Yolanthe could not believe how fast the dwarf was running. He seemed to have turned himself into a human battering ram, charging through the halls and killing any guard who happened to be in his path without breaking stride. She had to run at full speed to keep up with him.
They came to a huge double door.
“Main hall,” shouted Yolanthe.
Voltag did not pause. He ran his shoulder into the doors, flinging them open and revealing a room full of guards and servants. They all looked up in surprise. The dwarf had caught most of them in the process of arming themselves to pursue the escapees. Some were wearing armor, most were not, but all had weapons within reach.
At the far end of the room, standing on a table to direct the guards, was Grimestoke. He looked up in alarm as the dwarf and half-elf burst into the room. Before he could yell a command, the dwarf began attacking.
Voltag rushed at the group of guards nearest the door. As he ran he brought his axe up to speed. By the time he reached the startled guards the axe was leaving trails of blue light in the air. When the axe cleaved through the first guard Voltag realized that as long at the blue liquid lasted he would not have to plan his axe swings to avoid objects that could slow down the blade. The treated axe cut through flesh, steel, and wood with equal speed. He could just swing at anything that moved.
The thought pleased him.
Within seconds Voltag stood at the center of a ball of slicing blue light that ate everything it touched. Body parts, weapons, armor, furniture, all dissolved before the endless motion of the axe. The joy of the destruction was so great that Voltag found himself singing the drinking song that old Slaughter used to hum under his breath during practice. He sang it while moving forward, cutting through flesh, steel, and wood. His only conscious thought was that he must move down the room, towards the Grimestoke.
Grimestoke’s jaw dropped when he saw the dwarf wade into a group of guards. His axe blade was glowing blue! The filthy dwarf had stolen one of his best experiments and was using it against Baltrog’s own guards! This couldn’t be!
His view was momentarily blocked by a bugbear guard who stood to roar defiance at the intruders. The monster’s roar was cut short. It spun around to face Grimestoke and the gnome could see why. An arrow was protruding from the creature’s open mouth. When the monster slumped onto the table Grimestoke saw Yolanthe standing in the doorway of the hall. She was aiming an arrow at him.
Grimestoke threw himself on the table top just as Yolanthe released her arrow. He felt it pierce the air just above his head as he fell forward. He rolled to the side and fell off the table, hitting the floor hard. As he pulled himself up on his hands and knees, another guard fell beside him grabbing at an arrow that stuck from his chest. Grimestoke began to crawl as fast as he could under the table towards the stairs at the end of the hall. All the while he could hear the destruction that the dwarf was causing. Wood shattered, pieces of armor flew in the air and clattered to the ground, bodies exploded in wet splashes, the dying moaned or screamed.
If he could make it to the end of the hall without standing up and offering Yolanthe a clear shot, he might be able to make it up the tower. And then what? Climb to the top and hope that Baltrog would see him and rescue him. It was not much of a plan but it was better than facing certain death in the hall.
Grimacing with the effort, the gnome crawled under tables and around bodies towards the entrance of the tower. The screams of the guards, the sound of metal and flesh crashing to the floor, and the terrifying whisper of arrows filled his ears. More than once splashes of blood rained down on him and once a hand, still clutching a mace, crashed on the floor in front of him. But he was almost there. The entrance to the tower was only some ten feet away.
But there was no cover between the table he was hunkered under and the doorway. He’d have to run for it.
He waited until the screams reached a climax then jumped to his feet and bolted for the entrance. Ten feet. Eight. Five. The dwarf and half-elf were talking to each other. Two feet.
He tripped just before the entrance and stumbled but did not fall. That stumble saved his life as the arrow aimed at his back missed its mark and pierced his hand. He screamed as he leapt into the entrance of the tower and began to pound his way up the circular staircase.
Voltag felt his axe slowing down. The blue potion was wearing off and now he felt resistance when the blade passed through anything besides flesh. He quickly adapted his technique back to the classic Grimm style, aiming the axe only for parts of the body that it would pass through unimpeded. Since most of the creatures in the room had already been killed, the change in technique did not slow him down.
The last remaining guards, many of them who were now trying to crawl out of the hall’s windows, simply wanted to avoid the dwarf. Nothing had prepared them for this machine of death that had invaded the hall. Some broke and ran for the doors, only to be shot in the back with Yolanthe’s arrows. One orc tried to climb a tapestry to get to a window only to be shot in the back of the neck. As he fell his foot caught in a tear in the tapestry and he found himself hanging upside down by one foot. Another arrow through his heart killed him instantly, but he continued to hang upside like some macabre decoration.
When Voltag could no longer find bodies to dismember, he slowed his axe to a stop. He was covered in blood.
“Where now?” he shouted to Yolanthe who had climbed a table to get a clear shot at the retreating Grimestoke.
“The stairs,” she shouted, firing off an arrow at the retreating back of the gnome. Grimestoke was just turning the corner of the circular staircase when she fired. The arrow caught the little man in the hand, piercing it. Yolanthe’s felt a flood of pleasure at the creature’s scream.
“Let’s go,” said Voltag charging towards the stairs.
Yolanthe was right behind him. They hit the stairs running. They were stone, circular stairs, just like the ones that had contained the trap that caught them earlier, but Voltag was too angry to be cautious. He could hear the gnome whimpering just ahead of him on the upwardly circling stairs and his lust for blood blinded him to anything else. He heard a door slam. He ran all the faster.
The stairs ended in a small cul-de-sac that had a set up wooden stairs leading up to a trap door set in the ceiling.
“What’s behind that?” asked Voltag.
“The top of the tower,” said Yolanthe. “There’s no where to go.”
“Good,” said Voltag.
He climbed the stairs and attacked the trap door above his head with the axe. It burst open on the second blow. Voltag charged up the last few stairs to find himself on the top of the tower, a circular platform some fifty feet across. There was no railing or lip at the edge of the platform. There was nowhere anyone could hide.
But Grimestoke was not on the platform.
“Where is he?” asked the dwarf.
“I don’t know,” said Yolanthe catching up with him. “He must be here somewhere. There’s no other way up or down.”
Voltag walked to the edge of the platform. The tower walls met the platform at a 90 degree angle. There was no ledge or handhold on the wall that he could see. There was no way anyone could climb down the tower unless he was part lizard. He guessed the drop to the courtyard below was at least two hundred feet.
The dwarf tugged at his beard in frustration. “Something’s not right,” he said. “We must have missed a door.”
Voltag scanned the courtyard of the castle. Guards were running around in a blind panic, many of them abandoning their weapons and fleeing. On the nearest tower he could make out a guard still at his post, but even if the man had a good bow he would not be likely to hit them from this distance. It was at least 300 yards. The last tower was even farther away, and there was no one on its platform. There was, however, someone watching him through a window in that tower. Though it was far away and glass of the window distorted the image, Voltag recognized the figure as Baltrog.
“I see him!” he shouted to Yolanthe.
When Yolanthe did not reply, Voltag looked over at her. She was standing in the middle of the platform with her mouth slightly open and her eyes glazed. She took a few steps towards the edge of the platform and Voltag thought that she was going to jump off the tower. Instead she took her quiver of arrows and hurled it off the edge. Then she turned to the dwarf with a panicked look and said, “He’s . . . "
Before she could finish the sentence she doubled over at the waist and grabbed her head with both hands. She held that posture for a several seconds, then slowly straightened up.
Her posture had changed. The muscles of her face were pulled into an unnatural smile. When the half-elf spoke, the timber of her voice was lower and the rhythm of her speech entirely different.
“Oh, you’ve caused me some heartache,” said Yolanthe. “Yes, little man, a great deal of heartache. And now the clever little Yolanthe has thrown her arrows away. What a brave thing she is. She did that to protect you, you know? She knows I would have used her remarkable skills to put a dozen arrows through your throat.”
“Get out of her,” growled Voltag.
“In a second,” said Yolanthe. “But first you must tell me, why have you been making so much trouble for me?”
“I promised I would kill you,” said the dwarf.
“That’s it? A promise?” asked the voice that came from Yolanthe’s mouth.
“At first, yes,” said the dwarf. “But now I’ll do it for pleasure.”
“Good line,” said the voice. “You could be in one of those stage plays as the noble hero. Very romantic. Even dashing. But in real life, noble heroes don’t triumph. They die. But first their hearts are broken. Time for me to give Yolanthe back to Yolanthe. Goodbye.”
Yolanthe turned and walked to the edge of the tower. She lifted one leg out over space, and Baltrog left her. Made dizzy by the transition, she fell over the edge.
“No!” shouted the dwarf.
He charged forward and threw himself off the edge of the tower. In midair he twisted and swung his axe overhead with his right hand while at the same time grabbing for Yolanthe with his left. The bottom of the axe blade caught on the edge of the platform just as his left hand caught hold of Yolanthe’s leg. The jerk of her weight pulled his right hand free of the axe handle and he fell four inches before the leather thong attached to its base snapped tight around his wrist.
They hung there – Yolanthe held by the foot by Volag, who hung by his wrist to a strap in the handle of an axe hooked on the edge of a tower. Voltag felt as though he were being ripped in two.
“How are we doing?” asked Yolanthe, her head facing the ground.
“Least it’s not raining,” said Voltag between gritted teeth.
“That’s the first joke I’ve heard you made,” said Yolanthe.
“Maybe the last,” said Voltag. He gave out a roar of pain. “Think of something,” he shouted.
Yolanthe, trying not to twist so much that Voltag would lose his grip, carefully slid her bow off her shoulder. She brought it up to her chest, and contracting her abdominal muscles as hard as she could, she began to curl her body up towards Voltag. When she was in a half-curled position, she hooked the bow over the dwarf’s head and used it to pull herself up across Voltag’s body. As soon as she was upright she grabbed the axe handle with her right hand and Voltag let go of her foot.
They hung, both grasping the axe with one hand, their bodies pressed together.
“Can you bring your other hand to the loop?” Yolanthe asked.
Voltag grunted with the effort of bringing his arm up, but managed it. He linked both hands through the loop.
“Good. Now hang on tight,” Yolanthe said. She raised a foot, hooked her toe in Voltag’s belt, and using it as a step levered herself higher. She grabbed the axe handle just below the blade.
“One last step,” she said through gritted teeth. She raised her foot again, and slid it between Voltag’s arms onto the top of his head. As the dwarf cursed and grunted, she used his head as a step to propel herself just high enough to grasp the edge of the tower with one hand. She found a toehold on the wall, and pulled herself up onto the tower platform. She collapsed on her back.
“A bit of help,” said Voltag.
Yolanthe jumped up. She looked across at the tower that contained Baltrog’s study. There was no one in the window. Since they had fallen over the edge of the platform farthest from where he had watched, he probably assumed they were already dead. She looked over the edge of the platform. Voltag did not have the leverage or strength to pull himself higher. He hung there, his hands in the axe handle’s loops, her bow around his neck.
She lay down and tried to reach her arm to him.
“Too heavy,” grunted Voltag.
He was right. Even if she could reach his hand, she would never be able to pull him up. And since there was nothing she could anchor herself to on the platform his weight would pull her off.
Yolanthe heard footsteps coming up the stairs behind her.
“Make noise,” she whispered to the dwarf. She ran to the far side of the shattered trap door, drew her knife, and hunkered down.
Make noise? Thought Voltag. Madness, but he had nothing else to do except feel his hands go numb. He began to chant a tuneless song.
A bugbear wearing a visored helmet poked its head though the trap door. Yolanthe focused her attention on the back of its head. The monster was looking at the axe blade hooked on the platform and, no doubt, wondering about the strange sounds that were coming from its direction. Before emerging onto the platform, however, it slowly scanned the tower platform. Yolanthe moved swiftly and silently in a crouch so that the back of the creature’s head was always facing her. The bugbear surveyed the entire platform and never saw her.
Grunting with satisfaction the guard climbed onto the platform and made its way towards the axe blade. Yolanthe crept behind it, looking for a place to insert her dagger. The monster wore a hauberk, a great gown of chainmail that extended to its knees. All its vital organs were covered. If it were to turn around she might go for its throat but she would have to jump to hit the target and the opening below its helmet’s visor was probably very small. She might be able to pierce its eye, but that was also a small target and she could not be sure her dagger would reach all the way to its brain. Half-blinded the beast might knock her off the platform.
The monster stopped in its tracks. Had it heard her? No. But it probably smelled her. Before it could turn around Yolanthe noticed the back of the monster’s neck. The helmet rode high on the back of the creature’s misshapen head. There was a gap between it and the hauberk. She grasped her dagger in both hands, lifted it over her head, and jumped at the creature’s back. She drove the dagger into the vertebrae just below the neck and jumped back, leaving the dagger embedded.
The creature let out a howl and fell to the ground. It twitched and frothed but could not control its legs or arms. Yolanthe had severed its spinal cord, paralyzing it from the neck down.
“What’s the noise?” shouted Voltag.
“A little visitor,” replied Yolanthe. “Hang on.”
“Hang on?” muttered the dwarf. “What else might I do?”
Yolanthe unwound the spider silk rope from her waist and tied one end to the bugbear. The creature looked at her with terrified eyes as it struggled to understand what was happening to it. Yolanthe took the other end of the rope and dangled it off the edge of the platform in front of Voltag.
“Grab the end of the rope,” she said.
“Can’t,” replied the dwarf. “Hands are numb.”
Yolanthe could see that the dwarf’s hand, intertwined in the rope loop at the end of the axe handle, were almost blue.
“Right,” she said. “Don’t let go of the axe.”
She pulled the rope back up, grabbed its end, and lay flat on the platform with her head over the edge. She reached down and tied the end of the rope to the handle of the axe just below the blade.
“Get ready,” she said.
She got to her feet and turned to the bugbear. The creature was rolling his eyes and trying to say something. Yolanthe bent down and rolled the bugbear over, away from the edge of the platform where Voltag was hanging. The monster was heavy, all the more heavy for its armor, and by the time Yolanthe had flipped him a few times she was exhausted. But the monster was now at the edge of the platform. It rolled its eyes in terror and tried to plea for its life. Yolanthe rolled it on its side, pulled the knife from its neck, then shoved the monster over the edge.
The creature fell, bouncing off the side of the tower and unspooling the rope behind it. When it was more than half way to the ground the rope drew taut and Voltag was pulled over the far edge of the tower and onto the platform. Dragged on his stomach by the axe, he slid across the platform towards Yolanthe and the edge that the bugbear had gone over.
“Let go!” shouted Yolanthe as the dwarf approached her.
“My axe!” he shouted. “Cut the rope!”
Yolanthe held her dagger to the rope that streaked by her, getting ready to cut. The rope was the most valuable thing she owned, the only gift she had from her father. Spun from one continuous line of spider silk, it would never be the same if it were cut it. She hesitated.
Voltag was feet away from the edge of the platform, bellowing in pain as he was dragged across the stone platform.
“Now!” he bellowed.
Yolanthe lowered the blade towards the moving rope just as a sickening sound of metal and flesh came from the bottom of the tower. The rope stopped moving, but Voltag continued to slide forward under his own momentum. He came to a stop with his axe, arms, and head over the edge of the tower. He found himself looking at the shattered body of the bugbear in the courtyard below. Other guards were running in confusion away from the body, out of the castle.
Voltag slowly got to his feet. He rubbed his numb hands.
“Couldn’t cut the rope?” he asked Yolanthe.
“Couldn’t let go of the axe?” she asked back.
They smiled grimly at each other.
“What now?” asked Baltrog.
“We search the castle, then go to Seatorn,” said Yolanthe.