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and snout.  I don t think I ve ever felt so filthy.
 It is not the street here that makes one feel unclean. Striding along, the always curious Ehomba tried to
identify the composition of the slimed, slaglike substance beneath his sandals.  It is the atmosphere.
 Hunkapa no like, declared the hairy mass that lumbered along in his wake.
 We agree on something. Holding his sword like a long gray flag of warning, Simna put all the
confidence and cockiness he could muster into his stride. At the first sign of weakness here, he
suspected, the four of them would go down beneath a horde of horrors, torn apart for a midday
snack and that was if they were lucky. It was vital to maintain an appearance of invincibility.
In this Ehomba was of no help. Ever since they had entered the town, the soft-voiced herdsman had
altered nothing. His expression, his posture, the loose, casual manner in which he held his spear: all were
unchanged. Whether this seeming indifference was perceived by the ghastly inhabitants of Skawpane as
an invitation to feast or supreme confidence in powers they could not descry remained to be seen.
At least they were not immune to the effects of a well-honed blade, skillfully wielded, the swordsman
reflected. He gripped his sword a little tighter.
 Hoy, bruther, where s the water you promised us?
 Promised? Ehomba glanced down at his friend.  If you would put food in my mouth with as much ease
as you do words, I would never grow hungry again. Simna might think him detached, but his cool dark
eyes missed nothing.  We need to ask someone.
 Don t you mean something? The swordsman skipped agilely to one side as a crow soaring past
overhead relieved itself. The dark red dropping sizzled where it struck the moist, mephitic street.
 I wonder why someone or something chose to put a town here, in the worst place imaginable?
Ehomba mused as they walked on. The buildings were moving slightly apart as the street widened. They
were coming to some kind of central square or plaza.
Simna s retort was tense and edgy.  Maybe it s a summer resort, where the residents can come to
escape the heat of their customary surroundings. Who knows what monstrosities like these consider
attractive in the way of climate or countryside?
 For one thing, we like it beautifully barren and destitute, visitor. To most of us this is splendid country.
Thus hailed, they halted. The figure that had spoken had paused in its stroll down the osseous
promenade. It was a lizard, but while both Ehomba and Simna were familiar with the four-legged reptiles
from their respective travels and homelands, neither man had ever encountered a lizard like the one they
confronted now.
Standing on its severely bowed hind legs, the reptile was a good three feet tall. It wore a military-style
cap, maroon vest with gold stripes, long, tattered brown pants, and no shoes. Stretching another three
feet behind it, a brown-and-green tail whipped nervously back and forth as it spoke. Completing the
unexpected costume were a pair of pince-nez glasses that rode comfortably halfway down its snout.
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Inclining its head slightly downward so it could peer out over these at the visitors, the lizard tut-tutted
softly.  I declare, you lot are the most peculiar collection I ve seen in some time. If you don t like it here,
I suggest you move on.
 That is exactly what we are planning to do, Ehomba responded politely.  Just as soon as we are able
to top off our water supply.
 So it s water you want, is it? In Skawpane. The head bobbed rapidly up and down.  Interesting. We
don t get many calls for water here. Sulfur now, or antimony, or cinnabar; those the general store stocks
in bulk. But water your options are mighty restricted. Slitted eyes blinked as they stared up the street.
 So s your time.
 Why? In the face of danger, it was typical for Simna s tone to turn belligerent.  Don t the locals like
company? Who are you, anyway?
 I m the town monitor. As for my fellow citizens, they re an intemperate lot at best. Never know how
the individual members of such a mixed bunch are likely to react in any given situation. There s folks here
who d like to talk to you, some who might invite you in for a game of cards or bowls, but most would
probably prefer just to tear you limb from limb.
 Hungry? Hunkapa Aub asked.
The lizard nodded.  Or just surly. Or wanting the exercise. Even established locals have to watch their [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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