Chapter #708

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2001 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!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Belphanior      14th/14th/14th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+     Jutokai        8th level human archer                               +
+     Otto           8th/11th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+     Razor Charlie  9th level human fighter                              +
+     Skektek       12th level human wizard                               +
+     Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                          +
+     Zhao           8th level human swordsman                            +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Boltar          high priest of Pholtus                                +
+   Drak            barbarian warrior                                     +
+   Parekh          dark-skinned female wizard                            +
+                                                                         +
+   Neera           female human sage/astrologer                          +
+   Date:           3/28/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           afternoon                                             +
+   Place:          the sky above the Solnor Ocean                        +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "When death comes easy, it comes fast."                               +
+                                      - the Trader, from _Deathlands_    +

                      DCCVIII.  Interception

  In the middle of nowhere, hidden within the vastness of the great
Solnor Ocean, the party has at last found the fog-shrouded isle that
marks the probable location of the Lost Tomb of Panagaea...

Belphanior:  Time to fly lower and disembark.
Mongo:  Let's hurry it up.

  The dwarf was feeling weak, a result of so much time off-land.  Even
with his magical belt of giant strength, he felt like he was moving in
slow motion...sick, fatigued.  It had never been this bad, and he kept
cursing himself for allowing this to happen at all.  He cursed silently,
though, for he didn't want anyone else to realize how bad he felt.  He
just sucked it up, knowing that he'd be on land soon.

Belphanior:  (piloting the skyship downward, through some clouds)  Not
  much longer...
Boltar:  Can this vessel land...I mean set down, on the sea?
Belphanior:  I don't think so...hmm, good question.  We've actually
  never _tried_ that.
Skektek:  I don't see why it wouldn't work.
Belphanior:  We might try today...I'm not sure how comfortable I am with
  the idea of leaving the ship out in plain sight, open to attack.  Hmm.
Drak:  Assuming we can't land, what's the plan for getting us all down
Belphanior:  A series of teleports should do it.
Parekh:  I have a mass lifting spell.
Belphanior:  What?
Parekh:  It's essentially an oversized force-disc that follows me up and
  down.  I use it to move large numbers of people or things around.
Belphanior:  That's fine.  (to the others)  Is everyone ready?  Do we
  have all the supplies and equipment?
Ys:  (nods)
Bosco:  (squinting, he peers in the direction of the sun)  Hey, what's

  The halfling was eyeing a speck in the distance...a speck that was
getting bigger, fast.

Jutokai:  Uh...
Parekh:  A dragon, perhaps?
Gorgo:  Whatever it is, it's coming right at us.
Belphanior:  (hastily readying a spell)
Parekh:  Good idea.
Bosco:  (puts an eye to his telescope)  It's a bird...a really big one!
Mongo:  What?!?  That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!
Parekh:  That doesn't mean it's not true.

  Then, abruptly, the thing vanished from sight!

Boltar:  What?!?
Bosco:  (aiming his telescope all about)  Gone!
Otto:  Did it turn invisible?
Parekh:  I doubt it, but who knows?  (she looks around, worried)
Belphanior:  Hold on, everyone.  (spinning wheels and pulling levers, he
  sends the skyship into a dive, putting distance between it and the clouds
Mongo:  What the hell-
Belphanior:  I think it flew up into the clouds.  I don't want it dive-
  bombing us by surprise.  I'd suggest that everyone get below decks,
  right now.  Parekh, Skektek...
Skektek:  (smiling, he holds up a wand)  I'm ready.  If it shows up again,
  it gets to chew on some ice.
Parekh:  (working a spell)  Or an arrow of flame.
Belphanior:  You'll need to be outside, on the deck.
Parekh:  Right.  (she opens the little door and heads out there, along with
Skektek:  (sips from a potion, then regards Parekh)  Flame arrow?  Isn't
  that a fairly puny spell to use against a big enemy?
Parekh:  Oh, get real.  This isn't your basic flame arrow spell...not at

  The two wizards were now alone on the skyship's deck.  Everyone else had
now stowed themselves below-decks, leaving only the two wizards on the deck
and Belphanior and Otto in the steering cabin.  Those below decks could
only wait and speculate...

Jutokai:  (to Bosco)  You really think it was a bird?
Bosco:  Yep.
Gorgo:  Looked like a bird to me, and I didn't need a magical eyepiece to
  see that.
Jutokai:  Get serious.  No bird could grow to be that big.
Drak:  Actually, they can.  I've seen them myself, in some distant corners
  of the world.
Jutokai:  Oh.
Drak:  If there's one thing I've learned in all my travels, it's that
  nothing's impossible.

  Meanwhile, in the steering cabin...

Belphanior:  (eyeing the clouds above the ship's current position)  It's
  up there...I can feel it.
Otto:  Agreed.  I hope the wizards are ready, in case-

  Just then, a gigantic winged form shot from the cloud cover, hundred-
foot wings driving it with tremendous speed and power.  The adventurers
barely had time to react; both Skektek and Parekh found their aim made
difficult by the speed, angle, and surprise of the attack.

Parekh:  (launches a gigantic arrow of flame, but misses the huge bird
  by several hundred feet)  Damn!
Skektek:  (watches his ice-blast clip one of the attacker's wings)  Hah-
gigantic bird:  SCREEEE!  (it swoops downward)
Skektek:  Oh, fuck.
Belphanior:  (spins the wheel hard to the left)  Look out!
Otto:  Holy shit, it's gonna hit us-

  There was a tremendous WHOOOSHing sound, followed by the impact of
the great beast slamming into the side of the skyship.  Enchanted wood
cracked and snapped.  Sails were shredded.  Loose items on deck fell
and were lost.  Inside, people scattered like tenpins, slamming into
each other and the cabin walls, stomachs lurching.  Belphanior kept a
death-grip on the wheel, struggling to maintain control of the vessel.
As for the huge bird, it was already flying away, one of its wingtips
coated with ice, confident on a primal level that it had turned away
this strange threat to its airspace.
  Its confidence was borne out by the fact that the skyship was now
plummeting in an uncontrolled spin, heading right for the ocean!

next:      they hit...hard
released:  1/25/01
notes:     I'm having quite a bit of fun here.  Not as much as I had with
  the previous episode (introducing the antiheroes) but still...there's
  always the mightiness of the roc.  It is a roc, as will be discussed
  next episode, if they survive.  Ha...of course some will survive.  They
  made it through the sky balloon's crashing, and I'm sure they'll make
  it through this.  I couldn't just let them land, though, without some
  harm coming to them.
    I am counting on hearing some complaints from some readers:  why did
  you have to destroy the skyship?  First Helgate, now the skyship?  Why?
  Why, why, why?  Well, I already said it before:  change happens, and
  life isn't fair.  Besides, the plot mechanism I've had in place for
  Belphanior for so long (base in Helgate, anywhere else reachable via
  skyship) was getting old.  It will be interesting to see the group on
  horseback for a change.
    Trivia:  this is the fifth version of this episode.  I've tried other
  ways of getting them onto the isle, but none of them made sense to me
  after I wrote them.  This time, though, I've plotted it all out ahead
  of time so it should go more smoothly.

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