Monday, February 11, 2008



Parric flicked his antennae about, seeking sanctuary from the coarse, abrading gale of the Nexus. And the heat. The relentless heat.

His ribs throbbed. The pain in his wing had subsided into a dull ache, punctuated by sharp, stabbing agony every time his flight necessitated a change in direction. With the rush of battle now past, his body was giving out.

Thankfully, Parric soon felt the familiar texture of the Cosm he sought. With practiced ease he crafted a Wedging--a very small one this time, as this particular Cosm demanded no more--and slipped through the gap.

Parric emerged amidst a blaze of light and a cacophony of a hundred different voices. People pushed past him, some human, some almost-human and others far stranger. Some dressed themselves in brilliant, flamboyant colors, some in dull, simple clothes. A few strode through the crowd naked, adorned only with paint, tattoos or jewelry. All of them gave Parric a wide berth.

Parric recognized the place instantly: the westmarkt plaza of Tradefare's Digue district. He started to sigh, then thought better of it when his ribs protested. It was farther than he'd intended, but it could've been worse given the circumstances.

He reached into a pouch and pulled out two shimmering, translucent Potentials. He weighed them thoughtfully in his claws, then pressed them together, bleeding a fraction of the smaller one off into the larger. Then he inserted the smaller of the coins into the slot of a slender, fluted metallic post before him. Gap toll paid, he slithered off the circular tile mosaic that indicated an anchored Nexial Gap and joined the crush of bodies. Lights suspended a hundred yards above the plaza blazed in a grid pattern, blotting out the stars above and obliterating any hint that night had fallen. Night never really fell on Tradefare--the economy kept it at bay.

To Parric's left, a great black dirigible came through one of the reenforced industrial gaps, the moans of the stressed ship echoing across the plaza. A procurement detachment from one of the war-torn Dark Cosms, Parric guessed, always in search of new types of exotic weaponry.

To his right, the crowd gave a gap anchor an even wider berth than usual as three very hairy, over-large figures attacked the toll post with venomous rage. Parric ignored them. Tradefare's laws were... flexible by most standards, but one rule was ironclad. If you’re not paying the tollings, you’re not getting in. The constabulary would arrive soon enough to deal with them.

He made his way through the sprawling lattice-roofed pavilions and past the high-fenced stock yards with bizarre creatures from a thousand different Cosms. No matter how exotic the creatures' origins, the vile reek of dung was one constant they all shared.

Eventually, gap anchors grew scarce. The crowds thinned and the open trade pavilions gave way to girdered business centers and eventually humble general merchants. Parric turned up a side street, then down a flight of well-worn steps to the lower door of a slope-faced stone building. The ruddy door opened automatically to admit Parric.

Cool, blue light illuminated the interior. A sponge-textured, ivory substance paneled the walls. Several garish fractal images adorned the walls, steadily changing their patterns in a slow-motion metamorphosis. Several low-stance chairs lined the sides of a slender table that stretched the length of the room.

In one chair reclined a grotesquely fat woman with a curly, copper shag of hair, dressed in robes of green and orange that clashed harshly with the blue light. Before her floated a translucent screen, stock quotes and other financial data scrolling rapidly past. Instead of a mouth, she had three elongated nostrils buried amid fleshy flaps of skin that hung from the wide bridge of her nose to down below her chin. With a three-fingered hand she held an ornate forked pipework to her nose. Upon seeing Parric, her green eyes widened and she exhaled a fine, silvery mist.

"Parric! Do you know what hour it is? No, wait. Do you know what day it is? I was expecting you back a week ago tomorrow," she said, rolling her body to the side to face him. "And where's Flavius?"

"Still being dead, Ien," Parric muttered, slithering past her.

"Still dead? I thought you had that taken care of?" Ien said.

"I am taking carings of that," Parric said, glowering at her. She raised an eyebrow, and Parric shrugged his good wings. "There are... complicatings."

"Complicatings. Huh. The Nexus is full of 'complicatings.'" Ien shook her head, then replaced the piping to her nostrils. "Well, when you do get Flavius sorted out, remind him that he still owes me the better part of five Potentials."

"I am sure Flavius will be having rememberings of this on his own."

"It won't hurt any if you remind him, will it?" She turned back to her stock data.

"Ien, I’m in needing of Knowcient," Parric said.

"I'll flag her first thing in the morning."

"I’m in needing of Knowicent now."

Ien waved her hand at Parric without turning from her screen, a gesture equal parts acknowledgment and dismissal.

Parric went down the hall to his room. It was just wide enough to spread his wings fully without touching the sides, and had a single window opposite the door. Books, scrolls and random parchment sheets filled the shelves, along with hundreds of curious artifacts, fossils and various other strange items both organic and non in row upon row of small cubbies crammed beneath the shelves. Gossamer shrouds of varying shades of green draped from the ceiling, conveying, after a fashion, the sense of an ethereal forest.

Parric shrugged off his belts and pouches, laying the claymore apart from his other equipment. He picked one waterskin from a rack and drank down its yellowish contents. He repeated this with two others, chasing the liquid with several sprigs of herbs selected from the cubbies. He then coiled himself in the middle of the room, atop a pallet of modest cushions. Gingerly he spread his injured wing, wincing at the electric jolt of pain this invited. His other wings folded comfortably against his sides. His antennae relaxed. His breathing slowed. Parric slipped into a meditative trance to help speed his body's healing.

He lay motionless for several minutes, occasional voices or vehicles passing outside the only sound.

A soft whistle abruptly broke the silence. The air immediately in front of Parric shimmered. A swirl of sparkling motes coalesced into a tall, spindly figure. It looked around the room, then reached down for Parric’s head.

Parric did not stir.


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