Thursday, August 6, 2009


This was inspired by a guy at work who always tried to skirt the rules. He did some things one day that I got extremely upset over - and this was the result. I don't usually write in present tense, but I was so in the moment I wanted the reader to be in the moment too.

I want to kill him.

What part of "we can't do the run without a contract" doesn't the guy understand? Evidently all of it, because he's out there in the plant messing around anyway.

I make it a point not to swear, but several very choice phrases that my mind must have picked up over the years find their way to my lips. I spit them out, wondering only briefly how such dirty words feel so good coming from my mouth.

I've done what I can to minimize the effects of bozo's actions. Several megs of e-mail and a ream of paper's worth of CYA have miraculously departed my desk in the past ten minutes, so I am relatively certain that when the sparks start flying I'll be sufficiently fireproof. But that doesn't keep me from feeling like I've been hit by a Mack truck.

I raise my hands over my head and stretch in an attempt to loosen my cramped shoulders. I shouldn't bother. Stress has the very uncomfortable habit of causing the muscles in my neck and back to knot up in ways that Boy Scouts would be proud of, and experience has proven that nothing short of five o'clock will help.

I glance at my watch. The digital numbers blink as the time changes from 2:59 to 3:00, and a cheery "beep, beep" sounds in obvious mockery of my situation.

"Will this day never end?"

My mournful cry goes unanswered. That's probably for the best. I have enough problems to deal with without my co-workers thinking I'm crazy.

But you are crazy.

My hand freezes on the way to my water bottle. I look around, but I'm alone. The stress has me hearing things that aren't there. I shake my head and grab the bottle. I twist the cap off more forcefully than is necessary and chug half the contents.

But I AM here.

Water sprays out of my mouth. It plasters the front of my computer screen and trickles down between the keys of my keyboard. I leap from my chair and grab a stack of Kleenex from the box on my desk. I attempt to wipe the water from the computer. It isn't until I notice the streaks on the monitor that I realize the tissues are the kind with lotion.

"Aw, hell!"

I hear you. What do you want?

I spin around quickly, but the practical joker is nowhere to be found. A quick glance over the walls of my cubicle reveal that all of my nearby coworkers have escaped to the break room. I think to check my phone, but it sits soundly in its cradle.

I'm a bit offended, friend. You ask for me, then you act surprised that I answer.

The sound seems to come from within my mind. No, that can't be right. The stress has gotten to me more than I thought it had. I back from my cubicle and half walk, half run to the restroom. My face is flushed. I turn the faucet on full blast and splash the cold water over my cheeks. It seems to help.

I look at my reflection in the mirror. My eyes are wide and bloodshot. I look like the quintessential drunk. I laugh a bit at the thought. I have never in my life touched a drop of alcohol.

Maybe you should start drinking. It's been known to help in situations like these.

I catch the barest hint of movement from the corner of my eye, but when I look that direction, I see nothing.

My heart begins to race in my chest. What's going on?

The shrinks say if you hear voices, you're insane. That's only true if you're hearing things that aren't really there.

My body tenses and I spin around, eyes darting about the small room. I slam open the doors to the toilets, but the stalls are empty. My chest is heaving. It's hard to breathe.

"This isn't funny, all right? Show yourself, you sick bastard!"

Haven't you guessed by now? I'm in the one place you haven't looked.

I turn back to the mirror.

Look closer.

My hands are trembling as I grasp the sink and lean closer to the mirror. My reflection distorts as a face seems to emerge from my own - a face with a twisted, demented visage and glowing red eyes.

You can't see me because I'm INSIDE you.

My stomach sinks, even as my limbs become rigid. The face begins to laugh. Something snaps within me and I'm moving again, fleeing the restroom.

Running won't help, friend. Once you've invoked Hell, there's no going back.

Oh, God. This isn't happening to me. This CAN'T be happening to me.

But it is happening to you, friend. Your little four-letter word prayer opened the door.

No! I'm a good person! I've always followed the rules. I obey the commandments. I tell the truth. I go to church....

Church! The word brings me a measure of sanity. I feel for the cross my mother gave me on the day I went away to college. It's there under my shirt. The physical reality of it lends me hope. If I can just get to a church....

The Church only helps the innocent possessed - those who suffer through no action of their own. You invited me in. You are left to your own fate. Now that Hell is in you - NOTHING CAN GET ME OUT!

Panic sets in. Fear motivates my every action. I can only think to flee.

I round the corner and enter the atrium area at a full run. The large picture window, newly commissioned and still under construction, beckons. There is a way to get rid of the devil within me. Only one way.

There is a loud CRASH as glass shatters and I am falling...falling...falling....


The Demon named Vulgarity turns to his companions as they look down from the new exit to the building's twentieth floor.

"I think you pushed him a bit hard."

"How so?" asks Stress. "I haven't been any harder on him than any of the other swine who work here. All I do is set the stage. After that it's up to you guys. Fear's the one who pushed too hard."

"Like Heaven I did! You know this guy. He was heading straight to the nearest church. Within ten minutes he would have been confessing his sweet little heart out. We would have had to start all over."

"But you killed him! Where's the benefit in that?"

Fear grins. "He committed suicide, didn't he?"

The other two Demons smile in sudden understanding.

"Come along," Fear says as he fades into the Ether. "Let's go home and welcome our newest house guest."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"The Game - Chapter 5, Part 2"

If you haven't read Chapter 5, Part 1, do that first.

Valinor noticed immediately that there was something different about one of his opponents. That one was almost a full head taller than his companion and wore a smattering of metal plates about his person, complementing the chain mail armor that both gnolls wore. It's weapon was heavier, as well, indicating a greater strength - and most likely, greater ability. "The Leader," Valinor decided. His suspicion was born out as the larger gnoll barked out an order to the other and then stepped back to watch the combat.

The underling moved forward carefully, still wincing from the sting Valinor's bow had imparted to his face. He took a straightforward swing which the ranger easily blocked. Valinor returned a slash with his second sword. The gnoll stepped back out of reach and brought his axe up to counter the ranger's follow up thrust. The exchange followed for a few seconds, each trading blows that were subsequently blocked or evaded. The gnoll was good, but followed a fairly set pattern of maneuvers that the crafty ranger soon deciphered. Valinor launched a right-handed thrust at the creature's midsection. When the gnoll predictably brought his axe handle across to parry the blow, the ranger swept his left sword across and struck the axe driving it farther out to the right. He then twisted his right wrist, rolling the blade about and under the axe driving the point home in the creature's unprotected armpit. As the gnoll jerked in pain, Valinor spun, reversing the swing of his left blade and simultaneously retracting his successful stab. The full circle spin brought both blades across the startled gnoll's neck, relieving the creature of its head.

Valinor ended the spin in a ready position and eyed the gnoll leader. To his surprise, the gnoll spoke. The words were heavily accented, but in well-spoken Common.

"Such pretty displays will not work against me."

"So have others said who were bigger and stronger than you. They are all dead."

The gnoll laughed. "I hardly fear the boasts of a weakling human. I am Kartoch. I will feast on your flesh tonight."

"You will feast on your doom."

The laughter continued as the gnoll leader advanced.


Theadina found herself hard-pressed. While no novice to fighting - the Knights of Calinde were not a true martial order, though they did receive martial weapons training - her sword skills lacked the fluid grace of Teserk, the effortless coordination of Valinor and the raw power of Colin. She relied on well practiced routines and strategies and had little success with battlefield improvisation. Her opponent lacked even her skills, relying on brute force to overwhelm his foes, but in this case, that strength was just enough to throw off Theadina's rhythm. The gnoll couldn't penetrate her defenses, but neither could she recover fast enough to press an advantage.

The two were at a standstill.

Worry began to eat away at the knight. What if her skills were not enough? What if her strength gave out first? Already she was beginning to tire, the heavy axe blows causing her arms to go numb. She couldn't last at this much longer, and she couldn't expect that her friends would save her.

A flash of inspiration came to her then. Theadina leapt back as the gnoll executed another of his powerful overheads and stepped into the tightly packed trees off to the north. The slope made it difficult to maintain her footing and for just a moment she almost regretted her hasty decision. Then the gnoll was upon her and she had no more time to question. The gnoll's first swipe came - Theadina ducked - and the axe crashed into the tree next to her. The gnoll had to jerk twice to pull the heavy blade from the wood, giving the knight the extra time she needed. A quick slash drew a thick line of blood down the creature's arm. It howled in anger and launched a mighty overhead chop. Theadina swung around the tree to her right and attacked the gnoll from the rear. The monster spun quickly to block , but the axe head caught up in the brush and didn't make it up in time. Theadina's sword stabbed through the gnoll's throat and the creature fell heavily to the ground.


Colin dispatched the first gnoll he had felled and took stock of the battle. He couldn't see Valinor, a large boulder blocking his view, but he watched as Theadina neatly dispatch her foe. He turned to find Teserk one on one with a gnoll and having no real difficulty. Mammoth was keeping another of the foul creatures occupied. It looked as if the battle was almost over. That's when he heard Mort's scream. Theadina heard it, too, and the two of them followed the sound into the trees to the south of the trail.


Teserk was toying with his opponent when he heard the scream.

"I guess play time's over."

The gnoll looked at him funny.

"That means it's time for you to go bye-bye," the swordsman explained. He launched a lightning fast thrust which the gnoll barely managed to so sidestep. The move brought him right into the path of Teserk's follow up kick. The toe of Teserk's boot caught the creature square on the muzzle, snapping its head back. The gnoll fell backwards to the ground. Teserk spun his sword around, reversing his grip, and plunged the blade down through the rusty chainmail and into the gnoll's chest.

The swordsman caught sight of the last of his attackers fleeing scene. He snatched a javelin from the earth nearby and launched it at the retreating figure. His aim was true, the missile taking the unfortunate creature in the hip. It stumbled, falling backwards down the slope to land just beneath Mammoth's flailing hooves. There was a sickening pop.

Teserk retrieved his blade and followed his two friends.


Kartoch rushed in suddenly, leading with the thrusting point atop his two-bladed battle axe. Valinor darted to the left, slashing down with his right blade. The gnoll pivoted smoothly, taking the slash on a battered bracer and brought his axe about in a horizontal cut. Valinor stepped back and slapped the passing axe head with his left blade, hoping to throw it farther out to his left, and thrust his second blade in at the expected opening. Kartoch anticipated the move, dipping the axe so that Valinor's blade slipped over without much impact, then swept the axe back across one handed, intercepting the darting stab. The gnoll's free hand shot forward to grab the ranger's neck, but Valinor spun to the left and avoided the clawed hand.

"Give up, human. You cannot match me," Kartoch snarled as Valinor maneuvered himself against another charge.

"Perhaps not," the ranger replied, "but at least I'll have the pleasure of knowing that my friends cut your murdering band to pieces before I died."

The advancing gnoll leader paused briefly and cast a glance back along the valley floor. His superior height allowed him to see that Valinor spoke the truth. His tribe lay scattered across the ground - broken and bloody as three of their intended victims moved off into the trees, seemingly unharmed.

Kartoch roared in anger - a chilling half laugh that reverberated off the valley walls in spite of the trees. "You will die first, and then I will hunt your pitiful band single handedly until each lies twisted and torn at my feet."

"Save your words for someone who cares, Kartoch. You are a leader with no one to lead."

The gnoll sprang at Valinor, unbelievably quick for one of such large stature. Valinor barely managed to slap the axe head aside before Kartoch plowed into him. The force of the charge threw the ranger backwards. Valinor tucked into a roll and came up in a crouch, his swords crossing above his head. He caught the descending axe in the vee of the cross, the sharp blade stopping a scant inches above his forehead.

Kartoch put his considerable weight behind the axe, trying to force the axe-head into the ranger's face. Valinor strained to keep his blades in place, but his arms were beginning to tire. The razor edge of the axe slipped ever closer. Valinor managed to set his feet under him, then, and with a mighty heave of his legs threw Kartoch back. The gnoll leader recovered almost instantly, launching himself again at the weakened human.

Valinor parried the blow and the one following, the hits ringing along his arms. He had to end this quickly. He dodged another mighty blow and scrambled over a fallen tree to give himself time. Kartoch pursued relentlessly.

Valinor spoke a command word as the gnoll leader came over the log and his two short swords began to glow, their blades bathed in white-hot blue flames. Kartoch failed to notice, arcing the great axe in a mighty two-handed overhead blow. Valinor sidestepped and brought both flaming blades down on the axe handle. The twin swords exploded with a concussion of fire, shattering the wooden shaft and singing the fur of Kartoch's hands. The startled gnoll pulled back in a panic, but Valinor gave him no recourse. He stepped over the gnoll's burning weapon and unleashed a devastating combination attack. Lines of blood appeared in several places across Kartoch's body as magical blades sliced almost effortlessly through the gnoll's makeshift armor. Flames licked at the wounds as the creature's clothing caught fire. Valinor finished the attack with a full thrust that took the gnoll leader in the stomach. Again the sword erupted in a hellish blast. The magical fire burned from the inside out, leaving the gnoll leader a smoking husk as Valinor withdrew the enchanted blade.

Valinor grimaced and stamped out the small fires that had caught in the dead leaves littering the valley floor. It was dangerous to use those blades in a forested area. Not that he had had much of a choice.

The ranger sheathed his twin blades and headed off towards where Mort had disappeared into the trees.


Valinor arrived at the scene a few moments later. Mort sat on the ground, his arms wrapped around his legs, rocking slowly back and forth as Theadina tried to comfort him. Colin and Teserk were examining a body - a human body.

"What happened?" he asked, walking over to the two men.

Teserk stood. "Near as we can make out, Mort was following your advice to hide in the trees when he came across this guy here. Mort says the fellow attacked him and he defended himself. With this."

Teserk held up the farmer's small skinning knife.

Valinor blinked. "He killed a man with that?"

Colin pointed at the gash that ran under the man's chin. "One stroke. Nice an' clean."

"This from a man with no combat experience," Teserk added dryly. "You have to admit, Valinor, this is more than a little off. Add it to the other discrepancies in the man's story and the strange reaction of Mammoth. It just doesn't add up."

Valinor was forced to admit, if only to himself, that Teserk was right. Something wasn't right here. Still, the ranger was always one to give a person the benefit of any doubt. He looked at the sobbing farmer who called himself Mortimous deVous.

"This isn't the time or place for questions. Dusk is here and we've still a mile or more to the wizard's home. "

Teserk looked at him incredulously, but Valinor ignored him. "Get him up, Theadina, we've got to move.

"Leave the body," he instructed Colin as he started back down the slope, "We don't have time for a proper burial."

Teserk watched in silence as Valinor left the area. Theadina helped Mort to his feet and led him after. Colin made to follow, but Teserk stopped him with a hand.

"Valinor's making a mistake here."

"Aye, lad, it's possible. But it's his mistake to be makin'. We put him in charge, remember? Never ye fear, we'll be keepin' a watch on our Mr. deVous."

Colin trudged after the others, but Teserk remained for a moment. He bent one more time to study the body in the failing light. That was just too perfect to be an accident. He ran a finger along the smooth cut - then noticed something he had missed before. In addition to the knife stroke, there was a small line that traced around the back of the man's neck, almost as if a thin wire had torn the skin. It was too thin for a rope. A necklace perhaps?

"Teserk, let's go!"

Valinor's words were just loud enough to carry to him. Teserk filed the information away to study with the rest of the clues he'd discovered. He would get to the bottom of this, if Valinor's misplaced trust didn't get them all killed first.

"The Game - Chapter 5, Part 1"

This is Monday's post. Sorry it's late.

If you haven't read Chapter 4, please do that first.

After a short discussion, the group decided to approach the Wizard's home by way of the woods, rather than by the road. Broadbent offered to send one of his men along as a guide, but Valinor firmly refused.

"We have already imposed too much upon your hospitality, as well as relieving you of your bread money. We would not then take one of your men into danger."

Broadbent shrugged. Either way was fine by him. He insisted, however, that the group take Mort's Mammoth, as well as Silent's horse.

"I don't want anything belonging to that scoundrel in my camp. She's yours."

Colin practically cheered, having long since decided that the black mare was one of the finest horses he had ever seen. Mort didn't look quite so pleased.

It was easy to see why as the farmer warily approached the big chestnut gelding. Mammoth reared and tossed his head, his nostrils flaring in warning. Mort dropped the lead rope, skipping back in alarm.

"Doesn't seem as if Mammoth likes you much," Teserk noted.

Mort grimaced. "Mammoth has always been a somewhat...reluctant animal. I'm sure the robbery combined with being taken by strangers has been a little unnerving for him. He'll calm down soon."

Mort ducked down to reach for the rope, but Mammoth reared again and Mort fell backward on his rump in his effort to get away from the heavy hooves.

"Mammoth, you stop this nonsense," Mort said sternly as he got back to his feet and walked forward in a confident manner. He reached a hand for Mammoth's bridle and was rewarded by a fierce nip that almost took off his hand. He backed away hastily, spearing the gelding with a venomous glare.

"Fine, you worthless excuse for a work horse. You can rot here. See if I care!"

Teserk looked from Mammoth to Mort, then walked slowly up to the big animal. Mammoth didn't so much as move as Teserk reached out a steady hand and placed it on the horse's powerful neck. The swordsman scratched gently, then slowly gathered up the lead rope.

"Seems like he's all right to me," Teserk said with the hint of a smile.

Mort scowled. "Then YOU lead him. I've had enough of his fickle nature for one day." The farmer stomped off to where Theadina and Valinor were getting some last minute directions from Broadbent.

Teserk looked back at Mammoth. The big horse nudged him in the shoulder, encouraging more of the neck scratching. Teserk's smile faded.

"You certainly don't like him, do you boy. I wonder why that is?"

Not having any answers, Teserk clipped the lead rope onto Mammoth's bridle and led the gelding over to where the others were preparing to depart.


Taking Broadbent's advice to heart, the party followed a dry stream bed east towards Nefarious' estate. The map the old soldier provided was crude, but by all indications the group would reach the wizards home round about nightfall. Teserk had questioned the wisdom of approaching a hostile spellcaster's home at night, and for once, both Mort and Colin agreed with him. Valinor had persisted, however, and asked whether the party would rather face the wizard when he least expected them or camp in an unfamiliar wood with a band of bloodthirsty gnolls roaming about. Teserk had pointed out the fact that they might never see the gnolls either way. Valinor had countered by saying it would be easier to avoid the gnolls if they were on the move. He then reminded them that in the morning the wizard would be well rested and watching for them. In the end, the group had reluctantly agreed with Valinor's plan, trusting in the ranger's woodlore to keep them out of harm's way.

The stream bed was fairly flat and provided a good path. Valinor took the lead, scouting ahead for signs of the gnolls. Mort and Theadina followed a ways after, chatting about this and that and generally enjoying the quickly fading sunshine. Teserk and Colin brought up the rear, leading the two horses. As the distance between the group widened, Teserk took the opportunity to share some of his suspicions with Colin.

"Did you see the way Mammoth reacted to Mort back at the camp?"

"Aye, I saw it. It doesn't appear he be likin' 'is master all that much."

"My thoughts exactly. Not the reaction I would have expected from a docile work horse trained to work a farm."

Colin furrowed his brow. "Tis true enough, though Mort bein' a mink farmer an' all, I expect he was jest used fer pulling wagons and sech. Perhaps tis as Mort said - the shock of the attack 'as left 'im skittered."

Teserk laughed. "Skitterish? Look at the fellow - he's as docile as a newborn puppy."

Colin looked at the plodding gelding and was forced to concede the point.

"I donnae suppose ye'd accept that the bloodshed shook 'im a bit?"

"A horse that lives and works on a mink farm where slaughter is the rule? No way."

"All right then, maybe he's been abused, beaten and sech fer disobedience."

" Come on, Colin, you know horses better than that. Abused animals are rarely friendly with anyone, Mammoth does everything I ask. And there's not a mark on him that would indicate abuse. No, I don't buy any of it. Something else is going on here, something that I can't put my finger on. It's almost as if Mammoth doesn't know him."

Teserk's words were softly spoken, but their impact caused him to stop suddenly as if he were slapped. Colin looked at him, and Teserk could tell the half-dwarf had reached the same conclusion.

"Ye donnae think the man is really Mortimous DeVous."

"That would be a logical conclusion."

"Then who do ye think he be?"

"I don't know. Maybe the traveler the farmer picked up on the road, maybe somebody else." Teserk frowned. "Maybe the wizard."

Colin's eyes narrowed.

"Should we be tellin' the others?"

Teserk shook his head. "We have no proof. The whole thing ties up so neatly - it's just my word against his. Theadina would never believe it, that's for certain."

They started moving again, walking in silence for a time.

"So what's yer plan?" Colin finally asked.

"We proceed very carefully," Teserk answered, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "We look for anything else that seems out of place. And we never - ever - let 'Mr. DeVous' out of our sight."


The shadows were lengthening steadily as Valinor suddenly appeared from nowhere up in front of the group and quietly called for a halt. The group quickly gathered to him.

"The path ahead narrows into a small valley," the ranger reported. "It's heavily lined with trees and the shadows are pretty thick right now. It would be the perfect place for an ambush."

Theadina asked, "Have you seen signs of the gnolls?"

Valinor shook his head. "Not any physical signs, as such. The valley floor has been altered somewhat, though. There are large rocks where there should be none and trees lay at angles too convenient for my tastes. Broadbent said Nefarious sometimes released prisoners to be hunted by the gnolls. This place stinks of a place where the foul creatures might herd unsuspecting prey to fall on them and cut them to pieces."

"Kin we go around?" Colin asked.

"Not unless we want to add a few hours to our travel."

"We don't have a few hours left," Teserk said. "It will be full dark in less than an hour as it is."

"Then we trip the trap," Colin said as he loosened the strap securing his large mace to his side.

"Agreed," responded Valinor. "We have the advantage of knowing the valley for what it is. We won't be the simple prey they're used to."

Mort was visibly trembling. "W-we're just gonna walk down into a trap? Are you crazy?" His tone was sharp and carried in the suddenly silent forest.

Theadina quickly placed a steadying hand on the farmer's arm. "Mort, lower your voice. Everything will be all right."

Mort's voice decreased in volume, but there was no mistaking the panic. "All right? He wants to take us down into a trap! You all may be experienced warriors, but I've never been in a battle in my life. What am I supposed to do while you all have your fun?"

This last part was aimed at Colin and Teserk who seemed to be eagerly anticipating the possibility of combat.

Theadina's voice was soothing. "Stay close to me. If trouble arises, take refuge behind the nearest tree. I promise, we won't let anything happen to you. We're in this together ."

"For Lucinde's sake," Valinor added.

Mort looked from face to face, then straightened. "Okay. We'll do this. For Lucinde."

Valinor nodded grimly, then led them into the valley.


Their movement was slowed by the various rocks and fallen trees Valinor had seen while scouting ahead. They made their way cautiously with the ranger in the lead, followed closely by Theadina and Mort. Colin wasn't too far behind, but Teserk lagged a bit to the rear having some trouble maneuvering Mammoth around the strewn rubble. Valinor wasn't too concerned over this, knowing that Teserk was capable of taking care of himself. The ranger kept his eyes trained on the surrounding slopes to catch a glimpse of their would-be attackers, an ash longbow at the ready. The onset of dusk and the heavy tree cover made the task much more difficult.

The attack came as they reached the halfway point through the valley.

A hail of javelins arced through the air to fall among the party. The missiles were poorly thrown, only one striking a target. Colin caught a glancing blow along one muscular arm, but the wound was superficial, the sight of his blood steeling the half-dwarf for combat. A howling laughter filled the air and tall, hunched figures broke cover from the trees to fall upon the group.

Valinor turned quickly at the first sign of attack and followed the arc of one of the javelins back to its caster. As the hyena-headed figure of a gnoll burst from the trees it caught a dark feathered shaft in the chest, staggering it. As it tried to regain its balance, a second arrow joined the first, removing the attacker from the fight.

"Mort, take cover!" the ranger shouted as he sighted another gnoll, this one charging towards the farmer. This time the arrow took it in the throat, dropping the creature to the ground. Valinor couldn't see if Mort followed his advice as two more of the monsters sprang from the trees directly before the ranger. He swung his bow in a wide arc, catching one of the gnolls in the face, then dropped the weapon and drew his twin short swords. More wary this time, the two circled slowly, waving their battle axes about menacingly.


Theadina raised a loaded crossbow and fired as a gnoll leapt at her from atop a massive boulder. Her aim was true and the creature landed dead at her feet. She had no time to think, however, as another of the creatures rushed her. She threw the crossbow at it, slowing its advance just long enough for the knight to draw her blade.

Then the gnoll was upon her. She heard Valinor's warning to Mort, but was unable to go to his aid. The seven-foot tall gnoll outweighed her by a good hundred and fifty pounds and it was all she could do to turn aside the first vicious axe swipe. She was thrown slightly off-balance, but recovered in time to duck the monster's second attack and spin out to the side placing the boulder to her left. Because the boulder gave her partial cover, the gnoll was forced to attack from a higher angle to avoid the rock. Theadina crouched and came forward under the swing making a quick thrust. Her sword caught the gnoll in the stomach, drawing blood, but something prevented her from completing the thrust. She was forced to spin away to avoid the gnoll's answering chop.

Theadina swore in a manner most unbecoming to a Knight of Calinde. These monsters were wearing armor! The gnoll growled in its laughing way and advanced on her.


The gnolls opposing Colin soon discovered that their armor was NOT effective against the half-dwarf's heavy mace. The fighter blocked the attack of the gnoll to his left then slammed the mace head into the stomach of the gnoll to the right. The creature doubled over on the ground, coughing blood, effectively out of the fight. Colin ducked under the horizontal swipe of the other gnoll and grabbed the passing axe handle with his left hand. The gnoll tried to pull the axe from the fighter's grasp, but Colin was the stronger of the pair. With a mighty heave, he jerked the axe forward, pulling the gnoll towards him. As the creature overbalanced, the fighter launched a vicious head-butt that cracked it between the eyes. The gnoll staggered and Colin smashed his mace down on its head with a two-handed overhead swing. The dead creature twitched as it hit the ground.


Farther back, Teserk found himself beset by four of the monsters hoping to take out the isolated party member in an easy fashion before helping to overwhelm the others. The strategy might have worked, but the gnolls didn't account for Mammoth. As the gnomes stormed Teserk's position, Mammoth reared angrily, lashing out at the attackers. Two were forced to back away, leery of the massive animal. Teserk promptly set his back to his impromptu partner and faced the two gnolls that were able to approach him.

They came in a coordinated fashion trying to get the swordsman to commit his defense to one side. Teserk would have none of it. His bastard sword twirled about as if possessed of a mind of its own, deflecting a strike here, hooking an axe-head there and pulling it out wide.

The gnoll to the right stumbled slightly, his axe dropping as Teserk deflected the axe of the gnoll to his left. Teserk thrust at the opening. The gnoll recovered more quickly than he should have, the stumble being a feint to draw Teserk away from his defensive line. The gnoll's axe came up and there was no way Teserk could block it. He didn't have to.

Teserk saw the ruse for what it was and chose that moment to spin to his left. His timing was perfect as he ducked under the hooves of a rearing Mammoth. The Clydesdale lashed out at the unsuspecting gnoll and connected a huge hoof with the creatures forehead. The gnoll crumpled to the ground, the front of his face caved completely in.

Teserk continued his spin full circle, coming around low on one knee. His sword took one of the unsuspecting gnolls at the knees, hamstringing one leg while almost completely severing the other. He leapt up, dodging to the right to increase his distance from the still rearing horse. His opponent, recovering from the shock of the swordsman's sudden appearance, stepped up to engage him.