Chapter #544

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                                  +
                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic III     +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +
                                  +

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      +
+  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  +
+  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      +
+  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  +
+  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    +
+  way, shape, or form.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1991-8 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.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Alindyar     17th level drow mage                            (N) +
+    Lyra       13th level female drow mage                     (N) +
+  Belphanior   (14th)^3 level elven fighter/wizard/thief      (CN) +
+    Otto        8th/10th level dwarven fighter/thief          (CN) +
+    the wispy thing                                            (N) +
+    Aja         9th level human priestess of Wee Jas           (N) +
+    Jutokai     7th level human archer                        (LN) +
+    Kinichi     7th level human tracker                        (N) +
+    Ys         13th level reptilian fighter                   (LN) +
+  Bosco        12th level halfling thief                      (CN) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        1/3/577 C.Y. (Common Year)                          +
+  Time:        shortly before dusk                                 +
+  Place:       the frozen expanse known as the Land of Black Ice   +
+  Climate:     freezing                                            +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "Sometimes reality is just a matter of perception."              +
+                                   - from _Tales From the Hood_    +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                DXLIV.  Towers Great and Small





  The party has arrived at the City of the Gods, an odd place
buried amidst the dark snowdrifts to the far north.  Now, they
must scale those sheer metallic walls and gain entrance into
the city...

Jutokai:  (looking up, he rubs his chin)  How will we scale those
  walls?
Bosco:  Easy - I'll just fly over.
Belphanior:  That's great, Bosco, but what about those who don't
  fly?
Bosco:  We'll use rope, like last time.
Belphanior:  (points to Ys with a thumb)  And what about him?

  They eventually settled on a simple plan:  those who could fly
across the wall did so, carrying the rest over.  In Ys' case, it
took the combined efforts of Lyra, Bosco, and Belphanior (all
using flying spells or magical items) to haul the big guy over.

Ys:  (finally set down on the inside)  Perhaps _I_ need some boots
  of flying.
Bosco:  They'd never fit.
Ys:  (grins toothily)
Lyra:  One thing's for sure - you're not a light fellow.
Ys:  I prefer to think of myself as merely a fellow.

  The city's great wall was exactly like last time, too:  smooth
and undamaged by the elements, and without any kind of gate or
portal.  No ledges adorned the interior side of this wall, nor
did any steps or ladders bridge the hundred feet from ground to
tapered wall-top.  It seemed that the city's former inhabitants,
whoever or whatever they were, hadn't feared siege of any kind.
  The city itself was just as they'd remembered it:  a colossal
central tower surrounded by smaller towers.  Some of these were
linked at their higher levels by smooth metal bridges, tunnels to
be exact.  Most of the buildings had doors and windows, though
these were shaped strangely, being perfect circles.  From a few
of these windows, dim lights of various colors shone, barely
visible from the street.  Some of the towers, however, held
neither doors nor windows, being instead smooth, featureless
structures that rose into the sky.  About half of the city's
towers were topped with thin spires of metal; some of these had
other, smaller spires jutting out sideways.
  All of these structures were smooth and untarnished; in fact,
there wasn't a single flake of snow or layer of ice within the
city's walls.  They hadn't thought about this during their last
visit, but now Alindyar had a theory...

Alindyar:  There must be some invisible, intangible field that
  keeps snow, ice, and weather out.
Aja:  (nodding)  He's right.  Notice how much warmer it is on
  this side of the wall - inside the city?
Otto:  I wouldn't call it warm, though it's definitely a helluva
  lot warmer than outside.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Whatever mystical devices power this
  place...they must have been left in a neutral mode.  Not too
  hot, not too cold.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  Aye.

  The towers were organized in a symmetrical array, radiating
outward from the central one in measured increments - rings, to
be exact.

Belphanior:  (waving his black blade around)  No souls...just
  like before.
Kinichi:  Isn't that a good thing?  (he looks around)  If they
  were really gods, I mean.
Aja:  (looks up, following a tower's wall to the sky)  I would
  believe it.  This place is magnificent.
Jutokai:  Weird, though.

  They found the translucent, apparently indestructible tube-like
things that ran from all towers along the ground, toward the
central tower like the spokes of some great wheel.  These pulsed
with dim light, and were slightly warm to the touch.

Aja:  What if we cut one of these?
Belphanior:  Probably not a good idea.  (he remembers the time
  he got shocked while messing around here)  A lot of things in
  this city are dangerous.
Ys:  (wondering if he could sever one of the weird tubes with a
  single blow)
Bosco:  (babbling)  Ten to one says you can't.
Ys:  (ignores the halfling)  There are no inhabitants in this
  place?  Or guardians?
Lyra:  None that we ever found.
Alindyar:  Which does not rule out their existence.
Belphanior:  True...and they may not have souls, which means we'll
  never know they're coming.
Kinichi:  (scanning the towers and streets with hawklike eyes)
  I'll know.
Aja:  (gazing at the towers that rise high, all around them)  The
  place is dead.
Belphanior:  That may be, but it's still dangerous.
Otto:  So what's the plan?
Lyra:  What indeed?  Do we explore more of the central tower, or try
  some of the other ones?
Alindyar:  That latter option could take weeks...
Aja:  Yes, but who knows what we might find?
Otto:  (helpfully)  I say we go for it.  After all, we're not in
  any kind of hurry.
wispy thing:  Brrrp.
Belphanior:  (eyes the wisp for a moment)  Okay, then.  We'll check
  out one of the smaller towers and see what we can find.

  Of course, the smaller towers were all still huge; they chose a
fairly large one that was close to the central tower.  About forty
feet in diameter and a hundred high, the squat tower had many windows
dotting its exterior.  A quick search at ground level also revealed
an elongated oval hatch; to its right was a square fashioned of what
looked like opaque glass.

Belphanior:  (gazes at the odd little square, his crystal eye
  twinkling)  It's not a trap...
Otto:  Probably opens this door.
Kinichi:  (examining the portal)  Weirdest damn thing I ever saw.
Jutokai:  Then again, think about where we are.
Bosco:  (walking slowly toward the glass square)  Maybe if we just
  touch that...
Alindyar:  Caution-
Belphanior:  (reaches out, confidently, and pushes the glass square)

  With a faint "whoosh" of air, the door slid open.  Beyond was a
simple rectangular chamber with two doorways leading out.  Both of
these exits were rectangular as well, and without doors of any kind;
they were little more than square arches.  The adventurers moved in
slowly and carefully, fanning out into the room.  Ys didn't have to
duck his head like usual, for the ceiling here was more than ten
feet high.
  The two doorways led to other rooms which contained strangely-
constructed chairs and tables.  These unusual pieces of furniture
were simple and angular, fashioned from some weird substance.

Otto:  (taps a table-leg with his blade)  Doesn't sound like metal.
  (he puts his sword away and draws his knife, scraping the table's
  top surface)  And it's tough.  I'm barely making a scratch here.

  On the walls were bizarre paintings; the ceilings were plates of
tiny metallic crisscrossed metal, rather like gratings.  From above
these shone the dim light that illuminated this chamber, and all the
others.

Alindyar:  (stares upward, recalling the similarity of the light-
  panels to those he once saw while in the alternate world called
  Earth)
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  But they're also different, too...more
  streamlined...
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  More advanced.

  One of the other rooms contained a staircase going up to other
chambers, and then to others beyond that.  The tower had four floors
all told, and the explorers found many of these to be analogous to
rooms they were familiar with.  For example, one chamber was clearly
a bedroom, though the material of its sheets and pillows looked and
felt odd.  More, the bed was ten feet long!

Lyra:  Giants?
Bosco:  Looks like it...wow.
Ys:  (smirks)
Aja:  Maybe it's a good thing that this place's inhabitants aren't
  here, after all.

  Another chamber was obviously a washroom, but its washbasins were
clean and bone-dry.

Alindyar:  There's no dust here.
Aja:  You're right...that's odd.
Lyra:  This whole place is odd.
Bosco:  (sticks his hand in the basin)

  Suddenly, there was a coughing sound from within the wall, and a
puny stream of brown water sputtered forth.

Bosco:  Whoa!  (he jumps back)
Belphanior:  Running water...(to Alindyar)  We've seen the likes of
  this before.
Alindyar:  Aye...on that other world.
Lyra:  (nods)  The water must be coming from behind the wall.
Kinichi:  Not much, though.
Ys:  (wanders into an adjacent chamber)
Otto:  I can't claim to understand how it works, but one thing's
  certain:  the city's been here so long, things are broken-down.
Belphanior:  Yup.  Last time it was the energy that runs the place,
  and now we've seen evidence of a water-system.
Alindyar:  One wonders what else there is.

  They found nothing more in the tower - whoever or whatever had
lived there was long gone, along with any personal effects.  There
was no loot here.

Jutokai:  Should we check out another tower?
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  I have a feeling that the best
  things are to be found in the central tower.  Besides, it's dark
  out now, and we should make camp soon.
Lyra:  The main tower, then?
Alindyar:  Aye.

  They left the smaller tower and regained their bearings outside.
The city's central tower was gargantuan - a good thousand feet in
diameter, and at least that high.  It rose over the surrounding
towers, and was clearly visible, even halfway across the city, where
the adventurers stood now.  Without further ado, they made their
way to the larger central tower; the trip didn't take long.
  All of the glowing energy-tubes that ran along the surface streets
converged there, entering the main tower at ground level.  As before,
the tower had no windows and only one door:  a large, round hatch set
a foot above ground level.  Twenty feet across, this portal blended
almost seamlessly with the metal of the tower itself.
  In the center of the hatch, there was an inch-deep depression
in the shape of a three-fingered claw.  Eight inches long, this
indention could easily hold a human hand.

Bosco:  We should have brought Peldor.  (he sighs)  But since we
  didn't, I'll just have to fill his shoes.  (he floats up into
  the air, a few feet)  Err, hands.
Aja:  (she, and the others who haven't seen this before, gasp in
  surprise and awe)

  There was a hissing sound as the odd door slid away to one side,
vanishing into the tower's wall.  A massive, dimly-lit chamber of
colossal proportions could be seen beyond.

Belphanior:  Well, here we go...





  As the elf prepared to lead his companions into the tower,
other events were unfolding halfway across the world.  In a
remote mountain pass, a dozen tightly-bundled travelers made
their way through the piercing wind and driving snow.  Their
leader, a large, broadly-built human wrapped in a thick grey
cloak, regarded the whirling snow from beneath his hood.

hooded leader:  You're sure you know where this place is?

  His question was directed at a tall, wiry tracker - a gaunt
fellow who seemed at home in these wild parts.

gaunt tracker:  This is the way.
leader:  Good.  We need to get ourselves, and our horses, out of
  this snowstorm.
tracker:  Shouldn't be a problem - we're less than an hour's ride.
gigantic cloaked figure:  (grunts)

  The huge figure, barely visible beneath tightly-wrapped clothes,
stood no less than ten feet tall.  Yet, it was only one of twelve
individuals in the band.  All were skilled in their professions,
all were seasoned veterans of many years and campaigns...and all
were quite dangerous.
  And they were headed for Helgate.

leader:  It won't be long, then.  We'll find Helgate, and then
  we'll find Belphanior, and then we'll send him to his maker and
  be done with him.  Forever.

  The travelers continued on their way, undaunted by the fierce
weather that raged all around them.





next:      in the City:  some old tricks - and a few new ones
           in Helgate:  the seekers arrive
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    I ask again, and for the last time:  please take 60 seconds to
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