Chapter #936

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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       +
+   1991-2006 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!                                          +
+   Daffodil        11th level human druidess of Obad-Hai                 +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger of Ehlonna                    +
+   Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid of Obad-Hai  +
+   Rillen          18th level human warrior monk                         +
+   Songa           13th level human huntress                             +
+                                                                         +
+   Dervan           9th level human ranger                               +
+   Eyer            13th/16th level wood elven fighter/acrobat            +
+   Leila           12th/12th level female grey elven warrior/mage        +
+   Relmar          18th level human high priest of Pelor                 +
+   Weaver           8th level human ranger                               +
+   Date:           7/18/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          an undiscovered continent far to the east             +
+   Climate:        hot and humid                                         +
+   "Aren't you being a bit paranoid?"                                    +
+   "Maybe, but if I'm not, you can thank me later."                      +
+                                           - from an _A-Team_ episode    +

                    CMXXXVI.  Hunting the Hunter

  Several hours have passed since the group failed to catch an unknown
person who was watching them from afar.  Now, with half the day gone,
they are rushing to make up some time in their march along the river.

Songa:  If we hurry, we can be far from here by nightfall.
Weaver:  (wipes sweat from his brow)  Whew.
Leila:  (only half-joking)  What a brutal pace.
Rillen:  There are no horses here...we have to do this the hard way.
Relmar:  A little exercise never hurt anyone.
Peyote:  Well, it hurts me.  My feet-
Songa:  -will just have to get a little tougher.  (she looks around)
  What the hell is wrong with you people?  You're all supposed to be
  rangers, woodspeople, druids...except for Leila and Relmar, and even
  Relmar hasn't complained at all.  You all volunteered to come along
  on this exploration, and you knew what you were in for.  It's too
  late to complain or have any regrets.  (without another word, she
  resumes her march)
Eyer:  (shrugs)  I never complained.  (he walks after the huntress)
Weaver:  (just grins)
Dervan:  Well, I guess she told us.
Leila:  (muttering to herself)  I'm really beginning to dislike that
Relmar:  (to everyone)  You heard her - let's keep moving.  This may not
  be pleasant, but it is survivable.  The main colony is depending on us
  for some answers, so let's not waste any more time.  (he heads after
  Songa and Eyer, and is followed by the others)
Peyote:  (sighs)
Daffodil:  (to Peyote, quietly)  Who does she think she is?  Where does
  she get off talking to us like that?  I've got half a mind to smack
Rillen:  I wouldn't advise it.  I've seen her beat the crap out of more
  than one big, strong warrior.  It's best to just let her calm down on
  her own.  (he looks around)  Besides, Halbarad left her in charge.
Peyote:  Oh yeah.

  Hours ago, after the fruitless chase, the ranger had relinquished his
leadership role, putting Songa in charge of the group's march through the
jungle.  Halbarad wouldn't reveal his plans, other than to say that he
had some work to do...and then he'd vanished into the trees, promising
to catch up to the group later.  There hadn't even been time to debate
or argue - the ranger had simply left.

Leila:  I don't see why he'd leave like that.  Do you think he intends
  to track down the natives who've been shadowing us?
Songa:  Probably.  He can get a lot more done on his own - a larger group
  will just slow him down, especially if it contains non-rangers as ours
Rillen:  What's his plan?
Songa:  Who knows?  The main thing is that now he's free to pursue it,
  and he will always be able to find us, even if we happen to stray from
  this river.  (she looks around)  Not that we will.

  They headed onward, following the river and walking along its banks.
Several minutes after their departure from the last campsite, the birds
began to chirp again, the insects began to buzz again, and the animals
began to move about freely.  It took a while longer than that - perhaps
an hour - for the native to appear.  He was a small man, not quite a
pygmy but barely five feet tall.  He was lean and muscular, with dark
brown skin and jet-black hair.  He wore a loincloth, crude boots made
from wrapped animal hides, and nothing else.  Contrary to the common
stereotype of primitive people, he had no paint on his body, nor did
he wear simple jewelry of bone or wood.  No, this was a true wild man,
a hunter who carried - and needed - little.

native:  (bends down and examines the tracks left by the explorers, then
  glances in the direction they went, then looks around at the river and
  the trees along its banks, frowning)

  The man seemed briefly lost in thought, but abruptly he stood, hefting
the crude, short spear that served as his weapon...and then he darted
away into the jungle, following the path recently taken by the party of

  Shortly, the jungle was quiet once more, except for the sounds of its
natural inhabitants.  Everything returned to "normal" for the second
time today...and then, also for the second time today, that normalcy
was disrupted by a sole human.

Halbarad:  (slowly emerges from his hiding place)

  The ranger had taken hours to move into position, leaving no signs
of his passing, eventually secreting himself in a low overhang beneath
a fallen tree.  He had concealed himself completely and then waited,
exhibiting a remarkable patience that perhaps one person in a thousand
people was capable of.  Sitting still in one place, not moving a muscle
for hours, was hard enough; combined with the intense heat and humidity
and the constant biting, crawling, stinging insects, the wait had been
positively brutal.
  However, Halbarad had done it, because he knew that they needed some
kind of upper hand here, some way to find out who lived on this island
or continent and what they were up to.  The only way the ranger knew was
the direct way:  out-think the quarry and then catch it.  He could have
shown himself right away, perhaps sending an arrow into the native, but
he hadn't wanted to burden himself with his longbow and arrows.  Also,
the native(s) hadn't proven to be hostile yet, so shooting them was an
extreme solution that didn't seem appropriate at this time.  Instead,
Halbarad simply tracked the tracker, hunting the hunter.  It would be
slow, tenacious work, with little room for mistakes - but the ranger was
one of the best at what he did, and it was time for some answers.  He
damn sure intended to find them, even if it meant shadowing the native
for days.

  Elsewhere, further up the river's long, winding length, the main
group had stopped for a rest.

Eyer:  (climbs down from a tree)  The river's definitely turned toward
  the mountains, as Halbarad suspected it would.
Songa:  Several of us suspected.  (she looks around)  All right, lunch
  time is over...let's get moving again.
Leila:  Already?

  The trek continued into the afternoon and evening, when they made
camp along the riverbank...and then stretched into the next day.  The
going was hard, grueling even for those accustomed to harsh conditions.
The moisture in the jungle was enough to ensure that everyone was wet,
all the time; the constant loss of water made it easier to get tired.
The boiling of river water to make it safe for drinking took time and
effort, and almost seemed counter-productive...but it did keep them
alive.  Strangely enough, no wild animals approached them, much less
attacked them; it was obvious that they were out there, but they just
weren't having anything to do with the explorers.
  On the afternoon of the second day after Halbarad left, they caught
two breaks.  The first was as sudden as it was powerful:  after a few
minutes of ominous thunder and darkening skies, rain began to fall.  At
first, it was weak, barely making it through the jungle canopy, but in
short order it became a torrential downpour, soaking everyone to the

Leila:  (removes as many layers of clothing as she can while still
  remaining decent, and stands there as the raindrops wash away all
  the sweat and grime of the days of marching)  Ahhhhhh...
Daffodil:  Damn good idea.  (she sets her pack against a tree and
  simply revels in the downpour of clean water)
Peyote:  Yeah!
Songa:  Make sure that anything you put down is sheltered against a
  tree, or out of the path of running water on the jungle floor, or
  else it might wash away.
Relmar:  Some of our things probably _need_ to be washed away.
Eyer:  Heh.  (he quietly admires Leila's lithe, soaking wet form)
Leila:  What?
Eyer:  Err, nothing.  I'm just glad to be free from that damned heat
  and humidity, and the bugs...that's all.
Leila:  Riiiight.

  Their second break came when Halbarad appeared out of the rain, a
short, unconscious, half-naked primitive man thrown over his shoulder.

Halbarad:  Here's our pursuer.
Peyote:  But how...where...?!?
Halbarad:  (wipes water from his eyes)  This downpour actually made it
  easier to close in - I've always been good at moving and hunting in
  rain.  (he puts the native down, propping him against a tree)  I've
  tied his hands and feet, but we need to be careful anyway.  He's a
  strong little bastard, and clever too.
Rillen:  What will we do with him?
Relmar:  I'd say question him, once he wakes up and this rain finally
Leila:  Don't say that.  I hope it never ends.
Halbarad:  You should.  If that river rises too much and floods, we'll
  be in trouble if we're anywhere near it.
Songa:  (regarding the brown-skinned native)  I hope he has some answers
  for us.
Relmar:  I'm sure he does - the issue is whether we can get some kind
  of meaningful dialogue going.  I doubt he speaks Common, you know.

next:      hopefully, some damned answers
released:  9/8/06
notes:     I was supposed to be in the middle of a vacation at the time
  you read this one, but a sudden last-minute issue for someone else put
  an end to those plans.  For my sake, I hope that I ended up making
  alternate plans so I could get the hell out of town (realize that I'm
  writing this on 8/22 but it won't release until two and a half weeks

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