Monday, August 23, 2021

House of Worms, Sessions 236–237

As the festivities celebrating the marriage of Nebússa and Lady Srüna wound down, both Znayáshu and Keléno took this as an opportunity to learn more about just what had motivated Kéttukal to approach Grujúng and what, if any, role Elué hiDlarútu, the so-called "Belle of Béy Sü" had in these proceedings. Znayáshu moved first. He ventured out onto the courtyard of the Golden Bough clanhouse where the athletic competitions were taking place. At a safe distance, he tried to observe the activities of Kéttukal, and his "nephew" Kágesh (in reality, Prince Eselné traveling incognito). They seemed to be engaged in a disagreement of some sort, albeit a friendly one, which caught his attention. 

He moved in closer, hoping that he could make use of his clairaudience spell to hear their conversation. That was precisely when Elué glided outside and joined the two men. This caught Znayáshu's attention immediately; he was now even more determined to hear what they were saying. Unfortunately for him, by the time he successfully cast his spell – unseen, thank the gods – their discussions had nearly ended. All he was able to overhear was Elué tell the pair, "When you're finished with these pointless martial displays, please come inside. There are other people I'd like you to meet." Eselné scoffed, "I'll go where I like and meet whom I like. Do not forget that." To this, Kéttukal replied, "We've already done as you asked. Can you not leave us in peace?" Elué said nothing and returned inside.

Seeing how the woman – from a medium-ranked clan, no less – behaved toward an imperial prince and the foremost general of the Empire shocked Znayáshu to such an extant that he abandoned his use of clairaudience, opting instead to cast seeing other planes on Elué (and hoping she would not take notice). He succeeded in his efforts and the spell revealed that the woman was a powerful nexus of otherplanar energy, though the exact nature of these energies eluded him. He moved to follow Elué, when he noticed that Keléno was approaching her of his own accord. Znayáshu then attempted to hide himself in one of the side rooms so that he could get closer to the two of them and continue his use of the spell. Sadly for him, he was noticed by Elué herself, who gave him a stern look that suggested she knew what he was attempting. Rather than risk trouble, he removed himself from the scene and rejoined Aíthfo and Grujúng, who were enjoying themselves in another chamber.

Keléno boldly asked Elué about her intentions in having previously warned Aíthfo of an attack upon his person. Smiling, she explained that her interest was in ensuring that no harm would come to "such an interesting man." When pressed, she asked Keléno if he would be willing to speak in one of the smaller adjoining rooms where they "could speak freely." Keléno agreed and Elué led him into a darkened room where she spoke quite frankly. She explained that "your activities on the Southern Continent have attracted a great deal of attention, not all of it good. You may not realize it, but you have inadvertently interfered with the plans of men of great power. Your current patron may not be able to protect you." By this, she meant Prince Mridóbu, who dwelled in Avánthar and was responsible for sending them to Linyaró nearly three years ago. "You might be better served by switching your allegiance to someone who could better protect you." 

Fearing that this conversation was leading in a dangerous direction, Keléno extemporized. He explained that he agreed with Elué's assessment but that he would need time to convince his clan mates and comrades of this. Elué seemed pleased and said that she would call upon him again in three days to see if he had been successful in swaying his companions. Keléno then dismissed himself from her presence and rushed to the others. He told them that they would need to make preparations to leave Béy Sü as soon as possible. This had already been their theoretical plan, but matters now demanded they escape the capital before matters came to a head. Word was then passed to everyone involved, including Nebússa and Srüna, to meet at the Palace of the Realm early that morning.

Collecting their gear and other belongings, the House of Worms members and their allies called upon Di'iqén hiSayúncha, the prefect of the Palace. They gave him the letter Prince Mridóbu had issued them, which permitted them access to the tubeway car station beneath the capital. Di'iqén was impressed and said he would be happy to oblige them. Nevertheless, the prefect peppered them with probing questions about the nature of their activities, questions the characters chose not to answer. Though Di'iqén claimed to understand – "Imperial security and all that." – he seemed to be trying to delay their departure, something that worried Keléno a great deal. Nebússa then invoked his status as an agent of the Omnipotent Azure Legion to cow the prefect, who then took them through a series of rooms and down staircases that led into the underworld beneath Béy Sü.

The journey below took close to an hour, during which time the characters observed shadowy figures moving about in other areas of the underworld. The figures did not approach them or otherwise interfere with their descent, but there was some worry that they might have been spies of another imperial faction or secret society. Once they reached the tubeway car station, they sent Di'iqén away, which he eventually did, albeit reluctantly. The characters then summoned a car, as they had in the past, only to see that it was a small one – insufficient to carry all of their entourage. They sent their men-at-arms away, along with all but one of the sorcerers who'd traveled with them. Only Lára hiKhánuma remained.

Once inside the tubecar, the characters inserted the travel disk that was supposed to take them to the Naqsái city-state of Miktatáin. Instead of departing immediately, a voice – in the language of the Ancients, they presumed – said something twice from within the controls of the car. Then, a series of images and symbols appeared on a view screen. This led to some concern, since, the last time they had visited Miktatáin, they had drained all the power from its tubeway station. Perhaps the voice was saying that the station was no longer reachable. Regardless, the car did not move, nor did its door close.

Keléno then decided, with some reluctance, to contact Toneshkéthu, the third stage student at the College at the End of Time, whom they had aided in the past (or was it the future?). She had given Keléno an arcane device by which to speak with her in times of need, though she warned against using it too often, out of concern that it would "do damage to your branch of the Tree of Time." When contacted, they asked her the meaning of the words being spoken by the tubecar. Toneshkéthu seemed somewhat annoyed, asking "Didn't you pay attention during your lessons at the College?" before saying "Oh, wait; that hasn't happened … I mean: never mind." She then quickly said, "The voice is saying that there's a blockage and would you be willing to accept an alternate route to the destination rather than the most direct one. Just touch the screen on the right hand side and the car should operate."

Sure enough, Toneshkéthu's advice was correct and the car hurtled toward its destination. However, after about twenty minutes of travel, the voice spoke again, saying something different. The car began to slow in its acceleration before finally stopping at a station. This station was not the one beneath Miktatáin. The door to the car opened and several people got out to look around. The station was dark, except for a light coming from a nearby corridor. There were also footprints in the dust – four-footed prints that suggested those of the Ssú. Needless to say, this filled no one with pleasure, but it was not certain what they should do, since the car was no longer moving and had not ejected their transport disk.

Kirktá encouraged Keléno to contact Toneshkéthu once more, which he was not certain was a good idea. Without other options, though, he did it. Clearly irritated, she asked, "What now?" Keléno explained their situation and she said, "The car is over its weight capacity and needs time to recharge before being able to proceed again. In fifteen minutes, it should again be able to take you toward your destination." Relieved, Keléno thanked her and promised not to contact her again soon. Kirktá used this opportunity to study the symbols on the screen, hoping to gain a greater understanding of the numbering system of the Ancients, aided by the control of self spell.

After nearly fifteen minutes had elapsed, everyone returned to the tubecar and waited for its door to close once more. It did so and the car hurtled on toward – they hoped – Miktatáin and the Achgé Peninsula.   

1 comment:

  1. Ironically, “The Abominations of Yondo” is probably what made me a serious Smith fan. The opening paragraph is astoundingly evocative and weird. I’d always liked what little I found of his, but that story, and that collection (I read it in Hyperborea) convinced me to seek out everything I could find. (Which, sadly, hasn’t been much so far.)