Chapter Two (continued)
Suddenly, the soldier’s horses went wild and broke free, dragging the squire away into the woods. A monstrous hand emerged into the edge of the firelight and grabbed the Knight Captain by the torso, lifting him up like a rag doll. Stunned the guards all turned to watch where the bushes started to shake violently and the Knight Captain’s screams could be heard. There was a loud crack and the screams abruptly stopped. A silence spread across the wasteland until Knight Captain’s head flew through the air to land at the feet of one of the soldiers. Then everyone began to scream.
“Ogre!” came the cries from the men as they fired their crossbows blindly into the darkness. The mammoth form of the giant crashed through twisted trees to stand only feet away from where Mor crouched in hiding. He could smell the rot on its breath as it roared in anticipation of battle. Dressed in tattered animal skins, it stood twice as tall as a man with limbs as thick as tree trunks. The ogre raised its foot and stamped on the one of the copies of Mor, which was also curled up in a ball, whimpering. When that illusion vanished, however, the monster turned his attention to the guards. With a sweep of his club, it knocked the two with swords off of their feet. The massive log shattered their ribs and left them dead where they fell.
The remaining two soldiers fired their crossbows at the ogre, but it hardly noticed as the bolts stuck in the folds of its heavy skin. One man stumbled backward as he tried to reload. With four great strides, the ogre was on top of him, bringing its club down with a bone-crushing thud. The last guard had not bothered to reload, but had dropped his crossbow as he fled. The ogre reached down with its free hand and picked up a rock the size of pumpkin. With uncanny accuracy, the stone flew into the back of the man’s head, knocking him to the ground.
The beast roared in triumph and stamped its feet on the ground. Mor peeked over the boulders and readied a fireball spell. Now that the beast was far enough away, he could safely roast it without getting caught in the blast. He was just about to utter the incantation when the ogre sniffed at the air and turned toward Rieki. She hit it in the throat with an arrow and then again in the arm, but it still stormed toward her with astonishing speed. By the time Mor could cast the spell, she would be too close.
A bellow announced the charge of an axe-wielding Cravan as he rushed past Rieki and directly at the ogre. The giant lifted its club to smash him, but before it could swing, Cravan buried his axe deep into the ogre’s crotch. Black blood sprayed the warrior soaking him from beard to boot as his momentum carried him on tumbling between the ogre’s legs. The creature moaned in agony, grabbing futilely at its loins before it dropped to its knees and fell face first into the dirt. Cravan spat on the ogre’s corpse and cursed. “Never pick a fight with me before I’ve had my breakfast.”
Rieki slit the monster’s throat to be sure. She turned to Cravan who had one foot braced against the ogre’s rump as he tried to pry his axe from its pelvis. “What took you so long? Did you have to stop for directions first?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Did you not see how I just killed an ogre with one blow? And that’s the thanks I get.”
“Forgiveness,” mocked Rieki, bowing deeply toward him. “We would be lost without you, m’lord.”
“That’s better,” said Cravan. “And if we’re handing out criticism, why did you let this rabble sneak up on us in the middle of the night. Weren’t you supposed to be out hunting for our next meal? I mean how did you miss a squad of guards and a twelve-foot-tall ogre?
“The guards came from behind us, following our trail,” said Rieki. “I didn’t bother to hide it since I didn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to follow us from a known dragon lair. I guess I underestimated just how dumb guards can be.”
“Fair enough,” said Cravan. “Most I’ve met barely know which end of a sword to poke you with.”
“It’s the ogre that bothers me,” she said.
“It shouldn’t be here,” she said. “I didn’t bother scouting for game behind us because we’d already been over that ground and there was nothing bigger than a field mouse. We’re still within the dragon’s territory, and it had picked the area clean. The ogre came from in front of us though, and I should have seen him. It’s not like they’re known for their stealth after all. You can smell them a league away, not to mention all the stomping. What’s more, the dragon should have taken care of it. There’s no way it would have let and ogre run around in its hunting grounds. It’s like it just popped up out of the ground. It’s just so…random.”
“That’s the adventurer’s life. One day you’re drinking and wenching, and the next every beastie in the Seventeen Kingdoms wants to hack you to pieces. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Speaking of which, you owe Mor a gold piece. That guard captain said to kill him first.”
“Dammit, I never should have made that bet. Everyone always wants to kill the magic-user.”
“It’s because we’re so dangerous,” insisted Mor.
“Yes, they might trip and fall trying to find your hiding place. Where did you get off to?”
“I was just checking that there weren’t any more surprises out there.” Mor rested his hand on the belt pouch where he had stashed the rune stone. Feeling the hard lump somehow eased his anxiety. “The squire got away. If being dragged by the horses doesn’t kill him, he’ll lead more soldiers back here. I think we should bury the bodies in the style of the Zan Tan monks and make our way to the border as quickly as possible.”
“Bless those monks anyway for making it a sacrilege to disturb a grave until the flowers planted on it have wilted,” said Cravan. “Even in this wasteland, we should be able to find some kind of blossoming weed. By the time those die, we’ll be halfway to Stoneport. How many bodies have we hidden using that trick?”
“Too many to count,” said Rieki. “And with three extra graves marked with some of the weapons we took, they might think we’re dead as well. At least long enough for us to be away.”
“I don’t suppose there’s a spell for digging graves,” asked Cravan.
“None that I know of,” said Mor.
“Then we better get started. This dirt’s hard and sandy, and it’s going to take the rest of the night to dig eight holes. And then there’s the matter of big and ugly over there.”
“Now that I can do something about,” said Mor. He mumbled an incantation and a fireball lit up the night. It exploded with a whoosh that set the body of the ogre and the surrounding scrub on fire. “There. Now we’ve got some proper light to work by.”
“Humph,” grunted Cravan. “Does anyone else think it’s strange that roasted ogre smells like bacon?”
To be continued…
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