A Thunderstorm in Sto Lat
by Incendiarist with much assistance from Shrrgnein
Mal is staring down at the cup in her hands. It's small, and glass, and Polly can see the steam as it rises up. The vampire wears an expression of complete and utter awe, like she's been waiting for this moment her entire life.
She probably has.
Finally, slowly, she raises the tiny cup to her lips, and the tip of her tongue flits out to touch the steaming liquid.
She lowers the cup only barely, and looks at it as though she might begin its cult; the spirit of Extreme Concentration waits with bated breath, in a metaphorical sort of way. Within a second, it's emptied in a single gulp, Mal's head thrown back as though in the throes of ecstasy.
Actually, thinks Polly, scratch that: Mal's head thrown back in the throes of ecstasy.
Is it wrong to be jealous of coffee? she wonders as the vampire places the empty cup reverently on the little wooden table. When it's been two minutes and Mal still has that distant look in her eyes, the one that's like she's in a little world all her own, where there's no war, no mortality, no pain or tragic backstories, the one that only Polly is supposed to be able to help her get into, Polly decides that it definitely isn't.
After another minute, she's had enough, and snaps her fingers in front of Mal's face.
She doesn't even blink, and Polly's eyes narrow in irritation. "Mal, the waiter's here," she lies. "I don't speak Quirmian, Mal, I kinda need your help..."
Still nothing. The vampire looks as though she's ascended to Cori Celesti and left her body behind.
Polly almost growls. How dare that coffee make Mal so happy? That's her job. "Oh, by Nuggan," she breathes, in a burst of malicious inspiration, "is that Strappi?"
Mal makes a sound of discontent, deep in her throat. It sounds like hunger, and Polly's self-preservation manages to loosen its metaphorical bonds by sheer willpower, and with a voice cracking with disuse, says Uh-oh.
"I need more of that coffee," Mal decides, with a sage nod. "I wonder if they sell the beans?" she wonders cheerfully. "My necklace would last even longer."
As she begins to walk to the bar, she looks back to Polly. "If Strappi comes by before I'm back, tell him thanks for me, will you? He's a genius."
Polly lets her head fall to the table.
After four cups, Polly has to drag her corporal out of the little café. She had been scaring the other patrons.
"'M not allowed to smile?" Mal pouts as they walk through the marketplace.
"Mal, smiles don't have that many teeth in them."
"The Ribbon was very clearly displayed!" insists Mal, sounding like she's quoting some sort of Black Ribboner's Code. "He wasn't in any danger," she continues, as though the very idea is unthinkable. "I was just showing him my coffee!"
There's silence for a moment as they continue walking.
"It was very good coffee," says the vampire seriously, as though this was terribly important news, and may, in fact, be all that stands in the way of the Apocralypse. "We should get some more—"
Polly grabs her arm, a frantic sort of movement which she'd never admit to making. "Oh, no," she says quickly, "I think you've had enough."
"But Pol-ly!" moans the Deadly Creature of the Night.
"No," Polly says firmly, her tone brooking no argument.
Sometimes Polly has a very hard time believing Mal is two hundred years old.
"There you are!" says Polly, a shade of desperate, and ignoring Mal as she points out that water is, in fact, wet, and really, Polly, you stay in the sun too much, it's quite dangerous.
Igorina hums vaguely and continues looking at the skirts on display, running her fingers lightly over the stitching and nodding approvingly.
"I've been looking for you everywhere!" continues Polly. "I think they spiked Mal's coffee, she's completely lost it!"
"Really, at least carry a parasol," mutters the vampire in question. "You might burn. A clock needs to be wound, you know! Buttons don't sew themselves."
"That's nice," replies Igorina, unconcerned. "Oh, Mal, this would look lovely on you!" she says, holding up a light blue, almost grey, dirndl. "What do you think, Polly? It brings out her eyes, don't you think?"
"Well," says Polly awkwardly, "it's rather... not-black..."
Igorina waves this away. "She wears too much black. It gives her an unhealthy complexion."
"But it's traditional, Gori!" pouts Mal, and for a moment Polly thinks she might be sane again, until it's followed with "Look, Pol, d'ya see the bird? What kinda bird is it, Pol, d'ya know?"
Polly ignores her in favour of looking at a thick woolen cape which is very nearly dignified. "What about this, Mal? You get so cold in the winter..." She trails off as she looks up. "Mal? Mal, where'd you go? Mal!"
When they find Mal, it's with a worryingly large cup in hand. She smiles brightly, her teeth curving lethally. She waves. "Pol, Gori! Hi! This is really good coffee. Do you like coffee? I like coffee. It tastes nice." Mal giggles (though she'll deny it later, because vampires do not giggle). "Oh, look, a squirrel! Remember when that guy stole my coffee? I didn't like that. I like coffee, though. I really like coffee. One time, coffee fell out of the sky and hit me on the head! It was good coffee." She nods solemnly. "Not as good as this coffee, though. This coffee has sugar in it! Look, see?" She proffers the cup for Polly to inspect, and it's almost empty.
"It's brown! The sugar is, I mean. Well, the coffee is, too, but it's a different shade of brown, though. Chocolate is brown, too! Do you like chocolate? I like chocolate, but not as much as I like coffee. It gives me a stomach ache. Chocolate, not coffee. Ooh, look, a butterfly! Let's go catch it!"
As Mal runs off after the butterfly, Igorina kneels down next to the cup, shattered, the remains of the coffee making trails in-between the cobbles, and pulls a glass phial out of her bag. "I'll bring thith back for tethting," she murmurs, slipping into her lisp and scooping up some of the liquid. She stoppers it with a cork, and turns back to a catatonic Polly. "Sergeant Perks?"
Polly blinks, still in shock.
"Polly, how many fingers am I holding up?"
"Er. Six? Wait, no, that's not right... Seven?"
Igorina shrugs. "Close enough." Her eyes follow the quickly shrinking form. "We should probably catch her before she runs halfway back to Borogravia."
As it turns out, they don't need to catch her, which is probably good, because vampires are extremely fast. When they find Mal several minutes later, she's cradling a tiny object in her hands, never taking her eyes off it, plodding through the crowd with her shoulders hunched and tears streaming down her face, looking utterly pathetic.
"Polly!" she wails when she sees them. "I think I killed him!"
For a moment, Polly's heart drops to the pit of her stomach, and panic makes it difficult to breathe. If she's hurt anyone...
"He's dead, Polly, isn't he!" cries Mal, anguished, holding out her cupped hands like an offering.
Polly could laugh for the wave of relief coursing through her. It's just a butterfly. She looks at the thing with trepidation. "Uh, yeah, Mal. I'm pretty sure he's dead." Its wings are in pieces, and its abdomen is crushed, and Polly isn't an expert at insect anatomy by any means, but she doesn't think anything could survive that.
Mal looks as though her entire world has been razed, and wide blue eyes fill with tears. "Gori?" she whimpers, for all the world a kicked puppy.
Mal makes a sort of keening sound in her throat, like a dying cricket, and a single tear slips down her cheek. Polly rolls her eyes; the vampire is forever melodramatic. "...please?"
Igorina's jaw drops. "I'm not going to rethurrect it. It'th a butterfly."
Polly's glare joins Mal's imploring gaze.
Igorina holds out for nearly ten seconds, a record for either of the looks, nevermind both at once, and then sighs. "That'th fine. It'th not ath though I have any rethpect for my ancient rathe'th noble medithinal workth..."
Mal sniffles and smiles weakly. "Gori, you're dripping sarcasm."
And indeed she is.
In the time it takes to set up all of the equipment, the sky has gone a sickly grey, clouds heavy with rain, and lightning flashes illuminate the scene. Most people have left for the safety of their homes, though a few stay to watch the process, wandering listlessly around what was formerly a square and is now something like a mad scientist's laboratory.
(Polly has absolutely no idea where all of this stuff came from.)
Polly feels awkward and out of place here, while her companions seem perfectly at home. Igorina hovers at an operating table with a magnifying glass and some tiny implement Polly suspects was designed for precisely this sort of operation; what else could make such a tiny blade necessary? Mal flits (flits) about the machinery, handing the Igor tools from the shelves, and they throw a comfortable sort of banter that makes Polly doubt Mal's insistence that they've not known each-other.
It takes a long time; understandably so, because Igorina is making butterfly guts from some sort of biological material and fitting what remains of the body to it. Mal chooses a pretty sort of fabric Polly is pretty sure is made of woven spider silk to patch up the crushed wings, and Igorina attaches tiny little strips of muscle to compensate for the weight, and grafts some sort of exoskeletal plating onto the abdomen, to cover the newly-made guts. Thankfully the head was still intact after the poor thing's run-in with Mal, because Polly wouldn't wish making butterfly brains on anyone.
Igorina seems in her element, though, lithping her orders to Mal, seemingly unconsciously calling the vampire Lady Maladicta all the same. They make a wonderful team, sans bickering ("This fabric is prettier!" "But it's too heavy, it'll never be able to fly!" "The cherry trees in Sto Lat are in bloom!").
And then Igorina is stepping back from the table, and Mal's putting the tools back in the places in the Shelving From Nowhere. They look at Polly expectantly. Thunder booms.
"You have to tell Gori to pull the lever, Pol! The snow is melting!"
"But it's summer, there's no—" Actually, no, she decides. She's not going to go there. "Why?"
"She's moping," says Mal dismissively, as though that explains everything, and maybe it does.
"Oh, fine. Igorina, pull the lever!"
Igorina makes an expression—maybe a smile, maybe a grimace—and says, with a lisp so exaggerated it cannot possibly be unintentional, "Yeth, Mithtrethth."
There's a boom of thunder and a flash of lightning (or, as Mal calls it, "proper backlighting"), and Polly swears the whole set-up must have collapsed around them in the interim, but looks around and sees everything more or less where it had been. And there's also an invisible cat somewhere around...? Once the shattering of nonexistent vials of acid has stopped, a hush comes over their makeshift audience, like they've all frozen in time, holding their collective breaths in the hope that this works. Polly can't really blame them—she doesn't like Mal's over-dramatic mourning all too much, either.
(In her head, she tells herself to be nice; it's not Mal's fault she's Überwaldean.)
There's a faint rustling of fabric, and then a piercing shriek. Polly ducks into a foetal position, covering her ears. It doesn't do much to muffle the screaming, but it makes her feel better all the same.
"POLLY, HE'S ALIVE!" Mal says, if only because there isn't quite an appropriate verb for what she's doing. "HEY LITTLE GUY! YOU'RE MOVING!" she continues, because apparently the butterfly isn't aware of that himself. Of course, zombie butterfly; who knows? "Ach ja Nuggân, bist du nicht ein kleiner hübscher zombiefly? Ja du bist! Ja du bist!"
"Wer ist ein guter kleiner zombiefly? Ja, das sind deine Flügel kleines Baby! Polly, lookm er fliegt!"
"Mal," says Polly, with the tired all-suffering of a governess. "Mal. Do I look like I speak Überwaldean? Do you honestly think I have any idea what you just said?"
Mal blinks. "But you know Morporkian, don't you?" she says, confused. "You were reading the eggs this morning! And then coffee happened and now I'm a rainbow."
"Wha—?" starts Polly, before shaking her head. "Mal, we get lowlanders at the inn. We don't get Vampires, and definitely not at the bar."
Mal harrumphs, crossing her arms and turning back to the zombie butterfly. "It's okay, sweetie, she didn't mean it. She just doesn't like folk songs."
"Well," says Igorina, putting her magnifying glass down, "all theemth in working order. Can't know for thure, of courthe; it'th mothtly down to him, now. There'th nothing elthe I can do."
Mal sniffles, clutching onto Polly like a lifeline. Polly pats her shoulder, feeling more than a bit useless. There's something of a ceremony going on she isn't privy to, more living furniture than a participant.
The zombiefly rustles his cloth wings restlessly.
"But Gori!" says Mal desperately, "there's got to be something else! Couldn't we give him some more muscles, or something? His wings are heavy, what if he gets tired?"
"Mal," says Polly, "you're hovering. Stop it."
"And armour!" Mal continues. "We could give him his very own plate armour, he'd be a little zombiefly knight! We can make the wings chainmail with little saw-blades on the edges, and replace his legs with tiny little swords, and name him Heinrich Nicolaj Deitfried Klemens van der Zülln, Destroyer of Worlds, and Flowers, and Modestly Sized Rodents, and we could rig..."
Igorina sees Polly's look. "Yeah, thhe'th alwayth like thith when thhe'th drank too much bl—coffee." She shrugs uneven shoulders and offers a consoling grin. "Oh, well. It'th your problem now, Mithth."
"...that shoot flaming arrows..."
Polly's eyes widen. "Did I agree to it being my problem?"
Gori raises an eyebrow and looks pointedly at their pet Vampire.
"And, and, and a built-in coffee grinder! That way he'll never lose it! I hate it when I lose my coffee grinder, Pol, then we have to use rocks, and just ew..."
"Of courthe, I'll thtill be here, if you need me. You don't know how thhe can be when thhe'th in one of her... moodth; you can't poththibly think I'd up and leave you to it all yourthelf!"
"...and they'll write ballads about him, it'll be fantastic!"
Polly pats Mal on the head. "It'll be—"
"Heinrich," says Mal pointedly.
"Heinrich will be fine," she finishes. "You've just got to back off a bit, Mal. Let him do things for himself, you know?"
Mal moans and bounces anxiously on the balls of her feet. "But..."
"He'll be fine."
Mal sighs sadly, defeated, and the zombiefly—sorry, Heinrich—moves around in the little containment area agitatedly.
"It's time to let him leave," Polly says quietly.
Mal nods, and opens the glass box, and when he flies off on sure wings, she turns to Polly and puts her arms around the taller girl's waist, hugging her so tightly it's almost as though she wants to absorb Polly into herself. She nuzzles into Polly's chest, and Polly pats her back, feeling a bit awkward, and very aware of the fact that they are in something like public still, the people having trickled back into the square now that the Narrativium storm had gone.
"Polly," Mal mutters into her blouse, "make me feel better."
Polly blushes scarlet. "Mal, there are people here."
"Hmph," says Mal. "So what?"
Note to self, thinks Polly: Vampires have exhibitionist tendencies. She smacks away the hand that's trying to slip down her trousers. "No," she says sternly. "You're not yourself, don't do something you'll regret later."
"I never regret anything," says the Vampire.
"Yeah, well, maybe you should." She lowers her voice. "I am not doing this in public."
Mal raises her head to look at her, finally. "But Pol! I'm sad."
Polly sighs. "How about we go and..." she searches for something they could do. "And... Mal."
"Hmm?" says Mal, looking up at her through her lashes. "I'm sorry, am I distracting you?" and, and sugar if that morose little half-smile isn't calculated specifically to, well.
"Mal," Polly says sternly. "You're faking, aren't you," and it isn't a question.
Mal huffs. "When you put it like that," she mutters, as sarcastic as always. "Hmph," she says, and tackles Polly to the ground.
Gori sighs, averting her eyes (more out of a vague attempt at propriety than any sort of embarrassment; we're talking about Vampires here). "I don't get paid enough for thith thhite..." she says, stepping over the two as she packs up her equipment.