Chapter 22: Stirring the Pot
In a gruff imitation of an ogre’s voice, Kilian yelled down the stairs, “Everything’s fine! Just a few moths!”
Moths? Flint mouthed quietly.
There was a pause before the booming voice responded, echoing up the stone in a haunting vibration of sound. “WELL, KEEP IT DOWN!”
“Do you think…?” Opal whispered.
“It’s got to be,” Kilian nodded. “Who else would give orders like that?”
“I smell food,” Evelyn said dreamily.
Roon realized she was right and sniffed the air. There was the distant scent of cooking meat and surprisingly rich spices. “The kitchen must be down there.”
“Why would the Duke be in the kitchen?” Flint scratched his bald chin where it was flanked by two long, thick braids.
“Maybe it’s dinner time,” Thia suggested. “Let’s go. Quietly.”
They snuck down the stairs, careful to avoid any more rats. Soon they heard the clanking clatter of dishes and the scent of food grew stronger. They reached a doorway, and all crouched behind it and peeked through. Tiny green-skinned goblins rushed about a large kitchen and dining room. The dining area was split into thirds, with the far end holding one giant-sized table and benches, the next stretch of tables a size for ogres, and the third and final set of tables were Roon’s size.
To the left were two large hearths. Ladders leaned next to massive boiling pots and a few goblins stood balanced on them, tossing in spices and chopped vegetables, or carefully stirring the pot. Another pot sat empty nearby. It was large enough to fit their entire party, plus some.
“Giants don’t… eat people, do they?” Roon wondered.
“That’s a good question,” Thia said.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Evelyn asked, looking excited.
“That stew smells delicious,” Flint said. “So let’s hope it’s not human.”
Then, through a pair of swinging doors came a grotesque-faced female fire giant wearing a black-scale apron. She held a dripping cleaver in one hand, and her arms were covered in gore up to her elbows. She looked around the room suspiciously and the goblin’s paused in their work to stare at her nervously. She sniffed the air noisily. “I smell a human. Guards!”
Kilian’s eyes widened. Roon stared at him and Evelyn. “I told you you smelled,” Roon hissed.
Ogres immediately appeared in the far doorway and slunk in with shoulders hunched.
Opal whispered, “I’ll go take a look,” and suddenly shrank and transformed into a small black spider, which then crawled up the wall and through the doorway.
“Let me try something,” Kilian said, creeping forward and peeking around the corner. He held up his hands and cast something into the room. He moved back a moment later. “Can’t tell if it worked,” he breathed, “I tried to use a spell to confuse the big one.”
There was a deafening roar and suddenly part of the stone doorway broke apart as massive fingers grasped it and tore it aside. Kilian fell back and clambered up the stairs. A cloud of dust and stones exploded in the air as they all scattered. Roon ran under the fire giant’s long legs and slid beneath one of the smaller tables, breathing hard and waiting for his vision to clear.
“I knew I smelled human!” The giant shouted triumphantly as little long-nosed winged creatures with fiery wings dove from the ceiling overhead. Roon recognized them as little fire mephits. They dove at Flint, who’d escaped the doorway and tried to ward them off with a swing of his hammer. One opened its beaked mouth and spit hot ash at the dwarf, who rolled out of the way. Roon heard the song of Thia’s blade, but his attention was drawn to the swarming goblins.
“Shit, shit, shit,” he scrambled out from under the table and cast blink.
Roon dematerialized from the physical plane and everything in his vision turned to shades of gray. He blinked. There was a pulsing, almost muted sound of the battle around him as he passed slowly, as if walking underwater, through the ethereal plane toward his friend’s shadowy forms. He found Evelyn first. She was unconscious on the ground, a bleeding gash on her pale temple. Roon knelt next to her and touched a hand to her head as he reappeared in a world of colour and healed her. She stirred, so he drew out his shortbow and shot the nearest goblin, then blinked away before it could turn on him.
When he reappeared the second time, Roon stood next to Kilian as the sorcerer shot an earth-shattering spell into the middle of six goblins, and all of them dropped dead. The sorcerer flew back and up to land, balanced, on the edge of the empty pot. He then shot down at the ogres as the stupid creatures tried to slap him off the rim. He was too quick, and danced around their slow blows.
Roon sent a toll of necromantic energy like a ringing gong into the ears of one of the ogres, and it stumbled back holding bleeding ears. Then, he blinked into the ethereal plane and waded towards Thia. The elf had just cut down one of the ogres with her gleaming blade and was running along the top of the table toward the fire giant. Her sleek black hair flew behind her as she screamed her battle cry and jumped.
There was a thunderous blast as Opal, no longer a spider, threw back a wave of incoming goblins, killing half of them. Hiccup, who had been hiding under one of the tables, shot past Roon, his grayish shadowy figure moving as a blur as he shot a fireball into the room. It exploded, killing the last of the ogres. Then, the goblin turned toward the other goblins and shrieked. “Run for your life, Nibblesworth! I’ll find you later!” The squirrel obediently leapt off Hiccup’s staff, as he so often did, and ran up the stairs out of sight.
Thia got a few slashes in at the giant before it batted her away with an angry grunt. She was knocked off the table to hit the ground roughly on her back. Roon appeared next to her in a flash and healed her with his staff before disappearing again just as the giant noticed him and went to grab him around the torso. Kilian leapt from the lip of the pot and threw up a cloud of thick fog into the room, obscuring the giant from them. Evelyn was obscured within the fog, and it was impossible to tell where the girl was. “Run!” The sorcerer suggested urgently. “Search for the Duke!”
Roon reappeared as they all started for the opposite door. Then, they heard howling in the distance. A few moments later, the doorway was filled with the raw-skinned, blackened forms of two enormous flaming dogs.
“Hellhounds,” Thia cursed, as if she’d seen them before.