Carrion eaters were already at work on the dead. We scared away a flock of ravens when we arrived, but they didn’t pay too much attention to us after the initial shock. They just moved down the line to the next bodies away from our reach and went back to plucking at the entrails and eyeballs that were exposed. Nature’s way of cleaning house, I know, but it didn’t make it any less disgusting. If those weren’t bad enough further down the line of destruction some form of wild dogs were worrying at the dead as well. I didn’t like that at all. Something niggled in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t place it right away.
We debated attempting to bury the dead. The ground here was soft enough and not too swampy. But to dig individual graves was insane with just the two of us and a mass grave also seemed out of the picture. The only true option was to burn the bodies. We would need to build a huge bonfire. We had plenty of wood from all the smashed wagons, crates and barrels. Figured it was take us the rest of the day to get a decent sized bonfire ready, and tossing on the bodies would take us deep into the night. That would be a lot of work for folks that were already beyond caring. Unless there was a necromancer nearby, then they could be a problem later, but I didn’t have any hint that one of the death wizards was about. I’m sure that old Lich we’d exiled and the dragon had kept the competition around here pretty thin. Besides with Wizard Tim, Rufus weasel gnome and Leviathus the smarmy running around, they’d have heard of a necromancer haunting these parts.
Not that they would’ve necessarily told me. Something else to worry about. Why must I always look for all the worst possibilities?
If we just went on our way and left well enough alone, I was fairly confident we could make it to Far Spire in a couple of days. Those folks could send some of their people back here to clean up. Not like we could carry all those trade goods in any case. Shame to let them go to waste. I’m sure the folks at the Hallowed Fortress could use the supplies.
Something about the gnolls bothered me, though. I’d read something about them a long time ago in the monastery, something about being demon spawn. I was afraid to leave their bodies out for the carrion eaters. What I wouldn’t give for a nice pit of acid at the moment. Honestly there was no true choice in the matter. We would have to burn the gnolls. They aren’t related to trolls as far as I had ever learned, so I was mostly sure they didn’t regenerate. On the other hand I had a strong recollection about carrion eaters consuming dead gnolls and being transformed them into new gnolls due to their demonic curse. There were at least a dozen wild dogs and fifty or more ravens feasting on the dead. I didn’t want to think of the possibilities.
We couldn’t take any chances. I wanted the gnolls at least charred before sundown. I told Liz about my concern and she was shocked. She had no experience with gnolls, but she said that could explain why we keep running into more and more of them. Suddenly my idea went from a foolish worry to a full tilt action plan. She took me over to one of the wagons where the ground there was soaked in oil. One of the six casks had broken open. The other five barrels were unharmed. That would make a merry fire indeed.
So we spent the first hour unloading out wagon of all our supplies and picketing the horse near enough that I could keep an eye on them. I laid Kithri in the shadow of the wagon and covered her with the dragon hide. She’d be safe enough there. I bet she could’ve waved her cute little fingers and cleaned this whole mess up without breaking a nail. That was counter-productive thinking so I shut it down pretty quick. Best to deal with the truth before us.
Next we began pulling aside crates and barrels of anything worth salvaging and staging it in one are to the side of the road. Three wagons were close enough to work from a single vantage point so we dragged the broken wagons and such into a large pile using the spot with the oil drenched earth as our focus.
After two hours, Liz hitched the horse back to the wagon and took it down the road to start collecting gnoll bodies. I finished up sorting broken from unbroken crates and barrels, making ready to be able to feed more fuel to the fire later. I used two barrels of oil over the wood before collecting the gnoll bodies close to hand.
I was able to gather sixteen gnolls within reasonable walking distance of the pyre and started throwing them onto the pile of broken wood before Liz returned at dusk with the remaining seven gnolls. By the time we unloaded the wagon and set the oil to burning, it was full on dark.
Gods they stank. I’ve smelled burning bodies before and none of them smell particularly pleasant. Okay, there was that time we burned Brother Charles, the great blue bird who had befriended me. He smelled amazing at first. But I digress.
The gnolls were foul, putrescent in ways that made me vomit twice before we were convinced the fire would do the trick. We had Kithri back in the wagon, the horse picketed and had each washed two or three times attempting to get the feel of dead gnoll off of us. We needed to eat, but the smell made it so I couldn’t stomach even the blandest hardtack.
I had the watch and Liz was sleeping when the first dog turned. I had heard the pack of them making their way toward us for the last hour or so after and kept the fire stoked with fresh wreckage. Wild creatures wouldn’t come near a fire that size and shied away from humans in general unless they were starving. This bunch had fed a little too well.
Of the dozen or so, only four transformed right away. The hideous shrieking that accompanied the poor beasts transformation reminded me of the demonic horde we had fought once upon a time. As it was the rest of the pack fled, leaving the four to suddenly stand upright and come at me in a rush.
The noise had woken Liz and before the first gnoll entered the firelight, she had her bow out. Two of the foul things fell before they could reach us, and we quickly dispatched the other two. They were not hard to kill. While they had just transformed they seemed dazed. Their need to ravage anything that moved was evident in the way they ran at us, but it was hardly a fair fight. Not that I needed fair when demon spawn were involved.
Then I remembered how the entire region was devoid of dogs. I had just commented on it a couple of days ago. Where had wild dogs come from? Had they come in with the wagon train? That was a mystery we’d have to unravel. I told Liz my fear and she took off after the others. No use letting them live if they will just turn soon. It took her another two hours, but she returned having hunted down the pack and slain them all. She was pretty handy with that bow. She dragged two of the dogs back with her and threw them on the fire before going back for more.
In the meantime I fed the fire and tossed the four new gnoll bodies on the pyre. By dawn Liz had made three more trips to drag back all the dogs and to insure that none had escaped. Half of them had collars, so that put that mystery to rest. Where had that merchant train come from. I’d have to inquire more at Far Spire. Was this whole region just cursed against dogs?