“It Was You All Along..!”

Wet smacking noises echoed through the air, undercut by the sound of cracking carapace.

“Stay!” Rinta shouted. “Still!” Blue blood flew up in droplets. “Don’t! Move!”

With one final smack, the dog-spider stopped twitching.

Rinta wheezed for breath. He pushed the mutant carcass off and fell on his rear, sinking waist-deep into the muddy water. His sling stone fell from nerveless fingers, vanishing into the reed-rich moat with a soft ‘plop’.

Ira, Corax and V’vendy sheathed their blades with sighs of relief and backed off. Uuco waded towards Rinta, holding his short little arms high above his head.

He stuck a hand out towards Rinta. “Come on, now, sport,” he said. “Howsabout we get you up and dry?” His mustache twitched.

Rinta stared at Uuco blankly. He grimaced, the hair-thin scar on his clay-hued cheek spreading just a sliver.

He took Uuco’s hand and pulled himself up. “I’ll be watching,” Rinta growled. “If you lose control again, I will end you, Roarer.”

“Don’t burn any libraries in front of me,” Uuco replied with a huff, “and I reckon I’ll be fine.”

Together, the Pilgrims marched out of the reed-filled moat. Uucp and Ira used a household charm to wring the water out of everyone’s clothes. They stared out across the moat’s water as the House of Ira burned to the ground, walls and pillars caving in one by one.

“…I’m sorry,” V’vendy said, raising a hand, jerking it back, then resting it on Ira’s shoulder.

“It’s alright,” Ira said calmly. “Don’t fret on my behalf.”

V’vendy blinked. “You’re not mad?” She asked.

“Make no mistake, V’vendy,” Ira said, gripping V’vendy’s hand and moving it off her. “The Lady Ira is well and truly outraged.” Her voice gained a husky edge. “I will make the Zealots of Evolving Evil pay for this.”

Ira turned and marched toward the crowd of ash-stained servants.

“My Lady!” one of the servants called, her eyes brimming with tears. “It’s all gone…everything…!”

“Hush, hush,” Ira said gently, taking the servant’s hands. “We  have our lives, and those matter more than an old house…”

As Ira comforted her household staff, Uuco took a look around. He spotted the steward Thiris breaking away from the crowd of servants, sneaking towards downtown Baruck.

“Hey!” Uuco shouted. “Stop right there, whippersnapper!”

Thiris froze mid-stride.

“You!” Uuco cursed, stomping his way towards the senior servant. “You drugged Ira’s foot bath, didn’t you?”

Thiris spun around, face red. “How dare you–!” he shouted.

“How dare me?” Uuco shouted back, mustache quivering. “I’m eighteen decades older than you! That’s how I dare!” The elderly Nobble raised his fingers. “Bra-sha-sha!” He gargled.

“I refuse to listen to these baseless accusations!” Thiris insisted, folding his arms across his chest. “If it weren’t for you blasted Pilgrims, our House would still be standing–!”

Corax strode over and locked eyes with Thiris. “Confess,” he said, voice vibrating with power, eyes flashing with white light.

Thiris’s eyes glazed over. “I put slumber-leaf in my lady’s foot bath,” he said placidly, sounding half-sleep. “The Zealots promised me Ira would be spared…” Thiris shook his head, alertness returning to his gaze. “What–?” He stammered. “What did I just say–?”

“Argggggghhhh!” Uuco the Witness shouted. Sprinting forward, the short-statured Nobble willed magic into his feet. Leaping into the air, Uuco wrapped his hands around the traitorous servant’s throat…


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