ShinyQuest, by Julia Watson. Episode 10

Previous: Episode 9

Everything happened in a blur, all at once. That horrid click sounded under Isabog’s foot. Mags’ face twisted into a grimace of dread, the puny rogue instinctively flipping back and away. The click was drowned out by the sudden whir and grind of cogs set in motion and a rolling, continuous hiss-snick. Isa saw the glint of something sharp and metallic whirling to life, and the shadow of something else, something enormous falling towards her.

Too shocked to react, there was no time think, to cast a spell, to even scream.

Then the enormous something crashed into her, knocking the breath from her lungs and wrapping her in a cocoon of protective warmth. Her ears filled with the sound of blades meeting flesh, slightly muffled, and a familiar roar of pain. The large body wrapped around hers shuddered.

Dreg. The thing wrapped around her was Dreg.

Then the hiss-snick-whir stopped as quickly as it had started, a scramble of bodies moving frantically nearby.

“Dreg!” Mags called.

Isabog? Oorn’s mind stabbed for hers, reeling with alarm.

Hands reached for her, trying to drag her out from under Dreg’s dead weight and she felt one of the ogre’s hands, wrapped weakly around her waist, grasp her more tightly.

“Oh gods.” That was Surzl. “What if they heard that? What if there’s someone nearby?”

“Dreg, it’s okay.” That was Tulip. “It’s safe. You can let her go now.”

There was a whimper of acknowledgement and the large hand around her middle released its grip. Dreg heaved another shudder and, groaning, shifted his weight. Isa felt Tulip’s strong hands grasp her now and yank her out of the shelter of Dreg’s arms, back up to her feet.

“There’s not a scratch on her,” Isa heard Tulip say, surprised.

You’re not hurt! Oorn said. Thank the Stars.

But Isa was hardly listening. Her eyes were locked onto the horrific configuration of curved blades protruding from what looked like a mechanical battering ram currently lodged in Dreg’s right flank, after mowing a path of destruction across one of his shoulders and down his back. The churned and torn flesh it had left in its wake looked like mincemeat, blood flowing freely from his wounds. One slash on his arm went clean to the glistening bone.

Turning her head away, Isa was sick, spewing bile, water, and bits of sodden, half-digested moldy bread on the stone floor.

At the height that grisly thing had swung down from the ceiling, it likely would have taken her head off. . . had Dreg not leapt in when he did.

At the sound of her retching, the ogre swung his head in her direction, wincing in pain at the movement. “Weird goblin okay?” he asked, his eyes glassy with pain and concern.

“Me?” Isa squeaked, her voice sounding high and tinny to her own ears.

He was still worried. About her.

Isa wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her robes and straightened up. “I—I’m fine. Thanks.”

Mags knelt over the ogre, smoothing the bristly hairs on his head and murmuring something to him, tears of fury in her eyes as she glowered up at Isa, an unspoken accusation in her glare.

An unfamiliar stab of something like distress seemed to hollow Isa out from the inside.

That was terribly foolish, rushing in here like that, Oorn said. What were you thinking?! You nearly got us both killed!

“I’m sorry,” she stammered.

Why would he do that? Why would anyone do that? To take such a risk . . .

Isa shook her head to clear it and felt her gorge rise again, this time forcing it down.

But she couldn’t bear to watch as Tulip approached and, at a nod from Surzl, seized hold of the bladed contraption and began to pull it from where it was embedded in Dreg’s ruined flesh. Even as she turned away, she couldn’t block out the squelch of the blades being dislodged, the ogre’s grunt of pain, the sickening sizzle of Surzl’s healing spell, or the sigh of relief Dreg breathed as she finished.

When Isa finally turned to look again, Surzl was inspecting Dreg’s partially healed back. It still looked like he’d taken on a glass golem, but his wounds had closed and scabbed over, and the torn flesh of his arm had mended—the shiny line of a new scar marking the spot.

“Easy,” Tulip said, as Dreg hauled himself upright, swaying a bit on his feet. She reached out to steady him and he placed a hand on her head, glancing down at her in surprise. She scowled back up at him, but there was an uptilt to the side of her mouth, a note of obvious approval even as the warrior’s brow furrowed in apparent annoyance. Dreg ducked his head, suddenly shy.

“Hmmph,” Tulip said, moving away, but only after the ogre seemed steady enough to stand on his own again, Isa noted.

Then Mags was there glaring up at Isa, one strong finger poking the warlock square in the solar plexus. “And you,” Mags said, her voice a growl. “Will stay behind me. Will let me do my job. Understand?”

Mortified, Isa only nodded, backing away from Mags’ finger as though it were a fully charged wand.

You don’t have to take that from the likes of her, Oorn said coolly, sounding more like himself again. Though it does seem wise to let her blunder about first in here.

Yes, Isa said, of course.

But in the tiny, tucked away corner of her mind that she kept for just herself, Isa chewed and chewed on a new piece of unwelcome knowledge. She’d nearly died, and Oorn, for all his power and promises, hadn’t saved her—meaning he couldn’t save her.

Every step now laden with a jittery wariness she couldn’t seem to shake, Isa followed the party as they headed deeper under the mountain.

 

***

 

Anger still churning up her guts, Mags took deep, slow breaths to calm herself as she prowled ahead of the rest of the party. Even with the information she’d acquired from Sxorax about how to avoid the worst of the hazards along this path, she’d need her wits about her to keep herself and the others safe.

There was always the possibility that Sxorax had lied, after all. Mags’ gut said otherwise, though she wouldn’t have put it past the Shadowtongue to have held back part of the truth. They were known to be the trickiest of the tricky, the blooded of Neegosh. So Mags would be extra careful, just in case.

After having been so careful to sneak up here quietly, they were beyond lucky there’d been no one nearby—apparently—to hear the racket they’d all made with that trap.

Or had someone? Mags stopped stock still as she heard a sudden pitter-patter up ahead.

She stopped and raised a hand to the others to warn them to be still, listening with all her might. But the sound she’d heard did not come again.

She signaled again, this time to let them know she was going to move up and investigate and they should stay back. Glancing back to make sure they understood, Mags saw a nod from Tulip and caught Isa’s eye. The rogue felt a spark of pique as Isa immediately averted her gaze. Well, the normally haughty warlock certainly seemed shaken after her near-brush with death (perhaps the most sensible response to anything Isa had displayed, ever).

Or could there be something more to Isa’s sudden discomfort?

Mags prowled forward on silent feet and her fingers instinctively found the brooch pinned to her bandolier. Almost as soon as she’d put it on, she’d felt a subtle pressure behind her eyes—so minute she’d not even noticed it until then—dissipate and fade to nothing. It was such a small thing, that sensation, that she might have discounted and forgotten it right away—except she couldn’t help but notice that, since then, she’d felt oddly clear-headed . . . suspiciously clear-headed, as though something had been meddling with her mind up until then, fogging it up a bit, for who knows how long.

She would have liked to ask Isa to identify the brooch to see what it did exactly—that it was magical in some way was clear—but since the tentacled warlock was the person most likely responsible for said meddling, that would have to wait. Yes, she thought. It must be Isa. Or Oorn, the mysterious voice in Isa’s head that none of the rest of them could hear. If the warlock’s magical abilities really came from him, Mags wondered, what were the extent of his powers? And what was it he was really after?

Mags hadn’t the slightest idea, but it disturbed her it hadn’t occurred to her until now to wonder about this. That wasn’t like her. One thing, though, was for sure: power was never given freely. Whatever Isa and Oorn were up to, she would be on her guard from now on.

Peering around the next corner, she saw a scattering of fresh dirt on the path ahead, judging that to be roughly about wear the noise had originated. Above that spot, the earthen ceiling of the tunnel seemed a little more loosely packed than the surrounding area, crumbling a bit with age and neglect. There were no recent tracks here other than her own, however. Huh. It seemed likely, then, that the tunnel was only settling.

Skulking back to the others, Mags gestured for them to follow again, slowly. According to Sxorax, the next trap wasn’t much further ahead. The broiler, she’d called it, a place where the path narrowed alongside a subterranean drop off. Apparently, the Bouldermaw had installed a series of hidden switches among the obvious handholds to keep one from going tumbling off the edge into the abyss, each of which activated hidden vents that shot blasts of fire. The most nimble of the group, Mags stopped them again as they reached the lip of the drop-off and carefully made her way across, securing a guide rope to the floor with a few pitons. The others would have to crawl across, and the going would be awkward, but it was safer than the alternative.

This plan worked fine until it was Dreg’s turn to go. To Mags’ chagrin, she hadn’t taken his size into account, realizing belatedly he was too big to walk across the narrow ledge, much less crawl.

Surzl gave a resigned sigh. “I got it,” she said and turned to start back.

But Isa reached out a hand to stop her. “Um. Let me.”

Surzl only eyed the warlock coolly.

Mags narrowed her eyes.

“I want to help,” Isa insisted.

“Alright. Let her,” Tulip said.

Surzl shrugged and sniffed, her expression saying about time she pulled her own weight.

Mags smirked.

So they waited as Isa crawled back across the ledge, hand over hand. When she reached Dreg, she gestured for him to bend down and spoke quietly to him. Dreg brightened and grinned, nodding. Then he knelt and Isa climbed onto his back, wrapping her arms around his neck. She murmured something magical-sounding, and Dreg took an experimental step . . . right up the wall next to him. His feet stuck to it, and just like he was walking across the floor, he took a few effortless steps vertically. With a grunt of joy, he stepped back down onto the path, checked to make sure Isa had a good grip, and simply walked sideways along the cliff face, entirely bypassing the narrow ledge.

Mags’ heart was in her throat the whole time, watching this. She reasoned Isa wasn’t the brightest of the party, but she was hardly lacking in self-interest. If the warlock felt safe enough to ride on him while he defied gravity, Dreg must be safe, too.

Still, Mags breathed a sigh of relief as the ogre clambered back up over the side once the path widened out again.

“That fun,” he said, gently depositing Isa back on the ground. “Do it again sometime?”

“Sure,” Isa said brightly, though her smile didn’t reach her eyes.

Tulip clapped an approving hand on Isa’s shoulder and gestured for Mags to lead them again.

“Hmmph,” Mags grumbled, shouldering past them.

The next trap was far easier to bypass, so long as you knew of it. The path beyond the broiler led to a corridor that opened out into a narrow room where the floor, walls, and ceiling were made of stone covered over with a thin layer of dark glass. Within a matter of seconds after anyone entered this room, both entrances slammed shut, creating a tightly sealed chamber that would begin to fill with acid.

Or so Sxorax said.

On this one, Mags was more than willing to take the Shadowtongue at her word. She led the party seven paces down the corridor toward said chamber, and then stopped, experimentally pushing her hand against the wall to the right.

“Whoa,” Tulip said behind her, as Mags’ hand went right through the stone.

“This way,” Mags said, stepping through the illusory wall and stopping to wait until everyone had passed through. “Just one more up ahead,” she said then, “and when we get there, do what I say, because I’ll need your help and there won’t be time to argue or answer questions. Got it?”

Tulip furrowed her brow at this, but Mags paused and held her gaze until the big warrior nodded her assent.

“And careful from here on out,” Mags added. “Past the last trap, we’ll be in the inhabited part of these caves. No talking. Move quietly. And if we come across any Bouldermaws, we silence them before they can raise the alarm.”

At that, bloodthirsty Surzl grinned eagerly and the others nodded, looking nervous but resolved. Mags doublechecked that her throwing daggers were fastened securely in their harness before continuing on, using these final moments of quiet to prepare herself for what lay ahead.

This last trap, if Sxorax had described it accurately, was something of a marvel—enough so that Mags looked forward to disarming it with a mixture of awe and dread that she hoped didn’t show to the rest of the party.

The sound of rushing water came from up ahead, the air in the tunnel beginning to grow warm. The walls in this part of the cave system were blotchy with colonies of an oddly fibrous brown fungus, giving the stone the appearance of being covered in patches of mangy fur. Up ahead, the path was screened off by a curtain of falling water near a bit of a shelf overhead.

“Careful,” she said over the roar of the water. “Sxorax warned us there’s another drop off here. Follow me.”

It looked as though the path continued straight under the waterfall, but rather than passing through that way, Mags sidestepped the flow into a hidden niche that widened out into a new tunnel leading down and around. Waving the others in after her, she rounded the bend, looking up into a cavernous space shaped like a giant cylinder, a hundred feet in diameter and at least twice as tall. To one side, an impossibly tall waterfall tumbled down, obscuring the spot where the path they’d been on abruptly ended. Anyone who tried to push blindly through that curtain of water would fall into the churning cistern below—facing a difficult climb back up, for the walls here were smooth and slippery with more of that hairy-looking fungus.

A clever obstacle, to be sure, but not the trap Mags was seeking. No, that lay a bit further in.

They followed the hidden path as it curved up and around the cistern for two full rotations, then veered south—this section of the tunnel, for the first time, lined with worked stone, now crumbling with age.

Another fifty feet in, the tunnel curved around in the “U” shape the Shadowtongue had described. Mags turned and jerked her head towards the double bend. “This is it,” she said to the others. “Be ready for my instructions.” Dreg’s feet shifted nervously. Isa’s eyes darted from Mags’ face to Tulip’s. Without waiting for a response, Mags turned and headed into the bend. The path on the other side curved immediately to the right and then opened into a small-ish room, circular in shape. It was no more than twenty feet wide, and the floor was paved with wide, rust-colored flagstone.

On the other side of the chamber, opposite the tunnel entrance, was a thick metal door fitted with multiple locks. But Mags’ attention was focused on the four raised flagstones arranged in a crude circle dead center in the room’s floor.

With no time to waste, Mags began to issue quiet orders to her companions.

“Dreg, go over to the door. Steer clear of those stones there. Do not step on them. That’s right. Now test the door for me and make sure it’s not already unlocked, just in case. We could get lucky . . . ”

Obediently, the ogre walked to the door, grasped the handle, and yanked, but it didn’t budge.

Mags sighed. Not surprising, but still. “That’s okay. Worth a shot. Alright, Dreg, stay there and don’t touch anything unless I tell you to. Isa, over there,” Mags pointed at a spot next to one of the raised flagstones,” and then told Tulip and Surzl to stand at the ready near two of the others. Mags took her place behind the fourth raised stone and made a quick study of the symbols carved into each one: an open flame, an axe, a scepter trailing ribbons and small bones, and . . . nothing.

Mags blinked. The fourth stone was blank.

 

***

 

“Well, what are you waiting for,” Tulip hissed, as Mags just stood there. This was no time to dawdle! “I thought you said we had to hurry in here?”

“I—right,” Mags said. “It’s just . . . Sxorax said you only needed to know the history of the gods to get past this one, and I—” the little rogue gulped. “The first three are obvious, but I don’t know what that one means.” She pointed at the blank stone in front of Isa.

“What are you blathering about?” Surzl snapped. “Just tell us what we’re supposed to do.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Mags said, clearly panicking. “These stones have to be pressed in the right order. Or else—”

Suddenly, the passageway they’d entered through disappeared as a hidden stone panel slammed into place, a whoosh of air accompanying it as it slid from a groove Tulip hadn’t noticed before. Then there came the horribly familiar sound of cogs turning, creaking behind the walls all around them.

“Or else what?” Tulip asked, not liking any of this one bit.

“Or else that!” Mags pointed at the walls around them, which had begun to pull back, widening the room. But as they did so, short, sharp spikes of smooth metal were revealed, spaced about every six inches, from ceiling to floor. “We have less than a minute to figure this out.”

Tulip’s stomach all but dropped into her boots as the spikes continued to elongate, already a foot and a half long. That they only continued to grow was bad enough, but she shuddered to think about what might happen when they stopped growing.

“Can’t you just unlock those?” Isa gestured towards all the locks and keyholes lining the metal door.

“No, no,” Mags waved her off. “Those are a decoy.” She pursed her lips, examining the symbols carved into the floor in front of them. “I mean—I think I get it. Holvrgoshrr was firstborn among the gods,” Mags went on, pointing to the axe in front of Tulip. “Then the Dancer in the Flames.” She indicated the flame on the stone in front of Surzl. “And Neegosh, ‘the Younger,’” she pointed to the stone in front of her, with the scepter. “So: axe, fire, scepter. But what’s nothing? Where does that go in the sequence?”

“Well,” Isa said. “There was nothing before the gods created all things, right? Maybe that one first?” Shrugging, she lifted one foot up onto the blank flagstone and began to shift her weight forward.

“STOP!” Mags cried, then clapped a hand over her own mouth, eyes darting to the door at the far end. Dutifully, Isa stopped moving, now carefully balanced on her back leg and glaring at the rogue, her eyes darting back and forth from Mags’ face to Tulip’s.

Tulip followed Mags’ gaze to the door, listening for signs of rushing footsteps behind it, but she couldn’t hear anything past their circle except the sound of the gears grinding away behind the walls. That alone must have surely given them away by now. They had to get out of here and get moving, fast.

“We don’t get any mistakes,” Mags said, cautioning Isa to step back, both hands now held out in front of her, palms flat and open. “Step on any one of these in the wrong order and we’re going to get real up close and personal with these spikes.”

“Fine,” Isa said. “But figure it out quick. Nothing first or not?”

“I don’t know,” Mags said. “Maybe that one is a trick and we’re supposed to leave it alone. Damn that Shadowtongue and her riddles!”

The creaking was starting to taper off now, the spikes having reached a horrifying length of three feet—longer than Mags was tall. Dreg began to shuffle nervously closer to the door, the only spot left on the outer edge of the room that wasn’t bristling with pointy death.

Then the grinding sound died away completely, replaced with a sound like something very heavy rolling on wheels.

“Is the room getting smaller again?” Surzl asked.

Tulip looked. Sure enough, the walls had stopped receding and were now moving back towards their former positions—but the spikes were still out. The walls were going to close in on them, turning them into goblin pincushions.

“Mags,” Tulip said, spinning to face the little rogue, “you’re the smartest. Make a decision!”

Mags gulped, looking from the scepter to the blank stone. “Okay, okay. What Isa said makes sense. I think that one first.”

Isa lifted her foot again.

“No!” Surzl said.

“We don’t have time for this!” Tulip growled. The spikes were inching mercilessly closer, only a few feet from them now.

Whimpering, Dreg moved closer to Isa and Surzl, his arms wrapped protectively around the sling and the pot that held his pets. “Goblins!” he blubbered. “Dreg not like it in here.”

“In the oldest legends,” Surzl said, ignoring him, “Ruznabiyug’s fury brings about the glorious end of all things. Nothing is the future.”

As one, Tulip and Mags both turned and stared at Surzl. Never mind that this information was new to Tulip and horrifying. Time for that later!

“Are you sure?” Tulip asked.

But it was to Mags that Surzl looked now. “I’m right,” the acolyte said, even as the spikes encroached toward her unprotected back. “You have to trust me.”

Mags nodded, not hesitating. “Okay. Tulip, go. Now!”

Tulip leapt forward onto her stone, wincing as she felt her weight depress it until it was level with the rest of the floor. There was an audible click, but the spikes kept on coming at the same speed.

“Surzl, go!” Mags said. A second click sounded as Surzl stepped forward, followed by a third as Mags followed suit. “Isa, now!”

Tulip felt something sharp nudge her back, then another pinpoint of pressure, and another. Oh gods. They were really going to die in here. She leaned forward as much as she could without stepping off her flagstone.

Her eyes screwed shut in obvious terror, Isa stepped forward onto the blank stone, and as the fourth click sounded, the spikes . . . stopped.

Tulip didn’t dare breathe, but she looked around, seeing Dreg now curled in on himself as tight as he could get, pressed up against the metal door, right between where Surzl and Isabog stood hemmed in by the spikes.

They’d stopped alright, but they hadn’t retracted.

Then the sound of the gears started up again, striking new terror into Tulip’s heart.

“Mags!” she said, her eyes seeking the little rogue’s, but Mags and Surzl were turned toward one another, their gazes fiercely locked, their expressions resolute.

Then, as one, the spikes began to recede into the walls, drawing back and away from the party, until finally, each one popped back where it had come from. As soon as a spike disappeared, the hole it had left in the wall was plugged as a tiny hinged flap of stone swung closed, creating a smooth surface again and erasing any evidence that all those spikes were ever there. In moments, the room was just as it had been when they’d entered—only there was one final solid click, this time as something that had been barring the metal door seemed to release.

Tulip breathed a sharp sigh of relief, grinning over at Isa and then Mags. But the little rogue and Surzl were still staring at each other, the expression of surprise on the flame acolyte’s face now coloring into what looked like a characteristic fit of pique.

“Well?” Tulip said. “What are you waiting for? We need to go. Someone was bound to hear all that noise.”

Mags blinked, shook herself. “Right,” she said, breathless. “Sorry. On me. Stay close.”

Mags brushed past Surzl, seeming to flinch away from her. Tulip hoped whatever quarrel was brewing between those two would keep. This was no time for that sort of nonsense. They all needed to work together, now more than ever.

It certainly wasn’t easy for Tulip to take orders from scrawny little Mags, but you didn’t see her making a fuss over it. Not when it was necessary, at least. It only made sense to follow the cunning rogue’s lead when it came to stealth and infiltration. When it came time to fight, on the other hand . . . almost reverently, Tulip brushed her hand across the hilt of her new warhammer. She couldn’t wait to see what it did to Bouldermaw skulls.

Mags moved to the door and cracked it open, scanning the hallway beyond. “It’s clear,” she said softly, “for now. Only . . . ” She gulped.

“Now what?” Tulip whispered, irritated.

“We still don’t know where the hoard is.” Mags looked to Isa and Surzl. “Do either of you have a spell that could . . . ?” she trailed off hopefully.

“No,” Isa snapped, crossing her arms.

Surzl shook her head angrily, but then stopped short. “Wait,” she said. “Wait a minute!” Grabbing the long tube-shaped case from her belt, Surzl popped open the cap and began rifling through rolled up pieces of parchment that now poked up over the lip of the tube. After a quick moment, she seemed to find what she was looking for, pulling one free.

“Yes!” Surzl said. “I found this in that alchemy lab. I can use it to locate something I’ve seen before. That’s why Ruznabiyug showed me the Shiny in a vision!” Surzl beamed.

“Great!” Tulip whispered back. “Get to it.”

While Mags kept watch at the door, Surzl spread the scroll out against a wall, Tulip and Dreg helping her to hold it flat. The acolyte read some strange words from it, and as she did so, Tulip was surprised to see the writing on the scroll start to erase itself as Surzl intoned each incomprehensible syllable.

As the last bit of lettering disappeared, there was a soft flash and a sort of shimmer in the air above the now-blank scroll. Surzl’s smile grew wider. “I have it,” she said, stepping up behind Mags and peering out into the hall. “It’s that way.” She pointed left.

“Let’s move,” Tulip said, nodding to Mags to take the lead again.

The five of them entered the hallway and Tulip immediately noticed the difference in this section of the caves. There was still dirt and dust on the ground here, but there were footprints in it now—recent ones, by the look of them. And Tulip could hear sounds in the distance—hammers striking metal, voices echoing from far away, and over it all, the unmistakable roar and liquid sizzle of an enormous forge. By Holvrgoshrr’s blade, that thing must be huge to be so loud! The Bouldermaws were known for the fine weapons they produced, but they must have nine hells of an operation going on in here. What could they possibly need that many weapons for?

Her stomach soured. Maybe she didn’t want to know the answer to that question.

“Over all this, maybe no one heard us in there after all?” Isa said hopefully, her voice low.

“Don’t count on it,” Mags said. “Be ready.”

Tulip tugged her warhammer free of its harness. She saw Mags had one of her blades out, too—the new one she’d picked up after the fight with the humans. Its sharp steel glinted in the light of a torch just up around the next corner.

Mags led them quietly down another long corridor, where the sound of many voices now came into hearing, along with the familiar bangs, clangs, splashes, and scraping noises of many goblins at work in a kitchen. They’d just turned around one corner when Mags backed up, throwing one arm behind herself and waving the others back the way they’d come, creeping quickly after them. Tulip held her breath as she watched Mags’ hand—upraised and still, as the little rogue peered around the corner. A few moments passed, and she waved them to continue on, the corridor ahead once again clear.

Relying on Surzl for directions, they continued deeper into the maze-like warren of corridors and small rooms that made up this lower level of the Bouldermaws’ caverns. There were a few more close calls, but each time Mags managed to hear someone coming before they came in sight of the party—at one point, the group simply stopping and freezing in place where they were and relying entirely on silence, because the was no corner to duck back behind.

Tulip had been sure they’d have to fight then, even had her warhammer poised to throw at the back of one of two low-caste workers’ heads as they toted heavy sacks thirty paces in front of where she and Mags stood. But somehow those stupid Bouldermaws remained blessedly unaware of the presence of enemies in their midst. All they would have had to do is turn around and look behind them . . . only they didn’t.

It couldn’t really be this easy, could it?

Growing more and more anxious now with every step, Tulip said a silent prayer to Neegosh for continued good luck while the group waited workers to pass on up ahead. Soon, they’d ducked down a side corridor and the group moved on. As Tulip’s lips moved, shaping the last unspoken word of her appeal, a door swung open eight feet in front of the group, several voices suddenly raised in argument as two goblins in thick leather armor, both wielding wicked-looking axes, came into view. Their faces were turned toward one another in a heated exchange, but already, one was beginning to turn the party’s way, as if sensing something amiss.

The four Horntooth goblins and Dreg froze, Surzl throwing up her hands as if ready to cast.

Guards. These were Bouldermaw guards. And that one in front was looking right at Tulip.

Next Episode: November 25

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