Chapter #1060

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       massive human ex-slave-turned-warrior                  +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+     Williamson   young human soldier                                    +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+                                                                         +
+   Benjamin       human bricklayer-turned-fighter                        +
+   Paige          human female warrior                                   +
+   Date:          unknown (over three weeks since arrival)               +
+   Time:          late evening                                           +
+   Place:         the town of Holmburg, within the land of Wallaris      +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "I don't want things to be easy.  I want them to be right."           +
+                  - from _The Day of the Triffids_ (2009 BBC version)    +

                   MLX.  Regrouping and Planning

  Within the Coat of Arms Inn, the late-evening crowd was fairly subdued,
consisting mostly of either those who had desired a late meal or those
possessing a high tolerance for drink.  There was no bard, or jester, or
other such entertainment - but a steady level of background noise from a
number of conversations filled the inn's common room.  All of that noise
died down to almost nothing when the six adventurers walked through the
door...the same door they had used to leave by, hours before.

barkeep:  (rubs his tired eyes, muttering quietly to himself)  Well, I'll
  be damned.
Belphanior:  (quickly spots Skektek and Poulos at a corner table, albeit
  one that can only seat five or six people)  Ah.  (he heads that way)
Skektek:  (raises his cup)  Welcome back.
Belphanior:  What's going on?  Where is everybody?
Skektek:  Hope turned in early, and the kid with the crossbow didn't feel
  like drinking.  Or maybe he actually doesn't drink...hell, I don't know.
  And I didn't feel like sleeping, and it's not like I needed to study any
  spells tonight.  Plus, I wanted to make sure all of you made it back in
  one piece.  So I really couldn't have slept anyway.
  (he gestures at the large jug of wine on the tabletop)
Belphanior:  You're not drunk, I hope.
Skektek:  Not quite, although the idea was tempting.
Belphanior:  (glances to Poulos)  How about you?
Poulos:  (shakes his head)  It would take a lot more than one jug.
Skektek:  (looking around the room)  We'll need a bigger table, now that
  all of you are back-
Otto:  Count me out.  I need to go to bed.

  The dwarf didn't look well; his skin was damp with perspiration despite
the cold of the night, and his eyes were bloodshot.

Otto:  (suddenly grabs the wine-jug and upends it, drinking deeply for
  several long moments before finally putting the thing back down on the
  table)  Ahhh...better.  (he turns and wanders away toward the stairway
  up to the guest rooms)
Poulos:  Is he unwell?
Belphanior:  He's had a rough night...and it will be a lot worse tomorrow.
  (to Skektek)  I hope you've got some good news on that front.
Skektek:  Yeah, we'll talk about that, and some other things.
Benjamin:  Not me.  I'm done...I'll see you all in the morning.  (he also
  departs, heading away in the same direction Otto went)
Paige:  I'll take a drink.  (she eyes the wine-jug that Otto just half-
  drained)  Hmm.  (looks to Irina)
Irina:  Yeah, maybe a new bottle would be best.
Paige:  Right.  (she heads for the bar)
Razor Charlie:  (not wishing to wait, he simply sits down, takes the jug,
  and pours himself a cup, draining it in one long draught)
Poulos:  That bad?
Razor Charlie:  Hell of a night.
Skektek:  (to Belphanior)  So, how did it go?
Belphanior:  (takes a seat)  Let's keep our voices low.  I appreciate you
  getting and keeping a table away from most prying eyes and sharp ears,
  and no one's anywhere near us...but we still need to be careful here.
Paige:  (returns to the table with a large bottle of fine wine and several
  glasses)  Alright, _now_ I'm ready to sit down.
Belphanior:  Drink up, all of you.  You're going to need it.  (he eyes
  Paige)  Especially you.
Paige:  How's that?
Belphanior:  I'll explain in due course.
Paige:  Whatever.  (she raises her glass, drinking deeply)  Damn, that's
  good wine.

  Those who remained huddled close, sharing their tales of the last few
hours' events.  Skektek spoke of the two drunkards' story, regarding the
last time a group of foreigners had ventured up to the dark castle - and
never returned.  He also talked of his and Hope's unexpected and mostly
uneventful foray into the old barkeep's storeroom - and his past secrets.
Belphanior, in turn, told of the harrowing carriage ride up the mountain
to the castle, the grand yet decaying chambers and furnishings within,
the revelations and peculiarities of their host...and the offer he had

Paige:  (in mid-drink, she coughs abruptly, spraying wine all over the
  table)  WHAT?!?
Belphanior:  (holds up both hands)  Relax.  I didn't tell him yes.
Paige:  (still sputtering)  But you didn't tell him no, either!
Belphanior:  You're making a commotion-
Paige:  You're damn right I'm making a commotion!  I'm not some damned
  piece of property, to be traded and bartered.
Poulos:  As one who once was such - and not so long ago - I also have a
  problem with this, vampire or no vampire.
Belphanior:  (clenches his fists tightly as a look of lethal anger flashes
  through his eye, giving everyone pause)  Everyone...calm...down.  Listen
  for a moment and I'll explain.  (he sighs)  Telling Marek "no" while we
  were still up in his castle would have likely provoked him into a fight,
  with us at a severe disadvantage in more ways than one.  By stalling, I
  bought us time...and enabled us to regroup with the others.  Now, if we
  do have to do battle with him, we've got our full strength...and here,
  not up there where he rules and has gods-know-what allies, minions, and
Paige:  (fuming but silent, she drains her glass, and pours another)
Belphanior:  There's no way I would barter you - or any of you - no more
  than I'd destroy a temple and slaughter some priests.  Or, for that
  matter, allow Marek to accompany us through the portal to Oerth.  Unless
  it happened in the middle of a very bright, sunny day.  We'll think, and
  we'll plan, and then we'll figure out some way to get the mirror and use
  it without his help.  (he rubs his chin)  Which will probably mean going
  up against him, and staking him.  We'll need to revisit that temple and
  make a more persuasive argument.  (to Skektek)  Did you learn anything
  from that book?  What can we do about Otto's...condition?
Skektek:  Well, it's possible he can be cured by a really powerful high
  priest, but I doubt we'll find such here.  The big problem is that when
  that moon is full, tomorrow night, he'll change and run wild.  As we've
  already determined, in that state he'll be deterred by wolfsbane, and
  can only be wounded or killed by silver or magical weapons.
Razor Charlie:  (shakes his head, and takes another drink)
Belphanior:  I don't want it to come to that.  (he thinks of the sleeping
  potions that Irina acquired and told him about earlier)  We'll have to
  knock him out, tie him up tomorrow.  I hate to do it, but it'll be for
  his own good.  (he sighs)  We'll have to trick him, too...I don't expect
  him to understand, not with the strange behavior he's been having today.
Skektek:  Oh, another thing...not sure if it's good or bad, but it seems
  that since we killed Tarkus, that could mean Otto will have more control
  of himself if - when - he changes.
Irina:  I'm no expert on this, but it was my understanding that the new
  werewolf's force of will was a factor here.
Skektek:  (nods)  That...and the presence, or lack thereof, of an older
  and more powerful werewolf.  It's not like vampires, where the one who
  does the biting has control over the one bitten-
Paige:  (exasperated)  Could we _please_ not talk about that?
Skektek:  Oh.  Yeah, sorry.  Anyhow, all I'm saying is that from what I
  read in that journal, new werewolves sometimes retain more of their
  normal mind if they don't have to worry about other werewolves.  (he
  frowns)  Although I'm not sure how that would play out, since we're now
  in an entirely different land than Tarkus' home.
Paige:  Who's this Tarkus, anyway?
Irina:  He was the werewolf lord who mauled Otto...nearly killed him, too.
Paige:  Oh.  So this Tarkus is - was - the reason we're worrying about all
  this now?
Belphanior:  Yes.  We have enough problems right now; it really won't do
  for Otto to be running around town ripping people limb from limb.
Irina:  We'll prevent that from happening.  But I may need some help to
  render him harmless.  (she looks to Razor Charlie, then Poulos)  Can I
  count on you when the time comes?
Razor Charlie:  (he looks her right in the eyes, and grimaces)  Whatever
  it takes.  You know that.
Poulos:  We will deal with it.
Paige:  (shaking her head)  You people are overplanning this.
Irina:  How so?
Paige:  Just put the sleeping potions into some wine and get him to drink
  it.  Simple, and no confrontation.
Belphanior:  I would have thought of that.  Eventually.
Paige:  Sure, but since I did, can we get back to the matter of me being
  among the demands of the vampire lord?
Skektek:  She's got a point.  That'll become the more pressing problem in
  a day or two, and we need to be ready to deal with it.
Paige:  (pats the pommel of her sword)  I am ready to deal with it.  My
  concern is whether I'll have to do it alone, or if I'll be able to count
  on help.
Belphanior:  The latter.  We treat all of our group the same, whether they
  are new or have been with us for years, and whether they're planning to
  stay or not.  We will not give you up.  You have my word.
Paige:  My thanks.
Skektek:  So what will we do next?
Belphanior:  I'm already thinking about it...reviewing what we know about
  Lord Marek.
Irina:  Which is...?
Belphanior:  He's lonely and bored, as evidenced by him wanting to talk to
  us, much less in the setting he chose for it.  I think he misses people,
  and holding court, and leading others.  Which is the next thing...he was
  a warrior once, which means two things.
Paige:  He can fight, probably pretty well.
Skektek:  And he doesn't cast spells.  (he frowns)  Probably a good thing.
Belphanior:  So we're dealing with a skilled combatant, who will have some
  weapon - sword or otherwise - and know how to use it.  He'll fight with
  great strength and speed, so our spells will have to make the difference
Irina:  Won't he have minions...bats, wolves, rats, and the like?
Belphanior:  Those too.  Which is why I'm glad there are so many of us.
  Another thing, I think he's hedging his bets.  He has an apparent means
  to escape this realm, but he can't use it.  (he has a sudden thought)
  Or he doesn't know how...hmm.
Paige:  What did you mean by 'hedging his bets' ?
Belphanior:  I think he wants a companion in case he is indeed trapped
  here forever...but I think at the same time, he's going to try to get
  away.  If we succeed in opening a portal to Oerth, or anywhere, I'd lay
  odds on him following us through.  (he cracks his knuckles)  Which we'll
  deal with when or if it happens.
Poulos:  What of any other allies or servants?  The carriage-driver, say?
  Or those who served the food at dinner?
Belphanior:  Those, I'm not sure about.  They might be people, or they
  might be something else.  Which reminds me, he may also control other
  things, such as the fog, or the carriage itself.  That ride just wasn't
  natural, not up there and not the return trip.
Irina:  I thought the ride back was harrowing...moreso than the first leg
  of the trip.  Maybe because it was downhill, or maybe because it was
  later in the night.  Although it didn't seem to go by any faster, which
  was strange.  (she sighs)  There's a lot we don't know here.
Belphanior:  We'll focus on what we do know.  (he points to Paige)  Like
  the fact that Marek wants you.  I don't know if he'll actually honor the
  time he gave me to decide, but if he doesn't, we need to be ready.  And
  that means we'll need to take some extra defensive measures.
Paige:  Like what?  I hope this doesn't mean we all have to sleep in one
  bed together.  That sort of thing isn't really for me.

  After a brief discussion, they put the plans into action - for it was
late and they were all exhausted.  Paige's room was secured as best as it
could be:  the windows were closed, locked, and double-checked.  Wood was
piled high in the small fireplace, the roaring fire filling the room with
light and warmth.  After the others left, Belphanior bolted the door, and
then settled into the chair he'd moved into a dark corner, away from the
window.  He would remain sitting there until dawn...ready to use rod, holy
water bottles, spells, or his sword if something came calling in the night.

Belphanior:  Get some sleep.
Paige:  What about you?
Belphanior:  I don't sleep at times like this.  I may doze, but I promise
  you, if anything happens in the middle of the night, I'll be ready for
  battle in an instant.
Paige:  Very well.  But I'm still sleeping in my clothes, and with my
  sword next to me.
Belphanior:  As you wish.

  With that, they - and their companions - all settled in for what would
likely be a very uneasy night.

next:       what comes in the night
released:   2/5/2021
notes:      The day I wrote this one, all of the news agencies declared
  Joe Biden to be the winner of the U.S. Presidential election.  It's
  November 7 2020.  I can only wonder how things will look when you get
  this in February 2021.  I still remember the election of 2000, when it
  took an extra month to get all that settled.
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