"They are just the same as the adults, only smaller," Ivo marveled as he examined the slain gibberling he'd taken from the ranger's hand.
"They act just like the adults," growled Harald. "My torch went out then they attacked."
"This may be the cause of the herds migration," Ivo said holding the small body on the palm of his hand and raising it level with his eyes.
"That is a leap," said Harald, "you may be right, but who knows? Who has found their young before?"
"Only us," Ivo said with wonder.
"Our luck is holding then," the halfling broke in. "All bad."
"I feel lucky enough to still be breathing," said Harald. The ranger wrapped his legs with strips of cloth. He'd cut his cloak apart, Ivo did not have enough bandages to cover all his wounds.
"What are we going to do with these?" Harold kicked a gibberling pup. It was curled into a tight ball hiding from the light of the enchanted stone. "It's going to take some work to kill them all."
"I'll have to find a way to preserve a body or two," mused Ivo.
Harold nudged another pup with his toe. "What do you think their worth?" he asked casually.
"They are priceless," Ivo replied.
"Priceless..." Harold murmured back thougtfully.
* * *
"Back away! Back away!' Talberth warned the orcs. The mage's face was eerily underlit by the glowing amulet he wore, his expression was demonic. The shadow of the wand he held was huge as it was projected against the wall, it terrified the orcs. Their weapons clanged to the floor and they backed themselves empty-handed into the corner of the room.
Talberth had thought he'd heard yelling from the far passage, but the orcs noise had drowned it out. Now that they'd stopped their vile cursing the chamber had fallen into silence. Talberth's shouted commands faded into the dark that surrounded the light of his amulet. The mage bent and put his hand beneath the scout's nose but kept his eye upon the orcs and kept the dweomered wand pointed in their direction. He felt a slight stirring of air, he shifted his hand to the scout's chest, its rise and fall could barely be felt, but it was there as well as the steady beating of Derue's heart
* * *
Harold casually searched where the ranger had lain for the empty jar of salve. It wouldn't hold much, not a complete body, but he could save one the little gibberlings' heads. If the whole was priceless perhaps the head would be worth a fortune by itself, he thought.
"Harold," Ivo called, "go see what is keeping the others. Find Gytha at least, Harald is still injured."
"I'm fine," the ranger objected.
"You are not," Ivo replied. "And no more of such lies. Harold go, go..." Ivo shooed away the thief waving both his hands. "And take the orc with you!"
Harold shook his head in regret; he would have to think of a way to save one of the bodies of the giberling pups. Walking past the young orc he did not need to signal or say a word, Little Rat fell in behind.
"I will have to climb down and fetch the rope," Telenstil said.
Ghibelline was waking but he seemed to be in a daze. The elf tried to sit up, but his arm slipped on the stone and his head fell back; he had Telenstil's cloak rolled up as a pillow beneath him, it saved him from a nasty bruise.
There was a sputtering torch in Gytha's hand, she'd come back laden with her hands full, Ghibelline's sword tucked beneath her belt. She walked awkwardly, the edge sawing at the leather band around her waist; she'd never used a sword and did not like them, even just to carry a few yards.
"I'll stay," she said, "I don't think he will be able to manage the climb till he has slept and rested, he is healed but weak."
"The adventuring life," smiled Telenstil, "I should be growing fat with a gaggle of apprentices to do the work."
"Never," Gytha smiled too. "You are much too active."
"It is the curiosity," said Telenstil, "there is always something new to learn." the mage swung himself over the edge of the shaft and nimbly began to climb. "I will be right back." he called as his head dropped out of sight.
Gytha was already sitting beside the injured elf. She reached behind him as he struggled to sit once more and helped him with her hand across his shoulders.
"I'm alive," he asked quietly.
"You saved me," Ghibelline stated sure that it was true. "I should be dead, that snake, the venom... thank you."
* * *
The glow from the mage's amulet drifted like a will o' wisp, the dark surrounding it seemed like a living thing down here with a presence and body that fought against the light. Talberth caught a glimmer coming from somewhere far ahead. He knew that it must be the others; at least he hoped that it was them.
"Sit, sit down," he barked out at the orcs.
They hesitated but then complied. There was a noise from behind, someone coming down the shaft.
"Gytha!" he called, "Telenstil!"
"Yes," came a voice, "it is I." Telenstil climbed slowly down. He moved with care and grace but breathed with a deep rise and fall of his chest. A sheen of sweat covered his brow.
"Telenstil, thank goodness," Talberth said with relief. "The orcs, they were beating Derue."
"How is he?" asked Telenstil. He moved quickly over to where the scout lay motionless on the floor.
"He lives," said Talberth, "for now."
"Ghibelline is injured, though Gytha has prayed for healing," Telenstil said, though he spoke partly to himself, "we do call upon her strength more and more."
"What do we do with these orcs?" asked Talberth.
"Why did they attack him?" Telenstil answered with another question.
"I didn't ask," Talberth replied drolly, "they're orcs; that is reason enough."
"There you are!" a voice piped out of the darkness. Harold came walking quickly into the light. "Where have you been!" he demanded.
"I was wondering the same thing," Talberth replied.
"We were almost killed!" Harold snapped back.
"What's going on?" he asked, noticing the orcs for the first time then the wand in Talberth's hand.
"Harold," Telenstil caught the attention of the thief, "you are bleeding; are you badly hurt? How are the others?"
The halfling put his hand to his face and for the first time felt the wounds he had suffered from the gibberling young. Small cuts still sent trickles through the drying mask of blood that covered his face. His arms and hands began to sting and he noticed the growing spots of blood soaking through his torn and tattered clothes.
"Hey!" he exclaimed surprised. His eyes rolled back and showed their whites. Harold pitched over backwards collapsing like a scarecrow taken from its standing pole. Little Rat leapt to him but couldn't catch the falling thief in time.