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“Are they still shouting at each other?”

Caitlin glanced back, and shrugged. “Well, she hasn’t thrown him overboard yet. What in god’s name is Troy doing?”

“Whatever it is, something this big, I don’t imagine there’s much damage he can do.”

“Even if it involves matches?”

“Ow!” Feid put his hand to his cheek, and the world came back into focus. He was sitting on the wooden deck, legs splayed, Caitlin half-kneeling in front of him.

“Sorry.” She eased back, and sat down next to him, cross-legged. “It always works in the movies, and you looked like you were about to go critical.”

“The Prof was telling the truth, ” Caitlin said. “Seems he’s only mad north by north-west. When the wind is southerly, he knows a rebel from a bounty hunter.”

“Think a horse crossed with a whale, and a temperamental one at that, ” the Professor piped up, at his elbow.

Feid looked down, and saw that the small man was grinning from ear to ear, eyes squinted almost shut, nose into the still air.

“Fine day, fine day. Too bad it wants to kill us.”

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“You’re one of them, aren’t you? From… up there. What are you doing here? Walking the dirt amongst the likes of us?”

The stranger frowned, and brought his arms around again to hug his chest, as if trying to stay warm, though the day was warm enough already. “Why do you say that?”

“Your eyes, ” the woodcutter said. “Like two bits of sky. Not like we have now, neither. The part of the sky that’s well beyond the clouds – where the dark creeps in, and the stars reach out.”

The stranger smiled, a weak, pale smile, but there seemed to be real amusement in it. “And they said there were no poets down here.”

The woodcutter grunted. “There ain’t. I won’t ask your name – and I won’t give you mine – but I’ll leave my axe by the wall there, so long as you don’t go blazing up again. I got work to do, and falling asleep ain’t on my agenda just now.”

The stranger nodded. “Fair enough.”

“Right then.” The woodcutter brushed his hands together, to loose the last of the sawdust from his palms. “Feel up to a cuppa tea?”

(10:40 p.m., 16, 748 words / Words written today: 3, 430)

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“Do excuse the rude people, ” the Professor crooned to the fish, holding it close enough that his beard whiskers brushed against its scales. “They are but cogs and pawns and the whistling wind, and know not what they do.” He kissed the fish’s snout – drawing a hiss of disgust from Jil and an exclamation of “Dude! That is just nasty!” from Troy – and purred, “There my lovely, wake and sing for us, there’s a good girl.”

Caitlin’s sight was temporarily obscured as both Feid and Troy threw themselves in front of her, arms held wide, feet planted as firmly as they could manage, given that the wooden planks were still vibrating, as if announcing an oncoming train. In the heat of the moment, Caitlin couldn’t decide whether to be amused, or profoundly annoyed.

“What if it comes from behind us?” she yelled, as another thunder-roll shook the walls.

What remained of the ceiling lay in pieces around them, slabs of drywall jutting at odd angles amidst clouds of settling white dust and broken roof timbers. The Professor sat in the middle of a pile of rubble with a stunned look on his face, still holding one delicate, intact teacup. It steamed faintly.

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Before she could fly down the steps, a vice closed on her arm, tight as a blood pressure cuff, but hot, and hard, and sharp, like metal pulled from the fire while it was still dreaming of becoming a knife.

“Oh, shut up, it’ll heal. In approximately…” Jil held up her own arm, which was completely devoid of a watch, “…now.”

“If we’re not really standing on a mountain in the snow, why are my feet cold?”

“You should know, you’re the psychology expert.”

“I’m only third year. We haven’t covered trans-dimensional astral travel yet.”

“Hunter, ” the Professor said, pointing to Jil, “…gatherer.” Pointing to each of them in turn. “She collects people. For a fee. Someone wants you. Oh, yes.” He grinned suddenly, a surprisingly bright, white, even smile. Odd – Caitlin would not have thought a badger would have such perfect teeth.

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