Creston stared in disbelief at the building that store before him. Otto’s Food and Herbs was a newly built grocery store where the villagers could get fresh produce without having to worry about being attacked by mosquitoes. The mint green building beckoned to one and all to get their shopping done in style.
“Are you serious?” he asked as they stepped inside. “A supermarket?”
Peg chuckled as he sensed Creston’s disappointment and confusion. “You were expecting to travel across the Seven Lands to climb a mountain to find a root at the very top?” He gave him a wink as he made his way to a table displaying the freshest herbs and spices. “You seem to make a lot of assumptions. You shouldn’t do that because you know what they say about making assumptions…”
Creston crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. “No. What do they say?”
Peg shrugged and proceeded to root through the leafy herbs for the one he wanted. “I dunno. I just assumed you’d know, that’s why I asked. I guess that just proves my point.” He gave a short snort and a chuckle.
Creston turned to Fox, irritated, his hands clenched, and asked, “Are you kidding me with this guy? Are you sure he’s on the level?”
Fox nodded. “He’s the best.” He patted Creston on his head and grinned. “He takes getting used to, but he’s a good guy. You saw how quickly he whipped up those potions to defeat those ghosts. That takes great talent and skill.”
“Yeah, right. I bet I could whip up a potion like that.” Creston said this with the confidence of a master bullshitter, hoping he wouldn’t have to put his money where his mouth was. Fox didn’t look impressed, which bugged him. What was so great about this Peg guy anyway? What self-respecting man would call himself Peg? This guy was weird alright.
Peg gave a triumphant cheer when he found the herb he wanted. He held a handful of green stalks of vegetation in the air and sang “aaaahhh!” He shoved it in Creston’s face and shook it vibrantly. “Elk Hoof Root! The only place in the village you can get it fresh! The store at the other end of the village let’s it get all wilty and the mosquitoes eat up all the best leaves.”
The fuzzy leaves tickled and irritated Creston’s nose as they rubbed against it. He shoved them away just in time to sneeze all over the remaining herbs on the table. The other customers glared at him in disgust.
“Good for you,” Creston moaned, wiping the snot from his nostrils. “I can’t believe you made such a big deal about a supposedly basic ingredient.”
Both Fox and Peg laughed at the mention of Creston’s buzzword. “And I can’t believe you’re trying to make that silly word happen for you.” Peg nudged Fox in the ribs and said, “I can see why you keep him around. He’s funny. Cute, too. Maybe you’d like to come work with me after you kill the Skeleton King again.”
Creston’s face reddened as he frowned. He couldn’t tell which was worse, being teased by him or being complimented by him. “You guys suck, surprising no one. Let’s just get this shit and go, okay?”
“I think someone is embarrassed,” Peg said in a sing-song tone. He sorted through the roots until he found five he thought were satisfactory. “These should hold me for a while. Now, while we’re here, I should pick up a few more things.”
This was met with no argument. The trio perused the large store, which was packed wall to wall with various tables of merchandise and people wanting to buy them. Had this been going on outside, it would have been unbearable due to the heat and mosquitoes. Instead it was cool and bug free.
While Peg shopped, Creston and Fox discussed possible strategies for killing the Skeleton King for good.
“Well, for one thing, you’re going to need to brush up on your magic,” Creston said, trying to be delicate. “I mean, you still rock, but it couldn’t kill you to get a power boost.”
“I know.” Fox knew this was true. If it wasn’t apparent before, the fight at The Yard made it more apparent. Rib had definitely kept up with his magic, not that he needed to- the guy was a motherfucking sorcerer. He didn’t need to study, his powers just came to him. Fox would have to level up with the quickness if he hoped to be a match for Rib and the Skeleton King. Maybe it was foolish to think his corpse fighting days were over.
“Maybe Peggy can make a potion to help your powers to increase,” Creston suggested. Peg grunted at being called ‘Peggy’. “Or at least something that can stop you from farting in your sleep!”
“Please stop talking,” Fox said, trying not to laugh.
“Oh, that reminds me! I need to get some more milk for my ‘creamquakes’. Here, hold these. You head to the register and I’ll meet you there.” Peg dumped all of the Elk Hoof Roots in Creston’s hands and rushed off toward the dairy section.
“Why would mentioning you farting in your sleep remind him of milk?” Creston asked, confused as to why he suddenly had plants in his hands.
Fox lowered his gaze to the floor and muttered, “He knows I’m lactose intolerant. He’s experienced the phenomena of which you speak.”
Creston’s face scrunched at this. “How the fuck does he know that?” Fox’s shrugged shoulders was not a satisfactory response. He wanted to know, but at the same time, he didn’t.
The two friends reached the long line to check out. Creston let out a frustrated sigh. He glanced around to see if there was a shorter line, but this was the only one. “Man, they really should get more than one cashier. Or maybe get a station where we could do it ourselves.”
Fox snorted, happy that the subject had changed. “Yeah, right? And put this one guy out of work? It’ll never happen.”
“The Skeleton King? Yeah, let’s get back to that,” the nervous Fox carefully deflected. “I suppose if I took some time to study more, I might be able to gain enough levels to counter whatever Riblet and the Skeleton King have to throw at us.”
“And how do you propose to cram eight years of study into two weeks of traveling on foot?”
That was a good question. Like, really good. Fox hadn’t thought that far ahead. Obviously, he was just saying things to keep Creston away from what he really wanted to talk about. He didn’t expect such a great question so soon.
“Umm, I mean whenever we have downtime, I can hit the books. I mean, I packed them, so they’re accessible.”
Fox looked at the bundles of Elk Hoof Root in Creston’s hands and pointed. “And once we get this tracking spell off us, we won’t be interrupted by random attacks, thus, giving me more time to study.” He gasped excitedly as an idea came to him. “Maybe Peg can even whip up a potion that will expand my brain power to absorb more information more quickly.”
Creston rolled his eyes. “There’s no way that could ever go wrong.”
“Keep your basic negativity to yourself. I think Peg is brilliant and is a great asset to the Gravy.”
The line inched forward slowly.
“So, is that the only plan we can come up with?” Creston asked after a minute of silence. “I mean, I’d love to be more proactive than reactive for a change.”
Fox agreed with a nod. “Well, there’s not much we can do about it from here. The king is still weak, but I doubt he’ll be that way by the time we get to him. Two weeks on foot is a long time for a villain to amass power.”
“Maybe we should invest in some horses?”
Creston liked this idea and wondered why he didn’t think of it sooner. There was no reason why they had to walk to Bone Mountain. The journey and the quest’s time would be halved, giving the Skeleton King less time to reassemble his hold on the lands.
He grabbed Fox’s head and kissed his forehead. “Foxy, you’re a genius!”
“I’m more than just a pretty face, you know,” Fox added.
The line moved forward quicker than expected this time. Before they knew it, they were two people away from being helped. It was then they realized that Peg hadn’t come back. As they became the penultimate customers in line, Fox began to worry.
“Should we call out for him?” Creston asked. “PEGGY! PEGGY!”
Fox slapped Creston’s arm, silencing him. “Shut up! Let me try something.” He closed his eyes and muttered a spell that would allow him to sense Peg’s presence within 30 feet. The spell worked, but was unable to find Peg nearby. This sent a chill down his spine. “He’s not here.”
“Wait, what? Did he just abandon us?” Creston’s irritation caused his voice to raise to almost a shrill. “He did not just drag us out of his gay club and march our happy asses to a supermarket just to ditch us!”
“No, I don’t think he did.” Fox said sadly. In addition to discovering Peg’s absence, he also discovered something else: residual energy of a recently used teleportation spell. “I think Riblet got him.”
Creston’s expression soured as he thought about how a simple quest for vegetables or whatever has now turned into a rescue mission.
“I can help who’s next,” the cashier said as the customer he just helped walked away.
Creston and Fox were left standing there holding several stalks of Elk Hoof Root wondering if they should go ahead and pay for them or leave.