Chapter 25: Gorgon
They rested for several hours. Urcaryx regained her magical power. She used some of it to heal Urnatar, although that meant an extra hour of rest.
Another squad of eight lizard-men discovered them, and was foolish enough to attack. Thirty-five dwarves armed with pickaxes counter-attacked. A pickaxe in the hands of a maddened Dwarf is a truly vicious weapon.
They began to pass side passages. “Where do these side passages lead?” asked Urarrth.
“Many places,” answered L’nnrrd, “but mostly to lizard lairs. The reason we’re seeing groups of eight lizards at a time is because they congregate in groups of eight and lair together. They don’t like to be alone.”
“Urpetar, begin to look for passageways marked with the red arrow that Cherry’s party was using,” Urroz suggested.
“I was already doing that, boss,” answered the scout. “You don’t have to tell me my business.”
“Sorry, Urpetar. It just occurred to me.”
“Don’t worry, Urroz. If I see anything noteworthy, I will surely tell you about it.”
The small army of uruks and dwarves marched on for some time before Rose had another thought.
“If there are any notable locations on this side of the dungeon,” said Urroz, “I want to see them.”
“There is a back entrance to the Halls of the Dwarves,” said L’nnrrd.
“But, we won’t take you there,” interrupted L’rrww.
“The closest landmark is the Hall of the Gorgon Queen.”
“What is a gorgon?” asked Urarrth. “Is it a kind of dragon?”
They talked as they walked. Urpetar and Urnatar were out in front scouting and checking for traps. The scouts also had a dwarf named L’ggoo with them. He was an expert on disarming traps. Runners moved back and forth between the scouts and the main party.
With a group of well over one hundred uruks and dwarves moving along the passage, there was no way they were going to move silently. Thus, Urarrth and Urroz could ask L’nnrrd all the questions they wanted. Urcaryx could talk magic with L’rrww. Urthorn moved up and down the line of followers, pausing here and there for a smutty joke, or to ask how some wounded party member was doing, keeping them moving. Urrokko went along with her, beaming with pride of ownership, and basking in the envy of the other uruks who didn’t have wives. Despite the fact that he hadn’t gotten anything out of his new wife except bruised legs, he was the proudest uruk in the party.
“Yes, what is a gorgon?” asked Urroz. “I have never heard of such a creature, and I thought myself well-traveled.”
“I believe the gorgon is a hybrid creature that the wizard we call Terevorr has created. It looks something like a female elf, although its skin is light blue and scaly.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad. Elven deadliness we can handle, even if it knows magic,” said Urroz.
“There’s more. The gorgon has a nest of snakes growing out of its head, like hair on a human or a dwarf. These snakes are alive. They writhe and twist and hiss, and have poisonous bites, even though they can’t go anywhere because their tail ends go right into the gorgon’s head.”
“Ewwwww!” said Urcaryx who had moved closer to listen to the description of what had to be a magical creature. “If the tails fuse into the skull, then the gorgon can have no brain inside its head, because the waste products of anything the snakes ate would have to go right through there.”
“That sounds disgusting and weird,” said Urroz, “but still, that wouldn’t be so hard to beat.”
“The gorgon is magical,” continued L’nnrrd. “One gorgon could destroy your whole army. They have the effect of turning anyone who sees them into stone. Even a glance can be fatal.”
“You can’t even look at them without dying?” said Urarrth incredulously. “How does anyone ever beat a gorgon?”
“There is a legend,” said L’nnrrd, “of a hero with a mirror shield who once caught a gorgon sleeping. By only looking in his shield he was able to approach and cut off her head.”
“He cut off the head of a woman while she was sleeping?” said Urcaryx. “I don’t think much of this fellow.”
“He came to a bad end in the long run,” said L’nnrrd. Urcaryx and Urroz grinned at that. “But while he had the gorgon head he used it to defeat several monsters that would have eaten him like a murkleberry.”
“That is clever,” said Urroz. “I wonder if we could slay this gorgon and use its head against our foes.”
“There is one more thing you should know,” said L’nnrrd. “Dwarves, true dwarves are not affected by the gorgon’s petrifying magic.”
“We think it may be because dwarves have a kinship with stone. Rock trolls don’t seem to be affected either.”
“Let us go pay this gorgon a visit,” said Urarrth. “It sounds like destroying it could be another strike at Nam or Terevorr or whoever that lich-bastard that sent us in here really is.”
L’nnrrd sent a dwarf runner to tell Urpetar to watch for a symbol of a snake carved into the stone walls. It would be coming up within the next couple of side passages, and would indicate the direction to find the gorgon.
In half an hour the scouts found the gorgon passage. The army came up and waited there, wondering what they were going to do.
“This sounds like a job for Urthorn and a couple of your best fighters, L’nnrrd,” said Urroz. She sent for the disguised dwarf and filled her in on the story of the gorgon.
“I will go after that monster,” declared Urthorn. “I obviously can’t take any Uruks along, but will any of you stout dwarves come with me?”
Three volunteers stepped up. “These are some of my best fighters,” said L’nnrrd. “Urthorn, meet W’rrdd, W’ggttn, and W’mmll.” The three Dwarves clanked their pickaxe heads once into the stone floor—their standard greeting.
“Chief,” said W’rrdd, “we know that Urthorn is a mighty fighter, but won’t the gorgon turn her into stone?”
“I think she will surprise you,” answered the dwarven wizard. L’nnrrd knew that Thorn was really a dwarf.
“We don’t know what guardians the gorgon may have,” said Urroz. “We will be waiting for you here. If it turns out that there are too many foes, come back to us for reinforcements or to skip the whole mission.”
“Of course,” answered Urthorn. “I can handle this mission, but I’ll call you if I need you.”
“I wants ter go wit yer,” bellowed Urrokko.
“Stay here yer big lunker,” answered Urthorn in Uruk. “I wants yer alive.”
Still, Urrokko would have forced his way after her, but he was tackled and restrained by Urugly, Urjax, and Urrudy.
The further down the gorgon’s passage that Urthorn and her three companions went, the more the nature of the passage changed. The walls changed from black cobalt to gray granite and finally to white limestone. There came a point where the walls widened at a forty-five degree angle and a row of white limestone pillars marched down the center. The floor changed from dull gray stone to a checkerboard of slate tiles of gray and green. Statues began to appear, humans, uruks, lizard-men, even an elf—all incredibly detailed, all wearing some variant of shock or horror on their faces.
Urthorn had never seen so many horrified statues before. She was beginning to think this wasn’t just the work of some mad sculptor. Then the rockbugs attacked.
Rockbugs looked something like crabs, or like small boulders with legs and mandibles, and pincers. Their slaty gray hides were shot with crimson streaks. And they were fast, and could jump like fleas. What looked like boulders resting beside the path turned out to be a flock of bugs.
Still, the Dwarves were not taken off guard. Hard swung pickaxes clanged against and through the stony carapaces. The tempered steel punctured the stony creatures. Lava-like orange blood spurted forth. The driven weapons then shattered the pierced insects against the limestone floor, taking out chunks of the soft rock, but exploding the insects into dozens of pieces. Urthorn’s axe was no less effective. Steel struck stone with a resounding clatter and the stone shattered.
For about half a minute the Dwarves fought fiercely. Their weapons smashed attacking bugs, and they pulled them free as quickly as they could. They also kicked out with their booted feet, knocking back the insects that scuttled in low. Rocky mandibles clattered and clanged against metallic armor, or hung up on the leather armor that Urthorn wore in places. The insects were fast, but mindless. The dwarves were strong, wore armor, and carried steel weapons. In less than a minute the rockbugs were all dead.
W’mmll had taken a wound on the side of his head, a jagged tear in the flesh that ripped off his left ear and a chunk of jaw. Golden blood oozed from the wound. The injured dwarf dropped his pick and sat down abruptly. His two comrades went over to him. One opened his pack and pulled out a length of cloth and a jar of ointment. W’rrdd slathered the salve all over the wounds, then bound the wounded Dwarf’s head with many wrappings of cloth. The whole repair job took barely a minute.
“Can you walk?” asked W’rrdd. The wounded one tried to stand, and with a bit of help, he managed it. He swayed for a moment, took a couple of steps, and then said, “Yes, I can go on.”
“Nay, go back,” said Urthorn. “Run back down the corridor to the army. Send two or three others to take your place. Tell them there may be fighting.”
“Heard and done,” answered the wounded dwarf. He turned and staggered back the way they had come.
“He may be a bit more damaged than he thinks,” commented W’ggttn. “He forgot his pickaxe.”
“I’ll take it,” said Urthorn. “It might be useful to have a weapon in both hands.”
The pillared path continued straight ahead, and the light grew brighter in the room. Light stones hung on every pillar and were placed side by side on the walls. Then the pillars stopped, and they saw a three-tiered dais in front of them topped by a throne. It was empty. The gorgon was not at home. Two smaller thrones flanked the main seat, and they were both empty also. Behind the throne was a brightly lit wall with three closed doors in it.
“Let’s start with the door on the right,” said Urthorn. She marched over to it, and pulled it open. A long straight passageway led off into the dimness. She closed the door on that one.
The middle door led to a bedchamber. A marble dais liberally covered with furs provided a place for the gorgon to sleep. The stony couch would have been cold and hard, but a multitude of pelts—beavers, foxes, wildcats, even bears and wolves served to act as both padding and blankets. There was also a solid stone table and some benches. Along one wall were three shelves with rolled scrolls lying side by side. Urthorn unrolled one, but the characters inked onto the parchment were in an unknown language.
The third room turned out to be a store room full of junk, or perhaps it was treasure. Inside the small square room things were simply heaped in a pile. Much of the clutter consisted of clothing and armor, but some of it was weaponry. Swords, maces, spears, axes, even a couple of bows lay haphazardly atop jumbles of cloth, and leather, and woven steel links. Urthorn spotted a pouch, and inside it she found nine gold pieces. There could have been many more. She didn’t want to spend any time searching.
They went back to the throne room and held a council of war. While they were talking, three more dwarves came up. That brought the party strength to six. Urthorn immediately sent one of the dwarves back to the party with a report that the gorgon was not at home, but that they had found a back passageway.
“It is disappointing that the queen was not here to greet us,” Urthorn complained.
“I wonder who the two smaller thrones are for,” said W’rrdd.
“I wonder if she normally has some sort of court of all living rock things, “ mused W’ggttn. “Perhaps she could rule over living statues or rock trolls.”
“We may never know,” said one of the newcomers.
“I wonder if we should wait for her to return,” said Urthorn.
“You don’t have to wait for me,” purred the gorgon queen who had just materialized on her throne. “When I realized I had visitors, I came straight back.”
Their heads swiveled and their eyes turned to the throne. The gorgon queen was now sitting there. They saw a tall thin woman with a pale blue cast to her skin, draped in a robe of sheer blue cloth spangled with golden diamonds in a random pattern. Her features were thin, and had a kind of elfin beauty to them, but her forehead was low and from the top and sides of her head sprouted at least a dozen green serpents, each one around two feet in length. The reptiles hissed and coiled around her head, and tried to slither down, but couldn’t because their tails fused into the skull bone of the gorgon.
“I wondered who would be brave enough to invade my hall and slay my pets,” mused the gorgon. “Ah, dwarves! I should have known. You realize that I have other spells to neutralize you if my looks aren’t sufficient.” Then she focused on Urthorn. “An uruk who dares to come in here!”
Urthorn locked gazes with the gorgon, all the while preparing to leap into action. She hoped she could reach the gorgon and strike before the enchantress, because she obviously was one, could get a spell off. Teleporting back to her throne must have cost her some energy, and perhaps she didn’t have a backup spell ready.
“You are no uruk!” shouted the gorgon. “How clever! You wear an illusion to seem other than you are. And you don’t petrify because you are also a dwarf, but a different kind of dwarf from these fools. I’ll have that uruk trinket off your body, intruder. What fun it will be to stride these halls looking like an uruk, but petrifying all who see me.” The gorgon actually giggled at that moment.
“Charge her!” howled Urthorn, and she leaped to the attack. She went up two steps and then smashed into an invisible barrier. Her companions also slammed into a wall that felt like stone, but looked like air.
Shrill laughter peeled from the gorgon’s throat. “Fools!” she gloated. “Did you think that an enchantress like me, sister of the gods, would let you bring your weapons into striking range? What fools you mortals be! Do you think I don’t have a dozen ways to cope with insects like you?”
Urthorn beat frantically upon the air with her axe. It clanged and belled, and sparks flew, but she couldn’t penetrate the magical wall that held her at bay.
“I see you killed my pets,” shrieked the gorgon. “How dare you kill my pets? You like transformations so well?” she screeched. “I will transform you all into rock bugs!” She raised her pale blue hands preparing to cast another spell. Energy flashed from her fingers and struck W’ggttn who was the closest of the attackers. He cried out in agony, dropped his pickaxe, and began to transform before their eyes. His hands turned into pincers. His head grew mandibles. His skin went from black to slaty gray with streaks of crimson. He became a rock bug.
Peals of gorgon laughter filled the hall. She turned her attention to Urthorn who pounded futilely on the invisible wall. “You’re next, O dwarf who looks like an uruk,” she howled. “A rock bug is too good for an imposter like you. I think I will turn you into a cave slime.”
“I don’t think so,” said a clear elfin voice. Green energy sizzled through the air and struck the gorgon directly between her breasts. All of the snakes stood straight out from her head. The gorgon’s mouth warped into a perfect O of surprise, and then she slumped and fell in a boneless heap.
Behind them all at about the second set of pillars stood Urcaryx with her back to the throne. She was looking into a mirror and pointing her hand back at the gorgon. “Die, you snaky-headed bitch!” the high elf hissed between gritted teeth. Around her stood an honor guard of black dwarves.
“Is she dead?” yelled Urroz from father back in the hall.
“I think so,” gasped Urcaryx. Her knees buckled and she slumped down. Once again she had used almost all her stored magical energy to cast a spell—she dared not let it be too weak.
The barrier in front of Urthorn dissolved. She almost lost her balance when it did—she was beating the air so frantically. “Thorn, cut off the gorgon’s head, and put it in a bag!” yelled Urroz. In the excitement of the moment, Rose used the dwarf’s true name instead of her uruk name. The dwarf warrioress hastened to obey.
Killing the gorgon didn’t seem to affect the snakes. They still hissed and struck at Urthorn as she approached to take the gorgon’s head. Working carefully, Thorn clove the thin neck, and the head bounced free. The serpents on the head tried to crawl off in a dozen different directions. The head twitched and bounced. Blue blood oozed from the decapitation. Working carefully, Urthorn prodded the squirming serpents to enter the gaping mouth of a loot bag that W’rrdd was holding. When more than half of the serpents had been prodded into squirming in the same direction, the head took itself into the sturdy burlap bag. Urthorn twisted it shut and held it high above her head. The sides of the bag bulged and squirmed as the snakes inside it tried vainly to break free.
Urthorn held the squirming sack up high as the room filled with Uruks and Dwarves. A great cheer rang out.
“But what about me?” asked the rock bug named W’ggttn.
“And what about my wife?” asked Urrokko. “I heard the gorgon say you were a dwarf, and it makes sense. The axe, the fact that you didn’t turn to stone, the fact that you are the shortest uruk I’ve ever seen. What have you done with my wife?” The big uruk’s voice rose into a scream of protest as the general cheering died down.
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