Thursday, 12 June 2014
The False Moon War: Chapter 14
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Chapter 14. The Escape
Bessie's headlong flight took them beyond the bounds of Rychek's map. For a time he guided her in what he hoped was the right direction, but in one chamber he was confronted by two identical arches and had to admit that he was totally lost.
A deep voice called from behind, "May we play through?"
A party of nine adventurers squeezed past the bastiladon. Their leader, a tall gray wizard with a pointy hat and a glowing staff called a brief halt. "I have no memory of this place..." He murmured.
"Don't go that way," offered Mahtis helpfully as he pointed to the way they had come.
The wizard ignored him. "The dwarves have delved too deep, and awakened a terrifying horror."
An excessively well groomed blonde elf with a bow gasped, "....not split ends!"
"No, you vain idiot! Come along, we must not tarry!" the wizard led his motley followers through one of the arches.
Rychek was about to lead Bessie after them when he heard the slap-slap sound of bare feet on stone. From the darkness behind he could see a pair of pale green lamp-like eyes appear.
"Gollum! Gollum! Did you see a tricksy Bagginses pass by, Preciousss?"
The voice belonged to a small, cadaverous creature with pointed ears. His disproportionately large hands and feet terminated in froglike digits.
"No.......We didn't see any.... tricksy Bagginses....." advanced Joe cautiously.
"He must be wearing the Preciousss!" hissed the wretch, and he sprang into the gloom in pursuit of the nine walkers.
"While we are stopped," said Mahtis, "you guys should look at this. One of the drums from the marching band got stuck up here."
He tucked the bass drum under one arm and began to beat it rhythmlessly with his fist.
Seconds later, there were answering drumbeats and whooping war cries. A party of cave goblins scuttled up like heavily armed crustaceans.
"If you are looking for a wizard with a hat, a vain elf, a grumpy dwarf, two men, four halflings and a large frog, they went that way." Rychek indicated with Gork-on-a-Stick.
The goblin chief touched his brow and led his ululating warriors into the darkness.
Rychek shook his head and made ready to follow when the sound of pounding strides and clanking chains made him pause again. A cave troll caromed into view and stopped, blinking at them.
"That way!" Four lizardman voices chorused, as they pointed down the increasingly undeserted tunnel.
"Fanks!" the troll grunted as he ricocheted away brandishing a large stone club.
"Let's not go that way," Rychek decided. "It's too crowded."
They took the other path.
As they continued over a flaming crack and approached a narrow bridge, Rychek took stock of their situation. "We've no gold left, we don't know where we are, and we may have caused some slight offense to the local population. How can things get any worse?" he moaned.
A tremendous roar like the sound of two rough boulders being scraped together in the heart of a volcano emanated from the tunnel behind them. The startled lizards saw a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and a terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.
With a rush, it leaped across the fissure. The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and a black smoke swirled in the air. It's streaming mane kindled and blazed behind it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left it held a whip of many thongs.
"Over the bridge!" cried Rychek. He dismounted and stood his ground. The others halted just within a doorway at the hall's end, and turned, unable to leave their leader to face the enemy alone.
The monster reached the bridge. Rychek stood in the middle of the span, leaning on Gork-on-a-Stick in his left hand. The creature halted again, facing him, and the shadow wreathed about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils.
But Rychek stood firm. "You cannot pass, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow! About five hundred metres back, then take the second left! They went that way!"
The monster suddenly drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall. From out of the shadow a thunderous voice grated, "Much obliged!"
The Balrog of Morgoth furled its wings and trotted back the way it had come.
Rychek had no idea where they were. Rather than take a guess at the next fork in their path, he called to Bob and Joe. "Go in there and ask for directions." They were pulled up outside another tavern with the ubiquitous tankard sign out front.
"It doesn't say "Ladies Night" again does it?" Bob ventured cautiously.
"No. It says "The Blue Oyster." It should be OK."
Bob and Joe pushed through the swinging doors and waited for their eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. As the pair threaded their way between the rough, beer stained tables, they became aware that something was wrong. These dwarves had well groomed moustaches and wore just a bit too much leather. It seemed that every second pair of beady eyes winked at them over the top of a non-alcoholic guava daiquiri with an umbrella and strawberry on the edge of the glass.
As Bob and Joe sat on a vacant pair of stools at the bar and attempted to attract the attention of the barkeep, one of the dwarves minced over and perched beside Joe. "Hello, Darrling. Yee're new aroond heere. Can I buy ye a drrink?" He fluttered his mascara laden eyelashes.
Rychek gasped in surprise as Bob and Joe burst through the saloon doors leaving them flapping on their hinges. They leapt for the howdah.
"Go! Go! Get us out of here!" Joe jumped off again and started pushing Bessie's rump to get her moving.
"Which way?" asked the baffled Rychek.
"I don't care! Just go!" Joe cried as a score of faerie dwarves spilled out of the pub.
"Coome back, Sweetie!" The dwarves were pursuing as fast as they could, but even Bessie's slow plod outpaced them. Dwarf feet are very....not well suited to high heels.
The party eventually halted. There was no point going on. They had reached a gallery which offered them five alternative and equally unpromising paths. They agreed that they would each explore a tunnel, then return to compare notes.
Rychek jogged along his tunnel. Could this be the way out? There was a warm yellow light, like sunlight, flickering weakly around the next bend. He stepped around the corner to be greeted by a shout.
"Thay'res the blue daevil who drove puir wee Kenny MacLavatory o' Esse Bend to sobriety!" A mob of dwarves wearing white hats and coats were before him, some with burning torches, some with brushes.
"Come tae us ye fiend! We'll shoo ye that the Guild of the Regular Stool make poowerful enemas!"
The skink turned and fled.
Bob did not get far up his chosen path before being confronted by none other than Randa MacTavi o' Lence and her screeching pack of she-dwarves.
"I've a grudge 'gin ye, Lazard! Noow try to kell me short, with nae teeth!" She raised the chair leg she had carried with her from the far side of the mountains.
Mahtis had explored only a short way up his tunnel before he was assailed by a dreadful sound. The din was like a banshee wail. The sheer physical force of the cacophony would surely have killed him, had he not been spawned earless. What remained of the Karak Andstick Combined Pipes and Drums had reformed, with a vengeance.
Joe crept stealthily into his dim tunnel. He stuck to the shadows, sliding his back along the wall. Even taking these precautions, he was unable to escape detection.
"Yoohoo! Is that ye, Darrling? Aboot that drrink?"
The four breathless explorers arrived back simultaneously. "That way!" they shouted in unison and urged Bessie into the yawning mouth of the one remaining passage.
In time, this passage widened and led upwards. The smell of stale beer and unwashed beards which they had grown used to in the dwarf hold began to fade as a point of light grew ahead of them. The light grew in size and intensity until they could see that it was framed by a huge stone arch which was blocked by a flimsy orange and white barrier.
A dwarf stood behind the barrier with his chin resting on the haft of a large hammer. His eyes glinted as he appraised the group and their beast.
The party dismounted and stood in front of Bessie. Rychek stepped forward, "Erm," he said glancing back up the tunnel nervously, "Could you please remove the rune of magic binding from our solar engine. Please?"
"There is," the dwarf solemnly declared, "a wee fee."
"No, no, that's all taken care of! I kept the receipt, see?" Rychek held up a square of paper with a brown smear on it.
The dwarfs knuckles whitened as he gripped his hammer all the tighter.
Bob pulled Rychek back, "Let me handle this!" he hissed. To the dwarf he said, "Look, it turns out we are short on time and short on money. Short e...."
He had been about the say "short even on food and water," but had paused because he fancied that he had heard a shrill voice call "Lazard!" up the echoing passage.
The dwarf's eyes nearly popped out of his head and he stormed around the barrier. "Shorty is it? Ai knew ye were coming. Mae cousin runed me aboot yeer soily manners and yeer magicky beastie."
The dwarf pushed between Bob and Joe to confront Rychek, who stood half a pace in front of Mahtis. "And ye. If ye've no means to pay the fee, then yon beastie and yon magicky doodad are forfeit to the hold of Karak Andstick. And ye can get yeer halfwit brother oot mae way!"
"He ain't my brother. He's my heavy." Rychek stepped aside.
The dwarf, following the skink with his eyes, did not even see the approach of a large scaly fist. He must certainly have felt the crunching impact on the side of his head, but made no further comment as he slumped to the ground.
"Bob and Joe, get the gate! Mahtis, take the Rune Hammer o' Anti Magic!" Rychek urgently organized his troop. "Toss the dwarf out of the way!"
"Nae one tosses a dwaaaa.a..a..a...a......." a weak voice protested as Mahtis flung the border guard into a convenient chasm.
Rychek did not unclench his bottom until Karak Andstick was many, many dwarfish miles behind. An enema of the guild never feels comfortable.
"Those lady dwarves were terrifying!"
"There are worse things!"
"Bob, Joe. Can I join your argument?"
"Oh, this isn't an argument."
"Yes it is."
"No it isn't."
"Yes it is!"
"An argument isn't just contradiction."
"Well! It CAN be!"
"No it can't!"
"An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition."
"No it isn't!"
"Yes it is! 'tisn't just contradiction."
"Look, if I "argue" with you, I must take up a contrary position!"
"Yes but it isn't just saying 'no it isn't'."
"Yes it is!"
"No it isn't!"
"Yes it is!"
"No it isn't!"
Mahtis wisely decided to leave the masters to their work.