Week 9, Searching the Floating City
We left our heroes with three young folk from New Detroit and Soa. We also left them with the knowledge of where the diadem segment is and some disturbing hints on how intimately it is tied into the fabric of this pocket universe.
We rest a day and then leave under cover of night. We are escorting the three New Detroiters to the border while we debate what to do next.
One day out from the floating city, we see a vessel in the air. Cantrel's binoculars reveal it to be a sort of sailing ship, of shallow draft, thin and flat in build, with funny rigging. The New Detroiters never saw such a thing before.
We decide to investigate. Lorelei, Sophie, and Chris flit up on the skycycle while Cantrel flies under his own power. They are, of course, invisible. We explain this to the astonished New Detroiters as "camouflage," which is the truth if not the whole truth.
As they approach, the scouting party sees that the funny "sails" are really canvas propellers, like the arms of windmills. The crew look Sultanate, in particular the high-caste types we saw on the floating city. Lorelei probes a man who appears to be the captain, but there's nothing specially magical about him.
Chris scans the whole boat for magic. Yes, it's magic, or something, but of a different quality. The psionics of our own world feels complex yet obvious, like baroque music played on a synthesizer or an intricate weave of primary colors. The magic of the more fantastic worlds feels simple yet subtle, like a song in a human voice or a few masterful strokes of calligraphy. This is neither. It is simple and obvious, naked power, the tolling of a gong or the blaze of a laser. Reminiscent of diadem-power, in fact. We file this away.
Lorelei suggests we hi-jack the ship, but we can't really think of anything to do with it. We decide to see if the thing can be steered, or if it just runs on a preordained path. Tom breaks cover down on the ground and is soon spotted by the captain. The ship begins veering toward him.
Meanwhile, Cantrel sneaks down a hatch to examine the hold. He finds a galley full of men "rowing," that is, working cranks that work the canvas propellers. Cantrel retreats and tries the next hatch. It's tight shut but opens to a Knock spell he picked up in Chyoxus. (Travel broadens the mind so.) Undercover of invisibility, he sneaks down into the hold and discovers ... the ship's cat, much startled by the beam of the flashlight. He tosses the cat up on deck, to provide an explanation of why the hatch creaked. Then he tries to figure out the mechanism of the hatch. On opening it, he dumps a cat in his face. The poor animal flees.
Left to himself at last, he looks around the hold. It's empty but for a few supplies and tools. If this is a trade ship, it's not a successful one.
Meanwhile, the ship is trailing after Tom. Now that we've established that it's maneuverable, Tom only wants to shake it. He passes under a tree and tries to become invisible. He fails miserably and produces nothing but heat ripples in the air. Alag, who has been trailing Tom, supplies an apparition of Tom for the ship to follow while Tom tries again, becomes invisible, and rejoins the party.
Alag then sends his Second Sight into the ship, to aid Cantrel's investigations. He finds a crystal ball in the navigator's cabin and a curious loop of pipes between the cabin walls and the hull.
The ship slows down over the trees where Tom caused the air ripples, but dutifully follow the apparition into a nearby copse, where Alag drops it. The ship then descends, lets down ladders, and discharges a couple of guards. They are puzzled to find nothing. Eventually, they move on.
It is two days more to the mountain pass marking the edge of Sultanate territory. We send the New Detroiters on their way and head back to the city ourselves, explaining to them that we propose to ground it. Having seen the air ship, we do not ask the New Detroiters to send their own zeppelins.
It's a three-day march back to the city.
In our various ways, we flit invisibly up to the upper city, that warehouse roof in particular, in two waves. Leaving Cantrel and Pfusand there, the rest head for the palace. We encounter the barrier of psi-noise in the gardens. There's static on the telepathic links and our invisibility wavers, but we pass through without other incident. We park on the roof over the sultan's bedroom.
Tom's Knack of Finding reveals the segment has been moved. While Chris and Tom go back to fetch Cantrel and Pfusand, Lorelei probes for the segment but finds it's too far away. She probes into its old location and finds a filigree box, empty, with a velvet cushion on the bottom, dented as for a cantaloupe-sized object.
Tom and Chris return on the skycycle and head for the next building over. They peek through the roof with Second Sight and find an opulent, domed throne room. Some citizens are just now being escorted out. There are several guards around. Four servants are erecting screens before the throne. Four sagely old men are gathered around the sultan, a large man of military bearing, accompanied by his giant bodyguard. The sultan is in the act of handing something to one of the sages.
The something is a bell-hilted rod ending in a hand. The metal hand holds a gem -- the segment. The sage handles the thing with only moderate reverence.
Just then Chris [his player, actually, with no help from dice] gets a bad feeling about this and guns the skycycle. A fireball blossoms behind us. It turns into a giant flaming bird and circles briefly, then vanishes. Passers-by on the ground stare up aghast.
We bug out. Daewen drops her invisibility and relies on stealth plus her flying belt. A dust-devil rises up and attacks Alag and Pfusand on the grav sled. Alag tries to TK it out of the way and manages to escape it; there wasn't much feeling of wind there, perhaps as a result of the TK. The dust- devil assumes a more human shape and chases them to the barrier, then past it. Finally, it loses them.
Alag telepaths to Daewen that he's landing. She replies shortly to drop all psychic activity, as she did. We all sneak back to the warehouse roof while prodigies and apparitions appear over the palace to amaze the populace and look for us. Daewen tells us her theory that the users of the segment can detect our psychic activities. Oh goodie.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.