Chapter #835

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                                   +   +
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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:          early evening                                          +
+   Place:         a forested path within the Crystalmist Mountains       +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+   "It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both."        +
+                           - from _The Prince_, by Niccolo Machiavelli   +

                   DCCCXXXV.  Deep In the Woods

  After a bloody battle with some unusually fierce and intelligent wolves,
Belphanior has taken command of the surviving slaves and now leads them
through the wooded mountain trail.

ex-slave #1:  It'll be dark soon.
Belphanior:  Yeah.  I figure we'll go as far as we can, then find the
  best, most defensible site we can, and make camp there.
ex-slave #2:  Still, we've made good time since we left the...err, the
  slaughter.  (he looks around as if ashamed)
Belphanior:  Slaughter.  Don't be afraid to say it - it's the right term
  and it's something you'd best get used to.

  The elf had a lot on his mind - it was a series of problems within
problems.  The immediate problem, of course, was getting out of these
mountains alive.  After that, he had to track the slavers' wizard and
recover his magic items before they were split up, sold, or whatever.
Once - if - he accomplished all that, Belphanior had to track down all
of his team and regroup.  Only then could he get back to exploring the
network of teleportation gateways left by the lich Xusia.

Belphanior:  Too damn much to do.
ex-slave #3:  What?
Belphanior:  Nothing...never mind.

  A secondary problem involved the thirteen surviving slaves from the
caravan.  Belphanior didn't want to just abandon these people, especially
not in this region of the world.  If the wolves or other monsters of the
mountains didn't get them, other slavers would.  On the other hand, if he
protected them, they'd only slow him down, which might mean the loss of
some or all of his stolen items.  To be sure, all of this was quite a
headache for the elf.  He would have done anything to get just one of his
spellbooks back - that would mean an instant retreat to some safe place,
followed by the use of heavy magic to find and recover his possessions.
  Unfortunately, there was no spellbook, and thus no spells.  All he had
was his enchanted sword, his cunning mind, and his experience.  For now,
that would simply have to be enough.

ex-slave #6:  (excitedly)  We've found something on the side of the road!
Belphanior:  Hopefully not supper.

  A little-used side road intersected the main trail about a hundred
feet ahead.  It had clearly once been a major route, but was largely
overgrown with weeds now.

Belphanior:  (noting some disturbed foliage on the side path)  I'm no
  ranger, but it looks like someone came this way fairly recently.

  Perhaps more interesting, however, was the faded and battered wooden
sign that indicated where the trail had once led...

Belphanior:  An inn...hmm.  (to Rubar)  Any idea about this?
Rubar:  Not a clue.  This is the first time I've taken this route with
  Turkus and his slave caravan.  (he squints at the sign)  My guess is
  that any inn down this road is long-closed and abandoned.
Belphanior:  That may be, but abandoned or not, it would make a better
  place to spend the night than the open woods.  (he addresses the entire
  group)  We'll go down this road and see what this inn really is.  Even
  a long-abandoned building will give shelter, and we might find some
  things we can use.

  Food wasn't a major problem - the remains of the wagons held enough
food and drink to feed everyone for several days - but the elf knew that
these people would be a lot better off with a solid wall around them at
night.  He didn't expect to find much of use there, but night was coming
fast, and the wolves would surely make another attack during the night.
  As it turned out, the inn wasn't hard to find:  a short time after
taking the side road, they came around a corner and came face-to-face
with the inn.  Oddly enough, there were lights on inside!

Belphanior:  Well, now.  (he draws his sword)  Everyone stay behind me.
ex-slave #4:  Gladly.
Rubar:  Do I have a choice?
Belphanior:  (glares at the captured slaver, then unties the rope from
  his own waist, handing it to some of the slaves)  Hold onto this, and
  keep him from running off.  After I go through that door and make sure
  it's safe, follow me in.

  Physically, the inn was nothing special - a medium-sized building, it
would have been most unimpressive within any city block.  Out here in the
wilderness, though, it loomed above them.  Two stories high and perhaps
a hundred feet on a side, it was old yet sturdy-looking.  Several small
windows were set on either side of the front door, which was reached by a
short series of steps.  More windows looked out from the second floor.
The inn's roof was a short peak, many of its shingles missing or broken.

Belphanior:  Well, it seems functional.  (he idly wonders what the inn's
  owners would think of giving rooms to a dozen ragged-looking guests)

  The elf sensed a dozen souls within the building, and he strode up to
its front door boldly, sword at the ready.  Rather than knock on the door
(a sure sign of weakness) or kick it down (a sure sign of bluster) he just
opened it and walked right in.

Belphanior:  Hello, anybody home?

  Beyond the door was a spacious common room, with several tables and a
large, brick fireplace.  A small bar stood between the tables and a back
room that was probably the kitchen.  A plump, middle-aged woman tended
the bar, and a teenaged girl was cleaning one of the tables.

Belphanior:  You're not closed, are you?
woman:  (eyeing the elf fearfully)  N- no...
Belphanior:  Good.  (he ushers in the group of ex-slaves)  I need to buy
  several rooms for the night, and some supper if you have it.
woman:  Where did you come from?
Belphanior:  The main road, why?
woman:  It's just one ever comes here.  Not anymore.
Belphanior:  I'm not surprised.  You've got a big pack of wolves out there
  in the woods, probably all over the mountain.  Hell, for all I know,
  they're headed here now.
teenaged girl:  (looks terrified)
Belphanior:  Struck a nerve, did I?  What do you know about the wolves?
woman:  (to the teenaged girl)  Get back there and get some rooms ready.

  As the girl scurried away to do that, the older woman turned to the
elf.  Belphanior could now see the resemblance - the two were mother and

woman:  The wolves don't bother anyone, except at night.  Everyone knows
  not to go outside at night.
Belphanior:  They attacked us during the daytime.  (he looks around with
  a suspicious gleam in his eye)  Where are the others?
woman:  Who?  What others?  There's just three of us who live and work
Belphanior:  (frowns)  I know for a fact that there are about ten more
  people somewhere in this building.
woman:  Well, I-
voice:  Enough!

  The speaker burst out of the back room, in the same motion firing a
heavy crossbow at Belphanior.  A slower, less astute target would have
been skewered; indeed, despite his reflexes, the elf was nicked along
one side by the bolt.

Belphanior:  Argh!  (he leaps toward the attacker, sword flashing)
Turkus:  (backs away, reloading while two of his surviving men step out
  to meet the elf and his sword)  Get him!

  Belphanior parried one attack, then disarmed the other foe with a deft
bit of swordplay.  Before that man could back away, he found Blackrazor
buried in his neck, and his lifeblood flowing out all over the floor.

Belphanior:  Ahh...(he bears down on the other foe)

  Suddenly, the elf's stomach turned, and he convulsed violently, blood
spitting from his mouth.

Belphanior:  Urgh...(he stumbles, falling to his knees)
Turkus:  That's right, you bolt was poisoned.  (he draws a
  curved sword and steps forward, pushing his underling out of the way)
  I won't need the crossbow now, though, to finish you off.

next:       the tables turn
released:   8/27/04
notes:      The unpleasant situation I mentioned via Belphanior's thoughts
  early in this story - having to worry about one thing while several
  others remain open and unresolved - is something I personally frown
  on in books, or worse, comic books (the latter because it can be months
  before things get resolved.)  I hope this carries over to you as the
  reader:  Belphanior has a whole lot to worry about at the moment.  If
  he's lucky, he'll get to take care of business and get on with his main
  objectives.  Of course, if he's not lucky, he could end up dead in the
  middle of these woods...

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