Chapter #1079

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic VI     +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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!                                          +
+   Halbarad       15th level human ranger of Ehlonna                     +
+   Rillen         18th level human warrior monk                          +
+   Songa          13th level human huntress                              +
+   Date:          11/9/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         an undiscovered continent far to the east              +
+   Climate:       warm and dry                                           +
+   "There's no such thing as the unknown, only the temporarily           +
+    hidden."                                                             +
+                  - from _Star Trek:  Beyond_                            +

                   MLXXIX.  An Odd Discovery

  After deciding to shift the focus of their latest search efforts and
then opting to camp in the wilds for the night, the three adventurers now
face a new day amidst the huge natural basin.

Halbarad:  (leading the way as the trio follow the rushing river toward
  its source, somewhere at the base of the mountains ahead)
Songa:  (as they walk, she keeps a careful watch for any of the more
  aggressive, carnivorous dinosaurs)
Rillen:  (doing the same, he recalls the precautions they had to take in
  order to simply make camp last night)

  The first step had been locating a site that afforded some sort of
natural protection against predators; there had been no such place out in
the open, but eventually the rangers had found a suitable location closer
to the base of the mountain range.  The cave had been small but deep, its
entrance too narrow for any of the larger creatures that roamed this area.
An outcropping of rocks just beyond its entrance provided an additional
barrier against any potential attackers, and the placement of a few traps
completed the defensive measures.
  However, aside from a wandering family of mice, nothing had bothered
them during the night, and so they'd gotten an early start just after the
sun rose.  After leaving their campsite, the group had ventured back to
the river and then begun following it east and northward.

Songa:  (noting, as she has many times before, the lack of dinosaurs out
  and about early in the morning)  Hmm.  (she quietly considers the theory
  she's been developing, that the larger ones aren't active at night due
  to their very nature)

  The trio moved on, carefully tracing the river upstream, and just before
midmorning, they located its source:  a rough natural passage in the rock
at the mountain range's foothills.  About ten feet across, the passage was
mostly filled with the water flowing outward from it:

                    _______          _
                  _/       \          |
                 /          \_        |  about 3'
               _/             \       |
              /~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~\     _|

Halbarad:  Interesting.  From what we can see, I'd assume it's a passage,
  most of it underwater.  Of course, we wouldn't know without going for a
  swim.  (he considers the river and the passage)
Songa:  That current looks fairly strong.
Halbarad:  But not too strong.  (he notices something buried in the mud
  of the riverbank, and pokes it with one boot, then reaches down and digs
  a bit before pulling it free)  Hmm.

  The object in the ranger's hand was a broken piece of what looked like
a jawbone - but not a human one.  Aside from the sheer size of the piece
(which suggested a skull much larger than a man's) the few intact teeth
were large and pointed.

Songa:  That's...interesting.
Halbarad:  Yes, but also a mystery for another time.  (he sets his axe
  down and begins unlacing his boots)  I'm betting I can make progress in
  that passage.
Rillen:  (eyeing the river mouth, he notes the presence of the ubiquitous
  green stones throughout the rock here at the foot of the mountain range)
  Wait, you're seriously thinking about going down there and then swimming
  upstream, against the current?
Halbarad:  (nods)  And do you want to know why?
Rillen:  You know I do.
Songa:  I do, too.  Your idea is a strange one.
Halbarad:  (begins removing his armor and weapons)  I'll explain when I
  get back.  (he soon ties a rope securely around his waist, checking the
  knot before handing the rest of the coil of rope to Songa)  If I get in
  trouble, I'll pull on this, sharply, twice in succession.  That's the
  signal for you to reel me in.
Rillen:  What if you're unable to give that signal?
Halbarad:  (shrugs)  Just use your best judgement.  At any rate, I don't
  expect to swim too far.  A bit further in, the passage is most likely
  completely underwater.  I just want to check.
Songa:  Check for features of the terrain, or...?
Halbarad:  I'll be back to explain in a bit, if I'm right.
Songa:  And if you're not right?
Halbarad:  If not, then I'll just be back.
Rillen:  What if there's a giant hungry fish in there?
Halbarad:  (frowns, then dives into the river without another word)
Songa:  I wonder if that's cold.

  The ranger's words earlier had not been idle boasting; the river's flow
here wasn't too powerful, and he was a strong swimmer.  In short order, he
entered the passage, keeping his head above water as he moved further in
and vanished from sight.

Rillen:  I'm sure he knows what he's doing, but this idea seems stupid.
Songa:  It may be, but there have been worse ideas...and some of them have
  led to great things.
Rillen:  (looking around)  Do you want rope duty, or sentry duty?
Songa:  I'll take sentry duty.  (she hands him the coil of rope, which is
  slowly paying out as, presumably, Halbarad moves further up the watery
  passage)  You're stronger than me, anyway, if just barely.
Rillen:  "Just barely" ?
Songa:  (smirks)
Rillen:  Heh.

  Both jobs were important.  If Halbarad ran into trouble and gave the
signal, Rillen would need to pull him in as quickly as possible; the water
added a risk of drowning not present in other underground explorations.
As for the sentry duty, a sharp eye was needed to check the surrounding
area and make sure nothing was sneaking up on them.  It was late enough
in the day that the larger and more dangerous dinosaurs would be roaming.
The adventurers could only hope that none roamed near here; the worst of
all possible scenarios would be Halbarad having a problem and then one or
more huge beasts attacking the other two at the exact same time.
  As it turned out, neither of these unwanted situations happened.  Rather,
Halbarad simply reappeared, emerging from the passage and then the water
as silently and efficiently as he tracked foes or hunted wild game.

Halbarad:  (grinning)  I was right.
Rillen:  You were?
Songa:  Right about what?
Halbarad:  Ever since we arrived here, I've been thinking that not all of
  this place is can't be.  Aside from the anti-magic barrier
  that surrounds this entire island, or continent, or whatever...dinosaurs
  and animals didn't build that metal door we found within the mountain
  pass months ago.  That was man-made...or made by someone or something
  intelligent and able to use tools and such.  So that got me to some more
  thinking, about how all of this terrain couldn't have just formed as it
  did, not by any natural means.  (he shakes his head)  Once I realized
  that, I started considering which parts might have needed the most work
  to design and build...and then you, Rillen, made the comment about the
  river's mouth.  So I wanted to get in there and see if the makers, so to
  speak, had left their mark.  (he points to the passage's mouth)  And so
  they did.
Rillen:  What's in there?  What did you find?
Halbarad:  Two things.  First, about fifty feet in, where the passage is
  almost completely submerged, there's a thick metal gate that completely
  blocks the way.  Water flows out, but nothing can move further upstream.
Songa:  What kind of gate?  Can we move it, or bypass it, or-
Halbarad:  Not a chance.  Its bars are thick, with little space between
  them and no spaces to the top, bottom, or side to work around.  If the
  passage was dry and illuminated, and we had some tools, it might then be
  possible to look into this further.  But with things the way they are
  now, there's no way.
Songa:  (frowns)
Halbarad:  I tried.  I held my breath and swam underwater and pulled the
  thing with all my strength...and it didn't budge one bit.  I doubt that
  even all three of us, working together, could move it.
Songa:  Damn.
Rillen:  You said you found two things.  What's the other?
Halbarad:  Just before the gate which blocks the way, still within the
  part of the passage that's almost wholly submerged...I found a small
  door in its ceiling.
Songa:  Like a trapdoor?
Halbarad:  More like a hatch.  It's stone, blending into the rock of the
  passage all around it, but I'm somewhat of a methodical and persistent
  searcher, and so I found it despite it being underwater and in total
Rillen:  Can we open it?
Halbarad:  That's a good question, which is why I already checked.  It has
  a small metal handle which I had to twist, but then I was able to push
  it upward and open...and I felt open, dry air above.
Songa:  Hmm.
Rillen:  Where could it lead?
Halbarad:  That's another good question...and one which I figure the three
  of us can soon answer, with a bit of exploration.

next:       the makers' mark
released:   6/18/2021
notes:      I wrote this episode just two days short of the five-months-
  before-its-release point, so I'm 5 months (22 episodes) ahead, and I've
  still got two days in this holiday weekend.  I really, really like the
  fact that I've built this huge lead/buffer, which is why I continue to
  babble about it in numerous episodes.
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