Chapter #1053

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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        +
+   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                                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+                                                                         +
+   Benjamin       a human bricklayer-turned-fighter                      +
+   Paige          a human female warrior                                 +
+   Miriam         a shrewd, middle-aged former noblewoman                +
+   Date:          unknown (just over three weeks since arrival)          +
+   Time:          dusk                                                   +
+   Place:         the top of a huge valley within a new land             +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "I hope you find what you're looking for."                            +
+   "I plan to."                                                          +
+                           - from _The Midnight Line_, by Lee Child      +

                   MLIII.  Welcome to Holmburg

  After another trip - this one involuntary - through the strange mists,
the party emerged into a new land.  Afternoon had become dusk, and the
immense valley ahead of them extended to the left and right as far as
they could see.  A long, winding road led down to the sizable town far
below, and the entire scene was dominated by the dark castle perched atop
a jagged spire of rock on the valley's far side.  The small peak's base
was shrouded in trees, from which a long, winding road was barely visible
as it led from the dense woodland toward the gloomy structure far above.

Otto:  Day to night, and now that...(he frowns)  This really is a strange
  land.  (to Belphanior)  What's the play here?
Belphanior:  A reckless person would fly straight to that castle and see
  what's what.  A foolish person would try in vain to find the mists and
  go back.  We're neither, and it's fast becoming dark.  (he points to
  the town at the valley's base)  Down we go.  Otto, drive the wagon as
  fast as you safely can.  We're running out of light.

  With that, they got moving.  Some of the group rode ahead to scout the
way, while others stayed behind the wagon.  In both cases, the wizards
kept spells or items as ready as possible.  Even though there had been no
evidence of foes or ambush, it never hurt to be cautious.  The only reason
one of the wizards didn't employ a spell of flying was that they seemed
close to the town, and the way ahead was still visible in the last rays
of the day's light.

Belphanior:  (out in front, helping lead the group down the long, gently
  sloping road)  When we-

  The elf stopped talking as he heard the faintest of sounds, even less
than a whisper.  It vaguely sounded like someone had spoken his name, but
there was no way to be sure what he'd heard or where exactly it came from.
He listened intently, but the strange noise did not repeat itself.

Belphanior:  Did you hear that?
Benjamin:  Hear what?
Belphanior:  (to Skektek)  How about you?
Skektek:  I didn't hear anything.  Maybe you need rest even more than you
Belphanior:  (frowns, confused)  I could have sworn...hmm.  (he shakes his
  head)  Oh well.
Irina:  (experiencing a vague feeling that _something_ was just nearby,
  though only for a moment, she eyes the distant castle that looms over
  everything in sight, frowning as she considers what might lurk within)

  The air in this new realm was not just chilly (as in the previous land)
but downright cold, and they found themselves bundling up and adding any
additional layers of clothing they possessed.  A crisp wind added to the
frigidity of the climate, and they got the impression that the temperature
here tended to drop significantly as day became night.  On the positive
side, the road was well-built and had obviously been maintained; it had
probably been carved from one large ramp of rock, its twists and turns
resembling a giant, elongated "S" whose sides descended sharply to the
floor of the valley.  The further they descended, the lower the height
of whatever section of road they currently moved across.  Except for the
numerous changes in direction, it was as easy a descent as they could have
hoped for.

Otto:  (chatting with Williamson as he drives the wagon's team of horses)
  -and so you see, from a tactical standpoint, this is smart.  It ensures
  that only a small number can march or ride abreast while coming down
  toward the that trip takes a while because of the way the
  road is designed.
Williamson:  (nods)
Otto:  Hell, someone down there is almost certainly watching us right now,
  and getting ready if need be.  (he frowns)  That's what I'd do.
Williamson:  Hopefully we don't look like much of a threat.
Otto:  Except that we have three wizards.
Williamson:  (confused)  But they don't know that.
Otto:  Right.  For all they know, we have _five_ wizards.  Or ten.
Williamson:  When in doubt, assume the worst?
Otto:  You're learning, kid.

  Out behind and to the side of the wagon, another conversation was taking

Hope:  (spurs her horse, bringing it over next to Paige's)  A word.
Paige:  Sure.
Hope:  About before...I didn't mean to insult you or anything like that.
  Tensions were high, and we had a difficult decision to make.
Paige:  (grins)  No worries.  I wasn't mad, just a little upset after so
  recently losing my entire party.  We're fine.
Hope:  (nods)  Good.
Poulos:  (hangs back, having figured that this discussion would happen
  sooner or later, and wanting to be ready to assist Hope if it didn't
  go well)

  As for Miriam, the noblewoman - now just a woman, really, although she
had prudently kept a handful of small gemstones in a secret pocket within
her clothes - slept a restless sleep within the huge wagon.  Her entire
life had been turned upside down in recent days, as everyone she knew was
now dead (or worse, walking around as a newly-living dead) and her former
position and wealth meant nothing now.  Worse, she'd been taken away to
some completely different land, through mists that had until now she had
never really believed existed.  As tough as she was, she could only take
so much, and her exhausted body and frayed emotions had finally caused
her to lapse into a fitful sleep for the time being.
  That left the stoic Razor Charlie, who rode alone and was more or less
keeping to himself right now.  The lean, scarred warrior was nothing if
not a survivor; this current situation was pretty far beyond his ability
and experience, so he was simply waiting for those who knew about magical
travel and curses and such to figure things out.  Like the slumbering
Miriam, Razor Charlie was out of his element, but unlike her, he would
simply bide his time and look for his opportunity to contribute.  She
had gone quiet because she didn't know what to do (and really couldn't
do anything anyway) while he had gone quiet because he was waiting to
do whatever was needed.  In the warrior's many long, violent years he
had come to know one thing for certain:  at some point, there was always
a need for sharp knives to be employed against adversaries.

Razor Charlie:  (grimaces to himself as he again looks around at this new
  land, reminding himself to take stock of his silver knives when he gets
  a chance)

  The wagon and riders made the trip as quickly as they could - in well
under an hour - but the night had fully arrived by the time they reached
the valley's bottom and continued toward the town.  While unwalled, as
previously noted, it was a fairly dense settlement with high and narrow
buildings constructed close together.  A place like this would have many
dozens of dark, narrow alleys and other such spaces.  Most of the rooftops
were arched, some containing chimneys which vented smoke into the shadowy
sky above.  Yellowish light shone forth from a great number of windows,
indicating that the town had not yet gone to sleep despite the coming of

Belphanior:  Good.  That means we can more easily find lodgings.

  There were some guards stationed at the point where the road widened
as it wound into town.  The five seasoned-looking men wore leather or
chainmail armor, and all carried spears or crossbows in addition to the
various types of swords on their belts.  One of the guards was obviously
in charge and stepped forth to speak with the newcomers.

sergeant:  Good evening, sirs, and welcome to Holmburg.  Kindly state your
  business here.
Belphanior:  (wearily)  It's a bit difficult to explain, but we've been
  on the road all day and are low on supplies and food.  We'd really like
  nothing more than to spend good coin on both - as well as rooms for the
  night - in your fine town.
sergeant:  (nods)  Then you are welcome.  Of course, we'll need to check
  your wagon.
Belphanior:  Please feel free.  We're only carrying some oil, water, and
  whatever sundries remain back there.
Otto:  And an old woman.  (he frowns, rubbing dust from his face with a
  rag)  Who snores like a horse.
sergeant:  Hmm.  (he stands by as the other four check the wagon, noting
  the great quantity of mud, dirt, and trail dust that virtually covers
  all of its surfaces)

  Although he had lied many times about the contents of a wagon he drove
or owned, this time Belphanior had told the truth.

Miriam:  (emerges from the wagon, looking irritated)  -of course I'm fine.
  Other than being woken up too early.  (she looks around at the town they
  are about to enter)  Oh.
guard #5:  (looking at his sergeant, he rolls his eyes before giving the
  thumbs-up signal)
sergeant:  (waves the wagon through then turns to Belphanior again)  Good
  thing you arrived when you did, friend.
Belphanior:  Why's that?
sergeant:  (regarding the darkness, he shudders)  The night has eyes...and
  worse.  No one ventures outside the town after dusk.  (he notes the look
  of concern on the elf's face)  But you needn't worry - it's safe here.
  There are several inns, and you'll see them all as you continue down the
  main street here.  Any of them should have rooms available.
Belphanior:  (passes the man a silver coin)  Many thanks.
sergeant:  Enjoy your stay.

  As the adventurers moved toward the heart of town, and the group of
guards returned to their duties, something else observed this interaction
from afar.

large black bat:  (flying in the air above the edge of town, it circles
  a few times, then heads away, toward the great dark castle atop the
  valley's edge)

next:       they learn more about the town of Holmburg
released:   12/18/20
notes:      I seriously doubt that anyone but me is paying attention to
  this, but for the record, time passes differently in the strange realm
  where Belphanior et al now find themselves.  Here's what happened:  I
  went back and tracked the passage of time for the two groups...

  Belphanior etc.     transported                6/5      (1009)
                      "3 weeks since arrival"             (1037)
                      "just over 3 weeks"                 (1039)
                      morning after siege        7/1      (1050)

  Neera etc.          woke up                    6/5      (1010)
                      working                    7/12     (1042)
                      now                        7/18     (1051)
                                                 7/21     (1051-1052)

    So...we find that Neera's group is 20 days ahead of Belphanior's group
  with respect to lapsed time since the big explosion.  This was no major
  deal except that I didn't want to waste +20 days for Belphanior before
  Neera's attempt to communicate with him.  And the simple solution:  each
  travel through the mists, to a new land, consumed ten days of Oerth time
  for maybe ten minutes of misty-land time.  Done.
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