“Smell that?” Peregrine said. “Pine shavings. He grows the trees upstairs. It used to take years, if you can imagine.”
“Years to do what?”
“To grow trees,” he said. “To grow forests. He does it in a few weeks. Entire rooms, filled corner to corner with trees. Go ahead.”
“Why should I go first!? He’s your friend!”
“You should go first,” Peregrine said. “because I’m keeping an eye out. And because I don't trust you.”
“Eat me," I said. I stopped in my tracks.
"Well. It was worth a try,” he said. “Okay.” He went around me and turned the handle of the interior door gingerly. He quickly stepped back. “Grant? It’s Peregrine. It’s Peregrine! Call off your fucking toys!”
"Wonderful,” I said. “Toys?”
“No, no, it's just… he's a maker, you know? He makes things. All kinds of things." Holding his body clear, he nudged the door open with his boot. A volley of blades flew out from behind the door, nailing the wall behind us.
"Things like booby traps," Peregrine said. Inside the room, lights came on. The dusty silence whirred into life. "So don't touch anything." He stepped through the door, dissolving into the yellow light.
"Are you coming?" he said. I glanced at the blades gleaming from the wall, imagining if they’d driven through my flesh. There would have been a moment, a fraction of a moment, when their sharp edges would have pressed against my scales like tiny, delicate fangs. And then those fangs would have swum straight through me, separating body and soul..
"Come on!" Peregrine said.
I followed. I was only the walking dead, after all.
The room was filled from floor to ceiling. Meticulously dressed kickshaws and manikins of wood danced along the walls; seem-to-be players with sinister glazes; their naked grains gleaming between their buttons, their cufflinks and shirt collars. Wooden spinnerets bobbed and shuttled in the corners, weaving color into the air from winking threads.
“Holy Phado,” I said.
Peregrine smirked. “Right?”
We had only a narrow aisle to walk in. I teetered, threw my hand out for balance.
Too late. A small, flowerlike object twitched, shooting a volley of needles into my hand. I jumped. Peregrine grabbed me. “Everything is booby trapped, Dai. Don’t. Touch. Anything. Don’t smell anything, or whatever it was you were trying to-”
“Don’t even look at anything too long, okay? Got it? Jeez, man,” he said, “you’re lucky. That could have been worse.”
“Comforting, Gault,” I said, “very comforting.”
“You were my patient once before, weren’t you? You didn’t complain then,” he said.
“When we met previously, I couldn’t have complained if I’d wanted to.” The path took us toward an interior hall. We passed through a series of tall, burnished archways that twisted away from the main room until the noise from the whirligigs and singing puppets faded behind us. “I do thank you, though. You saved my life that day.”
We stood in a room as still and cool as the secret groves of Phyrnos. My heart slowed.
“Don’t mention it.”
“Perhaps it’s is why I-” I paused, suddenly dizzy. “It is too cold for me here,” I said. We were surrounded by furniture: wide, low, flat and dark, all of it, with spare little legs and odd notches. Everything had an austere elegance. “I want to sit. My side-”
“Relax, David,” he said, but I staggered past him to a row of large beds. It was a moment before I realized they were occupied.
With slumbering giants.
Peregrine smiled. “There he is,” he said, pointing to a long bald man. The man slept lightly, one of his tattooed hands resting on his chest. “Wake him up, why don’t you.”
“Mr. Ramsey,” I said, walking over without thinking. “Grant Ramsey, hailed carpenter of Sand Maiden--rise up!” The giant snored on. “Mr. Ramsey, wake up, your world is on fire!”
“Shake him,” Peregrine said.
“I’m not going to shake him!”
“Fine then,” Peregrine said. He pulled sharply on the sleeping Ramsey’s arm. Nothing. Peregrine made a fist and rubbed his knuckles briskly on the thin skin of Ramsey's chest. "This will do it."
The giant’s eyes snapped open. He bolted upright, blinking at us with wide, glassy blue eyes.
He was not real.
“Gotcha,” a voice said from below. The bed rotated, revealing a large, dark opening beneath it. It was the entrance to a spacious room hidden beneath the floor, equipped with bed and screens and equipment, as well as many bookshelves and works of art lining its walls. The speaker stood at an old fashioned stove. He was cooking.
“Hi,” he said. "Well, you made it here alive. What's the occasion?"
"We've got a situation, Ramsey," Peregrine said. The giant looked unbothered. He turned off his stove top and came up the stairs, wiping his hands on his pants. He came into the room and strolled around his bed, looking for something.
“You look just like yourself,” I said, looking from the enormous dummy on top of the bed in front of us to the one that stood behind it, smiling at me.
“Thanks, darlin',” he said, looping a bow-tie around his neck. But his eyes flickered. I saw what I was to him: a monster, a freak; too big, too strange.
“Are you male? Y'know,” he said gently, "y'all look the same to me. I'm just a country boy, not like Peregrine here. He's sophisticated, comes from the big ships."
"He's used to monsters, you mean."
"That's not at all what I-"
Peregrine looked exasperated. "Hey, Ramsey! There's a situation outside."
"Why didn't you say so? You could have just called," Ramsey said, grinning. He tapped a screen on his wall. “Looks like I could have saved you a few pinpricks, Phyrnosian.”
I put my injured hand behind me.
“Everybody wants to smell the daisies,” he said. “Pretty, ain’t they?”
“Just make the call,” Peregrine said.