Chapter #834

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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                                                 +
+   "The way I am is the way I am.  If I scare people, it gives me room." +
+                                       - B.A. Baracus, from _The A-Team_ +

                   DCCCXXXIV.  A Killer Among Killers

  During a pitched battle with wolves, Belphanior has not only escaped,
but also regained his sword...

Belphanior:  (standing over the slaver he just decapitated)  Aaaaaaah...
  (he takes in the life force, his fatigue vanishing, his wounds healing
  up...and looks around)  Now, then.

  The elf wasted no time using the sword's power to haste himself; this,
combined with the energy boost he had from the slaver he'd just executed,
made him a force to be reckoned with...

wolf #14:  (bounds toward the elf)  Graaar-
Belphanior:  (leaps aside, his sword flashing darkly as it slices the
  animal's side open)
wolf #14:  (howls in pain, flopping about on the ground)

  An odd thing happened then:  the very instant the wounded wolf howled,
every other wolf in the battle took notice.  Almost as one, they stopped
what they were doing and moved to surround the elf with the black sword.

Turkus:  (to his surviving men) Come on!  I don't know why they want
  him all of a sudden, but I don't care either!  (they begin finding
  whatever surviving horses they can)

  Meanwhile, Belphanior had realized what kind of attention he'd drawn
to himself, and turned in place, sword ready.

Belphanior:  Shit.  (he spies an overturned wagon, and quickly backs up
  to it, eliminating one angle of attack that would have allowed him to
  be surrounded)
wolves:  (closing in from all open sides, they paw the ground and growl
Belphanior:  You like my sword, eh?  (he points at the nearest wolf)
  Then come and meet Blackrazor!
wolf #22:  (leaps)  Raaargh!

  The elf's blade whirled in rapid arcs, faster than the eye could
follow.  The wolf never reached its victim, but instead fell back with
a severed foreleg and a gashed skull.

wolf #22:  (lands on the ground, pawing wildly)
Belphanior:  (darts forward with amazing speed, neatly stabbing the
  wounded animal through the neck)  Ahhhh.  (he takes in the life-force,
  growing yet stronger)

  The elf had been theorizing about these wolves, and his impromptu test
just now was something he'd been wanting to try ever since he regained
his sword.  These wolves had souls - which meant that they weren't really
wolves at all!

Belphanior:  (leaps aside as a second wolf charges)

  At this point, things began to happen very quickly.  The wolf smashed
into the bottom of the wagon, but Belphanior didn't have time to attack
it, for another wolf had leapt upon him.  This alone would have been
enough to bring down a normal foe...but the elf was no normal foe, and
he had options that no one else had.  Since he could heal wounds with
each slain foe, he was able to do bizarre combat maneuvers - such as the
one he did now, ramming one forearm at the wolf's snarling mouth.  As the
sharp fangs ripped his flesh and ground the bones of his arm, Belphanior
brought Blackrazor's edge to the wolf's throat...and then sliced it wide
open, bathing both himself and the dying wolf in hot blood.  The wounds
in his forearm healed, even as he spun around and slashed at another of
the attacking animals, cutting a deep furrow along its side.  A swift
kick sent this foe crashing into another that had just leaped, and as
they collided, Belphanior whirled and stabbed a wolf that was rushing in
from one side.  This attacker fell, blood spurting from its neck, even
as another pair leaped at the elf...and quickly met his deadly blade.
  And so it went.  By all rights, Belphanior should have been utterly
overwhelmed.  No less than a dozen times, it seemed that a wolf was about
to get the drop on him, or two were about to double-team him and bring
him down.  Yet somehow, each time, he wounded or slew each attacker, and
the ones he killed fed his own energy and healed his wounds, thanks to
his sword's grim powers.  The elf fought without a word, not even when
he suffered wounds from claw and fang; he was like one possessed, the
center of a bloody, savage whirlwind of death and ruin.
  It was a fight that couldn't go on forever...and it didn't.

giant black wolf:  (standing fifty feet away, it begins a low, keening

  All of the surviving wolves that were able to flee suddenly did so,
leaving the elf standing amidst a bloody mess of dead or dying animals.
Not knowing what the wolves were up to or how long the respite would last,
he wasted no time.

Belphanior:  (begins moving among the gory battlefield, using his sword
  to identify and dispatch any wounded wolves...or slavers)
slaver #10:  (lying there with his belly torn open)  Arrrgh...
Belphanior:  Your pain is over, friend.  (he stabs the fellow in the
  heart, taking his life-force as well)

  By the time his grim work was finished, the elf was infused with the
strength and vigor of ten men - ready for any more battle that came along.
Unfortunately, the wolves were gone, and the slavers either dead or fled.

Belphanior:  (idly wonders whether the two groups might run into each
  other somewhere in the woods)
voice:  What about us?
Belphanior:  (turns, facing a ragged slave whose hands still trail a bit
  of chain)  Hmm.

  The elf had, of course, known about these dozen or so survivors - his
sword always knew of all souls in the vicinity, which was how he'd sensed
that the wolves were more than just hungry animals.

slave:  Where will we go?  How will we defend ourselves?
Belphanior:  Quiet.  I'm thinking about it.

  Had the elf been evil, in the strictest sense of the term, he probably
would have just killed all the slaves in order to bolster his own power
even further.  However, he wasn't evil, and in fact, he had a soft spot
for slaves in the same way that he had a fundamental hatred of those who
kept, bought, and sold them.

other slave:  You saved us!
Belphanior:  I didn't save you - I saved myself.  You just got lucky.
third slave:  What kind of wolves were those, anyway?
Belphanior:  Not wolves at all, I'd wager.  Not normal ones, at any rate.
  If I had to venture a guess, I'd say they were werewolves.  They showed
  a certain intelligence, they obeyed commands from their leader, and of
  course, they had souls.
slave:  (confused)  Souls?  What do you mean?
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  Never mind that.  (to the group)  All of
  you, listen to me.  We have to get moving, and soon.  Take a short time
  to bind whatever wounds you might have and gather whatever food and
  weapons you can find.  We'll also need useful things like flint and
  steel, oil, rope, sacks, tools...that sort of thing.
random slave:  Who put you in charge?
Belphanior:  (holds up his sword)  I did.  Now, everyone get moving!  We
  need to hurry up and gather what we can, and then we're leaving.
other slave:  But where will we go?
Belphanior:  I'm still working that out.  (he makes a mental note to
  keep a close eye on any wounded slaves, in case they exhibit signs of

  A quick head count revealed fourteen other survivors.  Thirteen of
these were former slaves:  six men, five women, and two children.  From
this group, perhaps five were fit to wield a weapon and fight; the rest
were too small or too weak from their ordeal.  Four bore wounds, the
worst of which was a mangled, broken arm.  Despite the current situation,
their overall morale seemed decent; if nothing else, they were ready to
leave this slaughter and go elsewhere.
  The fourteenth survivor was a slaver who tried and failed to pose as
a slave; the others quickly identified him for what he was, and he was
beaten to the ground.

slaver:  Urgh...
Belphanior:  You have one chance, and one chance alone, to survive.  Do
  you understand?
slaver:  (looking rather timid)  Absolutely.
Belphanior:  When I was captured, I had in my possession a number of
  items, only one of which I've recovered.  (he points Blackrazor at the
  man)  I want to know where the rest of my things are.

  The elf thought for a moment that the slaver was going to lie or stall
(which would have had bloody consequences) or worse, that he simply didn't
know the answer.  However, luck was with Belphanior.

slaver:  Yeah, I remember all that, that was a haul.
Belphanior:  (turns Blackrazor over in his hand, the black metal dully
  reflecting the sunlight through the trees)  Get to the point.
slaver:  Um...Turkus sent it all ahead of the main caravan, in the care
  of the wizard.  It's long gone...two days ago.

  This matched what Belphanior already knew:  his items weren't anywhere
here, since if they had been, his magical eye would have detected their
magical auras.

Belphanior:  A wizard?  Why would a wizard serve that moron Turkus?
slaver:  No, no.  You don't understand.  The wizard didn't serve Turkus.
  He's just a small fry in a much bigger operation.  The wizard was here
  to monitor things, make sure all went of course, we have to
  turn over all items we find to him.  It's the cost of doing business.
Belphanior:  (glares at the man)  Wait until you see _my_ cost of doing
  business.  (he frowns)  By "operation" you mean a slave ring?
slaver:  Well, of course.
Belphanior:  (grips his sword so hard that his knuckles turn white)  Men
  will die for this.
slaver:  (pales)
Belphanior:  (with obvious effort, he brings his temper under control)
  If all of my things were taken by a wizard, why did this sword get
  left behind?
slaver:  Turkus kept it as a share of the loot - err, your stuff.
Belphanior:  Then why was it used in the battle by that other fellow?
slaver:  (shrugs)  I really don't know.
Belphanior:  (realizes that Blackrazor may have sought out and possessed
  the weakest wielder it could find at the time)  Hmm.
slaver:  (looking around, visibly worried)  Shouldn't we get going?  I
  mean, those wolves could come back.
Belphanior:  Yes, we should.  (he raises his sword)
slaver:  (wide-eyed)  You said I'd survive...
Belphanior:  That I did.  Understand this:  your only use to me is to
  help me find this wizard, and my possessions.  (to all of the slaves)
  This man is under my protection.  No one is to harm him in any way.

  The slaves didn't look happy, but they had seen what the elf could do
and how ruthless he could be, so whatever complaints they had, they kept
to themselves.

Belphanior:  (looting the bodies of the dead slavers, he collects a tidy
  sum of coinage)
male slave:  What are you doing that for?
Belphanior:  Because it's there...and also because you just never know
  when some money will come in handy.  It's been a while since I had
  such a small amount to my name, but some is better than none.
male slave:  Oh.
Belphanior:  Let's get moving now.
female slave:  But where will we go?
Belphanior:  Well, we're on this road amongst these wooded mountains.
  Behind us is the bulk of the mountains.  Ahead of us is the grassland
  beyond the mountains, and the hold of the Sea Princes.  That's where
  I'm going, because I have to.  You are all free to come with me, but
  if you follow, you do what I say, and no complaints.  If not, you can
  stay here, or go back the way you came, or whatever.

  Again, the slaves didn't look happy; however, their choices weren't
exactly many and varied.  When Belphanior began walking along the road,
all thirteen slaves followed him.  The captured slaver, whose name was
found to be Rubar, was led by a noose around his neck, the other end of
this rope tied to Belphanior's waist.  This way, the man couldn't get
away, yet he could be cut loose in an emergency.  His hands were also
bound behind his back.  Thanks to Belphanior's threats, Rubar didn't seem
to have much inclination to do anything but meekly obey - which was just
the way the elf wanted it.

Belphanior:  (looking around)  We'll go as far as we can along this
  road, and then we'll find a place to make camp for the night.

next:       what lurks within the forest
released:   8/20/04
notes:      Here's a bit of trivia I may or may not have ever revealed:
  when Otto was first introduced in episode 219 (or thereabouts) my plan
  was for him to turn out to be a werewolf.  As I wrote more about him,
  he took a personality of his own and I dropped the werewolf idea.  But
  that was the original secret of Otto.

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