Episode 011: Bridges to Nowhere (Text)

When we last left our heroes…NUTMEG, GEL, and SISTER D reached the town of Truman’s Dell, where they found a town under the thumb of of goblin raiders. They agreed to help turn out the goblins and rescue prisoners from the nearby mountain of Lone Peak, once the Dwarven stronghold of KHADDAKAR. Sister D’s powerful prayers blasted a hole through the mountain doors, and our heroes are licking their wounds as they prepare to enter the depths…

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – In Which the Trio Encounters Game Theory

Nutmeg held up the hobgoblin’s coinpurse and jingled it. Not bad. A tidy sum. It was stifling in the murderhole tunnel, but cool breezes blew through the arrowslits, bringing refreshing mountain air and the smell of distant pine. The archers had apparently been living in this little shithole – there were cots of straw and pine needles, discarded chicken bones, and, of course, their personal effects. Including coinpurses. 

Gel shouted from the foyer: “Hey, buddy, not to be rude, but is this the best use of our time?” 

“Gotta get some dough somehow.” 

“Some fresh bread.” 

“A yeasty feasty.” 

“Alright. Nope. Don’t like that.” 

Sister D poked her head in.

“Nutmeg, I’m good to go.” 

“Oh, shit, okay.” He grabbed another coinpurse (sounded and smelled like a lot of silver) and hustled back out to join the others. Gel was inspecting the machetes the goblins had been wielding; Sister D stood by the double-doors deeper into the mountain. Behind them, the main door to Khaddakar stood jagged and twisted, melted by Sister D’s powerful prayers. 

“Ready?” She braced her shoulder against the doors. 

“Ready.” Nutmeg drew his axe. 

“Ready.” Gel loaded his crossbow. 

The priestess threw the doors open. Nutmeg leapt through. And stopped short, tottering on the edge of a black chasm. 

The room was long and wide, and split by a yawning abyss. From far below them, in the depths, came the sound of rushing water. A rope bridge, fifty feet across, swayed over the pit. And on the other side – 

“So!” A tall hobgoblin leaned against one of the bridge supports. “You’re the fucks who jumped on Little Garnal’s back and hurt him real bad. For shame.” 

Gel looked to Nutmeg. Nutmeg shook his head. “This doesn’t have to go this way,” the dwarf shouted. His voice echoed in the depths. “We can talk this out.” 

The hobgoblin straightened up. He was a big guy, greenish-yellow skin like slime mold in the dim light. On his bare chest was tattooed a massive claw in red ink. “No, we can’t,” he replied. From his back he drew a curved sickle of grey steel, notched and chipped with apparent years of use. He raised it high and brought the blade shivering down on one of the bridge-ropes. It snapped, and the whole bridge trembled. 

Thrum. Gel shot his bolt. It caught the hobgoblin in the arm. The sickle slipped from his grasp and clattered down into the abyss. They could not hear it land. 

“You fucker!” The hobgoblin darted back. On the far wall was a wooden door, and he opened it, ducking behind it as Gel loosed another bolt. This one thudded in the wood. “You cross that bridge, I kill the hostages!” He slammed the door shut, and then the chasm-room was quiet. 

“Isn’t it weird that this place has, like two or three layers of defenses? Who needs an abyss?” 

“Nah, it tracks. Dwarves are always well-prepared.” 

“Guys.” Sister D snapped her fingers. “Sorry. But come on. He’s going to kill those hostages.” 

“Only if we cross the bridge,” said Nutmeg. “Maybe there’s a way around.” 

“He’s going to kill them either way.” Gel yawned. “We might as well cross now, before any more gobbos get here.” 

“You don’t know that, Gel,” said Sister D. “These goblins are well-organized. This is a tightly-run ship, a military operation. We might be able to negotiate for their lives.” 

“With goblins?” Gel looked incredulous. He tossed his hair. “Sure. If you want to get backstabbed. Come on, Sister D. This isn’t a principles thing, it’s practicality.” 

“No, I get it,” said Nutmeg. “We either cross and he kills them, don’t cross and he doesn’t kill them, or don’t cross and he still kills them.” 

“But there’s no scenario in which crossing results in him not killing the hostages,” said Sister D. “If we don’t cross, there’s a chance.” 

“Yeah, a chance to be double-crossed.” 

“Oh, nice topical pun, Gel.” 

“Thank you. But for real. He’s a hobgoblin. He’s going to kill them either way.” Gel shouldered his bow. “I’m crossing.” He stepped onto the wobbly bridge. It tilted perilously, the weight uneven with one cord cut on the other side. 

“Well, you aren’t crossing alone,” said Sister D. She, too set her foot on the slats. “We might as well move fast. Maybe we can stop him.” 

“You guys go ahead.” Nutmeg eyed the swaying bridge. The boards looked awfully thin. And the cords were old, frayed. Had the goblins put this all together? Goblin construction couldn’t be trusted. It just wasn’t reliable. Hate to see a good Dwarven ruin sullied with goblin bullshit. 

“Too scared?” 

“No.” Nutmeg scratched his beard. “Just don’t think three people can stand on that thing at once.” 

“Fair.” 

He watched as Gel and Sister D made their slow, cautious way across. He had to turn away when one of the slats broke loose and tumbled into the pit. His stomach was in knots. What was down there? Water, it sounded like. Sure. But…what else? Cave worms? Gigantic white cave worms? Gigantic white cave worms with rows and rows of needle-sharp teeth in their awful gummy mouths? 

He was chewing his mustache nervously by the time Gel reached the other side. The elf set his foot on the stone and immediately pulled a length of rope from his pack. “Here you go, Nutmeg,” he called. “I’m fixing it. You can come across now.” 

“I’ll wait for Sister D to make it.” 

“Good call.” Sister D was bigger than Gel, and didn’t step quite as lightly. The whole bridge shivered with every step she took. But then she, too, was at the other side, helping Gel hold the rope in the place. 

“Come on over, Nutmeg!” she shouted. “You can do it!” 

Nutmeg took a deep breath. He wiped his sweaty palms on his breeches, grabbed hold of the rope supports, and stepped onto the bridge. It did wobble under him, like a log in a river, but he steadied himself on the supports. Not too bad. Not too bad. Just like walking anywhere. Just like a walk on the beach. He kept his eyes on Sister D. Her silver holy sun had fallen loose from her armor, and in the flickering torchlight it looked like a little red star. Just keep your eyes on that, Nutmeg, he told himself. Follow the star. Follow Sister D. It’ll be alright. You’ve got this. 

Then the wooden door burst open. 

The big hobgoblin was back with a fresh sickle, flanked by two more hobbos with machetes. “Get em!” he shouted. 

Nutmeg held on for dear life as Gel let go of the temporary tether and turned to tussle. Sister D caught machete-blows on her shield, giving as good as she got with her mace; Gel was acquiting himself well, but oh gods the bridge! It was swinging loose now, Gel’s temporary fix completely undone. Nutmeg lurched forward. The bridge lurched with him. 

The big hobgoblin, the one with the claw on his chest, pushed past his comrades, who were keeping Gel and Sister D at bay. “You fool,” he spat. “This is the fate of all who oppose the Red Hand.” 

He brought his sickle down on the remaining support rope. 

The last thing Nutmeg heard as he tumbled into the pit was Sister D’s voice, calling his name, fading quickly into little better than a memory of light. 

Chapter 2 – In Which Someone is Decapitated

“NUTMEG!” 

They both said it in unison. Gel skewered his hobgoblin and charged for the claw-marked ringleader. The big guy was fast. Very fast. Gel ducked a scythe-swipe and cut out with his shortsword. Toe-to-toe he danced with the hobgoblin, there on the edge of the chasm. Steel clashed on steel. The big guy was ferocious. Relentless. Hacking and hewing. Sweat dripped down Gel’s forehead. It had been a hell of a day already, and now this? 

He was immensely grateful when Sister D grabbed the hobgoblin from behind in a bear hug, pinning his arms to his sides. Gel took the advantage. He cut off the hobgoblin’s sword hand. 

“Augh!” Hobgoblin screams were unpleasant things to hear. Sister D threw him to the ground. 

“Are you Clawbearer Forg?” 

“Aughhh!” 

“Are you?” 

“Augh! Yes!”

Sister D picked up the scythe, prying it from the still-tense hand. “You killed my friend. Rot in hell.” 

She beheaded Forg. 

“Ah, Forg, we hardly got to know you.” Gel sat heavily on the edge of the chasm. “You think he’s dead?” 

Sister D sat beside him. She looked drained, totally empty. Her hair had come loose from her normally-tight ponytail, and hung wild around her face. He couldn’t quite see her eyes. “No one could survive that fall. And you remember what Old Aydry said.” 

“Beware great heights.” Gel shivered. “Come on. I thought you didn’t put any stock in that stuff.” 

“I don’t. I didn’t. I – I don’t know.” 

Gel thought hard. He hardly knew this lady. Frankly, he hardly knew Nutmeg – they’d only been acquainted for what, a week and a half? But he had to admit, her pathos was really getting to him. Besides, Nutmeg was good fun. Poor dwarf. Poor wonderful lovable dwarf. He put a hand on Sister D’s shoulder. 

“Hey. Listen. Time to mourn later. We’ve got hostages to save.” 

“You’re right. Of course.” Sister D wiped a hand across her face and stood. “Nutmeg, I’ll honor you. I promise.” She touched the little silver sun she wore around her neck. 

Gel took a few minutes to pick over Forg’s body. No keys, no secret whistles or whatever. Nothing important. Damn. “Hey, should we have left this guy alive? Interrogated him.” 

“No.” Sister D’s voice was cold. “Besides. We know he wrote letters to his compatriot Alghor. He must have a study somewhere.” 

“Fair.” Gel dusted his hands off. He eyed Forg’s head. Ugly fucker. Without thinking, he punted the head into the pit. Sister D half-laughed, half-gasped.

“It’s better than what he deserved,” said Gel. “Come on, then. To the hostages.” 

“EURGH,” shouted someone, from deep in the pit. “A HEAD!” GROSS!” 

Sister D’s eyes lit up. “NUTMEG!” she screamed, cupping her hands around her mouth. “IS THAT YOU?” 

“EURGH!” 

“That’s definitely Nutmeg.” She sounded elated. “He’s alive!” 

“I’M ALIVE!” came the wavery reply, barely audible. 

“You might have let us know that earlier!” bellowed Gel. He was a little irritated. This whole ordeal was really slowing them down. 

“WHATEVER!” Nutmeg must have been very, very far down indeed; Gel could hear the strain in the dwarf’s voice just to be heard. The echoes were terrific. 

“What should we do?” Sister D looked to Gel helplessly. “I don’t have any prayers to help here. Do you have enough rope?” 

“Enough?” Gel snorted. “No. Definitely not. That shit is hundreds of feet deep. I don’t even understand how Nutmeg is alive.” 

“Well, what do we -”

“EURGH!” shouted Nutmeg again. Then: “HEY! LET GO OF ME! I SAID LET GO, YOU SCALY FUCKER! AUGH! STOP IT!”

“Nutmeg!” Sister D pulled a brand from her bag and lit it with one of the torches burning on the wall. She dropped it into the pit. It fell for what felt like ages, shrinking to a smaller and smaller circle of light. Nutmeg was still hollering and hooting when the torch flashed by him. They could see white-scaled creatures swarming him, awful lizardy things that hissed and screeched at the torch. Then the torch hit water, and sizzled, and went out. 

“This is quite an emotional ride,” said Gel, deadpan. “Not sure we can do much to help him.” 

“We have to!” 

“We have to what?” Gel waved his hands. “We could just stand here fretting, or we could go deeper into the mountain and see if we can reach him somehow. Either he’s alive or he isn’t – dwelling on it won’t help. We have to move forward.” 

“This is just the bridge argument all over again.” 

“I mean, yeah. I think you and I are pretty diametrically opposed.” 

“Classically.” Sister D cast one longing look back at the pit. Nutmeg’s yelling had faded, although it had not disappeared entirely. Just kept moving further away. “The hostages. Fine. We can save them first. Then Nutmeg.” 

“Also we should exterminate the goblins.” 

“Gel, we may disagree on a lot.” She hefted her mace. “But I think there, you and I are completely aligned.” 

Chapter 3 – In Which a Small Black Snake is Abandoned

An eerie silence haunted the halls of Khaddakar. Whatever Dwarven majesty had once graced this place was now long gone. Sections had caved in, and there were large rents in the walls where the precious metals, the reliefs, the carvings, had all been stripped away. The smell of goblins was in the air, but there were no goblins in sight. Quiet. Too quiet. 

Gel tried to look at the place with Nutmeg’s eyes. What would the dwaf see? The stonework? Okay, the stonework was good. Classical dwarven stuff. Although – Gel paused at a corner, and ran his hand over notches in the stonework. Swordmarks. Chips in the stone. There’d been fighting here. Maybe centuries ago. 

“Gelmahta? Everything okay?” 

“Fine.” He peered around the corner. “Nothing. I don’t see any goblins.” 

“And the hostages?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.” 

They pressed on. The dark corridors had been marked here and there with goblin graffiti. “Buggnutt was here.” “Buggnutt eats shit butts.” “Buggnutt does NOT eat shit butts, Gurblutt.” When they found a door on the right-hand wall, Gel pushed it open gently. No goblins inside. Just barrels. He sniffed at one. Meat. Not preserved. Just…rotting. Sister D wrinkled her nose.

“I don’t get goblin cuisine.” 

“No one does.” 

From down the hallway, something heavy slammed. The thud resounded through the walls, and was followed by the sound of tromping feet and goblin voices. Gel pulled Sister D into the storage closet and shut the door behind them. 

“Eurgh. Gel, I-”

“Shh. Hold your breath.” 

He pressed his ear to the door. The goblins were approaching from some deeper place. 

“…hope the humans sent sausages again. By Graggat, that’s the good stuff.” 

“Oh absolutely yeah. Forg probably ate it all, though.” 

(“Gel, I’m going to be sick,” said Sister D. He ignored her). 

“Fuck that guy.” 

“Shut up, Buggnutt, he’ll hear us.” 

“Whatever. I don’t even care.” 

(“Gel, seriously, I’m going to chunder.”)

“Oooh, Buggnutt’s so tough, oooh.” 

“Shut up, guys!” 

Their voices faded as they passed the larder, heading back the way Gel and Sister D had come. 

“Ahhhh, heurrrgh.” Sister D vomited in the back corner. It did little to improve the smell. The sound of tromping feet stopped. “What was that?” asked Buggnutt. 

“Ah, fuck it,” said Gel. He kicked the door open and brought his crossbow up. 

A dozen goblins had turned to face them. They were muddy and bedraggled; some had minor wounds, little bloody scratches here and there. One of them raised a machete threateningly; the blade was stained with some strange, crusty fluid. “Intruders!” he shouted. It was Buggnutt’s voice.  

Gel kept his crossbow steady. It would be very, very easy to put a bolt in that goblin’s eye. So easy. But Sister D was still looking a little green, and twelve goblins on his own was a bit of an ask. So instead, he said “There you are! Forg’s got new orders for you.” 

“What?” The goblin squinted. “Who are you?” 

“Gaston Figaro, assassin for hire,” he said. “Although I used to run with a traveling circus. I have led a long and storied life. But that’s not important right now. The Clawbearer was summoned back west on an emergency. The higher-ups sent me to get him – and you – to roll out. Orders have changed.” 

The goblins looked at each other, clearly puzzled. Gel lowered his crossbow and unloaded the bolt. “Forg told me you were all busy,” he continued. “He and the others are already heading west. So I hung back to catch you up to speed.” 

“I don’t believe you,” said Buggnutt. 

“Fine.” Gel shrugged. “I can see why ol’ Forgy picked you guys for the dirty work. Don’t have to do much thinking. Look, me and Forg go way back, back to when he ran with Alghor.” 

“You knew Alghor?” Buggnutt lowered his machete. “How is the old bugbear?” 

“Dead,” said Sister D. Gel turned to face her. Was she about to give up the game? Come on, priestess, don’t be a goody-goody here. “Haven’t you heard?” She mustered up a fairly good impression of sadness. “That’s part of why Forg is needed out west. They need us to regroup.” 

“Graggat’s big toe,” Buggnutt swore. He scratched his green, hairy chin. “Well, that sucks shit.” 

“You better get going,” said Sister D. Maybe a little too eagerly. Gel took a step forward. 

“Forg informed us you had some human prisoners from the local village. We’ll need to debrief them and see if they warrant execution.” 

“We were gonna eat them,” groused a goblin. 

“Eh,” said another one. “Human is pretty gamey.” 

“Yeah they’re underfed anyway.” 

“Well, listen, hey.” Gel waved his hand. “We’ll take care of the hostages. You just point us in the right direction.”

“I’ll show you the way,” volunteered Buggnutt. He stood out from the other goblins somewhat; he had a heavy brow, and he wore a little copper badge on his leather shirt. “You probably need to debrief us, too, yeah?” 

“Oh, good call,” said another goblin. “I’ll come too.” 

“Me too,” said a third one.

“Samesies.” 

“That should be sufficient,” said Gel, hurriedly. “Thank you, Buggnutt. Lead the way.” 

“Delver Squad Six!” barked Buggnutt. “Move out!” 

The remaining goblins wandered off back toward the front door, grumbling as they went. “Come on,” said Buggnutt. “Follow me, Figaro. You too, uh, hey, uh, what was your name?” 

“Shmondallas.” 

“Cool, cool.” 

Buggnutt and his compadres led them off down a different tunnel, turning corner after corner, winding their way to the heart of the mountain. They were a talkative bunch. Luckily, they asked few questions. Gel eyed their weapons. Similar kit to the other goblins. But tough, well-worn. 

“So you guys are the Delver Squad?” 

“That’s right.” Buggnutt swelled with pride. “The Clawbearer hand-picked us for the job.” 

“And what did you find?” 

“Ugh.” The goblin picked at a scab on his forehead. “This place goes on forever. There’s some albino lizardpeople camped down there, pretty sizable settlement. Think there’s someone living in the deeper places too, we’ve heard noises down there. If the dragon’s here, it must be even further down. It’s too bad we’re closing down shop; another couple weeks and we might’ve gotten down to it.” 

“I don’t mind leaving,” said another goblin. “Fucking lizards. Gave me a scare when they ambushed us.” 

“Yeah, they suck.” 

Buggnutt stopped at an empty torch sconce, an iron bracket built into the wall. He reached up and twisted it. A section of the stone slid open. “Come on in,” said Buggnutt. “Welcome to Delver Station Alpha.” 

It wasn’t bad, as far as makeshift headquarters went. The four goblins hung their weapons by the door on racks marked with individual goblin names. There were cots and pallets beyond, in a wider hall, and a few doors led out to smaller chambers. 

“We kept em over by the kitchen,” explained Buggnutt, picking his way past some storage barrels. “Huh. Weird. Forg left his Claw.” He poked his head into one of the chambers and came back out carrying a weapon that looked more ceremonial than practical: a metal rod, tipped with a five-pointed steel claw. “That’s not like him.” 

“Hey, Stumpgunt left his pet snake.” One of the other goblins picked up a little black rat snake. “Dumb asshole.” 

“The hostages?” asked Gel. 

“Yeah, over there.” Buggnutt gestured at a wooden door. “Hang on.” 

“Hmm?” 

“Forg left his journals.” Buggnutt turned and pointed the Claw at Gel. “Something’s not right.” 

Gel stopped by the wooden door. He let his hand drift close to the hilt of his shortsword. “What’s up, Buggnutt?” 

“Where’s Forg? Who are you?” 

The other goblins backed up to the weapon racks. Sister D looked to Gel. Gel looked back. “Well, Figaro?” said Buggnutt. Gel shifted his weight. There was a cot between him and Buggnutt. He could do it. “Well?” asked Buggnutt again. The other goblins had their hands on machetes. 

“I’m Gaston Figaro,” said Gel. He put his foot under the edge of the cot and kicked. The thin wood flew high and crashed into Buggnutt. The other goblins jumped forward. Sister D had her shield up and threw all three of them back in a single push. Gel drew his sword. Sister D swung her mace and knocked a goblin across the room. “Jump!” shouted Gel. Sister D jumped a foot off the ground. Gel dove under her. He slid past. The goblins’ ankles were in sight. He sliced. The goblins fell. Sister D finished them off. Gel stood, patting straw and dust from his leathers. 

“Phaw!” Buggnutt was pinned beneath the cot, struggling to stand. Gel sighed.

“Want to ask him some questions, D?”

“Yeah, in a bit. We need to rescue the hostages.” 

“Oh, sure, yeah.”

While Sister D went to the wooden door by the kitchen, Gel peered into the room beyond Buggnutt. Forg’s quarters, clearly. Well-organized. Journals, yes, just as Buggnutt mentioned. Even a little pair of reading glasses. Forg was nearsighted? 

“I’ll kill you!” shouted Buggnutt. 

“Doubtful,” said Gel. He plucked the Claw from Buggnutt’s hand and inspected it. “Anything special about this?” 

“It’s mostly a symbol of authority,” grunted Buggnutt. 

“Cool.” Gel conked Buggnutt on the noggin with the hilt of his sword. The goblin slumped and disappeared beneath the frame of the cot. 

“Gel!” shouted Sister D. “I need a hand!” 

“What’s up?” 

She was still standing outside the wooden door. “It’s locked.”

“Finally, someone appreciates my skillset.” Gel unfastened a hidden pouch inside his sleeve, and pulled out a pair of pins. “Stand back.”

“Why, is this going to be dangerous?”

“No, it just felt like the right thing to say.” He fiddled with the lock. It was well-made. In fact, it was very well-made. Dwarven make. Something from the original stronghold. There were seams and cracks in the wood around it – had it been installed later? Did the goblins cobble this together? Impressive. 

But not so impressive he couldn’t pick it. The lock clicked, the door swung, and beyond – 

“Oh hey there,” said a bedraggled human woman. “Good to see ya.” 

Chapter 4 – In Which We Get Our Title

Samsyn and Margyret tucked in. Sister D had whipped up a little stew from the few edible things she could scavenge from the goblins’ kitchen, and it was at least passable enough to sate the hunger of the two captives. They were certainly emaciated, dressed in rags. Gel put them in their late middle ages. Forties, fifties. A little wrinkly, streaks of gray in their hair. Poor humans. Such short lives. 

“Mm, grmm hmm!” yelled Buggnutt, through the rag over his mouth. 

“Ah, cut that out now, ya green turd,” said Samsyn, through a mouthful of stew. He had a big wild beard, and the look of a man who didn’t appreciate having a beard. 

“Sister Dondalla, this stew is mighty good.” Margyret wiped a hand across her mouth. “We sure do appreciate you folk taking the time to see us aright.” 

“Yeah, we should get going,” said Gel. 

“Not at all,” said Sister D, shooting him a look. “We can wait a little. Make sure you’re on your feet.”

“Yeah hey, I will say, I’m not a fan of goblin hospitality. Awfully rude little fellas.”

“There’s still several of them alive. The other half of Delver Squad Six. They could be back here any moment.” Gel pointed his crossbow at the door to Delver Station Alpha. “And we’re penned in, with no exit. What if they have reinforcements hiding in the walls somewhere?” 

“Oh, I think there’s an exit,” said Sister D. Gel pursed his lips. Know-it-all.

“Hm?” 

“The chimney in the kitchen,” explained the priestess. “It’s the smoke we saw from outside. Goes right out a hole in the mountain.” 

“Okay, that’s good, actually.” Gel eyed the humans. Weak, scrawny. They might not make it back to Truman’s Dell without an escort. Or at least a ride. “Hey. Sister D. Why don’t you take our friends out of the mountain through the chimney, get them down to where we tied up the horses. By the treeline. They can take the horses back to Truman’s Dell. All three of them.” 

“You’ve got horses?” Samsyn smiled. “I love horses. Used to ride a lot when I was a kid, you know.” 

“They don’t need to know that, Sammy,” chided Margyret. “Three horses, then?”

“There were three of us,” said Sister D. “Our comrade fell into the abyss near the entrance.” 

“Ah, shit, that’s no good.” Margyret shook her head. “We heard some about what the goblins found down deeper. Tribe of cave lizards down there.” 

“Yeah, we got that from, you know, the goblin prisoner.” Gel indicated Buggnutt, who fired back a murderous stare. “I’m sure Nutmeg will be alright.” 

“I’m not,” admitted Sister D. “I’m worried. He’s my friend – our friend – and he’s in danger.” 

“Look, he’s either dead or he isn’t, and worrying about it won’t change anything.” 

“Ahh.” Samsyn nodded sagely. “The Double Vision of Fate.” 

“The whoseywhat?” 

“We have legends up here, Mister Figaro,” said Margyret. “In the mountains, I mean. There’s lots of strange things out there in the woods, in the hills. There’s one we’re all told as kids around the longhall fires. The Double Vision. A hunter is out in the woods when he sees a shape in the bushes. A large shape. A man like himself. He draws his bow; he nocks an arrow; he looses into the bush. There’s a sound of pain, and the shape stands up, and the hunter sees himself. His arrow is sticking out of his heart. Then, like smoke, the double vision is gone. But the hunter cannot get the image out of his head: himself, with an arrow through his heart. He lives his life in two worlds: the real world, in which he lives, and the other world, in which he is rotting in the woods on a bed of mouldering leaves. In living between the two, he is lost. His face grows grayer by the day; you can see the walls of his house through the skin on his arms. Then one day, he is gone, caught forever between the double visions of his fate.” 

Despite the heat, Gel shivered. Margyret knew how to tell a tale. “So what’s the point?” he asked. 

“Hm?”

“The point? Of the story?” 

Samsyn stood and held out a hand to Margyret. She took it and rose, smiling all the while. “The point,” she said, quietly, “is that it is not enough to live between, wondering and wondering and never moving forward.” She turned to face Sister D. “Sometimes, it is all you can do to move forward, Dondalla. Otherwise you will be forever crossing bridges to nowhere.” The woman wiped her hands on her raggedy clothes and gestured to the door. “Lead on, Sister. Samsyn and I will follow you to the horses.” 

“Best of luck to you, Mister Figaro,” added Samsyn. “I’m sure you’ll find your friend. Thank you for saving us.” 

“You’re welcome,” said Gel, completely without irony. “Oh, and, my name’s not Gaston Figaro. It’s Gelmahta.” 

“I like Gelmahta better,” said Margyret. She led the way out; Samsyn and Sister D followed behind. The priestess turned to Gel before leaving. 

“I’ll be right back,” she said. “Meet you here?” 

“Sure,” said Gel. “I’ve got enough to keep me busy.” 

He watched them clamber up and out the chimney in the rock. It was little better than a hole punched in cliffside, just wide enough around for the humans to slip through with only minor difficulties. When he was sure they were gone, he turned to Buggnutt. They’d tied up the goblin over by Forg’s office, and stuffed a rag in his mouth when his threats of mutilation got old. Gel plucked the filthy rag from the goblin’s mouth. Buggnutt spat and gasped. “You don’t have to kill me,” he croaked. “Let me go.” 

“I don’t intend to kill you.”

“Huh?”

“You heard me.” Gel drew one of his many little daggers and pressed the point into his fingertip. “I’m not like my friend. I don’t really care if you walk. Couple stipulations, though. One: you round up any remaining goblins in this mountain and get them the fuck out of here. I don’t care where you go, as long as, two: it’s not Truman’s Dell, and three: it’s not east of here to the Hegemony. Go west. North. South. I don’t give a shit. Just not to civilized lands. At least, not lands where you might see me again. Because if I ever see you again, I will cut you into tiny pieces and make you eat them. And I might eat some too.” 

“Deal,” said Buggnutt, quickly. 

“Not so fast. One more requirement. Tell me everything. Hang out with me for a bit while I peruse Forg’s journals. I want to know every detail about what you were doing here. I want to know all about that tribe of lizardpeople and how to reach them. I want to know what your mission was here, and who sent you. And I want to know why you mentioned a dragon earlier.” 

“I’ll tell you everything I know.” Buggnutt gestured to Forg’s room. “I know where he kept his letters and stuff.” 

“Excellent. We’ve got a little time before Sister D gets back. Get talking, smart guy. And pray that I find your information helpful.”

Chapter 5 – In Which There Is One Small Light

Wet. Soaked to the bone. Lost in the dark. Borne by strange waters, and stranger hands. Scrabbling in the dark. Poked. Prodded. Slung like a sack of potatoes into darkness. 

Nutmeg rolled over. Everything hurt. At least a few broken ribs. And that leg didn’t feel good either. Gods. Owch. Fuck. 

He tried to remember the fall. Blacked out for a while, definitely. He remembered the hobgoblin’s head. Sister D’s melodious voice. Gel’s less-melodious voice. Then – 

Then they’d come. The crawling things, the monsters, the seven-foot-tall lizards with opposable thumbs. He’d only seen them for a moment, in the light of the falling torch, beheld as if by lightning strike. That was enough. He shivered, and for a moment was lost in his own mind, in the dark thoughts of falling and black water. 

Inventory. He had to take inventory. Evaluate the situation. That’s what Lucy would advise. Keep a cool head. He had – nothing. His pack was gone. His axe was gone. He wore his breastplate, at least; they hadn’t taken that from him. In the dark, his dwarf-eyes could only make out a black-and-white version of the world, shades of gray on gray. He was in a crude cage of timber and salvaged metal, lying there deep under the earth. But he’d lost everything. The crystal ball. His thunderstones. His daggers. His gold and silver and copper. His axe. The axe. The axe with the mark of Dolgatha on it. Gods dammit, he’d lost it all. 

Something moved under his shirt, scaring the everliving fuck out of him. Until, of course, Pierre poked his little head out of the neck-hole of Nutmeg’s shirt, inches from the dwarf’s beard. 

“Hey, little guy.” Nutmeg ran a finger down Pierre’s back. The lizard shivered and curled up closer to him. “It’s okay,” said Nutmeg, quietly. “It’s okay.” 

Pierre cooed. Ever-so-slightly, the electric charge ran through his body, tingling Nutmeg’s fingertips. A soft blue light glowed in the pitch darkness, flickering as Pierre nestled in. 

Then the lizard froze. The light died. There was a noise in the darkness. Pierre’s big doleful eyes darted from side to side. Perhaps it had been a mistake for Nutmeg to speak. What had he awakened? The dwarf kept as still as possible, listening. There was a rustling sound, of dry scales scraping on stone. Something shifted in the darkness at the edge of sight. Another cage, not far away. In the cage – something large. Something that moved with a frightening sibilance.

A great lizard slid into view. Like the lizardpeople, it was a sickly pale color, white as parchment, with no eyes in its head. Easily ten feet from head to tailtip, slick with the moisture of the subterranean prison. Pockmarks and wounds dotted its great body, and there was a plaintive cast to its hellish, sightless face. 

“Aw,” said Nutmeg. “Hey, buddy. How ya doing?”

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