Verse 16: KNOCK THREE TIMES
Night had fallen by the time Captain Polglase to the stark tower came. She had intended to arrive earlier, but instructing Ilfgar the Tentmaker on how to refurbish her field pavilion for an excursion into Veyolak Swamp had taken longer than anticipated. Since the pavilion's last use had been in the deserts of Shoqal (although there was no record anywhere of that fact), this was perhaps to be expected. In any event, it was after 19:50 when she knocked on the tower's front door.
A colorless man with the unmistakable demeanor of a Minion opened the door in due course. He looked distinctly unhappy to see her.
"May I help you, Officer?" Rogi inquired obsequiously.
"I seek the Mystic Shim Po. I am Captain Polglase, Division of Homeworld Security."
"Ah," Rogi exclaimed knowingly, "An assassin!" He peered at her dark green uniform. "I thought your attire would have more of a skull motif."
"Never after Festival," Polglase snapped. Where people got the idea that assassins would announce their presence with such displays was a mystery to her. "I seek Shim Po," she repeated.
"Well, I am not he." Rogi made to close the door.
"Then announce me. I would speak with him immediately."
"I am sorry, but the Master left specific instructions that he was not to be assassinated for any reason. Perhaps you should return next week. He may be able to fit you into his schedule then."
"I am not here in my professional capacity," Polglase admitted. Rogi looked mildly disappointed by that news. "Nevertheless, my business is important and cannot wait. Step aside!" She tried to push past the toady, but a wall of pure force blocked her entrance. She examined the doorframe more closely. "A ward, I presume?"
"Best money can buy," Rogi boasted cheerfully. "Covers all doors, windows, and exterior walls of the tower. No one gets in without specific leave from either the Master or myself. Shim Po is a very private individual."
"I see." Polglase took a step back and looked upwards at the imposing structure. "All doors, you say?"
"And exterior walls." Rogi was positively smug.
She eyed the Minion thoughtfully, "What about the roof?"
"The roof? I, er, that is, I am sure that, um…"
"Never mind," Polglase said, once again gazing upwards. "I shall check for myself."
Casting Flight, she soared into the night sky. Two seconds later she landed on the tower's flat, bird dropping encrusted roof. Pointing her left index finger at the stone beneath her feet, Polglase cast Instant Entrance. A bright blue light pierced the darkness. Turning around, she inscribed a perfect circle with herself in the center. The circle briefly glowed the same bright blue, then disappeared. Her support gone, she immediately plummeted the sixteen spans to the floor below, landed lightly, and found herself face to face with one extremely flustered Mystic.
"Hello, Po," she said.
"How dare you?" The Mystic raised both hands above his head, but before he could cast whatever nastiness he had in mind, the Captain waggled an admonitory finger – still bright blue, if fading – directly in front of his nose.
"Uh, uh, uh," she warned. "Is that any way to treat company, Po? Hmmmm… Nice name, Po. Po Po. Little Po Po." She savored the sound. "I like that. May I call you Little Po Po?"
"You may not!" the Mystic's voice was filled with outrage and he did not lower his arms.
"Little Po Po it is, then," said Polglase agreeably. She looked around, taking in the depleted shelves, the bright places on the walls where plaques of some sort had been until very recently, and the large colorful Esarnian rug that lay incongruously in the middle of the floor. "Lovely place you have here. Very stuffy. But I think a skylight adds just the right touch. Would you not agree?"
Shim Po had taken quite enough of this insolence. "I insist that you depart this very –"
"SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET!" The Dragoon bellowed.
Shim Po sat. Unfortunately, he was a good span from the nearest chair, so he wound up smashing the base of his spine into the floor. He noticed his hands were still upraised, realized how foolish that looked, and lowered them.
"Master!" Rogi panted as he reached the study. "Are you dead?"
Shim Po waved Rogi off, tottering to his feet. He glared at the intruder, who returned his barbed look impassively. Shim Po blinked first. Rogi pushed a chair over and the Mystic took a seat. Without taking her eyes off her "host," Polglase Summoned an identical chair from across the room. It slid smartly into place beneath her descending buttocks, and she made herself comfortable.
"There," she said, taking her pipe and pouch from her tunic's pocket, "much more civilized, as it should be for people of our standing." She began to fill the pipe. "I trust you do not mind if I smoke, Po-Po?"
"I care not if you burn!" the Mystic grumbled.
"Excellent!" The pipe lit itself and she took a long drag. "Now that we’re all friends, I have a few questions for you. What have you been up to, you naughty monkey?"
"I resent the implication!" Shim Po spluttered. "I have been minding my own business, and I suggest you do the same. What concern is it to the Dragoons, anyway?"
"Had I been here on Dragoon business, this site would now be suitable for an open-air market," she said. "I am here as a private, concerned citizen, who simply wishes to know into what cookie jar you have been sticking your grubby little mitts."
"I find your insinuations demeaning and wholly without basis." Shim Po had managed to get his temper under control, and made an effort to appear nonchalant. "However, if you explain yourself in more concrete terms, perhaps I can allay your unwarranted suspicions. Rogi! Some tea for our guest. The special blend."
Rogi blanched, but sped down the stairs to comply.
Captain Polglase patiently explained the events of the previous night, the disappearance of Minstrel and Troll, and the results of the Pathfinder's investigation. By the time she finished, Rogi had returned with two cups. He looked at them both, made up his mind, and handed the one in his right hand to Polglase. She took it and held it under her nose. "Rose hips, honeyreed, windchime root, and something I just cannot identify. Bellflower?"
"The recipe is a closely guarded secret, Captain. Please… drink." Shim Po took a sip from his own cup and smiled redly as Polglase did the same. "A chaos vortex you say? How very perplexing." Polglase drank half the cup's contents, and Shim Po leapt to his feet.
"Aha!" he crowed. "Now I have you! What you could not identify was white nightshade, one of the quickest and most lethal poisons extant. That will teach you to meddle in the affairs of your betters!"
Polglase calmly finished the tea and set the cup down. She unbuttoned the top button of her tunic, reached inside, and withdrew an oblong amber amulet the size of her thumb. "Sovereign Health Charm," she said. "Standard Issue. Proof against all poisons, animal, vegetable, mineral, spiritual, elemental, or theoretical. Now" – she got to her feet – "stop playing games and tell me what you did to that poor lad and that unfortunate Troll before I have to start pulling your internal organs out through your nostrils?"
"You have no proof!" Shim Po protested. "What makes you so certain I had anything to do with these events?"
Before Polglase could answer, there was a loud "fwoomp!" as, directly behind Shim Po, the Esarnian rug began to rise. When it reached sufficient height it slid to the floor, revealing a large Protective Sphere, linking two transdimensional conduits. The Chaos Seed within blossomed, and once again the vortex sprang back to life.
"Ahem!" Polglase lifted her chin slightly.
Shim Po turned around and stared at the magical construct, while Rogi darted for the stairs. Before he could take two steps, Polglase Stunned him and he toppled to the floor. Shim Po paid no heed. He could not tear his eyes from the incontrovertible proof of his wrongdoing. A gxzyon flew in from one tunnel, somersaulted, and whooshed out the other.
"Oh," he said in a very small voice, "you mean that chaos vortex."
He threw himself at Polglase's feet. "Please, please, please do not kill me! I did not mean it. It was an accident. It was all his idea, anyway!" He pointed at the manservant, who being unconscious did not deny the accusation. Polglase gave Shim Po a look of unbridled contempt as his lie caused the very air in front of his mouth to curdle.
In another minute, as they had done the night before, the tunnels destabilized and collapsed, taking the Sphere with them. Again, books self–destructed as turquoise light and a clap of thunder heralded the construct's demise. The new light globes exploded and the room went dark as the reverberations died away.
Polglase snapped her fingers and the room filled with light. She was the only one standing, and regarded the sniveling mage at her feet. "Oh, Po-Po," she sighed, "you are such a disappointment to your mother and me."