
  impact that shakes the floor)

  As the two reptilians took their fight to a more primal level,
Aja was facing off against the zombies summoned by Grub.

Aja:  (chants, waving her holy symbol)
zombies:  (blasted back into the dust from which they came)
Grub:  (takes notice)  Ah!  A death-priestess!
Aja:  You'd better believe it.
Grub:  You'll make a pleasant addition to my harem.
Aja:  Don't count on it.
Grub:  (spellcasting)

  In the chamber behind Grub, things were afoot.  Skektek had
gotten to his feet, and his mangled hands now struggled to grasp
one of Grub's instruments - a rusty black knife.

Razor Charlie:  (still bound)  Come on...hurry!
Skektek:  (still gagged)  Mmph glmph.  (he now holds the knife
  behind his back, in pain-wracked, shaking, and still-bound
  hands)
Razor Charlie:  (wanting to get loose so badly that he can't stand
  it)

  In the main chamber...

Omak:  (lands next to Belphanior)  I'll take care of this myself.
Kenso Adon:  (invisible)  As you wish.
Belphanior:  (sits up painfully)
Omak:  (kicks the elf in the face, knocking him back)
Belphanior:  Unf!  (he gets to his knees)
Omak:  You've had this coming for a long time-
wispy thing:  (flies right into the warrior's face)  Bzzzz!
Omak:  Hey!
Alindyar:  (conjures a gigantic crushing hand of force, which grabs
  the warrior)
Omak:  HEY!
Alindyar:  (tightens the grip)
Omak:  Argh!
Alindyar:  (though his force-hand is still crushing the foe, he
  opts to bring both back toward himself, rather than leaving them
  more than fifty feet away)
Omak:  (pulled through the air as the dark elf recalls the hand)
Kenso Adon:  (invisible, he glances around, unsure whether to go
  after Omak or attack Belphanior)
Belphanior:  (settles the matter, stabbing the monk through the
  stomach)
Kenso Adon:  (his concentration disrupted, he becomes visible once
  more)  Ugh...how...?
Belphanior:  (eyes Blackrazor, which sees souls rather than visible
  bodies, and grins through bloody teeth as he moves in for the
  kill)
Kenso Adon:  (with a supreme effort, he leaps, magical boots taking
  him far across the room)
Belphanior:  Dammit...I need a soul.
Klark:  (working a new spell now, he begins a powerful summoning
  that may tip the scales of this battle)

  Nearby...

Bosco:  (using his stone knife, which can cut through rock as if
  it were butter, he digs at the ground)  Hang in there...
giant lizard:  (finally mobile again, it sets its sights on the
  halfling and begins lumbering toward the tasty morsel)  Sss!

  Just then, a quartet of new combatants appeared at the eastern
exit...

Canis:  Let's get to it!
Ixlin:  (begins spellcasting, working some powerful illusion)
  Right.
Vybool:  (draws his sword and walks into the great hall)
Wampa:  (growls, transforming into his tiger form)
Lyra:  (turns to spot these new arrivals)  Uh-oh.

.
                                 ____________
                                |          Sk|
                                |        RC  |
                            ____|_____  _____|____
      ENTRY HALL           /          Gr          \
  ____________________    /                      KA\
 |                    |  |               Aj         |
 |                    |__|      wi   Be             |
/                         Kl                       Vy Ca
\                      __        Ug-Ys     Ju       Wa Ix
 |                    |  |  Bo          Ot          |
 |____________________|  |      5             Ly    |
                          \             Om-Al      /
                           \__________  __________/


   Om Omak               wi wispy thing
   Ug                    Ys
   KA Kenso Adon         Al Alindyar
   Kl Klark              Ly Lyra
   Gr Grub               Bo Bosco
   5  giant lizard       Sk Skektek
   Vy Vybool             RC Razor Charlie
   Ca Canis              Be Belphanior
   Wa Wampa              Ot Otto
   Ix Ixlin              Ju Jutokai
                         Aj Aja

.

Omak:  (caught in Alindyar's hand, he really can't do much)
Alindyar:  (wasting no time - he has the hand crush its prisoner
  with all its might)
Omak:  Argh!
Wampa:  (now a tiger, he bounds toward the drow)
Alindyar:  (bowled over, he goes down beneath the huge animal)
  Ungh!
Omak:  (suddenly free of the crushing hand, whose grip has just
  loosened, he falls to his knees, gasping)  Ah!
Wampa:  (roars in triumph)
Lyra:  Alindyar!  (rather than waste precious time with a spell,
  she removes one of her earrings of power, hurling it at the
  tiger)
Wampa:  (hit in the back by the missile, he roars in pain as it
  explodes, ripping chunks of flesh from his body)  AARGH!
Vybool:  (strides past the fallen, weakened Jutokai, stabbing him
  in the stomach as he passes)
Jutokai:  Agh!  (he passes out as a pool of blood spreads beneath
  him)
Otto:  (faces the ogre mage, his shortsword now ready in his good
  hand)
Vybool:  Need a hand?  Ha, ha, ha!
Otto:  You won't be laughing when I cram this sword down your
  throat.  (he tosses away the bottle that contained the potion
  of invulnerability he just drank)
Vybool:  Bah.  (he uses his innate powers to cast a Sleep spell on
  the dwarf)
Otto:  (shakes the magic off)  Bah, yourself.  (he charges)
Vybool:  (somewhat surprised, he readies himself)
Otto:  (slides under the foe's guard and slashes him in the knee)
Vybool:  Argh!

  Nearby, Ug and Ys had gone to war.  Fists the size of ham hocks
battered scaled bodies, inflicting wounds that would have felled
oxen.  Neither side had ever seen much that could hurt their
respective reptilian, but it was clear that these two were now
inflicting horrendous damage upon each other.  Both were bleeding,
a thick blue substance that oozed from bashed noses, smashed
mouths, and cut hides.  It was a slugfest, pure and simple, and
woe to anyone who got in their way.

Ug:  (knocks Ys back into the ogre mage Vybool)
Vybool:  Unf!  (he falls, allowing Otto a free shot at his back)
Otto:  (stabs the large foe at the base of its neck, slaying it
  instantly)  Thanks, Ys!
Ys:  (unhearing, he leaps back to his feet and springs at Ug with
  a cry of rage)  Grr...!
Ug:  (falls before the assault)

  Nearby...

Bosco:  (digging himself into a small hole)  There you are.
Angus:  (its iron head stares up at the halfling)
Bosco:  I'll have you free in a moment-
Angus:  (flexes its iron muscles, and the now-weakened rock around
  its body groans...and cracks)
Bosco:  Whoa!  (he leaps up, flying out of the hole)
giant lizard:  (snaps at the halfling, catching his foot)
Bosco:  Aie!  (he tries to fly away, but the lizard hooks his
  cape with a claw paw and pulls him down to earth)
giant lizard:  Rrrrr...
Bosco:  Aaa!  Help!

  Nearby...

Belphanior:  (uses a spell stored in his ring to make a mighty
  leap, landing atop Klark as the conjuror finishes his spell)
Klark:  What-
Belphanior:  Shaddup.  (he stabs the foe in the chest, felling
  him)
Klark:  Agh...!

  However, as the elf prepared to deliver a killing blow, he was
foiled yet again.  Klark's just-completed incantation had brought
a new, huge, dangerous monster into the fray...

pyrohydra:  (roars, multiple heads snapping at the elf)
Belphanior:  (leaps back)  Yie!
pyrohydra:  GRAAAR!  (four of its eight heads breathe great gouts
  of flame at the elf)
Belphanior:  (set ablaze, he rolls away, trying to put the fires
  out)
wispy thing:  Fssss!  (it hovers above the quivering form of Klark
  and babbles at the monster)
pyrohydra:  (turns its attention to the semi-conscious but still
  unaware Klark)  RRR?
Klark:  (bleeding badly, his eyes begin to glaze over in shock)

  Elsewhere in the battle...

Grub:  (holds Aja immobile via a half-dozen conjured black ropy
  tentacles)  Oh, yes.
Aja:  (unable to break free or do much of anything, she screams
  as the cold, dark tentacles caress her)  Aie!
Grub:  (smiles broadly, a leer of pure evil)

  The high priest's thoughts, whatever they might have been, were
interrupted by the violent, forceful insertion of a hot poker into
the back of his head.

Razor Charlie:  (rams the red-hot poker through flesh and bone,
  until it comes out the front of the priest's throat)
Grub:  Glurgh!
Razor Charlie:  Told you.

  As the priest collapsed, his spell was negated, and Aja was free.
She cast a baleful glance at the fallen Grub - and a thankful one
at Charlie - before beginning another spell.

  Nearby...

Kenso Adon:  (heads toward Razor Charlie, who is wandering toward
  the melee)
Razor Charlie:  (throws the rusty knife)
Kenso Adon:  (hit in the chest, but spared from harm thanks to a
  ring he wears)  Nice try.
Razor Charlie:  (raises his sole remaining weapon - a long, thin
  needle of steel that came from Grub's array of instruments)
Canis:  (draws his sword and dashes toward the spellcasting Aja,
  who is distracted and has her back turned to him)
Ixlin:  (creates a powerful illusion, depicting a fierce dragon of
  medium size charging right for Otto, who isn't busy fighting one
  of Ixlin's allies)

.
                                 ____________
                                |            |
                                |        Sk  |
                            ____|_____  _____|____
      ENTRY HALL           /           RC         \
  ____________________    /        wi       KA     \
 |                    |  |     Be        Aj         |
 |                    |__|                      Ca  |
/                         Kl 9
\                      __        Ug-Ys           Ix
 |                    |  | Bo 5        Ot           |
 |____________________|  |  An                 Ly   |
                          \            Om Al Wa    /
                           \__________  __________/


   Om Omak               wi wispy thing
   Ug                    Ys
   KA Kenso Adon         Al Alindyar
   Kl Klark              Ly Lyra
                         Bo Bosco
   5  giant lizard       Sk Skektek
                         RC Razor Charlie
   Ca Canis              Be Belphanior
   Wa Wampa              Ot Otto
   Ix Ixlin              Aj Aja
   9  pyrohydra          An Angus

.

Omak:  (gets to his feet shakily, ready to attack someone)
Alindyar:  (crawling away, bloody and battered, from Wampa)  Ugh...
Wampa:  (the nasty wound on his back still smoking, he whirls to
  face Lyra, preparing to charge)  Grrrrr...
Lyra:  (hurls her remaining earring, placing it perfectly between
  the tiger and Omak as they converge on her)
Omak:  (blown back by the explosion)  Argh!
Wampa:  (likewise, though he is injured less seriously thanks to
  his faster reflexes in this form)  Graaargh!
Alindyar:  (regains control of the force-hand, which has been
  sitting by idly and grabs Wampa tightly)
Wampa:  Grraaargh!

  Nearby...

Ys:  (rams Ug's face into the floor, once, twice, three times)
Ug:  Ugh!
Ys:  You should never have come here.  (he brings the foe's head
  up...then rams his knee into it)
Ug:  Argh!
Ys:  (planting one knee in the base of the other's neck, he grabs
  the foe's head and pulls backward hard)
Ug:  Aaaa...aargh...
Ys:  (grunts with exertion)
Ug:  <snap>
Ys:  Ahh.

  To the northeast...

Kenso Adon:  (dodges Razor Charlie's stabbing attack, kicking
  the warrior in the arm and breaking it)
Razor Charlie:  Aaargh!
Kenso Adon:  (swats the steel needle away and punches the foe
  in the chest, breaking ribs)
Razor Charlie:  Ungh!
Kenso Adon:  There's no shame - you're simply outclassed.
Razor Charlie:  (swings his good fist)
Kenso Adon:  (sidesteps, kicking the other in the head)
Razor Charlie:  (falls, but yet struggles to get back to his
  feet)
Kenso Adon:  You never give up, do you?  Well, I can solve that
  problem-
Aja:  (points at the monk, releasing the dark energy of her Slay
  Living spell)  Die.
Kenso Adon:  (his eyes widen as he falls)
Aja:  (smiles thinly)
Canis:  (approaches Aja, his sword held high)
Razor Charlie:  (weakly)  B- behind you...
Aja:  (leaps aside, Canis' blade slicing her arm and shoulder open
  rather than killing her)  Argh!
Canis:  (closes in for the kill)
Otto:  (dashing toward Canis, his sword held high)  Over here!
illusionary dragon:  (interposes itself between the dwarf and
  the tracker)
Otto:  Aie!  (he fails to see through this illusion, and falls
  in imagined pain as the dragon's claws rip and tear his body)
Alindyar:  (sees this, and smirks despite himself)  You call
  _that_ an illusion?!?

  To the west...

pyrohydra:  (grabs Klark up with several fanged heads)  RRRR!
Klark:  (comes to his senses, but before he can bring his ring's
  power to bear, the hand and arm that bear it are torn off)
pyrohydra:  (literally rips the wizard to pieces, various heads
  fighting over the spoils)  GRAAAR!
Belphanior:  (nearby, he finally gets all of his fires put out,
  with the help of his foam-wand)
Bosco:  (about to get eaten by the giant lizard)  Heeeeeelp!

  The very floor of the castle began to tremble then...and crack.
One crack widened and grew - and then, there was a tremendous
crunching sound as rocks and rubble exploded in all directions!

Angus:  (climbs from the hole in the floor)
Belphanior:  Angus!  Get that lizard and throw it at that hydra!
Angus:  (complies, punching the lizard in the head)
Bosco:  (dropped, he scrambles away, his foot bleeding badly)
giant lizard:  Grunk?
Angus:  (picks up the immense lizard and hurls it at the pyrohydra)
pyrohydra:  (bowled over, it roars angrily and begins fighting with
  the lizard)

  On the other side of the room...

Lyra:  (utilizing tactics learned ages ago in the Underdark, she
  steps lightly toward Ixlin, who is occupied with controlling his
  illusion)
Ixlin:  (greatly enjoying the way his creation is decimating Otto,
  he barely hears the footfalls behind him, turning at the last
  minute)
Lyra:  (whacks him across the bridge of his nose with her staff of
  striking)
Ixlin:  (his nose shattered and spewing blood, he falls back and
  down)  Aaaaaungh!
Lyra:  (wallops him again, solidly)
illusionary dragon:  (flickering)
Otto:  (passes out from his imagined pain)
Canis:  (facing Aja, whose black sickle is brandished now)
Aja:  Death will welcome you.
Canis:  Huh?


  The battle was winding down, now - Angus and Ys, Belphanior's
side's two heaviest hitters, were moving toward the surviving
foes.  The illusionary dragon was on the ropes, its creator
close to passing out from the battering Lyra was giving him,
while Wampa was held fast in Alindyar's hand of force.  In fact,
only Canis and Omak were free and well at the moment, and the
former was locked in combat with the wily Aja.

Omak:  (frowns)

  The intruders' leader was no fool, and since he had the means to
escape, he decided that the time had come.

Omak:  (rubs a ring he wears, a golden band with an inset ruby, as
  he speaks some command words)
Belphanior:  (watches as the warrior is enveloped in a green
  nimbus)  What is he doing...?
Omak:  (to nobody in particular)  He who fights, and runs away...
  (he vanishes from sight)

  That wasn't all, though; all of the other foes who still lived
vanished along with him!  Omak, Canis, Ixlin, and Wampa blinked
out of existence as if they'd never been there.

wispy thing:  Spfff!
Belphanior:  I don't believe it!
Alindyar:  (looking around, his now-empty force-hand quivering)
  Amazing.
Bosco:  (hobbling about, his pain having made him forget that he
  can fly about)  Not really - it sucks.  We were winning.

  Indeed, the only remaining living member of Omak's force was the
summoned pyrohydra, which was busy eating the remains of the giant
lizard it had just slain.

Aja:  What are we going to do with _that_?
Belphanior:  We'll think of something.  Lyra, can you drop a wall
  of force around that monster?
Lyra:  No, I don't have that spell right now.
Belphanior:  Oh.  Got anything else left?
Lyra:  A wall of fire, but I doubt that will hold the thing, seeing
  as how it breathes fire.
Alindyar:  (gasping)  I can handle the task, with my Bigby-hand
  here, should it become necessary.
Belphanior:  Dammit!  Angus, grab that hydra and don't let him move.
Angus:  (moves to comply)
pyrohydra:  GRAAAR!  (several of its heads belch fire on the golem)
Angus:  (rejuvenated by the flames, he grabs several of the monster's
  heads, holding it in place)
pyrohydra:  (furious, yet helpless)  AAAARGH!
Angus:  (impassive, as iron golems are wont to be)
Belphanior:  (shaking his head)
Lyra:  Well, we won.
Belphanior:  It's bad enough that they came here and did all this.
  On top of that, though, they teleported away, which means they're
  still out there, somewhere - which means we'll have to deal with
  them again someday.
Bosco:  Where is everybody?
Ys:  (looking around)  There's Angus, and we've seen Razor Charlie.
Razor Charlie:  (nods, slightly)  Skektek's in that room to the
  north.  He'll be okay.
Ys:  So where is...
Belphanior:  Victoria!

  Almost as if on cue, the vampiress entered through the southern
passage, licking something dark and red from her fingers.

Victoria:  Did somebody call me?
Belphanior:  (dashes over to her, much as it pains his wounded body
  to do so)  Victoria!
Victoria:  (looks up)  What?
Belphanior:  Where were-  I mean, how-  (he eyes her)  You've
  killed somebody, haven't you?
Victoria:  (nods)  Damndest thing.  This idiot was sneaking around
  in our private chambers, and after he triggered a couple of traps,
  one wounded him.  I smelled the fresh blood and couldn't resist
  any longer.
Belphanior:  Where's his body?
Victoria:  Oh, you don't need to bother over that - he won't be
  coming back as one of me.
Belphanior:  No, I mean that all of these foes just vanished, dead
  and live ones alike.
Victoria:  Well, I stripped him of all his clothing and items and
  left the corpse in a washroom.  We can go have a look, but if he's
  still there, I assure you that he's quite dead.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  Okay, we'll get to it.

  The list of wounded was extensive.  Razor Charlie and Otto had a
broken arm apiece, while Skektek had two broken hands.  Aja bore a
wide, deep gash along her arm and shoulder.  Bosco's foot was broken
and torn, and Alindyar was seriously mauled.  Ys' grey, scaled hide
was bruised, thoroughly black and blue, and he bled from countless
cuts and scrapes.  Jutokai was much worse - in fact, the archer
was actually dead.

Belphanior:  (to Aja)  Anything you can do for him?
Aja:  (a determined look on her face)  We've lost one companion
  today - we're not going to lose another.  I'll save him, no matter
  what it takes.
Belphanior:  (nods)

  The elf himself was beaten, bleeding, and burned; as he surveyed
the carnage and destruction that spanned three halls of his castle,
he could only think about one thing.

Belphanior:  Sleep...
Alindyar:  For a week.
Lyra:  A month.
Belphanior:  I've got some magical potions that will heal minds
  and bodies.  Let me go fetch them.  (he departs, followed by
  Victoria)
Bosco:  (to Ys)  Who was that other guy?
Ys:  I'd rather not talk about it.
Bosco:  Suit yourself.  (he hobbles over to a wall and slumps down
  against it)  Ow.

  They had won - technically - but they were in a bad way, and the
wounds would take a long time to recover from.  Worse, there were
loose ends a-plenty that had to be dealt with.

Alindyar:  (uses his small, magical gilded cage as he eyes the
  pyrohydra)
pyrohydra:  (caught up in an enchantment of great power, it finds
  itself shrunken and transported into the cage)  rrrrr.
Alindyar:  Excellent.  (to Lyra)  Can we keep him?

  Most of the loose ends, however, would have to wait for another
time.





next:      I really, honestly don't know
ftp:       ftp.myths.com in /pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
           ftp.intertex.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:     A quick note about the "death-announcement" that you
  may have seen in the sneak previews:  yes, it was supposed to
  be Kinichi, even though he died in 549, not this one.  I can't
  catch every little error or change in plan.

    I don't have much to say about this one.  Omak possesses a
  ring of recall, which can whisk him away to a safe place if he
  so desires.  Someone cast a contingency spell that allowed
  others to be linked to this power.  You will see some of those
  foes again.

    I am tired, and quite frankly, I am running out of ideas as
  well as the time to write them.  We'll see how the 1-per-week
  schedule works out beginning in July 1998.  Episode 551 will be
  posted on Wednesday, July 1.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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