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The Puddle

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"I can't believe you would do that to me," said Bean, wringing the viscous fluid out of her hair. "He was literally at my feet. Literally. And now I smell like old cheese and Zog's cabbage breath."

"I can't believe I didn't do that to you," said Luci. "You should have seen the look on your face. Priceless."

Bean glared at him and pushed her sodden hair back from her face again. One side slicked and lay exactly where she put it. "Right. So you didn't leave a puddle of some kind of revulsion potion at the foot of my bed. Someone else broke in here last night and did nothing else but plant a potion on my floor."

"I mean, you say that like it's not a possibility. Do you know how many people have broken into this room? Lately?"

"Now he thinks I'm a gross, drunken idiot and he's never going to come back," said Bean. "Thanks a lot."

"Actually, I think he's crawling back up to your window right now," said Luci. "You should really just put a ladder out there. It'll make it easier for everyone."

Bean let out a stifled grunt and threw her hands up and stalked out of the room. Presumably to take a bath, but possibly to throw herself in the river. Hard to say.

"You shouldn't have done that," said Elfo.

"No, I should have done that," said Luci. "Weren't you paying attention?"

"She's really upset. I should go comfort her."

"Yeah, you should absolutely do that," said Luci. "Immediately. While she's in the bathtub. I'm sure she's just waiting for you."

"You think so?"

Luci didn't even want to dignify that with a response. Especially when it was much more interesting to watch Bean's suitor's progress back up the rope. He really was going for it, even with the arrows that were now flying at his back.

"Uh, where did Princess Tiabeanie go?"

"Wait, what? Where did you come from?" said Elfo, as though the guy wasn't literally halfway through the open window.

"I told you he was crawling back up," said Luci. If Bean hasn't screamed like Zog himself had bust in on them, maybe he wouldn't even have run back out the window in the first place. Some people were into old cheese. "Welcome, friend. Go ahead and wait on the bed. I'm sure she'll be right back."

"That can't seem like a good idea," said Elfo.

"Have you even met me?" said Luci.

* * *

For all Bean's moaning and groaning about her utter lack of suitors (which, given just how very lost her virginity was, was suspect already), she was certainly getting her share of attention as she wove her way up the street to the tavern. And she hadn't had much trouble at any other point in the day either.

"Apparently the alluring scent of fetid swamp water and sour milk works for me," she said, her voice coming out funny as she tried not to breathe through her nose. "I almost don't want it to go away. Almost."

"I don't think you smell bad," said Elfo. "I think you smell like sunshine."

"Elfo thinks you smell like sweat and ashes."

"That's not what I said?"

"I don't even care," said Bean. "I just want a drink, and if some weirdos are into me because they like the idea of getting with a trash fire...well, it won't be the first time. Something good had to come of this, right?"

"Not really," said Luci. "Something good is never obligated to happen."

"Well, I should get back to my cage," said Elfo, after watching both the ratcatcher and the milkmaid try to buy Bean a drink. Luci caught the milkmaid's eye and told her she ought to smile more.

"You know you don't have to do that, right?" said Bean. "I mean, they can't make you."

"I'm pretty sure the guards and the weapons and the supreme power over the land say that they can," said Luci. "Ta. Have a good time."

"No, it's okay, they're not taking my blood anymore," said Elfo. "They're taking something else."

"Your self-respect? No, wait, you never had that to being with."

"That...does not sound very good," said Bean, but then she was distracted both by the smell wafting off her person and the chandler who had just removed his tunic.

"So anyway, yeah, I'm off," said Elfo cheerfully. "I'll probably be back in the morning when they're done with me."

"Sure," said Bean without quite looking away. Luci just grinned at Elfo and waved him along. "If I could stand the smell of myself, I would be all over that right now. This is torture."

"Positively diabolical," agreed Luci, and wondered if there was any of that potion left in the bedchamber that he could sample. It never hurt to have something like that in his arsenal.

Bean disappeared into the smoke shed for a little while with the fletcher's older son, but even the pungent aroma of thick smoke didn't seem to help her cause. She came out again with a scowl on her face, and the fletcher's son looked both longing and fully dressed when he followed.

* * *

The next morning Bean fell face-first into a puddle again. Luci could hear the cursing two floors down through solid rock.

"The same thing twice?" he said, sauntering into the room and examining the scene of the crime. "It's much less clever now." But still effective, and his line of work was all about the results.

"Are you sure this wasn't you?" said Elfo, on his hands and knees and trying to get the pool of liquid up without actually touching it. Who knew what the stuff actually was? It even kind of sparkled a little, like it was trying to convince you it was benign and you should just let it stay there next to your bed, like your new pet puddle.

"Would I deny it if it was?" said Luci.

"Maybe it's your evil twin. Can demons have evil twins?

"I am the evil one," said Luci. "It is literally in my job description."

"Yeah, but it could be, right? Like another you?"

"Another demon on my turf? Not if they know what's good for them." And this, this was someone who clearly did not know what was good for them. Bean was his turf, and he was totally okay with someone messing with her, but he wanted to know about it.

Elfo had just finished his janitorial duties when Bean came back into her room, fluffy robe wrapped around herself and an actual smile on her face.

"I met the nicest guy in the bathhouse," said Bean. "Maybe it's going to be a good day after all."

"Maybe it is," agreed Luci. "Eau de mouldy tomatoes becomes you."

"Argh," said Bean. "Why can't I get rid of it? I scrubbed for minutes in there. I think I just spread it around."

"Don't worry," said Luci, "I'm sure things spread around the bathhouse all the time. It's not just you."

"Maybe I should just spend the day here," said Bean. "I don't need to go out for anything. It might even make my family happy to have me sticking around for a while."

"Sure," said Luci. "Let me just crack a window for you. Might air the place out a little bit."

Bean was delicately blocking her nose with a clothespin. Where she'd stolen that from, Luci had no idea. Probably the same place she'd gotten her gnome boots and that tattered flag that even Luci couldn't identify. That was one wild night.

"You're right," said Bean. "I might as well stink up someone else's joint, and I think I tapped my last bedroom casket the other day anyway."

Ah, yes, that was much better. It was so difficult to make bad decisions when you were cooped up in a luxury suite, and Bean's frustration that everyone was into her and she couldn't even stand herself long enough to do anything about it was too delightful to miss.

* * *

"I'm staying awake tonight," said Luci. "The shrieking river of fire in your dreams will just have to wait. I'm going to catch this guy in the act."

"Uh, you're not staying in my room all night," said Bean. Slurred, really.

"Staying in your room? Ha ha ha, no, of course not," said Elfo. "I have to be back in the dungeon again. But it's okay. The food down there is great."

"I meant Luci."

"I'm not sure where you think I stay the rest of the time," said Luci, "but sure. I'll just wait outside your door while someone crawls in your window. That'll work out the best for everyone."

"There is this guy who said he might try to crawl in my window tonight," said Bean, "but I never met him before so it's probably not him."

"Are you sure?" said Luci. "Absolutely sure? Positively absolutely?"

"Fine," said Bean, "but you're not staying on the bed. We're going to be using that."

"Whatever you say," said Luci, curling up at the end of the bed.

It was almost dawn when the door - not the window, which had stayed stubbornly silent, probably because Odval had cut down the rope again - creaked open and Elfo came skulking in. Luci yawned and stretched and oozed off the end of the bed.

"Guess I must have scared them off tonight," he said. Elfo just kept walking. "Yeah, okay, weirdo. Just don't wake her up with a kiss or anything. I'd hate to have to sic my cousin on you. If you think I'm bad..."

Really, it was Elfo not saying "Hi," when he arrived at the bottom of the stairs that tipped Luci off.

"Oh, you're sleepwalking," said Luci, waving his tail back and forth in front of Elfo a few times just to test out the theory. "This is almost than catching the intruder. You're never going to live this one down."

Elfo sprawled out on a rug on the floor and proceeded to go back to sleep, or some facsimile thereof, tossing and turning on the floor so much that if Bean hadn't been more passed out than sleeping, she definitely would have noticed.

An hour later, more or less, Bean's lady-in-waiting showed up and the night really was over with no dramatic arrival to poison the floor whatever else he was doing when he broke in. Luci was deeply disappointed.

"Oh, just look at Baby Elfo," said Bunty, leaning over him. "How'd you end up in here again? You do have an awful time after one of those sessions, don't you." Elfo did start to settle down when she patted and rubbed his back like an infant, curling up in a little elfball on the rug and even snoring faintly.

"What are you doing?"

Bunty jumped, but only for long enough to flick her eyes over to Luci before starting in on Elfo again. "Poor thing," she said. "Sorcerio has me do this for the wee lad after he does his little experiments. I think it makes him feel better."

"Sorcerio, or Elfo?"

Bunty shrugged. "Either one," she said. "There you go, wee one. All better, and I'd best get on with my work now." She straighted up his shirt and hat, then fixed the covers overtop of Bean's heavily snoring body, then disappeared into the other room.

That was when it happened. That was when Elfo started leaking, dripping from his armpits and hands and the backs of his knees.

"Oh, ew," said Luci. "I mean, fantastic, but ew."

The puddle coalesced between Bean's bed and her wardrobe, hidden by the shadow of the canopy of her bed and almost sure to cause another dunking the moment she stumbled out of bed. Luci almost regretted what was about to do. Almost.

"It's you," he said, loudly and obnoxiously.

Elfo snorted and rose so fast he bumped his head on the edge of Bean's bed. "What? Where? What?"

"It's you! You're the evil one."

"No I'm not!" said Elfo. "Why would you--?" It was only then he noticed the last of the fluid dripping from his fingers onto the floor. "Wait, did I--?"

"Oh, this is delicious!"

"I'm not evil! It was an accident!"

"I've never been prouder of you," said Luci. "And now that you're my nemesis, I must now make it my mission to destroy you."

"You need to what now?"

Luci cleared his throat. "You'd better clean up that elf juice before Bean sees it!" he shouted, right against her ear. It was - just barely - enough to wake her up.

"Shhhh," said Elfo urgently. "You'll--"

"Hnnnzzzzzph," said Bean, pushing herself up on both hands to lift her face from the pillow.

"I can't believe you produced that much of it!" Luci went on. "It's everywhere!"

"What?" said Bean, finally looking to the side. "What's everywhere?"

"Luci, stop!" said Elfo, on his feet now and backing away.

"I knew that elves were magical, but I never realised their juice could have that kind of effect on people! I should tell Sorcerio about this immediately."

"Wait, it was your elf juice all along?" said Bean, cringing away from both of them. "Gross, Elfo! What's wrong with you?"

"It's not-- I didn't-- It's not like that!"

"What are you even doing in here?"

"So you're saying it's not your elf juice?" said Luci.

"It's-- stop calling it that!" said Elfo. "It's not-- it's just an elf thing, I guess!"

"Yeah, 'just an elf thing,'" said Bean. "I've heard that before."

"Have you really?" said Luci. "It seems like that's pretty specific."

"Sometimes it's 'just a guy thing'. Sometimes it's 'you wouldn't understand'. Sometimes it's even 'that's never happened to be before'."

"But it has never happened to me before," said Elfo, "and you probably wouldn't understand. I'm not even sure I understand."

Oh, but Luci understood perfectly. That dungeon troll Sorcerio was getting his pound of flesh out of Elfo one way or another, and this was just fallout. Magnificent, pungent fallout.

"I need a drink," said Bean, "and you need to get a sponge. Or maybe a mop. And then you need to get out of here."

She didn't wait for a response. She just wrapped her sheet around herself and stalked straight out of the room without looking back. Well, not stalked. More stumbled, on account of the hangover and the sheet, but the intent was clear.

"And I still smell like Stan's left armpit!"

"Why did you do that?" said Elfo, already looking for the mop.

"Nemesis," said Luci, smiling at him with far more teeth than should ever fit in a single creature's mouth. "Oh, this is going to be so much fun."

"Well, I do like fun," admitted Elfo.

"Not for long," said Luci.

Okay, so Elfo wasn't an evil genius that Luci had been hoping for. But if he had that trick up his sleeve - and up his pants, and dripping from his forehead - then Luci could only imagine what might pop up next.

But for now he would settle for bottling up some of Elfo's secretions and saving them for a rainy day. Or a sunny day. Really, any day was good for a little evil.