Into the Mountain
“Aye, ya foul git! Watch what yer doin’ thar!”, the small greenish-brown figure yelled, trying his best to hold onto the rope that he and the others in the band of goblins dispatched by the warlord were using to shimmy down the mountain’s rocky face toward the fissure where the girl had disappeared. “Well, ‘urry it up down thar! Da bosses ain’t got all day, Grentz!”, replied the goblin just above him on the rope. “Piss off, Krimzly!”, he yelled back, “Almost got it…”
Grentz kicked and flailed as he tried to swing the rope so that he might jump to the ledge adjoining where they had seen the girl slide into the large crack in the rocks. In spite of the cries and curses from the others descending the rope with him, he was determined to swing his way to the ledge and lead the small band in their pursuit. Shoving with his legs, bouncing the entire group out from the rocks repeatedly, Grentz managed to finally propell them to within jumping distance. At just the right moment, he let go of the rope, launching himself airborne, landing with roll and and a thud on the ledge and smacking his back into the wall hard enough to knock the wind out.
“Hah! Ol’ Grentzy thinks he’s an acrobat! Clumsy ol’ fool!”
“Yeah, well, I gots ‘ere di’n’t I, Droll, you lazy rat! Now get wit’ it, fellaz. Grella wants ‘dis pinkskin brought back in a bloody ‘urry!”. Though he tried to rally his comrades to faster action, Grentz indulged himself a moment’s rest against the wall. Still, he continued to shout, “Krimzly, Droll, Orag, what the hell are you lazy gits waitin’ for? Get your arses on down that rope! We gotz a pinkskin to run down!”
Orag had taken about all she could stand. “Grentz, you crusty ol’ bastard, shut your mouth before I come down there and shut it for you!”
Krimzly piped up, “Would you two knock it off! All your backbitin’ wit’ each other is jus’ gonna slow us down! I’ll cut you both before I have to explain to Boss Grimlokk that the mistresses’ prize got away because of you two bickerin’!” Though younger than Grentz, Krimzly had proven his worth to their orkish masters time and again, and for his service, was consistently placed in the lead of special assignments like this one. It was a blessing because it gave him a certain athority over quite a few of the other goblinz, but a curse as well because it garaunteed he would be sent on some dangerous, if not utterly insane missions quite regularly. Much to his pleasure, chasing down a rogue pinkskin girl was not nearly as bad as most of the jobs he was sent on, but that didn’t mean there was room to slack. Large or small, failure on any assignment could easily lead to one of the commanding orkz literally biting his head right off, and Krimzly would have none of that.
One by one they repeated Grentz’s maneuver to swing themselves onto the ledge, though none of the others landed with quite the clumsiness that he did. Grentz was the oldest of the group and by rights should have been high in the leadership of the goblinz who ran with Boss Grimlokk’s warband. However his own greed had nearly gotten him killed some years past, having been caught theiving jewels from a neighboring warlord. Luckily for Grentz, his guile in a fight had saved Grimlokk’s life more than once on the field, and so Grimlokk challenged the offended warboss to a duel over the shiftless little goblin and won. It was a rare thing to see a warlord like Grimlokk standing up for a goblin, but it definitely came with a price. Grentz was no longer allowed to advance in the ranks, and while he was glad to be kept alive, his lower standing was a constant reminder of his mistake.
As the last light from the openning dimly lit her passage down the small stream and deeper into the mountain, Thala realized that before long she could be enveloped in darkness. Fortunately, the water in the stream had remained just barely above waist level leaving the top of her torn and dirty blouse still dry. Looking about the walls of the of thin passageway, it occurred to her that the wall to her left was quite possibly rather thin as some occasional roots hung through that were surely connected to small saplings on the outside, or perhaps snaked their way up through the rocks and into whatever sparse topsoil might be along the cliffs. Thala shook her hands dry then scoured the wall for the driest bit of root she could find, and, after breaking away a short length, tore one sleeve from her shirt and wrapped the end of the root with it. While the lower rock in the passage was damp from the stream, luck played in her favor yet again when she was able to break away from a section of wall just above her head, a few shards of dry, thin stone. With just enough dry ledge to climb out on, Thala sat down beside the stream and began to strike the stones together over the cloth at the end of the root. After a few tries, some sparks took hold of the dry cloth, first smoldering then growing into a small, bright flame. With the torch in hand, she descended her lower half back into the water of the stream and moved onward, hopefully toward an opening somewhere down the mountain that would mean she had escaped the ork horde.
“You smell that?”, said Grentz, his long, drooping nose to the air.
“Smells like someone buring root from a rowena tree.” Krimzly’s eyes narrowed, “the girl isn’t far! Be quick and quiet and we’ll overtake her inside the mountain!”
Thala could hear the hurried footfalls and agitated voices of the tiny, hateful figures somewhere back up the passage, goblinz, no doubt, sent by the orkz to hunt her down. She knew that her care must give way to haste, else her efforts would have been in vain. Daring the mountain itself, she broke into a run down the stream and deeper into the darkness of the passage, her torch granting a small circle of illumination as she went. Every few strides, she glanced back behind her, sure to see a group of the short, green skinned wretches on her tail. Faster now, she ran, hard as she could go, terrified of what lie behind her as much as the possiblity that the stream could deepen or give way completely beneath her. Eventually she stopped, now chest high in water and out of breath, looking around to see that she now stood at the mouth of a tremendous cave that was home to an expansive underground lake. Briefly, she thought about how the waterways near her village were fed by streams and no less than two small rivers coming out of the mountains, and how this was surely a major source for all of that.
A great cavernous opening lay before Thala as she stepped up onto the embankment from the stream she had followed so far. The light from her torch only illuminated a small area, but it was enough to let her know that she had traveled deep within the mountain and now stood before an expansive underground lake. The water’s surface reflected her torchlight somewhat, adding to it’s timid glow and reflecting just enough to show that, at least near where Thala stood, the wall adjoining the embankment may have had numerous other openings, streams emptying into the lake through thin fissures in the rock surface, others dumping out of larger mouthed holes. As she skirted the bank of the lake, she passed two more openings where the water ran out from streams that she knew were from high above, like the one she had traveled, dumping their contents into the great basin before her. The sound of the running water masked any noises that might have come from her goblin pursuers, but Thala was hopeful that in the darkness surely left behind her, the goblinz would either become lost or too discouraged from their own cowardice to follow any further.
She was wrong.
A dart zinged off the rock wall very close to Thala’s head and lodged itself in the ground before her feet. Reality set in. They were here, in this dark, watery cavern, hunting her. She looked back across the distance to the passage that had brought her here and saw them, four impish figures, vaguely green in the half-light cast from her torch, clothed in tattered old leather and worn cloth, bits of metal fastened here and there as makeshift armor. Thala broke into a run along embankment, sometimes slowing to make way for rocks, other times brought to a near halt as the width of the passable area would narrow too tight for running, then spread back out allowing her to regain her pace.
Behind her they came, yelling and snorting, sometimes letting out high pitched screeching yelps of glee that they had caught their prize. Small lead balls ricocheted off the cavern wall beside her, while one landed firmly in the back of her neck, knocking Thala hard to her knees. The world seemed to spin from the impact as she could hear the goblinz gaining ground. Gathering her senses, she arose to run yet again, only to be felled once more. The goblinz had closed the distance enough for one of them to hurl a knife, sinking it deep in the back of Thala’s thigh.
“Orag, you moron!” yelled Krimlyz. “You ‘urt ‘er too much an’ Mistress Grella will have your arse on a spit along wit’ da rest o’ us!”
“Aw, quit your griping. Oy brought ‘er down, di’n’t Oy?”. Orag was young, female and eager to prove herself. Unlike the orkz, where the females were few but lauded, a female goblin was just another goblin, to make her way the best she could right along with the males. “An’ don’ tink Oy gon’ be lettin’ youse claim all da glory, either! Oy gon’ make damn sure Boss Grimlokk and Mistress Grella knows it were Orag bagged dis stinkin pinkskin!”
Thala cringed from the pain as she grasped the knife now lodged deep in the back of her thigh, while vaguely hearing the bickering of her attackers. At first she was almost thankful for the numbness that spread quickly from the wound, then realized the knife must have been tipped with something, some kind of poison. She cried out in a scream of pure defiance as the numbness spread. She fell to the ground, fully awake and aware but utterly unable to move.
The four goblinz stepped near, their laughter a sickening sound to Thala as she lay there, helpless.
“Grentz, bind ‘er feet. Droll, you get ‘er hands.” The only one of them apparently not enjoying this little outting, Krimlyz barked the orders to his companions. “And you, Orag… keep an eye out. I don’t trust this p…”
Before he could utter the word “place”, a hatched whirled through the air, burying itself deep into his forehead. Krimlyz dropped dead beside Thala. Before she could make the attempt to see from who or what the weapon had flown, a booming voice came from a nearby opening.
“Know you this, that you tread at the threshold of the Dwarvez of Jarnesvall, guardians of the Great Halls of Thune, and that Breggar Axhammer claims this one you chase as his ward!”
Into the torchlight stepped the stocky little dwarf, roughly the same height as Grentz and his company, but nearly double their build in muscle, his thick, red beard hanging nearly waist length and interspersed with red leather ties, his head shaven down both sides leaving a long red-brown mohawk standing at full attention. Down either side of his head ran dark red tattoos, tribal patterns that disappeared beneath his ornate leather cuirass. Startled, the three goblinz stepped back apace as Breggar planted his left foot on the back of their fallen leader and raised his his weapon, a large hammer with the head of an ax on the opposite side, toward them.
“Now, you greenskin bastards,” Breggar bellowed as hurled himself at them, his eyes wild with an insane, berserker rage, “you die!”
Before she could manage a single step away from this fearless new enemy, Orag’s face was obliterated beneath a single heavy blow from the hammer side of his weapon as it crashed down with all his weight and rage behind it. Thick brownish blood flew from the wound, spraying Breggar’s face and the wall behind him.
Grentz was already on the run, leaving Droll to stand alone against Breggar’s wrath.
“Run, you old green cur!” yelled Breggar to Grentz who looked back for only the slightest moment to see Droll clumsily parry a swing of the dwarve’s weapon with his sword, only to find himself on the receiving end of a ferocious head butt. “Run! Go! Tell your masters that their business on the mountain is through!,” Breggar bellowed, as Droll stood woozey before him. ” Jarnesvall belongs to her dwarvez and I dare them to trespass again!” and with that, the bladed side of his weapon parted Droll’s head from body in one swift motion.