Chapter #669

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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                          +
+                                                                         +
+   unwanted soon-to-be-visitors:                                         +
+     Bram          enigmatic vampire hunter                              +
+     Boltar        high priest of Pholtus                                +
+     Drak          rather cultured barbarian warrior                     +
+     Ghuust        weird necromantic medium                              +
+     Marko         grizzled warrior                                      +
+     Parekh        dark-skinned female wizard                            +
+   Date:           3/2/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           morning                                               +
+   Place:          the remote mountain town of Helgate                   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "The only way to ensure peace is by preparing for war."               +
+                                                     - John F. Kennedy   +

                          DCLXIX.  Prelude

  As the six vampire hunters prepared to ride into Helgate, a cloud of
dust came into view from the main pass, a short distance to the east.

Bram:  (adjusts his wide-brimmed black hat)  Now that's odd.
Drak:  Only one thing makes that kind of dust-trail.  (he looks at Marko)
Marko:  (nods)  An army.
Parekh:  (floats up into the air, scanning the horizon)  Your guess is
  dead on the money.  Several hundred riders, definitely coming this way.
  (she descends as suddenly as she rose)
Bram:  Hmm...why would they be coming here?
Boltar:  More to the point, how do you want to handle this?
Bram:  (thinking of the possibilities and ramifications)  No need for
  conflict, not if we can avoid it...
Ghuust:  The conflict - and the death that comes with it - are inevitable.
  Many will die here today.
Drak:  You can sense that?
Ghuust:  (nods grimly)
Parekh:  If that's the way it is, then that's the way it is.  We just need
  to decide what role we play in it.
Marko:  Hopefully an aggressive one.
Bram:  Everyone play it cool and follow my lead.  We want to be as normal
  and unobtrusive as possible, until we get a feel for what's going on.

  They moved to one side of the road as the first riders came into view,
clad in armor and bearing weapons, both of which gleamed in the sunlight.
There were indeed hundreds of the warriors, maybe four hundred all told;
at their head rode a gigantic figure in fine chain mail, with a crested
helm and a shield bearing a familiar emblem:  the crosshatched pattern of
red and white.  Simple and distinctive, Perrenland's coat-of-arms was
well-known across the Flanaess.  As the force of soldiers neared the edge
of town, the six companions could see that though the leader's shield was
perhaps a little brighter than those of his men, they too bore that royal
insignia - some on shields, some on armor, some on the flags they carried
  The general rode forth with a small detachment to speak with the six
companions, removing his helmet to reveal a wide, bearded face that
conveyed power and authority.

general:  (speaks in a deep, strong, clear voice)  Greetings.  I am Nigel
  Bloodstone, High General of Perrenland.  Is yonder town indeed the place
  known as Helgate?
Bram:  (takes a step forth)  It is.  We were about to go there, seeking
  shelter for the day and night...but perhaps that isn't such a good idea,
  from the looks of things?
Nigel Bloodstone:  Perhaps not.  (he regards his men, then the town ahead,
  and then the six companions)  Perrenland has business with Helgate, and
  my force may be quartered here for some time.  You might find quieter,
  less dangerous lodgings at one of the nearby towns, perhaps a day's ride
  from here.
Bram:  I see.  Is there to be violence?
Nigel Bloodstone:  I certainly hope not, but...(he shrugs)  One never knows.
Bram:  I understand completely.  (he turns to his own people)  We must talk
  about this, and review our other options.  (he turns back to Nigel, his
  gaze meeting the general's evenly)  Best of luck in your mission.
Nigel Bloodstone:  And safe travels to you and your companions.  (he puts
  his helmet back on, then spurs his horse, shouting to his men)  Onward,

  The ground shook as the heavy warhorses and their riders thundered toward
the town, leaving behind one hell of a trail of dust.

Parekh:  (having generated a clear field to keep the dust out and the air
  clean, she watches the the military force depart)  Most interesting.
Bram:  Indeed it is.  I'm guessing that those men know their business and
  have come here to do some serious work.
Marko:  (nods)  Perrenland has the best fighting men to be found anywhere
  in the world.
Drak:  Those soldiers looked the part, too.  Not a slacker or coward in
  the lot, I'd say.
Marko:  If Perrenland sent a force of such men, and a general to lead
  them, then something serious is afoot.
Boltar:  I wonder what their mission is.
Parekh:  Perhaps I should have used a spell to probe that general's mind
  and learn the nature of his business.
Bram:  It really doesn't matter.  We're going in.
Marko:  (somewhat surprised)  We are?
Bram:  Yes.  Army or no army, we still have _our_ mission.
Boltar:  A righteous and just mission, at that.
Marko:  We didn't really have time to scout this town out, but we need
  to lay low and get a feel for the place.
Bram:  (nods)  Exactly.  We'll just have to deal with whatever crops up...
  but we'll not be deterred by anyone, not even a small army.
Parekh:  Or a large one, at that.
Drak:  I just hope that those soldiers don't get in our way.
Parekh:  For their sake.

  As the dust from the Perrenland force settled and the six vampire hunters
resumed their own entry into Helgate, things were stirring in the heart of
the small town.  Otto had hastily mustered his people inside the marshals'

Otto:  I'll give you a quick no-shitter:  several hundred soldiers are about
  to ride into town.  We don't know what they want or where they came from.
Jutokai:  I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.
Ys:  (to Otto)  Your scouts spied these people?
Otto:  (nods)  Pretty easy when there're a few hundred, all decked out in
  armor and mounted on warhorses.
Eduardo:  Whatever they want, it can't be good.
Otto:  Right, which is why you're going to the castle.
Eduardo:  (looks upset)  But-
Otto:  Those in the castle have to be alerted and prepared...and it's safer
  there.  Plus, it's our last line of defense.
Eduardo:  But-
Otto:  Go.  Now!  Hurry!
Eduardo:  (stifles another protest, and bolts out of the barracks)
Otto:  It's for his own good.
Ys:  Agreed.  A battle with soldiers is no place for a boy.
Razor Charlie:  (grunts, but nods)
Otto:  There may not be a battle.  We don't know, but let's not make it
  happen.  I reckon I'll have to do some talking here.
Jutokai:  (cocks his head)  Can you feel that?
Ys:  What?
Razor Charlie:  Hoofbeats.  They're on their way.
Otto:  (sighs, checking his swordbelt)  Let's do it.

  Unknown to anyone in (or entering) town, yet another element of this storm
was brewing, an hour's ride to the south...

big, scarred Kettite general:  Damn!  If not for that collapsed mountain
  pass last night, we'd have been there by now!

  The general, Tonga Dun by name, had been pushing his men and their horses
relentlessly, ever since Ket's spies learned that Perrenland was now in the
process of putting a military force in place in Helgate.  Ket's rulers had
known that this would happen eventually, and had taken steps to make sure
that the process would be as difficult as possible, but nobody had suspected
Perrenland of making its move this early.  As Tonga Dun led his six hundred
hastily-assembled and -supplied troops northward, all he could think about
was his objective, and how much more difficult it would be if Perrenland had
forces already in place when Ket's own soldiers arrived in Helgate.

next:      the plot thickens
released:  8/28/00
notes:     I promise you one thing, and you can hold me to it when the
  dust clears:  if Helgate goes, it won't be quietly.
    My latest ranting is up:

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