He inhaled meditatively and probed her brain with the microscope that is raw, occult power. It felt as if he was ploughing through her cranium like a farmer taking to virgin furrows, only those furrows were attached to thousands of agonized nerve endings. “As I expected,” he murmured with disappointment, “this is not the one I seek – what’s this? So . . . Bornen Stonefeather, is it? And the offspring of Dhumond Gianthammer?” His voice escalated with marked curiosity. The staff was removed from her forehead, which left an unmistakable trace of coral colored burnt flesh. He returned to the mongrel and mounted the beast. “Dolmoroth,” he mentally remarked, “your perception is indeed all-too keen.”
“What shall I do with her?” Hogwash screeched, still excited from the rush of adrenaline suddenly injected by being relied upon. It twiddled its hands and scanned Shenon’s body with malignant, beady squints.
“Continue as instructed,” Zed replied sharply. He pulled upon the reigns tied to the animal, readying to turn course and depart. “The one I seek is certainly here. Round up every last dwarf and take them away. Failure is not an option, Hogwash. It would be wise to keep those invalids,” he carefully selected the phrase best suited for a goblin’s understanding and cautioned gravely, “on a tight leash.”
“You can depend on Hogwash, me lord,” it assured Zed.
“I take my leave. They are under your command now.”
“R-really?” Hogwash started in surprised; there was the faintest twinkle of teary water in its eyelids, as if a shooting star had just passed over head and a deep rooted wish came true. It wagged an arm as stringy as a wet noodle while saluting awkwardly. “Right!” Then it added imploringly, “Before you go . . . p-please, enlighten me. When can we expect the uh, the um . . . p-payment that was agreed upon?”
Zed contemplated this. As he dwelled in thought, fixating upon it as a cat would curiously watch a mouse, staying execution if only for a moment of mild interest, an ominous rictus curled the corners of his lips. If that troubling grin wasn’t unsettling enough for Hogwash, something unanticipated happened next. For a human whose spectrum of personality spanned the length of a piece of cheese, (and was about as equally engaging as said cheese), he displayed the first signs of emotion that the goblin had ever seen, or to clarify, any emotion other than unpredictably temperamental.
He laughed. But Zed didn’t laugh like a chuckler chiming at the end of a well-timed joke; it bore the baritone bellow of a mad scientist laughing after creating an otherworldly abomination. He laughed wickedly as one does when privy to vital information and content on keeping it secret. Then he ceased, his awful frown returned as he said with a hidden sense of satisfaction, “You will get what is coming to you soon enough.”
The words lingered in the air as the mongrel dashed onto the trail and sped off like a comet, kicking up a tail of white dust as it went.
Hogwash swallowed the lump in its throat and turned its attention to Shenon. “Well, you heard him – take her away!” it snapped at the troll. The hulking servant stomped over to the unresponsive maiden and manhandled her once more.