Chapter #1033

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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                                +
+                                                                         +
+   Williamson     a soldier from Fellban                                 +
+   Date:          unknown                                                +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the plains south of the city of Fellban                +
+   Climate:       cool and sunny                                         +
+   "Are you threatening us?"                                             +
+   "Absolutely."                                                         +
+                                                   - from _Eraser_       +

                   MXXXIII.  Readying the Battlefield

  With the force of Baron Tarkus about a day to the north, the party had
departed Fellban at dawn with a twofold purpose.  In addition to putting
as much space between themselves and the city, they also needed time to
prepare for the impending battle.

Belphanior:  (surveys the group as they move southward)

  The party was one stronger, as of last night.  The city's mayor, Jaron
Mendenhall, had come to Belphanior with an interesting offer.  One of his
personal guards - a stout warrior named Williamson - had expressed a very
strong desire to help in the upcoming fight.  His father (who had, rather
predictably, been named William) had been mauled to death by wolves some
twenty years ago while on patrol in the wilderness.  The son held Baron
Tarkus responsible, and had grown up to be a strong, brave, and determined
young man.  As Belphanior watched the lad ride with the group, he recalled
the conversation from last night...

    Jaron Mendenhall:  Honestly, to stop the boy, I'll have to put him
      in shackles.  He wants to be part of this fight more than anything
      in his entire life.
    Belphanior:  Is he trustworthy?
    Jaron Mendenhall:  Beyond any doubt.  His father was one of my best
      soldiers, and ever since he was torn apart by those infernal wolves
      I've watched after his son.
    Belphanior:  Well, his motivation is without question.
    Jaron Mendenhall:  But it gets better...he's a hell of a shot with a
      crossbow.  I believe that's a skill set you're in need of for this,
      given your particular focus on silver armaments.
    Belphanior:  Yes.  Otto's lethal, but a crossbow can only be fired so
      fast.  I'll take the kid.

  It might have been helpful if any of the mayor's quartet of wizards had
been inclined to volunteer the way Williamson had, but all four of them
were older men who were unaccustomed to combat.  From what Hope said, one
of them was half-blind.  Belphanior was actually glad that none of the men
had offered to help; he didn't want them to get killed needlessly, and he
also didn't want any of them to panic in battle and make a mistake.
  Also, of course, his battle plan had been designed with only his people
in mind - reliable spellcasters and warriors who had worked together many
a time and who could complement each other.  Poulos was new to the team,
but had acquitted himself well in the wolves' earlier attack at the rocky
outcropping.  As for Williamson, it was apparent from his demeanor that
he would never back down from a chance to avenge his slain father.
  In addition to the eight of them, they now had a large wagon and team
of horses courtesy of Jaron Mendenhall.  As Belphanior's combat plan had
evolved, it had become clear that all the supplies couldn't be carried on
horses.  As would become apparent, there were reasons why they'd taken
large quantities of iron spikes, oil, and so on...including a rather late
addition to the cargo.  The wagon held every spear, staff, and reasonably
straight stick that the mayor had possessed; all of these had undergone
certain modifications the evening before.

Belphanior:  (checks the position of the sun overhead)

  He planned for the group to ride until late afternoon, and then use the
remaining hours of daylight to prepare the site of the battle.  Dictating
the location where that battle would take place was a key element in his
plan, and he'd decided that they didn't need to make it all the way to
the land of mists - it was enough to head in that direction.  The more
confused Baron Tarkus was, the better; to that end, the wagon had quietly
and discreetly been pulled out of the city before dawn, heading north on
the road for about an hour.  At that point, it had been turned off of the
road and pulled in a wide southwest arc, circumventing Fellban by a wide
margin.  The idea here was to lead the horde of Tarkus around the city
entirely, and keep them directly on the trail of the party.
  To assist with that goal, Belphanior had fashioned a large wooden sign
which he'd hammered into the ground several hundred feet after they left
the road.  An audacious message had been written on the board in black

     |                                                               |
     |                         BARON TARKUS                          |
     |                                                               |
     |             VORKOS CHALLENGED US AND WAS KILLED.              |
     |                                                               |
     |           WE COULD HAVE TAKEN HIS TOWN AND RULED IT           |
     |           BUT WE DON'T CARE ABOUT SUCH A PUNY PLACE.          |
     |                                                               |
     |           WE HAVE BUSINESS IN THE SOUTH.  DO NOT TRY          |
     |          TO FOLLOW US, OR YOU WILL END UP LIKE VORKOS.        |
     |                                                               |

  The ground all around the sign was then covered in the contents of one
of those casks of entrails, the blood and entrails adding a bit of graphic
punctuation to the message.  Belphanior had figured that the overall scene
would not only help draw the Baron away from the city, but would also
anger him through the blatant challenge to his authority and power.

  Many hours later, as the sunlight crept low in the sky at the end of the
day, the elf was proven right.  The advance scouts for the horde - those
wolves that were fastest and had the best noses - found the sign and led
the main force there.  It would have presented an unusual sight for anyone
there to see it:  hundreds of big, ferocious wolves surrounding a smaller
force of men...but not as enemies.  The lead wolves parted to allow some
of the riders through, and then one of that number separated himself from
the others, guiding his gigantic warhorse toward the sign.

Baron Tarkus:  What's this?  (he reads the sign, his fists clenching in
  rage)  How DARE they?

  The baron was a powerfully-built man, standing well over six feet tall
and possessed of a broad, stocky  frame.  He had aged slowly thanks to his
particular curse, and his muscular frame now carried some extra weight,
but he was still as strong as an ox even in his human form.  A gigantic
bushy beard, the black fading to gray in numerous places, made him look
even more demented and wild.  He was clad in well-worn leather armor, and
a heavy battle-axe was strapped to his wide shoulders.  Wild, red-tinged
eyes spoke to not only a fierce temper but possibly also some measure of

Baron Tarkus:  (raises a hand)  Torch!

  A man-at-arms quickly brought a flaming brand over, and the Baron held
it to the sign until the wood caught fire and began to burn.

Baron Tarkus:  (roars to the others)  My pups tell me the scent is fresh!
  We're gaining on them, boys...and when we catch them, we'll feast on
  their hearts!

next:       they get to it
released:   7/31/20
notes:      I know it probably upsets some readers when I do these flash-
  forward/backward things like you saw in "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill"
  and "Lost" and "Ocean's Eleven" and reveal something in the past tense
  instead of as it happens.  One example here is the introduction of the
  young soldier Williamson.  Another example or two will be seen in the
  next episode.  The truth is, when I first encountered that storytelling
  tactic in the first of those movies, I automatically hated it...but in
  the years since, I've come to enjoy using it sometimes.
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