Like a piece of driftwood found on the beach, Haryk felt worn, used, and basically unable to absorb any more of Andril’s crap.
He climbed out of the water, and into the cave, withdrew his pistol and inspected the device. All seemed to be in working order. There was of course only one way to tell, but he had a thing against murdering dolphin boys and saggedy pantsed grey-haired magic-nerds.
Speaking of which, mused Haryk, Andril rose from the water and smirked at the sight of a very soaking wet Lord Haryk. As the mage had promised, the spell had magically insulated Haryk’s weapon and ammunition during the underwater stroll, but it hadn’t done much for his dignity.
“Why Haryk, you look wet behind the ears!” Howled Andril the mage.
Haryk spun on his heels, pistol drawn and advanced up the smooth tunnel. The air was foul and smoky, no surprise there. “My turn to lead,” the old soldier grumbled back at the Andril. “Keep close Bookworm, you are, after all, my ticket out of this Kethole.”
Am I? Chuckled Andril. That makes two tickets, Lord Haryk.
And just what is this second ticket?
Why Haryk, I thought I was your meal ticket as well!
Not far up into their trek, Haryk heard a noise. He made a motion to stop to the others. Tahg–now back in human form with just a tinge of dolphin nose came to a halt behind him. Behind the boy wonder, stood the mage, who Haryk noticed was somehow magically dry all of a sudden even though Haryk was still wet.
Haryk bent over and tilted his head, trying to use his half-elven ears to catch what his half-human ones often missed. The noise, which at first sounded like thud, thud, thud, had stopped. There was a slight wind whistling in the tunnel further down, which Haryk guessed must be an intersection.
Haryk felt something crawl up his back. It might have startled someone else there in the dark damp tunnel, but not him. He was too well trained for that. Haryk threw a gaze backward without moving his shoulders or neck so that his armaments wouldn’t rattle. There, in the dark was the outline of a squirrel sitting on his firing shoulder. It’s little hands wrung themselves and it chittered and chewed at something too small to distinguish properly. Then, with a little hop, it jumped off into the dark tunnel ahead, dragging a bushy tail behind it.
“Will he ever be able to turn into anything useful?” spat Haryk in as low of a whisper as he could mutter.
I doubt it said Andril in the soldier’s mind.
Andril and Haryk waited a few minutes for the squirrel, er squirrel boy to scout. Haryk was already hoping the boy might have found a submerged tunnel and thinking he was still a dolphin, drowned. One can hope.
Just then a little sound caught his attention from the farthest reaches of his dark vision. There was a scratching noise that was altogether too loud for their clandestine operations, and too small to be a monster demon from Ket. It was coming from the direction of the tunnel they were staring into.
Haryk watched as a squirrel appeared out of the darkness, running like a bolt of lightning back in their direction. And then he heard another noise and another and another. Thud. Thud. Thud….
“Look what the squirrel dragged in, Andril,” said Haryk, just as two gargantuan eyes, each the size of a Celn shield, appeared in the gloom beyond. Each seemed to float in the darkness as if something was simply dangling massive glowing eyes on strings from the ceiling of the tunnel.
Big! Ugly! Cried Tahg inside of Haryk’s mind.
The eyes shook violently up and down, and the thudding began to shake Haryk so badly he nearly felt his feet leave the ground. Whatever belonged to the eyes was moving and swiftly at them. “To Ket with this!” Haryk barked and aimed his weapon at the first eye, which was now only yards away. Behind him, he could hear Andril preparing a spell.
Haryk looked down his sights, hoping the elf side would win over with his vision too. He knew that one of his most powerful munitions was loaded. Bang! There was the familiar bright flash—the delicious smell of blackrock exploding in his nostrils. Haryk saw more than he’d have liked in an instant.
Before him, as tall as the tunnel strode two giants, each carrying deadly axes with handles like tree trunks. Each of the beasts was the size of three horses stacked on top of the other, and just as wide as two. But what was most striking was that each had only one eye, squarely in the middle of their face, large. Eyes like shields, their heads were the size of a dwarf, and Haryk could see in the brightness of the flash, just as hairy.
He also saw what he thought might have been a third eye some distance down the tunnel, but he couldn’t be sure.
As fast as the light had appeared, the flash blinked out. In the darkness that followed, Haryk heard a roar as his bullet found it’s marked. One eye disappeared momentarily, the other grew larger and was upon him. Then, the eye itself grew brighter with some power of its own, and Haryk stood spellbound feeling his arms and legs become rigid and stiff. Uh oh...
The eye slowed but advanced until it wasn’t just in front of him, it was over him. Haryk could feel himself glued to the floor by some blasted magical force from the giant creature’s eye. Worse, the beast was sniffing and grunting with anticipation of the kill, and worse than that, Haryk could smell the beast. Ass, with just a hint of rotten diarrhea he joked to himself. Because that is what you do when you’re about to have your head chopped off by a one-eyed freak in the dark with a muttering mage behind you, you make jokes Haryk.
“Speaking of which,” roared Andril, and this time there was another flash. Haryk found that he could look up into the rotten jaws of his killer, and see the wicked blade –nearly as wide as he was long–glinting in the light. He saw the size of the muscled grey beast, almost a small cottage really. He saw happily that the other was lying behind it, presumably dead.
Open? Closed? Open? Closed? Thought Haryk. He made a wry grin, and then, just as he was about to curse the mage for making his death visible and little else, he saw a fucking squirrel sitting atop the his killer’s muscle-ladened shoulder.
Worse yet, the little thing spoke with a little squirrel voice. “Uh, excuse me there bad guy!” came a miniature squirrel version of Tahg’s voice.
“Muggedy mugh?” grunted the giant. “Mookah magooger?” The giant tried to look around, but Tagh, squirrel kid, simply hid behind his back.
The blade hung in the air. And that’s when Haryk could feel his arms and legs again. He lifted his weapon, and aimed it directly in front of his face, which happened to be directly at the beast’s sweaty scrotum and in front of that, it’s dangling man-sized penis. Haryk paused.
At the exact moment that Haryk aimed but somehow froze, a sizzling searing bolt of energy shot from the gunslinger’s shoulder. But it wasn’t from him.
“Death by squirrel!” Growled Andril, “Death by squirrel!” He cried again.
Haryk blinked at the absurdity of the battle cry. Later he would wager that it was the mage’s worst in all their journeys and he would also lose that bet. He regained concentration and prepared to duck the inevitable swing. Looking upwards where the eye was, he brought his arm up to his sight. But there was no eye!
“What the…?” muttered Haryk. He looked around him, ready to dodge the massive axe, but the beast–and the axe– had disappeared.
“Where did it…where did it go?” asked Haryk puzzled.
It didn’t Haryk. Look.
Haryk looked down and saw two squirrels engaged in what could only be a squirrel wrestling match. One of them was grunting, the other, using a squirrelly boy’s voice cried, “Give up, you big brute!”
Andril stepped forward, his hands outstretched and pointed at the squirrels. He was clearly in that weird mage concentration mode of his. But Haryk had learned that he could still speak and do other things at times, which the fighter had to admit was rather impressive. The mage asked in a flat voice, “Why’d you pause, Haryk?”
“Have you ever been about to blow away the man-sized junk off a giant standing two feet from your face, and thought what it would make your gear smell like forever from that day forward?”
“I gotta admit, I never have,” said Andril still in his monotone voice, “Besides Haryk, it’s not the size that counts. It’s the magic in the wand, my friend.”
Haryk tried to laugh, but couldn’t on account of the wrestling match taking place before him.
“Help the kid out would ya, Andril?” said Haryk. Before him, one squirrel was being pinned down by the other. He couldn’t tell which was which anymore. He heard Andril muttering magic again, and one of the squirrels rose into the air, writhing and spinning. It’s tail, legs and neck flailed about as it levitated to the middle of the cave.
Haryk looked at it, and then he saw, this time for sure, a third eye floating above the body of the creature he shot first. “Shit, I forgot, there’s one more!”
Without taking his eyes off the squirrel floating in the air, Andril kept one hand pointed at it, and pointed the other at the eye. Small green magical arrows sprang from his fingers, now one for each finger he had. They flew through the air, lighting up the scene, the dead giant, and then the beast they struck. Haryk nearly cried out with the shock.
He thought he had seen it all, and clearly he now knew he hadn’t.
Before him flew, no floated perhaps, a beast that he could only think of as a massive wicked levitated head. The giants’ heads, as big as a man and just as wide, were no match for this thing. This head was easily the size of a royal carriage, fat and big around. Above it, where hair might have been, 10 wavy stalks, like massive snakes coiled and twisted–at the end of each was a slanted eye. Each eye was a smaller, but equally cruel and evil version of the one it had in the center of its body. The whole thing was so unnatural and so abhorrent that Haryk gave a stutter step and found his feet taking two steps back. Planting them, he pointed the weapon at the main eye and squeezed off a round.
The tunnel echoed with a ricochet as Haryk’s bullet whizzed past him. It’s got a fucking forcefield!
The floating monstrosity stopped in midair, illuminated now by the many eyes, all of which were trained on Andril. Flashes of dark energy sprang from the eyes and struck Andril. Haryk, in between firing another round, saw Andril’s body convulse with the attacks. A dark shadow began to grow from the ground all around him, quickly spreading upwards along his body. There was a heat and menace about the shadow that Haryk could actually feel. He shot off another round, which also zinged off something invisible just in front of the beast.
The beast floated wickedly towards Andril, it’s deadly mouth agape. Somehow, despite its otherworldly appearance, Haryk knew it was relishing the thought of finishing this kill.
Thinking fast, the gunslinger ran to the squirrel still floating in the air. Andril now looked minute next to the floating head. It’s massive mouth opened. It was about to swallow Andril in one gulp!
“Eat this, motherfucker!” Yelled Haryk and he picked up the squirrel by the bushy tail and threw it with perfect precision into the mouth of the eye creature.
The thing sputtered and choked as the little creature clawed it’s way around inside of its mouth. That’s when the shadow fell around Andril’s legs back into the floor of the tunnel. Andril wasted no time. “Death by squirrel!” yelled the wizard again, and Haryk’es eyes followed Andril’s outstretched finger which were now pointing at the inside of the beast’s mouth.
There, for the briefest of moments the squirrel stood on a putrid tongue, it’s legs outstretched in all directions like the cardinal points on a compass rose–like it was trying to hold the mouth from closing. And just like that, the squirrel grew.
And not by a little. The hairy legs turned grew and sinewy, muscles expanded outwards like a spring in a pistol.
Just like that, the floating eye beast exploded outwards as if a squirrel shaped blackrock bomb had been placed inside of it. Standing there, with bits of nasty beast all over it, stood the confused giant that Andril had turned into a squirrel not moments before! The one eyed giant thing looked around and used one hand to feel it’s opposite shoulder as if checking to see that it was no longer a small hairy creature. It blinked it’s great eye and turned to Andril. “Moogedy mooger?” It bellowed with bewilderment.
This was all the time he needed. Haryk swept his slicker back, cocked his weapon, aimed and fired! Where there had just been an eye, he made a gaping hole in the center of the creature’s skull! It fell and landed across the top of its comrade with a tremendous thud.
“Beautiful shot,” cried Tahg. Haryk put his fingers to his lips and thought better of expelling another round on the noisemaker he was starting to like a little.
“It reminds me of that old Celn adage Andril,” joked Haryk. He leaned towards the boy, holstering his weapon. “Beauty, like squirrels can kill you from within,” muttered Haryk in a whisper, who was just making things up about the squirrel for good fun.
“I always thought it was ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said the boy innocently.
“Both are quite popular in Cillandar, lad,” said Haryk moving again into the tunnel. Passing the boy he gave a chuckle, “However, if that was the beholder’s eye, I’d think it didn’t have much beauty in it. Wouldn’t you say so?””
The tunnel grew dark once more.
Haryk heard the other squirrel, the Tahg-squirrel hop over and felt it climb up his back and onto his shoulder. It chittered, “Well done, Lord Haryk!”
“I know,” said Haryk blowing the smoke away from the tip of his pistol.
The squirrel Tahg chirped, “But how did you know that was the bad guy, and not me?”
“I didn’t,” said Haryk taking a swipe at the little thing. Tahg dodged quickly. “Squirrels against cottage sized demons of Ket? What in the darkness are you thinking, druid? And you, mage. Death by squirrel? Really?”
Andril ignored the teasing. “Congratulations Haryk, you’ve just fought a creature from Erebus. You’ll be able to tell the tale for a few minutes while you’re alive still.”
“Yeah, I am sure there are more where those came from. Ket is supposedly a large place.”
Andril said, “Well, luckily for you and that blasted banger of yours, I took a brief moment before the battle to cast a silence spell. Otherwise, no doubt, we’d be dying right now, instead of having a conversation. And yeah, Ket is a large place.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never vacationed there,” said the squirrel Tahg, clearly trying to be humorous, and not succeeding in the slightest.
“Shutup,” said Andril and Haryk at the same time.
Something had struck Haryk. He blurted, “Wait, Erebus?”
“Like the Erebus?” asked Tahg-squirrel.
“Yes, Nuteater, Erebus. You know, the upper region of Ket? The part of the darkness that keeps watch over us in the light.”
“Well, what in the night was it doing here?” Asked Haryk now not afraid to raise his voice a little.
“Isn’t it obvious? The smoke and ash, The heaviness in the air. The weight of the place in one’s mind. This island is a hot spot Haryk. Something has risen clearly, just as Canton told us. Something couldn’t wait for the rest of Ket.”
“But who? And why?” asked Tahg.
Andril shook his head.
“What do they want?” Said Haryk. “What are they here for?”
“Something tells me,” said Andril, “that we’re going to find out before we die.”
“I’ll take that bet,” snarked Haryk.