Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Escape from Death – Part 4

The ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ Adventure Group made their way along the wall of the Tower on Black Hill. Brian and Daniel led the way, followed closely by Storm Wizard and Laraby, with Isabella, her warrior Ferdinando, Morgana and Juliette following up in the rear. Storm Wizard was thinking to himself that the Locust Ambassador would not be so easy to subdue. He was armored with a copper vest, metalic looking skin, and from his impression it was likely that he had mystical protections as well.

“I think I could subdue the Locust Ambassador with my Stun Beam. We could tie him up, I suppose and take him back with us.”

“It would be much easier to persuade him to come with us somehow than to try to battle him,” said Juliette.

Isabella looked at her with a dubious gaze, raising one eyebrow.

“The Locust Ambassador is extremely fierce. He can jump fast and far, he’s armored, and skilled with his weapons. He possesses a copper vest that shields him from magic”, she stated.

“What if we get him drunk?” suggested Juliette.

“That could work. It’s an intriguing idea,” replied Isabella.

“Perhaps we could convince him to take a drink as part of the meeting with the Wise Aphid. We could make it part of the ceremony of alliance between the Aphids and the Locust people. But I was thinking of something stronger than alcohol,” offered Storm Wizard.

“We could ask the Aphids to produce such a concoction that would surely deprive him of his senses,” said Juliette. Morgana agreed, and explained that the Aphids were adept at creating potions of every concievable kind. The party then walked along in silence for a a while as they approached an area next to the wall well concealed by bushes.

"Do you happen to know where the Locust Ambassador is at this moment?" asked Storm Wizard of Isabella.

“Presently, he is battling ants along the Great Ivy Highway,” Isabella replied. “Unfortunately the ants do not stand much of a chance against him.”

“Yes, so we noticed,” said Storm Wizard ruefully.

“If we can find him now, would we be able to capture him in his tiny size?”

“Well, if it were easy then grasshoppers would always be caught by humans when they go out looking for them. But they aren’t, are they?” asked Isabella.

“Now that I recall, when we were tiny-sized all of the large beings seemed to move more slowly than normal, so I suppose it is a general rule that the insect people find it easier to leap away from large animals than we would think,” commented Juliette, half to herself.

“That is exactly how it is,” replied Isabella. “We insects at our tiny-size have that slight advantage over you giants. It makes life bearable for us, otherwise I fear we would never survive in a world of such enormous creatures."

“What magic is he protected against with his vest?” asked Storm Wizard.

“I do not know,” replied Isabella. “It would be unlikely for it to resist all forms of magic specifically, though it is possible that it is focused on one type of magic only. However, it is also possible that it improves his magical resistance in a general sense, but if so then it would not be a very strong protection. Such shields tend to either provide strong protection verses something specific, or a much weaker resistance against all forms of magic. It would be exceedingly rare for it to do both.”

“So my Stun Beam might hit him, but not necessarily,” considered Storm Wizard. Finally they came to the concealing bushes and everyone hoped that they had not been seen. Laraby, who had a keen eye for this sort of thing, thought they they remained undetected thus far.

“So our plan is that we offer him a drugged goblet of wine at the meeting with the Holy Aphid, and once he’s knocked out we tie him up and take him with us. Are we agreed?” asked Juliette. And all were agreed that it seemed like a good plan.

Having rummaged around toward the back of the bushes next to the wall, Laraby said, “I think it would be a good idea to slip into the Tower through a secret door that I found behind a rock near the ramp that you originally entered the Tower over. I found it while I was investigating the strange stone I found along the wall. It was this that caused me to lose track of where you were earlier, for which I again apologize.”

And so they crept along the side of the Tower in order to find their way inside. With her stone-eye Juliette saw that there was a secret door with a tunnel leading through the wall. She was able to see through the stone to look at the secret latch that held the hidden door closed, and watched as Laraby flipped the switch with a small metal pin he had taken out from his pocket. Within moments they passed through a narrow corridor into the open passage way between the outer wall and the inner Tower. They could see the tower rising three stories over head, and from where they were they could see both the portaclace and the door into the tower that lead up the stairs to the parapet. No guards were in sight.

Juliette looked around and saw that inside the Tower the men there were milling around, and that on the top of the tower there were two men standing watch, one at the top on the parapet and one at a window overlooking over the main gate into the courtyard. She noticed that now that the eye-stone was in her head the range of her vision had increased over what it was when she merely held it in her hand. The seeing-stone is a wonderful thing, she thought.

“We need to get small,” said Storm Wizard. “Climbing down the vine made us big, I don’t know however if that implies that climbing up the vine will make us small again.”

No one thought that was very likely, least of all Lady Isabella.

“You remember the red pearl I gave you?” she asked Storm Wizard. "It has many powers. It may be able to return to the Insect Kingdom again. You must hold it in your left hand and everyone must hold hands. Wish to be small and chant this song with me.”

As he sang the song with Isabella and wished as hard as he possibly could, the entire group got smaller and smaller until the grasses on which they stood became a towering forest of waving green blades rising high over their heads. They sky was a distant smattering of blue above the huge green blades swaying in the breeze. All around them shaded shapes were moving among the shifting shadows. Here an antenni poked out from behind a huge swaying leaf. There an ant, quite a bit larger than themselves, went marching along a path. Over there high up a crowd of mites were munching on a brown glob attached to the stem of a huge dandelion. A honey bee buzzed among the grasses passing overhead. Scores of insects could be seen. None took any notice of the tiny-sized visitors. Storm Wizard cast a flying spell on himself and began to fly upward.

“hmm… that’s good for him,” said Juliette. “But what about us?”

Isabella made a sound that was half way between a hum and a whistle, or a whistling hum as it were. Over the edge of a great green leaf waving in the gentle breeze came a rather large ladybug and lit into the air with her red and black dotted shell spread wide. Down she came and landed before the group in what amounted to a small glade of mossy ground between the grass blades. The ladybug was much larger than the tiny-sized adventurers, and they were able, at Isabella’s bidding, to take positions on each of the ladybug’s legs. With a single swift motion the ladybug launched into the air and they were aloft. At one point they almost hit a swaying blade of grass (to them the size of a fifty story barn) but the ladybug was adept at navigating her way through the hazards and suddenly they were above the grass-line and heading toward the Great Ivy Way. Up and up they flew in a spiraling zigzag course that seemed to swirl with the breeses, yet maintain a steady course toward the top of the Tower. To the top of the tower they flew. Most of them declined to look down, for the distance to the ground was, relative to their size, many thousands of feet. Brian grew quite sea sick, but managed to keep himself from swooning. The ladybug landed on a leaf at the top of the tower. Storm Wizard joined them there.

From that place it was a short walk to the entrance to the temple. Isabella and her warrior remained behind as the young adventurers entered the Temple by way of the outer arches, as they recalled that the doorway on the side of the stone was menaced by a great and terrible centipede. And who knew what else. So to the arches they went, and climbing down from the leaf they entered the the elegantly proportioned arches of outer promenade where they met Ben. He had been told that tiny people were riding a ladybug up from the bottom of the tower, and so he had quickly made his way to the promenade.

“John! Morgana! Juliette! Brian! Daniel! Laraby! It is good to see you!” exclaimed Ben, who was astonished, and delighted to see his friends. There were greetings and hugs all around, and everyone was happy to have found Ben waiting for them.

“I have learned such a great deal since you’ve been away. It is really quite astonishing what the Aphids are up to. You’d never guess it in a million years!” Ben was saying. “But that would be a long story. What is it that brings you back to the Temple, my friends?”

“We need to speak with the Holy Aphid, and we have little time to waste. Can you take us to him?”

“Certainly," said Ben. "He will be in the Great Hall.”

To the Great Hall they made their way, down the long corridors, around the bends and into the Hall they entered. There they saw the old Holy Aphid on his stone chair in the center of the Hall. He was sitting quietly meditating.

“Ahem,” said Storm Wizard when he deemed he had come close enough. The old Aphid opened his eyes.

“John Bellowick,” said the old Aphid, “welcome to you, and your friends.”

“Thank you. We haven’t much time, so I will be brief,” he said. “We understand that the Locust Ambassador is soon to arrive. We wish to take him back to the human lands to prove to our fellow men that there is a great danger afoot. We want to trap him in the Great Hall, and offer him a drink of such powerful elixir that it will cause him to fall into a deep sleep. We will then take him away and you will not need worry about him ever again.”

There was a long pause.

“We could do that,” said the old Aphid. “I have spoken with the King of the Insects, and told him what the Locust Ambassador has said. The King was wroth. I explained to him that the Locust Ambassador wished for me to side with the Locusts against the Ants and falsely accuse them of stealing the Locust's food and articulated the threat of a Great Swarm that he made. The King was very wroth. He will help us against the Locusts. He approved our plan. When the Ambassador comes he will demand an answer. I can equivocate if it may help, but I will not tell any lies. But I do have a question. If you take him away, what will you do with him after you have introduced him to your fellow men?”

“It depends on how angry he gets.”

“He is likely to be wroth,” said the old Aphid.

“If he can be safely let go, then fine. If not then I have no qualms about squashing him.”

“That may be more difficult than you think,” said the old Aphid.

“Not if I am 10,000 times his size,” said Storm Wizard confidently.

“What if he too can be 10,000 times his size?” asked the wise old Aphid.

“Ah… he can?”

“The Nobles among the Insects can take on a human appearance. They can if they wish be very much the normal size of humans. The Locust Princes are quite capable of that, I can assure you. If the humans are unaware of it, it is because the Noble Insects have hitherto avoided the circumstances wherein it would be advantageous for them to expose this secret, finding other more subtle means to their ends. The Insects are more powerful than you may realize,” concluded the old Aphid.

“Well, when he is unconscious we can take off his armor. He may still be dangerous, but less so, I should think,” said Juliette.

“Yes, that is true. However, it will still be dangerous. So you ought to think carefully as to what your plan is. That is my advice to you young people,” said the Holy Aphid with an air of great wisdom about him.

“Yes, well disarming and tying him up goes without saying,” said Storm Wizard. “As long as he serves his purpose then after that we have no need of him either way.”

“What makes you think he will be agreeable to your plan?” asked the wise Aphid.

“Hmm… what does it matter if he is?”, responded Storm Wizard. “He will have Locust features as we’ve seen. He will in all likelihood be wrathful, and declare his intentions. That should be evidence enough for my fellow men that the threat of the Locust Swarm is real. It will be easy to gain their support after that.”

“Presuming everything goes according to your plan. But then what?”

“I suppose I could untie him. He will probably attack us, and there will be guards who will help me to defeat him,” said Storm Wizard optimistically. He didn’t really think he had what it would take in him to kill a man who was bound and had not yet committed any crime. An Ambassador no less.

“I suspect it is at this time that you will be in the greatest danger,” commented the wise old Aphid with a foreboding tone.

“Yes. I’m sure you are right about that!”, said Storm Wizard. “Perhaps stabbing him while he is bound is not the worst choice after all.”

“Perhaps. It sounds like you’ve thought it through as best you can. Is there anything else you wish to tell me?”

“Not that I can think of,” said Storm Wizard a bit nonplused at the turn in the conversation. He hadn’t really thought of everything. It troubled him.

“Well, then, I imagine you all must be quite hungry. Bring the food!”, the old Aphid commanded. “Bring the drink!” And so a great feast was prepared and everyone ate heartily. It would not be long before the Locust Ambassador arrived at the Temple of the Aphids, in the center of a stone block along the parapet of the Tower on Black Hill. It would not be long at all.

Previous Episode: Escape from Death - Part 3
Next Episode: Battle of Aphid Temple - Part 1

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