The Logs of the TDFS Tindome
Chapter 30: In the Serpent City
We return to our ship from our visit, and settle in the galley. We discuss what we are actually going to do on the morrow. Should we introduce the possibility of the missing Sarah before we even enter the city? "Oh, yes, if she were somehow rescued from the sea, we would shower her rescuers with gold. With gold and pearls." Alternatively, how are we going to detect where Sarah is being kept without alerting our highly suspicious (we assume) escorts? We'll just pass it off as the sort of magic that we fays are all doing all the time. We each think about what sorts of magic we can – harmlessly do as we're walking along.
As evening comes on, Eïr checks on her patients, including Mannie. He is now almost completely healed.
In the morning, we decide we'll also ask a lot of general, social questions, about slavery, family structure, the temple, etc. The time for our meeting approaches, and we head out for the gate. Khazhad is there. Finwë asks him about his family. Khazhad does not understand the purpose of the question. Finwë assures him that he was making general chatter, which was triggered by our memories of the loss of Sam's sister. The captain natters on about our past inquiries, the existence of pirates, but not here in Darkholme. After our important business with the Serpent Prince, we will be asking for her. He suggests to Khazhad that we could employ our translator and his expertise in this new matter. Surely, Khazhad can understand our imaginings and worries for her.
"And she a non-believer too," responds Khazhad, sympathetically.
What would be her fate if she landed here?
"And not speaking the language, and with no father or brother to speak for her. There are very few roles for such a person here."
Khazhad leads us up the stairs to the small door at the side of the gate into the inner city. We are greeted by a gate guard. He and Khazhad exchange a few comments. Meanwhile, Mannie and Bay examine the elaborate carvings of the balustrade with classic dwarven interest, starting the agreed-upon process of examining everything. The guard zips inside for a moment, and returns with a soldier, armored and dressed in very dark green. He is introduced as Ji'jaleen, a lieutenant of the palace guard, who is to lead us to the palace.
He leads us down the minor stairs, then up the main stairs to the main gate. There, with a single syllable, he has the two massive gate guards step aside, and the gate opens. Beyond the open gates are more guards, who look at our group, then step aside to let us enter the Inner City of Darkholme.
To the elves, it is a huge, garish hodge-podge of styles. To the dwarves, it appears well and carefully made. To the humans, it has overwhelming splendor and color. To those anchored to the Church, this place is a sinuous heap of graven images. Before them is a broad avenue, full of hawkers of wares, assorted vehicles, and swarms of people on foot. (There are men, nice demure women, and flagrant obvious women being led around, or trying to lure men to themselves.) Eïr stumbles into Finwë. We descend the inner ramp, and are joined by another eight of the palace guard – none with Ji'jaleen's decorations (primarily a small metal cone or spike in the middle of his turban)
Eric performs his first dowse. Sarah is somewhere between 20 and 45 degrees to the left of our expected path. The lieutenant and two guards lead, we follow and are flanked by two on each side, and two in the rear. "Welcome to the City of the Hundred and One Temples," says Khazhad.
We move slowly, with various members of our party checking the vibes, or examining things with second sight. Eïr spots a priest/mage watching us as we go by. We examine that area more closely, so Eric spots a small bird fly out of the third floor of that temple. Alas, he can't keep track of it, and none of us can spot it.
However, Mannie does notice a strange bird about three "blocks" away. He zooms in on it with second sight. It has a long, snakey tail. His viewpoint circles it, and he decides it is very serpent-like, with its long neck, body, and lightly feathered tail. Mannie mentally follows it as it flies away from us.
As we slowly make our way down the street, Eïr notices more people watching us. "We are being watched," she mentally informs the captain, and she indicates who they are to him. She can tell that all these people fall into a particular type: older men, seeming like mages or maybe clerics.
Eric does another dowse, but the direction doesn't resolve.
The boulevard leads to an enormous, stepped-pyramid building. Beyond it is the volcano that looms over this city. The building is done in black and rusty red, rather like the volcano. There is a ruddy glow, rather like dawn, coming from beyond the volcano. It does not seem to be the sun, since the glow is increasing, but from a direction we consider West. Hmmm.
Eric and Bavör dowse for Sarah. The result seems damped, but is ahead of us, somewhat to our left, but closer than the palace. Mannie is following his flying thing. It's start to arc off to the right, but has not yet reached the palace. From the height of his viewpoint, the Hremish dwarf can confirm that the city is entirely encircled by a wall. He resolves to break contact before the bird goes over it anywhere.
The priest with the bushy eyebrows, in the blue robes, is watching us fixedly, even when we look directly at him. A part of his staff seems to become a snake and slip down the staff and out of sight. Yet, the staff appears unchanged. Eïr watches for a snake. It does not help that, among the cobblestones, are serpentine carved stones, and bricks. She mentions this to us.
Eric sees a paving stone turn, briefly, into a snake, then back into a crudely carved stone. Bay tries a second sight, which immediately winks out. He feels disoriented, and stumbles, just as a hawk swoops right over his head. Eric manages to keep watching the hawk, although he finds it very hard to concentrate on the bird. Khazhad asks, "What happened?"
Finwë asks, "Mr. Forothon, are you all right?"
"It felt like dizziness, or a déjà vu with nothing to remember." Over the net, he adds, "I was trying a second sight, but it broke instantly." He checks his foot and footing.
Finwë explains that the hawk must have startled the dwarf, who then lost his footing. Khazhad seems to accept the explanation.
Mannie mentally checks with Bay about his second sight, then decides to abandon his flying thing, and shifts his view over to the area where we think Sarah is.
Khazhad asks Finwë what he thinks of the city. Ever the diplomat, Finwë exclaims, "I have never seen anything like it. I can hardly say what I think about it. There certainly can't be any city to match it. The dwarves inform me that the stonework is very well made." (The dwarves had said it was good for human work.)
Soon, Mannie's viewpoint crosses back over the boulevard. It gets about a block to our left, and ahead of us, before it suddenly winks out. Mr. Craggenhilt collapses.
©2002, 2006 Ann Broomhead. All Rights Reserved.