Ludo sat back and watched the small party of gnolls advance with obvious trepidation etched onto their faces. They kept looking back at the safety of the tunnel mouth behind them and were almost shaking as they advanced towards the tower. He commented to no one in particular, “You almost feel sorry for them. If those golems made short work of the ogres, how do you think those gnolls will fair?” He chuckled, “I think we could stay here all day and hold off those gnolls while the spellcasters rest and prepare their spells. I don’t fancy advancing into the Black Peaks until we are fully prepared.” Feeling hungry he fished in his pack for some dried beef and munched on it until the gnolls got a little closer.
“Da,” Stephan nodded at Ludo. “Up here it is warm and dry and…open. Much better place to rest.”
He, along with everyone else, watched the approaching gnolls with fascination. “There’s a connection, you know. The Hutaakan jackals, gnolls, dogs. Take away the makeshift armor and snarls and those gnolls might double as a larger, more muscled version of all the jackal statues we’ve seen.”
“Gods above, you have given me a scary thought, Stephan,” commented Hasan, whose animated voice was belied by a casual, exaggerated sip at the little water that remained in his wineskin. “What if our guardians recognize their kinsmen? What if the gnolls are released, to their surprise and ours?” The elf looked up. “We would be goners, for sure.” The elf stretched. “Miklos, this water is fine, but do you have a drop of the Rifflian wine left?”
Feldard nodded in agreement. Remaining was a far better option than forging on ahead in their current state. He felt safer however atop the tower rather than within it. Who knew if the protective magic of the map might wear off and the stone statues turn on them. Yes, atop was much better.
With his crossbow ready at hand beside him, the dwarf moved alongside the rogue and watched the gnolls advance. The smell Ludo’s dried meats reminded the dwarf of his own hunger and he too pulled out some meat to eat.
Stephan kept watching the gnolls and found himself crouching low under the tower battlements out of instinct. An eerie quiet settled on the scene despite the continued roar of the river.
The Traladaran whispered in response to Hasan, “I’m not so sure the guardians will allow them to pass. There are other gnoll skeletons scattered on the floor below. We shall see.”
Ludo commented, “I think it is unlikely that the gnolls have access to the tower, if they did why send in the ogres? I suspect the gnolls can’t get past this tower with its guardians. If they go inside that tower it will most certainly be the end of them. It should be quick at any rate and I think no matter how persuasive the Gnoll leader is, he won’t get anymore gnolls to enter that tower after this poor lot get chewed up by our two friends inside.”
Eventually, the gnolls cleared enough debris away that they could once again approach the tower on the bridge. They were tentative, all the vigor of their bloodthirsty pursuit was replaced with fear. They had all heard the stories about the tower. None who entered ever survived. But now, these accursed interlopers had somehow managed to pass through.
Their chieftain Gragszt had given the order to send a small squad through the tower. The ogres had not made it through, but Gragszt was determined. He ordered another squad to enter the ruin.
Stephan held his bow ready and kept adequate cover as the gnolls approached below.
A dozen gnolls opened the doors, and once again the adventurers could hear the sounds of battle as the steel statues battered the intruders mercilessly. A few of the gnolls escaped, retreating back out onto the bridge. The statues followed them. One of the gnolls struck the statue with his sword. It became stuck in the statues waist and was then absorbed by the golem, leaving the gnoll weaponless. The statue then reached down and crushed the gnoll’s head with its giant hand.
The other gnolls made it into the tunnel and the statues did not pursue further. They slowly walked back to the tower and shut the doors behind them.
The gnoll chieftain knew the situation was hopeless. After several minutes, he began to gather his clan and the Death’s Head Gnolls began to exit the valley.
* * * * *
Between mouthfuls of his dinner, Ludo asked “Feldard do you want to take first watch?”
“I can, though I think it best that the humans keep the first watches,” Feldard commented nodding towards Ludo and Stephan, “while there is still light for them to see by. You and I have the advantage of seeing better in the dark.” The dwarf did a quick check and rebandaging of his wounds then he set himself up into a good viewing point with his crossbow and settled in and watched to see that all the gnolls below had left.
Maruc gratefully slumped into meditation. With the gnolls no longer an imminent threat, he was easily able to commune with the spirit of Halav.