Chapter #917

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2005 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!                                          +
+   Daffodil        11th level human druidess of Obad-Hai                 +
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger of Ehlonna                    +
+   Peyote          12th/12th level half-elven fighter/druid of Obad-Hai  +
+   Rillen          18th level human warrior monk                         +
+   Songa           13th level human huntress                             +
+                                                                         +
+   Eyer            13th/16th level wood elven fighter/acrobat            +
+   Leila           12th/12th level female grey elven warrior/mage        +
+   Kiel Morgan     14th level human warrior                              +
+   Og              16th level dwarven warrior                            +
+   Relmar          18th level human high priest of Pelor                 +
+   Thorlok         11th level human war-mage                             +
+   Validor         11th level human wizard (sage/astrologer)             +
+   Date:           7/15/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           midmorning                                            +
+   Place:          an undiscovered continent far to the east             +
+   Climate:        cool                                                  +
+   "Do not fear to step into the unknown...for where there is risk,      +
+    there is also reward."                                               +
+                                                           - Lori Hard   +

                    CMXVII.  The Verge of the Unknown

  The inland expedition is about to depart, and so it is time for some

Kiel:  Be careful, be smart, and good luck.
Halbarad:  And you as well.
Leila:  (talking with Validor)  Good luck unraveling the mysteries of
  this place.
Validor:  (smiles)  I would guess that you people will find more answers
  on your trip than I shall find remaining behind.
Og:  (hefts his notched battleaxe, and looks up at Leila)  You watch your
  back out there, and come back to us soon.
Leila:  (hugs the dwarf)  Don't worry, we'll be fine.
Og:  (gazes at the jungle to the east, and the mountains just barely
  visible in the distance)  You may be fine...and you may not.  I can't
  shake a bad feeling about this place.
Leila:  We'll be okay, and back before you know it.  We're not exactly
  beginners at this sort of thing.
Og:  (eyeing the wilderness, he frowns to himself)
Relmar:  (giving general instructions to the dozen priests who were in
  his charge until now)

  As planned, this trip had ten members:  Halbarad, Songa, Rillen, Leila,
Peyote, Daffodil, Eyer, Relmar, Dervan, and Weaver.  The latter two had
been chosen from the small group of rangers on this voyage.  Dervan was
a tall, lean tracker who said little and seemed to prefer to keep to
himself.  Weaver was just about the exact opposite, a world-traveled
veteran who seemed to have endless stories to tell about things he'd
seen and done.  Naturally, about a dozen others - rangers, warriors,
even some of the "regular" people - had tried to volunteer their help
and get themselves assigned to this mission.  Halbarad had refused them
all; he already had more people than he figured were necessary, as well
as a wide diversity of occupations and skills among the group members.
No, ten was enough, and he was eager to set out.

Halbarad:  (clasps Kiel's hand)  We shall return.
Kiel:  Happy hunting.
Halbarad:  (hitches up his pack and nods to his companions)  Let's get
  moving.  We've got a lot of ground to cover, and only so much daylight.
Peyote:  Dude, it's morning!  We've got many hours of daylight.
Halbarad:  And we're wasting them.  Come on.  (he sets out toward the
  edge of the camp, where the cleared area of jungle ends and the dense
  tree cover begins)

  To tell the truth, Halbarad was exhilarated.  He hadn't cared for the
long ocean voyage, with its countless days of relative boredom and lack
of usefulness.  For the ranger, who was used to roaming freely in the
wilderness, months aboard a ship was essentially a forced confinement.
Now that they were on land, he finally felt happy again - and now that
they were finally leaving the camp and setting out into the unexplored
wilderness, he finally felt alive again.

Relmar:  (glancing back at the edge of the encampment, with its wooden
  wall, as they move away from it)  What's the plan again?
Halbarad:  We'll head due east, navigating by sun and stars when we can
  find a break in the jungle canopy, and make for those mountains in the
Leila:  And if we can't see the sky above, we can use the lodestone I've
Halbarad:  (nods)
Songa:  Have you considered following the coast instead?
Halbarad:  I had, but that could possibly go on longer, making for a
  much longer march without ever really finding anything.  Also, if we
  stay near the coast, we're less likely to find fresh water, which is
  a major concern.
Peyote:  (shifts his pack)  Dude, I think we're carrying enough water
  for an army.
Eyer:  It seems like it now, but in a few days, you may wish we had much
Rillen:  And we've got a long march ahead.  (he peers through the trees,
  frowning)  Not that I can see those distant mountains from beneath the
  treetop canopy.  How far away could they possibly be?
Songa:  Hard to say, but I'd guess a week, at least.
Daffodil:  (pushes some foliage aside with her staff)  It will be a long
  and tough week, then.  This is some of the thickest jungle I've ever
Peyote:  And without our magic to ease the path, we have to move through
  it the hard way.
Songa:  (shakes her head, wondering how some people make do without help
  in their lives)
Halbarad:  We may be able to solve the water and the terrain problems at
  the same time.
Relmar:  How's that?
Halbarad:  Once we reach that lake, we need to take a closer look and
  find whatever feeds it, hopefully a stream or streams.
Eyer:  Or a river.  That would be nice.
Leila:  Why?
Songa:  Because a river means a break in the foliage and undergrowth,
  which is easier for us as we march.
Eyer:  Or we could build a raft, and not have to march at all.
Halbarad:  We shall see.

  They trekked for about half an hour before reaching the lake.  It was
still midmorning, and the sounds of wildlife were everywhere...chirps,
chatters, buzzing, and the occasional screech.

Eyer:  Those are some wild monkeys up there.
Weaver:  Just be glad they're not the sort I found once in the wilds of
  the Amedio.
Daffodil:  Why's that?
Weaver:  Because those monkeys liked to get right above you and then
  drain their bladder.  It was some kind of a joke.
Eyer:  Any monkey that pisses on a dead monkey.
Halbarad:  Let's split into two groups and move around the shoreline of
  this lake.  We're looking for signs of water flowing in.  I know that
  we've scouted this a little bit, on this shore, but now it's time to
  do a complete check.

  It took more than an hour, with the two groups basically skirting the
lake looking for signs.  Unfortunately, when they met back on the lake's
far side, there was no great discovery to report...

Songa:  The bad news is that nothing but rainwater feeds this lake, at
  least these days.  The good news is that there's a dried-out stream
  bed nearby, a stone's throw from the lake, and it heads eastward.
Halbarad:  Hmm.
Leila:  Is this bad?
Halbarad:  It's not ideal, but it's better than nothing.  A stream bed
  means a less tangled path...less brush to hack through.  (he looks
  around)  It still won't be easy, though.  The heat, and lack of fresh
  water, will be our greatest enemy.
Relmar:  Let's get to it, then.

  They set out along the old stream bed, taking turns in the lead.  With
this small a group, and no horses, they only needed a path wide enough
for one person.  Further, since there were ten of them, they simply took
shifts at the front position, doing the hacking of vines and brush.  No
swords or axes were used for this; despite their magical nature, these
weapons could still be dulled with enough cutting of vegetation.  Rather,
Halbarad broke out a couple of machetes; the short, wide hacking blades
were perfect for this kind of work, and their edges would be re-sharpened
during rest breaks.
  The system seemed odd - one person leading the way and clearing the
path as needed, with this role rotating every ten minutes or so - but it
kept the group from becoming too fatigued too fast.  A secondary effect
of this method was its exposure of who possessed the most strength and
endurance.  Some of the party (Halbarad, Rillen, Songa) not only moved
fast and cleared the path efficiently, but never seemed to tire.  Others
(Leila, Daffodil, Eyer) just weren't cut out for this kind of laborious
work.  Eyer had the will but not the strength; Daffodil had the stamina
but not the strength; Leila simply had neither.

Daffodil:  (a bit upset about the need to cut and destroy plant life
  to create a path)  I don't see why we can't just...move through the
  vegetation here.
Relmar:  (hacks a vine in two, moving forward quickly)  We are moving
  through it.

  The priest had been a particular surprise; everyone knew that he had
a strong will, a determination to do what had to be done.  However, he
also seemed possessed of great strength and stamina.  Even after each of
his turns as the point man, he seemed unfazed, almost cheerful...and was
barely breaking a sweat.  Some of the stronger members of the expedition
began picking up the slack for the weaker; for example, Relmar put in
some extra time with the machete several times, shortening Daffodil's
turn significantly.
  They trudged on, breaking as needed for rest or food.  Aside from the
heat and humidity, the biggest problem was the large and aggressive
mosquitos; these winged pests averaged more than an inch in wingspan,
and seemed to be particularly bloodthirsty.

Peyote:  (kills yet another of the bothersome insects)  Dammit!
Songa:  They're more than just annoying - they could carry diseases.
Relmar:  And here we are without healing magic.
Eyer:  This new land couldn't be deadlier if it was made this way on
  purpose.  (he frowns, then smashes a mosquito)  Too bad Yod's not here.
  I bet these damn things wouldn't even think about trying dwarf blood.

  Truthfully, the going wasn't as tough as Halbarad had expected.  The
presence of the old stream bed helped immensely; it appeared to have
dried up only recently, perhaps a few months ago.  This meant that there
existed a clear path...but to what, nobody knew.  The trek continued into
the afternoon, and then ended suddenly.

Halbarad:  (chops through some vines, and steps forth into a clear area)
  At last.
Peyote:  (follows the ranger)  Well, I'll be damned.  We caught a break.
Halbarad:  That we did.

  They had emerged from the jungle onto one bank of a wide, sluggish
river.  These were by no means rapids, but the water was moving, which
kept it from pooling and stagnating...and the river was a good fifty
feet wide!  Each bank was about twenty feet, from the jungle's edge to
the river's edge, and was comprised of soft, damp dirt and mud.

Eyer:  A river?  That seems odd.
Songa:  It is.  (she dips a finger in the river and taps her tongue)
  Fresh, not salt water.  (to Halbarad)  How can this be?  Where's the
  water coming from?
Halbarad:  (shakes his head)  It doesn't make any sense.  This river
  runs roughly north-south, not toward the shore we came from, and not
  toward the mountains we seek.
Songa:  See how the bank of the river is lower here, where it intersects
  with the dry stream bed?  I'd guess that during the rainy season this
  river runs even higher and overflows down this side channel.
Halbarad:  Hmm, good point.
Rillen:  So we're deciding whether to walk or float?
Leila:  That would seem to be an easy choice.
Dervan:  If we stay on the river, we'll have a much easier time of it.
Relmar:  We'd have to follow the flow of the water, yes?
Eyer:  Only if we built a raft.
Weaver:  We could go either direction on a raft, but moving upstream
  would be a lot more work.  We're not salmon, you know.
Halbarad:  Let's take a break here.  (he takes Songa, Dervan, and Weaver
  aside to confer about the next course of action)
Eyer:  (bends down near the river's edge)  Hey, everyone, look at this.

  The elf had found some tracks, mostly animal tracks but also a number
of human footprints!

Halbarad:  (examining the prints)  These are a couple of days old, at
  most.  (he looks around)  There are definitely people here.

next:      course of action
released:  4/28/06
notes:     I'm already getting tired of writing this arc.  It's not that
  it's boring to write, it's that I like Belphanior and company that much.

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