Chapter #1046

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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                                   +   +

+     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        +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Date:          unknown (just over three weeks since arrival)          +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         an unknown land on the far side of the mists           +
+   Climate:       sunny but chilly                                       +
+   "Please. Let's find another way."                                     +
+   "I don't know any other way."                                         +
+           - from _Preacher_ season 4 episode 4, _Search and Rescue_     +

                   MXLVI.  Cooper's Folly

  After realizing that the eastbound caravan is in terrible danger, two
of the party are magically airborne and headed that way...

Belphanior:  I'm not sure why we're doing this, other than it seems like
  the right thing to do.
Skektek:  People sometimes need rescuing.  Especially stupid people.
Belphanior:  They had wounded in their ranks...several who were bitten by
  those zombies.  If those people become undead, and surprise the rest,
  it will be over pretty quickly.
Skektek:  Except for any who run away before getting bitten.  Although
  with no food, water, or expertise in battle - and with who knows how
  many of those things roaming around the wilderness - any runaways would
  probably die soon anyway.  One way or-

  They saw some activity ahead and below, and quickly recognized this as
the site of the previous battle.  The wizards slowed their flight as they
drew nearer, eventually stopping to simply hover about forty feet above
the ground.

Belphanior:  Well, that's not good.
Skektek:  Are those...?
Belphanior:  Looks like it.  More zombies.   (he frowns, noting numerous
  disturbed areas amidst the roughly two dozen undead wandering around)
  These must be the caravan's dead from the battle...they clawed their
  way up from their shallow graves and now roam freely in search of new
Skektek:  Well-put.  (he watches the zombies mill about for a few moments)
  They're still fairly tightly-grouped.
Belphanior:  Maybe they have a herd mentality.  (he notices a few of the
  things now looking upward at them, with their dead eyes)  Hmm.
Skektek:  Fireball?
Belphanior:  (nods)  And then we'll move on and find the caravan.

  In short order, the entire area below (including the couple dozen undead
creatures) was engulfed in flames and the pair were on their way.  It had
briefly occurred to the elf that such a fire might, in some circumstances,
grow out of control.  However, in this case, there was hardly any grass on
the surface of the plain - it was barren and wouldn't burn much.  Onward
they went, heading due west on the trail of the two wagons, which was just
barely visible from their altitude.  Had they flown any higher, as they no
doubt would have done if pursuing foes with ranged weapons or spells, they
might not have been able to make out the wheels' tracks in the ground.
  At any rate, they headed in the same easterly direction as the caravan,
and before too long, they found it...or what was left of it.

Belphanior:  Feel like I've been here before...

  The scene below was similar to the one they'd recently left behind,
except this one had blood and gore from victims.  They would never know
exactly what had happened, but it was pretty easy to guess based on the
evidence:  one wagon overturned, the other crashed into the first, and
all horses dead.  Some of them were in the process of being devoured by
zombies, as were a number of human bodies.  Seven of the undead were
visible and engaged in feasting; four other bodies were scattered about
the area, all of them showing gruesome wounds.

Skektek:  This just isn't right.
Belphanior:  No, it isn't.  I'm figuring that the wounded became zombies
  and attacked the wouldn't have taken long for everything to
  lapse into chaos.  (points to one zombie)  That one looks like Cooper.
Skektek:  Yeah, except for the giant chunk missing from his chest and the
  fact that he's eating pieces of a corpse.  (he sighs)  Another fireball?
Belphanior:  It's the best way.  Normally I'd want to look for treasure
  or other useful things, but this time...I just don't care.  And from
  what little I saw of the caravan, the wagons were full of spices, silks,
  and other heavy, useless crap.  Nothing of use to us, and we don't need
  the wagons.
Skektek:  It's also not worth the risk, since a single little bite means
  death, basically.  Or undeath.  (he shivers)  I sure wouldn't want that
  to happen to me.
Belphanior:  I hear you.  Well, torch them all and let's get the hell out
  of here.

  Momentarily, Skektek launched his fireball; the mighty spell left his
fingertip as a small tongue of flame, which arced down toward the ground
and the zombies milling about there.  Upon contact, the spell blossomed
into a gigantic blast of fire which consumed the zombies, the wagons, and
all evidence that anything horrible had ever taken place there.  The two
adventurers had, of course, ascended and moved away from the blast radius
of the fireball beforehand.

Skektek:  (wrinkles his nose at the burning stench)  I normally enjoy the
  way fireballs smell, but not today.  (he watches as the last couple of
  immolated zombies fall, twitching, within the conflagration)  Rest in
  peace, caravan people.  And horses.
Belphanior:  Actually, I noticed that none of the horses had reanimated
  after being bitten and partially eaten.  Whatever the nature of these
  zombies, their condition must only affect people, not animals.
Skektek:  A zombie horse would be...interesting to see.
Belphanior:  Let's get moving.  We should have plenty of time to return
  to our companions before dusk, and since we're already airborne, we can
  scout ahead for a suitable campsite.  We'll need some extra time before
  dusk, to properly prepare it.
Skektek:  You mean fortify it.
Belphanior:  (nods)  We'll need to be ready to repel an attack, but if it
  happens, spikes and pits won't stop zombies...especially if there are a
  lot of them.  We just don't know what's out there, which is why scouting
  is even more important than usual.

  With that, they sped westward with all due haste, leaving behind - for
the second time today - the burning remains of people who had accidentally
and unwillingly become the walking dead.  They flew onward, following the
caravan's trail to the site of the earlier fireball, then following their
own wagon's tracks to the west.  Here and there, a random zombie roamed
mindlessly through the wilderness; one time, they saw three of the things
wandering more or less together.  However, no larger groups presented
themselves, which was a great relief.
  That relief turned to confusion, and then apprehension, as they noticed
something amiss in the distance.  At the speed they were flying, it didn't
take long to get closer and see what it was.

Skektek:  What...the...hell?

  They'd been following the trail of the party's wagon...a trail that
was, all of a sudden, surrounded by a couple dozen scattered bodies.

Belphanior:  Where's the wagon?
Skektek:  From the marks on the ground, I'd say it kept on going.  This
  has the look of a fight.
Belphanior:  We're going to have to land.  Well, I am.  You stay airborne
  and cover me, just in case I miss something.
Skektek:  No problem.
Belphanior:  I'll be careful, but one can never be too careful.
Skektek:  If I see anything getting even remotely close to you, I'll blast
  it with magic missiles.
Belphanior:  (descends swiftly and wordlessly)

  Up close, the elf was able to confirm what he'd suspected from the air:
the corpses were all zombies.  Some had bolts in their heads, while others
had no heads at all - probably the work of Hope's magic, based on the
scorch marks.  A few of the things had been dispatched by blades; this
was evident from the cleft heads and other wounds on those bodies.  Not
all of the undead had been finished off, either; about half of them still
crawled about, moaning incessantly.

Belphanior:  (walks over to the nearest zombie, which is little more than
  a head and one arm at this point, and swiftly cuts its head in half with
  his sword)  Damn it.

  Of the wagon, or the other adventurers, there was no trace, save the
wheel-tracks leading away to the west.

Belphanior:  (rises into the air once more, rejoining Skektek)  It seems
  they had a small battle here, and won, and then left.  Let's catch up
  to them before things get any worse.

next:       we backtrack a bit, and find out what happened
released:   10/30/20
notes:      I guess this episode (and the two before it, if grouped into
  one mini-arc) could be considered this year's Halloween episode.  I'm
  not done yet, though - far from it.  This should get us to 1050.  It's
  interesting that AD&D zombies, as written, aren't that scary...but if
  you make them more like the traditional Romero zombies, and have them
  in a situation without any curative magic/items...they suddenly become
  a whole hell of a lot more dangerous.
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