Chapter #844

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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:          6/9/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         the northern reaches of the Hold of the Sea Princes    +
+   Climate:       mild                                                   +
+   "Stay out of my way, or you become the enemy...and I'll treat         +
+    you the same as them."                                               +
+                                                   - from _The Hitman_   +

           DCCCXLIV.  Return to the Hold of the Sea Princes

  Belphanior pulled his hood down around his face, preferring to err on
the side of caution.  After all, he was riding into the Hold of the Sea
Princes, a land where he had caused much violence and chaos in years
past.  If he was recognized and captured, things would almost certainly
go badly for him.
  It had been a busy week for the elf.  While he and his group were in
the process of exploring the network of teleportation gateways left by
the arch-lich Xusia, they had used a defective (or trapped - Belphanior
still wasn't sure) gateway.  He hadn't known (and still didn't know)
what had happened to the others at that point, but he had been knocked
unconscious and somehow transported to the Crystalmist Mountains, where
he'd been captured by slavers.  After several skirmishes with werewolves,
the elf had done what he did best:  kill others while surviving himself.
Now, he had emerged from the wooded mountain trail and made his way to
the lands of the Sea Princes.  He had his powerful and deadly magical
sword, Blackrazor, but little else; all of his possessions, including
magical items and spellbooks, had been taken by a wizard with links to
the slavers Belphanior had escaped from.  From the bloody corpse of a
slaver, the elf had taken the only clue he had - a parchment containing
names of slavers and their allies in the region.  One of those names was
sure to lead the elf to that which he sought, for despite all the recent
and unpleasant things that had happened to him, Belphanior had one goal
that now superseded all others:  he meant to recover his lost items.
  The road had not been easy.  Though escaping the mountains had meant
the end of the werewolf menace, he'd still been forced to trek through
the Hool Marshes, where a pair of trolls had tried to make the elf their
lunch.  With only his sword, he'd been hard pressed to defeat the two
humanoids; it had been a long and brutal fight, and if not for a bit of
luck, he might not have won.  Also in the Hool Marshes, he'd faced off
against a pack of rat-men who thought their numbers would guarantee
victory in battle.  By the time he'd emerged from the swamplands and
found a normal town, the elf had been covered in dirt and mud and blood
and gore.  This had probably been to his advantage, since no one could
possibly recognize him in that state.
  Since then, he'd cleaned up and used the coin taken from the slavers
to buy new clothes, supplies, and weapons.  His search for a wizard-guild
had been fruitless, both in that small town and in the three he'd passed
through since then.  Of course, he didn't have enough money to buy even
the simplest scroll of basic spells.  This was doubly frustrating because
among his stolen possessions was enough wealth to buy a thousand such
scrolls.  Then again, if he'd had his items, he'd have had his spellbooks
and there would be no need for scrolls.

  Now, Belphanior was in this sizable city, which was called Hokar, and
he made his way along a large central avenue, his eyes searching the
storefronts and buildings.  He was searching for two guilds:  the Guild
of Thieves and the Guild of Wizards.  Both could potentially offer him
useful information about any of the names on his list, though the two
would require different approaches.  In fact, if the first worked, he
wouldn't even have to try the second...

thief at desk:  Name?
Belphanior:  I am...Corwin, from the kingdom of Aerdy.
thief at desk:  (makes a note on a parchment, then stares at the elf)
  What's your business in Hokar?
Belphanior:  I'm looking for some old friends of mine.  (he produces a
  list of names)
thief at desk:  (moves to take the list)
Belphanior:  Not so fast.  I want the price, up front, and I want to know
  how long it's going to take.
thief at desk:  To tell you if they're in the city, one gold crown apiece.
  To tell you where in the city they might be, five gold crowns apiece.
Belphanior:  (glares at the man)  That's ridiculous!
thief at desk:  You're not from here, therefore you're not sanctioned
  and so you have to pay top coin.  (he shrugs)  If you don't like it,
  you're welcome to leave.
Belphanior:  (hands over eight gold coins)  There are eight names on that
  list.  If any of them turn out to be here, I'll pay more when you let
  me know.
thief at desk:  (nods, making the gold coins disappear)  I'll get someone
  on it.  Where can you be found?
Belphanior:  I'll be staying at the Red Roc Inn, on Dalmar Street.
thief at desk:  Someone will get the answers to you tomorrow...Corwin.
Belphanior:  (nods, and leaves)

  His next stop was at the Guild of Wizardry, where he quickly confirmed
what he already knew:  he could afford no spell-scrolls with the meager
money he currently possessed.  With the subtle manner of a professional,
he cased the building, analyzing its weaknesses and potential traps in
case he decided to return tonight.  Eventually, he decided against that
course of action; the place was too well-defended.  If he'd had all of
his items, he would have made the attempt; then again, if he'd had all
of his items, he wouldn't even be here.
  Choosing a few of the names from his list, names that sounded most
like wizards, he made some polite inquiries, but only one met with any
success:  Elkazaar, the fourth name on his parchment, was apparently a
wizard of minor repute who had a membership at the Guild.  Belphanior
used a story about how the man was a long-lost friend, and was told that
Elkazaar hadn't paid this year's Guild dues and was close to being in
trouble, and that his whereabouts within the city weren't a matter of
record.  Not wanting to arouse any suspicion - or at least any further
suspicion - Belphanior thanked the clerk and departed.
  The elf ran a few other errands and made a few other inquiries, had a
hot supper, then returned to the small, cheap room he'd rented.  He was
tired and had a lot on his mind, and meant to get to bed early tonight,
since he needed some good rest.

  Much later, in the dead of night, all was quiet in the inn's upper
floor...especially the two figures who skulked through the hallway,
seeking out a particular room and its occupant.  Arriving at the door,
they stopped; one produced a small vial of oil and a lockpick, and went
to work.  He was slow, deliberate, and careful; the oil, combined with
his skill, ensured that his lockpicking efforts made no sound at all.
His companion drew a sword and waited, his grip tight on the weapon's
handle.  There was no sweat, no nervous twitch - for these men were
professionals.  When the lock was beaten, the pick was stashed in favor
of a long dagger, and the two thieves readied themselves.  The door was
pushed inward an inch; if it squeaked, the pair would be forced to burst
into the room, weapons flashing.  However, the hinges didn't make a sound
as the door opened, and the thieves entered the room.  They had come to
murder someone, and as the door silently swung closed, steel was plied
in the pitch-black room...followed by the wet sound of a blade piercing
soft flesh, and then a gasp and a death-gurgle.

next:      hot on the trail
released:  10/29/04
notes:     Whatever its actual origin may be in our real-world fiction,
  "Corwin" was one of the aliases that Belphanior's original player used
  when he didn't want the character to give his real name.

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