Ludo was exhausted, the journey had been long and tiring. The pressure of the pursuing Gnolls was relentless and, worst of all, he could not foresee a happy evening to their predicament. Once the Gnolls caught them up, it would be curtains for all of them. He was sure of that. He could not help glancing back every few seconds. As the Gnolls got ever closer, he wondered if this was the end. He felt sure that Feldard would go out in a blaze of glory and take a few of the Gnolls with him, but the end would be the same. An ignoble death at a bunch of savage beasts, his head stuck on a pole. He shuddered at the thought.
When he had seen the gorge ahead, Ludo felt this was the border of the Gnolls territory and maybe just maybe they would not pursue the group beyond the bridge. Ludo did not care what was on the other side, anything would be better than facing these blood thirsty pack of Gnolls. Ludo strode out.
“Come on! If we can get to the bridge we will be safe,” he gasped. His mouth felt dry, with fear and lack of water, since he dared not slow down even to drink from his canteen.
Stephan barely glanced back at the menacing war party.
“Must. Keep. Going,” he said in successive blasts of exhaled air. “That tunnel is our only hope. The Traladaran was severely fatigued. His bandages, like Hasan’s, were stained anew with fresh blood from wounds that should not be subjected to the brutal march they’d done.
“Looks like a bridge,” he said in gasping breaths. “Better defense. We must make it to the bridge.”
Maruc wholeheartedly agreed with Stephan. The dark tunnel swallowed them up.
The thunderous roar of the falls followed them into the tunnel, and echoed around the damp and dripping walls. A short way ahead, the tunnel bent to the right, and began to ascend in broad steps. The undisturbed mud on the floor foretold that no one had been here for many years.
With a weary grunt, Feldard followed after his party. It made for a steep climb and the giant gnoll warband made a huge racket that was amplified by the echo haunted gorge.
It wasn’t long before their tired legs brought them to the top of the tunnel stairway. It opened out directly above a raging torrent of water, mere yards from where it fell into the valley below. Spanning the river between the tunnel mouth and the far side was a wide stone bridge which was straddled, halfway across, by a squat, crumbling stone tower.
On the bridge, in front of the tower, three skeletons lied, face downwards on the flagstones, They seemed to be crawling back toward the tunnels, away from the stone tower.
A road, cut into the cliff-like side of the pass, ran from the far side of the bridge, on the other side of the tower, climbed steeply up into the Black Peaks.
The priest look nervously at the tunnel mouth. “Is their anything you can do Miklos?”
Miklos nodded grimly. “Everyone, get away from the tunnel mouth I shall attempt to bring the roof down on them.”
Hasan gasped as Miklos prepared to cast his spell. “I suppose no exit is better than sure death, but that’s rather uncomfortable,” the elf grumbled. “I do hope the bridge is sound.”
Miklos glanced nervously at the bridge and hoped his lightning bolt wouldn’t fracture the bridge instead of bringing the roof of the tunnel down. But they had little choice he had to delay them until they were well into the mountains, and whatever lay beyond. He would have to refer to the tapestry to check their path was true.
He checked the party were behind him. “Stay away from the edge of the bridge. Don’t become a target for bows.” Although thankfully gnolls didn’t seem to be blessed with too many ranged weapons, but among the swarm charging into the lower tunnel mouth there was no guarantee of that.
The adventurers had fully expected the gnoll army to charge into the tunnel up after them, but they did not. Instead, their forces gathered in the gorge. In addition to the gnolls, there were giant boars leashed to their ogre masters. The gnoll chieftain made his way to the front.
The gnoll army stood and watched their quarry as they stood on the bridge, waiting for them to enter the small ancient tower.