Chapter #824

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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                               +           +
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+     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        +
+   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                           +
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+   Date:          5/22/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         somewhere deep within the Sea of Dust                  +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
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+   "I think I'm well past the point of safe return."                     +
+                                                  - from _From Hell_     +
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                       DCCCXXIV.  Al-arakara





  After arriving in the Sea of Dust and defeating a strange but deadly
sand elemental, the adventurers now face something even more powerful.

deep, regal voice:  I am Al-arakara.
Belphanior:  (turns in the direction of the speaker)

  The far wall of the room had somehow vanished...instantly, quietly
vanished.  A dozen figures stood there now, but only one commanded all
attention.  Fully seven feet tall, and powerfully-built, the individual
was garbed in a gray robe.  Even from this distance, they could see
that his eyes glowed red.  There was an aura about him...an aura of evil,
and magic, and power.  All of the adventurers felt the icy grip of fear,
despite their courage and experience.  It was uncanny.
  The tall man spoke in the Common tongue, but with an inflection and
accent that spoke of origins far from the lands of man.

Belphanior:  (trying to figure out the best plan of attack, considering
  that he knows nothing about this foe, who is flanked by mummies)
Al-arakara:  You are doubtless considering how to best combat me.  Let
  me offer this piece of advice:  save your strength and don't bother to
  attack.
Belphanior:  (spies Skektek slowly going for his wand, and gives the
  wizard a sharp look, then addresses Al-arakara again)  And why not?
Al-arakara:  I have had lifetimes to gather knowledge and build my power.
  I am undoubtedly the most powerful of my kind anywhere on Oerth.  It is
  simple, really.  (he gestures to Ys)  Your blades cannot harm me.  (he
  points at Skektek)  Your magic will bounce off of me.  (he nods toward
  Jenna)  You definitely can't turn me.  (he waves at Elgon)  Illusions
  won't harm me.  On the other hand...I can rot your flesh with a touch,
  steal your souls with a spell, or have my hordes overrun you, which I
  assure you will lead to a fate far worse than death.
Belphanior:  We beat Xusia, and he was your master.
Al-arakara:  True, but Xusia spread his power far and wide, which perhaps
  made him weaker.  It definitely attracted more attention to him, which
  likely contributed to his eventual downfall.  I, on the other hand, have
  remained here, far from the eyes of the world...lain low and gradually
  consolidated my power, even harnessed it in greater ways.
Belphanior:  Why are you telling us this?  If you're so great and mighty,
  why not attack us?
Al-arakara:  (spreads his hands)  Because I wish to parley.  Perhaps there
  is no need to fight.
Belphanior:  What?!?
Al-arakara:  You may find that we have goals in common.  I could start
  a great battle, and many in my position would have done so already...
  but I have the wisdom of a dozen centuries, and have found it prudent
  to consider all courses of action, not just the simplest.  Thus, I
  would discuss some matters with you.  (he regards them all)  I shall
  not ask for your weapons.
Skektek:  (muttering)  Good.
Al-arakara:  I only ask that you take the time to hear me out.  Perhaps
  you would feel more comfortable if you had some time to discuss this.
  (without waiting for an answer, he turns, ushering the dozen mummies
  into the huge chamber beyond the vanished wall)  We shall await your
  decision in there.

  Just like that, the would-be foes had left the domed chalice room, and
the adventurers found themselves alone with each other, completely taken
aback.

Belphanior:  Well, this is interesting.
Otto:  Damn right.  Doesn't make a bit of sense.
Skektek:  He doesn't look like any mummy I've ever seen.
Razor Charlie:  No bandages.
Jenna:  I've heard about mummies who don't wrap themselves in bandages,
  because they're not rotting.
Elgon:  His appearance could also be an illusion, though I didn't sense
  anything of the sort.
Ys:  Perhaps he isn't a mummy at all.
Belphanior:  His appearance isn't important - his intentions are.  He's
  fairly confident that we can't walk out of here alive if he doesn't
  let us.  It could be a scare tactic...in which case we need to all be
  prepared to fight on a moment's notice.  Or, it could be true, if his
  power is what he claims.
Ys:  If he could truly kill us outright, wouldn't he have done it already?
Otto:  Not if we have something he wants.
Belphanior:  Right, the talisman for the gateways.  (he shakes his head)
  No way we're giving him that thing.
Skektek:  Not unless we can rig it to explode or something.
Belphanior:  I'd guess that either he wants the talisman, or he wants
  to know what we know about the gateways and/or Xusia.  Remember, he
  thought the gateways weren't up and running until we showed up here,
  so he really doesn't know how much we know, or don't know.  Let me do
  all the talking - for consistency, and because that way we're far less
  likely to give some piece of information away accidentally.
Razor Charlie:  (not quite understanding why the group just doesn't
  attack the mummy-king and be done with it, he grimaces to himself)
Otto:  I guess the question is, are you willing to give up the talisman?
Belphanior:  Perhaps, if the price is right.  We'll have to negotiate
  and see what he offers.
Skektek:  Shouldn't we have some kind of plan in case we suddenly need
  to attack by surprise, or in a hurry?
Belphanior:  Of course.  Now here's what we'll do if it comes to that...

  A short time later, with the backup/battle plan in place, Belphanior
led his people into the next chamber, where the mummy-king and his band
of bandage-wrapped servants waited...

Al-arakara:  What shall it be, talk or battle?
Belphanior:  Talk.  But only under a couple of conditions.  One, get
  those mummies away from us, and keep them away.  Two, no sudden moves
  on your part.  Three, we've got some questions for you.
Al-arakara:  Fair enough.  (he gestures to an exit passage)  My dining-
  hall is that way.  I would hardly expect you to accept any food that
  I offered, but at least we can sit at a table and discuss things in a
  civilized fashion.

  Presently, they were sitting around a rectangular table of pure ebony,
surrounded by intricate chairs of rich, carven wood.

Al-arakara:  Probably not what you expected from a mummy?
Belphanior:  Not at all.  Are you sure you're actually a mummy?
Jenna:  (to Belphanior, quietly)  He's undead, trust me.
Al-arakara:  The stereotype of mummies being shambling figures swathed
  in bandages is somewhat inaccurate.  I learned how to reconstruct a
  body of flesh and blood centuries ago.  Some undead - especially the
  older and more powerful - can yet possess forms much like the living.
Belphanior:  (thinking of times past)  Oh, I know.  (he frowns)  But
  when all's said and done, you're still the living dead.
Al-arakara:  (shrugs)  If you wish to think of it that way.  It is all
  a matter of perspective, really.
Belphanior:  How can - could - you have allied with Xusia, he being a
  stinking mass of rotting flesh, and you holding onto the trappings of
  the living?
Al-arakara:  One could do much worse than to ally with Xusia.  His power
  was nearly on a level with the gods.  Frankly, I am surprised that you
  were able to send him to meet those gods.
Belphanior:  We had help.
Al-arakara:  Nonetheless...the lich was a useful ally.
Belphanior:  I notice you don't say "master."
Al-arakara:  Again, all a matter of perspective.  No, I have assisted
  in his schemes, but my true calling lies here, beneath the dead sands
  of the Sea of Dust.  I have a responsibility to my people.
Belphanior:  That's one of the things I want to know about.  What exactly
  do you have down here...a hideout?  A dungeon?  A buried pyramid?
Al-arakara:  A city, actually.  Long ago, it stood proudly above ground,
  a shining mecca, a busy metropolis.  (sadly)  That all ended with the
  coming of the Rain of Colorless Fire.  Now, the city lives on, unseen
  by the world above, parts of it connected by underground passages.  It
  took decades to dig those passages and unearth what was buried.
Belphanior:  And nobody knows it's here?  Nobody tried to explore it,
  excavate it?
Al-arakara:  None who do not live here, not until now.  As for unwanted
  visitors...even if this complex did not lie in the middle of a barren
  wasteland, it is rather well-protected from any assault.  I have spent
  great time and effort ensuring that it will never be found.  Indeed,
  the gateway was the one possible way in, and I did my best to keep the
  thing out of here.
Belphanior:  Since you weren't in control of it or any of the others.
Al-arakara:  Correct.  And, to be blunt...that is why we must parley now.
  I need to know who knows about them, and what they know, and which are
  functional.
Belphanior:  (suddenly understands that the other doesn't realize that
  Belphanior learned everything that Drusilla knew, or that he has the
  talisman to control the gateways, or even that there _is_ a talisman)
  You're being awfully direct with your intentions.
Al-arakara:  With my abilities, there is no reason to act otherwise.
Belphanior:  So you keep saying.
Al-arakara:  It is the simple truth.  (he frowns)  Since the gateway is
  here, and since Xusia is no more, I must control the-  must control it,
  utterly.
Belphanior:  Such control won't be free.
Al-arakara:  Of course not.

  The elf did not, of course, have any intention of handing over the
control talisman or revealing anything that he knew about the gateways.
He didn't believe for an instant that the mummy king - no matter how
civilized and polite - would make or honor any kind of fair deal, then
simply leave the adventurers alone afterward.  As far as Belphanior was
concerned, Al-arakara wanted the power and secrets of the gateways - and
once he got them, he'd do his best to destroy Belphanior and his allies.
After all, that's what the elf himself would do in the same situation.
  Besides, Belphanior already had his own claim on whatever was to be
found beyond the other gateways.  Those unknown treasures, secrets, and
magic were his - not some ally of Xusia who was out of favor before and
out of luck now.  Of course, the trick was to stall the soon-to-be-foe
as long as possible, then attack by surprise and get the hell out of
this place.

Al-arakara:  You seem...distracted.
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Just thinking about the possible terms
  of the deal we're going to make.
Al-arakara:  Excellent.

  The mummy king, for his part, didn't trust his guest any more than he
believed the elf would willingly hand over the secrets of the gateways.
What Belphanior didn't know was that Al-arakara had magically spied on
the adventurers' conversation a short time ago...and the mummy king was
fully aware of the group's plans.  He knew, for example, that Belphanior
intended to hand over a control device for the gateways - and then haste
himself and attack by surprise, hoping to slay the mummy king with his
life-draining sword.  He knew that Otto and Razor Charlie would use their
ranged weapons to distract Al-arakara as Belphanior made his move.  He
knew that Jenna, Skektek, and Ys would try and hold off the other mummies,
using holy power, destructive magic, and sword respectively.  Elgon's role
was to clear the way back to the gateway and pave the way for a retreat if
necessary.  That, of course, wasn't going to happen; the mummy king had
already formed counter-plans and relayed them to his servants by way of
telepathic commands.

Al-arakara:  What is it to be?  Riches beyond imagining, or spells from
  centuries past?  Ancient Suel magic items?
Belphanior:  I want it all...a mix of everything.  Bring my loot here so I
  can get a good look at it and make sure it's real.  Then we'll retreat
  to the gateway, I'll hand over the item you need to control the portals,
  and we'll leave.
Al-arakara:  You ask for too much-
Belphanior:  Take it or leave it.  If you want to parley, this is your
  big chance.

  Shortly, servants (not all of them mummies, but rather large strong-
looking bald men) had brought in multiple chests, filled with the riches
and wonders that the mummy king had promised.  Everything was moved to
the gateway chamber and made ready to go.  It was all real, of course;
Al-arakara couldn't take the chance that Belphanior or one of his people
would see through any deception.  Besides, the mummy king knew that all
that treasure wouldn't ever be leaving the buried city - and for that
matter, neither would the adventurers.





next:      treachery
ftp:       ftp.peldor.com
www:       http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:  http://www.peldor.com/
email:     tmiller@peldor.com
released:  6/11/04
notes:     Oh, what fun.  As I said before, there were two paths I could
  take with this mummy king.  He could have been a rotting, chaotic foe
  or a thinking one (not unlike the one in the recent _Mummy_ movies.)
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