Chapter #804

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

+     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       +
+   1991-2004 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      15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+   Angus           iron golem                                            +
+   Elgon           8th/9th/11th level gnomish priest/illusionist/thief   +
+   Jenna           9th level human female priestess of Istus             +
+   Otto            10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+   Razor Charlie   10th level human fighter                              +
+   Skektek         13th level human wizard                               +
+   wispy thing     strange, intangible sentient being                    +
+   Ys              14th level reptilian fighter                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Sir Dremel      11th level human paladin of Heironeous                +
+   Date:           4/3/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           midday                                                +
+   Place:          the galleon _Liberty_, sailing the Azure Sea          +
+   Climate:        chilly                                                +
+   "What arrogance - to think that you could ever understand my          +
+    intentions."                                                         +
+                                                - from _Air Force One_   +

                      DCCCIV.  Sea of Liberty

  It has been almost a week since the party left Rob's temple in Keoland
and continued southeast.  For the last two days, they have been seaborne,
thanks to a lucky find in a port city on Keoland's southeastern shores...

Belphanior:  (standing on deck at the bow of the ship, gripping the rail
  as the wind tosses his hair)  At last, the game is well and truly afoot.
Otto:  Yep.  (he regards the sun above, which is shining brightly through
  the clear skies)  You think we'll find something...I mean really find
Belphanior:  (nods)  I can almost smell it.  (he points to something
  distant on the sea's surface)  Look, a pod of whales.
Otto:  You're liking this sea travel, aren't you?
Belphanior:  Always have.  There's something refreshing about this...hell,
  maybe I've found my calling.  I could be the dread pirate Belphanior.
Otto:  There would be no survivors.
Belphanior:  Likely not.
Otto:  I always figured the thing to do would be to get one ship, then
  beat another ship, find a crew, so then you've got two ships...then go
  find another victim, and so on...
Belphanior:  Agreed, though I'd station a wizard on each stack
  the deck a little.  Also, that way, if it came to it, you'd have the
  ability to fireball enemy ships and sink them.
Otto:  Mmm.

  The _Liberty_ was a fairly large galleon, with three masts and a crew
of a hundred or so.  Its normal purpose was to ferry large amounts of
cargo to and from Onnwal, Idee, and Ahlissa (Aerdy's southern province.)
The adventurers had spotted the ship in harbor, made some inquiries and
then an offer, and now here they were.

Belphanior:  I figure we can find another ship to take us the rest of the
  way, once we get where we're going.
Otto:  Yeah.  (he frowns)  So what do you think of this paladin, Dremel?
Belphanior:  (shrugs)  His coming is his own choice.  I'm not going to
  do anything differently just because he's around.
Otto:  Do you think he can be counted on when the going gets tough?
Belphanior:  If he's anything like his brother Drexel, yes, he'll be a
  useful ally.
Otto:  From what I can see, he's _exactly_ like his brother Drexel.
Belphanior:  Heh.

  The paladin's motives were easy to understand:  when Drexel had been
slain by the unholy sword of the anti-paladin Ulrich, at the fortress of
the Nine, the wound had seemed normal at first.  A normal wound, even one
that resulted in death, could be undone by powerful clerical magic.  In
this case, however, no curative measures worked - not even those tried by
Rob, St. Wilhelm, or any of the other high priests who had been present.
The conclusion was that Ulrich's vile weapon had somehow stolen Drexel's
soul; this idea was borne out by the weapon's mysterious disappearance
before it could be fully examined.  It was suspected that the sword was
now in the possession of whatever allies survived the lich's destruction.
Any chance, no matter how remote, was worth looking into as far as Dremel
was concerned.

Otto:  Who knew that Drexel had a twin brother out there somewhere?
Belphanior:  Who, indeed?  As I said, I'm sure he'll come in handy.

  Meanwhile, the others were below decks, in a double cabin that their
coin (or Belphanior's, to be exact) had rented for this voyage.  With
Belphanior and Otto above decks, and Angus crated up to keep him hidden
from view, that left Belphanior's three veterans with the three new people
and the wispy thing.

wispy thing:  (trying to seep his way into a cask of fine wine)  pffft.
Sir Dremel:  (eyes the wisp warily)
Ys:  Fear not, that one is no demon.
Sir Dremel:  Aye.  (he massages his temples)  This is driving me insane.
Skektek:  What?  It could be worse, you know - we could be in the common
  hold with all the crew and cargo haulers.
Sir Dremel:  No, not that.  I mean that after all these months of totally
  fruitless searching, I've finally found a lead that may help bring back
  my brother...and we won't know anything for weeks!  And we're stuck here
  on this ship where I can't actually _do_ anything.
Skektek:  A possible lead, no more.  Remember that.
Sir Dremel:  (sighs)  Of course.  If only I'd been there for the battle,
  perhaps things would have turned out differently.
Skektek:  Yeah, I'd been wondering that.  If you were his right-hand man
  then how'd you end up missing that whole fight?
Sir Dremel:  (shaking his head sadly)  I was away in the southern lands,
  helping liberate a town from some ogres.  When the call to arms came,
  Drexel must have thought his force was strong enough...or perhaps there
  was no time to send for me...I am not sure, but these are questions that
  haunt me still.
Elgon:  (helpfully changing the subject)  It must have been some battle.
Sir Dremel:  (proudly)  From all accounts, it was a mighty fray, fit for
  the legends.
Ys:  Indeed it was.
Elgon:  You were there?!?
Ys:  I was, and so were Skektek and Charlie.  And so was Otto, as a matter
  of fact...he actually slew vile Ulrich, your brother's killer, thereby
  avenging his death.
Sir Dremel:  (looks stunned)  I'd heard it was a dwarf...but Rob never
  told me...I shall have to speak to Otto...
Ys:  All in good time.  Here, let's all pour some wine and I'll recount
  the saga...

  As Ys began his undoubtedly colorful rendition of the tale, and the
wispy thing sought out dark nooks and crannies, and Belphanior talked
with Otto on the main deck...the _Liberty_ sailed onward.  The seas were
calm, the winds strong, and they were making excellent time.  From his
earlier talk with the vessel's captain, Belphanior expected to be in one
of the destination ports about three weeks from now.

Belphanior:  (spots the captain on the deck nearby, and goes over to have
  a word with the man)
Captain Plunkett:  Ho, there.  Enjoying the ride?
Belphanior:  That we are.  You've got a fine ship here.  I can see why
  you're at full capacity.
Captain Plunkett:  It's always like this...a couple dozen merchants who
  want to ply their wares on the far side of the sea.  (he scratches his
  stubbly chin)  A couple dozen merchants and their cargoes, plus those
Belphanior:  Yep.  We saw a few of them below decks earlier.  Looked like
  a bunch of small families.  Odd, that they want to leave one land and
  try to settle in another.
Captain Plunkett:  (shrugs)  Let them do as they will.  If people want to
  pay, I'll surely grant them passage.  The money adds up.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Say, can I borrow your mariner's maps for a moment?
  I need to make some plans for the next phase of my journey.
Captain Plunkett:  Sure.  I'll have the cabin boy bring them to you.

  Shortly, Belphanior was in an aft cabin, spreading the maps upon a flat
table.  He knew that the captain's charts were as accurate as any he could
ask for.  Besides, Pallin's map of the Pelisso only detailed that region,
not the seas and land that would have to be traversed to reach the distant
marshland.  Anyhow, after they landed at whichever of the far-shore lands
they reached first - for Belphanior's purposes, it really didn't matter
which - the best bet seemed to be an overland trip right across the neck
of the Tilvanot Peninsula.  While this entailed a bit of travel across
rough, hilly regions and some marshes, it still shaved weeks off of the
alternative sea-borne route.  That latter was also more risky, since it
meant sailing around the lands of the reclusive Scarlet Brotherhood.  The
last thing Belphanior wanted to do was attract attention of that sort.

  Meanwhile, Sir Dremel was having a word or two with Otto...

Otto:  No need to thank me for killing that evil paladin...he was a piece
  of crap anyway and-
Sir Dremel:  (clasps the dwarf's hand)  My thanks, and Heironeous's!  I
  owe you a great debt - and I shall not rest until it is repaid!
Otto:  Well, really.

  That day and the next were uneventful, save for Elgon's hours-long bout
of gambling with some of the ship's crew...

Elgon:  I win again!  How about that?
fat sailor:  Helluva run of good luck you're having here...
Elgon:  Nonsense, my good man.  It's all in the cards.  Now, I'm sure your
  turn will come up the very next hand, just you see.
fat sailor:  (scowls)
skinny sailor:  Deal the cards.

  As it turned out, Elgon won again, and again...and again.  The gnome
didn't have the heart - or perhaps he had too much tact - to explain to
the crewmen that he was a sharp and experienced card-player, while they
were more or less dullards.  Everyone knew that was the key to winning
at Dragon-Deck.  Well, everyone except these men he'd been taking money
from all night...

fat sailor:  (stands up, red in the face)  Enough.
skinny sailor:  No one's that lucky.
smelly sailor:  Maybe he's cheating...
messy sailor:  Maybe it's time we did something about it.
ugly sailor:  Maybe it's time we tossed a gnome over the deck and got our
  money back.

  Elgon found himself surrounded by a ring of angry sailors, a situation
that couldn't possibly end well.

Elgon:  Err...this isn't, now, now...
sailors:  (close in, muttering angrily)
Captain Plunkett:  (appears as if from thin air)  Stop it, all of you.
sailors:  (looking annoyed, they comply, grumbling)
Captain Plunkett:  All of you, disperse at once.  (he waits until they've
  all gone, then turns to Elgon)  You'll have to forgive the crewmen.
  They're paid fairly well, but some of them tend to spend away too much
  money too fast...and then blame others for it.
Elgon:  No problem.
Captain Plunkett:  I think it would be best if you avoided any more card
  games on this ship...for your own safety, you understand.
Elgon:  Agreed, and thanks.  (he heads back to his cabin)

  The gnome had never felt endangered, it had been more a matter of what
spell to use to get out of the predicament.  He knew that any scene at all
would probably have upset Belphanior, and since Elgon was still in a sort
of probationary period, he didn't want to stir anything up.  He went to
sleep that night resolving to stay out of trouble for the remainder of the

  The next day was uneventful for all of them; the weather was clear and
sunny, if still cold, and the waters were calm.  The following morning,
however, as the ship made its way into the heart of the Azure Sea, an
astonishing discovery was made...

Belphanior:  (heading topside for some fresh air, he immediately realizes
  that something's wrong, judging from the dozens of sailors who scamper
  all over the ship in a panic)  What the hell?!?
Captain Plunkett:  (running by with a length of rope)  Our mainsail's
  broken free - and there's another vessel closing in fast!
Belphanior:  Whoa.

  The elf was no sailor, but even he knew that it would take precious
time to get another sail tied and raised...and he doubted that they had
that time, not with another ship closing fast.  He raced to his group's
cabin to convey the news...

Otto:  Pirates, it's got to be.  Friendly ships don't race toward you at
  top speed.  Folks, we're in for some fighting.
Sir Dremel:  (stands, cracking his knuckles)  At last.
Skektek:  Yeah!  (he begins sorting through his possessions)  Now this
  is why I always keep fireballs and lightning bolts memorized...even on
  easy trips...hell, even on vacations...
Elgon:  (to Ys)  Is that wizard crazy?
Ys:  Not at all.  Well, at least not today.
Belphanior:  Everyone, listen up.  Elgon, Jenna - I'm afraid you're both
  due for a trial by fire.  Are you okay with that?
Elgon:  No problem.
Jenna:  It is Istus' will, so I shall-
Belphanior:  Good, glad to hear it.  Sir Dremel, you're not really one
  of our number, so...?
Sir Dremel:  Nonsense.  Any fight of yours is a fight of mine.  (he draws
  his sword)
Belphanior:  (nods to everyone)  Okay, here's how we're going to play it.
  We'll all go on deck; if the captain gives anyone any shit, deal with
  him as you see fit.  We're no longer passengers on this voyage.
Otto:  What's the battle formation?
Belphanior:  Skektek, have something ready, something big and explosive.
  Your job, when I give the word, will be to hit the attacking ship with
  a sinking or crippling attack.
Skektek:  Gotcha.
Belphanior:  But not until I give the word.  I want them to get as close
  as possible, and it may help to see what their intentions are.  Charlie
  and Ys, stick with Skektek for his protection.  Elgon and Jenna, you're
  our healers in case we get clipped by long-distance fire.  Otto, stay
  with them.
Elgon:  But I can help-
Belphanior:  That may be, but you can help the most by following the
  gameplan.  We're low on healers and we need both of you.
Sir Dremel:  What about me?
Belphanior:  We could use your healing, but we could use your sword more,
  if it comes to that.  I suggest staying on deck and seeing how it plays
Sir Dremel:  (raises his sword)  I shall, and if any foes dare to board
  us, I'll surely make them regret it.
Belphanior:  Sounds good.
Skektek:  What about you?
Belphanior:  I'm going to turn invisible and fly around, see what I can
  see.  If I don't come back and give you a verbal signal to unleash some
  hell on the enemy ship, Otto's in charge and you fire on his command.
Otto:  What about Angus?
Belphanior:  Hmm, no use keeping him in that crate below-decks.  If this
  ship goes down, he's sunk anyway.  I'll go retrieve him.  I think that
  the ramp from the main hold to the top deck will support his weight,
  given that this is a cargo ship and they brought tons of stuff down
  there using that same ramp.  I'm not sure what he can do, but perhaps
  he'll find something he can throw at the other ship.  Hell, if nothing
  else, you spellcasters can hide behind him and use him as cover.  I'm
  certain that no weapon the enemy ship's got can hurt him.
wispy thing:  aaarp?
Belphanior:  (flippantly)  You're with Angus.
wispy thing:  brrrp!  (he flies about happily)
Belphanior:  Okay, everyone, into positions.  I'm going to get Angus, and
  then I'll be out of sight for a while.  Good luck, everybody.  (he darts
  out of the cabin)
Otto:  Okay, let's do it.  (they head for the main deck)

  The crew of the _Liberty_ had given up trying to get the new sail in
place, and were instead arming themselves to prepare for the coming fight.

Captain Plunkett:  (eyeing Otto, Ys, and the others warily)  What's this?
Otto:  If there's a fight, we're going to take part.
Captain Plunkett:  Best for you to remain below-decks while this plays
  out. Passengers have no cause for-
Skektek:  Listen here.  I'm a wizard.  I can launch fireballs.  Fireballs
  can sink enemy ships.  Is this making sense to you?
Captain Plunkett:  Hmm...very well then, you make a good point.  Do as
  you will, just stay out of my crew's way and don't do anything to damage
  my ship.  (he rushes off to direct the placement of his archers)

  Meanwhile, as the unknown ship closed the distance, an invisible form
sailed toward it.  Belphanior quickly saw that this was indeed a hostile
ship - a war galleon, to be exact.  It was about the same size as the
_Liberty_ but sleeker, faster, more maneuverable.  Also, its crew were
armed to the teeth and looked like an experienced, dangerous lot.  Some
of these men readied bows, but most held swords, axes, and such.  Oddly,
no catapults or other heavy distance weapons were being deployed; the elf
assumed that this meant the pirates wanted their prey intact.  He sailed
down, cautiously, for a closer look.  The pirate captain wasn't too hard
to identify; he was a large, swarthy man who barked orders and directed
his men with great efficiency and authority.  A swift, unexpected killing
blow was definitely a possibility here, but Belphanior instead chose to
remain hidden and simply eavesdrop...

pirate captain:  -this should be an easy one, just like last time.  You
  all know what to do.  Grapplers, at the ready.  Swordsmen, prepare for
  boarding.  Full speed ahead!

  On the _Liberty_, the crew looked ready for a fight, weapons bristling
and jaws firmly set.  Skektek cackled to himself as he prepared a fireball,
the only attack that would be needed to win this fight and send the other
ship up in flames.

Skektek:  (to Otto)  It's got to be soon.
Otto:  (wondering exactly where Belphanior is)  Okay, get ready...should
  be any time now...
Skektek:  (grins)  Yeah.

  The skinny wizard's smile suddenly turned to a frown, though, as he
felt a very sharp object press up against the back of his neck.

Captain Plunkett:  Not one move.  Not one word, or this crossbow bolt
  fires...and believe me, at this range, even a blind man couldn't miss.
Skektek:  (gulps)

  The adventurers couldn't contain their surprise as the entire crew of
their ship suddenly turned their weapons inward.  In moments, Otto and
the rest found themselves inside a ring of blades and arrows.

Otto:  What the hell?!?
Captain Plunkett:  (spreads his hands)  No need for a long, drawn-out
  explanation, so I'll get right to it:  we recently struck a deal with
  the slavers who sail this area.  We fill our ship's hold with unwitting
  passengers, the pirates "attack" us, the passengers are thrown into
  chains and sold in the lands of the Sea Princes.  In case any of them
  ever speak of what happened, they think it was a real pirate attack and
  we're off the hook.  But now you're here, instead of below decks and out
  of sight and earshot like everyone else.  So now you are a problem.  (he
  turns to his first officer)  Signal the other ship that we're secure.
Skektek:  You'll all die for this.
Captain Plunkett:  (prods the wizard with his crossbow bolt's tip, causing
  a thin trickle of blood to run down Skektek's neck)  You, my friend, are
  in no position to make threats.  (to Otto and the others)  Drop your
  weapons, all of you, or this wizard's throat gets opened up.
wispy thing:  (floating just above Otto's head, he makes a hostile, if
  wispy, face)  snrrd.
Otto:  (sighs, and sets his crossbow down on the deck)  Better do as he
  says, people.
Ys:  (drops his gigantic sword, though the man who rushes in to retrieve
  it can't pick it up due to its weight)
Captain Plunkett:  The rest of you, too.  Now!
other adventurers:  (one by one, they reluctantly lay their weapons on the
Sir Dremel:  This base treachery shall not go unavenged-
Captain Plunkett:  Yeah, yeah, whatever.  The first thing I want now is
  for that big metal guy to walk over the side of the ship.  And then-
  (he looks around suspiciously)  Where is the elf?

next:      blood on the water
released:  1/23/04
notes:     I can't even recall if this is my first story with waterborne
  combat and big ships.  I do like to write about pirates, though.

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