The soldiers unlocked the door of the first bus, and lead five dozen manacled and presumably infested hovens across the single narrow bridge over the moat, through the temporary gate in the coils of wire, through the permanant door in the grey stone wall. Once they were inside, their manacles were unlocked, and they drifted towards the apartment buildings.
The second bus didn’t work so well. Two soldiers opened the door, as before. Manacled hoven hands grabbed them with transhoven strength and transhoven speed, dragging them into the bus, slamming the door. The soldiers outside blinked in confusion, hooting to their officers for instruction. By the time the officers had their first order ready — “Open that door again!” — the wormridden hovens had started the bus. The soldiers scattered before the gigantic (to them) vehicle, with mixed success. A few of them shot at it as it drove by, and the tasty scent of hoven blood and brains spread in the air.
Csirnis leapt into the path of the bus, and breathed. All the tires of the bus burst in his flames, but the volatiles in the engine were untouched. (Can I marry that beautiful, graceful, merciful prince? — yes, if I want to.) The bus skidded into him, but he and his the Ulthana’s Targe stood firm.
Five dozen more wormridden hovens, less two and all rather shaken, were lead from the ruined bus into their new homes. Csirnis and I did what we could to save the victims. The two wormridden shot by the soldiers were dead. The dozen or so soldiers injured by the bus were straightforward enough. One of the soldiers that had been dragged into the bus had been injected with a juvenile cyoziworm, and Dr. Grauzeng and I ripped his chest open and took the worm out whole. It had only gotten one probe into his brain, and we think not fully seated yet.
The rest of the busses were unloaded under the intense glare of five dragons. There were no further incidents.
“Well, wasn’t that miserable,” said Tarcuna, as she scooped a bowlful of spiced snails from the zeppelin buffet on the way back. “Oh, light of Curset, these are going to be a pain and a half to eat one-handed, aren’t they?”
“I’ll shell them for you,” said Bthera, also looking subdued.
“The apartments are miserable, you mean?” asked Dr. Grauzeng. “They were erected in a hurry, is all, I think. And of course they have to have walls and guards. We can’t trust the wormridden to stay nicely away from uninfected people until we find a general cure.”
Bthera broke a snail shell with her thumbs. “I’m thinking what it must be like to live there. There’s nothing to do, except tend the cattle that your worms will be feeding from. The only people around are just puddles of wormridden misery like you. And guards who think you’re a half-legendary soul-devouring monster.”
Prof. Wulpmegarn nodded. “And they’re not exactly wrong about that part.”
Tarcuna stabbed her snail on an official Trestean Army snail-stabbing fork and waved it to punctuate her words. ”I’m thinking it’s utterly doomy! First you lose your life and your free will to a worm … then, as punishment, they throw you in jail for the rest of your life. Except that your worm is under a death sentence, if they can figure out how to kill it, so you’re going to have to try to escape. Past armed guards. Terrified armed guards. Who will kill you if they can, or Llredh will probably kill them if you escape.”
I hissed, “So go tell Llredh to let them go. You’re on that kind of terms with him.” I seem to be a bit jealous or something.
Tarcuna menaced me with the fork, so I ate the snail off of it. (spicy!) “I know what he’d say. He’d say, “If you have a better way to keep the worms out of the population at large, please tell me now.’ Also you owe me a snail.”
I shucked a few more snails for her with my claws, working next to Bthera. “No, he’d say something like, ‘The better way for confining the hateful worms — if you have her, give her to me!’ He’s not a drake who likes the word ‘please’, for one thing.”
Tarcuna giggled at the imitation, and the professors grinned. The rest of the hovens obviously do not pay enough attention to their master’s mannerisms and idiosyncracies.
Tarcuna menaced Prof. Wulpmegarn with her next snail. “And when will you figure out a cure for the hateful worms?”
Wulpmegarn did not take the bait. “I have no idea. Llredh is not helping much. He insists that there must be an herbal remedy for it, so we must look for one first. I think that we are wasting time and effort with that, but I am not really willing to argue with Llredh very much.”
“Can’t Ythac find one? He’s good at finding,” I said.
“He tried. There’s nothing currently prepared in Hove that’s a cure,” said Prof. Wulpmegarn. “He explained that, for example, if there’s no tincture of blethany anywhere in the world, and that were the cure, his spells wouldn’t notice that blethany plants could be tinctured to give a cure. So have my students and less-skilled assistants and various new hires preparing all manner of tinctures and potions, hoping that one of Ythac’s spells picks one out. I should be on expedition to the Godaxle, collecting parasitic forkworms and their hosts. Finding vulnerabilities in their life cycle! Figuring out how to extract them from their animal hosts! That is where the scientific value surely lies. You may tell that to Llredh, if you can somehow pound it into his exceedingly armored skull. I cannot.”
“So, no time soon, then?” asked Tarcuna.
“I cannot reliably predict the timing of scientific revelation,” said Prof. Wulpmegarn. “In this matter I am not particularly optimistic. Our research is just getting started, in only a handful of laboratories so far. It must be performed on live patients — and, indeed, patients who resist the experiments with amazing violence. Many of my colleagues consider the problem to be imaginary. I suspect that some of those are themselves wormridden. The issue is unlike any other in the history of science. Ten years would be optimistic. Twenty or thirty does not strike me as unduly pessimistic.” He glanced at me. “I suppose that the dragons might speed the matter up somehow, as well as interfering. Ythac might come up with the answer tomorrow with her spells.”
“His spells,” I corrected. “Ythac is a boy.”
“Ythac is…? But is not Llredh the male?”
“Tarcuna, you explain about Llredh and Ythac. You know more about it than I do.” Serves her right for, well, knowing more about it than I do.
The revelation did not improve Prof. Wulpmegarn’s opinion of Llredh any. Nor of Tarcuna, unfortunately.