Journey to New Europa
Chapter 38, Creating a Soft Spot
We left our heroes returning to their house in East Acton, after being attacked by goblins while on their return journey from Edinburgh to London. They are taken from the hotel to Old Oak Manor by the elven lord Lauren, in a pair of highly decorated and conspicuous carriages ("overdrawn carriages," someone said).
The house was rebuilt at King Auberon's orders after a general trashing by the Wild Hunt. It now looks a bit larger and has an elusive fay quality to it. We are greeted by Kitty the maid, her mother Jenny the cook, and their relatives, our other staff. We introduce Salimar and Robbie to them and tell them to provide rooms for them and for Lord Lauren.
Old Tom Langhorn comes rumbling up and is introduced to Lauren. We enter and find the general layout is the same but all with that fay "je ne sais quoi" all over it.
Lauren and we get a tour of our new house, from a pair of Low Fays, one of whom seems to have been the master carpenter. We now have, on the second floor, a new mirror over a table, flanked by Japanese-style screens. It's a magic mirror, for communications to Auberon's summer house here in Britain. The screens are for privacy.
Robbie proposes we give Holmes a decoding device to let him read the secret communications of Col. Moran and his underlings. Mithriel and Tom help him produce the device. It's a magical slate. You write the encrypted message on it, then turn it over and shake it, and get the plain text.
Someone knocks at the door and we hear it all over the house. That's fay acoustics for you. It turns out to be de Alqua, Auberon's chief undercover elf. We invite him to dinner and to spend the night. He tells us he is just back from Paris, investigating odd doings there. It seems the French science minister, Dr. Jules Verne, is undertaking a lot of big construction projects, including a new ministry building for the science ministry and a subway system for Paris.
This subway has run afoul of Prof. Moriarty, who has been roving the sewers of Paris in an amphibious automotive of his own design, and probably resents this intrusion into his domain, judging by the high frequency of "accidents" on the subway construction project, especially when the tunnels come near the sewers. de Alqua believes that Moriarty's World Crime League has control of the Parisian underground, in both social and geographical senses.
We tell de Alqua about our encounter with goblins on British Rail, and that we got the name of the Unseelie lord who sent them. He does not think this is a violation of the First Compact, since only one of us is a local human (Katrina), and she was not directly attacked. However, Auberon will be very interested in everything we want to report about the incident.
We also tell de Alqua about our consultation with MacLeish of the Druids and Father Thomas of the Order of St. Boniface, and about Kate's disturbing series of dreams concerning an Alien Evil pursuing something innocent and fay. Tom suggests the Alien Evil may be something pulled in by the Unseelie, the way we were pulled in by the Druids. de Alqua is intrigued, but wary of saying much here and now ... especially at night.
General brainstorming: Tom suggests that we could try monitoring Kate's dream (with out glamoured dream monitor) and make telepathic contact with the Alien Evil or the fay victim. Salimar suggests the party be present while MacLeish and the Druids try another summoning; MacLeish was intrigued by the idea, if a bit hesitant.
We pump de Alqua for more information about Moriarty. He says he wasn't really after Moriarty, but was following the rumors of the amphibious automotive, since it sounded like a typical Steam Lord ploy. The Steam Lords are the gung-ho laisse-faire industrialists opposed by the Second Compact. It also sounded like the kind of diabolical device made by folk such as Rober, Nemo, and the military engineers of Prussia, with their new land fortresses (steam tanks).
Since the conversation turns to technology, we show De Alqua our dream-monitor. He is startled when he sees it, as is Lauren, and De Alqua indicates he would like to talk about it some other time, i.e. without Lauren present, as we soon learn.
Salimar and Tom approach De Alqua privately after supper, while Robbie keeps Lauren busy with an exchange of anecdotes and/or readings from his service log. Tom was, perhaps, indiscreet to show the dream monitor to Lauren, because even though the elven lord is a member of the Seelie Court, he is young and rash, by elven standards, while De Alqua has been on this world, in Auberon's service, since Auberon himself got here, which is probably a matter for geological dating.
Also, the monitor is one of our glamour machines -- unique in this world -- and the Unseelie Adversary is using machinery of the Steam Lord type as a tool of his policy, so a completely different style of technology is political dynamite. In this it resembles the machines of Rhyme Enginemaster, based on the Sixth Treatise of Leonardo da Vinci, brought to this world by Tom Olam. These machines are the converse of ours -- machines that cast spells rather than machines created BY spells.
We show him our other big glamour machine, the Map of Here. De Alqua tells us that the Unseelie who have been pursuing us are said to be concerned about some map, and he now realizes that this is the map in question. The Map, by the way, now shows our entire house as having some odd dimensional characteristics.
de Alqua remarks that Verne has said that the main thing about the process of invention is to realize that a given outlandish idea is, in fact, possible. The Map is a case in point. He is glad to hear that we demonstrated it in front of Auberon, Morrolan, and a fay consultant of Auberon's.
We decide to try making telepathic contact through Kate's dream. Tom reconfigures the telepathy net, so that Kate is linked to Tom, who is linked to Salimar, who is linked to all the others, thus providing a firewall should the Alien Evil decide to suddenly become less alien and more evil.
Tom hands Salimar a stunner and asks where to use it on him or Kate in case of alien possession or anything else untoward. She is reluctant and would rather use a kind of telepathic karate chop she knows. Tom is reluctant about that and asks for a demonstration. She obligingly derails his train of thought. It seems effective and painless. Fine. Um... where were we?
Kate goes into voluntary sleep and dreaming. The monitor shows us that we've hit the nightmare again. Tom deepens his contact so as to enter the dream. It is now much stranger. Formerly, the setting was foggy moors or the like. This time, it is a surreal system of intersecting planes, made of something rough and stony or coral-like, forming a cluster the size of a hill. Something glows within it, and there is lots of mist and refraction and darkness.
Our viewpoint starts far away, so we zoom in. The mists thicken, but we spot a figure like that of a ten-year-old child, scrambling across the planes. Kate reaches for telepathically, which, in dream terms, means we go swooping toward it. The figure looks anxiously over its shoulder and skitters away. This repeats a few times. Kate tries calling out. The figure halts briefly and we catch a glimpse of a doe-eyed face, fay, somehow familiar.
A wide shadow comes sweeping in, strongly suggesting a dragon. The figure darts away into the maze of planes. We find the flying thing in front of us, staring at us with enormous round eyes. Kate wakes.
Tom finds he is still there! They turn the monitor on Tom now, and he is, in the dream, standing on one of the coral-like planes. He is deep in a dark, rough, sharp-edged hole, and the fay face is backing away from him. He calls out and the fay winces. It gets darker. Tom throws a clairvoyance tracer at the fay/kid. Kate, back in the waking world, notes that Tom starting to get translucent! Salimar hastily breaks off Tom's dream (or whatever) with a telepathic chop.
Tom resumes opacity. As soon as he recovers from the mind-chop, he transmits the image of the fay to Robbie, telepathically for later rendering.
Salimar turns to de Alqua, who has watched the whole procedure with understandable astonishment, and asks him for his impressions. He hems and haws. Fays don't generally talk about the, ah, Higher Powers, but... many folks says there are beings very powerful and even more malign, the, ah, Authors of Trouble. And, well, if there was any reality to that dream, he would not care to involve himself in it.
He also hints that that was indeed, a dragon we glimpsed, though the hint is VERY oblique, and so, as Tom impatiently stamps out on the telepathy net, we're up against devils and dragons.
We mull over the dream images and totally fail to recognize what is familiar about the child/fay face.
Mithriel examines the chair Tom sat in, and announces that the edges of the world are a little soft there. Tom asks if the effect was like witchwalking. No, but she might be able to mess with it using her witchwalking skills. The Map of Here has yet another new pin, the legend identifying it as Unknown Disturbance.
We aren't really sure, at this late hour, what to do about our new data or a new soft spot in world. Tom suggests guarding the spot. Mithriel concurs and produces a pale blue smudge of color, which quickly develops into a little blue beast like a spectral tarsier -- or like Mithriel's idea of a spectral tarsier, anyway. It's a monkey-like thing with round, staring eyes. Tom, slightly taken aback (though not nearly so much so as de Alqua), asks if she intends to make it fully material. She doesn't know; we could feed it ectoplasmic bugs until we decide. She rather thinks it's a him, but hasn't thought of a name for her little watch beast yet. Tom admonishes her that she has to take care of it now, and we leave it perched on the chair, with Robbie standing by as backup and to watch the watcher.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.