Chapter #950

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                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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+     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       +
+   1991-2006 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                             +
+                                                                         +
+   Dervan           9th level human ranger                               +
+   Eyer            13th/16th level wood elven fighter/acrobat            +
+   Leila           12th/12th level female grey elven warrior/mage        +
+   Relmar          18th level human high priest of Pelor                 +
+   Weaver           8th level human ranger                               +
+                                                                         +
+   T'kar           human hunter/warrior, native of lost continent        +
+   Date:           7/26/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          an undiscovered continent far to the east             +
+   Climate:        hot and humid                                         +
+   "Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men."           +
+                                           - General George S. Patton    +

                     CML.  Retreat Into the Mountain

  After their scouting mission turned into an outright battle, the two
halves of the group have reunited.  Now, they face the remainder of the
cannibal village...and those savages have just ignited a trail of oil
leading downhill toward the adventurers.

cannibal #44:  (shot in the chest by Eyer's arrow, he falls, dying, but
  drops his torch...which rolls a short distance and ends up amidst the
  spilled oil)

Halbarad:  Oh, hell.

  The trail of oil instantly blazed to life, and the fire quickly shot
toward the adventurers' position in front of the cavern mouth.

Peyote:  Let's go, man!

  They turned and fled into the fissure within the sheer rocky slope of
the mountainside.  It was about five feet wide, and perhaps seven feet
high at the tapered top; Rillen actually had to stoop to make it through
the passage.  Its floor was a rough footpath, overgrown by weeds and
tough mountain grass; it had obviously not been used much recently.

T'kar:  (muttering uneasily, he keeps looking back and trying to make
  the group stop)
Halbarad:  What's he going on about?
Leila:  This is some kind of sacred place, apparently...(she listens to
  the native)  Sacred, or cursed.

  Despite the protests of T'kar, they moved rapidly - mainly because they
had no choice.  Behind them was a great pool of fire, right at the cave
mouth, sending great clouds of thick, dark, oily smoke into the sky.
The burning oil wouldn't find its way onto the path, since that passage
progressed into the mountain at an uphill slope, but they needed to put
as much distance as possible between themselves and the surviving foes.
Several torches were used to light the way...

Peyote:  I bet you're all glad that I brought some torches, huh?  No one
  ever figured we'd need torches in a jungle scouting trip, but the old
  habits die hard, and it's best to be prepared.
Halbarad:  Yes, it was definitely one of your better ideas.
Peyote:  Uhh...right.
Eyer:  (stops abruptly, examining the passage wall)
Leila:  What are you doing?
Eyer:  Preparing a surprise for our pursuers.  Granted, I don't have much
  to work with, but still...(he scatters dozens of small metal caltrops
  across the ground behind the group)  From what I saw, those cannibals
  were barefoot.  This should buy us some time.
Halbarad:  Excellent.

  They continued along the pathway, which had now become uniform:  a
round tunnel, about seven feet wide, winding left and right but always
at a slight uphill course.  The passage was almost completely barren,
though one section they passed through did contain a partial collapse
from some time long ago.  They sidestepped the rubble and squeezed by
that narrower section of the tunnel, then continued along their way.

Eyer:  (looking back)  That might be the best place to fortify and hold
  the passage.
Halbarad:  Agreed, but I believe it's best to forge on.  Logic tells us
  that there's _something_ ahead; I seriously doubt that we're pushing
  forward into some kind of dead end.  As long as we keep our lead on
  those behind us, we'll be fine.
Songa:  Agreed.
Relmar:  (nods)  My thoughts exactly.
Weaver:  We must be quite a ways into this mountain by now.
Peyote:  I told you, man - this has to be it.  (he looks around)  The
  mother lode...
Relmar:  (nods)  Leila, what else does our friend here know about this
  supposed passage through the peaks?
Leila:  Let me see.  (she confers with T'kar, her crude knowledge of his
  language nonetheless eliciting a hurried and excited response)
Peyote:  (eyes the native oddly)  Sounds like gibberish to me.
Rillen:  (smirks, muttering to himself)  How ironic.
Songa:  Heh.
Halbarad:  (to Leila)  Well?
Leila:  T'kar says that this secret pass has been here since the dawn of
  time, and that it was created by the gods themselves.  It belongs to
  neither tribe - his or the cannibals - but the latter apparently took
  an aggressive stance about "guarding" the passage, since they built
  their village near it.  Anyhow, both groups have lived in a subdued
  dread of it for as long as anyone remembers.  Legend has it that any
  intrusion into this pass will bring about the end of all tribes in the
Weaver:  (frowns)  Well, I can see why he's a little upset about us just
  charging through here, then.
Dervan:  Tough luck.  It's not as if we can go back - in addition to the
  burning oil, there are the cannibals.
Halbarad:  Right.  (to T'kar)  I know you can't understand me, but you
  need to understand my tone:  we did what we said we'd do to help your
  people, and now we have to help _ours_.  That means we move onward.
T'kar:  (shakes his head sullenly)
Leila:  (about to try to reassure the native, she goes silent as they all
  round a bend in the passage...and emerge into a larger cavern)  What in
  the hell...?

  If there had been any doubt as to whether the passage was natural or
man-made, it faded now.  The chamber in which they stood was crudely cut
from the surrounding rock, but it had definitely been fashioned by some
sort of intelligent, civilized people.  A hundred feet wide, it was a
hemispherical room with a domed ceiling.  One end featured the passage by
which they had entered; the opposite wall of the chamber held a huge slab
of worked metal, set into the rock of that edge of the domed chamber.
This plate was ten feet high and five feet wide, and looked extremely
sturdy; if it was a door, it had no visible handle or hinges.

Halbarad:  Relmar, Leila - check that metal plate...see if it's some kind
  of door or portal.  Peyote, Daffodil - move along the left wall and
  check for anything noteworthy.  Rillen, Songa - you're on the right-
  hand wall.  Both of those pairs, set up several torches around this
  room's perimeter, since we'll need good lighting in order to best use
  our bows.  Eyer, Dervan and Weaver, you're with me - we're going to
  try and set up some kind of defense at the passage mouth.  Let's move,
  everyone.  We don't have much time.

  Everyone moved out to accomplish their assigned task.  Most of it was
uneventful - the domed chamber was completely devoid of anything of note
except the entry passage and the metal section of wall.  Numerous torches
were lit and placed around the room, out of the way of any upcoming fight
at the passage mouth; the chamber was now rather well-lit.  The pressing
issue seemed to be the defensibility of the place...

Halbarad:  Okay, what missile weapons do we have?
Eyer:  I've got eleven arrows.
Halbarad:  And I've got seven.
Eyer:  (smirks)  Any other time, I'd feel good about those numbers.
Dervan:  I have another eight arrows.
Eyer:  Hmmm.
Weaver:  I'm sorry to say, I never learned to use the bow.  Not all of
  us rangers do, you know.
Eyer:  So, we can use our bows to take out the first two dozen or so
  attackers, assuming we shoot well.  What else?
Halbarad:  I've got several flasks of oil - we can set a fire trap.  The
  problem with that is that this room will fill with smoke and fumes.
Weaver:  Why not just stand at either side of the passage mouth, and take
  them out as they charge into the room?
Eyer:  We could combine that with the missile fire...use the bows to get
  anyone who makes it through the dual defenders on either side of the
Halbarad:  Good thinking.  You must have seen some battles.
Eyer:  More than I'd care to remember.
Dervan:  We could use some of the bigger, stronger people like Songa or
  Peyote as the door-flankers.
Eyer:  And I'd put a couple more people behind them, ready to jump into
  position and give the main crew a break.
Halbarad:  This could an extent.  If we fight well, we can slay
  dozens of attackers before we have to go completely hand-to-hand.
Weaver:  All of this is good, but what if we can avoid it completely?
  (he gestures to the far end of the domed chamber, where Relmar and
  Leila are examining the big metal plate)
Halbarad:  Right.  I'll go check on that...(he looks around)  Where is
Eyer:  No idea.  (he looks around)  He's not here, which means-
Halbarad:  He must have gone back.  Damn it!  (he looks back down the
  passageway, then back to Leila and Relmar across the room)  I'm going
  to check on them.  Stay here and listen for sounds of pursuit.
Dervan:  What about T'kar?
Halbarad:  We don't have time to deal with random idiotic actions right
  now.  If he ran away, then he's on his own.  Just watch the passage,
  and listen, and let everyone know if a mob of cannibals is headed our
Eyer:  Right.

  At the far end of the domed chamber, everyone else had joined Leila and
Relmar at the huge iron slab.  Halbarad didn't sense much good news as he
approached the metal plate.

Halbarad:  What news?
Relmar:  It's definitely a door, or at least a barrier.  (he raps on the
  thing with one fist, causing a dull hollow sound)  Open space behind
  there, but it's thick as hell.  There's no way we can break it down.
Leila:  And it doesn't have any kind of handle, hinges, or lock that we
  can see.
Halbarad:  Damn it.  Unless something changes, we'll be making a last
  stand in this room.
Peyote:  If only we had a dwarf, to do some probing and digging...or a
  thief, to do some-
Relmar:  Thief!  (he shouts to Eyer)
Halbarad:  What?
Relmar:  Eyer's a master thief as well as a warrior and woodsman.  Why
  this didn't occur to me before now, I have no idea.
Eyer:  (dashes up to the metal door)  What?
Halbarad:  We need a new frame of thinking for this problem.  (he points
  to the door)  Here's the ultimate challenge for any thief:  a strong
  door with no locks and no hinges.  We have to assume it was constructed
  without magic, and can therefore be opened without magic.
Leila:  That does make sense.
Eyer:  But the defense of the bow-
Halbarad:  The rest of us will worry about that.  There are others who
  can shoot, and fight.  We need you to get this door open.
Eyer:  I'm on it.
Halbarad:  Leila, stay here and see if you can help him.  The rest of you
  are with me, back at the entry passage.

  When they got back there, they were surprised to learn that Weaver had
gone after T'kar.

Halbarad:  What?
Dervan:  You know Weaver, how he doesn't always listen so well...he said
  he'd go back and find out where T'kar went, and why.  He said it would
  only take a short while, and that it didn't take two people to guard
  this entrance and listen for approaching attackers.
Halbarad:  (shakes his head)  I'm going to strangle him...(he clenches
  his jaw)  All right, this is what we're going to do.  Dervan and I will
  go back down the passage and find out what the hell is going on.  The
  rest of you, stay here and prepare all the weapons and defenses we
  talked about - arrows, oil, spikes, ropes, whatever.
Rillen:  I can help-
Halbarad:  (hands the big warrior all of the arrows he just collected
  from everyone else)  You're the bowman now.  If something happens to
  me, and Eyer's still working on that door, we need a skilled archer
  back here to help defend the room.  (he eyes the passage)  Trust me, I
  don't have any great desire to do this.

  With that, Halbarad and Dervan vanished back the way they'd come, and
the others were left behind to contemplate the defense of the chamber.

Rillen:  Is it just me, or are we taking a step back for every two steps
Songa:  It sure seems like that.  Damn that T'kar - I knew he was going
  to do something like this.
Peyote:  The little guy didn't seem too happy ever since we entered the
Songa:  Let's just hope that his actions don't get other people killed.
Rillen:  (counting the remaining arrows)  Agreed.

  In the passage...

Dervan:  What do you think T'kar is up to?
Halbarad:  If I had to guess - which I suppose I do - I'd say he decided
  to go back and fight the cannibals, maybe delay them...or he thinks he
  can somehow get by them and return to his village.
Dervan:  Yeah, he really didn't seem too happy about going down this
Halbarad:  What did he think we were going to do?  We pretty much told
  him that we sought the passage through the mountains, and he helped us
  get to it.  If he didn't want us to pursue it, it's too late now.
Dervan:  Do you suppose there's any truth to all that about the end of
  all the jungle people?
Halbarad:  I don't know.  Since magic doesn't work here, I don't see how
  they could really be wiped out...unless there's a horde of a million
  gigantic army ants on the other side of that metal door, or something
  like that.

  They halted suddenly, readying their weapons as they heard approaching
footsteps...but it was only a haggard-looking Weaver.

Weaver:  I can't believe he did that!
Halbarad:  What's this?
Weaver:  That crazy T'kar!  He tried to collapse the passage - remember
  back there where we found that old partially caved-in area?
Dervan:  Yeah?
Weaver:  Well, for whatever reason, he tried to knock more rocks loose
  and bring the whole passage down.
Halbarad:  Tried...?
Weaver:  (shakes his head)  He caused a small collapse, but then they
  got him - I saw it myself, a spear through the neck.
Dervan:  Ugh.
Halbarad:  So he's dead, and the passage behind you is collapsed?
Weaver:  It's a small collapse.  I heard them chanting and shouting on
  the other side, and I also heard rocks being moved.  Whatever the hell
  T'kar was trying to do, he bought us about five minutes.
Halbarad:  Okay, everyone back to the domed room.  It's time to plan the
Dervan:  A last stand?
Halbarad:  If you want to look at it that way.  I prefer to think of it
  like this:  we'll use our skills and weaponry and ingenuity to kill
  every single foe who comes through the passage mouth, and then we'll
  go back the way we came, and eventually figure out another way through
  these mountains.

  They were quite surprised when they returned to the larger chamber,
though - not because of the defensive preparations, but rather the chunk
of stone wall that Eyer was busily digging away, to the right of the big
metal door.  Halbarad put the others on guard duty and rejoined Eyer and
Leila at the door...

Halbarad:  What are you doing?
Eyer:  Digging...digging for a locking mechanism.  (he pries away more
  rock with a chisel)  This door is probably operated by pulleys and
  counterweights on the other side.  It goes straight up into the roof
  of this chamber, or at least it was designed to.  With a boost from
  Rillen and Songa, I've checked up there.  It's been about a century
  since the door was last raised, but that's definitely how it works, or
  worked at any rate.  I've seen a lot of complex door mechanisms in my
  time, and I think the only possible way it could work is by some sort
  of weighted system that we can't see, thus my idea about it being on
  the far side.
Leila:  But then we had the idea that there might be a mechanism on this
  side, too, only hidden from casual detection.  Without magic, it would
  have to be a physical means of disguise or concealment.
Halbarad:  Hmm.
Eyer:  So we started probing the rock surrounding the door...ceiling,
  floor, walls.  In this one spot, the dust on the end of my chisel was
  a different color than on other spots, so we started digging.
Leila:  And we were right.  (she points to the inches-deep hole they've
  made in the wall)

  Imbedded within the very rock of the wall was a series of thin metal
wires, some of which met others at a multi-geared pulley attached to a
small metal box - which they were in the process of carefully exposing.
The side of the box which faced them lifted up on a hinge, beneath which
were several small holes that looked very much like keyholes.

Eyer:  This box appears to be some kind of complex control mechanism, and
  broken down to its simplest form, it's just a complicated set of locks.
  If I can get enough of the surrounding rock moved away, I might be able
  to pick those locks, and make the door work from this side.
Halbarad:  If this is the case, why not get someone like Rillen to smash
  the rock away faster?  He could have torn apart ten times this much by
Eyer:  Because it's delicate work.  Remember, we're not just trying to
  find the mechanism - we've already done that.  The real work here is
  exposing it and operating it - which wouldn't be possible if it got
  broken or destroyed, say, by excessive amounts of force applied by one
  who didn't know anything about disarming traps or picking locks.
Halbarad:  Oh.  (he looks up)  Right.  Well, get back to it.  We're going
  to have company shortly.
Eyer:  Right.

  It was a race against time...Eyer's experience and skill at locks and
defeating them, versus the unseen cannibal force down the passage.  By
the time Eyer was probing at the metal box with his lockpicks - which
was causing rumbling sounds from the rock around the metal door - the
war cries of the approaching foes could he heard loud and clear.

Halbarad:  Get ready...any moment now...

  Just like that, the cannibals burst through the mouth of the passage.
The adventurers were ready, however:  Peyote and Halbarad flanked the
entrance, working quickly and brutally to cut down everyone who charged
into the room.  Just past those two stood Weaver and Dervan, who served
as backups against any attackers who got past the first two.  Beyond
the blades of these defenders, Rillen waited; his bow spelled certain
death for any cannibals who somehow survived the pair of defenders on
each side.
  The foes were forcibly streaming into the domed room, though, with no
regard for their own safety.  They were battle-crazed, and their wild
frenzy made for a dangerous but effective strategy against the smaller
band of defenders in the room.  By sheer force of numbers, and by giving
away some of their own lives while those behind pushed the dead or dying
right past the defenders, the cannibals slowly but surely got more of
their number into the chamber.  The adventurers' ranks first broke when
Weaver fell back, his shoulder bleeding from a spear-wound.  Songa moved
in to cover that spot, but found herself facing two blood-crazed foes.
Next to her, Peyote was knocked back as a corpse - a cannibal he'd just
slain - was pushed right at him, tying up his sword for crucial moments.
By the time he had hurled the body aside, fresh foes were climbing over
their slain comrades.  And so it went; gradually, the foes got into the
chamber, and the defenders realized that they wouldn't be able to hold
their positions for much longer.

Halbarad:  Relmar - now!

  This was one of the backup plans; the priest had been standing by, his
sole purpose to hurl a half-dozen bottles of oil directly at the passage
mouth.  He did that, and then Daffodil picked up the blazing torch that
she'd had ready this whole time.  The brand was hurled after the oil, and
both Daffodil and Relmar then readied their weapons and moved into their
pre-planned positions.  The oil ignited, along with a dozen of the foes.
This attack also served as a distraction; the defenders had known of it
and had been expecting it at some point.  As the cannibals either found
themselves or those behind them aflame, their attacks slowed - and the
adventurers redoubled their efforts.  They gained the upper hand for a
brief time, which allowed the wounded ones to pull back and be replaced
by fresh companions.

Peyote:  (bleeding from wounds in his arm, leg, and side, he gives way
  and Daffodil steps up, sword ready)  Be careful!
Daffodil:  Don't worry.  (she wallops a cannibal across the face with
  her staff)  I'll be fine.
Weaver:  (backs away, his sword arm useless thanks to that spear wound)
Relmar:  (steps up, braining an attacker with his mace)  I shall hold the
  line, my friend.

  Just then, the entire chamber trembled slightly...and the metal door on
the far end slid up into the ceiling!

Eyer:  Yes!
Leila:  (seeing a large, square-cut passage leading away, and seeing that
  it's empty, she turns and shouts to those who are busy fighting)  We're
  in - retreat!

  The adventurers had also planned for the possibility that the door
would be opened, and that they could retreat through it.  Those still
fighting reformed themselves from a semi-circle (surrounding the entrance)
into a small, compact diamond, and began backing away.  Weaver and Peyote
had already gotten to the door, and were through it.  Rillen wasn't part
of the knot of defenders, as he stood forty feet away, calmly firing
arrows into selected cannibals; every one of his shots had been fatal.
He was down to a half-dozen missiles when a hurled spear shot out of the
attacking horde, right at him.  A slower man would have been killed, for
the spear-cast was a good one, but Rillen had spent years training for
this sort of thing.  He deftly sidestepped, turning his body as the
spear missed him by inches.

Rillen:  Hai!  (he grabs another arrow...and then sees that his bow's
  string got severed by the spear's head during the near-miss)  Damn.
Eyer:  I've got it.  (he takes the arrow, nocks it in his own bow, and
  fires, sending another foe to the afterlife)  I'll cover them - help
  the others.
Rillen:  (silently heads toward his companions)

  The adventurers were maintaining their tight defensive formation while
hastily retreating toward the now-open metal door, and the retreat was
working.  However, Rillen was a relatively fresh combatant, and hadn't
gotten to see real battle in far too long.  He made up for it now, as he
joined the group of retreating defenders, and began taking out any and
every cannibal he encountered.

Rillen:  (smashes one cannibal in the back of the knees, then delivers a
  second blow to the head that drops the man)  Yai!  (he whips his staff
  around and hits another foe right in the face, smashing bones as blood
  spurts freely)  Hai!  (he parries a spear-thrust, then jabs the savage
  in the throat with the end of his staff, felling him)  Wai-yah!

  Around this time, the adventurers began to realize that the attackers
were dwindling - all of the fighting and defensive measures, from village
to passage to cave-in to this chamber, had been whittling down the ranks
of the cannibals.  Just like that, their numbers had dropped from untold
scores to about a dozen.  Incredibly, no more of them swarmed from the
passage mouth to join the fight.  Strange as it seemed, the knot of six
retreating defenders only faced the dozen attackers.  Even the cannibals
seemed to sense that the outcome of the battle was no sure thing anymore.

Eyer:  (with two successive shots, he sends his last two arrows into two
  of the cannibals, dropping both)  Come on - you're almost at the door!
  (he slings his bow across his shoulder and draws his sword, heading
  toward the remainder of the battle)
Relmar:  (bashes the foe right before him, cracking his head like a ripe
  melon)  Fall, savage!
Songa:  (hurls her spear suddenly, surprising the cannibal she'd been
  fighting with this tactic)
cannibal #76:  (impaled through the heart, he coughs up blood)  Ghak!
Songa:  (pulls her spear out)  Keep it up - we've almost won!
Rillen:  (steps around the group of his fellows, lashing out at another
  cannibal and felling him with a solid blow to the neck)  That's another
  one down-
Dervan:  (decapitates a cannibal)  And another.

  In moments, all of the attackers were dead, and the adventurers had
reached the raised doorway.  Every single one of them, except for Eyer,
Leila, and Rillen, was bleeding from one or more wounds.  Some of these
were serious, and now that the heat of battle had died down, the pain
and bleeding were felt.  The group limped to the doorway, pausing there
to bandage wounds and survey the situation.

Halbarad:  We've got seven wounded, including Peyote, who can't fight.
Peyote:  Nonsense, man.  I can swing a sword left-handed if I have to-
Halbarad:  You don't have to, old friend.  We've won.  (he looks over
  the group, all of whom are sweating, bloody, and exhausted)  It took
  everything we had, but the ten of us held out against a much larger
  force that was basically using suicide tactics to force their way into
  this room, no matter what the cost.
Eyer:  (cocks an ear)  I may have some bad news...

  At the other end of the domed chamber, a hundred feet away, another
wave of cannibals burst from the passage, shouting and screaming and
pointing at the adventurers across the room.

Halbarad:  Well, damn.
Leila:  (to Eyer)  We need to get this door lowered.
Eyer:  (examining some levers and cables on this new, unexplored side of
  the massive metal door)  I'm working on it.
Peyote:  Work faster, man!
Rillen:  (to Halbarad)  We're out of arrows.
Halbarad:  (hefts his battleaxe)  I know.
Weaver:  We could just run...maybe outrun them.
Dervan:  Too many wounded, and we're too tired.
Songa:  (raises her spear)  Running away from them isn't really an option
  at this point.  (she turns to face the mob of cannibals who now charge
  toward their position)
Halbarad:  We only need three or four people to hold this doorway anyway.
  Dervan, Rillen?
Dervan:  (sets his jaw)  I'm ready.
Rillen:  (cracks his neck)  Let's do it.
Eyer:  (still fiddling with the mechanisms on the safe side of the door)
  Let's see, that's a counterweight, and it's tied to this cable, but
  where...does it lead...?
Leila:  (watching the attackers as they close to within ten feet of the
  doorway)  Whatever you're going to do, do it soon...!
Eyer:  (unable to make sense of the mess of cables and pulleys, he frowns
  to himself)  Fuck it.

  With a single swipe of his longsword, the elf severed _all_ of the
cables...and the heavy metal door dropped down suddenly!  The cannibals
launched a volley of spears, and a few of those in the front actually
dove at the bottom of the doorway, even as the big door slid down from

cannibal #91:  (slides across the floor, and through the doorway just
  before it closes)
cannibal #92:  (likewise)
cannibal #93:  (tries the same thing, but doesn't make it, as the door
  slams down and cuts him in half)

  There was a series of dull, muffled impacts as numerous spears hit the
other side of the door.  The two foes who had made it through leapt to
their feet, swinging their knives savagely...

Rillen:  (catches the first cannibal by the wrist of his knife-arm, then
  lashes out with a powerful punch to the foe's head)
cannibal #91:  <SNAP>
Halbarad:  (makes short work of the other cannibal)  There.  Now for...
  oh, hell.

  A few of the hurled enemy spears had also made it through the doorway
before the heavy door slammed down, and one of them had hit its target:
Dervan.  The ranger had been hit in the lower stomach, the blade going
through his leather armor and protruding from his back.

Dervan:  This...feels pretty bad.
Halbarad:  You're going to be fine.
Peyote:  (almost makes a joke about how Dervan will be better off than
  the cannibal whose front half is lying on the floor next to the door,
  but decides that this isn't the time)
Dervan:  I'm be fine.  (he looks down at the wooden
  spear-shaft sticking out of his guts)  That...hurts.
Relmar:  (kneels next to the critically-wounded man)  The first thing
  we have to do is get that spear out.  Then we'll need to stop the
  bleeding - and there will be a lot of bleeding.  We'll need some rags,
  for now we can just use whatever's at hand, but someone needs to start
  some water boiling.  (he reaches into his pack and removes some jars
  and herbs)  And we'll need to fashion a poultice.
Daffodil:  (staring at the high priest)
Relmar:  What?  I was a healer long before I used magic to accomplish
  the same thing, and I still know the old ways.  I prepared for this
  the instant the ship ran aground, knowing that we'd need to deal with
  wounds at some point.  This man is _not_ going to die.  Now, I need
  some help here!

  As some of the others moved to help the priest and follow his orders,
Halbarad and Eyer walked down the passage.  It wasn't that they didn't
care about the fate of Dervan, or that they were insensitive.  They were
just being practical.  Someone had to check out this new area, or else
the entire party could end up dead.

Halbarad:  Is there any possible way those cannibals can get that door
  open from the other side?
Eyer:  No.  When I cut the cables on this side, the entire mechanism was
  broken.  The only way to raise that door now is to assemble enough raw
  manpower to physically lift it...and judging by the thickness and sheer
  weight of the door, and the fact that it had a three-inch-thick groove
  in the floor, there's no way anyone could bring the strength to bear,
  even if they had it.  (he looks the other in the eye)  That goes for
  both sides, of course.  We're trapped here.
Halbarad:  (shakes his head)  You did the right thing, and everyone knows
  it.  Without magic to heal the wounded and dying, some of us would have
  perished in the second battle, had it actually happened.
Eyer:  (nods)  I suppose so.  We've got another problem, you know.
Halbarad:  How so?
Eyer:  Well, we set out on this whole scouting mission so that we could
  learn something about this island, or continent, or whatever size land
  mass we've found here.  We were supposed to report back to Kiel and the
  main colony...
Halbarad:  (nods)  True, but that was before we went through a gigantic
  metal door that closed and won't re-open.  Plus, we haven't gotten to
  the bottom of whatever's going on here...which is why we're now walking
  through this tunnel.
Eyer:  I just hope it leads to some answers, instead of more questions.
Halbarad:  There's only one way to find out.

  The area right by the metal door had been a twenty-by-twenty-foot area
and it continued as a passage with the same dimensions.  The passage had
gently curved to the right, so the others were quickly out of sight; a
short distance after that, this curvature ceased and the passage became
perfectly straight.  A thick layer of dust covered the floor, and there
were a lot of cobwebs in some places, but this passageway was otherwise
completely empty.  Its only other noteworthy characteristic was that it
was long...very long.  Had they brought only one torch, they would have
had to turn back, but they had a dozen, and so their range was extended
for much longer.  They had walked for about an hour when they came upon
another door.  The passage ended abruptly, in a flat stone wall, and in
the center of this wall was set a small steel door.  Unlike the previous
one, this portal showed signs of age and humidity - it was badly rusted
around the edges.

Eyer:  At least this one has a handle...and no lock.  (he does a quick,
  cursory check for traps, finding none)  Ready?
Halbarad:  (noting that he can see daylight through the edges of the
  door, and that he can smell the outdoors as well thanks to a strong
  breeze around the door)  Ready.
Eyer:  (opens the door)

  They were greeted - and surprised - by a most breathtaking, magnificent
sight.  The door was set in a cliff face, and beyond it was a small rock
ledge, almost completely overgrown with thick bushes which concealed the
door.  The ledge was on the side of a mountain, and it overlooked a wide
valley below; this valley continued for at least a league, gradually
opening up into a vast expanse of lush plains.  Several bodies of water
were visible, as well as the attendant streams and rivers.  In short, it
was a natural paradise that now lay before them, extending as far as the
eye could see.

Eyer:  Wow.
Halbarad:  We thought our journey was about to end...but it appears that
  it's just beginning.

next:      Belphanior's next scheme
released:  12/15/06
notes:     As stated previously, this is the last episode for 2006.  It's
  break time, and I go on vacations too.  The next episode (951) will be
  published on Friday, 5 January 2007 and will pick up the next adventures
  of Belphanior and crew.
    Now it's time for a few words about this story arc and this episode's
  conclusion of said arc.  I have about seven distinct ideas about what is
  on this continent, and how it ties in to everything we've seen thus far.
  There are two problems, though.  First, I hate to make a firm decision
  and pick one of the seven to pursue.  Second, there simply aren't enough
  episodes left to detail the exploration of the continent, even if I did
  want to.  So, here we are:  this group has gotten past all known and
  tangible obstacles, and stands poised on the brink of a vast and new
  exploration.  This is a perfect permanent stopping point for them, given
  the fact that these writings are going to end in one year.  I apologize
  to anyone who expected this arc to be fully completed - the reasons why
  that can't happen should be clear now.  I really do prefer to leave it
  open-ended like this - that way, there are numerous possibilities (only
  limited by your imagination) about what lies ahead on this continent
  for the explorers.

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