By David Pontier
When Goblins Attack is the property of the author, David Pontier and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email David with any comments and feedback on When Goblins Attack and visit his website at: http://www.geocities.com/piqsid/stories.html.
Chapter 10: The Plan
John and Elliorn quickly waded through the carnage before them. John could not imagine how something like this could be possible. He had never seen Entreri fight, and his mind was not wild enough to imagine what could have done this. His only glimpse of the assassin's prowess was when he had killed the stone giant, but he had only struck once and had let his magical blade do all the work. After hearing the tale of what he had done to defeat Quinton, John had hoped to catch the assassin in action. Now he was not so sure he wanted to witness it.
Elliorn did not need to look at the telling wounds on the goblins to know who had done this. She did not believe in coincidences, and this would be a major one if she did not find Entreri at the end of this blood trail. That John and the mayor had hidden this man from her was something she would deal with later. It was possible that Entreri was living under the name Arthur and John really did not know who he was, but she doubted it. If Entreri already had a cover established, he would not have called himself Regis back when they were tied together.
Even though Entreri was killing goblins and doing the entire countryside a huge favor, she was prepared to kill him on sight. John had questioned earlier whether Entreri was really as evil as she thought since he had spared her, and this goblin killing spree might look like a turning of a leaf to some, but she knew Entreri as a killer. It is what he did. If these had been forest fairies instead of goblins, she believed the carnage would be no less intense.
They spent a short while searching the rooms that branched off from the adequately named "mess" hall, but could see nothing of interest. Their destination lay across the great hall where more stairs stood. There were no goblin steps carved into the side of this stairway, and Elliorn knew what lay ahead of them. There were still two stone giants unaccounted for. If Entreri had faced off against them alone, maybe her work would be done for her.
No, she might hate the killer, but she respected him too much to think that creatures she could kill by herself would take him down. Now if he had already met up with Kron, that was a different story. Elliorn would not be so foolish as to go up against him by herself.
The two dead giants at the top of the steps did not surprise her. John spent a while to examine the bodies, noticing again the heavy frost along the wounds. The wounds were vicious, but there were not that many of them. John imagined a battle he might have with one of these giants if they faced off. He would have to hit it a dozen times before he inflicted enough damage to bring it down and take its head.
"Come on," Elliorn said impatiently. "The bodies are still slightly warm. He was here recently."
They moved up the remaining steps with a little more caution. They both expected to find the same thing. They expected to find Entreri smashed to a pulp and Kron waiting for them. Elliorn did not want to fight the frost giant now. She wanted to do it on her own terms with ballistae, flaming arrows, barrels of oil, and a legion of knights, but if she were forced into combat here, she would not turn away from it.
Elliorn noticed something metal lying on the steps ahead of her. She picked it up and recognized it as the medallion Kron had worn. He had looked at it when he had been interrogating her. He said it had announced the arrival of some visitors. She now understood that he had wards set up around the mountain range, and this medallion was tied to those wards. By the intricate design of the item, she bet it had many other uses as well. What was it doing on the steps? She tucked it into her pack, and they continued up the stairs.
The door at the top was closed. Elliorn noticed that the ward on the floor was spent. Had Entreri fallen victim to it? The wards before the mess hall had been triggered, but he had apparently survived. She remembered the only time they had fought. She had hit him with an arrow twice, the first time solidly in the leg. Still he had been more nimble and agile than anyone she had ever faced, save her elven teachers. Was he impervious?
The knob on the door was seven feet high, but John could reach it. "Don't!" Elliorn cried on instinct.
"What?" he asked, but he remembered all the other traps. "Right. What do we do?"
"Get back," she said. They both retreated to the stairs where the corridor curved around. John put himself out of sight of the door as Elliorn slowly knocked an arrow to her bow. The keyhole was not a huge target, but it was oversized. She had hit smaller things from further away. She let fly, and then ducked around the corner with John. The explosion was tremendous. They could both feel the heat coming down the hallway. When it was over, they saw that there was only a smoking hole where the door had been. They walked into the chamber and recognized it as a battle scene. There was no blood or bodies anywhere.
"Where did they go?" John asked.
Elliorn could feel a draft and moved into the bedroom. The gaping hole in the wall was impossible to miss. The two of them stepped out onto the ledge and watched as Kron pulled himself up onto a peak almost 200 yards away. Almost invisible at this distance was a small human form already on top of the peak.
"Artemis!!!" Elliorn screamed.
The wind was blowing in her favor and the words came to Entreri clearly. "Damn it ranger," Entreri cursed, "not now." He watched her pull her bow and set an arrow. "She can't hit me from-" but he cut his comment short as he dodged to the side and an arrow whizzed past him. Just what he needed.
"I am too big for her to miss, Artemis," Kron said, loving this moment. He finished climbing up to stand in front of Entreri. "Is she a friend of yours?"
Entreri quickly moved to put Kron between himself and the ranger, laughing at the absurdity of it. He had death in front of him and over a 250-foot drop behind him. The slope was one he could manage if there was no wind and he had time, but these were not the conditions he was faced with.
"You might be too quick for me to catch, but I will survive that fall and you will not."
Entreri knew he was right. Kron might not survive the direct fall, but with his resilience, he could bounce down the slope like a child rolling down a grassy hill. If Entreri jumped, the wind would carry him far away from the slope, but even if it did not, he would break every bone in his body before he hit the bottom.
"Or maybe I should just climb back down and let your ranger friend have some target practice."
"I'd rather you not," Entreri said. He had a plan, he just did not like to be forced into it. "I'll race you to the bottom," he said playfully. He turned around, ran the dozen feet to the edge, and jumped.
"Did he just jump?" John asked, peering into the distance. Kron jumped after him.
"They both did," Elliorn said, looking for a way to get down to the valley bellow that did not involve falling.
"They'll be killed," John said. "Won't they?"
"I'm not leaving anything to chance," she said, finding a narrow path and starting her way down. John shrugged his shoulders and followed.
Entreri had four, maybe five seconds before he hit bottom. There might be snow covering his landing spot, but he knew it would still kill him instantly. He reached into his cloak and pulled out his ivory cylinder. With the ground rushing at him ever faster, he opened the portal to a huge diameter. Careful not to remove the cylinder from the shimmering portal, he slid it over to the side and fell through.
His velocity with respect to the portal was incidental, and he rolled onto the cave floor smoothly. He quickly moved to the other side of the magical doorway just before a tremendous amount of snow came hurtling through as the portal struck the ground. The portal stayed open and Entreri breathed a sigh of relief. He had tested before to see if something inanimate could remove the cylinder from the portal and close it, but he was pretty sure a living being had to do it. He was glad he was right.
Entreri continued to wait off to the side of the portal. A few seconds later a wave of rocks and more snow came shooting through the doorway at incredible velocity. This would be the minor avalanche Kron had brought with him. No mater how much snow and rock fell on the portal it could never be buried.
After a short wait a huge hand came through. It felt around cautiously and curiously. Soon Kron's wrist and elbow came through. Once the fingers found the gold, the arm came in up to the shoulder. Entreri watched as the hand walked its way up the stacks of gold and onto the dead dragon's body. The entire arm froze. Entreri allowed himself a chuckle as he wondered if Kron knew what he was feeling.
The arm retracted itself, and Entreri got ready to move. As expected, Kron's bearded head came through next. He almost pulled it back out when he saw the dragon, but as a fellow creature of magical origin, he could tell that the huge red was dead. Kron rotated his head and smiled. "I found you."
"Good bye," Entreri said, running up to the head and squeezing through the gap in the portal beside it.
Kron was a bit disoriented. The portal was lying flat on the ground outside, and anyone looking at him from above would liken his posture to an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. From Kron's perspective the portal was opened perpendicular to the cave floor, and his head was lying flat instead of pointing down. This confusion cost Kron his life. Instead of pulling his head up and out of the hole, he picked it up sideways. The result was that he hooked the portal's edge around his neck, and lifted it off the snowy ground, and his head stayed inside the cave.
Entreri clung onto the giant's back has Kron stood up blindly. He now wore the portal like a necklace; his shoulders were too broad to fit through. Entreri hung on, looking up into the shimmering disk that seemed to float on Kron's shoulders. He needed to find the cylinder somewhere on the edge of the disk, but as Kron stumbled about clumsily, he had to concentrate more on holding on. Kron's hands kept coming together in the area above his shoulders where his head was supposed to be. For all his motion on this side of the magical doorway, since the portal was moving with him, inside the cave nothing moved.
As much as Entreri would have loved to watch this comedic spectacle longer, he needed to end it before Kron wised up and put the portal back on the ground and pulled his head out properly. Entreri finally spotted the cylinder, scrambled up the giant's back, and plucked it free. The portal snapped shut and Kron's body stopped moving instantly. Entreri tucked the cylinder back into his coat and jumped from his perch, knowing what was coming next.
Blood shot into the air in a red fountain, turning the snow in the immediate area into a sea of red. Entreri scrambled outside of the shower's range, always one to stay neat. The headless body stayed standing for a few macabre moments and then toppled forward like a felled tree. Blood continued to flow for a while, but with a wound that big and clean, it did not take long to drain the giant's body.
Entreri picked himself up from the snow and breathed a huge sigh. He approached the giant's body from the angle that offered the least amount of red snow. He stuck his dagger into the cooling corpse and took what little he could, but there was not much life left.
He was about to relax when he remembered something. "Elliorn!" he cried out loud. He had seen the ranger right before he jumped. He had just done her job for her, but he knew thanks were not on her mind. He needed to get away. He did not like the idea of running, but he knew with her bow and accuracy, he would be dead long before she got close enough for his weapons. The pass he was in ran north and south and was clear enough, but the snow was heavy and he would leave very visible tracks.
Elliorn would be coming from the south in a few minutes once she skirted around the peak he had just jumped from, unless she went over the top like he had, but he doubted that. To the west, directly across from the cliff he had jumped from was a much smaller cliff face. Entreri moved over to it, careful to cover his tracks behind him.
Once he got to the wall, he swore. It was covered in ice, and the first ledge was just two feet out of reach. The ledge faced east, and while it was in shade now in the early morning, in an hour it would be bathed in direct sunlight. Any snow on it melted and then froze into ice during the night. This meant Entreri could move across it without leaving tracks, but he had to get up to the ledge first. The ice was too slick to climb.
An idea came to him and he reopened his portal. He made sure it was big enough so he could step past the obstruction he knew would be there. He went back into his cave and heaved the tremendous head through the portal and into the snow. He took a while to frown at the blood left behind in his cave. If he did not clean that up, it would start to stink pretty soon.
He stepped back through the portal, closed it, and climbed onto the top of the disembodied head. The ledge was now in reach, and Entreri climbed up onto it. The narrow path snaked around to the north and continued up at a slow pace. There were a few slippery handholds, and Entreri climbed. In a few minutes, he was far away from the dead giant.
* * *
Elliorn made it to the valley beneath the broken window before John, and she patiently waited for him. If Kron had survived the fall, and she did not doubt that he could, she did not want to face him alone. They did not follow directly, but stayed in the snowy pass that headed west. It sloped down quite steeply, making the peak from which Entreri and Kron had jumped look even taller. After a few minutes the valley intersected another wider pass that headed north.
Elliorn saw Kron's body from a distance. The red around him stood out plainly on the white horizon. John stopped once he saw what they were walking toward, his knees suddenly weak. Elliorn did not pause at all. She walked right up to the dead giant and climbed on top of his chest. "I will stand over your beheaded body," she said, repeating the threat she had given him back during the interrogation. Of course she had been planing on being the one to take the head. She did not cry too much over the missed opportunity. She was just glad it was done.
"Who? How? What?" John was nothing but questions as he approached.
"The head is over there," she pointed to a spot over fifty feet away. "This wound is impossible."
John looked at her with a puzzled expression, but then took the time to examine the wound for himself. He had investigated many murders, and had never seen anything like this. "The cut it too clean," he said.
"Yes," she agreed, "even for a magical blade. And it was made with one swipe. Even your sword is not that long. And are we to believe that the cut was made with such force that the head flew all the way over there?"
"Another giant with a really sharp sword?" John asked.
"Then where are the tracks?" Apart from the blood and a few of Kron's footprints, there was nothing. "And where is Artemis?"
"You mean Arthur?" John asked.
She scowled at him, but he was doing a much better job of acting right now. "Whatever," she huffed.
"He is probably buried," John said.
Elliorn turned to look back at the mountainside Kron had descended. He had brought an awful lot of rock and snow down with him. Somehow Elliorn did not want to believe Entreri was under there. Something had killed this frost giant, and as impossible as it sounded for Entreri to have done it, there were a lot of mysteries about the man she did not understand.
"No," she said, jumping down off the giant and looking for more clues, "he is around here somewhere. And I will find him."
"Stop already!" John cried. "The man is dead! Even if he is this Artemis you keep blabbering about, he just killed a hoard of goblins and giants. He did what it would take an army to do. Don't you think you should let him off the hook?"
"Entreri is evil," she said calmly. "If Kron had killed him, would you want me to let the giant off the hook? Evil kills evil. That does not make the evil good." She looked at the pile under which Entreri most logically resided. It would take a day to dig through that.
"I'll get you a shovel," he said, reading her thoughts, "but I won't help you. There are far more pressing matters at hand."
Elliorn shook herself free from her vendetta to listen to John's words. He was right. The slaves would be heading back to town by now. They would be moving slowly and would need help and healing. Plus with the wind picking up, a storm was likely on the way. Her duties required her to lend assistance.
She looked once more at the impossible kill and shrugged her shoulders. "Let's go." She could come back here later if she had time.
* * *
"It's nice to see you back in one piece," Jerithon said, standing behind his desk and shaking John's hand.
"It's nice to be in one piece," John agreed, taking a seat in front of the mayor's desk and picking up the drink Jerithon had prepared for him.
"Well," the mayor prompted, "don't just sit there in silence. Please give me your full report."
"The threat is ended. The goblins have been routed, and whatever might remain will be cleaned out come spring." John went into a few particulars as to what exactly had been in the goblin caves and what they had been up to. He also elaborated on the giants and how they had been killed.
"Were there many casualties?"
"Weren't you listening?" John said.
"I mean human casualties," Jerithon corrected.
John's expression changed, and he nodded regretfully. "Three of my men and many civilians. My men died in the initial attack and were buried in the avalanche that nearly got me. I am going to take a team up there and dig them out in a few days when the weather breaks. We were alerted to the goblins initially when they killed two brothers that lived near the town, but upon investigation, it seems they were two of many. They killed the strong ones and took the weak as slaves."
Jerithon nodded. "And Artemis?"
John smiled. "He is alive and well. I just saw him two hours ago hanging curtains in his shack as if nothing had happened. I tried to press for details, but he was not forthcoming."
"What are we going to do about him?"
John raised his arms by his side. "We will keep away from him. Give him space, give him peace and quiet, and give him the city keys if he asks for them. Still, as long as he behaves, it is nice to know we have someone like that here. Though he is difficult to recruit, once he puts his mind to something it gets done."
The mayor nodded. "And what of the ranger?"
"Elliorn stayed in Hillcrest a while longer than I did. She wanted to make sure that everything was taken care of and that everyone knew not to wander too deep into the mountains until a party could be organized to clean them out. I actually expected her to-" John was interrupted as the door into the mayor's office burst open and Elliorn walked.
"Miss," the mayor's attendant called, "you can't go in there, he is in a-" but the voice was cut off as Elliorn slammed the door behind her.
Jerithon smiled at her and stood to offer his hand. "Welcome back, Elliorn. You did this entire area a great serv-"
"You lied to me!" she interjected, not about to accept the mayor's handshake. "You lied to me and harbored a known murderer. I have half a mind to haul you back to Karenstoch to face the charges for Artemis's crimes."
Jerithon looked as innocent as possible. "I assure you, I do not know what you are talking about. We have caught, tried, and executed all the murderers in our city."
"You know full well what I am talking about," she bit back. "I am not talking about the murders of a few months ago, though I would not be surprised to find out that Artemis played a part in those matters as well. If he were not dead I would tear this city apart to bring him to justice. If I ever find out that you are doing anything else that cou-"
The door burst open again, and a young man that neither John nor Jerithon recognized rushed in. "-can't go in ther-" came the cry from in the hall.
Elliorn turned and recognized the man immediately. "Alec, what are you doing here?" Alec Barnwuld was as close to a pupil as Elliorn had. The young man loved the woods almost as much as she did, and she had requested that he look after her cabin north of Karenstoch while she was gone.
"Thank Ehlonna I found you," he said, pulling a rolled parchment from his cloak. "I have been on the road for two weeks. The elves sent me."
Elliorn looked harshly at him. The existence of elves in the Northwood was supposed to be a secret. She took the parchment. "Did you read it?"
Alec shook his head. "I could not."
Elliorn was confused. Alec was a very good reader. As she unrolled it, she understood. It was written in Elvish. Elliorn was probably the only human within a thousand miles that could have read it. Her eyes scanned the letter, the scowl on her face growing deeper and more serious. She looked up when she was done. "Alec, go buy two new horses. We leave back for home immediately."
Alec nodded and rushed out of the room. The ranger turned back to the two other men in the room. "The evil magics of this land are awakening. What we just went through is only the beginning. We are in for troubled times ahead." With that she turned on her heals and marched out of the room.
The two men were silent for quite some time, wondering what had just happened. "What do you think she meant by that?" Jerithon finally asked. John could only shrug.
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