Mirrored from Sythyry.
In the meantime, Eric gibbered at me. “You … you have three heads!”
I never know how to respond to monocephalons exclaiming about that. “Ssh! Don’t say it so loud! Each of them thinks I have only two!” That made the badger giggle, at least. It is not true.
Eric just stared more. “They’re all different!”
“If they were all the same, there’d be no point to having three!” I said, which is also not true.
Hditr helpfully exclaimed, “Furthermore you have shiny scales of a pretty purple, helpfully highlighted in blue here and there. I cannot tell if your scutes are purple or blue; I wish there was a color in-between for me to call them. Your tail is quite long for your size, perhaps three or even four feet. You are quite small: a regular dragon could eat an adult sheep at a single gulp, but you are no bigger than that adult sheep yourself. The pupils of your eyes are triangular. If I count properly, you have six eyes on your left head, one large one on your middle, and seven on your right. Your heads have very large and very flexible ears, such as make little sense on a lizard. Your paws are six-toed, with short claws of some translucent blue substance whose full nature I am unaware of. You have a pair of distinctly clothlike wings, but, of course, one corner of the left one is turning into language. Aside from that you look like a standard enough dragon.” She did not manage to sound nearly as alarmed as Eric.
I giggled, and declaimed back at her, “Well, you look like an anthropomorphic badger woman, no more than five feet high under your ears, built like a fist, wearing garments which I would call nondescript traveller’s clothing if it weren’t such a brilliant scarlet and didn’t show off your rump quite so much.”
Eric missed her sarcasm altogether, and wailed, “Your left head looks like it’s made of purple ice! Yet it is moving and speaking! I don’t see how it can be alive at all!”
“I don’t think you’re in any position to complain about who looks alive and who looks not,” said Hditr.
“But I can see through it! It’s clear ice all the way! Where’s your brain, Tllith?” asked Eric.
“Don’t have one,” I said. (Which is true. Yirienese biology tends towards the decentralized, especially as regards such disposable body parts as heads, paws, and tail.) “Where’s yours?”
“I … I don’t know,” said Eric, patting at his head confusedly. “It’s buried in a mass grave in Boston, sealed in with cement and lead because radioactivity. Am I thinking with dead, rotting neurons?”
“No-st, you’re jost a ghost,” said Hditr, making the words rhyme very much against their will.
Eric frowned at her. “But what is a ghost?”
“Húu háa hakety! Now that’s a wild worm of a question! I guess you might be taking it personally though, so I’ll do my dutiful ditziful duty to answer it. Do you know what a standing wave is?”
“I am a physics grad student at MIT! Well, deceased,” said Eric.
“And I’m an ecclesiast of the Rogalian Pantheon of Nurki, but most of my colleagues wouldn’t know a standing wave if it was standing on their head. Or helping them sing their hoopty hymns,” said Hditr.
“Well, I do,” said Eric. “What am I a standing wave in?”
“Slow down, slow down your slobbering spirit, we’re not nearly there yet,” said Hditr. “Actually I gotta warn you, we are not actually going to get there. If anyone knows precisely what ghosts are, I have not heard a herring’s heartbeat of it.”
“Right-o,” said Eric. “You’re telling me about theories. I can handle theories.”
“Good! I’m used to people who want to know The Right Answer right away and if you don’t know it they’ll find someone who does or at least can make it up! Anyways, you know how a standing wave needs stuff to bounce off of? Guess what! You got one, wrapped around you like a woolen woman! It’s the curse of the death god.”
I do not know what a standing wave is, much less advanced theology, so I went to get a second snack box from the guards. I had to pay for it.
When I got back, Hditr was smiling a large and very toothy smile to Eric. “Y’know, I’m glad you died.”
“… what?” wailed Eric.
“’cause you’d've never gotten out here if you were alive like some antelope-appalling asshole. I like the way you think. Want to be my research assistant?” asked Hditr.
“Um, didn’t you just say that the only way I continue to exist is in resonance with the death god’s curse? So I have to keep travelling around Magic-Land and can’t do physics?”
“I gotta lot of travelling to do, and what I’m doing ain’t physics, it’s experimental theology. Full of glomerulous gods and magic and all the stuff that the death god was trying to rub your nose in.”
“Well, I … I suppose I can give it a try,” said Eric. “What will I be assisting?”
“We’re going to be measuring how well magic works in lots of different worlds. See what we can learn when we have a few inglimmerings of information.”
“Like what?” I asked, sticking my left head into the conversation.
“Like! You know sigil magic, right? Don’t lie, lizardlet, I can see your weird-scribbled wing. So, do your spells work just the same in every one of the widespread worlds?”
“I don’t know! I’ve only been to two, and they haven’t let me out of the Waiting Room on the second yet,” I said. “The one spell I cast seemed to do the same thing here as at home. But I’ve never cast it on a ghost before either.”
“That’s an empirical answer. I like that in a lizard. I’m used to people saying ‘Of course!’ even if they’ve been to necky-nobbling nowhere. So. Suppose that we can measure how good your ᚜Language᚛ spell is here, and on Nurki, and on Thabir-Nsog, and wherever else, and we see that it’s a pint strong over here, and a pint-and-a-dram strong over there, and a pint-and-an-ounce strong on Thabir-Nsog,” said Hditr. The toad peered at her at the mention of his other world. “What would that say?”
“That language were more important in some places than others,” I said. “Like — maybe ᚜Language᚛ is a stronger domain in a world with lots of languages on it?”
“Or maybe there’s some inter-cosmic source radiating luminous ᚜Language᚛ out between the universes, and the worlds that have stronger magic are closer to the source?” guessed Eric.
“There is,” said Hditr.
“Or maybe that the Rogalian Pantheon has found a weakness in Drullguur’s magic that it wishes to exploit!!” snapped the toad. “Come in with translators and learn all our secrets with them, I’ll bet!!”
Hditr snorted. “Drullguur ain’t got snibby submissive secrets worth knowing.” Vong glared at her, but she continued, “Eric and Tllith, you both got good ideas. Kind of a basic question about magic, don’t you think? Does it come from inside the universe, or outside? From the Idol of ᚜Language᚛, that’s on your home-world, dragonlet? Priestly magic comes from the gods. Does a god’s power vary by universe? They aren’t quite sure. I mean, either the god can do anything there or he can’t, even the dumbest gods know that. But Drullguur is on the edge of the Rogalian Pantheon’s territory — are their spells three percent weaker here? Ten percent? Just the same as usual? Ten percent stronger? Usually just the same but sometimes they fumble down to half-strength? They don’t know! I don’t know! Only the nobbity nobody knows!”
“They shouldn’t be allowed at all!!” said Vong. “They are a nosy and expansionistic pantheon!! They should be excluded altogether!! They are surely looking to expand their power here!!”
“Nah, that wouldn’t be too fair, seeing as we helped get mining on Drullguur started, same as whatever pantheon you like,” said Hditr. “But it would sure be interesting to know how to get our spells working better, here or anywhere.”
“You are planning to persuade everyone that Rogalian powers are superior to those of all other pantheons — to become popular and powerful!!” proclaimed Vong. “Your tricks and crimes are becoming clear to me!!”
Hditr laughed. “Well, when they’re cloud-clobbering clear, tell me about ‘em so I can do ‘em, will you, Vong?”
“You mock Vong at your own peril!!” thundered Vong.
“Aww, Vong, don’t fuss your pointy pebbly pretty little head about it. I mock everyone. That’s why they picked me for this little multi-universe expedition,” said Hditr. But the toad hopped away, snarling.
“Sensitive little slubbertoy, isn’t he?” said Hditr. “Tllith, since I’m offering jobs to everyone today, would you like to come with me? You said you’re wandering, and company might be nice on that. Plus you got sigil magic, and I’m real interested in how that goes cross-universe. Obviously all the sigil mages I know of, don’t like to travel so much.”
“Why don’t they?” asked Eric.
“‘Cause getting a sigil put on, destroys the limb you have it on,” said Hditr. “Put it on a leg, lose the leg for any purpose but magic. No leg, no walkies, no long trips.”
“How come the dragon still has its wing?” he asked.
“I don’t, completely,” I said. I spread my wings. “The sigil ᚜Language᚛ is at the edge of the wing” — I pointed with my tail — “and you can see that my wing is getting tattered there already.”
“But you can do magic?”
“I put the translation spell on you!” I said. “I’m not great at magic yet, but I’m learning.”
“Birds and those dragons and other wingies have the easiest time getting sigils,” said Hditr. “Hurts them less than anyone else. ’cause they got some big flat kinda-useless body parts. For badgers, we sometimes get sigils on the tailtip, but they’re only tiny sigils and not good for much. Ears too, but sometimes the power on your ear gets too big and eats your brain. That’s bad.” She glared at me. “Dragons don’t have brains either, and the big ones don’t have ears though this one seems to. I don’t see why they don’t wear sigils on their horrible horny horns.”
“Horns are important for mating contests,” I said.
“Ach, mating contests. I don’t get any of that now. Throublesome thirteen-year vow of chastity,” grumbled Hditr.
“Why?” I asked.
“A wee bit of indescretion with the wrong bishop’s husband at the wrong time,” she said. “Nothing for you to worry about. And don’t listen to any rumors you hear about the ecclesiastical hierarchy being glad to send me off chasing ideas around the multiverse for a few years.”
I cocked my left head at her.
“Ach, they’re all true,” she said. “All but the one about me and the stallion. That didn’t happen — owie! Hurts to think about it!” I looked confused, quizzical, and curious at her (one per head) but she just said, “Longer I’m gone, the happier everyone’ll be.”
“Tllith? Is Tllith in the Waiting Room still?” called the receptionist. I waved my tattered wing at my new companions, and scampered over to get interrogated, inspected, intimidated, iterrupted, and finally admitted to Drullguur.