Chapter #1084

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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                                           +
+   "Are you ready for this?"                                             +
+   "Let's find out."                                                     +
+                  - from _X-Men:  First Class_                           +

                   MLXXXIV.  Tower of Mystery

  After ascending through a large, winding passage, the party has found a
mammoth cavern inside the mountain.  Aside from the unnatural light shed
from reflections in the innumerable green stones that dotted its faraway
walls and ceiling, the huge chamber also contained a temple-like building
of some well as a sailing ship imbedded in one wall, hundreds of
feet above the cavern's floor.

Peyote:  Far ouuut...
Rillen:  How the hell does a big ship like that get stuck in the wall so
  far above?
Songa:  (shaking her head)  Or any ship.
Peyote:  And how will we get up there?  That's what I want to know.
Daffodil:  Get up there?  (she shakes her head dubiously)  Uh-uh.
Relmar:  That would be a hell of a climb.  (thoughtfully)  Eyer could have
 possibly done it, but he's gone.
Halbarad:  (to Songa)  What do you think?
Songa:  (eyeing the distant, out-of-place vessel far above)  That's a hell
  of a long climb, but it could be tried.  I'd have to be well-rested and
  at full strength to have the best chance of making it-
Rillen:  What?  You're not seriously thinking about trying to do that?
Songa:  (shrugs)  Why not?  I'm the best climber in the group.
Daffodil:  I just kind of assumed it was Halbarad.
Halbarad:  I'm a skilled climber, but I'd say she's better.
Songa:  I grew up climbing both rock faces and mountains.  I can do this.
  Besides, we have plenty of rope and iron spikes.
Rillen:  Very well, but just be careful.
Halbarad:  (glad that he decided to convince the others to bring certain
  supplies along on this journey)

  From the moment they decided to gather the entire party and mount an
expedition to the river's mouth and beyond, the ranger hadn't been able
to shake off a feeling that they were going to find something significant
and perhaps not be returning to the ledge.  After all, that had already
happened during the journey from the outer continent through the mountain
pass and into the gigantic basin - and at that point, there hadn't been
a secret complex, weird skeletons, and a giant cavern containing rather
strange things.

Halbarad:  (frowns)  We should explore the temple before trying for the
  ship.  It's closer, and easier.
Daffodil:  (glances up again, at the ship sticking out of the wall far
  above)  That's for sure.
Songa:  Fine by me.  Best case, I'll climb to the ship tomorrow, when I'm
  rested and at peak strength.

  Halbarad was, of course, right; the temple (or whatever it was) stood
only a few thousand feet away, and required no risky climb.  They headed
that way, and as they drew nearer, they could make out more details of the
building.  It was higher than initially evident from afar, as the sheer
size of the cavern made such determinations tricky.  A gradually-tapering
cylindrical structure looming over two hundred feet above the surrounding
cavern floor, it was a strange fusion of natural rock and intelligent
construction.  Although it featured exterior pillars, these seemed to be
more decorative than functional; the tower had no windows and nothing atop
its peak.  For its height, it was remarkably narrow, not even fifty feet
in diameter.  Only a single large, arched doorway - no doubt sized for
those strange beings, now only oversized skeletons, that had once stood
over ten feet tall - was visible within the side of the building facing
them as they drew closer.
  Far above the top of the tower hung an immense stalactite, its pointed
tip aiming straight down at the tower.

Peyote:  (looking up)  Whoa.  No _way_ is that natural.
Halbarad:  Nothing about this place is natural.

  Strangely enough, there was no sign of life here - no small creatures,
no bats, no spiders, nothing.  The huge cavern was dead silent, and soon
after entering it, the adventurers found that they had stopped talking due
to the loud echoes resulting from any spoken words.  Even their footsteps
made strange, hollow echoes of their own as they walked.  It didn't take
long to reach the huge tower, which now appeared to be more or less in the
center of the giant cavity within the mountain.  Halbarad scouted for any
traps, but found none, and led the party through the doorless entrance and
into the weird structure.
  Inside, the building proved to be stranger yet.  Its outer wall was a
foot thick, and the interior consisted of a single chamber roughly thirty
feet across, its round walls lined with a spiral staircase about eight
feet wide.  This meant that there was an open shaft in the center of the
tower...and above, at its top, was some sort of platform, within which was
an opening into which the steps led.  The area above the platform seemed
to be open to the cavern above, given the dull green light visible through
the opening at the top of the spiral stairway.
  Elsewhere, at the bottom (and built into the slanted area behind the
base of the staircase) was a strange box of some crystalline substance.
It resembled a small cage, except that it had no bars; rather a small
hinged door at its front, perhaps two feet wide and one foot high, stood
barely ajar.  This hatch was fashioned of the same odd crystal as the rest
of the container, and when opened, revealed nothing.  The box was empty,
and a thick layer of dust coated its inside.
  In the center of the shaft, a thick pillar of stone rose from the floor
up to the platform far above.  This was presumably a support for the
platform and whatever lay in up there.

Peyote:  Whoa.
Rillen:  It appears that the only way is...up.
Halbarad:  (nods)  We should proceed in single file, and be careful.  The
  stairway is plenty wide, but a fall will prove fatal, and there might be
  traps.  I'll go first.  (he hefts his axe and begins climbing the stairs,
  slowly and cautiously)
Rillen:  (silently takes the second position, following the ranger up the
  spiral staircase that lines the tower's interior wall, as the other four
  order themselves and follow, one at a time)
Songa:  (notices a vague pile of dust and fabric, near the bottom of the
  winding stairway)

  While the adventurers began to explore the strange building, something
was now happening outside, unknown to and unseen by them.  The stone floor
of the huge cavern, while relatively smooth, contained untold thousands of
tiny pores that were too small to notice as one walked.  After the party
had entered the tower at the huge cavern's center, a black ooze had begun
to seep up from beneath the cavern floor.  It was slow, like molasses, but
it was also everywhere - after only a few moments, it already spanned a
large circle a hundred feet across, with the tower in the center of that
area.  It wasn't long before the cavern floor all around the building was
completely covered in several inches of the glistening black ooze...and it
was now closing in on the building and its entrance, the same way rising
water creeps up a hill and slowly covers the dry land, bit by bit.

  Within the tower, the explorers continued to climb, finding nothing of
note except whatever waited on the platform above.  From below, it looked
like a flat roof with a slightly curved rectangular opening, through which
the topmost portion of the spiral stairway led.  Before long, they reached
that point, and carefully ascended through the opening and into a new area
at the tower's top.  This chamber, which was about twenty feet across and
almost as high, had an open ceiling which faced the pointed stalactite far
above.  At the center of the room was a short stone dais, atop which was
mounted a gigantic spoked wheel of dull metal, parallel to the floor.  A
A good five feet across, the thing resembled the wheel of a ship, except
that it was mounted to the top of the pedestal.  The metal of the strange
wheel was covered in strange sigils of a sort that none of them had ever
seen before.

Relmar:  They're not a magical rune-trap of some kind, since magic doesn't
  work on this island.
Rillen:  What can it mean?
Halbarad:  Whatever it means, we are _not_ just going to walk forth, grab
  that thing, and turn it.
Daffodil:  Agreed.  (she casts a sidelong glance at Peyote)  After all,
  who knows what could happen?
Peyote:  Bosco would turn it, for sure.  There's no stopping that little
Songa:  No, he wouldn't.  He's too small to even get a good grip on it.
Rillen:  (nods)  It would take two or three of us to even try and turn the
  thing, and that's assuming we had the strength.
Relmar:  What's a "Bosco" ?

  The group did a quick but thorough exploration of the chamber; aside
from the massive wheel, around whose purpose this entire room (and tower)
might well have been constructed, large portions of the walls themselves
were unusual.  Spaced around the perimeter of the room, every five feet
or so, were a series of large metal plates.  Each of these had a variety
of flat crystals embedded within their faces; these were small and of a
variety of shapes...circles, triangles, squares, and some with odd numbers
of sides.  Further, many of these were of different colors - white, black,
gray, red, blue, green, yellow, and a number of hues in-between.  The one
thing they all had in common was a lack of luster, as if they had once
shone brightly but were now old and dull.
  Aside from all of that, Songa did find several more small, scattered
piles of dust like the other one she'd spotted below, and she now made
the connection.

Songa:  They're the remains of clothing...just like the ones on the three
  skeletons, in that other chamber.
Rillen:  But then...where are the skeletons in _this_ chamber?
Daffodil:  That's a damn good question.
Halbarad:  Well.  (he looks around, frowning)  We can either try to turn
  the wheel...or go back outside and explore the rest of the cavern.
Peyote:  I thought you said-
Halbarad:  I said we shouldn't just walk up and turn it.  Now that we've
  taken some time to think about it, we know it's an option.
Songa:  Or I could try and climb up to that ship.
Halbarad:  That will probably end up happening at some point, but if you
  truly want to rest first, that climb would be a task for
  which case we should spend the next few hours surveying the cavern, and
  then make camp for the night.
Daffodil:  (sniffs the air, her keen nose detecting a slight sickly-sweet
  odor not unlike that of rotting fruit)  What?
Halbarad:  I smell it, too.  (he turns, scanning the surrounding chamber,
  and immediately notices the ooze that has begin seeping from the top of
  the spiral stairway and into the chamber)  Uh-oh.
Rillen:  What's this?
Songa:  I don't know, but I don't like the looks of it.
Relmar:  (peering at the stairway below, he frowns)  I've been in enough
  dungeons in my time to know a pudding when I see looks like a
  black pudding, but I've never seen one that big.
Peyote:  (having drawn his bow, he fires an arrow into the mass, but the
  thing's thin depth causes the arrow to shatter against the stone floor
  beneath)  Crap.
Halbarad:  I think it's eating the wood of the arrow shaft.  (he watches
  as the arrow quickly decays amidst the advancing sheet of ooze)  And
  fast, too.
Relmar:  These things also eat metal.  (frowns)  And, of course, flesh.
Peyote:  Bogus.
Rillen:  If we don't do something fast, it will eat us too.
Daffodil:  (wondering if this is what happened to the three strange, dead
  beings in the entry chamber far below)
Songa:  (looking around)  We're trapped - there's only the one way out,
  no windows, and we're too high up to jump off.
Halbarad:  (already in motion)  Someone get oil ready!  (he finds his
  flint, steel, and the remainder of the torch from earlier)

  Soon, a swath of oil covered the section of floor between them and the
advancing ooze; this was ignited with the torch, and the thing stopped
just short of the flames.

Peyote:  Glad that worked.  Now-
Halbarad:  Now we need to get more oil ready.

  The others helped, and in short order a foot-wide swath of burning oil
shielded the six adventurers (and the dais with its strange wheel) from
the slimy threat.

Songa:  It isn't approaching the fire...which is good.
Halbarad:  But it isn't going away, either...which is bad.
Rillen:  How much oil do we have?
Halbarad:  (having moved over to the edge of the tower's top, he looks
  over and sees the expanse of glistening ooze on the ground all around
  the base of the tower)  Not enough.

next:       a fateful decision
released:   7/23/2021
notes:      I went through about half a dozen ideas for this episode,
  before deciding this one would be the most fun to write.
    On a non-writing/Adventurers note, the day I wrote this one (1/22/21)
  Hank Aaron died, the latest in a long string of baseball greats who've
  passed away in 2020 and now 2021.  It was six Hall of Famers in 2020,
  plus three more so far in 2021.  So I've moved Aaron's biography up to
  the top of my reading list.  I have about a dozen that I haven't read
  yet, and I'm always picking up more (for reference, I have about fifty
  that I've already read, in the past).  And I don't just get ones about
  Hall of Famers or popular players - I have some from the more obscure
  players who most people don't know about (like "Lucky Me" by Eddie
  Robinson, which is one of the best and most insightful baseball books
  I've ever read...that's just one plug).  There's really no baseball
  biography that I won't read.  This is a whole section in my ~1500-book
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