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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 44

Fingers had them up and moving early the next morning. Almost at once, Storm began getting danger signals from his sixth sense that the thief was leading them into a trap or double-cross of some kind. He was about to say something to Lorelei when she beat him to it.

She let her coracle drift back until she was floating beside him. “Either I’ve been around you too long or there’s something really wrong with our friend up there.”

Storm nodded, tight lipped. “I feel it too. He’s getting ready to pull a fast one.”

Lorelei wasn’t familiar with the saying but his meaning was clear. “What do we –”

Before she could finish, Storm felt a flare of danger from the thief but he couldn’t close the distance between them fast enough to do anything about it. Fingers grabbed what looked like dead branch coming out of a wall and pulled down on it. It turned out to be a lever and as he pulled it, a stone wall suddenly sank below the water, creating a rushing current that grabbed their coracles.

Lorelei screamed as her coracle spun out of control and vanished over a short waterfall.


Storm’s coracle was spinning too fast for him to cast a spell at the treacherous thief. He grabbed onto the seat as the water pulled him after Lorelei. “You’ll pay for this, Fingers! You’ll pay for this!”

“I’m not getting caught up in your war with the gods,” the thief shouted after him. “Fight them if you want to but leave me out of it!” The wall rose back to its original position with a grating noise, cutting off his voice and the flow of water.

Storm cursed. Fingers had heard just enough to terrify him but not enough to understand how the world could use what he’d heard to escape the shackles keeping them in thrall to The Six. He snarled at the darkness, twisting his tiny craft around until he spotted Lorelei, the light from her torch showing him she was already 20 or 30 yards ahead of him.

“Lorelei! Try to slow yourself down and I’ll try to speed up!” he shouted. His voice boomed and echoed off the stone walls, then echoed again further away, then again, then again. He grimaced. No wonder Fingers had spoken so softly. Now, he’d just advertised their presence to every monster in the area. He paddled harder, desperate to reach Lorelei before anything attacked them.

His heart jumped a moment later when she grabbed a jutting stone and pulled her coracle to a halt. She held out her other hand and he grabbed it as he approached. He stopped and grabbed for a handhold on the rough stone walls. Satisfied he wasn’t going anywhere, he spun his boat around to face her.

She was furious. “How could we let ourselves be taken advantage of so easily? We knew better than to bunch up that! What’s wrong with us?”

“We got cocky. We’ve been fighting armies and monsters and gods for so long we didn’t take one skinny thief seriously.” He looked around the dank sewers. “And now we’re going to pay for it the hard way if we’re not careful.”

She blew a strand of hair out of her face and looked around. “I think you’re right on both counts.” She sighed. “Any ideas?”

“Yep. We’re gonna have to go barging around until we find a way out of here.”

She surveyed the multiple paths available for them to take. The flickering torch light revealed very little about them. “We’ll wind up going around in circles if we’re not careful.”

“I’ve got a solution to that. Grab my boat,” he told her. She did and he began rooting around in his borrowed backpack. He pulled out a thick piece of chalk. “We’re going to do what Arne Saknussem did on his journey to the center of the earth.”

Her eyes widened. “Who’s journey to where?

He grinned. “It’s a long story but we appear to have plenty of time.” He reached up and put a big X on the wall. “Come on, I’ll tell you about it as we go.”

* * * * *

The alternate path Fingers had put them on was veering away from their original course. It wasn’t long before they started hearing faint growls and snarls echoing in the Stygian darkness around them. Storm left off telling Lorelei about the book by Jules Verne and switched his paddle from one hand to another in preparation to pulling his sword.

Lorelei glanced nervously at the surrounding darkness. “What is that?”

“Trolls,” Storm told her. “Once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it.”

She put her bow across her lap. “You said you fought them before?”

He nodded, laying his sword across his lap as he resumed sculling forward. “Once. Remember? I told you a caravan I was on was attacked several years ago on the Plains of Aroon.” She nodded in remembrance, scanning nervously for trolls. Storm continued. “Their hide is tough and rubbery. A sword will bounce off unless you hit them just right and arrows are useless unless you light them on fire. Trolls hate fire.” The growls were getting closer. He looked around. “We need to find somewhere where we can make a stand with our backs to the wall. Out here in the middle of the water we’re gonna get clobbered.”

Lorelei pointed off to the left. “The top of that building.”

Storm looked where she was pointing. The top three or four feet of an ancient building stuck up above the water. A column had been added in the middle of it to support the roof of the sewers, which was only about seven feet high. Trolls averaged around eight or nine feet tall so it would force them to stoop over. It wasn’t a perfect spot but it was the best they could do.

They pulled their coracles up on the roof and leaned them against the support column in the middle. Storm fell into a battle crouch as misshapen forms began to emerge from the darkness, his sword in one hand and a torch in the other.

A fiery streak in the dark surprised him. It struck one of the trolls in the chest. The creature immediately started howling in fear and pain, leaping about frantically. The half-seen shapes around him scattered in reaction to the fire.

Another fiery streak struck a second troll.

It was Lorelei. He watched in amazement as she pulled and released a third arrow. It burst into flames as it left her bow.

His jaw dropped. “How are you doing that?”

She was surprised he was surprised. “I’m a Child of Heaven, remember?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know you could do that.”

She shrugged as she loosed yet another arrow. “A Child of Heaven can attack and kill any monster.” Storm pursed his lips as he relaxed from his battle crouch, watching her decimate the advancing ranks. She never missed and each fiery arrow caused consternation and panic among the trolls. Several of them had actually caught fire and burned up before they could think to dive into the murky waters to extinguish the flames. In moments, the area was clear. He shook his head in admiration. “Let her own works praise her in the gates,” he quoted absently.

She flashed him a look of gratitude. “Where did that come from?”

“It’s a quote from Earth. It’s about the wife whose worth is far above rubies,” he told her.

She gave him a brilliant smile. “Is that what I am?”

He took her in his arms. “Lorelei, you’re worth more than all the rubies and diamonds and gem stones in the world.”

* * * * *

Their first day in the under-city set the pattern for the rest of the week. No matter how carefully they tried to move without making any noise or giving away their presence, their scent attracted monsters from every direction, mostly trolls, snakes, crocodiles, and the occasional beast Lorelei called an otyugh. Storm had never seen one before and soon wished he hadn’t seen these. They were built like a bulldog the size of a Shetland pony with a huge mouth full of teeth, a muscular tentacle tipped with claws on each shoulder and a third one in place of a tail. Their brownish-gray skin reminded him of the thick hide of a rhinoceros. They were strong, fast, dangerous, and hard to kill. After every encounter with one he was forced to use his power to heal the wounds they received from it. Between them and the disease-ridden trolls, he wasn’t sure which was worse.

His supply of chalk was running low too. At every intersection he marked the one they took in case they had to backtrack. Any unmarked passages were ones they hadn’t explored. They soon discovered backtracking wasn’t the problem; they were going in circles.

“I think Fingers diverted us into a cul-de-sac,” Lorelei remarked when they found themselves staring at Storm’s first X mark for the fifth time. “No matter which way we turn, we always wind up back here.”

Storm wiped grunge off his face and beard. “Yeah.” He glanced upstream toward the way they’d come. “That means we’re going to have bust our way through that trick wall.”

“And make enough noise to wake up every monster in a dozen leagues,” Lorelei added.

Storm nodded absently. “You’ll have to protect me while I work.” It was a foregone conclusion he’d have to do the heavy work of breaking through the wall. “How many arrows have you got left?” Lorelei was scrupulous to collect her expended arrows after each battle but inevitably some were broken, burned, or lost each time.

“Twenty one.”

Storm shook his head. “I’m not an archer. Is that a lot or a little?”

“I came down here with 60.”


She gave him a faint smile. “Once you get started, work fast.”

He nodded. “Well, no time like the present.” He pushed out into the stream and began sculling back to the moving wall. There was hardly any water at the base of it. It was only when the wall was lowered water came pouring through. He surveyed the area. “We’ll have to put our coracles up on the sides out of the way. We don’t want them getting washed away when the water comes through.”

Once the boats were taken care of, he pulled a short length of stout rope out of his backpack and began searching for a suitable boulder to use as a hammer. He found one about twice the size of a human head and tied the rope around it. He picked it up and experimented, swinging it around a few times to get the feel of it. It was heavy and awkward, forcing him to lean back against the weight but it would do.

He nodded at Lorelei. “Okay, when I start hitting the wall, be prepared for monsters and a rush of water when it breaks. I don’t want you getting swept off your feet.”

She stood up as high and close to the sides of the passage as she could, bracing herself. “I’m ready.”

He nodded, then took a deep breath.

He grabbed the rope with both hands and lifted the boulder off the ground. He began spinning around, letting the rope out as he did until the boulder was almost scrapping the movable wall on each circuit. He made one last effort to increase his speed then took a mighty step forward toward the wall. The flying boulder hit it with a deafening crash.

Gravel and dust flew everywhere and three blocks in the wall bulged out from the impact then fell out of sight on the other side. The whole wall shook and shivered. An unhealthy grinding noise sounded as the wall visibly sank half a span.

The sound echoed painfully back and forth in the narrow passage, making his ears ring. Lorelei nearly dropped her bow, trying to cover her own ears. She shook her head painfully. “I think you woke up the dead with that one!”

He grinned. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

“You don’t have to be so happy about it.”

He laughed. “Better get used to it. I’m a man of action.” So saying, he hefted the boulder and began spinning it around for another attack on the wall.

He had time enough for two more crushing blows against the wall before they heard trolls approaching. The last one destroyed his boulder as well as the stones in the wall, which was now had small streams of water coming through it. He began untying his rope, looking for another boulder.

Behind him he heard the twang of Lorelei’s bowstring and saw a fiery streak in the darkness. “Let me know if you need help,” he called over his shoulder without looking.

“Help by getting us out of here,” she answered as her bow sang its song of death.

His new boulder was slightly bigger than the first and he grunted as he picked it up. He hoped it wasn’t so heavy it would pull him off balance. He began turning in circles, letting the rope out slowly, gritting his teeth against the weight. He was leaning so far back as he turned he was nearly looking straight up at the ceiling. This one had better do it because he didn’t think he could pick it up a second time.

As he turned he could see a nearly endless horde of trolls advancing on them in spite of Lorelei’s flaming arrows. Where were they all coming from, he wondered in despair?

He clenched his jaws and gave a shout as he took a giant stride toward the wall, letting the boulder slam into it with all his remaining strength. It crashed into – and through – the wall, pulling him off his feet before he could let go of the rope. His head hit a rock and blinding pain shot through his skull. He floundered around trying to focus. He heard a rush of water and panicked. The water picked him up and washed him helplessly toward the waiting pack of trolls.

Lorelei screamed his name and dropped her bow, grabbing for his wrist as the filthy water carried him past. She caught him and pulled him up out of the water. His eyes rolled aimlessly as he flailed around.

“Storm! Heal yourself! Hurry!”

He didn’t seem to hear her, still waving his arms feebly. She glanced at the trolls. The initial rush of water had pushed them back a few steps but in a moment they’d start advancing again. “Storm! Heal!”

For a moment she felt power flowing out him into her then turning around to flow back into him, In an instant his wounds healed, his eyes focused, and his directionless flailing stopped. “How’d you do that?”


Renewed growling from the trolls interrupted them and he pushed her away, rising to his feet, his movements sure and steady. He pulled his great sword from its sheath just as the first troll reached for him. He swung his sword like a batter and the monster’s head flew through the air.

Lorelei drew her sword and moved up beside him.

“NO! Get our coracles through the breach while I hold them off!”

She hesitated. “Are you sure?”


She sheathed her saber and grabbed the nearest one. She pushed it through the hole in the wall, fighting the current. She got it wedged on something on the other side, tested it to make sure it wouldn’t move, then pushed her way through the current to get the other one. She risked a quick glance at her man of might, hewing at the trolls with great sweeps of his sword. Incredibly, against all odds, he was pushing them back a step at a time and her heart swelled with pride.

She grabbed the second coracle and began shoving it through the gap in the wall. It went through and she scrambled madly after it. “Storm! They’re through!”

He yelled something unintelligible and sudden flashes of light darted out from his out flung hand to strike unerringly at half-a-dozen trolls directly before him. They staggered back roaring in pain. It wasn’t fatal but it gave him the break he needed.

He turned and bounded through the water, He dove through the gap in the wall while she fired arrow after arrow over his head.

“They’re going to come through and follow us,” she gasped.

“Not if I can help it.” He scrambled into his coracle, almost capsizing it. “Get back,” he ordered her.

She dropped her bow and pushed away from the hole in the wall with her paddle. He let his coracle surrender to the current almost to the point of going through before stopping himself with his own paddle. Holding his tiny craft in place with it, he hurled the first spell he’d ever seen Ralt cast in combat.

Lightning crashed and roared.

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