The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 65
"What does that tell you?" asked Harald. The ranger bristled with impatience.
"Look, the wire is frosted near the end where I held it to the mist," Ivo held the piece of enchanted silver in his hand and waved it toward the ranger. "But further on it is merely cold to the touch. It tells me a little tale; listen and I will tell it to you."
"Sorry Ivo," Harald apologized, "I'm just worried about Talberth."
"I'm worried myself," said Ivo. "The mist looks no more than half a foot thick, the frost on the wire goes no further. The wire was not destroyed; it was not yanked from my hand, as it might be if magic had transported it. It is not bent, so no trap was triggered by it passing through the mist."
"That is no test for traps," the thief spoke up.
"No Harold, but what else do you suggest?" asked Ivo.
"Use that sword of yours," he said to the ranger. "Let it drag across the ground. See if there is a floor beyond that smoke, we could take a step and end up falling down a shaft like the one we saw back in the room of statues."
Harald drew the long blade and stared at it for a moment; he hated to use the blade in such a way.
"I don't think it will break," the thief said sarcastically.
"All right, I'll give it a try," Harald said, but he was reluctant and moved with excessive care.
"I thought you were in a hurry," Harold complained.
The ranger held out his claymore, the hilt in both his hands and let it slide across the edges of the mist along the frame. He felt a firm resistance and the blade ground against some unseen surface beyond the smoke-filled portal, but he could hear nothing from the other side. Using the strength of his arms and shoulders he pushed hard against the ceiling, the walls and the floor, but there was no result. Nothing gave, no trap opened up beneath the blade, only the feel of something that stopped the point from moving further and a growing cold which chilled the metal of the sword. "There is nothing," Harald said then the ranger stepped into the mist and disappeared.
"Wait!" Ivo and Harold called out together. The thief grabbed for the ranger and passed through the mist close on his heels.
"Hey!" Little Rat shouted. The young orc followed Harold without a moment's hesitation.
Ivo still held the silver wire in his hand. He looked at the mist filled gate for a moment then carefully bent the wire into four even lengths and slipped it into his pack, then stepped into the mist.
* * *
Chilling cold reached for him but Harald brushed it aside and stepped through the mist. It had only been the lightest touch then he found himself standing in the dark. The ranger stopped and tried to sense the room around him. There was a different feel then what he had expected. Through the mist his sword had pressed against some obstruction to the right and left, he shifted the claymore so that the blade swung to either side but met no resistance. Harald stepped back and as his foot slid across the stone floor something collided with his leg. It squeaked out with alarm and sent the ranger jumping forward in surprise.
"It's me! It's me," the halfling thief cried out.
"Curse it Harold," exclaimed the ranger. "You're lucky I didn't cut you in half!"
"What're you stan..." Harold began to say but Little Rat came leaping through the mist and knocked him down.
* * *
"...iiing!" Harold's word became a loud screech as he was knocked over and tumbled across the floor.
Little Rat scrambled to keep on his feet, bouncing back from the impact with the small but stout halfling that nearly sent him through the mist again. He steadied himself, a wave of cold passed across his backside which was partly through the smoke-filled portal. "Yiii," he shrieked, echoing Harold's yell.
"Stop playing around!" the ranger called out. "I can't see a thing, where is the light!"
"Ivo has the light." Harold grumbled. He had turned the tumble into a roll and came up facing the door.
"That's good," said the ranger, "I'm the one who needs it."
"It's your own fault," Harold told him. He turned around to face his friend and felt Little Rat grab him by the shoulder. "What?"
"Look!" the young orc pointed, his arm brushing past the halfling's nose.
"That's Harald," said the halfling, "what's the matter with you."
"No!" Little Rat pointed harder, his arm shaking, his finger jabbing at the space around the ranger Harald's side. The halfling leaned toward the side and crooked his neck, Harold's eyes widened as he caught sight of the creatures that Little Rat pointed a shaking finger at. The room was unlit except for a soft glow coming from the misty door but the halfling and the orc could see, their kind had eyes meant for the seeing in the dark. Old wooden frames that might once have been beds littered the room, the remains of tables, chairs, a row of shelves smashed down the center but their corners still hanging from the sides, and rising amid the debris were bones. A skull sat on a spine without ribs or arms, but it bent and brushed itself across a loose pile of yellow-ivory sticks. Like iron filings jumping to a loadstone, the bones joined with the spine. It shook like a wet dog and its ribcage clicked into place. As Harold watched at least six skeletons formed and began to clack toward them on their fleshless toes and heels. The ranger heard the noise and turned his head so that one ear was directed toward the sound.
"Harald! Behind you!" Harold shouted at his friend.
"What is there!?" the ranger brought up his sword so that the long blade waved back and forth, higher than the halfling's head. The point thunked into a skeletal chest, but Harald had put no force behind the blow and the point skittered over the monster breast bone and passed harmlessly between its ribs.
"Skeletons!" Harold exclaimed. "Hit it! You just poked one with your sword."
"Keep down," the ranger brought his claymore over his shoulder and swung the blade like a scythe. It struck a skeleton that leapt forward, the edge cut through its spine like a stalk of wheat, severed a boney arm on its way out and then the blade came up high over Harald's other shoulder. The fleshless legs and waist clattered to the ground, but the torso pulled itself toward the ranger, one hand reaching out; the stump of an arm scraping on the stones.
"Got one!" shouted Harold. "Only another five to go."
"I can't see them," the ranger said, "tell me when to..."
Bones shattered, the edge of the sword cut cleanly through an arm but the ribs broke against steel as the blade passed through. The skeleton's spine was severed high where its heart might have been; a shoulder blade spun away like a disk and the joint where its other arm pivoted back and forth split in two, the knob of bone and length of arm fell to the floor. Another skeleton was a step behind the first. It walked into the sword's path as it swung up from the ruin of the first, the tip lodging in its skull tearing the head free from the neck. Yellow teeth gnawed at the metal of the blade, the skull became a ghastly trophy at the end of Harald's sword. Both bodies fell to pieces and rattled upon the stones as they came crashing down. Whatever force animating them was severed by Harald's scything blade just as the bones of spine, shoulder and arm had been.
"Are there more?" bellowed the ranger.
"Yes! Yes!" shouted Harold. The thief ran forward, his small sword drawn, Little Rat pulled two smaller blades from hide sheaths he'd made from a wolf's pelt and attached to the old rope he used as a belt.
"Where?" the ranger swung his blade but this time through empty air. "I need light!"
"There is one about ten feet to your right," Harold called to him. "The left, the other two are on your left, they're near!"
The ranger turned the blade to the right, but at the halfling's word he brought it swinging to the left. The ranger clipped a wooden frame and thinking that he'd hit a skeleton, Harald drew the sword back and struck with all his strength. The ancient wood splintered, the frame flipped over and cracked apart, old cloth shredding into fragments billowing out in a cloud of dust. The corner post that formed a headboard broke away, one half sailing through the air. Teeth shattered from the still animated skull, it bounced from a wall only a moment after the broken post.
"You hit a bed!" Harold yelled at him.
"Hells, get me some light!" the ranger cursed.
"To the right!" yelled Harold. "No, the left!"
"Make up your mind!" grumbled the ranger.
A skeleton leapt over the heap of broken wood, it collided with the ranger as he tried to bring his sword around. Its bones were light; it had no flesh to add weight to its attack. The ranger's arm and shoulder knocked it hard and threw it back into the fragments of the bed. Bony hands closed on the ranger's arm, he could not bring his blade against it while it grappled him. From the left another skeleton clutched him by the throat, its fingers like a fist of branches, sharp ends gouging into skin. One handed the ranger used the pommel of his sword to beat away the strangling grasp. He spun and lifted both skeletons from their feet but he could not break their grip. The pommel was a poor weapon used blindly in the dark.
"Get them off me," the ranger gasped, but the halfling and the orc could do nothing while they shook clutching to both throat and arm.
"Stop twisting!" Harold shifted trying to find a place to strike a boney leg or hip without cutting the ranger as well. There was a solid crack, the metal pommel had connected and broke a skull like the shell of a hollow egg. Clawing fingers dropped from the ranger's throat, the skeleton fell apart like a puppet with its strings and bindings cut.
* * *
Dust began to billow, the shattered bedframe shook; loose pieces of wood fell from the rising bones. With unnatural strength it tore a three foot length of board from the pile of debris. The skeleton brought up its makeshift club and advanced on the ranger who struggled blindly in the dark. A blade gouged into its shin, a second hacked into its thigh and carved out a divot of bone. Little Rat howled out a challenge and tore into the skeleton with a flurry of blows. The boney horror stared down with empty sockets, it swung the length of wood, but Little Rat ducked beneath the blow. He sidestepped and brought his dagger skimming along the outstretched arm shaving off a curl, whittling the skeleton down with every stroke.
The ranger heard the young orc howl, he knew where the sound had come from but he could see nothing. One skeleton still clasped his arm, it clawed at him, finger bones digging into the sleeve of his shirt, each digit strong as a metal clamp. He could feel the flesh bruise, mashed beneath the crushing strength. The skeleton rattled, he shook it like a housemaid would shake the dust from a carpet, but he could not shake it loose. A flash of light lit the room, the beams swayed to the right then toward the ranger.
Ivo had come through the misty portal, the enchanted torch casting its rays into the room. Little Rat squealed, he brought up an arm to protect his eyes but the skeleton was unaffected by the sudden illumination. The board came down and this time struck the small orc squarely atop the head. There was a crack, part of the wood snapped off and a line of blood seeped from Little Rat's lank hair. Harold ducked his head, he'd been slashing at the skeleton that grabbed the ranger's arm and as he did he caught a glimpse of the light that that shone from Ivo's torch. The edge of his knife opened a foot long gash in the ranger's cloak, he'd try to pull his blow, only luck or the hand of fate kept him from doing the same to the ranger's leg as he did to the cloak.
"What's this?" Ivo said, startled as he walked into a fight. A pair of skeletal feet slapped across Harold's face, Little Rat growled and waved his knives but the skeleton with the wooden board struck him again. The ranger managed to shift his sword from one hand to the other and now that he could see, he deftly smashed in the skull of the skeleton hanging on his arm. Everything happened at once before Ivo could do more than blink. Blood was pouring from Little Rat's head; he staggered like a drunk on a three day binge, but managed to lash out with his knives. The blades no more than scratched the monster's bones. It raised its board again for a vicious stroke but there was a shriek of steel as a blade sliced through the air. There was a glint of metal, a dark shape passed above the young orc's head and the skeleton was gone. Arms, chest and spine were chopped cleanly through and flung back against the wall. The last of the skeletons was destroyed. The ranger's head twisted back and forth looking for another foe and Little Rat sat on the ground holding his bleeding head between his hands.
"Here is your light," Harold said to the ranger, nodding toward the gnome.
"Next time you're going through the door first," the ranger said to Ivo.
"Next time you'll take the light with you," Ivo told him.