“I’m Rrraff,” said Rrraff. “What’s your name, Mr. Balrukh?”
“Har,” laughed the Balrukh. “Mar name izz Rarrkk.” He stood up. By this time, the giant cockroach they had been eating was just a few battered pieces of carapace and inedible parts. “Lezz go!”
“Do you know the way out of this cavern?” asked Rrraff.
“Izzz many wayz oudda hirr,” said the Balrukh. “Warrr yu wanna go?”
Rrraff didn’t really know where he wanted to go. “Urrr, all the way to the end,” he said.
“Izzz no end,” said the Balrukh. “Goezz many wayzz. Yu wanna zee Goblinzz? Yu wanna see big Balrukh? Yu wanna zee big metal brijj over hot stone riverrr?” Yu wanna zee room of magikk waterzz? Warr yuu wanna go, liddel fellar?” asked the Balrukh.
Meanwhile, SilverHorn considered his dilemma. He thought that he’d be ok, if he could just break through this wall of rock in front of him. It couldn’t be too thick because there was already a hole in it. He tried kicking it a few times. That hurt his foot. He needed some sort of tool, even a big rock would help. He went back into the passage, but this time he was carefully looking for a big rock he could use.
But he got all the way back to where he had entered the earth-crack through the hole in the floor. There he listened very carefully to find out if the Troll was still around. He didn’t hear anything, so he cautiously crept out, and after some searching, found a jagged piece of rock weighing about 20 pounds on the floor. With this in hand, he re-entered his secret tunnel and made his way back to the end where the hole in the rock was. Then he took his stone tool and tried to chip the hole bigger than it was, or just break down the curtain of rock entirely.
After a good deal of pounding, SilverHorn managed to break enough rock out of the thin curtain in front of him to enable him to crawl through it.
On the other side, he found himself on a narrow path leading to left and right. Directly in front of him was a steep drop, and at the bottom, red-hot lava rolled slowly down through the earth – a line of fire that reached as far as he could see in both directions. The opposite side of the chasm seemed to just be a stone wall.
As he stood there wondering what to do, SilverHorn faintly heard a slow but steady drumming come to him from the left . . .
By the pool, Taran found some sturdy bamboo growing out of the shallows. He picked a nice straight one, and battered at it with his bony club until it cracked. Then he twisted it back and forth until it splintered and finally broke off. That left him with a hollow piece of bamboo about 8-feet long. He pulled off the little twigs, and ate the leaves – he had heard somewhere that bamboo was edible, though it didn’t taste very good.
After considerable searching, he found a sharp piece of rock a few feet past where the plants stopped growing and stone took over. There was a small pile of such rocks and, far overhead, a crack in the ceiling – it looked like they had fallen from above. With the sharp rock, he was able to cut one end of his new spear into a point. When he finished, he laid aside the bone club – it would take two hands to use the spear effectively.
Then he went hunting. He walked into a shallow weedy end of the pool and stood still for a while, keeping as motionless as possible. Finally, he saw a big fat frog. Waiting, waiting, waiting . . . thrust! And he skewered that frog. With a hoot of triumph, Taran pulled the amphibian off his spear, ripped a leg off and bit off a tasty mouthful of meat. In a short time, he had finished off the tasty morsel.
With the edge taken off his hunger, Taran began to think about the race again. A person could survive quite a while where he was, but he wouldn’t win by staying at this pool. It could be an advantage to have food to take along with him, or it might just slow him down and allow someone else to pass him and win the race . . .
Mahrundl and Tmuwo edged their way through the cavern. They began to hear squeaky voices and roaring. Cautiously moving toward the sound on their stomachs, they looked over a rise and saw a combat taking place. Four Goblins armed with short bamboo spears and bucklers surrounded a two-headed Ogre who was armed with a massive stone club. The Goblins darted in and poked at the Ogre with their short spears, trying to slash at its necks or ankles. The Ogre swung devastating swipes of his club, which the goblins seemed to easily dodge. Although, the Ogre must have connected once because a broken goblin body could be seen lying some twenty feet away from the current combat.
Suddenly Tmuwo groaned. “Ahhhhhh!”
The fight stopped and five sets of eyes turned in their direction. Tmuwo and Mahrundl quickly ducked down behind the stone. “What’s wrong with you?” hissed Mahrundl.
“A surge of fiery pain, and now I feel weaker,” said Tmuwo.
“Poison!” they both said together.
Below them, the fight resumed.
“That fight looks like a standoff right now,” said Mahrundl. “If we joined it, we could probably insure victory for either side. The winners might be so happy for the help that they would be our friends and help us with the race.”
“Or they might just see us as a common foe, and then gang up on us and slay us for interfering,” said Tmuwo.
“True,” said Mahrundl, “but we’re not much of a threat to either group by ourselves. And if they were grateful, they might be able to cure your poison-bite. Surely this kind of thing happens a lot around here.”
They thought about it . . .
”Aaarrrrgghhh!” groaned Middleclaw. “That just felt like a needle of fire going through my foot.”
“Poison,” said Gimor. “We need . . . that is . . . you need to do something quickly or you’ll probably die. It’s too late to wash out the poison now. You’ll have to burn it out, but luckily, you’re just the Dragoll that can do it. Great heat will break down the poison and neutralize it . . . I think. Flame that foot, Middleclaw, or die.”
As Gimor delivered this grim news, he edged backwards, ready to put a stalagmite between him and Middleclaw in case the Dragoll lost his temper.
“Flame my own foot, or die!” said Middleclaw incredulously. “Noooooooooooooooo!” His howl of denial and pain could be heard throughout the cavern . . .
Rrraff and Rarrkk looked up. “What was that?” Tmuwo and Mahrundl looked at each other. “Something is dying!” said Mahrundl. Taran jumped to his feet and looked all around. He saw nothing alarming.
Middleclaw blasted his own foot with cleansing fire. The pain was intense – so intense that he passed out. His foot had become a charred and smoking thing. (Actually, it looked and smelled worse than it really was – only the surface layers of hide were burnt, and the blood in that tissue dried up – muscles and bones were not harmed much at all.)
“Claw, Claw, Middy, are you alright?” asked Gimor. There was no reply from the unconscious Dragoll.
Gimor thought that Middleclaw might die. Or he might survive if Gimor removed Middleclaw’s ring. There were possibilities here. Probably the best thing to do would be to simply take the magic sword and leave Middleclaw to his fate. Or take the magic sword and do a mercy killing . . .
(to be continued)