Chapter #677

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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   +
+   Rillen          18th level human warrior monk                         +
+   Songa           13th level human huntress                             +
+     onyx dog figurine                                                   +
+   Date:           2/7/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           morning                                               +
+   Place:          deep below the Griff Mountains                        +
+   Climate:        temperate                                             +
+   "Gods are useless - you must rely on yourself."                       +
+                               - from _Once Upon a Time in the West_     +

                           DCLXXVII.  Troggs

  Although it had only been hours since their boat smashed apart against
a jagged rock formation, it seemed like much longer.  Thrown into the
cold, raging underground river, the companions had been soaked to the
bone and tossed about madly by the wild currents.  However, they were
strong, and somewhat lucky; despite everything, Rillen and Songa had
somehow managed to stay together.  Even now, they moved through a dark
underground passage, trying to find a way out of this underground hell.

Songa:  Damn...
Rillen:  I know...I know.

  There were a number of problems.  Tarl - along with all of his mighty
war dogs - had been separated form them in the chaos of the boat-wreck.
Whether the huge barbarian lived or not was unknown; they could only
hope for the best.  Companions hadn't been the only casualty of the
fast-moving river, either; Rillen had lost his magical gloves and his
wand of light, the latter item having been tied to the prow of the
boat and subsequently lost in the wreck.  Songa had made out much
better, as most of her items were in her enchanted pack, which she'd
kept a death-grip on while being pulled along the river.  They had no
food, which was sure to present a problem sooner than later.
  They didn't know how long they'd ridden the mad currents of the dark
underground river, but eventually the currents had seen fit to deposit
them in a rocky inlet, from which a passage led - the same passage they
now moved through.  There was a minute amount of light, generated by
a tiny portion of the weird fungus given to them by Fungo.  Songa, who
had superior night vision, was able to see adequately under these dim
conditions.  The lithe huntress led the way, spear held ready.  They
kept their talking to a minimum, for one never knew what danger - man,
beast, or otherwise - lurked ahead, around the next turn in the passage.
  For hours they moved thusly, creeping through the dark underground
tunnels, never knowing which way they were going.  There were several
side passages, but the one they were in seemed to be a main route of
some sort, so they stuck with it.  Still, it was impossible to have any
true sense of direction under these conditions, and Rillen came closer
to panicking than he had in quite some time, for the millions of tons
of rock all around him had a strong claustrophobic effect.  The big
warrior was pretty sure that if he ever saw the light of day again,
his days of exploring caverns beneath the world's surface would be at
a distinct end.  He had no idea how the drow were able to tolerate
these conditions.
  Songa, however, kept him calm and confident - or at least as much so
as was possible under these circumstances.  Her patience paid off, to
some extent, as they came upon an encampment of dim shapes in an open
cavern ahead.  The others hadn't noticed the two newcomers yet, but at
the same time, it was difficult to decide the next course of action.
If the group ahead was hostile, a surprise attack, sudden and brutal,
was called for.  On the other hand, these were the first beings that
the adventurers had seen in quite some time, and there existed the
possibility that those ahead could help Rillen and Songa return to the
world above.
  It quickly became apparent, however, that the encampment consisted
of creatures less than human.  The grunts and growls that the things
made didn't sound promising.  Using hand signals, the two adventurers
came up with a simple and hasty plan...

Songa:  (strides out into the larger open area)  Greetings!

  The creatures exploded in a flurry of howling motion, leaping to
their feet and grabbing up crude axes and bludgeons.  The hissing
and cackling that they now made didn't sound good, and Songa got the
feeling that she was being regarded as lunch.  The movements of the
things, as they began to circle her and move in with weapons ready,
made up her mind.

Songa:  Now!
Rillen:  (suddenly opens a small sack, exposing the entirety of the
  glowing fungus in their inventory)

  The effect was as predicted:  the creatures, used to near-darkness and
unprepared for a sudden burst of light, covered their eyes and screamed.
Songa now got a good look at them, and she didn't like what she saw:
dark green, scaly bodies and frog-like heads with rows of filthy teeth.

creature:  (still shielding its eyes, it charges, stone axe swinging)
Songa:  (swings her spear around, catching the thing in the stomach and
  lifting it off of the rocky ground)
creature:  Glurk!  (it drops its weapon, then flails its limbs uselessly)
Songa:  (flings the monster into several of its fellows)
other creatures:  (still cowering from the light, they begin to creep

  Rillen, however, was ready.  Having discarded the glow-fungus - which
would do its job just as effectively from the ground - he had his longbow
in hand, and an arrow at the ready.

creature:  (reels, the wooden shaft protruding from its forehead)  Aaaie!
Songa:  Damn good shot.
Rillen:  (readies another arrow)  Please.

  The battle didn't last long.  The troglodytes, while superior in numbers,
were inexperienced combatants who weren't used to fighting calm, skilled
foes.  Within moments, all nine of the things lay dead or dying from spear
or arrow.

Songa:  (moves amongst the creatures, finishing off those who aren't dead
  yet)  Too bad they didn't speak our language.
Rillen:  (shrugs)  We should see if they have anything of use to us.

  The few crude gemstones and muck-encrusted coins meant nothing next to
the sack of fish that one of the creatures had been carrying.  The fish
smelled terrible, but Songa was confident that careful selection and a
hot fire would produce some palatable food.  While she attended to that
task, Rillen made a cursory search of the two exit passages from the
cavern.  One led to a small underground lake, but the other widened a bit
and led away - and more importantly, it contained the slightest breeze.

Songa:  It might lead to the surface!
Rillen:  (nods)  Let's get going.  I don't want to be down here any longer
  than we have to.
Songa:  Agreed.

  They wolfed down the last of their meager but satisfying meal and got
moving.  The larger passage was obviously well-used, with numerous tracks
in the dirt and mud of its floor.  Songa made these out to be the same
manner of creatures that they'd just encountered.

Songa:  Perhaps a larger encampment ahead...
Rillen:  (coming over a crest in the passage)  Let's hope not.  We really
  wouldn't be able to take on more than a dozen of those things.  They
  may be slow and stupid, but they'd overwhelm us.
Songa:  (pointing ahead)  Then I'd say we have a problem.

  The passage before them opened into a slope, which descended into an
entire town, situated on the shore of a large underground lake.  Even
from this distance, it was easy to make out the forms of hundreds of the
troglodytes, going about their business in their community.

Rillen:  Dammit.

next:      two against an entire town?
released:  9/25/00
notes:     The fan response to the Helgate arc was outstanding!  Pretty
  much everyone loved it.  I am pleased.
    You may notice that I've removed the address
  from the "email" section a few lines above this one.  This is because
  they're shuffling unix machines here at work and I may not have one
  anymore, fairly soon here.  If I do have one, it'll be a SunRay, which
  is little more than a terminal attached to a central server.  I'll have
  to get a cname for the old cimmeria address and have it pointed to the
  new address, whatever it might be.
    New rants (kind of a pair) :

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