chapter 103: Loading a Feud, Continued
We left our heroes losing crew members overboard, as it were. First
Desmond poked at a subtle flaw in the pantope, and vanished. Then
Mirien tried to investigate and vanished. Then the cat vanished
deliberately, charging to the rescue. Then Salimar vanished, despite
taking care. Then Desmond came back, but none of the others, after
considerable waiting and poking around. Finally Tom jumped overboard
and vanished, too. So, however, did Markel and his dragon, who were
supposed to hold the ropes tethering him to the pantope.
Remaining in the pantope are Robbie, Gannar, Kate, Katrina, Daphne, and Desmond. Robbie conjures some black-and-yellow ectoplastic warning tape around the danger spots, then goes through the open portal to the ranch and informs Dafnord, still resting in an autodoc, of these unpleasing developments. Then he opens a door to the Tellemataru and informs Runyana, Mithriel, Braeta, and Greywolf.
Runyana, apparently unaware of what warning tape means, takes an arcane glance at the danger spot and promptly vanishes. Great. Robbie makes sure that everyone (everyone left) knows to keep their hands to themselves, especially if they are witchwalkers or anything else with extra-dimensional proclivities.
Desmond says he thinks he didn't experience quite the same thing as the others, and this may be why he came back. Gannar recalls that Desmond flickered, coming and going, while the others just plain vanished. Desmond thinks he just sort of lost his grip on the local timestream for a few moments, whereas the others have ... done something else.
Mithriel remarks that all Runyana did was reach out with her senses, so the spot must be very soft. Gannar mentions hearing Tom say something about removing a "chaos mark." Might those overboard have fallen (or jumped) into Chaos' Rim? But then, why haven't they wished themselves back? Mithriel says maybe they did, but it's hard to take good aim from Chaos' Rim -- naturally enough. Also, they may have wound up in several different places, in the Rim or elsewhere.
Dafnord wishes we could send some sort of telemetry in after them. Mithriel offers to do just that, making a Glamour-based construct, like the azure lemur, Blue, whom she conjured. Go for it.
Her first effort blows up in her hand, in a cloud of silvery sparks, but she soon produces a large silver cricket imbued with her own witchwalking talent -- a witchhopper, if you will. She then does the really tricky part: she bilocates it. One instance will go looking, the other will stay here to serve as a homing beacon. Dafnord asks that it be programmed to vanish if it touches a draconian other than Markel's dragon. After that, it's ready to launch.
Mithriel then puts the homing cricket in a conjured cage, dusted with emerald dust from the Metaphor. She puts a shard of emerald (Tom still has lots of expensive shrapnel around) on a conjured chain and hangs it around her neck, as a safety measure should she fall overboard now. Then she successfully launches the cricket into the unknown.
Radically elsewhere, Tom passes through something definitely chaotic. Also airless. And smelling green. Then he's elsewhere again, with something underfoot and, thankfully, air. He's in a dim-lit area. Mirien's voice calls "Hello, Uncle!" He sees that they are both in a rough cave of dark blue-green. Mirien holds a rope in one hand. It's octarine. So the rope is Salimar, who, Mirien tells him, has mostly gone off looking for the cat. The cat arrived at considerable speed, then ricochetted away, into the distance.
Markel and his dragon are here. Tom isn't pleased to see them, nor are they pleased to be here. Tom feels for the cat, telepathically, and learns he and his little egg-ship are lost in grey mists, like unto those of the witchpaths. About then, a very stringy Salimar finds him, grabs the ship, and reels him in.
So now the castaways are all back together. They pool information. Mirien feels that the teal stone is "leakage" from the pantope into here, which she dubs the pantope's basement, or maybe attic. Tom feels around and concurs that the rock feels both pantope-like and chaotic.
He and Mirien evolve the following theory: The pantope Emerald Metaphor was created by Tom using a psychic patterning to impose his will on Chaos' Rim. What if the chaos was, in some sense, still there, underlying the pattern? And suppose that psilencers don't just fail to work in the pantope, producing radiation instead, but punch holes in the pattern? Maybe the radiation is just bleed-through from the chaos.
Oh, and Markel and his dragon are probably here because they use qui-based psi, which is multi-dimensional in nature.
In any case, as the person most closely attuned to the pantope, Tom is the logical person to try leading the effort to get back. Any witchwalkers who want to help push are welcome to do so. The castaways form a sort of conga line, with Tom at the front, and he starts pushing at a likely point on the wall.
The wall bends in, forming a sort of vacuole, very slowly, like a bubble in tar. Hard work. They push away for a bit, until--
Runyana is here. Tom invites her to join the effort and they resume pushing. Then--
--a silver cricket shows up. Mirien picks it up and announces that it's from Mithriel. "That's m'girl," Tom grunts, continuing to push. (Making bugs was a childhood amusement that Tom taught Mithriel.) Mirien announces that the cricket is a token, to lead us back. Tom takes it and uses it in that capacity. Everybody helps.
The castaways are back. Tom vows to place a sign reading "No psilence beyond this point" at the pantope portals, then sets to work fixing the raw spots. He does one, but Mithriel observes how weary and unsteady he is, and quietly casts a sleep on him. Tomorrow will do for the rest.
Everyone evacuates the pantope to recover in the ranch house, except for Gannar, who knows not to approach any raw spots and is, in any case, one of the most solidly mundane people in the party. He stands guard, reading books and chatting with passers-by, for several hours.
Mithriel takes the opportunity to stab a tiny dart of emerald into Robbie. (Ow.) That way, if he ever falls through a hole in the pantope, he'll have a link back. After all, he's the fellow who keeps hanging about the holes, putting warning tape on them.
Eventually, it's breakfast time. Dafnord has had a full night in the autodoc, everyone's nerves are more or less recovered, and Robbie recommends Tom install a timelock detector in the helm computers of the Metaphor. Timelock is probably what made us start tumbling overboard just then. Tom readily agrees.
With all due caution, Tom goes back into the pantope and fixes the remaining raw spot. He looks around and finds three more on the, as it were, far side -- probably echoes of the original three. He fixes them. The pantope now appears to be, um, seaworthy. Chaosworthy. Whatever.
We decide not to go straight back to the battle scene that (probably) caused this little episode. Instead, we just continue loading people from N'Tabo Bey's area of faux-African Yazatlan. Days pass. This ship gradually fills up. Sometimes, fights break out among the passengers. We have the nephilim organize patrols among themselves, and move populations around to keep enemies away from each other.
After some time, a nephila named Rose mentions to Katrina that the Kitsu seem unusually cheerful, compared to the other groups. Katrina mentions this to N'Tabo Bey, and asks why. Probably because none of their enemy, the N'Butu, are aboard. They might even think the N'Butu have been left behind.
This causes us to remember the N'Butu leaders. They are on board. In a brig. For some time. We-- Well, we more or less forgot them. They were not model guests, or even model prisoners. But Dafnord decides we'd better sort them out now, so, guarded by Robbie, Markel, and Gannar, he goes down to their brig.
We enter. They look mopey. "Welcome to day 37 of your captivity," Dafnord says, then asks them if they are ready to cooperate with the Exodus effort. They were ready weeks ago, they inform us grumpily. We collect a (the?) chief and one bodyguard, just like last time with the Kitsu, and take him up to the reception area. On the way, a Pemnal crawls by on the wall and hands Dafnord a note. It is a security report, listing the weapons the chief and his bodyguard have secreted about their persons. Well done.
The N'Butu leader guides us to the main encampment of his people, where they've been accumulating because the Kitsu are keeping them from getting to the pickup points. (Just as the N'Butu have been keeping the Kitsu away from their pickup points. William Blake had nothing on these people for fearful symmetry.) We open the tunnel and out goes the away team: the chief, his bodyguard, Daphne, Dafnord, Mithriel, Runyana, and Braeta.
As soon as they are out on Yazatlan, a human-faced bird flies up to Daphne and pipes, "Danger! Ambush!" Flying higher, Daphne spots a herd of wild cattle stampeding into the N'Butu encampment. In seconds, there will be a collision, with loads of people getting trampled. The cattle are being driven by three big cats of some sort.
Robbie and Markel fly down the tube to join Daphne, off to kill or stun the cats. Mithriel joins them aloft, and tells them about the medicine man in the trees, orchestrating the whole disaster.
Mithriel sets about building a wall of felled cattle to impede the stampede. The other three go after the cats and the shaman. Daphne shoots him with her arrows just as he casts a fireball at her. Her barkskin charm protects her, though, and now he's just got her mad. She directs the nearest tree to grab him. It does so, though he immediately sets it aflame.
Robbie stuns more bovines, to add to the cattle-wall. Markel zooms in and tries to track the shaman, but without success. Daphne rendezvous with the little bird-man and tells him to set the local fays to catching the shaman.
Meanwhile, back at the tunnel, the chief has been recognized moments ahead of the stampede panic. He and the other warriors are just barely keeping the exodus from turning into a rout. Even so, lots of people are running away in random directions. Runyana casts some glamour to make the surrounding trees appear to rise up and close in, hoping to herd people back.
But then the fays arrive. In bulk, and in force. They are making for the tunnel mouth, not waiting for the humans and nephilim to get in, the way they usually do. They know the locals and figure it will take far too long for them to pack themselves aboard. Many of the fays are looking big and nasty for the occasion.
Mithriel moves between the fays and the humans. To keep them apart, she casts more glamour. The fays behold impenetrable forest and the humans behold a wall of fire. Tom hastily moves the tunnel mouth in front of the fays and, as soon as the tunnel is clear of humans, begins loading them, making the tunnel wider as he does so.
Meanwhile, the N'Butu are left in mid-exit. The warriors are furious. Dafnord just shouts a refrain: "Everyone will be taken." Braeta tries to break things up with a lightning bolt, but only zaps herself, adding to the panic and causing the chief to divest himself of his suddenly very hot concealed weapons. The panic level rises.
Dafnord hustles Braeta to a sickbay on the Tellemataru, and Katrina sets the fays aboard the ship to organizing the ones just now arriving. On planet, Gannar and Robbie show up at the N'Butu pickup point and start directing traffic back to where the tunnel will eventually be. Their (now naked) chief assists. It's still pretty much a mob scene.
Then N'Tabo Bey arrives. With a little help from elven glamour, he appears as a twenty-foot giant and cries out, in amplification, "My children, stop!" This, plus millennia of nephilite charisma, works. People stop and allow themselves to get organized.
Once the fay are all aboard, we start loading N'Butu. We suddenly realize that our people have had to dash off to various emergencies leaving no one in the reception area. Well, not no one. The Gargoyle. Of course, most people think he's a statue and the ones who don't aren't reassured. Nor is he glib with the greetings and directions. Dafnord heads back, despite the doctor's warning that he, too has had quite an electric shock and should not strain his heart.
It is now 1:20, local solar time. That means, not far away, it's time for--
We've heard that explosion and felt this earthquake before, from earlier in our twistyx timeline. But we're closer now, and it's worse. We still aren't sure what causes it, but it can't be good. To avoid the earthquake, our folk loft -- Mithriel and Runyana, taking N'Tabo Bey with them, then Gannar and Robbie. Off in the forest, where he is once more trying to track the shaman, Markel tries to loft. But something lands on him.
Tune in tonight...
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.