Chapter #666

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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   +
+   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                          +
+   Victoria        11th level human vampiress/fighter                    +
+   Date:           2/28/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           evening                                               +
+   Place:          the remote mountain town of Helgate                   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "Well-behaved women rarely make history."                             +
+                                     - bumper sticker spotted 12/9/99    +

                     DCLXVI.  Compromising Position

  More than a week had passed since the fight with the mercenaries at the
Sword and Cup, and Otto and his group were no closer to having any real

Otto:  It would help if we'd taken one alive, for questioning.
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)
Ys:  That opportunity didn't exactly present itself...
Jutokai:  The bastards chose to fight to the death.
Otto:  Something just doesn't feel right...damn, but I wish we had Aja
  here to talk to one of the corpses.
Jutokai:  (tenses at the mention of Aja)
Eduardo:  I've been watching and listening around town, but nobody knows
Jutokai:  Why would they?  By all accounts, it was an outside group, and
  a random one at that.
Eduardo:  If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that a
  little snooping never hurts.
Otto:  Something's been bothering me.  (he holds up several insignia, on
  silver chains)  The men we killed were all wearing these - emblems of
Razor Charlie:  So?
Otto:  Problem is, I spent many years there myself, and I can tell you
  that these insignia, while well-made, are fake.
Ys:  Are you certain?
Otto:  Yup.  These were not issued by Perrenland.  Not many people would
  know the difference...but I do, and something's fishy.
Razor Charlie:  A set-up?
Otto:  Looks that way...those mercenaries wanted us to _think_ that they
  came from one place.
Eduardo:  Only if they planned to die here.
Otto:  How's that?
Eduardo:  If the insignia are false, why would they be carrying the things?
Otto:  Damn, good point.  Someone else arranged for them to have the
  insignia...knowing that they would die.
Razor Charlie:  Compliment, to us.
Otto: they were sent here to die, by someone who wanted their
  identity to remain unknown.
Jutokai:  Or someone who doesn't like Perrenland.
Otto:  Mysteries within mysteries.
Ys:  This vexes me greatly.
Otto:  Whatever's going on, I'm sure it's far from over...

  As they pondered this, other things were afoot in a nearby town...a
town perhaps an hour from Helgate, as the crow - or bat - flew.  There
were many such towns nestled amongst the Clatspur Mountains and their
many foothills, and like this one, many of them had been subject to
nocturnal visitations of the sort that was happening even now.
  Outside a particular third-story window in one house in the town, thin
mists shifted and danced, making strange patterns against the night sky
and its full moon.  Inside the warm, cozy house, a young noble named
Tiberius began to feel uneasy...just like he had one night earlier this
week, and another night last week.  He couldn't put his finger on the
problem - he just knew something was wrong.  In truth, he had no idea
just how wrong, for the next moment saw him lose his senses and walk
over to the window.  Compelled by forces far beyond his understanding,
and whose influence he wouldn't recall later, he pulled the latch and
threw the ornate windows open...wide open.
  From the mists outside, a dark shape materialized, moving toward the
open window...and through it.

Victoria:  (lands gracefully on the floor, smiling evilly)
Tiberius:  (standing there in a trance)

  This wasn't the first time that the vampiress had come here to feed,
but unbeknownst to her, it would be the last.  She had been careful,
changing victims and towns regularly, never completely draining any of
her victims or leaving other telltale signs.  For that reason, Victoria
was taken completely by surprise when the five men burst into the room,
brandishing weapons and holy symbols.

tall man in black:  (grimly)  Caught in the act!

  This man was clearly the leader of the group, judging by his posture
and the way the others seemed to hinge on his every word and action.
He was tall, well over six feet, and lean in a rugged way.  He appeared
to be perhaps forty years old, though it was hard to tell; he could
have been an old thirty or a young fifty.  Aside from his head, the man
was clad entirely in black - boots, pants, shirt, gloves, wide-brimmed
hat, and cape.  He held a long, straight ebony cane in one hand, its
narrow end tipped with a silver ferrule.
  The other four men weren't quite as notable.  Two of them had subtly
moved between the vampiress and the window; one of these was a stocky
middle-aged man with craggy features and white hair, and he had been
gazing intently at Victoria since bursting into the bedroom.  The burly
and muchly-scarred fellow next to him was obviously a warrior, as was
one of the remaining two who stood to either side of the tall man in
black.  The fifth man seemed out of place amongst his fellows; he stood
calmly, holding the long wooden handle of his scythe in one hand, its
butt resting on the carpeted floor.  His cropped black hair offset pale
skin stretched tightly over a thin, taut, almost skeletal face.  This
man just stood there, as if he had no need to act out a part in this
  Victoria noted all of this in a matter of moments - which was all the
time they gave her.

tall man in black:  Make it easy on yourself.  Surrender.
Victoria:  I think not...
Tiberius:  (snaps to his senses)  Huh?  What's going on?
tall man in black:  Your role as bait is done.  Get out of the way and
  stay there.
Victoria:  (regards the leader)  You're no priest.
tall man in black:  One need not be a priest to be a vampire hunter.
craggy white-haired man:  (steps forward)  I'm the priest.  (he holds
  forth a silver holy symbol, which is glowing with a bright, clear
  light)  I command you back-  eh?!?

  If the new arrivals expected the vampiress to perish or cower, however,
they were most unpleasantly surprised.  Victoria didn't take many items
with her when she flew away to feed - not even her saber - but she did
carry two magical items at all times.  One of these was the small black
gemstone that Belphanior had gained from the raid on Baron Albert's
mansion in Blackmoor.  The thing definitely had the effect Belphanior
had claimed, for Victoria didn't even feel the slightest discomfort from
the priest's show of power.

craggy white-haired priest:  (startled)

  Victoria wasn't one to waste time or surprise; in a flash, she moved
across the room, instinctively going for the nearest target, the younger
warrior-type to the left of the leader.

young warrior:  (suddenly finds himself a hostage, the vampiress' arm
  locked around his neck)  Aaa...(he staggers as some of his life force
  is drained away)
burly, scarred warrior:  (takes a step forward, sword in hand)  Let him
  go, monster!
Victoria:  (holding the man up easily, her other hand on his throat)
  Make another move and I'll rip his throat out.
tall man in black:  And then what?  (he nods at the others, who have
  moved to form a half-circle around Victoria, who is backed against
  a wall)  We have you now.
Victoria:  (cursing to herself as she realizes that she should have
  gone for the window right away)
craggy white-haired priest:  I don't know how you resisted my power,
  but you can't beat all five of us.
Victoria:  Four.  (with a sudden, savage twist, she snaps the young
  warrior's neck, then mutters a few words, invoking the power of the
  second magical item she never leaves home without)

  The vampiress was surrounded by a green nimbus, even as several of
her would-be foes lunged forward...

craggy white-haired priest:  Stop her!  (he swings his morningstar,
  which is now glowing brightly)

  It was no use - just like that, the vampiress was gone, spirited
far away to safety by the mighty power of her ring of recall.  Her
last thought while in that town, facing these unknown foes, was that
she'd never expected to have to use that ring during the night.

  As for those left behind...

burly, scarred warrior:  (looking around frantically)  Did she become
thin pale man with scythe:  (concentrating)  No...she is gone now...
  elsewhere.  (he shrugs)
craggy white-haired priest:  (nods, eyeing the spot where Victoria was
  just standing)  You're right...she's no longer here.  And she didn't
  turn to mist, either.  (he frowns to himself)  Well, this is a new
  one to me.
tall man in black:  How in the hells did she do that?
craggy white-haired priest:  (shaking his head)  Not a vampiric power
  that I ever heard of, that's for sure.  Maybe she's a wizard too.
  It certainly looked like she was casting a spell at the end, there.
  (he frowns)  We'd best take care - she's not going to forget us
  anytime soon.
tall man in black:  Fear not - we're taking the fight to her.
burly, scarred warrior:  (gesturing at the limp body of the dead man)
  What about Dorval?
thin pale man with scythe:  (flatly)  He is already on his way down
  the long, dark road.
burly, scarred warrior:  Damn it...damn!  This wasn't supposed to
  happen...he was too young to die.
thin pale man with scythe:  No one is too young to die.  Some simply
  meet their maker before others.
burly, scarred warrior:  (still distraught by the other man's death)
  We've got to do something - we can't just let her get away with
  killing him!
tall man in black:  She won't get away with it.  Dorval was a good
  man, and he will be avenged.  (he turns to the thin, pale man with
  the scythe)  You can find the vampiress, correct?
thin pale man with scythe:  Of course.
tall man in black:  Very well.  Let's take Dorval's body and have it
  buried - then we move out.  I don't want to lose a single day here.
  We're going to find that bitch...find her, and finish this once and
  for all.

next:      Belphanior and Mongo confront the Oracle
released:  8/16/00
notes:     Between these events and the designs of others on Helgate, it
  should be obvious that Belphanior's life is about to take a turn for the
  worse.  I may deal with the Oracle of Espyria first, but things will be
  coming to a head soon after that.

    I'm sending this one out a day early (8/16 not 8/17) because I'm
  leaving town for vacation tomorrow morning and won't have time to
  log on and send it.  Incidentally, when I go on vacation, that's
  exactly what it is:  vacation.  No email, no phones, nothing at all
  familiar.  I prefer to immerse myself in where I am instead of what
  I'm getting away from.

    It's not looking good for the crew of the sunken Russian sub, but
  let's all hope for a miracle and a good outcome.  It really bugs me
  how much BS got in the way of what should have been a straightforward
  rescue operation.

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