Chapter #196

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                              +   +
                            +       +
                          +           +
                        +               +
                      +                   +
                    +                       +
                  +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                    +                       +
                      +      Epic II      +
                        +               +
                          +           +
                            +       +
                              +   +

+    The various characters contained in these writings are   +
+  copyright 1994 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                    +
+                    +
+   THE PARTY:                                                +
+                                                             +
+   Alindyar      15th level dark elven mage              (N) +
+   Arnold        11th level human warrior               (NG) +
+   Belphanior    12th/14th/14th level high elven w/m/t  (CN) +
+      small immaterial wispy thing                           +
+   Ged           14th/14th level grey elf priest/mage   (NG) +
+   Lyra          12th level female dark elven mage       (N) +
+   Mongo         16th level dwarven warrior             (CG) +
+      Gorin       7th level dwarven warrior             (CG) +
+   Peldor        18th level human thief                  (N) +
+      Bosco       8th level halfling thief              (CN) +
+   Rillen        16th level human warrior                (N) +
+                                                             +
+   SPECIAL GUEST STARS:                                      +
+                                                             +
+   Halbarad      13th level human ranger                (NG) +
+      Zephyr     large wild tiger                       (NG) +
+   Peyote        11th/12th level half-elf warrior/druid  (N) +
+      Blok       earth elemental                         (N) +
+   Date:    12/24/573 C.Y. (Common Year)                     +
+   Time:    midday                                           +
+   Place:   Scant, capital of Onnwal                         +
+   Climate: cold                                             +
+   "The breakfast of champions is not cereal, it's the       +
+    opposition."                                             +
+                                             - Nick Seitz    +

                 CXCVI.  The _Victory_

  After returning to Greyhawk with a few old friends, and
learning of a dastardly plot to recover seven relics from
the world's early days, the adventurers have set out on a
quest to find those Runes which still remain undiscovered.
Magically transported to the city of Scant, in Onnwal to
the southeast, they have appeared in a temple of Boccob.

Ged:  (looking around)  Yep, this is definitely a temple of
  Boccob.  Observe the purple tapestries and the regal look
  of this place.
Peldor:  (thinking about stealing the mentioned tapestries)

  A short, stout-looking fellow entered the circular chamber
and strolled forth, greeting the party.

fellow:  You must be the great heroes sent by Ravel Disander
  in Greyhawk.
Peldor:  Yes I am.
Ged:  (stepping in front of the thief)  We are those heroes.
  We have come to find the Rune to the south.
fellow:  Boccob has spoken of this.  I am Velik, high priest
  of Boccob in this city of Scant.  (he and Ged exchange the
  designated secret handshake of Boccob)
Belphanior:  Where the hell are we, again?
Velik:  Onnwal.
Mongo:  Wow, we really did travel far.
Ged:  I figure we saved just over a month's riding time this
Alindyar:  (making calculations in his head)  Actually-
Lyra:  (taking on an admonishing tone)  Hush, no one cares.
Halbarad:  We would certainly love to stay and chat awhile,
  but we should be getting on with the quest.
Velik:  Ah, yes.  Let's go to the southern coast - it's about
  an hour's ride.  (he snaps his fingers, and some pages go
  to get horses for everybody)
wispy thing:  (enters an archaic purple lamp)  bnnn.
Velik:  (starts to retort, but decides against it)

  Shortly, they were riding southward, except for the tiger
Zephyr, who padded along beside the mounted adventurers,
and the earth elemental Blok, which simply lumbered behind
the group.  About an hour later, Velik led them to a massive
set of docks.

Belphanior:  (whistles)
Ged:  It only makes sense - Onnwal is a nation practically
  surrounded by water, on the end of a narrow peninsula as
  it is.  These people have to have a big fleet, in order to
Velik:  Exactly.  (he motions for the adventurers to dismount
  and leads them down a fifty-foot wide dock)  This way.
Rillen:  This looks like the biggest dock you have.
Velik:  That's because it leads to the biggest ship we have,
  a ship that's been under construction for more than a year
  now.  See, since no one has ever _been_ to the south, where
  the Rune is located, no one can teleport there.  A rather
  long voyage is still necessary.  Thus the ship.
Bosco:  Well, gee, I hope it's ready.
Velik:  (leads them past some fairly large ships, and points
  ahead)  Oh, it is.  It is.
Ged:  Boccob!

  Ahead, docked at an oversized pier, was something that was,
without a doubt, the most magnificent vessel any of the party
had ever laid eyes on.  The ship was a monstrous galleon, but
larger by far than any normal such ship.  Stretching beyond a
hundred and fifty feet in length, and spanning at least forty
feet in width, the thing was a monster.  Five thick mainmasts
rose from its sturdy decks, each outfitted with a billowing
sail of pale violet cloth.  The ship's height indicated at
least three, but probably four, through (lengthwise) decks,
and the fore and aft castles each consisted of three more.
Catapults and ballistae were prominent in numerous places
throughout the ship, and several spacious crows' nests were
seated atop the masts.  A huge steel battering ram jutted
from the front of the vessel, its head large enough to deal
a normal ship a fatal blow.
  Workers scuttled busily across the big ship's decks and
sides, making last-minute checks and loading supplies.

Velik:  What do you think?
Rillen:  Now _that_ is a warship.
Alindyar:  (never having seen a large sailing ship, much
  less a monster like this one)  Aye.
Ged:  I'm...flabbergasted!  Whose ship is this?  Where'd
  all the money come from...?
Velik:  Oh, it's a project I've been helping fund.  It was
  originally supposed to be for Onnwal, and in a way I guess
  it is...our king, the Szek Eward Destron, was willing to
  donate it to our cause, once I explained the matter of the
  Runes of Power.
Halbarad:  (to Peyote)  I think we are extraordinarily lucky
  to have such a ship at our disposal, considering this
  quest we are about to embark on.
Peyote:  You called it, dude.
Bosco:  (excited)  So, when do we leave?
Velik:  Within the hour!  Say, where's-  Oh, there he is!

  Just then, a grizzled dwarf ambled up to the party...

dwarf:  Eh?  So these're the ones who'll be taking her out?
Ged:  Who's this fellow?
Velik:  Friends, this is Quinn, inventor, shipbuilder, and
  tinkerer extraordinaire-
Quinn:  Bah, to hell with all that!  You people had better
  take care of my baby...(he lights an ancient pipe)  Yep.
Gorin:  (wondering about this dwarf who would build a ship)
Mongo:  What's it called?
Quinn:  (scrunches one eye up)  Eh?
Mongo:  The ship, what's it called?
Quinn:  Not an _it_, a _she_!  She!  I named her VICTORY.
Bosco:  (muttering to himself)  Well, _that's_ original-
Arnold:  (palms the halfling's head and glares at him)
Belphanior:  Looks like that ship's got everything.
Ged: she fully outfitted?
Quinn:  Five sails...ten catapults and ten ballistae...
  plenty o' ammo...she's got four through decks, y'know.
Ged:  Yea, we noticed.
Velik:  (beaming)
Quinn:  Everything you'll need's already been stashed aboard, drink, weapons, supplies...heh.
Ged:  What's her crew?
Quinn:  Oh, it takes no less'n a hundred-fifty to man her.
  Experienced seamen, all.
Peldor:  (spots a female crew member checking one of the
Quinn:  Eh?  Well, we've got a few lasses aboard too.  (he
  puffs on his pipe nonchalantly)
Velik:  Of course, with this Rune in mind, we can't take any
  chances.  That's why you'll also be carrying two hundred
  of the land's finest warriors.
Mongo:  (nodding appreciatively)  Good.
Quinn:  Ay, it shouldn't take that many to hold her against
  attack!  She's invulnerable, yep.
Ged:  Looks like it.
Alindyar:  Fascinating.  When do we board?
Velik:  (gestures)  Go ahead.
Quinn:  I'll show 'em aboard.  C'mon.  (he wanders toward
  a massive boarding ramp)
Gorin:  (charges off after the builder)  Wait for me!
Mongo:  Looks like the kid's fascinated.
Peyote:  Who can blame him?  This is, like, the coolest of
  ships.  There is none higher.
Rillen:  You're probably right.
Velik:  Trust me, you'll find the _Victory_ to be a floating
  fortress - a juggernaut, if you will.
Ged:  I believe you.  (he and the other high priest discuss
  final preparations as the others head for the ship)
Velik:  You'll find the crew to be experts, with a wide
  variety of expertise.  You've got priests, magi, warriors,
  even a few thieves.
Ged:  The kind who can be trusted, of course.
Velik:  Of course.  We've got a lot of people's help on this
  mission...people from nearby lands as well as far.  You
  know, our spies and scouts report that the others, those
  serving the powers of evil, are even now preparing their
  own expeditions to the south seas.
Ged:  We'll deal with them if we have to, I suppose.
Velik:  I must be getting back now...I've got a temple to
Ged:  Very well.  (they clasp hands)  Boccob be with you.
Velik:  Likewise, and good luck.
Ged:  (wanders toward the ship, Arnold waiting for him
  ahead)  Let's go!
Arnold:  Yah.  (they board the huge galleon)

  For about half an hour, the final preparations were made.
Sails were rigged, last-minute supplies were brought aboard,
and the crew members bade their farewells.  Finally, when
all was in readiness, the mooring ropes were untied, the
big sails were unfurled, and the _Victory_ cast off.

Quinn:  (leaning over the edge of the front of the iron ram,
  he smashes a bottle of rare dwarven ale over the ship's
  bow)  I'll be damned!  We're headin' out!
Mongo:  (near the bow of the ship)  Hey!  I thought you were
  staying, well-
Quinn:  Behind?  Hah!  That's what Velik thought too, I'd
  bet!  (he puffs on his pipe)  No one keeps me offa my own
  prize invention!  Nosiree...(he ambles away)  Time to
  check on me rudders.
Arnold:  (nearby, confused)  Rudbers?  More than one?
Mongo:  Don't ask me, I'm a land-faring fellow.

  Meanwhile, the other adventurers had spread out across the
big ship.  Though they had already been shown their quarters
for this voyage, every one of them wanted to explore the
_Victory_, to see its myriad decks and armaments.  Well,
almost everyone...

Zephyr:  (asleep on the floor of Halbarad's cabin)  Gzzzzz.

  As Ged wandered around the ship, searching for the wheel-
house, he encountered various crew members, and a few of the
marines as well.  All of these people appeared to be highly
competent, as well as friendly, and it was becoming clear
just how much care Velik had taken in choosing his crew.  By
this time, Ged had run into Rillen, and together they walked
the decks.

Ged:  (having quickly zeroed in on the wheelhouse)  Well,
  here it is.
Rillen:  Lead on.
Ged:  (enters, noting the spaciousness of the chamber, and
  addresses the fellow at the helm)  Excuse me, friend.
steersman:  Yes?
Ged:  I was wondering where I might find the captain.
female voice:  (behind Ged)  Right here, you rascal.
Ged:  WHAT?!?  (he whirls)  By Boccob!
Rillen:  Eh?

  Behind the two adventurers stood a striking elven maid,
one who bore a resemblance, in a way, to Ged.  Sharp, fine
features accented a thin, pale face, from which fiery violet
eyes burned like embers.  The elf's long, golden hair was
tied in a ponytail, held with a length of silver cord.
Though the girl was barely five feet tall, she exuded an
aura of competence and maturity beyond her years.

Ged:  What in the world are _you_ doing here?!?
elven maid:  Oh, come now!  Surely you didn't think that
  you were the only wanderer in the family!  (she and Ged
  approach one another)
Rillen:  Family?
Ged:  (busy hugging the lass)  Oh, forgive me.  I've been
  amiss.  Rillen, this is one of my sisters, Leila.  Leila,
  meet one of my adventuring companions, the warrior.
Rillen:  (towering over the slender elf)  My pleasure.
Leila:  (utterly unintimidated)  Likewise.
Ged:  I never thought to find you in a place like this.
Leila:  Hah!  And here I am, captain of this mighty
  vessel...set out on a quest to save the world...
Rillen:  (beginning to notice more than just a physical
  resemblance between these two)
Ged:  (muttering to himself)  Boy, are the others going
  to be surprised...
Rillen:  (wondering how a mere wisp of a girl like Leila
  can command a shipful of fighting men)
Leila:  (to no one in particular)  You're probably wondering
  how a mere wisp of a girl like me can command a whole
  shipful of fighting men...
Rillen:  Well, the thought did cross my mind.
Ged:  (also wondering about this matter)  ESP?  Mind control?
Leila:  Not at all.  It's merely my old friend and companion,
  Og the dwarf.
Rillen:  Og?
Ged:  Og?  What kind of a name is Og?
Leila:  Don't underestimate his power based on his name...
  he can clean house when necessary.  Og's the...general for
  this mission - I make the command decisions, he deals with
  the crew.  They respect me, but they'd die for him.  He's
  one of the great dwarven heroes, you know.
Ged:  Yea, we seem to run into a lot of those...
Rillen:  Hmm.
Leila:  Anyhow, fully half of the two hundred soldiers below
  are dwarves from his own personal clan...battle-hardened
  veterans, to a man.  Err, dwarf.
Ged:  Mongo will be glad to know that.
Leila:  Well, if you'll excuse me, I have a ship to run...
  We'll be meeting for a dinner banquet in the officers'
  dining hall, shortly after dusk.  I trust I'll see both
  of you, and all of your friends, there?
Rillen:  It's a date.
Leila:  (wanders away, chuckling)
Ged:  Hmph.  My sister!
Rillen:  Heh.
Ged:  She's not fit to be commanding this ship, you know.
  Really not any ship, but especially this ship.
Rillen:  Maybe you're just jealous.
Ged:  Me?!?  Jealous?!?  Never!  She's just...well, what
  does she know about ships?  Bah.  _I_ should have been
  given command.
Rillen:  I'm sure Velik had a good reason for putting your
  sister in command.
Ged:  Bah, I say!

  Meanwhile, Mongo had already found for himself that there
were a hundred fierce dwarves below decks...

Mongo:  (joining the dwarves in another song, a large mug
  of ale in one fist and his hammer in the other)
Bosco:  (wanders into the hold)  Huh?  What's going on down
Mongo:  Hey, everyone, look!  It's Bosco!
dwarves:  (cheering)
Bosco:  (finds himself handed an overflowing mug)  Oh.  (he
  takes a big swallow)  Urp!  Good.
Mongo:  Attaboy!  Look here, Bosco, have you met Og?

  Amidst the revelry, there sat a middle-aged dwarf.  His
short body, though no longer in its prime, was still well-
covered in powerful muscle and tough sinew.  Several scars
were visible on the veteran's hairy face and body, but he
nevertheless possessed a certain charisma, for the dwarves
seemed to listen to his every word with awe.  Bosco got the
impression that the dwarf was as great a warrior as he was
a leader.

Og:  (yells in a booming voice)  Ho, there, small one!
Bosco:  (looking around)  Who?
Og:  Join us for a round or three!  We've got a glorious
  mission ahead!
Bosco:  That can't be denied...(he wanders the hold, eyeing
  the various dwarves' possessions)  Say, you guys don't
  have a lot of room down here...
random dwarven warrior:  Nah, but it doesn't matter.  We're
  marines, and we're tough!  We don't need pampering!
Bosco:  I see.
Og:  I hope we'll see some action on this mission.
Mongo:  (to Bosco)  I like this guy.  (he drains his mug)
Bosco:  (shrugs)  Oh well, when in Onnwal...(he drinks

  Elsewhere, Halbarad and Peyote were wandering the vessel,
noting its formidable offensive weapons.

Halbarad:  These catapults rank among the largest and most
  powerful that I have ever seen.
Peyote:  Right on, dude.  (he eyes a pile of rocks sitting
  next to one of the catapults)  Massive earthen power.
Halbarad:  Speaking of which, where did that elemental get
Peyote:  Blok?  I left him in my quarters.  I didn't think
  he'd care for the seagoing life too much.  Of course, he
  _is_ a mindless automaton...
Halbarad:  There is that.  (he looks around, though land is
  nowhere to be seen)  I hope this quest is for the greater
  good of someone.
Peyote:  Rest easy, man.  Everybody who's anybody is looking
  for these runes too.  It's the greatest quest ever!
Halbarad:  I know...and _that_ is precisely what worries me.

  Still elsewhere, Gorin wandered the decks, examining the
complex webs of wood and iron from which the massive vessel
was constructed.

Gorin:  (fascinated by every new facet of this ship that he
  finds)  Wow.
random crewman:  Like it?
Gorin:  Like it?  I love it!  This thing's an engineering
crewman:  Yes...that's why I'm honored to be serving aboard
Quinn:  (ambles by)  Yes indeedy, we're ready to sail for
  the roughest, toughest seas ever spat out by the gods!
  (he caresses a ballista as if it were a baby)  Och!  (he
  wanders away)
Gorin:  (to the random crewman)  Excuse me, I've got a lot
  of questions for that guy.  (he runs after the dwarf)

  On the ship's bow, a short ways behind the battering ram,
Belphanior stood, taking in the view as the huge ship sliced
through the water like a knife.

Belphanior:  (imagining the power to be had by one who gets
  one - or more - of the runes)
Peldor:  (sneaks up behind the elf)
Belphanior:  (doesn't even turn around)  Hi there, Peldor.
Peldor:  Yie!  I wish you wouldn't do that...
Belphanior:  What did you expect?  I can detect souls in a
  sixty-foot radius.  Anyway, what's on your mind?
Peldor:  Just wondering what the hell we're doing sailing
  to the ends of the world.
Belphanior:  On a quest for a bunch of do-gooders?  Yeah,
  I've been thinking about that myself.
Peldor:  The cause seems noble, though I can't believe that
  the fate of the whole _world_ may be at stake.
Belphanior:'d kinda think we'd be walking through
  cloud-cities or something, if the world was in danger...
  not sailing southward.  (he consults his magical compass)
  Still, this rune-thing _is_ in the direction we're going.
Peldor:  I suppose so.
Belphanior:  And I have an ominous feeling about this quest.
  I think great unknown risks lie ahead...
Peldor:  Well, that's what it's all about, isn't it?
Belphanior:  The taking of great and unknown risks?  Yeah,
  it sure is.  What fun would we have without these risks?
  (begins daydreaming about the powerful foes and mighty
  magical items that the party may have to face soon)
Peldor:  (begins daydreaming about great treasures that may
  lie ahead)

  The other adventurers who were in their quarters (Arnold,
taking a long nap, and the drow, studying their spellbooks
perhaps) were informed via messengers that dinner would be
served just after dusk.

messenger:  (knocks at Alindyar and Lyra's door for the
  second time, again without an answer)  Eh, that's odd.
  (he slides a note under the door and leaves)

  Indeed, all was quiet until that time, as the great ship
sailed southward.  Before everyone knew it, dinnertime had
arrived.  Besides the adventurers and their main henchmen
(animals and elementals were, under protest, excluded from
the meal) the hall contained the highest-ranking crew:
Leila, the dwarf Og, Quinn, and the first mate, a stocky
human named Talbot.  It was his job to oversee the various
day-to-day operations of the ship, leaving Leila free to
worry about the quest ahead.  Og acted as the commander of
the ship's troops, after a fashion, while Quinn was the
unofficial chief engineer of the vessel.
  Discussion commenced shortly, over a meal of fine meats
and tasty vegetables, mixed in with loaves of hot bread and
bowls of fruit.

Bosco:  At least no expense was spared for our meals.
Peldor:  Well, we _are_ great heroes...
Ged:  Enough.
Halbarad:  (to Leila)  So, you are the captain.
Leila:  So I am.  Surely you don't have trouble believing
Halbarad:  Err...umm...
Ged:  (cracks a grin)
Arnold:  Aaa.
Halbarad:  (looking rather flustered)
Peyote:  Whoa, I think he was just making an observation.
Leila:  But of was I.
Mongo:  (discussing giants with Og)  Then I smashed him
  in the kneecap, and he fell.  Boy, did he fall...
Og:  Heh.  I like to bash their toes into jelly.  That
  always gets 'em.
Gorin:  (talking with Quinn)  What kind of lumber did you
  use for this ship?
Quinn:  Oh, all kinds...oak, pine, some bronzewood...all
  kinds o' stuff.
Halbarad:  Bronzewood?!?  Such trees are as rare as the
  largest diamonds!  How...?
Quinn:  Relax, bucko.  Most of the reinforcing beams are
  made from bronzewood, but that's about it.  The wood was
  a gift from the elves...hmm, elves...a strange sort...
Rillen:  Sometimes.
Talbot:  (rather shy in the presence of such well-traveled
  adventurers, he eats in silence)
Bosco:  (considers picking the first mate's pockets, but
  notices Ged watching him)
Alindyar:  (quietly picking at his food)
Lyra:  What's the matter?
Alindyar:  Nothing...just a bit seasick, perhaps.
Ged:  (holds up a finger)  You know, I have a spell that
  can fix that...
Belphanior:  (to Leila)  So, where exactly are we sailing
Leila:  Eh?  Whatever do you mean?
Belphanior:  (looking rather irritated)  How long until we
  reach our destination?
Rillen:  Or do we even know where we're going?
Leila:  Oh, that.  Here's the course:  we proceed southward
  for a week, at which point we'll be in the deepest waters
  in this part of the world.
Arnold:  Aaa.
Peyote:  You can say that again.
Arnold:  Aaa.
Leila:  (looking slightly amused)  Anyhow, then we'll move
  further southward, into more shallow waters.  By the end
  of two weeks' time we'll be sailing between the Olman
  Islands and the Scarlet Brotherhood's islands.
Talbot:  (quietly)  That may prove dangerous.  That land's
  agents are everywhere.
Leila:  Indeed they are...that's why we're so well-equipped.
Og:  Damn right!  (he raises his axe)  We'll smash 'em like
  flies if they show up!
Belphanior:  Sounds good to me.
Leila:  After we pass through those island chains, we'll go
  even further south, past any charted regions.  Somewhere
  beyond lies the Rune that we seek.
Ged:  No doubt Boccob will show us the way, when the time is
Peldor:  Bah.  Boccob hasn't shown us much of anything for a
  while now.
Ged:  Quiet, blasphemous fool.
Peldor:  (looking around)  Fool?  I don't see any such person
  in here.
Ged:  That's because you don't have a mirror.
Bosco:  (manages to toss a pea onto Ged's plate while he's
  distracted by Peldor)
Leila:  You have such amusing friends, little brother.
Peldor:  _Little_ brother?!?
Ged:  (sputtering)
Alindyar:  (to Leila)  Exactly how old are you?
Leila:  I've seen just over a hundred-fifty winters...still
  young by elven standards.  But older than Ged here, who's
  barely seen a hundred years come and go...
Halbarad:  (feeling rather young)
Arnold:  (to Ged)  I didn't know you were a baby brothder!
Ged:  Grr...

  Before long, everyone retired for the night.  For the next
week or so, the _Victory_ sailed onward peacefully; these
were relatively harmless waters, and times were good.  The
expected seabound traffic was seen:  merchant galleys, navy
vessels from a few different kingdoms, and the like.  Near
the end of the first week at sea, a potentially troublesome
problem became apparent...

Mongo:  (lurching around on deck, looking rather green)  Ugh.
Ged:  What's the problem?  Seasick?
Mongo:'s being away from the earth...
Bosco:  Huh?
Mongo:  The land...
Bosco:  Oh.
Mongo:  It's my hammer...its power, and thus mine, now, is
  tied to the land...the rocks and that I'm away
  from them, I'm getting sick...and weak...
Belphanior:  Damn, this isn't good.
Mongo:  You're telling me...(he stumbles)
Rillen:  Why didn't you mention this before we left?
Mongo:  Thought...thought I could take it...
Peldor:  Hmm, maybe we should turn back.
Peyote:  And leave the Runes to the forces of evil?!?
Halbarad:  Aie.
Mongo:  No...we're going onward.  I'll...just have to suffer
  through this...though I won't be much a fight...
Gorin:  C'mon, let's get you below decks.  (he leads Mongo

  As they ventured into deeper waters, fewer and fewer ships
were seen.  It was only when they entered the deepest water
in the Azure Sea that anything unusual happened...

lookout:  (screaming rather loudly)  Aaaaaie!
crewmen:  (racing around the decks, to see what all of this
  commotion is about)
Peldor:  (awakened from his nap on the deck when a crewman
  nearly stomps on his head)  Eh?  What's going on?  (he
  turns to look)  Uh-oh.

  Approaching from the east was a monstrous sea serpent, a
snake whose length rivaled that of the ship herself.  Its
massive head was about as wide as a fully-grown man, and
fangs like scimitars jutted from that dangerous maw.  The
monster slithered toward the _Victory_ at a high rate of
speed, moving via some weird kind of undulations.

Og:  (running around the decks)  Forget the catapults!  Arm
  those ballistae!
crewmen:  (rushing to obey)
Mongo:  (now on deck)  Whoa...(he staggers weakly)
Gorin:  (appears from a lower hold)  What the hell's-  Shit!
  (he rushes to the ship's side)  Now _that's_ a snake!
giant sea snake:  (moving like lightning, it coils around
  the ship's hull, making several loops)  SSSS!
Quinn:  (appears on deck, a harpoon in his hands)  Bloody
  hell!  The beastie's trying to crush the ship!
Ged:  (now on deck, he begins spellcasting)  Not if Boccob
  has anything to say about it...
Mongo:  No time for Boccob!  (he hurls his hammer weakly at
  the snake, dealing a glancing blow)  Ow.
giant sea snake:  SSSS!  (responds by snapping up a crewman
  in its giant maw)
Mongo:  (catches his hammer, and staggers back)  So damned
various crewmen:  (being batted aside or crushed by the
  coils that now surround the ship)  Aie!  Argh!  Help!
Arnold:  (barely half-armored, he rushes up to a coil, and
  chops at it with all of his might)  Ah-nold!  (a deep
  wound appears, and blood sprays everywhere)
Peldor:  (uses his ring to TK a ballista bolt into the sea
  snake's scaly hide, right below an eye)  Hah!
random crewman:  (having watched the bolt sail through the
  air, seemingly of its own accord)  Huh?
giant sea snake:  SSSS!  (it tightens its hold on the ship)
Rillen:  (longbow in hand, he stops Quinn as the dwarven
  engineer runs by)  Can the ship take this punishment?
Quinn:  I don't rightfully know!  She'll be okay for awhile
  but there's really no telling!
Rillen:  (sends an arrow, which immediately doubles, toward
  the snake's head)
giant sea snake:  (both arrows bury themselves in its neck)
Quinn:  Ay!  Good shot, mate!
Gorin:  (along with Bosco, he rushes to Arnold's side, and
  begins hacking at the snake's midsection)
some brave crewmen:  (follow this example, and begin to hit
  the snake with their weapons)
Belphanior:  (charges at the snake's head, and stabs the
  monster in the mouth)  Die!
giant sea snake:  (bites at the elf with its poison-tipped
Belphanior:  (gored slightly in the shoulder)  Argh!  (he
  falls back)
Halbarad:  Poison most foul!  (he charges forth, chopping
  at the snake's head)
giant sea snake:  (reels from a massive head wound)  SSS!
Peyote:  (casts a Faerie Fire, which appears around the
  snake's head)  Whoa, cool.
Rillen:  I hope you can do better than that, druid.
Leila:  (appears on deck)  What the-
Ged:  (completes his spell)  Now we'll have a reckoning!
  (his cone of cold explodes on the snake's head, covering
  it in snow and ice)
Arnold:  Extra winder for us, this year.
giant sea snake:  (uncoils, and sluggishly sinks into the
  ocean depths)  Ssssgggggllll...
Bosco:  (runs to the ship's side and looks over, waving his
  tiny sword)  And don't come back, or I'll chase you off
Og:  (to Mongo)  The little one's nuts...
Mongo:  Yeah...(he rests against a rail)  Whew.
crewman:  (wanders by, a broken piece of mast in his hands)
Leila:  (looking around)  What's the damage?
Quinn:  (examining a cracked mast)  This we can fix.
Talbot:  (walks forth, holding a dead crewman in his arms)
  This we can't.
Leila:  Oh, no...
Ged:  Don't be so sure.  Let's collect the dead and wounded
  somewhere, and I can minister to them.
Leila:  (looking around)  How many?
Talbot:  Looks like three dead - one eaten by the snake -
  and about a score wounded.
Leila:  (looks shocked)  Aie...
Ged:  Come now.  (he moves to comfort his sister)  These
  things happen.  And we may be able to save some of them.
Bosco:  What about Belphanior?
Belphanior:  (staggering around)  What about me?
Og:  But how?  The poison...
Belphanior:  I've survived worse...(he heads to his cabin
  to rest)  Ugh.
Mongo:  Now _he_ looks like I feel...
Leila:  Hmm.
Ged:  (exchanges glances with Leila, and shrugs)

  Shortly, the wounded were being tended to.  The minor
officers included one priest each of Boccob, Trithereon,
Pelor, and Procan; though none of these were as powerful
as Ged, they yet provided considerable healing magicks.
This allowed Ged to occupy himself with the matter of
the two slain crewmen whose bodies were still on the ship.

Ged:  That's it.
Leila:  What?
Ged:  I said that's it.  They'll need to rest for a week
  or so, but they'll live.
Leila:  Thank the gods!  (she hugs Ged)
Bosco:  Aww...
Peyote:  Say, Ged's sure gotten powerful while we were away.
Peldor:  He likes to think so, anyway.

  They resumed their journey after making minor repairs on
the mast.  Peyote helped significantly by casting mending
spells on the wood of the mast and surrounding timbers.

Peyote:  Always glad to help out...
Quinn:  Good thing, too, druid.  You fixed her up better and
  faster than we would have been able to.
Rillen:  (happy that Peyote finally proved useful, even if
  not in battle)  Good job.

  After the encounter with the giant sea snake, they sailed
unmolested for almost a week, making exceptional time.  It
wasn't until the _Victory_ passed between the Olman Islands
to the west and the Scarlet Brotherhood's islands to the
east that more trouble brewed.  A small fleet, consisting
of five galleys, sailed in from the south, quickly flanking
the _Victory_ on all sides.

Quinn:  She's a hell of a ship, but she can't outmaneuver
Leila:  (peering at the other ships through a spyglass)  I
  wonder what they want?

  An answer was not long in coming, for the galleys quickly
moved in and began launching all kinds of missiles at the
big ship.  Ballista bolts, catapult boulders, flaming balls
of pitch-soaked cloth, arrows, bolts - all began raining
down upon the _Victory_ and her crew.

Ged:  Damn!  Pirates!  (he begins spellcasting)
Leila:  Or else the forces of evil...(she also begins her
  own spell)
Og:  (motions to a dozen of his human troops)  Get over here
  and use those shields to cover these magi while they work
  their spells!
soldiers:  (hasten to obey)
Alindyar:  (since there was plenty of advance warning this
  time, both he and Lyra are now on deck, casting spells)
Lyra:  (to the shield-bearing soldiers)  Thanks.
Quinn:  (directing crew members toward damaged areas)
Og:  (runs along the deck, making sure that all catapult
  and ballista crews are operating smoothly)
Talbot:  (leads another group of crewmen as they wet the
  sails, in case a fire breaks out)  You there!  Toss some
  water on the decks!
crewmen:  (they begin dousing the decks with buckets of
  cold water)
Bosco:  (nearly slips on a section of wet deck)  But why?
crewman:  It's to retard the progress of any fire that
Mongo:  (trots up to the rail, carrying his shield and war-
  hammer loosely)  Damn!  I can't throw Stormcrest that far,
  not like I'm feeling now...or can I?
Arnold:  Don't worry, I think you can.
Mongo:  I don't-  Hey!  (an arrow suddenly imbeds itself in
  his shield, and he staggers)  Dammit...I feel so helpless.
Halbarad:  (calmly firing arrows toward the nearest enemy
  ship)  Don't fret overmuch.  Bows have long been the
  superior distance weapon anyway.
Rillen:  (launching his own arrows toward the enemy ship)
  Your shot was off, Halbarad.
Halbarad:  Nonsense...(he squints)  Damn it, you're right!
Rillen:  (winks at Mongo and smiles smugly)
Belphanior:  (leaps onto deck)  Hey, who started this fight
  without me?!?  (he quickly produces a wand)
Peyote:  (perched in a crows' nest for some reason, he is
  also spellcasting)

  Those without magic or bows had no choice but to take
cover as a conflagration of spells and magical effects
blazed into life all around them...

Ged:  (completes his Fireball, and the huge flame-sphere
  explodes on the deck of the nearest enemy ship, setting
  everything ablaze)  For Boccob!
Lyra:  (sends a Lightning Bolt at another enemy ship,
  punching a large blackened hole in the vessel's hull)
  Boccob is not the only one with power...
Leila:  Indeed he isn't.  (she casts an Otiluke's Freezing
  Sphere, rendering a third ship immobile as the water
  around it turns into ice)  Am I right or am I right?
Arnold:  (wondering if this is a trick question)
Bosco:  You're right.
Ged:  That's two down, one immobilized.  Not bad.

  From the ship Lyra had hit, which was now sinking, a ball
of fire sailed forth, but fell short of the _Victory_ and
fizzled out in the water.

Leila:  Either they're puny or they're distracted.
Lyra:  (watching the second ship sink)  I'd say distracted.
Alindyar:  (completes his Advanced Illusion, and a monstrous
  red dragon appears in the sky overhead)
red dragon:  (slowly turns to face the remaining enemy ships)
Belphanior:  Looks like fire is the order of the day.  (he
  uses his wand to launch a fireball at a ship on the other
  side of the _Victory_)  Fire!  Fire!  Fire!

  The fourth ship, though not instantly set ablaze like the
one Ged's spell hit, nevertheless lost its mainsail within
moments, and its crew scurried like bugs in an effort to get
the fire under control.

Peyote:  (completes his Control Winds spell, sending gale-
  force winds at the enemy ships; this fans their flames
  further, and makes life difficult for those on deck who
  are trying to put the flames out)  Gnarly winds, do your
Gorin:  Does he always talk to the winds?
Bosco:  I honestly can't remember...
Mongo:  I'd say the answer is probably "yes".
Ged:  (gets his wand out)  Time to get those other ships.
Belphanior:  For once, we agree on something.  Let's do
Leila:  No need...look.

  The remaining undamaged ship was busy pulling survivors
out of the water, and had stopped firing at the _Victory_.

Belphanior:  So?  Let's blast them while the blasting's
Leila:  No.  Common rules of war dictate that we leave
  them alone and let them return to wherever they came
  from, with the other ships' survivors.
Ged:  But-
Leila:  No buts.  I'm the captain here.
Belphanior:  (thinking about taking to the air and chasing
  the enemy survivors down)
Og:  (claps Belphanior on the shoulder, though he has to
  stand atop a crate to do it)  Go easy, good fellow.

  Something in the grizzled dwarf's eye told Belphanior to
cool it, and he decided not to bother with the other ship.

Belphanior:  (grumbling something about this being their
  lucky day)
Mongo:  (somewhat befuddled, he rests against a crate)
Alindyar:  (quietly has his illusory red dragon breathe
  illusory fire upon the remaining enemy ships and crew)
Rillen:  (happens to notice this effect, but since he too
  disagrees with Leila, he keeps quiet)
Halbarad:  I wonder who they were?
Leila:  Probably agents of the Scarlet Brotherhood...or
  some other ill-tempered kingdom.
Ged:  I'd say we showed them the error of their ways.

  They were able to continue on their way while making
repairs, for the only damage was superficial and rather
easy to fix.  The _Victory_ sailed on for a week, going
ever southward, and ventured, as expected, off the edge
of any known map.
  About this time, they noticed that the climate had
changed for the warmer; whereas outside temperatures had
previously been below freezing, they were now merely cool,
such that one could wear a short-sleeved jerkin on deck
and still be comfortable.  In addition, the sun seemed to
be out for more of the day now, as if the days were longer
and the nights shorter.
  They sailed onward, for another week.  Strange floating
clumps of seaweed became a common sight, and unusual fish
were sighted in the ocean.  Some of these actually jumped
from the water, sailing through the air for short periods
before re-entering the ocean with a loud splash.  After
several days of these oddities, the adventurers knew that
they were drawing close to their goal - the Rune of Water.

Belphanior:  (looking at his magical compass)  It's near,
  very near.
Ged:  (having just cast a spell)  Yea, Boccob agrees with
Peyote:  (also doing some kind of divination)  As does
Leila:  Well, what are we waiting for?  Sail onward!

  Mere minutes later, they were forced to come to a stop,
for ahead lay a strange sight indeed.  The water ended,
practically, as it was replaced by an overgrowth of green
algae, or perhaps moss.  Almost unrecognizable shapes and
forms were visible beneath the vegetation...

Ged:  Boccob!  Those are _ships_!
Belphanior:  There must be hundreds of them...thousands
Alindyar:  The fungus stretches as far as the eye can see.
Peyote:  A sea...a sargasso sea...and the Rune we seek lies
  somewhere within...

next time :  into the sargasso!

ftp site  : in /pub/frp/stories/adventurers

notes     :  Long episode, eh?  That's because of what I've
           begun to call the "writers' Midas syndrome".  What
           happens is that I write ten or fifteen stories
           which are barely above 10K in length, then I find
           myself coming up on a deadline (in this case, part
           200) and I only have a few episodes in which to
           portray a bunch of events; these few episodes end
           up being about 30K apiece.  Oh well.  Someday I'll

Thomas Miller              
Systems Support Specialist II          Georgia Tech Network Services

"What good is being a hammer when you can't find a deserving nail?"

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