Chapter #1085

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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                  +
+   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:          early evening                                          +
+   Place:         an undiscovered continent far to the east              +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "It's a blessed miracle!"                                             +
+   "I make my own miracles."                                             +
+              - from _Battlestar Galactica:  The Living Legend_ (1978)   +

                   MLXXXV.  A Fateful Decision

  On a lost island many weeks' voyage beyond the edge of any known map,
shrouded in a magic-cancelling field, the party has spent the last few
months in a gigantic natural basin ringed by mountain peaks.  Their more
recent explorations have taken them into one of those mountains, where
they found a vast natural cavern containing a single building.  After
venturing inside, they now find themselves trapped by a gigantic puddle
of acidic ooze which has surrounded the structure and begun to seep in.

Rillen:  (standing, along with his five companions, behind a relatively
  narrow barrier of burning oil, which for now is keeping the deadly ooze
  from advancing any further)  How much oil do we have?
Halbarad:  (having jumped up and grabbed the edge of the open roof, pulled
  himself up, and peered over at the expanse of glistening ooze all around
  the base of the tower)  Not enough.
Songa:  If there was anything else near this tower, I could rig a hook and
  throw a rope to it, and maybe we could escape that way.  (she looks all
  around, at the absolute lack of such options)  Damn.
Daffodil:  (eyeing the ooze on the other side of the flames)  How did it
  get up here so fast?
Relmar:  Many of those things can even climb walls, and-  (he suddenly
  notices something alarming)  It's moving around the wall of flame!

  Indeed, the ooze - blocked by the barrier of burning oil on the floor
between the stairs and the room - had begun moving along the walls and

Songa:  Double damn.

  Halbarad again sprung into action, using two more bottles of oil to add
to the flaming barrier, turning the wall into a ring which encircled the
group, and the pedestal with its wheel.

Halbarad:  That will buy us some time.  Not much, but some.
Peyote:  What are we going to do, man?
Rillen:  (peering at the chamber's open roof)  We could climb up there, as
  Halbarad did to look outside, and then jump off.
Daffodil:  Seriously?
Songa:  It's better than just standing here waiting to get eaten.
Relmar:  Agreed.  We have to try _something_.

  Leaping from the top of the tower wasn't a good option, and they knew
it.  Even a strong jumper couldn't possibly make it to safety by leaping
off the roof - they would land in the ooze, where the probability of
broken legs (or worse) would be the least of their problems.
  Unfortunately, as Halbarad had pointed out, there wasn't enough oil to
hold out forever.

Peyote:  Could we use oil to cover the thing, and burn it to death?
Halbarad:  We don't have enough oil for that, either.  Or to clear a path
  through it and run to safety.  The damn thing's just too big.
Daffodil:  (thinking about various fire-oriented druidic spells)  If only
  we could use our magic.
Relmar:  (sadly)  So true...and also the story of our entire time in this
  cursed place.
Peyote:  (watching as the ring of burning oil gradually weakens)  We're
  gonna need more oil pretty soon.
Halbarad:  The one bottle we have left won't help.  (he looks at the ooze,
  and then at the huge horizontal wheel atop its pedestal)  Hmm.
Rillen:  (to Halbarad)  The wheel.
Halbarad:  (nods)  Yes.
Daffodil:  Wheel?
Halbarad:  We don't know what its purpose is, or how it works...but it
  very well may do something of import, especially given its size and
  positioning in this building, within the cavern.
Rillen:  It's worth trying.  We have nothing to lose.
Peyote:  Dude...that sounds vaguely familiar.  (he moves over next to the
  wheel, joining the other two)
Halbarad:  If this doesn't work, we'll follow Rillen's plan, and get onto
  the roof.  After that, we'll have to try whatever we can...maybe throw
  burning oil down into the mass of ooze, and hope for the best.
Relmar:  Or just jump, and take our chances.
Daffodil:  I don't like the sound of either of those ideas.
Songa:  I'm ready with the hook.
Relmar:  If you're going to do this, you should hurry.  The oil will be
  burning low in a few more moments.
Halbarad:  (sighs, and grabs hold of the huge spoked wheel of unknown
Rillen:  (likewise)
Peyote:  (also takes the wheel, the three of them now spread out around
  its periphery)
Halbarad:  Ready?  Let's...pull!

  The three warriors, all of whom were quite strong, now applied their
combined strength to the task.  The good news was that the wheel's many
spokes, while unusually thick, still afforded an easy means for them to
grip.  The bad news was that the strange device seemed to be immovable;
the men strained with all their might, but the wheel wouldn't budge.

Relmar:  (quickly dashes over, taking hold of a section of the gigantic
  wheel and lending his might to that of the others)  Ungh!
Peyote:  It won't move!
Rillen:  (shifts his grip, the muscles of his huge frame rippling and
  knotting as he applies every bit of strength he has)  Arrrgh!
Halbarad:  (also straining intensely)  Pull harder!  Either we turn this
  thing, or else we die!
Daffodil:  (watching the circle of fire dwindle to almost nothing)  Hurry!
Songa:  (watching them struggle, she discards her grappling hook and rope
  and walks over, quickly finding a spot on the wheel and adding her own
  considerable strength to the effort)  Let's...MOVE THIS THING...!

  The metal wheel seemed to give, just a fraction of an inch...but that
tiniest of progress inspired the five adventurers, lending them some new
measure of strength beyond what they thought their limits were.  And the
wheel moved a bit more...and then more...and then, suddenly, it was loose,
and - working as a team - they turned it as quickly as they could.  After
a couple moments, the thing spun almost of its own accord, and - unknown
to the adventurers - something just beneath it snapped.  Right after that,
somewhere within the stone pillar at the center of the shaft, an ancient
mechanism was pushed beyond its breaking point...and failed, its metal
components grinding and crunching together far below the chamber.
  None present could say exactly what lay below the tower and the cavern,
or how it was designed to function, or how it was intended to function in
its current state.  They did have a strong sense that whatever shafts and
gears now shifted and moved beneath their feet...had not done so on a very
long time.  The very stone of the place seemed to groan in protest...and
the effects were immediate, as well as several in number, each one then
leading to the next.  First, the green stones that dotted the walls and
roof of the gigantic cavern began to glow, changing from their initial
dull state to a dim, barely-visible hue that quickly increased to a bright
light that filled the huge cavern.  That entire process took only a few
moments, and was followed by a strange tingling feeling that very quickly
overtook Peyote, Daffodil, and Relmar - a powerful and invigorating rush
of energy that could only mean one thing.

Peyote:  Dude!  The magic is back!
Daffodil:  Oh, yes...
Relmar:  (closes his eyes and inhales slowly, feeling his connection with
  his deity - if not his spells - slowly returning)

  Throughout the last few months without magic, the priest had possessed
no link with Pelor.  While less devout and disciplined people might have
become frustrated, Relmar had never given up hope, devoutly praying every
night.  The power and purpose he was now regaining was almost a tangible
thing, and although he wouldn't be able to cast any spells until he'd had
a chance to commune with his god tonight, just the fact that it was now
possible was quite welcome.
  Besides, he still had his magic items, which were now functional again.

Relmar:  (smiles thinly)
Peyote:  (flexing his hands)  This is far out!
Songa:  That's great.  Now maybe one of you can do something about that
  gigantic mass of flesh-devouring ooze that surrounds us.
Daffodil:  (frowning)  We can invoke a number of different spells having
  to do with fire...except that we haven't been able to pray for such in
  many months.  So there's no magic.
Rillen:  Well, that's helpful.
Daffodil:  But we still have our magical items.  (she quickly locates a
  small pouch, removes some red dust from within, then flings it in the
  direction of the black ooze as she speaks a few arcane druidic words)

  The dust ignited in a powerful burst of flame, instantly driving the
ooze back wherever it made contact.  The druidess walked back and forth,
using more of the powerful dust to reinforce the earlier ring of burning

Daffodil:  That should buy us a little time.
Halbarad:  Good work.
Daffodil:  Well, know that the dust's flames will only last a short time,
  and I don't have any more of the stuff.   (she regards the flames, which
  are already diminishing)
Halbarad:  Then we need to-  (he staggers)

  The floor of the huge cavern shook severely just then, causing some of
them to nearly lose their balance.

Songa:  What now?
Halbarad:  (steadies himself as another tremor, this one more violent,
  rocks the gigantic chamber)  Feels like an earthquake.
Daffodil:  (watching as the magically-bolstered flames now begin to die
  down)  Uh-oh.
Relmar:  Never fear.  (now holding something small and metallic in one
  palm, he speaks some words of power under his breath)

  Suddenly, a huge war-chariot appeared several feet off the floor!  Its
carriage was more than large enough to hold the six adventurers, and a
team of four spectral horses floated in the air in front of the thing,
somehow connected to it with spectral collars, traces, and so on.

Peyote:  Whoaaaaa.
Relmar:  (leaps up onto the side of the chariot, beckoning to them with
  more than a little urgency)  What are you waiting for?  Come on!

  Nobody had to be told twice; the black ooze was almost upon them now,
and large chunks of rock were falling from the cavern around them, some
of sufficient size to crush a small cottage.  After everyone was aboard
the chariot - which didn't take long, Rillen being the last to leap up
just as the creeping ooze closed over the spot where his foot had been -
the high priest took hold of the spectral reins.  The chariot rose into
the air, away from the tower...just as a thick beam of bright green light
came from the point of the stalactite above the tower, firing straight
down into the top of the building, which began glowing and then pulsing.
Those oscillations of energy were matched by the green stones scattered
throughout the cavern's walls and ceiling, and a deep humming sound had
also begun.

Peyote:  (looking down and back at the tower, whose topmost chamber can
  no longer be seen due to the bright green glow)  Man, I'm not sure what
  goes on down there, but we made it out just in time!
Songa:  Agreed.  This chariot came in damn handy.
Rillen:  (continues to grip the interior rails tightly, as they are now
  many hundreds of feet above the cavern floor)
Relmar:  This is one of the more powerful enchanted items I've acquired
  over the years.  It can travel across land, sea, and air with equal
Halbarad:  Most helpful, and timely...but how do you plan to get this
  thing out of the mountain all around us?
Relmar:  (frowns)
Peyote:  I've got an idea - but we'll need to get higher!
Relmar:  No problem.

  The priest wasted no time, driving the spectral team of horses on.  They
galloped through the air, pulling the chariot with them...up, up, higher
and higher into the higher reaches of the huge cavern.  A huge, jagged
chunk of falling rock almost smashed into them, but the magical team of
horses broke to the right, and the chariot narrowly avoided the dangerous
piece of debris.

Daffodil:  Aaaa!

  The magical chariot-ride upward through the vast cavern, while fairly
brief, was something none of the six adventurers would ever forget.  The
term "wild" didn't even begin to do it justice; aside from the insanely
steep angle of ascent, there was falling debris of all sizes all around
them.  Some rock fragments were the size of a person's fist, while others
were much larger than the chariot itself; most were somewhere in-between.
Time and again, either Relmar's skill or the spectral horse-team's uncanny
abilities (or perhaps both, in conjunction) saved the vehicle and its
riders from a sudden and violent death.  At one point, they saw the odd
ship, which had been imbedded in the side of the cavern, breaking free
and falling to the cavern floor many hundreds of feet below.  Upon impact,
it shattered into countless pieces with a sound that was a cross between
an explosion and a lot of sticks being broken at once.  It was rather
telling that this sound was muffled by the more omnipresent noise from
the cavern's continuing, progressive collapse.

Relmar:  (continues to skillfully drive the chariot on its harrowing ride)
Rillen:  Where are we going?  We can't get out-
Relmar:  I know, but anything's better that staying on the cavern floor!
  (shouts to Peyote, as normal conversation is impossible given the noise
  from the cavern's collapse all around them)  What's your plan here?!?
Peyote:  Get us close to that wall, there!  I've been keeping track of
  our direction here, and that's the wall leading to the outside, the big
Relmar:  (aims the chariot in that direction)  But what-
Peyote:  I'm on it, man.  (he takes up one of his now-functional magical
  javelins, draws his arm back, and then hurls the thing at the curved
  wall of the structure ahead)

  Upon release, the javelin's head became a powerful bolt of lightning,
which hit the wall with a tremendous impact, causing that entire section
to collapse.  A small hole was now exposed, the early-evening sky outside
the mountain shining brightly through.

Peyote:  There you go...a new door!
Rillen:  (wonders if this is the first really useful thing the half-elf
  has done in a long while)
Relmar:  Nice work...but I don't think we can fit through that!
Songa:  (to Peyote)  If you have any more of those javelins, can you use
  another one to make the hole bigger?
Peyote:  You bet!  (to Relmar)  Make for that opening!
Relmar:  (already having the same idea)  Right!  Everyone hold on...this
  will be close! (he guides the spectral horses on a final run, in the
  direction of the small hole in the mountain's side)
Peyote:  It's now or never, dude!  (he readies his last lightning-javelin)

  As they neared the opening in the mountain's side, it quickly became
apparent that it wasn't large enough for the chariot - but then Peyote
hurled his second and last lightning-javelin, the mighty impact and blast
widening the hole substantially.  Before anyone could say anything, the
chariot sped toward the gap...and was then through it, rocketing out of
the mountain and into the open sky and fresh air!

Peyote:  (pumps a fist in the air)  Yeah!  That was one wild ride.
Halbarad:  (turns to look at the mountain behind them)

  The peak - not just that one, but the entire ring of mountains that
surrounded the huge, natural  outdoor basin - was now collapsing, which
was creating an incomprehensibly large cloud of debris-driven dust that
threatened to engulf the flying chariot.  Relmar continued to drive the
spectral horse-team up and away, as fast as they could move.  After some
harrowing moments with the dust-cloud blotting out the sun and seemingly
about to engulf them, the adventurers pulled away, their chariot rising
into a bank of clouds.

Rillen:  (feels his stomach turn)  Can we slow down now?
Relmar:  (realizes that the chariot is still rising at a fairly steep
  angle, and levels it off)  Sorry.

  Moments later, they emerged from the cloud-bank and were able to see
the land below once more...and what they saw was amazing, yet terrible.
It wasn't just the roughly circular mountain range that was collapsing...
the entire island (or large island, or small landmass, they still weren't
sure) was in the throes of a violent earthquake.  As they watched in awe,
the adventurers soon realized that the whole place - where they'd spent
the last few months, after spending almost as much time getting there -
was moving and shifting within the ocean!

Peyote:  I think it's sinking, man.
Daffodil:  The dinosaurs...the animals...
Halbarad:  And the crew and passengers of the _Odyssey_, wherever they
Relmar:  Perhaps we can-  (he suddenly realizes something, and stops in
  mid-sentence, his mouth agape)  By the gods...
Songa:  Oh.

  This entire time, based on everything they'd seen and heard, they had
assumed the island was sinking into the ocean.
  Not so.  It was actually _rising_ out of the water, a spectacle that
defied words.  The sheer size of the immense landmass - dozens of leagues
across, its weight nearly incomprehensible - should have made this event
impossible...and yet it was happening, here and now, right before their
eyes.  Unbelievably, the immense piece of land - mountains, basin, beach,
and all - rose out of the ocean and into the sky!  The scale of this was
beyond the ability of their senses to deal with; even though they were a
good distance away from the chaos, the ascending island completely and
utterly dwarfed them, blocking out the sky as it rose.  The sum of all
the rivulets and drops of water coming from its bottom could have filled
several large lakes, and the air currents caused by its motion buffeted
the chariot and its six passengers.
  The impossibly huge piece of land continued to rise, moving higher and
higher into the sky, finally beginning to grow smaller in their perception
as it moved higher up and farther away.  It might have been a trick of the
light - or their overwhelmed senses - but there now appeared to be a dull
green glow surrounding the rising object.  As it got further and further
away, the turbulent air gradually settled down, and the chariot eventually
ceased its wild rocking.

Peyote:  Uhh...

  Some might have suggested using this spell or that, to try and stop
the destruction or rescue any survivors.  But as direct witnesses to the
event, the adventurers could plainly see that such things were utterly
impossible.  Aside from the sheer scope of what had just happened - which
was unlike anything they'd ever seen before -  there was something else
to consider.  With the island suddenly absent, the surrounding ocean had
rushed in to fill the void, creating a huge area of immensely powerful
churning and bubbling water...more than enough to convince the airborne
adventurers that no one down there could have survived.

Halbarad:  When the water rushed in, it would have pulled in anything on
  the ocean's surface, anywhere remotely nearby, and swamped them with
  enough force to shatter everything.  That means people, boats, even
  ships...everything...far beyond our ability to help.
Relmar:  Agreed.  No spell I have - even if I could cast any right now -
  could counter a natural disaster of this scope.
Daffodil:  But we didn't see any people, or boats, or ships.
Halbarad:  Maybe Eyer and Leila left with everyone else...or maybe they
  were down there.  (he sighs)  We have a lot of unanswered questions...
  too damn many.
Songa:  (gazes at the vast ocean that extends as far as the eye can see
  in every direction)  The first of those now the hell do we
  get ourselves to safety?

next:       answers, speculations, and mysteries
released:   7/30/2021
notes:      And so it ends.  Well, not completely, as I'll do some wrap-
  up in the next episode.  As hinted by the "next:" tag above, don't
  expect every single thing to get's good to keep some
  things unknown and unanswered.
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