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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Gnolls moved in single file down the north wall, eager to join the fray inside Brookhollow. Jagged battle-axes in hand, they growled at the frenzied waves of bathor below, pawing their noses and spitting at the stench of the undead. Elisandrya fired a carefully aimed arrow into the throat of a gnoll as he scaled the wall, toppling him to join the others she'd felled. His companions ducked and quickly crawled into hiding. She screamed in protest as they escaped her bow, firing into the shields of the remaining pair. They waited for her bloodlust to wane or her attention to become distracted by the undead climbing the wall beside her. Seeing the last of the pack loping out to join the battle, one of the gnolls edged forward with its shield raised.

Closing the distance with her, he snarled, eager to meet her blade to blade. Elisandrya was tired and only dimly aware of the advancing gnoll. Over her shoulder, the sobs of the undead children neared the top of the wall. Tiny pale fingers, bleeding on the wet stone, gripped its edge. Eli's throat and nose ached from the cold air. The steady sound of rain on her hood made everything seem unreal, like a dream. A sense of doom fell over her as a pair of glossy eyes crested the wall.

Loping footfalls turned her attention to the gnoll, axe held high, charging across the wall. Her readied arrow slammed into the gnoll's gut. He loosed a horrific howl but carried on, ignoring the pain.

Behind the gnoll, Eli could still see the signal horn lying untouched at the dead watchman's feet. It taunted her and she raised her bow to deflect the descending axe. The contact awakened her numb reflexes and sent Shockwaves of pain through her stiff arms. She growled at the gnoll wildly, losing herself in what she believed would be the last moments of her life. The gnoll grabbed her bow and pulled his axe back to strike again, baring his teeth. Eli stepped back on one foot and kicked at the arrow protruding from the gnoll's abdomen. The wound gushed dark blood as he staggered back and released her bow, roaring in pain. Eli reached for her nearly empty quiver, and her leg was pulled out from under her. Her back slammed against the battlement, jarring her neck as she kicked at the undead child that had grabbed her foot. The world spun before her eyes and freezing rain stung her face. Her mind reeled at the cacophony of sounds that pounded in her ears. The menacing growls of two gnolls echoed in her head as they approached her. Warily, they eyed the bathor that climbed and crawled over one another to reach her. She saw death in the eyes of the unfortunate child at her feet and screamed at it, challenging it as she kicked again and struggled to draw her sword. Thunder crashed and the rain slackened. The wind slowed, but even as the thunder faded, a new voice picked up the sound. The thunder was echoed by a metallic hum. The injured gnoll, ducking behind its companion, snapped off the shaft of the arrow in its stomach. It looked up to view a man with fair skin splashed with blood and murderous pearly eyes. The beast was cut down by a green flashing blade and kicked over the side of the wall. The other gnoll whirled at the noise. It sniffed the air and scowled at the scent of the cloaked warrior that faced him. A primal chill filled the warrior's eyes and the growling sword he carried. The gnoll raised his axe and abandoned the fallen hunter to the undead, baring his teeth in challenge at the shadowy aasimar. Eli freed her blade and hacked at the numerous arms yanking on her legs. The blood she drew hissed and burned on her leggings and boots, the smell caustic and nauseating. Another bathor, a woman, had crawled up the wall on Eli's right and lay flat against the stone. The woman's head and neck twisted from side to side as she pulled herself closer.

Looking down the wall, Eli watched the aasimar approach the gnoll like a deadly dancer. Waves of fear emanated from Quin, a tide of terror that made her shiver. Quinsareth stepped forward, turning to his right as the gnoll's axe passed within a hand's breadth of his face. He continued to spin, pushing his shoulder into the gnoll's ribs and hooking his right leg behind his opponent. As the gnoll struggled to angle its axe at the aasimar, Quin grabbed the gnoll's right arm and pushed as he spun again. He slammed Bedlam's pommel between the beast's shoulder blades, then followed the strike with Bedlam's blade.

He severed the stumbling gnoll's right leg at the knee and left him to fall over the edge into the undead below. Elisandrya's sword arm was pinned, held down by the viselike grip of an undead woman who whispered nonsense as she dug her fingers into Eli's flesh. The bathor's touch sent arcs of pain down Eli's arm and across her chest.

She fumbled with her left hand, searching for anything to beat the ghoulish woman away, refusing to give up. The tortured moans of Eli's attacker suddenly turned to shrieks. More sizzling blood spattered across Eli's legs and face. Blue-green lightning flashed with each splash of putrid blood. A gloved hand seized her arm and suddenly she was being pulled across the wall. She watched as the woman, armless, squirmed and beat herself against the battlements before rolling into the masses at the wall's edge. Eli felt strong arms lifting her to her feet and she instinctively fought back. Flailing her fists, she tried to kick the legs out from under her captor. Turning, she raised a fist and saw Quinsareth's face, grim and covered in blood. She almost fainted in relief, but he held her steady and lifted her chin, brushing his hand across the red welts that formed where the bathor's blood had scalded her face. "Will you be all right?" he asked with concern in his voice. He backed them toward the guard tower. "I'll survive," she said, managing a smile as she met his gaze. She was stunned by the depth of feeling his presence suddenly stirred in her.

The battle was blocked from her senses for a few moments. Unspoken words hung in her mind, then fell to their deaths in the awkward silence between them. Eli's eyes said things her mouth and lips could not. In a daze, she stepped away from Quin and leaped up the steps into the guard tower. She retrieved the watchman's horn and glared down upon the gruesome army that assaulted her home. The devil-masked Gargauthans kept a safe distance along the flanks of the advancing throng. Taking a deep breath, she blew one long piercing note that carried across the whole of the city. Flaming arrows were fired high into the air from the north and south gates, signaling their receipt of the order. When Eli turned back, Quinsareth was gone. She caught sight of his shadow moving swiftly and with purpose along the north wall. Kneeling, she took Zakar's quiver of arrows and quietly promised him a warrior's funeral. With the quiver slung over her shoulder, she followed the aasimar.



***** | Bloodwalk | *****