Chapter #599

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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   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Rillen       18th level human monk                           (N) +
+  Songa        13th level human huntress                       (N) +
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+  Date:        9/20/577 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        evening                                             +
+  Place:       a remote temple in the mountains near Tenh          +
+  Climate:     cool                                                +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "Get busy living or get busy dying."                             +
+                               - from _The Shawshank Redemption_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                 DXCIX.  Third Time's the Charm?





  In his quarters, amidst the rooms of the other fighters in the
great tournament, Rillen reflected on the events of the last month.
It had not been an easy time, neither for him nor for Songa.  He
still didn't understand why the wish contained in the jade ring had
not worked.  Perhaps it had never actually been there, or perhaps
he'd done something wrong, or perhaps his desired goal was simply
beyond the bounds of the magic.  This question had been superseded
by one even more painful, for Rillen had remembered the next day
that he still possessed two other wishes.
  For years, he'd owned a magical ring that could summon a djinn, a
powerful being from the plane of Air.  Many years ago, he'd called
the mighty creature forth, using his first wish to restore the elf
Belphanior, turned to glass by a strange little bird while roaming
the Underdark.  At that time, the djinn had informed Rillen in no
uncertain terms that he could grant two more wishes to the warrior.
  In one sense, Rillen had been relieved by this, for now he had
another chance to bring his unliving child into the world of the
living.  Or did he?  He'd not slept at all the night after the jade
ring failed, wracked with sorrow, anger, and guilt.  After all, he
had defied Songa's wishes; the fact that she didn't know about it
didn't change what he'd done.  Neither could the fact that the wish
hadn't worked.  In fact, nothing could change what Rillen had done,
the defiant choice he'd made.
  However, there had still been a line he hadn't crossed, and after
another day of deep thinking, he decided that the infant was simply
not meant to live.  Who knew why?  Who could know?  The gods had
laughed at him once, but he still had Songa, and they could still try
again.  He conceded to himself that he might have made one mistake,
but he resolved not to make it again.  The ring's djinn had not been
summoned, and he had turned his energy to helping Songa.
  The huntress was doing well, but then again, she was a tough one.
Mentally, emotionally, and physically, she was healing - and at a
faster rate than either Rillen or Helga had expected.  The latter's
tribal herbs and potions had helped Songa recuperate from the trials
of labor, and she had quickly recovered her strength.  She and Rillen
had talked about what had happened, but only briefly; after all, there
wasn't much to say.  Songa was tight-lipped about the matter, and
Rillen didn't want to push.  The past was the past, but the future
could be anything they wanted it to be - all they had to do was try.
  With that in mind, Songa had encouraged Rillen to go compete in the
fighting tournament.  At first, he'd been reluctant, pointing out that
his place was with her.  Songa had settled this by letting him know
that she was coming along too.  Rillen didn't like this at all, but
he couldn't deny the barbarian huntress' returned strength, or her
iron will.  She didn't want him to abandon something that he'd worked
toward for so long, something that obviously meant a lot to him.
Inspired by her zeal, Rillen had gained his own back; four days later,
after seeing Helga safely back to the barbarian village, they had set
out to the west.
  The journey had not been a leisurely one, but they'd made it with
three days to spare.  Those days had been spent getting to know the
locale and rules for this year's contest.  This time, there was no
Lao Khan, no insidious plot, no weird goings-on behind the scenes.
There was only a secluded temple, the home of a reclusive brotherhood
of monks who had dedicated their lives to complete physical and mental
discipline.  The rules were simple and clear:  one could lose only by
falling unconscious, submitting, or being disqualified by the judges.
This latter body was made up of the temple's three oldest and wisest
monks.  The battlefield was a plain square mat, fifty feet on a side,
surrounded by seats for the spectators.  On three of the four sides,
a judge sat, close to the edge of the mat.  The fourth side held the
placard, the ones who changed it, and the gong and gong-boy; these
were situated well above the spectator seats.
  The turnout of warriors had been smaller than Rillen had expected.
Fewer than two hundred had been invited, and through a series of byes
and preliminary matches, this field had been narrowed down to a mere
sixteen fighters.  All of this had occurred during the first day of
the tournament, and Rillen was one of the remaining...the best of the
best of the world's martial artists.
  Tomorrow, these sixteen finalists would be bracketed off in a series
of eight matches, after which only eight fighters would remain.  Four
quarterfinal matches would produce four semifinalists, and then a pair
of final matches would leave just two fighters to compete in the grand
final match...from which a single competitor would emerge victorious.

Songa:  (in bed with Rillen, she massages his sore muscles)  Rough day
  for you.
Rillen:  It sure was.

  In addition to Rillen, there were several other familiar faces among
the finalists.  Bruce, Rillen's friend from the previous tournament,
was present - as was Chuck, the bearded warrior who had lost to Bruce
in the final match six years ago.  The blond woman Sonja and the huge
hulk Norg, both survivors of the bloody massacre at Lao Khan's island,
were here as well.  The other finalists were strangers to Rillen, but
he didn't intend to worry about them now.  He'd handle whichever foe
he was pitted against one at a time, and only when the time came.
  The unity between Rillen and Songa was total.  She had watched his
fights, noting strengths and weaknesses, good moves and mistakes.  In
the time between his matches, she had pointed these out to him; though
her observations weren't as useful as those of a well-trained martial
artist would have been, they helped boost his spirits.
  Rillen slept well.



  The next day, as they had the first day, the monks served a simple
but complete breakfast.  After this, the final sixteen competitors
prepared for combat.  This was the time for stretching, warming up,
practicing kicks and punches and blocks and leaps.  The matches began
at noon, and Rillen was pitted against an unknown fighter from some
savage land, a lean and well-muscled brute named Kruk.  The man's
skin was deeply tanned, and his face bore streaks of war-paint.  This
foe jumped and bounced a lot, and his style was one of the most
unconventional that Rillen had ever seen.  Since Kruk's speed was at
least equal to his own, Rillen found himself having a lot of trouble
landing blows.
  Meanwhile, Kruk danced about, tagging the bigger warrior with light
blows that would nevertheless add up, eventually.  Rillen had to stop
the pattern, and he did, ceasing his own attacks as he adopted a pure
defensive tactic.  This confused Kruk, who pressed his own attacks
until Rillen managed - on the third try - to actually grab the savage.

Rillen:  (wasting no time, he pulls the foe close, driving a knee up
  into the other's stomach)
Kruk:  Whoooulf!
Rillen:  (seizing the moment as well as his opponent's shoulders, he
  swings the man around, slamming him into the mat headfirst)
Kruk:  (seeing stars)

  Rillen continued to use his most obvious advantage - his far greater
strength - by picking up the foe and slamming him down into the mat,
repeatedly.  It was crude, but effective.  After several bone-jarring
impacts, Kruk teetered in place.

Kruk:  (raises an arm to strike...and falls over)
Rillen:  (raises his arms into the air as the gong-boy rings his gong,
  signalling the end of the match)

  Shortly, Rillen was in the seats with Songa, still breathing heavily.

Songa:  Are you okay?
Rillen:  Yes...though I think I've got some bruised ribs.
Songa:  You're fortunate.  This could have happened much earlier in the
  tournament.
Rillen:  (nods)  How are the others doing?

  There would soon be only eight, and indeed, soon there were.  They
were Rillen, Bruce, the bearded Chuck, the woman Sonja, the giant Norg,
and three others.  Jackie was a warrior from the far West, like Bruce;
he tended to leap around a lot, confounding his opponents.  Wurgi was
a tall, skinny fellow from parts unknown; he specialized in wrestling
rather than striking, and had won all of his matches thus far by making
his foes submit.  Wurgi was a master of painful joint-locks and holds,
a dangerous one indeed.  The eighth remaining competitor was a towering
mountain of fat and muscle named Yee.  While not quite as tall as Norg,
Yee was much wider, and certainly much heavier.  It was a foregone
conclusion that if Yee sat on an opponent, he'd win by default.  His
fighting style seemed to consist of letting his thick body absorb his
foes' blows until he struck himself; in one of his earlier matches, a
single blow from one of his hamhock-sized fists had felled his opponent
right then and there.
  Eight they were, each a unique mix of skill, speed, strength, and
style.  Each had strengths and each had weaknesses - and after a short
rest break, the time had come to see which of these finalists had what
it took.

  Bruce's match was first, and his opponent was the leaping, almost
comical warrior Jackie.  The latter was good - very good - but Bruce
was slightly better in every aspect.  After a long, hard-fought match,
Bruce was triumphant.
  Sonja and Wurgi fought next.  The woman was lightning-fast, all of
her first strikes landing solidly, but Wurgi just took the punishment
until he got an opportunity to move in and grapple.  It didn't take
long, and Wurgi got behind her, wrapping his long legs around Sonja's
waist.  She fell to the ground, then rolled about trying to dislodge
the unusual foe.  Wurgi could not be shaken off, though, and he moved
one of the warrior-woman's arms around behind her back in a way that
was most unnatural.  Her other arm hit the mat repeatedly...the sign
of submission.  Tears of pain in her eyes, Sonja walked off the mat
as the sinister-looking Wurgi was declared the winner of the contest.
  The hulking Norg paired off against the immense Yee, which meant
that Rillen would have to defeat Chuck to advance.  Norg and Yee
wasted no time, though; the two titans charged each other, trading
blows that would have felled oxen.  Norg was in fact the stronger of
the two, but Yee's thick layers of fat were built atop a foundation
of powerful muscle.  Norg's blows rebounded from his body, causing
him little harm.  This was no fight, but a brawl; these two had made
it this far through brute strength and sheer savagery.  They hadn't
worried about dodging when a single blow from their huge fists could
drop a foe.  Now, they simply wore away at each other, until Yee's
swinging fist caught Norg in the temple.  The big man staggered, and
the next blow knocked him to the mat.  Quickly, Yee simply...sat down.
The stunned Norg had recovered his senses, but found himself pinned
beneath six hundred pounds of flesh.  He was unable to break free,
and soon blacked out, unable to draw a breath.
  The time had come for Rillen to face Chuck.  The bearded warrior's
main weapon was skill, though he had strength and speed as well.  He
and Rillen soon found themselves in a masterful sparring match, more
blows blocked or avoided than landed.  Rillen quickly realized that
this man was just about his equal in all ways, and this was proven
true in the long minutes that followed.  If one man was knocked from
his feet, he sprung right back up.  If one was hit, he quickly hit
back.  Only an unpredictable fluke could turn the tide of a match
such as this, and eventually, one did.  Chuck slipped on the mat,
one foot sliding out from beneath him; Rillen moved in, striking a
blow which the opponent could not adequately block.  Chuck regained
his footing, but Rillen doubled his efforts, and foot by foot, Chuck
was driven back.  Sweat fell from his brow, and his movements became
less sharp, his reactions slower.  Rillen landed more blows and was
hit by fewer, and eventually, Chuck fell and didn't get back up.

Chuck:  (lying on the mat, bleeding and breathing in ragged gasps)
Rillen:  (stands there, waiting)

  Chuck moved his limbs weakly, but couldn't get up, and Rillen was
declared the winner.

Rillen:  (raises his arms, then bows to the judges)  Ungh...(he goes
  to the fallen Chuck and extends a hand)
Chuck:  (takes the hand, as Rillen pulls him to his feet)
crowd:  (cheers)
Rillen:  Well-fought.
Chuck:  (spits blood and grins)  It's not over yet, my friend.

  And it wasn't, though they did get a half-hour break now.  Songa
tended to Rillen, who now had multiple bruises and was worn-out.

Rillen:  My arms feel like they weigh a ton...and my back hurts.
Songa:  (massaging his heavily-muscled arms)  You've only got two
  more people to beat.
Rillen:  (wipes sweat from his brow)  Who's next?
Songa:  It looks like Bruce and that big guy, Yee, will be next.
Rillen:  So I have to face Wurgi...
Songa:  If you let him get in close, it's over.
Rillen:  (wearily)  I know...I know.

  Almost before they knew it, Bruce and Yee were called to the mat
to do battle.  Bruce had to adopt a new tactic here, for his best
strikes were as nothing to the gigantic opponent he now faced.  He
made a few exploratory jabs and kicks, to see what Yee would do.

Yee:  (chuckles, moving in on the smaller foe)
Bruce:  (frowns, then smirks)

  The lean, quick fighter, shorter than almost everyone else in the
tournament, saw a possible weakness to this mountainous opponent.
It was risky, doubly so given the size and tactics of Yee, but it
was worth the risk.  Leaping into the air, Bruce launched a kick
at Yee.  However, the distance was too great...with reason.  Bruce
fell short, landing on the mat right in front of the huge foe.  His
other foot, the one he hadn't led with, shot out like a hammer and
struck one of Yee's knees.
  This tactic was both surprising and painful for the gigantic Yee.
He growled in pain and swung both fists at the smaller fighter, but
Bruce was too quick.  He stepped out and then spun back in, kicking
solidly at Yee's other knee.  The giant teetered as Bruce mercilessly
struck at the first knee again.  His legs no longer able to support
his massive weight, the huge fighter crashed to the mat.  Yee was
down.
  As Yee fell to the mat in a great deal of pain, Bruce leapt aside
then leapt back in, striking repeatedly while the opponent was
vulnerable.  While Yee had a lot of fat and muscle to shield his
body from damage, his head was mostly unprotected.  Yee quickly
submitted, his face a mask of blood and anger.  It took four monks
to help him get to his feet and hobble off the mat.

  Now it was time for Rillen to face the dangerous Wurgi.  One false
move against this foe meant a wrenched shoulder, a twisted elbow, or
perhaps a shattered joint.  Accordingly, Rillen didn't strike first,
instead concentrating on defense.  Wurgi tried several strikes, both
punches and kicks; this surprised Rillen, who hadn't known the other
had any skills outside of grappling.  Rillen's reach was greater,
though, and when Wurgi missed with a fist, Rillen's leg connected
with the side of his head.

Wurgi:  (backs off, leering madly)
Rillen:  Bah.

  This little game of cat-and-mouse went on for a while.  Rillen was
able to connect several times, but Wurgi was a resilient one, and he
didn't slow down or weaken at all.  Eventually, he was able to dart
in, avoiding a punch and ignoring a kick from Rillen.  The spectators
gasped as Wurgi wrapped his legs around Rillen's waist, as he'd done
with Sonja.
  Rillen, however, was a lot stronger than Sonja had been.  All those
hours of lifting small boulders and smashing rocks and chopping wood
and swimming had refined the enormous strength he possessed.  With a
sudden motion - for he could afford to waste no time - Rillen took
hold of Wurgi's legs, forcibly unwrapping the wiry foe from his hold.
Wurgi froze for a moment, astonished; thus far, nobody had ever broken
his grip before.  Rillen held one of the opponent's thin ankles in
each hand, and with a mighty heave, he swung the entire opponent up
and around, then down.  Wurgi slammed into the mat, hard.  Rillen let
go of one ankle only long enough to wrap his thick arm around the
other's neck.  Now the other ankle was freed; Rillen's other arm went
behind Wurgi's thin neck to strengthen the headlock.
  An uneducated observer might have thought Rillen was trying to snap
his opponent's neck, but this wasn't the case.  Actually, Rillen was
cutting off blood and air - a sleeper hold, and one so strong that
Wurgi couldn't break it.  As he began to see stars before his eyes,
the wiry foe tried another tactic, contorting his skinny body around
in an attempt to get Rillen in a hold.  It was too late, though, for
darkness claimed his mind, and his limbs finally went slack.

Rillen:  (waits a few moments to make sure, then hurls the opponent's
  unconscious body away)
crowd:  (cheering as the gong rings once more)

  After a brief rest break, the tournament was, at long last, down to
two.

Rillen:  (resting next to Songa, he stands)  Time to finish this.
Songa:  Yes.  (she hugs him, whispering in his ear)  Win.
Rillen:  Of c-
Songa:  Win this thing...for our son who never came to be.  Win it!
Rillen:  (trembling, he hugs her, then walks to the mat)

  Bruce and Rillen faced each other across the mat.

Bruce:  (bows)  It's been a long time.
Rillen:  (bows in return)  Yes.
Bruce:  It was bound to come to this.
Rillen:  A contest long overdue.
Bruce:  Shall we?
Rillen:  Let's.

  The spectators thought that the Bruce-Jackie and Rillen-Chuck
fights had been the ultimate contests, but this match outdid both
of those.  Bruce was poetry in motion, astonishing speed backed by
lean, wiry strength.  Rillen's advantages lay in his greater reach
and superior power.  Both men had skill and experience of the very
highest caliber.  Some of their strikes and blocks were faster than
the eye could see or follow, and sudden gasps of amazement were not
uncommon.
  The contest wore on...five minutes, then ten, then fifteen.  Both
men were sweating, breathing hard, bloody and bruised - yet neither
would back down.  This was a fight whose winner would be decided by
grit, by willpower, by burning desire.  Bruce might have had the
confidence of a previous champion, but Rillen wanted this badly...
not for himself, not for Songa, but for the child he'd been robbed
of.  Every time he almost fell, almost collapsed from exhaustion or
pain or cramps...he thought of the recent tragedy that he and Songa
had been dealt.  And every time, the fires raged within him again.

Rillen:  (suddenly increases the tempo of his attack)
Bruce:  (surprised, he blocks - furiously, desperately - but is
  driven back)
Rillen:  Hai!  (he strikes, getting through Bruce's defenses and
  landing a blow to the smaller man's chest)
Bruce:  (knocked back, he falls to the mat)  Urgh!
Rillen:  (pours on the offense, not daring to pause or relent for
  even a moment)

  Bruce stood, only to fall again...and again!  The crowd was dead
silent now, for Rillen was pulling off an upset before their eyes.
Bruce fought valiantly, but Rillen was like a force of nature, and
he would not be denied.

Bruce:  (knocked down a fourth time, he stays down, sweat and blood
  flying from his mouth with every labored breath)
Rillen:  (stops his attack, the look in Bruce's eyes telling him the
  outcome of this match before anyone else present knows)

  The crowd erupted into chaos as the gong sounded, officially making
Rillen the tournament champion.  Songa rushed to his side, hugging
him fiercely as cheering and clapping drowned out all other sounds.
Rillen was lightheaded, his pain and fatigue lost for the moment in
a flow of emotion.  He had WON!

Rillen:  (moving through the crowd)
Songa:  (at his side, she follows him)

  Rillen found Bruce in the crowd, being supported by his friends.
No words were exchanged; the two men simply clasped hands, the mantle
passed from one champion to another.





next:      a finale for all
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
email:     tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu       (preferred)
           thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu         (emergency)
notes:     The djinni-summoning ring has been around since at least
  episode 084.  Oh well.
    This is the last martial-arts tournament that I will ever write.
  It's not that it was particularly tough to do, but it's just been
  done enough.  For me, and for Rillen.
    I have been getting a lot of questions about the jade ring and
  why it didn't work.  Well, the answer is:  Rillen doesn't know.
  And therefore, no one else will ever know, either.  It really
  doesn't matter.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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