The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 15
Date: Wed, October 21, 2020
A Hole In The Ground
The dim light was swallowed by the dark. The color faded first, the red blood on his hand went pale then the black came over the edges of his sight like an island sinking beneath the waves. Harold felt a sudden weakness, the world began to swim; he remembered standing on a ship as it approached a harbor in a storm. The world rolled and shifted all around him and then the light was gone, as if a lone candle had been snuffed out. The world returned first with sound,
"...ainted. I think." a voice spoke above him; then he felt a bitter metal taste on his tongue. His mouth was dry, and filled with clotted blood, gummy and foul. Harold shifted, coughed and hacked till his throat was clear and strained, then croaked out a few words.
"What happened? What hit me?" he asked, but the words came out rough and garbled.
"He live? Not dead?" Little Rat asked cheerfully.
"I think you fainted," said Telenstil.
"You should have bound those wounds," chided Talberth.
Harold groaned and sat up on his elbows, he looked like a corpse animated by some foul priest or necromancer, rising from the dead.
* * *
"We fight," Boss told them, "that one try kill us."
"With his arms and legs tied?" Talberth did not care for the scout but he cared even less for the orcs. His voice carried with it the derision he felt for both them and their lies.
"I believe them," the ranger came to the orcs' defense. "Back at the steading Derue used his hands and feet like I use a sword and bow, if he had not been bound I think he would have killed them all."
"Yea, he fight first," Boss insisted, "we just stomp him. He kick me, kick them too." the orc gestured to his three followers with a nod of his head. "Not carry him anymore." the orc said firmly.
"He can't be carried anymore," Gytha said. "Not trussed up like the carcass of a deer. The ropes will cripple him, he has a powerful spirit to have survived this long and be able to fight. I will have to try to heal him. I will need to prepare myself; there is an evil within him."
The young cleric looked even more exhausted to Telenstil since he'd climbed down to the stone passage. She'd insisted on helping Ghibelline descend and she'd nearly collapsed in the same way as the halfing had just done when she reached the cracked tile floor.
"Will that evil sustain him?" asked Talberth.
"Let him be, it seems that he is still strong enough."
"That evil will consume him, it will use him alive or dead," said Gytha. "I would not consign a foe to such a fate, and Derue was not our foe."
Telenstil's voice surprised them, normally calm and friendly, his one word sounded bitter and filled with hate.
"This evil has claimed a third of us, Henri, Edouard, Derue, I think that none of us felt friendship for them, but they fought beside us, they were our companions. The three who were the most estranged, they fall to this evil first, that is the nature of what we have come to fight against. This evil force is insidious; it is a curse which draws out the worst aspects of ourselves. We shared some harsh words with Derue, but that was all, he is one of ours, not one with those we fight."
"Telenstil, I have had to give the mercy stroke to friend and comrade when they have lain wounded and could not be saved," said Harald. "Sometimes that release is the only way. If we cannot save Derue from this evil and cannot leave him and cannot take him with us, then we must end his suffering, I would have you do the same for me."
"Death will not release him from this evil," said Gytha, her voice sounded far away. "Death will only bind him further to the evil that has touched him. While he lives there is hope, if he dies that hope will almost disappear."
"We have few choices it seems," Harald looked down sadly at the body of Derue.
"Yes, we will choose," said Telenstil.
"If we do not, time will choose for us," Ivo added.
"I will pray for healing," Gytha said firmly. "I will try to drive the evil from him. The Saint will lend me his strength."
"Gytha, you should rest before you try this," Telenstil said gently, his brief spell of anger had passed.
"He needs to be healed."
She could hear the rattle of Derue's breath, shallow and unsteady.
"You have healed many of us and you gave us strength and sent that snake back to the hell that spawned it, rest before you try this," Telenstil said to her.
"I will not let him die or the evil conquer him. I cannot serve the Saint and let that happen," she answered.
Harold wandered back down the hall with Little Rat in tow. Ivo and the ranger had come along as well; the four walked to where the gibberlings carpeted the floor but went no further.
"What are we going to do with them?" asked Harold.
"We need do nothing for now, they are helpless in the light," Ivo answered him.
"What if there are more of them?" Harold wasn't satisfied with the old gnome's answer.
"What is beyond this hall?"
"Who can say..." Ivo began, but the ranger interrupted. "There is a huge hall with pillars shaped like many beasts," said Harald, "and there is a pit at its center, but I only saw a small part the chamber."
"You should have waited for us," the halfling said with a tinge of anger, "you were supposed to come back and say if you found anything."
"I'm better at giving advice than following it," Harald smiled at his friend. "But I'm glad you showed up when you did. You were supposed to leave me and have Telenstil head north."
"I know when to take your advice and when to ignore it," said Harold. "Ivo, what is this place?"
"I don't have the answers," Ivo looked down at the small gibberlings. "Some think the gibberlings to be created beasts; some enchantment may have spawned them. This may be a wizard's home of old or a temple of some sort," the old gnome mused. He felt the blocks which formed the floor, traced the seams and followed them to the wall.
"A temple," said Harold, "I don't like that."
"I don't care much to be in some wizard's hall or a temple," the ranger began to clear a path through the gibberlings as he spoke. He used his feet to sweep the piled bodies against the walls.
"Ivo," Harold called to the gnome, "Ivo!"
The old gnome was lost in thought, his mind running along the grain of stone, following the smooth seams that showed where one black stone ended and another began. "Harold," he said without turning.
"Do you have another lightstone?" the halfling asked.
Ivo shook his head. "No, that was my only one, but hand me a torch and I will cast a spell. It won't last like the stone but it will not use up the torch or go out if you drop it."
* * *
"Gytha, I wish you would rest before you try this," Telenstil said quietly.
The cleric had taken a metal cup from her pack and blessed its contents, plain water she'd poured from her canteen. "This needs to be done; it is something that I should have done before."
"I know you, Gytha. If you did not attempt this back when we were on the hill then you had good reason," said Telenstil. "The evil that has cursed Derue is strong."
"The Saint is stronger," Gytha said firmly.
"I am no priest, I do not seek to test your faith," Telenstil said to her, "but Gytha you are not your Saint, you have done much today, do you have the strength? Please think on this before you act."
"I have thought," said Gytha, "It is not my strength that matters, only my faith. I know what needs to be done, no matter how great the evil the Saint is stronger."
"Can I help you? Can any of us?" Telenstil asked.
"Your magic would slay Derue before it harmed what curses him," said Gytha. "I am ready now." She carried the blessed water and her metal staff and stood above Derue. She breathed deeply and bowed her head. "Saint aid me..." she began.
The air was filled with a musky smell, Ivo's large nose twitched but his mind was deep within the stone. Dwarves could feel the weight of the hammer, the edge of the chisel, the grain of the wedge used to split the stone just by touching the seams between the blocks, or so it was said. Gnomes became part of the oerth, looked out from the stones. They saw the hammer as it struck, felt the crack as the rock split and the great loss as the one was broken into the many.
It was long ago that the stone before him had been cut and set. Ivo saw it as a swift flash, the years streaming backward in darkness till there was a brief explosion of light and movement, a stirring across its surface. The touch of passing hands, the drum of feet, it felt like the brush of an insect's wing. Then there was the rending, the shock of separation and back into the memory of a larger whole and timeless unhurried being.
"This place is old..." Ivo said aloud. He laughed, all that he had felt, a thousand years at least summed up into so small a word as old. "It has been empty for a very long time."
"Ivo," the thief called back to him, "we've cleared a path; can you cast that spell?"
"Spell? Ah yes," Ivo brought his mind back to the present and away from the ageless rock. "Light, we need some light. Hand me that torch."
The halfling complied and watched with interest as the gnome cast his spell.
"Hey!" said Little Rat. "Light coming, look!" he pointed back the way they'd come.
"That doesn't look like a torch," said Harold. "It must be a magic light."
The ranger watched the glimmer slowly approach. "Maybe a lantern," Harold thought aloud.
The gnome only half listened to them as he worked his spell. His hand traced a pattern on the wood and he mouthed the gnomish words that sent the magic forth. Light blazed from the torch's end twice as bright as it would have shone from a rag soaked in burning pitch. Harold shielded his eyes and reached out but the ranger plucked the torch from Ivo's hand and held it high above his head.
The light shined down and lit the hallway bright as day.
"It looks like Talberth and the orcs," said Harald.
"Do you see the others?" asked Ivo. It's hard to tell from here."
Harald peered down the hall, he tried to see past the young mage but there was no light beyond the glow on Talberth's chest. "I can't see, maybe they are coming after."
* * *
She breathed out and let the blessed water fall from its cup, pouring it out over Derue's wounded form. Time slowed to a crawl, the water shone like a stream of jewels, the light from the small fire she'd set nearby catching the droplets as they fell. There was a prayer in her mind, she'd thought it before the first word passed her lips and then she was above it all looking down. Her sight was beyond her body, outside of it but she was still inside. She felt the muscles in her hand as she turned the cup, the beating of her heart; she heard the stillness around her disturbed only by the harsh rasps of breath coming from Derue.
The droplets fell, one almost struck Derue but a shell of hellish red appeared around the scout. The water smoked and vanished in a flash of steam. A dozen droplets followed, they burnt like golden fire and ate the shield like hot water over ice. The red became a mouth, a serpent's head; the falling water lashed it with a hammer blow. The snake rose and twisted, the water formed into a rod, a gnarled cudgel. The fanged mouth reared back, the cudgel made of light smashed down, both splintered into a hundred fragments gleaming red and gold.
* * *
A fragment of light, a swirling spark of red meshed with gold shot toward her. Gytha recoiled but her body was down below, she had no eyes to blink, she was only spirit detached and formless. Time had slowed, the falling of the water, the battle between the serpent and the power of the saint, and the shower of gleaming sparks, they had moved like a falling leaf on a windless day. Time returned, the burning ember, the shard of evil and good came rushing up, it struck and she was seeing through her eyes again. A dozen fiery splinters stung her arms and face, the cup fell forgotten from her hand and she stumbled back, a small cry of shock and pain escaped her lips.
"Gytha!" Telenstil exclaimed, he had been watching her, standing back by Ghibelline who lay unconscious, healing as he slept.
Gytha clenched her hands and cleared her head. All her senses came flooding back, for an eternal moment she had been both spirit and flesh, now she had returned to just her purely mortal guise. There was a shock, a tingling that ran through her hands and feet as if lightning had struck nearby.
"Are you hurt?" Telenstil asked. He was by her side, she had stood frozen while he approached, but to her no time had passed. The moment that time had stretched and slowed had snapped back, she lost a few seconds in recompense.
"I'm fine," she said in a quavering voice. "Fine," Gytha pulled her shoulders back and squared them, steadied her voice and willed strength back into her limbs. "Now I must heal him."
Deep below the Steading a dank chamber was lit only by the dull embers of a dying fire. Its occupants lay dead in the vast chamber beyond, but the room still held their scent, thick and pungent. Two huge apes had laired within, pets to their master who shared the room. The musk they extruded fought against the stench of the giant's unwashed flesh.
The keeper, his name forgotten, had been a malformed wretch, but his hunched and distorted form had not hindered his great strength. Now the massive arms lay still, the flesh lifeless and corrupting, but a malign spirit burned within the rotting corpse. No prayer had been said, his body lay unhallowed and desecrated by the revolting orcs. Inside the body was a seed of undead life fed by an anger that kept the spirit of the keeper bound to the dungeon and the inanimate flesh. Suddenly the flame burst into life, a voice called to the keeper and he called back; A scream of pain, of loss, a hiss that crackled with fire. The power of the divine burnt it though the serpent was made of flame. A portion of it died, a limb cut off, the severed end came thrashing back and desperately sought another host. It felt the spirit of the malformed giant, felt the anger, the overwhelming hate. The serpent knew the call would be answered and lent the giant strength. Dead flesh moved, a red light burned within the cold staring eyes.
The keeper rose, he touched the gaping wounds, a swollen tongue ran across blue lips, a thumbless hand reached up and felt along the crack across his skull. The hand came back, granules of dried blood coating the fingertips. The keeper put them to his tongue, there was no taste, but he smiled anyway. The call came again. It sent shivers up his spine. The shivers turned into a rootwork of fire that traced a path across his nerves.
"Ardare..." the voice called to him. "Ardare..." it demanded.
"I am here," a sepulchered voice broke out, no lung or cord of muscle had made the sound. The fire that burned behind its eyes came from the spirit world, it was not fed by air or flesh; the keeper lived but was undead.
* * *
"What kind of monster is this?" asked Harold.
The halfling peered at a column sculpted in the shape of dozens of tiny creatures, each no more than two feet high. The stone was carved into a human shape, two arms, two legs, a head, but with baggy skin and a wrinkled scowling face. A bulging middle was set on spindly legs, a jowly chin on narrow shoulders; a pair of glaring eyes deep beneath beetled brows, behind a huge bulbous nose and framed by wide protruding ears.
"That is a type of gremlin," said Talberth, "A jermlaine."
"Vermin," Ivo said with some distaste.
"They certainly abide with rats, but it is said that they are distant cousins of the gnomish race," Talberth continued.
"Foul lies!" Ivo exclaimed. "They are cousin to rat and gremlin, not to gnome."
"An ugly beast," said Harold. "Is this their size?"
"Maybe they were bigger when these stones were carved," Talberth said, "but they are smaller now, some just half this size, no more than a foot tall."
"Look at all of these," Harold walked from column to column as they made their way to the center of the room, "That is an ettercap, a merchant I knew had a pair of them to guard his wealth. He kept them, and more importantly his treasure, in catacombs beneath his manor."
"They plague the Dim Forest, ally with spiders and the like," the ranger added. He'd gone on ahead, found the pit again, returned and now stood beside them. "They are skilled at setting traps and filled with poison."
"All the pillars seem to be carved in the shape of monsters," said the ranger. "We could spend hours looking at them."
"These carvings are wonderfully done," Ivo said, "but we waste time, you are right Harald. Show us to this pit."
They passed by a dozen more of the columns, the creatures carven on them grew, from ettercaps to ogre's and trolls, then giants and as they neared the center of the room the columns were shaped into the form of great dragons, their forelegs raised, their heads down and their spread wings forming the vaulting roof. The power of Ivo's spell shone further than Harald's torch had done. They could see the top of the pillars and the roof of the vast hall. The apex of the ceiling was split, a center stone slipping from the grip of the adjoining rocks. Below, the cover of the pit had fractured and fallen down into a dark and bottomless shaft. Harald leaned over the crumbling edge and held the enchanted light above, it lit the sides and showed the walls of the shaft; dark openings could be seen, like the hollows of eyes in a fleshless skull. Four gaps were set some twenty feet down, each opposite the other like the points on a compass, but there was no floor,
"You think the gibberlings came from there?" asked Harold.
"Maybe, but their marks seem to be everywhere," the ranger bent and felt along the edge of the pit. "Just like the other..."
Ivo stood at the ranger's side. "We could climb this," he said looking at the grooves cut into the side of the shaft.
"Maybe. I wasn't able to check the entire chamber, there may be other doors or other pits," the ranger said.
"We could throw those gibberling down this hole," suggested Harold.
"If it didn't kill them they would just climb back up," said Ivo shaking his head. "This pit is an open door, I hate to leave it at our back but we need to see what else might be in this chamber. Talberth, the light on that torch will not last much longer, can you renew it?"
"I know the spell, but I do not have it prepared," Talberth told him. "Just light the torch, Harald do you have any more?"
"I do but I hate to waste them."
"No waste when there is need," said Ivo. "But I say we return to Telenstil. I want to hide the opening up above, make it appear that the ravine is choked with falling rock, keep the giants from doing such if they follow the gibberlings' path back to here."
"There are things I need to gather, wood for one, and I want to check our trail," said the ranger. "I will go back."
"Well I'm leaving the orcs here," said Talberth, then he thought for a moment. "No, I'll stay as well. These carvings interest me."
"I'll stay," Harold joined in. "I want to look around myself."
"Me too!" Little Rat spoke up cheerfully.
The Keeper's thumb squirmed like a worm. It wriggled free of the orc whose body lay on top of it. The Keeper paced across the floor, bent, and reached out his hand, severed bone met and knit with a glow of red. A laugh boomed out from the giant's throat, deep and hollow, as he flexed his hand, five fingered once again.
"Ardare..." he croaked out from a drying, bloodless throat, the voice was in his head. "I come, I will be there."
He pulled open the cell door, what had taken half a dozen orcs to move he flung aside and nearly tore the hinges from the frame. Ardare lay where it had fallen, half buried among the moldy hay that filled the cell. At the Keeper's touch it burst into flame, the hay began to smoke, it was too damp to burn.
"Ardare!" the ghostly voice screamed out. "I serve you. Avenge me!"
* * *
"I count six dragons," said Talberth
"There are twelve pillars in the next ring," called Harold.
"What are they?" asked Talberth.
"Six are giants, the other six... I don't know."
Talberth walked to where the thief was standing. A horrific figure was carved from the stone, skeletal limbs that looked as if they would creak into motion at any moment, a scorpion's tale barbed and hinting of cruel venom, and in its hands a strange curved spear.
"A demon," said Talberth, "You are lucky not to know them by sight. I have fought them. Such as these were sent against Telenstil once when I was his apprentice."
"Half the ring of pillars are giants," said Harold. "The other half are these."
"Have you seen any writing?" Talberth asked.
"These carvings look familiar," said Talberth, "I think this place was home to the Suel from ancient times."
"Suel, old Suel ruins," Harold was intrigued, "good treasure to be found in such."
"Danger as well," but Talberth could not hide the excitement in his voice.
"What treasure interests you?" asked Harold.
"The Suel were the greatests of mages, the very word 'Magi' is theirs," said Talberth. "We might find magic that has not been seen for a thousand years, but we have to make sure it isn't used against us."
"What do you think this place is?" Harold looked from figure to figure.
"I've seen gallerys and trophy halls that these sculptures bring to mind."
"There is the hall of fauna at the university back in Greyhawk," said Talberth, "or the chamber of summoned beasts at the College of Sorcery in Dyvers, but neither are as fine as this. I wonder..."
Talberth turned a ring he wore so that the green gem set in its face was palm-down and only the silver band could be seen. He clenched his fist and held it out as if he were using a dousing rod, "Vres-ko Magi!" he intoned and a ray of silver light shot from the metal band. It spread wide till it was as broad as three men standing shoulder to shoulder and reached out for a score of yards. The light did not dispel the dark, it revealed nothing beyond what the ray actually touched, but when the light ran against a pillar, the carving glowed with blue. Talberth turned in a circle and bathed each column that crossed his path with the magic light.
A deep, fierce blue erupted from the center of the stones fading to a dull haze at the surface where the figures had been carved. Two pillars glowed with a different light, an ogre dressed in ancient banded mail and a minotaur; its horns and hooves sheathed with what must have been metal plate. Each was lit with a green enchantment that seemed to pulse with life.
"Maybe we'd better go back to the others," suggested Harold. He did not like the look of the figures and their green glow.
"Imagine, a thousand years and the magic still lives," Talberth spoke reverently. "All of these..." he waved his hand at the surrounding pillars, "all have some enchantment within them, but these two... look... the magic still burns bright."
"I can see," Harold edged away from the carvings, "and I don't like it."
"Nonsense," the young mage shook his head, "We just need to act with care. Better that we know of this enchantment, just be careful."
"Let's go get the others," Harold insisted, "I want to get Ivo and Telenstil."
"I wonder what activates them... I wonder what they do?" Talberth said to himself, lost in thought and not listening to the thief.
* * *
"The evil is gone, Derue will sleep," Gytha said. She swayed on her feet, her many calls upon the Saint had exhausted her.
"You need sleep," Telenstil told her.
"I do, but I will meditate first," she answered him.
Gytha knelt beside the small fire they'd built; she bent her head and offered prayers of thanks for the aid her patron had bestowed. Telenstil watched her for a moment, he was proud to have her with them, but his heart felt heavy. She was a strong servant of her faith, grown in piety and power among the wildlands of her home, but this quest for vengeance against the giants might prove too much for her and for the rest of them as well. Henri and Edouard were gone. Could he trust Derue, he asked himself.
Orcs for allies, slaying a herd of cows, and now gibberlings; Telenstil's thoughts wandered from point to point. He did not sleep but drowsed in the way of elves.
* * *
Ivo breathed in the fresh air, he looked toward the ruined woods where the gibberlings had passed and waited for the ranger to return. Behind him the ravine showed only the illusion of fallen rock, he'd added loose debris and scattered stones up to the edge where the woods began. If any came this way they'd find tumbled stones underfoot, they'd be more receptive to the magic that Ivo had put in place to hide the entrance to the passage below. There was a small sound, just the scrape of wood on wood, he wouldn't have noticed but for the stillness of the forest. The gibberlings had slain everything in their path and frightened off all the nearby game.
Harald grimaced as he stepped from the brush. His arms were laden with a huge pile of dead wood, the hilt of his sword, the claymore he'd taken from Nosnra's hall, stuck up above his shoulder. Ivo was surprised at how silently the ranger moved.
"You heard me," Harald said, he knew the answer.
"You make less noise than our thief," said Ivo, "but look at the load you carry, small wonder you make a little noise."
"I hope I have been better at obscuring our trail," Harald replied. "A noise like that when I am trying to be quiet... it only takes one mistake to get you killed."
"I have known those who did everything right and still died," said Ivo, "I have seen a warrior trip and fall flat on his face only to have the blow meant for him strike down the gnome behind."
Harald grunted. "I've seen the same, had as much happen to me, but I've seen what such mistakes can cost. Past a certain age we should be beyond such things."
"That would be nice," Ivo agreed. "Life should be fair like that, but it isn't. We are both old enough to know it."
"I know it well enough," said Harald, "but I don't like it and never will."
* * *
"Telenstil," Harold ran over to the mage, "You'd better come, Talberth's found something."
"What has he found?" asked Telenstil.
"Those carvings... well you haven't seen them yet, but the room we found is filled with carved pillars, they're magic, that's what Talberth says, and glow blue, he used some magic and they glowed blue, but two glowed green," the halfling explained. He spoke quickly till he ran out of breath.
"Slowly now... what is it that I need to see right now?" Telenstil bent down and placed his hand on the halfling's shoulder.
Harold began to speak then stopped himself; he held his breath for a moment then exhaled in a puff. "Sorry, I have a bad feeling about this place. I didn't like the look of those carvings."
"Hey!" a voice called to them. A bundle was being lowered down the shaft, a pile of wood tied with rope, Ivo sat on top, one arm around the taught line.
"Ivo!" Harold called back, glad to see the gnome.
"All done up there," Ivo jumped off a few feet above the ground, then put out his hands to stop the rocking his small leap had begun. "Harald will be down next. A nice effect that spell, if I do say so myself. What is wrong?" he asked looking at the expression on Harold's face.
"Talberth has found some magic in those carvings," Harold told him, "I'd feel better if you two looked them over."
"Ahh... I thought there would be something," Ivo said. "Talberth too enthusiastic?"
"I've had bad experiences with magic traps," said Harold.
"Look Out Below!" a faint voice echoed down the nearby shaft. The rope began a swift decent weighed down by a long black coil of chain links.
"Talberth's magic chain," muttered Harold.
"Now, now," objected Ivo.
"Harold, that chain may be well worth the trouble," said Telenstil.
"I'm sure our ranger has a different opinion," the small halfling replied.
"Harald's coming down," said Ivo. "Let's wait for him. How are the others doing?"
"I'm fine," said Ghibelline.
"You are awake," Telenstil said to the reclining elf. "Good."
"Awake... I feel like I have returned from somewhere, but I do not know where. Is that sleep?" he asked.
"Doesn't sound like sleeping to me," said Harold. "We should get going."
"Patience," said Telenstil.
"Talberth might be putting his head in a dragon's mouth and ours as well," objected Harold.
Telenstil nodded. "I will go, Ivo please ask Harald to stay here. We need to find a more defensible place to camp."
"Right now it may be better to be close to the exit than further in," said Ivo. "Gytha asleep?" he asked.
They looked over at the cleric. She had finally lain down and now slept soundly beside the small fire. The scout Derue lay opposite, healed and exorcised but still bound hand and foot.
"I am glad to see her sleep," said Telenstil.
"So am I but let's go," Harold said impatiently.
"I do not delay," Telenstil told him, "lead me to Talberth."
"Where is your shadow?" asked Ivo.
"What?" said Harold. "Little Rat, where did he get to? Come on! Now I am really worried," the halfling grabbed Telenstil by the sleeve and tugged at him to hurry.
* * *
"These are the gibberling young," Telenstil stated with interest as they passed the small creatures piled in the hall.
"Yes," Harold said abstractedly and tugged the mage's robe, "come on we'd better find Talberth."
Telenstil laughed, unworried and amused at the thief's actions. "I will have to look at them closer, but I will do so later, yes, yes, Harold you can stop pulling at my sleeve."
"He is toward the center of the chamber," Harold said as he hurried Telenstil down the hall, "that is where we found the big pit."
They stepped quietly into the pillared hall; the glow of blue that had shown from the sculptures was gone, only the light from Talberth's amulet remained. Out past where Harold had seen the pit the light drifted ghostly, hovering above the floor and hiding behind the columns, playing hide and seek in the darkness. The orcs were nowhere to be seen, Harold looked for Little Rat, his head swiveled back and forth as he lead Telenstil toward the light, but he noticed the absence of their unlikely companions.
"Little Rat!" he called out. "Talberth!"
The light came their way; they could hear Talberth's voice calling back.
"Harold," Talberth called. "Harold, come get this little pest."
The young mage cast a chain of flowing shadows dancing among the sculptured pillars as he walked; his amulet bright on his chest. Little Rat ran behind him, he practically danced as he ran to keep up with Talberth's lengthy strides.
"Little Rat!" Harold yelled at the young orc. "What are you doing here?"
"Big bright magic," the young orc was wide eyed and grinning.
"Talberth," said Telenstil, the elf was smiling, enjoying the sight of the orc's pleased wonder, "Talberth what is it you have found?"
"Telenstil, this place is amazing. These are not mere carvings," the young mage told him, his voice controlled but tinged with something of the excitement that gushed from the orc, "there are strong enchantments laid upon these pillars, some still active though I know not what they do or how to make them work."
"Let me see what you have found," said Telenstil.
"See these carvings," Talberth pointed to a column, "that manticore... look at the style of the work, it almost breaths, and I think it once may have done."
Telenstil put a long-fingered hand on the stone and traced the lines of the monster's back. "I agree, this is unlikely to have been carved; An enchantment of some kind that turned the beast into a column of stone."
"I have heard of such a spell that can make flesh into stone or stone into flesh," said Talberth.
"This is akin to that," Telenstil touched the snarling face and drew back his hand, "but it is something different, something more. Perhaps the spell that is used today is a small part of the magic used to create this."
"You mean these were living creatures," said Harold. "That centaur, those giants, demons..." the halfling gulped, "Those dragons, they turned those dragons into stone... they were alive."
"This place is old," said Telenstil. "There was a time when great magics were used on Oerth, when mages held power that no one should possess."
"There is some of it left," Talberth said eagerly. "Telenstil look at these two here." he brought them to the carvings of an ogre and a minotaur. Both had the look of living things, now hardened into rock but frozen between the beats of a heart, unchanged since they last drew breath. The elf put out his hand again and placed his palm against the ogre's stony chest. "Ap-Par-Ere," he said. The ring he wore, perhaps older than the carvings or the pillared hall, gave off a white glow, a silver line appeared and lit the column's base. Letters could be seen where none had been before, a band of writing formed shining in the dark. "Lat-At Cen-Til-Ul Vor-San," Telenstil spoke the words, they echoed across the empty hall.
There was a jarring sound, stone scraping against stone. The ogre came alive and stepped from the column; behind him he left a smooth curving face of rock. The monster stepped from the pedestal base and its foot banged against the tiles of the floor. Telenstil, Talberth, Harold and Little Rat, all took a step back then another as the ogre's other foot came down.
"Man-Zo!" Telenstil commanded.
The ogre stopped and did not move.
"We may have gained a powerful tool," the old elf said to the others.
"A golem do you think?" Talberth asked.
"Yes, finely made," Telenstil was silent for a moment. "Sek-Wa!" he told the figure. "Let us go back to where we entered."
"But there is so much here..." Talberth protested. "There is another figure, the minotaur it must be a golem as well."
"I think one is enough," said Telenstil. "This one seems to obey but would two, or will this continue to heed my commands? There is too much that we do not know."
Telenstil walked toward the entrance of the room, Talberth stood for a moment but ran to the mage's side. The ogre took heavy steps and followed. Little Rat ran around the walking statue till Harold pulled him aside.
"If that thing steps on you..." Harold scolded the young orc.
"Look, walking stone," Little Rat said in a voice filled with awe. "Magic make it walk?" he asked.
"Magic," said Harold, "sure... the kind that we best avoid. Your knives wouldn't even scratch it; come on let's get out of its way."
Harold had to pull the young orc away by a ragged sleeve. The ogre pounded across the floor but when it reached the entrance to the hall it stopped and would not step beyond. Motionless it looked to be just a statue once again.
"What is the matter with it?" asked Talberth.
"I cannot be sure," said Telenstil. "The enchantment may be on this room, or an old instruction that my orders cannot countermand. There is too much that we do not know."
Telenstil walked back into the room and went past the ogre, it swiveled as he passed and followed him once again while he stayed within the room.
"Maybe another command?" asked Talberth.
"I cannot tell, and experiment may prove dangerous," Telenstil said. "Since there is no need, at least for now I will leave it be."
"Have you ever built a golem?" asked Talberth. He circled the ogre, his eyes taking in every detail.
"No," Telenstil answered him. "That has not been my craft, I have created very little as a mage, destroyed too much."
"Are all of these pillars like this?" asked Harold.
Telenstil looked at the small forest of columns that ringed the curving hall; "Perhaps, perhaps once. Talberth what did your spell detect?"
"Magic, a small amount in each, but two burned bright with it," said Talberth.
"I cannot answer," said Telenstil, "Too much power, much too much. Creatures such as dragons turned to stone just to hold a roof, or golems of such size. Perhaps they are nothing but stone and finely carved and only this one and another are animated rock."
As they talked the old gnome joined them. Ivo gave a whistle when he saw the ogre standing near the entrance of the room.
* * *
"A Stone Golem, my, my, I should have known," said Ivo. The old gnome walked around the ogre and examined it with care; "An ugly brute, human work."
"Do you recognize it?" asked Talberth.
"I can tell the work of a human hand, but nothing more than that," Ivo told him. "The stones here are old; this golem is old as well."
"We can't get it out of the hall," said Harold.
"Bound to this place no doubt," Ivo replied.
"Too bad it cannot speak," Talberth mused.
"At least it still obeys commands," said Telenstil, "or so it appears."
"What a wonder we have found," said Ivo, "Too bad that we found it just now."
"I am glad to have seen this even if we can't make use of it," said Talberth.
"Yes, if it cannot leave this room I do not believe it will be of help," Telenstil looked wistfully at the wonders around them.
"Do we know that it can't?" Talberth waved at the dark corners of the hall. "We have not even explored this room. There are openings in the pit that we could try."
"It may be safe here for the night," said Telenstil, "but there is only one way in and the same way out. If the giants find us all they would need to do is to roll a boulder over that entrance and we will be trapped."
"Maybe there is another way out, a door or down through the pit..." Talberth objected.
Ivo shook his head. "That shaft was clawed from the living rock; the gibberlings could find no other way out." he paused for a moment to think about Talberth's suggestions; "There might be a hidden door."
"A door, there must be a door," said Talberth.
"We will have a few hours to search," Telenstil said. "But Talberth, this is a poor place for us to camp. Too close to the giants, too many things unknown, all this..." he waved toward the columns, "perhaps more dangerous than the giants are themselves."
"I will start searching now then," said Talberth. "Harold will you help me?"
"I will..." said Harold. Little Rat tugged at his sleeve. "We will," he corrected himself.
"What happened to the orcs?"
"What?" Talberth exclaimed, he twisted his head back and forth looking for them but they were nowhere in sight. "Where did they go?"
"They followed you here," said Harold, "they didn't go back down the passage. Maybe they fell down the pit."
"We aren't that lucky," said Talberth. "Let's go, they might have found something."
"I can wish, maybe they are lost," said Harold.
"If you find anything," Telenstil said to them, "come right back, do not explore on your own."
"We will," Talberth answered over his shoulder, he was already leaving them and following the curving wall to the left of the entrance looking in.
"Ivo, I think it is best if we bring the others here," said Telenstil.
"I agree," said the gnome, "but I do not trust this chamber or our new toy there," he nodded at the ogre.
"We have not found safety anywhere," Telenstil rubbed at the back of his head as he talked, feeling the slight scars of an old wound. "Better to be away from the entrance. The chance of danger seems greater from the outside than it does in here, despite all that we do not know. That is how I feel."
"I hope that you are right my friend," said Ivo.