"AAAAHHHH!!!" One of the orcs screamed then turned and ran from the sword-wielding mercenary.
Edouard spoke a word and his blade began to flame. The other orc, dumbfounded, a skinny and timid example of his kind, stared in shock at the man and the magic sword.
"Kalfashow!" Edouard yelled. The burning sword arced out and cut the orc's head from its shoulders. Its greasy hair burst into flame, the stump of neck was blackened around the edges. A fountain of blood shot up, the orc's body dropped onto its knees then fell forward onto its chest. The red spray painted Edouard from head to toe. He swore loudly and cursed the beast. Wiping blood from his face with the back of his hand Edouard gave a scream and, roaring a wordless cry of fury, took off after the other orc leaving Harold alone atop the wooden board.
Franticly Harold pulled at the rope, signaling for the others to come up. The halfling could offer little help alone. "Come back!" he yelled at the mercenary scout, but Edouard did not hear or did not care to stop.
Derue felt the rope tugging in his hands. It had taken longer than he had expected for his brother to reach the top and a touch of worry had begun to invade his mind.
"There is the signal again," Derue told the others who had gathered round. He tugged back and waited for the rope to be pulled up but he was not lifted from the ground, only more tugging; another signal to climb. "Something is wrong," he said.
"What is the matter?" Telenstil asked.
"Edouard should be pulling on this rope, he's not," Derue gave the rope another tug. "I will have to climb up."
"Wait," said Talberth. "What if it is a trap and they are waiting for us at the top, picking us off one by one."
Derue did not reply, instead he picked up his pace and furiously shimmied up the rope.
The orc was quick; those that survived the giants' careless feet and casual but crippling blows were the most nimble of their kind. Edouard was close behind, the sword he carried left a brief glowing trail as he ran. They passed through a vast kitchen, its walls were lined with tables, shelves and cabinets, a huge fireplace still gave off an orange haze from dimming embers, and here and there a torch burned, held in a sconce upon the wall.
A turn to the right brought them into a larger room, then around a corner where two doors were set in a southern wall. The righthand door was half ajar. The orc had disappeared. Edouard did not even pause, he ran for the partly open door and stepped into a storage room, a pantry where various meats hung from hooks, bags of grain lay against the walls, a cooling rack with loaves of coarse brown bread near at hand, and against the southern wall a wide set of stairs leading back down to the dungeon he'd just escaped.
A fire was burning within Edouard. It coursed through his blood and set a wild anger, that he could not control, aflame. He ran to the stairs. He would kill that orc, he swore. Halfway up the stairs three ogres stood, one held the squealing orc in its hands and lifted it up to listen to its words. All turned to watch the running man come charging down at them. The orc dropped from the ogre's arms but it could do no more before the fiery sword slashed across its chest and left a wound with black burning edges soon doused with the ogre's blood.
* * *
Harold felt a weight upon the rope, someone was climbing up, but every minute that passed while he sat alone within the giants' kitchen made him anxious. The scout Edouard had disappeared and the body of a headless orc which lay on the ground was his only companion, Harold climbed down from the wooden board that covered the garbage chute and begun to explore. The bloody corpse, red fluid still leaking out from it into a spreading pool, made the halfling's knees feel weak. The scent of scorched flesh was very strong in the air. At first he thought it was the smell of the steading as it burned but then he caught sight of the orc's smoldering head where it had rolled against a table leg. The little thief felt sick, his skills were wasted among such carnage that these sword-swingers left behind.
A trail of red footsteps showed where the scout had gone. They led off around the corner of the kitchen but faded quickly as the gore was scraped from Edouard's boots. Harold did not follow them, instead he turned and went back the way he'd come.
The giants' kitchen was normally a busy place, but the fire which still burned within Nosnra's trophy hall had drawn every resident of the steading that could be spared. Orc slaves were sent as messengers, the two that had run into the deadly scout were returning from the dungeons below where the slave pens were being emptied. An errant ogre youth, always hungry, took its chance to raid the kitchen larder. It entered quietly, keeping its eyes peeled for any giants or ogres who might catch it stealing food. The beating that would result would be severe enough to pass through even an ogre's thick hide. It crept around the corner, coming from the great hall and stopped before the fallen body of the orc. Harold froze. He had just stepped around the body of the orc on his way back to check the rope and see who was climbing up when the ogre came into view. It stood no more than two feet from him. The thief forgot, for a moment, that Ivo's spell of invisibility was still upon him. The ogre grunted and bent down to touch the orc.
"Still warm," it said. It put a huge finger across the pool of congealing blood like a child would through the frosting on a cake. The ogre licked its finger clean and smacked its lips.
From the garbage chute a banging sound caught its ear. Harold could hear the creaking of the rope as it sawed back and forth across the spikes set in the wall and the soft calls of someone coming up from below. The ogre heard these noises too. It bent over the open wooden lid and peered down into the dark and noisome chute.
"Won't get away," it mumbled and drew a huge dagger from its belt.
Harold climbed upon the wooden board and drew out a dagger of his own. As the ogre bent he jumped upon its back and drove his blade up to the hilt between its shoulder blades. The fine steel bit in and clove the ogre's hide as if it were butter. Harold pulled it out and struck again, his other hand clenched around the ragged collar of the ogre's rough wool shirt.
The ogre roared, its mouth opened to reveal a set of fierce and yellowed teeth. It chomped at the air and, dropping its knife, reached back to pluck away the halfling who stabbed the ogre with a desperate fury.