Chapter #540

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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 archer                    (LN) +
+    Kinichi         7th level human tracker                    (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:        the 7th day of Needfest, 576 C.Y. (Common Year)     +
+  Time:        early evening                                       +
+  Place:       the remote mountain town of Helgate                 +
+  Climate:     cold                                                +
+  "Why?"                                                           +
+  "Because I say so:  which in practical terms means that were     +
+   you to disobey me, you would go home tonight to find your wife  +
+   and children butchered in their beds."                          +
+                                    - Starr, from _Preacher_ #19   +

                     DXL.  A Little Rumble

  Several months have passed since Belphanior and company's run-in
with the lich Xusia and his master Orcus.  Although that incident
ended on a relatively positive note, there were repercussions, some
of which are still unsettled...

Victoria:  -and _don't_ bring this up again!
Belphanior:  But-
Victoria:  What ever made you think that I _wanted_ to be "cured"?
  You have no idea - NO IDEA.
Belphanior:  (walks toward her, to hold her and hopefully calm her
  down)  I was just trying to-
Victoria:  (leaps upward, and is suddenly clinging to the ceiling,
  upside down)  Enough.  Out.
Belphanior:  Now look-
Victoria:  OUT!

  Belphanior gave up and left the room, shutting the door behind
him.  He'd done well to hold his anger in check - a few years ago,
he wouldn't have been able to do it.  Then again, a few years ago
he possessed the cursed eye of Elik.  Shaking his head, he walked
down the hall, seeking something to take his mind off of this
latest round of problems.

  In a nearby room...

Skektek:  She's at it again.  Must be that time of-
Aja:  Don't even think about finishing that sentence.
Skektek:  Sorry.
Aja:  Everyone's entitled to be temperamental at times...especially
  a vampire.
Skektek:  Vampiress.
Aja:  Whatever.
Skektek:  Maybe you could use your powers to control her...calm her
Aja:  (regards the wizard critically)
Skektek:  What?
Aja:  First of all, she's an ally, and there's no need for that.
  Second, I'm not sure I could.  And third, I doubt she'd be too
  pleased with it if I tried.
Skektek:  Hmm.
Aja:  You look worried.
Skektek:  Well, in truth, I've been sleeping with garlic on my
  pillow and a holy symbol around my neck.
Aja:  You?  A holy symbol?  I didn't know you were religious.
Skektek:  I'm not.  (he spreads his hands)  Don't you see, that's
  the point!  I go to bed every night wondering if I'll wake up
  with two holes in my neck and a lot less blood in my veins.
Razor Charlie:  (walks through the room)  No need to worry about
  that.  (he leaves)

  The lean, scarred knife-thrower mused to himself as he walked on
down the hall.  He hadn't worried about Victoria since the day he'd
picked up the magical amulet dropped by that enemy wizard.  While
the wizard had perished at the hands, or teeth, of Victoria, Charlie
had pocketed the silver amulet and moved on.  The thing looked like
a cheap, worn trinket; in reality, it was a powerful totem, enough
to keep any vampire at bay with no effort on the part of its wearer.
Razor Charlie had been pleased to acquire it.
  He'd also been wondering, himself, how it was that Victoria hadn't
killed and drained the population of Helgate by now.  Granted, there
had been a large influx of newcomers, thanks to the veins of gold
found in the old mines.  He knew that a vampire could just drink some
of its victim's blood, not enough to kill them or leave a permanent
effect.  The people of Helgate knew this too, for they were generally
afraid to go out after dark, and once in a while, someone was found
in an alley in the morning, pale and weak and delirious.  There was
simply no death toll.  Still, there was no way Victoria could have
stayed in Helgate this long without causing more of a commotion than

  Unless, Charlie had concluded, she was also feeding in other towns

  Curious, he'd taken a week off and gone wandering away from Helgate.
The town was situated an hour's ride from the main pass that led
north-south through the Clatspur Mountains.  With all the traffic
on that pass, especially to and from Perrenland in the north, it
stood to reason that there were other small towns and communities
nearby.  A day's ride north, he'd found one; another half-day north
of that, he'd found another one.  These places were, of course,
within quick and easy reach of a flying visitor.
  So that was it, and Razor Charlie's impromptu detective work had
netted him the answer he was after.  Victoria was taking turns,
feeding in one area for a while until suspicion was aroused, then
moving on to some other place.  It was a good plan, but Charlie had
to wonder if people with long memories might not catch on, given
enough time.  If Victoria wasn't draining her victims fully, it
wasn't because she was being nice - Razor Charlie, like all of
Belphanior's marshals, knew what the vampiress was and how she
survived.  No, it was because she didn't want to cause an uproar
and add undue risk to her feeding excursions.
  Razor Charlie, absorbed in thought, passed Otto on the stairway.
The dwarf was carrying a bunch of new crossbow bolts he'd fashioned
for himself, and barely noticed the knife-throwing former bandit as
he passed by.

  Otto himself had been busy.  He'd solidified his support of the
Sword & Cup tavern; since he'd shipped in most of the expenses for
its restoration, after the fire, he figured he had a stake in the
place.  He'd had a talk with Rexxus, who was unable to repay the
loan; they had hashed out some ground rules.  Rexxus didn't like
them, but he had to obey them.  Otto had worked out a deal by which
he, and any of the marshals, got free food and drink at the tavern.
Furthermore, Otto was cut in for ten percent of the profits, until
such time as the debt of restoration was paid off.
  Otto had also spent a lot of time checking out the town and its
new arrivals.  The lad Eduardo had been very helpful here, for he
knew a lot of things that Otto hadn't known were worth knowing.
Overall, things seemed to be in pretty good shape.  The influx of
miners, prospectors, merchants, and their families had meant more
than two hundred new residents for Helgate.  This number had been
recorded thanks to the efforts of Humphrey, a skinny bean-counter
who'd been promoted to the position of town census-keeper a month
ago.  His job was simple:  keep an up-to-date record of who lived
where, in Helgate.  Humphrey was very good at his job, and they'd
been very happy with his performance.  All he had to do now was
maintain the excellent records he'd put together; for this, he
drew an enviable salary.
  There wasn't generally much trouble in the town; even the most
obnoxious, aggressive newcomers either witnessed the marshals'
might firsthand, or else heard of it from the town's inhabitants.
In a way, it was funny:  though the town had no democracy and no
elected ruling body, its laws and their enforcement were more
efficient and fair than those in most large cities.  Taxes were
levied, taxes were paid.  Things in need of fixing were fixed,
and criminals served sentences in the town jail.  Everyone knew
that there was no death row in Helgate - the wait for execution
was minimal.
  Although the average person was intimidated by the setup, it
was simple and fair, and after some time in Helgate, the people
came to realize that there were worse places to live.

  Otto thought it interesting that events had taken this turn over
the last few years.  Muttering something about irony, he placed
his new crossbow bolts side-by-side on a worktable and began to
attach metal heads to them.  He'd been experimenting with various
shapes of bolt-heads, including some that split into uneven, sharp
fragments upon striking a target.  Then there was one whose head
contained a small vial of oil; Otto hadn't yet perfected a means
of detonating this oil upon impact.  However, he had a lot of time
and a lot of patience.
  He did not, however, believe he had the patience to deal with
Victoria, like Belphanior seemed to.  Things hadn't been the same
since the business with the lich Xusia.  For some reason, Victoria
seemed to _want_ to remain a vampire.  Otto could understand this,
on a primal level - after all, raw power was raw power.  Still,
being a vampire had disadvantages as well, and he didn't think it
was worth it.  Then again, he'd never been a vampire.
  He never had told Belphanior where he'd seen Victoria before, but
he knew.  Of course, if he did tell Belphanior - especially during
this current time of frequent arguing - it would only lead to more
conflict.  Someday he'd tell the elf the truth:  that almost twenty
years ago, he'd spotted the dark-haired beauty in the court of a
most unpleasant king in a most unpleasant land.  Naturally, it had
been nighttime - a great feast, held by that tyrant to celebrate
his victory over some rebels within his domain.  The rebels had
died, to a man, brutally slaughtered by the king's elite troops
and some mercenaries hired to infiltrate the rebel cause.
  Otto had never known enough to put two and two together - how
could he have? - but now it all made sense.  Not a week after his
bloody example had been made, that king had been slain in his bed-
chambers - torn to shreds by some terrible monster, along with a
dozen of his harem.  Shortly thereafter, with their employer dead,
all of the mercenaries had been dismissed; Otto had moved on to
greener pastures.  Now, of course, it was obvious what had gone
on in that vile ruler's castle that night.  The only question was,
should he tell Belphanior, or let a sleeping secret lie?

  The dwarf didn't have an answer by the time he was ready to head
into town and celebrate the coming of the new year.  At least he
didn't have to make the carriage ride alone; he was joined by Aja,
Skektek, and Razor Charlie.  An hour after they left the castle,
they were kicking back in the Sword and Cup, enjoying the wages of
their hard work.

Otto:  Damn good ale, this week.
Rexxus:  (mutters something)
Otto:  What's that?
Rexxus:  Nothing.
Skektek:  (to Otto)  Do you subsidize this place, in any way?
Otto:  Constantly.  Rexxus may not admit it, but things are better
  here now than ever before.
Aja:  He doesn't look too happy.
Razor Charlie:  (sneers at nobody in particular)

  Just when they were finally relaxed and thinking that the night
would pass without incident, Jutokai burst into the tavern, nearly
out of breath.

Jutokai:  There you are!
Otto:  What's-
Jutokai:  Quickly!  There's a brawl in progress at the Scoundrels'
  Den - a big brawl!  We need everybody!
Otto:  Whoa.  (he stands, checking his sword)  Who've you told?
Jutokai:  (regards the group, counting heads)  Everyone's either
  there or here, except Ys.
Otto:  I need to swing by the barracks and pick up my crossbow - I'll
  get Ys while I'm there.  Everyone else head over to the Scoundrels'
  Den, and we'll regroup there.

  With that, Otto dashed for the barracks.  It didn't take him long
to get there, with all the shortcuts and alleyways he knew, and when
he burst into the building, he was surprised to find no one on duty.
That meant, unfortunately, that the brawl was worse than expected.
Otto ran into the back hallway, finding Ys' door and rapping on it.

Otto:  Hello?  Hel-lo?  (he checks the knob, finding it locked)  Hmm.

  After another series of knocks, the dwarf decided to pick the lock.
Moments later, the doorknob clicked and the door opened...

Otto:  (peeks in)  Wh-

  A truly bizarre sight awaited him.  Within the room, Ys laid on the
floor, his massive form easily taking up the center of the chamber.
He was still, unmoving - yet his great chest heaved, so he was alive.
Then Otto saw something else:  a brown, dry husk that half-covered
Ys' body.  He regarded the thing for a few moments before recalling
the way snakes shed their old skin to expose the new.  Indeed, the
exposed surface of Ys' scaled skin gleamed as if it had been polished
to a sheen.
  It only took Otto another moment to make his decision; he shut the
door quietly, re-locked it, and left the barracks to head to the
ruckus.  Again, it didn't take him long to get where he was going.
He knew the streets, and besides, Helgate wasn't an overly big town.
  Outside the Scoundrels' Den, he met Skektek, Aja, Razor Charlie,
Jutokai, and Kinichi.  Nearby, six town guardsmen also waited for

Skektek:  Where's Ys?
Otto:  He couldn't make it.  (he regards the tavern)  Where's the
Jutokai:  It's in there, but we waited for you like you said.
Skektek:  I could've just gone in blasting, but-
Otto:  No.  You did the right thing.  There could be innocents, or
  just mere drunkards for that matter.  We can't just start killing
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)  At least not right away.
Otto:  Let's just get in there and see what we're dealing with.
screaming man:  (crashes through a window and lands in the street
  at their feet with a thump)
Otto:  Hmph.  (he walks toward the tavern and climbs its steps)

  Backed by several of the others, the dwarf entered the tavern and
witnessed a chaotic scene.  The entire place was one big brawl, with
everyone against everyone.  Almost every piece of furniture in the
place was broken, and bottles flew to and fro.  There were people
hanging from the chandeliers; there were people sliding (against
their will) along the bartop; there were people being hurled through
windows.  And yet, Otto had been right:  these were no bandits, or
ruffians, or criminals - but rather just a bunch of townspeople who
had gone and gotten good and drunk.

Otto:  Weapons away.  We have to sort this out peacefully.
Razor Charlie:  (chuckles)
Otto:  (turns)  Did you just-
man:  (charges out of the melee at Otto, tackling him)
Otto:  Whoulllf!

  Things just got crazier from there.  Some of the marshals were
capable of wading into the melee and becoming part of it; others
were not, and did not.

Skektek:  Physically fight?!?  With my fists?  Not a chance!
Aja:  (preparing to cast a spell)  Well, do something.

  In the melee...

Jutokai:  (grabs a fist before it can descend, and trips the man)
  Wish I could use my bow here...
Kinichi:  (punches another combatant, driving him back)  I know
  what you mean.
Razor Charlie:  (picks up what's left of a table, puts it on his
  shoulders, and charges into a knot of fighting men, knocking
  them all down)


drunkard:  (staggers forth, toward Aja)  I!
Aja:  (regards the man as if he were a sewer rat)
Skektek:  No worries - that's just Kernal, the town drunkard.  I've
  seen him in here before.
Kernal:  <urp>  (he teeters, then falls to the floor)
drunken lout:  (walks up)  You an' me, baby!
Aja:  I think not...
lout:  (raises a fist)  No arguin'!
Aja:  You wouldn't hit a woman, would you?
lout:  Uhh-
Aja:  (kicks the man in the groin, as hard as she can)  I didn't
  think so.
lout:  (crumples, holding his privates)  Urgh...

  Before Skektek could cast a spell, a sudden, deafeningly loud
outburst shook the tavern's common room.

Belphanior:  ENOUGH!

  The elf stood there, his arms crossed.  He did not look happy
at all, and his presence was enough to cause the brawlers to be
still and quiet.  He turned his head left, then right, surveying
the carnage and destruction.  Nobody met his gaze.  Only the faint
gurgling of a staved in barrel of beer made any sound at all.

Belphanior:  (frowns impassively, then turns and leaves, his red
  cloak swirling about him)

  There was a bit of muttering, then more, as others began to
murmur.  It could be that they'd not expected to live much longer
once Belphanior entered the tavern.  Whatever the case, people
began to pick themselves up and resume celebrating the upcoming
new year in whatever way they saw fit.


Belphanior:  (stands in the middle of the street, looking around)
Otto:  Thanks for the assist.
Belphanior:  You'd think people would have enough to be happy
  about...that they wouldn't have to argue and fight on the most
  celebrated day of the year.
Otto:  (shrugs)  Must've been a bad batch of liquor or something.
Skektek:  Well, one thing's for sure:  it'll be a hell of a new
Aja:  They always are.
Belphanior:  Never fear - we're going to start this one off with
  a bang.
Otto:  How's that?
Belphanior:  Most people make one or more stupid resolutions for
  the new year, and then never keep them.  I, however, have one
  that I very much intend to keep:  we're going back to the City
  of the Gods, in the Land of Black Ice beyond Blackmoor, to gain
  its secrets and power!

next:      Belphanior gives his Greyhawk friends a chance to go
ftp: in /pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
  in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
mail:       (preferred)
notes:     Thanks to John Fox for reminding me that I'd been
  inconsistent in describing just what precious metal had been
  found in Helgate's mines (it was gold, not silver.)
    Thanks to Matt Hurd for reminding me that Otto and Victoria
  seemed to know one another in episode 342, and that this needed
  to be cleared up.
    Thanks to Leonard Bottleman for the Ys skin-shedding idea.


    Here is, as best as I can think of, a complete concordance of

  the castle         dark castle overlooking town, home to Bel.
  Raven's Nest Inn   old inn
  Scoundrels' Den    sleazy tavern
  Sword & Cup        tavern
  Witch's Tit        whorehouse

General population:
  (* = loyal to Belphanior)

  Albion, a leatherworker
  Balthaas, former master of the Thieves' Guild, now in charge of
    town records and taxes
  Bunger, a drunkard
  Claudia, a serving wench at the Sword and Cup Tavern, looked upon
    fondly by Otto
  Desmond, the town leech
  Eduardo, a clever street urchin *
  Felix, bartender of the sleazy Scoundrel's Den
  Ganzer, dwarven blacksmith
  Gomer, the miner who rediscovered gold near Helgate
  Gunther, a miner
  Humphrey, census-keeper
  Incus, a gaunt man, the only carriage driver in Helgate *
  Jamaine, the town cobbler, a rather temerarious old fellow
  Kernal, a drunkard
  Leanne, a whore at the Witch's Tit
  Miles, a glass maker, cheating on his wife
  Norman, gnomish banker
  Oswald, caretaker/custodian of the town cemetery
  Perkins, innkeeper of the Raven's Nest Inn
  Quincy, half-senile geezer in charge of mining claims
  Rexxus, owner of the Sword and Cup tavern
  Travis, a young town guard who helped Otto while he was unconscious
  Vergis, town stonemason, appeared in episode #518

Belphanior's people:
  Razor Charlie

  Angus, an iron golem
  Daphne & Phoebe, servant girls

  Candice, head mistress at the Witch's Tit (slain by Victoria)
  Darrell & Jomo, human fighter brothers (slain in battle with
  Kyros, an enforcer of Belphanior's, used a net & trident (slain
    in battle with ruffians)
  Priscilla, a wench (slain by the slasher)
  Zenobia, a whore at the Witch's Tit (slain by the slasher)

  Herbert, captain of the town guard (left town with his family)


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