Chapter #1063

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                                   +   +
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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          +
+   Benjamin       human bricklayer-turned-fighter                        +
+   Paige          human female warrior                                   +
+   Date:          unknown (over three weeks since arrival)               +
+   Time:          mid-morning                                            +
+   Place:         the town of Holmburg, within the land of Wallaris      +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "She's me."                                          +
+   "Not different...special."                                            +
+         - Ian and Samuel, from the _Heroes_ episode _Upon This Rock_    +

                   MLXIII.  Arusha's Tale

  After learning that the temple of Athon is not all that it seems, the
group's trek back to their companions has experienced a detour...

Belphanior:  (leading the others as they follow the slender Arusha down
  a side street)
Arusha:  (stops in front of a nondescript door, takes an old iron key from
  a cord around her neck, and unlocks it before walking through)

  The passage beyond was small and cramped, quickly leading into a small,
windowless living chamber that was pretty much what Belphanior would have
expected from the outward appearance of this part of the town.  The young
woman's home was simple, cramped, and afforded no semblance of luxury at
all.  An old, rickety bed with tattered blankets was set up in one corner,
along with a small pot; a scant few garments hung from pegs on one wall.
The room barely looked lived-in, and it was apparent that the young woman
ate her meals elsewhere.
  All of this was visible thanks to the small amount of light from the
open door, but she quickly lit a small candle and then closed and bolted
that exit.

Arusha:  (moves around the guests, heading for the corner to the right
  and opposite from the entry passage)  Excuse me.  Sorry about the tight
Belphanior:  You said before that you could help us against Marek...please
Arusha:  Don't worry, I'm about to.
Paige:  (notes the stuffy, stale feel of the air in the confined area)
  I mean no offense to your home, but how in the hell do you breathe in
Arusha:  I don't.

  The slender woman had placed both palms on the wall next to the corner,
pressing the stone in a certain way...and causing it slide away.

Paige:  Hey!
Belphanior:  That's not stone at all, is it?
Arusha:  Wood, coated with plaster.  Looks like stone, feels like stone.
  (she beckons to them)  Come along, please.  (she disappears into the
  narrow gap behind the false panel)

  As diminutive as she was, Arusha had no trouble passing through that
space, but some of the others had to work at it.  Belphanior was lean but
tall, as was Benjamin; Paige was a bit on the stout side and had the most

Paige:  (finally squeezes through)  One thing's for sure, Poulos wouldn't
  have been able to do this.  (she joins the other four in the chamber on
  the other side of the secret door)  Whoa.

  The adventurers now realized that the room outside was just a cover;
the slender young woman actually lived and worked in this second, hidden
chamber.  It was larger - about ten feet deep, but thirty feet wide - and
much cleaner and more organized than the previous room.  A simple bedroll
and pillow were set up on this end, and the rest of the room was taken up
by a table and a series of shelves.  These contained all manner of vials,
bottles, tools, and other containers - many of which resembled the sorts
of things usually found in a wizard's workroom.

Arusha:  (having just lit a lamp using the candle, she blows the latter
Benjamin: in here?
Arusha:  (nods)  Macron told you the temple's secret.  And this is mine.
Belphanior:  Does he know about...(he waves his hands around)...all this?
Arusha:  No.  Nor does he know that I'm aware of the true nature of his
Belphanior:  And you pretend to be the maid there?
Arusha:  It allows me to remain close at hand while protecting my true
  identity.  I also take my meals there, which simplifies things.
Paige:  You must not eat much.
Arusha:  (shrugs)
Belphanior:  (looking around at this workspace, then at the lamp)  How is
  air flowing in here?
Arusha:  The building is old, and has cracks in the walls.  It gets a bit
  chilly in the winter, but I have blankets.
Belphanior:  (takes another, more critical look at the slight woman)

  Arusha was short - barely five feet - and, as noted previously, quite
slender.  She had dark skin, not quite as dark as Paige but darker than
most, and short, curly black hair.  Her eyes were bright with intelligence
and perhaps curiosity; the elf began to realize that the entire guise of
temple maid - the well-worn garments, the dirty face, the shy demeanor -
were all a clever act.

Belphanior:  Who are you?
Arusha:  I am the great-great-great grandchild of Ocrivus, and his last
  living descendant.
Paige:  What?!?  That guy can't possibly be that old!
Belphanior:  (doing some quick mental math)  This seems unlikely, but I'm
  guessing there's a tale behind it.
Arusha:  Oh, is there ever.  (she takes a seat)  I apologize for the lack
  of chairs in here.  I'm a solitary person.
Belphanior:  (leans on a wall)  It's no problem.  Can you explain all of
  this?  And quickly?  We want to hear and know, but remember, we need to
  get up to that castle as quickly as we can, before darkness falls.
Arusha:  Understood, and agreed.  I'll be brief.  (she folds her thin arms
  and takes a breath)  Realize that I've never told this story to anyone.
  Ever.  Nor has anyone else.
Belphanior:  Go on.
Arusha:  Long ago, Ocrivus was a high priest, in middle age and at the
  peak of his powers.  He assembled a small force to challenge Marek, and
  led them up to that castle.  The vampire was away, off in some foreign
  land, but his wife was there...a normal person, like any of us.  No one
  knows how or why he fell in love with her but didn't turn her, but that
  didn't stop the mob from killing her and inflicting severe damage on the
Belphanior:  It's starting to make sense now.
Arusha:  (nods)  When Marek returned, he went into a blood frenzy, and he
  took revenge...and who can blame him?  He killed all who were part of
  that group who ventured up there.  For Ocrivus, the cost of his actions
  was even greater:  Marek bested the high priest, then slew his wife, his
  children, their children...everyone.  He made Ocrivus watch all of this,
  and then declared his intent to locate and slay any other family members
  to end the bloodline.  But Ocrivus, who knew of only one last grandchild
  who had not yet been discovered, broke free of whatever bonds he'd been
  placed in, and cast a powerful spell upon himself - a spell which wiped
  his mind clean, obliterating all of his memories.
Paige:  Wow.
Arusha:  This sacrifice worked, but Marek retaliated yet again, using some
  magical item to place a curse on Ocrivus.  (sadly)  And so he cannot die
  until...(she shrugs)  That particular bit of knowledge didn't survive.
Belphanior:  But you did.
Arusha:  Yes.  That last surviving grandchild - my grandmother - was quite
  intelligent, and realized what was happening, and kept her mouth shut,
  and did whatever it took to survive.  She died when my mother was about
  fifteen, and fortunately told her the whole story before that time.  I
  almost didn't learn mother only told me on her own deathbed...
  along with the belief that our bloodline is cursed to die young.
Benjamin:  I'm getting angrier and angrier about the vampire's actions.
Arusha:  As well you should.  I know I am, and always have been.  Although
  my great-great-grandfather Ocrivus is equally to blame.  All of this was
  ultimately his fault.
Paige:  (shaking her head)  This is complicated.
Belphanior:  And now he exists in that temple, apparently senile, and they
  take care of him and wait for him to die.
Arusha:  Which he won't, because he can't - or at least we don't know how.
  And the temple's not-priests continue to care for him because they think
  the functioning of the enchanted chalice is tied to him remaining alive.
  (she shakes her head)  Which it isn't, but that's beside the point.
Belphanior:  And even with no real functional priests, the temple is still
  consecrated, which explains why Marek and his minions can't enter it.
Arusha:  Anyhow, all of that was over a hundred years ago, before Holmburg
  and the nearby environs were...brought here.  While I blame them both,
  and admittedly have unresolved issues with my great-great-grandfather,
  my real focus is on Marek.
Belphanior:  Join the club.
Arusha:  I've been at this longer than you.  (she waves a hand, indicating
  all of the room's contents)  I've spent my entire adult life studying
  the history of all this, and the nature of vampires...gathering every
  possible shred of information and lore...waiting for a day like today.
Paige:  Eh?
Arusha:  A day when someone with an actual chance of defeating him came
  along.  The last time that happened, I was just a child, and not yet as
  passionate about this as I am now.
Belphanior:  Last time?
Arusha:  (nods)  A little over two decades ago.  A group of adventurers -
  much like you, I'd venture - arrived in this realm.  At some point, they
  decided that the best course of action was to go up to that castle and
  challenge Marek.  (she frowns)  Much like you.  And they never returned.
Belphanior:  That last part is where the similarities end.  I fully intend
  to destroy him.

  The slight, dark-skinned woman considered this, and then an expression
crossed her that suggested that she'd just made a decision.

Arusha:  I'm going with you.
Belphanior:  Perhaps.  You're definitely no warrior.  Can you actually
  help us?
Arusha:  Aside from just sharing a great deal of information with you,
  yes, I can.  I've spent years studying vampires in general and Marek
  in particular.  I've been secretly growing my own garlic and hoarding
  holy water, and experimenting with various combinations of those and
  other things.  I've got stakes, I've got potions, and I've also taught
  myself some magic.
Belphanior:  Taught yourself?
Arusha:  (nods)  Meaning no master-to-apprentice work...I've figured out
  the arcane formulas on my own.  It took a while, but I can cast spells,
  and I've learned a number that could be useful against a vampire.
Belphanior:  (considers this, a look of concern on his face)
Arusha:  Is there something else?
Belphanior:  This is about more than just slaying a vampire.
Arusha:  Yes, your friend is also in danger.
Belphanior:  As are all the innocents in town.
Arusha:  I know this all too well.
Belphanior:  And there's also the matter of the mirror.
Arusha:  Mirror?
Belphanior:  (hesitates, wondering if he's said more than he should have)
Arusha:  (thinking on this)  Your way home.
Belphanior:  (nods)  It would appear.  Obviously there's been no real way
  to test it, not fully...but I've seen it peer into my homeworld.
Arusha:  So there is more at stake here than even I thought.
Paige:  (considers the other woman's quick thinking and reasoning ability,
  as just demonstrated, in addition to whatever magic use she might have)
  Hey, I'm sold.  We can use her.
Benjamin:  I'd never deny anyone their right to vengeance.
Arusha:  And there's something else.  (she pauses a moment for effect,
  sensing that she's winning this debate)  After years of work, I have
  concocted a draught that should restore Ocrivus' mental, physical, and
  spiritual faculties.
Belphanior:  What?
Arusha:  We can add a high priest - one who will absolutely align with
  your cause - to your ranks.

next:       they get underway
released:   2/26/2021
notes:      And so it goes.
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