Chapter #596

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                                  +
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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   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  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:           sometime around midday                           +
+  Place:          the dungeons of Castle Mukos, in the Vast Swamp  +
+  Climate:        cool and dry                                     +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "One of us is in big trouble."                                   +
+                         - Ben Richards, from _The Running Man_    +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                        DXCVI.  Trump Card





  The adventurers are in big trouble, for they have been trapped in
rock up to their waists by the arch-lich Xusia, who now stands before
them, gloating.

Xusia:  (laughs, a terrible rasping sound, as his red eyes glow from
  within the dark folds of his hood)  You undoubtedly suspect that I
  will slay you outright...but no.  That would be too swift...and a
  waste, besides.
Belphanior:  What are you talking about?
Xusia:  Have you ever considered a future as undead?  I can always
  use new servants and minions...especially ones as powerful as you
  people.
Rob:  By Trithereon, no!
Xusia:  Yes...yes!  (he points at Rob)  An unholy high priest.  (he
  points at Aja)  And another...actually, you are halfway there already.
Aja:  No...Wee Jas would never-
Xusia:  That one will have no say in the matter.  (he points at Nenya)
  You, my dear, would make a nice vampire.
Deryck:  (angrily)  Over my dead body!
Xusia:  That's the general idea.  (he eyes Daffodil)  Hmm.
Peyote:  Hey, man, don't even think about it.
Xusia:  (disregards Peyote with a wave of his emaciated hand)  I have
  no idea what role one such as you can play in my undead hierarchy...
  perhaps a court fool.
Peyote:  Yeah, right.
Belphanior:  (regains control of his party's side of the conversation)
  What are you up to here, Xusia?  I thought your master was told not
  to interfere in worldly affairs?
Xusia:  Do you see him here?  You impudent fool!  I do what I will,
  and in the grand scheme of things, my actions further his ends.
Belphanior:  Bah.
Xusia:  (spreads his thin, skeletal arms wide)  Look around you!  What
  do you think is happening here?
Belphanior:  I'm stumped.  I really am.
Xusia:  (laughs, the grating sound making most of the living listeners
  uncomfortable)

  From the shadows high above, Victoria watched, waiting for the best
opportunity to make her move.  Of course, she didn't know what she -
one single vampire - could do against greater numbers of undead, some
of them more powerful than her.  She eyed the adventurers, trapped in
the rock around their lower halves.  Some of them, she figured, could
escape or at least help out.  Peyote and Daffodil, both druids able to
change into animal form, should be able to escape anytime they wanted
to - though "escape" was a tenuous term at best, given the situation.
The vampiress glanced at Angus, but the golem was sitting perfectly
still.  This made sense, for Belphanior had not given any specific
order or command.  Angus had the strength to break free anytime he
wanted to.
  Speaking of strength, Deryck (who had consumed a potion of giant
strength shortly before Xusia's arrival) should also have been able
to break free.  It might take the ranger a little longer than it would
take Angus, but it was possible.  Victoria realized that the ranger
was playing it smart, like her - waiting for the right moment and
opportunity to spring into action.  She had no doubt that when Deryck
did act, it would be sudden and effective.

Xusia:  I am surprised that you haven't figured it out by now...but
  then again, you are still a member of the living, and thus you
  wouldn't tend to see things the way I do.  Even with your cunning
  and instincts.
Belphanior:  Yeah, yeah.
Xusia:  This place - the ruins of Castle Mukos - will be the site of
  my next Necropolis.
Aja:  A city of the dead?
Xusia:  Exactly.
Belphanior:  But that's impossible!
Xusia:  Why?  Why is it impossible?  Given the proper direction - and
  with the proper power providing that direction - the dead can be
  organized, given tasks...led.
Belphanior:  And you're the one to lead them, eh?
Xusia:  Precisely.  I will lead them unto the far corners of the world.
Aja:  (realizes that he's serious, and must have some master plan as
  well as the means to implement it)
Belphanior:  (thinking along the same lines, he addresses the lich
  again)  And how will you do this?  How far have you come?
Xusia:  Hah.  That, elf, is my secret.  Only a fool would stand here
  and reveal his entire master plan to prisoners, even those about to
  perish.  Fortunately, I am not a fool.
Belphanior:  What's the matter - afraid we'll escape?
Xusia:  Oh, you _are_ curious.  A curse of the living.  Don't worry,
  I will soon cure you of both your thirst for knowledge and your
  pathetic clinging to this fragile life.  Last chance, elf.  Join
  us willingly or endure eternal undeath as my...slave.
Belphanior:  Well, that's that, then.  (he shouts suddenly)  Angus!
  Cannonball!

  The golem reacted instantly, surprising even Xusia, who had thought
him helpless.  Reaching behind his head, the golem grabbed the thick
sack that he'd been toting around for the last few hours, and ripped
it open.  Out came spheres of iron, a dozen of them; each was about
eight inches across, and quite heavy.  Of course, Angus had no problem
hefting them, and he did just that, his huge arm drawing back.

Xusia:  (spellcasting once more)  What is this foolishness-
Angus:  (hurls the ball, hitting the lich squarely in the chest and
  knocking him back about twenty feet)

  The lich had wards in place to block spells, as well as non-magical
missile fire.  However, the iron sphere - blessed and enchanted prior
to this undertaking - was neither.  Xusia's dry bones were smashed,
his sickly flesh crushed, and he was stunned, staggering.

Belphanior:  Now!  (though his sword is half-buried in the rock, both
  of his hands are free, and he begins a spell as he shouts another
  command to Angus)  Angus!  Free yourself, then bomb that lich!
Angus:  (instantly tears himself free of the rock, standing once more)
Deryck:  (takes hold of the rock at his waist, and pulls, tearing a
  large chunk away)  Ah!
Peyote:  (changes shape, becoming a frog and leaping free from the
  much larger hole around him)  Ribbit!  (on solid ground again, he
  becomes a large brown bear)  RAAARGH!
Daffodil:  (changes shape, becoming a lizard which dashes up the side
  of the hole which used to be filled by her lower half)  Ssss!  (she
  climbs out onto solid ground and becomes a huge lionesss)  GRRRRR...
Deryck:  Whoa.
Belphanior:  (launches a hail of blazing mini-meteors at the nearest
  undead foes, driving them back and buying the others some time)
Otto:  Shit!  If only we could get free!

  Nearby...

Ys:  Enough!  (with a great effort, he finally manages to free his
  lower half from the rock)
Jutokai:  Good deal.  Now could you help the rest of us?
Ys:  Certainly.  (he rushes over to the archer)
Skektek:  Hey!  (unable to free up his staff, he resorts to his
  ring, sending a blast of lightning out into the undead that are
  creeping toward him and Jutokai and Razor Charlie)
Razor Charlie:  (trapped and unable to get to his knives, he fumes)
Zhao:  (to Rob)  Priest!  Help us - turn back the undead!
Rob:  (busy with his mace, he ignores the warrior)

  The priest had freed his weapon from the rock, and now he held
it high...and then slammed its pommel against the rock!  There was
a loud, deep cracking sound, as the stone thus struck cracked apart.

Zhao:  (eyes wide)  Wah!

  That wasn't all, though.  The stone around Rob began to crack as
well, splintering apart in a wide radius, allowing the others to
free themselves as well.  An unfortunate side effect occurred:  Ys
and Nenya were knocked from their feet, as were the animal forms of
Peyote and Daffodil, but on the other hand, everyone who had still
been trapped was now free, extricating themselves from the shattered
rock of the floor.

Deryck:  (pulls himself from the rock, free at last)  I was getting
  there...(he spots approaching undead)  Priestess!
Aja:  (immediately faces the mob of undead who are approaching, and
  brandishes her holy symbol)
Nenya:  (goes to work on a spell)
Neko:  (moves to protect Aja)
Deryck:  (readies his flame tongue sword, flanking Aja on her other
  side)

  Meanwhile...

Xusia:  (finally recovered from the iron ball)  Urgh...
wispy thing:  (flies right into the lich's face)  Spooo!
Xusia:  Eh?  (he is distracted for a moment)
Angus:  (hurls another iron ball, hitting the lich in the head)
Xusia:  ARGH!  (knocked back, he hits a wall this time, and it
  cracks with the impact)  UNGH!  (the lich teeters on his bony
  feet)
wispy thing:  (mocks the lich)  Snrrp!  (it flies away)

  Belphanior's trump card had been played strategically, and it was
proving successful.  Others, too, took advantage of the confusion.

Victoria:  (flies down behind Xusia, sword flashing)
Xusia:  (his back sliced open, he screams in agony as black blood
  oozes - not spurts - from the ghastly wound)  AAARGH!
Victoria:  (faces him, sword raised)
Xusia:  (looks her in the eyes)  Stop.
Victoria:  (stops in place, fighting the lich's foul might with
  every bit of willpower she possesses)  Ungh...
Xusia:  You will serve me now.
Victoria:  (her limbs trembling)  N- no!
Nenya:  (seeing all of this, she blasts Xusia with magic missiles)
Xusia:  (laughs as the bolts bounce off of some invisible shield)
Belphanior:  (also spying this, he uses his ring of stored spells
  to leap across the cavern, toward Xusia)

  While all of this had been going on, Rob had pulled himself from
the shattered floor.  He now stood angrily...

Rob:  (facing the horde of varied undead that now moves toward the
  party from almost every direction, he spins about, surveying all
  foes while working a spell)
Peyote:  Dude, you're gonna get dizzy that way-
Rob:  No, I'm not.  (his hands begins to glow)  YELLOW!

  The priest had already seen that Victoria was across the cavern,
facing Xusia; thus, the powerful magic he now worked wouldn't
impact her safety at all.  The ray that shone from his hands was
bright, a ray of sun in a place where one shouldn't have existed.
  That was the last thing the undead thought, too, as they were
bathed in the holy ray...and obliterated.  It didn't matter what
species they were:  skeleton and wraith, zombie and ghost, ghoul
and mummy alike...all were destroyed by this mighty magic.

Rob:  Ahhh.
Peyote:  (grateful for the warmth in this dank cavern)  Excellent!

  Meanwhile, Aja had things well in hand, having destroyed most of
the undead that were threatening the main party.  Those that still
came onward were met by Deryck and Neko, whose swords made quick
work of them.  The undead's numbers were greater, but the heroes
were quickly joined by the Peyote-bear and the Daffodil-lioness,
both of whom tore through the evil foes with ease.  Claws ripped
rotting limbs off and drove skeletal faces into the stony floor.

  Elsewhere...

Belphanior:  (lands next to Xusia, and leaps into action, his sword
  a blur)
Xusia:  (recoils, losing only his hand rather than his arm)  AARGH!
Belphanior:  (grabs Victoria, tossing her aside and away)  Okay,
  Xusia...let's finish this.
Xusia:  (backing away)  I think not.  (he waves his hand, and a
  translucent bubble of force surrounds him)
Belphanior:  Hey!
Xusia:  You have disrupted my work here, but rest assured I shall
  redouble my efforts...and revenge shall be mine.
Belphanior:  No!  (he drops his sword and grabs for a pouch at his
  side)


  As Belphanior retrieved the ornate hourglass, he spoke the phrases
he had learned from Kronos' spellbook.  Belphanior was half blinded
by flashes of white and blue, but as he focused again he saw that
the grains of sand within the hourglass had begun to fall.

Belphanior:  (looks up at Xusia's force field)  Gods...damn...it!

  The lich was gone, and the elf's gaze traveled about, seeking
something to vent his rage on.

Belphanior:  (spots Xusia's severed hand)  DAMMIT!  (he snatches
  his sword back up and stabs the hand)
hand:  (twitches)
Belphanior:  (leaves the grisly trophy on his sword-tip, intending
  to stash it somewhere later)  Fucker got away...(he reverses the
  hourglass, restoring the flow of time, and goes to Victoria's
  side)  Are you okay?
Victoria:  Fine...whoa, but that lich is a strong one!
Belphanior:  Yeah...(he feels the ground tremble)  Huh?
Victoria:  (points)  What is that priest doing?
Belphanior:  I'm not exactly sure, but my guess is he's summoning
  an earthquake.  Come on, let's get over there!
Victoria:  (changes into a bat and flies in that direction)
Belphanior:  (sighs, and breaks into a sprint)

  Shortly...

Nenya:  Rob!  What are you doing?
Rob:  What Trithereon wishes me to do.  This place is a foul nest
  of evil, and there is only one way to take care of it permanently.
  (he brandishes his mace, which is now glowing)
Skektek:  Err, that sounds good and all, but what about _us_?
Rob:  You've got teleportation spells, don't you?
Nenya:  I do, but I can't take all of us.
Belphanior:  Not to worry.  Can you focus on the sky-ship, enough
  to teleport there?
Nenya:  Of course.  I'm no rank amateur, you know.
Belphanior:  Good.
Nenya:  (goes to work, as other party members gather around her)
Rob:  (continues to chant, as the cavern - and others connected to
  it, others that they never got a chance to explore - shakes and
  cracks, rocks and rubble falling everywhere)
Belphanior:  Dammit, dammit, dammit.  (he begins working his own
  teleportation spell)

  The elf wasn't entirely pleased with the priest's actions, but
at the same time, they made some sense.  Further, the dungeon would
collapse, destroying Xusia's work there and setting his plans back
to some extent.  This didn't make Belphanior happy at all; however,
he saw what Skektek was doing even as they all blinked out of the
dungeon, and he was pleased.  The wizard had pointed his fireball-
wand at the center of the huge cavern and, just as they had all
teleported out, a monstrous fireball had been born.  The undead
might survive the cave-in, but they would not survive that fiery
blast.
  Everyone reappeared, standing amidships on the deck of the air-
ship, amidst a sunny sky.  Between his spell and Nenya's, every-
one was present and accounted for - even Victoria, who instantly
began to smolder and smoke.

Victoria:  (shakes her head as she speaks a single word, and
  vanishes)
Belphanior:  Crap...I hope she's not too mad.
Otto:  She'll be fine.
Belphanior:  True enough.

  Postponing the matter until later, the elf dashed to the rail
and looked down into the swamp.  Below, the ruins of Castle Mukos
were shifting and collapsing, sending clouds of dust into the air.
The whole mess looked tiny from up here, but all who watched felt
confident that the ruins would never again be explored or used for
some fell purpose.

Belphanior:  It would have been nice if we'd had a chance to see
  what exactly the lich was up to...and how far he'd gotten with
  it.
Rob:  (shrugs)  We came to destroy the lich and his lair.  He fled,
  so the time had come to destroy the place.

  The elf couldn't argue with that, and the looks of the others
showed that they considered the day a success.  There was no quick
and easy way for Belphanior to make them understand that Xusia
would be after him again someday, so he didn't even try.

Belphanior:  Mission successful.
Peyote:  Right on, dude.  Let's go home.





next:      Rillen, Songa, and...baby makes three?
ftp:       ftp.myths.com in /pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
           ftp.intertex.net in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
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:     Thanks to Leonard Bottleman for the cannonball idea for
  Angus.  Damn, what a nifty idea!
    Note #1:  do not draw any comparisons or relations between Xusia
  and Vecna.  There is no connection.
    Note #2:  I realize that this story is a bit anticlimactic, but
  Xusia is not a loose end to be finished neatly; he's the next of
  the long-term villains, one whose plans will surface again in the
  future.  Imagine how mad Belphanior is that Xusia got away and is
  out there, somewhere, planning and plotting...
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