Chapter #1049

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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:          afternoon                                              +
+   Place:         an unknown land on the far side of the mists           +
+   Climate:       sunny but chilly                                       +
+   "Have you got any ideas that won't get us killed?"                    +
+     "I've got a few I'm working on."                                    +
+                                          - from _The Expendables 2_     +

                   MXLIX.  Reconvergence

  The party had previously split into two smaller groups, each with its
own mission and challenges.  Belphanior and Skektek flew east to warn or
assist the caravan led by the merchant Cooper - but instead found a gory
massacre with no survivors.  Meanwhile, everyone else headed west with
the giant war-wagon - but encountered more zombies than their lone wizard
(Hope) could handle, and had to make a mad break through the ranks of the
wandering undead.  For some time now, the former team has been attempting
to rejoin the latter, but various distractions keep slowing that effort...

Belphanior:  (soaring through the air above the ground, as is Skektek to
  his left)  The others obviously had some sort of skirmish and fled.  We
  need to-
Skektek:  Look there!

  The skinny wizard was pointing to a cloud of dust in the distance, away
from the road they were following.  They couldn't make out any details of
its source or cause, but it did raise some interesting questions.

Belphanior:  What now?
Skektek:  Could be our friends...or some of them, split off from the rest.
  (he frowns)  I sure hope not.
Belphanior:  We can't afford to ignore it - and we can get there fairly
  quickly.  Let's go.

  They veered north, sailing through the sky thanks to their magic; in
short order, they bore down on the source of the small cloud of dust.  It
wasn't their companions, though.  A pair of riders were making their way
across the grassland, changing direction as necessary to avoid the zombies
that sporadically roamed about.  They weren't concentrated in large packs,
but there were hundreds of them visible all around - this region was quite
clearly infested with the things.

Skektek:  Where the hell are all of them coming from?
Belphanior:  That may be a mystery for another time.
Skektek:  And why are those people riding away in a random direction?
Belphanior:  Maybe we can solve that now-

 As they watched, one of the riders' mounts began weaving erratically,
then stumbled briefly before crashing to the ground.  The other rider
reined in, obviously wanting to help the first but also mindful of the
large numbers of undead roaming the area.  Even now, a half-dozen were
shambling toward the two riders from various directions.

Belphanior:  (mumbling)  This must be my week to be charitable.
Skektek:  What was that?  Did you say you're going down there to help?
Belphanior:  Cover me from the air, if necessary.
Skektek:  I thought that's what you said.
Belphanior:  And I don't just mean against any zombies.  For all we know,
  those riders could be hostile.

  The elf descended, landing on the ground near the fallen horse and
rider.  The second rider watched his arrival in disbelief, and didn't
waste much time stating an opinion.

rider #2:  (throws back her hood, revealing dark skin, long black hair,
  and an attractive, if currently scowling face)  Who the fuck are you?
Belphanior:  Heh.  I like you already.
rider #2:  (draws a shortsword from the sheath at her side)
Belphanior:  (unsheathes his own blade, takes a few steps toward a zombie
  that approaches, and decapitates the creature in one smooth motion)  If
  you're going to draw a weapon, then use it.
rider #2:  I like you already.
Belphanior:  (gestures at the fallen rider with a nod of his head)  How
  badly is he hurt?

  The downed rider was pinned under his horse - a horse which the elf now
noticed had several bite wounds, undoubtedly recently inflicted by undead.
The man appeared to be gravely wounded, though it was hard to tell since
he was trapped under the fallen animal.

rider #2:  (leaps off of her horse in a deft motion, stabs her sword into
  the soft ground, and kneels near her fallen companion, while addressing
  Belphanior without turning to face him)  Well, don't just stand there -
  lend a hand.
Belphanior:  Hmph.  (he wipes his sword on some grass, sheathes it, and
  moves to assist)  How is-
rider #1:  (screams as they attempt to pull him out from under his horse)
Belphanior:  That's not going to help keep the zombies away.
rider #2:  It doesn't matter.  (she points to one of the man's forearms,
  which has a large chunk bitten out of it)
Belphanior:  Crap.  I'm sorry.
rider #1:  (grimaces, blood trickling from his mouth and nose)  I think
  my leg's broken too...damn it.  I don't want to become one of those
  things.  (he turns to the woman, a silent plea in his eyes)  Can you...?
rider #2:  (stands, setting her jaw grimly)  I can.  (she pulls her sword
  from the ground)
Belphanior:  Do you want me to do it?  Since I don't know him, you know.
  It might be easier.
rider #2:  (regards the elf curiously)  You strike me as someone who is
  accustomed to taking lives.  (she shakes her head)  The offer is much
  appreciated, but the answer is no.  He was my companion, and I can do
  this.  And will.

  The warrior-woman (for Belphanior had already concluded this to be her
profession) spun on one booted heel, walked over to her fallen comrade,
and raised her weapon.

warrior-woman:  I'm truly sorry.
rider #1:  I can already feel my arm going numb, and I'm becoming queasy.
  (he smiles sadly)  Do it.  (with that, he closes his eyes)

  A moment later, she had both put the man out of his misery and ensured
that he wouldn't be getting back up to roam the land in search of flesh to

warrior-woman:  (cleans her blade on a dirty blanket that fell from the
  horse's saddlebags when it toppled earlier)
Belphanior:  Are you okay?
warrior-woman:  (nods)  These things happen.  War is hell.
Belphanior:  Are we at war here?
warrior-woman:  Not in any official sense, but we might as well be.  (she
  goes through her slain companion's saddlebags and then his body, taking
  a few items)  In case you're wondering, no, I'm not a thief.  This is me
  retrieving things that might prove useful later.  (she stands, regarding
  the elf carefully)  If there is a later.  What now?
Belphanior:  Now, we need to get out of here before more of those undead
  show up.  They're slow, but they never stop.  And without healing magic,
  we can't treat their bites, making even a scratch potentially fatal.
warrior-woman:  That's for damn sure.  (she walks toward her horse)
Belphanior:  I've got some companions of my own to find and rejoin, and
  possibly help.  There's safety in numbers, and you can obviously handle
  yourself.  You're welcome to join us.  If you want, I can fly you there.
warrior-woman:  (looks up to consider Skektek, a hundred feet above)  He's
  one of yours, I assume?
Belphanior:  Yep.  If we needed it, he could blast any nearby zombies with
  anything from magical bolts to a booming fireball.
warrior-woman:  Well, that comes in damn handy.  Our wizard was the second
  to get bitten, after our priest got his throat torn out...and then came
  back to life.  So magic wasn't an option, and now they're all dead.  All
  but me.  (she regards the elf again)  Sure, I'll go with you.  But you
  can fly on your own - I'm not leaving this horse.  She and I have been
  through a lot together.
Belphanior:  Okay...
warrior-woman:  You fly, and I'll follow.  I can avoid the creatures, by
  riding around them; my horse is strong, and more importantly, didn't get
  bitten by any of those things.  (she frowns)  Does that work for you?
Belphanior:  (weighs the options)  We'll make it work.  I need to get back
  to my team, because they could be in trouble, but Skektek up there can
  fly on ahead and help if needed.  I'll fly more slowly to guide you, and
  that way I can help if something does go wrong on the ground here.
warrior-woman:  Makes sense, and thanks for caring.  (she extends a hand)
Belphanior:  Belphanior.

  With that, they got underway.  The elf ascended and briefed Skektek on
these latest developments.

Skektek:  Another castaway?  We seem to be building a collection.
Belphanior:  We need all the people we can get, and besides, I like her
  attitude.  And she seems to know what she's doing.
Skektek:  Guess we'll see.  So you want me to fly after our wagon and
  rejoin them?
Belphanior:  Right.  I'll lag behind and protect her from the air, if it
  becomes necessary.  She's kind of hard-headed.
Skektek:  It's your call.  (he nods, and turns in midair to head west once
  more)  See you soon.

  The wizard flew away, and the elf descended again to discuss the travel
route with the warrior-woman on the ground.

Paige:  (holding her horse's reins in one hand, and her shortsword in the
  other)  What's the plan?
Belphanior:  Head back south to the road, then turn east.  Or hell, cut
  the corner and go diagonal.  (he begins gesturing with his hands)  That
  is, take this angle to-
Paige:  (smirks)  I know what diagonal means.
Belphanior:  Right.  So we're following the tracks of a big wagon, which
  should have stuck to the road.  Be aware that the last we could tell,
  our people were fighting their way through zombies, so be careful.  I'll
  watch from the air, employ magic if you need help, and if things get
  really bad, I'll fly down.
Paige:  Magic?  You don't much look like a spellcaster.
Belphanior:  I suppose I don't much look like anything.  But appearances
  can be deceiving, especially in a land like this.  (he looks around at
  the dozen zombies that have closed to within a hundred feet or less)
  It's time to move.  Are you sure you're ready for this?
Paige:  (turns her sword back and forth, eyeing its blade)  You're damn
  right I am.

  They headed back toward the road, soon joining it from an angle and
then continuing westward.  Belphanior was able to move through the sky
at a comfortable pace, while keeping an eye on the lone, determined rider
below.  As they traveled onward, further signs of the wagon's passage
became apparent, as did greater numbers of roaming zombies both near the
road and elsewhere.  The elf even saw something that looked like an old
farmstead, in the distance and completely overrun with the undead.
  Checking on the progress of Paige, riding her horse parallel to the
road below, he watched her guide her mount around yet another staggering
zombie to avoid an encounter.  Either the horse had a tremendous amount
of discipline, or it knew its mistress well - or both.  Whatever the case,
she was paying attention to her surroundings and expertly steering clear
of the creatures.  Belphanior didn't relax, though - he knew that things
could change at any moment.  A loose rock beneath a unseen hole
in the ground...a sudden muscle cramp...any of these things could cause
the horse to fall, and its rider to be stranded on foot, out in the open.

Belphanior:  (sees something unusual and impressive in the distance)  Eh?

  In short order, the elf realized that he'd found his companions...and
that they had prepared a massive defensive position.  A large square of
ground was surrounded by a freshly-excavated moat about thirty feet wide
and almost as deep.  A narrow path of intact land led to that central
area; presumably this earth would be dug out last, to complete the moat.
The square piece of land, over fifty feet on a side, held the war-wagon,
the horses, and the remainder of the party.

Skektek:  (flies over)  How about this?
Belphanior:  Hope did all that?
Skektek:  Yep.  I was going to go find some zombies to blast, before they
  could reach the outer ditch...but Hope and the others signaled me, I
  descended to talk to them, and they advised that we conserve our magic
  until we really need it.
Belphanior:  (surveying the defenses)  It's too bad we don't have enough
  oil to fill that whole thing.
Skektek:  A damn shame.  How's our new friend?
Belphanior:  (notes Paige guiding her horse across the narrow pathway into
  the camp, a hundred feet below)  Well, I'd better go catch up, make the
  necessary introductions, and so on.

  Momentarily, everyone was reunited on the ground and busy sharing their
stories of recent events.  Hope had ended her spell with the excavation
of the last strip of intact land, temporarily (at least) protecting the
large square piece of land from any overland approach.

Hope:  -and this was the best course of action, given the state of the
  wagon's team of horses, and the spells available to me.
Otto:  (nods)  She's right.  That ditch won't stop an endless number of
  zombies, but the way it's been dug, they can't climb up the edges on
  either side, and it's deep enough to hold hundreds of them.
Skektek:  Can you imagine if thousands of zombies fell in, and then we
  could somehow fill it up with oil and ignite it?
Hope:  I can imagine that it would stink.
Irina:  (smirks)
Hope:  Anyway, that's the plan.  If the ditch all around us isn't enough,
  we'll erect a wall of fire.  It can cover this piece of land, it only
  gets hot and burns on the outer side, and I can maintain it for quite
  some time.
Belphanior:  (puts a hand on her shoulder)  Outstanding work.  You should
  go get some rest...just in case.  The rest of us can hold the fort, so
  to speak.
Hope:  Sounds good.  Even a short nap would help.
Irina:  (to Paige)  We're glad to have you here.
Paige:  I can't say I'm glad to be here - I'd rather be holed up in some
  big, fortified city.  Actually, I'd rather be in my homeland instead of
  this forsaken place.  (she pats her sword)  But, given the circumstances
  now, I'm happy to take a stand and fight with you people.
Belphanior:  (makes a note to question her later, at a less chaotic time,
  about where exactly she came from, and how)
Otto:  We've only got a few hours until dark.  I'd suggest we figure out
  a plan for sentries, illumination, whatever defense we'll have for this
  side of the ditch before using the fire-wall, and so on.
Belphanior:  (crosses his arms, surveying the surrounding landscape and
  the hundreds of zombies wandering around out there...most of which now
  seem to be gradually making their way toward the magically-fortified

next:       siege
released:   11/20/20
notes:      Whenever I introduce new NPCs, I usually have a real-life
  person in mind as the "physical role model" for the character.  For
  some reason, I see Paige in my mind's eye as Tessa Thompson (known
  for, among other roles, Valkyrie in recent Marvel Cinematic Universe
    So, much like this entire arc accidentally ended up getting released
  around Halloween (which was appropriate)...the next episode, 1050, will
  be released during Thanksgiving weekend.  When possible, I always like
  to release a big, extra-sized episode for a holiday weekend, and I also
  like the big-number multiples (xx25, xx50, and so on) to be jumbo size.
  I guess it will all come together for 1050.  It's my intention to end
  this sub-arc in that same episode as well (meaning they'll traverse the
  mists again, and end up in a new land.)
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