Chapter #1068

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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!                                          +
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+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
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+   Date:          unknown (over three weeks since arrival)               +
+   Time:          early evening                                          +
+   Place:         the Coat of Arms inn, within the town of Holmburg      +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
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+   "Little late in the semester to be starting a course, isn't it?"      +
+   "Oh, I'm a quick study."                                              +
+                  - from _Stingray_ (1986-1987) episode _Orange Blossom_ +
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                   MLXVIII.  Transformation





  While the rest of the party has long since headed up to the dark castle
overlooking Holmburg, Otto has spent the day in a potion-induced slumber,
tied to a bed in his room at the Coat of Arms inn.

Otto:  (opens one eye)

  The dwarf was quite groggy, and his mind and body weren't working right
at all.  He had vague, jumbled memories of a number of things - the large
moon among the three in the night sky, the sounds of the wilderness, the
cool night air on his skin - but none of those made any sense to him.

Otto:  (opens the other eye)

  Something was wrong.  Even in his confused state - not quite conscious
or functional just yet - he could sense that.  He felt trapped...trapped
somehow in the mix of dream-bits that drifted through his mind.  Something
was tugging at his arms, tugging gently and then with more force.

Otto:  (awakens with a start, fighting against some unseen force that
  holds him back)

  He tried to yell, to shout for help from anyone who might be listening,
but no sound came.  Worse, he was having some sort of trouble drawing in
breaths of air...it was like his mouth and chest weren't working properly.
The resulting panic quickly turned to anger, quickly melting away the last
remnants of sleep.

Otto:  (tries to sit up, but finds himself held tightly in place by ropes
  around his wrists and torso, and unable to speak or cry out due to the
  gag in his mouth)

  A smoldering fury began to build within the dwarf, a primal rage that
was partly his own and partly...something else.  He hadn't yet considered
where he might be, or why he was tied up there; only the urge - the need -
to escape drove him at this moment.  He strained at the ropes which held
him in place, but they were tied securely...so he strained even harder.
Otto had always been physically strong, but now that strength tapped into
some other, additional source - one which he did not yet understand.  At
the same time, his teeth gnashed against the strip of cloth between them,
slowly but gradually tearing away at the fabric.
  At some point, one strand within the rope gave in to the inhuman force
that pulled at it, snapping and thus weakening the remainder of the rope.
Sensing this, the enraged dwarf then redoubled his efforts, and was soon
rewarded with the breaking of another strand, and then another...until,
suddenly, the rope was sundered and one arm was free!  Within moments, he
had undone the rest of the ropes, and removed the cloth gag from around
his head.

Otto:  (hops onto the floor of the room, blood rushing through his body)

  Surprisingly, he was able to stand despite the lack of circulation from
being bound.  His limbs should have been numb, but they felt fine - more
than fine, they felt _powerful_.

Otto:  (staggers over to the closed window, tearing one shutter open to
  reveal a dark sky in its last phase of transition from dusk to night...
  including the full moon glowing far overhead)  Whoa.

  Despite the strange euphoria that filled his mind and body, he still had
enough of his faculties to piece together the probable events of the last
half-day.  He remembered the preparations for the trip up to Marek's castle
far above...the finding of allies, the checking of weapons, the gathering
of supplies...and the quick toast that Skektek had proposed before they
left to meet the others and ride out of town.  The toast - that had been
the turning point, the trick!  As soon as he'd taken his first draught of
the offered wine, Otto had immediately known that something wasn't right.
His decades of experience with poisons and other unusual substances meant
that he knew such things when he smelled them - or in this unfortunate
case, tasted them.  It made sense, actually:  his friends were worried
about him and didn't know what would happen, so they drugged him with some
sort of sleeping potion.  And now - perhaps due to his natural hardiness,
perhaps due to his new lycanthropic condition - that potion had worn off,
and obviously much earlier than anyone had intended.
  Otto himself didn't know what would happen next, but he was certain that
_something_ would happen, and soon.  He could feel it.  Ever since Baron
Tarkus had sunk his cursed fangs into Otto's shoulder, the dwarf had been
expecting and dreading this.  The strange feelings and urges that he'd
been experiencing for the last couple of days had convinced him.  And the
sad part was that he didn't mind them...he truly didn't.  When he'd heard
the howling of wolves in the distant night, he'd felt some sort of kinship
with the unseen predators.  When he'd eaten the bloody steaks in a frenzy
at Marek's dinner table, it had felt _good_.  And when Marek had cast his
disapproving glance Otto's way, and made disparaging comments...Otto had
resisted the urge to pounce on the nobleman and rip his head off.

Otto:  Pounce?  (he holds his hands out in front of him, marveling at how
  long they seem to be, and how large his fingernails have grown)  What?
  (he frowns as the muscles of his back begin to ache)  Ungh.

  The dwarf grabbed one post of the bed for support...and promptly broke
it off with strength he didn't know he had.

Otto:  (grits his teeth as seemingly every part of his body begins to
  tingle...and hurt...and _change_)

  There was no way to accurately describe what happened next, not in any
way that would do it justice.  Muscles stretched, changing size and shape
and density.  Bones lengthened, cracking and re-forming to accommodate the
new muscle and sinew that wrapped and re-wrapped around them.  Hands and
feet became paws, on which sharp claws took shape.  Bare skin grew thick
brown fur, ears lengthened and became pointed, and regular teeth changed
into razor-sharp fangs.  The entire time, Otto kept silent save for grunts
of pain; for some strange reason, he was determined not to cry out despite
being in a situation that would have caused most people to scream in utter
agony.
  When the transformation was over, the dwarf was gone; in his place stood
a gigantic wolf with brown fur and green eyes.  This creature was larger
and more powerful than any normal member of its species.

Otto-wolf:  (looks around the room, surveying things with its newly-acute
  vision)

  That wasn't its only heightened sense, either; it could now hear sounds
as far away as the common room downstairs, and could also smell the wide
variety of food and other odors present throughout the inn.  Among those
was the scent of prey - soft, weak humans who were simply waiting to be
torn apart and devoured-

Otto-wolf:  (regarding the door to the room, which leads to the hall and
  then downstairs, it blinks, growling)

  While Otto's consciousness was submerged beneath the instincts and urges
of the creature he had become, it was still present in some form.  With a
visible effort, the huge wolf turned its attention away from the door and
padded over to the window, placing its forelegs on the edge as it looked
outside at the full moon...and the freedom promised by the streets and
alleyways of the town.

Otto-wolf:  (steps down, and begins pacing the room restlessly)



  Moments later, those on the street below witnessed a sight they would
never forget, as a gigantic wolf suddenly burst through a second-story
window in the Coat of Arms inn.  The heavy, powerful form hurtled through
the air, landing on the ground in a heap as it crashed into a pile of
empty barrels stacked against a fence.  The beast quickly regained its
footing, snarling as it looked around at the shocked townspeople on the
street.  The huge wolf began trotting along, slowly and tentatively, as
if trying to find its stride.

little girl:  Eeeeeeeeek!  (she moves to hide behind her mother)
mother:  (begins backing away, protectively keeping her daughter behind
  her)
drunk man:  (staggering along, he sees the wolf ahead and just stops, his
  mouth hanging open dumbly)  Whas' that?  Is that you, Billy?
gigantic wolf:  (regards the man balefully, a low growl beginning in its
  throat)  Grrrrrrr...
drunk man:  (takes a step back)  Thas' not Billy...
other man:  (some distance away, he begins shouting, trying to raise an
  alarm)

  The wolf scanned the street, its eyes piercing the darkness and seeing
things that people couldn't see, and then found its stride very quickly
indeed.  Its trot became a loping run which then became an all-out sprint
as it dashed through the streets, scattering people and horses alike as
it headed out of town.

man carrying bundles:  Aie!  (he stumbles backward, tripping and falling
  into a horses' watering trough)
gigantic wolf:  (speeds by, dodging any potential obstacles in its way
  as some primitive instinct compels it to get the hell out of town)
guardsman:  (sees the huge beast approaching at a full run, and gets out
  of the way in a hurry)  Whoa!

  The guards at the gate were there to keep people (or creatures) out, not
in, and the wolf darted between them before they could react...and was then
gone into the night.

other guardsman:  (fearfully)  What the hell was that?
first guardsman:  (staring into the darkness outside the town)  I don't
  know, but it was weird and pissed off!



  Somewhere far beyond Holmburg, the wolf - now in the wilds - continued
to sprint through the night.  The wind rushed past its face, and the new
feeling of freedom was exhilarating and invigorating.  The wolf's every
muscle was on fire with wild energy, and its every sense was alert to the
presence of anything else that might be out there in the darkness.  To its
eventual misfortune, a small rabbit was noticed by the huge beast; that
pursuit didn't last long, ending with the smaller animal being picked up
and then devoured in mere moments.  As the hot blood ran down its jaws and
neck, the huge wolf continued to bound through the wilderness, looking up
at the moons...and then the dark castle, surrounded by mists and barely
visible far above.





next:       back to the castle, and Marek's crypt
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   4/2/2021
notes:      This is the first episode I wrote during my two-week holiday
  break from work (mid-December 2020.)  I'm hoping to finish a lot more
  in the days to come.
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