Monthly Archives: January 2012

Back From The Brink

The priest’s eyes burned with zealot fervor as he cast about himself for more foes. The groans of the dying filled his ears and the carnal house smell of blood. His heart sank, he watched Feldard as he placed his boot against a corpse and with a practised twisted, released his blade. He nodded to the warrior. “Touch and go there for a minute,” he said stretching his aching shoulder. A dozen wounds suddenly called for his attention but he ignored them. In the press of the battle he’d promised to check over Hasan and he’d fix him up before he treated himself.

Not far away, Ludo had collapsed to his knees, exhausted. He was totally spent, with no energy left. He felt lightheaded and his whole body hurt. He had never felt so tired before in all his life. He weakly rose to his feet and stumbled over to Hasan and started to staunch Hasan wounds as best he could, “Maruc, Maruc, over here! Hasan needs you!” Hasan was beeding profusely from numerous cuts and abrasions, but by far the most serious wound was where a spear had pierced his armour just over the ribs.

“Prince, dont you die on me, your royal blood is too precious to be spilled by some dirty filthy Gnoll.” Ludo grabbed his canteen and tried to wash Hasan’s wounds, but that seem to make the blood flow faster. Where was Maruc? Ludo sobbed and, the melee had been the worse fight he had ever been in and he was well aware how close they had been to all being killed.

Maruc followed the voice through the mist. A flash of yellow elf silk blotched with gnoll blood caught his eye. Swiftly he bent to pick it up and saw Lodo holding Hasan’s body. A broken spear shaft had wedged into his side. Hasan’s lifeless eyes stared accusingly up at him.

“No. No you don’t! Do you hear me!” His own pain forgotten, Maruc wrenched the spear out. Warm blood flowed from the gash, he held his hand over the wound and sent his prayer to his God. “Halav, my lord, I seek the soul of my noble friend, Hasan. I beseech you to seek out Ilsundal and beg Him to release Hasan back to us! Return him unto me, that he might still serve our cause and the cause of good and peace in the land.”

* * * * *

The stream beckoned, and Hasan followed. Deeper and deeper in the wood. The daylight fell behind, and great pine and oak forest grew thick and heavy. Hasan knew he had never visited this land before, but it was wild forest, so he ws content. He journed for hours, passing nothing living but the silent slurping of the stream. At points, the elf knew not why he followed, but he had lost any choice in the matter. Then the stream rolled its way down a soft clay embankment and tumbled to the right. A hill arose ahead, but beyond the grassy bank the hillside broke to form a great cavern. It was a familiar place. The elements merged, until space and place merged in his mind and remembered. This must have been how the Elyan found their own temple-cave, ages ago. Hasan prepared to cross the stream…then, a familiar voice..

Maruc stared into his face. “Come back old friend.”

The elf’s eyes fluttered. His senses slowly returned back to him as he surveyed the carnage around him.

The priest heard his name being called again. “Miklos is that you? Whats wrong?”

Off to the right the mage called again. “Here! Its Stephan! He’s dying.”

“Ludo, look after Hasan, I shall return.” Maruc picked his way over the corpses. “Keep talking Miklos, I can’t see you.”

“Here. Over here. There you are, come quickly his heart is failing.”

“Have you moved him?” Maruc knelt down beside the body and pulled his eyelids open and checked his throat of blockages. There was no blood, no obvious trauma. “He bleeds within. Step aside.”
“Lord Halav Incarnate, staunch this wound of you loyal servant Stephan. That he might live to free this place of evil. Stephan! Awake….Awake!”

Feldard’s battle alert mind was slow to accept the fact that the last of the gnolls had fallen. He kept casting about in search of another opponent. But none were found.

The dwarf could see Maruc calling on his deity’s aid to heal first Hasan and then Stephen. There was nothing Feldard could do to help with that. So instead the dwarf set about ensuring each of the downed gnolls was indeed dead. That included their matriach. Then he checked the perimeter, straining his dwarven eyesight to their max to see into the mist.

With nothing else seen or heard, Feldard moved back to the others to discuss the immediate future. “How are they doing, Maruc?”

He could see that both Hasan and Stephen were breathing, but beyond that they both looked still worse for wear.

Feldard shook his head. Things looked grim.

Maruc responded his dwarven friend’s concern. “Their souls are seeking the road home, Feldard. If they will not heed the summons or become lost, they will not awake.” Maruc gazed at the unconscious woodsman. “However they have not travelled long on that path, Halav willing they will.”

Ludo gently lifted Hasan up and supported him under the arm to stop him collasping, “Come noble Prince, lets get you into the hut, there may be a bed for you lie upon, which will be more comfortable than the cold hard ground” . Ludo guided Hasan to the hut and once Hasan was laid upon the bed (assuming there is one), he collasped against the hut wall and drank deeply from his canteen. Turning to Feldard, “If there are any more Gnolls about we will be finished. Thank Halav that Maruc sundered the Gnoll Shaman, if Maruc’s spell had failed…” his voice trailed off.

Перебування мого сина. Існує багато належить зробити.

Stephan woke from his nap. He felt a great peace about him; like the quilts his sisters knitted, the peace lay thick and comforting around him. Sirko, the family dog was there! The grey masstif looked at him with that quizzical look only a canine has.

“Sirko! You’re back! Oh how I’ve missed you! Are you hungry?” he said rising from his pallet near the fire. “I’ll get my bow and we’ll get some wood-ptarmigan.”

Sirko rose and stretched. The fire was weak now in the place. He was in the family sleeping chambrer at Sukiskyn. It was vacant. But surely his mother had been here recently, Stephan thought.

Throwing back the quilts, Stephan hugged his dog. “You seem very well this morning, Sirko.” Stephan felt the dog’s shoulder. “How’s the shoulder feeling?” he asked while probing for the old wound the dog suffered many summers ago. “Seems much better, I think! I don’t even feel the bone-bump any more! Da! This is good, Sirko! I’ll bet you can run again on it.”

A single beam of the morning sun shown through the west windhole. Looking around, Stephan asked “Where is everyone, Sirko?” Again the massive dog delivered the endearing confused look.

“What’s the matter, ‘ol boy?” Stephan ruffed Sirko’s head, scratching behind his left ear. “Seems like you have something to tell me. Well, we can talk about it on the hunt. I imagine the fowl are at the Dairlyn Rock. Let’s go see what we can get for breakfast.”

Stephan dressed in the trousers and pull-over that bore the Sukiskyn patterns. He grabbed his bow and slung a quiver on his back. Sirko sat looking at him all the while. Stephan reached to open the door and turned to Sirko.

“Ready boy? What is it?” The dog’s watery eyes gazed at the woodsman, capturing Stephan’s attention. He knelt to be eye-level with him. “You really are a mystery, this morning, Sirko. What you need is a good romp in the woods! Let’s go!”

Again he turned to the door and this time enthusiastically opened it.

“Ah!” he exclaimed at the light; his arms instinctively rising to protect his eyes. He felt a presence. Some leaves rustled in a slight breeze. In a few moments, his eyes began to adjust. A crunching sound in the leaves marked someone’s approach.

“Da?” Stephan queried. “Who is there?”

“It’s me, son. Papa.” Stephan could not see clearly in the light but sensed a figure in front of him.

“Papa!” Stephan was overjoyed. He could not find words. Sirko rubbed his head against Stephan’s leg. The elder Sukiskyn did not speak yet a flood of understanding washed over Stephan.

“It’s okay, Stephan. Believe me. I can’t begin to explain but…just know all is well. And I’m very proud of you. We all are.”

Stephan felt a tear. “But, Papa…” he could barely speak. He felt the quiver on his back; the bow in his hand.

“The hunt will have to wait another day, my son. Please, go lay down again in your sisters’ quilts. Sirko will stay with you. Perebuvannya moho syna. Isnuye bahato nalezhytʹ zrobyty,” his father finished in the olde tongue. “Stay my son. There is work to be done.”

Stephan had been so eager for the hunt but the wisdom of his father was clear.

“Da,” Papa, “Ya ne pidvede. I will not fail.”

With a new determination, Stephan closed the door. Sirko sauntered over to the pallet and layed down next to it. The dog’s massive head turned to look at Stephan, inviting him to rest. The fire seemed to have perked up a bit. A single flame rose from the coals; flickering some warm light. Stephan doffed his gear and layed down. He did feel like some more rest. His chest hurt a bit. He curled into the exquisite comfort of the quilts. The fire continued to burn. He turned to look right into Sirko’s eyes.

“Good boy, Sirko. See you later.”

The last thing Stephan saw before shutting his eyes for sleep was Sirko’s trustworthy gaze.

When he opened them again, his dream was gone and he joined Hasan back in the world of mist and blood.

* * * * *

Miklos had left Maruc to his prayers. He stalked away, confident that the priest knew what he was doing.

Feldard joined the mage as he made his way to the hut. “We need shelter for the night. I’ll check the hut see if it will do. Miklos do you know much of gnoll customs? Anything I should be looking for in there?”

“I know not much of the gnollish race,” replied the mage, “for they are not known to be a race with much use for the arcane. Nevertheless, I shall search the interior with magesight.”

Being in the hut helped the young Thyatian’s ease away from the carnage outside. It was hard to concentrate amongst the aftermath of the battle. He flicked open his book and read out his detect magic incantation. Summoning the power with his tired mind, mage sight lifted his vision and he cast about the hut seeking any baubles or trinkets of significance.

Inside Krasgat’s wooden hut was a selection of humanoid and animal skulls, and a bed of mangy furs. Hidden under the skulls was a leather backpack containing dried herbs, a pouch and an old Traladaran scroll case. The pouch held five amber gems. The scroll in the case had been scribed in the old Traladaran clerical dialect, something Maruc could surely read and recite without trouble.

On a rough shelf above the shaman’s bedding were two drinking vessels made from shrunken human skulls, each containing foul-smelling potions of some sort.

Built against the hut was a lean-to where the shaman’s attendants had lived. Inside were four beds of furs, amongst which was a small handful of gold currency.

Before the spell expired, Miklos returned to the carnage outside and spent the last few minutes scanning the battle field corpses. None of the gnolls seemed to have carried anything of particular note. The shaman carried various little repulsive adornments for her spellcasting—bones, teeth, and the like. Among these glowed two small vessels that containing potions that she had been unable to use before Maruc’s spell had brought her down.



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To The Last

Maruc beat a path through the foe, it mattered not that they were badly outnumbered. Pain from the wicked stroke drove him to a wild frenzy. The magic aura of his new mace leant it unerring accuracy, it felt light in his hand but it fell like a sledgehammer. Gnolls literally parted before him. Halav must have blessed him because he had landed several incapacitating blows in as many seconds. Adrenalin coursed through his veins as the frenetic battle appeared to slow. Dog breath faces loomed out of the mist. Slavering lines of spittle arced slowly through the air. The spray of blood and ravening cries punctuated the bazaar tableau of melee that was drawn before the priest. Brushing aside a ridiculously slow sword thrust to his midriff Maruc back handed his shield boss into the gnoll that leapt toward him. It skidded off balance at his feet he stamped on the creatures ankle and it snapped under the armoured heel. It yelped pathetically, Maruc ignored it and spun as a flash bright elf silk caught his eye. Hasan was bleeding but valiant in his assault his deadly blade dancing about the enemy.

“Well met,” breathed Maruc as he absently crushed the skull of the crying Gnoll. “You don’t look so good.” He spun and jabbed the end of his mace into the snout of a charging gnoll. Blood spatted and it reeled back grabbing at its face. Maruc turned and grinned at the elf. “Don’t die on me, I’ll be right back.” The priest kicked the legs from under the stunned gnoll and roundhoused its shield knocking it off balance. He smashed his mace into its knee as it struggled to its feet. “There’s no escape from the might of Halav!” he cried.

The cold hard damp stone Miklos had inelegantly collapsed on was deeply uncomfortable. He leg had folded beneath him at an awkward angle, again he cursed his bad luck as pins and needles flooded his leg. The battle ebbed and flowed in the mist he caught glimpses of grey shapes as they fought to and fro. The battle got quite close at one point and he had got trodden on but his leg was quite numb by that point to cause him further discomfort. At least the paralysis had stopped him crying out in pain. But, he thought, he wouldn’t have been under a battle if he had the power of movement.

Miklos’s twisted body waited on the floor for release.

Blood flowed from a nasty gash on Ludo’s shoulder. The Gnolls were tough fighters and were not prepared to give way. After running through his latest opponent, he looked around. The battle seemed centred on a whirling mass of blades and battle cries surrounding Feldard and Stephen. I doubt they need my help was the thought that flashed through his mind. Keeping low and with his sword extended he ran to Hasan. With Maruc’s spell of silence aiding his approach, his attack was deadly; an overhead swing deeply cleaved into the thick hide of a Gnoll, it squealed in pain and staggered away from the melee, life blood flowing from its mortal wound. The other Gnolls attacking Hasan were surprised by his attack and were stunned for a few vital seconds giving Hasan some much needed breathing space.

The morale of the gnolls was impressive to Feldard. It put his foes into a whole other class of opponent. It wouldn’t save them any from the bite of his axe but he could admire their unity.

The young dwarf, kept up his end of the battle; swing after swing, carving out chucks of gnoll flesh, dodging the attacks from the gnolls. If Feldard had been hit, he didn’t feel it – not yet anyways.

Hasan watched Maruc, Stephan and Feldard strike into the mass of the gnolls with a ferocious impact. Their attack was so fierce, it separated gnolls into individuals, and one of them came the elf’s way at speed! The din of the gnolls battlewail in his ears, the elf fired one arrow from point blank range, watching as the arrow buried itself up to the goosefeathers in his foe’s chest. But the dogman staggered into an attack nonetheless. Hasan dodged some, but not all of the club that whistled through the air to the elf’s thin shoulder. But the elf had managed to draw his sword. Standing between the gnoll and Miklos’s prostrate form, Hasan gathered himself and attacked, with a slicing feint to the gnoll’s shoulder quickly turning–through two whirls of steel too fast to see clearly–into a viscous thrust into the beast’s gut. The dogman choked as he slid away from the blade, leaving only deep red arterial blood behind.

Another of the giant humanoids

Stephan lost track of his companion dwarf. He continued to fight in the raging sea of gnoll fury.

“Arrrghh!” he bellowed as a jagged gnoll blade cut too deeply into his upper chest. Strangely, thoughts of the needed repairs to his armor flooded his head.

“Ooof!” the wind was knocked out of the woodsman this time. And the center spike of a gnoll shield pierced his back.

He went down. The smell of dirt was a welcome substitute to the stench of gnoll breath and blood.

Twisting, Stephan made an attempt to both attack and get back to his feet in one motion. Although he did not regain his feet, he happily saw his sword cut into the back of a gnoll’s knee. The creature snarled, dropping next to him and fiercely lunging to bite his face. Stephan found himself in a desperate grapple with the gnoll. His sword lost from his grip.

Blessed Halav, the thought to himself. Visions of his brothers and father flashed through his mind.

He rolled in a sickening hug with this disgusting beast. The thing kept jabbing its fanged snout at Stephan. The attack was sustained and vicious. He felt the straps on his helm snap and the metal dome skew to the side.

Visions of his mother coursed his brain. A warm fire. A sleeping dog. A breeze in the trees. Suskiskyn. Home. The woods….night.


Ludo slipped on some Gnoll entrails lying at his feet, as he slipped he felt a Gnoll’s spear glance off his shoulder but at the moment of impact a surge of power from his newly acquired ring softened the blow protecting him from serious harm.

He gasped. The air was thick with death and violence. He could see Gnolls around him snarling and frothing at the mouth in melee with Hasan and Maruc. He saw Stephen fall under an avalanche of blows but could do nothing to aid him. Everything was slowing down, a Gnoll stabbed its spear at him again, Ludo countered but he could tell that his parry was going to be too slow and he braced for the impact. A new thought flashed through his mind, he was going to die here today! Fear of death renewed his sword arm, he fought through the pain and fear, with a cold fury that he had never experienced before. He slashed again at the Gnoll in front of him. If he was going to die then he would die fighting.

The battle seemed to go on forever, and as it did, the large muscled gnolls fought even more ferociously. Every combatant was wounded.

From a peaceful, reclusive clan of elves, Hasan had never been in such a fierce combat. His vision began to blur. What was this odd sensation? He thought as he started to lose consciousness and succumb to his wounds. He tried to raise his sword, but his arms would not listen to the commands his mind was sending. He dropped to the ground and joined Stephan in the dreamworld.

The numbers of both sides were thinning and blood was everywhere. Finally, the tide turned and the gnolls lost their numbers advantage. Maruc and Ludo were exhausted. They were capable warriors, but their specialties lied in other talents. This was Feldard’s realm and he reigned deathblow after deathblow until every last gnoll was slaughtered.


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Battle On Sacred Ground

Hasan continued to fall away from the melee, his right lag dragging behind. “Watch their clubs,” the elf sighed to Stephan. “Poised or something. I never felt the like.” The elf pulled further away and turned. Summoning a bit of magical energy, he cast a dart at the wizened shaman. “Fare the well, madame,” the elf spat venomously. He started to draw his bow to follow the magical shot with arrows, but the gnolls were charging toward him so he drew his magical blade instead.

Maruc stood his ground. He realized he had bought himself some time with the silence prayer but he knew that it would not take the shaman long to work out that it had a finite range. He had a few seconds to properly deal with the shaman so he cast off his holding prayer. “Blessed Halav restrain that vile creature!”

The shaman had been caught off guard by Maruc’s spell. By the time she realized that her enemy was the priest across the field of battle, it was too late and it was her turn to fall helplessly to the ground. Her gnoll attendants tried to revive her, but to no avail. Rather than despair, they drew their weapons and charged into the fray.

From within the mist, the sounds of the melee were dull and confused, which suited Ludo. His approach to the battle was silent and swift. Holding his sword low, he came up behind two Gnolls that were searching through the mist looking for targets to throw spears at. Ludo struck quickly, stabbing his sword deep into the lower back of the first Gnoll. It yelped in pain and crumpled to the ground, Ludo then spun to the left and attacked the second Gnoll with a series of savage blows.

This is all depressingly familiar, Miklos thought, as his muscles cramped up and he folded to the floor. To his certain knowledge every time they had encountered something with the ability to paralyse someone, he wouldn’t escape. He vowed that he would ask Maruc to pray to remove the curse from him.

Feldard, ahead of the others, didn’t see Miklos collapse or Hasan fall back. He was surprised however at how resilient the gnolls were. There were few creatures he’d encountered thus far that required more than one blow of his axe to fell them but that only made this battle more exhilarating for the young dwarf.

Feldard swung his axe down upon the injured gnoll with a fierce battle yell, intent on finishing it off before it could recover any. A quick glance at the battlefield around him to find his next target, showed how outnumbered they were. They needed to break the war party’s morale. “Focus on their leaders, first!” he called out. “The rest may scatter..”
And with another bellow Feldard battled his way towards what appeared to be the leader.

Stephan was strangely exhilarated by the dwarven battle yell. The demi-human was no longer overlooked by the gnolls but now was the focus of attention. The gnolls seemed to concentrate on the whirling bundle of muscle and axe. He noted Feldard’s fierce progress toward the gnoll leader and took up a position to assist. It was a great combination. As the gnolls stooped to strike the demi-human, they let their guard down and Stephan seized the opportunity to strike. Feldard clearly didn’t need the help but it did make the progress a little easier.

Stephan soon felt like he and the dwarf were alone in a sea of gnolls. The hide on these beasts was thick! The Traladaran felt battle sweat under his helm. He could no longer assist Feldard as he had only seconds ago but they stood back to back now, stabbing and hacking in a fury.

A deeper, guttural growl cut through the battle din. As if climbing a mountain, Feldard and Stephan suddenly found themselves at the top, facing the massive gnoll leader. The other gnolls seemed to fall back a bit out of blood-respect for their leader. The mountainous leader squared off on Feldard.

The dwarf was not intimidated in the slightest. Indeed, he was fully warmed up and engaged in the tide of battle. They exchanged several blows, steel crashed into steel. Despite the gnoll’s larger size, he was outmatched he dwarf’s armor, axe and battle-hardened determination. Feldard delivered a devastating deathblow to the gnoll, sending guts and bone across the misty forest floor.

With the shaman paralyzed and the gnoll leader slain, the adventurers had expected the remaining gnolls to flee. Instead they fought with renewed vigor. Their sacred ground had been defiled by the presence of invader and so there would be no retreat. They still had numbers on their side, a two-to-one advantage over the interlopers


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The Death’s Head Gnolls

The lead gnolls launched spears at the elf and human that had dared to approach their shaman’s hut. Reflexes took over, Ludo sprung up from his prone position and darted off into the mist to give himself concealment from the marauding Gnolls. A spear collided into his side as he made his move. Despite the searing pain, he ran away from the where the rest of the party was gathered.

“Go Ludo, Godspeed,” the elf whispered, as he dodged behind the hut for cover then crouched in a fighter’s stance.

Through the mist, it was difficult to make out details about the approaching humanoids but for their large size. That and the sound of weaponry was all that Feldard needed however. He took aim at the lead figure and released his bolt. Then moving forward several steps, making a buffer of space between him and the mage behind. He reloaded his crossbow and fired again. At the speed the war party was approaching, he wouldn’t get another shot.

As they got closer, it was apparent what they faced. Gnolls. He’d heard of gnolls, but this was his first time in battle against them. He suspected they might provide a good challenge. The dwarf grinned as he switched over to his battle axe and made ready to meet their charge.

Stephan cursed himself for being so daft. “Morndu! Plalusha! My bow should have been ready!” Taking a position on Feldard’s right—but not too close!—he took on the first gnoll that reached him.

“Morndu, what a stench,” the woodsman muttered as the first creature foolishly tried a frontal assault. To add to the beast’s error, it seemed to have over-looked shorter demi-human on his left. Feldard’s axe seemed hungry, but held back–not wanting to sever a limb from its fighting companion on the dwarf’s right.

Stephan side-stepped raising his shield. The gnoll collided in a jarring arrest that staggered the monster unknowingly into Feldard’s melee realm. As if with a life of its own, the axe in Feldard’s sinewy arms heaved mightily onto the startled gnoll. A sticky splattering of dark red life blood painted Stephan’s shield.

He turned to face the next beast…

Maruc watched his friends charge into the fray. He was half tempted to follow them in, but there were quite a few of them and the small party could be easily outflanked. He decided to go the other side of the hut and went looking for the leader. He hadn’t forgotten the conversation earlier and the chances that there were some spellcasters about had not left him. He picked up a stone chip from the ground and made his way around as quietly as he could. The mist swirled and clung damply to his cloak, ahead it parted an gave him a glimpse of the gnollish warband. Their concentration caught by the rush of the warriors. Maruc looked for any that were especially large or had what would pass for priestly vestments in these parts.

He was not familiar with gnollish culture, but it was quickly obvious that they were led by a shaman. Old and bald, her face and arms were deathly white, smeared with ash. Wearing a cloak made of human, orc and goblin skin, she leaped around, shrieking and waving a rattle made from an elf skull.

His silence incantation would easily encompass the warband but not for long if they split into a general melee. He crouched behind a giant mossy slab. A stone bounced behind him and he spun mace in hand. He pulled the blow as he recognized Miklos.

“Easy Maruc.” Miklos flinched away. “I was just thinking of casting off my last web to even the odds. He noticed the stone in Marucs hand. “Start your silence prayer in a second.” Miklos judged the distance. It was pretty much at maximum range of the spell. Worth the risk to balance the fight.

Summoning the power with a few confident gestures he thrust the web into the centre of the warband. Sticky threads sprouted and danced among the gnoll’s causing cries of consternation. Three of the dog-faced warriors were tangled up by the spell.

“Now Mar…” silence engulfed him momentarily.

As Maruc finished his spell, so did the shaman hers, with an ear-splitting howl that the priest could not hear while he held the silence stone. As he threw it at the group, the effects of the gnoll’s spell took hold.

Maruc’s silence-empowered stone chip skipped to the feet of the the shaman and her ghastly screeching was cut off. She would not be casting any more spells for the time being. He picked up his shield, winked at Miklos. Miklos? Where had he gone?

The priest looked down and saw his friend upon the ground. The mage looked up at the cleric. It was not the first time he had been paralyzed by an incantation. This particular gnollish flavor of spell was particularly uncomfortable.

The shrieks and yelps frightened Hasan, but less than the outsized clubs and knives the great creatures swung. Hasan’s own first strike was faster, and he sliced through the arm of the first creature to reach him, but the great mass of the charging attackers was too great for the elf to withstand.

There were well over a dozen of them. A snarling animal pushed him back from the hut, as he joined Maruc in making sure the gnolls would not get near their fallen friend.

Concealed within the mist, Ludo slowed down. The gnolls had charged past the hut to fight the others, so he stealthily started to make his way back toward it.


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A Stealthy Approach

Ludo looked at Hasan and whispered, “Maybe a stealthy approach would work best here.” Let’s find out who is in this hut. He crawled out of the tunnel hole and crawled through the brush to the side of the hut.

“Psst, wait! Ah!” Hasan grimaced as he saw Ludo sink into the mists ahead. “I don’t like this,” the elf muttered, shaking his head, as he moved forward himself to join the human. The elf stowed his bow and drew the light scimitar he carried at his side. His mail clinked in the dark, but the elf found the noise more reassuring than troubling.

“If that hut is occupied you can bet they know we are here, ” Maruc said, “what with all that fighting in the tunnels. If I was the occupier I’d have left with all my gear.” He shifted his shield round and released his mace. “If I was was powerful enough I’d still be here.”

Miklos looked at the rude hut. “Who’d live here anyway? Right by a…what did you say? A burial site?”

“Priests,” said Maruc darkly.

“Oh well that’s fine.” said Miklos, “We’ve just about done everything to desecrate it so we’re going to be popular. I’d get that silence incantation ready if I was you.”

Miklos made his way over to Stephan. Somehow the woodsman made him feel less like an unarmoured man.

Maruc nodded, he kept alert for the whisperings of spells and prepared his silence spell for swift casting.

Stephan also readied his shield and made sure he had his favorite grip on his hilt.

“Halav…,” he whispered to whomever could hear, “This hut….it’s a fright. Just like the old hag’s house we were told to avoid growing up in the wood. Mark my words, there might be an old had witch in there!”

Stephan took a side step when Miklos sidled up to him. He’s going to cramp my sword arm, he thought to himself.

Out of the tunnels now, and with Ludo sneaking up to the hut, Feldard remained by the tunnel entrance and covered Ludo’s approach with his crossbow.

Ludo made his way to the hut. When he was nearly there, an ear-splitting shriek came from the misty wood behind the hut. Then, the sound of metal armor and weaponry clanking as the outline of large humanoids emerged into view.

A war party of hyena-faced gnolls charged toward the hut.


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We Shall Soon Discover the Truth

Miklos swept his eyes around the cavern. The bones of many victims had been consumed to fed the dark hunger of the ghouls not all of them human. He wondered if this place was some sort of burial site. It would be challenging to bury anyone in stone, perhaps these creatures had a regular supply of bodies? The piked corpses on the road in spoke of a warning, but would the ghouls wish to ward off potential victims? Miklos didn’t think so. Something else was in play here. ‘Lower’ undead were not renowned for hoarding treasure but powerful creatures such as these might inadvertently cast aside a valuable trinket or two.

“Before we leave I shall search with magesight in case there is a clue as to what we might find ahead.”

Miklos cast off his Detect Magic spell and searched the debris in the cavern and its tunnels, but there was no tell-tale magical glow to be seen.

“Good. Let us clear the other tunnel of evil before we depart.” Miklos followed the others.

Maruc hooked his mace onto his belt and nodded with satisfaction. “Do not be surprised if the wailing came from the ghouls. I agree with Miklos let us clear it to cleanse this place of evil.”

Maruc looked about and thought perhaps the two passages were linked. “What are the chances…”

“No need,” said the dwarf gruffly, cutting off the priest. Typical humans, he thought, lost when underground. “The other tunnel is connected to this system.”

Hasan picked at the detritus alongside Ludo and Miklos. Filth, muck and worse were all the elf found. “Come now,” he said, “More awaits us for sure.” The elf followed Feldard reluctantly. “By all that is holy, I hope we can stay above ground,” the elf complained to Ludo.

“Above or below, I feel we shall soon discover the truth,” replied the cleric.

“Da,” Stephan said sheathing his sword. “Now, let’s go a-wailing.”

“Well it least any remaining rats will have a good meal” Ludo said offhandedly. “Yes, I agree Stephen. Let’s investigate this wailing and determine if they are responsible for the slaughter of the three men. Maybe we can use these tunnels to get closer to the wailings source without being detected. Feldard with your natural underground affinity can you guide us in the right direction”?

The dwarf nodded at Ludo’s question, then took a moment to assess the tunnels leading back further to the left than their original tunnel. “This way.”

Feldard set off in the lead. Eyes alert for foe and trap, ears straining to hear the faint echo of footfalls that were not their own. Eventually they came to where the tunnel exited to the surface. In the mist beyond, they saw a wooden hut. More skull-topped stakes surrounded the dwelling.


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The Ghoul’s Last Stand

Maruc sprung right and raised his mace and symbol. “Cower before the Hand of Halav!” he cried using the power of is God again.

The ghouls cowered, but did not flee. This was where they would make their last stand.

Miklos wasn’t about to be caught out a second time, he had expect this and had prepared his web incantation. As the burly dwarf and and bulky armoured cleric parted to make room to defend themselves Miklos took advantage of the gap and cast his web between them at the ghouls.

Within the eerily glowing illumination cast by the flickering torchlight, the ghouls looked liked creatures from Ludo’s nightmares, he held his sword in the guard position prepared to defend himself and watched as the magical web encased the unholy shrieking creatures, trapping them.

Feldard was glad for the greater height of the cavern. Here he could swing his axe with much more effectiveness. As the ghouls became entangled in the webbing cast by Miklos, Feldard went to work, cleaving the undead ‘til all that remained were parts. Initially, Stephan had taken up a position to protect Maruc and Miklos so they could ply their trade. In the aftermath, he followed Feldard’s lead and assisted in piece-mealing the ghouls.

Last into the room, Hasan saw little but the efficient dispatch of the horrid ghouls. His elven hands worried over an arrow, half-drawn from the holster that hung by his side. But the elf saw no target. He watched. Though they struggled within the web strands, the ghouls quickly fell under the sword and axe blows from Feldard and Stephan.

Ludo wondered how they came to be here and who was their master. The very presence of these creatures indicated that the ‘Sons of Night’ might be active in these parts. Perhaps the mysterious waling sound from outside the cave would answer that question.

Once the creatures had been dispatched, the group moved around the cavern, studying a moment each tunnel that radiated out from this central area. Trying not to shine his lightstone so as to disrupt the demi-humans’ vision, Stephan focused on inspecting the cavern and exits.

The tunnel system was not large. The various routes led a short way to concealed exits on the surface. Other than small creepy, crawly creatures, the ghouls underground lair now seemed to be empty.


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