As the carriage rattled along the mountain path, an awkward tension hovered over the group. Freezo had curled his long limbs together in one of the corners nearest to the door, laying his head against the cushion with a decidedly sulky expression. Baston was little better; he sat with his arms crossed, a mulish look on his face. Philge, squeezed between the two, occupied her time with giving Bobby Meaningful Looks.
Even the pig could have been mistaken as dead, had she not let out the occasional grunt. Someone needed to say something. And that someone (Bobby thought with a sigh) was probably going to end up being him. Certainly, Philge seemed to think so.
So he decided to get it over with.
“Look,” he said. “Freezo. We need to talk.”
Freezo looked across the aisle to Bobby, all clueless innocence. “About what?”
“About—” Bobby cut himself off with a sigh, rubbing at his forehead. Why was it always him stuck with these things? He glanced over to the corner where Philge sat. She gave him a subtle, encouraging look. And by “subtle”, he meant that she grinned and gave him two big thumbs-up, jostling Freezo in the process.
Freezo yelped. “Hey, watch it!”
Philge lowered her hands guiltily. “Oops. Sorry.” She frowned. “Wait. Me not sorry. Me upset with you.”
“With me?” Freezo sounded genuinely shocked. “What did I do?”
Everyone stared. Even the pig.
(And on that note, someone really needed to rename the pig. Bessie was fine enough for a farm animal, but she was a battle pig now. Her dignity demanded more.)
“Surely you have not forgotten so soon?” boomed Baston. “The cruel assault of an innocent, so thoughtlessly done—”
“The assault of who?” Freezo looked baffled, and also a little bit offended. “I haven’t attacked anyone that I shouldn’t have!”
“You cannot pretend—”
“Edvard,” Bobby cut in. “He’s talking about Edvard.”
“Oh, him.” Freezo relaxed into his seat again. “So what?”
Baston looked horrified.
“You can’t just start killing the people who help us,” Bobby explained as patiently as he could. He almost added, we kill enough people as it is, but a glance at Baston decided him against it. No need to make more enemies.
“No one complained when I attacked Carina!” Freezo protested.
“Carina was an evil vampire minion!” Or, at least he thought she was. They hadn’t been very clear when telling him about that part of their adventure.
“Yeah, and Edvard was an idiot fake-knight!”
“He has point,” Philge agreed. Bobby shot her A Look, and she quickly added, “But you need to learn when to kill, and when not kill. Very important. And you should not kill… innocent?”
Bobby was too relieved that she hadn’t said anything too objectionable to quibble about the uncertain way she had said that last part. “At the very least, don’t kill friends, or people who are actually trying to help us without planning to kill us at the end.”
Freezo protested hotly. “It’s not like anyone complained when I killed Hor—”
He didn’t manage to complete his sentence before Bobby, with an awful premonition about what Freezo was about to say, lunged forward and clamped his hands over Freezo’s mouth.
Baston stared. Philge looked confused.
“—Hortencia,” Bobby said. “When he killed Hortencia, who was — who was a very bad, evil witch we fought — alone, without Philge.”
This last bit he added very quickly, as he noticed Philge opening her mouth to say something.
Philge closed her mouth.
Baston continued to stare. Bobby held his breath.
“A noble deed indeed!” Baston declared, giving a sage nod. “It sounds as though it were truly a quest to remember.”
“Yeah,” said Bobby weakly. “We’ll have to tell you all about it sometime.”
Once he judged that it was safe to let Freezo on his own again, he let go of his grip on his mouth and withdrew back to his seat. Philge looked thoughtful — always worrying.
“Okay,” said Freezo. “But I still don’t get what the problem is.”
Why was it always him stuck explaining these things?
“The problem is,” Bobby said, “that you don’t know when and when not to kill someone.”
“Isn’t it always a good time to kill someone?”
As Bobby took a moment to digest this, Philge suddenly sucked in a breath, enlightenment spreading over her face.
“Me see now,” she announced. “You need twelve step program.”
“Huh?” said Bobby.
“What?” demanded Freezo.
“Brilliant!” exclaimed Baston.
“A twelve step program,” said Philge. “You know, to help with your killing people problem.”
“I don’t need help!”
“There, there.” Philge patted Freezo on the head with heavy-handed pats that left him flinching. Bobby honestly couldn’t tell if she was doing it on purpose or not. “First step, is admitting you have a problem.”
“I don’t—” Freezo began hotly, then fell silent with a squeak as Philge suddenly loomed over him. Bobby didn’t blame him one bit — the only thing more unnerving than a looming, determined Philge, was a looming, angry Philge.
“First step,” she growled as Freezo shrank further back into his corner, “Is admitting. You have a problem.”
Freezo held his hands up before him in surrender. “Alright, alright! I… have a problem?”
Philge nodded, her eyes glinting with approval, and gave him another one of those jarring pats to the head. Freezo yelped. “Good! Now, what you do?”
“Er…” Freezo shot Bobby a desperate look, but Bobby had nothing more for him than a particularly eloquent shrug. How was he supposed to know what Philge was thinking? “Shit, I don’t—”
Philge’s face drew very near to Freezo’s. “Me said, what you do next?”
“Shit,” said Freezo again. “Uh. I should… make sure that next time I kill the person in one hit?”
Baston gave a magnificent frown. Bobby’s palm met his forehead.
Philge growled, showing a mouthful of large teeth. “You get one more chance.”
Freezo swallowed. He looked very pale. “I’ll — crap, I don’t know — I’ll — try to… be nicer?”
Philge loomed a moment longer, then beamed. “Very good! You’ve passed twelve-step program!”
Bobby considered informing her that that wasn’t quite the how a twelve-step program worked, and almost immediately discarded the thought. Who was he to argue with the methods of a determined half-orc? Freezo sighed, and slumped with relief — only to stiffen again as Philge gripped his thin shoulders and lifted him into the air.
“But don’t forget,” she grunted, her eyes glinting. “Me watching you.”
Freezo squeaked in acknowledgement.
Philge seemed appeased. Bobby watched in fascination (and a small amount of envy) as she let Freezo drop back into his seat, before settling back into her own seat with an air of satisfaction. Freezo remained where she’d placed him, blank-eyed and mute.
No one else ventured to make a sound. The carriage rattled on.