Swazzle and Pogmorton, with Botchett and Delilah in tow, crept down Gallows Close, into Hangman's Passage and up to the wall that marked the end of the alley. Swazzle pulled from his pocket an irregularly-shaped lump of white chalk and scratched the outline of a door on the brickwork then tapped it twice with his wand. At once the bricks shimmered as the portal sprang into being and, with a quick glance over their shoulders, they stepped through into the Magical Realm.
All about them lay devastation. Pre-dawn mist mingled with the smoke that curled into the lightening sky from the smouldering remains of the Pixie citadel. Uprooted trees and deep gouges in the earth marked the passage of the Wyrm, making the landscape look completely alien.
Botchett sucked breath in through his teeth. 'It does seem a bit narked, your Wyrm. This is the worst Wrym damage I've seen in a long while, like.'
'Which way, Master Botchett?,' asked Swazzle. Botchett pointed and set off towards the east, skirting the worst of the damage as he sought a path towards the Wyrm. Delilah scurried along in his wake, her nose quivering at the myriad of scents hanging in the air, pervaded throughout by the powerful scent of their quarry.
'I meant to ask you,' Swazzle whispered to Botchett, 'What exactly did happen with Jamieson and Delilah? I didn't think spirits had much to fear from animals.'
'Ah, well,' began Botchett with a low chuckle, 'the last time Master Jamieson got anywhere near Delilah, she err...stuck her nose up his kilt, like.'
Swazzle looked blank.
'It wouldn't have been so bad,' Botchett continued, 'if Master Jamieson wasn't a proper Scottish spirit, if you catch my drift bonny lad, and shrews didn't have a psychic bite as well as an ordinary one. He wasn't walking straight for weeks, like.'
Swazzle cringed as Pogmorton dissolved into a fit of silent giggles. Jamieson may be a bit straight-laced and miserable, Swazzle thought, but even he didn't deserve that.
* * *
The Wyrm slithered slowly to the forest edge, undulating waves of muscle propelling it silently through the trees. It paused where the trees ended, working its muscles to steadily sink into the soft earth until only the tips of its dorsal spines and the top of its shovel-shaped head remained visible. Here it waited, powerful eyesight taking in the frantic preparations along the border of the fairy kingdom. Fairies flew this way and that, beating work gangs of prisoners so they dug faster, excavating ditches, planting sharpened tree trunks and hastily constructing barriers of thorn bushes and, it seemed, whatever else was to hand.
A fairy sentry buzzed past, scanning the tree line for signs of movement. The Wyrm snapped its nostrils shut, the last wisps of smoke dissipating in the gathering dawn as the fairy approached. Sensing something, the fairy flew past, wheeled and returned. She was staring intently at the exact spot where the it lay when the Wyrm's sticky tongue shot out, caught her full in the chest, and reeled her into its mouth. She only had time for a soft squeak before the Wyrm's jaws snapped shut and it lay, eyes half shut, savouring the flavour of its latest snack as it rolled the fairy around its mouth, sucking out the juice.
* * *
'Shit!' grumbled Swazzle as he tripped over something and fell full-length into the stinking pile that filled the path. He held his nose. 'By the Gods! That's a bit ripe. Botchett, is that what I think...'
'Wyrm shite? Aye, it is, bonny lad' Botchett grabbed a long leather gauntlet from his pack, pulling it on before helping Swazzle up. Thrusting his arm into the steaming heap almost up to his armpit, Botchett rooted around for a while before pulling a long thick-set bone out of the heap. He sniffed it.
'It's been catching pixies.' Tears streamed down his face from the smell. 'And judging by the warmth, this is fairly fresh so we must be close, like.'
Swazzle heaved into the bushes.
'What now?' whispered Pogmorton turning an unhealthy shade of green at the sight of the bone's naked whiteness.
'Well, bonny lad, now it's time for softly-softly-catchy-Wyrmy.' Botchett winked. 'You lads wait here while I go and have a scout about, like.'
Swazzle and Pogmorton settled themselves under a Hawthorn bush as Botchett and Delilah crept away into the forest.
'Swazzle, mate,' hissed Pogmorton, 'Would you mind awfully swapping places?'
'I really need to sit upwind of you. Nothing personal.'
'Charming,' muttered Swazzle as he changed places.
'Oh, it's not that, it's just the smell of that, err... stuff is making me feel hungry.'