Chapter #660

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2000 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Belphanior      14th/14th/14th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+     Aja            9th level human priestess of Wee Jas                 +
+     Neko           7th level human female thief                         +
+     Skektek       12th level human wizard                               +
+     Zhao           8th level human swordsman                            +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+   Date:           2/27/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           morning                                               +
+   Place:          the western reaches of the Grand Duchy of Geoff       +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "It seems like just when I get to likin' somebody, they ain't         +
+    around very long."                                                   +
+   "It seems like when you get to dislikin' somebody they ain't          +
+    around long either."                                                 +
+                                       - from _The Outlaw Josey Wales_   +

                     DCLX.  Into the Hellfurnaces

  After many long days of travel, the party nears its destination:  the
Oracle of Espyria.

wizard:  Seek the Oracle atop Mount Aeon, within the Hellfurnaces.
Belphanior:  You've heard of the Oracle?
wizard:  Why, of course I have.  It's hard not to when one lives this
  close to such a personage.  Hell, it's always the same:  people come
  to Geoff, then they come here, then they head off into the mountains
  to the west.  (he smirks)  A word of advice, though:  not all of them
  come back.

  They were in a small city on Geoff's western edge, close enough to the
great Hellfurnaces to smell the smoking peaks.  Belphanior swore that he
could also smell brimstone, but nobody else seemed to agree.  The huge
peaks towered over the city, dominating any view that one might have of
anything near or within the place.  The guildhall in which the group of
adventurers now stood was fairly puny, as wizards' guilds went - there
only seemed to be about a half-dozen magi here - but the one with whom
Belphanior was speaking seemed to know what he was talking about.

Belphanior:  We'll come back.
wizard:  By the looks of you and your friends, you just might.  But then
  again, who knows?
Belphanior:  How does one determine which peak is Mount Aeon?
wizard:  Look for the red smoke.  (he pauses)  And hiring a local guide
  might not hurt, either.
Belphanior:  Where would I find such a guide?
wizard:  They're everywhere.  After all, people are always venturing into
  those mountains in search of something or another.  Your best bet is
  one of the bigger taverns.  Just use your better judgement.
Belphanior:  Thanks.  (he turns and walks away, muttering to himself)
  Every time I use my better judgement, death and destruction come a-
wizard:  What's that?
Belphanior:  Nothing.  Thanks again for your help.  (he tosses the man
  a pouch of coins, then leaves the hall)

  The elf wasn't too pleased with this development.  Now they had to find
and hire a guide, march through some mountains, and probably climb one.
He realized how much he'd taken things like teleportation and the sky-ship
for granted.  On top of that, he couldn't help but think that this entire
quest was taking too long.  In the past couple of months, he'd spent more
time away from Helgate than he had spent _in_ it.  That little fact wasn't
helping his relationship with Victoria, either.

Belphanior:  (stalks out into the street, where the others await)
Aja:  Whoa, he doesn't look happy at all.
Mongo:  Any luck?
Belphanior:  Sure thing.  All we have to do is find a guide, then ride or
  walk or climb to the top of Mount Aeon.  Just peachy.
Skektek:  Look at the bright side:  at least we don't have to fight our
  way up there.
Belphanior:  The day's still young.
Bosco:  Well, I guess I'll handle the guide-finding part.
Belphanior:  You do that.
Gorgo:  Let's find a tavern or something.  I'm starving!
Neko:  You've been starving this entire trip.  Well, whenever you were
  awake, at least.
Gorgo:  I have dreams about eating too.
Neko:  Figures.
Gorgo:  Well, eating and battle.  Not at the same time, though.
Neko:  (shrugs)
Zhao:  (just shakes his head)

  After finding somewhere to stable their horses, they found a sizable
tavern and had some breakfast.  By the time that was over with (more a
function of Gorgo's near-endless appetite than anything else) Bosco had
found a guide, presenting the man to the others...

Bosco:  Everybody, this is Dave-O.

  This oddly-named fellow was of average height and build, and really
didn't look like much - a fact that immediately triggered the suspicion
of Belphanior.

Belphanior:  How is it that one such as you - obviously no warrior,
  wizard, or such - knows the way to this Mount Aeon?
Dave-O:  Well, guys, it's like this:  a while back, my brother Tom-O had
  to lead some people up there, and I got to go along, and it really was
  a great trip.  We used the trails and avoided the peaks and-
Belphanior:  (waves his hand)  Enough.  (to Bosco)  He'll do.  We leave
Bosco:  Right.
Dave-O:  Now?  Today?  What are you in such a hurry for-
Belphanior:  (ignores the fellow as he heads outside)  I'll get the
Dave-O:  (watches the elf leave)  What's his problem?
Bosco:  Never mind that.  You need to go get your horse.  You _do_ have
  a horse, right?
Dave-O:  Of course I do!
Bosco:  Well, then, go get it.  We'll meet you at the west city gate.

  Shortly, just outside the city...

Belphanior:  How long is it going to take us to get there?
Dave-O:  About four days, if we make good time and don't dawdle.  It's
  really not such a bad trip, though the slopes can be rough on the
  horses, and if there're any-
Belphanior:  Quiet.
Dave-O:  -monsters.
Mongo:  What's this about monsters?
Dave-O:  They're all over the place up there in the Hellfurnaces.  You
  know, I wouldn't have even taken this job except that you people
  obviously know how to defend yourselves...and me.
Gorgo:  (chuckles)
Aja:  Are these monsters of any particular type?
Dave-O:  How should I know?
Skektek:  Because you went up there one other time, before...remember?
Dave-O:  Oh.  Oh, yeah.  (he lapses into silence)
Aja:  The monsters...?
Dave-O:  Oh, hell.
Bosco:  What?
Dave-O:  Well, I never actually _saw_ them on that last trip.
Mongo:  Why not?
Dave-O:  (meekly)  Because I fainted when the first one showed up.
Aja:  (rolls her eyes)
Belphanior:  (talking to himself)  I'll just pretend I'm not hearing

  Although he was obviously a coward and a weakling (in addition to being
annoying as hell) Dave-O did know his way.  By midday, they were riding
through the higher ground that made up the foot of the mountain range.
By dusk, they were well into the actual mountains, following a well-used

Mongo:  How many people make this trip, anyway?
Dave-O:  To Mount Aeon?  Not many.  The path we'll use for most of the
  journey is a common trail used to go to the west and south.  When we
  get closer to the actual mountain, of course, we'll veer off and take
  a lesser-used route.
Belphanior:  And wait for the monsters to show up.
Dave-O:  (shivers)  I sure hope not.  Maybe they'll stay in their
  caves and lairs today.
Aja:  It'll be dark soon.
Dave-O:  (shivers again, looking around fearfully)
Aja:  (smiles to herself)
Mongo:  We can make camp soon - we should start looking for a good place.
Gorgo:  Easy to defend.
Mongo:  Do you smell monsters?
Gorgo:  I smell trouble.

  They rode on, but not for long.  They hadn't even made camp - or found
a suitable site - when the hill giants attacked.  Well, actually, they
didn't attack, or even ambush - they just showed up on the trail ahead.
And behind.  Belphanior wondered how the huge creatures had gotten so
close without his sword detecting their souls, then realized that they
must have watched and shadowed the party from afar for a while.  There
were five of the giants on the path ahead, perhaps a hundred feet away;
four more blocked the trail behind, at about the same distance.

giant on trail ahead:  (yells out in a booming voice)  Don't have to
  surrender - we'll eat you anyway!
Dave-O:  Oh.  (he faints)
Mongo:  (eyes Belphanior)  I don't know about you, but these fuckers
  picked the wrong people to mess with at the wrong time.
Belphanior:  (puts a hand on Blackrazor's hilt)  My sword thirsts.  Let's
  do it.

next:      battle
released:  7/27/00
notes:     I have come to hate teleportation and other such ultra-quick
  methods of transport.  This is much like I long ago learned to hate
  another easy-to-abuse magical factor:  resurrection.  Oh, how I wish
  that I could go back and not overuse this sort of magic like I did.
  It really throws off a fantasy story - in my opinion only, of course.

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