“This is driving me crazy,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “The creature is taking its own sweet time getting here, and in the meantime there’s this crashed invisible space station down there in the fjord!”
“We are not going to go down there en masse and we are not splitting up,” Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone. “The chances that that station has not already been picked clean are extremely small.”
“I of course agree,” the capybara sighed. “It makes me miss--as few other things would--the presence of our crows. We could have sent them down to reconnoiter. Instead--”
“Do not even think of suggesting sending the beetle down there,” growled the tiger. Thyrsis and Antithyrsis would have a difficult time with these winds. Gad would be destroyed--and he would go without hesitation.”
“I wasn’t going to seriously suggest it, being neither that stupid nor that cruel. But just the four and a half of us against that Deep Chaos monster--we stand in need of more resources.”
In the interior of the fortress on the headland, Jeanette Ransom sat in front of the portal she had half drawn, showing her jewelry to Gad, who sat on her lap.
“These were worn by the heir to the Emperor-God of your city. For her they were a symbol that everyone should defer to her. She also used them to speak to us, just like I’m speaking to you now. They were previously used by a healer when the place was called Haven, and beings came over the interdimensional train lines to be cured and find some peace. The necklace and bracelets were actually made by the race known as the Pilgrims, who lived there long before the Havenites built the castle. We ended up going back in time far enough to actually meet some Pilgrims, and they taught me more about what this jewelry could do.” She sighed, and leaned back against the stone wall.
“You have done so much, Jeanette!” The delicate voice said through those very bracelets. “But of course it isn’t surprising, since you’ve lived many thousands of days.”
“I’ve told you I’m still a little girl of my kind, Gad--but I have had a lot of adventures.”
She sat back up. “I just remembered something,” she said. Her backpack had been sitting on the bench next to her, and she dragged it over. She started rummaging around in it, and pulled out a small metal box. She opened it and took out a tiny transparent phial. “I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but your place was pretty dirty. These are the tears of the Havenites--at least that’s what the label said.”
She deposited a couple of drops on the end of her finger. “Let me know if this hurts or anything,” she said. She started stroking Gad’s hard wings very gingerly with it.
“Oh this is amazing!” Jeanette exclaimed. “Your wings are green like emeralds, and there are little lines of gold down them! You’re gorgeous!” She rummaged around some more. “No. I never carry around a mirror. It’d’ve been broken a hundred times anyway. But when we’re back with Lord Elphinstone, you’ll be able to see yourself in his armor.”
“It feels very pleasant, Jeanette. It’s very different, and good.”
Jeanette put the box back in the pack, then pulled her hand out again. “I’ve still got some Skittles at the bottom. They’re probably still good, since they’re coated. Here.” She put about five Skittles on the bench, and Gad hopped down over them. “Thank you very much, Jeanette.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. She crunched one in her mouth. “Yep.”
“I wonder what the story is of this world,” the capybara said. Silvertyger had not been able to prevent one foray, and he stood by an embrasure, turning a sword over in his claws. “The Coward analyzer says this is high-carbon steel, case-hardened and well made. But that’s a long distance from an invisible space station. I wonder if it’s a matter of gradual decay, or were there two separate species?”
O Tse said, “When our guide Parvati took us across this landscape, we emerged from one portal, traveled for a couple of weeks until she found us the next one. We saw this, but it was a matter of ”Ooh, look at that!” And moving on. We saw no large animal life of any sort.”
“Alert,” said Lord Elphinstone. “Something is happening along the line of approach.”
His voice carried enough that in a moment Jeanette was with them, Gad at her shoulder.
Off near the horizon, a thunderhead had built up. It was white and fluffy in the sunshine, and perfectly natural.
“It’s moving against the prevailing winds,” the tiger said.
“And there’s something peculiar about the rainfall at its base,” O Tse said,
Jeanette was no weather buff, but the gray misty trail at the bottom seemed thicker than it should be. And it was definitely moving in the wrong direction: towards them.
They had already prepared everything that could be prepared, so they could do nothing but watch, and it was a long slow process.
The sky at length turned gray, and the already strong winds went up a couple of notches. The bottom of the thunderstorm turned an angry black-blue.
“Look!” O Tse said.
“I see it,” said Lord Elphinstone.
The peculiar thing about the trailing edge was that it was more than rain: there was, or seemed to be, solid tendrils hanging down from the bottom of the cloud. There were clumps of them, sometimes masked by the misty rain, sometimes more visible. Like the thunderhead itself, moreover, the tendrils didn’t always move with the wind. It advanced on them more rapidly than it should.
Then a lightning bolt crashed, and crashed upward.
In the center of the rain and the tendrils, their creature walked, larger than ever.
Answering lightning bolts crashed to earth around the monster. The rain increased in intensity, as did the wind--Jeanette felt a single drop on her cheek, though it was still miles away.
The clusters of tendrils began to move, circling, moving inward towards the monster. Clusters of lightning bolts slammed down with tremendous cracks.
The tendrils whipped and grabbed now at the creature, who clawed and tore at them, but didn’t stop his march.
The wind howled.