Chapter #1025

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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                         +
+     Poulos       gigantic, beefy former slave 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:          nighttime                                              +
+   Place:         the southern reaches of the Barony of Tarkus           +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "You learn a few good tricks when you've been a target                +
+    all your life."                                                      +
+                                              - from _Ultimate X-Men_    +

                   MXXV.  The Battle at the Tor

  At the end of their first day back in the wilderness, the party made
camp within a large outcropping of boulders.  The various necessary tasks
(securing the horses, preparing and eating supper, determining the sentry
rotation, setting of various protective measures) were all completed hours
ago, and most of the party has been asleep for hours.  Now, in the middle
of the night, the first of the two sentry pairs is well into their shift.

Poulos:  (sitting cross-legged in front of the large opening between two
  boulders, his broad back against one of the huge rocks, his unsheathed
  scimitar resting on the ground just in front of him, he notes that the
  fire has gotten low and will soon need more logs)  Hm.  (he stares into
  the darkness impassively)
Otto:  (perched atop the tor, he barely moves as he scans the area all
  around, his sharp ears also listening for any sound beyond the steady
  crackling of the campfire and the normal sounds of the night)

  Otto had volunteered for the first watch mainly because he couldn't
sleep.  This always happened in the situation they were in now (camping
in a wilderness known to be hostile) and the dwarf had a bad feeling that
the rocky outcropping, while undeniably useful and easy to fortify and
protect, was also a natural target.  Every bandit or wild beast in the
vicinity had to know that any travelers were likely to make camp for the
night amidst the boulders.  At least, that's what Otto himself would have
done, had he been a bandit.  Someone had suggested that the party actually
not build a fire, but ultimately they had; anything out there would almost
certainly know that the outcropping was occupied, fire or no fire.  Also,
the fire did afford some measure of least in the case of
unintelligent animals.  The flickering firelight was the only real source
of illumination, as the three moons - the pale white one as well as the
smaller crimson and black ones - were perpetually obscured by thick, dark
masses of clouds in the sky above.

Otto:  (continues to look out into the night)

  The dwarf wasn't just expecting something to happen, he was prepared for
it.  His crossbow rested on the rock next to him, along with a dozen bolts
lined up neatly in a row.  Each had been coated with one of the more toxic
of the poisons the dwarf carried, and would almost certainly prove lethal
to anything it hit that was man-sized or smaller.  Even larger foes would
experience, at best, searing pain and wounds that were slow to heal.  The
dwarf had no compunctions about employing such advantages in combat.

Otto:  (hears something out there, beyond the light of the fire, and his
  eyes narrow with concentration)

  Moments later, he heard something else.  Once could have been attributed
to a chance movement from a random animal; twice meant trouble.  The dwarf
reached out to his left; instead of a crossbow and ammunition, this side
had a small iron spike that he'd driven into the rock earlier.  Tied to
the spike was one end of a rope, the rest of which snaked down the natural
stone chimney to the "interior" of the pile of boulders, where the majority
of the party rested.  In fact, the other end of the rope had been loosely
looped around Belphanior's arm when the elf went to sleep earlier.  Otto
gave it three short, quick tugs, then let it go and silently took hold of
his crossbow, loading a bolt into a well-oiled groove.

Otto:  (squinting into the darkness, he brings the weapon to his shoulder
  and waits)

  Just beyond the edge of the fire's light, something detached itself from
the shadows and moved along the edge of the illuminated area, eyeing the
area where the horses were tied off.

horse #7:  (the first to realize that there's something out there, it
  shifts its feet nervously)  Nhhhh...
Otto:  (perched up top, he tracks the unknown visitor, his finger tight
  on the trigger)

  The dwarf intended to fire once whatever it was came just a little bit
more into the light, but as it turned out there was no need.  The unseen
perimeter of the previously-cast alarm spell was suddenly violated, and
a loud ringing sound ensued.  A moment later, Otto had company on his high

Belphanior:  (having silently climbed up the rope, he works a spell)
Poulos:  (down on the ground below, he grabs the protruding end of a big
  piece of wood from the fire, then hurls it out into the night, exposing
  the nearest attackers)

large wolf:  (about to bound toward the horses, it recoils)  Grrrr...
Otto:  (fires without hesitation, his bolt hitting the beast in the side)
large wolf:  (falls over, yowling)
large wolf #2:  (bounds toward the campfire, followed by numerous others)

  Belphanior launched a volley of magic missiles at a second group of
wolves headed for the horses.  He assumed that Poulos and the others could
defend the main entrance.

Belphanior:  (sends five magical bolts into the first five of the wolves
  bounding toward the horses, stopping them momentarily)
Otto:  (having reloaded, he takes advantage of the brief but bright light
  from Belphanior's missiles, firing and hitting a sixth wolf from that
large wolf #7:  (falls with a bolt in its neck)

  The cacophony at this point - wounded, howling wolves in addition to the
loud ringing of the magical alarm - would have awakened anyone who still
slept.  However, Belphanior had alerted the others after Otto alerted him,
and they now joined the fray.

Hope:  (completes her spell, creating a blazing sphere amidst the wolves
  that Belphanior blasted, setting one aflame and causing the others to

large wolf #9:  (leading the group that charges around the fire, intent
  on ripping Poulos apart and getting into the area behind him)
Skektek:  (unleashes his own volley of magic missiles, hitting the first
  five of those attackers)
Razor Charlie:  (behind Poulos, he draws his arm back, waiting for a good
  target, then hurls a knife)
large wolf #14:  (recoils, rolling on the ground in agony thanks to the
  blade now in its eye)

  The rest of those wolves were now nearly upon Poulos, but the massive
former slave now stood at his full height, curved scimitar in hand.  The
weapon was gigantic, and an ordinary man would never have been able to
wield it efficiently.  The first wolf leaped off the ground at Poulos...
and was cut in half with a single mighty blow.

large wolf #15:  (its two halves land on the ground messily)
Poulos:  (his gory blade already back in the ready position, he bellows
  at the animals)  Come on, then!  Which of you is next?
large wolf #16:  (bounds in from the left)
large wolf #17:  (bounds in from the right)
Poulos:  (with a great roar, he steps to meet the attacker who's slightly
  closer, his scimitar cleaving it from snout to neck)
large wolf #16:  (its face and head split in two, it goes limp as blood
  sprays from the horrific wound)
large wolf #17:  (closes its jaws around Poulos' forearm, which he brought
  up to defend himself)

  The beast couldn't get a good grip due to the sheer thickness of its
victim's arm, but also due to the tough, thick leather bracers that the
huge man wore.  Before it had time to contemplate this, its skull was
crushed by the head of Irina's mace.

large wolf #17:  (releases its grip, falling to the ground in a heap)
Poulos:  (turns to the warrior-priestess)  My thanks.
Irina:  You're welcome.  (they both turn to face new attackers)
Razor Charlie:  (steps around Poulos and throws another knife, hitting a
  wolf in the hindquarter and taking it out of the fight)

  The wolves weren't faring so well, primarily due to the withering fire
from atop the outcropping, a good thirty feet above the ground.  This was
an excellent firing position, and both adventurers up there were taking
full advantage of it.  Otto was reloading and firing with deadly accuracy,
every bolt finding a target and carrying poison.  Belphanior was launching
further bursts of magical missiles, picking his targets based on current
location and threat posed to the others.  Skektek contributed with his own
casting of the same spell; it was a quick and effective attack, one that
never missed as long as the casters could see their targets.  Irina now
stood side-by-side with Poulos, the two of them blocking the way through
the crevice between the boulders, fiercely turning back all attackers thus
  The magical alarm spell abruptly expired, leaving all of the combatants'
ears ringing in the sudden silence.  The adventurers quickly realized that
the attackers had backed off (at least those who were able) and were now
gathered at the edge of the fire's light.

Hope:  (waves her hand, causing her flaming sphere to roll around, which
  better illuminates the wolves but also causes them to move away while
Otto:  (to Belphanior, atop the bounders)  Why don't they attack?  Wild
  animals don't just stop, even when they're being beaten.  It's not in
  their nature.  (he holds his loaded crossbow carefully, to avoid nicking
  himself with a poisoned bolt)
Belphanior:  I'm not sure.  (to the others below)  Everyone, stand ready!
  We have to expect a renewed attack!

  It was a strange and eerie standoff.  The adventurers had the defensive
advantage, and possibly the offensive one considering their magical power
and skill at arms.  But the wolves still numbered in the dozens - that was
obvious given all the pairs of lupine eyes reflecting the firelight, in
the darkness just beyond.  And they were all growling now, a deep and
disturbing sound that came from all directions at once.

Otto:  (feels the hairs raise on the back of his neck)

  And then, abruptly, the growling stopped.  The wolves were still out
there, but for some reason they had gone silent.

Belphanior:  (muttering)  They're going to attack again.
Otto:  (peering into the darkness, he blinks, whispering without intending
  to)  What...the...hell...?

  The dwarf had the best sight - in daytime or nighttime - of them all,
and it was possible that only he saw the pair of blazing green eyes in
the darkness...eyes that belonged to something much larger than the wolves
surrounding it...something wild and dangerous.  Whatever it was, it only
remained for a fraction of a moment, and was gone.  And then, one by one,
the wolves left without a sound.

Belphanior:  That didn't make any sense.  (to Otto)  What did you see?
Otto:  (shivers)  I'm not sure, but if it was real, it was bigger and
  smarter than any wolf.  (he looks at the elf)  We can't let down our
  guard at all, for the rest of tonight or any night until we reach the
  city.  (he peers back out into the darkness)  Not for a moment.

next:       moving on
released:   6/5/20
notes:      I had never thought of one person's magic missiles basically
  being tracer fire for another person's attacks. which Belphanior and
  Otto did in this episode.
    When I wrote this, I thought of a well-functioning, experienced group
  of professional warriors like SEAL Team Six...they know what to do and
  they know how the others work, and what those others' roles are.  For a
  modern-day take on that (complete with deadly accuracy in battle similar
  to the party's in this episode) you should check out the History Channel
  show "Six"; here's more:
    I was rather enjoying it, but they cancelled it after two seasons, I
  guess because the world wasn't ready for a good, realistic portrayal of
  an elite military unit whose members have realistic problems in both
  their professional and personal lives.
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