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part four.


It was impossible to talk openly anywhere on Shyllipa Minor. As Mallos had pointed out earlier, nothing was a secret on a planet where the earth and the air had ears. Fortunately, a regular shuttle service carried visitors between the two sister-planets for only a very small fee so, once Lorraine had caught up with the two boys at the designated meeting point, the three of them took the next shuttle together.

They let Mallos pay. The currency on the Shyllipa planets was experience – stories, poems, memories, jokes. A wealthy person was a person with great experience, and nobody was wealthier in this world than a bard. Zed sat down cross-legged on the floor with the other nymphs who all listened, enraptured, as each one made their payment to the driver. Lorraine preferred to stand than sit on... on the floor. The little shuttle blasted along through the stars, noisy with the songs, poems, wit, and tales of the passengers as they generously shared their riches.

The shuttle deposited them near the Scipius, which had been built close by for convenience's sake. Shyllipa Major was more densely populated than her little sister, with greater interpretation and a wider variety of species. Lorraine, Zed and Mallos passed a herd of grazing unicorns and a couple of satyrs braiding daisy-chains with a water nymph, who kept splashing them and descending into fits of giggles. They also passed some very strange creatures indeed: upright humanoids with the head of a cow, three tails and ram-like horns.

Homo vitulus,” Lorraine supplied when Zed looked at her expectantly. “Rarer than black unicorns. Less than two hundred left in all the worlds.”

As usual, the moat around the Scipius was frozen over, and they were easily able to walk over it with the ice-gripping dust which rubbed off of the ferns on the soles of their shoes. The Scipius itself was a large, garish building: white all over, and made of a secret, seamless material known only to the nymphs. It had gold ornamentation and stained-glass windows sporting various images of nymph life and culture. The building was council-owned and designed as an embassy, although it was also used an unofficial holiday home for all of the originals. It was run and maintained by the locals, the employees of whom took up residence within its walls. After the Shaman civil war, the Keeper of the Scipius had agreed to allow Gwythr to be placed under house arrest there.

Lorraine kept a subtle eye on Mallos, but if she was hoping to spy a reaction, she was disappointed. The International Ambassador gave no outward indication of any emotions he might feel at being in the same building as his arch-nemesis.

They paid their respects to the Keeper, who tried to get entice them (while mostly looking at Mallos) to stay for dinner, which they had to rather forcibly decline. Mallos was the favourite deity amongst most types of nymph, not least because of his story-telling talents. Once they'd managed to pry themselves away and secure a private room, Lorraine finally sank gratefully into one of the nice, clean chairs.

“What happened at the elemental court?” She demanded, unable to contain her curiosity any longer.

They told her, and she did her best not to laugh.

“Tallies up with what I learnt from the satyrs and the centaurs,” she admitted. “I only spoke to a few of them, but they were quite talkative. Strong anti-immigration feeling is brewing amongst a lot of the tribes – but at a high level, royals and seniors mostly. The satyrs' and centaurs' interaction with most nymphs hasn't changed much, but they're starting to find a few aspects of life hard. Catching shuttles, buying material to build homes, that sort of thing. Some nymphs aren't being cooperative serving them. The centaurs have reacted by isolating themselves more from the nymphs, but the satyrs are still trying to foster good relationships – predominantly with water nymphs.”

“That makes sense,” Zed nodded. “Coya looked like she had a level head. Whatever's going on here, it's definitely only going down in the fire, earth, and air factions. Water seems to be comparatively fine, and I daresay solar is too.”

“The solar nymphs haven't had anything to do with it,” Mallos asserted, with such confidence that Zed frowned at him.

“And how do you know that?”

“Quizzed one on the shuttle up.”

“I thought you said they wouldn't open up quickly?”

Mallos shrugged. Zed turned away from him to face Lorraine instead; a widely-used tactic amongst the other originals when Mallos' face was looking just a little too punchable. “Let's get some sleep,” he told his less annoying colleague. “We can work through the next step in the morning.”

    • part five. -
    • part six. -
    • part seven. -
    • part eight. -

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