Chapter #946

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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!                                          +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Date:          10/23/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the town of Darg, in northern Bissel                   +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "Why are you doing this?"                                             +
+   "He's my friend."                                                     +
+   "Hell, I've got lots of friends."                                     +
+   "I don't."                                                            +
+                              - loosely paraphrased, from _Tombstone_    +

                   CMXLVI.  Friends To The End

  A handful of Belphanior's team have journeyed to the small town of Darg,
in the northern reaches of the kingdom of Bissel.  Their mission:  to find
their former companion Razor Charlie and deliver to him a large sum of
miscounted money.

Otto:  He'll be thrilled to have ten thousand pieces of gold fall into
  his lap.
Mongo:  So would I.
Elgon:  From the stories you and Belphanior have told about your old
  group and its adventures, I'd bet you had far more than that already.
Mongo:  True, but you know how it is...we dwarves always want more gold.

  They were standing in the wilderness outside the town; Parekh had
thought it best to not have three people simply appear within the city

Elgon:  Well, like she said, this seems to be a quiet, fairly normal
  little town.
Otto:  Looks can be deceiving, but let's go find out.

  The strangers got some odd looks - this part of the world was chiefly
populated by tan- and brown-skinned humans - but nobody harassed them.
They had to drink and inquire at a half-dozen taverns before they got a

barkeep:  Older, scarred guy, real mean-looking, didn't talk a lot?  How
  could I forget someone like that?  (he grins as he puts three mugs of
  beer on the bartop)  Yeah, he was here, for a few days anyway.
Mongo:  And?
barkeep:  (looking expectantly)  And?
Mongo:  Why, you-
Otto:  (puts a hand on the dwarf's shoulder)  My way's better.  (he gets
  a handful of gold coins out of his belt-pouch, and plunks them down on
  the bar)
barkeep:  (reaches for the money)
Otto:  (keeps his hand over the coins)  If you know something, now's the
  time to talk.
barkeep:  Heh, of course.  This guy you're looking for, he just left last
  night, and in a hurry, too.  Real weird.
Mongo:  Did he say where he was going?
barkeep:  Hell, no.  A guy like that, he doesn't say much at all, and I
  wasn't about to ask, either.  He just paid up his room and board and
Otto:  Right.  (he looks around)  I saw only one road through this town.
  Where does it go?
barkeep:  (anxious to claim his gold)  You can go south, down into the
  heart of Bissel...or north, toward Thornward.
Otto:  Is that all?
barkeep:  That's all I know, I swear it.  That's all!
Otto:  It had better be.  (he removes his hand, allowing the man to grab
  the coins)

  They retreated to a table to discuss this dilemma.  Without Belphanior
or Parekh, there was no easy way to locate Charlie...

Elgon:  (shrugs)  That's not the sort of magic I know or use.  Maybe we
  _should_ get some help.
Otto:  I hate to bother them.  I know Parekh gave us a way to contact
  her when we're ready to return, but I really don't want to use it just
  to ask them to help us find Charlie.
Mongo:  Damn right.  We don't need their help - I'm sure we can track
  down a single person.
Elgon:  The question is, did he go north...or south?

  Some determined questioning of the guards at the town's main gate (and
a number of gold coins) gave them the answer they needed:  Charlie had
gone north.  It wasn't that anyone specifically remembered the scarred
warrior leaving, but rather that at this time of year, almost all foot
traffic into and out of the city was coming from, or going to, Thornward
to the north.  The guards (one of whom was at the end of a double shift
and had been on duty last night) simply didn't remember anyone leaving
town and heading south into the heart of Bissel.  Simple logic, and the
process of elimination, dictated that their former companion was indeed
northward bound, as were many other people who might later become further
sources of information.  The three adventurers purchased some good horses
and departed immediately, determined to find Razor Charlie.

Elgon:  It sounds like he might be in trouble, if he left in a hurry.
Otto:  There's only one way to find out.  (he spurs his horse on)  He's
  got a half-day lead on us, so we'll have to make good time and avoid
  needless breaks.
Mongo:  That's why I just stocked up on food and drink.
Otto:  Not to mention three extra horses.

  With this plan, they set out for the north, in the direction of the
capital city of Thornward.  With three spare mounts, they were able to
rotate the animals so that three always rested while the other three
had riders.  The fact that all three riders were small demi-humans also
helped ease the horses' workload (Mongo's armor, while impressive and
heavy in appearance, was actually enchanted to weigh much less than it
otherwise would have).  Otto made sure that all breaks were infrequent
and quick, and the trio made excellent time, overtaking many who had set
out from the town of Darg at about the same time as Razor Charlie.  They
made sure to inquire with all such travelers, but didn't find any who
remembered Charlie...until that afternoon.

old man:  Well, sure I remember him.  How could I not, him being their
  prisoner and all?
Otto:  Prisoner?
old man:  Well, sure.  (he makes an exasperated face, as if everyone
  should know what he's talking about)  He was with a bunch of soldier-
  types, bound up like a prisoner of war or something.
Elgon:  You're sure it was him?
old man:  Yup.  He had scars, tattoos, and a mustache, just like you've
  described him.
Otto:  How many people were in this group that captured him?
old man:  Oh, not too many...a couple dozen, or so.  (he nods at the
  dwarf)  They were pretty tough-looking, though - bad men, through and
  through.  I'd be careful, if I was you.
Otto:  (ponders this)  Oh, don't worry, we will.

  That evening, elsewhere, night fell upon a fair-sized encampment just
off the main road.  These men were mercenaries, headed to Perrenland to
find work, but their fortunes had recently changed for the better.  Their
leader, Bargos the Red, was a grizzled veteran of many battles; tall and
stocky, he was distinguished by his thick red beard.  Beneath this beard
ran a long, deep scar from mouth to neck, a souvenir of some long-ago
brush with death.  Bargos had lived nearly half a century, and in that
time he'd made many friends and many enemies.  A select few of the latter
would never be forgotten, and so it was with great surprise that, while
in the last small town his band had passed through, Bargos had spotted a
foe from his past.  The scarred knife-thrower had been a foe more than
ten years ago, in a great wild fight amidst some unnamed wilderness fort.
Bargos had watched as this man plied his lethal knives and killed the
sergeants who were carrying the treasure chest; their death, plus the
course of the battle, had led to Bargos fleeing without the loot he'd
stolen.  That gold might have been the key to a new life, but it had to
be left behind, and Bargos had barely escaped that battle with his life.
  The lost money was a distant memory, but once Bargos spotted Razor
Charlie in that town, a fresh fury had taken hold of his mind.  When the
scarred warrior had left in a hurry (perhaps aware that something was
amiss) Bargos had been hot on his trail.  There were other travelers
on the road north, but not enough; when the mercenaries caught up with
Charlie, they had overpowered the lone warrior.  He hadn't gone quietly,
though - his knives had slain four, and injured three others, before he
finally fell.  Even then, he broke a jaw with a solid punch before being
beaten into submission.

Bargos the Red:  (walks around the large blazing fire, laughing as he
  eats a large haunch of meat)  It's not that I have any hard feelings,
  my friend.
Razor Charlie:  (tied to a tree near the fire)  I'm not your friend.
Bargos the Red:  No, of course not.  (he chuckles, followed by many of
  his men, who don't really share their leader's hatred of this man but
  are smart and immoral enough to go along with things)  I'd say you've
  made up for the gold you cost me all those years back, though, hasn't
  he, boys?

  There was a general, happy murmur of agreement from the mercenaries.
The prisoner, when unconscious, had turned out to be carrying a large
quantity of gold coins and gemstones, a small fortune which Bargos had
shared with his men.  He was ruthless, but he wasn't stupid; hoarding
all that wealth himself, with two dozen hardened warriors aware of its
existence, would have been asking for trouble.  This way, it was shared
by all, and no one man had more than anyone else, which tended to keep
trouble to a minimum.

Bargos:  But I'm still mad at you, and you're still going to suffer for
  what you did, believe me.
Razor Charlie:  (stoically ignores this taunting)

  In truth, Charlie had suffered plenty, as many of Bargos' men had
used him as a punching bag earlier.  This was definitely not the way
he'd planned to spend his retirement, and from the looks of things, it
was only going to get worse.

Bargos:  (raises the leg of meat above his head)  But maybe not tonight!
  Tonight, we'll feast like the rich men we are!

  Suddenly, a bolt whistled through the darkness, spearing the chunk of
meat as Bargos held it high.

voice from the darkness:  You'll feast like dead men, unless you give
  up right now.  We have you surrounded.
Bargos:  What?!?  Who's that?!?
voice:  This will be your only warning.  Give up now...or else.
Bargos:  Nonsense!  (he hurls the meat into the fire, stirring it up
  and driving the darkness back a bit)  To arms, men!

  The mercenaries didn't need to be told twice; they would never believe
they were surrounded by foes in the darkness, not without solid evidence.
Regardless, two of them fell to more bolts before the band's sole wizard
used a powerful light spell to illuminate the area.  There were only a
handful of attackers:  a half-dozen dwarves with warhammers, poised to
charge at the camp.

Bargos:  Get them!  (he scans the area, quickly finding the crossbow-
  wielding dwarf in the trees)  You!
Otto:  Me?  (he aims and fires his weapon again, hitting the wizard with
  a bolt through one leg)
mercenary wizard:  (falls, trying to pull the missile out even as the
  poison courses through his body)  Agh...
Bargos:  Enough!  (he directs several of his bowmen to take the dwarf

  Suddenly, a spiritual hammer appeared in the air, moving quickly toward
the mercenaries' leader.  Bargos met the weapon with his sword, but was
driven back, forced to be on the defensive since there was no opponent
to attack behind the hammer.  Meanwhile, the bulk of the mercenaries had
just found the dwarves to be an illusion, which vanished into vapor as
the larger force attacked...

mercenary #24:  Huh?
mercenary #23:  This can't be good.

  The warriors quickly regrouped into a defensive formation, but there
was only one foe facing them now.

Mongo:  (turning his hammer over in his hands)  I know you clowns will
  never believe me, but you really should give up and just leave now.
mercenary #5:  You're right...we don't believe you.
Mongo:  (hurls Stormcrest, knocking six foes to the ground, most of them
  now unmoving)
mercenary #5:  Holy...
Mongo:  (catches the hammer as it returns)
mercenary #6:  GET HIM!  (they spread out to flank the dwarf even as
  they charge at him)
mercenary #7:  (hurls a spear, which bounces off of Mongo's breastplate)
Mongo:  Ow.
mercenary #8:  (hurls another spear, which deflects from Mongo's helmet)
Mongo:  Ungh!
mercenary #9:  (hurls a third spear, which opens a large gash in Mongo's
  left forearm)
Mongo:  Argh!  Dammit...I tried.  I really did.  (he charges in a random
  direction at the ring of foes all around him)

  A moment later, one mercenary flew out of the mob, his armor and body
shattered; he sailed through the air until he slammed into a nearby tree
and fell to the ground, lifeless.  A few moments later, another of his
number met the same fate.  Mongo was not holding back; he was in a full-
blown battle rage now, his anger working with his belt and hammer as it
always had.  Some of the mercenaries barely had time to wonder just what
they'd unleashed, before they fell under the dwarf's fury.

  Nearby, Otto still sat perched in the tree, as three archers stood
below, lining up their perfect shots.

mercenary archer #1:  You're dead meat now, unless you can fly.
mercenary archer #2:  Only a fool traps himself in a tree.
Otto:  You're right.  (he casually knocks a small, hooded lantern from
  the branch behind him)  Unless, of course, he has a trap for the real

  The lantern hit the ground and shattered - instantly igniting the oil
that had previously been dumped all over the ground.  Two of the archers
went up in flames and forgot all about the dwarf in the tree, while the
third ran around trying to put out his flaming cloak.  This gave Otto
plenty of time to grab a thin branch and swing down, past the fire and
onto the ground.  Elgon, meanwhile, had abandoned his spiritual hammer
so that he could cut Razor Charlie loose.

Razor Charlie:  (rubbing his wrists)  Thanks.  Long time, no see.
Elgon:  Likewise.  (he hands the other a belt of knives)  I found these
  lying around, and thought you could use them.
Razor Charlie:  (grins)
Bargos:  (bruised and bloodied from his fight with the spiritual hammer,
  he raises his sword, pointing it at Charlie)  No!  There's no escape
  for you!
Razor Charlie:  I'm not going anywhere.  (he flicks out one knife, and
  the blade hits Bargos' sword-hand, impaling it and causing the man to
  drop his weapon and scream in pain)
Bargos:  Aaaargh!  (he looks around, wild-eyed)
Razor Charlie:  (tosses his knives aside and sprints toward this hated

  Charlie tackled the mercenary chief, quickly taking the offensive with
a series of brutal punches to the other's face and stomach.  Bargos got
am arm up, then another, and was able to hurl Charlie off of himself and
get to his feet.  Unfortunately for him, he was knocked right back down
as Charlie broke a piece of firewood over his thick head.

Razor Charlie:  (kicks the man in the stomach, then grabs him, intending
  to throw him into the campfire)
Bargos:  (quicker than he looks, he suddenly gets hold of Charlie's arm
  and flips him around, grabbing him in a bearhug)  Hah!  I'll crush you
  like a-

  Bargos quit talking as Charlie head-butted him, breaking his nose as
well as the bearhug.  As the mercenary staggered around, Charlie waited
until everything was lined up just right, then planted a foot in Bargos'
back and sent him stumbling into the campfire.

Bargos:  (now set ablaze, he runs around screaming)  AAAH!  AAAAARGH!
Razor Charlie:  (picks up the foe's sword and approaches him)
Bargos:  AAA-  (his headless body falls, still aflame, as the severed
  head rolls into the fire)
Elgon:  (to Otto)  Well done.
Razor Charlie:  (spits out blood, then drops the sword)  Arghh...(he
  staggers himself, then falls to the ground, weak from exhaustion and
Otto:  Don't worry - we've got you.
Elgon:  (wondering how Mongo's doing, he turns...and finds the dwarf
  standing in the middle of a pile of slain foes)
mercenary #18:  (staggers toward Mongo, waving his sword weakly in the
  dwarf's direction)
Mongo:  (backhands the foe, sending him flying back twenty feet)  Whew.
  Some people say that with great power comes great responsibility.
  That may be true, but I say that with great power comes a lot of dead

next:       the results of Belphanior's research with Parekh and Neera
released:   11/17/06
notes:      I had to do it.  This plotline had been in my head for awhile
  anyway, and when I realized that Belphanior et al would need a few days
  to do their thing, I decided to use this as a side mission.  The basic
  idea here should be crystal clear:  it doesn't matter who harms one of
  Belphanior's group, or why, or even whether that person's still a member
  of the group.  Whatever the situation, whatever the odds, they stand by
  their friends.

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