Mirrored from Sythyry.
“Is this the right place really?” asked Eric. “I kind of expected a mystic rune to be in, oh, I dunno, the bottom of a dungeon guarded by dragons and liches and hordes of undead. This looks a lot more like, well, nowhere in particular.”
He was right, too. The shelf was a mere three yards wide at its widest, and slanted badly towards the water a hundred yards down. The barren shelf, the barren world-wall, and the boiling sea below.
“Well, we got the dratted dragon and we got the unearthly undead,” said Hditr. “If you two want to stay here and guard. Me, I want to do some measurements and get going.”
Eric frowned. He had evidently forgotten that he was undead.
Porth redirected the force of his engines somewhat. An itchy blue-white light from some instrument on the coracle fell across the shelf. “Tourists! Please observe certain precautions to increase the pleasure and duration of your stay on the rune-shelf! Note carefully the row of spikes that have been affixed to the metal of the shelf with great effort, great risk, and great glue by my wife and myself! These spikes provide you the very best handholds and footholds! If you remove both hands and feet from them and go sliding into the boiling sea, we will take it as a personal affront! We will be so busy being offended that we will not bother to try to rescue you in the roughly two-and-one-quarter seconds you have before you are boiled to death!”
Morth added, “There is only one way to keep us cheerful in such a situation. And that way is, if you have attached one of these chains to yourself. These chains are carefully calculated to dangle you a few yards above the water if you fall. We figure that you have about ten or fifteen minutes to hang there before you steam to death.”
“In this circumstance, you will dangle there helplessly. We will swing you back and forth, perhaps bashing you into the walls, because it is amusing to do so. Then we shall figure out how to reel you back up,” said Porth.
“But we will be cheerful, and we will not require any additional fee for the rescue about it,” said Morth.
Porth slyly whispered, “Though the graceful and well-mannered would be moved to tip very generously under the circumstances.”
Morth took over again. “Now, the geology of the rune-shelf. Note that we are parked here on the flattest spot — the only place that the coracle will actually stay on the shelf. The rune is over there, not quite halfway along the shelf from here. You will need to change chains once on the way there. If we stretched a single chain from this spot to that spot, it would be so long that you would be dropped into the water. We might as well not bother with a chain then, save that, if we did not have one, we would be unable to retrieve your boiled corpse and thereby start a bidding war between your next of kin (to bury you) and the purchasers at the Dibisto-Glandular Refectionary Brigade (who would like to vary their menu a bit). So then, you will need to do things in the right order when you get to the end of the next chain. First! Take the second chain’s carabiner off its ring. Second! Hook it to yourself. Third! Unhook your first chain from yourself. Fourth! Hook it to the ring. Do not forget step four! You will need that chain to be on that ring when you come back!”
Porth peered at me. “Dragon, can your paws even use a carabiner?”
“I’d use a mouth,” I said.
“Well, Snorb knows you’ve got enough of them,” said Porth. “I apologize, but we did not use the beneficient influence of «Cuisine» on the chains. I suspect they taste terrible.”
“Do not, in your alarm at their inferior flavor, nondelectable fragrance, and degraded vintage, spit them out!” proclaimed Morth.
“I won’t,” I promised.
Porth stared at Hditr. “My fellow badger, what are you doing there?” She was holding in one hand a glass jar with a complicated metal item inside, which might have been the love-child of a praying mantis and an astrolabe. With the other hand, she was scribbling in a small notebook, pressed precariously on her knee.
“I’m measuring the relative pungencies of «Cuisine», «Passerines», «Cloth», and «Manners»,” Hditr said.
“You will be measuring your way into a warm bath if you do that on the shelf!” proclaimed Porth. “One hand and two legs on solid spots at all times, woman, or the only «Cuisine» you ever know will be a cream of Hditr soup!”
Hditr scowled at him. “Oh, go scare the scalamanders. I’ll be fine.”
“No such thing! You will be a fine potage!”
“If I don’t take the readings, the whole point of this silly expedition is lost. I’m not trying to get «Cuisine», after all.”
I muttered, “I am.”
Hditr continued, “I’m trying to measure «Cuisine». If I can’t take the measurements, I’m not going to get any measuring done.”
“Speaking as your research research assistant with three mouths and six legs, how about if I take the notes?” I volunteered.
“Well, you’d better be accurate about it,” said Hditr, but passed over a few sheets of paper and a marking-stick. I assumed that they were somehow the very official and scientific tools required for recording data properly, so I took them in one mouth (marking-stick) and one midleg (paper).
Porth and Morth tied a rope harness around me as best they could, and hooked it to the first chain, and I toddled forth on the soaked, slick, slippery, slanted, spike-lined metal shelf over the seething sea, in shadow. Which was all basically straightforward, since I had seven limbs to hold on with. (Not counting my tail and wings, which I occasionally waved around for balance, and not counting the two holding Hditr’s important scientific instruments, which I could have dropped in an emergency.) Hditr herself was not nearly so comfortable, being rather larger and rather fewer-limbed than me, and burdened in one hand by her instrument. She kept shouting at me to slow down, or to stop and record the numbers of three quarts fifteen ounces one gill or some such, which I dutifully did. She only slipped terribly once, and slid nearly to the edge of the chasm, but caught her chain on one of the spikes and stopped herself before she went over. An adventure-writer would shine up every detail of that trip and make up a near-catastrophe or two more, but this is a nexterie rather than an adventure, so I’m going to pretend (equally falsely) that we gamboled over to the sigil without a hint of terror.
The cylinder walls of Drullguur are of stressed metal. You can see the wavy vertical lines of some ancient torque — or something, anyways. Mostly they are smooth. As we gamboled the wall became worse: first rough, then covered with square mounds, and finally, covered with lumps like huge boils or sores. The largest of these had actually burst, revealing a rough hole a foot high and two feet deep.
The Idol and the ultimate symbol of «Cuisine» is found nearly at the back of the hole. You can’t see it from outside, unless you stick a head into it and look, and even then you mightn’t recognize it, for it is a pattern of razory blades of torn wall-metal. When Drullguur was first being explored, an intrepid badger explorer stuck his hand in to see if there was anything of interest in this, the first and only hole he had seen in Drullguur’s wall. And indeed there was, though he lost the use of his hand for all purposes save magic in finding it.
I reached my uninscribed wing in to enjoy or suffer the same fate.
“No! Stop!” yelled Hditr. “Wait! Write down, three quarts, fifteen ounces, and one gill!”
“Just like every time,” I said, but «Language» and I did.
She braced herself against spikes, and waited for her mantislabe to come to complete equilibrium. “I am ready now, O hungry herpy!”
So, I stuck my wing in, and the blades of «Cuisine» sliced it. It stung! It stung like a cut — a chiffonade of cuts — a chiffonade of cuts sprinkled with finely-ground sea salt, smoked and powdered chilis, and the finest and strongest verjuice or vinegar! «Language» hadn’t hurt nearly as much, though it had stung like insults, cruel words from a former friend.
“Well, isn’t that interesting,” said Hditr. “Hey, lizard, write down that it was up by fifteen gills, then down by twenty-one, then up eighteen, then down twenty-four, then up eleven, and …” She cast a spell of intense memory, and then had me write down the full set of sixty-two positives and sixty-one negatives.
“So, while I was getting stung, the force of «Cuisine» was jumping up and down like water on a hot griddle?” My new domain kept trying to insert itself in every thought and phrase I spoke for some time, like a cook who has just discovered how delicious roasted garlic is and wants to use it in everything.
“Exactly!” said Hditr. “Hopping higher and lurching lower than the normal intensity, for a full minute. Rising to a crescendo about eleven seconds in, and then diminishing gradually.”
“What does that mean?”
“I have not the clumsiest clue,” said Hditr.
“Why’d you come here, if you don’t have a clue?” I asked. I was a bit petulant — this was my triumph, and she was stealing it — with Science!
She gave me an odd look. “I am trying to get a clue, and you can’t pick ‘em up in the market square in Udmurff for cheap,” she said. “Let’s head back now. Can you walk all right?”
I don’t remember the flight to the Bull-Churned Gate at all. I am fairly sure I was having a sous-vide psychosis, or handroll hallucinations, or some other form of munchable madness. Hditr and Eric discussed the experimental results in low voices, but without referring to the notes, which were clutched tight in my coils as I was under the delusion that they were a very valuable salad.
Somehow they got me onto the world-boat.