The Gnoll Diaries

Three-Day, Second Ride in The Rotting 2
Nightfall

It was a relief to be out of the walled city. Behind her she could still hear Treebrother’s voice raised at the guards. Her camp was not far from here. Confident that Luna could escape and follow her trail she made for her shelter.

A small crevice lined with furs and branches she had taken out of the glades in the city marked her living place. The crevice opened into a slightly larger, unadorned space. The gnoll had to drop to her knees and crawl to enter.

She softly cursed herself for not taking her short sword with her into town. It tended to unnerve the city folk to see her armed inside their walls. She strapped the plain hilted sword to her waist and paused to study the hilt of her scimitar.

The guard of the weapon was fashioned to look like a pair of wolf’s heads with teeth bared. Different phases of the moon adorned the hilt. The curve of the blade resembled a waxing moon. It was her father’s prized possession, marking his place in the clan and the only connection to her past. She strapped the blade to her waist and tore the blanket she’d brought out of the city from her back. She pawed through the items sorting out what might be of use and stuffing those into her backpack. As she grabbed her quiver and a slender bow the size of a human male, she felt Luna prowling outside. She gave the wolf’s ruff a quick shake and loped back to the outer walls of the city. She was free but members of her pack were still confined behind the walls.

She noticed Bull lurking in the shadows outside the walls, continuing her earlier demonic caterwauling. She joined him but it seemed the guards grew weary of their game.

She frowned and paced the shadows. Littlebrother had joined Treebrother at the gate, presumably weaving a web of words stickier than a drider’s net. As she suspect, it was not long before the guards were caught in the web and both brothers walked through the gate.

She noticed Hallbjorn scanning the ground. When he found what he was looking for he shoved the shoot into his mouth and winked at the three beasts watching him. Gnora knew helmthorn to be harmless enough, though poor tasting. Hallbjorn pulled on the gnome as he stumbled back towards the gate, indigo foam staining his face. More webs.

Gnora shook her head at the pair. It would be so much easier just to kill the guards – especially the fowl smelling Suttles. She rested a hand on the scimitar at her side. It was hard not to think of the way the curved blade sliced through flesh and bones. Her lips curled away from her teeth. Flesh and blood and bones and bits. Verdan caught her eye. The little girl just studied her, as she might a book or a drawing – or a trap about to spring.

Gnora moved her hand away from Howling Moon and focused on the city walls. There was a small guardhouse tucked into the main gate. A narrow archer window faced the tundra. The foaming dwarf seemed to have drawn the attention of the guards. She flicked her wrist at Luna and made for the window, avoiding the young deva’s eyes.

She easily slipped into the guardhouse. Torches, tents, bedrolls, climbing kits, and all manner of useful items were spread across the single long wooden table in the center of the small room. A strange white dagger the color of bone, scaled armor the color of blood, and what looked like the skin of a giant snake rested off to the side. She grabbed all she could carry and made her way to the window, struggling to keep quiet under the burden. She returned to the small room and scooped up the rest of the things on the table, not pausing to wonder what they were doing there as she could hear the rest of her pack at the gate now.

The guards would have a better chance of escaping a web spun by Lolth herself than to extract themselves from the weave of Abrillic, Hallbjorn and Horatio together.

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Three-Day, Second Ride in The Rotting
Nightfall

A slight breeze rustled the leaves in the glade where Gnora and Luna waited. It was not enough to carry away the strange odor, like one-hundred forges pouring hot metal at once. Gnora absently smoothed the raised hackles of her wolfsister. The dark night stilled now and the eyes of the sky pack glittering as if nothing had happened.

The residents of Darmshall only tolerated her presence on behalf of the wandering ones who had found her and Luna, barely more than newborns, left without packs after a number of raids on the farms outside the city. Even so, she normally perferred to remain outside the smooth stone walls and the people living behind them. The guards patiently refused to let anyone out after dark, even a gnoll.

It was not uncommon for Gnora and Luna to prowl the city at night. For a time, when the houses were darkened and most city folk snug in their beds, the two beasts could imagine loping through the Dalelands of their birth under the watchful protection of the sky pack. The city walls pressed in on them like the bars of a cage on nights like this.

They watched a gate from the comfort of the shadow. Treebrother was shaking his head at the guard and speaking in soft indignant tones. Gnora frowned and twisted a hand in Luna’s thick ruff. If he couldn’t get out tonight it would be difficult indeed.

She had many of the things she would need tucked away in hiding places near her outer shelter but the others may need supplies. In spite of the highly held opinion that wolves and gnolls were thieves she was not accustomed to stealing things. “Prey on the weak,” she whispered to her companion. The outlying farm areas were scattered, separated from the larger herd of stones inside the walls. These were often protected by dogs. Gnora’s lips curled at the thought of dogs – tiny, frightened and weak. City folk may have grown accustomed to her presence inside the walls but she avoided those outside who sometimes still fell prey to those considered monsters. Her kind. Luna’s kind.

She shrugged her shoulders. Gnora did not spend much time thinking. She left that to those like Eldersister and Treebrother. She loped in the direction of her glade with Luna pacing her heels. Farm folk would have weapons used to protect themselves. Crusts of breads and bits of meat pie. They’d have lengths of rope in the barn. Maybe if she could just get out, the others would know what to do. “We hunt!” she whispered fiercely to her wolfsister. Her face twisted into what passed for a smile. Rabbits, mice, birds. She could almost smell them now, cowering in their burrows, stopped dead of fright. Uncooked meat!

She rolled up the few things she kept in the city into her blanket and strapped it to her back. She rubbed ash from the dead fire into Luna’s shaggy white fur. She gave her wolfsister a pat and loped out of the glade dappled with moonlight. The strong metal smell clung to the dark; almost as strong as the smell of wrongness. It would be good to be free of this place.

Treebrother was still arguing with the guards when she returned to the gate. He caught her eye and winked. He argued more fervently with the guards, attracting more attention. Gnora nodded and roared into the night.

“Ba mepa ge booll! Ba mepa ge daetg! Maennatgan ge mloobm ootg gaagd. Maennatgan ge gda boomb”

Luna streaked forward all howls and snapping jaws. They may stop a youngling and dwarf but would they try to stop a wolf from leaving? Luna darted in and out of the darkness, snarling. Most were uneasy around the overly large wolf, even though she was known to them. Gnora hoped the ash discoloring the wolf’s fur would be enough to make them think it could be a wilder. Other wolves answered in the distance. She flashed among the guards, clawing the night and nipping at their heels and elbows, the one wolf seeming like a pack harrying the gate.

Gnora loped through an alley and made her way to the more shadowed side of the gates, still calling out. “Gooa! Gooa bnaee! Kooma gda gaagd ek gda toosdg! Kooma gda gaagd ek gda goonb. Kooma gda mloobm gdoog booll bnatmd eeeae oot gbe!”   She skirted the lamplight starting to flicker in the houses near the gate. She whispered to the sky pack to guide her way as she attempted to slip out of the walls into the darkness beyond the distracted guards.

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Three-day - Second Ride in The Rotting
Dreamscape

Burning. Something burning. She smelled it. She smelled ashes, blood and fear. The air was dense with fear. There was something else. Something unfamiliar but it urged her deeper into the shadows produced by the few fir and elms that made up a glade inside the city. She crouched next to one, reaching out for Luna and taking small comfort in the lean muscled flanks of her wolfsister.

The eyes of the sky pack were closed. How long have I been asleep? It couldn’t have been more than a few hours since the last of the merchant wagons settled into the Iron Thunderclap for a good night’s rest. The cold flow drifting in from the Galena Mountains bordering Vaasa heralded the Feast of the Moon and brought with it bards and traders. The tinkling of harps danced on the air long into the night.

Her keen eyes caught sight of lithe forms dropping out of the sky. Dragons! Their fire breath spewed into the darkness, smoke holding back the sky pack. What of the two legs pack? What of Treebrother? The shadows the huddled pair cast danced in the light of the burning city.

How can so many fall prey? How long have I been asleep? Bodies, little more than boiled flesh and blanched bones littered the streets. How could I not know? Homes, inns, and store fronts once as solid as mountain rock were made ruins.

Luna tensed beside her as they approached a grass field where guards often practiced sword play and boasted of battles and women won. The youngling called Verdan ran through the clearing, screaming strange words. There was a sense of wisdom far beyond the deva’s years that glimmered in her eyes. Gnora thought of her as Eldersister. A warlock knight in twillight armor was closing the distance between them in long strides. A twisted smile played on the knights lips as metalic beasts moved away with a wave of her gauntleted hand. The source of the unfamiliar smell! Gnora could smell no fear beyond that of her own and Verdan’s.

Creeping along in the shadow, she motion for Luna to circle around to flank the warlock. They moved through the tiny copse of trees not yet cleared to make more stone cages inside the walls. She loosed and arrow.

Her arrow struck where she intended but bounced away harmlessly, the knight continuing its path without faulter.

“mboobt ek Eeaatesdae,” she hissed and halted Luna with a quick motion before preparing another arrow. She and Luna suckled at the same wolfmother as pups, hunted together, and sparred until city folk grew certain they would kill each other. She knew they would die together but she would not carelessly risk her companion’s life. Something was not right. Instinct tugged at her but she pushed it aside.

She sense a movement to her right and littlebrother came into view. The gnome bard studied the knight intently, as if trying to decide whether to pick up his bow or dip a pen in ink and start writing in one of the books dragging at his coat pockets – right then, in the midst of the burning city. With a shake of her head she fired a second arrow.

Gnora howled in frustration as her bolt flew true but had no effect on the creature. Wrong, wrong, it was all wrong, Eldersister stumbled and froze in the open, her voice still raised and full of nonsense. Littlebrother joined the fight and the minotaur she thought of as Young Bull charged into the opening.

Fear. Death. All around them. And more. What more? Her fear. So strong she had to fight not to choke. Young Bull glowed with a sickening light sent from the knight’s hand. It continued its purposeful stride, laughing at the group of them, acting as if Gnora, Littlebrother, and Luna – she was sure it could sense Luna – were bitemes nattering in its ear.

Wrong!

Young Bull charged at the warlock. Gnora shifted back into the trees. I must act. I must hunt. Oo paemg booll! She gnashed her teeth as the warlock plunged a blade deep into the minotaur’s gut and twisted. No!

“Grab the girl! Grab the girl and run! Retreat! Retreat,” Gnora shouted at Littlebrother. Two quick flicks of her hand sent Luna towards Verdan, snarling and snapping as if she meant to eat the little girl for feast day. The ploy was enough to get the girl’s attention. “Move!” Gnora yelled at them, loping forward to catch up.

Noises erupted behind the radiant knight, momentarily drawing her attention away from the dying minotaur before her. The gnome bard scooted away with a grim smile. The deva girl had her feet now and allowed Luna to guide her away.

Gnora risked a glance at Cadman. He did not retreat. Determination mixed with pain as he attempted to cover their retreat. Instinct tugged at her but she knew it was too late for him. She could still help the others. His sacrifice could not be for nothing. “Pooee eeeae dootsa gda koonmg goomga ek gda mbee boomb’m boll,” she whispered to him.

Horatio rounded the corner and called back to them. Treebrother! Only Luna had been her companion longer than the dwarf she sometimes called one of the wanderers and sometimes Treebrother. Gnora would drag the youngling around the corner if need be but the girl was still running with Luna.

Casually stepping over the minotaur, the wicked knight closed in behind them. Gnora could see the rest of her pack now, tangled with iron creatures – her brothers and sisters acting half crazed and setting upon each other as much as the creatures. The smell of blood was stronger here – blood and desperation. She knew they were closing the trap. Very well. She would die with her pack.

The sorcerer, sometimes called teacher, backed away from the creatures. He shouted at Littlebrother. They spoke in excited voices that she could hear but understand no more than she could understand Eldersister’s babbling.

“Wake up! You must all wake up!” The voice filled the air, as if the sky pack had awoken. The bard’s voice seemed to expand to fill all space – there was nothing else but the voice.

The small fire Gnora set outside her shelter in the glade was almost out. The sharp chill of winter penetrated her fur. Luna bristled at her side, the wolf’s ears perked and eyes searching the darkness. Above them the sky pack also searched. The smell of a blacksmith’s forge draped them like a net. Verdan stood near the fire and began speaking.

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