Chapter #1055

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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       +
+   1991-2021 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                                 +
+   Date:          unknown (over three weeks since arrival)               +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         the town of Holmburg, within a new land                +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "What are we getting into here?"                                      +
+   "We're not getting into anything...we're already there."              +
+           - from _the Equalizer_ episode 1.7 (_The Childrens' Song_)    +

                   MLV.  The Temple of Athon

  After attending to various tasks and gathering information, the party
now prepares for its next move.

Belphanior:  The temple of Athon.  Irina, Hope, Poulos - you're with me.
  Let's go see what we can find out.  (to Otto)  We'll be back soon.  The
  rest of you stay here and lay low.
Otto:  (clutching his sides)  No problem.
Belphanior:  What's wrong?
Otto:  (weakly)  I feel like crap.  Aches and if I'm becoming
Belphanior:  Irina-
Otto:  I'm fine.  (he makes his way to the door)  I just need to lie down
  and rest.
Belphanior:  (watches the dwarf go, then turns to Irina questioningly)
Irina:  (holds up a finger)

  Soon, while Hope and Poulos prepared to accompany them to the temple of
Athon, Belphanior and Irina conversed in the elf's room.

Belphanior:  Could this mean that Otto's going to become a werewolf soon? 
Irina:  As I keep telling everyone, this isn't my area of expertise...but
  yes, I believe that to be the case.
Belphanior:  Damn.  That tome we got from Tarkus' keep might have better
  answers.  If only we had time to read it.
Irina:  Give it to Skektek and tell him to review it while we're gone.  He
  may be the smartest of us not going to the temple - as far as books and
  reading, at any rate - and it's not like he has anything else to do.
Belphanior:  Good idea.
Irina:  But I've been watching the moons for the last few nights.  I'm not
  sure if anyone else has noticed, but all three lands we've been in share
  the same moons, somehow...which is interesting.  And it looks like the
  big crimson moon will be full very soon now...likely tomorrow night, or
  the next.
Belphanior:  We're going to have to secure him, ahead of that...maybe lock
  him in a room, tie him up.  (he sighs)  Something.
Irina:  I'm way ahead of you.  (she hands over two potion bottles)
Belphanior:  What are these?  Not poison, I hope?
Irina:  Gods, no!  These are powerful potions of sleeping.  Hope and I
  thought they might be useful if Otto did...change.  We got them at the
  wizard-guild, with this purpose in mind, but we didn't want to say that
  in front of everyone.
Belphanior:  I see.  (he pockets the small bottles)  Damn good work.  My
  thanks...and Otto's too, no doubt.  Even if he doesn't know it yet.

  After sending Irina to join Hope and Poulos, Belphanior made one more
visit to a tavern room.

Belphanior:  -and someone needs to review this book, and see what can be
  learned about Otto's peculiar situation.  Time is of the essence, and-
Skektek:  You guys are headed to the temple, and I'm not.  (he shrugs)
  It's no problem at all, I can do it.  I was just going to take a nap
  anyway.  And you're right - we can't have Otto running around all wild,
  attacking us or other people.
Belphanior:  Or getting caught and killed by angry townspeople.  That...
  wouldn't help us win any allies or support here in Holmburg.
Skektek:  You think we'll need them before all is said and done?
Belphanior:  We will if we go up against that vampire.
Skektek:  (chuckles)  Vampires, werewolves, zombies.  This sure is weird,
  isn't it?
Belphanior:  Undoubtedly.

  A short time later, the four adventurers approached the temple of Athon.
Two stories high and nestled between other structures, it didn't seem as
impressive as some larger temples back on Oerth.  Then again, its purpose
wasn't to impress, but to help the sick and provide support to those in
need of it.  As they entered, they held the door open for a young mother
who cradled a sleeping infant in her arms.

Irina:  (watches the woman walk away)  Odds are, that child was somehow
  ill before coming here.
acolyte:  (greets them wearily)  Welcome-  (recognition flashes in his
  eyes as he sees Irina)  Oh, it's you again.  Many thanks for your kind
  donations before.  Have you come to make more?
Irina:  (bows slightly, out of respect for the man's religion, even though
  it is not her own)  Not quite.  We again seek the counsel of your high
acolyte:  He is still busy, but-
Belphanior:  No more excuses.  We need to see him, and I mean today.
acolyte:  (shifts uncomfortably)  I can't...that is beyond my...
young priest:  (steps up, putting a hand on the acolyte's shoulder)  It's
  fine, Perthins.  I'll handle this.
Perthins:  (nods gratefully, then walks away)
slender woman:  (busy sweeping the floor, she makes it a point to ignore
  this confrontation as she tidies up)
young priest:  Arusha, why don't you go in the chapel and polish the pews
Arusha:  (curtsies, then meekly scampers away with her broom)
young priest:  (turns to the elf and his companions)  Ah, Then.  So you
  wish to see our high priest?

  The young man was a strapping fellow, perhaps thirty years of age, tall
and broadly built, with a friendly face and short-cropped blond hair.

young priest:  I am Macron, assistant to our high priest Ocrivus.  Before
  we consider whether you can speak with him, I would ask that you refrain
  from threats or violence here.  As you have no doubt seen by now, the
  temple of Athon here is the only such place in the town, and is thus the
  only hope for the sick and wounded.  Harming its priests or destroying
  it would have ill consequences.
Belphanior:  (taken aback by the young man's pleasant attitude and polite
  words)  I...meant no ill intent.  We just desire the truth, rather than
  being told to go away and come back later, every time we come here.
Macron:  (smiles broadly)  Of course.  That is understandable.
  must understand that his holiness Ocrivus cannot entertain all those who
  ask to speak with him.  It is simply not possible.
Belphanior:  Could it be...more possible if I told you that we intended to
  confront the ruler of that dark castle atop the crag?
Macron:  (his eyes widen, and he waits a few moments before speaking next)
Belphanior:  We are strangers here, and know little that we need to know.
Macron:  I can sense that you speak the truth.  Wait here.  (he exits via
  a small door on the chamber's far side, heading deeper into the temple)
Irina:  Well, at least he didn't bolt that door on us.  Or simply ask us
  to leave.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  Diplomacy was never my strong suit.  (to Hope)  Any
  indications from him?
Hope:  (having previously cast a spell to detect magic)  He's definitely
  got some sort of magic item, I'd guess something to detect lies.
Belphanior:  Good thing I was telling the truth, then-

  The inner door opened again, and Macron emerged, a look of resignation
on his face.

Belphanior:  Thank you for hearing our request.  We only thought your high
  priest might have some helpful advice to offer us before we embark on
  our undertaking.
Macron:  (shakes his head)  He will, after a fashion...but it won't be
  what you're expecting.  (he goes back through the small door)  Follow

  The passage was tight, such that they could only walk single-file, and
it extended another twenty feet before intersecting another corridor.  The
young priest led them to the left, that short hallway ending in a spiral
staircase leading around upward.  Its stone steps were old and well-worn,
and it had a high ceiling; the stairway was weakly illuminated by glowing
stones set into the walls at ten-foot intervals.  They emerged onto the
temple's upper floor, spreading out into a small antechamber whose walls
were lined with various religious symbols and regalia.  Macron crossed the
room and opened another door, taking them into a bedchamber that smelled
musty and sour.  An ornate poster bed dominated the room, its sturdy frame
fashioned of silver, its sheets of fine, clean silk.  The bed and sheets
weren't the source of the odd smell, however - the old man resting on them

Macron:  (gestures solemnly)  I present...our high priest Ocrivus.

  The man was ancient, and looked as if he could barely get out of bed,
and not too often at that.  Wrinkles lined his wizened face, and tufts of
white hair were barely visible atop his age-spotted head.  He was sleeping
at the moment, ragged breaths slowly wheezing through his frail frame.

Belphanior:  High...priest...Ocrivus.
Irina:  (glances at the aged man in the bed)  I think I understand why he
  can't see visitors.
Hope:  Can he even walk?
Macron:  He can, but not far, and not for long.  But there's more, that
  you can't even tell from looking at him.  His gone, and has
  been for a very long time now.
Irina:  Yet he's your high priest?
Macron:  (sadly)  He built this very temple, many decades ago.  The town
  owes him a great deal...we all do.  So we tend to him as best as we can
  during his twilight years, as he waits for Athon to finally claim him.
Belphanior:  He's been waiting a while, then?
Macron:  In his youth, Ocrivus was as hale and hearty as I am now.  It's
  no surprise that he's lived this long.  We just wish his faculties were
  still intact, that we might speak to him, receive his counsel, and learn
  from his wisdom.
Hope:  What happened to him?  You said his mind was gone.
Macron:  I do not know.  No one knows...not exactly.  The town's legends
  tell of a great battle between him and Lord Marek, a long time ago -a
  confrontation from which he returned in a diminished state.  He has not
  spoken or shown signs of understanding anything since that time.
Irina:  When was this?
Macron:  Before any of us current priests were here.  The duty of taking
  care of him has been passed down through generations of the priesthood
  of Athon.  And we tend to the people of Holmburg as needed.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  Understood.  Let's go.

  Soon, in the temple's vestibule...

Belphanior:  That venerable fellow upstairs will be no help to us, Macron,
  but what about you?
Macron:  (holds up one hand)  I appreciate your offer, but I cannot leave.
  Ocrivus, and this temple, are my responsibility...mine and the handful
  of priests here.  We have too much work, and no experience with such as
Belphanior:  But you're all this town has!
Macron:  Exactly.  We're all this town has.  Which is why it's impossible
  for any of us to leave.  Please understand.
Belphanior:  (sighs, somewhat exasperated)

  Within moments, they had departed the temple; as they headed back to
the Coat of Arms inn, Belphanior was not happy with the outcome...or the
lack of outcome in this case.

Belphanior:  I _don't_ understand, not at all.  They care for that feeble
  old man, who apparently never leaves the temple...and they care for the
  people of the town...but they just ignore the vampire above the town?
Hope:  To be fair, I can kind of see it.  They do have a duty - to this
  town's population.
Poulos:  Agreed.  There is more than one kind of bravery.
Irina:  Or they could just be afraid...and overmatched.
Belphanior:  So be it.  I can't argue with them, and I can't force them
  to help us.  And it was wrong of me to just assume that they would help
  us.  Yet the chance that this Lord Marek knows something is too great to
  ignore.  I suppose we'll just need to go up there anyway.
Irina:  (frowning as they walk down the street)
Belphanior:  What is it?
Irina:  (shakes her head)  I can't get past the feeling that something was
  just not right there.
Belphanior:  That's for sure, but I don't want to waste any more time
  trying to figure out what.
Irina:  It wasn't malicious or evil, I don't think,
Hope:  Agreed.
Belphanior:  If so, the old man sure wasn't talking, and neither was that
  young priest either.  Maybe we'll look into it another time.

  After returning to the inn and rejoining their companions, they received
some very surprising news.

Skektek:  We've been invited to dinner at the castle.
Belphanior:  What?
Skektek:  (holds out an envelope with a broken wax seal)  Sorry.  Normally
  I wouldn't have opened it, but it wasn't addressed to any particular one
  of us.  I'm not even sure who delivered it.
Belphanior:  (opens the letter, which consists of fine black ink on thick,
  expensive parchment)  "Please accept this dinner invitation for six, at
  sunset tonight.  My carriage will arrive for you an hour beforehand.  We
  have much to discuss."  (he frowns)  Signed..."M."
Skektek:  I guess that's him.  But why only six?
Belphanior:  Best guess?  His carriage only holds six.  But it's fine, as
  I'd rather have some of the group here just in case.
Skektek:  So we're sending six?
Belphanior:  (nods)  This saves us the trouble of riding there, breaking
  in, and such.  It may even go peacefully...although we'll be ready for
  a fight, if it comes to that.

next:       Belphanior chooses which six, and up they go
released:   1/1/2021
notes:      The last episode was released on Christmas, which meant this
  next one would be released on New Year's Day.  Which accordingly means
  it's now 2021...!
    Wow.  I sure hope it's better than 2020 turned out to be.
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