Chapter 111: Mage Hunt, Part VI
We left our heroes trying to eliminate the Kitsu mages and their
assistants who are hindering our evacuation of the N'Butu. A pair of
problems left unresolved in the previous episode were a fellow calling
lightning down on a bunch of N'Butu, and a largish congregation of Kitsu
warriors gathered about someone who looked like the Kitsu chief.
Looking over the lightning-caller from the convenient vantage of freeze-frame, Tom recommends rigging up a lightning rod to divert the lightning from the N'Butu to somewhere else, e.g. the guy who called for it. True, the lightning rod would have to be invisible, shielded against clairvoyant detection, and erected some time before anyone walked into that part of the woods, but we can do all that.
So we drop the window on Yazatlan and open a door back at our ranch. Dafnord strides in, yelling for Drumthortle. (Drumthortle, you may recall, is the dwarf accidentally (or "accidentally") left behind by his fellows, whom we have put to work excavating a new sub-basement for us.) We find that he's happily busy with his work, and has excavations of Carlsbad proportions. In fact, we've caught him in the middle of moving a backup generator (the size of an RV) into position, in a cavern that must, we reckon, have been dug out of the hill behind the house, from underneath. He's moving it with his own muscle power, a small but very sturdy dolly, and two dwarfbred ponies he has somehow acquired.
Robbie feels that, even though things seem to be going well, this is inadequate. He calls up Jumping Jacks and asks for a 24-ton grav pallet. (For Drumthortle tells us that all this excavation is more or less Cantrel's idea.) Drumthortle doesn't look like he really wants it, but no doubt he will find it handy later.
Meanwhile, we want that cable. Five-centimeter-thick copper, about thirty meters long. Drumthortle will have to fetch it from "Secondary HQ 2" (not to be confused with Secondary HQ 1). Dafnord follows him through the corridors, and notices the faint scurrying noises out in the shadows just past the electric lights. What are those? "Oh. Er, um, that would be some of the lads, sir." And why do "the lads" want to stay out of the light? "They, ah, lack proper paperwork, sir." I bet. And does Cantrel know about them? Drumthortle mumbles something about "plausible deniability." Ah, of course. Well, let's have a look at "the lads."
These turn out to be an extremely motley crew of gnomes, bogarts, kobolds, and miscellaneous hobgoblins -- the sort of things, er, folk you tend to find in the lower echelons of any dwarven community. Or so Tom tells Dafnord, after getting Dafnord's slightly worried telepathic call. (Which he answers immediately. Dafnord hardly ever initiates telepathy.)
Drumthortle, Dafnord, and "the lads" eventually reach a stockpile of gargantuan spools, the sort you sometimes see lying about under power lines, unguarded because no one could steal them without heavy machinery. And indeed, our thirty meters weigh in at over a metric ton. But Drumthortle and Dafnord constitute heavy machinery in themselves, and soon have a loop of the stuff, rolled down the dark halls by a troop of "the lads."
After we get the stuff aboard the pantope, we all knock off for a night's sleep at the ranch, followed by breakfast. (Jet-lag is as nothing compared to the time-lag from a pantope.)
The next day, we open a door back on Yazatlan, in the forest where the lightning is going to strike, but three hours beforehand. After much straining of muscles and TK, and careful arrangement to avoid any paths that anyone is going to tread, we have the whole thing suspended in the air on TK, invisible, cloaked, and ready.
We then return to the pantope and switch back to the moment we discovered the man calling down lightning on his foes. Who now have a lightning rod over their heads. Leading to him.
Even with the lightning rod, N'Butu go flying, scattering paraphernalia. But the lightning caller is replaced by a small glassy crater. No one is hit by the molten copper.
We then go back to "normal" evacuation mode. Dafnord steps out of the tunnel-in-the-air and cries, "Fear not!" This has the normal effect of reducing the audience to abject jelly. Some of the pluckier N'Butu throw sharp things at him, but he's heavily armored and protected by Daphne's barkskin spell. "Stop! The Exodus has begun!" he tries. They're too scared to move. Finally, when Runyana, Mithriel, Kate, and Daphne show up, the can be herded into the tunnel. Dafnord pulls quaintly vicious weapons out of his chest.
Now, how about that group of a dozen, being addressed by the "Kitsu chief"? Robbie has a very simple solution: open a gate directly under them, into vacuum, e.g. high orbit over Destine. (Robbie is, or was, a robot from the Classical Line, where history resembles the fiction of the United Earth line, but he obviously cares nothing for Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.) We uneasily agree.
Soon, the pantope is empty except for Tom and Kate, in space suits, and Robbie and Gannar, who can do without air. The portals are suitably enlarged and set, sealed together with ectoplasm to prevent air leakage. The result of this portal configuration is that we can't watch while the suction goes on, so we'll just run it for fifteen seconds and see what happens...
What happened was that the "Kitsu chief" turned out to be the shapeshifter mage, as we more than half suspected. Being somewhat precognitive, he tried to escape just before the last moment by turning into a large bird, but this didn't help. Everyone else was blown out into space. Three of them, though, had teleport amulets and the native wit to use them. Unfortunately, they teleported right back to where they had been. Fortunately, two of them were able to grab the edge of the portal and scrabble out. Unfortunately, one couldn't and re-teleported just as the portal snapped shut.
We look out to see a lot of disarranged trees, bare dirt, and two and a half Kitsu. The half dies immediately. The other two are too stunned to do anything when Kate and Robbie step out and finish them off with blasters.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.