Chapter #711

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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:          an isle amidst the Solnor Ocean                       +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "I don't see anything."                                               +
+   "That's because you're not supposed to."                              +
+                             - Solitaire & Bond, from _Live & Let Die_   +

                       DCCXI.  Land of the Giants

  As the four eyes neared their summoner, they became visible once more,
one by one.  Those weird oculars would now help determine which way the
group went...

Parekh:  (concentrating as the eyes hover before her)
Mongo:  Well?
Parekh:  Quiet.
Belphanior:  (to Drak)  What's she doing...absorbing everything that they
Drak:  (shakes his head)  No, she already did that, as she guided them,
  before, while in a trance.  Now she's just dispelling them.
Belphanior:  Oh.  Of course.

  Moments later, the eyes began to vanish...first one, then another, until
all four were gone.

Parekh:  Here it is:  the entire island's covered in these trees, except
  for the center, which is a mountain.
Mongo:  Tell me something I don't know.
Parekh:  At the base of the mountain, nestled in the forest there, are
  the ruins of some ancient city.
Belphanior:  Hmm.
Parekh:  That's all I could tell from the air.  The treetop canopy is
  thick enough to hide details to one above.
Belphanior:  Which means that to truly explore this place and not risk
  missing anything, we need to go on foot.
Mongo:  Sounds good to me.
Skektek:  It would be kind of tough to fly _everybody_ anyway...
Otto:  Do we split up into two groups, or stick together?
Belphanior:  We could cover more ground if we split up, but I hate to
  have one group miss something important that the other found.
Parekh:  There are ways of staying in touch.
Belphanior:  Nah.  Let's keep together, at least for now.  I want to see
  these ruins, and then if we have to, we'll go from there.
Neera:  Chances are that we'll find some clues in the ruins...clues, at
  the very least.
Mongo:  Ruins!  Now that's what I'm talking about!
Gorgo:  (ready for some action, he hefts his spiked mace)  Let's get to

  They crossed the swath of sandy beach and entered the forest.  Except
for the cooler temperature, it might have been more accurately termed a
jungle.  It was hard to say, because the woodland was unlike any other
they'd ever seen.  A layer of short grass covered most of the ground,
except near the bases of the trees, which were gnarled masses of roots
(or at least those portions of them that extended above-ground.)  The
trees themselves grew almost directly upward, straight and strong, with
branches that jutted out parallel to the ground.

Jutokai:  Hmm...that's odd.
Belphanior:  What?
Jutokai:  We haven't seen a single dead, fallen tree since we entered
  this forest.
Belphanior:  I hadn't noticed, but...yeah, you're right.

  Up and up these great, grand trees went, and at all levels could be
seen various creatures on their limbs and leaves.  Birds with bright
plumages perched above, watching the party.  Tiny, agile squirrel-like
things darted and leapt to and fro.  Small monkeys scurried up the trees
and chattered away, though it was impossible to tell whether they were
communicating amongst themselves or addressing these intruders to their

Skektek:  They're just monkeys.  What harm can they possibly do?
Parekh:  Once, in a faraway jungle-
Otto:  Everywhere's faraway, relative to this place.
Parekh:  True.  Anyway, in that jungle I encountered innocent-looking
  monkey-things, much like those above us now.  It was only when they
  numbered in the hundreds and attacked that we saw their triple rows
  of razor-sharp teeth.
Bosco:  Brrr, what a creepy story.
Boltar:  When the harmless and mundane end up being deadly, it's often
  more terrifying than if it was something you'd expect to be dangerous.
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces at a monkey on a limb above)
monkey:  Eee-eee-eep!

  Whatever the monkeys (and the other denizens of the tree-heights, for
that matter) might be up to, violence didn't seem high on their agenda.
In fact, after more than an hour of rapid, efficient marching without
incident, the adventurers were beginning to wonder if intelligent life
had _ever_ existed in this place.  And then, just around the next tree
and covered by moss rested something that put all their doubts to rest,
evoking a sense of wonder and awe simply from the implication of what
its presence here had to mean.

Bosco:  Whoa!

  Jutting out from the forest floor, decidedly out of place amidst all
of these huge trees, was a colossal slab of carven stone.

Neera:  (excited)  It's definitely man-made!
Mongo:  Looks like a piece of a castle wall.
Belphanior:  Or an archway.  See the curve, there?
Mongo:  Yeah, you're right.

  At least ten feet thick and forty in length, the stone had long ago
toppled, fallen, and obviously been mostly-buried over the years.

Mongo:  (admiring the stonework)
Otto:  (poking at the huge piece of rock with his sword)  Built to
Belphanior:  Indeed.
Bosco:  (having climbed atop the slab and walked to its highest point)
  If you like that, you're gonna love this.

  Upon moving around the buried stone, they saw what the halfling
meant:  beyond the first slab were others, of the same scale if not
the same size.

Gorgo:  Some of 'em are bigger.
Skektek:  This is a city!
Parekh:  Was a city.  From the looks of things, the trees grew around
  the ruins...
Skektek:  Is that possible?  I mean, is that the way it would happen?
Boltar:  It makes sense...with all that time, from Panagaea's collapse
  until now, the soil would have climbed over the kingdom, the trees
  springing up all throughout it...
Mongo:  You're saying that this was their capital city?
Boltar:  (nods)
Belphanior:  And that's why the directions given us by the Oracle led
  us here.
Neera:  Amazing.  You realize that we're looking at part of a city that
  died thousands of years ago?
Bosco:  Wow.
Belphanior:  Good...we're close.
Otto:  (wondering how deep these ruins extend beneath the forest floor)

  As they moved deeper into the ruins, it became obvioous that if this
had been a city, it had been scattered far and wide.

Neera:  There are no roads.  Just a bunch of stones.
Belphanior:  I see what you mean.  This isn't the place where these
  people lived and worked...more like a place where a city's bones
  were laid to rest.
Parekh:  And violently, at that.
Skektek:  Still, these blocks were definitely carved and worked...they
  used to be part of _something_.
Neera:  The question is...what?
Boltar:  You know...these ruins are sized for people a lot taller than
Drak:  And that's saying something.
Bosco:  (frowns)  Maybe this _is_ a land of the giants.
Parekh:  Everything will be fine.  Giants or no, they're long-dead now.
Razor Charlie:  The dead don't always rest in peace, lady.
Skektek:  That's what lightning bolts are for.
Bosco:  (wanting to change the course of conversation)  So where do we
  look for the Tomb itself?
Mongo:  Probably the center of the city.
Belphanior:  (descends from a quick peek above the treetops)  That won't
  be too hard to find.
Gorgo:  Why's that?
Belphanior:  Because as we advance deeper into these ruins, we're
  nearing the peak in the isle's center.  It looks like this whole
  place - whatever the hell it used to be - was built under the shadow
  of the mountain.
Boltar:  (eyeing the ruins ahead)  These go on forever...maybe a league
  or far as the eye can see.
Bosco:  (checking the forested area ahead with his magical telescope)
  And that's pretty far.
Neera:  If this is just an outlying area, then...the city itself must
  have been enormous!

  They'd noticed that their marching had gradually taken them uphill,
but Belphanior was right.  A very short time later, despite the fact
that they were still within the long-dead city, the ground began to
slope upward more steeply...and as they came over a rise, they beheld
something extraordinary...something wondrous...something terrible!

Ys:  Aie.

next:      denizens
released:  2/5/01
notes:     This, the third (or even fourth, depending on how you count)
  rewrite/version of the isle story beginning, is finally one that I'm
  pleased with.
    Due to my two jobs and not realizing just what a high tax bracket
  I'm in, I got screwed hard by the IRS this year.  A serious hit on my
  savings efforts.

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