Chapter #1047

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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!                                          +
+   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 human soldier from Fellban                     +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+                                                                         +
+   Benjamin       a human bricklayer-turned-fighter                      +
+   Date:          unknown (just over three weeks since arrival)          +
+   Time:          afternoon                                              +
+   Place:         an unknown land on the far side of the mists           +
+   Climate:       sunny but chilly                                       +
+   "It's senseless!"                                                     +
+   "I'm sure it makes sense to somebody."                                +
+                                           - unknown movie or book       +

                   MXLVII.  Dire Straits

  After another attack by an infected person, and the grim but necessary
work that followed, the majority of the party continues westward, toward
the town of Ermoor.

Williamson:  (now driving the wagon)
Otto:  Good job.  I needed a one can do that all day long, not
  without some aches and pains.  (he rests on the driver's bench next to
  the lad)

  The others rode abreast of the wagon, ahead or behind as random changes
in their horses' pace dictated.  The four riderless animals were secured,
but being well-trained warhorses, they kept pace and stayed close.

Poulos:  At least the sun is out and shining bright.  This land, and its
  oddities, would be worse to deal with if it was darker, or raining.
Benjamin:  Or both.
Hope:  How far is it to Ermoor?  I know we can't get there by tonight,
  I'm just trying to get a general idea.
Benjamin:  It's about a day and a half if we're moving fast.  We could
  continue traveling past dusk, and maybe get there by midnight.  But...

  No one needed to clarify what the man was thinking.  Traveling through
wilderness at night, with an unknown number of dangerous zombies lurking
about, would have been a most unwise course of action.

Hope:  We'll camp, and we'll need to make sure the site is extra secure.
  I figure Otto and Belphanior will have some ideas toward that end.
Irina:  I've got to admit, I'll feel a little better when Belphanior and
  Skektek get back.  (to Hope)  I mean no disrespect...but three wizards
  are better than one.  Especially Skektek with all his fire and thunder
Hope:  (smirks)  Well, it's not like we keep him around for his cheerful
  personality or scintillating conversation.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at the comment, as he personally thinks of
  Skektek as the perfect wizard, one who keeps his mouth shut and casts
  powerful destructive spells when needed)

  A moment later, the lean warrior grimaced again - this time because he
spotted something in the distance, off to the right side of the party.
Not everyone knew it, but Charlie's vision was almost as sharp as Otto's,
and for years now he'd quietly been handling lookout duty even when not
tasked with it.

Razor Charlie:  (squints, then frowns, then takes his horse over closer
  to the wagon)
Otto:  Eh?  What is it?
Razor Charlie:  More dead things, I think.  (he nods his head in that
  general direction)
Otto:  (uses one hand to shade his eyes as he peers out into the wilds)
  Shit, you're right.  Good catch.  (he whistles suddenly and sharply to
  get everyone's attention)  Heads up, people!  We've got zombies on the
  right flank!
Razor Charlie:  (looking in another direction)  And the left.
Hope:  No matter what, we need to keep moving.  From everything we've
  seen before, these things tend to gather in greater numbers when
  presented with prey.  Especially stationary prey.

  As the party continued to move along at a fair pace, their situation
worsened.  At first, the things had been scattered about, with little
danger of the wagon and riders getting surrounded.  However, more and
more of the undead became visible now, including several that wandered
in and out of the road, occasionally blocking it.  The party could take
the wagon off-road, but that would slow it down, and its wheels - while
sturdy - had not been tested on such unpredictable terrain.

Otto:  (to Williamson)  I'll take the reins.  Get your crossbow ready.
  There are going to be plenty of targets before long.
Williamson:  (nods grimly, and begins preparing his weapon and bolts)
Otto:  Hope - get ready to take out any big clusters of those things.
Hope:  I can't.  I have a few spells I can use to destroy or immobilize
  large numbers of them, but I'm not Skektek.  The majority of my spells
  aren't destructive in nature.  Besides, my magic won't last forever.
Otto:  So what do you suggest?
Hope:  I've already been thinking about this, ahead of time...what we'd
  do if we encountered some of these creatures roaming like this.  The
  main thing is to avoid being surrounded and trapped, if possible, and
  that means we should keep moving forward, as fast as we can without
  killing the horses or toppling the wagon.  We'll have to destroy any
  of those things that get in our way.
Otto:  Naturally.  But what happens if the horses in front of the wagon
  have a direct collision with a zombie?
Hope:  I've thought all of that through.  Here's my plan.  (she proceeds
  to give the dwarf a quick summary of her strategy and tactics)
Otto:  (frowns, then grins)  That's...just insane enough that it might
Hope:  It has to.  Without the other two here, we don't have enough magic
  to keep those things away forever.  And we still need to hold some in
  reserve for making camp tonight, and any battles that might come after.
  Basically, we need to buy as much time as possible for Belphanior and
  Skektek to return.
Otto:  While keeping ourselves alive.

  The plan was explained to the others - whose reactions varied widely,
from incredulity to apprehension to excitement - and then it was put into
action.  The riders on horseback grouped up a short distance behind the
wagon, and readied their various weapons.  Hope boarded the wagon, using
its roof hatch as a platform to see what was going on and cast spells as
needed.  As long as the wagon remained in motion, the blades on its side
would cut down any zombies that came too close.  The real challenge was
to keep the wagon moving, and moving fast, while also preventing the team
of horses from colliding with or reacting to the undead.
  In an ideal world, the horses would simply have a gigantic razor-sharp
blade out in front, and would also somehow be fearless and unstoppable.
Such a dream scenario would result in any zombies that got in the way
being mowed down like wheat before a scythe, except with more blood and
gore.  Unfortunately, that wasn't possible...but Hope had incorporated a
few of those ideas.
  In addition to being large and powerful and superbly-trained, the eight
warhorses were also fully-armored and experienced in combat.  Smashing
through zombies wasn't much different than smashing through human foes,
except that human foes tended to move out of the way.  Hope's plan was to
keep the path directly ahead as free of zombies as possible, although none
of the magical means available to her guaranteed that she could do so.
The few Bigby's Hand spells that she was able to cast wouldn't clear the
way fast enough, nor would Mordenkainen's Sword.  Telekinesis wasn't an
option either, as that spell's power could only be used to sweep the path
clear a single time.  While planning ahead previously, Hope had concluded
that her best bet was to use her newly-acquired wand of frost to try and
immobilize any zombies that were getting too close to the road ahead of
the wagon.  The wand's cold powers wouldn't destroy or damage the things,
but they could slow them down and keep them from obstructing the road.  If
she happened to see a sizable concentration of the things, she could even
use the wand to summon a wall of ice to block their way.
  Williamson's job was to use his crossbow to help slow down any zombies
that approached the road, hopefully until the wagon was past.  Hope would
put her wand away and do the same - with magical missiles and sheets of
flame - if that need arose.  And if things got really bad and any of the
undead actually made their way onto the road and blocked the path...Otto
intended to drive the wagon right through them.  If necessary, Hope would
cast a spell of fear on the horses, but not for the purpose of terrifying
them beyond any hope of control.  The eight animals were big, strong, and
well-trained; a spell such as this would just scare them, not render them
useless - she hoped.  If it worked, the magic would spur them to faster
speeds and cause them to care less about the rotting corpses all around.
If it didn't work, the gods only knew what would happen, but it would
likely lead to a wrecked wagon and zombie feasting.  If that happened,
at least those companions not riding in the wagon had the option to flee
on horseback...or to ditch their horses and get inside the wagon.
  The use of the fear spell was by no means guaranteed to work, and it
was absolutely a last-ditch measure, only to be used in the event of the
road being blocked by a large number of undead, too many to simply plow
through.  It would also be a one-shot measure, thus the idea to use the
wagon as shelter if the desperate tactic failed.  If that happened and
the wagon crashed, they'd have to hurry since zombies would overrun it
in short order.

Otto:  And we'll secure the hatch and hole up until Belphanior and Skektek
  return from their mission, we figure out another plan, the zombies break
  into the wagon, or we starve to death.  (he smiles thinly)  But let's
  make sure we don't get to that point.

  The good news was that the undead didn't appear to realize that their
best course of action was to simply gather on the road; they milled about
and slowly began making their way toward the approaching wagon.  Very few
of them were even within ten feet of the wagon's intended path.  The bad
news was that there were scores of them scattered all about the terrain
ahead, as far as the eye could see.

Hope:  Thank the gods they're not intelligent.
Irina:  Please...don't tempt fate.
Otto:  (tightens his grip on the reins, and nods to Hope)  Now?
Hope:  (going through various spells in her mind)  Yep.
Otto:  Get ready, everyone!

next:       the mad charge of the war wagon
released:   11/6/20
notes:      Just to be clear, because someone will ask:  this story begins
  a very short time before the end of the last one.  I went back in time,
  narratively, to show the events from the perspective of those to whom
  they happened.  And regarding the unknown quote at the top of this one,
  sometimes in the past I would jot down a good quote but fail to note the
  source.  That was long ago; for at least the last ten years, I've taken
  care to jot down the attribution too.
    As for the party's plan, yeah, I know it's insane.  Not every element
  of every story has to make perfect sense and obey all rules of the game
  system.  Sometimes, I just want to do something entertaining.  There
  actually wasn't a plan for this to happen as it did; after I thought
  about how Belphanior and Skektek were away on a side mission, I then
  realized that Hope isn't the sort to stock a lot of combat magic, and
  then I took all this as a challenge.  I had to look at her commonly-
  memorized spells, plus the scant few magic items she's got right now,
  and strategize the party's best chance to survive.  No, it's not the
  best plan - but it's the best plan under these circumstances.
    Oh, and it'll be FUN to watch this huge armored wagon - pulled by a
  team of big, strong, armored warhorses and manned by a skilled wizard
  and a crossbowman - thunder down a wilderness road full of zombies.
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