The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 55
Boss walked backwards, away from the screaming down the passage, his legs struck the body of Derue and he fell. Below him the bound man gave a grunt as Boss landed on him then Derue began to writhe. He twisted, throwing the orc from his back, slammed both legs down across Boss's middle and kicked him with both feet like a mule, smashing the orc in the face. Blood spurted from a split lip and a broken nose and Boss was spun against a wall. Pulling his knees to his chest Derue slid his bound hands down his legs and over his feet. Still stretched out on the floor he leaned on his shoulder and swung his legs around sweeping Halfknife off his feet, but both Meatstealer and Brokenhand set on him before he could rise.
The orcs had weapons but they used their feet, not from any restraint, though they had been ordered many times to keep the scout alive. They lashed out, rough hoary feet thudding into ribs, a jagged toenail cut a deep gash over Derue's eye, Meatstealer heard a bone snap and a whoosh of air forced from the scout's throat. Derue blocked a second kick to his creaking ribs, ducked below Brokenhand's next blow and struck Meatstealer's knee as the orc drew back to kick again. The orc hopped back and Derue turned himself and kicked back at Brokenhand. Stars and sparks danced before his eyes, Halfknife had kicked Derue from behind smacking his head like a child would kick a ball.
Boss rose groggily from where he had rolled, Meatstealer rubbed at his knee then joined the others. Soon all four orcs had encircled Derue, their legs pumped back and forth as they pummeled him with their feet.
At the shaft entrance Talberth dropped to the floor. He wore an enchanted amulet around his neck that shined with a perpetual light. In the glow he had climbed down the wall, trusting his sight more than his sense of touch. "Hey!" he yelled at the orcs. "What is going on! Get away! Get Away!" Talberth took the wand from the forearm sheath he wore and fingered the runes that glowed silver in the dark.
The light from the amulet made them start, then step back from the body of the scout, the wand brought out a fear that had grown within them, first planted as the giants' slaves.
* * *
Ivo's breath was heavy in his chest. He was getting old, even for a gnome. He'd been old before the human mage Talberth had been born, old when the ranger had been only a boy. Gnomes did not have the sheer bulk and strength of a dwarf, but they all possessed a wiry endurance. He drew upon all the energy in his old frame and ran. There were shouts ahead and some screams of pain, a bellow of rage, it made Ivo lurch into a quicker pace, but he was much slower than the halfling and Little Rat. He came upon them just as the ranger fell headlong sprawling across the ground, all three were buried under the furry wave.
It was no weapon he held in his hand, no base component for a spell, just a common gnomish tool. He opened the metal ball and twisted it apart. A small lump of stone fell out, enchanted like the amulet which Talberth wore, it shone with light. A small sun erupted in the dark, a squeal of shock burst out, a thousand tiny voices screamed and the carpet of fur and tooth and claw went still.
* * *
"As I thought," Ivo said smugly. He nudged a curled circle of fur with his foot, it appeared to be dead. Immediately his thoughts went to his friends, "Harold! Harald!" he called out.
The ranger groaned and shook a covering of the little beasts from off of his back and legs, beside him Harold jumped to his feet and flung a pair of small bodies against the wall. The halfling kicked some aside and cursed the others where they lay. Blood streamed from dozens of tiny cuts and bites, painting the halfling red. The ranger was washed by the flow from his owns wounds, he'd saved his eyes but his hands and arms were a patchwork of torn and bitten flesh.
Harold appeared dazed, he looked with wild eyes first at Harald then at Ivo. His chest heaved with relief, he still lived; he'd thought for certain that he would not survive. "Where is the orc?"
* * *
There was a screech, a sharp sparking sound like the teeth of a saw striking a nail hidden in a plank of wood. The snake opened its mouth, its tongue sticking out, its head swaying back and forth, it wailed.
Ghibelline gritted his teeth against the sound, clamped his jaw shut and launched himself at the beast. His sword gleamed with a nimbus of gold, an edge of spiritual energy that coated the mere sharpened steel. A line of fire burst forth where his sword cut the sinewy body, his blow still swept through the snake's translucent flesh but this time there was resistance. The shining red lines of the scales snapped and some did not rejoin as they had before. The fanged mouth ceased its noise, its body shuddered briefly at the wound, and its head came whipping down.
Ghibelline dived aside, but the snake brushed his shoulder and rolled him over. He slipped when he tried to rise. His sword shot up and grazed the creature's chin, the mouth closed with a chomp then opened in a sharpfanged grin. A knife slashed it just below its eye; the blade shone blue and sent a fiery burst of red where it cut the snake deeply atop its mouth. The beast jumped back, the serpent twisted in the air and scurried back from the glowing blade. There was a pause, the snake held back, drops of molten red dripping from its wound, they struck the air and smoked, disappearing in a cloud before they touched the ground.
Ghibelline scurried to his feet and as he did he heard the mage cast a spell.
"Koova-Lazi!" Telenstil called out. He blurred and seemed to come apart, and then there were six Telenstil's facing the snake with glowing knives of blue. He charged the beast and all five images followed suit.
Fangs pierced the magic veil, as Ghibelline's sword had passed through the snake before the blessing of the Saint, so the serpent met with no resistance and in a blur the image disappeared. A knife licked out, Telenstil and his four surviving duplicates all struck at once, but only one was real. A long line of red was drawn along the scales, the snake's body twitched in pain. Ghibelline rushed to join the fray; he first chopped its tail, the nearest portion of the beast. The sword cut it like a sausage beneath the edge of a hungry man's knife, the tail burned with flame, the gaping wound glowed with light like the heart of a fire.
* * *
Gytha had not been idle while the others fought. She bent down on her knees and prayed. The iron staff felt cool against her face, she spoke softly, implored the Saint for strength, and more than strength. Evil flowed from the snake, it coursed through its veins instead of blood, filled the venom sacks behind its fangs with a wickedness incarnate. This was no mere oerthly beast, no creature formed of magic; it was a denizen of Hell. Some vile serpent summoned to this plane by dark ritual and sacrifice. "Power!" Gytha asked from the Saint. She stood and raised her head.
Telenstil took a fearsome blow, the sight made her gasp, but the hissing serpent fanged an empty shell. Another image of the mage blurred into a haze and disappeared. Ghibelline gave the snake a glancing wound, his sword did little but the nimbus of gold ate into the transparent flesh like acid and left an oozing, smoking trail across the serpent's scales. The snake caught his arm, its fangs passing through his flesh harmlessly but the venom scored him deep. The elf cried out, his sword fell from a numbed grip and he collapsed.
"No!" Gytha yelled. "Go back to Hell!" she screamed at the snake and swung the iron staff, once a giant's kitchen skewer, but now a blessed weapon of her patron Saint. The metal pulsed. It struck the snake dead on and crushed its skull like a bug beneath a heel.
There was an explosion of red, Telenstil flung an arm before his eyes, a fireball he thought, but there was no heat. The mage could see the bones clearly through an arm whose flesh was redly lit, then a flash of white that made him blink. There was a crack like old wood snapping beneath the sun, then a whoosh, a sudden gust of air tugged at him, he threw down his arm. A hole had opened in the world, a rent no bigger than a robin's egg. It sucked in the broken remnants of the snake, stretching it long and thin, pulling in a stream of air that stirred the leaves like a hurricane. Debris danced and twisted around this hole till even the severed bit of tail was gone and then it closed with a plop like the bursting of a bubble on a pool of mud.
"Little Rat! What's the matter with you!" yelled Harold.
The young orc staggered to his feet. He spat out the severed half of one of the small furry beasts and coughed. "It bite, I bite back, taste pretty bad," he said and spit out a clump of skin and fur. "I feel sick," he put both hands to his head. "Room not stand still." he leaned against the wall then slid down.
"What's the matter, what's the matter..." Harold said nervously and bent beside the orc.
Ivo knelt there too and put his hand to the orc's head, it came away soaked with blood. "We had better get him bandaged quickly; he is bleeding, too much..."
"We'd better get Gytha..." Harold insisted.
Ivo pulled out a length of cloth and handed it to the thief. "Bandage first, he is hurt very badly. Here," the gnome pulled out a jar from his pack and opened up a metal lid, the threads grinding against the glass. "Put some of this on him. Take two fingers worth. I want some for Harald as well."
"Magic salve?" asked the thief.
"It will help him heal," Ivo replied. "Two fingers, come now, the ranger looks unsteady too."
Harold glanced over at his friend and saw him sway then put a hand against the wall to keep himself upright. The halfling put his fingers in the jar and scooped up two fingers worth of the healing goo, it felt cool and tingling on his hand then he smeared it across the young orc's face and chest. Little Rat sighed and his eyes opened.
Ivo snatched the jar away and picked a careful trail across the carpet of furry beasts. The creatures were harmless in the light, so he did not fear attack, but he cared for the jar of healing salve and his own balance across the monster-carpeted floor.
"Hold still I'm going to put some salve on your arm," Ivo tugged at the ranger's tattered sleeve.
"What?" asked Harald groggily.
"Sit down, you humans are too tall."
The ranger sank down much as the orc had, letting his back scrape against the wall. Ivo used a portion of the salve just on the ranger's face and neck. His ears were notched like the tattered ends of a ragcloth book. The salve mingled with the drying blood and went to work. Harald gave a groan from deep within his chest then shook his head to clear it. The gnome emptied the jar rubbing salve into both of the ranger's arms. There were many wounds and the jar was small, some cuts healed and some deeper wounds as well, but many more remained.
"Gibberlings," said Harald. He held a tiny body in his hand. The creature was dead; it hung limply like a child's doll.
"Yes, as I thought, though I've never seen their young before," Ivo said with keen interest in the tiny beast.
* * *
"He seems stunned," said Telenstil.
Gytha knelt by Ghibelline and brushed back the hair which overhung his eyes. It was a ragged golden-brown, cut short by his captors when they found him and growing back, unkempt and long, since then.
"I have prayed for him," Gytha smiled, "the evil has fled his body. He will heal; the Saint has helped in that." She looked up at Telenstil her smile fading and a serious expression now on her face. "I ask for the Saint's grace more and more it seems. I feel closer to him, lighter, so much of his strength has passed through me that the weight which burdened my spirit is gone."
"I am glad to hear that," said Telenstil, "We will need your strength, more than I had imagined. They will be worrying, can we move Ghibelline?"
"Yes, but carefully," Gytha put her hand under the elf's arm, "Take his other side." she said to Telenstil.
They lifted him, he was not heavy. Ghibelline was thin, his muscles flat and wiry. He had never been fat and his time spent in the dungeon of the giants had stripped away any surplus flesh leaving just muscle and bone covered with a stretch of skin. His head nodded back and forth, his chin bouncing against his chest as they half-carried half-dragged him within the ravine.
"We'd better stop," Gytha said as they stepped into the dark, "I cannot see."
"My apologies," said Telenstil, "I forgot that you do not have the sight."
"I do have a torch. Hold him for a moment while I get it from my pack," Gytha shifted Ghibelline so that Telenstil held him beneath both arms then realized that her pack was gone. "Can you hold him for a moment? I've left my pack behind."
"I can hold him," said Telenstil, "do not worry I am strong enough for that. Gytha I will take him, you go find your pack, come back with a torch."
"I will. Find your pack and his sword."
Telenstil carried Ghibelline away down the sloping trail into the dark. Gytha ran sprinting back to the woods to find her pack, her staff and Ghibelline's fallen sword.