Chapter #949

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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+     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!                                          +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Eyer            13th/16th level wood elven fighter/acrobat            +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger of Elhonna                    +
+   Weaver           8th level human ranger                               +
+   T'kar           human hunter/warrior, native of lost continent        +
+                                                                         +
+   Daffodil        11th level human druidess of Obad-Hai                 +
+   Dervan           9th level human ranger                               +
+   Leila           12th/12th level female grey elven warrior/mage        +
+   Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid of Obad-Hai  +
+   Relmar          18th level human high priest of Pelor                 +
+   Rillen          18th level human warrior monk                         +
+   Songa           13th level human huntress                             +
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+   Date:           7/26/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           afternoon                                             +
+   Place:          an undiscovered continent far to the east             +
+   Climate:        hot and humid                                         +
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+   "Only the dead have seen the end of war."                             +
+                                                            - Plato      +
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                    CMXLIX.  A Doomed Village





  The party has split into two sub-groups; the smaller, led by Halbarad
and guided by T'kar, is moving ahead with the intention of sneaking up
on the cannibal village.  Meanwhile, the bulk of the party (led by Songa)
is purposely lagging behind to avoid interfering with the other team.

Songa:  (slowly, deliberately leading her group along the same trail that
  the scouting group took)
Peyote:  (finally in full woodland-stealth mode, he glides through the
  wooded terrain, completely at one with the nature around him)

  If anything, it was Leila and Relmar who had to take the most care not
to make any undue noise - and even then, every small twig they stepped on
caused Songa to wince.  Rillen, despite his size, possessed exceptional
agility and grace - not to mention that he'd learned some wilderness
skills in all his years with Songa.

Songa:  (checks the forest floor and a vague footprint barely visible
  in the dirt and leaves)

  In theory, this group wasn't at any great risk, as any mass amounts of
enemies would have already been encountered by the lead group.  Songa's
concern was based around the small but conceivable chance that Halbarad's
scouting force might have been quickly, quietly ambushed and overpowered.
If that happened, Songa would unwittingly be leading her group into the
realm of the cannibals.
  She couldn't know it, but there was no reason to worry, at least not
yet.  A fair distance ahead, the scouting party had discovered the place
they sought:  the village of the hostile tribe!  It had been necessary
to eliminate three sentries, but Halbarad and T'kar had taken care of
that unpleasant business.  Now, the four hid in the woods at the edge
of the village, noting its layout and observing the activities of those
within.  Aside from the essentials (the village was set within a huge
clearing butting up against a sheer rock face, and contained several
dozen huts with perhaps a hundred people overall) one thing was quickly
obvious:  these people were, indeed, the cannibals that T'kar had made
them out to be.  One of the villagers made this point as he carried a
severed leg over to a large metal pot and then dropped it into the stew
(or whatever) was cooking there.  Another villager grinned in response,
and even from their cover in the nearby trees, the scouts could see that
the man's teeth had been filed to sharp points.

Halbarad:  (frowns, disgusted)
Eyer:  (points to the village, then draws a thumb across his throat, and
  shrugs questioningly)
T'kar:  (nods grimly)
Halbarad:  (holds up a hand, signaling his desire to wait, at least for
  now)

  Halbarad was a warrior through and through, but that didn't mean he
intended to systematically slaughter the entire village - that was more
the sort of tactic used by someone like Belphanior.  However, the women
and children visible in the village did present some level of problem.
They were technically noncombatants, or at least would have been in any
civilized setting.  Unless the explorers wanted to wage war on these
women and children, the most effective tactics were out of the question.
On the other hand, these women and children were cannibals, and perhaps
murderers, and if left alone, would eventually spawn more cannibals who
murdered.  It appeared that a bit more planning might be necessary...

Halbarad:  (shakes his head, exasperated at situations like this that
  aren't clearly definable)
Weaver:  (shakes his head, simply wanting something to happen)

  As fate would have it, though, the decision was abruptly taken out of
their hands.  A small group of four cannibal villagers, probably heading
out on patrol or to hunt for fresh food, approached just then.  Given the
foliage cover, the lighting, and the fact that the scouting party was
well-hidden, there was probably one chance in a hundred that one of the
cannibals would spot one of the concealed adventurers...but it happened.

cannibal #1:  (points directly at Weaver, shouting in his strange native
  tongue)
cannibal #2:  (jabbering loudly, he raises his spear)
Weaver:  Shit.

  The cannibals didn't have time to carry out their attack, though, for
Eyer was standing, bow in hand.  By the time the first foe had his spear
drawn back for a throw, he also had an arrow through one eye socket.  A
second arrow (and a second slain foe) followed a moment later.  In this
time, Halbarad had also unlimbered his bow - which was already strung -
and fired one arrow, taking out another of the cannibals.  The fourth
turned and fled, screaming, toward the center of the village; he didn't
make it, as Eyer put an arrow in his back.  The entire incident, from
the sighting to the fall of the fourth cannibal, had taken perhaps five
seconds.

Weaver:  (regards Eyer, wide-eyed)  Gods...where the hell did you learn
  to shoot like that?
Eyer:  Years - decades - of practice.  (to Halbarad)  We need to get out
  of here, now.  It won't take them long to get people out into these
  woods and outflank us-
T'kar:  (pointing as he hears some noises from the way they came)
Halbarad:  That can't be Songa and the others - they weren't that close
  behind us.  It sounds like the villagers have already outflanked us.
Weaver:  How'd they do that?
Halbarad:  They must have already had a large hunting party or other
  group out there, and those heard the shouting and commotion.  Damn.
Eyer:  The others should be here soon-
Halbarad:  They won't make it in time to help deal with the immediate
  problem.  (he turns back toward the village)  We need a distraction,
  and quickly...

  In the village, all was pandemonium; at least six of the villagers
now lay dead, arrows protruding from lethal entry points in their limp
bodies.  Anyone who made a move toward that area of the surrounding
trees also got an arrow for their trouble, as two more of them (beyond
the first group of four) had learned the hard way.  The villagers were
primitive, but they weren't stupid - nobody wanted to charge toward
the attackers and risk becoming the next casualty.  As they were trying
to figure out what to do next, things suddenly got worse.  Seemingly
out of nowhere and with a sudden ferocity, one thatched hut went up in
flames...and then another!  The firebug was, of course, Weaver, sent
to start these fires while Halbarad and Eyer covered him.

cannibal #7:  (charges toward the ranger, screaming and brandishing a
  large club)
Weaver:  (busy with his flint and steel at a third hut)  Dammit-
cannibal #7:  (jerks back, spinning in the air before falling to the
  ground with an arrow in his neck)  Glurk.
cannibal #8:  (stalking Weaver, he too falls, an arrow in his chest)
Weaver:  (silently prays that his companions' archery skills continue
  to be of this high caliber)

  Meanwhile, in the wooded area at the edge of the village, Halbarad
had heard the shouts and seen the glimpses of the cannibals in the
forest.  Spears were starting to fly in the scouts' direction, and
it was impossible to protect Weaver and also return fire into the
woods.  It was clear to Halbarad that there were too many foes out there
for the four of them to have a chance against - even the most skilled
archer in the world couldn't be at his best amidst this much tree cover.
The four were basically trapped between the village and a forest teeming
with enemies...and the next step was clear, even if some would have
thought it insane.

Halbarad:  Into the village!

  This wasn't as crazy an idea as it might have seemed; it would offer
the two bowmen a more advantageous battlefield to ply their trade upon.
Also, with the burning huts (there were now three) there was plenty of
fire and smoke to help distract villagers who otherwise might have been
able to help fight the invaders.  As for T'kar, he seemed to understand
what was going on, even if he couldn't speak directly with Halbarad due
to language differences.

T'kar:  (watching Eyer's back, he engages a villager who charges at the
  elven archer)
cannibal #13:  (finds his knife parried, then doubles over as T'kar
  drives a knee into his stomach)
T'kar:  (stabs the other with his own knife, downing him)
Eyer:  Thanks.
T'kar:  (nods, grimly)

  During a lull in the action, Halbarad noticed something about the
layout of the village:  its northern edge butted up against a sheer
mountain slope.  This cliff rose up at a steep angle - too steep to
climb - and was quickly swallowed up by the mists that shrouded the
upper reaches of the mountain.  A small fissure, about five feet wide,
in this rock face contained what looked like a rough footpath leading
upward into a tunnel and the very heart of the mountain.

T'kar:  (points eagerly at the cave entrance, muttering to Halbarad)
Halbarad:  That must be the mountain pass we're looking for...the one
  guarded by these savages.
Eyer:  Well, we need to head for it then - except we can't, not without
  the others.  Damn.
Halbarad:  (eyeing the massive amounts of smoke rising from the village)
  They'll be here soon enough, I'd wager.
Weaver:  (returns from his torching of the huts)  They'd better be.  I
  lit up four of these huts, but that won't be enough to distract these
  natives forever.

  It was true; already they could see groups of foes forming up in the
distance, both within the village and at its edges.

Weaver:  Just shoot them all with arrows.
Eyer:  Not so easy, friend.  I can fire every last arrow I have, and
  hit with them all, but that won't be enough to take out all of these
  foes.  (to Halbarad)  Not even with your bow and all of your arrows
  as well.  And there's no way we can recover any of the arrows we've
  already fired.  Perhaps we should have gotten Leila to ask T'kar here
  just how many cannibals were _in_ this village.  As things stand right
  now, we're outnumbered.

  Worse, many of the cannibals were now brandishing large shields, and
they began to advance on the four attackers' position, using the shields
to protect themselves from the deadly arrows.  Of course, both Eyer and
Halbarad used their bows to find gaps in the wall of shields, but these
weren't going to be enough.

Eyer:  There must still be a hundred of them...
Halbarad:  They'll overwhelm us by sheer force of numbers.
Weaver:  Maybe not if our allies arrive to help out.
Eyer:  They should be here shortly...I hope.  (he watches as a spear
  hurled from the ranks of the foes falls short)  It won't be long until
  those spears have the range to find us.  (he readies his bow)
Weaver:  Yeah.  (he watches another spear hit the ground about twenty
  feet away)
Eyer:  (waiting for such a move, he fires, hitting the spear-thrower and
  sending him to the ground with an arrow in his neck)
Weaver:  Nice shot.
Halbarad:  (fires an arrow, which glances off of a shield amidst the
  slowly-approaching enemy force)  Hell.  (he glances back at the cavern
  entrance behind them)  We'll have to retreat to there, or else make a
  last stand-

  Just them, a whirlwind of death tore through the rear ranks of the
cannibal mob, scattering those foes and sending many to their doom.  It
was the other two-thirds of the group, and they were heading right for
Halbarad's group, plying their weapons with lethal skill and force.

Rillen:  (leading the way, he whirls his quarterstaff, knocking cannibals
  aside with every powerful swing)
Songa:  (behind him and to the left, she lashes out with her spear, each
  strike killing or wounding a foe)
Peyote:  (behind Rillen to the right, he swings his bastard sword in
  great whirling arcs, clearing foes on that side as well)

  Relmar, Leila, Daffodil, and Dervan formed the remainder of the attack
wedge - and it had no rear guard.  The group's complete focus was to
tear through the group of savages and join Halbarad's smaller group; it
worked because of two factors.  The considerable fighting prowess of the
attackers would probably have been enough to get through the cannibal
horde, but given the fact that the attacked had their backs to the
attackers, the strike was fast and deadly.  Songa's team mowed through
the shocked, stunned attackers, leaving a path of bloody mayhem behind.
By the time the surviving cannibals thought to counterattack, Songa and
her group had reached Halbarad's group, and both Halbarad and Eyer were
laying down a withering cover fire.  Rillen and Peyote quickly joined
them, and rained down even more death upon the villagers.  Sharp arrows
pierced muscle and flesh, and the cannibals quickly fell back, taking
cover behind intact huts so they could lick their wounds and plan some
sort of counterattack.

T'kar:  (stares at the new arrivals, eyes wide)
Leila:  (mumbles something to the native)
Songa:  (turns, checking to see if any of the cannibals are giving chase)
  Well, that was fun.
Halbarad:  And also well done.  Nice of you to join us.
Peyote:  (gestures toward the burning huts)  Dude, you made an easy
  signal to follow.
Songa:  The attack plan was simple, really, once we saw where you were
  and how they were advancing on you.
Rillen:  Strongest fighters at the point, wedge formation...basic war
  tactics, really.
Relmar:  I wouldn't normally advocate the slaughter of anyone, even such
  barbarians as these...but when the alternative is being eaten, the time
  comes to make some hard choices.
Eyer:  Well, we need to make another one, then.  (he gestures all around
  the group, at the cliff behind and the village to all other sides)  We
  just stuck ourselves in a natural trap, and if those savages figure
  that out, we're in big trouble.

  Even as they considered retreating to the cave mouth versus fighting
their way out, the decision was made for them.  A villager darted out
from behind one hut, holding a crude woven basket aloft.  Eyer's first
arrow hit the basket and stuck there; his second slew the carrier.  The
basket dropped, and a thin black liquid poured out...and flowed downhill
along the slight but definite slope leading to their position.  Soon, a
second and third basket were hurled in their direction, and more of the
dark liquid trickled toward them.

Songa:  Shouldn't we be shooting them all?
Eyer:  We could, but it might be a waste of valuable arrows we'll need
  later.  I'm down to my last dozen.
Halbarad:  Me too.
Daffodil:  Can't you just make more?
Peyote:  We can, babe, but not this fast, and not without the right raw
  materials.  (he looks around)  We may have to retreat.  I'm guessing
  that fissure there may lead to the mountain pass we came here for?
Halbarad:  I suspect it does, but it would help if someone checked it
  out while we still have a few moments.
Peyote:  Say no more, dude - you can count on me!  (he darts toward the
  fissure, then disappears into it)
Daffodil:  Peyote!  (she charges in after her husband)
Eyer:  That guy's...well, he's not right.
Halbarad:  (sighs)  Tell me about it.  (he aims, firing an arrow and
  hitting another basket-carrying cannibal in the distance)
Songa:  (kneels, dipping a finger into one of the small streams of dark
  liquid that's reached their position)  Hmm.  (she sniffs the stuff)
  Oil.
T'kar:  (also checking this liquid, he looks worried, and begins saying
  something ominous in his native tongue)
Relmar:  You think they mean to burn us out?
Weaver:  Why not?  It's only fair, seeing as how we did it to them.
Eyer:  Damn savages.  (he shoots another of the villagers who peeks out
  from behind a hut)
Leila:  You can't really blame them - they're just defending their home.
Eyer:  They're cannibals.  They eat other people.  They don't need to
  _have_ a home.  Back on Oerik, we'd rid the land of such people for
  the general good of all.
Relmar:  Hmm.

Peyote:  (emerges from the cavern mouth)  All clear, here - this passage
  leads way into the mountain, and I mean _way_ in!
Rillen:  (to Halbarad)  What do you think?
Halbarad:  I think we came all this way to solve a mystery, and that
  tunnel probably leads to the root of the mystery.  (he smirks)  Not
  to mention that we're about to get set on fire by the remnants of a
  village of vengeful cannibals.  I think the choice is clear.
Songa:  You can say that again.  (she points at the huts behind which
  the cannibals are hiding)

  One of the foes brandished a torch, and clearly planned to use it to
light that end of the trail of spilled oil...and start a fire that would
roast the invaders alive!

Eyer:  Not if I can help it.  (he raises his bow again, aiming and then
  firing in one fluid motion)

  The elf's arrow flew straight and true, hitting the torch-bearer in
the chest and sending him sprawling to the ground, dead - but the torch
fell from his limp hand, rolling a foot or two...and setting some of the
oil ablaze!

Halbarad:  Oh, hell.





next:      into the mountain...and mysteries within mysteries
ftp:       ftp.peldor.com
www:       http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:  http://www.peldor.com/
email:     tmiller@peldor.com
released:  12/8/06
notes:     I'm actually enjoying this arc, even if it's only got one more
  episode.  Be sure to check out http://www.peldor.com/portraits/ along
  with my response to it at http://www.peldor.com/news/2006_12_08.html
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