Week 21, Rejoining Cantrel
Let us back up and discover what Cantrel has been doing:
He broke away from the group when it was first taken captive, cast his Flight spell, and dove screaming over the wall in a well-simulated fall. The screaming was a nice touch, but it wasn't his idea -- he hit the magical ward around the palace, hurting himself badly.
Four hippogrif riders see him fall and dive after, possibly to loot his smashed corpse. As they pass through some cloud-cover, Cantrel uses his telekinesis to throw one rider off his mount and take his place. Like the other three, he follows his victim down, reaching the ground before them. He strips the body of its identifying armor and smashes the face, then hides. The hippogrif, never very tame, takes off alone. The other three riders come down, survey the corpse, then leave, perhaps in search of their missing comrade. Cantrel is now alone in the desert, at night.
He starts tramping back toward Maratesh. On the way, he encounters a samurai cat on horseback -- Tomukato, in fact. Tomukato has learned that his long-sought kidnapped cat-princess is prisoner in a floating palace. So they join forces.
The next morning, Cantrel flits back up to the palace and sneaks into the landing platform where his pegasi are still tethered. He pushes off the guard and escapes on his flying horses, then returns to Tomukato on the ground. That evening, he makes a few passes over the palace. During the first one, he and his pegasus crash into the ward again. A few more circumspect passes give him a good idea of where the invisible dome lies. (Meanwhile the diminished party watches from the roof of the palace.)
The next morning, Cantrel and Tomukato are planning in a desert hideaway when they notice a troop coming from Maratesh. These folk meet up with a flock of hippogrifs come down from the castle with extra mounts. The city folk climb on the extra 'grifs and they all fly away. Cantrel and Tomukato follow unobserved on pegasi, using clouds for cover.
They arrive about two minutes after the flying troop. They find two soldiers on the landing platform. Cantrel flies in unobserved, but one spies Tomukato, flies out to meet him, and is immediately cut in two. Cantrel knocks out the other quietly. They thus remain undiscovered. Wonderful!
They then climb the outside wall and slip in under the ward. Meantime, the miniature folk on the roof wait and watch. Alag spots them as they slip into the garden. We consider having Daewen hail her good old buddy Shirvan, but decide not to, since his troops are outnumbered two to one.
The two kings spend a few minutes shouting contradictory claims at each other while bracketed by their men, either in person or through their heralds. While they are at this,
the island, which had been listing a bit to one side, suddenly becomes level and bounces once or twice. Picking ourselves up and peering through the surrounding clouds, we see it has come up against a mountain.
Down before the palace, everyone relaxes from battle-ready. We faintly hear sharp words exchanged between the kings, then they both go inside, leaving most of the troops outside.
Daewen, Wu, Alag, and Lorelei decide to try to rendezvous with Cantrel and the samurai cat. Meanwhile, Chris, Pfusand, Beygar, and Tom will try to find the rooms where the kings are talking, hoping to overhear something useful. Daewen packs up the miniatures and shinnies down into the shrubbery. The spying party decides to enter by way of the king's bedroom, since we're fairly certain that's one place the king won't be.
The king isn't there, but as we climb over the sill Chris senses something magical happen. It was nothing obvious, but might have been an alarm. We back out and try again through the window leading into the stairwell. We then hop down the stairs to the first floor, where we expect the meeting to be. We pause to hide from three guards who go tramping past, on their way to the king's chambers to check out the alarm.
Once on the ground floor, we explore our way up and down several corridors and their adjoining rooms, looking for the kings' councils. Our journey is closely controlled by the amount of space between the door and the floor, and by the amount of furniture around to provide cover.
At one point in our explorations, we find an armory with what appears to be a door into the throne room -- probably a secret door to let the guards burst out and cut down any would-be assassins. But what concerns us more is that this armory has all our weapons and gear in it. If we ever get back to a useful size, we will want to come back here.
Eventually, we find the two kings. Tom crawls under the door and stays under it, listening.
Meanwhile, Cantrel and Tomukato have snuck up on the palace roof unobserved by anyone, including Daewen who just recently LEFT the roof. They take note of the guards poking around the king's chambers and decide to enter by way of a back window. Shortly after they leave, Daewen & Co. come back and find Cantrel's tracks on the roof. Heaving tiny sighs of irritation, they follow.
Cantrel and Tomukato enter by a back window (presently looking out on a nearby mountainside) and tiptoe down the corridor, testing doors. They come to a bedroom with an occupant. Tomukato steals in to see if it's his princess. No, it's a man who wakes up. Tomukato gags him, then quietly strangles him. Cantrel closes the door and they proceed to loot the room. Their victim appears to have been a minor noble, with plenty of money and jewelry.
As they start to open to door, it flies open in their faces. Tomukato swings and pulls back and the last nanosecond as Daewen vaults deftly over his sword. She doesn't get away ungrazed, though, since Cantrel landed a punch on her nose before he recognized her.
She explains that she had been following them through the garden, across the roof, and down the hall, when this door started to open. So she attacked. So they... Somewhere in the middle of this, Cantrel notices the Lilliputian adventurers in Daewen's improvised sling. "Do you have all of them?" he asks her once he gets over the surprise. She explains where the others are.
Back under the door, Tom hears the two kings negotiating for an alliance. Also in the room are the eight-foot bald man, Smerdis' wizard, Smerdis' mother, and Cambyses (Shirvan's wizard). They two kings are arguing about whether Shirvan gets his alliance first or Smerdis gets his daughter, jewel, and hippogrif first. So it would seem that Shirvan is Navrish.
Just then there is a horrible roar, as of a dragon or some such. It is demoralizing in the same compelling way the pan-pipes of the Golden Fields were delightful. People run around panic-stricken all over the palace. But the two parties of adventurers keep their wits, more or less. (Tom stops his ears.)
Smerdis barks some orders to his guards, turns to the bald eight-footer, and --* And the eight-footer is gone, like a burst bubble. The old queen darts out, returning to report that invisible attackers are all over the place.
"It's the djinn," Shirvan explains. "So long as that jewel is gone, they are free to gate in here." Smerdis was unaware that his stolen jewel had that property. He is, of course, livid. Shirvan calmly goes on to explain that the stone must be replaced, if they djinn are to be kept from returning. The queen tartly corrects him; the djinn can return with or without the stone in place. "Yes," says Shirvan, "but the invisibles can't gate in with it in place." He then grins at Smerdis. "You'd better ally with me quickly." He then offers Smerdis a duchy amounting to a quarter of the kingdom in return for renouncing claim to the throne.
"Done," says Smerdis. "NO!" shrieks his mother and starts to draw a wand, but Cambyses beats her to it. She withdraws, but adds, "Cancel any of my magics NOW and we're all dead." "Then be careful where you point that thing," advises Cambyses.
"Should we go down the lift tubes?" asks Smerdis. "No," says his mother. "That's where the invisibles come gating in." "Then you'd better go out through the vent the way I did," advises Shirvan.
Then comes a horrible screech, like the roar only worse. It sounds like someone vivisecting a banshee-werewolf hybrid. More panic.
Cantrel, Daewen, etc. have been hearing the same loud noises. They find they can walk out into the hall completely unnoticed by the panicked locals. However, the invisible marauders attack them just as they do everyone else. From Daewen's pocket, Wu casts repeated Detect Magic spells, causing the things to glow faintly. This gives the swordsmen something to aim at, which they do. Eventually, they fight their way too the lift-tubes. Invisible are pouring up them. But the rest of the party is that way, as is Tomukato's princess, probably. They prepare to fight their way down.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.