Friday, October 17, 2008



Naga-ed-derParric successfully slipped through the dining hall door, unnoticed. The doorman, luckily, was dressing down a peq in an alcove across the way. Parric quickly slithered down the corridor, not shedding the aura of concealment he’d Crafted until he’d put several turns between himself and the doorman.

His simulacrum would go through the motions well enough to make it through dinner without raising suspicions. That left Flavius, though.

Parric considered this. The Highlander had an uncanny knack for drawing unwanted attention to himself, not to mention getting killed on occasion. It was unfair to abandon Flavius to face the interminable dinner alone without warning him first, but if Parric had told Flavius his intentions, he’d have wanted to tag along. Stealth wasn’t Flavius’ strong suit.

Parric didn’t need Imperial suspicions at the moment. Flavius’ featherscale was troubling, and he needed answers.

A stairwell beckoned. Parric followed it up, up and up some more, testing the air with his antennae at each floor. A trio of peq passing downward gave him no notice. Other than the peq, the stairwell was deserted.

Cooking aromas wafted through the fifth landing. Parric wound his way through a warren of twisting halls until he found himself in a vast kitchen complex.

Four of the same kinds of creatures as the aerial waiters deftly worked a variety of elaborate ovens and grills, pan-searing a batch of popping, bouncing green clusters with one arm, ladling a creamy sauce over another dish with two other arms, while the remaining limbs expertly arranged garnishes on several plates simultaneously. Several peq dutifully assisted each chef, passing along spices and other ingredients as called for.

Amid the steam and smoke and clanging noise, a circular balcony filled the center of the kitchen. Here nearly a dozen aerial waiters worked rapidly, taking serving trays from peq and diving over the edge, tethered by silken threads from their tail spinnerets anchored to the balcony railing.

“Excusing me,” Parric said to a passing peq loaded down with some purple, tuberish vegetable that appeared disturbingly phallic. “I am needing to speak--”

“Ours is only to serve, sir, and we are serving now,” the peq said with a courteous but unmistakably dismissive nod, then continued on its way.

“I...” Parric started, but the peq had already vanished amid the chaos. Clicking his beak in annoyance, Parric pushed his way through disinterested peq to the one chef that seemed to exude the most authority. “Excusing me--”

“Who let this one in here?” the chef grunted loudly without looking from his confections. His orange skin glistened wetly from the steam. “Have the doorman escort it out.”

“The doormen have all been transferred to Eternal Prime in advance of the Imperial court, sir,” the peq answered. “The T'ul-us Tzan let itself in.”

The chef snapped its head around at that, its dark, compound studying Parric intently. Abruptly, it set aside its various cooking implements and loped over to the balcony on stubby, muscular hind legs. It leaned over the railing a moment, then turned back to Parric. “I don’t have enough ingredients to feed two of you.”

“No, I’m not here for eatings.”

“That’s good, because you’ll have to fight your friend down below for what we have. It’s not like we keep the larder full on the off chance a T'ul-us Tzan will happen by,” it returned to its station, casting a sidelong glance at Parric. “Although your kind are more common of late.”

“This is what I’m needing to talking with you about,” Parric said.

“I’m busy now. Come back later.”

Parric’s antennae flattened. Parric drew himself up so he was a head taller than the chef. “You are not understanding. I am talking with you now.”

“No, you don’t understand,” it replied in a rumbling voice filled with the promise of doom. It reared up, towering over Parric, while the long, hairy spines along its back swelled and bristled. “I am Djserka em Naga-ed-der and am charged by Their Imperial Majesties with delivering the evening meal for the Imperial court and unexpected guests. This entire affair has teetered on the brink of disaster with abrupt venue and menu changes, and having come this far I have no desire to face execution because I chose to chit-chat with you rather than ensure Her Imperial Majesty’s saulerant doesn’t overheat and congeal. So if you must have words with me, you will wait until after the digestifs have been imbibed. Do I make myself clear?”

Parric bristled momentarily, then backed down. Kitchen brawls weren’t exactly stealthy.

Fighting would hardly get him the information he sought.

But, most importantly, Flavius would never let him hear the end of it.


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