Toll Collectors [19 Hispis 4385]
Windigar:"Ahoy, Duncan's Glory and Drogimargue! We have assembled your toll, and shall send it over!"
Drogimargue:"Excellent! You need not trouble yourself with sending it, for, as a convenience to you, I shall come over in a sky-skiff straightaway!"
He did, in a little blue flying raft of a thing, landing on a balcony. He was a tall and mighty brown-furred Gormoror, with a vast two-handed enchanted metal sword strapped to his back. Talismans and gnawed bones dangled on thongs from his armor, and his boots were of nendrai-skin.
Windigar:"And here you are. We offer suitable and even generous thanks for the safety you provide, and hope that your services are not necessary again."
Drogimargue:"Ah, excellent. One more formality and you may be on your way." He set off a Roman candle, showering blue fireballs in the air.
Drogimargue:"The customs inspection, and, of course, the tally of passengers. You would not wish to accidentally exclude anyone from the fee, of course! We should both be so sad."
Oonanau's spell melted like ice. A dozen smiling prime warriors teleported next to Drogimargue, shoved past Windigar, and boarded Strayway.
Drogimargue:"I notice that your fee is, in fact, somewhat incomplete. You have neglected to pay for the cley to teleport the inspectors: twelve hundred each, as the spells were bound, and another twelve hundred for the return teleports as well. You are nearly thirty thousand lozens short. I do imagine that the owner of as gaudy a skyboat as this will be able to produce the money -- or the equivalent in goods -- in short order, though."
Windigar:"I do wish that you would present us with the full tally as soon as possible, so that we could settle up and be gone." Windigar is wise, with a nendrai-killing warrior in front of him. If he had objected too violently, we would probably need another pilot.
Drogimargue:"A sensible request. It is currently impracticable, as the precise extent of your expenses has not yet been determined. It may, perhaps, be necessary to spend a few more cley searching for hidden crew members. Or, as sometimes happens, a passenger or two will object to our routine and reasonable requests; the fee schedule for violence against us is quite steep."
Windigar:"I have noticed that your fee schedules are generally quite steep. Do you have any small fees?"
Drogimargue:"In point of fact, we do. We provide light refreshments gratis. I am about to partake of some arrack; may I offer you some as well?" He took a hearty gulp from an ivory hip flask, and offered it to Windigar. Windigar held it to his mouth and pretended to drink.
The intruders split into four groups of three, and wandered around the interior of Strayway a bit. I suspect that they were not expecting quite such a large interior.
Pirates and Lost
The first group headed into the corridors and got lost.
Pirates and Me
The second group followed the radience of power and headed for my workshop. I was finished for the day. Indeed, I had been finished for the day for most of the day (as I measure time, which is not so simple). I had then had a full night's-worth of sleep (still on the same day), and was lying in the fireplace reading a storybook (not in the fireplace.)
Oonanau:"Hey! Open up in there!"
Me:"Who is this?"
Oonanau and a pair of Rassimel warriors burst into my workroom. Bursting involved breaking the door down with a mace. I was not terribly pleased at this. Oonanau is an oldish Cani woman with pure white fur, wearing iron chain armor, holding a sparkling dagger in one hand and a sparkling shield in the other.
Me:"Let me rephrase that. Who are you, and why have you broken my door down?"
Oonanau:"Never mind that. Hand them over."
Me:"I beg your pardon?"
Oonanau:"You've got a room full of heavy magic items. Hand them over."
Me:"Indeed. Allow me to start with a Holocaust War weapon that I happen to have close at hand." I am not always so very quick on the uptake, but some situations are clear enough.
Seven-winged burning thing: The seven-winged burning thing does not precisely speak. It expressed delight at the opportunity for some exercise, in part by emissions of intense purple light, and in part by immediate and eager exercising.
One of the Rassimel:"Oh, dearie me, Oonanau. A good portion of the left half of my body is well on the way to becoming overdone." (His actual words were more succinct.)
Oonanau:"Pah. Zie's not a sorcerer. Zie's just got some magic items. Take them from him, Rassies!"
Me:"In point of fact, I am no sorcerer. Indeed, I have not bothered with that title for quite some time; I have quite outgrown it."
One of the Rassimel: "Sprex!" The utterance triggered a bound spell which teleported him away -- probably to one of the warships and a much-needed healer.
Other Rassimel:"Chovio!"Another bound teleport, though obviously bound with a different command word.
Oonanau:"Oh, bother! They've both popped off!"
The seven-winged burning thing fluttered its wings delicately at the loss of two playmates, and then pounced at the third. Oonanau's protections were more extensive than the Rassimels', and she cast a nervous Grand Armor Turning Pyrador to help her avoid it.
I counted my cley. After a full day's enchanting (I'll explain that later), they were not so numerous as I might like at the start of an invasion by an unknown number of warriors and sorcerers. I let the burning thing dance with Oonanau, and flew for the cabinet where I keep certain tools and devices suitable for the occasion.
The seven-winged burning thing pounced at Oonanau. Her Grand Armor and general nimbleness got her out of its way, but the fringes of three wings brushed against her armor, melting a few links. Oonanau struck at it with her sparkling dagger, and cut off two of its wings.
Me:"Not bad, but I've a trick worth a half-dozen of that." Spending a cley seemed worthwhile, if she was that dangerous.
That trick is Dancing in the Garden of Statues: far and away my most complex spell. I traded a great deal of work for it, and have not had many chances to use it for serious purposes. Hopefully I won't have too many more on this vacation. All things became still when I cast it, and the burning thing's tongues stopped in mid-flutter. All things except for me and the things I wished to have something to do with, that is. I grabbed a glove, an arrow that never flew, and a tiny drum from the cabinet: the first things that came to paw, and perhaps not the best choices. They came alive (or at least active) as I touched them. I flew back to the statue-still Oonanau, deprived her of her sparkling dagger and shield, and, abusing the poor glove's side-enchantment of strengthening horribly, stuffed the severed flaming wings into her armor. And that was all the spare time that Garden had made for me; all things resumed their normal movements.
Oonanau:"This turn of events does not greatly please me!" (Also not her exact words.) "Chovio!" (Her exact word. It set off a bound spell that whisked her away.)
Usually-seven-winged burning thing: expressed annoyance that its exercise was so soon over.
Me:"I wonder what that was about?"
I packed the burning thing back where it belongs, incidentally repairing it, and had the arrow take me to Strayway's control room, where I hoped I would find some answers. Of course nobody was there, so I teleported around for a few moments before I remembered about the seven insignias. I am sometimes quite smart, and sometimes ... not.
When I arrowported back to my cabin to get my insignia, Strayway crunched and rocked terribly. Duncan's Glory was firing her onagers, and they had taken off one of our candles.
Pirates and the Crew
The third group was: one Khtsoyis with three metal clubs, one red-and-brown Cani wearing red-and-brown armor with a downright scary staff, and one a cheerful Orren woman wearing a short green waistcoat and a long green veil, far and away the most dangerous of the three. They cornered Kantele, Jyondre, Yerenthax, Zascalle, Rheng, Umbers, and Vae. This was easy enough, for they were near the balcony for Windigar's sake. Vae, incidentally, was a naked Orren girl of about twelve years, with a garland of buttercups around her brow and a silver bell on her tail. (The bell was to remind her not to do anything magical. (It never works.))
Khtsoyis Pirate:"Hand over all your cash, jewelry, and magic items, and nobody gets hurt."
Rheng:"We should have Grinwipey here. He could translate."
Cani Pirate:"The concept is actually reasonably straightforward. Even a Sleeth should be able to understand it."
Zascalle:"We've paid our three thousand lozens. That's plenty."
Cani Pirate:"It will pay Drogimargue's salary for the week. I need to earn mine too, wouldn't you know?"
Orren Pirate:"Times are hard all over! Especially for you!"
Rheng:"Perhaps for you as well, rrai! Now we dance the dance of claws and spells!" He crouched, ready to pounce.
Cani Pirate:"Now we dance the dance of brains and hostages!" He grabbed Vae in one arm and held the dead crow's head on his staff to her head.
"But why did you let him do that?" I asked her afterwards.
"The he wanted it so very much," she said. "The things that happened later had not happened yet, also. The defense spells I set aside for his convenience. Not so he could beak me, but so he could hold me."
Which is to say: nendrai are crazy; only a little bit of their minds are truly their own.
Yerenthax:"Vae? What are you doing there?"
Cani Pirate:"She is my hostage."
Vae:"The yes! I am being his hostage!"
Yerenthax:"Come down from there this instant!"
Cani Pirate:"Actually, ma'am the dense Gormoror, the whole point of being a hostage is that she can't come down from there. I'm holding her tight, and if she moves, I'll have this here crow staff bite her ear off. Maybe take a big gulp out of her brains."
Jyondre:"No, you won't. Vae, you're being ridiculous."
Vae:"Not a bit ridiculous am I being! Not a single prime have they harmed or tried to harm. The comfort is as much here as there for me -- he can hostage me all the hour if he departs peacefully in the end!"
There was a confused sort of impasse. My friends greatly had the martial advantage, but the martial advantage refused to be martial, and was generally helping the enemy. The enemy, for their side, thought that they had the advantage, and refused to believe that the small Orren girl mattered as anything but a hostage.
The impasse was complicated by the sudden arrival of another Rassimel warrior, escaping from the seven-winged burning thing, teleporting next to the Orren Pirate.
Other Rassimel:"What are you waiting for, you idiots? We've got to act fast! There's a Zi Ri sorcerer in the back bedroom, and zie's all pissed off!"
Cani Pirate:"Rightie-O. Zascalle, you must pony up, right away, or I'm killing Vae."
Vae:"There's not to be any killing. At all."
Oonanau: [teleporting in] "Orren Pirate, can you please put me out? That cursed lizard crammed some flameystuff under my armor."
Confusion reigned for a few moments. Then Strayway crunched and rocked terribly. Duncan's Glory was firing her onagers, and they had taken off one of our candles.
Oonanau:"Right. Grab and run time, guys. This skyboat is going down in flames."
Pirates and the Children
The fourth group -- two Cani of brindled mastiff styling, and a Rassimel man holding a mace in one hand and a wand in the other -- soon came to the room where Arfaen, and Mellilot were trying to keep the children calm, and Grinwipey was trying to keep them safe.
Grinwipey:"Hey, I got three clubs, you got three shanderbucked guys, works out all right."
They had a bit of a scuffle. Grinwipey got killed twice, saved twice by Heal the Awful Wounds. He was only wearing two of them, so the third time he stayed dead. The Maceimel tossed his body in a corner.
Brindled Man:"So much for him. Are you two fine women going to interfere?" He grabbed Ochirion by the arm.
Arfaen:"What are you doing to him?"
Brindled Woman:"Just a bit of a hostage-taking, miss. For convenience to encourage you to pay your bills, y'know." She grabbed Quendry, and the Rassimel took charge of Feralan.
Quendry:"Mommies! Don't let them take me away, mommies!"
Brindled Man:"Mommies? The bitch I'll believe is your mommy, but the other one's a bug-girl."
Quendry:"She's my mommy too! Mellilot! Make him let me go!"
Brindled Man:"Wait, are you two scrompers?"
Arfaen:"I don't know what you mean. Let my son and his friends go this instant."
Brindled Woman:"They are, can't you smell it?"
Brindled Man:"Bug-lover! Feh! Bet you did it with the shoggy there too."
Arfaen: assorted furious denials and demands, all of them ignored.
Brindled Man:"What she needs is a taste of a real Cani or two to remind her what's what."
Arfaen and Mellilot: assorted angry disagreements.
Brindled Man:"Hey, Brindled Woman, you want first turn, or do I get it?"
Brindled Woman:"I've got affan. I go first." She tossed Quendry to Brindled Man. "Right, scrompey-bitch. Lick tight and lick good, or Brindled Man's taking off your son's tail." She started unlacing a bit. Strayway crunched and rocked terribly. Duncan's Glory was firing her onagers, and they had taken off one of our candles.
Quendry:"Mommy! Help! No! Don't do that to Mommy!"