• hcmills

Chapter 116: The curious incident of the frog in the night-time

Loudmouth watches his Friends trudge off one by one, leaving him sitting alone near the dying campfire.

He shifts in the sand and wishes—not for the first time—that he were better with words.

His Friends had been sad and scared just now, and he’d not managed to do anything about it.

He glances out over the Hydrum, at the dark silhouette of the central island, the parapets of the Grand Chief’s castle barely visible under the stars. The sight of the imposing building had once filled him with awe and longing, but now the memory of its sheer walls brought forth only icy dread.

It sounded like his Friends were going to try and assault it tomorrow, because they need a big crystal, of the kind that burns Loudmouth’s insides if he comes too close.

The idea fills Loudmouth with dread. There are just no good outcomes! Either his Friends succeed, killing a whole bunch of Hoig, many of whom Loudmouth knows, or they fail and die, and then Loudmouth has no more Friends!

Loudmouth tried to convince them not to do it, but apparently, Friend Dave needs the crystal to grow his horns like the others.

Loudmouth doesn’t really understand why that’s important enough to his Friends that they’re willing to kill for it. Friend Dave had never struck him like the type to be so vain, either. Then again, Loudmouth could see how it might be vexing to Friend Dave to see all his Friends walking around with bigger horns than him. Or perhaps it’s some rite of passage for them to be considered adults, or something.

Oh well, it’s not exactly the first time he’s found his Friends’ actions incomprehensible. Thankfully, he’s developed a fool-proof system for handling such situations: slap on the label of ‘more weird monkey-stuff,’ shrug, and move on.

Unfortunately, Loudmouth’s foolproof system doesn’t seem to work on the even more bewildering idea that his Friends are planning to leave afterwards, because he can’t stop thinking about it.

The very idea of leaving home—of there even being more outside of the Six Great Walls—boggles Loudmouth’s mind.

He has overheard his Friends talk about it often enough to know that they plan on leaving soon. The first time he heard about it he got really sad, and he asked Friend Kaitlynn if he could come with them.

Drops of Hydrum had started dripping from Friend Kaitlynn’s eye, as they do when she’s sad, and she had hugged him and explained that they would love to bring him, but weren’t allowed.

The thought of being left behind, being alone again, made Loudmouth very, very sad.

But the thought of his Friends dying tomorrow, at the hand of his own people is still worse. Far worse.

The only thing holding him back from swimming over to the central island and begging the Grand Chief for a crystal, is the ice-cold certainty that he would only get killed for his trouble. Short from stealing one, there’s just really no way—

Loudmouth blinks and sits up a little straighter.

Steal crystal. Loudmouth could steal crystal!

Excitement bubbles up inside him as he imagines greeting his Friends tomorrow, and casually handing them his ill-gotten gains.

‘What, this? Is just crystal Friend Dave needs to grow his horns, no big deal. Pfft, Loudmouth no hero, Loudmouth just...’

Loudmouth just wants to help his Friends. The first and only Friends Loudmouth has ever had.

A wave of emotion rises up in Loudmouth, and he stands up abruptly. He fixes his stare on the dark silhouette of the central island on the distance, puffs up his chest, and sets off towards the dark Hydrum.

Loudmouth can do this. He will do this, despite the risk that he might get caught, and never return.

Loudmouth’s steps falter for a bit.

Perhaps Loudmouth had better leave a note, so his Friends wouldn’t worry too much. And so they could rescue him from the Grand Chief’s dungeons before his execution.

Loudmouth glances around until his eyes fall on a prime specimen of nature’s ultimate drawing implement.

Loudmouth walks over, grabs the stick, and starts sketching his likeness in the sand.

He frowns at the result. It doesn’t really look like him, with all those squiggly lines and that dopey smile. In fact, it looks more like a molten urudo than a tough and handsome Hoig.

After thinking for a moment, Loudmouth erases the lines and starts over, layering his drawing with meaning like he’d seen Friend Alec do so often.

This way Friends were sure to understand.

Let’s see, what should message say? Best keep it simple.

Loudmouth was going to the central island, to steal the crystal Friend Dave needed. He would return triumphantly at Twinrise, unless he was captured.

If he were captured, his Friends needed to rescue him, or he would probably be tortured. They would start by skinning him alive, using just enough juice from the Heartbeet to keep him from bleeding out. Then they would move on to his sensitive tongue, and, oh merciful crystals then they would—

“Ehm, Loudmouth, what are you doing?” Friend Jacob’s voice asks from behind him, making Loudmouth leap in the Aether with joy and surprise.

“Hurk! Nothing, Friend Jacob!” Loudmouth says, spinning around to give Friend Jacob his most convincing monkey-smile.

Friend Jacob raises a single brow and looks anything but convinced. His eye glances down to Loudmouth’s masterpiece in the sand, and his brows furrow.

“You intend to sneak into the castle on the central island and... get horribly murdered?”

“No no no, Loudmouth is going to try and steal crystal for Friend Dave, get caught, then get horribly murdered,” Loudmouth corrects him proudly.

Friend Jacob stares at Loudmouth for a moment, no doubt stunned by his heroic genius, before he shakes his head. “Loudmouth, that’s very kind of you, however I don’t think that’s such a good idea. We—”

“No!” Loudmouth bursts out, a strange heat bubbling up from the pit of his stomach. “Loudmouth not stupid. Friends always protecting Loudmouth, always leave Loudmouth behind when going someplace dangerous. Going to hunt big dirak? Loudmouth can look after Alec. Friends weren’t going to bring Loudmouth tomorrow either, were they?”

Friend Jacob blinks at Loudmouth, the way monkeys do when they’re surprised. “Well... no, probably not.”

Loudmouth nods. “Loudmouth want to protect Friends, for once. Central island dangerous. Grand Chief... scary. But Loudmouth is Hoig! Loudmouth can sneak in, take crystal, leave!”

Friend Jacob frowns. “That’s how you feel about us, huh?” he says quietly. Loudmouth has to strain to hear him over the gentle lap of the surf.

Other people always spoke so softly, it was very inconvenient. Loudmouth really wanted to shout at them to speak up, but he was far too polite for that.

“That’s right,” Loudmouth says, puffing up his chest. “This Loudmouth’s time to shine. Loudmouth tough, cool Hoig, and not afraid to face a little danger for Friends, so don’t try to stop him.”

Friend Jacob folds his arms over his chest and regards Loudmouth seriously for a long time. “All right, I can understand your sentiment, and I will admit the idea of you just waltzing in and grabbing a Major Radiation Crystal for Dave is very appealing. But what is your plan, exactly? Because it’s going to take a bit more than that, I imagine.”

Loudmouth stares at Friend Jacob. Friend Jacob stares back.

“That was the extent of your plan, wasn’t it?”

“Nuh-uh!” Loudmouth replies, using the ultimate counter-phrase he’d learned from Friend Alec.

“Really? What’s your plan then?”

Loudmouth swallows hard. His eyes flit about, searching for inspiration. The only thing in front of him is his relatively handsome Friend Jacob. He’s still oddly shaped, but at least he has flawless green skin and—

Loudmouths eyes widen. “Friend Jacob can come too, help Loudmouth save Friends!”

Friend Jacob’s eye snaps up. “Come again?”

“Friend Jacob can pass for Hoig, can come help Loudmouth save the day!”

There’s a twitch in Friend Jacob’s cheek. “You want me to go on a suicide mission with you? Gosh, I’m flattered.”

Loudmouth frowns. He has the vague impression that Friend Jacob doesn’t really feel flattered, even if he says he does, and something about the way he says it makes Loudmouth a little angry. “Well, if Friend Jacob is too scared, Loudmouth will just go alone.”

Friend Jacob stiffens for a long moment, then exhales and mutters to himself. Loudmouth can barely make out the end. “—less courageous than a friggin’ frog, you sad piece of—”

Friend Jacob cuts himself off abruptly. “Look, even if I was considering this crazy non-plan of yours, don’t you think I look a little too different from a Hoig to actually pass for one?”

Loudmouth allows his gaze to pass over Jacob from head to toe. True, there are some differences, like the small size of his head, balanced precariously on his twig-like neck, his tiny hands and feet and short legs, the three horns on his forehead, the crystal embedded in his right eye-socket, and the small steel ring through his eyebrow above it, but it’s nothing they can’t overcome.

“Definitely not!” Loudmouth croaks enthusiastically.

Friend Jacob raises a brow in sheer amazement. “Really?”

Loudmouth nods confidently, before leaning closer and lowering his voice. “Loudmouth will tell you secret: other Hoig really stupid.”

Jacob’s face goes very flat, though the corners of his mouth twitch a little. “You don’t say.”

All things considered, Friend Jacob looks adorable in the set of Croaker armour Loudmouth finds in the storage-hut.

The kids-sized training-helmet needs some adjusting in the form of three holes to fit Jacob’s horns, but other than that, it actually fits quite well.

For some reason, however, Friend Jacob still doesn’t seem entirely convinced by Loudmouth’s genius.

“Aren’t the horns still kind of a giveaway?” he asks.

Loudmouth shakes his head impatiently. “Just say is trophy from dead monkey, integrated with helmet. Is not unusual.”

“It’s not? You know what, don’t answer that. What about my eye-crystal?”

With a grin, Loudmouth produces the eyepatch he’d been hiding behind his back. He’d learned the hard way his Friends didn’t like to touch things he’d kept in his mouth, though he still wasn’t sure why.

Jacob glances at it. “Fair enough. Would even cover my piercing.” He sighs. “Shit, I can’t believe I’m actually considering this. Do you even know the layout of the castle?”

Loudmouth puffs up his chest. “Of course! Loudmouth been there many time! Loudmouth not just cave-guard, also messenger. Chief said with Loudmouth’s loud voice, Grand Chief would hear message no matter what!”

“I can imagine. So, would you know where to find the crystals?”

“Up in highest tower, above Grand Chief’s bedroom. But I hear he heavy sleeper.”

Friend Jacob sighs. “Of course. Okay, and how would we get in? How did you get in when you brought messages?”

Loudmouth blinks. “Well, normally Loudmouth just go over, tell Flatface or Bigfoot he has message from chief, and guards let him through. Oh! That’s it! Loudmouth can just go over and say he has message!”

Friend Jacob looks at Loudmouth in clear admiration. “You know the guards by name?”

Loudmouth puffs up his chest again and nods. “Long time ago, chief send many angry messages to Grand Chief. Loudmouth always hopped away very fast after delivering, and guards would laugh very hard.”

Friend Jacob frowns at Loudmouth. “Shit, this might actually work.”

Loudmouth perks up. “So, Friend Jacob is coming along?”

Friend Jacob grinds his teeth for a long moment, then snatches the eyepatch out of Loudmouth’s hands. “I must be crazy, but yes. Yes I am.”

Author's Note:

No, it's not April Fools, yes this is really happening ^^

(I was just as surprised as you are, trust me, :p )

Anyway, thanks to those who filled in the poll last week! It's always helpful to get more data ;)

I was heartened to see how many more people would be willing to support me if they had the means. I'm going to try and add more value to my lowest tier in the future, because every bit counts, and I don't want to devalue the people who choose to support me despite limited means. I'm also going to continue to try and build out the number of chapters Patrons are able to read ahead.

For now, however, I'm going to focus on publishing my e-book, which includes the following announcement: For those among you interested in a bit of immortality, my special offer just went live on Patreon: If you become a Patron before the first of Novemberand remain a Patron at least until I publish in early Novemberyour (user)name will be added to the list of Patrons who helped make this work a reality.

I considered more complicated arrangements but ultimately decided keeping it simple would be better. ^^ So, if you're interested in earning a bit of immortality, hit this big orange button and:

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