Kang turned from the view of the river and slowly surveyed the hilltop in the moonlight. Finally he squared his shoulders and strode to the middle of the summit. There, embedded in the ground was a large, flat, oblong stone.
“Is that it?” Hallo asked, squinting at the stone skeptically. “I’ve seen a ton o’ stone in my time an’ I’m certain that ain’t been touched by anyone before. It’s laid there nat’ral like.”
“As I said, the Denchi are cunning,” Kang replied. “They may have tunneled right up to the stone without disturbing it. If they needed to evacuate, all that would have to be done is to push up the stone to exit.”
“That’d be a smart bit o’ tunnelin’, don’t ya know,” Hallo said, kneeling down by the slab of rock. He put his ear to it and rapped smartly with his knuckles. “Huh, I think you’re right, though. It sounds hollow.”
“How can you tell?” Stig asked.
“I growed up underground, an’ spent all m’ time in tunnels,” Hallo replied indignantly. “If anyone can tell if one’s nearby it’d be me.”
“Very well, if both of you are correct, then it appears we have found a means of entry,” Stig said, ruffling his feathers. “The thing that remains is how to get in.”
“That shall not be a problem,” Kang said. He squatted down and began feeling around the edges of the rock.
“Hey you’re strong, but I ain’t about t’ believe you can lift that whole hunk o’ stone by yourself,” Hallo said.
Kang grasped a corner of the slab. Muscles straining, the former Denchi rose slowly from his squat, the rock lifting with him. With a grunt, he raised one end up above his head. Below the stone was a dark hole. “In. Hurry,” he gasped.
Hallo and Stig entered hurriedly, and Kang followed behind. Once they were inside the tunnel, Kang let the slab down. It settled above them with a loud thump.
“It feels good t’ be underground,” Halo whispered. “Ya know m’ motto, it’s always better underground. Only problem is I can’t see nothin’ in this pitch black, don’t ya know.”
“Don’t worry Hallo, I’ll lead you,” Stig reassured him.
They made their way slowly down the tunnel, Stig, then Kang, with Hallo bringing up the rear. It sloped steeply. After a couple hundred yards Hallo felt stone replace the dirt underneath his feet.
“Ah it feels good t’ be in a stone passage, don’t ya know,” he sighed.
“Yes, I’m sure it does,” Stig whispered. “What I would like to know is where this leads. We seem to be descending into the center of the hill. I wonder how close we are to the Denchi outpost. It would be most unpleasant to run into any of them unawares.”
Kang remained silent. With his night vision, Stig saw that the big man’s face gave no hint as to what he was thinking. They kept moving until they came to a fork in the tunnel. Stig stopped them.
“The path splits in two here,” he told them. “I’ve no idea which is the better path.”
Kang stepped forward and ran his hands along the wall, then put his ear to it, listening intently.
“What’re we standin’ here for?” Hallo grumped. “Let’s pick a branch and follow it.”
“Silence!” Kang hissed. Finally, he pointed to the left hand passage. “We go this way.”
“Which way? I can’t see a thing in this blackness!” Hallo snapped.
“Kang’s pointing to the left Hallo,” Stig informed him.
“Why do ya want t’ go that way?” Hallo asked.
“The stones in that tunnel are silent. Nothing stirs,” Kang explained. “Something is disturbing the rock in the other passage.”
“Oh, well why didn’t ya say so?” Hallo snorted. “Quiet rocks are better than noisy ones. Let’s get a move on.”
As they walked, it seemed to Stig that the passageway was becoming lighter. His suspicion was confirmed by Hallo. “Hey, I think it’s gettin’ brighter in here. I can almost see m’ hand in front o’ m’ face.”
“I wonder where the light is coming from,” Stig mused. “It seems to have a bluish hue to it.”
“We must be cautious,” Kang whispered. “Where there is light, there must be people.”
They discovered the source of the light when they turned the next corner. The passage was blocked by a large wooden door. Lined along the tunnel walls leading up to the door were ten finely detailed statues of warriors carved out of stone. They sparkled with a blue light.
When Kang caught sight of this, he stopped. “I do not like this,” he murmured. “Something is not right.”
“Ah, what are ya worried about?” Hallo asked. “They’re only statues, very pretty ones, too. The stonework is first rate. I wonder what makes ‘em sparkle like that?”
“It appears they are guarding the door,” Stig said. “Obviously ceremonial. The room ahead must be of some significance. Perhaps it’s a tomb.”
Just then, the stone warriors turned toward them. Moving in unison, all ten of them drew curved swords.
“Er, I’m a thinkin’ they ain’t just decorative, don’t ya know,” Hallo said, licking his lips.
“I am not familiar with this magic,” Kang said. “Linphen must have discovered something new. Stay behind me, we shall see just how strong this sorcery is.”
Without waiting for a reply, Kang rushed headlong into the midst of the stone soldiers. He grabbed one and raised it above his head. Stig marveled at the big man’s strength as he hurled it into the midst of the other onrushing stone figures, knocking several off their feet and scattering their weapons.
Hallo rushed in and seized a sword. He sprang at the soldier nearest him with a fierce cry, and swung the sword down on it. The sparkling weapon cleaved the stone like butter, slicing the warrior in half. The two halves fell to the floor, their light extinguished.
Kang picked up the fallen soldier’s sword and started swinging, relieving two figures of their heads with one blow. Hallo continued his attack, felling two more.
“Hey, these swords ‘re great things,” he panted. “They cut through stone as easy as scissors cuttin’ paper, don’t ya know.”
“You’re right,” Stig said. “Imagine what they would do against flesh and bone.”
“Why’d ya have t’ say that, ya daft bird?” Hallo snapped. “You’re gonna make me nervous. These rockheads ‘re dangerous.”
With that, he leaped back into the fray, slashing away with his sparkling sword. Stig swooped in and attacked the heads of the stone men, trying to distract them. Any hope that he could do them some injury was dashed when he pecked one and nearly broke his beak on its rocky face.
Kang and Hallo had dispatched two more of them. Two of the remaining soldiers went after Hallo while the last lurched toward the door.
“He’s tryin’ t’ get help!”