Back to Middle Earth
Week 3, Village of Celebanon
We left our heroes headed for the elven village of Celebanon, on the outskirts of Mirkwood, after an unsuccessful attempt to locate and recover Nate, inferred to be wrapped up for spider-chow.
We were going to approach the elves of Celebanon and ask them to help us form a posse, but Chris has thought of an alternative. We could go out to the marsh and rendezvous with the pantope, then move back in time to last night and rescue Nate then. The elf-posse, even if we got it, would probably lose some members, making the morality of the idea dubious, not to mention what it would do to our popularity with the elves.
Tom seconds the idea, provided we take care to avoid timelocks. Daewen points out that, to avoid them, we would have to pick up Nate AFTER she found the track of his body being dragged through the brush near the spiders' lair. Since she is the most technically advanced member of the party, we ask her what she thinks of the idea. She confesses she has a superstitious dread of looping through time, but acknowledges that it IS superstitious, and the idea sounds workable, if a bit risky.
Accordingly, we turn away from the elven village and head for the marsh. (Not a hopeful beginning.) The first day in the marsh, our fourth out from the pantope, passes uneventfully. But on the morning of the fifth day, we spot a party of spiders moving past us in the distance. We lay low and they pass on. We spot them again, returning in the evening. Fortunately, spiders have rather bad eyes; they pass us again.
On the morning of the sixth day, Victoria shows up nicely on schedule. We board the pantope and explain to her about having to find Nate. We have the autochef fabricate a Nate-sized side of meat, for possible substitutions, then open a window on the night of Nate's disappearance, three days ago now, around 10 PM.
Tom steers the window toward the river and starts moving it up and down stream, looking for the silken cable. But this is trickier than just opening the door at a specified spot. The view outside the window (enhanced by infrared) is of a rocky ride. Abruptly, Tom loses the river, then everything and we're left with a blank black view of nothing. Tom queries the Serving System about what happened and deduces they jumped out of that continuum altogether and are looking on empty hyperspace.
Daewen says that part of the problem is that the helm is set up for the 11 (or 13) dimensions of hyperspace, not the local orientations of north -south, east-west, up-down. She fiddles with the helm and produces a joystick that will steer in a more intuitive manner. Tom uses this gratefully, but finds his Knack of Tools doesn't work as well on it, since it is not a configuration the Captain used.
The ride is still choppy and Daewen gets motion-sickness. When she comes back from a mad dash for the nearest restroom, Tom offers her the helm. Just as she starts to reconfigure it, Tom says to the Serving System, "Turn it back the way it was," meaning to Daewen's mode. But his timing was off and the helm convulses into Tom's habitual set-up. No sooner do they get that fixed than the window vanishes entirely -- local power failure. We fix that and Daewen finds she's forgotten the coordinates.
We conclude that the river at 10 PM is timelocked for some reason. Let's try earlier. We open the window on our camp, just outside Mirkwood, around 8 PM. We then watch. Nate appoints himself outlier without telling anyone, goes over near the woods, stands guard, then falls asleep leaning on a stick. Tom Noon (the earlier Tom, of three days ago) discovers him, kicks the stick out from under him, bawls him out, and sends him on guard. An hour later, Tom - 3 relents and sends him back to camp.
Nate then goes and plays outlier on the other side of camp, falls asleep again, and never notices when a sheep-sized spider with seven-foot legs sneaks up and bites him. It then is joined by a friend and they wrap him up in silk and drag him off into the woods. Tom (the latest instance of him) moves the window after them. In the infrared, we see dim manlike forms ahead of the spiders -- probably the giants or trolls. Tom then moves the window upward and lays it flat over the spiders, ready to turn it into a door and snatch Nate telekinetically at the first moment of inattention.
A third spider shows up, then a fourth with a second bundle of about the same size. (We hastily order the Serving System to label the bundles, to help us keep track of them.) Suddenly, our overhead view of the spiders is obscured by a cross-section through something -- a giant's club. It's the big giant and the little one, whom we spotted later this night. They polish off the spiders quickly and the swinging clubs give up no chance to snatch bundles, by TK or any other means.
The larger giant was puzzled to discover two bundles. He handed a leather sack to the smaller giant and shoved both of them in. (We winced, imagining what was happening to Nate's skeletal structure.) Then the two trolls showed up, being harried by spiders. There was some more fighting, then Papa Giant gave the bag to one of the trolls and sent them off while he and Junior Giant went to fight spiders.
Around this time, Daewen notices that the leather bag isn't really large enough to hold Nate AND the second bundle. In fact, it is some kind of a magic Bag of Holding, or, in technical terms, a dimensional distortion of some kind. (This would explain why Tom's Knack of Finding sometimes worked and sometimes didn't last time we were in this night.) Such things are no part of the Tolkien setting, so the bag is outworld handicraft. Either the giant is a customer or he go the bag from a customer. The bag might be a region of reduced scale, or it might be a portal into a large, extra- dimensional container --- probably the latter.
Meanwhile, the two trolls are thumping off through darkest Mirkwood, in the middle of the night, in a southerly direction, which is to say roughly in the direction of Dol Goldur. We get anxious and chock the external time- rate down to half-speed to give us time to think.
The upshot of our thinking is that Pfusand steps out with a glamour cast on him by Daewen to make him look like Papa Giant. He confronts the two trolls, surprising them very much, and gestures for the bag. The troll gives it to Pfusand, but strong though he is, he can't hold the bag at that angle and drops it. Tom tries to swing the doorway in to intercept it, but only succeeds in losing the connection altogether.
He reconnects a fraction of a second later. He, Alag, and Lorelei pull it in by TK. Actually, Tom accidentally gets Daewen, who dodges out to help manually. Do we smell a timelock? Well, we collect Pfusand and disconnect.
Daewen advises against playing with dimensional distortions like this bag aboard the pantope, or even keeping it around for long. So we connect to a sunny day next week, out on the grasslands. Sophie, Lorelei, Pfusand, and Tom take the bag outside and try to retrieve Nate. But "try" is the operative word.
The bag looks full but we can find nothing inside that we didn't put there. We use a handy rock as a test object. Of course, it's a giant-sized bag and it takes us some time to explore its interior with a modicum of caution. (Cantrel and Daewen, watching from the other side of the door, regard the "modicum" as terrifyingly insufficient.) Loud and deliberate exclamations of intent don't make any difference. Using TK doesn't make any difference, except to turn the bag inside out and show it to be completely empty. Chris's Dicing doesn't help. It continues to look full when right side out, but a lot of sheer effort on Pfusand's part produces nothing but a black cauldron. The cauldron isn't in the least magical. We regretfully conclude that ownership is intimately involved in the use of this bag. Lorelei detects a misdirection spell of some sort on it, which probably doesn't help.
We pack up and return to the night of the spider-fight. We observe the battle, then follow the giants as they retreat from the spider camp. Eventually, we move ahead of them and drop the bag in their path. Papa Giant is very puzzled to find it there. He reaches into it and extracts a bundle of silk. We identify it as the second bundle, i.e. not Nate. He unwraps it and reveals a big, ugly, sickly-looking baby giant, about man- sized. This he puts in a giant Snugglie (tm).
We stop time. We decide that Daewen shall glamourize Pfusand as a giant again, this time a foreign-looking one, who will step out of the shadows and say, in Common, "Now you have yours; return the other bundle, which is mine, and I'll go away."
We'll hope this works.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.