"You nearly cooked me with that magic bolt, you degenerate ape!" Derue screamed at the mage Talberth.
"I called for you to stand clear," Talberth screamed back, "You pale-haired freak!"
Derue flushed crimson red and his hand went to his belt to draw his sword, but Edouard grabbed his brother by the shoulder and pulled him back. They whispered together for a moment till Derue calmed down. The mercenary scout lowered his head, but swore and walked away and stood by the burning wall. It had flickered and waned while Talberth screamed but snapped back now that the wizard put his full mind to it once more. The wall gave off no heat this side of the door, but at its top the fire first dried then charred the portal's frame.
"You have made a friend there," Gytha said to Talberth, "Watch your back."
"What is that awful smell," Ivo asked as he approached.
Telenstil sniffed the air around the fire, "Brimstone, you've learned a variation on the base component," he said to Talberth. "No, do not reply, keep your mind on your work."
"I should have brought a deck of cards," Harold told the elf. "All this excitement and I've just been keeping out of sight."
"Then make up for it now," Telenstil told him, "Go see what is around that northern bend.
"Right you are," The halfing took off and joined the angry scout.
"Quickly now everyone, the giants will not be held off long," Telenstil said to them all.
"What of her?" Harold asked and pointed back at the giant maid. She did not advance but watched their every move.
"I will deal with her," said Ivo. He moved back down the corridor and stood before the maid. He spoke a muffled word and her hands went to her eyes, she screamed and stumbled back then fell. "I'm sorry, but what you see could mean our lives."
Ivo ran after the others toward the north and past the stinking wall of fire. "It is done," he said to Telenstil.
"Good. Our scouts are ahead, let us be on our way," Telenstil replied.
* * *
Harold crept ahead. The passage was short, a mere alcove to the giants no doubt, he thought to himself. The doors were shut, but these giants did not seem to have the skill for locks outside of bolts or crossbeams. He placed his ear against the space between door and floor and listened, pressing flat he could almost crawl beneath, but not quite.
"I hear nothing," Harold told the pair of scouts. "Let's shift this door, I feel like a cornered hare."
"Look like one as well," muttered Derue. Harold ignored the jab. Derue still had an untamed anger in his eyes regardless of what his brother had said to calm him down.
The two men tugged at the door and it swung open slowly, but creaked and groaned as it moved.
"All the hinges in this damp place must be half rust," Harold complained about the noise.
The brothers paid him no mind, but once the door was partly open, enough for them to slip by, they went in, first Edouard and then Derue.
* * *
"No!" cried Engenulf, "Step no further!"
Gosfrith nearly fell, he froze; his foot half lifted above what appeared to be another length of dirt path, identical to the one he had been following.
"Back up, carefully," the witan commanded.
"A trap?" asked Nosnra.
"Yes!" Engenulf hissed. His face was white and strained.
"Can you walk?" Nosnra held onto the witan's arm and stared at the skeletal hand that sucked the blood from Engenulf's veins.
"I can. I will. At least for a time," the witan proved his words true and paced forward then increased his stride. He walked quickly going wide around the spot he'd pointed out. The wolves stayed near him and did not venture far. Nosnra and Gosfrith stayed only an arm's length back and behind them came a score or more of giant warriors.
"What's that?" Gosfrith called out.
Engenulf looked into the distance, a group of small shapes could be seen far off climbing a ridge and, one by one, disappearing over it. He swung his doubled hand, one of flesh the other of his father's bones, and faced the shadowy figures.
"Pay it no mind. It is another trick. I think we are near."
"Good, I will call up the warriors," said Nosnra.
"Not yet. No, the closer we get the more powerful the enchantments and the traps. But be prepared! We will trap them in their lair," Engenulf's eyes burned with a red fury. He seemed to gain strength of spirit even as his physical strength diminished.
* * *
"The room is empty," Harold told the two wizards. Talberth stood with Telenstil near the wall of fire. The others had run down the hall and into the chief's private room, leaving Talberth last to hold his spell in place.
"Good," said Telenstil. "Come Talberth, the spell will hold long enough for us to run down the hall."
"Can you seal off this passage?" Talberth asked.
"I have a powerful spell that can do so, but to what effect?" Telenstil asked. "This is a dead end, though I do have two doses of my solvent left. Yes, and another spell at hand that can remove a square of wall if need be, but come let us go. I will block the hall if I must."
Talberth let his spell break free. Immediately the wall of flames began to draw back and fade.
They ran down the short hall and in through the partly open door. The room was huge, but it must have seemed quite cozy to the hill giant chief when he had his council gathered. It had a typical monstrous stone fireplace against its northern wall and a large long table dominated the room. Its top, higher than a man could reach, was out of sight above their heads.
Before them there was a forest of table and chair legs. The walls were covered with skins of beasts or hides that had been scraped clean and drawn upon with intricate designs. One huge affair, the hide of some giant monster, had been stretched from edge to edge across the southern wall. It was a map that showed both hill and surrounding lands covered with notes and symbols across its grey-white surface.
Telenstil smiled, his eyes took in the details of the map. Times and places, raids that had occurred and notes on what was to come. His smile left his face as the written notes became clear.
"Should we lock the door?" Talberth asked the elven mage.
Telenstil did not answer him. Instead he walked to the southern wall and called upon the power of his ring. "Xsurjere!" he exclaimed and rose into the air then placed a hand on the map before him.
The map was more than Telenstil had hoped to find. He pulled a razor-edged knife from his belt and began to cut the map loose from where it had been nailed to the wall.
"Telenstil?" Talberth asked. He stood near to the wizard and spoke up as the elf pulled himself along.
"Yes, yes," Telenstil replied distractedly as he cut the sides of the map with haste.
"Should I magic the door closed?" Talberth asked.
"Yes," said Telenstil then he paused, "Can you cast another wall of flame?"
"I can... I have this ring..." began Talberth.
"No need to reveal secrets," Telenstil said quietly. "Block the door, and if it seems that the giants will force it open, cast your spell just inside. Now make sure to explore this room and the next room as well... through there," he pointed to a stout wooden door set with bands of iron and studded with flat headed nails that was in the eastern corner of the room. He then turned back to the map and began to cut away at it once more.
Harold walked about the room; everything was so vastly big that he would need a rope to climb into a chair.
"Nothing but lost dinner rolls, under here", he said aloud as he walked below tables and chairs that towered far above his head. "I could put up some walls and move right in," he told himself, standing beneath a bench.
This room held nothing that interested him. The skins upon the wall might fetch a goodly price, but he'd rather have some gems or golden coins that could be carried without a train of mules. He looked over at a manticore, from tail to head they'd cut it fine, the human-seeming head left whole, even a full set of spikes remained in the tail. It swung gently back and forth, like the pendulum of some ghastly clock, a few feet above the floor.
"I can sell those quills at least."
Some wizards paid a good price for such to use in the writing of arcane tomes. Harold drew his knife and walked casually to the spikey tail. He grabbed the hide and cut it loose and let it dangle like a ball and chain. It was then he noticed that this was no wall, a small space lay between the floor and what must have been a door, obscured behind the flayed hide of the manticore.
"...get him yet," Derue said to his brother as Ivo walked nearby. Edouard caught sight of the gnome and silently nodded his head. Derue did not continue but greeted Ivo pleasantly.
"Master gnome, did you take any hurt in the fight out there?"
"No, but I saw that you both were wounded, against that stag and facing the giants as well," Ivo watched them with a canny eye.
"The good priest Henri has prayed for us and healed our wounds," Derue explained.
"That was quick!" Ivo had not seen the priest since he'd entered in the hall. "Where is he?"
Edouard smiled; his teeth even and white. He pointed to the roof. "Up there."
"Holy Pholtus has not taken him from us?" Ivo hoped.
"He has climbed to the table top, to cleanse himself, he said," Derue told the gnome.
"Harald, Gytha," Talberth called to the ranger and the cleric. "Telenstil asks that we explore that room as well as this while he, ah... attends to the map."
All three looked over to the floating elf. He stood upon the air and edged his way from the western wall over to the east, cutting free the top edge of the map. It hung a little loose but would not fall till the sides were cut as well.
"Better tell him cut the bottom next or the job will be twice as hard with the top hanging down," said Gytha.
"Well, I think he knows what he is doing," Talberth objected.
"Humph!" Gytha laughed, "I've heard that before. Never trust a man with a map."
"I don't believe in maps," said Harald, "A ranger doesn't need them."
"Ha... my point exactly, I believe, master wizard," She said and walked over to Telenstil.
"Harald, round everyone up. I have to watch the door. Get Harold at least and Ivo, and please check out that room," Talberth turned and watched as Gytha told the elf where he should cut next.
"Where has that little thief gotten to?" Harald asked himself and left the wizard to cast his spells.
* * *
"Hey!" Harald called to his halfling friend. "Where did you get to? I've been looking for you."
"Hey yourself. I've found something," Harold laughed. "All that muscle and fat can be put to good use."
"Fat! You're one to talk, you eat more than I do!" the ranger laughed back.
"Only when I can, and on better rations than we have with us," Harold complained. "But you're distracting me. I've found a door, and it's one of these cursed giant things that weigh more than a wagon."
"Where?" the ranger asked. He looked around but saw only the two. Talberth stood before the one they'd come through and Ivo waited at the other which the wizard had asked them to investigate.
"I just was looking for you to tell you about a door. That one!" Harald pointed toward Ivo.
"That's not what I'm talking about," the halfling shook his head. "It's that one behind the manticore pelt."
"I don't see a door," the ranger peered at the wall.
"That's why I 'm telling you about it," Harold said with frustration. "Do you have a brain in that big head of yours. The door is hidden, that makes it all the more intriguing."