Chapter #1048

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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!                                          +
+   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                                       +
+   "That's not an option."                                               +
+   "You're right.  It's not an's the ONLY option."           +
+          - from _The Ice Limit_ by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child    +

                   MXLVIII.  Mad Charge of the War Wagon

  Facing zombies scattered near and around the road ahead, the party has
weighed all possible options (which were significantly fewer given the
temporary absence of Belphanior and Skektek.)  The mounted adventurers
are grouped directly behind the big, armored wagon - which is now being
driven down the road at a high rate of speed.  They are counting on its
weight, momentum, and armament to help it plow right through (over) any
zombies that wander into the road.

Otto:  Here we go!

  The idea, as planned previously, was for Hope and Williamson to use
their longer-range attacks to keep the road clear of the mindless undead,
as best as they could.

Williamson:  (spots a lone zombie shambling toward the edge of the road,
  and puts a bolt through its skull, knocking it down)
Hope:  (seeing a group of four undead walking dangerously close to the
  path ahead, she blasts them with her wand of frost, immobilizing them
  where they stand in a pile of snow and ice)

  These attacks had to be calculated to have the best chance to prevent
a foe (or foes) from blocking their path, as they didn't have an infinite
number of bolts or spells.  This wasn't a crapshoot - undead that were
nowhere near the road needed to be ignored, and if multiple creatures got
close, a quick decision had to be made.  After a dozen zombies were shot
or frozen in place, the inevitable happened...

Hope:  There's one getting close-
Otto:  Got it!  (he grips the reins tightly, mouthing a silent prayer
  that whoever trained the warhorses did a good job, and that they won't
  break from their course in the presence of a zombie)

  As the huge wagon thundered by, one of the undead meandered along the
edge of the road, standing there watching the vehicle thunder toward it.

zombie #31:  (moving its arms slowly as it shambles about)  Urrrrrrr...

  The large, razor-sharp blade on that side of the wagon - a modification
specifically ordered by Belphanior back in the manor of the mayor, Jaron
Mendenhall - sliced the creature neatly in two at the waist as the wagon
sped by.

zombie #31:  Urrr?  (it looks around for a moment, before its top half
  separates from its bottom half and falls to the ground, still staring
  at the intact legs and waist, which remain standing in place)  Uuuuuh.
Otto:  (looking back briefly)  Glad that worked as designed.

  The dwarf would have preferred a large blade out in front, but would
simply need to work with what he had.  Should a zombie wander out in
front of the wagon, he had a bit of control to move left or right and hit
it at the most favorable angle.  He figured the heavy warhorses would
easily trample one or even two of the things; the real danger would come
from a collision with a larger pack of them.

Otto:  (watches as Williamson knocks another zombie out of the way with
  a well-aimed crossbow bolt to the head)  Heh.

  He had to admit, the kid was good in a fight.  It wasn't like every one
of his shots hit its mark perfectly, but in general he had remained calm
under pressure, taking his time to aim, fire, and reload.  Hope, too, was
doing her part; the wand was making it easy for her to deal with the foes
ahead of time.  More than one group had been stopped before getting close
enough to the road to pose a threat.  Behind the wagon were a number of
small groups of undead, frozen in place, moaning and waving their arms in
the air uselessly.
  She also mixed things up a bit, using magic missiles a couple of times
when that tactic made more sense than the wand.  And of course, those who
rode behind the wagon had some opportunities to pick off stragglers that
got close, but not close enough to be hit by the wagon.

Poulos:  (riding behind the wagon, he swings his massive curved blade,
  lopping off a zombie's head)
Benjamin:  (from horseback, he times his attack, then slashes at another
  creature on the other side behind the wagon, slicing away a piece of
  its rotten head)
zombie #18:  Urk?  (it flails at the air uselessly)
Irina:  (as her horse gallops past, she swings her mace, bashing another
  undead foe's head in)
Otto:  (scanning the road ahead, he notices something off to the right,
  about fifty feet off the road, which turns out to be a small overturned
  wagon which has burst open, and whose horses are now being devoured by
  about a dozen zombies)  So we're not the only ones in trouble out here.
Williamson:  Should we-
Otto:  (notes a handful of fallen people, who are also in the process of
  being eaten, as they roll past at a high rate of speed)  We can't stop,
  and they're all dead anyway.  (he spots something else in the distance
  ahead)  Uh-oh.  Hope - heads up!
Hope:  Crap.

  The white-haired sorceress was well-spoken, and it took a lot to make
her curse.  In this case, it was enough:  a large group of zombies was
moving across the road, several hundred yards ahead.  The things walked
so slowly that their present course would put most of them directly in
the wagon's path when it reached that point.

Hope:  (without hesitation, she fires a volley of magic missiles at the
  distant group of foes, blasting several of them)

  Most of the ones she hit reeled and spun off from the main group, their
rotting forms lurching in one direction or another.  However, this still
left four or five in their way, and the distance was closing.

Otto:  Is it time?
Hope:  (nods grimly)  It's time.  (she begins casting her spell of fear)
Otto:  (yelling to the others)  Everyone get ready!  We're going to have
  to plow through these zombies!
Irina:  (simply pumps a fist in the air to acknowledge the dwarf)
Poulos:  (tightens his grip on his horse's reins)
Benjamin:  This is completely insane.
Razor Charlie:  (just grimaces, unsure of what will happen)
Hope:  (sets her jaw as her spell finishes)  Well, here goes nothing.

  A subtle magical wave left her hands, radiating forward and into the
team of horses, infusing them with feelings of panic.  She'd never tried
this on animals before - or even heard about such a tactic being tried.
As it turned out, Hope had more or less guessed correctly about the power
of her spell and the discipline of the trained warhorses.  They initially
whined and fought the reins, but then they began a mad gallop, all their
power now harnessed to pull the wagon.  It took every last bit of Otto's
strength (and all of his determination and concentration) to keep control
of the team; he'd looped the reins around his forearms ahead of time, to
avoid accidentally losing them.
  The team of warhorses galloped at full speed, directly into the handful
of zombies still on the road.  The armored bodies of the heavy animals
smashed against the undead, pulverizing several outright while sending
the mangled remains of the others flying out to either side, or overhead.

Otto:  (astutely ducks as a severed arm whizzes by his head)
Poulos:  (with the other riders taking cover behind the wagon, he frowns
  as his horse tramples the remains of a zombie)
Hope:  Well, that went better than I'd have expected.
Williamson:  (lowers the shield he had put in front of himself and Hope
  just before the impact)
Hope:  Thanks.  Zombie blood in our faces couldn't have helped, and might
  have infected us.
Otto:  (holding onto the reins for dear life)  Get back to providing cover
  fire - it's not over yet!

  The bad news was that the effects of Hope's spell would continue for
a short time, during which Otto was having the ride of his life trying
to keep the reins (and keep the wagon on course.)  The good news was that
the horses were staying on the road...and for now they were damn near
unstoppable.  Hope and Williamson kept several other zombies from getting
to the road, but another that did was obliterated by the armored horses
at full gallop.
  Before long, though, the magic faded, and the animals slowed and then
stopped; whatever their emotional state, they still had to rest sometime.
Fortunately, the short but furious charge - both before and during the
burst of unnatural speed - had put the wagon a great distance past the
masses of roaming undead.

Otto:  (talking to the sweating, frothing animals)  Whoa, there...whoa.

  After tying off their own mounts, everyone pitched in to help:  water
and feed were unloaded from the wagon and given to the exhausted horses,
while others set up a guard perimeter with lookouts.  Hope took a quick
inventory of her spells, and the news was actually good:  since she'd
only cast magic missiles and other "minor" spells already today, quite
a few more powerful ones remained.  These included various walls that
could be created and deployed to protect the party, as well as a few
other incantations that could alter the very ground and landscape around

Hope:  (nodding)  I'm actually feeling pretty good about this.  We've got
  plenty of options, some highly useful, some not so much.
Otto:  (catching his breath)  Explain, and quickly.  Those zombies are
  slow, but they may follow us...and if so, they'll catch up eventually.
  These horses need some rest, so we're stuck here for a while.  (he
  stretches and flexes his arms, trying to ease the cramped muscles)
Hope:  Understood.  I'll make this brief.  We've got two basic approaches
  we can take to magically bolster our camp's defenses.  I can either put
  one or more walls in place around us, the most effective of which would
  be a wall of fire, which will last as long as I can concentrate on it.
  Or, I can excavate some ground around us to form a trench or moat which
  they'd conceivably fall into.
Otto:  Let's do both.  Dig out the best, deepest space you can, all around
  us...and then if they get through that, summon the wall of fire.
Hope:  (sighs)  This is going to take all the stamina I have, and I warn
  you, when I get tired tonight, if my concentration lapses for even a
  moment...the wall of fire will vanish.
Otto:  I know, so let's make one hell of a ditch and hope it's enough to
  keep them out.

  Hope had some other magical options available, of varying usefulness in
this situation.  For example, she could transform a large quantity of rock
into mud (and then harden that mud, or change it into dust perhaps.)  This
tactic would only work, however, if most or all of the surrounding ground
was composed of rock - which was doubtful.  She could conjure a massive
square or round wall of ice, or iron, or stone, or even force - but those
were more last-ditch options.  Some of them (particularly the iron and
stone varieties) were permanent and would conceivably protect the wagon,
horses, and adventurers indefinitely...except that eventually, someone
would need to fly out of the opening at the top and forage for food and
drink.  And, of course, any gathered zombies around the sealed wall would
have to be dealt with at some point.
  On the other hand, some spells were all but useless, such as the spell
of disintegration which only affected one creature or a relatively small
piece of nonliving matter.  And then there were those spells which might
be useful, but not as much as those for digging and barriers; webs and
burning hands were among those.  Last but not least, she still had the
wand of frost, which could generate various cold-related effects - but
the amount of magic remaining in this item, which had been used heavily
in the recent charge of the wagon, was unknown.
  The best option seemed to be employing magic to dig away the ground on
all sides of their current position, creating a sizable area of excavated
earth into which approaching undead would tumble and fall.  Other methods
couldn't be employed inside the trench; even if they had the time and raw
materials to fashion spikes, such defenses would have no effect on the
zombies.  Oil could be poured in and ignited, but they didn't have enough
to fill the entire area to be excavated.

Hope:  (busily working her magic, as the surrounding ground ripples, its
  earth moving in wavelike motions with crests and troughs)

  The sorceress had plenty of time to work, and when she was done almost
an hour later, the party's defensive emplacement was complete.  A central
section of untouched ground, about 60' square, held the war-wagon, the
horses, and the adventurers.  Around this, a 30' wide ditch extended in
all directions; it was more than 20' deep.

Irina:  Damn.  (to Hope)  Good work!
Hope:  Thanks...(exhausted, she slumps, and the priestess supports her)
Otto:  I like it.

next:       what Belphanior's been up to
released:   11/13/20
notes:      Move Earth and Wall of Fire, folks.  That's all you need.
  This episode was like "Emergency Defensive Measures Using Spells 101"
  for me, and I was never one to really read all the spells' rules and
  descriptions anyway.
    And by the way, that quote I utilized in this episode's header...the
  book it comes from is a really, really good one.  In addition to their
  large body of work focused on a couple of main characters, they've also
  written some exceptional one-shot stories over the years, among them
  _The Ice Limit_ (and the long-awaited sequel that appeared 16 years
  later) and _Riptide_.  The latter novel is a fictionalized idea about
  what it would look like if the Money Pit at Oak Island actually got
  cleared out and solved.  All of these are highly recommended.
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