Around late morning, we return to the boarding house, all shopped out. The landlady is still not at the front desk, though her spectral floating eye is there. I spot it ogling at us from a corner of the ceiling. Creepy thing.
“Um… hi, we’re just going to our room,” I tell it, though gods only know when she’ll get or did get that message. Could have been years ago. We walk in and to our room. Nom runs ahead of me with enthusiasm to try on her new dress.
In the room, which only has a curtain not a door, I check on my crossbow and the spear. Last night, I cut away a section of the rope wall behind the bath and slid them inside. Bit naughty, but better safe than sorry. They’re still there.
In the bedroom, Nom is shedding clothes, then shredding the brown paper package that her dress came in. She slides it over her head and turns to me, full of excited expectation.
“Back to front,” I tell her.
“Oh,” She takes her arms out and huffs and grunts as she adjusts it than turns to me for inspection again.
“Very nice,” I say. She’s still looking expectant, so I add: “Very… um… adorable?”
“Yes! I am adorable!” she announces happily. “In your face, Jeki! I’m adorable!” Jeki was the girl who used to bully her back in the mine (the girl who she hit in the face with a shovel). “Ad-or-ab-le!” She spins, making the dress billow and lift. She gasps, stares down at it in wonder. “Shoo, did you see?”
“I did,” I may have to change my view of dresses. I mean, they’re still highly impractical and not for me, though probably pleasantly airy in Summer, but this is definitely making Nom happy.
She spins and spins “Wee! I’m a flower! Look, Shoo, I’m a flower!”
“Wee! One of those dangly blue bell ones we saw on the walk! Wee!”
“What shall we do for the rest of the morning?” I ask her.
We could explore the town. That would be worthwhile; get a proper look at this place which is still seeming too good to be true. Maybe I can suss out whatever it is that will inevitably try to murder us and eat our faces.
“Do you want to explore the town?”
“Weee!” she replies, still spinning. “Adorable!”
“Nom? Maybe we could check out some of the other buildings, see what they are?”
“Weeeee! I’m an adorable flower!”
Okay, it turns out there’s a fine line between adorable and annoying.
“Nom, you might want to stop spinning, or-”
She falls over.
While Nom is dizzily staggering about, I change into a fresh set of clothes. Gods, they smell so fresh (which begs the question, what were my old ones smelling like?) I’m well stocked up for the road now. Changes of clothes, essential toiletries, preserved travel food. I could take my bag and leave now and be fine for a week or two.
I get Nom to leave the boarding house with the promise of a mid-morning snack. I’m not hungry but it gets her out the door. We trek the short distance to the eatery, Nom still occasionally spins as we do.
Inside the large circular space, it’s not very busy. In the kitchen bit in the middle, the chef is the same short, handsome man from before. He looks at us as we take our seat. Dello appears from nowhere and smiles broadly at us (I think they’re smiling anyway, it’s hard to tell with the duck bill.)
“Back again?” they say. “We’re going to make you fat. What can I get you?”
I look enquiringly at Nom.
“Cake!” she says.
“Cake,” I tell Dello.
“We have two kinds. Would you like-”
“Both!” Nom pipes up and makes faces at the waiter in what I suspect she thinks is an adorable manner (this adorable business has really gone to her head) but is actually slightly grotesque. Dello seems to take it in their stride though.
“Cake it is,” they say. “Nice dress by the way, lovely shade of blue,” they add and woosh off.
Nom looks so chuffed she might explode.
Then she frowns, “Shoo, the chef man is waving at us.”
I look over and he smiles, points at me, and beckons me over. Maybe he wants to tell us to stop eating so much, “Stay here, Nom,” I say and go over, making my way through tables and up to the U-shaped counter that surrounds his little kitchen area.
“Good morning,” he says politely, “Shoo, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” I say, just as politely.
He seems short, even for one of the short blue locals and is stocky, bordering on fat. A good quality in a chef, fatness, I don’t think I would trust a skinny chef. He has a kind, well-proportioned face, though given that he just comes up to chest level on me, it looks like an adult’s head on a fat child’s body
“I’m Celaphaneo. Nice to meet you. I couldn’t help overhearing that you were looking for somewhere to stay,” he says, reasonably. He has an odd manner of speaking, like everything he says is reasonable.
“That’s right,” I say.
“And you’re staying with Lady Brattler.”
“That’s right,” I say again. The third time I say it makes it clear that I don’t quite trust him or like how he knows so much about us. It is a small town though; everyone probably knows everything about everyone.
“Yes,” he says a little more uncertainly and his reasonable manner becomes an apologetic one. “The thing is, Lady Brattler has left.”
“She’s left town?” I say, taken aback. Well, that explains why she wasn’t at her desk this morning. She’s done a runner. That can’t be good. An entire boarding house/hotel business is a big thing to just abandon.
Gods, what did her lazy third eye see about us that made her leave?
“Not just town,” Celephano says. “As I understand it, she’s getting herself off-planet.”
“Right,” I say and decide it’s best not to let anyone know that me and Nom are the reason for her hurried departure. “That’s… sudden.”
“Indeed, it is. Now, as I understand it, you may be needing a place to live. Permanently even.”
He’s not wrong. I don’t trust him a jot, but then I am a very suspicious type.
“My friend, who lives in a community a little out of town, may be interested in taking you both in. Auspicious timing, no?”
Now I find myself glaring at him, this is all seeming very convenient.
“Who is your friend?” I ask coldly.
Now he looks nervous and points behind me. “You can meet her, she’s there, chatting to Nom.” I look and can see the back of someone tall, in a dark blue robe/dress thing at our table.
I turn back to the chef. Something in my face makes him blanche and take a step back. “You… just get our cakes ready,” I tell him.
“Okay,” he says in a small voice.
Right. I don’t like this. Something’s afoot. My Shoo-senses are tingling.
I stalk towards our table, one hand resting on the hilt of my sword. I don’t know how to use it (apart from hit people with the sharp bit) but no-one around here knows that.
Now I’m regretting leaving my spear in the room.