The Many Misadventures of Nnethnen Mouns
By Anwita Vasanth Koodalithazhathuveedu
The pneumatic tube hisses as I pour myself some hot chocolate- the kind with real chocolate, not the faux-chocolate abomination that the alchemists seem to think are the next big hit- and I try to guess what it could be; new intel? New orders? New… hmm. I honestly have no clue what else would be important enough to alert me at- what time is it?
A series of chirps and squeaks (one, two, three, four) alerts me that it is currently four A.M. Taking a sip and lamenting the outer ring’s lack of marshmallow-smuggling trade, I saunter over and flick open the hatch, pulling out a little compartment and settling on the couch to read.
Don’t you know the Bazaar’s on? Come out of hiding, you recluse! The whole gang’s here (even Eddy). Take the cable to Northside until you see the tents, we’ll meet you there.
- Fae (and the rest of the cable crew) (also Pat) (you remember Pat) (Eddy’s dad?)
P.S. Eddy said we would only be able to lure you out with intel, so we’ve all brought our findings
P.P.S. Yes, I know that it’s, like, 3 A.M., but it’s not like you ever sleep anyway (Pat thinks that you’re a vampire)
P.P.P.S. There are marshmallows from the Inner ring. You have to come now.
P.P.P.P.S. Also bring Lilli and Zeke- Harry had an idea about some new food, since they’re such picky eaters. (still very cute though (and tell them I said that)).
I will not. The creatures are already snobbish.
“Alright, alright. You don’t have to tell me twice.”
Classic Fae. Always so bossy. I grab the shoes by the door (my pride, joy and method of traversing the Lines), which can magnetically attach itself to the heavy metal cables.
“Lilli, Zeke, outside time!”
Disgruntled squeaks and the clatter of wings lets me know that they’re on their way, and I quickly drain my hot chocolate, casting one more mournful glance at the couch before clicking the heels of my shoes together, slinging my jacket over my shoulder and stepping out the door and into open air.
Ordinarily, the Lines wouldn’t be crowded at this hour, but with the Night Bazaar in full swing, I have to focus instead of letting myself enjoy the wind (and occasional bugs) on my face. Clicking my heels together, I detach from one cable and leap to another one, the powerful magnets carrying me that little bit further than I need to go. The momentum sends me whirling upside-down, and I wave to a confused-looking woman before detaching and landing neatly on the bazaar’s packed-earth floor.
Still got it.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
There’s a party going on in one of the copper-and-canvas tents, flashing lights too bright to be contained by the fabric.
It’s been a long night. Might as well unwind a little.
Ducking under the cloth door, my ears immediately are assaulted by spikes of music that’s really not much more than loud noise, all but covering up the scuffling of feet and the low murmur of conversation.
Bodies crowd around me, and Lilli and Zeke squeak in discomfort, their sensitive noses wrinkling.
People press up against my chest, not bothering to give me the courtesy of space. The air is stale here, the lights still blinking on and off, bright enough to blind me. I can’t even cover my eyes; if I tried to close them, I’d probably be trampled.
Someone bumps into me, and I lose whatever calm I’ve been holding onto.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
Am I drowning?
I can only keep flinching away.
I’m hunched over, eyes turned up to the sky, desperately searching for a glimpse of the stars.
I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.
I can’t close my eyes
I can feel my heartbeat
in my head
in time to the music
I can’t hear anything anymore.
The dark sticks in my lungs
It claws up my throat-
A familiar voice snaps me out of the haze. I squint at the figure blocking out the lights. He’s just a silhouette, but the posture reminding me of a wilted plant is instantly recognisable.
Thank the Crow.
“Eddy, my man. How’re ya holdin’ up?”
My sleep-deprived junior extends a hand, which I take gratefully- trying (succeeding? hopefully?) to mask my relief.
“I’m holding up a lot better thanks to the new paycheck, thanks.”
Zeke- who’s taken a liking to the guy (maybe because he always smells like coffee?)- flaps dazedly over, shooting me the mothmouse equivalent of the evil eye as he settles into Ed’s jacket pocket.
“Do you know where the rest of them are?”
“They’re off in one of the other tents. Follow me?”
“Absolutely. Let’s get out of this place.”
I like this tent a lot better than the other one.
Although my spy friends are nowhere to be seen, there’s plenty to keep me occupied until they find me. Potions bubble at every stand, lining every surface that I can imagine, even the stations for mixing. Round bottles, square bottles, twisting bottles. Bottles made in the likeness of people, lizards, mothmice- hang on.
He startles, almost dropping a vial of murky brown liquid, shot through with white.
“Careful! This stuff is highly acidic, Nnethnen. You do not want to know what happens if the vial breaks.”
Well, now I do.
Muttering to himself and carefully latching it to his belt, he turns back to face me.
“What is it?”
This is definitely a weird question, isn’t it?
“Were those bottles always there? The mothmouse bottles.”
He squints. Straightens up. Squints again. Walks over and picks up one of the bottles, then runs a thumb along the desk.
“No dust. It’s new.”
“Where’d you pick that one up?”
“Pat used to do it to check whether customers were coming back for their stuff. In a confined space like this, even if there isn’t any dust, it was worth a shot.”
“Was he right?”
He passes me the bottle, and I recognise Zeke staring out at me from the gilded lines.
I throw back the contents and immediately everything blurs.
Is this some sort of practical joke? Did Fae just put straight vodka in this bottle to see if I’d drink it?
It’s definitely something she would do.
“Location compromised. -e- the- st-.”
Speak of the devil and she will appear. Also, what was that?
They know we’re here.
“Watch my back, will ya?”
Alright, better than ‘nope.’
The code was fragmented.
There’s another mothmouse (Hello, Lilli). If I drank that one- no, Fae wouldn’t rely on my memory.
Picking up the scaly bottle and pulling the mechanical lizard- who will remain unnamed for now- out of my pocket, I compare the two. Sure enough, it’s a perfect match. But there’s a rough, papery patch on the bottom that doesn’t really fit the texture of the rest.
A quick check reveals the same for Lillian’s bottle.
Flipping both bottles upside down reveals a paper sticker with a number on it- on the lizard’s, 3, and on Lilli’s, 4.
The mixing stations?
I slide over to the angular contraption, making sure that nobody is watching, and punch in the parts ratio for the two bottles.
3 parts lizard bottle, 4 parts Lilli.
The resulting concoction comes out in a shot glass, which I quickly down after backing into a corner.
No sneaky business, everyone. That’s my thing.
Fae’s voice rings out louder than before- almost deafening.
Location compromised. Rewrite the past. 4.
More riddles, Fae?
You’d better have some good intel.
“-thnen! Nnethnen! I swear, are you drunk? You’ve been zoning out all day.”
“M’alright, Ed. But we have to go.”
“Wha- where? We’re supposed to meet everyone here, we can’t just-”
“They’ve left. Location compromised. Fae left me those bottles and is either getting shot at right now, or laughing at how long it’s taking us to figure out the little riddle she’s given us.”
“What riddle? I don’t-”
Something ricochets off the mixing machine and shatters a bottle to my left, which immediately begins to melt into the floor. I hear Eddy cry out in fear, and am immediately, painfully reminded of the fact that he’s never been in a gunfight before.
What do we have?
My hand moves to the gun at my waist- then falters.
If I shoot in close quarters, I draw attention to myself. They already are, but if people do any digging, they put the Inquisitors at risk.
So no guns. No explosives. Something small. Something that stays in one place.
He flinches back, eyes wide.
“I can get us out of this, but you have to do something for me.”
His eyes narrow, but he still nods (albeit suspiciously).
“I need the vial. The highly acidic one that you were talking about, what- 2, 3 minutes ago? Yeah, that one.”
Tower falling, I do not have time for this.
“The vial. Now.”
He shakily draws it out of his pocket.
I shake the lizard out from my sleeve.
Whispering instructions to it, I press the fragile glass into its claws, take Eddy’s hand and run for the hills.
That should buy us some time.
Now, what was Fae on about? Rewrite the past, 4.
“What are you doing with that, Nnethnen? Nnethnen, that is highly valuable research, you can’t just give it to a lizard, it could drop and-”
“That’s the plan, Ed.”
From the rapidly-emptying tent comes the faint sound of shattering glass, followed by screaming.
Could it be an anagram?
“I don’t like that plan. I don’t like it at all.”
“Tough luck, my friend. We can’t exactly rewrite the-”
Pat doesn’t even look surprised to see the two of us stagger into the tavern, exhausted and (on Ed’s part), terrified.
“Well, look who the mothmice dragged in! Got fresh bowls of soup waitin’ for ya!”
“I do love soup. Count me in, friend!”
“Nnethnen! Did’ja like the cryptic?”
The extravagantly dressed woman brings to mind a goblin from the campfire tales, her small frame hunched over treasure (soup) and cackling at my misfortune. I have no clue how she managed to live in the inner ring for so long, I really don’t.
“I thought it was an anagram, Fae. Remind me again what a cryptic is, please- I take it you don’t mean a cryptic person, which would be you.”
A voice speaks up over the soup goblin’s gasp of horror.
“Says the mysterious spymaster, dressed in black and silver- very mysterious colours- with a penchant for vanishing into the night mysteriously, and a mysterious lack of money despite all of our quite substantial paychecks!”
“Come on now, Harry, the real mystery is how you, with your old, creaky bones, manage to beat us to every location?”
Eddy, having slurped up some soup, finds the strength to pipe up.
“I’m calling it right now, it’s prosthetics. He just disguises them as old-man legs, but really, he’s never been tired a day in his life!”
Harry just lets out a wheezing chuckle and wags his finger at the scholar as he tips a pouch full of nuts and berries onto the counter, luring a sleepy pair of mothmice out of their hiding places.
“Don’t you go revealing my secrets now, boy.”
Excellent segue, Harry. What would I do without you?
“Speaking of revealing secrets, everyone- you’d better have something good for me after the little chase you had us on.”
“I didn’t like being chased.”
“I know, Eddy.”
“I was shot at!”
“I know, Eddy.”
“That’s the third time you’ve said this, Nnethnen, and yes, the walls have gone down.”
“And I didn’t know?” This is huge!
“To be fair, it happened very recently. You were probably still being shot at when it happened.”
“Oh, rub it in, why don’t you, Fae?”
“We were originally going to tell you about the posters that went up about a lever on the walls that would bring them down, but it’s a bit late for that, since, well. You know.”
“Since the walls came down and I didn’t know?”
“That just about sums it up.”
How did I not know? Looky here, the Spymaster of the Inquisitors was late to know about an event that changed the course of our history! This is embarrassi-
“Wanna hear my intel?”
More stuff that I don’t know about. Yippee.
“Go for it, Pat.”
“We grabbed you some marshmallows!”
Now there’s a surprise that I don’t mind.
I sip my hot chocolate, wondering idly if I can still snag a few marshmallows for the pantry and lamenting the outer ring’s lack of consistent marshmallow-smuggling trade.
But I don’t mind so much anymore.