Chapter #1026

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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:          dawn                                                   +
+   Place:         the southern reaches of the Barony of Tarkus           +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "There's something out there waiting for us, and it ain't no man."    +
+                                               - Billy, from _Predator_  +

                   MXXVI.  On the Wilderness Trail

  On their way from the small town of Worgenfeld to the larger city of
Fellban to the south, the party has spent a fair portion of the night
fending off an attack from a large pack of wolves.

Otto:  ...I'm telling you, that wasn't normal.  Wolves don't just split
  up into smaller attack groups, or retreat the way those did last night.
  There was something else at work there...controlling them, maybe even
  commanding them.
Belphanior:  (holds up his hands)  I'm not denying that.
Otto:  (shakes his head)  Damn strange.

  The dwarf was still agitated about what he'd seen in the darkness, after
the fight and just before all the wolves had suddenly left.  Those green
eyes - surely belonging to something as feral as it was powerful - had
seemed to bore into the dwarf's very soul.

Belphanior:  (to Poulos)  This Fellban, it's four days' ride from the last
  place?  Now three since we were on the move all day yesterday?
Poulos:  (nods)
Belphanior:  (thinking)  If we ride all day long, and keep up this rapid
  pace, which we can definitely do because of the extra horses...yeah.
  (to the others)  We're going to make the rest of this trip in just two
  more days.  Finish your breakfast and saddle up.

  The remainder of the night, after the short but savage battle, had been
quiet and entirely uneventful.  For whatever reason, the wolves had not
returned for another attack.  The elf had no idea why, but he didn't like
the way Otto was so worried about whatever he'd caught a glimpse of.  Two
more days of travel - if it could in fact be done - meant just one more
night of camping in the wilderness.  Defending a camp again would take
planning and some hard work, but Belphanior figured he'd deal with that
later in the day when they were done riding.  There was always the option
of the wall of stone, as mentioned previously, but he only had a single
instance of that spell to cast.  He didn't want to use it unnecessarily,
but on the other hand, it would greatly assist in protecting the party
from another attack like the one they'd just repelled.
  Again, this was a matter to be decided at the end of this day, not the
beginning.  In short order, they left the rocky outcropping behind and
were on the move again, pushing their horses at a rapid pace yet again.
Somehow, the fact that it was early morning and the sun shone brightly in
the sky above them buoyed their spirits.

Belphanior:  (riding next to Otto)  Better now?
Otto:  Yeah.  Crazy as it sounds, part of me wanted to just stay there and
  fortify the if it was the best choice simply due to the known
  safety it offered.  (he shakes his head)  Which wouldn't have been the
  smart move.  With that way of thinking, we'd have been there forever,
  until we ran out of food and died.
Belphanior:  Or got overwhelmed by the wolves.
Otto:  Or that.  (he shakes his head)  No, making a break for it was the
  best option.
Belphanior:  So what do you think you saw in the dark, amidst the wolves?
Otto:  I don't think it was undead, or anything like that.  I felt like I
  was looking at a living thing...but not a man or similar.  No, it was a
  beast of some sort.
Belphanior:  We'll be fine.  If we have to, we'll dig in and build a good
  fortified camp.
Otto:  Yeah.  (he frowns)  We also need to remember that wolves don't just
  come out at night.  The first day we were here, we were attacked in the
  middle of the day, in broad daylight.  (he scans the horizon all around)
  We need to keep our eyes open, and be ready for trouble at any moment.
Belphanior:  Don't worry.  I'm always ready for trouble.

  Despite their concerns, the day passed without any attacks or other
problems.  Several times, they even saw other wildlife in the distance,
deer or similar creatures perhaps.  They also spotted a bunch of wild
rabbits at one point, as well as several flocks of birds.  Together, all
of these sightings seemed to suggest that they were now in more occupied,
higher-traffic areas - a theory soon validated by their discovery of a
wide, well-worn dirt road.  The party came upon it at a sharp angle, and
they stopped briefly to consider the options.

Belphanior:  (checks the position of the sun above, then glances at the
  road, first one direction and then the other)  It runs roughly north and
  south.  We obviously want to go southward.
Otto:  If we choose to use the road.
Belphanior:  True.  (pointing at the road's surface, which is full of
  ruts and other signs of use)  Wagons, as well as horses.  It's probably
  a safe bet that this leads to Fellban.  (to Poulos)  You're sure there
  aren't any other cities or towns around here?
Poulos:  (shakes his head)  Not as far as I know, just the one.
Otto:  Agreed.  (he scans the horizon)  What the hell.  It's likely that
  we're in less dangerous wilderness, especially given the various animals
  that we've seen in the last couple of hours.
Belphanior:  We'll follow the road - but everyone stay alert.

  With that, they made the slight change in course, taking the wide road
in the southbound direction.  It was barely after midday, and as the hours
passed, the condition of the road gradually improved.  First, the rut-
filled dirt gave way to harder, smoother dirt; after this, the dirt ended
and the road became paved stone.  By late afternoon, they had begun to see
the remains of campsites off to the side, here and there.

Hope:  Civilization, indeed.
Skektek:  Yeah, but it could be a civilization of orcs.  (he shrugs)  You
  just never know.

  Around the time they had to start thinking about making and fortifying
a camp, they spotted something ahead, in the distance.

Belphanior:  What is that?  (he blinks with his remaining eye)  My vision
  isn't what it used to be.
Skektek:  Can't tell yet.  Want me to fly up and scout it out?
Otto:  No need.  I can tell you what it is, right now:  wagons, just off
  the road.  Three or four.  Probably a group of travelers, stopping for
  the night.

  As they drew closer, they confirmed that this was the case.  There were
actually five wagons (one had been almost directly behind another, in the
dwarf's line of sight) and about twenty people.  All of them were engaged
in various tasks:  building fires, preparing food for supper, tending to
their horses, setting a perimeter, and so on.  The appearance of the
adventurers had caused quite a stir, and about half of the people had
gathered weapons and formed a human barrier between the wagons and the

Belphanior:  I'll handle this.  (he steps forward, his empty hands held
  high in the air)  We mean you no harm - we just seek to make camp.  If
  you'll have us, we'll join you and add a half-dozen to your number.
Skektek:  (muttering)  A half-dozen?  Which one of us is he not counting?
Hope:  (quietly)  Probably you.

  A middle-aged fellow with a gray beard stepped forth, a large, bladed
farm implement of some sort held in one hand.  He looked like a hardy
sort, and also had the demeanor of one in charge, perhaps reluctantly.

middle-aged fellow:  (studies them for a few moments)  You are welcome to
  share our camp.  If you are bandits, know that we have no money or other
  valuables.  We simply want to get to Fellban, the sooner the better.
Belphanior:  As do we.  (he gestures to his companions)  We will stay the
  night with you here...there is safety in numbers.
middle-aged fellow:  (nods)  Pick a spot.  We are glad to have you.  Night
  will fall soon, and-  (he looks around)  -we are still far from the city
  and its protection.  (to Belphanior)  As you in numbers.

next:       gathering intelligence
released:   6/12/20
notes:      Random plug for another of my hobbies:  movie reviews!  They
  have moved from their old home and can now be found at


    My movie and television tastes tend to run toward the same sort of
  things that make my stories what they are - sci-fi, horror, action -
  but there's a wide variety there and the reviews go back twenty years.
  I've watched and reviewed thousands of movies and show episodes, and
  it's all there.  Check it out.
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