Chapter 33: Ascent of Orodthil
We left our heroes in Lanthil, having just encountered Mithriel as the elf-in-charge left behind at the construction site after everyone else left for the Second Council, back at Vinyagarond in Faerie. Tom invites her to come along on our mission to Chaos' Rim. Dafnord seconds it.
She mulls this over. She'd certainly like to, and we clearly need a real witchwalker with us, not just this cat. And dwarves don't really need a lot of direction -- you just point them at the construction project and pull the trigger. On the other hand, the Marginalia presently need a lot of looking after. They are not used to this place yet and tend to get lost a lot. The elves (de facto headed by Mithriel at the moment) try to keep a lookout for them.
All in all, Mithriel feels she should stay, though she'd gladly trade off with one of the other "Daughters," e.g. her sister Mirien, or Daewen the Younger (who is her mother's clone), or Glorian (who is really Daewen's granddaughter and thus Mithriel's niece). But, lacking any of those folk, she'll stay here.
The next step is to figure out which way we go from here. Tom is wearing an ultra-tech "wristwatch" identical to those we encountered long ago in the pantope days, which gives the local time and also your hyperspatial coordinates. It was wished onto his wrist in the middle of the Battle of Chaos' Rim (or of the Lilim, or whatever we want to call it). Thus it is a product of Chaos' Rim and should make a good token for dowsing the direction to the Rim.
Tom dowses and gets a leading straight "upstream" along the falls to the top of the mountain. But we've been at the top of this mountain; there's a pretty lake there, but no Chaos' Rim. So it rather looks like we'll have to go further up. That lake is filled by a luminous cataract falling out of the cloudy sky; it gives Lanthil (elvish "lightfall") it's name. Do we have to ascent the cataract?
We discuss methods of ascent. Tom suggests a balloon, buoyed up by lighter-than-air ectoplasm. He has never seen such stuff, but tries to produce some and succeeds, at least for a beach-ball-sized object. Robbie then tries to rez up something similar, with a basket. but finds it has either way too much or way too little buoyancy, and a funny hysteresis to its lift as he adds and removes test rocks. The local continuum is probably rather vague on its physics.
We also consider a rigid vacuum chamber of sufficient buoyancy, on the model of Prof. Cadwallader's "electro-ballast." The cat wants to try strapping a slice of buttered bread to its back, on the theory that, since bread always lands butter-side down and cats always land on their feet, strapping bread on his back butter-side-up will make him hover in the air, gracefully revolving. This suggestion is greeted with silence.
Robbie points out that we can make it all much simpler by just shrinking people. If necessary, they can all ride up on Tom in his eagle shape. Robbie and Gannar can also fly indefinitely, and help carry miniature companions. Maybe the gargoyle can too.
Kate and Dafnord point out that only Tom needs to go up the spout, but of course it would be nice to have some folk around for backup in case of trouble, not to mention that everyone has probably been making mental shopping lists of things to wish up in Chaos' Rim. The cat would like a new egg, for instance. Salimar points out that, in such a dimensionally dicey environment, she is the logical one to be the main hub for the telepathy net.
Well, we can probably make shift. First, let's just climb this mountain. The sky of Lanthil is presently an even, cloudy, pale gray, with no day or night, but we spend what must be a very long day making the ascent, with good climbers and levitators helping out the more earth-bound. The gargoyle, between wings and stone claws, does fine, but at one point tries to shapeshift into a shape with a better grip. It fails, but we never knew it could shapeshift! As we go, we keep an eye out for where a trail could be blazed, to make later ascents easier.
Eventually, we get to the top and find another expanse of forest. We enter it at the point where the nearby lake spills out into the waterfalls that stream down the mountainside. We walk along the shore of the lake a bit, then stop for dinner and sleep. It hardly feels like night, though, because we are in plain sight of the luminous cataract.
At the far end of the lake, the land rises up some more, into a ridge that forms the "back" of the mountain. While we admire the view, Dafnord spots what looks like a human figure diving off a point halfway up the ridge, into the lake. Salimar launches a clairvoyant viewpoint after it, but it's too far away. We leave the mystery for tomorrow, set up camp, and sleep.
Next morning, Tom takes a new dowsing and is surprised and relieved to find it now points back, toward that ridge. We don't have to fly into the sky after all. We could walk around the lake, but it is shorter to cross it, so Robbie rezzes up a raft. Brunalf the cat, recall, is able to see the flittery things that all cats can see, which mark witchpaths. He now notes there are great braids of them streaming around the cataract. Tom, for his own reasons, conjures up four wine bottles, complete with labels ("Lanthil, Year 1"), and fills them from the lake.
Heading back into the tent to fetch something, Tom almost trips over a handle on one of the rugs. Handle? This tent, with its furnishings, is magical, loot from an adventure in an Arabian Nights setting. That rug with the handle is a ... flying carpet. We could have flown the lot of us up the mountainside at any time. It's just been so long since we needed a flying carpet, Tom had simply forgotten about it.
Tom decides not to tell anyone. And, since he's going to be on the telepathy net a lot today, he edits his memory to forget all about this for a while. (But not so much as to misplace the carpet again.)
During the "night," Robbie had little to do and happened to scan the cataract in infrared and ultraviolet. It glows in both of them. Robbie begins to wonder if it's radioactive. He asks Salimar to check it out with her alien senses. Nothing obviously dangerous, but when she cups some of the water in her hand, she notes that it is not viscous, but is still easier to hold onto than regular water. And, while it certainly isn't alive, it is, um, livelier than ordinary water. If she gives it a bit of a psi ping, it sort of echoes. And it takes glamours very well.
We get in the raft and head toward the rise at the other end of the lake. (We arbitrarily call this direction "north.") We skirt the cataract itself, of course, and, once it is behind us, take another dowsing. It still points forward to the rise, not, for instance, back to the cataract. Good.
As we approach, Dafnord spots a triangular patch of yellow, up on the hillside, near where the diver launched from. Eventually, we reach the shore. The hillside is no cliff, but it's steep. Clearly, jumping from that point up there is a prodigious piece of diving. Robbie launches his third eye, then himself. We raise the telepathy net.
The patch of yellow turns out to be a tent of some golden cloth. A gold rope leads from it, down the steep hillside, to the water. Hovering at the tent, Robbie calls, "Hello? ... Anybody home?"
"Who goes there?" replies a voice in the tone of one who had thought themselves alone. An eye peers out of the tent flap.
"I'm Robbie," Robbie answers, still hovering. "Are you alone?" the voice, female, asks. "I have some friends below." "Who?" "Tom, Dafnord, Kate--"
At this point, the flap opens and out walks a knock-down-drag-out gorgeous elf maiden, clearly related to Mithriel and Daewen. It is, in fact, Mirien, Mithriel's twin sister. (Fraternal, not identical. Mirien is platinum blond and gorgeous, whereas Mithriel is black-haired and ravishingly lovely.) "They sent Uncle Tom for me?" she asks, somewhat aghast.
"Uh, no, we're all off to Chaos' Rim."
"Oh! What fun." She's relieved. Clearly, she'd be just as relieved if we were going to hell in a handbasket. And there are similarities.
Robbie goes on asking questions. What's the golden chord for? (For climbing up after diving into the lake.) What's she doing here? (Um, hiding? No, she decides that's not right. More playing hookey.)
She asks questions back. Why does a quest for Chaos' Rim take us her way? (We dowsed for it and it pointed this way.) She is disconcerted to realize that she is the closest person in Lanthil to Chaos, even if she's only closest by about three meters (the distance from her to Robbie). On the other hand, she decides this lets her re-define "playing hookey" has "standing sentinel." Yes, that sounds much better. Um, er, have we seen Glorian about? (No. Why?) What do we know about recent events?
By "recent events," she almost certainly means something to do with the unending stream of refugees from Lanthil that the Daughters keep emptying into Daewen's lap. Robbie says, "We know about the last 500," whom we heard of from Mithriel yesterday.
Ah. Well. Mirien explains that she is up here so as to be well outside the blast radius when her mother Daewen finds out about what comes after that last 500. It's Glorian's fault, not hers, but it's best to be safe. So Glorian and Daewen the Younger aren't back yet? (No.) Good.
At this point, the rest of the crew start ferrying up the hillside by various means. Once we are all up, We have a picnic supper by her tent. Tom introduces Braeta and the gargoyle, and explains about the interstellar slave raids of dragonfolk on demigods. and Mirien asks what we're traipsing off to Chaos for. She supposes it must be part of a brave and desperate plan.
Tom explains he hopes to make a pantope, so as to rescue the demigods. Mirien listens with mounting horror. "Ah," she amends doubtfully, "a clever, brave, desperate plan." Tom shrugs. It's rather like one of the raids to rescue elves, that Daewen and now her daughters make on Worldbender Middle-Earth. The comparison makes Mirien very uneasy, especially when she learns that Tom has not figured out where to rescue the demigods to.
Her mounting horror peaks when she realizes we are going to tangle with Chaos' Rim with no more dimensional aid than the cat's sight and a pocketful of ponies (presently miniaturized). She figures that, if she just lets us wander off unsupervised, she will get in even more trouble than if she comes along, and we certainly need a witchwalker. She'll come with us.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.