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I paused for a moment, a few paces inside the castle, ignorin’ the biting coldness o’ the place. I spit once and watched my gob o’ tobacco juice freeze up quick on the stone floor before it had a chance to spread out. It sat there on the icy granite, staring’ back up at me, lookin’ like a chunk o’ hard candy what someone had dropped!

My body was tense, like a coiled spring, my eyes dartin’ every which way, lookin’ for movement of any kind. I had my falchion raised high above my head, graspin’ the hilt so tight my knuckles had turned white and I was ready to strike hard and fast at any creature what might decide to jump out at me.

Warily, I moved on, realizing there’d been a horrific battle fought here. I carefully stepped over one dead frost giant after another. The corpses was gray, almost colorless in their death, each one o’ them bled out now, and lyin’ in a fast freezin’ pool of their own blood. And, oh geez, who ever done this, ain’t even had time to loot the bodies!

Anyways the bellowin’ had stopped, but in the rooms below me I heard the shufflin’ o’ heavy boots and a groan or two, so I made my way to a little narrow stone ramp what led down to the lower level o’ the castle. Once on the ramp, I took care not to loose my footin’ ‘cause for sure, if I slipped I’d be fallin’ forever down into the abyss below!

After safely navigatin’ it I made my way to where I thought the moanin’ was comin’ from. I seen two bodies, and from the looks o’ the dents in their helms, I was sure they was both sufferin’ concussions. One o’ ‘em was that new boy, Jon Duh First. The other, a girl I’d only seen a few times before. I ain’t had no idea what the hel her name was.

I bent down close to the both o’ ‘em thinkin’ I could help ‘em with a healin’ kit or two. I heard that shufflin’ noise again, what heavy boots makes, and whirled ‘round just in time to see a colossal frost giant shaman ‘bout to brain me with a huge hammer . . . then, oh geez, everything went black!

When I awoke, my head was achin’ somethin’ awful and every tooth in my mouth was loose! I think some o’ the ones in the back was missin’ even! Likely I’d swallowed ‘em, you know?

Jon was sittin’ up and was a pasty green color, lookin’ like he’d eaten a bad apple or somethin’. The girl I’d found with him, was awake also, moanin’ ‘bout a sore arm, and complainin’ she was havin’ trouble breathin’. She was havin’ trouble? I was havin’ trouble!! Somehow she managed to wind up draped over the top o’ me, and geez, she weighed a ton!

That other new boy, Caleb Ma’fer was there too, standin’ a bit away from us, havin’ a nice chat with the damn frost giant shaman what had just tried to maim me! Oh geez! It seemed the shaman wanted us to do a chore for him and if we done it proper, with no trickery, he’d let us live.

He told Carlyle the bunch o’ us would have to make a trip to Arik for him. Yup! We was gonna have to make our way to a Temple in the lost city, what someone, or something, called Angrybody lived in! Anyways, this Angelbelly’s got a special ruby shard what was chipped right off one o’ Hel’s tears! It has a devine power locked up in it and the giant shaman had an itchin’ for it!

Yup! He told us this Annabelle’s got it hid somewhere in one o’ the rooms along the east hall of her Temple! The shaman said he’d be watchin’ our every move, even sendin’ along evil spirits to observe us, and they’d report back to him if we faltered!

If we failed, he’d be roundin’ up every frost giant between here and Thrym’s mountains and sendin’ them off to hunt us down and slay us! Hundreds of ‘em! And he meant it! You could tell he wasn’t foolin’ ‘round none! Then the shaman stalked away, but not before remindin’ us he was an impatient sort, and if we ain’t returned soon with the shard, he’d be unleashin’ those damn giants!

We made our way outta the castle, with Chadwick helpin’ the poor girl who could hardly take a step without wincing in pain. He kept callin’ her Helena, so I guess that was her name. Jon was still quite a bit woozy, and I was aidin’ him as best I could. We stood around outside, talkin’ ‘bout what the shaman had said to us.

None o’ us had any idea where this Temple was in Arik. Carlos was sure Gunny’d know but that ain’t helped us none, ‘cause Gunny wasn’t here. I’ll tell ya, sometimes a man’ll say the most useless things, you know?

Anyways, no one in our party was in any shape to be makin’ a trip to Arik. Besides, Cuthbert told us he ain’t had no potions to protect himself from the magic the mindflayers would be throwin’ at us. Well, that clinched it! We’d be headin’ back to Bale-ye-naz and then on to Foothold to heal up a tad, and get ourselves a good rest. We’d see ‘bout makin’ a trip to Arik, later on in the week.

Chauncy threw together a makeshift sled, lashin’ together a few old giant rib bones what he found stickin’ up outta the sand, usin’ some rawhide what he had tucked away, deep inside his pack.

He strapped Helena tight onto it, ignorin’ her moanin’and made ready for the trip back. ‘Bout that time a dweeble pops right outta thin air startlin’ the four o’ us, and starts goin’ on and on about the ruby shard, and how he knows just where Abblebabble’s got it hid, and how happy he’d be to guide us right to that Temple! Oh geez!

Well . . . for a moment I thought about takin’ him up on his offer , but Jon kept nudgin’ me in the ribs, and Conan was makin’ all sorts o’ faces, so we, thanked the dweeble for his kind offer but told him it was late and we’d decided to head on home. Caleb started off ahead o’ us, draggin’ his sled with Helena bound tightly to it, now lookin’ quite comfortable, and sound asleep.

I waited there with Jon till his head cleared a bit, then we started out, followin’ the tracks Cormac’s sled had made. The journey across the desert and through the cave what leads to Bale-ye-naz, was uneventful. I mean, we ain’t met nothin’ on the way what tried to murder us, you know? We finally reached the gate what the guard’ll swing open when you show him yer pass and I asked Jon if he’d do the honors, so to speak. He stuttered a bit, then blurted out he ain’t had no pass.

Well, I knew the little twerp ain’t had no pass, and he ain’t had no business bein’ out there in Thrym’s desert gettin’ himself mixed up in all sorts o’ trouble either! So . . . I flashed my own pass to the sergeant guardin’ the gate, he swung it wide open for me, then I ran in quick and slammed the gate on Jon, leavin’ him stuck outside!

Then I made him promise me two things. One, not to go anywhere near that desert till he’s got the proper trainin’ and has his own pass, or unless he’s taggin’ along with at least two folks who are qualified! And two, to stop callin’ me Keli lady, or lady Keli, or lady! My name’s Keli, short and sweet! And I ain’t wantin’ nobody tackin’ anything else onto it!

After some hemmin’ and hawin’and a bit o’ beggin’ he give me his word on both, so I had the sergeant swing open the gate again and let him in.

He stood there for a moment, staring at me with a dumb look on his face. Then he smiled, gave me a little bow and said, “Thank youse lady Keli!” Ohhhh geez! When the gods was layin’ out the blueprints for how to make a man, they give ‘em too much muscle, and left all o’ ‘em a little short on brains!!

Its been a few days since I got back and my teeth has tightened up again. They’s sittin’ right proper in my gums! I ain’t missin’ the few I swallowed when the giant shaman conked me on the head with his hammer at all.

The two front teeth in my upper jaw is good and tight, but now there’s a tiny space between ‘em what I ain’t had before. I found out I can squirt a good healthy stream o’ tobacco juice through that gap! Yup! Accurate too! I’m able to shoot a fly right outta the air at about ten paces!

I can’t wait to try it out on Father Ryche. Yup! I’m sure I’ll be able to reach his desk with a good squirt without havin’ to go in his office! He ain’t chased me for quite awhile. Like I said ‘bout elevendy six pages back, its fun when he chases me!