Chapter #1077

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                                   +   +
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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:          11/8/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         an undiscovered continent far to the east              +
+   Climate:       warm and dry                                           +
+   "The fact that we don't understand the purpose of a thing opens it    +
+    to tremendous speculation."                                          +
+               - from the _Ancient Aliens_ season 1 bonus documentary    +

                   MLXXVII.  Perilous Scouting

  Three months have passed since Eyer and Leila departed the huge natural
basin within the lost continent, and the seven remaining adventurers have
managed to not only survive but also thrive.  They have fortified their
home on the mountain ledge, learned the habits of the local fauna, found
sources of fresh water, replenished and then bolstered their supply of
arrows, planted gardens and fruit trees, and scouted one-fourth of the
ring of mountains that shields this lost land from the continent beyond.
  On this pleasant morning, Rillen has gotten his wish, having been taken
along on the scouting mission by Halbarad and Songa.  Less than an hour
ago, the trio descended the ropes from their mountainside shelter; they
are now heading east and south, following the basin's edge in a clockwise

Rillen:  (looks up at the mountain range to his left)  Is it just my
  imagination, or are there some of those dull green stones amidst these
Songa:  It's true.  They're harder to spot from the ledge, maybe due to
  the angle, but from down here you can see that the rock of all these
  peaks is dotted with them.
Rillen:  That's strange.  (shakes his head)  So you just move along the
  natural boundary of this giant bowl of land?
Halbarad:  (nods)  But it's not that easy.  We're not just walking the
  perimeter at ground level, else it wouldn't have taken us the last two
  months to explore and survey barely a fourth of the rim.  We head up
  the mountains' base quite a ways, moving back and forth in an organized
  search pattern.  It's actually very tedious, and boring, but only three
  of us know how to do it.
Rillen:  Right.
Songa:  We're looking for anything that's out of man-made
  structures, old tracks, and so on.
Halbarad:  Or recent tracks, for that matter.
Songa:  True, but that doesn't seem likely.  In all this time, we've seen
  no evidence that any people live here.
Halbarad:  And we surely would fires at night, or tracks,
  or something.  (he looks around)  No, for whatever reason, humans don't
  inhabit this basin.
Songa:  It's not humans I'm worried about.  (to Rillen)  Now remember, if
  any of the big meat-eating ones attack us-
Rillen:  I remember your tales, and your warnings.  I'll use my arrows to
  distract and maybe repel it with shots to the face, while you two also
  use your missile weapons.
Halbarad:  That's worked once in the past, when we had to fight.  If they
  get closer, we have to rely on our greater speed to avoid their attacks
  until they're driven away...or slain.
Rillen:  All I know is that I plan on putting arrows into both eyeballs
  of anything that attacks us.
Songa:  Honestly, the best defense is to simply watch out for them.  Those
  big ones can't exactly hide anywhere, or approach without being seen and
  heard.  (she frowns)  And felt.  They're pretty heavy, and the ground
  shakes when they move...unless they're already hiding in place, in which
  case we just need to stay aware of our surroundings, potential hiding
  places, and so on.  As long as we're alert, we should be fine.
Halbarad:  And since we need to be as alert as possible...we really need
  to stop talking, and instead use hand signals to communicate.

  This was fine by Rillen - he didn't need everything explained to him,
and he fully understood how dangerous this place could be.  As they walked
along, they carefully scrutinized every outcropping of grass, every rock,
every bush, every rise in the terrain...for a predator could be lurking
anywhere.  The terrain in this section of the huge natural basin was more
or less flat, though, and there would likely be no surprises here.  They
moved at a rapid pace, as they were passing through an area that had been
scouted previously.  Halbarad and Songa had gotten in the habit of leaving
signs (that only they could read) to mark their progress, and would know
when they had reached the spot where they left off the last time.  Based
on previous explorations, it would take them most of a day to reach that
point; indeed, it was already midday when they finally saw the river in
the distance.
  They carried enough food and water to last them overnight, in the event
that became necessary.  While it was always possible to find more of both,
it was safer not to _have_ to.  Songa had advised him this morning that at
times, it became necessary to stay out longer than a day - and that would
become the norm once the scouting efforts reached the far side of the huge
bowl of land.  The plan for this excursion was to finish surveying the
area just north of the river that began on the eastern edge of the basin,
and perhaps even find that river's source.  From the distance, it appeared
to come right out of the mountains' base, flowing west and south until it
emptied into the lake.  On the lake's far side, water drained via another
river which then disappeared into the foot of that section of mountains.

                              ___.___               .  entry from outside
                            _/;;     \_
   __                     _/   ;;;     \_           ;; valley
  |   = 1 league         /      ;;;      \
                       _/^^^     ;;;      \_        ^^ hills
                      /^^^^^^     ;;        \
                     /  ^^^^              ~~~\      ~~ river
                    |         ~~~~~   ~~~~    |
                    |       ~~~~~~~~~~       /      ~~ lake
                     \   ~~~  ~~~~~~        |
                      \_~   .........      /        .. swamp
        N               \ .............   /
       W+E               \_.########...._/          ## forest
        S                  \###########/

  All in all, it was a rather strange phenomenon - which was exactly why
it needed to be explored.  Halbarad was convinced - and had convinced most
of the others - that the answer to all of this lost continent's mysteries
lay out there, somewhere.  It just had to be found, by someone who had the
skills, and the determination, and the time...and the adventurers had all

Rillen:  Just a suggestion...rather than continuing to explore the area
  north of the point where the river comes out of the mountain, why not
  find that point _first_ and check that area?  I know that doesn't follow
  your pattern so far, but it seems to me that such a place is more likely
  to bear the mark of whoever created this basin.  (he pauses)  Whatever
  that mark might look like.
Songa:  (glances at Halbarad)  That's a...
Halbarad:  ...really good idea.  (frowns)  Why didn't we think of this?
Rillen:  Well, to be fair, you've been deep in a huge and complicated job
  for months now.  I haven't, so it only makes sense that I have a fresh
  perspective.  (he looks up to the sky, where a large formation of small,
  winged dinosaurs flies past overhead)  Hm.
Halbarad:  (to Songa)  Well...what do you think?  We could check that
  region, find the river's source...and if there's nothing there, we can
  just go back to our standard search pattern.
Songa:  (shrugs)  Sounds good to me.  Let's do it.

  As they neared the river, about half a league from its supposed origin
within the base of the mountains to the east, they found a number of the
large plant-eating dinosaurs in the area.  Some were the smaller varieties
that stood only ten or fifteen feet high, walking on two hind legs, while
others were the massive four-legged kind.  These latter would never outrun
any of the meat-eating types, as they were huge and heavy and ponderous.
But for now, they seemed content to simply drink from the pooled water at
the shallow banks of the river.

Songa:  (stares up at one such behemoth, which is several hundred feet
  away yet still towers over them all)
giant plant-eating dinosaur:  (suddenly excretes a pile of crap the size
  of a small wagon)
Rillen:  (his eyes widen)
Songa:  (quietly, so as not to disturb any of the huge creatures in the
  vicinity)  Oh, yeah.  They do that.

  The huntress needn't have worried, as the majority of these dinosaurs
were so large that they could just ignore the tiny humans moving around
between them.  The three adventurers kept their distance from the river,
moving eastward in as non-threatening a way as possible.  The smaller of
the herbivorous dinosaurs regarded them with curiosity, and would retreat
if approached, but otherwise there were no issues with these creatures.

Halbarad:  Let's follow the river to the foothills of the mountains, and
  then we can start looking around.  We've got several hours of daylight
  left, and then...(he glances at the sky, noting the position of the sun
  above)  We'll need to camp out here tonight.  It's too late to get back,
  as we knew it would be.

next:       an unusual attack
released:   6/4/2021
notes:      I just found that I had Halbarad's deity's name misspelled
  in the title card.  It's "Ehlonna" not "Elhonna."  I wonder how many
  old episodes contain this error.

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