The Chaos Marches
Chapter 18, To the Last Valley
We left our heroes preparing to leave the field of battle and what little is left of the city of the Lilim. That city is whirling and collapsing everywhere we look. Dafnord figures that, when we leave with our shipload of Marginalia, we will take the last stability with us and it will finish crumbling. There are, at this point, about a hundred Marginalia milling around the park-island. Dafnord heads the effort to hustle them aboard the "Zephyr."
Salimar pops up to the boat with Tom, to compare notes and check out her tornado, which, together with Tom's sun, is probably aiding the war effort. Tom telepaths to Mithriel, down in the "Zephyr," and asks if the Marginalia are arriving any slower; i.e.. are we almost done sucking them out of the city?
While Mithriel tries to figure that one out, Tom worries about what would happen if we took the "Zephyr" back to normal space just now. At the moment, it is a lot larger on the inside than its outside normally allows, but even so it's packed with Marginalia. If we return to an orderly, reasonably flat geometry, we may run the danger of squishing everyone.
Accordingly, Tom conjures up a sort of trailer extension to the "Zephyr," about the same size, but glassy-looking. He re-directs Mithriel's funnel from the boat so that it leads to the new trailer rather than the "Zephyr."
Around then, a dragon actually manages to close with him and Salimar, and they are obliged to take time out.
Meanwhile, Prof. Cadwallader tells Robbie that the "Zephyr" is in better shape now than it's been in for a long time and he's ready to take off. Robbie passes the word, and Dafnord, Katrina, and Glorian stuff the last Marginalia and elven warriors aboard.
Once they are set, Tom, dusting himself off from the last dragon attack, opens a large portal before the "Zephyr" to Somewhere Else in Chaos' Rim. We boogie. Besides the "Zephyr" and its trailer, there's Tom and Salimar in the boat, someone riding an apparently benign dragon, and, zipping through at the last moment, the elf on the air-cycle, who flits off into the distance with the remark, "She's gonna kill me!" Tom suspects that "she" is Daewen and that she'll have to stand in line.
But at least here we are, Elsewhere. It's still the void of Chaos' Rim, of course, but there's less background and more foreground, somehow, and the non-spectral colors of the shimmer, flicker, and sparkle are different.
Tom and Salimar teleport to the "Zephyr's" control cabin and report briefly to Cadwallader (who is not on the telepathy net), then go to the hold where most of the Marginalia are. The place is clearly bigger than it used to be, and Fr. Paddy, Kate, Dafnord, and Glorian's elves are barely visible in a huge crowd of Marginalia, including several Leaders from different administrations, now reunited and arguing over who's in charge.
Tom decides it's time to start evacuation back to Last Valley. He tries opening a portal. "Evacuation" was perhaps not a happy thought, because he doesn't get Last Valley -- he gets vacuum, or at least suction into a black void. There's a lot of screaming and yelling and thrashing Marginalia, but he manages to close the portal before anyone falls through.
Robbie, up in the control cabin, suggests Tom try again in the galley, where there are fewer Marginalia, who may be queering the pitch with their order-generating faculty.
In the galley, Tom finds Glorian and her staff of elves. Tom and Salimar agree to try together as Glorian & Co. cautiously back off. It's just as well Salimar is there as backup because Tom, his confidence clearly shaken, flubs it completely (rolls 99). This portal opens to admit a small tidal wave of slime. It's gooey and alive and, to the telepathic, gives a definite impression of being unhappy about this development. It must have come from a really interesting part of the Rim.
Salimar declares that one glob of sentient goo on the team is enough and she's it; she shuts the portal and tidies most of the irate slime away, save for a bit of disgruntled residue.
Salimar suggests getting Mithriel to help and Tom hastily agrees. Mithriel, once summoned, says she'll try, but there's very little room to start up a proper witchwalk. She clears an adjacent corridor and walks down it, scattering golden disney dust as she goes. The floor breaks out in yellow bricks. These segue to more normal cobblestones. Mithriel reaches the back wall but does not stop. Instead, she continues laying cobblestones out into impossible perspective, gradually fading them to the nondescript surface of a standard witchpath.
While other folk begin herding Marginalia, Tom follows Mithriel down her path and finds her on a rocky ridge, such as we have found many times before in the Chaos Marches near home. Very good! She invites Tom to guess which way down the path leads to Last Valley. Tom dowses for an answer, goes back (with one of Mithriel's glamour-ropes) and fetches Kate. Soon, we have a plan:
Kate and Mithriel will scout down the ridge, leaving Tom at the point where the witchpath comes out. Tom holds a glamour thread that Mithriel extends as they go, and the glamour rope that leads down the witchpath into the "Zephyr" back in Chaos' Rim. (This has to be some kind of geometrical high point in our career.)
Soon after they leave, Tom gets a Very Bad Feeling(tm) and, turning to face the other way down the ridge, sees two tall, dark, and menacing figures. He levitates straight up. This turns out to be a good move; the two dark figures look surprised, even as their black cloaks unfurl into what may be wings and they loft after him.
However, the second one off the ground has a very short flight. Tom hears a cry of "YEE-HAH!" and the baddie sprouts a silvery spike from the center of his chest. He falls over.
Tom still has to cope with the first baddie. He tries to use his new Second-Order Glamour to conjure a standard 16-ton boulder on top of it. He only gets four tons of gravel, but this is sufficient.
Returning to ground, Tom finds the two dead baddie-bodies and some slowly- evaporating gravel, and -- far off down the ridge, half hidden in the mist -- another figure. It approaches, turning out to be a rider on a mount of some sort. "Who goes there?" Tom calls. He gets a noise that might be a chuckle in response. The figure rides closer.
It's Death. At least, it's riding a pale horse that looks like it hasn't eaten well in the last ten or fifteen incarnations. The rider is even less prepossessing, wearing a long black leather coat and wide-brimmed floppy black leather hat, both much abused by things that rip The same goes for his face, which has a permanent hole in one cheek and a lot of scars. One eye is patched. His hair is stringy and white. He carries a crossbow and a clip of silvery quarrels.
"Thank you," says Tom faintly, figuring it is always a good bet to be polite especially to major metaphysical principles. But would Death look so beat up?
"'S all right. 'S my job," Death-Warmed-Over replies. He then warns Tom there may be more of these folk about. Tom offers to help hunt and conjures an iron stake to tie the thread and rope to. The stranger has meanwhile decapitated the two dead baddies. He tosses the heads to one side of the ridge and the bodies to the other. Tom asks if these are Lilim. The stranger says they're Lamiae and related to vampires. (Tom recalls that Lilim were also said to be rather vampiric as well as draconian and thinks these may at least be related.) (Tom also notes that the stranger wears a metal collar or neck-guard.)
The stranger declines Tom's help, since Tom is busy guarding, and vanishes back into the mists for a while, leaving Tom with the near-skeletal horse for company.
Kate and Mithriel return, surprised to find the iron stake, gravel, blood stains, and horse. Tom explains, which is just as well when the stranger returns. Tom gives his own name and asks what to call him. Answer: Krory or Krory the Killer or Krory the Slayer or Jakma or Mad Jakma or One-Eyed Jack. Tom explains what he's doing, in a general way, and offers, uh, Krory hospitality. Krory remarks "You're kind have to offer it, don't they?" then realizes Tom is not a fay, despite the company he keeps. Tom reiterates the offer and also an offer to heal up Krory's face (thinking of the autodoc). Krory says that never works, but allows for some cosmetic glamour so as not to unduly upset the Marginalia who are just starting to arrive.
Meanwhile, Kate and Mithriel describe finding Last Valley at the end of the ridge, very much as we all first found it. The problem is how to get all the Marginalia down the steep slope into the valley. Kate suggests Mithriel conjure a sort of tube-slide, like they use for aircraft evacuation. Mithriel says she'll try, but it's a long way down. They head back, leading the train of Marginalia.
At the lip of the valley, Mithriel starts the chute, hops on it, and rides it down, extending it as she goes. Since she jumped on with a cry of "Whee!" the following Marginalia decide this is part of the operating procedure and dutifully cry "Whee" as Kate shoves them down one by one. Kate tells a couple of them to tell Mithriel to come back up here. When she does, she tells Kate she was able to make the chute extend almost far enough, but it's still a rough landing.
Thousands of Marginalia march by. Back at the crossroads, the last of them finally come through, followed by Robbie, the tin man who has been urging the Munchkinoids to "follow the yellow brick road" for the last several hours... Tom introduces Krory and leaves Robbie to chat while he goes back down the witchpath, into the "Zephyr," and seeks out Cadwallader. They consider if there's some way of moving the "Zephyr" down the witchpath, but this appears to entail turning the "Zephyr" inside out, which they are reluctant to try even in Chaos' Rim.
Meanwhile, down in the now-emptied hold, Dafnord has taken that sword that Tom conjured in the twilight chaos of Last Valley and is looking it over. He feels more and more attached to it and thinks "the Sword of Twilight Chaos" has a nice ring to it. While he's in Chaos' Rim, he begins carefully improving the quality of it, testing by whittling shavings off a chunk of wood. Soon, the shavings are nearly transparent.
Tom, back in the control cabin, has worked up the nerve to try another portal to Last Valley. He gets one, hanging out in the chaos. Looks okay. He cautiously probes through with clairvoyance. Still looks okay. It is very probably last valley, because he sees a condor-sized glassy budgie fly by... (sigh)
Tom looks around and prepares to leave Chaos' Rim. In a last jeu d'esprit, and inspired by Dafnord, he conjures a ring -- a copy of his own psi battery, but with five times the capacity and meant as a common repository for all the New Blood to use. It'll make a gift for Daewen.
We sail through. The transition is rough, and once we are through, the glass trailer can no longer just hang in space by Tom's unstated assumptions. It plummets, dragging the "Zephyr" after it, the landing somewhat cushioned by treetops underneath. We have a trailer full of panicked Marginalia, Cadwallader heartbroken about the state of his propellers, and Tom cursing his own lack of foresight. Chaos' Rim is habit-forming; you get too used to difficulties taking care of themselves.
Salimar and Dafnord take charge of the repairs. Dafnord begins hacking emergency exits in the glassy trailer with his newly-mythic sword. Salimar assists with a glass-cutter she produces, then tackles the coupling that links the trailer to the "Zephyr." Tom promises Cadwallader a trip back into the Rim for repairs. Fr. Paddy climbs into the trailer and begins rescue work.
Once Salimar has the trailer cut loose, Cadwallader limps the "Zephyr" back through the portal and Tom wishes repairs onto the fans. While Cadwallader makes more repairs, Tom makes a quick trip back down the witchpath to reel in ropes and people and horses. On the way, he passes Katrina, who had -- all on her own -- decided to stand guard at the juncture between path and corridor. Things got very exciting and confused when we made our bumpy landing, and there were times when she wasn't sure if her right and left hands were in the same worlds, only that she had to hold on with both of them. But she's feeling better now, thanks, so Tom sends her forward and brings through Robbie, Krory, and his horse.
Cadwallader brings the "Zephyr" through into Last Valley. Salimar, Dafnord, and Fr. Paddy have been decanting Marginalia, and Fr. Paddy has found that his chaos-based power of healing has taken root, at least a little. Unfortunately, neither he nor Salimar are able to revive two Marginalia killed in the crash landing. Tom feels terrible about it.
Cadwallader takes the "Zephyr" off toward the Sleeping Place over near darkside, to land. Counting noses and brain-waves, we find we have everybody in the Valley and the telepathy net intact for the first time in a while. Several of us, at several locations, decide to make an expedition over to what was Darkside, where the realm of the Lilim used to begin. We wonder what's there now.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.