Something was different.
To say that something was wrong would be incredibly ironic for someone like me, but I suppose that the moral types would say that. For one of my profession it all just felt… right.
The change had been sudden, as if overnight. And yet I could only imagine it had been brewing for months, we had only just noticed it. Whatever it was, it certainly had the brutish cow-types in a frenzy. They paced back and forth repeatedly hour after hour, creating a loud and obnoxious thundering sound. They were on the verge of tears from the stress, conversing with each other in hushed whispers as if some great evil were listening in on their conversation. But of course, the sound of cows whispering tend to carry:
“What say you, brother? The Earthmother groans as if about to give birth, but weakened from the strain. And what of us? The balance has shifted. Why should we gain in strength as the elements falter?”
I snorted at hearing that. They of course took no notice, a snort is a common enough occurrence in a Tauren camp. They say they had “gained in strength” and yet they milled about in a nervous wreck. Fools. The tree-worshippers did not know what true strength is.
Still though, it made me wonder. The earth seemed weaker to them? To my ears it sounded depressingly more alive, the beasts around the camp seemed more lively than before. Could they just be restless for the same reason? Perhaps this confusion could be turned to advantage. Besides, there was work to be done.
Leaving the camp, I followed the road to the south and into the dense forest. The tall trees towered high above me, almost completely blocking out that blasted sun. In the cool, damp shade of the woods, I slowly made my way toward my target.
The frantic chattering of the squirrels and birds overhead covered my approach through the underbrush perfectly. I suddenly broke though into a clearing around the base of one of the large trees to see a half dozen gnolls around a pathetic campfire.
Gnolls. The disgusting creatures were the reason I was down here. Well, one of the reasons. Their puny armies had been a small nuisance to the Tauren up on the hill, and they had asked for some help. I suppose their “morals” prevented them from exterminating the vermin themselves, but no matter. Genocide is one of my specialties.
The dim-witted creatures had not even noticed my arrival. Always one for the theatrical, I prepared a special surprise for them. I whispered a few choice words that were heard not on this plane, but that reached through the nether..
The portal appeared right in their midst, a dark gaping hole to the void. For a moment, all was silent, every noise being whisked away into the nether. The gnolls were frozen in terror, and they watched as two glowing eyes appeared through the gateway.
The silence was shredded as Hathphog cleared the portal and the rip in space and time folded in on itself. An otherworldly roar filled the clearing, and then the vermin were silent no more. They screamed and began drawing their tiny stick-weapons. Pathetic.
My long ears tingled then, sensing a power I had not felt before. It lay at my fingertips, desiring to be set free. I tensed, sensing that some awesome power was about to reveal itself, and then I released it, waving my hand at the gnolls.
I had expected flame. I had expected fiery explosions as their very flesh melted on itself. My expectations did not come to pass, but I was not disappointed.
Their shrieks ceased immediately. They writhed in what was clearly agony, their muscles spasming beyond their control. And they could not scream, not even having command of their vocal cords. As if afflicted by some communal seizure, they continued their erratic convulsions.
I watched, fascinated. I then reached deep within, drawing at the darkness covering the fragments of my soul, and unleashed the corruption within. Blood turned to poison as the screams began anew. With their final breaths I drew upon their souls, not even allowing them the peace of a happy afterlife. Assuming such creatures have an afterlife.
Searching through the primitive camp, I found what I was looking for. A map. Battle plans for a full-on assault on the Tauren base. The implications took a few moments to sink in.
The Tauren had been suspecting something like this. Recently the attacks had been fewer, but in almost an organized way. There was a mastermind at work, a level of intelligence that clearly could not belong to the gnolls themselves.
I inspected the map again. The artwork was crude, and yet disturbingly accurate. It gave clear instructions for a direction of attack, but did not give away the location of other bands. Smart. Too smart for gnolls. What was this?
Kneeling down to the gnoll “leader”, the biggest one of the group, I spotted a small metal insignia hung around his neck. A single purple eye gazed at me. I suddenly had the feeling someone was watching me.
I looked over my shoulder and of course there was no one there to be seen. I did not like this. Things I do not like must be dealt with, painfully.
I strode off again to the south, Hathphog at my side as we re-entered the brush. I was determined to get to the bottom of this.