Chapter #898

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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       +
+   1991-2005 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 +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          18th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Date:          7/7/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          early evening                                          +
+   Place:         an underground dungeon, exact location unknown         +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "You should be running."                                              +
+                                                    - from _Hellboy_     +

                   DCCCXCVIII.  Close Encounter

  After exploring two other gateway destinations already this day, the
adventurers have journeyed to a third...

Belphanior:  (emerges from a wall of mists, stepping down a short and
  shallow series of stone steps into a circular room, thirty feet across
  and about fifteen feet high)  Hmm.  (he looks around, noting the blood-
  red stone of the gateway arch)  Big surprise.
Otto:  (appears from the mists)  Where are we?  This feels...well, we
  might be deep underground.
Belphanior:  We'll ask Mongo, or better yet, Elgon.
Mongo:  (steps out of the mists, looking a little queasy)  Ugh.
Otto:  Are you okay?
Mongo:  Better now that I'm on solid ground.  (he begins to wander
  around the circular chamber, shaking his head)

  Before long, everyone had arrived, and the mist-gateway changed back
into red stone.  The rest of the room, however, was built from pale white
rock.  A single exit door faced the arch; it had several bars securing it
on this side.

Otto:  That might not be a good sign.
Mongo:  It would definitely keep out anyone smaller than a giant...well,
  anyone that small besides me.  (he cracks his knuckles)
Belphanior:  No need to smash the door down - we can just lift the bars
  and push it open.
Mongo:  (grins)  Who said I was going to smash it down?
Belphanior:  (smirks)  Heh.  (he turns his attention to the door)  Well,
  that's odd.
Elgon:  Yep, I noticed it too.  These bars are made of silver, and the
  door too.
wispy thing:  (hovering near the door)  aaarp?
Belphanior:  Actually, the door's not pure's alloyed with
  some other metal, iron I believe.
Elgon:  Hmm.
Otto:  Maybe it's meant to repel undead.
Razor Charlie:  (glares at the door and its bars)  Waste of good silver,
  if you ask me.

  The elf detected no souls or magic anywhere nearby, so in short order,
the bars were lifted and the door was opened.  Beyond was revealed a
small, rough tunnel, confirming the previous thoughts that they were now
somewhere beneath the world's surface.

Elgon:  Actually, I'd say we're far down...very far down.  (he peers into
  the rocky tunnel)  I have a bad feeling about this.

  The tunnel was so narrow that the group had to proceed in single-file
to explore it.  The order was:  Mongo, Belphanior, Skektek, Elgon, Razor
Charlie, Otto.  They moved forward for many long minutes...forward, and
to the right, and to the left.  The tunnel wound around like some kind
of demented worm, and it wasn't long before they'd lost their sense of
direction.  There were a few side passages, but they all ended fairly
quickly.  The explorers got the definite impression that this was a
natural passage, rather than one fashioned by man, dwarf, or something
else.  After a while spent following the constantly-curving tunnel, they
reached an abrupt end:  the way was blocked by a wall of rock that
bulged slightly in the direction of the explorers.

Mongo:  You might call it an end, but I call it an obstacle.  (he points
  to the rock "wall")  I bet that's a boulder, pushed up against this
  passage to block it off.
Belphanior:  And you know what that means.
Mongo:  Yeah.  (he puts one shoulder to the rock and pushes, grunting
  with the strain)

  Some of the adventurers weren't quite convinced of Mongo's theory, but
then, moments later, dust fell from the seam as the dwarf pushed the wall
_outward_...and it rolled away, into a larger passage now revealed!

Mongo:  Hah.
Belphanior:  And _now_ we're getting somewhere.

  The tiny passage intersected a much larger passage, perhaps a hundred
feet in diameter and roughly carved from the surrounding stone.  They
immediately noticed a difference in the environment of the new area...

Skektek:'s cold in here.
Otto:  And it smells a tomb.
Elgon:  Let's hope it doesn't become our tomb.
Mongo:  It won't, not when I can smash anything we might run into-

  The attack was sudden and vicious, coming so fast that by the time
Belphanior sensed the approaching souls, it was too late.  The attackers
swooped down from the shadowy reaches at the top of the tunnel, wasting
no time engaging the adventurers.

shadowy form #1:  (slams into Skektek, wrestling him to the rocky floor
  of the huge tunnel)
Skektek:  Ungh!
shadowy form #2:  (collides with Mongo, the factor of surprise allowing
  it to knock the dwarf from his feet)
shadowy form #3:  (looms over Belphanior)

  The elf had lightning-quick reflexes, though, and his sword was up
and swinging even as the attacker clutched at him.  The blade bit deeply
into the foe's shoulder...and an icy chill immediately ran down the
weapon and up Belphanior's arm!

Belphanior:  (inadvertently lets go of Blackrazor)  Aaaargh!
wispy thing:  (flits around the attacker's face)  sssss.
shadowy form #3:  (swats at the wisp, ineffectively)
wispy thing:  brrrf!
shadowy form #4:  (flies down toward Razor Charlie...and then veers away
  suddenly, covering its face with one arm)  Sssss!
Razor Charlie:  Vampires!  These are vampires!  (he hurls his new magical
  knife at the thing attacking Belphanior, and the blade sinks into the
  foe's neck)
vampire #3:  Aieeee!  (it changes into mist and floats upward, sending
  the blade to the stony floor of the cavern)
Razor Charlie:  (trusting that the enchanted amulet he wears will prevent
  the vampires from approaching him, he heads for the fallen knife)
Belphanior:  (reclaims his sword, which is still cold to the touch)  Ow.
Mongo:  (grabs his assailant by the neck)  Your tricks won't work on me,
vampire #2:  (bares its fangs, snapping at the dwarf)
Mongo:  (stands up and hurls the thing away)  Ugh!
vampire #2:  (headed for one of the tunnel's walls, it changes into a bat
  and flies upward)  Screee!
vampire #1:  (throttling Skektek, who has been weakened by its touch, it
  prepares to bite the wizard's throat)
Skektek:!  (he uses his spell-ring at point-blank range,
  hitting the vampire in the face with a volley of magic missiles)
vampire #1:  AAARGH!  (it staggers back, its face smoking)
Mongo:  (hurls Stormcrest at the monster, smashing it thirty feet back
  and into a tunnel wall, where it splatters messily)
Belphanior:  (completes a hasty spell, putting a wall of force up between
  his group and the vampires, who are now regrouping)
vampire #2:  You shall not escape, mortals!  We rule here, and none may
  enter our realm without paying the price!
Belphanior:  Realm?
vampire #3:  (flits over to the wounded vampire mashed into the stone
  wall of the tunnel, and pulls the mangled body out of the miniature
  crater made by Mongo's hammer)
vampire #1:  Urgh...
vampire #3:  Come, it is time we left this place...for now.  We must
  warn the others.

  Before Belphanior or any of his party could say or do anything else,
the vampires fled down the dark tunnel, almost immediately disappearing
into the darkness.  Those with better ears could have sworn they heard
a distant, fading laughter from that direction...

Mongo:  (trying to push the wall of force away)  Come on, let's get them!
Belphanior:  We can't.  (he gestures to Skektek)  He's weakened, as am I,
  from those things' attacks.  We need to get out of here and get better,
  and fast - before the four vampires we fought come back with others.
Mongo:  But...
Belphanior:  (looking around the vast tunnel)  Never fear, Mongo.  We'll
  be back here, with our own reinforcements...especially if this place
  is what I think it is.
Elgon:  What's that supposed to mean?
Belphanior:  (glances to Otto)  I'll explain later.  Let's get the hell
  out of here, while we still can.

  They made a hasty return to the gateway chamber.  It was impossible to
return the boulder to its initial resting place, meaning the passage to
the gateway would be exposed.

Mongo:  We ought to seal it.
Skektek:  No problem-
Mongo:  Hold on, a moment.  (he walks over to the huge boulder, looks it
  over, then gets a firm grip on it...and pushes it with all his might)

  The dwarf sent the boulder rolling down the vast passage, in the same
direction the vampires had retreated.

Mongo:  I feel better now.
Skektek:  Uh, right.  (he uses his elemental rod to "melt" the rock at
  the junction of the small passage and the larger one, sealing it as
  the rock solidifies again)  That's at least ten feet of solid rock
  between this passage and the one with the least as good
  as the boulder.
Belphanior:  Good deal.

  They reached the gateway, and the elf activated it.  Without further
ado, the group left this place and returned to the Pelisso Swamp gateway
complex.  As they stepped into the now-familiar chamber, several of them
had the feeling that they'd just made a narrow escape...

Skektek:  Urgh...I feel terrible...
Elgon:  It's a good thing that we only ran into four vampiric guards...
  as opposed to, say, forty.
Razor Charlie:  That would have sucked.
Otto:  (to Belphanior)  You think that big tunnel led to the City of
  Vampires, don't you..the city called Skava-Ra?
Belphanior:  (nods)  I do.
Mongo:  That'd be a tough battle.  Hell, we might even need some help
  for a fight like that.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Yes, we certainly would.

next:       to the moon
released:   11/11/05
notes:      Consider this a seed for a future story arc.

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