Chapter 9: Five in Chaos
We left our heroes hovering in the Munch and on assorted grav-pallets in front of the opening to a witch-path (or something like one) that will clearly suck them into The Next Stage of the Adventure. Since an adventure is defined as someone else having a hell of a tough time, they procrastinate.
For instance, how about these elf-hill-like dimensional markers that have twice led us to refugee half-elven children? Shouldn't we look around and make sure there aren't any more such tykes, slowly starving in the dimensional woodwork? Sure we should.
We turn to the Map of Here and crank up the scale. We spot three new blue pins before we lose resolution, indicating more elvish dimensional tricks. The nearest one is out west, in a forested area. There's little settlement or radiation. Flitting over (okay, limping over), we find no good landing spots, but this is still a starship and can hover indefinitely. There are five hills standing around the location, putting it at the center of a rough pentagon -- or pentagram. Timmons, the eldest of the children, has heard of this place, though he's never been here, and tells us that the five hills were taken as a good omen and detemined the choice of this place. Lots of "our folk" live (or lived) here in the countryside.
The landing team consists of Timmons, Stepha, and Mara, plus Katrina, Markel, Brunalf, Kate, Robbie, Tom, and Braeta. We go down on grav-pallets, except for Markel who decides this is the time to try out his draco-tech hang glider. He runs into the nowhere-to-land problem, though, and ends an otherwise successful flight up in a tree. The folk on the grav pallets go back and rescue him.
Where the Map of Here shows the blue marker, we find a hillock with five huge trees planted around it. The hillock itself bears a ring of henge-like stones and has an equally henge-like trilithon on its crown. Clearly a gate. Or if it isn't, why not?
We land carefully outside the ring and feel about. Tom's arcane senses don't tell him much except there's a lot of elvish stuff about. Which he already knew. Tom leads Timmons up through the ring, up to the gate, hoping the half-elven boy will ensure safe conduct. Nothing awful happens. Tom calls out "hello" in Earthron, Quenya, and Sindarin, but nothing happens. Then he has Timmons try. Then Kate, who's a full elf (albeit by conversion). Zip. Kate tries, "Please open to us, elfkind and elf-friend." Nope.
Tom then tries his Knack of Tools, treating any nearby enchantment triggers as the tools. After a little polishing with his mnemonic skills, to pick up borrowed memories, he recalls a Quenya word that could be translated either "help" or "sanctuary." He says it. This surprises Timmons, who barely recognizes it, the way a human child might semi-recognize a piece of King-James English as "Bible talk." Tom has Timmons say it. We then note that the forest looks very green when viewed through the trilithon. And Brunalf now notices an open pathway. Got it.
Being the sort of cat he is, Brunalf immediately launches his egg-ship through the trilithon. Katrina calls him back to tie a rope onto the ship, and we then head back in, strung out thus: Brunalf, Tom, Timmons, Stepha, Mara, Katrina, Markel, Kate, Braeta. Robbie stays behind to hold the end of the rope.
We feel a bit of a jolt, passing through the gateway. On the other side, it's still forest. But now there's a tree-arched pathway into misty distance, and the trees are awfully ... anthropomorphic. And unfriendly-looking. The branches look grabby. Tom feels additional presences. Markel notices the trees are rustling without wind.
Tom confronts the nearest tree and says, "We are here seeking elf-children like these, to give them shelter." By the time he's finished speaking, the tree has faded back to looking more treelike. But that's just the one tree. Another is grabbing for Braeta's shoulder. Markel draws his gun and gets snatched up by a branch. He is shaken and dropped, minus the gun.
Tom calls for everything to settle down, feels around for minds, and finds instead a lot of spells. Okay, that more or less settles that. We march forward, along the path. (Katrina notices the path is very clean but very unused-looking.) Soon, the surroundings get rockier and mistier. Tom clairs ahead, but the trend just continues. No landmarks in sight.
Kate, Tom, and Brunalf try striking off perpendicular to the path, using a chunk of ectoplastic rope conjured by Tom. (And, by the way, the regular rope we've been using has been very accomodating about stretching all the way back to the gate.)
Thick mist, dark woods. But no underbrush. Eventually, we are in gloaming without trees. We come to a low stone wall, beyond which stands a low stone house with thatched roof. There is a gateway in the wall, and a path leading to the house. Flanking the path are a pair of stone gargoyles.
The door is wooden. Markel, from back at the main path, clairs around and determines the windows are dark and locked, and the whole house is warded against clairvoyance.
We approach, and the gargoyles' heads turn to watch us. Tom addresses them: "We are here to offer help to any children of the elven blood who may be in trouble." They stare back, studying him.
Brunalf, meanwhile, with his feline hearing, has heard commotion and cries of distress farther off in the gloom. He warns the others and soon they can hear it for themselves. Tom strikes off toward the commotion.
Kate, meanwhile, tries knocking at the door. She calls, "Hello?" and hears an answer, faintly. She and the Unseen trade helloes a few more times, and the voice adds something indistinct like "gezornenplat." She tries the door, which opens outward, so she steps back with the door between her and whatever is going to leap out -- at the cat, as it happens.
What leaps out at the cat is ... another cat. Not a neo-cat like Brunalf, but a terrified tiger-tabby. As it goes tearing past, Brunalf calls out it in their common tongue: "Mreeow?" It stops and stares back at him, question marks almost visible over its head.
Meanwhile, Tom has come to a patch of bracken, beyond which lies darkling woods. It is from these that the crashing and cries come. Not feeling entirely sure this is a good idea -- but it is what they came to do -- Tom halloos and calls to these distressed wanderers. Soon, a couple of child-sized figures come into view. Bingo.
No, no bingo. They are low fays. They look more sinned against than sinning, so Tom calls and waves to them across the bank of bracken. They start plowing through, anxious to avoid some source of loud crashing noises in the dark woods behind them. Tom tries to glamour away the bracken for them. bpprzzapp Lots of green disney- dust. Okay, so everyone rolls bad dice sometimes. How about a wooden pallisade between the fays and whatever is behind? That glamour works.
Back at the house, Kate peers in and finds a dark, sparely-furnished room and a parrot on a stand, who appears to have been supplying the other half of Kate's dialogue. Brunalf, meanwhile, has correctly diagnosed the eo-cat as famished, in addition to being panicked. Besides being a cat himself, Brunalf is a lab tech, and the sort of lab tech who keeps bags of Cheezie-Wheezies and Koko Jolts around. Or, in his case, cat treats. He tosses some to the eo-cat, who attacks them ferociously and, when they do not resist, eats them. It stops trying to run away, too.
Back at the bracken, Tom tries again, glamouring a hole through the bracken rather than trying to glamour the bracken away. A subtle distinction, but it works. The two fays come scrambling up to him, clinging to him and chattering in a foreign tongue. And no wonder. Something big is now bumping against the glamoured pallisade, feeling its way along to the end and trying to push it down. Time to retreat.
Tom leads the rush back to the house, where Kate has collected the parrot. As we hear the pallisade cracking behind us, we head down the rope, back to the path. As an afterthought, Tom tells the gargoyles they'd better leave. And they do. They start out slow, but accelerate, and soon join Katrina, Markel, Braeta, and the children, along with everyone else. And we all boogie.
Meanwhile, Robbie has been standing peacefully in a forest, by the trilithon, holding a rope. Telepathic contact faded out some time back, but this is no surprise. Now it picks up again, the general import being "Gangway!" Next thing he knows, a cat -- a strange cat -- barrels out of the gate, up his chest, off his head, and away. Then everyone else, including more new arrivals, pour out over him.
We puff for a while, and wait, but the Thing doesn't appear to be following. The gargoyles seize up again, after taking positions flanking the trilithon. But Tom checked and there were minds in there; they aren't just animations, like the trees. They may not be people, though, any more than the cat.
As for the two new fays, they barely understand Tom's version of Quenya, but they manage to convey that they were being pursued by a dragon.
As we reflect on this little adventure, it strikes many of us as a little too ... pat. We came with the intention of saving fays from dragons, and lo and behold! fays running from a dragon. We bring a cat; we meet a cat. We bring the man who invented the Lanthil Budgie and some folk who recently did business with a secretarial parrot, and we meet a parrot. After walking through a gateway of a people renowned for glamour. Uh-huh. Once we are outside the ring of stones (for courtesy's sake), Tom tries turning on his psilencer, but nobody flickers. These appear to be real ... individuals.
"Still," Tom says, "there might have been more than a touch of Chaos' Rim about that place."
"What's Chaos' Rim?" asks Braeta. And there, on the brink of a longish explanation, we halt.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.