Episode 022 (Text): Swamp Music

 When we last left our heroes…the HOB GOB KILLIN’ MOB reached the HESTOR VALE! They met with Lord MARTH of BARRENDELL, who promised them gold in return for hobgoblin hands. After some bad dreams in the city of WITCHFORD, the party heads north – although rumor has it that there’s trouble on the road ahead…

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – In Which They Do Plan Gamma With a Cherry Twist

From the trees, they had a pretty good view of the old road. Specifically, they had a good view of the crude blockade erected across it. A wall of logs about ten feet high, the tops sharpened to splintery points, stretching to the ditch on either side of the path. No carts or horses could pass this way; lone travelers might be able to skirt the blockade with a lengthy detour through the backcountry, scrabbling up and down the ditches. But even then, you’d be in bowshot of the twenty-foot-tall watchtower in the center of the blockade. A pair of hogboblins stood in the tower, leaning against the rail, looking bored out of their minds. With his spyglass, Nutmeg could count the individual nosehairs on each hobgoblin. 

“What’s the plan?” asked Gel.

“Well, I don’t know.” Nutmeg sat back and scratched his chin. “On one hand, should be easy enough to put a bolt in their heads and keep moving. Enebor, you say we just need to get north, right?” 

“Right.”

“Okay. But. On the other hand. We can’t tell if there’s more of them behind the fortification. And I’d bet there are. It took a good gang of workers to get this sucker built.”

“Burn it down?” suggested Sister D. 

“I mean, I like that idea.”

“I knew you would.”

“But. I gotta say. I’m a little curious about why they’re here.” 

“Yes!” agreed Enebor. “This palisade was not here when I departed.”

“Yeah, that was like four months ago, dude.”

“The point stands,” said Nutmeg. “This road doesn’t really go anywhere. Why bother building a whole-ass fortification across it? Especially since it’s so far from where we’ve heard the horde is gathering. You know?” 

“So?”

“I’m thinking I do a Plan Gamma, with a cherry twist.” 

“Why do you come up with these codenames that we never use? Just tell us what the plan is.” 

“No. You’re going to tell me it’s stupid.” 

“Well, Nutmeg, maybe it is.” 

“Nope. It’s a good plan. Look, here’s the deal: you guys chill up here. Gel, Enebor, be ready to start shooting when the fighting starts. D, if you want to do a Plan Omega variant with-”

“Nutmeg. Please.”

“You’re no fun.”

Gel waggled his eyebrows at that. He’d been weird since Witchford. Perverted little elf. 

“Fine. When the fighting starts, mount up and come down with a big spell. Can you do, like, some sort of fire?”

She sighed. “It’s not a ‘spell.’ I’m not a conjurer or arcanist. I am a Radiant Servant of Palladius, and I will pr-”

“-Pray to him for a big fire spell, cool, got it, thank you.” Nutmeg spoke the command word, and his enchanted armor transformed itself. Now, instead of a plain burnished breastplate, he wore a black and twisted set of lamellar plate, with great spikes atop his shoulder pauldrons and a leering, skull-shaped helm.

“Fuck, man, that’s gnarly,” said Gel. 

“Yeah it is. I’m going for hobgoblin couture. Think I nailed it?”

“I have seen more impressive garb,” said Enebor, deadpan. 

“Well, geeze, okay, whatever. Here goes nothing, folks.” 

Nutmeg backtracked through the trees for almost a half-mile before returning to the road, all on foot. He had some vague notions about a plan that would only be hampered by being on horseback. He whistled as he walked, heading north like any old tourist in hellfuck armor. 

He was a hundred feet from the blockade when the first arrow landed at his feet. He raised his hands. “I come in peace!” he called. 

“Fuck off!” replied one of the hobgoblins. “Road’s closed. Get outta here.” 

“No, I know the road is closed,” shouted Nutmeg. “They sent me here as backup. We’re all friends of Daghda here, right?” 

“What?”

“For fuck’s sakes,” he mumbled. “Can I come a little closer?”

“Yeah, okay, but no funny-”

“I know, no funny business.” He approached the watchtower. It was really just a raised section of wall in the center of the blockade; the builders had put a gate in the base, presumably just in case they needed to actually use the road at some point. A long-term structure, then. Weird. “Look, I was saying – I’m here on Red Hand business. Hail Daghda, am I right?” 

A third hogboblin appeared. This one looked uncannily like Forg of Khaddakar – big, barechested, with a red claw tattooed on his chest. He brandished a sickle much like Forg’s. “You speak the Name with too much bravado, dwarf. Who sent you?” 

“Are you the Clawbearer?” At that, the hobgoblin raised an eyebrow.

“Yes.” 

“Well, the boys out west told me to report to the Clawbearer at the blockade on the north road, and here I am. Didn’t you know I was coming?”

“No.” The Clawbearer glowered down. “Where are you bound?” 

“Helping you guys, ya know? Look, I’m a big Daghda-worshippin’ dude. Love Daghda. Here to help however I can.” 

“Stop saying the Name.” The Clawbearer looked truly uncomfortable. “Fine. Slabrag, Gornuk –  open the gate!” The gate creaked open – that meant at least two more hobbos below the watchtower.

“Thanks, fellas,” said Nutmeg. “Thanks a bunch!” He set down his pack on the ground and rummaged about. Had to be somewhere. He’d stocked up in Dwarroway before they left. 

“What are you doing?”

“Got something for ya.”

“A gift from the Wyrmlord?” The Clawbearer grinned. “Some good fermented goat’s milk? Mm. Been a while.” 

“Nah, tastier.” Nutmeg paused. “The Wyrmlord?”

The Clawbearer shrugged. “You said the Wyrmlord out west sent you, no?” He frowned. “Wait a second. You don’t know who -”

Nutmeg’s hands closed around a little glass vial. “Ah-hah!” He stood. “Eat fire, dipshit!” 

Nutmeg hurled a vial of Tinkerer’s Fire up into the watchtower. It burst against the logs and flame blossomed where it fell. Several things happened all at once, then. 

One of the hobgoblin archers grew a crossbow bolt, like a unicorn’s horn. 

The Clawbearer vaulted the watchtower, through the flames. 

The other hobgoblin archer blew a little horn, tooting out the sound of alarm. 

And, in answer, two great hulking hairy stinking ogres came barreling around the fortified wall, stomping through the ditches and hooting. 

The sound of hoofbeats was behind him. Sister D was riding now. There was no time to look, though, because the Clawbearer had his sickle-claw high. Nutmeg left his pack on the dusty road and swung his axe free from its leathern thongs on his back. He two-handed it, one hand just under the blade, the other at the base, as he caught the sickle on the haft of the axe and turned the blow aside. He let go with higher hand. The weight of the axehead dragged the sickle out of the Clawbearer’s hand; Nutmeg joined his hands at the base of the axe and swung so hard he threw himself backwards. It worked. The Clawbearer, split in two, fell dead. 

Easy enough. But the ogres were coming. More hobgoblins had taken up position on the flaming watchtower and rained arrows down at him. Most clattered off his armor; a few pierced through, and he snarled at the pain. The ogres were unarmed, at least – oops, no, that one just grabbed a log. A pointed log. Fuck. 

“PALLADIUS!” cried Sister D, and she rode through now, her mace blazing with holy light, her shield a mirror of the flames licking at the fortification. She raced atop Daybreak like a bolt of lightning, and darted towards the ogre on the right. With another cry, she swung her mace. The ogre took it on the knee, and in the knee, and through the knee: she blew his patella to pieces. Nutmeg cheered, and then all the wind left him as the second ogre struck him center mass. He staggered back. Dug in his heels. Got angry. 

Like a whirlwind he was on the ogre. He jumped high, axe bright and flashing. He buried it in the ogre’s shoulder, digging as deep as he could. The thing howled, and swung its other arm, flailing. It knocked him loose from his axe, which stayed lodged in the big bastard’s shoulder. Nutmeg landed hard on the ground. The ogre wrenched the axe free in a gout of steaming blood. Great. Now it had a nice weapon. 

Nutmeg ducked its first clumsy swing and closed the gap. “Gimme that,” he growled, and grabbed it by the wrist – a wrist the same circumference as his neck. The ogre was all muscle, but Nutmeg was strong. Stronger than this big ugly fuck. For a moment, the two of them were locked together, the ogre straining against Nutmeg’s death grip. Then something – a bone, probably – gave way in the ogre’s arm. There was a snap, and it hooted with displeasure, and now both of its arms were useless. Nutmeg retrieved his axe and took the thing’s head off. 

He turned back to the blockade. It was burning, but not badly. The hobgoblins had smothered a good part of the flames. He took a moment, a fleeting moment, to gaze through the open gate at the back side of the watchtower. Two supports on the back, propping it up while the rest of it relied on the log wall. He spat blood – not sure where that came from, but maybe the ogre had knocked something loose in him. He set his shoulders. He gritted his teeth. He charged. 

He ran through the gate, dragging his axe behind him. A hobgoblin leapt down a ladder and brandished a machete at him, but he just ran right through the fucker. His gaze was set on the back struts of the watchtower. He’d felled trees before. He’d hewn great logs. His axe could do anything and still hold its edge. He swung and bit into the tower. Then again. And again. When the hobgoblin reached him, trying to stop his mighty swings, he took a moment to hack the fellow’s hand free from his arm. Then he kept chopping. Lumberjacking. 

The strut groaned and folded, giving way as he splintered the wood. It was weak. Weak enough. He swung his axe behind him, affixed it to his back, and then threw himself at the splintered log. It gave way. With a terrific crash, the whole of the watchtower came tumbling down. Something struck him, and he fell still. 

Chapter 2 – In Which Enebor Discusses His Cultural Attitudes Toward Promiscuity

“You really can’t be doing stuff like that.” 

Sister Dondalla had laid Nutmeg out by the roadside, dragging him free of the wreckage. Gel would’ve offered to help, but he had to grab a toe from that ogre. A lot of weight added to his toe necklace. Hmm. Maybe he would need two toe necklaces to store all the toes. Enebor walked among the smoldering ruins, planting a swift and merciful arrow in the throat of any hobgoblin he found still breathing. 

“Urgh.” The dwarf groaned and tried to sit up. Gel shook his head. 

“Nutmeg, dude, why did you do that? We could’ve just picked them off. You know I’m a good shot.” 

“Efficient.” 

“I mean, it’s only efficient if we don’t have to waste an hour putting you back together.” 

“You’re lucky I’m familiar with your body,” said Sister D. “It makes the healing a little easier, but even then, you’ll be sore for a long time.” 

“Yeah, I’ll bet you’re familiar with his body,” said Gel. 

“What’s that?” Sister D stood, wiping her hands on her breeches. “Hm?”

“Come on. You were in the same room last night at the inn. I mean, it’s fine, you do what you want.”

“Ah, are they copulating?” asked Enebor, sidling up as he unstrung his bow. “I had assumed that was happening.” 

“We are not copulating,” said Nutmeg. Sister D was blushing. “For real. In fact, Sister D was in my room because she heard me yelling, same as you, Gel, so there.” 

“I know other cultures have different attitudes, but my people take an easy view of copulation and couplings,” said Enebor. “Desires of the body are not to be ignored.”

“Oh yeah?” asked Gel. “You guys are down to clown, huh?” 

Enebor nodded. “I am not particularly familiar with that idiom, but I think I grasp the meaning – yes, we are comfortable with the fulfillment of physical desires, whether accompanied or not by emotional entanglement.” 

“Sweet,” said Gel. 

“If we’re quite finished,” said Sister D, “I think we can get moving. Nutmeg, you broke a ton of ribs. Again. I put them back together as best I could, but you took quite a dinger to the head, too. Take it easy for a day or two. Don’t, you know, bring any more buildings down on your head.”

“Deal. Enebor, do we keep going from here?”

“Our course will shift,” said the elf. “Up the road a little further. We are close to the fens now. Kal Rammath, home of my people, is best reached on owlback, but there is a footpath through the swamp. The Fenway. We will reach it by sunset, travel tomorrow in the fens, and the day after tomorrow Kal Rammath will be before us.” 

“But first!” declared Gel. “We have some hands to collect!” 

“Lord Marth didn’t mention anything about ogre hands, did he?”

“Nah.”

“Should we take them?”

“Nah. Too big. Besides, we’ve got…hang on…” Gel walked among the bodies. “Thirty-five gold pieces right here. Come on. I’ll get a sack.” 

Once their work was done and their bounty-cache collected, they helped Nutmeg into the saddle. The dwarf did look pretty fucked up, even with Sister D’s handiwork. Hah. Handiwork. Bet she’d done some “handiwork” alright. Gel chuckled to himself at that one. 

By the time they made camp for the night, the fens were in full view. Where for a time they had traveled with the thick forest on their left, the trees thinned out and gave way to open fenland, riddled here and there with pools and streams. The evening sun lit on a thin mist that hung just above the ground, wreathing everything save for the tallest hills with a gauzy haze. At night, Gel sat awake, listening to the strange noises from the wetlands. Bird calls and toad croaks and night noises that Gel did not recognize; the splushing and splashing of small animals interrupting still water. 

Come morning, they had to abandon the cart. Enebor apologized, saying “I do not think it will last long in the fens. Our horses will have a difficult enough time without trying to pull that thing.” When Nutmeg looked like he was going to throw a fit, Enebor promised that his people would compensate them for the cart. That settled things. They left the road, and descended into the fens. 

It wasn’t long before they were forced to dismount. The horses were unhappy here, and made slow going over the wet and treacherous land. The turf was spongy, and briars and brambles claimed the driest ground, forcing them to follow winding, worming streams. Enebor seemed to know where he was going, although every once in a while he would stop, shake his head, and mutter something about not having an “owl’s-eye view.” 

They’d been traveling half the day when they first heard the call. From the distance it came, a juddering shriek, so high-pitched that Gel clapped his hands over his ears and gritted his teeth against the pain. It sounded like a carrion bird, some terrible eater of the dead. The horses whinnied and pranced, terrified. 

“That’s a normal thing, right, Enebor?” asked Nutmeg. “That’s like, a totally familiar sound that you just get used to after a while.”

“No.”

“Ah, fuck.” 

“What is it?” asked Gel. “Do you guys have lizardfolk up here?”

“We do – they dwell in the flooded city – but that was not the sound of a lizardfolk. No. That was – Daghdakka.”

“You said that word before,” said Sister D. “In – when I -”

“It is, as I said, a name given to a nameless thing. A recent specter of the fens. None have seen it, but the Starvoiced One of Kal Rammath understood its shape and form in the heady vapors.”

“What?”

“I -” Enebor shook his head. “There is too much to explain. Suffice it to say: the Daghdakka is a creature not of this world, and it stalks the fens in search of prey. We shall keep to the Fenway, and keep our nightfire low, and in so doing shall avoid its sight. Come. We tarry too long.” 

Chapter 3 – In Which Something Snaps

Night was falling over the fens. Enebor led them to a low hill, capped by a trio of twisted, gnarled trees. The unbearable bugginess and humidity of the day was giving over to a thick, uneasy morass of darkness. The stars were hidden tonight by thin clouds like smears of grease, and the moon barely shone but a sliver. Gel appreciated Enebor’s taste in campsites, at least. They were on a high place, and had a good view of the wetlands around them. The horses were none too pleased, but the grass atop the hill was green and sweet, and they seemed content to crop and water here at this oasis. 

“We should take watch,” said Nutmeg.

“Yes,” agreed Enebor. “It is best if we check around the hill, as well, to ensure no lizardfolk lie in wait. This would be far south for them, but they have been known to harass those who travel the Fenway.”

“I’m on it,” said Gel. “You guys get a fire going. I’m starving.” 

He walked down the hill. The streams and creeks formed a little moat around their chosen campsite, albeit a moat of dark, unpleasant, algaeic water, overgrown with cattails and cottonreed and long, sawtooth grasses. Definitely possible for lizardfolk to hide in the undergrowth here. He drew his rapier and used it like a frogsticker, poking into the reeds along the bank. It brought to mind another night, long ago, a night he hadn’t thought about in many many years, spent walking the banks of the Uldurr River with Maryetta Montrescu. A summer night much like this, in the days of his youth, before – well, before many things. Before becoming Gelmahta. 

He stabbed out with the rapier, testing the reeds. It pierced something. Something thick, and big. He drew the blade out and held it up. In the faint light he saw blood. Red blood. 

What was it? He knelt and forced the reeds aside, drawing his hood around him to keep out the worst of the bugs. There were lots of bugs here – and not just the mosquitoes and gnats of the daytime. There were flies. Black flies and green flies. Corpseflies. 

And there was the corpse. He wrinkled his nose. An owl. Or rather, half an owl. The lower half. He felt bile rise in his throat, and staggered back. He’d seen nasty, but this was nasty. Something had chewed the owl in half. Something with jagged teeth. 

He heard it, moments before it left the water. If he hadn’t, he’d’ve died. He only just had time to roll aside, tumbling away, as the dark shape shot from the shadows like a bolt from a bow. For a moment, Gel lay there in the shallow water, rapier in hand, gaping at the thing that stood before him. It was taller than a man, tall and thin and mighty, a cord of slime and gloom capped by a leering, grinning head with too many teeth. Queer wings jutted from its back, as if they’d been hastily glued on by a harried tailor. Its legs bent backwards at the knee, and its arms ended in long sickles. It cocked its ugly head back and let out that same shriek they’d heard before, only louder, and worse. Far worse. 

Gel answered with his own cry: “HEY! GUYS! IT’S A THINGY!” They could interpret that. From the hilltop the horses screamed an answer. 

The monster sprang. Gel rolled again, splashing through the water, struggling to draw his shortsword. His hands were wet, his fingers slick. He jabbed out with the rapier as the thing descended on him. He must’ve caught a good blow, because its next shriek came out angry. Then it lashed out with a scythelike claw and met his rapier. 

The rapier snapped. 

“Nooo,” Gel wailed, but there was no time to mourn: the thing was on him now, backwards legs on his chest, pressing him down until his head slipped under the water. He scrabbled at the hilt of his shortsword. Just an inch further. Just an inch. Above the water, the pale swamplight glinted off the creature’s claw. 

Then a rumble, and the sound of thunder, and many hooves passing overhead. The creature was knocked senseless away, and Gel sat up gasping from the muck and ooze. The horses. They were panicked, and in their panic had overrun the monster and then kept going. He watched Bloodhoof disappear into the night, and said some very awful slurs he kept in his back pocket for just this sort of disaster. 

The monster had been knocked away. He drew his shortsword and ran to the beast. No time for mercy or investigation. He plunged down and down and down again, and the thing shrieked and spurted black blood and slime until at last it lay still beneath the stained steel. With its death rattle, it let out a final shriek, echoing across the wetlands.

Something answered. A twin shriek. Not more than a mile or two away. 

“GEL!” Nutmeg was on the downslope of the hill, axe at the ready. “Gel, are you alright?”

“Yeah, he broke my rapier.” 

“Aw, shit, that sucks.” 

“Yeah. It was waiting for us. I’m sure of it. As soon as I found the owl, it jumped me.” 

“The owl?” asked Nutmeg. Enebor and Sister D were coming down the hill now, too. Gel pointed to the place where the mutilated owl lay. Enebor knelt to inspect it. 

“By the Jiditi Mannanni,” swore Enebor. “I know this owl.” 

“Old pals?” asked Gel. 

Enebor glared at him. “In fact, yes. This owl was the steed of my good friend, Logellen. See this band around its ankle?” With a quick movement, Enebor removed a metal band from the owl’s leg. “Yes. Moffo, the steed of Logellen. Alas for Logellen, and alas for Moffo.” 

“Yeah, alas and stuff,” said Nutmeg, “but there’s more of these dog dickers out there.”

“Daghdakka.”

“Uh huh. Are we close enough to Kal Rammath to make a run for it?” 

“No. Only on owlback could we escape this place swiftly enough, but we have no-”

“HANG ON!” Nutmeg dropped his pack and rifled through it with a madman’s fervor. “I’ve got this!” 

Gel retrieved his snapped rapier. It had broken a third of the way up, and was little better than a kebab skewer now. 

“Do you think there’s a chance this Logellen could be alive?” asked Sister D. 

“No,” said Enebor. “If we had Logellen’s whistle, we could prove it, but I imagine this creature left Logellen lying in the swamp somewhere.” 

“Maybe,” said Gel. “Let me try something.” He returned to the body of the daghdakka. It had two-toed feet, he noticed. Snick. Yoink. New toe. But he had more to do than that. With a flick of his wrist, he opened the thing’s belly. A great stink rose up, but he had smelled worse. He poked around with the tip of his sword. Bile. Stomach juices. Filth. Ah, bones, flesh – undigested giblets. And there, soaked through with blood – 

He stooped and retrieved the lacquered wooden whistle from the entrails of the beast. “Look familiar?” he asked Enebor. 

“I’VE GOT IT!” shouted Nutmeg. He had produced a little glass vial, filled with a weightless blue light. “Alandor gave us this!” 

Holyemmas Aun!” cried Enebor. “The Light of the Moth Star! Shatter it, quickly!” 

Nutmeg was a great shatterer. The glass tinkled with a musical noise, and then the blue light rose and grew and grew and grew, ascending like a balloon into the night sky. It took on the form of a moth as it grew; its wings fluttered, and with each flutter it glowed bright and brighter until it was hard to look right at it. Where it lifted away, a column of light remained behind it, until a pillar of starlight rose from the hillock in the fens to the heavens above. 

“Cool,” said Gel. 

“None at Kal Rammath could fail to see this!” declared Enebor. He took the whistle from Gel. “And yes – this bears Logellen’s mark.” Another shriek cut the night. “I only pray we survive long enough to bring this news home.” 

“Yeah, I want to survive for a lot of reasons,” said Nutmeg. “You know, food, sex, drugs, alcohol, all the cool stuff.” 

“Money,” offered Gel. 

“Yeah, money. We have some goblin hands to trade in.”

“And then I can use that money to buy a new rapier,” said Gel. 

“To collect more goblin hands.” 

“Yes.” 

Another shriek from a daghdakka split the night. Closer now. Even closer. And – another one. Another cry, from a different part of the wetlands. 

“Fuck. Multiple bogies closing in on the hill.” Nutmeg looked to the skies. “How long, Enebor?” 

“It depends. If there were no patrols on flight, then – an hour.”

“We don’t have an hour!” 

Enebor pointed skyward. “Then it is fortunate for us that there were patrols on flight!” 

How the elf was able to distinguish the owl-riders from the night sky, Gel had no idea. Maybe it was an innate owl-rider-y thing. Either way: five owls came swooping down, circling around the pillar of light, graceful and silent as ghosts. One by one they landed on the hill, and their leader swung down from owlback. 

“Who’s there?” the elf called. Xhe was taller than Enebor, and better-dressed, too, with many many coppery discs across xir breeches and vest. Xir hair was braided in a long, golden cord behind xir head. “Who lights the Holyemmas Aun?”

“J’estar!” cried Enebor. “Is that you?”

“Enebor?” The elf peered at them, then motioned for another elf to light a lantern. It gave forth a pale yellow-green glow like a firefly’s tail. “Enebor. By the stars, it’s you. But your steed – and these companions -”

“J’estar – J’estar, right?” asked Nutmeg. The elf nodded. “Great. Hi. I’m Nutmeg, that’s Gelmahta, this is Sister Dondalla, nice to meet you. We’ve got company. Daghdakka incoming.”

“You dare?” J’estar’s eyes were wide. “You dare speak an unutterable name?”

“There’s no time to explain,” said Enebor. “We found and fought a daghdakka. They are real. And what’s more, it had eaten Logellen and most of his owl when we found it.” He held up the owl’s band, and the whistle. “Please. We need to leave this place.” 

More shrieks cut the night. J’estar frowned. “The Starvoiced will need to speak to you. All of you, I wager, if what you say is true. We have no steeds to spare, and no time to return to Kal Rammath for extra mounts. You will have to ride clawborne.” 

“Fine,” said Enebor. “It’s not far.” 

“Clawborne?” asked Nutmeg, looking a little green around the gills. “Does that – does that mean what I think it means?”

“That depends on how intelligent you are,” said J’estar. “Yes. Our owls will carry you home in their claws. Hang on tight, stout dwarf. It would be a long fall if your courage failed midair.” 

“Nuh uh. I’m walking.”

“NUTMEG!” Sister D was as apopleptic as Gel had ever seen her. “Don’t be preposterous! We need to get out of here, now!” 

“You remember what that soothsayer soothsaid at me? Beware great heights? Come on, I’m not tempting fate.”

“You fucking well are,” said Gel. “Chug some booze, Nutmeg.” 

“Booze?” asked J’estar. 

“Alcohol,” explained Enebor. “Actually – J’estar, do you have any moonshine?”

“Moonshine?” Nutmeg brightened. “That would be great.” 

“Of course,” xhe replied. “I always keep a draught with me, should the need arise.” Xhe produced a tall, thin bottle of some water-clear liquid. Nutmeg snatched it from xir hands, unstoppered it, and chugged about half the bottle before J’estor grabbed it away again. “This is potent magic!” xhe said, horrified. “A single sip would have been sufficient!” 

“No, I think Nutmeg did well,” said Enebor. “You have not seen the amount this dwarf can drink.” More daghdakka cries echoed around them. A pack, it seemed, out to hunt. “Time to go, Hob Gob Killin’ Mob.”

“Time to – oh, wow,” said Nutmeg.

Unlike Nutmeg, Gel was fully awake when the owl seized him by the arms and carried him into the sky. For a moment, the world was laid out beneath him. Then a chill mist, icing him through his robes and armor, as they rose through a cloud. And then they were above the clouds, in a world of midnight light, beyond the reach of the fell beasts below. Safe, at least for the time being, as the owls bore them onward to the safety of Kal Rammath. 

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