I sprinted the last distance to the pair of gnolls bowling over both of them. I threw my right shoulder into one while swinging my mace wide to clip the second in the back. They are fairly thin, not having much mass, and my fifteen stones over powered them both. Of course, in my mad dash, I’d thrown too much of my weight into it and I went sprawling along with them. Not the smartest move, but I was a little manic.
I rolled to my knees, but was only second fastest. The gnoll I had clipped with my mace rose a dog’s hair faster than I did, making it to his feet. I kicked out, smashing the damned thing’s furry knee, but didn’t get the response I expected. The joint worked opposite of mine, so all I managed to do was topple the thrashing, spitting creature on top of me. That was a joyful moment.
What a lovely thing to learn when outnumbered. I should’ve been more observant. I’ll know for next time. As it was, we were ground fighting, knees and elbows, snarling bites and ripping claws. He had me outclassed in the natural weapons, so I used my physical advantages. I managed to wrap my legs around the waist of my opponent and rolled, dropping my mace momentarily and grabbing one furry arm, yanking and twisting until I had the beast in a submission hold. It was beautifully executed, so much so that even Brother Durham would have given me a grudging nod. But gnolls are not so much motivated by pain as by rage. Where I thought to subdue the beast, it just flailed on, allowing me to break his shoulder from its socket which gave him the opportunity to snap at my face with his huge incisors. I smashed my head forward, striking his muzzle with the crown of my head. The crunching of bones, his in this case, was my reward, though my own bell had been rung rightly enough. While I rolled over, attempting to see through the stars that flashed across my field of vision, a howl of pain and misery erupted to my right.
I rolled onto my feet only to find the first gnoll dancing back, my mace held in both of his hands. He was on fire. Despite the downpour, a bright white and blue inferno rose from the mace, flashing up the beast’s arms and engulfing his face and torso in a wreath of divine flames. By the time I took my first step toward it, the upper half of his body was crumbling to ash, his lower half falling as the flames roared down. The mace bounced once and I snatched it up, swung around and applied a killing blow to the gnoll whose face I’d broken with my head.
The mace did not burn me, though for a moment, I was afraid it might. With the difference between the white and green divine energy, I had not truly determined which side, if any, the mace came down on. Turns out, it was a power unto itself. Lucky me. The thing did NOT like evil creatures in general, and demons not at all.
I stood on the road, the rain sloughing off the gnoll blood and ash and felt the pulse of the mace in my left fist. Oh, I had power alright, power I had underestimated. This artifact had been created to fight demons and the undead. I myself had used it to destroy demons, but I had not ever seen it immolate a being like it did that gnoll. I glanced at the heavy weapon and smiled. Five to go, and the dawn was not too far away.
With Kithri on my shoulder once more, I slowly walked down the road. With the glow of the mace, I could tell that the remaining gnolls were aware of my presence finally. I had destroyed seven of the beasts by this point, and only suffered a few bites and scratches that I had not healed. Lightning continued to strike the land around me, but I could feel the power of the storm lessening. This had been one of the most violent I’d ever witnessed, and it both terrified and exhilarated me.
I slipped up the road, prepared to attack the pair that I had last seen along the rise to Far Spire village when three other gnolls emerged through the underbrush to link up with the pair. I had forgotten to utilize my green sight to find out the whereabouts of my foe, and I had nearly stumbled into a five-to-one melee. That may not have gone well for me.
Thank the gods, something else intervened first. My head was snapped around by the roar of hoof beats. I lurched into the underbrush just as the Hand of the One True God troop came galloping down the road, lances leveled and splattered the five gnolls without even stopping.
It wasn’t until the ten rows of five riders had passed out of sight that I allowed myself to return to the road. I checked the gnolls just to make sure, and they were very dead. The lances had done most of the work, but the trampling by armored horses did the rest. The red cloaks knew their business. They were formidable in formation. That charge alone changed my opinion about mounted warriors. I’d spent so much time fighting on foot, I had no real experience with a well trained light cavalry unit. I would need to study those tactics. I was quite impressed.
As soon as it became clear that the Hand troop was not turning around I cast forward with the green sight and watched as they rode northward, beyond my normal range of perception. Once they rode beyond the range of my new found magical sight it struck me that they were a few riders short of their initial size. When I had first met them, they were sixty strong. Now they were only fifty. I knew one, the herald, had panicked and ridden his mount into the swamp where he died in a bog, and the commander had died of shock upon seeing my face. But the rest had survived, at least they were alive when I left the keep. What had happened since them?
I adjusted my hold on Kithri and together we returned to the dwarven tunnel, only to find the door closed and no sign of my friends. I spent an hour pounding on the stone, searching for a key hole, and casting various versions of the magic sight in an attempt to discover a way to open the door, or see my friends inside. Alas, I failed in that endeavor. My instincts told me they were alive, so perhaps it was time for me to make my way back into Far Spire the long way around.