Week 25, Approaching the Castle
We left the party (minus Cantrel) approaching a giant stone statue on the borders of a region we believe to contain the castle of the Black Mage. As they approach the statue, they hear the sounds of landslide, but see no movement. They continue to approach, and the timbre of the rocky noises changes. One begins to hear words in it, spoken as by a slowed-down tape: "G-O A-W-A-Y !" Beygar suggests that this may be an earth-elemental or a magically animated statue, a golem. Lorelei casts at the statue and finds that, like the sphinxes, it bears complex enchantments under a cloaking spell.
At this point, Chris says that he has an idea we might like to try first. Sounds good. We beat a dignified retreat back to the gate, where Cantrel has come back from his uneventful flight over the mist. Beygar suggests that Cantrel might do a flight reconnaissance of the giant, so Cantrel casts a Flight spell on Beygar and sends him off to carry out his own bright idea.
Meanwhile, Chris takes a piece of parchment, quill, and ink, and dribbles ink over the parchment while running his Dicing talent. This is a message for the Black Mage, sending him greetings from the Golden Mage and a recommendation that Chris's Dicing skill would be of interest to the Black. (This Golden Mage DID make such a recommendation.)
The dwarf has told us that he only admits messengers. Chris now tries to insist that HE is a messenger, with a message, which the dwarf refuses to believe. Casting an ESP spell on him, Chris asks him, "Do you even know who your master IS?" "I try not to think about him," answers the dwarf, quite truthfully -- which rather scuttles the ESP spell. "Have you ever met him?" "No." "Then how do you get your orders?" "I ... I just get knowed how to do it." Chris gets the impression the dwarf is manipulated by telepathy or some coercive form of magic. "So what do Messengers look like?" Chris asks. They look like the things in the skies at night. The dwarf is massive and deliberately not curious about them. Chris gives up.
Daewen offers to try. At her orders, we stand back. She then glows with her gray, misty aura and enlarges to a gigantic version of herself. She kicks solidly at the dwarf's side-door. "I am here for the master! Open the gates!" "Open them yourself." And he slams the door.
She then strides over to the gates, reaches the tops, thins out, and slips through the crack. She then turns back and looks around and shrugs at us. We shrug back and she reappears on this side of the gate. It was all illusion; she never really grew or penetrated the gates. She just jumped up to the tops. She thinks even her apparition wasn't imposing enough.
Cantrel therefore decides to try an assault by air -- tomorrow, when he's rested up. He would like to take some other folk with him.
Meanwhile, Beygar has flown off to the giant statue and surveyed the area around the giant. Beyond the giant is a disheartening drop of cliffs. To go by any easier route you have to pass the giant. He also notices that the view of the castle from the direction is blocked by a cloud. The time on his spell is almost up, so he flits back to camp and reports. He suggests we might try tricking the giant into running off the cliff after one of us; the giant doesn't look very fast, and all the old fairy tales always have the hero defeat the giant by trickery. "Great idea," says Cantrel. "Try it." And he renews the flight spell.
So back Beygar flits. This time, he flies skimming along the ground, as if running. The giant sings the national anthem: " G-O A-W-A-Y ! " Beygar skims closer and the voice speeds up. Beygar starts to circle the giant's hilltop, to get past and lead the giant toward the cliff. The giant moves for the first time -- quite quickly, thank you. He parallel's Beygar's course, then grabs a man-sized boulder. THWOCK
It's really amazing. Beygar does not pass out. He just wishes he could. Most of his bones are broken. It's a good thing he's still flying, or he'd collapse like a pile of sticks and die. He flutters back to the gates and reports. "Don't land," Dr. Wu advises him, and proceeds to haul him back from death's door. Chris recommends Beygar have a try at emptying the wine barrel. (It's ever-full, you may recall....)
So we wait some more. The dwarf comes out and washes away the stains of Beygar's blood from the paving in front of the gate. Eventually night falls.
The midnight storm is relatively small, but full of lightening, including ball lightning and other odd shapes. The magically talented members of the party see ghostly shapes in the clouds. Rather rashly, Chris tries an ESP spell to contact them, and gets
branded across his frontal lobes. Fortunately, he comes through with faculties unimpaired and no irresistible compulsion to go away.
The rest of the night passes uneventfully. In the morning, Cantrel casts Flight spells on himself, Lorelei, Daewen, and Dr. Wu, and they all fly off over the gates toward the castle.
The mist forms a lack behind the gate, then gives way to rocky terrain. The castle looks to be about a half-hour flight from the gates. But time passes and it doesn't seem to be getting any closer.
They fly lower. The ground is in fact moving below them, so nothing is pushing them back. But Daewen notices that the SAME ground goes by about three times while they watch. Cantrel tries flying with his eyes closed, in case this is an illusion. No. "Fourth time," reports Daewen. They land in a rough gully and start walking. "Fifth time," Daewen say. "I recognize that boulder."
Wu scrys at the area. More complex, shielded magic. He keeps scrying as they walk. They eventually circle around again, but Wu has identified an area of more intense magic.
They turn around and walk back they way they came. This time the trail does not repeat. Instead, the gully opens out onto a gentle incline leading down to the lake of mist. So they start heading back up the gully and the trail loops again.
They try a variety of things. Cantrel uses his dispel-magic wand on the area of concentrated magic (which is the point they exit the loop by the way). They wait for six hours just to see if something comes to get them at sunset. Nothing does. They try walking backwards. Nope. They try formally disbelieving. Zilch. Just to make doubly sure they're really looping, they build a small cairn of stones and start walking again. The cairn is there when they come back. Lorelei suggests they wait for the midnight storm and try to get in when the "real messengers" do. So they wait. The storm they see has no funny monsters in it. They start walking, though, and it still loops. They try hitting it with the dispelling wand again. Nada. Cantrel casts flight spells all around again, then takes off by himself. He loops and comes back to them. They try to gain altitude but oddly can't get very high. For that matter, they can't fly sideways very far either. They don't feel anything resisting them, they just fail to make headway.
You can tell there are a bunch of computer types playing this game, can't you?
They leave. No problem. They find the others still camped in front of the gates, having just watched the nightly monster movie. they are relieved to see the fliers safe and sound. Cantrel mounts a pegasus and tries on it. The results are identical.
Tom suggests that the castle is shielded by a teleport gate for half-integer-spin matter, since obviously the light can leave the castle or we couldn't see it. Most of the company looks remarkably blank, but Daewen and Chris nod wisely. Daewen opines that the blocks on vertical and tangential movement were a different effect, however, since they just held back without strange loopings. She also suggests that there might be some kind of filter to the loop, and that Chris's Dicing might be able to defeat it, though she isn't sure how.
Pfusand suggests that Chris could fold his message into a paper airplane and dice it in on the nightly storm, rather the way he flew people about back in the wind chamber of the flying castle. But the range is too great.
Cantrel comes back from his pegasus-ride and remarks that the cloud is still blocking the view of the castle from other directions. Hardly natural.
Daewen and Tom discuss the problem a little more. Perhaps these things in the air are ATTACKING the castle, and all these defenses are to keep them OUT. Messengers my foot! The repeated "Go Aways" could be part of the defenses too, since evil spirits may not be able to enter without invitation.
Hmmm. We may be in the awkward position of having to RESCUE the Black Mage. Well, it should certainly help win him over to our side.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.