Week 22, To the Ancient City
We left our heroes in the mountainous wilds of Ethiopia, preparing to cross a swamp that largely fills a deep valley in the mountains. The rest of the valley is filled by unfriendly natives, so we want to cross quietly and quickly.
We're going to do it by psi and magic. Cantrel casts his Flight spell and will haul a rope across. Alag casts bound Levitations on the rest of the party (except for Daewen, who has a flight belt), and Tom casts invisibilities triggered to come off when he says the word "refraction."
Aloft and invisible, we spend most of the day cruising across the swamp. On the far side, we expect to find the caves where "She" lived. Along the way, we see small hills rising out of the swamp, with villages on them.
Once on the far side, we see the ruins of a stone city, rather more sophisticated than the current architecture. It contains at least two kinds of stonework -- irregular and brickwork. Since it is near sundown, we decide to sleep, but we also decide to remain aloft and invisible. Chris adds Cloaking to make all this magic less noticeable. This disconcerts Jonathan, who now finds himself flying and invisible WITHOUT (apparent) magic. It is also disconcerting that, because their eyelids are invisible, people see just as well with their eyes shut as with them open.
Before retiring, Tom tries to Find Musgrove and fails. During the night, since sleep is hard anyway, and largely unnecessary for the elves, Daewen spends her time creating birds out of Glamour, attempting to make equivalents of the Captains presentation robot spy-birds, which have proved useful in the past. She produces a magnificently realistic bird-body, but then flubs its mind. She gives it to Chris for possible repairs.
Somewhere in the midst of the night, Jonathan awakes with nightmares, caused by finding himself gone, so to speak. He screams, waking others. Daewen edits his invisibility so that he can see himself ... so long as his eyes are CLOSED. This helps his disorientation, a little.
When dawn comes, Tom tries to Find Musgrove again. He fails and tries a second time. On the next try, Chris says hopefully, "Third time's the charm," and perhaps it is, because Tom gets a clear reading. It points south, in the general direction of the caves before us. So Musgrove is ahead of us. After a brief discussion on strategy, we decide we are not above killing Musgrove if it is expedient.
Breakfast is an antelope provided by Daewen and berries provided by Tom. We cook the antelope with a few blaster bolts. Just as we are deciding to go easier on the magic from here on in, Alag sends his Second Sight sailing into the caves [on a critical hit]. No one said we were disciplined.
In and around the mouths of the caves, he finds people going about peaceable business. They are the same race as the people down in the valley, but are dressed in cloth rather than hides. This may represent a difference of culture or simply a difference of current occupation. There are no obvious guards.
Inside, Alag finds a maze of corridors. He stumbles on an audience chamber or throne room, empty and unlit. This is presumably "She's" ("Her"?) throne room. According to the book, She is now dead, but the books aren't always right. (Cf. "Sherrinford" Holmes.) Based on this consideration, Chris reduces his telepathic contact with Alag to verbal level and Tom follows suit. After all, She could induce hopeless love-at-first-sight just by showing her face. "Of course," Chris reflects, "this may have said more about Holly's personal susceptibility than about Ayesha's intrinsic beauty." Daewen: "Oh, you think so?" and she smiles sweetly. Very sweetly. Sandbags him with it, so to speak. At least several centi-helens worth. Maybe deci-helens.
Alag figures his standards of feminine beauty, based on Grandmother Daewen, are pretty high and continues exploring. He finds an abandoned store-room, all dusty and unkempt, then a set of rooms that look like they were a Royal Suite, but haven't been lived in lately, though they are kept clean.
Tom does a finding on Musgrove again. Following this lead, Alag steers his viewpoint through more mazy corridors and finds himself working around a rectangular area. Piercing through the walls to it, he finds an enormous room containing a building. The room has stone doors, not wooden ones like the others so far, all elaborately carved. The building has a door in each wall.
Inside the first building is a second, with only one door and a very simple lock. Passing through this, Alag finds a table or altar, carved and with pilastered legs. Inside the table (here Tom flinches, afraid of Alag encountering Ayesha's more-than-mortally beautiful mummy or something), is a hollow vertical passage, smoothly walled in stone. It has ladder-notches in the wall. This comes out on a tile-floored corridor, slightly dusty. There is a European boot-heel mark in the dust. Holly's from long ago, or Musgrove's more recently? Holly's notes on his journal mentions none of this, at least not clearly. Neither does H. Rider Haggard's novel.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.