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After rehabilitating Geoffrey to the point at which he could salsa if not lambada, we MG'ed to Yew and walked south to where the nightshade would be. Along the way, I got to view more of the puppy-love antics between Jaana and Shamino. They were sharing an Iguana-on-a-Stick, laughing and teasing each other. "You know how they make those things, don't you?" I thundered, but they kept laughing and chewing. How annoying! It was one thing for Jaana to back out of my antitrust lawsuit against Lord Licorice, but to reject my romantic advance and accept Shamino's was something else. She caught my sidelong glare a few times, but didn't tone the cutesy stuff down much.

We met cyclopes along the way, but beat them at a game of Boulder-Sword-Papyrus.

We reached the nightshade spot, waited till midnight, and picked eight of the big ol' magic mushrooms. Now, it was time to find the evil skull of Mondain. Replacing my Sausalito cap with my Hipolito cap, I checked the map website for its location. Yipes! It was in the chain of volcanoes known as Los Tres Eructadores.

"In a volcano?" exclaimed Shamino. "Certainly, thou cannot be serious."

"I am serious," I answered, "and don't call me Sir Tinley."

"Are Los Tres Eructadores still active, though?" asked Tubbs.

"Active as yogurt cultures, I'm sure. I mean, who ever heard of a dormant volcano in a fantasy story?"

"I don't know, sounds kinda dangerous. What do you think, sister?"

Nothing fazed Jaana anymore. "Sounds ... dangeresque," she said. "Let's go for it. I've always wanted to see Los Tres Eructadores. They are supposed to be natural wonders."

"Maybe we should stop at Buccaneer's Den along the way, just to see what we can find out about the skull first."

Jaana nodded in agreement, though I think Tubbs was contemplating frothy fermentations rather than finding information. We took a long hike east toward Trinsic. Shamino was distracted by the task of sharpening his sword with Geoffrey's willing teeth, so I had the chance to talk with Jaana in private.

"Jaana," I said, "I want to know why you—"

She took a deep breath in anticipation of my question, and said, "Shamino was a lost soul when we met him. He didn't have many friends in Skara Brae, so he joined us as a way out. I know he perturbs you, Sausalito. He gets on my nerves as well, but he does try to help. You may not realize it, but when you bought him a bow, only to take it away from him and give it to me, he was crushed."

I had revoked Shamino's bow because he did not use it as a ranger ought. With every arrow he shot during battle, he loudly boasted, "Bulls eye!" or "Fantabulous!" or "Didst thou see that?" He did this even when he missed, which was about half the time. Jaana proved a much better archer, and Shamino was reasonable with the sword when he dared to close with the enemy. Shamino grumbled quite often about losing his bow, but I was always in "talk to the hand" mode. I just didn't want to hear another word from him.

"Maybe I could have been gentler to the puppy," I admitted. "But that doesn't explain—"

"Since then, he's been hurt. If you're to complete your quest of becoming the Avatar, you'll need everyone in your group to be in high spirits. I'm just trying to be a personal friend to him. I don't wish to take things any further, and made sure he understands this, but I'm not against a little flirting if it cheers him up some."

"Shamino has proven a bit braver lately," I conceded, remembering our most recent battle in which Shamino led the charge against a nasty troll.

"Were I not a druid," Jaana continued, "I would perhaps have joined hearts with someone like you. Shamino is not my type. But as a steward of nature, I must strive to promote harmony for the sake of virtue."

I nodded. Perhaps I had Jaana to thank for Shamino's increased prowess. If her kindness toward him made the group stronger, there was nothing more to say.

In Trinsic, we bought Geoffrey a 600-gold chain mail dickey and slept at the inn. In the morning, we wandered Trinsic's coast in search of a ship to hijack. (We had left the S.S. Rainz anchored near the entrance to the Dungeon of Deceit. It was probably a tax write-off at this point, as we were unlikely to see it again.) I must admit to exiting and restarting the game many times to find a ship without being bothered by wandering monsters. The vessel we eventually spotted had an astonishing speaker system in aft, custom hydraulics, and giant fuzzy dice hanging from the masthead. We tossed its occupants, cranked up the bass, and sailed low & slow all the way to the island of Buccaneer's Den.

At the Den, I was expecting to be greeted by eye-patching, parrot-shouldering, tooth-missing, grog-gulping, shanty-singing, pegleg-tapping, plank-walking pirates. You know, really cool guys who say "Arr, matey!" all the time. But the fellows we met had nice teeth and surly dispositions.

Feeling like bicyclists lost at a Sturgis rally, we tried to talk to people while staying out of trouble. One person confirmed that I would lose all virtue if I used the skull for any purpose other than destroying itself. Another told me that a stolen "lighter-than-air" device lied near the Dungeon of Hythloth. Intriguing! There was an arms shop selling exotic weapons like Magic Bow and Magic Wand. We'll come back to buy those things when we have more pieces o' eight. Hidden under a canopy of trees, there was a magic shop where the herbs were going for exorbitant prices, except for black pearl at just one gold doubloon apiece. We bought 20 of the penny pearls and boarded our boat, where we'd found that the dishonest dockhands had stolen our beaded seat cushion and fluffy steering wheel cover.

We sailed to the volcanoes, hoping not to find dragons there replenishing their fire breath. To our surprise, the coordinates for the skull placed us between the volcanoes rather than on top of one. We dropped anchor and waited for the twin moons to wane into blackness. Then, the only light came from the stars above and the glowing lava of Los Tres Eructadores. Mariah yelped and pointed to a white object bobbing in the water near the boat. Tubbs snagged it with a fishing pole and reeled it in. Forgetting its evil danger, we triumphantly held the skull of Mondain, dripping with seawater, above our heads for the constellations to admire. As if to hail our victory, Los Tres Eructadores shook the seas and lit up the night horizon with simulatneous eruptions.

* Translation: Tasted better the first time, muchacho!

"Arr!" yelled a gruff, gravelly voice. "Put me down! How dare you disturb my world conquest brainstorming activities!"

We screamed and dropped the skull, running backwards from it as it bounced on the deck. "Ow," it whimpered, "I said put me down, not drop me! Right on my chin, no less! I spent years floating in the water at precisely the right angle to shape it to a perfect taper. Now you've chipped it!"

I slowly walked up to the crass cranium, not half-believing my ears. "You can talk?" I gasped.

"You can form whole sentences?" he barked, his whole head rising and falling with each syllable while his lower jaw remained flat on the floor. "Put me back where you found me, sea monkeys! You have no idea who you're dealing with!"

By now, we were all standing around and staring at the thing. "You're Mondain the wizard, ain't you?" asked Geoffrey.

"That's Master Mondain the Maleficent, thou sea cow! When I conquer all that you behold, you'll be lucky if you're still part of it. So I suggest you mmmph!"

Geoffrey snatched up the skull and stuffed it into the potato sack that he still carried around. The sack wiggled and emanated Mondain's muffled protests. Our elation in finding the bonehead had quickly given way to exasperation at the thought of having to listen to it. The folks at Buccaneer's Den had plenty to say on how dangerous it was, but they didn't warn us it could talk. I'm sure they laughed at our folly as we sailed off to find it. It was probably in the ocean because some evil archaeologist, planning to lay waste to the realm with it, chucked it overboard when he got sick of its nattering.

To compound our frustration, we now had enemies angry with us for fishing Mondain out of the quieting ocean. We sailed back west at maximum warp, but our foes matched speed. We took refuge on the first island in sight, not realizing that we'd discovered the home of the third principle-town:

There wasn't much to do at the home of courage, but we got a syllable of the Word of Passage and discovered that the Bell of Courage was at the bottom of a deep well out at sea. We sailed out to the well, and well, it was huge. The ocean waters were circling around and draining into it like a tremendous waterfall. The well's deafening, continuous gurgle was like the yawn of Poseidon himself. We stared, mouths agape, at the amazing, terrible sight.

"You wanted to see natural wonders," I commented to Jaana.

"It's a natural terror," she replied.

"Ha!" laughed Mondain's skull, which had somehow found its way out of the potato sack and onto Tubbs' shoulder. "No hero I've ever known needed a tinkly bell to save the world. You're doomed!"

Ignoring his unwanted second head, Tubbs asked, "How can we find the Bell of Courage in a bottomless well?"

"With courage," replied Shamino as he climbed over the railing. I couldn't believe what he was about to do. Holding on to the railing from the outside, he turned around and clasped Jaana's hand. "I'm going to find the Bell, dearest," he said in meaningful tones, "but if I do not return, tell all in Skara Brae how I dived into the well with you in my heart!" Theatrically, he released Jaana's hand and swan-dived backwards into the cycling current, which flushed him down the well in seconds. Jaana was silent and wide-eyed, both hands over her mouth. Geoffrey tried to start a slow clap, and Mariah sobbed. I just rolled my eyes.

After a minute passed without seeing Shamino, I said, "Well, I guess that's that. Let's go find a nice restaurant." "Wait," cried Jaana, "do you hear what I hear?" I concentrated. Over the roar of the waters I could make out the tinny ring of a bell. The ringing grew louder while the well's noise became softer. The vicious currents that had cruelly swept Shamino into the well soon became calm and silent. Shamino appeared on the lip of the well, ringing the Bell of Courage above his head in victory. Everyone cheered him on as he swam from the pacified well to our boat. Jaana gave him a hug and a kiss, and even I had to pat his back in congratulation. He was a pain in the neck, but never again would I think of our bowless ranger as a hopeless weasel.

High on hope but low on food, we decided to go to Moonglow. Excitedly, Mariah prepared the ingredients for her first Gate Travel spell. This spell is supposed to take you to any moongate, but instead of providing a list of destinations, it asks you to input a "phase" number. It took some exiting and restarting to figure out that Moonglow's number is one, but from studying the map website, I think I know why.

At the Sage Deli in Moonglow, they had a special offer for a lifetime membership in the Mutton of the Month Club. A different cut of mutton delivered to your doorstep every month. Keep only the ones you want, cancel anytime. We signed up for it, not realizing that we wouldn't see much mutton without a permanent address.

We walked to the Lycaeum, learned the third and final syllable of the Word of Passage, and asked Father Antos about the book. He directed us to the library, which was a pretty scholarly place.

We found the Book of Truth on the "T" shelf between Trout Fishing in Britannia and Tyra Banks' Guide to Programming in C++. With the book in my hands, I jumped up and down in respectful silence. All this progress in just 60,500 moves. Pretty fly for a sheep guy!

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