(Continued from Part Two.)
“You can come out little drijj.” Came a smooth, silken voice.
He held himself even more still and waited. Rist wasn’t stupid enough to fall for a trick like that. He had heard rumors that there were people out past the Broken Arches who used the blood of drijj like him to poison their arrows and darts. No way was he coming out so some lazy tribal warrior could poke holes all through him. Not a chance.
“Little drijj; come out and talk to me. I have been watching you. I saw you kill your pigeon.”
Rist shivered involuntarily. There had been no one around, not even a spider. He had made sure of it. But how did they know about the bird? Maybe they had heard the ruckus raised by the flock. They could be making it all up in order to trick him. Some hunters did that. Especially the cruel ones who didn’t bother to kill things like him right away. They’d probably jab a handful of arrows or quill-darts into his guts and kick him off to the side and forget about him, leaving him to die slowly, alone and forgotten. No one cared about a stinking little drijj.
“It was a skillful shot.”
He quivered. The voice was coming closer. It was unmistakable in its femininity, unstoppable in its progress and frightening in its inevitability. Whomever it was, she would find him. Rist knew it in his spindly little bones and between his toes. There was no hiding from one such as this. He had finally made the ultimate mistake; he had let someone else see him. Now he would pay the price all small things paid when larger things spotted them. He’d feed either her belly or her ambition. Maybe both.
“Ah little drijj; come out and let us talk of things you and I.”
Rist shivered at the almost purr-like invitation. No one had ever bothered to teach him any real prayers and he sincerely doubted that there were any gods who’d pay attention to the whining supplications of a little drijj pleading for its miserable life. If there were drijj gods, they’d be too busy hiding from the bigger gods to help their people, anyhow. And if they were any good at hiding, then no one would ever find them, not even their own people. What good were gods even a little drijj could find in their dens? Who’d want to pray to a god that a drijj could command or cajole? Certainly not Rist. He lived in a world of gods and monsters and not one of them was on his side or cared abut him or his well-being, if any of them even knew he existed at all. But now someone did know he existed and she was too close to dig any deeper without giving away his hiding spot. Then he felt her tap his only partially buried left foot with something cold and sharp.
Exhaling a deep breath, perhaps his last, Rist wriggled out from his hiding spot and blinked nervously in the sultry light of Bireo, the fat orange sun that still had hours of scalding everything before finally setting. The female stood right before him. She was obviously beautiful, implicitly powerful and radiated a dangerousness that reminded Rist of some exotic perfume, one that lingered long after the wearer had walked past and reminded all who came after that something supremely wicked once passed this way and might be coming back if it pleased them. As any drijj in such a situation would do, Rist hunkered down, slouched his shoulders, never made the least eye-contact and began to mutter in a low-volume placatory whine, the one he’d learned in the womb as his birth-mother whined to her belly-swelling younglings even before birth. If anything, a drijj mother did her best to prepare her offspring for their place in the world.
Rist knew his place and demonstrated it to the tall, dark woman with the luxurious braids and the elegant boots. Half-way through the third chorus of the whiner’s litany Rist began to bob and bow alternately, hoping it would add a distinctly obvious sort of improvisational kowtowing to his abasement. He knew it was arrogant to attempt any sort of creativity in his whining, and it flew in the face of all he had learned or been granted through race memory, but he couldn’t help it. He was just that way. Perhaps it was a flaw of some sort. He fervently hoped it wouldn’t offend the big person, the woman with the expensively braided hair and silky voice that sent shivers down Rist’s twisted little spine.
“Rather pathetic looking, aren’t you little drijj?”
“Yes. Yes; drijj most pathetical of all man’s creations, or perhaps not most; not so good as to claim such a meritoralous a distinction like that, we just pathetic, if it please you…”
She laughed. He was still alive. It was as good a sign as he could imagine.
“Pathetic or not, I have a job for you little drijj.”
“Yes. I want you to retrieve something for me from some friends.”
“Ree Tree Vuh?” Rist tried to work his mouth to make the word. It felt funny and made his nostrils tickle.
“Go get. Fetch. You go. Get small thing. Bring it back to me. Understand?”
“Oooooh. You want Rist get shiny-shiny for you, yes? Rist good at that. Rist do this often for many people who not want to be seen picking up shiny-shinys.”
“Yes. Exactly. I require someone discrete, someone who’ll not be noticed and who’ll most likely never remember the details of our transaction. You came highly recommended.”
“Rek Um Member Ud?” Rist tried his luck with another new word, but it felt dull in his mouth, heavy on his tongue. It didn’t tickle his nostrils like the other one had. He liked that word, he just couldn’t remember it.
“I spoke with Dezguzzi…”
“Dex-Goosey NiCe. Me like him. He give me Kahn-Dee. Lots nice Wrapper-things too. Like wrapper-things.”
“Yes. He spoke well of you too. Are you available to take on my commission?”
“Can you do this for me?” the tall lady cut Rist off before he could try out another new word. She was growing impatient.
“Okay. Me do this. Where shiny-shiny at? What you give me to go get?”
“Ah, you are a professional after all. Very well, in return for getting my item returned to me unseen and unnoticed I will not only spare you wretched little life, I will reward you – what would you like; more venduu candies, some colorful scraps of paper? What would you ask of me little drijj?”
Rist grew silent, as though confronted with a Living Goddess Herself, and solemnly contemplated his opportunity to ask of her whatever he could think of. It was possibly the single most momentous occasion he could recall since waking up this morning.
“You make Rist smarter than pigeons? You do that for Rist?” he blurted out without so much as a second thought.
“Oh ho; you would be more than you are already, is that it? An ambitious drijj. You certainly are unusual for your kind. Your request intrigues me, from one professional to another. I don’t see any good reason not to help you out a little bit. Yes. I agree. I know of a way that I can easily grant your request when you bring me my item. Are we agreed then?”
“Yes. Yes! Rist do. Rist bring. Lady make Rist smarter. Much good deal. Where Rist go? What you want Rist get you?”
“I’ll make it easy for you little drijj.” The dark lady made a curious, sinuous gesture with her delicate-looking hand. She drew something in the air that quickly caught a pale blue glimmer, pulsed into a flickering non-flame then leapt from her outstretched palm to dance around Rist like a tiny, mocking thing. It was cold, not warm like a real flame. Rist didn’t know what it was but he liked the trick and wanted to see the dark lady do more things like the non-flame but before he could ask she was talking again.
“There. You just have to follow the wisp I’m sending ahead until you find the entry-way to the Necrolisti Bone Gardens. There will be someone waiting just inside the first arch. Go to them. Hold out your hands and let the blue wisp dance upon the palms. It is a bit cold, but it does not have my permission to hurt you so there’s nothing to be afraid of whatsoever. This person you’ll meet will recognize you as my courier and give you a small package–-you are to return with that item undamaged, unopened and intact--I’ll wait for you right here.”
“Rist do. Rist do. Rist go right now.” He somersaulted and ran off following the flickering blue non-flame as it zigged and zagged along the rubble-piles and debris-mounds that choked what once were splendid city streets.
The dark lady stood and watched the ridiculous drijj caper and somersault across the ruined esplanade as it followed her nanoplasmic wisp. It was all she could do to not shake her head in a mixture of disbelief and disgust. She had selected exactly the right messenger to perform the transfer. No one would ever notice the drijj, and they’d certainly never suspect the little thing of being more than a piece of genetrash, an opportunistic scavenger looking for crumbs. Utterly beneath contempt, eminently forgettable. Perfect.
To Be Continued...