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17 July 2015 @ 10:05 am
_External Relations_ part 7  

The parking lot was dark and empty. The car and horse trailer shouldn't be especially remarked upon. Mushy was quite proud of his stratagem. "Two in the morning, who's going to notice us?"

Whipper grinned. "And if they do, they'll think we're Fallen." He patted Kestrel's nose. "Everybody knows the Fallen ride horses all over Embassy." He turned and mounted the chestnut mare. "Good thing we've been riding them all week. They actually steer and stop now."

Mushy nodded. "Good thing we had riding lessons fifty years ago. We won't ride much, the horses are just to establish us as Fallen." Riding like my butt hurts will not help our cover. Panther shied away and he had to do a bit of hopping about to get aboard. They rode across the parking lot to the Embassy Gate. Their ID matched up and the gateman waved them through the vehicle entrance with a frown. The horses' hooves clattered on the paving and Panther shimmied around a bit before she finally stuck her head through the Gate and the rest of her followed. Kestrel was right behind.

He turned left, spotted a strip of grass and aimed for it. Without the clatter of shod hooves, the central square was dark and quiet. He'd seen it a million times in pictures. It was bigger than he'd expected. The air was fresh and cool. Clean. Not many vehicles, no refineries, chemical plants, industries. "You know, the whole idea of a whole planet full of diplomats is scary." Nothing should smell this good. It's unnatural.

Whipper nodded, looking around, as the mares trotted, ears alert and nostrils taking in the scent of miles and miles of green grass.

Most of the Embassies kept their entrances lit, but at this time of night, were otherwise dark. There were two Embassies ahead of them, Arrival and Comet Fall, and beyond them a dark menacing corner. A few dim lights silhouetted steps and door. Mushy swallowed. Disco. He saw movement and jerked his horse to a stop.

Another horseman was out there. Someone on a big black horse. He urged Panther forward, wondering if he should be heading the other direction instead . . .

Faintly seen in the starlight, the rider ahead whipped around and stared at them.

"Damn! Away, Speed!" The black horse shot away from them at a flat run.

The two ex-racehorses leaped after them. Mushy fought for balance, tried to shorten his reins, looked up in time to see the black horse leap into the side of a building.

He hauled on a rein and aimed Panther for the same spot.

They charged out into a dimly lit brick paved courtyard. He spotted the black horse to the right, dodging into the side of a barn, followed them out into a twilight city, raced, thundering through empty streets, the black horse pulling away steadily. A street full of corridor entrances whipped by. The black horse dived through one well down the street and Mushy kept his eyes on it and steered Panther through. He slowed, looking for the black horse. Caught a bare glimpse of movement . . .

He looked around. Slowed further as he started thinking instead of pursuing. He hauled Panther to a halt. She was steaming in the warm air, breathing in deep gulps. How far did we just come?

"Mush!" Whipped pulled up beside him. "What are you doing? Are you insane? Where are we? Why were you chasing him?"

"Umm, because he was running away?"

"Mushy! Are we going to be able to get home? We don't even know what world we're on!"

"This must be Comet Fall. I mean, a private Gate somewhere behind Disco? Has to be Comet Fall." Mushy looked around the deserted clearing. Roughly square, bare dirt and patches of grass, some shacks, dark and uninviting in the morning light, as the sun cleared the trees.

"Well. All right, that's logical. And . . . We're on Comet Fall?" Whipper looked around, wide-eyed. "Maybe before we try to get home we should check around, you know? I wonder who that guy was? A criminal? We really should find him. Talk to him. Maybe one of Rior's Gang? What was he doing over by Disco?"

"I'm sure he went this way." Mushy turned the tired mare to the right. "I can't believe a horse that big could be so fast."

"No kidding." They fell silent and the horses plodded down a paved road that turned into a dirt track as it cleared a dip in a ridge.

Mushy eyed the four ramshackle houses they were approaching. One was in decent repair, the others looked on the verge of collapse. There was no sign of the black horse. Either they'd gone the wrong way, or the horse was hidden in one of the barns.

"You fellahs lookin' for somethin'?" The woman on the front porch of the first patched and ugly house stepped into the sunlight. Drop dead gorgeous and glowing. Maybe twenty. No, her eyes were older. A Princess? Here?

"I gotta nice collection of knickknacks, jewry, magic potions, fin china and even a few nasty o'hexes left."

They swapped looks. Mushy slid off the horse. "Magic potions?"

"Yep." The woman looked over her shoulder. "Fire? Get on out here and take t'gentlemen's horses around t't'barn. Get tem some feed."

The boy that popped out was a scrawny ten year old. "Sure. Nice mares. You guys like pintos? We've got this really great yearling that we haven't changed yet. And Beastly, of course."

Mushy blinked. "Umm, yeah. I like pintos."

Whipper rolled his eyes. "They're low class. I like black. You should have seen the big black horse we saw earlier."

"Beastly's almost black."

"Ride him a lot do you?" Mushy asked.

"Nah, he's a drafthorse. He's won every pulling contest he's ever been in."

Not the answer he'd been fishing for.

"That's nice." Whipper handed over his reins.

Mushy turned his attention back to the woman. "What was that about magic potions, err, Miss?"

"You just call me Susto, honey." She gestured for them to follow. The front room of the house was stuffed with junk and coated with dust. One wall had rough shelves, full of little bottles of liquid, each with a label. They were glimmering and looking at them made his brain itch. Mushy peered at them. "Red hair, green eyes, blue eyes. Whoa, do these really work?"

Whipper choked. "Enlarged penis?"

Susto chuckled. "That's a popular one."

Mushy pulled one off the shelf. What will Izzo want to know about? We'll just have to get a selection, and get them tested. Make a list of what else is here.

"It's too bad that so many spells can't be bottled." The woman swayed up to him. "There's so much that is so useful, in day-to-day life, y'know?"

"Err . . . " He eased away from her, through piled goods and spotted a box full of little bottles.

"Those are t'ones without sensible labels. Lots a young folk think it's fun to take their chances. And t'hex bottles, that's the ugly little pots. Anyone yah want t'go bald? Some of them even change men into women. Or is it t'other way around? I gotta big jug, could fill up some more if yah want."

"Err . . . " Mushy slipped over to a basket full of aluminum rings. They glowed with charms imbued upon them. He picked up one and tried to isolate . . . "anti-ovulation?"

"Baby ban rings. Also popular, not fool proof, but pret'darn good. Them over there are more fun."

He picked one up and dropped it as a thrill shot through him and his private parts reported for duty.

"Direct nerve stimulation. Holy One!" Mushy blinked at the woman. She was disturbingly good looking, everything was young and beautiful. Except her eyes. Those were centuries old, calculating. Mean.

"There's a spell for that, too. Yah can get much more personal with t'spell. I can teach yah how."

"Really? Umm, Susto, is it?" Mushy swallowed. The house was filthy, the woman glowed at him. Yes, no, yes, no, yes . . .

Whipper cleared his throat. "We are supposed to be finding some wizards. Remember?" He'd assembled a sizable collection of bottles. Mushy grabbed rings and bottles and added them to the pile.

"I'll bet I know a few things yah haven't heard of, Pretty Boy." Susto reached under the table and brought out a half bottle of wine. Three crude clay goblets from a shelf joined it. She blew the dust out of the goblets and poured a generous slug of wine in each. "Now, let's see how much yah two have collected, between yah. Have some wine while I add everything up." She bent her head thoughtfully at the collection of potions and charms.

Mushy took a swallow, and blinked at the deep red in the depths of the crude container. "Wow. This is good stuff."

Whipper looked dubious, but tried a sip. His eyebrows rose. "Nice!" He smiled over at Susto. "So, we don't have much local currency. You want to trade for some other stuff?"

She finished off her own wine and walked around to their side of the table. "For cute pair, like you? No problem." She put an arm around each of them and hugged them up close.

She smelled terrific. He didn't even mind when his good buddy kissed her. Susto was clearly woman enough to handle two men.

"We have been taken. Used. Robbed. Raped." Mushy closed his eyes and let the horse steer itself. Herself.

"Gah. I don't believe we even wound up paying stud fees. How did they leap to the conclusion that I wanted to breed Kestrel to a great huge draft horse? I just said I like black horses. And I swear Susto didn't add up anything, she just pulled a number out of the air. And took all our money and gems."

Mushy moaned. "The Director is going to kill us. And if Panther takes . . . a pinto? And he was pretty heavy-duty too. Xiat will skin me alive."

"Xiat. Err. She's only just got them. If we don't say anything, she'll assume they were pregnant when she bought them."

"Oh. Excellent idea. And did you notice the empty stall in the barn? Fresh manure. I'll bet that black horse was there, and the guy escaped while Susto kept us distracted."

Ten miles down the road they sort of half fell off the horses at the square around the Corridors. Delicious odors wafted from one of the shacks. They turned out their pockets and came up with enough for dinner from the crude stall. Wait, it was dawn. Did we spend all day . . . ?

"You two look wasted."

Mushy blinked over at the Native. He had black hair and honey gold eyes. A wagon was parked behind him and four horses pegged out to relax.

"Yeah. There's a lady down there that's . . . "

The man nodded. "Susto. Actually there's a whole family of them. You're lucky you had enough left over for a meal. I'm Ech. C'mon and sit by the fire."

They followed him, and drank tea until their hangovers started fading.

"All this and we didn't get the wizard's secret." Whipper sighed.

Ech looked around. "The wizard's secret?"

Mushy nodded. "They've got this spell, that lets their brain grow or something."

Ech laughed. "It delays puberty a bit, so the wizard gets stronger. Here." He touched his forehead and brought out a phantasmal box and opened it slowly. Pulled out a spell net and held it for their perusal. Then he snickered. "You boys are in no shape for memorizing spells. Here." The spell split. The insubstantial box split. A copy of the spell was rolled up into each box and pushed into their heads.

"Oh. Thank you. My word." Whipper fell backwards off his log and started snoring.

"That's, that's."

Ech snorted. "I think you two better sleep. No telling where you'll wind up if you go off in this state."

Mushy managed to get their horses unsaddled, fed and brushed before he collapsed next to Whipper.

In the morning they saddled up and rode off through the corridor to Karista. Some wandering got them to a corner Whipper recognized, and a corridor in a small shed to the brick courtyard and then the Gate to Embassy. They looked around, and then trotted away from Disco, looped around and approached the Plaza and all the Gates from another direction. The gateman waved them through from the other side and they were safe.

Mushy melted off the horse and led her off to the trailer. He tried hard to not limp.

Neither of them said a word about stallions as they handed the horses over to the groom. A quick wash and change of clothes and they headed for the office.

          Izzo whistled when he saw the bags of potions and rings. "That'll keep Research busy for awhile. Good job."

Mushy smiled nonchalantly. "I'm going to check my office and catch up on mail." He shut his mouth on any mention of the horses.

Whipper nodded. "That's just a sample. The lady had more. Kind of a junk shop. Or pawn shop. So, any time you want more, we'll umm, go get more."  

The Director looked amused. "Was she pretty? Drop these off on Wrla's desk, you might as well take the credit for it. I thought you'd be lucky to find anything inside of a month."

Down eight levels, they caught Dr. Wrla in his office, but it was hard to say if he was impressed with them, as he didn't appear to actually see anything but the rings and bottles. He set them all out on his desk. Handed them the two goblets with a sneer. I expect we paid for them as well.

They shrugged and left him calling for his lab people.

Mushy looked in his goblet. A faint stain. "Do you suppose this was that joy juice they always talk about? The von Neumann potion?"

Whipper looked down at his. "I feel a sudden need to go to a liquor store."

"We're going to regret this."


matapampamuphoff on July 17th, 2015 03:06 pm (UTC)
The story about how Aunt Susto came to be in possession of all the magic potions will be published well before this.
Bretbretw on July 18th, 2015 08:28 pm (UTC)
I didn't realize Aunt Susto was nice looking...
matapampamuphoff on July 18th, 2015 08:36 pm (UTC)
Only since she started testing those potions.

I'm afraid the God of Thieves and the Grantown gang have turned into my comedic relief and low class minor criminals.