A preface is written in the style of a magical scribing pen atop the story.
(The captain of the Silver Company wishes to make it known that this story is the product of Finnegal, Chronicler of the Company and may or may not accurately reflect events as they actually occurred as pertains to the incidents within the Hooktongue Slough. That the Captain fails to appreciate the liberties one must take with lyric and epic storytelling is no doubt a result of his upbri…hurkk, gaggghhh.)
They were a motley assemblage, and the cold and damp of the Hooktongue Slough gave them a sinister air, which belied the truth that two of them were high officers of state in the Kingdom of Ursundova, that young and vital nation to the east of their current location. Of late, their actions had been less those of statesmen and more those of adventurers or soldiers-of-fortune, in keeping with the hired help that made up the rest of their band. A negotiation with boggards had held some of the trappings of diplomacy, but the diplomat, King Jacek I, had traveled away to seek how to heal a dragon’s soul. In His Majesty’s absence, the remaining members of the company were decidedly less silver-tongued.
Lem Berrybrook was the Champion of Ursundova and the only remaining person who looked as though he served a state or greater cause. His tabard and cloak were festooned in stylized boars, the creature whose tusked face graced his nation’s flag. His frame, lean and lank, spoke of a life of labor, and his unruly tuft of ginger locks hinted at the farm boy who was now a hero to his people and a defender of a Kingdom. At present, the Champion bent over a mad conglomeration of brass and wood that resembled a crossbow in the same way that a palace resembles a lean-to. Of all things in this world, only his wife and child would ever receive such care and affection from the Champion as did Springsnap, bringer of spiky death. The arcane mechanics of the crossbow probably did not require such attention at the moment, but Lem was trying to ignore his fellow officer of state, who was attempting to have an argument.
“But we defeated the dragon. By rights, his hoard is forfeit and now belongs to us.” Leilania Syphaisoma was the Lady Marshal of Ursundova, though she wore neither badge nor symbol. Truth be told, the tall elf wore little more than she found necessary to protect herself in the wild, and that was less than anyone might have presumed. The green and browns of her leggings and armor contrasted with her pale skin as she stretched in the arms of a great tree that curled to cradle her. Where Lem’s woodcraft was hard-won experience, Leilania was a creature of the forest, only ever half-tamed, and she often had more in common with the weather than with anything men would call sentient. In addition to the tree, which would follow the golden-tressed druid into battle, a monstrous bird the size of a horse curled up beneath the tree’s branches. Its cerulean feathers would not lift the massive creature aloft but its beak dripped a sizzling acid. Nibbs had been Leilania’s constant companion since she came to Ursundova, but the tree was a more recent addition to her menagerie. She rolled over in the tree’s branches, curling her curvaceous form around the wood and looked down at Lem with bemusement flashing in the pools of blue so broad and deep that her elven eyes took on an otherworldly quality. “Why should we retain it for a monster that tried to kill us?”
“First of all,” Lem replied, careful not to look up and be distracted by the druid’s charms, “because His Majesty commanded that we do so. Second, because the dragon had been enslaved by the dark sorceries of the hag that we did dispatch. Jacek will consult with Kifu, and if there is any way that the dragon’s soul might be healed, then Jacek’s divine favor and Kifu’s arcane wisdom will find the path. When that happens, we will give this noble creature back what was rightfully his.”
“‘Rightfully’ might be a strong term.” Finnegal the Bard looked little like the minstrels or song-spinners of more civilized lands, for he was from Numeria, where men reached deep within themselves for primordial strength to do battle with metal monstrosities from beyond the stars. The bard’s fierce countenance and garb of chainmail and wolf-hide made him an unlikely chronicler for the Silver Company, that famed warband employed by the crown to protect King Jacek and his family. “The gems and art objects in this hoard are gathered from a diverse array of cultures and places. Even noble dragons are still dragons, and are not famous for asking nicely or paying in a market for the treasures on which they sleep.”
“Then you will content yourself with Lem’s first answer and stop arguing.” The voice that commanded Finnegal was soft, but rumbled like thunder and carried a similar warning. The Silver Beast sat on a stump and carved mud from his boots to make room for the mud that would no doubt gather there in the new day. His boots and breeches were spattered with mud and the blood of the dragon he had nearly slain in a combat that raged from the pond just beyond where the heroes sat into the clearing itself. But he had cleaned his breastplate, which now gleamed in the growing twilight with the sheen that gave the monstrous half-orc his famed moniker. His jade face only glanced at Finnegal as he spoke, but no more was needed. The bard pursed his lips and was silent.
“Well, we will see about that.” Syphacia’s lovely eyes narrowed and her lithe form twisted in the tree to make her more comfortable, stretching like a cat.
Not a moment later, there was a flash of magical fire. Lem and Beast were up in an instant and prepared to fight for their lives, but they relented when they saw the source of the magic. Raymond DeChance was the Company’s guide to the Hooktongue, as it was his longtime home. The sinister witch had conveyed Jacek back to the castle at Tuskendale via magic and had now returned, though he had taken the time to restore the painted skull on his face that contrasted so sharply with his ebony skin. His robes were dark with age and he radiated a terrible power. At present, he looked mildly irritated.
“His Majesty commands…” Ray affected an officious tone in mockery of a royal herald, “…that we are to return to the boggards and inform them that the dragon has been dealt with.” The witch had his own dark designs on the Hooktongue and clearly did not relish the role of messenger for a priest of civilization, but his cunning lay not only in dark arts, but also in seizing the opportune moment. For now, he seemed content to play the role of native guide, but he clearly coveted dominion over the boggards and all the swamp around us.
Lem nodded as he put Snapspring away. “Shall we return to the hamlet where we first encountered the boggards or is there some larger settlement we could seek?” Lem’s question covered an entire adventure in itself – the “hamlet” was actually an ambush point the boggards had used to waylay travelers and porters in the past. Their ambush proved ill-starred when it fell upon the masters of Ursundova, who responded with force the frogmen were woefully unprepared for. The Silver Beast had nearly cleft one in twain while unsheathing his terrible blade, but Jacek had called for calm and a truce was made, complete with healing magic for the poor unfortunate that had found himself across from the Silver Company’s captain. It was these boggards that had asked us to deal with Scorch, the dragon that was even now being ministered to far away in the capital.
Ray smiled, always eager to show his mastery of the convoluted politics of the swamp’s violent denizens. “The boggards at the settlement are a…splintered faction from the M’Botu, who comprise the great tribe of the Hooktongue. They’re little more than a band of troublemakers, but they are the ones with whom we made the deal, so it would be pointless to go elsewhere.”
“Then we’ll head back there in the morning. For now, we should get some rest, as I do not relish traveling the swamp at night.” The company set a watch of Leilania, who would take the first watch, and even then would not sleep, but enter into the strange reverie that was the birthright of her eldritch people, followed by the Silver Beast, who wore an enchanted ring that allowed him to be wholly refreshed after barely a quarter-night’s rest. Both of them could also see by starlight as keenly as falcons under a noonday sun. The dark enveloped the Company, and the sounds of swamp life were all that could be heard. Until…
Growing up so high
We’re pretty fairies
And we shall never die
Except for Beast, he’s the only one
Turn him around so he cannot face the sun.
A haunting and sultry voice insinuated itself into the barbarian warrior’s mind, but his will threw it off as it had chains and shackles from here to far Razmiran. A snarl curled his lips and his pointed ears flattened against his hair. With the toe of his heavy leather boot, he cruelly kicked Finnegal awake. “Up.” he muttered. “Do you hear that?”
The bard, struggling from sleep, sat up slowly. “I hear nothing but my rest calling me.”
“I heard it.” Leilania had broken from her reverie and alighted, silent as a leaf, to the ground.
Beast grunted irritably, then sniffed the air. “Something was singing. It tried to crawl inside my mind.” Even low, his voice carried, and Lem and Ray awoke to the half-orc’s explanation. Lem was just about to counsel caution when Beast’s nose, keen as a wolf’s, caught a scent of something in the air and stormed off towards where one of the innumerable streams of the swamp fed into the pond. Leilania followed lightly. They caught sight of a shapely feminine form, green as the tall grass, which was there for but a second before it vanished with a ripple of water that cut the moon’s reflection.
Beast growled in anger that his enemy had fled, then stomped his way back to the camp. The three humans, blind as mole rats in the unyielding darkness of the swamp, had stayed near the guttering fire.
Finnegal, now awake and slightly perturbed, inquired, “Well, did you see what you heard?”
Beast’s teeth clenched beneath his snarl. “I think so. Green as I am, but lovely and female. It was only there a moment, lurking in the water, then swam away.”
“It’s singing was odd, seeming to echo from many places, resonant in the swamp.” Leilania added.
Ray frowned and folded his arms. “That makes no sense.”
Lem looked at the witch sharply. “Why not?”
“Well,” Ray waved a hand, “That sounds like a Naekk, a water fae with the enchanting power of many of their kind. But there are no such creatures that make their homes in the Hooktongue.”
“Perhaps you’re simply unfamiliar with it.” Lem retorted.
“I am familiar with everything that walks, swims, and slithers in my home, Champion, and I am telling you that this lady is not from around here.”
Lem shrugged, “Well, it appears to be gone now and we have several hours before daylight. Never sit when you can lie down.” With that bit of homespun wisdom, no doubt from the agrarian halflings that adopted him in his youth, Lem laid back down near the fire. Ray and Leilania soon followed back to their own rest.
Finnegal would have slipped back away to, but his captain seized his arm. “Not you.”
“Because I know your talents run towards disrupting spoken and sung enchantments like the one that just attacked me, and this seems the sort of attack that only had to strike true once.”
“But I would really like to sleep.”
“Sleep later, so that I do not kill you against my will.” That mollified the bard a little, and he sat with his captain and waited for the dawn.
As the company broke camp and made ready for the walk, slightly more than a day, back to the boggard village, Finnegal approached Leilania with a solicitous smile. The druid was taking slow draws on a long pipe of reed and wood, the smell of her strange pipeweed wafting as the smoke curled around her slender form.
“My lady Marshal. I have a favor to ask.”
Leilania looked at the bard, her mouth almost quirking in a smile as her eyes appraised the Numerian up and down. “Yes?”
“Actually, I was hoping I might borrow your tree for some sleep.”
She giggled, “That would be up to him, but I know you’ve a talented tongue.” Her eyes flashed as she skipped away. Finnegal made an effort at a friendly smile at the tree, whose face was not altogether easy to discern amidst the whorls of bark. But an arrangement was reached and the bard snoozed in the boughs as the party traveled.
Beast broke the silence of the march with a question. “As we did not kill the dragon, how exactly do we convince the boggards that it is dealt with?”
Lem came up short, glaring at a nearby tree as though it might answer Beast’s query. “We have no reason to lie.”
Ray snorted, “I doubt that is how the boggards will see it.”
Leilania smiled slyly, “Let Beast explain. He terrifies them, so they’ll hardly argue.”
“Beast doesn’t speak for the kingdom,” Lem answered sharply. “And I don’t speak their tongue. Leilania, you should explain it to them, and we’ll let Beast stand behind you. If need be, we can show them some item from the hoard as proof.”
Leilania shrugged and skipped on, Nibbs doing an odd prance through the swamp muck to keep pace. Lem watched them go, his face unveiling that his mind was chewing over the wisdom of his proposed course of action.
Finnegal was awake as they entered the boggard hamlet, little more than a set of ramshackle huts by the riverside. Really the huts served as cover for ambushers, rather than any sort of respectable dwelling. As when the company first came, there was no sign of life amidst the huts. Leilania looked up at Beast questioningly.
“Oi!” The gargantuan half-orc’s bark could be felt as much as heard. Boggards began to trickle out of the huts, following one with a thin crown of brass and a makeshift scepter of long reeds and branches. Leilania put on a smile that had dazzled men and women from Brevoy to Mivon, though it remained to be seen if Boggards held to the same notions of beauty as other races.
“We have found the monster, Scorch, and he shall trouble you no more.” Leilania’s words were carefully chosen and had been the subject of several discussions on the march.
“You bring gifts for Pekalo, the True King of the Boggards?” The one with the crown raised his chest and puffed out his neck until it was like the fancy collars of distant Taldane nobility.
Leilania opened and closed her mouth twice, then reached into the large hide sack that Beast had been carrying. The bag, seized from the now dead chieftain of the Tiger Lord Barbarians, could hold many times its size in goods and she took from it an ivory bowl with carvings of various creatures cavorting around its rim. “Behold!” she cried, “Treasure from the dragon’s hoard, seized when the Silver Beast smote the dragon many a dolorous blow.” She gestured with a delicate hand to the immense half-orc warrior and the boggards took an involuntary step back.
King Pekalo took the bowl and gave it an an appraising look-over and an experimental sniff, then his frog-like face broke out in a massive grin. “Yes! This is a fine and kingly gift. We shall celebrate your victory with a journey to gather dragonflies!” At this proclamation, the boggards unleashed a chorus of croaking cheers and Leilania did her best to look pleased, if slightly confused. The king’s declaration seemed to mark an end to the exchange and the boggards set to work gathering weapons and mesh bags of gear.
“Dragonflies?” Lem looked utterly perplexed as the company gathered in a group unto themselves. Lem turned to ask Ray about what was happening, but the witch was seated on a stump, a small doll in his hands. It was a patchwork of burlap and button eyes that Ray referred to as “Little Boo,” and the homespun homunculus had a tendency, when it could be seen, to giggle inappropriately. Now witch and familiar communicated in a languid tongue of vocatives and pursed vowels, occasionally snickering at some joke only the two of them shared.
“Umm…Ray?” Lem finally cut in.
“It’s actually a great honor…after a fashion.” Ray petted the little doll and it slid back beneath the sleeve of his robe to go no one knew where. “They’ll go hunt dragonflies in this grove about two days from here. Some of the largest ones will be ground up into a paste that grants visions.”
Finnegal’s eyes narrowed, “True visions?”
Ray shrugged, “Entertaining visions, at any rate.” Leilania giggled and clapped.
Lem frowned at the marshy earth, “I suppose it would be rude to refuse.”
Ray peered at the boggards, “It’s not exactly a safe journey. The M’Botu hunt the same dragonflies, and Pekalo is certainly not the True King of those boggards. Some of those dragonflies are as large as a man, and their jaws can pierce steel, and that’s before you get to the Marsh Giants.”
Lem looked tired already, “Marsh Giants?”
Ray scratched his neck. “They consider the area sacred to their god, some being called Dagon.”
Finnegal spat a curse that drew everyone’s gaze. “The Shadow in the Sea. He is a demon who breeds sea monsters and is worshipped best by dragging victims to lightless depths.” The bard looked thoughtful, “That might explain the provenance of Hooktongue himself, the monster for whom the Slough is named.”
Lem now looked sad, “Demons? Are there any nice places around here?”
Ray smiled cheerfully, “Of course. You built it. But we’re not going there just now.”
The march to the grove took the company through a terrible and fetid patch of land called the Sinking Bog. The heroes did not wonder overmuch at the name as the watery slime sucked at their boots, making thick slurping noises as larger feet, such as Nibbs’s claws, rose and fell through the mire. When one of the boggards that traveled with us disappeared into a watery hole, vanishing as though he had stepped out over open air, the company became aware that the name was more a warning than a simple description. Leilania seemed to dance atop the muck, the hungry mud clutching greedily at her shapely legs, but she was too deft for the dark waters. Finnegal nearly plunged to his own watery grave, but was snatched from the swallowing darkness by the thick, wooden fist of Leilania’s tree companion.
We had paused to make camp, the boggards with spears out to gather fish and eels for the evening repast. Suddenly, Beast and Leilania looked up sharply, hearing a distant voice carried on the wind.
Growing up so high,
We’re pretty fairies
And we shall never die.
Except for Lem, he’s the only one.
Turn him around so he cannot face the sun.
The lovely druid and the fierce barbarian plunged through the swamp, calling out for the Champion of Ursundova. They found him up to his shins in the river, but swiftly backing away towards the shore.
“It sang to me, and I would have…Gods preserve me.” Leilania aided Lem back to the shore, while Beast drew back the string of a massive bow, composed of wood and horn and groaning under the strain of the half-orc’s thick emerald thews. With a twang, the iron-headed arrow raced to a spot in the water and struck true on the green enchantress who had attempted to lead Lem into a watery grave. But the arrowhead found no purchase and skittered from her bare shoulder, tumbling end over end until it splashed in the water. Once again, the green lady disappeared into the depths and Beast growled in frustration.
“I was following its song into the river, but a vision of Iomedae appeared in my mind’s eye and recalled to me my duty to my lord and my family.” Lem looked shaken and shivered slightly, though likely not from the cold.
Leilania’s eyes were narrowed as she looked out on the water. “It is gone for now. We should rejoin the others.”
Beast snarled, “I hit her straight and true. What sort of…”
“She is fae, Beast.” Leilania explained. “If the head of your shaft was not cold iron, she was likely protected by her faerie nature.”
They turned to leave. Beast lingered there, hunting the water for his quarry, before turning to follow.
The Grove of the Dragonflies was walled off from clear sight by tall trees, but the buzzing of thousands upon thousands of beating wings could be heard just yards from where the company now stood. The boggards had gathered for a discussion in their burbling, croaking language, and then King Pekalo approached, neck puffed out in decisiveness.
“Our tribe has consulted. You shall have the honor of harvesting the dragonflies.”
Lem was incredulous after Finnegal translated. “We what?”
“To hunt the dragonflies is a great honor. And we have made our decision.”
The company turned to look at one another.
Beast raised a single eyebrow, “Are we seriously going to bug hunt for these jumped-up thugs?”
Ray shrugged, “I thought we were supposed to make a good impression.”
Leilania looked at a point out in space, “I do like visions.”
Lem rolled his eyes, but hefted his crossbow. “Oh, let’s get this over with.”
“One minute.” Beast slid his grisly helm on, bone tusks jutting from the steel frame, and strode over to King Pekalo, whose inflated neck quavered. “If you and yours have led me and mine into a death trap, rest assured I will live long enough to come back for you.” The barbarian’s deep voice resonated in the helm and Pekalo’s puffy neck deflated into empty sacks of skin.
The company formed up with Beast in the lead, unsheathing his terrible, flanged longsword and setting his heavy shield, oak as thick as an outer door, on his arm. With an inclination of her head, Leilania directed Nibbs behind the barbarian, and Lem came up alongside the great blue axebeak. The walking tree, Leilania, Ray, and Finnegal brought up the back line.
Passing through the trees, the buzzing turned to a sonorous roar, as wings buzzed in every conceivable space. It was as passing into a cloud of living, droning smoke. Amidst the myriad bugs there were maidenflies, dragonflies the size of a man’s finger, greater insects the size of dogs, and then the beasts we had been told of – like angels of a heaven no sane man would visit, they roared through the skies, masters of their domain. But they turned to see what fools had entered their demense without the chitin of their kin.
Ray said over the angry din, “I have few magics for this crowd – insects do not have a mind to properly ensorcell.”
Finnegal began a chant of a rapid march, the spirits of ancient warriors flowing from his words and quickening the limbs of his companions, as well as emboldening their hearts.
Beast watched one dragonfly as it turned and moved into a dive at the company. “Guess we’ll have to stick to older arts, then.” He plunged forward and insect and warrior collided in the grove. Beast deal the gigantic bug a terrible cut from his sword, yellow ichor flopping wetly into the swamp grass, but the bug pressed on, undaunted. Soon others had joined the fray, but their sharp jaws could find no purchase in Beast’s shield or the shining mithral of his armor – light as cork but more unyielding than steel.
With something between a squawk and a roar, Nibbs pounded into the cloud, his flightless wings scattering the lesser bugs and his terrible beak smashing down on the body of one of the large dragonflies. The great tree balled its spindly fingers into great wooden mallets that rained hammer blows down. Seeing the bugs assailed from all sides by his companions, Ray slid up behind the fracas and opened his mouth wide, unleashing an inhuman shriek that reverberated through the glade. The tiny insects fled the terrible sounds and even the large ones turned crazily and lost control of their flight, leaving themselves open for terrible wounds from the monsters, both feathered and armored, that raged amongst them. Shining bolts, steel-tipped, flew through the melee with deadly precision as Lem sent dragonflies crashing to the ground with shots from his crossbow. But even as the terrible droning was subsiding, a new noise pierced the surroundings.
The company barely noticed the tearing and smashing of the foliage over the war cries, a mixture of angry shout and diseased seal bark that was purposed to strike fear into the heart of an enemy. Marsh giants, their slick skin shining in the afternoon light and their bulbous, dark eyes gleaming with malice, pushed into the grove, waving enormous gaffs about and drooling from terrible hungers. Two of them wore little more than breeches, gray and water stained, but the third had a brooch embedded in his blubbery flesh and a large disk with the stylized octopus of Father Dagon hanging between his flabby breasts from a thong of unwholesome leather. This one absentmindedly bit a shocker lizard in half, drawing electricity through his body, as he directed the other two to circle the melee on the other side of the grove. The rapidly dwindling number of dragonflies, driven only by hunger and with no sense that they were outmatched, were suddenly joined when mounds of swamp mud rose and clumped, taking a vaguely humanoid shape and balling dripping fists to do violence.
Beast looked beyond his enemy at hand at the threat coming on. “Can you handle these?” he called to Leilania.
The druid laughed, oddly cheerful amidst the carnage as she said a blessing, causing Nibbs to grow to truly titanic portions. “We can. Go.”
The Silver Beast gave a roar that all knew meant he had unleashed the beast of rage he kept caged in his heart. He bounded forward with the speed of a tiger on the hunt and his blade slashed into the nearest marsh giant, calling forth a foaming fountain of brackish blood. The two minion giants assailed the smaller creature that had dared defy them, but their gaffs seemed to do nothing even when they found their mark beneath his armor or shield arm, for carving the Beast’s flesh when he was enraged was like sawing oak.
Nibbs and the Walking Tree smashed dragonflies to the earth, then turned on the mud elementals that had risen at their dark summoner’s command. The priest, in turn, clutched the unholy symbol of Dagon in his chest and spoke a word of purest evil. The cloying miasma assailed the souls of Lem and Finnegal, so anathema was it to the light in those two men. Their veins blackened and their eyes bulged as they retched from the foul powers hurled in their direction.
Lem called to his companions, “We must clear these monsters before us so as to deal with that dark priest!” Finnegal called upon legends of heroes and giantslayers, empowering Lem with a hint of their greatness. The Champion of Ursundova, with blood on his lips and leaking from his eyes, unleashed a torrent of crossbows bolts that banished the dragonflies from the field. Leilania poured ever more enchantments into her darling pet engine of destruction and Nibbs responded accordingly, shredding the mud elementals, who could not pull away without taking ferocious blows from the great tree.
Ray slid beside Nibbs so that he could see the Marsh giants that were attempting to battle Beast. “Well, not much of a mind, but it will do.” The witch’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he chanted the name of Kalfu, twisting the fortune of one of the giants down the bleak road, so that he tripped and his gaff would swing wide and all would be misfortune and disaster. In a voice not wholly his own, Ray began to laugh at the grim tidings his will had brought forth.
Beast, who, mighty as he was, found two giants to be a test, grinned at his enemies. “When the witch laughs, it usually means a bad day for our enemies.” With that, he drove his sword at the giant that blocked his way to the priest, carving great, blubbery chunks from the monsters and sending it reeling back. The other giant, who had first tasted Beast’s steel, attempted to follow, but a bolt of lightning, summoned from the heavens by the luminous Leilania, struck the bloody creature dead.
The priest saw his other minion fall to a steel-tipped bolt and found himself face to face with the Silver Beast, whose arms and armor were coated with the life’s blood of the others. Nibbs and the Great Tree were smashing their way through the mud creatures and the priest knew time was running out. Beast fell upon him with a ferocious swing of his sword, and the flanged steel, its enchantments blazing with power in response to Beast’s anger, bit deeply. In desperation, the Priest slid back away from the furious half-orc, raised his hands to the sky, and called upon his demonic patron for protection.
In response, a ripple of thunder erupted from the heavens. Rather than rain, though, a great panoply of arms – swords, spears, axes, and all manner of war implements – came crashing to earth. Beast and Leilania managed to dodge or shield themselves from the worst of it, but the giant forms of Nibbs and the Great Tree could have never avoided such a torrent of steel. The Great Tree reeled, pierced all about until it looked like a shrubbery of war. Nibbs poured his blood out upon the swamp, gave a terrible, choking squawk, and fell to the ground. Leilania screamed in agony, for she loved Nibbs above all other things in this world. Though the mud monsters were gone, neither the druid nor her powerful agents would be a part of the combat now.
The priest gurgled a terrible laugh, but heard another chuckle just over his head. He looked up to see Ray, floating like a spectre over his head. “Your god cannot save you here.” With another chant, the armor of the priest began to rust and buckle, opening wide. Beast fell upon the priest with fury, delivering cuts that send blood flowing into the marsh.
Finnegal looked at the scene with panic. “If he is able to call more blades from the heavens, we shall not last long.”
“No.” Lem said with a grim set to his jaw. “This ends now.” He leveled Snapspring and loosed bolt after bolt with unflinching mechanical precision. They flew with terrible accuracy to wherever the priest was unprotected – into his neck, his groin, and the great rends in his armor brought on by Ray’s dark curse and Beast’s fearsome blows. The priest became a fountain of blood that was black in the dim light and reeked of seawater. With a choking gurgle, he tottered and crashed to the ground, and was no more.
In the sudden stillness after battle, the boggards crept into the glade to survey the carnage. Even Pekalo walked carefully among these battle lords who had laid waste to the threat of the grove, but the dragonflies were gathered and the pulping of their bodies began to, ironically, bring everyone back from the madness of violence. Leilania prayed feverishly over the body of Nibbs, and was rewarded with the discovery that his wounds were only nearly fatal. The druid and the bard invoked their distinct healing magics, drawn respectively from the wild and from legend, to staunch the bleeding and damage done to the heroes. Dragonflies of all sizes had fled from the grove and the atmosphere changed to oddly cheerful for the terrain had a wild beauty to it when it was not a battlefield. The boggards were impressed with the heroes of Ursundova, though none present really knew how to parlay that into advantage, save perhaps Ray.
Beast and Finnegal drank from their waterskins while Ray, Leilania, and the boggards prepared the potions to grant visions. “Finn,” Beast said quietly, “I have a concern.”
“I don’t think it’s particularly toxic, though I cannot speak to this mixture’s true potency.”
“It’s not about that.”
“It’s about the Naekk.”
“She seems skittish.”
Beast shifted his shoulders, making his points one by one with a knife hand pointing to an invisible line. “No one in the boggards was familiar with her. Ray said that she was not native to the Hooktongue Slough. She forayed carefully, attacking one person at a time, and we never saw her for more than a few seconds.”
“Like I said…skittish.”
Beast looked at Finnegal meaningfully, “Then how did she know our names?”
The color drained from the bard’s face. “That’s not an accident of the magic, you don’t think?”
“You tell me, poet.”
Finnegal swallowed hard. “No. That would be anomalous.”
“I see. So she knew us.”
Beast sat back and took a long pull from his waterskin. The two mercenaries looked at the festivities, a dread gnawing their hearts.