Chapter #1022

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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:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         a keep in the town of Worgenfeld, in lands unknown     +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +
+   "Sometimes what you've learned conflicts with what you know."         +
+                                    - from _Children of the Corn 2_      +

                   MXXII.  A Fresh Start

  Shortly after dawn, the recently-awakened Otto found Belphanior standing
atop the roof of the keep...a keep the group had taken for their own after
the battle last night.  The elf stood at the chest-high parapet, surveying
the small town and the surrounding plains.

Belphanior:  (senses the dwarf's presence without turning around)  I'd not
  noticed the mountains in the distance.  Did any of us, I wonder?
Otto:  We were was one fight after another, seemed like.
Belphanior:  Not an easy day, that's for sure.  I'm glad it's over...not
  because of all the challenges and fighting, but because now we have a
  chance to rest, recover, figure out where the hell we are, resupply
  ourselves, and plan our next move.

  The adventurers had actually only done the first two of those things.
After last evening's battle in the throne room of Vorkos the Red, they'd
worked their way through the rest of the keep, overcoming and slaying the
few remaining soldiers in the building.  There had been no debate about
sparing that last handful of men, because every single one of them had
fought to the death, none asking for or receiving surrender.  The two
liberated ex-servants - the gigantic eunuch and the slender young girl -
had been more than happy to provide key details such as the layout of the
keep, the number and location of the soldiers within, the safeguards used
by Vorkos to protect his personal chambers, and so on.
  After the remaining soldiers had been dealt with, Belphanior and his
companions had fortified the keep's main entry door as well as its small
number of windows.  The gaping hole from the battle had been deemed as
not worthy of wasting magic, so instead it had been blocked with furniture
and Otto had volunteered to sleep nearby to stand guard.  Their new allies
had advised that there would likely be no danger, as Vorkos had been the
undisputed master of the town and kept his small number of followers and
soldiers close at hand.  Although it sounded unlikely that anyone would
be coming to his aid, Otto had still taken sentry duty as a precaution.
  But there had been no visitors in the night, not to any of the various
entrances to the keep, and this morning found them well-rested and in fine

Belphanior:  We've got a lot to do today.

  Within an hour, those various efforts were underway.  The keep had five
floors plus a sizable cellar; the ground floor contained the barracks and
armory for the roughly two dozen soldiers who no longer needed either.  It
also held the pair of large double doors and portcullis that served as the
entrance to the keep.  Beneath this main floor was the cellar, which held
a large assortment of food, drink, and supplies.  Above the ground level
were the cells (it turned out that the adventurers had been held in one of
two such areas, and the other was vacant) and some additional barracks.
Next was a floor with the kitchen and dining room, as well as quarters for
four servants or henchmen (only three of which had been in use recently.)
The keep's fourth floor was almost entirely made up of the large throne
or ruling chamber in which the recent battle had taken place.  Above this
were Vorkos' private chambers, and the sixth floor contained his study and
laboratory.  This topmost floor also had steps leading up to a trapdoor
which opened onto the roof.  Outside the keep, a small attached stable
held a dozen fine horses as well as associated equipment, supplies, feed,
and water.
  The adventurers had of course already recovered their clothes and other
items that were taken earlier, while they were unconscious.  However, it
was now obvious that the group could get all the armor, weapons, rations,
and supplies they needed from Vorkos' keep, which would make things a lot
easier when they left this town and moved on.  Belphanior was thinking of
staying for at least another day, since Skektek was still healing from the
wounds suffered during the skirmish with the wolves and everyone else had
lesser aches and pains.  This tied into another problem with their current

Irina:  (somewhat alarmed)  I'm no longer able to commune with Istus.
Belphanior:  What?
Hope:  Is that even possible?
Irina:  I'd never have thought so, but my prayers have gone unanswered,
  and I can't sense her presence.
Belphanior:  Well, damn.
Irina:  Something felt different yesterday - I knew it the moment we got
  here.  But I figured it was the nature of our journey, the way it made
  us all feel beaten or sick.  Anyway, there was never a time to slow
  down and figure things out.  Even during last night's prayer, before I
  went to sleep, I sensed a...distance between myself and my goddess.  And
  as of this morning, I'm unable to work her magic.  (she shakes her head)
  Any of her magic.
Otto:  No healing spells?
Irina:  No healing spells, no communing, no scrying.  Nothing.  It's as
  if she's just...gone.  (she frowns)  Which is of course impossible, so
  the remaining possibility is that _we_ are gone.  Which we already knew,
  really, given that the moons in the sky last night weren't those of our
Belphanior:  Agreed.
Irina:  I still have knowledge of healing, like binding of wounds, some
  simple salves and such...but there won't be any healing magic so long
  as we're here.  (sighs)  Wherever "here" is.
Belphanior:  Which brings me to something else we need to do.  (to Otto)
  Where are that big guy, and the serving girl?
Otto:  They've been resting in their quarters, on the third floor.  (he
  curses under his breath)  I sure hope they didn't just leave while we
  were talking this morning.

  They had not, and shortly, they had joined the others, and Belphanior
began to ask his questions...

Belphanior:  First of all, what are your names?
gigantic eunuch:  I am Poulos, from the land of Saoma.
Belphanior:  Is that nearby?
Poulos:  Oh, no.  It is far away from here.
Belphanior:  (to the girl)  And you?
young serving girl:  I an Lise.  I was born and raised here, in this town.
  The wizard took me from my parents many moons ago, to be his servant.
Belphanior:  Your parents are here?  In this town?  Right now?
Lise:  Well, yes.  I mean, unless something's happened to them.  When the
  wizard took me, they knew better than to resist.  (sadly)  I hope they
  are well.
Belphanior:  I'm surprised you haven't left to go find them by now.
Lise:  Left?
Belphanior:  Yes, left.  After last night.
Lise:  (looks confused)
Belphanior:  (frowns)

  The elf suddenly realized that the girl still assumed she was a slave,
only with a new master, and thus had remained while awaiting new orders.
It had never occurred to the woman that she couldn't simply leave and go
back to her family.

Belphanior:  Uh...okay, we'll deal with that in a bit.  (to Poulos)  Was
  the wizard the ruler of the entire land?  What exactly was the extent
  of his power?
Poulos:  Worgenfeld is just one isolated town within this barony.
Skektek:  (helpfully)  Targus.
Hope:  (more helpfully)  Tarkus.
Poulos:  (nods)  Tarkus, ruled by Baron Tarkus.  It was he who appointed
  the wizard to lord it over this town...that was several years ago.
Belphanior:  How long have - had - you been under his thrall?
Poulos:  Almost five years as his slave.  It was the wizard who...made me
  as I am now.
Belphanior:  (sensing a painful and inappropriate discussion ahead, if it
  continues, he changes the subject)  So the other wizard, the short one,
  served Vorkos?
Poulos:  Yes.  Hermis.  He lived elsewhere in town...his purpose was to
  deal with the trivial things around town, so that Vorkos did not have
  to.  (he smirks)  Hermis was never very good at his job.
Belphanior:  We saw that.  Which reminds me, at some point we're going to
  have to visit his home and liberate his possessions, since he won't be
  needing them anymore.
Poulos:  There is no need.  Vorkos saw to that last night, while you were
  being brought here.  All that Hermis owned was brought here.
Belphanior:  Ah.  (frowns)  So...Hermis, Vorkos, Tarkus.  And we haven't
  yet seen or dealt with Tarkus...although I don't see that we really
  need to.
Poulos:  I would not advise it.  I have never encountered him, because he
  never came here, but it is said that Tarkus is a large and ferocious
  man, quick to anger and quite violent.  I know that Vorkos feared him
  and tried hard to avoid his wrath.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  It stands to reason that sooner or later, this Tarkus
  is going to find out what happened here, and want to deal with it.
Poulos:  (shrugs)  That is likely.
Belphanior:  Where does he live...where's his seat of power?
Poulos:  To the north, at the foot of the Black Peaks.  I have heard that
  he lives in a fort, in that wilderness.  If you are thinking about going
  there to pay him a visit...I would suggest that you head south instead.
Belphanior:  We'll see.  Thanks for helping us.  (to Lise)  Are you ready
  to go back home, to your parents?
Lise:  Home?
Belphanior:  Yes.  Vorkos the Red is now Vorkos the Dead.  So your time as
  a servant is over.  You can return to the life you had before.  (he digs
  some coins from a pouch, handing them to her)  Maybe this will help.
Lise:  (absolutely astounded, she begins to cry)
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces to himself)
Lise:  (rushes forth and throws her arms around Belphanior, hugging the
  elf tightly as she continues to sob)
Belphanior:  Um...okay...
Poulos:  (to the elf)  If you will allow me, I can make sure she gets
  there.  The streets of the town are no place for a girl like her; most
  people are decent, but there are enough of the other sort.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Sure thing.  (to Lise)  Good luck.
Lise:  Th- thank you...(tears streaming down her face, she leaves with
Belphanior:  (watches them go)  And that's that.  Now to business.  Hope,
  Skektek - what's the word on spellbooks and items?
Skektek:  The good news is that our friend Vorkos had himself quite a
  decent little collection of spells in his spellbook.
Hope:  And the better news is that his study held a couple of new, blank
  spellbooks and magical ink.  Given a little time, we can make copies of
  his book for all three of us.  That will allow us to memorize and cast
  spells as normal, even if they're not the spells we're used to having
Belphanior:  Plus each of us has what's left of the ones we had already
  memorized before all this.  Good.  What about magical items?
Skektek:  Not too much...he carried this rod.  (he holds up a silver rod
  whose head is tipped with a small metallic fist)  I believe you've seen
  its power first-hand.
Belphanior:  (eyes the lanky wizard)
Skektek:  No pun intended!
Hope:  (sighs, annoyed)  And he also had Hermis' wand of frost, and his
  ring, which lets its bearer shock others.  (to Skektek)  I'm sorely
  tempted to use this on YOU.
Skektek:  Hah.
Hope:  The wizard also kept a handful of magical potions in his workshop.
  They were even labeled, which is useful for us.
Belphanior:  Any wizard possessing more than a couple of potions typically
  labels or sorts them somehow.  Too easy to mix them up, otherwise.  The
  collections of unmarked, unknown potions typically found in dungeons are
  that way due to mistakes and scattering by monsters or fools.  So what
  did Vorkos have?
Skektek:  Fire breath, flying, invisibility, and speed.  (he pauses)  The
  fire breathing one could be interesting.  Never tried that.
Hope:  And also clairvoyance, plus four potions of healing.  Which will
  come in handy given the situation.  (to Irina)  No offense.
Irina:  (shrugs)  None taken.  Istus is out there, and everything will be
  fine once I return to her realm.  Until then...(she hefts the footman's
  mace that Belphanior had gotten her from the shop in town)  I'm ready,
  willing, and able to smash some heads as necessary.
Belphanior:  Of that, I have no doubt.  (he addresses them all)  Listen
  up, everyone.  Here's the plan.  We're staying here until the spellbooks
  are done.  That work will take the full attention of myself, Skektek,
  and Hope for a day or two.  I'd like the rest of you to scour this keep
  from top to bottom, find anything we didn't find, take whatever armor
  and weapons you want from the armory, prepare and pack our supplies for
  a long journey, check the horses and get the best ones ready.
Otto:  We'll take care of all that.  So we're leaving this place?  Which
  way are we heading?
Belphanior:  South.  I want nothing to do with Tarkus.  And as tempting
  as it might be to just stay here and build power, getting home is more
  important.  We'll ride south, away from the mountains and the ruler of
  this forsaken place.  Once we're elsewhere, we can reassess and maybe
  find some center of learning, a wizard's guild...something.  Whatever
  we need to get home, we're damn sure not going to find it in this town.

next:       into the wild
released:   5/15/20
notes:      This episode's quote is from _Children of the Corn 2_ which
  I don't remember ever watching.  It's amazing what I've accumulated in
  my quotes file over three decades.
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