You know what’s really annoying? Smug people who sleep merrily away for whatever time they’re allotted, unlike my last few nights of poor or totally missing sleep. Suffice to say I’m tired, the sun is glaring down bright enough to blind me, and frankly, I prefer to see the sunshine from the shade in any event, I mean, come on. I’m not a plant.
Okay, I admit that I did that thing where I imbued myself with a little of the divine just to keep on my feet. Unfortunately for the next three hours I was so manic that Liz threatened to hit me with a stick until I was unconscious, or dead. She didn’t care which. I’m positive that she was joking, mostly. I think she would’ve enjoyed a nice gnoll attack after hour three, just to keep me from pestering her.
You know what else is amazing when you have not really slept in a couple of days and you are juiced up on some new form of divine energy that makes me think of growing things? I can’t keep two thoughts in my head. Everything is about the here and now. I think I asked Liz how much further to Black Crescent Lake about a thousand times. She finally said she’d go find out and left me with the wagon.
Also, I’d forgotten how annoying healing wounds could be. For the last few years I had only to think of healing something and it was done. Now, with this slower pace, including bandages and poultices, the itching was driving me mad. Oh, I’d healed the old, slow way for nineteen years before I was granted access to the divine, so I had a vague recollection of previous healings, but it is amazing how quickly your mind grows accustomed to something different.
Unlike this new magic which made no logical sense. I thought on it as we rode down the road, wishing for a few minutes the frigid winds of the plane of ice would blow through and cut the humidity. We kept the ice dragon cloak over Kithri because not only did it keep one warm in a blizzard, but it kept one cool under a sweltering sun. Lovely magic there.
It got me to thinking about the very nature of magic. How different were casters, really? Oh, wizards had their rituals, their components and their incredibly complex somatic twiddling, but was their power that different from that which I had once wielded? Wasn’t it more the aspect of what one concentrated on? Rufus liked to smite things with lightning, but so did Wizard Tim. Leviathus liked manipulating emotions and the very thoughts of his targets, and I concentrated on the aspects of drudgery and healing. Now with Kithri unconscious and my power being more strongly supplied by Semaunzilla (may she grant me some freaking insight) things had taken a greener tinge and a more vegetation oriented slant. So much so I told Liz I was afraid I’d been turned into a druid and she laughed at me. That was before she went off to scout ahead for Black Crescent Lake.
I reminded her we had the maps, but she just said she wanted to make sure Bob was right. I think perhaps she was annoyed with me. I’m getting better at reading those sorts of things, you’ll be happy to know. I almost always know when I’ve said or done something to annoy those around me. Oh, don’t get me wrong; nine out of ten times I have no clear idea what I had done or said, but at least I recognized it. That’s progress.
Gods, I hope Liz was only scouting ahead. Maybe my rambling was enough to make her flee for good. That would suck. I mean, with Kithri unconscious behind me in the wagon, and the imminent threat of gnoll attack, I had enough to worry about.
A hour after Liz fled, she came back at a run. We were close to Black Crescent Lake, that was good news. Unfortunately a merchant caravan had been ambushed an hour or so ahead. She checked that no one lived before returning to me, which gave me some comfort. She wanted to make sure we were safe. I made a point of not asking her any questions, just in case.
Turns out that annoyed her as well. I just can’t get a handle on this thing. I insisted that she drive the wagon since she’d just run for over an hour and that earned me a look of derision. I had seen that look before so knew what tact to take. I explained that I needed to warm up after sitting for so long and that I’d been riding without my full complement of armor equipped. She accepted that I was not prepared for combat and we paused while I donned vembraces and greaves. Once readied for battle, I started off at a light jog and she had no option but to follow with the wagon. I was right in letting her rest, and we both knew it. It was just a matter of pride with her. I worried about that sometimes. She had nothing to prove to me. I wonder who she was measuring herself against. Her sister, Jira, probably. Old hero worship dies hard.
When we cleared one of the steeper hills, a small valley opened below us; the prelude to the lake. There scattered for a quarter league lay bodies and broken wagons; easily thirty dead not including the pack animals. Dead gnolls lay among the ravaged caravan guards and merchants. The oxen and mules had all been gutted while crates and barrels lay untouched. Oh, many were broken open when their wagons had been overturned, but all this was about slaughter, not plunder.
I walked among the dead, searching for clues to what happened, but that was Liz’s forte. She had already begun to track the gnolls, searching for where they had come from, and where they had gone. Both cases proved to be puzzling.
It seems as if the gnolls had appeared from nowhere and vanished the same way. We counted twenty three gnoll dead but found no tribal insignia or other markings that would give us a clue as to their origin or their master.
How many gnolls existed in the world and why did they all seem to be harrying our path?