Friday, August 31, 2007

Clog Post 6 with Down Under



First Clog: "When you came in here, didn't you have a plan for getting out?"

So we crashed. In the desert. I imagine that counts as a breakdown.

But first we got blown off course going over the Hublands by a random storm of raw magic somewhere on the Circle Sea side, which meant we didn't make it as far as Al-Khali, or even anywhere near Al-Khali. I suppose this is partly my fault, but hey, it takes two to horizontally tango (and I have to say that you haven't lived until you've horizontally tango'd on a flying carpet; just make sure you have somewhere safe to land), and how was I to know it was really true about wizards and the not tangoing thing? Or that when a wizard loses his magic it sucks out all the other magic in the immediate area? So we crashed. The effect is only temporary (luckily for us), but this explains why wizards get their oats as students, and why wizards daren't marry. Cert says you can always tell the students who aren't getting their oats; apart from doing better on exams, they're the ones with hairy palms and a permanent aura of maddened frustration.

Klatch is big. Really big. You just wouldn't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. And sandy. So much sand. And dry. Big and sandy and dry and so very, very empty, except for us and a patch of less sandy-coloured sand that may have been a lizard...oh, and D'regs. According to my guidebook, the D'regs are a noble desert tribe, a "warlike, fierce and honourable" people who take pride in their ancient traditions. Since my time in Uberwald taught me that "noble" is often as not another word for "arrogant, unsympathetic and bloodthirsty, sometimes literally", you can imagine my dread when they rose up out of the sand around us like lizard-coloured patches. But our luck was in that day, because they neither killed us nor treated us badly. All right, we were captured, but once again my lute got us out of serious trouble. Instead of killing us out of hand, they invited us to a party! The chieftain, whose name is al-Rhaiva, spoke a little trade patois, and with my smatterings of Year 6 Klatchian, we were able to communicate well enough. They loaded us onto a spare camel in exchange for our carpet (I am so very not getting up in one of those again, ever), gave us a good long drink of stale water (best drink I ever tasted in my life), and off we went to...well...another stretch of featureless sand, but they seemed to know where they were going...

Our destination was the oasis of Phati D'oun. It's well known among the D'regs as the Place of Herbs; here can be found the powerful stimulant qat and the powerful hallucinogen qit. Mixed together, they're known as qat-qit, and their effect can keep you up for days while making you see enough strange visions that you won't even think of the sleep you're losing. Once you've tried qat-qit it's hard to quit -- one of the common cries of D'reg hunter-gatherer groups translates as "Have a qat-qit, have a break!" -- and there was plenty of qat-qit use in evidence at Phati D'oun. As the sun set redly over the dunes and the baking hot desert day turned to bloody freezing desert night, we joined in the festivities. Oh boy, did we join in the festivities. I was designated Other Special Guest (since there was already a Special Guest, namely the Alchemical Brothers, from the valley of Great Sand); the masters of ceremonies were the handsome twins Fahim and Faher, and they accompanied me on camelskin drums with some pulse-pounding percussion as I played Loose in the Burnoose, Smells Like Tent Spirit, Camel Chameleon, You Dry Up My Life, an all-rocking rendition of Deeper and Dune, and an ode to Seven-Handed Sek, patron god of the Dehydrated Ocean, that I called Bringing Sek's Sea Back. Cert had got his mojo back by then and used his Technomancer training to put on a light show; the camels calculated trajectories and spat out their cuds at high speed, and Cert turned each cud missile into a ball of sparkling flame that landed harmlessly on the far side of the oasis. We partied and drank and watched the dancing houris and ate dates and no, I didn't try the sheep's eyes. And as the slow desert dawnlight rolled slowly across the dawn desert, we staggered off to our tents with a slurred chorus of "I'm going to Great Sand, Great Sand, down in Elharib, I'm going to Great Sand...proud D'regs our patrons in desert breeze, and we are going to Great Sand..."

* * *

On the following day, we, that is to say the D'regs, were attacked by the Misplaced Tribe of Unreal. I'd believed they were only a legend, and when they first crested the dunes I thought they were a leftover hallucination from my qat-qit hangover, but no. The Misplaced Tribe are descendants of a lost cadre of Klatchian Foreign Legionnaires who joined the KFL to forget and then forgot they were in it; now they wander the trackless desert, pillaging passing caravans and plundering pilgrims on the paths. They were no match for al-Rhaiva's D'regs though, and the survivors willingly joined our lads (though not in as, um, unfettered a capacity as ours). They were led by a pale-skinned, pale-eyed young man called Sojar ibn Sheri, aka the Lyon of the Dessert (fierce wanderers aren't so good with the spelling), who thinks he came originally from Ankh-Morpork, or possibly Muntab, but has long since forgotten. He's quite good with camels though. The Misplaced Tribe will no doubt continue to exist -- they can't remember if they were the whole Tribe or if there were others who forgot to come along.

We pitched our tents on yet another featureless expanse of sand which, I was told, was near the Djelibeybian border. It seems we can get transport down the Djel to the Circle Sea. I always did want to visit Djelibeybi; any nation that lists garlic as one of its primary exports gets my vote. Remember, my mother's side of the family were Nugganites...

The story so far, in song:

    Travellin' on a flyblown carpet
    With a whiffy smell, like Nobby's armpit
    I met a D'reg houri in Klatch's service
    She mixed me up like a whirling dervish
    And she said,

    Do you burn from the sand down under?
    Hot rash below? - well, no wonder
    Do you feel, do you feel quite sundered?
    Your tender bum you better keep covered!

    Half-dead in a D'regs-filled place is
    Even worse by far with no oasis
    I said, "Is the coastline that way?"
    They just grinned and gave me some scorpion sorbet
    And they said,

    We run with the sand down under
    Where thirst can kill if you blunder
    Do you feel, do you feel encumbered?
    Beware the sun - you better keep covered!

    Flying in a windblown quand'ry
    With a sick Imp and no clean laundry
    I said to the D'regs, "Let us leave this country
    "Because I long for a land that's tent-free!"
    And we said,

    Sinkin' in the sand down yonder
    Where camels plod and D'regs wander
    Do you feel like you're bleaching blonder?
    You're turning brown, you better seek cover!

* * *

Second Clog: "Not lost, just cartographically variable"

The Lost City of Ee materialised next to our tent during the night.

This is not as unusual as it sounds. According to the history books I've read, the Lost City of Ee is a brigadoon, a magickal node of placeness that disappears and reappears at various places on the Disc (or sometimes elsewhere in the multiverse). My Mapp placed it well rimwards of Elharib, but it was published in the Century of the Fruitbat and is obviously out of date. We were also obviously out of dates, and thirsty again, so we packed up and set off inside the strangely carved walls in search of breakfast; we couldn't ask the D'regs, because every one of them, man, woman camel and prisoner, had mysteriously disappeared without a trace. So had the inhabitants of Ee, by the look of it. Everything was covered by a fine layer of dust -- not all of it desert dust by any means -- and the streets were paved with very old-looking mud, but the fountains in city centre were still running and the water was cool and delicious. And there were fruit trees! With fruit on them! Cert insisted on muttering a few poison-detecting spells over our "found meal" before we ate, but they came up clean. I thought I noticed a funny shadow at the edge of the market square when he was spell-saying, but it was probably just a heat hallucination, or the last effects of the qat-qit.

When we were well fruited, I decided to have a bath in the fountain while Cert explored...after all, there's been a lot of geography between here and the last bath I had in Genua...and after bath came nap. By the time I woke up, it was late afternoon and Cert was back. He'd found some old grimoires (he was well chuffed about that, since if you remember he'd thrown his own ones overboard just before Captain Aie's pirates captured us) and some fresh clothes (for a "probably centuries old, but at least they look like no-one's died in them" value of "fresh") and a couple of fine-looking ceremonial daggers (in case anything new and exciting attacks us), but no people and no food, so we've had some more fruit. He's also found what he thinks is a collection of sapient pearwood figurines, but said it was getting dark fast in that part of the city and he'd rather rest and go back in the morning. We gathered some old furniture and made a fire because the temperature was dropping again. I swear the shadows look funny around the edges of the square. Must be the firelight. But in the end we decided to go back outside the walls and pitch our tent in the open desert, in case the city decided to leave with us in it while we were asleep.

We've made a pact to sleep on separate sides of the tent until we get back to someplace less, well, lost.

On a side note, Gimpy has been acting funny. I've been getting him to read back my posts before he sends them, and I keep having to make corrections to the spelling and grammar and sometimes ask him to delete whole passages he's copied down twice. He says his processor spell needs a flush. I don't even want to think about what that entails. Cert says he can fix Gimpy but he needs some specialist supplies including something I think he called a daemon-magnitiser and something about a hard drive. But I don't drive my Imp too hard! Hopefully, the next time we're near someplace vaguely civilised, we can sort this out.

Tired now. Here endeth this post.

* * *

Third clog: "Necessity is one mean mother"

We went back into the Lost City the following morning, since it was still there. It's really quite beautiful in a ruined lost city kind of way, and while I can't say I've been too happy with all the unexpected changes in my travel itinerary I'm glad I got to see Ee. The buildings, those that haven't fallen down from extreme age, are very attractive, with lots of weird carvings that wander behind corners when you try to look at them, and a number of arch-balconied courtyards in the Al-Khali style I've seen in travel books. I do wonder what became of the people though. We examined a number of buildings, including one that looks like it used to be a library, but the room with the carved figurines was empty this time; the only thing left in there was a large statue of what looked like petrified wood. It was carved or sculpted or whatever in the shape of some sort of many-armed goddess, not one either of us recognised, with knives in her hands rather like the knives we were now carrying, and a huge jewel in the centre of her forehead. Just sitting there. Huge. Possibly a yellow diamond or an octarine -- although if it was an octarine, it had to be the largest one ever cut. Huge, and just sitting there. I climbed up onto the plinth (the wood or stone or whatever was very warm, considering that the room was dim and not ever likely to see direct sunlight) and took out my dagger and started to prise it out of the statue's forehead. As one does. I had it loose and almost ready to come out when Cert looked up from reading a grimoire and shouted at me to stop.

"Why? This must be worth a fortune. Or will be, when we get back to someplace with people and jewellers."

"No! That's some sort of holy statue. You know something horrible will happen if you remove the jewel! It's a law of narrative causality!"

"Don't be silly. Cohen the Barbarian does this sort of thing all the time, they say."

"But you know about the sort of things They say! Something horrible will happen!"

Huge jewel. Fortune. I decided to ignore him and listen to my inner avarice. The stone came out very easily after that. It was very warm. Blood-warm.

Something horrible happened.

* * *

On run from something horrible. Don't know what, but large and angry. Dictating on run. City crumbling. Shadows moving. The walls. The walls. The -- Gimpy! Stop stammering, godsdamn you! Everything starting to tilt, sort of. Lights ahead -- ah, the desert! About to dive through gates, shutting up now!

* * *

I'm now dictating in midair. Here's what happened: we made it through the gates just in time, because immediately afterwards the whole city started shimmering and wavering and faded out so completely that it looked as if nothing had ever been there...except for the shadows. We still had our daggers and Cert still had a couple of grimoires, but our tent was nowhere to be found and there was still this feeling of forebodingness in the air. We walked on for a while, but soon the sun and the heat wore us right out. "Anything in there that could get us out of this desert? There must be some way out of here...maybe there's a foldaway broomstick inside one of the covers..."

"Don't be such a joker," says the man who'd just stolen some precious ancient books of magick.

There were an awful lot of shadows on the horizon, considering it was not long past noon.

After a time, during which the shadows kept creeping closer, he did find a promising spell, which he translated as Fingerpull Eccluniastes' Instantaneous Troublefree Transporter, and read out the runes from the ruins in a hurry. There was a flash of light, a peal of thunder (for effect), a cloud of octarine smoke, and...

"A carpet? A carpet?! I'm not getting on that." "Suit yourself, if you'd rather be lunch for that." I turned in the direction Cert was pointing, took one look, and here we are on a flying carpet again. At least it's not too far to Djelibeybi, and we're both older and wiser.

Over and out.

* * *

Shortmouth time: Djelibeybi! Safety! Civilisation! Beds! Indoor plumbing! Food! Markets! Audience tomorrow with Queen Ptraci!

Shopping now. More later. I'm off to buy socks in the souk.

-- Alice.

Note for Roundworlders: the original lyrics for Down Under can be found at: (although this is not a totally correct version - but every other lyrics page for this song on the anternet seems to make the same mistakes)

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