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Volume 3190
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ROSE OF STORMGAARD
A Serialized Fantasy Adventure Novel
By Ken St. Andre

Chapter 28: Rescue

There was a large contingent of dwarves and lizard-men filling the passageway outside the door of the Hall of Skulls. A dwarf and a lizard stood in the open doorway, each narrating the fight in his own language. The other forces stood clumped on opposite sides of the door listening to their spokesman and making comments as soldiers on the sidelines always do.

L’nnrrd and a group of five dwarves came around the corner and trotted up to the door. They gave the dwarven salute, more of a wave than a salute although in the process they lightly touched both chest and head, indicating that both heart and head were involved. “K’gllldr wills this,” the dwarven wizard said to the other dwarves. As L’nnrrd was one of the highest ranking dwarves in the dungeon, the ones outside the door listened to him respectfully.

“Do you bring reinforcements?” asked H’rrtth, the dwarven leader on the scene.

“In a manner of speaking,’ said L’nnrrd. “A large force of uruks is coming up to join the fray.  All dwarven warriors are now attached to that force.  Are there any dwarves inside the Hall?”

“About twenty.”

“Get inside and tell them to get out here.”

H’rrtth forced his way through the door, and began spreading the word.

L’nnrrd turned to the lizards, some of whom had been watching the exchange. He caught the eye of the biggest one—since with lizards the biggest one was always the one in charge.  “I bear no animosity to the Green Folk.  Green Folk are mighty warriors . . .”

Flattery worked as well on lizards as it worked on any one. For a dwarf to come up and tell them they were great pleased them. They swished their tails back and forth, and moved their heads in a shaking motion, side to side in time with their tails. This was how lizards showed approval and pleasure.

“but if you want to live, you should leave now. Quickly!”  He put some bark into his voice, and hoped the command would work.

The reptilian approval turned to dismay when the dwarf threatened their lives. Most of the warriors reached for their war clubs. Then eighty howling Uruks came around the corner down the tunnel and charged at them.

One lizard, smarter than his brethren, saw the attacking Uruks and bounded away at top speed. “Fight!” roared the leader, turning to charge the newcomers. He only had about ten warriors, but lizards aren’t very good at math, and hardly ever stop to compute the odds.

“Kill the lizards!” ordered L’nnrrd. “He raised his hands and cast a death spell at the lizard leader. Purple energy crackled through the air and the lizard commander went down on his face, never knowing what hit him.

Dwarves are a disciplined race. When a leader gives an order, the warriors do not stop and question. They obey. Sharp axes came into play, as the ten dwarves outside the door turned and attacked the lizards from behind. Dwarves are strong; they hit hard; their weapons cut deep. Half of the lizards went down in the first attack, saurian blood spurting everywhere.

Then the uruk charge hit those still on their feet. Three or four Uruks attacked each standing lizard, some hitting high, some hitting low. Spears punched through hide-guarded abdomens. Scimitars hewed into mighty legs, or necks, or even snouts. The uruks didn’t care what they hit as long as they hit something. In twenty seconds all the lizards were down, one uruk was wounded, and Clan Cave Panther controlled the entrance to the Hall of Skulls.

Urroz spoke to the fairy on her shoulder. "You understand the plan, right?"

"Yes, keep Cherry, the old wizard, and me from looking at the battle until you give the all clear."

"If this works, that won't take long."

Karalialin took off. She entered the doorwary high and immediately rose higher to get well above the jostling throng inside the Hall of Skulls. As she entered, some dwarves started filing out, and she could see others headed for the door from all over the room. At the far end of the room she could see Cherry in a standoff with a four-armed living statue. Even as she watched, the flame-haired warrior woman caught a blow on her shield, sidestepped a jab, and perfectly timed her counter blow to carve through the quillion of the statue's sword and split its hand clear up to the wrist. The metallic man uttered a scream of agony as its molten iron blood spewed from its cloven arm. It tried to spray Cherry with the metallic ichor but there really wasn't enough pressure to shoot it far and fast, and its own metallic hand got in the way. Cherry ducked low, and a massive trollish arm shot out with a mighty punch to the head that sent the wounded statue cartwheeling backwards into its companions.

Back in the doorway, the dwarves were forming a wedge. Four of them held an uruk shield, with the hollow side upward. Atop that stood Urthorn. Her war axe lay at her feet inside the curve of the shield,  and she carried a treasure sack in her right hand. She wore an armored gauntlet on her left hand, and had arranged for extra leather armor on both arms up to the elbow that gave her a curiously stumpy appearance. The sack didn't just hang from her hand. It bulged and rippled continuously as if something inside it was  moving.  Some things were.

"Are you ready to do this?" asked Urroz.

"As ready as I'll ever be," Urthorn answered. She took her stance in the center of the shield. Her four bearers, carefully chosen to be the same height, settled the corners of the square shield on their shoulders. Urthorn gave them a marching cadence. "One, two. One, two." They practiced moving up and down the corridor a bit while they were in the corridor.  At the same time the rest of the dwarves were entering the hall, forcing lizards out of their way, and making room for Urthorn to enter.

The writhing bag pulled Urthorn off center and made her balance precarious. She found the best she could do was hold it with both hands directly in front of her and just below the waist. In fact, she could rest it on the shield surface between her feet.

Twenty dwarves pushed in through the door to the hall. There was some space there, and the dwarves immediately began pushing to make more. Then Urthorn came through, riding on her shield, and after her another thirty dwarves came in. They all had their war axes out.

“Warcry now!” ordered Urthorn. The sixty Dwarves in the room all shouted with all their might. “Khnagn Hrrrutt!” It was not a cry that Urthorn had ever heard before, but these were not Gristlegrim’s dwarves. They came from elsewhere, and it was amazing that she had so many things in common with them.

Urthorn saw Karalialin swoop down and land on Cherry’s unarmored shoulder. The fairy said something in the warrior woman’s ear. The red-haired warrior looked across the hall to where Urthorn stood atop her living platform. She waved and then repeated the dwarvish warcry, “Khnagn Hrrrutt!”

The dwarves around Urthorn cheered, a wordless roar of dwarven satisfaction. Cherry and Karalialin ducked back inside the room.

The dwarves around Urthorn began swinging their axes ferociously at anything in their path, and headed for the center of the Hall. Lizards and skeletons turned in dismay to see what was hitting them. They fell back before the maniacal dwarves, not sure why other residents of the dungeon were attacking them.

Urthorn reached the center of the hall. The dwarves were all shouting “Khnagn Hrrrutt! Khnagn Hrrrutt!”

“Look at me and die!” screamed Urthorn. She opened her sack, reached in, grabbed a couple of snaky bodies, and lifted the head of the gorgon, and flourished it as high overhead as her short arms could reach. Almost everyone in the room turned to look at her.

And they all turned to stone.  The process took only a few seconds, and it only affected the lizards and the skeletons.  Living statues did not turn to stone. Dwarves did not turn to stone. Muck the Rock Troll holding the entrance to the small room where the party of adventurers held out did not turn to stone. But two thirds of the army in the hall was petrified, almost instantly. Some of them managed to croak out an exclamation of pain or dismay. Many of them crashed into each other and fell over.

Urthorn put the head back into the sack, quickly knotted it shut, and dropped it at her feet. Then she picked up her axe and bellowed her own dwarvish battlecry. “Barroo Khazad!”  That was the signal to Urroz and the others outside the door that it was safe to enter the room.

Urarth was first into the Hall. Urroz was right behind, and after her came Urrokko, Urkharf and Urnatar. Behind them the uruks poured into the room, scimitars out, spears ready.

There were still a hundred living statues in the hall, still straining to get to the adventurers. They clashed their swords and cried out in their harsh metallic voices, but they were crowded between a rock (Troll) and a hard place (all the petrified lizards and skeletons who had looked when Urthorn called them out.) And they were outnumberd at least two to one by the uruks and dwarves entering the Hall.

The dwarves began demolishing the gorgon-created statues between them and the living statues. Chips of stone flew in all directions. Stony dust began to fill the air. The dwarves shouted and grunted as they worked. The uruks shouted in impatience to get into the fray. The living statues roared and clanked in their own battle frenzy. Murk the rock troll bellowed and swept his own huge club back and forth against the statues nearest to him, battering them off to the side, and producing a clanging noise like the hammering of muffled bells.

Urroz tried to say something. Urrarth saw her mouth moving, but couldn’t hear a word over the pandemonium of the Hall.

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” he yelled back, but he couldn’t even hear himself. Urroz grabbed his hand and dragged him back toward the door of the Hall. She pointed to Urnatar, and Urrarth snagged him as they went by, pulling him along with them. Once they got back out in the corridor, the noise lessened a little bit, but they had to close the door and move down the hallway some fifty paces before the noise decreased enough to let them hear each other.

They found Urcaryx and Urpetar along with an honor guard of ten uruks that had remained with them.

“Argh, I couldn’t hear myself think in there,” said Urarrth. “My head hurts. I don’t think that just noise has ever made my head hurt before.”

Urroz agreed. “My ears are ringing. I couldn’t hear a thing in there.”

“Yes, it is glorious!” said Urnatar. “Why did you drag me back out here? The fighting was about to begin.”

“Yes, that is what I feared,” said Urroz. “The dwarves, with their axes, match up well enough against the living statues, but the uruks with spears and scimitars don’t. Have you thought, Urnatar, how you are going to beat creatures that are all armor, that cant be cut or piereced?” She looked fiercely at her uruk officer.

“We just overwhelm them and hack them to pieces,” answered Urnatar.

“Your swords will break before you hack them to pieces. Meanwhile, they will be hacking you to pieces,” said Urarrth.

“We don’t have enough dwarves to win the battle by themselves. There are still more living statues in there than our whole army.”

“Then what do we do, Boss?”Urnatar looked at Urarrth. An uruk’s idea of strategy was to simply rush in and fight until all the foes were dead or fleeing.

Arrth looked at Rose. She put her hand on her chin and looked like she was thinking.

Calyx and Petal joned the huddle of the leaders. “Do you think magic would help?” asked Calyx. “I have regained enough kremm to throw a couple of kill spells.”

“No, that won’t help. There are nearly two hundred of them to take down.”

“Then how can our uruks outfight them?” asked Arrth.

“How does one beat a superior foe?” asked Calyx.

“There are no superior foes,” declared Urnatar. “There is only battle, and in battle the better warrior wins. He wins by strength, or he wins by guile, or he wins by chance, but it is always the better warrior. That is the Truth of Battle.”

“Our warriors canot win by strength,” said Calyx. “Clearly the living statues are stronger with their metallic bodies.”

“Luck is undependable,” said Petal. “There is no reason to think that our forces are luckier than their.”

“But our forces have better leaders,” said Arrth. “They don’t seem to have leaders at all.”

“Then we must win by guile,” said Rose. “We must strike them where they are weakest.”
The statues don’t have any weaknesses,” said Urnatar.

“Yes they do,” answered Rose. “Their joints are their weak spots Wrists, elbows, ankles, knees—that is where the metal of their bodies is thinnest and most flexible. That is where a hard sword blow might break or sever them.”

“They have blood,” said Arrth. “Cut off a hand or foot and a statue could bleed out in a minute or two.”

“Do you understand, Urnatar?” asked Rose.

“What are you saying, woman?” asked the uruk.

“Urnatar, you and your Uruks must cat at the statues hands and feet. Ignore their bodies, cut only at hands and feet. Spear points jab at eyes and faces only.”

“How will we tell the warriors what to do?”

“Lead by example. And drag some of them back out here, and just flat out tell them what to do.”

Calyx turned to her honor guard, those ten uruks who had remained out in the passageway with her.  “You heard. Did you understand?”
 
“We understand, Magical One,” answered Urealna, an uruk woman who had been healed by Calyx after the last combat. “We must try to hit the statues only in their hands and feet.”

“Excellent, Urealna, you shall be a leader among your people. Get in there! Bring uruks back out and explain the battle strategy to them.”

“All of you members of Clan Cave Panther, go in, get uruk warriors, explain what must be done. Arrth made it an order. “And watch me! I will be first in battle and show how it is done.” He flourished the oversized blade that he had gotten from Urrokko.

“Urarrth! Da Boss!” shouted Urroz. Urcaryx, Urpetar, and the other Uruks quickly picked up the chant. Urarrth! Da Boss! Urarrth! Da Boss!”

They headed back into the Hall of Skulls, chanting and pumping their swordarms up and down in unison.

They opened the door to the Hall of Skulls and crowded inside. Their voices added to the din, but in their own small area they could be heard. The whole conference outside the Hall of Skulls had only taken about five minutes. There was still a bit of a stone wall of petrified lizards between the dwarves and the living statues.
 

L’nnrrd saw them come in. He made a gesture toward the statues along with a shoulder shrug, silently asking if they should finish breaking through. Urarrth marched boldly up to him, and mimed a hammer blow to the ossified carcass of a lizard. Meanwhile, Urroz had grabbed both an uruk and a dwarf and was dragging them toward the exit. Other uruks did the same, but only dragging uruks.

Urarrth reached L’nnrrd’s side. “Break the wall!” he shouted. The dwarf couldn’t hear him, but could read his lips. Urarrth got ready to leap through the first gajp.A big statue glared at hm and hoisted a curved blade. Its eyes glittered, and it bared metallic teeth.

The petrified lizard crumbled under the dwarves’ axe blows. Urarrth leaped through the gap, big black sword swinging. The statue stepped into him and raised its shield to  catch the blow, preparing a counter cut at the big uruk’s amored side. Urarrth changed the angle of his cut as he came down. Instead of hitting the shield squarely, he just grazed the surface of the metal shield and let the sword slide down it and into the statue’s slightly exposed front knee. Urarrth put all his weight and effort into the cut. Metal rang like a gong, and broke, but it was the statue that broke, and not the sword. At the same time the statue cut at Urarrth, but Urnatar came through the gap next and parried the blow with his own scimitar. That was all it took. The statue’s leg failed, half shorn through. Urarrth twisted the sword free doing extra damage. The statue went down. Urarrth  stepped on it is sword arm and made a crushing blow to the head, cleaving it in half. That statue died then.

Battle joined, there was no time to contemplate the first victory. L’nnrrd came through and delivered a massive axe cut at the knees of the next statue to attack. The dwarf was so strong that he sheared through one leg and half way into the other. Molten iron blood poured out of the wounds of the two downed statues, congealing quickly into tear drops of iron in the air.

A third and a fourth statue attacked. Urnatar and Urarrth exchanged several blows and shield bashes with them until the true uruk gained half a second in speed on his foe. He then turned his cut and took off the statue’sword hand. Molten blood spurted briefly. A few drops hit Urnatar, and he howled as his flesh sizzled, but it was minor damage. He blunted the edge of his scimitar, but Urnatar simply let it go. The statue dropped to its knees as its life bled out of it. Urarrth did a spinning kick to its head that knocked it back into its fellow. Urnatar pried the statue’s falchion out of its metal fingers.

As Urarrth spun through his kick, his foe’s blade clanged against his back armor. Leather flew, but the steel reinforcing it held, and the statue’s blade clanged off without harming the Boss. Urarrth finished his spin, catching his foe with sword arm extended. The heavy black blade smashed into the elbow and battered through the limb. Not only did the statue lose its primary weapon, but it also took a devastating wound that knocked it spinning off into its companions.

Other uruks and dwarves now rushed into the fight. Some of them saw how Urarrth and Urnatar went out of their way to strike at wrists and elbows and knees, and the emulated that style. Others, not so quick on the uptake, simply attacked.  When they fought to hit the body of their foes, their attacks were not successful, but the sheer impetus of many fresh fighters entering the battle in a small area pushed the statues back for a while.

More of the statues turned to face the attacking Uruks. More uruks and dwarves broke past the crumbling remains of the skeletons and lizards. Battle raged.

Urarrth was a terror. Larger and stronger than most Uruks, he was also better armored and carried a larger, heavier blade. He fought with a speed and power that the living statues couldn’t quite match. They were living metal, fast and strong, but not as supple and quick as a warrior like Arrth. Whenever Urarrth struck, metal caved. Every blow did not take out a foe, but every ten or twenty seconds another statue went down.

Urnatar was nearly as deadly. He quickly caught on to the new style of fighting—lure the opponent into a strike, and then counterstrike to take the hand off. He learned fast, and got good at it, and statue after statue lost their manual dexterity, because they lost their hands. Other Uruks saw what he did and tried to copy it. Some succeeded. Some didn’t. Those that succeeded had a remarkable effect on the statues.

Urroz and some of the briefed Uruks joined the fight. She was a wonder at parry and counter-strike. She moved up to join Urarrth, and the two of them began to carve out a corridor through the mass of living statues.

Muck and Cherry came out of the room they had been holding for days and hit the statues from the other side. So many statues had turned to face the uruks that they actually got to cut four down before the statues turned to face them again. Karalialin flew out and up to watch from above. An old, white-haired elf came to the doorway. He raised his long-fingered bony hands, and bolts of purple lightning erupted from them to the bodies of the living statues.Wherever the magic struck, a statue saged and died.

Attacked on two sides, hemmed in so that their superior numbers couldn’t really come into play, the living statues dwindled away as more and more of them became dead statues. After ten minutes of ferocious fighting, they became a besieged minority. The noise in the Hall of Skulls died down to a mere roar, and individual voices could again be distinguished.

Muck began to bellow, “IF YOU WANT TO LIVE, STATUES, STOP FIGHTING AND SIT DOWN! IF YOU WANT TO LIVE, SIT DOWN!” This was part of the plan that Karalialin had carried in to them.

A few of the statues listened and seated themselves. Others saw it, heard the troll, saw the cavorting uruks carving up their fallen companions, and followed suit. Soon they were all sitting down.

Urrarth, Urroz, Cherry, and Muck met in the center. The false uruks were flanked by their loyal followers. Cherry’s party stood alone.

Rose took off her amulet and changed seeming to that of the human warrior-woman she really was. “A neat trick,” muttered Cherry. The two women sized each other up. Muck and Arrth also examined each other. Arrth decided that Muck was one mighty big troll, and really hoped he wouldn’t have to fight him some day.

Rose smiled. “I am Rose of Stormgaard, and I think we have an enemy in common.”

“Cherry of Khosht. If you are talking about a certain black-garbed lich wizard, I think you might be right.”

The side wall of the Hall broke open and blocks of stone flew in all directions. Muck moved to block one that would have struck Cherry and Rose. The impact staggered the mighty rock troll and left him reeling, but saved the two women from injury. Uruks, dwarves, and living statues howled and died under the sudden shower of rocky projectiles that had come out of the wall. Everyone looked in that direction.

Through the gap where the wall had been strode Terevorr the wizard and four stone golems, each of them larger than the rock troll.

“This has gone far enough!” hissed Terevorr. His voice was not the loudest noise in the room, yet somehow everyone heard him. “It is time for you troublemakers to die now!”
 

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