A huge and black-nailed hand grabbed onto the thief and tore him from the ogre's back. Harold had time for one more stab and twisted the blade in the wound as the ogre pulled at him. He locked his hands upon the hilt and it was drawn from the ogre's back as he was pulled away.
The ogre held the thief in one hand before its eyes to get a look at what had bitten it so badly. "Me eat you, little dog." it said in broken common tongue.
"Eat this!" Harold screamed. His arm lent strength by the terror he felt, the halfling brought his blade down and struck the ogre between its eyes. The monster jerked its head back and to the side and Harold's blade snapped off at the hilt,
Harold felt as if his wrist was being torn apart. He dropped the hilt from a numbing hand. With a stumbling backwards step the ogre's legs pressed against the edge of the garbage chute and tripped. Harold struggled to break free from the vice-like grasp. He felt the world begin to tilt as the ogre fell. His knife was gone but from a wrist sheath he drew out a magic scaling spike. He pressed it against the base of the ogre's thumb and spoke the word which brought the spike to life. It whirred and sank in with a spout of blood.
The ogre did not feel the wound but its hand unclenched and Harold fell back into the room even as the ogre dropped backwards down the garbage chute. Harold landed on the wooden lid and rolled off the edge. He caught himself with his one good hand and hung from chute's edge by his finger-tips.
The climb up had been hard, but Derue had spent all his life at such practice so that this was little more than play. He had learned to step back from what his body did and watch from a distance. He still felt his hands against the rough cord and his muscles roll beneath his skin, but any pain he put into a box within his mind and shut the lid. The smell was the hardest thing to ignore. The reek brought back memories he had closed off from his youth, distractions that he suppressed. He shut them away as best he could and kept on climbing. A small speck of light began to grow then became a square. Derue increased his pace, hand over hand, his legs wrapped around the rope. He worried about his brother who had gone ahead.
"Edouard!" called Derue. "Edouard!" He heard a deep voice and a dark shape blocked out the square of light above him. Then there came a howl, a grunting roar that did not come from a human throat. Derue began to climb with a frantic haste but paused for just a moment to collect himself. He thought of a burning flame that ate away his fears. With even greater speed, but with calm control, Derue pulled himself up the last few feet to the top of the shaft. As he reached the edge a large form came hurtling past, a thick and heavy leg went by and smacked Derue hard across his side and buffeted him against the filthy walls.
"Helppp!" Harold screamed out. He banged his numbed hand against the wooden lid but could not get his fingers to grip the edge.
"Hold on," Derue hissed at him. "I'll get you in a minute." The mercenary swung over the wooden lip of the garbage chute with a graceful twist and landed on his feet upon the kitchen floor. He bent and grabbed the halfling by his arms and lifted him to the half open wooden lid. "Where is my brother?" Derue demanded.
"Where indeed!" Harold replied. "I have been having Brandobaris's own blessing upon me here and he takes off after an orc."
* * *
Talberth and Ivo stood ankle deep in rotting trash, they stared up, up, up and watched Derue begin his climb.
"I'll need a spell to do anything like that," said Talberth.
"In my youth I went caving and climbed up and down the caverns beneath my home, but now...." Ivo shrugged.
"I should have gone first," spoke up Harald. "Then I could have pulled you after me."
"That was what I was planning on," Talberth told him with a smile.
Above them Derue reached the ceiling and disappeared up into the dark vertical tunnel. Below him Gytha held the rope and talked with Telenstil. The cleric Henri had wandered off. He walked toward the eastern corner of the room. Talberth always tried to keep an eye on him. He did not trust the Pholtite priest.
Edouard had never felt so alive. He burned inside even as his blade swam with flame. A tracery of orange followed the weaving tip, it brushed past the ogre's head and set the lank and greasy locks, which grew in ragged spots, aflame.
The stairs were wide, a second ogre came up abreast of its burning companion. It bore a long iron rod used to prod the reluctant orc slaves along and jabbed it like a spear into Edouard's face. With a backhand stroke Edouard knocked the rod away and brought his sword round again. It struck the metal bar in an explosion of flames and sparks and clove off the dull head a foot down along its length. The other ogre beat out its burning hair and as it did Edouard kicked high and hard. He hit its chin, a smooth powerful blow that split the ogre's lip and snapped its head back on its short, thick neck. He followed up his kick with another slash but his arm was blocked by the iron rod. A jab caught him in the ribs but the blow did not part the fine mail he wore or do more than bruise his side. Edouard sheathed the burning blade within the ogre's gut. The blade hissed like bacon fat on a pan. Its point sticking from out the ogre's back, the hilt jammed tight into its hide.
A laugh built up within the mercenary and burst forth in peals of hiccuping mirth as the ogre's body burned and its innards turned to char. The iron rod clanked to the stone steps. The ogre tried to wrestle the sword free its, hands wrapped around the hilt and smoldered at the touch. Its companion on the stairs balled up its fist and struck Edouard soundly in the head.
Edoaurd lost his grasp on the hilt of his sword and as his hand came free the flames went out. The first ogre stood there dead on its feet. Tendrils of smoke drifted from its mouth, its hand were blackened clumps that split and showed deep red between the cracks. Around the now unburning sword the ogre's flesh was cooked clean through, black charcoal-like near the blade and dry brown meat halfway up its ribs. It wavered back and forth then stiff as a statue it fell back and tumbled down the long flight of stairs. The orc ran after the falling ogre, the two other brutes turned their fists against the now swordless scout.
* * *
"Not you too," Harold yelled at Derue.
The mercenary left Harold behind and ran off following his brother's path.
"Just great," the little thief took an empty leather pouch from his belt and scratched a message into it with the tip of a metal spike. He filled it with a handful of coins and dropped it down the shaft.
* * *
Derue followed a bloody trail which dwindled out before it turned the corner of the kitchen. On his left there were shelves, piles of food-sacks, barrels and at least one large table about level with his head, but on the right there was a wide alcove that led to a pair of doors. The righthand one was ajar. He had to pause before the doors and slow the beating of his heart. His chest heaved and his blood pulsed heavy in his veins. The right, something within him said, he followed the advice always choosing to listen to his inner voice. Behind the door he was inside another room, a larder, well stocked and much used, but at the back there was a broad set of stairs leading down, and his voice said to him that Edouard had gone this way.
* * *
"I will be glad to leave this room," Gytha said, her voice muffled by a scented cloth she'd placed across her nose and mouth.
Telenstil willed himself to ignore the unpleasant smell, but he found it distracting none the less, if not as nauseating as the others thought it to be. "I as well," he replied. "What was that?" Telenstil looked up the chute, an echo found its way down from above.
"A shout?" Gytha said unsure, but the loud roar that followed left no doubt. There came a banging sound and the rope shook in Gytha's hands. A large shape appeared as it neared the opening in the roof, she leapt and pushed Telenstil aside. The pair tumbled across the filthy ground barely escaping the ogre's body that crashed to the floor near to where they'd just been standing. It slammed into the pile of debris and sent a shower of rotting goo upon everyone but the sightless priest.
"What the hells?" Harald shouted, he wiped a smearing viscid glob from off his armored chest.
"Are you okay?" Gytha asked the elf.
Telenstil had to think a moment to make sure. "I seem to be uninjured," he said. "Thanks to your quick action."
"This muck is ten times worse when it is stirred up," complained Talberth.
Harald and Ivo examined the body. The gnome kept glancing back up the shaft.
"What is going on up there?" Talberth murmured.
"It's an ogre," said the old ranger.
Talberth bit back a rude reply. His nerves were on edge and his temper had grown short.
"Someone's left a broken dagger in its head," Ivo added.
"It's Harold's. The little thief brought down this monster ten times his size." The ranger Harald looked up the chute and wondered silently the question Talberth had voiced aloud, "What was going on up there?"