Mirrored from Sythyry.
When you visit Drullguur, or pretty much any civilized universe (not the same thing at all), you should expect that your long trip there will be a bit longer. Just inside of the universe, at the place where the worldways are tied, there is a fortress of the sternest and fiercest sort: a thousand guns and murder-holes, soldiers and sorcerers and traps, all aimed at a single room. (Or that’s how it should go in a civilized universe. Drulluguur’s is much smaller and less impressive.) The waiting room’s walls are so thick of steel and spells that I would be all day trying to melt through them.
Not that I tried! I came to Drullguur to start my wanderjahre — which I am going to do as a proper nexterie, not simply going to the next swamp over and sitting there for a year. That would turn into a wanderminute if I looked like an enemy. And then some buriedjahre, lots of them. Buriedjahre are probably a bit dull though, and I’m in no hurry for them. And being dead and buried is about as far from a nexterie as one can get.
So, the Waiting Room. It is big enough to hold a thousand badger-people or ten thousand dragons or whatever, or even a couple dozen of the kind of dragon I’m not. Or over a billion gumdrops, should some inter-cosmic traveller decide that Drullguur’s native candies were insufficient. Actually Drullguur’s native candies are pretty good, despite everything you might expect, which is symptomatic of why I came there. The Drullgies noticed that I had been waiting a long time, and gave me a snack box, containing an utterly adequate bird-bits-on-a-bun, an utterly adequate pot of seaweedy savory oatmeal — and four very nice chocolate-covered candied fruits with sparkly ginger crystals that were easily worth the whole three-hour Waiting Room wait. Not the whole two-week trip through the gnarling void, though, so I didn’t turn around and leave.
The whole thing was taking a long time because the brigand prince Fierce Novvert had brought a small army of brigands, princes, ne’er-do-wells, won’t-do-wells, can’t-do-wells, and who-ever-heard-of-doing-well-anyhows. He had more sense than to fight his way through the fortress. Instead he was trying to bribe his way through the fortress. This would ultimately prove to be unsuccessful, as the fortress-folk realized that they would be blamed for any brigandry that came from Novvert, and the bribes weren’t that good. But they did have to determine such important things as (1) who needed to be bribed, and how much, to let Novvert flee back into another universe, (2) who needed to be bribed, and how much, to resupply Novvert and his men in a hurry, and (3) who needed to be bribed, and how much. This took quite a long time.
The Waiting Room was not terribly full. Fourteen vulpine Fulk-Fulks (I’m sure) from Gnangdibar (I think) were wailing horribly and snapping at each other and anyone else who came near them, and chasing each other around the room. They had been disarmed — we all had to leave all our luggage in a separate set of rooms — but they had not been dismouthed. Somehow, with their leaping and bounding, they managed to occupy approximately nine hundred million gumdrops’ worth of the room.
The rest of us crowded in the far corner. This compelled us to indulge in conversation.
“Who are you, dead man?” asked the badger-woman in the fancy but gravy-stained ceremonial robes.
“I beg your pardon!” I exclaimed. “Why, I am not dead yet, nor shall I make easy prey for you!”
“Calm there, calm there, lurking laugh-lizard,” said the badger. “I was talking to the dead human man in the chair there.” She pointed at an empty bench, a massive metal thing eight feet long that all the Fulk-Fulks couldn’t have moved without cooperating, which they were evidently in no mood to do.
“But the bench is empty…?”
“Yeah, yeah, silly ghost fell into the bean-boinking bench,” said the badger. She scratched on it with her claws. “C’mon out of there, dead man, and explain yourself to us to pass the turgid time before you gotta explain yourself to the dapper but dolorous dish-whackers in customs to get in.”
A pair of spectral human hands emerged from the seat of the bench, braced themselves against the metal, and pulled. A black-haired human head and white-shrouded torso emerged from the bench. He said something incomprehensible in some garbly barbarical language. I don’t like to listen to such stuff! Barely three words out of his mouth and I threw the Nomesiac Nicities at him. “I’m not used to that yet,” he concluded in perfectly good Ilmalang.
“So, who are you, and what are you, and from where, dead man?” demanded the priestess. She spoke through a linguistic spell too, though not of ᚜Language᚛.
“I’m Eric Nakamura. I’m a first-year physics grad student at MIT on The World,” he said. The Nomesiac Nicities is a very good bit of magic, yes. But if he’s just going to call his world ‘The World’ or ‘Earth’ or ‘Homeworld’ or something generic like that, and if there’s no name for it in Ilmalang, it can’t very well translate its name to Ilmalang, now can it?
“Well, you’re just a milt-mucking mite on the dead side now,” said the badger woman.
“I didn’t mean to get killed!” he protested.
The badger smiled. “Ach, I don’t I hold that against you! Most of my blessed ancestors are dead too, and sure as sheriffs should be shanked I’m a lot fonder of them that way. But most of ‘em have the mucilaginous manners not to go grim-ghost gallivanting about the cathedral, much less from world to world. So how’d you get scragged?”
“Dusted. I got dusted when Aum Shinrikyo did their little ‘Eclipse Celebration’ in Boston. I didn’t even know it for a couple days! By that time all the hospitals were full. Not that a doctor could have helped me. I figure I got about eight Grays of radiation, maybe more. Really sucks as a way to die, it takes a long time and hurts so much. I wish they’d stuck with Sarin. At least that’s fast.”
Poor Nomesiac Nicities! So many words that don’t translate into Ilmalang! (Later on I got Eric to explain it in a lot more detail, and he wanted to share it with his loved ones back on The World. Which, I am tolerably sure, is not you, but you are as close as currently possible, so I am sharing it with you instead. Enjoy! Or understand! Or something!)
“Yeah, that sounds like a tugubrious and terrible way to go, even if I don’t know half what you’re talking about,” said the badger. “So why’d you end up here as a gawking groppelling ghost?”
“Turns out there is a god of death, and a mean bastard he is, too. He looks like a dead tree growing up through three nasty iron crowns. After I died, I found myself standing in front of him in a huge cave full of mirrored cactuses. He told me to pick one of his crowns. They’re all the same as far as I can tell. I picked the middle one. He got all angry and shouted that I’d be fed to the soul-grinder for my sacrilege. I started complaining about how that wasn’t a fair test. He picked me up in his branches and tore my head apart, and read my thoughts like I was a book. I was thinking This crap is scientifically impossible! I bet this is just some stupid drug hallucination.. So he says to me, “A science-lover! Never before has a science-lover come before me! I shall punish you terribly! I shall do worse to you than the soul-grinder! I condemn you to wander in the realms of magic, where the laws of science are lies!”
“Odd, that a death god of a world where people can study science in schools has never had a scientist come before the god of death,” noted the badger. “Perhaps scientists are immortal?”
“No, they die all the time. Anyhow, he squeezed me back together and tossed me into a big slippery nowhere, and I was kind of freaking out for I have no idea how long until I banged into a metal door and then fell through it. And here I am.”
The badger said, “Ach, the dilly-duking death gods! Most of them are utter scrumordeal bastards who make intestinal flukes look good, and it sounds like yours was that. I’m professionally required to say that Vlutscrag is among the nicest anywhere. Which is totally true, but somehow, if I were inviting just one or two gods to a beer party, I wouldn’t be inviting Vlutscrag.”
“Professionally?” I said, insinuating my left head and neck at her. “What profession might that be?”
“Oh, that. I’m Hditr Durkümkrãg, Anti-Bishop of the Rogalian Pantheon, from Nurki, at your service.” (Oh, good. She’s from somewhere reasonable.) She bowed so low her whiskers brushed the floor and tail approached the roof. “As long as the service you want is passing time in the Waiting Room. Who are you, lizard? And you, toad?”
“I’m Tllith,” I said. “In Ilmalang my species is called ‘dragon of Yirien’.”
“Crazy name, that, just because you look like a small dragon and come from Yirien,” said Hditr. “And you, sir-or-madam the toad?”
“I am the honorable and honored Vong Das Dassick!!” proclaimed the toad-morph in a voice like an over-ripe banana. “I am returning to Drullguur after a trade mission to Thabir-Nsog!! I am an extremely important mayor — the mayor of the Turngrond Shelf!! The guards are delinquent sluts, for they have not let me precede that pirate!! I must swiftly return to my office and undo the foolishness the fools who are my assistants have done!! Yet, who takes it upon themselves not to request me to the chamber?? The guards!! Who call other person this and other person that, but not me, the mayor!!”
“Where are you on the queue?” I asked.
“I don’t see that it’s any business of yours, child!!” snapped Vong.
“What, too busy having a scrawny donnybrook with the door-guards to even give your name to the reasonable but relentless receptionist?” asked Hditr.
“Bah — ridiculous!! The honorable and honored Vong Das Dassick has no reason to bother with receptionists!! In any case they are his subordinates, for he is the mayor!!” proclaimed Vong. In a minute he excused himself to go to the privy, and, instead, was observed trying to browbeat the receptionist into believing that he had been waiting for some hours and thus deserved first place on the list.