Arilash and Tarcuna and I were eating at an early lunch at Com’ al Virtu. We were more direct than last time, and started off ordering a whole loaf of the zotanco al besti puree, and don’t bother with the crackers since they’d be more annoyingly sticky than delightfully crunchy on dragon teeth. Tarcuna scooped up a small spoonful and licked at it delicately, and Arilash and I gobbled the rest like icecream.
A pair of hovens came in, and yelped when they saw us. This happened every time, of course, but usually the hovens were staring at Arilash and me. The man of the couple was, but the woman was staring at Tarcuna, and looking utterly devastated.
Tarcuna looked back at her. “Oh, rails of the black sun. That’s Bthera!”
“Beg pardon?” asked Arilash.
“I worked with her at the Red Spires.”
Arilash said, “So she’s wormridden still?”
“Still? Unless you’ve rescued her without mentioning it to me.”
Arilash glared at the liver paté, her tailtip twitching.
Bthera and her john sat as far from us as they could: not quite all the way across the room, since the furthest tables were already taken. They ordered this and that, and started to eat it. We ordered this and that and another eight dishes besides, and devoured the ones that came first. Arilash did, grudgingly, admit that Ventelian cuisine is quite tasty.
In the middle of a sentence, Bthera suddenly squeaked, and scrambled awkwardly to our table. “Tarcuna? Is that you?”
Tarcuna’s fur wrinkled. “Yes, it is. Sorry — I had to resign from Red Spires pretty abruptly. I didn’t manage to call and tell you.”
Bthera said in a frantic voice, “Is Bopo all right?” She didn’t look much like she wanted to ask that, especially so loudly.
Tarcuna laughed a laugh of draconic cruelty. She is picking up my bad habits. “Bopo is exactly where I want him.”
Bthera looked greatly relieved. “We’ve been seeing you on television, hearing about you in the newspapers. We didn’t know what had happened with you, with Bopo.”
Tarcuna grinned. “Where I want him. Not where he wants him. What he wants doesn’t matter anymore.”
Bthera screamed in terror and despair. Arilash and I sighed: this was clearly not going to be a peaceful gourmet luncheon anymore. Bthera’s consort of the day stormed over. “Bthera, what is going on?” He turned to me. “Great dragon, please ignore this woman. She should not be bothering you. She will not bother you further.”
I glared at him. “She’s fifteen hundred thurneys a day, plus tip, right? Tarcuna, give him fifteen hundred plus tip. I’ve got a better use for Bthera than you do.”
Tarcuna looked eager. “Oh, you’re going to do that for her? Spotty, you’re so sweet! But why does he get a tip?”
“Right, no tip,” I said.
Bthera picked up the table and dumped it on top of us, and turned to flee. Her john tried to take her arm, but she threw him at Arilash with one hand. We dug out from under tablecloths and a platter of very good zotanco al besti. Arilash bit my wing in annoyance. I healed myself and flew after Bthera.
Bthera was fast. No natural hoven can run as fast as the wormridden, when they need to. With the Dozenwing Dozentail, I was faster. I caught her in the middle of Pourride Avenue. Bthera was strong. No natural hoven can kick as hard as the wormridden, when they need to. She damaged me worse than the Dozenwing Dozentail had done. I couldn’t subdue her at hoven size. She wasn’t much of a trouble at my full size, though.
“What are you going to do with her?” asked Arilash. I had accumulated quite an audience: Arilash and Tarcuna, and hundreds of hovens wondering what the right response was when an empire-killing monster tried to abduct a beautiful woman in the street. (Or, if you prefer — and I do — when a marginally-beautiful woman tried to abduct a conquersome monster in the street.)
“I am going to give Llredh a present. Or, I am going to focus him back on something worthwhile, instead of just letting him make his newly-captured hovens miserable.”
“What are you going to do to Bopo?” squeaked Bthera.
“I’ll take you and him to the hospital, where he will be revealed and destroyed, and you will be set free, Bthera.”
“A present for me too!” shouted Tarcuna.
Arilash bit my wing again. “We’re here for a mating flight, remember? You are getting distracted.”
Which is true, but cyoziworms are so disgusting.