Chapter 6: Fox in Box with Locks, No Socks
We continue to coax information about the Wicked Witch of the Scarlet
Ribbons from our hosts, citizens of a Quadling farming village. They say
that she will kidnap people, but is willing to release some of them in
return for unusual ingredients, such as Woozy hair or eight- leaf
clovers. Other people, such as bird-people, lizard- people, and
squirrel-people, do not return.
We look an enquiry to our local expert. Glinda explains, "These are magical ingredients. They can be used for powerful enchantments."
"What sort of enchantments?" asks Kate before Robbie can.
Glinda hesitates, clearly out of reluctance rather than ignorance. Kate connects to her on a verbal telepathic level. "Powder [of] life. [She can use it to] make servants [from] inanimate [objects or to] reverse [the effects of] aging [in herself]."
We decide to say nothing out loud. Kate turns back to our hosts and asks, "Is there any, um, substance or creature she prefers to avoid?"
They shake their heads; they don't know of any. Glinda volunteers, "She sounds like the type who would succumb to water."
"Where's a well?" Robbie asks brightly.
Two or three people point to an obvious well nearby. Robbie happily builds ectoplastic water balloons and hands them out to everyone in the party. We decide not to pack them. Gannar designs a device that is a cross between a giant syringe and a water pistol, and Robbie builds one entirely out of water.
Glinda watches these proceedings with great interest, and some confusion. "What are you conjuring these from?"
"Oh. I have a talent. I can turn a gas or liquid into a solid. I usually use air, but for these, I'm using water." Glinda nods and thanks him.
We turn to the problem of detection. Glinda points out, "We know she can detect magic -- and that she has good shields." We argue about whether the Wizard is himself magical, or if she simply detected the time machine, which is definitely magic. Meanwhile, we help with the cleanup and doing the dishes.
Soon, we're ready to leave. Daphne suggests that we can all ride on her tree-friend. We pause for thought, and accept. Glinda gives us clairvoyant cloaking us with a wave of her wand. Now we appear to be a simple, ambulatory tree and not at all conspicuous -- to magical senses. Dafnord leads off, and we're back on the trail of fabric scraps and threads. We don't stop even for our brief lunch break (square meal pills for most of us) and by mid-afternoon, we spot a rocky outcrop with a house on it in the near distance.
We dowse on it. Tink. Shielded. That's our target. Robbie pops out an eye, and turns it into a bird-shape. Glinda cloaks its magic, and we all watch what the bird sees via Robbie's bird-vision. As it approaches the building, we see that it is pretty well surrounded by thorn bushes with red ribbons streaming from their branches. The eye circles the building in a harmless, bird-like manner. It's a single story, of cyclopean construction, with a flat, stone roof. We can't see any real birds around, or small mammals, but there are a few insects.
The front is obvious. The door is guarded by a pair of kalidah skeletons, bedecked with red ribbons. We then get a bird's-eye view through the first window on the left side of the fortress. It's the witch's bedroom, if you can call a raised slab of red sandstone on a red sandstone floor a "bed." At least, there is a desiccated figure wrapped in red ribbons lying on it. The walls are covered in black and red script. Robbie uses the zoom function to let Glinda examine the writing closely. She says that she finds it "interesting" but won't say anything about it, except that it must all be destroyed.
The view through the next window is equally interesting. It's a different room, with a fox in a flimsy-looking cage -- a mere box-like frame of twigs, but with ribbons hanging from the top edges as "bars." The animal looks miserable, but it does spot our bird. On Glinda's advice, Robbie has the bird wink. The fox cocks its head in response.
"Who are you?" asks the bird softly.
"Diggs" is the equally soft response.
"And your first name is...?"
It's our boy. Probably. Robbie decides to be very thorough. "Do you know a little girl named Dorothy?"
"Yes. Do you?" barks the fox.
"And a large clock?" adds the fox.
"Yes. I'm from Lanthil."
The reaction is appropriate. "Ooh! Is Miss Holmes here?"
"No," admits Robbie, but adds, "but her associate Kate Carter is -- and Glinda is too."
The fox smiles with a fine display of teeth. "Where are the rest of you?"
"Well away from here, but we're coming."
The fox waxes helpful. "Beware of the kalidah skeletons. I think they're guards."
The bird signs off. "I have to go now. I'll see you soon."
The bird continues our tour of the house. Storeroom (packages of herbs, a dead peacock), a conjuratory (braziers, books, designs on the floor, and more writing on the walls), a dining room (table, chairs), another storeroom (bones), yet another storeroom (red thread, red ribbons, a table loom of metal and bone), library (sinister tomes), a parlor (sofas, chairs), the front hall (empty, the front door), and the kitchen (stove, table, pans, lots of knives). The bird settles in over the fox's window like a miniature gargoyle and awaits the rest of us while relaying our conversation to the prisoner.
The tree carries us closer as we plan. "First, we must rescue Diggs," says Kate, "then we must stop -- no, we must put an end to the witch. We think we can do it with water. What else?"
Glinda casts her mind back to the future. "There's fire. She's quite desiccated. And heavy objects, of course."
"I think I can persuade those thorn bushes to move on the kalidahs," volunteers Daphne.
"Those red ribbons are an invisible wall," warns the fox, when Robbie's eye-bird hops down to bring him into the discussion.
Fallataal declares that he, equipped with kalidah skin and kalidah skull, will put his efforts into annoying the kalidah skeletons. This will put him right near the front door. Instead of trying to go through the windows blocked or guarded by the red ribbons, we decide to go in through the wall. We consider blasting our way in, but decide that cutting through the stone with a really sharp blade will work better. We'll pull out the fox, then spray the witch with water. Gannar is handed one of the giant water syringes.
While we're doing that, Glinda can work on disenchanting (dischanting?) the ribbons. The dragon will hover over the fortress, and on our signal, will land on the roof directly over the witch's bed, in the hope of collapsing the roof.
We approach stealthily; even the tree is hard to notice. This is in marked contrast to Fallataal, who enters the treetops with such a clamor that he attracts the attentions of a troop of dragonflies. "Why are you here?" The demand for information is delivered in a high-pitched whine by the dragonfly's riders. They are normal-sized wogglebugs, with spears the size of toothpicks, and they are wearing tiny red ribbons.
Fallataal begins his campaign to distract all attention from us by giving an obvious non-answer to the flying insects: "Walking on the tree-tops." They express their dissatisfaction with his response at such an alarming intensity that Kate sweeps the area with her sonic stunner. Nothing happens. Kate may never learn that insects hear with their legs, not their non-existent ears. The elf tries an explanation a shade closer to the truth. "I have killed live kalidahs. Now I would like to try to kill some undead ones."
The wogglebugs exclaim over that. Then they begin to argue among themselves whether they are obligated to warn the kalidahs or the witch. It has never expressly been included in their duties -- and they don't seem eager to go beyond them.
Meanwhile, Daphne has coaxed the several thorn bushes closest to the front of the house to move closer to the front door and its skeletal guards. Dafnord slips through the gap this leaves and up to the wall of the house. He draws Umbra, and, protected by a spell of silence cast by Glinda, he begins to carve a hole through the sandstone wall.
By now, Fallataal has the kalidahs' attention riveted on him, as he tosses his kalidah skull repeatedly into the air, and swirls his kalidah cloak. Their eye-sockets follow his every move, though naturally there is a lack of facial expression.
Robbie reports that the witch has not moved at all. The wogglebugs hum over to Fallataal and warn him that it is their duty to keep him from approaching the witch's house. We are not allowed closer than the thorn woods. At Robbie's suggestion, the elf points out that the thorn woods are now over there. Once again the armed insects discuss their obligations in an ambiguous situation. One bug is loud, clear, and pessimistic. "It doesn't matter what we do. They'll all die anyway."
Matters have come to a head at the front of the house. Just as the skeletons have readied themselves to attack the elf, he dashes down to the ground behind the mobile shrubbery. They pounce, and find themselves entangled among the thorns and ribbons. Fallataal plays to his insect audience. "Well, that was clumsy of them," he remarks as he tosses the skull into a double loop. Now the wogglebugs chatter about entering the fray but cannot decide on whose side to fight.
Dafnord has finished carving his hole. Kate draws the stone plug out of the wall with TK. The witch is still asleep. Glinda eases forward, and starts to neutralize the spells on the fox's lockup.
Fallataal runs up another tree, and engages the wogglebugs eye-to-eye. "Would you care to place a wager? Would you like to bet that I cannot kill those kalidahs?"
"But we have nothing to wager with."
"You have those red clothes, don't you? Will you bet those?"
The insectile protests continue. "Our clothes don't come off."
"That will be my problem," the elf assures them. "Are you willing to bet?" The buzzing grows very loud.
"I've neutralized the ribbons," whispers Glinda, referring to the ones on the fox's box.
Kate pulls at the cage telekinetically, expecting to tug it and the fox through the window. Instead, she shatters it; it was glued to the floor in some way. Robbie reports that the witch just sat up. Before the bits of wicker finish falling, the fox hops through the hole. As the fox lands gently on the ground, the dragon stoops, producing a jarring four-point landing directly over the witch.
As we had hoped, the roof collapses into the witch's bedchamber. The dragon pokes his head down and, despite the dust, is able to announce, "It's wiggling." The dragon starts to back away from the hole, but Markel urges it forward, to exhale a blast of flame at the pinned witch. This is successful. The witch is highly flammable, and there is a high, thin scream that soon fades into nothing.
The wicked witch is dead.
This is Fallataal's cue. "There. That makes it easier for me to remove their heads." He dashes down the tree and engages the first skeleton. Snick, and he cuts away the ribbons nearest the skull. The beast gives a shudder, but continues to fight with a silent snarl. Snick, snick, and the skeleton has only the merest stubs of ribbons on it. It stops moving. He turns to the second creature. His first stroke takes the skull off cleanly. The beast stops. He turns back to his first prey, and lops the head off that one.
Trying to look neither smug nor surprised, the elf juggles the three skulls. The sound of hundreds of tiny hands clapping fills the air. "I'll take those ribbons now," he announces. The wogglebugs swoop down with alacrity.
He arches an eyebrow towards Glinda. The good witch takes out her wand, looks puzzled, and presses her hand against her forehead. We can feel her headache on the net. Before we can worry, she gestures with the wand, then smiles. "You won't need me any more."
The bugs pull their threadlike ribbons from their torsos, and drop them in the elf's proffered hat. "Now you can decide if I was a fool or not," he remarks.
"You have given us more to think about than that. Thank you."
"You are welcome. I am certain that you are destined for great things." At least one very large member of their tribe is.
While this has been happening, Robbie has gone on a spree of destruction. He tested one of the beribboned windows. Tonk. It's impenetrable. He blasts the ribbons to ash. There is no longer a force field protecting the window. In no time, the former robot is flying through the dwelling, blasting the inscriptions off the walls and floors, and incinerating every book, thread, and possible ingredient he can spot.
He returns outside to find that the freed wogglebugs have removed the ribbons from the shrubs. They obligingly let him set fire to the pile, and explain that these ribbons were alarms. If we had touched them, the witch would have awakened.
Our destructive work completed, we gather together again. Kate introduces us all to O.Z. Diggs, who is still in fox form. After the introductions are completed, the fox stands in front of Glinda, and looks expectantly up at her.
"Pyrzqxgl," she says -- according to Gannar's files. It really is amazingly unpronounceable. The fox remains unchanged. Glinda looks disconcerted.
The transformed Diggs suggests that the word has not been coined yet. Sadly, Glinda agrees, and gets out her wand. It takes several minutes, and we appreciate the difficulty of the task over the network. Finally, she is successful.
One wizard stands before us, good as new.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.