Chapter 22: Bridge Game
We are in the Dreamworld, following a psychic spoor to find Robbie, who has lost his mind -- particularly awkward when that's all there is left of you. We are marching through a classic darkling wood, toward a river we've been warned is dangerous.
Dafnord announces authoritatively that he expects nothing dangerous ahead. "Nor should you," he adds to Markel, in case the dragon-rider hadn't twigged to the possible value of expectation around here. For her part, Kate has been firmly expecting the twisty forest path to open out into a broad, solid brick road, but it hasn't been working.
Soon, we hear the sound of the river up ahead, and Markel feels Robbie in the same direction. Then we notice the wind in the trees. Then we notice the wailing. Of the wind? Not entirely. Soon, not even mostly. Some voices sound frightened, others mournful, others frustrated. Turning a final corner, we see the river, too wide for its other shore to be visible. But it is spanned by a bridge, its other end likewise out of sight.
There are figures scattered along the bridge. Some stand near its base, not far from us. One fellow is trying to run toward us, but he makes no progress. Another is trying to climb the bridge, likewise without effect. A third just stands and stares morosely at the sky.
Tom asks the nearest figure if the bridge can be crossed, but gets no reply. At Kate's urging, because the pixie is the least threatening-looking party member, Daphne approaches one of the screamers. As she gets nearer, she feels -- no surprise -- that there is something deeply wrong with the bridge. She thinks she'll try flying instead of walking. In fact, let's send a test object first.
So Tom creates an ectoplasmic beetle, a ladybug the size of a football. He attaches a viewpoint to it and launches it across the river. It goes out a very long way, and the viewpoint delivers images of fast-running water and gargoyles along the bridge railing. But eventually the contact simply fails, for no clear reason.
Next, he conjures a squirrel and sends it hopping up the bridge. It doesn't get stuck, but it does get picked off by a hawk after a little way. Then the hawk simply fades into thin air...
Tom tries contacting the mind of the nearest screamer, mostly to see if there is really anyone there or just an image. They're there, mostly as a sense of overwhelming presence. Not a normal contact. Tom considers and then tries to contact Robbie himself.
(Elsewhere, Robbie suddenly feels hunted. There are things behind him, and he daren't turn to look at them, or they might lunge at him. He'd pop an eye out to look at them, but he's afraid he'd lose that, too.)
(His fear is complicated by not being able to tell anything about where he is. Robbie considers using a mere second-sight viewpoint, but is afraid he'd lose that as well. He's lost so much... He just stands there, looking for it.)
(There's a bridge rail in front of him, and rushing water beyond it.)
Tom gets back a feeling of Robbie's presence -- an unhappy presence, full of feelings of fear and loss. Tom also is seized with an unreasonable conviction that there are Awful Things in the woods. Besides the ones he's already spoken to, that is.
Markel is suddenly siezed with the feeling that Robbie is nowhere at all, and the feeling spreads to Daphne and Gannar.
Tom probes a little deeper into this unhappy mess and learns Robbie is in despair over losing his body. "We've come to get you!" he sends.
(They've come to get him. He knew they would...)
"I mean, we've come to rescue you!"
This actually helps a bit. Robbie starts struggling against his (well-justified) feelings of existential crisis and tries to re-program himself. This is probably the robotic equivalent of pulling oneself together, but alas, all his processors are worlds away. Still, he's trying.
Tom sends, "If there's nothing left but mind, then there's no reason the mind can't be with us. Come down the telepathic link."
Tom pulls. Robbie pushes. Dafnord is treated to the sight of a translucent Robbie springing full-grown from the brow of Tom, like Athena from Zeus.
Meanwhile, out on the river, half a dozen massive gargoyles dive down on a passing boat, doing massive damage to the crew.
Tom ignores this. "Let's go home," he proposes. Kate checks her magic compass. But, just as we're starting to get organized, Robbie wonders if we know anyone in the boat and finds himself drifting toward the river, impelled by his curiosity. And, as it turns out, it's us in the boat, losing to the gargoyles.
"I don't believe this!" Tom announces in the authoritative way Dafnord used earlier. Dafnord, Kate, and Robbie all quickly agree. "Come with me!" Dafnord commands Robbie, which cancels the drift toward the river. (Officer training can be useful at the oddest times.)
We get Robbie firmly fixed in our minds, if nowhere else, and organize our marching order. We left Salimar riding a skeletal horse, as a tentative nod to local "customs." Tom decides the horse should look normal, for Robbie's sake if no one else's, and covers it with a glamour. Then, he quietly begins overhauling the thing so that, under the illusion, it's a stuffed toy rather than a skeleton.
"Mirien," he says, "let's go home." Right-o. She leads us along the riverbank. Dawn happens. We leave the darkling forest behind quickly and enter a landscape of multicolor rolling hills. Wish they'd stand still... The far bank of the river comes in sight. The river is flowing still faster.
And faster. And downhill. And the terrain becomes steeper. It's difficult to keep one's footing, so Mirien tries walking on air instead. Tom and Robbie follow suit. The three of them vanish down what is now a waterfall. Moments later, Markel is pulled after them. (Did we mention we were roped together? We are.) Dafnord and Kate don't wait to be pulled; they jump. The pixie has nothing to worry about anyway, nor does Gannar or Salimar.
Soon we're all falling down a cataract, which is glowing.
Those of us who don't habitually fly are in the lake at the bottom of the Lightfall, at the peak of Lanthil. The rest of us are hovering nearby. (The stuffed horse is in soggy pieces.) Tom forms some glowing water into a simple boat and those who don't feel like flying clamber in.
Dafnord begins paddling for the next cataract until Tom points out that this boat, however exotic, is just a mortal-made affair, not an elven boat made to ride the falls. Oops. Dafnord changes direction. Soon, we're on the shore.
Robbie, once more his usual composed self -- well, composed, if not very usual yet -- asks Mirien where he was. She explains he was in the Dreamworld. Not one of the better parts of it.
But at least he's learned he can teleport along telepathy links.
Tom agrees it's a fun trick, but "We seriously need to get you back in a body."
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.