Chapter #791

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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       +
+   1991-2001 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   +
+   Belphanior      15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+   Otto            10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+   Razor Charlie   10th level human fighter                              +
+   Skektek         13th level human wizard                               +
+   Ys              14th level reptilian fighter                          +
+   Date:           5/15/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          the Free City of Greyhawk                             +
+   Climate:        warm                                                  +
+   "Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves."      +
+                                                           - Carl Sagan  +

                      DCCXCI.  Rational Decisions

  Belphanior has shared the news with his team, to understandably mixed

Skektek:  A _city_ of vampires?!?  Damn!
Otto:  I've got to agree.  One or two are bad enough, but a city could
  mean hundreds...thousands!
Ys:  Tens of thousands.
Razor Charlie:  That's a lot of damn vampires.
Belphanior:  (holds up his hands)  I know, I know.  I'm not asking you
  to go with me.  Hell, I'm not even sure if _I'm_ going there.
Otto:  I'd advise against it.  It's a battle you couldn't win.
Skektek:  Not even with that holy torch Mongo was bragging about.
Belphanior:  Well, all I want to do is talk to her.  But you can be sure
  I'm not going to risk my life - or yours - to do it.
Razor Charlie:  (clutching the amulet he wears)  I don't like vampires.
Ys:  (to Belphanior)  You know we lack nothing in the way of bravery,
  and would fight a thousand battles for any reasonable cause.  This,
  however...this is something else entirely.
Skektek:  It's a battle we can't win.
Otto:  You're got to figure...those vampires would be completely in
  their element.  An underground city means no sun.  Hell, just that
  alone would make ten of them unstoppable.
Ys:  (puzzled)  What sort of ecology would support a place such as this,
  I wonder?
Belphanior:  I wondered, too, until I gave more thought to it...too
  much thought.
Skektek:  Eh?
Belphanior:  Vampires live on blood.  People - humans, dwarves, elves,
  whatever - produce blood.  To feed a city of thousands of vampires,
  over a long period of time, there's only one logical way.
Ys:  Aie.
Belphanior:  Right.  The vampires must keep, breed, raise, and drain
  them like farm animals.  Like herds.
Razor Charlie:  Fucking vampires.
Otto:  You think that's possible - keeping them alive all that time,
  yet drinking their blood regularly?
Belphanior:  I'm not sure.  The more I think about it, the less I
  want to find out.  (he cracks his knuckles)  Okay, that settles it.
  We're not going to Skava-Ra.  No vampires.
Skektek:  But what about-
Belphanior:  Victoria?  I'll try to find and talk with her using a
  spell, or some similar way.  It's not worth a trip to such a place,
  at any rate.
Otto:  With that settled, then...what do we do next?

  To be sure, each of the group had been pondering this privately.

  Skektek was about as happy as he could be.  His time with Belphanior's
crew had gained him treasure both financial and magical, as well as the
opportunity to put both to use.  Skektek cared nothing for experiments
or research or settling down or making a family.  His ways were simple
and direct:  he wanted to have and to use power.

  Razor Charlie, on the other hand, was not happy.  He wasn't unhappy,
either; his mind didn't work like that.  He was, however, weary.  The
man was as tough as nails, and never complained - ever - but the fact
remained that he was pushing fifty.  The aches lasted longer now, and
the pains were sharper.  Most sobering of all was the realization
that in a world filled with dragons, demons, and wizards, he was just
a man who threw knives.  Sooner or later, all the skill and luck in
the world wouldn't save him from death at the hands of foes completely
out of his league.  No, he had decided that it was time to retire; it
was just a matter of breaking the news to Belphanior.

  Otto was ready to follow whatever course of action Belphanior chose.
The dwarf was a strong believer in the need to regularly challenge and
test oneself.  When a person got lazy or weak, that person would get
dead in a hurry.  Otto didn't much care what was going on, be it a
Helgate, or a Panagaea, or a fortress.  He simply wanted - needed - to
live on the edge, to see regular and challenging action.  Ever since
joining Belphanior's group, he had stayed busy, and thus happy.

  As for Ys, his thoughts were, as always, his own.  He didn't talk to
the others about his past or present, and they didn't ask.  Somehow,
it was enough to simply know that the huge reptilian's sword would be
there when the time came for battle.  In what private time he had, in
recent days and given recent events, Ys had used the snake-god statue
from Panagaea to try and gain insight into the past - and perhaps find
a glimpse of his own race's history.  The snake-men of the lost isle
had borne a disturbing resemblance to Ys' own race, and since the full
origin of the latter was shrouded in mystery even to the reptilians
themselves, Ys was naturally fascinated by what he'd seen in Panagaea.
For now, however, he enjoyed the company offered by Belphanior and the
others, and planned to stay with them.  These were the first ones in
many years - and certainly outside of his native race - that Ys could
truly call friends.  They didn't care that he was eight feet tall, or
had scaly grey skin, or whatever.  They didn't ask questions or make
strange demands.  They simply counted him as one of their own, whose
hands they could put their life in, or vice versa - no questions, and
no expectations.  It was a simple but very powerful definition of

  Belphanior himself wasn't sure what would come next.  He'd wanted
to settle the business with Victoria, but this now seemed far beyond
his reach.  He wasn't ready to investigate the possibility of having
Neera around, though - not yet.  In fact, the elf wasn't sure if he
wanted to stay in one place, much less settle.  He felt that he'd
tried that already, in Helgate; although it had worked well for quite
some time, it had ended badly.  All the external causes in the world
didn't change that fact, that Helgate's end had come with fire and
death.  Perhaps, in the future, another similar arrangement could be
found...but right now, the idea didn't sit well with Belphanior.  He
felt more than a little wanderlust at the moment, to tell the truth.
Perhaps the time had come to just set out, on the open road, with no
real plan or destination in mind.  He just wasn't sure, but now that
the Victoria angle had hit a snag, the elf would have to do some deep
thinking, and then make a decision.

next:      Gorin
released:  1/7/02
notes:     Well, there you have it:  the latest in an ongoing series of
  character self-exploration and soul-searching.  I guess by now, you've
  noticed that I'm doing this for everybody, and in alphabetical order,
  to boot.  My general approach is that most or all of them will have
  come to realize, by now, that adventuring does not go hand-in-hand with
  a stable life.  If they keep doing what they're doing, they could get
  killed; the power levels are that high now.
    Each character is, of course, reacting to this realization (and its
  related problems) in his or her own unique way.  Alindyar and Lyra are
  trying to find a way to outwit and outplan all the risks.  Belphanior
  is simply oblivious.  Otto knows and accepts the adventuring lifestyle.
  Sketek actually embraces it.  Razor Charlie is tired of it, at least on
  the level and scope he's seen recently.  Ys kind of acknowledges it all
  but his mind is really elsewhere.
    I will doubtless take a lot of flak for writing a dozen episodes with
  little or no action, especially at the end like this, but for all that
  they've been through, these characters deserve it.

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