Week 20, Shrunken
We find our heroes in reduced circumstances, mostly between five and six inches high. All except Cantrel, who we hope escaped, and Daewen who remains unminiaturized. The party is hiding under a bush near an edge of the floating island, over a cavern we take to be a jet exhaust, magic style.
Remember the mysterious bottle given to Chris by the Golden Archmage? He'd been saving it for our confrontation with Gorlach, in case it could only be used once. But we need to survive the present crisis to confront Gorlach, so he decided to uncork it again.
Just as it did last time, the bottle produced a small swirling cloud of dust. Wu analyzes the magic involved; it's a composite of earth and air magic, with a dash of pure magic for a trigger, and a soupcon of something odd, maybe extension. Meanwhile, the cloud has been growing and growing. With effort, Chris re-corks the bottle and the wind stops. Dust settles all around us -- more dust than could fit in the bottle. And it is dust on our reduced scale. To Daewen, it looks like face powder for someone with a dusky complexion. Hmm. Have to think about that one.
Now what? We could poke around the palace and grounds, or we could explore the works down in the jet exhaust. We decide to try the exhaust. With some care, we get down to the exhaust tunnel.
Once there, we try an experiment. The magic bottle worked on our scale. But how about magic with no physical origin? Like the darkness or fireballs that Wu can conjure up? Once safely out of sight in the tunnel, Wu casts a brief magical darkness. It's as large as it ever was. Goodie! By analogy, the six-inch Wu can still throw fireballs that pack all the punch they ever had.
Ever hopeful, Beygar wants to see if his miniature quarterstaff packs the same old wallop. He gets Daewen's permission and WHACK!
Oh well. On into the tunnel. The door, you may recall, was partly open, and a strong wind was blowing out. It is a VERY stiff wind. It gives Daewen more trouble than anyone else, she having the greatest surface area in proportion to mass. She even tries using Pfusand, who volunteered to be a ladder rung. You can't use black-and-white guinea pigs as ladder rungs.
Eventually, we get inside. It's worse, of course. The chamber is spherical and contains a roughly spherical whirlwind about 1000 feet across. After recovering from the sight of it, Wu casts some analysis spells at it. Air magic, of course. But below it, at the nadir of the sphere, are two other regions of magic, an area and a point. The area is a ward. If it's an airish ward, it might be dangerous to contact. And it would be very easy to slip down the spherical slope, into the ward. The point source seems to have a trace leading up toward the door; probably a control channel.
Pfusand is our best climber, so she heads down the slope to investigate the magic at the bottom. It turns out to be innocuous, like a spinning wall of gray glass. If you touch it, you get spun off around the chamber, but that's it. (Pfusand finds this out experimentally.)
This dome has a radius about one third that of the chamber. The whirlwind sits on top of it. There's no entrance to it, but Pfusand discovers a tunnel in the spherical outer wall. Good.
She crawls back and reports. We clamber down cautiously, with Alag and Tom -- the two feeblest climbers -- in Daewen's pocket. They deeply regret it when Daewen loses her grip and slides down onto the spinning dome. And ZING off she goes, UP into the maelstrom. A few screaming seconds later, she comes FLYING in using her clothing for wings and makes a rough landing.
We crawl hastily out into the tunnel. A short way in, we find a door, locked. Exercising one of the few advantages of being shrunk, Alag crawls into the lock and shifts the tumblers. Daewen then tries to open it and finds that it lifts UP, suddenly, almost taking her up with it. It also slams down again right away. Only Alag, Daewen, and Wu got through. And it's locked. Alag picks the lock again and we all rush through.
We are in a cubical room with no features except the door we came through and another just like it. Tom remarks that it looks like an airlock. Windlock is perhaps more like it. Alag picks the next lock and we rush through.
Now we're in a corridor, in the classic Dungeons and Dragons (TM) tradition. In fact, it looks just like the tunnel Chris and Daewen explored from the other side last week. And sure enough, Chris spots a trap door in the floor. It opens easily, but leads too a short corridor and a door. The wind roaring is louder behind this door. It is, Wu determines, wizard-locked; it can be passed only by destroying it, or by using a Knock spell, which Wu doesn't know. So much for that door.
Proceeding down the hall, we see faint light ahead, and hear faint voices. The hall dead-ends in a vertical shaft, down which the voices and light come. Tom ventures in for a careful look upward and, much to his surprise, starts rising. Wu hauls him down with TK and discovers this is a magical elevator shaft, without need of an elevator. If you enter one side of it, you gently rise; on the other side, you gently fall. And it's the only way out of here. And it provides no cover. Blast.
Looks like we'll be exploring the palace after all.
Chris goes scouting up the shaft. First floor: an empty stone corridor. Second: another stone corridor, with a guard who doesn't notice the tiny man. Third: a more habitable-looking floor, and a very surprised servant. Oops. As the servant watches, Chris scuttles over to the down side of the shaft and exits.
We'll have to scram. We all float up to the first level, get off, and start trying doors. This means, of course, that Daewen does most of the trying. Also, she finds a stairwell. Two of the doors are unlocked. One leads to a store room. Just as we are about to open the other, we hear footsteps. We dash in. Fortunately, the second room is just another unoccupied store room. We wait silently, then stock up like good little household pests. When the coast is clear, we go up to the next floor (carried by Daewen; we could manage the steps by jumping, but it would be slower).
Pfusand squeezes under the door on the second floor landing and sees the guard Chris evaded on his ascent. Only now the guard is staring curiously down to the tube.
On the third floor, we hear voices but see no one. Fourth floor has neither voices nor people. The fifth floor door opens behind a curtain. Beyond is a T intersection with two guards. Daewen believes we are now at the ground floor, having exhausted the sub-basements. Sixth floor: there are two doors on the landing, each leading up into a tower. There is also a window leading out on to the roof. We crawl out onto the roof a look around.
There are five fancy apartments, plus assorted towers, above the roof. On top of one of these, we find a good hidey hole where we can rest. But before we turn in, we examine all the apartments.
The biggest apartment turns out to be the harem. It looks out on a courtyard. The two largish ones, placed rather toward the front, seem to belong to the king and queen. The two smaller ones look like they belong to wizards. One is crammed with arcane-looking junk, while the other is very sparsely furnished but positively tingles with magic.
Soon after we finish casing the joint, something comes flying in toward the palace roof. A pegasus with one rider. It veers wildly away and Wu determines that it bounced off a magical ward placed over the sky-palace. The pegasus tries again, then flies off. No one seems to have noticed. But as Cantrel (we presume) departs, Alag thinks he MAY have seen a second rider, behind him.
We split up for the night. Alag and Daewen retreat to the hidey hole. Tom, Wu, and Chris station themselves outside the queen's apartment, sleeping in shifts, the guard listening for anything useful. Beygar, Pfusand, and Lorelei stake out the harem. (The king's apartment seems empty.) No one hears anything of interest.
However, in the morning Daewen reports that by observing the flights of night birds she determined the rough shape of the ward over the island. There is a gap in it over the palace wall, probably the result of decay.
A bit later, a large party lands at the hippogrif hanger. They come up through the guard house and reveal themselves to be soldiers in two different liveries -- Smerdis' and Marateshite. And Prince Shirvan is amongst them, closely guarded by his men.
And unobserved by all save us, two pegasi come winging in, one with Cantrel, one with a samurai cat. A lone hippogrif and rider comes up to challenge them, but before anyone can even notice the battle the cat hacks him in two. Good thing we got our night's rest.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.