"Damn him." Leeja hissed. Her claws were extended and her hair was an inferno of white tendrils lashing violently around her.Previously...
Making their way through the first few levels of Idvard's Keep, Bujilli, Leeja and Bortho were able to re-stock a few essential items such as a new short bow and some arrows for Bujilli. Barracks, Workshops, Store Rooms. All in all it was fairly common-place and boring, just another Keep meant to house and support a small cadre. But then they came to a Domed Chamber. This was different, at least to Bujilli. Elaborately over-built to withstand an underground siege, the Domed Chamber was a junction of four passages leading off into the underworld, as well as a heavily fortified central shaft that led down into the depths. Each of the four lateral passages were accessed via a massive portcullis station. While Bujilli and Leeja examined the Domed Chamber, Bortho took it upon himself to carry on the hunt for his mate...
Bujilli looked around the Domed Chamber. Bortho's tracks were unmistakable in the dust. He gestured silently to Leeja to follow and set out at a trot after the errant guide. He quietly called upon his Counsel. Perhaps it could help him locate Bortho somehow? Yes. An image formed in his mind's eye. A map. He could see Bortho moving along a sloping passageway, not far ahead--there were other shapes moving towards Bortho from the opposite direction!
"He's just ahead, through that Portcullis. But he's not going to be alone for very much longer."
"He's gone ahead and blundered into a pack of his 'Grunters' then?" Leeja hissed in frustration.
"I think so. They're maybe a hundred feet away from him now. Even if we do catch up to him...they'll be right on top of us in no time."
"How many of them are there?" Leeja's voice took on a cold, calculating quality. She slipped smoothly into this amoral, predatory mode. Perhaps it was something in her nature. Maybe it was just long years of that being her only option. It made Bujilli briefly consider his own way of seeing the world. Growing up in an abusive household, he was loathe to judge other's survival strategies. He didn't argue with what worked. But sometimes, sometimes he did wonder about the cost, the repercussions of his, and other's choices.
They trotted past the second Portcullis and started down the sloping passageway. The dust in here was trudged-up into a layer of filthy mud mingled with manure and other things. Wagon tracks cut messy swathes through the muck. The walls radiated a gentle, almost directionless light that followed them as they broke into a run through the sloggy mess to reach Bortho before the Grunters got him.
Catching up to Bortho was the easy part. He stood along one side of the passage, clearly illuminated by the walls, staring back at Bujilli and Leeja with a sheepish, almost comical look of childish chagrin, as though he had been caught in the act of misbehaving.
Leeja hissed viciously. Bujilli grabbed her by the arm before she could flay their guide alive. She glared at him. But she restrained herself.
"You stupid bastard! Run! They're nearly on top of us!" Bujilli only barely stopped himself from yelling.
"Who?" mouthed Bortho. He was still attempting to remain silent and unobtrusive, despite the lit-up walls and the noise made by Bujilli and Leeja. The boy was so obsessed over recovering his mate that he wasn't thinking straight. He wasn't really thinking at all. Like the majority of his people, he was a creature of instinct and intuition, not deep thought or contemplation. For all Bujilli knew, they might well be completely devoid of a conscience. He had a sinking feeling that they were intended to develop along fairly brutal lines. Born fighters. Deliberately kept ignorant and locked in perpetual savagery. Fodder for someone else's wars. It turned his stomach.
"Grunters." Leeja snarled.
Bortho went even paler than usual. He wavered. Unsure what to do. Bujilli grabbed his arm and yanked. Hard.
"Run damn you!" Bujilli pulled the boy after him as he started to run back towards the Portcullis and whatever safety it might hold for them. He was trying to sort out what he saw of the control mechanisms. They didn't look like the simple lever or winch-type affairs that he had seen in other places. He hoped they could figure out how to drop the damned thing before the Grunters caught up to them.
Bortho slipped in the fetid slop.
A black-shafted javelin was lodged in her torso. No. Not in her torso, but caught in her armor. What used to serve as her armor. The crudely-fashioned boiled-leather demi-cuirass was ruined now. In tatters. Shredded by the wicked barbs on the javelin.
Bujilli stopped. Turned. Leeja looked directly into his eyes. She smiled. Sweetly. Sinisterly.
The javelin fell to the muck.
Her hair flashed and flickered like ivory flames as she ran headlong right at the Grunters.
Three of them were dead, decapitated and down in the gory mud before Bujilli could catch up to her.
There had only been four of the things.
Four misshapen, lumpy and vaguely piggish heads lay where they landed.
Aside from their heavy breathing it was deathly quiet.
Leeja picked up four of the barbed javelins. The fourth one had to be pried from the former owner's clenched fist. She did so with a vicious jerk.
Bujilli squatted down beside the nearest Grunter corpse. It was man-shaped, in a manner of speaking. It went about on two hooved feet, had two arms, and definitely had something of a piggish look to it. Heavy, jowly-jaws and widely flaring nostrils that extended into rude snouts. Ugly, brutish, with tiny little milky amber-tinted eyes that couldn't possibly be of much use. Their backs were distorted, bulging with powerful muscles...that twitched and spasmed. Bujilli quickly drew his tulwar across the squirming back of the Grunter. The badly-cured leather armor parted like the skin of an egg-plant. Rancid pink-orange pus oozed from the mottled and mangled backside of the creature.
Bujilli rose from his crouching position and backed away.
"We need to leave. Now." He tried to sound calm.
Leeja growled. she wasn't ready to go just yet.
"I said NOW." He pointed at the disgusting mess sloshing down into the trampled, gory mud.
Leeja's eyes went wide with sudden realization.
The floor of the passageway vibrated as if from a massive impact. The walls reverberated with a deep rumbling. It reminded Builli of a ship's anchor being hauled up--
"RUN!" He shouted.
Bortho was lowering the Portcullis.
Will they make it back through the Portcullis before it drops and locks into place?
Should they even try?
Are there more Grunters headed this way?
Or was this just an especially unlucky group of hunters or scouts?
What kind of fungi would fill Bujilli with such a sense of dread?
Is it something that we've seen before, perhaps?
Or something new and ultra-nasty in its own right?
What will happen next?