Chapter #833

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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:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         a forested path within the Crystalmist Mountains       +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+   "We could die right here.  Accept that.  Anything else is just        +
+    very good luck."                                                     +
+                         - Colonel "Hannibal" Smith, from _The A-Team_   +

                      DCCCXXXIII.  Free-For-All

  As the slaver caravan comes under attack from a pack of savage wolves,
Belphanior faces the prospect of being torn to pieces while trapped in

wolf #15:  (twenty feet away, it crouches, poised to leap)  Grrrr...
Belphanior:  Shit.

  The elf had earlier noted something about the system of chains that
held the captives in place.  They were arranged in pairs, side by side,
each pair of slaves collared to a short length of chain that ran through
a large ring.  A thicker chain ran through all of these rings and held
the pairs of slaves in place.  Either of the two slaves within one of
these pairs could range a few feet to his or her side, but this movement
would be arrested by the other slave, whose body obviously wouldn't fit
through the ring.
  However, given the bloody fate of the old man with whom he'd shared
the shorter length of chain, Belphanior had a sudden (if gruesome) idea.

Belphanior:  (grabs the chain attached to his collar and yanks with all
  his might)  Ungh!

  Since the old man's throat had been torn out, his head was already
half-severed from his body.  Belphanior's actions simply completed the
process, forcibly pulling the dying man's collar to the metal ring...
and then through, as the head tore free from the body, showering the
elf with more blood.  The length of chain, tipped with a thick and now
gory metal collar, slid through the larger ring.
  Belphanior was free, and armed with a weighted chain whose other end
was fastened to the collar around his own neck!

Belphanior:  (wasting no time, he whirls, swinging the makeshift weapon
  at the wolf that just tore the old man's throat out)  Die!

  The weapon was crude, but it was also heavy, and Belphanior was fueled
with a strength borne of desperation and sheer will to live.  The heavy
collar smashed into the wolf's head, splitting it open and felling the

wolf #17:  (thrashes about wildly, on the ground, blood spilling from
  its head)  Rrrrrr!

  All of this - the elf's sudden gaining of a weapon and his equally
sudden attack on the wolf - had happened in a handful of moments.

Belphanior:  (turns to the other wolf, swinging the length of chain
  slowly but deliberately, his gaze locked on the animal all the while)
  Come on.
wolf #15:  Grrr...(about to leap, it suddenly falls victim to a random
  charging slaver's attack, and they fall in a tangle of arms, legs, and
Belphanior:  (wasting no time, he dashes to the front of the slave-chain)

  The central chain was padlocked to a large eyebolt mounted in the back
of a wagon; Belphanior simply needed a weapon capable of breaking that
thicker chain, or the lock that held it in place.

Belphanior:  (lashes out at a running slaver, clotheslining him with the
  chain and knocking him down)  Sorry, friend.  (ignoring the stunned
  slaver, he grabs the man's battleaxe and clambers atop the wagon)

  Ever-watchful for wolves - or slavers - he chopped at the bulky
padlock that held the thicker chain.  It took four blows to break the
thing, and a few more precious moments to reel in the thick chain, but
his plan worked:  the surviving slaves were free, and began darting
around randomly.  Most tried to flee, not really understanding that
there was nowhere to run or hide.  A few joined the fight, either
picking up weapons dropped by the dead or attacking slavers to gain
their weapons.  Either way, they unwittingly worked toward the elf's
purpose:  to offer distractions for the wolves while Belphanior sought
the next thing he needed...

Belphanior:  (heads toward the fat slaver who, for the last few hours,
  had flaunted a keyring in front of all the chained slaves)  You.
slaver #10:  (trying to load a crossbow, he looks up, just in time to
  have his head split open by the axe)  Ghak.
Belphanior:  (takes the keyring and quickly examines its keys, ruling
  out all but the few that might fit the collar around his neck)

  It was no easy feat to try the keys on the lock, without being able to
see it, in the midst of a pitched battle.  However, Belphanior was quite
skilled in matters involving keys and locks, and there were plenty of
freed slaves running around.  In a matter of moments, he had the collar
unlocked and removed, and he hefted his axe once more, turning to survey
the chaos...

slave #12:  (swinging a longsword, he hacks at a slaver)  Aaaargh!
slaver #8:  Aie-  (he falls back, sliced across one side)
slave #12:  Die, die-
wolf #18:  (slams into the freed slave, biting and clawing madly as both
  go down in a heap)
slaver #8:  Heh-
wolf #17:  (tears into the other, its jaws locking around the man's neck)
slaver #8:  AAAARGH!  (he flails uselessly as blood spurts everywhere)
Belphanior:  (looking around, he spots a wagon full of barrels, tied to
  a number of wild-eyed horses that haven't panicked just yet)  Aha.
  (he darts in that direction)
wolf #22:  (lopes into the elf's path, growling menacingly)  Grrrr...
Belphanior:  Die, then.  It's your choice.

  Before the beast could leap, Belphanior charged it, axe swinging in a
deadly arc.  The animal wasn't expecting such a move, and it fell back
before the attack.

Belphanior:  (almost chasing the wolf, he spots another moving in from
  one side)  Shit.  (with a sudden leap, the elf clambers onto a wagon,
  instantly gaining a better view of the overall battle)

  All was chaos.  Each combatant - slaver, slave, or wolf - was simply
fighting for his, her, or its own survival.  Blood and gore could be
seen everywhere.  Turkus, the leader of the slavers, had taken control
of a knot of his men; these were successfully holding a dozen wolves at
bay.  Belphanior had no inclination to help them, but then he spotted
the single most important item of those that had been taken from him.

slaver #9:  (fighting with a most-familiar-looking black sword)
Belphanior:  Ah.

  There was no easy or safe way to get the weapon back, so the elf did
something downright maniacal.  The wagon he now stood on contained
several barrels of pitch, clearly marked as such.  A number of still-
burning torches lay dropped on the ground from where the slavers had
been preparing against the coming night, before the attack.

Belphanior:  Ungh!  (he hefts one of the barrels, hurling it to the hard
  ground near one of the torches, where it shatters, leaking black ooze
  in a rapidly-growing puddle that takes random directions according to
  the slope of the trail)
random wolves, slavers, and slaves:  (their feet soaked with the flowing
  black liquid)
Turkus:  What?!?  Are you crazy?!?
Belphanior:  Quite.  (he watches in satisfaction as the pitch catches
  fire, sending up a bizarrely-shaped wall of flames)

  The elf quickly threw a second barrel in the direction of Turkus, his
men, and the wolves they fought.  It was only a matter of time before
this second smashed pitch-barrel caught fire, and the chaos instantly
grew even worse.
  Belphanior's next move was made even easier by the fact that only he
knew what he was doing and why.  The poor fellow who held Blackrazor
didn't know what he had, since he'd probably just looted it from the
stash of things taken from the elf upon his capture.  The slaver had no
idea that Belphanior was determined to recover the blade, or die trying.
To his credit, he spotted the elf charging and leaping through the
flames, and brought the sword up to defend himself.

slaver #9:  Stay away from me!
Belphanior:  Give me my sword back.
slaver #9:  Never!  (he charges the elf)

  What happened next was most bizarre:  the sword began whispering with
barely-audible sounds that froze the blood of the slaver.  The dark blade
suddenly seemed to weigh a ton, and the man felt as if he could barely
swing it.

slaver #9:  Wh- what the hell...?!?
Belphanior:  (grabs the man's wrist, twisting savagely)
slaver #9:  Aaargh!  (he drops the blade, which Belphanior catches)

  A surge of power, almost electric in intensity, shot through the elf's
arm and body as he once again grasped the dark blade.  He knew from past
experience that the sword was semi-sentient and could distinguish one
wielder from another...and that it preferred him.  One thing was never
in doubt:  in Belphanior's hands, the sword got its fair share of souls
to feast upon.

Belphanior:  I'll take that, thanks.  Too bad for you that you saw fit
  to borrow it from me.  (he lets the slaver's wrist go, raising the
  sword)  But now I have another use for you.
slaver #9:  No...
Belphanior:  (swings Blackrazor in a wide arc, decapitating the other)
  Aaaaaaah...(he takes in the life force, his fatigue vanishing, his
  wounds healing up...and looks around)  Now, then.

next:       pursuit
released:   8/13/04
notes:      I've long been looking for a believable way to strip Belphanior
  of his magic and items and make him actually be at risk of death in a
  fight.  This is most refreshing.

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