Chapter #1133

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic VI      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       +
+   1991-2024 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      +
+     Hope           16th level female human wizard                       +
+       Poulos        8th level human warrior                             +
+     Irina          14th/7th level female human priestess/warrior        +
+     Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)     +
+       Arusha        6th level human female wizard/alchemist             +
+       Judhon        7th level gnomish illusionist                       +
+     Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                +
+     Paige          13th level human female warrior                      +
+     Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                             +
+     Skektek        14th level human wizard                              +
+     Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                         +
+                                                                         +
+   Dexitheseus      17th level human wizard, jack of all trades          +
+   Lord Marcus      19th level human warrior and general                 +
+   date:            6/5/586 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   time:            midday                                               +
+   place:           the Bright Desert                                    +
+   climate:         hot and dry                                          +
+   "Can I make a suggestion that doesn't involve violence, or is this    +
+    the wrong crowd?"                                                    +
+                    - Wash, from _Serenity_                              +

                     MCXXXIII.  The Battle of Kalki's Leap

  Three days after the actions at Ul Bakak and Griffon's Nest, Belphanior
and his team have completed a journey south through the desert.  Having
skirted the Brass Hills by riding around the west of that area, they now
rest about an hour's ride from the fortress known as Kalki's Leap while
waiting to be joined by other allies.

Skektek:  I don't understand why we couldn't just fly here.
Belphanior:  The group we're meeting doesn't fly.  Or should I say, they
  can't.  (he pauses)  Not all of them.
Otto:  And we may well need their help, so we couldn't get started without
Hope:  Get started on what?
Paige:  (gazing at the formidable walls and towers of the fortress)  I'd
  guess we're somehow going to attack that place.
Belphanior:  You're right, it's just a matter of how.
Ys:  (turns to regard a cloud of dust to the north)  We shall soon have
Otto:  (already scanning the horizon)  As planned.
Razor Charlie:  (feeling a bit antsy, he grimaces, checking his knives)
Belphanior:  (to the others)  Stand down - these are allies.

  The elf knew that those in the fortress - reportedly a few hundred
men and humanoids who had not been involved in the previous fighting -
were not only loyal to Rary but also well-trained and well-armed...and
in a strong defensive position.  He also knew that they would be able to
see the imminent arrival of the larger force...but he didn't care.  In
fact, he was counting on it.
  In short order, the other group arrived; it consisted of the old, white-
bearded wizard Dexitheseus and his old friend, the warrior-general known
as Lord Marcus.  Of course, they were accompanied by the latter's new band
of wandering mercenaries; this group, assembled some time after the fall
of Greyspire and its small army, numbered about a hundred.

Paige:  (looking over these warriors)  They seem competent enough.
Otto:  I wouldn't worry about it.  He has a good eye for fighting men, and
  only lets good ones join any force he puts together.  This lot will be
  brave, skilled, and honorable.  (he frowns)  Well, reasonably honorable.
Belphanior:  (steps forward, nodding to Dexitheseus)
Dexitheseus:  I trust that all went well at the trading-town?
Belphanior:  It did.  We cleaned up the area a bit, made the acquaintance
  of a prominent war-chief of the hill barbarians, and got a good idea of
  what else we can do to help.  How about you?
Dexitheseus:  I'm happy to say that Griffon's Nest is no longer full of
  bloodthirsty bandits.  The Knife's Edge pass is safe, probably for the
  first time in years.
Belphanior:  We'll need to work to keep it that way.
Dexitheseus:  Indeed we shall.  (he turns to his friend)  I can't remember
  if you two have met, but this is Lord Marcus, commander of these forces
  who helped us with the bandits up north.
Belphanior:  (steps forward)  I am Belphanior.
Lord Marcus:  (dismounts, and clasps the elf's hand)  Well-met.  I've heard
  tales of your exploits.
Belphanior:  And I of yours.  I'm sure many of our tales are exaggerated.
Lord Marcus:  And some may not be complete.  (he turns to Otto)  Good to
  see you, old friend.  How have you been?
Otto:  (shrugs)  Same as always...surviving.  You know me.
Lord Marcus:  (laughs, shaking his mane of black hair)
Hope:  (quietly staring at the handsome, well-muscled warrior)
Paige:  (speaks to her, quietly)  Yeah, I know.  He's one fine-looking
  man, isn't he?
Hope:  (shakes her head, blushing slightly)
Paige:  And just think, he's probably great in a fight, too.

  There wasn't any more time for introductions and catching up...for the
arrival of the mercenary force had caused action within the fortress that
loomed in the distance.

Otto:  (squinting)  There's definitely some commotion atop the walls.
Belphanior:  (squinting)  I'm sure they're preparing for a battle now.
Paige:  I knew it!  (she rests her hand upon the hilt of her sword, gazing
  at the stronghold)
Lord Marcus:  What do we know about this place?  (he eyes the angular
  battlements and towers)  It looks solid, and difficult to assault.  (to
  Belphanior and Otto)  Tell me everything you know.
Belphanior:  According to denizens of this area, Kalki's Leap was the most
  recent and formidable of Rary's various strongholds.  It was built using
  magic, in the span of a single week.  The canyons you see around it are
  steep and's nestled in a perfect spot within the hills all
  around.  The walls are said to be solid granite, and quite thick.
Dexitheseus:  (quietly)  It won't matter.
Otto:  There are likely one to two hundred assorted cavalry in there, plus
  large numbers of norkers.  Those forces would have been bolstered by yet
  more soldiers, ahead of any probable campaign to eliminate resistance in
  the southern reaches of the desert.  (he frowns)  They've surely got the
  food and supplies needed to weather a long, protracted siege.
Dexitheseus:  (somewhat more loudly)  It won't matter.
Otto:  (turns to the old wizard)  It won't?
Dexitheseus:  Earlier this week, Lord Marcus and his men took Griffon's
  Nest from the raucous bandits who ruled the effort aided by
  my magic.  (he nods to Belphanior)  Augmented by your team, we now have
  _four_ wizards instead of one.  (he regards Neera and Arusha, who are
  deep in discussion about the merits of different varieties of scrying
  magic)  Maybe six.
Lord Marcus:  Not to mention that the foes holed up in that place must
  know by now that both Rary and Robilar are dead.
Skektek:  (annoyed)  How do you know so much?
Lord Marcus:  (shrugs)  Dexitheseus brought me up to date as we ventured
  here.  I make a point to learn as much as possible about a kingdom, or
  any other objective, before I commit my men to an assault.  (he cracks
  his knuckles)  Anyway, whether they have the morale of champions, or of
  kobolds, the fact is that they're cut off and have no reinforcements or
  other help coming...ever.  And-  (he nods to Dexitheseus)  -we have a
  number of wizards.  (he silently wonders where his old companion Wu is,
  and how he is doing)
Belphanior:  So what are you thinking here?
Lord Marcus:  We offer them the chance to surrender.  If they're willing
  to give up the fortress without a fight, then we can take it intact for
  later use.  It's also possible that some of the defenders may be willing
  to take new employment.
Paige:  You're constantly recruiting, everywhere you go, is that it?
Lord Marcus:  (quite seriously)  Always.  I've found that approach to be
  well-suited for sorting through the chaff and finding the wheat.  (with
  that, he turns back toward the fortress and begins discussing its design
  and likely defenses with Otto)
Paige:  Hmph.  (she turns to Hope, who seems absorbed in her own thoughts)
Hope:  Eh?  (she blinks)  What's that?
Paige:  (smirks)

  In short order, the small force of adventurers and mercenary soldiers
began their march toward the distant stronghold.  Almost an hour later,
they paused in their approach as a small band of riders appeared between
the adventurers' forces and the small granite fortress ahead.  Even from
a distance, the large white flag borne by the smaller group was visible.

Lord Marcus:  It seems they wish to parley.
Belphanior:  We might as well give them the chance, then.  I'd say hold
  the main group here, and a few of us will ride out to see what's what.

  Soon, that latter group rode slowly toward its counterpart from within
the fortress.  Besides Belphanior and Lord Marcus, the negotiation party
included Dexitheseus and Otto.

Otto:  It seemed like Hope really wanted to join us.
Belphanior:  That may be, but we need at least half of our wizards back
  there with the soldiers...just in case.
Lord Marcus:  A sound tactical move.
Dexitheseus:  (working magic to provide a barrier against common missiles
  such as arrows and bolts)  If they attack us...they will pay the price.
Otto:  Sounds like Skektek.
Belphanior:  Which is exactly why we didn't bring him along to talk to
  those people.
Dexitheseus:  I was making no threat, or showing ill temper; I was merely
  stating a fact.

  As the two small parties drew near each other, the adventurers could
see that the other group numbered five:  a fierce-looking dark-skinned
warrior in well-worn chain mail, two other competent-looking fighting men
bearing spears in addition to the swords at their sides, a portly fellow
whose garb and pointed hat suggested that he was a wizard, and a tall,
lean priest with tattoos along one side of his lined face.

fierce-looking warrior:  Greetings, and well-met.  I am Chukai, commander
  of the garrison at Kalki's Leap.
Belphanior:  (spurs his horse forward a few feet, that he might talk face
  to face with the other)  I am Belphanior, representing...those who have
  deposed the would-be ruler of this desert, the wizard Rary.
Chukai:  (nods)  We have, of course, heard of those events a month ago.
  The mage raised yonder fortress almost overnight - perhaps, it is said,
  with the help of sorcery and demons - but it was then left to others to
  fill the place, guard it, and stand ready.  (he looks to the sun in the
  sky)  Ready, I now think, for campaigns that will never come.  (he looks
  the elf in the eye)  What say you?
Belphanior:  There is truth in your words.  Rary's reign has ended, and a
  new time has now begun.  But this is not another reign, and offers many
  opportunities for everyone.  We have many worthwhile goals, but we can't
  pursue them until we deal with various matters.  (he gestures at the
  stronghold in the distance)  Such as Kalki's Leap.
Chukai:  You should understand...we have a small but powerful force, most
  of them well-trained and -disciplined veterans of many battles.
Lord Marcus:  (nods appreciatively)
Chukai:  Rary or no Rary, those men are my responsibility.  We don't want
  a fight, but if it comes to assured we'll give you one.
Belphanior:  We don't want a fight either, but we can't leave an un-allied
  force in that place.  If your force will simply surrender and come out,
  I'll guarantee safe passage away from here, to wherever you want to go.
Chukai:  Surrender?  Give up the fortress?  (he regards the mercenary band
  behind the adventurers) can try.
Belphanior:  (sighs, feeling his temper slowly building)
Dexitheseus:  (moves forward on his own mount, his gaze falling upon the
  commander and then each of his companions in turn)  Perhaps I can better
  make our case.  (he nods to the wizard and the priest)  And I'm sure the
  two of you are at least somewhat capable of discerning both the truth of
  my words and the power of our group.  (he turns his gaze back to Chukai)
  The fall of Rary the Traitor was only the beginning.  In the last week,
  we have slain the beast within Fool's Rest, quashed the bandits lairing
  within Griffon's Nest, and reached an accord with the barbarians of the
  hills to the far north.  All of that was accomplished by only my friends
  and me - a single wizard of great power.  (he points to the larger group
  behind them)  We have several more wizards right there...and our larger
  group - all of whom can be called upon to assist in the unlikely event
  that even more magical might is needed - numbers another half-dozen, all
  of them mighty wizards as well.
Chukai:  (sits in his saddle, arms crossed impassively, face betraying no
  emotion as he subtly changes the subject to defuse the situation)  If
  you cleared out Griffon's Nest, then you saved us some work down the
Dexitheseus:  Or would have, in the event that Rary's plans were still to
  be carried out, which is most certainly no longer the case.  (he frowns)
  My point is...that if there must indeed be a battle here, won't
  involve the soldiers behind me assaulting your fortress and laying siege
  to it like you'd expect.  (he spreads the fingers of both hands, then
  contracts them into fists, his bony knuckles cracking)  No, the battle
  will instead involve great bolts of lightning and balls of flame, which
  will streak from the sky and blast the fortress and its defenders into
  ashes.  Hell, there likely won't be much left of the place afterward -
  just a torn, smoking ruin filled with corpses.  (he regards them with
  surprisingly steely eyes)  Any battle that takes place will not end well
  for you.
Chukai:  (clenches his jaw)  I understand what you are saying, but I have
  my honor, as do many of my men in the fortress.  We cannot just lay down
  our arms and surrender.
Lord Marcus:  (abruptly joins the conversation)  Then do not.  You might
  have sworn loyalty to your old liege, and I respect that - but he is no
  more.  And, I suspect, the pay and food for your men will soon cease, if
  it hasn't already.  (he looks the other commander in the eye)  Might I
  suggest a compromise?  (he glances at Belphanior to gauge the elf's
Belphanior:  (subtly nods)
Lord Marcus:  There is a new power in this region, and it works to better
  the land and the life of those who live there.  They need soldiers - I
  already know this, and am helping with that need - and your men know the
  region and the fortress already.  I propose this:  those who wish to
  stay and switch allegiances can remain...join forces with us as we work
  to establish footholds here and elsewhere throughout the Bright Desert.
Chukai:  (rubs his stubbled chin thoughtfully)
Lord Marcus:  Your honor and duty would remain unsullied, yet you would
  not have to fight a terrible battle for no real reason.
Otto:  (nods)  There is surely no allegiance owed to a dead ruler.
Lord Marcus:  That is true, and really, little will change.  If anything,
  those who now rule this desert have _more_ power, money, and resources
  than their predecessor.  (he nods to Chukai)  Little change to your
  mens' daily routines, no loss of honor, and most importantly-
Belphanior:  No blood will be drawn.
Chukai:  This solution...has merit.  But what of those who do not wish to
Belphanior:  They are free to go, and will have safe conduct out of the
  desert - as long as they leave.  We can't have any potentially hostile
  forces gathering while we work to better this place, so it has to be a
  one-way trip for those who won't work with us.  They can even keep their
  weapons and armor.
Chukai:  (nods)  I must return to Kalki's Leap and share this news, and
  this offer, with my men.  Each of them will need to make the choice for
  himself, as is their right.
Lord Marcus:  Of course.
Chukai:  And know that, if you lie and betray those who choose to leave,
  the people of the desert will know, and you will lose face and trust
  forever, even as you gain new enemies.
Belphanior:  I believe that, and respect it.  (he gestures to the tall
  priest)  I'm sure you have a spell in you believe us to be
  untruthful in any of this?
tall priest:  (shakes his head)  I do not.  (to Chukai)  Their intentions
  are as they claim.
Chukai:  (nods)  Meet us again here, an hour after the sun rises.  You'll
  have our answer then.

  With that, the commander turned his horse and headed back toward his
fortress, followed by the other four.  Their galloping horses kicked up
a sizable cloud of dust as they departed.

Dexitheseus:  I'd say that went well.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Thanks in large part to you asserting our newfound
  authority in this region.
Dexitheseus:  (shrugs)  It was nothing.  Any of us could have said the
  same thing.
Belphanior:  But you did it - and eloquently.  Diplomatically, even.  Yet
  effectively.  (he regards the old wizard with a newfound respect)
Lord Marcus:  If you think that was great, you should have been there the
  time good Dexitheseus faced down a horde of demons while the bulk of our
  party lay wounded or unconscious.  Now that was bravery!
Dexitheseus:  (quietly ignores the compliment)  So, it seems we must make
  camp here and wait until the morrow.
Otto:  What do you think the answer will be?
Belphanior:  I'm betting they'll agree to our terms.  Some will depart,
  while a few might try and fight.  Most, I think, will shift allegiances
  to our side.  (he glances at Marcus)
Lord Marcus:  Does it bother you that I am constantly recruiting for my
  mercenary force?  You are aware, are you not, that I've basically been
  hired by your wizard-alliance to deal with the military side of things
  while they build a stronghold and consolidate their power?  Absorbing
  former enemies into our ranks solves two problems at once, and without
  the tedious work of fighting.
Belphanior:  No issues there, friend.  I have no desire to form, maintain,
  or lead an army.  As far as I'm concerned, you can recruit every nomad
  and barbarian in this desert and the surrounding hills.  It will solve
  two problems with a single effort.
Lord Marcus:  Hmmm, not a bad idea.
Dexitheseus:  Whatever makes the region better and stronger, eh?
Belphanior:  That's for damn sure.

next:        regrouping and next steps
released:    1/19/2024
notes:       This episode was intended to flesh out the personalities of
  both Lord Marcus and Dexitheseus.  Each has his own strengths and is
  quite capable in his own way.  I expect them to both continue to be
  major supporting characters as the Bright Desert changes for the better.
    Speaking of the _Rary the Traitor_ accessory, Kalki's Leap
  got a couple of paragraphs of basic detail, while its commander Chukai
  got a single stat line.  As I've done over the last ten or so episodes,
  I took simple ideas presented in the accessory and expanded them for use
  in my stories.  And this is exactly what DMs everywhere do with this and
  every other product from every other company:  they USE them, to make a
  cool and fun campaign and adventures.  I'm doing the same thing, except
  as an author instead of as a DM.  In either case, it's a hell of a lot
  of fun.
    I want to take a moment to credit the late Carl Sargent, who authored
  much of the work that led up to this accessory, and also Anthony Pryor,
  who wrote _Rary the Traitor_.  He did fine work and I hope that by using
  it and building on it, I'm somehow honoring all that came before.  Here
  is an entertaining archived link that appears to be some other work from
  Mr. Pryor:
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