Put the lemon in his backpack and the group carry on

"A lemon," said Kal, in that special dead flat tone of voice he saved for when the only logical course of action seemed to be snapping and reducing everyone in his immediate vicinity to mince. He looked at the fruit, which didn't look back; despite the jaunty backpack it didn't have a face.

This, Kal gradually realised, could actually be an improvement. Without a face, Falcon didn't have an annoyingly noble brow, irritatingly clear and honourable shining blue eyes, or, more importantly, a mouth. This was a definite advantage, and the only way he could see of improving it was finding out how Pickle had perpetrated it and doing it to the rest of this wretched group as well. He could open a lemonade stand. This was a surprisingly attractive option. But, since he had all the magical talent of...well, of a lemon, he settled for giving Pickle a vicious little grin and saying, "Matches your robes."

Pickle went bright red and looked away; Kal plucked the lemon from his grip and examined it up close, then stuffed it into his backpack with a cavalier lack of concern and a smile that suggested the only regret he'd have if it got punctured was that it had stained his pack with lemon juice.

"Right, let's go, chop chop," he said, clapping his hands. Ronald scratched his chin with a sound like someone rubbing a cheesegrater over marble and rumbled, "But what about Falcon?"

"What about him?" Kal enquired, in a friendly tone of voice. "There isn't much we can do, is there?"

"I could...I could try and magic him back," Pickle said in the tiniest voice imaginable. Very slowly, Kal looked around the vast cavern that had once upon a time been full of wealth beyond the dreams of an avarice on powerful hallucinogens, and now wasn't, and then looked back at the cowering mage.

"Pickle," he said kindly. "Do be quiet, there's a good chap. And if I hear one more even slightly magical word out of that slack-lipped mouth of yours, I turn you upside-down and use you as a vase. And that's just for starters. Ronald, we'll deal with Falcon later, once we get to the Tombs of the Everswamps or whatever the hell they're called, which I believe, Rufus, you're going to be taking us too?"

The little rat looked sulky. "I said I'd takee to th' treasure 'n' I did," he muttered. "Not m'fault y'made it go boom..."

In a flash, Kal had stooped like a hunting hawk and seized Rufus in a grip that, while not unpleasant at that moment in time, gave the distinct impression that at any minute he would squeeze.

Suffice to say, Kal's patience was currently hanging by one very, very thin thread.

"Rufus. If you don't take me-I mean us-to the nearest place I-I mean we-can get my-I mean our- grubby hands on something that I-by which I do not mean we, quite frankly-can either spend or redeem for a vast amount of money, I will personally ensure that you are, in one way or another, absolutely incapable of creating any more of those really quite sweet little baby ratlets. Capiche?"

Rufus got the point almost immediately. He was bright, for a rat. Kal dropped him back onto the floor and tapped his foot.

"C'mon then. I'm waiting."

Grumbling, Rufus sniffed the air and then set off towards the back of the erstwhile treasure-cave, putting on a heavy and probably completely feigned limp.

"Foll'w me den," he said sulkily, and Kal did so, trailed like a very nervous comet-trail by Pickle and Ronald. He was beginning to calm down a little, and decided that it was probably time to start being the slightest bit nicer to the cretins he was forced to travel with; after all, he didn't want to forment revolt. It might cause him a small amount of difficulty and he might be forced to kill them, and despite himself he didn't really want to do that; it made a terrible mess and was very hard to explain. And besides, they probably couldn't really help having the cranial capacity of a cream cheese and ketchup sandwich.

So he turned round and offered Pickle something that was quite close to a genuine smile. Surprisingly, it had an effect very similar to his vicious ones.

With a shrug that suggested he'd done all he could, Kal turned back and paid attention to where Rufus was taking them.

The End

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