Nestled between the mangroves of the swamp on the south and the thickening forests and hills to the north, this small out-of-the-way and rather peculiar hamlet exists. The town is primarily composed of small shops and cottages that squat around the bubbling fountain of the town square. There is a certain fairy-tale atmosphere to the community, given that none of its denizens appear to stand taller than five feet: Stonebarrow is populated almost entirely by Skeeks and Kadies, with a small smattering of Lapis.
It's the day after the harrowing adventure into the mind of 'Bravil', the old Chronotopian. He's recovering slowly, but he is recovering. For now, Natasha is staying at his side … occasionally threatening him if he starts to get depressed at that. So, life has returned to normal for Olivia. Since she was tired from the previous days events, she was given a 'light' workload today. All she has to do is go verify all orders for cloth from the stores in town. They all checked out, as usual, and the Skeek is slowly making her way back to the Weaver's shop. She can't shake this feeling that she's being followed, though.
As she walks, Olivia casts sneaky little looks over her shoulders and up onto the roofs of buildings. After the whole escapade into Bravil's dreams, she doesn't think she can take being startled too much today.
That barrel near the potters shop wasn't there earlier. Olivia is sure of that, because she went into that shop no less than an hour ago to verify the order for some new tarps.
Olivia tries to act nonchalant as she almost passes by the suspicious barrel. At the last moment, however, she zips to one side of it and knocks loudly. "Hello, anyone at home?" she calls, trying to lift off the cover and peer inside.
The barrel suddenly sprouts feet and runs around her rapidly in circles! And then with an unceremonious thump Olivia finds herself sitting on top of the barrel … as it zips wildly around the town square. This, of course, gets the attention of the shopkeepers, which are all now staring outside their doors at this bizarre sight.
Olivia squeaks in alarm and hangs on for dear life… or at least looks for a safe spot to jump off of the thing! She notices the shopkeepers at their doors and manages a small wave before hanging on again. "Sorry for the ruckus, it's just Gunther's idea of a joke!" she calls out.
And down the road the barrel-riding Skeek suddenly goes! To where, well, who knows? Heck, who knows if Gunther can even see inside that thing! Then with a hard dart to the right, the barrel zips into a darker alleyway and skids to a stop.
Seizing her chance, Olivia jumps off and puts both hands over her racing heart. Whirling around to face the barrel with feet, she gasps, "For the three-hundredth time, Gunther what is WRONG with you??"
The barrel splits apart and there stands Gunther wearing barrel-bits armor. He flicks some crud off his shirt, then says, "Nothing is wrong with me. I'm perfect." Grinning, he then asks, "And just where have you been for the past day, hmmm?"
Olivia sighs and walks over to the Kadie boy, so she can have a closer look at his newest contraption for 'espionage.' "Perfectly insane, you mean," she tells him. "If you must know, I was helping Madame Natasha yesterday. I just got back into town this morning."
"Reeaaaaaaallly?" Gunther draws out as he peers at Olivia. Somehow, the Kadie has managed to convert an entire barrel into some sort of armor bits which can be hooked back into a barrel, then unhooked quickly so he can move freely. Granted, it also looks like he lost all his money and clothing in a card game with the otters, but that's beside the point. "So, what sort of invasion is she planning, hmm?"
Olivia walks around Gunther, looking at his barrel-armor from all sides. "Sorry, Gunther, you're too late. The invasion's already over. But don't worry, we took care of it!" she grins.
Gunther huffs loudly. "You're supposed to include me in these things," he complains, then reaches over and pokes the Skeek. "How else am I supposed to keep an eye on you?"
Olivia oofs and backs away again, rubbing her stomach. "Seems to me like you keep a pretty good eye on me already," she says. "Just why are you following me today, anyway?"
The sort of creeping grin that Gunther gets on his face is a bit unsettling. "I follow you every day," he notes, "But today is special. Guess."
Shoving that unpleasant thought to the back of her mind, Olivia tries to figure out what makes today so special. "Uh… Nene and Bebe have finally decided to go out on a date with you, and you've come to thank me?"
Gunther frowns. "Well, no," he admits. Shaking that bit off, he says, "Try again."
"Ummm… you've decided to give up following me and now we're going to celebrate?" Olivia guesses this time, her eyes twinkling mischievously.
"Hah! I will always follow you! I have to make sure you're not up to something evil," Gunther insists. "So, wrong! You're really bad at this game, you know."
Olivia arches an eyebrow at Gunther as she says, "Then in that case… you must have made some progress on the security system I asked you to build around the safe in the Weavers' compound."
"AHAH!" Gunther shouts, pointing skyward. "You have won today's prize! An all expenses paid trip to the trials of the security system. And in the starring tester roll: you!"
There's a moment or two of silence as Olivia stares at the Kadie boy. "You want… me to be the tester??" she asks at last, looking alarmed again.
"Well, someone has to test it," Gunther says quieter this time.
"Or rather, test and decide on which particular one, that is," he adds as an afterthought.
"You've designed more than one system?" Olivia asks. "Wow, have you been busy! But, er… will I get hurt if I test them out for you?"
"Pain is the price of progress!" the Kadie declares triumphantly. "But really, no. Well, maybe your pride might get a bit hurt. But I won't tell anyone, honest."
"Uh… huh," Olivia says, eyeing the Kadie suspiciously. "I'm not sure I believe that… and I'm probably going to regret this… but I'll do it. Just let me change into some worn overalls before we start. I'm having disturbing visions of one of your machines hoisting me up by my ankles and I will NOT have you looking at my underwear!"
Gunther whistles a bit at that last comment. The Kadie then grins and says, "Fine. Meet me by the signpost at the edge of town and we'll go." And with that, the Kadie zips off. He never really sits still, does he?
Olivia watches the Kadie boy leave, then stalks off to the Weaver's. She mutters under her breath, "I am far too trusting… I don't know how I get talked into these things!"
In about a half an hour, Olivia is back at the signpost, waiting for Gunther. She has changed into one of her dustier pairs of work overalls and a worn shirt, thinking that whatever Gunther has planned for her to test, it probably involves getting dirty. Or sticky. Or both.
From the bushes, a … well, a bush comes bouncing out at Olivia. It spins around, sending twigs and leaves in all directions. And there stands Gunther (still in his barrel armor, in fact), grinning at her. "And now … it is time for us to leave," he says with a maniacal cackle. And without even waiting, the Kadie goes bounding down the road, towards the Mint dam.
Olivia sighs and follows after the Kadie boy as fast as she can. "How in the world can he run so well in that getup?" she huffs, trying not to let Gunther get too far ahead of her.
The trip is generally without incident. It is not, however, without oddness. At one point Gunther actually snaps his armor back together and goes rolling down a steep part in the road. When he gets up, he wobbles and tilts for the next few minutes. But eventually, the two do make it to the Mint dam. They go down into the old construction passageways that Olivia was in earlier (back when she found herself in a cage). The area is lit and it appears Gunther has cleared out a section where he has been working. There are a couple of machines here, really. Most don't look that dangerous, in fact. Gunther stands before them and says, "Pick one!"
There are, in fact, three machines. Presumably the machine bits will be hidden in the end. The first looks like a tiled floor just leading up to a fake safe. The next one looks like a series of posts sunk into a pool of water instead of a floor. Perhaps you have to guess which ones are safe to step on? Third … it just looks like a safe door.
Olivia looks between the three, then points to the last one. "I'll try that first," she says. "So… do I just go up and try to open it?"
"Yep!" the Kadie says and bounds out of the way. He must have had a lot of sugar today.
Olivia thinks of all the horrible ways she could get splatted for doing this… but she pushes them all to the back of her mind and does it anyway. She goes up to the safe door and tries to spin the dial on it.
"The combination is just set to 1, 2, 3," Gunther says as he scoots back. Waaaaaay back.
Olivia notices Gunther's movements and steels herself for the worst. "Ooookay," she mutters, then spins the dial first to one, then to two, and finally holding her breath to three. She puts her hand on the safes handle and turns it.
This amazingly loud 'Aooooga!' alarm sound goes off! The door swings open and before Olivia can really react, this barrel on the end of a boom arm comes down over the Skeek. It doesn't stop there, though. She quickly finds herself turned and flipped on her head. It would probably be merciful if it stopped there … but no. The barrel starts spinning, taking Olivia with it! Something wraps tightly around her body and then there's this whumph! sound and Olivia finds herself arcing out of the barrel, through the air to land unceremoniously on her butt. At least Gunther was nice enough to put a large pillow for her to land on. Now that everything has quit spinning (sort of), Olivia can see just what has wrapped her. It's a gigantic pink ribbon. On top of her head is a huge pink bow, too. And stuck right on her chest is a sign, with an arrow pointing upwards at her head saying 'Thief!'.
Olivia takes one look at herself, wrapped up like a huge pink birthday present, and promptly falls over onto her back. Once the nausea subsides, she takes a big gulp of air and starts laughing hysterically. It actually takes a few minutes for the Skeek to calm down. With tears rolling down her cheeks, Olivia gasps, "Woo, an amusement park ride for thieves!"
Gunther is giggling quite a bit himself. "Wow, it actually worked!" he says sounding rather amazed by it. Eventually, the Kadie goes over and starts unwrapping the Skeek. "It would certainly surprise a thief, I would think."
"Indeed," Olivia agrees, just lying there and letting Gunther unwrap her. "The only thing you might need to add is a second or even a third alarm sound, so we know someone has broken in. Just one alarm might scare us but not tell us what's going on."
"Like the apprentices going for rides during the day?" Gunther inquires, brow arched. It takes a minute or so, but he does get Olivia unwrapped.
Olivia grins. "Yeah, I could see that happening. If you get a good enough alarm going, so that everyone knows what's going on including my aunt it'll act as a deterrent for that, I expect."
"I could just stick your Aunt on a post and poke her with sticks," Gunther muses, "I hear she's pretty loud… "
Olivia shakes her head at the Kadie. "She'd also break free and give you the whipping of your life. She's a lot bigger than most of us here in Stonebarrow, you know!"
"Chains then," Gunther considers, then hefts Olivia to her feet. "So, now which one?"
Olivia considers her choices, then points to the tiled floor leading up to the fake safe. "That one, I suppose. Just pick a path and start walking?" she asks.
"Yep, just like that," Gunther says. He backs away again. And this time also hides behind a makeshift wall.
Olivia ut-ohs and walks up to the tiled area, looking down and examining it before stepping out.
The floor is just basic ceramic tile. White and boring, really. There's no indication which is safe and which isn't.
Olivia braces herself again for anything and puts her weight on the first tile, nearest to her in the center.
And … nothing happens.
"All right," Olivia mutters, picking a tile to the left and stepping on that one next.
Still nothing happens. Well, this is a boring alarm system.
Olivia knows that the other shoe has to drop sometime, so she cautiously steps out onto the tile that is immediately in front of the one she's been standing on.
Third time's the charm. Before Olivia can even blink, the floor drops out from under here. Olivia drops down about seven feet. Above her light streams in. She's in a small tube of some sort. There's a rather ominous gurgling sound, too.
Olivia gasps at the sound, thinking she knows what's coming next. She calls out to Gunther, "I hope you have that pillow ready… !"
Well, if a rather sticky and viscus goo that sprays out and coats the Skeek completely is what Olivia was thinking, then she gets her wish! The stuff is warm and really, really, gross … but, at least it smells like peppermint. Then there's a popping sound and Olivia fins herself fired straight up out of the tube. She splats into a thankfully padded ceiling. So, no major injuries. On the down side … she's now stuck to the ceiling and dripping goo.
Olivia thhhhppps and spits warm goo from her mouth, gagging at the nasty taste. "Ughhh, this is awful," she groans, "but kinda what I was expecting. Except for the getting stuck to the ceiling part. So how do I get down?"
Gunther dutifully marches over with a long pole. On the end of that pole is a dull hook. Kicking the large pillow under Olivia, he then reaches up and slips the hook into the waist of the Skeek's overalls. Then with a firm yank, Olivia pulls off the ceiling with a squelching pop. Whumph! Down she goes into the pillow again. "I call that one the SnotShot," he says proudly.
Olivia sits up on the pillow and icks. "Good name for it," she comments, then looks down at the pillow. "I think you may want to get a new one of these… "
"Nah, I don't. I borrowed that from Zahn," Gunther says with a wide grin. "He needs a new one."
Olivia wipes goo off her forehead and out of her eyes. "Figures," she says, but is grinning, too. "So, is there more to that trap or do I move on to the last one now?"
"No, that's it for that one. So, last one," Gunther says. The Kadie then scurries away, goes behind that wall … and then an umbrella pops into view over the top of the wall.
Olivia walks over to the last security system and peers into the pool of water, then back at Gunther. "Well, I might get this junk washed off of myself, at any rate," she says to the world at large. Then she cautiously balances herself on a pole to the right of where she was standing.
The pole is pretty solid, thankfully. There are a series of them that go out across the pool to the fake vault door.
Olivia sticks with her pattern for the moment and chooses another pole to the right, then stands on it.
Nope, still nothing. The poles just stand still in teh pool of water, mocking her.
Olivia hmms and steps out onto the pole directly in front of her next. Will the third time be the charm again? she wonders.
Yep, sure looks that way. All the other poles around her suddenly vanish into the water. Then there's this 'snichting' sound and cuffs come up and wrap around her ankles. Before the Skeek can say anything, though, down she goes into the water with a sploosh! It doesn't stop there. Inside the water the pole vibrates up and down rapidly, shaking the Skeek around in the water. On the good side, it is getting the goo off her. On the bad side, it might be shaking her clothing off! And then the pole launches upward, out of the water. The cuffs release from the pole (still around her ankles). Gunther is waiting and dutifully flips over the pillow to the non-slimed side. For the third time today, she lands with a soft thud onto the pillow. "I call that one the pole-vault," Gunther announces proudly.
Olivia coughs up several mouthfuls of water, gasping and wheezing. Then she flops down on her back again, feeling tremendously shaken and ill. "Gah… that one's… kinda brutal… " she pants. Then she pats over her body, hoping that her clothes are still on.
Her clothing is very wet and thankfully still there. Of course, given how wet she is, it's likely not leaving much to the imagination anyway. "Well, you're stopping thieves, not people selling cookies," Gunther points out. "Would you rather it invite them for tea?"
"Urrrgh, I know… I know," Olivia grumbles, trying to sit up once more. It takes some effort, but she does it. "But, uh, what happens if the thief decides just to jump right in the water and work his way around the poles?"
"They would just set off the vibration mechanism and get rather shaken up," Gunther says with a shrug. "So, like any of them or want me to keep trying?"
Olivia pokes at the ankle cuffs, which are still attached to her. "Well, the gift-wrapping ride could be workable, given the space that we have. Not so sure about the other two, though. I'd have to ask my aunt and see what she says. She knows I've commissioned you to do this."
"Okay, well, you'll have to let me know, then," Gunther notes, "And you had better not be forgetting about paying me."
Olivia grins, in spite of being sopping wet and all shaken around. "I haven't forgotten. I was thinking of luring them into the wagon I had built for my trip with the gypsies with some other shinies that I picked up in the capitol. The rest would be up to you, of course."
"Yes, it will. They seem to be obsessed with groping lately when I've been listening in on them. What is groping?" Gunther has to ask.
Olivia's grin gets even wider. "Get trapped in a dark wagon with them and I'm sure you'll find out," she replies, waggling her eyebrows.
Gunther hmphs, "Some help you are." The Kadie then goes about the task of resetting the systems. "I don't even know if they actually like me, in any event," he comments. "I think they're fun. Plus, I have to keep an eye on those two."
"Oh, c'mon, you don't think they're an invading horde, do you?" Olivia asks. "Admittedly, they can be trouble, but I don't think it's as bad as all that. They were your bodyguards when you were posing as your brother to lure in the necromancer, you know! So they must like you at least a little!"
"They are an invading horde! They're dangerous!" Gunther insists. "All otters are dangerous!"
"Then why do you want to date them, if they're so dangerous?" Olivia asks. "Why not go for someone safer?"
"Are you crazy? I like them because they're dangerous!" Gunther remarks with a grin. "It'll never be boring."
Olivia nods and smiles. "Hmm, at last we get to the truth," she teases. "Er, and not to change the subject, but could you get these ankle cuffs off me? I still need to walk back to the Weaver's!"
"I was hoping to watch you hop. I wanted to see if what Emmett has said about women who are soaked and have to jump, is true," Gunther admits. He jumps down from where he was working and walks over to Olivia. The Kadie then kneels down and unlocks the cuffs with a key he was carrying.
Olivia raises an eyebrow at Gunther again. "What did Emmett say about- No, never mind. I don't want to know," she grumbles. "Thanks for the help. I guess I should get going, so I can go home and dry myself off. Just let me know when you're ready to attempt the great otter hunt!"
"Well, if you want to dry off faster … I could put you in one of the machines down here that could spin you very fast," Gunther offers with a grin.
Olivia wobbles to her feet. "No thanks, I've had enough whirling around for one day," she says, then heads for the exit. "I'll talk to you later!"