Chapter #378

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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) +
+  Victoria                                                         +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        2/1/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        nighttime                                           +
+  Place:       Belphanior's castle, in Helgate                     +
+  Climate:     cold                                                +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "Murder is only a classification of killing.  It means killing   +
+   without a license.  Everybody kills.  The difference is only    +
+   the license.  Governments, the military, police all have it     +
+   because our institutions give it to them."                      +
+                             - Arthur Bishop, from _The Mechanic_  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                    CCCLXXVIII.  Revelations





  Within his castle, Belphanior brooded, waiting for the arrival
of his dinner guest.  Although the elf had spoken with Victoria
a couple of times since returning to Helgate, he hadn't pressed
on with certain questions.  No more, however; tonight, he would
find out what he wanted to know - one way or the other.
  Unlike the meek citizens of the town, Victoria feared neither
the elf nor his castle.  When she had felt like talking to him,
the woman had simply found Incus and taken his carriage up to
the castle.  Belphanior had at first been alarmed at this, for
there was no logical reason for her to suspect his presence in
the castle.  Still, she had been insistent, and for some reason
he didn't quite understand, Belphanior always admitted her into
his home when she came calling.
  To be sure, theirs was a strange relationship.  Although they
had fought together in a couple of battles, and eaten a few meals
and had a few drinks, it didn't go farther than that.  Their brief
conversations were always entertaining, and flowed smoothly, but
only afterward did Belphanior realize that he hadn't learned as
much as he had given away.  In retrospect, it was like a verbal
and mental fencing match, in the guise of a conversation...and he
always lost!  Belphanior wasn't pleased with this outcome, not at
all.  For some strange reason he couldn't quite put his finger on,
Victoria was a confidant and, at the same time, an enigma.
  No matter, he swore to himself as he paced the dining room.
Tonight, he would get some answers...and perhaps even understand
why she behaved the way she did.  Upon the table, a magnificent
feast was laid out, the result of both foodstuffs from town and
magic.  Soup, salad, bread, and steak composed this simple yet
elegant meal, and Belphanior had gotten hold of some old, well-
aged red wine.  Candles lit the room.  Otto and Razor Charlie
were away, having been instructed to stay in town until the next
day.  This was more for their own protection than to facilitate
any ideas Belphanior might have; though he was strongly attracted
to Victoria, with her raven tresses and striking beauty, he had
more important business to attend to tonight.  And if battle broke
out, he didn't want anyone to get caught in it needlessly.  This
was a combination of both bravery and concern on his part.
  Checking to make sure that Blackrazor was at his side, and that
his other items and protections were in place, the elf relaxed
for a brief moment.  His iron golem would meet Victoria at the
door, a precast spell simultaneously notifying him of her arrival.
Unseen servants hovered in the room, on hand to pour wine and
serve food.  Belphanior wasn't exactly the sort of person who
needed servants to attend him, but at times, it did add a touch
of class.
  A buzzing in his head told the elf that his guest had arrived.
Standing again, he went to the dining room's elegant double doors.
While some might have wondered why someone as battle-oriented as
Belphanior even _had_ elegant (rather than sturdy) doors in his
castle, they might not have realized that the doors that mattered
were indeed strong.  Both physical and magical defenses fortified
the castle; indeed, Belphanior had found it necessary to negate
certain of these protections for Victoria's visit.  Then again,
he had other enchantments and traps in place, as standby measures.
Unfortunate indeed would be the person or people who ever tried
to chase or stalk the elf within his own castle.

Belphanior:  (opens the double doors just as Victoria arrives at
  them)
Victoria:  Good evening.

  She was dressed to kill, as usual; a long, flowing black dress
clung tightly to her tall, voluptuous figure.  Of course, the dress
was only "long" compared to the garments Victoria usually wore, as
it came all the way down to her knees instead of ending somewhere
along her thigh.  Her lithe arms were bare, and the neck of the
dress showed merely a hint of cleavage.  Again, this was rather
conservative for Victoria, though Belphanior certainly didn't mind.
High, formal boots of black leather covered her feet, ankles, and
calves all the way up to the bottom hem of the dress.  Her long
black tresses flowed freely, completely unrestrained.

Belphanior:  (awestruck)  Wow-  You look great!
Victoria:  (smiles sweetly)  Thank you.  It was the least I could
  do, for such a...formal occasion.
Belphanior:  I'm honored.  (he turns, gesturing to the table)
  Please, have a seat.

  She did, and they began their meal, an awkward silence following
as Belphanior didn't talk right away.  Finally, the elf initiated
a conversation, as Victoria picked at her salad.

Belphanior:  Not a fan of vegetables, are you?
Victoria:  Not particularly.  I prefer meat.
Belphanior:  Ah.  Well, we wouldn't be at the top of the food
  chain if we were supposed to live on fruits and vegetables.
Victoria:  (eyes a slice of tomato nonchalantly)  How very true.
Belphanior:  Still, you seem to know how to deal with a fancy
  meal.  (he grins)  After all, you're using the right fork.
Victoria:  (holds up the smaller salad fork, stabbing it in the
  elf's direction)  I've...known a lot of royalty in my time.  I
  picked up all of their good habits along the way.
Belphanior:  And the bad habits?
Victoria:  (smiles wickedly)  Those too.
Belphanior:  Where are you from, anyway?
Victoria:  A number of different places.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Victoria:  (poking at a black olive, she impales the thing, and
  finally eats it)  I always liked olives, though.  Actually, I was
  born in the Duchy of Urnst.
Belphanior:  (momentarily confused by the sudden shift in her topic
  of discussion)  Oh?
Victoria:  Yes.  An old family...a powerful family...
Belphanior:  And, guessing by your skin color and tone, a primarily
  Suel-blooded family.
Victoria:  (proudly)  Correct.  My blood is untainted Sueloise.
  (having finished toying with her salad, she switches it out with
  the soup bowl)
Belphanior:  Maybe that explains your aggressive nature and skill at
  battle...?
Victoria:  (looks up from her soup)  Daring comments, indeed.
Belphanior:  I didn't mean to offend-
Victoria:  (smiles dangerously)  You didn't offend me, though people
  have died for less...
Belphanior:  (tenses)  Uh...your point?
Victoria:  Am I intimidating you?
Belphanior:  No.  I mean, yes.  No, I mean...not really.  (quickly)
  But I respect you as an opponent.  That's what I meant.
Victoria:  Ah.
Belphanior:  I've never seen someone who fights - who kills - as
  naturally as you.
Victoria:  I'll take that compliment as an apology.
Belphanior:  If you wish.  (he stirs his soup, which is steaming,
  then eats a spoonful)  So how did someone from an old, powerful
  family in Urnst end up as a lethal swordswoman?
Victoria:  Good question.  How did an elven orphan from the streets
  end up as a feared warlock in a remote mountain town?
Belphanior:  No fair.  I asked you first.
Victoria:  Clever...truthfully, though, there's not much to tell.
  You may not believe this, but I didn't learn the art of the blade
  until recently.
Belphanior:  Damn.  You must have been a fast study.
Victoria:  I wouldn't say that.  Still, I do enjoy a good swordfight.
Belphanior:  So I've noticed.
Victoria:  (stares at him intently)  As do you.  Tell me, why did you
  go berserk, and where did you vanish to, those weeks ago?
Belphanior:  I don't really want to talk about it.
Victoria:  (smiles again)  Of course you do.

  When Victoria smiled at him like that, Belphanior found himself
willing to talk about anything she wanted to discuss.  It was truly
bizarre.

Belphanior:  Well, you see, there was this eye...
Victoria:  Not anymore.
Belphanior:  You're observant.
Victoria:  Quite so.

  Belphanior went on to tell her the history of his adventures with
the Eye of Elik, from the moment he'd caught the cursed thing to the
day he'd gouged out his own eye to make room for it, from the various
fools who had felt its power to the final possession, flight, and
battle with the demon horde.  He skipped few details, and Victoria
seemed fascinated by the tale.

Belphanior:  -and that's it.  (he shrugs)  Now I have an eyepatch.
Victoria:  (clearly impressed)  What a tremendous force of will you
  have.
Belphanior:  I pride myself on it.  No one, and nothing, is my master
  except for me.
Victoria:  So stubborn.  Your will is strong indeed.
Blackrazor:  (pulses at Belphanior's side)
Victoria:  (begins eating her steak)  Your friends sound interesting,
  as well.  They must care for you very much.
Belphanior:  Sometimes, anyway.  They don't always like the way I get
  things done, but they deal with it.
Victoria:  As well they should.  They aren't like us at all.  (she
  waves a fork-speared piece of bloody steak as she talks)  We're born
  killers, you and I.  Others try to judge us, to comprehend us, but
  they never will.  (she finally eats the bite of steak)  _Excellent_
  steak, by the way.  I prefer it rare like this.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Mm-hmm.
Victoria:  Killers - true killers - are few and far-between.  (she
  takes a sip of the red wine)  Now Otto, your dwarven friend..._that_
  one shows promise.
Belphanior:  Yes.  Him, I trust implicitly.
Victoria:  Where did he come from, and how?
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  I'm not sure.  We met during one of my more
  harrowing adventures.  (he cocks his head)  Say, what brought you
  to Helgate in the first place?  Not that I haven't enjoyed your
  presence; I'm just curious.
Victoria:  Changing the subject again, eh?
Belphanior:  The pot calls the kettle black...
Victoria:  (smiles)  Very well.  It wouldn't do to let your curiosity
  kill you, would it?
Belphanior:  (alarmed and intrigued at the same time)  No.  I hope
  not, anyway.
Victoria:  Helgate was merely another stop on my journey.  I found it
  to be...entertaining, and opted to stay.  For now.
Belphanior:  Why do you like it so much?
Victoria:  (knits her brow in thought for a moment)  I'd have to say
  the interesting people.  Quite a collection of motley sorts.
Belphanior:  Ah.  I think so, too.
Victoria:  (leans forward, ever so slightly)  None as interesting,
  however, as the one who rules them.
Belphanior:  Rules?
Victoria:  (shrugs)  As good a word as any.  (she goes back to eating
  her steak, the odd look on her beautiful face gone)
Belphanior:  Yes, I do rule them.  But I also grow bored of them, at
  times anyhow.
Victoria:  Perhaps you need a rest from such matters.
Belphanior:  I think I do.  That's why I'm staying up here, and Otto's
  taking care of things in town.
Victoria:  (stops chewing in mid-bite)  No.  (she puts her fork down
  and stares at him)  You're staying up here because you don't wish to
  confront the townspeople about what happened.
Belphanior:  Partially true.  And that reminds me...let's talk about
  what happened.
Victoria:  Oh?  (interested, she watches him as she resumes eating
  her bloody steak)  Mmm.
Belphanior:  You've no doubt heard of Candice?
Victoria:  (saws into her steak with the sharp knife in her hand)  A
  whore, and a troublemaker as well.  She was murdered in her room,
  some time ago.
Belphanior:  Hearsay?
Victoria:  No, fact.  News, and rumors, travel quickly in a small
  town such as Helgate.  Even a relative stranger can learn much, if
  she tries.
Belphanior:  I'm sure.  Well, anyhow, after the murder, I was in her
  home, looking for clues or evidence.
Victoria:  You...knew this woman, did you not?
Belphanior:  That would be one way to put it, yes.  What's it to you?
Victoria:  (shakes her head)  Nothing at all, just curious.
Belphanior:  So I'm checking the room, the bed, the floor, the walls
  for some hint of what happened.
Victoria:  I hope you were thorough.
Belphanior:  Indeed.  So thorough that I found, lodged in the wood of
  one wall, a hair.  A long, black hair.
Victoria:  (takes a sip of wine)  Amazing.
Belphanior:  I guess when a person has long black hair like that, an
  occasional strand comes loose and is left behind.
Victoria:  It happens constantly, actually.  (she shakes her black,
  tousled mane)  But it's worth it, wouldn't you agree?
Belphanior:  Sure.  But the thing is, Victoria, I've only ever seen
  one person in this town who had hair like the one I found.
Victoria:  Me?  You're asking _me_ if I did that deed?
Belphanior:  The thought had occurred to me.  (he wonders what story
  she might come up with to deny the obvious)
Victoria:  (sips her wine, savoring it, then puts the glass down and
  wipes her mouth slowly)  I did it.
Belphanior:  (more surprised by the confession than the crime)  You
  did?!?
Victoria:  Of course I did.
Belphanior:  (careful to make no hostile moves)  Um...why?
Victoria:  (shrugs)  Someone had to do it.  She was causing trouble.
Belphanior:  Explain.
Victoria:  (eyes him mockingly)  I can't believe that you haven't
  figured this out yet.  It was _Candice_ who put the Nerg and his
  bandits up to their ambush.
Belphanior:  What?!?
Victoria:  Oh, they would have come to blows with you eventually.
  She just hastened the process by running to Nerg and telling him
  where you were.  Twice.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  (he realizes that this actually seems to agree
  with certain intelligence he's received, then and now)
Victoria:  I suppose that she hated you by then, and wanted to see
  you gone.
Belphanior:  I can't deny that.
Victoria:  Why?
Belphanior:  Because it's true.
Victoria:  No, I meant why did she hate you so?
Belphanior:  We had a falling out...I guess you could say that she
  and I didn't lead similar lives, or have similar plans for the
  future.
Victoria:  I see.
Belphanior:  Why am I telling you all this?
Victoria:  You tell me.
Belphanior:  Hmph.  (he sits up straight)  So you killed her.  You
  murdered her in cold blood.
Victoria:  Warm blood, actually.  And I'd do it again.
Belphanior:  (realizes something)  You did this for me?
Victoria:  (pushes her empty plate away)  I suppose you could put it
  that way...
Belphanior:  But why?
Victoria:  (makes a humorous little face, briefly)  Because it pleased
  me.
unseen servant:  (fills Victoria's wine glass)
Victoria:  No more, no less.  Sometimes, people need to be eliminated
  for the greater good of all.  It takes a special kind of person to
  do that.
Belphanior:  Y- you...
Victoria:  There's something you wish to say?
Belphanior:  You're a remarkable woman, Victoria.
Victoria:  You think so, do you?
Belphanior:  I know so.
Victoria:  No, you don't know the half of it.
Belphanior:  I think I'd like to get to know you even better.
Victoria:  (smiles cannily)  The feeling is mutual.

  They both rose, and Belphanior dismissed the unseen servants with
a wave of his hand.  Momentarily, he and Victoria left the dining
chamber.





next:      back to Greyhawk for a while
ftp:       ftp.digex.net in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
www:       http://www.access.digex.net/~dpm
           http://www3.hmc.edu/~kshobaki/adventurers
homepage:  http://www.gatech.edu/oit/oe/design/thomas/adv.html
mail:      tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   (preferred)
           thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu     (emergency)
notes:     This episode was a very weird mixture of a number of
  thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  I had to address/answer certain
  issues and at the same time, show this pair actually having an
  interesting conversation/date.  Then, weird little thoughts kept
  popping into my head, and leaking out into the text of the story.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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