Chapter #326

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                                +   +
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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 1991-6 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                    +
+                          +
+  THE PARTY                                                        +
+                                                                   +
+  Belphanior   14th/14th/14th lvl elven fighter/mage/thief  (CN/E) +
+  Otto         7th/8th level dwarven fighter/thief            (CN) +
+  Date:        12/13/575 C.Y. (Common Year)                        +
+  Time:        nearly dusk                                         +
+  Place:       the mountain town of Helgate                        +
+  Climate:     very cold                                           +
+  "The golden rule:  he who has the gold makes the rules."         +
+                                               - from _They Live_  +

                 CCCXXVI.  Changing Scenes

  Six months have passed since the abduction and rescue of the
party's oldest members...six months that have been difficult for
some, hectic for others - but easy for none.  In the case of the
mad elf Belphanior and his only slightly less mad dwarven friend
Otto, they have spent the time in the town of Helgate, far from
civilization and its rigors.  Of course, every place in the world,
no matter how remote, has its own particular sort of rigors...

Belphanior:  -I don't _care_ whether the guild of masons wants to
  pay taxes or not.  It's the law.
Balthaas:  But-
Belphanior:  No buts!  (he slams down a mug of beer, cracking it)
  You may not be the guildmaster of thieves anymore, but you're
  the chief tax collector of Helgate - the next best thing.  Show
  some backbone, man.
Balthaas:  They say you cheated them out of years of good wages.
  With that new castle, I mean.
Belphanior:  And I say they'll pay taxes on what they've made, just
  like everybody else
Balthaas:  (looking defeated)  I guess they have no choice.
Belphanior:  They do, but they won't like the other option.  (he eyes
  his cracked mug, and the beer that now leaks from it, and stands,
  turning to leave)
Balthaas:  (shrugs)  Very well.

  The elf, former wandering adventurer and current mayor of Helgate,
departed, Balthaas watching him go with a sour expression on his
face.  Current was the operative word, thought the tax collector to
himself as he pondered the best way to inform the guild of masons
about their lack of options.  Nobody stayed in power forever, not
even a spell-tossing, seemingly invulnerable elf.
  Balthaas scratched his dark-stubbled chin and frowned then, as it
occurred to him that perhaps the coming of Belphanior _had_ been a
good thing.  After all, he had been right:  Balthaas was making as
much as he had before, maybe even more, and the former guildmaster
held more power now than ever.  The fact that Belphanior had done
away with the thieves' guild (and thievery in general) didn't really
matter in the big scheme of things, since the guild had never been
a large one to begin with.  Besides, there was nothing to steal in
Helgate - the town was about as dried-up as they came.
  The fellow paused in his thoughts then, as he listened to others in
the Scoundrel's Den tavern.  Ruffians and miners, tradesmen and women,
all talked in whispered tones, tones that signified both uncertainty
and awe.

fellow#1:  (a tall, lean brigand-type)  -raised a castle from the
  mountain, dammit!  A whole _castle_!
fellow#2:  (a brawny miner)  Never seen anything like that before.
  Shit, never even heard of anything like that before.
fellow#3:  (a leatherworker)  I heard that anyone who goes up there
  doesn't come back.
woman:  Bah!  You're all afraid of one person...and an elf at that!
  Everyone knows that elves don't do things like that.
fellow#4:  (to the woman)  Haven't been around Helgate long, have
fellow#3:  (slyly, that the woman might hear)  I also heard that the
  elf takes any women he wants, from the town.
woman:  (looks shocked)
fellow#5:  (aka Felix, the tavern's bartender)  Bullshit.
others:  (all turn to the sleazy-looking man, who busies himself
  wiping a mug with a dirty rag)
fellow#1:  Come again?
Felix:  Belphanior may be ruthless, and powerful, but he wouldn't
  do something like that.
fellow#3:  Oh.
fellow#2:  How do you know all this?
Felix:  I make it my business to know everything, friend.  Besides,
  he's got that whore Candice to keep his bed warm and his nights
woman:  (turns up her nose in disgust)
fellow#4:  Still...I wonder what he does up there, all day long?
fellow#2:  Probably anything he wants.  I've seen many a castle in
  my time, but that damned place is _huge_!
fellow#3:  And made by magic, if we're to believe him.  (points at
fellow#1:  (shrugs)  Hey, when a gigantic castle appears on the slope
  above the town - overnight - it can only be magic.  (he chuckles)
  Unless, that is, you think a crew came in overnight and built the
fellow#2:  (snickers)  Really.  It'd take a thousand good men six
  months to put together a place like that.
fellow#1:  (nods)  Helluva place to live.
woman:  I've seen it-
Felix:  We all have, luv.  It's kinda hard to miss.
woman:  No, I mean I've seen it at night...framed by the full moon.
  It looked spooky.
fellow#4:  _Now_ who's afraid of one person?
fellow#3:  It's not just him.  That dwarf follows him everywhere.
  Either that, or he's prowling about like a damned weasel.
Felix:  I wouldn't mess with him, either.  He's almost as mean as
  the elf.
fellow#1:  I heard that he killed three of Dagron's men, all by
  himself.  Gutted one with a big, curved knife, then took a sword
  through the shoulder as he turned around and opened the second
  man's throat.
fellow#2:  What happened to the third man?
fellow#3:  He got nailed while running - crashed through a second-
  floor window with two daggers in his back.
fellow#4:  Oh.

  No, Balthaas decided as he turned back to his cups, Belphanior's
arrival might not have been such a bad thing after all.  A harsh one
to work for, no doubt about it, but the elf was also fair, and made
sure that things got done, and done right.  It seemed wise to court
his favor - much better than the alternative, at least.

  Elsewhere in the town, Otto was having a discussion with Herbert,
captain of the town guards and technically third in command, behind
only the dwarf and Belphanior himself.

Otto:  So we've got a total of only a dozen men?
Herbert:  (shrugs, as he sharpens his sword)

  The guard captain had his feet propped up on a table, and both
he and the dwarf were drinking ale as they talked.  Such was the
nature of Herbert's job; Otto had decided early on that the man was
both competent and trustworthy.  That had pretty much sealed his
fate:  in Helgate, gaining the trust of either Belphanior or Otto
meant that one was set for quite a while, provided that he or she
did a good job at whatever it was that he or she did.
  To tell the truth, Herbert was more pleased with the situation
in Helgate than Balthaas was; Herbert had been the captain of the
guards for nearly five years, and a mercenary for fifteen more
before that.  In all that time, he had never been anywhere as well-
run as Helgate was.  That idiot Dagron had kept things too chaotic,
had kept his hands in too many pots and purses.  Belphanior, on the
other hand, only seemed interested in keeping the town alive on a
basic level, and beyond that, he left people and businesses to
their own ends.
  Also, he didn't skim tax money, extort funds from shops, or do any
of the other despicable things that Dagron had been infamous for.
Aside from his unusual order that the thieves' guild be disbanded
(and Herbert could only welcome _that_, for it cut down on trouble
and wasted time) the elf made sure that Helgate operated like any
other town.  Since that made Herbert's job a hell of a lot easier,
he appreciated Belphanior's leadership.  Someone had to do it, after
all, and besides, Herbert had reached middle age, and had a wife and
five young children to look out for.  His new salary and well-defined
responsibilities were perks that many men would kill for.

Otto:  (leaning forward)  I said, we've only got a dozen men?
Herbert:  Oh...yeah, but that's all it takes.  Three shifts, eight
  hours each.  Should an emergency arise, the next shift gets the
  call first; a real emergency gets the shift after that out of bed
Otto:  I see.
Herbert:  It's worked well for more than six months.
Otto:  And this shift-thing was your idea.
Herbert:  Sure was.  Mine alone.
Otto:  A good idea.  I take it you and your men have all the armor
  and weapons you need?
Herbert:  We sure do.  Belphanior's allocations to the guardsmen
  fund have been...most generous.
Otto:  Hey, a town's got to have some law and order.  (he drains his
Herbert:  It sure does.  Say, how come the big man doesn't come to
  visit more often?
Otto:  Elf.  He's an elf.
Herbert:  (shrugs)  Hey, just an expression of speech.
Otto:  To answer your question, Belphanior's incredibly busy these
  days.  Spells...research...items...and that castle-raising deal
  really left him drained.
Herbert:  Yeah, I'll bet.
Otto:  (changing the subject)  Three must have three
  guard-captains, then?
Herbert:  Lieutenants - I'm the captain.
Otto:  Whatever.
Herbert:  It's an ex-military thing.  Anyway, of the four men on
  each shift, the oldest and most experienced became the lieutenant.
  Why d'you ask?
Otto:  Hmm...well, on my last trip to a nearby kingdom, I picked up
  some weapons...(he pulls his pack over, and produces several long
  and short swords, all of fine workmanship)
Herbert:  My men already have weapons.
Otto:  Ah, but these are enchanted ones.
Herbert:  Magic blades, eh?  (he pats his own sword)  I thought _I_
  was the only one with such a sword.
Otto:  The only one of the guards, maybe.  Between Belphanior and
  myself, we have a number of them.  But I picked these up anyway.
  They aren't of the quality you or I possess, but they'll cut into
  foes that normal blades won't injure.
Herbert:  (takes the sheathed swords, looking them over with a
  critical eye)  I'll see about distributing them, then.  And we -
  my men and I - thank you.
Otto:  Hey, no problem.  Besides, you never know when a werebeast
  or demon might show up in town.  (he stands, stretching)
Herbert:  (looks confused, and slightly worried)  Err...right.
Otto:  Seeya.  (he leaves the guardhouse)

  Later, and still elsewhere in Helgate - specifically, high in the
ominous castle that overlooked the town - Belphanior was having a
heated discussion with the wench Candice, who had shared his bed
almost since he came to Helgate.

Candice:  -don't see why we have to stay here!  I don't _like_ it
  in this quiet, dark place!
Belphanior:  (nonchalantly flipping through a dusty tome, reading
  something about the hierarchy of the Nine Hells)  Then leave.
Candice:  (shocked, she loses her voice)  What?!?
Belphanior:  You heard me.
Candice:  L-leave?  Just like that?!?
Belphanior:  (snaps his fingers)  Just like that.
Candice:  How can you say that?!?  We've been together-
Belphanior:  -too long, perhaps.  (he stands and flings the book
  down upon a table, spawning an explosion of dust)
Candice:  (takes a step back)  B-but-  (she dashes forth, mustering
  the daring that got her where she is today)  Why don't we just
  leave here?
Belphanior:  Leave?
Candice:  Yes!  Leave this dark castle...leave this town!  Go away,
  see other kingdoms...see the world!
Belphanior:  (frowns)  I am...content here.
Candice:  But I'm not!
Belphanior:  (his eye glowing mildly)  Look, you knew what you were
  getting into when you chose to stay with me.  What did you think,
  we were going to roam the world without a forever...
  have children perhaps?
Candice:  Well...
Belphanior:  Candice, you're a whore.  And I'm an elf, an elf who'll
  live for centuries.  And a wizard besides.  I have priorities, and
  the things I just named aren't chief among them.
Candice:  (fuming)  You bastard!
Belphanior:  (tosses the woman her nightgown)  And then some.
Candice:  (gathering random possessions of hers from about the room)
  I'm leaving!  I'm really leaving!  I mean it!
Belphanior:  Whatever.  (he leaves the bedchamber, not even trying
  to dodge a hurled vase, which smashes into the wall behind him)
Candice:  (screaming at the top of her lungs)  BASTARD!

  About the time Candice was taking Belphanior's coach down to the
town proper, there was a flurry of activity elsewhere, as a band of
miners burst into the Scoundrel's Den, excitement written on every
line and crack of their grimy faces.

random miner:  Felix, me boy!  Beer for everybody!
Felix:  Have you gone crazy, Gomer?  You're usually bumming drinks
  off of other people...say, are you drunk?
Gomer:  Nope, but I soon will be.  (he holds up a large nugget of
  shining metal)
Felix:  Holy shit!
other miner:  Gold!  We've struck gold, in the mines!
random drunkard:  Gold?
third miner:  Veins and veins of it!  More than ever before!
fourth miner:  This town's gonna be rich!

next:   gold rush!
ftp: in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
notes:  Thanks to Veli-Petteri Tervonen for the boomtown idea.  As
  for me, I promise not to watch any Westerns while writing the next
  several Helgate episodes.
    More fan mail, all about episode #300:

>>  Congratulations.
>>  Adrian

>>  Whoa.  Pretty good.  I don't know how you roast a duck or goose
>>  whole and make it look appetizing but I suppose Leonardo does.
>>  Rance

>>  Okay, I've read through most of 300 again: it looks like quite
>>  the celebration! I spent time trying to reference any of the
>>  names at the party that I didn't recognize (fortunately you sent
>>  out the index in a timely manner ;-), and was amazed at the number
>>  of old characters that made an appearence here. It looks really
>>  good!
>>  Leonard

>>  Wow.  300 episodes.  Wow. :-)
>>  I really liked this one... no plot, just a lot of old friends
>>  talking and eating and generally having fun together.  A bit like
>>  Usenet, only friendlier.  You really pulled up everyone of note
>>  the Adventurers ever met, didn't you?  Good job.
>>  Rob

>>  Well, I don't know where to start.  Points I'd like to make, in
>>  no particular order:
>>  -Your writing has continued to improve, including style, the
>>  basics (english skills), and content.  You're starting to look
>>  like a *real* (read: professional) writer, especially with all
>>  the background and details you add now.
>>  -What a cast of characters you've put together.  The party goes
>>  without saying, but the "NPCs"!  Its like watching Star Trek:
>>  "Hey, it's Minuet!  What's she doing here? She's fake, created
>>  by the Binars to help in their plot to hijack the Enterprise."
>>  We *know* them, at least to some extent, and our knowledge of
>>  their background adds to the storyline.  For instance, we might
>>  think about one's motivation for helping the party, or we might
>>  try to guess who's just shown up, given a set of circumstances.
>>  Right after you've said something like...
>>  old man:  (nearly runs into Tanya)  Excuse me...(he is garbed
>>  in a badly wrinkled suit, and wears a long-brimmed hat)
>>  ...we try to guess who it is before you tell us.
>>  -Now that everyone is together, you've got to write something
>>  where most or all of the party members participate.   They've
>>  made enough enemies over the years (Drow, Iron Dwarf, that Lich?,
>>  and so on...)  Maybe somebody starts making some real trouble
>>  around Belphanior's new digs, and it is serious enough to get
>>  the whjole party involved.  That way they all get to see Bel's
>>  village.  Or maybe you're doing a little forshadowing with that
>>  talk of Mordenkainen's concern of events to the north. I'm not
>>  familiar with the history, so maybe this doesn't work, but maybe
>>  some of the critical events leading up to the Greyhawk wars are
>>  happening now?  Maybe also work in something from the journey to
>>  earth...

  You bring up some good points.  When the Wars' time comes, believe
me, they will affect the stories and the adventurers.

>>  Go ahead, take a couple hours off, then back to writing!
>>  Jim

>>  Thanks for the great episodes, Thomas.  Speaking as someone who's
>>  been here since issue 1, it's been a rollicking good time.  Here's
>>  looking forward to hundreds more!
>>             Greg

>>    I thought that the story was well done and that there was a good
>>  mix in guests and conversations.  It is nice to see the Circle out
>>  and about again.  Oh, and my compliments to the chef. :-)
>>  Marcus

>>  As for the big 300, well executed.  Rob?  What happened to him?
>>  I thought he got kidnapped by some dragon or something in the
>>  Underdark many episodes ago, and was presumed dead.  That'll
>>  teach me to believe presumptions, I guess.  But please tell me
>>  that you'll tell us his story at some point.
>>  Michael

>>>>   Glad you liked it.  Rob also re-appeared in the late 180s or
>>>>  190s...

>>  I just went and got the stories.  Interesting, but I found the
>>  explanation of convincing the dragon to let him go somewhat...
>>  lacking.  Oh well, he never actually was a favorite of mine.

  Hmm...perhaps sometime I'll tell the whole story.  One nice thing
about having written all this stuff is that there are always untold
stories, origins, etc.  My big project right now is writing Otto's

>>  Hiya Thomas,
>>  Just finished episode 300 and would like to congratulate you on
>>  your 4th anniversary on an excellent series.  To swell your ego
>>  a little more <grin>, your stories are one of the major reasons
>>  I continue to use the internet.
>>  P.S. The description of all the food also got me salivating like
>>  crazy.  So much so that I had to go down just now to grab a bag
>>  of peanuts!
>>  Seeya,
>>  Denby

>>  Hi Thomas...
>>      First off, the stories have really been flowing of late. Nice
>>  to see number #300! I've been reading regularly since - oh, 80 or
>>  so I think - and they just keep getting better.  also, are the
>>  party ever going to do something about the runes? A while back
>>  you wrote me that you might go this way after #300...
>>  Damage

  Thanks for reminding me...I didn't really tie up that rune-quest
like I should have.  And as we all know, loose ends lead to trouble...

>>  I vote heartedly that now is the perfect time to have the party
>>  bump into Belgar, the guy who screwed the party many years ago.
>>  Do something unexpected with him, make him old and weak, or
>>  powerful, but i would not suggest keeping him the same since the
>>  party last met him.  Afterall time effects everyone.
>>                        Todd

  I thought about Belgar during the recent evil-doers story arc, but
if he's to reappear, it won't be now.

>>  Any plans for future adventures with the whole group intact?
>>  By the way, do you still role play these days? I would highly
>>  recommend the Champions hero system, better fighting rules...
>>                        Todd

  I'd like to do something with super-heroes, but I haven't yet had
a chance.  Perhaps a story w/o any underlying gaming system?  The
problem is that there's very little you can do with super-heroes
that hasn't been done already, in either mainstream comics or other
offshoots (Marvel's New Universe from the late 80s, specifically
D.P. 7; also the Wild Cards novels) but you never know...

  Now, let's talk about drow cities.  Here's something I recently
found myself writing:

>   Remember the drow city that they had to rescue Alindyar from (#175)
> and later shipped El Tarrasque off to (#250) ?  Erelhei-Cinlu was the
> name of the city...
>   well, it seems that Erelhei-Cinlu might have been the setting for
> the classic D1-2-3 modules, based on something I spotted in the .dnd
> newsgroup.  That's an interesting coincidence - when I picked a city
> name while writing #175, I just looked at the list in the "Drow of
> the Underdark" accessory and chose Erelhei-Cinlu, with no reason for
> doing so.
>   This must be fate...telling me that the city needs to make another
> appearance in an upcoming storyline.     :)
>>>  Never ignore the chance of random memory flashes
>>>  ... Vince
>>>    I assumed it was deliberate. That is the only named city of
>>>  Greyhawk as far as I know, and really shouldn't have appeared in
>>>  "Drow of the Underdark", given that that was a Realms product.
>>>    Either it was a fantastic coincidence, or your mind distantly
>>>  remembered reading D1-3, Q1!
>>>  Eric

  In any case, it seems that the one drow city they've had dealings
with is also the one that TSR has made some modules out of...hmm...

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