Chapter #785

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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       +
+   1991-2001 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      15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+   Pallin          grey elven wizard                                     +
+   Rob             14th (formerly 16th) level human priest               +
+   Date:           4/27/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           dusk                                                  +
+   Place:          outside the Fortress of the Nine                      +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good         +
+    men to do nothing."                                                  +
+                                                       - Edmund Burke    +

                   DCCLXXXV.  Union of Champions

  Three of the key victors are headed for the fortress' great outer

Belphanior:  Once we wrap this up and join forces with whoever's
  left, we can turn back around and delve into this place's secrets.
Pallin:  The lich was that dangerous, to merit such immediate action
  even after his death?
Belphanior:  Right you are.
Rob:  They were all that dangerous.  (he regards the elf)  Despite
  your motives - whatever they may have been - I'm glad your group
  was here today, for this battle.
Belphanior:  Believe me, so am I.

  As the three opened the smaller doors leading south to the outer
ones, several warriors (human and otherwise) on the other side
turned in surprise to see total strangers coming _out_ of the great

Belphanior:  (instantly fires a stream of magical missiles at the
  biggest of the soldiers)
evil warrior #153:  (slumps lifelessly to the ground)
other warriors:  (frantically dropping their weapons)  Don't kill
  us!  We surrender!
Belphanior:  Get the fuck out of my way.  (he casts a spell, and
  the bar holding the huge doors closed slides out of its groove,
  falling onto the floor as the doors open, pulled by ropes from
  the outside)

  The other warriors clambered wildly out the huge door and into
the courtyard, only to be quickly rounded up by soldiers wearing
Furyondy colors.  There was, in fact, a large assortment of men,
dwarves, and an occasional gnome securing the area and guarding
prisoners.  These tasks were hampered by having to walk around the
huge bodies of giants killed in action, lying here and there on the
ground.  One dwarf, though, was given a wide berth by everyone as
he strode straight up the walk towards the doors - and it wasn't
just the large axe he was carrying that gave him respect.

Greyspire soldier #314:  That's him, he's the one that killed that
  fire giant king!
Greyspire soldier #77:  Damn, he's one tough-looking bastard.

  The priest of Trithereon had a slightly different greeting for the
master of Thunderdelve.

Rob:  Yod!  It's good to see you again.
Yod Ironbeard:  (wearily clasps hands with the holy man)  You won the
  day in there, I trust?
Rob:  Indeed, but the blood of many was spilt.
Yod:  No different than out here.  We lost a lot of good men.
Belphanior:  I remember you.  (offers his hand)  You were one of the
  rescuers who pulled my ass out of a fire once, years ago.
Yod:  (grins despite himself and shakes the elf's hand)  Yeah.  I guess
  I shouldn't be too surprised to see you here.
Rob:  And this is Pallin, a wizard with our group.  Pallin, you have no
  doubt heard of Yod Ironbeard, son of Yuri, son of Yor, and king of
  Thunderdelve Mountain.
Belphanior:  (wondering when the priest became so socially refined)
Pallin:  Of course.  The honor is mine.
Yod:  Glad you helped out.  Come on - let's catch each other up on what's
  gone down so far.

  The four of them sat on a large chunk of fallen wall at the edge of the
fallen city of Harshaak.  As far as the eye could see, from fortress to
city and city to swamp, carnage ruled the day.  The dead numbered in the
thousands, with many thousands more wounded or taken prisoner.  Harshaak
was largely destroyed, its outer walls broken down in numerous places,
smoke rising from a dozen places within.  The forces of Good had won the
day, but not without cost; casualties had been high on all sides.  Many
a halfling or gnome would never go home to the Flinty Hills, and in Ratik
and Furyondy, there were hundreds of new widows who weren't even aware of
it yet.  Greyspire's barracks would soon have scores of vacancies from
those who had fallen this day.
  All in all, though, it could have been a lot worse.  Of course, it also
could have been a lot better.  Those champions of Evil who had fought
outside the fortress were all slain, though not without cost.  General
Kael had given quite an accounting of himself; after a ten-minute clash
of swords and shields, he had bested Lord Marcus in their single combat,
finally finishing the Greyspire general with a great sword-thrust that
shattered armor and flesh alike.  Kael had then slain Gorin, who sought
to avenge the fallen Marcus after himself dispatching the evil centaur
who rode at Kael's side.  Marcus' old friend and adventuring companion,
the halfling Kup Swiftfoot, had snuck in and attempted to backstab the
general, but failed, and was near death himself as a result.  A nearby
wizard's lightning bolt had bounced off of Kael, thanks to a ring he
wore, and ricocheted back at its caster, incinerating him.  In fact, the
evil general's doom had finally come, not from any warrior or blade, but
from the mage Dexitheseus via a controlled sphere of annihilation.  Kael
had been consumed before he could kill anyone else, and just that sight
caused many of the evil ones to surrender.
  After another epic battle - one of brute, bonecrushing strength rather
than finesse - Yod himself had bested the fire giant Gog, his final blow
splitting the foe's head open.  To their credit, the other giants had
fought on after this, battling to the death and taking hundreds of the
attackers with them.
  The archmage Wu, transformed into a far western sky-dragon, had bested
Ulrich's red dragon mount Brimstone, finally breaking the latter's neck
as both wyrms wrestled in a titanic midair battle.  Blood from both
dragons was splattered all over the ground, and the fight had taken so
much out of Wu that, after crash-landing and changing back into his
normal form, he had fallen into a deep coma.
  Overall, few of the combatants outside the fortress had gotten away
unscathed, and this day's battle would forever be remembered as one that
caused heavy losses for all sides.

Rob:  Marcus's death is going to hurt the most.  Without his leadership,
  everything that he made Greyspire into will fall apart.
Yod:  You're probably right.  His men are guarding both his and Wu's
  bodies now, and not even Bosco would go near them, the mood they're in.
Belphanior:  Mongo's gonna go berserk when he hears about Gorin.
Rob:  No doubt.  (sadly)  One more hero lost.
Belphanior:  What about the "Nine" I keep hearing about?  How many did
  we get?
Rob:  It's hard to say exactly who all nine of them were - not until we
  search the fortress.  We could make some educated guesses, though, as
  to which foes we faced were the ringleaders.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Xusia's gone, and he was in it for sure.  I'd also
  guess the daemon.
Pallin:  No doubt.  That one was powerful indeed.
Rob:  I figure the archmage who teleported away at the end was another
  of the nine, as well as that anti-paladin.
Pallin:  I believe that the more mindless foes - that golem of adamant,
  or the crazed armored dwarf - were minions, not leaders.
Belphanior:  Skorvus, maybe - that's the other lich, the one killed by
  your saint.
Pallin:  The beholder, perhaps?  He certainly was powerful enough, and
  obviously a king of his kind.
Rob:  Could be.
Yod Ironbeard:  Either the fire giant I fought, or the general Marcus
  fought - or both.  Those were mighty foes, both of them.
Rob:  We're not even up to nine yet.  That is...disturbing.
Belphanior:  It really is.
Pallin:  I have scried for that archmage-
Rob:  As have I.
Pallin:  - and he is most definitely not on Oerth, or even the Prime
  Material plane.
Belphanior:  (sighs)
Rob:  On the flip side, I also scried for Xusia - communed with the
  almighty Trithereon, in fact.  The lich is really and truly dead.
Belphanior:  I wouldn't have it any other way.
Pallin:  Don't forget the drow and that huge spider, either - I can
  think of no good reason for dark elves to be associated with the
  others we fought.  That particular loose end bothers me immensely.
Rob:  Maybe they were allies or partners.
Belphanior:  Oh, definitely allies at least.  They have a base just
  two levels under where we fought the big battle, including a well-
  used connection to the Underdark.
Rob:  (startled)  Indeed?  (shakes his head)  Evil and more evil,
  everywhere.  I agree with you now --- it is urgent that we scour
  this place completely, and soon.
Belphanior:  I'm glad to hear that.  We've spent enough time talking.
  Care to join us, Yod?
Yod:  Hell, I would, but I've got an army that I'm responsible for,
  even if the combat is over.  It's not like back in Thunderdelve
  where I have my whole chain-of-command to cover for me anytime I
  feel like dungeon-crawling.  You guys take care, though, and send
  Mongo over to see me before you leave.
Rob:  At least things are under control out here.  (he looks around)
  Word will be sent to Greyhawk.  A number of magi and priests will
  soon be here to lend assistance.  There is much healing to be done,
  including a number of prominent figures and heroes.
Yod Ironbeard:  True, but...(he surveys the battlefield, complete with
  all of its corpses, craters, blast marks, destroyed siege machinery,
  damaged buildings, and the like)...I still think it could have been
  a lot worse.

  Far, far away - in a lower plane, to be exact - a demonlord laughed.
The deep, rumbling sound was horrible, like broken glass, and lesser
demons cringed, not knowing what to expect from their master.

Demogorgon:  (sitting in a huge throne of black stone)  MOST EXCELLENT.

  The godling's plan had been simple:  an attack on Orcus' interests on
Oerth would draw the latter's attention.  Orcus had been reluctant to
interfere directly, as his last such act had drawn attention from great
powers of Good.  Whether Orcus acted or not was unimportant; what _was_
important was that he was distracted.  This had allowed Demogorgon to
make major advances on several fronts, reclaiming three entire layers
of the Abyss for himself in a swift and brutal surprise attack on his
rival demonlord's interests.
  In the end - in the grand scheme of things - Demogorgon had manipulated
this entire situation to produce an outcome favorable to himself, with
very little effort or risk on his part.  This was, of course, precisely
why the demonlord was the most powerful of his kind.

next:      searching the fortress
released:  12/29/01
notes:     You didn't really think that Demogorgon was helping out of the
  goodness of his heart, did you?  No, of course you didn't.
    Thanks to David Murphy for critical help with this episode and the
  one before.  While I'm at it, thanks to Lance Dooly for his help with
  episode 779.

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