2- The Howling in the Darkness
"Are you all right, Urdam?" Eledran asked.
"Aye," the bruiser responded, sheathing his weapons and tending a wound on his arm. "These gnolls fight furiously, as if out of desperation. They seem..."
"Hungry," the elf added.
Urdam nodded. "That they do. Their kin on the surface don't have the same madness in their eyes. Who knows how long these beasts have been trapped here."
"A better question," Eledran noted, "is what has made them come to the surface after all this time."
"In any case, we can't seem to go much farther. The tunnel looks to end in this room."
Eledran looked at the barrels and debris scattered around the fallen gnolls. He pointed up. "I bet we can make it to that ledge up there. Help me move these crates so we can climb them."
They stacked the crates and made their way up to the entrance of another hallway.
Urdam squinted into the darkness. "Do you see anything?"
"I can't see any living creatures," he answered. "But I think I hear fighting up ahead."
The bruiser nodded and drew his weapons. Eledran whispered an incantation that summoned a small wisp of light to guide them further.
After cautiously following the twisting tunnel, they could see lights flickering ahead of them. The yelping of gnolls and the crackle of arcane magic surged in the air. They turned a corner and saw the battle before them. A single figure was encircled by gnolls, keeping the savage beasts at bay with her arsenal of spells.
"Looks like she could use a hand," Urdam muttered. He charged ahead and swung his mace hard against the head of one of the gnolls that had circled behind her.
The woman spun around, revealing her dark blue skin and pale hair. "I don't need help, human," she said as she called forth a green haze that caused the remaining gnolls to double over in pain.
Eledran chuckled as he drew his sword and entered the fray. "So much for your grand rescue, Urdam."
The bruiser scoffed as he continued his assault. "The least you could do is thank us," he insisted.
An arc of purple energy shot out from the Teir'Dal's fingertips and knocked the gnolls to the ground. "I'll thank you if you show me the way out of this miserable cave, but these dogs are barely worth the effort."
The high elf sheathed his sword as the last of the gnolls fell. He walked up to her and nodded slightly. "I am Eledran, and this is my associate, Urdam. How did you get find your way into this place? I thought we were the first to enter."
The dark elf crossed her arms with annoyance. "The name is Yessina. I didn't ask to come here, believe me! I was traveling near Thundermist Village with my companions when we noticed a strange cairn of stones along the road. We were investigating it when these odd gnolls suddenly appeared and grabbed me. The next thing I knew, I was in this place. Some dwarf named Bruggo was here as well, though he was too injured to make another attempt to escape. I left him and struck out on my own. Weren't you two abducted like I was?"
"No," Eledran replied, "but we seem to share a common interest in leaving here. May I suggest we travel together?"
"It would be our honor to protect you, my lady," Urdam said with a smile.
She rolled her eyes. "I'll protect myself, thug. You just make sure these curs don't lay their paws on me."
Eledran chuckled again and pointed ahead. "Let's try this way."
They followed a winding series of tunnels, dispatching bands of gnolls that they met along the way. Finally they approached a larger opening, a wide cavern with pools of water reflecting the light of smoldering torches.
"It looks clear," Urdam said, striding forward.
"Hold on," Yessina cautioned. "Let's check the area before we--" but Urdam was already marching ahead.
"He doesn't take direction well," Eledran noted.
"You should learn to better control your pets," she hissed, rising to follow him.
They began to walk forward, but Urdam stopped short. "Something is coming," he told them.
"Brash fool!" Yessina growled, warding her allies against danger. "It sounds like more than a single something."
The sound grew louder and the ground seemed to tremble a little. Suddenly dozens of the dark-furred gnolls came scurrying around a corner charging toward them.
"Here we go!" Urdam called out, his weapons ready. But the gnolls ran past them, barely noticing their presence.
Eledran turned to watch them go. "That was peculiar."
"Guess we scared them off," Urdam said with a wink.
"They weren't running from us, bruiser. Which means something else is coming," Yessina told them.
Another noise came from the tunnel ahead, and the three turned to face it. From out of the darkness strode five hulking figures wearing massive armor, weapons drawn. The creatures stopped for a moment when they saw the three of them, then resumed walking forward baring their massive fangs.
"Are those things gnolls?" Urdam asked.
"I don't know what they are," Eledran answered, "but we best stand ready."
The huge furred creatures marched toward them as a low growl filled the room.
Somewhere in the distance, they could hear howling.