Strange things are happening in the land of Driszaw, and it is up to the Special Spirit Squad to investigate.
In the previous chapter we met our heroes: Glurf the toad exorcist; Nathaniel the aasimar inquisitor; Koumi Ko the samurai and Maurice the ranger. They were tasked to tackle cases of supernatural phenomenon in the city of Lamelf. Their first case involves the tools of a local blacksmith mysteriously vanishing…
Jeff the Hill Giant loved his job. The route from the capital to Lamelf was simple and straight; the people were usually nice, and always grateful; the pay was decent and they even gave him a place to stay. Two, in fact! One in the capital and one in Lamelf. Warm, dry places with plenty of food and tons of friends. Yes, being a Bus Hauler was a good life. Beats robbing hikers in the hills, that’s for sure.
Today he had the honor of carrying four very important people. Jeff knew they were important because of their shiny golden badges; only officials wore those. They were the Special Spirit Squad and they were traveling to Lamelf to beat ghosts. Jeff was proud to play his part in something so important.
Jeff liked Lamelf. It was the third biggest city of Driszaw; a college town; it was home to the biggest Wizard’s Academy of the land, which meant lots of students, bringing with them a youthful energy. They were always chatting about the restaurants, the coffee shops, the artisans somethings or the other…supposedly there even was a zoo! Jeff would have loved to visit the zoo, but sadly giants weren’t allowed inside; they had to stay in a special ghetto outside of the city walls. It was a very nice ghetto, though. Warm and dry, with all of his friends there. Beats staying in Tazweelac, that’s for sure. Or ferrying to Faarj. The busses to Faarj were always empty.
The bus arrived at the station well ahead of schedule; the sun had only just begun to set and the night was still young. The skies were clear and the air was pleasantly temperate; a typical spring evening. Perfect for ghost busting, thought Jeff.
As the Special Spirit Squad exited the palanquin, Jeff felt a pang of regret. He wished he could have joined them on their ghost busting. The way they had talked about it made it sound like fun. Then again, ghosts could be scary, so maybe it was better for him if he stayed in the safety of his ghetto, where it was warm and dry, with all of his friends there.
“Alright everyone,” said Nathaniel, addressing his colleagues like he would a school class on a field trip, “I suggest we start by finding a place to stay; I think we’ll probably be here for a while.”
“Let’s head to the blacksmith first!” suggested Ko unexpectedly, surprising everyone; Maurice and Glurf in particular seemed mighty confused. “It’s one of the jobs,” Ko explained. And, to Nathaniel: “I looked at them while you were sleeping. You didn’t mind – you were sleeping.”
“Fine,” sighed Nathaniel, knowing better than to argue with Ko.
“Wait a minute,” protested Maurice, “don’t I get a say in this?”
The blacksmith’s shop was located in the part of town where most artisans practiced their craft. The rent was rather cheap, which meant that most of the common-folk and students held their residence here. It was just around closing time, meaning traffic was quieting down, and there weren’t many people on the streets; what little people there were seemed to be heading home.
Nathaniel had happily pointed out which direction the shops supposedly were to Ko, who had charged forward on Haviér, leaving the rest running to catch up, which Maurice seemed very eager to do. Glurf wasn’t as quick on their feet, however, and Nathaniel stayed with them in the rear.
When they caught up, Ko and Haviér were impatiently waiting for Nathaniel to point out which shop they were supposed to visit – they had already tried three – while Maurice was catching his breath.
“So,” said Nathaniel to Ko, “you remembered that the job came from a blacksmith, just not which blacksmith?”
“O just shut up and tell us where to go.”
“Rhent’s Smithy, recognizable by a shield with a bull’s head. Should be somewhere around here.”
“There!” blurted out Glurf.
The rest of the squad turned their heads to follow the gesture, which lead Ko and Haviér to take a 160-degrees turn; they had been waiting idle in front of the right shop.
“Don’t laugh,” warned Ko as Nathaniel started snickering.
The bull’s head, as it turns out, wasn’t really a bull’s head at all; Rhent was a minotaur. He was bare-chested underneath his apron, sporting some impressive muscles, but he looked tired; not just end-of-the-day tired, but really tired; he was slouching, which minotaurs rarely do, and had big black bags underneath his eyes.
As the Special Spirit Squad entered, the minotaur immediately asked them to leave. “No, no; I’m sorry, but I’m just about to close shop for the night.”
Ko lunged forward and flashed his badge. “Koumi Ko, Special Spirit Squad. Here on official business. What’s the sitch?”
The smith instantly brightened up and straightened his back. “O! Yes! Thank you so much for coming, lads – sorry, sirs-”
“Lads will do,” said Ko, relishing in the confirmed power his badge held. “What can we do for you?”
“Well, it’s just as the letter said-”
“Yeah, I didn’t bother reading the whole thing,” hand-waved Ko.
“Alright, no bother,” said Rhent, seeming slightly taken aback. “Right, so, usually, just after closing times, sometimes I hear these weird noises, you know? Like someone’s moving my stuff around, right? Then when I turn to look, I see nothing, but sometimes some of my tools have moved. Sometimes they just disappear for days. They always come back, but always in a different spot from where I left them, which really ticks me off, you know? A man needs a system. You can’t just-”
“So we can rule out simple theft,” Nathaniel surmised, “which leads me to believe it that could be the work of a poltergeist.”
“P-poltergeist?” asked Glurf in their deep voice.
Nathaniel frowned. “Aren’t you supposed to be the exorcist?”
“So how can you not know what a poltergeist is?”
Glurf muttered something incomprehensible to themselves and avoided Nathaniel’s gaze. The detective sighed. “A poltergeist is a mischievous spirit that enjoys messing with people by dislocating objects and creating disquieting sounds.”
“So…” Glurf said, straining their brain, “A…g-g-ghost?”
“Yes. A ghost,” confirmed Nathaniel with a sigh, already feeling exasperated.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Rhent, “which I why I sent the letter. Can you help me?”
“Of course, my good man, of course!” beamed Ko as he slapped the minotaur on his huge shoulder. “Leave it to us, the Special Spirit Squad. If there is a ghost here, we’ll be sure to bust it – and if not, you’ll get your money back!”
Rhent looked confused. “Don’t worry, sir,” explained Nathaniel, “you don’t have to pay anything – we are compensated by the crown, like the city-guards.” He turned to Ko. “Ko, stop saying dumb shit.”
Ko shrugged. “Well how was I supposed to know? I don’t know how money works.”
“Neither do I!” added Glurf, inviting a glance of comradery from the samurai, which the toad returned with gusto.
“I’ll give you lads some space,” said Rhent, eager to get out. “I don’t want to be here when it gets all ghosty. I’ll be in my private quarters if you need anything.”
“Leave it to us!” said Ko.
The minotaur left, leaving the Special Spirit Squad alone in the shop. Maurice, who had been listening to the inquiry in silence, finally spoke up. “Ah yes. Weird sounds and stuff being displaced – clearly the work of ghosts. Honestly, are all city-folk this superstitious?”
“Well, if you have an alternative hypothesis, I’m sure we’d all love to hear it,” said Nathaniel. Maurice shrugged.
“Thought as much. Glurf?”
“Y-yes, sir?” said Glurf, saluting awkwardly.
Nathaniel smiled. “You don’t have to salute me, Glurf – we’re colleagues, I’m not your supervisor.”
“OK,” said Glurf, though they kept a stiff posture.
“…Well?” tried Nathaniel again after a short interval.
“Do you sense anything?”
“What do you mean?”
Nathaniel sighed. He was beginning to understand that he had to be awfully specific when asking something of Glurf.
“Do you sense anything supernatural?” he tried again.
“Uhm. I don’t think so,” said Glurf. “Is that bad?”
“Come on, Toadboy!” tried Ko with enthusiasm, “Use your magic spells! Clerics know all kinds of tricks, right?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know any spells,” Glurf apologized. “But I can ask Heqet if there are any ghosts here, if that’s any help?”
“Yes,” said Nathaniel as he shut his eyes briefly and rubbed his temples. “Please do exactly that.”
Glurf put their hands together in a devout gesture of prayer, cast their gaze heavenward and starting talking as if they were dictating a journal entry. “Dear Heqet. Glurf here. I’m supposed to ask you if there’s any ghosts. If there are, please give us a sign. But if it’s too much trouble, I completely understand, since you’re busy and all, answering everybody’s prayers. Your faithful servant, Glurf.”
Nothing happened. Glurf waited and waited, squeezing their hand together tigher and tigher, but still, nothing happened.
Running out of patience, Maurice interrupted the séance. “So. Either there’s no ghosts here, so Heqet did not give us a sign; or there are, but it’s too much of a bother. Either way we still know nothing.”
“She,” snapped Glurf, “Heqet’s a she.”
“Fine, fine; doesn’t change the fact that she is useless in this situation.”
Glurf couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They were about to protest, but Nathaniel got in between them and Maurice. “Let’s just assume that the lack of reply means that there are no ghosts.”
“Yeah! Good job, Glurf!” added Ko cheerfully.
“Thanks!” said Glurf, still not sure whether they actually did anything.
“Great, so now we can start the actual investigation. I’ll see if I can find any tracks or signs of entering,” said Maurice.
“Ghosts don’t leave tracks,” said Glurf, repeating something Nathaniel had said before.
“Yes, and you just learned that it’s not a ghost, stupid,” quipped Maurice as he started to work. It didn’t take long for him to find something. “See?” he indicated a pattern of tiny footsteps that lead to a standing clock. “If any of you had just bothered to look instead of pray, you could have actually found something. Here.”
The clock swung open, revealing a small tunnel that lead outside. “There you have it!” boasted Maurice. “Mystery solved.”
“Really?” asked Nathaniel slyly, “So what was causing the disturbances?”
“Well clearly not ghosts, Maurice replied. “ghosts wouldn’t need to make holes; they’d supposedly just faze through the wall.”
“Quite right,” agreed Nathaniel. “So what did make the hole?”
“So, mystery not quite solved, then.” Nathaniel waited for a witty comeback, but it seemed Maurice was done; he had convincingly shown that whatever was causing the disturbances wasn’t supernatural. What else was there?
Meanwhile, Ko’s head was already stuck in the hole; the rest of his body didn’t fit. “Seems it leads to an alley; ooh, this place smells the worst! It’s…- yep, it’s where they take the trash. And the stool. All of the waste. Yuck”
“Good job, Ko,” remarked Nathaniel sarcastically, “Now would you please get your head back into the game? We need to discuss what to do next.”
Nathaniel suggested that they split up; half of them were to hide in the shop and the other half in the alley. That way they could both see what the creature did in the shop and discover where it took the tools. Maurice, Ko and Haviér waited outside, while Nathaniel and Glurf stayed inside.
The intruder waited until after the sun had properly set to make their move. In the cover of darkness, Maurice, Ko and Haviér saw a tiny figure slip into the hole hidden amongst the trash bags. Ko unsheathed his blades and got ready to pounce, but Maurice managed to stop him just in time.
“We’re only supposed to observe, remember?” he whispered, annoyed.
“Are we?” Ko whispered back. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying any attention.”
“Well, pay attention now; as soon as it pops back out, we’re following, quietly.”
Havíer, who was pressed against the ground like a prowling leopard, neighed with disappointment.
“Don’t worry buddy,” said Ko, “you’ll get your chance to shine yet.”
The figure disappeared into the hole, where, after it ascertained that the shop was quiet, it swung open the clock-door and revealed itself. The intruder turned out to be a small gnome child with bright green hair and big eyes, wearing filthy rags and looking like he had been eloping from bath-time for years. The gnome stalked around, looking for something specific. Once he had found a particular spanner he snatched it and was already halfway through the tunnel when he came back to leave behind a hammer he had probably ‘borrowed’ earlier.
It was at this point that Glurf instinctively craned their short neck to get a closer look and knocked over their hiding place. The gnome child froze up and looked at the toad with unadulterated fright in his eyes. Glurf panicked.
“HI I’M GLURF!”
The gnome child bolted, discarding stealth in favor of speed and disappearing into the hole. Nathaniel jumped out from his hiding place and tried to pursue, but he was way too big to fit through. He swore in a language Glurf did not understand.
“I’m sorry,” Glurf stumbled.
Nathaniel smiled unexpectedly. “No, this is good. This will make it easier for Ko and Maurice to follow him to wherever he’s going.”
Outside, Ko and Maurice saw the small figure shooting out of the hole and disappearing into the night. Ko instantly pursued, while Maurice and Haviér waited for Nathaniel and Glurf to come around the corner and in turn followed Ko.
This convoluted chase lead the Spirit Squad out of the artisan’s neighborhood and into the slums. To the uneducated observer these parts might appear like a dump, but a connoisseur of trash would recognize all manner of makeshift buildings varying in quality of craftsmanship. The gnome zigzagged in between shacks to arrive at a particularly large and elaborate one, where they vanished inside. Ko waited for the rest to catch up.
Once everyone had gathered, Nathaniel circled around the shack to study it more closely. It looked as if it had been build over a long period of time, but with no plans or blueprint; bits and pieces of various material had been added without foresight, resulting in a not all-together unappealing patchwork construction that rose above the demeaning name ‘shack’. This building was deserving of the title house, perhaps even of home. One thing was for sure: It was much too big to for just one little gnome.
“Looks innocent enough,” decided Nathaniel. “Let’s introduce ourselves.”
Maurice readied and arrow and aimed at the entrance, but Glurf stopped him. “Put that away!”
“Excuse me?” said Maurice in disbelief.
“Glurf is right,” Nathaniel said. “You probably didn’t get a good look at him, outside in the dark, but we saw him up close – we’re only dealing with a small gnome child. No need for violence.”
“Boy or girl?” urged Ko.
“Does it matter?” Glurf asked, irritated.
“I’m pretty sure it was a boy,” Nathaniel assured Ko.
Ko, who had already put his hands on his weapons, relaxed. “O – do you think he likes candy?”
“Let’s find out.”
Inside, the Special Spirit Squad was greeted by about two dozen frightened faces, none older than twelve, of different races and ethnicities. They were all gathered around the gnome, who froze up and slowly turned around to look at the intruders.
“You said you weren’t being followed!” said a frightened human girl.
“I didn’t think I was! I…-”
The gnome spotted Glurf and yelped. “There he is! The monster toad!”
The children yelled in fright at Glurf. “He’s going to eat us!” shrieked a prepubescent dwarf with naught but fuzz on his jaw.
“That’s not true!” protested Glurf, “I only eat bugs!”
“Eek!” A tiny Sylph girl squealed as she fluttered her butterfly wings, flying up to hide amongst the rafters.
“Not talking ones!” bumbled Glurf, but it was too late; the monster-toad had send the children into a frenzy. Kids were scurrying around a-scramble, trying to slip through the many cracks in the shack to safety. Meanwhile, the gnome still stood there, frozen, looking absolutely terrified.
“Who wants some candy?!” Ko suddenly roared, silencing the hubbub with that single magical word. Children around the world, no matter their biology or upbringing, are united in their love for sweets; evacuations were halted as the possibility of candy was now added to the equation.
Now that he got the young crowd’s attention, the showman Ko whistled to Haviér, who just barely managed to squeeze through the rickety entrance, but, once inside, adopted the air of an acrobat, spinning around majestically and lowering his hind legs so that the children could easily reach his saddlebags, which were filled to the brim with colorful candy. The rider and his mount had a captive audience, but the children had yet to participate; they were in want of a volunteer.
“Come on, kids!” beamed Ko merrily as he reached in one of the saddlebags for a toffee, “what’s the matter? Don’t you like candy?”
“Well, we do,” said one clever halfling, “but don’t you have anything more nourishing?”
“Seriously?” said Ko in disbelief. “Kid, you don’t want to look this gift-horse in the mouth, trust me.”
Haviér neighed with indignance. Damn right, he thought.
The gnome child, who had been standing frozen in the middle of the room all this time, gathered his courage and approached the horse. Haviér, whose pride had already been chiseled away by the initial rejection, had to stoop down even lower so that the gnome could reach, but when he did and the gnome kid finally scooped up a taffy, a heavy load was lifted from the room.
“Good, isn’t it?” inquired Ko triumphantly.
“Yu-huh!” agreed the gnome.
Ko dug deep in the saddlebags and sprinkled the candy around like a toddler playing with leafs in fall; the colorful wrappers littered the floor like confetti. “Candy for everyone!”
The children cheered and rushed towards the treats. All of them were wearing rags similar to that of the gnome child and most of them looked malnourished; the halfling’s request hadn’t been a strange one, considering the circumstances. Still, candy was candy; irresistible to children and toad-monsters alike: Glurf, too, rushed to the saddlebags and joined the communion of sugar. The children delighted in the long whip-like tongue gobbling up sweets; they soon made a game out of tossing candy to Glurf, who gratefully snatched it out of the air. Gone was the fear. A monster that liked sweets couldn’t be all that bad.
“Ugh, disgusting,” remarked Maurice.
Glurf shrank back in shame, closing their mouth, disappointing the children who just tossed up some candy that now unceremoniously dropped to the ground.
“Hey, leave him alone, man!” Ko said with his cheeks stuffed like a hamster. “So he’s got a weird and long tongue. He’s a toad – what did you expect?”
“I have no quarrel with the tongue,” huffed Maurice. “It’s the candy that disgusts me. Empty calories.”
“You said it,” said the halfling child in agreement, who was still eating it regardless.
Once the children’s ravenous appetites had been satisfied, Nathaniel talked business with the gnome kid, who the others seemed to regard as their leader. “So, it seems you’ve been putting Rhent’s tools to good use,” said Nathaniel as he indicated the room.
“I know stealing is bad, sir,” the gnome rushed to say. “But-”
“Whoa there champ, slow down,” said Nathaniel. “Let’s do introductions first. My name is Nathaniel Sharp, I work for the Special Spirit Squad.”
Nathaniel offered the gnome his hand. The gnome kid, who had never been offered a handshake by an adult as an equal, beamed with pride as his tiny hand accepted the inquisitor’s introduction. “The name’s Pip. Did you say Special Spirit Squad?”
Maurice joined the conversation with a sardonic smile on his lips. “Yes, it seems that the blacksmith suffered under the delusion that his tools disappearing was the work of a poltergeist.”
“So…you’re not with the guards?” asked Pip sharply.
“We’re not,” agreed Nathaniel, sensing where the gnome was going, “but that doesn’t mean we can just let you go on nicking the blacksmith’s tools, either.”
“Yeah!” boomed Glurf like thunder, “Stealing is bad!”
“I didn’t steal nothing!” Pip protested in defense, “I only ever borrowed!”
“Yes, we saw you return the hammer; don’t worry,” said Nathaniel. “Am I right in assuming that you build all of this?”
“Sure did!” confirmed Pip.
“And so you build shelter for your friends; you’re a provider. That makes you an adult – and adults don’t use other’s stuff without permission, yeah?”
“I-I guess so…” mumbled Pip, the pendulum of emotion having swung back from pride to shame.
“My question is: Why are you all staying here? Where are your guardians?”
The Sylph girl fluttered down and butted in. “The orphanage burned down months ago, sir.”
“And the city hasn’t provided you with replacement stay? At foster parents, or anywhere?” asked Nathaniel.
“No sir,” said Pip defiantly, “So we’ve learned to take care of ourselves.”
“I see,” said Nathaniel, thinking. “And you’ve done a good job of it. Well, I think the solution is obvious here.”
“We turn them all in to the police,” suggested Maurice. The children – including Glurf and Ko – gasped in disbelief.
“What? No,” said Nathaniel, “You confess your crimes to Rhent, and after you’ve come clean, you ask him to take you on as an apprentice.”
Pip, who had been bracing himself for a stern lecture and had already accepted the gravest consequences in his heart, perked up. “Huh?”
“You obviously know what you’re doing with these tools,” said Nathaniel, picking up a random gizmo Pip had lying around, “and Rhent seemed quite exasperated with work. I am sure he would welcome the help of an apprentice.”
“But won’t he be mad?”
“He seemed more annoyed than mad,” said Nathaniel. “I’m usually a pretty good judge of character, and he struck me as a reasonable fellow, one who is more concerned with his work than anything else.”
Pip’s eyes sparkled with joy. “Do you really think he would take me on as an apprentice? I’ve been looking around his shop, and boy howdy – have you seen the blades? The man is an artist!”
Ko’s head – his cheeks still stuffed with candy – popped up. “Blades?! Do you think he can make a wakizashi?!”
“Don’t pretend like that wasn’t why you wanted to do the blacksmith’s job in the first place,” said Nathaniel. Ko grinned the goofy smile of one who is busted, yet unapologetic for his behavior.
“If it’s a sword, I’m sure Rhent can make it,” said Pip with conviction.
“Well, Mister Provider, what do you think?”
By now the rest of the kids had all gathered around Nathaniel and Pip. They were all cheering their champion on. “Come on, Pip!” “You can do it, Pippy!”
Supported by his friends, what else could Pip say then: “Alright! I’ll do it!”
Rhent studied the buffet of gizmos Pip had laid out for him with the eye of a jeweler counting the facets of a diamond. “It’s a little rough – definitely the work of an amateur – but you’ve got potential, kid.”
The Squad sighed with relief. Nathaniel offered Pip another handshake. “Thank you, sir!” Pip said to Rhent, “You’re not mad?”
“Mad? Positively livid!” beamed Rhent with a face that said the opposite. “But who’s got time to be mad when there’s smithing to do? You can pay me back in work, kid; I expect you to come in early tomorrow. No excuses!”
“And from now on, when you borrow my tools, you tell me exactly what you borrow and what you’re borrowing it for. And no lying – I’ll come check on you to make sure you’re treating my stuff right.”
“Sir. yes sir!” Pip said, his eyes tearing up.
“Now scram! I’m already closed – go home, get some sleep. I don’t want you dozing off at the anvil.”
The moment Pip turned his heel, Rhent added: “O, and the first thing you’re fixing is that hole you made! Use the front door from now on!”
When Pip was out of earshot, Rhent busted out a guffaw. “What a riot! I like that kid. It takes real guts for such a tiny thing to break into a minotaur’s shop just to nick his tools. Kid’s got moxy.”
“Yes, I agree,” said Nathaniel. “But he carries a lot of responsibility, too.”
Rhent nodded and stroked his hairy chin. “You said there’s at least a dozen orphans staying there?”
“Two dozen, if not more.”
Rhent clicked his tongue. “The slums is no place to grow up.”
“Good thing they have each other,” said Nathaniel.
“Still,” said Rhent, “something has to be done about this. I can’t believe that the orphanage hasn’t been rebuild yet.”
“We’ll look into it,” said Nathaniel. “In the mean time, you can act as a guardian of sorts to Pip – and his family by extension.”
“I’ll be glad to,” said Rhent. “Either way, I don’t know how to thank you, Special Spirit Squad; not only did you fix my problem, but you got me an apprentice, to boot!”
Ko rushed in. “Do you know how to make a wakizashi?”
Nathaniel reeled Ko back in. “We can discuss this some other time.”
“My shop is always open to you!” beamed Rhent as the Special Spirit Squad exited.
Nathaniel picked the seediest, cheapest tavern he could find. To save expenses, he decided that they should rent two rooms, each with a single bed. He and Ko would share one, as would Glurf and Maurice, and Haviér would stay in the stables.
Before they even entered the tavern, Glurf unexpectedly objected to this.
“Can’t we get a third room?” they whined incessantly. “Or can’t you three share one?”
This surprised and offended Maurice. “First off, as a holy man, I didn’t take you for the wasteful sort; why rent more rooms than needed?”
“Secondly, why wouldn’t you want to share a room with me?”
“It’s not you, it’s just that-”
“Frankly, I agree with Maurice,” said Nathaniel, surprising himself with how those words sounded coming out of his mouth. “Why spend more gold than needed? We’re on a tight budget.”
“Also, you’re the one with the slimy skin,” added Maurice, “I should be the one objecting to this.”
“Hey, back off, man!” said Ko, “He can’t help it if his skin is slimy.”
“Then you share a bed with him,” riposted Maurice.
“I’m with Nate,” said Ko, clutching the inquisitor’s arm.
“…I can see that.”
“I…I just don’t think I should be sharing a bed with any of you,” said Glurf. “If it’s too expensive I’ll just sleep outside, or in the stables.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Nathaniel. “You deserve the comfort of a bed.”
“I just don’t think I should be sleeping with any of you.”
“You think…- No, just – god no!” said Maurice in disgust. “I don’t swing that way. I’m as straight as my arrows. Besides, you…you’re a toad!”
“Boys and girls shouldn’t be sleeping in the same beds, unless they’re married.”
Everybody froze up. Ko and Nathaniel exchanged a look of disbelief, while Maurice clutched his forehead with fanned fingers. “Excuse me, what?”
“Besides, I’m a nun, I’m not even supposed to get married, so…-”
“YOU’RE A WOMAN?!” shrieked Ko in absolute terror.
“I’m sorry, was that not obvious?” Glurf blurted out in her deep, sonorous voice.
“Obviously not, since I’ve been calling you a dude all this time!”
“I thought that was wierd,” Glurf admitted softly, “since boys don’t usually get as big as me.”
“What are you talking about?!” cried Ko, “Men are taller than women!”
“Not with toads,” said Maurice slowly, processing this revelation “since, you know, when they mate-”
“Shut up shut up shut up shut up!” wailed Ko as he plugged his ears. “I can’t believe this! This treacherous minx has been deceiving us all day!” With ears still plugged, the brave samurai stormed off inside like a petulant child. “Minx!”
“I better go after him,” said Nathaniel, seizing the opportunity to escape this awkward situation, leaving Maurice alone with Glurf.
“We’ve been referring to you with male pronouns all day,” said Maurice, confused. “Why did you never bother to correct us?”
“I thought it would be rude,” muttered Glurf.
Maurice sighed. “Well, I think we can afford to give you your own room,” said Maurice, more eager than ever to have an excuse not to share a bed with a slimy toad. “I’ll chip in myself, if needed.”
“Thank you for understanding, Maurice!” croaked Glurf, “I need to keep chaste.”
“Which, for you, is a real struggle, I’m sure.”
And with that, Maurice and Glurf entered the tavern.
Next chapter: The Squad investigates rumors of a witch-sighting…
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