Mirrored from Sythyry.
“Before I take you to Namie — don’t scowl, goddess, for that is her name — I shall take you to see certain sights of the World Tree,” I told Thefefy.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because there is something you must discover, Thefefy. You shall see it for yourself, and it shall make your revenge complete,” I said. I rather hoped that it would be work out that way.
“I have waited a hundred thousand cycles, and my plots shall not be complete for many more. I have the time. You are sure that it is essential?” said the goddess.
“It is. And I must first disguise you as a Rassimel — ”
“No! Never shall I take the shape of the constructs of my enemy!” she roared.
“Rightie-o. How do you feel about, let’s see, Pararenenzu?”
She frowned. “A fool, a jokard, a packet of tinsel-covered candy!”
“Um … Virid?”
Thefefy smiled for the first time. “Ah, sweet Virid. We danced together on the surface of a burning star for a hundred years.”
“Then may I disguise you as a Herethroy?”
“That, dear Sythyry, would be entirely fitting.”
The first stop, of course, was the kitchen — Arfaen’s kitchen. I blame this on residual fever, or, perhaps, panic.
“Simmerene? Could you explain to this visiting person, who is clearly a Herethroy, what you are doing here?” I asked.
Simmerene wagged her tail. “Hi! I am cleaning chub beetles!”
I nodded. “Could you describe it in more detail — a lot more detail — explaining just how unpleasant it is? In case my guest, who is clearly a Herethroy, is uncertain of just how unpleasant it is.”
Simmerene wagged harder. “A Herethroy would never have cleaned chub beetles in the ordinary course of events, I suppose. What are you, sir? A writer of romantic mysteries set in kitches, questing for a realistic atmosphere? A restauranteur, considering opening a non-vegetarian one for all species?”
“A god,” grunted Thefefy.
Simmerene giggled merrily. “Oh, you’re an investor in new restaurants!”
“Close enough!” I proclaimed. “And an incognito one at that.”
“Well then. Cleaning chub beetles is one of the more unpleasant jobs that shows up in any fine restaurant that I’ve worked at, and Arfaen’s is one of the finest. A lesser establishment, sir, would not bother cleaning them this way! It would simply cast them into boiling water, then peel the shells off! Much faster — it is how most meat-eating people eat their chub beetles, after all. But it leaves a certain intestinal flavor. And, speaking as a carnivore, the intestines are not the nicest bits of the beetle! Indeed, while you have surely never tasted an intestine yourself, you are doubtless familiar with their function and their less-than-pleasant product…”
“I’m not,” grunted Thefefy.
“Thefefy is the sort of investor who hires other people to poop for her,” I said, so seriously that Simmerene giggled.
“Well! Let us simply say that the intestines of chub beetles are not as nice as the rest of them. Actually, I can demonstrate!” She picked up the bowl of raw chub beetle intestines and fanned it towards Thefefy and me. We both winced.
“Foul,” grunted Thefefy.
“Yes, foul. A typical restaurant, or grocer, will starve the beetles for a day beforehand, so that the intestines are fairly clean. A fine restaurant will feed them on aromatic herbs for a day, which keeps the beetles plump and flavors their flesh, and then remove the noxious parts. Which is what I am doing. Observe!”
Simmerene picked a live walnut-sized beetle out of the trap-jar. She tossed it into a beaker of tarragon-infused vodka, and waited the half-minute for it to stop struggling. Then she plucked it out, shook it off, and crushed its brain with the heel of a toasting-fork. She made five careful cuts in the shell with a glass-edged knife, and shook it; the shell came off in two halves, one of which carried the legs with it. Another delicate cut exposed the guts, and a careful scoop with a thin glass spoon scraped them out. She tossed the rest of the beetle into a bowl of tarragon-infused white wine.
“And that is that, good Herethroy!” said Simmerene.
Thefefy had turned an alarming sort of blueish-purple. “Nasty!” she proclaimed.
“It is nasty,” I said, “But it, and a thousand chores like it, are part of everyday life on the World Tree.”
Octagons, the Elfimel who works for Arfaen, came into the room with a basket of edible (and delicious) tubers. “Hello, honey! Hello, Sythyry! Hello, Herethroy!”
Thefefy stared at her. “Are you the Elfimel who hates Mircannis?”
Octagons shrugged. “No. Are you the Herethroy who asks odd questions of girls trying to earn their rent?”
I cocked my head. “Wait, you can’t tell them apart either, Thefefy?”
“Not very well,” grunted Thefefy.
Octagons yelped, “That’s Thefefy?”
“Yeah,” grunted Thefefy.
“I won’t go back!” proclaimed Octagons. She put down the tubers and picked up a beetle-knife.
“Octagons has a name here, and clothes, and a local wife,” I said. “These, together with a certain mental derangement — shut up, Octagons! — count for more to her than the joys of Heaven.”
“Don’t care,” grunted Thefefy. “She can stay. What are you trying to show me?”
“I am showing you that, in this world, everyone must work for their living, and some of the jobs are quite foul and unpleasant.”
Thefefy took another sniff of the beetle guts. “Yeah. Got that. So?”
“So we are going to need to see another place too,” I said.