Chapter #682

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

+     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   +
+   Daffodil        11th level human female druidess                      +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger                               +
+      Zephyr          rather large tiger                                 +
+   Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid              +
+   Rob             16th level human priest                               +
+   Date:           2/9/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           evening                                               +
+   Place:          the depths of the Vesve Forest                        +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "Look at me!  I am the sum of all evil."                              +
+                                     - the Loc-Nar, from _Heavy Metal_   +

                   DCLXXXII.  A Visitor Most Sinister

  Night was falling over the Vesve and Peyote's henge, the shadows just
beginning to creep in and take over.  From those same shadows stalked a
tall, lean figure - someone who carried enough rank within the circles
of the druids to get this far without any questioning.

Tolvek:  (his eyes somewhat glazed-over, he makes his way toward Peyote's
  central hut, his breath wisping in the cold night air)

  As he neared the dwelling-place, the druid removed a scroll from his
pouch, unfurling it so that its contents might more easily be read.  It
hadn't been that long ago that Tolvek had fled the forests in defeat...
and fallen right into the hands of certain evil powers.  It had been
child's play to take advantage of the young man's anger and lust for
revenge.  A seed had been planted in the druid's mind, and that was all
that was needed.  Even now, he bore an implement of destruction far
beyond his understanding or ability.
  However, as the scroll was unfurled, the surrounding environment was
alerted to the presence of that which did not belong.  Not only were the
plants and animals of this region extremely sensitive to such things,
but through the flora and fauna, Peyote was instantly aware that some
alien force was nearby.  Further, Rob - a powerful high priest himself -
detected the evil at almost the same time.  Inside the hut...

Peyote:  Whoa!
Daffodil:  What the hell?!?
Rob:  Something wicked this way comes...
Halbarad:  (looking around and feeling a little confused, he wishes
  that Zephyr was here instead of out hunting in the forest)  Did I miss

  Just then, the door burst open, admitting a figure that was familiar to
Peyote and Daffodil...

Peyote:  Tolvek?
Daffodil:  Look at him...

  The young, brash druid was clutching an open scroll and chanting some
strange words.  Fastest to act was Halbarad, who had never met Tolvek and
knew nothing about him.  Accordingly, Halbarad simply saw the man as an
unknown threat who was obviously casting a spell.

Halbarad:  (removes his dagger from its belt sheath, throwing it almost
  in the same motion)
Tolvek:  Aaagh!  (he casts a pained look at the weapon that just buried
  its blade in his thigh)
Rob:  (spellcasting)  Hmm.
Tolvek:  (begins wailing)

  Oddly enough, wisps of smoke were rising from the druid's body, which
had inexplicibly begun to smolder.  The man looked as if he was trying
to say something, but no words came out.  Then, with no warning, he
suddenly burst into flame!

Peyote:  (to Daffodil)  Did you...?
Daffodil:  Not me.  He did that to himself!
Halbarad:  What the hell-

  Tolvek was changing, and not for the better.  Skin and flesh dropped
from his body in clumps and patches, and blood pooled on the floor of
the hut.  In fact, the watchers quickly realized the terrible truth:
Tolvek's body had just been a shell for something else...something that
was now free and gazing hungrily at them.  The foe was big, maybe seven
feet tall, with dull black skin.  Basically humanoid in appearance, it
had a fearsome head that resembled that of a jackal or similar canine.
The thing's eyes were nothing more than black sockets, but that didn't
stop it from striding across the hut much more quickly than anyone
could have expected.

thing:  (making no other sound aside from a peculiar dry wheezing from
  its mouth, it grabs at Peyote)
Peyote:  Whoa!  (he steps back, bringing his sword up)

  The druid acted without hesitation, and hitting the weird foe was
child's play.  However, the bastard sword only bit an inch or so into
the creature's dark flesh.  It was as if the thing was made of thick
tar!  Worse, some sort of ill effect was transmitted from the monster,
through the sword, and into Peyote...

Peyote:  Aie!  (he reels, letting go of his weapon)  Aaaargh...(he
  staggers for a moment, then falls)
Daffodil:  Peyote!
Rob:  Negative energy...that thing drains life!  Beware its touch!

  The high priest of Trithereon punctuated his warning with a powerful
spell, one that should have turned the evil foe back at the very least.
Instead, nothing happened.

Rob:  (somewhat surprised)
thing:  (closes the distance between itself and the priest with a few
  brisk strides)

  Rob almost got his mace up in time, but a powerful blow from the foe
knocked him back, and he suffered the same effects that Peyote had:
he grew cold and was overwhelmed by weakness - effects that he knew
from experience to be typical of a life energy draining attack.

Rob:  (staggers back)  Argh...
Daffodil:  (strikes out with Thornbolt, assuming that the staff's
  power to deliver an electrical shock will protect her from the same
  foul effect)
thing:  (whacked across the head, it staggers slightly)
Thornbolt:  (screams, in its female voice)  AAAARGH!
Daffodil:  (falls to the ground, weakened just like the others)
thing:  (moves back toward Peyote)

  Halbarad had seen all of this, and realized that direct combat,
while able to slow and apparently harm the strange foe, would likely
result in some loss of life energy.  Accordingly, he grabbed up a
small chair and hurled it with all his might - might that was quite
significant, augmented by magical gauntlets.  The ranger's aim was
true, and the chair shattered across the creature's shoulders and
back, clearly staggering it.  This gave Halbarad an idea; he picked
up a table and, before his foe could recover, he hurled the heavy
table at the monster.

thing:  (grunts almost inaudibly as the heavy table smashes into it)

  The attack had exactly the effect Halbarad had planned:  it knocked
the creature through the hut's door.  The portal was knocked from its
hinges, and the foe fell to the ground outside.  Halbarad leapt out
after it, counting on his speed to keep him safe until he could think
of something else to try.  His main goal had been to get the creature
out of the close quarters of the hut, where it was the most dangerous,
and to give his companions some time to recover.

minor druid:  (having heard the commotion and been on the way to the
  hut with others in tow, he recoils as the two combatants burst out
  into the open)
thing:  (grabs the druid around the neck)
minor druid:  Aaaargh!  (he goes limp)
thing:  (drops the body and turns toward Halbarad)
Halbarad:  Come on, then.
thing:  (dashes toward the ranger, again with surprising speed and
Halbarad:  (leaps aside, his battleaxe held ready)

  He knew that hitting the thing with his axe would be a bad idea,
but if it came down to brass tacks, he'd rather lose life energy
while putting his axe-head into enemy flesh than just lose it from
an unanswered touch or grip.  The foe closed in on him again...

Rob:  (reappears, brandishing his holy symbol with trembling hands
  thanks to the life energy lost earlier)  Away!
thing:  (strides toward the priest)
Rob:  Well, either it's not undead or else it's _really_ powerful.
  (he takes a step back, preparing to use his mace's power to shake
  the ground beneath the creature before it can get to him)
Daffodil:  (emerges from the hut, her staff held high)  Thornbolt!
Thornbolt:  Yes!  (it calls down a tremendous bolt of lightning which
  hits the creature directly on its head, the electricity arcing down
  through the body and into the ground)
Rob:  (his hair stands on end, such is the raw energy present)

  The weird creature, whatever it was, finally seemed to have met its
bane.  The mighty blast of electricity had fried it alive (?) and
reduced its body to a pile of ashes.  The ground for ten feet around
was charred and smoking, and small fires had sprung up here and there
just outside the blast radius.

Daffodil:  Wow.  (she waves a hand, and the fires go out)  I didn't
  really expect the thing to perish that easily.
Peyote:  (staggers out of the hut)
Rob:  Is everyone okay?
Peyote:  Except for feeling pretty damn weak, yeah.
Daffodil:  (sits down to rest)  Agreed.
Rob:  I can take care of that, in short order.  Fear not.
Peyote:  (claps Halbarad on the back)  Thanks, man.  You helped save
Rob:  Maybe all of us.
Peyote:  Yeah...I don't like the idea that someone could come and
  try to kill me, at any time, any place.
Rob:  One of the dangers of being powerful and famous.
Peyote:  Whatever.  The point is this:  someone sent that thing to kill
  us, and five gets you ten it's the same people involved with that Cask
Halbarad:  It's likely.
Rob:  Yes.
Peyote:  And I'm not going to take it sitting down.  Rob, we need to get
  ourselves back up to strength and then find out more about the Cask and
  those who have it.  It's time to take the offensive!

next:      what HAS Nenya been doing in all her spare time?
released:  10/12/00
notes:     Time to tie this in to another sub-group's arc.
  Real-life woes:  all the WRONG teams are winning the baseball playoffs!

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