Chapter #114

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                                +
                              +   +
                            +       +
                          +           +
                        +               +
                      +                   +
                    +                       +
                  +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                    +                       +
                      +                   +
                        +               +
                          +           +
                            +       +
                              +   +
                                +



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    The various characters contained in these writings are   +
+  copyright 1993 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any   +
+  persons or characters either real or fictional is utterly  +
+  coincidental.  Copying and/or distribution of these tales  +
+  is permissible only under the sole condition that no part  +
+  of them will be used or sold for profit.  In that case, I  +
+  hope you enjoy them...                                     +
+                                                             +
+                            Thomas Miller                    +
+                            tmiller@cimmeria.gatech.edu      +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   THE PARTY:                                                +
+                                                             +
+   Alindyar      13th level drow elf mage              (N)   +
+      Lyra       10th level female drow elf mage       (N)   +
+   Belphanior     9th/11th/11th level high elf w/m/t  (CN)   +
+   Ged           10th/12th level grey elf priest/mage (NG)   +
+      Arnold      9th level human warrior             (NG)   +
+   Mongo         12th level dwarf warrior             (CG)   +
+      Flint       9th level dwarf warrior             (CG)   +
+   Peldor        15th level human thief                (N)   +
+   Rillen        12th level human warrior              (N)   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:    2/24/572 C.Y. (Common Year)                      +
+   Time:    nighttime                                        +
+   Place:   the eastern edge of the Sea of Dust              +
+   Climate: hot                                              +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "There is no safety this side of the grave."              +
+                       - from _Stranger in a Strange Land_   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                  CXIV.  The Sea of Dust





  The adventurers have finally made it through portions of
the Crystalmist and Hellfurnace Mountains, and are camped
west of the peaks, at the very edge of the legendary and
dreaded Sea of Dust.  They have set up camp, and intend to
enter the dust dunes on the morrow.

Alindyar:  (asleep)
Lyra:  (asleep)
Ged:  (asleep)
Arnold:  (asleep)
Mongo:  (asleep, snoring)
Flint:  (asleep)
Rillen:  (asleep)
Belphanior:  (on watch)  Quiet night out there.
Peldor:  (also on watch)  Yeah.  Hey, we're actually here.
Belphanior:  Hmm?
Peldor:  We're here.  Out in the middle of nowhere.
Belphanior:  Yep.
Peldor:  (gazes into the starry sky)
Belphanior:  (musing over an old scroll)
Peldor:  What've you got there?
Belphanior:  What, this?  Oh, nothing much...
Peldor:  Oh.
Belphanior:  ...just the _real_ reason I came out here.
Peldor:  Eh?  How's that?
Belphanior:  (shows his fellow thief the ancient piece of
  parchment)  See, this documents the existence of a book
  that I seek.  A very old book.  A Sueloise book.  It's
  supposed to be out there, somewhere in that forgotten
  city.  And I mean to have it.
Peldor:  Hmm.
Belphanior:  This book, called the Book of Beasts in lore,
  contains secrets, all kinds of secrets.  One who reads
  the book can learn powerful spells indeed.
Peldor:  Ah.
Belphanior:  So here's the deal.  If you find this tome by
  some chance, keep it hidden from the others.  I'll make
  it worth your while.
Peldor:  Oh.
Belphanior:  You're probably thinking right now, "maybe I
  can use that book for myself" or something to that end.
  Well, think again - the Book of Beasts is only for magi
  to possess.  Others cannot understand its arcane lore.
Peldor:  Ok, what the hell.  Deal.
Belphanior:  (looking out into the darkness, not seeming
  half as crazy as the rest of the party might think he
  is)  Heh.  Of course, we have to _make_ it to the old
  city first...



  Nothing molested the group that night, and they woke
early, eating and then packing.  Belphanior used his
magical compass to point the way to the Forgotten City,
and the group began to think about actually entering
the dust dunes.

Mongo:  Cripes, we're gonna wish we had some horses
  before too long...
Rillen:  Or camels.
Arnold:  Whad's a cambel?
Ged:  I think we should try the magical sky balloon
  again, before we head out on foot.
Peldor:  I thought it was broken?
Ged:  Yea, but sometimes items have a way of repairing
  themselves.  And I get the feeling that this is one
  of those items.  (speaks the command word, and the
  balloon expands - apparently undamaged!)  Boccob!
Peldor:  (muttering)  Boccob my ass...try a god of luck
  instead...Istus maybe...
Ged:  (gloats)  Climb aboard, gentlemen.  And lady...
  We're back in business!

  The balloon was boarded and launched, and soon the
adventurers were sailing over the Sea of Dust at a
pace significantly faster than even horses would have
allowed.  If they would have survived the heat and
dust, that is.  The heat caused everybody to sweat
profusely, and the dry air seemed to absorb sweat
even as it appeared on their skin.  Also, their lungs
were now starting to burn and itch.  Ged reminded his
companions about Kiel's warning, and everyone quickly
found pieces of cloth to cover their mouths and noses
with.  Even this was not foolproof, until Rillen had
the idea to dampen the cloth, affording an effective
barrier to the deadly dust.
  Another problem that cropped up was sunblindness.
The sun's glare, reflecting off of the white dunes
below the balloon, was positively blinding.  When
one used a swath of cloth or other material to cover
the eyes, the risk of blindness diminished, but it
was difficult to see (much less fight, should that
become necessary) under such conditions.  Still, the
adventurers never had a choice in the matter.
  By now, they were all covered with a fine layer
of grit, from the dusty air of this region.  No
matter how tightly they bundled themselves in robes
or cloaks, the irritating dust seemed to find a way
in, and its presence only made the heat seem worse.

  They sailed onward, stopping for nothing.  Lunch
was eaten aboard the balloon, and hastily, lest the
caustic dust get into the food.  Water became the
most valuable of the party's resources, and again
Ged's magical decanter, with its endless supply of
water, made the adventurers' lives easier.  As they
moved over the desert sands, at an altitude of about
a hundred feet, the adventurers could see the near-
utter lack of life in the dust below.  There was an
occasional monster sighting, though, from time to
time.  Most of the creatures seen were long, brown,
insectlike creatures that resembled centipedes, but
were about twenty feet long and had numerous claws.
There were also bigger worms, well over fifty feet
in length, with huge maws filled with sharp teeth;
these were rarer then the other monsters (the party
only saw one that day).  Both types of creatures
could be spotted when they emerged from the tunnels
they were apparently digging under the wasteland's
surface.
  The Sea of Dust had no vegetation to speak of,
for only thin, scraggly bushes and patches of dry,
bleached bedrock broke the landscape of endless
white dust.  From what the adventurers could tell,
there were pitfalls aplenty in that dust; they
once more appreciated Kiel's gift of the magical
balloon, for without the wondrous device, the trip
they were making seemed impossible.

  They sailed all day long, never pausing in their
flight.  Even as dusk approached, Ged had his doubts
about setting down to make camp.

Ged:  That would be crazy!  We could get eaten whole
  by one of those worms before any sentry or spell
  would warn us!  We're not landing.  (he pulls the
  floor-mounted lever, the one controlling speed,
  all the way back, and the balloon stops abruptly)
Belphanior:  I guess this means we're camping in
  the cabin.
Ged:  Yea.  We ought to be okay, since we're stopped
  now.
Mongo:  Don't we need an anchor?
Ged:  I don't think so.  But we don't have one with
  us anyway.
Peldor:  Even if we did, I wouldn't be too sure about
  sending it down there...

  Thus, they spent the night in the balloon's cramped
cabin, floating above the Sea of Dust.  Though they
never knew it, this was a good move, for hidden under
the dust dunes directly below their ship, a hundred-
foot long sand worm lurked, its maw big enough to eat
the entire balloon in a single bite...

  If there was any indigenous airborne life in the
region, it did not make itself known that night, and
again the party spent the night free of any hostile
company.  The next morning, they stretched, ate, and
complained, but were grateful to get moving again,
for the desert was too quiet.  Also, the breeze made
by the balloon's motion, though hot and dry, was yet
better than nothing.  Copious quantities of water were
consumed by all.  It was found that the balloon had
drifted from the spot where they had stopped, for the
small rock outcropping that the group was above last
night was nowhere to be seen.

Alindyar:  Well, my personal opinion is that the rock
  was _taken_ from here by someone or something...
  (realizes that no one's listening to him)...err...

  The second day of air travel was beginning to look
much like the first, when the monotony and silence
was broken.

Peldor:  (spots something on the horizon)  Hey!
Ged:  What?
Peldor:  I see something!  It looks like ruins of
  some kind!
Belphanior:  Ruins?
Ged:  (peering through the thin cloak he has wrapped
  around his face)  I see nothing.
Peldor:  I saw it, I tell you!  Go over that way, and
  then we'll all see it.
Ged:  This had better not be a mirage...(steers the
  balloon toward the area where the thief pointed)

  It was no mirage.  They approached some old ruins,
mostly covered in dust, that jutted up from the sand
like a tiny speck on a huge wall.

Flint:  Could that be...
Arnold:  ...the Forgodden City?
Ged:  Who can say?  No one knows how far out here the
  damned place is.
Belphanior:  There's only one way to find out...

  It was decided that a scouting party would go down
and check out the ruins.  Belphanior, Mongo, and Peldor
were then elected (or volunteered), and Ged brought the
balloon low enough for the trio to jump out onto the
surface.  He then took the balloon up to a height of
about fifty feet, where the magi could provide cover
fire if necessary.

Belphanior:  (leading the trio toward a huge rock
  outcropping that might once have been a building)
  Looks old.
Mongo:  It _is_ old.
Peldor:  Let's look for a door or other opening.  (he
  begins examing the rock)  Boy, this rock is _hot_.
Belphanior:  Of course.  It sits here all day, every
  day, and absorbs sunlight.
Peldor:  Sort of like a fat, lazy lizard.
Belphanior:  Yeah.
Mongo:  (looking around)  I think these are just the
  _tops_ of buildings we see here.  The doors to these
  places are probably buried way down under this sand.
Peldor:  (kicks at a small pile of sand)  Sand?  More
  like ash.  Hey, we're not going to find anything up
  here.  Mongo's right.  (stomps around)  Now, if we
  could find a roof with a _hole_ in it-  Whoulp!  (he
  sinks down into the sand, in a whirlpool-like effect)
Belphanior:  Hey!  (without hesitation, he runs over
  and jumps after Peldor)  Whee-  (he is gone)
Mongo:  Aw, crap.

  From the balloon...

Ged:  What in Boccob's name?
Alindyar:  I would guess that they are under attack.
Rillen:  I knew I should have gone with them.
Lyra:  Look, Mongo's waving to us.  He doesn't look
  upset now...
Flint:  I wonder why?

  On the dusty surface...

Mongo:  (sees a large square opening in the vicinity
  of the sinkhole; Peldor and Belphanior are down
  there brushing sand off of themselves and looking
  up at him)
Belphanior:  It's okay!  It's just a room under the
  sand!
Peldor:  Yeah!  I must have been standing in the weak
  spot of the old roof...(looks around)  Hey, this
  place is a mess.
Mongo:  (waves the all-clear to those in the balloon)
Belphanior:  (spots a small, corroded chest)  What's
  this?
Peldor:  All right!  (they simultaneously head for
  the chest)
Mongo:  (on the sandy surface above, he ties a thick
  rope around a boulder, and descends into the room
  Peldor 'discovered')  Idiotic thieves.
Peldor:  (disarms a needle trap that might or might
  not have worked)  Hah!  They just don't build 'em
  like they used to)
Belphanior:  (picks the lock easily)  Nope.

  Inside the chest were heaps of crusty, dusty, and
mostly rotten cloth.  Wrapped inside the cloth were
a variety of items - some crumbling scrolls, a vase
or two, an empty potion vial, and odd coins of gold
and other precious metals.

Belphanior:  (picks up a coin of strange metal, not
  like any of the others, and pockets it before
  Mongo can see)  We'd better take this whole chest
  up to the others.
Peldor:  (checking the floor and walls of the room)
  There aren't any doors or exits from here.
Mongo:  Yeah, I don't think we're going to get into
  any dungeons from this place...

  They signalled Ged and the others in the balloon,
and were quickly climbing aboard...and not a minute
too soon!  One of the smaller worm-beasts snapped
and bit at their heels as they scrambled aboard and
ascended!

Peldor:  (the last one into the balloon, looks down
  at the monster)  Shoo!
Ged:  Close call, there.
Belphanior:  Perhaps.
Alindyar:  What is to be found within that chest?
Peldor:  All kinds of really old shit.  (opens the
  chest)  See?
Ged:  (gingerly picks up one of the scrolls, but
  the ancient parchment crumbles in his hands)
  Damn it to hell!
Alindyar:  (holds up one of the vases)  What in the
  hells?
Lyra:  I'd say that vase is now an antique.  A rare
  and priceless one, at that.
Flint:  Bah.  Who's gonna believe us?  I can see it
  now, back in Greyhawk...'oh, yeah, here's that
  vase we found in the Sea of Dust'...'doesn't look
  valuable to me, I'll give you five gold for it'
Peldor:  Hey, he's got a point.  And the vase does
  look sorta stupid...
Alindyar:  (looking the vase over)  What intrinsic
  beauty.
Ged:  (regarding the drow)  You're weird.
Alindyar:  Of course.
Peldor:  (eyes the empty potion bottle)
Ged:  (opens another scroll, the last intact one, and
  reads it)  Aha!
Arnold:  Whaaaaad?  You can read it?
Ged:  Of course.  One of my hobbies has always been
  the Sueloise culture and language.  Let's see here.
  Hmm.  Apparently this was a small town, a place
  called...Lahhkio?  Lahko?  _Lago_?
Belphanior:  Hmm, I guess that rules out that place
  below us being the Forgotten City.
Ged:  Indeed.  This place was a trading post, also a
  fort.  Hmm, that's about all.  (the scroll crumbles
  away in his hands)  Phew.
Rillen:  (picks up one of the coins)  I have never
  seen one like this.  I wonder how old it is?
Belphanior:  Probably pretty old.  (casts a Detect
  Magic)  Now to see what's what.

  None of the items glowed, though - though they were
relics with considerable monetary value, none had an
enchantment upon them.

Peldor:  (picks up the chest, filled with its rotted
  cloth wrappings, and hurls it out a window, where
  it plummets down and hits the worm below on the
  head)  Ha ha!  Take that!
worm-thing:  (snaps its mandibles in frustration)
Belphanior:  (opens his pocket, and scans the coin he
  took with his Detect Magic, finding that the item
  is indeed enchanted)  Heh heh.
Ged:  So you say that there's nothing else interesting
  down there?  No tunnels, doors, caves?
Mongo:  Nope.
Belphanior:  Well, I'd say that it's time to get back
  to business then.
Ged:  Yea.  (he heads for the balloon controls)

  Shortly, they were on the move again.  Belphanior
uses Kiel's compass to get a fresh bearing - which, by
the way, proved that the little ruin they had just left
was _not_ the Forgotten City - and they headed in that
direction.
  Hours later, as dusk approached, more ruins could
be seen on the horizon.

Belphanior:  Hey, this compass is going haywire!
Ged:  Good sign.
Peldor:  Those look like pretty big ruins.
Rillen:  Well, at least our quest has borne some kind
  of fruit.
Alindyar:  But will it be tasty, wholesome fruit, or
  bitter, rotten fruit?
Rillen:  You _are_ weird.
Lyra:  He's not weird, just misguided.
Alindyar:  Hmmph.

  They approached the large complex of ruins with a
mounting sense of excitement, for these were obviously
the ruins of a great city, a grand city, a city lost
for nearly seven centuries - the Forgotten City of the
Sueloise!





next time :  the descent begins!

ftp site  :  ccosun.caltech.edu, in pub/adnd/fluff/adventurers

notes     :  Again, a special thanks to Jim Morse, whose loan
           of the computer I am now typing on lets me sit here
           at home and type while listening to great stuff
           like KISS or the Conan soundtrack.  Good friends
           always seem to come through for you in a pinch.
           And good writing conditions make for good stories.
             In the cameo department, see if you can figure
           out where the terms 'Kiel's Compass' and 'Lago'
           came from...
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