SilverHorn emerged from a hole in the rock. He had a chipping stone in one hand and a top hat on his head, and nothing else. The darkness of the caverns had been replaced by a fiery glow, which came up off a river of lava flowing about a hundred feet below the edge of the underground cliff. The hot rock made a curious grinding hissing bubbling noise as it moved sluggishly through the caverns below Khazan.
Off to his left drums sounded – slow, muffled, ominous. SilverHorn cautiously began to pick his way to the right. At places the path he was on narrowed to less than a pace in width, and in other places, it widened to more than his own height. After several minutes of walking, he came around a bulge in the rock and found the intersection with another path.
To his right a tunnel opened into the stone. To his left, a narrow span of stone arched out above the lava river. It was no more than 3-feet wide in any place, and there was no railing to keep one from plummeting to his doom on either side. Ahead of him, the cliff-side path continued on into the darkness. Behind him, the sound of drums . . .
Taran decided to thoroughly search his little oasis of life in the desolate caverns. He couldn’t see all parts of it because of the heavy growth of bamboo and other water plants, and also because of the thick stalagmites and curtains of rock that rose from the cavern floor, cutting off his view. He began a cautious, counter-clockwise circle of the oasis. But, it seemed much the same in one place as in another.
Then he heard voices. They were both deep growly voices. He hid to see who or what was coming. A few moments later, he saw a very tall figure and a shorter one walking together like old friends. The tall one, a young Balrukh, spoke in a thick voice.
“Thiz izz der main trell oudda da big untin cave,” it said.
Taran saw that the short figure beside the Balrukh was his old friend Rrraff. Looks like Rrraff had found a guide. And the guide knew the way out – something he would have found on his own in just a few more minutes of searching.
Two possibilities occurred to Taran. He could emerge from hiding and join Rrraff. After all, he had a spear, and the Troll still had nothing but a big friend. Or he could wait, let them go by, and then follow them . . .
Meanwhile, Tmuwo and Mahrundl had made a decision. They would help the Ogre beat off the Goblins with a sneak attack on the Goblins from behind. Tmuwo would start with a Take-That-You-Fiend spell and Mahrundl would rush a Goblin. They hoped the Ogre would be bright enough to counter charge and smash the other two.
Tmuwo stood shakily, pointed his kalimba at the rearmost Goblin, concentrated and intoned the magic words, “Die! Die! Die!” Purple energy streaked from his instrument and struck one of the tiny warriors, and that Goblin went down.
Mahrundl howled a battle cry and charged, swinging the bone club that Tmuwo had given him, ferociously, but not very aptly. One Goblin turned to meet him, parried the club with its bamboo spear, and with a deft move, rammed the spear into Mahrundl’s stomach. A good six inches of bamboo emerged from the small Troll’s back. As he fell, Mahrundl managed one extra blow that struck the Goblin on the wrist and broke it. Then he went down in agony with bamboo piercing him from side to side.
The Ogre tried to redouble its attack, but apparently, it was already weak. The two remaining Goblins dodged its clumsy blows and gashed it on the legs with their spears. Two more lines of dark Ogrish blood oozed onto its pallid skin.
Mahrundl gaped in disbelief at the spear running through his body. It hurt so much. His thick Trollish blood was eating away at the bamboo, but darkness was creeping in around the fringes of his vision. He remembered that he had a way out of the race – all he would have to do is take off the Trollgod’s ring.
Tmuwo could see that the plan was a disaster. His spell was the only thing that had hurt the Goblins at all. Another spasm of pain ran through him, and once again, he felt weaker when it finished. The poison was doing its work. Still, he thought he could probably cast one more spell before the end, or perhaps he could get away if the Goblins focused on the Ogre . . .
Gimor honestly thought that Middleclaw was dying. The Dragoll had dropped his sword when he passed out. He thought briefly of slaying him, but there was no need. He straightened out the Dragoll’s fingers, found the ring, and pulled it off. As he did so, both ring and racer vanished with a pop of displaced air. Middleclaw had been sent back to the Trollgod.
Gimor reached out and took the sword. A voice in his head said, “You are not the chosen one.” Ignoring the voice, Gimor tried to move toward the center of the big cavern. For several minutes, he advanced cautiously. Cresting a rise in the ground, he saw ahead and below a patch of green and yellow – some kind of living oasis in the cavern. Two figures were approaching it from another angle. He intuited that that would probably be the best direction to proceed, but suddenly . . . a voice interrupted from behind.
“Where’s the treasure, Troll?” something said in a very mean tone of voice.
Spinning around, Gimor saw a Dwarf approaching him with pickaxe in hand, and he looked ready to use it.
(to be continued)