The Chaos Marches
Chapter 8, Encounter with the Zephyr
We left our heroes in Lanthil, on the "high" edge, exploring the layer of twilight where the realm of the Lilim is soon to break through. Tom had just successfully used the Chaos' Rim-like quality of the twilight to materialize a sword, so Robbie goes up and tries to materialize a laser. Unfortunately, he does not succeed. Maybe next time.
We have learned from the Marginalia that Lanthil, or rather this, the Last Valley, has a "light side" (by the mountain), a "dark side" (looking out on the realm of the Lilim), a "high side" (this high slope going up into the twilight), and a "low side." We haven't been to the low side, yet, so we ask our scout to show it to us.
He leads us across the valley, over a stream, past several thickets that probably conceal Marginalia's homes, around a pond, and into a big thicket. "Careful!" he warns, as the surroundings get boggier and darker. Soon, we are following him single-file, and the ground is bouncing under us in the queasy way bogs have. There seem to be hills ahead, but then again they might be masses of mist. In general, the whole area becomes rather like the setting for one of Kate's prophetic dreams of the Marginalia and the Lilim.
Now, we reach firmer ground and march upward, past gnarled trees. But not very up, and there's lots of roiling mist an low clouds, merging at the blurry horizon. The scout sniffs about and relaxes, not scenting any of the "bad" just now.
Soon, we see fireflies, or something, in the mist. A few attempts to get a closer look don't identify them positively as fireflies, but we all agree that they seem alive, the way they move and wink. Mithriel thinks they're a bit fay.
The scout leads us into the mists and around various soft spots and lumps. Robbie asks Mithriel if we're witchwalking. Kinda, though we are staying in one world while we do it.
Tom then notices a fluttering light, faster and bigger than the fireflies, skitter by. At the same time, he spots a long, low shape off to the left of our line of march. He casts a viewpoint at the long mass and catches a yellow metallic gleam.
We then spot movement ahead of us. Something upright. A person. Tom tries to follow them with clairvoyance while Robbie tries infravision and telescopic lenses to scope out the low bulk. He verifies the gleam of yellow metal. But its very hard to see far here, with natural, psychic, or technical means.
Tom asks the scout about the low bulk, but it's news to him. Looking back, we notice we are now out of sight of the Last Valley. Robbie suggests we all link up with Mithriel's rope, and the scout seconds this. We head for the mystery bulk. It looks very regular in outline.
Then Robbie heads something slithering behind us. Kate sends clairvoyance after it and gets a glimpse of scales. "Does it smell bad now?" Tom asks the scout. It sure doesn't smell good, he answers.
Tom tries clairvoyance again on the bulk and gets one good look of something clearly artificial, long and thin, with straight, horizontal lines.
And another slither, and the scout scampers off. We follow, while Robbie risks sending out his flying eye a short way behind. He thus spots a flicker of light, possibly from the direction of the retreating figure.
Robbie then cries out in warning as something huge comes lunging at us out of the mist. It is a BIG snake. We bolt, and Tom conjures a set of glassy green stairs from here up to the walls of the thing ahead, to lift us above the snake. Thunk. Unfortunately, the stairs appeared right in front of the running scout. We bundle him up ahead of us.
The serpent, about the dimensions of a freight train, rears up over us. Robbie shoots it with his nine-shooter, and it screams.
Thunk, again. The scout, at the sight of the serpent, fled up the stairs as far as he could and collided with the wall of whatever-it-is. The serpent retreats, momentarily, and gives us the chance to look it over.
It's a long, pointed hull, rather like the bottom of a ship, brown and yellow, the yellow being bands of riveted brass. Tom lofts to get a better look and hears a faint "Help!" off in the mists. Robbie spots a fleeing figure, and Tom glamours himself invisible, then zooms over to investigate, Robbie's eye riding lookout nearby.
Tom spots a figure standing on a hillock, burdened with something on its back. There are swishes in the nearby mist. Tom swoops in, like Superman to the rescue, and carries off the figure, just as Salimar yells "Look out!" A backward glance shows a fine set of teeth and tonsils, belonging to the (or a) giant serpent. Tom shoots straight up!
Robbie and Kate then take turns shooting this monster, which wriggles off. Another one tries to climb the phantom stairs, and they shoot it dead (after enough bullets).
Tom, meanwhile, has been asked by his rescuee if he's human. "I try." After the serpents are dispatched, he descends to the landing at the top of the phantom stairs, becomes visible, and examines his catch.
It's a gent in vaguely Victorian clothes, tweedy and explorer-ish. We make introductions and find he's Eustace Carrington Cadwallader. The mystery bulk here is his ship, the "Zephyr," and its presently upside down, which naturally distresses him.
We suggest that, upside down or not, we get in out of the snakes, so he leads the way to a hatch, gets us in, conducts us across the ceiling to a bridge, and then scrambles about, occasionally being hoisted by Dafnord, trying to re-set the "electro-ballast" and otherwise put things to rights. Tom turns on his Knack of Tools, allowing him to assist and kibitz.
Once he's ready, he sends everyone who can't levitate back to a cabin with some strap-in bunks, worries loudly about the wisdom of what he's about to try, then performs the Daring Maneuver, and flips the "Zephyr" upright.
We gather in the galley and begin comparing notes. Looking around, it still looks Steam Age, with lots of leather, wood, and brass, lots of dials and buttons. But Steam Age what?
Well, for a start, not any Steam Age we've visited before. Eustace is Professor Cadwallader, of Boston, 1985. He's been exploring for seven years, now, in the "Zephyr," which is his own invention. In fact, he seems to be considerably ahead of his time, rather like Ashleigh Holmes in her invention of the time machine. He knows all about parallel timelines and has visited several of them.
He doesn't know about Faerie and is bemused at being told several of us are elves. But he doesn't immediately disbelieve it, because, in his travels (which involve "transmundane etheric differentiation," which Tom takes to be another name for hyperspace navigation), he has recently run afoul of a golden city, suspended in a void, populated by demonic, draconian beings. He wound up here after a collision with something that terminated a long run trying to escape these things.
We explain, in brief, about the Lilim, the Marginalia, and the New Blood, leaving out the theological dimensions of it all. He agrees that he probably encountered the Lilim. But the "void" their city was suspended in sounds like pure Chaos' Rim, not the black chaos we observed from the dark side of Lanthil.
Turning to more immediate matters, Cadwallader mentions that he lost a boat out there in the murk, which he'd like to recover. Also, the "Zephyr" has taken some damage. Tom suggests we land it somewhere solid, for repairs.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.