Over several days, Verity grew suspicious of Norris as he seemed to emulate her in more than just attire. He took to inventory like a fish to water, absolutely thrilled to partake in the stock-take of coconuts on the trees and livestock in the rock pools. Why, he even laid out sticks on a section of beach, arranging them in columns to record daily incomings and outgoings. Food and other materials consumed, food and other materials produced.
Eventually, Verity had to conclude that he was a man after her own heart and not trying to ingratiate himself with her at all. And he did not appear to be after her, despite her strolling around in a bikini. He was simply more interested in other figures. A quality that rendered him more attractive. Until he began to complain of the heat and pared his robes down to a pair of swimming trunks. He revealed a sunken chest that even the most fearless pirates would be unlikely to seek out.
Oh well, he seemed pleasant enough. Quite shy and quiet-spoken. Only really becoming animated when discussing numbers and assessing his array of stick-fenced columns on the beach.
And they revealed a strange truth.
While Verity adjusted to the presence of Norris, the island made its own adjustments.
More fish swam in the lagoon. More shellfish congregated in the rock pools. More fruits and coconuts sprouted on the trees. Paradise had grown more bountiful to accommodate the population boom.
Well, she supposed, that was one reason to continue to call it Paradise.
One thing Norris proved was as incapable as her of construction work. Together, they did manage to whittle and craft some tools and erect a ramshackle shack. A shack which, overnight, passed from ramshackle to tumbledown.
But Verity could hardly be mad at Norris for a gap in his skill set that she shared. They would just have to muddle on together as best they could.
They marked the passing days with their regular meetings at the beach columns, reviewing and checking the quantities and agreeing the forecast for their tomorrows, most of which would be the same as their todays.
But there was a sort of mathematical harmony to that, something they could both appreciate over a half-coconut cup of coconut milk. They made it a bit of a ritual.
Norris proposed a coconut clock. Some device that might deliver one bobbing coconut into a rock pool on every seventh incoming wave. But they agreed it probably required a greater grasp of mechanics than either of them possessed.
Besides, Paradise was running smoothly enough with their admittedly imprecise means of time-keeping.
Until Day Twelve.
Day Twelve, when another newcomer splashed down in the lagoon.
She waded ashore and introduced herself as Jennifer. She was blind as a bat and explained how her spectacles had slipped from her nose as she struck the water. Without them she looked stunning and Verity just knew that when she fashioned her black robes with silver trim into a bikini she would have a fantastic figure.
Paradise was getting crowded.
Lionel Follymeister knocked on the door.
The cottage looked innocuous enough. Quaint, even, with a fuller head of thatch than him. But there were reasons to be on his guard. And not only the house’s remote location in these sombre woods.
A short doughball of a man appeared at the door, ready with a congenial smile. Which he shucked like a snake shed its skin. “Oh. It’s you. I suppose you had best come in.” He wore robes of crimson and a steepled hat tall enough to warrant its own golden spire. “Wipe your feet.”
Lionel did as bidden and followed his grudging host inside. The quaint exterior gave way to dinginess and clutter. Shelves full of books, books serving as shelves. And all manner of arcane instruments and ingredients inhabited every surface. A cat curled in the dust on the mantelpiece and it raised its head to peer at the visitor. And revealed itself to be a cat composed of dust. A fact which made its gaze seem sleepier than that of most felines.
Lionel tried to ignore its disapproving scrutiny.
“Now, allow me to introduce myself – ”
“I know who you are.” The warlock bustled around an especially unruly bureau, unearthing a hefty ledger from an ancient civilisation of scrolls and other documents. “Although I’m wondering what took you so long. I received your stupid notice of inspection three months ago.”
Lionel straightened his glasses and rearranged his own robes. “Now, really, Mister Salzpfeffer, you mean to tell me you have seen no other assessors?”
“Not a blasted one.” Salzpfeffer waddled over to the nearest table as though heavy with a large meal in addition to the burden of the ledger. He swept some of the junk aside and dropped the book on the table. It puffed up cirrus of dust. “The paths through these woods are treacherous. It’s one of the reasons I live here. Tends to deter unwanted callers.”
“Right. Well, I understand your work is important and I will try to keep the duration of my stay to a minimum.” Lionel cleared his throat and advanced to the table. “But you must understand, this is a matter of law. Hexes and Magicks Revenue Collections is a serious business.”
“Bah.” Salzpfeffer stomped off to the fireplace to pet his dustkitty. “It’s a damned stupid law. Tax on magic. It’s an offence to practitioners, is what it is.”
“The law is the law. And after all, we require only a very small percentage of the magic energies expended throughout the year to be directed to the government coffers.” Lionel tapped the ledger. “Now, can I take it that these are your up to date accounts? Every spell woven, every charm and/or hex cast?”
Salzpfeffer grumbled. His dustmog growled. “I think you’ll find everything in there to your satisfaction.”
Lionel flipped open the book.
The pages were blank. The columns empty.
But as he turned leaf after leaf, searching, the paper developed an enticing blue hue. And the dust – the dust danced across the pages, circling to form an island of sand…
Lionel – yes, he was fairly sure his name was Lionel – flapped the voluminous sleeves of his black robes with silver trim. But they failed to keep him airborne.
He fell and fell like year-end profits in an off-season tourist spot. And hit the blue with an almighty splash.
He kicked and swam to the surface. Only to discover he could stand. The water was not nearly as deep as when he’d plunged into it.
Most strange. Where was he? He had no idea. Where had he come from? Also vague.
He waded towards the beach where a group of about a dozen people had gathered. All in black bathing costumes with silver trim.
An attractive brown-haired woman stepped forward to greet him.
“Hello. I’m Verity,” she said. “Welcome to Paradise.”