Wednesday, November 14, 2007

City of Chitin and Codes

Only three days of traveling, and we've already gotten somewhere! Plack and I arrived in Sconth, the magnificent city of linguists and mathematicians, early this afternoon. The city was buzzing. It still is tonight, actually; an unusually large number of its inhabitants are insects, so there are always wings rattling overhead. There are spindle beetles everywhere, all different colors (though mostly orange, of course), with every possible number of limbs. A Kilopede was resting a half-mile or so of its length on the roof of a library hive. The buildings are all domes and spires in odd, fluid shapes, like termite mounds in brick and stone.

We spent most of the day wandering around the city, trying to find a hotel and getting lost in back alleys instead. The alleys are... strange. Some of them are laid out in a relentless grid pattern; others twist and turn so much they almost tie themselves in knots. I have a sneaking suspicion that they would form fractal patterns if seen from the top. Professional polyglots wander through them in groups, talking in half a dozen languages at the same time. Mad cartographers lurk in corners and attempt to steal pens from passersby. The graffiti is all mathematical formulas.

The hotel we finally chose is several hundred years old. It used to be a library. Most of the rooms were converted from the old reading chambers; they used to be as tiny and spartan as a monk's cell, but now every spare inch of wall is covered with paintings and tapestries and ribbons and little things made of copper wire and brightly colored beads. The hotel is run by a family of giant butterflies, and they can't stand dull colors. Gray stone has to be painted or covered up or it drives them mad. They live in a maze of ropes and painted platforms hanging from the vaulted ceilings of the central reading room, which has more than enough room for them to fly wherever they want. They let the caterpillars paint murals on the walls. One of the caterpillars wanders around the hallways, using the walls and ceilings just as much as the floor, and follows any guests who look like they might have vegetables.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to find the Illegible Library and look through all the incomprehensible writing there. The hotel was all we had time to find today; it was getting dark when we stumbled upon it. I'm writing this while listening to troubadours chirping outside.

There are no crickets in Sconth. They can't compete with the people.

Conveniently, there was a pen and a stack of paper in my room already; apparently, there's one in every room. I can hear Plack chewing on his paper next door. The butterfly who came around to light the lamps this evening said (well, wrote, as they can't pronounce English) that that's standard for hotels in Sconth - every room has to have beds and blankets, soap and water, and pen and paper. Just the essentials.

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