I brought Vong back to the apartment I shared with Eric, Hditr, and whoever Hditr was grooming at the time. “Hello, hello? Is anyone here?” I called. “I’ve brought a toad.”
“Nobody’s home. Eric’s going to be at work for hours yet. I never know when Hditr will be working, but she’s pretty busy too,” I said. Vong croaked noncommittally, with barely a whole exclamation mark. “You do want to have our company getting away from Xshaothshash and his goons, don’t you?”
“I suppose I should!! Your vulgar physical powers may be of use to me!!” said the toad. “And you are all in grave need of detailed moral instruction, such as only I can provide!!”
“Oh? What am I doing wrong?” I asked curiously.
Vong frowned. “Lapses!! Improprieties!! An assortlitation of petty lacunae!! Currently meagre, but under the malign influence of Hditr they will flourish, expand, prosper, and perhaps, if you are truly unfortunate, floresce!!”
That didn’t make any sense to me, so I said, “Oh, I know! I’m not offering you things to drink when I’m hosting at you!”
“I shall accept a bowl of ruby wine, so long as it is of fine quality and properly chilled!!” proclaimed Vong.
”…I think we have some green foign juice?” I said, padding towards the kitchenette.
A strange human voice said, “Apologosies! I drunkulus the green juice while I waited!”
“Who are you?” I asked, as Vong cried, “Softbelt!”
“I have the gloriosity to be Smep Sam Sompa Sulruyp,” said the human, who was tall, dressed in tight brown garments, and with his skin and hair stained brown for better hiding in our corner. “I am also honorous to be also called Softbelt, for reasons that are shortly coming.”
“You are a strangler — a murderous man!!” cried Vong.
“That has been said. It is incorrectulous. My tool is gentle and soft, a loop of sweet leather. It brings peace, it brings quiet eternity.” He slipped a length of leather from around his waist. “Toad, come here! You shall be primus! The three-headed lizard — ah, a matter of research, a novelty to interest even the boredus strangler! Three necks: a newness, an originality!”
“I do not wish to be strangled!!” proclaimed Vong.
Softbelt shrugged his shoulders and threw up his hands dramatically. “So few of my customers do! Regrettulous, yet foolulous! The advantages are manifold. A cessation of all pain! An eternal avoidance of all rudeness! No more will pigeons plunge their beaks into your eyes! No more will underlings of other mayors snub you and deny you your perquisites! A single moment with my soft belt, and all worldly cares drop softly away.”
“I am a mayor!! I have no such concerns!!” cried Vong.
“You have many such concerns. I know this thing, for you complained yourself greatly to me over many cups of wine. Indeed, you are speakulous of nothing else. Now, come here for your first course of treatment, in all dignity and proper. Surely you do not wish to require the lower-classule vulgar require of me coming there.”
“I — !!” cried Vong. He was interrupted by the quiet whisper of Softbelt’s strangling-leather whipping around his throat.
“Now you shall be ceasulous of all complaints,” said Softbelt, manipulating the ends of the band. “Everyone will take this for kindnous, even you. You are to be given a sudden and swift opportunity to become less of an asshole! Be gratefulous. Few people achieve such a deepulous measure of grace so swiftly at mid-day!” Vong made no reply, perhaps because his throat and breathing-tubes were closed off and he was well on his way to unconsciousness.
With «Cuisine» I julienned the strangling-cord, and seasoned the strips with chervil and rue. (Deep-fried, they would be crisp and as delicious as anything that could be made from well-softened leather. Best served with a tangy sauce of vinegar and tomatoes.) Bits of leather scattered around Vong and Softbelt. The toad gasped and rubbed his throat.
“What shredding sorcerous is this?” cried Softbelt. “The tools of my trade have disintegrated! They have come apart in many pieces upon this toad, and that after performing assistances upon twenty-six clients without even the most minilous of degradations!” He tugged on a strip as if to confirm its separatedness from the rest of the belt, shrugged, snapped his fingers, and turned towards the door.
“Running away you are!! Not so brave without your soft belt you are!!” cried Vong, throwing a fork at him and missing.
“I have other weapons and tools,” Softbelt said. “I shall return with them.” He opened the door a fifth of the way and slipped out.
“Victory!! We have now defeated two of the four henchmen of Xshaothshash!! A mere two more and we shall have no need to flee at all!!”
“Actually we didn’t so much defeat them as give them temporary little difficulties. They both plan to be back,” I reminded him. «Cuisine» fried a few of the scraps of belt, and I ate one because it’s very important to be polite to your domains. But it wasn’t very nice, even as deep-fried leather goes. The leather-softeners tasted nasty and probably poisonous.
“Ah!! I had not realized the depth of your tactical inadequacy!! I was relying on you to do a better job!!” cried Vong. “In which case we must flee — flee immediately and with all excellent haste!! Quickly, quickly!! Out the door with you!! I do not wish to be strangled again!!”
“Not yet,” I said.
“What possible reason to delay could there be!! Already I feel the portent of the coils of Softbelt’s next and considerably harder belt, as if they approach my throat!!”
“You can go. I’m waiting for Hditr and Eric,” I said.
“This is unacceptable!! I require your presence to deal with certain inconveniences, such as Irontrias and Softbelt!!”
I crawled into a small and somewhat defensible cupboard. “I’m waiting for Hditr and Eric.”
Vong harangued me for several minutes. Hditr interrupted him, coming back home in mid-demand. “Oh, it’s toad the mayor again. I thought we’d seen the sump of his serpentuous sludge some time ago.”
“Hditr!! I shall not endure your insults!!” cried Vong. “Already today I have been strangled and been betrayed!!”
“Ach, I suppose someone’s taking a good approach to dealing with you,” said Hditr.
We explained the story to her. “Right, right. We’ve been here too long anyways. Let’s get Eric and go.”