Mirrored from Sythyry.
Pirly got a frown from the concierge at the Hotel of Hopeful Habitations. Surely she did not realize that Pirly was a prostitute, and an unsuccessful transaffectionate one at that. More likely she was under the impression, probably true, that she would be the one obligated to clean up the dripping of mud, blood, and wine that Pirly was tracking on the floor. However, she did allow him to pass, and even grudgingly admitted that Inconnu was in room eighteen, and, unless he had somehow snuck past her, was there now, and had said that he was willing to receive guests.
Pirly hesitated at the door to room eighteen. “This is surely some new phase of misadventure I am about to inflict upon myself,” he told himself. “Yet, I am lozenless, I am jobless, I am far from home, and I am injured and filth-besmirched. To these temporary-sounding accidents I will have to add, I am transaffectionate, and I am guildless, both of which are qualities which are unlikely to change, and both of which are likely to cause the prior unfortunate circumstances to recur. It is either knocking on a door such as this, or some form of suicide. And, I daresay, suicide will still be an option after knocking at this door — or, if I am unfairly lucky, the occupant of this room will kill me without much ado — while this door will not be an option when I am in the grave. If anybody bothers to bury me, of course. Ulmarn has not been generous with anything during my life; why should they be after my death?”
So he knocked.
Inconnu answered. The relevant part of Inconnu is the hat, which is broad and brown felt, with a brass buckle in the shape of a mythical gargoyle, (recall that metal is rare on the World Tree, so that using it for ornamentation is quite ostentatious), and set with seven fantastically-dyed feathers, characteristic of all prime species save the Orren — that is, save his own. Inconnu, personally, is the sort of person who would wear a hat like that. He is an Orren, blatantly an adventurer, and blatantly traff.
“Thefefy’s mustard, O Rassimel! You’re in a sorry state! What horrible fate has befallen you? Tell me, tell me — while I repair the damage!” cried Inconnu passionately. He brushed Pirly with a gleaming ivory bangle, so that Pirly’s wounds closed, and then with an embroidered bookmark, so that Pirly’s clothes were instantly rendered clean and fresh. (Not my work! I rarely have time to make such trinkets anymore. My apprentice Feralan made them both last year, as practice-pieces. I am unclear as to how Inconnu wound up with them. I suspect Feralan put them into our general adventuring supplies.)
Pirly was a bit bewildered. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t the money to pay you for the use of your cley.”
Inconnu shook his head, which, for Inconnu, is an elaborate wriggle which jiggles him from ears to tailtip. “Think nothing of it, O Rassimel! Thefefy’s femur, man, I would not cast spells for you without asking and then charge you for them! Besides I did not cast the spells myself — I am an elegant and successful adventurer, among other things, and I have many magical devices about me for uses as practical as healing, and as differently-practical as grooming!”
Pirly sat on a tooled-leather ottoman, and looked around the hotel room, hung with tapestries and the portraits of a previous generation of nobility. “I can’t argue with the elegance or successfulness, if you rent rooms like this. What adventure are you on now?”
Inconnu smiled. “An easy, if very practical, sort of adventure, by Thefefy’s button mushroom! I stride from city to city, seeking qualified individuals for this or that form of employment in Kismirth. Ah? What is this? I detect that you frown just a touch, but your ears perk up? There is a curiosity on you, you have a question or a wonderment or simply a hope?”
“I do need a job,” said Pirly quietly. “The … someone suggested that you might be hiring people like me.”
Inconnu brushed his whiskers with a white-gloved hand. “By Thefefy’s neti pot, The Someone may well be right! What sort of person are you? What, even, has the dignity and honor to be your name?”
“I’m Pirly oa Nespite … I’m … well … I don’t talk about it very much, but …” He trailed off.
Inconnu smiled. “I shall hazard a hypothesis, by Thefefy’s calliope! I shall give a guess! You are one of those far-too-rare individuals whose capacity for love and the related emotions — which provide all true brightness in the World Tree! — extends far beyond the bounds of his own species. Not to mince words about it, for I save the sharp edge of my sabre for more wicked foes than words, but you are transaffectionate!” He grinned. “And, not to put too fine a point on it, I am as well.”
Pirly simply nodded. It can be hard to get a word in edgewise past Inconnu, even when he stops talking.
“And, indeed, all sorts of people in Castle Wrong — which forms the moral, spiritual, and financial core of Kismirth — are transaffectionate as well. It is a topic which we understand in great and intimate detail, by Thefefy’s duck-press! Indeed, Castle Wrong was founded for the express purpose of the protection and advancement of people such as you are, and I am. When I first joined I was in circumstances no better than your own, and now — my situation has improved somewhat!” Inconnu grinned a huge and self-satisfied grin.
Pirly was not utterly reassured. “What sort of job is it?”
“That depends somewhat on your inclinations and talents, by Thefefy’s lobelias!” proclaimed Inconnu.
“I like Herethroy especially,” said Pirly, his ears flat, his tail tucked between his legs. “I, well, I do, I can do…” He trailed off, unsure of just what to say, and nearly as ashamed of saying it as he was of doing it.
Inconnu smiled tolerantly. “Ah, you must be the journeyman printer, currently renowned in story and song throughout Ulmarn! I delight in the occasional Herethroy myself, by Thefefy’s occo buco! And I delight them quite thoroughly, too. And do you seek to make this hobby into an actual profession? That may well be possible! But you seem nervous, you seem downcast. We have positions that allow you to keep your clothing on and your chastity, or lack thereof, to your own schedule.”
“Do I need to decide now?” asked Pirly, who was unsure of what he was getting himself into.
“It is no such emergency, by Thefefy’s insignificant monstrance! Indeed, as I observe your tremulous uncertainty, I forbid you to decide until you have seen your choices in detail! You have guessed about the positions providing intimate services to guests of other species — or even the same species, we do not utterly despise the cisaffectionate when they come a-touristing! And I have hinted about a position as a croupier running gambling games, as well as many more mundane and less specialized positions as cooks, waiters, guards. And printers, if the guild will have you back — no? Very well. There are other choices in a variety of degrees. You are pretty enough and lithe enough to do well as an exotic dancer, I should think!”
Pirly smiled a bit. “Thank you… um … it’s been a very bad day … do I have to demonstrate for you?”
Inconnu flung his arms apart. “What? Shall I make an insistent demand upon your body and your favors, waving the prospect of an enticing job over your head as a way to get you to drop trou? No, no, a thousand times no, by Thefefy’s forgotten orrery! Should you ever wish to behave unchastely with me, it is your choice and your choice alone — though I shall accept if my tyrannical schedule permits!”
“I’m glad to hear that. It’s especially Herethroy, for me … and it has been a terrible day … I mean, if I’m going to be a professional, I should be able to please anyone … and it’s not like I’ve never been with an Orren before … but … I might be a croupier … that shouldn’t be very …” babbled Pirly.
“It requires that you dress quite sharply and act masterful and supremely attentive,” said Inconnu. “You should be a natural at it, by Thefefy’s ostentatious barnacles!” Which might have been optimism or encouragement, or simply insight.
Pirly cocked his head. “Thank you. One other question, if I may?”
“Anything! We have no secrets in Kismirth — save, of course, the secrets of our customers, which are as sancrosanct as Thefefy’s moratorium!”
“Who is this Thefefy you keep talking about? I never heard the name before.”
Inconnu smiled. “Ah — Thefefy is a god of a nearby universe, whom I had the honor to defeat a few years ago.
Pirly’s eyes came as big as suns. “You defeated a god?”
“I did, indeed! She thought it was a combat — and by some standards she won that part of it. She is a god, after all. But it was actually a contest of will and intellect, and she had no victory overall! But that is a story for another time, and a more plentiful supply of brandy and small salty comestables,” said Inconnu. (We have long since given up trying to persuade Inconnu to keep quiet about his fight with the god, which was a horrible and unfortunate event. But we have, at least, trained him to be clear that he is not as powerful as a god, nor anywhere close. In point of fact, Thefefy had every advantage over Inconnu, and killed him many times; but Inconnu held her attention for long enough for us to accomplish certain hurried and foolish objectives that she could easily have prevented had Inconnu not been so intense. But even the meanest victory over a god is an impressive deed indeed, and he did endure her wrath for quite a long while, so Inconnu’s boasting may be forgivable or at least understandable. I do not, however, know if she has a twelfth part of the odd items he attributes to her. She and I were never on the most social of terms.)
Rather unsurprisingly, Inconnu did let Pirly sleep in his hotel room that night, and for the two further nights that they stayed in Ulmarn. I have heard a thousand stories about what happened in those nights. They cannot all be true. Indeed, I am not sure that any of them can be true, except the one concerning Pirly and the Herethroy co-lover that Inconnu recruited as an exotic dancer. But that story consists almost entirely of details of a sort that should not be shared, except that they are the sort of thing that Pirly is known to do, and so it must remain unstated.