The Chaos Marches
Chapter 19, Searching for Connections
We left our heroes gathered into Last Valley by various routes, with the bulk of the Marginalia. They are dispersed in three places:
At the glass trailer, in the forest, where the "Zephyr" came through, we have Salimar, Dafnord, Fr. Paddy, and Markel the dragon-rider (with his dragon).
On the "Zephyr," en route to a landing near our old camp near dark side, we have Katrina, Prof. Cadwallader, Krory and his horse Liberty, Robbie, Tom, and the neo-cat Brunalf.
At the end of the slide, we have Mithriel and Kate.
Dark side was, as you recall, the edge of the Last Valley where you could peer over into the icky abyss wherein was the city of the Lilim. Well, we just destroyed that city, so several of us resolve to hike over to dark side and see what it looks like now.
Tom, Kate, Dafnord, Brunalf, and Robbie's roving eye meet at the "Zephyr" and set out. On the hike, Tom quizzes Brunalf, who hails from the Jack, as does Tom, only at a later date. He learns Brunalf wound up in Chaos' Rim because he was exploring the "path" that led out of the Jack. Sounds like one of the family witchwalkers is going to get a little careless.
Back at the glass trailer, where there are several dead Marginalia, Fr. Paddy asks the living ones how their dead should be treated. He learns they now bury them, though they used to consign them to the mists at the edge of the world.
We arrive at dark side, or where the dark used to be. It is now misty, more like the fog on the Chaos Marches of Faerie. A Marginal hunter who came with us is puzzled and indicates that there is less land here than he recalls -- although we don't know what that means, since he might date from a much longer time back, when Last Valley was larger than when we first knew it. Tom makes mental note of some nearby landmarks so we can determine later if the place as a whole is shrinking or growing.
He then essays a hike into the mists, with a rope around his waist leading back to Dafnord. Tom feels around psychically, tries dicing at the mist, tosses a pebble for a gravity test, and does the usual preliminary things he does when exploring the Marches. Things are seeming promising when the rope gives a sudden jerk. Tom turns and finds no valley behind him. He resists the tug of the rope and unties himself. The rope nearly whips out of his hand. Holding on, he is jerked off his feet and into groundless mist. He flies along on levitation, ready to backpedal if Something Awful looms out of the mist.
But it's only Dafnord. From Dafnord's side, he saw Tom abruptly vanish into misty distance and naturally started pulling. Tom decides the local geometry is maybe expanding and is certainly unstable, and that's enough exploration. The darkness, at any rate, is gone.
Markel, meanwhile, has flown over to the "Zephyr" and landed his dragon -- causing the immediate vanishment of all Marginalia in the vicinity. Robbie comes out and makes introductions. Markel, we learn, got into Chaos' Rim when he and his dragon ventured into a Forbidden Area.
"On what world?" Robbie asks. Markel only knows of one world, but offers that he is from the city of Dragma, which doesn't tell us anything. Robbie inquires about suns and moons, and learns Markel is used to one sun and two moons, one for night and one for day. He was fleeing marauders, also on dragonback. Markel himself is basically a guard or cop in the service of his king and queen.
Tom and the rest of his party return. Giving the dragon an engineer's once-over Tom notes that its wings are rather small for flight; probably it relies on magic for lift, though the wings may supply thrust. Tom asks Markel how he communicates with his dragon (which has no name). They use a very simplified language peculiar to dragon-riders and their mounts.
After asking permission, Tom "talks" to the dragon telepathically. All he says is "thak you," but this gives him a chance to estimate the dragon's level of sapience. It isn't intelligent -- not even in the manner of a Marginalis or the neo-cat -- but there's a lot more depth and texture to the personality than is usual with animals. At least, it doesn't seem to be a close relative of the Lilim or the Lamiae, though it might be in the same general class.
Our next move, we decide, is to go to Glorian's Vale and pick up the elves and Marginalia we left there, so as to get all our wards in the same place. The "Zephyr" cruises around and picks up party members, also collecting the bodies of those Marginalia who died one way and another during their liberation. (Tom feels very guilty about many of these deaths, feeling he could have avoided them with better planning, but Fr. Paddy assures him he's sustained very small losses for a wartime evacuation.)
As we rise through the twilight on high side, we note that (1) there's more resistance (because we don't have many Marginalia on board to help warp reality our way?) and (2) the twilight is a lot less black and more grey or silvery, which looks hopeful.
As we rise about the twilight, we see the now-familiar mists of the Chaos Marches around us, and the ridges and rills of stone that give it the only hint of structure. Behind us, the twilight of Last Valley rises around us, then settles back looking less cloudy and more wave-like. Indeed, ripples run out, and the whole area looks brighter and shinier, until we appear to have just arisen from a lake of quicksilver. Mithriel tells Tom that, as an experienced witchwalker, she found that transition very odd. It seemed to cover a lot of distance very quickly. Or some other kind of major change.
Somewhat nervously, we make our way above the ridge, to where we hope to find Glorian's Vale, Glorian and Dafnord at the helm with Cadwallader. We find it without trouble and re-establish contact with the elven folk there. Glorian and her retinue go out with Robbie, Scout 3 of the Marginalia, and Katrina. They are met by more of Glorian's troops AND the Daughters of Daeanna -- Daewen II (of Ennorath), Vanessa Elder, and Mirien. This threesome tells Glorian that she's been gone a VERY long time, weeks, in fact. (It's been hours, or a day and change, for Glorian.)
The vale is now very full, what with all the waves of elven refugees plus ever more Marginalia, who have been coming through from somewhere. (!) Robbie notes that the vale may, in fact, be bigger now. And there are lots of birds, many of which may be, uh, evolved parakeets. (Tom is massively non-plussed when this news reaches him)
After conferring at the "Zephyr," we decide to go back to the Last Valley and check it out for accessibility before we bring this horde through on another exodus.
And a good thing we do. We find the silver lake solidly in place, PLUS a remote bank of mist, beyond which we can glimpse that castle we first saw here and some vague light source.
We decide to investigate the lake, first. Tom lowers an instrument pack into it ... or tries to. It comes to rest on the surface and refuses to sink in. We try again with a heavy ball of water shaped up by Mithriel, but with no better success. Finally, Tom floats down on TK, sticks a clairvoyant viewpoint on the pack, and pokes it through with a stick. (The water ball falls through, too. Helluva surface tension on this silver stuff.)
As the instruments go steadily crazy, Tom glimpses silvery mist giving way to flicker, shimmer, and roil -- the now-familiar face of Chaos' Rim, or some "place" very much like it. Last Valley is gone, it seems. We can hope that it just changed address and left this socket here.
We ask Mithriel if she could witchwalk into Last Valley, using the tokens we've taken from it. She says she might, but not starting from here. It's too stable. (! #2)
So we try heading out over the silvery lake, toward the castle in the mist. Shortly after we set out, Daewen II gives a scream. She then apologizes, but explains she's just had a horrid premonition, and, as the Foreshadower, she takes these very seriously. She is certain that she, at least, shouldn't go into that mist. Mirien shifts uncomfortably and says she feels the same. Vanessa, even more uncomfortably, says she's trained herself for years to ignore this sort of feeling, but...
Tom and Salimar suspect timelock.
Mithriel tries Uncle Chris's trick of tossing twenty coins and abiding by their showing to avoid timelock. They all come up heads. Tom tries it and gets 17 heads. (Vanessa remarks that's the kind of thing that makes her try to not get involved with omens.)
All in all, we decide to give the castle a miss in the mist. We're rapidly running out of places to go, this being the Chaos Marches and all. We head back for Glorian's Vale, hoping it's still there.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.