Chapter #521

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                                +   +
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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 1991-7 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      (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief   (CN) +
+    Otto            8th/10th level dwarven fighter/thief      (CN) +
+    the wispy thing                                            (N) +
+                                                                   +
+    Aja             9th level human priestess of Wee Jas       (N) +
+    Jutokai         7th level human warrior                   (LN) +
+    Kinichi         7th level human ranger                     (N) +
+    Razor Charlie   9th level human fighter                   (CN) +
+    Skektek        12th level human wizard                    (CN) +
+    Victoria       11th level vampiric human female fighter   (NE) +
+    Ys             13th level reptilian fighter               (LN) +
+  Date:        9/22/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        late morning                                        +
+  Place:       the remote mountain town of Helgate                 +
+  Climate:     chilly                                              +
+  "You can't just go around wasting friendly civilians."           +
+  "There ARE no friendly civilians!"                               +
+                                             from _First Blood_    +

                DXXI.  Mission of Retribution

  After the raid on the strange undead creatures' lair, Belphanior
and his marshals retreated to their barracks and spent the night
resting and recuperating.  Now, morning has come, and those who
are still able must plan the next phase of their attack...

Belphanior:  (sighs)  Aja and Skektek are out of commission.  Her
  legs, though they will heal, are nevertheless broken.  Skektek
  has a concussion, in addition to being completely battered and
  bruised, and is obviously unable to think clearly in his current
Otto:  Damn.
Kinichi:  What will we do, then?
Jutokai:  Where did those rotting things come from, and why?
Razor Charlie:  (sneers to himself)  They're dead now.
Ys:  True, true.

  They were, but it had not been easy.  After the wounded had
been removed from the cavern, Belphanior had cleansed the place
(and the twitching, regenerating bodies) with a great gout of
fire.  However, as the group made their way back down the slope,
they'd been attacked by more of the foul, wailing undead.  Only
Victoria's detection of them, and subsequent warning, had enabled
the adventurers to avoid a total ambush.  Only after the battle
was done and the foes were slain (and burnt to a crisp) did Otto
point out that those creatures were the same ones defeated the
previous day.  Ys had moved the huge boulder to block the cave's
mouth, but at that time, none of the adventurers had known of
the monsters' recuperative powers.  Fortunately, the things had
lurked around their lair, rather than descending into Helgate
to wreak havoc.

Belphanior:  ...and I used a scroll to determine that there were
  no others anywhere nearby, so I think it's safe to say we got
  them all.
Ys:  If not, I suspect we'll know about it shortly.
Victoria:  I don't think so.  Those ghouls, or whatever they
  are, were too primitive and disorganized to mount any kind
  of attack on the town.
Jutokai:  Are you saying someone _sent_ them here?
Victoria:  (shrugs)  No.
Belphanior:  But I am.
Otto:  Huh?
Belphanior:  (holds up the scrolls that Otto found in the cave)
  I spent some time this morning, studying these, and I've found
  out some interesting things.
Kinichi:  Such as...?
wispy thing:  (emerges from a puddle of spilt wine on the floor
  and sails up toward the ceiling)  Brrff!
Ys:  (frowns)
Kinichi:  (ignoring the distractions of the wispy thing, nodding
  at Belphanior)  You were saying...?
Belphanior:  Well...(he puts the scrolls down onto a table, and
  crosses his arms)  The ghoul-things we fought weren't natural.
Otto:  No shit.
Belphanior:  No, I mean they didn't evolve in this area on their
  own.  They were created...and put here.
Ys:  How can this be?
Victoria:  Oh, these things happen all the time.  In fact-
Belphanior:  Someone _put_ them here.  (he glances at Victoria)
Victoria:  (smirks)
Belphanior:  I think someone put them near Helgate to get at me.
Jutokai:  How's that?
Kinichi:  And why?
Belphanior:  I have enemies...a lot of enemies.  There's no
  telling, but we can find out.
Victoria:  We can?
Belphanior:  Some of these scrolls contain lore on the creation
  of the breed of undead we fought.  Others are useless.  But one
  of them provides some clues as to the creator.  Given a little
  more time, I'll know exactly where those things came from...and
  then we're going to pay a little surprise visit.
Otto:  Groovy.
Razor Charlie:  (mentally taking inventory of his throwing blades)
Belphanior:  Everyone be ready to go by dusk tonight.
various marshals:  (scattering to various places)
Belphanior:  Not you, Charlie.
Razor Charlie:  Huh?
Belphanior:  With Aja and Skektek out of action, I can't take the
  whole force with me.  Someone has to stay behind and watch the
  town, and it's you.
Razor Charlie:  (sneers angrily)
Belphanior:  You're in charge.  Of everything.  (he turns)  I'll
  see to it.
Razor Charlie:  (frowns, unsure how to deal with this)

  By that evening, Belphanior had a destination in mind, and had
assembled his strike team:  himself, Otto, Ys, Skektek, Jutokai,
and Kinichi.  Victoria would not, of course, be going; even if
Belphanior had tried, she wouldn't have come.

Victoria:  If there's one thing I've learned, it's that I should
  _never_ travel to an unknown place without a secure place to
Ys:  (matter-of-factly)  Perhaps you need a land where it's always
Victoria:  (nods)  That would be convenient.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  (to Victoria)  Any suggestions on how to deal
  with undead, since neither you nor Aja will be along?
Victoria:  Bring lots of holy water and oil.
Otto:  I already checked with Aja about this, too, and got some
  tips and ideas.  This makes me wonder, though - where exactly
  are we going?
Belphanior:  Blackmoor.
Kinichi:  Never been there...heard it was vast and wild.
Jutokai:  And cold.
Otto:  It's a helluva place.  All kinds of weird and dangerous
  people there.  Make no mistake about it:  there're no friendly
  civilians there.
Belphanior:  (nods)  I can take us near our destination - I've
  been in that area before - but it may still be a few days from
  the arrival point to our ultimate destination.  Pack your bags
Jutokai:  Extra arrows...

  Shortly, Belphanior prepared his spell of teleportation.  With
a last sneer from Razor Charlie (followed by a parting kiss from
Victoria that damn near made Belphanior delay the departure) the
spell was completed.  The stone walls of the castle blinked out,
to be replaced an instant later by the dark, rolling grasslands
of the faraway land of Blackmoor.

Otto:  (looking around)  Perimeter's clear.
Belphanior:  For now.
Jutokai:  Where are we?
Kinichi:  A plain, I'd say.
Ys:  Plain as day.  Perhaps we should have waited for daytime, to
  wander this land.
Otto:  Fewer people'll be out and about at night...even in Blackmoor.
Belphanior:  Less chance of being detected.
Otto:  Though the things are worse than the people.
wispy thing:  (flies into Belphanior's belt pouch)  Yrrrp.
Jutokai:  So where are we headed?
Belphanior:  A forsaken tomb...amidst a dead region of these grassy
  plains.  (he consults a map)  According to my calculations, we're
  a bit south and west of the place.
Kinichi:  (privately scoffing at the elf's methods of navigation,
  he then wonders aloud)  What means did you use to divine this, and
  to place us so close?  What if you're wrong?
Belphanior:  My methods...are beyond the understanding of those not
  versed in the magical arts.  However, I have great confidence in
  them.  (he gestures to the northeast)  Let's get moving.

  They began a rapid march that allowed for only infrequent breaks,
for Belphanior wished to cover as much ground as possible before
dawn broke.  Each of the adventurers was wrapped in his own thoughts.
Otto wondered what horrors lay buried in the tomb ahead, and how the
team would defeat them.  Jutokai wondered what this land looked like
in the daytime, and what sort of people lived here.  Kinichi thought
about the questionable means of navigation they were using to find
their destination, and what it meant if Belphanior was wrong.  Ys
busied his mind with thoughts of people and places alien to others.
As for Belphanior, he had several things to worry about:  who or what
had caused those undead to assemble near Helgate?  And why?  What
long-forgotten enemy's ire now threatened his life and lands?  Only
one thing was certain:  the answers were waiting, ahead.

  After a stop and an hour's sleep just before dawn, they moved on.

Otto:  I haven't marched like this since...
Belphanior:  Me neither.  Someday I'm going to find, or invent, a
  means of soaring along the land, at speeds faster than foot or
  hoof can account for.
Ys:  That would be expedient.
Kinichi:  (spots something on the horizon)  Look, there!

  They took cover, but it seemed too late; the specks on the edge
of their line of sight grew larger.  After a short while, there was
no doubt about it - they had been spotted.  Weapons and spells were
readied, so that whoever the approaching ones were, they'd have no
advantages.  Soon the adventurers could make out the forms of those
who neared...mounted men, in light armor and bearing lances among
their weaponry.

Belphanior:  (stands impassively, his arms crossed and his crimson
  cloak billowing in the cold breeze)
soldier captain:  (rides forth, ahead of his companions, who number
  a dozen)  By the writ and wrath of our liege, Baron of Blackmoor,
  I demand to know your business in our fair land.
other soldiers:  (eyeing the adventurers nervously, they mutter
  amongst themselves)
Belphanior:  (waves his arms elegantly, also muttering to himself)
soldier captain:  You, there!  I'm talking to you!
Belphanior:  (completes his spell)  We are no one of consequence,
  just some travelers in your land.  Hardly worth recalling, and
  definitely not worth reporting.
soldier captain:  Uh...yes.  I see.
other soldiers:  (breathing sighs of relief as they, too, realize
  that these five are people of no significance or consequence)
Belphanior:  You should be on your way, now.
Otto:  (muttering)  And leave us five horses-
Belphanior:  (silences the dwarf with a gesture)  You soldiers are
  doing a fine job.  Your commander will be pleased.
soldier captain:  (nods happily)  Men!  Fall out!

  Shortly, they were gone, riding along on their daily patrol; the
travelers resumed their own course.

Ys:  Well, that was certainly odd.
Otto:  (still watching the soldiers ride away in the distance)
Kinichi:  Amazing!  What magical powers did you use to divert their
Jutokai:  (nods)  I thought we were surely in for a fight.
Belphanior:  Subtle methods work too.  That's one reason I didn't
  bring some of the others.
Kinichi:  Like Razor Charlie...or Victoria.
Belphanior:  (eyes the sun, still present in the sky despite heavy
  cloud cover)  Especially Victoria.
Jutokai:  I'd imagine.
Kinichi:  What's it like having a vampire around, anyway?
Belphanior:  Vampiress.
Kinichi:  Whatever...I mean, don't you worry about her biting
  you in your sleep?
Belphanior:  Not me.  Sometimes I worry about you guys, though.
Jutokai:  (his eyes go wide)
Belphanior:  (grins)  Just kidding.  (frowns)  Well, sort of.
Kinichi:  (shakes his head)  Something else...during that last
  battle with the undead things, did you notice how they seemed
  mesmerized by they wouldn't attack her?
Belphanior:  Are you saying that she had some kind of power over
Kinichi:  Maybe...I don' know...
Otto:  (to Belphanior)  Hmm, well, you've got to admit - it does
  bear investigating.
Belphanior:  (his gaze covering Kinichi menacingly)  Enough about
  Victoria!  I tire of this topic.
Kinichi:  Understood.

  Within the hour, they entered a region of grassland in which the
grass was wilted and dying.  Soon after that, they were walking
through a completely barren plain.  The blades of grass were dead
and brown, devoid of any signs of life or health.  An odd stench
rose from the ground; it wasn't quite foul, but more like a lack
of anything pleasant.  It wasn't much longer before they spotted
the bump on the horizon ahead.

Kinichi:  (shading his eyes with his hands)  Looks like a building
  or structure of some kind...maybe your tomb.
Belphanior:  Not my tomb.
Jutokai:  (looking around)  It seems that even the forces of the
  king of Blackmoor don't patrol this area.
Ys:  Nothing patrols this area.  It's dead.
Otto:  (gazing at whatever it is that lies ahead)  Dead because of
  that thing, no doubt.

  When they had marched nearer, they saw that it was indeed a
building, a short collapsed ruin that had once been perhaps two
stories high.  Now, however, it was little more than a pile of
old, worn flagstones.

Kinichi:  Don't take this the wrong way, but are you sure this is
  the place?
Belphanior:  Can't you sense the evil and decay?
Jutokai:  Well, no, as a matter of fact, we can't.
Otto:  (regarding the ruins)  We'll take your word for it, though.
Ys:  What next?  I see no obvious place to begin.
Belphanior:  So we search for the un-obvious.

  In this case, that meant the dark stairway down into the depths
of the ground, its upper region buried under piled rubble.  They
found it after searching and clearing away many larger rocks, this
task aided greatly by Ys' prodigious strength.  Now, the stairway
beckoned, its steps covered in dust and small rocks, its end out
of sight as it wound down into the blackness.

Belphanior:  Since I'm the sole spellcaster in our attack party,
  I'm going to stay near the center of the group.  Otto, take point.
  Ys, you'll be the front line.  Jutokai, you're next, with your
  bow and arrows.  I'll be next, to provide spell support, and
  Kinichi's covering the rear flank.

  With that established, they descended into the ruins, weapons
and senses at the ready.

next:      into the forsaken tomb they go
ftp: in /pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
  in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
mail:       (preferred)
notes:     My plans for this story arc have been changing and
  mutating with every episode.

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