Chapter #1001

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       +
+   1991-2016 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!                                          +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Date:          5/28/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         deep within the Griff Mountains, in northeastern Oerik +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+   "But it's suicide."                                                   +
+   "Not if I don't die."                                                 +
+                                                                         +
+     - from _Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D._ episode "Turn, Turn, Turn" +

                             MI.  Fallout

  The bulk of Belphanior's party (lacking only the elf himself) has just
watched in shock and awe as the sky castle, along with the huge slab of
rock it rested on, plummeted from the sky and crashed into the mountains.

Otto:  (to Skektek, who is piloting the skyship)  Let's land this thing.
  We've got to get down there and find Belphanior.
Skektek:  (nods silently)
Neera:  (still staring in disbelief at the site of the destruction below,
  although she can't see anything due to the enormous cloud of dust that
  now billows out from the impact area in all directions)
wispy thing:  (sadly)  snrrr.

  The magical vessel had been damaged by the dragon Mesoloth, and its
controls were sluggish, but Skektek had the most experience flying it,
out of any of them.  Slowly and carefully, he steered the ship downward,
being careful to avoid the expansive dust-cloud.

Hope:  (helpfully conjures a magical gust of wind, to keep the dust away
  as they near the devastated area below)

  That didn't work at all - it quickly became apparent that the dust was
everywhere, and would be floating in the air for quite some time.

Skektek:  We can't see a damn thing here.  It's probably best to wait
  until this cloud dissipates.
Hope:  That might take a while.
Neera:  What if he's in there somewhere, bleeding to death, and needs our
Ys:  (attempts to reassure her, gently putting a large, scaly hand on her
  shoulder)  We cannot help him if we cannot see him.
Razor Charlie:  (eyeing the huge cloud, he just grimaces)

  Skektek backed the skyship away to a reasonable distance; after all,
it wouldn't help anyone to have their clothes, eyes, and throats coated
in dust.  Besides, the ship wasn't fully responding to its controls, and
now shuddered noticeably when in motion.  It was deemed best to simply
land it, and after some careful maneuvering, Skektek accomplished that.

Skektek:  I think this is the first time, since I first saw it, that this
  thing's ever touched the ground.
Ys:  (drily)  Land ho.

  Having landed safely, they watched and waited in anticipation.  It took
a long while, perhaps a quarter of an hour, for the great cloud of dust
to finally begin to settle and clear up.  Once it finally did, and they
could see the carnage, the adventurers' jaws dropped.

Otto:  Holy shit.

  They were looking up at a mountain that now lacked its top.  The peak
was just...gone, completely obliterated by the impact.  Debris of all
shapes and sizes, from large chunks of rock to swaths of dust, littered
the mountainside in every direction.

Skektek:  (quietly begins to rise into the air, using his magical ring)
  I want to see what this looks like from above.
Neera:  (quickly works a spell, her hands shaking, so that she can follow
  for the same purpose)
Hope:  (likewise, except without the shaking hands)
wispy thing:  (hovering in place)  sprrd.
Razor Charlie:  (watching the three wizards fly up and away, he shakes
  his head)  I guess the rest of us can just stand around here and wait.
Otto:  I'll bet they can see more from up there.  Maybe they'll even see
  Belphanior somewhere.  (he turns to Irina)  Can't you use your clerical
  magic to find out if he's still alive, or at least help find him?
Irina:  (already spellcasting)  I'm on it.
Ys:  Belphanior would have found his way out of that field - I'm sure of
  it.  He's brave, and at times foolhardy, but he would never just throw
  his life away.  When he chose to stay in that castle and fight that
  dragon, part of his strategy would have been an escape plan.
Otto:  (eyeing the decimated mountain, concerned)  I hope you're right.
Razor Charlie:  (just grimaces)
Irina:  (finishing her spell, she smiles to herself, ever-so-slightly)

  In the sky above, the trio of flying wizards were beginning to see the
true extent of the impact damage.  Where the missing top of the mountain
had been, there was now a gigantic crater, at least five hundred feet in
diameter and perhaps half that deep.  Amidst the floating dust that still
covered portions of the site, rubble could be seen everywhere, its stone
a different color and texture than that of the mountain.

Skektek:  No question about it...the force-field shattered on impact.
Hope:  (points to something below)  Is that blue vapor rising out of the
  wreckage?  (she nods)  That's the same vapor that was in those tubes
  beneath the castle, keeping it aloft.
Neera:  (watches as the blue vapor rises into the air, spreading out and
  gradually fading from sight as it does so)

  As they flew closer, they could now see other things:  the mangled
purple (and reddish-black, given the vast quantity of blood) remains of
the dragon, which appeared to be splattered all across the crater...the
severed arm of a stone golem...a broken piece of castle wall, now nearly

voice:  Well, I guess we'll all be looking for a new home.
Neera:  (her eyes widen, and then a great smile appears on her face as
  she turns to face the speaker)
Belphanior:  (appears from the other direction, magically airborne like
Neera:  (flies right toward him, with no hesitation)
Belphanior:  (deftly catches her, and they embrace in midair)
Neera:  Are you hurt?  Are you-
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  I'm fine.  I was a little beat up from
  the fight, but taking the dragon's soul - its second and final one,
  for real this time - has rejuvenated me.  I feel great!
Neera:  I feared the worst.  (she hugs him tightly)
Hope:  Ahem.  (she smirks)  We're here too, you know.
Skektek:  (quietly)  I don't think she cares right now.

  Soon, the four had joined the others on the ground, where cheers and
congratulations were exchanged as the elf relayed the events of the brief
but frenzied battle within the falling sky castle.

Belphanior:  That was a close call.  I didn't know how long I had until
  the castle hit...but of course, my original plan didn't factor that in
  at all.  I think the dragon damaged the castle early on, and at some
  point the magical vapors began to leak out.  At that point, it was only
  a matter of time.
Neera:  Why didn't you just leave right away?  Why risk your life to
  finish the wyrm?
Belphanior:  (grimly)  Because that's what I do.  Especially now.  This
  is the last time we leave a dangerous enemy alive.
Otto:  And you're sure it's dead?
Belphanior:  (pats the handle of his dark sword)  Absolutely.  Unless it
  figured out a way to simulate the taking of a very, very powerful soul
  and the fooling of a weapon fashioned for that sole purpose.
Skektek:  Well, good riddance.  That dragon was a real bastard.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Which is why it had to die, and I had to take the
  risk.  But enough of that.  We have multiple things we need to do now.
Irina:  That's for damn sure.
Otto:  Yeah, I was kind of working on a list in my head even before you
Belphanior:  (glances up at the ruined mountain without a peak)  First,
  we have to investigate the wreckage up there and see if anything can
  be salvaged.  I'm doubtful, but we should at least try.  Second, we'll
  have to find a new base of operations, somewhere safe and secure where
  we can rest and take stock of things.  Which leads to the third thing,
  unfortunately:  we need to figure out what we lost from the sky castle.
Skektek:  (suddenly looking shocked)  Crap.  In all the rush to get out,
  I completely forgot to grab all my valuables from my room.
Belphanior:  And I doubt you're the only one, but at least we survived,
  which is more than can be said for Mesoloth.  Which brings us to item
  number four...finding Mesoloth's real lair, and thereby the rest of its
Hope:  (looking doubtful)  The dragon's hoard contained...(she makes a
  quick mental count)...twenty-two useful magical items, plus three that
  are cursed or evil, plus five scrolls and a dozen potions.  That seems
  like quite a haul.  I mean, I sure wouldn't mind finding more, but what
  makes you think there would _be_ more?
Belphanior:  One, the simple fact that the dragon obviously had a second
  body hidden somewhere, presumably brought to life when the first one
  died.  (he frowns)  I'm still trying to reason through the whole dual-
  souls thing, really.
Neera:  Two, my research suggested that purple dragons strongly covet all
  things magical...and the dragon even told us that it had dealt with two
  dozen incursions into its domain, and a number of adventuring parties,
  over a period that had to span centuries.  Even if each party only had
  five people, and each person only had one magical item...well, simple
  math tells us that Mesoloth had to have more than what we found before.
Belphanior:  Third, we now know that the dragon allowed us to find and
  take all that we did.  It potentially sacrificed some good stuff to use
  as bait, because the hoard had to be realistic enough to fool us, but
  no one - not man, elf, dwarf, king, dragon, or anything else - would
  risk putting all their eggs in one basket like that.  No one.  (with
  a determined look, he crosses his arms)  There's more treasure, hidden
  out there somewhere.  I'm sure of it.
Hope:  (holds up her hands, smiling)  Enough, enough.  No need to gang up
  on me.  I was just playing devil's advocate.
Belphanior:  (smiles thinly)  And I'm glad for it, because our group's
  greatest strength by far is our teamwork and communication...using our
  expertise and powers, working together to challenge and solve complex
  problems.  Fortunately, we don't have to just guess or assume that the
  dragon has additional treasure - I have a means of verifying it.

next:       they begin to work through Belphanior's to-do list
released:   2/19/2016
notes:      One of my goals for episode 1000 was that it would end with
  a bare minimum of magical items unidentified or unaccounted for.  So
  it's going to take a bit longer to get to that, and as a "bonus" there
  was a substantial inventory purge for Belphanior's entire group.  This
  wasn't part of my original plan, but as I've said, the whole Mesoloth
  storyline kind of evolved as I wrote, and once I had the vision of the
  sky castle falling from the sky, the side-effect of a little culling
  of their substantial collection of magic items only seemed natural.

    Thanks to Leonard Bottleman for providing some numbers on the mass,
  velocity, and impact power of large falling objects.  Without getting
  into it too deeply, the castle/rock was assumed to have a mass about
  the same as the battleship Missouri, and to have started at an altitude
  of about 3000m, above which altitude sickness becomes a factor.  With
  those data points, the time to fall from the sky was about 25 seconds,
  and the impact force was about 29% of a kiloton, roughly 1/45 the force
  of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945.  So there.

    I remember coming up with the idea for the sky castle  It was a nice
  Saturday morning sometime in the winter of early 2009, and I was in the
  midst of an hour-long cardio workout on one of the elliptical machines
  in the apartment complex my fiancee and I were living in at the time.
  I was well into the workout and listening to an Iron Maiden mix, while
  also thinking about plotlines and such, as I often do while having a
  cardio workout and listening to Iron Maiden.  Anyway, the idea of them
  finding a castle floating in the sky just popped into my head, and so
  the idea was soon implemented in the stories.  And now, seven years
  later, the sky castle is no more.  I think it served them well, and I
  hope it was an enjoyable concept for all of you to read about across
  the adventures of thirty episodes.

    The bulk of this one was written on 1/28/16 because I was in a damn
  good mood.  I got my 2015 W-2 at lunchtime two days ago, filed my tax
  return that evening, and it was approved by the IRS by lunchtime the
  next day (yesterday.)  Plus tomorrow's payday.  Life is good right now.
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