Chapter 35: Land of the Climbing Lotus
We have decided to resume searching for the homeland of that trader we
found slain on our shore. Accordingly, we ready the Pudgie Budgie, park
a pantope door below decks, and, on the following morning, set off,
flying above the Endless Sea.
Salimar, Markel, and Kate all take dowsings off the trader's goods and Gannar steers according to the resulting bearings. Soon, Lanthil sinks out of sight behind us and mists rise up. Then they recede. We're on a very, very calm sea, lit only by starlight.
Soon, a new moon rises ahead of us. It rises rather fast, moving across the stars, waxing as it goes. Then it sinks quickly behind us without waning. Just in case we thought we might be some place, you know, normal.
Then comes sunrise. Using this and the moon, we agree we're heading southwest by the local compass, for whatever that's worth. The sun ascends swiftly, too, then just hangs there. At first, we think it's slowed to a normal pace, but no, this noon goes on for hours and hours.
Salimar stretches a clairvoyant viewpoint out as far as she can, along the dowsing bearing, and just catches a glimpse of green on the horizon before she's exhausted. While she goes below to suck on the psi-charger, Robbie picks up where she left off by launching one of his famous eyes.
He sees a remote sandy beach, vegetation, and some sparkling bits that can't be immediately explained. There's a lot of heat waver and the bright light bleaches out colors. He thinks he sees some dark figures moving along.
After some more hours, we're in ready sight of the shore. Robbie flies over and gather samples of sand and water, but these do not prove to be special, though the water is clearly not the same as that near Lanthil, according to Salimar.
As we get closer to the shore, we seem to re-enter normal time; the sun starts setting at a normal-looking rate. We see a river-mouth south of our direction, and the dowsing bearing seems to lead that way. We head there.
Tom launches a viewpoint straight up and looks around. The river cuts through forest, twisting a lot and apparently coming down from some distant hills. The mysterious sparkling is to the west. Between the far hills and the shore are some curious, big columns, rather like the towering, pillar-like hills you see in places along the Chinese coast.
We fly along above the river now, on a course that will take us past the columnar hills. Unless they're ruins. Robbie sends an eye down among the trees and flushes out some birds and some antelope-like beasts.
Daphne decides to check out the local trees. They look typically tropical, in keeping with the palms we saw along the beach. There are more palms here, bearing dates, along wiht fig trees and such.
One palm bears interesting golden-yellow date-like fruit. Daphne feels around. These trees are very alive. She tries to commune with them, a generalized "?" There's nothing you could call an answer, but she feels the probe was the right thing to do.
She asks if she can pick the fruit. Again, no answer, but the intention feels right. She takes several. Flitting about, she realizes that these golden date palms appear to have spread out from a cluster of three columnar hills or ruins -- they are thickest and oldest nearby.
Getting closer, she sees they are definitely ruins, not hills, but enormously overgrown, almost reclaimed by nature. And there's a lot of life or magic or power or something around here.
Meanwhile, Robbie has bailed out, too. He's spotted what might be the ruins of a road -- a long, thin trail of brush, free of trees. He flies along and finds it leads to the ruined towers. Landing and digging, he unearths flagstones. Definitely a road.
Daphne, meanwhile, has found the oldest and biggest golden date palm, at the center of the cluster of ruins, in a semicircle of its fellows, backed up against a tower. The biggest tree has a vine growing up it, bearing big green flowers. Again, she hails them and is satisfied with the result. They smell very nice, too. She decides to investigate.
Robbie picks up Daphne's fascination telepathically. It concerns him, rather, so he stops his excavations and flies on toward her, spotting some worn sculpture along the way.
Salimar comes flying in, too. She and Robbie both hail Daphne telepathically. She ignores them, which is worrying. Finally, Robbie locates her and pulls her out of the big green flower. "What?!" is the exasperated greeting. "Why were you pollinating that flower." "It seemed like a good idea." Oh, well. He hovers there and lets her sniff.
Salimar has arrived too, but since Daphne appears to be in her normal senses (for her), she shrugs and decides to retrocog the ruins. Lots of growth. Lots of photosynthesis. Lots of long, slow, erosion. People are very, very far back...
Back on the Budgie, we're getting tired of waiting for our scouts. Tom calls telepathically, and only Salimar seems to notice. "You've been gone a very long time." "It didn't seem long," she replies.
She and Tom confer, and Tom goes below, into the pantope, to gate our scouts back. He opens one door near Robbie and Daphne, hovering by the tree, and the other door over the ocean we just crossed, near the shore. He suspects the green flowers of hypnotic perfumes and thinks some fresh sea breeze might be good.
Once that's set up, he pulls at Daphne with his TK.
Or he meant to. Everyone fumbles once in a while. Instead of pulling her in, he pushes himself out, into the ocean.
He looks up and sees the pantope door fading from view. For one panic-striken moment, he thinks the door is shutting, but he is relieved to realize he is only drowning. (Later on, he should re-examine his priorities.)
Salimar, fortunately, is aware of what happened. She morphs into something like an aeriel manta, dives through the portal by the tree, across the pantope, and into the ocean after Tom. She scoops him out and throws him into the pantope. She then grabs Daphne with an ad hoc pseudopod, hands her to Tom, then pulls Robbie in with a protoplasmic net.
Soon, we are all back on the Budgie. Robbie and Daphne want to know why they've been grabbed and hustled about, and why Tom is wringing wet. Explanations follow and we decide the green flowers are bad mojo or something. Salimar and Robbie are disturbed by the apparent time-distortion. (They don't think it was hypnotic perfume. Neither of them breathe.) Daphne is just annoyed at the fuss people are making. Time doesn't mean much to her. In fact, she'd still like to go back and examine those green flowers with the lovely smell.
No! Forward! We fly on toward the western foothills.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.