Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Pockets in the Snow

We were awoken the next morning by a familiar wheezing and groaning noise as Oolon’s Cabinet eased it’s way into our part of the Grid. He quickly beckoned us inside, talking excitedly about somewhere he’d heard about from an old friend that we really should visit. I know we are still supposed to be exploring the Northern Continent, but Oolon has such a way with words and a certain charm about him that it’s difficult to refuse. And it was nice to see him happy and not weighed down by whatever he was fretting about a few weeks ago.

The Cabinet made a slight detour to Steelhead to pick up Terry and Miss Virrginia Tombola and then we were on our way once more.

Miss Tombola seemed slightly concerned by the steam escaping from parts of the Cabinet’s ducting system and the fact that several gauges on the console read zero, but Oolon assured us that there was nothing to worry about.

After one of our smoother landings we were out of the door and into the cold, snowy environment of a lovely little mountainside town. The whole place looked Eastern in style to my untrained eye and I began to wish I’d brought a jacket as a light sprinkling of snow started falling.

We ventured out over a bridge and into a lovely, peaceful Zen garden.

However, after only a few minutes of relaxation, Oolon and Terry dashed off without a word of explanation, leaving Miss Tombola, Fuschia and myself to explore on our own. At least we knew that if we were back to the Cabinet within the two hour time window there shouldn’t be a problem (Oolon had provided Fuschia and myself with keys should we need to let ourselves in).

Fuschia found a set of sculptured snow creatures and one in particular looked an awful lot like our own dear “Nessy” in Port Caledon.

Pressing on up the slope we came upon a marvellously constructed wooden, stone and paper building that although appearing in a good state of repair from a distance had obviously suffered at someone (or something's) hands (or appendages).

The door had been shattered, with parts lying strewn all over the floor. The lack of snow piled onto the scattered wood suggested this was quite recent and I began to get a gnawing, worrying feeling at the back of my head. There appeared to be a hole in the ceiling leading up to higher floors and so using my long reach to clamber up, I was able to pull the ladies up through the hole after me.

As we explored, we began to hear eerie noises. Miss Tombola and myself could hear them clearly but Fuschia couldn’t, which is very unusual; her Pixie senses usually pick up on things like that before human ones. As we wandered backwards and forwards trying to pinpoint the sound, it resolved itself into definite music. The music was being played on the bagpipes, no less.

Thoroughly searching the tower revealed nothing except more snatches of the wailing music. There began to be talk of “ghost pipers” and this being a haunted tower. We were determined to investigate further.

Back outside the tower, Fuschia had found a statue of a “sleepy man”, who she said was obviously well looked after and loved by the people of the town. It certainly did seem very well maintained, and she usually does have a certain empathy with objects, so she is probably right.

It was then we discovered the source of our mysterious piping…a young lady playing the bagpipes in the zen garden. She was a very accomplished musician and, as Miss Tombola remarked, had a talent for making even bagpipes sound melodious and tuneful.

We retraced our steps back into the town to see if we could find where Oolon and Terry had run off to. I was feeling a little uneasy after finding the broken down door and the whole situation here seemed a little “off”, if that makes sense.

Passing a bicycle towed carriage, Fuschia and Miss Tombola soon discovered a few retail outlets and as they rummaged through clothing, I admired the craftwork of the armour and swords on sale. Deciding against a purchase, we crossed a bridge and found ourselves in an area populated by “flat” people. This section of town looked like it had been made to look as if it were fully populated by people on the street, but really they were simply flat wooden constructs. I was beginning to get the uneasy feeling again, when suddenly Oolon and Terry made an appearance.

They were both out of breath and were telling us excitedly of a crashed airship they had found on a mountaintop and the fact it was surrounded by blood and near some kind of hidden mountainside stronghold. Fuschia suggested we should head into a nearby tea house and discuss what was going on, but Oolon had that concerned look again and was off taking readings with one of his devices.

As I followed Oolon, asking him what was happening, we heard a sudden cry of dismay from Miss Tombola. We dashed back to the tea house to discover that not only did the tea house have none of its own tea, but Terry had vanished into thin air. Fuschia started getting worried and said she couldn’t sense Terry anywhere nearby.

A certain darkness seemed to appear in Oolon’s eyes and I could tell that he was worried. We quickly made plans to split up and search for Terry. Oolon seemed to think that she may have been relocated to somewhere else nearby. We only had forty minutes until the Cabinet would snap back to Mayfair on her “aetheric elastic” and it would take a good long while to recharge her for another trip. Just as we were finalising our plans, Terry reappeared right back in the spot where she had vanished from.

She had been somewhere she called “otherspace” (as far as I could make out somewhere outside of the Grid; I think it’s related to Faerie, but it can be difficult to follow Oolon, Terry and even Fuschia when they start talking about things like that). She said it felt as if some force had grabbed her and pulled her there. Oolon quickly suggested we should move on and just as he did, Miss Tombola vanished in a swirl of strange lights.

It looked like my gut reaction to this place was correct; something here was definitely not right. Oolon quickly explained what he thought was going on: The engines of the crashed airship were apparently of an unusual design and could, if damaged in a certain way, be warping the “aetheric space of the Grid”, creating pockets (like deep trouser pockets) that one could fall into.

We had to find Miss Tombola and fast. We only had twenty minutes left before the Cabinet “snapped back”. Oolon said that whatever happened we had to be back on board the “Old Girl” before that time expired or we may end up being stuck and with “aetheric pockets” I got the impression that this wasn’t a good place to be stuck. He said that if time ran out he would remain here to look for Miss Tombola, and the “Old Girl” would get us back to Mayfair itself. This didn’t seem like an entirely sensible plan but before I could argue Fuschia whisked me up into the air with her pixie magic and soon had me gliding about up and down the nearby mountainsides.

We briefly stopped off at the crash site Oolon and Terry had mentioned, but could find no sign of Miss Tombola there.

We whipped over the gardens and tower that we had explored earlier; still no sign.

As we hit a particularly dense layer of cloud I became separated from Fuschia and found myself floating in front of an incredible sight. It appeared to be a huge statue surrounded by all manner of strange buildings and unusual craft. There was definitely more going on in this place than at first appeared.

Before I could explore further, Fuschia pulled me back to her side as we swooped over the main streets of the city and there, on almost exactly the same spot she had vanished from, was Miss Tombola.

We landed and Fuschia dashed up to her and gave her a huge hug. Miss Tombola explained that although from our point of view she had vanished, to her we had vanished.

We only had a few minutes left and we dashed along the streets of the town to find Oolon and Terry nervously waiting by the door of the Cabinet. Oolon’s face lit up as he saw us arrive with Miss Tombola in tow. We still had a minute or two before our time limit expired and Miss Tombola wondered if she had time to check out one or two shoe shops. It has to be said she really is a remarkable young lady and seems to remain almost entirely unflappable regardless of the situation.

Oolon politely pointed out that it might not be a good idea and ushered everyone back inside.

As I stepped through the door of the Cabinet, the world lurched and instead of finding myself in the usual wood panelled interior I found myself on the familiar streets of Caledon Mayfair. Somewhat confused, I began to make my way back to the Sputnik Estate (knowing that the Cabinet should be arriving back there anyway) and no sooner had I taken a step than I was back onboard the Cabinet once more. Oolon was rather apologetic and began talking about the Cabinet’s “aetheric door” being affected by the interference in the area.

As the “Old Girl” swam her way through the ether back to Mayfair, Oolon broke out the sake he had collected somewhere along the way and was soon in discussions with Terry about heading back to the town sometime in the future and “sorting things out”...

Note: Checking the punchpaper readouts from the Cabinet’s console, it looks as if the place we visited is a region called: Silk Waters Mountain and is in the South West of the Southern Continent of the Mainland. It would certainly explain the presence of the strange out of place vehicles and structures surrounding the town. The strange etheric and spatial instabilites may warrant marking this area as a potential hazard on charts of the Mainland.

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