1Batt hated going downtown, because it meant taking a pillar. Otherwise it would be a long, treacherous walk that more often than not would involve taking shelter in some run-down old building or other while a storm or a mob rolled through. Which wasn’t so bad – they liked the solitude – but it usually made it a three-day ordeal, just to deliver some flowers. A pillar from their home in the outer ring of the city got them there in just a few hours, but the creatures were talkative, and they loved batts.
Nevertheless, they loaded the day’s several urgent bouquets into their back holster and scuttled out to the pillar landing, to climb up and take a seat near its head. Antennae flexed at their scent and the great larva rolled into motion.
“Oh boy,” it said.
1Batt didn’t say anything. They held firmly with two hands to the seat strapped to the pillar’s back, and cradled their holster with the other. Pillars moved with grand, rocking motions that made it a wonder anyone had considered them viable mounts, even before they had suddenly become able to talk.
“Where are you going?” the pillar asked. Its voice rose and fell as its larval gait pumped its disc-shaped head up and down. “The last batt I carried was at Brokehand and he had a meeting in the Lungs, so he had to get off soon and we didn’t get to talk.”
“Void Plaza,” 1Batt said, reluctantly.
That was very exciting to the pillar, because it was just about as far as you could go in a single ride. It had many more questions, such as: did they know a batt who went to meetings in the Lungs? (yes, that was probably 4Batt); why do batts have so many hands? (it’s not so many, just one for each arm); what’s in VP? (just a delivery); why do you weigh so much when you’re so small? (because our bones are made of osmium and our muscles are pitchblende). It was like talking to the bright-eyed but isolated noxink children when they had messages to bring to the cave schools. But you couldn’t get quiet if the pillar wanted to talk to you, because it offended them and they curled up and then nobody made it to their destinations.
When the ninth hourbird of the morning flew miles overhead, the city’s outermost ring sank an inch and turned nine degrees clockwise. The pillar let out an excited whoop at the quick sliding of the rough metal landscape, as though it were something new.
Some long time later, after 1Batt had had to describe most of their life to the creature, they dismounted at the nearest landing to Void Plaza. They gave it a polite goodbye and fed it a coin, which it took gingerly in its child-sized mandibles and filed away somewhere in its crop. A few other passengers made their way up front to pay as well, but none of them were going the same direction as 1Batt.
Void Plaza had arrived just a few years ago from whatever world had generated it and was not yet fully integrated into this city. It was just off the very center of the middle ring, the elevated plate that always rotated, but it didn’t quite move in sync with the surrounding neighborhoods. It consisted of four towers and a squat, dour-looking building that hunkered between them, like they were arms it held up in preparation for a fight. Smoky black stone that pulsed in and out, windows that still looked in on and reflected the wide meadow that was left over after the Plaza’s departure from its old world. Deep read highlights and some kind of living core that glowed up between the flagstones below.
1Batt loped on their short legs, sometimes with the aid of one arm, from the landing toward the Plaza. There was at first a crowd of all species – parsimmy, batts, jancet and joncet, bluma, even one renegade noxink – but that fell away near the bridge that was the only safe passage from the well-established city into its new district. Some of those, realizing where the messenger was headed, showed their teeth. 1Batt showed theirs back. Theirs were bigger, anyway.
However defiant they wanted to be, of course, it was still dizzying to be in the not-quite-real space. Mortal minds, which always yearned for the chance not to exist, were weighed upon heavily when they found themselves suddenly much more real than their surroundings. The demons of the void, making their ways between buildings or standing idly in their well-cut business suits and flared pant legs, long horns protruding from groomed heads, were only red-eyed black silhouettes that flickered, were sometimes not there at all for a moment. Many people worried what would happen when they were fully present. 1Batt, exasperated, always responded: we see what they do, they go to work, look over charts in offices, smoke cigars in the courtyard and cry on the toilet; they’ll just do that out here, too.
The flowers went to someone in the squat building. 1Batt navigated strange hallways that smelled like raw meat and didn’t seem to work with one another geometrically, compared the symbol that had come to them in their job-trance with the ones over various doorways, until they found an identical one. When they knocked on that door it faded from closed to open. The mostly-real demon may have opened it, but was still seated behind an onyx and obsidian desk, just a roughly person-shaped shadow. Their eyes, which let off reddish clouds that swirled in their misty form, were on 1Batt.
The batt set the holster on the desk and prepared to undo the snap that protected the flowers in it. It was a beautiful array, delicate, and very powerful. Then there was a silhouetted hand on theirs. They looked up to meet the red eyes, but could glean nothing from them. When they withdrew their hand, the demon drew the holster back toward their own side of the desk, but also did not open it.
Fine, 1Batt thought. That cost everything I’ll make today. But fine.
The demon summoned a coin to one hand and offered it. It was no kind of currency used anywhere in the city, or in the world, but the demons of the Plaza tried to use it in every transaction. When they fully arrived, it would probably have to be figured in to the economy for good. 1Batt accepted and pocketed the coin. The demon watched them placidly as they left.
Fine, they thought again.