Sam walked out of the nave and past the group, heading once more towards the doors. His expression was grim and he stared at the floor, lost in thought. Elice blinked, startled.
“Wait, Sam!” she called, jogging a few steps after him then turning to regard the group in confusion. “Where is he going?”
“I don’t know,” Olena said, equally perplexed.
The little gnome priestess, Peytan, folded her arms. “Probably to the main temple of Gond, but he doesn’t have to go this instant.”
Sam hesitated at the doors, glanced at Elice, then turned and rejoined the party. “Well, on the up side,” he said, “she’s not making me pay to replace the scroll. On the down side, I have to go FIND a replacement.”
“Right now?” Olena asked, astonished.
“Since she put a geas on me to make sure I perform the task, I think so,” Sam explained.
“You have a bit of leeway if you have other things you need to get done,” Peytan said.
“It can’t be any harder than getting that mask from Sythillis,” Elice said. “I’ll bet the gnomes around here don’t even lock their doors at night. Too bad Deen didn’t come with us.”
Oren gaped at her. “I do not think we’re intended to steal one. There has to be a legitimate method for getting a scroll.”
Elice braced her fists on her hips and regarded the paladin. “Oh yeah? How much money have you got on you?” Oren flushed. “I thought so.” Sam squeezed Elice’s arm gently.
“Peytan tells me to check with the main temple of Gond, near the center of the island.” Sam held up a piece of parchment with a rough map scratched on it.
“Isn’t the usual method some sort of bizarre task?” Demaris asked.
“That’s what I’m assuming, yeah,” Sam said.
“Don’t you want us to come with you, Sam?” Olena asked.
He shrugged. “Well, I just figured, you know, you already did so much to get me here, it was probably up to me to take care of it . . .”
Elice punched him in the shoulder. “You silly. We’re all in this together, you know.”
“She’s right, Sam, don’t be silly,” Olena said. “Besides, we would all end up sitting here waiting for you to come back before we go see the witch anyway.”
“Witch?” Sam asked.
“Oh, right, you missed all that!” Olena said.
“I’m guessing I was just a little dead at the time,” Sam said dryly.
Olena launched into an explanation of their landing with the gnomish villagers and the subsequent near-lynching. Sam sighed heavily and shook his head. Halfway through the presentation, La’ss’a poked her head in the temple and jumped, startled to see Sam up and walking around again. She listened to Olena babble for a few minutes, then cut in with: “Will this help us get a new boat and get off this stupid island?”
“If some evil is at work here, I would think it the task of all right-thinking people to look into it,” Oren said with some asperity.
“Yeah, someone other than us, then,” Elice cut in.
“Well, it’s not a forest, but it’s still nature being affected and that . . . bothers me,” Olena said.
“Yes, but what about the BOAT?” La’ss’a demanded.
Olena shrugged. “I don’t know, but the fisherfolk would owe us a favor . . .” La’ss’a growled irritably.
“We owe her a few thumps if she’s responsible for those sharks, anyway,” Demaris offered.
“All right, look,” Sam said. “Let me go check with the temple first, then we can go have a look at the witch, at least. It beats sitting around here.”
“The temple doesn’t look that far away on the map, maybe a day or two on foot,” Elice said, turning the map over and squinting at the crude scribbles. Oren cleared his throat loudly and everyone turned to look at him.
“I have an idea,” the paladin said. There was a long pause.
“And?” Sam asked, gesturing for Oren to continue. Instead of answering, Oren stepped outside the temple and held up his hands, calling up a brilliant white glow that coalesced into the shape of a massive warhorse. After a moment the glow solidified and the horse turned around, shaking itself and snorting. It tried to eat Oren’s hair and he pushed it away.
“We HAVE to get some rest and healing before, well, before we do anything,” Oren explained, patting the bay horse’s shoulder and beginning to check its tack. “Why don’t you take my warhorse to the temple. It’ll be faster, and we’ll be ready to move out when you get back. I’m sure Folkeir won’t mind,” Oren said to the horse in a coaxing tone of voice. Sam looked up at the saddle uncertainly.
“I guess that would be faster . . .” he said weakly while Folkier eyeballed him. “But I don’t really know how to ride . . .”
Oren smiled encouragingly. “Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine. Here, let me give you a boost . . .” Folkier sidled away and regarded the two men suspiciously for a few moments. Then, heaving a deep sigh, the massive horse bent his legs and lay down on the ground. Oren scratched his head. “Well, I guess that works, too.”
Sam approached the horse carefully and climbed into the saddle, fixing his feet in the stirrups and throwing his arms around Folkier’s neck while the animal stood up slowly, one set of legs at a time. Oren grabbed the reins and held them out toward Sam, but Folkeir switched his head in annoyance and swept them out of reach. Giving Oren the hairy eyeball one last time, the warhorse turned his nose toward the road and set off at a jarring trot, Sam hanging on as best he could.
“He’s really very good natured!” Oren shouted after them. Elice covered her mouth with her hand to conceal a smile. Olena hugged Oren delightedly.
“Pity the horse got all the good sense, really,” Demaris remarked under her breath. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like some food, a bath, and about three days of sleep. Maybe we can ask the villagers for some provisions.”
The villagers proved more than amenable to the idea, and very soon they’d set out a feast of fruits, vegetables, bread and fish on brightly-colored picnic blankets. Bottles of brandywine were opened, and several gnomes produced accordions and tambourines and started a lively dance.
“I hope Garmon’s crew made it to shore all right,” Olena said, nibbling on a piece of toast.
“I didn’t see much but debris under the water,” La’ss’a said. “I stayed down for a bit while I healed. Stupid psionic disruption. I know the psychic storm has to be given orders . . . it was obviously sent to destroy the ship, not particular people.”
“Then someone sent it?” Olena asked.
“You said something to Sam on the ship about ‘another one’. You’ve seen this before?”
“Yeah, that’s what happened to your father, that and a big crystal exploding. We were behind an ectoplasmic wall at the time, so we didn’t get a good look at what happened.”
“So who sent it, then?” Demaris asked.
“If I knew for sure, I would have gone after them instead of getting involved in this mess,” La’ss’a said. “I’m assuming it was Sulveig, but we can’t prove it.”
“Well, you know what they say, once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is conspiracy,” Demaris saidt. “If it shows up again, we’ll know it was Sulveig.”
“I hope we have a better idea of how to fight it by then. Ouch,” Olena murmured.
“Why not Sulveig’s boss?” La’ss’a asked. Olena and Demaris looked at each other.
“Sythillis?” Olena ventured. “Isn’t he dead?”
“He wasn’t a psion, either, at least not that I know of,” Demaris added.
“I don’t know,” La’ss’a grumped. “Sulveig isn’t making much sense to me at the moment. Why would he run toward Maztica when he already had one of the keys? Why not go back to Murann?”
“Well, when we catch him, you can ask him,” Olena said.
Sam rode somewhat uncomfortably through the night, eventually arriving outside a large, albeit squat, building with a sign outside helpfully indicating “Temple”. Folkier snorted at the sign and stuck his nose in the air.
“Yeah, well, they’re gnomes, what do you expect?” The warhorse turned to give Sam a look that said, clear as day, “get off before I find something to scrape you off on”. “All right, all right, sheesh,” Sam said and climbed down to the ground.
The main doors of the Temple were wide open, and the interior looked more like a workshop than a proper temple. When Sam looked inside, there was a loud bang and the air was suddenly full of acrid-smelling smoke. He had a vivid flashback to the “improved stealth grapple” a gnome once sold him, failing to mention the tremendous noise it made when fired. He shook his head yet again.
“Phew!” announced a gnome wearing a greasy leather apron as he emerged from the smoke, waving a hand in front of his face. “Well, hello there! What can I help you with?”
“I was sent here to get a scroll,” Sam said.
The gnome’s brow furrowed. “Oh, so you’re not here about the exploding duck?”
“Um, I doubt it, but if it gets me the scroll I need . . .”
“Oh well, I could have sworn someone was supposed to come today and pick up the exploding duck. Maybe that was last week. Anyway, I’m Hertrian Volentrude, I’m the high priest around here. What type of scroll are you looking for? I’ve got lots, although I warn you that magic really isn’t as reliable as some people seem to think. I prefer a good bit of machinery, myself.”
“A resurrection of some sort . . . I kind of used the one from the other temple . . .”
“You did? Why?”
Sam stared at Hertrian for a moment. “Because I was dead?”
“Oh, see, now THAT makes sense. More than what I was thinking, anyway. Wait, wait, was this PEYTAN’S scroll?”
“Um, yes . . .why?”
“Oo,” Hertrian said, scratching the small white beard that adhered to his chin and causing a small cloud of dust. “That’s an ‘spensive spell. Honestly I don’t know what Gond does with all those diamonds, but there’s not much use arguing with Himself when he’s in a mood. I can make you one if you want, but I kind of need . . . compensation. Sorry, kid.”
“So what do I have to do?” Sam asked.
“Weeeeell, I could send you off to do a job, I guess. That’s the usual thing, isn’t it?”
“Traditional, anyway,” Sam said.
“The trouble is, it’s hard to know what to send you to do. This is a peaceful island, not really any monster troubles or invading warlords or typical adventure stuff. Unless you’re a mechanic?”
“Too bad, Begloby mashed his flying machine again.”
“I could make sure he never mashes another one . . .” Sam started, then grinned. “Never mind. Any other ideas?”
Hertrian waded through piles of junk to a desk covered in papers. After several moments of digging he returned and handed a piece of paper to Sam. “Here we go. Seems I’ve got a complaint here from the mayor of Fasheezy about a witch terrorizing the countryside. I don’t know what the going rate is for witches, but it seems pretty reasonable to me. What do you say?”
“No sweat. Which way is Fasheezy?”
“It’s just up the road towards the coast. You can’t miss it.”
“Towards the . . . oh. Witch. Right. Why am I not surprised?” Sam rubbed his forehead.
“I was just there.”
Olena came buzzing up like an overexcited dragonfly when Sam rode back into the village. “Sam! Did you find another scroll?”
“Well, I got a task, anyway. Apparently there’s a mayor with a witch problem around here.”
“Oh,” Olena said. “Well that’s . . . convenient?”
“Do we know where she lives?” La’ss’a asked, trotting up on her short legs.
“The gnomes said upstream,” Demaris remembered.
“Well, no time like the present, then. We need a ship off this place. Soon.” They hiked upstream, which proved to be quite easy because a well-maintained path ran along beside it. The water trickled along merrily, and it was a pleasant day with only a slight wind and bright, warm sunshine. Within an hour, they could see smoke rising from a small half-timbered cottage set into a shady glen. The roof was thatch, in good repair, and overall the scene was pleasant and homey. The cottage even had a water wheel turning briskly in the stream. As they approached, however, they could smell a harsh chemical stink and see several large vats on the other side of a split rail fence.
“Smells like the place,” Sam said. La’ss’a ducked through the fence to examine the vats and came up short when she encountered a large humanoid figure marching around the yard. She froze, but it ignored her completely. On second glance it wasn’t that human. It looked more . . . gelatinous, and where its large blobby ‘feet’ touched the ground the earth scorched and smoked.
Sam walked toward the door, passing a sign nailed to the fence that read:
KEEP OUT This means YOU!
A second sign, smaller and more dignified, was half-concealed under the first:
Authorized Personnel Only
And a piece of yellowed paper tacked up beside them read:
Posted: Lantan Workman’s Compensation Notice
By the time he reached the door, Sam could hear a repetitive whirring and clacking noise coming from inside the cottage. He reached down and knocked heavily on the door.
“GO AWAY!” shouted an angry feminine voice from inside the building.
“NO!” Sam yelled. There were some banging noises and a moment later the small door flew open, revealing a rather young gnomish woman in brightly colored robes.
“Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want any!”
“Fair enough,” Sam snapped. “What will you give me to not burn down your house?”
The gnomess’ jaw dropped, but she rallied after a moment, drawing herself up to her full height and waving a finger in the general direction of Sam’s face. “How dare you threaten me!” She began to rattle off a stream of arcane gibberish. Olena gasped and charged forward with Spellreaver. The sword seemed to move of its own accord and struck the gnomish woman, who screamed and fled into the house.
“Stop it!” Sam yelled after her retreating back. “We just want to talk!” There was a loud clang from inside the cottage, then silence. “Why does everyone always resort to violence?”
“Because you threaten to burn their houses down?” Olena ventured.
“I had to say something to get her attention.”
“So what do we do now?” Elice asked, bewildered. Demaris crouched down and peered into the house. The front room was simply a space to leave boots and cloaks. Sam shrugged and followed, edging into the next room, which proved to be a cozy sitting room with a dining room behind it. Small stairs coiled up to a second story. A door in the dining room was still swinging slightly.
“We probably would have heard her running up the stairs,” Olena said, looking around. The four humans, half-fey, and lizard ducked their heads and crossed to the swinging door, which opened into a tidy kitchen. The gnomess peeked nervously out of the pantry.
“Go away and leave me alone!” she squeaked.
“We can’t do that,” Sam said as patiently as he could manage. “We need to talk.”
“It’s those villagers, isn’t it! Why can’t they just leave me alone!”
“I’m not sensing any evil here,” Oren said quietly.
“Maybe because you keep shouting at them?” Sam snapped, beginning to lose his temper.
“I’m trying to run a business here! I never hurt anyone!”
“Still shouting. Stop it.”
“They say you’re poisoning their fish,” Olena said, holding out a healing potion towards the pantry. The gnomess regarded it with deep distrust.
“What? Poisoning? Ooo, those no good rotten smelly stupid crazy . . .”
“Easy, now, that’s what they said,” Olena explained. The gnomess emerged from the pantry and glared at everyone equally.
“I didn’t poison their stupid fish! They hired me to figure out a way to make them grow bigger! This after they boycott my factory and almost put me out of business. I ought to curse them but good. Anyway, who are you people? You’re huge. You haven’t been eating the fish food, have you?”
“Oren, could you . . . I don’t know, heal her a bit?” Olena asked.
“Is he a cleric?” the gnomess demanded.
“Paladin, actually,” Oren said.
“Well . . . all right, but no trying to cop a feel.” There was a brief pause, then Oren and Olena both turned red. Sam shook his head and leaned up against the wall, tapping his fingers against his belt impatiently. Oren put a hand to the gnomess’ forehead and the large ugly gash left by Spellreaver gradually closed. “Anyway, I’m Madam Twell. You aren’t maybe in the market for some textiles, are you?”
“Is that what you’re factory’s for?” Olena asked.
Madam Twell grinned proudly. “Yep. Fine woven cloth and leather goods, lowest prices you’ll ever find! That’s because of my Secret Manufacturing Process.”
“Something you use a big gloopy construct for?” La’ss’a asked snidely. Madam Twell deflated a bit.
“Oh, did I leave it out in the yard again? Drat.” The gnome tromped across the floor to Sam and extended a hand. “Sorry about trying to curse you, earlier, but I was only going to turn you into a newt. You’d have gotten better eventually.”
Sam looked at her dubiously, then sighed and shook hands. The gnome’s tiny fist vanished in his palm.
“So what is this about growing fish larger, and why do the villagers think that they’re poisoned?” La’ss’a asked.
“It’s a long story,” Twell said. “Why don’t we have some tea and I’ll tell you all about it. Potboiler! Tea!” she shouted, making everyone jump. The small iron stove in the corner of the kitchen suddenly sprouted six arms and began running around, grabbing the teakettle with water, arranging cups on a tray, slicing bread . . . all with amazing speed and dexterity. Madam Twell grinned again. “Cookery golem, my own invention. I thought, who wants a great big iron golem stomping around the place and smashing the furniture, but this one can cook a seven-course meal for ten people in fifteen minutes!”
“That’s . . . um . . . impressive?” Olena offered. The tea tray was deposited on the table with a plate of sandwiches and a basket of hot rolls with butter and jab. Madam Twell poured the tea and made herself comfortable at the table.
“Well, it’s like this,” the gnome said after sipping her tea and sighing. “The fishermen down in the village all used to work in this factory. Back when my father still ran the place, that is. About three years ago he took ill and had to stop running the business for health reasons, so I came back from Faerun to help out.
“You would not believe how inefficient the place was when I got here. He could barely afford to keep food on the table, payrolls were in arrears, we were in debt to practically everyone on the island. So, I set out to introduce some cost-saving measures, a few process improvements. But these villagers . . . they are so stupid and superstitious here about magic. They REFUSED, just refused, to work in the factory with my golems. I don’t get it, myself. There’s machinery all over the place here, who cares if it’s powered by magic or clockwork! I use both! Hmph. The fools almost bankrupted me before I managed to turn the entire operation over to golems. They decided they were going to take up fishing, of all things.”
“Were they hungry?” Olena asked innocently.
“I don’t know, but they weren’t very good at it and their catch was very poor. One of them came to me surreptitiously and asked if there was any way I could help. So I tried to figure out how to make the fish bigger. Maybe it had some odd side effects or something.”
“There are some really big sharks out there, anyway,” Olena said.
“Really? So it worked?”
“What worked?” La’ss’a asked.
“My growth formula, of course. I wasn’t sure it would. It’s not like I could go down to the village and check.”
“You just poured a potion into the ocean to grow fish?” La’ss’a pressed.
“It was a science experiment,” Madam Twell affirmed.
Demaris frowned. “Big predators eat smaller fish and get a larger dose of the potion . . . your giant sharks may have denuded the ocean of the fish the villagers were eating.”
La’ss’a frowned. “So the potion may not affect the smaller fish at all.”
“Silly question,” Sam broke in, “but was it the Mayor that asked you to invent the growth formula?”
“You mean Gibsi the Foreman? Yeah, it was him.”
Sam groaned. “No wonder he’s so anxious to get rid of you. Was he expecting to take over the factory from your father, by any chance?”
“I don’t think so. I think he likes his new job being boss of the village better, anyway.”
“He didn’t mention that part,” Olena said. “Not even when Elice was . . . helping.”
“He never came back here to explain?” La’ss’a asked.
“Well, a few villagers did storm up here and try to burn down my house last month, but the golems scared them off.”
“I bet he said ‘Something strange! Must be the witch’s fault!’” Olena guessed.
“Maybe,” Madam Twell conceded. “Personally, I wouldn’t credit him with thinking ahead that far. Or at all, really.”
“Is it possible to shrink the fish?”
“Permanently, you mean? If you only want a few minutes, I think I have a scroll around here somewhere. Oh, wait, that only works on humanoids. Never mind.”
“Maybe you should just come down to the village with us and explain to the villagers directly,” Sam suggested.
“And get lynched? No THANK you.”
“We could protect you.”
“Oh yeah?” Madam Twell asked, regarding Sam skeptically. “What’s in it for you?”
“We get our own scroll,” La’ss’a said shortly.
“Oh. So you’re not just doing this from the goodness of your various hearts, I take it?”
“Maybe some of us,” Sam said, “The rest of us are a bit more practical.”
“Good, nice to see some self-interest around the place. If it will get the villagers off my case, let’s go talk to them.”
Olena’s face fell. “That’s awfully . . . mercantile. Still, if there’s enough gratitude to get us a ship out of here . . .”
“Ship?” Madam Twell demanded.
“We were shipwrecked here.”
“Yeah, and some of us got eaten by giant sharks,” Sam muttered.
“REEEEly,” Madam Twell said, rubbing her chin. “Where were you bound.”
“REEEEly. I hear there are big opportunities there for entrepreneurial types.”
“Does that interest you?” Olena asked.
“Well, yeah, I’m getting sick of the idiots on this rock. And humans buy a lot more cloth. Plus I could expand, export to the mainland . . . exotic goods, you know. You see, it just so happens that I HAVE a ship. Well, a prototype, anyway. It’s a mechanical ship. I’d like to see how it handles on an ocean voyage, but they say there are some big monsters out there, so I didn’t want to try going all by myself. They’re bound to start dismantling my boat in the middle of the ocean or something.”
“I’m getting a baaaad feeling about this,” Sam said quietly.
“Oh pish tosh,” Madam Twell said. “It’s perfectly safe, not like that underwater boat that maniac Ahgreef designed. THAT was a disaster. Let’s make a deal.”
“We can at least give it a try,” Olena said.
“Right!” Madam Twell announced, shooting to her feet. “Have you got any rope?”
“Rope? What for?” La’ss’a asked.
“Well, I’m figuring we should give the villagers a good show. You tie me up, parade me around, give them some spiel about how you caught the evil witch and you’re going to take me off to be punished, then I pack up the factory and we split. You protect my boat from the monsters, and I’ll get you to Maztica. Well, barring unforeseen circumstances.”
“Um . . .” Olena said.
“I know this sounds like a lot of FUN,” Sam said sarcastically, “but why don’t we just . . . leave?”
“Well, I suppose we COULD do that,” Madam Twell said, looking disappointed. “If you wanted to be boring.”
Sam’s expression blackened. “You know what? Fine. Have your show. I have to go back to the Temple anyway,” he said and ducked out the door. Elice hurried after and caught up with him on the path. She walked beside him, watching him glare at the dirt. At first she was hard pressed just to keep up, but after an hour or so he seemed to work off his irritation and slowed.
“You know,” Elice ventured, “It will probably take them a good long while to get organized. We don’t have to hurry.”
“You’re assuming everything will go according to plan,” Sam snapped. “At this rate, we’ll come across a new chasm, a group of merry bandits, and a demon that speaks in rhyme. And the crew will get arrested and have to be rescued, all in a hurry.”
Elice sighed and looked away.
“What?” Sam asked after a moment. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, nothing really, I guess. You’ve just seemed upset. And frustrated. I want to help, but I’m not sure how.”
Sam sighed. “How long have we known each other? Five years? Six? A long time, anyway. My life used to be simple. Hectic, but simple. Steal, run, spend. Simple.”
Elice nodded encouragingly.
“Then I met Nymbus and life was simple. Wake up, study, practice, repeat. I LIKED Nymbus, I looked up to him.”
“Now I find out that he’s some crazed ex-deity who creates whole worlds populated with sentient inhabitants, then abandons them to have a kid with is his own sister. I started out on this whole revenge thing, which coincides neatly with a defend my homeland from foreign invaders thing, except that I don’t really like my homeland that much and the revenge thing is looking kind of hollow, since it looks like Nymbus was pretty much a scumbag who was planning to take over the world and systematically tortured his own daughter. AND I can’t even take a freaking boat ride without something going wrong! And then, when I try to work things out, everyone screams at me and won’t LISTEN!” Sam shut his eyes, breathing hard, then resumed walking again. Elice reached out and tugged on his arm gently. “So, I’m a little frustrated. Thanks for listening,” he said harshly.
“I’m sorry,” Elice said. Sam reached out and draped his arm over her shoulders, squeezing her against his side.
“It’s okay. You’ve been great. I can’t even say how much worse this would have been without you.”
Elice smiled. “I may even know how you feel . . . a little bit, at least. I’ve spent the past six months working for the Shadow Thieves, under protest, and fighting in pits so Tom could make money gambling. I feel lucky to be alive, but man, I hated every minute of it.”
“Under protest?” Sam asked sharply.
“Well, Tom bribed the guards to get me out of prison, I didn’t exactly volunteer. Becoming a pit fighter wasn’t really one of my personal development goals. But he made it clear it was that or go to the block with everyone else.”
Sam was silent for a long moment. “It’s probably best I didn’t know that at the time, or things would have been even more complicated.”
“Aw, and they say chivalry is dead,” Elice joked.
“Maybe I’m just a really bad man,” Sam said, grinning crookedly, “but I like to have an excuse handy?”
Elice laughed and felt Sam relax a bit more. “What I was trying to say, though, is that I’ve learned that it’s rare for people to be all one thing. If you expect them to be, you just make it harder for yourself. Nymbus was good to you, right? Maybe it’s best if you just remember that and don’t worry too much about what else he may have been.”
“Maybe,” Sam said, sighing. “Maybe he really did change and wasn’t that guy any more.”
“It’s possible. Most people would look at us and just say: smugglers, they’re no good. But we’re not just the one thing.”
“Oh yeah? What else are we?”
Elice inserted her ankle between Sam’s feet and pushed him over into the stream, then jumped after him. “Wet!” It took them some time to dry off.
The others, with Madam Twell now in tow, returned to the village some time later. They discovered Captain Garmon with most of his crew being harangued by Mayor Gibsi.
“Captain!” Olena called. “Good to see you again!”
“Um, yes,” Garmon said. Gibsi was staring open-mouthed at Madam Twell. The gnome sorceress cleared her throat dramatically.
“Oh WOE is ME, for I have been CAPTURED and face a DIRE FATE . . .”
Olena stared blankly.
“I said I faced a DIRE FATE!!” Twell bellowed.
“Um, Silence, you Miscreant!” Olena said, jolting to attention. “As you can see, we’ve defeated your witch! She comes with us now to face JUSTICE!!” La’ss’a groaned and covered her face with her claws. Oren just looked embarrassed, and Demaris tried to conceal a coughing fit. After a long pause, there was a smattering of applause from the gathered villagers.
“We’ve, um, we’ve also made sure that your fish problem is over,” Olena added.
“You, you can’t do that!” Gibsi squeaked.
“We jolly well can! Suck it!” Madam Twell declared. Olena froze again.
“Anyway, we thank you for your hospitality,” La’ss’a said hurriedly.
“But, but . . .” the Mayor sputtered.
“We’ll . . . we’ll just be off now,” La’ss’a continued, dragging Olena and Madam Twell back toward the path. Garmon and his crew followed quickly. A last “But . . .” trailed after them.
“Did you see that!?” Olena squealed ecstatically. “I liked! Did you see it! I LIED!”
Oren winced. “Um, yes.”
“Oh, I’m not going to make a habit of it,” she said, backtracking hurriedly. “It’s just, you know, nice to be sure that I could! Sorry about the ‘miscreant’,” she continued, “But I forgot my line.”
“No, no, that was fine,” Madam Twell said magnanimously. She led them to a side path that ended on the shore of a small lake where a small shed stood. After scrabbling around in the weeds for some time, she pulled a lever. The roof of the shed ratcheted back, revealing a sleek black shape floating in the water. “Let’s load up.”
Garmon stared at the ship. “Oh HELL no.”
“I was afraid of that,” La’ss’a said grimly.
“It’s all right,” Madam Twell said. “It doesn’t take much of a crew. Now help me with these boxes.”