The sand was hot, but the pineapple ice slush that The Vagabonder had concocted was glacial on the tongue. The waves lapped sedately against the white sands of The Island.
Talitha and Sinoe worked on opposite ends of a massive sand castle. The east wing was floppy, drooping towers of wet sand dribbled. The west was rigidly square, careful blocks compacted and stacked in stone-mason precision. Talitha’s skin had turned nut-brown under her blonde hair, her twin’s was still pale under purple tresses.
Carbunkle snored with ridiculous abandon, his head pillowed on a pile of books, two empty glasses lolling near his open hand. Scarlet pushed her glasses up and smiled at the snoring gnome, then went back to the massive tome she was reading. Advanced Hyper-Calculus for Fun and Profit. The two gnomes lay close together under a wide red umbrella.
The paladin gently picked up the empty glasses next to the snoring gnome, and tucked them into the crook of his arm. Haskeer was wearing a short blue loincloth and armed with a spatula. He sat the glasses down on a flat stone, and returned to tending the haunch of island boar he had been patiently smoking since mid-morning. His tusked face split in a wide grin as he peeled back the banana leaves on the smoker he had built from a discarded drum of Seafoam lubricant that Corben had found somewhere.
Thinking of his friend, he glanced across the crystal blue waves in time to see another massive splash. Corben and Dayjen had rigged up a crude sea skimmer, powered by a spare aerolith cell from the destroyed Agros fleet. The two young men pulled themselves laughing out of the water onto the contraption , arguing good-naturedly about the best way to fix the ’steering issue. ’
Agnar sweated and strained, iron bar gripped tight in his fists. A bucket was suspended from either end, filled to the brim with rocks. Through a pineapple haze the barbarian tried to remember what obscure bet he was trying to win. The sea-elf had said something and then laughed in his face, that part he could remember. The exact reason he now stood, muscles bulging were unclear.
Echo took a long slurp from her drink, and pointed imperiously at another pile of rocks. Alice laughed hysterically, her nose and cheeks red with sunburn and drink.
Crackers and Fin tumbled in the sand. The dwarf was determined to master the ancient fighting style of the Blink Dogs, but the young dog kept cheating by licking his bald head, breaking his concentration. Fin cocked an eyebrow as if to say, Perhaps that is the key to the technique. I will study this closely.
Further up the beach, under the shade of the palm trees, Martin and Thorn sat silent in wicker chairs. In the weeks since Kythera, the former cleric seemed most comfortable in the company of the old ranger. Martin held out a bowl of tel-nuts, the red haired woman waved them politely away. The bowl was intercepted by a wicked grinning monkey wearing a red bandanna. The ranger glowered but let it pass. Thorn smiled and rose to go clear the massive wooden table, still piled with the absurdly massive white cake. Despite the best efforts of all assembled, she could still read:Happy 10th Birthday, Tali——-
A breeze blew across the crew of the Lodestar, on the beach of their island. Far above, the Floating Island of Agros hung, as carefree as another cloud in the sky. A long cable hung down, and was bolted to a large granite slab on the edge of the beach.
Echo took another long slurp of her pineapple-slush, then pushed herself unsteadily to her feet. The concoction caused a serious brain freeze, but the alcoholic kick was within spitting distance of paint thinner. She began to totter in the direction of a refill, when her she felt a splitting pain in the center of her head. It was far too early for any sort of hangover — and looking across the beach she saw the rest of the crew grab their temples with similar expressions of pain.
Then the three-headed shark behemoth appeared.
Dayjen and Corben were caught completely unawares, their tiny skiff buffeted far out to sea by the titanic eruption of water. They went spinning out of sight around the edge of the cape to the west.
The sea-creature was massive, mouths thirty feet wide — Echo blinked and saw the tell-tale purple tentacles ripple out of the sea and slap and lash at the edge of the sand.
The pain in each person’s head intensified, as the creature savaged their mind with a telepathic roar. The words were not in Common, but each mind definitely got the gist.
It is I, Thousandteeth Dodecapus! I have come to wage battle with the true princess of the Dolphin Tribe. Come puny mortal, bring your pitiful land-tribe and let our prophesied time of reckoning begin!
Talitha looked across the sand castle to her adopted sister, and whispered. “Best. Birthday. Ever.”