We left our heroes exploring the Great Cave, seeking a way through the portal, to check out any possible elfblood refugees that might be on the other side. We decided it was probably only usable at the right moment of dawn, so we went back to the ship and slept.
In the morning, we check out the refugees we've already got. The bogies, who were locked in a cabin, have made themselves comfortable by dragging the bed clothes under the bed and making a nest there. They didn't appear to notice being locked in. They are very happy to get breakfast.
Experimentally, Tom drops the stray cat into the autodoc for another examination. Last time, the autodoc couldn't even do a chemical analysis on it. Now, it has changed so much, the autodoc doesn't even recognize it as the same creature. It is now clearly biological, with internal organs and all, though still nowhere near Terran in biology. Tom rather hopes the cat and the bird and the bogies will all eventually turn into regular organisms, so this is a good sign.
The gargoyles, on the other hand, don't look like they have much normality potential. One is still looking stone-like, at the airlock where it was left. The other has gone missing. Braeta finds it perched on the roof of the children's cabin, leaning over the corner in the approved style of a gargoyle on a cornice. Brunalf gets up there, sans egg, to check it out. The gargoyle turns out to be much more mobile than Brunalf expected and decides to check him out. After edgily circling and being circled, Brunalf calls in Tom. Tom tries various languages on it, asking "Do you understand me?" Maybe.
It understands the word "food," and opens its beak in response. It also seems to renew its interest in Brunalf when the topic of food is brought up, so Tom takes it down to the galley, where he has the autochef whip up a simple slab of meat, which is gratefully received. As we head off to try the Cave again, the gargoyle wants to come, too. Well, okay.
We arrive in the forest, at the cave mouth, shortly before dawn. Salimar does a retrocog for recent traffic. The vision shows:
A teenaged boy comes running up, with some long, thin, burden. He hides behind a tree. A slightly older youth runs up with bow and arrow. A third figure, a girl, runs into view and enters the cave. Then two adult figures in long, hooded cloaks, herding several children before them. Then two men and a woman show up and station themselves on guard as the first two youngsters go in. Then they go in, leaving everyone in the cave -- five adults, three teens and a mess of kids.
Markel consults the Map of Here at a more detailed scale and sees that the interior of the cave is all blue, the color of "elfhill effect" on the map key. There is a brighter spot of blue at the back of the cave.
We enter and see the light of dawn projecting a triangle on the back of the cave, not quite hitting the engraved triangle on the wall. Evidently, this isn't just the right day. We hed for the bright spot on the map and try saying "Sanctuary" as we have before. Nothing obvious happens, but the psi-sensitive feel a little click. Brunalf tries steering his egg-ship into the spot, but only smacks into the back wall and gets himself dowsed with safety foam.
We then try various people doing various things -- spinning clockwise, saying "sanctuary" and "home" and "Aelvis" (the name of the king buried in the cave) in various languages. Nothing. Tom tries using his Knack of Tools on any nearby magic, seeking information. He feels there is some preparation we need to be making.
Robbie suggests we join hands (or paws) in a circle and say "Sanctuary." We do, and the entry spot fades to Brunalf's perception. How odd.
We have Salimar do another retrocognition. After some struggling -- there's some clairvoyance cloaking in here -- she produces a vision of three figures forming a triangle around the others, who vanish. The remaining three then come together, join hands, and conjure a glow. They then vanish from the feet up, raising their hands, which are the last to go. At the end, there is a burst of aurora.
Salimar is exhausted and goes off to coagulate.
Tom, Kate, and Braeta then try to replicate the trio's performance. They fail. Brunalf tries again, and is able to slowly drive his egg out of sight. With Markel pushing, it eventually vanishes. Tom follows on rope, as is now standard. He finds himself in dimness -- cold dimness. And he can't see the cat.
Back in the visible world, the gargoyle is sniffing about looking for Tom, whom it seems to have taken as its favorite human. Robbie tries telling the gargoyle "Fetch!" but it just looks confused. Grabbing the rope, Markel follows Tom into the cold, resisting limbo.
In that limbo, Tom has caught up with the cat. "Are we there yet?" he inquires. "Quiet," says Brunalf, "or I'm turning this egg around and heading right back." Sounds pretty good to Tom, actually, because it's perishing cold in this brand of nowhere.
Suddenly, it's lonely, too, because the resistance snaps Markel back to the visible world. Groping about the cave psionically, Salimar and Kate find the spells that opened, then shut the way. Robbie feels around with his cyberclair and fails, but comes near enough to succeeding that he recommends Braeta give it a try. She is bemused, but agrees. Soon, Robbie and Braeta have an amazing psychic jerryrig letting them try to analyze and maybe hack the spellware here. There are three subsystems, forming a security set-up. Braeta hurts herself trying to hack it, leaving Robbie to try again.
Back in limbo, it gets so cold, the cat turns back. Now he and Tom are hustled out. They pop out right where Robbie is examining the spellware, but miraculously do not collide with him for once. We pool our recent experiences and try various things.
Finally, we try psilence, thus stymying the security spells. The cat and egg now vanish without difficulty. Tom, however, cannot follow. We soon run out of rope, tug on it to notify the cat, and bring him back.
But it's a quick matter to get more rope from the ship. The cat sets out again and ultimately comes to the far side of limbo. What a surprise: more trees. Autumnal colors, and a brook with fish (which naturally interests him) and generally a very pleasant landscape with no sign of habitation. He reaches the end of his rope, returns, and reports.
Turning it over in our minds, we give it up. The refugees have gone to a place that looks pretty good and were a more-or-less organized party with adults, not tiny numbers of semi-helpless children. They can take care of themselves.
We then go back to the other elfblood bolt holes and do belated retrocogs on them, too. The Three Trees, there was a similar adult-led evacuation of children. At the Five Hills, there were no children involved, just young, athletic-looking adults, very disciplined in action. Six went in; three came out, armored and equipped with weapons and what are probably magic staves. Presumably, they went and joined in the fighting.
So that appears to take care of all the loose ends. What to do next? Our basic mission is scouting. We can do one of two things:
If we go ahead, we go into totally unknown enemy territory, with a heavily-damaged ship and a mess of refugees aboard. If we back off now, we can go get the Munch repaired, and then go back to Faerie to report to Daewen and discharge our refugees. We decide to do that.
We ascend to a parking orbit and wait three days for Edvard to complete repairs to the Munch to the best of his ability. We then zot off into hyperdrive, headed for Philippia of a century in the future, which is where the Munch was made. The time-trip takes two weeks.
On the way, the gargoyle appears to become fond of Tom, who is the one who feeds it after all. Mentally, it seems to be like a bright dog. The bogies, the stray cat, and the parrot all become steadily more Terran in morphology, but only slowly more Terran in chemistry. This does not concern us nearly as much as how to explain bogies and gargoyles (not to mention a dragon) on Philippia.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.