Chapter #1030

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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 city of Fellban                                    +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "I can do little now.  He will have to find his own path. If that     +
+    is what he wants.  Be warned, the places a man like him may go       +
+    can be very hard to escape from."                                    +
+                                    - from _Jonah Hex_ #70, March 1983   +

                   MXXX.  Fellban, and a Parley

  After spending the last few days crossing the hostile wilderness, the
party has finally arrived at the small city known as Fellban.  Even now,
their caravan - comprised of the seven adventurers, their extra horses,
and the wagon train they joined with the day before - approaches the
city's main gate...

Belphanior:  We're not going to have any problem getting in, are we?
Dercus:  (shakes his head)  We'll be fine.

  Indeed, although the portal was sturdy and well-guarded, its sentries
were friendly enough.  It didn't hurt that some of them remembered Dercus
and his group from when they left the city recently.  It also didn't hurt
that Dercus commented to them about the farmers' abandonment by the men
they'd hired to protect them - or the subsequent help rendered by the elf
and his companions.

city guard:  (shouts to others on the inside of the wall)  Open the gate!
  (to Belphanior and the others)  Enjoy your time here.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Thank you.  I certainly intend to.

  While it was nowhere near as large and sprawling as, say, Greyhawk, the
city was a vast improvement over Worgenfeld.  That much was obvious right
away.  The streets were cleaner, the stonework of the roads and buildings
was cleaner and of higher quality, and the people looked happier.  This
land might contain vast stretches of wilderness where wolves (or worse)
roamed freely, but Fellban was clearly a safe place whose denizens didn't
have to worry about who or what lurked outside.  Its outer wall was over
twenty feet high, and its walkway well-patrolled.  Numerous towers and
other such structures within the city had at least four floors, with a few
that rose even higher.

Belphanior:  (thinking about a nice hot dinner, a cold beverage, and a bed
  where he can actually sleep instead of worrying about being attacked in
  the middle of the night)  Ahhhh.  (to Dercus)  I suppose this is where
  we part ways.
Dercus:  Seems that way.  (he offers his hand)  You truly have my thanks,
  friend.  For everything.  I know it didn't come to a fight, out in the
  wilderness, but we surely felt a lot better with you folks there.
Belphanior:  (clasps the other's hand)  Take care of your people, Dercus.

  With that, the farmer and his companions headed away into town, to deal
with whatever matters they needed to take care of now.   As for the seven
adventurers, they had business of their own.

Otto:  What's the plan?
Belphanior:  We're not splitting up this time.  Since it's evening now,
  shops will be closed or closing, and this isn't the time to learn our
  way around the city.  We'll deal with supplies, spells, information-
  gathering, and such tomorrow.  For now, let's just find a decent place
  to stay, and get some supper.

  To be sure, just about anywhere in any city or town would have been more
"decent" than their recent camps in the wilderness, with or without the
dubious bonus of being attacked.  However, many of the inns in Fellban
were actually quite nice, and Belphanior had gotten some recommendations
suggestions from Dercus earlier in the day.  It didn't take the group long
to locate (and secure lodgings in) a suitable establishment...

Skektek:  The Humble Pilgrim?  Sounds like a-
Belphanior:  (returns from dealing with the innkeep, pressing a key into
  the wizard's hand)  That's you...(he hands one to Otto)  And you.  (he
  hands one to each of the others in turn)  They didn't have seven rooms
  in a row, but at least they're all on the same floor.  The room numbers
  are engraved on the handle of each key.
Poulos:  (staring at the iron key, which looks tiny in his massive hand)
  We each get our own room?
Belphanior:  After all we've been though, you'd better believe it.  (he
  smiles thinly)  And it's not even our coin that paid for this.
Poulos:  (still amazed, as he thinks back to his tiny, cramped quarters
  back in Vorkos' keep)
Belphanior:  We'll eat first, and while we're doing that, baths will be
  drawn in tubs in each of our rooms.  After supper, I want everyone to
  go and get cleaned up, and then stay in and get some rest.  No wandering
  around the city, no thieving, no fun, and no trouble.  Just get a good
  night's sleep, all of you, and tomorrow we'll see what there is to see
  in Fellban.

  They all nodded or murmured their agreement.  The elf's reasoning was
simple enough; the most important things would have to wait until tomorrow
anyway, so there was no sense in trying to accomplish anything tonight.
Truthfully, Belphanior didn't really have to worry about anyone getting
themselves into trouble anyway; everyone was tired and worn out, and most
of them would have gone right to bed anyway.  It wasn't like Bosco was a
member of the party - that would have been potential trouble for sure, as
the halfling tended to do whatever he wanted, usually with a minimum of
thought or caution beforehand.
  Supper was simple in its preparation, yet seemed like a feast due to the
fact that they could take their time and enjoy it.  Belphanior spared no
expense, and there were ample portions of everything:  roasted pheasant,
thick juicy slabs of ham, warm fresh bread with sweet butter, huge wedges
of several different cheeses, a variety of fruits and vegetables...and of
course, multiple choices of ales, beers, and wines.  All in all, it was
quite the hearty repast, and the best meal they'd had in recent memory.
And the knowledge that hot baths and clean beds awaited afterward made the
feast even more enjoyable.
  Once the meal was over, they all retreated upstairs to the comfort of
their rooms, as planned.  Each of them cleaned up and dealt with their
evening routine as suited him or her.  Of course, some precautions - both
physical and magical - were taken to protect the rooms against intrusion
or thievery.  Everyone then proceeded to enjoy the best night's sleep
they'd had in quite some time, all their various problems and concerns
seeming to fade away.

  Morning found Belphanior up early, and he ventured down to the inn's
dining area, where he ordered a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast.  It
seemed amazing that he could still be hungry, but he was, and so he ate.
It had always been thus for the elf - he never stayed full for long, and
didn't like to be hungry, so he tended to eat whenever he got the chance.

Belphanior:  (relaxing and collecting his thoughts as he tucks into the
  fine breakfast)  Mmm.  (suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he notes
  the arrival of a well-dressed nobleman in the inn's main room)

  The fellow spoke for a few moments with the innkeeper stationed at one
corner of the bar, then glanced at the elf, nodded...and proceeded to head

Belphanior:  (flexes his hand, judging the time it would take to unsheathe
  his sword, should that become necessary)
nobleman:  May I join you?
Belphanior:  That depends on what you want.

  The fellow was relatively young - perhaps thirty years of age - and had
the look of one accustomed to wealth, based on his grooming and his fine
clothes.  While no seasoned warrior, he didn't look like a weakling or
coward either.  His eyes and the tone of his voice spoke to a keen mind
that would be put to use before words were spoken.

young nobleman:  (pulls out a chair, and sits down)  We need to talk.
Belphanior:  (glancing out of a window)  Do the dozen men outside belong
  to you?
young nobleman:  They do, but I told them to stay back.  I wish to speak
  with you directly and fairly, without pretense or threat.
Belphanior:  (sits back)  Very well.
young nobleman:  My name is Jaron Mendenhall.  I'm the Lord Mayor of
Belphanior:  Oh.

  The elf realized that somehow, without it being obvious, the dining
room had been kept empty except for the two of them at the one table.
Other patrons, he now saw, were having their breakfast in the tavern's
bar area.

innkeeper:  (quietly closes the door to the dining room, granting the two
  of them privacy)
Belphanior:  Nobody to bother us, eh?
Jaron Mendenhall:  (smiling)  What can I say?  I'm the mayor.
Belphanior:  So you must want something.  Let's have it.
Jaron Mendenhall:  My sources tell me that Vorkos the Red, of Worgenfeld,
  has been deposed.  (he frowns)  I also heard that his demise came very
  shortly after a group of strangers, including an elf, were taken captive
  by Vorkos in Worgenfeld.  He and his personal guard are missing, and a
  hole was blown in the side of his keep.  Now you arrive in Fellban with
  his fine horses.  (he shrugs)  It wasn't difficult to connect the dots.
Belphanior:  What does this have to do with me?
Jaron Mendenhall:  Well, aside from you almost certainly being the one who
  put an end to that donkey's ass, it could mean a couple of other things.
  One of them should concern you, and the other should interest you.
Belphanior:  That's _if_ I was actually involved in these other events.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Of course.
Belphanior:  (finishes his breakfast, and pushes his plate away)  You've
  got my attention.

  The elf had been eating this entire time, but also studying the young
nobleman.  Belphanior was an excellent judge of character, who usually
went with his gut instinct and first impression...and he had a very strong
feeling that this fellow was exactly who and what he claimed to be.  There
was no sense of menace or duplicity here; the man seemed honest and eager
to talk.  He'd been careful about how he approached Belphanior, as well as
how he'd introduced and explained himself.  The elf liked the combination
of competency and modesty displayed by the mayor, and was inclined to hear
the man out.  Of course, he already had a pretty good idea what one topic
of conversation would be.

Jaron Mendenhall:  Firstly, the situation that should concern you.  Baron
Belphanior:  I keep hearing that name.
Jaron Mendenhall:  For your sake, I hope you don't hear it too often.  To
  be blunt...he will not be happy at all about the loss of his wizard in
Belphanior:  I kind of expected that.  What do you think he'll do?
Jaron Mendenhall:  Knowing him, he'll want a head on a pike.  He has spies
  throughout the land, and will likely follow your trail - and that won't
  be too difficult.  There's also the fact that the only other center of
  population in this land is our city here.
Belphanior:  This is a small land.
Jaron Mendenhall:  It is, but people live and thrive as best as they can.
Belphanior:  Right, but what I mean is this...what lies south of Fellban?
  What is the next land, the next kingdom?  I need to know more about what
  lies south of here, before I head that way.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Understood, but I suspect that your ultimate desire is
  a return to wherever it is you came here from.
Belphanior:  What makes you think that we came here from elsewhere?
Jaron Mendenhall:  For one, your party contains both an elf and a dwarf,
  both of which are exceedingly rare in these parts, so I know you're not
  local.  Which suggests that you came from beyond.
Belphanior:  (holds up his hands, annoyed)  Okay, stop right there.  What
  do you mean?
Jaron Mendenhall:  You really have no idea where you are, do you?
Belphanior:  Not yet, but I need to, and want to.  Talk.
Jaron Mendenhall:  I will, but please bear with me, as this will take some
  explanation.  For my entire life, and the lives of my father before me,
  and his father before him, and probably even longer...this land is all
  we've ever known.  We were born here, we live here, we die here.  And my
  family has always tried to make the best life possible for the people
  of our city.  (he pauses)  As long as anyone can remember, Baron Tarkus
  has been in power, ruling from his fort in the cold north, at the foot
  of the mountains.
Belphanior:  How can he be that old?  I've only heard a little about him,
  but he didn't sound like a wizened, ancient man at all.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Oh, he's not.  Tarkus isn't a man, not like regular
  people.  He's some sort of infernal creature, half-man half-beast, and
  rather long-lived.
Belphanior:  (suddenly puts it all together)  Werewolf.
Jaron Mendenhall:  (nods)  That's one term I've heard discussed.  It is
  whispered that the wild beasts heed his call, and do his bidding.
Belphanior:  It makes perfect sense.  The wilderness is teeming with big,
  vicious wolves, which stalked and attacked us in unusually organized
  ways.  One of my people seemed to think a greater power was at work in
  all that.
Jaron Mendenhall:  The wolves have always been a danger, for any who take
  the road between Fellban and Worgenfeld.  To tell the truth, I've always
  suspected that those who live in that town do so because they can't get
  away.  (he frowns)  Or because someone doesn't want them to.
Belphanior:  It's a ready supply of victims, is what it is.  (he frowns)
  What a dreary, hopeless existence, for them and for you.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Fellban is much safer and more pleasant-
Belphanior:  Agreed, but only until the other town withers and dies out,
  then I'd imagine the attention will turn your way.
Jaron Mendenhall:  I've considered that possibility, but so far it hasn't
  come to that.
Belphanior:  It will.  Obviously not in your grandfather's rule, or your
  father's, maybe not even yours...but it will come.
Jaron Mendenhall:  (thinking on this, he looks disturbed)
Belphanior:  I'm just telling you how I see it, as an outsider, a visitor
  who knows nothing of your land's ways.  But wait here...why do all of
  you tolerate this?
Jaron Mendenhall:  Well, Baron Tarkus has proven...stubborn.  Every so
  often over the years, someone has tried to take him out...assassins,
  battles, ambushes.  It's never worked.  He always comes out ahead, and
  then extracts a terrible toll on those who dared to oppose him.
Belphanior:  Okay, so why not leave?  Just leave this place, head south?
Jaron Mendenhall:  Aside from the fact that all of my wealth and authority
  are based in this city...and aside from the fact that I can't just bring
  ten thousand people with me?  (he gestures with one hand)  You asked me
  what was south of Fellban.  Now I'll tell you.  A land of mists lies in
  that direction...and there is no escape from them.
Belphanior:  What?
Jaron Mendenhall:  Trust me, many have tried.  Sometimes, they come back,
  dazed and confused.  More often by far, they don't come back at all.
Belphanior:  So Tarkus rules the land of mists, and whatever lurks within?
Jaron Mendenhall:  Actually, I don't think he does.  Even he turned back
  from that region, it is said...(he thinks)  That must have been forty or
  fifty years ago.  (he regards the elf seriously)  If he fears to tread
  there, you most definitely should as well.
Belphanior:  I'll take my chances.  (he clenches a fist)  So Baron Tarkus
  may come after me, and the way south will be a challenge, but the two
  things aren't related.  Fine.  All of that, I now know and accept.  (he
  regards the nobleman)  You said you also knew of something that would
  interest me.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Ah, that.  Very well, I'll get right to it.  I want to
  hire you to deal with Baron Tarkus once and for all.
Belphanior:  You want to...wait.  You said he couldn't be beaten, but yet
  you want me to do it?  This sounds like a suicide mission.
Jaron Mendenhall:  I didn't say he _couldn't_ be beaten, only that he
  _hasn't_ been beaten.  Your group are outsiders, and obviously veterans
  who wield some degree of power.  We don't have anyone like that here,
  but we have resources and knowledge.  With those things available, you
  and your companions represent a chance to rid this land of the Baron...
  the best such chance, frankly, in at least the last fifty years.
Belphanior:  You seem to want him gone pretty badly.
Jaron Mendenhall:  He's a beast - figuratively and perhaps literally - who
  preys on innocent people, and rules this land with an iron fist, taking
  more than his fair share of coin, crops, and livestock.  Not to mention
  he installs minions such as the late, unlamented Vorkos the Red.  Some
  people...the world is better off without.
Belphanior:  Point.  So why haven't you taken him out yourself?
Jaron Mendenhall:  I am no warrior, nor do I have any experience with the
  nuances of battles, tactics, and such.  My role is to protect my people,
  which means no direct action against him.  But that doesn't mean I can't
  back someone else.  The task will not be easy, but success often comes
  only after some measure of risk.  I suspect you are familiar with this
Belphanior:  Intimately.
Jaron Mendenhall:  The fall of the Baron would directly benefit everyone
  in both Fellban and Worgenfeld.  I was going to try and convince you to
  do this, even before you pointed out that once Worgenfeld's served its
  purpose, Fellban could be next.  But also remember that you'll have to
  contend with Tarkus anyway at some point, if or when he comes after you.
  Why not get compensated for it?
Belphanior:  A good point.  (he blinks)  So define "compensated" for me.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Gold, plus whatever weapons and supplies you want.
Belphanior:  Do you have court wizards here?
Jaron Mendenhall:  We do.  None are archmagi, obviously - else we might
  have the sheer power to strike at the Baron ourselves - but I employ a
  handful for various civic purposes.  Spellcasters here are quite rare,
  and take some time to gain any skill worth having.
Belphanior:  Excellent.  There's also one important condition, and you're
  not going to like it.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Try me.
Belphanior:  You say we won't succeed in the journey south, through the
  land of mists?
Jaron Mendenhall:  You'll turn back eventually.  I'm sure of it.
Belphanior:  I'm not really understanding why you think that, but my main
  concern is getting out of this land and finding a way home.
Jaron Mendenhall:  You will need to talk with the sage about those things.
  I'm confident that he can answer at least some of your questions.
Belphanior:  Okay, here's the deal.  You equip us with whatever weapons,
  armor, and supplies we might need - including any spells your wizards
  have to share, and any answers your sage has to offer - and in return,
  we'll deal with Tarkus.  And we'll do it out there, to the
  the land of mists.
Jaron Mendenhall:  It's a deal.  But why would you challenge him there,
  of all places?
Belphanior:  Firstly, because we can't very well do it here in the city.
  Secondly, because it sounds like he has no control of that land, which
  neutralizes any advantage he'd have in more familiar lands.  Thirdly,
  because he'll never expect us to go there, which gives us a little more
Jaron Mendenhall:  I see.  I can't say I understand all of your strategy,
  but I can accept it.  After all, you're the expert.
Belphanior:  Time will tell.  So I want to get this underway as quickly
  as possible, meaning today.  This morning.  Can that be done?
Jaron Mendenhall:  (nods)  I can grant you full access to everything you
  will need.
Belphanior:  (counting off on his fingers)  Wizards.  Sage.  Armory.
Jaron Mendenhall:  You'll have them all.
Belphanior:  I'll also need a blacksmith, and a fair quantity of silver.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Consider it done.  Is there anything else?
Belphanior:  There is, actually.  We came here with a small caravan of
  farmers, who had meant to settle out there in the fringes of Fellban's
  purview, but who then fell into some recent misfortune.  Their leader
  is a graybeard called Dercus.  I want each of those families given a
  prime tract of land, close to the city, so that they can try and make
  a fresh start.
Jaron Mendenhall:  I'll make it happen.  (he studies the elf, puzzled)
  You're a strange one.
Belphanior:  I've never denied that.  (he stands)  One last question for've told me all this, and are about to help me eliminate your
  violent ruler, who will come here looking for us.  What do you plan to
  do if he confronts you about us being here, and you letting us go?
Jaron Mendenhall:  I'll think of something...come up with some story.  If
  you're already gone, he will most certainly waste no time pursuing you.
  Particularly if you're heading into the land of mists.  He'll want to
  catch you before then, I suspect.  And when he gets here, I'll be sure
  to point him in the direction your group went.  But it will only work if
  you're gone, and have been for at least a day, so that you have time to
  prepare whatever it is you're intent on preparing.
Belphanior:  (nods)  That makes sense.  I'll go ready my people, and we'll
  be there within the hour.  (he pauses)  But where is "there", and should
  we take any precautions so as not to be seen?  I'd imagine we won't be
  riding right into the courtyard of your home.
Jaron Mendenhall:  Not to worry.  (he takes a piece of parchment from one
  pocket and shows it to the elf)  Memorize this route, and come to these
  stables, near the center of the city.  I'll have someone waiting there
  to meet you.  Will midday be enough time?
Belphanior:  We'll be there.  (he turns, heading for the stairway up to
  the second floor and his team's lodgings)


Belphanior:  -so that's the deal.  We have to assume that Baron Tarkus
  already knows we came here, or at the very least he knows we headed
  here after Worgenfeld.  It wouldn't surprise me if he somehow used the
  wolves to spy on us, maybe even test determine our strength.
Otto:  I'm kind of glad we're going to deal with this.  I'm not too keen
  on being followed, tracked, stalked, or pursued.  Time to get it out in
  the open.
Skektek:  And blast the bastards.
Irina:  (hefts her mace)  Or bash them.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)  Damn right.
Hope:  Sounds good to me.
Poulos:  And thus, to me, milady.
Belphanior:  Sorry for the rush, but we don't know exactly how much time
  we have.  Get your things together and let's turn in the keys, collect
  our horses, saddle up, and get across town.  I want to have all of our
  preparations underway by this afternoon.

next:       the plan comes together
released:   7/10/20
notes:      Well, finally, here it is...the first piece of the puzzle.
  Expect more answers in the next episode, and even more in the handful
  after that.  When this arc is over, all will be clear.
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