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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: midday +
+ Place: the southern reaches of the Barony of Tarkus +
+ Climate: cool +
+ "Don't overestimate my good nature. I don't have one." +
+ - from _War Man_ (1993 comic by Chuck Dixon) +
MXXIX. The Final Stretch
After preparing for the worst but then experiencing an unexpectedly
quiet night, the adventurers and their current traveling companions are
well on their way to the city of Fellban. Spirits are high, for all of
the wizards are well-rested and back to full power, and those who stood
watch last night are sleeping in the wagons.
Belphanior: We're making excellent time.
Dercus: It's the road. To be honest, these wagons weren't made for dirt
and grasslands. When we originally headed out, we did okay for the
first couple of days...but then things slowed down when the road ended.
Belphanior: What will you people do once you're back in Fellban?
Dercus: Heh. Most likely, reconsider the idea of living closer to there,
instead of somewhere further out. (he frowns) It can be done, but the
land near the city costs more, and is more crowded. It'll be harder to
make a living, in some ways, but we'll manage.
Belphanior: Tell me about Fellban...how big is it, about how many people
live there, who's in charge?
Dercus: You know, it sounds like you're planning to invade the place.
Belphanior: Heh. Wouldn't be the first time I invaded a city...
Belphanior: Just thinking of past adventures. No, we're not invading.
(he smiles thinly) Besides, it would take more than just seven of us
to pull that off. I'd need at least twenty.
Dercus: (glances at the elf)
Belphanior: Heh, I'm just joking with you. No invasions. No fighting.
We just need to re-supply ourselves, and then we'll move on.
Dercus: As I said before, it's a small city - or a really big town, if
you want to look at it that way. It's got a sturdy outer wall, enough
to keep out wolves and any force less than an army. There are guards,
soldiers, all that. I'd guess ten thousand people live there, either
in the city itself - that's the rulers, and people with wealth - or in
the farmlands around the city.
Belphanior: Rulers? Tell me about them.
Dercus: Fellban's highest authority is the mayor. He's old money, his
family has been around for generations and both his father and grand-
father were mayors before him. He's a fair and reasonable sort, who
tries his best to do the right thing, under the circumstances.
Belphanior: What circumstances?
Dercus: Well, the mayor's the mayor, but his city is still within the
Barony of Tarkus. So in the end, he owes his fealty to the Baron. As
does the city of Fellban. They pay regular tributes to the Baron...
money, but also crops and such.
Belphanior: This Baron Tarkus...what's his story?
Dercus: All I know of him, I know by reputation only. He's said to be
a big, mean son of a bitch. He's ruled this land for as long as anyone
can remember, and he does it from a remote fort to the north, at the
base of the Black Peaks. Just getting there would be a tough journey,
for that wilderness is much worse than the area between Fellban and
Worgenfeld. It's said that monsters and beasts roam freely there, and
no one heads that way unless Tarkus demands it.
Dercus: Not the word I'd use. You're not thinking of going there, are
Belphanior: That's not the plan. (he frowns to himself)
The elf did not believe in coincidence. Two different people had now
warned him against dealing with this Baron Tarkus. While he didn't fear
the unknown ruler of the region, he also realized that a confrontation was
likely - almost inevitable - if the party didn't head in the opposite
direction and get the hell away from here. Fortunately, that was exactly
what they were doing. It had nothing to do with running from a potential
foe; Belphanior simply wanted to figure out how to escape this land and
this world. That would require knowledge and magic, and since Fellban
was apparently the largest center of civilization around, the best chance
for answers would lie there. Spending time dealing with a hostile ruler
could add significant delay, and therefore wasn't a priority.
Belphanior: (notices some small buildings in the distance) What's that?
Dercus: Huts...farmers' dwellings. We're at the edge of Fellban's reach.
Soon we'll start to see crops, fences, and people. (he looks up at the
sun in the sky) We may well reach the city by nightfall.
Belphanior: Good. I've got business to attend to there. With any luck
it will be a more pleasant and less violent experience than when we
tried the same in Worgenfeld.
Dercus: You should be fine, as long as you don't make any trouble. The
laws of Fellban are simple and reasonable...not like Worgenfeld. It's
no wonder you got into trouble there. That place has a bad reputation,
and its ruler is said to be a cruel and violent wizard.
Belphanior: (realizes that he never told the other why they left that
town, or exactly what they did there) Hm. (he also realizes that such
details are best kept to himself) Cruel and violent, eh?
Dercus: (nods) Word is, he doesn't much like outsiders, and stirs up
trouble with them so he can arrest them and throw them in cells. He's
said to have a liking for torture, too. Most people figure that's why
he always wears red.
Belphanior: Sounds like an unpleasant sort.
Dercus: I wouldn't go there if I didn't have to, I can tell you that.
Belphanior: As I said, it won't be a problem. (he tightens his grip on
his horse's reins) If you'll excuse me, I need to have a word with my
The elf spurred his mount, moving up next to Skektek and Hope, who were
busy debating the merits of certain non-attack spells.
Skektek: -can't even start a fire with that one. (he glances at the elf)
Oh, hi there.
Belphanior: Good morning to you. How are the wounds healing up?
Skektek: I feel great! (he frowns) Except for this pointless debate
I was just having with her about a spell that will never be as useful
as the good old magic missile.
Belphanior: I wanted to talk to everyone, and you two were the closest.
Skektek: Hah. Are we in trouble?
Belphanior: I hardly think so, especially after your rescue operation
back in Vorkos' keep. No, I just wanted to share what I've gathered
from talking with our friend Dercus there.
The elf proceeded to pass on the key points that he'd learned about the
Fellban, as well as the ruler of these lands.
Belphanior: So we need to be extra careful not to start any trouble in
Fellban. I'm tired of fighting and running. The city will serve us
well for resupplying, and if we're lucky, we can add some spells to
our spellbooks. And if we're really lucky, we can find out just what
world we're on, and how to get back to ours. (he gets a serious look
in his eye) But those things will be more difficult to achieve if we
have the local authorities at odds with us.
Skektek: (to Hope) I _am_ in trouble.
Belphanior: No, you're not. No one is. And I'm not singling you out.
Everyone is going to get this talk. We'll never back down from a fight
if we're pushed, but that's an absolute last resort. Unless I give the
word, we're going to actively avoid any trouble.
By the time the elf had discussed this with the other members of his
team (including those who had now awakened and were riding in one of the
wagons) the towers of a small city could be seen in the distance. Just
as Dercus had said, the walled city was surrounded by dozens of sections
of farmland, each of which had a hut or small house. People and livestock
were both abundantly visible, and for the first time in days, the elf felt
a sense of normalcy.
Dercus: (rejoins Belphanior, their horses now trotting side by side) Ah,
there it is...Fellban.
next: into the city, and an unexpected conversation
notes: Lately, in these notes sections at the end, I've sometimes
commented on some aspect of the story I just wrote, or the overall arc
perhaps. Other times, I've commented on the current pandemic and how
I'm dealing with it, or some part of it. And yet other times, I've
just rambled a bit about my personal life. From the randomness (and
spontaneity) of whatever I say here, I'm having deja vu...back to the
early days when this section almost served as a weekly (or even near-
daily) look into my life in the 1990s, and what was going on at any
given time. Those were the days when I was fresh out of college and
working at my full-time job, and had the time and energy to write new
stories almost every day. But the neat thing is, almost thirty years
later (!) I'm back on a similar course, in a similar mindset. As I
finish this one (1029) I've just published episode 1020 to the world,
which means that I've currently got 8-9 episodes done and in the pipe.
At the current release rate of one a week, that's two months of story
cushion for me!
A lot of people would slow down or take a break at this point, but
I'm not wired that way. For me, it's all or none, and right now I'm
firmly in "all" mode. The cushion doesn't necessarily have to keep
growing, but I don't want to burn it up either. All I have to do is
continue to write one new episode every week, and I can maintain both
the recent release schedule and the two-month cushion. And for me,
doing those two things together actually motivates me to keep writing.
I'm an odd one, but then again, normal people don't write almost 20 Mb
of coherent fiction over the span of three decades.
I guess what I'm saying here is that, as long as I'm healthy and
happy, I'm intending to keep up this level of output. Sure, it's a
hell of a lot easier right now because COVID-19 has forcibly provided
me with a lot more free time. But it's also provided me with a fresh
perspective on what's really important in my life, and what I can and
will change whenever things get back to normal. Some of my new habits
and behaviors need to carry over into my old life, when it returns. I
won't just snap back to the old life...I'll merge the best of the old
ways and the new ones, into something better than either.
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next chapter (#1030)