The glow-balls took up their positions and the company walked for a long way, turning this way and that, but always keeping to what appeared to be a main tunnel. After a moment of hope, to think this creature might know where her mother and baby were, Sandra was now in despair. She kept it to herself, but the worry was written all over her, and the spiritual creatures were sensitive to pick up on the feeling. Ellean kept reaching forward to touch Sandra on the shoulder and she kept speaking soothing words. That touch would have felt creepy to Sandra a day earlier, but now it helped.
“How far?” Glen finally asked. Ignatius did not answer immediately. He stooped down first and picked up a seed. Sandra stifled her shout. Then the hobgoblin spoke.
“Not much further,” he said, and it was not much further before he stepped around a corner and disappeared. It was another cavern of sorts, but not as big as the other one and with only two ways to go. Macreedy ran past Glen and into the cavern. He looked all around as he spun on his heels.
“I knew we could not trust a hobgoblin,” he said through gritted teeth. “Especially the bastard son of Coriander Patterwig.”
“Where did he go?’ Sandra started to ask but changed her mind. “Where are we?”
“No idea,” Ellean said, and Macreedy nodded in agreement.
“Well.” Glen wanted to be practical. “There are only two choices. I say we explore down one carefully and quietly to see where it takes us.”
“Not a good idea,” Macreedy said. “Let me remind you. These are the caves of Cormac.”
“I remember,” Glen said, and whether by accident or fate, he began down the left hand corridor. Macreedy dimmed the glow-balls and set them in place where they would just show the way ahead and no more. They came to a wall, or what they thought was a wall.
“Wait.” Sandra was the one who noticed, and it may have been because she was looking down in search of seeds. They were all whispering, of course, because it did not take much to be heard underground and it would not have been wise to speak loudly in a cave in any case for fear that the roof might collapse. Here, though, Sandra was a bit sharp with her words. “Move the lights back. I want to have a look.” She knelt and put her eye to the wall and then the others saw that she had found a crack, or maybe a key hole, and there was a dim light on the other side of the door, if it was a door.
Sandra put her eye to the hole and it took a moment to focus and make sense of what she was seeing, because it looked like a deer, laid out on a table, and it looked like a fire was burning in a fireplace on the other side of the room. It was a bad angle since the firelight was coming right at her rather than being off to the side, so she only saw the deer and the table as shadows against the light. She just figured this out and was wondering if anything was going to happen when she saw a large, bony, clawed hand reach out and tear a whole leg off the deer like a man might tear off a hunk of bread from a loaf. She held her breath as a face came into view, with a long dripping nose and a great tusk that rose up beside the nose. It was sniffing the air, and it turned toward her. Despite the fact that she should have only seen a shadow of the head; she saw two great yellow eyes staring back at her. It was like those eyes were lit by some internal flame and would be seen even in the absolute darkness of the cave. Sandra screamed. She could not help it, and without hesitation, everyone else screamed a single word. “Run!”
Glen grabbed Sandra’s hand and dragged her back to the big room where they turned to rush down the second tunnel. They all wondered how they could possibly get away from a creature that could move faster through the dark than they could possibly move by the light of the glow-balls.
“Wait.” Macreedy, who was out front, shouted and held them back. “It has got out into the passageway.” He said it, just before they all heard it. They turned to run back to the big room, but that was no good either. The goblins had arrived and were blocking the last way out which was the way they had come in. Sandra screamed, and again she could not help it, and she buried her face in Glen’s chest so she would not have to look at the creatures.
Ignatius stood out in front of a dozen or more goblins who were armed with a variety of clubs, swords and spears. When the lumbering beast came up behind the four travelers, it stopped in the doorway, not afraid, but wary of so many intruders in its ante-chamber. Macreedy and Ellean both had their bows out and ready, and Glen pulled the sword from the sheath on his back. He found it was not too heavy so he could hold it up but he could only hope he looked like someone who knew what he was doing. If it came to it, he honestly wondered if he could do anything with it at all. He could not remember ever having held a sword before and he was afraid he might only cut himself or the cut wrong person by accident and make matters worse.
“Cormac.” Ignatius spoke over the group toward the lumbering beast that was blocking the exit. “I bring you the goblin sacrifice as agreed. Accept these elves and humans and leave the dark elves in peace for a season.”
Cormac looked like he was thinking of bargaining, maybe claiming that the sacrifice was not enough, but from the way his lips were beginning to drool, it was hard to believe he was thinking of anything but supper. Everyone was surprised when Glen spoke up.
“We had a bargain,” he yelled at the hobgoblin and let his anger have full vent to cover his fear. “You promised to lead us in the way of the baby.”
“Well.” Ignatius smiled at last, revealing his teeth, and it was not a pretty sight. “I did not exactly promise, but the mother and baby went this way, to be sure.” As Macreedy was letting the glow-balls slowly rise and brighten, hoping his actions would go unnoticed, but with the intent of bringing the whole cavern into the light, so the hobgoblin pointed to a previously darkened corner of that room. There was a baby stroller.
“Melissa!” Sandra screamed and ran for the stroller. “What happened? Where is she?” She was in a panic.
“That was your baby?” Cormac was thinking.
“Where is she, where is she?!” Sandra yelled at the troll, suddenly not considering if she was afraid or not.
Glen stepped toward the troll and raised his weapon. For a second, he did look like he knew what he was doing. “Answer her!” He yelled.
The troll was neither afraid nor impressed. He snapped at the blade with his big hand, expecting that the steel would not be strong enough or sharp enough to cut deep through his thick hide. He snatched his hand back just as quick, nearly having cut his fingers off.
“Answer her,” Glen said in a more controlled tone of voice. Actually, he was in shock seeing how fast the creature was and thinking how close he came to being troll kill.
“I didn’t eat the baby.” The troll spoke with its fingers in its mouth. “The woman and her baby were too fast. They went through the wall with the Djin. Dirty, nasty creature.” It was not clear if he was insulting the Djin or the humans, but it hardly mattered because Cormac was now angry, and the emotion was so strong, even the goblins took a step back. Before Cormac could move, however, he was interrupted by a new, booming voice in the distance.
“I’m coming.” Prickles the ogre burst into the great hall and pushed aside the goblins like so many bowling pins. “Don’t you hurt my friend!” He boomed at the troll, and he looked like he meant business. Glen backed up and relaxed. He could not have held up the sword any longer in any case.
It looked like it was going to be a battle. The troll was two, if not three feet shorter than the ogre, but it was as broad in the shoulders and as long in the arms, being built more like a gorilla than a man. Meanwhile, the goblins, having recovered from being dashed aside by the ogre were pressing in on Macreedy and Ellean, despite the arrows pointed in their direction. Again, though, before anyone could begin, they were interrupted by yet another group of voices. Glen imagined he heard the troll mutter, “Now what?”
It was dwarfs, about a dozen, and they came out from a place where no one suspected there was a tunnel. It was behind a big rock, and Glen guessed it was the way the Djin had gone with Sandra’s mother and Melissa in tow.
“There they are,” one of the dwarfs shouted. “Good work, Gumblittle.”
“Gricklethorn. We got you now. We owe you for taking our vein.” A dwarf stepped forward
“No chance, Breggus. We won it fair and square.” A big goblin also took a step forward
“Hey, chief! It’s Cormac.” A dwarf pointed, and the dwarfs paused and began to back up until Breggus put his hand up and pointed at something else.
“There’s tree elves down here, and it looks like human beanings.”
“Yeah, them folk what lives in the other place. What are they doing here?” The dwarfs all paused and at least one scratched his head.
“Good dwarfs.” Macreedy seized the opening. “We are on a quest as of old. In the name of the treaty of lasting peace I call upon your help against these dark ones.”
“Watch it.” Gricklethorn took the dark ones comment as an insult and his people began to draw out their weapons while Ignatius tried to fade into the background. On seeing this, the dwarfs drew their weapons as well.
“Time to fight!” Cormac slammed his good hand into the floor of the cavern and busted the rock by his feet.
Prickles shook himself free from all that he was seeing, and partly comprehending, and turned to face the troll. “I’m ready.” Ogres were not slow in the fight department.
Sandra did not know what to do or who to trust, but she found her feet backing away from the goblins and sticking close to Ellean, taking the stroller with her. Glen, alone was in the middle of it all, and pleased that he had managed to put his sword away without cutting himself. It came to him that he really had no talent in that direction, but there was one thing he did have, and that was the words thanks to the voices in his head.