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Mother Goose Chase

Chapter 2: Crossing the Threshold of Adventure

by Ann Broomhead

New Blood Logs:

Tom Noon's Tale


In Chaos

Voyages of the Nones



Mother Goose Chase

Ancient Oz


Adventures of the Munch

Lanthil & Beyond

When we left our heroes, they were settling in to life in Lanthil. Before Kate could get too comfortable, however, Nick asked her to head a diplomatic mission from Lanthil to Tighmark, on the far side of Faery. She has accepted, and now stands alone at the door to her room, silently aghast.

She is twenty-(murfle) years old, and has been an elf for (mumble) of those years. (Time travel and birthdays are incompatible concepts.) For most of her life, she had been a street urchin in Elizabethan London, struggling to stay alive without being a burden on her family. Now, she must be a smooth, sophisticated diplomat and represent Lanthil and the New Blood to real elves, although just this quiet week is a significant fraction of the time she has spent here.

She will ask her friends for help, and of course she will receive it. Even so, she knows she has to be the leader of any mission, because Nick asked her and because she is the only elf. Tighmark is an elven land, and that will be expected, right?

At the next meal, Kate explains the situation to the pantope crew. Almost everyone present happily agrees to take part in this pleasant substitute for an adventure. The gargoyle, as usual, says nothing, and Brunalf shows no interest in making nice to anyone, especially an elf kitten. Tom explicitly declines, since he has agreed to map Lanthil, and has to hunker down to really fix the Metaphor. (Tom's player is the gamesmaster for this adventure.) Dafnord cheerfully assures Kate that she doesn't have to worry about that diplomatic stuff all by herself; we have a professional diplomat of our own. Immediately after dinner, he grabs Salimar's bucket, and shakes it vigorously with a cheerful, "Wakey, wakey!" There is a distinct rattle.

Nick is amenable to Kate's choice of companions, although he looks a bit thoughtful. We smile absently, and start to think about what we should pack. Kate suggests to Robbie that he might like to wear an outfit of velvet, and gestures towards her heavy velvet drapes as an example. Immediately, Robbie coats himself in velvet the exact shade of the drapes. Kate concentrates on her own wardrobe, and choice of weapons.

One of the players was not present this week and so we retro-fitted the play the next week. I've insertted the log here:

Let us flash back, briefly, to a time when our heroes were making preparations to leave Lanthil on their mission to Tighmark. While the others consider what to wear...

Daphne goes into the kitchen, looking for a between-snacks snack, and is told by one of the elven cooks that Nick is looking for her. She zips outside, flits from window to window until she finds him, and flies into his room, announcing her presense.

Nick now initiates a conversation that might seem a bit cryptic to a stranger. "Do you want to go to Tighmark with the others?"

The pixie squirms a bit. "Yes, unless..." It is clear that her own preferences are not her only consideration.

Nick tries to work around to a larger issue without being intrusive or insulting. "We've been happy with you - but are you going to stay?"

Daphne still is reluctant to make this commitment. "I'm still scouting things out. The others..."

He tries to lead a little. "Do you want to be a citizen of Lanthil?"

"Well, there are the others. I don't know."

Nick returns to his immediate consideration briefly. "You will be an official member of our delegation," assuring her that her service will not commit her on the larger issue. He then tries a different tack, asking her about the basic social organization of her people.

She explains that, with her folk, each pixie or pixie group always associates itself with a particular family. Nick nods encouragingly. Somewhat apologetically, she explains that many pixies are still traditionalists, and specialize in making shoes. The two of them silently contemplate the role of shoes in the lore of the Fair Folk. Yes, undoubtedly pixies have made a lot of shoes, and a lot of very special shoes over time -- seven-league boots, ruby slippers, glass dancing shoes...

Daphne goes on to explain that in gratitude for their work, the pixies' people would leave them food and drink. Nick nods thoughtfully. "Yes, I think that could be done here. After all, we were used to having a pixie staff in Vinyagaerond." He looks her in the eye, as if to compel her understanding of his sincerity. "Look. You make things grow, and for us, that would be very useful here and now. Do you *like* Lanthil?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well, you think about it, and while the delegation is gone, I'll bring up the possibility here."

Daphne asks what, exactly, Nick wants her to do on the trip. "Find out what you can, and... don't get caught."

Robbie the Velveteen Robot locates Daewen, and asks her about elvish birth customs. Daewen admits that she knows most of the customs of Lanthil, having originated many of them, but knows nothing of those for Tighmark, a land of which even she has barely heard. Robbie then asks her about birth taboos. After some thought, she can only come up with the advice that one should not discuss the behaviors that led to the child.

She tries to explain the general difference between humans and elves. "There are a number of ways in which humans differ from elves. We both distinguish true from false, and beautiful from ugly. Humans' distinction between right and wrong, however, makes no sense to elves. For us, instead of... 'wrong,' there is this... unmannerly behavior. Doing the wrong thing is quite horrid." She thinks some more. "'Appropriate' varies with circumstances." She shrugs helplessly. How can she explain the nuances of millennia-old cultures when she can't even explain the basics of thennin and chid?

Undaunted, Robbie tackles Nick. Nick explains again that Tighmark is between Faery and Earth, with the only known stable witchpaths from anywhere to Earth. It is adjacent to Western Europe, in more ways than one, and its current connection with Earth is to the twenty-sixth century -- "now," for most of us.

Dafnord and Robbie next try the library. In the past, they've found what they were looking for by thinking of it clearly and just reading the shelves. Pretty soon they accept that the only book that seems likely is an atlas which keeps turning up. It might even look a bit wistful. The atlas was written in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, and has entries on Avalon, Lys, Djinnistan, Atlantis ... and a ten-page section on Tighmark.

The capital of Tighmark is Tyley. There is a large stone wall between Tighmark and Faerie. The only connections between the two are three "stable" paths that connect from South Elvencrown. The connections to Earth are mentioned, but no others. Government is by a monarchy, more properly a di-archy, since the marshal and marshaline rule as a couple. The pictures in the book all seem a bit enchanted, so we assume that the platinum blond couple who, perhaps, have yellow eyes, are the current marshal and marshaline. There is no mention of any commerce. The Oakley family is not mentioned specifically, but it does say that the aristocratic class is composed of high elves, with middle elves below them. There are some small humanoids pictured, but none of them look like Daphne. The pictures show Western European sorts of scenes; the changing weather in one panorama seems appropriate to that locale as well. (Compare to the endless summer of Faerie.) Some of the pictures might have been painted by Beatrix Potter; they show dressed rabbits, squirrels, toads, insects, birds. After a while, someone notices that the dressed animals are all shown in rural settings. It looks like we have all country mice and no town mice.

The gathering crowd abandons the library to find Nick and ask him some more, searching questions. No, he had not noticed any dressed animals in Luinloth's (the Tighmark ambassador's) entourage. Kate asks again about the baby present. Nick assures her that the present has already been produced and boxed. He then un-assures her by refusing to tell what it is, saying that it has to be a surprise. This bothers Kate, who knows too many stories of trick presents and letters, until Nick finally blows up. "It's a nice present! It's a nice present for an elven baby!" At least we learn that the baby will be a boy. And that it will probably be late winter or early spring when we arrive.

He does give us some advice on our clothes. We should have three formal outfits, some clothes suitable for relaxing among elves, and something for roughing it. (The last part of the path from Faerie is narrow; we'll have to walk it.) There is a cute, wizened tailor that Kate recommends. After Dafnord becomes vocal in his belief that a tuxedo is invariably proper, Nick recommends uniforms for Dafnord and Markel, such as Silver Service uniforms. (This means joining the Silver Service. They accept, not just for the spiffy uniforms, one trusts.) The medium blue, ermine, and white of the Silver Service do not strike Dafnord as the best choice of colors for him, so he augments his wardrobe with his standard dress uniform, in black.

Packing commences. Our clothes are layered in place, with our weapons on top. Robbie is discouraged from bringing even one gun platform. This is a diplomatic mission. We pack stunners. Almost smugly, Robbie chooses his wooden stunner as his primary weapon. Dafnord packs his blaster pistol, and wears Umbra. We make sure that Salimar has the Map of Here, and that she keeps it in that body cavity rather than taking it out as we watch.

Salimar asks Nick if there's anything that she, with her special expertise, can do beyond keeping everyone as well-behaved as possible. He asks only that she observe everything about Tighmark closely, to learn if they would indeed make a good ally for Lanthil. Nick thoughtfully adds one more piece to our luggage, the autodoc that looks like a sleeping bag. Oh. It's a sensible precaution, and we take it.

He then makes clear something we had started to believe: We will have a Marginalis and a full elf along with us. We know them both. The Marginalius is Angel, whom we have, um, worked with before. Fallataal, who had been spending more and more time around us, and who had been intending to retire from the Silver Service, has also agreed to join us. He's over six feet tall, with long black hair and grey-green eyes. We are amenable, and not at all bothered by our impression that he is on the youngish side; we've had enough trouble with old elves, set in their ways.

The morning of our departure finds us packed, dressed, and moderately well-armed. For the umpteenth time, Kate makes sure that she has the thin leather case, and that it still holds all the documents. Two carriages, pulled by six Marcher ponies each, await us in the courtyard. Tom appears to see us off, and to give us one last useful gift. It is The Watch, which he gives into the keeping of Gannar, who is the most comfortable with that high tech stuff. We gather around Gannar's wrist, and learn that today is "Lanthil, year 1, day 215." We all agree that there must have been a year 0.

Most of us pile into our vehicles. Fallataal joins the driver on top of one coach, and Dafnord joins the other. We wave good-bye to Tom, and to the gargoyle, who is just visible on his perch on the highest tower. Then we're off, down the looping road that leads to the port. When we arrive there, we are driven onto a giant barge on the quay, which brings us across the strait to the Marches. Now the ponies really exert themselves as they trot right through the Chaos Marches. Outside there is only a blur, punctuated by the occasional rise and fall of rocky hills.

The mists thin, and the landscape becomes a meadow. The coachmen warn us to hang on tight. The scenery becomes very blurry. Meadows, forests, then water flash by. Time passes. The water becomes sand, then meadows, and forests again. The ponies stop, heads down and flanks heaving.

We're at the western end of the Crownpoint mountain range. Our connection to Tighmark is at the eastern end, but the ponies are spent, so we'll be staying here overnight. Dafnord selects a good camping spot, and points out the nearest source of water. We make camp, have some good, plain food, and turn in for the night, either sleeping or just watching the stars.

Our trip by carriage the next morning is short. By mid-morning, we're at the eastern end of the mountains. Here, our coach drivers steer us at a slower pace, following the directions Nick had given them. At last, we get a good, sharp view of the Chaos Marches, unblurred by our speed. There's an enormous cumulus cloud rising from the ground, surprisingly close, and producing a noise like a waterfall. A damp-looking forest stands at its base.

Dafnord is the first one to spot the path marker, a carved stone plinth. The carriages draw up to it, and we can see the path, leading towards the woods by the cloud. We get out, and look closely at the marker. There is a distinctly elvish carving on it, a stylized tree with stars on the tips of its down-curving branches. Salimar analyses the plinth arcanely, and learns that it is not a border marker, and that the only spell on it is one against erosion.

We unpack the carriages, and pack us. Weapons are slipped into holsters and sheaths. Water bottles are hooked onto belts. Salimar runs a hex sight down the path; it looks good, stable and safe. Our drivers assure us that it's not a long walk, but warn us to stay on the path. With a little negotiation, we arrange our walking order. Dafnord and Salimar will be point, Fallataal will come next, followed by Robbie and Angel, then, well-protected, come Daphne and Katrina, followed by Gannar with the present and Kate with the treaties, and with Markel and his dragon (restored to natural size) bringing up the rear. This way, we have muscle and third sight in the front, and muscle and second sight in the back.

As we're making our final adjustments, this guy comes out of the woods near the path. He's tall, roughly dressed, and looks like he's middle elven. His most distinctive feature is four short black horns on his head. We watch him expectantly. He introduces himself as Morlas, and asks to join us on the path. Quick telepathic messages fly among the crew. Most of us introduce ourselves; the dragon gives him pause. We ask him where he's from. He explains that he is a Ranger, and travels by profession. Robbie finds that he's been on the path before, and finds him lawful. We put him right behind Robbie (who can, after all, literally keep an eye on him).

We're ready. The drivers wave, we wave back, and we set out on the path. Soon, everything is wet and clammy, and the path twists endlessly, but at least it's level, and the trees are green.

Fallataal is quiet, and we noticed that he hadn't introduced himself to Morlas. A murmured question elicits the non-information that he knows nothing about Morlas, either for or against him.

We march along, keeping a look-out along the path, its borders, and into our midst. We come to another marker plinth. It's more weathered, despite its spell, but basically the same. We're still feeling fresh, and we press on. Shortly after that, we hear a voice off to the right, well off the path. Now we can make it out: "Help! Help!" This is soon followed by a man, scrambling through the bracken towards us. In appearance, he is short and scared, with pale skin and dark hair. He thrashes his way through the last of the spiky bracken, and onto the path.

Once on the security of the path, he relaxes, and says, somewhat apologetically, "I just don't want to be lost anymore." With a few encouraging noises on our part he tells his simple story. He's Taurgil, and came from Atarion. He was out hunting, it was raining, and he hadn't known how close he was to Chaos. That was it.

Many of us introduce ourselves, again. The dragon definitely disconcerts him. Even so, he asks if he can join us, and it doesn't matter where we are going. We agree, and put him next to Morlas.

We walk on, and are reassured to reach another plinth, although it is even more worn. Taurgil proves to be an edgy companion. He hops nervously up and down the line. "Where are you going?" The answer is always a variation on "Tighmark." "Why are you going?" gets even vaguer answers. Salimar's explanation that she has family there is met with unvoiced disbelief. She has shaped herself into a tall, earthy-dark human, but she still looks like nothing else anywhere. He eyes Robbie with equal dubiousness.

It soon becomes clear that he is doing something psychic, but we can't tell what. Queries flit over the net. He talks to Robbie, and Robbie winces and stumbles, but does nothing else. Salimar opens up her ability to anticipate events, and Morlas twitches as if he noticed that.

Taurgil frisks up to the start of the line, and tries to engage Dafnord in conversation. This is difficult at the best of times, and when he is on point it is essentially impossible. We can't even reach him on the net. Taurgil makes a vigorous effort nonetheless. By now, we're all paying attention, and Salimar spots it when he does something telekinetic to Dafnord's scabbard. He's bound it to Umbra, and he's cloaked his bind. He keeps chatting at Dafnord all the while. Salimar tells Kate and Gannar what she's sensed. Kate gives a heads-up warning to Markel, and Gannar radios Robbie. Surreptitiously we check our own weapons and find that, sure enough, they are all lightly stuck.

Morlas has been guarding his sword all along, and it is likely that it is still free. Salimar gives him a gentle ping in the brain. He starts, and stares right at her. Fallataal, who was directly between them, spots what has to be going on between them with his heightened awareness.

Salimar asks Morlas, "[You] know him?"

Morlas copes with the odd sensation quite well. "[I know] his kind. [I'm] trying to get his [whole] gang. [They'll] come at [his] signal. [I] don't want [you all] hurt."

"" Salimar continues, "How many [attackers will there be]?"

"About five" ""

Hidden by Dafnord's body, Salimar leans back towards Fallataal at an impossible angle, and whispers, "May I touch your mind?" Fallataal, barely moving, nods his assent. Salimar fills him in, then turns her conversational attention back to Morlas.

"How [can we] lure them [into attacking us]?"

The solution is the obvious one. "[Let Taurgil know that you have] money."

Salimar brightly interrupts Taurgil's flagging attempts to engage Dafnord. "Don't mind Dafnord. He's distracted by having to guard the valuable present we're bringing with us."

That does it. Taurgil sends out his signal, as we can readily tell. Salimar's anticipation, and various sharp eyes and ears detect not only the unfortunate fellow who made a sound, but three more stealthy men creeping towards us. With the telepathy net, everyone knows where they are.

Five (not four) bandits spring out at us. Immediately, one has his head encased in ectoplasm, courtesy of Robbie. Salimar tosses a throwing garrote around the throat of another. Kate drops a third with her sonic stunner. Markel lets fly with two arrows. The dragon breathes fire at the attackers.

Dafnord is comparatively unprepared. When he finds he can't pull out his sword, he throws a punch at Taurgil, who ducks. This leaves him wide open for Fallataal, who draws his sword, lunges, and ends Taurgil. Morlas flips his knife into the one still standing.

It's over. We pull them all onto the path and take their short swords. Robbie disappears the ectoplasm from his bandit, who is still alive.

Salimar starts to question the two survivors, but Fallataal insists on taking over the mental interrogation. The rest of us drop off their part of the net. He begins with a threat, "[You can see that] monster [the dragon] behind me. [Co-operate or else] thoughts out [of you] one by one." The questioning begins. "How many [of you were there]?" "Six." Salimar checks the answers against her truth-telling ability; this one passes. "Who's left?" "No one." Bzzzt! That's wrong. There's no one left here, but back at headquarters there are·? "Four." "Where's [your] ?" "there>" Yes. "[Who did you] rob last?" "[We] [a] party of halflings." Yes.

Salimar reports all this to Morlas. His head has just about stopped spinning, so he's able to insist that this problem is in his jurisdiction, and he'll take care of them. It's clear to us that this means he will slit the throats of the survivors, leave the path, sneak up on the cabin, and kill the other four. We think he can do it, so we don't bother to protest.

He, on the other hand, is still off balance. "You've given me your travel names, but who are you people?" Fallataal presents him with his card, identifying him as a member of the Silver Service. We're from Lanthil. Morlas is visibly impressed, and clearly gives up on the idea of worrying about our safety. With little fuss and a few words, we leave him behind and continue on our way.

Angel made himself very small during all this. Now, deeply upset, he asks Robbie if this will happen again. Robbie is only a magical former robot, and can do no more than assure Angel that he is safe now. Angel asks Katrina if this will happen again. The answer still does not reassure him. He asks each member of the party, but there is really no way to comfort a creature with the mind of a three-year-old that the sudden violence he saw will not be seen again, especially when we cannot honestly promise him it won't.

The next marker we come to is the most worn yet, but the one after that is less worn. It's getting quieter; the roaring cloud is finally falling behind us. Now the woods are dryer, darker, but thinner. At the next plinth, the path starts to widen out. Now we can see blue sky and wildflowers. It's spring here.

We walk past the last stand of thick growth, and finally see the wall between Faerie and Tighmark. Still some two hundred yards away, it's about two stories tall, made of irregular pieces of grey stone that are well fitted together. Down the way a few hundred yards, there is a door.

But what holds our attention are the heads watching us over the top of the wall. Robbie lofts his third eye, and informs us that they are guards with rifles. We walk directly towards them. They stir as the last of us, Markel and the dragon, step into view.

Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.

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