Toll Booth [19 Hispis 4385]
For our convenience and safety, the city guards of certain cities of the lower branches patrol the sky. Indeed, the sky here is more dangerous than in Ketheria. Our recent encounter with the inistella and insane philosophers suffices to prove that. It did not surprise us greatly to discover a substantial military force, nor that they were rather interested in us.
The battle-barge Duncan's Glory looks rather like a regular barge; indeed, I suspect that it a recommissioned one. It's a long flat skyboat with two top sails and two side sails. It is none too fast on its feet -- not that it has feet per se, unlike Strayway. I don't think it needs to be. It has been refitted (or maybe fitted, though I expect re-) with a respectable device that can telepop it a quarter-mile a dozen times a day. The long flat main deck is used to good effect. It has four big ballistas and four fire-onagers, and a quite appealing battle-pergola heavily grown with unfamiliar but presumably highly magical vines.
Accompanying Duncan's Glory is the xebec-o-war Soothing Ointment. Soothing Ointment is a trim and nimble skyboat, with two sails and two flappy wings. It's built for ramming, too, with a bowsprit of a metal spike all ablaze with a harsh consuming flame. She's got only one big weapon otherwise: a ballista loaded with a huge harpoon.
And the third of this martial trio is the luzzu The Terrible Bean. Small and fast, she is, and with a fierce sentient flame in her painted eyes. She's got wings like a dragonfly, and a tail like a scorpion, and a brace of net-casters and another harpoon-ballista. I would expect she can use them on her own, if her crew is otherwise occupied.
We were drifting down at a nice safe speed around Beltheia, presumably in the sky owned by Dossimar. Duncan's Glory was suddenly in front of us, with a loud flatulent thump of Locador magic. (I have gotten used to Vae's teleporting, which is somewhere between plangent and piquant and very very pointy. Primes don't teleport like that generally; but we do not teleport so much as Vae. Duncan's Glory was particularly noxious about it.)
"Ahoy, the Duncan's Glory!" shouted Windigar from the control room, presumably reading the name from the side of the war-barge. (I was in my workshop, quite busy with an enchantment, so I didn't actually know much of what was going on.)
"Ahoy, Strayway!" warbled the pilot of The Terrible Bean, popping out of a cloudbank on our upper starboard. Soothing Ointment oozed from behind the thick growth off the world-trunk, coming towards us off our rear underneath port.
"Sorry to trouble you, but you've come to the domain of Dossimar," called a Gormoror man from the deck of Duncan's Glory.
"Our periplus agrees with you on that point," called Windigar. "What is the significance of this, beyond our proximity to your presumed city-state?"
"Well, first things first," shouted the Gormoror. "Have you seen any monsters lately? Ulgrane in particular, or hugeng? They've been a terrible pestilence on the skyways lately. Or any other dangers that you care to mention?"
"That we have not," called Windigar. "An inistella with a peculiar crew, but that was days ago, and not aggressive."
"Excellent. The reputation and the might of Dossimar is keeping them off!"
"The skies have been clear, to be sure," said Windigar.
"The might of Dossimar is considerable! Note the ballistas and fire-onagers behind me; note the ram and harpoon on Soothing Ointment; note the tail and net-casters of The Terrible Bean!" boomed the Gormoror.
"Your armament is formidable, to be sure," said Windigar, who was beginning to get the point.
"Our armament would, however, be barely consequential without the skills of our heroes. The great sorceress Oonanau herself rides in The Terrible Bean. Lorquan the Episcopicide is even now waving to you from the mast of Soothing Ointment. And I am Drogimargue the Nendrai-Slayer."
"Respectable names indeed!" said Windigar. "I will confess a regrettable ignorance of the deeds and sagas of Beltheia. Did you really kill a nendrai?"
"I did!" boomed Drogimargue. "Bahalizonne the Lar lies dead, grilled and devoured by the citizens of Dossimar, and my hand the hand that drove the axe-blade through his spine!"
("Anyone you know?" asked Kantele to Vae. "The N. varigatus who died here a decade or so ago," Vae answered. "Not a personal friend was he, but once he played chess with Oixe and I was jealous.")
"Well, that must have been a battle worth an epic and a half!" called Windigar.
"I shall be most glad to declaim them at a suitable time! But first, a practical matter. The heroes and warships whom you have hired to protect you in this airspace are puissant and potent, and, additionally, numerous. Their rates are quite cheap considering their quality and number!"
"Your choice of vocabulary is notable," said Windigar. "Perhaps the respected and noble speech of Beltheia differs slightly from my native Ketherian. But a mistranslation seems to have snuck in -- one which we will surely both laugh about. In my dialect, the word 'hire' means 'requesting the labor and services of someone, for pay'."
"I fear that -- alas! -- we must laugh most quietly. For that is indeed an elegant and succinct synopsis of the situation!" boomed the nendrai-slayer.
"I am afraid I do not recall requesting your labor or service..." said Windigar.
"Is your memory so friable, so subject to the gremulations of even miniscule smalliments of time? For did you not recently enter the domain of Dossimar?"
"Well, I would seem to be there now," said Windigar, lashing his tail annoyedly in the privacy of the control room.
"Which is, of course, protected most mightily by myself and my fellow heroes! Hence, you have hired us!" proclaimed the Gormoror.
"Ah ... The paperwork was unaccountably delayed," said Windigar. "We entered relying solely upon our own defenses, which are considerable even by the standards of a martial wizard of Ketheria." He knew exactly what was going on. "And, to avoid further administrative effort, it will suffice for us to depart without troubling you or anyone else for an actual hire. In any case, we are well-used to dealing with nendrai and other such minor inconveniences; they do not dare pester us." Which is approximately true, though by "us" he means "Vae".
"Do not fear, captain of the Strayway!" said Drogimargue generously. "The paperwork is a mere trifle! In any case, we must not let mere administrative matters stand between you and true safety. Behold, even now Oonanau exerts a mighty spell to protect you from horrors teleporting to assault you! Unfortunately it also restricts your own craft's ability to teleport ... but do not fear! You are surrounded by the protective aegis of the warriors of Dossimar, as an infant Cani of a martial clan is swaddled by the hardened leather wrappings of its mother!"
"Perhaps the paperwork can be disposed of," said Windigar. "What are your rates?" He scowled, and scribbled notes to Yerenthax and Vae.
"Our rates are modest, even negligable! A mere eighty lozens per person aboard your craft! Plus, of course, the six hundred for the cley of the spell that Oonanau has already cast. And should any more cley or life's blood be necessary in your protection, be assured that the same highly favorable rates will apply to it." (For those uncertain about World Tree prices: these are quite high. I rarely manage to charge half of that for a cley, for one thing.)
"Splendid. How much do you charge us for shooting a ballista bolt at us? Or other of your siege weaponry, which, perhaps by coincidence, is better suited for assaulting skyboats than monsters?" asked Windigar.
"Two hundred lozens, or more if the bolt has been ensorcelled," said Drogimargue with a smile.
"I imagine that it will not be necessary," said Windigar to Drogimargue. "I will consult with our accountant, to see how the funds are most easily acquired."
To Yerenthax and Vae and Kantele, "Well, what should we do now?"