“Oof. Pretty sad garden,” said Zeke when he saw it. It was a plot of peas hanging off their simple string trellises, laid out in rows. The leaves were yellow and sick-looking.
“But it’s been weeded,” said Thane. “So someone must be looking after it, right, Stilts?”
The maned wolf nodded, shrugging Thane’s equipment to one shoulder so he could stand straighter. The pea plants were quite mature, forming a screen for anyone shorter, but Simon’s head rose quite easily above it. He was gazing over the trellised rows when something made his eyes widen. He put his finger to his lips and crouched down.
“What is it?” Thane asked at regular volume. The maned wolf winced and gestured groundward with his palms, keep it down!
“What, now?” Zeke whispered. Simon gathered the whole party close. “There’s someone in there.”
Thane’s tail wagged. “We can chase him out!”
“Or ambush him,” said the bear in a whisper soft as falling leaf.
“I don’t think he’s very big,” said Simon. “But I can see the stalks moving, and it isn’t the wind.” They hadn’t felt a brush of fresh air since they had entered Houndsmouth.
“Zeke, go in there,” said Thane.
“Just ‘cos something’s small don’t mean it can’t hurt you!” said the possum.
“If it’s friendly, it shouldn’t be afraid of you. If it’s unfriendly, run back to us and I’ll fight it for you.”
The possum eyed the garden.
Thane threw his thumb at Brun. “Well, he can’t go in there!”
The possum shook his head, irritated. “Fine.” He went to all fours and sneaked into the garden. The vines wobbled on their strings as he passed through. Simon stood up again, tracking Zeke’s progress. He kept his voice low.
“He’s going the wrong…oh, no, he’s caught the scent…Almost there—”
A sharp gasp interrupted the steady rustling of Zeke’s travel.
“Here he comes!” said Simon.
A raccoon cub burst out of the garden. He froze for a split-second upon seeing the adventurers, then turned to dart back into the concealment of the plants, but Thane flung himself forward and grabbed the cub by his black feet.
The raccoon reached back, slapping at Thane’s paws.
“Be calm, little one,” said Brun. “We will not harm you.”
The cub’s eyes went wide at the bear’s sonorous voice and he pushed himself up to drink in the look of the speaker.
“Are you a druid?”
“Why, you’re a she-cub!” said Thane.
Sargon leaned forward, sniffing the air around the cub. “Assumptions happen.”
“No, little one,” Brun answered. “I am not a druid.”
The cub’s head fell. “We need a druid.” Then she looked up again, eyes white and wide beneath her mask. “You don’t work for her, do you?”
“No, my cub. We’re here to save Houndsmouth.” Thane released the cub. She got to her feet, ignoring the dirt on her ringed tail. She wore simple farm clothes that looked like they’d been clean not too long ago. A rucksack was thrown over her shoulder.
“I don’t think the village can be saved. But there’s two other cubs left, they’re the ones that need saving.”
“Who’s got them?” asked Rusty.
The cub spotted Rusty and her face lit up in recognition. “Are you—”
Rusty winked. “The one and only!”
“Wow.” The cub couldn’t say anything for a moment. “Thank you for coming to save us, Rusty!”
Rusty chuckled. Thane glowered. “What am I?” he said, “Chickens’ feet?”
Before more could be said, they heard footsteps coming down the lane.
The cub waved them into the snap peas and the entire party threw themselves in.
A ferret in a green dress came hurrying up. “Naomi! There you are! When you didn’t come back from picking, I got so—why are you carrying that pack?”
The flap of the raccoon’s rucksack had popped open during her struggle with Thane. Some of the picked peas had spilled out revealing a dull red traveling cloak stuffed into the bottom.
“I…saw it in a house looking for food. I thought you might like it, Miss Nubine.”
“You silly goose! I already have enough clothes. But you haven’t answered my question about your pack!”
“Oh, well…I saw it by the cloak, and thought it would let me carry more veg back for the stew.”
The ferret wrapped the cub in her arms. “I worried so! What would we do without you? I thought you’d disappeared like the others!”
“But the others went missing at night, Miss Nubine. They were sleeping in the schoolhouse and weren’t there the next day. Nothing bad’s ever happened while we’re awake.”
“We don’t know who’s out there doing this to Houndsmouth. So far, we’ve stayed together and we’ve stayed safe. In fact…” The ferret checked around her. “We should be getting back.”
“But I haven’t picked enough food!”
“It’ll do for tonight. It’s getting dark. Come on. Let’s go back before something terrible happens.” She kept her arm around the cub and walked her away from the garden patch. The cub didn’t look back.
Long after their footsteps faded, the bear, the rat, and Thane’s pack stuck their noses out of the pea patch.
“What’s going on around here?” said Simon.
“Minor chords…Gonna need so many minor chords,” muttered Rusty.
Thane got up from the dirt. “That cub said there were others who needed saving. We must track them down.” He put his nose to the ground.
“No need to track them,” said Sargon. “That clever cub told us they’re sleeping in the schoolhouse.”
“That’s what I meant. Come on, let’s go!”
See you tomorrow at noon (Pacific Standard Time) for chapter 8! The game Armello and its characters are property League of Geeks. Buy it today!
You might also like to check out my novelette for sale because I write pretty.