Chapter #811

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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        +
+   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:          5/8/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the northeastern reaches of the Pelisso Swamp          +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +
+   "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."                 +
+                                                   - John F. Kennedy     +

                      DCCCXI.  The Eyes Have It

  After sending in summoned shock troops to attack the temple and test
its defenses, the adventurers now witness a rare and terrible sight:  a
floating, rotting sphere of many undead beholder!

undead beholder:  WAUGH.  (it blasts the ogre with a ray from one of
  its smaller eyes)
ogre:  (its flesh begins rotting away)  Aaargh!  (it dances in pain)
undead beholder:  (turns to the troll, blasting it with another ray)
troll:  (staggers, but still manages to reach the foe, flailing away
  with both fists)
undead beholder:  (wobbles in the air)  RAUGH-
hill giant:  (hacks at the thing with his sword, hewing away a large
  chunk of rotting flesh)  Die!
undead beholder:  EURGH.  (it blasts the giant with a green ray from a
  small eye)
hill giant:  (falls, twitching)
undead beholder:  (snaps at the troll with its rotting fangs, sending
  the humanoid down with numerous bleeding gashes)  AAUGH.

  Belphanior had seen enough.  He knew that the shock troops could only
buy the group so much time, which meant that the moment to strike was

Belphanior:  (having crept up behind the beholder, he backstabs it)

  Though the undead foe didn't have a real back, the blow hurt it badly
and caused it to sail away from the elf, turning in the air as it did

undead beholder:  EURGH.  (it fires three rays from three different
Belphanior:  (leaping aside, he is still struck by two of the rays)

  Anticipating undead foes, the elf had been wearing the amulet of
Necros - a powerful relic he'd once taken from a slain high priest of
Orcus.  This amulet rendered its wearer completely immune to all the
debilitating attack forms of common undead - rotting, paralyzation,
energy draining, disease, aging, and so on.  He felt an icy cold wash
over him as the rays hit, but no harm was done.  It had been a risky
ploy, being the decoy; actually, he'd hoped that his attack would kill
the thing, letting him take whatever soul it had left.  This hadn't
worked, but now others were in position to attack.

wispy thing:  sssss.  (it flies up near the top of the undead monster's
  head, drawing the attention of most of its eye-stalks)
undead beholder:  ORRGH.  (it fires two rays at the wisp, the beams
  passing right through)
wispy thing:  spaaa!
undead beholder:  URNGH?
Sir Dremel:  (slashes at the beholder's left rear flank)  Have at thee,
  spawn of the Hells!
undead beholder:  RURGH.  (two of its eyestalks swivel around, the body
  also turning, but more slowly)
Otto:  (shoots one of the stalks with his crossbow, the poisoned bolt
  putting the eye out, though the poison is useless against an undead
undead beholder:  (blasts Sir Dremel with a beam from the other eye,
  causing his sword-arm to wither)  MURGH.
Sir Dremel:  Aaaaargh!  (he drops his sword, clutching his arm in
Jenna:  Aie.
Skektek:  (spellcasting)  Fear not, I'll blast that thing into-
undead beholder:  WURGH.  (it bathes the wizard in a beam from its
  large central eye)
Skektek:  (his spell is negated, and he suddenly feels weak and queasy)
  Urk...anti-magic...(he staggers)
Ys:  Bah.  (having approached from the opposite rear side as Dremel, he
  lands a mighty blow on the foe's round body)

  The reptilian's gigantic sword struck the final blow, splitting the
rotting body in half with a great cloud of foul-smelling dust.  The two
parts fell immediately, a black slime leaking onto the wet ground.  All
was silent, save for the pained moans of Sir Dremel.

Belphanior:  Ys, Elgon, Charlie - watch that stairway.  Jenna - help
  Dremel there.  Otto - help me check the dead...and undead.
wispy thing:  (flies inside one half of the undead carcass)  aaarp.
Skektek:  (staggering around weakly)
Belphanior:  Are you okay?
Skektek:  I am now.  That thing hit me with an anti-magic beam...which
  killed my spell, destroyed every potion I was carrying, and rendered
  me helpless.  (he frowns)  I don't like being rendered helpless.
Belphanior:  Your chance will come.  (he stabs a dying ghoul through
  the throat)  Help us find foes who still need killing, or allies who
  can be helped.

  Speaking of that, the summoned hill giant was recovering from its
paralysis, and the troll's bite wounds had just about healed.  One
gnoll and one orc had also survived.  All other allies were dead; now
Belphanior and Otto made sure that the rest of the undead were truly

Jenna:  (checking Sir Dremel's arm, she begins casting a healing spell)
Sir Dremel:  I already tried healing myself.
Jenna:  Quiet.  (she casts her spell...and nothing happens)  Oh.
Sir Dremel:  I told you.  (he eyes his shriveled arm)  What did it do
  to me?
Jenna:  It's a type of attack called withering...and this one was quite
  powerful.  I need regeneration magic to heal this.
Belphanior:  (walks over)  Well, that's that.  (to Dremel)  You can stay
  up here and guard the entrance while we go down-
Sir Dremel:  No!  (he hefts his longsword in his left hand)  I'm in this
  fight to the end!
Belphanior:  Your sword-arm is gone.
Sir Dremel:  I trained, long-ago, in swordplay with my off-hand.  You
  can't get rid of me now - I must see it through!
Belphanior:  Even if you get killed?
Sir Dremel:  If that is my destiny, then yes.
Jenna:  (winces, as if she knows something unpleasant)
Belphanior:  (sighs)  Very well, but it's your decision, and your risk.
Sir Dremel:  If risk and danger were a concern to me, I'd never have
  become a paladin of Heironeous.
Belphanior:  Understood.  (he goes over to the remains of the temple
  building, where Elgon and Ys peer down the dark, dusty stairway)
Razor Charlie:  (standing to the side)  Boss, I have an idea.
Belphanior:  Eh?
Razor Charlie:  I have two magic amulets, but I can only wear one at a
  time.  If I wear the one that protects against vampires, the holy guy
  over there could borrow the one that heals.
Belphanior:  Good idea, and thanks for trying to help him, but there are
  two problems:  one, we don't know if we're running into any vampires,
  and two, even if it does grow his arm back to normal, it probably
  won't happen in time, before we have the next battle.
Razor Charlie:  Hm.
Belphanior:  (claps the other on the back)  But it's your call.  Not to
  mention a good way to test how powerful that amulet _really_ is.
Razor Charlie:  (nods)

  Shortly, the adventurers were ready to descend into the unknown space
beneath the demolished temple.  A noticeably heartier Sir Dremel was
flexing his stunted right arm - which seemed to be a little less stunted
than it had been five minutes ago.

Sir Dremel:  Incredible!  This exceeds even the healing powers of my
  lord Heironeous!
Razor Charlie:  Just remember, you have to give it back.
Sir Dremel:  (looks hurt)  Of course!
Elgon:  (eyes the stairway)  Nothing...nothing's come up from there.  I
  wonder if there's anything down there at all.
Belphanior:  There has to be.  (he points to the undead beholder carcass
  with his sword)  Nobody puts something like that in a place without a
  good reason.
Skektek:  Are you sensing souls down there?
Belphanior:  Yes, but just a few...and I'm not sure what sort they are.
Jenna:  Undead, of that I am certain.  Istus' sight is never wrong.
Otto:  Which brings us to the next special attack.
Belphanior:  Right.  (he opens up his portable hole)

  With Otto's help, the elf unfolded the thing; then they removed a
large wooden barrel from the extradimensional space.

Otto:  (tinkering with the barrel)
Skektek:  What's that?  Oil?
Belphanior:  (folding and stowing the portable hole)  Better yet.
Skektek:  (shakes his head dubiously)
Otto:  (loosens the barrel's lid, then rolls it to the top of the steps)
  The priests in that last city weren't happy about donating quite this
  much holy water, until I handed them a rather sizable donation.
Sir Dremel:  Holy water!
Otto:  Right.  We'll send this barrel rolling down the stairway, and
  when it hits bottom...(he spreads his hands)  KABOOM!  Instant dousing
  of anything down there.
Belphanior:  And if it's undead, so much the better.
Jenna:  If?
Otto:  And if it's not, no harm done.
Ys:  Outstanding.
Otto:  That it is.  (with a final look downward, he kicks the barrel,
  sending it clattering down the steps)

  Before long, there was a loud CRACK from below, followed by a lot of
splashing...and then some garbled shrieking.

Belphanior:  That's our cue!  (to the four remaining humanoids)  Go, go,
humanoids:  (charge down the stairway, weapons held ready)
Belphanior:  (follows them, grinning insanely despite the danger ahead)

  The elf found that the steps ended about thirty feet down, in a crude
passage with smooth black walls that resembled molten rock after it had
cooled down.  This passage was about twenty feet long, and opened into
a larger chamber with a fifteen-foot ceiling, also melted in place like
the passage.  Since they were in the middle of a swamp, the construction
of this place was proof that something magic was afoot here.
  A horrible rotting stench assailed Belphanior's senses, along with the
sounds of battle, and he advanced to find the summoned humanoids engaged
in melee with a pack of five wights who danced and leapt about, their
bare feet smoking and sizzling thanks to the copious amounts of holy
water spilled on the floor here.  The shattered barrel rested against
one wall, glistening wetly.

Belphanior:  (spots a shadowy form in the rear, obviously spellcasting,
  and uses his spell-storing ring to effect a short, risky leap in that
  direction, his back scraping the ceiling)  Ouch!
shadowy figure:  (suddenly blasts the elf with bolts of dark energy)
Belphanior:  (screams as he feels his life-force wane and his power
  ebb)  Aaaaaargh!  (pale and shaking, he lands in a heap near the
shadowy figure:  (laughing softly, with a female voice)  Fool.  (she
  glides toward the weakened elf)

  Just then, a bright light filled the chamber, as not one but two of
the invaders brandished their holy symbols and chanted words of power.

Jenna:  (holding up an odd, spindle-like object)  Away, foul ones!
Sir Dremel:  (holding up his longsword, which is glowing brightly)

  Several things happened at once then.  The five wights crumbled into
smoking ashes.  A pair of wraiths that had been advancing from a side
passage also disintegrated.  The shadowed, feminine spellcaster whose
hands had been inches from Belphanior's throat shrieked, turned, and
fled into a second side passage.

Sir Dremel:  Just in time!
Belphanior:  (getting to his feet shakily)
Jenna:  Are you okay?
Belphanior:  Yeah, just a little weakened.  Whatever spell she cast, it
  needed more time to really hurt me.  (muttering)  Not that it wouldn't
  have...what the hell _was_ that?
Otto:  We need to move - this is no time to talk.
Belphanior:  (nods, turning to the remaining humanoids)  After her, now!
hill giant:  (lumbers down that passage, his head scraping the ceiling)
troll:  (follows the giant, mumbling incoherently)
gnoll:  (gashed on the arm, it reluctantly follows as well)
Skektek:  Looks like the orc bit it.  (he gestures at the mangled body)
Belphanior:  Come on, let's get after that sorceress and our humanoids.
  (he leads the charge in that direction)
Skektek:  I could blast the whole tunnel with a nice lightning bolt...
  are you sure you don't want me to do that?
Belphanior:  I'm sure.  We've got to find what's down here, so we can't
  go destroying it.

  They moved down the passage, which was lit by pairs of flaming iron
braziers mounted on the walls every twenty feet or so.  As the path was
only ten feet wide, they had to walk in pairs:  Belphanior and Dremel,
Otto and Skektek, Elgon and Ys, Charlie and Jenna.  The wispy thing
flew here and there, sometimes in the lead, sometimes in the rear.
  Just as the passage made a sharp right turn, opening into a larger
domed area, screams from the three humanoids up ahead pierced the
entire hall...and then the braziers all went out!

Belphanior:  Light!
Skektek:  I'm on it-

  The stone beneath their feet suddenly lost its shape, becoming soft
mud, and they all sunk to their waists, except Elgon and Otto, who were
short and would sink much further...

Ys:  (grabs Elgon, holding him above the mud)
Elgon:  There's really no need-
Ys:  Quiet.  Otto!  To me!
Otto:  <glub>
Skektek:  (completes his quick spell, bathing the passage in light
  once more)

  Ahead, the humanoids - or what was left of them - littered the passage.
They had been hacked to pieces, and those responsible faced the party:
a trio of giant, armored skeletons.  Behind these stood the sorceress
who had no doubt turned the floor to mud.

Ys:  (takes advantage of the light to grab Otto by one flailing hand,
  pull him from the mud, and toss him back behind the mud-floored area)
Otto:  (lands hard)  Unf!
sorceress:  (working another spell)
Razor Charlie:  (throws a knife her way, but it bounces away, deflected
  by some invisible barrier)
Skektek:  Fuck this.  (he launches a lightning bolt from his ring)

  Astoundingly, the spell never reached the foes either, instead fizzling
away into sparks well short of them.

sorceress:  You fools.  (she completes her spell, and the mud turns into
  rock, imprisoning everyone except Otto and Elgon, the latter still held
  above the mud/rock by Ys)
Ys:  (lets the gnome go)
sorceress:  You should never have come here, but since you did, I will
  make use of you.  I can always use more fresh undead to guard this
  place.  (she points to Belphanior)  Especially you.
Belphanior:  You'll make no undead of me-
Sir Dremel:  Foul witch!  (he struggles to free himself from the rock
  that holds his lower body)
sorceress:  (gestures to someone behind her, and a short, dirty-looking
  wizard steps from the shadows)
Skektek:  Well, that explains how they got off so many spells so fast.
Belphanior:  (nods)  There's two of them.
sorceress:  (to the short wizard)  Go forth now, Vermis, and flay the
  flesh from their bones.
Vermis:  (chuckling, he walks toward the party)  With pleasure.
wispy thing:  (flitting around the evil wizard's head)  pffft!
Vermis:  What?!?
Otto:  (behind his companions, he takes careful aim with his crossbow)
Vermis:  (raising his hands, he tries to work a spell despite the best
  efforts of the wispy thing)

  The wizard's work was interrupted, permanently, by the wooden shaft
which suddenly protruded from the center of his forehead.

Vermis:  Ghak.  (he falls)
Otto:  (lowers his crossbow)  Magic _and_ poisoned, fuck you very much.
sorceress:  Damn!  I told that fool not to venture beyond-  But never
  mind.  (she beckons the giant skeletons forward)  Kill them!

  As the skeletons lumbered toward the adventurers, the sorceress cast
another spell.  However, Belphanior was ready.  He pulled a small object
from a shirt pocket, tossing it into the midst of the foes as he spoke
an arcane word of command...and at long last, the unique figurine of
wondrous power from the Lost Isle of Panagaea was free!

large three-headed dog:  (looks around, snarling)  GRRRR...

  The thing was enormous, five feet high at the shoulder and over one
hundred pounds of solid muscle and fury.  It wasted no time, leaping at
the nearest skeleton and knocking it down with a crash of armor.

Belphanior:  Someone take that witch out!
Skektek:  (launches a volley of magic missiles at the sorceress, ruining
  her spellcasting and knocking her back)
sorceress:  Aaargh!
Jenna:  (summons a magical net, which snares the other two skeletons
  then draws tight, knocking them down in a heap)
Elgon:  I'll free us.  (he works a spell, softening the rock and letting
  the trapped allies move forward to free themselves)  Spells of rock
  and mud are second hat to a deep gnome.  (he begins walking on the
  mud as if it were solid ground)
Otto:  (using his magical boots, he leaps over his allies and the mud,
  landing nimbly near the foes, sword flashing)  Whoa.

  Belphanior's three-headed dog had demolished the skeleton and was
bounding toward the sorceress, all three heads drooling in anticipation
of live meat.

three-headed dog:  GRRAAAAR!  (it leaps)
sorceress:  (blasts the canine with a grouping of fiery bolts, knocking
  it back)
Otto:  (charging forth)
three-headed dog:  (turns suddenly, pouncing on the dwarf)  GRRAARGH!
Otto:  Shit-
Belphanior:  (yelling at the summoned dog)  Stop!  Back!  Down!
Razor Charlie:  It's not listening.
Belphanior:  Fuck.
Sir Dremel:  (free of the mud, he runs up to the dog, which is busy
  mauling Otto, and kicks it in the side)  Off!
three-headed dog:  RAARGH!  (it whirls, leaping at the paladin)

  They went down in a tangle of armor and fur, leaving a mangled Otto
gasping for breath.

Otto:  Argh...
Belphanior:  Holy shit...I didn't know it would do that.
Otto:  (sits up, leaving small puddles of blood on the floor)  Damn
  thing's rabid or something...
Jenna:  (dashes to the dwarf's side, working powerful healing magic)
Elgon:  (walks by the priestess, darts in hand)
sorceress:  (working another spell)  Too late, gnome!  (she points a
  finger, and fires a thin, dark beam at the approaching foe)
Elgon:  (watches calmly as the death ray fizzles out)  Magic seldom
  works on my kind.  (he throws one dart, then another, right at her
sorceress:  (hit by the darts, she laughs)  Sleep magic?  I think not.
Skektek:  How about holding magic, then?  (he completes a spell for
  holding monsters)
sorceress:  Bah.  (she begins spellcasting again)
Ys:  (finally free of the mud, he calmly walks up to the three-headed
  dog, now atop Sir Dremel as it claws and bites furiously at his well-
  armored form)
three-headed dog:  GRAAAR-
Ys:  (grabs the thing by the scruff of one of its necks and hurls it
  right at the sorceress)
three-headed dog:  (yelps as it hits the wall next to the cloaked woman)
sorceress:  What-
three-headed dog:  (turns on her, leaping)

  Amazingly, the woman wasn't there; she'd leaped upward and was now
clinging to the ceiling!

Elgon:  Get down here!  (he hits her with a sudden barrage of magically-
  generated stones)
sorceress:  Argh!  (she falls)
Belphanior:  Enough of this.  (he completes a spell, bringing a glowing
  cage into being around the foe)
Skektek:  Forcecage.  (he nods)  Impressive.
sorceress:  (eyes the magical bars around her)
Belphanior:  This battle's over.  You'll stay trapped there until-
sorceress:  Oh, I don't think so.

  The sorceress proved to have yet another trick up her sleeve, as she
turned into mist and seeped out from the bars of the magical cage, her
now-empty cloak crumpling to the floor.

Belphanior:  Well, well.
Elgon:  Gaseous form-
Sir Dremel:  (having regained his feet, he charges the mist)  I see you
  for what you are, spawn of-

  The mist surged toward the paladin, entering his full plate mail via
the eye-slits in his helmet.  Very shortly, the holy warrior let out a
scream of pure agony, and then collapsed noisily.  The mist seeped out
of his armor, becoming whole again.

sorceress:  (bereft of the concealing cloak, she is revealed as a thin,
  attractive woman in her thirties, with long, brown hair and some very
  pronounced teeth)
Skektek:  Holy shit, she's a vampire!
sorceress:  And a mage, and not unprepared.  (she grabs Elgon, who is
  standing close to where she materialized)
Elgon:  Urk.  (his eyes glass over)
Ys:  (charging, sword raised)  Unhand him!
vampiric sorceress:  (hurls the gnome at the attacking reptilian, then
  hurls a small sphere at the floor)

  Instantly, a wall of blazing fire sprung up, blocking the adventurers
as the sorceress again turned into mist, bolting for a small door at the
rear of the chamber.  She found her escape blocked, however, by a lean,
scarred foe.

Razor Charlie:  That's far enough.
vampiric sorceress:  (becomes solid again, striding right toward the
  man)  You're no paladin, nor a priest...nor a wizard, I see.  You
  don't even have any weapons!
Belphanior:  (yelling as he runs through the wall of flames, not daring
  to launch a spell for fear of hitting Razor Charlie)  Charlie!  No!
Razor Charlie:  (stands there, arms folded, grimacing)
vampiric sorceress:  (grabs the man)  I'll steal your life too before
  I escape.
Razor Charlie:  (sags under her grip)
vampiric sorceress:  Hah!  Your friends will never reach you - or me -
  in time.  My escape is at hand-  (she frowns suddenly)

  The sorceress' supposed victim, while being held in her life-leeching
vampiric grip, had done something not merely surprising, but downright
unthinkable:  clamped iron manacles on his attacker's wrists.

vampiric sorceress:  (laughs as the manacles clamp shut of their own
  accord)  What foolishness-  (the color drains from her face)  What...
Razor Charlie:  (smacks her hard, across the face, knocking her to the
  floor)  Stay put.
vampiric sorceress:  No...(she tries, in vain, to change into mist...
  even as her strength fades)
Razor Charlie:  If you try to cast a spell, I'll break your jaw.

  Shortly, the others had brought down the wall of flame and rejoined
Charlie (except for Sir Dremel and Elgon, who were both being tended by
Jenna.)  Belphanior had recalled the bestial three-headed dog before it
could do any more damage.

Belphanior:  Damn, Charlie.  Good work!
Razor Charlie:  Carrying around this amulet against vampires made me
  remember about those chains I took during that vampire fight, years
Otto:  Pretty smart.
Belphanior:  The manacles can only be removed by a non-vampire, and they
  prevent her from using any of her other powers.
Skektek:  Except spells.  Watch her mouth.
Belphanior:  (rips a piece of his tattered cloak off, quickly making a
  crude gag, and puts it in place)  This should guarantee no trouble
  out of you.
vampiric sorceress:  (glares hatefully at the elf)
wispy thing:  (grins toothily at her)  spkkk!
Ys:  (to the vampiress)  Silence is its own reward, you know.
Belphanior:  (looks around)  Whew...what a fight.
Otto:  What the hell happened with that dog-thing you summoned?
Belphanior:  No idea.  It didn't seem controllable like normal magical
  figurines of that sort.
Skektek:  Well, bear in mind that it was fashioned by a long-dead race
  thousands of years ago.  We shouldn't expect it to be "normal."
Belphanior:  True.
Jenna:  (walks over)  They'll be fine.  Elgon's lost some life-force,
  Dremel's lost much more.  They're both sound asleep for now, and are
  probably useless until we get them back to their deities' temples and
Otto:  You can't use magic to give them back their life force?
Jenna:  (looks exasperated)  I don't have that kind of power, and even
  if I did, I wouldn't be able to use it except on followers of Istus.
  (she spots the helpless vampiress)  What's this all about?
Belphanior:  Charlie here captured her, singlehandedly.  Now if only we
  could make her talk peacefully.
Jenna:  (righteously)  Fear not.  Istus has revealed to me, finally,
  why she sent me to join you; she is going to bestow upon me her most
  powerful spell of truth.  (she regards the vampiress, who suddenly
  doesn't look so defiant)  Give me an hour, and we'll have all her

next:      secrets and schemes
released:  3/12/04
notes:     The anti-vampire chains came from episode 450; thanks to Glen
  Hickman for reminding me of them.

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