The accountant rubbed his wrists and staggered around the fire. “Did you have to kill them all?”
Ellison stepped over one of the corpses, working the kinks out of his arms. The stars were bright in the sky. Normally, in Krim City, the constant smog blocked much of the view. Out here, you could see everything. Ellison could make out the Big Dipper, the only constellation he recognized. The Rounder Krimmers would probably argue that the existence of the constellations proved that the world was round.
Fulke followed Ellison out of the back of the wagon and caught him looking up at the stars.
“It’s good to be free,” he said. “Thanks.”
“You should be thanking Linota,” said Matilda. “She’s the one who hired us to find you.”
“I will,” said Fulke, rolling his shoulders, then stretching his arms in front of him. “I don’t know how much more of that I could have taken without losing it.” He shook his head. “Those guys are crazy.”
He stepped away from the wagon and stood next to Ellison.
“Nice view, isn’t it?” he asked.
“If you don’t look at the bodies, sure,” said Ellison.
“You know, when you look up at the stars, and you think about how the constellations move in the sky…” Fulke began.
Ellison quickly stepped away. He had the feeling that Fulke had a long lecture ready to go on the subject of stars and planetary rotation.
He’d had enough crazy people for the night. He turned back to the wagon.
“So what did lutes have to do with it?” Ellison asked Matilda, who was freeing the last of the other captives.
“At first, I thought you’d take the pill,” she told him.
“I got your poison capsule,” Ellison said. “At first, I was saving it, but then I dropped it in the fire.”
“When you didn’t show up after a few hours, I figured that something had gone wrong,” said Matilda. “But my guys had already been searching the port. We didn’t see any signs of you being on a ship. And if they were taking you somewhere overland, you could be anywhere.”
“So what did you do?” Ellison asked.
“Well, whether or not the cult had Fulke, they definitely had you,” she said. “So we rounded up a few cult members and threatened them with torture. None of them knew anything, but then I remembered that you saw Taenaran the Bard at the cult meeting the other night.”
“Hold on, I see where you’re going with this,” said Ellison. “Taenaran was upstairs in his office when Fulke was kidnapped. And he’s got a very large carrying case — big enough for a lute, or for a body.”
“When we confronted him, and told him that you recognized him at the meeting, he confessed,” said Matilda. “He knocked out Fulke, tied him up, stuffed him into a bag, and just carried him down past all the other minstrel guild members.”
“I can’t believe nobody noticed,” said Fulke.
“The community center doesn’t have the best lighting,” said Matilda. “And everyone was carrying those large bags. They come with the minstrel avatar.”
“But why? Was he in league with the Krim administrators? I know they want to stop our experiments…”
Matilda waved her hand. “Nothing like that. Taenaran and Skullash wanted better meeting times and thought if you were out of the picture, Remember would stop favoring the Round Krim Society.”
“Are you sure?” Fulke looked disappointed. “I was certain that the Krim administrators had arranged for me to be kidnapped. I just didn’t understand why they didn’t take me to their secret dungeons.”
The accountant came back after walking around the camp.
“Every single one of them is dead,” he said. “You know, I was looking forward to seeing their temple and the priestesses.”
“You aren’t missing much,” said Matilda. “From what I hear, it’s not all orgies. It’s mostly gardening, carrying water, chopping wood, housework.”
“I don’t know,” said the accountant. “It still sounds nice.”
“How do we get back to the city?” asked one of the other captives. “I’ve got a bowling meet tomorrow.”
“If you want, I can slit your throat for you,” said Matilda. “Or you could hitch up the wagon and drive back to the city. Actually, we’ll need to do that anyway. It would be easier to dispose of the bodies up the road than to burn them here.”
“Leave nothing but footprints,” said one of the other mercenaries.
“It’s part of the guild code of conduct,” said Matilda. “We don’t leave dead bodies lying around the countryside.” She paused. “Well, not any more.”
“And not in sight of witnesses,” added the other mercenary.
“There’s a disposal chute a couple of miles back,” said Matilda. “About halfway back to the city gates.” She turned to the accountant. “If you help us load the bodies into the wagon, we’ll get out of here faster.”
Fulke kicked the nearest body. “You idiots got in the way of important research.” He spit on the corpse. Then he reached down and grabbed the dead man’s arms and started dragging him back to the wagon.
The accountant joined him, picking up the corpses’ legs. “So, you know a lot about Krim,” he told Fulke. “Is Krim the name of the city? The country? The continent? The whole world?”
“It is confusing,” Fulke agreed, pulling the corpse. “The founders were pretty lazy when it came to names.” They dropped off the body next to the wagon. “Krim City is the official name of the main city, but there are other, smaller cities around. And Krim is also the name of the world. The planet, really, though they call it a grid to make people think it’s flat…” The two men walked away towards another corpse and out of earshot.
“Sounds like the Round Krimmers might have themselves another recruit,” Matilda told Ellison.
Ellison watched the two men grab the arms and legs of another dead cult member.
“It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he said.