Chapter #1044

previous chapter (#1043)                                                                  next chapter (#1045)

                                   +   +
                                 +       +
                               +           +
                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      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                  +
+     Williamson   a young soldier from Fellban                           +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Date:          unknown (just over three weeks since arrival)          +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         an unknown land on the far side of the mists           +
+   Climate:       sunny but chilly                                       +
+   "When the dead walk, the living will fill these coffins."             +
+                                      - from _Sherlock Holmes_ (2009)    +

                   MXLIV.  A Parting of Ways

  After emerging from the mists into a new land and helping a caravan
survive an attack of zombies, the adventurers now prepare to move on.

Belphanior:  (to Otto)  Well, I wondered how many of them would decide
  to come with us...and now we know.

  Of the fifteen total survivors, only four had chosen to accompany the
party and its armored wagon.

Benjamin:  (buckles on the sword he used in the recent battle)
Helen:  (a stringy, touch-looking older woman of about fifty, also one
  of the wounded who Irina helped care for earlier)  Count me in.  That
  blustering jackass has no idea what the hell he's doing.
Judith:  (a single woman of about thirty, she hugs her young son tightly)
Duane:  (her son, a skinny ten-year-old lad with sandy blond hair, he
  looks around with a mix of confusion and apprehension)
Otto:  (muttering to himself)  That's it, huh?  (he turns to Belphanior)
  I really didn't think many of them would stick with that idiot Cooper.

  To be fair, that wasn't quite the case; it wasn't that the others from
the caravan wanted to follow the irate man to wherever it was he intended
to go.  Several of the surviving men were guards in his employ, but most
of the others - including the other women and children - simply didn't
know what to do now.  Their friends and loved ones had been slain in the
attack, and they weren't sure which course of action was the best.

Benjamin:  (grabs his pack, which seemingly contains all of his worldly
  possessions)  It's not their fault.  They don't know you, and Cooper
  has more or less run the caravan since we left town.
Belphanior:  Ah.  People keep mentioning a town...where is it?  And what
  other towns or cities are there?  What's the lay of the land?  I need
  to know such things.
Benjamin:  Well, we came from the town of Ermoor, which is one of several
  in this low-lying plain.  The caravan was headed to a somewhat larger
  town, to the east, called Smittburg.  There are some other towns in the
  area, a few days' ride from either...Terpis, Norvel...Ifsnit...
Belphanior:  Any larger cities?  Specifically, any that have a wizards'
  guild, or similar?  (thinking about the knowledge and power he needs to
  find a way back to Oerth)  Hell, I'd settle for just a wizard.
Benjamin:  (shaking his head)  I don't know for sure, for the other ones
  beside Ermoor, but it's not likely.  I've never heard of any wizards in
  these parts.  Sorry to disappoint you.
Belphanior:  (to Otto)  We'll check in town, but if it's not looking good,
  we'll need to journey elsewhere to find what we need.
Otto:  Yep.  (to Benjamin)  What about geography...natural boundaries?
  Bodies of water, woodlands, or maybe a mountain range?
Benjamin:  There's a pretty sizable forest to the west, not too far past
  Ermoor.  And far south of here is an ocean, and a couple of port cities.
  (he frowns)  That's about all I know.  I'm not that well-traveled...I
  never needed to go to the ocean.
Belphanior:  No worries.  That's enough to go on.  We'll start in Ermoor
  and figure the rest out from there.  Unless it's better to head to the
  other place...Smittburg?
Benjamin:  It's a bit larger, but not necessarily better or worse.  For
  my part, I just needed a change of scenery...or thought I did.  But
  there's nothing wrong with Ermoor.
Belphanior:  Then that's where we'll go.
Otto:  It might be a good idea to acquire a map of these lands, first
  chance we get.

  Shortly, the new arrivals were sorted out; the women and child would
ride in the wagon, while Benjamin would temporarily use Otto's warhorse.

Benjamin:  (grabbing the reins, he easily swings up into the saddle)
Belphanior:  (eyeing the others who will be heading eastward with Cooper)
  I wonder if they'll be okay.
Benjamin:  They should be.  Smittburg is only a few days' ride away.  (he
  frowns)  Unless, of course, there are more of those undead wandering
  around between here and there.  Damn, I hate to see the rest of those
  women and children in an unprotected pair of wagons.
Belphanior:  Well, that idiot Cooper's got a few guards left.
Benjamin:  (shakes his head)  I was there when we had more guards and
  were still losing against those things.  Trust me, right now Cooper
  and the caravan are about as unprotected as anyone can be.
Belphanior:  Well, that's not my problem.  I gave them a choice, and they
  chose.  There was a time when I wouldn't have given them any choice at
  all, but I guess I'm mellowing with age.

  As the adventurers turned and headed west, they looked back upon the
diminished caravan, wondering what would happen to those people.  From
the looks of things, they were nowhere near ready to depart; several of
them were still in shock, and one was sobbing next to the freshly-dug
grave of a loved one.

Belphanior:  I can't help but wonder how they'll like Cooper's leadership
  later, if things go bad.
Otto:  That guy's not our problem anymore.
Belphanior:  He never was, really.  What a fool.
Benjamin:  If you hadn't stood up to him, he probably would have demanded
  that your group remain and journey to Smittburg with him.
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  Had he done that, he'd be headed to the afterlife
  right about now.

  The party steadily moved westward at a leisurely pace; the air was cold
and the light wind made it feel a bit colder, but the sun in the clear
sky provided some measure of warmth.  While they traveled at an efficient
pace, they didn't have to hurry, since there was no chance of reaching
Ermoor by dark.  In the backs of their minds, Belphanior and Otto - and
likely several of the others - were already thinking about how to best
make and fortify a camp in case more undead showed up tonight.  For the
most part, however, they passed the time with conversation, or their best
attempts at it.  Hope and Irina talked about the best spells and tactics
against zombies...Skektek tried to explain to Williamson the advantages
of large-area-of-effect spells...Poulos found that Razor Charlie wasn't
much of a talker at all...Otto drove the wagon and did his best to keep
up the spirits of their guests from the caravan.  For the most part, the
three civilians (Otto always thought of and referred to noncombatants as
civilians) were holding up fine.  The mother-son family of Judith and
Duane were still on edge from the zombie attack, and understandably so,
but steadily getting further away from the scene of that massacre seemed
to be helping them.  As for the gray-haired Helen, she was a tough old
bird and hadn't said much, instead dozing under a blanket in one corner
of the wagon as if nothing had happened.

Otto:  (making conversation with Judith)  So what's your story?
Judith:  I was headed to a new town to find better work.  I'd still have
  liked to, but I didn't much care for that Cooper man, or the way he ran
  things.  (she pats her son's head)  I have to think about what's best
  for my boy, too.
Otto:  (nods, thinking about what it must be like to have a child to care
  for, and how his chosen path in life will never allow for that)  Hmm.

  Nearby, on his horse, Belphanior rode easily, using muscle memory with
his reins as his mind drifted away to a different place.  Not a day had
passed in this strange place without the elf thinking about how he could
get back to Oerth...and what he needed to do once he got there.  For the
last year or more before finding the lair of Mesoloth, the elf had been
getting further and further behind with identifying - much less using -
the numerous powerful magical items he'd won in battles and adventures.
He'd at last been on the cusp of achieving that goal, thanks to finding
the Finger of Boccob in the dragon's vault.  Instead, perhaps due to his
attempt to escape the vault, he and most of his group had ended up here.

Belphanior:  (sighs)

  The elf wanted to get the team back home, and he wanted to be reunited
with his woman Neera...but he also wanted to secure the vast amount of
power he'd accumulated.  Secure it, and then put it to use!  He hadn't
yet determined exactly how he'd do that, but one thing was for sure:  he
couldn't do anything while trapped on this world, or plane, or dimension,
or whatever it was exactly.

Belphanior:  (clenches a fist, controlling his anger about the situation)

  Most people would have felt sadness, or perhaps despair.  Not the elf;
he only felt fury...fury at the dragon for its trick, fury at whatever
whimsical gods might have sent him here, far from his homeland and his
artifacts and everything that mattered.  The only advantage was that he
had plenty of time to think and plan, so that when he did return, there
would be no wasted time.
  Several hours after splitting from the caravan group, it was time for
the party to stop, rest, and have a lunch break.  To the surprise of them
all, one person had a slightly different idea of what that lunch break
would entail...

Judith:  (seeing that Helen hasn't woken up, and is in fact completely
  covered by the blanket, she reaches out and pulls it off of the older
Helen:  (sits up, her eyes glazed over and her skin pale, and emits a low
  moan as she grabs Judith's arm with both hands, and bites it, tearing a
  large chunk of flesh out)  Uuuuurrr...

next:       things get more serious
released:   10/16/20
notes:      In the last episode, I mentioned some easter eggs.  One was
  pretty easy, while the other was a bit more challenging; both were tied
  to classic zombie movies.  Here are the answers for those who might have
  been wondering:
  - Poulos having to finish off the severed zombie head resembles a scene
    from 1993's _Army of Darkness_
  - the names of three characters introduced last time are homages to
    similarly-themed characters from 1968's _Night of the Living Dead_
previous chapter (#1043)                                                                  next chapter (#1045)