Chapter #1016

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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       +
+   1991-2020 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     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Date:          unknown                                                +
+   Time:          early evening                                          +
+   Place:         unknown                                                +
+   Climate:       chilly and overcast                                    +
+   "There's a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword      +
+    in his hand."                                                        +
+     --- Jorah Mormont, from _Game of Thrones_ episode _Valar Dohaeris_  +

                   MXVI.  From Bad To Worse

  After leaving the inn where two different skirmishes took place, the
party finds itself surrounded by more than a dozen guards, some of whom
have crossbows aimed and ready.  Perhaps more concerning is the presence
of the fellow on horseback, who appears to be in charge and who may also
be a spellcaster of some sort...

well-dressed, plump, disdainful fellow:  I don't know where you people
  came from, but you have defied my laws here...and you shall answer for
Belphanior:  (stands up to his full height and assumes his most menacing
  expression)  Now look here!  We have done nothing wrong!  We were
  attacked without cause,  and were simply defending ourselves!  (he
  looks around, surveying the various foes menacingly)  I would strongly
  consider backing away if I were you.  Strongly.

  This show of confidence was a calculated gamble.  At the least, the elf
was hoping to cause the aggressors to back down and then parley in a more
sensible manner.  At the most, he was hoping they might reconsider their
intentions altogether.  Unfortunately, he could see the look in the eyes
of the mounted leader, and knew there was only one way this would play
out.  The man hesitated for a moment - perhaps wondering what trump card
these foreigners might have to play - but then regained his resolve.
Belphanior had to remind himself that he and his team were severely
underpowered compared to normal, and that they probably looked like
common brigands to this man and his soldiers.
  Be that as it may, he wasn't going to surrender or allow his people to
possibly get hurt or killed.  As the man on horseback began moving his
hands and mouth in a manner familiar to anyone who'd ever cast a spell,
Belphanior struck first, a volley of small but potent magic missiles
launching from his suddenly-outstretched hand.  One struck the wizard on
horseback, interrupting and ruining whatever spell he was casting; the
other four enchanted projectiles each hit one of the guards armed with
crossbows.  None of these individual missiles were anywhere near lethal
to those they struck, but the elf was merely counting on them to cause
distraction until the others could join into the fray.
  Razor Charlie was the first to act, with his lightning-fast reflexes
and lethal accuracy.  Belphanior had always thought it plausible that
the lean, scarred warrior could throw a knife even faster than a wizard's
magic missile could be launched.  Here, today, Razor Charlie provided a
strong measure of supporting evidence for that theory.  In the blink of
an eye, one of the nearby crossbowmen who hadn't previously been injured
suddenly found a rusty throwing knife embedded in his trigger hand, and
dropped the weapon, screaming in pain.  As another guard instinctively
swung his crossbow over to take aim at this new threat, he reeled as a
second thrown knife sunk into his neck.
  The guards may have outnumbered the adventurers, but they didn't seem
to have nearly as much combat experience.  Those armed with swords hadn't
moved to attack yet, instead appearing to be shocked by the sudden show
of resistance; this gave the party crucial moments to prepare themselves.

guard #7:  You're all going to die for this!  (he raises his sword and
  charges at Irina, the nearest opponent)
Irina:  Not today.  (she deftly dodges the attacker's blade, then brings
  her mace around in a savage backhanded motion that takes full advantage
  of her momentum, smashing into the side of the foe's skull)
guard #7:  (falls, blood oozing from every orifice in his head)
Otto:  (trades a few blows with another guard before parrying an attack
  and driving his sword into the man's chest)
guard #8:  Aaaargh...
guard #9:  (menacing the unarmed Hope)  You're all going to pay-
Hope:  (uses a spell to jump forward and over not only that guard but
  everyone else...but due to her rush to work the magic and get to safety,
  she collides with the side of a nearby stable on the tail end of her
guard #9:  (looking around in surprise)  What?!?
Razor Charlie:  (hurls a knife into the back of the man's head, downing

  Meanwhile, the plump wizard on horseback had recovered from the magic
missile's blast, and now held a wand as he cursed and yelled, clearly in
a rage.  Showing no regard for his own men, he pointed the wand at the
melee as he spoke a command word, launching a massive cone of snow and
ice that hit Irina, Otto, and Razor Charlie as well as almost all of the
surviving guards.

plump wizard:  Hah!  Now you-

  Strong hands grabbed the man by his shirt and forcefully tore him from
the saddle, hurling him to the ground.  The wand fell from his hand as he
shrieked in pain, clearly unused to such treatment.

plump wizard:  Urgh...(he staggers to his feet)
Belphanior:  (knees him in the stomach, doubling him over)  Not so fast.

  The elf had darted in the direction of the wizard as soon as he could,
but everything had happened so fast, and he was a moment too slow to stop
the magical attack that appeared to have taken out the majority of his

Belphanior:  (grabs the wand in one hand and the wizard's collar in the
  other)  Now it's time to-
plump wizard:  (suddenly reaches out and grabs the elf's upper arm, the
  ring on his hand delivering a massive electrical shock)
Belphanior:  AARGH!  (he stumbles back, his arm smoking and his hair on
plump wizard:  No one lays hands on me!  You damn're all going
  to die now.  (he lunges forward, the ring-hand outstretched to deliver
  another mighty shock)

  The wizard had either overestimated his own speed or underestimated
Belphanior's toughness, but at that moment, the elf drew on his reserves
of stamina and anger and whirled, meeting the charging foe with the point
of the longsword he'd purchased earlier.

plump wizard:  (finds himself impaled)  Glurk...
Belphanior:  (twists the blade, watching the life depart from the man's
  eyes)  And that's that, you pompous bastard.

  Momentarily, the elf would search the wizard's body and take anything
of value - particularly that ring - but first he needed to check on his
people.  Turning, he saw a grim scene:  Otto, Charlie, and Irina were all
down, unconscious at best, lying in drifts of snow among all the guards
they'd been fighting.  He wasn't sure where Hope was, but figured she'd
removed herself from the melee in order to work her spells.  The next
order of business was to-

Belphanior:  (staggers as some powerful unseen force smashes him from
  behind)  Ungh!

  Knocked to his knees, he turned and struggled to stand, as he saw his
attacker:  a tall, lanky wizard in red robes, floating nearby on what
was probably an invisible disc.  This man clutched some sort of rod in
one hand, and he was flanked by a dozen warriors on horseback.  Unlike
the guards who had accompanied the other wizard, these were armored and
looked much more menacing.  Their armor and shields bore the insignia
of a red fist.

red-robed wizard:  (waves the rod, and something large and translucent
  moves with astonishing speed, bashing the elf a second time)

Belphanior:  (barely has time to register that he's being pummeled by a
  giant disembodied fist)  Urgh!  (he falls to the ground, then pushes
  himself up again, determined to fight)

red-robed wizard:  (moves his arm again)
Belphanior:  (hit by the magical fist a third time, he finally succumbs,
  falling unconscious)
red-robed wizard:  (to the soldiers)  Take them to the dungeons.  Leave
  that idiot Hermis and his guards, but recover his wand and ring.  (he
  looks around sadly)  I never should have left him in charge of security
  for the town.

  The soldiers moved quickly and efficiently to carry out their orders,
Securing the adventurers and tossing their unconscious bodies onto the
backs of their horses.

  Meanwhile, forgotten by the guards during the chaotic melee, Hope had
taken cover in the nearby stable after her magically-powered leap to
safety.  She had been watching the scene unfold, waiting for the right
moment to act, to cast some spell...only that moment had never come.
And now, the sudden appearance of the red-robed wizard had changed
everything, and her mind raced frantically as she tried to decide which
spell was best suited to launch an attack...and whether such an attack
would even be successful with the others now out of the fight.  She
readied herself to step out of the barn and do her best to rescue her
  And then, her heart leapt into her throat as a chilly hand clamped
firmly over her mouth and silently pulled her back into the barn.

next:       dungeons
released:   4/3/20
notes:      Last time, I think I promised you some answers, but as this
  one writes itself, those answers may be a little longer in coming.

    This one was written the Sunday after my first two weeks working
  exclusively from home during the now-worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.  I
  wish I knew how things were going to turn out, but I don't.  None of
  us do.  All I can say is do your best to stay healthy, stay positive,
  and I'll try and do my part to brighten your days a little by writing
  new stories.  (I've definitely got the time now!)
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