Eliondra told them all that she knew. Her children had gone missing after leaving home in the morning two days prior. They’d been out playing in the woods to the left-east of the village and never returned for meals or by nightfall. She said she knew of a few unsavory sorts who lived out in that direction, just on the outskirts of eastern Lasting.

The kids’ names were Rushela and Fundevogel. For their unborn sibling’s sake, Root hoped their mother had gotten a better sense for baby names in recent years.

The details Eliondra provided carried them straight through the woods to a dark shack outside of Lasting. They’d seen hardly more than footprints along the road and in the wilds between there and Wunksfeld, and though some of those prints had been small, that meant little. Synonyms aside, it also didn’t provide much in the way of clues, since smaller spirits often found that the youth sections of clothes shops worked just fine for them as well, if they didn’t mind their options for patterns and prints to be a tad less than professional.

“Maybe we should knock and see if whoever lives here saw the kids passing by,” suggested Vit as they stood outside the looming shack.

Beel whimpered. “I don’t know, didn’t Eliondra say there were some hungry folks living in the area?”

“I don’t think that’s the word she used,” said Root.

“That’s what I heard.”

“Come on, it won’t take long.”

“I feel like you aren’t looking at the size of the door.”

Root looked back at the shack. The door stood somewhere around ten feet tall; it would’ve been more if it hadn’t been so crooked.

A sigh left Root alongside the anticipatory soreness in her neck and thighs that she’d picked up as a habitual reaction to the idea of stopping by someone’s house as of late, thanks to Betrum and Pag and Gropply. “Oh, you’re right. What a relief.”


“Let’s go,” said Vit. They took the lead and knocked on the door.

Heavy footfalls shook the building and then the door opened a crack to reveal a face somewhat higher off the ground than expected. The spirit bore some resemblance to the troll spirit on the bridge not far to the north, but he had more fur, patchy and brown, and a nose like Beel’s but more swollen and warty. He looked like he’d been built more for the purpose of physical blockage rather than a wall of unmatchable wit, as if that feature had been left out of the troll’s build for fear of overloading the bridge’s weight capacity. The big guy blinked his wide, yellow eyes at the four of them as he peered out.


“Hi,” said Vit. “Sorry to bother you this evening, we’re just out looking for a couple of children. Supposedly they passed this way. Have you seen anything?”

The ogre spirit cast a glance into the room behind him. “No, sorry, dunno ‘bout any children. Not even sure wat one is. Type of dumpling?” He tried to close the door. Azriah stepped forward and stuck his boot inside the frame.

“A small human,” said Azriah. “Looks like one of us, except… about this high.”

“I dunt have any of those.”

“Hm. Didn’t ask if you had any, just if you’d seen some.”

The ogre shook his head. “Gudbye, now.” He opened the door another inch and pushed Azriah back with a single finger. Azriah stumbled. The spirit slammed the door.

“Well, time to try somewhere else,” said Beel.

“I don’t know,” said Vit, scratching their head. “That seemed odd.”

Azriah pressed his ear to the door and listened. “Here, do you hear that?”

Root and Vit tried. It sounded like muffled crying.

“I don’t think we were that mean,” said Vit.

“We weren’t,” said Azriah. “Stand back.”

“What are you going to—?”

Azriah cleared himself some room and then kicked the door. It was tall and heavy but not well constructed; the hinges ripped free from the rotting frame as the panel crashed to the floor inside.

The interior looked homier than Root expected. The kitchen was tidy and strung up with dried herbs. The furniture, though threadbare, looked cozy and soft and well-worn. There was even art on the walls and a small candle burning on a table.

There was also a child tied up in the corner. So that ruined the atmosphere somewhat.

The ogre turned in surprise at the crash. Azriah rushed in, Vit and Root behind him, and drew his sword.

“Ah! I said gudbye!”

“You also said you didn’t have any children here,” said Vit, pointing.

The ogre blinked. He looked at the kid, then back at them, then at the kid again. After a drawn-out moment, he contorted his face into feigned surprise.

“Ah! How’d that get in here!”

Azriah advanced on the ogre, who made a quick swipe at Azriah’s sword. He missed but easily dodged Azriah’s charge by moving into the kitchen and placing the wide table between the two of them. Azriah kicked a chair aside.

“Hey! Be gentle,” said the ogre. “I made those.”

“They’re really well made, actually,” said Vit, rubbing a finger across the spindle of another. “You could make these to sell, I bet.”

“Really? You think?”


“Sorry, right.”

Azriah circled the table and then feinted right as he neared the ogre. The ogre moved left to intercept him, stepping in closer to the corner.

Vit shot a bolt of webbing at the ogre’s left arm, pinning it to the far wall. They did the same to the right.

“You just stay there. We’re taking the kid,” said Vit.

The ogre tugged one arm and ripped it free. He roared.

“Damn.” Vit layered more webbing over the free arm and then strengthened the other. They did the same to his legs.

The ogre pulled against the bonds, but this time they held. He struggled for a full minute, then slumped. Azriah already knelt by the boy, gingerly removing the gag from his mouth. He looked about four, with dirty blond hair—earning the adjective both in color and condition—a smattering of freckles, and big ears like he wanted to catch as many bugs as he could while romping about in the woods.

“Hey, bud. You’re all right. Are you Fundevogel?”

The boy sniffed. He nodded between choked sobs.

“My name’s Azriah. We’re going to bring you back to your mom, okay?”

The boy didn’t respond. If anything, his crying became more intense.

“Hey, it’s okay. See that guy?” Azriah pointed to the ogre strung up in the corner. “He’s stuck there now. Can’t bother you.”

“Glabigal is mean,” said Fundevogel.

“Yeah, I know. But come on, let’s go.”


“What?” said Root. “Kid, we just rescued you.”

Fundevogel let out a shrill, wavering wail, then followed it up with a second, equal in power and volume, so that it wouldn’t be lonely as it echoed through the woods.

“Hey, hey, hey,” said Azriah. “Take a breath. Here, I’ll do it with you, yeah?”

Fundevogel did take a breath. He took a deep, shaky breath, and then he used it to split the moment’s oasis of silence with another wail.

“It’s okay,” said Azriah. “Do you want to go outside?”


“What do you want?”

“I! Want! Hippo!”

“Uh,” started Vit. “I don’t think there are any in the woods. I don’t think there are any in this dimension.”

“Someone’s gotta have one,” said Root. “A zoo. Maybe some weird rich collector or something.”

“I want Hippo!”

“Okay, okay,” said Azriah between scream-sobs. “You want a hippo? What… uh, where—?”

“I want it!”

Vit covered their ears to rebuff the latest round of wails. “Root, you have a little sister, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

They gestured to Fundevogel.

“Hey,” said Root, kneeling near him—but not too near. “What is hippo?”

“I want! It!” Tears streamed down his face. Snot bubbled unchecked from everywhere in the vicinity of his nostrils. He was red in the face with a hue that rivaled Beel.

“Yeah, okay, I heard that. Very clearly. What is it? Is it a toy?”

“I! Want! Hippo!”

“Does your mom have it?”

“Aaaaaa!” He punctuated this with a dozen heaving, strangled breaths.

“Hey! Buddy! We can’t do anything if you’re just gonna scream about it.”

“All right,” said Azriah. He politely but strongly moved Root aside. “Fundevogel, let’s get you home to your mom and your hippo, okay?”

“Not without Hippo!”

“Okay, let’s get Hippo, then. Where is it?”

Fundevogel took a lot of tiny breaths before answering. Root almost didn’t hear him, as the words were nearly at a reasonable volume.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want help finding it?”

“I. Want it.”

Azriah nodded. “What is Hippo?”

Fundevogel didn’t answer. He did some more wailing, and a lot more ragged breathing. Azriah knelt beside him patiently.

While Fundevogel hyperventilated, Vit turned to the ogre. “Hey, Glabigal, was it? Do you know what he’s talking about, by any chance?”

“Stuffed toy,” said Glabigal.

“He came here with it?”


“Where is it now?”

“I got rid of his things.”

Vit’s shoulders sagged. “Okay. Where did you throw them out?”

Glabigal looked offended. “I dinin’t throw.”

“Uh. Okay. Well what did you do with them?”

“I donated.”

“You donated his toy?”


“Where? And why?”

“Ta kids in need. And ta reduce wasteful consumerism.”

“Oh. Uh, well, cool.”

Glabigal turned up his warty nose at Vit. “I’m notta monster.”

“Do you know where the toy is now?” asked Azriah, standing up and rubbing one ear. “The hippo?”

“It went ta da neighbor girl. Over there.” Glabigal pointed impotently with his bound fingers.

Azriah sighed. Things were starting to feel frustratingly familiar.

“We can go try to get it back,” suggested Vit. Another wail from Fundevogel made them wince. “Unless you have another idea?”

“I don’t,” said Root. “And if we all want to keep our hearing, we might want to hurry it up.”

“I dinin’t have this problum before you all kicked down my door.”

“You had him fucking gagged!”

“Root!” said Vit. They looked between her and Fundevogel.

“He got kidnapped. And gagged. He’s not gonna be scarred if I swear in front of him.”

“Still,” said Azriah.

“Oh come on.”

“Vit, you stay here with Fundevogel and Glabigal,” said Azriah. “You too, Beel.”

“What? Why me?” Beel stood in the doorway, peeking around the corner into the room.

“You two together can keep Glabigal restrained.”

Beel slumped lower onto the ground as he lifted his arms and pressed them over whatever constituted his ears. “But I don’t want to keep listening to this.”

“You’ll be fine. We’ll be right back. Root, come on, we’ll go talk to the neighbors.”

They stepped out into the woods. Fundevogel’s tantrum chased them like a gale, swift as it swept through the trees and up into the atmosphere. Even as they walked away from the shack, it stabbed at Root’s ears like wasps building a nest in her skull. Sometimes she missed Malie. Sometimes she fervently did not.

“You sure it was a good idea to split up?” asked Root. “Next thing you know, we’re going to be thirty miles from here washing some asshole’s socks in exchange for a poem he wrote about learning to shuck corn.”

Azriah sighed. “I hope not. It’s just some girl. How difficult can it be to reason with her?”

Another distant wail split the woods. Root just let it hang in the air.

If Hippo had eyes—that is, if Hippo had eyes that saw in the same way functional eyes saw—he would have been seeing the world something like this:

Hippo sat shrouded in a cozy lap, gazing out at the silver trees that rimmed the property. Fireflies blinked on and off in the brush, skating around the arching fern leaves and the caps of mushrooms as they swirled like glowing motes of dust caught in a sunbeam. Loving arms cradled him. His bead eyes perceived peace and gentleness.

If Hippo had a nose—that is, if Hippo had a nose that smelled in the same way a functional nose smelled—he would have been smelling the world something like this:

The faint smell of smoke reached him, and that of something hot roasting inside, almost ready for a late supper. Somewhere off towards the village, a bonfire burned and filled the air with the smells of rich, burning pine.

If Hippo had a tongue—that is, if Hippo had a tongue that tasted in the same way a functional tongue tasted—he would have been tasting the world something like this:

The dampness of the evening sat sweet and earthy on his tongue. His mouth watered in anticipation, guided to expectation by his nose.

If Hippo had skin—that is, if Hippo had skin that felt in the same way functional skin felt—he would have been feeling the world something like this:

Warmth enveloped him, from the arms that cradled him to the lap he sunk into. There was a hugeness around him, enormous and warm and gentle. It was like basking in the ocher light of divinity, swaddled in the notions of tenderness and love.

If Hippo had a groob—that is, if Hippo had a groob that pelsed in the same way a functional groob pelsed—he would have been pelsing the world something like this:

(You know, this one really just goes without saying. You can just imagine it, can’t you?)

If Hippo had ears—that is, if Hippo had ears that heard in the same way functional ears heard—he would have been hearing the world something like this:

His felt ears picked up the sounds of insects buzzing in the trees, of birds and minor spirits calling out to one another in the canopy and amongst the underbrush. Above it all arced the lancing cracks that split the sky and the evening and Hippo’s very heart in two: the sound of his dear Fundevogel—the boy who used to be the one sharing every evening by his side—crying out in agony and heartbreak, calling out for Hippo. If beads had tear ducts, Hippo would have wept to hear such sounds.

But Hippo was a toy and he didn’t have any of these perceptive organs, and so he experienced none of this.