Chapter #1083

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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!                                          +
+   Daffodil       11th level human druidess of Obad-Hai                  +
+   Halbarad       15th level human ranger of Ehlonna                     +
+   Peyote         12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid of Obad-Hai   +
+   Relmar         18th level human high priest of Pelor                  +
+   Rillen         18th level human warrior monk                          +
+   Songa          13th level human huntress                              +
+   Date:          11/11/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         an undiscovered continent far to the east              +
+   Climate:       cold and wet                                           +
+   "Why'd we do it?"                                                     +
+   "No one else would."                                                  +
+                  - from the _Watchmen_ movie                            +

                   MLXXXIII.  Into the Unknown

  The regrouped party - now just six in number - has ventured to the base
of the mountain range shielding the basin from the lands beyond, traversed
the watery passage into the mountain, and used a hidden shaft to reach the
secret chamber above.  Now, they must make an important decision...

Halbarad:  I see two options.  We can pull that lever into the upward
  position-  (he points at the large lever next to the larger metal plate
  in the western wall)  -or we can go through that door.  (he turns and
  gestures to the large metal door and its massive handle, on the other
  side of the chamber)  We just need to decide which to do first.
Daffodil:  To me, it all depends on what that lever does.  What will happen
  if we raise it?
Relmar: thought, and this may be obvious, is that pulling it
  into the "up" position will raise the anti-magic barrier, disabling that
  whole field.
Halbarad:  Agreed.
Relmar:  And of course, while I'd hope for that result, I can't say with
  any certainty that it will happen.  For all we know, the lever will open
  some valve and flood this entire place.
Songa:  That...would be a stupid design by those who built this place.
  (she glances at the nearby skeleton, with its over-sized skull full of
  pointed teeth, and frowns)
Halbarad:  Or it could simply open the gigantic grate blocking the river
Rillen:  If we don't pull the lever, we'll never know.  And I for one am
  tired of not knowing things.

  They quickly decided to put the matter to a vote; while someone quickly
mentioned that it would be impossible to break a tie, that ended up not
being an issue.  Only Daffodil and Relmar voted not to pull the lever.

Halbarad:  Let's at least examine it, and the area around it, a bit more
  carefully for traps and such.  Just in case.

  None of them were thieves or had much experience with conventional traps,
but they could at least check the floor and wall as well as the huge lever
itself.  However, they could find no evidence of any trigger or other such
device that might lead to a harmful outcome for the one who pulled the big
lever.  That left only a single question...

Relmar:  So who will pull it?

  Several of their number volunteered, which led to a debate about who
would be the one...but then, while they were discussing it, Peyote simply
stepped around them, grabbed the massive metal lever, and pushed it upward.
It wasn't easy - the half-elf really had to put his back into the task -
but the metal bar did move, and a few moments later, it was in the raised

Peyote:  (blinks, then steps back)  Well, no traps there.
Daffodil:  (shaking her head)  Sometimes I don't know if you're brave or-

  There was a deep rumbling sound from within the nearby wall, and they
all stepped back a good ten feet as that area - specifically the wide
metal plate that made up a large section of that wall - began to vibrate
as some unseen mechanism moved and shifted.

Relmar:  Would you look at that...?

  The entire plate, all twenty by five feet of it, was sliding up into
the ceiling of the chamber's edge.  Behind it was a metal grate, its bars
about an inch thick and crisscrossing horizontally and vertically, leaving
a grid of openings about eight inches square.  On the other side of the
barrier was the basin outside, and its fresh, warm air now flowed into the
domed chamber even as the natural light from outside lit it up better than
any man-made torch could have.

Halbarad:  (extinguishes his torch)  Well, we won't be needing this now.

  From the looks of things, they were at least fifty feet above the ground
outside - which made sense, given the height of the shaft they'd climbed
through to get here.

Halbarad:  That keeps it out of range of the beasts that roam below.
Daffodil:  So this was some kind of base that these...things used to keep
  an eye on the outside, and go out when they needed to.
Relmar:  (eyeing the sturdy metal grate)  Some might consider it a prison.
Songa:  (takes a closer look at the position of the skeleton on the floor
  of the chamber, near the grate or window or whatever it is)  Hmm.
Rillen:  What is it?
Songa:  It looks to me like this skeleton, when it was a living creature,
  was either moving toward the lever, or has just pulled it.
Peyote:  Meaning what?
Halbarad:  Meaning that it's possible that whatever killed these three...
  came in through the window.  (he frowns)  Although that seems unlikely,
  unless it got in and they didn't know it, and they closed the window
  before they died.  Also, if this was true, the same menace would have
  long ago visited us on that distant ledge.
Relmar:  So either said menace no longer exists...or else it never did.
Daffodil:  If something killed them, it didn't happen violently.  There's
  no damage on their skeletons, and no sign of a fight.
Halbarad:  Agreed.
Songa:  I'm not afraid.  And at least we'll have fresh air in here, as
  well as light...sunlight in the daytime, and moonlight at night.  Which
  is better than it was before.
Rillen:  (turns to regard the large metal door on the other side of the
  chamber)  It seems that the real answers may lie behind that door.

  Since it was only late afternoon, and they had several hours of daylight
remaining, they decided to continue explorations.  Those with bows now re-
strung them, while other weapons were checked and readied.  The still-wet
firewood was left here, spread out on one side of the chamber to dry, as
were certain other non-critical supplies.  The group also left some food
and water here; it seemed safe enough, as nothing large seemed likely to
get through the metal grate and both hatches between here and the river
were closed and secured.  The huge metal door, which towered more than ten
feet tall - no doubt sized for the former residents of this place, whose
giant skeletons were all that remained - was checked for traps and other
protective measures.  Finding none, the party pulled it open...a feat that
required the combined strength of Rillen and Halbarad, as the door was
both heavy and tight in its frame.  With a deep rumble, it was pulled wide
to reveal an immense passage beyond.  This corridor was not only sized for
whatever the skeletons had been in life - at nearly twenty feet high and
almost as wide - but it was also smooth, the rock of its walls neatly cut,
those walls gradually tapering into an arched ceiling above.
  The passage led away into the darkness, its length filled with dust and
old cobwebs as far as the adventurers could see.

Halbarad:  We'll need light.

  They quickly fashioned several torches, using some of the larger wooden
branches, plus some tinder and some strips of old fabric.  Two of these
were soaked in oil, while the rest (and several more vials of oil) were
taken along as spares for whenever the first two burned out.  They opted
to leave the large door open, as they already considered the domed chamber
secure, or at least as secure as it would get.  Entering the huge, arched
passage, they moved through it swiftly yet carefully, checking for notable
or unusual features as they went.  They adopted a two-wide marching order,
with Halbarad and Songa at the front, followed by Rillen and Peyote, with
Relmar and Daffodil bringing up the rear.
  The passage continued for about a hundred feet, then turned to the left
in a gentle but definite curve...and continued to do so.  The six explorers
quickly realized that they were gradually ascending, in a counterclockwise
direction.  They soon lost track of direction, only aware that they were
moving up into the mountain and had undoubtedly climbed hundreds of feet
while moving through this passage.  Aside from the cobwebs and the dust -
both of which were present in copious amounts - there was nothing of note
in the entire rising corkscrew of passage that they were moving through.
  However, when the passage broke away from the upward-spiralling pattern
and led away several hundred feet before ending...any boredom regarding
its winding length was immediately forgotten.  The passage opened into a
vast cavern, and they stood at its bottom, on one edge of the gigantic
space.  They knew it was vast because they could see its distant walls
and ceiling - which extended for many thousands of feet - thanks to the
untold quantity of the green stones that sporadically dotted the cavern's
colossal expanse.  In some unknown way, they reflected the relatively
meager light from the party's sole torch, rendering the entirety of the
gigantic chamber visible (if only barely).

Peyote:  Whoaaaaaaaa.

  The half-elf's voice echoed in the indeterminate space around and above
the party, and they all gazed in wonder at this seemingly-infinite space
all around them.  It really was impossible to get an accurate perspective
of the cavern's size, but it was BIG.
  As the initial shock of the impressive sight wore off, and they looked
around more intently, they noticed two things that were out of place here.
The first, in what appeared to the center of the cavern several thousand
feet distant, was some sort of temple, with walls and pillars and a doorway
that had clearly been built by some sort of intelligent creatures.  But the
second thing was both more impressive and more out of place:  in the huge
cavern's far wall, at least five hundred feet up, the stern of a large ship
jutted right out of the rock.

Songa:  What...the...hell?

next:       further exploration
released:   7/16/2021
notes:      More bragging...during MLK weekend 2021 I wrote six episodes
  (1078-1083, this one) and I'm now _26_ ahead of my release dates...that,
  my friends, is fully HALF A YEAR.  In almost thirty years of writing
  these, I've never, ever been that far ahead.  And it's a good feeling.
    Okay, I promise not to ramble about this any more.
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