Mirrored from Sythyry.
“Now, there’s only one way to get down to the Idol of «Cuisine»,” said Junctifer, “and that’s by the Porthmorth Passage Company.”
“You told us that the other time we came to this tent. They’re still at dinner, they’ve got that note on the door that says they’re at dinner.”
The mysterious cloaked badger-morph who had been following us ominously from the Dibisto-Glandular Refectionary Brigade Tent stepped around us and unpinned the note from the door. “I had a feeling you would be customers,” he said. “What with the Mayor kicking you off the shelf in public. I’m Porth. Morth’ll be along in a few. Where do you want to go? You don’t have prospector’s equipment. So Idol of «Cuisine», or the Bull-Churned Gate?”
“Húu háa hakety, with two such destinations, how can I choose but one?” said Hditr.
Porth nodded. “So fly straight across the pond, with a brief stop at the Idol. Departure right away before the Mayor gets his lynch mob lined up. Sure thing, no problem, no problem at all.” He named a price so extravagant that the sheer thunderous force of the numbers made Eric’s intangible eyes bug out, and knocked over trees back in Yirien (or should have done).
“That’s a hair-height high,” said Hditr.
“Fuel’s not cheap on Drullguur! Every drop of it has to be imported from some sunlit world,” said Porth. “And of course there is the organizational matter. You are asking us to accelerate our schedule, so that we depart ahead of Vong’s forces. We are delighted to comply! We simply hate to have a potential customer hung up on metal chains, beaten with barbed wire, pierced by small but sharp hooks, and, of course, roasted over a candle.”
“A candle?” asked Eric.
“Fuel is, as I said, very expensive here. There is enough to cook and fly with, but not enough to waste on torture. So they use candles. Candles are actually worse than bonfires, or so I hear. They take absolutely forever to kill you.”
Hditr nodded. “These are good points. Still, you ought to give us a lower rate for the ghost, he doesn’t weigh anything and won’t cost you fuel. And you don’t have a schedule anyways.” She pointed at a sign behind Porth saying, DEPARTURE WHEN THREE OR MORE PASSENGERS ARE PRESENT.
Porth looked up at the sign as if seeing it for the first time. (It wasn’t. «Language» said that he had written it.) “There is some justice to that. Still, we are currently rescuing you, and deserve a reward.”
“Right then. How’s this delicious deal? I buy four seats not three at the rates on that sign over there. You make one of them half-price for the ghost. If one more passenger shows up before we head off, they get to come with us. Otherwise the fourth seat is pure profit.”
Porth looked at the table of rates. “Highly irregular, but I suppose we can do that.”
Hditr showed four hexagonal coins and a handful of odd tokens, and handed him two. “Other half when we’re all through with the trip.”
I flapped my wings. “You don’t need to pay for me! I have money!”
Hditr frowned at me. “Research assistant. Shut up.” I am as greedy as the next dragon, and shut up.
Porth lead us by secret ways (marked with big signs) to the edge of the shelf. “Now this here’s our sky coracle,” he said. “Climb in, hang on to the handholds or the ropes. Ghost, I have no idea how you stay in. Just stay in, OK?”
The sky coracle was a dish of willow wood lined with straps of leather. The brim of the dish was the levitator: a circle of eccentric gears with intricately-striped nuts (or some other brown vegetal-smelling lumps) mounted on them. “Passengers! Keep your hands away from the gears on the brim! Keep them away! Those gears are going to be whirling really fast in a minute. If you have your hands near them, you are going to lose fingers. Look at me! Do I want to lose fingers? No, I do not! I am keeping my hands far away from the gears! You do that too!” Porth peered at Eric. “Well, ok, you don’t have to. But people with material bodies, keep those bodies away from the gears!”
The hermeneutically-trained spidersen miner trotted up. “Excuse me, do you have room for one more?”
“We have room for two more, but we’re taking off anyhow, one step ahead of the mob,” said Porth.
“Not much of a mob actually. Vong did fire me a few more times, so I think maybe he means it,” said the spidersen.
“Well, c’mon in. Usually we take payment at the office, but you can pay here,” said Porth.
“No, he can’t. I already paid for him,” said Hditr.
“I forgot, I really forgot,” said Porth. “Hop in. Don’t touch the gears.”
The spidersen miner jumped over the side. Eric winced. The miner peered at him, and said, “Honored ghost, I intended no offense.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that where I come from the spiders are smaller than me,” he said. “And their eyes don’t glow quite so much. And they don’t wear nearly so many belts or veils. Or study hermeneutics.”
The miner waved his forelegs. “Perhaps, if there were more spidersen there, some of us might have saved you from whatever miserable fate struck you down and rendered you unto destruction. In any case! I am pleased to be sharing a coracle with you! My name is …” His name was not so much spoken as stridulated.
“Glad to meet you,” I said, but I needed a «Language» spell to repeat his name.
“I can’t pronounce that,” said Eric. “I’m going to call you Hermeneutics, or Hermen for short.”
“I accept this cognomen. It is more dignified than ‘Splinter-Snatcher’, which my fellows used to call me,” said the newly-named Hermeneutics. “I wonder which tent is on fire, and, for that matter, why it is on fire?”
Porth said, “Morth is here!” She was, too: another spidersen, leaping into the coracle as if she owned it. “We depart! Before we learn of the fireness! Or the source of the howling and sound of blows which is now arising from the camp!”
Morth said, “Vong has told the miners that, due to his astounding success in his negotiations with Thabir-Nsog, they must now pay for their own food. For some reason, they do not accept his explanation that our current customers are the ones responsible for it. Instead they are enjoying a spot of rioting.”
“Morth! You break my every plan yet again! I insisted we depart before we learned that, but it is too late. We are now behind schedule. This delay is entirely your fault,” said Porth. He did not stop working to banter. The tiny motor grumbled like a raccoon in a trap and burped spicy smoke, the gears whirred and spun, the nuts twinkled with circular sparks, the coracle fell off the side of the shelf, and everyone who wasn’t used to flying hung on with considerable fear.