Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 25

“Hey!” protested the creature. “Don’t call me –”

“– just the ambiance of the dungeon. I’ll take it the rest of the way.” Ju’ula’s eyes seemed to grow a little unfocused. “It’ll help if you beat your familiar.”

Occo set to that task with a will.

“You’re not doing it right,” complained the creature. “The way that stupid thing’s built, whacking it like that won’t hardly hurt at all. You shouldn’t be using a flail in the first place. Red-hot pokers, that’s what you need. Give me a moment. I’ll fetch some.”

The creature lumbered off. Bresk’s wails of pain echoed throughout the dungeon. Occo reflected that the day wasn’t turning out so badly after all.

“Got it,” said Ju’ula.

An instant later, the dungeon vanished and they found themselves in the vestibule of a building. A startled Ebbo perched behind a desk looked up from its notescreen.

“What is this? Who are you? By what right –”

Silence!” Occo bellowed again. “I am here on the express direction of Amerce Imposer Vrachi. She has required me to make a report whenever possible to the nearest Envacht Lu mission.”

She gave their surroundings a dubious appraisal. “This is the Envacht Lu outpost on Planet Catalog Number VF-6s-K55, is it not?”

That brought the Ebbo up short. Carefully, it set its notescreen down on the low table.

“I see,” the Ebbo said. “Yes, this is that outpost. Why did this Amerce Imposer — Vrachi, you say? Would that be Kyu Gnath Vrachi or Esmat Bala Vrachi? — require you to make a report? And a report concerning what?”

“I have no idea which Amerce Imposer Vrachi she was. She required me to make a report whenever possible because my home cloister was destroyed by unknown miscreants using unknown weaponry, which has led me to declare myself gadrax and led the Amerce Imposer to suspect that proprieties may have been transgressed severely enough that an Uttermost Reproach is necessitated.”

“I see. And I presume you came to Planet Catalog Number VF-6s-K55 because of its suspected status as an Old One site. If so, your visit will almost certainly be fruitless. Since the first discovery of this planet there have been — one moment, please” — the Ebbo’s digit flitted over the notescreen for a few instants — “Yes, my memory was correct. There have been four hundred and twelve recorded investigations, which excavated a total of 8,377 square leagues, and an untold number of unrecorded and unauthorized explorations. Not one of those turned up results that were not confusing and contradictory.”

The Ebbo looked back up from the screen. “For almost a century now — calculated by the local year — Planet Catalog Number VF-6s-K55 has mostly been used by Humans as a prison planet. The reasoning behind that behavior has so far eluded anyone except, presumably, Humans themselves.”

Its vestigial wings rubbed together briefly, making a rather unpleasant noise. That was an Ebbo mannerism indicating contemptuous dismissal. “Insofar as the workings of the Human brain can be called ‘reasoning’ at all. And now, gadrax — please note that I do not inquire as to your identity — make your report.”

“There is nothing to report. That is the report.”

“Splendid.” The Ebbo’s digit flitted once more across the screen. “Your report has been filed. You may be on your way.”

Occo looked about and spotted an entrance behind her and to the left. As she turned in that direction, however, a new voice came into the chamber.

“A moment, please. I fear my assistant is being excessively formal.”

The Ebbo seemed to hunker down a bit. “The term ‘excessively formal’ is an oxymoron,” it said, in a tone that seemed even more aggrieved than that of the dungeon-keeper.

“Perhaps,” said the new voice. “Still, I would prefer a more personal interaction with our visitors. Please send them into my bastille.”

“As you wish, Heterochthonatrix.” The Ebbo’s digit worked briefly at the screen and a panel in the wall slid aside. Beyond could be seen another chamber although its contents were not clearly discernable. Vision was obscured by a flickering haze which Occo recognized as the work of a Gawad murkster.

She was impressed. The marine crustaceans provided superb anti-surveillance protection but they were rare, hard to capture, and harder to keep alive in captivity. She wouldn’t have thought even the Envacht Lu could have afforded one for a minor outpost.

Unless . . .

“Link,” said Bresk. Occo raised her earflaps and a moment later her familiar’s neural connectors were inserted into the sockets.

<There’s no way a Gawad murkster would be here unless one of two things is true> came Bresk’s thought. <Either this isn’t a minor outpost at all — despite all appearances to the contrary — or this still-unidentified Heterochthonatrix is stinking rich. And if that’s true . . . >

Gloomily, Occo provided the rest of the thought herself. We’re probably dealing with an incompetent or scapegrace sent into exile because their wealth and influence was too great to be simply discharged.

But there was no way she could see to avoid the encounter. So, she made her way toward the chamber. Brest floated above, attached to the hard points. Ju’ula remained behind, still perched inside the Teleplaser.

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked.

“No, Mama. I agree with the fussbudget. For some things, the term ‘excessive formality’ is an oxymoron.” Ju’ula’s eyes remained closed through the entire exchange.

Occo saw no reason to argue the matter. So, she and Bresk entered the Heterochthonatrix’s chamber alone.

Once they entered the chamber, the visual haze began to clear. After a few minims, they could see a female Nac Zhe Anglan perched on a bench in an elevated alcove.

Even at a glance, the bench was luxurious. And it took Occo no more than a moment — a moment produced by simple surprise at seeing it in person — to recognize that the kinetic fresco adorning the wall behind the bench was the work of the Green Pramusect’s famous Dextralyceum. It must have cost a not-so-small fortune.

“I bid you welcome,” said the figure on the bench. “I am Heterochthonatrix Heurse Gotha Rammadrecula.”

<Oh, marvelous> came Bresk’s thought. <The richest and most powerful affiliance in the entire Flengren Apostollege. Which, if you’re fuzzy on the theology involved, is about as far removed from the Naccor Jute as possible. How did someone from that pack of fanatics ever wind up an Envacht Lu official? And a heterochthonatrix, at that!>

Occo was wondering the same thing herself. There were no formal rules governing the matter, but the general practice of the Envacht Lu was to select its recruits from those creeds which tended toward ecumenicalism, so long as they stayed short of the outright agnosticism espoused by such as the Naccor Jute. The Flengren Apostollege, on the other hand, was anything but open-minded on the subject of the precise nature of divinity and daemoncy. They even claimed to know the names of the Highest and the Lowest figures in the ancient cataclysm.

One of the Highest of which had been the deity Rammad, to whom Heurse Gotha’s lineage claimed affiliation. Her name meant Swollen in the Esteem of Rammad’s Sodality.

<Humans have an expression for this too, came Bresk’s thought. “You’re fucked,” they’d say.>

Occo was in no mood for her familiar’s obsession with Human foibles. I have no idea what a fucked is, but I’m sure I’m not one of them.

A sense of amusement came through the neural connectors. <It’s not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s the human way of copulating. It’s really slimy. Not to mention complicated. Would you believe they — >