Chapter #1078

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic VI     +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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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       +
+   1991-2021 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!                                          +
+   Daffodil       11th level human druidess of Obad-Hai                  +
+   Dervan          9th level human ranger                                +
+   Peyote         12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid of Obad-Hai   +
+   Relmar         18th level human high priest of Pelor                  +
+   Date:          11/8/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         an undiscovered continent far to the east              +
+   Climate:       warm and dry                                           +
+   "How are you so calm, anyway?"                                        +
+   "I'm getting used to this sort of thing."                             +
+              - from _Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D._ episode _Emancipation_     +

                   MLXXVIII.  A Winged Threat

  While three of their number are away on an extended scouting mission to
the southeast, the other four adventurers have remained in their camp on
the mountain ledge, dealing with other things...

Daffodil:  (tending the vegetables in her small garden)
Relmar:  (checking the climbing-ropes to make sure they're free of damage
  or decay)
Dervan:  (finishes another stone arrowhead)  We should see about building
  a small forge, so that we can make metal items-
Peyote:  (walking past, he sees something in the distance)  Whoa!

  The half-elf's comment got their attention; for once, one of his random
outbursts was actually useful.  In the distance, something ominous moved
through the sky:  a large pack of winged dinosaurs...which was rapidly
headed their way.

Peyote:  I wonder what those guys want?
Relmar:  (puts the ropes down, and begins absentmindedly tapping the haft
  of his mace)  My guess?  Lunch.

  To be sure, they had occasionally seen such flying creatures over the
last few months - but never more than one or two at a time, and always in
the distance.  It was possible that the things were more intelligent than
anyone had thought, such that one had scouted the party's home and caused
others to join together.  Or perhaps the airborne beasts had simply never
shown an interest in the adventurers until now.  It was impossible to be
certain, but what _was_ certain was the very imminent danger posed by the
flying dinosaurs.
  Fortunately, this was one of several potential scenarios that the party
had anticipated and planned for.  Many weeks ago, they'd built a defensive
screen of sturdy branches, bound together with vines.  The device looked
much like a portcullis, except that it was made of natural materials; its
criss-crossing pattern of thick limbs left numerous square gaps about six
inches across.  These would allow some missile fire or spear-thrusts while
also keeping foes at bay.  Several dozen sharpened spikes also protruded
outward from the screen, such that any foe colliding with the screen would
face serious risk of stabbing itself.  Overall, the device was sized and
shaped so that it fit snugly over the mouth of the passage leading into
the mountain.  The idea was that they could retreat into that tunnel and
pull the protective screen back with them, tying the ropes on its edges
to the iron spikes that had been driven into the rock of the passage.

Relmar:  (being mindful of the spikes, he quickly but carefully shifts the
  heavy protective screen from where it leans against the stone wall just
  outside the opening into the mountain, moving it about halfway over the
  passage's mouth so that it will be easier to move into place later)
Daffodil:  (grabs the sacks of previously-picked garden crops, taking them
  back into the passage)  Better safe than sorry.

  Of course, before any retreat was made, there were certain offensive
measures that could be taken...

Dervan:  (hurriedly checks his quiver, then takes a look at Peyote's too)
  Almost done here.
Peyote:  (retrieves a large box full of sharp iron caltrops)  Right on.

  As the flying creatures neared, it became possible to make out details
of their bodies.  They had huge wingspans - well over twenty feet - but
their actual bodies were about the same size as a human's.  While they
lacked functional arms (as their forearms were part of their wings), they
sported sharp beaks several feet long.  Worse, their claw-tipped hind legs
could be used to grab small prey and carry it away.  It certainly seemed
possible that any of the four adventurers on the ledge could fit into that

Dervan:  Remember the plan for this - the archers do as much damage as we
  can, then we'll retreat into the passage and pull the barrier into place
  after us!
Relmar:  (calmly)  We'll be ready.

  As Daffodil and Relmar stood next to the screen, making sure its ropes
were straightened out and free of tangles, Peyote and Dervan took up their
bows and made ready.  They let the flying dinosaurs get within a hundred
feet before loosing their first arrows.  Both men were highly skilled with
the bow, and the foes were too close to miss.

pteranodon #1:  (hit in the side of its head with an arrow) Screee!  (it
  immediately falls away from the pack and out of sight)
pteranodon #2:  (struck high in its torso, it shrieks and then twists over
  in mid-flight, colliding with another of its number)
pteranodon #3:  Craaa!  (it tumbles through the air, entangled with the
  other one as both tumble away)

  Two more of the things were dispatched with subsequent shots, but then
the rest began to land on the ledge.  Not counting the five that had been
killed, wounded, or separated from the pack, there were still almost a
dozen of the flying dinosaurs left.  Most of these began shuffling toward
the adventurers, although one chose to sniff around in Daffodil's garden.

pteranodon #13:  (eyeing a rather large potato)  Scra?
Peyote:  (retreating toward the passage mouth, he aims and fires another
pteranodon #13:  (hit in one eye as the arrow's tip emerges from the other
  side of its head)  Scraaaa.  (it falls over, the potato now forgotten,
  and collapses right in the middle of the garden)
Peyote:  Aw, man.  Daffodil's gonna kill me.  (he quickly retreats before
  the creatures' advance)
Dervan:  Mind the caltrops.
Peyote:  Right on, man.

  They had previously strewn the things across the ledge, leaving a very
narrow path through which they backed up toward the mouth of the passage.
It amazed Dervan that the seemingly absentminded Peyote was able to make
his retreat without stepping on any of the sharp objects, but the half-elf
was actually a lot more competent than he appeared.  Not so the dinosaurs,
who sensed that their prey was on the verge of escaping, and thus hastened
their advance.

pteranodon #4:  (steps down firmly on a caltrop, whose upward-facing spike
  pierces its foot, emerging from the top)  Screeee!  (writing in pain, it
  accidentally brings its other foot down on two more caltrops) Screeeeee!
Peyote:  (chuckling)
pteranodon #5:  (charging forward, it steps on a half-dozen caltrops, both
  feet suffering multiple wounds)  Screeee!

  The two archers were able to bring down another three of the foes before
the rest made it through the caltrop zone and bore down on them as they
continued to retreat.

Peyote:  (darts past the spiked screen which Relmar holds ready)  Come on,
Dervan:  (right behind the half-elf)  I'm-
pteranodon #11:  (lunges forward with surprising speed, its head bobbing
  on its neck as it moves...and then its long, pointed beak snaps out with
  a sudden motion)
Dervan:  (impaled, the point of the creature's beak now protruding from
  the front of his chest)  Urk.
Peyote:  No!
Dervan:  (coughs, spitting up a great gout of blood)

  Already, another of the pteranodons was there, and grabbed the ranger's
right arm in its beak, tearing it off with a sudden violent wrench.

Dervan:  (stares in shock at the bony knob on his shoulder, which is now
  spurting blood)  Damn it all...(he passes out)
pteranodon #11:  (trying to free its beak from the man's torso, it reels
  from the arrow Peyote just fired through its skull)

  The half-elf was moving past the barrier, even as Relmar and Daffodil
shouted warnings to him.  He was determined to rescue the dying ranger,
no matter what the cost - but then stopped his advance as two more of the
pteranodons latched onto Dervan and tore off further pieces.  At the same
time, the creatures' advancing ranks were bolstered by those who had been
wounded or distracted before.

Relmar:  He's gone.
Peyote:  (grits his teeth)  I...I know.  (they quickly retreat into the
  passage mouth, the half-elf dropping his bow and helping the priest pull
  the defensive barrier into place)
Daffodil:  (grabs one of the screen's ropes and quickly fastens it to an
  iron spike further back in the passage)
Peyote:  (lets go of the thing and grabs another rope, pulling with all
  his might while Daffodil moves to tie it off next)
Relmar:  (leaps back away from the screen as pteranodon beaks begin to
  stab through the square holes, seeking flesh to grab)

  The dinosaurs pushed and pounded the barrier relentlessly, but due to
its design and the shape of the passage entrance, they couldn't dislodge
it.  Had they been intelligent enough to cease their advance and instead
_pull_ the screen, they would have been successful; as it was, the party
was taking no chances, and moved to secure the crude defensive measure as
quickly as they could.

Daffodil:  Hold it steady!  One more to go!
Peyote:  (grabs a spear that was left here for just this purpose, and
  stabs through an opening in the screen, eliciting a loud shriek of pain
  from a random foe)
Relmar:  Looks like they're also wounding themselves by being pushed up
  against the spikes we built into the thing, too.
Daffodil:  (finishes tying off the last rope)  That's because they're
Peyote:  Not stupid enough to miss our hideout here...or to get Dervan.
  Man, that really sucks.  That dude was pretty cool.
Relmar:  (silently cursing the lack of all magic here, as otherwise he'd
  wield a number of powerful spells that could have saved the ranger, or
  simply prevented this battle in the first place)

  While most packs of attacking creatures would have eventually given up
and left, the pteranodons didn't, instead continuing to press against the
screen - which was bowing inward.  Enough of this might have broken it,
but the three remaining adventurers were proactive in their efforts to
keep that from happening...lethally proactive.  Peyote had taken up his
bow once more, and lined up shots at point-blank range, firing them right
into the creatures pressing up against the screen.  Daffodil used her
staff to poke at the exposed faces of other creatures, and Relmar swung
his mace with swift, powerful blows.  At some point, a gap appeared in
the wall of dinosaurs pushing against the screen...and then another.  As
more and more attackers perished and fell away, it became even easier for
Peyote to dispatch those who remained.  Finally, the one sole surviving
pteranodon turned and waddled away toward the ledge and aerial freedom.

pteranodon #7:  (moving as quickly as it can, somehow realizing deep down
  in its primitive brain that this battle is lost and that it should get
Peyote:  (lining up a shot through one opening in the screen)
  fast.  (he fires an arrow, hitting the foe in the back of its neck just
  below the head)
pteranodon #7:  (falls, writhing on the stone floor between the passage
  mouth and the ledge)
Peyote:  (gets another arrow, pushes the screen out of the way, advances
  on the badly-wounded creature, and quickly dispatches it with another
  close-range shot)

  As Daffodil and Relmar emerged to join the half-elf, they surveyed the
gory carnage all around.

Relmar:  Well, that...proved that no place is safe in this land.
Peyote:  For sure.
Daffodil:  Maybe we should consider moving our camp to another place...or
  else fortifying this one more.
Peyote:  (eyeing the bloody remains of Dervan)  Too late to help Dervan.
Relmar:  We will need to speak with the others, upon their return.  This
  was an expensive lesson.

next:       discovery
released:   6/11/2021
notes:      I know that a group of these things is technically a "flock"
  not a "pack" but I used the latter term because I wanted the reader to
  think of creatures, moreso than birds.

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