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Universe of G-Minor - Ghibbore Title

Chapter 51

“We’ll have to risk it,” Storm said, cutting off the discussion. “There’s just no other way.” He stood up. “Pack your things and let’s get moving.”

Ralt looked like he wanted to argue further but he compressed his lips without saying anything. He’d been trying to persuade them that trekking back up the mountain under cover of invisibility was a better option, but now that a decision had been made there was nothing he could do except go along with it. He’d pledged himself to Storm’s cause and he had no intention of backing out now. He wasn’t happy though. The prospect of a nighttime run down the mountain didn’t sit any better with him than it did with the others. He sighed as they broke camp, praying that someone, maybe this Lord of Light whose worship had gained strength lately was keeping an eye on them.

Durin kicked snow over the fire. A cloud of steam rose up as it died with an angry hiss. Inky blackness rushed back over them. While they waited a few minutes for their eyes to adjust to the dark, ancient words came unbidden to Storm’s lips, spilling out before he could think to stop them;

“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

A thousand shall fall at thy side,
and ten thousand at thy right hand;
but it shall not come nigh thee.”

Durin glanced sidelong at him, his expression unreadable in the dark. “Something from Elder Earth?” he rumbled.

Storm was glad they couldn’t see him blush. “From a holy book,” he temporized, hoping they wouldn’t ask him anymore.

His hope was in vain.

“What was it?” Ralt asked, probing as gently as he could.

“It was part of Psalm 91, from the Book of Psalms,” he sighed. “In the military, we used to call it the Soldier’s Psalm.” He looked down at the long line of enemy lights. “It seemed appropriate.”

Lorelei laid a soft hand on his arm. “It was,” she smiled. She kissed him on the cheek. “Now get us out of here.”

Relieved the moment was past, he nodded abruptly and gestured for Durin to lead the way. The dwarf tightened his lips, turned and threw himself down the mountain. He set a punishing pace. His night vision was far better than theirs but even so, he was taking chances. Snow did strange things. In one place it might have settled into a hard, rough mass with the consistency of rock, while a few steps further on it could become wet and heavy, or light and powdery. It was hard enough to judge such changes in the day. At night it became nearly impossible.

Branches slapped them in the face, underbrush clung to their pants. Every tree they shook dropped a heavy load of snow, weighting them down. Glassy ice covered the rocks hidden underneath the white blanket that lay over everything. They slipped nearly as often as they took a step. Within minutes they were panting harshly, their breathing loud and rasping in the quiet stillness surrounding them.

Durin tried to stay clear of the larger trees as best he could. Under their snow-covered branches, the gloom was so deep his companions were virtually blind. He peered ahead into the darkness, searching for the best path, taking a sloping ravine here, crossing a small meadow there. Again and again though, he was forced to plunge directly through the thickest part of the forest. At such times Storm laid a hand on his backpack as did Ralt and Lorelei behind him in turn, forming a human chain shuffle-running down the mountain.

Storm felt Durin duck in front of him. Before he could follow suit a heavy branch hit him in the throat. He staggered back, coughing wildly.

“Are ye alright lad?” the dwarf hissed back at him.

Storm nodded, more from reflex than honesty. “Keep going,” he choked, trying to clear his windpipe. He waved his hand blindly in front of him until he found the branch. He ducked under it, pulling Ralt and Lorelei with him. He found Durin by running into him. “Go!”

Durin grunted assent and turned back down the mountain.

Barely a minute later Lorelei slipped, cutting her hand on a protruding rock as he led them down a shale slope. The bleeding was bad enough they were forced to stop while Storm healed her. The moment they started back down again Durin set his foot wrong, rocks crashed and suddenly the whole slope was moving under them.

“Avalanche!” he shouted. “Stay on top of it or ye’ll be buried! RUN!”

Ralt didn’t need any encouragement. The ominous rumbling underfoot was growing louder by the second. He leaped blindly down the slope in great sliding bounds, arms flailing wildly to keep his balance. Stones were flying past his head, over his head as he ran. The moon came out briefly. Casting a quick glance over his shoulder he was horrified at the sight behind him.

As far as he could see, the whole mountain was in motion, snow billowing up in huge clouds. Dust, rocks, and boulders the size of a horse were bouncing and tumbling down toward him. A wall of snow hit a massive tree, uprooting it in a single instant, hurling it through the air. The rumbling thunder swelled until he couldn’t hear himself yelling. Dimly through the dust-laden, snow-filled darkness, he saw his friends running for their lives.

Throwing caution to the winds he hurled himself down the mountain, racing against the white death surging and billowing behind him. Something huge hit him, throwing him down. He turned his frantic tumble into a roll and was back on his feet before the pain registered in his shoulder.

Storm’s heart leaped into his mouth when he saw Ralt go down. He nearly fell in relief when he saw the slight wizard regain his feet. If that wasn’t magic it ought to be, he thought with a grim laugh. It was the best trick he’d seen Ralt do.

Then he was too busy trying to stay alive to spare it any more thought. With his longer stride, he could have easily outdistanced his companions but his innate sense of honor forbade him to leave them behind. Instead, he slowed down, falling to the rear where he could keep an eye on all of them.

Lorelei was leaping effortlessly down the mountain like a gazelle, her footing sure and swift despite her flat-land upbringing. Durin simply plunged ahead, rolling as often as he ran, riding the slide down the mountain. Even Ralt was making good time. But looking behind him, Storm was dismayed to see the slide gaining speed. In a few more moments it would overtake them. He didn’t have any illusions they could survive it; whole trees were tumbling in its wake, splintering like toothpicks.

Desperately he surveyed the slope below for any refuge against the mindless wave of destruction bearing down on them. He couldn’t find anything though. The whole slope was moving. There was no safety anywhere.

Is this how it ends, he thought bleakly? Killed by our own stupidity?

The same despair was running through Lorelei’s head as she raced down the rumbling, crashing slope. Her breath frosted in the freezing night air, a smaller echo of the billowing clouds of snow gaining on them. Everywhere she looked she saw only death. The whole mountain seemed bent on destroying them. Not alone, she vowed. I won’t die alone. She began slowing down her frantic pace, angling across the treacherous slide to run beside Storm. If she had to die this night it would be beside her husband, beside the man she loved. As if he knew her very thoughts he reached out to touch her on the shoulder for a moment. No speech was possible in the thunderous roar surrounding them, but they exchanged a look that spoke volumes.

Shoulder by shoulder they continued their hopeless dash down the mountain, scant yards ahead of the leading edge of the avalanche.

* * * * *

Xyphren cocked his head at the growing sound coming from below. It was one he had grown familiar with over the long centuries of his life, but such slides were actually quite rare. Was this one connected with his prey? He banked sharply, flapping toward the sound. He saw it at once. The entire mountainside was moving, snow billowing up in gigantic plumes as it plunged toward the valley below.

At the forefront of the avalanche, barely a few cubits ahead of it were four tiny figures, sprinting down the mountain. One of them, a dwarf, carried an axe on his hip that burned with power. Xyphren snarled at the sight. How well he remembered the bite of that accursed axe! In the midst of battle he hadn’t had time to consider its power, but now, looking for it, he could easily tell it was indeed the artifact Niran had predicted. Briefly, he closed his eyes, using only his arcane senses to scan the scene below.

Nothing. Not even a glimmer of their presence. But were they being hidden from him by the axe, or by the fact that Storm was a Ghibbore from Elder Earth? He couldn’t tell.

He opened his eyes again.

They were gone. The only thing left was the remorseless avalanche thundering down the mountain.

* * * * *

Storm coughed to clear his lungs. “Is everyone alright?”

“I will be if you’ll get off me,” a muffled voice wheezed from somewhere in the darkness.

“Sorry,” he muttered, rolling away from the wiggling lump underneath him. “Lorelei?”

“No. It’s me,” Ralt choked. “Ugh! You’re heavier than a pregnant ox! How do women put up with you?”

There was a gasp from somewhere, then a stifled giggle. “Stoically,” Lorelei answered primly.

Storm grimaced. “Cute. Now, how about some light? I can’t see anything in here.”

Ralt muttered something indistinct and light flared from the tip of his staff.

They were in the cave Durin told them about, the entrance blocked by tons of snow, rock, and shattered trees. Behind them it meandered deep into the mountain, its depths guarded by Stygian blackness. They shook snow and dirt out of their clothes as they sat up and took stock. Aside from a few bruises they were unharmed.

“How deep does this thing go?” Ralt asked Durin between gasps.

“I was scoutin’ the army, not doing a survey” the dwarf puffed, patting the great axe at his side. Their voices echoed weirdly from the depths of the cave, indicating unseen depths below.

Ralt frowned. “You wanted us to hide in a cave without knowing how deep it goes?” He was slowly getting his wind back.

Durin shook his head. “Not a chance, lad. They’da searched it fer us. I was planning on us hiding on the lip right above the cave. It’d be the last place they’d think of ta search fer us.” He cast a wary eye at the blocked entrance. “Didn’ count on it savin’ us from an avalanche tho.”

Storm finally cleared his lungs of the dust in them and patted Durin on the back. “It’s a good thing we made it here otherwise we’d all be deader than a doornail. It was right on top of us.” The rumbling sounds were gradually dying away above them. He stood up, his head brushing the low, rock ceiling. “It’s not going to be easy digging our way out of here though,” he added, examining the blocked entrance.

“Who says we ’ave to dig out?” Durin said. “We ken follow the cave through the mountains.”

“Follow it where?” Storm snorted. “We don’t know where it goes.”

“It heads dat way fer the most part,” Durin said, pointing toward the valley outside. “Now that I’ve time ta concentrate, I ken feel it.”

Lorelei frowned at him. “You can feel it?”

“Aye, lass,” he nodded. A few years ago I discovered by accident that Fenris Fang ken sound the depths of any mountain. Feel the twists and turns of it, if ye will.”

“Uhm . . .” she looked at Storm for guidance.

He locked eyes with the doughty dwarf. “You’re sure about this?”

“Guaranteed, me lad. ’Course I don’ know nuthing about the layout ‘tween here an’ there, but it goes that way,” Durin affirmed, stabbing his finger at the valley below again. He licked the rock wall. “Opens down there somewhere too,” he added thoughtfully.

Storm was mildly revolted at the sight of the dwarf licking the rocks but let it pass. If what he said was true he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth; a hidden passage that would get them closer to Niran without being seen. They’d be fools to pass it up. He glanced at the darkness leading into the belly of the mountain. “Anything alive down there?”

“Count on it,” he returned shortly. “All kinds of monsters live in caves like dis. But some of ’em are good eatin’,” he grinned.

Ralt looked a bit green around the gills. He’d had the unfortunate experience of watching Durin cook and eat the giant’s brains while Storm and Lorelei enjoyed themselves in the back room of the fortress. He clamped his jaws shut on the gorge that wanted to rise in his throat.

Storm nodded. “Monsters are better than an army, I guess. Alright, lead on.”

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