“So you’re telling me, we need to peel back the last fourteen coats of paint, and no more, in order to get our next message? How in the hell are we supposed to do that?” He spoke angrily, and looked at her, frowning.
“We do that,” she said calmly, “with a paint diviner.” So saying, she pulled a paint diviner out of her satchel.
He gawped at her. Then he said, “You just happen to be carrying a paint diviner?”
She didn’t meet his eyes. When she answered, she spoke quietly. “I ‘happen to be carrying’ a lotta things.”
He snorted. “Next you’ll be telling me your satchel is an extradimensional storage space. Is this a fucking game to you?”
She eyed him appraisingly for some moments, then, as if internally coming to a decision, she nodded once curtly and said, “It is.”
He snorted again. “Oh, very funny, ha ha. Of course it’s a game, why didn’t I –”
“No,” she interrupted, and her tone stopped him short. “The satchel. It is an extradimensional storage space. And I do have a lot of stuff in it.”
He was about to snort a third time when he noticed how seriously she was looking at him. It was unnerving. “So wait, are you for… for real?”
“Yes,” she said simply. Then she sipped from her water bottle for a moment while his mind began to boggle. He started gabbling. She sprayed water in his face from her mouth, which had the intended effect of snapping him out of it. Then she grabbed his ear, and pulled his face close to hers. She was surprisingly strong, he learned. She didn’t hurt him. He didn’t give her an excuse to.
“Listen carefully,” she said. “This is more ‘not a game’ than you realize, and we’re going to be lucky to make it to the next step, let alone out. So I need you to stay with me. Keep it together, and I promise at the end we’ll sit down and I’ll explain everything. For right now, keep your head in the game, your eyes on the ball, and a third sports metaphor. Now pull yourself together and get ready to use the paint diviner on this.”
“Why do I have to use it?” he asked. “It’s your paint diviner.”
“The prophecy says you’re the one who has to do it,” she replied, shrugging.