Chapter #1027

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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:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         the southern reaches of the Barony of Tarkus           +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "I have a certain...experience in handling matters of this kind,      +
+    so if you do need any help, feel free to call on me."                +
+                     - _The Equalizer_ episode _Out of the Past_ (1985)  +

                   MXXVII.  Gathering Intelligence

  After their second day of traveling, the party has joined with a larger
group to share their camp.  While the others have set about various other
tasks, Belphanior has decided to do some talking to see what he can learn.

middle-aged fellow:  (sitting around one of the numerous campfires, he
  talks with Belphanior)  I am Dercus.
Belphanior:  Belphanior.  (they clasp hands)

  While Dercus was almost certainly no warrior, he seemed tough in a
different kind of way.  His medium-length gray beard framed a tanned and
well-creased face.  This was a man who had spent long years working tough,
menial jobs - most likely farming, by the look of the others in his group.
They were a mixed lot:  some couples (a few of which had children) and
some single men.  The children ranged in age from babies to teenagers.

Belphanior:  Why are you people out here in the wilderness like this?
Dercus:  We left Fellban to make new homes out here...our own land, our
  own farms.  (he gestures to a nearby wagon, within which a large number
  of lumber can be seen)  All we have to do is find some land and build.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Pardon my asking, but isn't that a bit dangerous?  I
  don't think this is the safest area, to be honest.
Dercus:  It's usually fine, this close to the city-
Belphanior:  How close is that?
Dercus:  One or two days' ride from here.  Two for us, with these wagons,
  but your group could make it in one if you tried.
Belphanior:  That was the plan.  (he points to the north)  What do you
  know about wild beasts, further away from Fellban?
Dercus:  I know what everyone in these parts knows, which is that it's
  usually safe near the towns, and in large groups.  If you want to head
  from here to Worgenfeld, or to the mountains, you'd better have a big
  group and plenty of weapons.  And just heading out into the wilds...(he
  shudders)  Wouldn't advise that at all.
Belphanior:  Explain.
Dercus:  (looks around)  Are you not from around here?
Belphanior:  Not really.  What are you afraid of, exactly?
Dercus:  Wolves.  Big damn wolves.
Belphanior:  We've seen them.  Even fought them.
Dercus:  Then you're lucky to be here right now.  It's not just that the
  things are huge, and mean.  They're smart, too.  They usually stay out
  in the wilderness, but sometimes they get bold and range closer to the
  populated areas.
Belphanior:  (frowns)  Which brings up a good question...why would you
  and these people leave the safety of Fellban and come out here?
Dercus:  We didn't think we'd be in danger.
Belphanior:  (shaking his head at the apparent stupidity of these people)
Dercus:  I mean, we hired guards...a dozen of them.  Should have been
  enough to protect us until we found some good land and got settled in.
  (sadly)  But the bastards disappeared last night.  They left while we
  slept, I guess...and with the money we had given them!
Belphanior:  So that's why you said you people don't have any money.
Dercus:  Right.  They cleaned us out, and then didn't even stay around to
  do the job we paid them for.  (he pokes at the fire with a stick)  And
  so we're heading back to town.
Belphanior:  Are you in charge of these people?
Dercus:  I suppose I am.  I'm the oldest.  (he points with the stick to
  a wizened man who's already asleep, and snoring loudly)  Except for old
  Pappy over there.  I'm the oldest and I have more experience dealing
  with things like paying mercenaries to guard a wagon train.  So they've
  kind of made me their leader.
Belphanior:  I see.
Dercus:  To be honest, we're glad to have you and your friends.  You all
  look like you know a thing or two about fighting, and that may come in
  handy now that we've lost all our hired swords and bows.  We're just a
  little too far out here for me to not worry.
Belphanior:  (reaches a decision)  We'll help you, as far as getting back
  to Fellban safely.
Dercus:  Why are you heading there?
Belphanior:  I need to see the largest city in this barony.  (he pauses)
  Fellban _is_ a city, isn't it?
Dercus:  Yeah, a small one.  Or a big town, if you prefer to look at it
  that way.  (he shrugs)  Same difference.
Belphanior:  Will I find wizards there?  Temples?
Dercus:  Wizards, yes.  A few.  But temples aren't exactly a thriving
  sort of place in these parts.
Belphanior:  Tarkus.  All of this is Tarkus?
Dercus:  Uh...sure.  (he looks as if this was a stupid question)
Belphanior:  Two towns, and a keep from which the Baron rules the land?
  Is that all there is to Tarkus?
Dercus:  Far as I know.  The Black Peaks to the north kind of extend all
  around in both directions, and no one tries to cross them.  At least
  not if they want to live.
Belphanior:  And to the south?
Dercus:  (simply)  Fellban.
Belphanior:  And what's past Fellban, to its south?
Dercus:  (his eyes widen)  Wh- why would you go THERE?
Belphanior:  I seek to leave this land, and given that it's hemmed in on
  three sides by an impassable mountain range, south seems the way to go.
Dercus:  (sits up straight)  Let me tell you something, son.  You seem
  like a fine sort, straightforward and honest.  I'd hate to see you and
  your friends make a mistake and die a horrible death.
Belphanior:  Eh?  How's that?
Dercus:  South of Fellban are the fogbanks.  (he lowers his voice, and the
  light of the fire reflects from his dark, rheumy eyes)  No one who went
  there has ever returned.  No one!  (he clutches the elf's shirt sleeve)
  You'd be best advised to stay away!  You wouldn't believe what terrible
  things are said to lurk within that fog.
Belphanior:  (ponders this)  Actually-
Dercus:  There's a damn good reason people head north from Fellban, but
  not south.  Never south.  Anyone you meet in town will tell you that.
Belphanior:  Relax, good Dercus.  We aren't committed to that course just
  yet - first we need to get to Fellban and take care of some things.
Dercus:  (calms down somewhat)
Belphanior:  Let's not get ahead of ourselves.  One thing at a time, and
  the next thing is to keep this wagon train safe, and then get back.
Dercus:  Forgive me.  I'm just an old man, who's lived a hard life.  This
  land holds many terrors for us.  (he gestures to the people around the
  camp)  We never should have left.
Belphanior:  Take heart.  My companions and I have plenty of swords and
  other weapons, and we know how to deal with wolves, wild animals, and
  similar problems.
Dercus:  What if those guards decide to come back and take our horses or
  women?  Or both?
Belphanior:  Well, we also know how to deal with that sort of problem.

next:       the second night
released:   6/19/20
notes:      One oft-used, perhaps cliched staple of adventure stories
  (particularly westerns) is the large group of non-combat-functional
  people who still set off into the dangerous unknown for some reason
  that only they understand.  Sometimes the protagonist is part of this
  group, and other times it's just a chance encounter.  The one thing
  that's consistent is that the larger group always needs help.  This
  staple has appeared for decades, in everything from _Stagecoach_ to
  _The Outlaw Josey Wales_ to 2008's _Rambo_.  At times while writing
  this one, I felt like I was in a western.  The last time I had that
  feeling was in the early phases of the very first Helgate arc.
    See, I don't just entertain you, I entertain MYSELF !!
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