Chapter #1038

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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!                                          +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Date:          unknown (just over two weeks since arrival)            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the City of Fellban                                    +
+   Climate:       cool and pleasant                                      +
+   "One man's tool is another man's weapon."                             +
+   "In your mind, perhaps.  But there aren't many things you can't       +
+    turn into a weapon."                                                 +
+                                       - from _The Dark Knight Rises_    +

                   MXXXVIII.  The Project

  While the other adventurers departed on an exploratory mission to the
fort of the former Baron Tarkus, two have remained behind...

Otto:  I'm feeling a whole lot better.  (he stretches)  Almost back to
  normal, I'd say.
Irina:  Glad to hear it.  We used all of Jaron's healing elixirs, not to
  mention my knowledge and a fair bit of effort, to patch you up.

  They were walking in the courtyard of the mayor's home, where they had
pretty much enjoyed free rein since the battle with Baron Tarkus.

Otto:  By the way, thanks for staying here with me.
Irina:  Well, someone had to.  (she notes a flash of irritation in the
  dwarf's eye)  I'm just joking.  It's fine.  Without the ability to
  reach Istus through prayer and get spells...I'm essentially just a
Otto:  That's not true.  Like you just said, you still have a wealth of
  knowledge about wounds and healing.  I always figured the magic was just
  a way of accelerating that knowledge.
Irina:  (nods)  That's accurate, more or less.
Otto:  I guess I'm mad that I couldn't go explore the fort with them.
  (he shakes his head)  Actually, I'm really just mad that I got hurt
  in the first place.  I'm not really used to that.
Irina:  I guess you wouldn't be, not when you normally wear a ring of
  regeneration and heal from wounds much faster than normal.  (she sighs)
  In this damned place, we're all somewhat less than we used to be.
Otto:  No.  No, we're not.  Not LESS.  (he frowns)  It's our skills, and
  our experience, that make us who we are.  Hell, just look at what we did
  from the time we arrived here, suddenly robbed of all our magical items
  and pitted against a series of challenges and foes.  (he smacks a fist
  into the other hand)  And we won!  We beat the wolves, and that chubby
  wizard, and then his boss the skinny wizard, and then more wolves, and
  then the beastly baron himself.  (he nods to her)  And we're going to
  beat this world we're stuck in...find a way back to ours.  Trust me on
  that.  I've known Belphanior for a long damn time, and he'll never rest,
  never give up.
Irina:  That's good to know.
Otto:  He'll find a way, and he'll get us back home.
Irina:  (nods hopefully)
Otto:  And don't be down on yourself about not having all your priestess
  magic.  You're a hell of a warrior.  You've already proven your worth
  in battle multiple times, and you haven't even been with us that long.
Irina:  Thanks for the praise.  I may be a priestess of Istus now, but
  before I found that to be my calling, I worked hard to hone my battle
  skills.  (she shrugs)  What can I say?  I liked to fight.

  Their stroll had taken them to a barn - one of several on the grounds
of Jaron Mendenhall's manor.  Within, a number of the mayor's craftsmen
were busily working on something large and unusual.

Otto:  What the hell is this?
Irina:  This is the big project Belphanior commissioned before he left
  with the others.

  The "project" was actually a wagon, albeit a very large one.  Almost
twice the size of an average wagon, it had a much sturdier frame thanks
to sheets of iron on its bottom.  These were bolted to other, curved iron
panels that comprised its sides and top.  This was bolstered by several
thick struts - also of iron - spaced about the wagon's interior.  Even
the wheels were hefty; they were larger in diameter and much wider than
regular wagon wheels, plus they were bolstered by iron bands.  The outer
edges of the wagon were weapons - literally, as sharp blades were being
affixed to its sides and back, plus the wheels.  When at speed, the wagon
was capable of slicing through anything on either side; even at rest, the
blades would substantially deter direct attack.

Otto:  Whoa.  It's...a war wagon.
Irina:  Hmm.  (she nods slowly)  That's an apt term.  This behemoth has
  but one purpose:  to protect us as we venture into unknown lands.  No
  more sleeping out in the open, unprotected.
Otto:  (already thinking tactically, as is his way)  The weakness will be
  the's going to take a big team of them to pull this thing
  around.  (he glances at the wagon again)  A big team of BIG horses.
Irina:  (nods)  The mayor is contributing eight heavy, well-trained, and
  fully-armored horses to the cause.
Otto:  Maybe we should put blades on their armor, too...
Irina:  The wagon has narrow slots with plates on the inside, which can
  be slid aside to allow crossbow fire, wands, spells, and such.  And of
  course there's an armored hatch in the bottom - secure, but functional -
  for emergency escapes.
Otto:  Excellent.
Irina:  Belphanior said this would be helpful for when we head south and
  depart this land.
Otto:  And I can see why.
Irina:  It's almost done - and will be, around the time the others return
  from the fort up north.
Otto:  Sounds good.  (he looks the wagon over again)  It's not perfect,
  but it's a hell of a lot better than using a regular wagon.

  As they walked away from the wagon construction site, the dwarf plied
Irina with further questions...

Otto:  Why is the mayor being so nice and helpful?
Irina:  Aside from probably being genuinely happy that Baron Tarkus is
  no longer around to terrorize the land and kill innocent people?  I'm
  getting the impression that Belphanior agreed to handle that based on
  the fulfillment of certain terms.  (she ticks off items on her fingers)
  Supply us with whatever weapons and equipment we needed to take on the us care for any wounded afterward...and provide us anything
  we need to leave this land, when that time comes...which should be any
  day now.
Otto:  Yeah.  (he frowns)  About the caring for the wounded...
Irina:  Oh, don't worry.  I made sure to be careful as I stitched up the
  wounds.  There will be scarring, but that's unavoidable-
Otto:  (raises one hand, impatiently)  I don't care about scars.  I care
  about lycanthropy.
Irina:  Ah.
Otto:  Just wanted to get this out there.  What are my chances of ending
  up with it?
Irina:  (sighs)  I'm no expert with this subject...
Otto:  Just tell me your best guess.
Irina:  I'd give you a fifty-fifty chance.  That's my best guess.  It's
  impossible to really know until the next full moon, and given that this
  place has _three_ moons, we really have no idea what to expect.
Otto:  (grits his teeth)
Irina:  We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it...if we come
  to it.  For your part, you'll have to be willing to tell us if you
  start experiencing any strange urges, physical changes, and such.
Otto:  (nods)  Understood.
Irina:  I'd assume such things could clue us in a day or two ahead of any
  sudden incidents.
Otto:  (half-jokingly)  Maybe you could just put me in the war wagon if
  that happens.

  The dwarf was grouchy about this subject for the rest of the day, but
by the next morning he'd realized that there was no point in worrying
about something he couldn't yet know.  Better to just focus on the things
he _could_ control.

Otto:  (fires his crossbow at a target mounted against an inner wall,
  within the courtyard, hitting dead center)  Ahh.
Irina:  Back to fighting form?
Otto:  (sets the crossbow down, then draws his shortsword and waves it
  around experimentally)  I think so.
Irina:  That's good news...and here's some more.  Remember Williamson?
Otto:  The kid who volunteered to help us in the big battle?  Sure.
Irina:  He has asked the mayor to persuade us to let him join our party
  when we leave.
Otto:  Well...he's brave, and held his own in the fight...but why?  He's
  lived here all his life, and his father died here.
Irina:  Exactly.  He's lived here all his life, and he's got no ties to
  this land, and he's young and craves adventure.  (she looks around, and
  then lowers her voice)  I can't really say I blame him.  This might be
  a great place to grow up, grow old, and die...but there's more to life
  than that.  It seems young Williamson has realized this...
Otto:  ...and if you're going to leave to seek your fortune and destiny,
  why not leave with the strange band of adventurers from another world?
  (he sighs)  It's fine by me, but we'll need to run it by Belphanior.

  As if on cue, the elf and the others returned about an hour later, with
mostly-empty wagons and no good tales of battle or monsters.  The party
was whole again, and since the great wagon was nearly done, they made
plans to leave Fellban on the morrow.

Belphanior:  We'll head south, into the land of mists, and see what lies
  within...and hopefully beyond!

next:       the mists
released:   9/4/20
notes:      I briefly entertained the idea of having Jaron be a bad guy
  of sorts - maybe not as bad as Tarkus, but bad enough to get others to
  eliminate his competition and then break bad.  But I decided not to go
  that route.  Not everyone in this land needed to be hostile...I wanted
  there to be some hope, somewhere.
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