Week 24, Battle with Musgrove
We left Alag and Cantrel exploring the tunnels under the mysterious shrines in the caverns of Ayesha. They found a shattered stone door with footprints leading in and out. The only prints to emerge were booted.
They spent a great deal of time exploring another tunnel, which went north by northwest, down and down for a great distance, but contained nothing of obvious relevance to our purpose -- though there were interesting archaeological remnants suggesting some solemn ceremonies relating to Judaism.
Outside, Chris and Sophie ask Jonathan if he's going to join us permanently, or just long enough to avenge Braithwaite. He isn't sure but thinks he'd like to stick around. Are we gods, by the way? They assure him we are not. (When Sophie joined, she wanted to make sure we weren't demons.)
Inside, Alag and Cantrel return, frustrated, to the doorway with all the footprints. They find that, a short way into it, they fade off our telepathy net, though Alag can keep up contact with Cantrel. We decide that the party should re-unite and go down this tunnel together.
While Alag and Cantrel wait, the outside party sets up another invisible air- train with levitation, glamour, and bits of string. Daewen pulls it by flying belt.
As we near the caverns on the cliffs, Chris notices that we've been noticed by the guards -- how, he can't tell; maybe movements in the branches or disturbances of the birds. He summons up a dust-devil at some distance to distract them but is squashed at the first attempt by Daewen's counter-spell. When she understands what his intention is, she lets him proceed. This attracts the guards' interest and we slip past unnoticed.
Tom drops off the train to help push it around once we are in the subterrene city, with all its corners. We have little trouble reaching the throne room, but when we get there, we find some drowsy guards on duty. Only one is even a quarter awake and Lorelei soon supplies him the missing 25%.
We all start walking now that we are in the maze-like apartments, though we remain invisible. We find a single drowsy guard before the shrine. While Lorelei contemplates casting a finishing sleep on him, we also consider taking Jonathan off levitation (he being the only one still afloat). Lorelei telepaths to Tom "Can you catch him?" "Sure," says Tom, thinking she means Jonathan. He is therefore surprised when the guard falls over. Which only proves that even telepathy is not a perfect form of communication, at least not the way we do it. A few simple lock-pickings later, we rejoin Cantrel and Alag and are all at the entrance of the tunnel with the footprints.
While he was waiting, Alag practiced some retrocognition. He saw many people robed in white, looking more Semitic than African, watching solemnly as the doorway is sealed and engraved. There was a very old patriarch among them. The area around the door defeated Alag's vision. A second try showed the door now broken and a man of mixed Semitic and African appearance, with eyes that look half blind, moving through the doorway cautiously.
Now that we are all here, we move into this tunnel, conjuring various magical lights to show the way. Tom's Finding points ahead, vaguely. Cantrel tests the threshold with one of our watches, but it shows no strange changes of hyperspatial coordinates. However, around 60 feet in, Tom starts to feel the local psi sort of close in. Sophie suggests the feeling is more as if we were getting away from the psychic energies of the world at large.
A hundred yards in, we see dim red light ahead. Tom's Finding now points ahead very strongly. We find a vast cavern, perhaps a mile or more across, floored with lava beds and miniature volcanoes. A dim ray of light pierces the roof somewhere ahead and above. Tom sends his Second Sight ahead, scouting over the lava.
Somewhere near the center of it all, he sees a man standing on a small platform of stone, near the point where the light (moonlight?) shines down. He has one hand upraised and something like a small blue bonfire leaps at his feet. Tom brings the viewpoint closer and sees it is the man who fought the demon with a sword back in Braithwaite's house -- Musgrove, with hardly a doubt. The blue fire at his feet is building. Tom recalls that, in the novel, Ayesha was first enhanced and later destroyed by a blue fire.
He sends the viewpoint up toward the roof, so Sophie can map the terrain. On the way up, he sees a couple of curious figures near Musgrove. One is a mummified body, probably male. The other looks almost like a shadow at first, but on inspection proves to be a sort of bas relief done in ashes, perhaps the remains of someone who got flash-fried here.
Jonathan chooses this time to feel around for psychic activity. Yow! Oh, yes, and now the whole telepathy net is emoting irritation at him. While we get over the psychic dazzle, Chris reflects that the bas relief figure looks like it was in the act of crawling out of a vent.
Tom zooms the viewpoint in on Musgrove's upraised fist and Finds the Eye in there. Alag, Cantrel, Chris, and Daewen all start flying out. Just about then, Musgrove raises his hands and is enveloped in a glow of blue. The faint beam from the roof has moved over towards him, and the blue fire has grown, also exhibiting ropy structures within itself.
Daewen shuts off the beam from the roof, which startles Musgrove. Cantrel then throws Alag at Musgrove, adding to the elf's TK, and Chris steps up his air speed. Musgrove's aura fluctuates and he steps into the flames.
Cantrel comes into TK range and uses it to grab at Musgrove's fist. There's lots of resistance, but it opens. There's a tremendous flare, both visual and psychic, when the flames touch the Eye. Cantrel grabs blindly for the Eye and misses.
Chris, who Anticipated and shut his eyes, opens them for a peek. The blue flames are now thirty feet high and ten wide at the base. A figure, presumably Musgrove, is writhing around in them. Purple streaks show up in the blue. Tom sends his Second Sight out of Chris's eyes to help look through the fire for the Eye. He is startled by (yet another) unique sensation -- his Second Sight hurts, apparently burned by the blue fire. Cantrel's left hand also hurts, the one his TK was pulling toward.
Remembering his experience on Barrow Hill, Cantrel suspects something involving a gateway to the minions of Dalgroom may be opening in the fire. He casts a Hold Portal spell into it. That action hurts, too.
Alag is now flitting past Musgrove's fire. He grabs at it telekinetically and suffers the same psychic burns the rest of us have. Pfusand starts out across the lava beds, using a pathway from Sophie's visual map. Chris conjures up a filter of glamour to view the fire through; this reveals the writhing figure more clearly. Using that image, Cantrel tries throwing a grenade in. It explodes early. He then tries shoving Musgrove out of the flames. He fails and his hands burn again. The figure stands upright. It is Musgrove, but naked, heroically muscled, about eight feet tall, with eyes shining with blue fire.
Chris now pulls out the stops. He runs up a Pattern with Maxwelling in it to control physical heat, Second Order Glamour in it to control the sensations of heat, and a lot of Levitation. With this, he reaches into the fire for the Eye. Musgrove dodges and throws a fireball at Cantrel. Then it veers off toward Chris. Chris dodges in turn.
Now Musgrove starts to pull BACK on Chris through Chris's own TK. Alag joins Chris, but the two of them together cannot quite keep Chris from skidding toward the blue flame.
Cantrel puts a Pattern on a psilencer, to activate on impact, then lobs it at Musgrove. Musgrove replies with a huge fireball that connects, hurting Cantrel badly. The psilencer vanishes in the fire with only a flicker of psilence.
Daewen now reports that she detects some sort of dimensional activity down in the blue fire, and some of it has Cantrel's signature. So perhaps he was write to cast that Hold Portal.
Chris now settles down to a TK tug-of-war with Musgrove. At times, he feels he is winning. Musgrove moves to the edge of the flames, ignoring Daewen's gunfire. Alag tries to glue Chris in place, but notices that this fancy Binding and Patterning stuff seems to make little difference. It's the plain old TK shove of Levitation that helps, when it helps at all.
Cantrel and Daewen join Alag in pulling back on Chris, with TK, flying belt, and muscle. They actually start gaining ground. And by now Lorelei and Tom and in the air, with Pfusand pounding along on the ground. To be continued.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.