Sunday, December 02, 2007


We found the road today; someone finally gave us directions! Every salamander hunter we've met so far has been either unwilling to talk or just as lost as we are, and the only other person we've met was the captain of the Fernmarvel, who wasn't interested in roads. Roads and airships don't have much in common.

Today, though, we finally met a hunter who wasn't too busy sitting around and waiting to talk to us. This was probably because she was leaving the Boiler Room herself. We passed her coming from a small lava pool in a long stretch of canyon with hardly any of them at all. She was humanoid, dressed in leather from head to toe like most of the more sensitive-skinned salamander hunters. A leather mask and a typical pair of dark hunter's goggles (important when you spend all day staring into pools of lava) covered her face.

Plack and I had almost given up hope asking directions by then, but the sight of someone who wasn't completely engrossed in a pool of molten rock was unusual enough that we tried again.

She gave us directions (hooray!) in a clear alto voice, somewhat muffled by the mask, then went on to explain how she knew where the road was because she had come from the Cliff we were about to start climbing, several weeks ago, before spending the time in between at a remote and lonely lava pool farther along this fairly empty stretch of canyon, because not many hunters came all the way out here and that meant that the salamanders were a lot less cautious and could be caught more easily, which was why she had been so successful. (She obviously had, too; she was carrying four large cages full of the little creatures. Most of them were either chewing on what looked like lumps of coal or looking around, wide-eyed, at the strange wet world above the lava.) She continued that she was heading to Sconth, if she could find it, to sell the salamanders to the farms there that supply lanterns for the libraries, and also to visit her aunt, who ran a small cafe (the Algebraic Apple - perhaps I had heard of it? I hadn't) near the Metallurgical Library, and who needed a new salamander for her oven, since one of hers had somehow gotten its paws on some gunpowder and exploded, so this big one right here - with the blue spots - was going to replace it, because the little ones had time to grow before going off to light libraries, but her aunt needed a big one right away, because if she had to keep going with only the one she still had, it would soon be too tired to bake more than one scone at a time, and then where would all the experimental coppersmiths get their lunches every day? At one of those sad little turnip crisp places? That just wouldn't do.

The Greenhouse Cliff is not a place where you meet many people. The more outgoing travelers generally have to make up for weeks of silence in every conversation.

The hunter kept squinting at us, apparently having difficulty seeing us through her dark goggles. About halfway through the conversation, she took them off to reveal five gleaming compound eyes. I have no idea what the rest of her face looked like; she never took off her mask. After about half an hour, she had apparently talked enough, because she then asked us for directions to the other side. We gave them to her - the road ended near a large dead tree that was fairly easy to spot - and headed on.

Just as she said, the road to the other side began right next to a large, gnarled purple pligma. Apparently, this section is cool enough for them to grow. We reached the bottom of the jungle again this evening; with any luck, we should reach the other top of the Greenhouse Cliff in a few more days.

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