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The Chaos Marches

Chapter 5, Meeting the Marginalia

New Blood Logs:

Tom Noon's Tale


In Chaos

Voyages of the Nones



Mother Goose Chase

Ancient Oz


Adventures of the Munch

Lanthil & Beyond

We left our heroes in a stretch of woods, in what was probably not entirely a place. For instance, it's daylight, but there are neither clouds nor sun nor moon in the pinkish lavender sky. Mithriel opines we are in Chaos somewhere near Faerie. On the other hand, sometimes witchpaths sort of develop places along them, and we could be in a large example of that.

Looking around a little more, we see that the pines nearby are growing on a ridge, and that there's a bit of a path down the ridge. It is, in fact, very like the path-bearing ridges we've found so often in the southern Chaos Marches, just with more dirt and trees than before. Tom decides to do some geometry surveys. While he does so (with Fr. Paddy gingerly holding a transdimensional surveyor's rod for him), Salimar hears a faint, far-off whine or hum. Soon, we all hear it.

Robbie sends his eye down the path toward the noise. First, he determines that light doesn't really travel in straight lines for any great distance around here. Then he notes the far-off dot that seems to be the source of the whine. Then he sees how fast it's coming. "DUCK!"

We duck.

There would have been a screech, but aircycles don't have tires or touch the ground. As it is, the vehicle slews around and winds up athwart the path, in our midst. The figure on it is clad in tight-fitting black with gold piping, and a helmet that obscures any view of the face.

But that's all right, because he quickly doffs the helmet. Long black hair falls past his shoulders and a handsome, elvish face smiles out at us. "Hi, sis!" he says to Mithriel, "Hi, unc! How's the metaphor?" to Tom. "Hey, I'd like to stay, but I'm bound from Lanthil to the old place, and mom'll have my hide if I'm late. Say, are you guys lost?"

Gathering his wits, Tom replies, "No. Go. Get. Now! Or I'll have your hide!" Looking slightly bewildered and faintly hurt, the young elf shrugs, resumes his helmet and buzzes off, leaving a swirl of speculation behind him:

"I've never seen him before, I'm sure!" "Did he call me 'sis'?" "What the hell is this metaphor business? Dinlai mentioned it, too." "He did look like Family." "Did he say 'Landfill?'" "Do you think that was Aelwe?" "Who?" "Never mind." [Actually, the players may have heard of Aelwe, but none of the characters he. -- jlb] "'Unc.' Huh!" "What's this about a landfill?" "Is the 'old place' Vinyagarond?" "I thought he said 'Lanthil.'" "I thought he said 'LanSIL' -- 'waterfall.'" "What does 'LanTHIL' mean?" "Nothing. Well, it could mean 'light-fall.'"

The chatter dies down. Mithriel clears her throat and asks, "Does this mean we have names for the two directions on this path? 'Toward Vinyagarond' and 'Toward Lanthil'?" Tom supposes that it does and remarks bitterly that we seem to be attracting time twists. He and the Map of Here concur that the path must be a thin string of world-accretion along a much-used witchpath.

What to do next? Go on seeking Dinlai? Look for these Marginalia that the Black Mage says are the "key to it all"? Pick a direction on this path? Move off it, athwart? Dinlai did say she wanted to see us at our earliest convenience, implying we shouldn't let too much water flow under our personal bridge. On the other hand, Tom psyches around a little and gets a strong spoor of Marginalia in the Lanthil direction, whence came the elf on the aircycle. So that direction seems to involve Marginalia AND Family. He recommends we head that way.

Since we have a pre-established path, Tom offers to lead, following the psychic signature of Marginalia he's able to detect. Mithriel smiles: having a non-witchwalker lead, even on a well-beaten witchpath, could get one to all kinds of amusing places; also, it could make Tom more fay.

Tom offers to lead part way. Mithriel smothers a giggle. Kate asks what's so funny, so she whispers to her that this caution is very human and very Tom. She has forgotten that, as main router for the group's telepathy net, Tom is tuned in on both Kate's auditory cortex and her own speech center. He turns rather red and tells Mithriel to lead.

On we troop. Time gets inconsistent, and different people have different ideas about how long we've been trooping. Occasionally, we pass minor paths leading off this main one. The ridge gets higher and steeper, then levels out, then suddenly dips again.

We are standing on a bluff. From here, the path goes down steeply into a sea of twilight, which lies like a transparent cloud layer around and above a valley that shines through it more brightly, in places. In the distance, we see forests and meadows, either miniature or far away. There is more of the twilight layer.

Dominating the far view is a mesa with a butte on top, or you could describe it as a two-tiered mountain. The butte looks closer than the mesa it stands on, largely because it is brighter. The mesa has a large lake at one end, vanishing into mist, perhaps indicating that it falls off in a waterfall. The butte certainly has a waterfall cascading down its side, gleaming brilliantly, Maybe there is a pond on top of the butte. If so, it is fed to overflowing by a glittering fall of water coming straight down out of the sky, shining in the sunlight--

--only there is no sun. The sky is cloudy. "Lanthil," Tom repeats. "Light-fall."

On the far side of the mesa-lake, we can just spy a spirey castle of more-than-Bavarian proportions, wandering up the side of the butte. Other, smaller buildings are visible here and there in the forest.

Tom picks up a wayside pebble, for later use as a witchwalking token. He notes there are many paths down from here into Lanthil. He tests the local permeation of chaos by dropping some pebbles and Dicing them into a circle to see how easy it is. Zip. Very easy. Psychic and technic readings of this place show it has affinities for Faerie, witchpaths, AND chaos. Mundane, natural, it's not.

Robbie sends his eye out to scout around. While it is in transit, we check the Map of Here. It is dominated by a peninsula of Lanthil, surrounded by chaotic nowhere. The Map also shows our own witchpath, several trails in Lanthil, a new pin marked "unknown," and a dark band (not on the legend) that seems to mark the twilight.

If the elf on the aircycle was an omen that the Family will settle here, it seems that they haven't yet, though someone is here already. There's the Marginalia, for one thing.

Speaking of omens, Salimar tries to feel the probabilities ahead. She's new at this form of ESP, and only gets an impression of profound ambiguity. "Much depends on what we do next?" Tom suggests. "Things are not determined here yet?" she suggests. They are much the same thing.

Robbie, meanwhile, is tired of waiting for his eye to get near something interesting on horizontal, so he flies it down into the twilight. Its image gets much darker. He back it up and sends it back toward the castle. The channel goes dark and he loses contact with it. Blast.

Should we stay to look around? There's omens of Family, it looks very inhabitable, there's still Marginalia spoor, and now there's Robbie's eye to find. So, yes.

Concerning the castle and other signs of native habitation, we can hope they've gone or are friendly and perhaps willing to join forces with us. Or, Dafnord notes, we can hope they are so obnoxious that we have to wipe them out. (This is a new kind of optimism we were hitherto unfamiliar with.)

We start down the slope. The descent takes different lengths of time for different people and varies in pitch subjectively, too. Tom sort of surfs down on a wave of pebbles. Robbie strikes sparks off his feet. Dafnord finds himself power-dropping, the way the neo-orangutans do back home, for fun (but he's doing it for necessity). Mithriel glides smoothly down, disturbing nothing; we hate her.

We hit the twilight layer. Whap. It's dark. Tom conjures a ball of luminous ectoplasm, and Mithriel lights up with a blue aura, so we can see how narrowly we're missing the trees in our descent. There are trees now, and we're leveling off.

Robbie finds his contact is back with his roving eye. It sees dark. A little experimentation reveals it is down cornea-first in the dirt. Robbie hauls it out and starts it toward himself, then notices it's moving backward. He turns it around, then puts it above the trees for clearer passage. It leaves the twilight layer and he loses contact again. Steerless, the eye dives back into the twilight and thence into dirt again. Just as Kate suggests he have it crawl back to him, it comes whizzing by, oversteers several times, and finally parks in Robbie's head.

Once that's over, Tom feels around for the magic/psychic signature of the place. Marginalia aside, it's vaguely familiar. Salimar approaches a tree and examines its life-force. It's alive, but not quite healthy. This makes Tom feel that the psi-signature is likewise a little amiss; maybe something temporal. Mithriel agrees that something feels wrong and characterizes it as "like a fay place gone bad."

(Tom reflects that he can count on one hand the number of occasions when Mithriel talked about "wrong" and "bad.") "If the Family is involved here," he says, "they're in trouble." Fr. Paddy agrees something is wrong here.

Validating this, Salimar, Robbie, and Tom all glimpse something moving in the distance, overhead. Something big and long, flying slowly. Robbie sends out his eye again and whatever-it-is through the eye's speaker: "Hello?"

"Shh!" something answers. Not the distant UFO. We trace the sound to a Marginalis crouched in the bushes some yards from us. The big thing has speeded up.

Salimar finds this ominous and so throws up an ectoplastic dome to protect the party. Unfortunately, Mithriel also found it ominous but opted to jump in the bushes to hide; she smacks into the ectoplasm. She utters some extremely Low Elvish, drills a hole in the stuff, and completes her escape.

Tom, then Robbie, then the others, soon follow. Only Salimar remains in the relatively clear space at the foot of our descent. But she hides, too; she turns into a tree.

The airborne thing comes diving in. It is big and draconian. It shreds the ectoplastic dome, then leaves.

No one leaves cover immediately. In fact, Tom takes the liberty of tapping into Fr. Paddy's mind to advise him on how to hide better. This caution is just as well. The dragon comes back. It has four legs, longer in back than front, and looks very serpentine, with sharp spines on its tail. It has no visible talons, which it seemed to have on the first run through.

Robbie sends his eye out to set up a distraction. Once a suitable distance from the party, the eye emits a loud raspberry, then dives for the dirt -- deliberately, this time.

Meanwhile, Tom spots a figure moving through the bushes toward Fr. Paddy (who is still quite exposed). Tom moves to intercept, but the figure jumps on Fr. Paddy first. Tom grabs with TK and lifts it off. It's the Marginalis; Tom realizes it was just trying to get Fr. Paddy hid. He lowers it to the ground, hunkers down beside it, glamours himself into camouflage colors, and says, "Thanks."

Neither the arcane doings nor the etiquette of the situation bother the Marginalis as much as the slight noise of Tom's voice. It waves its hands and softly shushes him. He nods.

Meanwhile, Robbie's eye has succeeded all too well. It is now trying to back into leaf mold while the monster rips away shrubbery above it. It now looks like a large winged man, with a long tail. But the eye is very small. Eventually, the monster leaves.

We begin to gather around the Marginalis. It, or he, is very rattled and urges us to go away. He speaks an elven tongue, but very brokenly. When we go invisible with glamour, he looks relieved and tip-toes off. We follow him to a small stream, where he stops to rest and wash his face.

Salimar slides in gently, no longer tree-shaped, but in her usual exotically-colored humanoid shape, though sized and proportioned like the Marginalis. He is upset all over again, but at least doesn't shoo her away or run off himself.

She tries drawing some pictures in the dirt. A sun symbol gets no response. A picture of a dragon gets hastily rubbed away. A picture of him gets a curious, pleased reaction.

Giving up on this, she goes back to talking ... softly. His family, we learn, is "away" and well-hidden. He asks how many we are, and reduces the answer "eight" to "many." He understands that we're foreign. He tells us the dragon problem is old. He agrees to meet the rest of us.

One by one, we become visible and approach. When Mithriel appears, he becomes very excited. "Lady!" he cries, joyfully. He runs around and hops on a rock, pointing at her. "You know her?" Salimar asks. "Lady! Lady-lady! Come!" His enthusiasm takes only a slight check when Dafnord appears. (" Big!")

We follow obediently, stopping when told to, so as not to alarm another Marginalis, whom our guide sends ahead. Eventually, we are brought before a large group of Marginalia (probably much larger than we see) and presented to one with grey hair at his temples (very unusual for fays) and a robe of green leaves.

In pidgin Quenya, he tells us that we have come as prophesied, to get rid of "the bad." (No one is even surprised.) They have slowed down "the bad" by remaining here. In response to our questions, he tells us "the bad" do not live in the castle; no one does; we will go to the castle after we get rid of "the bad." He refers to Mithriel as "Lady Light" and contrasts her to the "Bad Lady" who brings "the bad."

Tom introduces the individual members of the party and learns in return that the Marginalia have no names. "Lady Bad Lady say people no people. No names." Compare this with most fays, who have many names, including a True Name kept secret. No names, no numbers past three, a language depleted of anything but nouns, verbs, and modifiers. "The bad" have done quite a number on the Marginalia.

"Lady Bad Lady lie," Tom declares. The little sage agrees. "Want names, have names," Tom proposes. The sage is intrigued but wants to think on that one awhile.

We ask what was prophesied about us -- that we would be big, bring light, be literate, have names, make glamour, talk the old talk, fly, and fight off "the bad."

Tom glamours up images of several women of the Family, just to make sure none of them is "Lady Bad Lady" -- Mirien, Daewen, Lorelei. None are, but so many Ladies are quite a surprise to the Marginal sage, as is the idea that two are daughters of a third.

But all the picture-show has stimulated his memory. He recalls a name for the Bad Lady -- "Lil-lil."

Tom freezes, then quotes a bit of poetry:

"Shapes that coiled in woods and waters,
Glittering sons and radiant daughters."
Yes, yes, that's them, that's "the bad," the sage agrees, excitedly.

"Lil-lil." Lilith. The poem described her children.

While we digest who it is we are up against, the Marginalia invite us to their houses.

Updated: 7-Oct-06
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.

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