Chapter #1024

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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                         +
+     Poulos       gigantic, beefy warrior with scimitar                  +
+   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:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the plains south of Worgenfeld, amidst lands unknown   +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +
+   "Sounds dangerous."                                                   +
+   "It's very dangerous."                                                +
+   "Count me in."                                                        +
+                             - Alan Shepard, from _The Right Stuff_      +

                   MXXIV.  Southbound and Free

  Since leaving the small town of Worgenfeld this morning, the party had
made excellent time.  This was due to the quality of their mounts and the
balanced distribution of riders and provisions across the extra horses.
The sky was clear and sunny, the weather cool and windy, and the air fresh
and clean.

Belphanior:  (looks to the distant horizon as the party rides along at a
  rapid pace)

  Outwardly, the elf remained positive, but inwardly his mind was in
turmoil.  This morning reminded him of old adventuring times, and he'd
be in a much better mood if not for the fact that the companions were
trapped in an unknown land without the knowledge or means to get back
to their home.  Still, things were much better than they'd been just a
few days ago; the party had spellbooks, weapons, horses, and supplies.
Belphanior figured the next step was to find a larger town, or perhaps
even a city; such a place would be likely to have some of the answers
they so badly needed.  This made the elf think back to their departure
from Worgenfeld, earlier this morning.  The townspeople had gathered all
around them as they rode out of Vorkos' keep, and for a short time the
group had worried about an imminent attack of some sort.
  However, that hadn't been the motivation at all.  Without anyone of
authority in charge, the townfolk had simply been worried about their
safety and welfare.  There had been pleas for them to stay, along with
thanks for liberating them from the rule of Vorkos.  Indeed, Belphanior
had thought about starting a new power base in the town, as he'd done
many years ago in Helgate.  However, the town had been no Helgate, and
when you got down to brass tacks, the party didn't currently have the
necessary power to hold and defend a town.  Besides, as he had already
realized, Worgenfeld was just too small and (for lack of a better word)
primitive to be of any real value or use.  Had he simply wanted to rule
and be treated like a lord, he could have stayed there - at least, until
someone inevitably came along to challenge him.  But that wasn't what he
wanted at all.  Back on Oerth, he had companions sitting on the hidden
hoard of Mesoloth, a magical trove of vast and incalculable might.  That
was his focus:  getting home, rejoining his companions, claiming all of
that glorious enchanted treasure, and using it to further his previous
aims and goals...

Belphanior:  (sighs quietly)

...all of which was predicated on them figuring out where the hell they
were, and how they could get from here to Oerth.  That task would be
made much more challenging due to the fact that Irina could no longer
commune with or call upon her goddess, nor would travel-type spells
such as teleportation work, as they'd already learned on the first day.
Belphanior figured that the ideal answer was a more powerful spell such
as a Gate or a Wish - magic which he ironically couldn't employ even if
he got his hands on it, thanks to him lacking the necessary magical items
for that.  So for now, he had no clear course of action, other than to
find a powerful wizard or an extensive library...or both.
  To that end, he'd questioned Poulos as they first left the keep; the
huge warrior had suggested the only other populated place he knew of
aside from Worgenfeld itself, and the keep of Tarkus to the north, at
the foot of the ominous mountain range.  Their destination was Fellban,
a city supposedly of decent size, four days' ride south of Worgenfeld.
Belphanior didn't know if they'd find what they needed there, but it was
the best starting point.  What he did know was that he would go wherever
he had to go, and do whatever he had to do, in order to get back to his
normal world and life.  It went without saying that the others (with the
possible exception of Poulos) shared the elf's basic goal.

Belphanior:  (ponders his various companions)

  Otto was one of the easiest to understand; he enjoyed the combination
of risk, and reward that were inevitable on the missions and adventures
that Belphanior planned and executed.  All the dwarf likely cared about
right now was staying alive and doing his part to keep his companions
alive.  Razor Charlie was similar and perhaps even simpler, although it
was easy to get the impression that he had nothing better to do anyway.
Skektek enjoyed the thrill of the action, and seemed addicted to having
and using magic, particularly destructive magic.  Someone like him would
pretty much always be happy and satisfied in the service of someone like
  Hope was a unique case, more complicated than she appeared.  As one who
had basically been granted a new lease on life, her past and her memory
wiped clean during a resurrection from undead to living woman, she was
almost like a child.  She enjoyed the world around her and wanted to have
experiences, and was intensely loyal to those who had "rescued" her from
her previous existence.  Then again, this so-called child was able to cast
powerful magical spells with a competency few could ever achieve.  The
speed and efficiency with which she had re-learned the use of magic after
being reborn were extraordinary.
  Irina was somewhat of an unknown, but she served the same goddess as
Jenna had, with the same purpose and direction from that goddess.  Jenna
had always been helpful and loyal - and ended up dying for it - and that
alone would have been enough for Belphanior.  However, Irina had already
proved her worth more than once in the short time she'd been with the
group.  Right now, she was in a tough situation, unable to communicate
with her deity or use any of her magic.  Belphanior would stick by her,
do his damndest to help her get through this challenging time, and make
sure she got back to Oerth with the rest of them.
  As for Poulos, they knew very little about the giant foreigner, but the
man had helped them in the battle against Vorkos.  If he counted himself
indebted to Hope due to her own role in that battle (which had allowed
him to finally retaliate against his hated master) then so be it.  While
it was an unusual way for Hope to gain a henchman, the elf was happy for
her.  Besides, the massive fellow clearly had the strength and ability to
contribute in a fight, and judging by the huge scimitar he carried, it
seemed inevitable that Poulos would have a chance to prove his worth.

Belphanior:  (nods to himself, thinking that despite all that's happened
  recently, things really could be a lot worse)

  The party continued riding steadily all afternoon, only stopping for
short meal and rest breaks as needed.  Worgenfeld had been behind them
for most of the day now, and the sun was gradually descending in the sky.
It wouldn't be long before they had to think about making camp for the
night, and they started to keep an eye out for a suitable site.  A short
time later, the keen eyes of Otto spotted one such potential location.

Otto:  (points)  There's a large rock outcropping, in the distance.  I'd
  wager it's the best place for a camp that we're going to find, based on
  what little we've seen in the last hour.

  As they steadily neared the spot, everyone had to agree.  A series of
large boulders formed a mass on the otherwise-flat landscape, perhaps
thirty feet across and about ten feet high.  There were several large
gaps between the rocks, in which they could shelter and fortify or guard
the entrance.  One of these openings even led back into the base of a
natural stone passageway that led up, emerging at the top of the rocks.

Otto:  A natural chimney.  It's a perfect site for a camp, and I'd wager
  that we'll find the remains of a number of old fires all over the place.
Belphanior:  I'd wager you're right.  We couldn't ask for anything better;
  we'll camp here for the night.

  Otto had been right about the evidence of past camps, and they quickly
checked the entire outcropping before deciding to make their camp in the
largest opening between the boulders, the one with the chimney.

Irina:  This almost seems too easy.
Otto:  Agreed.  Most likely this is just a well-known landmark that many
  have used over the years, but still...we need to be careful.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Absolutely.  We'll build a fire just beyond the gap,
  and we'll set two sentries at a time - one at the mouth of the site,
  the other atop the boulders.  (to Otto)  I'm glad you reminded us to
  load up some firewood at the keep...there's none to be had around here.
Poulos:  What will we do about the horses?  (he gestures to the niche in
  which they prepare to make their camp)  That's fine for us, but all the
  animals will be outside, unprotected.
Belphanior:  Not to worry, I have a plan for that.  Normally, I'd put up
  a wall of stone to completely enclose them, except for an opening facing
  us, which we could guard.  And that would be permanent, which countless
  travelers in the future would thank us for.  But for now, I only have
  one use of that spell, so we'll go with the simplest of spells, one
  which will alert us if anyone or anything comes close to the horses.
Otto:  Plus we'll have the fire, and double sentries.
Belphanior:  Hope and Skektek will be exempt from sentry duty, as they
  need a good night's sleep for their spellcasting.
Otto:  And you too.  Don't argue - there are four of us who can rotate
  the two sentry shifts.  You don't always have to think like a warrior.
Belphanior:  Okay, okay.  You've made your point.

  The party made camp, setting up all of their various precautions as the
fire was made, the food was cooked and eaten, and the bedrolls were set
in place.  They didn't know who or what might be out there in the night,
but they did feel that they were ready for whatever might come.

next:       never a quiet night
released:   5/29/20
notes:      Some might call this a filler episode, but sometimes I like
  to write one with a minimum of characters' lines and a maximum of just
  introspective prose.  It kind of lets me clear my head and advance the
  plot without having to deal with much dialogue.
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