Chapter #376

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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                    +
+                                  tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  THE PARTY:                                                       +
+                                                                   +
+  Belphanior      (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief   (CN) +
+    Otto            7th/8th level dwarven fighter/thief       (CN) +
+    Razor Charlie   8th level human fighter                   (CN) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        1/15/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        evening                                             +
+  Place:       Belphanior's castle, in Helgate                     +
+  Climate:     cold outside and inside                             +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "My hypocrisy goes only so far."                                 +
+                                - Doc Holliday, from _Tombstone_   +
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                   CCCLXXVI.  Repercussions





  After recovering (for the most part) from his wounds, Belphanior
has departed Greyhawk and returned to Helgate.  Having teleported
directly into his castle, he has spent the day cleaning up and
reorganizing his possessions, and generally accounting for various
things lost.

Belphanior:  (holds up a burnt-out wand)  Now what in the bloody hell
  happened to my wand of wonder?

  The elf cursed to himself.  Given the nature of his recent deeds
in Helgate, he wasn't ready to go into town.  Thus, he had sent
Otto to get a feel for things, while he stayed locked up in his
castle.

Belphanior:  Like some cur...(angrily, he tosses the useless wand at
  a wall, where it shatters into splinters)  Whoa.

  At the elf's side, the dark sword Blackrazor pulsed unnoticeably.
The weapon detected a soul in the vicinity, but it also knew that
the soul in question was that of Otto, the dwarf.  Though Belphanior
didn't know it, his blade was easily able to distinguish between
various mortals' souls, much like people were able to distinguish
between various odors.  When it came to souls that were usually in
its vicinity, Blackrazor could unerringly identify them.
  Given the recent chaos, and Belphanior's triumph over the evil,
demon-spawned Eye of Elik, the sword was in truth pleased.  Not
only had the eye - a powerful rival for the elf's will - been
overthrown, but Blackrazor itself had hewn the thing in two, and
taken its soul.  That incident had greatly satisfied the dark
blade, and for now, at least, it remained quiescent and satiated.
Any allies or items that increased Belphanior's power and influence
also benefitted Blackrazor, and it would act accordingly.

Belphanior:  (busy sorting some spellbooks, he feels a familiar
  tingle from his sword)  Company, eh?

  This company was expected, however; with a simple spell, the
elf caused the door to his study to swing open.

Otto:  (enters)  Whew.
Belphanior:  (stands, eagerly)  You've been to town, then.  What
  news?
Otto:  Lots...and you're not gonna like most of it.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  (he sips some steaming liquid from a cup made
  from a small, fanged skull)  Okay, lay it on me.
Otto:  Well, the townspeople are pretty upset, in general.
Belphanior:  I guess they have a right to be.  How many people
  did I kill on my rampage?
Otto:  No telling, but here in Helgate, three.
Belphanior:  That's not that many.
Otto:  (counting on his fingers)  There was the whore...and some
  miner, after that.  Then a town guard tried to stop you.
Belphanior:  Herbert won't like that.
Otto:  He doesn't.
Belphanior:  (smiles evilly)  So, when are they coming up here with
  torches and swords?
Otto:  Oh, they're not.  I explained to them that you were...away.
Belphanior:  And they bought it?
Otto:  I guess so.  Who can really tell?  In any case, I'd keep a
  low profile for a while, if I were you.
Belphanior:  Wait a...they should have already tried to get me,
  back when I was roaming other lands.  They couldn't have known
  that I was away!
Otto:  Actually, they were afraid.
Belphanior:  Oh?
Otto:  This big, dark castle...the rumors...no one had the balls
  to organize a mob and come up here.  Fear overcame anger.
Belphanior:  Good.  (he rubs his patch-covered eyesocket)  They
  _should_ be afraid.
Otto:  (remembering the final conversation in Greyhawk, before
  they left)  Still?
Belphanior:  Now more than ever.
Otto:  Incidentally, Herbert told them you were gone, and that he
  would take care of the problem, in time.
Belphanior:  Good man.  Hmm, do you think _he'll_ come up here
  looking for me?
Otto:  Don't know that either.
Belphanior:  Hmm, staying away from the town for a while _would_
  let me pursue...other ends.
Otto:  And save a lot of bloodshed.
Belphanior:  (regards the dwarf)
Otto:  Not that I mind a little bloodshed now and then.  Or even
  a lot of bloodshed.
Belphanior:  (thinking)  Okay, here's the deal.  You run the town
  with Herbert's help.
Otto:  (raises both eyebrows)
Belphanior:  Keep Razor Charlie as a backup.  You, and he, will
  be the only ones who know that I'm still around.
Otto:  You think the townspeople will listen to me?
Belphanior:  Most of the time.  With Herbert helping you, they'll
  listen.  If need be, I'll support you with magic.  This town
  needs to be kept orderly.
Otto:  It'll be tough, what with the gold rush still going on.
Belphanior:  Don't worry, we'll work around it.
Otto:  Sounds...challenging.
Belphanior:  It will be.
Otto:  Well, challenge I can deal with.  (he turns, and leaves)

  After the dwarf was gone, Belphanior settled back into his favorite
chair, steepling his hands to provide a resting place for his chin.
He was smiling.

  Over the next few days, things changed in Helgate.  Otto, claiming
to represent Belphanior, told the townspeople how things were going
to be.  Some may not have liked it, but they were unwilling (at least
this early in the game) to challenge the dwarf.  Besides, he had the
help of Razor Charlie and Kyros, not to mention Herbert and his men.
The latter-named captain of the guards, while not pleased with recent
events, realized that nothing could be done about Belphanior at the
moment.  Even if he re-appeared, challenging him seemed tantamount to
certain death - or worse.  Herbert was by no means ready to waste his
life for no reason, or even for a reason, to be honest.
  Supposing the elf _was_ up there in the huge, shadowy castle, who
would go up there, enter that dark place, and confront him?  Herbert
had a wife and children, and his concern for their welfare was enough
to make him put aside such questions.  A few townspeople muttered
their disapproval, when they thought no one was listening, but none
were brave enough to mount an expedition to Belphanior's castle.
  No, the only people in Helgate who dared to go up that long, dark,
winding road were Otto and Razor Charlie, and Incus, the carriage-
driver.  That tall, gaunt one made sporadic trips up there and back,
seemingly unafraid of whatever might lurk in the castle.  Eduardo
kept his mouth shut, not divulging anything he might have known or
suspected, but the boy spoke with Otto often.  Similarly, had anyone
happened to notice, they might have caught a glimpse of a tall, dark-
haired, chillingly beautiful woman riding in Incus' carriage.  What
Victoria was up to, however, no witnesses would ever know.
  Late at night, ofttimes, Belphanior would attend to one task or
another.  Always in disguise, and with the aid of spells, he dealt
with things that required his attention.  The gold rush was still
an issue, and such quantities of treasure sometimes made people do
strange things.  One unfortunate fellow had openly challenged one
of Belphanior and Otto's previous mining claims, citing their absence
as validity for his own finds in their mine.  The night after this
man's refusal to back down, he simply disappeared, never to be seen
again.  Belphanior made sure that all of the ill-gotten treasure
vanished as well.  Another time, a straggling pair of red-banded
mercenaries - holdovers from the slain band - were causing trouble
in one of Helgate's seedier taverns.  No one openly defied these
men, but that night was the last time they were seen.  Only their
possessions remained behind in their inn-room,  a mysterious and
silent testament to their fate.
  Before too long, the castle - and its mysterious master - had
gained a reputation for being haunted.  This was due to a variety
of factors:  strange wailing from the castle at night...thick fog
which seemed to surround the place after dark, often obscuring the
moon...sightings of strange animals in the vicinity of the castle.
The intimidating effect of these bizarre happenings was augmented
by various rumors and whisperings within Helgate, often spread by
a certain young lad.  It was also augmented by the simple but
effective nature of rumors themselves.  One night, someone might
see a bird at night; the next day, it would be a bat, for any who
listened.  Another day after that, townspeople might speak of a
pack of bats.  After a week, people would be fearful of a swarm of
vampire bats.  Again, Belphanior and his most trusted followers
did much to fan the fires of hearsay and rumor.
  It worked.  A few months ago, Helgate had been a rough place,
ruled fairly but harshly by a known, visible figure who brooked no
defiance.  Now, it was a dark, brooding town, ruled by the same
infrastructure of power despite the absence of the ruler - who
was more feared than ever, although he was never seen.  Some had
taken to calling him a warlock, a dark and evil sorcerer whose
fiery temper and fearsome powers intimidated from afar.  Some in
Helgate had seen him cut down innocents...some had seen him cut
down the guilty.  Others only heard of his deeds.  No one, however,
dared to even come to his castle, much less challenge his indirect
but unquestionable rule.





next:      Otto reveals some tricks of the trade
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notes:     Ah...I'm over the 375 hump.  Hopefully my writing will
  just coast to episode 400.
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