Chapter #1062

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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        +
+   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                                   +
+   Poulos         massive human ex-slave-turned-warrior                  +
+   Date:          unknown (over three weeks since arrival)               +
+   Time:          mid-morning                                            +
+   Place:         the town of Holmburg, within the land of Wallaris      +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "Half of writing history is hiding the truth."                        +
+                                              - from _Serenity_          +

                   MLXII.  The Secret of Athon

  After finding another guest drained of blood, and Hope gone, Belphanior
has a pretty good idea of where the group needs to go next...

Belphanior:  (clenches his jaw)  We're going to pay another visit to the
  priests at the temple of Athon.  They're going to do everything within
  their power to help us.  And then we're going to head up to that castle
  while there's still most of the day left.
Otto:  Sounds like a plan.
Belphanior:  We'll split up.  Otto, you're in charge of preparing for the
  trip.  Horses only - the wagon will slow us down too much.  Make sure
  we have plenty of oil, torches, wooden stakes, and such...find a good
  balance between utility and weight, as we want the horses to move fast.
  Skektek, Williamson, Charlie, Poulos - you're with Otto.
Otto:  But-
Belphanior:  I need you to handle this.  We have to be ready for a major
  fight up there.  Plus, I figure there might be some trouble as we try
  to leave...we don't know anything about the local authorities, but now
  there's a corpse right down the hall from where our missing team member
  vanished, and someone may have questions for us...or try to stop us.  I
  would prefer that you get everything we need from our rooms at the inn,
  and get our horses saddled and packed, and get all of that ready as soon
  as possible...but there's a chance that someone may try to detain you,
  or question you.  (to Skektek)  That's why you're there.
Skektek:  (rubbing his hands together)
Belphanior:  Not to use your magic - for the _threat_ of using your magic.
Skektek:  Perish the thought.
Belphanior:  Irina, Benjamin, Paige - you're with me.  Let's go see what
  more the temple of Athon can do to help us, now that we have an actual
  problem instead of a theoretical one.

  The elf looked around quickly, his gaze stopping briefly on each party
member in turn.  He liked what he saw:  a wide variety of backgrounds,
skills, and capabilities.  The odds were most likely stacked against them
this time, but in his opinion, there was no better group of people with
whom to face the challenge.

Belphanior:  We'll regroup at the city gates in about half an hour.

  With that, the quartet departed for the temple of Athon.  They went on
foot, as it was a fairly short walk from the inn.

Paige:  What exactly are we hoping to accomplish with this visit to the
Belphanior:  I want healing potions.  I want holy water.  And I want one
  of their priests to come with us to the castle.  I'm not saying they
  can defeat the vampire, but it can't possibly hurt to have them there.
  Plus, this is an issue that affects their whole town.  They need to see
  the possible return on their investment.
Irina:  (remains silent)
Benjamin:  There won't be any if the priest gets killed up there.
Paige:  (nods)  When it comes down to it, you're basically talking about
  asking some young, inexperienced priest to ride up there with us and
  probably throw their life away.
Belphanior:  That's one way to look at it.  Another is for just one person
  with a little bit of courage to join us and increase our chances, which
  is a good thing for the town.  I'm thinking maybe that young priest...
  Macron.  He's fairly stout, and seems brave enough for this.  (before
  he can say something to Irina to comfort her regarding her current lack
  of magical abilities, he sees the temple as they round a corner)  Here
  we are.

  Coincidentally enough, the strapping young lad Macron was already there
in the temple entrance, perhaps waiting for them.  Nearby, the small and
slender woman who had been sweeping the floor yesterday was busy scrubbing
the stone steps of the temple's front entrance.

Belphanior:  Did you know we were coming?
Macron:  News travels fast.  It won't be long before the entire town is
  aware of your plight.
Belphanior:  Good, then they can stay out of our way.  Or help us.
slender woman:  (looks concerned)
Macron:  (looks around apprehensively)  Let us retire to an antechamber.
  (he addresses the slight woman)  Arusha, find another of the acolytes
  to greet any in need, while I handle...(he regards Belphanior and the
  others)  ...this situation.
Arusha:  (sets aside her scrubbing-towel and bucket of water, and dashes

  Macron led them into a small antechamber connected to the temple's main
entrance, and Belphanior immediately resumed his inquiries.

Belphanior:  You didn't want anyone to hear us talking?  Surely you're
  not afraid of minions of Marek?
Macron:  No.  (he shakes his head)  I mean the answer is no.
Belphanior:  Eh?
Macron:  Ocrivus is of no use to you, and he never will be.  Once, long
  ago, he'd have been your staunchest ally in all of this.  But no more.
  I thought that was made clear to you yesterday.
Belphanior:  You misunderstand.  I don't want him - I want you.
Macron:  Me?
Belphanior:  You're a priest, and of the few I've seen here, you seem to
  be best suited for the upcoming fight.
Macron:  I...cannot.
Belphanior:  Your role as caretaker to an elder can surely be assumed by
  someone else here-
Irina:  (steps forth, a small knife in her hand)  No more.
Macron:  (recoils)
Belphanior:  Irina, I hardly think this is cause for-
Irina:  (suddenly draws the blade across her forearm, slicing a shallow
  cut that begins oozing blood)
Paige:  (to Benjamin)  Has she gone crazy?
Benjamin:  How the hell would I know?
Irina:  (holds out her arm to Macron)  Heal me.
Macron:  What?
Irina:  I'm hurt...bleeding.  (she eyes the wound)  Bleeding more than I
  thought I would, actually.  (she locks gazes with the young man)  You're
  a priest of Athon, and here we are within a temple of your deity.  So...
  heal this wound.
Macron:  I don't-
Irina:  Come on.  It's just a simple spell...the first one almost every
  priest of every deity learns.  I know you must be one of the senior
  priests in this temple.  (she extends her arm again)  Heal my wound.
Macron:  (looks confused)  I...this...
Irina:  You can't, can you?
Macron:  But...(he lowers his head)
Irina:  Is it just you, or everyone here?
Macron:  Everyone.  (he walks over, double-checking that the door is
  closed securely)  Please don't tell the people of Holmburg - they know
  nothing of this, and often, we are the only hope they have.
Belphanior:  What the hell's going on?
Irina:  Is there even an Athon?  I mean a real, actual god?
Macron:  Of course...but he's been lost to us for generations.  Ocrivus,
  upstairs, was the last priest to actually wield true magic.
Paige:  But...if you can't cast spells, how are you healing wounded
Macron:  That is the third secret of this temple, after the state of our
  high priest and our lack of contact with our deity.  In the basement is
  our most prized possession, an ancient and blessed chalice that changes
  any water placed within...into a powerful healing tonic.
Irina:  And all the people you heal never figured this out?
Macron:  We tell them that drinking the holy water is part of the healing
  magic of Athon.  (he shrugs)  It's been this way for a very long time.
Irina:  This is...incredible.  A fully-functioning temple that has no real
  divine power within.
Macron:  Ocrivus was.  He truly was.  But that was before any of us were
  here, and before anyone alive can remember, I'd wager.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  So let me see if I understand:  there are actually
  no priests to be found here, no magic, and nothing useful against Marek?
Macron:  The temple and holy water are as genuine as Athon, even if we
  can't commune with him or draw upon his power.  If they weren't, the
  foul Marek would have come here and murdered everyone a long time ago.
Irina:  Which makes sense, given that he tried to get _us_ to destroy the
Macron:  (pales)  He did?
Belphanior:  He did.  Which is why you should help us...although not as
  much as I'd hoped you could, obviously.  So, it's healing potions and
  holy water?  That's it?
Irina:  (nods grimly to the elf)
Macron:  (having regained some of his composure)  I hope you understand
  the reason for this deception.  It goes beyond any issues you might be
  having.  The town needs Athon to be real, else people would lose hope.
  If you lived in the shadow of a vampire lord, and had for your entire would better understand.
Belphanior:  It's fine.  We're not mad.  I was just seeking to maximize
  our chances.  So tell many healing potions can we buy?

  Apparently, the magical chalice could only purify and enchant a certain
amount of water each day.  Macron also offered some vague explanation for
not usually selling healing potions to townspeople, which explained the
high prices.

Macron:  Don't worry about the cost - we don't really need the money.
  You can take what we have; just the chance of being rid of Marek will
  be sufficient payment.

  The adventurers ended up acquiring six more healing potions, one of
which Irina took and sipped from to heal her self-inflicted wound.

Paige:  That was a hell of a way to make a point.  (she nods in approval)

  They also added a dozen bottles of holy water to their inventory of
weapons and supplies for the upcoming confrontation.

Belphanior:  Will that be enough?
Irina:  I'd prefer to have several barrels full of holy water, but we'd
  do well not to overburden the horses.
Belphanior:  (thinking of that long pathway up to the castle, he curses
  under his breath)
Irina:  (to Macron)  We'll do our best against the vampire.  Either way,
  no matter what happens, we thank you for your help.
Macron:  (nods)

  As they left, Belphanior was feeling a mix of disgust and despair.  The
former was due to the lie he and his companions had fallen for; the latter
was due to the lack of a capable priest - which was something he'd been
counting on.

Belphanior:  Well, we just have to work with what we have.  Come, let's
  get back to the others.

  As they walked away from the temple, turning right and leaving it out
of sight, the elf noticed someone following them - probably because she
made no attempt whatsoever to hide it.  It was the slender young woman
from the temple, and they paused for a moment so that she could catch up.

Belphanior:  What is it?  We're in a damn hurry here, and-
slender woman:  I am Arusha...and if you wish to increase your chances
  against the vampire, come with me.

  Without waiting for an answer, the slight woman turned and strode away
in a direction that led to neither the temple nor the inn, moving with
rapid strides that belied her small stature.

Belphanior:  (looks at the others)  I don't see that we can ignore what
  she said.  (he heads after her)

next:       yet another secret is revealed
released:   2/19/2021
notes:      Trivia:  I didn't make up the name "Arusha"...she was our
  server at a restaurant a while back, and I thought (not unlike her
  parents, I'd suspect) that it was a cool name, and so I wrote it down
  to use later.  And now is later.  And by the way, the name "Ocrivus"
  was actually derived from Ocrevus which is a drug to treat multiple
  sclerosis.  True stories!
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