Bomo, Stalker, Gim, Tim, and Huxley (in order of appearance) were silent as the grave as they passed through their sixth hour of travel along the yellow-dust road. They'd passed innumerable farm fields, many of which were guarded by ragged scarecrows, a number of ornate wrought-iron gates with lions upon them, and one incongruous man-like figure made out of tin cans.
It had, in toto, been a deathly boring trip thus far.
"I don't think we're in Kansha Province anymore," Bomo muttered.
"You're quite right, young Bomo," Tim said. "In point of fact, we haven't been in Kansha Province for four hours, forty-three minutes, and twelve seconds."
"Tell the magic user to shut up," Stalker growled.
"Well, I never..." Tim harrumphed in reply.
"Yeah, well, that's probably your problem," Stalker said.
"Oh, well. It's fine for you, with your gravelly voice and dark, brooding persona born out of tremendous personal tragedy and the hardships of life on the road. Women fall all over you lot. It's sickening, really. But what about us wizards, eh? Oh, we've got more brain cells than the likes of you will come across in two lifetimes. We can make gold coins out of pickled herring. We can conjure up denizens of the darkness, bid the flora and fauna of the forests and fields to pass messages for us. We can even get a table at Spago on a Friday night. But get a date? Ha! Women are afraid of us. Every last one of them. So it's back to the old crystal ball for me, and another viewing of Daria Does Darkover. It's bloody frustrating, I tell you. And it's all based on a dusty old stereotype! It just isn't fair."
Stalker turned his head to look back at Tim for a moment, his eyes smoldering in their sockets. "I thought somebody was going to tell the magic user to shut up."
"Oh, fine," Tim said, rolling his eyes to the heavens. "Brood a bit more, why don't you? We haven't quite gotten it yet. We need a few more examples of your dark, mysterious, bitter disdain before we really clue in to what you're all about. Perhaps we could drape a couple of scantily-clad women over the back of your horse so they can sigh and coo and tell you how they understand your pain and want to be the ones to bring you back into the light again. Eh? That might do it. We might really nail it then."
Stalker slowed his horse and allowed the rest of the group to catch up with him. Matching his pace with Tim's steed, he turned his face to gaze directly into the wizard's eyes.
"Am I going to have to punch you myself?"
Tim chuckled. "Do you have any idea what the odds are of your successfully disabling me? Any idea whatsoever? Come on, take a guess."
Stalker continued his baleful stare.
"The odds of your getting the drop on me are—"
Stalker's left hand came up abruptly, index finger pointed straight at Tim's throat.
"Never tell me the odds."
Stalker picked up his reins and made a chucking sound with his teeth and tongue, and Falcon picked up the pace, moving to the front of the group again.
"I like the scantily-clad women idea, though," Stalker muttered.
Bomo chuckled. Gim hit him in the ribs again.
Tim looked back at Huxley.
"Don't look at me," the hermit said. "I'm gay."
Tim sighed, glancing again at Bomo and Gim, who were now sticking their tongues out at one another.
"You three are no bloody help at all," he murmured.
He returned his gaze forward just in time to grab his own reins and pull Pragmaticus to an unceremonious halt.
Stalker had stopped and was holding his arm up in the international signal for "I'm the leader, and you'd better pay attention."
"What now?" Tim asked.
"There's a fork in the road," Stalker replied.
"Oh, good heavens," Tim said. "Somebody alert the media. We might have to make an actual decision. The drama's nearly unbearable. This keeps up, we might get our own reality show."
Stalker dismounted and strode forward a few paces. He looked at the ground for a moment and then crouched. Tim craned his neck to see what Stalker was looking at.
Bomo and Gim approached Stalker's position and stood just behind him, looking at the same spot on the ground. Some sort of shiny object appeared to be sticking up from the dust.
"What is it?" Bomo asked.
Stalker looked up at him. "It's a fork."
Tim frowned. "A what?"
Stalker stood and turned towards Tim. "Like I said. A fork in the road."
Tim dismounted and stepped over to the spot. "Good God, have we been reduced to this sort of nonsense? The clichés were bad enough, but this... this is just... punishment." He stopped and looked up at his companions. "Please tell me I didn't just say that."
Stalker snorted. "How about we pretend you didn't say that?"
Huxley cackled from the rear of the group. "You know, I just lost a fork the other day. I could use a new one. Darnedest thing, finding one here."
Tim crouched to examine the upright cutlery. "I'd better have a look at this. If they've gone to this much trouble to set up such a bad joke, there's probably a reason for it being here."
Stalker crossed his arms. "It's a fork."
"Yes, but it's probably enchanted, or cursed, or hexed or—what are you doing?"
Stalker reached down and plucked the fork out of the ground. "It's a fork."
Tim put his head in his hands. "I really wish you hadn't done that."
"When do we eat?" Bomo asked.