The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 32
Meatstealer turned to Boss prepared to go to the human's aid, but Boss held him back. "Let them kill him. Maybe they can cut down the other one as well," Boss said in the gruff orcish tongue.
"They'll cut him to..." Meatstealer began but stopped as he saw the human down one then another of the rebel orcs with bare feet and hands. "Maybe this one doesn't need help."
Boss shook his head. "He has Gruumsh's own strength. Ah they have him now."
They could not see what happened. The rebel orcs closed in and blocked off their view.
"I don't know," Meatstealer said. He could hear the shouts and cries of pain coming from orcish throats but not cheers or laughter to say that they had slain the madman or captured him for slow death by torture.
The crowd swayed, the rebel orcs seemed to draw in like sand falling down an hourglass, funneling to one point. There was a final shout and the rebel orcs set off the way they had come leaving their dead and wounded behind.
* * *
There was a smell, sharp but choking, then the feel of heat, a great simmering wave that became a smothering blanket, stifling, a physical presence in the air. Edouard nearly gasped, but the call from Kalfashow was too great. It washed over him and put all his other thoughts and senses aside. He had turned off from the passage he'd been following down a slanting tunnel. Somewhere ahead was the source of the great heat and the burning smell, but he could see nothing but the stone walls and the haze of torchlight far away.
The tunnel made a turn. The way went to his left, but only for a dozen feet. A sharp wedge of stone split the passage right from left, broadening out in both directions till the way was wide enough for a wagon to pass. To the left the wide stone tunnel was lined with weapons, heaped with shields and armor, piled with bits and pieces of metal waiting to be fixed or melted down. Bags of coal and cuts of wood were mixed within, a rough storage nook, though large enough to fit a peasant's house between the walls and roof.
Edouard paused, he glanced at a row of swords hung high upon a wall, but his head turned to the other way. The call came from the right, not from the storage nook. His blade was not hidden among the weapons there or buried beneath a sack of coal. The right-hand way was broad and slanting down. It was from here that his sword called to him, and from here that the heat pulsed out. It had become so great that he was cooler inside than without, the thickness of the air made his eyes tear, a cloud of smoke, black as a rain-filled cloud, hung against the ceiling. As he crept forward he could see the source of the heat and smoke, a massive forge, its edges taller than a man, a huge bellows set above it, unmoving, waiting to breathe life into the coals and make the red sparks dance. The walls were hung with weapons, helms and bits of armor, all formed for giants. Edouard felt like a child stepping into his father's armory. The room seemed empty, but there were wings which went off to either side, Edouard could not see what they contained from where he stood crouching in the outer hall. The call came to him again. It sang with great allure, he could not resist.
* * *
"I would like to just sit here, but we need to move the table over," said Telenstil. "There is a viewport set up there in the door and I want to watch for our companions' arrival."
"As long as it isn't just something to keep us busy," laughed Gytha.
"I know that when I get a chance I will lay down for several days," said Ghibelline.
"I thought you elves never slept," said Gytha.
"Hah!" it was Ghibelline's turn to laugh. "That is a fable. We need our rest, though there is truth in the tale. We sleep, though you could say that we elves sleep with our eyes open, even when they are closed."
The table was made for the bugbear guards. It was large but not giant-sized, sturdy but crude. It screeched across the stones as they dragged it and pushed it up against the door. Telenstil climbed up, there was a small cover set between metal runners that blocked the viewport. He slid it aside and peered out into the room beyond.
He heard their laughter before he saw them. Deep, booming and touched with cruel mockery. A flush of anger colored Edouard's sweating brow, but he stood, powerless before the giants, a dark pair with red hair and beards and teeth like dinner plates, yellowed and stained. Both were huge, much bigger than Nosnra's kind, but one held Edouard's unsheathed blade across his hand and laughed as the human rushed forward to retrieve it. The call from Kalfashow was all that Edouard could hear, when he saw it he was aware of nothing else, the room faded from his sight, even the giant which held his sword. The hand that smacked him aside came as if from nowhere, it knocked him from his feet and sent him sprawling on the floor.
"Little one," the giant spoke, "you hear fire spirit. It sing pretty song yes?" the giant laughed. "It talk to me. Say you powerful, have strong spirit too, you make good slave. Be good and let you see fire sword, be bad and take fire away."
Edouard didn't reply but gathered himself and launched a leaping kick toward the giant's mocking face. The monster held out his hand and waved the sword back and forth, small as a toy in his huge palm. A scream, a screeching voice, threw Edouard into a spasm of pain, he dropped halfway through his attack, landing hard on the stones and curling into a tight ball, his knees hugged against his chest.
"Naughty little one," the giant chuckled. "You make fire spirit mad. It serve me, you obey, or fire spirit get mad again."
* * *
"Look at all those orcs," said Talberth.
"Where are the others?" Harald looked left than right, trying to pick out Telenstil or Gytha from the crowd. He would have been happy even to see the scout.
"I have my wand," Talberth held the carved magic stick nervously in his hand. "These orcs wouldn't survive the lightning I could unleash."
"Our friends could be among them," Harald reminded him. "The scout said these orc's rebelled against the giants didn't he?"
"Yes, but I'll never put trust in such beasts," Talberth said. "What should we do? Where are the others?"
"Here comes Harold and Ivo, let's wait for them, then just march out there. If the orcs attack we will fight them off," the ranger said. He held his sword, a claymore almost as long as he was tall, and peered back up the stairs, waiting for the gnome and halfling to appear.
* * *
"What do you see?" asked Gytha.
"Orcs. I do not see Edouard," said Telenstil. "They are milling about, some are dragging things, ahh... bodies, several bodies, some are still thrashing. There seem to be many less than when we went through before. No... I see them now. A large group is coming from a opening on my left..."
"That would be south," said Ghibelline.
"Yes. Your direction sense is good," Telenstil said, surprised.
"Jalal knows these tunnels well and he has told me what he knows," Ghibelline explained. "We hoped to escape, somehow. I should see to him. Do you need me here?"
"Please go see to your friend, but come if we call..." Telenstil began. "Wait! There is a new commotion. Gytha, I see Harald, he stands at least a head taller than any of the orcs. Quick let us move the table and unbar the door, they may need our help."
* * *
"Just keep walking," Talberth said to the others.
All around them stood orcs, most in small groups near the walls, but they could not be avoided. Harald took them to the center of the huge room, glancing left then right, searching for some sign of their companions. Across from the stairs there were two doors, a passage opened between them, on the right-hand, up by the far wall, there was another door, but lower down there was a wide opening. As they watched, it began to disgorge more orcs, a rough and angry band. Shouts rang out and hands pointed toward the four companions. The orcs which milled about the room did not join in, but instead backed away, moving closer to the walls and the dark corners. The orcs who charged and shouted, most with crude weapons in their hands, came on at a run, Talberth stepped forward to meet them.
The mage held an arcane wand, small symbols had been carved into the dark wood and the grooves filled with a liquid silver. The writing spiraled along the wand and ended in a silver cap that held a diamond cut to a long sharp point. Talberth whispered a word and the power was unleashed, a symbol became dull and empty wood, the silver metal flowed away and disappeared. The diamond glowed and from its tip there came a bluish light, and as it left the wand it grew. A lightning bolt, it left the wand with a thunderclap of noise, and swept across the running orcs. In between the blink of an eye it struck, three orcs in the lead were touched first but it was past them and amongst the others before a step could be taken or a shout escape their lips. Three dozen or more of their band were touched by the single bolt, the flash blinded many for a few moments leaving a purple blur staining their eyes. The noise of the bolts passage drowned out the screams, but the spectacle was grim. Those touched spasmed in pain, jaws and teeth broke, clamping shut as the energy coursed through, spines snapped as the orcs' bodies were contorted, hair burst into flame and their flesh smoked and stank as greasy rags and skin were flash-cooked by the stroke. Talberth was surprised at the result, he stood open mouthed. These orcs were weak and frail, packed together, crowded in the passage the magic bolt could not have wrought greater havoc.
"I don't think you will need to cast another spell," said Ivo, impressed by the carnage. The orcs which survived the charge turned and ran back down the hall, more than half their number lay dead, they ran for the security of their caves, most would rather surrender to the giants than face more of these human foes.
* * *
"What was that?!" Ghibelline asked excitedly.
"Talberth I should think," said Telenstil while he put his shoulder against the table leg and pushed.
"We'd better hurry," said Gytha. They dragged the table away and attacked the wooden beam but could only free it from one bracket at a time and as it cleared the first it came crashing down nearly crushing Telenstil's foot, he leapt away just in time.
"Thank goodness for the grace of elves," said Gytha.
"I was never strong," said Telenstil, "But I have always been quick."
"We elves have always been adept at avoiding falling wood," laughed Ghibelline.
* * *
The door swung open and Gytha came running out. Harold saw her first; the others were still mesmerized by the carnage that Talberth's lightning bolt had wrought. The little thief ran over to her and the orcs who had not fled cowered against the wall or in the corners, afraid of even the halfling, not knowing what terrible powers he might possess.
"Harold," Gytha called, "am I glad to see you."
"Gytha, what happened? We heard a commotion."
"Those scouts, the swords that Henri handed out, they were cursed," she told him.
"That figures," Harold agreed. "That's how our luck has been going."
Telenstil left the cells as well but did not run. He looked slowly from side to side but walked straight toward his companions, stopping beside Gytha and putting his hand down to pat the halfling's shoulder.
"A timely arrival my friend," he said to Harold.
"We could have simply come with you. That Henri never showed," Harold said.
"I had hoped he would. I hate to leave any of our group among these monsters," Telenstil shook his head and glanced again at their surroundings.
The room was a dank cave, though torches were set all along the walls throwing off a smokey light. The ceiling was high and dim, and where Telenstil stood, part way to the center of the room, the torchlight barely reached. The orcs had begun to slink away, some crept off up the stairs, others disappeared down the small passage by the cells. The large passageway was clogged with the bodies of the dead. None of the orcs would go that way. Telenstil lead them back to the cells, they were a quiet group, unhappy to find themselves back underground again.
"Telenstil, these orcs will alert the giants," said Harald as they crossed the threshold of the door. "We had best leave, and quick."
"I agree," Telenstil replied, "but we have lost Edouard, again, and now Henri has abandoned us, and Derue, our scout has been cursed by that magic sword he found."
"More reason for us to go now," spoke up Harold. "Who is this?" he asked as he spotted Ghibelline.
"I am Ghibelline," the elf answered. "You are the friends of Master Telenstil and the good lady cleric, I take it."
"How is Jalal?" Gytha asked him.
"He is awake, but weak. Telenstil, he wishes to speak with you," said Ghibelline.
"Who is this Jalal?" asked Harold. "Telenstil have you enlisted an army to join us?"
"No," said Telenstil, "we have just found some of the captives the giants had kept. Gytha, come with me, we will have to move Jalal. You too, Ghibelline."
"Is that Derue back there?" Harold asked as Telenstil and the others went into the cell where Jalal lay.
"Yes, do not untie him," Telenstil warned.
"Don't worry about that," said Harold to himself. "Well this is fine don't you think," he said to the ranger.
"Eh," Harald shrugged. "It could be worse." He leaned against the open door and kept watch, eyeing the last of the orcs as they crept away. A small group had not left. They stood near the arch of the stairwell and cast long glances toward the cells.