The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 68
A rumble growled down the corridor, Talberth braced himself against the wall beside him. He could feel the vibration that thrummed through the stone. It passed quickly but a faint sound like the blows of hammers echoed from ahead.
"What was that?" asked Talberth. "An oerthquake?"
"No," Ivo shook his head. "That was the fall of stone. Something large and heavy, listen you can still hear the fall of lighter rock."
"If this place is caving in..." Talberth looked toward the ceiling.
"We are safe enough," Ivo patted the wall. "But we need to get back to the others."
"Let's hope that we still have a way out," said Harold.
* * *
The stones had stopped falling, but a patter of dirt and small fragments of rock no bigger than pebbles continued to drop down. Telenstil ended the spell he'd cast with a small sweeping gesture of his hand. Blood dripped from cuts under his eye and along his chin. A small needle of rock had clipped his nose and left a gash across the tip. The wounds bled furiously but none were deep, instead they were long, as if a razor had been drawn back and forth over his skin. Telenstil wiped his face with the back of his hand; it came away wet and red.
"You're hurt," Ghibelline said. He tried to rise but gasped in pain and fell back.
"No, you seem to be," said Telenstil. "This is just a little blood."
"My side..." Ghibelline pushed himself up while Telenstil reached out and helped him to his feet.
* * *
There were clouds and she was floating among them. Below her she could see the hills, the thick woods pressed against them, the mountains growing up toward the west. The mountains were higher than the sky, they blocked the moons and their tops were set afire by the passing sun. Gytha swooped low, the hills came rushing up. There were houses now, a small village set along a plateau, a pool at its center fed by a mountain stream. One house was bigger than the rest, it was nothing more than a large square building of stone, but it was easily four or five times the size of even the next largest home. She smiled; this building was her people's pride, their gift to their deity and the cleric who had brought the faith to them long ago.
The roof, tiled with plates of thin, fired clay, parted like mist as she dived lower and passed within. There was a choking smoke that seeped through the shuttered windows; the room was filled with it. There was the smell of burnt wood and burnt flesh, the tang of blood and strongest of all, the smell of fear. The room was filled with the injured, men, women, children, all those from the village and the surrounding lands. Gytha reached out and tried to touch them but her hand passed through as her body had passed the wood and tile of the roof. They seemed real, the cries of pain, the children's fearful whimpering, the coughing as the smoke increased. Fire was all around, in her mind's eye Gytha could see the village as it burned, the huge shapes of giants setting home after home ablaze with torches made from the trunks of trees. The monsters circled the building of stone; it looked small to her now. The thick stone walls and stout doors of oak banded with iron, they seemed no more than straw and children's toy-blocks beside the horrible strength and terrible size of the giants.
She knew what was to come and tried to close her eyes but they would not shut. The people began to wail, her flock, her friends, her kin, this was Gytha's village, or a dream-ghost of what it had been and how it met its end. The walls shook, there was a booming as the giants used clubs against the stone or tore boulders from the fence and threw them at the church. Oak boards shattered as the doors were splintered and sent flying into the villagers. A few men and women armed with spears and axes pushed the others back and faced the giants. One brute reached through the door then pulled back a hand that's finger had been hacked away with a desperate stroke. It put the bleeding joint to its lips and ducked its head and shoulders back outside. Stones rolled in as the giants played a game of ninepins and bowled down the defenders. Gytha could hear the laughter of the monsters as they sent boulders through the church to crush legs and pulp bodies of those who could not avoid the brutal stones. There was a shout and the booming began once more. Gytha held up her hands and screamed as the rafters collapsed and the roof came crashing down.
In an instant she was awake; a violent jolt had thrown her from her bed made of cloaks and packs. Stones bounced down around her and she was living her dream again. This time she did not scream, but Gytha looked wildly about for the villagers she had not helped in life and could not save even in her dreams. There were cold stone pillars all around, a tiled floor scratched a thousand times beneath, and only a small fire to light the dark. Near to where she had lain there was a body, Derue. The memory of the villagers faded, though they would never leave her completely, and the more recent past came back into her mind. What was that booming, she thought? Where are the others?
Gytha put her hand to the scout's chest, it did not seem to move, she thought he might be dead. He started, Derue's hands strained at the ropes which bound them. Flashing, angry eyes glared up at Gytha, but the fire in them died and a gleam of recognition took its place.
"Are you injured?" she asked him.
He breathed deeply, but even the filling of his lungs was restricted by the rope wrapped about his chest.
"Didn't you hear the falling stones or feel the rumbling?" Gytha shook her head in wonder.
Derue closed his eyes. He tried to rise, but just rocked back and forth. There was a slow, careful deliberation to his movements. The rope gave a little and he slipped his shoulder beneath a loop.
"Let me help," Gytha tried to untie the knot, but Harald had tied it with a ranger's skill. It tangled and the rope snarled badly around the knot, twisting hopelessly.
As she worked Derue kept up the movement of his back and shoulders, another loop slipped over his head. He squirmed and shed his bonds like a snake leaving behind a covering of skin. There were wounds around his wrists, places where the flesh had been rubbed away, they bled. Each attempt to free himself had cost Derue a layer of skin and a small quantity of blood.
"You're hurt again," Gytha touched the scout's injured wrists lightly. "I have a knife in my pack. I will cut you free, don't try anymore," she glanced at the blood-soaked rope and he followed her eyes, "you will only hurt yourself more."
He nodded and stood unmoving while she went to find her pack and retrieve a knife.
"Gytha!" Ghibelline called out then broke into a painful cough. Each heave sent lancing pain through the elf's chest and he doubled over with his arms wrapped tightly around his aching ribs.
"Help me Telenstil, she might be injured."
"Stay here." Telenstil commanded. "I will go and find her."
"Go then," the wood-elf gasped, "I'll stay here, go."
Telenstil left him behind, it was only a short way across the hall to where she had lain. The floor was covered with stones fallen from the roof. A glance up at the vaulting ceiling showed cracks running from pillar to pillar. The statues themselves appeared untouched, protected no doubt by the enchantment which had been placed on them and still lingered after countless years.
"Gytha!" Telenstil called as he neared the small fire. He did not see her at first, his eyes were fixed on the motionless scout. A dagger appeared in his hand unbidden by his conscious mind, a spell was on his lips. "Gytha," he called louder and concerned.
"I'm here," she called back, "I'm fine. Where's Ghibelline?" she demanded.
"Good," said Telenstil relieved. "Good, you were not injured?"
"Where is Ghibelline?" Gytha abandoned the pack she'd been searching.
"A stone hit him," Telenstil began but saw the fearful look that came over the cleric's face, he raised his hand, "wait, he is hurt, yes, but I think not badly. Go to him, near the pit, on this side of the chamber."
She looked out into the dark. "Take me to him. I will need a light."
"Take a torch," Telenstil pointed to the fire, "there were some laid by, they should be there. What of him?" he asked looking at Derue.
"His wrists are hurt," Gytha said as she rushed to the fire. She brushed away dirt and debris that covered a small pile of wood and finally found a cloth wrapped branch.
"Derue," Telenstil walked to the scout and looked him in the eyes. The evil madness was gone, now there was only a deep sad emptiness.
* * *
Light surrounded them as they traveled the dark corridor. The amulet which Talberth wore and the spell-enchanted torch that Harald carried burned with unnatural brightness, unflickering, fueled by magic. Ivo slowed them down. The old gnome was as strong and enduring as stone, but his short legs could not keep up with those of the two humans, both tall even for their kind.
"Leave me," he told them. "I'll catch up, go see what has happened.
" Hah," Talberth snorted. "Would you let me stay when I wanted? No! I am not letting you stay behind now."
"He's right," Harald agreed. "I can carry you." The ranger had Little Rat slung over one broad shoulder, the young orc's head and arms swinging back and forth with every step. The weight of the bone-thin youth was nothing to the man; the pack Harald had left behind weighed several times as much.
"Good," the thief said. "I'm tired of all this walking."
"I wasn't talking to you," Harald glared down.
"Ivo let him carry you," said Talberth.
The old gnome grimaced. "Quite undignified. Harold I trust that you will not include this in your stories."
"But Ivo this is such a grand idea," smiled the halfling, "humans to ride, much better than ponies."
"Maybe we should just drag you behind," Harald smiled back, "I'm sure we have some rope."