Chapter #809

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2004 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!                                          +
+   Belphanior     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Angus          iron golem                                             +
+   Sir Dremel     11th level human paladin of Heironeous                 +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  10th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          4/27/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          miday                                                  +
+   Place:         the Vast Swamp                                         +
+   Climate:       cold and damp                                          +
+   "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to       +
+    achieve immortality through not dying."                              +
+                                                         - Woody Allen   +

                        DCCCIX.  Last Hurrah

  Within hours of escaping the Vast Swamp, the adventurers have been
ambushed by a black dragon.  Both Sir Dremel and Belphanior had sensed
its presence, but not in time.


  Just like that, the gigantic monster was among them.  Only the front
of its scaled, dripping body was visible - the rest was underwater -
but judging from what they could see, the dragon had to be seventy or
eighty feet long, with a wingspan about the same size.  The area where
it had been hiding, submerged, was much deeper than the foot or so of
water where they had been marching.  Indeed, the surrounding water and
muck flowed in to fill the space as the huge monster rose over them,
and in the moments after its appearance, the adventurers realized what
a clever trap it had sprung.
  Of course, a few moments was all they had.  The monster's head was
reared back, and most of the party knew what that meant.

wispy thing:  braaaft.
Belphanior:  Take cover!  It's about to breathe!
Skektek:  (points a finger at the dragon)  No.

  The wizard was always paranoid that the next battle and foe were right
around the corner (or in this case, the next swamp tree) and since he
hadn't been rowing, he'd been paying attention, scanning the swamp.  The
dragon had the element of surprise, but Skektek had one or two attacks
that he could launch instantly...or at least a moment faster than a foe.

black dragon:  (recoils as a lightning bolt shoots right into its open
  maw and down its throat)  RRAAAAAARGH!

  Skektek's quick thinking had quite probably saved the party from an
acid bath; the dragon's spewed stream of corrosive fluid went wild.
Instead of hitting the boat and its occupants, the acid was launched
up and at an angle, quickly burning a small hole in the treetop canopy
and likely contributing to the eventual death of dozens of trees.  In
the time bought by Skektek's attack, everyone did something different.
  Belphanior used his ring to go airborne - and immediately flew away
behind a tree!  Even Otto wasn't sure what the elf was up to, other
than an apparent act of blatant cowardice.

Sir Dremel:  (easily overcomes the dragon's natural fear and awe aura,
  charging forth, his holy sword glowing brightly)  Have at thee, then!
Elgon:  Eep.  (somewhat cowed by the dragon, he gets behind a thick tree
  and begins spellcasting)
Jenna:  (right there with Elgon)  Even Istus never warned me of a beast
  such as this...
Otto:  Just work a spell...any spell!  (he utilizes his magical boots to
  make a great leap upward and to one side, ending up on a branch fifty
  feet above the swamp)
Ys:  (guzzles his potion of intimidation)  If not now, when?  (tossing
  the bottle aside, he leaps from the boat and charges the dragon, but
  at a different angle than Sir Dremel)
Razor Charlie:  (about to throw a knife, he looks at the huge, thrashing
  dragon, then at the knife, and shakes his head)  Hmph.  (he darts for
  the nearest tree)
Skektek:  (working a spell)

  Things moved pretty quickly after that.  The dragon, coughing heavily,
lunged forward.  Sir Dremel sliced a great gash in one of its front legs
but was then gouged by a claw-swipe.  Ys' mighty attack barely grazed
the dragon, glancing from its hide due to a bad angle of swing; the big
reptilian was raked by the other front leg's talons, opening bleeding
furrows in his armor and skin.  Elgon summoned forth a gigantic illusory
gold dragon, but the black dragon didn't even seem to notice it.  Jenna
cast a magical force-net atop the black dragon's head, but it ripped this
into pieces with a claw and its mouth.  Skektek tried a spell of holding
on the monstrous foe, but that didn't work either.

Skektek:  Dammit!
Belphanior:  (invisible, he sails down behind the dragon's head, sword
  poised for a deadly strike)
black dragon:  HSSSSS...(it turns, its long neck arcing so that its head
  comes up level with the elf, forcing him to strike early or risk being
  bitten, as the dragon can obviously sense him in the air)
Belphanior:  (scores a small cut across the dragon's snout, then becomes
  visible)  Damn...missed!
black dragon:  (snaps at the elf, snagging only his magical cloak, which
  is ripped in half as the elf struggles, then escapes)  RRAAARGH!
Belphanior:  Shit!
Otto:  (perched on the tree-branch above, he makes his move)

  The dwarf had been itching to try out his new shortsword on either a
large, powerful avian or reptilian foe since acquiring it on the isle of
Panagaea.  As the dragon's head passed beneath him, he sensed as good a
chance as he was going to get, and jumped, sword held firmly.

Otto:  (lands on the dragon's neck as his sword sinks deep into its
  flesh)  Die!
black dragon:  GRAAARGH!  (it bucks wildly in pain)  RRAAAAARGH!
Otto:  Whoaaaaaaaa!  (he holds on for dear life)  Yaaaaaaaah!

  Both Dremel and Ys had recovered, and both sought to take advantage
of the distraction Otto had provided.  Dremel's sword bit deeply into
its flank, while Ys hacked a huge gash in one of its legs.  The next
instant, the dragon's tail came swinging around, taking out both foes
as well as three trees.

black dragon:  RAAARGH!  (it turns sideways and slams its back into a
  tree, knocking Otto and his sword loose)
Otto:  (lying in a shallow part of the swamp, dazed)  Urgh...
black dragon:  (turns to face the fallen dwarf)  GRRRRRR.
Razor Charlie:  (steps out from behind his tree, throwing one of his
  best magical knives at the dragon's face)
black dragon:  (hit in the eye, it howls in pain, swinging one huge
  clawed foreleg)

  Charlie leaped away as the tree he'd been using for cover was felled
with the blow.  Belphanior flew to attack again, from the opposite side,
but was snatched up in the dragon's other paw.

black dragon:  (regards the elf for a moment)  GRRRRR...
Belphanior:  Never!  (with his free sword-hand, he slashes at the paw)
black dragon:  RRAAAARGH!  (it hurls the elf right at the recovering
Otto:  Oomph!  (he and Belphanior go down in a heap)
black dragon:  (whirls, inhaling)

  Both adventurers were somewhat stunned; there just wasn't time to do
anything but try to roll aside.  The jet of acid hit a little closer to
Belphanior, but they both bore most of the blast's brunt.  Through some
primal instinct, both managed to immerse themselves in the swamp water
immediately, but that didn't help much as the acid burned away at their
bodies and gear.

Ys:  (having staggered painfully to his feet and helped Sir Dremel to
  do the same)  Aie.
Sir Dremel:  Vile...beast...(he coughs painfully, spitting up blood)
Jenna:  (walks forth boldly, touching the big reptilian and healing
  almost all of his wounds)  That should help.
Ys:  Aye, it does.
Sir Dremel:  (heals himself)  Back to the fray!
Jenna:  (begins circling the main battle, heading toward the fallen
  Belphanior and Otto)

  Nearby, Skektek had also seen the fall of Belphanior and Otto, and
reacted appropriately...

Skektek:  Holy shit.  (he launches a fireball from his wand, burning a
  large crater in the dragon's side, the wound instantly cauterized)

  This drove the dragon mad with pain and rage; it whipped its tail
around, knocking Skektek aside like a sack of potatoes and also hitting
Dremel and Ys.  All three were sent flying, a good thirty feet, to land
in the water.  The dragon regarded them, then nodded, and the entire
area around the three wounded adventurers was instantly covered in a
sphere of darkness forty feet across.

black dragon:  GRMPH.

  The dragon then turned its attention back to Belphanior and Otto, as
if it could sense that they were still the most dangerous, and thus had
to die as soon as possible.

wispy thing:  (flying in circles around the dragon's head)  sssss!
black dragon:  (snaps at the intangible annoyance, but still lumbers
  toward Belphanior and Otto, who are both moving weakly and painfully
  amidst a large area of smoking swamp)

  This left Elgon and Razor Charlie alone to watch the dragon move to
finish off their leaders.

Elgon:  Any ideas?  This thing's shrugged off my best magic.
Razor Charlie:  (turns a knife over in each hand)  Yeah.  I'm going
  to charge that thing, run up its back, and stab it in the head with
  these knives.
Elgon:  But that's certain doom!
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)  So be it.  (he takes off, splashing through
  the swamp toward the dragon's backside)

  However, there was another ace up Belphanior's sleeve, and its time
had come.  Freed from the portable hole at the battle's start, Angus
had been given a very simple instruction by the elf.  The only problem
he'd faced had been the soft terrain, which he had a lot of trouble
moving through.  Finally, however, he had reached his foe, and the time
had come to perform his assigned task.

Angus:  (slams into the dragon's side, iron fists swinging)
black dragon:  GRAAAARGH!  (it swipes at the golem, its claws raking
  shallow grooves in his metal body)

  Angus was extremely tough and resistant to damage - normal weapons
couldn't even scratch his iron skin - but the dragon's claws were far
more than normal weapons.  Still, the golem fought on, and with every
blow of his massive fists, the dragon felt more flesh smash and a few
more bones snap.  After a couple of traded blows, the dragon backed
up...and Angus followed, fists raised.

black dragon:  GRAAAARGH!  (it grabs the golem in both hands, then
  bites him squarely, producing a terrible scraping sound not unlike
  metal on metal)  RNN-RNN-RNN!
Angus:  (lashes out, snapping a half-dozen of the dragon's teeth)
black dragon:  AAAARGH!  (it backs its head up)
Angus:  (begins to pound away on one of the clawed paws that grips him)
black dragon:  BLAAAAAAARGH!  (it breathes acid all over the golem, at
  point-blank range)

  Angus ceased his attacks, his iron head and arms melting away as the
powerful acid did its work.  The dragon dropped the bubbling, smoking
lump of metal, almost contemptuously, and snorted...

black dragon:  GRMMPH-  (its eyes go wide)
Belphanior:  (hovering behind the dragon, his black blade sunk to the
  hilt in the back of its head)

  The elf was a mess; his boots and what was left of his cloak were
ruined, full of acid holes along with his belt and the rest of his
clothes.  He had extensive acid burns across his entire body, most
notably one arm which was essentially useless.  If not for the timely
aid of Jenna, who had snuck over and cast a powerful healing spell on
him while the dragon was busy with Angus, Belphanior would have been
incapacitated and his attack impossible.  However, he had succeeded,
and the lethal strike he'd just delivered not only slew the badly-
wounded dragon, but also sucked its life energy through the sword and
into its wielder.  Had anyone been there to witness it, the change
would have been truly amazing:  burned flesh regrew, pits in bone
and muscle filled back up, ripped skin knitted itself together.  In
a matter of moments, the elf bore no sign whatsoever of any wounds,
acid or otherwise.

Belphanior:  Ahhhh.  (he turns to Otto...and Jenna)  It's over.  (he
  marches over and claps the high priestess of Istus on the back)  That
  was a very brave thing you did, running over here while the dragon
  was coming to finish us off...and healing me.
Jenna:  Well...
Belphanior:  I couldn't have gotten to my feet and then finished that
  thing off if it wasn't for you.  Good work.  (he grabs Otto's arm,
  pulling the dwarf out of the water)
Otto:  Urgh...
Belphanior:  Well, at least you're alive.

  Perhaps Otto had been a bit quicker to try and dodge, or perhaps less
acid had splashed on him after all.  Whatever the case, he was in far
better shape than Belphanior had been; though he bore a number of acid
burns, they didn't seem as deep or as nasty as Belphanior's had been.

Jenna:  But how...?
Otto:  I heal fast.  (he looks around)  We'd better check on all the
Jenna:  (follows the dwarf to do that)
Belphanior:  (walks over to the twisted, smoking lump of iron that used
  to be Angus, and shakes his head sadly)  Ah, Angus.  Who'd have thought
  you were the one she spoke of in her prediction?
Skektek:  (hobbling over, he limps noticeably)  Damn.  Can you fix him?
Belphanior:  Not like this, he's too far gone.  Golems aren't like us
  in that they can sometimes be brought back from the dead.  When one
  is destroyed in some way...that's it.  No soul, no consciousness.
Skektek:  Damn, I say again.
Belphanior:  He was my first creation...and the best.  Rest in peace,
  Angus.  You will be missed.

next:      aftermath, and escape from the swamp
released:  2/27/04
notes:     It's leap year!  A bonus February day!
  I fear that some of you might say something like "a real party of
  adventurers with the items and spells that these possess would have
  been more careful and aggressive in their choice of each round's
  attack, thereby beating the dragon more quickly and with less risk
  and damage to themselves."  And in response, I might say "this is
  true in an AD&D game where all players have all their characters'
  stats in front of them on paper as well as an unlimited amount of
  time to decide what to do next...but in the fictional world, each
  adventurer had only moments to decide what to do each time they had
  a chance, and by the way, has your DM ever given you exactly three
  seconds to decide what your character will do or else get clobbered
  by an attacker?"
    These stories are no longer real AD&D gaming sessions, so the sort
  of logic used in such sessions doesn't apply.
    Remember, a real adventurer faced by a real foe (or even a dragon)
  hasn't the luxury of checking his spell list or item inventory to see
  what attack best fits the menace at hand.  He instead has a moment or
  two to react, or die.

    Speaking of dying, why Angus?  Well, Elgon and Jenna are new, and
  though I still don't feel them clicking as I write, I figured they
  needed more of a chance.  Dremel isn't a major character and thus he
  doesn't matter that much.  And for the record, I like Ys and Charlie
  and Skektek.  And writing Angus into the stories, despite his size
  and bulk, was getting tiresome from a logic standpoint.  So it had to
  be him.  Some have pointed out that Angus and Ys are hard to tell
  apart...I don't agree, but from this day forth it won't matter.

    Anyway, for those who are keeping track, here's the items destroyed
  list for the party:
    Belphanior:  belt of giant strength (from episode 773), periapt of
      wound closure, boots and cloak of elvenkind, silver string gateway,
      potion of ESP (all by acid)
    Otto:  belt of ogre power, necklace of adaptation, liquid road, flute
      of the dead, metal scroll case w/magic scroll (all by acid)
    Ys:  potion of intimidation (drank)

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