Summary: two fiends in female form, of different and implacably hostile races, strike up an unlikely friendship that puts them in deadly peril. In a city on another world, unimaginable distances away through both time and space, they discover what is really important to women. Mild spoilers to the end of ‘Primeval’ Season 2. 6,055 words. Rating R.
It started with a kiss. Well, actually it started with a smile; the kiss came later. Here’s the dark of it, cutter, and I tell you true so park your ears.
The Ubiquitous Wayfarer Inn, in Sigil’s Lower Ward, is the City of Doors in microcosm. Celestials and Tanar’ri, Githyanki and Githzerai, Chaosmen and Guvners, all frequent the tavern. Violent confrontation between patrons is surprisingly rare. Nine times out of ten the night passes without a bar-room brawl. Reasoned debate, or at least a somewhat chilly politeness, is more common than knife-fights.
One crowded evening, or what passes for evening in Sigil’s cycle of light and dark, a succubus was sitting alone at a table and sipping at a glass of cherry wine. An erinyes walked in and halted to scan the premises for a vacant seat. The succubus looked up, caught her eye, and smiled.
It had been a mistake, at least in the first place, as the succubus had thought the newcomer was one of her own kind. When she spotted the feathered wings, and realised her error, it was too late to take back the smile. The erinyes, after initially raising her eyebrows in surprise, smiled back and approached the table.
“Hi there, cutter,” the erinyes said. “Is this seat free?”
“It is,” said the succubus. An erinyes might be a deadly foe in the Blood Wars but, here in Sigil, she would probably be more agreeable company than most berks. She had smiled back, after all, and so it appeared that she wasn’t looking for a fight. “Sit down, cutter, and join me.”
“Thanks,” the erinyes said, and sat. “My name is Dracaena.” She kept herself slightly tensed, staying at the front of her seat rather than settling back comfortably, and her right hand hung down near to the hilt of her dagger.
“Eisheth,” the succubus replied. In theory, as members of the opposing sides in the Blood War, they should be trying to garrotte each other. That wouldn’t go down well with the bar staff, however, and it wasn’t how she had planned to spend her evening. “I’m flush with jink right now. Would you like a drink?”
Dracaena’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Thanks. I’ll have what you’re having.”
Eisheth raised a hand to summon a serving wench. “Another cherry wine,” she said. “A bottle, this time.”
“Cherry wine? I was expecting it to be the blood of a virgin elf,” Dracaena remarked.
“Sorry, we don’t serve blood,” said the maid. “It, uh, congeals in the barrels. You could try the Tenth Pit.”
“I think it would be my blood that would be consumed if I went there,” Dracaena said. “Cherry wine will be fine, thanks.” The barmaid smiled and walked away.
“They could keep an elf hanging up from the ceiling with a spigot in his neck,” Eisheth suggested. “That would solve the congealing problem.”
“Is that how they do it at the Tenth Pit?” Dracaena relaxed enough to take her hand away from the vicinity of her dagger and eased herself back in her seat slightly.
“I don’t know,” Eisheth said. “I’ve never asked. There are no dangling elves, or at least none that I’ve seen, but then I haven’t been in the back rooms there. They could have a whole tap room of different races. Of course the Hardheads wouldn’t like it.”
“Unless the sods were Sensate volunteers,” Dracaena suggested.
Eisheth laughed. “A good idea. Not that there’d be any Sensate virgins, of course, but blood is blood.”
“If you gain any jink from suggesting it, toss some of it my way,” Dracaena said.
“I would,” Eisheth said, “but nobody other than the Takers ever got any jink out of the owner there without using hooks, chains, and probably suction pumps.”
Dracaena chuckled. This succubus, although of course an implacable enemy by her very nature, had an appealing wit and thus far seemed to be better company than most baatezu. Actually, make that any baatezu other than, perhaps, a fellow erinyes. The tavern wench arrived and deposited a bottle of wine and a glass on the table. Eisheth handed over a coin and Dracaena picked up the bottle. She poured a glass for herself and refilled that of the succubus.
“Your health,” Dracaena said, “and may we never meet on the field of battle.”
“Well, I’m more on the recruitment side,” Eisheth said, “so it’s not that likely, but thank you, and,” she lifted her own glass, “good health to you too.”
“By the Powers,” exclaimed a man who had just walked in. He was human, tall and muscular, clad in leather with a breastplate of red steel. A half-elf mage, a teifling rogue, and a second armoured human male followed at his heels. “There’s a sight for sore eyes, cutters. I’d pay good jink to see that pair wrestling naked.”
The whole group gazed with obvious appreciation at the attractive females. Dracaena was tall and slender, with long and shapely legs, and long straight raven-black hair framed a face with perhaps a little too much character to fit the conventional ideal of beauty. Eisheth was more curvaceous, her breasts being her most striking assets, and her softer-featured face was crowned by a mane of blonde. Her eyes were a brilliant blue and her lips were full and redder than the cherry wine.
“Wrestling in mud,” the teifling suggested, “or perhaps oil, but definitely naked. Or, rather, each battling to remove the clothes from the other.”
“In your dreams, berks,” said Dracaena, tossing her head.
“We take our price in souls, mortals,” Eisheth reminded the men, “and I doubt if you would be willing to pay.” She extended her leathery wings.
“It would almost be worth it,” said the human, “but not quite.” He, and his companions, moved on into the bar-room.
“He had a point,” Eisheth said to Dracaena. “It is undeniable that we would look very good together in such a situation.”
“The division of the spoils would be a problem, if we took their souls,” Dracaena said, “and I am not in need enough of jink to consider performing for the entertainment of mortals in exchange for mere coins. Anyway, cleaning the mud or oil from my feathers would be tedious indeed.”
“Still, a thought to bear in mind for if ever poverty lays its claws upon us,” said Eisheth. “Luckily, that time is not yet. I had thought to order food. And you? Shall we dine together?”
“I came here to dine,” Dracaena said, “and you are agreeable company. Let us order and, as you bought the wine, I shall pay for the food. Waitress, we desire service!”
A chance encounter. It might have passed without result had Dracaena and Eisheth not crossed paths on several further occasions over the next month. In the Mermaid’s Cups, in the Sword and Buckler, twice more in the Ubiquitous Wayfarer, and shopping for clothes in the Market Ward. Friendly conversation ensued each time, they drank together and shared the recent chant from the city, and the shopping trip became a joint expedition that lasted all day with the two fiendish girls exchanging compliments, laughter, and grooming tips. At the end, for the first time, they made definite arrangements to meet up again.
“Well, cutters, if it isn’t the prettiest pair of fiends in the Cage!”
The voice was vaguely familiar. Dracaena turned her head and saw the basher who, on the occasion of her first meeting with Eisheth, had expressed a desire to witness the pair engaged in nude wrestling. His three companions from that encounter, plus another teifling in warrior garb, were some yards away but their heads turned at their leader’s words. At once they hastened towards the girls.
“Pike it, leatherhead, and latch your bone-box,” Dracaena snapped.
“I don’t know,” Eisheth said. “He’s a passable example of a male. If he comes up with the jink, cutter, I’d be willing to let him see what he desires. If you were also willing, that is, friend Dracaena.”
“Friend?” Dracaena’s eyes opened wide.
“Well, yes,” said Eisheth. “Are we not friends?”
Dracaena’s brow furrowed briefly but then cleared. A smile touched her lips. “We are, at least for as long as the Blood War comes not to Sigil,” she agreed. “That does not mean that I am willing to cavort naked for the amusement of these berks. Let them go to the Mermaid’s Cups and leer at the dancers there.”
“The dancers are pretty, true,” the basher said, “but you two are much more than pretty.”
“True, cutter, and I’d cough up a fair whack of jink to see them in action,” the other human member of the group agreed.
“How much?” Eisheth asked.
“You speak only for yourself,” Dracaena told the succubus. “I am not willing...”
“A thousand golders!” the basher in red interrupted.
“...to grapple...” Dracaena’s voice trailed away. “How much?”
“A thousand gold coins,” the human warrior repeated. “Each.” He grinned. “We gained much loot from a planar trip and then had a good spin at the Fortune’s Wheel. I have the jink and I can think of nothing better to spend it on.”
“Now,” said Dracaena, “that is certainly tempting.”
“I was not serious, Dracaena,” Eisheth confessed, “and I spoke more to tease you than because I was in truth considering fulfilling their wish, but a thousand gold is more than enough to make me think again.”
“Then you will do it?” The man’s grin grew wider.
“For a thousand each,” Eisheth agreed, “and in front of you five bloods only, no crowds of slobbering berks and Clueless, I would be willing to strive against Dracaena and to strip her clothes from her before she can do the same to me.”
“To try to do so but fail, you mean,” said Dracaena. “I agree too, under the same conditions. There must, however, be no mud or oil.”
Eisheth was at a disadvantage. Dracaena was the stronger and more skilled in combat. In a matter of minutes Eisheth was naked above the waist, displaying her magnificent breasts to the lustful gazes of the men, and in dire danger of losing what little clothing remained. Dracaena had lost only her outer garments.
Really there was no penalty for failure. A succubus felt no shame or embarrassment at revealing her nudity to male eyes. It was, to some extent, an integral part of her very reason for existing. Few like to lose, however, and Eisheth was no exception to that rule. Her struggles were futile, despite her exerting all her strength, and complete exposure seemed inevitable.
Eisheth suddenly ceased to resist. She threw her arms around Dracaena, pressed her breasts against the erinyes’ chest, and sought out the other girl’s lips with her own. She found her target and kissed Dracaena passionately. For a moment Dracaena pulled back but then she relaxed, kissed back, and answered the probing of Eisheth’s tongue with her own. The watching men moaned in delighted unison.
Eisheth’s hands moved, caressed, and stroked. Dracaena responded in kind. Surreptitiously, while continuing the kiss, Eisheth’s fingers found the fastening of Dracaena’s garments. She untied knots and loosened straps. Suddenly she pulled on them, removing the covering from Dracaena’s breasts, and then grasped the erinyes’ nether garments and slid them down her shapely thighs. Dracaena pulled back, broke the kiss, and grabbed for Eisheth’s arms. She saved herself from complete nudity, although too late to prevent the exposure of the parts most interesting to the males, and pinned Eisheth down again. Her upper garments fell away and revealed her pert breasts. Dracaena seized Eisheth’s panties, shuffled backwards, and ripped them away.
“I win,” Dracaena claimed, “for you are naked first.”
“I think that pants around your knees hardly count as coverings,” Eisheth pointed out, “and it was you who were first thus exposed. It is I who win.”
“A tie, then,” Dracaena suggested, “due to your cunning ploy. What say you, cutters?” She stood up. Her panties fell away and left her naked.
“If they wrote me in the Dead-book right now,” the leader of the males said, “I would die well content.”
“The best four hundred gold I’ve ever spent,” one of the teiflings commented. “A tie, indeed.”
“You tricked me, Eisheth,” Dracaena complained, but there was a smile on her lips.
“Had I not done so, I would have lost,” Eisheth said, “and you did not find the kiss unpleasant, did you?” She remained on the floor, lying back on the rugs and cushions that had been laid out to form their arena, with her legs slightly apart.
“Very much the opposite,” Dracaena said, “although I believe that I still prefer the attentions of men.”
“There are five here,” said Eisheth, “and I think they are aroused enough for anything.” She looked at the leader of the males and licked her lips. “Do you scan only, cutters, or can you ride? I am no Fall-From-Grace, sworn to celibacy, and my kiss does not have to be fatal.”
“And mine is fatal not at all,” Dracaena said, as a red breastplate was cast aside and other garments followed at lightning speed. “Hmm. Perhaps we should have made you wrestle too, cutters, but this will serve.” She scanned the muscular body of the warrior, and the wiry body of the teifling to his side, as their clothes hit the floor. “Yes, I think you shall satisfy me well.”
“Yes, I know the Desirable Duo,” the guide said, “and I can give you the dark on them. Park your ears, you Clueless, and learn. Inseparable, they are, even though one’s a succubus and the other’s an erinyes, and, as even screwhead Primes like you will know, they’re supposed to be the deadliest of enemies. Instead, those cutters are the fastest of friends, and they’ve each saved the other’s life a dozen times. If you cross one, berks, you cross the both of them. A sure way of finding yourself in the Dead-book, that is, although it’s probably a more pleasant way of getting to be a Deader than most.”
“Will we get to see them on this tour?” one of the tourists asked.
“I can make no promise,” said the guide, “but I’ll do my best. We’ll visit the Ubiquitous Wayfarer and that’s one of their main hang-outs. If they’re not there, well, keep a good scan going in the Grand Bazaar and you might be lucky enough to see them.”
“I didn’t know that we were famous, Etain,” a melodious female voice said from behind the tout.
Exclamations of surprise came from the tour party. The guide turned to face the speaker.
“Well met, Dracaena and Eisheth,” he said. “Aye, the chant about you has spread, cutters, and everyone wants to scan the prettiest pair of girls in the Cage.”
“I’m flattered,” Dracaena said, “but I’m not sure I’m pleased. The Factions might start taking an interest in us and that rarely turns out well. The Heartless will probably find some excuse to tax us, for a start.”
“Can’t be helped,” Etain said. “Any male with eyes would want to scan you.”
“If you’re making jink out of us,” Eisheth said, “maybe you should slip some of it our way.”
“We’d be delighted to buy you a meal, or something, mistress,” offered one of the tourists.
“Could we have your autographs?” another asked.
“Autographs? Our fists on paper, you mean, berk?” Dracaena shook her head. “I think not. Only the Clueless sign things in blank in the Cage.”
Eisheth smiled. “Perhaps we should have our portraits painted, and sell copies,” she suggested.
“Perhaps,” Dracaena said. “This worries me, my friend. If we are the subjects of chant it may get back to our superiors.”
“We cancel each other out,” Eisheth said. “Our friendship has the same effect as if we had fought to mutual destruction. Anyway, we’re not important enough for them to take notice.”
“I hope you are right,” Dracaena said. “I will not part from you, regardless, but we should be wary. Fame comes at a price.”
Eisheth looked up and smiled as Dracaena entered the room they shared. “Did you get the...?” Her voice trailed away as she noticed the tense set of her friend’s jaw and the downturn of her lips. “Is something wrong?”
“Something is wrong indeed, Eisheth,” Dracaena said. “I was right to be concerned when we heard Etain talking of us to the Clueless.” A muscle jumped in her jaw. “I have received orders from my superiors in the Ministry of Mortal Relations. They have commanded me to... slay you.”
Eisheth’s eyes widened but she made no move to reach for a weapon or to adopt a defensive pose. “You will not do so,” she said, her voice calmly confident. “I have come to know you as I know myself, Dracaena, and you could no more do such a thing than I could turn stag on you.”
“That is true,” Dracaena agreed. “We were created to be enemies but instead we have become the truest of friends. I will stand by you, even against all the legions of the baatezu, but it is only the start of our problems. If I fail to obey then my own death warrant will be signed within days.”
“It would be hard for us to disappear in the Cage,” said Eisheth. “You were right when you pointed out the drawbacks of our fame. We will have to leave.”
“But where can we go?” Dracaena wondered. “Sigil is a safer place than most. There is nowhere in the Planes we could go where they could not follow.”
“We must flee to the Prime,” Eisheth said.
“We have no portal key,” Dracaena pointed out, “and it would be hard to find one quickly without the dark getting out. The hounds might be on our trail even before we left. Both sides will pursue us, once we flee together, and a Prime world would not be a safe haven for long.”
“Then we must jump at random,” said Eisheth, “through one of the vortices in the Slags. Only if someone saw us enter could they follow. In mere hours it would close and anyone who came after would hit the blinds. We’d give them the laugh and be safe.”
“Safe but marooned,” Dracaena said. “It is not an option that I would willingly take, if there was an alternative, but I see no other way. We must pack, hastily, and be gone.” She grimaced. “We may be in the Slags for days before we locate a vortex. It will not be pleasant.”
“The vargouilles and the dretches are no threat to us,” Eisheth mused, “but I have no liking for cranium rats. And there is Kadyx.”
“There is,” Dracaena said, shuddering. “We will have to take great care.”
“The vortices lead to many worlds,” Eisheth continued, “and even, it is said, to many times. We might have to do without some of the comforts we take for granted.”
“I would say ‘at least we will have each other’, but I cannot bring myself to use so Clueless an expression,” Dracaena said. “No matter how primitive the world, however, it will at least be better than being dead.”
“You took your time getting here,” Lester complained.
“The road turned into a bus lane with no warning,” Cutter said. “The street layout here is a nightmare.”
“And the roundabouts are really confusing,” Connor added.
Lester’s eyebrows rose and fell. “I’m not interested in excuses. Do better next time.” He turned away, the matter seemingly already forgotten, and moved away to put the armed response unit between himself and the anomaly.
“How did he get here so quickly?” Cutter wondered.
“He probably flew on his broomstick,” Connor suggested. “Or his last job before the ARC was planning Oxford’s traffic layout and he’s the only bloke who understands it.”
Abby bounced up and down on the balls of her feet and stared at the shimmering portal. “Has anything come through yet?”
“Just one big ugly bugger, miss,” one of the black-clad guards reported. “We gave it a flash-bang and it trotted off back to where it came from.”
“What did it look like?” Connor asked. He opened his laptop and booted up.
“A bit like a stegosaurus,” the guard said. He grinned. “Don’t look so surprised, mate, I’ve seen ‘Jurassic Park 2’. Not as big, maybe, and with more spikes and less of those flat plates sticking up.”
“Probably Lexovisaurus,” Connor deduced. “Mid-Jurassic.”
“The heyday of the sauropods,” Cutter added. “We could get some great big beastie coming through that would make a hell of a mess of the dreaming spires.”
“Cetiosaurus oxoniensis,” Connor suggested. “Eighteen metres long.” He grinned. “At least they’d probably let it use the bus lanes.”
“We can’t allow that,” Cutter said. “Oxford is full of people who could probably identify and classify dinosaurs even better than you can. The whole story would be out in no time. We might as well go public about the anomalies if that happens.”
“I hope I didn’t hear you say what I thought I heard,” Jenny’s voice came from behind him. Cutter turned and saw the PR officer approaching.
“I still don’t know how she can even walk in those heels,” Abby muttered under her breath.
“I was just saying that we have to stop any incursions,” Cutter said. “We’d have a hard time passing off a hundred eye-witness reports from Oxford dons and students as mass hysteria. Also, there are hordes of tourists with camcorders around.”
“If something gets past us and wanders the streets,” Connor put in, “there’ll be a thousand videos up on YouTube in no time.” He glanced down at his laptop screen. “Oh. Of course. It could be worse than a Cetiosaurus turning up. I forgot about what ate them. Megalosaurus.”
“I take it that’s a big dinosaur with teeth?” Jenny came up behind Connor and peered over his shoulder. “Oh. That’s obviously a ‘yes’.”
“Nine metres long,” Connor said. “It’s not one I’d like to meet. Well, I wouldn’t mind seeing one, but only at a nice safe distance. A mile or so should do.”
“And another one that everyone in Oxford will be able to identify,” Cutter said, “as long as it’s not biting them in half at the time.”
“I think Oxford’s over-rated,” Connor said. “They only do so well on University Challenge because Jeremy Paxman plays favourites. He always gives them more time than the others and, if they’re behind near the end and there’s not much time for them to catch up, he speeds up the questions. He slows down if they’re ahead.”
Cutter ignored the remark. “Don’t take any chances,” he ordered the security detail. “If flash-bangs don’t turn a creature back, shoot to kill.”
“That could cause its own problems,” Jenny pointed out. “A gigantic corpse in the middle of Oxford could take some explaining.”
“Aye, well, that’s supposed to be your speciality,” Cutter pointed out. “I’m sure you’ll come up with some story.”
“Perhaps we could bulldoze a corpse back through the anomaly,” Jenny mused. “I wonder how quickly I could arrange a bulldozer?”
“Good luck getting it here through the traffic system,” Abby said.
“You could disguise it as a bus,” Connor suggested.
Jenny sucked in her lips. “Hmm. The corpse could be a replica for delivery to the Natural History Museum,” she said. “Of course the shooting would be a little hard to account for.”
“Just say the police saw a Brazilian electrician on his way to work,” Cutter said. “That would explain it.”
Jenny grimaced. “That’s not nice.”
“I’m not in a nice mood,” Cutter said. He stared at the anomaly. “Of course, we could be lucky and nothing else might come through.”
“Oh, bugger, you’ve jinxed us,” Connor muttered.
“And that’s usually your job,” Abby said. Even as she spoke the shimmering of the portal darkened slightly as something began to cross over.
“Weapons ready!” barked the commander of the security detail. Half a dozen MP-5s and a 7.62 mm L7A2 GPMG light machine gun were pointed at the anomaly. The officer raised a stun grenade and held it ready to throw.
Two figures appeared. Not lumbering stegosaurids or sauropods, and not ravenous theropod predators, but humans.
Two young women. Very pretty young women, in fact, although their clothes were dirty and ragged. One of them was a blonde, so spectacularly curvaceous that it was the first thing that registered on the male watchers; even before they noticed something that was already causing Abby and Jenny’s jaws to drop and their eyes to open wide. She held a sword in one hand. The other was a brunette, six foot tall and with the slim figure of a catwalk supermodel, who held a bow with an arrow nocked and ready. It wasn’t aimed at anyone and she made no move to adopt a more offensive position.
“Hold your...” Cutter began. He took in the girls’ appearance more comprehensively and his eyebrows shot up. “...fire,” he finished. “Wings. My God, they’ve got wings.”
“That is so cool,” Connor said. “They can’t be from the past. It must be a future anomaly. The stegosaurid must have been a genetic reconstruction. Wow. In the future we’ll have wings.”
“No way are those real,” Abby stated.
“They might be cybernetic attachments,” Connor agreed, “but the way they flap certainly looks biological.”
Abby rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t talking about the wings.”
“Then what...?” Connor began. “Oh.”
“Civilisation,” the tall girl said. A beaming smile appeared on her face and she relaxed her pull on the bowstring. “We’ve made it at last.”
“Better than civilisation,” said the blonde. “I see men.”
Cutter strode forward. “Who are you?” he asked. “What time period do you come from?” One of the guards advanced at his side with an SMG held at the ready.
“I think that’s a weapon of some sort,” the blonde girl warned her companion. “Don’t do anything chancy. It might be capable of harming us.” She lowered her sword.
The brunette lowered her bow and took her hand away from the bowstring altogether. “Easy, cutter,” she said.
Cutter tensed. “How do you know my name? Are you working for Helen?”
“I don’t mark your drift, cutter,” the girl said. Her expression appeared to be one of genuine puzzlement.
The blonde gave a short laugh. “He means it’s his name, Dracaena. His name must be Cutter.”
“Your name is Cutter?” The dark girl’s eyebrows rose. “Then these others are, perhaps, Berk, Sod, Prime and Clueless?”
“Here we are the Clueless, Dracaena,” the blonde said. “It would be wise not to antagonise these Primes needlessly.”
“True,” said the dark girl, whose name appeared to be Dracaena. “It is ill-mannered of me also.” She fixed a piercing gaze on Cutter’s face. “Forgive me, sir Prime, I meant no offence. For us Cagers ‘cutter’ is a friendly greeting, a name for one who seems resourceful and with the capacity to make a worthwhile comrade, and I called you that because you were first to approach us and you seem to be in command.”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” Cutter said. “What’s a ‘Cager’? What year are you from?”
“A Cager is one who dwells in Sigil, the City of Doors,” Dracaena explained, “as we did before we were forced to flee. As to what year, well, for us it was the year 984 by the Clarillean calendar when we jumped the gate. We were a year and a half in the realm in which we found ourselves, I believe, although I did not think to keep careful count. What that would make it by your calendar I cannot guess. I know not even what world this is.”
“You’re from another world?” Cutter had to make a conscious effort to keep his mouth from dropping open.
“That explains the wings, then,” Connor remarked. “Another planet? I have to see.” He set his laptop aside and headed for the anomaly.
“Be not so eager, rash Prime,” Dracaena cautioned him, “unless your weapons are truly potent.”
The blonde girl sniggered.
“Latch your bone-box, Eisheth,” Dracaena ordered. Cutter guessed that the words were scathing but the girl’s tone was one of affection tinged only slightly with irritation, with an accompanying roll of the eyes and a quirk of the mouth, in a manner very reminiscent of the way in which Abby would address Connor when the young man said something stupid.
“Beyond that gate lies deadly peril, berk,” Dracaena continued, turning her attention back to Connor. “Beasts great and ferocious, like unto wingless dragons, mighty enough to pose dire threat even to us. Did you not mark what I said? That is not our world, addle-cove, but the one to which we fled. This portal seems not to be a Planar gate, such as the ones we know, but rather to lead between different times in the same world.”
“That’s what we discovered,” Cutter said. “So, you travelled from your world to ours and found yourselves stuck in the past?”
“Indeed so,” the blonde girl, Eisheth, confirmed. “It was tedious in the extreme, and perilous, although better than the fate that would have found us had we not fled. I hope that I never have to eat lizard again.” She swept her gaze over all the men. “It is good to see males once more. Dracaena is a skilled bed-partner, and I love her dearly, but it is the touch of a man that I crave.”
“I would be hurt,” Dracaena said, “but I share your desire.” She spotted Lester, lurking at the back of the group, and fixed her attention on him. “Now there is a blood who shows distinction,” she said, striding toward Lester. “I have not seen clothes so well cut even on a Factol or one of the Lords of the High Houses. Are you the true leader of this group?”
Lester put his hand to his neck and adjusted his tie. His normal cool composure cracked for a moment. “I am,” he confirmed.
“I shall favour you with my attentions, then, first of all,” Dracaena said.
“Ah, I’m afraid I’m not interested,” Lester said.
Dracaena grimaced. “I must seek out a hot bath. I must be grimy and bedraggled indeed if my charms have so diminished.”
“It’s not that,” Lester said. He fidgeted with his tie again. “You’re an extremely attractive young lady. It’s just that I’m happily married.”
“I proposed not marriage, berk,” Dracaena said. “Disport with me for an hour or two. Thereafter you will still be married but you will be even happier.”
“I... ah... things just aren’t done like that in this world,” Lester said.
“He obviously doesn’t read ‘Heat’,” Abby said to Connor.
“Or the ‘News of the World’,” Connor replied. “Come to think of it, he can’t even watch much TV.”
“I sense affection between you,” Eisheth said to them, “and I shall not come between you. Well, not unless your preferences run that way.” She looked into Abby’s eyes. “You are pretty, for a Prime, and you have spirit. You may keep your man.”
“He’s not my man,” Abby denied. “We share a house, yeah, but that’s only to keep expenses down and because we both like Rex. That’s our lizard.”
Eisheth raised an eyebrow but made no comment.
“It’s true,” Abby insisted. She gave Eisheth a hard stare. “That doesn’t mean I’d want you to get your claws into Connor.”
“It matters not to me,” Eisheth said. “I like you, girl, and you need fear me not. It is Cutter that I claim.”
“Hey!” Cutter protested. “Lester’s right. You can’t just claim people like that.”
“So, then, the woman in the impractical footwear is yours?” Eisheth asked, causing Jenny to sniff pointedly and glare at her.
“No!” Cutter replied. “She’s just a friend. A colleague.”
“The mores are different here, it seems,” Dracaena said, “but these bashers will surely not resist us. Warriors are the same in all worlds.” She left Lester and returned to the main group.
“We’re on duty, miss,” the security detail commander told her.
“Soon as we get off,” one of the soldiers muttered, “I’m up for it. What a bloody gorgeous pair!”
“The black-haired one’s a bit of a smasher, too,” another commented.
“This portal will close soon,” Dracaena said. “If your duty is only to guard it, well, it will not be long before we can engage in more... pleasurable activities.”
“You can tell when anomalies are about to close? Without testing the magnetic field strength?” Cutter came to the alert.
“We can,” Dracaena confirmed. “We know much about portals. I estimate that this one will last another hour, that is, one twenty-fourth of a day. Perhaps a little less.”
“That’s what we call an hour, too,” Cutter said. “Hmm. That could be a very useful ability. Would you be willing to assist us with our mission?”
“You guard your people from creatures that might come through these portals, is that correct?” Dracaena gave Cutter a cool and level look. “We must find work here, in any event, and your mission seems worthy. Act as guides to us, and help us find a case or at least a kip, and we will be happy to aid you.”
“The wings might be something of a problem,” Jenny said. “They’ll attract almost as much attention as a dinosaur trundling past Trinity College. We’ll need to cover them up.” Her eyes flickered. “And cover up a couple of other things,” she added, under her breath.
“There is no need,” Eisheth said. Her wings vanished. “There are many places where our wings would mark us out,” she said, “and we have ways to deal with that.”
Dracaena followed suit. “I am proud of my beautiful wings,” she said, “but I can do without them when in the sight of the Clueless. You will, then, act as our guides to this world?”
“We can certainly do that,” Lester agreed. “Miss Lewis, I think that you’re best suited to that role.”
“Oh, thanks,” Jenny said, insincerity evident in her tone. “Just the job I always wanted.”
“This could be something of a break-through,” Cutter said. “Knowing when an anomaly will close might not be as useful as knowing when one will open, of course, but it’ll be a big help when we’re working out how to deal with an incursion. We can make proper plans for allocation of resources.”
“Yes, yes, very good,” Lester said. “I’ll leave you to it. I’m going back to the ARC.” He set off for his car. He passed close to Cutter on the way and leaned close to the Professor’s ear. “Just keep that woman away from me,” he hissed, and then strode quickly away.
“I wish to change my clothing,” Dracaena said. “I have clean garments in my pack, preserved against need, that are not so different from those that your womenfolk wear.”
“And I,” said Eisheth. “A bath would be pleasant, but it can wait. Perhaps some volunteer could be found to... scrub my back.” A shuffling of feet amongst the security detail indicated that such a volunteer would not be hard to find.
“I suppose that I could escort you to the Ladies,” Jenny said, sounding as if the concession was being wrung out of her by the application of hot pokers. “At least you can wash your faces and change your clothes. Come on, then, follow me.” She led the two girls away from the anomaly, past the Police barrier tape lines that sealed off the area, and out onto the streets of Oxford.
“Shops,” Dracaena said, “and stocked with many sorts of goods. I think that I shall like this world.”
“Shops indeed,” said Eisheth, “and men in great numbers. What more could we desire?”
Dracaena smiled and opened her mouth to reply. No words came forth. Instead she stopped dead in her tracks and stared at a display in a shop window.
“What is it?” Eisheth asked. “Is something wrong?”
“No, the opposite,” Dracaena said. “It would seem that this world is a true paradise for those in female form. Shops, men, and not only that,” her voice took on a tone of reverent ecstasy, “they have chocolate!”