Chapter #793

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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   +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger of Ehlonna                    +
+   Date:           6/3/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           early morning                                         +
+   Place:          the Timberway Forest, north of Ratik                  +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "You have to test yourself every day...once you stop testing          +
+    yourself, you get slow...and when that happens they kill you."       +
+                                    - Billy the Kid, from _Young Guns_   +

                   DCCXCIII.  The Solitary One

  The group of orcish scouts paused as its frontmost member held up one
hand, signalling the others to stop.

frontmost orc:  Tripwire!
other orc:  But who would be here, setting traps for us?
frontmost orc:  Shh!  (he follows the thin cord, soon locating the knot
  that ties it to a nearby tree)  Huh?

  The thing was a false trap, with no lethal component.

frontmost orc:  Decoy-

  From above, a large, dead branch fell, doing no real damage but still
knocking the orcs from their feet.  This was the intended effect, and as
the humanoids tried to get out from under the fallen foliage and recover
their weapons, a large, armed man was suddenly in their midst.

Halbarad:  (in orcish)  Die.  (he swings his battleaxe)
frontmost orc:  Ack!  (he reels, his head split)
Halbarad:  (slashes out with his dagger)
orc #2:  Ghak!  (he falls back, his throat slashed wide open)
orc #3:  (charges in, spear held before him)  Aaaaaaa-
Halbarad:  (sidesteps the weapon's sharp tip, grabbing it and tearing it
  from the foe's hands)
orc #3:  Huh?
Halbarad:  (brings his axe around in a vicious backswing, decapitating
  the orc)
orc #4:  (weaponless)  Mercy!
Halbarad:  Never.  (he dispatches that foe as well)

  Meanwhile, a large, sinewy mass of fur and muscle had stalked in from
one side, facing the remainder of the humanoid force.

Zephyr:  Grrrrr...
orc #5:  Aie!
orc #6:  (hurls a dagger, only nicking the cat as it leaps)
Zephyr:  Raaargh!
orc #5:  (goes down beneath the gigantic cat)
orc #6:  Aieee!
Zephyr:  (swipes out with one clawed paw, tearing the orc's face off)
orc #6:  (falls, dying)  Aaaaaa...
orc #7:  No way!  (he turns to flee...and finds himself facing Halbarad)
Halbarad:  Your work in this forest has ceased, and mine has begun.  (he
orc #7:  (falls, his chest caved in by the ranger's battleaxe)
Halbarad:  (stands, looking around, his weapons dripping blood)  Ah.
Zephyr:  (sitting atop the corpse of orc #6)  Grrrrr.
Halbarad:  Yes, I know they stink.  You don't have to eat them, you just
  have to kill them.
Zephyr:  Rrrrr.

  The ranger checked the bodies, in two cases putting foes out of their
(and his) misery.

Halbarad:  (stretches)  All in all, a good morning's work.

  Ever since the battle at the fortress, more than a month ago, Halbarad
had avoided people altogether - friends and otherwise.  Thanks to the
encounter with the beholder, his life had been changed forever - hell,
his very _nature_ had been changed.  No more would healing magic work to
restore his wounds, or in a severe case, his life.  If he was badly hurt
or slain, that was it.  If he was blinded or deafened or turned to stone,
life as he knew it would probably be over.
  Of course, there was a flip side to this as well:  magic would no longer
_work_ to blind or deafen or petrify him.  At least that was the theory.
Some of his allies had wanted to study him further, and experiment on his
altered body.  Halbarad, however, had flatly refused.

  Pallin:  But we must learn more-
  Halbarad:  No.
  Rob:  We might be able to figure out what happened, and why - and how
    to get you back to normal.
  Halbarad:  I will not be prodded and poked.
  Pallin:  But the things we could learn...
  Halbarad:  Go cut up a beholder or something.  I'm not interested.

  With that, the ranger had ended the discussion - that one, and any that
might come after.  He didn't want to become the topic of some tome, the
centerpiece of conversation around some wizard's dinner table.  No, this
was something he would have to - indeed, wanted to - sort out on his own.
  It really could have been a lot worse.  Of the magical items he owned,
the more functional ones still worked in the ways he needed them to.  His
enchanted leather armor still turned swordpoints and weighed no more than
regular clothing.  His battle axe and dagger still had sharp, magically-
enhanced edges; the former item's healing power wouldn't work on Halbarad
himself, but could still be applied to others.  His longbow, arrows, and
blasting-horn still worked, as did Zephyr.
  The big loss had been his gauntlets of strength, which would no longer
boost his might.  His ring of animal friendship and ring of truth still
functioned; in fact, the latter was perhaps even better now, since its
property of not allowing the wearer to tell a lie didn't affect Halbarad
any more.  Of course, he was not one who lied in the first place.
  His spellcasting abilities, which he had seldom used anyway, were of
course completely nonfunctional now.

  Halbarad had quickly decided that he needed time and privacy, and in
addition, he felt that he needed to test his skills in light of his new
"handicap."  Therefore, he'd ventured deep into the Rakers, making his
way through the mountain passes until he emerged into the Timberway.  In
these woodlands, he had remained for three weeks, hunting and killing
orcs.  There were plenty of the humanoids here, as they tended to mass
in the spring before raiding into nearby kingdoms.  Halbarad didn't
really think he was making a dent in the overall situation of the orcs
and their victims, but without an army, that was impossible anyway.  He
was just one man, doing the most he could - which in his case was quite
a lot.
  Besides, the important thing was that he'd had some time alone, and
he'd proven to himself that he was as good a hunter and fighter as ever.
The question now was:  what next?  He didn't really want to stay in the
lands near Greyhawk, or any other large city.  He didn't want to stay
in the Vesve with Peyote and Daffodil, and besides, those two probably
needed their own time alone.
  Halbarad wasn't the settling-down type; one reason he'd remained on
his own and wandering was so that no one else would ever have to pay
for his own deeds.  If some old enemy came for blood, there would be no
innocent lives lost.  His past would only capable of hurting Halbarad
himself - if it could get by his axe and dagger.

  He had a few ideas about what to do next, of course, but each had its
own drawbacks too.  There were armies that needed scouts, but he wasn't
one who thrived under the command of others.  There were adventurers to
join and guide, out there somewhere; Halbarad suspected that it might
do him good to take some young dungeon-delvers under his wing.  However,
this had the potential to invade his solitude more than he cared for.
Of course, for solitude _and_ purpose, all rolled into one, he could
always stay here in the forests and hunt evil humanoids.
  There was another option, too, one that he'd heard while talking to
Eyer and Kup Swiftfoot after the battle at the fortress.  It seemed
that there were some powerful and rich people who wanted to know what
lay beyond the edge of the known, mapped world.  Such an expedition
would offer new and strange thrills, and it appealed to Halbarad every
time he thought about it.  He had a name and a place, should he decide
to look into this further.
  For now, though, there were more orcs to find and kill.  This group
had been but a splinter of a larger force, a force that was heading
south and east, no doubt to raid and kill in Ratik.  Halbarad didn't
intend to let that happen.

next:      Mongo
released:  1/7/02
notes:     Regarding that issue I mentioned recently - how each of these
  people is recognizing the problem of the adventuring lifestyle making
  enemies and then risking future retribution, Halbarad's approach is
  perhaps the most immature:  he simply makes sure that only he is liable
  for his actions.  He's like the person who won't get pets because the
  pets will someday die - the sadness is avoided at the cost of lack of
  maximum potential happiness.

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