His sword went up and caught the chain of the morningstar. The links wrapped around its edge, the bugbear pulled, but the fiery steel cut the iron clean through. Derue was dragged forward and as the spiked ball dropped to the floor, he lunged and drove the point deep into the bugbear's gut. He followed up his thrust with an uphand slash as the bugbear backed away and drew a line of blood and fire across its chest. His sword skittered across the bugbear's ribs and set its fur ablaze.
The room beyond the iron-bound door was a long dank hall, only a table and chairs were inside, but along its southern face were steel bars blocking off holding cells. Near to the door there was a large brass gong, a second bugbear used the wooden haft of his morningstar to hammer it. The noise was harsh and loud. The wounded bugbear stumbled back, colliding with the other as it rang the alarm. They crashed together into the gong making it sound out with a dull boom. They fell to the ground; both swinging wildly and the gong broke free from the chain holding it in place and landed atop the pair. It took them a moment to push the brass plate aside, but Derue pounced and put his sword through the wounded bugbear's chest.
The other bugbear had barely pushed the gong aside and struggled to free himself from the dead weight of his fellow guard when the other orcs came rushing in. Three spear-points stabbed the insectoid-bear crossbred monster's arms and legs pinning it like a frog on a dissecting tray. Derue moved in closer and brushed the edge of the burning blade across its throat. It thrashed and bled out its life in a flood of red.
He wasted no more time. Derue turned to the cell doors, each a rough-hewn block carved from the bedrock below the steading. The only light was that thrown from the torches set in the walls of the long room. The first cell was well lit, just opposite a torch.
As Derue approached the bars a howling man threw himself at them with a clang. Filthy, thin and sore-filled arms reached out. The man had long unkempt hair and beard, jagged broken teeth, rags for clothes and a mad light shining in his eyes. He screamed incoherently, spat and hissed at Derue, a handful of long and blackened nails whisked past his face and without a second thought Derue put his sword out and into the madman's chest. The light faded from the man's eyes. A gasping voice called out a name that Derue could not hear, and then he slid down the bars. Derue withdrew his sword and the body clumped against the ground inanimate. Its life released and the broken mind at rest.
The next cell Derue approached with care, but behind him the orcs ran back and forth. They had retrieved a set of keys from the bodies of the dead bugbears and rushed to release a cell holding a quintet of their imprisoned comrades. Derue ignored them. He approached the bars and peered inside from a safe distance. This cell was only half-lit by the torch near the entrance door, half was still in gloom. A body lay face to the wall within the beam of light.
"Edouard!" Derue called to it, but there was no reply and the body did not stir. "Edouard!"
"Blessed be the gods! Have you come to free us?" a voice called out of the gloom.
"Who are you?" Derue answered back, the voice did not sound like his brother's.
"I am Jalal-ud-din of Zeif," the man said stepping into the light. He was thin and ragged, but clothed in a dignity that maltreatment and little food could not strip away. "Ah!" he said looking closely at Derue. "The wounded one here, is he your kin?"
"Edouard!" Derue cried. "Is he badly hurt? Let me see him?" he rushed to the bars and tried to pull open the cell door but it was locked. The orcs had the keys. He could call to them but he could not wait. With two hands Derue brought his sword down on the lock, the metal sheared away in a shower of sparks and flame. Jalal jumped back holding his hands before his face as the sword came down, sparks singing his hair and arms while small curls of smoke rose from the damp and dirty straw that layered the floor.
Derue pulled the cell door aside. It swung outward with a squeal and a shower of rust rained from its bars. He rushed inside and bent down to his brother's still form. Edouard lived, his chest rose and fell, but with a gurgling irregular heave. There were bruises all about his face, his nose was broken, bent to the side and swollen. His eyes were the same, black and puffy with a crust of blood where the swelling had burst.
"He is badly injured," Jalal spoke up quietly.
"We must get him away from here," Derue said without looking up at Jalal. "Come help me carry him."
"No, don't move him! His ribs are broken. I think he might bleed inside. He might die if we move him. At the very least he will suffer greatly," Jalal replied.
Derue could hear the concern in the man's voice and settled his brother's head back down atop the dirty straw. "Are you a healer?" he asked.
"I am a builder, but I have seen many men injured over the years," said Jalal.
"You will stay here with my brother and protect him with your life, I will go find help," Derue rose.
"There is an elven warrior in the next cell. He can help me protect your brother while you are gone, please," Jalal asked.
"Alright, but I have no time to waste. I will release him," said Derue, "blockade the outer door when I have gone and do not open it for anyone but me."
"It will be done. You have my thanks," said Jalal.
"Make sure my brother lives," warned Derue.
Outside the cell the orcs were loud and joyful. They had found the bugbears' keg of ale. It had made the two guards groggy. They'd missed the sounds of fighting from outside and woke only when the orcs had pulled open the heavy door.
"You!" Derue yelled at the orc who had spoken for the others. "Open this other cell!" he pointed toward the third one from the door.
The orc stopped his drinking in mid-glug. He handed the half-empty keg to the orc beside him and wiped his mouth with the back of his grimy hand. A defiant look crossed his face, but only for a moment. One glance into Derue's eyes and another at the burning sword which had slain both ogres and the giant keeper, was more than enough for the orc to think better of crossing either the man or his blade.
"Meatstealer!" the orc called to another. "Open the cell! Now!"
"Yes boss!" the orc answered back. Meatstealer wore the ring at his belt. They shook in his hands and scraped across the lock as he tried to open the cell door.
"You drunken sot," the boss pushed him out of the way and tore the keys from his shaking grasp. "Here now." he said and the key went home, then with a turn clicked it open and the door swung free. "What have we here?" the boss gave a laugh as he looked into the cell. "A pointy-ear'd tree lover! Looks like we..."
"I'll take those keys," said Derue. "And you and the others gather up the weapons and wait for me outside."
"We just want some fun," the orc said disconsolately like a child who has been told to come in from play.
"Get out! Leave now. I will be leading you or I will leave you behind," Derue yelled at them.
None wished to be left behind. They scrambled to leave the room, but did not forget to bring the keg along.
"Who is it?" Harold asked as the ranger pulled the rope up the chute as quickly as he dared.
"I can't tell, they are still too far down," Gytha replied.
Harald didn't say anything. He just gave a grunt as he raised arm length after arm length of rope.
Ivo bumped across the wall, he used his feet to buffer himself from the jarring contact, but there was nothing else he could do. It was a long ride up and he had no more control over his ascent than a sack of grain being hauled up to a storage loft. The gnomes of the Kron Hills had delved deep into the Oerth and in his youth Ivo had explored the shafts and the caverns that his kind had found. It had been years since he had gone caving but he remembered the old ways, at least enough of them to be safely pulled up a rope, and if he was old himself, he was tough as seasoned wood. There was a dim light showing above him, a small square that grew and grew. He saw a huge form bent over the edge and recognized the ranger Harald drawing up the rope.
"Here take my hand!" Ivo called.
The ranger held onto the rope with one hand then reached down and grabbed hold of the gnome's arm. When he had a firm grip he let the line drop and with both hands lifted Ivo up and over the wooden lip of the garbage chute.
"The Saint be praised!" said Gytha. "I'm glad to see you safely with us here Master Ivo."
"I'm glad to be out of that pit," Ivo replied. "What has been going on, oh and Harold, I think this is yours," he handed the halfling the pouch which had been dropped down the shaft.
"It takes someone of proper stature to notice the finer things," the halfling said, taking the empty pouch and slipping it back in his belt.
"Where are we?" asked Ivo.
"In the giants' kitchen of all places," answered Harold.
"So Telenstil was correct, that is good to know," Ivo looked around. He saw the huge tables and shelves, noted the body of the orc on the floor, the blood, now congealing around it and the bloody tracks leading off to the north and around the corner. "This does not seem to be a good place to stay, too exposed."
"We still need to bring the others up," said Gytha. "Harald how is it coming?"
"I'm waiting for the signal, ah! There it is!" the ranger felt the line grow taught and the two sharp pulls telling him to draw it up again.
"Where did the scouts go?" asked Ivo.
"Around the corner. I think they have found another way back down," said Harold.
"And they have both run off?" Ivo could not imagine why.
"I think it was that magic sword, at least for the first one." said Harold. "The other went after his brother. Small loss."
"I do not care for them, but we cannot abandon them either," said Gytha.
"At... the... very... least..." the ranger grunted out as he pulled up the rope.
"Save your breath," Harold told him. The thief felt better having three of his trustworthy companions with him, but, like Ivo, felt too exposed as well standing in the middle of the giants' kitchen.
* * *
"Talberth, what are you doing?" asked Telenstil.
"I'm tying this chain onto the rope," Talberth said. He laced the end of the line through several metal links making a large bundle of the black iron chain.
"You should go up next, they may need you up there," Telenstil told him.
"Do you want to go next?" Talberth asked him. "I don't want to leave this chain behind. I think we may need it."
"We may. Send it up," said Telenstil. "We can gather the packs and send them up next. We still need to get Henri up as well."
Talberth gave a noncommittal grunt, if the Pholtite stayed behind it would be a small loss to him. He gave the line two tugs and was happy to see the chain rising in the air.
"Who is it?" asked Harold.
"Can't... tell... stop... ask... ing," the ranger answered.
"Harold, why don't you take up watch at that corner," Ivo said pointing to the south, "and I will watch the other. We can be of little help here."
Harold nodded to the old gnome. "Sounds like a good idea, but if something comes I won't be able to do much more than shout."
"Just giving us the warning will be enough," said Gytha. "Master Ivo, is there anything that I can do?"
"Keep an eye on Harold, I have some magic I can use, but our thief has already done much more in regards to fighting than I had expected from him."
"I will, may the Saint watch over us as well," Gytha prayed.