Chapter #664

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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 (currently petrified)      +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:           3/1/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          Mount Aeon, on the eastern edge of the Hellfurnaces   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "It's only got two states of being:  dangerous or dead.  Nothing      +
+    in-between."                                                         +
+                                                    - from _Razorback_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                     DCLXIV.  The Second Challenge





  Earlier in the day, the adventurers met and defeated Mount Aeon's first
challenge - a huge, three-headed monster that combined the worst parts of
several creatures.  The only serious casualty was Zhao, who was turned to
stone by the breath of one of the beast's heads.  For hours, the party has
been ascending even further, the red smoke from the peak above slowly and
inexorably growing thicker...

Belphanior:  We may have trouble breathing at some point.
Mongo:  Not me.
Belphanior:  Your amulet.  (he smirks)  You and your boatload of magical
  items.  (he frowns)  Well, I guess I'm one to talk.
Bosco:  You ever wanna get rid of anything, you just let me know.
Belphanior:  That'll be the day, Bosco.
Neko:  (pointing to the area in front of them)  Heads up.  Looks like
  buildings.

  Actually, they were ruins - very old, very deserted ruins.

Aja:  Not that there's any other kind.
Mongo:  These look vaguely dwarven in make...
Gorgo:  (shaking his head)  No way.
Mongo:  I didn't say they _were_ dwarven.
Belphanior:  You can tell that just by looking at the architecture?
Mongo:  (both he and Gorgo nod)
Bosco:  Wonder what this place is.  (he frowns)  Was.

  From the placement and shape of the worn stone walls and skeletons of
buildings, they could see that the entire width of the mountain path had
once been blocked by a fortified wall.  Once, this grand barrier had
towered a hundred feet or more, with a walkway on its top and steps on
its rear face.  Several shorter buildings had been attached to that far
side as well.
  Now, however, all of this was shattered.  The entire center section of
the wall was decimated, stones and rubble scattered on the party's side,
almost as if some huge beast had smashed right through it.  A few bits
of broken weapons and shields were strewn about, along with common items
of all sorts - a torch here, a crushed wheelbarrow there, and so on.  All
of these items were rotted, rusted, and otherwise unusable.  There was
not one sign of life, though, not even a corpse or the smallest piece of
a skeleton.

Skektek:  Something big happened here, that's for sure.
Aja:  (concentrating)  I sense much death here...
Belphanior:  Now?
Aja:  No, long ago...just vague impressions.  Skektek is right - this
  wasn't just a battle, though, but an all-out massacre.
Neko:  (looking around, hand on her sword's hilt)  Swell.
Gorgo:  (ready for battle, as always, he also looks around)
Mongo:  (to Belphanior)  Doesn't look like there's much to explore...
Belphanior:  Bosco, Neko - check what's left of those adjoining buildings,
  then we'll move onward.

  The remains of the structure's interior yielded no more than the remains
of its exterior, and shortly, they rode past the ruins, moving up the path.

Skektek:  I wonder what that was all about?
Belphanior:  Some great monster's charge...or a magically-won battle?  (he
  shrugs)  We may never know.
something unseen on the trail ahead:  (bellows thunderously, surprising
  the adventurers and shaking the very ground with its volume and depth)
Belphanior:  Then again...
Skektek:  (gasps in awe as something big enough to cast a shadow on them
  all comes around the bend)  Holy shit.

  The monstrosity that lumbered toward them was straight out of a madman's
worst nightmares.  Its body was wider than the entire trail, and fully
fifty feet long, covered in thick red scales the size of small shields.
Two massive front legs ended in claws that looked fully capable of tearing
through a stone wall as if it were tissue paper.  The thing's rear legs, at
the far end of that colossal body, were even larger.
  As for its head, well...this creature was a hydra, that much was for
certain - but no other hydra in existence sported a score of heads!  These
writhed back and forth, constantly brushing and snapping at one another,
though at least half of them were currently focused on the adventurers over
whom the monster towered.

Bosco:  Well, now we know what destroyed that wall back there.

  The hydra roared again, this time with a dozen of its heads.  The effect
was as weird as it was terrifying, and the horses at least weren't having
any of it.  Every single one of them began bucking, whinnying, and fleeing.
Riders were thrown from their mounts, horses galloped away, and all was
chaos...

Gorgo:  (thrown from his pony, he rolls into a boulder)  Oof!
Mongo:  (also thrown, despite his great strength, he lands roughly but gets
  right back on his feet, warhammer in hand)  How the fuck do we fight some-
  thing this big?
Skektek:  (sits up from where he landed after being unhorsed)  Very damn
  quickly.  (he begins spellcasting)
Aja:  (tossed from her horse, she lands in a heap, stunned)  Ungh.
Neko:  (still astride her horse as it heads back down the trail, she leaps
  free to avoid being carried away)  Damn!
Bosco:  (having been flying this whole time, he has no horse to worry about
  being thrown from)  Somehow, I don't think my sword's going to help much
  with this one...
Belphanior:  (also previously airborne, he watches helplessly as the horses
  gallop away)
hydra:  (with frightening speed, it snaps at a horse that just slipped as
  it turned to flee)  RRRAAAARGH!

  Three or four heads clamped down on the animal at once, tearing it apart
in a spray of blood and gore.  The sheer savagery of the attack was amazing,
almost as much as the hydra's immense size and number of heads.

Belphanior:  (spellcasting)  Damn, but that's a big sonofabitch.  (he yells
  to the others)  Don't waste your time with weapons - it's too big, and we
  need spells here!
Skektek:  (also spellcasting)  Hey, don't worry about me - I have absolutely
  no intention of getting anywhere near that thing.

  While the wizards - and the slowly-recovering Aja - had magic at their
disposal, most of the others had no real method of effectively attacking the
monster.  Bosco could fly, but his sword wouldn't make more than a scratch
in that huge body - if it could punch through the scales.  Neko, and even
Gorgo, had the same problem, as well as a greater risk of being torn apart
by one or more heads, since they would have to attack on foot.

Gorgo:  Damn, I'm not used to feeling this...
Neko:  Helpless?
Gorgo:  (growing angry at the monster, he begins readying himself for a
  berserker rage and charge)
Neko:  (grabs his mace-arm)  Don't.
Gorgo:  Leave me alone!
Neko:  It's suicide, and you won't even hurt the thing, and you'll also get
  in the way of the wizards' spells!
Gorgo:  Let me go-
Neko:  (grabs the dwarf's head, with a surprising strength)  No.
Gorgo:  (calms down, the rage subsiding)  Dammit.
Bosco:  (wondering if he could help by flying over the monster and dropping
  one of his gas-globes on it)  Nah...waste of time.

  Mongo, on the other hand, could and did attack the thing from afar, his
mighty hammer smashing into one of the many heads.  The weapon pulverized
the entire skull, splattering the hydra and the ground with purple blood
and chunks of bone and brain.

hydra:  RAAAAARGH!
Mongo:  (catches his hammer)  There's more where that came from, too!
hydra:  (lumbers toward the dwarf with surprising speed, then stops short,
  rearing back suddenly)  Rrrrr...
Mongo:  (hammer raised to bash whichever head tries to bite him)  Huh?

  Suddenly, four of the beast's heads breathed forth great gouts of flame!
The fire washed over Mongo, setting his clothes on fire and igniting his
pack.  Except for some slight singing of his beard, the dwarf himself was
unaffected by the flames, thanks to the magical ring he wore.

Mongo:  Hah!  (he pauses as his pack, belt-pouch, and such fall from his
  body, their straps burned through)  Bah.
hydra:  (shuffles toward the dwarf, heads biting and snapping)

  Suddenly, the ground beneath and behind the great beast turned to mud.
The hydra roared as its hindquarters sunk down out of sight.

Belphanior:  (hovering in the air, he smiles)
Skektek:  (just then, he hits the thing with a lightning bolt, blasting
  five of its heads into dust)  Yes!
hydra:  (roars in pain and anger)  RAAARGH!

  Other heads breathed fire now, the flames licking at Mongo, Skektek,
and Belphanior.  The dwarf was unharmed, and Belphanior managed to evade
the brunt of the blast, but Skektek was caught in the crossfire of two
jets of fire.

Skektek:  Aaaaie!  (his robes aflame, he runs in circles, then falls)
Neko:  Shit.  (she moves to help the wizard)
Bosco:  (also flies over)  Use your cloak - cover him up so the fire'll
  go out!

  The massive hydra, meanwhile, was pulling itself out of the mud.  The
simple fact was that, because of Mongo's proximity to the monster at the
time of casting, Belphanior had been forced to leave solid ground right
in front of the hydra.  The beast's sheer size, plus its powerful front
legs, were more than enough to effect an escape from the mud behind it.

Belphanior:  (cursing to himself)  Someday, when I tell warriors not to
  charge forth and get in the way of my spells, they'll listen...
Aja:  Mongo didn't charge forth, the hydra charged at him.  (having been
  spellcasting all this time, she finally lets loose with her Flame
  Strike, blasting the hydra from above with a thick column of flame)
Belphanior:  (angrily)  It's probably immune to fire-
Aja:  (snaps right back)  I know, but I'd already started the spell!
hydra:  (waddles through the flames unscathed)  GRAAAARGH!
Aja:  Oh, damn.
Belphanior:  What?
Aja:  Look at that stump there, where the one head got smashed by Mongo.

  At an alarmingly rapid rate, two new heads were sprouting from the
ragged stump of the destroyed head!  The other stumps, where Skektek's
lightning had blown away heads, were also quivering and growing new
flesh.

Mongo:  (watching this happen from little more than ten feet away)  Well,
  fuck.
Belphanior:  (watching this happen from fifty feet above)  Fuck.
Aja:  And we can't burn the stumps shut, because it's immune to fire...
Belphanior:  (spellcasting)  Let's try acid.  Keep it busy.
Aja:  How?!?
Mongo:  (hurls Stormcrest, smashing the hydra's body...with no apparent
  effect)  Huh?
hydra:  RRAAAARGH!  (bites at Mongo, its teeth gnashing on his armor)
Mongo:  Hey!
hydra:  (advancing)  GRAAAARGH!
Mongo:  (backs up, hammer in hand)

  Gorgo had seen enough.  His furious rage, calmed before by Neko, now
welled up again, even stronger.  Swinging his spiked mace in great arcs,
the dwarf charged at the hydra.

hydra:  (several of its heads swivel to face this new, yelling foe)
Gorgo:  (tears right into the group of heads, his spiked mace gouging
  and smashing)  Yaaaaaarrr!
Belphanior:  (spots this just as a greenish cloud forms over the hydra)
  Shit.

  The elf's storm of pelting acid showered the hydra's front half, also
catching the somewhat unwise Gorgo with its burning green droplets.  The
enraged dwarf didn't seem to notice, even though his skin and armor were
smoking from the acid.  The hydra, however, did take notice.

hydra:  RAAAARGH!  (its back stinging, it thrashes about)
Gorgo:  (fortuitously caught by one swinging head, he is knocked twenty
  feet away from the monster)  Ungh!

  Around the time that the hydra ceased to be pelted with acid, it found
itself facing a score of shambling skeletons and zombies.  Of course,
being a hydra, it did what made sense to it.

hydra:  (its heads snap and bite at the rotting undead)

  Every time the hydra's powerful teeth closed around an undead foe, the
latter simply vanished into vapor - they were illusions!

hydra:  (enraged, it continues to attack the illusionary undead until all
  have been "destroyed")  GRAAAAARGH!

  The situation was not good.  The hydra's budding heads had all blossomed
into full size, giving it more than twenty now.  Skektek and Gorgo were
stunned at best, and Neko and Bosco could do nothing to harm the creature.
Mongo couldn't seem to hurt the thing's body, and though he could destroy
heads, that was no use if two grew back for every one that was eliminated.
Aja's spells weren't of the sort to inflict sufficient damage on something
this big.
  Belphanior, however, had experienced an inspiration and was now acting
upon it...

Belphanior:  (holding the small hourglass which he took from the lich
  Kronos some time ago, he speaks a single, dreaded command word)

  The hourglass, though cheap-looking, was a minor artifact of sorts; its
power, while simple and singular, was mighty:  it could halt all time in
its vicinity, for a very short while.  Everyone and everything except the
elf was suddenly frozen in place:  gravity, momentum, and similar forces
were all paused for the hydra and Belphanior's allies.  There was no sound
save that of the elf's breathing and heart beating.

Belphanior:  (awed and speechless, he gets to work)

  The elf knew that he had more than enough time to cast his next spell,
but still he rushed - he couldn't help it.  However, he had no problems,
and shortly, his hand glowed with a dark and destructive energy.  In any
typical situation, the spell of disintegration was avoidable, for it
manifested as a black ray that might be dodged.  Now, however, the hydra
was frozen in time, and couldn't move at all, much less try to dodge the
deadly beam.

Belphanior:  (takes careful aim, and releases the disintegration beam)

  Despite having used and seen such magic a number of times - most notably
when it was used to slay his friend Ged - Belphanior never could get over
the way that disintegration worked.  The huge hydra seemed to flicker for
a moment, with black light...and then it was gone.  Just gone.

Belphanior:  Whew.  (he starts at the sound of his own voice in this zone
  of dead quiet)

  It was hard to judge time inside the time-stopped bubble of space, but
it couldn't have been more than a few moments later that things returned
to normal.  Mongo, caught in mid-throw, resumed his action, Stormcrest
flying through empty space and destroying a large boulder.  Gorgo charged
ahead, full-tilt, until he realized that there was no foe there.  Aja and
the others just stood or sat, gaping in confusion.

Belphanior:  Everybody relax - I took care of it.

  Wounds were bound, burns attended to, weapons recovered, and so forth.
Belphanior explained what he had done, several times.  There were those
who could grasp the concept (Skektek and Aja) and understood now just how
powerful the elf was.  Others (Neko, Mongo) vaguely realized what had just
happened, but didn't fully understand the details.  Gorgo, for his part,
neither understood nor cared.

Gorgo:  Damn monster...good thing it's gone, too, 'cause I was about to
  give it a good ass-kicking.
Belphanior:  (reminds himself to tell Mongo to explain to Gorgo the
  importance of not getting in the way of spellcasters' spells in the
  future)
Neko:  No horses...we'll have to continue on foot.
Bosco:  (three feet above the ground, his tiny boot-wings flapping)  Not
  all of us.
Mongo:  (inventories his possessions, finding that several of the magical
  ones - his kettle and spoon, his golden coin, and his silver horn - were
  all melted by the hydra's fiery breath)  Dammit.  You know, it fucking
  figures - the one time I don't stash some stuff in my portable hole, and
  I get fire breathed all over me.
Skektek:  (checking his own items)  Guess I got lucky this time...
Mongo:  (cursing to himself)  Dammit.  (he punches a boulder, cracking
  it)  Dammit, dammit, dammit.
Bosco:  (hoping to change the subject, he looks around)  I don't think
  that thing had any treasure.  I've checked the whole area around here.
Belphanior:  I don't think it was from around here...
Aja:  Summoned, maybe?
Belphanior:  Could be.  It's the only thing that makes sense, really.
Mongo:  Huh?  I don't get it.
Belphanior:  Something like that hydra would have to eat a ton of food,
  every day.  There can't be enough prey on this mountain to keep such a
  monster well-fed.
Skektek:  Hmm, good point.
Mongo:  (nods)  Yeah.
Belphanior:  I'm thinking it was summoned...maybe from another plane...
  hmm.  (it occurs to him that if that was the case, then a spell of
  banishment might have worked too)
Bosco:  (it occurs to him that they might have been able to defeat the
  thing by simply continuing to cut off its heads and have more grow
  back until there were too many heads for the body to support)  Hah.
Aja:  Maybe it was magical to begin with.
Mongo:  Hey, who cares - it's dead.  Just like the last one.
Bosco:  Two down, one to go!
Belphanior:  One more...I wonder what it could be?





next:      we learn what third challenge could possibly surpass this one
ftp:       ftp.peldor.com
www:       http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:  http://www.peldor.com/
email:     tmiller@peldor.com
           tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu
released:  8/10/00
notes:     Yes, that was a new priest spell that Aja used.  I'll get to
  its description someday soon.

    Fresh ranting:  http://www.peldor.com/news/2000_08_10.html

    The hydra...originally, I had planned for this mythical beast to have
  a hundred heads.  However, that presented a number of major logical and
  logistic problems, so I cut the number of heads and added other powers.
    Anyway, the monster stat follows:



Aeonian Hydra

climate/terrain:        Mt. Aeon, in the Hellfurnaces
frequency:              unique
organization:           solitary
activity cycle:         any
diet:                   carnivore
intelligence:           semi-
treasure:               nil
alignment:              neutral
armor class:            0
movement:               9
hit dice:               20
thac0:                  1
# attacks:              9-20
damage/attack:          1-20 per head, or fire breath
special attacks:        flaming breath
special defenses:       extra heads
magic resistance:       nil
size:                   G (50' long)
morale:                 Fearless (20)
XP value:               43,000

other:
  up to 4 heads able to attack any one foe
  8 hp per HD
  all heads must be severed to kill the thing
  every 8 hp damage implies a severed head
  attacks on body useless unless they inflict more damage than the
    hydra's HP total
  if head severed, two new heads grow in 1-4 rounds
  fire breath is a 10' long, 4' wide jet, 3/day/head (8 hp damage, 4 if
    saving throw is made)
  immune to fire
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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