Al Dente

“So,” Alice mumbled around a mouthful of noodly meal, “wh’re we g’in?”

“Table manners,” said Red, “please.

She swallowed. “One, we’re not at a table. Two, I’m really hungry! How long was I out?”

“Five hundred years,” said Aidra, immediately.

“Any better offers?”

“Most of a day,” Nik supplied. “And we’re headed toward Wyrmstooth Keep – that place the dragon hunters came from. It’s apparently nearish?” He glanced at Zkrith, who nodded in response.

“It’ll be another couple of days, if the mood’s the same as it is now.”

“Mood? What- oh, right, the whole weather-as-emotions or something-thing. How’s that even work?”

“I’m not a phlegmomenologist, I’m just a sailor.”

Alice groaned. “Please tell me the weather here isn’t dictated, somehow, by phlegm.

She shrugged. “Don’t ask me, I’m not a native.”

A Librarian fidgeted. “Well, it’s not dictated by phlegm…”

“Okay, good. Crisis averted. I was about to scream.”

“… it’s also dictated by local aetherspheric levels of yellow and black bile, and blood, making it choleric, melancholic or sanguine, respectively.”


“They’re the metaphorologic humours, but the mood of the atmosphere doesn’t have too much bearing on anyone with even a mite of telepathic resistance.”

“In fact,” said Nik, “I think little telepathic instruments are used to determine what the weather actually is at any one time, like how a barometer would be used in an environment with a dynamic atmosphere.”

What’d that even be called?” Aidra mused idly.

“So,” Alice said, ignoring him, “if the psychic weather keeps up, we can get there in a few days or something?”

“Psycheometer? Neurobarometer? Phlegmometer?

“I’d estimate six days,” said Zkrith. “The shifting moods of the aether sometimes allow me to run the alchemistry of the engine a bit harder, pick up some pace, but our upshot’s looking like a bit less than a week.”

“Huh. Not that nearby, then?”

She shrugged. “What can I say? It’s out at the edge of the Foyan Polity, and is thus a bit of a trek.”


Zkrith rolled her eyes. “Yes, Aidra, I’m aware that it’s a boat, and thus can’t walk.”

“But have you ever asked it?”

“You know, sometimes I can use vacuum containers to power the alchemical balances in the boat’s engines. Maybe we should use your skull, it contains the best vacuum I’ve ever seen!”

Aidra started to retort, but was too busy guffawing to finish his sentence.

Nice… one,” he eventually managed to wheeze.

“Okay then,” said Alice, setting her chopsticks down in her empty bowl. “What’s stopping us from going back to Foyer and taking a train?”

“Cruise bingo on the recreation deck?” asked Aidra.

Zkrith raised an eyebrow. “The fact that I’m still not charging you for this?”

Actually,” said Red, “before we get into an argument, it’d take three days to get back to Foyer anyway, and then we’d have to take a train, which’d take a day or so anyway – Wyrmstooth is really far out in the edge of the Foyan Polity. It’s a bit hard to get a sense of scale, sometimes, when everything’s all enclosed like this, but the Polity is in fact much bigger than you’ve seen so far.”

“Huh. That’s quite a ways – the Foyan Polity must be as big as a medium-to-large Earth country, I think?”

“Since I have no memories of ever living on Earth,” Red replied, shrugging, “not a clue.”

“It’s about as big as Mexico, but rounder,” said Aidra.

She glared at him. “How do you know that?”

He smiled blandly. “Maths!”


“Maths! It’s complicated by the fact that the Polity isn’t a flat area of land on the skin of a fruitglobe, but instead is a shape of three-dee-ness, fulsome and such, embedded in a big disk thing. It’s like if Mexico or maybe Sudan extended up and down by a few hundred miles, which complicates things a bit.” He paused in his gesticulating a moment, lost in thought. “Hmm. It gets complicated a bit by the multiple layers bit, so I think the total amount of surface area in the Foyan Polity ends up being several times that – probably larger than any Terrestrial country, in fact. Add Russia to Antarctica, and you’re in the right ballpark, in terms of amount of straight-up area to build things like houses on. Arable land, however, has an interesting definition, so…”

“While this is fascinating,” said Alice, “no-one here but you and I know anything about how big these countries are, and I’m not so sure about you, honestly.”

“You wound me, Alice.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been wounded too. Speaking of, when do these bandages come off? I’m missing my depth perception.”

“In a bit,” Red replied, “now that we’re done with, er, does it count as lunch?”

“Mid-afternoon kinda implies it’s tea or something,” said A Librarian.

“Well, I can’t think of any useful portmanteau,” said Aidra, “so lunner or lupper it’ll have to be.”

“I’d deal with the bandages if I had some actual elbow room,” said Red.

“Yeah, and we’ve finished lupper and catchup, so I guess that makes sense.” said Alice.

Red narrowed his eyes. “Don’t ever say that word again.”

“’Kay, I’ll say lunner instead.”

“Is it so sensible to disregard the sanity of your medical practitioner?”


“Who do you think put these bandages on you?

She shrugged. “A Librarian?”

“He helped, but I’m the expert on human physiology here.”

“Twelfth helped too,” said A Librarian.

[I Held Things To Help Because I Do Not Actually Have Organs, And Thus Am Somewhat Lacking In Medical Knowledge Or Common Sense.]

“They disassemble Bookbinders in order to repair them, and that’s not particularly tenable on people made of meat.”

[Says You.]

“See, this is why we only let her hold things,” said Red.

“I appreciate that. I like having both my eyes.”

“I mean,” said A Librarian, “we could probably have bought a replacement in-”

“My original eyes.”

“Now you’re just being picky,” said Aidra.

She tried to throw a pillow at him, but was barely able to manoeuvre it up, past everyone else who was crammed into the cabin, by which point he’d darted away and out of the room.

Okay,” said Red, “everyone out! I’m going to change the dressings on her eye and see how the healing’s going, and I need elbow room! Go on! Shoo!

Once everyone had grumbled their way out of the cabin, Red gently undid the bandages around her head and started to remove the dressing.

Ow,” she hissed, as part of her eyebrow was liberated from her face with the adhesive.


“I – ow – accept your apology, but maybe you’re undoing your hard work by peeling my face off again.”

“Mmm-hmm.” He had finished removing the dressing, and was now examining his handiwork. “Stitches look good, only minor redness – does it feel warm?”

“Not really?”

“Right. I’ll sterilise it anyway, and then put a new dressing on, and some bandages to hold that which’ll get less in the way of your vision.”

“No more healing magic stuff?”

“Nah – I mostly used that to save as much of the area as I could from the frostbite. Nik or A Librarian would complain that I’m -” he affected the tone of a scolding schoolteacher – “oversaturating the flesh with thaumic energies, which can cause necrosis.”


“Yeah, your face would fall off or something. Pretty gross.”

“So I had frostbite?”

“You did. On the plus side, at least that meant you didn’t lose too much blood?”

“Cold comfort, but you said you’d managed to rescue it.”

Cold comfort?”

She groaned. “Oh god dangit.”

He laughed, picked up his first aid kit and started to rifle through it.

“Hey, wait,” she said, “can I see it?”

“Oh, right. Er, I think there’s a mirror…”

He looked briefly in the kit, gave up, and dragged an entire dresser around so she could see herself in its mirror. On the face of it, she looked much the same as usual, albeit a bit tired, pale and haggard. What really stood out, and what she’d been looking for, was the jagged line that extended from beneath her hair and down her face, stopping just within her left eyebrow.

Red caught her hand as she reached up towards it. “Hey! Don’t touch it, it’ll get infected. Now, let me bandage it up again, and I’ll try to keep your depth perception going, this time.”

She grumbled, but relented, sitting back on the bed. “Thanks for dealing with this.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Thank me after I’ve sterilised it, because this is going to sting.

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