Chapter 104: Alarums and Confusions
We left our heroes trying to load the main body of N'Butu tribesmen, despite various "natural" disasters by Kitsu shamans aimed at preventing this.
Markel was last seen tracking one of these shamans in the woods, when he suddenly registered "!!!" on the telepathy net and fell off it. Mithriel, Kate, and Daphne all start trying to zero in on him, using dowsing and tracking skills. Finally, Mithriel gets a bearing on him. Robbie, Gannar, and Runyana join her and find Markel under a tree that fell on him, probably naturally, as a side-effect of the earthquakes. Robbie drags him off to sickbay in the Tellemataru.
Meanwhile, our crowd of N'Butu was further scattered by the earthquake just mentioned. And there's one forest fire nearby and what's probably a second a little further off. Both of these are over designated pickup points, N'Tabo Bey points out.
By now, the N'Butu are hopelessly scattered, and our efforts at driving or luring them fail, or make matters worse. The succeeding earthquakes certainly do, as does the resulting chasm in the earth and the new mountain that thrusts up soon thereafter.
Is this draconian attack? No, N'Tabo Bey thinks it is shaman nephilim of the Kitsu, doing everything they can to doom the N'Butu. Tom tries to feel for their presence psychically, but they vanish away -- cloaked or teleporting.
Robbie locates a clearing near an old outcrop of rock, where Tom finds recent psi signatures. We call over Salimar for a retrocognition. She reveals a dark-skinned man in robes, of medium height but very heavy build, craggy looking, almost hunch-backed. He carries a crooked staff tipped with an uncut crystal. In the retrocognitive vision, he scowls and punches his staff into the ground, causing the forest to shake. He smiles, touches the outcrop of rock, and soaks into a darker part of the rock-face.
Very interesting. N'Tabo Bey thinks this is a legendary figure of the Kitsu, whom he's heard of. He is an old god-king of the Kitska, the ancestors of the Kitsu. And he's probably dedicating himself to preventing the escape of the N'Butu, as are the other Kitsu magic-workers. They aren't interested in escape for themselves. (What if they're witchwalkers? we ask. Our own witchwalkers opine that, even then, they couldn't get out of Yazatlan's pocket universe. Pockets are hard to escape.)
We leave the panicking masses, adjourn to the pantope, and cut the connections to Yazatlan. Now we can pause and reflect. The only way Tom can think of to gather the panicking N'Butu is "pixie leading." He asks Daphne if the fays we've picked up could oblige. She undertakes to make inquiries. The rest of us ask around to see if any nephilim have similar talents.
The results are frustrating. There are plenty of pixie-type fays who could lead people around in the woods, but not en masse; it's more of a one-on-one activity, and besides, many of them either don't like mortals (or N'Butu ones) or would be tempted to have "too much fun" with them. We turn up one nephila, who says she's willing but could only do a few dozen at a time.
We give up for now. Maybe we will meet someone able and willing later. After all, we're not half done with our pickup (we reflect with some dismay). Let's just slog on to the next pickup point on our list -- the one under a mysterious pall of smoke, suggesting forest fire.
We take a look and find a small war party, being harassed by even smaller groups of Kitsu. We decide to try and pick them up the simple way -- just open the gate and march out, armed and armored. Most of us vow to eschew grenades, but not Dafnord. No, he has to try a couple of stun grenades again. But when he tries to chuck them through the portal, Tom accidentally turns it off instead of opening it from window mode to door mode. This leaves Dafnord with two live grenades in his hands. He chucks them out into the corridors of the Tellemataru, zapping a hapless Pemnal that was passing by just then. It falls off the wall, unconscious.
Now that we've got that out of our system, we try it again, without grenades, ignoring the Gargoyle's whimpering. Tom opens the portal. Robbie sends an eye through. An arrow comes whistling in. Hmph. Dafnord has Mithriel send an image of N'Tabo Bey out to them, but they shoot at it, calling things like "Begone, apparition!" "We won't fall for that one again!" and "Trickster!" Sounds like we're up against (other) impersonators. More arrows rain in.
Dafnord goes through in person. More threats and sharp objects. But eventually the N'Butu realize he's the goods and start piling in. An arrow lodges in the throat of the current party leader. We hustle him in, and to sickbay. Alarmed N'Butu start shooting at Dafnord in their confusion, until their own wizard whacks them with his staff. The N'Butu wizard and Runyana carry some casualties aboard.
A flight of arrows comes arcing in from the bushes. Dafnord shoots at them with his blaster, which is showy but not very effective. Robbie locates the Kitsu archers with a remote eye.
Mithriel joins the fray, along with Markel. They spot an image of N'Tabo Bey fading in and shouting "Come on! This way!" to the N'Butu. We've encountered our impersonator. Dafnord spots the wizard himself, hiding next to a tree. He shoots him, causing no harm but disrupting the glamour. That's okay; Mithriel gets in the next shot and fells him.
A general fire fight rages for a few seconds (which feel like many minutes). Markel spots someone standing a little away, staff in hand. He shoots at him, and his bow string snaps, cutting him. Runyana shoots with her blaster, which blows up in her hand. Dafnord launches an attack and gets a fireball for his trouble. Mithriel shoots at this guy and her gun explodes.
Anyone reminded of grenades? It's him. We retreat, with some N'Butu, cut the connection, and seek out medical help.
On reflection, we suspect that only the fireball was a real attack by "Mr. Lucky." Everything else reeked of timelock. In particular, all the area attacks (grenades) that would have taken him out failed. We've probably already encountered him, at a later point in his career, and so can't take him out now.
Fine. We'll wait.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.