Chapter #776

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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       +
+   1991-2001 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   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:           4/27/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          outside the Fortress of the Nine                      +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "Once is happenstance.  Twice is coincidence.  Three times is         +
+    enemy action."                                                       +
+                       - Auric Goldfinger, from the novel _Goldfinger_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                          DCCLXXVI.  War





  While other parties make their way through the actual fortress, there
are events of significance taking place outside...

Yod Ironbeard:  (rides his war-lizard through a large breach in the
  walls of Harshaak)  Victory will be ours!  (he punctuates his point
  by hurling his axe at a nearby ogre defender, cleaving its head in
  two)
defender on wall:  (seizing this moment to attack the unarmed dwarven
  king, he leaps from his perch in a desperate gamble, landing across
  the back of the great armored war-lizard)  Unf!
war-lizard:  Grngh?
Yod:  (turns in his saddle)  Huh?
man:  (whips out a dagger, stabbing at Yod)  Die!
Yod:  (blocks the blow with a mailed arm, causing the blade to skitter
  along the armored links)  Bah!  (with a sudden, compact, powerful
  punch, he sends the would-be assassin sailing away, into the side of
  a building)  Weaponless doesn't mean helpless.  Fool.  (he catches
  his axe as it returns)

  The attacking forces were well into the city of Harshaak now, their
siege efforts successful.  Of course, not all of them had deployed in
that direction - for out of the fortress' great gates had come a force
to be reckoned with.  A small cavalry unit preceded several hundred
infantry (a mix of men and humanoids, but with significant numbers of
larger foes such as gnolls and bugbears.)  Several dozen ogres, all
well-armed and armored, were also present, along with a dozen trolls.
Even these powerful foes seemed small, however, next to the group of
giants who were easily the most prominent part of this force.  There
were more than a dozen of them, a mix of hill and fire giants.  Like
the humanoids, all of the giants wore armor and bore weapons - a far
cry from many of their kind throughout the world who still fought with
rocks and clubs.
  The fortress' forces had their own wizards as well.  Hundreds of the
attackers had fallen, not just from weaponplay but from huge fireballs,
icy blasts of cold, tremendous bolts of lightning, suddenly-muddy ground
into which men sank and vanished, and the like.  In other places, evil
priests lashed out with great clouds of rotting death or horrid plague,
striking down dozens at a time.  Great hammers and blades of force could
be seen here and there, striking down foes from afar and sometimes in
large numbers.

  Impressive (and fearsome) as all of these things were, however, they
paled in comparison to the great crimson beast that hurtled out of some
mountainous lair high above the battlefield.

red dragon:  (circling high overhead)  GRAAAAARGH!

  This wyrm had a rider, though it took a sharp eye to note this unless
the angle was just right.  The dragon-rider wasted no time making use
of the monster's fiery breath; an entire battalion of Furyondian
knights was bathed in flames from above.  With nowhere to run and no
way to ward off the inferno, they perished instantly, melted into non-
existence within a huge black stain on the ground.

Furyondian soldier #1138:  (on the outer fringes of the breath weapon
  attack, and unaware that the ring he's worn for years is a ring of
  fire resistance, he stands there unscathed and shocked)  Whoa.
red dragon:  (circling again, high above the battlefield)  RAAAAARGH!
Yod Ironbeard:  Moradin's beard!  How the hell are we supposed to stop
  that thing?!?
Kup Swiftfoot:  (peering upward, at the crimson form in the sky)  We're
  not.  That's probably the idea.
Yod Ironbeard:  I can't even reach it with my hammer, not that far away.

  Nearby, however, another had also taken note of the red dragon and the
need to somehow stop it.  The wyrm was singlehandedly capable of turning
this battle to the side of evil, and that could not be allowed to happen,
not at any cost.

Wu:  (begins chanting, as his body shifts and shimmers)
Greyspire soldier #571:  Huh?
Wu:  (sprouts bluish-gray wings)  Ahhh...
Greyspire soldier #571:  Yikes.

  The frail old wizard leapt into the air, still shifting form all the
while.  The tiny wings were growing at an alarming rate, even as a tail
sprouted and lengthened.  Human features vanished beneath scales and
horns and fins...and the wizard's new body grew yet larger.

Greyspire soldier #571:  He- he's becoming...
Greyspire soldier #99:  A dragon!

  Indeed Wu had, though his new form resembled nothing that any of those
present had ever seen.  It was a dragon, as big as any other - but its
body was a bit more snake-like, its wings more elegant, its horns and
claws and fangs more pronounced.  Though few (if any) of those who now
saw this magnificent, exotic beast could know it, they were looking at
a dragon from the far west.  These dragons were masters of the wind, the
clouds, and the sky.  Their motives and desires were far removed from
those of "normal" dragons, and their secrets were many.
  That being said, this dragon's body held the mind and soul of the
human wizard Wu, and its motive was simple.

cloud dragon:  (soars upward with incredible speed and grace, closing in
  on the foe from behind, aided by the winds inherent to its very nature)

  By the time the red dragon or its rider noticed the other dragon's
approach, it was almost too late.  The red banked hard to the left in a
desperate maneuver, but the pursuer matched the move perfectly, actually
gaining distance bit by bit.  As the red turned back toward the sun, its
wings beating furiously, the other made up the final few hundred feet...
and struck!

cloud dragon:  VREEEEEEE!  (it slams into the red with an impact felt by
  those on the ground far below, its hooked talons ripping into the other
  dragon's scaled hide)
red dragon:  RAAAAARGH!  (it tumbles in midair, wings and legs a blur of
  movement as it tries to right itself and fight back)



  As the two dragons went to war, the red's rider was knocked from his
saddle, plummeting down and away from the duel of wyrms...

Ulrich:  (grasping his sword, he slows, then stops, hovering in midair)
  Hmm.  (gazing up, where the dragons are tearing into each other, he
  quickly realizes that he cannot participate in that fight, nor should
  he try)  Hmmmmm.  (gazing down, he realizes that he was better off on
  dragon-back, attacking from above)

  Just then, a bolt of lightning from some random spellcasting foe hit
the anti-paladin in the back.  His sword's magic resistance failed to
turn this blow away, and he was catapulted through the sky, smoking and
charred...

Ulrich:  (regains his senses as he nears the stone wall of the fortress,
  and uses his flying power to level off before colliding with the hard
  rock)  By Nerull, someone will pay for that!

  Before he could make good on that threat, however, the evil one sensed
the presence of a great force of good.  Because of his close ties to his
dark patron, the death-god Nerull, Ulrich was especially sensitive to any
such presences - and this one was strong, almost a glaring pain in his
mind.  Worse, the power he sensed was coming from the direction of the
fortress, meaning that enemies were not only close, but _within_ the lair
of the Nine!  That was unacceptable.

Ulrich:  (flying up to a small, barred window, he lashes out with his
  unholy sword, disintegrating the metal and stone and allowing a most
  immediate entry)

  The anti-paladin had only one thing on his mind:  finding and killing
whatever forces of good had invaded the fortress.  Even his sword hummed
with the thought, since the slaying of such forces was its very reason
to exist.



  Meanwhile, two other groups of champions now faced each other, across
the ranks of their soldiers...

Lord Marcus:  That must be General Kael.
Gorin:  Who?
Lord Marcus:  I've heard a lot about him.

  The evil general was visible even at a distance.  A giant of a man, he
wore jet-black armor and a black helm fashioned to resemble a grinning
deaths-head.  Even his shield was black, and he rode a huge, armored black
warhorse that was unusually aggressive and fearless.  This mighty warrior
fought with a huge bastard sword, every blow accurate and lethal; none
could stand before him.  In fact, many turned and fled, which was unusual
for well-trained fighting men such as the forces of Greyspire, Furyondy,
and the others who fought here today.

Yod Ironbeard:  (still astride the giant war-lizard, he enjoys a lull in
  the action as well)  That one looks dangerous.
Lord Marcus:  Exceedingly dangerous, if even half of the legends are true.
  (he looks around)  I must face him.
Yod Ironbeard:  (points his axe at the knot of giants and large humanoids
  who recently emerged from the fortress and are wreaking havoc in the
  attackers' ranks)  Just like I must face that one.

  Leading the giants, trolls, and ogres was a massive fire giant, twenty
feet tall, whose sword cut down several men with each swing.  Just as the
red dragon had been dominant from the air, this giant and his forces were
unstoppable on the ground.  Yod knew an enemy general when he saw one -
and he knew the importance of facing and beating such foes.

Yod Ironbeard:  (speaking to the dwarves around him)  To me, dwarves!  We
  go to slay the giants!

  Amid a flurry of cheers, the dwarf-king spurred the lizard on, breaking
off to one side in a direct line toward the group of marauding giants.
Though the lizard alone would have been enough to spearhead an advance
into a mob of foes, the dwarf-king did a little path-making of his own...

Yod Ironbeard:  (hurls his axe, cutting down three foes in a row and
  knocking two others down)  For Moradin!  For the dwarves!

  Against such attacks, the common soldiers of the fortress could not and
would not stand.  They broke, leaving a weakened area through which the
great war-lizard plowed.  Yod, meanwhile, caught his axe as it returned,
hurling it again and again at foes ahead.

hill giant:  (hit in the head, it dies immediately, falling in a spray
  of blood and bone and brains)

  This event caught the attention of the fire giant who led the others.

Gog:  Eh?  (he roars in challenge as another of his giants goes down
  with a shattered chest)

  Gog may have been a fire giant, but he wasn't stupid.  Realizing that
the dwarf-king's axe was some dwarven throwing weapon, capable of slaying
a giant with one blow, he knew that he had to eliminate that possibility
and then take the foe on in close combat.

Gog:  (picks up a small boulder and hurls it right at Yod)
Yod Ironbeard:  Whoa!  (he throws his axe, more as a reflex action than
  anything else)

  The axe met the boulder, splitting it in two, but one of the halves
was still on course, more or less.

Yod Ironbeard:  (hit by the spinning chunk of rock, he is knocked from
  his saddle)  Ungh!
war-lizard:  (rears up, then charges off to one side, barreling over two
  trolls in the process)  Gronk!
Gog:  (charges in with uncanny speed, batting aside any who try to block
  his way)  Die!

  Five of Yod's dwarves died thusly, trying to protect their fallen king,
but Gog was in for a nasty surprise of his own as he closed to within ten
feet of where the boulder had slammed into the dwarven leader...

Yod Ironbeard:  (stands, bloody and disheveled, as his axe flies back
  into his hand)  Nice try.
Gog:  (raises his twenty-foot sword, bellowing)
Yod:  (hefts his axe, pointing it at the foe)  I am Yod Ironbeard, son of
  Yuri, son of Yor!  Prepare to meet your maker!

  As these two mighty foes charged into melee combat, other things were
taking place, elsewhere on the battlefield...

Lord Marcus:  (watching General Kael and his soldiers fight, several
  hundred feet away)  Damn!

  Due to friends in high places, Marcus knew enough about the Nine to
know that General Kael was quite probably one of them, and therefore one
of the targets of this day's operation.  He wasn't hesitant to try and
take out the evildoer himself, here and now, but there was one problem.

Lord Marcus:  We'll never get through to that one - his men are too good,
  too well-trained.
Dexitheseus:  Maybe I can help, old friend.

  The grey-bearded wizard, one of that party whom Marcus had formerly
adventured with, had already been quite helpful today.  Now, he worked
another spell...and the mass of combatants between him and the hulking
Kael was swept to either side.  It was not unlike the parting of water,
except that this time, it was living beings who were shunted aside.

Lord Marcus:  (finds himself suddenly facing General Kael, across an
  open swath only two hundred feet long)  Ha!  (he spurs his warhorse,
  turning it around and then sending it galloping toward his counterpart)
General Kael:  Hah.  (he spurs his own warhorse on, charging hard to meet
  this challenger)  A good day to die.

  Behind Kael, as always, was his right-hand man - or in this case,
centaur.  Murgoth, however, was no happy hunter like most centaurs;
rather, he was a dark centaur, an offshoot of the species.  Cruel and
calculating, he was a dangerous foe whose specialty was tracking.  He
could also fight, though, and when he did, he was a foe to be feared.

Murgoth:  (galloping a short distance behind the general, he hefts the
  unique tri-pronged spear with which he fights)  Yaaaaaar!
Gorin:  (seeing this second foe riding on the heels of the first, he
  immediately and fearlessly charges after Lord Marcus, intending to
  even the odds by taking on the black-skinned centaur)



  Elsewhere, but still within the scope of this battle, a certain party
of scouts-turned-soldiers sought action within the city of Harshaak...

Damien:  This blows.
Peyton Farquhar:  It could be worse.
Sylus Blackheart:  It will get worse, I've no doubt about that.
Adolphus Delphi:  Adolphus ready for some fighting!
Rogar:  (guzzles some wine, wiping his mouth with his forearm)
Wembly:  (listening to the sounds of battle, nearby)

  The group was accompanying a force of a dozen city guardsmen, the
lot of them moving through a deserted alleyway in search of attacking
forces to engage.  The problem was, the leader of these guardsmen was
an idiot, and didn't understand how to best utilize a force of fighters
for anything.  In fact, Peyton was beginning to wonder whether the man
might actually be lost.  Unfortunately, as newly-recruited soldiers of
Harshaak, Peyton and the others fell under the man's command, and had
to obey his orders.

guard-captain:  We'll advance to the west side and-
Peyton:  Excuse me, but the way we're going, we'll end up heading right
  into the heart of the battle, amidst the invading forces.
guard-captain:  What?
Peyton:  Wouldn't it make more sense - especially since we have a wizard
  who can cast wide-area spells - to move around to the southwest and up
  a parallel street, and gain some element of surprise?
Adolphus:  And then Adolphus smash.
Peyton:  Tactically, it's a better move-
guard-captain:  I'm the one giving the orders here, and you'll do as I
  say.
Adolphus:  Huh?  (he looks at Peyton, seeking a resolution to this
  simple issue)
Sylus:  (frowns, tightening his grip on his sword)
Damien:  (about to go into a lengthy diatribe about where the guard-
  captain can stick his orders, he is cut off by Peyton)
Peyton:  With all due respect-
guard-captain:  Enough!  No more talk.  Now get moving, we're losing
  time.

  Peyton knew it right then and there, as the other guardsmen gave him
and his companions looks of disdain...he realized that no matter the
outcome of today's fighting, this setting and this employment weren't
going to work out.  However, before he could ponder this any further,
the group rounded a corner - and found themselves looking at about a
hundred of the invading Furyondian soldiers, a short distance away.

Peyton:  (acting without hesitation, he turns to Adolphus)  Adolphus,
  kill.  (he gestures to the guardsmen)
Adolphus:  Good.  (he hefts the two-handed sword issued to him by the
  city guard and charges pell-mell into the guardsmen, who are still
  gaping in surprise at the larger invading force they just stumbled
  into)

  The guardsmen weren't expecting this turnabout at all, and three had
fallen to Adolphus before they realized what was going on.  Sylus made
it four as he wasted no time joining in, and Peyton's backstabbing
attack made it five, downing the idiotic guard-captain.  Damien flew
up and over, then down, spearing another guardsman through the eye
with his tiny pitchfork.  The guardsmen fled in terror, running right
toward the invading force, regardless of the consequences.  As the
latter group heard and saw them, and turned around to face the apparent
suicide run, it must have looked quite good for Peyton's crew:  a small
force of five or six, driving a dozen of the city's defenders before
them.

Furyondian soldier:  ...driving them to the slaughter, as it were...

  Thanks to Sylus' speed and Peyton's shortbow, not one of the guardsmen
lived to reach the Furyondian force.  As Sylus, Adolphus, and the others
regrouped and cleaned their blades, the Furyondian captain stepped forth
to meet Peyton, along with a handful of soldiers who didn't look too
amused by any of this.

Furyondian soldier:  Who in the world are you people?
Peyton:  Peyton Farquhar's the name, espionage is the game.  We're
  scouts for Deryck and Nenya of the Gedlands.  We were sent here days
  ago as an advance infiltration force.  Right now, we're just trying to
  get out of this place alive.
Furyondian soldier:  (frowns, noting the presence of a dark elf, a half-
  ogre, and what appears to be a tiny flying demon)  Um...I'm not so-
Furyondian captain:  (claps the soldier on the back)  Actually, they're
  legitimate.  The word got passed down from on high about these six.
Furyondian soldier:  Really?  How high?
Furyondian captain:  The top.  The descriptions match, as does the name
  he gave, to the information we were given before the battle began.
Furyondian soldier:  We?
Furyondian captain:  All of the officers.  Now stop asking questions.
  (he turns back to Peyton)  You should come with us, so that you don't
  get outnumbered again.  Though you people seemed to be holding your
  own against those guardsmen.
Peyton:  (humbly)  We all have to be brave in the service of the greater
  good.  It was fortunate that their morale broke and they fled, as we
  were only giving chase.  They died the deaths they deserved.
Furyondian captain:  (nods)  Surely you'll all get a medal for this.
Peyton:  (shrugs)  If someone sees fit to bestow such rewards.  (he
  looks around)  How goes the battle?
Furyondian captain:  The city walls have been breached in a dozen places
  and the main line of defenders has broken in most of those.  We're
  sweeping the streets now, looking for straggling soldiers, so that
  no second front can form.
Peyton:  Excellent, we'll join you and help out.  (to the others)  We'll
  go with them now.
Sylus:  (sheathes his sword, still somewhat amazed by the events of the
  last few moments)
Damien:  (ever the sly one, he just keeps his mouth shut)
Rogar:  (wisely sticks to his bottle and follows the others)
Adolphus:  (just happy to have had some battle, he grins and steps into
  line behind his fellows)
Wembly:  (unsure about this, as he was unsure about the last allegiance,
  he mumbles to himself)
Peyton:  (casts a sharp glance at the wizard)
Wembly:  (becomes silent)



  And so ended another chapter in the book of this great battle...just
one of many chapters that dealt with the events outside the besieged
fortress and had nothing to do, directly, with the two bands of invading
adventurers who, even now, roamed its halls and chambers seeking Xusia
and his allies.





next:      back to the Rob group
ftp:       ftp.peldor.com
www:       http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:  http://www.peldor.com/
email:     tmiller@peldor.com
released:  12/7/01
notes:     What Peyton did should pretty well define (if you didn't get
  it previously) the cornerstone of what the "Misadventurers" are all
  about.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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