The entrance to the tunnel was in sight, but Dormael felt like he was trapped in a dream where his destination kept getting farther and farther away no matter how fast he ran. He could almost feel the Garthorin behind him. The sensation was something akin to snakes crawling up his back, and his mind painted a frightening picture of a slavering, maddened beast directly on his heels, gaining on him with every step. Bethany started to let out tiny, fearful noises—not screams, but crooning noises that bespoke of her fear and anxiety. Dormael chanced a look at her, and saw the girl’s face contorted in a frightened expression, eyes staring intently at the cave they were running toward. A pang of regret mixed with righteous anger shot through him at the sight, but he had no time to give in to emotion. He pumped his legs, breathed as deeply as he could, and ran on.
Suddenly, Dormael felt D’Jenn’s song issue forth into the cave, and the air around them seemed to grow thick with tension. Dormael glanced toward his cousin, but D’Jenn had an intense look of concentration on his face, and paid Dormael no mind. Dormael suddenly felt cold, and noticed that his breath was misting before his face. The air in his lungs was thick with exertion, and the cold added an imagined weight to it that made it even harder for him to draw breath. His legs burned, his chest heaved for air, and his hand clutched ever tighter to Bethany, drawing her onward.
D’Jenn turned then, jumping in mid-air with a grace that Dormael hadn’t known his cousin possessed. He threw out a hand, and his magic rushed forth in a quick burst. A tiny, white light shot from D’Jenn’s hand and flew past Dormael, making a tinny screeching noise as it hurtled past. Dormael nearly stumbled as he looked over his shoulder to see the effects of D’Jenn’s spell.
The light hit the ground, and ice shot up from the place where it hit, blossoming like man-sized icicles that impaled a small number of the beast-men who had gained on them in the confusion. Other Garthorin stumbled into the impaled group, breaking the shards of ice and tumbling over their pack mates in their frenzy to reach the companions. It wasn’t much, but it did buy them a few seconds to put some distance between themselves and the Mountain Madmen. When Dormael turned to look where he was going, D’Jenn was already turned back and heading in the same direction.
His spell had given them the precious seconds they had needed to reach the ramp leading into the tunnel ahead of the Garthorin. Dormael gained a burst of energy as he saw the tunnel within reach. He bounded for it, nearly pulling Bethany off of her feet in his fervor to reach the narrower passageway. The walls of the tunnel closed in around him, and he hurried into the darkness beyond.
The Garthorin, though, did not stop.
A snarl behind him alerted him to the danger a second too late to react. He’d abandoned his attention to the rear, focusing everything on the flight toward the tunnel, and it had been a grave mistake. He turned his head, everything seeming to move in slow motion around him. Bethany let out a scream. The beast-man was altogether too close to Bethany, and its hungry eyes were locked upon her and filled with something that gave Dormael a helpless, fearful feeling.
Everything was happening so fast, and he was moving too slow.
The Garthorin was a brute, even for his species. Hulking shoulders drove the long, muscled arms that propelled the thing into the tunnel, and claws that seemed as large as knives scraped at the stone as it came. It opened its mouth, displaying oversized canine teeth as it let out an excited snarl, slaver dripping from one corner as it lowered its head for the rush that would propel it right into his frightened daughter.
He moved, trying to pull her away from the thing, but his feet betrayed him and he only stumbled to the side, jerking her from her feet and onto the floor beside him. He yelled in helpless frustration as he fell, watching the beast come on and knowing that there was nothing he could do about it. His spear was no help, and there was no way he could summon his magic and throw something together in time to keep it away from the girl.
He was just too damned slow!
Still, he tried, ripping his Kai into action and gathering his magic to throw it at the beast. He didn’t have a clear direction, a clear intention, so the spell would be wild and unpredictable. A gamble, though, was better than the sure fate that awaited her at the claws of the hungry beast. He had to try something!
There was a defiant scream from behind him, the scuffle of boots on stone, and suddenly Allen was there. His brother’s feet sailed over Dormael’s head, and Dormael could actually see pebbles falling from Allen’s boots as he hurled, screaming, headlong into the rushing Garthorin. For a split second, everything moved in that slow motion that only comes from startled disbelief.
Then Allen Harlun, the Champion of the Gladiator’s Ring in Tept, the most widely renowned warrior in all of the Sevenlands, went to war with an entire horde of oncoming Garthorin.
He hit the beast directly head-on, slamming the spiked pommel of one of his hand-axes into the thing’s skull. Blood spattered over the wall and his armor, and the momentum of the rushing beast slamming into Allen’s armored form had made a clatter that seemed to resound off the walls of the cavern. Allen somehow directed the beast’s suddenly limp form to the ground to his right, kicking it aside and skipping lightly out of its way while simultaneously pulling the axe free.
He spun then, whipping a short sword from a sheath on his belt, and moved to meet a second beast that had alighted upon him during the fight. It came rushing at him, and Allen faked a step to his right, baiting the Garthorin into changing its trajectory. It worked, and the thing corrected its rush to intercept Allen, only to find the warrior quick-stepping out of its way. The beast didn’t have time to change direction again, and Allen struck with the short sword, opening a deep gash in the thing’s neck as it went by, and spinning to engage yet another beast that loped into the mouth of the tunnel.
Allen killed two more Garthorin before Shawna joined him in the fight, and another before D’Jenn was there with his morningstar and magic, the three of them doing a fair job of holding back the ever growing tide of beasts that tried to get at them. It couldn’t last forever, though. Dormael knew it. They knew it.
A cold realization hit Dormael as he got to his feet, clutching his spear. He pulled Bethany to her feet, and thrust the two pieces of the Nar’doroc into her waiting arms. She was confused, but too tired to offer up any of the questions that would normally come rushing from her mouth. She simply looked up at him, eyes full of dread and worry, and took the armlets as he offered them to her.
“Go, dear. Get to the top,” he huffed.
“No,” she growled, “We’re all going. You, me, Shawna, Allen and D’Jenn. All of us!”
Dormael looked again at the fight happening just steps away from them, and the seething mass of Garthorin that seemed to only be growing. He sighed and looked back to Bethany. She met his eyes, and he knew that she knew. The girl was too smart to think anything else, but her immaturity still warred for dominance with her logic.
“You know we’re not,” Dormael said, giving her a smile that was full of a myriad jumble of emotions. Sadness, regret, pride, and a love that was deeper than he’d realized, right up until this moment.
Bethany made to say something, but all that came out of her mouth was some mixture of an angry growl and a sob. She gave him a helpless look, her eyes conveying a hope that he was going to do something, anything to make the outcome different. Dormael felt a failure for his helplessness. She saw it in him, and her eyes turned downward.
“You can’t leave me,” she said. “Not again.”
--From The Awakening Storm, The Seven Signs Book Two, by D.W. Hawkins