“So I shouldn’t grab Tarcuna and burn my way out of here,” I said, and relayed Xolgrohim’s words to Ythac.
“Exactly! I knew you would be sensible!” he beamed. “Now, the floor.”
“The very dangerous floor,” I said, since dangersense was rather howling about it.
“Don’t listen to him! It’s twistor guns!” shouted Tarcuna.
“Excuse me, Tarcuna, but I am having a conversation with Jyothky at the moment. You should not interrupt,” said Xolgrohim.
“Actually, I am at least as interested in what Tarcuna has to say as in what you have to say,” I told him.
Xolgrohim smiled apologetically. “Very well then! Feel free to interrupt as you wish, Tarcuna. The floor is very thin, just big enough to support you and the other contents of the room. Beneath it are three of the largest twistor projectors I could manage in the few months that I had available to me. They are not, unfortunately, up to the standards of the Peace Everywhere Array, though they do have a range of some dozens or hundreds of miles. At a word to my gunners, though, they will entirely fill the Pit of Despair with torque. I do not know for certain that even that will kill you, but I rather suspect it might. I am certain about what it will do to poor, interrupt-prone Tarcuna.”
“I have destroyed many large twistor guns,” I said.
“And no doubt you could destroy these as well! But they are arranged so that any destruction of the gun itself will also set off the torque battery. Again, that might not kill you, but it will be a remarkably potent occurrence, which Tarcuna may find unfavorable,” said Xolgrohim.
I thought about the devastation that even a single battery had caused: more dangerous than my strongest breath by far. “An excellent precaution! When I destroyed the Peace Everywhere Array, I worked from a distance, but in your poison-walled pit, that approach is not available.”
He beamed. “Exactly. Exactly! It is a pleasure working with you, Jyothky.”
“What, precisely, do you mean by ‘working’?”
Ythac’s wrote to me in letters jagged with alarm, «Jyothky! Dragons!» Xolgrohim said something too, but I didn’t catch it.
«Who? Arilash and Csirnis?»
«No, no, the sky over Khamrou Voresc is crawling with dragons. More than a dozen of them.»
«Oh, dear. Send them my greetings, I suppose. At least can you find out who they are?» I looked back at Xolgrohim. “I’m sorry, but I was lost in thought for a moment. Could you repeat that?”
“Well, I don’t specifically want to catch you, Jyothky. Your parents killed me, as you may recall. It is certainly a flaw in my personality — I regard it as such in any case — but I cannot refrain from trying to kill them in exchange. Or, failing that, to bring them whatever degree of sorrow and woe I can.”
“Jyothky won’t cooperate with you!” shouted Tarcuna.
“I certainly don’t want to make my parents unhappy, or dead,” I said. “Nor you, nor myself.”
“If you risk your own life to save mine, I am going to kill myself!” said Tarcuna.
“You have the oddest concept of helping me, Tarcuna,” I said. “Please, let’s let Xolgrohim tell us his plans before anyone kills herself to foil them?” She threw herself to the metal floor by my feet, stinking of anger and shame.
“Now that you have, temporarily, subdued our loquacious and lecherous lure, may I explain your role in the upcoming festivities?” asked Xolgrohim.
«Tultamaan’s back. Chevethna back from her mating flight, Arthane flying next to her so I bet they’re married, Ignissa back from her mating flight, Vuuthon, Ressal, … Kuro for heaven’s sake, … lots of dragons I don’t know,» wrote Ythac.
«That’s bad,» I said. That many dragons my age, already mated, are probably here for conquering.
“I should be fascinated to hear it,” I said. I curled my tail around Tarcuna, and cast the Library in Scales and wrote to her, «After he has finished, we will discuss our next step privately. Now please let’s listen. I’m trying to write to Ythac too, and if I’m not careful I’m going to get horribly confused.»
«Bad, bad. I’m holding territory now. It might be me and Llredh against fifteen of our age-peers,» wrote Ythac.
«Well. Ressal and Tultamaan barely count. And I’ll help you when I get out of here,» I said.
“All right, all right, I’ll be quiet,” said Tarcuna. “For now. If you’re going to kill me, Xolgrohim, I at least get to tell you what I think of you first.” She cuddled into the arc of my tail.
«Four to one is certainly an improvement over seven to one. Are you getting out soon?» asked Ythac.
Xolgrohim spread Murghal’s hands apologetically. “For the moment, I simply request that you — both of you — remain in the Pit of Despair. My part-time messenger on Mhelvul should earn his extravagant pay soon, or so I hope, and your parents should arrive within, perhaps, a day or two? You know them better than I do: how long would you guess they would delay when their darling daughter is in deadly danger?”
I paused, as if to consider the question, but actually to write «Not sure. I might need to do something stupid and humiliating, like promise to come right back after the fight,» Then I said, out loud, “Last time, they came in a hurry, but that was easier. They’d have to get directions here, and find someone to cast the Triangular Cyclonette. And probably another day or several to learn it, so they can get back afterwards,” I said.
Xolgrohim laughed. “Yes, I suppose they might think that getting back would be relevant to them and make arrangements. No more hurry than that?”
“I suppose it depends on what your messenger told them, and how much they believed it.”
“My powers of sending messages between worlds are not so great, and neither are Tultamaan’s. He was supposed to tell Cterion and Uruunma that you had been trapped in the heart of a vast ruby, which your companions’ fire was inadequate to melt but which Cterion’s own flame probably could. He sent back the chirp that he was to send when he had done so.”
I stared at Xolgrohim. He lowered Murghal’s gaze, and apologized, “I merely sought some story which would require their presence, and not raise too many suspicions about the actual situation.”
I was still staring. “You got Tultamaan as your messenger?”, I said out loud, and summarized the matter to Ythac.
“Regular couriers between here and Mhel are infrequent, and their rates are extravagant! There is rarely one available when you want one,” Xolgrohim explained.