The Chaos Marches
Chapter 7, Exploring the Valley
We left our heroes at the house of Memory, with a lot of lines of investigation to follow. The nearest one is the appearance of a pin in the Map of Here (unless we just hadn't noticed it before), in the tunnel that brought us to Memory's house from the Last Valley.
When we approach the tunnel entrance, we ask the leader of the Marginalia if we can go first. He is puzzled, but agrees. As we enter, Tom notes the smile on his face -- so trusting and eager to please. Tom grew up in the 25th century, in a space station shared with several races. Some of them were "semi-folk," races only, um, marginally intelligent. The fully sapient races took care of them ... or exploited them, or neglected them, all depending. Tom realizes that the New Blood now has a client race, like unto the Cheza, the Pemnals, the neo-beasts of the Jack. sigh
We go down the tunnel until the new pin in the Map is about coincident with the "You Are Here" mark. Then, to our escort's confusion, we stop and examine. Clairvoyants throw viewpoints down the tunnel, Tom lobs some ectoplasm, Robbie launches his eye. All appears normal, until Salimar exercises her hyperspatial clairvoyance and thereby sees two similar, superposed paths.
Mithriel is now able to see the division, in her capacity as witchwalker. She reports that the tunnel in plain sight ahead is on a witchpath, or otherwise out of normal space. We are a little past the point of divergence. We back up to the actual divergence point, and Mithriel, with some difficulty, continues on the natural tunnel rather than on the witchpath. As she does so, she warps out of sight and drops off the telepathy net.
A nervous few seconds later, she reappears and reports that this branch of the tunnel dead-ends about a hundred yards further on. She had a hard time getting back because the light-ball she had glamoured when phut when she crossed the divergence point and she couldn't get a new one.
We now examine the divergence point seven ways from Sunday. Mithriel takes Tom and Salimar into the cul de sac, on her glamoured rope, with Dafnord stationed as anchor at the end. The tunnel does, indeed, go on for a ways; then the roof declines and squeezes down to meet the floor. Salimar oozes ahead and investigates with the tip of a pseudopod, but there's nothing beyond that.
Back on the other side of the divergence point, Tom breaks out his dimensional survey equipment and examines back and forth across the point, down both branches.
However, all this examination done, there is nothing left to do but walk through the witch-tunnel toward the other end. As we do, we pass another transition point, marked on the Map of Here. Some more cursory examination indicates that this is exactly the same sort of multi-dimensional branching, just pointed the other way. It looks, in fact, as if the tunnel connecting Memory's valley with the Last Valley were a sort of magical drawbridge, an effortless conduit just now, but perhaps someone (who?) can remove the magic that creates the divergence points, raising the drawbridge and cutting off the two valleys.
Once on the other side, in the twilit Last Valley, Tom asks to be shown an edge, somewhere the valley gives way to the domain of the "bad," the Lilithites, the Lilim, whatever. The leader Marginalis is alarmed and takes a good deal of persuading, but eventually details a guide to show us the way.
The scout leads us up to the rim of the valley. As we approach, the landscape deteriorates into classic blasted heath, and he sometimes leads use around circuitously for no obvious reason. Eventually, we reach the Edge and look over.
It's another one of those trans-chromatic experiences that seem to hang around Lanthil or the Marginalia or the Lilim. Its a vast chasm of, uh, bright black glare, shapes vaguely visible within. This is what chunks of Lanthil turn into when the Lilim claim them.
Eyes watering, someone asks Tom if this is the Chaos' Rim that Tom has mentioned. Tom answers that, according to the descriptions he's read, Chaos' Rim isn't black. It looks like multiple fireworks displays viewed through rough water.
... On the other hand, we notice, this dark domain looks very like that, just blackened. Polluted chaos?
If it's Chaos' Rim, or a variation of it, then it should readily take shapes from the force of will. We gather our thoughts telepathically and imagine a white cube. One begins to form, reluctantly, in the air just over the edge. Tom suggests forming a black cube, to go with the local color scheme. This produces three black smudges in the vaporous white block.
We then remember that Marginalia may have some special ability to shape chaos. Tom turns to the guide (who has been looking away from the black glare, crouched down and hiding), and asks him to come over here a minute. The guide looks around and gasps. Following his gaze, we see the cloudy white block with the three black smudges has turned into a ghostly skull. Tom hastily exerts his will to erase it. It goes, but seems to grimace as it dissolves.
Tom tries feeling for psi signatures out there. Oh, yes! He leaves with the psychic equivalent of ringing ears.
On our retreat, Kate notes that the areas the guide skirts look out of focus to her clairvoyance. The Marginalis says those are "soft" spots. Mithriel looks them over and says that they'd be bad places from which to step off onto witchpaths. She tosses in a ball of glamour, and it goes foof, then flickers, wobbles, and ultimately makes it across, looking somewhat smaller.
The Map of Here shows these areas as smeary grey, and, oh by the way, where the black chaos should be, the Map ends, looking TORN OFF. The paper has shrunk, nothingness being the only adequate mapping for that ... "place." And you can forget about a legend, or even a myth, or so much as rumor or an unsubstantiated speculation.
Somewhat aghast, we go back to the leader and ask to be shown to someplace we can sleep. He shows us to a thicket with a little hollow cunningly hidden within, and is then very put out when we eat instead of sleep there, since it's a sleeping place, not an eating place, silly! We promise not to get crumbs in the bed.
We discuss what we could do against the Lilim -- about whom we know nearly nothing. If the horde outside the Black Mage's castle were a fair sample, they are susceptible to bullets, spears, and such. Salimar also has this telepathic zap she can deliver, her "brain cocktail," which she binds into an assortment of projectiles.
Does Fr. Paddy know anything about the Lilim? He has heard of them, and heard them likened to vampires and/or the vampiric fays known as Leshy. He offers to get ready to do an exorcism. Also, if the Lilim are demonic, they might be constrained by Solomon's Seal -- a David's Star inscribed in a circle and emblazoned with the Tetragrammaton. But this is not something you'd want to count on at the first military encounter.
Fr. Paddy also says he has heard that the Dragons fell before the Humans did, and were involved in our fall. Tom seconds this with the rumor that Lilith was a renegade Dragon and the serpent in the Garden.
Tom then shows Mithriel a new trick: He apparently levitates an empty ration pack, only he doesn't levitate it -- he uses Second Order Glamour to change its position, just as Mithriel uses it to change shape, size, or color. Position is just another property, after all. Mithriel hadn't thought of that. This way, she can effectively levitate using her glamour powers, without bothering to walk on air, as she did back at the Black Mage's siege.
Then, struck by a bright idea, Tom shifts the pack instantly from one hand to another -- teleports it. "Mother says you can hurt yourself trying that," Mithriel remarks, as Tom turns grey and nods in agreement. Oof.
While Tom recovers from that, Mithriel wonders about the relative numbers of Lilim and Marginalia. It's no good asking the Marginalia how many there are of either; they'll just say "many." We ask the leader about "more" and "less" but only get the news that there are lots and lots of Lilim.
We sleep for a while -- there's not much day/night cycle here -- and then have the leader take us back to the place where we first entered the valley, after allaying his fears that we mean to leave them. While negotiating this, we learn that the valley has four sides -- high and low, light and dark. We came in on the high side, Memory's house is past the light side, and the domain of the Lilim is, no surprise, on the dark side.
Salimar tries some retrocognition, once we get back there, to study the only Lilite we've seen close up, but with indifferent success.
Going up the high side requires some mountaineering. Only Dafnord and Mithriel manage it, at first. Soon, they are in the layer of twilight that presages the coming of the dark domain. There are vague shapes moving in the shadow. Mithriel says, "Look at that!" and Dafnord turns, and THEN there's something to look at -- just a rocky lump, but it hadn't been there before; Mithriel was testing. Yes, there's a flavor of Chaos' Rim here; expectation shapes reality. Dafnord tries to exploit this to conjure a sword. He doesn't quite do it, but Mithriel sees a glamoured image of a sword flicker briefly.
She and Dafnord descend and report. (The telepathy net was interrupted by the twilight.) Tom tries to climb again, and succeeds this time, ascending with Salimar. While she feels about with her extra-senses, Tom tries to use the Chaos' Rim to conjure a sword for Dafnord. He gets one, but it feels weightless. He tries again, almost but not quite using his Ectoplastics skill, and gets a more substantial one. This second one survives the descent out of the twilight; the first one vanishes. Tom presents Dafnord with a certifiable magic sword, conjured from chaos, albeit a tainted grade of chaos. Dafnord contains his enthusiasm. But this trick could be handy.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.