Chapter #983

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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       +
+   1991-2011 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              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   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                     +
+                                                                         +
+   REINFORCEMENTS:                                                       +
+     iron golems (2)                                                     +
+     stone golems (2)                                                    +
+     coal golem                                                          +
+                                                                         +
+   REMAINING 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    +
+   Date:          4/9/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         Xusia's final gateway, exact location unknown          +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "Is it madness...which drives a man of my genius to strive for an     +
+    impossible prize...or is it the striving for that which is ever      +
+    just out of reach which prevents madness from overtaking me?"        +
+                                      - Doctor Doom, from _Secret Wars_  +

                   CMLXXXIII.  Lost Dungeon

  One day after first arriving in the unexpectedly-massive final "danger"
gateway complex, Belphanior's team has regrouped for a second assault.
In the first, they explored five levels - including an armory, barracks,
and bestiary - and fought numerous undead foes.  The climactic battle
yesterday proved challenging indeed, as they barely defeated a gigantic
three-headed undead dragon.  That fight led Belphanior to insist on a
temporary retreat, in order to allow the wounded to recover and everyone
to re-stock on critical supplies like holy water.  However, Belphanior
(being Belphanior) had also acquired some reinforcements.

Skektek:  Wait...let me get this right:  we can't teleport out of here?
Belphanior:  Before we left, I tried summoning some additional help,
  only to have the spell fail.  That made me curious, so I tried some
  other things.  In summary, every floor beneath the third - the gateway
  level - apparently has some sort of teleportation-blocking effect in
  place.  Or at least every floor we've explored so far.  And though we'd
  have to do further testing to verify this, I suspect those areas are
  also protected against lesser magic of movement such as dimension
  doors, passwalls, and the like.
Hope:  That's why these monsters remained after their summoning magic
  expired.  (she gestures to the remaining four allies from yesterday's
Belphanior:  Right.  I just happened to have them stay on guard at areas
  deeper than the third level, and here they are, still around long after
  the spell that summoned them expired.
owlbear:  (looking around, confused and hungry, wondering when it will
  get fed next)
giant weasel:  (its head resting upon its front paws, it dozes, without
  a care in the world)  zzz.
wispy thing:  (flits about near the animal, trying to provoke it into
  action)  sprrp.
giant weasel:  (snores on)  zzz.
shambling mound:  (just stands there, green muck occasionally dripping
  from its massive form)
orc:  (sharpening his rusty old sword, he whistles quietly to himself,
  the pile of rust flakes on the floor slowly growing as he works)
Belphanior:  Oh, for crying out loud-  (he rummages through his bag of
  holding, producing a random magical longsword)  Here.  Take this.
orc:  (surprised)  Uh...
Belphanior:  No, I'm serious.  Take it.  You obviously need it, and I
  have no need for yet another magical weapon that I'm not even using.
  Take this sword...use it in whatever battles we see today.
orc:  (unable to believe this random act of generosity, he stutters out
  his thanks, embarrassed)  I'll tell you what, old Chief Crud-Ears never
  gave us any weapons...and damn sure not this nice!
Belphanior:  That's why old chief Crud-Ears is probably worm food right
  now, while you're in a lich's long-lost dungeon, filled with countless
  monsters and untold treasures, as part of a strong team of adventurers.
Mongo:  Damn right!

  Belphanior had been serious about getting reinforcements - damn serious.
In addition to Mongo (found and persuaded to join within hours after the
group left this dungeon yesterday) the elf had brought two stone golems,
two iron golems, and the coal golem from the sky fortress.  It made good
strategic sense; golems were, by their nature, immune to the various ill
effects possessed by undead foes.  The iron golems towered over everyone
at twelve feet in height, were dark gray in color, and fought with huge
iron swords built into their right fists.  The stone golems stood nine
feet tall, were light gray in color, and used fists rather than weapons.
Both of these types of golems had been purposefully fashioned with many
sharp spikes and ridges in their armored forms, giving them a sinister
appearance.  As for the coal golem, it was a mere eight feet tall, with
a thick, wide body and stubby legs.  Its jet-black form also bore no
weapons, and it seemed to shed a fine black dust as it moved.
  Otto was prepared to use his mithril horn of summoning, in case more
forces were needed.  This item, traded to him by Mongo (who had received
it from Ged's will) could bring a number of fierce warriors to aid its
owner.  It was decided to hold this in reserve, due to the current hefty
size of the party and the teleportation-blocking effects below the third
level.  Otto figured he could ascend there and wind the horn later, if
need be; anything that could defeat the golems already present wouldn't
be stopped by some berserkers anyway.
  With these additions to the ranks, and having had a day to rest and
recuperate, the group was strong and confident.  They took stock of the
dungeon thus far:

  armory          1      ____________________|___  ____________|
  barracks        2     |________  ____  __________________|
  gateway         3        _____/ /____\_______#|
  storage         4       |________________  \_____________________ . .
  bestiary        5                  |  ___\_____
                                    /  /         |
          CURRENT LOCATION --->   /  /           |      bestiary
                                /  /_____________|
                                                 :_________________ . .

  As a precaution, before leaving yesterday, every open portal had been
wizard-locked, and a wall of stone summoned to seal the gateway level off
from everywhere else.  When this was dispelled now, however, there were
no signs of undead activity at all.

Bosco:  Silent as a tomb.
Skektek:  Well, it _is_ a tomb.
Belphanior:  (instructs one of the iron golems to remain on level two,
  at the top of the ramp down to the gateway level, as a rearguard and
  to ensure that the way out isn't overrun by some unknown menace)

  The next direction to explore was the downward ramp from the bestiary
level, an exit that had been ignored yesterday as they found and fought
the great undead dragon in the larger chamber to the east.  This sloped
pathway was 20' wide and led down for about forty feet, ending at a short
passage that turned left.  This opened into a large chamber that was quite
obviously a laboratory; it was filled with tables, shelves, tools, vials,
tubes, and other assorted arcane things.  On the opposite side of the
room, in its southwest corner, another ramp led downward.  The floor
near the center of the room held some sort of square pit, ten feet on
each side.  The east wall held a small metal door, which was closed.

LEVEL 6:  LABORATORY       |    >>>                    >>>  ramp
                           |    >>>                    >>>   up
                           |   |
                           |   |_________________
                           |      ||  ||  ||  || |      ||  tables
                           |                     |      ==  tables
                           |==   ==              |
                           |            ##       :      :   small door
                           |==   ==     ##       |
                           |_                    |
                             <--       ==  ==  ==|     <--  ramp
                             <--_________________|     <--   down

  Some of the tables had occupants, so to speak.  Starting with the four
along the northern wall, the first held the bottom half of a corpse, the
second was empty, the third had a skeleton, and the fourth held a large
zombie-like creature.  Four more tables were just ahead of the group as
they entered this area; two of these were empty, while the third held a
thin, desiccated wight.  The fourth of the tables was covered with small
piles of dust, a few fragments of bone, and what looked like bits of
parchment.  The three slabs to the southeastern corner held (from west
to east) a flesh golem, various broken chains, and a metallic skeleton
of some sort.

Belphanior:  Wow.

  Naturally, as one might expect deep within the dungeons of a powerful
adversary, just about everything in here came to life as the adventurers

Belphanior:  Everyone, fan out and let's take these things down fast!

  The party dispersed into the room, and the battle was on.  Or, to be
more accurate, a series of smaller confrontations now took place...

bottom half of corpse:  (ambles around without any real direction)
summoned orc:  (perhaps emboldened by his new sword, he charges at the
  thing, splitting it in half with a great blow that sends arcs of
  electricity through the target, raising a nasty stench)
left leg:  (topples, twitching)
right leg:  (hops along for a few more steps)
summoned giant weasel:  (pounces on the limb, dragging it away)
skeleton:  (clattering its way toward the group)
summoned owlbear:  GRAAAARGH!  (it destroys the thing with a single swipe
  of its mighty, clawed arms)
large zombie-like creature:  (lurches forward, moaning)
Otto:  (hits it in the head with a blessed, silver-tipped crossbow bolt)
Razor Charlie:  (hits it once in each shoulder with a silver knife)
Otto:  (hits it in the neck with a second blessed, silver-tipped crossbow
Ys:  (steps forth and cleaves the thing in half with a mighty swing of
  his oversized broadsword)

  This foe's defeat had an unexpected side-effect, though:  a cloud of
brown dust emerged from both halves of the zombie, and slowly floated
toward Ys!

Ys:  Aie!  (he steps back)  Eh?
wispy thing:  (hovering nearby, it ponders the dust)  brrrf.
Ys:  (having backed up a good ten feet, he watches as the dust _follows_
  him)  What madness is this?
Skektek:  Allow me.  (he moves past the big reptilian and launches a
  sheet of flames from his hands, incinerating the brown dust, whatever
  it was)
thin, dessicated wight:  (obviously ravenous, it heads for the nearest
  victim, who also happens to be the smallest)
Bosco:  Eep!  (he waves his sword)  Stay back, you.
Jenna:  (finally gets a clear chance to attempt an undead-turning, and
  faces Bosco's assailant)  Stand fast, small one - for if this fails,
  you'll have to defend me.

  Her efforts did not fail.  The wight backed away, driven from this
battle, and crept toward a distant corner.

Mongo:  (confronts the huge, thickly-muscled flesh golem)  You!
flesh golem:  (pounds the dwarf with both hamhock-sized fists, the blows
  capable of caving in the wall of a small house)
Mongo:  Is that the best you've got?  (he swings his hammer, smashing
  the golem back into a row of glass vials and beakers, which shatter)

  Before the dwarf could press his attack, the mixture of a dozen unknown
liquids and solutions poured over the golem...and its flesh began to
dissolve!  The thing thrashed about, smashing any unbroken glass in its
vicinity, but within moments, its body was already half-eaten away, and
a noxious vapor began to fill the room.

Belphanior:  (nearby, he uses a wand to cover the stinking mess with a
  thick coating of foam, figuring that since the foam has previously
  proven effective against fires, it might also help here)

  The elf was correct, and the fumes quickly ceased.  It was obvious
that the flesh golem was no longer a threat, which left only the weird
metallic skeleton.

metallic skeleton:  (gets off of its table with a ringing sound of metal
  on stone, and approaches the nearest adversary, who happens to be

  This was a strange opponent.  It was basically a skeleton of average
height, which had been encased in thin metallic plates, apparently molded
specifically for its form.  The joints were protected by slight overlaps
in the unusual armor, making the thing resemble a skinny warrior fully
dressed in plate mail.

metallic skeleton:  (charges at Belphanior with surprising speed, its
  thin arms reaching out as it nears him)

  Instantaneously, a foot-long blade protruded from beneath each of the
thing's forearms; an inch wide and sporting a razor edge on both sides,
these weapons were quite dangerous, as Belphanior soon learned.

Belphanior:  (despite leaping back and parrying one blade with his own
  weapon, he takes two hits in quick succession, realizing that if not
  for his stoneskin spell, his chest would be sliced open)  Whoa-
metallic skeleton:  (keeps stabbing and slashing at an insanely-fast
  pace, wearing down the elf's protective enchantment)

  A flurry of counter-attacks had no real effect, as the skeleton was
simply too well-armored to be damaged by sword blows from a foe of
less-than-giant strength.  Fortunately, Mongo was nearby, and lent a
hand...or in this case, a hammer...

Mongo:  (leaps forth and bashes the skeleton hard, the enchanted ore of
  his hammer ringing against the armored bone of the undead creature)
  Take that, bone-head!

  Fortunately, the hammer was made of stronger stuff, and backed by the
considerable strength of Mongo.  The skeleton crumpled, literally, in a
confused tangle of shattered metal plating and dusty bones.  Mongo dealt
a second blow which sealed the thing's fate, pulverizing it.

Mongo:  So much for him.
Belphanior:  I had the situation under control...but thanks.  (he wonders
  what havoc could be wrought by even a small number of such armored and
  fast-moving skeletons)
Otto:  I've never seen undead like some of these here.
Jenna:  Agreed.  Perhaps this laboratory was the site of experiments...
  to make "normal" undead stronger, more resistant to damage, and so on.
Skektek:  That makes sense.
Hope:  (eyeing the shambling mound and the golems)  Well, _they_ sure
  were useful.
Otto:  They will be, before it's all over.  Count on it.
Ys:  (notices Belphanior wandering away)  Eh?
Belphanior:  (heading for the wight, which is cowering in a corner)
Jenna:  What are you doing?  It's beaten!
Belphanior:  (seemingly ignoring her, he closes on the undead creature,
  the Moonsword held in one hand)
Bosco:  Huh?
Mongo:  (confused)  What the fuck's going on?
Skektek:  (smirks)  _I_ know what he's doing.

  The wight had nowhere else to run, and put up little fight as the elf
stabbed it precisely through the heart - a killing blow.

wight:  Ghak!  (it perishes)

  Thick black blood oozed slowly from the wound, though none of it had
stuck to the softly-glowing white steel of the sword.  A few moments
later, the lethal wound in the wight's chest began glowing with a pure,
bright light...and then the wound sealed itself, as the light shrouded
the entire corpse.  Most of them had seen the Moonsword's power at work
before - as Drusilla became Hope - but this time, the change was far more
drastic, since the wight's body had been dark and twisted, its hair like
black wire, its eyes sunken, its teeth rotten.  All of that changed now,
as the glowing magical energy changed the thing into a pale, naked old
man of perhaps seventy years.  While aged and frail, he was at least a
normal person now.

old man:  Eh?  (he looks around)  Where am I?  Who are you people?
Jenna:  (quickly finds a tattered piece of cloth and hands it to the guy)
  Here.  Cover yourself.
Hope:  (nods)  Please.
Mongo:  (to Otto)  That was just...messed up.
Bosco:  (considers the idea that he could pick the old guy's pockets,
  if he had any)
old man:  (takes the piece of cloth)  What the hell is going on?
Belphanior:  You wouldn't believe me if I told you.  Basically...we've
  just rescued you from evil.
old man:  Well, that's just great!  (he looks around again)  I want to
  go home now.
Belphanior:  Um...we'll do what we can, but you can't exactly just leave
  right now.
old man:  Yes, I can.  In fact, I demand it!
Belphanior:  (sighs)  I can leave you at the top of this dungeon, out of
  harm's way and with a guard, until we're done exploring-
old man:  (waving a finger at the elf angrily)  No!  I don't want to be
  left anywhere!  You take me home now, or else I'll follow you around
  until you do!
Belphanior:  (controls his anger, realizing that this guy is just addled
  by age and his recent back-from-undeath experience)
old man:  And don't argue with me!
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  Fine.  Suit yourself.
old man:  Damn right.  (he looks around, glaring at everyone)
Ys:  (towering over the fellow, he glares right back)
old man:  (grumbling)  Damn lizard men...
Razor Charlie:  (looks over the edge of the ten-foot square pit in the
  center of the chamber, wondering how it is that nobody managed to fall
  into it during the fight)

  With the undead foes defeated, the group made a complete inspection of
the laboratory's contents.  While a number of broken bottles and their
contents now littered the floor, a total of five intact magical potions
were recovered.  In addition, several small but enchanted items were
discovered in various parts of the chamber:  a slender metal wand with
two smaller prongs, a thin foot-long metal spike, and a ten-foot length
of chain with a large padlock attached.  These three items joined the haul
from the undead dragon's lair - and speaking of that, the small door in
the eastern wall turned out to be an entrance into that huge room, which
they had already explored (and then plundered) yesterday.

Otto:  I wonder what that dragon's story can't just keep a
  monster like that underground in a gigantic room.
Bosco:  Monster in a box!
Otto:  Exactly.  It makes no sense.
Jenna:  Not for normal creatures, but for undead, anything's possible.
  They don't all have the same need to move about as we do.  Especially
  if that thing was some sort of experiment, once a living dragon but
  then turned into...well, into that thing we fought, by some great and
  terrible power.
Belphanior:  Five gets you ten that it was some mad experiment of Xusia
  or his lackeys.  Fuck it.  Whatever it was, I'm glad we put an end to
Hope:  That reminds me of a greater, more important question...what _is_
  this place?  I mean, what exactly?  So far, we've found a barracks,
  an armory, storage, monster pens, a laboratory...this dungeon complex
  seems to have everything a powerful being needs in its lair.
Belphanior:  (nods, having already thought along these lines himself
  but curious to watch her put it together out loud)
Hope:  You once mentioned, briefly, that the lich built a newer, larger
  fortress elsewhere, and had made that his base of operations, yes?
Belphanior:  That's right.
Hope:  So why would he have another one here?  Assuming that's what it
  is, of course.
Otto:  That's a damn good question...why in the hell did he keep all of
  this stuff here, with undead to guard it?  There's got to be a reason.
Belphanior:  Agreed.  There must be a very good reason - and I intend to
  find it.  (he points to the ramp in the southwest corner of this room,
  which leads down into the unknown areas below)  Let's get to it.

  The ramp gradually descended about ten feet vertically, turning left
into a narrow passageway that led fifteen feet before ending in a sturdy
wooden door.

Belphanior:  (holds up a hand, signaling everyone to stop)

  The elf had detected not only strong magic and several souls behind
the door, but also some traps on and around it.  Quickly, quietly, and
efficiently, he and Otto and Bosco went to work.  One by one, they found
and disarmed a faint magical rune that would have frozen solid anyone
who touched the door, and then an invisible glyph that was ready to
inflict a terrible rotting disease on anyone within the passageway, and
finally a trio of tiny, poisoned needles on the door's handle and lock.
It went without saying that all of these defenses were harmless to undead
creatures, and the party was in full battle readiness as they pushed the
door open and entered the unknown area beyond.
  They now stood at the northern end of a long, narrow chamber consisting
of eight cell blocks and some torture devices.  The cells were ahead and
to the left, while the wall to the right held two sets of iron manacles
bolted into the wall, a large iron maiden, and then a rack filled with
just about every instrument of torture that had ever been invented.  The
far end of the room, a hundred feet distant, held yet another of the ramps
leading down to the next level.

LEVEL 7:  CELLS           |  >>>
                          |  >>>         >>>  ramp up
                          |  |
                          |~~|_____       ~~  sturdy door
                          |      __|
                          |{     __|      {   manacles
                          |{     __|
                          |      __|
                          |()    __|      ()  iron maiden
                          |      __|
                          |;     __|      ;   rack of instruments
                          |      __|
                           <--  |        <--  ramp down

  Each of the cells was a ten-foot cube with a door of steel bars at its
front; the walls around the doors, the walls between the cells, and the
cells' ceilings were all stone of at least a foot in thickness.  In any
normal situation, the adventurers would have turned their attention to
the cells (whose doors all appeared to be locked, and some of which were
occupied) but they didn't have a chance, for some of the contents of the
room animated and attacked them!  The two pairs of iron manacles tore
themselves free of the walls, floating through the air and making quite
a racket.  The iron maiden opened up with a loud creak, and from its
spiked interior lumbered a tall mummy-like thing.  And beyond that, the
rack of torture instruments came to life, the various tools floating
through the air to attack the intruders.

Belphanior:  (at the front rank of the party with Ys, the owlbear, and
  one of the stone golems)  Stand fast, everyone!
Otto:  (shoots his crossbow, sending a bolt into the face of the mummy-
  like thing)
mummy-like thing:  (appears to stagger, then simply collapses into a pile
  of moldy wrappings...from which something small, dark, and glistening
  now emerges)

  Actually, it was a swarm...a swarm of small insects, the bulk of whose
bodies appeared to be composed of sharp pincers!

Otto:  What the fuck...?
Skektek:  (having been waiting for a moment like this, and having snuck
  to the front of the party even before now, he lets loose a cone of
  blazing flame)

  The fiery attack was directed at the floor and the hundreds of tiny
black insects, but it also covered the floating manacles and some of the
animated torture implements.  The flame was powerful, but also brief,
and when it burned out, the swarm of insects was no more - it had been
reduced to a sizable, oily black smear on the floor.  As for the various
animated metal items, they were charred but still in motion; in fact,
they had now reached the party.

Belphanior:  Shit.  (he slashes at one pair of manacles with his sword,
  hitting them with a loud "clink" of metal on metal but not damaging
  them in any way)
manacles:  (one end wraps around the blade, while the other snakes down
  and clamps on Belphanior's right wrist)
Belphanior:  Hey!
manacles:  (the other end seeks the elf's other wrist, the cuff snapping
  open and closed like a metal jaw)

  Belphanior was fast, and grabbed the free end with his left hand, just
before the cuff portion, the way one would hold a venomous snake right
behind its deadly head.  However, the manacle flipped its end around his
hand, clamping down on his free wrist and locking suddenly!

Belphanior:  (incredulous at the clever simplicity of this device, he
  collapses suddenly as intense pain wracks his body)  Aaaargh!
Ys:  (hacks at the other set of manacles with a mighty blow, but they
  hold strong, apparently impervious to such attacks)  Well-  (he grabs
  the middle portion, the chain, with his non-sword hand and quickly
  hurls the device away with all his strength)
other set of manacles:  (flies across the room, hitting the far wall
  a hundred feet away)
Ys:  (swats at the half-dozen floating blades and spikes that now stab
  and slash at him)
owlbear:  (bats aside a pair of metal pincers, then gets stabbed in the
  hand by an awl)  RAARGH!  (it recoils as a jagged-toothed saw rips a
  nasty cut in its arm)  GRAAAAARGH!
stone golem:  (swings at a metal poker, hitting it hard enough to bend
  it and send it crashing into the floor, now inert)
Ys:  So they can be stopped by force...good.  (he swings at a small
  flaying knife, but misses as the thing darts back)
flaying knife:  (suddenly darts forward, stabbing Ys and scoring a hit
  through his scale mail)
Ys:  Ouch!  (he grabs the blade and throws it to the stone floor, right
  in front of the stone golem)
stone golem:  (steps on the thing, crushing it, just as Ys intended)

  Otto had grabbed Belphanior and pulled him back from the front line,
and the dwarf and Bosco were working on getting the manacles opened.
Unfortunately, they had no keyholes or other opening mechanisms, which
meant that they probably opened magically.  Skektek solved the problem
by casting a magic-dispelling aimed directly at the shackles; this not
only rendered them inert, but also caused them to spring open.  This
immediately ended the pain that they were inflicting on their victim.

Skektek:  I'm not sure how we can deal with these...maybe tie them in
  knots?  Or have one of the golems step on them and crush them?
Otto:  Let's keep them intact, at least for now.  I suspect they could
  come in handy down the road.
Mongo:  (uses his shield to knock a large bone saw from the air, then
  smashes it with his hammer)  Damn weird.

  Between physical and magical methods, the adventurers now knew ways to
stop the animated, attacking blades and such, and before long, they had
all been neutralized or destroyed.  For safety, all of them were rounded
up, thrown in a pile, and then covered with a web spell, in case they
found a second wind later.
  While Belphanior recovered and others' wounds were bound, the party
secured the room.  A stone golem was stationed at either end, to guard
against wandering foes from above or below, and the adventurers turned
their attention to the eight cells.  As noted previously, each was a 10'
space with a locked door of steel bars, and only a few were empty...

  cell #1     skeleton chained to back wall
  cell #2     empty
  cell #3     zombie chained to back wall
  cell #4     empty
  cell #5     empty
  cell #6     tall red-skinned winged thing
  cell #7     single silvery-white feather
  cell #8     large glass canister

  The skeleton didn't move at all, suggesting that it was actually the
normal, harmless remains of a dead person.  Two of the empty cells were
actually empty, while the third contained something invisible that made
quite a racket banging on the bars of its cage.  Based on the low moaning
sound coming from that cell and a quick spell cast by Jenna, the party
suspected a zombie of some sort; since it was locked safely behind bars,
it was left alone for now.  The next occupied cell held a tall, winged,
red-skinned creature, probably a demon of some kind.  Its once-mighty
body was nearly skin and bones now, likely the result of starvation and
torture; none could know what unholy reserve of stamina had kept this
creature alive this long.  Sitting on the floor of the cell, it weakly
acknowledged their presence with a slight lifting of its stooped head
and a barely-audible croak.  The seventh cell was empty save for a single
silvery-white feather, an object that seemed out of place here.
  The final cell, at the end of the row, contained a cylindrical canister
of glass, with an ornately-carved metal base.  It was possible that its
bottom was also glass and just rested within the metal portion.  At any
rate, the container wasn't as interesting as what was inside:  a slowly-
moving, amorphous mass of ooze.  Dark green in color, it filled about a
third of the cylinder, which was a foot in diameter and about four feet
high.  As the adventurers peered through the bars of the cell door, the
slime must have sensed their presence, for it began to undulate, its
shapeless form gradually spreading upward along the side of the canister
that faced the intruders.

Skektek:  Now that is creepy.
Otto:  I wonder what the hell it is?
Bosco:  Whatever it might be, I'm guessing it's hungry.  (he shivers)
Belphanior:  Some people would fiddle with this right now, just to see
  what happened...maybe find a way to open the container.  But not us.
  No, I think we'll leave it alone for now.  (he eyes the other cells)
  We'll leave all of these alone.  These prisoners can't possibly get
  out of here, otherwise they'd have done it already and would be roaming
  around in search of prey.
ooze in cell #8:  (moves around within its transparent prison)
zombie in cell #3:  (moans, struggling against its chains as it has been
  since the adventurers arrived here)  Urrrrr...
invisible creature in cell #5:  (banging on the bars of its cell door)
  Graaah!  Rrrrngh!
skeleton in cell #1:  (inanimate, it does nothing)
demon in cell #6:  (croaks in a weak voice)  I...can help you...
Belphanior:  Eh?  (he moves closer)
demon in cell #6:  (grasps at the air weakly)  Water...
Belphanior:  Someone give me a wineskin.
Otto:  (hands over a half-empty one)
Belphanior:  (warily pushes the thing through the bars, where the demon
  grabs it with quivering hands, then drinks greedily)
demon in cell #6:  <gulp>  Aaaaah.  (it sits up a little straighter)  My
  thanks.  I have had nothing to eat or drink for months.  (he eyes the
  party hungrily)
Bosco:  Ulp.
Mongo:  (steps forward to face the demon through the bars)  Don't even
  think about it.  (he raises his hammer)  I can make paste out of demons
  as easily as undead.
demon in cell #6:  (glares at the dwarf)
Belphanior:  Enough posturing.  (to the majority of his team)  Secure the
  entrance and exit to this level, and then check this room thoroughly,
  for treasure, hidden doors, and so on.  Otto and I shall speak with
  this one, and decide what to do with it.
others:  (move to carry out these orders)
Otto:  (sword in hand, he eyes the demon)
demon in cell #6:  (regards the dwarf curiously)
Belphanior:  (turns back to the prisoner)  Now talk.  I want to hear good
  and complete answers - don't make me ask questions that you need to be
  answering anyway.  (he draws Blackrazor, waving it menacingly in the
  demon's general direction)  Or else.  Do you follow?
demon in cell #6:  (nods weakly)  Yes.
Belphanior:  Good.  Time's short and this place is dangerous.
demon in cell #6:  (snorts contemptuously)  More dangerous than you know.
Belphanior:  You _are_ a demon, correct?
demon in cell #6:  Of course.
Belphanior:  What are you doing down here?
demon in cell #6:  I was summoned by the arch-lich, who then turned on me
  and imprisoned me here.  It's been hard to mark the passage of time,
  but my best guess is that I've been here for longer than a year.
Belphanior:  (knowing that the other can't possibly know what Belphanior
  himself knows, he works to outsmart the creature)  Where is Xusia?
demon in cell #6:  That, I cannot tell you.  I haven't seen that accursed
  one since I was put in this cell.  At first, I was fed...but several
  months ago, as I said, the food and drink ceased.  It was as if those
  in charge here lost interest in the prisoners.  It becomes challenging
  to learn anything when the only beings you see day in and day out are
  mindless undead.
Belphanior:  (acts as if he's seriously pondering all of this)  Hmm.
demon in cell #6:  So.  Here I have sat, wasting away and growing weak,
  but unable to perish.  (it looks around)  Most bothersome.
Belphanior:  I'll bet.  So, you have no idea where Xusia is, or what
  allies and weapons he can bring to bear?  Because if that's the case,
  I see absolutely no reason to keep you alive.  You may not be able to
  die of starvation, but this sword I wield can kill you - really kill
  you - as I'm sure you can sense.
demon in cell #6:  (slightly panicked)  I know nothing of the lich's
  whereabouts or current plans, but I do know of this place and what
  lies below!  I will barter that information for my freedom!
Belphanior:  Correction:  your life.  (he leans forward)  I'm listening.

  The demon relayed what it knew, which was actually very little, though
anything he didn't know was useful to Belphanior.  It seemed that the
demon has been summoned to assist Xusia with certain matters, and being
an astute sort of demon, it had picked up bits and pieces of useful
information prior to being defeated and imprisoned here.  Even the demon
didn't know how Xusia had shut down its inherent magical abilities and
powers, though Belphanior tended to believe that had happened, since
otherwise the thing wouldn't be in this cell wasting away.  According to
the demon, this place was Xusia's previous base of operations, before he
began work on another, larger one somewhere else (Belphanior obviously
knew this to be the Fortress of the Nine, though the demon clearly did
not).  Of more interest was what the red-skinned creature knew about the
dungeon complex...

demon in cell #6:  Massive undead forces...both in number and power.
Belphanior:  Eh?
Otto:  (somewhat confused)  But then what was that barracks-type area on
  the level above?
demon in cell #6:  I know not, but unless you did battle with thousands
  of the living dead, and a number of stronger leaders, you have not met
  the full force of this place.
Belphanior:  That's useful to know.  Depressing, but useful.
Otto:  What about treasure?
Belphanior:  (nods)  With this being his primary lair, past or present,
  and with such forces lurking here...surely he has vast treasure hidden
  away somewhere?
demon in cell #6:  Vast and mighty treasure.  Terrible treasure.  Things
  best left alone, even by such as him.
Belphanior:  Such as...?
demon in cell #6:  I know not the details.  I've merely sensed the sheer
  power.  This will sound cliched, but perhaps you are best advised to
  leave such things alone.
Belphanior:  You're right.  (he pauses)  That did sound cliched.  Okay,
  here's the deal.  I'll let you out, but you're coming along with us.
demon in cell #6:  But-
Belphanior:  No arguments.  We can't have you running around loose above
  us, as we explore.  You've just been drafted to join the party.
demon in cell #6:  But I'm weak...powerless!
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  That's not my problem.  I'm not forcing you to
  fight, just to accompany us.  Perhaps you'll get to see the undead and
  the treasure firsthand.
demon in cell #6:  (looking mighty displeased about this)
Belphanior:  Take it or leave it.  We're moving onward and downward.

  Shortly, the demon was out of its cell and with the party, which was now
sizable indeed (minus, of course, the iron golem that had been left behind
to guard the gateway area) :

+   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              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   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                     +
+                                                                         +
+   REINFORCEMENTS:                                                       +
+     iron golem                                                          +
+     stone golems (2)                                                    +
+     coal golem                                                          +
+                                                                         +
+   REMAINING SUMMONED HELP:                                              +
+     orc, with magical sword and dented shield                           +
+     giant weasel, aggressive and tenacious                              +
+     owlbear, savage and fearless                                        +
+     shambling mound, 9' tall, dense, and resistant to undead attacks    +
+                                                                         +
+   UNWILLING PARTICIPANTS:                                               +
+     red-skinned demon, in highly-weakened state                         +
+     old half-naked man (formerly a wight)                               +

  The now-empty iron maiden radiated a strong aura of magic and evil, and
whatever that might mean, the thing was too massive and heavy to take at
this time.  As for the occupants of the other cells, they were left alone.
Nobody thought it was a good idea to disturb the ooze-thing within its
transparent prison, since that would just be another creature to fight.
The silvery-white feather from the seventh cell was taken, as it had a
slight aura of magic, which led Belphanior to ask the demon yet another

Belphanior:  (to the demon)  Do you have any idea what sort of creature
  this feather belonged to?
red-skinned demon:  It was an angel of some sort.  They moved him out of
  here some time ago...I'm not sure where.  Good riddance.
Skektek:  (unable to resist taunting a demon)  You're one to talk.
Belphanior:  Now, now.
Skektek:  (angrily)  We don't need him.  He can't even do anything!
Belphanior:  To quote a wise man:  "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
  That doesn't technically apply here, but this demon knows things, and
  may be of use to us.  (to the demon)  Of course, one wrong move spells
  the end for you.
red-skinned demon:  (sullenly)  As you keep reminding me.

  After exploring seven levels of the dungeon, the adventurers now faced
a ramp extending down into the darkness (and the unknown levels below)...

  armory          1      ____________________|___  ____________|
  barracks        2     |________  ____  __________________|
  gateway         3        _____/ /____\_______#|
  storage         4       |________________  \_____________________ . .
  bestiary        5                  |  ___\_____
                                    /  /         |
                                  /  /           |
                            ____/  /_____________|
  laboratories    6        |___________    ______:_________________ . .
  cells           7          / ____|   |__|
                           /  /
                         /  /

  A marching order was formed:  the front rank would consist of one of
the stone golems slightly out in front, followed by Mongo, Belphanior,
Ys, and the owlbear.  In the second line were Bosco, Otto, Skektek, and
Razor Charlie.  The third row had the shambling mound, Hope, Jenna, and
the red-skinned demon.  Behind those were the weaker or the helpless (the
orc, the weasel, the old man) and at the rear were the rest of the golems.

Jenna:  (looks up at the shambling mound, wrinkling her nose)
shambling mound:  (stands there, oozing swampy slime)

  The ramp led down a good forty feet, curving around a half-circle at
the bottom.  Before the adventurers reached this point, however, they
came under attack...

Bosco:  (near the front of the party, he listens carefully)  What's that
Belphanior:  It's not souls...(he draws the Moonsword)
Otto:  I hear it too...sounds like scuttling.  At least on this ramp, we
  have the high ground.  Which gives me an idea.  (he begins searching
  for something, and moving to the front rank of the group)  I'm going
  to try my plan, the one with the barrels.
Belphanior:  (nods, addressing the entire group)  Stand fast.
Mongo:  Why?
Belphanior:  You'll see.

  Using magic, the party illuminated the twenty-foot wide ramp below, in
order to clearly see whatever it was that was coming toward them.  Their
weapons were ready - swords, axes, crossbows, throwing knives - as were
their spells.  However, what came up the ramp surprised them all, not by
virtue of being anything unusual, but by virtue of being _multiple_ foes
that were unusual.  The bulk of the enemy force was on foot:  a dozen
skeletons, their bones a dull black, armed with quality weapons, moving
quickly and with considerable agility.  Behind them lurked a trio of
giant skeletons, standing fifteen feet tall, each one carrying a small
boulder.  And in the air, moving along just below the 20' ceiling level,
were a dozen floating skulls, their eye sockets glowing with red fires.

Otto:  Alrighty then.  (he upends a small barrel, dumping oil down the
  ramp)  Charlie!
Razor Charlie:  (already prepared with a torch, he hurls it down the
  sloped passage, igniting the oil and instantly bathing the skeletons,
  and in fact the entire ramp, in searing flames)
Otto:  Hah!

  Meanwhile, the others had wasted no time launching their own attacks.
Mongo hurled Stormcrest, pulverizing one of the skeletal giants' rocks
before it could be thrown.  Skektek hit several of the floating skulls
with magic missiles, though without apparent effect.  Jenna was unable
to get to a point where she could face the undead and try to turn them,
but her spiritual hammer sailed through the air, bashing one of the
skulls aside.
  The undead counterattacked; the second giant's boulder smashed into
the stone golem, knocking it down on top of the owlbear.  The third of
the giant skeletons launched its boulder, but Mongo stepped out in front
of the party and _caught_ the huge rock!

Mongo:  Unf!  (he sends the boulder rolling down the ramp, and it rolls
  through the fiery conflagration caused by Otto, crushing several of
  the burning skeletons before bowling over one of the skeletal giants)

  The nearest of the floating skulls opened its mouth, launching a sheet
of reddish-yellow flames at the adventurers!  Everyone dove for cover,
leaving the shambling mound standing there to take the brunt of the fiery

shambling mound:  (burns a bit, but not too well)
red-skinned demon:  (also hit by the edge of the flaming sheet, it is
  unaffected)  Heh.

  Oddly enough, the skull that had launched the fire crumbled into white,
chalky dust and fell to the floor of the passage.

Hope:  (notes this)  How strange.

  Another of the skulls opened its mouth then, but instead of emitting
flames, it launched a small cone of cold, which took down Jenna and Otto
before splattering into the iron golem at the rear of the party.  This
skull, too, disintegrated after expending its magical attack.

Jenna:  (lying on the floor, shivering)
Otto:  (stunned, he fights to stand amidst the biting cold of the frost
  that covers his body)  Brr...

floating skull #7:  (opens its mouth, from which launch five bolts of
  magical energy, which streak forth and hit five adventurers, including
  Hope, whose spell is disrupted)
Hope:  Dammit...Skektek!  We need to take out those skulls!
Skektek:  I'm already on it!  (he launches a chain lightning, which hits
  the nearest of the things, then leaps to the next, and then to another)

  This attack destroyed a number of the things, and then Mongo took out
another with a well-aimed throw of his hammer.  Meanwhile, the black
skeletons were crawling up the ramp, unaffected by the burning
the stone golem and owlbear, having recovered, went to work.

stone golem:  (lashes out, each of its massive fists smashing a skeletal
  warrior into bits)
owlbear:  (grabs another of the things, crushing it)  GRAAARGH!
skeletal giant #3:  (hurls another boulder, smashing the owlbear hard
  and putting it out of the fight)
Mongo:  Dammit!  (he pushes the boulder until it starts rolling down the
  ramp, taking out more of the smaller skeletons)  Take that, fuckers!
  (to Belphanior)  I can do more good down at the bottom of the ramp,
  against those giant skeletons!  You okay with that?
Belphanior:  Sure, but what about the fire?
Mongo:  Doesn't bother me.  (with that, he leaps onto the ramp and slides
  down through the burning oil, knocking aside skeletons as he moves
  uncontrollably toward the trio of skeletal giants at the bottom)

  Only a few of the normal-sized black skeletons remained, and they were
unable to get up the ramp due to it being coated with burning, slippery
oil.  The party was now systematically taking out the floating skulls
before they could launch their attacks; one opened its jaws, emitting a
large glob of sticky webbing which got snagged on the stone golem and
was thus largely ineffective.  A bolt from Otto hit the skull a moment
later, causing it to break apart and fall to the ground in pieces.  The
things seemed to be disposable attackers that each held a single spell,
and hitting them first was the obvious strategy.  Fortunately, the skulls
were fairly fragile, and a well-placed blow or shot was enough to destroy
  Speaking of shattering, Mongo had gone to war with the giant skeletons
at the bottom of the ramp.  One was already shattered thanks to a mighty
blow from Stormcrest; a second beat upon the dwarf with huge bony arms,
each blow powerful enough to cave in the side of a house.  Thanks to his
armor and strength, Mongo shrugged the attacks off, returning the favor
with a smashing hit to the giant's knee, toppling it.  Before the larger
foe had hit the floor, the dwarf had run beneath it and hurled Stormcrest
at the third giant skeleton, caving in its breastbone and driving it back
into a wall.

Ys:  (to Belphanior)  Tell me again why you brought the golems?

  Shortly, the fight was over.  All of the unusual undead assailants were
destroyed, the fires were out, and the group took stock of their wounded.
Otto and Jenna had sustained a moderate amount of damage from the cone of
cold, while the owlbear was dying.  The fierce and fearless beast had been
smashed hard by the thrown boulder from one of the skeletal giants, and
lay there, bleeding profusely.

Hope:  Aww.  That's so sad.
Jenna:  (glances at Belphanior questioningly)
Belphanior:  (nods)

  In moments, the owlbear's bleeding had stopped, as the priestess used
powerful healing magic to heal the animal's battered insides.  The beast
was confused, standing up slowly and tentatively, its animal mind not
understanding why its near-fatal wounds no longer hurt.

owlbear:  Grnk?
Belphanior:  (speaks directly to the owlbear, which can understand him
  due to the power of the Book of Beasts)  You need to rest anyway, so
  remain here at the top of this ramp as a rearguard for us.  (to the
  others)  We'll venture onward.

  A new marching order was now necessary, and Belphanior shuffled some
positions a bit...

                     REAR OF PARTY
                    stone golem #2
                 iron golem   coal golem
                orc     old man    weasel
              shambling mound   Hope  demon
              Razor Charlie   Jenna    Otto
              Ys        Mongo       Skektek
           Bosco    Belphanior  stone golem #1
                    FRONT OF PARTY

  The bottom of the 40' ramp (in other words, where Mongo now stood)
was level, leading around a hundred and eighty degrees to a final 10'
section of ramp, such that the adventurers were heading east as they
reached the bottom.  Shortly, they found themselves in a 40' wide, 30'
deep chamber with a large, ornate pair of double doors at the far end.
These portals were fashioned of dark gray stone; each was about 10' in
height and almost that wide, the entire surface covered in carvings
depicting complex scenes featuring various undead.  The pair of doors
was framed by massive columns of black stone, one on either side of
the dual portal.  These pillars stretched all the way from the floor
to the ceiling 20' above.

LEVEL 8                 |   .|
                     <<<     [
   <<<   ramp up     <<<    .[

Jenna:  (having cast a special spell of Istus, to warn of any impending
  harm, she reels suddenly)  Urgh...
Razor Charlie:  (helps to steady her before she falls)
Belphanior:  What's the matter?
Jenna:  W- we...are in grave danger here...(she blinks, shaking her head
  to try and clear it of the pain)
Otto:  Did someone magically attack you or something?
Jenna:'s the nature of the magic I'm using.  The caster becomes
  super-sensitive to nearby danger, power, or evil - but the downside is
  that the presence of such is like a direct assault on the senses.  It's
  nausea, vertigo, and a punch to the stomach, all at once.
Belphanior:  So what's lurking nearby?
Jenna:  Undead...powerful creatures...several of them.  The aura of pure
  evil is almost overpowering.

  With that, everyone prepared in their own way, based on what weapons,
spells, and magical items each possessed.  Belphanior would have to fight
with the Moonsword, due to Blackrazor's tendency to be ineffective or
even harmful when wielded against some undead foes.  Ys would count on
his powerful armor and thick scaled hide to protect him as he dealt out
bloody death with his gigantic greatsword.  Mongo's tactics would be very
similar, though he did possess a powerful holy artifact, the Holy Torch
of Darius.  Skektek would use one or more of his various wands, namely
the ones that launched fireballs or magic missiles.  He also slipped on
his ring of flying, to facilitate a hasty retreat or evasion if that
became necessary.  Razor Charlie would rely on his fast, bracer-conferred
footspeed and reaction time, and carried multiple magical or silver
throwing knives, as well as some holy water.

Razor Charlie:  (opens a bottle and pours it over his head, soaking his
  dark black hair and causing his lean, tattooed shoulders and arms to
Otto:  (regards the scarred warrior)
Razor Charlie:  What?  It can't hurt.

  Charlie also had a couple of powerful magical items that provided some
extra protection against undead.  His amulet not only conferred powers of
regeneration, but also rendered him nearly-immune to disease and poison.
Another amulet warded off vampires, and the warrior knew from experience
that such creatures couldn't even approach him due to that item's power.
Jenna would ply her undead-turning abilities as best as she was able, but
if pressed, she had a variety of clerical magic available.  Otto was well-
suited to provide missile fire, as one of his crossbows generated its own
magical bolts; if he had to fight in melee, he was also well-prepared,
wielding a shortsword that conferred a speed advantage (among other small
blades, all magical and some hidden).  He had a cloak of invisibility and
a flute that could control lesser undead, but both items would likely be
of little use against powerful undead.  Finally, the dwarf carried copious
amounts of holy water and silver weapons and bolts, just in case.  As for
Hope, she would pretty much rely on her powerful magic in any battle;
along with Belphanior and Skektek, she was a solid part of the party's
core of spellcasters.  Last but not least, Bosco could run about or fly
in the air with equal ease, and his speed and keen shortsword made him
dangerous against any foe...especially if he attacked by surprise and
from behind.

Belphanior:  And now for these doors.  (he issues some instructions to
  select party members)

  Meanwhile, on the other side of the massive stone doors, the forces
of darkness waited within a giant hemispherical audience chamber, fully
60' across and half that high.  A baker's dozen of powerful (and in a
couple of cases, unique) undead, the group consisted of individuals
whose rank had fallen somewhere beneath such as Skorvus, Al-arakara, and
Drusilla.  This was the second tier of Xusia's command structure - his
lieutenants rather than generals - and he'd intentionally kept them here
in this dungeon complex while he dealt with the Fortress of the Nine.
It was never strategically sound to have all of one's forces in the same
place, and there were also certain things deeper within this complex that
required guarding.  Although Xusia had far more powerful protections in
place far below, it didn't hurt to have a number of loyal and powerful
underlings as an extra precaution.
  These undead lords had, of course, been magically tracking the progress
of the adventurers since their arrival through the gateway five floors
above.  Indeed, most of the foes and challenges that the party had faced
had been orchestrated by these, the true rulers of the place in Xusia's
absence.  They were aware that Xusia wasn't coming back, and had been
biding their time for almost two years, planning and plotting (and to be
perfectly honest, disagreeing quite often).  Regardless, they had acted
in unison when the complex was invaded, and everything up until now had
been a test, a means of wasting the adventurers' time and whittling away
their strength while measuring their capabilities.  They had also laid a
few traps and encounters (such as the undead dragon, an experiment which
had remained in stasis until disturbed by the party, just as planned).
  The time for testing was past, though; they had all retreated here, to
the level containing their meeting area and personal chambers.  And when
the intruders reached and opened the massive double doors, they were in
for a rather nasty surprise - one that couldn't be bypassed or dispelled.

master vampire:  (smooths out his black cloak)  It won't be long now.
mummy priest:  (speaking in a slow voice, its empty lungs rasping)  That
  is good.  These mortals must pay for daring to defile Xusia's home...
  _our_ home.
master vampire:  Xusia is no more...but they will pay.  Oh yes.
vampiric sorceress:  (caresses the hair of the other vampire lovingly)
  It's been so long since we had fresh food.
wraith lord:  That assumes there is something left of them for you to
  feast upon.
vampiric sorceress:  There are many of them.  They won't all be destroyed.
undead titan:  (hefts his 20' mattock)  Speak for yourself.
death knight:  We shall see.
master vampire:  (concentrating)  They are in the entry chamber.  The
  time draws near; all of you know what to do.

  With that, the majority of the group retreated through a door in the
north wall, leaving behind just under half of their number to face the
adventurers once they triggered the powerful trap on the double doors.
This sextet of undead lords would be the first wave to defend against
the intruders; if they were defeated (which they didn't think was very
likely) then the others would launch a secondary attack from the area to
the north.
  A short time later, the massive double doors were opened - an act which
triggered the immensely powerful electrical trap magically linked to the
portals.  Xusia had designed this mechanism himself, with just two goals:
it would be a blast of tremendous power, and it would be impossible to
deactivate.  This was a last-ditch defense in the unlikely event that
intruders made it down to this, the eighth level.  In truth, back in the
days when this underground fortress was fully-populated and actively
controlled by Xusia, intruders would have had a much more difficult time
getting this far.
  Anyway, the electrical shock went off exactly as planned, surging out
through the doors and into the outer chamber that the ramp opened into.
However, what happened next surprised the six undead creatures lurking
in the audience chamber beyond the doors and their mighty protective
ward.  The raging electrical inferno ricocheted back, spilling INTO the
domed audience chamber!  Arcs of blazing lightning crisscrossed the room,
blasting great scorch marks in the polished black stone of the floor and
walls.  The great stone table in the center of the hemispherical audience
chamber was blown back to the far end of the room, as were the more than
a dozen heavy stone chairs that had been arrayed around it.  And finally,
all of the waiting undead lords were injured (though to varying degrees)
by the mayhem of the powerful electrical trap gone wrong...and then the
adventurers charged into the chamber!

                         ____   ___.___
LEVEL 8                 |   .|_/       \
                     <<<     [          |   <-- audience chamber
    ramp up --->     <<<    .[_         |
                        |____| \___.___/

  Belphanior was proud of himself.  His plan, invented on the spur of the
moment, had worked perfectly.  It had quickly been obvious that the pair
of great stone doors held some direly powerful ward.  The first step had
been to position the stone golem near the portals.  Then a curved wall of
force had been erected around the golem and the doors, so that any blast
would be redirected at the doors and whatever lay beyond.  While the golem
was sure to be caught in whatever followed, the odds favored its survival,
plus someone had to open the doors and trigger the trap.  With Skektek at
the ready, to dispel his own summoned barrier, Belphanior had given the
order, the golem had grabbed the doors and pulled them open, and then all
hell had broken loose.  The great blast had shaken the entire dungeon and
electrified the air on this side of the wall of force.  As for the other
side...the stone doors had been blown _into_ the other chamber, along
with copious amounts of lethal electricity.  The wall and floor around
the destroyed portals was scorched black, burned and smoking.  As Skektek
dropped the barrier, Hope cast a powerful spell of light, just as planned,
to illuminate the domed chamber as the party poured into it.  And best of
all, the stone golem hadn't been knocked out of commission by the immense
lightning trap, and was still active in the front rank of the group.
  They had expected to find powerful (and perhaps dazed, and hopefully
stunned or destroyed) undead foes...and they were not disappointed.

walking corpse:  (badly singed and smoking, it staggers forward, its
  putrid, blackened flesh cracking and splitting open to spew forth
  hundreds of wriggling worms and maggots which swarm across the floor
  toward the adventurers)
wraith lord:  (a shadowy figure, it glides across the floor toward the
  group, preceded by an almost-tangible wave of chill air due to its
  powerful ability to drain life energy from victims)
death knight:  (a nearly 7' giant of a warrior in chain mail from head
  to toe, it uses one of its myriad magical powers, speaking a single
  arcane word)

  The power word enchantment was directed at Mongo, but he was unaffected
by it (for two different reasons, in fact) so its aura moved on to the
next, nearest individual...

Ys:  (suddenly struck blind)  Aie!
Razor Charlie:  (gets the sense that he, himself, narrowly escaped this
  same fate)

death knight:  (laughing in a deep, evil voice, it draws a heavy two-
  handed sword, wielding the weapon with a single hand due to its weird
  strength)  Time to die.  (the blade glowing with a pale violet light,
  it advances toward the party, preceded by a powerful aura of fear)
Skektek:  (launches a lightning bolt at the undead warrior)  Take that,
death knight:  (just stands there as the magical attack is repelled by
  its resistance to spells, and actually rebounds back at its caster)
Skektek:  Oh shi-

  The wizard was blasted backward, past the alert Otto (who had been able
to avoid the attack) and into the demon, and then the coal golem.

Skektek:  (saved from death by the properties of his thunder ring, he is
  mildly burned and unconscious)
red-skinned demon:  (having borne the brunt of the lightning bolt, it
  perishes despite some natural resistance to electrical damage)  Urk.
coal golem:  (steps past the fallen Skektek, toward the front of the
  party and the undead foes)
giant weasel:  (having evaded all of this, it almost gets stepped on by
  the passing coal golem, but darts to the side, taking cover behind the
  iron golem and hissing at no one in particular)  Hssss!
old half-naked man:  (decides that the weasel has the right idea, and
  also takes cover behind the iron golem)
giant weasel:  (regards the old fellow warily)  Sss...

  Meanwhile, at the front rank of the party, other undead enemies were
still advancing...

straw man:  (a vaguely humanoid thing apparently fashioned entirely of
  dull yellow straw, it silently shuffles toward the adventurers)
Otto:  (fires a silver bolt into the thing)
straw man:  (ignores the missile, which sinks into its dense body with
  no effect)
animated suit of armor:  (clearly empty of any physical body, it marches
  noisily toward the party, brandishing a longsword in one hand and a
  great shield in the other)
Otto:  (tries another crossbow bolt, aiming at the faceplate of the suit
  of plate mail)
animated suit of armor:  (skillfully brings its shield up and over,
  easily deflecting the bolt and hinting of significant skill at arms)
Otto:  Uh-oh.
undead titan:  (at 25' tall, it nearly scrapes the ceiling here)  You
  fools shall die here.  (without further ado, it drops an ice storm in
  the center of the party)
Mongo:  (in the approximate center of the party, he stands his ground
  defiantly)  To hell with you!

  Amazingly, the storm never took hold to spew forth its icy fury, but
instead dissipated as its power was absorbed by Mongo's armor.  A moment
later, the hurled Stormcrest flew right at the huge titan.

undead titan:  (hefts its own hammer, a 15' long two-handed maul that
  weighs several hundred pounds, in a blocking motion)

  The titan was obviously incredibly strong, but now it was also proven
to be fast; Mongo's hammer hit the gigantic maul right on the head, and
bounced off, sailing back toward the dwarf's hand.  To be fair, the titan
was moderately staggered by the sheer force of the blow, and if its hands
had been living flesh, they would have felt significant pain.  However,
they were not, and it did not, and so it advanced with huge, lumbering
steps that shook the floor.

Mongo:  (catches his hammer)  Well, damn.


                 old man
                   weasel       stone golem #2
                iron golem
                   orc            coal golem

              shambling mound   Hope              demon x

                            Jenna       Otto
                 Razor Charlie
     Ys #                                         Skektek @
           Bosco         Belphanior      stone golem #1 %


   walking corpse      wraith lord             death knight

                                      undead titan
             animated armor
                                  straw man

KEY:     x   slain
         #   blind
         @   unconscious
         %   slightly damaged (lightning)

  Belphanior let fly with a sheet of flame, aimed at the nearest opponent
(the wraith lord) but also angled to get those behind it.

wraith lord:  (ignores the flames, its mocking laughter preceding its
  chilling touch as it continues toward the elf)
animated armor:  (unaffected by the flames)
straw man:  (catches fire, and begins flailing about)

  In truth, the scarecrow-like undead being had many foul powers that it
could bring to bear, but it did have this one glaring weakness, and was
just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

undead titan:  (waves a hand, and a cone of frost bathes the straw man
  in its frosty embrace, dousing the flames)
straw man:  (blackened and charred, it advances once more)
Jenna:  (steps forth, around Belphanior, her holy symbol of Istus raised
  and glowing with bright magical light)  Back, abominations from the far
  reaches of the Hells!  I cast you away...BEGONE!
death knight:  Hah...your power is of no use here, child.  (it points at
  the priestess, speaking a single word of power)
Jenna:  (suddenly stunned and unable to move)  ...

  With another gesture, the titan dispelled the light spell that Hope had
cast previously, instantly shrouding the huge chamber in darkness.  Utter
chaos resulted, for the adventurers were more or less blind (though in
Ys' case, he had no idea that the light went out) while the undead were
more or less still able to sense the adventurers in the dark.  Shouting,
screaming, and such was rampant...especially when the sound of a heavy
door opening to the south was immediately followed by the noises of what
could only be a large quantity of undead approaching.

Belphanior:  (shouting in the dark)  Light!  We need some damn light!

  The undead masters of this dungeon complex had planned well, given the
information available to them.  Their plan had been simple:  blast the
intruders with the potent electrical trap on the double doors, then have
several of their number move in and engage the adventurers.  This had all
happened, and although it didn't quite decimate the ranks of the mortal
foes like the undead had hoped, it was a close battle so far.  The third
prong of the attack, which was now being implemented, was to fill the
chamber with scores of lesser undead from the crypt to the south.  This
tactic was sure to overwhelm the living foes, given that the crypt held
hundreds upon hundreds of zombies, skeletons, ghouls, wights, wraiths,
and the like.  This mass of undead was even now flooding into the domed
chamber, under cover of darkness.
  Fortunately, one of the adventurers was prepared for something like
this - something that was, as a certain one of his old friends liked to
say, a desperate situation...

Mongo:  (suddenly at the center of an incredibly bright, blazing white
  light, as he holds the holy torch up)  Eat it, fuckers!

  Every single one of the undead lords was forced to look away, and some
were even dazed by the suddenness and power of the torch's rays.  As for
the dozens of undead streaming into the domed chamber from the now-open
door in the south wall, they were less fortunate.  Every single one of
the things - from spectres to wights, wraiths to zombies, and ghouls to
skeletons - was assaulted by an invisible wave of pure holy power.  The
weaker undead creatures were instantly and utterly obliterated, while
the more powerful ones were badly burned and couldn't continue moving in
the direction of the torch.  In fact, as Mongo advanced toward the group
of undead leaders, some of them succumbed to the awesome power of the
holy relic...

wraith lord:  (dissipates, breaking up into tatters of shadowy material)
walking corpse:  (simply melts, as do all of the assorted worms and such
  that have emerged from its body)
Bosco:  That's disgusting.
Mongo:  I'm only getting started-  (he stops talking, a painful look on
  his bearded face)  Argh...AAARGH!  (he grimaces, and his entire body
  starts shaking)
Bosco:  Hey, what are you-
Mongo:  (now with a glassy look in his eyes, he intentionally puts the
  holy torch away, causing its searing holy light to go out)

  Just then, a new source of illumination lit the huge room, as Skektek
launched a fireball at the south door which had been admitting all of
the lesser undead into the chamber.  The unconscious wizard had just been
revived by Otto, using a potion of healing, and his aim had been perfect.
The fireball traveled _through_ the door right before exploding, and its
blast was mostly shunted into that area, which meant that whatever lay
beyond the door, it was a large area.  Some remnants of the fireball
blasted back into the domed audience chamber where the battle was taking
place, though, and a couple of hurled vials of oil ensured that the flames
would keep burning for a while.

Skektek:  Ah, that felt good.  Thanks for waking me up.
Otto:  You're welcome.  And nice shot.
Razor Charlie:  (moves the stunned Jenna out of the way, probably the
  most useful action he can take right now as the battle lines shift and


                 old man
                iron golem
                          stone golem #2
                  Hope                         demon x
                                   coal golem
       Jenna *        Razor Charlie            Otto
     Ys #                                         Skektek
        shambling mound              Mongo !
           Bosco         Belphanior      stone golem #1 %

                        undead titan
                                              death knight
             animated armor
                                  straw man &

KEY:     x   slain
         #   blind
         *   stunned
         @   unconscious
         %   slightly damaged (lightning)
         &   slightly damaged (fire)
         !   not in his right mind

Mongo:  (with that odd glassy look in his eyes, he raises his hammer and
  lets it fly...right at the stone golem in front of him)
stone golem #1:  (already weakened from the earlier lightning attack, it
  staggers, its torso cracked)
Belphanior:  What?!?
Mongo:  (hits the golem again, toppling it)
stone golem #1:  (falls, shattered)
Belphanior:  Uh-oh.

  The elf wasn't one to ask questions or waste time thinking in a crisis
situation, when time was critical.  It was obvious that his friend was
somehow possessed by an enemy, probably an unseen enemy.  The question
was what to do about it.

Belphanior:  (to the shambling mound)  You!  Take the front rank!  (he
  backs up, putting the huge mass of muck between himself and Mongo,
  then turns to the others)  There's got to be a ghost or some such foe
  around here somewhere!  Find it, and kill it...quickly!  (he begins
Bosco:  Easier said than done!  (he scrambles out of the way as the
  undead titan's great hammer smashes into the floor where he was just
  standing)  Enough of this.  (he takes to the air)
undead titan:  (turns to follow the halfling, positioning itself well
  for Hope's next attack)
Hope:  (casts a Rock to Mud spell on the stone beneath the huge foe's
  feet...but nothing happens)  Damn it.  Stupid titan.
undead titan:  (casts a spell of holding on Hope and Razor Charlie)
Hope:  (resists the powerful magic)
Razor Charlie:  (likewise)
possessed Mongo:  (having finished with the stone golem, he now turns his
  attention toward Belphanior, moving around the shambling mound to get a
  clear shot, but wasting precious moments in the process)
Belphanior:  (finishes the spell he was casting)
possessed Mongo:  (lets his hammer fly)

  A few feet after being thrown, the weapon rebounded off of an invisible
barrier, returning to the possessed dwarf's hand!

possessed Mongo:  (tries again, with the same effect)
Belphanior:  (pleased with his wall of force, he decides that his past
  efforts at figuring out ways to stop Mongo, in case of situations like
  this, were hours well spent)  Heh.  (he turns his attention away from
  the possessed dwarf trapped within the wall of force, as new foes have
  emerged from the north side of this chamber)
banshee:  (a phantasmic spirit of an old, withered female elf, it floats
  forth, the very sight of her threatening to scare away all who witness
  it)  Oooooo.
brain in a jar:  (floating near the northern door, it consists of nothing
  more than a large, pulsating brain within a transparent container)
Belphanior:  What the fuck...?
ghost lord:  (also stays back, as it is responsible for possessing Mongo)

  The undead spirit was trying to make Mongo break free of the bubble of
force, but it wasn't working.

ghost lord:  (frustrated, it redoubles its efforts, not noticing as the
  small wispy form floats toward it at a high rate of speed)
wispy thing:  (faces the ghost defiantly)  spork.
ghost lord:  Eh?  (it recoils)  Aie-  (it vanishes)
Mongo:  (across the room, in the midst of various combatants, he comes to
  his senses)  Huh?
wispy thing:  (smirks)  spaaa!

  Meanwhile, Skektek - learning from his previous attack - hadn't tried
blasting the death knight with a lightning bolt.  Instead, he launched
one at the titan, trying to assist Bosco.  Although the attack caused the
titan to miss the halfling with an otherwise well-aimed blow, its magic
faded without harming the huge foe...and it caused the thing to turn its
attention in Skektek's direction.

undead titan:  (hefts its gigantic maul)
Skektek:  Uh-oh.
death knight:  (also planning horrible things for Skektek, it finds the
  coal golem now standing in the way)
coal golem:  (smoke coming from its ears, it swings a great black fist
  at the armored undead warrior, who evades the attack)
death knight:  (slashes at the construct, landing a mighty blow that
  barely nicks the golem's dark body)  Eh?
coal golem:  (suddenly belches forth a great gout of blazing fire)

  The death knight couldn't avoid the fiery attack, and was scorched and
burned as it stood there.  A side effect of this attack befell the straw
man, standing close behind...

straw man:  (bursts into flames again)


                 old man
                iron golem
                          stone golem #2
                  Hope                         demon x

       Jenna *        Razor Charlie            Otto
     Ys #                                         Skektek
        shambling mound              Mongo $
           Bosco         Belphanior          coal golem

               undead titan                   death knight !

             animated armor             straw man &

                                                         brain in a jar

KEY:     x   slain
         #   blind
         *   stunned
         @   unconscious
         $   trapped within bubble of force
         %   slightly damaged (lightning)
         &   badly damaged (fire)
         !   slightly damaged (fire)

banshee:  (lets loose with a terrible wailing)

  Thankfully, the only ones in hearing range of the lethal banshee wail
who could actually fall victim to it were Belphanior and Bosco, and they
were able to grit their teeth and stave off the horror of the fearful
keening.  The shambling mound and coal golem, as well as the assorted
undead, were unaffected by the attack.

Jenna:  (having utilized her knowledge of undead and their weaknesses,
  she unleashes a Dispel Evil spell, targeting the banshee)  By the
  power of Istus, I expel you!
banshee:  (ceases to exist)
Jenna:  (somewhat surprised that her spell actually worked against such
  a mighty foe)  Heh.
brain in a jar:  (having somehow observed Jenna's banshee banishment, it
  sends a focused wave of mental energy her way)
Jenna:  Ack.  (she collapses)
Belphanior:  (busy trying to draw the undead titan's attention from the
  nearby Skektek, he dashes under its hammer and slashes one of its
  hamstrings, with little noticeable effect)  Shit.
undead titan:  (suddenly kicks out at the elf with its other leg, knocking
  him back past Razor Charlie and the imprisoned Mongo)
Otto:  Dammit.  (he takes careful aim, then fires his crossbow)
undead titan:  (hit in one eye by an enchanted bolt)  Urgh!  (it points
  at the dwarf, thirty feet away, and five small cones of cold issue
  forth from its fingers, heading unerringly for the demi-human)
Otto:  Whoa!  (he does his best to dodge the missiles, but still suffers
  some damage from the cold and ice)
Ys:  (standing far off to one side, he rubs his eyes, blinking)
Mongo:  (beating on the wall of force that traps him, the powerful blows
  shaking the floor but not breaking through the barrier)  Let me out!
  This fight needs me!  DAMMIT!

  As if things couldn't get bad enough, the door to the north was still
open, and about to admit yet more undead lords...

pumpkin-headed thing:  (a tall, slender creature with a large orange
  pumpkin for a head, complete with eerily-glowing holes for its eyes
  and mouth)
greater mummy:  (fully seven feet tall and swathed in loose bandages, it
  wears a crown of black bone atop its head)
skeleton lord:  (a thickly-boned skeleton whose skull is ringed in flames,
  it wields a cutlass of black steel in one hand)
vague misty form:  (shifting and coalescing behind the others)

  Skektek had seen enough.  While he could never be sure of such foes'
resistance to offensive spells like fireballs and lightning bolts, he
did know more effective ways to keep these opponents from joining the
already-unbalanced battle...

Skektek:  (uses one of his wands to drop a wall of iron right in front
  of that door, blocking the advance of those other undead, at least for

  Still, things weren't looking good for the adventurers.  Jenna was out
cold, at the very least, and Ys was blind and tactically useless.  Mongo
had regained his senses, but was trapped within Belphanior's bubble of
force.  Belphanior himself was now back on his feet, though bruised and
bleeding from the titan's powerful kick.  Bosco and the shambling mound
were doing their best to physically fight the undead titan, but they
couldn't possibly triumph in that contest.  The animated suit of armor,
with its longsword and shield, hadn't really done much yet due to the
much larger titan standing in its way.  The coal golem was occupying
the death knight's attention for now, which in Belphanior's opinion was
better than the powerful undead lord being free to work its magic and
use its sword.  The straw man was destroyed, as might have been expected
given its body composition and the two different magical fire attacks it
had suffered.  Skektek, Otto, Hope, and Razor Charlie were still active
and unharmed.  Away from the main battle, near the now-blocked northern
exit door, the brain in a jar floated, preparing to utilize whatever
weird mental powers it possessed.  And, of course, behind the freshly-
created wall of iron, at least four new foes lurked.

Belphanior:  (realizes that two of his powerful golems really haven't
  been brought to bear yet)  Huh.  (to the iron golem)  Attack that
  titan.  (to the second stone golem, the one that had been bringing
  up the rear rank of the party)  You, attack that death knight.  (to
  the orc and the weasel)  You two, see if you can help in this fight,
Otto:  (hits the floating brain's jar with a magical crossbow bolt,
  nicking the tough and probably-magical glass)  Charlie!  See if you
  can help me get this thing broken open!
Razor Charlie:  (throws one knife, but the distance is too great for a
  solid hit, and his blade glances off of the brain's jar)
Otto:  (hits the jar with a second bolt, cracking it)  Yeah!
brain in a jar:  (from afar, it telekinetically lifts the dwarf off the
  floor and hurls him into Razor Charlie, sending both down in a heap)
giant weasel:  (having maneuvered around and between various combatants,
  it leaps at the undead titan, scampering up the thing's back)
undead titan:  (ignores the animal, not to mention the bolt in its left
  eye socket, as it belts the shambling mound with its great hammer)
shambling mound:  (falls in a spray of muck)
giant weasel:  (having reached the titan's head, it begins ripping at
  the rotten flesh there)
undead titan:  (seriously distracted now, it tries to grab the weasel)
Bosco:  (takes this opportunity to stab the titan in the foot)  Got you!
animated armor:  (moving rapidly toward Bosco)
Ys:  (moves between the two, still blinking but now able to see, as the
  blindness magic has worn off)  I'm back.  (he swings the gigantic axe
  he has been using for most of today's battles)

  With a single great blow, the big reptilian knocked the helmet right
off of the armor, severing whatever unknown mystical connection bound
the pieces.  The armor staggered in place, still attempting to fight, but
a second mighty blow caved in its breastplate, causing the entire thing
to fall to the floor in pieces.

Ys:  Hah!
undead titan:  (finally catches the elusive weasel on its head, grabbing
  the animal)  That is enough.  (without hesitation, it pops the weasel
  into its mouth)
Bosco:  Pop goes the weasel.
undead titan:  (chewing and crunching as blood and gore drip from its
Bosco:  That's disgusting.  (he ducks under the titan and stabs it in one
  ankle, with little effect)
undead titan:  (attempts to step on the halfling, but misses, the blow
  shaking the stone floor)
Ys:  (charges in, his sword inflicting a deep cut in the titan's stomach)
undead titan:  Aaargh!  (it swings the huge maul at the reptilian, but
  only scores a glancing blow)
Ys:  Ungh!  (batted aside, he is bruised and dazed)
undead titan:  (raises its great hammer for a killing blow)
iron golem:  (reaches the titan)
undead titan:  (redirects its blow, denting the golem's chest, but finds
  that even titan strength and a big hammer won't move a 5000-pound chunk
  of iron very far)
iron golem:  (per Belphanior's orders, strikes)

  At a dozen feet in height, the construct was only half as tall as its
foe, but almost as strong.  The huge iron sword that was part of the
golem's right fist cut into the titan's leg with much more force than
Ys' attack, nearly severing the limb.  Howling in pain and fury, the
gigantic undead foe wobbled in place, finding it difficult to stand now.

Ys:  (wiping blue blood from his smashed nose, he charges at the titan
  from the back, his sword hacking at the damaged leg)
undead titan:  (falls, its leg completely severed now)  Aargh!  (in a
  fit of desperation, it tries its Hold Monster power on Ys, but the
  magic fails to immobilize the big reptilian)
iron golem:  (hacks at the fallen titan, cleaving through undead flesh
  and bone)
Ys:  (likewise)
undead titan:  (at a severe disadvantage now)  Aaaaaargh!

  As the iron golem and the big reptilian continued to rain blows upon
the downed colossus, another epic battle was happening thirty feet away.

death knight:  (locked in battle with the coal golem, it sees Skektek
  casting a spell, but ignores him, figuring that anything fired its
  way will likely rebound back upon the caster)
Skektek:  (already aware of this, he launches a lightning bolt that's
  aimed nowhere near the death knight)  One step ahead of you, asshole.
shambling mound:  (hit with the full force of the lightning bolt)  Grnk?
  (having remained relatively inert after the last great blow from the
  titan, it regains a significant amount of strength from the electrical
death knight:  (completely surprised by this maneuver)  What?!?
coal golem:  (slams the death knight across its shield with one jet-black
  fist, driving the undead lord back a step)
death knight:  Argh!
stone golem #2:  (finally reaches the foe, as commanded by Belphanior,
  and hammers it from the other side with a great stony fist)
death knight:  (unable to absorb this blow on its shield, it staggers)
  Ungh!  (taking a step back, it calls upon perhaps the only one of its
  innate powers that can help in this situation, putting a wall of ice
  between itself and the two golems)
brain in a jar:  (reaches out mentally, past the huge wall of ice which
  prevents line-of-sight contact with its target, and blasts Skektek with
  a focused wave of mental energy like the one it used on Jenna)
Skektek:  Ack.  (he collapses)
Otto:  (hits the brain in a jar with another magical bolt, cracking the
  tough glass in another spot)  We've got to knock that thing out!
Hope:  (completes her spell)  Consider it done.

  In a truly innovative twist of a standard spell, the sorceress caused
a large section of the domed ceiling to transform into thick mud...which
immediately dropped down onto the weird brain, completely burying its jar.

Otto:  Wow.  Good work!
Jenna:  That probably won't delay it for long.  We need to destroy it.


                 old man

       Jenna @               Belphanior
                                  R-Charlie   Otto
                 shambling mound
    Bosco                      Mongo $             Skektek @
       iron golem                  coal golem    stone golem #2
       undead titan x                 ====================
            Ys                           death knight !

                                                       brain in a jar #

KEY:     x   slain
         *   stunned
         @   unconscious
         $   trapped within bubble of force
         %   slightly damaged (lightning)
         !   badly hurt
         #   covered in mud

  At this point, the adventurers had a definite advantage:  the death
knight was wounded and retreating, only a wall of ice between it and
two golems who were unaffected by its various undead and magical powers.
Thanks to the mighty efforts of Ys and the iron golem, the undead titan
was now little more than a huge pile of gray gore with unmoving limbs.
While Skektek and Jenna were out of action thanks to the strange mental
powers of the brain-in-a-jar, everyone else was more or less intact.

old man:  (looking around in wonderment and awe)  What the hell have I
  gotten myself into?
orc:  I know what you mean, pal.
Belphanior:  You two - get Jenna and Skektek there, and carry them along
  behind us.
orc:  You got it.  (he moves to obey)
old man:  I'm not your manservant, sonny-
Belphanior:  I don't have time to argue with you!  Help, or stay the hell
  out of the way.
old man:  (stands there with his arms crossed, fuming)
Razor Charlie:  (pours an entire flask of holy water on the remains of
  the undead titan)
Otto:  (nods approvingly)  Hmm.
orc:  (throws the unconscious Skektek over his shoulder)
Razor Charlie:  Just in case.  (he picks up the unconscious Jenna, who
  may actually weigh more than Skektek)
shambling mound:  (rejuvenated, it moves with the rest in pursuit of the
  death knight)
wispy thing:  (hovering near Belphanior)  pfsss.
Mongo:  Hey!  (he beats on the invisible wall with one fist)  What about
Belphanior:  Hold still - I'm trying to concentrate here.  (he dispels
  the wall of force that he cast around Mongo earlier)  There.
Mongo:  (looking around angrily)  I'm pissed off, and I want to kick some
  ass.  (with a single throw, he breaks the death knight's wall of ice
  into smaller pieces, revealing what Ys and Bosco already know since the
  barrier isn't blocking their view)

  About thirty feet away, the death knight was retreating, backing away
toward the wall of iron to the north, which covered the door and the
remaining undead lords beyond.

Mongo:  Get the hell back here!  (he hurls Stormcrest)
death knight:  (hit in the back by the powerful warhammer)  UNGH!  (it
  falls to the floor, its chain mail damaged in the back, and every
  single rib in its undead body broken)
Mongo:  (catches his hammer as it returns)
death knight:  (stands, shakily)  Such will pay for that!

  The undead knight had many powers; some were powerful and evil, while
others were simply powerful.  Although it hated to attack foes from a
distance, it was badly injured and needed to stop the adventurers as
quickly and efficiently as possible.

death knight:  (points at the party, and a thin stream of fire issues
  from its index finger)
Belphanior:  Shit.
Skektek:  FIREBALL-

  The death knight had been around for centuries, and in all that time,
it had refined its control of certain magical abilities.  In the case of
the fireball, the creature was able to choose exactly where the explosion
would happen, and had also learned to confine it to a tighter area than
possible with "regular" fireballs.  The evil knight could care less what
happened to the brain-in-a-jar-now-buried-in-mud, since that being was
without honor or loyalty in addition to being without a body, but there
was no sense in having flames wash back onto the death knight itself.
Thus, the fireball's powerful blast was confined to a radius that only
included these unusually powerful and persistent foes.
  The titanic explosion shook the entire chamber (and would have surely
collapsed a less-sturdily-built dungeon) and spread searing flames in
all directions.  The various adventurers' and allies' fates varied quite
widely, depending on their individual protections, reactions, magical
items, and luck.  Belphanior had managed to use his cube of force to get
a barrier up, and those within - himself, Razor Charlie, the summoned
orc, and the unconscious Jenna and Skektek - survived the fireball
unscathed.  Otto used his boots to leap up and back at the moment of
detonation, and thus survived, but suffered serious burns.  The old man
who had formerly been a wight was near the edge of the blast radius, and
was unfortunately incinerated.  Hope, who happened to be at the very edge
of that same blast radius, was blown back twenty feet; while slightly
charred and somewhat stunned, she was otherwise fine.  The airborne and
fast-reacting Bosco was saved by those two factors, but was thrown upward
by the fireball, hitting the domed ceiling and actually being pushed back
along its curve until his limp form slid down to the floor, unconscious.
Ys, near the edge of the blast radius like Hope (though at the front of
the party rather than the back) wore a ring of fire resistance, and thus
suffered only minor burns from the fiery blast.
  None of the three hulking golems at the front of the party were damaged
in the least by the fireball.  The stone and coal constructs were simply
immune to fire, while the iron golem was actually repaired by it, undoing
the damage/dent inflicted earlier by the great maul swung by the undead
titan.  As for the shambling mound, it was made of muck and slime, with
a significant liquid content.  While its outer layers were burned and
blackened by the fireball, its inner ones remained intact; it was fine.
Mongo, in addition to being clad in the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd, wore
a powerful ring linked to the Elemental Plane of Fire.  He was utterly
unfazed by the death knight's fireball.

Mongo:  (wipes black soot from his brow and glares at the undead lord)
death knight:  (raises its shield)

  The dwarf's thrown hammer smashed into the shield, actually breaking
it in two (as well as breaking the arm that held the shield).

death knight:  Aaargh!  (it staggers, then eyes the dwarf balefully, and
  utters a single word of power)  Die!
Mongo:  (unaffected by the power word of killing)  No.  (he catches his
death knight:  (exasperated, in addition to being very direly wounded) the name of the Nine Hells...will it take to make you fall?
vampiric sorceress:  How about this?  (she conjures a huge, disembodied
  clenched fist, which flies straight at the dwarf)
Mongo:  (hit squarely by the gigantic fist)  Ungh!

  The wall of iron had been dispelled, and the remaining undead lords had
joined the battle.

pumpkin-headed thing:  (a tall, spindly creature with a large orange
  pumpkin for its head, and eerily-glowing holes for its eyes and mouth)
  Nrrr.  (it lopes forth, toward the adventurers)
skeleton lord:  (a sturdy skeleton whose skull is ringed in black flames,
 it also advances, wielding a cutlass of black steel in one hand)
greater mummy:  (fully seven feet tall and swathed in loose bandages, it
  wears a crown of black bone atop its head)  Hmm.  (analyzing the state
  of things in the chamber-turned-battlefield, it conjures up a barrier
  of tiny whirling chunks of bone, a sinister variation of the standard
  blade barrier spell, encircling Belphanior and the others within their
  cube of force)  That should keep you occupied for a while.
master vampire:  (a warrior, garbed in a black cloak, he stays back for
  now)  Good work.
brain in a jar:  (telekinetically rises from the mud that had buried it,
  most of which was boiled away by the death knight's fireball)
Hope:  (all the way back at the rear of the party)  Well, now we're in
Mongo:  (oblivious to the odds against his party, he lashes out, bashing
  the vampiress' summoned fist with his hammer and knocking it aside)
vampiric sorceress:  What?!?  Impossible!
stone golem:  (relentlessly closing in on the death knight)
death knight:  (badly hurt, and out of offensive spells that might be of
  use in slowing the golem's advance, it limps backward)
brain in a jar:  (realizing that the golem's path is dangerously close
  to its own location, it telekinetically pushes against the golem)
stone golem:  (slowed, but not stopped)

  Suddenly, the floating glass-encased brain exploded in a mess of gore
and glass shards, as a magical warhammer smashed through the thing.

Mongo:  Take that, fucker!  (he catches his hammer)  Okay, who's next?
summoned Bigby's clenched fist:  (sails back over and punches the dwarf
  from one side)
Mongo:  Ow!  (he staggers but doesn't fall)  You're really starting to
  piss me off!
death knight:  (regarding the gory remains of the brain in a jar, it
  remarks blandly)  That could have been me.
greater mummy:  Calm yourself.  This conflict will soon be at an end.
  (it works dark magic, bathing the other in tatters of dark energy)
death knight:  (feels its wounds heal to a significant extent)  Ahh.  My
Ys:  (ducking a swipe of the pumpkin-headed foe's sharp, taloned hand)
  Have at you!  (he swings his gigantic sword in a deadly arc)
pumpkin-headed thing:  (falls, its orange head split open and gushing
  what look like tiny, rotten seeds)  Nnnr.
Ys:  Ugh.  (he steps away as the thing claws at the floor weakly)
master vampire:  Impressive.  (he glides over to confront Ys, drawing a
  frost-covered longsword in a fluid motion)
vampiric sorceress:  (launches a volley of icy bolts at the distant Hope,
  ruining her spell)  Take that, bitch.
Hope:  (staggers)  Argh!
Mongo:  (preparing to hurl his hammer at the sorceress)  Leave her alone-
summoned Bigby's clenched fist:  (hits the dwarf again)
Mongo:  Argh!  Dammit!
coal golem:  (engages the disembodied fist, grappling with it)
Mongo:  Hey, thanks.
coal golem:  (ignores him)
skeleton lord:  (its skull bathed in flames, it attacks Mongo with its
  cutlass of black steel)
Mongo:  (hit in his chest-plate by the weapon, he is surprised to find
  himself suddenly on fire)  Hey!
skeleton lord:  (raises its weapon again)
Mongo:  (reaches out and grabs the thing's sword-arm in a monstrously
  strong grip)  Here's the thing, bozo:  an undead that uses fire, and
  probably can't be hurt by it, is a great idea...except against me.

  The dwarf snapped the skeleton's sword-arm, and then lunged in with a
fierce blow to its flaming skull.

skeleton lord:  (its skull shatters in a great fiery explosion)
Mongo:  (just laughs, tossing the broken arm-bone aside)
master vampire:  (now occupied with Ys, he slashes out, nicking the big
  reptilian)  Your strength is considerable, brutish one...but that will
  only matter if you hit me.
Ys:  (suffering a bit of cold damage in addition to the cut flesh, due
  to some property of the vampire's blade)  Hmph.  (he swings and misses
  with his own weapon)
master vampire:  (stabs the adventurer in the arm, again drawing blood
  and inflicting cold damage)  Hah.
Ys:  Argh!  (he steps back, keeping his sword between himself and this
  speedy, skilled foe)
Hope:  (completing another spell, she fires a thin green beam from afar)
master vampire:  (easily dodges the attack)  How pathetic.  She missed.
greater mummy:  (standing about twenty feet behind the vampire, it is
  hit by the deadly beam, and disintegrated along with all of its garb
  and possessions)
master vampire:  (glances back)  Oh.
Ys:  (lunges forward, aiming a blow capable of shattering a thick barrel)
master vampire:  (sidesteps the mighty strike, his own blade slicing a
  gash in the reptilian's side and coating the wound with tiny icicles)
Ys:  (breathing heavily)
master vampire:  (barely winded)
Ys:  (begins to get the impression that he's being toyed with)
iron golem:  (lumbers forward, swinging its heavy iron sword at the
  smirking vampiric swordsman)
master vampire:  (vanishes, becoming a pale mist, and floats upward, out
  of the reach of both assailants)  Hahahah...
Ys:  Damn it.
wispy thing:  (flies right at the vampire-in-mist-form, challenging it
  with an angry facial expression)  sssss!
master vampire in mist form:  Eh?  (he re-forms his physical body,
  landing gracefully on the floor near Mongo)  Perhaps you will prove a
  worthier opponent.
Mongo:  I sure as hell hope so.

  With a sudden flourish, the dwarf held up his holy torch once more,
the item blazing with a brilliant light...

master vampire:  AAARGH!  (half-blind and burned, he retreats instantly,
  covering fifty feet in a matter of moments as he rejoins the vampiric
  sorceress near the northern exit door)
vampiric sorceress:  What is that thing-
master vampire:  I know not, and I care not!  We're leaving!  (with that,
  he whisks her through the door, which slams behind them)
death knight:  You dare to abandon the rest of us?!?  You cowardly-  (in
  its disbelief at this turn of events, it leaves itself open to being
  pummeled by the stone golem)  Ungh!
Mongo:  (charges over, holding the torch before him)
death knight:  This is revolting.  (be begins to burn)  AaaaaaAAAAAARGH!

  Of the once-mighty death knight, only its fine chain mail armor (from
which black dust now leaked) and two-handed sword remained.

Hope:  (limping over toward Mongo)  That was pretty incredible.
Mongo:  (eyeing the torch)  Yeah, this thing comes in handy.

  Noises to the west marked the escape of Belphanior and the others from
the barrier of whirling bone bits - a barrier which was now collapsing
with its creator's demise.

Belphanior:  (having flown vertically out of the cylindrical barrier,
  he carries two unconscious forms)  It only took so long because I had
  to haul Skektek and Jenna out of there.
Razor Charlie:  (to the orc)  Let's go.  (he nonchalantly walks through
  the now-defunct bone barrier that Belphanior had to fly out of before
  it fell apart)
Belphanior:  If I'd have known it was going to fall apart, I would have
  just waited.  (he looks around)  What happened?
Mongo:  We've won the battle, but not the war.

  While he briefed the elf about the portion of the battle the latter
had missed, Mongo roamed the chamber with his holy torch, incinerating
the remains of various foes.  Charlie and Hope worked on getting Jenna
revived, so that she could bring her healing magic to bear.  Fortunately,
those laid low by the weird mental powers of the floating brain recovered
without incident - they had just been knocked unconscious.  Certain
magical items were taken from the remains of defeated foes:  the great
maul from the undead titan, the death knight's chain mail and two-handed
sword, the longsword wielded by the animated suit of armor, and the black
cutlass used by the skeleton with the flaming skull.
  While moving about the room, Mongo and Belphanior noticed that muted
noises were coming from the area to the south - an identical door to the
one in the north that the pair of powerful vampires had fled through.
From the battle, they knew that large numbers of undead had issued forth
from the southern door, so they moved that way to investigate.

                                    ___________ vampires' escape door
                         ____   ___.___
                        |   .|_/       \
                     <<<     [          |   <-- audience chamber
    ramp up --->     <<<    .[_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
                                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__

Mongo:  What if those two vampires come back?
Belphanior:  I doubt they will - from what you said, they were absolutely
  terrified by the power of that torch.
Mongo:  (nods)  Not to mention burned - well, at least that one.  They
  got the hell out of here before I could attack them any more.  And if
  they know what's good for them, they'll stay gone.
Belphanior:  We're going to have to go after them, and soon.  I just want
  to see what's down here, beyond this...door...

  They'd entered the area beyond the southern door; a short passage led
to the top floor of a large, multi-tiered cylindrical chamber, much like
the one they'd found in a recent gateway.  A 10' walkway led around the
edge of the chamber, which was almost a hundred feet across; this ledge
gradually descended as it wound around the perimeter of the cylindrical
chamber.  Around the perimeter of the room, present on all of its many
levels, were small recessed chambers, covered in cobwebs.

                                    ___________ vampires' escape door
                         ____   ___.___
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY     |   .|_/       \
                     <<< a   [     b    |
    ramp up --->     <<<    .[_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
                                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__
                              /         \
                            /             \
    a    entry hall        |               |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |
    c    crypt             |               |
                            \             /
                              \___   ___/
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

Belphanior:  It's nice to see that Xusia was consistent when he built
  his crypts.

  On the far side of this top floor was a short stub of a passage, which
quickly ended in rubble; it looked like the beginning of a tunnel.

Mongo:  Someone started digging here, but never finished.

  The ashes of destroyed undead were everywhere, and sounds from below
indicated the presence of more creatures, which were clearly shying away
from the terrible holy light of Mongo's torch.

Mongo:  (peering over, he sees that this place has at least a dozen
  floors full of tombs, all surrounded by the downward-corkscrewing
  outer ledge)  Whew.
Belphanior:  Yeah, it does reek.  I figure we have two options.  One,
  you can charge down this ledge with your torch held high, vaporizing
  undead as you go until you get to the bottom.  Or two, we can use a
  wall to seal this place off while we chase those vampires.
Mongo:  (weighing these choices)

  They quickly opted for the second plan, and when Skektek was called
to help, he added a flair of his own.  A fireball was launched down the
cylindrical shaft, followed immediately by a thick wall of stone that
utterly blocked the top-level exit from the crypt.  Not a minute too
soon, either, as a muffled explosion from far below shook the entire
dungeon.  The wall of stone held, as expected.

Belphanior:  Now let's go find those vampires.

+   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              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   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                     +
+                                                                         +
+   REINFORCEMENTS:                                                       +
+     iron golem                                                          +
+     stone golem                                                         +
+     coal golem                                                          +
+                                                                         +
+   REMAINING SUMMONED HELP:                                              +
+     orc, with loaned magical sword and dented shield                    +
+     shambling mound, 9' tall, dense, and resistant to undead attacks    +

  The northern exit door appeared just as the southern one:  a plain 10'
high single door of dull iron.  However, with two powerful vampires
lurking somewhere beyond the portal, the most extreme caution was called

Hope:  (conjures a wizard eye to scout ahead of the main group)

  Several other protective and divination spells were cast - stoneskins,
protection from evil, trap detection, undead detection - which would
augment the party's already-formidable powers.  Mongo's holy torch would
both provide bright light and drive away any undead that lurked in the
area ahead.  When the door opened to reveal a 15' wide passage with an
arched ceiling of the same height, the group quickly decided upon a new,
narrower marching order:

                          FRONT OF PARTY
                                / \
                 Mongo    stone golem   Belphanior
                 Skektek       Otto             Ys
                 iron golem     Hope    coal golem
                 Razor Charlie   Jenna       Bosco
                 orc               shambling mound
                           REAR OF PARTY

  The passage extended for about forty feet before ending in another iron
door, which was once again opened by the stone golem, at Belphanior's
command.  The portal had been magically sealed, but the golem's strength
was more than enough to break it down.  Beyond this second door was half
of a long hallway:

             wall of stone -->   # . _____.______.______.___:
                                  | |
                                  | |
                                  | |
                         ____   __|.|__
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY     |   .|_/       \
                     <<< a   [     b    |
    ramp up --->     <<<    .[_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
                                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__
                              /         \
                            /             \
    a    entry hall        |               |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |
    c    crypt             |               |
                            \             /
                              \___   ___/
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

  It was half a hallway due to a rough barrier of stone - one that quite
obviously didn't match the rest of the neatly-shaped hallway.

Belphanior:  They must have just created this as they fled.  We need to
  get past it!
Skektek:  I'll dispel-
Belphanior:  There's a faster way.  (he gives a command to the stone
stone golem:  (begins hammering at the wall with its heavy fists)

  It didn't take long for the powerful construct to knock a hole in the
wall, and after that, to expand the gap to allow passage.  Beyond the
broken wall, they found another section of corridor, much like the part
that hadn't been blocked by the stone wall.  Seven doors were visible

                                  ____ party's current location
          :___.______. _____._____ . _____.______.______.___:
                                  | |
                                  | |
                                  | |
                                  | |
                         ____   __|.|__
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY     |   .|_/       \
                     <<<  a  [     b    |
                     <<<     [_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
   <<<   ramp up                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__
    $    secret doors         /         \
                            /             \
    a    entry hall        |               |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |
    c    crypt             |               |
                            \             /
                              \___   ___/
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

  Thus began a systematic search of the western wing of the long passage
of many doors.  Two things became readily apparent:  these were quarters
for the foul undead lords encountered previously...and not a one of them
belonged to the two vampires.  Starting at the first door on the left,
and then moving along that wall, there were seven living chambers (though
the description "unliving chambers" might have been more appropriate).
  The first room contained a crude mat of straw, and dozens of small
worms, both living and dead.  This was determined to be the lair of the
walking corpse which had spewed out worms, and there was nothing of any
interest here.
  The second chamber was a little larger, and irregularly shaped; it had
a strange spectral bed which the adventurers could not touch or interact
with in any way, plus several small pieces of furniture which they could.
In one drawer of an ancient armoire was a small pouch of gemstones, and
within a locked and trapped chest was a human skeleton, whose grimy
clothes featured a magical purse.
  The third room was a bit larger than the previous one, and seemed to
remain partially-cloaked in shadows no matter how much light was brought
to bear.  Piled in one corner were the dried husks of a dozen corpses,
though oddly enough they emitted very little in the way of odor.  One of
these bodies held a magical net within a rotted backpack, and another
had a magical sling looped around its belt.  In addition, a section of
stone floor was false, a lid to a small niche containing several hundred
coins of various types and a dozen small pieces of jewelry.
  The fourth chamber, the one at the end of that wing of the hallway,
was the largest yet and was lavishly decorated, with numerous nonmagical
weapons and pieces of armor adorning its walls.  They figured this to be
the quarters of the death knight.  Hidden behind one wall-mounted shield
was a small niche containing a wooden box full of opals, and a small iron
chest on the other side of the room was filled with bars of gold.  Even
better, beneath the heavy four-poster bed was a floor safe with several
traps (one of which almost stabbed Bosco with a small needle while he was
disarming it).  This safe contained two small metal vials (one green and
one black but otherwise identical) and a small cube of opaque, reddish-
brown carnelian.  A desk held a thick book which burst into flame when
touched; this wasn't a trap, but rather a method of self-destruction, as
the tome was quickly and efficiently reduced to ashes.
  The fifth room was much smaller, and contained only a simple bed.  The
former occupant's identity was discerned due to a number of shriveled
pumpkin seeds which littered the bed.  Numerous dried bloodstains covered
the walls and floor here.  Hidden beneath the mattress were two small
pouches, both bound tightly.
  The sixth chamber was identical to the fifth in size and shape, except
that it contained nothing save for some straw.  Scattered amongst this
refuse were a single topaz, a nonmagical platinum ring, and a small metal
  The seventh room had a thirty-foot ceiling, making it the probable lair
of the undead titan.  They assumed that the thing had simply used its
magical powers to alter its size to get into this chamber.  Anyway, the
room was larger than most of the others, but so was its furniture, making
the area seem small and cramped despite its size.  In one desk drawer
(which was large enough for Bosco to stand in) were two sturdy glasteel
beakers and a smaller (but also sturdy) glasteel flask; all three held
different sorts of liquids.  A small chest contained a foot-tall, grim-
looking doll that radiated both magic and evil.  Within a large trunk
were numerous clothes sized for one who stood twenty-five feet tall;
beneath these, wrapped in thick blankets, was a mirror, five feet wide
and three high.  With a frame of polished ivory, this item was meant to
be mounted on a wall, and it radiated strong magic.  Another large trunk
was full of pieces of jewelry sized for a giant or titan, and several of
these items appeared fairly valuable.

  After the exploration of the seventh chamber in the west wing, the
party was back at the partially-demolished wall of stone that had sealed
that area from the eastern half of the long hallway.

LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY        |      |
        __    ____   ____  |      |
   ____|  |  |    | |    | |   j  |
  |       |  |  h | |  i | |     _|
  |_   g  |  |__  | |__  | |__  |
    |     |_____|.|____|.|____|.|______.______.______.______
    |_____:__ . ____ . ____ . ____ . _____.______.______.___:
        _____| |   _| |   _| |__  | |
       |     __| _|   |  |      | | |
       |  f |   |   e |  |  d   | | |
       |    |   |   __|  |______| | |
       |    |   |__|     ____   __|.|__
       |____|           |    |_/       \
                     <<<  a  [     b    |
                     <<<     [_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
   <<<   ramp up                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__
    $    secret doors         /         \
                            /             \
    a    entry hall        |               |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |
    c    crypt             |               |
   d-j   officer suites     \             /
                              \___   ___/
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

Belphanior:  Dammit!
Bosco:  What?  Those were some good treasures-
Otto:  (wearily)  It was a decoy.
Belphanior:  (nods)  The vampires put that wall of stone up to the left,
  and then fled to the right.  (he points to the eastern wing of the long
  hallway)  They've retreated somewhere over there, and gained even more
  time while we explored all of the other rooms.
Mongo:  (growing angry)  Those bastards!
Otto:  They figured we'd assume they put the stone wall up to cover
  their flight...and we fell for it.
Skektek:  This makes the remaining chambers on this hallway even more
  dangerous, potentially.
Belphanior:  Tell me about it.  They've had more time to set real traps
  in the area that lies ahead of us.  (he scowls angrily)  Well, fuck
  them.  We're coming for them, and now we're on the last leg of that
  journey.  Mongo, keep that holy torch handy, please.  Jenna, be ready
  to detect and turn undead.  Everyone, stay sharp.

  Once again, there were seven doors to be tried:  three to the left,
three to the right, and one straight ahead at the end of the corridor.
Rather than sweep through them in a clockwise pattern like before, the
group intended to alternate, left to right, as they moved through the
hallway.  Half of the party remained behind in the main passage as the
other half explored each of the chambers in turn; this was to deter any
surprise attack or attempt to flee by the vampires.

  The first door, on the left, led to a tiny chamber, just twenty feet
on a side.  It was utterly devoid of anything except for a human skeleton
floating in a cylindrical glass tank in the far corner.  The bones were
suspended in some sort of clear fluid, and the top half of the skull was
missing.  None of this was magical, but thanks to the ever-alert Bosco
(who had taken it upon himself to scour each of these chambers quickly
but thoroughly, using his ring of x-ray vision) something noteworthy was
discovered.  The halfling spotted a section of floor that was actually
_thicker_ than the rest, at least to his magical vision.  It turned out
to be a thick lead box, buried under an inch of stone floor; the heavy
barrier of lead shielded the box's magical contents from detection.  In
the small container was a hoop earring, made of adamant, that radiated
a strong magical aura.

Belphanior:  Good work, Bosco.
Bosco:  (beaming)

  The second chamber, on the right, was just a bit larger than the
previous one.  It was empty save for a large brazier (which contained
some smoldering coals) and a large pile of firewood.  The ceiling here
tapered to a tiny point (perhaps two inches across) that presumably
served as an exhaust vent for the fumes from whatever was burned in
the brazier.
  The third room, on the left this time, was reached after a short
entry hall.  It contained only a series of racks and pegs on one wall,
of the sort that an elaborate suit or armor would be stored on when
broken down into its component pieces.

  As the adventurers approached the fourth door, this one on the right,
a clever trap was sprung - though not through any direct action or
inaction of the party.  A delayed-effect spell had been cast in this
main hallway, its caster having to use her best guess as to when the
party would be nearby.  As it turned out, the guess was a pretty good
one:  the fireball, its center in front of the last door in the hall,
exploded about fifty feet from the front rank of the party.  For reasons
that would be discovered later, it didn't break down that particular
door, but rather rebounded from it, sending a wave of deadly fire down
the passage toward the adventurers!

                            ______    _________   ____
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY        |      |  |    l    | |    |
        __    ____   ____  |      |  |_______  | |    |_
   ____|  |  |    | |    | |   j  |    ____  | | |      |
  |       |  |  h | |  i | |     _|   |  k | | | |  m   |
  |_   g  |  |__  | |__  | |__  |     |  __| | | |__   _|
    |     |_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____
    |_____:__ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . _____._____ . __:
        _____| |   _| |   _| |__  | |  __| |         __| |
       |     __| _|   |  |      | | | |    |        |    |
       |  f |   |   e |  |  d   | | | |  p |        | o  |
       |    |   |   __|  |______| | | |____|        |   _|
       |    |   |__|     ____   __|.|__             |__|
       |____|           |    |_/       \
                     <<<  a  [     b    |
                     <<<     [_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
   <<<   ramp up                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__
    $    secret doors         /         \
                            /             \
    a    entry hall        |               |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |
    c    crypt             |               |
   d-m   officer suites     \             /
   o-p   officer suites       \___   ___/
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

  The adventurers caught a break, some would say purely by chance, though
it could be argued that Belphanior's planning was responsible.  The stone
golem took up most of the passageway, and deflected the brunt of the fire
that moved through the hallway.  The adventurers were still hit with a
significant amount of flames, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
When the searing fire finally dissipated, almost everyone in the entire
party had serious burns, singed hair, and damaged possessions.

Belphanior:  (coughs up black smoke)  Ghak...we don't have time for this.
  We really don't!
Jenna:  (moving from person to person, healing as best as she can)  I'm
  doing everything I can!

  Those with healing potions took care of their own wounds.  The goal
wasn't to restore everyone to top shape, but rather just to get them
out of immediate pain resulting from the burns.  Unfortunately, this
bought the vampires, wherever they were now, even more time to prepare
and plan.

Mongo:  (moves ahead, as he is unhurt and also eager to get on with it)
  Hey, guys...looks like some of these rooms got torched by that fire.

  It was true:  two of the doors between the party and the final door
at the end of the hall had been blown and scoured by flames from the
fireball.  Their contents were utterly destroyed now, and still smoking.
One chamber had a sarcophagus, making it the likely lair of the mummy
priest; a number of small jars here were shattered, their contents now
ashes.  The other damaged chamber was empty, but it was also completely
charred from floor to ceiling.  That left the door just ahead and to
their right, and the door at the end of the hall, which hadn't been
blown open like the others.  It was also slightly larger and finer than
the other doors in this hallway had been.

Belphanior:  They're behind that - they've got to be.  Let's move!

  A powerful death spell was detected on the door, awaiting whoever was
dumb enough to open it.  Fortunately, the stone golem handled this duty.

stone golem:  (bashes down the door with a double blow of its huge stone

  Beyond was the largest living chamber yet; it was about 70' wide and
40' deep, with a couple of oddly-shaped alcoves and walls.  In addition
to being the largest chamber thus far, this one was also the nicest.
The furniture here was of the finest quality, with several fine woods
represented among a pair of dressers, several chests, a heavy wardrobe,
and two large desks.  Every inch of the stone floor was covered in fine
carpets and furs, and the walls were decorated with exquisite tapestries.
The room wouldn't have even looked like the chambers of undead creatures,
except for the pair of large black coffins in one spacious corner.
  There was no sign of either vampire, a fact confirmed by Jenna's magic
and Belphanior's enchanted eye.

Belphanior:  You, you, and you - go back in the hallway and guard that
  other door that survived the blast.  Everyone else, help me check this
  room from top to bottom for traps, treasure, and anything else we need
  to find.

                            ______    _________   ____
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY        |      |  |    l    | |    |
        __    ____   ____  |      |  |_______  | |    |_         ___
   ____|  |  |    | |    | |   j  |    ____  | | |      |    ___|   |
  |       |  |  h | |  i | |     _|   |  k | | | |  m   |   |       |
  |_   g  |  |__  | |__  | |__  |     |  __| | | |__   _|   |       |
    |     |_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|       |
    |_____:__ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . _____._____ . __:   n   |___
        _____| |   _| |   _| |__  | |  __| |     q   __| |  |           |
       |     __| _|   |  |      | | | |    |        |    |  |           |
       |  f |   |   e |  |  d   | | | |  p |        | o  |  |___________|
       |    |   |   __|  |______| | | |____|        |   _|
       |    |   |__|     ____   __|.|__             |__|
       |____|           |    |_/       \
                     <<<  a  [     b    |
                     <<<     [_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
   <<<   ramp up                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__
                              /         \
                            /             \
    a    entry hall        |               |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |
    c    crypt             |               |
   d-p   officers' suites   \             /
    q    (unexplored door)    \___   ___/
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

   key to officers' suites
      d   walking corpse with worms
      e   banshee
      f   wraith lord
      g   death knight
      h   pumpkinhead
      i   scarecrow made of straw
      j   undead titan (25' tall)
      k   brain in a jar
      l   animated armor
      m   greater mummy (room destroyed by fireball)
      n   master vampire, vampiric sorceress
      o   ghost lord (room destroyed by fireball)
      p   skeleton with flaming skull
      q   ???

  The coffins came first; Mongo held the holy torch ahead of him, its
brilliant light promising no escape for anything within those ornate
wooden boxes.  As well, Belphanior had his Moonsword ready, and others
held silver daggers or aimed silver bolts.  Jenna also brandished her
holy symbol.  The adventurers were as ready as anyone ever had been
when about to confront powerful undead.

Ys:  (opens the first coffin)
Belphanior:  (gapes, then frowns)  Shit.

  The coffin was empty, save for some dark earth scattered about its
bottom.  They quickly but carefully opened the second coffin, finding
it to be vacant as well.

Belphanior:  They're not here.  Maybe never were here.
Skektek:  So where the hell _are_ they?
Jenna:  (looking around, her sight enhanced by a spell of Istus)  Nowhere
  near us, I can tell you that.  (she turns back to the two coffins)  I
  assume you want to prevent these from being used by the vampire again?
Belphanior:  (nods)
Jenna:  (taking charge, she begins giving orders)  Holy water, on and in
  the coffins.  I'll throw in some garlic for good measure...and then a
  blessing to fully ward these.

  Numerous magical items were found here, presumably ones that the two
vampires hadn't wanted or needed to take with them (or perhaps hadn't had
the time to collect).  A small cabinet was empty, but radiated a strong
magical aura regardless.  The dressers, wardrobe, and chests were full
of high-quality garments - cloaks, boots, belts, shoes, robes, and so
forth...none of which were magical.  Atop one dresser were several small
jewelry boxes with assorted valuables.
 The first desk held a scroll within one drawer; a hidden drawer was also
found and opened, its poison needle trap bypassed...although the second
poison needle trap got Bosco, who immediately began shrieking in agony,
until Jenna cast a spell on him to neutralize the poison.  The halfling
had to rest, so Otto took over the work.  The secret drawer held a small
key of brass and a chime of ivory.  Another, non-secret drawer held three
small pouches.  The first contained about a hundred platinum coins, the
second was filled with a half-dozen large uncut rubies, and the third
pouch burst open when touched, revealing nonmagical dust.
  The second desk had a prominent dust-free rectangular spot, as if a
large book had been there for a while but was recently removed.  A sheaf
of parchments was non-magical but looked interesting, so those were taken
as well.  The drawers in that desk held only writing supplies and common
spell components.  Underneath some of these, in one drawer, was a false
bottom that contained a small notebook.  This wasn't magical, but was
taken anyway, since anything worth hiding was worth having.
  Checking thoroughly under all of the carpets was a tedious task, but
proved to be worth it.  Under one carpet was a small floor safe with a
powerful electrical trap that they couldn't defuse; eventually the iron
golem was used to simply trigger it, absorbing the electricity into its
body.  The safe contained a heavy lead cylinder, a foot and a half long
and five inches in diameter, weighing well over a hundred pounds.  This
thing had no obvious locking or opening mechanism, so it was simply taken
for now.
  Behind a tapestry on the eastern wall of the north section of the room
was a masterfully-constructed concealed door which they almost didn't
find.  Behind it was a small room, ten-by-ten-by-ten, whose floor was
covered in dust...except for a couple of slight footprints which had to
have been made very recently.

Jenna:  (finishes a spell)  They definitely came this way.  Their aura
  is everywhere.

  The tiny chamber also contained a life-size stone statue of a mighty
warhorse, complete with saddle, bridle, stirrups - the whole kit.  This
statue radiated magic as well.

Otto:  How the fuck would we carry it out of here?
Skektek:  And would we want to?
Mongo:  Hah.  It's child's play!  (he strides forth and hefts the thing
  with one hand, before anyone can stop him)
Belphanior:  No-

  The more experienced (or less indestructible) among the party fully
expected to see some terrible trap unleashed upon the rash dwarf, but
instead, all they could do was gaze in confusion.

Mongo:  What?  (he looks down at the area beneath the horse statue)

  Right where one of the statue's rear legs had rested (the hoof being
a rough oval several inches on its longer axis) was a small, round metal
grate about two inches in diameter and filled with tiny drain holes.

Belphanior:  (glances at Jenna)  Could they have...?
Jenna:  Absolutely.  All vampires can assume gaseous form, and the more
  powerful ones can do it at will.  I've heard that _really_ powerful
  ones can transform their possessions into mist as well.  And, more to
  the point, I still sense their aura here.  (she points to the metal
  grate)  There.
Belphanior:  (pries the thin grate away, revealing a one-inch-wide hole
  leading down into darkness)  Shit, shit, SHIT!
Mongo:  (sets the horse statue down)  They got away, didn't they?
Belphanior:  They did, and we can't follow.  (he grimaces)  Someone hand
  me a vial of holy water, please.

  They ended up pouring several bottles down the drain hole, and then
conjuring a plentiful quantity of mud, plugging the hole.  After that,
the mud was turned into stone, sealing the drain hole about as well as
could be asked for.

Belphanior:  Just for the hell of it, let's bless this hunk of stone
  and leave some garlic on it.  (to Jenna)  Can't hurt, right?
Jenna:  Absolutely not.

  Once all this was done, and all the treasures taken, they returned to
the one door that hadn't yet been explored.  Expecting an anticlimactic
chamber that had served as some undead lord's living quarters, the party
was surprised to instead find a long passage, ten feet wide and fifteen
high and arched, unlike any of the other passages here.  It took a slight
right turn and then continued for fifty feet before ending in a door of
finely-wrought black iron.

                            ______    _________   ____
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY        |      |  |    l    | |    |
        __    ____   ____  |      |  |_______  | |    |_         ___
   ____|  |  |    | |    | |   j  |    ____  | | |      |    ___|   |
  |       |  |  h | |  i | |     _|   |  k | | | |  m   |   |       |_
  |_   g  |  |__  | |__  | |__  |     |  __| | | |__   _|   |       $_|
    |     |_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|       |
    |_____:__ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . _____._____ . __:   n   |___
        _____| |   _| |   _| |__  | |  __| |   _| |  __| |  |           |
       |     __| _|   |  |      | | | |    |  |  _| |    |  |           |
       |  f |   |   e |  |  d   | | | |  p |  | |   | o  |  |___________|
       |    |   |   __|  |______| | | |____|  | |   |   _|
       |    |   |__|     ____   __|.|__       | |   |__|
       |____|           |    |_/       \      |.|
                     <<<  a  [     b    |      q
                     <<<     [_         |
                        |____| \___.___/
   <<<   ramp up                  | |
   . :   doors                  __| |__
    $    secret door          /         \
                            /             \
    a    entry hall        |               |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |
    c    crypt             |               |
   d-p   officers' suites   \             /
    q    (unexplored area)    \___   ___/
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

   key to officers' suites
      d   walking corpse with worms
      e   banshee
      f   wraith lord
      g   death knight
      h   pumpkinhead
      i   scarecrow made of straw
      j   undead titan (25' tall)
      k   brain in a jar
      l   animated armor
      m   greater mummy (room destroyed by fireball)
      n   master vampire, vampiric sorceress
      o   ghost lord (room destroyed by fireball)
      p   skeleton with flaming skull
      q   ???

  The door was massive - ten feet wide and high, it was little more than
a thick slab of black metal, without hinges, knobs, keyholes, or other
means of opening.  Its sole decoration was a grim carving of a skeletal
face, in the center and about two-thirds of the way up.  However, it was
just a slight indentation, had no moving parts, and wasn't unusually
magical (compared to the door itself, which was highly magical).  Various
spells and devices to find traps revealed none, nor did careful physical
inspection, so they attempted to open the door - and the difficulties
began.  It wouldn't push open, and there was nothing to pull, and it
wouldn't slide sideways either.  A knock spell didn't work, and magic
cast upon the stone surrounding the metal plate failed to manipulate the
rock in any way.  Teleportation and passwall magic similarly failed,
although that was to be expected given the previous discovery that no
transportation magic functioned beneath the third level.
  Fire, ice, and lightning were cast on the door - but it didn't heat
up, cool down, or electrify at all.  Acid also failed, as did direct
blows from the golems and Mongo, as did a spell of disintegration.

Skektek:  (exasperated)  I'm honestly not sure what else to try.
wispy thing:  (hovering near the black metal slab)  rrrrb.
Belphanior:  I've got a crazy idea.
Bosco:  Oh, no.
Belphanior:  Fear not.  (to all of them)  We need a break, and this is
  a pretty good time for one.  We've cleared out everything so far, and
  now we're up against a door that may not ever open.  This might be the
  time to rest, recover, heal, eat, pray for new spells, and summon some
  more help.
Hope:  But for such summoning to work, we'd have to be back at the top
  levels of the dungeon.
Belphanior:  (nods)  That's my plan.  We could even leave this place and
  camp somewhere we know is safe.
Mongo:  (confused)  What if the undead revolt, or return, or new ones
  come out from some hidden area?
Belphanior:  I doubt that will happen, and here's why.  We just fought
  a collection of powerful undead lords, two of whom fled.  I think that
  was all the resistance that remained here.  We've beaten everything
  they threw at us, and blocked the return of the two vampires.  There
  will be a few things to attend to on the way up - like putting a fresh
  wall or two between that big cylindrical crypt full of undead and the
  rest of this dungeon, and making sure everything is as we left it on
  the way down, and leaving a couple of golems stationed at strategic
Hope:  We could also cast some spells of guarding, warding, and the like
  to help ensure no unknown activity while we're away.  (she doesn't
  mention that she's tired of being down here and would like some fresh
  air and sunlight)
Belphanior:  Good ideas, all of them.  Let's take what we've gotten from
  this day's explorations and leave this place, and camp for the night.

  All five remaining golems (two iron, two stone, and one coal) were
left in the dungeon, with specific orders to engage and destroy anyone
or anything they detected while the party was away for the night.  The
shambling mound was also left here, as Belphanior didn't want to lose
it by bringing it out of the teleport/summoning blocked area.  As for
the orc, it was given a choice once the party had ascended to the fourth
level of the dungeon.

Belphanior:  I suspect that if you leave with us, you'll vanish from
  this place, probably back to wherever you came here from.  And that's
  fine with me - you've earned it several times over.  So you can take
  that route if you want.  Alternatively, you can double down and stay
  with us for the duration, and see what's behind that black door down
  there.  It's your call.
orc:  Uh...
Belphanior:  You can keep the sword I gave you, for doing such a good
  job helping us.
orc:  I got a wife and three little ones back home, so I'd like to just
  go back to them.
Belphanior:  Good deal.  (he takes a pouch, begins counting coins from
  it, then just stops)  Oh, fuck it.  (he hands the entire pouch over to
  the humanoid)  That's about fifty gold pieces, give or take a few.  My
  parting gift to you.  (he begins heading up to the third level, as the
  others follow him)  If you do get sent back, have a good life.
orc:  Um...okay.

  Sure enough, upon climbing the ramp to the third floor, the orcish
warrior abruptly vanished.

Mongo:  He was okay, for an orc.
Jenna:  Hopefully he went back to his family.
Belphanior:  (chuckles)
Skektek:  You were far too nice to him, you know.
Belphanior:  That orc survived far too many things here to get killed
  tomorrow, or to go home penniless.  I hope he lives long and has many
Mongo:  As long as they don't grow up to attack civilized lands.

  They returned to the usual safe point - the gateway within the Pelisso
Swamp - and cleaned up, had a hot supper, checked equipment and supplies,
tended to wounds, and so on.  Jenna expended the remainder of her healing
magic, since she would pray and recover her spells before the morning.
  Upon taking inventory of their possessions, every single one of the
adventurers found that they had lost at least one or two magical items
to the various fireballs they'd encountered today.  Although they were
well aware that they'd gained a great number of new magic items as well,
the tally of ruined items was severe:

    ring of portal opening
    scroll of protection vs electricity
    ring, dagger, mace, robe
    crucible of alchemy
    ring of feather falling
    2 gas-globes from svirfneblin
    Peldor's gourd
    crystal bottle of choking
    holy bell
    shield +1, +4 vs missiles
    necklace of adaptation
    silver fluid (liquid road)
    flute of the dead
    metal scroll case w/scroll
    red cloak of invisibility
  Razor Charlie
    potion of sweet water
    cloak of night
    scroll (last laugh)
    elemental conduit
    candle of permanency
    amulet from sky castle
    Bracelet of fortitude

  It was most unfortunate, but then again, it wasn't realistic to face
all the dangers they'd faced and expect everything they wore or carried
to come away unscathed.  Skektek in particular was furious as he held
the melted lump of metal that used to be a mighty rod capable of great
elemental powers.

Skektek:  No!  Noooooo!  Dammit...

  Aside from these sorrows, the adventurers actually got a good night's
sleep, and on the morrow, found themselves well-rested and ready for the
challenges ahead.  Following breakfast, they used the magical portals to
return to the gateway room, in the third level of the dungeon.  At this
point, Belphanior used the Book of Beasts to summon some additional help,
and Otto wound the mithril horn, causing a trio of mighty warriors to

Mongo:  (looking around)  These are some mighty reinforcements, and we're
  good and strong now, but I think you're forgetting one thing:  how the
  hell are we gonna get through that black metal door?
Belphanior:  I'm pretty sure I've got it covered.  I did some thinking
  about this, and came up with a solution.  But first, let's get back
  down there.  (he eyes his companions)  Everyone ready?

+   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              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   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                     +
+                                                                         +
+   REINFORCEMENTS:                                                       +
+     iron golems (2)                                                     +
+     stone golem                                                         +
+     coal golem                                                          +
+                                                                         +
+   SUMMONED HELP:                                                        +
+     berserkers, 3      6th level warriors                               +
+                                                                         +
+     shambling mound    9' tall, dense, and resistant to undead attacks  +
+                                                                         +
+     minotaurs, 2       7' tall, heavily-muscled, armed with huge axes   +
+     salamanders, 2     7'long, fiery, armed with shiny spears           +
+     umber hulks, 2     8' tall, 5' wide, powerfully built               +

  They descended once more, moving past the storage area, through the
bestiary, and revisiting the laboratory.  Below that, the cells were just
as before, including the same occupants.

invisible zombie:  Uuurr.
ooze within glass canister:  (moves around, clearly able to detect the
Bosco:  That thing's still creepy.

  They returned to the entry hall on the eighth level, and beyond it was
the large, domed audience hall, filled with the remnants of yesterday's
battle.  Shattered bones and rotting flesh were everywhere, and blast
marks and small craters covered the walls/ceiling and the floor.  The
barriers blocking the south exit were still intact, and dull thumping
sounds could be heard on the other side.

Skektek:  (adds a wall of iron to the stone barrier already in place)
Razor Charlie:  (watches curiously)
Skektek:  (shrugs)  Layering.

  They made their way back into the long northern hallway, and soon, they
once again stood before the slab of black metal.

Belphanior:  So that skull-face symbol worked into the metal...I knew
  I'd seen it somewhere before.  (he rummages through a pack, eventually
  retrieving a certain talisman of red stone)  And this is where...the
  talisman we used, long ago, to initially activate all of the gateways
  the very first time.  (he pauses for effect)  And yes, I could have
  tried this last night, but I'd been wanting to take a step back and
  bolster our ranks for the last few battles, and this seemed like a
  good time.
Mongo:  What makes you think that hunk of stone will make this door open?
Belphanior:  (holds the talisman up for all to see)  Because it's got the
  exact same design as the indentation in the door, and is perfectly
  sized to fit into that depression.
Bosco:  Whoa!  What are the chances?
Belphanior:  Exactly.  The way I figure it, Xusia himself had the power
  to open this door, talisman or no talisman.  The question is, would he
  have wanted anyone else to have a way of opening it, in an emergency?
  I applied this same question to another of his significant and quite
  powerful works, the gateway network, for which we know the answer:
  yes.  Xusia didn't have the only access to those gateways, but rather
  created an item by which others could use them.  A mind that thinks
  that way about one hidden secret will almost certainly think that way
  about another.  Thus, by reverse logic, we can then deduce that some
  other means - not specific to Xusia himself - of opening this door
  must exist.
Mongo:  (confused)  Huh?
Belphanior:  And the fact that the gateway talisman both matches this
  metal door and appears to fit perfectly into me a pretty
  good feeling.  (he steps forth, holding the talisman up to the small
  matching indention in the thick slab of metal)

  Nothing happened.

Belphanior:  (incredulous)  What?!?
Razor Charlie:  (quietly)  Did I miss something?
Bosco:  Beats me.
Mongo:  (sighs)  Well, that sucks.

  Belphanior tried again, and was disappointed.  It was maddening; the
talisman of red stone fit _perfectly_ into the shallow depression within
the metal slab...yet it had no effect.

Hope:  (walks over)  If I might-
Belphanior:  (exasperated)  What?
Hope:  If I might be allowed to think outside...ordinary ways, I have an
  idea.  (she pauses, realizing that everyone else is completely silent
  and listening intently...well, almost everyone)
shambling mound:  (turns its head slightly, though none can know if it
  is listening or simply moving randomly)
Hope:  Ahem.  (she holds out her hand)
Belphanior:  (takes the talisman and hands it to her)
Hope:  I agree with your theory, and I have a corollary:  perhaps Xusia
  limited this alternate means of entry to only his most trusted minions,
  and none else.  I may no longer have the mentality or powers of your
  dear foe Drusilla, but technically, I _am_ her.  (she steps forward
  and places the talisman into its matching slot within the metal slab)

  For an agonizingly long moment, nothing happened...and then a deep
rumbling sounded from the walls and ceiling all around the portal.  The
slab of black metal began to rise upward, slowly but surely; as it did,
the adventurers could now see that it was fully a foot thick, which
partially explained its resistance to damage.  Shortly, the slab was
fully recessed in the ceiling, and now out of sight.  Beyond was a small
circular room, about thirty feet across; ahead and in its left wall was
a shallow alcove with another door, this one smaller and fashioned of
black wood.

Bosco:  (looks up, eyeing the heavy door of metal as it rests in its
  slot above, held there by means unknown)
Otto:  Should we maybe...
Belphanior:  Yeah, we should.  There is no fucking way I'm risking this
  thing coming back down and trapping us here forever.  (he turns and
  eyes the various golems)

  He had a brief and unpleasant vision of the coal golem being crushed
into a large pile of tiny black coals, and then had another premonition
involving the stone golem being crushed into a large pile of rocks, so
ultimately the elf went with the sturdiest option.

Belphanior:  (points at one of the iron golems)  You.  Come stand over
  here, right in the middle of this doorway.
iron golem #2:  (obeys, moving into position as directed)
Belphanior:  After we pass through, I want you to move into the center
  of the doorway, reach up and grab the ceiling, right there, and stay
  that way.  Don't leave that spot for any reason.  Don't fight anything
  that might attack you.  Just stand right there and keep that door above
  you from coming down, no matter what.  Got it?
iron golem #2:  (just stands there)
Belphanior:  Good.

  Belphanior hated to leave one of the two strongest golems behind like
this, but he knew it was the best move.  He led the party into the small
round room, where the next door was examined physically and magically,
and found to be unremarkable.  The elf was hoping that Xusia's logic for
the defense of one's home would follow his own, and that of most sane
individuals:  at some point, the deadly traps and impenetrable barriers
had to stop, so that one could actually dwell in and enjoy one's living
space.  It wasn't as if Xusia, on the day he was destroyed, had prepared
all of his lairs and possessions for that eventuality; there was only so
much a person could do to safeguard their belongings without impacting
the _usage_ of those belongings.  After everything else they had overcome
leading up to the nearly-impassable black metal door, it surely had to be
the final major defense...didn't it?
  Cautiously, the party opened the smaller door of black wood, entering
a huge, sprawling multi-chambered room that had to be Xusia's personal

                            ______    _________   ____
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY        |      |  |    l    | |    |
        __    ____   ____  |      |  |_______  | |    |_         ___
   ____|  |  |    | |    | |   j  |    ____  | | |      |    ___|   |
  |       |  |  h | |  i | |     _|   |  k | | | |  m   |   |       |_
  |_   g  |  |__  | |__  | |__  |     |  __| | | |__   _|   |       $_|
    |     |_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|       |
    |_____:__ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . __:   n   |___
        _____| |   _| |   _| |__  | |  __| |   _| |  __| |  |           |
       |     __| _|   |  |      | | | |    |  |  _| |    |  |           |
       |  f |   |   e |  |  d   | | | |  p |  | |   | o  |  |___________|
       |    |   |   __|  |______| | | |____|  | |   |   _|
       |    |   |__|     ____   __|.|__       | |   |__|
       |____|           |    |_/       \      |.|
                     <<<  a  [     b    |    /   \______________
                     <<<     [_         |   |  q  _:___    r    |
                        |____| \___.___/     \___/     |   _____|
   <<<   ramp up                  | |                  |  |
   . :   doors                  __| |__              __|  |__
    $    secret doors         /         \       ____|        |____
                            /             \    |        s         |
    a    entry hall        |               |   |                  |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |   |_______    _______|
    c    crypt             |               |        |        |
   d-p   officers' suites   \             /         |    t   |
   q-t   Xusia's chambers     \___   ___/           |________|
                                 /  /
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

   key to officers' suites
      d   walking corpse with worms
      e   banshee
      f   wraith lord
      g   death knight
      h   pumpkinhead
      i   scarecrow made of straw
      j   undead titan (25' tall)
      k   brain in a jar
      l   animated armor
      m   greater mummy (room destroyed by fireball)
      n   master vampire, vampiric sorceress
      o   ghost lord (room destroyed by fireball)
      p   skeleton with flaming skull

  The personal chambers of Xusia seemed to be divided into three parts.
First (northernmost) was a study area, with bookshelves and a gigantic
desk of ancient black wood, perhaps the same material as the door they
had just entered through.  The second, central portion of the suite held
a gigantic bed of the same black wood, with posts carved from huge bones
and tattered pillows and blankets.  Across from the bed was an old, plush
divan with a small table at each end.  The third area, to the south, held
two large and heavy wardrobes, one on either end.  Also here was a huge
pile of old rugs and tapestries.

Belphanior:  (looking around)  Wow.
Jenna:  Might I suggest switching from Mongo's holy torchlight to more
  conventional methods?  Just to avoid damaging anything in here.
Skektek:  Fuck that.  If something in here intends to attack us, let's
  give it all the damage we can.
Belphanior:  No, she's right...some of the items here may be...sensitive
  to holy power.
Otto:  So?  Why would we want to keep such things anyway?
Belphanior:  Knowledge, and power.  (to Mongo)  If something attacks us-
Mongo:  Yeah, yeah.  I got it.  First I'll smash it with my hammer, then
  I'll re-light the torch and burn what's left into ash.  Don't worry, I
  can handle it.
Jenna:  If that's even necessary. I don't sense any undead here at all.
Belphanior:  Nor souls, aside from ours.  (he looks around the chambers)
  Let's get to it, then.

  Exploring these chambers was an arduous job that demanded one's full
attention; keeping the summoned help from touching, stealing, or burning
anything made things even more difficult and time-consuming.  Within one
drawer of the desk was a small metal box containing a dozen large gems of
the highest quality (diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and so on).
Atop the desk was the first incredibly powerful magical item:  a thick
tome with covers of thick, dried skin and a spine of bone.  This book
radiated overpowering evil as well, and they suspected that it was an
unholy relic of some sort.  Another section of the desk held a ring of
tough, thorny branches, about seven inches in diameter; whatever this
thing was, it also had a strong aura of both magic and evil.  A stack
of loose parchments, weighted down by a small sealed glass jar full of
a mud-like substance, held the formula for something; all of this was
  The bookshelves held a variety of tomes, librams, and such; there were
far too many here (and most in too fragile a state) to worry about now.
The books were rather poorly organized, with no apparent order and some
of them stacked sideways or at angles.  A few assorted knickknacks were
scattered among the books, and a few were magical:  a small rod of gray
metal with a wrist-loop, small metal carvings of an anchor and a bird,
and a circular prism set into a frame with a wooden handle.
  The only other plunder found in this area was hidden:  beneath the
large pile of old rugs and tapestries to the south was a large chest.
Within were many thousands of gold coins, atop which were a three-foot
rod with a primitive carved head on one end, a large walnut-like object,
and a sturdy steel spear with a 3-bladed point.

Bosco:  But that's not all.  (he points at the eastern wall of the room
  to the south)  We've got a hidden door here.
Skektek:  Magical?
Bosco:  Nope.  No magic, no crazy mechanism to open it, no's
  just a slab of stone that, I think, swivels inward.  I wouldn't have
  even found it if I hadn't been using my ring of x-ray vision.

  After some further checking, the stone door was pushed open, revealing
a short length of passage that ended in a wide circular stairway leading
down into darkness.  It was basically a 20' wide cylindrical shaft, with
ten-foot wide steps winding round and round, onward and downward.

                            ______    _________   ____
LEVEL 8:  SANCTUARY        |      |  |    l    | |    |
        __    ____   ____  |      |  |_______  | |    |_         ___
   ____|  |  |    | |    | |   j  |    ____  | | |      |    ___|   |
  |       |  |  h | |  i | |     _|   |  k | | | |  m   |   |       |_
  |_   g  |  |__  | |__  | |__  |     |  __| | | |__   _|   |       $_|
    |     |_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|.|____|.|____|.|_____|       |
    |_____:__ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . ____ . __:   n   |___
        _____| |   _| |   _| |__  | |  __| |   _| |  __| |  |           |
       |     __| _|   |  |      | | | |    |  |  _| |    |  |           |
       |  f |   |   e |  |  d   | | | |  p |  | |   | o  |  |___________|
       |    |   |   __|  |______| | | |____|  | |   |   _|
       |    |   |__|     ____   __|.|__       | |   |__|
       |____|           |    |_/       \      |.|
                     <<<  a  [     b    |    /   \______________
                     <<<     [_         |   |  q  _:___    r    |
                        |____| \___.___/     \___/     |   _____|
   <<<   ramp up                  | |                  |  |
   . :   doors                  __| |__              __|  |__
    $    secret doors         /         \       ____|        |____
                            /             \    |        s         |
    a    entry hall        |               |   |                  |
    b    audience hall     |       c       |   |_______    _______|
    c    crypt             |               |        |        |___
   d-p   officers' suites   \             /         |    t   $__ \
   q-u   Xusia's chambers     \___   ___/           |________|  \ \
                                 /  /                             u
                                /  /
   ^,    rubble                /^,/

   key to officers' suites
      d   walking corpse with worms
      e   banshee
      f   wraith lord
      g   death knight
      h   pumpkinhead
      i   scarecrow made of straw
      j   undead titan (25' tall)
      k   brain in a jar
      l   animated armor
      m   greater mummy (room destroyed by fireball)
      n   master vampire, vampiric sorceress
      o   ghost lord (room destroyed by fireball)
      p   skeleton with flaming skull

Bosco:  Gee, it's dark in there.  (he shivers)  And cold.
Skektek:  This doesn't make any sense.  We've already found just about
  everything a dungeon needs, including its ruler's private quarters,
  not to mention a ton of magic items and treasure.
Mongo:  I hear you.  What the hell could be left?
Belphanior:  (props the stone door open with some iron spikes)  There's
  only one way to find out.

next:       the lowest, most challenging, and most amazing dungeon levels
released:   12/23/2011
notes:      Concurrent with this episode, I've also updated most of the
  characters' sheets on to add details of various magical
  items that previously had no description or powers listed.  Part of
  this work was to officially establish the "extra weapons armory" that
  was discussed in episode 974.
    This story ended up at 160K, which sets the new record for largest
  single episode.  I didn't set out with that goal, but when I hit 100K
  and the big battle with the undead lords was only halfway done, I knew
  that this would be the new king of all episodes.  Expect this record
  to stand for quite some time.
    I tried something new for the huge battle that was the centerpiece
  of this episode:  before doing the actual writing, I scripted the whole
  fight, summarizing key events, to try and get a blueprint so I wouldn't
  have to write the entire thing on the fly.  It seemed to make my work
  a good bit easier - I may have to use this strategy again!
    It's tougher than people think to come up with new undead, and this
  time, I had some help.  Thanks to the majority of my proofreaders for
  their ideas on the various undead lords.  I used most of them in some
  form or fashion.
    The next episode - 984 - will feature the final levels of Xusia's
  secret dungeon, with appropriate guardians and treasures.  I can say
  with all honesty that Belphanior will find not one but two of the most
  dangerous artifacts that ever existed.

previous chapter (#982)                                                                  next chapter (#984)