From many miles away, Demagauge and Cuttice could hear the battle taking place. He knew the elves would make it on time, and since they had done their part, he would do his and retrieve the crown for his Princess. They were moving on horseback past a small enclosure of trees as they heard a noise and an arrow flew from the bushes. It struck Gauge in the arm and he slumped over his horse and fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Ruffy jumped from the bushes and saw that it was a sack of potatoes. From behind him, Cuttice had her knife to his throat.
“Speak, you little worm, how much is Titan paying you to kill him? Or are you doing it of your own accord?”
He seemed to be choking, as Gauge jumped down from his horse and gave Cuttice back her cloak.
“It was both, I’d be willing to guess,” added Gauge.
Ruffy made a gagging noise and asked, “Could you loosen your grip, please? I can’t breathe.”
She tightened it and said, “There’s no reason why you should breathe. Now, talk!”
“I wasn’t trying to kill him, at least not yet. It was you! Titan thought you were the traitor!” he said.
“That’s a lie! He knows of my heritage. And we saw your buddy in black the other night, too. You’ve been after me since the beginning of this!”
“What are you talking about?”
“The guy in the black satin. He almost killed my friend with his horse the other night.”
Ruffy seemed to be thinking about what he had just heard, and then with an astonished look on his face he says, “Did you see Kodo?”
“Who is Kodo?”
“The black revenge. He has a jewel embedded in his hand. Some say he can turn into a black dragon. Others say he can become mist and shadow. Or that his sword can cut anything in the world. Why was he here?”
“I don’t know. I thought he was with you!”
“No! I was supposed to kill Cuttice in front of you. That’s it!”
“Well, for taking that job, you will die.”
“Come on, Gauge. How many people’s life-long loves have you killed in your life time for a few gold pieces? I’m sure the numbers would astonish you. This is our life! You seem to be ignoring the fact of who you are. You’re Demagauge, one of the thieves of
the Dunan. You’ve killed and stolen, and never looked back. I’m your friend, or as close to one as you’ll ever have.”
Gauge motioned for Cuttice to back up.
“You’re right. We are friends,” and Gauge lunged forward, driving a dagger into Ruffy’s stomach, “and sometimes, we thieves have to even kill our own friends.”
Ruffy fell to the ground, clutching his stomach, as gooey burgundy-colored blood flowed out between his fingers to the ground.
“This is how it’ll end for you too, Gauge!” Ruffy laid his head down and pulled some leaves from his pipe and lit it up. He never got to puff it.
Gauge and Cuttice mounted back up on their horse and galloped away quickly, up and up the hills closer and closer to the loud battle they had heard. As they rode up the last hill near the mountains, they saw a bloody landscape full of pain and death. Elves were braced behind every boulder, stone, or rock in the mountainous area, shooting arrows at angry giants and wild men. Bodies and carcasses littered the valley floor, mostly dead, some still agonizing in pain, and some missing limbs. They sat and watched the horror of it all for nearly another hour, as the battle seemed to be nearing an end. The elves had embedded themselves in the rock face and were well protected from their enemies. All the men who weren’t dead had ran out towards the river, where surely another heavily armed Elvin squadron was waiting to dispatch them. The giants were also low in numbers and those who were still alive weren’t smart enough to retreat. They just kept advancing on the fortitude of the Elvin firing squad. From a distance, Gauge could see a parade of elves in royal attire coming across the plain from the river.
“Come, Cuttice. I must speak to the Princess.”
They tore across the countryside, moving in and out from bodies and carnage. Gauge knew that the elves must gain control of the crown, and he was the only one who could get it. He was even thinking about settling down after all of this mess was over. He was thinking about Titan and how he had tried to screw him out of the crown. He made a promise to himself that he would be the one to stick the knife in Titan’s back. He watched Cuttice, galloping on her steed, thinking of the great life they could have had together, as different people, in a different life. She’s been involved with too much death and pain over the years. Things could only improve in their lives, and he so wanted to tell her then, but how could he? He’s a thief. But, he’s also an elf. The most honorable of people. His balance, the thing that gave him hope he could live a different life. But, he did not know if it was in his heart. They were upon the marching elves and a gold-laced wagon stopped in front of them. From the doorway stepped out a grey-haired short Elvin woman, wearing a white lace shawl over her silken gold dress. Her tiara was laced with green rubies and her fingers adorned in tangled ivy.
“Hello, my Queen. I’m glad you received my message in time.”
“We are glad you sent it. Can you retrieve the Tamer?”
She asked, in a sweet, solemn voice.
“I will attempt it. I’m not worried about the traps. Only the other men going after it. You know of Titan’s treachery. He has our whole guild inside scouting for him, as well as some mercenaries from the North. It won’t be easy.”
“Alvistar, come forward.” She addressed a man in red scale armor to come forward.
“Alvistar has the skill of a ninja, and can disappear at any time. He will accompany you on the journey inside. Take these.”
She handed him a bag, half-filled.
“There are ivy fortresses inside. No creature can claw through the thick binding if you are in dire trouble. There’s also cakes and Elvin mead, for your energy. Be careful and good luck.”
Gauge kissed her hand and acknowledged his new buddy. Cuttice jumped on Gauge’s horse with him and Alvistar took hers and off they rode to the caves.
“Could this land be any bumpier?” asked Permion, lying in the caring arms of Mary Ann, as she tousled his hair.
“So, you are a magician?” asked Luther, inquisitively.
“Illusionist, actually. We specialize in tricks of the mind and tricks of the perception. Could you rub my shoulders, please, my magical peach?” Mary Ann seemed to glow at those words and did as her new friend asked.
“So, how long have you been playing?” Jillineath asked Lentern, who she had been scooting closer and closer to during the long ride to the caves.
“Well, my father got me lessons when I was five and I fell in love with it. I played for all my classes after school and kept at it. Shall I sing you something?” he looked at her with quartz blue eyes, and inside her heart melted.
“Wow! No one’s ever done that for me!” She looked embarrassed.
Lentern picked up his lute, specially crafted and strung for him in Kings gate and began lightly strumming. Jillineath watched his lips intently as he began to move them, singing softly, which gained the attention of everyone in the wagon.
“You move in front of me, my heart follows,
I watch how you speak, my pride wallows,
On the coldest day, you fill me with warmth,
And if you’d ask me for my heart, my heart would come forth.
I dream of your eyes locked onto mine,
You’re creamy skin takes up all my time,
As soon as I look away from you, I miss
Starving for one touch or one kiss…”
Lentern was interrupted as Jillineath pounced on him like a tiger and gave him his one kiss and many more.
“Ah, young love. Isn’t it…young?” asked Gramis, as he was mixing some powders together. It made a small explosion and the wagon rocked for a brief second.
“Sorry,” Jillineath muttered from under a blanket.
Croc looked over at Gramis and said, “What are you concocting?”
“Something to burn that cave into a paved street way.”
‘Lest you forget, Dite is going to be in there with them. You’re not going to blow up that cave.”
“Well, you’ll have a few minutes to get her out while I prepare the spell.”
“If you do, I’ll have to sap you,” Croc said bluntly.
“And I hope you don’t get caught in the path of the flame.”
Croc picked up the bucket of powders and chucked it out of the wagon window. Gramis looked shocked.
“The only hot air around here will be the words spewing from your mouth, wizard. I’m starting to hate magicians.” And Croc stood up to go out to the driver’s seat.
“Yeah, well, they don’t like you, either,” Gramis replied.
Croc walked into an odd conversation between Darius and Gert as he walked out to the driver’s platform.
“So, what ingredients besides salt can I use to season my pork?” Gert inquired.
“Well, there’s this stuff from Zon, oh hi Croc. How’s the ride?” Gert looked up to see Croc staring at him.
“Don’t give me that look. A dwarf can’t just fight, you know.”
“I need to speak with you, Gert. Darius, I’ll take the reins until we get there.”
Darius tipped his head and changed positions with the large warrior. Croc looked at his friend intently.
“I hope we haven’t gotten over our heads with this. Look at all these people that are with us. Not one can swing a decent sword.”
“I think we should leave them behind. Maybe take the wizard. He can blow up all our enemies with his fairy-tricks.”
“He’s too unstable. I can’t trust him. In battle, you’re the only one I can trust. We’ve lived these years together and they’ve been hard. But, this is the moment we’ve waited for. We’ll get our revenge on Titan, and then after that, we’ll kill Bane.”
“You know, I never did thank you properly for helping my mother. That wasn’t your fight, but you fought it anyways.”
“It was my fight, after what Titan did to all those people in Kings gate. We are brothers, in every sense of the word except blood. I knew your family, your sister. I owe him for all that carnage, and so do you.”
Up ahead, Croc could see two giants standing in front of an ominous hole in the mountain. It was all grey rock until you neared the cave, which looked like black shale stone. It crumbled at a small amount of pressure and stained nearly everything. The rock looked as if it had been burned into incineration, but just would burn away. Gert looked in the back of the wagon and screamed at Lentern and Jillineath, who everyone was watching.
“Get out of the floor and back in your knickers!” They both sat up immediately, Jillineath red-faced. Lentern spoke up.
“My knickers weren’t off, you hairy galoot!”
Then, Permion chimed in, “Mine are!” as Mary Ann shrieked in terror, but Luther looked intrigued. Permion gave him an ugly glare and began pulling up his pants under his robe.
“We are here; we’re at the Cave of the Foul Stench. It’s not called that for nothing. I don’t think all of you should come, so we’ll take a few volunteers.”
“I will accompany thee, Sir Croc!” exclaimed Darius.
“You know I’m coming!” Gramis frankly put.
“That’s fine, but I’ll be watching you,” Croc told him.
“I would also like to come, Crocarius,” said Luther.
“Luther! I’m very pleased. We know you can wield a sword, so you’re welcome to come. Now, here’s the plan. The smell out there is going to knock you off your feet, so try not to breathe too much in. We’re just going to storm these two giants with all we have, and then quickly enter the cave. Everyone got it? Lentern, you’re in charge out here. Okay, everyone ready your weapons, and let’s go!”
And with that command, out stormed the five brave souls heading into the cave. As soon as they exited the wagon, all but Gert reeled back from an odor that was so pungent; it was like a punch to the stomach.
Gert charged the giants, on his own, and when he neared them, he looked back for help and saw none. One giant came forward and swung a large club at Gert, but he caught it with his sharpened axe. Gert reached behind him and pulled out a large hammer and brought it straight down, crushing the giant’s big toe. It howled in pain, as the other one came at him, he bashed it in the shin with his hammer. He heaved it in a circular motion, connecting with the giant’s hip then kept twirling, and as it came back around, Gert snatched it up again and let it loose, sailing right to the giant’s forehead, completely collapsing him. Gert looked behind him again, and everybody had apparently fled back into the wagon. He didn’t think it smelled so bad. The other giant had pulled his axe out of its club and hurled it at him. He dove to the ground to avoid getting hit, and then ran over to retrieve his axe. He picked it up with quickness, then ran by the giant’s foot and severed two of his toes. The giant swung his club, but Gert managed to stay close enough to him that he bashed himself in the leg. Gert then began hacking at his leg like it was a tall tree. He eventually fell to his knees, and in a puddle of his own blood, then Gert embedded the axe in the giant’s chest. Just as he thought he was safe, he saw a large shadow looming behind him, but a sudden whoosh! Came by, and the shadow began falling. A massive shockwave went through the ground when the giant hit. Gert saw an arrow in his throat and saw Lentern lowering his bow from the back of the wagon. He had something clipped to his nose.
“Take a small splint, and push it over your nose, and you can’t smell a thing,” Lentern told them all. So, that was the group’s strategy. They all attached their nose clips and then headed back towards the cave.
Now, as the five men entered the cave, they didn’t know that Demagauge, Cuttice, and Alvistar had entered right after Gert disposed of the giants. They were protected by Alvistar’s invisibility spell. They also didn’t know that Titan, Siphon, Nefaria, their prisoner Aphrodite, and many other giants and mercenaries had entered two hours before they did. They found several dead bodies lying in the first hundred feet of the cave, all littered with red arrows. They also didn’t know that all of the Thieves Guild, after seeing that, ran from Titan’s sight. They also had no idea that Hawkeye, Splink, and Sashrala had came that same way five hours before Titan, which if Titan had gotten a hold of Hawkeye’s services, he would have known of the volley of arrows that were waiting for his men. As Hawk and company entered, he sensed an old rope stretched over the sides of the cave, waiting to be triggered by clumsy traveler, and sure enough, after looking for a few moments, they found them. And on top of all that, none of them but Titan actually knew what lie ahead of them, for his guide was the wretched Nefaria, who knew the six dangers of the Stench. He also knew to bring enough sacrificial lambs to the slaughter or they would never make it to the crown.
Danger #2: “Soft steps make a man of jest,
Hard steps end a man’s quest.”
Sashrala ingested another pellet from his pouch and offered one to Hawkeye, who declined. After they had passed the rope trigger, they continued into the cave, in many areas, complete darkness with only the walls to guide their way. As they continued this process, Hawk got an even stronger smell of hot smelly crude, and the walls began to sweat as they touched them. As they went, the sweat became hotter and hotter and fouler smelling. They started down a small incline that led out into an open chamber. There was a slight green glow emanating from inside. Moving down into the doorway, they saw a massive gap to the other side, probably two hundred yards away, and down below, was a gurgling, bubbling pit of green liquid that smelled to all of heaven. The only way across was one of two rickety suspension bridges. Hawk could see that there were many other sets of posts in the ground for other bridges, he quickly counted thirty markers, but over time they had apparently rotted away. Right in front of his foot from the ceiling dropped a blob of the green ooze. Hawk nudged Sash, and when they looked up they saw it covering the ceiling. It was also all over the sides of the chamber, like it was growing up the walls.
“It’s alive….” Sash muttered.
Hawk pulled a knife from his pouch and stabbed the blob at his feet. As soon as he stabbed it, it made a noise, like a scream. The ooze started to seep away, but it was absorbing into Hawk’s knife. He watched as the blade started to dissolve, so he stood up and threw it into the pit. Suddenly, Splink leapt forward and began running across the bridge! Hawk watched him, shocked for a second, then saw a long tongue fly forward and latch onto Splink’s back. He turned around and where Sash had been standing, he saw a fat, brown toad there. He pulled Splink back and Hawk picked him up, petting him. Wondering why he had run, Hawk picked up a different scent, something bird-like. He turned around and from way down the ledge; breaking through the stone wall came a tall, bony creature with a bird head and large beak. Its hands looked like huge hooks. It was moving some what fast and it started swelling up, puffing out its gangly neck. Then, from out of pores, feathers and flesh began sprouting all over the thing’s body. Every time, he puffed his self, more meat would form.
“Let me take Splink over,” said Sash, back to his regular form. Hawk handed over his pet, as Sash then began growing a set of wings and forming into a falcon, grasping Splink by the fur and flying across the wide bridge to the other side. Hawk, on the other hand, was pulling out his spear but when he turned back towards the creature, it was right near him. It reached forward and slashed him across the chest. Hawk stumbled back onto the wobbly bridge. After regaining his footing, he began to parry the bird’s hooks with his spear, now that it was trying to get across the bridge. Hawk began driving him back onto the ledge, and then landed a shot with the blunt end of his spear into the creature’s stomach. It knocked him back a few feet giving Hawk the opportunity he needed. He pulled his arm back and tossed his weapon as hard as he possibly could. It sailed through the air, landing at its destination soundly, the creature’s chest cavity. The impact of the hit knocked it all the way to the cavern wall, and the spear head cracked the rock, trapping it there. Hawk hated to leave his spear there, but he had another one. He had to keep moving. He saw Sash on the other side, holding his rabbit. So, with the grace of a lynx, Hawkeye ambled his way across the ominous, stinking pit.
Four hours and thirty-three minutes later…
Four giant brutes walked into the huge cavern, bubbling with nasty green ooze. Coming in right behind them was Titan, Siphon, and Nefaria, accompanied by a giant carrying a poisoned Aphrodite.
“Do you think that bridge can hold us, Nefaria?” Titan asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should have a test run.”
“You two. Walk carefully over the bridge,” he commanded two of his followers.
The lumbering oafs started out, five feet apart, walking very slowly. The bridge creaked and wobbled and swayed from side to side. Suddenly, a board snapped, and one of the giants fell down to his waist as the other one tried to help him. The boards underneath him gave way and down into the pit they went.
“Stand back. I didn’t want to have to waste my power on this. I’m already repelling the smell by magic for almost twenty people. Ha toma la nana sa!” and Nefaria threw a handful of pebbles on the bridge, which transformed into a long, stone slab walkway to the other side.
“Go across, quickly, it will only last for an hour!” And they marched off across, not noticing a lone spear lying on the ground behind them.
One hour and thirty-seven minutes later….
Three invisible thieves creep into the sweltering stinking chamber and see the long, creaky bridge connecting to the other side of the chasm. Gauge looked up at one of the walls, and saw a strange warning written on it.
“Soft steps make a man of jest,
Hard steps end a man’s quest.”
He also noticed a spear lying on the ground behind the bridge they were going to cross, but he knew they didn’t have time to investigate anything. Titan would have a great lead on them, and they had to catch up. Now, all of them being thieves, and two of them being elves, they have impeccable balance, so they walked the rope used as a hand hold all the way across to the other side. If they weren’t invisible and if someone had been watching, they would have been quite impressed.
Six minutes later….
Crocarius, Gert, Gramis, Darius, and Luther Love all came upon the foul cave broken in two by the bridges going across it. They saw that the first couple of feet of it was missing steps.
“This looks easy,” Gert said jokingly. He looked around at his friends but they didn’t seem to be laughing.
“I know a spell that can carry Luther, the knight and I across, but I think you two are too heavy to carry,” said Gramis.
“Okay, then show us,” said Croc.
“Me first,” Darius said.
Gramis pulled out his wand and started swirling it around on the ground and it was like a brush, painting on a canvass. A small blue circle formed and rose to knee high level. Gramis stepped on it and across the bridge he floated. Stepping off, he waved his hand and the disc floated back across in front of the other four.
“Okay, now me,” Darius repeated, and again, he floated all the way across the bridge with no problems. When he stepped off, he began running away.
“Sorry, guys, I have an arrest to make!”
Croc yelled back at him, but he was already gone.
“That boy is going to get himself killed!” Gert stated.
“We have enough to worry about right now, like getting across. Okay, your turn, Luther.”
“Oh, all right,” stated Luther and he stepped on and rode across the pit. After that, Gramis’ floating disc evaporated into thin air.
Croc and Gert then looked at each other, trying to figure out the best way across. From behind them crept the tall bird-like creatures. One slashed Gert in the shoulder, and then he got a blow in from his axe. Croc turned around to fend off one as well. The one Gert hit was now puffing itself up, chest and arms expanding. Gert swung again, but his axe was batted away. Then, with amazing strength and force, the creature gave Gert a back handed blow that knocked him halfway across the bridge, breaking the boards he landed on as soon as he hit. He saw the bubbling pit below him as he started to fall, but his descent was stopped by a sudden pull around his waist. It was a glowing rope, and he could see Gramis and Luther on the other end, pulling as hard as they could.
Croc, in the meantime, had deflated Gert’s attacker with a straight plunge of his sword in its stomach, then he had grabbed it by the back of the neck and flung it into the pit. Gert could see it disintegrate as soon as it touched the green surface. Croc now was handling the other one, flipping it with his foot on the bridge, again knocking boards under it off. It was only grasping the sides of the ropes with its claws. Croc now had a plan. Just as Gert was pulled to safety on the other side, Croc cut one of the handles and the bridge itself. Croc looked at the creature, then cut the other side. As soon as it was free, Croc made a running leap to grab hold of the bridge as it swung over to the other side of the flat wall. He hung onto a loose board for dear life as he sailed across the deep chasm and hit the wall with a THUD!
He looked down to see the creature had fallen off into the pit, but then his board slipped loose. He had to jump up for another one, but couldn’t do it, so he fell, just a couple feet, and grabbed onto another board. The three above him were now lowering the rope which seemed to magically wrap itself around Croc’s waist when they threw it down. They tugged and pulled until he reached the top. Croc stood up and put a hand on Gramis and Luther’s shoulders.
“Well, what else has this place got? I hope that’s not it,” and he laughed as they moved back into the cold hallway and further into the rocky tunnels of the Cave of the Foul Stench.