Chapter #968

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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       +
+   1991-2007 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        +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   iron golem     one of Belphanior's golems captured from Xusia         +
+   stone golem    one of Belphanior's golems captured from Xusia         +
+                                                                         +
+   Kronos         extremely powerful lich                                +
+   ~300 zombies   battalion of unusually powerful zombie warriors        +
+   various other undead minions, many of whom are wounded or destroyed   +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Neera          11th level human female sage/astrologer                +
+   Date:          12/3/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         somewhere deep within the Sea of Dust                  +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "All we are is dust in the wind..."                                   +
+                                                              - Kansas   +

                   CMLXVIII.  Dust to Dust

  After a running battle that took place in several phases, across
multiple areas, the mummy-king Al-arakara has been slain.

Jenna:  (looks around)  So, what now?
Belphanior:  Eh?
Jenna:  Well, we just defeated the ruler of a vast, hidden underground
  city.  What are we going to do with it?
Skektek:  Nothing, I'd say, if _they_ have anything to say about it.  (he
  points with his rod)

  The wizard was gesturing in the direction of the exit door, through
which several ranks of mummies and skeletons were advancing on the party.

Mongo:  (raises his hammer)
Skektek:  (raises his elemental rod)
Mongo:  Heh.

  Before the adventurers could take steps to attack and destroy the horde
of undead foes, a strange thing happened.

lead mummy:  (stops marching, and stands in place...then begins to fall
  apart, literally, its body crumbling into moldy debris and dust)
Belphanior:  (to Kronos)  Ah, an undead-dissolving spell...very clever.
Kronos:  (shakes his head)  I did nothing.
lead skeleton:  (also begins to disintegrate, even as the mummy ceases
  to exist)
Otto:  What the hell's going on here?

   It wasn't just the lead foes - all of them were now crumbling, their
very bodies falling apart.  It happened fast, and it affected them all;
within moments, the entire force of undead was no more.

Jenna:  A band of high priests couldn't have done a more thorough job of
  wiping those things out...most impressive.
Belphanior:  I'd be more impressed if I knew exactly what just happened.

  Just then, there was a slight tremor, just enough to shake the entire
chamber and cause everyone to look around.

Razor Charlie:  (grimaces as a small plume of dust falls from the ceiling
  far above)

  Another tremor, this one stronger, followed the first; this one caused
small bits of rock to drop from the walls and ceiling.

Mongo:  (looking around with an experienced dwarven eye)  That isn't
Otto:  No, it isn't.  (he puts a hand to the floor, and frowns)
Belphanior:  Is this place collapsing?
Kronos:  (concentrates, and a large glowing green eye appears in front
  of his face, peering around as the lich turns his head to scan the
  room)  Ah.
Belphanior:  What?
Kronos:  I should have known.  (he heads back to the previous chamber)
  We must depart this place, and soon.
Belphanior:  (runs to follow the other, who is gliding just above the
  floor at a fairly high rate of speed)  Why?
Kronos:  Al-arakara was the ruler of this underground city and its people,
  but he was also the magical force that bound it all together.  Without
  his continued presence, the complex is falling into ruin...along with
  its inhabitants, who were apparently just as dependent on Al-arakara's
  magic as the city itelf.
Ys:  An entire city, including the populace, bound together by the magic
  of one ruler...splendid, yet terrible at the same time.
Skektek:  Terrible for them, anyway.
Mongo:  (trying to rush the group along toward the exit, he glances at
  a small fissure that's forming in the floor)  No doubt about it, this
  place is coming apart.
Belphanior:  But all the great treasures-  (he sidesteps a large chunk of
  rock, which smashes into the floor nearby, nearly knocking the elf
  from his feet)  Okay, I get the point.  (to everyone)  Let's go - now!
Mongo:  This always happens...after we beat some enemy, the fortress or
  dungeon or tower or whatever always collapses, denying us our rightful
Skektek:  Maybe it's some kind of grand conspiracy.

  They regrouped with Kronos' undead battalion - which had triumphed
over the forces of Al-arakara - and the lich worked his magic again,
opening another sizable portal back to his lair in the mountains halfway
across the world.  It was a bit easier this time, as less than half of
his soldiers remained after the great battle.

Kronos:  (watches as larger pieces of the ceiling and walls begin to
  break off and fall)  We must make haste!

  In short order, everyone was through the powerful magical gateway,
from which they stepped out into a large hall within Kronos' fortress.
After the last of the allies had made it, Kronos closed his portal, and
just like that, they were all back safely.

Belphanior:  Dammit.

  The elf was upset for more than one reason.  In addition to being
robbed of Al-arakara's soul - which he had planned to take - he had
also been robbed of untold treasure, both magical and monetary.  The
death of Al-arakara, while a great accomplishment, yet seemed like a
hollow victory.

Belphanior:  Well, I'd best get Neera and Elgon restored from stone
  back into flesh.
Kronos:  I can handle that if you prefer.  My magic is more likely to
  succeed without harm to them.
Belphanior:  (considers this)  Hmm.
Kronos:  Ah.  You do not trust me.
Belphanior:  It has nothing to do with trust, or lack of trust.  It's
  a responsibility issue.
Kronos:  Believe me, I have had quite a bit of experience with this sort
  of thing.
Belphanior:  Very well.  (he opens his portable hole)  Mongo, I may need
  your help - they weigh a ton when they're made of stone.
Mongo:  Right.
Skektek:  (looking around)  Well, I guess once that's done, we'll take
  our golems and our freshly-returned-to-flesh companions and head home.
  (to Ys)  We will, right?  That's what we're planning to do, I hope?
Ys:  You do not like it here either, eh?
Skektek:  No, I really don't.
Kronos:  (standing there, arms crossed)  If you are uncomfortable here,
  you are of course free to leave.  We had a deal, and that deal is now
  done.  We may have been unlikely allies, but that does not make us
  enemies now.
Belphanior:  (he and Mongo put the statue of Neera down carefully)  No
  one's saying we are.  It's just...unusual.
Kronos:  Indeed it is.  Believe me, I am not used to allying myself with
  anyone, much less mortals and adventurers.  Necessity makes strange
  bedfellows of us all.

  The rest was almost anticlimactic.  Both Neera and Elgon were safely
returned to their fleshy forms, and were somewhat confused.  Better yet,
Kronos kept his word, and allowed Belphanior to keep the skyship as well
as the hourglass.

Kronos:  As I said, I no longer have direct need for such items.  Should
  you ever have powerful ones to trade, feel free to contact me; I might
  be willing to part with some of mine, if the price is right.  Aside
  from that, fare well.  I do not expect us to meet again.
Belphanior:  (simply nods to the lich, and boards the skyship, the last
  of the party to do so)

  Shortly, the great vessel came to life, moving up and away from the
fortress, then heading up into the clouds where it quickly vanished from least any normal sight.

Kronos:  (stares in that direction for quite some time, as if he can
  still see the skyship)  Hmm.

  Finally, the lich turned and left the balcony of that tower, heading
back into his inner sanctum, where he cast a simple spell to establish
contact with another.  It wasn't long before a translucent image of that
other individual appeared within that sealed chamber, seen only by Kronos
himself.  Though the image was but a projection, it saw, spoke, and heard
as if the actual person was standing right there next to the lich.

Parekh:  It seems that things went well.
Kronos:  They did.  The elf and his companions proved to be valuable
  and capable allies.  (he frowns)  It was fortunate that you contacted
  me and warned me of their coming, else I might have blasted them from
  the sky.
Parekh:  And destroyed your own airship?  I think not.
Kronos:  (shrugs)
Parekh:  Besides, I didn't want to see Belphanior, or any of his allies,
  harmed or slain.  My intervention seemed the best overall course of
Kronos:  A risky gamble for you.
Parekh:  Less risky for me to attempt to contact and parley with you,
  as opposed to me doing nothing and just letting them find you on their
  own.  I have always found it better to guide the course of events when
  possible.  It is fortunate that I was able to locate and contact you
  ahead of time, and outline this plan.
Kronos:  Yes...and the plan worked to perfection.  Al-arakara is slain,
  his kingdom is no more, and I need not worry about either, ever again.
Parekh:  Have you given any thought to joining our secret group of magi?
Kronos:  (looks up)  Ah, yes.  Yes, I have.

next:       a new arc
released:   5/4/07
notes:      How's that for a twist ending?  I actually planned it almost
  from the beginning; it made a lot of sense for Parekh to gently guide
  the others toward Kronos, given that Belphanior was intent on finding
  the lich anyway.  I think Parekh's actions make a lot of sense, and
  she may also benefit by getting yet another vastly powerful spellcaster
  into her little group.

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