Pepper was quaking himself. He had never been so scared in his life. "It?" He asked "What is that?"
"Not That," Pinkie said, "It."
"Is - is there a That, too?"
Pinkie pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them tightly. "No."
Pepper opened his mouth to say something else, but Pinkie beat him to it. "Listen, Pepper, maybe I should have told you a little more about everything in the first place, but I really didn't expect It to be a problem when I brought you in here."
"That's okay," said Pepper, but mostly because he couldn't really think of anything else to say. He didn't know if it was okay or not. If he had thought about it more, he probably would have concluded that falling in another creature's blood was decidedly NOT okay, but he was too shaken to pay attention to trifles like that.
"The thing is-" Pinkie began, but stopped. She breathed deeply, then let out a sob.
It wrenched a bit at Pepper's heart to hear the noise. For a moment, he forgot she was a murffle and saw her as a girl, and he was okay with that. He was less okay when he felt like reaching out to pat her on the back, so he went right back to the murffle status. Instead of back patting, he said the only thing he could think of to make her feel better, even though he didn't mean it with his whole heart: "It's okay, Pinkie, you don't have to tell me."
She looked into his eyes, her face wildly grateful and suddenly shiny and... and beautiful. "Really?"
Pepper nodded. "Really."
Then Pinkie broke absolutely every rule Pepper had carefully concocted for their relationship by leaping up and throwing her arms around him, squeezing him in a tight embrace. "Thank you," she gasped, through a new sort of sob. It didn't seem quite as sad as before. "Thank you."
Pepper didn't know what to do. He sat, very still, while the girl/murffle held her arms firmly around his neck. He couldn't move his arms at all, or they would end up around her, and that simply wouldn't do. He couldn't turn his head, or it would be resting on her shoulder. And he certainly couldn't stand up, or he'd end up pulling her closer.
He was stuck.
So he waited. He waited until she felt she had hugged him sufficiently and released him. She sat back, looking at him and smiling broadly, her eyes still wet and her cheeks still puffy from crying.
"So..." Pepper said, "Should we try getting some sleep before we set out tomorrow?" he asked.
Pinkie nodded. "Yes," she said, "Yes, that's a very good idea."
** ** **
Pepper woke up to the sun streaming in through the window. As he lay in the comfortable bed, it seemed almost like the bizarre incident from the night was just a bad dream. He sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Pinkie was already awake, sitting in one of the chairs and paging through The. She looked up to see Pepper was watching her, and snapped the book shut.
"Good morning!" She said. "Mr. Morggison would like us to join him for breakfast. Are you ready?"
Pepper yawned deeply. "Now? I just woke up."
"I've been up for hours already," Pinkie said. "You sleep quite late."
"Well, hermits can sleep as late as they want," Pepper said indignantly. Pinkie had clearly gotten her murffly nature back now that it was day time again. He threw the covers back and stood up, stretching. Glancing down at his clothes, he noticed that the blood stains were gone. Maybe... maybe it had been a dream?
"We'll have to get going soon if we want to make good time back. We'll need as much daylight as possible to set up our house." She slipped The book into a sack lying at the foot of her chair, and slung it over her shoulder.
"Anything interesting in there?" Pepper asked casually.
"Hmm, nothing I could see," Pinkie replied. "Just some random facts and things. I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to look through it once we're all moved in."
She stood up and headed out the door. Pepper had little choice but to follow along behind her. They left the room (Pepper noticed that the dishes from the night before had been cleaned up and the table was now empty save for a small vase with two daisies) and headed down the corridor. It had changed, Pepper noted. He couldn't begin to put his finger on how, exactly, but it felt distinctly different. He shook it off, however, content with the fact that he and Pinkie would soon be leaving this place to begin their new lives as hermits.
...Was there always a room here?
They had entered what must have been a dining room, Mr. Morggison was sitting at the head of an oddly shaped table. A breakfast spread as inviting as dinner had been was laid out for them, waiting.
"Welcome, you two, have something to eat before you head back. It's a long journey, you don't want to go on an empty stomach!" His eyes were twinkling, and the thick beard crinkled in such a way that indicated the man was clearly smiling.
Pepper felt funny. Something was wrong. It felt like things were being hidden from him in every corner. He looked around, trying to figure it out. The room was well-lit, bright, and happy. Pinkie and Mr. Morggison were smiling, chatting happily, already filling their plates with bacon, eggs and biscuits. Outside, he could hear birds twittering away like birds usually do.
But something was amiss... maybe it was just that he had been away from home, from anywhere he knew, for an entire night? He had never done that before. Even when his friends asked him to go on sleepovers, his parents had typically said no. Yes, that must have been it... everything would be fine once he was back at home. Pinkie was right, it was best to get going, the sooner he was in his new hermit house the better. Then he could get back to what was really important, which was living alone. He wasn't entirely sure how he would work around his chosen home already belonging to someone else, but he figured he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.
He sat down at the table, reaching for a plate.
"Good of you to join us," Mr. Morggison said. "I wonder, did you have a chance to look at the book I gave you?"
Pepper shook his head. "Not yet," he said through a mouthful of grits.
Mr. Morggison tapped his fork idly on his plate. "You'll want to give it a read through before taking on any... difficult tasks?" He winked at the boy.
Pepper continued to eat. The chair he sat in was slightly too big for him, and his feet were dangling just above the floor, swinging back and forth. He felt them kicking something.
"Is there something underneath this table, Mr. Morggison?" Pepper asked.
"What's that, son?"
"It's just that, I'm kicking something, and..." Pepper leaned over to look under the table, and saw that he had been kicking was a large, silver ring. "Is there a trap door under here?"
There was a sound from the table above him, so he pulled his head up to see what it was.
"I'm sorry?" Mr. Morggison said.
"I said is there..." but his feet no longer hit anything when he swung them.
"Is there what, Pepper?"
"A..." he looked back down, and the silver ring had disappeared. "Nothing... I could have sworn there was something down here..."
"Probably a rat or something," Mr. Morggison said. "One of the problems with being a hermit is that it's tough to get a good exterminator out to your dwelling." He smiled kindly at Pepper. This time, Pepper felt calmed by the bearded man, and smiled back.
They finished their meal with pleasant conversation, and with a happy wave, Pinkie and Pepper were bidding Mr. Morggison goodbye and heading out of the woods and back into the Dune.
Chapter 1: Pepper
Chapter 2: Pinkie
Chapter 3: Dune
Chapter 4: Mugget
Chapter 5: Deltiology
Chapter 6: Umbrella
Chapter 7: The
Chapter 8: Exsanguination
Full Story at pepperadventure