It was when a rat rose up on its hind legs and spoke to me in the middle of the street at one o’clock in the morning that I realized that this night was going to be different from all other nights.
“Hello, Dave,” it said.
“Whoa,” I said in reply. “Is that a rat talking to me?”
Okay, I should definitely not have had that second beer. I can’t hold my liquor at all, so I knew even while I was doing it that having two beers in a row was a bad idea.
And here, now, right in front of me on the dark street, was proof positive.
“Excuse me?” said the creature.
“A talking rat?” I said incredulously.
There was a moment of silence as I stared slack-jawed at the rat, which stared back at me.
Was I hallucinating, I wondered? If so, did this mean that two beers were enough to give me alcohol poisoning? Should I proceed immediately to the campus medical center and check myself into the detox unit?
Or was this a practical joke? Maybe it was a set-up to covertly film me–and then immortalize me on YouTube–making a fool of myself. In which case, I was impressed with the technical skill of the perpetrators, because the rat looked completely real.
“Rat?” the creature repeated. “Rat?”
I looked around in the dark, expecting to see someone recording this scene.
“First of all,” the rat said coldly, still on its hind legs, “the word ‘rat’ is considered pejorative. The appropriate term is ‘urban rodent.'”
“A politically correct rat?”
“I am not a rat!”
“Hey!” I fell back a step when the thing bared its little fangs at me. Maybe it had rabies.
Or maybe I had rabies. I was talking to a rat, after all.
“I am an opossum!” it cried. “I do not in any way resemble an urban rodent.”
“Sorry,” I said inanely. “I don’t really know that much about –”
“I am, in fact, the opossum! The marsupial who has been foretold in song and story,” it raged, advancing on me. “How dare you mistake me for a rat!”
“Joke or no joke,” I warned as I backed away from it, “if I get bitten, I’m filing a formal complaint.”
The animal paused, made a squeaky sound, then raised a little paw. It had weird-looking pink digits. “I apologize, Vworntokthalis. I did not mean to appear aggressive. It’s just that I have looked forward to this meeting for so long and have imagined our first exchange of greetings so many times.”
It brushed its whiskers with the other weird-looking pink paw. “I must admit, I feel some disappointment at how it’s going so far.”
“Yeah, well… whatever.” I turned and walked away. “I’m out of here.”
“Wait!” cried the creature, following me. “I have sought you now because, exactly as the Wizened Ones of Loremead have long feared, Grok the Valkslayer has roused the Dread Grzilbeast from its prison of enchanted sleep in the Caverns of Mimnoth.”
“Oh, well,” I said, picking up my pace. “I’m sure things will work out.”
“Can you slow down?” my furry friend asked. “This is a demanding speed for me when I’m talking.”
I reached the end of the street, turned the corner, and walked faster.
“Stop!” cried the opossum, panting a little. “You must listen to me! This is the dark night described in the Prophecies of Joralion! The doom that was foretold in the Codex of the Ninth-Born has come to pass! Now is the time prognosticated in the Calendar of C’ghu’nim and secretly coded into the Long Island Railroad timetable for Oyster Bay!”
I stopped in my tracks and stared at the opossum. “So it is a joke,” I said with certainty.
“It is no jest, Vworntokthalis!” cried the animal, his little sides heaving as he came to a stop, too. “Now is the time for the Avenger of the Valk to lay rightful claim to Jasmine Truethunder, confront Grok –”
“How did you know I’m from Oyster Bay?” I challenged.
I looked around again. Yes, it was dark, but I had covered more than a block since being accosted by a talking marsupial, so by now I should have seen or heard whoever was following me with a camera.
It replied, “I know because I am Briddlecroonak the Seer, the marsupial foretold –”
” –in song and story. Yeah, I know.”
“My visions told me that Vworntokthalis the Avenger hailed from a town called Oyster Bay. So I went there.” Briddlecroonak the Seer continued, “But it turned out that you had left that hamlet as a callow youth.”
“Who told you I was callow?”
“Fortunately, though, as time passed, you became aware of your destiny to avenge the Valk by slaying Grok and mastering the Dread Grzilbeast.”
I sighed. “Can we just stop now?”
The opossum raised one paw to pat his whiskers fretfully. “Er, you did realize your true identity, didn’t you, Vworntokthalis?”
“Why do you keep calling me that?”
“That is… I mean, I had naturally assumed that you moved to this dreary little town of cheap taverns and no symphony because you recognized that your destiny lay here.”
“I moved here to attend law school,” I said morosely.
“Yes! Becoming an under-achieving student at a second-rate law school was an excellent way of eluding your enemies while you prepared for your inevitable confrontation with Grok the Valkslayer,” said the marsupial. “The last mighty steel-thewed avenger I knew couldn’t resist showing off to random maidens and passing strangers while awaiting the challenges foretold in the prophecies about him. And thus it was that he met an early grave and never fulfilled his destiny. But not you! No, you have been prudent, cunning, and wise. To immerse yourself so completely in an identity of such consistent mediocrity was brilliant!”
“But I, Briddlecroonak the Seer, can sense that you have been unhappy and restless while waiting for your glorious fate to unfold.”
I wondered which one of my classmates had decided to use my anxieties as fodder for this weird joke. Maybe it was someone from my Antitrust Law class, which was the course I hated the most–and the one I was the closest to flunking.
The possum continued, “If you continue on this path, Vworntokthalis–”
“Stop calling me that.”
“–you will graduate in the bottom third of your class at this poorly-ranked law school, after which your best possible fate will be a career as an ambulance-chaser. Most likely, though, you’ll struggle to find even a moderately remunerative white-collar job and spend many years paying off massive student loans without ever even entering the legal profession for which you trained with a mixture of ambivalence, apathy, and reluctance.”
I glared at the marsupial. Everything it was saying was true. I had spent the past few weeks thinking over my situation and trying to escape exactly the conclusions this furry little fellow was now voicing. It was why I’d gone to a bar and had two beers tonight–which is about one-and-a-half beers more than I ever drink.
I’d had no idea what to do with my life after graduating from college, or how to find a job with my B.A. in philosophy. So I had applied to law school simply because I didn’t know what else to do. Now in my second year of the program at (Briddlecroonak was right) a second-rate law school, I still didn’t know.
And I was getting angry about my problems being made the butt of this elaborately weird prank. So, acting on impulse, I bent over, picked up the opossum, hoisted it into the air, and started shaking it, trying to detect or dislodge whatever audio device someone must have attached to it.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“I told you! I am Briddlecroonak the Seer.” The opossum struggled against my grip as it added, “And I hate heights! Put me down, Vworntokthalis!”
Its warm breath brushed my face as it spoke in a shrill voice while struggling against my hold. It was definitely a real animal, and–I realized with a mixture of shock and recognition–it was really speaking. There was no audio device attached to it, and with its face so close to mine, I could tell that its voice was coming from its own mouth.
“Yikes!” I dropped Briddlecroonak and stumbled backward, staring at him in amazement.
“Oof!” He hit the pavement like a bag of wet cement and lay there motionless.
“Briddlecroonak?” I took a tentative step closer. There was no response. “Uh, are you okay?”
“I just need a moment,” was the faint reply.
I looked around. We were still alone. I had chosen a Wednesday for my drinking binge, so hardly anyone was around now, though the streets would be crowded at this late hour if it were a weekend night.
I decided to accept that there were no pranksters or video cameras involved in this strange event. Sure, I might be hallucinating under the influence of two beers. Or maybe I was cracking under the stress of realizing how much time and money I had already thrown away on studying for a profession that I didn’t really want to pursue. But if there was even a faint chance that I was not delusional… then this was certainly the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me, and I wanted to see where it would lead. Especially since Briddlecroonak’s stark description of my life was depressingly accurate.
So I said, “I’m sorry about manhandling you just now.”
“Oh… that’s all right, I guess.” The opossum started scraping himself off the street.
“I suppose I… lost my composure.”
The marsupial grunted, pulled himself together, and then sniffed his fur. He made a little noise, then looked at the pavement where he had been lying. “I think someone vomited here recently.”
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised.” This street ran directly between the bar district and the main campus. “Are you feeling okay? Didn’t crack your skull or anything?”
He touched his snout gingerly with one pink paw, rubbed his rump, then shook his head. “Oh, don’t worry, Vworntokthalis. I survived much worse treatment at the hands of the fanatical Plikazar sect during the Schism of the Sirikirai. Not to mention what Yurg the Destroyer did to me when I helped rescue the Scrolls of Calarnius from the Fires of –”
“Okey-dokey,” I said quickly. “If you’re feeling all right, then maybe you can walk me slowly through this whole Grok-Grizzle-Valkyrie thing.”
“Valk,” he corrected. “Just Valk. The Valkyrie are… well, they’re a whole other thing, and we don’t need to worry about them right now.”
“Who or what is a Valk?”
“By thunder, Vworntokthalis, we have no time for a history lesson! Nor can we ‘walk slowly’ through explanations!” Briddlecroonak cried. “Have I not impressed upon you the urgency of the situation? The Dread Grzilbeast is free! Grok the Valkslayer intends to bring about the doom foretold by the chroniclers and prophesied by the . . . the . . . the prophets!”
“It sounds like you’re saying this is a bad thing.”
“Only you can defeat Grok, return the Grzilbeast to its prison of enchanted slumber, and save the last of the Valk from being slain!”
“So I gather we don’t want the Valk to be slain?”
“Of course not,” said Briddlecroonak (with noticeable exasperation). “If the last of the Valk is slain, then the Incarnation of Konax can never come to pass! In which case, the Age of Ilak cannot be averted, and darkness shall smother the Five Kingdoms.”
“This is getting so complicated,” I said. “Maybe I should take notes.”
“You don’t need notes, you have a seer. The seer. Me!”
“In that case, can you ‘see’ what we’re supposed to do now?”
“Why are you making that gesture with your hands?” he demanded. “Are those supposed to be quotation marks?”
I folded my arms. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be rude.”
“I am literally a seer,” Briddlecroonak said with wounded dignity. “So, yes, of course I can see what we’re supposed to do now.”
“Then, by all means, share it with the class.”
“Tell me what to do,” I said. “Because, uh, by thunder, I have no idea what’s going on.”
“Fortunately, what you must do is very simple,” said the possum. “Impossibly dangerous and probably fatal –”
” –but quite simple. Follow me, Vworntokthalis!”
Briddlecroonak started waddling down the street at a brisk pace.
I followed. “Hold on. How dangerous?”
“Well, not necessarily as dangerous as the time I had to help retrieve the Three Golden Arrows from the Mountain of Ghouls.” He was panting a little as he kept talking at this (for him) brisk pace. “But probably more dangerous than the time I –”
“Never mind,” I said. “Did you say fatal?”
“Well, probably fatal for Dave, the ordinary fellow you have pretended to be while awaiting this night foretold in song and story,” he said cheerfully.
“I am Dave.”
“But surely not for Vworntokthalis, the mighty steel-thewed Avenger of the Valk!”
“I should probably mention that my thews really aren’t all that steely,” I said, plodding behind the opossum. “I never go to the gym. Jogging makes me vomit, and I fainted the only time I ever tried to do a bench press, so…”
“Do not trouble yourself with such reflections, Vworntokthalis. Gymnasiums are for people who are going to be lawyers,” Briddlecroonak said dismissively. “Or for those in search of easy sexual conquests.”
“Seriously?” I’d always thought that was an urban myth.
“Your strength arises from your birthright and has lain slumbering inside you, ready to awaken when the time is ripe.”
“Well, I guess that’s some comfort…. But if you were going to calculate odds on me surviving my confrontation with the Valkyrie-slayer, what would you say my chances–”
“Valkslayer. Valk,” said my companion. “And his name is Grok.”
“I’m just wondering exactly how dangerous Grok is,” I said as we arrived at the main entrance to the oldest part of campus, which conveniently abutted the bar district.
There was a big, pretentious gate, an old building with a clocktower, and a notoriously dirty fountain that surrounded a marble statue of the minor statesman who’d founded this university with the fortune he’d made by exploiting child labor.
“Here we are,” said Briddlecroonak, coming to a halt in front of the fountain.
I looked around and didn’t see anyone. Certainly no Valks, Groks, or Grzils. (I had no idea what any of those things were, but I had a feeling they’d stand out around here as much as–oh, for example–a talking marsupial.)
I looked again at the opossum. “I mean, on a scale of one to ten, would you describe Grok as a nine? A two?”
“Before you can defeat Grok in glorious combat–”
“Are we sure it has to be combat? Maybe Grok and I could just talk. You know–work things out like adults.”
“–you must first claim Jasmine Truethunder.”
Momentarily distracted, I asked, “What if she doesn’t want to be claimed? Has anyone asked her how she feels about this?”
Briddlecroonak started wheezing. I only realized it was laughter after he said, “Ah, thank you, my brave friend. That witticism helped break the tension.”
“I’m still tense.”
“Now is the time! This is the place!” Briddlecroonak rose up on his hind legs and waved his little pink claws majestically. “Jasmine Truethunder has lain in wait for years beyond counting, sleeping until this moment! Claim her, Avenger of the Valk! Claim her and know your destiny!”
I looked around again and still didn’t see anyone.
“Claim her!” the opossum repeated.
“Is there a sleeping princess somewhere that I’m supposed to kiss?” I asked in confusion.
The seer’s nose twitched and his lips curled up over his fangs for a moment. Then he said, with forced patience, “Reach into the fountain.”
“What? No way. Do you have any idea how many drunken students have pissed in this fountain since the last time it was cleaned–which was probably when Ronald Reagan was president?”
Briddlecroonak got back down on all fours. “Look, if you won’t even touch a little dirty water, then this night is going to be a disaster. And the Five Kingdoms are doomed.”
I looked into in the murky water. “Oh… crap.” And considering the way it smelled, that was another substance that was probably floating in it. “All right.” I rolled up my sleeve, thinking that as soon as we were done here, I was going to the med center to have my whole arm sterilized.
As I plunged my hand and forearm into the slimy water, I acknowledged that all my behavior tonight–and particularly this moment–confirmed that it was past time for me to drop out of law school and come up with a better plan for my life. Except that I was still in law school because I didn’t have any other plan. I was every bit as aimless and unfocused as I had always–
I was so surprised I nearly fell into the fountain when a bright, iridescent light suddenly spread across the water, turning it a dozen shades of glimmering blue, violet, and turquoise. Even more surprisingly, the water was suddenly crystal clear, as if no one in the whole history of the college had ever pissed, spit, or vomited into it.
And from the depths of the crystal-clear water that shimmered and glowed with strange enchantment, there arose a gleaming, steel blade. As I reached for it, it whirled away and spun around in a dizzying circle, then floated up to the surface–up, up, up until it broke through the water and soared into the air. Still trying to grab it, I stumbled forward, and now it came into my outstretched hand as if escorted there by destiny itself.
“Wow,” I said.
“Your weapon, Jasmine Truethunder,” Briddlecroonak said triumphantly.
“Weapon? It’s, um, a penknife.” I folded the blade closed, then opened it again. “See?”
“As legend foretold, she gave herself into the hand of the true Avenger of the Valk,” the opossum said somberly. “You and no other are destined to slay Grok and master the Grzilbeast–or die trying!”
“Die?” I repeated. “Did you say–”
“Embrace your true identity, Vworntokthalis! Bond with Jasmine Truethunder, for she will not fail you.” Briddlecroonak added, “Well, probably not.”
I was very impressed by the whole event, of course, but even so… “This is a penknife.”
The seer placed a little pink claw on my ankle. “Now you are ready for deadly combat, Vworntokthalis. Now you must face Grok the Valkslayer.”
“If I’m honest, that suffix, slayer, has me a little worried,” I said. “How many Valk has he slain, for example? And in addition to having a secret identity as their avenger, do I also have a secret identity as a Valk? If so, then isn’t it likely Grok might slay me, given that–”
“You really have been in law school too long, haven’t you?” said the seer.
“But not for much longer!” said a menacing, gravelly voice behind us. “Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
Moving as one man (so to speak), Briddlecroonak and I whirled around to confront the owner of that voice, and we found ourselves facing…
“Professor James?” I said in surprise, seeing my notoriously unpleasant Antitrust Law lecturer standing there in the dark, laughing maniacally. I recognized him even though his eyes, normally a dull brown, were now bright red and glowing–which I don’t mind admitting I found pretty unnerving. A split second later I saw the thing crouching next to him on all fours, and I nearly wet myself. “What the hell is that?”
“Grok!” exclaimed Briddlecroonak.
“That’s Grok?” I said in horror, staring at the thing beside Professor James. “How am I supposed to fight that?”
It was some sort of animal, roughly the size of a Saint Bernard dog, but clearly feline in nature. It looked as if someone had crossed a domestic tabby cat with a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger–and then did something to make the offspring very, very angry. The thing was growling and crouching as if preparing for attack, its hackles raised, its long fangs bared and dripping with saliva.
“Seer! So we meet again after all these years,” Professor James said in a menacing voice. Then to me, he said, “Hello, Dave.”
“That’s Grok?” I repeated. “What am I supposed to do with a penknife?”
Too scared to look away from the giant, crouching cat, I waved my implement around in Briddlecroonak’s general direction, though probably five feet above his little head.
Professor James gasped and fell back a step. “Jasmine Truethunder!”
“Hah! That’s right, Grok!” said the opossum. “I found Vworntokthalis first. You are too late to prevent the Avenger of the Valk from bonding with his fateful weapon and . . . and . . . and avenging the Valk you have slain!”
“Jesus, kill a few lousy Valk and the Wizened Ones of Loremead send half the heroes in the Five Kingdoms after you,” grumbled Professor James. “This is getting so tedious. But, oh, well, I guess I’ll have to kill another warrior.”
“You’re Grok the Valkslayer?” I said in astonishment, gazing into his glowing red eyes. James was the most burned out, snide, and unpleasant professor in the whole law school (which was saying something). He had been here for decades and seemed embittered and overdue for retirement. “I don’t believe it.”
“Frankly, I’m having a hard time believing that you’re the Avenger,” he shot back. “You have maintained an impressively convincing disguise of utterly forgettable mediocrity during your sojourn at this institution. I congratulate you, Dave.”
Except for the glowing eyes and the menacing creature beside him, his behavior seemed completely normal (yes, he was like this all of the time).
“You’re really Grok the Valkslayer?”
“Long have I awaited this moment, Avenger,” he intoned. “It was foretold by the ancients that you and I should meet in mortal combat, and the fate of the Valk would be decided between us.”
“I don’t suppose we could just talk about the Valk?” I said without much hope. As far as anyone knew, James had never once agreed to a student’s reasonable request.
“Heresy!” he thundered. “Even the Codex of the Ninth-Born and the secretly-coded Long Island Railroad timetable proclaim that one or the other of us must die this dark night, Avenger! Face up to your destiny!”
“You’ve had a little more time to prepare for this than I have,” I pointed out.
“Always with the excuses, Dave,” he said with disgust. “If you failed to prepare for this test, it’s your own fault.”
“Oh, now wait just a damn minute. I was walking along tonight, minding my own…” I came to my senses and shook my head. “No, never mind. Forget it. Let’s just get on with this.”
It was my Antitrust mid-term all over again.
“Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!” he laughed.
Seriously, except for the glowing red eyes and the giant snarling feline at his side, this was just like being in his classroom.
I glanced anxiously at the creature beside him. “So I guess that’s the Dread Grzilbeast that you freed from its enchanted sleep in the Caves of… of…”
“The Caverns of Mimnoth!” he snapped. “Didn’t you prepare at all, Dave?”
God, I hated this guy. I’m generally opposed to physical violence, let alone mortal combat. But I realized, standing there in the dark as Professor James, a.k.a. Grok the Valkslayer, sneered and jeered at me, that if I was ever going to kill anyone, then I really wanted it to be him. In fact, as memories of the frustrating injustices and undeserved humiliations I had suffered in his class flashed through my memory, I realized that something inside me understood, believed, and knew that I was indeed destined to kill him–or die trying.
So I said grimly, “Oh, believe me, Grok, I am prepared for this, all right. You prepared me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Avenger?” he said with a sneer.
“That’s Mister Avenger, to you,” I said with a half-decent sneer of my own.
“Oh, this is going just like the Prophecies of Joralion said it would!” Briddlecroonak clapped his paws and gave an excited little hop. “Prepare to meet thy doom, Valkslayer!”
Moving with the speed and agility of a young athlete, which took me by complete surprise, Grok leaped straight at me. He was brandishing a dagger (where had that come from all of a sudden?) with three long, shiny blades–all of them aimed at my throat.
I shrieked, staggered backward, and reflexively threw my penknife at him. Hey, I was new to this whole mortal combat thing and hadn’t expected the old man to jump me so fast or fiercely. So I panicked.
Jasmine Truethunder flew straight into Grok’s forehead and hit him right between the eyes with a solid thud! Grok froze in mid-leap, hovered motionless for a moment, then keeled over and lay there on the ground, his eyes remaining wide open as the strange red glow slowly faded from them. My penknife was sticking out of his head, its blade having sunk into his skull.
Briddlecroonak squeaked and squealed with excitement, running around in little circles. “You have done it, Vworntokthalis! Hip-hip-hurrah! You have triumphed over the Valkslayer!”
“I have?” I tiptoed closer to Professor James’s prone body. “Is he… dead?”
I had barely finished asking the question when a putrid yellow mist arose from the corpse. The body began liquefying, bubbling and gurgling noisily, churning itself into the thickening yellow mist that stank of sulfur as it soared upward and away.
“Hurrah! Hurrah! The Valkslayer is slain! He has fallen to the Avenger’s mighty blow!”
I stood back and held my nose, gagging at the stench, as the body disintegrated and evaporated, roiling skyward and then dissipating on the wind.
When there was nothing left of Grok’s body except a little sticky slime and the penknife which had slain him, I bent over, picked up Jasmine Truethunder, and used my sleeve to wipe clean the blade of my bonded weapon.
Then I held Jasmine Truethunder aloft and proclaimed, “This is the true hero of this dark night.”
Briddlecroonak patted my ankle. “But you certainly helped.”
I shrugged. “And, happily, I don’t have to try to explain the corpse of my most hated professor to the law school dean.”
I heard a loud snarl, looked over my shoulder, and realized that I was about to become a corpse. The Dread Grzilbeast gave a mighty roar and then launched itself at me.
In my terror, I dropped my penknife rather than throwing it.
Fleeing for my life, I turned, ran–and immediately fell into the fountain. Now that it had surrendered Jasmine Truethunder to me, it was no longer glowing and clear, but had returned to its usual putrid condition. But since this was no time to be fastidious, I simultaneously staggered, flailed, and swam as fast I could, moving further into the murky water as I felt the Grzilbeast enter the fountain behind me, its immense claws reaching for me.
“Agh!” I made a desperate lunge to escape the big, bloodthirsty monster.
“Meow!” a pathetic little voice wailed directly behind me. “Meow!”
I glanced over my shoulder and saw… a small tabby cat dog-paddling in the filthy water, trying not to drown as it cried for help.
There was no sign of the Grzilbeast.
I reached instinctively for the drowning tabby cat, which clung to me and cried pathetically. I clutched it to my chest as I looked around, dreading the renewed sight of the long-fanged beast that had been chasing me only a moment ago.
“You have returned the Dread Grzilbeast to its enchanted sleep!” cried Briddlecroonak, punching the air with a little, pink fist. “Yes!”
“I’ve done what?” I said, standing in the middle of the stinking fountain.
The seer gestured to the frightened cat that clung to my chest as I started wading to the edge of the fountain. “This is the Grzilbeast in its enchanted form.”
“Seriously?” I looked down at the sputtering cat. “It looks just like the mouser that lives in the basement of the law library.”
“Yes, that is where Grok woke it, intent on using its unleashed ferocity for his own evil purposes.”
“The library basement?”
The opossum nodded. “Also known as–”
“Let me guess,” I said. “The Caverns of Mimnoth?”
“Precisely. And we must return the sleeping Grzilbeast to the Caverns of Mimnoth–”
“Or, in local dialect, we must return Stripes to her kitty bed in the basement of the library–”
“–and flee this realm before the Minions of Grok find, torture, and dismember us.”
“Well, I was going to say, ‘Before anyone notices Stripes is missing,’ but, hey, you say tomato, I say to-mah… Wait… What did you just say?”
“That sulfuric mist rose from the body to be carried on the winds to the Cliffs of Nomhara, where the Minions of Grok will be alerted to the slaying of their revered idol.”
“That guy had minions?”
“They will want to punish the hero who slew him,” said my companion. “And believe me, you do not want to mess with minions.”
“But why did–”
Briddlecroonak the Seer had a vision. Peering sightlessly into this dark night, he drew in a long, deep, noisy breath through his little, pink nostrils and made a humming sound. Then he said, “The mist has already reached some of the minions.”
“That was fast.” Still clutching the cat, I hauled myself out of the fountain, soaking wet and smelling incredibly rank. “What should we do now?”
“We must flee to the Valley of Sohn where we can rally with the Exiled Ones and mount a defense.”
“Okay, that’s pretty specific,” I said with a nod. “I guess you know where this valley is?”
He waggled his paw. “More or less. We might need to ask directions along the way.”
“But why are we going to rally with the Exiled Ones?” I asked as we headed rapidly in the direction of the law library, so we could return Stripes to her proper place before departing. “Shouldn’t we go find the Valk? I mean, I’m their Avenger, right? I just slew Grok the Valkslayer, and all that.”
“Oh, the Valk will shower you with gratitude and glory when next we meet them,” said Briddlecroonak, “but they’re basically a species of decorative butterfly and, as such, not very useful in a situation like this. So we’ll rally with them some other time, Vworntokthalis.”
“All right. That makes sense,” I said. “But there’s just one thing I have to say before we go off on another adventure.”
“Yes, of course.” The opossum nodded. “I know what it is.”
“Oh, right. You’re a seer.”
“You’re not sure this is the right path for you, leaving behind all that you know in order to travel to strange lands, face more deadly foes, meet with danger and constant–”
“Oh, no, that’s all fine. No problem there.”
He stopped waddling and stared at me. “No?”
“No. I’ve finally figured out what to do with my life. I’m on board. Avenging the Valk, heroic deeds, deadly enemies, mortal combat–count me in all the way. But…”
“I’d really rather you just call me Dave, if you don’t mind. I can’t even pronounce Vw… Vw… the name you’ve been calling me.”
“Oh! All right. If you wish it, of course I can call you Dave.”
“Great.” I gave my furry partner a friendly little pat on the back. “Now let’s get Stripes to safety and then go rendezvous with the Exiled Ones in the Valley of whatever.”
And thus it was that I dropped out of law school and embarked on my true path in life.