Nexterie on Isange: In the Forest of Nudibranches
Gumdash is provided with a train, underneath the main walkway that is the length of the bridge. When one has money in hand, as we did then, one can buy metal marbles which allow one to enter the train (when it is stopped — a fine point I did not quite do right the first time!), and square steel sigils that allow one a seat, and little metal fans painted in various colors that entitle one to particular treats from carts that wander along the aisle of the train.
Eric and I shared a seat, to conserve money. The view from inside of Eric is distressing. Your eye interprets every color as a variation on white. The green-brown cover of the seat in front of you is a greenish-brownish shade of white. The blackness of Vong’s coffee is a blackish shade of white. If you actually try to look at the color, it’s actually normal. But if you’re just looking around, everything is white, almost as if you had gone blind or stuck your head into a snowstorm or a kiln.
“What do you expect when you look through a glinkery ghost?” said Hditr, when I mentioned that to her.”
“So I’m glinkery now, am I?” moaned Eric. “What does that even mean?”
I asked «Language», which pouted and told me that it was a pseudo-obscenity: without actual meaning, merely intended to suggest a vulgarity.
“It’s probably something about Vong’s hydrothalamus,” I told Eric, because I was bored. I didn’t manage to start a fight between him and Vong though.
Eventually the possession of a purple-striped fan brought me the ownership of a vast pile of sticky buns stuffed with honeyed mushrooms, which I gobbled up in four and eleven-fourteenths seconds and promptly fell asleep.
Thirty-one hours later, the train arrived at Spellicose Station, and we waddled out in a giant cloud of mushroomy crumbs. And we looked around, and, as one, we said, “I don’t think we’re on Gumdash anymore.”
The porter -- a badger in a burqa -- said, “Now you are really Gumdash. Bridge end by Greatbridge is stupid Gumdash, circus Gumdash, midnight Gumdash. Now -- Gumdash!” He picked up a brightly-colored boneless creature with many silver-green fronds, and displayed it to us. “Gumdash!”
Vong sneered at it. “That is not a Gumdash!! The bridge is Gumdash!! The monstrosity which you are displaying to us is a nudibranch!!”
“Yes, yes, nudibranch. Squerry-scorpio, nudibranch. Very friendly. Very deadly. Very Gumdash!” explained the porter.
“We’re getting close to the Idol of «Nudibranch», then?” asked Hditr. “Would you say that there are more nudibranches here than near Greatbridge?”
“Here no nudibranch, no idol,” said the porter, presenting Hditr with his nudibranch by way of explanation. “Up bridge Dringo, left, along, this way, that way, back this way, then is the idol! You have baggage?”
Hditr shook her head sadly. “Just a backpack for me and Tllith’s saddlebags. We’re travelling light. Actually we lost our loogy luggage in ancient adventures ages ago.”
“Agonizing ages ago!” I added, in the spirit of the thing.
“Apoplectic apples ago!!” said Vong, who obviously did not understand. “How poisonous are these squerry-scorpio nudibranches, anyhow??!!”
“Very deadly, sirry! One bite and you die-die-die! Two bite and you die some more!” cried the porter.
“Hmm!! Hmmm!!” hmmed Vong.
The quest for the Idol of «Nudibranch» proceeded through many deadly and devastating adventures. These include:
- Getting rid of the porter, who wanted to perform various services for us in exchange for money. We do not want those services, except that Hditr sort of does but she can get them without paying pretty easily, plus she’s taken a vow not to that she obeys whenever it’s 100% convenient.
- Catching the #18 bus. This involves lying in wait at the bus’s favorite resting spot, waiting for it to wander naively by, leaping out, pouncing it, paying small amounts of money, and curling up inside a ghost for a while.
- Consulting a local manufacturer of muffins for directions. Escaping with half a dozen pilchard muffins, four of which vanished into Vong despite Hditr being the one to pay for them. Enduring the resultant scolding and bickering.
- Ogling a tree full of crimson and blue tentacled creatures the size of a badger’s hand. A cat stalked them for a while, but they waved their tentacles at him, and he snorted and chose to take a bath rather than hunting them further.
“There are a lot of nudibranches here,” said Hditr. “It’s almost as if the universal essence of nudibranchery were calling them to itself.”
“There were just as many in the swamp where we arrived,” I said.
“I didn’t notice, I was too busy pulling my boots out of squelchy mud,” said Hditr. “Are you actually sure about that?”
“I am a swamp dragon — a swampiste supreme! I saw a lot of nudibranches.”
“Why didn’t we see any in Norshub or the other end of Gumdash?” asked Hditr.
“No plants around there, I guess. The ones we see here are all on the trees or bushes. But Norshub area is all metal floors and technology. No shrub in Norshub!” I explained.
“Huh. That makes sense,” said Hditr. “OK, you can be my research assistant some more, Tllith.”
- Consulting the Magistrate of the Ceremonial Order of the Grand Guardians of the Idol of «Nudibranch». He was a human in a pompadour and sparkling camiknickers and a very formal sash.
“You understand that the Idol is very dangerous? A single touch will cause it to imprint itself upon your body, thereby losing you the use of that limb? Losing a hand is a serious matter. Losing your abdomen or head is far worse.”
“We know. Tllith, show your wings,” said Hditr. I spread my wings, showing off «Cuisine» and «Language».
“Right then. A domain sorcerer,” said the Magistrate. “I suppose you know what you’re doing, then, taking the print of «Nudibranch».
“I’m not going to. We’re just looking!”
He frowned, as if displeased that someone could choose other domains and not his. “Well, I suppose that’s your own business. I have administered the warnings. Please sign these documents absolving various agencies and municipalities from moral and financial guilt about having a domain sigil inflicted upon one. What, you are dead and insubstantial, so you cannot wield a pen? Then you may not see the Idol. It is very simple, ghost.”
Hditr looked at the documents. “I seem to be absolving the North Dringo Brewing And Weatherproofing Organization of blame.”
The magistrate looked at her papers. “That is an advertising circular that somehow found its way into the official documents.”
- Enduring a brief ride to the actual Idol on a small electric cart. Actually the ride wasn’t very hard. Hditr was fussy about her equipment, measuring the relative pungencies of «Nudibranch», «Cuisine», «Language», «Cloth», and «Manners». Her language and manners were quite pungent, which may have upset her science.
The actual Idol of Nudibranches was a two-inch-long wiggly rune thing, like all the other domain sigils, sizzling innocently on the floor of Dringo. A heavy iron cage had been erected around it, with a latched and locked gate. Dry leaves had accumulated around the cage. It was not a place where many people came, either to observe or to gain its power. The magistrate opened the gate for us. “And there, behold. The great Idol.”
“I claim the might of this idol for myself!!” cried Vong, shoving the magistrate aside and slapping his left hand on the Idol.
The magistrate picked himself up, and inspected his garments, where pointy bits of the cage and my horns had rent them. “You didn’t have to shove, toad. Give me a few seconds to get out of the way.”
Hditr grumbled, and struggled to get measurements.
“The Power Is Mine!!!” cried Vong, holding his sigil-inscribed hand high in the air. “Vast armies of deadly creatures will obey me!!! All miners must submit or die under the stings of my glorious nudibranches!!! Thugs and ruffians must cower out of the way when they see me approach, or they will suffer and die worse than the victims of Henderloch’s hair!!!”
“Um ... you do know that nudibranches don’t have stingers? They’re just poisonous to eat?” asked Hditr.
“Knowledge of all things nudibranch is mine!!!!!!” howled Vong.
”... We’re going to have to hold your friend for counselling,” said the Magistrate. “He doesn’t sound quite right in the brain.”
Nexterie on and off Ixange
The Magistrate held Vong for two days for treatment. His therapy consisted largely of placing him in a tub of cuddly, brilliantly-colored, poison-fleshed nudibranches, and letting them comfort their new master. After the first day, he learned to change his skin to a variety of intense and tentaculous colors, and, I think, to make his own flesh quite poisonous as well. Nobody tried to eat him.
I took advantage of the delay by performing a few unbonded black-market translations. Did you know that the Bun̮phíd͖a̦la̯̽ have an amazing black market in ancient pornography? I didn’t. Did you know that the secret ancient Bun̮phíd͖a̦la̯̽ stories, especially about H̓e̞e͖b̐o͖, involve such a rich variety of bodily interpenetrations that Hditr flattened her ears and Eric told me I shouldn’t be involved in the translation? That H̓e̞e͖b̐o͖ and Da͔n͋da͉tḧ́rum copulate in ways that, if they somehow result in pregnancy at all (which is impossible when mortals do that, says a very embarrassed Eric, and he wouldn’t let someone do that to him) would result in a highly feculent child indeed. “Just like Bu̼r̕l̋ash͋!” said everyone.