They made Gnar go down the ladder first, even though he swore up and down he wasn’t going Regimental. He was also the only one without visible luggage. That horrible carpetbag had gone into the fold of his greatkilt and disappeared. Flavus had been reassured it was a pocket dimension, but that didn’t stop his brain from presenting him with alternative scenarios.
Con went next, laden with a pack and not feeling it at all. He took a minute or so to just hang there, once he got out, his eyes closed. It was artificial sunlight, but it was bright and warm as anything.
Flavus was the last out, with Alice perched around his shoulders, her wings flapped out for balance. He made the mistake of looking down, and let out a squeak. Realistically, he knew a fall like that wouldn’t kill him, but he’d always been uneasy with heights, and not even going roof running with Piress had broken him of it. The creatures of the night, the Basement Men asserted, fell into two categories- the basement-dwellers and the rafter-dwellers. Flavus was very comfortable underground.
“It’s beautiful,” said Gnar, shading his eye with his hand, looking out over the water. It was a lovely dove gray, a little darker than the sky, which had that diffused quality of light that you get on foggy days sometimes. The rocks below were blue and sharp, possibly slate.
Con looked up at Flavus. “What can you see?” he asked. Flavus frowned, and squinted, peering up the coastline, into the horizon.
There, up the cliffs, to what would be north, if the cardinal directions were still the same- a church spire and the blue of slate roofs. And beyond that, the smooth white column of a tower- a wizard’s tower, Flavus thought, although he could not pin down what made him quite so sure of that.
“Civilization that way,” Flavus called down, pointing. “We should make it in a couple hours.”
“What kind of civilization?” asked Gnar, leaning out from the ladder, as though getting a few inches closer would suddenly bring the town into focus.
“Rural British,” said Flavus. “Slate roofs. There’s a tower, too. Like in a fairy tale.”
Gnar actually squealed, and nearly took his hands off the rope to clap, but remembered himself in the nick of time.
“It must have been Sherringford who put this here,” he said, scrambling his way down the ladder twice as fast as before. “He remembered my birthday after all!”
“… Wasn’t he born in March?” Flavus whispered to Con.
Alice jumped off Flavus’ shoulders when they were still more than ten feet off the ground, spreading her wings to glide down gently. When she touched down at last, she flopped over onto her side in the sand, limp all over. Flavus sympathized.
Gnar scrambled down and had his shoes and socks off in record time. He waded out up to his knees, shouting at the temperature.
“It’s WARM!” he said, wheeling around and kicking up a wave. “This is never the North Sea!”
“Are you sure you haven’t just gone numb?” asked Flavus, resting his hands on his knees at the bottom of the ladder. He was a bit shaky, to his embarrassment, and shed his pack onto the sand.
“No, here,” said Gnar, bending down to cup water in his hands. He splashed up the beach again, and dumped the handful of water onto Flavus’ head before he had time to run. Flavus drew breath to yelp, expecting the stinging cold of the ocean, but he gasped instead. It was warm, like bathwater. Flavus wiped his streaming hair out of his eyes, and sputtered at Gnar.
“Why would you do that?” he asked. Gnar shrugged.
“It’ll dry fast enough. See, it’s extra salty, though,” he said, licking his upper lip. Flavus followed suit, and grimaced.
“…Makes sense, I guess,” he said. “Put your shoes back on. The town I saw is up the beach quite a ways.”
Gnar flapped a hand, and picked up his boots, trotting up the beach in Con’s footsteps. Con was quite a ways ahead of them. The water didn’t tempt him much. Flavus’ face fell, a little, and he trudged after the other two, scooping up Alice as he passed her. She draped over his neck like a fur stole, limp and traumatized.
Flavus trotted to catch up with Con, and fell into step beside him. Gnar hung back though, running zigzag between the rocks at the summit of the beach, and down into the water. He stooped for rocks and bits of weed, muttering to himself all the while.
Flavus looked over. Con’s eyes were closed, his face turned up to the light, his direction not wavering despite it.
“… Are you all right?” Flavus asked.
“It doesn’t smell right,” said Con. Flavus closed his eyes too, and sniffed, deeply. Ocean spray, guano, miscellaneous fish… overlaid it the smell of condensation far overhead, and at the very edge of his senses, the green must of early crops and new grass.
“Which part?” asked Flavus, uneasily. “I don’t smell anything wrong.”
“The sunlight,” said Con. “The smell it makes on your skin.”
Flavus’ face fell.
“…You still remember it?” he asked, quietly. Con opened his mouth to reply, but a scream from behind made them both turn and sprint back to Gnar.
He was rolling on the ground, flailing his arm wildly.
“THE WHELKS HAVE TEETH!” he shouted at them, bashing his arm against the ground. Something in a pink, whorled shell was latched onto him, blood already sheeting down his arm.
Con was there in an eyeblink, wrenching the thing off as Gnar’s scream increased in pitch, and chucking it as hard as he could at the rocks. It shattered in a burst of pink shell, slime, and Gnar’s own blood.
Flavus fell down next to Gnar, hauling him upright, and slapping him across the cheek.
“Five minutes!” he shouted. “Five minutes out and you are bleeding!”
“I’m fine!” shouted Gnar back, wrenching himself away, clutching his arm. “I was exploring, do you expect me not to poke about?”
“I expect you not to stick your arm down a shark’s throat to see what would happen!” snapped Flavus.
“Are you stupid?” said Gnar. “That was a whelk. In no way a shark.”
Flavus clutched his forehead, as Alice jumped off his shoulders, and sauntered over to pick at the lumps of snail-flesh now stuck to the rocks. Con picked her up before she could start eating.
“Noted,” said Con. “Sun won’t kill us, but the mollusks might.”
“Con,” said Flavus, waving at Gnar, “TALK to him!”
“Getting upset won’t make a difference,” said Con.
“Besides,” said Gnar, climbing to his feet, tucking his arm into the fold of his kilt, like a loose sling. “I’m fine.” The blood that soaked his shirtsleeve and had spattered his vest hadn’t landed on his kilt, apparently. Or- Flavus squinted. No, that wasn’t possible, from the pattern of the blood, but the kilt was unmarked. Flavus looked away quickly.
“Just- don’t pick up any more wildlife,” said Flavus, shortly, and turned away. He blinked, and looked up. “… Did it just get a lot darker?”
They all looked around. Where it had been at least late afternoon light only a minute ago, now it was twilit and gloomy.
“s**t,” said Con, turning quickly, discarding his pack. Flavus drew breath to ask what was wrong, but the shadows around them condensed, and out of them rose the forms of a dozen suits of armor.
They were old, and battle-scarred, and held the shape of a man while being demonstrably empty. Flavus couldn’t place the era they heralded from, but he guessed late Medieval. They carried long pikes, and one by one, leveled them at the three travelers, hemming them in.
Con snarled, and slapped away the pike pointed at his face. The suit made no move to retaliate, but returned the pike into position.
Gnar stood with his hand on his chin, and a broad, bright grin.
“… Well,” he said. “Aren’t you lot just lovely. Magic armor! I haven’t seen magic armor like that in an age, you know.” He said this as an aside to Flavus, who couldn’t quite stop being afraid long enough to be flip back.
Gnar pricked a finger on the tip of one of the pikes, and laughed. “So, who’s your master, then? Have we trespassed upon your wizard’s lands?”
The armor with the tallest helmet shifted, and a hollow, deep voice issued out of it. “Citizens outside after curfew must be retrieved and secured until curfew is lifted.”
Gnar clapped his hands, and Con relaxed his posture, although there was still a low growl in his throat.
“Excellent!” said Gnar, grinning with all of his teeth. “Take us away, flopsy. Take us right to where you live.”
Flavus stumbled forward, as the constructs formed up around them and started to march. They were the kind of constructs without much insight into interpersonal interaction, then, or else they would have been able to peg that as the threat that it was.
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