Week 23, Cleaning up
Last we saw of Beygar the Stick, he was six inches high or less and had just fled screaming in panic. He started from the dining room by the kings' council chamber. He fled to the pantry and, climbing into a cupboard, hid behind a jar.
So of course he enlarged soon after. By the time he emerged from the wreckage of the cupboard, the magical panic had worn off. He started to check out his surroundings. Back in the dining room, he goes through to the council chamber and finds the remains of our fight with the kings and their magicians. He recognizes our style, also Daewen's silks that she is now twelve sizes too large for. Out in the hallway, he sees four guards in a cluster, backs to each other, fighting with the air. Sometimes, the air seems to be getting the upper hand.
Beygar heads the other way, looking for the secret armory his group ran across when miniature. On the way, he feels something take a swing at him and miss. He ducks through the armory door and bolts it behind him. The armory is, of course, picked over. He leaves by another door, goes down some stairs, and comes out on the level full of store rooms. From there, he floats down the elevator tube, goes down the tunnels, and ultimately comes to the airlock doors behind which, though he cannot know it, the rest of the party lies panting in exhaustion from their recent defeat of the djinn. But the airlock door is closed and locked.
Disappointed, he starts back. But as he nears the elevator tubes, he sees a figure in the way, a dignified man in blue and gray robes. While still distant, the figure tosses a small carpet at him. This throw rug flies on under its own power and wraps Beygar in a tight cocoon. "Where are the princes and your friends?" this man, a priest of the air gods, demands. Beygar doesn't know, of course. The priest remarks that his auguries pointed this way and starts his own investigation. The carpet tags along after him; Beygar, still wrapped in it, follows perforce. Eventually, the priest returns to the door and unwraps Beygar to send him through first.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party, along with Shirvan and Smerdis, were licking their wounds. Tom suggests to Tomukato that they take a look through these "scrying windows" Shirvan mentioned, before anyone goes leaping into Djinnistan. The samurai cat feels this is not the best heroic style but is certainly willing to wait for a little more magical healing once the wizards are re-charged.
Pfusand asks Smerdis why he kept saying one thing and doing another -- promising our safety, then enslaving us; saying we're free to go, then tossing us in a bottle. Smerdis disclaims responsibility. We were bound and chained at the orders of his (overzealous) captain of the guards; we were popped in the bottle by that djinn, their ambassador, who felt he had a claim on us since Smerdis had promised him the next twenty strangers to come by. (This smells of evasion, not to mention the general misanthropy of kidnapping strangers into slavery, but we let the matter rest there.)
People nod off for a few minutes, except Pfusand who remains on guard. So it is she who hears a faint rapping from the airlock. She wakes Smerdis and tells him. He, in turn, "wakes" Cantrel, who was feigning sleep. Cantrel is not sure we want to let in an unknown party just now and carefully informs Smerdis that if he betrays us, we will kill him.
Smerdis goes to the door, Pfusand at his elbow, and opens it magically, having lost track of the key. He then conjures a flaming sphinx in the air. This wakes anyone who wasn't already up. It certainly startles the heck out of Beygar when the second airlock door opens revealing Smerdis, this fiery apparition, and Pfusand. The priest behind him lifts a wand so Beygar hits the floor and rolls. "Be gone!" intones the priest and the sphinx vanishes.
Eventually, we are all calm down and in the spherical chamber together. Chris admires the sphinx and asks Smerdis if it was real. "That would be telling!" is the coy reply. This priest, Farash, is in Shirvan's employ and Shirvan tells us we are all allies now. Accordingly, Farash starts healing people. We represent enough total damage to thoroughly exhaust him, so we all curl up and sleep in the chamber, this time without interruption.
In the morning, Wu continues healing Tomukato -- Farash seemed to do more harm than good, for some obscure reason. The cat is then all hot to leap through to Djinnistan in pursuit of his princess. The others, though, want to take a look before maybe going with him. So the whole party moves to the twin spires of the palace. Through their upper windows, we see not the surrounding mountains but Djinnistan -- a shifting montage of cloudscapes and airy palaces rather like this one. Eventually, Smerdis guides the viewpoint to the other side of the portal in the cavern. There, we see seven djinn in a circle, staring into vacancy with intent expressions. One djinn about finished us, and now we have seven. Also a completely alien environment. Tomukato still wants to jump through but the rest of the party declines.
Smerdis teaches Chris and Tom the scrying cantrip, to let them try locating the princess. This ultimately fails, but while they are trying Daewen approaches another scrying window and starts singing in High Elvish. This foreign spell evokes Chyoxan scenes, scenes from Djinnistan, a beautifully paradisal countryside, and another mysterious landscape at dawn. When the slide-show is over, she explains she was just looking around. It appears there are two other planes beside Djinnistan nearby. The pantope is far, far away, unfortunately.
Tomukato wants to GO. NOW! All right, all right. Wu gives him one last healing and Cantrel gives him a magical ring of protection. We then see him back to the spherical wind-chamber. Cantrel casts a Flight spell on him, Shirvan opens the portal, and whisk he's gone. By the time we walk the length of the island and return to the scrying windows, things in Djinnistan have changed. There are only three djinn on duty at the portal, with lots of little misty figures gathered around them. No sign of Tomukato; the fight must be over, with no clear outcome.
We finish our business with the kings: Wu examines the pink gem, but it feels nothing like a diadem segment. (Probably just as well.) Shirvan gives Cantrel two scrolls, who turns them over to Wu. One is a letter of passage good throughout West Chyoxus. The other is a magical scroll that starts to go off as Wu reads it. Whoops! Wu stifles this and gets a whiff of high-level clerical magic.
Chris and Cantrel remind Smerdis of the silver he owes us, but Smerdis claims he no longer owes it, since the missing articles have not returned as a result of our information. We decide not to push it, for a reason that will become clear later.
So that evening finds us riding down the Silk Road, following the line of the mountains into the south. Daewen suddenly remarks that we missed a great opportunity. We should have commandeered the flying castle and flown it to Gorlach's fortress!
Tom considers that this might have been a good idea. After all, it worked well for Princess Louise, back in the Jack. (Who? ask most of the party.) But don't regret the palace too much. We would have had to fight both magician-kings, plus all their retainers, plus an assortment of left-over Invisible Stalkers. Also, we have all the magical items they were wearing when we looted them. These were forgotten in the rush .. but not by Chris or Cantrel, which is why they did not push the silver issue very hard!
We ride on for five days more. On the road, Tom trades Chris lessons in hysterical agility in return for lessons in the ESP spell. He also asks Daewen for lessons in dimensional engineering. She answers that she is willing to give them, but that since she resumed her elven shape, she has been thinking in a more elven fashion than ever before, so her perspective on these matters will be more intuitive than mathematical. Tom is willing to take any instruction he can get, especially from an instructor that looks like this one.
But this leads to a discussion on how she managed to turn back into an elf. She says that, as we have all noticed, psychic effects (a.k.a. "magic") are much more powerful in this continuum; this means that belief and desire much more powerfully shape reality here.
About a week out from the flying castle, there is a thunderstorm at night. Those on watch think they see a castle spire in the glare of a lightning stroke, but when morning comes there is no castle to see. We decide this is worth investigating, especially if you are looking for the Black Mage, which we are, so we head in the direction the spire was last seen. The next night, just before dawn, a storm blows in with unnatural speed and turns into a small, wide tornado on reaching the mountains. We all get up to see it, and the castle, visible again by lighting. Some see nothing more than a tornado acting unnaturally. But others see a dim, gigantic figure striding through the storm, and the most magically talented feel the distant presence of magical power. These most sensitive see the storm fly away in the form of a giant bird.
We are now into the mountains and the horses are becoming an inconvenience. We leave them behind and go on alone. We camp with a small peak between us and where we think the castle will be. Daewen suggests that someone on each watch keep a lookout from the peak. Chris takes the second watch on the peak and sees the black castle, pretty much where we expected it, no more than a half-hour or so distant. He fetches Alag, who also sees it. Eventually, we all have a look. It has five towers and is made of black stone, looking molded more than carved or cut. And it pops in and out of visibility as you cross the peak. Wu reckons that this invisibility at a distance is because of an illusion rather than because of ethereal shifting from one plane to another.
We spend the rest of the next day just camping on the edge, to be polite. (We've found it isn't couth to rush in upon wizards.) That night, we see: