Chapter 28: The War in the Basement
We left our heroes hot on the trails of two spies dispatched from the Patala ambassador's yacht. Robbie and Gannar are flying after one, Tom, in eagle form, is flying after the other. Braeta and Markel, with Brunalf and Angel, riding aircycles, are on intercept to meet Robbie and Gannar, while Katrina and Kate are going to rendezvous with Tom, riding on a pegasus.
Just as Robbie and Gannar are diving down out of the sky on their target, he looks up over his shoulder and dives into a nearby clump of bushes. Interestingly, he gives no infrared image when Robbie shifts to that spectrum. Gannar dives into the clump feet-first. He doesn't land on a spy, but he does find a great big snake that probably was the spy a moment ago. He proceeds to grapple with it. Robbie comes diving in next and casts a wrapping of opaque and airtight ectoplasm around its head. It begins to flail considerably, and to get lumpy, apparently trying to change back to a humanoid form. It develops a hand or so, whips out a dagger, and stabs blindly. Robbie and Gannar continue to grapple. Eventually, it flails its head around a little too much and knocks itself out.
Meanwhile, Tom readies a rather complicated psychic pattern and stoops on his target, falcon-like. He whacks it on the back of its head, doing a little damage and surprising the heck out of it. Simultaneously, he casts his pattern: the spy is now embedded neck-deep in a wad of ectoplasm that looks like lime jello, and a big, luminous, blue-and-yellow arrow of glamour appears in the sky, pointing at the spy. And Tom's voice (done by glamour since Tom can't speak in eagle shape) yells out, "To me, people of Daewen!" over and over. Tom figures that blowing his cover is the first step in foiling a spy.
Braeta and Markel have no trouble noticing Tom and his spy, of course, so they veer off to help, and Braeta zaps the spy with a stunner, knocking him out. Two down.
Tom does a quick memory audit on his spy. They were sent out to locate this new "Lanthil" place and spy it out, or at least spy out Vinyagaerond. Six were sent out, while one remained on the ship. Who are they working for? The record becomes suddenly very hazy.
Robbie and Gannar, meanwhile, have lofted again, flying their catch back to Vinyagaerond. While up in the air, Robbie spots a third spy and relays the information to Kate via the telepathy net. Kate and Katrina fly over and locate the spy. Then Kate dismounts in mid-air because (1) you get a better shot from a non-moving platform and (2) she can levitate, then drops this spy with her stunner. Three down. Three to go.
Brunalf then levitates Tom's spy, green jelly and all, and proceeds to fly it back to Vinyagaerond like a particularly bizarre flying carpet. Those members of the party not otherwise occupied start flying up the course of the new-laid river, looking for more spies.
While he flies, Tom contacts Dafnord back at Vinyagaerond and tells him what they've learned. He asks Dafnord to inform Daewen. Dafnord snags a passing pixie, writes a note, and tells it to deliver the note to Daewen.
Remember the gargoyle? About now, it catches up with Markel and Braeta on their aircycle. Robbie intercepts with them, shows the gargoyle the spy he's caught, and says, "Fetch." The gargoyle happily goes off looking for more draconian spies, and finds one. It stoops on it, like an 800-pound falcon, and not surprisingly wins. It then digs the spy out of the ground and flies off with it, carrying it by one leg. The folk of Patala are tough: the guy is still conscious, however much he might wish otherwise.
Four down, two to go.
Katrina spots one, but she's not on the telepathy net. However, she is in shouting distance of Kate, who is on the net, so the word gets out anyway. In a move worthy of Wagner's best valkyries, the two ladies dive down out of the air, shooting at the spy with stun gun and arrows. (Okay, so valkyries use spears.) On the second run, they get him with the stunner.
We cast about for the sixth spy, but decide it's got too big a lead and soon give up. Braeta meets Tom and tosses his clothes to him; Tom resumes human form, puts the clothes on, and gets on the aircycle with her and Markel and one of the spies. Soon, we are all flying home with our catches.
Back at Vinyagaerond, Dafnord is approached by that grandson of Daewen's, whose name we finally remember is Glorgil, or close to it. "Grandmother expects the boat to land any time now," he says. "What do we know? How threatening are they to Lord Alvirin?" Dafnord tells him we have five of six spies, and are bringing them in. "Do we have a cell?" he asks Glorgil. The young elf sputters; no, we don't. (This is, after all, a private home. People were occasionally sent to their rooms when naughty, but that was it.)
Back on the incoming flight, Tom does a little more memory auditing. He still can't learn who their master is, but he's pretty sure it isn't the Patala ambassador; they were insinuated into the party, as members of the ship's crew. The seventh member, still aboard, "the woman," will "take care of" the discrepancy in numbers, but Tom can't find out how. Nor can he get a list of the magic tricks these spies have, except that the list is long and clearly includes shapeshifting.
Tom dutifully relays all this on the telepathy net, so Dafnord is able to tell Daewen when Glorgil fetches him to her. (Daewen is no stranger to the net, but she has far too much on her mind at the moment to want the intrusions.) Daewen is glad that, since the Ambassador knows nothing of these spies, she need not take offense with him when they are revealed. How to broach the matter? "We found these. Do you know where they belong?" Hmm.
Dafnord now consults with Glorgil for a place to hold the prisoners. He fixes on a store room in the basement, under the kitchens. He telepaths to Brunalf to bring his catch to that room via the nearest door, then goes to fetch psilencers and other equipment. (The nearest door is a back door into the gardens. Several people on the net suppress images of the cat laying its catch on the doorstep in the traditional manner and expecting congratulations in the traditional feline way.)
The cat's route takes it past the tree-houses, over a meadow near the stables, and over a new-made road. As luck would have it, there are half a dozen armed elves coming down the road -- part of the whole diplomatic gallimaufry, no doubt -- who are bemused at the sight of a cat riding a spy-in-aspic through the air. Brunalf tries to be sneaky about this, but it's not easy. A few miles behind, the rest of the party starts to take thought for better cover. Tom begins running up invisibility glamours.
The cat comes sailing in over the back garden, startling the garden gnome. The gnome and several curious elf children gather round. "Can I help you?" asks the gnome, as Brunalf hovers. "I was never here!" the cat insists. "Yes, you were!" the gnome counter-insists. Brunalf flies on. Moments later, Dafnord comes by. "Did you see a cat?" he asks. "He says I didn't." "Which way didn't he go?" "Around back."
Dafnord follows the directions, opens doors for the cat, and soon they are leaving a trail of puzzled fays through the house. They pass a dozen pixies. Dafnord grabs one. They all begin to buzz in agitation. "I only need one," Dafnord tells them. "He'll be fine." He wants a pixie to take messages to Daewen, if necessary. It turns out it might have been better if Dafnord had explained this at the time...
Eventually, Dafnord has the first of his prisoners in a store room, still conveniently unconscious. He turns on the psilence and the ectoplasm vanishes. The cat, who was still standing on said ectoplasm, drops to the floor but of course lands on his feet. Dafnord ties the prisoner up. He then unlimbers his sword, Umbra, and pokes at the spy, trying to wake him up. But Umbra is too sharp for this and just makes a few painless cuts in the fellow's chest.
Dafnord then hears an odd buzzing, almost mumbling, out in the hall. He sends the pixie out to investigate. The sound pauses, then resumes, and the pixie doesn't return. Then there are tapping, dragging noises. With Umbra at the ready, Dafnord opens the door and peaks out. The hallway is filled with a mix of pixies and some other breed of petty-fay -- wingless little guys about a foot high. And they've brought tiny little siege engines that would look cute if they didn't appear so functional. The pixies are mostly mounted on horseflies, or otherwise aloft.
They open fire. Dafnord collects a row of painful darts on one side of his chest, ducks back behind the door, readies his goop-gun, and fires a quick shot out the door, set on wide-angle spray. This is very effective. The whole first rank are glued down. Unfortunately, the second rank is not, and is likewise effective. And they have lots of little lightning balls.
Dafnord decides on a diversionary tactic -- he throws the cat out the door. The cat makes a mad dash through the ranks of the wee folk, but gets caught in the goop and soundly peppered with lighting sparks. Yow!
Dafnord fires goop again, taking out a charging wave of mounted pixies and accumulating a few more darts. He and the pixies trade fire for a while, but some pixies and brownies take time to poke at the cat, who was trying to get un-stuck by TK. Eventually, the cat passes out and is, in fact, mortally wounded.
Seeing this, Dafnord steps out into the hall to retrieve what he supposes he has to call an ally. With blaster set on low, he fires into the ceiling to get everyone's attention. That works, but it doesn't stop the next wave, so he goops it. That produces a pause. The pixies are now demoralized, and the brownies are busy shouting insults at them. They fire a few more darts at Dafnord. "Enough!" shouts Dafnord. "I'm sorry!"
... Oh. Well. In that case...
Hostilities stop, or at least pause. Dafnord steps forward, intending to use Umbra to cut the cat out of the goop. In doing so, he steps out of the psilence--
--and gets hit full in the cortex by the blast of Tom's anger. Tom has been following this by telepathy net, during the interval between the cat getting chucked out the door and getting knocked unconscious. Tom is bleedin' FURIOUS! Here we have a diplomatic crisis of mythological proportions looming, with a whole cabal of dragon-spies in the basement while Daewen plays hostess to the dragon ambassador, with the whole place crawling with security types from Alvirin's court, and Dafnord chooses this time to tick off the pixies! Tom is LIVID.
And you don't run out of breath on telepathy.
Dafnord's own gorge starts to rise, but he swallows it and says, "I'm sorry. You're right." Now he really has to retreat, because he hears another wave of pixies coming. He grabs the cat and retreats. Tom, who doesn't really like being angry, acknowledges the apology and bottles himself up, too.
Dafnord gets back into the store room and discovers he now has an unconscious cat glued to his hand with goop. He's very glad he's not on the telepathy net at the moment.
Tom hurries ahead of the others and finds the corridor full of petty fays. They not only have siege engines, they have little wagons, apparently for the use of itty-bitty medics, who are treating the wounded. Tom meets the glares of the guards and, for maximum effect, slowly brings up an emerald aura around himself. Then, in cold and distinct tones, he proceeds to bawl them all out, and--
The medics interrupt to point out they had nothing to do with it. Right. Point taken. As for the rest of you: Tom points out that the lot of them are here at the wish of either Daewen and Aelvenstar or Lord Alvirin, their ally, and--
"What the hell's going on here?" An important-looking gnome waddles in. He's captain of the royal gnomish guard. He's heard there's a war in the basement. Well, yes, but it's over. We're just mopping up here. A quarrel. No security risk. Really. Now, where was he?
--and Dafnord is a member of Daewen's household. Granted, he was rude, but now you've all had a chance to get your licks in and, as usual, no one is happier for it. So COOL it.
Tom then stomps out to fetch anti-goop solvent, which will be of considerable use to the pixie medics in unsticking their colleagues' wings, and the sleeping-bag-style autodoc for the cat. He meets a group of five fascinated elf children on the stairs, so he sends them instead. They're delighted to get involved and scamper away at top speed.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party has landed invisibly in the garden, with their catch of spies. Tom warns the pixies they're coming. It turns out to be remarkably hard to shuffle through the winding passages of a rambling house, dragging unconscious prisoners, while everyone concerned is invisible. Certainly, if the house is chock full of busy and nervous people, the invisibility gathers attention instead of repelling it. Gannar notes that he fades back in when bumped, so he starts trying to brush the glamour off. The group encounters the elf-children Tom sent off, and a traffic jam ensues. They mutter "excuse us" a lot and get through, leaving the kids to discuss the semantics of declarations like "I just saw a lot of invisible people!" "That's silly," is the rebuttal.
They get there, Tom lifts the invisibility, the wee folk finish getting demoralized, and the prisoners are soon imprisoned.
Now, one member of the party is not here. Katrina went back to the stables, to return her pegasus. She and the pegasus are both still invisible. Tom accordingly heads out to remedy the situation. He runs into Daewen, in formal dress, an elven healer in tow. (Tom sent for one while the invisibles were blundering in.) She verifies that there really was a "war in the basement," but Tom assures her that it's over and he's scolded both sets of billigerents.
Daewen tells Tom that the ambassador has disembarked and been formally greeted. There were no missing people and no signs of illusion. Tom shrugs. He doesn't know how it was done, but don't reptiles lay a lot of eggs? And didn't the spy's memory say the female would "take care of it"? Daewen's eyes widen. "You mean six of the crew might be ... very young?" "It's just an idea."
Well, we'll tell the ambassador about them and ask if he knows where they belong. Dinner at 6:00, as soon as we find some clocks. Dress formal. Tom goes on to the stables.
Back in the store room, Dafnord puts the cat in the bag and starts him healing. He then takes out a set of telepathy patches -- little devices that let you do one-on-one telepathy inside psilence. He then rouses the first prisoner and puts on the patch. He only gets as far as "Who sent you?" Then the prisoner dies.
Four to go.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.