Chapter #279

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                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic II      +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +

+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      +
+  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  +
+  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      +
+  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  +
+  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    +
+  way, shape, or form.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1995 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons     +
+  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  +
+  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   +
+  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    +
+  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them...         +
+                                                                   +
+                                  Thomas Miller                    +
+                          +
+  Belphanior  13th/14th/14th level elven warrior/mage/thief (CN/E) +
+     Otto     6th/8th level dwarven warrior/thief           (CN)   +
+  Date:        2/15/575 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        late morning                                        +
+  Place:       the town of Helgate, within the Clatspur Mountains  +
+  Climate:     cold                                                +
+  "Very few people are totally ruthless.  It isn't easy.           +
+   It takes more strength than you might believe."                 +
+                                  - Han, from _Enter the Dragon_   +

                  CCLXXIX.  The Mines of Helgate

  Otto awoke with a start as Belphanior practically crashed through
the door to their suite.

Otto:  (crossbow in hand)  Oh, it's you.  (he lowers the weapon)
Belphanior:  (dumps bagfuls of items onto the floor, then eyes the
  crossbow)  Good reflexes.
Otto:  A must, in our line of work, eh?  (yawns)  What's new?
Belphanior:  Well, I ran into Dagron Larthos, in the marketplace.
Otto:  And...?
Belphanior:  It's been a long time since I met someone who wasn't
  afraid of me.
Otto:  Hmm.  A dangerous man, then, this Larthos?
Belphanior:  I suspect so.  He spoke of hiring me - that means us,
  of course - but still...
Otto:  Well, I never did catch breakfast.
Belphanior:  (frowns)  Me neither.  (he sorts through all the various
  supplies he bought)  I guess we should go see what we can see.
Otto:  Sounds good to me.  (he stretches, joints cracking and muscles
  popping)  Though, to be sure, it's more like lunchtime now.
Belphanior:  I'm sure the cook will see things our way.

  Shortly, they were in a nearby tavern, eating a fine meal of bacon,
eggs, toast, and such foods.

Belphanior:  (stuffing himself with this fine food)  Mmm, remind me
  to tip the cook.  This shit's good!
Otto:  (nods in agreement)
Eduardo:  (shows up at the table)
Belphanior:  What do you want, kid?
Eduardo:  (staring at the food, drooling)
Otto:  He looks hungry.
Eduardo:  Very hungry, sirs.
Belphanior:  Well, I'll tell you what, boy.  (he grabs the kid by
  the collar and hoists him up into a chair)  I'll buy you breakfast
  if you'll help us.
Eduardo:  You got it, sir.  (he grabs an egg and eats it in two bites)
  Err...what do you want me to do?
Belphanior:  Maybe spy on somebody, I haven't decided yet.  We'll let
  you know.
Otto:  So, what're you going to tell him?
Belphanior:  Huh?
Otto:  D-  (eyes Eduardo, who is gorging himself as if he hasn't eaten
  in a week)  Err, the fellow who made you an offer.
Belphanior:  Oh, him.
Otto:  (nods)
Belphanior:  I'm not sure yet.  I don't like the idea of working for
  someone else.  Not to mention there's no ulterior motive.  For our
  being here, that is.
Otto:  No cairns, eh?
Belphanior:  Nope.  There's nothing - that I know about - in these
  parts.  Maybe a ways to the north...but not here.
Otto:  Pardon?
Belphanior:  (holds up an egg, impaled on his fork)  Remind me to tell
  you about the City of the Gods sometime.
Otto:  Deal.

  After breakfast, they bid Eduardo farewell, letting him know that
they'd be in touch.  After this, they headed out to explore the far
side of the town, the side opposite that which they had entered in.
The northern half of Helgate seemed to merge right into the slope of
a mountain, and queries to the passers-by confirmed what they had
already begun to suspect:  there were old mines to the north, and
the workers went back and forth between these and the town proper.

Belphanior:  I guess it would be too much to hope that some long-dead
  wizard's lair was hidden within the mines...
Otto:  Probably.  Life isn't fair, is it?
Belphanior:  Not to most of us.  Maybe we should have a look around
  yonder mines, just the same.
Otto:  Fine by me.  (they make their way into a mine)

  They made it about three hundred feet before finding somebody, in
this case a dirt-stained miner, carrying a pickaxe and a grudge.

miner:  Hey, this's a restricted area!  What the hell are you doing
  in here?!?
Otto:  The-
Belphanior:  We're here under orders from Dagron Larthos himself,
  to check on your progress.
miner:  (frowns)
Belphanior:  And so far, it's pathetic!  You'd better get cracking,
  fellow, or you're going to lose more than your job.
miner:  (looks fairly worried)  But...
Belphanior:  Be reasonable.  Do it my way.
miner:  Okay, okay, you're the boss.  (he scurries away like a dog
  that just got whipped)
Otto:  Clever.
Belphanior:  Yeah.  Hopefully we won't have to deal with too many
  more like him.  (they walk deeper into the mineshaft)

  Whatever silver used to be found in these mines had long since
been removed, for the shaft was about as rich as a vein of lead.
The passage split ahead at a fork, one tunnel going rightward, the
other leftward.  They took the former side passage, moving deeper
into the mine.  By now, the light from outside had faded to nothing,
and the shaft was lit by torches, spaced every twenty feet or so.

Otto:  Maybe this is a dead shaft.  After all, we haven't seen any
  miners in awhile.
Belphanior:  Yeah.  It could be that-  (he whirls suddenly)  We've
  got company, or are about to.
Otto:  Miners?
Belphanior:  I'd think so.  (they both keep their hands on their
  swordhilts nonetheless)

  A few moments later, five men came into view from the direction
the two adventurers had come.  The men were all armed, and looked
fairly menacing.  Of course, Belphanior was in the passage as well,
his eye glowing bright red.

man#1:  You're not miners.
Belphanior:  Neither are you.
man#1:  Very astute.  (snaps his fingers)
man#4:  (raises a heavy crossbow, firing at the two adventurers)
man#5:  (ditto)
Otto:  Damn-
Belphanior:  (struck in the arm by a bolt, he grimaces)  Fuck!  I
  _still_ forgot to cast Stoneskin today!
Otto:  (takes the other bolt in his chest, though the missile's
  penetrating power is greatly reduced by his enchanted leather)
  Argh!  You're all going to die for that.  (draws his sword and
  barbed knife)
man#1:  (points forward)  Get them!
man#2:  (charges)
man#3:  (ditto)
man#4:  (reloading his crossbow)
man#5:  (ditto)
Belphanior:  (leaps at one foe even as the fellow charges)  Die, cur!
  (their swords collide, sparks flying)
man#2:  (staggers under the sheer power of the elf's blows)
man#3:  (moves toward Otto, quickly and skillfully)
Otto:  (hurls his magical knife at the foe)  Chew on that!
man#3:  (tries but fails to dodge the knife, and it sticks in his
  side)  Argh!  (he stops his charge, screaming in pain)  Yeaaargh!
Otto:  Heh.  (he advances, waving his sword before him)
man#2:  (hacks at Belphanior, then defends as the elf counterattacks)
Belphanior:  (deals a mighty blow, shattering his foe's sword-hilt
  and severing most of his hand)
man#2:  AAARGH!  (recoils)
Belphanior:  (cuts the opponent down mercilessly, absorbing his life
  energy as he dies)  Ahhhhh...
man#1:  (looks on, shocked)  What...?
Belphanior:  (grits his teeth, and tears the crossbow bolt out of his
  arm)  Ungh!
man#1:  (wide-eyed)
Belphanior:  Prepare to die, scum...(he advances)
man#3:  (barely parrying Otto's attacks)  Argh!  Urgh!  Ngh!
Otto:  (kicks the man in the side, right where his knife hit earlier)
man#3:  ARGH!
Otto:  (bats the foe's sword aside, and cleaves his head in half like
  an overripe melon)  Hah!
man#3:  (falls over, his brains decorating the mine's stony floor)
Belphanior:  (still stalking man#1)  Your end is nigh, fool!
man#1:  No!  (to the crossbowmen)  Shoot him!  Now!
man#4:  (having just reloaded his crossbow, he lets another bolt fly
  at Belphanior)
Belphanior:  ("catches" the bolt as it spears his right forearm)  Oh,
  that hurt!
man#5:  (unnerved, he fires at the elf, but misses by inches, his
  bolt clattering into the darkness behind Belphanior)
man#1:  (charges)  Now _you_ die!
Otto:  Uh-uh.  (standing behind and to one side of Belphanior, his
  heavy crossbow in hand)
man#1:  (stops short)
Belphanior:  Come and get me, dolt!  Otto won't shoot you.  (to Otto)
  Shoot him instead.
Otto:  (shoots man#4, hitting him squarely in the chest)
man#4:  (falls, coughing)
Otto:  (calmly reloads)
man#5:  (also reloading, though his hand slips more than once)
Belphanior:  (leaps at man#1, covering the distance in moments)  You
  followed us here...attacked us...(he begins trading blows with the
man#1:  I'll...beat you!  You're can die!
Belphanior:  Maybe, but not at your hands.

  Though nervous, the foe was an experienced swordsman, and he and
Belphanior dueled ferociously, both incurring minor wounds but yet
fighting on.  Meanwhile, Otto had dashed after the remaining cross-
bowman, who had given up on reloading and fled.

Otto:  Get back here!  (leaping forward, he tackles the man)
man#5:  (fighting back)  You have no sword or crossbow now, dwarf!
Otto:  (gouges the man's eyes with his fingers, then elbows him in
  the nose)  Don't need 'em.

  Nearby, Belphanior was finally beginning to weaken his foe with
a relentless hail of sword-blows...

Belphanior:  Die!  Die!  (he strikes repeatedly and fiercely)
man#1:  Ahh!  (barely dodges a stabbing blow, and drives his sword
  through Belphanior's ribs)
Belphanior:  Argh!  (he stands there, impaled, then looks at the
  foe, grinning, blood dripping from his mouth)
man#1:  Aie!
Belphanior:  I'm not afraid to die.  Are you?  (he decapitates the
man#1:  (falls, as does his severed head)
Belphanior:  (absorbs the life energy, pulling the dead man's sword
  out of his own chest)  Argh...

  Staggering about, the elf heard a noise from behind him, and whirled
around...only to see a bloodstained Otto trotting toward him.

Otto:  What the hell happened to you?
Belphanior:  He got me...(he looks down at his bloodstained shirt)
  Damn it, I need to start casting...Stoneskin.
Otto:  (catches the elf as he staggers to his knees)  Easy.
Belphanior:  Guess I'll need...a new shirt, eh?
Otto:  You're half-dead.  Give yourself a break.

  The dwarf helped his liege bind the wound, and they rested for a
time.  Actually, Belphanior rested while Otto searched the five
bodies, looking for some clue as to where they came from, and why.
He found nothing, however, and at long last, the pair made their
way out of the mines.

Otto:  We need to get you back to the inn.
Belphanior: I can cast Stoneskin and get my wands.
Otto:  You don't have your wands with you?
Belphanior:  I don't take them everywhere...just almost everywhere.
Otto:  Why didn't you waste those guys with spells, anyway?
Belphanior:  Cramped quarters...not enough were in the
  way, too, toward the end.
Otto:  (considers this)  Oh.  Right.
Belphanior:  Don't worry, though.  Outside of mines and tunnels,
  anything goes, and if that means burning this town down to kill
  whoever sent those men, so be it.
Otto:  Let's hope it doesn't come to that.  The next town's a long
  ways away.

  Meanwhile, elsewhere in Helgate...

Dagron Larthos:  And you saw them emerge from the mine, alive?
shady-looking character:  Yeah.
Dagron:  You're sure?  You actually _saw_ them?
shady-looking character:  I saw them - I'm sure!  They were hurt -
  well, the elf was, anyway.  They went back to the Raven's Nest
  just a short time ago.
Dagron:  Hmm.  Very well; now go back and keep an eye on them.  If
  they leave, let me know immediately.  Otherwise, keep watching
  until you're contacted.
shady-looking character: will I know?
Dagron:  Believe me, you'll know.  (he dismisses the fellow with a
  wave of his hand)
shady-looking character:  (exits)
Dagron:  (walks into the next room, closing the door behind him)
  Ah, you're all here.

  Sitting around a medium-sized table were a half-dozen men, and
several others stood in the shadows at the fringe of the room.
One of the men at the table, a tall, wiry, scarred fellow, was
constantly twirling a small throwing knife in one hand.  Another
man struck a flint on steel, over and over again; an insane glint
in his eyes hinted at something sinister.  A third fellow kept
busy sharpening his two longswords, first one, then the other,
then the first again.  The others in this room were all fierce-
looking, but these three stood out amidst the motley crew.

Dagron:  Gentlemen - and I use the term loosely - you have all
  worked for me at one time or another.  Now, I find myself faced
  with a threat to my absolute power in this town.  I at first
  thought to recruit the elf Belphanior, and his companion, but
  they have proven too dangerous to trust.  They eliminated five
  of my best warriors, in the mines, and walked out on their own
men:  (looking impassively at Dagron)
Dagron:  I do not, as you know, regularly employ such dangerous
  individuals.  Thus, I'm offering twice the usual fee for you
  to accomplish this one simple task:  assassinate Belphanior and
  Otto!  Tonight!  As they sleep in the Raven's Nest!  I don't
  want them to see the sunrise tomorrow!

  The assembled mercenaries stood, preparing to undertake their
mission; meanwhile, the sun's last rays vanished on the horizon,
and Dagron looked out the window, smiling to himself.

next:   assassins in the night
ftp: in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
notes:  Well, by the time you read this, I'll have my car back.
  The whole thing cost me a _lot_ of money.  Enough, in fact, to
  make me start thinking about a new set of wheels.  The only real
  question is whether they'll be on a 4WD Toyota extra-cab truck
  or a new Mustang GT.
    I guess this episode is the first time I explored the full
  ramifications of Belphanior's ability to heal wounds using his
  sword, Blackrazor.

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