Friday, September 2, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 2
Valdimer collapsed onto the floor of the cave. He shivered as Berit fired bolt after bolt from her crossbow around the cave's entrance. He went to grab a potion from his belt, but found that they had frozen over from the cold. They had wandered too high into the mountains. He heard the goblins that were chasing them holler as they retreated.
Berit turned to the rest of the small band, shooting them a poisonous look. "You stupid brutes! They've got us surrounded." The twins had hired five mercenaries to protect them and carry their supplies on their journey north. Three remained.
One of the hirelings, a tall and muscular devilborn, stood up. His golden eyes seemed oddly relaxed compared to the danger that lurked just outside the cave. He folded his maroon arms. "We're safe in here. The cave mouth forms a bottleneck. We can pick off any goblins that try to come through at range."
"Safe?!" Berit howled over the snowstorm that blew by outside. "You were supposed to find a safe trail through the mountains, but you found one infested with goblins! You were supposed to keep us safe from attacks, but we've lost two good fighters in as many minutes! Tell me how I'm supposed to feel safe, Dror!"
Valdimer wiped the frost from his face and tried to stand up. His feet were too numb, however, and he slumped back down. "I don't enjoy agreeing with my sister, but we can't leave the cave without getting slaughtered, and staying here won't help. We have to see if there's another way out."
Berit ignored his advice and turned on him. "And you! You're the one who said we should try to conserve coin by hiring cheaper help. Look where that got us!" She thrashed her arm towards the three mercenaries. Pantar furrowed her brow and glared back at Berit, but Dror shook his head and grinned, his horns nearly scraping the cavern ceiling. Nathen, the third hireling, didn't respond. He had sat down against the wall of the cave, clutching his side. Valdimer's gut sank when he realized Nathen had stopped shivering.
Pantar noticed at the same time, and scrambled to Nathen's side. "Nathen, no! Wake up, we must keep going."
"I can't...feel..." Nathan muttered. Pantar removed his hand from his side to find a bloody wound, with a goblin arrow embedded deep in his flesh. Nathen's eyelids fluttered. "It's better than freezing..." he whispered. Pantar attempted to pour a bloodroot potion down his throat, then checked his pulse. Her head fell and she muttered a dwarven curse.
Berit returned her glare to Dror. "We won't be taking any more of your advice," she said. "You will protect us through the rest of this cave, and when we reach the next point of civilization-"
"If we do," Valdimer groaned.
"When," Berit said firmly. "Then you will leave our services."
Dror wrinkled his nose and nodded. "Not a problem. Boss," he added with contempt.
Pantar helped Valdimer to his feet and checked him for wounds. There were none, but the half-elf seemed to be on the verge of frostbite. He dug in his herb pouch, his numb fingers clutching at the various pockets and spilling their contents around the bottom of the bag. He made a mental note to clean it up later, but in the meantime, he found a hearthleaf and began to chew on it. It would keep him warm enough to walk, for at least another hour.
Berit led the small group deeper into the narrow cave, while Pantar kept watch at the back for any goblins that tried to follow them. Valdimer flinched every time he heard her crossbow fire, knowing her dwarven darkvision had spotted another malformed silhouette sneaking towards them. Dror held his longsword in both hands. Valdimer kept an eye on him whenever he seemed to be getting closer to Berit.
They followed the course of a frozen stream that ran through the caverns, hoping to find where it exited the mountain. Valdimer's steps were slowing, and he felt the cold creeping back into his legs. Pantar gave him a shoulder to lean on, but Berit would not slow down. She was ahead by a dozen paces when Dror suddenly started running towards her with his sword still drawn.
Valdimer drew his rod, but his reflexes were slowed by the cold. Before he could charge a spell, Dror had tackled Berit. Then there was dust, and rocks were falling from the ceiling. Valdimer charged ahead and stumbled into a wall of debris. “Berit! Stay off her!” The dust covered his glasses, and he couldn't see.
“I just saved her, idiot,” he heard Dror's voice say. Berit coughed and added, “I'm fine.” Valdimer blinked and tried to figure out what to do next, but Pantar interrupted him.
“We have company!” she said. Valdimer turned and heard the chittering of goblins drawing closer from the tunnel they came from. He realized that they were trapped against the wall of rubble, and without Berit and Dror's bows, they would not be able to hold them all off. He patted himself down to find a solution and pulled out a small metal package from a pocket.
“I can take out some of them before they get to us, and then maybe we can cut down some more before one of us is knocked out,” Pantar was saying. “It doesn't look good for us, but if we hug the wall there's a slim chance we might-”
“We need to charge at them,” Valdimer said.
Pantar looked at him like he had sprouted faerie wings. “You've lost your mind. Now I'm definitely going to die because you won't help.”
“No, I have a plan.” Valdimer put the metal package down on the wall of rubble. “We don't shoot any, and as soon as they're just there,” he pointed to a spot on the ground three feet ahead of them, “we dash through them as quickly as possible.”
“They'll kill us.”
“Not right away.” Valdimer twisted a mechanism on the package. “Even goblins can be surprised.” Pantar frowned and her eyes were wide, but she nodded. “Berit! Step away from the debris!”
Eyes appeared around the bend, and the miniscule humanoids were suddenly upon them. Pantar and Valdimer ran into the horde, deflecting their swords and spears as much as possible. Valdimer took a scratch in the side, but most of the goblins had so much momentum that they ran right past him and Pantar and had to stop at the cave-in.
The metal package exploded, shattering the rubble wall and vaporizing all the goblins who had gotten too close to it. Valdimer and Pantar themselves were thrown forward by the blast. A goblin landed next to Pantar, and she stabbed her dagger into it, then used that to get back to her feet. The remaining goblins scattered into the crevasses of the cave.
Valdimer, now far from numb, returned to where the cave had collapsed. He saw Dror clearing the remnants of the rubble while Berit stood behind and adjusted her dusty vest. She looked up at Valdimer for a brief second, then at Dror. “Good work, all of you. Dror, I trust you can find a way out of here now?”