Chapter #837

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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:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         an inn somewhere within the Crystalmist Mountains      +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+   "Are you gonna stop the monsters now?"                                +
+   "I am the monster."                                                   +
+                                   - from _The Chronicles of Riddick_    +

                   DCCCXXXVII.  The Secret of the Woods

  The battle has died down:  the freed slaves are all dead, the slavers
are all dead, and a number of wolves are dead.  Belphanior stands alone
in a corner, facing perhaps a dozen remaining wolves.

Belphanior:  (spots the mangled corpse of Rubar, off to one side)  Damn.

  It actually could have been worse; the wolves' numbers were lessened,
there were no other survivors to worry about, and Belphanior had solid
walls to his back.  He also had Blackrazor, which meant that every slain
foe would bolster his own strength and power.  As the elf pondered all
of this, he realized that the woman who'd been tending bar was standing
in one corner, unharmed, shaking her head at the carnage.

Belphanior:  (raises one eyebrow)  Huh?
woman:  This wasn't worth it...the cost was far too high.
Belphanior:  What in the hell are you talking about?!?  (he narrows his
  eyes)  Hold  No way.
woman:  (turns to the elf, growling rather bestially all of a sudden)
young girl:  (emerges from the back room, also growling at the elf)
Belphanior:  Shit.  You people were in on it the whole time...this place
  isn't an inn at all, but instead a deathtrap.
woman:  (ignores the elf, even as the dozen remaining wolves begin to
  slowly, carefully close in on him)
Belphanior:  (raises his bloody sword)  Some of you won't live past this
  day.  Know that now.

  Suddenly, a huge black wolf entered the inn, causing the other beasts
to stop in their tracks.  It was instantly clear that this new arrival
was their leader; the others looked away meekly, as if in deference.

Belphanior:  (points his sword at the gigantic wolf)  Fine, then.  This
  changes nothing.  I'll fight anyone who dares.

  The wolf didn't attack, though; rather, it began to shift, its furry
body transforming.  Belphanior realized that he was witnessing something
that very few people had seen and lived to talk about:  the changing of
a werewolf from animal to human form!  Thick fur receded, seeming to
vanish.  Claws retracted, paws narrowing and lengthening into hands.
Pointed ears shrunk and reformed.  Sharp fangs became normal teeth.  The
only thing that remained constant was the beast's eyes:  twin orbs of
crimson that glared unblinking at Belphanior.
  The werewolf's human form was as impressive as its other one:  a tall,
broadly-built man now stood before the elf.  He was powerfully-muscled
and hairy, with a thick beard that matched his jet-black hair.  He looked
just as savage and dangerous now as he had in wolf-form.  Stark naked,
the fellow grabbed a bloodstained cloak from a corpse, winding it around
his body.

wolf-man:  The cost of this battle has been high indeed.
Belphanior:  That depends who you are.  I've lost nobody important to me.
wolf-man:  And yet you helped those slaves.
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  Helping them is a lot different from dying for
  them.  My allegiance is to myself.
wolf-man:  (nods)  I can see that.
Belphanior:  (holding his sword lightly, ready for anything)  So what
wolf-man:  Eh?
Belphanior:  A moment ago, your minions were about to attack me and rip
  me to shreds, or die trying.  Now we're standing here talking.  Why?
wolf-man:  You get right to the point, don't you?
Belphanior:  I find that it makes life easier.
wolf-man:  Life, and death.  (he looks around)  That caravan was perfect,
  as far as prey goes.  Plenty of food, ripe for the taking.  And then
  you came charging into battle, killing a dozen of my people.
Belphanior:  They're not people.
wolf-man:  You're quite right.  A few are like me, but most are wolves
  only - mystical ones, yes, but they can't change and walk among humans.
Belphanior:  They have - had - souls.
wolf-man:  That they did.  (he eyes Blackrazor)  Most blades can't harm
  our kind, but that takes everything.  My people's corpses
  were silent, never to speak again.  A unique and terrible weapon, as
  too many of my pack learned.
Belphanior:  The day's not over yet.
wolf-man:  (sighs)  The law of the wild says you must die, here, today.
  My pack - and I as well - would like nothing more than to finish this
  fight.  And yet, I've lived long enough to know how to choose my
  battles.  A smart leader knows when to fight and when to stop fighting.
  I won't have half, or more, of the remaining pack wiped out - I can't
  risk that.  Simply put, you are too dangerous to attack.
Belphanior:  Well, thanks.  Let me point out that _you_ attacked _me_ and
  I was defending myself.  (he frowns)  Not that I care, you understand.
  We just need to be clear that I consider my own life to be far more
  important than your food supply.
wolf-man:  (glares at the elf balefully)
Belphanior:  You may be used to prey, but I'm not your prey.  Nobody
  tries to kill me and gets away with it.  A dozen of your people slain
  now - that's the price of your folly.  (he looks around)  Is there
  going to be further folly, and a further price paid for it?
wolf-man:  No.  It is my decision that you leave this place, and this
  forest, forthwith.
Belphanior:  Right now?  With a solid wall at my back and my enemies in
  front of me, and night falling?  No thanks.  I'll take my chances here
  and now.  (he raises his sword)  Come and die.
wolf-man:  (sighs again)  It is not to be.  (he gestures to the wolves,
  and they turn and leave the inn's common room)
woman:  (along with the young girl, she also leaves, scowling angrily at
wolf-man:  You may do as you wish, tonight or tomorrow.  I care not.  We
  are leaving.  The pack must survive, for the future.
Belphanior:  (stunned, he glances at the retreating wolves)
wolf-man:  We'll declare this day a draw...but realize this:  you've made
  an enemy here.  If you're wise, you'll leave these mountain woodlands
  with all haste - and never come back, because we will never forget.
  You have a death sentence here, should you ever return.  (he turns and
  leaves the inn)
Belphanior:  What  Hey!  (he runs to the open doorway, sword

  The elf was not one to let an enemy get away like this; he didn't like
to accumulate those kinds of loose ends.  Better to settle this here and
now...and with that thought, he peered out into the darkening woods all
around the inn - and saw nothing.  The wolves, and their strange leader,
were gone.  Even his crystal eye couldn't find a trace of them anywhere
nearby.  Of course, given their nature, they were certainly capable of
bounding away into the woodlands with great speed, as they had just done.

Belphanior:  Damn.

  The elf wasn't fool enough to venture out into the forest - the foes
might have a change of heart, and he'd be at a disadvantage out there.
If he had been in possession of his magic and items, he wouldn't have
hesitated for a moment, but now, in his current state, he knew that the
smart choice was to stay indoors where he had walls and a roof that he
could defend.  On the morrow, he could leave the inn and return to the
main road, and get the hell out of this place.  He had a theory about
this remote inn...a theory involving its use as a base by a pack of evil
were-beasts who used the place as a cover to lure in and attack unwary
travelers.  In extreme cases, a caravan might be of such a size and
strength that a real ambush, using the cover of the woods, became a much
better option for the beast-pack's attack.  Belphanior wondered how many
travelers - slavers and innocents alike - had entered this region and
never left.
  He used several tables to barricade the inn's front doorway, then did
the same thing to the windows.  His sword sensed no other souls, so he
made a quick but thorough exploration of the building.  His efforts turned
up some stale bread and a haunch of meat; the latter was unidentifiable,
and best left alone, he decided.  He also found some basic supplies, both
within the inn and from the corpses of the slavers; there was also a tidy
sum of various coinage, collected from the slavers.  That money was sure
to come in handy in the near future.
  Searching the inn, Belphanior found a room upstairs that was small and
narrow, with no windows and only one door.  He chose this as his quarters
for the night, blocking its entrance from the inside with various wooden
furniture.  He hated to barricade himself in like this, with no means of
escape.  However, he knew that if he was attacked, the foes were living,
breathing creatures with souls.  As such, they could be slain to provide
the elf with further strength and power; knowing this, he chose the
lesser of two evils and barricaded himself in the small room upstairs,
wondering if the wolves would return at some random time before dawn.
  He didn't sleep a wink all night.

  Morning found the elf up early, ready to leave this hellish place.  He
had no horse, but he also had no one to slow him down.  Still invigorated
by the life-forces he'd absorbed during the battles of the previous day,
Belphanior strode out of the remote inn, returned to the main road, and
headed in the direction that would take him out of these wooded mountains
and into the Hold of the Sea Princes.  His stride was long and confident,
his sword and eye ever-vigilant for any ambushes or attackers...but there
were none.  It seemed that the wolf-man's word had been true.  Of course,
this meant that his vow of revenge would also be true, but the elf could
not afford to worry about that right now.  He had business in the lands
to the east, for the corpse of Turkus had held a folded parchment in one
overcoat pocket - a parchment that contained, among other information, a
list of contacts within the civilized lands.  One of these was sure to be
the name of the wizard who Belphanior would now hunt, within the lands of
the Sea Princes.

next:      we pause Belphanior's tale and check in on a certain voyage
released:  9/10/04
notes:     I'd really like to just keep on going with this, but we all
  know that I have to at least give a quick update on some others.  And
  we haven't even seen what happened to Otto, Ys, and the others yet.
  I'll probably devote an episode each to the ocean voyage and the
  Greyspire descent, and then catch up with Belphanior's companions.

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