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sea water, and rubbing kwa blossoms into his bumpy skin to bring out its sought-after mottled coloration. As the villagers said, Farmer Jae cared for Des as if he had moss growing out of his head. He was convinced that any unusual activity in the vicinity was designed to upset Des, a conspiracy by those jealous of the swug's prize-winning stature. "He hasn't eaten anything for the past three days. He always eats. He's starting to lose his color. The judging is only two months away. I know what's behind this. Four days ago, I had to chase that cursed Jab out of my barn. I know she stung Des." Jae pointed at Nee. "He ruined my Des!"

Jab stood at Nee's feet, straining eagerly at the rope leash to cross over to Jae's property. She had a long cylindrical body and muscular legs that held her low to the ground. Scaly pink skin was perpetually covered by a layer of dirt. Her needle-sharp sting, the source of much of the trouble, was retracted into her forehead now.

Jab was a notorious creature in the town of Lok. Farmer Nee, busy fermenting moss into alcohol, let her roam wherever she pleased, and wherever she pleased tended to be a source of trouble. Galen couldn't imagine how Elric could waste his expertise on another one of Jab's misadventures, yet he knew that Elric actually enjoyed these escapades, since he would often recount them with the townspeople, and those were among the rare times Galen had actually seen Elric smile or laugh.

Jae took a threatening step toward Nee. "You shouldn't be allowed to keep that animal. You don't control her. She's a menace to the town!"

Elric blocked his path. "Thank you, Farmer Jae. We will now hear Farmer Nee's side."

"He has no side," Jae yelled. He stabbed a finger at Nee. "Incompetence! Laziness! Jealousy!"

Nee had been
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