For the next week, Nestor and Gwendolyn watched Parazoa in shifts. Gwendolyn took the mornings, because Luminous met in the evening and Odd & Ends closed around the same time. Because of the devil’s proclivity for manipulation, they agreed that the fewer people who knew about this, the better. At the same time, seven days in, Gwendolyn expressed her frustrations about the fact that she didn’t know when Linda was returning.
“It’s bad enough my girlfriend walked out on me,” she grumbled, “but now I’ve got to waste all my bloody days watching this cretin for who knows how long!”
“Cretin?” Parazoa had asked. “I thought we were having a lovely conversation!”
“I just think maybe we ought to bring someone else into the fold.”
“More friends!” Parazoa agreed.
Nestor was able to talk sense into Gwendolyn, but her frustration concerned him. Gwendolyn and Nestor went back a long way, and Nestor knew what happened when things got too hard: she quit. So Nestor suggested an overlapping period each day, where they would both watch Parazoa for an hour, to make sure neither of them was being seduced by the devil’s magics.
For their part, Parazoa was mostly quiet, but on some days they would get really interested in a particular subject. They’d ask about the people of Skymoore and the culture of the city, and about Nestor and Gwen’s personal lives. They always shot Parazoa down on the last subject, but they typically indulged them on the others. After all, Gwen and Nestor were just as bored with their days as Parazoa was.
On the third double-duty shift, Gwendolyn looked up from the script she was reading and broke their habitual silence. “Linda told you about Parazoa, right Nestor? You mentioned that?” Nestor affirmed. “When?”
“Just the other day, when I was looking around for ghosts! I felt a presence from her room, and she told me.”
Gwen narrowed her eyes. “You’re sure? She never mentioned him before then?”
“I’m sure…Why do you ask?”
“It’s just dawning on me that it’s a little unusual that Teyla hasn’t returned after speaking with such confidence. Almost like she doesn’t need to return. Not to mention that she found her way in here right after you started poking around.”
Nestor was taken aback. “Are you accusing me of treachery, Ms. Bottlehelm?”
“Of a sort. I know how you are, Nestor Pinkly, you’ll do anything to keep a friend.”
“Well – a good friend, yes! But Teyla Eastwind is not the sort of person I’d like to be friends with. Maybe she thinks she has a good reason for her actions, but she’s willing to hurt people. Not everyone has to be my friend.”
Gwendolyn snorted. “Ah, yes, now you know that.”
“Maybe the two of you should keep tabs on the girl,” Parazoa suggested, “just to clear the air.”
Nestor and Gwendolyn both shot the devil a look. “You’re not getting away that easy,” Gwen said.
Parazoa put up their hands defensively. “What am I even going to do, bound here in this circle?”
“No one is going to find out,” she said. “We’re not that stupid.”
Nestor crossed his arms. “How do I know you’re not behind this?” he asked. Now it was Gwen’s turn to look appalled. “I’m serious! You’re clearly very jealous of my friendship with Ms. Arterford, and we both know how you can be when you’re jealous. Maybe you helped Parazoa get free to make me look bad!”
“I’m nasty when I’m jealous, Pinkly, but the day I get jealous of a ridiculous gnome who doesn’t know when to step out of costume is a day we’ll never see. If I wanted to sabotage you, I wouldn’t need the help of an adolescent witch and one-eyed Willy here.”
Gwendolyn’s words were like a slap across the back of the head. The gnome looked as though he might cry. “Why do you hate me so much?” he asked. “You’re the one who hurt my feelings.”
“That is an unbearably simple-minded way to look at things,” Gwen snapped.
“I really oughta start charging for these therapy sessions,” Parazoa chimed in. “Look at all this pain we’re getting off our chests! I’ll take freedom or privacy as a reward!”
“For therapy to be effective, he’d have to be capable of learning,” she said. “But speaking of, my hour is up, and I’ll be going to work now. Don’t ruin this like you ruin everything else.”
“Hoo boy!” Parazoa said once Gwendolyn had left. “She really can’t stand you, can she? Honestly, I kind of like things this way. At this rate, she might just let me free so she doesn’t have to deal with you anymore!”
Nestor refused to engage with the devil, but they did have a point. If Gwendolyn wasn’t going to be a trustworthy ally, he’d have to work on finding a solution to the problem rather than waiting for Linda to take care of it for them.
The following morning, Gwendolyn was later than usual in relieving Nestor from his shift. “Apologies,” she yawned as she took her place on the padded rocking chair they’d set up in the room. “It’s getting harder, living on such little sleep.”
Nestor frowned. “I must admit, I didn’t think about that,” he said.
The frown gave way to a slight scowl, possibly the first ever to cross Nestor Pinkly’s face. He corrected immediately. “Gnomes don’t require quite as much sleep as humans. I don’t mind taking an extra few hours a day if that means you’re more prepared!”
Gwendolyn figured she might as well take over that day, as she was already there, but it was agreed this would be the plan for the future. Once he was free, Nestor did something he’d never done before in his life: he asked for time off at Odd & Ends.
Donovan reminded Nestor that he owned the business and did not have to submit a request. “Linda didn’t even do that,” he added. Nestor filled out the form anyway.
Shortly thereafter, Nestor found himself in the only easily accessible government building in Skymoore: the office/home of Mayor Gendry Dew. Things never really changed in the mayor’s office; there was always a bored-looking teen working the reception desk, a tired-looking assistant in the corner taking note of every word spoken in his room, and a ceramic pot on the mayor’s oversized desk, in which Gendry Dew himself lived.
Today, however, something was very different. The potted plant was gone and the mayor, typically only a torso and head planted in soil, possessed what was unmistakably a pair of legs, very much not bound to roots. He was actually tap-dancing on his desk and singing a gibberish tune to himself, which his assistant was dutifully recording.
“Hello, young man,” the withered-looking elf assistant greeted, “how would you spell ‘ya-dah-dah-dee, a yah-dah-dah-day?’”
“Er…” Nestor began.
“Never mind,” the elf muttered. “I’ll figure it out.”
“Mayor Dew!” Nestor said, “you have legs now!”
“I’ve always had legs!” Mayor Dew replied, smiling brightly as always.
Nestor sputtered a moment. It was, after all, illegal to proclaim or even imply that a government official is speaking a deliberate lie. “Then what’s with all the dancing? Did I miss something exciting?”
“Being alive is exciting!” Mayor Dew said, now using a pencil on his desk as a makeshift prop cane. “Especially when you have a brand-new pair of legs – aw fiddlesticks! You’re a sly one, Nestor Pinkly; I’ve always liked that about you.”
Nestor tapped his head triumphantly. “Now, I’m not accusing you of anything, Mayor Dew…”
“That would be illegal!”
“Right! Which is why I’m not doing that.” Nestor considered his words carefully. “It’s true that you have a key to every home in Skymoore, yes?”
“Well of course, Nestor, you know that. We need them for the semi-mandatory inspections and the unannounced games of Where’s the Oven Mitt.”
“Who has access to the keys?”
“Only myself and any hypothetical superiors I do or do not actually answer to.”
“And you never loan them out?”
Gendry thought for a moment, his smile still plastered to his face. “That would be bribery, Nestor Pinkly. We don’t even give copies of the keys to the homeowners.”
The two stared one another down for a long time, Gendry’s perpetual grin vs Nestor’s unwavering innocence. Eventually, Gendry Dew spoke up through clenched teeth. “Lolly, please cease recording and put the last hour’s record in the incinerator, just to be safe.”
Lolly walked across the room to the fire elemental that stood next to a metal bucket beside the trash can. The elven recorder tossed a scroll in, and the elemental burned it to a cinder with a snap of their fingers.
“You truly are a clever one, Nestor,” Gendry admitted, still smiling. “Yes, I’ll open up to you, since it seems you already possess a majority of the picture. And you saved my life that one time.
“Teyla Eastwind approached me some weeks ago with a proposition; I provide her with the key to a few buildings, and she provided me with legs. Now Teyla Eastwind swore up and down in an Aura of Honesty that she would not be using this key for evil, so I agreed to her terms. That’s the long and the short of it, Nestor Pinkly, Mayor’s honor! Why, is she doing something nefarious?”
Nestor had a real problem with lying, so he considered his words carefully. “It’s…hard to say. I’m not sure what she’s planning. But she has been poking around my friend’s house.”
“Well, if it turns out I’ve troubled you at all, Mr. Pinkly, I will do you a favor of your choosing! And not only because you now know information that can positively ruin me! Now, I need to scream into a vase for half an hour, so if you’ll excuse me….”
“Well, Gwendolyn, I’ve figured out a thing or two!” Nestor said when he returned to Linda’s bedroom that evening for the double shift. He explained his findings with Mayor Dew.
“Great,” Gwen deadpanned, “except I have no reason to believe you’re telling me the truth. And even if that is true, that doesn’t really help us. So we know what we already knew, Teyla got into the house. Great work, detective.”
“Well, if she was willing to risk working with Mayor Dew for whatever she was planning, it must be really bad!”
Gwendolyn slapped her hands to her cheeks. “Oh no!” she gasped. “You mean the plan that involved setting free a paranoia devil might be bad?! You really must be working with the fiend, because nobody could be this moronic of their own accord.”
“Doesn’t anyone care what I think?” Parazoa asked, but they went ignored.
“What is the matter with you, Gwendolyn?” Nestor asked. “I don’t understand why you don’t like me! I’m only trying to be helpful!”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Why does it matter if I like you, Nestor?”
“I want everyone to like me!”
She shook her head. “That’s a really sad way to live. It’s a one-way trip to no personality. And you have personality, Nestor, which means that some people aren’t going to like you.”
Nestor’s lip trembled. “So you don’t like me?”
“You already know where we stand, Nestor, and if you keep acting like you don’t, I’m only going to like you less. Now come on, let’s watch this miserable cretin in silence.”
As time bore on, Nestor started to doubt the importance of the hour of overlap. After all, if Gwendolyn or Nestor were going to do something nefarious, they wouldn’t do it with anyone watching. The only other option was to watch the devil constantly, which would leave the pair sleep deprived and defenseless, and would eventually spark a search for the two which would risk more exposure to Parazoa.
He thought about sending Gwen away, but then more fear gripped him. If he kept ceding responsibly, she might just place this all on Nestor, which wouldn’t be a viable situation. No, if he couldn’t convince Gwen to behave through reason, he’d just have to force responsibility onto her. As he had this debate with himself, Gwendolyn buried her nose back in a script, while Parazoa fixed his gaze on Nestor. The devil could probably have launched across the room and attacked the gnome and Gwen wouldn’t have even noticed. She disliked him so much, she’d probably let him!
Eventually, Gwen left, and Nestor’s thoughts began to calm.
“I like you,” Parazoa said, once she was gone. He smiled a friendly, toothy grin. “Don’t let that awful, stuffy person get you down.
“I was a gnome once, too, back before I committed myself to my craft, helping people protect themselves from through realization of fear. And you know what gnome I looked up to most of all?”
“Who?” Nestor asked.
“Nestor the Incomparable of the Merry Minstrels,” said Parazoa. Nestor’s eyes widened with disbelief. “Would you mind talking to me a little bit about what it was like, to be a part of all that?”
That was how the two passed their time that evening. And the next. And the next.
Love Odd & Ends? If you leave a comment below, or spread the word to your friends, it would mean the world to me! Either way, thank you so much for reading!