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Nirhu, Beast of the Bottle, slithered to the peak of its rocky perch. Its bangled tail flicked to and fro with glee at the sight of a new visitor. On a spray-soaked outcrop, Paghad the Elder splayed out under the amber rays of a sun he did not know.

Nirhu hummed to itself and chuckled at the sensation.

"Where have I gone?" said Paghad.

In response, Nirhu let trickle down a festive helping from its glass gourd. It came down on Paghad like a waterfall in slow motion.

"Ah," said Paghad. "I am drunk, I think."

Nirhu's ears fanned with excitement, and the Beast flowed down to get a better look at its company.

"No," it said, "I am drunk. You are just here."

Nirhu giggled. Paghad drew to his feet, wringing out his beard. He fished for the exact moment his memory had cut out. Anything relevant slipped from his fingers. Nirhu circled nearer, forming a close-fitting loop around Paghad.

"Was I drunk earlier?" said Paghad.

"How should I know?" Nirhu said. "I don't know you."

It offered up the gourd.

"A sip?" it said. "It is only hospitable, and hospitality is what I have to give."

Paghad eyed the gourd warily. Floating in the fine clear drink within was a weathered rock, and on it he saw a wizened sage and a pale serpent in conversation. A quick glance skyward showed him that somewhere above the sky, great coils wound around this place. He pondered the etiquette of the situation.

"I will not refuse a god's hospitality," he said.

A globe of the gourd's contents floated out and came to rest in Paghad's hand. Somewhere behind him, he heard the sound of an inverted splash, and the gentle crash of a receding sea. Paghad drank, and did not regret it. Nirhu's brew sears the throat and stomach, but lights a bonfire in the soul around which good moods were sure to gather.

Nirhu's self-satisfied expression faded--though difficult for a creature so reptilian, it managed a mild frown.

"What troubles you?" said Paghad. "What reason would any god of merriment have to feel low in the presence of guests?"

Nirhu flicked its tail to the left, then the right, then held it straight towards the heavens. The very tip quivered in concentration, and the bangle clattered in agreement. Its ear-fins and great crest drew back, the equivalent of a furrowed brow.

"I think," Nirhu said, "I think I remember I forgot something. Something very important.
"I must consult my--oh."

Even with his memories clouded, something unfortunately familiar to Paghad lived in that oh. It was that dreadful kind of meaningless word that inevitably led to a favor. Paghad frowned this time. He was beginning to recall a long history of services rendered, and in so doing was beginning to understand why he might have shown up in the kingdom of the Deity of Intoxication so spontaneously.

Having had a coherent thought, Paghad felt the world start to drain away beneath his feet. All was muddling into a glassy haze, through the corners of which the ordinary world crept in. Nirhu panicked a little, then pouted and shook its tail in frustration before vanishing with everything else in a smear of lucidity.

Paghad returned to the mortal world, his eye no longer witnessing the World At The Bottom Of The Glass. He set his tumbler down, done with his drink at last. He felt damp, and smelled of unearthly draughts. On the table in front of him was a white wash-cloth, embroidered with a laughing, silver-scaled serpent, and a message:

I've lost my mirror. Be a chum and find it for me?
p.s. it's alive and astray and probably a little evil now. sorry.

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computationalsphinx

March 2013

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