Chapter #958

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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       +
+   1991-2007 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:          12/2/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the skies over the Corusk Mountains                    +
+   Climate:       extremely cold                                         +
+   "You never know how clever - or stupid - the enemy is until you       +
+    test them."                                                          +
+                   - Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith, from _The A-Team_    +

                   CMLVIII.  Closing In

  After a frigid and somewhat unpleasant night, the group is underway
once more, the skyship cutting through the cold mountain skies as it
moves deeper into the Corusk Mountain range.  The skies were clear and
thus visibility was good, though they still weren't sure what they were
looking for...

Skektek:  All of these mountains look...well, they all look the same.
Mongo:  Every mountain is different, and special.  Take it from someone
  who's traveled through lots of them.
Elgon:  Or beneath them, in our case.
Mongo:  That's what I meant.
Ys:  If this Kronos character has a fortress in the peaks, surely we will
  be able to see it.
Otto:  Well, yeah - but only if we fly right past it.  I think magic is
  the plan for this one.  (he nods toward Neera and Jenna)
Belphanior:  Precisely.  Neera, please explain.
Neera:  We're taking a dual approach; I'm going to cast this spell, which
  is attuned toward the detection of large sources of magical power.
Jenna:  And I'm simply going to pray to Istus for some details about the
  location of Kronos.
Mongo:  This is like a pincer movement in a land battle!
Neera:  Well...perhaps.  Ideally, both of our spells will point toward
  the same result...
Jenna:  ...and then we'll know we're on the right track.
Belphanior:  It sounds good.  Please proceed as you see fit.  In the
  meantime, I'll steer the ship and keep searching the old-fashioned way.
Neera:  You might want to cut the speed, or stop the ship, actually.  My
  magic, at least, is much more accurate if we're not moving.

  Shortly, both women began working their powerful, strange magic.  In
Neera's case, it was simply a matter of casting a spell; in Jenna's case
the effort involved a prayer to Istus for guidance and some answers.
Belphanior let Jenna use the interior cabin, so that she could be free
of distractions and be able to truly concentrate.  The elf had noticed
that the priestess (and her goddess, perhaps) seemed to prefer privacy
during these rites.  Neera simply remained on the skyship's deck and
worked her spell; a blue nimbus appeared around her head.

wispy thing:  (slowly floating toward the crackling energy)  pffft.
Belphanior:  (silently waves the wisp away, not wanting Neera's spell
  interrupted or interfered with in any way)

  The young woman's brow furrowed with effort as the blue flames danced
about her head, and then her body.  The other adventurers backed away,
not eager to come into contact with these unknown magical forces.  Neera
began to move her hands in complex patterns, and some of the bluish
energy shifted and coalesced, forming a large, crude arrow.  The thing
was about two feet long, and composed entirely of the magical force.

Elgon:  (nods, impressed)
Skektek:  (frowns, wondering how powerful this magic could possibly be)

  Tiny beads of sweat appeared on Neera's face, as if maintaining this
spell was taking a supreme effort on her part.  The blue arrow emitted
an aura, something that the others present could just _feel_ in the air.

Neera:  (her eyes closed, she grits her teeth with the strain)

  The arrow of energy suddenly began spinning, around and around, wildly
and with increasing speed, as if searching for something.

Mongo:  What's it-
Belphanior:  Shh!

  As they all watched, the blue arrow slowed its chaotic movements, the
pointed tip finally settling on a direction to the ship's starboard side.
At this point, the arrow stopped moving - not even a quiver.  It was dead
still, and the spell had clearly found what it was looking for.

Neera:  (opens her eyes)  We've got him.
Belphanior:  (pumps a fist in the air)  Outstanding!  This is good news-

  Just then, a second field of magical energy, black as the darkest night
and crackling with power, suddenly came into being near the blue arrow
conjured by Neera.

Skektek:  What the hell is that?!?
Neera:  I...I don't know.

  An icy wind whipped up, chilling the adventurers to the bone, as the
shapeless mass of black energy quickly formed into a fist...a fist which
closed around the blue arrow, snapping it in half!

Neera:  Aaargh!  (she reels for a moment before falling to the deck)
Belphanior:  (rushes to her side)
Ys:  Is she-
Belphanior:  She's fine, just unconscious.  (he looks up at the two
  manifestations of magical energy)

  The blue energy, having been "broken", was now fragmented into small
blue sparks which were quickly fading out.  The black energy remained,
a clenched fist hovering in the air over the skyship's deck.  Suddenly,
a deep, powerful voice - seeming to emanate from the black force-fist -
spoke to the adventurers...

disembodied voice:  Stop searching for me.

  With that, the black energy simply vanished, leaving a rather astounded
group of people standing in a circle around Neera's unconscious body.

Mongo:  Well, I guess he told us.
Belphanior:  It would seem so.  (he picks Neera up and carries her toward
  the cabin)
Ys:  (opens the door for the elf)
Belphanior:  Thanks.
Jenna:  (emerges from the cabin)  Istus smiles upon us this day.  (she
  sees Neera)  What happened?
Belphanior:  It seems that Kronos doesn't want us to find him.  Neera
  was hit by some kind of scrying backlash, but she seems to be okay.
Jenna:  I'll tend to her in a moment.  My prayers were answered.  This
  Kronos does in fact inhabit one of these mountains, and I was given a
  clear vision about which one.
Skektek:  What did you see?  It's still going to be tough to find one
  particular mountain among many.
Jenna:  (shakes her head)  I meant it when I said this was a _clear_
  vision.  We seek the Black Crown - a peak which we shall know when we
  see it - and it is less than a day's voyage from our present position.
  We just need a direction.
Ys:  Neera's magical arrow...
Otto:  I already noted the exact direction it was pointing before it got
Belphanior:  Good.  Turn the ship that way and let's get moving.  We've
  got a dinner date with Kronos.

  It was a determined party who now made preparations for battle.  One
of their number had been somehow attacked, and despite the danger, they
sought payback for that.  As the ship skimmed through the clouds at a
high rate of speed, weapons and magic were readied and jaws were set in
grim determination.  Fortunately, Belphanior didn't have to worry about
Neera overmuch...

Belphanior:  How is she?
Jenna:  She's fine, but she needs rest.  If we find this Black Crown and
  seek to leave the ship and explore, we might consider leaving someone
  behind with Neera.  Either way, she's in no condition for battle.
Belphanior:  (nods)
Jenna:  I think she suffered some sort of magical shock, as if a more
  powerful force turned back her scrying attempts.
Belphanior:  I think that's exactly what happened.  At least she was able
  to show us the way, before that backlash hit her.
Jenna:  This Kronos...he seems quite powerful.  Are you sure you're ready
  for this?
Belphanior:  Yes.  I realize that he has an advantage over me, in that he
  actually _created_ one of my most powerful weapons, but I have an ace
  up my sleeve, that he'd never expect.  I have to believe that
  it will significantly aid our efforts at a parley.  If not...(he shrugs)
  I guess we'll know, soon enough.

next:       Kronos!
released:   2/23/07
notes:      If you've never explored the possibility of making money on
  eBay by selling things you don't want or need, I encourage you to look
  into it.  It's quite incredible.
    I swear by all that's holy:  we will meet Kronos in the next episode!

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