The Guardians of Atlantis in:
The Devil's Iceberg
"Drop me lower!" Gaildor called up. "There's a shelf down here, carved into the rock!"
Gaildor was descending the cliffside on a rope, directly over the point where the light emerged from the depths of the island. The forested slopes of the island ended here, at a sheer drop to the rocks far below, and the waves that crashed against the cliff face. There, where startled sea creatures darted to avoid the light, the water was bathed in a blue-green glow, which traced a path off directly away from the island, and off into the distance.
The rope belonged to Foryncia, who normally wore it as a belt, wrapped around her slender waist. The rope itself was remarkably slender, especially for the weight it was able to carry. It also had the power to magically extend itself, and so it was easily able to reach the waters below. Brandon held on to one end, lowering Gailor as he bounced his way down the cliff face, kicking away with his feet as he descended. After a few moments, he reached the water's edge, and then came to rest on something just under the water.
Standing hip deep in the glowing water, Gaildor unhooked the rope, then stuck his head in an opening in the cliff. "There's an entrance here," he said, yelling to be heard over the surf. "It's just under the water, but it slopes up pretty quick."
"Is that where the light is coming out?" Brandon called back down to him.
"No, that's below this tunnel. About ten to twenty feet under it, to be exact. I don't think we can get in that way, it's completely underwater."
"But that one slopes back up above the water?"
"Yeah, it's about half full of water here, but it's not too bad. . ." He stuck his head back into the passage again.
"All right, Gaildor, stay there, we're coming down."
Unfortunately, Brandon's order had come too late. The impetuous elf had already vanished into the tunnel. Sighing, Brandon turned to his other allies.
"Okay, everyone down the rope. Arianna, you go first, and see if you can catch Gaildor."
Relissan grabbed onto the rope instead. "I'll go first. I think I can stop him."
The elven priestess slid down the cable, joined quickly by Arianna, who followed her just as easy. Apparently, the two elves had done this before. Foryncia was from the Misty Mountains, Brandon noted, perhaps these two were as well. They seemed to know what they were doing, so Brandon set about helping the others.
Malfread followed, and to Brandon's surprise, he slid down the rope with much the same skill as the elves. That was a bit unusual, few humans knew the mountain climbing techniques that elves practiced. Brandon himself had only learned it from Foryncia, and even then only had a chance to practice it a few times. Yet this human looked as if he'd been doing it all his life.
Angus seemed to be thinking the same thing, as he commented, "Well, he's a bit o' a show-off in't he?"
"It's not hard," Brandon said. "But I can lower you if you like."
"It'll take the both of you to lower me," Kalgon said with a wry grin, "So I better go next."
By the time Kalgon and Angus were down to the platform, Gaildor and the two lady elves were long gone. Foryncia anchored her rope to a nearby tree to take Brandon's weight, then followed him. Once she was back with her friends, she uttered a magic word, sharp and musical, and her rope detached itself. It retracted to its original length, and she wrapped it around her waist, where it clung to her as if tied.
Brandon pointed out a low ledge, that was wrapping around the cliffside from their position. It continued off to the south, sloping up gradually until it was clear of the water. "That's probably the path the orcs took to get back to the top of the cliff. It's well hidden, so it can't be spotted from above."
He then edged cautiously into the passageway. "Arianna? Relissan?" He kept his voice down, moving slowly until his eyes could adjust to the darkness. He had to wade through waist deep water for a short distance, but then the floor sloped upwards, and in a few minutes, he was out of the water.
"Well, thank the One for that," Kalgon muttered. "My robe was getting soaked."
Brandon ignored him as he continued down the passage. It was leading straight into the island, not turning or anything, and Brandon was a bit wary of it. Up ahead, he could make out light in the distance, as there were torches burning along the wall to either side of the passage ahead. However, as he continued forward, Relissan suddenly melted out of the shadows and Brandon jumped. He hadn't even seen her right in front of him.
"That elf's your friend," the priestess hissed, "And he's gone off without us. Up ahead there's a side passage. He decided there was a guard post down there, and before I could stop him, he slipped away. Does he do this often?"
"All too often," Brandon said, with a frown. "But then, he says I slow him down. I am wearing plate mail, but. . ."
"But I'm not," Relissan finished. "So he's just impatient. He'll get himself killed doing this."
Kalgon came up behind them, his lantern hooded so the light would not give them away. "Is someone up there?"
"I mean, orcs."
"I know. Gaildor's checking it out, if he doesn't blow everything."
They continued down the corridor a few feet, to find Arianna waiting at the intersection. She was pressed against the wall, glancing down the side passage from time to time. While the main corridor was dimly lit, by the torchlight from further down the hall, the side passage was totally dark. This would be the perfect place to put a guard post, to see anyone trying to slip past, silhouetted against the light.
"He's been gone too long," Arianna commented. "Relissan, maybe you should. . ."
As she spoke, a flare of light suddenly appeared at the end of the hall. It appeared again, then stayed feebly lit, revealing a rectangular hole in the wall at the end of the passage, obviously a spy hole. As there would be no reason for a guard behind the spy hole to reveal his location, the light had to be Gaildor's doing.
"Okay, that's it," Brandon growled. "If that's Gaildor, I'm going to go down there and kick his foolhardy ass all the way back here."
Relissan shook her head, "Human, you'd sneak like a dragon with a head cold. I'll go down there and find out what he's up to." She glanced at Arianna, who gave her a short nod. Then she slipped around the corner, and with her back to the wall, crept down towards the light.
Sometime before he expected to lose sight of her, Brandon found he couldn't see Relissan any more. "Can you see that passage with your elf vision?" He asked Arianna.
The warrioress nodded. "It turns where you see that light, going around a corner. Probably there is a door into the guard room there. Relissan is. . .just about at the corner."
A shadow moved in front of the light, and then there was nothing again. Brandon waited. It was hard to trust in someone you had only just met, in a situation like this, but Brandon had been in many situations like this before. Trust was the one thing you had to count on, in this line of work.
"She's gesturing for us to come on," Arianna said. Again, Brandon saw nothing, but he nodded to the others, and then followed. They filed around the corner, and found themselves in a small room. Gaildor was waiting there, with a lit torch, and standing over the body of an orc. The creature had obviously been asleep, as he was slumped over in his chair.
"What took you so long?" The elf asked.
"I've warned you about this before!" Brandon hissed. "If you keep running off by yourself, your going to get yourself, and us, killed!"
"I was just going to check out the guardpost. If I'd waited, you'd just have told me to check it out anyway." He grinned, smugly.
"There are two other elves in this party as good at scouting as you are," Brandon countered. Then he glanced at Relissan. "Maybe better. If you'd waited, one of them could have gone with you. Then one of you could have come back and gotten the rest of us, instead of your silly idea with the lights."
Gaildor's expression changed from rebellion, to confusion, to realization that he had, in fact, been wrong. As hard as that was to believe. "Sorry. You're right, I. . .didn't think."
Well, at least the youngster was learning. Then Brandon found himself marvelling that he could consider an elf, a being over a hundred years of age, a youngster. "No harm done. At least you didn't alert anyone. So why didn't you come back and get us, anyway?"
"There are more orcs in that room over there." He cocked his thumb at the other door to the small room. "I heard them, but I'm pretty sure they didn't hear me. I didn't want to attack them without you, but I didn't want to leave, either, in case they decided to check on their friend."
"Makes sense. And at least you didn't try to attack them on your own." He clapped the elf on the shoulder. "Next time just try to think before you act."
"I will!" Gaildor said, excitedly.
Brandon knew better to believe that, but at least he had said it. "Okay, so now that we're all together, who's going in? How many are there?"
"I'd say about three or four."
"That's me and Gaildor, then, and I assume Angus and Arianna. Anyone else?"
"Don't look at me," Kalgon said, with a huge grin. "I'm a confirmed coward!"
"And I'll watch your backs," Malfread said. "If all the rooms are as small as this one," he looked around himself. "I would only get in the way." Foryncia nodded her agreement.
"Okay, then it's us three and Gaildor, just like at the shack."
Brandon kicked open the door, and almost instantly, Gaildor was halfway across the room. This chamber was actually quite roomy, a sort of barracks for the guards. There were four of them, sitting around killing time, but they reacted almost instantly when the door burst open. So Brandon set himself for their charge, with Angus and Arianna by his side.
Gaildor, however, had spotted a group of alarm bells, on the other side of the room. Two of the orcs were playing cards at a table in front of them, so he charged, to keep them from sounding the alarm. He leaped on top of the table, slashing at the bells with his rapier, and they clanged to the ground as their ropes were cut. Gaildor turned to grin at the orcs, but found that instead of trying to ring the bells, they were attacking him.
Suddenly, the young elf realized that the bells were inside the room, and thus were meant to alert these guards. Another rope must alert the rest of the complex.
Turning, he noticed another orc running for a rope on the other side of the room. With a war cry, he leaped from the table, flying across the length of the room in a graceful arc. Unfortunately, the orc dodged him at the last minute, and Gaildor crashed into an embarassed heap on the floor. As he fought to right himself, the orc grabbed at the rope.
Before the creature could reach the alarm, he was struck by a blast of flame. Malfread leaped at him as the orc began to beat at his hide armor, as the fur trim had caught fire. The strange wizard struck him across the head with his staff, then brought it back around to sweep the orc's feet out from under him. In the next moment, Gaildor had run the creature through with his rapier.
The other three orcs hadn't fared much better. Brandon ran the last of them through with his sword, and then stopped to wipe the blood off of it. It was not even human blood, it was a dark, greenish color, almost as ugly and disgusting as the orcs themselves. Orcs were hideous creatures, with beetling brows and sharp fangs, set in a short, jutting muzzle. Their distant cousins, the goblins, had wide faces, with flat chins and foreheads, but they still seemed almost human. Orcs, on the other hand, looked more like animals, like a wild beast, with two legs and hands. Even in death, they seemed totally devoid of humanity.
Gaildor had returned to the table where the alarm bells had been hanging, and Brandon joined him. It was a simple system, each bell rung by a rope hanging down through a small hole in the ceiling. The ropes now hung there without their bells, their bare ends cut where Gaildor had slashed through them. On the wall behind each was a label, written in Orcish, but Gaildor was able to translate them. "False Door", said the first, "Mud Room" the third, "Ice Room" the fourth, and "Barracks", the fifth. The second label had unfortunately been blurred, by some sort of spilled liquid, probably alcohol. All that could be made out was "Mi- R--m". And the sixth rope was not labelled at all.
"Hmmm. . .These may be automatic alarms," Arianna pointed out. "The one labeled "False Door" probably is triggered when someone attempts to open the door. We'd better be careful. We could trigger an alarm without even knowing it. And I suspect this isn't the only guard room."
"Perhaps not. . .but we have learned one thing." When Arianna looked at him, Brandon continued. "We will probably know a 'Mud Room' when we see one. And if it's got an alarm on it, it's probably important."
"Or a trap. . ."
"Either way, if the orcs come in here and find the ropes cut, they will just tie them back. We should do something to make them a bit more permanently disabled."
Brandon climbed up on the table, which creaked under the weight of his six foot, four inch frame. Ignoring the table's protests, he grabbed onto the end of the first rope. He then tugged on it, until it finally came loose from whatever mechanism connected to it at the other end.
"Careful," Arianna said. "We don't know who might be on the other end of those ropes."
"I'll only break this one. It goes to the 'False Door', and probably that's not guarded. Foryncia, hand me a dagger. . ."
Arianna handed him a dagger, so Brandon pulled the last of the rope out of the hole, and used the dagger to cut it into shorter lengths. He then stuffed the ends of the other ropes up into their guide holes. Tying a knot in the end of each piece of rope, he jammed it up into the hole, then shoved it back as far as it would go with the dagger.
"Now when they find the bells cut, they will hopefully just tie them back onto the ropes without checking them. And when they go to set off this alarm. . ." Walking over to the other side of the room, Brandon carefully cut the alarm rope, taking special care not to pull it. He then tied a knot in the length he had cut off, and shoved it up into the hole as he had done with the others. There was still more than enough of the rope hanging down from the hole that an orc could pull it.
Admiring his handiwork, Brandon handed the dagger back to Arianna. "That'll hold our friends. If there are other guard posts, at least we have disabled this one."
Suddenly, he looked down at the elven warrioress. "Wait a minute. Where is Foryncia?"
They found her back in the bend in the passage they had just come down, peering back at the main corridor. She gestured the others to be quiet as they neared.
"Someone's down there," she said. Brandon risked a peek around the corner, but he saw only flickering torchlight on the hallway wall.
Foryncia cocked her head, listening. "They're just down the hall somewhere, out of sight. They're whispering, I can just hear it."
Brandon strained his hearing to the limit, but heard what he expected to hear -- nothing. His hearing was not as sensitive as the elf maiden's, so if she could only barely hear it, then he would have no chance.
As he started to say something, though, Arianna interrupted him. "I can't hear anything." Brandon glanced back at her, and Gaildor nodded, echoing her observation.
"It's only just at the range of hearing. I didn't notice it when we were all together, only when I was all alone."
A long moment of silence followed. Finally Arianna said, "No, I can't hear it. Still, since there is a door back there in the sentry room, I suggest we continue that way. It can't be close enough to investigate, if it's beyond the range of my hearing."
Foryncia looked a little upset, as if it bothered her that the others couldn't hear what she was hearing. But she followed as they headed back into the sentry room.
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