Chapter #1031

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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:          early afternoon                                        +
+   Place:         the city of Fellban                                    +
+   Climate:       pleasant                                               +
+   "What choice do we have?"                                             +
+   "That's the wrong question.  What you should be           +
+      what can we choose to do about it?"                                +
+                             - from _Lex Luthor, Man of Steel_ (2005)    +

                   MXXXI.  Various Preparations

  Following an unexpected but eventful discussion with Fellban's mayor,
Belphanior has gathered his team and given them a quick summary of the
deal he just made.  After gathering their belongings and leaving the inn,
they have made their way through the city to the designated meeting place.
It was one of several establishments contained within a long, two-story
building facing a side street that branched off of a major street.

Otto:  Looks like a regular old stable to me.
stable boy:  (emerges from the building, eyeing them before nodding and
  then pulling open a large door)  Please, come inside.

  Old habits died hard, so Otto and Razor Charlie went first and made sure
the stable was empty (at least of anyone or anything potentially dangerous)
before signalling everyone else to follow.  Once they were all inside, the
stable boy pulled the door closed, then secured it with a large wooden bar.
Inside the building were ten berths for horses, as well as a variety of
equipment and supplies suited for riding, grooming, and otherwise caring
for such animals.  However, the stable was empty save for the faint mixed
smells of manure and hay.  Daylight filtered in through dozens of thin
seams in the boards that made up the front and rear walls of the stable.

stable boy:  The mayor told me to expect you soon.
Belphanior:  What now?
stable boy:  Let's get your horses squared away first.  (he gestures to
  the various empty stalls)

  In short order, the adventurers tied off their horses in the stable's
berths, after which the lad walked over to the far corner of the building
and began moving large bales of hay.  Soon, a large section of floor was
cleared away, revealing a large trapdoor with an iron ring fastened to the
middle of one edge.

stable boy:  I'll need some help here.
Poulos:  (steps forward, grabbing the ring and opening the trapdoor with
  a mighty pull)

  Beneath the portal were wide stone steps leading downward.  The boy
wasted no time heading down into the darkness.

Belphanior:  What's this?
stable boy:  (below, he strikes flint on steel, and soon lights a lantern)
  This passage leads under the streets and then up into the Mayor's manor.

  The lantern's light revealed that the steps ended about twenty feet
below street level, in a rough square-cut passage that measured about ten
feet wide and high.  A peg on one wall had held the lantern, and a small
can of oil rested on the passage floor beneath.  The lad returned the
flint and steel to their place atop that can.

stable boy:  (sets off down the underground passage)

  Belphanior and the others followed him cautiously, ready to act at any
sign of treachery.  Belphanior seriously doubted that Jaron Mendenhall had
any unpleasant surprises planned for them, but it never hurt to be ready.
Without being told, Otto took up the rearguard position, and the small
group walked along behind the stable boy.  The journey didn't take long;
Belphanior estimated that they advanced perhaps five hundred feet before
encountering a second series of steps, these leading up.  Another wooden
trapdoor was closed over these, blocking ascent; the stable boy climbed
the stairs as far as he was able, then rapped four times on the wooden
planking above.  Voices murmured from the other side of the portal, and
were then followed by some loud, heavy scraping sounds as something heavy
was moved out of the way.  The trapdoor was then pulled open, revealing
another stable above as well as several well-armed guards.  They took the
stairs and emerged into the second stable, which was larger and much nicer
than the first.  A familiar figure stepped forth to greet them.

Jaron Mendenhall:  Welcome!
Belphanior:  What is this place?
Jaron Mendenhall:  This is the stable, within my manor house.  We're well
  inside its outer wall, so we can move about and talk freely.  I suspect
  you'll want to make haste.  I've tried to prepare as best as possible.
  My four wizards are waiting inside their laboratory within the house,
  my blacksmith is ready at his forge, and my quartermaster is prepared
  to provide whatever supplies you might need.  And my sage awaits in the
Belphanior:  Right.  There's no time to waste, and I've already thought
  about how to most efficiently get things done.

  The elf gave everyone their assignments.  Skektek and Hope would work
with the wizards, finding spells the party could use and transcribing them
into each of the three wizards' spellbooks.  Otto and Razor Charlie would
talk to the blacksmith and see what could be done to forge some weapons
containing silver, or perhaps modify existing ones.  Irina would confer
with the sage to try and get answers to a few pressing questions.  Poulos
was in charge of resupplying the group for the upcoming trip and battle,
which meant not only food and drink but also certain other provisions
oriented toward combat.

Poulos:  (reading over the list given to him by Belphanior)  Some of these
  items are...odd.
Belphanior:  Trust me, I have a plan.  (to everyone)  And it will best
  work if each of you focus on the task you've been assigned, and do it
Otto:  What about you?
Belphanior:  I have...something else to deal with.  I'll explain later.

  All of these endeavors would take some time, but they weren't sure how
much time they had, or where Tarkus was in his pursuit.  Based on all the
information he had, Belphanior couldn't be sure of his group's headstart
over the forces of Baron Tarkus:

          day 0     (evening)    battle with Vorkos
              3     (morning)    departure from Worgenfeld
              5     (evening)    arrival in Fellban
              6     (afternoon)  now

  Jaron Mendenhall had advised that the ruler's fort was a good two-day
ride north of Worgenfeld.  Assuming that someone had departed Worgenfeld
immediately upon Vorkos' defeat, they would have arrived at Tarkus' fort
on the evening of day 2.  Assuming that Tarkus had reacted immediately,
he would have arrived in Worgenfeld on the evening of day 4; assuming an
immediate departure toward Fellban, that would mean the Baron was due to
arrive in the city tomorrow morning.  Of course, all of that used worst-
case estimates (immediate action and turnaround times, plus hard riding.)
It also assumed that Tarkus stopped in Worgenfeld first to look around,
instead of going past it to save time.  Belphanior explained this to Otto
after the others had split up, each to deal with their own assignments.
No one else was within earshot.

Otto:  We need to know exactly where the hell Tarkus is right now.
Belphanior:  Yes, we do...which is why I'm going to become invisible and
  use multiple flying spells to head back the way we came, and do some
  covert aerial scouting.  I can cover quite a bit of distance with the
  magic available to me, and I can do it fast.  I want to get to it while
  there's still daylight, else I won't easily be able to navigate my way
  back here.  Time is of the essence.
Otto:  Got it.
Belphanior:  I'm going to need your potion of flying, as a backup in case
  I venture too far out and run out of flying spells, or my magic somehow
  gets nullified.  (he frowns)  In which case I'd likely not return at all
  but...anyway, I need that option.
Otto:  No problem.  (he hands the bottle over)  This is a risky mission.
  Necessary, but risky.
Belphanior:  If it works out, I'll be back tonight with a more accurate
  idea of when Tarkus will get here - or at least the knowledge that we
  definitely have until tomorrow.  (he pauses)  I also have some further
  instructions, specifically for Hope and Skektek.

  The elf shared his basic battle plan with his lieutenant; Otto listened
intently and took note of what he'd need to do to make it happen, but was
also analyzing the tactics, risks, and chance of success.

Otto:  It assumes a couple of things - mainly that we'll have until late
  tomorrow to prepare - and it's risky as hell, but overall...I like it.
Belphanior:  (nods)  See to it.  And if Tarkus is too close for that plan,
  then we'll have to fight him here in the city, I guess.  Which the mayor
  won't like, but it's not like we have a choice.  But I'd prefer to take
  the battle out of the city, so that we can operate without having to
  worry about all these civilians.
Otto:  Very well.  I'll let the others know, and make sure things happen
  in the right order.
Belphanior:  I'm off, then.  If all goes well, I'll see you back here at

  With that, he retreated behind a large wagon that was missing one wheel
and had thus been moved out of the way.  It made perfect cover as he cast
a spell of flying, followed by a spell of invisibility.  The elf saw no
need for Jaron Mendenhall or any of his men to know of his scouting trip;
in fact, the less anyone else know of his plans and tactics, the better.
He took to the air, silent and unseen, and immediately flew due north as
fast as his spell of flying would allow.

Belphanior:  (flies high into the sky, using the sun's position in the sky
  to keep himself on course)

  From the party's recent travels on this world, the elf knew that it
shared at least one thing in common with Oerth:  the sun rose in the east
and set in the west.  Thus, the standard compass directions held true, as
did his navigational skills.  He figured all he had to do was roughly
retrace the path they'd taken to get to Fellban.

Belphanior:  (soars even higher, as high as he can while still being able
  to spot any travelers on the ground)

  He found himself envying Otto's near-perfect vision, which would have
allowed him to move even further above the ground far below.  As it was,
he could see for quite a long way, and was making great time.  The hope
was that he _wouldn't_ see Tarkus and whatever force he was bringing, not
at all.  That would mean that one or more of the possible delay points had
happened...not learning of the news immediately, not leaving his fort in
haste, not stopping in Worgenfeld to survey the site of the battle.  All
of the variability in the math was in Belphanior's favor, and he felt good
about the chance that his team had a full day and perhaps more to prepare.
There were two other reasons that they'd likely have that extra time.  For
one thing, the Baron seemed to have a sense of superiority, and therefore
might not be that worried about his quarry getting away.  And that tied
into the second thing, which was the Baron's assumption that the land of
mists would stop or delay the adventurers from escaping his clutches.

  Yet...Belphanior had to be sure.

Belphanior:  (continues to soar far above the land below, unseen by any
  potential foes on the ground or in the air)
random bird:  (flying along minding its own business, it suddenly gets
  thrown for a loop as the larger form of the invisible elf passes by,
  causing the bird to tumble out of control briefly before regaining
  control of its own flight)  Squawk!  (it looks around angrily for a
  few moments, then craps in midair before flying away)

  It was important that Belphanior keep careful track of time, both to
avoid flying too far from Fellban and to give himself a chance to cast
another flying spell.  The former problem would result insufficient magic
to return to the city by flight, which would mean some long and dangerous
marching on the ground at night.  The latter problem would mean a sudden
and perilous drop from a great height.  The elf was glad that he'd thought
to take Otto's potion, as it gave him a bit of extra range, and could also
save him in an aerial emergency.
  If he had more daylight, and more flying capability or speed, he would
have tried to make it to the outcropping of boulders where the big battle
had taken place.  Reaching that point without sighting foes would have not
only guaranteed them a minimum two-day span of time to prepare, but might
have also afforded the elf a chance to thin the ranks of whatever force
Baron Tarkus had brought.  Then again, that would have been a risky move
since he was alone, without allies or backup.  The topic was moot, though,
as he wouldn't be able to travel that far, even at his flying speed...and
also because, when he reached his safe point for turning back, he still
hadn't seen any sign of a force below.  That point came with his second
landing of the day; earlier, he had felt the initial spell beginning to
fade, and so he had stopped to cast another flying spell, his second of
three available.  Now that this one was also fading, he landed briefly,
again, to cast his third and last one.  The potion would serve as the
fourth, in time, and would bring him back to Fellban.

Belphanior:  (standing on the grasslands stretching his legs, he starts
  getting ideas about setting traps to attract and slow down pursuers,
  but decides against it since he's not really prepared and can't waste
  any time)

  Taking to the air again, still invisible, he ascended, preparing to fly
southward toward Fellban.

Belphanior:  Eh?  (he turns to the north)

  Out of the corner of his eye, he had seen the vaguest hint of movement
in the distance!  Using precious moments of his flying time, he soared
northward, high above the ground, silent and invisible.  As he quickly
drew closer, and was able to make out more details of what he'd seen, his
heart nearly skipped a beat.

Belphanior:  Whoa.

  It was immediately apparent that whatever Baron Tarkus' response lacked
in speed, it made up for in numbers.  On the ground far below was a small
army, consisting of perhaps a hundred mounted riders plus hundreds of big,
mean wolves...many, many hundreds.  At that moment, it seemed possible to
Belphanior that Tarkus had gathered every single minion and servant - man
or beast - available to him and brought them all along for this pursuit.

Belphanior:  (stops, hovering in the sky far above as the force moves
  inexorably southward)

  It took every bit of self-control the elf had to not drop a fireball
directly into the center of the massed foes...but he had to play it safe
for now.  There was no way of knowing what magical protections some of
those below might have, or whether they had spellcasters of their own...
perhaps invisible, in the sky, right now.  Who could know?  And if he
didn't make it back to warn the others of the enemies' number and nature,
his companions would be at a severe disadvantage.

Belphanior:  Dammit.

  Gritting his teeth, the elf turned and flew south, quickly leaving the
mass of foes behind as he soared back toward Fellban with new purpose.

next:       knowledge and power
released:   7/17/20
notes:      I hated to "show my work" in elementary/middle/junior/high
  school math (I actually was a prodigy at math back then, and did all
  the calculations in my head, and had to prove it to more than one of
  my teachers over the years) and I was reluctant to show Belphanior's
  work in this episode, but I needed to lay it out for the reader.  If
  Fellban had been, say, to the west instead of due south, I could have
  even used a bit of geometry there, in the fort-Worgenfeld-Fellban
  triangle hypotenuse calculation for possible travel times.
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