Chapter 39: Bottled
It's twilight in the mysteriously hot city. Tom decides to try
exploring the place by pantope window. Accordingly, after we arm and
armor ourselves (because these windows are not perfectly invisible or
impenetrable), we drop a window straight down into the city.
The place looks relatively normal, in a generically Middle-Eastern way. Some of the tall buildings have onion domes or minarets. The people, as we get close enough to see them, are clad in flowing robes, with occasional turbans, and are somewhat swarthy. They do not look particularly identical to any such types we've met in Lanthil.
The main odd thing about the city is the wall. Just inside it is a road or trench or dry moat, a flat area below the general level of the city. And there's no one manning the walls. The mysterious moat has some shimmer over it, on closer inspection, but is not particularly hot to infrared vision, so it isn't heat haze.
As we get closer, the appearance of the trench changes. Suddenly, Tom sees ponds and parkland in it, with locals strolling in it. Markel, on the other hand, sees a more forested park, with folk in Renaissance-like costume. Robbie sees a neatly geometrical garden, with metallic folk in it. Salimar sees a display of vegetation in unearthly (i.e. familiar, to her) colors. Hm.
We look back at the city within this ring of glamour, but it looks the same. To all of us.
Robbie suggests taking the Budgie out, parking it at the mouth of the tunnel of tents, and going to knock at the gates. Again. We do that, again, and they don't answer, again.
Robbie then suggests flying the Budgie over the walls. Gannar, who accidentally scraped the keel on the sands when he came in for a landing, notes the Budgie responds sluggishly, and we recall that the local enchantments, or whatever, inhibit TK. We don't get height nearly fast enough for Gannar's peace of mind, and the android finds his own lift motor is also impaired. He reports this and we give up on trying to go over the wall. "Bugger this for a game of soldiers," quoth Tom, and commands a retreat. Robbie, however, suggests we circumnavigate the city.
Gannar starts to obey, but by now we are close enough to the wall for Tom and Robbie, at the bow, to peek into the moat again. They each see different parklike illusions. This time, in addition, they both find them mysteriously fascinating and compelling. Tom climbs up on the railing, causing Markel to lunge for him (nearly knocking him off).
Robbie does leap onto the wall, then gleefully leaps down into the moat full of pretty flying robots. We hear him laugh all the way to the bottom. Then there's a crunch and he stops laughing.
Robbie snaps out of it to find himself at the bottom of a V-shaped masonry trench. His leg is at an unfamiliar angle, and the highly distracting sensation coming from it is, very likely, this "pain" thing his organic friends talk about. No wonder they don't like it. He straightens it out and successfully conjures an ectoplastic cast over it. He tries telepathing for help. Nothing.
After a while, he realizes the V-shaped trench is actually the corner of the mysterious moat, but local gravity is canted, pulling him toward the moat wall. There's a window in the wall, and archers in the window. One of them lodges an arrow in his leg's cast. Another goes into his side.
Feeling generally rotten, Robbie recalls various things the Doctor of Form said and decides that, since he doesn't like this world, he'll ... let go of it. He tries that, willing himself to be elsewhere, the Budgie in particular.
He doesn't teleport, but he does become transparent, diffuse, and, surprisingly, larger. The arrows fall out. Robbie starts scrambling out of the moat, up the wall to where he left the Budgie.
The archers run away, but a white-bearded face appears at the same window. Robbie starts to rise off the ground, but he isn't sure it was his own idea. White Beard is chanting something in an unknown tongue, and Robbie finds himself drifting toward the window. He knows he didn't mean to do that. He wishes himself onto the pantope. Hard.
Meanwhile, on the Budgie, Gannar has been backing for all the ship is worth. Unfortunately, this isn't worth much at the moment. As we inch away, we see Robbie, only translucent, huge, and green, loom up over the wall. He tries to scramble over, and we note there's something funny about his legs. They're all stretched out, like taffy, and twisted or spun into a long cable leading back down into the moat.
Tom blanches, but conjures some rope and throws it to Robbie. He grabs for it, but this costs him a handhold and he slips further into the moat. Tom and Dafnord pull on the rope.
At the other end of the ship, Kate gets some real rope, ties it to an arrow, and shoots it into the desert sand. This gives her a way to pull the Budgie away from the city without using TK. And it works. Once Gannar starts pulling on it for her, she goes to the bow and tries shooting into the moat with her sonic stunner. She figures the echoes might be worth something. Grazing Robbie with the beam causes our already cloudy friend to get less nimbus, more cumulus.
Robbie, meanwhile, is fighting a stretchy, surrealistic battle against whatever is trying to pull him into the moat. Inspection shows that his now-stretched legs are being spun into a bottle or jar held by Whitebeard, who is still chanting in an unknonw tongue.
Looks like a mage trying to acquire a djinn.
Robbie bets the guy can't chant if his head is embedded in ectoplasm. He's right. Markel and Dafnord then resume pulling on that rope. Tom scrambles up into the rigging for a good look and, using his own Glamour skills, wishes Robbie back into his accustomed size and shape. Dafnord then pulls him into the Budgie.
He looks kind of shocky, which is metaphysically and medically interesting. "I want to be on the pantope. Now," he insists. Tom leads him below, into the Emerald Metaphor.
There, Tom works on Robbie with Glamour and Patterning, which has worked for other types of injures. He still hurts. Tom offers him some medicinal brandy and painkillers, to see what happens. They appear to work. Again, interesting. And this gooey fluid leaking out of the wounds appears to glow dimly orange. Djinn blood burns until it clots...
Tom tries putting Robbie in the field autodoc. In the past, it has then complained of "inert material" being put in it. This time, it complains "unknown biosphere."
The others filter into the pantope to see what's going on. Daphne opines that this entrapping city diverted the dowsing signals.
The big question, though, is: Do we really want to bother any more with these people?
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.