Chapter #1059

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                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +
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+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2021 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        +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+                                                                         +
+   Benjamin       a human bricklayer-turned-fighter                      +
+   Paige          a human female warrior                                 +
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+   Date:          unknown (over three weeks since arrival)               +
+   Time:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         the dark castle overlooking the town of Holmburg       +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
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+   "What do you think you're doing?"                                     +
+   "The usual.  Double-crossing evil."                                   +
+                            - Modeus and Qubit, from _Irredeemable_      +
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                   MLIX.  A Problematic Offer





  Lord Marek has made Belphanior a surprising (if unconventional) offer:
use of the vampire's powerful enchanted mirror to finally return home, in
exchange for destruction of Holmburg's lone temple...and Paige.

Belphanior:  (sighs)  She's not property, she's a person with free will.
Lord Marek:  Yes.  What a wonderful thing indeed.  I have always enjoyed
  such challenges.
Belphanior:  Even if I agreed to this, she wouldn't, given what I know of
  her.  She's only been with us for a short time.
Lord Marek:  Then you will miss her even less.
Belphanior:  Before I can think on this and decide, I'll need proof that
  your mirror actually does what you say it does.
Lord Marek:  Naturally.  I would expect nothing less.

  The elf had no intention of co-operating with the request for Paige;
regarding the destruction of the temple, he had mixed thoughts but was
strongly leaning against that.  While, as had been mentioned, Belphanior
was no do-gooder, he did have his own code of morals...a code that meted
out justice (often violently) to those who deserved it.  A temple full
of priests simply trying to help and heal townspeople who needed it...
was not a deserving target.
  In any case, he needed to see and know that the mirror functioned as
Lord Marek claimed.  As the vampire again removed the veil, he directed
Belphanior to step out of the room, then quietly spoke whatever words
were necessary to activate the device.  Belphanior had hoped to listen
and learn those syllables, but was unable to because of the precaution,
and there was no time or opportunity to cast a spell to aid with this.
He had to settle for walking back into the tower chamber as the mirror's
violet-tinged glass began to shimmer, and Marek gestured at it with one
opened hand.

Lord Marek:  Simply stand before the mirror and think of a well-known
  location you wish to see.
Belphanior:  How can this work?  I mean, given these "dark powers" who
  rule everything and do not tend to permit escape from this realm?
Lord Marek:  I'm no wizard, but as I understand it, the barrier between
  worlds is thinner in some places.  This mirror creates such a place.
Belphanior:  hmm.  (he approaches the mirror warily)

  The elf had a natural concern about the possibility of some arcane trap
at work here, but before he could decide how best to proceed, the arcane
mirror apparently sensed his thoughts.  Its glass showed an image, hazy at
first, that quickly coalesced into a scene familiar to Belphanior:  the
marketplaces of the High Quarter, in the Free City of Greyhawk, literally
a world away at the moment.  It was like seeing the events in the other
place through a window overlooking it:  people walked around, talked, and
made transactions.  A wagon rolled by, the crates of fine silk and cloth
bringing back old memories.

Belphanior:  (almost cracks a smile)  It works...
Lord Marek:  Of course it does.  Don't be obtuse.
Belphanior:  (forces himself to continue thinking about the marketplace in
  Greyhawk)

  Before dealing with the mirror, he had mentally prepared himself for the
possibility that it would actually work; accordingly, he had decided not
to attempt to scry the vault of Mesoloth, or the Green Dragon Inn, or any
other site that could put any of his friends or acquaintances in danger.

Lord Marek:  Is that your homeland?
Belphanior:  (nods)
Lord Marek:  How I miss mine...or any other land aside from this one.  I
  would trade almost anything to be able to venture to other places.  As
  should you, given my offer.
Belphanior:  (steps away from the mirror, as the image fades away, and
  thinks about a more practical test of the vampire's claim of its power,
  perhaps sending through a bird or similar creature just to prove that
  the item will allow such travel)  As you well know, this is not an easy
  decision to make, or implement.  I will need some time.
Lord Marek:  Time is something I have plenty of.  Shall we say two days?
  The decision itself should be much easier than its implementation.
Belphanior:  That's fine.  And we'd like to get back now.  It's been quite
  a long day.
Lord Marek:  Of course.

  As the black-garbed nobleman led the way down the long, spiral stone
staircase, Belphanior's thoughts raced.  He already knew that he wasn't
going to take the deal as offered; as ruthless as he could be (and had
been) in his life, destroying the temple served no greater good...except
perhaps that of Lord Marek, who would presumably tighten his grip on the
town if it lost its temple.  And there was no way the elf would use Paige
as a bargaining chip.  New companion or old...trusted ally or no...giving
in to the vampire's wishes wasn't the right thing to do.
  Of course, there was no reason to simply tell him that.  Only an idiot
would do such a thing while still in the foe's lair, where they held all
the advantages.  The elf was stalling, and intended to continue doing so
for as long as he could while formulating a plan to defeat the vampire,
take the mirror by force, learn its secrets himself, and then use it to
transport the group back to Oerth.  Right now, however, the immediate and
pressing goal was to actually depart this castle and get back to Holmburg
safely.  He was a bit surprised that Marek was just going to let them go,
but then again, the vampire's deal was on the table for the next two days.

  A short time later, the six adventurers were standing outside in the
castle's courtyard, where the carriage waited.

Belphanior:  This was an...interesting night.  Thank you for the dinner,
  and for your hospitality.
Lord Marek:  (to Belphanior)  Consider what we have discussed.  I am sure
  you will make the right decision.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I'll be back.

  After the guests had climbed into the carriage, its driver got the team
of horses moving, and the vehicle rolled out of the courtyard to begin the
long journey down to the town below.  As it departed the castle grounds,
Lord Marek stood in the open double door to his castle, his long, slender
arms crossed in front of him.

Lord Marek:  (stares out into the night, frowning)

  The vampire was, of course, well aware that Belphanior might refuse the
offer...in which case the elf would surely return sometime, somehow, and
with hostile intent.  And that was fine with Marek.  In addition to the
various and sundry minions at his command, and the natural fortification
of the dark castle itself (and the unnatural additions to those defenses)
Marek had been a veteran warrior for centuries.  He owned a potent magical
blade and knew how to wield it; in addition, he possessed several useful
magical items which would surely aid in any conflict with Belphanior and
his companions.
  To be sure, though the recent visitors didn't know it, Marek had been
a great deal calmer and more rational tonight than he would have in the
past, given the same circumstances.  There had been a time when he would
have just taken what he wanted and massacred anyone standing in his way.
The passage of time (especially spent here in this prison disguised as a
land he ruled) had tempered his desires and mellowed his rage...at least
most of the time.  However, as he considered the offer he'd extended and
the chances that Belphanior would accept it, the vampiric lord found his
emotions slowly taking control, as they had so many times in the distant
past.  He had no idea if the mirror would even work for the elf - while
it should function in theory, those dark and mysterious powers that truly
ruled this realm might interfere.  And all of that would only be in play
in the first place if the elf were to accept the deal.

Lord Marek:  (watching the clouds drift across one of the three moons, he
  frowns)

  While Belphanior had claimed to need some time to make a decision, he
had not understood the true nature of the offer, or of what Marek wanted.
The elf had assumed that an answer of "maybe" was acceptable; it was not,
for the only answer the undead nobleman would actually accept was "yes."

Lord Marek:  (clenches his fist, an action with sufficient power to crush
  a metal goblet, had one been in his hand)

  His blood now rushing, threatening to boil over with emotion, the regal
vampire very quickly became more and more agitated.  He could not get the
image of the raven-tressed warrior-woman out of his mind; he wanted blood
and he wanted companionship, and he wanted them both right now.

Lord Marek:  (suddenly becomes a large black bat, and takes to the air)

  The bat flapped its powerful leathery wings, rising higher and higher,
up and away from the castle.  It then coasted for a bit, riding the winds
before eventually turning...directly toward the distant town of Holmburg
far below.





next:       blood is shed
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   1/29/2021
notes:      You're reading this, perhaps, on its release date of January
  29, 2021...but it was actually written on November 6, 2020.  Just to
  give an idea of how far ahead I am right now.  It's a good feeling.  I
  used to be like this in elementary school, when we'd get assigned book
  reports due in several weeks and I'd usually finish them that night.
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