The Chaos Marches
Chapter 16, Unloading the Marginalia
We left our heroes in the galley of the "Zephyr," somewhere out in the Chaos Marches, conferring with Glorian, who has just shown up out of the chaos mists with a troop of elven soldiers. She is, she says, leading a wave of Ennorathi refugees to Vinyagarond. She says there is a valley near here, a little scrap of nature in the chaos, where she intends to leave her refugees, where they can join forces with another wave being led by Vanessa. Mirien and Daewen II are off somewhere else, just now.
She says the general idea is to drop all these refugees on Daewen (I) all at once, so she just has one irritation instead of several. (Just now, Daewen is coping with several dozen refugees. She's about to get saddled with several hundred, may over a thousand.) Maybe we could drop off the Marginalia in her refugee camp. Glorian says this would be good because it would give the refugees and the soldiers something to do -- i.e. take care of Marginalia -- and this will help maintain order.
Salimar takes a telepathic image of the valley from Glorian and uses glamour to show it to the Marginalia, to sell them on the idea. Meanwhile, Glorian goes back and fetches an escort of soldiers for the Marginalia and Cadwallader puts the time to good use, continuing repairs on the "Zephyr."
The Marginalia are very willing to follow Glorian and her people to the valley. At least half of them mistake her for Daewen (her grandmother) and think this is the arrival in the Promised Land or equivalent. For her part, Glorian is taken aback by the sheer number of Marginalia.
Our heroes help with the escorting task -- a bit like leading an elementary school class of hundreds through the Rocky Mountains in fog. Following Glorian, they wend their way down into a verdant valley, full of trees. Gradually, it becomes clear the place is full of elves. There are tree-platforms here and there, and lean-to's and tents, all concealed with elven cunning. Elves show up out of the woodwork and join in herding Marginalia. Eventually, the Marginalia are presented to a chieftess among the refugees, one Galenriel. She and the Leader take a shine to each other immediately, and Galenriel insists on calling them "halflings," rather than the derogatory "Marginalia."
Dafnord learns from the Leader Margin -- halfling that this place resembles the "Far Valleys," the places where the Marginalia used to live before they were driven out or captured by the Lilim and the valleys themselves engulfed by the Lilim's realm.
Dafnord also notes that his telepathic link back to Robbie, who stayed in the "Zephyr," is getting attenuated by the intervening chaos, and that there are still Marginalia leaving the ship, so long is the line from here back to there. Dafnord and the others head back to the ship, and eventually part company with the refugees, taking with them a half dozen or so Marginalia (to help them find Vinyagarond) including some of the Makers (to help with repairs), plus Glorian herself and some of her veteran troops. The elven warriors and the little halflings get on like a house afire -- lots of screaming and destruction. No, really, they're soon best of chums, despite lack of a common language, but then some of the elves probably have the Gift of Tongues or some such.
Salimar then leads the Marginalia to the Observation Lounge (which hasn't been opened in seven years, but Robbie obliges with a crowbar lent by Prof. Cadwallader.) There, she shows them the vistas of chaos, conjures an image of Daewen, and tells them we are looking for the Lady, and please concentrate on that. They do.
Meanwhile, maybe, Tom has just wished himself out of the neighborhood of the city of the Lilim to another part of Chaos' Rim. He dives through a convenient window in the air and finds himself on another, rockier, little island in the void. As he looks about, he hears an unhappy sound and, turning, sees a Marginalis being hauled through the air by the scruff of his neck, held aloft by nothing but some glitter.
The glitter dumps the Marginalis before Tom, and Tom sees that it is really a glassy-looking parrot. He has a sinking sensation. It ought to be a parakeet, and it should be delivering this fellow to Last Valley, not to him. Tom tries to reassure the panic-stricken Marginalis, without notable success, and offers his arm for the parrot to perch on, falcon- style. It does, overbalanced, and hangs by its feet for a while, as Tom audits its memory.
It's probably no good at perching because it's never done it before. It is only minutes old, and is doing what it was born to do, it's certain. It would appear we have copy degradation -- the first parakeets aren't as good at passing along their imperatives as Tom was at giving them.
Tom now tries to open a portal to Mithriel, wherever she is, but fails. He is distracted from renewed efforts by the arrival of three more parrots bearing Marginalia. One calls out and, having been holding its passenger in its beak, drops him. Tom levitates the Marginalis down safely and surveys the three new parrots. They are all parrots, not parakeets, and they come in various opacities -- one foggy, one invisible, except for a skeleton, one invisible except for a digestive tract, one translucent. (Tom has not heard the reports of "sick birds" from the Marginalia who mysteriously appeared in Last Valley before the "Zephyr" left, but if he does, he will understand them.)
Elsewhere in chaos, the "Zephyr" has been gliding along above the rocky rill we have so often marched before between Vinyagarond and Utterly Elsewhere. At least, we thought it was the same rill, but Glorian says she doesn't think we're going the right way. We try backing up, but chaos is being particularly chaotic today and we don't back up to where we came from.
Salimar opens the Map of Here. It shows the ridge, surrounded by misty grey, but around the grey patch is black, with scattered dots of color. The black has no referent on the Map's much-tried legend, but the dots are labeled "Stuff."
Back on his rock, Tom decides to finish what his parrots have begun. He tries to will a portal into Last Valley, to send the Marginalia through. (He has no way of knowing the valley has been evacuated and left to the Lilim.)
He gets a portal full of fire. He hastily starts closing it, but then a leg steps back out of it -- long and slender and clad in a boot. He opens the portal again and sees the back of a woman, facing into a rush of fire. He grabs her back from the fire and gets his wrist broken by a karate blow for his trouble.
A fraction of a second later, he and Mithriel recognize each other. They hastily pull about two dozen Marginalia through the portal. Tom then heals his wrist while Mithriel fires two or three final arrows through the portal at the dragon she was standing off when Tom opened the door behind her. Another dozen Marginalia come through. That's the lot. He then closes the portal.
Mithriel then says, "I've had a terrible week," and faints. She's battered and burned, and probably would die if left untended in normal circumstances. But Tom's here, and "here" is Chaos' Rim.
The rest of our heroes, back in the "Zephyr," gamely try to follow the ridge, but it descends into mist and ends. Salimar does another cheer-leading round with the Marginalia vis a vis Daewen, reminiscent of Peter Pan urging the children in the audience to believe in fairies. Feeling about for portents, she gets a load of nothing every which way but forward, which feels mixed but somewhat favorable.
So off the end and over the edge we go. The "Zephyr" sinks, as if this bit of chaos were not as buoyant as the bit we just left (Chaos has specific gravity?) and everyone is treated to ominous tingles.
Tom sets to work with medical skill and will-power, healing up the unconscious Mithriel, then works on some of the banged-up Marginalia. Some of them have calmed down enough to laugh at the surrealistic parrots that are waddling about here.
Mithriel wakes up, announces that she feels better, and tells Tom about her dreadful week after Tom tells her it's been only an hour or so for him since they parted company.
After the tunnel snapped shut, Mithriel found herself back in Last Valley, which was strangely deserted. She made her way to the high side (where the twilight chaos is) and saw dragons apparently attacking an area over by darkside. Heading that way, she found no Marginalia at first, but then encountered one or two, even more incoherent than usual. Then she found a lot. Then she found one apparently dead from a long, hard fall. They buried him. (Tom looks stricken.)
She spent the rest of the week gathering up Marginalia and fighting off dragons. She was unable to save all the Marginalia; some were killed, others were taken. She was making a last stand versus several dragons when Tom opened the escape hatch.
Tom then recounts his own doings and says he feels terrible about the Marginalia that got dropped. Apparently the stupid birds aren't very careful about where in Last Valley they make their passengers appear. Maybe it's just as well they've started bringing them to Tom himself. He has no idea why the valley was deserted or where the others have gone.
Mithriel then asks if she slept through the night. Tom reminds her that they are in Chaos' Rim, with no night or day. Then what's that dawn light?
Tom follows Mithriel's pointing finger and sees what sure looks like a rising sun -- only it's iridescent. It's Tom's exponential curse, still growing, and one can just barely see the city of the Lilim as a scattering of black dots against its light.
Mithriel wishes they had a way to reach it. Tom is about to say they can surely arrange that, but then Prof. Cadwallader's missing life-boat floats by. Life in Chaos' Rim can be frighteningly convenient.
As the "Zephyr" drops through the mists of chaos, Salimar is struck by a premonition and calls out "Hang on!" Dafnord, on the bridge, picks this up telepathically and relays it to Cadwallader, who obediently relays it through the speaking tube. Lurch. Scrape.
Leaving parrots and Marginalia behind, Tom and Mithriel flit into the lifeboat and drive it by willpower into the city of the Lilim and the growing iridescence of Tom's bright idea...
The "Zephyr" has scraped on the side of a building and narrowly missed another. Salimar opens the Map of Here and sees a pile of overlapping outlines of scattered islands, with small batches of buildings on each one. A look out the windows reveals a mess -- a city build on islands, infested with dragons, on a backdrop of chaos, with the growing iridescent light...
We pass a building with a birdcage-like thing hanging on the outside. In the cage is an unhappy (and now startled) Marginalis. Robbie, realizing where we are, wills very hard for the "Zephyr" to be elsewhere. It doesn't work. Cadwallader steers straight up the sheer side of an approaching building. They pass three caged Marginalia.
...and one of them vanishes, only to reappear, screaming, amid the Marginalia on the Observation Deck with Salimar.
Robbie tries wishing full functionality back into the "Zephyr." Unfortunately, Cadwallader knows his vessel too well and, though he understands what Robbie is trying to do once the robot explains, simply can't believe that the recent trials and bumps and scrapes haven't done severe damage. So it has.
"Floor it!" cries Salimar, anticipating a wash of dragonbreath. Cadwallader floors it, but soon has to bring the "Zephyr" down on a patch of park on one of the floating islands -- the only clear land available. Soon, they are besieged by dragons.
Glorian readies her elven warriors, preparing to storm out of the ship into the dragon-fire. Salimar starts brewing up her brain cocktails. Katrina readies her bow.
Tom and Mithriel notice the battle and swoop in toward it. They don't see the grounded Zephyr yet, however. They see a great black sailing vessel, airborne, being attacked by dragons. The flags on the vessel are black & silver, green & gold, blue & silver, red & purple. The crew looks elvish.
Tom wraps the boat in invisibility, casts laser-bolts at the dragons (without laser; he just casts them), and jigs the ship to the side after each cast.
Five dragons surround the "Zephyr." Robbie rushes out and, on the dubious principle that, if you can't see them, they can't see you, tries to make the ship invisible by blocking the forward window with a towel. Does it work, given the nature of Chaos' Rim? You'd have to be a dragon to know.
Outside the ship, the elves are dodging dragonfire and shooting arrows. Salimar casts a huge ectoplasmic dome over the ship, and Robbie shoots lightning at the dragons from his fingertips. He is joined by Dafnord, who tumbles out of the ship blaster blazing. (Ain't chaos great?)
After one juicy zap, Salimar hears the whine of a gravity motor and a young man yelling, "Yowzer! Watch it!" Yowzer? Looking out, she sees our friend, the elf on the aircycle, shooting a laser at a dragon. He has company -- three young elven women hovering a short distance off, on pegasi. They are an unknown red-head, Mirien, and ... Mithriel? Salimar ventures telepathic contact with them, gets the briefest of hi's from Mithriel, a giggle from Mirien, and very deliberate silence from the new one.
Salimar gives up the puzzling long enough to throw some telepathic brain cocktails at the dragons. Then she sees the big elven ship overhead. She sends notice out on the net, and is surprised to find that Tom is now back on it.
Last Updated: 4-Sep-96
©1996 Earl Wajenberg