Chapter #637

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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 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   +
+   Daffodil        11th level human female druidess                      +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger                               +
+      Zephyr          rather large tiger                                 +
+   Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid              +
+   Rob             16th level human priest                               +
+                                                                         +
+   Arion           human wizard                                          +
+   Gallant         centaur                                               +
+   Proctor         priest of Heironeous                                  +
+   Date:           2/9/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          the northern Shield Lands                             +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "If you're burned to death, will the crematorium give you a           +
+    discount?"                                                           +
+                                                            - unknown    +

                       DCXXXVII.  Strike Force

  The small band moved through the grasslands, shadowing their quarry.
Actually, they were staying almost a league behind the quarry, for these
flat plains offered too much visibility for a close pursuit.  Especially
when the pursued didn't know about the pursuers.

Gallant:  Your tracking skills are as fine as ever.
Halbarad:  Thank you.  I had help.

  Halbarad had used a hawk to help track and watch the orcs.  The bird
hadn't been able to get too close, though, thanks to an unusually
attentive orc who incited several of its fellows to take potshots at
the hawk overhead.  Thus, Halbarad's knowledge of the size and type of
foes was only general in nature.

Gallant:  (watches the hawk circle, high above)
Proctor:  What's the plan?
Arion:  (using a spell to scan the distant foes a bit more closely)  It
  looks like there are only a hundred of them.  I'd suggest a fireball,
  followed by a swift charge to finish off any survivors.

  These three - centaur, priest, and mage, all old traveling companions
of Halbarad's - had joined the team a week ago to bolster its strength.

Peyote:  Where's the other guy...Turok, the barbarian?
Arion:  Sadly, he was eaten by a dinosaur last year.
Peyote:  Rude deal.
Arion:  These things happen.  You know how it is.
Daffodil:  About this fireball plan - I thought the goal here was to get
  some of them alive, for questioning?
Proctor:  Speaking with one of the corpses, no matter how charred, will
  not be a problem.
Rob:  (nods)  No problem at all.
Halbarad:  It seems a cowardly attack, until I recall that we're talking
  about orcs.  The plan sounds good to me.  What say we attack at dawn
Peyote:  Works for me.
Gallant:  Aye.
Arion:  Of course I agree with the plan.

  Dawn found the orcs sluggish, their waking and readying taking much more
time than it should have.  Their sergeant, Korg, debated the wisdom of this
entire operation as he kicked and cursed his orcs.  After all, had they been
camped a mere day's ride to the south, the Shield Land forces would have met
them in battle by now.  As it was, Korg wondered why they hadn't encountered
any opposition.
  Then again, it wasn't Korg's place to wonder - not when the "allies" they
traveled with were running the show.  Korg wasn't sure how it had all worked
out.  One day he'd been dozing in his sergeant's hut, chewing on a piece of
fried rat; the next thing he knew, him and a hundred other orcs had been
requisitioned for a foray into the enemy lands.  Worse, Korg didn't even get
to be in charge of this dangerous and seemingly foolish mission.  That duty
fell to the five individuals who were now gathered outside of the tent just
up the hill from Korg's own tent.
  Zoltar was the leader, no doubt about that.  Garbed in purple robes with
red trim, the wizard barked orders and expected them to be obeyed without
hesitation or error.  He'd already fried an orc who was slow to obey some
command, reducing the fool to ashes on the spot.  Korg hadn't interfered.
He hadn't dared.
  The evil wizard was bad enough by himself, but he had some damn powerful
helpers too.  There was Gurbo, the gigantic two-headed troll who possessed
the strength to break trees in half.  There was Renna, the slim, sly, raven-
tressed thief who a number of the orcs had eyed hungrily, wanting some fun
with the woman.  That had turned out to be a bad idea, as one of the dumber
orcs had learned when he made his move.  Renna had sliced off the poor orc's
privates before he knew what hit him, saying nothing, a thin and icy smile
on her face the entire time.  This behavior was in stark contrast to the
dark-skinned priest Flaxxus, who was constantly talking and planning with
the others.  None of the orcs had yet heard the priest stay quiet for more
than a few moments, and Korg had begun to wonder if the man talked in his
sleep too.  The final member of Zoltar's contingent was quiet and looked
to be the most dangerous of all.  Korg didn't know his name, but the rugged
face, coarse manner, and well-worn boots and clothing suggested a roaming
mercenary or tracker of some kind.

Zoltar:  Sergeant!

  That was the way of Zoltar:  he never addressed by name those he deemed
to be his inferiors.

Korg:  We're up, be ready to move in a short bit.
Zoltar:  (scanning the orcish ranks)  That certainly doesn't appear to be
  the case, Sergeant.
Korg:  I'll whip 'em if I have to.  They'll be ready.
Zoltar:  We are practically upon our destination.  Be ready to break out
  the tools.
Korg:  Aye, aye.

  Some distance away, Arion frowned as he watched the band through his
magical methods.

Arion:  What in the hell are they up to...?
Halbarad:  What?
Arion:  They didn't even break camp, hardly.  Now they're digging.
Peyote:  Digging?  What for?
Rob:  Is this area noted for its, silver, and the like?
Halbarad:  Not particularly.
Gallant:  And certainly not out here in the middle of the grasslands.
Arion:  Oh, my.

  Korg sat up, dazed and burned.  The explosion had come without warning,
a sudden flash of light and heat from the dig site.  As he stood, he saw
that those who had actually been doing the digging hadn't been so lucky.
Their charred corpses radiated outward from the ten-foot-deep hole, the
blackened picks and shovels still grasped in steaming hands.

Flaxxus:  We've found it!  (he begins working a spell)
Zoltar:  (wringing his hands)  Finally!  It's about time.

  After the priest's magic had made the cursed site safe, Zoltar worked
his own magic, clearing soil away from the area.  Revealed within was a
stone cask.

Zoltar:  Yesss...(he points at Korg)  Sergeant!  Have your forces retrieve
  that cask.
Korg:  Uh...
Zoltar:  It was not a request, Sergeant.
Korg:  Right.  (he directs a dozen of his orcs to this task)

  Zoltar, meanwhile, was holding a miniature chariot, fashioned from wood
and metal with an extraordinary amount of detail.

Zoltar:  (chanting to himself)

  A few moments later, a full-sized chariot appeared from thin air!  Big
and sturdy, the vehicle was capable of holding perhaps six people...or
less than that, plus a cask...

Zoltar:  Put the cask in the chariot, and make it fast-

  The wizard's barking of orders was interrupted in spectacular fashion,
as a tremendous fireball detonated right in the middle of him and the
orcs he commanded.  The flash and heat were tremendous, and the blast
rocked the ground all around.  Orcs and their gear were burnt to ashes
where they stood.  Rocks were melted into slag.  Grass was fried to dust,
plants burnt to nothingness, soil fused.

  Moments later, Arion and his seven companions arrived, borne on a spell
of teleportation.  The entire area was a charred, smoking crater...

Peyote:  Total carnage...
Arion:  (pleased with himself)
Halbarad:  You have done well.
Arion:  Of course.
Zephyr:  (growls suddenly)
Halbarad:  What-

  An arrow, streaming a thin line of eldritch fire, flew from the smoke
and buried itself in Arion's shoulder!

Arion:  Argh!  (he falls, his cloak and shirt igniting)

next:      battle
released:  5/8/00
notes:     The new allies are simply some of those from Halbarad's team
  encountered way back in episode #192.

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