Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

Aye, me hearties! Pirates in peril! A rascally gang of seagoing scaliwags find themselves trapped in a tunnel with two ways out...but, as the song says, "Did you ever have to make up your mind?" A tough choice this one, where either way leads to devilish horror and a grisly demise...

Seen Through Mist
(Part 2)

By John Outram
About the author

BACK AT THE FORK IN THE TUNNEL, he found Miranna patching up the other party. Hasting was covered in blood from a scalp wound that probably looked worse than it was. Another had his sword-arm laid open to the bone (Kalden was beginning to feel he had had enough of bones) while the rest all carried cuts and bruises of various degrees, apart from Jubal who had a knack for avoiding such things. They looked to have taken a bad mauling.

"Ambush?" he asked Jubal. The thief smiled and nodded.

"They fought like devils," gasped Hasting as Miranna bound his bleeding head. "Small they might be, but strong as iron and fierce as tigers. Are we all here? Pianni was hurt but I think he got outů"

"We're all here," said Jubal calmly. "They came at us fiercely and we panicked, especially when the big man there went down with his head split. It's good job you've a thick skull on you, Hasting, and that goblin venom doesn't seem to be deadly to men. I managed to get my knife in one of them at the end, but I wasn't going to hang around with everyone else on the run. What about you, Kalden?"

"The same story, I'm afraid," said Kalden. "We were attacked and outnumbered. I managed to fight them off, but they'll be back. I didn't kill any. I don't even know if they can be killed. But we can't stay here -- we have to make a choice between two danngers."

"And did you remember to listen for the sea, Kalden?" asked Miranna with a knowing look.

"I had other things to think about," he scowled. "What about you, Jubal?"

"I don't remember hearing waves," replied the thief. "In fact, now I think of it, I'm sure I didn't. I remember listening to the waves as we climbed the stair, but I never heard them in the cavern."

"So we go back to the grave chamber," suggested Miranna.

"Anything rather than face those goblins again," groaned Hasting.

"I think the grave chamber was the same," said Kalden thoughtfully. "In the passage I could hear the waves. But not in the chamber itself, not once we were in the mist. Some kind of magic is at work here, be sure of it."

Kalden knew that his crew were badly demoralised by their experiences. The mauling they had taken from the goblins persuaded Hasting and a couple of the wounded sailors that the way of the mushroom cavern led to certain death. The superstitious fears of the crewmen made them less than keen to face the undead warriors of the grave chamber, and most opposed this route too. It seemed that neither choice pleased anybody.

"Well, going back isn't an option," said Kalden bluntly. "The goblins are flesh and blood, however tough they may be. I'd sooner trust steel against them than against those skeletons. The cavern it is. Hasting, have you lost your sword? And you call yourself a warrior! Miranna, lend him your bow. He might pick a few off before they close with us. I'll lead the way. Hasting, you come behind me and you unwounded men behind him. Jubal, Miranna--"

"Bringing up the rear?" asked Miranna.

"I like to feel I've got the best guarding my back," grinned Kalden.

"LISTEN, JUBAL, IS THIS THE BEST PLAN?" WHISPERED MIRANNA as the party made its way reluctantly up the stairs. "The goblins may be flesh and blood, but the skeletons may be open to a counter spell. When I served in the Temple of Astarte I learned a few charms and cantrips. Maybe we could find a way through the grave chamber after all, and get to the sea quicker that way."

Jubal glanced down at the sack of loot clasped in his right hand, then looked at the sailors disappearing up the stairway.

"Even if we reached the ship, the men aboard would never sail without Kalden," he said. "Besides, he's a friend -- I couldn't leave him here while I stole his treasure."

"Nor could I! How could you even think it! I'm just making a point."

Jubal grinned: "You have a plan, then?"

"Come on," she urged as she led him through the downward passage. "Something odd is going on here, and I'm getting to the bottom of it."

They reached the opening to the chamber. Jubal pulled an amulet from inside his tunic and kissed it for good luck.

"Do you think your goddess will still help you now?" he asked.

"As much as she ever did. Jubal -- a thought just occurred to me. How many goblins did it take to beat up Hasting's party?"

"It was a tough fight."

"That isn't what I asked you, Jubal."

"If I told Kalden--"

"Be honest, now!"

"Two," sighed Jubal. "Not particularly big ones, eitherů"

AT THE OPENING TO THE MUSHROOM CAVERN, Kalden and Hasting waited with weapons drawn. Kalden edged forward cautiously. The goblins seemed to have withdrawn after their fight. He could see Hasting's sword lying where it had fallen, along with a couple of broken scimitars from the crew. He dropped down to the cavern floor, two crewmen following. There were no goblin bodies, nor any sign that the goblins had suffered in their struggle with Hasting's party. Kalden tested the edge of his scimitar, somewhat notched from the last fight, and vowed to make them count the cost if they came on again.

"Here they come!" warned Hasting.

Two goblins emerged from the mushroom cover. One carried the now-familiar wavy bladed dagger in its left hand. The other was unarmed. Kalden instantly recognised that this one was female, though quite how he was never sure after, since her face was at least as ugly with warts and wrinkles as any of the other goblins, and strewn with wispy grey hair on the lips and chin. Her clothing was drab and shapeless, and the ungenerous bulge of her breasts seemed no more remarkable than any of the other lumps and deformities with which her body was blessed. Perhaps it was the length of her straggly grey locks, or maybe something in the outlandishness of her gear, decorated with feathers, bones and tiny animal skulls. In stories he remembered from childhood, goblin tribes had been ruled by fierce sorceresses of terrible power.

"And that's one, I'll swear!" he muttered aloud.

"A sorceress! Kill her before she can cast a spell on us!" shrieked the crewmen, who had obviously been raised on the same tales. The female goblin raised her hands ominously and began to jabber frantically. Hasting's bow sang and an arrow aimed moderately well struck the sorceress in the arm. She staggered back but continued to chant. Kalden stepped forward threateningly, and the other goblin came forward to meet him. He slashed with his scimitar and the other goblin parried skilfully with the dagger in its left hand.

Its left handů suddenly Kalden was struck by a thought.

"Stop!" he yelled, twisting away from the dagger that now lunged at him and using his scimitar to beat away one of his own crewmen's blades instead. The steel point of the dagger turned on his mailshirt, smearing the steel links with green slime.

"Stop, I say, all of you!" he cried, even as a sea breeze sprang up and the green mist and its cloying odour began to dissipate. The mushrooms and even the very cavern walls seemed to swirl in the wind and salty freshness.

"Stop, and see through your own eyes, you fools."

"Mitra and Heimdall!" swore Hasting, dropping the bow, and the other crewmen swore by a cosmopolitan pantheon of gods and devils.

"Seti's horns!" swore the goblin-man in a decidedly human voice.

"It's Jubal and Miranna!" shouted Kalden, sheathing his weapon. "It's Jubal and Miranna..."

SAFELY ABOURD THEIR SHIP AND MAKING WAY, they patched their wounds more carefully, counted their rich haul of loot and prepared to divide it between them.

"You shot my sweetheart, Hasting, you son of a snake!" Jubal accused the Helming jestingly. "I think you should forfeit a share to her by way of compensation."

"In which case you lose a share to Shauri, for pinking his shoulder," retorted Hasting. "And how many shares does our captain lose?"

"It's true, I bested you and more than a few others today, and you shouldn't forget it!" boasted Kalden as he sunned himself on the poop deck. "Strong as iron and fierce as a tiger, wasn't that what you said? But I earn my shares back for being the first to realise we were fighting amongst ourselves."

"No you weren't!" cried Miranna, nursing her injured arm -- fortunately the arrow had not been well aimed and had dealt a flesh wound only. "I realised much earlier. I was only completely sure when Jubal confessed that he and six big men couldn't beat two midgets."

"Nonsense," said Kalden. "If you realised before I did, why did you come into the cave at all? If you had tracked round and come in with us, we would have found no goblins, got safely to the sea and no one else would have been hurt."

"I had to come in to work the sea-breeze charm and dissipate the illusion-forming mist," claimed Miranna. "That was the spell I was casting when you shot me. Without it you might never have found the way out."

"Ishtar's holy arse, a sea breeze spell!" shouted Kalden. "You learned sea-faring wizardry among the temple whores? You were working your spell against the undead to unravel the bones of we evil skeletons!"

"I was trying to stop you from killing we poor goblins!" yelled Miranna. "Jubal -- tell him!"

Jubal lifted a long string of exquisite pearls and glanced over at his friends and his lover.

"Mitra, Ishtar and all the rest wrapped in pastry! Will you stop bickering?" he smiled. "I think the Shrouded God wasted his powers. It takes no magical mist to make this crew fight amongst itself!"

The End.

Back to Part One

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Seen Through Mist is copyright John Outram. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)