|"There are natives and then there are natives."|
"Youíre not tourists? You live here on Toros Daglari?" I asked somewhat incredulously. I smeared a final dab of the odorous seasickness cure behind my ear, as I had been directed. It seemed to be doing the job.
Yilla nodded and looked up at the blue sky from under her hat. The two of us were laying on the deck of the boat, up near the bow. (I was starting, slowly, to pick up more of the terminology.) Behind us, Karrik was busy pulling and knotting various ropes, raising and lowering sails and manning (Deveeling?) the wheel. I tried to help and with my levitation skills was able to do one or two small chores for him, working up in the rigging and scraping at this and that down near the boatís waterline, but in the end I mostly just stayed out of his way while he ran the boat. I noted that Yilla did too, but it was clear even to me that she could have run the craft by herself if she so desired.
"I've only been to the Bazaar two or three times in my whole life. Both our families have lived here for several generations." She rolled gracefully onto her side and looked at me with a pert expression. "You live there, in the Bazaar, you said? What do you know about Devan history?"
"Uh... I know that there was once a great environmental and economic catastrophe on Deva which turned the Deveels into a race of interdimensional traders."
"Yes, the ones that stayed close to Deva. But not all Deveels did. Many of them left, settled elsewhere. Most of those that were able to put down roots, survive... never took up the active trading life, although some of it rubbed off on us, I suppose... Especially after..." She hesitated then continued. "Anyway, over the years, a large number of the escaping Deveels found their way here and settled. Our ancestors. It seemed like paradise, after the devastation that they were fleeing. The natives were friendly as well, so they stayed, establishing their own community, working to fit in with the original natives."
"Especially after?" I prodded gently.
She seemed to think for a moment, then sighed.
"We, well, the Deveels that lived here then, were essentially cut off from Deva for a long time after the great collapse. There was almost no contact until relatively recently. Deva and its fate had become practically a myth for us. Then the Deveels from the Bazaar... the Traders, we usually call them... officially found this place... I suppose they'd say they discovered it... and they turned it into their big resort." She sighed again, a complex sound.
"Yes. I was told recently that Toros Daglari is the... what did Aahz say? The poshest, most exclusive... something or other. He seemed very excited about the idea of coming here, anyway."
"Yes." Very flat. "We natives... both Deveels and the original Daglarites... aren't even allowed into the actual resort areas, unless we work there. The Traders have taken over large chunks of the best land and the jobs that are there are very menial. There's been a lot of..." She glanced in Karrik's direction... "hard feelings."
"The resort workers... um... haven't ever tried to unionize, have they? I mean, really unionize, not through the Devan Labor Collective?"
"No." She looked at me oddly. "Although that would be an extremely good idea, now that you mention it."
At that moment, Karrik came over and squatted easily beside us, the boat again racing along unattended. Watching his black-furred lower half bend in relation to the bobbing deck was a fascinating thing.
"So, Penbrius, has Yilla netted you for information yet? We're both dying to know what brings a magician like yourself to Toros. I mean, it's fairly obvious you're not here on a vacation."
After hearing Yilla's story, I was sorely tempted to tell them the truth, even give them my real name but... something held me back. Learning that they weren't on the best of terms with the 'Traders' reinforced my desire to protect them from trouble. All I needed right now was having to worry about the possibility of my hosts being arrested for harboring a wanted fugitive. Also, why worry them needlessly? They obviously didn't know anything about Penbrius and if their entire dimension was in danger of going up in flames...
"I... let's just say that I've been hired by some important people to solve a very serious problem and that I ended up here, on Toros Daglari, by accident. If I told you any more than that, I'd... be endangering you. And I don't want that."
They exchanged another one of those glances.
"I see. Well, if there's anything we can do to help..."
"No, thank you. I already owe you one favor."
They laughed in unison, apparently with total sincerity.
"So..." I asked, deliberately changing the subject, "what do you two do? For a living, I mean."
"Cater to tourists. Thatís pretty much all anyone does here anymore. Either that or work in the fishing industry. But the Daglarites don't really need our help in that area. You haven't seen one yet? You'll understand what I mean when you do. We, personally, take people out on the Tardiz for sightseeing and fishing and whatnot."
"Out on the what?"
"The Tardiz. Didnít we tell you? That's the name of the boat." He gestured proudly.
"It's from a legend among our people." Yilla replied. "About a great traveler. Coming from the background we do, living where we do, we tend to have a thing about travelers and wanderers. That's part of why we let you stay on board, if you wondering. It's obvious you've been traveling quite a bit."
"Yes." I looked down at my bedraggled attire. I had washed what I could over the side of the boat and scraped most of the dried mud out of my boots, but it was all still in bad shape. "Iíve been getting around these last few days. So... you work for the actual resort? From what Yilla was just saying..."
"No. There are several classes of tourists. Some, most of them, never set foot outside the resort proper or stray from its official tours and trips, which is what the Traders want of course, but enough of them come looking for a 'true native experience' down in 'Fishtown' that we get by. We Native Deveels are considered something of a novelty." The last line had both pride and bitterness mixed in it.
"But it lets you make a living."
"And do what we want to do." Yilla added pointedly. I got the vague impression they had had this conversation before.
"Yes." He smiled easily and put his hand on her shoulder. "It does both."
It was another day before the boat came in sight of land, but it was a day of much-needed recovery for me. I got a solid night's sleep up on the deck under the stars, while Yilla and Karrik retired below-deck to their cabin. They had offered me the use of the boat's 'spacious' guest cabin, (I smiled uncomprehendingly at Karrik's obviously well-used joke about the boat actually being 'bigger on the inside') but I have found that after living in the Bazaar, I prefer to sleep outside when I get the chance, assuming of course I donít have to sleep on the bare ground in the rain. It was still nicely warm even after the sun had set and the boat rocked gently, quickly plunging me down into sleep.
In addition, I finally got some real food in my stomach. Yilla did the cooking during the expeditions that Karrik led and she prepared the meals for all of us in the shipís small galley. It was all very good, if a bit salty. At one point in one of the meals, I asked her what it was all made out of it. She hesitated for a moment, then said carefully: "Some guests we take out turn out to be real gillcloggers. One of the nicer ways weíve found to get back at them is to tell them what they've been eating for the last three days."
I looked down at my empty plate. I thought again of orenberries. I silently held out the plate for thirds. That seasickness remedy had really done its job.
I didn't learn much about the food, but I learned a great deal more.
The two of them had spent their whole lives on the seas of Toros, and freely answered all of my questions they could about the sealife (the creatures I'd seen during my flight, for instance, were called Dollfins; occasionally one would appear and ride the waves in front of the boat for a time), the currents and the tides, the history and the geography of the dimension and sailing in general. Fortunately, they didn't press me too much about my own life and I kept my answers as vague as was possible and still remain marginally polite, saying only that I ran a small 'magician for hire' outfit out of the Bazaar.
I also had a chance to study my hosts. Despite their comments about problems with the 'Traders', it was clear they were perhaps the first two fundamentally happy Deveels that I had ever met. Talking to them made me wonder what else I'd missed over the years and I made an internal vow, assuming the next few days didn't end in total disaster, that I would get out and visit more dimensions again, see more of the world than just the Bazaar. Especially if... no, since... Aahz was going to teach me more about dimension travel.
And as we drew near the sighting of land, I did pick up one last tidbit of particular interest. I had avoided the subject at first, but finally screwed up my nerve and Ďcasuallyí asked if they knew of any interesting ruins on the dimension. (It was during another lull in the handling of the boat and Karrik was there as well.) They looked at each other, and Karrik shrugged again.
"No. Not really. Before the Traders came along, the Daglarites werenít much for building large permanent structures, at least above the water. They do incredible things with living coral; they can control its growth and shape it into caves and such."
"Thereís the Temple." Yilla spoke thoughtfully, looking out over the water.
"The what?" This wasnít me, but Karrik. He immediately answered his own question.
"Oh. Right. That thing up above town." He turned to me. "Itís this big gray cube, full of empty rooms. Up in the hills above Fishtown. I think even a lot of Natives have never heard about it. Iím sure the Traders donít know about it. Iíve only been near it once or twice myself."
"The Daglarites worship there?" I asked, unable to hide my surprise.
"No. Well, I donít think so. We Natives just called it that for lack of anything better. The Daglarites..."
"The Daglarites act like it doesnít exist." Yilla spoke, still thoughtful, her gaze still far away. "They pretend they donít know what youíre talking about if you ask them. Even with us Natives. They never go near the place." She rubbed her own forearms and continued in a lower tone of voice. "And some of us think they have the right idea. Thereís something sinister about it."
"Sinister?" Karrik again. "Itís just a crumbling pile of stones."
For the first time since I had joined them, Yilla shot Karrik a glance that bordered on the contemptuous. She faced me and repeated herself.
"Thereís something sinister about it. I went there once and that was more than enough."
She turned and walked away along the deck, still holding herself.
Karrik sighed, rolled his eyes and followed her, excusing himself.
I silently turned and walked the other way. I arrived at the bow and stared out in the same direction as the figurehead, both of us silently waiting for the mainland to come into view.
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