Gnolls. Where in the Nine and Sixty Kingdoms did gnolls come from? I mean, sure, I’m not the most worldly individual, but I’ve talked to a lot of people who lived in this region and not a single one of them mentioned gnolls. Have you ever seen them, Father Mulcahy? Tall, thin pack hunters, like someone crossed an elf with a hyena. I’ve never seen a hyena but I’m told they are like a very yappy dog that hides behind its master, barking like the coming of the ancient ones. I’ve never seen a dog either, other than in books. Why are there no dogs in this region? How have we survived without dogs, now that I think about it. Man’s best friend, the liturgy states. But I seem to recall that some plague killed them all. Was that a demonic summoning or some such? Hell hounds are different, I suppose. And there is rumor of a dog that can flit in and out of this plane, Fritters, I think Bob called them at one point. Bob tells good stories, if I haven’t mentioned that before. For someone as young as he is (for a dwarf) he’s seen a lot more of the world than I have. Liz has seen more of the world than I have as well, but only because I was trapped in Kithri’s keep for a few years while she ran around hunting monsters and helping Wizard Tim and Lilith.
Anyway, back to the gnolls. They just kept coming. By the time I was near to collapse we’d killed twenty one of the things. That was not an error, Father. Liz and I, by ourselves, killed twenty one yipping man-things with the heads of hyenas, long arms and legs, wearing a mish-mash of armor. They carried spears mainly, with a few long bows mixed in, but when pressed and harried they would often resort to biting. I suffered a few of those lovely savage kisses myself, but I survived.
Thinking on the spears in hindsight, I should have realized something critical. I had cast my incantation to gather firewood and just as it had in previous uses, it pulled in every bit of loose wood from a large circle around me — half a league by my reckoning. So if that was the case, why had the gnoll’s spears not been whisked to me just as the frog’s spears had so many days ago? Does that mean the gnolls had not been in the area when I cast the spell? If that is the case, how had they come to attack us. It made no sense.
But in that moment, such things did not occur to me. We were beset with foul-smelling carrion eaters who knew no remorse, or the concept of surrender. They asked for no quarter, and once, when I thought to let one retreat, Liz interceded and slashed it through the throat, shooting me a disappointed look.
We battled, hampered by Kithri’s fallen form. I protected her, keeping the things off her, while Liz feinted and flowed around me, catching things I missed, covering my flank and killing any that reached her. Her scales turned aside several bites, but the spears drew blood. My hands were drenched in black ichor and the bodies that twitched around the clearing were not all dead. We just didn’t have time to dispatch the wounded. If they fell away from us, they lived a few moments longer as we engaged with their brethren.
Fun note about gnolls. They are crazy. I mean, berserker, can’t tell friend from foe when things turn truly ugly. It may be why we survived at all. More than once I saw one of them turn on a companion at their side and bite, distracting the other, drawing their attention long enough for me to dispatch one of them. There was a blood lust there that terrified me. I’ve read of insects like this, locusts and other creatures that would sweep over the countryside and devour everything in their path. That is an apt description of gnolls. Some of those further back in the ranks could not help themselves from falling on their own wounded and feasting. Luckily for the rest of us, they are not very organized. Chaos ruled them. If they had been orderly and tactical we would have surely perished. I think if another half dozen had appeared we would have been too hard pressed. They were that relentless.
As it was, we were exhausted and wounded to the point of collapse. Blood loss and shock are a dangerous combination. We needed to rest, and healing. The healing had to come before there would be any rest. We were too sorely tested. I took a moment to cast a heal on a rather vicious wound I’d taken on my right hand. I had punched one of the monsters in its face, slashing my knuckles on its ragged teeth. Gods I missed my shield.
Nothing happened. Seriously. Father, in that moment I had a flood of terror more overwhelming than at any time since I’d fought the dragon. I could not heal. Do you understand? I reached for the divine and it was like trying to capture smoke in my hands. There was something there, but it was so faint, I could barely sense it. I strained and gathered a feather’s brush of power, enough to slow the bleeding in my fist, but not enough to truly repair the skin. Of course, the second I realized my powers were blocked, I glanced down at Kithri. She was my god, my source of divine power, and she lay unconscious at my feet. I had no earthly idea what to do in that moment. I was stupefied.