Chapter #832

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2004 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!                                          +
+   Belphanior     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Date:          5/26/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the Crystalmist Mountains, south of Sterich            +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+   "We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time."                   +
+                                                     - Vince Lombardi    +

                     DCCCXXXII.  Tables Turned

  The slaver caravan wound its way along the mountain road.  Those in
charge rode in the wagons or on horses; the slaves walked along behind
wagons, chained in groups of about a dozen.  The wind was cold and the
road hard; more than one unfortunate slave lost his or her footing and
fell, only to be whipped or beaten until they staggered back to their
feet.  Sensible guards would have realized that it wasn't physically
possible for weakened, underfed, and frequently-beaten people to walk
a pace like this...but Belphanior had long since realized that those
who controlled this caravan were far from sensible.  Indeed, there were
times when the slavers seemed more concerned about having a good laugh
(at the expense of some of their captives) than actually getting the
slaves to market and making any money.
  The elf was quite a mess, thanks to the beating he'd received earlier
this morning.  His face was a mass of cuts and bruises, and one eye (his
false one, fortunately) was nearly swollen shut.  His ribs and back were
in constant pain, though he hadn't been allowed the time to check on the
damage.  Despite all of these wounds, however, they weren't the primary
cause of his rage.  Oh, the slavers would die, or worse - that, he'd
already vowed to himself.  What made him really angry was the forcible
interruption of his explorations of the gateways, and the mysterious
separation from his team.  It all added up to delay...delay that he just
couldn't afford...delay that allowed Al-arakara and gods knew who else
to perhaps edge that much closer to hidden treasures that Belphanior
wanted for himself.
  On the bright side, his forced march had given him time to himself, to
think and plan.  While his body walked on, chained with the other slaves,
he ignored the pain and put his mind to work on the various problems that
he now faced.  From brief words with his fellow prisoners, he'd learned
the date - a mere three days since he'd left the gateway with Otto, Ys,
and the others - as well as the caravan's approximate location - somewhere
within the Crystalmist Mountains, south of Sterich.  That made sense, for
the direction the slaver caravan was moving made its destination all but
certain:  the Hold of the Sea Princes.  Aside from certain evil lands,
the domain of the Princes was the only kingdom in the Flanaess that had
slavery, openly and unabashedly.
  Of course, this posed other problems for Belphanior as well.  Some time
ago, he'd engineered a series of attacks on various people and places in
the lands of the Sea Princes.  He was almost certainly still wanted there,
and if he was spotted and identified, things would go from bad to worse.
  This meant that he had to find a way out of his current predicament;
this was, of course, easier said than done.  The chains that held all the
slaves were built for prisoners of considerable strength, much stronger
than Belphanior without his magical belt and other items.  He'd passed a
bit of the time today wondering if he'd grown too reliant on those items.
Mongo had once had similar thoughts, Belphanior recalled.  No, the only
unusual item that he'd retained - through pure luck - was his enchanted
glass eye, a gift from the grateful deep gnomes beneath Greyhawk.  It had
considerable abilities, none of which seemed directly useful at the
moment.  The infravision and ultravision would come in handy at night,
giving him an advantage if he got free.  The eye's ability to detect
magic, traps, and secret doors had no real advantage here, nor did its
power to see things far away, as an eagle would.  The fact that the eye
couldn't be blinded would come in handy if only Belphanior could find a
way to blind everyone _else_.
  Of course, the elf was an experienced thief, able to pick locks and
sneak about in darkness.  Unfortunately, the only such skill that might
be of use right now was the lock-picking, and the chains that held the
rows of slaves only had one lock, at the front of the main, thicker
chain bolted to the wagon.  Belphanior might have a chance to use his
thief skills, but such a chance simply hadn't presented itself yet.
  These and other thoughts consumed the better part of the elf's long,
painful day.  A few times, he got lashed by the slavers for no apparent
reason; each time, he held his anger in check, looked down at the rocky
ground, and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  One of his
aims now was to attract as little attention as possible, and hopefully
cause his captors to forget about him, how and where they found him, and
all of the strange weapons and items he'd been found with.  To that end,
he just kept quiet and saved up his anger, knowing that sometime soon,
he would wash these mountains in the blood of his new enemies.

  As often happened in times like this, a new event changed the entire
situation, as if some giant hand shook a chessboard, moving all of the
pieces around at random and causing the game to change drastically.  As
dusk approached, a distant howl pierced the cold mountain air.

slaver guard #13:  (draws his sword)  What was that?
slaver guard #7:  What-  (he stops talking as another, louder howl
  pierces the wooded mountain trail)  Shit!  Wolves!
slaver leader:  Calm down, boys.  Remember we've got two dozen men, and
  almost as many bows.  (he rubs his eyepatch and the scar that runs
  through it)  Besides, no wolfpack would challenge a caravan this big.
slaver guard #13:  I don't know.  (he looks around)  Those howls sound a
  good bit closer already.
slaver leader:  Everyone ready your weapons...just in case, of course.

  Two things were certain:  there were multiple creatures howling, and
they were quickly getting closer.  Belphanior noticed that the leader of
the slaver caravan took no chances, directing his men into simple but
effective defensive positions.  The man had obviously seen battle before,
perhaps even as a soldier before his slaving days began.  From listening
intently when he was supposed to be marching mindlessly, the elf had
picked up the leader's name:  Turkus.  The man exerted a firm and often
ruthless control over his men; Belphanior had surmised that this tended
to quickly weed out the weak.  Every warrior in the slaver band seemed
not only strong and brutal, but also tough and experienced in combat.

slaver guard #13:  Dammit...I knew this pass was haunted, as they claim!
Turkus:  Quiet, you, unless you want to be bashed senseless and left here
  in the road.  (he looks around)  Haunted, my ass.  It's not our usual
  route, but then again, we don't _usually_ come across twoscore pilgrims
  without so much as an dagger among them!  (he laughs deeply and loudly)
  We've got to get these wretches to market before someone misses them.
slaver guard #13:  I guess you're right...but still...(he looks around

  There was no mistaking it now.  Everyone, slavers and slaves alike,
could now hear the sounds of something - multiple somethings, actually -
prowling nearby in the forest to either side of the trail.  Belphanior
shook with frustrated rage at this situation.

Belphanior:  (to Turkus)  We're being hunted, you know.
Turkus:  Shut up, you.  I don't need the men any more spooked than they
  already are.
Belphanior:  Give me a weapon - I can help you-
Turkus:  (from his horse, he kicks the elf, knocking him back)  Quiet,
  I said!  We don't need any damn help!
slaver guard #13:  I don't think-

  The slaver's comment was interrupted by a large, furry brown form that
shot suddenly out of the woods, leaping off the ground right at the man!
He was knocked from his mount, and fell to the ground, screaming in fear
and pain as sharp claws and teeth ripped and tore his flesh.

slaver guard #13:  Aaaaah!  Help!  Help me-
wolf:  (closes its maw on the man's throat, ripping it out with a great
  fountain of blood)  Graaaar!

  Just like that, the pack of wolves attacked.  There had to be two dozen
of them, and they were all huge specimens - true beasts, with slavering
jaws and blood-curdling howls.  A few arrows and bolts were fired at the
animals, but then the things were among the slaver caravan.  Their sheer
ferocity and the slight element of surprise gave the wolves a tremendous
edge, despite the experience and weapons of the slaver guards.

wolf #23:  Raargh!  (it bites into a slaver's leg, bringing the man down,
wolf #4:  Graaar!  (it buries its fangs in the man's face, quelling his
  cries forever)
slaver guard #18:  (falls, sword in hand, as his horse is pulled down by
  two wolves)  Have at you, then-
wolf #11:  (collides with the slaver from behind, sending him sprawling
  and his sword clattering along the hard ground)
slaver guard #18:  No-  (he falls back under the attack of another wolf)

  And so it went.  The wolves were decimating the slavers...and a few of
the slaves, already.  Shackled and weaponless, the slaves were much
easier targets than their captors.  The only reason that most of them
still lived was the fact that the wolves were attacking the men with

Belphanior:  (has a terrible feeling, and shouts to Turkus)  Give me a
  weapon!  I can fight!  You need all the help you can get!
Turkus:  (hacks at a charging wolf, driving it back)  Quiet, damn you!

  The slaver leader actually looked like he was considering the elf's
request...but then he fell back as another wolf charged.  Belphanior
struggled against his chains, lifting the skinny old man next to him
completely off of the ground.

skinny old slave:  Hey, sonny, watch it there!  You can't just-
wolf #17:   (leaps into the man, ripping his throat open with a single
  horrible bite)
skinny old slave:  Ghak!
Belphanior:  (splattered with the old man's blood)  Damn!

  The elf wiped the blood out of his eyes, just in time to see the huge
black wolf that was crouched twenty feet away, growling and poised to

next:       more chaos
released:   8/6/04
notes:      Is all of this scripted, or am I making it up as I go along?
  What do you think?

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