The Chaos Marches
Chapter 17, At War with the Dragon
We left our heroes in Chaos' Rim, in the city of the Lilim. The "Zephyr" was crash-landed on a floating island bearing a park, being besieged by draconian Lilim. A flying ship of elvish aspect was approaching, as were three elven women on pegasi (one of whom is Mithriel at a later date), the elf on the aircycle, and Tom and Mithriel (contemporary) in the "Zephyr" lifeboat.
Got all that? 'Cause it's only going to get more confused. There are, for instance, the Marginalia being teleported around by budgies, and the enigmatic iridescent sun Tom created (though it has not, apparently, turned out as he intended).
Salimar and Tom, having just re-established telepathic contact, update each other. Tom is aghast to find Mithriel is here twice over. Dafnord tells them to stop talking and start fighting.
Robbie starts in by trying to wish up a steel net over the dragon just now closing on the "Zephyr." He gets a momentary image.
Kate wakes up in the autodoc. Tom tells her authoritatively that she's all better now, and, this being Chaos' Rim, she certainly feels so. Tom also butts into Fr. Paddy's thoughts briefly and suggests that if he's ever going to try exorcism on Lilim, now is the time.
Meanwhile, Glorian has been leading her elven archers out of the "Zephyr" to take up defensible positions under the curve of its hull and shoot at dragons. Katrina joins them, just as the dragon flames the "Zephyr." Salimar's ectoplasmic dome protects them, though it gets used up in the process.
Tom heads the lifeboat toward the flying elvish ship, with the idea of joining forces with them, but Mithriel isn't sure that's a good idea. Looking through binoculars, she sees the lead figure on that ship is a woman in black armor who is at least eight feet tall and heavily built, but none the less looks a lot like family. And the sword she wields is unmistakably Twilight. She is in the act of flinching away from a large dragon's flame.
Tom agrees that meeting her just now would be begging for a time-loop, so he pulls away and contents himself with an experiment -- he casts the dragon attacking her into stasis. This works: the dragon becomes a silvery statue, off which the woman's next several sword-blows rattle. (They were interesting blows; the sword sort of strobed.) The dragon then falls away into the abyss below.
Dafnord has run out of the "Zephyr" firing at anything draconian with his blaster-rifle. He turns and sees six incoming dragons. Not to worry, though; two of them are knocked askew by a silvery, teardrop-shaped spaceship that comes zooming in. It engages the remainder with force-beams.
Robbie succeeds on the second try in materializing a net over the nearest dragon, with help from Salimar. Salimar then tosses a couple of her brain-cocktails at the minds of two more dragons among the six.
Tom and Mithriel are now headed for the "Zephyr." They see 18 (!) dragons headed our way, but another spaceship shows up. They are then distracted by four Marginalia dropping into their lifeboat, deposited by the invisible parakeets. (I told you it would get confusing.)
Glorian and her arches give battle-cry from their position under the "Zephyr." Katrina sees they are being snuck up on by lizardy folk in the trees of the park. She shoots one of her enchanted arrows at them and takes one out.
Tom and Mithriel collect six more Marginalia. Tom unloads the boat by wishing the lot of them to the island he and Mithriel departed a few minutes ago, where more Marginalia were appearing. He hears the flutter of wings about his head and realizes the boat is surrounded by a flock of the invisible parakeets.
Robbie tries to materialize another net. He succeeds, but it appears over himself. He runs out from under it, but trips over a large egg that just appeared. It is half metallic and half transparent. It's a two-foot high toy (?) ship, in fact, and inside is a cat, looking about as startled as Robbie feels.
Salimar, meanwhile, has been throwing a series of brain cocktails at the increasing disorganized sextet of dragons, who are not doing well against the spaceship, either.
These dragons aren't connecting, but there are plenty of them. Tom spots 13 more, in a formation of three triples and a square. They look very serious. He tries his stasis cast again, and freezes the tailing trio. He then wills a door under them, dropping them into sheer chaos -- not the Rim, not the Marches, not the Margins, certainly not the Courts, just raw, uninhabitable, lethal chaos. That leaves ten, including the leader, who looks worst.
Dafnord runs to join Glorian and add his blaster fire to the arrows of her archers, taking out dragons from what is now a general swarm. Kate fires on what's left of the sextet. Katrina shoots at lizard-men in the park.
In the distance, bits of the city are collapsing, presumably a result of the abduction of the Marginalia. Also, that iridescent sun of Tom's is still getting bigger and brighter. He wishes he knew what it was up to.
The lifeboat is filling up again with Marginalia. Mithriel creates a sort of trampoline funnel that, by her fiat, leads into the hold of the "Zephyr," another place Marginalia keep appearing. Tom grabs a passing budgie -- a big orange one -- and sternly tells it, "Put them down gently! Got it? Pass it on!" and releases it. (Thereafter, Marginalia stop appearing high up in mid-air. Mostly.)
Kate takes out the last of the six, and the teardrop spaceship zooms over to the "Zephyr" to engage another batch of dragons. Salimar decides to aid the destruction of the city and the confusion of the dragons by conjuring a large whirlwind, and then feeding it with repeated doses of her willpower.
Robbie pauses to look through his roving eye. The place is getting quite thick with dragons. We're vastly outnumbered -- except that all these people keep showing up, apparently on our side. There seem to be battles raging all over the crumbling city. He looks at a remote flock of dragons. They look very tiny in the distance. Since this is Chaos' Rim, why not have them be distantly tiny right here, between his hands?
And, lo, it is so. A horde of fly-sized dragons flaps in a bubble in Robbie's hands. He copies Tom's technique and drops them through a hole into chaos.
Salimar's storm, Dafnord notes, has now swept up a large circling flock of dragons. At the top of the funnel-cloud, where the flock is thickest, a transparent "current" or something is sweeping them along, looping in a great figure-eight (or infinity sign), the storm in one loop, the mysterious new sun in the other. Disney-dust comets are appearing in it.
Tom has been slam-dunking dragons into chaos by triples. As he takes out the last of them, he hears a distant yell of "Yowzer! Watch it, Unc!" and sees the elf on the aircycle, narrowly avoiding a chaos-pit, zoom by with a gun in his hand. Stupid kid.
Only the lead foursome is left. The giant woman from the ship now takes on a semi-eagle-like, winged shape and engages the leader, while Tisiphone, Megaera, and Alecto-- I mean latter-Mithriel, Mirien, and the redhead, all on the pegasi, ride in to engage the other three.
Robbie, last seen nose-to-nose on the ground with a cat in an egg, looks through his remote eye again and spots at least five loci of combat. ("Hello," says the cat, with a heavy feline accent that makes it sound a lot like, "Meow.") He passes his data to the others, and Kate turns to start shooting at a quintet of incoming.
Meanwhile, Dafnord finds a dragon stooping on him, falcon-like. Just as he is about to fire into its belly, it is knocked aside and out of the air by another dragon (?). Dafnord polishes off the first foe and turns to the second, but this one isn't acting aggressive -- to him, anyway. In fact, it has a humanoid riding on its back. Dafnord holds his fire.
Katrina and Kate fire at the new quintet of dragons. Meanwhile, the lizard-men in the park are less problem than they were because the trees have turned on them -- don't as us why. Katrina notes that more and more Marginalia are appearing around the "Zephyr," and learns over the telepathy net that they're appearing inside it, too. (So does Mithriel. The incoming rush at the lifeboat knocks her off her feet and down her own funnel.) Some elven warriors can't get out of the "Zephyr" for the inrush of Marginalia, and give up, devote themselves to herding them. Fr. Paddy, meanwhile, is busy healing the wounded ones -- and finds that the laying-on of hands works very well here.
One of Kate's arrows misses the dragon she aims at, and hits a building, which collapses. Robbie notes, through his eye, that the entire city now seems to be swirling around our battle-field, or perhaps it's around Salimar's storm or Tom's sun, or all of the above. Around US.
Robbie uses his perspective trick to grab another flock of dragons into a little glassy ball. Just before he slam-dunks them into chaos, he takes a cue from Fr. Paddy and inscribes a Solomon's Seal on the ball, for good measure. (Fr. Paddy, meanwhile, is stuffing the flood of Marginalia into overhead luggage compartments and finding them mysteriously roomier on the inside than you would ever guess.)
Tom, observing the escalating storm, the waxing sun, and the general confusion, and observing how handily our side is able to warp reality while the dragons never do, conjures a small paper airplane, writes on it, "I would like a brief explanation," and sends it into the sun.
The black ship moves out from over the "Zephyr," which is now in a sort of calm at the center of the storm, and heads for its eagle-like captain, still engaged with the lead dragon. Kate shoots down the last of the quintet; Katrina and Salimar dive out from under the falling carcass, Salimar getting severely bent in the process.
Robbie tries to pull in another batch of dragons for a slam-dunk to chaos. He fails, but the chunk of city they were in collapses all at once.
Dafnord finds that the landing ramp of the "Zephyr" got badly bent by falling dragons. However, he is able to straighten it out...
Tom watches Salimar's storm get still faster and bigger. It's clear, now, that there are currents of warping space around it. The sun sprays out thousands of little paper airplanes. Some rain around Tom. He catches a few, unfolds them, and reads:
Some more Marginalia rain down, this time with parachutes provided by the aircycle elf. Kate suggests we boogie. Dafnord seconds it and starts herding elves and things into the "Zephyr." "Who are you?" he pauses to ask the dragonrider, who has now landed. The fellow, who looks like a young human male, looks puzzled and says he's Markel the Dragonrider. He and his mount flap off.
Tom rather agrees with the leaving idea. "I think something is about to happen," he says, watching the sun and storm above. Just then his watch beeps. (Gee, he hasn't had a watch like that in years. But he has one of them now.) He answers it, wrapping himself in some accelerated time in order to do so. A Mr. Janov or Yanoff or something wants to chat. Tom advises against it, citing colliding worldlines. Janov agrees but asks if Tom knows anything about a missing Martian colony. Never heard of it. (But he has heard of Janov somewhere. No time now, though.) Tom returns to normal time and the silver spaceship, apparently Janov's, zooms away.
Tom urges the budgies to a final evacuation effort, then teleports back to the island he and Mithriel left. It is eyeball-deep in Marginalia, and some are hanging off the edge. First, he wishes the place bigger, then he conjures a gateway back into Last Valley (which might have a few dragons, but at least has standing room). He bundles them through and zaps back to the battlefield.
Remember the lizard-men? They were being beset by trees. The trees have run out of lizard-men and are beginning to rove about hungrily, triffid-fashion. Salimar tries contacting them telepathically. Ick. Okay, she won't try that anymore.
Robbie, still with the cat in the egg, asks it where it's from. "Jack!" it says, thought the accent makes it close to "Yang." It then gives a date considerably forward from Tom and Dafnord's era of the Jack. No time for further conversation; Robbie picks up the egg and boards the "Zephyr."
The remaining dragons are now being swept about in Salimar's storm, which, with Tom's sun, is girdled by a band of space-warp, more oval now than figure-eight-shaped. We spot the eagle-giantess, her dragon foe, and her ship, all vanish through a gate into elsewhere. Everywhere, people and things are bailing out.
Time to go.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.