L’Après-Surgerie (Day 61)
Tarcuna stirred in my arms. I had held her most of the night, putting the Arcane Anodyne into her every few minutes. Boring spell, that. I’d rather not cast it so many dozens of times in one day. By the morning, she only needed it every hour or so. With careful use of the alarm clock — now that’s an interesting device! — I had managed to get a bit of sleep.
At 11:32, according to that fascinating alarm clock, Tarcuna stirred and awoke. “Spotty? Is that you?”
“I’m afraid so,” I said. I admit to being a bit snippish, probably because of missing sleep.
“I’m free, aren’t I?” Her voice was low and slow, and her consonants were muddy.
“No more worm in you. I spent far too much of yesterday arranging for that.”
She tried to sit up. “My right arm, it’s not working…” She wiggled her fingers, but her arm was limp.
“My mistake. I had to pull bits of worm out of your brain. I was mostly able to heal you afterwards, but I couldn’t do everything.” I put the slow healing spells into her. “There. You’ll probably be better in a year or two.”
“Oh … Bopo’s gone, you said?”
“That’s the worm? Very gone. I killed it with lightning, and broke it into a hundred forty-four pieces. It was sort of disintegrating or melting while I was taking it out of you. Nasty thing, that,” I said.
“I’m glad it’s gone. Nobody ever survives their cyoziworm dying.”
“I believe that. You almost didn’t, with a whole dragon working full-time to save you. Now you owe me, though.”
She rolled over and used her left arm to help her sit up. “What do I owe you? I don’t have much.”
“An explanation, to start with. What was that thing? Why was it inside you?”
“It’s a cyoziworm, like in the stories,” she said. “Not the strangest stories, but the rest are pretty true.”
“I’ve never heard the stories. I’m really not from around here.”
“Oh… It’s a parasite, a mind parasite. Nobody believes in them, but they’re real. We, I mean the wormridden, we didn’t let anyone investigate them much. When it’s in you, keeping it safe and happy is the most important thing for you,” she said.
“They control you? Are they intelligent?”
“I don’t think they’re exactly intelligent. They understand some things … Bopo knew that you were a very appealing potential host because you’re so strong and fast, but he didn’t understand that you weren’t really a hoven. But he did sort of control me.” She shuddered. “It’s like there was a little cup in my mind. Not really but that’s how it felt to lots of us. When Bopo wanted something, he’d drip in that little cup, I could feel each drop. When the cup was full I would obey, I couldn’t stop it then, and there was no way to empty the cup but to obey him. He’d do that when he was hungry. He did that when he wanted to put an egg in you, too. I knew you’d probably kill me but there was no way to explain that to him, he just dripped and dripped and I had to do it.”
I said, “That sounds awful.”
“At the Red Spire we’d just cry and cry after our worms made us do something. Mostly it was just feeding, or letting them mate with each other,” she said. “Sometimes it was spawning, giving a uninfested hoven a worm to control them. That was awful. When the Spire wasn’t busy the other wormridden would come and hold us or ride us. That helped a little.”
“Wait, you weren’t the only one with a worm there?”
“Nearly everyone there had one. It’s the nicest whorehouse in the city to work in … it’s not run for anyone’s profit, it’s run to keep our worms comfortable. Safe, too. We had four bouncers, they weren’t wormridden, they’d come and rescue you if any of the johns gave you trouble.”
“So it’s not all the public friends, just you and your colleagues? Just the ones I found?”
“Maybe some whores are. I don’t know. The deputy mayor is wormridden, and he makes things smooth for the Red Spire. We could advertise, if we were discreet about it. The other public friends can’t, they don’t have important dignitaries as allies, mostly,” said Tarcuna.
“Yuck… are a lot of hovens wormridden?”
“Not very many. One in ten thousand? A hundred thousand? We don’t encourage them to breed. If there were too many, the clean hovens would probably figure out how to find us and … kill us, I guess. The stories about the wormridden are really horrible. The parts about drinking blood and turning people into slaves are true.”
“The worms do that. They’ll stick their forky end out a bit and slurp, oh, maybe a half-pint or a pint. They numb you, you don’t feel anything…”
”I don’t feel anything anyways.”
“Oh, sorry, sorry, I mean, the victim doesn’t feel anything even if they can feel normally. And they don’t remember very clearly either. They’re sick and woozy the next day. Lots of us are whores, it’s easiest to let your worm feed on someone while you’re fucking them up close and tight. And lots of us didn’t really care about ourselves after the worm got us, so whoring is easy.” She curled up and cried. “Bopo wanted to feed every seven or eight days, he was always quick and quiet about it, he liked fat boys best, I knew he was hungry when he’d make me try to get one, and now he’s dead and you killed him …” She started trying to hit me with her working hand, clumsily.
That didn’t make any sense. “Why are you punching me? Didn’t you want to be free?”
She stopped, and wiped her eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, I did want to, I’m glad you killed him. He was the only thing I cared about for a long time though. I have to remember that I’m me again now, I’m not used to it.”
“Well, I’ll count that attack as Bopo trying to get revenge from beyond the grave. Or at least, from beyond the rooftop of the bank,” I said. That saved her life again. She didn’t notice, which is just as well.
“Oh … do you want to know anything else?”, she asked, snuffling on the sheet a bit.
“Probably, but I can’t think of it now. Want breakfast? I’m as hungry as you’ve ever seen me.”
“Good gods, that’s terrifying. Did you really skip dinner for me?”
“I did, ‘cause you were too busy trying to die every few minutes for me to have a proper meal. Hold on…” I put the Arcane Anodyne into her again, sooner than absolutely necessary. “Need help getting dressed?”
She did need help. In retrospect, it seems very odd that I had to take care of my hired whore after saving her life and personality. But her arm really wasn’t working very well, even after I put the Rose Rescaler into it, and I wanted breakfast and company.
We went to the hotel’s restaurant, but breakfast was over, and lunch isn’t a buffet. So we walked across the street to Porphirio’s, which has a lunch buffet. It’s not very good, but Tarcuna wasn’t really up for walking very far. I refused to carry her plate, though; I offered a waiter an extra dozen thurnies to do it. Which is Not How It Is Done At Porphirio’s, as they explained when they tried to return my money. You’re supposed to ask for a favor, and leave an extra couple of thurnies at the end of the meal. I was not in much of a mood to tolerate backwards hoven customs, though, and flicked the waiter with my hukuchô, just a tiny bit, and he stopped arguing.
Tarcuna was very clumsy, trying to eat with her unaccustomed hand. After she spilled the third bite of steak and pea pie in her lap, I said, “Do you know where one hires a friend in this city?”
Her fur went flat. “You’re firing me?”
“No, I’m going to hire you a friend, to help take care of you. It’s not dignified for me to do it,” I said. Not that I’ve managed to keep much dignity on this trip, but there are limits.
“Oh! You don’t mean a friend like in a prostitute. Maybe a nurse?”
I stared at what I had learned of Trestean. “Right, that’s the word for it. A nurse.”
“You can take the nurse’s wages out of my tip,” she said. “Assuming I’m still getting a tip. I haven’t been much fun.”
“You haven’t been?”
“Well, you’ve spent two days so far taking care of me, and I haven’t even given you a single orgasm,” she said.
“I’ve had a great time. More excitement and less luxury than I was thinking, but that’s not a bad thing for a dragon. And I couldn’t notice an orgasm if I got one; I don’t want to try; that would just be miserable.” I thought a bit. “I’m going to give you the rest of my money with you when I leave. I won’t need it anyways.”
Then I spent the next two plates of Porphirio’s
world-famous pie trying to get her to stop thanking me. It’s just as convenient for me as throwing the money away. And my fiancés would tease me horribly if I brought any treasure back — they’re supposed to do that — and especially ugly treasure. It’d be different if I were stealing a world-famous gold and niobium statue or something.