Chapter 11: Bridge
Calyx took a piece of lime-green chalkstone from her pack and drew a starburst on the passage wall. One ray extended half again as far as the others, and it pointed along the path they were following.
“What are you doing?” Arrth asked.
“Marking our trail. We might want to know if we’ve been this way before, or we might need the markings to find the way back.”
“I see you did it right after we crossed that side trail. This helps us avoid wrong turns?”
“You catch on quickly, Arrth, and you’re not afraid to ask questions. I like that in a human. We may yet become friends.”
“I guess I can stop counting paces and side passages then.”
“Naw, keep it up, kid,” said Thorn. “It’s good practice and will keep you mentally sharp.”
“There is something up ahead,” hissed Petal.
They fell silent. The talking had been in library tones, not whispers which could carry, but soft, muted voices that would only sound like a murmur to anyone more than three paces away.
They waited in silence for three minutes. Then Petal came back. Her finger was to her lips to indicate silence. She motioned for everyone to draw together into a group, then led them forward one step at a time. The walls of the passage disappeared and they found themselves on a wide lip of stone. In front of them was a chasm that plunged into unknown depths. It was at least a hundred feet wide. A rope suspension bridge crossed it. Two lamps of glow stone lit up the narrow crossing, one at each end of the perilous path.
Rose silently mouthed “Any guards?”
Petal pointed back down the path they had been following. Thorn got down to the floor and put her ear against it. “Many footsteps and coming fast,”
They all looked at Rose for orders.
“Aarth, Calyx, Petal, get across the bridge as quickly as you can! Thorn and I will stay and guard this side until you’re across.”
“I can stay and help fight,” Arrth protested.
“I need a fighter on the other side as well,” said Rose. “Get moving!”
Arrth ran out onto the bridge. After a few steps it was swaying and bounding, and he almost went over the side, catching himself on one of the suspension ropes at the last second.
“Don’t run,” ordered Petal. “You’ll pitch us all to our deaths. A steady walk will get you to the other side faster than anything else.”
Arrth held on and waited for the swaying bridge to stabilize. “I have never crossed this kind of bridge before.”
“You see a lot of them up in the Khargish Mountains. So much up and down there. A hundred foot bridge can save a half day’s worth of climbing up and down.”
He felt like a duck on a pond in an archer’s sites, but Arrth held on to the guide ropes and quickly made his way across. Halfway across he felt hands lightly grip his waist and push him to one side, and then Petal passed him, no easy feat on a narrow bridge. She gave him a teasing smile and then forged ahead, opening a gap between them as she moved across with a sure-footedness he would never be able to match.
“What the . . .?”
“She’s an impatient girl,” said Calyx. “You have to be swift and sure to keep up with our Petal.”
Rose and Thorn moved to either side of the place where hallway ended and ledge began. “Shall I hail them?” asked Thorn.
“Yes, let’s see what response you get?”
Thorn deepened her voice as much as possible and barked short uruk consonants into the darkness. “ARRAK! UKUG VANNDA?” (Halt! Who comes?)
A chorus of grunts, hisses, and squeals answered the challenge.
“Those aren’t uruks,” said Rose.
“So much for our disguises,” Thorn answered.
Their weapons came into their hands. Thorn chose to fight with her battleaxe while Rose wielded her falcata of true silver. Its blue gleam added an eerie radiance to the scene.
“They sound like reptiles.”
“Lizaard-men!” Thorn snorted. “Abominations!”
“They make suitcases.” Rose spoke only in jest. The thunder of running feet and squeals of rage sullied the darkness.
“I wouldn’t use them!”
The first lizard came into view. He was a curious hybrid creature with the head and body of a crocodile, but with arms and legs that were man-like. Both arms and legs were shorter and more muscular than any human’s ever were. It wore chain mail over its torso but left head, arms and legs bare—not really bare, all were covered with thick, green, overlapping scales. The feet were wide claws. It carried a blank wooden shield and a blade that was more like a meat cleaver than a sword. It was over seven feet tall, and its tail extended another four feet behind it, lashing from side to side in short, powerful arcs. The creature filled more than half the passage.
“The bigger they are,” said Rose.
“The harder they fall,” Thorn finished. She swung her double bladed axe of Dwarven steel with all her might as the lizard charged out of the passage, She cut through one leg just below the knee and caught the hind leg a glancing blow that carved off flesh and muscle from knee to ankle as her axe slid along the bone.
The enraged hiss turned to one of shock and pain as blood sprayed out of the destroyed legs in all directions and the lizard-man went down on its belly. That bellow was cut off as Rose’s razor-sharp sword came down across the back of its neck, cutting through tough shoulder muscles and spine, killing it.
The second lizard-man in the file tripped over the first and went tumbling across the landing. Its weapon flew out of his hands into the abyss and clipped one of the bridge suspension ropes on its way down. It didn’t sever the rope—only nicked it, but it weakened it.
Rose danced out to handle the second enemy as it pushed its way to its feet.
The third creature managed to come to a skidding halt as it saw the destruction in front of it, but the one behind crashed into it and sent it staggering forward into Thorn’s swinging axe. The heavy war blade smashed through the cheap iron mail as if it weren’t even there and opened a wide gash in the lizard’s abdomen. Bloody guts flew off Thorn’s axe as she drew it back for her next swing. Her victim dropped its cleaver, grasped at its stomach, and fell to its knees, all the while squealing in a high hissing shriek that deafened all who heard it. No one would ever expect such a noise from a reptile.
The rest of the file came to a halt. The fourth in line, who was also fourth in command, saw a gore-spattered uruk wielding a Dwarven battle axe. It didn’t make sense. Lizards aren’t very intelligent, but they’re smart not to charge into the face of certain death. Thorn had them bottled up for the moment.
Rose moved in on her foe with a flurry of swings designed to cut and weaken it. The lizard-man grabbed his shield with both hands and swung it desperately to parry her. Metal carved splinters of wood off with every blow, but Rose was doing no harm to it. As it caught the rhythm of her attacks, the lizard reached to its belt and pulled out its secondary weapon—a knife half the size of Rose’s sword. Seeing that swordplay was doing no good, Rose changed her tactics, put her head down, and charged into the snouter’s shield with all the force she could muster. The impact drove the monster back two steps—one step more than it could afford to give. The rear foot went over the edge of the abyss and with a burbling bellow of horror, it fell into the abyss.
“We’re safely across!” shouted Calyx. “Come on, Rose!”
“Thorn, it’s time to go!” Rose glided over to the bridge, and looking behind her, started across. The dwarf warrior disengaged, and with one last shake of her axe, turned and sprinted for the bridge. She reached it barely three steps behind Rose.
“Eyes down!” Calyx yelled, and cast a spell that looked like a glowing ball of light moving in a high slow arc across the chasm. The lizards, seeing that the way forward was no longer blocked, charged out onto the ledge with a cacophony of growls and hisses. Ten of them surged out onto the flat ledge, and then the ball of light fell in among them. It burst with a radiance brighter than the mid-day sun.
Even with her eyes averted, Rose was dazzled by the brightness that illuminated her surroundings. Splashes of green and yellow danced before her eyes, and she could barely see the planks underfoot. Holding onto the guide ropes with her hands, she picked up the pace.
“I’m dazzle-blind, Rose!” called Thorn. “I did not get my eyes averted in time. What a flash! Are the lizard-men coming?”
“I can barely see, but they all appear to be totally blind. They are milling around and knocking each other down.” Rose came back for Thorn, reached out, touched a shoulder and turned the Dwarf around. “Follow, keep one hand on the left hand rope.”
Half way across they felt the bridge lurch and settle. “What was that?” cried Thorn. If they hadn’t been holding onto the guide ropes the sudden lurch might have thrown them to their deaths.
“Hurry!” cried Calyx. “A guide rope is fraying and breaking!”
“I hate these suspension bridges,” snarled Thorn. “Why can’t they make their bridges out of good solid stone? That’s what Dwarves would do”
“Calyx, get a Catch spell ready!” yelled Rose. She was also walking as swiftly as he dared.
“Concentrating,” replied the High Elf. Her face was serene. Her eyes were closed. Her hands made a basket.
The last strands of the fraying rope broke, and the bridge tilted sideways. Arrth’s long arm reached out and caught Rose’s leading hand and yanked her to safety as the planks fell away beneath her feet.
Thorn lost her grip on the one good rope and felt her feet slip out from under her as the bridge bottom turned vertical. “Ah, no!” she muttered as she fell.
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