Chapter #1017

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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!                                          +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Date:          unknown                                                +
+   Time:          early evening                                          +
+   Place:         unknown                                                +
+   Climate:       chilly and overcast                                    +
+   "I don't know if we're ready."                                        +
+   "Let's get ready, then."                         - from _Creed 2_     +

                   MXVII.  Gathering Intelligence

  After the multiple skirmishes at the inn and the appearance of a
mysterious wizard who turned the tide of the last battle, Belphanior
and the others have been taken away as prisoners...leaving behind a
street full of corpses and a rather large pile of snow and ice.

villager:  (wanders out into the street after a time, looking around as
  if the soldiers might return at any moment)
other villagers:  (likewise)

  The people soon got to work piling up the bodies, and shortly, a couple
of them brought a large cart.  The others began piling the bodies in the
cart, after which it was taken away, and some semblance or normal foot
traffic eventually returned to the street.  Except for the remnants of
the cone of cold, and some bloodstains, nobody would have known that the
battle ever happened.
  In a nearby stable, far back from the outer door which was now slightly

Hope:  Fine, fine, I understand.
Skektek:  Believe me, I wanted to blast that red-robed bastard
  into a pile of ashes.  But we didn't know how powerful he was, plus he
  had all those soldiers, maybe more on the way.  For the first time in a
  while, I figured maybe violence wasn't the answer to a problem.
Hope:  (frowns)
Skektek:  Well, it is, just not until later.
Hope:  I had the same issue...I was following the situation and trying
  to decide what to do, and when.  And then just like that, it was over.
Skektek:  (angrily)  Oh, it's not over.
Hope:  What are you thinking?
Skektek:  We talk to someone - whoever we can find - and figure out who
  that wizard was and where he can be found.  Then we scout and figure
  out a plan of attack.
Hope:  When?
Skektek:  I think we need to do it tonight.  For all we know, if we wait
  even a few hours, they might get tortured or executed.  There's just
  no telling.  (he shakes his head)  We can't risk it.  (he takes a few
  steps, then abruptly grimaces in pain)  Argh...
Hope:  What is it?
Skektek:  My wounds, from the wolves' attack earlier.  Irina worked her
  healing magic, but...they still hurt.
Hope:  You need to take it easy.  Maybe we should-
Skektek:  No.  (he grits his teeth)  I'm fine.  I - we - have more than
  enough magic left to take out some goofball in a red outfit.  We've
  fought dragons, demons, godlings, and worse and always won in the end.
  We're not going to lose here, not in this little speck of a town.  Not
  a chance.
Hope:  (sets her jaw)  Then let's do it.

  As these two were far from suited to pure physical intimidation, they
had to come up with a different tactic; after some hurried strategizing,
they did.  Hope pretended to be a brazen strumpet, standing within the
stable until a suitable target was spotted.  At that point, she moved
into position just outside the building's door, beckoning alluringly as
the fellow walking by gradually drew nearer.

Hope:  (sticks one bare leg out, and gives the man her best seductive
young fellow:  (eyes wide, he steers clear, quickening his walking pace,
  and is soon gone)
Hope:  (goes back inside, frowning)  Well, that didn't go as expected.
  What did I do wrong?  (she throws her hands up)  Am I ugly?
Skektek:  No, it's not that.  Err, I mean no, you're not ugly.
Hope:  (jokingly)  I'd wager that would have turned out a lot differently
  before, when I was a vampire.
Skektek:  No doubt.  You were a powerful one, too.  And mean.
Hope:  Heh.
Skektek:  Look, it's no big deal.  That guy was probably happily married
  and just trying to get home for dinner after a hard day of work.
Hope:  I guess so.  (she signs)  Well, let's try this again.

  The former vampiress was indeed an attractive woman, and her second
attempt met with more success.  A middle-aged man - probably a merchant
given his attire - followed Hope as she backed into the barn, undoubtedly
curious as to what carnal adventures might await beyond.  To his credit,
the fellow didn't just walk into a dark building all alone without first
looking around.  However, the shadows held no dangers as far as he could
tell, and in he went...only to fall victim to Skektek's spell and find
himself suddenly immobilized, held in place just inside the stable.

Skektek:  (steps out of the shadows on the other side of the building)

  The pair of adventurers had rehearsed everything ahead of time, and had
figured that the average person would check the immediate area within the
door, but not the rest of the stable.  They had also made a contingency
plan - a spell of sleeping - in case Hope had inadvertently lured multiple
targets at once.  Fortunately, everything was working out well so far, and
the captured merchant was quickly pulled far back into the shadows.

horse in berth:  (watching all of this, it neighs)
Skektek:  (nonchalantly)  Quiet, you.
Hope:  (helping drag the captive deeper into the stable)  Unf.  Thank the
  gods we didn't get a big, heavy one.

  They bound the fellow's hands behind his back, then propped him up in a
sitting position against a wall.  The merchant couldn't move, but he was
clearly terrified; in his panicked estimation, he was about to get robbed
and murdered, probably violently and painfully.  Indeed, the skinny man
who'd been hiding in the back of the stable looked not only mean, but also
quite angry.

Skektek:  Okay, you.  Time for some answers, and fast.  Or else...(he draws
  his finger across his throat suggestively)
merchant:  (eyes wide)
Hope:  (grabs Skektek's arm)  We don't have to kill him.
Skektek:  (having produced a small dagger)  We don't?
Hope:  Not if he tells us what we want to know.
Skektek:  I'm sure he won't - just look at him.  (he holds the needle-like
  point of the dagger up, studying it critically)
merchant:  (his eyes flicker back and forth wildly)
Hope:  I think he's got something to say.
Skektek:  I'll bet he does.
Hope:  (to the merchant)  We're going to end the magic that holds you now,
  and ask you some questions.
Skektek:  And we'll know if you're lying.
Hope:  Give us simple, truthful answers and you'll live to see tomorrow.
  Blink once, slowly, if you understand.
merchant:  (does so)
Skektek:  (sighs, and ends his previously-cast spell)
merchant:  (looks around, his mouth working but no words coming out)  Uh,
Hope:  (takes a flagon and gives the man a drink of water)
merchant:  (speaking in a slightly less shaky voice)  Th- thank you.
Hope:  What is this town called?
merchant:  Worgenfeld.
Hope:  And what kingdom is it part of?
merchant:  Kingdom?  I- I don't understand.
Skektek:  (menacingly)  Don't play stupid with us.
Hope:  Kingdom.  Country.  Land.  Whatever.
merchant:  We are one of several such small towns within the Barony.
Hope:  Barony?  Barony of what, or of whom?
merchant:  Baron Tarkus.  He rules all in this domain.
Skektek:  That wizard in red, was that the Baron?
merchant:  No, that was our town's ruler...Vorkos the Red.
Hope:  What about the other wizard, the plump one?  That was Hermis?
merchant:  Yes, yes.
Hope:  Explain.
merchant:  Hermis can - err, could - cast spells, but he is - err, was -
  only a vassal, meant to keep the peace and take care of things.  Vorkos
  is the true power in this town.
Skektek:  (drily)  Apparently.  (he quietly wonders how differently this
  could have turned out if he still had all of his possessions)
Hope:  Vorkos is a powerful wizard, then?
merchant:  (nods)  No one has ever challenged him.  I mean, not that we
  would.  We're just poor townspeople.
Hope:  This Vorkos the Red...tell us where he can be found.
merchant:  The keep at the center of town, that's his home from which he
  rules this place.  You can't miss it, the thing rises above all other
  buildings around it.
Hope:  I see.
merchant:  Are you...going to attack it?
Skektek:  (points his dagger at the man)  That's none of your concern.
merchant:  I- I meant no offense, good sir.  Please just know that all of
  us here, all the regular people, the workers, we have no love of the
  wizard.  He is cruel and violent, and treats us like animals.  But we
  lack the means to resist, much less depose him.
Skektek:  Whatever-
Hope:  (waves him off)  Is there anything else worth knowing about this
  wizard's keep?
merchant:  No, no, I swear!  I mean, there are surely guards inside, but
  no one would ever dare approach without permission, or a summons.  (he
  shudders)  Those who are summoned there seldom return.
Hope:  (eyes Skektek, nodding slightly)
merchant:  What will you do with me now-  (he suddenly falls into a deep
Hope:  Thanks.
Skektek:  Waste of good magic, if you ask me.
Hope:  That may be, but we can't just execute the poor man.  He's done us
  no wrong.
Skektek:  (frowns)  True.
Hope:  Should we leave him bound, and gag him too?
Skektek:  No point.  He won't wake up until sometime tomorrow, and by then
  it won't matter, because we'll either have pulled off the rescue or else
  we'll be dead.
Hope:  Well, when you put it like that...(she gently lays the sleeping
  merchant down on the hay that covers the barn's floor, then removes the
  ropes from his wrists)
Skektek:  (to the man, who of course can't hear him)  So long, guy, and we
  really hope everything you told us was accurate.  Or else we're fucked.
Hope:  Let's get moving.
Skektek:  (nods)  We've got a lot of work to do.

next:       dungeons...really
released:   4/10/20
notes:      I hate to think that it took a major worldwide medical crisis
  to impel me to write steadily again...I really do.  But we've got to try
  and find a silver lining in every cloud.  If I can provide hundreds of
  you some entertainment as you "shelter in place" and "socially distance"
  then I'm happy to.
    So last time I promised you a dungeon next.  And the time before that
  I promised you some answers.  The older promise has now been met, to an
  extent, but the rest of it (and the first one) will come very soon.
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