“Only twenty-nine gnolls left…” Kelestair mused aloud. “Most of them are patrolling the town, then.”
Santon nodded, but Bree shook her head.
“That’s if the harpy was telling the truth.”
“Of course Undrella told us the truth.”
Bree rolled her eyes. Why did Santon have to turn into a complete idiot when faced with anything with breasts? “I’m not convinced.”
Kelestair shook his head. “It matters not. The gnolls are staying in Upper Kelmarane for now, so we should investigate the lower slopes. Felliped may still be alive among these broken eaves and if Undrella was correct, so will the boar.”
Bree nodded. “You’re right. If we can find your friend and scour these buildings for danger we can return tomorrow to take on the upper slopes.”
“Agreed. But we go in as far as we can today. I want to take on this Kardswann fellow myself.” Santon almost seethed with anger. Or perhaps it was jealousy. Bree couldn’t be sure.
Santon led the way through the streets of Lower Kelmarane with Kelestair at the rear. Husk flew overhead, mingling with the other carrion feasters nearby. Vultures were such tenacious creatures. And so ugly! They were by far Bree’s least favourite of all the new creatures she had seen in these lands.
They entered each building cautiously. At first all they found for their trouble was mice, bugs and dirt. Then they came to a large building that was in good shape. It was a handsome, three story manor looking out over the river. Felliped couldn’t possibly be in here, could he? It practically screamed comfort. He’s have to be a fool to hide here. Or brilliant.
Santon moved to the front door and tried the handle, but it was locked. He shrugged, lifted his leg and kicked the door in, right off its hinges.
Kelestair winced at the sound. “Perhaps we could simply try a window, next time?”
“I’m a front door kind of man, myself. But, if you prefer creeping in through windows…”
Kelestair didn’t seem to react.
“Just go!” Bree hissed at them.
Santon stepped into the building and moved cautiously into the foyer. It was dirty, but well-maintained. Someone was obviously living here. Bree only hoped it was Felliped.
They continued through the manor, one room at a time. Bree had the strange feeling that she was being watched. She clutched Tempest tighter and raised her buckler a little higher. Something wasn’t right.
They didn’t run into a single person on the entire first floor. Cautiously, they ascended the stairs. As they neared the second floor landing a gnoll leapt out from around the corner and threw himself into Santon. They fell crashing into Bree and, in turn, into Kelestair. They all tumbled down the stairs in a heap.
Bree knocked her head against something, but couldn’t be sure what it was. Armour? Floor? Someone’s elbow? She shook her head and tried to stand. Her limbs were tangled beneath the other’s and their gear. She stumbled and fell back into the pile. Arrows streaked down from the second floor landing, piercing the floor and flesh around her.
Bree groaned, shook her head and struggled to her feet.
The gnoll amongst them had been killed in the fall, but at least six other gnolls fired arrows at them from above. Bree clutched Tempest to her, but an arrow pierced her arm. She screamed. Kelestair and Santon grunted in pain. Bree held her buckler before her and dashed up the stairs on shaky legs.
Two arrows streaked past her, slicing her skin shallowly, and a third embedded itself into her buckler. She reached the landing, still dizzy from the fall. She waved Tempest before her, causing what was either one gnoll, or three, to back up. They dropped their bows in unison, and each drew a heavy looking mace. Behind him a dozen other gnolls fired arrows at the landing below.
Bree shook her head. The room continued to spin. The trio of gnolls approached her, waving their weapons hypnotically. Bree tensed. Where had they all come from?
“In Cayden’s name.”
She blinked, and then they were gone. Her vision had righted itself. One gnoll charged her, waving his mace in the air before him. Behind him, eight other gnolls fired arrows below.
Bree smiled. She liked these odds much better.
The gnoll was vicious, but slow. Bree stepped to the side, avoiding his wild swing and sliced him alongside his ribs, from front to back. It howled in pain and lashed out with its mace again, swinging it from before him, around to his back. Bree stepped further out of his way, leading the beast around the corner, away from his comrades.
The gnoll followed dumbly, swinging and missing, swinging and missing until it was out of sight. It growled at her as she backed down the hallway. She was running out of room. The gnoll smiled cruelly. It thought it had her.
Bree smiled and slashed at the gnoll with Tempest as he hefted his heavy mace high above him. She sliced a frosty line across his chest and then another, before driving her scimitar into his chest, between his ribs.
The gnoll yelped in pain and tried to bring his mace down on her. She withdrew her blade and hopped backwards. The gnoll dropped his mace and fell to the floor in a pool of his own blood. Bree stepped over his body and raced back to the landing.
Santon and Kelestair fought back to back against the gnolls. Husk swooped over head, diving at their enemies with jagged talons. Two of the gnolls were dead on the floor around them, one from deep slashes from a broadsword and the other from what looked like puncture wounds, though no arrows were embedded in his skin. Santon bled slowly from a few arrow wounds, two of which still held whole arrows jutting from them. Kelestair appeared unwounded and stronger than usual. His muscles bulged and flexed with every motion.
Bree dashed around Santon and lunged at the nearest gnolls with Tempest. He stepped back, bumping into his friend which Kelestair ended with a vicious blow to the head. Husk swooped down at the other and dug his talons deep into the gnolls face. The gnoll screamed and batted at the bird.
Bree sliced his neck open cleanly, causing blood to gush from the wound. He fell to the floor clutching at his throat. Bree looked past him in time to see a gnoll draw back his bowstring. It let go, sending his arrow flying at Bree. Bree threw he buckler up in front of her face. The arrow slammed into it with enough force to push her arm into her nose. Froth and foam, that was close! She lowered her shield enough to glance at the gnoll.
Santon had charged him and was swinging wildly with his broadsword. The gnoll stumbled back, trying to keep both his body, and his bow, out of the way of the sword. Bree walked after them. The gnoll spared a glance her way. It was all Santon needed. He drove his sword right through the gnoll. It’s eyes widened in shock and then went dull. It was dead already.
She turned to help Kelestair, but found it unnecessary. The other three gnolls lay dead around him. Husk was already feasting on their corpses. Kelestair was covered with blood, though none of it appeared to be his own. His muscles slowly shrunk down to their original size.
Bree raised an eyebrow.
“Nice job, Kel.” Santon said with a smile. “You almost look as good as I do with all those bulging muscles.”
Kelestair’s head cocked to the side slightly. “Yes, well, I…” He obviously didn’t know how to respond to the compliment.
“Don’t get too flustered. I said almost as good. Not as good.”
Bree shook her head. “Sit down before you fall down, Santon.”
Santon smiled, but nodded. He laid down on the floor.
Bree knelt over him and placed on hand upon his head and another upon his chest.
“You know, I can think of better reasons for you to touch me.”
Bree rolled her eyes. “I can’t. Now quiet.”
Santon mumbled something else but by then Bree was ignoring him. She closed her eyes, emptied her mind and let go. “In Cayden’s name,” she prayed. “Lend me your luck. Lend me your favour. Let me save this man.” Bree became lost in the revelry funneled through her. She let the energy build up, and then let it go, pushing it out into Santon. Her head cleared, the noises left her, and beneath her hands Santon shuddered. His wounds frothed and foamed, disappearing under her touch. She smiled. Santon looked as good as new and she didn’t feel nearly as weak as she usually did. She was getting better at this. “Cayden’s will be done.”
Santon stumbled to his feet. He wobbled like a drunk, and then fell back down to the floor. He looked like he was going to be sick.
Bree frowned. “Too much?”
He nodded his head and turned a little green. “Mmm hmm.”
On second thought, perhaps she still had some room for improvement.