“I believe my purpose is known to all present,” Cahotic replied.
Caleb, Ben and Eve joined Pete and Orac.
“Mount up,” Caleb said, “and do not remove your eyes from them.”
Pete complied and climbed onto his horse.
“Prepare your weapons,” Caleb ordered.
“I need no other than these,” Orac stated, holding up his fists.
“Now, Caleb,” Cahotic chastised, “is that a proper welcome for old friends?”
“Orac,” Caleb said, motioning to the giant.
Orac backed up to meet Caleb. “Yes?” he said.
Caleb leaned over and whispered into Orac’s ear.
Orac smiled and then nodded, returning to his previous spot.
“Make ready,” Cahotic said, “and separate the necessary parts. We must renew our supply of gel.”
The riders pulled their swords and moved forward. The line was staggered in a stepped orientation, allowing each rider to shield the one behind. As the first aberration moved onto the snow-covered ice, an inaudible cracking ensued. Caleb sensed the ice give under the great weight, as the second rider followed his predecessor.
“Now, Orac,” Caleb ordered.
Orac bent over, slamming his mammoth fists into the ice. Cracks developed in the crust, spreading from the epicenter in spider-like fashion. Orac continued his barrage, crawling further onto the ice as he decimated the concrete water. He felt two points of pressure along his back. A small figure wrapped in fur vaulted from his flank and onto the rear of the first rider’s beast. He wielded a spear with a fine bronze tip attached to a smooth brown shaft. The newcomer plunged the spear with no ill effects, hitting pieces of armor and plated green scales. The first rider and his steed dipped to the left and then to the right. An ear-splitting crack echoed through the forest, and the rider sank. As the creatures continued their descent, the small figure jumped from the rider. With uncanny agility, the strange fur-covered form bounced along small chunks of ice, floating in the stream until he reached the bank. Astonishment enveloped The Three, uttering not a sound as they watched this acrobat.
The second rider attempted to turn and make it back to solid ground, reaching the bank as the ice collapsed beneath him. The animal sank to its midsection before it could gain a hold with its forelimbs, the aberration it bore slid off its back. Steam drifted upward from the pair as the water permeated their bodies.
“Orac!” Caleb yelled. “Enough.”
Orac ceased his assault and circled around to return to his comrades.
Caleb turned to Ben. “Gather wood for a fire,” he said.
“What about the . . . ?” Ben asked.
“Wood,” Caleb barked, “and quickly.”
Ben, Pete and Eve dropped from their horses as the ice gave way, plunging Orac into the frozen slush.
The first rider was now chest deep in the center of the stream. Huge bubbles from underneath exploded as the beast that bore him disintegrated. The rider himself silently melted into the stream, his head exploding in small puffs as if boiling in a cauldron.
The second rider’s mount, using its front claws, inched itself onto the bank. Its rider plunged his sword deep into the beast, allowing it to pull him along. The pair breached the water’s surface, both formless from the midsection down, their remaining torsos dissolving in a mass of tiny gurgling eruptions.