Chapter #1054

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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                               +           +
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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!                                          +
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+   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                +
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+   Date:          unknown (just over three weeks since arrival)          +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the town of Holmburg, within a new land                +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
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+   "We might not find anything."                                         +
+   "I found something."                                                  +
+                - from _Stranger things_ episode 1.3 (_Holly, Jolly_)    +
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                   MLIV.  About Holmburg





  Last night, the party arrived in a new land, made their way into the
town of Holmburg, and secured supper and lodging for the night.  Now, as
a new day begins, a few early risers share a hearty breakfast and some
conversation in the inn's common room...

Belphanior:  (stares at the plates of sausages, eggs, and toast)  I have
  to say, this food's pretty good.
Otto:  Anything would be, after all that time on the road eating rations.
  But yeah, I agree.  It's delicious.
Irina:  If the others knew, they'd all be awake this early.  (she tucks
  into yet another helping of food, then notices Otto regarding her)  Eh?
  What?
Otto:  Nothing.  It's just...damn, you can eat.
Irina:  (smirks, her mouth full of food)  Yes, I can.  I've never been one
  to get fat from eating well and often.  Such is the benefit of being and
  staying active, I suppose.
Belphanior:  That's for sure.  (he glances around the large room, where a
  handful of other people are also having breakfast)

  Given the excellent supper upon arrival, the restful night's sleep, and
now this hearty repast...it was safe to say that the Coat of Arms inn had
been a good choice.  Flush with funds from their recent adventures within
the Barony of Tarkus, the party had splurged for individual rooms.  This
sudden influx of business had made the innkeeper quite happy (and thankful
that he directed his chambermaids to always keep a number of rooms clean
and ready for unexpected large groups of guests.)  Even Miriam, who wasn't
a functional member of the group, was given a room of her own.  As for the
rooms themselves, they were small but well-kept and tidy - perfect for any
who needed a good night's sleep in a decent establishment.
  Finding space for their transportation had been a bit more difficult.
The inn's stable had plenty of room for horses, but the gigantic wagon was
another matter entirely.  Eventually Otto had found a large barn on a side
street, whose supposed owner had agreed to store the wagon for a sizable
fee.

Otto:  Hell, for all I know, the wagon's gone.
Irina:  If it is, we only lost some barrels of oil and water, and other
  supplies that are easily replaced.
Otto:  (thinking back to the time in the land full of zombies)  And it's
  possible that the wagon already served its purpose.
Belphanior:  There aren't many places in a town this size to hide such a
  wagon...and if someone takes it out, we can always scout from the air.
  It wouldn't be hard to find.
Otto:  Nor would the guy I paid for the use of the barn.  (frowns)  Which
  would give me something different and exciting to do today.  (he turns
  to Belphanior)  Speaking of which, what _is_ our next move?
Belphanior:  Information.  We need information.  (he rubs his chin)  So
  we'll split into smaller teams to get it.  (he looks at them both)  And
  you two are going to be the other team leaders.

  The plan for the morning was threefold.  The first team - Belphanior,
Benjamin, and Paige - would wander around town, familiarizing themselves
with its layout and people.  They would also speak to barkeeps, merchants,
and so on to gather as much information as possible about both Holmburg
and the nearby region.  The second team - Otto, Skektek, Razor Charlie,
and Williamson - would be in charge of securing a better, longer-term
place to store the big wagon.  They would then take a complete inventory
of the party's weapons and supplies, and restock such items as necessary.
The third team - Irina, Hope, and Poulos - would go in search of anything
that could bolster the group's magical capabilities.  This could range in
scope from a guild of wizardry to a magic shop to a temple (if indeed any
of the latter could even be found in this realm.)
  The planning process raised the question of Miriam and her role (and
future, a future which certainly couldn't be with the party) but things
worked themselves out on their own later that morning...

Miriam:  I thank you for everything you've done, and I'll be on my way
  now.  I intend to make a new home for myself here in this town.
Belphanior:  (nods, taking some gold coins from a belt pouch)  Here's a
  stake to get you started-
Miriam:  (shaking her head)  I appreciate the gesture, and most people
  would have just taken your money, but honesty is one of my qualities.
  And I brought my own valuables when I left Ermoor.
Belphanior:  You're sure?
Miriam:  Yes.  Again, you have my thanks.  Perhaps one day soon, I'll be
  in a position of power here; if that happens, you may certainly call on
  me for anything you need.
Belphanior:  I'll...bear that in mind.  Farewell.

  The elf watched her walk away, and had to wonder what her plan was and
how she intended to survive and thrive here.  One thing he didn't wonder
about was whether he'd ever need her help - for he didn't plan to remain
in Holmburg for the long term.

Belphanior:  (shaking his head, he walks back over to the others who are
  waiting for him)  All ready?
Benjamin:  Ready.
Paige:  It's always fun scouting a new town.  (she cracks her knuckles)
  We'll be able to get lunch during this, right?

  With that, they set off on their adventure, just as Otto and Irina's
groups already had.  The plan was for everyone to meet back at the inn
that afternoon, no later than dusk.  Not that Belphanior was too worried
about trouble; each of the teams had a wizard and at least two others
who were skilled fighters.  In any case, Holmburg just didn't seem like
a lawless or hostile town.  Its people had, so far, been friendly (if a
bit cautious) and there had been no problems last night or today.  In
the elf's experience, any trouble usually cropped up in the first half-
day or so after arrival in a new place.
  Nevertheless, later that afternoon he was quietly relieved to see the
last of the three teams join everyone else.  They were gathered inside
the middle of a series of three of the rented rooms, to ensure that their
conversation would be private.  Otto stood near the window, periodically
glancing outside just in case.  Each of the groups had spent half the day
making their way around town and dealing with their various assignments,
and now it was time to share all of their findings.

Belphanior:  Okay, then.  I'll start.  This place, Holmburg, is one of a
  number of towns in the land of Wallaris.  There are others - Avaria,
  Dimvale, Serpis, Valley's Edge - and several are within a day's ride...
  but Holmburg is the largest, and the closest to-  (he points vaguely at
  the window)  -that castle.  Which I'll come back to in a moment.
Benjamin:  The people here are decent, hard-working folks who seem to work
  together to get by, and make the most of their situation.
Paige:  And Holmburg has everything anyone could need - inns and taverns,
  stables, gardens, some farmland just outside of town, on the far side...
  two blacksmiths, all sorts of merchants and skilled tradespeople, even
  a brothel.  Though that's not advertised as such, and only seems to be
  tolerated because of payments made under the table.  (she shrugs at the
  expressions on some of the others' faces)  What can I say?  You learn a
  lot by getting out there and talking with people.
Belphanior:  (nods grimly)  As for the castle, it's ruled by a Lord Marek,
  who is almost certainly a vampire based on the tales people tell.  (he
  unconsciously checks the significantly-lighter coin pouch on his belt)
  Tales whose telling was encouraged by silver, I have to say.  He pretty
  much keeps to himself and stays up there, except for infrequent supply
  trips to nearby towns, usually this one.  Those are undertaken by his
  servants, not him - in fact, no one can remember the last time they saw
  him.  (he rubs his chin)  Other than that, we don't have much else about
  Marek, aside from his presence up there for as long as anyone here can
  remember, and a pretty much universal fear of him and his dark castle.
  This town is afraid, to the very last person, it seems.
Otto:  But apparently not afraid enough to band together and go up there
  and do something?
Belphanior:  It seems that they leave him alone, and he leaves them alone.
Benjamin:  (hesitantly)  Don't forget the part about how they came to be
  here...
Belphanior:  Yes.  Over a century ago, before the birth of anyone possibly
  still alive here today, this town and the others - and the castle - were
  all brought to this dark land through some unknown means.  (he shakes his
  head)  I know it sounds crazy, but multiple people told us that story or
  some variant of it.  Of course, since none of them could have actually
  been alive to witness it, the details are a bit vague.  (he crosses his
  arms and sighs)  And that's all my team has to report.  Otto, what news
  do you have for us?
Otto:  The wagon's been moved to a larger, more secure barn where it now
  sits, and we're paying by the week.  Luckily for the owner of the first
  barn, he was legitimate and didn't try to steal our wagon.
Razor Charlie:  (twirling one throwing knife between his fingers, he just
  grimaces)
Otto:  We also bought a few dozen crossbow bolts, and commissioned a bunch
  more with silver tips, but that second thing will take some time.  The
  ones we have in hand are with me and Williamson.  Also, the war-wagon
  now contains three more barrels of oil, a case of iron spikes, several
  coils of good rope, and a dozen other things.  All of that's locked
  inside, where it rests in the barn.
Skektek:  The second barn.
Williamson:  (pleased with the well-made bolts they purchased, and the
  fact that more are on the way, he just stands there, leaning against a
  wall)
Otto:  Oh, and even though this wasn't on the list, we found the thieves'
  guild and got rid of all the gems and jewelry that needed to be fenced.
  (he tosses a small pouch of coins to Belphanior)
Belphanior:  Thanks.
Skektek:  (frowns, irritated that he didn't get to go look for spells and
  such)
Otto:  That's it from our group.
Belphanior:  Last but not least...Irina?
Irina:  I'll let Hope go first, as her update is more directly useful.
Hope:  Very well.  The good news is that this town actually has a wizards'
  guild.  The bad news is that any of the three of us have more magical
  knowledge than anyone in the guild, and so there's not much they can do
  to bolster our spellbooks.  However...(she turns to Poulos)
Poulos:  (hands her two small, wrapped parcels)
Hope:  (hands one to Skektek, and the other to Belphanior)  I got each of
  us a fresh supply of blank scrolls, magical ink, and a few other things.
  Skektek, your package also has a potion of gaseous form and a ring of
  warmth.
Skektek:  (looks shocked)
Hope:  Belphanior, yours contains a potion of speed, and also a wand of
  treasure finding.
Belphanior:  Err...thanks.
Hope:  (also produces a single vial, handing it to Benjamin)  This is a
  potion of heroism.  It will help you in battle.
Benjamin:  Uh...thanks.
Hope:  For my part, I bought a cloak, to help protect me against weapons
  and other attacks.  And a wand of illumination.
Skektek:  That's nice.  But wouldn't a wand of fire have been more useful?
  Or some potions of healing?  Or-
Hope:  I don't think you understand.  These things were ALL THEY HAD.  I
  cleaned them out.
Skektek:  (ceases his fussing for now)
Paige:  (holds her tongue, rather than ask out loud what the hell the
  skinny wizard's problem is) 
Belphanior:  How did you fund this?
Hope:  I bartered...shared a handful of my spells with the guild.  Plus
  my potion of clairvoyance.  (she frowns)  And, well...all of the coins
  in my possession.
Belphanior:  Oh.
Hope:  I figure I'll have more soon.  We always seem to acquire more money
  sooner of later.  And the wizards there were quite pleased with the deal.
Belphanior:  That was...resourceful.  Good job.
Skektek:  (fuming to himself)
Hope:  As for potions of healing, that's not a matter for wizards, but
  rather for priests.  I'll let Irina cover that.
Irina:  Well, we've got a bit of good news there.  This town actually has
  a temple, and from what I saw, an actual deity that interacts with the
  priests there, grants them spells, and so on.  (she frowns)  I would of
  course prefer an actual temple of Istus, so that _I_ could have spells
  granted, but still...this is better than nothing.
Belphanior:  (thinking of the sort of holy might they will need to go up
  against the vampire in the castle overlooking the town)  What kind of
  capabilities are we talking about here?
Irina:  When we were there, I only saw acolytes and such...capable of some
  simple curative magic, but not much more.  There's only one high priest,
  and he wasn't available for some reason.  They advised me to come back
  later, and that he might be able to speak with us then.
Belphanior:  "Later" may be sooner than they think.  I want some answers.
  Anything else?
Irina:  (opens her satchel, and starts handing small metal vials to each
  of the group)  Potions of healing.  Sorry...I only had enough funds to
  buy one for each of us.
Otto:  (thinking about how challenging their recent adventures have been
  without any healing potions or magic)  No apologies necessary - this is
  great.  Thanks!
Belphanior:  (realizes that maybe, when the party first arrived in this
  realm from Oerth and funds seemed sparse, he should have asked each of
  the party what coins or gemstones they were carrying, and taken up a
  collection)  Hmm.  (he then quickly realizes that perhaps things worked
  out better this way, with each person empowered to do what they thought
  necessary)  Agreed.  Great work.  (he looks around)  And that goes for
  all of you.  We're in good shape now, I think:  we've left the zombies
  behind, we're in a land where things seem reasonably stable and we have
  a fighting chance, and we're rested and fed.  The next step is to visit
  that temple again, talk to the priest and get some answers, and then see
  about this vampire in the castle up there.
Paige:  We're going up against a vampire who rules this place, and who we
  know nothing about?
Belphanior:  (holds up his hands, palms out)  I didn't say that.  We've no
  need to pick a fight with anyone, much less a vampire who's most likely
  old and powerful.  No, my thinking runs along another path...I'm hoping
  this Lord Marek has spells or knowledge, or both, that will help us get
  out of this place and back to where we belong.
Skektek:  But can we be sure?
Belphanior:  Just the possibility - as with many chances we've taken over
  the years - is worth looking into.  But first, I'd like to try and get
  some more information, and we know the best place for that.  (he cracks
  his knuckles)  Very well, then.  I'll take a few of you and head to this
  temple of...(to Irina)  What was their god's name again?
Irina:  Athon.
Belphanior:  The temple of Athon.  Irina, Hope, Poulos - you're with me.
  Let's go see what we can find out.





next:       some more background
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   12/25/20
notes:      A Christmas episode?  It's been a while.  Thank goodness for
  automation, allowing such things to be send/posted without live work
  being necessary.  Of course, this one featured events more suited to
  a Halloween episode, but oh well.
    Wednesday morning, October 21 2020...between about 6-7 am...that was
  when, while out on my daily 5-mile morning walk in the dark, I came up
  with pretty much the entire plot for this story arc.  This included the
  setting, the major local players, their motivations, and a rough linear
  chart of how events would unfold and play out.  By the time you read
  this, I'll have written that entire arc and it will be released in the
  upcoming weeks.  I hope it turns out as well as my ideas and enthusiasm
  felt that one morning, when the story wrote itself as I walked in the
  cold, dark morning.
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