Chapter #483

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                                  +
                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic III     +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +
                                  +

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    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   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    Victoria      11th level female vampiric human fighter    (NE) +
+                                                                   +
+  Helgate's town guards:                                           +
+    Aja           10th level female human priestess of Wee Jas(LN) +
+    Jutokai        7th level human fighter/archer              (N) +
+    Kinichi        7th level human ranger                     (CG) +
+    Razor Charlie  8th level human fighter                    (CN) +
+    Skektek        8th level human wizard                     (CN) +
+    Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                 (N) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        5/31/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        late evening                                        +
+  Place:       the remote mountain town of Helgate                 +
+  Climate:     cold, chilly, and raining                           +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "Superstition is a name the ignorant give to their ignorance."   +
+                                  - _Dragon, The Bruce Lee Story_  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                CDLXXXIII.  A Dark and Stormy Night





  While Belphanior and Otto are away on unknown adventures, the guards-
people of Helgate have been busy.  However, on this, a dark and stormy
night, they are sitting around a table in their barracks, chatting as a
roaring fire heats the common room from within the massive brick fire-
place.

Jutokai:  Nothing big happened, then?
Skektek:  Nah, just a couple of unruly drunkards.  I used a sleep spell
  to subdue them.  (he winks)  Not every problem must be overcome with
  force, you know.
Aja:  (nods)
Razor Charlie:  (finishes sharpening one of his knives, and replaces
  it in its belt-sheath, grimacing)
Kinichi:  (draws his cloak about himself)
Ys:  Cold?
Kinichi:  In a way...(he stands, then walks to the window and stares
  at the torrent outside)  I was just thinking of something that
  happened to me once...
Victoria:  (enters the room)  Really?  What would that be?
Kinichi:  (shakes his head)  Nothing...nothing worth telling.
Aja:  On the contrary, a story might be just what we need to shake the
  chill of the night.
Kinichi:  Not this story.
Victoria:  Now I'm intrigued.  (she takes a seat)  Do tell us.
Kinichi:  (sighs)  If you want.  (reclaiming his own place at the table,
  he rubs the back of his neck)  It happened on the plains one cold
  winter, many years ago when I was a young, inexperienced warrior...





  The icy wind swept across the plains, bringing with it a mixture
of rain and dirt that chilled the bones and stung the eyes.  Across
the barren flatland rode a dozen men...lean, wiry men...warriors of
the Paynims.

chieftain:  Damn this weather!  Where the hell did it come from?!?
old warrior:  We're cursed, I tell you!
young Kinichi:  We may have to make camp soon, else the storm will
  catch us by nightfall, out here in the open.
warrior#4:  (points to a large outcropping of rock in the distance)
  There.
chieftain:  (nods)  As good a place as any.
warrior#5:  (looking back the way they came, he can't see very far
  due to the winds)  Do you think-
old warrior:  It's out there!  (he points in the general direction
  behind the group)  Out there, coming after us!
chieftain:  That's enough, you old fool!  There's nobody on our trail.
old warrior:  It's not a person, it's a _thing_ - and we'll all
  pay for your deeds!
chieftain:  Shut your worthless trap and make camp.  Or I'll make you
  wish you were cursed.

  As they made camp, the young warrior Kinichi mused to himself.
He didn't really believe that some monster was after the party, but
the grizzled old veteran was highly regarded among the plainsmen.
Anything he said could well be true, no matter what their impetuous
chieftain claimed.
  Cursed?  It could be.  No one knew if there was any truth to the
rumors about the chieftain - no one except the man himself.  Had he
truly been this way, years before, and killed an entire family,
simply because the woman had refused his advances?  Who could know?
To even speak of such matters would invite death, for the band's
chieftain was an ill-tempered and dangerous man.  As he built his
makeshift tent and shelter, Kinichi found himself wondering what
truths lay behind the rumors.

  An hour passed, and night crept upon them.  Huddled around their
bonfire, which was built under an overhanging ledge of rock to keep
the rain off, the warriors talked and ate.  It was all they could do
to keep warm, but at least the rocky outcropping shielded them some-
what from the chilling wind and driving rain.

chieftain:  Two of you will guard the camp at all times.  Rotate in
  the usual shifts.
old warrior:  Ah, so you _are_ scared!
chieftain:  I'm not scared.  (he takes a long drag from his whiskey
  flagon)  Just being cautious.

  Despite their chieftain's demeanor, the warriors could tell that he
was uneasy, at the least.  Before settling in for the night, they
built up the fire as best they could, and the first pair of sentries
made ready for several long, cold hours of guard duty.

chieftain:  Very well, then.  I'm going to bed.  (he staggers toward
  his tent)
warrior#7:  Didn't know he was that soused.
warrior#8:  Me neither.  I guess he's not worried about anything.
old warrior:  (shakes his head)  He's worried, all right.  Worried
  to death...and he ought to be, given what he did.
young Kinichi:  What's that?
warrior#10:  Have you something to say?
old warrior:  (looks in the direction of the chieftain's tent, then
  lowers his voice)  Quiet!
young Kinichi:  Why?  If there's truth to the stories, I want to know
  it!
old warrior:  No, no-
young Kinichi:  Yes.  Tell me!  (he stops just short of shaking the
  old veteran by the collar)
old warrior:  Very well...but you truly don't want to know this.
Kinichi:  That may be, but you have to tell us anyway.
old warrior:  It was ten years ago, today...
warrior#9:  Today?!?
old warrior:  Some of us keep track of the months and years...by the
  stars, you know.  It was this day, ten years ago.  He had just made
  chieftain, and we were traveling through this region.  We came upon
  a wagon, and a camp.  The family was passing through, and I guess
  they'd made camp for the night.  (he nods sadly)
Kinichi:  Go on.
old warrior:  The chief-  well, he was kinda drunk, and in a bad mood
  besides.  He spotted the wife...made his move.  (he shakes his head)
  Bad, all around.
warrior#10:  What happened?
old warrior:  You don't wanna know.  When it was over, though, the
  family was dead, and the wagon was torched.  He threw the bodies
  into the fire...the father was still alive, though badly wounded.
Kinichi:  Why have you stayed with him all this time?  He deserves
  punishment for his actions...maybe you do, too.
old warrior:  (shrugs)  Nowhere else to go, I guess.  Or maybe I was
  afraid.  Hell, I don't know - the years have muddled my mind.  But
  I do know one thing:  sometimes he has nightmares, and damned if
  they're not coming from what he did that night, so long ago-

  The conversation was interrupted by a frenzied screaming, coming
from the chief's tent!  The warriors, some of them woken from sleep,
rushed to their leader's tent, and one of them pulled the flap open.
The interior of the tent was dark, and a strong smell - that of burnt
and decayed flesh - rushed out, greeting them even as torches were
brought.

warriors:  (coughing and gasping, such is the strength of the odor)

  Within the tent was a splattering of blood - it covered the ground,
the tent, and the few items within.

warrior:  Look!

  On the ground, twisted into a gruesome death-pose, was a headless
body - the chieftain's!

warrior#5:  By the gods...his head's been torn from his body!
warrior#7:  And that smell!
old warrior:  As if a burnt corpse passed through...(he grimaces)
warrior#10:  Makes you wonder who might be next.
Kinichi:  (looking around, uneasily)





Jutokai:  And then what happened?
Kinichi:  Nothing.  (he stares out the window, at the rain)  Nothing
  at all.
Aja:  The body?  The head?
Skektek:  Where was the head?
Ys:  Indeed, where?
Razor Charlie:  (wondering if it sprouted wings and flew away)
Kinichi:  We never found the head.  Just the body, the blood, and that
  smell...the smell of a burnt corpse.  Never found that, either.  The
  killer disappeared without a trace.
Victoria:  I'd venture to say the dead husband and father had his
  revenge.
Kinichi:  It seemed that way.  (he shakes his head with the memory)
  The whole thing was...unexplainable, and I'm not one who cares for
  the unexplainable.
Aja:  It's not inexplicable.  If you study the right things.
Ys:  What did you do next?
Kinichi:  What did I do?  I got the hell out of there - left that
  group the next morning.  Even a mercenary has to draw the line
  somewhere.  If you ask me, whatever happened to that bastard, it was
  what he deserved.
Ys:  (nods)  But we shall never know.
Kinichi:  Nope.
Aja:  An interesting story...I'm reminded of something I saw once.
Skektek:  Oh, really now?
Aja:  It was awhile ago, in some small town or another.  I was resting
  from a long journey, eating in a run-down inn along with various
  strangers.  Things were downright boring until the traveler showed
  up...





rain-soaked traveler:  (bursts into the inn)  Aie!  (he slams the
  door behind him, and stands there dripping for a moment)

  The man was drawn, haggard, and shivering.  A middle-aged fellow with
a thick layer of stubble, he looked as if he hadn't slept in days.  He
didn't appear to be particularly strong, skilled, or confident, and he
carried no sword.  The stranger was now checking the place, his eyes
darting about frantically as if searching for enemies.

traveler:  (runs over to a lantern, hung on a wall-peg, and grabs it,
  turning its flame up)  Ah...
Aja:  (watches curiously as she sips broth from a bowl)
innkeeper:  What are you on about?
traveler:  Dusk!  Night is coming!
scarred warrior:  So what else is new?
traveler:  (trembling in fear)  The darkness...(he glances around the
  room, then takes the lantern off the wall)  A room!  I need a room!
innkeeper:  Whatever, but it'll have its own lantern.  You don't need that
  one.
traveler:  (ignores the statement, dropping a golden coin on the bar)
  Show me to the room.  (he follows the barkeep to a stairway, leading
  up)  Aie.  (he shines the lantern into the stairway, as if something
  lurked there)
innkeeper:  (eyes the stairway, then the stranger)  You okay, pal?
traveler:  No...not anymore...(he ascends slowly, following the other,
  keeping the light trained ahead of him)

  A short time later, the old innkeeper returned, alone.

grey-bearded dwarf:  Is that guy gonna be okay?
innkeeper:  (shakes his head)  Beats the hell out of me.  He took the
  room and the key, lit the lantern already in there, then got a bunch
  of candles out of his backpack.  He started lighting them, then saw
  me watching and closed the door.  He was muttering something about
  not letting "them" get him.  (he grabs a dirty rag and wipes off a
  portion of his bar)  Damned if I know what he was talking about.
Aja:  We may never know.
scarred warrior:  Or care.

  The assorted boarders finished their meals, and one by one (or in
a few cases, in pairs) they retired for the evening.  Everyone had
forgotten about the crazy, scared traveler - until the middle of the
night, when a single terrible scream pierced the silence.

innkeeper:  (rushes out into the hall in his bedclothes, where several
  guests have also appeared, similarly garbed)
Aja:  (emerges from a room and looks around)  Where did that unholy
  shriek come from?
scarred warrior:  (follows Aja out of the room)  That didn't sound
  human...(he raises his sword)
tall skinny guy:  (rubbing his eyes)
innkeeper:  This way...(he looks down the hall)  That's where the odd
  fellow is staying!

  Brandishing lanterns or weapons, they moved to that particular door.
the innkeeper tried the handle; it was locked.

innkeeper:  Damn.
scarred warrior:  Want me to kick it down?
Aja:  (thinking about casting a spell to open the portal)
innkeeper:  No need.  (he fumbles with a keyring, and quickly opens
  the door)

  Something was blocking the door from the inside:  furniture, as they
soon found out.  In fact, all the furniture in the room had been moved
to the door.  After getting through this makeshift blockade (not an
easy task at all) they found a dark, empty room.  Several candles had
been placed about the room; all were extinguished, although a couple
were still smoldering.  Two lanterns were also here, one of the things
smashed against a wall.  Of the jittery stranger, there was no sign.

innkeeper:  Where did he go?
scarred warrior:  Not out the door or window, that's for sure.

  The window was shut and barred from the inside, and the door had
been blocked as previously noted.  As the onlookers crowded into
the room, their lights forcing the shadows back, a few of them saw
(or thought they saw) the very darkness writhe and recoil.  Perhaps
it was a trick of the light, though, for the next moment, the room
was well-lit, hiding nothing.

Aja:  The man is gone...
innkeeper:  He was in here - I know it!  The barricade of furniture
  and the barred window prove it!
scarred warrior:  Damn, that's weird.
innkeeper:  What's that?
scarred warrior:  (bends down, wiping the floor with a finger and then
  holding it up)  Blood...





Victoria:  Blood?
Aja:  A single drop.  That was all we found.  No sign of struggle, no
  body, no foes.  The man simply _disappeared_.
Razor Charlie:  (sneers)
Skektek:  That is spooky.
Ys:  Aye.
Kinichi:  (nods, then refills his cup from the wine-jug)
Jutokai:  As long as we're swapping weird tales, I've got one.  It's
  no more than an old wives' tale, really, but it seems appropriate
  tonight.
Skektek:  What's it about?
Jutokai:  In my hometown, there thrives a legend...





  Some time ago - no one knows quite when - there was a simple man,
no different from any other.  A farmer, he led a typical and event-
less existence, never dreaming, never planning, never achieving.  He
talked to no one, he worked with no one, and he never took a wife.
For this complete lack of imagination and motivation, some foul god
must have chosen him, marked him if you will.  No one knows how it
happened, but it surely did happen:  one morning, he awoke to find
that he had faded away.
  The man was unable to touch anything solid; he simply moved through
material objects, like a ghost.  Horrified, he floated out of his
dwelling-place, to alert others to his plight.  However, although he
could see and hear them, they were unable to notice him:  he had
become a ghost in fact as well as in spirit.
  At first, he followed others around, attempting to be seen or heard,
perhaps hoping this was a nightmare that would soon end.  But it did
not; as time wore on, the man found that he was neither hungry nor
thirsty...neither there nor gone.  He simply _was_.  No gods or even
demons appeared to explain to him why this had come to be, or how.
It simply was, and he had no choice at all in the matter.  He had
seemingly achieved immortality, but with a heavy price.





Skektek:  And then what happened?
Jutokai:  He roamed the world, for all eternity, all-seeing yet alone.
Ys:  (frowns)  How bizarre.
Victoria:  I'll say.
Aja:  I guess he never found a place to haunt...
Kinichi:  It doesn't sound like he was able to haunt.
Skektek:  (shaking his head)  If he faded away and couldn't talk to
  anybody, then how did people know about him?
Jutokai:  (slightly exasperated)  It's a legend, dammit!  The point
  of the story is to never let yourself get tired of life, lest you
  fade away - literally.
Skektek:  And you believe that?
Jutokai:  (shrugs)  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Hell, who knows?
Skektek:  You call such a tale scary?  Hell, I can do better than
  that...





  They found the boy sitting in a catatonic state, next to the river.
On the grass next to him was a tiny, broken eggshell, and clutched in
his hands was the little doll he'd always been known to play with.
The child, however, was beyond hearing and understanding.  The other
villagers, including his parents, could do nothing except take him
home, keep him warm, and try to feed him.  This was difficult, but
the child stayed in decent health.  A day passed, then a week; the
boy's condition didn't change.  The village leech tried to find his
ailment, without success.  The local wizard was brought in, but he,
too, failed in the task.  The general conclusion was that the lad
suffered from something within his mind.
  They only found out how right they were many months later.  The
boy's mother couldn't sleep, and decided to go tend to him in the
dark of night.  She entered his bedroom, her lantern-light playing
across the chamber, finding the child.  As usual, he was unmoving
and silent.  However, this time, she must have surprised something...
something small, white, and wriggling...something that slithered
back into the boy's nose just as the light shone across its pale,
slimy body.
  The mother, in a state of horrified panic, screamed over and over
again, quickly bringing her husband.  The man, when told what his
wife had seen, checked the boy carefully.  Though nothing appeared
to be amiss, the child was emitting a strange slurping sound...and
then began trembling, as first one, then another, then dozens of
the white worm-things began squirming out of his nostrils, his
mouth, his ears!  As the parents recoiled in shock, the strange
things continued to spill out...and all the while, the boy's eyes,
untouched by the swarming worms, gazed at them without a sign of
life.





Aja:  Good gods, that's gross.
Skektek:  Sure is.
Victoria:  (clearly appalled)  This really happened?
Skektek:  That's what I heard.  But who cares if it really happened
  or not?
Kinichi:  (nods)  The power is in the story, often, not in the truth.
Jutokai:  Or the lie.
Skektek:  I'm not lying.
Ys:  We know.
Skektek:  Oh?  Well, then...(he points a skinny finger at Ys)  What
  scares _you_, big guy?
Ys:  Me?
Aja:  (grins)  Yes...what indeed?  What would a big guy like you be
  afraid of?
Ys:  (frowning)  Nothing that I can kill with my sword, that much is
  certain.
Victoria:  (leans forward, cupping her chin in her hands)  What, then?
Ys:  Hmm...well, perhaps this will do.





  Once, a band of adventurers had descended into a complex of lost
caverns, in search of some fabled treasure.  As they descended, they
found no terrible monsters, no mighty guardians, no deadly traps.
All the explorers found were more caves...deeper caves...ever-smaller
caves.  After two days underground, some of their number began to
question the wisdom of the endeavor.  However, the majority of the
adventurers, young and foolish as they were, wanted to press on.  A
day later, as the caverns grew yet narrower and deeper, the earth
shook, and in an instant, tons of rock came crashing down!  The
party's wizard and priest were slain in the cave-in, leaving five
others, all warriors or thieves, alive but wounded.  However, their
exit was blocked; only the unknown depths ahead offered any hope of
survival.  Some of the passages were so narrow that they had to move
onward an inch at a time.
  The explorers had planned well, for they each had food and drink
for more than a week.  There was one problem, though:  they had a
limited number of torches and lanterns.  The mage had been providing
their light, with the priest's help.  In less than two days, their
light had run out, leaving them to grope their way through the
darkness like blind people.  At times, they scratched steel against
the rocks for what sparks of light they could call forth.  A span of
tunnel that should have taken seconds took minutes, even hours.  No
wind, no running water, only the echoes of their own footsteps to
guide them...or mislead them.  Within another day one of them went
mad, shrieking and turning his blade on his companions.  Two died
then and there.  Another slowly succumbed to wounds suffered in the
cave-in.  The other two, knowing their friend was doomed, left him
to his mountain tomb.  Stumbling blindly on, they sought another
path upwards.  With what food they took from their dead companions,
the pair lasted for another three weeks before one of them collapsed
from thirst.  In another two days, or thereabouts, he too was dead.
Ere the body could grow cold, the last of the seven fools clumsily
tore open his friend's throat and drank deeply of his lifeblood.
In that dark cave, it was like sweet nectar.  He lapped every drop
he could find from the stone, licked his bloodied hands clean.  Then
he began his slow crawl for the surface once again.  The weight of
madness was greater than the weight of the mountain above him.  Even
in that pitch darkness, visions and nightmares darted before his
eyes.  Thirty-eight days and thirty-nine nights after entering, he
crawled out onto the north face of that cursed rock.  Pale, filthy,
emaciated, and far too weak to yet crawl down the mountain, he drank
the gentle rains that fell and washed clean the traces of an under-
earth hell.





Victoria:  Hmm.
Kinichi:  (shifts uneasily in his seat)
Jutokai:  (to Ys)  Is that true?
Ys:  If it's not, I'd be even more worried of someone who would say
  such a thing.
Skektek:  Hmm.
Kinichi:  (eyes Razor Charlie)  What about you?
Razor Charlie:  What about me?
Aja:  Surely you have a tale to tell...
Razor Charlie:  What do you expect to hear?  Something about a town
  roamed by a crazy killer?  Or maybe a tavern in the middle of
  nowhere, where a horde of undead creatures lure and entrap the
  unwary?
Ys:  You know of such things?
Razor Charlie:  I didn't say that.  In fact, I have nothing to say.
Jutokai:  Just as well - I think Ys has outdone us all.
Aja:  (turns to Victoria)  And you?  You must have some chilling tale
  to share.
Victoria:  Me?  You want me to tell a horror story?  I have a hell of
  a story for you...





  The woman stormed out into the foggy night.  She was angry - angry
with her husband-to-be, angry with her parents, angry with herself.
These traditional, pre-arranged marriages that noble houses were so
fond of caused nothing but trouble.  She didn't even _like_ Sir
Canady - she definitely wasn't attracted to him.  In a fit of rage,
she'd hurled an urn at a wall, in front of the entire family, and
then left in a fit.  Though she was generally a quiet one, of late
she'd been prone to fits of temper.  In truth she was a strongly
willful woman - and had been as a child - and this was no better
typified than now.
  She stalked angrily through the dark, moonlit streets, her black
tresses drifting in the wind.  The autumn air was cold and stinging,
but she barely felt it, such was her mood.  Thick mists clung to the
wet cobblestones, as if this was not a town at all, but rather a
moor.  As she calmed down, ragaining her lost composure, the young
woman thought of the whispered, fearful warnings of her townspeople.
A superstitious and easily-cowed lot, they had predictably been
utterly terrified by the recent murders.  Strange deaths, these,
and ones that the constabulary had been quick to cover up, getting
rid of the bodies and letting no information reach the public ears.
Of course, this only made the rumors more bizarre and widespread.
  Bloodsucking monsters, flying about in the dark of night, taking
mortal lives at will?  Hah!  Not in this little town, thought the
woman as she trod the lonely, misty alleys.  Such superstitions
were for the weak and stupid, and she would not fall victim to such
foolishness.
  By the time she realized that she was far from home, and that not
a soul was out on the streets around her, the shadows began closing
in.  Only the slightest whisper marked the approach of some unseen
force...the woman looked up, but her scream was stifled by the
darkness...





Aja:  How disturbing.
Victoria:  (smiles)  You should have been there.
Skektek:  So what happened to the woman?
Victoria:  (frowns)  That's enough storytelling for tonight.  (she
  stands, turns, and leaves the room, without another word)
Ys:  Whoa.





next:      back to the Isle and the events unfolding there
ftp:       ftp.digex.net in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
           ftp.nol.net in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
           ftp.tas.gov.au/misc/stories
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:     Thanks to the following people, all of whom contributed
  to the assorted ideas and phobias that went into the making of
  this episode:  Lance Dooly, Virginia Foster, Christina Goddard,
  Julie Landry, Mitch Reeves, Monique Treunriet.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





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