I'll meet you at midnight

Never eavesdrop. You'll never hear good of yourself. He really hadn't meant to. It's just difficult, when hearing yourself being discussed, not to pause by the half-open door and listen.

"I wonder, Mungo, why we're doing what this Harkness-Smythe boy wants?" Vila's voice. Was this the same girl that had wanted him to come for a midnight tryst, a romantic coracle trip in the moonlight last night? He'd evaded the invitation with what he'd considered tact too, not to mention a bit of real regret. She continued, "I mean, let's face it, he takes his authority from you. Without your say-so . . ." She left the sentence unfinished.

Mungo's bass rumble was a little uncertain. "I suppose you're right, Vila. He's a bit of a molly. Probably never been in a real fight in his life. I will say he's showed guts, though. And at least he has ideas, even if he does think it makes him a class above us ordinary folk. I dare say he'll take a tumble or two, 'till he gets to see he's not that different from the rest of us. I suppose I'm interested in seeing what the boy can do. After all, he's the first boy my Kathleen ever brought home, even if it was unconscious! And he also asked her to marry him!"

"Well, he's got guts then," Korg said dryly. "More guts than it takes just to stand on that raft and be shot at, while keeping your cool. I don't know about having brains, though."

Squigs blinked. Damn it. He'd thought the dwarf was a sort of friend. Korg continued, "He's darn nearly got himself killed both times. Not what I call a sign of intelligence."

"You're a fine one to talk, Korg," said Venus. "You never left the raft until the very last, either." She was still just a little distant with him, after having been knocked overboard by the dwarf.

"Ah, but then I never claimed to be bright, Lady Venus," said Korg. "Also, I'm a practiced marksman with a cross-bow. I know what I can hit, and at what range. There's no gamble in my waiting on the raft. I'm just staying until I can get a good shot in. The tall lad is taking a chance that all his ideas will work. He doesn't know. He's riding for a fall."

Squigs turned away. He was not quite ready to face them yet. So they thought he had no influence except by Mungo's favor. So they thought he was soft. So they thought he thought himself superior. So the dwarf thought he wasn't even being particularly wise. Damn them all. Here he was, for the first time with his color not being held against him, and they had everything else against him instead. Or was it his color? Honesty forced him reluctantly to admit that they probably didn't give a damn about his color. Leggilass was as black as black, the dwarf, if he was human, looked more like an Arab than anything else. True, European types seemed to predominate in this part of Zoar, but that was probably because so many of this hemisphere's congruence points with Earth were in Northern Europe or North-eastern America. Which was why English was the lingua franca here. He gathered that somewhere on the other side of the globe was an area where not having your face tattooed or not being able to speak Maori, could be terminal.

After half an hour of inner turmoil, he was ready to acknowledge the justice of some of the things they had said. But he was still seething. He thought he'd persuaded them at least to accept a compromise at yesterday's meeting. He thought he'd established respect. He'd show them a thing or two! He'd try for the common touch, but with the ways and means of stopping what he expected to be a deadly, concerted attack, he was going to show them what ingenuity meant!

However, some of the things would have to be practiced. The dwarf had a point. The actual fight wasn't the moment to try out new tricks and weapons. He'd just have to make doubly sure that no word of it leaked out. Hmm. That mean heightening security. What about that let's-go-for-a-moonlight-coracle-sail story of Vila's last night? Okay, she couldn't have been planning to sneak into town, hoping he wouldn't notice the change of scenery competing with her physical charms, but it was possible that tonight someone could slip off, unnoticed. He'd put alarm lines on the coracle and Venus's Swan-ski just after dark.

"Ja, Myneerjie. And what do you want?" The big sergeant-major's voice radiated arrogant contempt through the thick accent. Big Danny was not used to that sort of thing. And he didn't like it. Not from anybody, not even this big lout in the rumpled camo clothing. Hadn't the fellow any idea of the sartorial elegance owed to the respectable profession of terminating contracts?

"I've got your orders," said Danny. "You're to be ready for the choppers Wednesday at 7:15 am."

The sergeant-major looked at the sheaf of papers, briefly. He sighed, and stood up slowly. He was even wider than Big Danny. And those blue eyes didn't waver and drop the way most people's did, when looking into the eyes of the don's bodyguard. "Luister mooi, you myneertjie that's all dressed-up like a moffie's wet-dream. I'll give this to Kaptein Francois. But it's a lot of kak. I'll tell you now we're not doing it. Whoever wrote this thing has never been in a blerry contact in their life. Ja, and we don't go in without a few practice runs."

The captain was somewhat more polite than the sergeant-major had been, in his later interview with The Man, but he was just as emphatic. "Mister Carpaccio. When you hire us, you just told us that we had to go into a military contact, and take this man out. When I offered you Sersant van der Heerver, who is a blerry fine marksman, to neutralize this oke, you said we had to fly in, and they'd be waiting. You said equipment and method were up to us. Nou gee jy my hierdie klomp kak! Sorry, now you come wiff this set of orders. Forget it. We've got a job offer in Liberia."

The Man started to swell up and change color like an upset chameleon. Danny tensed.

"Enough." The voice came from the hooded figure hunched at the desk. M'lord had come in earlier, unannounced, and through their security cordon like a night-wind, as usual. "Captain. If I allowed you to set the rest of the agenda, choose your own equipment, but just insisted on the time specified being maintained, would that be acceptable?"

The dark-eyed man looked long at him. "Who are you, mister?" he finally asked.

"I am the paymaster. Which is why I get to call the tune."

The captain had walked over to the desk. Looked at the hooded figure. Sat down. "It's good money. But before I take my men in anywhere, I need to know a hell of a lot more about the place and what is waiting for us. All we know is that it's a swamp. Where? Cambodia?"

A puff of smoke came from the darkness inside the hood. "A lot further. But never you mind. We'll get you there. You have to fly in at a fairly low level. After that you can do just what you like. The enemy, and there are not more than ten of them, will be waiting for you, with primitive weapons, including mines and bombs they make with black powder. Oh, and some kind of bazooka thing. By the way, I'm doubling the money you were offered."

"Have you seen the mess you can make of a man wiff an assegai or a panga, Myneer, never mind booby-traps you could make wiff a bit of explosive?" asked the captain.

The captain looked thoughtful, however. Double the money was obviously tempting. "Okay. But three choppers isn't enough. We need two gunships, and three slicks, you know, troop-carriers. I know a government who'd be glad to sell you some. The bliksems still owe us money that I don't expect we'll ever see. This is what I suggest." He started drawing on the pad on the desk.

The door burst open. Danny was quick with the Colt automatic, but the big sergeant-major who had come with the mercenary captain was faster. The Uzi grease-gun, inconspicuously cradled in his arm, clattered. The red-horned little imp, however, paid as little attention to the hail of bullets, as to the whine of the ricochets. "Master! I have news from the rusalka."

"Erfect! I have told you not to come into this sphere!" the hooded man said sternly.

The horrible little creature groveled before him in obvious fear. "Forgive, Lord. Forgive small Erfect, Great Master," he begged.

"Jislaaik!" said the sergeant-major, and sat down on the floor, open-mouthed, and began to field-strip the Uzi.

The hooded one turned to the audience at large. "The rusalka is my Darksider agent. Perhaps you will not have to kill Harkness-Smythe after all."

The imp, now on its knees, shook its wizened little head, its wicked little face still twisted in fear. "No, Master. No success. And the rusalka sends warning: Harkness-Smythe plans to attack you instead."

There was a long silence. Finally the hooded one said, with obvious tension. "Tell me exactly what the message was, Erfect. Word for word."

The imp stood up, put its long taloned hands behind its back and recited, "Harkness-Smythe plans strike against you. No details. Will silence prisoner, if possible. Plan to use bombs on top of reeds, as in last attack. Will continue attempt to neutralize."

The hooded man rose to his feet. Exhaled a great cloud of yellow smoke. "I must be going. I will be safer in my own place, with my own defenses. In the meanwhile, you have your orders. Do what is necessary. You know what to avoid. Bombs on reed tops. Remember, Harkness-Smythe must die!"

Squigs walked uneasily through the valley of dreams. His mother was trying to drag him by the big toe away from a beautiful red-haired girl. He wished she'd stop! It was getting extremely sore! She was a nursing sister. She should realize that she'd pull his toe right off. His toe . . . He awoke with a start. The line attached to his toe was really going to pull it off any minute now. He frantically grabbed at the cord and managed to pull the loop off his toe. He scrambled for the door with a yell, and burst out into the night.

The high full moon hung in a wine-dark sky. Its soft and silvery light outlined the dark figures in the coracle, out on ripple-trimmed dark water. A paddle dipped quietly into the moon's reflection. "Stop!" yelled Squigs.

An angry voice came from the coracle. A totally unexpected female voice. "I should have known that you'd go and ruin it all!"

Others came boiling out of the huts, all remarkably awake and well dressed for that time of night. Well dressed enough to make Squigs realize that he was wearing his underpants and a T-shirt. Vila. Venus. Korg, (of course). And Mungo, bleary with sleep, and truly amazed to find his daughter sitting in a coracle in the middle of the lagoon. At midnight, with the Crum. His bellow of rage would have frightened dragons. "Kate, you come back here this minute! I'll murder the black-hearted, child-stealin' spalpeen! So help me if I don't!"

"Oh . . . Pa!" Irritation and defiance in her voice. "I'm a grown-up girl now. If I want to go for a midnight paddle in the moonlight, I will."

"Arrah! Kathleen, my girl. You get yourself back here right now, or I'll be swimmin' out there after you! Your mother'd be turning over in her grave to see you behave so shameless!" Only the corpse could have slept through Mungo's thundering voice. Other heads began to appear from the various huts.

"Awk! Couldn't organize a bonk in a brothel," said the parrot, to no one in particular.

Squigs buried his face in his hands. Experience had taught him that no matter how things worked out, Kate would say it was all his fault. Not a bit of use to explain that it had not been his intention to catch her. That he'd actually been planning to trap a spy lurking in their midst. For starters, he wasn't going to get a word in edgeways. For seconds she wouldn't believe him, not now. And for thirds, if he had any idea of the midnight rendezvous, he would have done his best to tube it. He turned, went back to the couch he'd been sleeping on, lay down and put a pillow over his head, trying to shut out the altercation outside. One thing was for sure. The spy was thoroughly aware of Squigs' trap on the boats. He, or she, wouldn't try that way now.

The flat crack of the automatic was followed by the sharp "spang" of the ricochet. "Again." The pistol bucked. SpaANG!

"Damn it, you tall son of a bitch! That nearly took my bloody ear off. Want me to match your looks, or something?" Korg waved the pistol in his hand at Squigs, forgetting its potentially lethal presence. And squeezed off another shot, quite incidentally.

"Holy cow!" Squigs swore from the mud he'd dived to. "Careful with that damned thing, Korg! I felt that shot part my hair."

Korg grinned lopsidedly. "Silly bugger. Serve you right for having a head three feet above where it should be. Come on. Up on those long pins. Let's have a look and see what damage it has done." Squigs noticed, however, that the dwarf was now very carefully pointing the weapon at the ground, and only holding it between two fingers and a thumb.

They walked across to the side of pork dressed in dragon-leather, ten yards off. You could see the smear and indentation where the bullets had hit. But there wasn't a hole. Carefully, Korg put the automatic down on a dry tuft, pointing away from them.

Then he reached up a horny hand, and matched Squigs' black one crush for crush. "Damn me if you haven't done it, Lofty. I really thought you was wasting time with this set o' stinks."

Squigs shook his head. "It may not stop a high-power metal-jacket, though. And you're going to end up with hellish bruising."

"Better bruised than dead. Weird that you can still push a knife through the stuff though."

"The treated scales on the surface of the hide only mesh under high-impact. The reaction goes on for a while after that too. There's a little plate of diamond-hard stuff where the bullet hit now."

"Why not just make the whole thing that hard?" The dwarf asked, thinking in armor terms.

"Because it doesn't bend, and is really brittle. You can crack the leather like a carrot now, where the bullets hit." Squigs demonstrated.

"So you better not get hit on the same place twice," said the dwarf, thoughtfully.

Squigs shrugged. "Better than nothing. Now, tell me, can you swim around these parts?"

The dwarf looked at him, puzzled. "Mighty big area to swim around. Take you a couple o' years. And the water's kind of full of things that might eat you, if there weren't any porpoises about."

Squigs eyes narrowed. "Like what kind of things?"

The dwarf grinned. "Mostly things with teeth, and a liking for blood. Why don't we go back to Mungo's float and ask him? He knows more about it than I do. I'm not from hereabouts. Up north, where we dwarves come from, we've got real rock, not just this damned mud. Besides, I've been here on this islet with you for half an hour. I'm longing to see that aristocratic mam'zelle again." He chuckled evilly. "Also I want to see how the Crum's black eyes are coming along."

Squigs snorted. "Being lovingly attended with good steaks, last I saw." He sighed. "I'm not so eager to get back there. Kate was keen on carving me into more steaks for her darling creep." He sighed again. "How do you deal with women, Korg? I just seem to get myself into more trouble with her every time I open my mouth."

The dwarf snorted in turn. "The answer to that one is worth a lot more than bullet-stopping leather, my tall friend. I dunno. But maybe you should try using a foreign language, like me. Gives you a certain exotic allure, eh?"

"I need some more stuff from the apothecary's place. Anyone else need anything from town?" That was all Squigs said to the assembled crowd at breakfast. In his mind, however, the cat-and-mouse game of spy-hunter still played. The flak-jacket leather would be enough bait for the spy to wish to send word about. He watched the company carefully.

"Oh great! Can you get my stuff?" Leggilass suddenly looked embarrassed, rather like a coy nightmare, and stepped up close to Squigs. "It's at . . ." and he handed Squigs an ornate, scented card. Then, after searching for the lost word in the dim recesses of memory, he dredged up, "Please?"

No other requests were forthcoming immediately, but after lunch a series of small orders trickled in. Squigs eyed the increasing list with disfavor. Here he'd set out to be a master spycatcher and ended up as a junior errand boy. "Story of my life," he muttered as he added Venus' bottle of Ampsonson's traditional armor polish to it. He was excessively relieved when Mungo announced that he and Kate would be accompanying Squigs to town to re-provision the party. Squigs cheerfully started reading the list to him.

"Madame Pompadour!" Mungo's voice rose three octaves. "I'm not going in there!"

"Why not . . ." Squigs asked his voice trailing off uncertainly. Was this some other taboo area that he should never ask about?

The huge man blushed. "Er . . . it's . . . I'm not having Kate going in there either!"

Curiosity now had its fangs deep into Squigs. He simply couldn't help asking just what Madame Pompadour sold.

The big man looked studiously at the wall. "Um. Well. What madames usually sell. Also ladies . . ." He paused. "You know, er, underthings. Er . . . lacy. With cutaway bits. Not that I've ever seen them," he added hastily. "Who wanted stuff from there?" he asked, with transparent nonchalance.

"Wouldn't you just like to know," replied Squigs, in a carefully neutral voice.

"Indeed I would then . . . it can't be my Kathleen?" A father's worry tinged his voice.


"Ah! Vila," said Mungo, understandingly.

"Nope," Squigs said, shaking his head.

"Not Lady Venus, surely . . ." Now Mungo's voice trailed off, incredulous.

Squigs couldn't restrain a smile, partly at having trapped Mungo, and partly at the thought of Venus ordering lacy underwear. Did it come in tweed? "Nope. Guess again."

Mungo shook his head. "But . . . there isn't anyone else. Who?"


Mungo stood there, looking like a landed codfish.

In a dark fortress, one of those few which still held life, on that cinder of a sphere called "Fire" by some, the Demon Lord Strate sat at his vast, ledger-piled desk. Despite their appearance, those ledgers were not bound in anything we would recognize as leather. Nor are the pages paper. No. More fiendish materials were called for here. He sighed. This bloody vinyl stuff got him down. In the old days there'd been plenty of imps to keep the real leather well oiled.

He turned his attention back to the endless financial transactions listed there, satisfaction growing in him. Before this he had been the least of the Lords of Fire, which some humans, mistakenly, call Hell. His demesne was small, and cold. He had only been allowed a trivial part in the overthrow of the Overlord, curse even the scattered fragments of that foreign tyrant.

The other Demon Lords ignored him, as they plotted and conspired, wrestling for the last resources of their gutted world. But he would show the fools, he snarled to himself. How they would be humbled. It was all waiting before him now. Soon, soon, the trap would close. Bah! They'd thought him mad to study the lesser spheres. Now let them feel the fiendish bite of Earth-style economics. And when he was overlord, then, then, hah, let them suffer under the lash of Earth-style taxation.

A bubble of uneasiness stirred in him. What if that accursed student should escape yet again? His plans rested very heavily on having sole control of the ways between the spheres. On having total control over those precious, exotic off-world resources that kept the ruins of his world from returning to frozen waste. He shook his head, dismissing the thought. No. This time they would succeed. But, none the less, he touched the bell that brought his major-domo scurrying in.

That worthy bowed, his horned head touching the floor. "M'lord. Your wish?"

"Two things, Ortant. Firstly, how goes it with the acquisitions?" From his study of the ledgers, Strate knew. But he wished to hear it from someone else.

The imp nodded. "The acquisitions go well, Master. My agents have bought far more teeth than those with which we initially flooded the market. I doubt if all the Houses, major and minor, could muster five hundred between them now. The rumors we started of a new, even cheaper shipment coming in soon are widespread. Ancient hoards are being hastily sold off before the price drops still further."

He steepled fingers. "Good. We do not require more lead?"

"No, Master." Ortant shook his head, vigorously. "There is still plenty in the stockpile."

Strate allowed a shadow of smile onto his blue lips. "Excellent. Do not be too cautious. We don't want to be left with tons of the stuff when the bottom falls out of gold. Now, onto my second question. How does the strengthening of our defenses go?"

The imp smiled. It was not a pretty sight. "You have brought us many nice toys from other spheres, Master. We hope for an attack."

"Good." He leaned back in his chair. Yellow smoke trickled from his nostrils. "Well done. Oh. Make certain that if word comes from my darksider, I am informed immediately. You are dismissed, Ortant."

Isaac Levieson gazed into the crystal ball. Gradually Samur's visage swam into view. "A bad connection today, Isaac. "

"The crystal resonances seem to get a bit messed up whenever there has been a strong congruency. I have obtained the book you requested. It seems a trifle odd to call it an Idiot's Guide."

Samur nodded. "That's Earth logic for you. Listen, I have news for you. The EPA's instruments have detected a transfer from Sylvan to Zoar. My master has sent word to EPA agents on Zoar to keep a look out for any transmorphers."

Isaac nodded. "I'll have word put out too."

"What on earth are you doing now?" Venus poked an aristocratic digit at the bubbling alembic. Squigs grabbed her hand away before she could touch it. "Er. Very hot," he explained hastily. Inwardly he quailed. Why was she so curious? If she was the spy . . . Korg would not be easy to deal with. He sighed quietly. It had not been his day. He'd discovered that if he'd thought traveling with Kate alone in ice-block mode was bad, traveling with both Kate and her father on non-speaking terms was infinitely worse. You had to relay messages.

Mungo was not the kind of man who would physically impose his will on any female, least of all his daughter. But he made up for it with sexually discriminatory violence. When he'd asked Kate to come into town with him, she'd coldly refused. She said was going to tend Crummag's injuries.

It was a hot day for winter. Mungo had been wearing a plain linen shirt instead of his usual leathers. When she said this, he began rolling up his sleeves. "Well then. I'll just be going along to see that he's injured enough for you to tend. I'll not have him speakin' with you, so I'll break his jaw. Actually, to stop him bein' familiar with you, I think a coma, and a few broken limbs will do."

Kate knew her father. She came to town. But that didn't mean she had to pretend she was happy about it. In fact, she was going to make sure they were both bloody miserable. And she'd refused to have anything to do with the dreaded mission to Madame Pompadour's with a disdainful sniff.

Squigs had reconnoitered the place with care. When there was a lull in the passing trade, he'd slipped in, hopefully unnoticed. A few minutes later, when he emerged from the house of the ladies of negotiable virtue with bulging eyes, and the mysterious parcel for Leggilass, he was not so lucky.

A dozen girls were waiting, along with several of their swains, watching from a vantage point across the muddy road. As he came out they all looked at him and laughed. Several pointed at the large parcel. "Do you think he's going to wear them himself?" said one.

"Well, any girl he ever found would need them for improvement," said another cattily.

"Are you sure he's a he?" asked one of the young men.

Squigs, with scalded ears, hurried off in the wrong direction, a stream of derision following him. He hastily turned the first corner . . . But not before he'd seen Kate, grinning maliciously at him from the back of the crowd.

The apothecary too had proved less than rewarding. Squigs had had to resign himself to using equipment two centuries out of date. And, although things like fresh ground philosopher (if not philosopher's stone) and pickled mermaid's nipples were freely available, common chemicals, available in any supermarket back home, were not. Squigs had had to rapidly adapt his plans.

And now, back here, the dwarf's lady-love was acting mighty suspiciously. "I don't think you'd understand the chemical formulae, M'lady," he said carefully.

She laughed. Rather falsely, Squigs thought. "Oh dear. Probably not. Have you seen Korg anywhere?"

"No. I'm afraid not."

"You're a frayed knot? Not just a long piece of string . . . or bit of . . .um, lace, after your visit to . . . a certain shop in town?" she mocked, with a mischievous twinkle that reduced her to twelve years old and a part in an Enid Blyton schoolgirl story. "Kate was so funny, telling us all about it. She said they could have rented you out to the place as a light!" She looked around, definitely as furtive as any spy. "Tell me . . . what's it like, inside?" Her eyes sparkled with curiosity, and she held her lip between her teeth, trying to restrain her smile.

"Um, Why don't you go and have a look for yourself?" Squigs felt the blush rising up his neck.

"You're doing it again! Of course, Kate's got it all wrong. You don't go red—just a sort of copper color. If you go on you'll turn purple! Oh, do tell me, Squigs. I'm dying of curiosity. Of course, I wouldn't dare go there myself! Do tell me . . . please?" Squigs noticed she was slightly pink-faced herself.

Squigs shook his head resolutely. "I'm certainly not going to tell you. Only, um, there's enough red and black lace there to easily cover all the bits they didn't cover on the models!"

"MODELS! No! Really!? I thought, um," she definitely blushed now, "the girls in there didn't have time for that sort of thing. I imagined, you know, um, that they were . . . busy."

"No!" Squigs flapped his hands. "Sort of plaster models, you know, mannequins. Although," he paused, "they should really be called 'womannequins,' mostly." He realized what he'd said. "Er, models of both sexes." He realized that this was potentially even worse. "Er, I'm not going to tell you any more. Why don't you go and look for Korg, instead of pestering me?" he said desperately.

"You're a beast, Squigs," she said amiably. "Now my curiosity is much worse! I'm going to go on pestering you until I find out all about it. Later. Your thingy over there is about to boil over."

As Squigs leapt to rescue the essence of salamander-gall, she turned to go. "Don't you dare tell Korg I was looking for him. And you know what? Kate is just as quizzy about Madame Pompadour's. She sent me to ask you about it."

"It was damn mean getting everyone to stand and laugh at me," said Squigs, angrily.

"Well, she was mad at you. But you've got your revenge. She's dying of curiosity, too." Venus suddenly looked older than her seventeen years. "She was mad, but grateful at the same time. Crummag had been asking her for ages to slip off with him one evening, and she'd just run out of excuses. Now she's got a great one." Venus walked off with an airy wave. "You saw me going to my swans, remember," she called back.

Squigs was left confused, comforted, and having a great deal of difficulty keeping his mind on his work. Vila, arriving a few minutes later, didn't help.

She draped herself over him, as he tried to adjust the flow of iced alcohol from the burette. Her heavy breast rubbed against his cheek. The fabric of that cut-down blouse rolled back slightly, revealing a lacy expanse. She chuckled throatily. "Didn't you see enough of that in my favorite shop?" she asked, raising a perfect eyebrow at him. "Wouldn't you like me to model some of the things you bought there? I've some of my own," she purred. She took Squigs' right hand, which had somehow found itself resting on the narrow strip of her skirt, the fingers tracing patterns in the fabric, and pushed it down. She closed her legs and rolled her hips. She definitely wasn't even wearing Madame Pompadour's scraps of lace. With a startled yelp, Squigs pulled his hand free.

The parrot squawked, "Awkkk! Davy Jones's locker!"

Vila gave a wicked chuckle. "I see we've got company. I'll see you . . . later." She got up and walked off, hips swaying.

For a moment Squigs thought she meant the parrot. Then Korg said, dryly, "Didn't mean to disturb you when you're so hard at work. Have you seen Vee anywhere?"

Remembering his prompted lines, Squigs said, "I saw her walking over to her swans." Then, as the dwarf began to head hastily but nonchalantly that way, he said urgently, "Look Korg, I've got to talk to somebody."

The dwarf turned back, and squatted onto his haunches. "Speak, but make it quick, oh altitudinous one," he said, looking Squigs in the face. Korg was slipping, showing he knew long words like that. Professional heroes had a certain reputation after all.

"It's about Vila," said Squigs. "Look, there's something wrong with her . . ."

"Yeah. She's got an insatiable appetite. Leggilass and the Crum alone are not enough . . ." Korg's voice trailed off. Squigs, wrapped in his own problems, failed to notice.

"She pushed my hand up between her legs, on to her . . .you know, and it . . . felt wet."

"Er, Squigs. . ." hissed Korg.

But Squigs was in full flow, not to be interrupted now. "Wet and slimy . . ." He suddenly became aware of someone behind him.

The rest of the sentence, "and icy cold, like a dead fish," was lost in Kate's storming retreat.

Korg looked at him with wide eyes and shook his head. "Do you ever open your mouth except to change feet?" asked the dwarf.

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