Chapter #668

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
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                           +      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   +
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+   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                    +
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+   Date:           3/2/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           morning                                               +
+   Place:          the remote mountain town of Helgate                   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
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+   "Everybody's running from something."                                 +
+                                           - from _Last Man Standing_    +
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                   DCLXVIII.  Fearless Vampire Hunters





  The morning sun rose over Helgate, but its rays only lanced through
parts of the fog and mist that perpetually surrounded the small town.
Breakfast found Otto and the others discussing what Victoria had told
them the night before last...

Jutokai:  What I can't figure out is this:  how could they have found
  her like that?
Ys:  And if they can do that - as they obviously can - then it stands to
  reason that they might be able to track her here as well.
Otto:  Believe me, I've thought about that.  I've posted extra guards
  at the entrance to town, to keep an eye out for these people she told
  us about.

  In actuality, the vampiress had only told Otto of her near-escape, and
the dwarf wasn't entirely sure why.  He considered himself fortunate that
she'd thought enough of him to tell him anything in the first place, but
then again, their fates were all tied together to some extent.  She'd
made the right decision, and if the vampire hunters (or whatever they
were) came for her, they'd find more than just one foe facing them.

Eduardo:  I've also been keeping an eye out.
Otto:  One of your best skills, that's for sure.
Razor Charlie:  Not bad with a knife, either.
Eduardo:  (beams)
Otto:  Well, between this crap and the other crap with the thugs who made
  all that trouble in the Sword and Cup, we may have our hands full.  At
  least for now, everyone walk carefully and watch for anything out of
  the ordinary.
Jutokai:  Right.
Razor Charlie:  (checks his belts and vest, which hold double the usual
  number of blades he carries)
Ys:  (grasps the hilt of his huge sword, recalling with some displeasure
  the recent battle in which he was stopped cold by magic)
Eduardo:  (wondering if anything will actually ever come of any of these
  conflicts that the adults have gotten embroiled in)





  Meanwhile, outside Helgate, six riders reined in their horses, eyeing the
crude sign that marked the outermost boundary of the mountain town.  As
they muttered amongst themselves, one of their number took these moments
to reconsider their position and what they were about to do.  The burly,
scarred warrior's name was Marko; it was his friend, the young warrior
Dorval, who had been brutally slain by the vampiress two days ago.  That
one thing, more than any sense of duty or honor, now drove Marko to see
this whole thing through to what could very well be a bloody finish.
  He had never planned to be a vampire hunter; sometimes, you found your-
self involved in things beyond any rhyme or reason.  It had seemed like a
good idea at the time, and along with the others, they had successfully
found and destroyed a number of vampires.  Each of the party did it for
his or her own reason, Marko reflected, as he surveyed the others in the
group.
  Their leader, who went by the simple name of Bram, had been doing this
longer than any of the rest.  Tall and imposing, with shoulder-length
black hair, he was attired completely in black.  The man was a warrior
through and through, with the strength of a lion, the endurance of an ox,
and the speed of a viper.  He used no sword, no axe - only his simple,
sleek cane of black wood, tipped with a sharp silver point.  Marko had
personally witnessed Bram send a vampire straight to hell with that cane,
using it as a stake to finish the foul creature.  Bram hated vampires,
and with good reason:  more than a decade ago, his beloved young wife
had been taken and turned by a vampire.  Bram had ended up killing her -
for the second and final time - as she begged and pleaded for mercy.
The experience had changed him, scarred him, though not in any physical
sense.  Bram was a man driven, one who never backed down, and he feared
nothing - man, beast, or monster.
  The middle-aged priest, Boltar, had apparently had white hair since
his youth.  A stout fellow who did battle with an enchanted morningstar,
Boltar was an exalted high priest of Pholtus, of the Blinding Light.
He hailed from Furyondy, where it was said he had ties with the king
himself.  Decked out in gold-trimmed white robes that never seemed to
get dirty or damaged, the priest was heavy-duty bad news for evildoers,
particularly undead.  He commanded the sort of holy power that could
suddenly and totally obliterate many of the living dead - and he had
used it, many a time, in the past.  After witnessing the murder of
young Dorval, Boltar's desire for justice burned more brightly than
ever.
  The third of the others present two nights ago sat quietly in his
saddle, but he was perhaps the most dangerous of the group...and
definitely the strangest.  He called himself Ghuust, and his purvey
lay with death and the dead.  Ghuust worshipped no evil gods - the
priest Boltar would have had nothing to do with such a one - but in
truth, Ghuust spoke with the dead, knew their ways, and could sense
and track the more powerful sorts of undead.  Quite frankly, he was
a handy guy to have around in a band of vampire hunters.  This didn't
change the fact that Marko, for one, was scared of Ghuust; the latter
tended to speak of things such as reclaiming wayward souls and spirits
and sending them where they belonged.  The thing was, he wasn't insane
or possessed - he really did mean what he said.
  The other two members of the band hadn't confronted Victoria that
night, as they had lain in wait outside the manor, ready to take out
anything that emerged from an upper window.  One was a slender human
woman, the other a hulking warrior.  Both were extremely dangerous.
  The female wizard, Parekh, was a slender brown-skinned woman of
Flan heritage.  She was also a wizard of sufficient skill to have once
tried out for Greyhawk's famous Circle of Eight.  Word was that there
hadn't been somebody who was necessarily better, but rather somebody
who was male.  The rejection, polite as it had been, only drove Parekh
to strive for greater skill and more knowledge.  By and large, she had
succeeded; she commanded power sufficient to level a small army.  Some
wizards were useful for combat, others for traveling, yet others for
divining, summoning, and so on.  Parekh could handle all of these
tasks, and had been doing an outstanding job for quite some time now.
  Next to the wizard, and looming over her despite the fact that both
were horsed, was her companion and lover Drak Grimthorr.  Drak had the
look and poise of a stereotypical barbarian warrior from one of the
northern lands, but his speech and manners were those of a civilized
fellow.  He was that rarest of the rare:  one who possessed a massive,
powerful frame, catlike reflexes and agility, and a keen intelligence
and cunning.  Drak was a gifted combatant, one of those people who
could pick up just about any weapon and be effective with it right
then and there.  He also had a certain charisma - one word from him,
and even a total stranger knew right away that the big man meant
business and was one to be reckoned with.  In another time and place,
Drak might well have been a general.
  These, then, were the five companions whom Marko had come to Helgate
with.  In truth, he was the newest among their ranks, for he and the
lad Dorval had just joined a month ago.  In that short time, the group
had located and exterminated a small tribe of vampires, and then began
the journeys that led them to the town they'd been in two nights ago.
Marko was a veteran of many battles, some even with fearsome monsters,
but he had been impressed, even awed, by the prowess of each of these
people with whom he was currently allied.
  As they spurred their mounts and began the ride into Helgate, it
occured to Marko that he was the least among this bunch - a grizzled
old soldier who had the skill and experience to hold his own in most
situations, but not on a par with wizards, high priests, speakers with
the dead, and the like.  His gut instincts were telling him very bad
things about this town, the vampiress they closed in on, and the future
in general.





next:      it all begins to come together...and not in a gentle way
ftp:       ftp.peldor.com
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           tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu
released:  8/24/00
notes:     Ahhhhhh.  Now THIS is the kind of story I like.
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