Chapter #956

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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       +
+   1991-2007 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        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Neera          11th level human female sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          12/1/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the skies over the realm of the Frost Barbarians       +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance        +
+    that we can solve them."                            - Isaac Asimov   +

                   CMLVI.  Journey to the North

  After a week and a half of travel (and a couple of stops to replenish
supplies) the group has entered the frozen north, home of the assorted
barbarian nations, their lands divided by mighty mountain ranges.  One
such range, the Corusks, may hold the secret that Belphanior seeks:  the
hidden lair of the lich Kronos.

Belphanior:  (standing at the ship's helm, wearing a heavier cloak than
  his normal red one)  We're almost there...should be sometime today, or
  maybe tomorrow.

  The travel time hadn't been used idly, for the most part.  Jenna had
slept for an entire day after her feat of magically re-creating Kronos'
battle against Torin, from six years ago.  As always, the unique spells
of Istus were exceptionally draining on her high priestess - but as time
went on, Belphanior was becoming more convinced that Jenna's scrying and
divination powers were useful to his overall purposes.  In recent times,
she had definitely proven that more than once.  Skektek had spent his
time studying his spells and inventorying his magical items, with a focus
on ones that were more useful against undead and cold-based foes.  Mongo
had grumbled about being airborne, but had allayed his unease somewhat by
going on every supply trip that was made to the surface below.  Already,
the group had stopped once in Urnst and a second time in the Pale, with a
third stop planned today or tomorrow in the northeastern fringes of the
lands of the Frost Barbarians (Fruzti).
  Elgon, too, had made sure he joined any groups venturing down to get
supplies.  As a gnome, he was inherently linked to the earth, and thus
he preferred to not be away from it for very long.  Neera spent a lot of
time with her notes and scrolls, doing further research in case there
was something she'd missed before.  She also prepared herself for any
potential battle that she might find herself involved in, checking her
spells and recounting Belphanior's valuable lessons for physical combat.
Ys was relaxed as always, and his primary activity of interest right now
was eating.  The big reptilian consumed three times as much as anyone
else aboard, and was the main reason that they had to stop every few
days to replenish their supplies.  To tell the truth, though, everyone
aboard was happy to have some breaks, and at some point, each of them
accompanied at least one of the trips down to the surface.
  For Otto and Razor Charlie, these pre-adventure waits were old news,
and they did what any good warriors do to prepare for dangerous combat.

Otto:  (snoozing lightly)
Razor Charlie:  (sharpening his knives)

  For Charlie's part, he wasn't yet sure if he wanted to "try to retire"
again, or if he'd stick things out with Belphanior and the others.  The
reasoning that had led him to leave in the first place was still valid,
but at the same time, he had to admit that life on his own had quickly
become boring.  It just wasn't the same without enemies to fight and
challenges to overcome.  Razor Charlie was starting to wonder if he'd
just become too used to the dangerous life...and yet, he was pretty sure
that he wouldn't be accompanying Belphanior and crew to the Sea of Dust,
the vampire city, or any similar place.  One thing was certain:  until
he finally figured things out, he had nothing better to do than continue
to tag along on this trip to the Corusk Mountains.
  As for Belphanior, he just continued to do what was necessary:  pilot
the ship (with breaks as necessary) and prepare his weapons, spells, and
strategies for what was to come.  Even now, he found himself being asked
just _what_ those strategies were...

Skektek:  What's the plan?  Surely we're not going to just fly around
  the mountains until we spot an ancient castle nestled high atop some
Belphanior:  No.  We're going to stop over a small town at the foot of
  the range, restock on supplies, take a short break, and hunt around
  for rumors or clues about anything unusual in this area.  (he turns
  to regard Neera and Jenna)  And then, with Neera's knowledge of those
  things she and Parekh scried for, and Jenna's divination magic, I'm
  hoping we'll be able to locate the hidden lair of Kronos.
Skektek:  (rubs his chin, nodding)  It's not a direct plan, but yet it's
  a good one.
Belphanior:  I'm glad you approve.
Skektek:  (quietly)  I know I've been questioning a lot of your ideas
  lately, and it's nothing personal or malicious.  I just figured that
  sometimes, it's good to have a devil's advocate around, to notice
  aspects that nobody else did, and make the overall plan a more solid
Belphanior:  No problem.  (he neglects to mention that if Skektek or any
  of the others had an irrelevant point, or one Belphanior really didn't
  agree with, he would just ignore it anyway)
Ys:  I have another concern.
Belphanior:  What's that?
Ys:  Well, we know that this skyship was invented and constructed by the
  very individual we now seek...and we seek him almost certainly against
  his wishes.  It stands to reason that Kronos will know we are
  approaching, and might even be able to take control of this ship at
  some point.
Belphanior:  I actually did think about that, but I'm not overly worried
  about it, and here's why.  Kronos has to know that his ship is roaming
  the world...and if he cared, wouldn't he have done something by now?
Ys:  (frowns, then nods)  A good point, I must admit.
Belphanior:  I agree that he might, at any time, visit us or take his
  ship back.  However, we can't search this mountain range on foot - it
  would take years, never mind the cold and visibility issues.  Since
  the lich hasn't made a move to this point, I have to conclude that he
  either doesn't care, or holds no real power over the skyship he built.
Skektek:  (shaking his head)  Whoa...okay, you just called him a lich.
  When we discussed this the other day, you and Neera said he is and he
  isn't.  Have you decided he is, or are we just going to assume he is?
Belphanior:  We're assuming he is, because we JUST DON'T KNOW!  It's
  just a convenient figure of speech that we're using until we learn the
  true answer!  (he calms down somewhat)  I'll tell you what, though:
  you can be sure to ask Kronos when you meet him, and maybe then your
  curiosity will be satisfied.
Skektek:  (seeing the look in the elf's eye, he backs down)  Right.
Ys:  (muttering quietly)  Curiosity killed the cat...
Mongo:  (hefts his hammer, bellowing loudly)  Lich or not, he'll damn
  well play nice when we meet him...or else!
Razor Charlie:  (nods)  What he said.
Otto:  Let's just hope that Kronos doesn't suddenly regain his interest,
  or his control of this skyship, when we get too close.
Belphanior:  I'm prepared for that too.  Worst case, we can just teleport
  to safety.
wispy thing:  (hovering near the elf's head)  frrrp.
Elgon:  (to Belphanior)  It's still dangerous.
Belphanior:  I'm used to that - everything I do is dangerous.  You just
  have to make the proper preparations so that the deck is stacked in
  your favor.  I think that's what separates successful adventurers from
  dead ones.
Otto:  Truer words were never spoken.
Skektek:  (thinking that he would have qualified the statement with some
  sort of claim about the power of lightning bolts and fireballs)

  They sailed through the sky for several more hours, until the peaks
loomed before them as the day reached its midpoint.  Belphanior pointed
out a small town far below, perhaps an hour's ride from the base of the
mountain range.

Belphanior:  There.  We'll need to send a smaller group down to pick up
  some things, and do some basic investigation.  While I don't expect the
  town's residents to be aware of any liches living in the mountains to
  the north, we might be able to pick up some more subtle clues or hints.
Elgon:  Who's going?
Mongo:  (interrupts)  I'm going.  (he looks around as if he dares anyone
  to argue with him)
Belphanior:  I've already got this scouting group planned:  myself,
  Otto, Neera, and Mongo.  We'll be back in a couple of hours, so just
  stay here and be patient.  Oh, and if anyone has any special requests,
  like large quantities of salted fish- (he glances at Ys) -let Neera
  know and we'll pick it up.
Ys:  Salmon...they truly are the best.
Elgon:  Sounds fishy to me.

  Shortly, the smaller group had been transported down there, arriving
a decent distance from the edge of the town, and out of line of sight,
to avoid any witnesses to their unusual arrival.

Mongo:  Ah, the earth.  (he stomps on the dirt)  We're back.  (he begins
  putting his armor on)
Belphanior:  I'm glad we realized some time ago that you need to remove
  that coat of mail, before we can successfully teleport you.
Mongo:  (shrugs)
Otto:  (watching as his breath mists in the frigid air)
Neera:  (shivers)  Brrrr.

  It was cold here, in the north - a bitter, brutal cold that was only
intensified by the wild, whipping wind that seemed to drive the cold
into all possible openings in clothing and armor.  They made haste to
the town, which was a good-sized place typical of remote settlements.
A high wall surrounded the place, which they guessed was home to several
thousand people.  Numerous armed guards patrolled the top of the wall;
these men were giants, Fruzti barbarians born and raised in these wild
lands.  Battle and danger had been with them since childhood, and now
those children had grown into hulking warriors, all of them over six
feet tall with many approaching seven.

Mongo:  You know, I think I heard that Arnold used to live around here,
  somewhere in this kingdom.  We should see if we can find him, if we
  have time.
Belphanior:  That's old news - he moved to Tenh and settled down.  (he
  eyes the dwarf)  Don't you remember?
Mongo:  Err...yeah.  Yeah, I do.  I just got confused there for a second.
Belphanior:  That's okay, it happens to all of us.

  All four of them (though less so in Neera's case) had ventured into
numerous cities in their lifetimes, and there was almost always some
level of suspicious looks toward any outsiders.  Here, this was much
more prevalent and pronounced.  Dozens of eyes watched the four as they
approached the city gates, and indeed, the quartet was stopped by the
guards as they tried to enter the city.

guard captain:  You people definitely aren't from around here.
Belphanior:  No, we're just passing through and we need to get some
guard captain:  Supplies?  Where are you headed?  You sure as hell didn't
  come from the Corusks, which must mean that you're headed _into_ them.
Belphanior:  Maybe.
guard captain:  (mumbling something about certain doom, he eyes the group
  warily)  No horses, either.  Well, you can spend your money here, for
  all the good it'll do you.
Belphanior:  (nods)
Mongo:  Damn right we'll spend money here - I haven't had a decent meal
  in a week!
guard captain:  (points toward the interior of the town)  Be my guest,
  shorty.  (he chuckles, amused at these apparently clueless travelers
  who think they can buy some food, supplies, and horses and just head
  up into the mountains)
Mongo:  What-  (to Belphanior)  What'd he just call me?
guard captain:  Eh?
Belphanior:  Uh...

next:       battle
released:   2/9/07
notes:      I'd like to revisit Arnold, but it's tough to work in when
  they have such a serious mission ahead of them.  I'll see what I can
  do for you Arnold fans out there.

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