Champion of the light, p.17
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       Champion of the Light, p.17

           David Castleton

  Chapter Sixteen

  They ran. They were now in a large passageway three levels high.

  Andrew heard faint hissing noises coming from behind them. Ulthars were emerging from the shadows, and solidifying from the darkness. They were aware of them, alerted by the deafening noise of the collapsing mountains of treasure. Would they attack?

  The hissing got louder. Andrew could now make out a few words. 'Stealers', 'Treasure', 'Gold'. The eerie sounds sent shivers up his spine.

  The passageway opened into another immense cavern. The floor of this huge cave was in the depths of the mines. It was like a huge air bubble inside the mountain.

  Andrew could see in the wavy torchlight a long bridge made of wooden planks and steel cable, stretching from one side of the cavern to the other. It was supported by two thick ropes which were tied to the middle of the bridge and the cavern ceiling.

  "Over the bridge!" Greybeard shouted.

  They made a run for the bridge, an ever growing army of ulthars in hot pursuit.

  The hissing sounds joined with maniacal laughter and shouting.

  "Stealers!" shouted one. "Robbers!" shouted another. "They have come to take what is ours! Come to take our treasure! We shall feed them, to the Urka!"

  "The Urka!" shouted all of the ulthars as one.

  They banged their weapons on their shields menacingly, and advanced.

  "What's the Urka?" Andrew asked.

  "Terrible beast. Dwells in the depths of the deep."

  Two grotesque ulthars dropped down in front of them from out of nowhere. One carried a sinister looking knife, the other, a mace.

  "Should we keep them alive? The Urka likes to play with his meat," said the mace carrier.

  "No. Kill them," rasped the other.

  The ulthars advanced.

  Andrew took on the one with the mace. The ulthar took a wide swing. Andrew ducked, then immediately straightened up as it passed while bringing his katana down on the shaft. The balance and sharpness of the katana was such that it cut the longer weapon completely in two. The sharp, spiky head bounced on the stone and rolled away.

  But the ulthar wasn't disarmed yet. He stabbed Andrew in the leg with the splintered end of the broken mace handle. Andrew grimaced in pain. His pant leg darkened with blood.

  The ulthar struck again. Andrew parried and counter struck, hitting home.

  The other ulthar made a lunge at Greybeard with his razor sharp knife. Greybeard blocked it with his shield and delivered a swift cut to the head with his broadsword. Black blood spewed from the ulthar's gaping wound, as he sank to the ground in defeat.

  "Are yeh hurt Andrew?" Greybeard asked.

  "It doesn't matter now. Let's go!" said Andrew.

  They charged across the planks of the bridge, heading for daylight, and away from the madness of the mines. Andrew was slowed, and ran with a limp. Several of the demons were hot on their tale, the rest of the army, not far behind. And the ulthars were only gaining on them.

  The travelers made it over the bridge to the other side of the cavern. Most of the ulthars were by now halfway across. But Andrew understood that running any longer would be pointless. They would only catch them anyway, sooner or later.

  The adventurers turned to face the hideous ulthars. And then Greybeard did the unthinkable. He dropped his sword, to clatter on the ground.

  "What?! You can't just give up! We have to fight! What are you doing?" Andrew protested.

  Greybeard looked at Andrew fiercely. "I never give up. There is only one weapon that can help us now."

  Greybeard drew his bow, and prayed. "Help us, O Nelestar."

  He drew back the string, and took careful aim. He knew that he would have but one chance.

  The arrow flew for the target. Miraculously, his aim was true. It sliced through one of the bridge's supporting ropes, some fifty yards away.

  The entire bridge lurched to the side, and most of the ulthars tumbled into the blackness, to their doom. Their shrieks followed them all the way down, and seemed to last forever. But a few managed to cling to the wooden slats, and climbed hand over hand along the lopsided bridge to the other side.

  Greybeard took aim again for the remaining support rope. He fired, and missed. Several ulthars clambered over the side of the rocky ledge. Greybeard fired once more, and this time, he hit. The arrow severed the remaining rope. The entire bridge plunged into the depths, and with it much of the ulthar army.

  But seven gruesome ulthars did make it over. The adventurers were forced to take on multiple opponents at once.

  'This is it,' thought Andrew. 'This is what adventure is really all about. Not all nice and rosy, but rather terrifying, and cruel.'

  Andrew battled three of the ulthars. One was grey and tall, and armed with a heavy spear. It took much of Andrew's strength just to defend against him. Another was a hunched, skinny, yellow ulthar who wielded three sharp knives in his three hands. Guarding against his dizzying attacks took considerable speed and agility. The third was armed with a curved sword, and kept Andrew on his toes with his advanced technique.

  The expression on all of the deformed ulthars' faces said one thing: deepest loathing.

  "Where does their anger stem from?" Andrew asked. "What did ever we do to them?"

  "That is there natural state," Greybeard replied. "It is borne of a deep rooted envy of those who have been touched by the Light."

  Andrew needed to choose which of the three to focus on. He decided to attack the knife wielder first, whilst simultaneously defending against the other two.

  Andrew aimed for the arms, the most extended, and therefore least protected part of the ulthar's body. It stabbed, and Andrew slashed, severing a hand. It feinted, and Andrew bit, slashing again. It struck at Andrew's forearm, opening a long cut there.

  The ulthar grinned evilly. "Hehehe."

  Andrew knew that he needed to focus on the fight, and ignore the throbbing pain. Everything still worked. It just hurt like hell.

  They fought on, and Andrew managed to slice off the ulthar's two remaining arms. The handless ulthar ran off, three long trails of black blood following behind him.

  Then Andrew elected to target the ulthar with the spear, while at the same time parrying the attacks of the swordsman.

  The ulthar thrust his spear at Andrew. "Die, son of Ruyoloth."

  Andrew sidestepped, and tried to counterstrike. But it brought back its spear in time to block it.

  The ulthar aimed his spear for Andrew's chest. He spun to avoid it, while at the same time bringing himself closer to the ulthar, and out of range of the longer spear. He cut at the ulthar's upper arm. It dropped the spear and fell to its knees, clutching at its painful wound. Andrew took its head off in one blow.

  One ulthar now remained. The swordsman. He was very skilled. Andrew couldn't seem to find a chink in his defenses. For every strike he attempted, the ulthar blocked and returned with a counterstrike of his own. The whole time it was snarling and hissing like an animal.

  Greybeard was still battling two ulthars of his own. "How yah farin' Andrew?"

  "I can't seem to do anything to this swordsman!" said Andrew in frustration.

  "He might be a lubra."

  "A what?"

  "A lubra! Try standing still."

  Andrew didn't know what it would help, but he did it anyway.

  Incredibly, the demon stopped attacking! He turned his head this way and that, as if confused.

  It seemed to Andrew that the ulthar's guard was down, so he lunged in, sword outstretched. Immediately, the ulthar sprang back to life and parried, as the fight resumed.

  Then Andrew took a closer look at the ulthar's face in the dim light and noticed something strange. In the place where its eyes should have been were only empty sockets, grey skin stretched over them. "He's blind, Greybeard! Relies on sound alone."

  "Exactly!" Greybeard said. "That's a lubra. Confuse h
im with stones!"

  Andrew grabbed some loose rocks and threw them all around the area. The ulthar jumped this way and that to the clattering sound of the rocks. Now his back was turned. This was Andrew's chance.

  Andrew made a lunge at the ulthar with his sword. But its super-tuned hearing detected him. It could even sense the faint rustle of Andrew's gi as it moved through the air.

  Andrew stopped fighting again, and took a step back. Once again the ulthar jumped about, listening intently, trying to detect his position. He waved his curved sword threateningly in the air as if to say 'come close and get a taste of this!' This time Andrew gathered up many more rocks and pebbles, and threw them in a high arc. They landed all over the place. He used the sound of the raining rocks as audio camouflage to hide his own noises, and crept up slowly on the ulthar from behind.

  When Andrew was within striking distance, he raised his sword, and stabbed the ulthar through the back of the neck in one quick thrust.

  It made a gurgling sound, and was still. Its body joined the other five carcasses of the dead ulthars around them.

  Greybeard, who was watching the last part of the fight, having deposed of his opponents beforehand, applauded. "Bravo Andrew!"

  Andrew smiled weakly. He was losing blood.

  Greybeard clapped Andrew on the back. "That was some good fightin'. Not bad, for a firs'-timer. And those old lubra being devilishly hard to beat an' all. Ah, nothin' like a good ulthar battle to get the ole' heart pumpin'"

  "Or, to get the young one stabbed through," muttered Andrew.

  He thought that Greybeard had the air of a man who had just gone to see the circus. Not one who had just battled four ulthars to the death. But that was Greybeard. He thrived on it.

  "Oh, you're wounded!" said Greybeard. "Let me help you with that."

  Andrew sat on the stone floor. Greybeard rolled up his pant leg to expose the gash.

  "He missed the major artery, luckily. I'll get somethin' from my sack to clean it, we'll tie a strip of my shirt around it, and be on our way."

  "Will it be fine?" Andrew asked.

  "Yes, trust me Andrew. I've seen thousands of battle induced injuries over my career. Experience tells me that it will be okay. The wooden end of that mace handle was not all that sharp."

  The dwarf applied an ointment onto the wound, tore off a strip of his shirt and tied a makeshift bandage.

  Andrew stood.

  "How does it feel."

  "It feels okay."

  "Good. Try walkin' a bit."

  Andrew walked a few feet. "It's okay. My leg is supporting me well, and the pain has lessened."

  "Good. We should keep on moving. The exit should be near now, according to the signs I've been readin'. Let's get out of this place."

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