“So who’s after me?” asked Hditr.
“Henderloch!!” said Vong with a shudder. “His very hair is poisonous!!”
“How does that work?” asked Hditr. “Are we talking a spiky mohawk hairdo, and he butts you with it and you die of a fast-acting toxic purple dye?”
“Nothing so direct!! His locks are long and lanky!! The tips are dipped in tibliocaust!! He has killed seven strong men by letting his fringe splash in their tea!! They die when they drink it unawares!!”
Hditr snorted. “OK, no hairy tea for me.”
Vong wailed, “That will not save you!! Oh, Henderloch is a sly one!! He disguises himself as a waiter, and the tea is rendered poisonous between kitchen and table! Or — soup, water, gravy, even milk!!”
Hditr looked pained. “I’m just going to have Tllith make dinner for me from scratch for a while. That would be a spallaciously stupid way to get scragged. I don’t exactly fear death, mind you. I’m not even expecting to die with dignity. It’s just, I’m expecting to die an undignified death when somebody’s high-caste husband comes home and catches me in bed grooming his high-caste wife all up and upside-down. That’s the death for me, hey!”
Vong hadn’t listened to much of her rant. “Actually, I do believe that Henderloch is the human over there, in the sequinned red wimple, staring at us with murderous eyes!! No!! Stop!! Do not go to confront him!! He will destroy you altogether!!”
Hditr ignored Vong’s advice. “Hallo there, Henderloch. Vong here says you want to kill me.”
Henderloch blushed and stammered. “Not so much want. There’s a weeny commission. Contract. On you.”
“By that big dragon, Xshaothshash or Xshit or whatever he’s called?”
“Yes,” admitted Henderloch.
“Well, then, let’s go to the corner bar and have a drink together like civilized people and discuss what our next step is going to be!” said Hditr, with a big smile. Henderloch blinked and stammered. Hditr grinned. “What, people you’re trying to poison don’t usually offer to have drinks with you?”
“Nothing, really,” said Henderloch. “I don’t mind. If you don’t.”
“Oh, I haven’t been at a meal where someone was trying to kill me for mullaceous multitudinous months!” said Hditr. “Unless you count that time with Vong on the world-boat.”
“And the time in the miner’s camp. Vong tried to have us killed then too, didn’t he?” I added.
“Not exactly!!” cried Vong.
“Why do you travel with him, if he keeps trying to murder you?” asked Henderloch.
“Same reason we’re going to the bar with you,” said Hditr. “Waiter, table for five! Bring us brilliant purple wine that will not show signs of tampering, and five unmarked identical cups!” These were soon brought.
Henderloch looked nervously at the wine. “I won’t be trying. To poison you, I mean. Today.”
“Whyever not?” exclaimed Hditr. “The perfect opportunity is hellaciously here!”
“I’m not really sure about it,” said Henderloch. “I mean, about how I’d fare. If you start swapping glasses on me. I’ve seen people die of tibliocaust. I don’t want to go that way. It’s nasty. I usually carry glorfune so I can die fast and clean. If I need to. Not today. I forgot it.”
Hditr patted him on the head. “Oh, don’t fret your flibberties so flabbergasted, Henderloch! You’re just trying to kill us. It’s nothing personal, right?”
“I wouldn’t be killing you. On my own, I mean. I don’t do that. It’s just business.” He coughed. “I’m trying to get into it. As a business. I mean.”
“I thought you’d killed seven people already with just your hair!” I said.
“Me? No, no. Only one,” said Henderloch. “It, well. Wasn’t business.”
“Practice?” I asked with my left head. “Or a demonstration piece?” with my right. “Or just for fun?” with my middle. Polyphony always rattles the single-headed.
“Oh, no. Not those. It was personal. My mother-in-law. Ex-mother-in-law. My wife had died, you see. In childbirth. I’m a widower. Lost the baby too. But my mother-in-law insisted on getting bride-price payments. For a dead wife! She took me to court. She lost, of course. But she sent a man around with a stick. Irontrias. He’s after you, Vong. Now he is, I mean. So I killed her first. Self-defense, you’d call it. Easier than killing Irontrias. Making sure he’d never get paid even if he did for me.” He took a big gulp of his wine, as if the words hurt his throat to say.
“And now you’re working for Xshaothshash? Alongside Irontrias?” Hditr asked.
“Well. Trying to. This is an audition. He’s paying, but not much. A little for you, Hditr. More for Vong of course.”
“What?!!” yelled Vong. “Why is he for the killing me!!?”
Henderloch swigged again, and said, “You stole his things. Some of them. Gem-cards. Tipliki figurines. Coins. He’s a dragon. He doesn’t like when you do that.”
“I wouldn’t know impossible. He says you did it. He can tell. Somehow. I don’t know how.”
Hditr laughed. “Well, you’ve got the toobber-loobies, stealing from a dragon you’re guesting with, Vong!”
“I was careful!! Impossible, for him to find out!!”
“He did, he’s mad. Killing the other three is, well, there are four of us. Were four. Three now Suzie’s dead. So four of you, one each. Makes Xshaothshash look serious, like a gang-lord that the bridge invited in by mistake,” said Henderloch.
“Well, Henderloch. Here’s the thing. I’m a priestess of the Rogalian pantheon, and that means I have a spell against poison.” (I’m pretty sure it only works on diseases, and not all of those.) “The little lizard has «Cuisine» on its wings, so it’s pretty much impossible to poison even if I’m not around.” (That’s not how «Cuisine» works.) “Eric isn’t even alive —”
“I know. Suzie had to borrow special equipment. To kill him more, I mean. It didn’t work,” said Henderloch.
“So that leaves Vong. I’d lovingly love to leave Vong. Tllith seems to like him though, and we’re not really in the mood to give Xshaothshash what he wants, so we’re going to stay with Vong and not let you poison him.”
“Xshaothshash isn’t going to be happy,” said Henderloch. “If Vong stays alive. I mean.”
“Vong, pay the man,” said Hditr. Vong stared at her as if she had suggested he eat a live scorpion. “Seriously. You’ve got cash. Pay him more than he’d get for killing you. Otherwise you are gonna have to watch what you drink. And probably end up paying me for a cure spell when you slip up.”
“Well!! A mad suggestion!! Henderloch!! I shall give you so and so much cash, in cash!! You shall report failure to Xshaothshash!! Is this understood!!?”
“Oh, and if I catch you trying to poison us, well, our dragon has deadly breath weapons, and I’ve got sneaky spells, and there’s no way you can outrun a gleeping ghost,” said Hditr. I puffled frost breath over Henderloch’s head for extra intimidation.
“Right then,” said Henderloch. He scooped up Vong’s cash, gulped down the last of his wine, and scurried off.
“Hm. Did anyone see if he dipped his hair in any of the wine?” asked Hditr. Nobody was sure, and «Cuisine» said that tibliocaust wasn’t part of its magic at all so it wouldn’t or couldn’t check. So we poured out every drop, just in case, and called for yellow wine to drink instead because nobody felt like drinking anything the least bit like the purple.