It had been nearly 24 hours since she'd discovered the Leprechaun's deception.
The late breakfast with Courtney, Blackout, Ripper and Sunny had been surreal. She'd told them what she knew, and there had been some debate on Ripper's part as to whether or not the chocolate coins were a sign of diabolical intent or just fairy mischief. Courtney had voted for erring on the side of caution, and both Blackout and Sunny had agreed with her. Ripper had shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't go after them," he said, taking a drink of orange juice. "Hell, I've been waiting for someone to come and tell me there's an open portal to another world since I first read The Fionavar Tapestry. I just never figured it would be a barista."
They'd agreed to split up into a few groups to go and collect the gear they'd need for the journey, and meet at the coffee shop by 6:00pm.
As they stepped out of the High Level Diner, Courtney handed Lara a piece of paper.
"What's this?" Lara asked, unfolding it.
"Your essentials for a trip like this," Courtney replied.
"You've given this a lot of thought," Lara said.
"We all have," Blackout said, looking over Lara's shoulder to check the list. Lara felt a little shiver of excitement at how close he was standing, and suppressed it.
This is no time for your love life, she told herself.
"We'd talk about it over drinks after gaming sessions," he told her. "Idle conversation to pass the time. I never actually imagined it would turn out to have practical merit."
Lara had caught a ride with Sunny, who was the only one of the group with a car. Blackout was waiting for Geo, the other member of their gaming group to come and pick him up and give him a lift.
The girls had gone first to Sunny's house; she rented a bungalow with some other med students. Lara stood outside having a cigarette, studying the list while Sunny collected her things. It was very basic:
Camping Clothes (don't forget a change of underwear!)
Light Camping Gear
Rope (Sam Gamgee was no fool)
A Weapon (hand-to-hand and missile)
Toiletries (bad breath is inexcusable in any world!)
When Sunny was finished, they hurried to Lara's sister's place. Lara had been staying with her sister and husband since she'd moved to the city. She asked Sunny if she wanted to come in, and Sunny said she'd be fine to wait in the car.
"Who knows when I'll have the opportunity to listen to Jon Mayer again?" she said with a wistful smile.
"You don't seem as excited about all this as the others," Lara said.
"I'm still trying to wrap my head around it," Sunny replied. "Plus...if you're right about all this, then there's going to be fighting...and people are going to get hurt. I could be one of them. So I'm a little scared."
"Glad to know I'm not the only one," Lara said with a smile, and ran into the house.
Neither her sister Denise nor her husband Robwere home. There was a note on the table.
Went to see the Dixie Chicks perform. Back late. Dinner's in the fridge.
She'd hurried to her room and threw off her clothes, then changed into a pair of army pants, a tank top and an old, heavy cotton hooded sweatshirt. Heavy wool socks borrowed from Rob's drawer, and then she was strapping on the army boots.
Good for stomping...leprechauns.
Then it was out to the garage. Rob's compound bow and quiver were the first order of business. As soon as Courtney had mentioned a compound bow, she'd envisioned the one Rob used for hunting. Then a pair of work gloves, like Courtney had recommended.
Her eyes darted about the garage for a formidable weapon for close up work. She decided on Rob's claw hammer. She seemed to remember Mel Gibson blocking a sword with a hammer in Braveheart. The hard metal and easy balance felt good in her hand, and she threw it and some rope and an old sleeping bag into a framepack. The sleeping bag had been hiding an LED lantern, which she tested before clipping onto the outside of the pack.
Back inside the house, she added a bottle of aspirin. Sunny was right; she anticipated getting the shit kicked out of her at some point in this venture, and while Sunny was studying medicine, she sort of doubted she'd just magically heal her sorry ass if she got hurt bad. She also threw in a toothbrush and toothpaste. There was really nothing she hated worse than having that "sweaters on your teeth" feeling a few days without brushing would bring. Bad Breath is inexcusable in any world, she reminded herself.
A pack of smokes. Two lighters. Three water bottles. Her digital camera (after all, if she made it back, she'd want a record of her adventures), her i-pod (she didn't have any Jon Mayer, but maybe Sunny would be into some Lacuna Coil), her makeup, a box of lid-care wipes, and some feminine hygiene products, extra underwear and she was on her way out the door.
She left a note for Rob and Denise.Went to rescue a friend from Leprechauns. Took your compound bow Rob. Back in a week or so.
Sunny and Lara had been the first back to the shop, which was just as well, since Lara had the keys. Sunny went through her medical supplies, amalgamating what she had into her backpack in a well organized kit. Lara smoked another cigarette and brewed some coffee.
At this point it occurred to her that she ought to work on her archery skills before she actually needed to use the bow. Since the paneling was all going to be ripped out anyhow, she drew an outline of a leprechaun in black marker on the wall and began target practice. As it turned out, she hadn't completely lost her ability from summer camp. The completely immobile wall leprechaun took 3 arrows to the head, 2 to the chest, one in each arm, 1 near enough the groin to seem mortal, and one in the foot. The rest hit his imaginary friends on either side. Lara sighed. If she could get off 20 shots before the leprechaun got to her, she might just kill him.
Courtney had arrived, and noticing Lara's target practice, had tried some of her own, with unerring accuracy. The wall leprechaun took an entire quiver without his invisible friends taking a hit. She gave Lara a few pointers, and when Lara tried again, she hit all but 5 times.
Ripper was the next to show up. While Courtney was taking another turn at target practice, Lara watched how he and Sunny interacted with interest. She'd asked Sunny what the deal was, and laughed at the 'friends with benefits' reply. She could see why it hadn't gone any further; she'd thought it might have been Ripper's fault, given that he tended to be a mouthy jerk, but watching them, she realized that Ripper was fairly smitten with Sunny, who was completely uninterested.
Medical student, Lara mused. It's all just chemicals and body parts.
That got her thinking about Blackout again, and she had a rush of chemicals through her body parts that made her stop thinking about Sunny and Ripper.
"Anyone want a coffee?" she asked.
"That'd be great," Ripper said.
He had put down his backpack, but was wearing a workman's tool belt around his hips. As Lara poured him his coffee, she nodded at the belt.
"Wouldn't have figured you for the handyman type," she said.
"I used to work trades before I opened the shop," Ripper replied. "They didn't give a shit about my long hair, so it was a good gig. Money was great. Bringing the belt made sense. The Claymore is great," he said, patting the big sword, "but this little saw I've got here is going to come in handy, mark my words." He held up a small saw with an orange plastic handle.
"Yeah, I'll use it to amputate your leg," Sunny laughed.
The sun set shortly before 6:00, and Lara turned on the LED lamp instead of the overhead lights. "Last thing we need is someone looking in here, seeing us all dressed up with weapons and then phoning the cops."
Blackout and Geo were the next to arrive. Blackout was dressed in fairly regular clothes, and he was carrying his gear in standard duffel bag with a shoulder strap. He was also carrying a road case like the ones musicians carried their instruments in.
"I don't go camping," he said when Ripper commented. "I'm not an outdoorsy sort of person."
When Ripper had made further comment about the lack of a weapon, Blackout had opened the road case. Inside were an array of colorful tubes, wires, and several battery packs.
"What the hell is all that?" Ripper asked.
"Pyrotechnics," Blackout replied, grinning, holding up a few sticks of what Lara was sure were dynamite. "You have to hold a blaster's permit to use pyro in Edmonton. So I thought I'd make it worth my while."
Geo had been standing off to the side, silently looking up at the Tree in the light of the LED lantern.
"He's having trouble buying into all this," Blackout whispered to Lara as she brought him a coffee. "Math professor...everything needs to be cut and dry--logical."
"Is he coming?" Lara asked. Geo didn't look like he'd have much to offer in a fight.
"He hasn't decided," Blackout replied. "That's why all his stuff is still in his car."
Mikey was the next to arrive.
"You guys suck!" he exclaimed, walking into the shop. "If I hadn't called Courtney to see how she was doing, you'd have all left me behind!"
"Wasn't sure your parents would let you come," Blackout said. "And what about school?"
"School?" Mikey nearly shrieked. "School? You're going to travel to the North Pole and battle dwarves and you're worried about me skipping school?"
"Leprechauns," Ripper corrected him. "They're not dwarves, they're leprechauns. What about your folks? What did you tell them?"
"I left a note saying I'm running away from home to join the circus," Mikey replied, pulling a face. "I didn't tell them anything," he said. "I'm not going to miss out on this just because my parents might get worried."
"Might get worried?" Blackout said. "Mikey, we're going to be gone for a week. They'll have an all points search for you underway when we get back. Forget it. You're not coming."
"No way man, no way," Mikey said, gesticulating wildly.
"You all look like you're going on a trip," a female voice said.
"Terry? Ima?" Lara called into the darkness.
"No," the voice replied. A tall form stepped into the glow of the lantern. Lara gasped. Someone swore. Mikey and Blackout stopped arguing. Pink eyes filled with intelligence gazed at them all. "My name is Eostre."