Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 143

As if he had pulled upon a dangling thread of an intricate and delicate tapestry Ghibelline's action unraveled the complex enchantment that Ivo had cast upon the camp. The spell dissipated like morning mist in the light of the rising sun. It took only a moment and then it was gone, lost from memory like a dream upon waking. The wolves and giants came to a halt, staring at the small group of the little people who had appeared in their midst. 

Ivo's hands moved in surprising swiftness as he tried to catch the broken thread of his illusion, but the stuff of magic was gone and he found that he grasped only air. "What...?" he stuttered, his mind still forming pictures of how he wanted the camp to appear to the senses of the giants and the wolves. 

"Oh Hells!" cursed Harold. The little thief's eyes went wide. 

Ghibelline could not stop the swing of his sword. His blade slashed down and opened a long and wicked cut along the flank of one wolf. The beast yowled in pain and tried to leap away. Its cry broke the silence of the camp. Suddenly there was a yammer and howl of voices. The wounded wolf was struck again. Steel cut open its hind leg and removed its tail. Rolling, it sprayed out blood and its mouth frothed with bile and rage. 

"Ghibelline!" yelled Gytha. She sprang toward him and shouted out a prayer that was also a cry of defiance. "Cuthbert! Your blessing upon us! Let your strength banish the strength of our foes!" Behind her the ranger raised his sword. 

The claymore glowed with a silver light, perhaps a reflection from the sun off the burnished steel, but more likely a surge of power from the enchantments laid upon the blade. 

"Wait!" Telenstil yelled beside him and grabbed the ranger's arm. 
"Kas-Va!" the mage said and tossed a handful of red dust at the surprised warrior. Harald grew, as did his clothes and gear, but his sword remained the same, the blade impervious to minor magics. Standing twice as tall as he had been only a moment before, the ranger was still smaller than the giants, though no longer did they tower high above him. 

"Hah!" grunted Harald in surprise, but he was pleased. He threw himself into the battle. 

While Telenstil cast his spell and Gytha prayed, Talberth had drawn out his wand and sent a bolt of lightning into a crowd of giants. It burnt them and killed a black-coated wolf who charged unknowingly into the path of the deadly magic bolt. The giants were not greatly hurt, and now doubly enraged, they ran toward their hated foes. Derue moved like a cat. He pounced and drove both hands, knuckles striking like spears, into the stomach of a wolf. He struck only moments after Ghibelline's first blow and the third blow of his hands came as the elf cut his wolf the second time. The edge of Derue's hand whipped down on the prostrate wolf and with a crunch, crushed the monster's throat. He left it dying on the stones. 

"Stay behind me," Harold said to Little Rat. The young orc had a knife in either hand. Harold glanced back and saw him licking the edge of the blades. "Stop that, it makes me nervous," he told him. 

* * * 

The dwarven warrior kicked at the snarling muzzle of a wolf. Jaws opened wide and the booted foot was caught within a trap of fangs. They both tugged. The dwarf, hopping on one foot, his balance in peril, could only weakly try to free himself from the wolf's mouth. The wolf bit down, but the boot was pushed too far in for the fangs to pierce the thick sole. It was a losing battle for the dwarf. One precarious hop at a time, he was dragged forward. Then a flash of silvered steel swept down. The trap was sprung and the dwarf fell, his foot suddenly set free. He landed hard on his back, his mail shirt clashed noisely against the stones. Sparks flew around his eyes and a blinding flash of blue-white light streaked by him, somewhere to his right. He blinked away the dazzle, but a purple nimbus stained his vision. Trying to stand, he nearly fell again. The wolf's head was still firmly locked to his right boot. Severed at the neck, the beasts eyes were dead but the grip of its jaws was tight as steel. 

The ranger's blade hissed with steaming blood. Harald killed a wolf, taking off its head, then ran to meet another that had come rushing at him. It leapt, trying for his wrist, but Harald was the quicker and his blade passed through the middle of the wolf. Two twitching halves fell to the ground amid a gory flow from the entrails of the beast. 

"Hold! Hold!" called out the voice of Telenstil. Harald did not hear the voice or did not heed its warning call. A giant faced him. The monster bore no weapons but for his hands. One fist came down as if to smash Harald into the stones, but the ranger's sword met it. Oerthy flesh, tough as the hills, met enchanted steel. Mimming, Harald's blade, sang with the voice of rocks splitting in the cold. Flesh parted, as did bone, and the sword passed through the giant's arm clear to the elbow. The monster howled, horribly maimed, and grabbed the halved forearm in his other hand. He tried to meld the sides together again. Harald's backstroke went high, took the flesh from shoulder, took off an ear and a length of scalp. The giant fell to his knees and the ranger mercifully ended the wailing cry, severing the huge head in a single blow. 

Talberth intoned a spell, "Fotia-Ena!" he said and tossed a yellow brown pellet toward the giants and the wolves. 

"Harald!" Telenstil yelled again. 

"I sent it past him." Talberth said without looking toward Telenstil. The pellet turned into an orange glow, like the heart of a burning coal, and the flames expanded. Fist sized, it streaked past Derue and Ghibelline, then large as a barrel, it struck far beyond and to the right of Harald. There was a thud and then a whump like a gust of wind filling a sail, then a roaring ball of flame. High as the tree-tops, it caught half the giants from behind, wrapping them in a wave of fire. 

"Tuli-Pal!" cried Telenstil. The elven mage followed his former apprentice's lead. A second pellet streaked by and grew into a ball of fire. Giants who were still aflame were caught within this second burst of fire. 

"We cannot stop the others this way." said Talberth. "Not without roasting Harald as well." 

* * * 

A knife the size of a sword was stuck in the headless giant's belt. Harald pulled it free from the leather sheath with his left hand. The enchanted blade in his right contrasted strongly with the plain steel, but the two were in a pleasing balance. The weight of the blades in either hand brought Harald a sense of peace that had been lost to him for a long, long time. He was utterly calm. The light of the sun was fair against his skin, the air smelled sharp with fire and the seared flesh of giants, and a taste of copper-salt was on his lips from blood not his own. 

Two giants assailed him. One had a club, a mere cudgel to the giant, but big enough to batter down a human door. The other held a knife, twin to that which Harald carried in his left hand. Mimming took the end from the club, while Harald traded cuts with the knife wielder. The giant gave as good as he got and blood ran from both their arms. Harald was quicker than either giant and Mimming flashed again, this time opening a deep cut in the knife wielder's leg. A stump of wood, all that was left of the giant's cudgel, went flying past Harald's head. Then the giant leapt and tried to knock the ranger down. Magic steel was thrust out like a lance and deep went in the blade. Ribs were shorn and a bubbling foam pushed its way from the split flesh along the giant's side. Harald had opened a mighty wound as he stepped forward beyond the giant's path. The heavy body slammed hard onto the stony surface. But the knife-wielder had struck again. Sparks danced from the coat of steel worn by the ranger beneath his old and weatherbeaten tunic. The giant's blade had the force of a hammer as it beat redhot metal against an anvil. Harald could feel his ribs creak beneath the blow. Knife against knife clanged as Harald met the next sweep of the giant's blade. The giant's strength was like a fall of rock, mortal strength could not compare, and Harald was thrown back. His stumble saved his life. 

A stone whizzed by, thrown by another giant. The knife-wielder jumped after Harald, but pulled himself back and bellowed at the one who'd thrown the rock. "Hey!" boomed out the deep voice. Harald nearly fell but his back touched something tall and sturdy as a tree. The smell of burning flesh was thick. Without looking Harald swept his enchanted blade around in a wide, turning arc. There was a thunk as if a tree was what he'd truly hit, but it was a giant's leg. Burnt black, flesh charred and hair gone to a greasy smudge, a giant faced him. It tried to scream through cracked and blistered lips, but no sound came out. It stepped and Harald pulled his blade free from the entrapping bone. Crack! High up on its thigh, the bone had split and the giant fell back, with a leg sword-split and broken. 

The stones were sooty where Harald stood and all around him were the fire-touched bodies of giants. One or two had fallen, but most still lived. Twice struck by magic flame, some having been bathed in the lightning from Talberth's wand as well, these monsters would not die. 

* * * 

Mimming thrummed, the blade seemed happy and Harald let a tune whistle through his teeth. There were a half dozen giants to his right and almost twice that number to his left. They seemed to have forgotten his companions, their attention riveted on the man grown almost to their size and the glowing blade he wielded in one hand. 

The wolves charged, they'd been near the edge of the camp where the company had been hidden. Derue, Ghibelline and Gytha fanned out to try and protect the mages, but it was all that they could do to protect themselves. Gytha ran to Ghibelline's side. He nearly took a swing at her, but turned his blade in time. Derue went to the left and brought down a wolf that was running toward the gnome. Three more went past, the last of the black-coated pack, their leader in the front. Ivo faced them alone. The old gnome made three quick passes with his hands and the words of power he used seemed to come from his mouth like smoke. In his mind he thought of molten rock cooling to solid stone and the wolves froze in place. There was a snap that Ivo heard and felt, but within, no sound that anyone else could ever hear. The lead wolf, Konig he was named by his master, had fought free of Ivo's spell. Leaving his packmates behind, he sprang at the small creature, hoping to rend it to pieces. A stone whizzed by and skimmed across the wolf's muzzle. Then a small shape flung itself atop the black-furred back, a pair of daggers stabbing into its side. 

Little Rat twisted one knife in the wolf, and pulled the other out to stab again. The wolf spun and bit at the creature who had hurt it so. A keen edge cut above one eye, clipped an ear, then Konig had the arm in its jaw and bit hard till bones snapped. "No!" yelled out Harold. The halfling had been running forward, his sling useless while Little Rat was tangled with the beast. He drew out a magic spike, with a word it would bury itself deep in wood or stone. Harold spoke the word as he slammed the spike against the wolf's head. It whirred and sank in past the bone and into the monster's brain. Jaws opened wide and Little Rats torn and broken arm dropped from the mouth. Harold was tossed aside like a rag doll, and the wolf ran off into the rocks and scrub. 

To the right of Talberth and Telenstil, as they faced toward the camp and the path beyond, the wolves had gathered in large number. The two mages sent a hail of magic bolts into the pack, grey-coats, big, strong and many. The missiles only stung them and made them howl. They came on lusting for the kill. 

"Fo-Tia-Tikos!" yelled Talberth as he flung a ball of tar and sulphur at the wolves. 

"No!" shouted Telenstil but it was too late. A wall of fire sprang from the ground just before the rushing wolves. It curved from the side of a stone outcropping, enclosed Ghibelline and Gytha on the near side of the flames and Ivo and the others to the left of Talberth as well. "Harald is out there!" Telenstil said and his voice was an accusation. 

"I know," Talberth replied. 

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