The Memoirs of Father Shiron

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Part 9 - First Blood

After some time of walking through the tunnel and various conversations between the party members they came to a wider section.  They had only gone a few paces in when they noticed the odour.
        "Crikey, it stinks in here," observed Falamir wrinkling his nose.
        "Makes me want to throw up," commented Presto turning a paler shade of green.
        The chamber, or whatever it was as they couldn't see all of it, reeked of foul things, things dead and rotting.  Then they heard sounds of scuffling coming from beyond their range of vision.  Scuffling which sounded uncomfortably like it was being made by something of above reasonable size, and if you've ever been in a situation like that, you'll know that reasonable size is very small.  The scuffling noises were also accompanied by high pitched squeals and squeaking sounds.  This gave the distinct impression that whatever was making the noises was a 'them' rather than an 'it'.
        "Presto," called Erendil.  "Get up here to the front quick."  Presto duly came and stood beside Erendil.
        "What?" he asked.
        Keeping his eyes ahead Erendil half turned to Presto and said in a slightly conspiratorial manner, "Apart from being handsome, intelligent, skillful and charming amongst other things, what quality do we elves possess that humans don't?"
        "We're good at sitting on toadstools and wrapping Christmas presents," he said in all seriousness.
        "Yes, true, but that's not exactly what I had in mind.  Try again and this time apply your mind to our present unpleasant situation."  Presto though for a moment.
        "We're, um, err, supple and nimble and can climb trees really quickly to get away from nasty things on the ground?"  he said hopefully.
        "Yes, yes, that as well but there's one small problem.  There aren't any trees here Presto.  I'll give you one more go."  Presto was looking rather uncomfortable at this guessing game with the very unsettling scuffling and squealing sounds going on in the darkness.  The process of rational thought was becoming more difficult the longer the unidentified noises carried on and he was convinced they were getting both louder and closer.
        "We can run away REALLY fast and quietly if we have to?" he finally blurted out.  "Oh I don't know Erendil, I give up.  I can't think properly 'cos I'm scare of what might be making those noises and I don't much want to be standing around playing silly guessing games while something big 'n' 'orrible is sizing me up for it's dinner."
        "Oh do get to the point Erendil," chided Feanar in a sharp voice.  "This is no time to be playing games."
        "Alright alright," answered Erendil.  Turning back to Presto he said, "We've got infravision Presto, remember?  We can see in the dark up to 60 feet.  Not as good as Dwarves though I hate to admit it but much better than this lot.  No offence lads."
        "Just get on with it," growled Dick in obvious growing annoyance.
        "Oh yeah.  Infravision.  See in the dark.  Sure."  said Presto.  The working of cogs in his head would have been almost audible if it wasn't for the scuffling and squealing sounds.
        "Right.  So use it to try and see what's out there.  You take left and I'll take right."
        "OK then."
        Erendil motioned the others to follow as he and Presto set off slowly, their heads turning in a sweeping motion as they scanned the area.  The rest strained their eyes to see in the darkness, torches held out before them.  The noises got louder as they moved forward.
        "Over there,"  whispered Presto tugging at Erendil's arm and pointing in a 10 o'clock direction.  Erendil squinted to see.
        "Ah!" he said.
        "What is it?"  shrilled Falamir from the back.
        "Shine your lovely torch over there and see for yourself."  he answered.
        Both Falamir and Shiron turned their battery torches in the direction of the sounds and jointly let out a gasp.  The cause of the scuffling and squealing was a seething furry mass which was bigger than it had any right to be.
        "Rats," said Presto.
        "Rats?  Rats!!  Is that all?" exclaimed Dick in a scathing manner.
        "But look at the size of them!"  squealed Falamir, sounding almost rat like himself.
        Dick pushed his way through and with flaming torch held in front, strode towards the boiling mass of bodies with characteristic confidence.  "Holy s...", was all he could manage before he stopped dead in his tracks.
        A mass of furry bodies was seething all over something on the floor.  Big furry bodies with big teeth.  These were no ordinary rats, they were giant, cat sized!  The rats were busy devouring the rotting remains of some unfortunate creature and had not noticed the party approach.  Now the light and heat from Dick's torch distracted them from their meal and made them angry.  Primitive minds made primitive thoughts.  Food.  Eat.  Survive.  Threat.  Attack.  Kill.
        Dick yelled in surprise and instinctively threw his torch into the mass of bodies.  The pack erupted in all directions to escape the flames.  Many of them caught fire along with the remains of their meal and the smell of singing fur and burning flesh assailed Dick's nose.  Flaming rats scurried for safety and disappeared into bolt holes that were dotted around the cavern.  A great many of them flew straight for him as he flung himself backwards, desperately trying to loose his sword from it's scabbard in his retreat.
        "Help!"  cried Dick.
        "At 'em lads", answered Erendil as he drew his sword and ran in.
        "These'll be worth a few XPs," shouted Shiron to Falamir as he raised his mace and made for the besieged Dick.  The fighter's all drew their main weapons and waded in.
        The rats were everywhere and they attacked the party without fear or hesitation.  Threat.  Attack.  Kill.  The party members formed a loose outwards facing circle and battled fiercely against a furry tide of teeth and claws.  Swords hacked, chopped, sliced and cleaved.  Dick quickly regained his composure and wielded his sword with practiced precision and power.  A rat at his feet had it's head halved before it knew what hit it and another was caught in mid leap with a sideways swipe that sliced it cleanly in two.  Any rat in his reach was soon dispatched.  The other swordsmen did their bit too.  Erendil seemed to positively relish in it.  Swipe, slash, thrust, stab.  Soon dismembered rats littered the floor and pools of blood made dark stains spreading out around them.  Shiron wielded his mace in wide arcs, crushing, bludgeoning and beating his foes down.  He caught one with a sideways motion, knocking it off it's feet.  With amazing swiftness he brought the mace down with crushing force before it could get out of the way and shattered it's skull.   But still they came on.

In the room far, far way, several sets of polyhedral dice rolled across the table top, time and time again.

Dead pack members were used as stepping stones, aiding the pack even in death, allowing the rats to attack from a higher vantage point.  A rat ran up a pile of bodies and leapt at Falamir, catching him off guard.  He stumbled and fell with the rat on top of him.  It's sharp teeth and powerful jaw clamped down on his upper arm and he yelled in pain as his chain mail crushed his flesh.  In so close his sword was useless so he dropped it and tried to pull the thing off.  The rat sensed easier meat and letting go of Falamir's arm, lunged at his exposed throat.  Falamir reacted instinctively and covered his throat with his left hand just in time.  He cried with pain as the rat's teeth sank deep into his wrist.  Dark blood welled out.  The thing was so close he could smell it's fetid breath and rank fur.  He started to gag.  Shiron heard his cries and turned to help.  His mace swung sideways and caught the rat on the side.  Stunned, it let go and hissed at him with pure hate.  It was just about to leap at Shiron when the mace came round again and caught it full on the head with a resounding crunch.  It flew several feet away and lay still, the familiar dark stain spreading across the floor.
        "Thanks Shiron, you saved my bacon," said Falamir wincing.
        "Anytime,"  answered Shiron.  "You OK?"
        "Nothing a bandage won't fix," he said almost cheerfully.  "I'll survive."
        "Good man,"  encouraged Shiron as he extended his hand and pulled him up.  "Let's get some more."
        "Two more coming in at 3 o'clock," shouted Presto.  He met both of them with his long sword.  One leapt and impaled itself on the tip.  Presto shook the dead creature off and actually managed to hit the other one at the same time, wounding it and knocking it back.  It ran at him again with a blood curdling squeal but he was ready.  His swipe separated it's head from it's body and both fell to the floor with a squelch.    
        Feanar turned to spot a new wave of attackers coming in.  He raised his hands towards them and spread his fingers in a fan like gesture.  He closed his eyes briefly and uttered an indecipherable phrase.  He opened his eyes again and a sheet of searing orange flame leapt from his fingers and erupted amongst the charging creatures.  Most were instantly immolated and the others were left to scream as the flames consumed them.  In their panic they ran in all directions, catching the fur on fire of any others they brushed against in their flight, adding to the confusion.
        Erendil had killed a fair number but now had a particularly large, vicious and cunning rat on him and was hard pressed to deal with it.  It always seemed to know when and where he would strike and managed to avoid a fatal blow.  Erendil had lost grip of his sword and it had gone skittering and clanging off across the floor.  He was now down to his dagger to fend the thing off.  It had fought well and had bitten him several times but always escaped away before he could get it.  His hands, arms and lower legs bled from a series of quick hit and run bites.  However it was now badly injured and was desperate to get him.  The roar and flash of Feanar's Burning Hands spell distracted Erendil for a split second.  It was enough for the creature to press a slim advantage.  It gathered it's strength and leapt at him.  It couldn't reach his throat so it went for another prime unprotected target, his inner thigh.  The force of  it's leap knocked Erendil back and he screamed as the creature's long teeth pierced his leggings and sunk deep into the flesh.  The powerful jaws clamped down and he felt a sharp pain as skin, flesh, muscle and sinew were severed.  Blood welled out, lots of it.  He was on the floor, other rats were at face level now.  The creature's jaw was like a vice.  It worked it to create a sawing effect, large, sharp yellowed teeth cut deeper towards the main artery.  Blood surged out.  The rat almost seemed to be drowning but it kept the sawing action going.  Erendil frantically stabbed at it's back with his dagger.  Why wouldn't it die?
        "Getitoff!  Getitoffme! Please someone.  HELP!" he cried with genuine desperation in his voice.
        Dick turned and aimed a solid kick at the creature.  Erendil screamed as his leg took the force of the kick through the rat's teeth.  The wound tore and gaped.  Even more blood came welling out.  The rat hung on. It was still there.  Dick's eyebrows raised in astonishment.  A wry grin touched his lips as he said, "Spread your legs for me big boy."
        Erendil dragged his other leg out of the way to give Dick the swinging room he needed.   Swooooosh!  Dick's mighty sword arced down in a deft diagonal stroke that shore the rat's head clean off and sparks flew from the floor so close to Erendil's crotch that he fainted.  As Erendil slumped backwards into unconsciousness his leg was still in the rat's death grip.  The body had gone but the head was still there and the teeth were still firmly buried in his leg.  Blood flowed out to join the ever growing pool around him.
        "Shiron.  Get over here quick.  This looks serious,"  shouted Dick and he bent down and prised the rat's dead jaws apart.  Shiron ran over.
        "Shit! this looks nasty.  He's losing a lot of blood.  We need to bandage the wound quickly and stop the bleeding.  Put pressure on it with your hand."  Shiron quickly got to work.
        With the death squeal of the big rat the remaining ones seemed to sense the battle was lost and scurried away to their holes.  Carnage was everywhere.  Dead rats, rat parts, rat entrails and rat blood covered the floor in a slick black mess as far as the torchlight could reach.  The party gathered around Erendil who was still unconscious.  Shiron managed to stem the bleeding and applied a good field dressing to the wound.
       "Good work Shiron," said Dick.  "Erendil took a bad bite," he said looking up at the others.  "I had to prise the bloody thing off with my bare hands, never seen anything like it.  It's teeth were almost through his leg.  Better cure him quick Shiron.  Apart from the wound itself I wouldn't be surprised if he's got infected, these things must be riddled with disease.  That goes for all of us, anyone bitten will need a cure, just in case."
        "Sure thing," said Shiron, bending over Erendil's leg and pulling a bottle and a book from his pack.  "Help each other out with bandaging wounds and I'll get round to you later when I've dealt with this."
        He laid the book down on Erendil's good leg and flipped through it to the appropriate page, the light of the torches illuminating the parchement.  He unscrewed the bottle and holding it in front of him, made the sign of the holy blessing.
        "Just like Feanar, I also need a material component for my spells."
        "What is it?"  asked Presto with interest.  "Holy water?"
        "Nothing as grand as that," answered Shiron with a wry smile.  "This is a cure wounds spell not an exorcism."
        "What then?"  pressed Presto.
        "Holy TCP," answered Shiron sprinkling it over the bandage covering Erendil's injury.  He read a passage from the open page and then touched the wound with his hand, closed his eyes and made the holy blessing sign again.  He closed the book and stood up.  With that Erendil came round to see everyone crowded in around him.  He looked down between his legs to see if everything was still there and saw the bandage.  He let out a long grateful sigh.
        "Back with us then Erendil?  Shiron patched you up good," said Dick slapping him on the shoulder.
        "The pain has almost gone.  That's incredible Shiron, thank you very much."
        "All in a days work for a cleric," answered Shiron modestly.  "And anyway you've got Dick to thank for getting that monster off you."  Erendil and Dick exchanged a respectful glance.
        "Thank you Dick.  Really."
        "No problem,"  he answered and gave him a nod.
        "Let's get out of here," said Presto.  "I've had more than enough of this place."
        "Hear hear," agreed a couple of the others.
        "I think we could all do with some rest and recuperation after that, I know I could," said Erendil as Dick helped him up.  "Let's find somewhere close that doesn't reek of death and decay."
        "Still calling the shots eh?"  observed Dick wryly.
        "You know me,"  answered Erendil with a weak grin.
        Dick looked resigned.  "He's feeling much better."

With a limping Erendil helped by Dick the party made their way through the carnage in the direction they had originally been heading.  Passing through an archway in the far wall they moved into a low passageway, the taller members having to stoop down to avoid banging their heads.  After about 20 minutes the ceiling rose enabling them all to walk upright again and the passageway opened up via a doorway into a smallish room with only one other exit.  The room was empty except for the broken remains of some basic wooden furniture and fittings.  Conveniently each wall held a  metal torch bracket.  A quick inspection of the other exit revealed another large lockable wooden door leading out to a corridor with a number of other doors opening off it on both sides.
        "Old guard room perhaps?  This looks as good a place as any to stop and rest up,"  offered Erendil.  "And besides, I think I can feel a time step approaching.  It's a way off yet but if we just sit here and wait for it we won't get caught out like last time."
        "Yes, I think I can feel one coming too,"  agreed Presto, his sharp elven senses picking up the tell tale faint but distinctive vibrations.
        The torch bearers placed their flaming brands in the brackets and the party propped themselves up against the walls.  Shiron completed his clerical tasks by healing all those who had received injuries, which was all of them.  He then went to check on Erendil.  "That'll be tender for a few hours and really needs proper rest to heal properly but should be good as new.  I suggest you get some sleep while you can."
        "You've really proved yourself today Shiron," said Erendil as Shiron checked his bandage.  "Turning undead, engaging in combat and healing injuries with confidence.  You have earned my sincere respect and I imagine everyone else's as well."
        "Thanks Erendil.  Hope I get loads of XPs for it all!"  he joked.
        They were all beat so they took time out and got some much needed rest.  Some like Erendil slept.  Most took turns at a watch so nothing could sneak up on them unawares.  Feanar read his spell book which seemed to be rest enough for him, Shiron prayed for a while as clerics must do to stay in their deity's favour then got some sleep himself.
        Several quiet hours passed without incident and all felt refreshed and much better for it.  They all decided it was time for breakfast so they broke out their packed lunches prepared by the chef at the 'Village Tavern'.
        "This looks good," enthused Falamir as he tucked into a 'Double Decker' sandwich.
        "Mr. Artois bottled some of his home brew for us," said Dick with relish as he pulled out a small brown glass bottle and deftly removed the cap with the point of his dagger.  "This is really good stuff.  Advertised properly and maybe put in some of them new tin cans it could sell really well.  I'll suggest it to him when we get back."  Dick emptied half the contents of the bottle down his throat in one long gulp.
        "Take it easy with that.  We all need to stay sharp down here," cautioned Feanar.
        "Dunna worry lad.  It takes a lot more than one little bottle to affect me," Dick answered.  And with that he finished it off and followed with a healthy burp.
        The party ate their makeshift breakfast in good cheer and had nearly finished when Presto looked up with an odd expression on his face and said,
        "Here it comes lads........."

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Here endeth Part 9.
Don't miss the next episode 'Lights. Camera. Action'
It's here now.  Click on Next.

 

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Copyright John Angus Walker 1986, 2003.  All right reserved.