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SilverHorn clung to the side of the rocky archway above the river of lava. Bats swooped and screeched all around him, but now that he wasn’t sitting up above the level of the rock, none of them seemed to be hitting him. It was bad enough that a couple had bitten him. He could feel blood trickling off him from a deep cut across his back.

It occurred to him that being under the archway would make even better protection. He scrunched his way down, all the time clinging to the stone with his arms and legs. They were skinny arms and legs that didn’t make much of a target for the blood-bats. When he hung beneath the arch like a sloth, he began to scooch his way along. First a hand, then a foot, then a hand, then a foot, and he had advanced. Over and over, he did this, with his nose pressed against the bottom of the archway. His hands began to sweat, and suddenly, he lost his grip – both hands slid off the rock, and he found himself hanging upside down. His hat fluttered off his head and down, down, down to hit the river of lava where it disintegrated in a puff of flame. With a desperate lunge, he pulled himself back up and wrapped his arms around the archway. Then slowly, slowly he made his way across the chasm until he bumped his head. Looking around, he saw that he had reached the other side. With some difficulty, he pulled himself back to the top of the archway and to safety inside a tunnel mouth that continued the trail.

After he got away from the chasm, he just lay there trying to regain his strength. The floor was warm, rocky, and uncomfortable, but SilverHorn was so sleepy – he fell asleep anyway . . .

Rrraff and the Balrukh watched SilverHorn inch his way to safety. “Arrr! Him not fall into hot rock,” complained the Balrukh. “Him no fun! Lezz go!”

The Balrukh turned to his left and began to walk along the chasm edge. In a few places, the path grew so narrow that the Balrukh had to cautiously edge along with his body pressed up against the rock, although there was plenty of room for Rrraff to just walk by. As they proceeded, the quiet beat of the drums grew louder and louder.

“What are those drums?” Rrraff asked his gargantuan guide.

“Thoze arrr worship drumz,” said the Balrukh. “Cave goblinz worship my father, the big, big Balrukh. “

“But where is the iron bridge?” asked Rrraff.

“Izz beyond the villajj of cave goblinz,” his huge guide told him.

They must have walked more than a mile. The noise of the drums grew deafening, almost maddening. The path turned back into a tunnel that led away from the chasm. The tunnel widened out into another huge cavern, not as large as the one they had left behind, but big. Strange looking huts filled most of the space. They seemed to have been constructed from slabs of mushroom meat. None of them was more than five-feet high.

Standing in the center of the village was a Balrukh at least 50-feet tall and he held in one massive hand a flaming whip. By contrast, Rrraff’s companion was a very small monster, coming only to the great one’s knees.

“HELLO, LITTLE TROLL!” boomed the big, big Balrukh. He cracked his whip above Rrraff’s head.

“Loork, father,” crowed the little Balrukh. “I bring yuu a troll for supper, or maybe for a pet. He izz funny troll – make good pet.”

“HAR, HAR, HAR!” boomed the huge Balrukh. “What say you, troll? Would you rather be my supper or my pet? Do you know any tricks?”

Meanwhile, Taran had followed along behind Rrraff and Rarrkk. Keeping out of sight, he crept quite close to the Goblin’s village. What he heard made his blood run cold. Rrraff had walked right into a trap . . . The question was, would Taran follow him in and try to rescue Rrraff, or would he turn back and try to make it back to the stone archway?

Meanwhile, the mad dwarf asked Gimor a potentially embarrassing question. “Are you a funny looking small Dwarf, or a funny-looking small Troll?”

Gimor thought fast. “Ummm, my father was a Dwarf, and my mother was a Troll. I am a half-breed called a Droll.”

The mad Dwarf laughed, and led onwards toward the oasis. He wasted no time when he got there, but quickly found the flat stone with the rune for ‘Out‘ chiseled into it. Gimor noticed that someone had used chalk to scratch out the rune for out, and put in the rune for ‘Danger, Do not enter!

The Dwarf stomped past the warning and down into the tunnel. For a moment, he was ahead of Gimor. The Troll had a momentary opportunity. But . . . would he seize it?

(to be continued)

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