Chapter 5: Pixilated
We left our heroes dispersed, with some in the Munch, some on the ground, and Brunalf and Tom ... seriously elsewhere, in a grey limbo of dubious dimensionality.
Tom finds that the putative ground goes away if he thinks too much about it. He tries striding confidently back along the length of rope leading to the interface at the rock. That makes the ground come back, but he doesn't make a lot of forward progress. TK doesn't help, either.
On the other side, Robbie tries pulling on the rope and gets resistance, but it does come.
Back in limbo, Brunalf regains control of his egg-ship, turns on the lights, and gets a view of brightly illuminated fog. Drat. He and Tom try telepathing at each other, and get a vague sense of each other's presence, but no more. Salimar, back on the other side, can no longer feel the cat.
Brunalf picks a set of bearings and heads off. Tom tries walking some more. This is possibly related to Robbie seeing the rope pull back into the rock face. After a while, Tom starts finding the fog getting gelatinous. Then something bumps into his back. It's Brunalf in his egg. Tom suggests the cat try pushing him forward. Brunalf agrees, but Tom just gets sort of squashed into this gooey fog. Then he smacks something in front. The, ah, inside of the rock face.
With a little more pushing, Tom goes bursting through the rock face, into the unprepared Robbie. The cat's egg-ship goes flying off at a random angle, and Dafnord deftly dodges it. We collect ourselves and pool information. Tom is reminded of the dark chaos attending the city of the Lilim, back "near" Lanthil. Dafnord suggests the jelly-like fog was a sort of anchor, attaching the witchpath to the rock. Brunalf suggests trying again. Tom glares at the cat, but Dafnord thinks it worthwhile. Tom agrees, but wants a real rope this time, not one whipped up from air, like the last one. Markel brings one down.
We tie the rope at one end, then head into the portal again, first Brunalf, then Tom, then Robbie. Brunalf's ship slows down as it transitions, then speeds up again. Tom tries some Dicing as he goes through, and finds it much smoother. Robbie, however, experiences some very novel, very unpleasant sensations in his hands. It goes on and on. His repair circuits start running out of redundancies and make increasingly bitter error messages to him, and he begins to decide this is what humans mean by "hurts."
Tom, on the other side, looks around to see how Robbie is doing and is disconcerted to see the robot's hands glowing the color of pain -- a color Tom hadn't seen before and does not wish to see again. You don't want to look at something that hurts so brightly.
Robbie lets go and backs out. The hurting stops, though damage remains. Dafnord takes Robbie's place and, with a little help by more Dicing from Tom, slips through okay. Tom grabs his hand as he comes through. The two humans follow the cat, who begins to feel there may be walls and things around here somewhere. Soon, they hear a distant scream. Trying to follow it, they find themselves in a foggy cavern rather than a foggy limbo. Tom clairviews ahead and sees bluish light, coming from a bowl on a stone ledge. Below the ledge cowers a small figure in a bundle of rags.
Brunalf moves forward and calls out. No answers. Tom arrives. The cat disembarks and the two approach the little figure, which whimpers. They try purrs and hellos, but no answer. Tom tries a gentle empathic contact and the figure explodes into action, flying at him, kicking and clawing.
Brunalf jumps back in his ship and readies the stunners. Dafnord now comes up and grabs the figure by the scruff of the neck. It starts beating on Dafnord. Brunalf zaps at it, misses, and decks Tom. On the second try, he stuns the assailant.
Dafnord glares at the cat, then examines the find. It's child-sized, possibly a child, but sex and species are indeterminate. Dafnord ties it up in blankets and places it before Brunalf. "If he moves again, stun him. If." He then sets to tending Tom. He feels for contact with Salimar, which is very thready. More exploring reveals only a dead end, but he does spot a faint outline of a door near the bow of light. He makes an X there, with Umbra, then gathers up his kid-in-a-bag, throws the unconscious Tom over a shoulder, and sets back to normal space, cat in the lead.
Eventually, the away team is back together again, with their new specimen. They take it to the autodoc for examination and treatment. Tom recovers. Brunalf keeps out of sight. The autodoc announces the urchin appears to be a little human boy, suffering from shock, trauma, exposure, and malnutrition. Of course, it's very likely the autodoc would not be able to spot any traces of fay or nephil blood. It starts to treat the lad.
Around four hours later, the boy is probably no longer knocked out, but rather sleeping. We have the autodoc wake him gently. Tom, the cat, and Braeta are there to greet him. He goes frantic again, when he wakes. Tom nudges Braeta. She summons some nephilite power, or just the accumulated charisma of thousands of years experience, and tells him, "It's all right." And she's very convincing. The boy stops in mid-scramble, stares at her, then flings himself into her arms, sobbing. She's disconcerted. (Watching through the monitors, Dafnord is mysteriously disappointed that Braeta does not appear to be a child-type person.)
Under Tom's direction, she sits down with the kid in her lap. Tom then gets the cat in her lap, too. The urchin watches intently for a moment, then snatches the cat up, clearly hungry for a teddy-bear fix. Braeta mutters to Brunalf to take his claws out of her thigh...
Tom begins by introducing himself and the others, then asks the boy his name. He's "Ander," and he says he's four but holds up five fingers. He hid in the rock because Mommy told him to hide. He doesn't know where she is, now, nor what the "bad people" looked like. He eagerly accepts a peanut-butter sandwich, then forcibly "shares" a cookie with the cat, who does not much care for it, but bears up under Tom's telepathic direction. Soon, he falls asleep again, and Brunalf boogies for the showers to clean off the crumbs and general rug-rat grot.
After he's been asleep for half an hour, Tom tries a little quiet memory auditing. We learn that his full name is "Leander." He was asleep in bed when Mommy and Daddy and big sister came rushing in, scooped him up, and ran out with him into the dark.
Their home is a ranch-style place off in this part of the countryside. They fled from it. Daddy and sister went one way, Mommy and Leander went another. Mommy took him to the rock, reminded him of how they had "done this before," and urged him into the portal, urging him to stay hidden. Then she went away. All he saw of the attackers were some distant views of manta-like ships. It's hard to get scale on them, or on anything else, because everything looks big when you're four.
The cat, back from the showers, theorizes that the hidey-hole was made for little people, which is why it was so much easier for him and Leander to get in than for anyone else. A close look at the remembered features of "Mommy" show she might have a trace of elven blood. Braeta says it's also possible that Leander might have a trace of nephil in him.
Leander was found at one of two markers on the Map of Here that were labeled "elf-hill-like." We determine to explore the other one. It turns out to be even more rural than the first, in woody, hilly terrain. Our new away team consists of Braeta, Tom, Dafnord, Brunalf, and Markel. Tracking toward the position, we encounter a small clearing, circular, containing a ring of seven standing stones. How classic.
One of the stones looks odd to Brunalf's witchsight. The place looks elven to Tom, "holy" to Braeta. Tom heads out across the circle to Brunalf's odd stone. Or tries to. He finds he cannot summon up the resolution to enter the circle. He tries moving around the circle and promptly gets lost in the trees. We have pixie-paths here, it seems.
After a few more attempts, Robbie joins the group, to try robotic dead reckoning. This might work, if he didn't keep bumping into trees he mysteriously forgot to plot to begin with... In fact, anyone who manages to get at all close to the odd rock tends to forget what they were doing.
Eventually, the cat does manage to get to the right dolmen. Markel then makes it by dint of aiming for the cat, not the rock. He hits the cat. Yowl! The egg-ship loses power and thuds to the ground.
Tom feels around for psychic triggers and such. No, just lots of very subtle, deep stuff. No surprise. Dafnord suggests Braeta try it. She is somewhat pixie-led, too, but eventually gets there. Then Tom tries the trick of walking to the cat, not the rock. Eventually, we all get there. Consulting the Map of Here, we find the whole clearing marked by a pale green aura, with a blue marker for the rock, labeled "similar to elf-hill effect."
Brunalf looks around with his witchsight. He stares at the dolmen for a long time. ... Eventually, Tom nudges him. Oh! Right, right... You know, from this angle, the rock almost looks convex, not concave. He powers up his egg and starts to slide into it. Tom ties a rope to the egg-ship and hands the other end to Robbie. Then we prepare to enter, marching order being Brunalf, Tom, Markel, Braeta, then Robbie and Dafnord at the end.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.