Chapter 41: Coffee with the Scout
We were having tea with the Djinnish Ambassador, who was very interested to hear of our explorations of the City of Brass, whose inhabitants appear to have gone back to trapping djinn.
The Ambassador asks if we could show her the way there. Daphne offers her a fruit from one of the local trees, as a token to teleport with. Good, but acutally going there would be best. So we agree to take the Ambassador on a repeat trip in the Pudgie Budgie. We start re-stocking.
A few hours before we depart, the Ambassador asks if she can bring a friend. Sure. It would be best to fetch this friend when the stars are visible. Since Lanthil is perpetually under prismatic mists, that means waiting until we have embarked and gotten well away. As before, we pass through a fog bank and then find ourselves under a starry sky.
The Ambassador produces a pouch (we don't quite see how) and extracts a shiny black stone flecked with silver. She twiddles it and a dark shape extrudes from it, assuming the form of a young woman. Only the form. We have here a sort of 3D silhouette, through which we can see stars. Soon, however, this new djinna assumes a more humanlike appearance. Robbie introduces her to all of us, and we learn her name is Leila al Henna. The Ambassador gives her a quick telepathic update and she is promptly and ferociously eagar to see the new location of the City of Brass.
The Moon rises. Robbie relates the tale of his journey there, which requires cross-references to his disembodiment and the disembodiment before that. Markel tells how we were given a stone by the Prefect of the City of Seventeen Spires, in the Eleventh Paradise, which let him dowse for Djinnistan and steer us there.
Leila is intrigued and asks if she can touch his mind. Markel assents. She touches his forehead and, to our surprise, shoots up to a vast height, Markel still next to her.
Markel finds himself and Leila hovering over a black sea that reflects vast numbers of stars. He mentally indicates the direction of Djinnistan from here -- wherever "here" is -- and she quickly intuits the route between it and the Eleventh Paradise. They descend, Markel rather too quickly until Leila remembers he can't fly by himself and catches him, apologizing profusely.
Back on the Budgie, Leila tells the Ambassador that she now knows where she is and how to get back. The Ambassador registers satisfaction and a bit of relief.
We recapitulate our last journey and soon come in sight of the shore again. The two djinn are surprised when we bear left instead of right, but reflect that if the City of Brass had been where they expected it, they'd have found it long before.
We sail up the river mouth and past the lotus forest. While telling the tale of entrapment by the lotus vines, Daphne, Robbie and Tom mention the pantope. So of course Leila wants to see it. Tom leads her down below deck and into the Emerald Metaphor.
He shows her around and, with his permission, she operates one of the omniports (effortlessly!), opening it on what appears to be her own house. Tom gently points out that, on previous connections to Djinnistan, he was given to understand they didn't really appreciate being exposed to the pantope. So she closes the door.
She looks about, leading Tom to comment on and explain the damage. For instance, the half-melted mass of metal is not a "monument," as Leila wonders, but a plasma cannon that's been partly melted into the deck.
She asks about the cracks that lead through the deck from one side of the canal back to the other. Tom and Markel describe the most recent attack, in which a surreal sort of "bomb" exploded things that appeared to be blades of night all over, cutting the deck in many places. Markel shows her the place where several blades combined to cut a chunk right out of the deck. The chunk is still there, but loose.
Her reaction is a major "ick." She strongly disapproves of whatever force attacked us using her own beloved theme of the night, and she offers to clean the influence out of the pantope for Tom some appropriate time. Tom thanks her and cordons off the loose chunk by conjuring up some yellow and black striped hazzard tape.
Back on deck, we sail past the mountains where there are masses of snakes, then to the river of sand with the bridge over it. We ask if the djinn can read the engravings. They can:
"I am the King of Himyar, Yasar Yan'am al-Ya'fari. There is no way beyond the limit which I have attained. All who cross it perish."
(Of course, we didn't so much cross it as go around it.)
He was, Leila tells us, "a mortal of sorts, married to the daughter of a cousin of mine. He was far better than the second husband," who is, apparently, the inventor of the djinn-in-a-bottle enslavement technique. These reminiscences are incensing the Ambassador and Leila. They are now in plain sight of the City of Brass, and suspect that folk in the city know some djinn are near. They recommend we leave.
Tom sends the pantope's omniport sailing up from below decks and has it swallow the Budgie in a slick, quick move. The djinn are somewhat impressed. Now to go gather their troops. But first, it is now an appropriate time to clean the taint out of Tom's decks.
Leila goes over to the affected area and, using her hands and magic, scrapes up a tarry black something. She then opens a portal to her house, dumps the black into her fireplace, and destroys it there with a FHOOM of flame. She then smooths back her hair and invites us all in for coffee.
Who are we to say no?
Over coffee (brought by a suave attendant of solid gray), she wants to hear more -- about the Marginalia and our long, multi-phase feud with Lilith and the Lilim. We fill her in, in a rambling way.
In the course of the conversation, we learn why the Patalan Ambassador was so incensed, back during the Second Lanthil Council: his own entourage had been infiltrated by Lilim. This is what had Alvirin upset enough to send the Wild Hunt after the spies, too.
The Djinnish Ambassador is puzzled when we tell her about being blockaded on both mundane and arcane sides. It strikes her as odd that Alvirin would be so hot and bothered by Lilim and their human tools approaching the Earthly gates to arcane realms. Worrying, but an insufficient motive. Is he perhaps, in a devious way, trying to protect us? Were the Lilim using the Great Lie again? (The "Great Lie" is the excuse the Lilim use for beating up on other arcane parties: they are supposedly just enforcing the Ban that the Powers have put on excess arcane interference in the mundane.)
The Ambassador says we may expect more direct attacks than this blockade, and is gloomily satisfied to hear of the attacks of the grey ninjas.
Both djinn express their gratitude to us for taking time out from our own troubles to give them this tip-off on the City of Brass. Leila says portentously, "I'm afraid there's no denying it -- we're Indebted to you." We can just hear the capital letter.
The Ambassador diffidently hems and haws in the manner of a true civil servant and, while not denying the indebtedness or retracting the gratitude, says we can't expect anything formal or official in the way of aid. Tom replies that he's happy just for a higher expectation of good will, but Leila shoots the Ambassador a very dirty look and proclaims that at least we have her good will.
Leila then conjures a scroll of some sort and hands it to the Ambassador, who is looking very much like she wishes it were socially allowed to teleport out of there. Has she just handed in a resignation? She fizzes a bit more at the Ambassador, who appears to have developed a headache from the way she's holding her forehead on one hand, and we learn that Leila's cousin is some sort of military commander, but she herself is not the organizational type and a scout. We pluck these data out of something much more like a sarcastic tirade. We begin looking longingly at the pantope portal...
Tom, working up to a polite and tactful withdrawl, tells them both, "I wish you the best of luck in your upcoming endeavors."
Leila: "Oh, why not? Granted."
Eep! Tom used the W word! Be careful what you wish for, especially around djinn. The Ambassador is now pinching the bridge of her nose, head bowed. She's seldom looked so human.
Leila asks if we have any particular problems at the moment, back home. Cautiously, Tom mentions the grey ninjas and the food shortage.
Food shortage!? Leila is incensed afresh. With a flurry of telekinesis, Leila packs a couple of bags. The Ambassador's last remarks are that she thinks it a "miraculously good idea" for Leila to leave for a while.
And, after we make our anxiously polite farewells and withdraw into the pantope, she picks up her bags and marches into it with us.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.