Reaping in Kale - Page 5 - Myth-Weavers


Reaping in Kale

   
Now that's a compliment. If I can write a scene well enough to be 'visible' in your mind, I've really done a good job. Here's hoping the next, and final, updates for this part do as well. Nearly time for a big payoff.

Awesome. Will it be ready for the August 15 update?

Theoretically it could be, but I'd rather hold off since there's so much else on the proverbial table, and I'd prefer to get this bit and the lead-up to the next part done right, over done quickly.

No problem.

The gnoll moved first, charging Aidan with a gleeful and bloodthirsty howl. Brokk threw the frozen orb, but the gnoll dodged to one side at the last, so that it flew past harmlessly - as indeed, it would have done anyway. Its remaining eye widened as it beheld Isolde sliding into position, the genuine article leaving her hands at high speed towards its face, and Brokk`s simple but effective illusion dissipating into nothing.

An explosion of frost, jagged ice shards, blizzard winds, followed the collision. As it subsided, a bronze fist blew a hole through the fogged air to collide with the gnoll`s midsection, and a great steel hammerhead descended right next to it with killing intent. To their surprise, Aidan and Embla watched the gnoll slip aside from the paladin`s would-be-deadly strike, and shrug off Embla`s own mighty punch with barely a gasp. It responded with a sweeping kick that knocked all the breath from Aidan`s lungs, even through his sturdy elf-mail.

Embla pulled him to safety just before a follow-up kick caved in his skull. In the space she left behind, a field of night-black tentacles erupted from the street as Brokk conjured some of his more esoteric powers, and began to lash out in an obvious attempt to restrain and constrict. The gnoll merely ripped the tentacles free as they coiled about it, no more slowed by them than a giant would be, and after some seconds, Brokk allowed the magic to fade.

Instantly, the gnoll darted back. Isolde and her daggers scraped along the ground immediately after. Horrific jaws snapped down, but only onto thin air. The painful memory of this tactic failing against a fiend-cursed dire wolf was still fresh in her mind, and Isolde had no wish to lose more of her blades and gain another concussion. Even as she missed her target, she had gone into a defensive roll, swiftly flexing her back against the earth to thrust herself into a powerful evasive leap. Midair, she twisted just enough to let fly with the thinner dagger she held, the one that was better balanced for such an attempt.

The gnoll yelped rewardingly. Before any advantage could be pressed, it plucked the dagger from its impaled wrist, freeing the trapped muscles. That same wounded hand then closed around the head of Aidan`s warhammer as it was jabbed forward, and forced both it and the half-elf back through sheer brute force. Aidan stretched out a hand as he fell back, and braced himself just as Embla already had - for in the wordless way of the most experienced warriors, they had planned for this.

His outstretched arm was gripped tightly by Embla. With a bestial roar to drown out any that the gnoll had managed, she spun Aidan all the way around her, using the same momentum the gnoll had provided by throwing him away to send him hurtling forward at even greater speed. For a second or two, his feet were fully off the ground. Then both he and his warhammer impacted the gnoll with colossal force.

The pair fell and began to wrestle. On his own, Aidan would have lost at once, and had been almost immediately turned onto his back, his head on the verge on being beaten into the ground. The gnoll was simply too strong, drawing strength from its dark patron, still watching through that twisted gore-hole in the world. But Aidan was not alone. Arcane syllables grew in the air, and Aidan grew with them. Suddenly twice his former size, he seized the gnoll by the throat and began to squeeze, doing his best to shield his face from its furious retaliation with just the one hand.

Embla was there moments later and began to grapple with its arms. Her knee was pressed into the small of its back as she heaved on its arms. The beast struggled to get a footing either side of Aidan`s enlarged chest and push off, but Isolde was already there, slicing at its ankles, piercing its thighs and the backs of its knees. Her remaining dagger however, though briefly empowered by Brokk`s magic, was still being partially turned by the unholy flesh of this horror.

There was a creaking sound from somewhere within the gnoll as its bones resisted. Its eye bulged, not out of pain, but out of hate and wrath. Frothing at the mouth, fighting for every breath, it began to weaken. The three battling hand-to-hand pressed their advantage, and Brokk focused on maintaining Aidan`s increased might.

They might have guessed that victory would not be so easily come by. With sudden force, the gnoll literally burst free of its armor, splitting the iron into pieces with a single mighty flex of its muscles, having husbanded its fading strength perfectly. A piece of shrapnel slashed into Aidan`s cheek, cutting right through into his mouth, and he released his hold on the gnoll`s throat instinctively, grabbing at the piece before it started to choke him.

A single breath was all it needed to regain its full strength, and Embla felt herself pulled forward, slamming into its back so unexpectedly that she could not react in time when its head was flung back. More blood sprayed as her nose was broken, and the fang already embedded in her forehead was driven even deeper to scratch the skull itself. She fell away, stunned, and Isolde was already gone, for the gnoll had leaped clear and was far too dangerous to face by herself. It stood before them once more, chest heaving with deep ragged breaths, stripped of armor and padding, drenched in blood both its own and theirs.

"You very good..." the gnoll gasped delightedly, its, his, arousal now horribly obvious. "I, Jaa`hla, honor you. Glory to Vornoth!"

At that moment, a horn-call sounded. It was as nothing any there had heard before. The echoes called back from every wall, growing ever more clear and pure with each resounding cry, as if a master herald stood atop each building and thundered out that one glorious call. Despite their multitude, the notes did not clash, but mingled with each other into a single ineffable harmony.

The world brightened. It was no mere seeming, no mere illusion, but a tangible reality. Lanterns shone brighter, fires blazed higher, muted shades became brilliant hues. Weariness fled from muscle and mind, and all worries melted to fancy. The stars speared their light into the earth. The warped curve of reality that served as a dark god`s eye simply winked out. This was more than a blessing of light and hope, carried here by those strange five who now rode into Bael.

This was the Promise of Dawn.

Wow! This is surely the toughest foe they’ve faced. But what’s the Promise of Dawn?

As the horn-call continued to sound, the gnoll shook in silence, at once pained and enraged by the purity of the rising note. He rumbled a dire threat at the approach of the nearest of the riders, an elf-lord tall and pale, with moonsong on his tongue and starlight on his skin.

The rider all but ignored him, instead dancing his horse around to meet up with Aidan and the others. He raised his hand to them in salutation, bare save for a simple golden band on his finger, and at once a wave of healing light washed over the four. Aidan felt the tear in his cheek close up, and the myriad wounds Embla had sustained vanished entirely.

Only now did the glorious horn-call start to fade as its sounder no longer held it, and others came into view. One, a woman very incongruously dressed in a revealing ball gown, strummed a curious harp and began to sing. Each syllable fell like an executioner`s axe, but one aimed at fear and doubt, that now banished themselves from the thoughts of all who heard the song. Aidan recognized the power as kindred to his own, as all true paladins were guarded against the fear that their most terrible enemies could evoke, yet this was aimed without instead of within.

A dome of protective light covered them now as the elf-rider invoked another magic, and the gnoll narrowed his eyes against the holy aura. So blinded, he saw not the twinned arrows that came towards him then, flying true from a mighty bow in the hands of a steel-eyed warrior who, despite his gilded mail and feathered cloak, had the look of the wilds about him, and at whose side hung a golden warhorn. His arrows pierced into the gnoll`s back, staggering the beast and spilling dark blood.

Before the gnoll recovered himself, a whooping halfling rode up to continue the attack - and on no mere pony, but a full-grown warhorse with neither saddle nor bridle. Impossibly balanced upon the stallion`s bare back, the ferocious hositan slashed at his prey with a silvered cavalry saber that flayed open the forehead to the bone, but cut into the empty socket that Isolde had already claimed.

The added injury was not enough to fell the beast. Instead, the exquisite pain seemed only to refresh, and the gnoll howled monstrous laughter as he resumed his terrible assault. Bloodied claws pressed themselves against the dome of light, ignoring the searing radiance that bit into them, cutting through the holy ward as though it was the thinnest silk, and tearing into the ample target that was the enlarged Aidan. There was no pain, for it was carried away from him by the bardic song, and Aidan freely swung his warhammer against the beast that dared continue its attack. He was rewarded with the sound of splintering bone as steel met flesh.

Embla and Isolde followed up at once, taking heart from their strange new allies. The Erunian tore at the gnoll with her bare hands in a berserk fury, keeping it off-balance as much as possible, whilst Isolde leaped onto the back of the circling warhorse with the hositan on its back. She spoke a single questioning word that was almost snatched away by the roar of battle, but the other understood and laughed a dire laugh, swinging his horse back into the fray. As the stallion whirled about, its two riders hacked and stabbed at the gnoll below them whenever Embla provided an opportunity.

For nearly half a minute, the chaotic dance continued unabated, until at last the gnoll sank again to a knee - and thrust itself forward at the last, seizing the warhorse by haunch and throat, hurling it up and away. Swiftly, the elf-lord turned his healing magic towards them, inadvertently lowering the barrier and allowing the gnoll to press his charge against an exposed Brokk. Immediately, the wizard abandoned his earlier concentration, and lashed out with a bolt of flame that set the gnoll ablaze. Aidan, already back to his regular size, fell back from the fires reflexively, but before his very eyes they simply died.

The gnoll laughed madly. A faint whistling warned of more arrows, and though his arm was broken, it still rose to meet the pair in mid-flight, letting them sink into the otherwise-useless limb that now served as a very effective shield. As the gnoll lowered his battered arm, still laughing, a faint glimmer of sanity seemed to appear in his eyes. Then the last of the riders, bounding free of horseback, thundered into battle.

Aidan could clearly see that the figure was clad entirely in blackened plate decorated with many spiny protrusions, and a helmet from which two immense horns curled in defiance to the heavens. Each hand held a battleaxe marked with glowing red runes, and behind lashed a thick tail - a tail? Yes, indeed, and one tipped with the spiked ball of a morning star no less! Now Aidan saw too that the helmet was not itself horned, and as a result knew this fighter for what it was.

Tiefling and gnoll collided, and fell away from each other, and then met again in furious melee. Everyone else kept their distance. Axes fell and met stone as their target dodged aside, and even the thick plate mail groaned its protest as it fought off the jaws and claws of the gnoll. Around and around the pair went, hacking at each other in a frenzy that even Embla had perhaps never achieved.

Still the gnoll laughed, and for a moment he seemed somehow less solid, less real than the surrounding township. A shadow spread across his battered face, then across his whole body. With a terrible cry, the tiefling made one final desperate lunge - and collapsed to the empty street, shrieking and kicking at the air like a child having a tantrum.

Despite everything, the gnoll had had one last trick to its name and vanished into a self-made darkness, escaping from them all. The four adventurers regrouped and waited together for their peculiar allies to do the same, and approach them for the expected formalities. Deciding how to proceed could come after.

"Our thanks, we were hard-pressed and your help was perfectly timed," Aidan said sincerely, sparing a worried glance for the continuing tantrum of the tiefling, who was still too angry and too close for anyone`s comfort.

"Oh, Tybalt will calm down eventually," the lordly-looking ranger sighed. "Provided we leave him be for a time. I guess you'll want some explanation and introductions and so on, yes? Well, I suppose I can begin. I am the Marquis du Rentes, as well as several other titles. But by all means, call me Gareth."

THUS ENDS THE FIRST PART OF "Reaping in Kale".

Hope you enjoyed it!

Cool! Interesting. And the gnoll got away.

Yeah I couldn't kill him just yet. We'll catch up with him in a month or two, along with Wulfram and the rest. In the meantime a bit of downtime and calm for our ever-beset heroes.







 

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