Chapter #628

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2000 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons or     +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Rillen          18th level human monk                                 +
+   Songa           13th level human huntress                             +
+   Tarl            barbarian warrior                                     +
+     war dogs (9)                                                        +
+   Date:           2/3/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          the western reaches of the Fruztii region             +
+   Climate:        freezing                                              +
+   "There is grim purpose in all that I do."                             +
+                        - Professor Van Helsing, from _Dracula_ (1979)   +

                     DCXXVIII.  Scouting the Scouts

  A week ago, Rillen and Songa - along with the barbarian warrior Tarl -
were tasked with finding the bugbear scouting party and tracking the
humanoids back to their point of origin.  Since then, they have ridden
westward from Djekul, seeking the humanoids they only recently fled.

Songa:  We've found them.
Rillen:  (gazing into the distance)  I don't see anything.
Tarl:  (squinting, he covers his eyes with one hand)  No, she's right.
  Someone's out there.
Rillen:  Definitely bugbears?
Tarl:  (squinting again)  Hmm...
Songa:  They've got brown fur and they're acting like apes.  Safe bet
  these are our bugbears.

  Rillen knew from experience that Songa had the best eyesight of just
about anyone he knew, and he was already readying his bow.

Songa:  No need for that.
Rillen:  Eh?
Songa:  They're headed the other way.
Rillen:  Oh.
Tarl:  Shall we follow them?
Songa:  (realizes that technically, she's in charge here)  Hmm.  (she
  nods)  We'll follow, at a distance.  But we do need to get a little
  closer.  I'd prefer that we all be able to see them.
Rillen:  (shrugs)
Songa:  You should have eaten your carrots when you were a whelp.

  They shadowed the bugbears for the remainder of the day, working their
way closer with great care.  The high grass of the plains made excellent
cover, and when coupled with the rather great distance between them and
the bugbears, it was child's play to avoid being spotted.  Rillen had
been worried that Tarl's dogs might get excited and start yapping, but
just like in their previous encounter, the hounds exhibited peculiar good
sense and restraint.

Tarl:  I spent years raising and teaching these animals.  You get out of
  something what you put in, just like my mother always used to say.
Songa:  That's for sure.
Rillen:  The bugbears can't be more than an hour's ride from us.
Tarl:  Too bad we had to leave the horses in that town.

  They'd moved on foot since leaving their mounts in a barbarian village
yesterday.  Songa had done some scouting and determined two things:  the
bugbears were nearby, and they were traveling on foot.  To guarantee that
they weren't spotted, the adventurers had opted to leave their horses in
safe hands.  Now, as they crouched in the grass and watched the bugbears
move along, in the distance, the leaving of the mounts seemed to have
been the right idea.

Rillen:  Still, my horse had better be there when we get back.
Tarl:  Does it mean that much to you?
Rillen:  (nods)  Once, some bastard tried to steal it, and I threw him
  through the side of a barn.
Songa:  I wonder why the village hadn't seen or heard any evidence of
  the bugbears?
Tarl:  It does seem unlikely.  My guess is that the bugbears are up to
  some kind of deep-territory scouting mission.
Songa:  And they're showing a damn good deal of self-control in failing
  to attack any villages.
Tarl:  That's why I think there's some bigger picture here.  (he begins
  honing a knife on a stone)
Rillen:  (yawns)  When all of this business is finished, we should make
  an effort to find Arnold.
Songa:  Hmm, not a bad idea.
Tarl:  (looks up)  Arnold, of the Fruztii?
Rillen:  Arnold who says "Aaa" a lot?
Tarl:  That's the one!
Songa:  Err, what about Arnold?  You know him?
Tarl:  Of course I know him.  I saw him before I came north, this last
Rillen:  How odd.  Where is he these days?
Tarl:  In Nevond Nevnend, the walled capital city of Tenh.
Songa:  (eyes wide with surprise)  Tenh?!?  What in the Nine Hells is
  Arnold doing there?
Tarl:  (grins)  He's settled down...has a wife and two little ones.
Rillen:  You have got to be kidding.
Tarl:  Why would I jest?  (shaking his head)  Small world...
Songa:  What insanity!  Arnold, of all people - marrying and settling
  in the midst of the civilized world!
Rillen:  It makes a kind of sense, if you think about it.  Didn't he
  originally leave this land in search of adventure, and something
Songa:  Hmm.
Rillen:  Well, I'd say he found it.
Tarl:  (doesn't look up from his knife-sharpening)  Mmm-hm.
Songa:  I just can't believe it.  Arnold becoming leader of an army,
  that I can see.  Arnold joining a roving band of heroes, that I can
  see.  But settling down...(she shakes her head)
Rillen:  Things happen, especially when years pass...(he looks off into
  the distance)  Anything new with our friends?
Songa:  (peers into the distance)  Actually, yes.  It looks like the
  brutes are making a camp for the night...

  Sure enough, they were; this meant that the trio of adventurers would
also camp, here and now.  No fires would be possible, but all three of
them were used to harsh sleeping conditions.

Tarl:  At least we can all get a good night's sleep.
Rillen:  How's that?
Tarl:  We have no need to post a watch.  (he gestures to his dogs)
Rillen:  Ah.

  The night passed uneventfully, aside from the bitter cold.  Morning
found the distant bugbears disorganized and slow to awaken; in fact,
the humans had finished breakfast and were ready to move a full hour
before the bugbears finally mobilized.  After this many days of moving
north and westward, both parties had neared the Griff Mountains.  The
huge range of peaks loomed ahead, and Songa figured that they'd reach
the mountains by nightfall, if the quarry didn't deviate from its
apparent course.

  It didn't; as dusk fell, the adventurers found themselves marching
through rocky, sloped trails.  Now that visibility to and from the
bugbears was reduced, Songa had to take the point.  Tarl was going to
send one or two of his dogs with her, but to his surprise, Rillen used
a tiny statuette to summon a magical black dog.

war dogs:  (eyeing the new arrival suspiciously)
onyx dog:  (regards Tarl's war dogs, then yawns)
Rillen:  (to the onyx dog)  Go with Songa.  She will need your ears and
onyx dog:  (trots after Songa, who is moving ahead on the trail)
Tarl:  How odd.
Rillen:  We're working on training him.
Tarl:  Ah.

  They moved ahead, keeping an eye out for subtle markers in the trail,
left by Songa - a branch here, a pile of rocks there.  This enabled
them to follow her while she stayed ahead and followed the bugbears.
Within the hour, and just as the moons crept up into the night sky,
Songa returned to brief them on the situation.  The onyx dog trotted
at her side, grinning in that peculiar way that dogs often did.

Songa:  They've all gone into a cave.
Tarl:  (grins)  In other circumstances, I'd say dump a cask of oil
  after them and light it.
Songa:  Might not be a bad idea...except that they haven't posted even
  a single sentry.
Rillen:  Meaning?
Songa:  They're not camping inside the cave - it leads deeper into the
Tarl:  (to his dogs)  Feel like going spelunking, boys?

next:      are we looking at a dungeon here?
released:  4/6/00
notes:     I wish to hell that I'd eaten MY carrots when I was a whelp.
  It's quite possible that I wouldn't have extremely-degerated vision
  right now, had I been a smarter kid.  Then again, I am one of those
  rare few who've had no problems with contact lenses (going on fifteen
  years now) so I guess I should count that as a blessing.

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