Friday, June 19, 2009

Berserker Part 17

Just as soon as the first of the Gnoll raiders burst forth from the woods, they were driven to the ground by a hail of crossbow bolts. The guards quickly dropped their bows, drew their weapons, and engaged the enemy.

Acting too fast for Jarn to ready his axes, a Gnoll was in front of him, a rusty knife held poised in a surprisingly handlike paw. Before Jarn was sent to his ancestors, a spike swooped out of nowhere and buried itself in the dogthing’s chest. Jarn looked up to see Karnar grinning like a maniac with the spiked warpick in one hand and a small round shield in the other. He moved over to help Aniston, who was currently fending off the wild attacks of two gnolls as a third lay dead at his feet.

Aniston moved with an almost balletic grace and skill, every footstep was sure and measured, as was every thrust and slash of his beautiful two handed longsword. Jarn was so entranced by the dipping and weaving tip of the blade that he almost didn’t notice the enraged gnolls charging him.

With a speed born of terror, he skipped to one side as the gnolls attacked. He successfully avoided the bull rush of two, but the third monster compensated for Jarn’s evasion and still cannoned into the boy. Hitting the dirt, the gnoll’s momentum sending them skidding halfway under a wagon. They writhed in the dirt, trading punches, too close to use weapons. Jarn had the distinct disadvantage of not having a long snout full of teeth, which his assailant used, snapping and lunging at Jarn’s throat. He was able to keep the angry creature at bay by lying on his back and propping his feet against its chest. With a great kick that propelled the Gnoll’s body upward, its head smashed against the undercarriage of the wagon, knocking it unconscious.

Jarn scrambled out under the wagon to help the other flank, Aniston and Karnar most assuredly had their side under control. He was greeted by the sight of Seryan and Tyrel facing an inhuman onslaught of sheer manic strength. While Seryan was skilled in the use of his rapier and swordbreaker, the wall of furred bodies that presented itself was too much to deal with. As Jarn watched, four gnolls broke from the pack and attacked with assorted blades and clubs flailing. Seryan quickly pressed his back up to a wagon for extra security, he whirled aside to avoid a downward swung club, catching another blade in his multi-pronged swordbreaker. With a quick flick of the wrist, he had disarmed his opponent, stabbed the creature and moved on to the next. As he turned, the integrity of his chainmail armor was tested by a raking knife across his midsection, luckily it held and the knife’s owner received a few moments of Seryan’s attention in return.

There were still two gnolls at hand, and unlike the others, these two knew how to work together. One would lunge forward while the other would try to draw Seryan’s attention, he was being effectively pecked to death. Before Jarn could rush to the man’s aid, a large figure arose from behind one of the gnolls. Tyrel, using his bullhide whip to garrote one of the two. The strangled gasping of the dying monstrosity caused its companion to look over, giving Seryan the opportunity to bring the other to a pointed end. As the two gnolls fell, Jarn got his first real look at Tyrel since the fight began. He was covered in blood, whether it was his or someone else’s was unknown. With his whip he also had a short, thick bladed sword in the other hand. His leather bandolier of throwing knives were missing a few, Jarn looked around to see them buried in the throats of various corpses.

Jarn jogged over to stand between the bloody creature and the mail encrusted man. Seryan acknowledged his presence with a grim smile. The sight of the running blood, soaking the ground was strangely calming to Jarn, he felt his pulse and breathing slow. He looked up to a fresh batch of gnolls that had just emerged from the cool shade of the trees and became an instrument of death. Not like the burning rage of his previous battle, but this one was akin to it. While still fighting with inhuman ability, he was fully aware of his body and if it was in the path of any oncoming weapons. It was as if his mind was detached from its body so feelings of fear, panic, and fatigue were unknown.

As the gnolls sighted the three, Jarn charged, he heard a scream full of rage and pain. He was dully surprised to hear it was his own. He closed the ground between himself and the enemy with deceptive speed for one so big, raising his axes, everything around him seemed to slow as he acted with blinding speed. He dove into the gnolls. The first he came to grips with hadn’t registered that he was within striking distance yet, his axe passed through the things temple as the other passed through its neck in the opposite direction. Once the novelty of his assault wore off, he fell into a basic routine. Anyone coming within range of the terrible axes in his hands were instantly pulverized. Just like chopping wood. He would knock aside the swing of a sword with almost painful ease and with his other axe, lop off the arm which bore it. In this methodically gruesome manner, he killed at least five or six before the gnolls fell back. The sudden appearance of a counterattack had disoriented them and sent them back into the relative safety of the woods.

Jarn’s nagging worry of Millienya’s safety was soon abolished. Though the gnolls were far back enough to avoid Jarn, they hadn’t seen her in the trees yet with a bow and a full quiver. As she sent arrow after arrow into the milling and confused throng, Jarn was aware that her shots must’ve been poisoned. A light flesh wound was still enough to kill within a few seconds of hitting its mark, sending her victims into horrific convulsions. Her interjection gave the three time to stand back and assess the situation. Jarn was darkly pleased by the look of amazement and slight horror on the faces of the other two.

They checked each other for wounds. Seryan had a nasty gash alongside his arm, which should have been Jarn’s if he hadn’t jumped in the way, that would need attention to. Aside from bruising and a few other minor cuts, the three fighters were in surprisingly good condition.

With Millienya’s aid, the upsurge of Gnoll activity on the caravan’s left flank seemed to be quelled. Jarn left the two men where they were to do a quick sweep for other raiders or injured camp followers. He ran to the rear of the caravan, taking care to check on the people hiding in the wagons. When he reached the cook wagon he heard a rustling. He snuck past the canvas sides and peeked in from the rear to see a few gnolls scavenging through their provisions. It was too tight in there to swing an axe, so Jarn did the only thing he could think of. He held up his axe at arm’s length, sighting down its haft, with a quick fling the heavy metal treekilling mallet embedded itself in the back off one. Alerted by the dying howl of its comrade, the other Gnoll spun around to face its attacker. Jarn was relieved to see Gerda arise like an avenging fury from a cubby hole somewhere in the wagon’s cramped confines, pull a filleting knife from a drawer cabinet and slit the creature’s throat from behind.

“Look what they did to my kitchen!”, she complained. “I’ll never get the smell out, not if I scrub for a year!”

Jarn looked at her incredulously. “Aren’t you glad you’re alive?”, he asked.

She shook her head and grinned. “When you get to be my age hon”, she said. “You soon find there’s no use in getting worked up over every little thing that happens”.

“But weren’t you just complaining about the kitchen?”, he asked.

“Well”, she said. “While you won’t be found wanting for a fight while traveling dangerous roads, a good meal is another story entirely”. She busied herself with replacing anything that the gnolls knocked down from what would normally be her meticulously neat and clean shelves. “Now help me with these pups”, she asked Jarn.

Jarn was only able to leave after he promised that he would help get rid of the bodies and scrub the wagon down after everything was finished. He went in dumbstruck silence. How could someone get past the fact that they had almost been killed so easily? Jarn knew that he had been heartily sick after his affair with the goblins. Why is it called heartily sick? Its not as if I felt very good afterward or even during. It’s funny how the mind wanders in such situations. Must be how the head copes while the body gets on with the business of staying alive.

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