Chapter #681

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2000 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!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Daffodil        11th level human female druidess                      +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger                               +
+      Zephyr          rather large tiger                                 +
+   Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid              +
+   Rob             16th level human priest                               +
+   Date:           2/9/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           late morning                                          +
+   Place:          the depths of the Vesve Forest                        +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "For a good man, you seem to have many enemies."                      +
+                                      - from some _Highlander_ episode   +

                    DCLXXXI.  Putting it Together

  After some recent bouts with evildoers who successfully retrieved a
strange magical casket from the Shield Lands, the adventurers have rested
and recuperated.  Now, they are gathered around a table in Peyote's henge
within the Vesve Forest, putting the pieces together.

Halbarad:  (spreads his hands)  Let's review what we know:  apparently,
  the evil demigod Iuz sent those agents to find and claim this item...
  the Cask of Tuerny.
Peyote:  Apparently?  Dude, the dead spoke!  He told us it was Iuz.
Halbarad:  He did, but that only reflects what _he_ knew - or was told.
  I've been keeping tabs on the various evil kingdoms in this part of
  the world, and my sources don't have anything that matches what the
  troll said.
Daffodil:  If not Iuz, then who?
Halbarad:  That depends on the history and powers of the cask.  (he
  glances at Rob)  Any luck on that front?
Rob:  (looks offended)  Of course.  You're not the only one with sources.
Peyote:  Let's have it, then.
Rob:  Right...the Cask was fashioned by Tuerny the Merciless, an evil
  demigod who was once a hero, many centuries past.
Halbarad:  A fallen hero?
Rob:  That's what the history books tell us.  Tuerny was a wizard, whose
  particular area of expertise was the summoning and holding of beings.
Peyote:  Far out...
Rob:  Anyhow, his best-known creation is perhaps the Iron Flask,  not to
  mention its many lesser imitations...but he also fashioned the Cask,
  which had similar powers.
Halbarad:  So what was it doing buried in the midst of the Shield Lands?
Rob:  That I'm not sure about, nor is anyone else.  My best guess is
  that the region we know as the Shield Lands wasn't always thusly named
  or maintained.  The point is, the Cask was lost for a long, long time.
Daffodil:  Until now.
Rob:  Yes.  Iuz or otherwise, some great power located it and had it
Peyote:  Something foul is in the air...
Halbarad:  Agents of Iuz, or agents of someone else, it comes down to
  the same thing:  evil is afoot, and someone has to get to the bottom
  of it.
Peyote:  Agreed - especially if it could affect the realms of Obad-Hai,
  here in the Vesve or elsewhere.
Rob:  You're saying that it might as well be us who get to the bottom of
Peyote:  Well, if you put it that way, dude...yeah.
Halbarad:  Agreed.
Daffodil:  But how do we get to the bottom of something this vague?
Rob:  That will have to be worked out.
Halbarad:  One way would be to send in a small raiding party...right into
  the heart of Iuz' lands.
Peyote:  Suicide, and we both know it.
Rob:  We _all_ know it.
Halbarad:  (shrugs)  I didn't say it was a good option.
Daffodil:  You'd think that between us, with all of our assorted powers
  and capabilities, we could scry or speak with the gods to find out who
  is behind all of this.
Peyote:  (mumbling to himself)  Or failing that, at least where the cask
  was taken.
Rob:  I already, just a moment, let me think...
Halbarad:  What?
Rob:  Peyote's right - I didn't try to discern the location of the thing,
  only who has it.  (he grows excited)  We might be onto something here!
Halbarad:  More time?
Rob:  A day, at most.  I feel confident that Trithereon will see fit to
  assist me with this.  (he smacks a fist into his other hand)
Peyote:  Dude, you're hyper.
Rob:  A great evil is out there, waiting to be fought and conquered.  Who
  could fail to be excited?
Zephyr:  (asleep by the door, he yawns)
Halbarad:  Hmm.
Daffodil:  So we find out where the cask is - hopefully - and then maybe
  make a move for it?
Rob:  (sternly)  Only to destroy it.
Daffodil:  Well, of course.  What the hell use would I have for such a
Halbarad:  No matter where the cask is being held, this won't be an easy
Rob:  Perhaps we should have kept Arion, Proctor, and Gallant around.
  Their experience and power might have come in handy.
Halbarad:  (shrugs)  Such as they have many responsibilities, much like
Peyote:  Had to cut them loose, eh?  No big deal, man - we still have a
  pretty good crew, here.
Zephyr:  (sleeping by the door, he snarls in his tiger-dreams)
Daffodil:  (smirks)  I've got a hunch that we'll be able to get some sort
  of assistance from Obad-Hai, as well.
Peyote:  Cool...

  Meanwhile, in the forest nearby, a lone figure slowly, carefully made
its way toward the henge.  Using means both deceptive and nefarious, this
person had penetrated deep into the woodland, and was almost within range
of its intended target.  Peyote had to die - that had been decided at the
highest levels of the alliance that both possessed the Cask of Tuerny and
had sent this assassin.  It wasn't the first time that the half-elven
druid had been a key part of something that foiled evil plans...but they
were determined that it would be the last.  It was imperative that Peyote
and his companions penetrate no deeper into the questions and events that
they were discussing even now.  That, it had been decided, would simply
not do.  The entire plot was akin to some gigantic game of chess, and the
piece that was Peyote needed to be removed from the board.  The trick was
to make this happen without arousing any suspicion or retaliation - and
that was the grim beauty of it Peyote and his friends would soon
learn, much to their great - and final - regret.

next:      the assassin makes a move
released:  10/9/00
notes:     Some good reading I've recently perused in my spare (!) time:

  * _Inside the Lion's Den_ by Ken Shamrock (this guy wins those Ultimate
    Fighting Championships because he's a very dangerous up-close-and-
    personal grappler who's a master of submission moves.)  This book will
    have the same effect as watching any of the UFCs:  you'll learn that
    in almost every case, size and speed and conventional martial arts
    will fail when assaulted with submission-style fighting.)
  * _How to Win Friends, Kick Ass, and Influence People_ by Lynne Russell
    (somewhat celebrity CNN newsanchorwoman who's tall, beautiful, and a
    master of many challenging fields including scuba diving, personal
    bodyguarding, and a martial art.)  Sometimes I see her in the break
    room at CNN, and I always flee.  She's that imposing a figure.  It's
    widely known around CNN:  you don't mess with Lynne.  Anyway, read the
    book; she has a refreshing and candid outlook on everything.
  * _The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Liqueurs_.
    Fairly self-explanatory.  It's almost two inches thick yet can be
    found in the sale section of Borders for $12.99.

    About this plotline:  it's high time that I brought into visibility
  the evil powers who have been working behind the scenes for quite some
  time now.  A lot of things - some obviously related, some not so - will
  soon come together.  Let the world tremble.
    General note:  it might very well be that I have too many characters,
  i.e. too many personalities, to maintain and represent well.  My epic
  has grown beyond my ability to maintain it.  Normally, at this point,
  one would farm out some of the writing to others.  I can't do this,
  because I don't have the time/patience/niceness to proof and ensure the
  quality of secondary writings.  The best thing to do may be to just work
  on a few characters at a time, while their arc is afoot.  I'm trying to
  do that now - no more jumping around in the middle of plotlines.  From
  now on, I'll try to at least resolve the major issues before moving to
  another group and another arc.  I did this with Rillen and Songa just
  recently, and i'll do it again with these characters...and then Peldor,
  and then Nenya/Deryck.

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