Week 19, Betrayed by Smerdis
We start the day after something invisible tried to assassinate Prince Shirvan and we discovered that Shirvan looks like Navrish and that the two names are palindromes of each other.
This bothers Tom. It's too pat. It looks, in fact, like the worldbenders' remake of "Prisoner of Zenda" or "The Prince and the Pauper." We're reasonably sure the worldbenders don't run this place completely, but they might have taken over a nice colorful corner of it like Maratesh, the way one moved in on Hong Kong in 1937.
It also occurs to him that we have pretty well exhausted our ability to do anything undercover in this town. And, what with the Navrish/Shirvan connection, any action we take toward Navrish could constrain Smerdis' relations with Shirvan. For all these reasons, he recommends we leave town and report to Smerdis, collect our silver and go.
Having thought of worldbenders for the first time in months, the party fiddles with their remaining watches-cum-wrist-radios, to see if they can detect any hi-tech chatter. But we can't make them work that way, especially not without risking exposure to any worldbenders who might really be around.
We therefore depart Maratesh and journey up the Silk Road for two days, to the area where we first met Smerdis. After we have been camped there for a small fraction of a day, twenty hippogrifs and riders comes out of the clouds, one of them Smerdis.
Tom reports our discoveries in Maratesh and Smerdis agrees to pay us our weight in silver. Accordingly, we mount up behind the hippogrif riders, to get weighed at Smerdis' palace. We are pleased but not surprised when this turns out to be built on a chunk of floating rock, in the midst of a camouflaging cloud bank. However, the rock lists to one side somewhat, and the palace gardens are withering on that edge.
Cantrel's pegasi are reluctant to enter the cavern used by the hippogrifs, so Smerdis recommends he leave them tethered on the ledge just outside. He does this.
We start up a stair leading from the hippogrif hanger to the surface, but midway up Smerdis casts a spell and yells, "Grab them!" We are all struck with confusion. Alag goes into patharchic Distraction, with the net result that no one, not even Alag, knows where Alag is.
When we recover, we are in a small blockhouse, disarmed, under guard. The guards march us toward the palace. Cantrel breaks free, runs for the wall at the edge, jumps over it, and off into space. (Those of us who know Cantrel think the jump looked rather spring-loaded. He probably had his levitation running and is safer than we are.)
On the way into the palace, we see a seven-foot-tall man with golden skin and a shaved head. He acts only moderately deferential to Smerdis. He and Smerdis precede us to a throne room where both of them sit on thrones, though Mr. Clean's is lower. He examines each of us carefully.
Meanwhile, Alag has been wandering, distracted and distracting, in the tunnel to the hanger. The spell wears off and he sneaks back to the ledge just in time to see Cantrel fall past screaming. (We will hope that was part of the acting.) The pegasi are guarded but Alag still has his bow. He snipes at them from hiding. One falls off, but the other spears Alag, who passes out.
Back in the throne room, Mr. Clean finishes his inspection and announces "They'll do." "For what?" asks Tom, who gets a thump on the head from a guard. "We will take delivery of them in three days' time." Smerdis orders Wu shackled and Baldy gestures. Metal bands appear, binding his wrists and gagging him. Just as we reach the door of the palace, more guards show up with Alag's unconscious form. We are all jailed. Pfusand, after considerable trying, manages to tear a bar out of the cell wall. Daewen slips through, then slips back and reports there's a guard out there. Still, it's progress of a sort.
Just then, we hear feet in the hall. The door opens, Baldy strides in, followed by four guards, followed by Smerdis, who says, "You are all free to go!" Instantly, Daewen performs a flying leap over the guards and vanishes down the hall. Before the rest of us can try to follow suit, Baldy gestures and POP we are in an onion-shaped room, furnished with cushions, a circular couch, and a table bearing a bowl of fruit, and a couple of water ewers. The walls have translucent windows but no doors. We can see vague forms through the windows. Lorelei opines that we are in a bottle, shrunk. Chris finds a small bundle of needles and sewing in the cushions and Tom suggests that this is where Navrish rescued the girl from.
Peering through the lousy windows, Tom and Alag see shadowy giants moving about, substantiating Lorelei's hypothesis. There are two or three of them and look about fifty feet high. One figure stands still by a wall; another patters about. We appear to be about 25 feet up in the air. Dr. Wu shows Tom his worldbender watch. Some of the dimensions have changed.
After a long time, it gets dark, except for a few flickering lights coming through the sides of the bottle. After a fair bit of acrobatics, we manage to pop out one of the smaller glass windows up in the bottle. Tom looks out. There are candles, and the scale of the flame proves we've been shrunk. We are in a (relatively) small room, on a table. There's a guard dozing in a chair.
We hear a loud, grinding noise, then a thump. It's Daewen, twenty feet tall on our scale, just come in through the window and walking about on the table. We attract her attention and she unstoppers the bottle. We crawl out and wait expectantly but don't grow. So we crawl back in for easier escape.
Daewen sneaks us out, climbs a tree, and pours us out into a scarf. Only Pfusand can't fit out. Daewen has to break off the neck of the bottle for her to emerge. It's now night and we've had an exhausting day. We sleep.
Before dawn, Daewen announces that she will go exploring around the place we came up. She takes Chris and returns to the guardhouse where we recovered from the confusion. Descending through a trapdoor, she finds the tunnels and follows them to the pegasi, still under guard. On another path, she finds a door with a small quantity of light coming from under it. She and Chris decide to try the door.
She picks the lock and passes down the torch-lit hall to another trapdoor in the ceiling. Opening it, she hears distant thunderous sounds, like a jet engine. She and Chris are emerging from a secret trapdoor. This new corridor is rather large and ends in a set of heavy ornate doors 200 feet away. At this point, they feel they have explored enough and return to the tree where the rest of the party waits.
>From there, we move to the area near the hippogrif stables, since there are fewer people there. As we arrive, we hear a noise from the landing area below. A pegasus and rider rise above us, wheel around, and dive out of sight. We see twelve hippogrifs take off after him.
Time passes. Late that morning, Dr. Wu's magical bonds vanish, the spell having worn off. Maybe we'll enlarge in an hour or so, by the same schedule. Wu uses his new freedom to heal Alag. He also tries to identify any magic there might have been on the genie-bottle. There was some, very complex.
We don't grow after the hour passes. In the course of the day, we estimate the castle holds about 300 people and 40 to 50 hippogrifs. Night falls and Daewen would like to investigate the cave of roaring noises. She and Pfusand (picture a black and white guinea pig) climb down a tunnel in the side of the island and work their way against a stiff wind blowing out of it. They determine that the roar comes from a crack under the door. It appears that the island is moved around by a magical jet. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to be in this tunnel when the door to the wind-generator opens. They leave.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.