Day 24. 64 pages, 30,219 words. Progress! Literal inch of progress! I’m working on a sort of a restructuring and rewriting thing so hopefully I’m getting to the point where I can just get moving again.
“Nice place,” Lotus said, when Çrom deactivated the hopper and flicked on a set of exterior running lights. They illuminated, fair to say, a cold and dreary little closet of a vehicle storage bay. But that was alright, because Gian-To Haven was a cold and dreary little closet of a tier-nation. And Material Depot #3 was a cold and dreary little closet of a city-state, on the edge of a cold and dreary little closet of a world. So in a way, they had parked at the absolute pinnacle of the Cursèd aesthetic.
“Don’t look at it all at once,” he advised, and turned to her with a grin. “Actual Gian-To Haven tourism slogan, by the way.”
“I’m beginning to figure out when you’re making things up,” Lotus said. They rose from their seats and stretched, and she pointed affectionately at his mouth. “It’s when noise comes out of that one.”
“Fairly accurate,” Çrom conceded.
“So what happens next?” Lotus asked. They both looked out through the screen. The bay ended in a neat but raw-stone grey wall a couple of metres from The Happy Bumfuck’s nose, with a tall, narrow doorway like a slot at one corner. The hopper’s lights did not extend far into the darkness beyond, but what they did illuminate was just more stone. “When do we drop to the Rooftop? You mentioned smuggler – Bortemus’s ballsack!”
Çrom spluttered with laughter at Lotus’s exclamation, although he had to admit the sudden and eerily silent appearance of his old friend in the bay doorway had given him a little turn as well. Especially since he was still thinking about spiders, and Gabiscus was tall and spindly-limbed and had scrabbled her way out of the darkness in an absolutely calculatedly horrifying way.
“I didn’t realise you were an adherent of Saint Bortemus the Fish Charmer,” he said mildly.
Lotus stared in wide-eyed outrage at the lanky figure, who had planted her supple forked boots back on the ground and straightened to reveal she was a Vorontessi – an extremely pale Vorontessi who was skinny even for a Vorontessi, but a Vorontessi nevertheless. Gabiscus blinked huge, watery eyes in the unaccustomed glare, and then went as still as a statue, waiting for them to emerge.
“I’m not an – is this your smuggler friend?” Lotus demanded. “What’s a Vorontessi doing this far from Heaven?”
“Only good things,” Çrom assured her, and veered past the couch on his way out of the helm chamber to scoop a handful of chuda wraps from the box. He pocketed two and passed another to Lotus, then headed for the door. “Gabby,” he exclaimed. Gabiscus had moved as soon as the hopper’s door swung open, and was now standing motionless once again, directly in front of the new arrivals. Çrom heard Lotus mutter something under her breath but he was only able to pick out the word creepy. It was, he supposed, most likely the keyword in her statement anyway. “Allow me to introduce the Black Lotus, renowned merchant in the terminal arts. Lotus, this is Gabiscus the Knurled. Completely unknown merchant in nothing at all and you can’t prove otherwise.”
“Hello, beautiful shapes,” Gabiscus said in a low, lascivious whisper.
“Hello Gabiscus,” Lotus said neutrally, then lowered her voice to a warning growl. “Çrom…”
“Don’t worry,” Çrom stepped out of The Happy Bumfuck – it was blessedly warm in the vehicle bay, set as it was to Vorontessi comfort levels – and wrapped his arms effortlessly around the bundle of bleached sticks that Gabiscus seemed to have instead of a torso. She in turn enfolded him in a hug that was more than a little like being bound up in wire, a comparison he did his very best to erase from his brain. “Gabby is an old friend of mine, and she’s a firm believer in the Pinian Church’s obligations to shelter and aid the human race – no matter what silly things they decide they want to do.”
“Humanitry is a sin,” Gabiscus breathed mechanically. She was naked except for her shoes, a strip of leather hung with pouches around the centre of her midriff, and a second pouch-strip at mid-thigh, but Vorontessæ weren’t noticeably more or less off-putting when unclothed and most of the Vorontessæ Çrom had ever met wore about as much – or little, as the case may be. The top of her head was scarred, and crowned with a circlet of rough-edged stumps where she had cut off her rack of spires and ground away the regrowth.
“Yes it is, and we know you would never,” he assured her, his voice muffled slightly by her cartilaginous abdomen as she squeezed him. “Don’t we, Lotus?”
“Yes,” Lotus said. “What is humanitry?”
“Oh right,” Çrom said, “you were asleep,” her eyes narrowed as he pried himself politely free of Gabiscus’s pallid embrace, although he admitted to the high likelihood that Lotus’s eyes had been that narrow the whole time.
“You did say something about it earlier, but I wasn’t sure if I’d heard you right,” Lotus said. “And then I went back to sleep and you never elaborated.”
“Well it doesn’t matter,” Çrom said, closed the hopper’s door and ushered them towards the dark doorway in the side of the bay as the lights dimmed towards standby. “It’s not at all related to the discreet services Gabby provides – for a price.”
“What sort of price?” Lotus asked suspiciously.
“Only good things,” Çrom repeated innocently, and pulled a chuda wrap from his pocket. “For you, Gabby,” he said, presenting it to her with a flourish.
“Unspecified meat,” Gabiscus the Knurled said, her eyes seeming to light up from within. A long-fingered hand snaked out and curled around the package. “It is the best kind of meat.”
“Great,” Lotus muttered as they stepped single-file through the doorway, “now there’s two of them.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.