There was a gabble of rough voices below then they heard a human shout, Derue yelling for quiet. Gytha helped Telenstil down the last step. They paused to listen before entering the huge room itself.
Beyond the vaulting arch they could see a crowd of orcs sprawled out in groups about a cavernous room. Derue was surrounded by one group and faced another. Both groups looked ill-treated and half starved, but there was a demeanor to the orcs facing Derue that those behind him lacked, an air of resignation but also pride. They were a quiet lot while the orcs around Derue were boisterous and loud, these that parlayed with him were silent and only their leader spoke.
Telenstil counted several dozen of the beasts and perhaps twice as many in the other group. He walked slowly into the room with Gytha by his side. Derue caught sight of them and waved. He started toward them when they did not increase their pace.
"Hurry, this way," Derue shouted and lead them across the room to a large iron-bound wooden door. He banged loudly on its panel and shouted to those inside. Something gave a clang from within then a half-dozen orcs pulled the door open using an iron chain. A man stepped out, but Derue pushed him back and turned once more to signal franticly for Gytha to quicken her pace. "Will you hurry, we have wasted enough time already," he shouted.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," she replied, clearly annoyed with the mercenary's complaints. "Where is Edouard?"
"He's here," Derue pointed. He stood within a long hall lined with cells, a man stood beside him, swarthy and old, but calm, seeming to have mastered whatever fears or concerns he felt. Derue practically danced with nervous energy, his eyes darted from Gytha to the cell, back and forth till the cleric stepped inside.
Edouard lay unconscious, his eyes closed, his breathing faint and labored. Gytha knelt beside him and put her head on his chest. She heard the gurgle of liquid when he breathed, and put her hand lightly across his ribs. The bones were broken, she could feel the jagged ends where they had been snapped off and driven into his lungs. His face was badly bruised as well, but she suspected most of his injuries were inside.
"Heal him," Derue demanded.
Gytha paid him no mind, she would do what she could do. "Dear Saint," she began. "I have asked your help much today, but the need is great. This is a dark time and a dark place. Please lend me the strength to heal one who has fallen to this dark, who fights the evil you have fought with merely mortal strength. Please dear Saint, aid this fallen warrior who is near death." She placed one hand upon Edouard's head and the other on his chest. A deep green glow began but as it sank in it was replaced by gold, a shining gold that surrounded Edouard, his body lifted from the ground, his arms fell to his sides, suspended as well. His body shook and an angry line of red curved back and forth like a snake through the haze of gold. Gytha felt a great pain, her hands were on fire, it blazed at her, but she called upon the Saint and the golden glow increased. The red lashed out, it sprang from the cocoon of golden light and sought for Gytha's throat, but as it left Edouard it paled and faded into a dark steaming cloud, then blew away, up and up toward the high ceiling and disappeared.
"What was that?!" asked Ghibelline the elf. He had backed away when the cleric entered the cell and remained unnoticed while she cast her healing prayer over Edouard.
"Gytha! Are you all right?" Telenstil tried to go to the cleric's side but Derue roughly shoved him out of his way.
"Edouard!" he cried and ignored Gytha who staggered up, dazed, on unsteady feet.
"Brother," Edouard spoke. "Where am I? What has happened here?"
"You are in the giants' cells. I don't know how you came here, but you were badly injured," Derue told him.
"I feel fine," he said. Edouard felt his chest and jaw. "But I do remember great pain. It was like a dream. Derue! Where is my armor, my sword!" he grabbed his brother's arms so tightly that the links of Derue's own chain shirt bit into him like metal teeth.
Telenstil held Gytha up by the shoulders. She shook her head then steadied herself. Reaching out she gave the elf's shoulder a squeeze, then took the metal rod from where it rested against the wall. She leaned upon it and seemed to take strength from the black iron, recovering from her brief daze.
"Thank you," she said. "Come, let us step from here and let Derue and Edouard speak."
Telenstil lead her from the cell. "And you sir, who are you?" he asked the elf who followed them.
Gytha turned, a bit surprised. She had been aware that someone else had been in the cell, but had not taken note of whom or what he was. The elf looked worn and his injuries, old and new, showed plain.
"I am Ghibelline of Derelion," the elf said, then pointed toward the door behind them. "And this is Jalal-ud-Din of Zeif, Master Builder, and my friend."
Telenstil and Gytha both turned to look at the small old man. He placed his hands together and bowed deeply at the waist.
"I am Telenstil and this is Gytha, one of Saint Cuthbert's staunch followers," said Telenstil. "I have many questions for both of you, but this is not the place."
"Will you take us with you?" asked Ghibelline.
"Of course," said Telenstil. "I would not leave anyone in the hands of the giants."
"Gracious Elf," spoke up Jalal. "If that be true I must ask you for your help. There are others held captive, they have worked alongside me and one I hold dear to me as kin."
"We will see what can be done," said Telenstil. "For now there are others, my companions, who we must rejoin. Then we can speak and discuss how to help your friends."
As they spoke a commotion rose from the cell, then Derue backed out, his hands before him. Edouard followed, his pale face was red and he shouted and pushed at his brother.
"...done with it." Edouard yelled.
"Nothing, it was gone, Edouard, gone when I found you," Derue protested.
"No! It can't be," Edouard shouted. "I can't hear it anymore, what have you done with it?"
* * *
The wolves could not run; some were left behind, half-dead to fend for themselves. The giants plodded along the path, like the wolves they had been stripped of their stamina and strength. Only Nosnra still walked with his shoulders back. In his arms he carried the body of his friend, a mere souless husk, drained by the powers he had wielded in life. Only one more hill and a valley then they would be home.
* * *
"Ivo, he is not coming," said Harald. "I've given him the five minutes, and more."
"Then it is time for us to go," Ivo replied.
"Telenstil won't like it but I say we leave," chimed in Talberth.
"I could climb down..." the ranger began.
"No," said Ivo. "If the giants catch us here Talberth and I could not hold them back."
"Leave the rope," said Talberth. "As Telenstil instructed we've given him every chance."
"Let's collect our packs then and find the others," Harald gave a deep sigh and a final pull at the rope, then let it drop back against the wall of the chute.
* * *
Edouard gave a growl and grabbed Derue by the throat with both his hands. For a moment Gytha saw the red streak coursing through the scout's body, wrapping around him like a vine around a tree, then Edouard pulled the sword from over his brother's shoulder. Smoke rose from his hand and the smell and crackle of burning flesh pervaded the silence and stench of the room. With a scream Edouard threw the sword from his hand, it clanged from the stone wall. Derue jumped for it and turned to face his brother, the flames racing across the steel as soon as he put his hand to the hilt.
"Ineptire!" Derue yelled. "Where is your blade? Hah! You have lost it, you cannot claim mine!"
"No!!!" Edouard howled. He kept his injured hand clutched to his chest and backed away from the burning sword. Suddenly he whipped around and ran from the room, pushing past the others with a maniacal strength. "Kalfashow!" he screamed into the cleric's face. He knocked her back and she swung out her metal staff to trip him up, but he took the fall with a roll and was on his feet with only Jalal, the old Bakluni, standing in his way.
The old man backed up and tried to press himself against the wall out of the madman's way, but Edouard clubbed him to the ground with his bare hands, striking a sharp blow to Jalal's head with his open palm, then grabbing a thin arm and twirling him about. Ghibelline jumped forward to aid his friend but Edouard flung Jalal into the elf then slammed into the door. He hit with force enough to open it a crack and slid through, scraping shoulder-blades and ribs between the stone frame and the iron straps across the wood.
Derue screamed out his brother's name and dropped his sword, the flames disappeared the moment it left his hands then he cried out again. "Ardare!" he screamed, then fell to his knees and scrabbled across the stones to grab the hilt again.
"I see it!" Gytha shouted. "There is a red serpent inside of him, it is that cursed sword!"
Outside the cells, the orcs watched Edouard as he ran about. He kept going back and forth, looking for his sword, making further and further sweeps of the room. One of the newcomers who had not seen Derue or his magic sword and obeyed the scout's commands struck out at the crazed man as he shoved by. Edouard slid past the blow, and into the orc's reach. One hand grabbed the orc's wrist, a strong thumb digging into the palm, his other hand, the calloused edge of it, struck across its throat. The sword dropped from the orc's numbed grasp, it grabbed its throat and let out a barking, strangled cough. Its companions yelled in fury and surrounded Edouard with their weapons drawn and ready.
* * *
He was more than just a whirling madman, Edouard's fists and feet lashed out at the orcs, hard as steel, deadly as any weapon they used against him. A sword jabbed toward him, he stepped aside and grabbed the outstretched arm then pivoted, adding his force to that of the orc's. The blade stabbed into an orc rushing Edouard from behind and with a twist the scout sent the orc he'd grabbed flying atop the one just stabbed. For a time Edouard's training took hold and proved stronger than the overwhelming need he felt to possess his sword once again. The voice which called to him, Kalfashow, was just a dim whisper at the back of his mind. There were a score of weapons set against him and three score fists ready to fight him barehanded, he had no chance, but he had been born and raised to fight, even when that fight would surely be his last.
They came at him, so many at once that they blocked each other out. Each wanted to use a weapon to fight the man, but if they had simply rushed in they could have borne him to the ground by their sheer weight and number. A morningstar whizzed by his head, but Edouard leaned back, supple as a willow bending beneath the wind. It passed just inches from his face and pulled the orc half around as it went by. Edouard used his foot, his torso still bent back, to strike beneath the armpit of the orc. The spiked ball flew free, smacking into the crowd, the orc's arm popped up and out of joint and the pig-faced monster flew back and yowled in pain. Edouard bent back even more, his torso horizontal to the ground and kicked up even higher. A second orc rushed forward to take its companions place and as it did Edouard drew back his leg, both at the hip and at the knee then lashed out again, hard as a mule, directly into the orc's throat. The sound was like a melon in a canvas bag being dropped against the ground, the orc collapsed, falling backwards, knocking down several who sought to close with the man but were bowled over into a writhing heap. Two clubs and a rusty blade sought Edouard's blood and life, the sword skimmed close, a club drummed against his side, but its force was spent when the wielder collided with another orc, and the last was stopped by Edouard's upthrust hand. He caught the orc forearm to forearm then hooked his other arm up behind the elbow. A quick merciless pull of his hooked arm driving the elbow forward and a push out of his forearm against that of the orc's and its bone snapped, the elbow came out of joint and the club hit only the ground as it fell from the useless fingers of the orc's broken arm. Edouard dropped into a crouch and spun with one leg extended, it caught the swordwielder behind the knees and sent the orc heels over head smacking hard against the floor. Then with a dancer's grace Edouard spun up rising from his crouch and with his gathered strength kicked with his right leg straight into the chest of another orc. Its breastbone cracked like lead shot against a stone wall, the crossbow it carried went off and left a gash which scored the outside of Edouard's leg leaving a bleeding trail. He shifted tactics then and brought the fight into the midst of the orcs crowded in the room. Edouard flung himself bodily into the mass, jumping high and crashing lengthwise against three orcs, knocking them down and creating a rolling, biting, clawing havoc as he fought through. He gouged eyes, broke fingers, smashed throats and noses flat with his forearm and edge of hand, cracked temples with vicious jabs of elbow, fell hard upon chest or spine or stomach with his knees. Close in the orcs weapons were more of a hindrance than a help, they could claw and bite, punch or grab desperately at the spinning fury which slashed at them, but Edouard was lightning fast, as dangerous with quick thrusts of fingers, or gripping hand as he was with the kicks and throws he used against them in the open. They would have overborn him in the end but he fought his way through the thinnest portion of the crowd.
An orc reeled back, its thumb pulled from its joint as it tried to grab the man and an elbow driven deep into its back where its kidneys lay, a blow struck as he passed by. Edouard spun as he cleared the room and kicked the reeling orc from behind, propelling it into the others, giving him a moment's lead, he ran down the dark corridor, he knew not where.