“Well, as you are sure to have guessed, I and nearly everyone in my exploring company are bachelors,” said Quel Quen. Court etiquette requires asking for favors of royalty in the most oblique way imaginable. Sometimes it’s so that the queen can figure it out and present the supplicant with the favor as if it were the queen’s own idea. I’m not sure why anyone thinks that’s good thing. The rest of the time it’s so the queen can figure it out and not say anything, so that she doesn’t have to deny an outright request, which might offend the supplicant. I hate this custom, mostly because I am impatient and not always that good at figuring out what people want from the oblique hints.
“I’m not sure I thought much about it. For one thing, I didn’t quite know that you have a whole exploring company. Everyone just says ‘Quel Quen discovered Hove’ and leaves it at that.”
“Well, yes, there is a company, or there was; we have largely retired from the exploring trade. It has grown and it has shrunk, but at its height it was some three dozen dragons, to say nothing of a dozen small people who contributed various useful specialities. I am the captain, as well as the spokesman, the writer, the charismatic face. But we have travel mages, and protection mages, and biologists, and information mages, and doctors, and diplomats, and magicologists, and poets, and cartographers, and various other specialties such as became useful now and then. To say nothing of a substantial contingent of guards. Unexplored worlds hold more surprises and dangers than dwellers on safe worlds generally like to think about.”
“Truly? What could intimidate three dozen dragons? Aside from four dozen dragons, of course.”
“A gross of the sky-warriors of Twern could; or a dozen of the great machiomancers of Evsnaun, or single one of the gods of Arbolien. Or our friend Lliashatheny, who is like a dragon and yet no dragon, who constructs several devices that we rely on when astral magic is insufficient, say; we do not know all of its capabilities, and its ways are mysterious to us.”
I blinked at him, and caught a swaying cable that the electricians had dropped. “I know nothing about these worlds.”
“There is no reason why you would! We visited them, and judged them too deadly to be worth the effort to colonize. So they are locked away in our notebooks: sometimes with the reach-scale attached, and sometimes with it destroyed.”
“I beg your pardon, great Quel Quen. What do you mean by ‘reach-scale’?”
“Ah! It is a term of art in exploring, or more precisely in advanced Travel magic. When you came to Hove first, I suspect, you used the Triangular Cyclonette?”
I ⅕-spread my wings and tilted my head, which is the draconic gesture that means “Yes; your great and intense perceptions and/or wisdoms have seen and/or understood the entire situation, for which honor is due to you.” We are greatly concerned with honor, as a species — probably too much.
“When you came, did not your Travel-mage have an oval charm or talisman of steel, which, in fact, was obtained from my copyist on Chiriact not quite by the strictly and most legitimate methods?” asked Quel Quen, curving his tail downwards and spreading his claws to indicate that, if an offense had been committed, I was not the lizard under suspicion and need not be concerned about my own honor.
“She had such an oval, indeed, though I never heard the full story of how it came to be in our fiancé‘s possession,” I admitted.
“A pity — it is an interesting story, containing, as it does, elements of theft, bribery and even outright lies, and involving Lliashatheny as well as actual dragons. Evidently that most artificial and crafty of monsters was under the impression that, as lies are noxious to our species in both perception and honor, we never resort to them. Still, that is a matter for the legal system of Chiriact, which declines to consider it because the royal family is accused. One of several reasons for my upcoming request, or, more in accordance with court etiquette, the request that I shall be hinting at but not directly saying.” Quel Quen paused to cough an elegant but tiny cone of flame. “But I believe I digress. That oval, or some such talisman, is required by the relatively simple spell of the Triangular Cyclonette, in order to tell it where to go. Without such a sigil, or some similar but entirely mnemonic construct, the Triangular Cyclonette would simply be unable to get to anywhere.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said. “Our Travel mage was my rival in the mating flight, and she did not explain all matters.”
“Well, the Triangular Cyclonette cannot be used to explore new worlds. It is used for transportation, for getting from here to there, when there are no established bridges. It would not do for it to be forever popping vacationers and mating-flighters into unexpected universes! For that, a far heavier, more polygonal, and windier spell is needed: the Pentagonal Cyclone,” said Quel Quen.
“A spell that shows up in the memoirs of all the greatest explorers,” I said, to prove that I had read some of these memoirs and to hint that Quel Quen was one of these explorers. This is polite.
“And also all of the least great,” said Quel Quen. “The Pentagonal Cyclone has several functions — five of them, hence the name. One of these is to produce a tunnel to a world that has never before known astral dragons. Let us call this world Anywhorld. Now, the one casting of the Cyclone allows one to fly to Anywhorld through the tunnel, and the tunnel will last for some months. But once it closes — or is closed by a few sharp blows from some annoyed dragon’s vô — what then? The Pentagonal Cyclone never goes to the same world twice, so is there no way to return to Anywhorld?
I chuckled smokily, and spread my wing-shaped ears. “Since Hove, where we are now, was once such an Anywhorld, there must be some way to return. I do hope you are about to tell me what it is!”
“Indeed I am!” said Quel Quen. “Another one of the Pentagonal Cyclone’s five sides is to produce a reach-scale: a rough and stony flake, not wholly unlike a petrified mid-flank scale. The reach-scale is a useful thing! For one thing, it can inform the Triangular Cyclonette how to get to Anywhorld. Rather like that steel oval in function, although different in shape and, for that matter, in legal provenance. ”
“I note that the theft of the Hove-oval is a sore spot with you,” I said, because after a duodecade or two of queening one starts to notice such things when they are crammed up one’s ears often enough. “I will take this injury into consideration should you wish for anything from Hove.”