Chapter #471

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                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic III     +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +

+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      +
+  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  +
+  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      +
+  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  +
+  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    +
+  way, shape, or form.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1991-6 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons   +
+  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  +
+  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   +
+  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    +
+  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them...         +
+                                                                   +
+                                  Thomas Miller                    +
+                           +
+  Belphanior     (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief    (CN) +
+    Otto           8th/9th level dwarven fighter/thief        (CN) +
+    Victoria      11th level female vampiric human fighter    (NE) +
+                                                                   +
+  Helgate's town guards:                                           +
+    Aja           10th level female human priestess of Wee Jas(LN) +
+    Jutokai        7th level human fighter/archer              (N) +
+    Kinichi        7th level human ranger                     (CG) +
+    Razor Charlie  8th level human fighter                    (CN) +
+    Skektek        8th level human wizard                     (CN) +
+    Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                 (N) +
+  Date:        5/6/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        just past midnight                                  +
+  Place:       the remote mountain town of Helgate                 +
+  Climate:     cold and raining                                    +
+  "We'll never survive."                                           +
+  "Nonsense.  You're just saying that because no one ever has."    +
+                   - Buttercup & Wesley, from _The Princess Bride_ +

               CDLXXI.  Mystery in the Mines

  As the rain beats down in Helgate, nine companions aren't hearing
its sounds, for they have ventured into the mines...

Belphanior:  We'll need light to see by...Skektek?
Skektek:  Got it.  (he zaps a long staff, powering its end with a
  bright magical light)

  Ys and Belphanior led the way, providing a good mix of raw power
and skilled scouting ability.  Belphanior was one of those leaders
who was willing to do anything he asked his people to do - and do it
first.  After the front rank came Kinichi and Jutokai, both of them
ready with bows if needed.  If the former's tracking skills became
necessary, he would advance to the front of the party.  Next were
Otto and Skektek, providing more missile firepower as well as magic.
Aja and Victoria brought up the fourth line, and Razor Charlie was
guarding the rear.
  This particular marching order was made necessary by the narrow
mineshafts, which crissed and crossed about but seldom exceeded ten
feet in width.  From previous forays into the mines, Belphanior knew
that there would be rooms where the party could fan out and move,
but he had to plan for the worst-case scenario.

Ys:  What exactly are we looking for?
Belphanior:  I'm not sure.  Could be blood, could be tracks.  Those
  who have turned up missing were always working late, or alone, or
Aja:  How long has this been happening?
Belphanior:  Only a few days.  No one thought to tell me at first; I
  guess they were afraid.  Besides, we haven't really had a proper
  town guard force until now.
Otto:  Eduardo told you, eh?
Belphanior:  (nods)
Jutokai:  Useful little kid, isn't he?
Otto:  That he is.
Jutokai:  I'm surprised someone hasn't whacked him by now...
Belphanior:  (stops, whirling about)  Understand:  Eduardo is under
  your protection, moreso than anyone else in Helgate.  Treat him as
  one of your own number, got it?
Jutokai:  (backs up a step)  Calm down, it was just a thought.
Otto:  Let's keep it that way.
Kinichi:  (exchanges glances with Jutokai)
Skektek:  So, anyway, you heard the rumor, and...?
Belphanior:  I checked Eduardo's story, and learned that it was more
  than true.  And here we are.
Kinichi:  (eyeing the ground ahead for tracks, he wonders why he isn't
  in the front rank, given his skills)
Ys:  (swaggers along, eclipsing Belphanior as he leads the party)
Aja:  (muttering prayers to herself...just in case)
Razor Charlie:  (watching Victoria's back closely, as he doesn't
  entirely trust her)
Victoria:  (whirls about, eyes glowing, and hisses)  Is something on
  your mind?
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces, but shakes his head)

  They passed tapped-out areas of the mineshaft, places where the
ore had been depleted by the industrious miners.  Rubble and flakes
of silver were strewn across the ground, and the occasional tool or
bit of refuse also marked the past presence of people.  As they moved
deeper into the shaft, the walls and ceiling seemed to close in, even
to Belphanior, who feared nothing, and Victoria, who truly had cause
to fear nothing.  Only Otto was unaffected; as a dwarf, he had been
born and raised in such conditions, and it took more than these walls
to shake his confidence.
  When they reached the end of the current shaft, they found that it
intersected a vertical passage.  A heavy steel cart, suspended from
above by chains and pulleys, moved up and down via a series of winches
and levers.  Otto cranked a wheel mounted on the wall, and presently,
the large metal bucket descended from above.

Otto:  They must've left it up there because they thought whatever's
  roaming here was below.
Skektek:  (uneasily)  Who knows, maybe they were right?
Belphanior:  Let's find out.  (he enters the cart)
Ys:  Maybe I should wait.
Otto:  Yep, you'd better ride by yourself.
Kinichi:  Here, I'll go with you.

  Indeed, the cart seemed suited for two full-sized men; while Otto
lowered them, the others glanced about uneasily.  However, it was
Belphanior and Kinichi, slowly and jerkily descending into the dark
unknown, who had true cause to be scared.  All was pitch-black beneath
their cart, a situation which Belphanior quickly rectified with a
torch and tinderbox.
  About thirty feet down, another mineshaft led away, horizontally;
Belphanior noticed a dark smear on the wall, faint but clearly there.
He pointed to Kinichi, who nodded, then put a finger to the spot.

Kinichi:  (sniffing his fingertip)  Blood.  One, maybe two days old.
Belphanior:  Aha.  (he looks upward)

  The elf signalled Otto to stop the winch, and he and Kinichi got out
of the cart.  The dwarf hoisted the bucket back up, and Ys came down
next; after him were Jutokai and Skektek.  Then came Aja and Victoria,
followed by Razor Charlie and Otto himself.

Belphanior:  (confused)  Who's manning the winch?
Otto:  (holds the thing up)  These can be attached at any point on the
  cable...another dwarven miners' invention.  (he begins pointing out
  the various pulleys and chains attached to the cart)  It's all part
  of an intricate and efficient system, see?
Skektek:  Hmm, I think I do.
Aja:  (bored with this)
Jutokai:  I'll just say that I'm glad the dwarves were so inventive.
Kinichi:  Aye.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces as he peers down the shaft)
Ys:  (shakes his head, and gazes into the darkness instead)  That way?
Belphanior:  Yup.

  After resuming their marching order, the adventurers began to
explore the new passage.  This one, unlike the last, had never been
rich in ore, and seemed to have been abandoned.  Kinichi took over
Belphanior's lead spot, the elf moving back into the second rank.
The chatter had ceased; everyone was all business now.  They had to
be, for at any moment some unknown terror could spring from the
darkness ahead.  More than one of the companions were gratified that
the redoubtable Ys was in the front of the group.
  After a short time, Kinichi found some more blood, this time in
the form of several scattered drops.  Not far away, he also made out
a track on the mineshaft floor, as the loose stone became dusty and
dirty near one failed excavation-hole.

Kinichi:  Not a dog...not a cat...(he looks up, frowning)  I have
  never seen tracks such as these.

next:      further into the mystery
ftp: in /pub/access/dpm/rpg/stories/adventurers
  in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
mail:       (preferred)
notes:     It's almost time for the 20+ episode story arc that I do
  every 100 episodes nowadays.  Almost.

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