Chapter #1039

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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       +
+   1991-2020 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     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+     Poulos       gigantic, beefy former slave with scimitar             +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+     Williamson   a young soldier from Fellban                           +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Date:          unknown (just over three weeks since arrival)          +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the wilderness south of the City of Fellban            +
+   Climate:       cool and pleasant                                      +
+   "The people who made the world are the people who were the risk-      +
+    takers, the people who didn't play it safe, the people who can       +
+    see opportunity where others see only risk."                         +
+                   - narration from _Mankind:  The Story of All of Us_   +

                   MXXXIX.  The Land of Mists

  Healed, rested, and together again, the party has departed Fellban for
the south...

Otto:  (at the reins of the team of horses pulling the immense wagon, he
  grins as the wind blows across his face)  Now this is more like it.

  The wagon moved along the road at a rapid clip, heading ever-southward.
The group had been surprised that such a road existed, but Jaron had
assured them that it had been there as long as anyone could remember.
This led to a working theory that the mysterious mists had, in the past,
somehow been used to divide up a larger area into several artificial,
smaller regions.  Whatever the case, it was likely that the party would
soon find out.  At any rate, they now headed toward that mystery, their
unique vehicle pulled by the eight strong horses provided by Jaron.
  While the wagon was certainly large enough to accommodate everyone, the
rest of the party used separate mounts.  This lightened the load in the
moving wagon, and also allowed individuals to move about separately for
scouting purposes.  For now, only the dwarf rode in the massive war-wagon
(and was very clearly enjoying it.)

Otto:  (thinking about various potential battle scenarios involving the
  wagon, he grins)

  The other seven (as well as Otto's riderless horse, which was secured
to one of the others with a long rope) rode separately, scattered around
the wagon.  As expected, the young warrior Williamson had been allowed to
join them; it had been decided that Otto would be in charge of the lad.

Williamson:  (rather pleased to be riding along through the wilderness)
  Thank you for letting me come along.
Belphanior:  You're welcome, but don't thank us yet.  This will be a long
  and perilous road.  It won't be easy, and it could be fatal.
Williamson:  If that worried me, I wouldn't have joined you, not now and
  not before for the battle against the baron.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Just so you understand, this won't be an easy path,
  and assuming we succeed in escaping, we're not coming back to this land.
Williamson:  That's fine by me.  With both my father and now the baron
  gone, I have no reason to stay here.  (he nods)  And to tell the truth,
  I've always wanted to see what else is out there, beyond the mists.
Skektek:  Well, at the rate we're going, we may know by nightfall.  That
  mayor said it was a long day's ride.
Belphanior:  Then we'll slow down, or else make camp tonight before we
  get anywhere near these mists.  I don't want to deal with that in the
  darkness of nighttime.  That...just doesn't seem like a good idea.

  As the hours passed, and they put more distance between themselves and
Fellban, the air grew cooler.  They also noticed that there were many
more clouds in the sky, causing the sun's light to dim considerably.

Hope:  Well, _that's_ not ominous...
Skektek:  It could just be overcast.
Belphanior:  It could be, but barring the arrival of a big storm, it's
  not normal for weather to get cooler as one moves south.  (to Poulos
  and Williamson)  Do either of you know any reason for this...some local
  lore or tale, perhaps involving the mists?
Poulos:  I do not.  I have no previous experience with them.
Williamson:  All I know is that I've heard stories from the few who came
  this way and returned.  It was said that the land of mists was cold and
  just generally unpleasant.  (he shakes his head)  Which, so far, seems
  to be true.

  They half-expected it to start raining at some point, but that actually
didn't happen.  However, as the day wore on, the temperature continued to
drop and the wind picked up.  By late afternoon, it was noticeably chilly;
and with the mists not yet in sight, Belphanior soon decided to act on his
previous idea...

Belphanior:  We'll break for the night early, and pick up the journey
  tomorrow.  That should see us arrive at the mists around midday.  (he
  surveys the immediate area)  Let's set up camp here, with the usual
  precautions and wards.

  This meant fires, spikes, traps, and spells - though not to the extent
they'd employed to prepare for the battle with Baron Tarkus - and by the
time dusk arrived the party felt as secure as they possibly could.  They
ate supper and prepared for sleep before night fell, and were hoping that
the early bedtime would translate into an early start tomorrow morning.
As always in these situations, the question was whether or not someone or
something would attack in the middle of the night.  Strangely enough, on
this particular night, that didn't happen.  They'd expected some sort of
nocturnal visitors, given that they were closer to the land of mists than
Fellban...but none showed up.  Morning found them well-rested and ready
to continue southward.

Belphanior:  (glancing up at the overcast sky, he frowns)  Cloudy and cold be it.  It's time to find these mists...find them and deal
  with them.

  It didn't take long; only a couple of hours later, they first noticed
something odd on the horizon...

Belphanior:  (to Otto)  What do you make of it?
Otto:  Looks like the clouds come right down from the sky, all the way
  to the ground.  Hard to tell anything more from this distance...this
  sort of thing can play tricks on the eyes.  We'll know soon, I suspect.
Belphanior:  Good.

  As they drew closer to the strange phenomenon, they realized that Otto
was right:  the curtain of mists ahead seemingly extended from the ground
all the way up into the sky, a barrier of seemingly infinite height.  The
vapors themselves weren't swirling, rolling, or moving in any way; rather,
they were simply _there_, floating gently in place.

Belphanior:  Well.  (to the others)  Stand fast, at least until we can
  determine more about these mists.
Irina:  (wistfully)  This would have been a good time to employ the
  divination magic of Istus.
Otto:  Looks like we can see about five feet or so, within the mists...
  not good, if we have to fight while in there.  (he sniffs the air)  No
  unusual smell, at least.  They're probably not toxic.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)
Williamson:  The tales I've always heard about this place always end in
  one of two ways:  either people vanish, or else they can't get through
  and have to turn back.
Poulos:  Once, I heard Vorkos the Red mention that the mists sometimes
  cause people to get turned around...such that they can walk for a while
  in the same direction but when they emerge, they find themselves right
  back where they entered.
Skektek:  The mists must be highly magical, then.
Hope:  (eyeing the horses, which all seem a bit nervous)  Or highly evil.
Irina:  (staring at the vaporous barrier ahead)  Or both, most likely.
Belphanior:  (draws his sword)  There's only one way to find out.

  The elf didn't know the exact nature of the mists, or what lay beyond.
The one thing he did know was that he didn't want to remain in Tarkus (or
whatever it would get renamed) any longer.  There was nothing there that
would help them get back to their own world, and thus there was no reason
to remain there any longer.  Not to mention the fact that Belphanior was
just sick and tired of the area, especially now that its singlemost major
threat had been eliminated.
  Anyway, this seemed like a worthwhile risk given what they knew.  There
might be monsters in the mists - the elf had certainly encountered such
before, long ago - but there was also a pretty good chance that the mists
could afford access to some other land.  Hopefully, it would contain some
mechanism (or at least a clue) to allow them to escape these lands.

Belphanior:  (to everyone)  Let's do this.  Slow pace, and stay close to
  the wagon.  Have your weapons and magic ready.  (to Williamson). Take
  a bag of sand from the wagon, and ride rear guard.  Release a trickle
  of the sand at a steady rate, as we move through the mists...that will
  help us retrace our steps, if we need to.
Williamson:  (nods)

  With that, the party entered the mists, slowly and cautiously.  It was
quickly apparent that these mists were no natural phenomenon; mere moments
after the vapors closed around the rear of the wagon, the surrounding
world went silent.  It was uncanny - like being within a spell of silence,
as they could barely hear the sounds of the horses and wagon.  Stranger
still, there was no _other_ sound at wind, no wildlife, nothing.
In addition, the air in here was cool yet dry, unlike any other fog bank
they'd ever seen.

Belphanior:  (signals everyone to keep quiet, as there is no need for any
  talking right now)

  The road they'd followed since leaving Fellban had ended at the mists,
and Otto now drove the wagon purely by instinct and experience, his grip
tight on the reins, the muscles in his forearms knotted with the total
effort of his concentration.  It was a strange experience, not being able
to see more than a few feet in front of their faces and not hearing any
natural sound at all.  While it made rational sense that they'd hear some
kind of noise from things like their horses' hooves touching the ground,
or their clothing rustling as they rode...such sounds seemed nonexistent
here.  It was as if the mists somehow consumed all such noises.  A mild
but persistent breeze, seemingly emanating from nowhere, made the cool air
within the mists a bit chillier.

Otto:  (stops the wagon suddenly)  Eh?
Belphanior:  What?
Otto:  I heard something-

  Suddenly, they all heard it...a sort of low keening or wailing, which
might have been distant, or might have been fifty feet away.  Somehow, it
was impossible to tell.

Williamson:  Uh...I'm sorry to have to speak up, being new and everything,
  but I need to point out that the sand-trail behind the wagon is gone.
Belphanior:  Gone?  (he looks)
Otto:  (turns around, confirming the statement)  Oh, that's not good.
Williamson:  (stares at the line of sand behind the wagon, which extends
  a few feet before ceasing to exist)
Irina:  That's...not good.
Skektek:  Gone?!?  How can it be gone?  No one's there, right behind us.
  This doesn't make any sense!
Poulos:  (tightens his grip on his scimitar)
Otto:  (to Belphanior)  What do you think?
Belphanior:  We stay the course...proceed slowly but cautiously.  Everyone
  be ready.  Skektek - you watch the back.  Hope - you keep focused on the
Hope:  (nods, grimly)

  Weapons, magic, and wands were readied to deal with whatever might
come their way next.  The great war-wagon - suddenly not seeming quite so
secure in this environment - moved along, its team of horses quite clearly
nervous yet held in check by Otto's steady hand.  The adventurers expected
an attack at any moment, and eyed the mists uneasily as they tried in vain
to discern what might be lurking out there.  The unsettling wailing sound
continued, its source and nature impossible to know; it was everywhere at
once, all around them, and yet did not seem to be moving.
  They continued like this for what felt like an eternity, nerves on edge
and hearts racing.  Any sense of time or space were lost, despite the
solid ground beneath them and the fact that they were moving along at a
regular pace.  And then - moments or perhaps hours after first entering
this strange area - they could make out a brighter area ahead, as if they
were moving toward a sunrise.  The thick vapors gradually became less
dense, less all-encompassing...and then suddenly, they emerged from the
mists altogether!  Before them lay a gentle, rolling plain which extended
into the distance.  Small hills dotted the landscape, here and there, as
far as they could see.  While it was chilly here, the sun shone down and
lent a certain warmth and comfort.

Otto:  (turns and looks behind them, noting that the wall of mists from
  which they emerged has receded about a hundred feet)  Whoa.
Belphanior:  That's odd.  (he regards the area ahead, then looks back at
  the mists again)
Irina:  It almost seems that we're being made to proceed in a certain
Belphanior:  That may be, but just getting out of Tarkus is progress...
  (he frowns)  We'll have to see what this new land holds in store.

next:       meanwhile, back on Oerth...
released:   9/11/20
notes:      My writing rate/pace has slowed down lately; 1038 was written
  in late June, and this one was written in late July.  (Before now, I'd
  pretty much written 1-2 per week.)  My buffer (meaning the number of
  completed/ready episodes I have available at any given time) dwindled
  from a dozen in 7 now, counting this one.  But it's my
  sincere intention to keep up the pace of releasing one episode a week,
  through the end of 2020.  To be transparent, I've got two things going
  on in my life right now; one is good (new relationship) and one is not
  (family medical issue.)  And both take time and energy.
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