"Derue! Harold!" Gytha called but heard no reply.
The old ranger called out as well, "Harold!" then grabbed the rope and began climbing up.
"Wait, wait!" Talberth yelled to him.
Harald had barely reached the ceiling when a small bag flashed by his head. Talberth ran over and picked it up. The ranger didn't stop but instead climbed as quick as he could, up the rope.
"What is it?" asked Ivo.
"A note from our thief, 'Scout's run off. Help!', " Talberth read.
"Quick and to the point," said Telenstil. "There is little else we can do."
"I can climb at least," Gytha said. She did not hesitate but followed the ranger up the shaft.
"Gytha no!" Talberth cried.
"Have Harald pull us up when he gets to the top. We will get the packs," Telenstil called.
Gytha paused and yelled back, "I will," then turned her attention to the rope.
"Where is that priest?" Ivo asked looking around the room. Henri was nowhere to be seen.
* * *
Derue skidded on the bloody stairs. Edouard had been here, had fought on these steps, but now was gone. The scout hopped down from stair to stair and ran into a huge room. A babble of voices struck him an almost physical blow. He'd been hearing it all along but had not given it a thought as he jumped down the stairs.
Rows of orcs filled the room with bugbears beating them into line. There were scores of the skinny, filthy, beasts and at least a dozen of the tall hairy monsters. The bugbears had a brick-red fur and an unsavory insectoid cast to their features. They faced the entrance to the stairs and a surprised silence spread over the room as they caught sight of Derue rushing in.
"Oh damn," Derue swore. From far off he heard the screaming of a human voice in pain. "Edouard!" These monsters had his brother, " Edouard!" he screamed. His hand went to the hilt of his sword and he heard the call of another voice, "Ardare," he spoke with calm, with joy, and drew the blade from its sheath. "Ardare! Ardare! Burn them! Burn Them!" A bright flame burst forth and played along the blade, the metal glowed white and the air shimmered in waves around it. Derue was filled with the warm glow, it made him smile then laugh aloud. He charged the orcs and bugbears, two quick slashes sent one of the tall guards back into the ranks of orcs, its hair singed black and wide, bleeding cuts across its arms and chest. It stumbled and fell, the orcs, an unruly bunch, their more passive brethren already taken up the stairs to fight the blaze above, looked down at the stunned and wounded guard.
The bugbears were a sadistic breed, they delighted in the torture of the hapless orcs, but seeing the tables turned, the bugbear lying at their feet, the gathered orcs snapped, and with teeth and skinny fists and clawlike fingers, a dozen orcs set upon their tormentor. The rebellion spread and as Derue fought another bugbear guard the room turned into a frenzied melee. Orcs fell beneath the swords and spears of the bugbear guards, but they bore them down and picked up the weapons of the ones they killed.
Derue cut a bugbears hand from its arm, and an orc jumped on the sword that fell, still clutched in the severed grasp. Three others threw themselves upon the wounded guard; another sank its teeth into the bugbear's leg. As the babble of voices became a bestial unending roar, a door in the northern wall was flung open and two huge and hairy men ran out. Derue had never seen their like before. Behind them came a giant but with a twisted back and a huge hump rising above his misshapen head.
The giant was armored in a vast shirt of chain and held a monstrous axe with a blade big enough to split a castle's gate or chop down an old thick-boled tree with a single stroke.
The orcs were mad with blood and the bugbears that had guarded them were dead. They turned upon the giant and the hairy men, some with weapons in their hands, the first that they had held in months or for a hearty few, in years. One giant beast, an ape as it was called, roared and beat at its chest, the other, its mate, looked toward their giant keeper, waiting for his command.
"What's this!" the hunchbacked giant yelled. "Kill them my pets! Kill them all!"
Both apes launched themselves into the crowd of orcs, the male, slightly bigger than his mate, grabbed a pair of orcs, one in each hand and smashed their heads together. The skulls exploded in a bloody mess and the ape let the bodies fall to the floor, still shaking headless on the ground, dead but dancing out their last moments on the oerth. The other ape sank her teeth into the face of a hapless orc; she bit through bone and flesh, clear to the grey-green brain. Unarmed orcs threw themselves upon the pair. An orc armed with a bastard sword got in two hacks that left bleeding cuts along the male ape's back, but a sweeping blow broke its arm and then the ape turned and grabbed the orc with both hands. It lifted the screaming body high above its head and threw it twenty feet into a wall. A spear went flying and struck the male in its gut while its arms were raised. It plucked out the hurtful thing and as it did five orc jumped upon its back and sides.