The rest of the day, they continued their journey in an uncomfortable silence. Thorfin made no attempts to patch things up with Falco, as he clearly considered that to be a waste of time, and Falco was in such a foul mood, he wanted nothing to do with any of the dwarfs. Not even Narvi, who did make a cautious attempt at talking to him. But the dwarf only received some incoherent grunts as reply, if he received a reply at all, so he gave up after a while.
Miranda gave him some room, making sure he knew she was there if he needed her, but without being obtrusive. So far, he had shown no sign he did.
About half way the afternoon, the path they were following crossed a real, paved road. But it was not like any road Falco or even Miranda had ever travelled on before. It was paved with black, polished stones, that were almost too hot for Falco to walk on on his bare feet. Every one hundred meters a pair of monoliths or huge statues flanked the sinister road. The monoliths were either bare or adorned with skulls and human bones. The statues depicted creatures of all races and species, writhing in agony, their eyes wide open and fixed on the road. Falco stared at them with growing anxiety.
"They're just statues, whelp, aimed at intimidation. But they can't harm you. So there's nothing to be scared of," Thorfin said.
Falco ignored him completely and walked on.
"I guess we'll find our necromancer at the end of this road," Miranda said. "He's not really trying to hide anymore, is he?"
"This road has been here for a very long time," Snorri replied. "I don't think our necromancer is the one who built it."
"But he most certainly lives at the end of the road," Thorfin agreed.
"Then, should we continue following it like this? I mean, he will probably see us coming a mile away."
"We don't have much of a choice, I'm afraid. You have ten meters at most on both sides of the road and after that steep rocks. We are basically walking in a kind of ravine. And even those ten meters are overgrown with thorny bushes and weeds. It's either this road or go back and find another one. Which, I doubt, there is. Luckily, the road is rather winding, so they won't be able to see us coming that easily. We better keep our eyes open, though."
Hours later, they were still walking along the spooky road.
"It's further than I thought," Thorfin said. "And it's getting late as well. I think we better make camp for the night. There seems to be a bit of a clearing over there. And it's just before the road makes another turn, so we'll be in cover."
"Sounds like a plan", Miranda agreed. "Although we do have a view on one of those creepy statues. Do you know what they remind me of, Falco?"
"Those few surviving statues in that ruined tower, where Grim tried to sell you."
Falco stared at the nearby sculpture and slowly nodded.
"Yes. You're right. They're the same style. You think it was all built by the same people?"
"More like they were built by the same cult of necromancers," Thorfin said. "That tower wasn't in use anymore, I suppose?"
"No," Miranda said. "It had largely been blown up. Perhaps by your people, with dwarfpowder?"
"Not that I know of. Could have been an experiment gone wrong as well."
Falco meanwhile tied his horse to a dead tree, took the saddle and the dwarfs' bags off the animal and started building a little fire.
"You don't have to do that, son," Narvi said. "I think it was my turn to cook anyway."
"I'm not a scrounger," Falco replied. "I'm perfectly fine with doing my part of the work."
"Well, okay. But I'm doing the cooking. I plan on making a nice stew. I'm sure you will like it a lot."
Falco looked up with an eager expression on his face.
Narvi looked at him with surprised revulsion.
"No, ofcourse not. It's beef. Specially dried and treated for a long journey. Add water and some herbes, boil it for a few hours and you have yourself a stew."
"Ah." He seemed a bit disappointed.
"Just wait and see. You'll like it. Rat stew! Really!"
Falco didn't want to admit it, but he actually did like the stew. The meat was a bit tough, but it tasted well enough. He was sitting with the others around the campfire, between Miranda and Narvi, and as soon as the dwarf noticed his plate was empty, he gave the boy a second portion.
"I can't get over how fast it gets dark here," Miranda said. "I must say, Thorfin, I find it quite amazing that the high king of Svartelheim would send one of his thanes all the way over here to destroy this necromancer. How did you even hear about this foul sorcerer?"
"Svartelheim always keeps a watchfull eye to the south, Miranda. In fact, you may very well say that we know more about what is going on in Jotunheim than in Midgard. Midgard is not a threat. Jotunheim is. We watch every development carefuly. Moorgash is an increasing concern of ours. Especially after what he did to the Tarquinian Colonies. We may have to form an alliance with the Colonies and Singastein if he continues his rampage.
Fortunately, he seems to have lost his interest in waging war on humans and dwarfs at the moment, as he is fighting his fellow Jotunheimers. Let's hope they destroy each other, as they usually do.
As far as that necromancer is concerned, we noticed him because he has been busy all the way up to Vinland and the Outer Regions. That's dangerously close to Svartelheim. We don't know how he does it, but he seems to be able to pop up hundreds of kilometers away from his base, strike at some human settlement or one of our trade caravans and disappear again without leaving a trace. Either he can travel incredibly fast, or he uses some magic
trick. Maybe we'll find out tomorrow.
If he were to join forces with Moorgash, he would become an even bigger threath, so the high king sentenced him to die. We were actually on our way home from another mission, when we received his orders. I'll be glad when this is done, you know. It will be almost two years I have been away from home, constantly on assignments for the king. My family has served the kings of Svartelheim for many generations. It is a great honor, but sometimes, it comes with a high price. I have lost people that were very dear to me, in service of the king."
His face got a sad expression as he was haunted for a moment by his sad memories.
"Sorry to hear that, Thorfin," Miranda said.
"O, no. No, you don't need to be sorry. Dying in the service of the king is the most beautiful death a dwarf can wish for. But I do miss him sometimes. Anyway, it's better not to talk of the dead on the evening of a battle with a necromancer. Let's be cheerful instead! I brought something we will all enjoy! Let me get it."
He returned with a small jug.
"It's not a hell of a lot, but I think we all can have a mug of it. Hold out your mugs, lady and gentlemen!"
He poured out a golden ale from the jar. Falco didn't present his mug, as he didn't expect to get anything anyway. He instead licked the last bits of gravy from his plate.
"Falco? I can't give you a beer, if you don't have a mug."
The boy looked at the dwarf with suspicion, but he slowly raised his mug anyway. Thorfin filled it halfway with beer.
"Not too much for you. You're still a whelp after all."
"This is cold!" Miranda yelled out in surprise.
"It certainly is, thanks to this jar. It's an old heirloom. No matter how hot it is, liquids in this jar, always stay refreshingly cool. How do you like the beer?"
"It's great. Didn't expect anything else from dwarf brew."
"Excellent! Ah, the fire is dying. We'll need more wood, if we intent to keep it going all night."
Falco finished his beer and stood up.
"I didn't mean for you to go and get it, whelp. I just..."
"Miranda, I'm going to get some more wood for the fire," Falco said.
"Be careful, Falco. I don't want you wandering off too far in this place. Don't forget, that necromancer is around here somewhere. Shouldn't you take a torch with you? It's dark out there."
"No need. I can see perfectly fine by the light of the moon and the stars."
"Suit yourself. But come back quickly."
He disappeared quickly in the darkness.
"Still not talking to me. And I even gave him a beer," Thorfin said.
"Yep. He's still pissed at you."
"Shows he has character! I'm starting to like him!"
"You dwarfs are weird guys, Thorfin."
"Yes Miranda", Thorfin grinned. "We certainly are."
Falco strolled away, following the road deeper into the Shardhills. As soon as he was out of sight of the campside, he left the road and walked into the bushes on the side. He managed to avoid most of the thorns but they still got him a couple of times. Still, he preferred this wild patch of land to the road. And not just because he had the most chance to find some wood for the fire here. He didn't like the road. And he certainly didn't like those statues. He just knew they weren't there simply for decoration or intimidation. They had a purpose and he didn't want to be seen by those things. So he snuck behind the statues on one side of the road and made use of the bushes and dying trees to hide for the ones on the other side.
He wasn't really looking for firewood. He just wanted some time on his own, away from the dwarfs and even Miranda. The sudden change in the dwarfs' attitude was welcome, but also suspicious. He wasn't sure what to think about it. Were they sincere or were they setting him up for something? Miranda had promised to talk to Thorfin, but he hadn't really expected her to be succesful. Dwarfs rarely did anything they didn't want to do.
And Miranda... He was a little embarrassed to be near her, right now. In many ways, telling her about the demon had been a relief, but he was also ashamed of what had happened. On the other hand, she had reacted very well to his story and so far she had kept her word. She hadn't told anyone about it. So, in time, he was sure his embarrassement would pass. At least, he hoped so. Despite her initial betrayal and her often rather impatient and angry behaviour towards him, he really liked Miranda.
The night air was cooling down quickly, which was strange after the blistering heat of the day. What was even stranger, was the mist. There was no water in this dry air, so where did it come from? When he looked a little closer, it almost seemed like the mist was streaming out of the statues. As if their breath caused it.
Despite the increasingly creepy atmosphere, he went further. The moonlight cast grotesque shadows around him and little animals made spooky sounds in the undergrowth. But he didn't turn back. Sure, the road was unsetteling, but he had wandered so many nights through Utgard that this kind of fear didn't stop him anymore. He wanted to scout ahead. The road winded and twisted through the hills. He was already much further than he had intended to go. With a sigh, he decided it was time to turn back. But first, he needed some firewood. He looked around him. Nothing but thornbushes. Suddenly he noticed a dead tree a little higher against the slopes of the surrounding hills. There seemed to be a lot of dead wood lying around there. As there were no statues in sight, it was safe to come out of hiding. So he quickly climbed the rocks to the tree.
From up there he finally saw it; the end of the road. His demonic sight pierced through the night and noticed the outlines of a temple, built against the rocks. There seemed to be a small courtyard in front of it, but as it was still several kilometers away, there wasn't much more he could see.
He squatted down, staring at the temple, pondering what to do. He could go back, inform the dwarfs and Miranda of what he had seen. But what could he report? They already knew there was something at the end of the road, where the necromancer lived. Maybe, if he got closer, he could get some information that was actually worth reporting. It could prove his worth to the dwarfs. Not that he felt any need to prove his worth to them, but still ...He just had to make sure he didn't do anything stupid, like being caught.
He suddenly made his decision, jumped down the hill again and began to move very fast, but stealthy towards the temple, always making sure he stayed out of sight of the statues. Soon, the temple was only a hundred meters away. Lying behind some rocks, he observed the building in front of him. The temple was a simple, round building with a single entrance and no windows. Left and right of the entrance, two huge skeletons were placed. Maybe they were of some huge monster Falco didn't know or they were artificial constructs. In either case, they just stood there, doing nothing.
Falco suspected that the building had rooms that were dug out of the hills behind it. Otherwise it would be a rather small temple. On the courtyard in front of the building there were a number of columns that stood in a semi circle across from the entrance. They all carried magic symbols and runes. The floor of the courtyard was littered with bones of humans, dwarfs, orcs and goblins.
The whole place seemed deserted. There was no living soul in sight. With a wildly pounding heart, he crawled even closer, until only a few dozen meters seperated him from the entrance. Now, he could see the vague light of candles inside the building, but no movement whatsoever. He hesitated again, not quite knowing what to do. The smart thing to do, was to go back, right now. Before something went really wrong. But he couldn't. He just couldn't. He didn't want to go back without some kind of intelligence for the others.
He took a deep breath and crawled forward, staying as close to the rockwalls of the surrounding hills as he could. Finally, he reached the entrance. Still, there was no movement to be seen, no sound to be heard.
The temple had a gate, but it was open. There were no guards. He peeked inside. He saw a small room, about the size of the templebuilding, but behind it, it was immediately followed by a very big hall. At the end of the hall, he could see a statue, made of white and black marble, surrounded by candles. In front of it, was an altar. Chains were hanging from its sides. Contrary to the temples of Midgard, the altar was built perpendicular against the statue.
It was at least three meters long, starting at the statue, and pointing towards the entrance where Falco was standing.
Apart from the statue and the altar, the hall was empty. The only other decorations were some old and mouldy tapestries on the walls and four huge man sized mirrors that lined the wall behind the statue. There were no other doors or windows.
Keeping his back against the wall, he shuffled deeper inside the grand hall. He knew this was insane, but he continued anyway. He just wanted to take a closer look at the statue, or so he told himself. Soon, he was standing at only a few meters of it.
The statue was impressive and terrifying at the same time. It clearly represented queen Hell. Her skin was made of white marble, but the dress she wore was black, as was the sacrificial knife she was holding in her oustretched arm. In her other hand, she held a black orb. Her face was of an unnatural beauty, but she had the long fangs of a vampire.
He stepped towards it, stretching his hand towards the statue to touch it. But then, he noticed the red and brown staines on the altar. Dried up blood. He staggered back to the wall, suddenly realising the folly of what he was doing. He just wanted one thing, getting out of here!
At that very moment, one of the mirrors began to open slowly. He turned to the exit, but to his horror, he heard a low grunting coming from outside. Several creepy, monstrous shadows were moving in the entrance. He was trapped! No way out! No place to hide! Except ... He quickly ran to the nearest tapestry. It was a lousy place to hide, but there was nothing else. He pushed himself behind it. To his surprise, he found a niche, and in that niche a wooden door. Standing in the niche, nobody could see him anymore.
"What are you doing here?" a dry, cold, dead voice asked. He froze in fear. "I told you to stay in your holes. Do not come out until I tell you to. The road must remain clear. Go!"
Falco sighed relieved. Whoever was speaking there, was not talking to him. He peeked through a tear in the tapestry. In the entrancy stood two, humanoid creatures. Their skin was of a sickly pale green color. Thin, dark hair covered their head. Their nails were long and broken and almost clawlike. Their teeth sharp and crooked.
"Ghouls!" Falco thought. "These must be ghouls! So they really do exist!"
The ghouls were stumbling back in fear of the man who had entered the hall from behind the mirror. It was a gaunt figure, and he was leaning heavily on a staff. He was wearing a black, hooded cloak. Despite the frail impression he made, the ghouls clearly feared him and quickly left the temple again.
"Fools", he hissed.
He limped to the statue and stood before it. He pushed the bellybutton of the goddess and a small hidden compartment opened. A red glow shone from it. Falco couldn't see what was inside but the necromancer put one hand on his heart and held the other in front of the compartment. Red rays played around his fingers. He seemed to draw power from whatever was in there. After a minute, he closed the hidden compartment again.
He turned to one of the mirrors and waved his hand in front of it. The surface began to shimmer. When it cleared up, Falco saw an image of the dwarfs and Miranda, sitting around the campfire. It was seen from a weird angle.
"The statue!" Falco realised. "The statue standing on the other side of the road! I knew those things were put there for a reason!"
"Everything is fine", the man whispered. "They are still camping. They will probably arrive in the morning. Good ... Wait! Where is that brat? He is nowhere to be seen! Show me the rest of the road!"
Falco saw a succession of images, following the road all the way from the campsite to the courtyard in front of the temple.
"Nothing? Where is that little beggar? Well ... maybe he's sleeping out of sight. But maybe not. I better check with Lazlo. Make sure that lazy bum isn't sleeping himself."
To Falco's horror, the man began to walk towards him. But he wasn't just petrified by fear because of the approaching necromancer. He could now see the man's face or better, what was left of it. Half of it was burned, in some parts right down to the bone. An empty eyesocket stared ominously in his direction.
Finally, he managed to break the paralyzing fear and pushed against the door behind him. It opened smoothly without making a sound. A long staircase winded down into the deep. He closed the door behind him and ran down the stairs.
He could hear the necromancer follow behind him. The stairs were cold and damp. Suddenly he could hear a kind of sobbing below, followed by an annoyed grunt behind him.
"Are you still crying?" the necromancer said, his voice surprisingly powerful. "Why? I already told you, you will not be hurt!"
Falco reached the end of the staircase and stood in a long, winding corridor. To his surprise, the necromancer was clearly gaining on him. He had to find a place to hide and quick! He arrived at a T-crossing. A big statue of a vampire stood in a niche in the wall. There was hardly room, but Falco managed to squeeze himself in the niche, behind the statue. Just in time. Only seconds later, the necromancer appeared, walking past the T-crossing. Another man came towards him.
"Master Charon! I heard you call! How can I be or service?"
"Did you feed and water our guest?"
"Then why all this whining and crying?"
"Fear, master. Our guest does not believe your good intentions."
"So be it. It's not important. Have you been watching the intruders?"
"Yes, master. All the time. As you told me."
"Then where has the boy gone?"
"The boy? I believe he left the group to gather wood."
"Then where is he now? He is nowhere to be seen!"
"Surely he must be there, somewhere along the road, master. I shall have another look."
"We shall both look. I'm coming with you."
Falco waited for another five minutes and then, cautiously, appeared again from behind the statue. He dusted himself off and wiped away the cobwebs, at the same time looking into the corridors for enemies. The sobbing had stopped, but he had had the impression the sound had come from the corridor that stood perpendicular on the statue and the corridor he had been following before.
Hesitantly he walked inside this new corridor, that was vaguely lit by lamps and torches hanging on the walls. The underground structure seemed to be built in the form of a wheel, with corridors like the one he was walking in as the spokes leading to a central axis. He shivered. It was getting quite cold. After twenty meters, he had had enough. The 'guest' they spoke of, could be anywhere down here. Once the dwarfs had taken care of the necromancer, they could search at their leisure. Besides, he better returned to his companions. He had to warn them they were being observed. He turned to leave as something suddenly grabbed his ankle.
He startled and could barely keep himself from screaming and falling to the floor. He pulled his foot free and looked down, ready to defend himself against any monstrosity that presented itself. A slightly dirty human hand was visible from a small, square hole at groundlevel in the wall. The hole reminded him of a cellar-window.
"Be quiet! Don't scream!" the frightened voice of a girl said, "Or he will come. He or his acolyte or one of his monsters. You're not one of them, are you? I have never seen you here before!"
Falco dropped to his hands and knees and looked into the window. It was a girl, about his age. Perhaps a year or so older. She wore a blue hooded cape over her clothes and head against the cold. It was the same blue of her eyes. Her face was a bit dirty and her clothes, that were surprisingly practical and somewhat boyish, in the sense that she wore trousers, and not a skirt, were of high quality, but dirty and ripped in some places. In fact the entire left sleeve of her blouse was gone. She was beautiful, Falco noticed.
"What are you doing, just staring at me like that?! Are you part of a rescue party sent by my grandfather?"
She squinted her eyes for a moment and tried to get even closer to the window to take a better look at him.
"Wait a minute! You're just a young boy! How did you get here? You do belong with them, don't you? You're some slaveboy he bought or stole on his raids!"
"No, I'm not! I don't belong with them. And I'll be fifteen soon enough. That's not that young anymore. I arrived here with other humans. Well, actually, they're not exactly here and they're not all humans. They are close, but..."
"Stop your babling and get me out of here! That freak wants to kill me. I'm sure of it. Tell me your lifestory later!"
"Okay, sorry, you're right. Is there a door somewhere of did they wall you in?"
"Ofcourse there's a door! It's a bit further, in another side passage. Hurry! Before somebody else arrives."
He quickly ran a little further down the corridor. Four meters further he found the side passage and the door. It was a heavy, metal door. Three strong metal bolts locked it from the outside. There was a big lock as well, but that seemed to be damaged. It better be, because if they had locked the door like that, he would need a key to get it open. There was no key around and he really didn't want to go looking for one down here.
"What's keeping you?" he heard the muffled voice of the girl saying behind the door. "Open the door! What are you waiting for?"
He quickly began to pull the bolts away. With some effort he managed to remove the lowest and middle bolt, but the one on top of the door, just didn't move. It couldn't be rust! They had had to open the door to put the girl inside after all. He pulled it again with all the strength he could muster. Nothing! Even worse, he could hear footsteps coming his way. He pulled even harder, without result. Furious, he wanted to punch the door with his fist. But he changed his mind in the last moment. He would only hurt his hand and make
noice. Neither was useful.
Frustrated and almost in a panic, he stared at the bolt. Finally, he noticed the small metal pin that was driven through the bolt and into the rock. Irritated, he pulled out the pin and pushed the bolt aside.
"Odin and thor, don't let them have used this lock," he whispered.
He grabbed the doorknob, put one on his feet up against the wall to be able to use more strength and pulled. The door opened slowly. The floor of the cell was one and a half meters lower than the corridor he was standing in. Falco offered the girl his hand to help her out, but she was already pushing herself out of the dungeon. She got up and stood in front of him. She was as tall as he was and really very beautiful. She looked at him from his head to his bare feet.
"You...you really are just a boy. You came here all on your own? That was very brave of you, but also very stupid."
"There's no time for this," he whispered. "Follow me."
"What in the name of hell is going on here? Who are you?"
The necromancer's acolyte was standing at the beginning of the side passage. Falco reacted with lightning speed. He kicked the man in the face, punched him in the stomach, smashed his head against the wall and finally, spinned around and kicked one last time in his face. It was all over in less than twenty seconds. The girl stared at it with open mouth.
"I told you, I'm not just a young boy. Help me drag him in your cell. Gods! He is heavier than he looks."
Together they dragged the man to the cell and rolled him inside. After he had closed and bolted the door once more, he took her by her bare left arm and pulled her along, back towards the staircase.
"Follow me. Quick but silent!"
They ran up the stairs as fast as they could. He peeked through the door. The temple was deserted.
"We're almost out! Just a little further!"
They ran through the hall. Behind him he could hear the mirrordoor opening again.
"Crap! Get out! Quick!"
They sprinted through the temple door and raced across the courtyard. Falco didn't touch a single bone or skull, but the girl kicked several out of her way.
"Behind these boulders! Hurry!"
He dropped on his belly, dragging her along.
"Don't make a sound!"
Out of the templedoor, the necromancer appeared. The hood of his cloak was down so they could see his hideous skull-like face.
"I know you are out there, boy. You have been skulking around here all evening, haven't you? Trying to steal things, as the little thief you are. Or did you come here to beg? You better come out now, if you want me to show mercy!"
There was no reply. No movement. Falco and the girl just hid behind their boulder. They hardly dared to breath.
"So, you don't want to, hey? Suit yourself. Last chance! No? Fine. Ghouls! Come out of your holes. Find that boy if he is out here! Find him and drag him to me! If he resists, you can eat him alive! Bye bye, boy!"
The necromancer went back inside the temple, but all around the courtyard, rocks began to move and the horrific ghouls started to appear.
"We better go now! I don't know how fast they are, and I don't want to find out. My name is Falco, by the way. What's yours?"
They ran back along the road. Falco saw the statues, but there was nothing he could do. They didn't have time to take the slow, sneacky way through the brushes. The ghouls were behind them, but they were slower than the youngsters. And when they lost sight of them, they seemed to get confused and started looking for him in the strip of wild land aside of the road. They might even give up on the chase altogether. Apparently, ghouls weren't very bright.
Suddenly, Falco stopped running. He turned and stared in the direction the ghouls were supposed to come from.
"What is it?" Anya asked. "Why did you stop? What are you doing? They can come any minute! If they catch us, we will both end up on that altar! Are you retarded or something? We have to go!"
She furiously pulled on his arm to drag him along. He pulled his arm free and looked at her.
"Go on!" he said. "You will meet a female warrior and three dwarfs further down the road. Tell them what is coming. I will draw their attention. Lure them with me. They can ambush them. And tell them to destroy the eyes of the statues! Go!"
He gave her a push in the right direction and, a little hesitant, she began to run away. He watched her until she disappeared behind a curve in the road. Then, he picked up several stones and walked cautiously back towards the tempel, staying in the darkest shadows. The first ghoul soon appeared. From behind a statue, he threw the rock at the creature. It screamed in pain as it was hit in the face. Immediately, Falco snuck away, jumping and crawling from bush to bush, as the ghouls searched for him behind the statue. When he was far enough, he jumped out of the bushes, shouted loudly and ran down the road,
almost immediately disappearing behind the same curve in the road, Anya had followed only minutes ago.
She was standing only twenty meters further. Annoyed, he ran past her, grabbiing her by her arm and leading her behind a few big rocks. He peeked over the rock to be sure, his trick was working.
"Why didn't you do as I told you!" he said angrily. "It would have been a lot safer! Now the dwarfs won't know what's happening. I'll have to take off a lot sooner to warn them myself."
"Young man", the girl said, sticking her nose in the air with an arrogant, yet cute, gesture, "I don't take orders from farmboys, certainly not when they are younger than me. Furthermore, I can't see a thing in this darkness. We should have taken a lamp or a torch with us. I don't know how you can navigate in these conditions. And last but not least... I'm not gonna leave the person behind, who saved me from that dungeon, to face those creatures on his own."
Her blue eyes stared very determined in his green eyes. He seemed annoyed but also somewhat bewildered by her answer. She liked that. He had a kind of wild cuteness, like some wild young cat in the woods. Confusing this particular boy had a certain appeal. He opened his mouth to say something, but instead he picked up another stone and threw it to the other side of the road into the bushes. The sound attracted the ghouls.
"We will run as soon as they turn their backs towards us. You better keep up with me!"
"No problem, farmboy. Just give me your hand. Don't let go, or I will loose you in this darkness."
"And I'm no farmboy either."
They took off again, leading the ghouls ever further along the road. When Falco suspected they were no more than half a kilometer away from the campsite, he turned to the girl again.
"We've been guiding them long enough," he said. "Do you have enough strength left for a last dash? We should go as fast as possible so we have enough headstart to warn and prepare my companions."
"Just try and keep up with me, farmboy." She smiled and winked at him. Then she ran away, light-footed and quick. He caught up with her easily and even passed her by. He slowed down enough so she wouldn't fall behind too far. When he followed a curve in the road, he looked back to make sure she was still alright. The next moment, he crashed into an immovable obstruction of steel and muscle and fell backwards on the ground. Stunned, he sat on his backside and stared up at the impressive dwarf. Behind him, the much taller and
slender silhouette of Miranda appeared in full combat dress. Anya halted abruptly and gave a startled little scream.