Chapter #594

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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                    +
+                           +
+  Belphanior     (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief    (CN) +
+    Otto           8th/10th level dwarven fighter/thief       (CN) +
+    Aja            9th level human priestess of Wee Jas        (N) +
+    Angus         iron golem                                       +
+    Jutokai        7th level human archer                     (LN) +
+    Neko                     human female thief                    +
+    Razor Charlie  9th level human fighter                    (CN) +
+    Skektek       12th level human wizard                     (CN) +
+    Victoria      11th level human vampiress/fighter          (NE) +
+    the wispy thing                                                +
+    Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                (LN) +
+    Zhao                     human swordsman                       +
+                                                                   +
+  Nenya            9th/10th level female elven fighter/wizard (NG) +
+     Deryck       11th level half-elven ranger                (NG) +
+  Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven warrior/druid     (N) +
+    Daffodil      11th level human female druidess             (N) +
+  Rob             16th level priest of Trithereon             (LG) +
+  Date:           7/20/577 C.Y. (Common Year)                      +
+  Time:           early morning                                    +
+  Place:          the sky above the Vast Swamp                     +
+  Climate:        warm and humid                                   +
+  "This is starting to spook me."                                  +
+  "At least I'm not alone."                                        +
+                                          - from _Halloween 4_     +

                     DXCIV.  Castle Mukos

  From the decks of the sky-ship, its passengers looked down at the
featureless greenish-brown mass that stretched out below, as far as
the eye could see.

Peyote:  That's one vast swamp...
Belphanior:  And somewhere within it is the one whom we seek.  Did
  your god tell you anything that will help us find Xusia?
Peyote:  Not directly, but I got the impression that Castle Mukos,
  as indicated on your map, is the place to start.
Belphanior:  Aja?  Have you anything to add?
Aja:  Wee Jas suggested only that Xusia seeks to establish a power
  base, in secret, far from any who might challenge him.
Otto:  (nods)  Makes sense.
Daffodil:  So we need to find this castle.  (she frowns)  Err, who's
Belphanior:  (pleased that he did some research on his map, before
  he ever knew he'd need it)  Mukos _was_ a tyrannical lord who did
  terrible things to his subjects.  He was banished from Sunndi,
  and with his servants and men-at-arms, he ventured into the Vast
  Swamp.  His fortune allowed him to build a small castle, but once
  he occupied it...he was never heard from again.
Rob:  Why are you referring to all of this in the past tense?
Belphanior:  It all happened three hundred years ago.
Deryck:  (gazing down at the swamp)  What direction do we need to
  go, to get to this ruined castle?
Belphanior:  South and east.  There's a good landmark nearby, a
  small conical peak from which a constant plume of steam issues.
Otto:  White Plume Mountain.
Nenya:  You've heard of it?
Otto:  No, I read the map.
Belphanior:  They say that White Plume Mountain is haunted...the
  lair of some foul wizard named Keraptis.  It's too bad that we
  don't really have the time to go check it out.
Peyote:  Well, we don't.  We should make for the southeast, dude.
Belphanior:  Agreed.  (he heads for the pilot's cabin)

  Several hours passed, as the sky-ship cleaved through the air,
a cool wind blowing along its deck.  For the most part, the terrain
below was the same:  green, brown, or a mix of the two.  It wasn't
certain from this altitude, but the surface was probably made up
of mud and grass, with patches of trees in some places.  Nobody
failed to realize the value of the airship in this situation.  In
addition to making the journey from Greyhawk much shorter, the
mighty vessel was saving them the trouble of having to navigate
through the hostile terrain of the swamp.
  Rob spent the travel time wisely, creating a magical heroes'
feast.  This wondrous meal was delicious, and it also had numerous
and long-lasting effects that would aid the heroes in battle this
day.  Even Ys was fully satisfied, his stomach full after eleven
heaping plates of the magical food.  Only the wispy thing and
Victoria didn't partake of the great meal, the former because it
couldn't, the latter for reasons known only to her.  After the
repast, everyone relaxed and waited, their spirits high.
  Sooner than anyone expected, the ship stopped its flight.  They
looked over the sides, and saw a white cloud hovering above a small
mountain...White Plume Mountain!

Nenya:  (regards the peak ahead)  That's not natural.  Mountains
  like that don't just pop up.
Belphanior:  (opening the map, he traces a finger across its worn
  surface)  The castle's ruins should be fairly close...(he looks
  overboard)  Ah!
Peyote:  I see it too, to the west - that little stumpy pile of
Belphanior:  Right.
Otto:  Looks old...uninhabited.
Nenya:  I'm sure that's what someone wants us to think.
Daffodil:  So how do we get down there?
Belphanior:  (winks at her)  Magic, of course.
Nenya:  (thinking about how useful a mass flying spell would be,
  she makes a mental note to research such a spell once she gets
Rob:  (to Peyote)  I've been wondering something.
Peyote:  What's that, dude?
Rob:  Long ago, you used to have a magical stone orbiting your
  head.  What happened to it?
Peyote:  Oh, that.  Yeah, it got knocked away after it ran out of
  energy or whatever propelled it around.  Good thing, too - the
  darn thing was making me dizzy!  (he waves his hands about)
Rex:  (one of Deryck's dogs)  Arf, arf!
Deryck:  Down, Rex.
Max:  (the other of Deryck's dogs)  Grr?
Deryck:  No, you guys are staying right here.  Someone has to guard
  the ship.
Rex:  (happily)  Arf!
Skektek:  Oh, brother.  (to Belphanior)  Can we get on with the

  It took a while, and several different efforts, but eventually
the entire group stood on semi-solid land.  More accurately, they
stood on a muddy plain about half a mile from the ruins.  Large
patches of bushes sprung from the muck, everywhere, so they had
decent cover.  Their approach from the sky had been masked by a
spell of mass invisibility, cast by Belphanior from a scroll he'd
gotten Alindyar to make for him.  They kept bumping into each
other, but aside from this, the spell was a great boon.

wispy thing:  (apparently thrilled by all of this excitement, it
  flies about)  Spaaa!
Belphanior:  Remember, now, the invisibility will stay with all of
  us until we take a major action.  Let's not panic and waste it.
Deryck:  I'll move slightly ahead and check for tracks, and such.
  Just move toward the castle, slowly; if I need you to stop, I'll
  tell you.  (he moves out)

  They'd chosen to make their move during the day; although this
precluded Victoria from helping, it was a sensible plan, given the
nature of the foes ahead.  Besides, once they got indoors, Victoria
could move about without harm.  Even now, she rested within a coffin
which was stashed within Belphanior's portable hole.
  The party marched toward the ruined castle, slowly and cautiously.
>From time to time, Deryck would return (surprising most of them
since he moved so silently) and warn them of some mud-pit or bog.
With this assistance, they were soon at the castle's outer wall.
This wasn't saying much, though, for the square wall was only a
hundred feet long on each side and about thirty feet high.  Within
its bounds was a square tower, perhaps sixty feet long per side.

Aja:  How original.
Otto:  It's simple...your basic castle design.
Peyote:  It's pretty run-down, dude.

  Castle Mukos was in a bad state of disrepair.  Its walls were
crumbling, its mortar eroded.  Dirt and slime covered the exposed
surfaces, and all wood was rotted.  What little water was around
was collected in brackish, filmy puddles.  There had once been
double wooden doors within the outer wall, but these had sagged
and collapsed.  The adventurers merely walked around them.  The
central keep had a similar situation, except that the double doors
were smaller.

Skektek:  Let's just torch this whole place with a fireball.
Belphanior:  Tempting, but no.  We need to look around, and see
  what's up.  Xusia may not even be here.
Aja:  (shaking her head)  Something undead is here...below.  I
  suspect a large cellar, or even an underground dungeon level.
Otto:  (invisibly, he smiles)

  As they entered the castle's keep, they encountered an unforseen
problem:  since they were all invisible and unable to see each other,
they constantly jostled and bumped into one another.

Otto:  Ow.
Aja:  Ungh.
Nenya:  Oof.
Jutokai:  Huh?

  Then, just like that, their invisibility faded.

Jutokai:  Huh?  What happened?
Deryck:  Did your magic just get nullified by some foul source?
Belphanior:  No, I ended the spell.  These are cramped quarters
  and there are sixteen of us.  We can't be bumping into each
  other at every turn.
Nenya:  Hmm, good point.
Belphanior:  Besides, the spell served its purpose.  We're in.
Neko:  (looking around, as the mass invisibility was a new
  experience for her)
Angus:  (looming over her, he stares ahead impassively, a thick,
  bulging sack tied to his broad iron back)
Neko:  (wondering what's in that sack)
Zhao:  (looking around, he fingers his sword-hilt)

  The keep's first chamber was a long hall, with doors on both
sides of its far end.  These led to smaller rooms, one of which
had stairs leading up to the floor above.  Explorations were made,
careful explorations - but the keep was empty.  More, it had been
empty for quite some time, as evidenced by the dust and dried muck
that covered almost every surface.
  There was one further avenue of exploration, however:  one of
the small rooms on the ground level contained a cracked, crumbling
set of stairs.  These descended into the pitch-black unknown.

Belphanior:  Here we go...
Otto:  We need a marching order.  (he eyes the collected group)
  Okay, actually, all we need is a first, front line of scouts or
  fighters and a second line of priests and wizards.

  After a short discussion, it was decided that the first row would
consist of Otto and Belphanior, while the second would consist of
Rob and Skektek.  Neko tried to convince Belphanior to let her take
the point, but she couldn't come up with a good reason why, and the
elf didn't have enough confidence in her abilities to put her in
such an important position just yet.
  With this mixed group, infravision was out of the question, so
they resorted to light from several different sources, magical and
otherwise.  Torches, lanterns, and magic lit the way brightly; the
wispy thing flew ahead, presumably to scout beyond the abilities of
Otto and Belphanior.  Rob and Aja cast spells that allowed them to
detect nearby undead, and Belphanior had his sword, which sensed
souls.  All seemed in readiness, and they began their descent.

Otto:  (ignoring the other light-sources, he concentrates only on
  the light shed by his sword)
Belphanior:  (as his sword sheds no light, he frowns, wondering if
  a bullseye lantern is in order here)

  It didn't much matter; the stairs only led about twenty feet down,
opening into a large room whose floor was covered in about an inch
of mud.  The chamber was octagonal, perhaps fifty feet across, with
a conical ceiling that rose to a point about twenty feet above the
floor.  However, there were other, more important features for the
intruders to notice...

Aja:  Beware - undead!
Rob:  (at almost the same time)  Look out, there are undead foes in

  The party emptied into the room as several forms rose from crouched
positions in the muck.  They were skeletal and fleshless, but far
from human.  In fact, these walking remains resembled man-sized frogs
with strangely elongated limbs, somewhat like those of a human.  In
any case, the things were still dangerous.  Their skeletal hands ended
in long, curved claws, while their skulls' jaws contained small, sharp
teeth.  The creatures made no sound, save the slurping and sucking of
their bony feet in the mud, as they bounded toward the adventurers.

frog-skeleton #1:  (hopping ineffectively through the mud)
Belphanior:  (wasting no time, he leaps forth, swinging as he lands)
frog-skeleton #1:  (smashed through its midsection, it is broken in
Belphanior:  Hah!
Otto:  (charges forward, his sword held high...but slips in the mud)
  Whoa!  (he slides right into the undead foe, and both go down in a
  tangled heap)  Whoa!
Skektek:  This calls for-
Rob:  Don't waste your magic.  (he brandishes his holy symbol, which
  glows brightly)  Back, minions of evil!  I banish you!
frog-skeleton #1:  (its remains crumble into dust)
frog-skeleton #2:  (on top of Otto, it also crumbles into dust)
frog-skeleton #3:  (in mid-leap, it dissolves as well)
frog-skeleton #4:  (sitting behind its fellows, it crumbles without
  even getting to attack)
frog-skeleton #5:  (likewise)
frog-skeleton #6:  (likewise)
Belphanior:  (looks around)  Well done, Rob!
Rob:  No problem.
Skektek:  Are you okay, Otto?
Otto:  (sits up, his entire back covered with mud)  Just fucking muddy,
  is all.  Watch your step, everyone.
Daffodil:  (near the rear of the order, she enters the chamber, along
  with Aja, Jutokai, Razor Charlie, Neko, and Zhao)
Angus:  (bringing up the rear, he lumbers into the room)
Belphanior:  (has an odd notion that maybe he should have painted
  something cool-looking onto Angus' chest, maybe a flaming red skull)
Rob:  (idly kicks at one of the foes' dusty remains)
Otto:  What in the hell _were_ those things?
Aja:  Undead frog-men, that's my guess.  (she turns to Ys)  Any
Ys:  (appears shocked, or at least as shocked as a gigantic man-
  lizard can appear)  Don't look at me.
Peyote:  I think I might know what they were.
Belphanior:  You do?
Peyote:  As everyone knows, the Vast Swamp is the main hangout of
  the minions and servants of the Hopping Prophet...Wastri.
Rob:  Wastri, the evil demigod?
Peyote:  One and the same.
Rob:  Hmm...I think I'm following you.  If these minions wandered
  into these ruins...
Belphanior:  ...and ran into some powerful undead, then they got
  wasted, and ended up here, as undead guardians.
Daffodil:  That's sick.
Peyote:  That's undead logic for you, babe.
Otto:  (somewhat troubled by this line of thinking)  Then, if true,
  this means that Xusia had no problem intruding into the territory
  of a demigod.
Skektek:  Huh?
Otto:  Xusia came here, set up something right in the middle of this
  "Hopping Prophet's" domain, then basically slapped him in the face
  by killing and taking control of some of his people.
Aja:  Frogs.
Otto:  Whatever.  Either way, it's bad - it speaks much of the kind
  of power Xusia commands.
Rob:  Or else the kind of support he has from his evil god.
Belphanior:  And we all know what god that is...
Zhao:  (looks around, wondering if there'll ever be a battle worthy
  of his skills)
Razor Charlie:  (thinking the same thing, he sneers to nobody in
Neko:  We should check this room...for treasure, traps, exits...
Otto:  Good idea.

  While the others secured the chamber, Belphanior opened his
portable hole and had Angus heft a certain small coffin out.

Rob:  (watches, distastefully)
Belphanior:  (taps on the coffin's lid, which opens)
Victoria:  Where are we?
Belphanior:  Castle Mukos.
Victoria:  (nodding)  Lord Mukos...he was infamous, feared...
  and a lot of people were relieved when he vanished into the
  swamp for good.
Deryck:  It sounds like you were there.
Victoria:  I was around.  (she eyes the others)  Did I miss a
Belphanior:  Yep.
Victoria:  (realizes that once the portable hole is closed, its
  "bottom" is no longer anchored in reality)  Hmm.
Otto:  (returns from his scouting)  Okay, here's the deal.  The
  northeastern corner of this room contains a big trapdoor, in
  the floor under all the muck.  Someone's taken great pains to
  hide it, and secure it.  We can't get the damn thing to open
Ys:  Perhaps I could.
Belphanior:  Maybe, but we'll try a spell first.
Otto:  It would also help if we could get rid of the mud on top
  of the hatch - we keep scraping it away, but it just flows
  back in to place.
Belphanior:  A spell can fix that, too.
Skektek:  No need to waste too much power on this - I can create
  a simple flame-burst that should dry up the mud over the hatch.
  Then somebody can just dig the dried mud away.

  This was what they did, and shortly, the hatch was exposed, the
mud atop it gone.  The portal was a square of rusty metal, ten feet
to a side, and flush with the stone floor.  A metal ring, two inches
thick, was attached to the center of the hatch.

Deryck:  Traps?
Belphanior:  (scrutinizing the hatch)  No.
Ys:  (squatting, he tugs on the ring)  It's loose.  I could lift
  this, except that there seems to be something blocking it from
  the other side...a bar, perhaps.
Nenya:  Allow me.  (she works a quick spell)

  They heard the sound of a heavy bolt sliding back, metal scraping
on metal, and then Ys pulled the hatch off.

Ys: would have taken three or four men to lift this.
Daffodil:  Or women.
Ys:  Whatever.  (he sets the hatch down right beside her, causing
  the floor to shake)

  Beneath was a shaft of the same dimensions as the hatch, ten
feet square.  It descended for ten feet, then turned at a forty-
five degree angle and continued down.  This latter section had
steps cut into the stone; the ceiling there would accommodate even
Ys and the giant form of Angus, though the latter had to stoop down
a bit.
  Resuming the same marching order they'd used before, they began
heading down the steps...but then Belphanior stopped everyone.

Rob:  What is it?
Belphanior:  My keen eye senses a trap...somewhere ahead.
Nenya:  What kind of trap?
Belphanior:  I'm not sure.  Plates in the floor, it looks like.
Otto:  We should scout it out...maybe disarm it.
Belphanior:  That's the conventional wisdom, but I've got another
  idea:  let Angus go first.  I doubt there's anything here that
  can hurt him.
Otto:  Hmm, good point.

  After some shuffling and shoving...

Angus:  (in the lead, he begins descending the steps)
Belphanior:  We'll hold back about twenty feet...see what happens.

  In this fashion, they began moving downward.  The trap was sprung
when Angus was about fifty feet from the vertical entrance to this
shaft, but it wasn't anything like what anyone was expecting.  The
steps shifted, flattening out into a smooth, slick ramp of polished
stone!  Everyone lost their footing and slid down the ramp, and even
those with wards against sudden falls had problems due to the others
behind them.  In a larger, wider space, Otto would have been able to
unfurl his bat-cloak and simply fly down.  Here, though, he was at
the front of the party, and the force of others slamming into him
prevented him from doing anything but falling.  Similarly, Skektek
was unable to utilize his boots of levitation to avoid falling, and
Nenya, who had previously cast a spell of feather falling, couldn't
float down because she was caught up in the human flood.  Victoria,
at the rear of the party, had no problem changing form; as a bat,
she soared down after the others who were sliding, out of control.
  As Belphanior slid along the polished stone, unable to cast a
spell or drink a potion or otherwise do anything to save himself,
it occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, the party was too big
to function effectively together.  About the only good thing was
that Angus had gone first; if the golem had been in the back of the
party, one or more people would have been squashed when they all
hit bottom.  Speaking of which, the slick ramp suddenly opened out
into a larger space, and they fell a short distance before landing
on a bed of soft earth.

Angus:  (lands hard, sinking to his ankles in the dirt simply due
  to his weight)
Belphanior:  (drops, limbs flailing, and lands right next to Angus)
Otto:  (lands _on_ Angus)  Ungh!
Rob:  (lands on Otto)  Unf!
Otto:  Oof!
Skektek:  (lands next to Angus)  Argh!
Deryck:  (rolls with the impact, and comes up standing)  Hah!
Ys:  (lands on his rear end)  Ow.
Nenya:  (just as her feather falling kicks in, she is caught by Ys)
Peyote:  (lands on his back)  Urgh!
Jutokai:  (lands on Peyote)  Unf!
Peyote:  Oof!
Jutokai:  (rolls off of Peyote)
Daffodil:  (lands on Peyote)  Unf!
Peyote:  Oooof!
Aja:  (lands on Jutokai)  Unf!
Jutokai:  Oof!  (he finds his hands in inappropriate places)  Whoa.
Aja:  (scowls at him)  Really!
Razor Charlie:  (lands off to one side)  Agh.
Zhao:  (simply slides all the way down, and comes up standing, sword
  in hand)  Hai!
Neko:  (lands on her feet)
Victoria:  (swoops out of the shaft, dark wings flapping)
wispy thing:  (already in the earthen chamber, unaffected by all of
  this)  Sprrd...

  Thinking quickly, Skektek held up his staff (which he had somehow
managed to hang onto through the fall) and uttered an arcane word.
The tip of the weapon blazed with bright light, allowing the party
to get a look at the area they'd fallen into.  It was a large natural
cavern, and while they might not have been at its center, they were
nowhere near its edge either.  The ceiling varied, but right above
their heads it was about twenty feet high, and dotted with sharp,
stalactites.  The place smelled like a graveyard, and they quickly
knew why:  dark, hissing forms shifted at the edge of their light.

Deryck:  Heads up, people!  We're surrounded!
Rob:  By undead.
Aja:  All kinds of undead.

  Simultaneously, the undead masses surged inward, as the adventurers
drew weapons or employed whatever other means of attack they had at
their disposal.  The battle was joined!

next:      a complex battle unfolds
ftp: in /pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
  in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
mail:       (preferred)
notes:     Writing stories with this many characters - whether they
  do battle or not - is VERY difficult.  Not only do you have to
  deal with the different personalities/characterizations, but you
  have to keep track of everything in the midst of battles.

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