Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - part 69

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - part 69

"Telenstil, Derue, both of you come with me," said Gytha. She held up a torch freshly lit from the small fire and ran toward the center of the hall. 

"I will cut you free," Telenstil said to Derue. "Please do not make me regret my action." 

Derue remained silent but he bowed his head deeply as Telenstil passed his dagger's blade through the rope. The razor-edge split the cord as if it were made of straw. 


They found them together, Gytha and Ghibelline, he seemed to breath easier but she had not called upon her Saint to heal him yet. His shirt was off, his side was black, the color stretching from his armpit over all his ribs on the one side and a handsbreadth below them. The skin around the elf's chest and stomach were a brownish yellow, painful just to see. 

Gytha glanced up as Telenstil approached. 

"It looks worse than it is," she said. 

"It feels worse than you can imagine," Ghibelline complained. 

"I can more than imagine," said Telenstil kindly, "I have been injured so myself, I can sympathize." 

"Thank you, but sympathy does not lessen the pain," replied Ghibelline carefully. Just breathing made his ribs ache. 

"No bones are broken," said Gytha, "I will wrap your chest tightly, you will hurt but it will fade." The people of her own lands, the wildland of hills and mountains that looked down upon the lowlands of Geoff, endured the pain of such small injuries with no complaint and little note. She felt for Ghibelline but saved the powers granted to her by the Saint for greater wounds. 

"We came through intact then," said Telenstil. "Good." 

"Why did the ground shake?" Gytha asked as she cut a hide shirt into long strips. With skilled hands she took the lengths of skin and wrapped them around Ghibelline's chest and sides. His arms were raised to shoulder height and they quivered from the strain. Old scars and wounds recently healed by Gytha's prayers crisscrossed the elf's back like a crude map, purple welts on pale fair skin. 

* * * 

The corridor was no shorter on their return, to the young mage it seemed that at least half of forever passed before they reached the ramp back up to the pillared hall. Harold rode on the bigger Harald's shoulder, the halfling happy as a child. Ivo sat upon one of the ranger's arms with his own arms folded across his chest, trying to retain a little dignity while the halfling laughed and joked. Talberth lead them, he was eager to reach Telenstil, tell the elven mage of what he'd found and return to the rooms beyond the mist-filled portals. He walked fast and Harald jounced behind him to keep up. 

"Stop that!" Harald yelled at the halfling. 

"I'll fall off," the halfling complained, "I need a saddle up here." 

"Well stop pulling my hair, it's not a set of reins," grumbled the ranger. He slowed and the sharp tugging at his hair stopped. 

"Put me down," Ivo said firmly. "I've had enough of this." 

"I won't go so fast," Harald reassured the gnome. 

"Talberth, Talberth!" 

Talberth halted but he didn't look back. "We are almost there. See," he pointed, "there, that is the way back up. I'll go on ahead." 

"Talberth," Harald snapped. "Hey!" 

"Let him go," said Ivo. "And put me down. He's right, let him go." 

* * * 

"I can barely breath," Ghibelline winced as he spoke. He had both hands on his ribs and inhaled through clenched teeth. 

"But does it still hurt?" asked Gytha. 

"Yes, well not as much," he admitted. 

"Telenstil," Gytha called to the mage, "we have come through this, but what of the others?" 

"They've gone exploring, and to find Talberth," Telenstil answered quietly. "I have lead our expedition badly, too many years I have spent accompanied by friends and companions of a hundred fights. We are all too independent and not yet attuned to each other, and I have been too lax." 

"Telenstil you must lead us, you must not waver," Gytha told him firmly. 

"I will," Telenstil said, "do not worry. Forgive my worries and lessening of resolve. I would that all of us were here, that our mounts and supplies had not been lost and that our mission was done. Instead we have paid for the wounds we have inflicted with wounds of our own. We may have to pay a greater price." 

"Whatever the price," Gytha said, "I will pay back Nosnra and his kin for what he has done to mine." 

There was a tap on Telenstil's shoulder and a gentle tug at his sleeve, Derue pointed across the chamber and cupped his hand to his his ear. 

"Shh..." Telenstil hushed the others. "Yes, I hear it." 

"What?" whispered Gytha. 

"I hear it," Ghibelline said, "footsteps." 

Derue disappeared behind a pillar, Ghibelline reached for a sword that wasn't there, he'd left it by the packs and Gytha held her torch like a club, prepared to fight. Only Telenstil did not reach for a weapon or draw back. He listened and a smile crossed his lips. 

"I know the sound of those feet," he told the others. "It sounds like Talberth in a hurry." 

"You have good ears," said Gytha. 

The footsteps came hurrying across the floor, clapping on the tiles in a quick uneven cadence. Even Gytha could hear them, but to her surprise they seemed to pass them by. 

* * * 

"Talberth!" Telenstil called and the footsteps came to a sudden halt. 

"There you are," the young mage called back. 

They could see the light from his amulet shining between the pillars as he approached. "What happened here?" 

"One of the golems began to come alive," Telenstil explained. "It would not obey my command." 

"You destroyed it?" Talberth asked with respect tinged with regret. He shined the light of his amulet up into the hollowed pillar where the golem's upper body had been, then higher up to the ceiling. The roof was fractured like a window of thick glass that had been struck by a rock. 

"More that it destroyed itself," said Telenstil. "Is Ivo not with you, and the others?" 

"They are almost here," Talberth approached and gave a start as Derue stepped from the shadows. 

"What is he doing loose?

"Derue has rejoined us," Telenstil nodded toward the man and he nodded back, "Gytha has freed him of the curse, and I detect no more evil within him." 

Talberth rolled his eyes in doubt but said nothing. 

"I am glad to see you safe," said Telenstil, "but it seems some ancient ward has been woken. It was that which tried to revive a golem. I am worried that the trap which captured you may have set something in motion throughout this ruin." 

"Someone approaches," said Ghibelline. "He can hear it too," the elf pointed to Derue. 

The scout nodded and casually pointed to the side of the hall. 

"Is that singing?" asked Ghibelline. 

"It is," said Telenstil with a smile. "Harold at least seems to be returning."

They did not have to wait long, the singing wavered and was replaced with a deep grumbling voice whose wordless complaints almost drowned out the much higher and lighter replies. Ivo lead them, walking a few paces in front, Harald still carried the halfling who sat behind his head and the young orc who was slung ungraciously over the ranger's shoulder. 

"...get down and keep quiet," Harald said to the halfling. 

"Ivo!" Telenstil went over to the gnome, reached down and clasped his shoulder. "Glad, very glad to see you and the others safe." 

"We had our troubles," said Ivo. "It seems Talberth found his own way out, but we still had to drag him away." 

Beside them Harald lowered Little Rat gently to the floor after reaching back with one hand and pulling down the thief. He caught a handful of the halfling's shirt and lowered him to the ground like a puppy clutched in its mother's mouth. 

"Gytha," Harald said, "here, this one needs your help." 

"He sleeps," she said examing the wounds on his head. "Not good," Gytha rolled back the orc's eyelids. "Harald, hold that light closer. Yes keep it above my head, but close." 

"How is he?" Harold asked, concerned. 

"He will need the Saint's grace. I will call for his aid," said Gytha. 

"Do what you can," said Harold, "please." 

"I will, do not worry," Gytha told him. 

"Let her pray," said the ranger. He drew the halfling back and they joined the rest of the company where they had gathered near the shattered pillar. Man, elf, halfling and gnome sat or crouched on the ground in a rough circle. Nearby Gytha prayed for the gift of healing to be bestowed on the young orc. Telenstil smiled at the sight. 

* * * 

"Leaving!" Talberth cried. "We can't, there is too much here." 

"Talberth, the danger outweighs the reward," Telenstil explained calmly. "We have rested, somewhat at least, now it is time for us to move on." 

"We can't," Talberth waved his hand about trying to summon up the words that would convince them but he could find none, "I can't." 

"Will you abandon us?" asked Telenstil. 

"No, no," Talberth. "Of course not." The mage squared his shoulders. "But here, this place, it may contain magics that would destroy the giants completely." 

"There is power here, yes," said Telenstil,"and I do not know. You could be right, but look around, the power is not ours to control." 

"If we spent the time we could control the power," Talberth slapped his fist, "I know it." 

"I am sorry Talberth," said Telenstil, "I do not agree. We will gather our packs and go. Come everyone, I wish that there had been more time for us to rest but we need to leave here now." 

"It will still be dark out," Harald said. 

"Better to be outside in the dark than in here any longer," Telenstil replied. 

"I'll go see what it is like out there," the ranger volunteered. 

"No," Telenstil shook his head. "No, we go together." 

"Telenstil, a little scouting won't hurt." said Harald. 

"It will no doubt help," said Telenstil, "it has helped, but not so far ahead. We will face what lies in wait for us together. Our strength is greatest only when we are not divided." 

It was Harald's turn to shake his head, but he did not press his objections further. 

* * * 

"How is he?" Harold asked. 

The halfling knelt beside Little Rat and watched the slow rise and fall of the orc's chest. 

"Healed. Sleeping now," smiled Gytha. 

"I brought your pack," said Harold, "you heard?" 

"I heard," she yawned. "This one will need to rest, we will need someone to carry him. Where are the others?" 

The halfling looked at her with a quizzical expression. His eyes widened and he slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. "The orcs!" 

"Could they have escaped?" Gytha asked. 

"I'd better go find Telenstil," Harold rose quickly, he scanned the room trying to decide where the elf had gone. 

"Ask Harald to come here," Gytha called after him as the halfling took off at a run, "he needs to carry..." but Harold was already out of sight. Gytha busied herself with her pack, it contained little enough. With her horse and main supplies destroyed by the giants, the small bag she had brought with her on the raid of the steading was all that she had left. she would need to call upon the Saint's bounty for mere sustenance if they could not manage to supply themselves and this Gytha hated to do.

They'd taken hide pelts from the giants' hall and made crude sacks and cloaks from them. Beef cut from the body of giant cows, a herd slaughtered by magic bolts, filled some of the hide bags. The meat, blackened by fire, was wrapped in uncured leather, but it would not last. Already it had begun to decay, in a day the green rot would take hold if they could not spare the time to cook or cure the meat and then they would be left only with the crumbs of hard rations in the bottoms of their packs. 

The smell from the hide sack she carried made Gytha wrinkle her nose and beside her Little Rat did the same. His eyes opened and he pushed himself up on his elbows. A long tongue licked thin lips and he yawned. 

"Hungry," the young orc said. "What smell good?" 

* * * 

They looked like balls of fur, no sign of head, or legs, or even life. The gibberlings carpeted the floor of the passage, they were mere pups, but they would claw and bite if even the tiniest spark of life remained. Light was the only thing they feared. A torch would make them cower and run, and brighter light would freeze them in their tracks, drop them into motionless huddled shapes that would not move to save their lives. 

Ivo and Telenstil were the last to leave. The elven mage had sent the others ahead to wait by the opening that had been clawed through the ceiling by the pack of gibberling adults. There had been forceful words spoken to Talberth, the young wizard hemmed and hawed and dragged his feet, not wanting to leave his friends, but desiring to stay and explore the ancient ruin. At the last Talberth turned his back on the chamber of pillars and monstrous golems then marched sullenly away. 

"Look at them, the wee beasts," said Ivo. 

"Amazing," nodded Telenstil in agreement. "At a different time I would stay here with Talberth and explore." 

"I'd send for my cousins back home and look through this place properly," Ivo chuckled. "The things you find when you can't do anything about them. It reminds me of when I was young, long time ago now," He held a torch in his hand and lowered it to a pile a sticks and rags as he spoke. The flame leapt and danced among the tinder bursting into a blaze then dying low. "That should hold them," said Ivo. He left the torch atop the fire and retrieved a magic stone from the floor. "Don't want to leave this behind." 

"We had best join the others," Telenstil said wistfully. 

As Ivo put the magic stone away, placing it back within a metal sphere that he snapped shut with a loud click, the hall dimmed. Instantly the gibberling young began to move. Those furthest from the fire were partially hidden from its light. Some disappeared back into the pillared hall, most shifted but the flickering light from the fire was enough to hold them still. Ivo and Telenstil beat a hasty retreat down the passage and rejoined the rest of their companions. The fire would burn for some time, more than long enough for all of them to escape back to the forested hills above.

* * * 

"There you are!" Ghibelline was the first to see their approach. 

"Is everyone ready?" Telenstil asked. 

"As we will ever be," answered Gytha. "Harald has been arguing with his little twin the whole time. We are going to abandon the orcs?" 

"It is too late for them, as I said," Talberth spoke sharply. 

"But did you see them..." Gytha went on. 

"They wouldn't have survived, I wouldn't have either if I hadn't known the words to say and the language to say them in," Talberth replied. "They're gone." 

"Let us be off then," said Telenstil. "Harald, can you climb up, is the rope in place?" 

"I told you," the ranger said. He seemed to speak to all the others at once. "I can climb it, but I've been waiting here. Gytha insisted." 

"She was right," Telenstil said quickly before Gytha could reply. The elf felt the tension which radiated from one to another. They had not found rest within the ancient ruins, and leaving it seemed to have brought out the strain that their flight from the giants' hall had set upon them. "I want us to stay together and not to break off into smaller groups or disappear one by one," he looked at each of them. "Harald you are our scout, but more caution is needed, and that means lesser distance." 

"A scout is best left on his own," said Harald. "What good can I do if we all walk into a trap together?" 

"Any warning will be of a help," Telenstil replied. "We will face any traps together, and our strength combined will overcome them. If a trap takes you, as this place almost did, then you will not be able to help us. I know you are used to scouting for your wildland patrols, but this is different, we are not scouts or soldiers, and we do not wish to lose you even to save ourselves." 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 68

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." 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 67

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 67

"How do we know it's you?" questioned Harold.

"How do I know it is really you two?" Talberth replied sarcastically. "This is pointless, Harald put down that sword."

"You're just trying to confuse things," Harold complained. "What happened to you? Where's Ivo?"

As if summoned by his name Ivo stepped through the portal still holding the silver wire that the ranger had let fall. Blinded by the mist he walked into Talberth and made him jump. With a flick of his wrist Harald moved the tip of his sword aside; the point was only inches away from Talberth's chest. The cloth of the mage's robe pressed against the sword's keen edge and split as did the soft shirt underneath.

"Ouucch!" Talberth's hand flew to his chest and his fingers came away wet with blood. "Watch it!" he yelled at Harald.

"Sorry," Harald apologized as he lowered his sword.

"What are you three playing at?" asked Ivo. He stepped around Talberth's legs and scowled at them all.

"Is this Talberth?" the little thief asked Ivo.

"Of course it is Talberth, and I'm me and you're you," Ivo rebuked him. "Now let us get back to the others."

"But Ivo," said Talberth, "there is so much here that we need to explore."

"Too much," Ivo replied. "What we need is rest, and a place of safety. This ruin provides us with neither I'd say."

"We are safe enough now," Talberth insisted, though his hand touched the hole in his shirt and the drying trickle of blood from the scratch beneath. "Now that I know what to say, the skeleton's and the wraith will lis..."

"Wraith!" Harold squeaked out alarmed.

"Do not worry, I talked with it. It obeyed my commands," Talberth said to Harold but he looked from face to face, "really we are perfectly safe."

"We need to talk with Telenstil first," said Ivo. "Talberth you were supposed to return if you found anything."

"Well I would have," Talberth said slightly annoyed, "but I was knocked out and manacled, I didn't get the chance."

"Before such a chance as that happens again let us be off and back to the others." insisted Ivo. "Harold, go collect your shadow."

"Little Rat," Harold's eyebrows rose, "if he's gone to sleep..."

"But Ivo we are safe," Talberth's voice had a pleading tone.

"Talberth you know better than that," Ivo shook his head. "And even if we are safe, what of the others?" the old gnome held up his hand to silence Talberth's objections. "Save your arguments for Telenstil. We are leaving; do you want to abandon us to search this ruin?"

"No, no," said Talberth. "This place is powerful, I know it."

"I do not doubt that," Ivo agreed.

"We may be the first people here in a thousand years," Talberth mused.

"These skeletons are still lively," said Harald. The ranger lashed out with his boot and sent a pile of bones clattering across the floor.

"A thousand years... then the time it takes to complete our task against the giants will be very short compared to that," Ivo said to Talberth.

"I will be back," Talberth said to the ancient walls.

"Ivo," Harold half dragged the young orc along, "do you have magic to help him. He wants to sleep and I'm having trouble keeping him awake."

"I'll carry him," offered the ranger.

"Here," said Ivo, he took a small pouch from his belt and opening it waved the contents back and forth beneath Little Rat's nose. The orc's eyes opened wide and he gave a huge sneeze, Ivo rescued his pouch just in time, pulling it away with a quick move of his hand.

"Smell bad," Little Rat complained and sneezed three times, one after another. 


A spark of greenish light danced within the carven pillars. It ran down the spine of a dragon whose head braced the ceiling stone, then followed a pattern of tiles till it reached the base of a fire giant bringing brief color to the grey rock. When it reached the eyes a red gleam awoke but faded as the spark ran past. There were cracks that radiated out from a hole broken in the roof. A block of rough stone wedged the gap shut and time had locked it in place as if it had been set there on purpose by a conscious hand.

Circling like a leaf caught in a whirlwind the spark jumped around the web of cracks. It flared as it leapt through the air, a sharp smell of brimstone and a puff of smoke followed its path. The spark touched the outstretched fingers of a storm giant and swam down the side of the statue.

Telenstil's nose twitched, the brimstone smell wafted down through the still air. The elf had been in deep thought examining the stone ogre that had been animated and seemed to obey his command, but the sharp scent brought his attention back to the chamber and the statues which surrounded him.

"Do you smell that?" asked Ghibelline.

"Yes," Telenstil answered. "It is very faint. Up there," he pointed to the ceiling.

They could see nothing. Rings of pillars blocked their view, a forest of statues each depicting some huge beast or monster running from the floor to the roof. The two elves walked slowly toward the center of the room, but the smell became weaker dissipating even as they approached its source. There was a sound, Telenstil put out his hand and Ghibelline halted beside him. Their footsteps were almost silent on the tiled floor but some small faint noise was nearly masked by them. Stone scraping against stone, that was the sound. It came from high up toward the roof and to their right. Both elves could see the tiny glow but they still could not see what made the noise.

Telenstil gestured, the movement of his hands and fingers cutting through the air like an ingot of molten iron leaving a momentary trail of haze behind. "Lo-Ta No-Tu," he said and pointed toward the spark of light.

It was like a tiny sun erupting from the dark; the eye of a spreading lacework of power that spread down the side of the pillar. Now they could see what made the grinding noise, it was the statue pulling fingers loose from the ceiling high above. The blaze of magic revealed by Telenstil's spell lit the stone arm like a burning tree, its branches in full flame while tongues of fire licked down its sides.

 "Something has awoken," said Telenstil.

"Can you control it?" asked Ghibelline, alarmed.

"I will try," Telenstil put out his hand; he whispered a word in a tongue that Ghibelline could not understand. "Ker-Zer," he said and placed his hand against the pillar. A line of glowing fire flowed down from the spark; it ran inside of the stone and burst from the spot that Telenstil's hand touched. White light flared and the green line was snuffed out in a fury of sparks. A splinter of stone sheared away from the statue and a shower of debris came falling from the roof. The statue shuddered and its upper body twisted free from the pillar.

"Ker-Zer!" Telenstil shouted. The stone exploded beneath his hand, the fragments shot to either side and a crack like thunder echoed across the hall. Above them the giant turned at the waist but its lower half did not move. It split in half and as the two elves watched it began to tilt and slowly fall, both stony arms reaching out radiating a green light, an intense blazing mote at its heart.

* * *

Ghibelline threw himself against Telenstil and dragged him around the side of the pillar as the statue fell. It struck like an avalanche, stone shattering the tiles and breaking apart under its own massive weight. The boom was deafening, the floor shook; a nearby pillar shifted on its pedestal and a rain of rock and stone came down.

A bouncing chunk of granite knocked Ghibelline from his feet; it caught him in the side and sent him tumbling. Telenstil was stung by a spray of knife-edged fragments from the shattered tiles. The wounds were minor, Ghibelline's side felt as if sharp needles had been driven along his ribs but his skin was not even broken. The blow left a large black bruise edged with brown and fading to yellow where the stone had struck.

There was only a moment to react, Telenstil crouched above Ghibelline and called upon the power of his ring. "Fa-Er To-Re," he commanded in ancient Suel. A globe of power surrounded them, in the dark it could not be seen, clear as glass but stronger than steel. As the stones rained down they rebounded from the curved perimeter of the spell and landed to either side of the elves.

The torso of the giant landed near the center of the room covering a pit whose depths were swallowed by darkness. One arm broke off at the massive golem's shoulder, half the head was blasted away by the impact with the floor. There had been a passage beneath the chamber. It had ended in an open door emptying into the pit a man's height down from the edge. As the floor lifted from the impact the roof of the passage caved in, the torso of the giant slid shoulder first catching between the doorframe then tearing free. The frame was ripped from the sides of the opening and followed the severed golem as it smashed from side to side falling into the dark.