Chapter #659

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

+     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   +
+   Otto             8th/11th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+     Eduardo        3rd level human thief                                +
+     Jutokai        8th level human archer                               +
+     Razor Charlie  9th level human fighter                              +
+     Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                          +
+   Date:           2/20/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           night                                                 +
+   Place:          the remote mountain town of Helgate                   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "Because some people need killing and there isn't so much as a        +
+    judgement to it.  Because I knew I could.  Because we're all born    +
+    with someone's hands in our pockets, and we smile because we want    +
+    our fleeting little space and we don't know how to hit back.  I      +
+    don't like it.  I hit back."                                         +
+                                - Holland, from _The Evil That Men Do_   +

                      DCLIX.  Blood For Blood

  While Belphanior and some of the marshals are away on a quest, those
who remain in Helgate have just gotten word of a fight in progress at
the Sword and Cup.  Even now, they race toward that tavern, weapons at
the ready and minds set on combat...

Otto:  No telling what's going on.
Ys:  We had best be careful, if the lad was correct...
Otto:  About there being magic-users there?  Yeah, agreed.  We need to
  target those first.
Razor Charlie:  No problem.
Jutokai:  (holding his strung bow in one hand as he dashes along with
  the others)
Eduardo:  (wondering if Victoria is still around and will make an
  appearance at this battle)

  Each of them was occupied with their own thoughts as they raced toward
what could very well be a fatal situation.
  Otto, being the leader of the band, had to worry about positioning,
tactics, and a whole lot more - all this on top of the simple nature of
the battle itself.  He wasn't in a particularly good mood, due to the
recent discussion with the representatives from Perrenland.  The main
thing on Otto's mind was the fact that town guardsmen had been killed.
That was unacceptable - there had to be law and order, and now it fell
to him to dispense it.
  Razor Charlie neither knew nor cared who the troublemakers were or
why they did what they did.  To him, the coming fight was simply one
of those things that had to be done, as quickly and efficiently as
possible.  That was what Charlie did best, and this time would be no
different from any other time.
  Ys' outlook was a lot like Razor Charlie's:  the "who" and "why" of
the situation didn't matter.  There was a job to do, it was his job,
and he would do it.  Of course, the big reptilian had to be a lot more
careful, for his great sword-strokes could harm innocents as well as
foes, and if he wasn't careful, he was liable to knock out a wall in
such close quarters as the Sword and Cup.
  Despite months of training and the increased confidence that came
with such experience, Eduardo was nervous.  He had the spirit of a
true warrior, but not the battle-hardening that came with years and
countless battles.  Still, the lad was determined not to back down
or show weakness in front of Otto and the others, and so he ran with
them toward the fight.
  Jutokai, on the other hand, was not afraid at all.  Nobody knew it,
but he'd been on edge now for weeks - the result of his arguments and
fights with Aja.  Everything had been going so well, and then, with
no warning or reason, the priestess had started acting strangely.  No
amount of talking had helped, either - they talked, but it was like
Aja wasn't listening.  Jutokai would try to be friendly and easy to
get along with, and Aja didn't seem to notice.  And now, she was away
on a quest while Jutokai was here, having to think about her and wonder
if things would ever get back to the way they'd been.  Ever since Aja
had left Helgate with Belphanior, Mongo, and the others, Jutokai had
kept to himself, moping or being angry.  The others knew it, but none
of them really wanted to get involved - not even Ys, who had tried
the most.  Yes, Jutokai had been in a most foul mood for a while, and
now there were some outlanders killing town guards at the Sword and
Cup.  This, the archer thought to himself, was exactly what he had
needed.  His rage was such that he didn't really care if he lived or
died tonight - which made him even more dangerous.

  At the Sword and Cup, chaos ruled.  The six ruffians had gone to
town here, doing whatever they wanted for the last quarter-hour.
Rexxus had been knocked out an hour ago and lay in a bloody heap
behind the bar.  Both of his bouncers were dead, as were three of
Helgate's town guardsmen.  Another guardsman lay bleeding beneath
a table, ignored by the outlanders after being stabbed in the gut.
Most of the tavern's patrons had fled, but those unlucky enough to
be farther from the door were trapped, afraid to leave or try to
leave lest they draw attention to themselves and be attacked or
killed.  One of Rexxus' serving girls was being manhandled by two
of the ruffians, and was in imminent danger of being taken into
a back room and raped.

ruffian #5:  Let's take her right here on this table!
ruffian #6:  Yeah!
ruffian #1:  (a warrior-type and the leader of the band)  Better be
  on your guard, men - this town's finest should show up any minute.
ruffian #2:  (a wizard in beige robes)  And we'll be ready for them.
ruffian #3:  (a priest of some violent god)  That we will.
ruffian #4:  (like #5 and #6, a warrior)  If they're anything like
  these guardsmen-  (he gestures with his bloodied blade)  -then we
  won't have any problem.
ruffian #1:  Don't get cocky.
ruffian #5:  (staring at the serving girl he's been holding onto
  with a rough grip)  That reminds me...(he rips the girl's shirt
Ys:  (strides into the tavern)  That is quite enough.

  The ruffians glanced up in surprise, obviously not expecting any
foe of the big reptilian's size and appearance.  It didn't take
them long to react, though.

ruffian #6:  (approaches Ys from the left, even as ruffian #5 comes
  at him from the right)  The bigger they are...
Ys:  The harder they hit.  (he foregoes the use of his sword,
  swatting the ruffian aside with one huge fist)
ruffian #6:  (hits a nearby wall)  Ungh!
ruffian #2:  (completes a spell)

  Ys was rather surprised when he found himself held fast, unable to
move his limbs or even speak.  He'd volunteered to lead the attack,
knowing that he might encounter superior numbers or perhaps some magic
missiles - but this had been unexpected.

Ys:  (stands there, watching helplessly, as the two ruffians close in
  on him)

  However, everything had a good and bad side; Ys' frontal approach
had served its purpose, distracting the ruffians and exposing their
wizard.  Jutokai's arrow came through the broken window, taking the
spellcaster in the chest and knocking him back into a wall.  Had the
missile been of the common variety, it wouldn't have penetrated the
wizard's skin.  However, Jutokai had spared no expense in his delivery
of death, using one of his enchanted arrows.

ruffian #2:  (falls, spitting blood)  Ghak!
ruffian #1:  Crap!

  Meanwhile, Otto had come through the door, using Ys' huge body as
cover until it was too late for the foe closest to the reptilian.

Otto:  Good evening to you, too.  (he fires a bolt, hitting one of
  the ruffians in the shoulder)
ruffian #6:  Ungh!  (he falls to his knees)  Aaaaargh!
Otto:  (smiling as he thinks of the particularly powerful batch of
  poison that he'd been waiting so long to test)  Finally got my
ruffian #5:  (charging at the dwarf, sword held high)  You're dead!

  Otto's backup showed up now, in his turn, just as planned.

Razor Charlie:  (moves around the other side of Ys, knives flying
  gracefully from his hands)
ruffian #5:  (hit in the wrist and neck, he drops his sword)  Argh!
Razor Charlie:  (steps around the foe, two more knives in his hands)
Eduardo:  (shows up behind Ys, sword in hand, trying to figure out
  a way to get the reptilian moved out of harm's way)

  The remaining ruffians - the leader, the priest, and one of the
warriors - had regrouped in a corner.  The warrior had snatched up
the now-topless serving girl, and he held a knife to her throat.

ruffian #3:  (the priest, he completes his incantations)

  A spectral wisp of violet mist leapt forth from the priest's open
hand, snaking around Otto's body with surprising speed.

Otto:  Aie!  (he tries to get to his sword, but finds one arm and
  both legs snared)  What the hell?!?  (he falls, struggling and
  out of the fight for now)
ruffian #1:  (the leader)  Good work.
ruffian #3:  (the priest)  I'll deal with the rest of them in due
Jutokai:  (holding up his bow, an arrow nocked)  No you won't.
ruffian #1:  Perhaps you forget - we have a hostage here.
ruffian #4:  (the warrior who holds a blade to the girl's throat)
  Heh heh.
serving girl:  (sobbing)
ruffian #1:  One false move and my friend here slits her throat
  from ear to ear.
Jutokai:  How about this, instead:  I put an arrow through your
  friend's eye, he drops the girl, and then I walk over there and
  ram that knife up your ass?
Razor Charlie:  (knives in hand, he eyes Jutokai and then the foes,
  waiting for someone to make a move)
ruffian #1:  (smirking at Jutokai)  You're not that fast.  Nobody's
  that fast.
Jutokai:  (a cold gleam in his eye)  Actually, I _am_ that fast,
  but it doesn't really matter.
ruffian #1:  And why's that?
Jutokai:  Because whether your friend slits that girl's throat or
  not, you're still going to die.
ruffian #4:  (eyes his leader)  Err...
serving girl:  (wide-eyed)
ruffian #1:  He's bluffing.  He's got to be bluffing.
Razor Charlie:  (to Jutokai)  What happens when he slits her throat?
Jutokai:  He won't slit her throat.  (just like that, he lets his
  arrow fly)
ruffian #4:  (hit in the forehead, he falls back, letting the girl
  go)  Urk.
Jutokai:  Damn, I missed the eye.
ruffian #1:  Wha-
Jutokai:  (like lightning, he whips out another arrow and sets it
  to string)

  Razor Charlie had already acted, taking the cue and throwing
both of the knives in hand at the priestly ruffian...

ruffian #3:  (hit in the throat and eye, he falls, bleeding and
  screaming in agony)  Aaaargh!
ruffian #1:  Dammit-
Jutokai:  (hits the priest in the heart with his second arrow)
ruffian #3:  Urgh...(he dies)
ruffian #1:  (sword held high, he leaps at Razor Charlie, who is
  rushing in with only two knives in hand)

  The foe made a serious mistake in underestimating the knife-
thrower's melee prowess.  Charlie hurled one knife, hitting the
ruffian leader in the upper arm and distracting him in a most
painful way.  It was only a momentary delay, but Razor Charlie
used it to his utmost advantage, stepping in and slicing at the
foe's wrist.

ruffian #1:  Arg!  (he drops his sword)
Razor Charlie:  (neatly reverses his strike, slitting the other's
  stomach wide open)
ruffian #1:  (falls to his knees, watching his intestines leak
  out onto the hardwood floor as he dies)
Jutokai:  Well-done.
Razor Charlie:  Thanks.  (he regards the slain foe)  Hmm, who knew
  he had this many guts?
Jutokai:  (shrugs)

  Otto was free now, the violet mist having melted away with the
death of the priest.

Otto:  (regards Ys)  He'll be okay before too long, I think, given
  what I know of magic.
Eduardo:  (checking the ruffians' bodies to make sure they're all
  actually dead, he also searches for money and useful items)
Otto:  (looking on with pride)
Razor Charlie:  (to Jutokai)  Nice shooting.
Jutokai:  Thanks.  I guess I had some crap to get off my chest.
  Too bad there weren't more of these enemies, because I've got
  a lot more arrows.
Otto:  (takes note, surprised at this uncharacteristic ruthlessness
  on the archer's part)

  Meanwhile, outside the tavern, a shadowy figure watched the fight's
end with a critical eye.  Once the combat was over, this individual
wasted no time walking to the saddled and bridled horse that was tied
to a nearby post.  By the time Otto or any of the marshals finally
emerged from the blood-soaked tavern, the mysterious figure was long
gone, riding from Helgate back to the mountain pass that would lead
back home, to the south.  The operation had been a success:  the
watcher now had an idea of the strength and skill of at least half
of Helgate's protectors.  This information would undoubtedly prove
useful in the near future, when the forces of Ket ventured to the
remote town and took over.  The plan had been a good one, and had
played out perfectly.  Even if the six corpses were interrogated, all
they would know was that they'd been hired in the Wild Coast by one
who claimed to represent Perrenland...hired to go to Helgate, cause
enough trouble to bring the elf Belphanior, and then kill him.  Oh,
the timing had been off, since obviously the mad elf wasn't in town;
still, necessary information had been gained, and better, the worst
that would happen was that Perrenland would be blamed - Perrenland
whose agents had so recently been rebuffed in Helgate.
  The agent from Ket smiled, more than a little pleased with the
evening's violent activities.

next:      the quest for the Oracle begins
released:  7/24/00
notes:     Every once in a while, I get so upset that I have to write
  a story like this one.  Actually, it turned out a lot tamer than I'd
  hoped when I sat down to write it.  Oh well, you take what you can
  get, I guess.

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