Week 52: The Flying Tigers
We left our heroes in the act of disembarking the pantope for an expedition into the Kaf in search of Robbie's soul. Just as they are through the portal and Tom is about to close it, a pixie flits out of the tent in the pantope and through the portal. The portal snaps shut. The pixie hovers there, over a snowy mountain trail that certainly wasn't there when she came in to the tent, shivering. She is hanging onto a bag of loot, contrived from a scarf she found in the tent.
Dafnord pulls his goop gun and points at her. "Hover!" he orders. (He'd say "stand" but...) The pixie tries to duck behind Kate. Katrina grabs for it and misses. Dafnord then goops her out of the air as she makes an aerial dash for more cover. The pixie and her loot-bag fall into the snow.
Dafnord plucks her out and interrogates her. Her name is Daphne, and she says she was "camping" in the tent. What else do you do with a tent? She doesn't even try to claim to be a member of the pixie guard that was posted at Vinyagarond. She is, obviously, a petty thief. (Well, it's probably grand theft on her scale.) The scarf is full of candy and costume jewelry.
Dafnord and Gannar confer briefly on what to do with her. We probably couldn't chase her away if we wanted to, not without a lot of trouble, and anything more drastic seems un-called-for. So we sigh, officially give her the loot, de-goop her (which adds to the general chill factor), and toss her into the flying egg with the cat, to keep her warm.
The gargoyle, meanwhile, has been having troubles of its own. The less dense party members crunch along on the snow okay, but it sinks deep into it. On advice, it morphs its feet wide and flat, like snowshoes, and manages to flounder along.
After dowsing a bit to make sure, Salimar leads the way down the mountain trail, toward Robbie. Dafnord follows her, then Markel on his dragon, which carries Robbie's body (deactivated) and the cat's egg on a tether.
About a mile down the trail, Dafnord spots two large flying things high above us, and three smaller ones. They're hard to see, being mostly white-on-white. But they're coming our way. Fast. Stooping on us, actually.
It might be a local welcoming committee, but we ready weapons. The gargoyle lofts, Dafnord draws his sword Umbra, and Braeta starts to glitter.
A few moments later, Dafnord sees that they are five winged tigers, white with black stripes, with sabre teeth and with hawk-like talons. A family of them, it appears. And they're coming on talons-first, which is not very diplomatic.
Braeta tries to fling a ball of lightning at them. Unfortunately, this daughter of Zeus has lived so long by avoiding combat, and her electrical talents run more to sophisticated use of computers. The lightning ball detonates in her hands. Right next to Gannar -- the man with aluminum bones -- and Katrina.
While those three struggle to recover, one of the adults takes on Dafnord, who swings at it with Umbra. It falls, thrashing, and rolls off the cliff edge, into the abyss. (This would make a great Frazetta poster.)
One of the cubs pounces on the egg, scratching at the dome, leaving gouges and thus showing that their claws are tipped with diamond or something similar. Brunalf fires stunners at the cub, but misses. The cub swats the egg, activating the impact foam.
The other adult attacks Braeta, who is still stunned from her mis-fired lightning ball. The other two cubs take on Katrina and Gannar. The family that preys together...
Salimar zots the adult with one of her telepathic brain cocktails, causing it to fall on Braeta. Gannar zaps the cub attacking him with his blaster, then finishes off the adult. The gargoyle then tries to take out the last remaining cub.
At this point, the dragon tries to flame, but chokes. This is a Very Bad Thing to Do when breathing fire. It convulses and falls off the cliff, taking Markel, the egg (containing cat and pixie), and Robbie's body with it.
Braeta leaps to the rescue, managing to haul Markel out of his harness at a minor cost of some bruising to him. Gannar power-dives off the cliff, hoping to get under the dragon before it hits, to at least lessen the impact -- and hoping even more that the dragon can get its wings going and make this trip unnecessary. Tethered to the dragon and choking in impact foam, the cat still knows what's happening thanks to the telepathy net, and puts the egg's tiny engines into full reverse thrust. Salimar casts a cushioning bubble of ectoplasm around the beast, then she and Kate haul on it with telekinesis.
This leaves the gargoyle to duke it out with the last remaining cub. While it does that, Braeta, Dafnord, and Markel go loping down the cliffside as fast as possible, desperately trying to think of something they might do.
The combined forces of Kate, Salimar, and the cat's egg actually bring the dragon's fall to a halt. Gannar gets under and pushes. The gargoyle soon dispatches the last cub and flaps down to help. Eventually, we haul the dragon back up onto the path on the ledge. It never did get its wings in gear, and is now is a State -- frightened, angry, and humiliated all at once.
Once Brunalf gets his egg cleared of impact foam, the pixie decides to move to the hood of Braeta's parka.
Well. Welcome to the Kaf.
Dafnord collects a souvenir tiger fang. We plug along the mountain trail without further incident for several hours. Salimar notices that, despite this, the sun is still about where it was, not far past dawn. Coming around a curve, we suddenly sight a green valley, with a waterfall on the far side. Below the waterfall is a city, sparkling and golden, full of domes and dainty towers, stretching out on several different levels, the upper levels not often bothering to support themselves, just hanging in the air. Salimar renews her dowsing and confirms that Robbie is in that city.
We march down out of the snows, below the tree-line, losing sight of the city for the moment. The forest is pathless. But a bit of clairvoyance keeps us headed in the right direction and we come out on a cliff edge. Not far along it, we find a wide set of carved steps, leading down into the valley with several landings along the way. As we descend, the steps get more and more elaborately ornamented, with lots of sculptures of creatures we know better than to dismiss as mythical. The surrounding rock has lots of the greenish emerald-granite we saw further up in the mountains.
Soon, we spot a stone bridge of some golden mineral, over a river. There is a small stone building on either side of it. As we approach, we encounter lit braziers along the bannisters of the stairs, then golden lamps with colored panes. As we approach the first building at the bridge, we see two guards -- tall and muscular, of Middle-Eastern costume, but with the addition of fangs and a sort of half-metallic golden luster to their skins. One carries a sword even longer than himself, and the other carries a very long spear. They appear to be guarding the building, not the bridge, and ignore us completely, until Salimar sends a clairvoyant viewpoint over the bridge. They watch it go by... Dafnord urges her to drop it, and she does so.
By now, we are on a road, not a stair, paved with the green granite. We are close enough to see that the guards are about eight feet tall. "Who goes there?" one calls.
Salimar, the professional diplomat, approaches, bows, and introduces us all, explaining that we are "going to visit a friend who is visiting the ambassador." Which ambassador? "The ambassador from Djinnistan to the Council of Lanthil." Oh, well, then, very well. But the spearman blocks our way when we go to cross the bridge. It was the swordsman that she made introductions to, so she repeats them all over again the spearman. He makes no reply, but looks significantly from her to the building. She discerns a faint flicker, as of fire. Salimar, who has been asking variations on "What's wrong? Why can't we pass?" now asks, "What's inside?" "You ask a lot of questions," returns the djinni. "You offer a lot of quiet," Salimar returns. She bows and walks toward the house; he grounds his spear, but still has it ready.
She is now facing the swordsman. "Am I supposed to enter?" she asks. "Do you require payment, or information?" The swordsman sighs and exchanges weary looks with the spearman. "A lot of questions," he remarks. Salimar shrugs in the liquid way she has, verifies that it is firelight inside, bows to him, and walks around him. He makes no move against it.
The building is made of the same yellow stone as the bridge. Salimar finds herself in an anteroom, small, with a stone bench on either side, each with a stoppered urn at each end. Djinn and bottles. Hm. She steps through into the next room.
In the middle is the fire. It stands above a nine-foot-wide shallow bowl of gold, about three feet above the floor. There's nothing really burning in the bowl, just the fire a few inches above it. There's nothing under the bowl, either, except a thin strand, as of spider silk, rising from a base to the bowl. The walls of the room are elaborately decorated with a swirling maze of symbols, pictures, and ideographs. Salimar can make nothing of them, except one wall seems more or less solar and bright, while the other wall seems lunar and dark. The ceiling has mixed solar and lunar patterns. And there's an urn in each corner.
Salimar says hello to the flame, which seems to vibrate to her words, but does not reply. She adopts a fountain-like, watery form and drips a bit into the bowl. It evaporates before it reaches the center under the flame. Call it a toll or a gift, if you like. She feels magic everywhere, no surprise.
She reaches out a pseudopod and raps on an urn. She considers opening one, or all of them, and feels the probability fields for likely results. She gets a Bad Feeling about it and leaves the urns alone.
When she comes out, neither of the guards reacts, and they let us cross the bridge without further incident.
On the other side of the bridge is the other building. This is guarded by one djinni, even bigger than the other two, with a three-foot-long mace and an elephant's head (held in profile, so we can admire the trunk). Salimar performs introductions again and, without further ado, goes into the building. This one is made of solid jade and has no elaborate decorations. Same urns. Same flame. She repeats her introductions, morphing, and donation of protoplasm, and comes back out. The elephant-djinni turns to watch her doing the morphing, but says nothing and offers no resistance. except to furrow his brow. Anger? Befuddlement? Worry?
Well, why should we be the only ones confused.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.