Categories > Games > Dragon Warrior 3 > Backbone

Chapter One

by Stealth_Noodle 0 reviews

A new day dawns in Kazave.

Category: Dragon Warrior 3 - Rating: PG - Genres: Humor - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2006-06-11 - Updated: 2006-06-11 - 6733 words

Disclaimer: Dragon Quest/Warrior 3 and all its remixes and permutations belong to Square-Enix. I'm just borrowing. Most of the characters in this are original, and the rest are personalities grafted onto various townspeople.

Pale sunlight, tinged with orange, glinted off the stove and pooled over the counters and wooden floor. Hanging above the sink basin was a cheery dish towel, graying from use, embroidered with pictures of smiling vegetables and a generic maxim about the value of small-town life. The equally cheery curtains above it were pinned in place to frame a view of the southern landscape. The window itself was open, and there was a tiny rustling of feathers as a red bird alit on the dewy sill.

Before a sense of early-morning serenity could settle in, the kitchen door opened with a sharp creak and split the floor in front of it with its shadow. Two lavender slippers shuffled in, their owner muttering and yawning. With some difficulty, the bathrobe-clad woman managed to cross the kitchen and reach the cabinets, from which she retrieved a frying pan. As she stumbled back to the stove and attempted to light it, the bird twittered.

Her eyes narrowed. Leaving the flames to their own devices, she turned and stalked toward the source of the noise, nose twitching. As the bird took off in a panic, she leaned out the window and squinted into the distance. Dark figures were just visible descending one of the foothills that surrounded the village.

"There's evil afoot," she said aloud, turning back and glancing around the room. "We must make preparations."

Gripping the frying pan by the handle, she hoisted it over her head and clenched her left hand into a fist. "Today," she announced, lowering her arm to point the pan out the window, "justice will be served!" With a flourish she thrust her left arm back towards the stove, catching her sleeve on fire in the process.

Oblivious, she had begun rooting through the cabinets when the smoke alerted her to a problem.

Several seconds later a panicked man rushed into the kitchen and found her batting out the flames with a cutting board. "Oh, good gods, Dora," he sighed, slumping back against the doorframe. "It's not even noon yet and you've already set yourself on fire?"

"Evil's afoot," she said, patting out the last of the flames. "You'd better wear this to work today." She presented him with a large iron pot.

Sighing, he took it from her and dropped it onto the nearest chair. "Just once," he asked miserably, watching her stack kitchen implements on the counter, "couldn't breakfast be afoot instead?"

"Is that a town?"



That had been the extent of their conversation for the last hour. Tempers were high and moods were sour, which was reason enough for Ped Xing and Quinn to hold their tongues. And Xing had never been much inclined to make small talk while carrying a wounded comrade on his back.

For her part, Quinn found it difficult to string together words when every step reminded her of how badly those zombified wolves had wounded her. The blood loss was making her dizzy to the point that she hadn't been sure the town creeping into her vision wasn't a hallucination. Sometimes she wished Charlotte would at least try to conserve some energy for healing spells, but saying so would have been futile.

"What the hell kind of cleric are you?" came Nars's voice from behind. Quinn frowned and tried to ignore the latest revival of an argument that never ended productively.

Charlotte snorted. "Next time you fall on your own sword, I'm letting you bleed to death."

Nars laughed dismissively. "Yeah, right. I'm the son of Ortega!"

"You sure?" Charlotte's voice was a smirk. "I mean, Ortega was out adventuring all the time, and that shopkeeper lived right next-"

Sounds of an epic battle erupted, complete with creative insults and, judging from the level of the shrieking, hair-pulling.

Quinn's weight shifted painfully as Xing stopped and sighed. As he turned, Quinn saw that Nars and Charlotte had tumbled to the grass, tufts of each other's hair clenched in their fists. Their howling made her ears ring.

A single kick flung them several feet apart. Crossing his arms, Xing loomed over them, looking as menacing as he could with Quinn clinging to his back.

"Don't act your ages," he said flatly, then turned again and resumed walking towards the town.

"Like you're so much older," Nars muttered, but Quinn noted that he now marched silently, if sullenly, in the lead. It wouldn't have done for him not to lead the party into a new town.

Blond hair appeared in Quinn's peripheral vision as Charlotte leaned in next to her ear. "And he thinks I'm a bitch," the cleric huffed, then fell into place bringing up the rear.

Quinn sighed again and wished she were back at Ruida's.

It was shaping up to be a slow day, at least in the shop. Drumming his fingers on the countertop, Stanley hummed nervously and cast another glance at the door separating his store from his living space. Although Dora had been almost frantic in her efforts to prepare their home for invasion, once she'd armed herself with various kitchen utensils, she'd seemed to calm down and wait. Stanley was unspeakably grateful that she'd decided not to go on the offensive this time. Half the town was already wary of doing business with him.

Letting out a slow breath, Stanley took a claw from under the counter and began to polish it on the off-chance that he'd have a customer.

"No! Weapons first!" came a shout from outside.

Stanley jumped, then calmed himself and began to arrange the wares on display. Heroes were something of a mixed blessing. While they bought enough to keep him on comfortable financial ground for months at a stretch, they also had a tendency to be foul-smelling, obnoxious, and randomly destructive. Dora had been in a snit for weeks after the last group had trashed their bedroom looking for valuables. And while Stanley was of the opinion that people saving the world were entitled to some sacrifices from the people they saved, Dora most certainly was not. Praying that Dora wouldn't hear anything, he put on his best business smile and waited.

Outside, the argument continued.

"No, you can't shop alone! You won't buy for anyone else!"

"Well, I'm the leader, so you have to do what I say!"

"Arrogant son of a-"

There was the sound of a heavy blow, followed by the buzz of lowered voices. Presently a teenaged boy sauntered into the shop, looking triumphant.

Stanley's smile stiffened. The young ones were always the worst, and this one, with his defiantly unruly hair, cocky grin, and general air of needing constant attention, looked to be an ordeal.

"It's not a compromise when you get your way, moron," muttered the girl who followed him in- a cleric, if her garb was any indication. She shot a menacing look at the boy's back before rushing off to examine the spears.

Outside, a muscular young man carrying a bundle of blood-soaked wizard's robes passed by the window, heading for the temple. Stanley's mouth twitched. It had been a long time since he'd been visited by a party of teenagers, and the experience had not been a positive one.

The leader marched to the counter, his ego shining through his green eyes. "I am Nars," he announced as Stanley struggled to look impressed, "son and heir of the great Ortega and the one prophesied by legend to defeat the Demon Lord."

"Great," Stanley replied with all the enthusiasm he could muster. "Would you like to- er, miss, could you please not-"

He was interrupted by a crash as the cleric swung the spear she had been trying out into a rack of shields. Pressing his palm to his forehead, he took a deep breath and said, "Please don't play with the weapons."

"It was Nars's fault," she said quickly before grabbing one of the fallen scale shields.

Nars made a rude gesture at her, then turned his attention back to the shopkeeper. "Right. So we'll be taking a spear, a scale shield, and- is that a claw? We'll take that, too. And some iron armor."

"Two spears," the girl said irritably. "Two scale shields. And a fighting suit."

Breathing a sigh of relief at the thought of ridding himself of the two, Stanley picked up his abacus and began adding. "That comes to 4,470 gold pieces," he said, mentally calculating how long that would support him and his wife. "Would you like to sell any-"

"Woah, woah, woah," the leader interrupted. "I don't think I heard you right. I'm the /son of Ortega/. You can't charge me! I'm saving the world!"

That was a bit much, even for someone as long-suffering as Stanley. "Now see here," he began, "I have to eat-"

"Without me," Nars shot back, already strapping on his new suit of armor, "you'd be eaten by monsters. Ha! No witty comeback for that, eh?"

"Actually," Stanley said, "we've been doing just fine for generations on our own."

Nars chose to ignore that as he hefted his new spear. "Well," he said, "that's that. Now if you'll stand aside, we'll check your furniture for valuables and be on our way."

Defeated, Stanley slumped into his chair and stuck his wife's pot on his head as the two adventurers made their way past him. There was, he decided, simply no way for his day to get worse.

But when the sound of the opening door was followed first by a war cry and then by the sound of a frying pan connecting several times with human flesh, he changed his mind.

"Thanks," Quinn said, nodding in the general direction of both the priest and the altar as she rose. The way she saw it, it couldn't hurt to show a bit of gratitude after being brought back from the brink of death.

The priest called his blessings after them as Quinn and Xing stepped out into the streets.

"The other two should be finished looting soon," Xing said, disapproval creeping into his tone. "We should probably make sure they got equipment for us."

Quinn had scarcely begun to nod when the sounds of pandemonium erupted from the vicinity of the weapon store. In her experience, this sort of thing usually ended with a lot of screaming and unhappiness for all involved.

She caught Xing's eye. He nodded slowly.

"There's a place in Romaly," she said, "where you can get excellent sandwiches for cheap."

"Sounds promising." A number of curious villagers were heading southwest. "How's your magic?"

"Good enough for a quick Return spell." As Xing put a hand on her arm, an excited squawking lured a few more passers-by toward the weapon shop. Quinn found it surprisingly easy to ignore them as she banished the world in a puff of sorcery.

Donning the pot had turned out to be a good idea. Not only was Stanley visually protected from the chaos in his home, but he was also being politely ignored by people who didn't know how to approach a man protected by a piece of kitchenware.

So it was with great reluctance that he removed his helmet when someone tapped on it.

"Excuse me, sir," said an embarrased-looking young man, "but I think your wife is locking two travelers in your cellar."

"They're adventurers," Stanley replied, returning to his haven under the pot. His next words echoed around his head: "If I let them out, they'll probably burn down the store."

"But surely you can't just-"

"Dora wouldn't let me through, anyway," he said, managing to sound both apologetic and annoyed. Once he'd given the young man sufficient time to wander off, Stanley tipped the pot up far enough to glance out and confirm that, yes, his shop was indeed full of his gawking neighbors. Most of them were wandering toward the kitchen to see if Dora intended to explain herself. The general tide of opinion seemed to be that knocking out travelers and imprisoning them with the dry goods reflected poorly on Kazave's hospitality.

When he was certain no one was paying him any attention, Stanley took the bags containing his cash reserves and small valuables out from beneath the counter. He had no doubt that his home and business would go up in flames by the end of it all, so the best course of action was to wait things out from far enough away to be spared the sight of the smoke.

Five minutes later Stanley had converted the pot into a vessel for a few prized possessions and set off for the Pachisi Track in the south. If he was lucky, he'd get to see a few adventurers zapped senseless by the electric fields. That never failed to brighten his day.

"This is indeed a delicious sandwich."


"We should have more."

"Yes. And then we should wait here until we're hungry enough for even more."


The crowd was getting restless. It seemed like bad form to say "You can't just lock people in your cellar," but standing around looking patiently disapproving wasn't doing the trick.

Part of the problem was Dora's refusal to acknowledge the awkwardness of the scene. She hummed to herself as she stacked furniture and armor on top of the cellar door, and when she'd run out of immediately available heavy objects, she'd moved on to putting her utensils back into her cabinets. The on-lookers shuffled their feet as they waited for someone to take the initiative.

At last Dora seemed to have arranged everything to her liking. Gripping a frying pan like a club, she clambered to the top of her barricade and bellowed, "Citizens of Kazave!"

"Yes," said the tavern owner hurridly, deciding that the time to ignore social niceties had come, "about that, we the citizens don't particularly like what you're-"

Dora clanged the pan against a suit of armor as if she were banging a gavel. When no one else seemed inclined to speak, she drew herself up as to look as much like a commanding officer as anyone wearing a purple housecoat could. "Citizens of Kazave!" she repeated, eyeing them each in turn. "How many times have so-called adventurers broken into your homes and stolen from you? How many times has a priceless heirloom been looted from your own dresser? How many times has your child's favorite toy been wrested from his little hands?"

A silence followed, during which most of assembled stared at their feet, if only to avoid meeting Dora's gaze. Previous adventurer raids had taught them never to stare down a maniac holding a blunt object.

"What right do they have?" she continued. "Who are they to plunder as they please? We are not their servants! We are not here to be used!"

The innkeepers's wife, who'd had a spat with her husband the night before, murmurred agreement.

It was all the encouragement Dora needed. "Who cares about adventurers?" she shouted. "They're a gold piece a dozen! We, my fellow citizens of Kazave, we are what really matters in this world. While they're off running errands for lazy kings, we're keeping civilization alive! While they rob us blind, we create the very weapons that allow them to keep us oppressed! While they demand special favors for killing wild animals, we keep our village secure against storms, raids, and economic depression!"

Either the erratic movements of the frying pan were growing persuasive, or Dora was. The crowd wasn't entirely certain which was responsible for it, but a curious feeling of solidarity was sweeping through the room. The innkeeper let out a confused cry of "Down with the king of Romaly!"

"Why do we suffer them?" Dora persisted. "Why do we still honor the grave of a wandering rogue who liked to slaughter bears? Why do we keep these ne'er-do-well marauders in power?"

The tavern owner, who wasn't good with rhetorical questions, suggested, "Because they're big and have weapons?"

Dora thumped the pan on a chair. "Precisely! And it's time for that to /change/!"

The assembled considered, and at length the item store owner asked, "Do we get to redress our grievances?"

"Of course! This is all about righting the wrongs of the mock-heroic regime!"

The item store owner nodded his approval. He put a lot of stock in grievances.

With a dramatic flourish, Dora pointed the frying pan at her audience. "And now I ask you, fellow citizens of Kazave: Are we united?"

The villagers cheered. They hadn't heard a good call to arms in living memory.

Dora leapt down from the barricade, grabbed a handful of dish towels, and led her troop into the weapon store proper. "Arm yourselves with what you can and pile the rest on top of the cellar," she said, climbing up on the counter to supervise. "I hereby declare this building the official military headquarters of the People's Republic of Kazave!"

There was more cheering, broken by little scuffles over some of the shinier helmets.

Dora beamed and began sketching on the towels with one of Stanley's markers.

"Ooh, Nars," cooed one of half a dozen puff-puff girls, "you're so strong."

"And handsome," sighed another.

"I think we should all be naked," suggested a third.

"Wake up, you moron!" said a fourth.

"Then we could feed you grapes," added a fifth.

"And then we could-" began a sixth, but Nars cut her off with a wave of his hand.

One of these things was not like the others, but it was taking his brain a moment to work out the problem. It wasn't terribly conducive to thought that all six girls were prancing around in various stages of undress.

"Don't say I didn't warn you," one of them whispered seductively. Before he'd had time to process the message, a searing pain shot through his groin.

Nars awoke with a gasp. Eyes watering, he made a brave effort to focus on his surroundings instead of his agony. All signed pointed to "unpromising." As far as he could tell, he was lying someone cold, dusty, and dark, with only a little torchlight illuminating a collection of barrels and bags. It also illuminated Charlotte, who stood over him with a scowl and nudged him with her foot.

"It's about time you got up," she snapped. "You got me into this, so now you can get me out."

Now that the more acute pain was wearing off, Nars noticed that his head was throbbing. A brief, confused memory of a frying pan floated through his mind.

"What are you talking about?" Nars winced as he got to his feet. "I didn't get us into anything!" The motion rattled his thoughts, and the pieces fell together: "You kicked me!"

Charlotte put her hands on her hips. "'Look at me! I'm the son of Ortega! I'm too special to pay for anything!'" she said in what Nars assumed was meant to be his voice. "You idiot. Some psycho knocked us out and dumped us in a cellar, from the looks of it. And I was waking you up."

Nars fumbled for a retort and came up with, "Oh, yeah? Just wait till I wake you up." Resolving to think of a better one later, he turned away and found a ladder behind him. He scrambled up it and tried to force open the overhead door.

"Don't bother," Charlotte said. "I already tried Infernos on it, and it's not budging." When he continued pushing at it, the ladder shook wildly and threw him to the floor.

Nars bared his teeth at her as he got up. "When I'm the legendary hero, I'm going to have you lynched," he said. "No one treats the son of Ortega this way."

She shook her head. "Tsk, tsk. Didn't I already mention the shopkeep-"

His tackle knocked her back into a stack of barrels. She retaliated by scratching his face, and they spent the next several minutes rolling around in a tangle of chokeholds and hairpulls. At last they broke away from each other, wheezing.

"You're officially out of the party," he said.

"Fine," she returned. "I'm forming my own party, and you're not invited."

They glared at each other, then snapped in unison, "How old are you, /five/?"

The village priest had just finished hiding the temple funds when a gang of armed villagers marched through the door, led by the weapon store owner's wife. Congratulating himself on his foresight, the priest smiled beatifically and said, "Ah, disciplines of divinity. What brings you to our temple?"

The woman- Dora, was it? His memory was getting spotty these days- planted both hands on the altar and regarded him critically. The effect was somewhat spoiled by the presence of her bathrobe. "Are the gods on the side of the People's Republic of Kazave?" she asked at length.

"Absolutely," the priest said. In his experience the gods didn't mind this sort of association very much, especially since it usually blew over in a few days. Besides, the gods wouldn't want their loyal servant to end up on the wrong ends of assorted weapons and farming implements.

Dora nodded. "Good. Then we hereby declare this the official temple of the People's Religion of Kazave!"

The villagers cheered. The priest did not.

"The People's /what/?" he managed.

But Dora had already climbed atop the altar and begun waving something- was that a frying pan?- at the audience. "We have the blessings of the gods!" she declared. "No longer will this holy place serve the selfish needs of adventurers, my friends. Henceforth, the people alone shall worship and receive freely!"

The priest, whose policy of advance payment had always made his dealings with adventurers smooth and profitable, decided that it was time to protest. "But this temple is part of a much larger organized religion-"

"Corrupted by the mock-heroic regime!" Dora's thunder would not be easily stolen. "The gods themselves are on our side!"

One of the villagers sidled up to the altar. "So can I be the new priest?" he asked.

Before Dora could reply, the priest raised his fist and cried, "Long live the People's Republic of Kazave!"

The upstart slunk away as Dora grinned. "As a proud member of the People's Republic of Kazave," she said, "do you solemnly swear to turn away all adventurers and see only to the needs of honest townsfolk?"

Honest townsfolk did not, in the priest's experience, need the services whose fees supported him in the manner to which he was accustomed. But he steeled himself, remembering that these things never lasted, and said, "Of course. May the blessings of the gods be with the People's Republic of Kazave."

Dora applauded and pulled a towel from the pocket of her robe. "Hang this on your door," she instructed, herding her little army outside. "Come, let us prepare the way of the future!"

In a few days, this will all blow over. Letting the thought run through his head like a mantra, the priest looked down at the towel, squinted, and held it up for examination.

Black marker formed the silhouette of what was probably meant to be a farmer, judging by the presence of a pitchfork. A solid red circle surrounded him. Above it was written "THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KAZAVE," and under the picture was added "hereby approves of and pledges protection to this honest establishment." In the lower left was a sketch of a burly, bearded man with an ax, over which had been drawn a red "X." "No Adventurers on Pain Of Eradication" filled the space beside it.

The priest was impressed. He hadn't thought Dora could spell "eradication."

With a little sigh, the priest picked up a tack and went to deface the temple entrance. Temporarily, of course. The gods would understand.

Nars sat brooding on a barrel, keeping a wary eye on Charlotte. After another, nastier fistfight had led to the realization that they'd both been disarmed, irritation levels were peaking. Thank the gods they'd found something chalky enough to demarcate their respective halves of the room.

That had been a tricky business, though. Neither of them was willing to cede the cellar door to the other, and they'd ended up painstakingly chalking each rung of the ladder, then dividing the door itself. In a stroke of good fortune, Nars had found much more food in his half than Charlotte had. If all else failed, at least he'd have the satisfaction of outlasting her. All he had to do was train himself to survive on a diet of dried meat.

A happy squeal from the other side of the room caught his attention.

"You may have the food," Charlotte announced, parading out of the shadows with a bottle in her hand, "but I have the alcohol."

Nars grunted and turned his attention back to the wall.

Vindictive humming and the popping of a cork reached his ears, followed by Charlotte saying, "Now all I have to do is sit back, drink up, and wait for Xing and Quinn to get here."

"Hmph." Nars tapped his fingers on the barrel. "What makes you think they'll come, anyway?"

"Well, you hired them, didn't you? They have to save you. It's in their contract."

He spun to face her with a snarl. "No one saves the son of Ortega!"

"Fine. Then we'll leave you in the cellar." Before Nars could form a response, Charlotte wrinkled her nose and said, "The wine smells a little weird."

"You smell weirder."

"Whatever. You haven't bathed since Reeve."

"I don't have to. Heroes are supposed to smell manly."

With an exaggerated shudder, Charlotte disappeared into the darkness again. She returned with another bottle of wine and a corkscrew.

"It's no fun drinking alone," she said. "Trade you a bottle for a bag of jerky."

Nars's eyes flickered from the wine to a nearby barrel of dried meat. "Why not?" he muttered, digging out a bag. "Stuff looks like leather, anyway." He considered throwing the bag at her, then realized he didn't want the wine to be lobbed at his head in retaliation. Instead he got up and dumped the bag of dried meat squarely on the line of demarcation.

"You sure it's beef?" she asked, wrinkling her nose at the lump.

"Never said it was."

Charlotte regarded the bag warily for a moment longer. Then, with a resigned shrug, she placed the bottle and corkscrew on the line, a few feet down from the jerky. Nars looked them over and nodded.

Locking eyes, they each darted out a hand and grabbed their respective items from the thin strip of no-man's-land. They continued watching each other until they both had retreated a safe distance.

"Right, then," Charlotte, said, ripping open the bag of jerky. "Bottoms up."

"Chow down." Nars uncorked the wine and took a probatory sip. "A little weird" had been too charitable a description; "a crime against grapes" was a better fit. But as much as he wanted to tell Charlotte so, he was too busy sputtering to form a sentence.

Across the room, Charlotte made a gagging sound. "Definitely not beef," she managed. "Leather would taste better."

"Yeah, well, the wine tastes like ass."

"You'd know."

"Your mom would know."

A sullen silence descended.

When brooding lost its novelty, Nars decided that anything was better than being locked in a cellar and sober. And no mere alcohol was going to get the better of him. Fighting down his nausea, Nars tipped his head back, took a deep breath, and guzzled the wine. Charlotte watched curiously until he came up for air.

"I get it," she said, raising her own bottle as Nars resisted the urge to retch. "After we force enough of this down, everything else will taste better. Or we'll care less. Either's fine by me." Pinching her nose, she took a swig, then gave Nars a look of profound disgust. "Sweet gods, that's terrible."

"Worse than the jerky, huh?"

"Nothing is worse than the jerky."

"Trade you another bag for another bottle."

"All right."

As Charlotte headed back into the shadows for more wine, Nars struggled through another gulp and prayed that intoxication would come quickly.

Marty was having a wonderful day. First, he'd been acquitted of multiple counts of petty larceny when the weapon merchant's wife had decided to replace the local religion, which also functioned as the local judicial system, with a near-identical one that used the word "people" a lot and overturned all of the priest's convictions in the spirit of tabula rasa/. Apparently, /tabula rasa meant that Marty was now allowed to be near people's valuables without anyone acknowledging that he was trying to steal them.

His luck hadn't ended there, either. It seemed everyone in the town was hard at work building some sort of defense structure, which had probably begun as a wall before mutating into a semi-organic barricade. If anyone had bothered to consult Marty, he might have informed the townsfolk that while they had created something difficult to knock down, anyone with a build like Marty's had no trouble scrambling up and over it. But no one thought to ask, and Marty was too busy looting their unguarded houses to offer.

The only condition of his release from the priest's clutches was that he take an oath of loyalty to the People's Republic of Kazave. What the hell, he'd thought. Marty hadn't liked adventurers ever since he'd tried to register as a thief and discovered that the good folks at Dharma expected more than a penchant for taking other people's things. They'd expected talent, for a start, which Marty felt took all the fun out of it. There had also been some nonsense about disarming traps. Marty had pointed out that the average villager didn't need any traps to catch him, and this, for some reason, had failed to sway the priest in charge. A botched effort to steal a still-burning torch hadn't helped much, either.

Not that it mattered. Marty preferred to work freelance.

Humming to himself as he dragged his increasingly cumbersome sack of spoils to the next house, Marty stopped to wave to the innkeeper, who was grafting an old wheelbarrow on to the wall.

The innkeeper squinted at him for a moment, then said, "Why aren't you working with us?"

"Come, come, now," said Marty with his best condescending smile. "We can't all be wall builders, can we?" He shrugged, accidentally dislodging his sack from his shoulder. An exciting potpourri of trinkets spilled over the ground.

"Hey!" roared the item store owner. "Those are my bunnytails!"

Marty recovered quickly. "Well, fancy that!" he said, trying to sweep them back into the sack with his foot. "I wonder how they got there?"

"I imagine you stole them," offered a young man who had paused in the act of nailing a washboard to the barricade.

Marty's face was, he hoped, the picture of injured innocence. "What makes you think that?"

The item store owner turned an aplopectic shade of red. "We all know you're a damnable little thief, that's what!"

"Doesn't count," Marty replied, grinning. "/Tabula rasa/, remember? Can't judge me on past deeds."

"But you're stealing the nails now," said the astute young man with the hammer.

Marty glanced down and found that his right hand was indeed engaged in stuffing several of them into his shirt pocket. His left hand, meanwhile, had mysteriously acquired a paintbrush.

"Well, you see," Marty began, glancing around for a quick exit, "the thing is, I, uh, actually... Look out! There's an oppression behind you!"

The resulting confusion gave him just enough time to scoop up a handful of bunnytails, duck behind the tavern, and scramble up the village wall before anyone could catch up with him. Climbing down the other side proved more problematic, and he found himself skidding and sliding most of the way before crashing to the ground. On the bright side, he'd managed to snag a loose board and a flowerpot on his way.

After picking himself up and dusting himself off, Marty headed south for Romaly, whistling. He didn't recall having ever been arrested there.



"Would you mind not laughing quite so loudly when the patrons are injured? I'm afraid it makes them a bit nervous."

"Oh, I understand. Wouldn't want to accidentally give me a moment's enjoyment, would we? I'll just sit here and wallow, then."

"...Er, sir?"

"No, no, I'll be fine. Don't put yourself out on my account."

"Sir, you've put a cooking pot on your head."


Evening fell, and construction of the People's Defensive Structure of Kazave was declared finished until an observant citizen pointed out that it had no gate. Discussion over where to put the gap ended when the innkeeper's wife demanded the return of her dresser, which had been integrated near the midpoint of the western wall. It was as good a place as any.

Reconstruction would have to wait until morning, though. The sun was already sinking behind the mountains, and not even the most dedicated supporter of the new republic wanted to work with large, potentially lethal components by darkness. The village smith had already had a nasty run-in with one of his own anvils.

As the workers prepared to go home for the night, Dora supervised from her perch atop the make-shift watchpost along the southern wall, smiling serenely. Periodically she waved her frying pan in a show of encouragement.

The innkeeper shoved the last of his spare wash basins into a gap in the wall before standing back and eyeing his work with satisfaction. "It's a proud new day for Kazave," he said aloud, on the grounds that a job well done deserved a platitude.

"Not yet, it's not," said his wife. "We can't have a proud day without my dresser. It's an heirloom, you know. Priceless. You can't find that level of worksmanship anymore, especially not-"

Her tirade was cut short when Dora stood up on the rickety watchtower and yelled southward, "Who would enter the proletarian utopia of the People's Republic of Kazave?"

"...The hell?" replied a voice from the other side of the wall. Having encountered a lot of adventurers in their days, the villagers could classify this specimen already: burly, unshaven, almost certainly unwashed, good at hitting things until they stopped moving, poor at counting out how much money he owed, and even poorer at accepting mathematical aid. The townspeople crowded against the barricade in search of peep-holes.

"State your names and business," Dora called down, tapping her pan impatiently against her left palm. "And you'll have to go through immigration."

"...The hell?" repeated the adventurer.

The tavern owner nudged the woman next to him. "Do we even have immigration?"

She shrugged. "Probably not until we have a gate, at least."

"Well, I don't know about all of you/," said the innkeeper, shooting suspicious looks at everyone around him, "but /I'm clean, and I intend to stay that way, gate or no." His wife sighed.

From outside the barricade came the muted sounds of discussion, followed by a new voice shouting, "We demand that you let us in!" That would be the less stupid one, the mage who had a shaky command of one or two spells and who thought that this entitled him to an unlimited supply of wine, women, and second chances regarding his behavior around both. The Kazave method of identification was seldom wrong in these matters. "We're heroes!"

"Aha!" Dora pointed her frying pan down at the potential invaders. "A confession of ill intent!"

"...The hell?" came out again, followed by a more heated exchange outside the walls. The villagers strained to listen.

After a few seconds of buzzing voices, a third man decided to try his luck: "Let us in or we'll burn this thing down!" And that would be the dealer, the party's leech, speaking with extra bombast to draw attention away from his basic inability to contribute anything. The proper, settled merchants of Kazave held his type in particular contempt.

"Let's not be hasty!" yelled a fourth voice, whose owner had probably noticed that very little of the wall was flammable. "Surely we could all come to a mutally beneficial compromise!" The oily tone indicated that a Type Two cleric rounded out the traditional party size. He was the clever one, at least comparatively speaking, and had probably had his nose broken fewer times than his companions. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he would insist that the world as a whole was too naïve to suspect a cleric of having ulterior motives, and he would demand to be considered "ironic," or perhaps even "edgy."

Dora let out a barking laugh before dropping something white over the barricade. There was a long pause outside.

"'No adventurers on pain of eradication'?" said the cleric, who was no doubt the quickest reader. "Are you all out of your minds?" Another pause. "This is a dish towel!"

Beaming, Dora said, "It's also our flag. We the people have the down-to-earth knowledge needed to improvise using household goods. Now, are you going to withdraw from our lands, or do we have to eradicate you? Or at least imprison you, like the last two." She frowned, said, "Almost forgot about them," and then got back on track. "So which, illegal invaders of our republic, will you choose?"

There was a lot of talking outside the wall, over which the cleric shouted, "It's a gods-damned /dish towel/!"

"Load," said Dora.

Her tone was so calm that it took the villagers a moment to figure out that she'd given a command, but once realization set in, so did action. Half a ton of wood, metal, rope, and shaky construction rolled forward, coming to a stop near the wall.

Earlier in the day, Dora had recruited a number of villagers to work on what she had described as the offensive counterpart to the People's Defensive Structure of Kazave. The result was the People's Catapult of Kazave, onto which pieces of the wall were now being loaded. The tavern owner claimed to have contributed most of the pieces for it, but the catapult was too visually chaotic to make identification of the componenets possible. The only obvious contributions were the item store owner's and the priest's; the wheels had "Kazave Potions, Herbs, and etc." stamped on them, and the catapult had been built and stored in the temple yard, to the priest's dismay.

Still staring down at the intruders, Dora said, "Aim."

"You haven't got anything in there!" said the dealer. "Ha!" His companions seemed to count the noises coming from inside the village as evidence to the contrary.

There was a tense pause as Dora climbed down from the watchtower.

"Fire!" she cried. "For the liberty and honor of the People's Republic of Kazave!"

To the surprise of most of the villagers, the payload of wood, metal, and stone cleared the wall and made an earth-shaking impact outside. There were a few relieved cheers.

When no further challenges were issued, Dora scampered back up to her post and peered into the distance. "The enemies of Kazave are fleeing," she reported. "Long live our glorious republic!"

"Can't blame 'em," said the tavern owner. "I'd run, too, if someone threw half an old shed at me."

"Don't forget about the anvil," added the woman beside him.

Dora returned to the ground and gave the assembled a satisfied nod. "We shall retrieve the pieces of the People's Defensive Structure of Kazave tomorrow when we create the People's Immigration Portal of Kazave," she said. "For now, let us celebrate our victory over the oppressors!"

The cheering throng followed her to the tavern, where the priest was already making a game attempt to blot out the last twenty-four hours.

"The godsh," he explained to the whiskey he'd found in the storeroom, "are not going t'be happy about thish. Not one bit." He paused. "And neither ish me. Ish I. Am I. Dammit."

"After all those sandwiches, I'm not sure I should cast magic."

"True. And it's getting late. We should stay in Romaly tonight."

"And maybe the next night, too. Just to be sure."

"Good thinking."
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