Chapter 76: A Peek Under the Stairs
We left our heroes recovering from an encounter with demons (or minions
of Dalgroom or something). After various people have been chucked into
autodocs or at least settled in warm baths, or given stiff drinks,
Dafnord comes up to Tom, wondering why he still has a right hand. After
all, a demon threw a fireball down the barrel of his blaster while he
was holding it. It sure hurts, but it's all still there, and doesn't
seem to hurt "enough." Also, it feels kind of stiff, not to use, but to
Tom examines the hand, first medically, then psychically. There's definite psychic influence, and Tom fears it's something demonic, contracted during the fight. Just as he's talking about applying holy water, Daphne comes into the room. She asks what's up and, on being told, casually informs Dafnord that she cast a "barkskin" enchantment on him a couple of fights ago. After all, she observes, someone has to look after him, if he will keep jumping into the front lines.
We are relieved. Dafnord is an awkward mixture of relieved, irritated, and grateful. He also asks her to remove it. Sure. Zot.
He still has a burned hand. Markel, for that matter, has a broken wrist. They line up to take their turns in autodocs.
Tom goes back in the pantope and looks over the magical tent. It took quite a blast when Braeta went critical or whatever. Tossed and broken furniture, singed curtains and pillows. On a hunch, Tom withdraws, takes the tent down, and rolls it into quite a small bundle. Then he unrolls it and puts it up again. All better! Or almost. There are some traces of wear on the fabrics. Tom takes it down again and leaves it rolled up. Maybe that will give it a better chance to fix itself.
One of the autodocs announces its done with Braeta and has us put her to bed and feed her beef broth. We add some red wine and sticky cakes.
Daphne says she'd like to make more arrows. Know any good trees with long, straight withes? Tom suggests she look in our garden; it might have something. He urges her not to go shopping in Regent's Park. Grumbling at this limitation, she wanders out into the garden.
She shortly comes in again. Why didn't Tom tell her we had a tree made of silver growing in the back yard. We thought we were going up against vampires and she could have made arrows of silver!
Oh, yeah. It's been decades, for Tom. He'd forgotten that Daewen created a silverwood tree in the back yard, for just such resources. Daphne goes out, set to do some serious fletching.
Working his way through the triage list, Tom comes to the gargoyle. Um. It's rock, right? But there are some fine cracks here and there in the surface. Tom certainly can't use his normal medical skills on it, but he makes a deeper-than-usual telepathic link and locates a number of old aches. It seems that, while tough and not given to complaining, the gargoyle has taken damage in our various battles, and is a slow natural healer.
"Natural." Heh. It's magically animated stone. Tom takes a psychic look at the spell animating it and senses flaws in the pattern. He does what he can to fix them, and reckons that the gargoyle may respond favorably to a daily regime of patterning and second-order glamour. And some spackle.
Speaking of people who run on magic, let's take a look at Robbie. Tom gives him much the same treatment he did the gargoyle, and it seems to help some.
Tired after all this, Tom lets time pass. Tea and dinner come and go. Obedan, Greywolf, and Desmond show up for dinner; Braeta remains in bed. We hear nothing from the nut-hatch in the basement.
Desmond, pondering recent events, says he thinks we got off lucky there in the pantope, when the evil nasties started clawing their way in. He tells Tom that he should be careful with the pantope around nephilim that are even more chthonic in nature than Braeta.
Tom agrees, and asks Desmond what his nature is. Desmond hems a bit, but characterizes himself as the "wise wanderer" archetype. Greywolf is akin to Old Man Coyote, and Obedan (though young, Desmond whispers) is your basic king/warlord figure.
Tom asks about Paolo and Hassan, the two nephilim who are currently missing in action on the other timeline. Desmond characterizes them as just a regular guy (though a very effective soldier) and a priest, as the name reflects.
Tom listens, but meanwhile his own mention of Hassan reminds him of Mr. Chassan. He consults the tracer Salimar put on him, and finds he is in a small rented room, sitting on a stack of three rugs, in front of a little table bearing two candles, a lamp, and some herbs. He's holding his prayer beads and has a couple of locked boxes to hand.
He notices Tom's viewpoint (giving Tom a fleeting impression of opening a third eye on his forehead). Tom bobs the viewpoint, hoping to communicate a friendly nod, then floats it out to discover the address. Mr. Chassan is staying above a rather nice shop on a busy street, Theobald Road, near Devonshire Street.
Late that evening, we unload autodocs and close off all connection to the ships on the other timeline, so as not to let events overtake us there. By the next-to-last mail (There are over a dozen daily mail delivers in Victorian London.), we get a small card: "I trust that was you. M." Dafnord infers that this is from Mycroft Holmes and writes back, "Yes, we think it's all fixed now," and send it back by the very last post of the day.
Next morning, Dafnord gets another interesting letter. It starts very flowery:
Most Excellent Sir,
It's signed Malik Chassan. So we haven't scared him away, after all. We invite him to come calling this morning, then settle down to breakfast. (We notice the servants have left a place by the fire for the gargoyle, who is there, looking immovably statuesque. We think the servants are starting to catch on. Our glamours have been getting ragged, and not properly kept up, lately.)
The newspapers are full of miscellaneous reports about a surprising minor "earth tremor" yesterday, but nothing to indicate any general alarm or suspicion of unearthly doings. The social notes report that Lady Southwick is making an unseasonable shift to her country residence, until repairs can be made on her town house, due to damage caused by the tremor. That's as close as anybody gets.
Greywolf breezes in, late during breakfast, and says he's been strolling about Regent's Park again. He's found something he thinks Tom and Desmond should look at. Something funny on Barrow Hill. Tom says he isn't surprised; during our last London adventure, two of our party (Cantrel and Daewen) went into Dalgroom's netherworld there, and didn't surface again until our first big battle with his minions. We will certainly take a look.
Then Chassan shows up. We invite him in for coffee. He apologizes for running away, saying, "I did not realize you opened the door so wide, simply to slam it shut so firmly." Tom coughs and looks embarrassed.
He soon gets back to the matter of his own quest. He explains that his divinations told him to come to Britain and seek out the, hm, wisdom of the mazzikim. But "wisdom" isn't a great translation. It's more like the fruits of wisdom, or the gift. At first, he thought this might be Robbie, with his djinn-magic body. But not he's not sure.
Tom trades glances with others at the table as we confer on the telepathy net. Might Chassan be directed to the pantope, which was tidied up by a mazzik/djinn sage? Should Tom show the thing to him? The group feels it won't hurt; he's already glimpsed it, and already knows we are seriously weird.
Waiting until there are no servants about, Tom leads Chassan around to the side of the stairs and undoes the glamour concealing the door to the pantope. Chassan is delighted with what he sees, the more as Tom explains a bit of its history -- it's a miniature world, not nearly as big as it looks; it got damaged and was repaired with the aid of a mazzik sage (though it has since been damaged again). When invited to enter, he takes off his shoes, despite Tom's spluttering protestations that it is no holy place.
Once inside, he notes the recent signs of battle. Tom tells him about the crack he slammed shut, and admits that there was no strategy at all behind "opening the door wide" before "slamming it shut." The whole pantope set-up is only a few weeks old, really...
For a while, he is under the impression that the pantope is located under the stairs, since that's where the door appeared to lead, and the slanting surface of the upper deck seems to mirror the slope of the staircase. Tom disabuses him of this. It's not really related to worldly space. Chassan may not dig circular scale or closed geometries, but he catches on to the pantope's basic function awfully fast, and says that it is "within the Veil." Tom supposes that's a good way of putting it.
Chassan remarks that he thought we had finished things yesterday, but now he thinks maybe not. Tom sighs. Very possible. He also thinks his paths lie along ours for a while. May he travel with us in this "pantope"? Tom supposes so. First, Tom asks him (quietly turning on the empathic contact) if he has any ill will toward us. Chassan doesn't appear to notice and waves it off, saying he only has occasional ill will toward those who took the Heart of Tigre.
He then asks about our earlier adventure, involving the Eye of Dalgroom and the reckless occultist, Musgrave. Tom gives him a capsule summary. He then gives an even briefer summary of our current mission, and mentions nephilim.
Oh! Well, Chassan doesn't mind, but the nephilim may not like having him around. You see, as a priest of the True Faith, he can make binding Solomon Seals.
Tom politely asks him to describe the True Faith. The answer resembles (or is) Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity -- which formed by converting an Ethiopian Jewish community with its own system of temple sacrifice. Chassan and his people still make the sacrifices and keep their temple, in which they have, they say, the Ark of the Covenant. They consider their strain of Christianity the most genuine because it is the most directly connected to Judaism, brought to Ethiopia by the minister of the Ethiopian queen Candace, converted by St. Philip, as described in the book of Acts, chapter 8. Besides combining Christianity and First Temple Judaism, Chassan's religion has added features from Islam and some sub-Saharan faiths, but he brushes over these.
But why would Solomon Seals bother nephilim? Aren't those just for mazzikim, djinn? No, Solomon could bind both. Then Tom remembers about
The giants and the genii,
Hm. Our crew of nephilim don't show any tendency to be multiplex of wing or eye, but they do shapeshift, and are of a race of giants.
Truth to tell, Tom isn't at all adverse to having someone aboard who can counter nephilim. We've had several demonstrations of their power, and while the four we have with us seem amiable enough, Tom is not such a fool as to think they're all so nice -- not if you remember much mythology, which has been a pretty reliable guide for us.
Tom leads Chassan back into the house, and we decide to take a look at the Map of Here. The big blot of demonic presence is fading to a pale gray, but there is still a little blot at Braithwaite's house, and another on Barrow Hill in Regent's Park, connected by a fine, smoothly curving line, like an evil ley line.
Tom asks Chassan to come with him, Desmond, and Greywolf. The others begin expressing an interest, and it soon becomes evident that we are going to have an outing to Regent's Park this afternoon.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.