Part 2: Ziggy Stardust
I'm led from my room through another delicate, polished hallway. It's hard to walk, though it gets easier as the stiffness leaves my legs.
The two elf girls keep their distance from me, unspeaking. Can't say I blame them after my outburst. As a rule I don't casually threaten to skin people.
I consider running from them. They move like servants, and they aren't dressed in much more than gowns. They're not even armed. But then what? I have no idea where I'd go. I should at least meet this Lord Dythanus, know who I'm dealing with.
The halls are rounded, almost tube-like. It reminds me of the tunnels of the Belly. We come to a large, domed hall. The ceiling is festooned with colorful stained glass mosaics in geometric patterns that remind me of flowers. Impressive. Some of the glass glows. It's fireglass, tinted various shades of violet and green as well as orange, red, and yellow. Lovely.
There are rows of tables laid out, laid out with foods of all sorts, from exotic vegetable dishes to succulent roast birds. My stomach rumbles. Dozens of elves, and a few well-heeled humans, chatter as they eat. It must be dinner...no, elves are nocturnal. This is breakfast for them.
Presiding over it all, slouching on one of a pair of thrones in the center of the chamber, is someone who can only be The Silver Lord. He dresses in fine silks, all white with sky-blue highlights. His hair is white, as well, but his features are far from old. My head must still be fuzzy, because his skin almost seems to sparkle in the soft glow of the fireglass. I'm brought before him.
"Welcome!" He reclines on his chair like some large, languid cat, one leg hiked over the throne's arm, a glass of ruby wine in one hand. Not exactly how I'd picture one of the high nobles of Miir sitting, really.
The other elves glance at me. A few stare, some with the corners of their mouths upturned in smirks.
"Uh, right." I say. "Whatever. What do you want with me, and why am I not in jail?"
"Ah! Right to the point! I like that, Exile, I do. But introductions first.” He waves the wine glass in a slow, sloppy circle. “Must do this the proper way. Always the proper way. Everything has rules here, you know. So many blasted rules." He straightens. “I am Lord Jereth Dythanus, master of the Physicians Guild of Miir, and brother of Lady Sylvia, the Matriarch of House Dythanus itself. You are Gaven Morren, late of Calisapas, thief, Exile, sometimes called Gaven The Redcap for your ugly hat. Or your hair. Not sure which."
"My hair?" I'm confused.
"You didn't know? Perhaps you haven't seen yourself since your exile started. Strange things happen to Exiles. You there!" he points to a passing human servant. "Fetch a mirror for my guest!" The servant jumps, then moves like his rear was set on fire. He returns just as quickly with a nice, hand-held mirror. Very fast. Very efficient. Very terrified.
I look into the mirror. My hair is supposed to be brown. It isn't. It's changed somehow into a nasty rusty ginger color. I rub it to make sure it's real. It is.
How the Dragon's Boiling Belly!?
"Miir is changing you. It does that, occasionally." He says, taking a sip from his glass. "So. You're not in jail because I wished it so. I figure you must be having a series of absolutely awful evenings. Tonight, you get to rest from being in mortal peril."
"Uh-huh." I say absently. "And you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart, I assume?"
"Well, no. Not entirely. But we can discuss such things later, when you are rested. For now? Feast! Make merry! Rest! Enjoy my hospitality. Swive some of my lovely servants. Peruse the library and better your wisdom! In an hour, we go to the circus!" The human with the mirror backs off hastily, as if I might take Dythanus up on his offer right there. No worries, mate. Too ugly and wrong gender.
This is a lot to take in, so I decide to just go with it. I take a seat at one of the tables and begin filling my plate with food. The elves just stare at me and make more-than-polite room. This is a lot better than prison fare. I haven't eaten this well in months.
"Tell me, where's Eric?" I ask as I load up on roast and fruit. There's a subtle change in the air. Everyone in the immediate vicinity is looking at me with a mix of half-smiles and the occasional strained giggle. Uncomfortable. Lord Dythanus doesn't seem to mind the question.
"Your companion? Ah. We discussed his outstanding debt and reached an arrangement. Don't worry, you'll see him soon." Uh-oh. A shiver slips down my spine. I've heard too much noble doublespeak to get much comfort from that.
Why do I get the impression he's toying with me? I'm starting to lose my appetite. No. I'm not going to let this paranoia cripple me. Relax. I can't. There is something ever so slightly wrong here. Something off. It's all askew, and I can't help the cold down my back. Dragon take it. I'm going to enjoy myself. I take a bite from a nice, juicy red fruit. Mmmm...delicious. Too many seeds, though. I spit out...some bloody teeth. What?
Some nice, frantic shrieks escape me as I try to comprehend that. Yup. Those are teeth, alright. I scream again. Everyone is staring at me.
"Why, Gaven, what seems to be the matter?" Lord Dythanus asks, raising an eyebrow as he shifts in his chair. "Is the food not to your taste?"
"What the FUCK is THIS?" I yell, waving the fruit at him. "What kind of SICK SODDING JOKE is this, huh!? There are TEETH in my FOOD!"
He blinks, bewildered. "Well, I should hope there are. How would you eat, otherwise? Or are the teeth not your own teeth?"
“You utter bastard!”
"I urge you to calm, Gaven. Look at your plate again." I do. There are no teeth, just seeds in fruit pulp. "I'm afraid it's just delirium. It must be the Elisdee extract taking effect." His voice is one of mocking concern. "You didn't drink the painkiller I sent you, did you? tsk, tsk. We're never going to get along if you reject my hospitality like that."
I'm too busy being horrified to listen."Elisdee? Y-you gave me Dreamlily?" I gasp out. "You poisoned me!"
The bastard laughs. "Poison? Nonsense. Elisdee is perfectly non-toxic, and an excellent way to fight infection. Of course, it does bring on the delirium, but that will pass. And for some, dreamlily delirium is not unwanted. Indeed, it is much sought, and we make a comfortable profit from its sale to Dreamers."
I feel ill. I've seen what dreamlily does to people. It's not pretty. While the delirium lasts, a Dreamer is likely to do just about anything: speak to invisible people, tear off their flesh, attack best friends...
"Well. Let this be a lesson for you not to reject a gift. The painkiller I sent you would have dulled the Elisdee, had you partaken."
"You bastard sack of dragondung. You pox-infested git of a three-legged goat! You skag-licking jackal fucker! You spew-guzzling, log-sodding spawn of a whore! You..." He waits serenely until I run out of things to call him.
"Well. THAT was instructional. I'll need to remember a few of those." He croons. "If it helps any, consider the delirium extra incentive to enjoy my hospitality. You wouldn't want to face the night like this, would you? Imagine facing The Shadows not only sore and injured, but half out of your mind." He feigns a shudder. "Not a fate you'd enjoy, I'm sure."
The implication is clear.
And he seemed like such a nice guy.