Mirrored from Sythyry.
Drullguur is the perfect universe.
At least, Drullguur is the perfect universe for lovers of giant metallic shelf fungi and mighty scraping sounds in the darkness. Less perfect for others, perhaps.
The Waiting Room is in a massive building of steel and bronze and girium, tucked on the top of one of these giant metallic shelf fungi, the Turngrond Shelf. If you walk to the edge of the shelf — well, first of all, be careful. Your claws will not bite into the girium surface of the shelf. “We lose a few tourists a year,” said Junctifer the guide. “They don’t hold on to the rail, they wore slippery shoes like we said not to do, their feet go out from under ‘em, and they slide, slide, slide down the shelf and sail out into the well. If they’re going at just the right speed they zoom all the way across the world and crush-land on one of the shelves on the other side and die of a crashing crushing. If not, well, they go sploosh in the central lake at the bottom of the well. What they don’t ever do, is survive. So you gentle tourists should take heed and behave with the utmost of safety, and we’ll see you get from here to there and not be deaded.”
I have wings and could probably make it back to the shelf. But one of them is a bit ragged, and I’d rather not stake my life on being able to fly long distances (like back up from the ocean thirty miles down), or quickly (like not colliding with a wall) anymore. Which is oversensitive. I might be able to fly for another two or three years.
Junctifer continued, “So you keep your feet on these paths with the corrugations. You stay inside the guard rails and handholds. Keep to the camps and near the walls. Don’t go hiking, this is no world for a hike. Pay attention and you won’t go taking a long ride to a long bath. That’s how to have a long life on Drullguur.”
“Um .. excuse me? I’m already dead,” said Eric.
Junctifer peered at Eric from swollen eyes. Junctifer, like Vong, was a toad, and a rather bloated and swollen one even by toad standards. Junctifer, unlike Vong, was a good-hearted sort of person. “Well, keep you out of the water anyhow. You do not want to go into the water. It’s a long way down.”
I stuck my left head under the guard rail. It was a rather long way down. Drullguur is an inside world, a bubble inside of some cosmic matrix. It takes the form of a squat cylinder or coin, thirty miles tall, a thousand miles in diameter. At the bottom of the cylinder is the well. At the top of the cylinder is the Useless Sun. “It’s bright enough so you can see your candles burning,” said Junctifer. “It’s not bright enough so you can see your striker clear enough to light a candle. Keep close to the braziers. Snorb knows we pay enough for ‘em.”
“Who is Snorb?” asked Eric.
Junctifer lowered his voice to a bare whisper. “Just a saying, is all I’m saying.”
Hditr grinned at him. “Snorb is the God of Shit of the Sluvuttarian Pantheon. All living things must worship Snorb! Eventually.”
“Yeah, there is that,” said Junctifer. “You may have noticed that we’re a wee bit low on the soil here? What we’ve got is, a bunch of priests of Snorb who take the night soil and turn it into just plain soil like what plants grow in.”
“That sounds unhygenic,” said Eric.
“Don’t you go complaining. It’s not something you’ll ever be involved in any more, dead man,” said Hditr. “Not even if you want to. Snorb wouldn’t accept you into his priesthood. You ain’t got the guts.”
Eric waggled a finger at her. “No, I … I puked them out already back on Earth.”
Hditr gave him a big grin.
“So how do those braziers work?” I asked. We had passed dozens of them from the Waiting Room to the shelf-edge: iron poles topped with balls of hungry orange-green flame.
“Well, we got mostly Pugnard’s braziers here. They need to be paid. One obol a week, plopped right into the flame, or put on the post if it’s gone out. We go through a lot of obols here. One of my jobs is going around town putting obols in fires. Another one of my jobs is soaking my forepaw in a tub of cold water after it gets scorched. Do not touch those flame, good visitors. They are not particularly nice,” said Junctifer.
“Technically, if you want to be tacky and technical about it, Eric isn’t material and can’t get burnt, and Tllith is a fire dragon and can’t get burnt. I’ll keep my foolish fingers out of the fancy flickery flames for three, though. I like my fingers, and so does my girlfriend,” said Hditr.
“Ahem. Your … girlfriend … continues to wait in the Waiting Room?”
“Nah, broke up with me,” said Hditr. “Stayed home. I’ll find another one though. Hey, got any nice mammals who need a hot date?”
“Yes, of course. There will be an extra fee for attempted procurement, and I cannot guarantee compatibility. Now, I suppose you have wondered at the low screaming sound that frequently pervades Drullguur? It is not the cry of our lovesick badger folk,” said Junctifer.
“Nah, too quiet and happy for that,” said Hditr.
“As I am sure you are aware, the cylinder wall of Drullguur rotates and counter-rotates. It is divided into twenty-eight circles, each of which moves around the core. Adjacent circles move in opposite directions. We’re on the top one, moving clockwise. The one beneath us moves counter-clockwise; the one below that, clockwise again.”
“How fast?” asked Eric.
“A month per revolution,” said Junctifer. “Now, if you observe there, we have installed scrapers, so that the rotation of the universe….”
“What keeps them moving?” asked Eric.
“Very large gears behind the walls of the universe. We don’t know what the ultimate power source is though,” said Junctifer. “As I was saying, the rotation of the universe is forceful enough so that the scrapers peel great vast coils of metal off the cylinders near where they meet. This metal alloy, immense and pure, is the main product of Drullguur, and the reason for the colony existing in the first place.”
“What metal?” asked Eric.
“Iron, girium, tolarnium, copper, and some others,” said Junctifer.
“Could you translate better?” he asked. “Two of those aren’t coming out right.” A longish digression into metallurgy and chemistry reavealed that my language spell was just fine; English has no words for girium and tolarnium. It does have words for metals like “calcium” and “tellurium”, which, after a long discussion that I did not understand, Eric said ought to be the same as girium and tolarnium, but are, according to Junctifer’s somewhat shaky metallurgy, are quite different. Girium turns by itself, for example, and calcium (in the Ninety Worlds and in Eric’s world) sits still.
I peered, peered, and peered over the edge of the shelf. “I see eight clumps of light out there. Plus the Useless Sun, which is pretty dim.”
“Your eyes are proper, master Tllith, and especially good if you can see the Useless Sun. There are nine mining companies on Drullguur,” said Junctifer.
“And the sea isn’t quite dark either,” I noted.
“The white around the edge is where two underwater rings grind together and churn the depths of the waters. There they bubble, and there they boil betimes,” said Junctifer. “The steam from their boiling rises up, even to here, and condenses as streams upon the walls of the world. If it were not for these streams living here would be quite hopeless.”
“How is it with the streams?” asked Eric.
Junctifer thought for a moment. “I should call it expensive. And noisy. And rather vile.”
“Why does anyone want to live here?” asked Eric.
“The mining, mainly,” said Junctifer. “There’s a lot of money to be made, peeling metal off of the walls of the universe and selling it in other universes.”
“Well, why does anyone want to visit here?” asked Eric.
“I can’t possibly imagine why,” said Junctifer. “For that matter, you must refer to the lunatics who are your companions.”
“Power!” I cried. “I seek power, mighty and amazing!”
“Of course, of course,” said Junctifer. “A common desire of visitors.”
“I kinda do too. I am not planning to acquire the power, unlike the dragonet there seems to be planning. I am just planning to get out the Yardstick of the Elder Gods and measure the power,” said Hditr.
“Drullguur has an excellently-powerful domain rune. I mean to acquire its power for my own!” I crowed, in a traditional draconic attitude.
“Oh, that’s the miller’s pillars! I sure look forward to travelling with you, then,” said Hditr. “And not just because I want to know if a powerful domain rune stuck on a metal wall somewhere gives you more power when it gets copied on your wings, than some sleazy tattoo artist in some greasy tattoo alley in Dulmer-Jork.”
Eric tried to scratch his head, and was distressed to find his hand going through his hair instead. “Why is that?”
“Why? You ask why, dead man? Because the domain in question, hidden since the beginning of time in the near-total darkness and nearer-total inhospitability of near-total Drullguur, is the domain of «Cuisine»!” said Hditr. “I dunno exactly as it’s the mightiest of the domain powers, and I dunno for certain why our dragon here is picking that domain rather than a stereotypically draconic one like «Wounds» or «Money» or «Strength». But I expect some good meals on the road.”
“Perhaps my archenemy is a consummate gourmand? Perhaps I wish to open the best bistro in my native universe, and lure him or her in, and then serve a meal that will cause him to die in humiliation?” I wondered out loud. “Poisons could do it — vicious poisons. Or perhaps he is an oenophile of the highest order, and I could have him mis-identify a Plocqtarde Prenisset ’423 as a Doc de Doc de Doc. Dukes have slit their own forelimbs for less!” (I grew up in a swamp, but I read a lot.)
“Is that why?” asked Eric.
“No,” I said.
“Very well, masters,” said Junctifer. “Shall I arrange for transit to the heart of Drullguur’s power immediately by the fastest means possible?”
Hditr laughed. “Fastest means, you gonna shove us over the edge and tell us grab on when we pass the right shelf?”
Junctifer frowned, as if considering the issue for the first time. “Is this somehow unadvisable? Perhaps even injurious? Might that explain the paucity of my tips, despite the grave intensity of my labors? Only last week there a shedu from Gidru-Morsht. Not only was I unable to tip him off into the void by my usual devious means, I even had to apply butter to his hooves to get him to fall. The finest butter! Its ethereal fragrance enhanced by its proximity to «Cuisine»! Expensive, too. I needed that tip to pay for the butter I used!”
Eric stared at Junctifer, aghast. “You kill…? And joke about it…?”
“No,” said Junctifer.
“For one thing, shedu can fly,” I noted. “They’re winged cattle with faces sort of like yours.”
“Huh. Do they do wing magic like yours too?” Eric asked.
“Sometimes, I suppose,” I said, because I have never actually met a shedu and I have no idea.
“In any case, my lord tourists, are you wishing to procure the swiftest of all passage to «Cuisine»?” asked Junctifer.
“No!” thundered Hditr. “Give us the most boring passage that gets us there in moderate speed!”
“I shall, instead, procure for you the most perilous passage, the one which brings you into the gravest danger of any means of transportation thither,” said Junctifer. “The form of passage that most greatly invigorates the spirit and challenges the courage!”
“Can we compromise on one that has lots of stops at good bars?” asked Hditr.
“No,” said Junctifer.
“How about one that brings us along in comfort and safety, save for the occasional assault by brigands and bloodthirsty blundigars?” asked Hditr.
“No,” said Junctifer.
“How about one in which we are dissolved in acid, slung across the void in magical eggs, and undissolved when we get there?”
“No. I shall, instead, procure for you the most expensive and the slowest means of transportation. Fortunately, although it is the most uncomfortable, it is also the worst-smelling.”
“Ah! Just what I was hoping for!” said Hditr. “Do so at once!”
“What?” asked two of me and one of Eric, or, perhaps, one of me and two of Eric. We were both pretty confused.
“According to the gibbering guidebooks, the only way there is the Porthmorth Passage Company,” said Hditr. “Fastest, slowest, cheapest, dearest, cleanest, dirtiest — all the same company.”
Eric whined. “If I had a head it would ache!”
I have three. I resolved to have one of them at least take a look at a guidebook.