Dwizzle, the Imp closest to the travelers stood. “Look, females.” He reached out a hand that was too big for the little body that supported it.
“Careful, Dwizzle,” Itchy spoke from beside the rock. “It may have prrrrikles.”
The hand paused and Alexis pointed her wand. There was an electrical discharge that struck the hand and Dwizzle snatched his hand back and slipped it into his mouth, a mouth that was too big for its face. Indeed, the nose, eyes and ears were all oversized.
“She’s a blinking witch,” Crusty said as he waddled over to the rock to stand beside Itchy.
“I think you may have cooties,” Lockhart told Boston who grinned at the idea.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Lincoln remembered that the imps belonged to the Kairos, even if the Kairos was not yet official. That helped him relax and ask his question. “What are you imps doing out in this forsaken wilderness?”
Itchy looked at the man like he was daft. Crusty spoke. “We got our job, don’t we? Dry the land and make it sand.”
“Yeah, but we’ve been working too hard,” Itchy complained. “We heard there was a party around here.”
“Hey look!” Dwizzle removed his hand from his mouth as he spoke. “This female has bumps.” He reached for Boston’s chest and she did not hesitate to slap the imp across the cheek, hard.
Dwizzle paused. His eyes got bigger than big. He let out a drawn out sound. “Ooowww,” and put his good hand to his cheek while his other hand went back into his mouth.
“You better go stand behind your friends before you hurt yourself,” Lincoln suggested. Dwizzle did that while Itchy spoke.
“Surprising sense from one so thick.”
Mingus interrupted any response with his explanation. “He means thick like more body, less spirit. He doesn’t mean stupid.”
“I mean what I mean,” Itchy said with a stern look at the elder elf, but then Dwizzle had a thought.
“Stonecrusher is hungry, you know. He eats human beans.”
“Is Stonecrusher a troll?” Boston had to ask.
“Nah!” Crusty answered. “He’s just an ogre with a bad temper. Ooowww.” Itchy hit Crusty in the arm.
“He is a great, big ugly giant,” Itchy said. “Terrible and mean and, and hungry for human meat.”
Dwizzle removed his hand for a moment. “Yeah, we thought we would snitch some food from the party.”
“Better than him eatin’ us,” Crusty mumbled and put his fists up in case Itchy had in mind to hit him again.
“When the ogre is fed you are safe in your bed,” Boston said.
“I remember.” Lockhart patted her on the shoulder.
“That’s very good,” Alexis complimented Boston. “Where did you hear that?”
“Missus Pumpkin,” Boston answered.
“Ahem!” Lincoln coughed and pointed to the imps.
Itchy smiled too big a smile for his face. “Anyway, all you got is elf bread stuff.” The imps made faces of disgust. “How can anyone stomach elf food?”
Everyone paused while the sound of howling and dogs fighting echoed across the barren land. Doctor Procter chose that moment to sit up and yell. The words were nonsense, but then he fell back to his makeshift pillow and grew quiet again.
“You got a sicky.” Crusty pointed.
“What’s a sicky?” Dwizzle asked.
“You’ve never been sick. You don’t know what sick is.” Itchy mocked.
“Do so. I saw a thicky get sicky before.”
“Hey!” Lockhart got their attention again and the imps paused in their own argument to look up at the man. Lockhart smiled, but not as broadly as Itchy had smiled. Itchy shook a finger at the man.
“We gotta watch this one,” he said. “But right now we gotta go find that party.”
“Right,” Crusty agreed.
“Better than us getting eaten by Stonecrusher,” Dwizzle added.
Roland was behind them with his bow ready. Captain Decker had his rifle to one side and they were hemmed in on the other side by the big rock. The rest of the travelers were in front of them so they appeared surrounded, but they moved with surprising speed and slipped around both sides of the Captain knowing better than to test the elf. Captain Decker might have plugged one, but Lockhart spoke quickly.
“Hold your fire.” In a few short seconds, the imps blended back into the landscape and became impossible to see but for the motion of the dust and sand they kicked up.
“A glamour,” Mingus described it. “Not true invisibility.” Everyone else just nodded.
Andor got into the water and the first thing Dallah did was judge the depth. It barely came to her son’s knees which meant it had dried up another two inches or more. Reneus knelt down to fill the water skin. Mya stared at Andor before she made the boy strip down to nothing. Andor did not mind playing in the water. It was hot out, and even the shade of the few lively trees that bordered the stream did not help all that much.
Dallah sat slowly in what shade there was. Her joints ached. “You better do a good job, Andor, or you will have to take a real bath and get scrubbed.”
“Aw, mother.” Andor glanced at Mya.
“Now, come. Your sister is getting married. Do it for her.”
Andor did not mind that so much. He liked his sister, so he began by dumping a double handful of water on his head.
Mya grinned at some impish thought, dropped her dress so she was in her under things. She stepped into the water with a word that perhaps Andor needed help, and she splashed him. Of course he splashed her back, and they went at it for a few turns before they turned, without a word, and splashed Reneus. He immediately dropped his wet clothes and put his hand to the water. He turned to look at his mother but she spoke first.
“Don’t you dare.”
He did not dare, but he had fun with the others while Dallah watched the visitors come in close. She would rather not deal with them at the moment, but nothing in this lifetime went the way she wanted. She watched as the imps came out from beneath their glamour and she put her hand to her ears when Mya screamed and grabbed hold of Reneus.