Chapter 30: It's So Hard to Find Good Help
We left our heroes in the dining room at Vinyagaerond, just before dinner, chatting with diplomatic heavy-weights of Faerie and other arcane realms.
Tom drifts over to Daewen, who is talking to something hobbit-sized wrapped up in brown robes. Daewen introduces it as "Gortle" and explains that it represents "some of the March-Dwellers." These would be the fays who live on the unstable edge of Faerie, where it starts to unravel into chaos.
His folk are concerned in the upcoming negotiations since the road from Faerie to Lanthil will run through their Marches. As he concludes pleasantries and wanders over to the salad bar, Daewen says it was surprising Alvirin was able to get any of them to come; March-Dwellers are reclusive and hard to locate.
Daewen remarks that delegations from Atlantis and the Dreamtime are expected at indefinite times in the near future, and Djinnistan is coming late.
Salimar asks Daewen how the various parties arrived. Variously. Patala, of course, came by boat and brought their own river. Others arrived on horse, or gated in, or flew, etc.
The cat, meanwhile, decides to wander under the sideboard for a look around, or to avoid getting stepped on. He is interested to discover some tiny doors, as for architecturally-inclined mice. He tries knocking on one, and it swings open, inward. He sticks his head in -- it's just barely big enough -- and provokes an outraged scream from whatever was inside. He hastily withdraws his head, as the door slams in his face, and looks around. None of the other guests seem to have noticed.
Nothing daunted (and nothing learned), Brunalf tries another door. Ah, this time he can see inside more clearly. Pixies. With crossbows. He hastily closes the door. as he withdraws, the pixies open the door a crack, peek at him then slam it.
Just to prove that adage about cats and curiosity, he starts in on a third door. Tom, however, shoots him a quick telepathic remark: "I think you've done quite enough."
At this point, the gargoyle also notices the cat. It sticks its head under the sideboard to investigate. Tom swats it on the hindquarters, hoping to head off an altercation. Instead--
The gargoyle, swatted, raises its head in surprise. This creature is about the dimensions of a large sheepdog, plus reptilian tail and bat wings. And it's made of animated stone. It raises its head and produces a loud thump. Now we have everyone's attention.
Meanwhile, Robbie has been picking up activity on his third eye, which he left posted in the store-room in the basement, where we have the four surviving Patalan spies (plus a corpse and two gnomish guards). Two of the spies were unconscious, but they are now waking up. Robbie sends the news out over the group's telepathy net. He and Kate set out to administer a second dose of stun-gun. Dafnord carefully watches the behavior of the Lady of the Chalice -- whom we know to be their confederate -- but sees nothing.
Tom, blushing, considers that the best thing would be to shrink the gargoyle to a more manageable size. Accordingly, he wields his skills of Second-Order Glamour, but you should never do this when rattled... There is a burst of green disneydust and the gargoyle grows rather than shrinks, doubling in size and bringing the sideboard up on its shoulders.
Fortunately, the room is full of telekinetics. Dishes hover, or settle gently to the dinner table. The sideboard floats off the startled gargoyle (Why is the room suddenly so small?), and alights on the dinner table too. The flustered gargoyle backs up and bumps the table. More telekinesis. Daewen watches from the sidelines with glazed eyes and waxen smile. Tom would like to turn invisible, but with this crowd it wouldn't help.
The cat, meanwhile, after mature thought, panics. I mean, first he bumps into his old foes, the pixies, then the gargoyle pokes its beak in at him, then there's a storm of green sparks and the thing grows! Brunalf engages his own TK and tries to fly out of the room by the nearest door.
Meanwhile, down in the basement, with Kate and Robbie still en route, all four dragon spies are now awake and getting active. They wriggle in their bonds. Two of them start to shapeshift into serpents. The other two start to sprout bat wings. This is in a room under psilence, mind, which is peculiar. The gnomish guards think it's more than peculiar. They attack with axe and spear.
We're getting all this by telepathy from Robbie, who gets it by radio from his third eye. As Robbie and Kate accelerate, Markel lights out of the dining room, followed by Dafnord. Unfortunately, this takes them right past the Patala party. One of the bodyguards reacts reflexively and trips up Markel with a leg sweep.
The cat was also in the act of flying out the same door. He now decides he'd better go help in the basement, but for that he wants his egg-ship, with the guns in it. So he doubles back in mid-air, through/over the scrum on the floor, past Dafnord's ear, to ricochet around the dining room a bit, looking for the next door. He has to dodge Avalonians, who are trying to catch crystal and dodge flying cats.
The pixies decide that this is a good time to attack the cat, who is clearly at a disadvantage. All four doors in the baseboards open and armed pixies swarm out, a couple dozen of them. "No, no!" the cat is heard to scream. "Not again! I'm sorry!"
Tom is still concentrating on the gargoyle problem. Composing himself, he tries again. He still gets a huge bleed-off of green sparks, but at least these form themselves into a whirlwind around the gargoyle and compress it down to the size of a hamster. Tom bends down and pockets it. This, unfortunately, gives Dafnord another object to dodge, besides cats, pixies, levitating furniture, and kung-fu dragons. (Of course, he'd have had to dodge an oversized gargoyle otherwise.)
Markel, you recall, got knocked down. He rolls. Unfortunately, he rolls into the dragon group. He rises, only to get decked by the same guard.
Down in the basement, the store-room suddenly grows very dark. The gnomes are taking a beating. Out in the hall, a third gnome guard has noticed the sounds and grown uneasy.
Back up in the dining room, the gargoyle suddenly found itself picked up by a giant and thrust into a big bag. It struggles. It's still made out of stone. Tom's hand starts to bleed profusely. He hisses in pain and frantically telepaths to the creature, "No, stop! It's all right! It's me! It's Tom!" Unfortunately, being off guard, he also yells this aloud. Well, it distracts from the scrum in the dragon corner.
Down in the basement, the dragon spies are loose and the gnomes are knocked out. They start battering down the door.
Salimar decides it's time to clue Daewen in to more than the social disaster. She contacts her telepathically and asks, "Do you have a way to guard the basement?" simultaneously sending her a live visual feed.
... Which is interesting. Daewen has what she calls a "quiet mind." You can be in telepathic rapport with her and never notice unless she makes the effort to send something your way. Salimar finds herself dropping data into an apparent void.
Elsewhere in the room, Tom is bleeding from the pocket and the cat is receiving a hail of little lightning balls from the pixies. The only holdout is the lead pixie, who was startled when the cat telepathed him, "Please don't kill me. It's all a big accident." It believes him, but was too startled to tell any of the others.
Markel does not rise again, but scuttles off sideways. The dragon guard lets him go so he can attack Tom, who was running out the door with the idea of rushing to the basement to throw a small but certifiably destructive gargoyle at the dragons there. Tom gets decked.
Salimar decides to leave another way. She squirts herself through the floorboards, finds herself in the wine cellar, and starts making her way to the storage room.
Tom is very much afraid he landed on some pixies and the cat. (The cat is afraid Tom didn't land on enough pixies.) He pulls the gargoyle out of his pocket, opens his bloody hand, and commands "Go." Robbie, nearing the store-room, calls "Come" at the same time, so the gargoyle buzzes off like a cement hummingbird, wondering how it is going to get big again.
The cat, meanwhile, throws a telepathic hissy-fit at all the pixies he can see, which at least breaks their concentration. Gannar, meanwhile, has left the dining room quietly, to collect his floating gun platforms and head for the basement.
From his position on the floor, Tom points accusingly at the Lady of the Chalice and says, "Your servants are attacking servants of Alvirin now in our basement!" "You lie!" she retorts. Meanwhile, the dragon guard stabs at Tom with a dagger he was not supposed to have. Tom rolls aside. The Ambassador, who has been watching all this with great attention, tells the other guard, "Stop him." The second guard obediently kicks his comrade in the back of the head, and he goes down--
--just as he was also shot by Daewen, who pulled some sort of gun out of her gown at about the same time.
Downstairs, the dragons have broken into the hallway, where there are still lots of wounded wee folk from the War in the Basement. They slap aside the third gnome guard and head for the nearest door. Our heroes begin converging on them from various directions. A gnomish sorcerer, one of the medics, gestures arcanely at the approaching dragons and levitates them up off the floor and away from his charges. A short while later, Robbie arrives trailed by Kate, Dafnord, and Salimar, various weapons at the ready.
But not as ready as Daewen. Up in the dining room, Daewen makes a quick left turn and vanishes, to reappear instantly down in the basement corridor. (She's a champion witchwalker and this is her house. She can be anywhere in it.) She toasts one of the dragons with her gun.
Back upstairs, the Lady of the Chalice again asserts that Tom lies. The Envoy oils his way up to Tom and tells him, "Silence, mortal!" Technically, Tom obeys. But he tries contacting both the Ambassador and the Lady, telepathically -- wondering, in a free corner of his mind, if this isn't going to be like plugging your pacemaker into a city power main. The Lady has some kind of shielding. The Ambassador lets him in. Tom finds himself in the mental presence of a very old, very intense mind, with many compartments -- several of which Tom is not welcome in. Tom just opens his own mind and gives the Ambassador the live visual feed from the basement, where one of the dragons is falling to the floor and Daewen is drawing a bead on another.
The cat, meanwhile, was headed for his egg-ship. Unfortunately, this is on Hellene, on the other side of the magic mirror. The cat comes skidding into the library where the mirror is, only to find it guarded by a gnome with a halberd. "Halt!" declaims the gnome. "None shall pass!"
"I don't have time to cut off your arms and legs," hisses the cat. "Just let me through!" The gnomes laughs grimly and whaps the cat on the head with his halberd. Little pain-stars come sparkling along the telepathy net from the cat's node, and the cat is knocked out. Hey, this was a captain of the King's Gnomish Guard! No damn' cat tells him to get out of the way.
Back in the basement, Robbie flies in at ceiling level, firing at dragons, with Kate and Dafnord close behind. Daewen adds her firepower. She engages one dragon with karate and slams it into the wall. It sticks. Soon, dragon spies are getting zapped or stunned into insensibility.
Back in the dining room, the Envoy seems to know Tom is doing more than just locking eyes with the Ambassador. "Yield!" he commands. Tom continues with the visual feed. The Ambassador appears to want this, because, almost casually, he picks the Envoy up by the neck and slams him into the wall. All while keeping eyes locked with Tom. The Envoy puddles quietly onto the floor.
Soon it's all over in the basement. Tom asks the Ambassador if he wants medics for the dragons down in the basement. "Yes." He then turns on the Lady of the Chalice and backs her into a corner. His mood indicates he'd like some privacy. Tom hastily drops the telepathic contact. Soon, the two dragons vanish as the Ambassador raises a bit of invisibility for more privacy.
He is very happy when the two Avalonians drop to their knees beside him and begin looking over his hand. They can get an excellent view of the tendons...
Elsewhere in the house, Gannar stops in his course and sends the gun platforms back to the party's suite of rooms. Markel has met up with the gargoyle, which has perched on his shoulder, drawing blood. Markel has a hard time explaining to the maid he meets that he wants healers for the basement, not for himself.
Down in the basement, a gnomish healer asks for more light. Daewen conjures a glow-ball despite the nearby psilence. Dafnord debriefs to her and remarks that the dragons, too, were able to work despite psilence. "But this is Faerie," Daewen explains. Remove the psi from a lot of things around here and you just find more psi underneath. Oh.
After getting the sequence of events straight in her head, Daewen zots back to the dining room and announces, "There will be. No. More. Conflict. Here." Her voice is audible all over Vinyagaerond. Even the pixies hear it, we suppose...
And speaking of pixies, Tom is rather afraid he's still lying on some. He floats gently up in the air, and the Avalonians start picking up little crumpled things, making tut-tut noises. But no one seems to be actually dead. "I'm so sorry," Daewen says to Lillian of Avalon. "Actually, from our side, it was a lot of fun," she assures her, unfolding a pixie and handing a stray plate to Daewen, who numbly puts it back on the sideboard.
At this point, one of the elven maids brings the cat in from the library, concussed, contused, singed, plucked, with a pixie arrow smack between its eyes, and totally unconscious. She presents it to Daewen, who takes it back down to the cellar, where we have the autodoc. She walks, this time.
Elsewhere, a gnomish healer stops by Markel on his way to the basement. He patches up Markel's shoulder and Tom summons the gargoyle back. The maid proceeds to bandage Markel.
In the dining room, the guests are putting the furniture back and dusting off pixies. Tom calls the lead pixie over and recommends it tally up its people to see if they're all accounted for. Salimar notices the Ambassador's secretary -- the only dragon both visible and conscious at the moment, besides the second guard -- and telepathically asks him why he's so scared (for he hasn't moved in several minutes). She only gets a rush of terror back.
The Ambassador steps out of his zone of invisibility, picks up the Envoy, and backhands him until he regains consciousness. He then slams him against the wall and locks eyes with him awhile.
While that's going on, the Avalonians work on Tom's hand with some sort of healing magic. The gargoyle returns and goes, "Grah!" It's trying to say "Grow!" This is the first time it's tried to talk. Tom gets the meaning by telepathy net and reaches out--
Most of the guests hastily move away. As far as they know, this whole melee started when Tom began fiddling with the gargoyle's size. They watch suspiciously as he returns it to half its original size.
The Ambassador finishes reading the Envoy and casually wrings his neck. He then advances through the scattering guests on his secretary and locks eyes with him. While he does that, Salimar peeks into the invisibility zone and is not surprised to find a crumpled Lady of the Chalice. She's lying on a pixie. Salimar retrieves it and hands it over to the Avalonians. This accounts for all the pixies.
Down in the basement, Daewen arrives and puts the cat in the autodoc's sleeping bag. Again. (Second time this night.) She tells the healers to work on the dragons, but the Ambassador doesn't want them to get away. She then fades back upstairs and surveys the carnage in her dining room. The Ambassador turns from his secretary (leaving him alive) and bows very low to her. "I am terribly sorry," he tells her. "Where are the others?" We lead him to the basement. (The secretary runs out of the room as soon as the Ambassador leaves.)
On the way down, Markel asks the Ambassador, rather shortly, "Has the problem been resolved yet?" "I am resolving it," is the answer.
Back in the dining room, Tom gingerly brings the gargoyle back to full size just as the dwarvish and gnomish guards come piling in en masse. (After all, this hub-bub has only taken a minute or less.) One party brings the Ambassador's luckless secretary with them, whose behavior appeared suspicious to them. Daewen, who is still in the room, calms them down and sends them back to the perimeter. The secretary runs away again. Daewen turns to the other guests, who were doing their best wallpaper imitations, and asks--
Aelvenstar dashes in from somewhere. He was here at the beginning of the party. Dammit, just step out for a moment and all hell breaks loose. He exchanges glances with Daewen and relaxes.
--and asks everyone to withdraw to the drawing room (which is what it's for, after all) while the staff ... clean up.
The Ambassador arrives in the basement, tiptoes carefully over the wee folk, asks with great deference for assistance from the gnomish healers in reviving the spies, and, one by one, sifts their brains and breaks their necks. He then turns around and looks at Dafnord, Robbie, and Kate. They have been staring at him and now, a bit reluctantly, holster their weapons. (He's on our side, right? Right?) "There was one more?" the Ambassador asks. We verify that there was one more spy. And we wouldn't care to sell him life insurance just now.
The Ambassador tiptoes out again, goes upstairs, and intercepts Tom on the way into the drawing room. Again with great deference, he asks Tom to send word to Lady Daewen. Tom replies as sympathetically as he can, then goes and fetches her.
The Ambassador confesses to Daewen about the spy at large. He wants to do something about it. Daewen asks if Alvirin wouldn't prefer that his people do something about it, but the Ambassador gently insists. And he doubts that anyone else could track it down. But first the Ambassador has to return to Patala (for fresh underlings?) He will try to get back in time for the conference, but... Daewen assures him that we'll wait. Where's his secretary? Gone to, ah, compose himself. The Ambassador tells her that the secretary is not up for discipline, but he's not protected either. The secretary now zips in as if summoned, collects a stare from his master and zips out again.
The Ambassador exits, presumably to go back to his boat, where he can kill underlings in privacy. We hear large quantities of dwarfage and gnomage tramping off to fall in around him, and Daewen hastens out to call them off. Staff elves appear and start putting the dining room to rights, removing bodies, etc.
Downstairs, Dafnord stands vigil over the wounded wee folk, then goes and finds the commanders of the dwarf, gnome, bogey, and pixie guards. They are all met in the kitchen, muttering about loose discipline here. Dafnord makes a formal apology for his part in the ruckus, by which he principally means posting just three gnomes on the four dragon spies. The gnomish commander waves it off. "Just use professionals in the future," he says. Dafnord, who is a professional, swallows this and leaves.
Upstairs, the dinner party is wobbling back onto course. Is that a blood stain? Pass the celery.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.