Marla, an hero for hire, has quit her job and is about to find herself (and her talking fish friend) in a lot of trouble.
Twelve crooked sword blades stood in a rough circle, their points plunged into the white sand.
Marla stood inside the circle on the sunny beach with her arms crossed decidedly. “No! No! No! NO!” she shouted. Then she dropped her voice to conversational tone and continued, “and by no I do mean no. As in, sorry but I refuse to have anything to do with it or anything more to do with you and I’ve won’t be listening to any more of your begging or any more pity stories that don’t move me and that’s my final answer so you might as well just go away.” She was surprisingly not at all out of breath from this rather long one sided discourse. Circular breathing.
The huge man who she was speaking to stood staring at her with his mouth drooping dumbly.
“I’m glad you seem to have at last gotten the picture. Nothing a little clarification can’t fix. Now, off you go to find yourself some other hero. I suggest Double Axe Debbie—she’s pretty fierce. Or maybe Mysterious Dawn—wouldn’t want to be at odds with her.”
The big man said, “uhh,” for a full moment, drawing out the ugly sound as he searched his little brain for some sort of comeback. But, sadly for him, he had already used up all his comebacks. So he finally shut his mouth, turned away, and slumped off across the white sand to the little rowboat that had been waiting patiently for him for over an hour.
The boat had barely pushed off when another little boat arrived on shore. A petite woman with damp brown hair that hung about her face like dead seaweed, an awkward halting limp, and dangerous eyes stepped out onto the bright sand and made her way toward Marla. Three little mean looking dwarves with multiple swords hanging from their belts surrounded her.
Marla gazed at the queer woman and her queer companions dispassionately. Maybe, if she stared through them hard enough, they would just disappear. The trick had never worked in the past though, so it was no surprise that she had little success this time.
The little woman came and stood in front of the swords, across from Marla. After a moment, the stranger said, “I’ll pay high for your services. Fifty thousand for the job. Shouldn’t be too hard for someone with your credentials. Only a small kingdom in which I need a civil war brought to an end without too many people getting killed.”
“Yeah?” said Marla, “no.”
“No?” The woman raised her fine little eyebrows in surprise.
“Yup, that’s what I said. No. I quit. Game over. No more jobs. I don’t want your gold, don’t want anybodies gold.” And with those words Marla began uprooting her circle of crooked swords. She stacked them into a neat pile on the beach.
“Quit? Quit, and risk the wrath of Grembelon?” the little woman’s voice got higher when she got incredulous.
“Yeah, and risk the wrath of Grembelon. He’s been angry before. He’ll get over it. This keeper of the peace,” Marla poked herself in the chest, “has had enough. Sorry about your kingdom Ma’am, but you’ll just have to look after it yourself—I recommend finding yourself a good doughnut maker and giving out free doughnuts and coffee to everyone who is dissatisfied. That should cheer them up a bit and make them more willing to hear you out. A man is always happiest when his mouth his full. Well, I’ll be seeing you! Good luck with the war!” Marla waved brightly and headed across the white sand to her little hut that stood underneath the nearest palm tree. She left the crooked swords to glimmer in the heat. Her step was much lighter than it had been in years and she thought that the salt air smelled sweeter than ever before.
She went inside the small dimly lit hut to collect her few belongings.
“You’re back early,” said the watery little voice of Terry the talking fish from his fishbowl under the only window in the hut.
“Yep!” she said and cheerfully began tossing stuff into the big rucksack she had pulled from underneath her cot.
“What are you doing?” the fish asked, worry making his voice more wobbly.
“Packing my things,” she said.
“Who are you off to save this time?”
“What do you mean, nobody?”
“Oh, and,” she added, ignoring him, “it’s not just me—you’re coming too.”
“I am? I mean, I am not!”
“Yeah, whatever, scaly-face.” She kept packing.
“You’re quitting, aren’t you?” Terry guessed, beginning to quiver with fear.
“Yep.” She forced her frying pan in and tied her bulging bag shut.
“But Grembelon will be furious! You’ll be killed! We’ll both be killed!” Bubbles began to rise to the surface of his bowl as Terry became terrified.
Then suddenly it got a little bit darker outside, as if a cloud had gone across the sun above the hut. Except there were no clouds today.
Marla grabbed Terry’s fishbowl and jumped out the window, somehow managing to roll across the sand without spilling a drop of the panicky fish’s water. The little hut collapsed with a loud ‘Crrunch-crick-cra-CRACK’ under the weight of a huge metal bird. Marla came out of her roll and moved smoothly into a flat out run. She ran so fast that little droplets of water jumped out of the fishbowl and flew into her face like a gentle mist.