Chapter #688

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                           +                   +
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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   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Xusia           arch-lich                                             +
+                                                                         +
+   Bodok           beholder king                                         +
+   Cespedes        human archmage                                        +
+   Fenris          human master thief                                    +
+   Gog             fire giant warrior chief                              +
+   Kael            human general                                         +
+   Selene          female dark elven high priestess                      +
+   Ulrich          human anti-paladin                                    +
+   Ythuus          ultradaemon                                           +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:           late 578 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           evening                                               +
+   Place:          the Griff Mountains, just north of the Troll Fens     +
+   Climate:        cool                                                  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "A shadow shall fall over the universe, and evil will grow in its     +
+    path, and death will come from the skies..."                         +
+                                                   - from _Heavy Metal_  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   DCLXXXVIII.  Fortress of the Nine





  Nestled in the southern side of the Griff mountain range, close to the
northernmost edge of the fearsome Troll Fens, a sprawling fortress lay
hidden from the rest of the world.
  Three years ago, it had not been there.

  Just as the arch-lich Xusia had chosen his latest allies carefully, so
had the entire group then selected this remote, dangerous location as
their base of operations.  Between the labor of the area's inhabitants
(mostly trolls from the swamps and giants from the mountains) and the
powerful magic of those who now ruled the area, the fortress took shape
in record time.  It wasn't quite finished yet, but it was quite habitable.
  From the outside - to one riding north, perhaps, from the Troll Fens -
the fortress was fearsomely impressive.  Built into the side of a mountain,
it loomed over the terrain, dwarfing the small town that had grown at its
base.  The visible part of the fortress was the size of a large castle,
but there was much more hidden within the mountain itself.  Entrance was
afforded by a gigantic set of double doors, high enough to allow any giant
to pass with room to spare.  These portals were flanked by twin towers,
fifteen-floor bulwarks connected by a walkway a hundred feet above the
ground.  The towers were manned at all times by a mixed force of men and
humanoids, ready and able to rain death upon foes below.
  Aside from being well off the beaten path, the location really was ideal
for those powerful enough to hold and maintain it.  No army could approach
without a long, arduous trek through harsh, hostile lands.  The swamps to
the south contained large numbers of particularly big and mean trolls,
and the mountains to the north were home to many sorts of giants.  Both
resources had been tapped already to form the fearsome armies that this
place would need.
  The fortress was inhabited by many, but ruled by a select few.  One
such individual now strode through the corridors of the huge place, a
small gilded cage held in one hand.  This was Cespedes, a tall and thin
wizard who favored his hooded crimson robe.  That garment's many sewn-on
stars - each a powerful magic token in its own right - offset its other-
wise bland appearance.  Cespedes' short grey hair matched his short grey
goatee; both were kept that way more out of habit than anything that
resembled preference.  It wouldn't matter anyway, not after he completed
the artificial body he had been constructing for the last few years.
The human body that he had been born with was outliving its usefulness,
for it had grown old and weak.  Cespedes had mastered many things, long
ago eliminating the need for food, drink, and sleep - but he hadn't yet
discovered a way to make his flesh-and-blood body stronger or more
resistant to damage.  The only question was what composition and shape
his next body would have.  He'd even been tinkering with the idea of
losing physical form altogether and becoming a being of pure thought.
  Anyhow, there were other projects and discoveries at hand, one of
which was contained within the tiny cage that Cespedes held in one hand.
He'd been seeking the iron dwarf for a long time, primarily to see if
the legends were true.  The last one to control the thing - if that word
could ever truly be applied to the iron dwarf - had perished, and with
her passing, all of her findings about the dwarf had been lost.  Or had
they?  Cespedes was devoting a significant amount of time and energy to
the task of finding a true means of control over the iron dwarf.  There
were legends of a unique device, perhaps a rod, that enabled its bearer
to actually command the mighty warrior.  If that was the case, Cespedes
would find and master it - of that he was certain.

  Now, however, it was time for a council.  Entering a massive chamber
with a domed ceiling, the wizard took his seat.  There were eight other
seats, though some of them were only there as tokens.

gigantic beholder king:  (floating above and in front of his designated
  chair)  It's about damn time.
Cespedes:  (shrugs)
Xusia:  (stands, speaking in a dry, rasping voice that yet commands the
  attention of all)  I believe our plans to be progressing nicely.  Let's
  have status reports from all.  (he turns to his left, where a diminutive
  dark elven woman sits)  Selene?

  This drow was a high priestess of Lolth, and with a small band of dark
elves and drider, she was a liason between the Underdark and the surface
world.  She was exceedingly lovely, but also exceedingly cruel, and her
ruthlessness and spite knew no bounds.

Selene:  I have contacted the nearest drow city, and am working to build
  an alliance with their strongest house.  If all goes well, we will be
  able to call upon a force from that place, in return for promised riches
  from the surface world.
Xusia:  I am more interested in the possibility of using such allies to
  mount attacks on specific cities on the surface world.
Selene:  (barely controls the flash of anger that crosses her face)  Of
  course.  (she waves a hand angrily)  As for relations with the duergar
  colony...that didn't go so well.  I had to destroy their last envoy
  after they made demands that were unreasonable.
Xusia:  No matter.  The dark elves are the more important priority; the
  duergar aren't essential to our plans.  (he regards the next person in
  the circle)  Ulrich, what news?

  Ulrich was an anti-paladin, a powerful servant of an evil war-god.  He
wielded a sword that existed (like its master) only to destroy Good, and
he rode a red dragon into battle.  Even now, that fearsome wyrm rested in
its huge cavern, high in the fortress.  Ulrich held open disdain for just
about everybody, and wasn't afraid to show it.

Ulrich:  (smirks)  I've scouted far and wide.  All of the potential targets
  we've considered would be ripe for the taking.  (he gets a destructive
  gleam in his eye)
Xusia:  When the time comes.
Ulrich:  ...when the time comes.  (despite himself, his gaze flicks briefly
  but lustily over Selene)
Selene:  (either misses or ignores this)
Xusia:  Have you had any success finding other dragons to ally themselves
  with our cause?
Ulrich:  No.  The only wyrm we've been able to find so far was a green,
  and we had to kill it since it wouldn't parley.
Xusia:  That is...unfortunate.  Keep at it.
Ulrich:  We will.  (he neglects to mention that his dragon attacked the
  other before any discussion could take place)
Xusia:  Cespedes, you have the iron dwarf, I see.
Cespedes:  (nods)  The prison of Zagyg worked perfectly, as I knew it would.
Xusia:  We all knew.
Cespedes:  Yes.  The dwarf is here, and here he shall stay until such time
  as I obtain a means of controlling his fury.
General Kael:  If not, you could still let him loose in the midst of a sea
  of foes.

  Kael was the fortress' general, commanding all of its military might.
An imposing figure who stood six and a half feet tall, the man had seen
decades of warfare, and always come out ahead.  His armor was decorated with
fearsome depictions of savage monsters.  His helm, which rested at his side,
was fashioned from the fanged skull of some unique beast.  A bushy gray beard
hid the bottom half of the general's face, but his eyes held a power all
their own, able to command men and intimidate foes.  He had done both with
great success.

Cespedes:  True...true.  But if we can direct the iron dwarf, he will be
  more useful still.
General Kael:  Of course.  I was simply looking at it from a strategic
  standpoint.
Xusia:  What other such allies - or tools - have you unearthed?
Cespedes:  Last week's foray into the Underdark was a complete success.  The
  construct known as Talos is ours!
Xusia:  (smiles maliciously)  Excellent.  I shall wish to take a look, soon.
Cespedes:  I had to contain the golem in an ever-shifting prison of water,
  for no other cell would hold him.  It wasn't easy - I had to bargain with
  the Elemental King of Water.
Xusia:  That is acceptable.  The end result is all that matters.  (he turns
  to the next in the circle)  Bodok?

  Bodok was the beholder king, a gigantic floating orb twice the size and
power of "normal" beholders.  Several of his stalked eyes were dead, from
age and battle, but those that remained held foul and terrible powers, some
atypical of those used by others of his species.  Bodok had joined the evil
alliance despite the wishes of some of its other members; it was hard for
some people to accept a monster such as this into their ranks.  The beast's
usefulness, however, could not be denied:  Bodok's entourage of beholder-kin,
when working in concert and under his command, could level a city.  In fact,
they had done just that in the past.

Bodok:  (floats there, taking his time before answering)
Xusia:  Bodok...
Bodok:  My questings in the Underdark have borne little fruit.
Selene:  No great surprise, that.
Bodok:  Had we found a drow city, perhaps our luck might have been better.
Selene:  (about to make a smart comment, she gazes into the monster's huge
  central eye, and stifles her protest)
Bodok:  We obtained a handful of slaves, some of whom were unfortunately
  eaten before we got back here.
Xusia:  No allies?
Bodok:  None.  Though I daresay that word of our power is reaching those in
  the world below, for few still roam the immediate area.
Xusia:  (clearly disappointed)  Hmm...you must continue your efforts.
Bodok:  (recalling the dwarven force that he and his crew exterminated last
  week)  With pleasure.
Xusia:  Ythuus?

  Ythuus wasn't human, and even to monsters, he was...alien.  One of the
most powerful of the extraplanar race known as daemons, he was tall with
smooth gray skin and large, round purple eyes.  Ythuus had no nose or mouth,
communicating exclusively by telepathy - much to the irritation and perhaps
fear of those who didn't care for others intruding into their minds.

Ythuus:  I am making progress with the illithid colony.  That is all.
Xusia:  ...very well.  Illithids, with their mental powers, will make for
  valuable allies.
Ythuus:  Yes.
Xusia:  (turns to the next in the almost-complete circle)  Fenris?

  Fenris was a thief, a master thief at that, and a master of disguise and
espionage.  He had at least a dozen unique identities across the world,
and nobody who knew one knew about any of the others.  Besides being the
Guildmaster of the Dyvers Thieves' Guild, Fenris was the center of a huge
and far-reaching network of information.  It was he who used his contacts
to smooth things over when the Nine needed to insinuate themselves into
some apsect of unsuspecting society.  Fenris was dangerous, not because
of magical items (though he had those too) but because he'd achieved all
that he had through natural intelligence, manipulation, and skill.

Fenris:  The base of operations beneath Dyvers is coming along nicely, and
  we will soon begin the next one.
Xusia:  Greyhawk?
Fenris:  (nods)  I am being patient and careful, but this means a longer
  time to get things set up.
Xusia:  As it should be.  The more gateways we have in place across the
  world, the easier it will be to implement our plans.  (he pauses)  Most
  unfortunate, Baron Albert's demise.  Destroying that gateway was a shame,
  but Albert's slayers could not be allowed to learn the nature of what
  lay beneath his mansion.
Fenris:  In any case, that's my report.  I'll be back in Dyvers for the
  next few days.
Xusia:  Yes.  (he regards a gigantic form, who sits in a gigantic chair)
  Gog?

  The fire giant stood over twenty feet tall, his muscular form imposing
even in rest.  Bright, almost flaming red hair and beard offset his jet-
black skin.  Gog was an unusually large, strong, and most importantly,
intelligent fire giant.  He'd come from the Hellfurnaces originally, but
had seen action in various mountain ranges around the world.  After a plan
to build an army of fire giants didn't work out, Gog had ended up in the
Griffs with a token force of fire and stone giants.  General Kael had
found and recruited the giant, and everybody won:  the fortress gained a
number of well-trained and powerful giants, and Gog gained allies and
resources.

Gog:  My forays into the mountains have borne fruit.  Four hill giants
  and nine ogres have joined our force.  My next expedition will be into
  the Troll Fens, where I hope to recruit some of those into our ranks.
Xusia:  Outstanding.

  Gog, while limited by being a purely physical combatant, tended to get
other giants to follow him.  General Kael, with his experience, knew that
even a handful of giants was a force to be reckoned with, a force that
could turn the tide of many a battle.  He and Gog had been working with
their respective forces to teach them how to fight effectively together,
the giants' strength and rock-throwing complimenting the smaller humans'
greater numbers and speed.  When the time came, foes would fall in great
numbers.

  Next to Gog sat General Kael, who gave a brief update on the training
and numbers of the fortress' standing army.  This army was growing all
the time, and soon, it would be put to use.  At the same time, Kael
was seeing to it that massive quantities of weapons and armor were
constantly being rolled out of the fortress' forges.  One of his chief
henchmen, the dwarven warriorsmith Orzo, was in charge of this effort.
The results had been impressive.  On a related note, the final touches
of the work on the fortress' construction were being made; the strong-
hold was, for all intents and purposes, completed.

Xusia:  Good work, all.  We are making progress...and it will not be
  long now, not long at all...
Ulrich:  One thing...?
Xusia:  Yes?
Ulrich:  My high priest, Dalgoroth, is ready with the decoy operation
  we spoke about.
Xusia:  The latest trap for that druid and his allies?
Ulrich:  (nods)
Xusia:  Very well, get to it.  We need to eliminate those people, and
  we need to do it by making them come to us, rather than the other
  way around.  Proceed, with extreme prejudice.
Ulrich:  (smiles, evil written all over his face)





next:      uh-oh
ftp:       ftp.peldor.com
www:       http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:  http://www.peldor.com/
email:     tmiller@peldor.com
released:  11/2/00
notes:     Just a note about the iron dwarf, for you completists out
  there:  back in episode 314, it was implied that the little guy had
  the power of flying, when in fact what I MEANT was that the female
  wizard had added jumping (per the boots) to the dwarf's already-
  impressive list of powers.  In any case, now you have the Official
  Word.
    My next accessory is the Fortress of the Nine, which is all about
  the stronghold shown in this episode and its rulers.  As soon as the
  maps are done and keyed, I'll advertise/release the thing.
    If you go to http://www.peldor.com/fanart/ you can see sketches
  of Kael and Fenris, courtesy of Jason Briceno.
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