Chapter #982

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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       +
+   1991-2011 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     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Bosco          12th level halfling thief                              +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Jenna          9th level female human priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          4/8/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         an abandoned complex deep within the Pelisso Swamp     +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "There's a difference between being obsessed and being motivated."    +
+                                             - from _The Social Network_ +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   CMLXXXII.  Sanctum





  After days of effort, only a single gateway destination remains
unexplored...

Belphanior:  Well, we saved "Danger" for last.  And here we are.
Skektek:  Just because it's the last one doesn't mean it's the most
  dangerous, or the largest, or anything like that.  Our choice of
  what order to explore these in was more or less unpredictable.
Jenna:  The powers of Fate might beg to differ.  (she frowns)  Hell,
  I don't know.  I have a strange feeling about this one.
Belphanior:  What kind of feeling?
Jenna:  I'm not sure...something ominous.  As if this place won't be
  trivial, or easy.
Belphanior:  None of them are.
Jenna:  Still...let's just proceed with utmost caution, until we see
  what we're dealing with.
Belphanior:  We will.  As always.

  After the usual process, they emerged into a large square chamber,
about fifty feet on a side and almost that high.  The gateway was an
arch of unusual stone, its color shifting and changing constantly.
Belphanior found it painful to look at for more than a moment or two,
so he turned his attention to the room that surrounded the gateway.
Its entire far end was a ramp leading upward at a gradual angle...


                                         _______
LEVEL 3:  THE GATEWAY                 <<<       |      <<<  ramp up
                                      <<<      #|       #   gateway
                                      <<<      #|
                                      <<<      #|
                                      <<<_______|



Belphanior:  (turns back to the gateway arch, realizing something else
  about it aside from the random color shifts its stone is undergoing)

  This arch was more than twenty feet wide and almost that high at its
peak - enough to accommodate a giant, or a siege engine, or large numbers
of troops.  At least that's how Belphanior's mind reacted to this larger-
than-normal portal.  The others quickly noticed and commented on it too.

Otto:  Must be for large troop movements.
Jenna:  But what's the point?  None of the other gateways we've found
  were this big.  Both ends would need to match.
Belphanior:  Maybe there's another bigger gateway out there somewhere,
  and we just haven't seen it yet.
Skektek:  It's also possible that Xusia planned to expand some existing
  one, or even build a new one.  He obviously had it down to a science,
  given that we've dealt with a score or so of these things.
Otto:  (nods)  So that wide ramp across the chamber is likely to lead to
  a massing area for troops.  (he frowns)  Never mind - they're coming
  for us now.
Hope:  (having already anticipated this, she casts a spell, causing a
  globe of bright light to appear far above, illuminating everything so
  that the adventurers can see and fight clearly)

  An instant later, a horde of undead flowed down the ramp, rotten and
bony limbs flailing madly.  A dozen creatures abreast, the unliving wave
extended as far up the ramp as the adventurers could see.  It consisted
of a variety of foes:  zombies, skeletons, ghouls, and other species of
undead, some of which didn't quite look familiar to the now-trapped group
of adventurers.

Belphanior:  (wondering how he, yet again, forgot to summon monstrous
  reinforcements until they were actually needed)  Buy me some time here!
Jenna:  (steps forth, chanting holy words of power)

  Jenna's words of power were great indeed:  the closest dozen undead
foes - skeletons, zombies, ghouls, and a shadow - instantly crumbled into
moldy dust.  In addition, a wight and a wraith turned and fled into the
darkness.

remaining zombie:  (regards the remains of its fellows that had been
  standing next to it a moment ago)

  By this time, Belphanior's use of the Book of Beasts had summoned some
new allies...

orc:  (looks around, a rusty old sword in one hand and a shield on the
  other arm)  Huh?
large spider:  (about two feet across, it scurries about)
giant weasel:  Grrrr.
Belphanior:  You three, wait for my next commands.  (he continues his
  summoning work)
zombie:  (now shambles forward mindlessly)
other undead:  (likewise, they renew their march down the ramp, growling
  or moaning or making whatever sounds each of them makes)

  Indeed, the priestess of Istus had stopped the undead mob, but only
briefly; those behind the destroyed or turned were quick to redouble
their attack and advance toward the eight companions.

Skektek:  Allow me.  (brandishing a wand, he blasts the ramp with a great
  sheet of flame, incinerating scores of undead foes and clearing the
  entire ramp)
Bosco:  Hey!  That was awesome!

  Meanwhile, Belphanior had brought some more reinforcements to bear...

owlbear:  (looking around, it waves its clawed arms and stomps the stone
  floor angrily)  GRRRRRRR.
giant hornet:  (flits about)  Bzzzzz.
wispy thing:  (follows the insect, mimicking its movements)  sprrp!
summoned wraith:  (hovers in place, its eyes glowing eerily)
Belphanior:  (to all six summoned monsters)  Get up there and do your
  best to destroy any undead foes you encounter.

  The party, its ranks bolstered by the summoned beasts, charged up the
ramp and into the middle of a much larger chamber.

Otto:  Damn.  This is going to be tough to secure...


                              _____________________
LEVEL 2:  THE BARRACKS       |  <==             >>>|
                             |  <==             >>>|   >>>  ramp up
                             |  <==             >>>|
                             |  <==        _____>>>|   <==  ramp down
                             |            |
                             |            |
                             |            |
                             |            |________
                             |                     |
                             |                     |
                             |                     |
                         ____|                     |
                        |                          |
                        |                          |
                        |                _______   |
                        |             ==>       |  |
   party's current -->  |        *    ==>       |  |
     location           |             ==>       |  |   ==>  ramp down
                        |             ==>       |  |
                        |             ==>_______|  |
                        |                          |_______
                        |                                  |
                        |                                  |
                        |                                  |
                        |                                  |
                        |                                  |
                        |__________________________________|



  Despite Skektek's earlier fire-blast, there were still plenty of foes
in this room, and battle was joined immediately.

Ys:  (wades out into the enemy ranks, his huge broadsword clearing a
  path)
skeleton:  (cut in two, its halves fly in opposite directions)
zombie:  (decapitated, it falls, the body still twitching slowly, the
  head rolling away)
other skeleton:  (smashes into a dozen pieces by a backswing, it falls)
ghoul:  (claws at the reptilian's leg)
Ys:  (grabs the thing by the neck, hurling it away)
ghoul:  (lands amidst other undead, knocking all to the floor)

  The big reptilian left a swath of destruction in his wake, which the
summoned monsters moved into and reinforced...

orc:  (hacks at a zombie, severing its arm)  Got you!
zombie:  (claws at the orc, but the rotting fingers glance away from the
  humanoid's shield)
large spider:  (scrambles forth and bites a skeleton in the ankle, its
  venomous fangs oozing with poison)
skeleton:  (steps on the spider with its other foot, squashing it into
  a splatter of yellow spider guts)
giant weasel:  GRRRRRR!  (it pounces on the skeleton, locking its jaws
  tightly on the thing's neck)
skeleton:  (its head pops off, the skull rolling away)
giant weasel:  RRRRR!  (it turns and jumps on the one-armed zombie, its
  teeth and claws tearing away chunks of flesh)
summoned wraith:  (faces off against one of the wraiths that inhabits the
  dungeon, the two of them having some sort of quiet, wraithly combat with
  one another)
owlbear:  RRRRRAAAARGH!  (it charges forth, knocking a skeleton out of
  its way)
skeleton:  (falls, its ribcage shattered)
owlbear:  GRAAARR!  (it slashes a zombie with its other clawed paw)
zombie:  (gutted, it falls)
owlbear:  (barrels into a mummy, and begins assaulting it with a barrage
  of claw and bite attacks, oblivious to the possibility of contracting
  rotting damage)
mummy:  (reels, bits of bandage and dry flesh flying everywhere)
giant hornet:  BzzzzZZZZ!  (it flies up and stings a ghoul in the face)
ghoul:  AieeeEEEEE!  (it clutches its forehead, screaming)

  Belphanior's final summoning caused a strange but powerful creature
to appear:  a hulking, nine-foot mass of dense vegetation.

shambling mound:  GRNK?
Belphanior:  Go forth and demolish any undead.

  This summoned ally was particularly useful in a battle against undead,
as it was immune to any of their life- or -strength- draining attacks,
paralysis, fear, and so on.  As well, its thick body was quite resistant
to their claws and even swords.

skeleton:  (buries its sword in the thing's bulk, with little effect)
shambling mound:  (swats the foe with a huge, mossy arm, knocking it to
  pieces)
zombie:  Eyuh.  (possessed of little tactical sense, it gropes at the
  much larger foe)
shambling mound:  (seizes the undead opponent, crushing the zombie
  against its mossy body)
zombie:  <SQUERNCH>

  Within the phalanx of summoned monsters stood the adventurers, using
their weapons to stop any foes that got by the outer rank...

Belphanior:  (beheads a fallen ghoul, then leaps away as one of its
  fellows swipes at him with grimy claws)
Bosco:  (stabs the other ghoul in the back, dispatching it)
Otto:  (having immediately given up on using his crossbow, he darts all
  over the place, cutting hamstrings and stabbing backs while avoiding
  numerous undead attacks)
Razor Charlie:  (tossing silver knives quickly and deftly, he scores a
  hit every time in this target-rich environment)
ghast:  (reels, screaming as a silver knife protrudes from its eye)
zombie:  (gropes at the blade that just appeared in its forehead)
wispy thing:  (flits around the face of a wight, distracting it from
  actually attacking anyone)  sssss!
wight:  Hsssss?
Razor Charlie:  (hits the foe in the neck with a thrown silver knife)
wight:  Aaargh!

  Of course, the spellcasters didn't stand idly by; protected by the
monsters and warriors, they worked their magic upon the opponents.

Hope:  (completing a spell, she transforms a section of the stone floor
  into mud)

  This tactic instantly immobilized a score of foes, who sunk into the
mud, unable to advance or attack now.  Skektek capitalized on this handy
opportunity, hitting the area with a chain lightning spell, which fried
each trapped undead foe it touched, one after the other.

Skektek:  Excellent!  Thanks for setting them up for me!
Hope:  I didn't plan it that way, but you're welcome.
Jenna:  (directs her holy symbol and undead-turning powers to a small
  group of ghouls who are slinking up from on side)  By Istus...
ghouls:  (all seven of them are reduced to dust)
lone ghost:  (suddenly the sole survivor of the pack, it is repelled,
  and flees, gibbering in terror)

  Although the undead horde had numbered in the hundreds at the onset of
the battle, they were overmatched here (quite possibly because they were
not commanded by anything more powerful, as this area was really just a
barracks.)  There was also the matter of the adventurers' large-scale
destructive magic; the fireballs and lightning bolts took out dozens of
undead at a time, and the ones that survived that had to face the party's
blades and summoned monsters.
  By the time the dust settled, the ashes cooled, and the rotten gore
stopped spraying, not a single undead combatant remained.  Some of the
adventurers bore minor wounds, but all in all these were nothing serious.
From the ranks of the summoned creatures, the orc, giant weasel, owlbear,
and shambling mound remained.  In addition to the large spider being
slain, the giant hornet had been taken down by a lucky ghoul, whose
fellows had then torn it to shreds.  The summoned wraith had been a
victim of friendly fire, so to speak; one of Jenna's undead-turning
efforts had driven it away, along with the other wraith it had been
fighting.
  With these adjustments, the party now consisted of eight adventurers,
the wispy thing, and four monsters.



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Bosco          12th level halfling thief                              +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Jenna          9th level female human priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   SUMMONED HELP:                                                        +
+     orc, with rusty old sword and dented shield                         +
+     giant weasel, aggressive and tenacious                              +
+     owlbear, savage and fearless                                        +
+     shambling mound, 9' tall, dense, and resistant to undead attacks    +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



  The northern end of this large chamber had two exits.  To the west, a
ramp led down; to the east, a ramp led up.  The downward ramp appeared
to be longer, so they ignored that one for now, setting the shambling
mound and the weasel there as guards.  The upward ramp ascended about
ten feet, opening into a rectangular room that was over a hundred feet
wide and about eighty feet deep:


                                              _________________
LEVEL 1:  THE ARMORY                         |                 |
                                             |                 |
                                             |                 |
                                             |                 |
                                             |  <==            |
                                             |  <==            |
                             <==  ramp down  |  <==            |
                                             |  <==            |
                                             |                 |
                                             |                 |
                                             |                 |
                                             |_________________|



  This area was obviously an armory, but it was in disarray.  Racks of
various types were scattered loosely about the huge chamber; some were
in disrepair or sagging, and a couple had collapsed entirely.  All manner
of weapons could be seen here, though the average quality of them was
fairly low, and many were rusty.  A couple dozen suits of armor were
also here, and one rack contained only shields.

Otto:  Looks like crap.
Bosco:  It's like I always say - you just can't count on undead to keep
  a tidy weapons room.
Skektek:  (glares at the halfling with an annoyed look)
Belphanior:  Looks can be deceiving.  (he scans the area, slowly)  Let's
 fan out and see if we find anything interesting.

  As it turned out, the first interesting thing in the room attacked
them:  one of the suits of armor animated, as if an invisible warrior
was within.  Wielding a sword and an axe, this strange foe attacked the
party; unfortunately, it must have been somehow compelled to seek out
the largest victim.  Its initial blows didn't hurt Ys, as he parried or
avoided them; his counter-attack smashed the animated armor into its
component pieces, and it moved no more after that.
  While the vast majority of the weapons, armor, and shields here were
unremarkable at best, a few items had magical auras:  a bent spear, an
ornate dagger concealed within a rotted leather sheath, a rusty battle
axe, and a small round shield.  These things were taken, the walls and
floor thoroughly searched, and then the adventurers made their way back
to the other ramp, the one leading down.  At this point, it was becoming
possible to get a rough idea of the layout of the dungeon complex thus
far:



                                              _________________
  armory          1      ____________________|___  ____________|
  barracks        2     |________  ____  __________________|
  gateway         3             / /    \_______#|

  (party's current location)     ^



  The ramp opened into the antechamber of another large, basically square
room; to the chamber's south were a number of large wooden barrels and
heavy crates.  The eastern wall offered exit, though the way was blocked
by a pair of large, heavy doors.


                           ________
LEVEL 4:  STORAGE         |     >>>                  >>>  ramp up
                          |     >>>_______
                          |               |
                          |               |          %    double doors
                          |#  OO OOO      % ==>
              barrels     |O ##  OO       % ==>      ==>  ramp down
                & crates  |OO ##O OO# #   |
                          |_______________|



Belphanior:  Everyone fan out.  Check this stuff but do _not_ touch
  anything.  Ys, Charlie - stay at the base of the ramp here and guard
  the rear.
Ys:  Very well.
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)

  The barrels and the crates were of varying sizes, but none were small.
Everything was sealed except one crate whose lid had been pried off and
set to the side; this container held a number of lengths of metal chain,
though a few were obviously missing.  Also, one of the barrels' lids had
dried stains of a thick black substance, probably tar or pitch.
  Aside from these two things, all of the other containers were sealed
tight, and nothing lurked behind or in-between them.  As for the double
portals, they were of thick wood, augmented by dark metal bands.  Each
door was six feet wide and ten feet high, and they opened inward (toward
this room.)  Despite the formidable appearance of the dual doors, they
weren't magical or trapped - just locked.

Bosco:  Do you want me to get to work on that door's lock, or check the
  crates and barrels?
Belphanior:  The lock.  Otto, please help him with that.  We're leaving
  the other stuff alone for now.
Skektek:  But-
Belphanior:  (scanning the various storage containers with his enchanted
  eye)  There's nothing remarkable in these, at least nothing magical.
  They can wait until later.  We need to get through this door and keep
  any advantage of surprise that we might still have.

  It didn't take the two demi-human thieves long to get the lock picked;
although the doors looked impressive, they were really just a physical
barrier.  However, they were heavy, as Bosco discovered when he tried to
pull one open...

Bosco:  Ungh!  (he tugs on the massive door with all his might)
Ys:  (steps over and heaves the portal, pulling it open with no small
  amount of effort)  Ungh.
Bosco:  Hey, I was about to get it-

  The halfling ceased his prattle as he, and the others, were now faced
with a wide ramp sloping down into the next area.  It descended for about
ten feet vertically, opening into a square chamber about forty feet on
each side.  Near the ramp leading down to this level (to the right and
behind it) was another descending ramp leading down to another level.
  Of more interest than this other exit was what lay ahead, as they
reached the end of the ramp from above:  the entire eastern wall of the
room was completely transparent!

Belphanior:  Glasteel, probably, just like in that other gateway.
Otto:  And like in that other gateway, there's some larger area beyond-
  hey!

  To their right (the southern wall, near the transparent eastern wall)
a skeletal figure was perched over a gigantic stone lever.  Before this
could be fully contemplated, the bony thing - which was surely an undead
being of some sort - pulled the lever...and the forty-foot section of
glasteel wall slowly rose upward, exposing this chamber to the vastly
larger one beyond...


                                                  _________________ . .
LEVEL 5:  BESTIARY                               |
                                                 |
                                                 |
                                          _______|
                             ramp up     |<<<    .
                                         |<<<    .
                                     <===        .
                       ramp down     <===_____=__
                                                 |
                       _=_  controls             |
                                                 |
                                                 |_________________ . .



Otto:  (crossbow in hand, he curses)  Not fast enough.
skeletal creature:  (hit in the skull by Otto's fired bolt, it slumps
  over the stone lever, unmoving)
Belphanior:  You tried - nothing else we could have done.  I didn't even
  see him at first.
Bosco:  (having wandered over to the opening to the new area, he stands
  at the edge)  You guys should come look at this.

  The opening - forty feet wide by ten feet high - was set in the center
and top of one wall of a much larger chamber, an ideal place for a window.
The colossal chamber had been cut from the surrounding rock, and its walls
and seams were rough and unfinished.  A quick but powerful spell of light
revealed it to be fifty feet high, over a hundred feet wide, and more than
twice that in depth:


             ____________________________________________
            |                                            |  top view
            |                                            |
            |                                            |
          __|                                            |
            .                                            |
            .                                            |
            .                                            |
          __                                             |
            |                                            |
            |                                            |
            |                                            |
            |____________________________________________|

          _______________________________________________
          __                                             |  side view
            |                                            |
            |                                            |
            |                                            |
            |____________________________________________|



  Unfortunately, the light spell also revealed something rushing toward
the party...something huge, and grim, and dangerous...

Belphanior:  (catches a very brief glimpse of a gigantic, skeletal form)
  Back!  Get back, every-

  Numerous things happened at once, most of them officially classifiable
as "attacks."  First, the magical light was extinguished suddenly by
whatever lurked below.  A fraction of a moment later, the entire party
was hit by a great gout of noxious yellow gas which filled the smaller
chamber.  This chilly blast combined the effects of nausea, numbing, and
fatigue, and sapped the strength of everyone it reached.  A moment later,
Ys and Razor Charlie were hit by a small focused cone of pale frost, and
fell back, both of them stunned and covered in a thin layer of ice.  As
the others ducked and darted for cover (or at least to separate and thus
present more difficult targets) a cloud of green mist billowed forth from
the darkened further chamber, its vapors slowing the actions of most who
they touched.  Belphanior, for some reason, found himself immune to this
effect, and therefore was the first to counterattack.

Belphanior:  (having seen the nature of what they face, he sheathes his
  sword and quickly switches to a wand, sending multiple globules of acid
  in the direction the attacks came from)  Jenna - try turning that thing!
  Hope - we need more light!  Skektek - fire support!
Skektek:  (already in action, he completes a spell)  Fuck this!  (waving
  one hand, he launches a mighty fireball out into the darkness)

  This action was followed by a tremendous explosion, which briefly lit
up their foe:  a gigantic three-headed undead dragon, its hundred-foot
long body made up of little more than pale bones.  Skektek's fireball
shattered some of these bones and melted others, buying the adventurers
much-needed time to mount further attacks.  Hope illuminated the area
with a powerful spell, focused on the smaller chamber rather than the
larger one or the undead creature itself.  Otto figured his crossbow
wouldn't make much of an impact on the dragon, so instead he worked to
help free Ys and Charlie from the ice.  There wasn't really a lot that
the summoned monsters could do, given their limited mobility (not to
mention being seriously overmatched against a dragon.)  Bosco, however,
had other ideas; using his winged boots, he took to the air, sword in
hand.  Before the dragon - reeling from Skektek's fiery blast - could
take notice of Bosco, it faced a turning attempt from Jenna, who stood
at the edge of the smaller room, brandishing her brightly-glowing holy
symbol and chanting words of power.

undead dragon:  (unfazed by the priestess' efforts, it reaches out and
  grabs her with one bony claw, pulling her into the larger room)
Jenna:  (seriously weakened just by the monster's icy touch)  Aaaargh!
Belphanior:  (finds himself wishing that he had brought some of the golems
  along)  Dammit-
wispy thing:  (hovering before the dragon's triple heads, it confronts
  the foe in its own way, a fierce expressison on its wispy face)  brrrf!
undead dragon:  (regards the immaterial being, confused)
Razor Charlie:  (having recovered from the previous cold-based attack,
  he takes something handed to him by Otto and makes the best of the
  dragon's momentary distraction)

  While he made his living hurling knives, the lean, scarred warrior
had a strong and accurate throwing arm in a general sense, and now he
put it to use, launching a bottle of liquid at the dragon in the larger
area beyond.  It was pretty much a certain hit, due to the beast's size;
it was also a certain means of damage, given the contents of the bottle.

undead dragon:  (splashed across its midsection by holy water, its bones
  begin to burn, as the blessed water is like acid to an undead creature)

  A moment later, Ys launched himself off of the ledge, leaping out and
landing _on_ the dragon's back.  He had set aside his great sword and now
wielded his even larger battleaxe, a weapon much better suited to smashing
bone.  A moment after completing his great charging leap, Ys pulverized a
section of the dragon's ribcage with a single sweeping blow of the huge
axe.  And a moment after that, he held on for dear life as the thing
bucked, trying to shake him off.

  The dragon thrashed about madly; Jenna was dropped from a considerable
height, plummeting toward the stony floor as the dragon turned its full
attention to Ys.

Bosco:  (swoops down and grabs Jenna by the wrist, arresting her fall just
  ten feet above the floor)  Ungh!
Jenna:  (dazed)  Th- thanks...

  Meanwhile...

Ys:  And take that, monster!  (he shatters several more ribs with another
  mighty swing of his battleaxe)
undead dragon:  (having had enough of this, it finally manages to grab the
  gray-skined reptilian with one bony talon)

  Holding the assailant up to its three faces, the massive dragon studied
its tormentor for a moment, all three heads focusing on the reptilian at
once...and then the dragon flung him away!

Ys:  (collides with a distant wall, hard, and then falls to the floor, now
  unmoving)
Belphanior:  (completes a spell, his right fist now sheathed in blazing
  flames, and leaps down toward the dragon, successfully touching one of
  its skeletal legs before it can react)

  The elf's intention was to inflict the magical flames upon the dragon,
sheathing it in harmful fire.  However, the foe proved resistant to this
attack, and escaped with only a minor scorch mark on that leg.

undead dragon:  (kicks Belphanior, knocking him away)
Belphanior:  (having anticipated this, he rolls with the blow, suffering
  only minor damage)
Bosco:  (chooses this time to dart in aerially and stab the dragon with
  his sword, right in the back of its rightmost skull)

  It was a perfectly-aimed blow, the fine steel sinking into the seam
between the base of the skull and the top of the spine.  The fact that
the foe had no flesh to obscure the target area just made Bosco's work
easier.  Dark wisps of shadow seeped from the wound, and that head's bony
jaw opened and closed randomly...and then the head simply sagged down,
no longer active.
  Of course, this infuriated the other two heads, the nearer of which
turned and snapped at the halfling - who was already flying away at top
speed.

undead dragon:  (uses one of its breath weapons again, taking out Bosco
  in midair with a cone of frost and ice)
Bosco:  (immobilized, he falls toward the ground)

  Fortunately, Bosco was wearing a ring that made him fall like the
lightest of feathers, so Belphanior didn't have to try and catch the
halfling.  However, Hope struck next, summoning a great blazing cloud
of fire and embers!  This incendiary maelstrom covered the bulk of the
undead dragon, burning and charring much of its body.  As one of the
remaining two heads turned her way, most likely with the intent to hit
her with foul breath, Belphanior attacked again.  Blackrazor - which had
repeatedly proven ineffective against powerful undead foes - was safe in
its sheath; the elf was brandishing the wondrous sword of white metal,
found in Xusia's gateway on the moon.  Supposedly forged of ore from the
stars, this weapon had proven its power once, changing the slain, evil
vampiress Drusilla into the living, benevolent sorceress Hope.  While
Belphanior didn't think it necessary to repeat that experiment upon a
skeletal dragon, he did need a weapon that was effective against such
a foe.

Belphanior:  (swings the sword, which is now glowing brightly, hitting
  the undead dragon in one of its hind legs)

  The effect was more than the elf could have hoped for; the bright blade
sliced completely _through_ the dragon's thick leg bone, severing that
limb entirely!  Most dragons would be roaring in pain and rage at this
point, but this one remained utterly quiet, as it had been for the entire
battle.  The central head turned and vomited forth a gout of the green
breath upon Belphanior; the dragon didn't know that the elf hadn't been
affected by this attack previously.  Belphanior now feigned weakness,
staggering about - and then leaped forth suddenly, shearing apart several
bones near the base of the three heads!  The dragon recoiled, only to get
smashed in its central head by a spiritual mace conjured by the recovered
Jenna.

undead dragon:  (swipes wildly with its tail, knocking Jenna over but
  missing the dodging Belphanior)
Skektek:  (pelts the dragon's two active heads with a barrage of magic
  missiles)

  The teamwork and multiple attacks were wearing the dangerous foe down,
and Belphanior didn't waste the opportunity, running RIGHT UP the dragon's
back in a mad sprint.  The large, bony spine actually made for excellent
footing, and by the time the foe realized what the elf was doing, he had
swung the Moonsword in a deadly arc, severing the middle head from its
neck!  At that point, Belphanior locked one arm around a neck bone and
held on for dear life as the skeletal neck stump thrashed about wildly;
every time its movements brought him near the remaining head or anything
else he could attack, he lashed out with his sword, attempting to inflict
further damage.
  Otto had gotten in on the action, joining Charlie at the edge of the
upper chamber as they hurled well-aimed bottles of holy water down upon
the dragon.  The thing was badly damaged and quite weakened now, and as
the attacks continued, its attempts at defending itself dwindled.  Since
Belphanior had seen his share of nearly-beaten enemies find ways to
instantly recover and renew their attack, he took no chances.  The elf
headed straight to the left head and hacked at it repeatedly, until it
was little more than a ruin of shattered bone.  At this point, the undead
dragon ceased all movement - the short but intense battle was over.  Hope
transported the group from above down to the bottom of the larger chamber
so that the party could fully regroup and tend to their wounded.

Otto:  That thing was tough!  I'm glad it's finally down.
Belphanior:  And I didn't even have to use the hourglass, for a change.

  The defeated dragon wasn't the only one seriously weakened; the party
had suffered its own wounded.  Ys and Bosco were both out cold, requiring
serious healing magic just to stabilize them.  Jenna was fairly badly
hurt as well, and had to heal herself before she could assist the other
two.  The rest of the adventurers - except for Belphanior - were still
in varying states of weakness due to one or more of the dragon's breath
weapon effects.  Of course, this didn't stop those who were able from
making a quick but complete check of the entire large chamber.  In the
far corner to the southeast, the dragon kept a considerable hoard of
treasure - treasure that now belonged to the adventurers.  Amidst piles
of gold coins and ingots, there were a couple hundred identical rubies
in a rotted wooden chest, the blood-red stones spilling out into the
other valuables.  In addition to a couple dozen pieces of jewelry - some
valuable, some ruined beyond hope - there were a number of items bearing
magical auras:  an old but servicable shovel, a tightly-stoppered metal
vial of red liquid, three sealed glass flasks of yellow fluid, a small
metal figurine, a finely-crafted sword with a silver pommel in the shape
of a wolf's head, an intricate amulet of electrum with a large emerald
inset in its center, a pair of dice joined by a leather cord, and a staff
of green wood whose wider end was carved into the shape of a serpent's
head, and a sealed tube containing a tattered scroll.

Skektek:  Quite a haul.
Hope:  At quite a cost.

  Truly, the party was exhausted, wounded, and beaten down - far from
an optimal state.  Thus, Belphanior was forced to make a difficult but
necessary decision.

Belphanior:  (sighs)  I'm afraid we'll have to leave this place, in
  order to rest and recover.
Otto:  Tactically, that could be a bad move.  It would give the remaining
  occupants of this place extra time to regroup and plan.
Belphanior:  (nods)  True, and that's a disadvantage to us.  To make it
  worth our while, we have to add even greater advantages to our side
  before we come back here.





next:       levels 1-5 are explored, levels 6+ are coming up
gateways:   http://www.peldor.com/misc/gateways.php?chapter=982
ftp:        ftp.peldor.com
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   10/28/2011
notes:      If you haven't figured it out yet, this is the big lost
  mega-dungeon of Xusia.  I had originally intended for it to all get
  explored in one single episode, but I'm going to stretch it out some
  to  1) get a new story, this one, in your hands sooner, and 2) to
  take advantage of the natural logical breaking point created by the
  end of the fight with the undead dragon.
    I guarantee you, both the monsters and the treasures in this place
  will be of high caliber.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++




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