The town hall was ransacked as you would expect from marauders. Furniture was in pieces, papers and belongings were scattered everywhere. It smelled of manure. This was because in addition to the hall being full of barbarian-looking types in furs and Viking hats, one of them had also brought his horse inside.
"I'm looking for the Butcher," said Fate, slamming her hand down on the reception desk.
"Well, you found him," said the horse in a gravelly snarl.
"I have had to rethink my assumptions many times today," said Fate.
"I wasn't always a horse," said the horse who was apparently called the Butcher.
"No reason to dwell on the past," said Fate quickly. "What I want to know is what's your deal here? Why are you taking over this village?"
"Why does anyone take over a village?" snorted the Butcher, tapping a hoof impatiently. "We're here to pillage the resources and help ourselves to the fat of the land. That's the way of things. The strong take from the weak. Don't like it? Get strong and make people do things your way."
"Yeah, I got that," said Fate. "But what's with the human sacrifice festival? Imposing a gory ritual seems like a lot of work if all you want is to gorge yourself on other people's food and wine."
"We got a sharp one here, boys," the Butcher called out to the other marauders, who laughed raucously. "That's right," he said, turning back to Fate. "We're working for somebody. Somebody who wants some human sacrifices. And we get to help ourselves to whatever we come across in the course of getting that done."
"And who might that be?"
"Just a second now, missy," said the Butcher, rearing his head back and snorting. "It's time for me to ask a few questions of my own. What's your business here? From the looks of it, you're a working mage, and this kid is some kind of apprentice or assistant. Who are you working for, then?"
"Nobody," said Fate. "I'm sticking my nose into other people's business on my own time."
The Butcher let out a long whinny of contempt. "That's a stupid approach to business," he said. "No wonder you both look half-starved."
At this Inversion turned his calm, intense gaze on the horse, unnerving the creature, who shifted nervously and let out some anxious snorts.
"You look like a corpse," insisted the Butcher. He turned back to Fate, who did not spook him. "So you want to save this village, is that right? Trying to be a hero?"
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," said Fate. "I want to know who wants the human sacrifices."
"As I told you to start off with," said the Butcher, "you want something? Get strong enough to take it."
"Fine, you want to do this the hard way," said Fate, rolling up her sleeves. "Kid, get ready to blast some marauders."
"I can't," said Inversion.
"What?" said Fate, whirling toward him. "Why on earth not?"
"I might kill someone."
"Oh God, now you're a pacifist?"
"No," said Inversion, "I just..."
"Just put them on the ceiling again!"
"Okay, but -"
"We can't really back out now!"
The Butcher didn't like the sound of any of this and ordered his men forward. "Cut 'em open!" he neighed.
Inversion stepped forward as a handful of marauders leapt across the overturned furniture at them and everything flew up to the ceiling, men, furniture, horse, and all, slamming violently against it. He surveyed his work with some concern but everyone seemed to be unharmed, if very angry.
"What are you?" asked the horse.
"I'm only going to ask you one more time," said Fate. "Who are you working for?"
"L-Lady Remoulade," said the Butcher. "She needs blood for... it's one of those eternal youth things."
"Where can we find her?"
"Chateau Remoulade, five miles east of the village, you can't miss it."
"Thank you!" said Fate. "That's all I wanted."
"So..." said Inversion slowly, "now what."
"Well, you let them down," said Fate.
"So they can kill us?"
"Oh," said Fate. The two of them looked silently at the marauders on the ceiling for a good couple minutes. They were silent, at least. The marauders were cursing up a storm. They threw some weapons, but those went straight to the ceiling as well.
"I could... kill them one by one," Fate suggested.
"That seems wrong," said Inversion.
"Yes," agreed Fate, going back into pondering mode.
"You have any kind of stun or sleep kind of magic?" asked Inversion. He didn't know if that was a thing.
"No, that's beyond my skill level," said Fate ruefully. "Can you just bang their heads on something so they'll go unconscious?"
"No," said Inversion. "It doesn't work like that, if you hit someone on the head you might just give them a bruise, you might knock them out, or you might kill them, there's no way to pick which it is."
"Well, right, it depends on how hard you hit them."
"No, that's what I'm trying to tell you, it doesn't, the same hit could do different things to different people. The brain is a really complex system and -"
"I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL KILL YOUR FAMILIES!" The Butcher was in a rage now, kicking the ceiling to pieces.
"Can you just hold them long enough for us to run away like last time?"
"We can't outrun a horse," said Inversion. "Do you have a hole?"
"That was my last one," said Fate.
"And anyway, if you want to go to Chateau Remoulade, they'll catch up with us there."
"Look, I'm sorry," said Fate. "I said I was making a lot of assumptions today and I think this is the worst one of all. I assumed just because you were a kid that barely talks, that you don't know what you're doing, and I should just give you orders. I'm sorry. I should have listened when you saw a problem with this plan."
"I... okay," said Inversion. "What are we going to do, though?"
"I... kid, I'm really sorry, I think I'm out of ideas."
"I think I've got one," said Inversion. He had one hand pointed at the marauders to hold them up, but now he used the other hand to trace the shape of a large circle in the air, a dark, shaky line following his finger. When the ends joined, the circle began to fill in with a strangely familiar inky blackness.
"That's a hat hole," said Fate.
"Sort of," said Inversion.
"Yolo?" said Fate.
"Yolo. Through the hole on 3. 1... 2..."
As he released the marauders, he and Fate dived through the hole, tumbling onto the rocky ground of the alligator cave once more.
"I don't know how to close it," said Inversion. Fate jumped to her feet and whispered the incantation, but nothing happened. She tried another, and another. Then she leapt back as the sound of thundering hooves approached, and an angry horse shot out of the hole and straight into the water.
"Dinner time, kids!" said the voice of an alligator, followed by a number of truly gruesome noises. Fate decided not to turn on the lantern for a while until finally she heard the voice of a content alligator saying, "Ahhh, that hit the spot."
Fate finally turned on the lantern and they both looked at the hole. Inversion reached out a hand but it was like tapping on glass.
"They're usually one-way," said Fate. "How did you know how to..."
"Oh, hey, it's you," said a voice at their feet. They looked down to see Corvette. "I was just about to kill you. I mean, we just ate, but then I wouldn't have to worry about tomorrow. Good thing I recognized you."
"Could you just avoid killing people entirely?" said Fate. "I'd feel better if you just didn't kill people. As a favor to us. There's got to be enough animals around here."
"I'll think about it," said Corvette. "Did you bring the horse?"
"Sort of," said Inversion, frowning.
"You didn't kill him," said Fate. "There's no way anyone would count that as you killing someone."
"Hey, I don't have a problem with killing," said Corvette.
"He does," explained Fate.
"Oh, got it, got it."
Inversion was still staring at the portal. "Let me try to close it," he said. "Before any others come through."
"All right," said Fate, and whispered the incantation to him.
He repeated it, and the hole winked out of existence.
"I guess it only works if you made it?" he guessed.
"That's not normal," said Fate.
"Either way, very impressive," said Corvette.
"Can you give us a ride back through the tunnel?" asked Fate. "I don't think we can go back through this."
"No problem," said Corvette. "Hey kids, teeth off," she yelled into the water as she carried the two humans back through the underwater tunnel again.