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Hidden in the waterweeds, Taran watched as Rrraff and a Balrukh walked by. The Balrukh continued in the same direction that he had been going and then said, “Here izz way out!”

“Yes,” said Rrraff, “it even says ‘Out‘ on the stone.”

“Funny markz sezz out?” asked the Balrukh. “Rarrkk not hear anything.” Rrraff laughed, then his head disappeared. The Balrukh, who had towered above him, now seemed to grow shorter and shorter until he disappeared too.

Taran got up from his hiding spot and cautiously followed them. He soon came to a large flat stone set into the ground. Scratched into the surface of the stone was the rune for ‘Out.’ Just beyond the stone was a good-sized tunnel that dove steeply into the earth. All around it bamboo and other plants grew tall and thick. One would never see the tunnel except from this angle.

Taran looked down into the darkness. He couldn’t see a thing. Slowly and cautiously, he followed Rarrkk and Rrraff into the tunnel and away from the cavern.

Rrraff and his friend walked for a long ways through a tunnel that twisted back and forth. Twice they passed side tunnels that branched off from the main passage, but the Balrukh ignored them. The big guy had fallen silent, and speeded his pace, almost seeming to forget his small companion as he moved through the tunnels. A faint glow emanated from his body as if there were inner fires inside the Balrukh. There were . . .

A fiery glow began to reflect off the cavern walls. Suddenly the passage opened up and they could see that they now stood on the verge of a steep cliff. A hundred feet below, a river of red-hot glowing lava moved slowly through the darkness with a hissing, grinding sound. Rrraff also noticed a faint drumming noise coming from his left.

The Balrukh pointed straight ahead. “Loork! Sumwunn izz onn brijj.  Har! Har! Har! Da batz sull gert himm!”

Da bats'll get immm.

Looking straight ahead, Rrraff saw a humanoid figure, apparently sitting on the rock arch with its legs dangling over the side. As he watched, a dark form swooped down at him. The figure flailed something at it, and the form veered away. That something looked suspiciously like a hat.

Rrraff ran to the edge of the cliff for a closer look. That someone on the bridge looked familiar. Yes. It was SilverHorn, trying to inch his way across the stone arch without falling to his doom. Bats, the size of hawks, were fluttering around him, and occasionally one would dive at him out of the gloom.

As he watched, Rrraff heard a cry of pain, and saw SilverHorn lurch sideways from impact with a diving blood-bat. The Shadowjack threw himself flat and clutched the stone arch with both hands, and wrapped his legs around it. The bat had knocked him to the side of the bridge, and he had almost fallen.

Rrraff started forward to run across the bridge and help, then stopped when he realized how narrow and dangerous the archway was. That could be him getting battered by blood-bats.

“Starp!” said the Balrukh. “Dat izz not da way. We wartch him fall. Den we go to big Balrukh and iron brijj.”

Rrraff was torn . . . should he go out on the stone arch and try to help SilverHorn, or maybe call for him to come back, or should he stick with the Balrukh? Should he break away and run down the cliff-side trail to his right, or to his left?

Taran moved up to less than 10 feet behind Rrraff and Rarrkk. He could also see SilverHorn’s plight, and could hear every word that the people in front said . . .

Meanwhile, back in the cavern . . .

“Where is my treasure?” shrieked the Dwarf, advancing menacingly on Gimor with pickaxe raised to strike.

Gimor could identify madness when he saw it. This Dwarf was clearly insane, a homicidal maniac. Gimor wondered if he could take him with the use of the sword.”

“I don’t have your treasure!” he shrieked back at the mad Dwarf, brandishing his own sword menacingly. “But I know where it is! It is far beyond this cavern in the tunnels leading out!”

“Then Glumli kill,” screamed the Dwarf, crouching as if to spring.

“I will show it to you,” said Gimor thinking quickly. “Just come with me and we will get that treasure together.” Gimor had no idea where the treasure was, but all he wanted to do right now was avoid the fight.

“You show Glumli?” said the Dwarf in a more moderate tone, more of a bellow than a shriek. One could almost see the wheels turning in his mind: ‘Let the Troll show me the treasure. Then I will kill him.’ “You show Glumli, or Glumli show you,” said the Dwarf menacingly, slapping the pickaxe head against a calloused hand.

“I will show you,” said Gimor. “We have to get out of this cavern first – maybe down there where the pool and the plants are.”

“Yes, that is a way out,” admitted the Dwarf. “I know that way. It leads to hot lava-river.”

“But that’s what the legend says. Beyond the lava river is the dragon’s treasure.”

“Glumli has been beyond the lava river,” said the Dwarf. “Glumli did not find the treasure.”

“Do you know the secret signs,” asked Gimor. He was getting into this mock treasure hunt now, carried away with his own imagination. “Did you see the golden rock shaped like a rutabaga?”

“Glumli no see rutabaga rock! You tell Glumli secret signs, or Glumli kill you!” The Dwarf was back to shrieking and almost hopping up and down.

“Then you will never find the treasure,” said Gimor calmly. “I will tell you the secret signs one at a time as we need to find them. Right now, we need to get out of this cave, and find the rutabaga rock in the tunnels.”

“Grrrrrrr!” growled the Dwarf, gnashing his teeth. It sounded like rocks grinding together. “You come with Glumli. We go to out tunnel now.”

Cautiously, Gimor accompanied the Dwarf. “Hey, my name is Gimor,” said the Troll. “We should be friends. Our names both start with G.”

“You are right!” said the dwarf. “Gristlegrim, great god of Dwarves starts with G also. It is a sign! Are you a funny-looking Dwarf, or are you a funny-looking Troll?” He looked at Gimor expectantly . . .

In another part of the caverns, three Goblins were fighting two badly injured Trolls and a wounded Ogre. The Goblin standing above Mahrundl’s badly wounded form snatched up a rock, one handed, because Mahrundl had broken his wrist with a lucky blow.

As he hefted the rock for the killing blow, a streak of purple fire shot into him. Tmuwo had cast another Take-That-You-Fiend spell, and it knocked the goblin backwards into death. Mahrundl gritted his teeth, reached down, and pulled the spear out of his body. It hurt worse than anything he had ever endured, but once the spear had been removed, the wound began to slowly close.

Tmuwo stood up where Mahrundl could clearly see him. He was tottering and weaving so badly he could barely remain erect. “The ring!” he shouted.

The Goblins fighting the Ogre looked back and saw that their comrade was down, but that his killers looked to be failing. They broke off their attack on the Ogre, who took that opportunity to clumsily lumber off in another direction, and charged toward Mahrundl.

Mahrundl slapped his forehead. He might be able to use magic the same as Tmuwo. But he might fail. If only he had thought of it earlier. With great regret, he tore the ring off his finger, and faded out of the race.

Tmuwo also removed his ring. There was no chance of winning now, and no point in dying. They were out.

(to be continued)

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