Running Shoo – Episode 79

I duck under the lintel of the shop and step outside.

Beside me, I hear a little “hup!” as Nom hops over the raised threshold. As I straighten up, I see a small group of unhappy blue locals, about four or five, though others are slowing to see what’s going on.

Uh-oh.

We have a Mob Seed.

“Ooo, crikey!” I hear Nom say.

“Stay calm,” I tell her.

I am not calm.

Even though we are now technically rather well-armed, I don’t know how to use any of the weapons, not really. I was hoping to practice on the road. Right now, I might have time to load an arrow but probably not a second. If this goes south, we’ll be up against an entire town.

What would Daisy do?

Murder the lot of them. Don’t think that’s an option.

Okay then, what would Mondey do?

Blag it. He’d blag it.

Right.

“Good day,” I say, managing to keep a quaver from my voice.

“Good d-” one of them begins, a purplish-blue person with a solid, square beard, but is interrupted by another one behind him.

That’s them!” says the other one. This one has a ponytail and a squint.

Beard turns to look at his fellow, “these are them? The giant, peach-coloured human and the cattle?” he says, dry and annoyed. “How can you be sure?”

Not cattle!” Nom says in a small voice.

“Shush,” I say. I’m running blags and plans through my head.

“From the height, Gant,” Pontytail says, oblivious. “Of the tall one.”

Helpfully, he also points at me.

“Good job he’s here,” I say (I know, I shouldn’t, but I do.) “You’d be looking for us all day otherwise.”

Gant’s lip twitches, “You are trespassing,” he says.

“We’re leaving,” I reply and look up the hill. No-one’s blocking the way. Maybe I don’t need a plan. Maybe we can just walk out of here. “You won’t see us again.”

Gant nods and is about to say something.

“You shouldn’t be here!” Ponytail pipes up. “Your sort and parading around with eating stock out in the open.”

“Not for eating,” Nom says, a little louder.

“Shush. Look, sir, we’re leaving. We’ve done what we need to. We’re gone.”

“Disgusting is what it is!” Ponytail says. “Walking around like you’re normal.”

“Yeah!” says another behind him.

“Offending decent people,” Ponytail adds.

I don’t like Ponytail. Gant seems like he might be okay, he even looks a bit like the old bloke from the shop. They could be related. But Ponytail? Little beady-eyed bag of pus and hate. If I found him hanging off a cliff the only reason I’d stop would be to watch him fall.

“I’m sorry you feel like that, we’ll be on our way,” I say, guiding Nom along with me and heading up the street. No, no need for a plan. We’ll just walk.

“Very well. Go straight, go now,” Gant says.

Yep, we like Gant. He doesn’t want a scene, or blood. I don’t need telling twice. I’m already striding away, keeping a hand on Nom’s shoulder.

“What?” I hear Ponytail demand. “You’re just letting them walk out of here?”

“They’ll be someone else’s problem then,” Gant replies.

“While fouling up our streets on the way. Cattle can’t just walk the street in clothes!”

Nom wheels around, “I’m NOT FOR EATING!” she shrieks. “Maybe I’ll eat you!

There’s a chorus of gasps.

“Damnit,” Gant mutters.

Okay, perhaps we will need that plan after all.

I stop and turn, put one hand over Nom’s mouth and shove her behind me.

“As I said, we’ve done what we need to. I’ve finished my inspection. We’ll file our report and that will be that,” I say, imperiously.

Gant, I think, almost smiles again.

“What?” Ponytail says, frowning. The other members of his brewing mob look at each other in confusion too.

“We’ve completed our inspection for the Citadel,” I say. “Your city scores well. Goodbye.”

I turn and continue our march off. In a situation like this, every few metres you buy yourself counts. Confusion and doubt are your friends. I keep my eyes on the road between the dark building on the left and the hot steam on the right, and a hand on Nom.

“Wait,” Ponytail calls.

“Sorry, sir, we have other cities to get to. The report will be sent to you.”

“I said WAIT!”

Crap.

I turn around, “You’re not trying to influence the outcome of a report, are you, sir?”

Ponytail seems uncertain and looks at Gant, who shrugs.

“Of course not,” he says. “It’s just-”

“Good,” I cut him off. “Because that would be illegal and quite immoral. Goodbye.”

“How come we’ve never heard of this?” he demands.

“Surprise inspection, sir,” I say quickly, surprising myself. “Wouldn’t be a surprise if we went around telling everyone about it. Would it? Is that a surprise?”

“Well… No,” Ponytail says awkwardly.

“No,” I say. “Our business is concluded. Farewell.”

I turn and lead Nom away.

“But why are you parading around with meat?” Pontytail asks.

I could stay quiet, but I’m getting quite into my haughty, imperial role.

“Even the Empire needs to eat,” I call back over my shoulder, with one hand still clasped over Nom’s mouth.

Behind me, there’s silence. Of the strained variety. Now that could be good or bad. Maybe even medium. People forget about grey areas. I’d be happy with a nice grey area.

I keep walking.

Ponytail pipes up again, it sounds like he’s walking after us, “Wait, what Empire?” he says.

Ah…

Okay, that’s not a question he should be asking. What did the old bloke in the shop say? He called it The Empiric Citadel of the Path. Doesn’t that mean… oh.

Oh, nuts.

‘Empiric’ doesn’t mean ‘imperial,’ does it?

It means ‘proven by evidence’ or something like that.

Double nuts.

I done goofed.

“The Citadel is in charge,” I call back, desperately making stuff up off the top of my head while picking up the pace. “The cities are vassal states, ergo, empirically speaking, we’re all part of an empire. It’s new branding sir, you should get the memo soon.”

More strained silence.

“The what?”

Triple nuts! They have no tech here. They probably get messages… I dunno, nailed up in the town square or sent by raven or something. Well, maybe not by raven. They’d definitely eat them.

“And we’re not a vessel state, whatever that is,” Ponytail still sounds confused, which is great, but he also sounds affronted, which is less so. “Why are you lying?”

“Don’t worry about it, sir. We’re leaving. Problem solved.”

There’s another strained silence.

“Begone then! And don’t come back,” he shouts (yes!) “We don’t need no lying… freaks putting clothes on food. That’s obscene! You’re filthy!” he spits after us. Actually spits.

Spit away, son. I’m just glad that-

Nom squirms, breaks away from me and wheels around.

“I’M! NOT! FOOD!” she roars.

And she throws her spear at him.

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