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The World Renowned Falunian Hot Springs

Albert Rugbottom heard them approaching long before they reached the hotel. “Hold on a moment, Walden,” he said to the gangly teen at his side. The boy, identified as Walden, appeared to be struggling in his effort to balance an item about the size of a large wardrobe trunk wrapped in a bedsheet on a rickety old dolly. 

Just then then the double doors to the lobby of his hotel were thrown open.  Rugbottom shielded his eyes as rays from the setting sun shone in at an almost perpendicular angle, illuminating the dusty air in tones of burnt umber. 

“That was by far the dumbest thing you ever had me do,” complained Malus. From the waist down, both he and Emerson appeared to be covered in some sort of dark muck. “Who ever heard of sitting in a mud puddle?”

“It was not a mud puddle,” said Emerson, who was trying unsuccessfully to fold an accordion-style map back into its original shape. “It was a mineral-rich sulphur bath world renowned for its calming effects on the nerves. Look!” He shouted, shaking the map he had been trying to fold. He then pointed to a description of the local tourist attraction.

“World renowned?” Malus sneered. “I’ve never heard of it.” Malus grabbed the accordion-style map from Emerson and pointed to the sketch of a happy family basking waist deep in a scenic pool in the woods. “It looked nothing like this! That puddle was less than a foot deep! And it was barely tepid!” Malus then folded the map and threw it back at Emerson.

“Well, at least we can agree it was a lovely walk in the mountains,” said Junie, attempting to play peacemaker. “And I am sure that smell will wash off with a little soap and determination.” Lottie looked at Junie with a raised eyebrow, and the redhead quickly shushed her with a stealthy hand gesture.

“It’s been years since I visited the Hot Springs,” sighed Rugbottom. “Living in a place so long one almost forgets to visit the local attractions.”

“Great Builder man!” Emerson exclaimed upon seeing Rugbottom with his once proud stovepipe hat now creased and folded at a sad angle near the middle. “You look terrible.”

“I was the victim of a ghastly attack this afternoon,” the hotel owner explained. “Some crazy old man and his monster sidekick assaulted me most rudely when I turned them away.”

“That’s too bad,” replied Emerson with a tone of distraction. The curious item sitting precariously upon the dolly had suddenly piqued his interest. He strode into the room, nostrils flaring as he took several slow, deep breaths.  “Son, do you mind if I…”

“Hold on!” Malus interjected, raising up his hand. “An old man and a monster sidekick you say?” Malus repeated Rugbottom’s claim with an intense look knitting his brow. “Where did they go?”

“Back to Hell if there is any justice,” sputtered Rugbottom. “Why would I care where they go?”

“When was this?” There was a sense of intense focus about Malus as he quickly returned to the door and looked out into the street.

“Couldn’t be more than an hour since.” Rugbottom shrugged. “The sheriff is over at the Silverfish with Father Vorpal playing – I mean celebrating a special service to the Builder. I just sent for them. I’ll be filing a report if they ever deign to answer my call.”

Without any word of explanation, Malus slipped through the foyer doors and disappeared out onto the street.

Junie and Emerson exchanged quizzical glances. 

“Lottie, go keep an eye on him,” said Emerson.  “I don’t want the Squire getting into any trouble before we finish our business tomorrow.” He then glanced at Petra, still in full beard, pith helmet and safari suit. “Herr Hoopla, perhaps you should accompany them since you know the streets so well.”

“Ja vole, Herr Sir Sir,” replied Petra, maintaining character. She turned sharply, stomped her heel once, then followed Lottie out onto the street.

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