Chapter #959

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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       +
+   1991-2007 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!                                          +
+   Belphanior     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Neera          11th level human female sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          12/2/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          afternoon                                              +
+   Place:         the skies over the Corusk Mountains                    +
+   Climate:       extremely cold                                         +
+   "You think they'll come for you?"                                     +
+   "I pray they come for me."                                            +
+                                        - from _Belly of the Beast_      +

                   CMLIX.  The Black Crown

  The group has been sailing through the skies at a high rate of speed,
and several hours have passed since Neera and Jenna's successful scrying

Belphanior:  How are you feeling?
Neera:  I'm fine.
Belphanior:  No, you're not.  You need rest.
Neera:  What I need is to prepare for our meeting with Kronos-  (she
  makes an effort to sit up, but fails)  Whew.
Belphanior:  Not if you're not up to full strength.  (softly)  You've
  done your part - now it's time for the rest of us to do ours.

  Outside, on the cold, windy deck of the skyship...

Mongo:  What is this "Black Crown" anyway?
Jenna:  (shrugs)  I'm guessing we'll know when we see it.  At least that
  was my interpretation of-
Otto:  (points)  I think we've found it.

  Ahead, in the distance, was a distinctive mountain peak that they could
see even through the clouds at this altitude.  The top of the mountain
_was_ a fortress, literally:  rather than a natural tip, it had somehow
been formed into an imposing series of walls and towers, fashioned of a
dark stone that stood out even at a great distance.  Its construction was
such that from below, nobody could tell that a fortress lay above; only
from the air was the thing revealed for what it was.  The adventurers were
still too far away to tell whether sentries manned those dark towers and
walls, but whatever the case, the place was an imposing sight.

Ys:  The Black Crown...
Mongo:  Wow, talk about a remote fortress.  Nobody could attack it...hell,
  nobody could even get _close_.
Razor Charlie:  (nonchalantly)  It looks like we're getting pretty close.
Skektek:  One thing's for sure, it's easy to attack from our vantage point
  if we use fireballs and such.
Elgon:  What I'm wondering is, why build something like that all the way
  up here?  Wouldn't a little house or an indoor cavern lair do just fine?
Belphanior:  (strides out onto the deck)  There's no understanding the
  thought processes of the ancient and powerful.  We'll just have to go
  and see.
Otto:  Damn, the wind's really picked up.  (at the helm of the skyship,
  he makes a minor turn of the wheel to keep the vessel on course for the
  dark fortress ahead)  Are we actually going _in_ there?
Belphanior:  Well, here's my plan-

  Suddenly, the wheel was torn from Otto's hands, nearly taking off some
of his fingers!

Mongo:  You weren't kidding about the wind.
Otto:  That wasn't the wind.  (he points to the wheel)  This ship just
  started steering itself.

  It was true - the wheel was moving on its own, making the adjustments
that Otto had previously been making in order to keep the skyship aimed
at the Black Crown.

Belphanior:  Kronos.
Otto:  I knew it.  He's somehow got control of this ship that he once
  built.  (to Belphanior)  I guess this definitely means you shouldn't
  try the hourglass on him.
Belphanior:  We've got other weapons.  Let's just see what happens.
Ys:  If Kronos really wanted us dead, he could have just turned the ship
  upside down, and shaken us off.
Belphanior:  Unless he can't...hmm.  I wonder.
Jenna:  Assume nothing.  A being of this power possesses many powers, and
  can have many tricks.
Belphanior:  We've beaten others like him, when we've had to.
Razor Charlie:  (checks his knives, somehow sensing impending doom)
Mongo:  (yawns)  Bring him on.  I'll fight anyone and anything, as long
  as it means I can get off of this damned ship and set foot on solid
  ground again.

  The ship was moving even faster than before, heading directly toward
the mountaintop fortress.  The wind was frigid and powerful, at this
altitude and speed, and the adventurers realized that they needed to get
off of the deck and into the cabin.

Belphanior:  That would also help us somewhat if the ship were to turn
  upside down.  (he nods to Ys)  Plus, it's not like we need to steer it
Skektek:  I could use my ring of flying, and get away to do some scouting
  and maybe be an ace in the hole if something happens.
Belphanior:  Good idea.  Go for it.
Skektek:  (checks his wands and other magical devices)
Mongo:  Why's that wand got a cord tied to your wrist?
Skektek:  I can't risk dropping this wand...especially if I'm going to
  be flying around at these heights.  Better safe than sorry, you know?
Mongo:  Right.
Belphanior:  Don't do anything rash.  Remember, I'd like to parley with
  the lich if we can.  Just watch us, but don't act unless we get attacked
  or something.
Skektek:  No problem.

  Moments later, the wizard took to the sky, and was soon lost to sight.
The skyship continued its inexorable march toward the dark fortress, and
as it got closer, the adventurers could see more details of the place.
It had a large central tower, perhaps two hundred feet high and rounded
with a gradually-tapering top.  Around this main tower were five others
of smaller size, perhaps a hundred feet high.  These were connected with a
fifty-foot wall carved from the very rock of the mountain itself.  Within
this wall, scattered about the bases of the various towers, were smaller
buildings, roads, and stairways.  The odd fortress had no gates or roads leading up to it, of course, and neither the towers nor walls had any
windows.  No guards (or anyone else, for that matter) manned any part of
the fortress, which seemed quite unusual.

Elgon:  Maybe it's abandoned.
Belphanior:  I seriously doubt that.
Neera:  (joins Belphanior, standing at his side)  Kronos is here; he has
  to be, or my spell wouldn't have worked.
Jenna:  Agreed.  My scrying magic would not have misled us.
Mongo:  (cracks his knuckles)

  Before long, they realized why there were no sentries on the walls and
towers of the fortress:  a huge white dragon was now flying alongside each
side of the skyship, these great pale wyrms acting as some strange sort of
escort.  Frost was shaken off of their huge bodies with every flap of
their great wings, trailing behind each of them like a long, vague cloud.

Mongo:  Whoa, where'd those come from?
Belphanior:  Damn.  By the time Blackrazor sensed them, they were already
Elgon:  I didn't know dragons could move that fast.
Mongo:  They can when they want to.  (to Belphanior)  Want me to knock
  one of them out of the sky, and see what happens?
Belphanior:  No, as long as they're not attacking us, let's play along.
  It seems that we're going to meet Kronos, whether we want to or not.
  The upside is that he probably would have attacked us already if he'd
  wanted to kill us.
Otto:  Hey, he still might.
Ys:  Do you think that Skektek will initiate an attack now?
Belphanior:  He'd damn well better not.  That could ruin everything.

  As they neared the fortress, the skyship slowed significantly, and also
began to turn, so that its port side was facing the main tower, about
halfway up.  A section of the tower's wall simply vanished, revealing a
chamber within the structure; then a wide stone bridge appeared between
this new opening and the skyship.

Belphanior:  (boldly walks out onto this arcane pathway, leading the way
  and setting the example)
Mongo:  I'm with you, man.  (he follows the elf, and they walk along the
  enchanted stone toward the tower's interior)
Otto:  Let's go, folks.  Just remember to say or do nothing, and follow
  Belphanior's lead.
Razor Charlie:  (staring at the fortress dubiously)  Right.
Otto:  Maybe we should leave someone know, to guard the ship
  just in case?
Razor Charlie:  (checking his knives)  Maybe, but it won't be me.  Let's

  It didn't take them long to traverse the stone walkway, and soon they
found themselves in a crude meeting chamber of some kind.  It held a
heavy, round table and a dozen old, uncomfortable-looking chairs.  Aside
from this furniture, the room was empty.  A single, closed door across
the chamber offered the only exit, for the opening in the tower wall had
just closed, changing into a solid wall again.

Razor Charlie:  (eyes the reformed section of wall, grimacing)
Otto:  What now?
Belphanior:  Now, we-
voice:  You must forgive me if these furnishings are spartan.  It has
  been quite a long time since I have had...guests.

  The speaker had, not surprisingly, appeared from nowhere.  He was of
average height and build, and garbed in a hooded grey robe.  The only
visible flesh - that of his face and hands - was chalk-white.  As they
watched, he drew back his hood, revealing a bald head, a strong face,
and eyes that were blood-red.

Belphanior:  Kronos, I presume?

next:       parley or die
released:   3/2/07
notes:      All will be explained shortly.

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