Grimm Tidings

Chapter 33

Baltrog heard a splash. He looked down at the rocks just as two bodies tumbled out of the dingy into the water. Clumsy fools. Perhaps they were mad with fear. One could only hope. But at least their boat was now available.

The slave had not noticed the ruckus in the water. He still stood with his arms raised above his head.

Baltrog decided to hurl a destructive spell at both the slave and the people floundering in the water. He began to summon his magic focus when the augmenter made a sharp snapping noise. He turned to the machine just in time to see one of the glass rods crack and shatter. Its pieces tinkled to the floor of the lighthouse platform. The whirring noise of the machine slowed down then stopped completely.

Baltrog bent down beside the machine. It no longer sparked with light.

It was broken.

Out of habit Baltrog began to call for Grimestoke, then remembered that the little man lay dead on the rock below. Perhaps that had been a bit rash. But no cure for it now. He would have to head into the city a bit earlier than planned. Once there he could animate as many dead as possible until Seatorn was entirely ruined, then pick off any survivors with simple magic. It might actually be enjoyable to be in the center of the mayhem instead of watching from a distance. Then he would deliver the coup-de-grace. Those refugees on the rocks below had shown up just in time with a boat.

Kerimos and Yolanthe dumped Voltag on his back on the rocks. Kerimos linked his fingers together and pushed on the dwarf’s stomach. Voltag vomited a great gush of salt water, then coughed violently.

“He’ll be alright,” said Kerimos, standing up. “But we’ve lost the element of surprise.”

“My arrows are wet,” said Yolanthe.

Voltag rolled over onto all fours and spat out more water. He grumbled something that may have been an apology. He looked up, abashed, at his two companions and said, “I’m not much of a sailor.”

“You give yourself too much credit,” said Kerimos.

Voltag noticed a strange figure with disproportionately long arms standing near the lighthouse. “Who’s that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said Kerimos. “He’s ignored us. Perhaps he’s mad. Now let’s see if Baltrog is here.

“Oh, he’s here,” said Yolanthe in a strange voice as she plunged her dagger into Kerimos’ throat.

The man stepped back, clutching at the weapon in his neck as blood sprayed out around the hilt. His expression was one of surprise rather than pain. He collapsed to his knees beside Voltag and looked at him for an explanation. Before it could come, he fell on his face. His body twitched several times, and then was still.

Voltag was on his feet with his axe out before Kerimos stopped moving. He stepped back from Yolanthe and glanced up at the lighthouse. There, looking over the railing on the platform, he could see the shape of someone watching them.

“Get out of her!” Voltag shouted.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Yolanthe in a distorted voice. “You know, she didn’t even feel it coming because I was so close. So she couldn’t warn you. Now, before I kill you, tell me why you’ve been bothering me.”

“I told you already,” Voltag growled.

“Oh, yes,” said Yolanthe. “A promise to kill me. Over that little misunderstanding in the mountains. Very quaint. But I think it has more to do with a certain Griselda.”

Voltag felt as though he had been punched. “What do you know about her?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m not going to tell you for free. So let’s make a deal. You kill this little archer, and then I’ll tell you where to find your long lost love.”

“Don’t believe you,” said Voltag, but there was little certainty in his voice.

“You don’t, hmm?” Asked Yolanthe in that taunting voice. “Perhaps this will convince you. She’s living in sin with a certain elf. A certain bard. A certain Songweaver.”

Stunned, Voltag lowered the blade of his axe. Before he could ask his next question, Yolanthe pulled her bow and nocked an arrow in a movement so swift it was as if the weapon had materialized in her hands magically.

“But . . .” began Voltag.

“But nothing,” said the voice.

Yolanthe pulled back on bowstring.

The wet bowstring broke. The bow jerked out of her hand as it snapped back to its un-strung shape.

Voltag brought his axe into a defensive pattern.

Yolanthe dropped the bow and pulled a second dagger from her belt. “Dear me,” said Baltrog’s voice through her mouth. “I guess we’ll have to do this the hard way.”

“You can’t win,” said Voltag. “Drop the weapon.”

“Oh but I don’t have to win,” said the voice that issued from Yolanthe’s mouth. “If I can’t kill you, I can make you kill her. That might be just as much fun.”

Yolanthe darted forward with the dagger. Voltag stepped back. He could bring his axe up to speed but then Baltog would just throw Yolanthe’s body onto the blade. He could cut off her weapon hand, but she might bleed to death. And she might prefer death to mutilation.

Yolanthe lunged again, stabbing at the dwarf.

Voltag brought his axe up with the blade flat against his body, acting as a shield. The dagger blade sparked off of it. Yolanthe stepped to the side then spun around, the dagger held at arm’s length. Voltag ducked as the blade whistled by his head.

“I won’t stop,” said Yolanthe.

She lunged again. Voltag blocked the strike with the axe blade, then swung the butt of the axe up, catching Yolanthe on the chin. She stumbled back, numbed by the blow. She wiped blood from her lip and smiled. “Now you’re getting into it,” she said. “Come on. Kill her.”

Yolanthe lunged again, stabbing wildly at the dwarf. Voltag backed up, blocking the thrusts with the flat blade of his axe. He would only be able to do this for so long. Eventually he’d be pushed to the shore and she would keep coming at him, killing him or killing herself. No, he realized. Baltrog would kill her no matter what. Better it happened before he was stabbed so he could still go after the sorcerer.

With that realization, Voltag made up his mind. He would have to kill her. He was surprised how much the decision hurt him. All he could do was make sure that her death was painless.

He stepped back, pivoted and brought his axe up to speed. He knew Baltrog would force Yolanthe to run onto its blade. He would direct the axe swing so that she was neatly decapitated when that moment came.

Yolanthe threw herself forward towards the swinging steel.

Voltag could not help himself. He stepped back.

Yolanthe fell to ground, just out of reach of the axe.

Voltag knew he was postponing the inevitable. He stepped forward, over Yolanthe and swung the axe towards the outstretched back of her neck.

There. A tattoo. Just like the one on the owl. At the base of her skull.

The axe was descending towards her neck. Voltag brought his other hand to the handle while twisting his body to the side. The arc of the axe’s swing veered to the horizontal. The blade sliced along the back of Yolanthe’s neck, removing a thin piece of skin the size of a coin, slicing the tattoo off her body.

Yolanthe cried out. Voltag stepped back and brought his axe to rest. He sheathed the weapon, then knelt down and rolled Yolanthe over.

She opened her eyes slowly, a bewildered look on her face.

“He’s gone,” she said. “But my neck hurts.”

“The Grimm cure,” said Voltag. “Hurts for a while, but very effective.”

“Is he dead?” she asked.

“Soon,” Voltag promised. He stood up. “You bandage your neck. I’m going up that lighthouse.”

Voltag ran to the base of the lighthouse. It was closely worked stone. Not up to dwarven standards, but not bad. It would offer no handholds to climb.

“Must be a door,” he muttered to himself. He began to circle the base of the lighthouse, finally coming to a low wooden door on the far side. It was locked. Without thinking Voltag unsheathed his axe and attacked the door. It was inches thick, made of ancient oak hardened by salt water, but it was soon reduced to splinters before the blade of his axe.

Once the door was kindling, Voltag peered into the building. The ground floor was a circular storeroom filled with trunks, caskets, and cured meats. A brazier cast a dim light. A circular staircase curled up the inside of the wall into the darkness above. Voltag took a breath and began to run up the stairs. He only had one plan: kill Baltrog. Do it quick, before he uses some magic or other. Rush him and take him down with the axe. Simple. The element of surprise was on his side.

Or was it? Voltag slowed down. Baltrog would have seen how he had taken the tattoo off Yolanthe’s neck. He would have heard him chopping the door. He could probably hear him storming up the stairs. We dwarves aren’t known for our daintiness, he thought ruefully. There would be no surprising the sorcerer. Baltrog might get the drop on him with a blast of some confounded spell. Might turn him into something. Maybe even a fish. That would be the worst. Forced to spend the rest of his life in water.

What to do?

The blue liquid.

Voltag rummaged in his wet jerkin and found the vial of the gnome’s blue potion. He pulled the cork and poured the viscous fluid over the blade of his axe, being careful to coat both sides. He threw the empty bottle away and continued up the stairs, treading as quietly as he could. The stairs led to a narrow balcony that ran around the inside of the lighthouse. A door that led outside was beside the top of the stairs. Baltrog had been standing in front of a door, so it must face the city.

Walking as quietly as he could, Voltag went to the other side of the balcony, directly opposite the door. He brought his axe up to speed, keeping it in shallow arcs because of the confined space. When the axe started to leave blue streaks in the air, he turned it on the lighthouse wall. The axe blade cut through the stones as though they were made of cloth. In a second, he had carved a door-sized hole in the wall which led to the exterior balcony. The sound of the rocks tumbling would have been audible to Baltrog, but Voltag doubted he would guess it was the sound of a door being cut in the building. To be sure, he stopped the swing of his axe and listened. No footsteps, just the sound of the waves.

Right, thought Voltag. Now a surprise charge. Out the door, bring the axe into motion, and charge around to the other side of the balcony catching the sorcerer off-guard and cutting him down before he has time to throw a hex. Good plan, but charge right or left? Don’t matter, just get it over with.

Voltag took a breath and jumped through the hole into the Wall onto the balcony. The green light of the great glass tank was surprisingly bright and he could see that he would not have room to spin the axe. He would have to charge with it and attack with a single blow.

He turned to the right and started running along the curving balcony. As he approached the city-facing side of the balcony he tightened his grip on his axe, expecting to run into Baltrog at any second. But he wasn’t there! There was only some sort of box-like machine that the dwarf ran around.

Must be running from me, though Voltag. Well, I may not be fast, but I’ll never give up. He kept running and soon found himself passing the hole that he had cut in the Wall. He had gone full circle and not seen the sorcerer. He kept running and soon did another circuit of the lighthouse. Still no Baltrog. When he came back to hole in the Wall he stopped and peered into the tower. No one in there.

Must be staying on the other side of the tower from me, he thought, like a squirrel on a tree trunk hiding from its enemy. He turned around and ran the other way, hoping to catch the sorcerer off guard. He made a complete circuit of the balcony. Nothing.

He ran to the city-side of the balcony and called down to Yolanthe.

“Can you see him?” he shouted.

Yolanthe peered up at the dwarf who appeared in silhouette against the green light of the tank. There were no other figures visible.

Or were there? Something shimmered behind Voltag, a vaguely human shape that became more and more defined against the light of the tank.

Baltrog. He had made himself invisible.

“Behind you!” she shouted.

Voltag whirled to his left with his axe raised. Baltrog, still not entirely visible, was standing on the box-like machine. His normally expressionless face was contorted with rage.

Voltag charged forward. One more step and he would cleave the sorcerer in two.

He didn’t make it. Baltrog threw a blast of energy into his chest, knocking him backwards. It felt as though someone had hit him with a sledgehammer. He hit the balcony railing hard and fell to his knees, winded.

“I have had enough of you little man,” shouted Baltrog. “You’re ruining everything. Everything. So die.”

Baltrog focused his magic on the dwarf’s throat, crushing his larynx. Voltag grabbed at his neck but he could not find the unseen hands that were squeezing the breath from his body. His vision began to blur and he felt as though his head would explode. He thought he might be able to reach the sorcerer before he was out of breath, but as if in response to the thought the grip on his neck tightened. He wasn’t just being suffocated; his neck was being crushed. He fell on his face as he began to lose consciousness.

And then he could breathe. The pressure on his neck disappeared as quickly as it had come. As he gasped for breath he climbed to his feet and grabbed up his axe, wheeling on Baltrog.

The sorcerer was in caught in his own battle. The little man, the gnome, bloody, torn, and with an obviously broken arm, had his teeth sunk in Baltrog’s thigh. Baltrog was beating at his head, apparently too surprised or angry to summon magic, while screaming invectives.

Kill them both now, thought Voltag. He brought his axe up over his shoulder and moved towards the struggling pair.

Baltrog looked up from his battle with the gnome and threw a spell at Voltag. His eyes glowed read and his face was twisted into a rictus of anger and pain. He made an fast movement with his hand at Voltag and again the dwarf was slammed in the chest, even harder this time. He flew backwards and hit the balcony railing. He lost the grip on his axe and it flew over the railing. He heard it hit the rocks below.

Stupid, he thought. My hand should have been in the thong. Stupid and rash.

Baltrog and the gnome were now rolling on the balcony, biting and throttling each other. Voltag thought he might be able to stab them both so he reached for his dagger. It was missing. He couldn’t remember where he had lost it. In the water? Fighting the zombies? No matter. He didn’t trust the tiny push daggers in his belt to do the job. Best get the axe. He felt unbalanced without it anyway.

He ran around the balcony to hole he had carved, charged down the stairs and out onto the rocks. He couldn’t see his axe at first. It had fallen between two boulders. By the time he had found it Yolanthe had joined him. The wound on the back of her neck still bled profusely.

“What’s he doing?” she asked.

“Fighting the little fella,” grunted Voltag. “I’m going back up to kill them both.”

Before he could take a step something fell onto the rocks in front of them. They both jumped back.

It was the body of the gnome. His neck was turned around at an impossible angle.

They looked up to see Baltrog’s form against the green light of the tank. The sorcerer was shaking with rage.

“I have had it!” he screamed. “Had it! Your stupid meddling is ruining the most important night of my life! Now leave me alone!”

He made a motion with his hands.

The dead gnome stirred.

“Must be losing his tricks,” said Voltag stepping towards the undead little man. Before the creature could even get to its feet Voltag cut it in half at the waist with his axe. The two halves continued to twitch.

Voltag grunted in satisfaction then turned towards Yolanthe. Her face was twisted in horror. Before he could ask her what was wrong something smashed into the side of his head. He fell on the rocks beside the severed gnome.

Standing over him was Kerimos, the dagger still in his neck.

Voltag started to pull himself to his feet, his grip on his axe already set to deliver a severing blow to the zombie, but when he sat up he felt his axe hand pinned. He looked over to see the undead gnome had sunk its teeth into his sleeve. The upper half of the creature’s body dangled on his arm.

While Voltag was trying to get his mind around the problem, Kerimos hit him again, swinging his arm in a great arc that clipped the top of his head so hard that he saw an explosion of lights. He fell back and found something clamped around his neck. It was the legs of the gnome, squeezing him.

“Some help,”he grunted to Yolanthe.

The half-elf looked around for a weapon. The undead Kerimos was strong and fast for a zombie, perhaps because he was so recently dead. Her bow was out of commission and a knife would do no real damage to the creature.

As Kerimos lurched over to Voltag and prepared to hit him again, Yolanthe dug through her wet quiver of arrows. She pulled out the driest of the soggy bunch, took a few steps back, and ran at the zombie. She leapt into a flying kick aimed at the zombie’s head. It connected, sending the creature sprawling on the ground. Before it could get up she jumped on its chest and thrust the arrow deep into its eye, piercing the brain. The wound had no effect on the creature. It struggled to gain its feet.

Yolanthe leapt off the zombie and ran to Voltag. She pried the gnome’s legs from off his neck. He sat up, the top half of the gnome still dangling by its teeth from his sleeve.

“Persistent little thing,” he said. He stood up, held his encumbered arm out, and with a deft move of the axe severed the gnome’s neck.

The head continued to hang onto his sleeve.

“What in Moradin’s name?”

He was about to bang the head against the rocks when Yolanthe touched his arm and pointed. The undead Kerimos had regained its feet and was coming at them, the arrow sticking out of its eye a grim counterpart to the dagger in it throat. Before Voltag could say anything, Yolanthe chanted her spell for exploding arrows.

Nothing happened. Kerimos continued towards them.

“It may be too wet,” she said.

The zombie stopped in its tracks. Its head twitched, as though it were trying to understand a complex problem. The movements made it look surprisingly alive. It took a hesitant step, then cocked its head hard to the side. Its eyes began to glow with a white light. The light became brighter, actually shining out of its eyes like a lantern. The same light began to pour from its open mouth, its nostrils, even its ears. With a sound of smashing bone, Kerimos’ head exploded, raining brain matter and blood on the Voltag and Yolanthe. The body of zombie fell to the ground where it twitched spastically.

Yolanthe looked over at Voltag, who had turned his attention back to the gnome’s head. He walked to a large, sharp rock, swung his arm in an arc, and smashed the head upon it. It took three swings to crack the skull and dislodge the tiny undead head.

“Finally,” said Voltag. “Now, what’s Ball-boy been up to?”

The two fighters turned their attention to the tower. There were now two forms silhouetted against the green light of the tank. One of them seemed to be a woman.

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