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    Friday, July 3rd, 2015
    7:31 am
    More Useless Worlds (60/170)

    More Useless Worlds

    Moving twenty-seven dragons, sixty-three small people, a small horde of animated skeletons, and a large herd of food animals to Narethy was not a quick matter. Nor was erecting the Base Camp proper.

    Narethy’s peculiar architecture made it hard to reuse any of the abandoned buildings. They didn’t fit dragons at all, and the tilted tips were altogether unliveable, which was no surprise. They did fit small people and the straight parts were usable, but hovens and chirs alike disliked sharing their rooms with twisted struts of titanium. It was often hard to walk from one side of the room to the other, so awkwardly was the titanium placed. And there was something distinctly unpleasant about the squirming shapes of the struts as contrasted to the entirely sensible squares of the rest of the architecture.

    It was soon decided to leave the narets’ homes to the narets, and to bring through the cyclone a great number of sections of metal and plastic, following the plan for a housing-free world. These were screwed and clamped together under the expert and attentive eye of Mr. Norb, with tenasensitive inspection and holding-large-object-in-place assistance of a variety of drakes. In no time(⌘) a sufficient camp was ready, with twenty-three repurposed Trestean army portable small-aircraft hangers for the dragons, another three (medium size) for the living small people, three more (medium size) for the undead, and eight more (medium size) for livestock. Then another dozen or so for science and scholarship.

    (⌘) No time being almost two months if one looks at the calendar, or almost six years if one counts the apparent woe of one’s friends as written over the venstromo.

    The married couples, normal and urning, each shared a hanger. We weren’t at all sure what to do about Yarenton + Fraxtseng + Questhraum, who had some sort of happy but utterly unmarriageable triad, so we gave each one a hanger and assumed they would visit each others’ hangers at need.

    I hear there was a fair bit of hanger-visiting going on in a certain fraction of the drake population. Probably among the small people population as well, but I only heard a little of that. Even among the undead: Gimuse Nuthu and Mr. Norb apparently saw a great deal of each other, and conducted a mutually-satisfactory erotic affair entirely by gazing longingly at each others’ untouchable bodies, or something. (I ought to be encouraging or encouraged, since I can’t feel my lovers any more than those two could feel each other, but somehow they managed to enjoy it.)

    Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
    9:09 pm
    Geography of Narethy (59/170)

    Geography of Narethy

    The cyclone’s opening is a quarter-mile from an obvious road, a road where the topsoil has been scooped away and fenced off with tall walls of stone. The road runs from Newtown to Bread-Big-City. Those aren’t our names. They are carved on the walls every half-mile, with distances, in cryptic runes which Jaraswat’s mighty linguistic spells made short work of. (The Word-Fox is ineffective; the native tongues are so dead that there are no echoes that that nimble little vulpine can catch.)

    When Mirinxan reached Bread-Big-City, we knew we weren’t on Hove anymore.

    It’s not that unusual, cross-worldly, to have a city composed entirely of towers. Dorday, my favorite city on Hove, sometimes feels that way. It’s normal architecture on Spendularé, as the spens are avian. The narets were rather more like flying squirrels: only gliders. (They called themselves ”ỉsgê”, but we name the world and inhabitants together, to avoid confusion. Hovens hate being called ‘hoven’. The hovens will get used to it. The narets won’t get used to anything, nor complain; they are all dead.)

    What is unusual, and what we have never, ever, seen before, is that all the towers were curved. There’s a big empty plaza in a suburb of Bread-Big-City, which we call “Vertical Plaza”. The towers around Vertical Plaza go straight up for a floor and a half, then turn and bend to nearly horizontal, all pointing directly away from the amphitheatre in Vertical Plaza. The towers a block away are vertical for two floors, and aren’t bent quite so sharply. The towers a mile away go for five floors and are only a bit tilted.

    The pattern continues all over Narethy. The towers in Newtown are a bit curved on the top, all pointing away from Bread-Big-City, and from Vertical Plaza in particular. Rather later some dragons flew to the farthest rim of Narethy. It took surveying equipment, but yes, the towers are just a bit curved there, and the same way.

    “Oh!” we all said immediately. “There was a melty sort of explosion in the amphitheatre, and it melted the towers.”

    Evidence For That, part 1:That’s how Bread-Big-City looks from above, certainly.

    Evidence For That, part 2: The rooms inside the towers look the way you’d expect if the towers were straight up and down. They have windows and balconies on the outside, which means that sometimes the windows face the sky and sometimes they face the ground. The ex-walls/now-floors are covered with smashed furniture and assorted detritus, as would naturally happen if the room got suddenly turned on its side. But see “against, part 2”

    Evidence Against That, part 1: Nothing else got melted by the blast. There are light-posts and wire-poles throughout Bread-Big-City. Many are fallen (but in random directions, due to age). Those that are standing are perfectly vertical — or leaning crazily, but in random directions.

    Evidence Against That, part 2: The towers are all built the way they look. The most extremely tilted ones have massive internal structural elements, heavy curved pillars and skeletons of woven titanium. The towers would have been all but impossible to live in, what with the pillars taking up the better part of each room.

    Osoth was in love with this mystery instantly. It was not at all the purpose of the exploring company, but it seemed a wonderful puzzle that his powers of archaeology and necromancy could unlock while the Travel mages built a new hhejŝṧhyant and looked around the Tsòn cluster for worlds that were actually tsòn.

    Monday, June 29th, 2015
    8:04 am
    Mirinxan on Narethy (58/170)

    Mirinxan on Narethy

    Our scout Mirinxan had taken one of the venstroma’s nyxyliths. Officially, this was so that the party could talk with him in case of some disaster or other. Unofficially it was so that I could participate a bit in the adventure, relaying messages from Mirinxan to Osoth or what have you. I was as excited about the new world as anyone.

    Mirinxan burst forth from the cyclone in a battering flutter of wings. He sought the sky, as one does under uncertain circumstances. (The cyclone-mouth needs to be on the ground, or close, so we can move small people and large equipment and herds. Moving the cyclone-mouth itself would take highly advanced magic and we do not attempt it.)

    As the first dragon on the first world, Mirinxan was given the honor of naming it. Thus it became known, now and forever, as Narethy. The name is short for “Why is it tilted?”

    Cosmology of Narethy

    And that’s an excellent question. Narethy is our first example of a world of the type we later came to call ‘Predictable Platelet’. The worlds of the Tsòn Cluster — and that name means “lootable” or “rich prey” — are frequently Predictable Platelets. They are flat slabs of some substrate material: Narethy is based on basalt, but others have been based on slabs of iron (which makes some sense), or bone (barely sensible), or even titanium and fired porcelain (why? We never understood that one, like so much else about the Tsòn Cluster).

    Narethy is not terribly large as worlds go. It is an irregular hexagon-ish thing, just under two grand miles from farthest point to farthest point. It is a hair over four miles thick, mostly basalt.

    It is floating in the void.

    Gravity works in a very standard way on Narethy — more or less the same as it does for Hove. There is a universal notion of “down”. On the surface of the platelet, “down” means roughly the direction you’d expect. If you let go of a potato, it will fall to the platelet. (Slowly! About ⅔ of the gravity of Hove or Mhel.)

    Narethy is tilted, though. When we got to measure it, gravity is about 3º off from the exact perpendicular to the platelet’s surface. So, the whole world is tilted at 3º. We’re not sure why. We think that the universe is a tube with solid walls, and the world is a bit too big to fit evenly in the bottom of the tube and got wedged at a slight angle.

    Oh, and there’s a sun, a small and roughly octagonal platelet. It kind of flutters around irregularly in the sky: falling towards Narethy, then rebounding (from what?) and twirling back up high. The interval between bounces varies from four to eighteen standard days. There’s not exactly a day/night cycle, though the sun gives a lot more light when it’s showing its faces to Narethy than when it’s showing its edge.

    We never really understood much about Narethy’s universe. It wasn’t the one we had come to take.

    Wednesday, June 24th, 2015
    10:04 pm
    Kisses (57/170)

    Seven dragons and one ghost stood or sprawled by the Hove-side of the cyclone. Osoth summarized their reports. “All things are innocuous enough. The air is nontoxic, save perhaps being a touch irritating to those from Mhel, and that can be dealt with by tincture of snyel, or standard spells. The plants are edible to our test ninnygoats. The deerish creatures are edible to our test dogs. Our biologists and physician want further experiments, but they always will. The water contains no noxious metals or microbes. Our exploring ghost, an expert naturalist herself, has discovered nothing more dangerous than wolf-equivalents and large spiders. The physical laws seem ordinary enough, thought the shape of the world is peculiar. I have one question alone: is there anything else that must be done before a single dragon goes to scout?”

    Itharieth said, “There are things that could be done.”

    “There always are. Should they be?”

    “Not before a dragon goes to scout. Some must surely be done before we bring small people and food animals.”

    Osoth raised his head high. “That leads to another single question. Who shall we send? There is considerable danger here, and hence considerable honor. I shall cast lots among those who wish to take this most impressive of places.”

    Seven or eight dragons volunteered: Cnidtheyn. Driaith. Evrath. Hyxy and Ngassith, as a pair. Mirinxan. Nrusco. Questhraum the poet, perhaps unwisely. Vaareng.

    Osoth summarily removed Hyxy and Ngassith from consideration. “You agreed to keep private your good fortune at being a married drake and dragoness. Copulating in the lower atmosphere above our camp, while a dozen drakes cheer you on, is not private. I can still smell the spice of your passion. Thus do I deprive you of the chance to go first.”

    “Right,” snapped Hyxy. “Ngassith, come back to our sleeping-place. Since we are thusly limited, let us copulate privately until the tent falls down.”

    The lot fell to Mirinxan, cartographer and scout and guard, and a dragon experienced in unfamiliar worlds. He trotted to Driaith, who, as the chief defensive mage, covered him protective spells, mystical armorings, apotropaics, fortifications, and more than a few kisses. Mirinxan, his double mane flaring, circled the cyclone-mouth three times, and then darted into it.

    Vaareng, tail lashing, sought out Driaith. “Not an hour ago you were attempting — I cannot bring myself to say what.”

    Driaith nodded. “I can: to share bodily pleasure and companionship with you.”

    ”… that. Now I see you kissing Mirinxan, as if your kisses bore some special mystery of thwartation!”

    Driaith chuckled. “No such mystery. Well, did you choose to share bodily pleasure with me?”

    “No!”

    “Then how is it that you complain in such furious tones about who I choose to kiss?” asked Driaith.

    Vaareng had no good answer. “I … I cannot decide so fast. Whether I will behave like a lust-ridden bachelor drake, or … or …”

    Driaith finished the sentence for him. “like a lust-miserable bachelor drake who rejects pleasure.”

    Vaaring snorted. “Like a decent bachelor drake.”

    “Ah, good Vaaring! We say the same thing in different words, sir!”

    Vaareng dipped his head, shy for perhaps the first time in two dozen years. “Come with me. I do not want to be seen.”

    Driaith mused a moment, until Vaareng thought he might reject him, and how humiliating that would be. “Very well. I shall appreciate the distraction from worrying about Mirinxan in the other world.”

    By all reports, Vaareng is a better lover than I am. This is not surprising. A dead catfish is a better lover than I am. I have not asked any of the principals who remain to be asked, but I am given to understand from the behavior of various people that Vaareng is considerably better than a dead catfish, or even a live one.

    Sunday, June 21st, 2015
    7:49 pm
    Base Camp (56/170)

    Base Camp

    “This is somewhere!” said Gimuse. “I see live trees! Deer kinds of things grazing! A burning sun under a freakish blank blue sky! Lumpy stones, a paved road, a running stream!”

    “The blank blue sky is not strange for Basic Ball worlds. You are just used to the Typical Toroid of Hove, where the sky is full of lands,” said Itharieth. “But the rest of that sounds worth considerable cheering and yelling, by Grallion’s scallion!”

    “A good start,” said Tultamaan. “Let some people Cheer and Yell. Over yonder, so that the Tumultuous Noise does not Interfere with those Highly Educated and Prepared Specialists whose duty it is to determine if we can actually Live on this new world, or whether the atmosphere is composed of some Clear but Toxic Fume. Or, more dangerously, if the laws of reality require that the Oxygen in our blood slowly transforms itself into deadly Arsenic, as on a world that Quel Quen visited.”

    Despite Tultamaan’s exhortation, the celebration was considerable at this first sign of progress. Hyxy and Ngassith copulated energetically in the sky over the camp. After a bit of prodding, Evrath and Charimaan did as well.(†) There was much cheering. There were calls for the third married couple to perform as well, but Roroku’s skills as an Analysis mage were required at the cyclone.

    (†) I have seen drakes copulate while flying several times. There are various methods it can be arranged, but I believe the preferred way is to have one drake assume a female shape.

    “I miss my mating flight. I don’t miss the ending of it, but the middle — Ah! Three horny dragonesses eager to enjoy drakes at every opportunity!” said Vaareng, crouching at the edge of the camp, watching the air-show. “The rush of wind on my wings, the claspers closing around one of my hemipenises, the applause of my flight-mates at the vigor and energy of my performance!”

    Driaith curled his tail. “You must have been a veritable Tólónis!” Referring to a legendary dragon of great sexual prowess.

    “I was!”

    Driaith hummed. “Though your mating flight is over, and the dragonesses are already distributed, it is not entirely necessary to cease being a great Tólónis. It would be a shame for such skills and vigorous energy as yours to go to waste.”

    Vaareng tensed. He was fairly sure he knew what Driaith was about to suggest, and entirely unsure of how he would respond. He tried to divert the conversation. “Arilash, the slut-dragoness of Hove, is potentially available, but spread rather thin. There is hardly any honor to be had from twining with her.” (Perhaps dishonor to be sent away without twining, but Vaareng was not obliged to mention that.)

    Driaith counted on his foreclaws. “Arilash is not coming with us. Hyxy is faithful to Ngassith, and has bitten a large chunk out of Sjojarn when he hinted she might be somewhat flexible on that score. Roroku has not defended her chastity at all, but Gyovanth is constantly watching her, and a most suspicious and dangerous dragon is he, so she has had nothing to defend her chastity against. I would not count on twining with Roroku being an option.” He held up a forepaw with no claws out. “Which leaves no true dragonesses.”

    “Which is just the number that a bachelor drake should expect,” said Vaareng, quite nervously.

    “It leaves a quantity of drakes, though,” said Driaith. “A quantity of horny drakes. A quantity of drakes who are not inclined to be terribly picky. A quantity of drakes who — not to put too fine a point on it — might be willing to transform themselves into dragonesses temporarily.”

    Vaareng whispered, “That is not honorable.”

    Driaith folded his forepaws and rested his head upon them, as if to indicate that he was not going to shapeshift and fly and twine with anyone just at the moment. “By what measure of honor, Vaareng? Do you not hear the drakes cheering just as loudly for the urning couple Evrath and Charimaan as for the normal couple Hyxy and Ngassith? In this expedition — in the company of bachelor drakes — there is no dishonor in satisfying your body’s demands, so long as you stay in draconic form. There is even honor in doing so with vigor and energy, just as on a mating flight.”

    Vaareng sat frozen, terrified.

    “Think about it, Vaareng. You could be Tólónis with an eager dragoness again — tonight, even,” said Driaith.

    ”… Not a real one …”

    “As real as bachelors can mount. One who looks and smells and tastes and feels real. One who will squeeze your male members with her claspers and enjoy twining with you just as much as if she was hatched a dragoness,” said Driaith. “One whose honor — and flaws, and prospects, and experience altogether — match yours.”

    Vaareng whined, and tried to sort out lust and honor. The scent of entwined couples in the sky didn’t help a bit.

    Thursday, June 18th, 2015
    10:35 pm
    More Useless Worlds (55/170)

    The fourteenth world was of the form called “Boiling Stone”: an endless sea of lava. Perhaps it would congeal and cool down to something useful in a grand-grand of grand-years. Perhaps the universe’s physical laws prevent it from ever cooling down. Perhaps living creatures swam in the sea of stone: Gimuse thought she saw some. Perhaps not.

    In any case, it was useless to dragons. They saved the reach-scale, in case someone wanted to study Gimuse’s rock-creatures.

    The twenty-ninth world was useless in yet another way. “The sky is full of churning black clouds, with just a tiny bit of glow behind them. I do believe there is a working sun up there. The landscape is hideous. Not utterly so; at least there is a landscape. But the landscapers they have hired have the most … exotic … sense of style. We have here a vast plain of scoured and chiseled stone. Intentionally chiseled, for I can see the marks of the tools, and a few of the tools themselves. Here and there are low monuments, spiky things with a separate small-person skull or helm or shield impaled on each spike. Beautiful workmanship, the impaled weapons and tools have. In the distance a tower rears up, dull red magics dripping from its windows. Nothing seems to live here: I see the corpses of trees and shrubs, and the skeletons of what must have been the ugliest small people anywhere. It’s not entirely dead. I think there are stromatolites or biofilms, sheets of live bacteria and micro-organisms, especially around the pond.”

    Itharieth gave a start, as one of his rarely-used senses twinged. “And there are gods! One in the tower, not terribly powerful: comparable to Ngassith, who is roughly the most dangerous of us. Six weaker ones, gods or angels, flying towards the cyclone and the minikin. Each of them is strong enough to care about: about 8/12 or 9/12 as dangerous as I am.”

    Sjojarn shook his head. “Dark Victory, or I’ll spend the rest of the day as a turtle.” Several dragons pressed him for more details. “A box turtle with the runes of wrongness written on my shell, I think, would be appropriate as a penalty turtle shape. Oh, you want details of Dark Victory. On many worlds, a mighty god arises, with a dire and vengeful drive for conquest and destruction. Sometimes they win. Sometimes their armies of, let us say, hideous genetically-engineered shock warriors, their infernal smoke-belching war engines, their handful of flying and mighty servitors, defeat whatever forces are ranged against them.

    “Now, when we conquer a world, we try to leave it as intact as possible. We rule benevolently(∂), we farm the world, we correct problems as they arise. Not so every Dark Lord! Often they wreck massive vengance first: killing everyone but their servants, chopping down the forests where the last remaining powers bright powers hide, spewing out poisons, and generally making sure that nothing could possibly survive to challenge them. Doing this carefully is not so easy. If it is the slightest bit overdone, the ecology of the world breaks. Poison the seas and destroy the forests, and there will be insuffient plant life to keep the air breathable. And then all things that need to breathe, will die.”

    [(∂) From our point of view, it’s benevolent. We rarely ask the conquered small people’s point of view, and we rarely like the answer when we do. Ythac and I are trying to be actually benevolent, and less than rulerly, on Hove. We will see how this works. —Jʸ]

    Itharieth frowned, a gesture of ears and wings. “As a biologist, I disapprove!”

    “As a drake who wishes to rule a vast and wealthy territory, I disapprove!” roared Gyovanth.

    By the time the news had spread around the camp and all the dragons gathered — for who would miss the first interesting thing that happened — the first pair of winged servitors had arrived at the portal. They were massive and hideous things, dozens of small-people skeletons welded together with heavy wrought-iron struts, and wings made of tanned skins. The first one pushed at the entrance to the cyclone, and was repelled by the powers in the hhejŝṧhyant. It moaned an intricate phrase.

    Jaraswat was ready, though. With Wo Awo and Lovrian supporting his spells (for getting them to work at such a distance is a matter of very hard sorcery), he translated the servitor’s words: “This gate is closed; there is no escape by it.”

    Osoth’s opinion of the living dead is rather more generous than that of most dragons. He had Jaraswat say, “Explain your situation. We may be sympathetic.”

    The servitor moaned, “A thousand years have passed since our victory. All things have died who our master permits to die. We are forbidden that: we must fly all around this dead world, senses alert for any sign of success of the prophecy that will mark our master’s doom. No white flowers bloom; no flowers of any sort bloom; no plants remain. When we find a seed we give it to the dark flames. Our rule is absolute and unchallenged. Our rule is a useless and unending torment. Let us out, O visitors, and we will serve you forever and faithfully!”

    Osoth was about to grant their petition, when Tultamaan, who knows him well, bit his tail quite hard. “Osoth! You are on the verge of making a Stupid and Elementary Mistake!”

    Osoth turned to blink at his lieutenant. “I am? They seem quite useful, and quite unhappy.”

    “You are Half right. They are unhappy. They are useful mainly for ruining worlds. Do you have a world that you wish ruined?” said Tultamaan in a snide tone. “Recall that the Primary purpose of our company is to find Valuable and Colonizable worlds. Once they have been ruined, they are no longer Valuable nor Colonizable.”

    “I suppose there is some truth to that,” said Osoth. “But surely they will not ruin unless we bid them to.”

    “As to the matter of their Obedience, observe how forever and faithfully they serve their first master. They beg to Betray and Leave, of the first minikin appearing at a portal. They know Nothing of us. True, the Dark Lord is probably a Mediocre and Annoying master, but they should at least conduct a Minimal Interview before betraying him. As we should before freeing them.”

    ”… true …” mumbled Osoth.

    “We could not Trust them. We would have to work to Contain them. They would probably Betray us at some Inconvenient Time, and they are strong enough to be able to Do So with Considerable Vigor.”

    “Oh, very well,” said Osoth. “But their design is impressive, and I would like to see more of it. I suppose I am here as party leader, not as necromancer, and I must be sensible. Tultamaan is right. Sjojarn, let this portal be closed, and let the scale be destroyed.”

    Sjojarn said, “We cannot close it until Gimuse returns, another three minutes. She is hurrying back.”

    Gyovanth snapped, “And we should not destroy the scale. I grant that we are not the party to rush over there, heal the lands and seas, and plant the white flower that will restore that miserable world. But let the scale be saved, and placed into an archive with the full story as we know it, so that some other unfortunate drakes can earn honor by reversing the Dark Victory.”

    Osoth nodded. “Why, that is a generous and sensible idea. Evrath, when you write down the catalog of worlds we have found, do not simply write the worlds that married couples may conquer. Write worlds where single drakes may find glory, and place this one on the list!”

    To the servitors he replied, “You may not come through this portal. Bide but a little longer, and a just and fitting rescue will come.”

    The thirty-third world was not useless.

    Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
    11:06 pm
    'Til Death Do Us Part (54/170)

    Gimuse and her secretary, an older hoven woman named Daprone whose hooves were so worn that she had iron shoes like a horse nailed to them, came to Osoth. “Osoth? Do you have spells to allow ghosts to cry?”

    “Not as such, Gimuse,” said the necromancer. “Why do you want to cry?”

    Daprone showed him the response to Gimuse’s postcard:

    You give me a sick, horrid joke, pretending to write letters to me in the name of my dead wife! You are a stinking sphincter of depravity and spiritual discord! Cease to torment me! -- Dv. Pardilomeh Spremm.

    “Is this an occasion for tears? You could write another card to him describing some shared secret and proving that you are yourself. Or you could go and visit him, haunt him or say farewell to him. We’ll be here for a while. I can find another ghost for a scout. Many hovens have died, after all.”

    “No, it’s worse than that, Osoth. He has married that Livise Spremm woman whom he had an affair with six years ago. And she has made him back into the very religious man he was before he met me. He’s gone back to signing his name with ‘Dv.’ — that’s ‘Divinatorum’. At this point he’d probably consider me an emination of Curset sent to destroy him. So my original plan was to cry for a few hours and then try to forget him. I’m having trouble with the first step though.”

    Osoth rubbed his facial horns. “Not an easy problem, letting the dead cry. That requires a body, a living one. Possessing a hoven would be inadvisable. Would you like to possess a ninnygoat? That can be arranged. I think they can cry.”

    “No, thanks. I feel too much of a ninny as it is. I can probably get the same effect by composing bad poetry.”

    “Will you need me to write it down?” asked Daprone.

    “Thank you, but no thank you. This is the sort of poetry that is best not written down,” said Gimuse.

    Osoth returned to his planning, musing on the limitations of draconic powers to solve problems.

    The fourth attempt to reach a new world reached another Coldest Ice, and the fifth and sixth, another pair of Dull Glows, without even the curiosity of visible life. By the seventh, which was different but no more useful, the audience at the finishing of the Pentagonal Cyclone had shrunk by a third: various people who did not have to be there chose not to be.

    “I was expecting another Coldest Ice,” said Itharieth as the minikin reached the end of the cyclone. “It is not. There are stars in the sky. Not many stars: I count nine visible from the cyclone’s opening. The ground is smooth and reflects the sky, rather as if the world were made entirely of glass.”

    “It is, or at least, if I recognize the type as a Burned Out, it is,” said Sjojarn. “This is a very old Basic Ball world. Its sun once burned large and bright enough to melt the world, and then sun and all stars cooled and are on their way to death.”

    “Is there anything there for us?”

    “Is Osoth a mighty enough necromancer to raise the ghost of a dead sun?” asked Sjojarn.

    “Potentially, if the sun once lived. Mere balls of flame do not have spirits,” said Osoth.

    “Then no.”

    Sunday, June 14th, 2015
    9:34 pm
    Ghost Travails (53/170)

    The travel-mages retuned the hhejŝṧhyant, which did not need it in the slightest. The next day, it was Sjojarn’s turn to finish the ritual. He made certain changes, which he hoped would make it less likely to come upon Dull Glow worlds in the region they were exploring. Again, most of the dragons and small people gathered around. The cyclone was erected, the minikin sent through.

    “This time, I see a dot of darkness, as black as the previous world’s dot was bright,” said Itharieth. “By Grailbee’s frailty, it is just the size of a six-kirkop coin, held at a certain distance from the eyes! Or if you prefer, it subtends a fractional number of degrees! I refuse to measure it more exactly, for the doctor is sure to mock me. It grows, it grows, as the minikin advances.” A considerable amount of such commentary ensued. “Now the end of the cyclone is a dozen feet off. The cyclone glows slightly, barely illuminating a flat surface beyond the cyclone for a few feet. Its texture is rough, or roughly smooth, like that of an orange perhaps. I see nothing in the sky, nothing on the ground as far as there is light, which is not far.”

    Sjojarn shook his head sadly. “This will not be a good world either. But let us finish.”

    Itharieth continued, “Now the minikin steps out of the cyclone onto the new world. Ah, poor miserable minikin! It dances in pain, leaving tiny footprints as upon snow or fine sand! it thrashes and convulses, it — it has perished!”

    Sjojarn said, “This is the sort of world called “Coldest Ice. Matter can exist, as you see. But there are no energy-producing processes, nothing like the katastheresis that powers Hove’s suns, or the fusion that powers Mhel’s. Lacking any source of light or heat, the world is dark and cold. The surface that the minikin froze upon is surely nothing more than frozen hydrogen: a world-sized lump of hydrogen ice, probably circling a sun-sized lump. There is nothing more.”

    Gimuse moaned. “No life?”

    “No life, for there are no processes that provide energy, and life requires energy. Or so it is in the standard Coldest Ice,” said Sjojarn.

    “Shall I not go and see?” said Gimuse.

    “You may, certainly, if you are such a tourist as all that,” said Sjojarn. “Be back by tomorrow, for we will be making another excursion.”

    By midnight (by convention, the hour that the brightest of Hove’s three suns is midway behind the central column of that toroidal world), the ghost returned. “That was not very interesting. I should rather fall into a mountain canyon and take two hours to bleed to death while my husband and friends tried hard but unsuccessfully to rescue me, than spend two hours in that world again. And I speak as an expert, for I have done both. Oh, Osoth? Would you mind terribly if I sent my husband a postcard?”

    “You are welcome to. I believe that the extremely useful and alarmingly many-talented Mr. Norb is coordinating the postal service. Probably he can find someone to hold a pen for you.” Osoth peered at the hovens. “Who among you will serve as amanuensis for a spectral biologist?” His obscure choice of vocabulary got him a poor response — the poor dragon has always been more comfortable and informal with the dead than the living — but eventually a suitably secretary was acquired.

    Thursday, June 11th, 2015
    9:35 pm
    Patterns in Glow (52/170)

    Ghosts are not swift, and the cyclone was quite long. Several hours later, Gimuse returned. “Dull glow it is.”

    Quel Quen (long before) and Sjojarn (right then) had explained that, in many worlds, solid things cannot exist. Perhaps — in the case of one common form of physics, with which I am assured you should be familiar — electrons are massless, moving at the speed of light, too swift to be caught to make atoms. Perhaps there are simply none of the fundamental constituents of matter, or too few. Perhaps the fundamental strength of electricity is too weak to allow molecules, or so strong that atoms collapse into balls of neutrons. Whatever the case, many worlds are matterless, or devoid of interesting matter. They are full of light, or whatever form energy takes in such a place.

    “The matter wasn’t interesting,” said Gimuse. “The energy sure was!” She had observed patterns of distortion in the pervading dull glow: four sorts of patterns that were repeated dozens of times, and a few unique kinds. The patterns moved slowly but purposefully. “If they were not alive, I will eat my diploma in biology,” she concluded. “I would love to study them further. I don’t know how I could write papers without a body. Nor where I could publish them. There’s no Journal of Impossible Worlds.”

    “It is often the case that creatures live in many forms of Dull Glow. Any sort of world allowing enough order and enough disorder is likely to have life,” said Sjojarn, and, in different words, Itharieth and Borybran and Mirinxan. Certain of the scholars disagreed about fine points of phrasing and terminology, and manufactured a quarrel to conceal their basic agreement. Osoth eventually thwacked them on the muzzle with his tail.

    “So, ultimately, we conclude that this world is not the sort we can explore and colonize, or even erect our Base Camp upon,” said Osoth. “Given that we should be instantly destroyed upon entering. Sjojarn, have you the reach-scale?” Sjojarn did not, but Wo Awo did. “Let us keep this scale, in case someone wishes to explore that Dull Glow further. Perhaps Itharieth will retire as a wealthy and renowned explorer, and sponsor Gimuse’s posthumous adventures in glowing biology. But for now, let this cyclone be closed, let the hhejŝṧhyant be inspected for signs of degradation or subtle damage, let us prepare for a further world. May it be more material and more profitable!”

    Tuesday, June 9th, 2015
    11:16 pm
    The Useless Worlds (51/170)

    The Useless Worlds

    The Travel mages repaired the hhejŝṧhyant with careful spellwork. Sjojarn had a small silver hammer that, unlike most things, existed in several styles of reality simultaneously. He tapped each structural element with it, and he and Wo Awo, and often Xilobrax the physical magicologist, attended to the resultant quiverings and resonances quite carefully. They replaced several members who character did not wholly please them.

    Two days later they were ready to try again. All the dragons and small people gathered to watch. Wo Awo performed the final ritual of the Pentagonal Cyclone this time. The hhejŝṧhyant did not immediately collapse; its whirling winds — and the whirling of the world-wefts that it passed through — simply persisted, leading off from the hhejŝṧhyant at an impossible angle.

    “Well then,” said Osoth. “This is a more promising start to the day than the last one. Let us proceed with all the caution that Quel Quen recommends at this point. Send forth a minikin!”

    Charimaan cast the Clever Paw of the Clever Beast, spinning potentiate nothingness(†) into a small hairy beast with big hands and big eyes. The group lacked a proper scryer, so Itharieth the biologist cast the The Excellences of the Elongated Ears to observed it.

    (†)That’s what physical magicologists say. If you can understand what it means, please explain it to me. Unless you’re a physical magicologist. —Jʸ

    The minikin scampered on its fingertips into the cyclone. Itharieth watched it, and, when Osoth tapped him on a shiny horn, offered a running commentary. “There it goes. Its fingertips sink slightly into the edges of the cyclone, as if the cyclone were spongy. Is that normal, Sjojarn?(❖) My, this is a long cyclone. I suppose it must be, to reach from here to our distant cluster of universes … It is not having any trouble walking. That will be useful when we try to move our herds through there. Though we might want to blindfold them. The appearance of the borders of the cyclone is not a bit comforting, even to me, and I know the basics of what it is made of and what it is doing. Actually, knowing such things makes it less comforting…” He blithered on for the better part of an hour.

    (❖) It is normal.

    At length he said, ”…Ah! Now we observe a change in the structure of the cyclone. A dot of glow has appeared in the distance. Can it be that the distal end… I’m sorry, that’s biologist-speak, I should be clear. Can it be that the far end of the cyclone is opening on a pleasant world, and facing the sky, so that we see the sun?(⊕) The dot is growing as the minikin approaches, it is becoming a disc. Now it is the size of a six-kirkop coin … don’t give me such a look, Psajathrion, of course I mean a six-kirkop coin held at foreleg’s length with the head at the most natural position, which would be, let me see, seven feet away. Now it is the size of a six-kirkop coin as seen from four and three-sevenths feet away. You think my measures are ridiculous? Very well. It subtends seven degrees. Does that satisfy you, by Snirdle’s girdle? Have you no poetry in your soul?”

    (⊕) No, it can’t be, or not if the spell is functioning properly. The other end will be oriented vertically, so that travellers can walk out comfortably, in any world where ‘oriented vertically’ makes sense.

    “I have no poetry about six-kirkop coins,” said Psajathrion. “Especially metaphorical ones. Larger and realer denominations will surely elevate me.”

    “Well, then. Fourteen degrees … Twenty-two … By dint of much scuttling and clambering, the minikin has come to a towering wall of glow that fills the entire cyclone-passage.”

    Sjojarn said, “Are there striations in the ṃahảkony texture of the walls?” [Sorry, there’s no good translation of that or any magicology word. —Jʸ∧BB]

    “It is hard to see such things through my pitiful little scrying spell. But I believe so.”

    “You have come to the outermost of our protective barriers, then. Beyond is the essence of the new world.”

    “The essence of the new world seems to be a mass of illumination, with subtle shifting variations forming three distinct sorts of pattern,” said the scrying biologist.

    “That is most likely unfortunate. But I suppose there is some chance it could be something surprising or useful. Send the minikin through — into the Beyond!” cried Sjojarn melodramatically.

    “Well, that’s certainly a substantial transition,” said Itharieth shortly.

    “Into what?” asked Osoth.

    “My spell was destroyed the instant the minikin crossed the barrier,” said Itharieth. “Did the barrier cancel the spell? That would be a strange choice on the part of Sjojarn … who indicates denial, so no, the barrier is not responsible. Most likely the minikin was destroyed and the spell with it. Though some magically-active entity or effect could have broken the spell and let the minikin survive.”

    Sjojarn shook his head. “Most likely the world is a Dull Glow. Still, Osoth? Would you care to investigate further? Have you some immaterial ghost or spirit at your disposal?”

    Osoth said, “In fact, I have acquired dominion over a suitable apparation. I had raised one at the first suggestion of immateriality, and here it is. Gimuse Nuthu, arise, come forth!” Gimuse Nuthu was the ghost of a hoven biologist, one of the ones who had worked on the problem of the mind-controlling worms. I had met her several times. She had died young, in a regrettable mountain-climbing accident on vacation in the Khamrous.

    Gimuse Nuthu whispered, “I died, but now dragons surround me.”

    Osoth said, “Gimuse Nuthu, you died as an adventuresome tourist! Now I summon you forth for further adventures in touristry! Sound fun?”

    “Master, I obey with pleasure!” The ghost paused. “Why am I calling you ‘Master’?”

    “I raised you in the usual way. It expects unfriendly ghosts. Wait, I’ll fix that…” Osoth dismissed Gimuse Nuthu, and then re-summoned her. “Better?”

    “Yes, thank you very much! What did you want me to do?” Osoth explained, with interruptions from everyone but Roroku. “Oh, that’s wild! When do I set off?”

    “On the instant, good Gemuse!”

    Sunday, June 7th, 2015
    10:19 pm
    Goats, Gold, and Genitalia (49/170)

    Psajathrion flattened his ears and closed his mouth tight in a respectful denial. “A mystery remains, Itharieth. How did the toxic metals come to be present in the sick goat? Were it the Goat King, heir to a massive empire, living in a court full of intrigue, I should expect foul play by one prospective heir. I could be wrong, but these goats seem to be not so rich, and not so organized. Also several of them were poisoned, not just one. Whence comes the poison?”

    Itharieth made a prissy face. “I didn’t do it! You surely can’t suspect me! Besides I have an alibi! My co-conspirator, I mean secret lover, I mean cousin, was with me at the time! I shall now sing an aria about this fact!” This cast Itharieth as the villainess of a popular murder-opera. Psajathrion giggled, and Roroku smiled nervously.

    “Not to squelch any aria that is to come, but let us cast about for other suspects. Plants and brooks may be poisoned — the very air may contain a fine dust of deadly metals!”

    The three investigated with spells and senses. At length Itharieth sniffed at a rill, dipped his tongue-tip gingerly in its clear cool water, and called the others other. “By the Freglant’s eggplant, I do believe I have our culprit!”

    The the Tongue of Kurila Dthiaspur was duly cast. The water bore traces of mercury, thralsnium, and lead — and gold and iridium as well.

    “Well, isn’t that interesting,” said Itharieth. “Gold and iridium would pass through the goat, resulting in the most valuable goat-dung ever I have imagined. The others would stay in the goat and work their wicked ways there.”

    “Nicely discovered, both of you!” said Psajathrion. “It would not be a good thing if our own herds or small people got to drinking from that particular rill. They would not fare better than the ninnygoats. How did the metals get into the water, though?”

    “I have a question if you don’t mind,” asked Roroku. The others didn’t mind. “Is there more gold and iridium around here? Perhaps in a mineable veins?”

    “Ho, the practical dragoness!” cried Itharieth. “Here we are, seeking to cure a plague among goats, and she comes up with the treasure!”

    Gyovanth roared down on the wing, hissing in a passion. “What betrayal is this? This is my wife, not some lust-drunk drake for you to capture and pervert!”

    Doctor and biologist peered at Gyovanth perplexedly. “You wife is an effective and observant scientist, sir, and has, if we are not mistaken, discovered a gold mine. I fail to see, sir, what this has to do with lust, capture, or perversion.”

    Gyovanth circled over the two drakes. “You are flirting! You are flattering! You seek her claspers! But no! They are my possessions! You shall not have them!”

    “Our discourse concerns goats and gold, sir,” snapped the doctor. “What sort of dragon gets from there to genitalia, I do not know and refuse to speculate upon.”

    Gyovanth had to think for a moment to understand that. “What is this? You call me a goat-fucker? Who pays the goat?”

    “You have been the only one to mention the concept, sir. If anyone has called you a goat-fucker, sir, it must therefore be you,” said Psajathrion icily. The drakes made sure of their defensive spells.

    “And who would know better?” added Itharieth.

    Gyovanth reared his head back and vomited forth a huge cloud of flame over the two of them. The drakes were predictably singed. Psajathrion hastily threw a wing over the sleeping goats, who survived.

    “And what have you done with Roroku?” Gyovanth howled. The drakes looked about. Roroku had taken the insult-exchange as a time to slink off secretly, and she was nowhere to be found. (Two minutes later, she was in a small crevice in a cliff-wall, exchanging notes about goats with me by means of the venstroma — I had given her one of the nyxyliths.)

    Gyovanth whirled off to seek his wife. The two drakes peered at each other, and shrugged. “Some days I regret doing so badly in my mating flight. Other days, in the company of such married couples as that, I take it a stroke of undeserved good fortune,” said Psajathrion.

    “True indeed. Though Hyxy and Ngassith seem supremely happy in each other. I do not condemn the institution altogether,” mused Itharieth.

    They chased down the afflicted goats, and healed them of the poisoning. And then they assaulted them with roaring and fear-spells until the goats fled the region of the poisoned rill, perhaps never to return. “Which seems entirely fair to them, given that they lead us to a gold mine,” said Itharieth. “Not that we’ll get to mine it.”

    At the end of the day — a nominal concept on Hove — Osoth gathered all the sentient members of the expedition around a hill, and flew to the top to speak. He praised those who had done their duties well, and gently chided those who had not. He particularly singled out the treasure-finders. Itharieth and Psajathrion grinned. Roroku crouched and made herself as small as she could without actual shapeshifting, and covered her fresh bitemarks with her wings, hiding them until Gyovanth would let her heal them.

    Thursday, June 4th, 2015
    10:41 pm
    Sad Goats (49/170)

    Psajathrion flew to the calls for the doctor. He found a white dragon of no great size, cerulean and azure zigzags making brilliant lines on his scales, and short curved horns impractically plated in silver or something similar, holding a small hoofed beast no bigger than a large cat in a foreclaw. The white called up to him, “Ah, you are Psajathrion, the doctor? A pleasure to meet you! I am Itharieth, a student of the matter of living, but from a more theoretical aspect than yourself.”

    “A pleasure as well, Itharieth. Usually when one calls for the doctor, someone is wounded or injured. You seem healthy. Is your pet afflicted somehow?”

    “Not my pet precisely. I have never actually seen this particular creature before — I have named it a ninnygoat, Cervis imbecilis. But I do think it is not healthy, by Twiggett’s spigot!”

    “I am unfamiliar with that spigot, or, indeed with Twiggett. Still, let me have a look at the goat.” Psajathrion took it in his foreclaw. The ninnygoat peered at him with dull, dazed eyes. “A rather passive beast. You say this one is wild-caught, Itharieth?”

    “I plucked it from the rocks not twelve minutes ago, Psajathrion! The remarkable thing? It just stared at me and meandered rather than dashed to escape. Half a dozen in its herd did just the same. But — this is the remarkable part, by Geemir’s femur! — three other herds of ninnygoats elsewhere on the hillside dashed and scampered and capered and fled like the energetic and clever little prey-beasts they ought to be!”

    “Why is this a concern of mine? I am physician to dragons, hovens, mhelvul, and herdbeasts. That seems to be plenty,” said Psajathrion.

    Itharieth grinned. “It is a clue, by Xhnarinet’s clarinet! What has rendered this herd sluggish? A disease, a poison, a spray of noxious pollen, a torpor caused by a surfeit of brandy?”

    Psajathrion spread his lips and ears in the dangerous gesture of a predator whose interest has been awoken. “Oho, I think you may be right. We have goats of our own. A plague among them would be some inconvenience at least! So I do care.” He peered closely at the ninnygoat in his hand, who belched and farted. “Furthermore its manners seem to be impaired.”

    “My extensive studies of cervine behavior, made in a dozen minutes at a farm seventeen years ago, suggest that no goat has good manners.”

    “Do you happen to have a healthy one?” asked the doctor.

    Itharieth drooped his ears. “They were harder to catch.” It took four minutes and the Lure of Dreams, but one was acquired.

    The physician inspected the two sleeping goats side by side, sniffing and tasting, probing with delicate clawtips and several sensoria both natural and instrumental. “Your theoretician’s intuition is quite correct, my good biologist! The stupified one has a certain subtle metallic bitterness to its scent and a coarsening of its internal structures that the healthy one lacks. It has a terrible case of — I have no idea what, but it’s quite distinct.”

    “Shall we dissect them and inspect them from the inside?” asked Itharieth.

    “Hum, generally considered bad for the patient,” said Psajathrion. “One often gets answers that way, but they are not wholly satisfactory in terms of medical outcome. Still, we have other methods. Let us sample the breath and blood, and effluvia if the goats are so generous as to provide us some. Actually, don’t we have an analysis mage in the party?”

    “We do — the miserable-looking dragoness. Roroku.”

    Roroku was duly acquired from the other side of a hill — the party was spread out over several sandy scrubby hills — and persuaded to cast the The Tongue of Kurila Dthiaspur in an advanced and subtle modality that spreads the results out in the air. The three scholar-dragons compared and discussed.

    Itharieth said, “Well, the most obvious feature is this bulge present in the healthy ninnygoat, and absent in the sick one.”

    Roroku curled her tail. “I’m very sorry to argue with you, but I don’t think so. That’s just plant matter, chlorophyll and such.”

    Itharieth grined at her. “Oh, argue with me all you like. I’m often wrong, by the Gargantula’s tarantula! Are you saying that the healthy one has eaten more recently than the sick one? Did that make the sick one sick? Do these goats need to constantly be sucking down succulents to stay even the slightest bit intelligent? That seems unlikely at best!”

    Roroku indicated a smaller bulge in the diagram. “Actually I think the other one was chewing its cud.”

    Itharieth pried the sleeping goat’s mouth open. “That’s not a usual practice of goats, even hoven goats, but these are very small goats eating very rough food so I suppose they have made accomodations. I have taken us off on a useless tangent, as so often happens.”

    Psajathrion, who knew the spell himself, indicated a jittery line towards the side. “Now this worries me. Would worry me if they were patients, rather.”

    “What is it, O most elegant scalpel-tailed drake?”

    “Metals. Unusual metals to find in a creature of Hove! Mercury is here, thralsnium here, lead here!” said the doctor.

    “None of those are particularly healthy,” said the biologist. “And hardly surprising that they are bad for the brain and mind. I do believe you have solved the mystery, Roroku and Psajathrion!”

    Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
    1:46 am
    Vaareng and Driaith (48/170)

    Vaareng sighed, and crouched to chew on the second claw on his left foreleg, which showed the first signs of shedding. Claws were the proper tools of mighty drakes, not words. He was not entirely sure, but he had the vague sense that that obnoxious doctor had defeated him somehow with words.

    A massive black head lowered itself to look him in the face. “Hello … are you Vaareng?”

    Vaareng looked up. The dragon connected to the head was certainly a drake, for there is no mistaking that from even a faint taste of the scent. A large and rather pleasingly rounded drake, with a vane-crest burning with some peculiar black fire. But he was solid black. Oh, he was a shiny metallic black, with hints of other colors in the lustre of his scales, not the dull flat matte black of a dragoness(†)

    (†) Of me, to be specific. Dragonesses au naturel are always matte colors and always monochrome: dull black, dull grey, dull tan, dull green. We are enticing and entrancing to drakes, but that is a matter of scent, not appearance. Some degree of playing dress-up with shapeshifting is tolerably feminine, but competing with the drakes is impolite. They have enough to do to compete with each other.

    Vaareng uncurled with all dignity. The large black beast would make a harder fight than the little biologist, but there was no avoiding it. “I am Vaareng, and I am mighty.”

    “Good, good. Nice to have another mighty drake on the expedition. I’m Driaith. Not the mightiest drake you’ve ever met, but I can hold my own in a fight. And help you hold your own, too, if there’s any trouble.” He noticed Vaareng’s scowl. “Not that I’m suggesting there will be trouble, really. What do you do?”

    Vaareng shrugged. “I fight.”

    “Ah, one of Tultamaan’s guards and scouts! Charging mightily into the unknown! Fighting off the living mountains of Mohonor(‡) with mere claws and teeth! Very brave, sir,” said Driaith. Vaareng spread his ears and barbels, but found no sign of mockery.

    (‡) The grand antagonists of a popular fictional series of stories about exploring dragons.

    “What do you do?” grunted Vaareng.

    “I am one of Jaraswat’s mages. My specialty, sir, is defense spells. We shall not be sending you out with the adequate-but-unimpressive the Small Wall that you currently wear! Not even the quite respectable the Ulthana’s Targe or the Tyrathian Redoubt. No, we shall start with the Hoplonton, and layer specifics and ablatives upon that most solid foundation! You may return from scouting, sir, or you may not, but I shall have worked with all craft known to astral dragons to give you the chance to return!”

    “Doctors and defense mages!” snapped Vaareng. “For a band of brave drakes, we certainly are focussing on the matters of defeat. Why not upon victory?”

    “Victory takes care of itself, sir. We take care that unsuccessful attempts will not be the end of our series of attempts.” Driaith cocked his head. “Perhaps you are freshly come from your mating flight?”

    “Under two years,” said Vaareng.

    “You do seem to be treating this as a mating flight of sorts. I do not know why you are unmarried now —”

    “Ask the vile and untraditional dragoness Melivras!” snapped Vaareng.

    ”— but most of us have been on ours, and not come off that well,” said Driaith. “We have been defeated once. For Tultamaan, three times or more! We do not allow mere defeats to destroy us, though! We recover, we rebound, we return, mightier in spirit, more strong and more skilled! And we make sure that the way we were defeated the first time, will not happen again.”

    Vaareng’s head shot up. “Driaith, that is the first hopeful thing I have heard since Melivras dishonestly chose Tyozangi! I, too, recover and rebound and return!”

    Driaith grinned at him. “Ah, Vaareng, there is a drake in there after all! And a doughty one, and one who may become great, indeed!”

    Vaareng grinned back. “Oh, I am drake, never doubt it. I am all drake, and a drake of power and force!”

    “You are! I shall be overjoyed to explore and fight alongside you, sir!”

    “Truly! I wish to leave already, to confront monsters and troubles, to come back home with a garland of new worlds!” Vaareng’s head was ablaze with the idea that he could be defeated once, that he could admit that he was defeated, and could rise again to greater heights than a mere third-ranked married drake!

    Sunday, May 31st, 2015
    9:43 pm
    Vaareng vs. Psajathrion (47/170)

    When Osoth finished his speech, while Tultamaan was quarreling with Gyovanth and Jaraswat, Vaareng sought honor and stature in the traditional way of drakes. He looked at the nearby drakes, and found that the one next to him was smaller in size but not embarrassingly so. He was rather unimpressively striped in pastel blue, cyan, white, and orange, and looked rather prissy. But he had a gleaming steel blade protruding from the tip of his tail, as if there were a dagger embedded deep in it, so Vaareng thought that he must not be an entire pansy, despite the size and coloration.

    “Thou steel-tailed dragon! Who are you? It matters little to me! I am Vaareng, and I am mighty! I challenge you to a Questro, a duel to four touches!”

    The pastel and steel dragon reared his head up. “I beg your pardon? I introduce myself: I am Psajathrion, and I am the physician. I do not admit to cowardice. I merely admit to puzzlement. Why are you challenging me? Are you claiming that I have somehow offended you? If that is it, why do you not state the nature of the offense?”

    Vaareng laughed a smoky laugh. “Why, Psajathrion the physician! Why do we need there to be an offense, in order to fight? We are drakes! We love battle! We must contend, to see who is the mightier!”

    “My own love of battle is simply this: it leaves many people injured in its wake, and thereby provides me with much business. The regular course of nature does so as well, so I am not wedded to battle. Nor to anyone else,” said the doctor.

    Vaareng laughed a mocking laugh: hișsya-hișsya-hișsya. “Oho! Could it be that you are not a brave drake? Could it be that you are one of those who retreats in the face of danger, rather than lashing your daggery tail and charging in to bite and breathe? Could it be that you are of the sort to seek marriage with another drake? Could you be one of those?”

    Psajathrion flicked his dagger-tail. “Cowardice is as cowardice does. I am here. I shall be in the next world, and the next, and so onwards until I die or all of us return home. This is not the vow of a coward, but it is my vow.”

    Vaareng suspected Psajathrion of weakness, yet the doctor was large enough and powerful enough to be good prey. “You still decline to join in battle! Yet, what do true drakes do? Could it be you are not a true drake in some way?”

    Psajathrion yawned. Small people yawn to indicate boredom; dragons yawn to indicate that they are heavily armed as well as bored. “Our current task is to practice, collectively, what we do when we come to a new world. Surprising as it may be to a youngster who has recently finished his mating flight — unsuccessfully, I take it? — we do not fight each other when we are in potentially perilous lands. Neither do we make an effort to incapacitate the physician.”

    “Well, that is an excuse of sorts. We shall postpone our duel. You have accepted my challenge, have you not? Or are you a person of sub-draconic nature and vile behaviors?”

    Psajathrion frowned. “I accept neither your challenge nor your false dichotomy. Cease trying to bait me. If you are unclear on your duties, go inquire of Tultamaan. He is the brick red drake with green chevrons and useless forelimbs, engaged in some important discussion or other, there.” Psajathrion pointed, and the light of Hove’s three suns twinkled on his highly-polished tailblade.

    This amused Vaareng. “Hah, Tultamaan? Tultamaan! Tultamaan the cripple and Tultamaan the coward thinks he can be Chief of the Guard! Will he stay Chief after the first challenge, do you imagine? You could defeat him!”

    “No, I couldn’t, because the doctor does not duel. And because I am good at my duties, and would not be good at his. And because the positions in this expedition are decided by royalty, and if they need to be rearranged they will be rearranged by merit and royalty, not by duels. Now I hear someone calling for the doctor, so I shall go be useful. You may be well-advised to go be useful too. If you have any use at all other than as a prospective patient, which you have not yet demonstrated to me.” Psajathrion pounced into the callous desert breezes, and flew off to the mountainside where a draconic voice was indeed bellowing, “Where is the doctor?”

    Thursday, May 28th, 2015
    9:50 pm
    Guards vs. Scholars (46/170)

    Gyovanth hissed in a sudden fury. “Insolent and insidious cripple you are! I discern your wicked plan! You wish me to leave, so that you can steal Roroku from me!”

    “No such thing,” said Tultamaan, in an unambiguous Grand Draconic phrase more absolute than any three words in any small-person language. He could be lying (I don’t think he was), but it would be a noxious lie indeed inside of his veriception wards. “There is a certain Anecdote connecting Roroku and I. Perhaps you should become Aware of it.” (Tultamaan, like Osoth, was a drake in the mating flight that Roroku humiliated and abandoned at my coming-of-age celebration.) Gyovanth accepted Tultamaan’s denial with a curt nod and a furious return to sentry duty.

    But no sooner had he dealt with Tultamaan than Jaraswat stormed over, cutting between Tultamaan and Roroku, and hissed furiously. “What is the meaning of this?”

    Tultamaan sighed. “The Meaning of This is that it is our final Dress Rehearsal on the way to the Extraordinary Dangerous Worlds we will Explore, and that All Dragons and All Small People must practice their duties.”

    Jaraswat reared up so that his head was higher than Tultamaan’s, and his greater bulk was obvious. “My dragons are scholars and mages, scientists and sorcerers! They are ǡľfrana, in the immortal Chresmalodian idiom! Their time is of the greatest value! The guards should guards — the scholars should study!”

    Tultamaan used the Word-Fox on ǡľfrana, and Jaraswat let him: it was Chresmalodian for an intellectual of the highest order, a thinker paid by the emperor to think due to the ineffable beauty of their thoughts, with no duties whatsoever.

    “We are not in the Highly Ornate Halls of Chresmalodia. I do not know if Chresmalodia has or ever had Highly Ornate Halls, but we certainly do not. We are on a barren mountainside. Any sort of trouble may lurk around. A deadly insect? Itharieth the biologist will discover it! A lethality in the water? We are fortunate to have the analysis mage Roroku! Did we make camp in the path of an impending avalanche? The cartographer Mirinxan will surely discover before the stones come roaring! This is why your scientists and scholars must assist!” The dragons that Tultamaan named blinked in realization, and set about their exploration duties with vigor and something akin to joy.

    Jaraswat hissed, “These are trivialities. Your brutish guards can handle them. My scholars and scientist are eéfixée, as the Wo-Waquoque put it. They mine to command, not yours.”

    Tultamaan flicked his tailtip. “You seek to ensure your own power in the expedition. In this matter you are mistaken. As Chief Scientist you have no Actual Power. Your duties are simple: you must know what each scholar is doing, and be able to explain it to Dragons of Actual Rank. You are the Singular Advisor. My own situation is different. As Chief of the Guard, I am empowered and required to attend to the Common Defense. I do have the right to Give Orders.”

    “Tultamaan! The Snarẫa have the perfect word: you fauff the situation! Whether you fauff it from ignorance or from your own pitiful need to aggrandize yourself, I know not. But fauff it you do! I have command responsibilities that exceed your own! This is a scholarly and scientific expedition, and, as Chief Scholar and Scientist, I have concomitant duties and powers!”

    Tultamaan frowned. “Grand Draconic is a Perfectly Adequate tongue. Some even describe it as Rich With Meaning. Plucking words out of the languages of long-conquered small people that only you know is hardly the way to Communicate Brilliantly, even if the words themselves are perfect. We cannot be always casting the Word-Fox to get the point of your Advice. Usually the Word-Fox itself could provide equally good Advice. And Advice, not Orders, is what you must provide.”

    Osoth had been alerted to the quarrel by an alert Hyxy, and he came to Tultamaan and Jaraswat in a grey-winged flap. “My Chief of Guards, my Chief Scholar, this is the time for quick cooperation and incisive activity! Not for quarreling over privileges and authorities!”

    Jaraswat hissed. “O Osoth, in whom the royalty of Hove has entrusted the command of this expedition! Tell this insolent brute of a Tultamaan of my responsibilities and powers! He is under a qiliq, as the Aq-Qim Qumidar say!”

    Osoth shrugged. “Less of a qiliq than a mos mehedh.” Osoth, necromancer and antequarian, knows many languages. Jaraswat glared to have his proposed ‘mad foolishness’ downgraded to a mere ‘dramatic exaggeration’. Osoth continued, “Tultamaan, Jaraswat is Chief Scientist. His duties include ordering the thrust of science in the expedition, and, as such, he certainly may direct the scientists and mages. It would be appropriate for him to order them to study, say, scorpions rather than lice. It would not be appropriate for him to order them to bring him food.”

    He turned to Jaraswat. “Tultamaan, though, is Chief of the Guard. He is in charge of our moment-to-moment safety. This is no small duty, as we must survive each moment; even a single one missed would be a disaster. He may command anyone to anything — even me — as long as he considers it a matter of safety. There are certain limits to this. He may not proclaim, ‘Hyxy, copulate with me immediately, it is a matter of safety!’ Not that he would. But demanding that your estimable and noble scientists use their estimable and noble skills for the common defense is entirely within bounds. He should even command me to raise shades of those who died in the area, to ask them of why they died.” Osoth paused briefly for effect. “Tultamaan, do you understand and agree to these duties, your own and Jaraswat’s?”

    “Yes, Osoth. Mine are precisely what we have discussed before.”

    “Jaraswat, do you understand and agree to these duties, your own and Tultamaan’s?”

    Umzormondru.”

    “And what does that mean, Jaraswat?”

    Jaraswat snorted. “In the tongue of the Kos Bfrenya, it means ‘I obey absolutely and without question’”

    “Very well. Now practice these things as though your lives and honor depended on them. For, in fact, that is precisely the case.”

    Osoth flew off. Jaraswat meditated privately that, in the neighboring dialect of the Tyery Bfrenya, umzormondru is used entirely ironically and means, ‘only to the extent that it is forced on me’.

    Tuesday, May 26th, 2015
    10:07 pm
    Waiting to Go (45/170)

    Tultamaan rushed around. (When Tultamaan rushes around, both dragons and small people quail in fear. Not because Tultamaan is notably dangerous — no more so than any other drake — but because he must needs rush around on his hind legs. He does grow them large, and with huge clawy feet. But he is an eighteen-foot-tall muscley monster with many spikes who looks as if he might fall on you at any minute. With many spikes.) He called out, “Gyovanth! Hyxy! Evrath! All other Dragons on the Expedition! This is a mediocre time for Lollygagging, or for other such Casual Amusements. Take the Inspirational last paragraph of our leader’s exhortation as Inspiration! Each of us must do our Parts in the construction of camp, just as if we were truly setting up camp on Doomdevildedoom with all manner of Unimaginable Dangers and True Perils all about, waiting to Consume us from Spleen to Soul!”

    Hyxy leapt into the air, small and nimble and deadly. “I know my duty and my role here! I (I) shall scout and scour! No danger shall escape me!” She searched in a spiral, her eyes and barbels gleaming with watching-spells.

    Gyovanth climbed up the hillock, and peered hither and yon with a mock-intense gaze. “Nothing, nothing. No perils, no devils, just a bunch of dragons and hovens lazing around. Am I doing it right, O bipedal beast?”

    Tultamaan peered at him. “Your attempt at Mockery is noted. You are not doing it right. I have been Mocked for my entire life, both by experts and by multitudes. If you wish to Offend me, or Amuse Others at my Expense, you must work very hard indeed to find Words or Concepts which have not become Tedious through their repetition. Furthermore, if there happened to be a Doom-devil-deodand about, it would by now have Swallowed all of you but the Head, which would still be ignorant of its Impending Engulfment.

    Gyovanth snorted. “As if any monster could battle me — would dare battle me!”

    Tultamaan rested backwards on his hind legs and tail, which is the best he can do if he wants to move soon. “Quel Quen had no fewer than Nineteen companions who thought rather Similarly to the way You do. Some of them had the same Imperial Chiriact combat training that you do, and gross-years of growth and experience besides. Four of them were killed Instantly, and the other fifteen within a Minute of the start of the attack. To say nothing of slower deaths, which are the province of Other Dragons who are not about their tasks either.” He turned aside and shouted, “Itharieth, Roroko! Go to, go to!” Back to Gyovanth he said, “Furthermore, we have our small people Companions, and our useful undead servitors. Perhaps the Doom-devil-deodand fears you, but does it fear Mr. Norb? You are his guard, you are the guard of every hoven! You must keep them safe!”

    Gyovanth nodded curtly, and scanned around with his head a time or two, to signify that he conceded some small point under discussion but nothing else. Under his breath he muttered, “Mr. Norb is a small person, of whom there are many. He is easily replaced.”

    Tultamaan’s hearing is in no way impaired. “You are a drake, of whom there are too many! You are easily replaced!”

    “I am a married drake, one of only two on this flight!” snapped Gyovanth. “Roroku does not count for much, but she does count for a dragoness! I am a mating-flight third, you are a mating-flight last, out of seven! Do not get too full of yourself because some uneducated and ignorant queen made you Assistant Leader!”

    Tultamaan leapt to my defense simply said, “If mating flight ranks count for anything, Hyxy and Ngassith are Firsts, Osoth and some others are Seconds, and there is no lack of Thirds like Yourself. Or rather, Thirds who are doing their duties, unlike Yourself. The discussion of the Meaning of Prior Ranks in an adventure intended to Increase All Ranks is one best indulged in while Curled around Campfires. But you seem Content to rest on your Mating-Flight Laurels, unlike anyone else present. Be off, then. We do not need you.”

    Gyovanth hissed in a sudden fury. “Insolent and insidious cripple you are! I discern your wicked plan! You wish me to leave, so that you can steal Roroku from me!”

    “No such thing,” said Tultamaan, in an unambiguous Grand Draconic phrase more absolute than any three words in any small-person language. He could be lying (I don’t think he was), but it would be a noxious lie indeed inside of his veriception wards. “There is a certain Anecdote connecting Roroku and I. Perhaps you should become Aware of it.” (Tultamaan, like Osoth, was a drake in the mating flight that Roroku humiliated and abandoned at my coming-of-age celebration.) Gyovanth accepted Tultamaan’s denial with a curt nod and a furious return to sentry duty.

    Monday, May 25th, 2015
    6:38 am
    Inspirational but going nowhere (44/170)

    Waiting to Leave

    Osoth leapt to the top of a hillock. The stage would have been better, but it was being repaired and/or disassembled. “My companions, my fellow adventurers, my friends! We are now on the first wingbeat of a flight into a mysterious and omnipotential — and, we sincerely wish, fascinating and profitable — congeries of universes! Whether we physically leave Hove immediately, or whether we physically leave Hove a month from now, it matters little. Let us consider ourselves to have left Hove already! Actually, let us see if, by some delightful roll of the dice, we will leave Hove already.”

    He beckoned to Sjojarn, the senior of the two Travel-mages. Sjojarn, a distinguished and highly elongated gentleman with the most beautiful turquoise scales I have ever seen, performed the final ritual of the Pentagonal Cyclone, within an intricate magical construct, a hhejŝṧhyant to give it the proper name. To hoven perception, nothing happened. To draconic perception, there was a barely-visible thaumaturgic snip deep inside the hhejŝṧhyant, and three or four of the weaker structural elements collapsed.

    The assembled dragons murmured unhappily. The hovens murmured confusedly. The undead stood stolidly, or did not look up for their game of dicing for finger-bones.

    Sjojarn spoke a moment with Osoth, who nodded and leapt back onto his hillock. “As we expected, we are not leaving Hove today. Some of you may be curious about what just happened. It is not an unusual thing. Sjojarn, wise and skillful in the ways of Travel, even if this is his first actual the Pentagonal Cyclone, opened a portal to an exceedingly hot universe. In this universe, like so many others, energy can be and must be created. If two equal balls collide with a total speed of 144 miles per hour, they will rebound with a total speed of 144-plus-a-tiny-fraction miles per hour. The tiny fractions build up over time. This renders all things extraordinary hot. Should we have simply opened a straightforward portal there, a tiny bit of that heat would pour through, and we should have the Melts of Sjojarn on Hove to match the Melts of Trangbonius on Graulfnir. But, the wise Sjojarn and other wise wizards have included precautions against this very thing, and a vast assortment of other very things! Instead of that terrible heat pouring through, certain particularly fragile bits of the hhejŝṧhyant are instantly destroyed — before the heat even reaches them, and far faster than even a swift dragon can react — and the cyclone is no more.

    “Or, if I am being wordy, what happened is: Sjojarn found a dangerous, unliveable universe. The portal closed itself instantly, as it was intended to. We are safe. We are here.

    “We are here! We shall practice making camp: as if we are to stay here indefinitely. Indeed, this is the perfect time to realize that we have only a single shovel for all our diggers, or that our water-tanks are leaky. Both these were the case last week, but both have been taken care of today, thanks to the estimable and highly competent Mr. Norb and Mr. Kranbule.

    “Ah, and just a reminder to the dragons. We have a number of hovens and even a few chir — that number being sixty-three at last count — who work among us in a variety of capacities. Some of these small people you should esteem as beings of wisdom and rank. Mrs. Dasbrodie, for one example, has been my camp superintendant on four archeaeological expeditions. If she instructs you as to how something should be arranged, you should follow her instructions instantly and without complaint. If you do not, she will discuss the matter with me, and, as I have never known her to be wrong, I will surely bite your tail and tell you to do the same thing.

    “But all the small people you should esteem as beings of honor and courage. You consider yourself to have courage, flapping off to face the dangers and horrors of strange worlds — you with your immense vitality, your thick scales, your massive claws and teeth, your devastating breath weapons, your astral magic! But know that the small people with us are coming to precisely the same places, with their candleflame vitality, their soft skin, their tiny fingernails and blunt chewers, their utter lack of breath weapons and magic! Any honor or bravery you award yourself, you must award to our small-people fellow explorers a dozenfold! So give them all respect and all assistance! If you seen Mr. Norb frustrated by a boulder, ask him if you could move or destroy that boulder!

    “And now, let all our tents be set up, let all our sanitary ditches be dug, let our livestock be given room, and in all ways let our first camp be made! It will not be our last.

    Thursday, May 21st, 2015
    10:11 pm
    Speeches (43/170)

    Ythac gave a very political and eloquent sort of speech, welcoming all the dignitaries, ambassadors, heads of state, and other notables, preemptively welcoming the new dragon-worlds that were about to be discovered into the great community of dragon-worlds (whether they liked it or not). Osoth gave a stirring and blazingly comprehensible speech exhorting his company to endurance and exertion and excellence. Quel Quen gave a useful technical speech which I am going to summarize some of.

    Quel Quen said —

    There are a lot of worlds to explore. We’ll never run out.

    We explore by opening a cyclone to a new world. Using Lliashatheny’s best devices, we can say a few things we want about the world. In some ways they are very useful things to say, and in other ways they don’t say much at all. Mostly we say things like “astral magic works there” and “matter can exist there”.

    Unfortunately we can’t quite say “life can exist there” or even “solid matter can exist there”. This means that more often than not, we get to a useless world of one form or another, like a world composed entirely of fire, or of iron vapor.

    So, rather than boldly opening up a cyclone and flying through immediately, we gingerly open up a cyclone and send a few scouts through. Usually the scouts come back and tell us that it’s not worth looking there. And so we keep trying until our Travel-mages get overworn, or until we find what we’re looking for.

    The first thing we’re looking for is a Base Camp. That’s an inhabitable world in the region we’re exploring. Usually not a very nice world, and usually not worth colonizing. But it save a great deal of effort for the Travel-mages. And it’s a nice buffer between the dangerous explored worlds and Hove.

    So today, don’t expect very much. Our explorers will probably be on Hove this time next week.

    Then I said roughly “Yay, exploring dragons!” and gave each of them a beautifully-embroidered sash which they probably would want to leave at home as a memento of the expedition and thus served no practical or aesthetic value whatsoever.

    Then feasts and music and such.

    Then all the dignitaries, including me, went home and attended to matters of this world.

    On the off chance that our first cyclone did bring something awful through, we didn’t want to melt all the dignitaries, or have them eaten, or whatever.

    Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
    11:26 pm
    Portal Theory (42/170)

    One might ask why we held the ceremony in what is more or less the least convenient part of Hove. One might, in particular, ask this after hearing that we could have put our end of the Pentagonal Cyclone anywhere that we liked. If it had been up to me, Quel Quen would have explained it in his speech, but fortunately someone with actual sense about what would upset hovens (Tarcuna, this time) told me not to tell anyone why.

    I will tell you why.

    When one creates a portal to unknown and random other universes, by whatever means, one does not know what worlds will be reached. One does not know what circumstances, if any, will prevail there. One does not know what entities, if any, will live there. One does not know what, if anything, will come through for a visit.

    In popular fiction and cinema, it is inevitable that there are huge monsters lurking on the other side of the portal, who seem to live their entire lives hoping that an extradimensional gate will open up next to them and they can abandon the world they know, hop through, and start eating helpless hovens as hungrily as if the monster had never eaten anything before in its life.

    In reality, huge monsters (such as myself and my friends) do not spend much time hoping that extradimensional gates will open up next to them. Such things do not happen often enough to be worth waiting for. (Unless one is a friend of Arilash the travel mage, in which case the extradimensional portal will reveal a bored and probably horny dragoness, and one is in for a treat if one likes such things.)

    Actually, our first worry is that we have done something wrong in the defenses around the portal, and that we find a world of concentrated energy (which happens a lot), and a flicker of that energy splashes through. Which has happened precisely once, in the first days of cross-world exploring; see the Melts of Trangbonius, on Graulfnir, for how that worked out. We use better defenses now. Still, if we were going to make the Melts of Jyothky, probably including a melted Jyothky, better that we melt some Khamrous and other barely-occupied mountain ranges and desert, rather than a huge hole in the middle of Trest or Damma or some other heavily-inhabited country.

    And if something did come through the portal, well, there are three medium-large twistor guns emplaced in Ghemel. They were built by the undead god to kill dragons. They are the only medium-large or bigger twistor guns allowed on Hove, due to lots of unpleasant history. I don’t know if they could harm some speculative extradimensional menace — it rather depends on what it is — but they might be some help. (Plus we’d give all the dragons on Hove a chance to prove their bravery and prowess in battle. Whether they want one or not.)

    More immediately menacing, if not as world-threatening, is showcraft. Dragons are rather heavy beasts. Portable hoven stages are intended for hovens. Hovens with piles of heavy musical equipment and massive amplifiers and steam calliopes and portable pipe organs. These things are not as heavy as dragons, and they are less likely to shift their weight from foot to foot.

    At the beginning of the ceremony, I was reciting a long list of dragon names and sounding for all the world like some ancient eldrich goetic warlock: Atharis. Borybran. Gyovanth. Psajathrion. Xilobrax. Katamerces. Ngassith. Evrath … Nrararn, in one of his few non-beautiful and non-useful moments, put his hindleg through a weak spot in the plywood of the stage. A weak spot, the stage authorities assure me, that had not been there before the truck carrying it overturned on a narrow mountain road.

    Nrararn’s helpfulness was quite thoroughly punished, and the first try of my ceremony was quite thoroughly ruined. We sensibly took a two-hour break. Forty-six dragon dignitaries from Hove and elseworld, and several hundred hoven heads of state, ambassadors, and reporters, grumbled and complained. I presume the actual expeditioners, inured as they were going to be to long delays and devastating waiting, did not. Eventually we failed to repair the stage sufficiently, and succeeded to bite every dragon’s tail until they were all willing to levitate over the stage like so many scaly balloons of hot air (as the hovens described us to their amusement), or like so many small and sleepy children (as we thought of it).

    Next time I am going melt-sculpt a mountain. That works much better.

    Sunday, May 17th, 2015
    9:39 pm
    First Expeditions (41/170)

    First Expeditions

    In retrospect, it was unwise to hold a sending-off celebration for the Hoven Royal Exploring Company’s first exploration.

    It was even unwise in prospect. As soon as he got his invitation (one of the big ones, in fancy Grand Draconic calligraphy, courtesy of the ever-useful and ever-decorative Nrararn), Quel Quen came flying to the capitol du jour to warn me about it. “Not that I have even the slightest wish to interfere with your most impressive and tumultuous celebration, but you mustn’t expect that the expedition will actually go anywhere on the first day, or even the first month.” And he told me why not, and he was precisely right about it.

    But it would have been rather too embarrassing to cancel the event by that point. Invitations had been sent, caterers hired, oxen slaughtered and marinated! Plus, I wanted to have a celebration for it, as about my last official and effective act in the expedition. (I had mostly forgotten about the venstroma.) And if we were to celebrate, we could either celebrate on the first day, when the expedition members would probably sit around and not do anything, or on the day they actually depart, which could come at any time from the first minute on.

    So I chewed metaphorically on Quel Quen until he agreed to speak at the sending-off celebration and explain why, though it was sending-off celebration, no off would actually be sent.

    Queltza is a hot country, and a dry one. It shares a vast border with Ghemel. In that part of the world, dragons are worshipped almost as devoutly as the blessed(†) angels Bmern and Drukah, for we saved them from a terrible and wicked alien god. (We shouldn’t be. We had brought the thing ourselves, and if we had paid attention and cleaned it up when we scattered across Hove for a game of Hide and Seek, nobody would have needed any saving.)

    (†) Or one of them is cursed, depending on your hoven’s theology. Neither of them seems to exist, so it’s probably fine either way.

    Loved and worshipped we may be, but love and worship do not make good roads. Neither do the Queltza. Dragons don’t use roads much, but hoven dignitaries certainly do. And hoven caterers and stage-builders and all, too. A truck carrying half a stage, which was already late, overturned on a narrow mountain road, and the extraordinarily useful and sweet and beautiful Nrararn flew out in a massive flutter of wings to rescue it and help put the ceremony back on schedule. And to make there not be a terrible sandstorm, as the forces of nature had scheduled for that day. Air mages are so wonderful, there are no words. Or at least, air mage dragons who are one’s ally for life and will help out in emergencies are.

    One might ask why we held the ceremony in what is more or less the least convenient part of Hove. One might, in particular, ask this after hearing that we could have put our end of the Pentagonal Cyclone anywhere that we liked. If it had been up to me, Quel Quen would have explained it in his speech, but fortunately someone with actual sense about what would upset hovens (Tarcuna, this time) told me not to tell anyone why.

    I will tell you why.

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