Ch. 16 - How Not to Be a Hero

Roger and Hil found Hannah with Ari talking to a dwarf with very thick forearms. His head was shorn and tattooed, and his beard was plaited in two thick braids that merged at the bottom to form a loop.

Hannah turned to them as they approached. “This is Rhurai, the current captain here,” she explained.

Rhurai glanced at them and gave a polite nod before turning back to conversing with Ari. The two of them walked off and conferred in the corner.

“What am I supposed to be doing?” Roger asked.

“I dunno, Ari already filled them in on everything that’s happened, so I guess our job is done,” Hannah replied, “Rhurai told us that we’re free to use the fortress except for the barracks and upper levels of the keep. Maybe we can go check out the shrine?”

“I guess that’s a better plan than just sitting and waiting.”

“I would like to stay and fight,” Hil said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to leave it to the professionals?” Roger asked.

Hil scowled. “I should help if I can. Goblins invading dwarven caverns…” A strange, angry look came over Hil’s face, “I won’t stand for it!”

Hannah sighed, rolled her eyes, and let her hands flop in an over exaggerated way. “Have it your way.”

The three of them asked a nearby dwarf to direct them to the top of the wall. They followed a corridor, out onto a wooden scaffolding and then up a flight of stairs to the top. They found themselves to one side of the gate, looking down on the bridge. There, the group of dwarves that had rescued them was still slowly retreating as goblins continued to push their way as far forward as they could. Dwarves from the ramparts pelted the span beyond the shield wall with arrows.

There were barrels filled with white fletched arrows all along the wall, and Hil replenished his quiver at one. He then drew and released, his arrows joining the rain of death sailing down from the wall.

Once the dwarves reached the gate, they stopped. As a group, they turned to the goblins and cried out together with one voice. Roger didn’t quite catch the words, but the effect was that a bolt of lightning shot out from the shieldwall, crippling the goblins next to them and radiating out across the rest on the bridge. The goblins collapsed, numb and twitching to the ground. Many rolled off the edges and fell into the deep.

“What on earth was that?” Roger asked.

“These aren’t just regular soldiers,” Hil said, putting down his bow as the dwarves fell back through the gate, “They are the priests of Rei, a warrior god.” The gate closed as the last dwarf entered the gatehouse, and a portcullis dropped into place.

“I must admit that makes me feel quite a bit better,” Roger said.

“Yeah!” Hannah chimed in, “Without the element of surprise, there’s no way they’ll be able to take this fortress now.”

More goblins came swarming up from below, but as they began to cross the bridge, they were pelted with arrows, forced to stay away from the wall and gatehouse. Hil loosed an arrow at the mass of goblins waiting on one of the bridges further below.

“I certainly hope so,” Hil said, “There sure are a lot of them.”

Suddenly, the goblins began to part, creating a path through their ranks, and Shurre-Na walked out onto the bridge. The goblins moved quickly, desperately trying to avoid getting in her way. One wasn’t able to get as far away as it would have liked and it crouched down, cringing and holding its head. The dwarven arrows sliced through the air toward her, but they flew on crooked paths, slamming harmlessly into the walls of the cavern. She walked calmly across the bridge until she stood next to the gatehouse. Then, exhaling her incantation, she blew up the gate.

Bits of wood, stone, and metal spun away, but as the dust cleared it became obvious that she was unharmed. She entered the gatehouse. Roger heard a clattering sound, the sound of many arrows being loosed through the murder holes, and then another explosion. This time the dust was on the inside of the wall.

Shurre-Na reappeared on the outside, looking unconcerned as arrows continued to whistle harmlessly past her. She looked at the goblins and said, flatly, “Have at it.”

The cretins howled with excitement. Shurre-Na spun around, tracing a circle around herself on the ground with her toe, and disappeared. One second Roger could see her plain as day, and the next she was simply gone.

The horde surged forward, emboldened by the destruction of the gate, but they still faced a hail of arrows. Roger watched the dwarves-at-arms rush from the courtyard behind the wall, back through the gatehouse. Again they formed a line, their domed shields packed tightly together to present an impenetrable wall. The goblins forced their way forward to a press, the weight of the horde coming to bear against the shield wall. Dwarves piled on behind the front line, huddling close together. Roger felt a thud in his chest.

Inch by inch, the weight of the goblins forced the dwarves back. Dwarven swords took the lives of many, but the bodies were simply dropped into the abyss and replaced by others. At length, one of the dwarves stumbled, his shield pulled down. His armor protected him from weapons, but the unfortunate dwarf was dragged out onto the bridge. He flailed about wantonly with his sword to no avail, and was pitched down into the pit. Roger shook, a concussive force reverberating under his feet.

Emboldened by this success, the goblins surged forward even harder, managing to force a gap in the line where the dwarf had been removed. The dwarves were forced to fall back into the gatehouse and reform their line at the inside of the inner gate. Roger’s vision shook slightly.

The goblins pushed into the gatehouse, but those that emerged on the other end were much fewer than those that entered. Soon the entire structure was filled with dead and dying goblins, and they stopped entering the fortress entirely.

Roger heard a deafening crack from behind him, followed by a tremor that shook his balance, forcing him to crouch down. He spun around to find that a section of the cavern’s wall had exploded outward, throwing boulders and pebbles across the courtyard. Shurre-Na was standing in the cavity there, visible until the horde of troglodytes at her back rushed forward, swallowing her up in the torrent. They howled their war cries in a distorted dwarven language that sounded more alien and horrifying than anything Roger had experienced.

For one brief, stunned second, none of the keep’s defenders moved. Down in the courtyard Rhurai shouted and waved his arms, signalling his dwarves-at-arms.

“We need to head to the keep,” Hil said, moving swiftly into action. Roger and Hannah chased after him. They leapt down the stairs as quickly as they dared, and, reaching the ground, ran as fast as they could toward the keep. Roger was pleased to notice that the days of walking had helped in some way. By the time Hil reached the keep, Roger was only about a hundred feet behind.

The fortress’s defenders were pouring in toward the keep from their various posts around the fortress. Already arrows were beginning to sing out from the keep’s windows and towers. The dwarves-at-arms formed their shield wall once again before the keep’s doors.

Shurre-Na appeared from the sea of troglodyte bodies, standing atop a large boulder that had been blasted from the cavern wall, her dark hair perfectly framing her face and shoulders. Roger swallowed loudly. He knew that she was “the enemy,” and he wanted to do everything he could to stop her. Regardless, he couldn’t help thinking she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

She lifted a hand toward the dwarves clustered around the door to the keep, her lips moving. As the explosion formed above their heads, their captain, acting as a cantor, sang out a commanding hymn, and in unison the dwarves-at-arms responded with a defiant refrain. The dwarves glowed slightly blue, and as the explosion went off, it was repelled, all of its force directed back. A wedge was carved into the horde as troglodyte bodies sailed through the air in all directions. The stone ground was scraped clean of debris and scored with divots.

Shurre-Na scowled, balling her raised hand into a fist. She hopped down from the boulder and was lost from sight.

The explosion threw Roger from his feet, and he landed hard on his stomach. His breath left him as he skidded lamely to a stop with his face scraping on the cold stone of the cavern floor. He rolled over, and sat up. Fear ran like ice through his soul as, everywhere he looked, all he saw was a horde of troglodytes barreling down on him. He rose, his knees and balance failing in the face of such certain death. The dwarves in the shield wall yelled at him, roughly  encouraging him onward, but he knew he was finished.

The nearest troglodyte rushed toward him, its remorseless steel gleaming. Roger put his hand on his dagger’s grip, but his fingers were too numb to draw it. The troglodyte got within reach and its sword came flashing down toward him. The weapon rebounded off a sturdy heater shield with a dull thud, and Ari rushed into view, impaling the troglodyte on a spear.

“Move, you ass!” she shouted at him, her voice full of venom and disdain.

Hannah joined in, defending Ari’s flank. Hannah had abandoned her usual buckler, instead pairing her sword with one of the domed round shields that the dwarves preferred. She held it extended at arm’s length to provide a wide cone of defense against income blows. Her sword blade danced around the perimeter of the shield, striking out in lightning attacks that would simultaneously bind away her target’s weapon and open a dreadful wound.

Roger tried to run on his flimsy legs, but his knees wriggled beneath him. He was going too slow. The sea of troglodytes continued to advance, and although Ari and Hannah managed to keep them at bay so he could make some progress toward the keep, he could tell that they would soon be surrounded.

The shield wall parted slightly, and Hil stepped out from between the armored dwarves. He had found a helmet somewhere, and in gauntleted hands was carrying a sword that, for anyone else, would have been ridiculously large. When paired with Hil, however, it just looked like an efficient implement of death. Roger caught a glimpse of Hil’s face, and his eyes glowed with a fey focus. Hil clamped the visor down and gripped the sword, waiting for his opponents to reach him.

Roger lurched toward Hil, and Ari and Hannah retreated in the same direction. The front ranks of the troglodytes reached Hil first, and his large blade twirled in wide arcs, deflecting the many weapons that tried to reach him. Occasionally, a troglodyte would find itself in the sword’s path, and would end up missing a hand, leg, or head.

Roger, Hannah and Ari reached Hil, and as a group they all made their way back toward the shield wall. On one side, Hil’s continuous brandishing threatened all the troglodytes in a large area, forcing them to use caution and slow their advance, and on the other side, Ari and Hannah’s vicious tag-team assaults dispatched opponents efficiently enough to cause the troglodytes to think twice before coming closer.

It was an impressive feat, and Roger was amazed at his companions’ abilities. The number of troglodytes was quickly growing, however, and soon they would be overcome by sheer mass. He stumbled toward the keep, looking back over his shoulder as his friends defended his retreat. He was so fixated on the combat, that he was surprised when dwarven hands reached out and unceremoniously pitched him back behind the shield line. Several dwarves gave him hard, judgemental looks, and deep, disappointed sighs.

Hil, Ari, and Hannah were still working their way back, unable to simply turn and retreat as he had. Ari and Hannah managed to make it to the line first, just as the first troglodytes began engaging the dwarves. Hil was returning more slowly, his massive sword hacking apart troglodytes as the ranks behind unceremoniously shoved the ones in front into his blade’s path. Soon, Hil was near the line, but he was unable to stop his defensive assault, for in the moment that he did, he would be overrun by troglodytes. He kept swinging, desperately fighting for his life as small wounds started to pile up on his arms and legs. He growled with anger each time one of the troglodytes managed to find a way past his defense, adding another scratch to his body.

The dwarves in the line began to mutter amongst themselves and after considering for a moment, their captain gave a curt order. The dwarves advanced swiftly to flank Hil on either side, and closed ranks around him. He stumbled back from the line, worn out.

Ari, Hil, Roger, and Hannah all made their way as quickly as possible to the keep. The dwarven shield wall snapped back to straight once they had cleared the area.

“Let’s get inside,” Hannah said, concern etched on her face.

Ari rested, leaning heavily on the spear in her hand. “You idiots,” she said, a small tear at the corner of her eye, “Why didn’t you come here in the first place!”

“Are you actually concerned about us?” Roger asked, incredulous.

Ari passed a hand over her eyes. “Obviously not you, Hrothgar. It’s just that, if you all died, I’d have nobody to lord over.”

“I see,” Hannah said, panting.

“It’s important to me!” Ari said, relaxing as the adrenaline of combat started to drain out of her.

Hil put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, it was my fault. They would have come here immediately, but I wanted a chance to kill more goblins.”

Ari looked at him sternly for a moment, taking in the wounds on his body. “You’re hurt,” she said.

“Hmm.... It would seem so,” Hil said, inspecting himself. “See? This is exactly why I don’t engage in hand to hand combat.”

Ari stepped forward toward the large half-dwarf, and raised a fist toward him, trying to figure out what to do with her emotions. She settled for lightly resting her fist on the large man’s chest.

“Don’t ever do anything that reckless ever again,” she scolded.

Hil’s eyebrows went up in surprise, and then a sheepish smile crept across his face, “Same to you.”

Roger felt horrible, he had almost killed everyone, most especially himself. “I’m sorry, everyone,” he said, trying to find a way to express the remorse and shame that was oozing out of him. Hil regarded him with compassion while Ari stared daggers of pure loathing.

“No time for that right now,” Hannah interrupted, “we need to get you somewhere where you won’t hurt yourself.” She grabbed him by the arm with her right hand and dragged him roughly toward the keep without looking back. The shield strapped to her left arm was smeared with blood, and splatterings of the life giving fluid were all over her. To be honest, she looked quite dreadful.

“Hannah, I–” Roger started to apologize to her too.

“I’m sorry, Roger,” Hannah said without turning to look back at him, “but if you would just shut up for a second, that would be great. I can’t talk to you right now.”

Roger shrank back into himself. Ari hated him, and Hil pitied him. He could deal with people being disappointed with him–nobody was more disappointed with him than himself–but Hannah had always been nicer to him. Her anger stung in a place he hadn’t expected.

The four of them made their way into the keep. It was a plain, functional building, much of which had been carved directly from the cavern wall itself. Where nature had not provided, the dwarves had worked their exceptional masonry to build up walls and buttresses, decorated in an ornate style that hinted at an obsessive fervor for craftsdwarfship.

In the keep’s heart there was a large vaulted hall, lined with tapestries showing the many valorous feats of the priests of Rei. At the center of the hall, raised on a dais, was the altar, and behind it was the largest, most ornate tapestry in the room. It depicted a woman, medium height and build, in armor painted blue. She stood before a stone wall with depictions of lightning crawling about the edges. She wore a helmet with the visor raised, showing a fierce, determined expression.

“That must be Rei,” Roger said.

“Obviously,” Ari snorted.

“Honestly, I think she’s the most god-like of any of the gods we’ve encountered so far,” Hannah said, “Why doesn’t everyone just worship her?”

“Different needs, I suppose. Rei isn’t really interested in farms or societies,” Ari said, shrugging, “She mostly enjoys enacting justice and smiting her enemies.”

Falling silent, they waited, the walls occasionally shaking. Booming sounds could be heard coming from outside. The shouts of dwarven and nearly dwarven voices mingled, muffled by the stone walls, reaching their ears like far off sounds in a snowstorm. With each staccato sound of battle that reached their sanctuary, Hil became more tense until he released a growl of frustration.

“I can wait no longer,” Hil said, standing. He turned back toward the door and stepped out.

Ari, Hannah, and Roger started as he left. They shared anxious glances with each other before settling down once again to wait. The sounds of battle intensified, and Roger began pacing. Hannah leaned against a wall, tapping her foot pensively. Ari crouched, her arms drooped between her knees and a dissatisfied scowl on her face. After yet another ominous boom, Ari stood.

“Bah! I am Ari the Chaste, Priestess of Oir, daughter of Lerol, daughter of Tanath. I am not so spineless as to cower here when courage is needed!” she said, and also left the hall.

Roger stopped his pacing. “Do you think we should help?” he asked Hannah.

“Absolutely not. At least, not you.”

That offended Roger. “Why not? Everybody else is doing everything they can. Why can’t I be allowed that?”

Hannah sighed, standing up straight in front of him and prodding him in the chest with a finger. “Because, Roger. Honestly, right now, there’s nothing you can do. Leave this to the people with training.”

That stung Roger’s delicate ego. “What do you mean? I have two arms, don’t I? I have two legs. If nothing else I can run messages, or bring people water. Something, at least!” he huffed, annoyed.

Hannah grimaced and looked to the side, considering. At length shook her head and said,“You’re right. I’m sorry I said that. But Roger,” she grabbed his arm, looking him squarely in the eyes, “I… You have to understand…” She shook her head, obviously trying to say something difficult.

“What?”

“You cannot be allowed to die,” she said, “I won’t allow it.”

“That’s funny coming from the only person who has ever killed me.”

“I’m serious. There are reapers buzzing around all over the place right now,” she said, distressed, “Please don’t do anything reckless. For me, if for no other reason.”

Roger looked down at her earnest face. He felt like he had to say something; her sincere concern was giving him a lump in his throat. “Fine, have it your way. I’ll wait here.”

“Promise?”

Roger squirmed, but her grip was locked on his elbow. “Fine.”

She released his arm. “Good. I’ll be off now. Make sure nobody other than me kills you.”

“What? No fair!”

Hannah walked over to the door, and turned back, looking at Roger over her shoulder. “Don’t forget, you promised.” She winked at him and popped her heel in the most obnoxiously adorable way possible before slipping out the door, sword in hand.

Roger felt like he’d been played, so he fumed around the room for a few minutes. Hannah was right, though, he probably would only get in the way right now. It was probably best that he stayed put. The thought made him so frustrated that he let out a bit of a growly little shout. His voice reverberated off the stone walls.

The sounds of battle continued on for quite a while longer. At first they grew louder and louder, and Roger was certain that there must be fighting right outside the door. After that, however, the sounds grew further away and more distant until Roger could barely hear anything at all except for the occasional scurry of footsteps or shout of dwarven voices. He sat, miserable, in a small shadowed nook, playing with his distorted reflection in the bright steel of his kettle hat and waiting for his friends to return.

At length, the door opened. Roger was lost in a brooding revery, his mind consumed with the most ludicrous fantasies of running away to a cabin in the woods with Hannah to raise goats together, and so he didn’t notice until someone walked directly into his field of view.

At first he didn’t recognize her. The hair was askew, the posture not quite as erect, and the stride not quite as steady, but when she came close enough Roger recognized her amber eyes, her serenely determined expression. Shurre-Na.

Roger stood up and stepped toward her. She immediately spun toward him, raising a hand, her lips parted. When she recognized him, she let her guard drop.

“Oh, it’s just you,” she said with her strange accent. She turned back toward the altar, and continued toward it, limping slightly. Roger stepped in front of her.

“Please stop,” he said.

She straightened herself, the motion obviously requiring concentration. “I told you before, don’t get in my way, else I destroy you.”

Roger knew she was completely serious and entirely capable, so he took two large steps to the side. “Look, I’m not in your way,” he said, gesturing to indicate the path to the altar that he had vacated, “I just need to ask you to stop.”

“Why would I do that?” she asked. She continued to walk forward, her face toward the altar.

“What you are doing, removing these people’s gods, many will suffer because of it. My friends will suffer.” Roger walked alongside her, turning toward her to try to read her expression.

“Life is suffering. Everyone suffers. My people, my friends, suffer. What I’m doing now will help.”

“How can you know that? How can more suffering end someone else’s? Won’t it just bring about more?”

“The very fact that I do what I have done causes them happiness. It eases their pain.” She reached the bottom of the dais. “Now leave me alone for a moment.”

“I will not,” Roger objected, “I need you to liste-”

He was interrupted by her raising her hand sharply and exhaling her magic spell. The stone altar, cut smooth and square, began to glow an intense blue color before it cracked. There was no explosion, or puff of dust, or anything else that Roger had come to associate with Shurre-Na’s abilities. The altar simply went from being not cracked in one instant to being cracked in the next.

“Ah, good,” Shurre-Na said, sighing contentedly before she slowly collapsed to the stairs before the altar. She sat there, leaning back with her elbows on the steps. She was covered in cuts and bruises. Blood ran from a nasty gash on her head, and–

“You have an arrow stuck in you,” Roger pointed out bluntly.

“What?” she asked, incredulous.

“Seriously, there’s an arrow in you.”

She looked down at the arrow sticking out of her thigh. “You would think I would have noticed that.”

“One would think,” Roger agreed.

“Ugh,” she groaned, slumping back against the stairs, “This is not my best day.”

Roger was suddenly aware that despite her terrifying powers, opposing factional politics, and polished facade, Shurre-Na was still human. She lay with her back against the stairs, her eyes closed against the hurts her body had received.

“It looks like it’s been rough,” Roger agreed, sitting down meekly near, but not exactly next to, her. “But at least you’ve accomplished your goals. That’s something right?”

She made a small tight smile and nodded her head. “At least I have that, yes.”

“What are your plans now? How are you going to get out of here?”

She frowned, a true, sad frown that touched her whole face. “I don’t think I am,” she admitted, “I had hoped to see my tolabu, my home, again.” Tears began to form at the corner of her eyes.

“I see,” Roger said, feeling empathic dread and sadness wash over him.

“I want my mother,” she whispered, more to herself than anyone else, “I want to go home.” The tears ran freely down her face, and her body spasmed from sobbing.

Roger put his hand awkwardly on her shoulder. “I wish I could help,” he said. He knew he was already predisposed to be sympathetic toward her, because of his huge, irrational crush, but he was surprised to find how much he really did want to help her. He had been thinking of her as this all powerful terrifying sorceress, and her beauty was just another part of her power. But she wasn’t that. She was just another person trying to do their best in a world where nothing made any sense.

She responded to the touch, not but pulling away, but instead by grabbing his hand in her own. As the tears ran down her cheeks, she rolled to cry into his palm, covering her face with both his hand and her own.

Roger’s heart ached. He was so powerless, so useless. If he was a great fighter like Hil or Ari, he could have done something, or maybe even if he was just eternally upbeat, like Hannah, he could have said something that would improve Shurre-Na’s mood. Unfortunately, he was just himself, weak and helpless. He felt that his heart was about to explode from how much he knew how she felt in that moment.

Then he had an idea. One where his helplessness may actually come in useful.

“What if,” he started, speaking slowly. Shurre-Na peaked up at him through damp lashes. “What if you had a hostage?”

She turned toward him. Her crying stopped, though tears still ran down her cheeks, and her body hiccuped from the occasional sob.

“That would help a lot, actually,” she said, understanding his intention. “I could use you as a human shield, work my way out to the courtyard, and then jump us down the pit. But what if there’s a problem with the goblins…” Her gaze became distant as she whispered to herself, working out potential solutions, eventualities, and corner cases. Suddenly, her eyes locked back on to his. Even in her current state, the relieved, almost cheerful look on her soiled face was enough to make Roger’s gut do somersaults.

“But why would you do that?” she asked, furrowing her brow at him, “How can I trust you?”

Roger didn’t know exactly how to answer that. How could he express the complex web of self loathing, powerlessness, desire to do good, and attraction for her that he was feeling? He started to try, but was unable.

“You’ll just have to, I’m afraid,” he said. He didn’t know how he was going to explain this to his friends. Shurre-Na was the enemy, but, to be honest, she was the only person who had actually needed him to any degree since he had come to this world.  Ari, Hannah, and Hil would get on just fine without him. Shurre-Na, on the other hand, would probably die if he didn’t help her right then. For once he might actually be able to do something selfless. He might be able to reduce someone’s pain, remove suffering from the world. He might be able to be the hero that he had always read about.

She regarded his face for a moment, trying to discover any secrets behind his words. “I guess it’s still my best option,” she said, standing.

Roger pushed himself to his feet beside her, and drew his knife. He handed it to her, and she looked at it blankly.

“I don’t know how to use weapons,” she admitted.

“That’s fine,” he said, “I don’t really, either, to be honest, but our story is that you intimidated me, took my knife and are using it to keep me as a hostage, got it?”

She nodded, looking at the knife with more eager eyes. “Right, I’ll hold this against your throat so everyone can see, and we’ll just walk out of here.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Let’s go, then,” she said, pulling him close and pressing the flat of his own blade against his throat. He acutely felt the shape of her body against him, and the smell of her filled his nostrils. Even covered in sweat and grime like she was, it was making it harder for him to concentrate on the task at hand.

They made their way out of the hall and into the keep’s main corridor. Shurre-Na used Roger as a crutch as they walked, which indicated to him exactly how weak she must be feeling. As they turned the corner toward the door of the keep, they ran into a group of dwarves-at-arms standing guard. Their armor was dented and covered in blood and filth.

“Get back!” Shurre-Na shouted before they had time to react. They cautiously turned to face her, nervously fingering their weapons. “Get back else this boy dies.”

“Who cares?” one of the dwarves growled.

“Don’t!” a female voice from behind shouted.

Shurre-Na directed Roger to turn their backs to the wall so they could see back down the corridor. Ari and Hannah stood there, both of them looking exhausted and just about as beat up as Shurre-Na.

“Don’t,” Hannah repeated. Roger tried to catch her eye and give her a wink to make her feel better, but she wasn’t paying attention.

Ari growled with frustration before turning to the dwarves. “Let them pass,” she commanded, her back straight and her demeanor imposing. Several of the dwarves moved out of instinct, and the rest fidgeted uncertainly.

“Move,” Shurre-Na whispered roughly to Roger, and the two of them walked brazenly through the group of dwarves. Beyond the door was a scene of horror. All around there were the broken corpses of troglodytes, mixed with the occasional still form of a dwarf in armor. Weapons lay scattered and broken. Chunks of earth had been excavated.

Roger gulped, realising that he was currently helping the person that was responsible for all this destruction, but then again, he didn’t really believe that Shurre-Na was a bad person. One person’s saboteur was another’s national hero.

Shurre-Na turned back to face the keep so that she could watch the dwarves that now came piling out of the door behind them. She slowly edged her way backward, toward the wall, as more and more people crowded around to watch.

Roger found Hil, Hannah, and Ari in the crowd, and Hannah called out to him, “Don’t worry Roger! We’ll find you!”

At that moment, Shurre-Na returned his knife to its sheath, and wrapped her arms tightly around him. He felt her face pressed against his back, and her lips were moving. A very startling moment later, the both of them were arcing through the air, passing out over the wall. She wrapped her legs around his waist so it looked like he was carrying her on his back, but in reality she was just getting a good grip so that he wouldn’t plummet to his death.

They streaked down through the pit, Shurre-Na guiding their descent, dodging between the many crossing bridges. At the last few levels, they began to slow as they dropped until they landed gently, almost daintily, on the first bridge. All about them lay the remains of dead goblins and Bire’s crew.

“Let’s get out of here,” Roger said, hoisting Shurre-Na up on his back.

“OK,” she said, clinging tighter, letting him carry her.

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