Chapter #750

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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       +
+   1991-2001 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      +
+   Otto             8th/11th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+   Razor Charlie    9th level human fighter                              +
+   Skektek         12th level human wizard                               +
+   Ys              13th level reptilian fighter                          +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+   Gorgo            9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Boltar          high priest of Pholtus                                +
+   Drak            barbarian warrior                                     +
+   Parekh          dark-skinned female wizard                            +
+   Neera           female human sage/astrologer                          +
+   Date:           indeterminate                                         +
+   Time:           indeterminate                                         +
+   Place:          an unidentified plane                                 +
+   Climate:        bad and getting worse                                 +
+   "What the hell is going on around here?!?"                            +
+   "The truth?"                                                          +
+   "I can take it."                                                      +
+   "We don't know."                                                      +
+               - Jack Burton & Wang, from _Big Trouble in Little China_  +

                         DCCL.  Indecent Proposal

  The battered and severely weakened party is under attack by some big

ape-thing #1:  (roars mightily as it charges forth)  GRAAAAAR!
Mongo:  (takes a single step forward and swings his arm, meeting the foe
  with his hammer)
ape-thing #1:  <SNAP>  (it reels back, its head hanging at an odd angle)
Mongo:  Fucker.
ape-thing #2:  (crashes out of the jungle to one side)  RRAAAARGH!
Belphanior:  I am NOT in the mood for this.  (he leaps right at the
  beast, Blackrazor flashing grimly)
ape-thing #2:  (sliced across the face and chest, it howls in agony as
  it staggers back, thick green ooze bleeding from the wound)  ROOOWWWWL!
ape-thing #3:  (bursts into the clearing from a third direction)  AAARRR!
Neera:  Aieeee!
Razor Charlie:  (hurls two knives at the thing's eyes, one of which hits
  and sticks from the socket)
ape-thing #3:  (unfortunately not stopped by this attack, it rakes the
  warrior with its sharp talons)
Razor Charlie:  (cut badly, through his enchanted leather armor, he
  falls and rolls away from the attacker, bloodied and bruised)  Argh!
ape-thing #3:  (opens its beak, screaming in triumph as it lunges after
  the prey)
Mongo:  (hurls Stormcrest, smacking the thing on the back and knocking
  it to the ground, unmoving)  Good thing they're too fired-up to do
  any thinking in battle.
Belphanior:  (regards the monster he wounded as it circles him warily)

  The thing had no intention of giving up or fleeing; it leapt again,
but found the black blade poised to meet it.

ape-thing #2:  (its shoulder impaled on the sword, it screams)  AAAARK!
Belphanior:  (exerts his tremendous strength, ripping the blade free in
  a savage motion that half-severs the foe's arm)
ape-thing #2:  (stumbles back, clutching the horrific wound)  RRRR...
Boltar:  (unleashes a fiery bolt of light, which skewers the monster right
  through the chest)
ape-thing #2:  Urk.  (it falls, a gaping and smoking hole punched through
  its torso)
Belphanior:  Whoa...nice.
Boltar:  Perhaps, but it also confirms my fears.  Only beings inherently,
  innately evil can be harmed by that spell...meaning that these creatures
  are from a lower plane.
Neera:  But that means...that _we_ are on a lower plane right now!
Boltar:  I'm afraid so.
Mongo:  Crap.  (he looks around)
Belphanior:  No time to waste here!  (he works a spell)  I'll get us some
  protection - Boltar, you work on healing people.
Boltar:  (nods, and moves to examine the various wounded)
Belphanior:  Mongo, you keep watch until my field is up.
Mongo:  Gotcha.
Belphanior:  Neera, see to Charlie, and help him get over here with the
  rest of us.
Neera:  Uh, right.

  Before long, all was in place:  everyone was within a bubble of force,
the wounded being tended by the high priest of Pholtus.

Belphanior:  What's the outlook here?
Boltar:  Well...Bosco there is the simplest case.
Belphanior:  That's a given.
Boltar:  He suffers from simple physical damage.  I've already mended
  his wounds, and he'll sleep it off in no time.  As for those burned
  by the fireball or whatever it was - Skektek, Otto, and Drak - they
  too are easily healed.  Though they look worse.
Belphanior:  (eyes the mentioned ones, all of whom are unconscious as
  they rest and recuperate after being healed by Boltar's magic)
Boltar:  That Otto...I don't know what he is or what he's got, but his
  burns were already half-healed by the time I worked my spells.
Belphanior:  He's a tough bastard...whereas I'm just a bastard.
Neera:  That's not true-
Belphanior:  Maybe, maybe not.  (to Boltar)  What about Ys?
Boltar:  The reptilian's physiology is a mystery to me - after all, he
  has blue blood! - but he clearly suffers from some strange and potent
  poison.  I have done what I could, but...(he shrugs)  I just can't say
  whether he'll succumb or recover.
Belphanior:  Parekh's problem, I know about.  She's been feebleminded.
Boltar:  (nods)  I have heard of such things...and I have a spell that
  may heal her malady.
Belphanior:  You should use it, then.  We need her magic.
Boltar:  But I only have one such spell, and as I am cut off from mighty
  Pholtus at the moment...
Belphanior:  I'm not following.
Boltar:  That same spell, is the only thing I have that can heal Gorgo's
  weakness...or perhaps negate the venom that courses through Ys' body.
Mongo:  You mean Gorgo's not gonna get better on his own?
Boltar:  (shakes his head)  Due to the touch of that strange foe, Gorgo
  has lost life energy...a rather significant amount.
Mongo:  So, you can only help one of the three of them, Gorgo or Ys or
Boltar:  Correct.
Mongo:  Shit.
Belphanior:  (to Boltar)  What about that great healing-rod you have?
Boltar:  I already tapped all its power for is useless until
  tomorrow, unless we need to cure blindness or deafness.
Mongo:  Shit.
Belphanior:  It's going to have to be Parekh.
Mongo:  (cursing to himself)
Belphanior:  Hey, I just chose her over one of my own, too.  It's the
  right decision and you know it.
Mongo:  I know, I know.  I just don't have to like it.
Razor Charlie:  (feeling somewhat useless right now, he simply scans
  the jungle outside the force-sphere for any further signs of life)
Boltar:  Parekh, then.
Belphanior:  Yep.

  The high priest worked his magic - the last major healing spell he
had left today and perhaps for a longer while - and gently touched the
woman's forehead.

Parekh:  (blinks)  What's going on?
Belphanior:  Whew.

  As soon as the elf had brought Parekh up to date, she insisted on
using her spells to try and get them out of this place.

Parekh:  Wizardly magic is different than that of priests...and so we
  must try.
voice:  Don't bother.

  The voice wasn't particularly loud, yet they all heard it clearly.
It was loud and strong, and had a distinctly unpleasant tone though it
was impossible to say exactly why.  Those who were conscious turned
to look through the invisible barrier at the speaker:  a tall, broad
man with bluish-green skin that appeared almost scaly.

Parekh:  What do you mean, "don't bother"?
strange being:  Your spells will not allow you to leave this place
  unless I permit it.  I wish to parley with you, and thus I will not
  permit it.
Boltar:  (buckles, hit by a sudden and strong wave of nausea)  Urgh...
Razor Charlie:  (catches the high priest, helping him remain standing)
Mongo:  What the fuck?
Boltar:  Evil...that one is...evil...
strange being:  (smiles, hinting at a mouthful of sharp teeth)  See,
  he knows.
Belphanior:  Enough bullshit-
strange being:  Indeed.  (he waves his hand, and the wall of force
  instantly vanishes)
Parekh:  I see.
Belphanior:  Huh?
Parekh:  Nothing.
Belphanior:  (addresses the strange individual)  What do you want?
strange being:  I'm not one to play games or dance around the point, so
  here it is.  You and I have a great foe in common:  one Orcus, demon
Belphanior:  Him!
strange being:  Yes, him.  For some reason, he covets your servitude, as
  an agent on the prime material plane.  Many of his doings - direct and
  otherwise - have hinged around this.
strange being:  So, be _my_ agent instead.  It would strike a great blow
  to that thrice-cursed Orcus, and it would also amuse me greatly.
Belphanior:  What do I get out of it?
strange being:  You get to go home - all of you.  But, as I am a generous
  sort, I offer yet more.  (he snaps his fingers)

  There was a puff of black smoke, and when it cleared, a familiar - if
long-absent - figure stood within the fading wisps.

Victoria:  So, we meet again.
Belphanior:  (his jaw drops)
strange being:  (smiles evilly)
Belphanior:  You have GOT to be kidding me.
Victoria:  This is no joke.
Belphanior:  (shaking his head)  I thought you were lost...sucked into
  some bizarre portal during the Helgate battle.
Victoria:  It's pretty simple, really.  That portal led here, after a
  fashion, and our mutual friend here saw to it that I arrived in his
Belphanior:  And you've been here all this time?
Victoria:  Not that long, actually - time passes much slower here than
  back on Oerth.
Parekh:  Where exactly ARE we?
strange being:  You are in the Abyss, in my domain...or one of them, at
  any rate.
Mongo:  (to Razor Charlie)  This is not good.
Razor Charlie:  No shit.
Neera:  Not good at all.
Boltar:  (weakly)  "Not good" barely begins to describe how much trouble
  we're in.
Belphanior:  (to Victoria)  And you've been held here against your will?
Victoria:  Not entirely against my will...this place has its advantages,
  and I've been privy to things...all sorts of things.  (she glares at
Belphanior:  (addresses the strange fellow again)  Just who exactly ARE
strange being:  I am the lord of the cursed jungles...the king of all
  whose blood runs cold...

  As he spoke, the strange one was changing...and growing.  His skin
became darker, the blue-green scales fully formed now.  His single head
somehow became two - the heads of great baboons!  These stretched forth
on serpentine necks from the torso, which along with the legs was that
of a giant lizard.  The thing's arms had been replaced by long, waving
tentacles, and the ghastly transformation was completed by the forked
tail that swished from side to side.  Now twenty feet in height, their
host radiated power and fear - to see him was to cringe, and to know
pure terror.  Boltar doubled over in pain at the mere sight of the one
who stood before them.  Even in the palace of Orcus, elsewhere in the
Abyss, Belphanior and Mongo had not felt such overwhelming evil power -
and with good reason:  this one was held to possess even greater might
than Orcus.


next:      a fateful decision
released:  6/21/01
notes:     I stand by what I said about Barry Bonds a few episodes ago.
  He's still at it, and it's quite entertaining.

    The turn of events in this episode does several things:  it sets up
  a logical Orcus rivalry, it explains what happened to Victoria after
  the battle of Helgate, it gives Belphanior some tough choices, and it
  may impact future plotlines.  On the other hand, though I want to do
  it, and will, it's exactly the sort of thing that's so WRONG with the
  Adventurers:  high-power stuff.  This is my biggest gripe with my own
  body of work, and it came about, simply, because I had no sense of
  pacing.  Remember, when I started writing these in 1991, I never knew
  how far it would go.  Thus, I wasn't careful what magic and items
  made it into the stories, how fast the protagonists rose in power and
  influence, and so forth.  I'm not one to ignore the past, and so we
  now have a gaming world where the dead can usually be brought back...
  where anyone can get anywhere with a teleport spell...where people
  have no privacy, usually, due to scrying...and so on.  It's still
  fantasy, and perhaps still fun...but it's also tough on me.
    This isn't what I want to write.  But by the time I realized this,
  I was too far in, so I've been continuing along the path that made
  the most sense considering what's come before.  But it can't go on
  forever...which brings me to the second part of this essay.

    750 is here, and with it comes an announcement that most of you
  probably won't like, though it's not as bad as it could be.  I'm
  still working 80 hours a week, plus softball 3 days a week (out of
  the 4 days I don't work 16 hours) plus this and that, learning and
  movies and dating and such.  The long and short of it is that I need
  to relax the strict/fixed 2-new-episodes-per-week pace I've maintained
  for the last 18 months while working two jobs.  Here's the deal:  I'll
  write and post them when I can, with the goal of doing 50 more by the
  end of the year, but the pace just won't be fixed.  Some weeks you may
  get 3, while others you may get none.  We'll see.  No promises.
    This is definitely the shape of things to come.  I can't keep doing
  this forever, and honestly, I really don't want to.  Hell, just the
  attempt to reach 800 this year is a stretch - originally I was going
  to just stop until further notice.  But this saga - good or bad - isn't
  quite at a stopping point yet.  And so I must continue for a while yet.

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