A low snoring noise came from the furred pile, curled up on a ragged bedroll and dozing for the moment. Another shape moved through the dark cave, gently shaking the sleeping figure with a hand and grunting; "Vrili?" The snoring stopped abruptly as the figure sat up, rousing far faster than most of her kin would. Ears perked as the gnoll sat up, knuckling the sleep from her eyes as she looked at the larger male that loomed over her. "Night fell, hunters getting restless. Wanting to do something."
She stretched out and uttered a loud yawn, jaws opening wider until it seemed it would snap off. "Any movement from the village, Snarly?" Her voice was just as gravely as her companion, speaking in the guttural tongue of her people; but her tone suggested an intelligence that her kin might be lacking.
He shuffled back and shook his head quickly, lips flapping a little. "Only what you said they might. Guards walk around village, roam through huts looking for things." Ears rose higher as his gaze fell to look over the female's bare body as she slipped from under the covers. Vrili noticed the stares, but didn't do anything to stop her long-time friend from admiring her body. Countless nights had been spent with him curled against her, sharing warmth, and more. Rising from the mangled bedroll, she groped about for her clothing before pulling it on. Like most of her people, she liked to keep things lighter, opting for studded leather instead of those heavy metal plates that some wore. Her top felt a little tight across her chest, making her grumble a bit as she worked the ties.
Only moments after her friend woke her, Vrili was shuffling out of the cave, Snarly following close behind. The massive gnoll knew he wasn't the smartest male out there, but he was intelligent enough to know that it was a good idea to follow someone like her. She slowed for a second as she reached the entrance to the little cavern she had been sleeping in, letting him collect his poleaxe as she scooped up her trusty weapon and shield. Shoving the weapon into her belt, she let the heavy leather shield dangle from her arm.
The hunting parties were gathered outside of the cave, her kind talking in growled whispers punctuated by the occasional snarl and snap of jaws. Eyes turned towards the flind, ears perking as she bypassed the hunters and the food that waited over a smoldering fire. The sun was just starting to set, already throwing shadows down onto the land around them. It was getting darker far quicker at the foot of the mountain where they waited. Moving to a ledge, she peered over it, ears standing tall as she looked at the village below. Her village.
It had been stolen from her, taken by some 'more civilized' people that saw fit to take it from her 'savage' kin. She hadn't been there when it happened, like all the others gathered here she had been out on a hunt; leaving a handful of their hunters behind to guard the village and protect the cubs. Laying down on the rock, she stretched out slowly as she got closer to the edge. She uttered an annoyed growl and narrowed her eyes some, sniffing at the air as she tried to catch any piece of information that she could. Not that there was much to be had, not at this distance.
She only spent a moment laying there before she turned back towards her kin. For the first time in her life, their eyes watched her with a respect and eager anticipation. Well, almost all of the eyes. A couple sets were turned away in a submissive pose. When her hunting party had returned two nights ago, a couple of the hunters had saw fit to challenge her choice to stay here and wait for the other parties. As they had put it, they were not going to listen to her, even if she was the chief's mate. Their tone changed surprisingly fast when she displayed just what her weapon was capable of. A cracked cheekbone was easily healed, but a bruised ego, not so much. Her chief respected her intelligence and view on things, but made sure that she understood that not all of their kin felt the same way.
Vrili passed right to the fire, grabbing herself some of the meat that waited there. The hunters looked at one another as their leader, only temporary, chewed on the food. She had no appetite, but needed to get something in her stomach. As she gnawed on the meat, she stretched her back out slowly and looked around. The other gnolls stood easily a head over her own wider form; but right now she couldn't have felt larger.
Her voice started out as a low growl, "We leave on a hunt to get food for our people, our cubs, our village. These soft ones come in and take what belongs to us Rockbiters!" Her voice rose steadily, the gathered gnolls starting to cackle and look around eagerly. "We will drive them from our village and reclaim what we worked to get!" Tossing her head back, she let out a haunting cry, as if laughing at those in the village below. The hunting party's voices rose with her, uttering a reaper's laugh.
She crept through the brush around the village, keeping her body low to the ground. Several other gnolls ranged about her, stalking their own lands as if it were some gigantic prey. The rest of the hunting party should be spread out around the village, waiting to strike. She moved in closer, ears perking as she heard voices coming from around one of the huts. Darting in close, she pressed her side against the pressed mud wall. Stalking closer, she listened to the interlopers. "How long are we going to be staying here?"
Another voice, this one sounding almost bored, responded; "Well, they paid us a hefty sum to oust these gnolls. So we'll be staying until that money runs out"
Metal rattled for a moment before the first voice spoke again; "Did you hear those cries earlier? Made my skin crawl in five different directions."
The second speaker chuckled; "If there are more of those savages out there, let them come. My blade thirsts for more blood."
A grunt came from the first speaker; "Why do you think they want it? The villagers I mean. Never did ask what their reason was."
"Don't really care, to be honest. As long as their gold is good, I'd kill these beasts all day long. Filthy things."
Anger rolled around in her gut as the female leaned around the corner, peeking at the two speakers. One was a heavy brute leaning against the hut, a massive sword resting nearby. The canine looked to be large enough that he might just be able to push one of the huts over if the mood hit him. His partner, an avian of some kind, was busy fletching some arrows. The archer shrugged, "Guess I'm just a romantic, yanno. Thinking about these beast men taking the village and driving out these fair townsfolk. In their desperation, they turn to the most noble heroes they can find."
The Labrador grunted, taking a draw off the pipe that he held; "Spin a tale any prettier and you could be a bard." The male growled and heaved himself upwards, grabbing the sword and letting it swing from his side as if it weighed nothing. "Keep cooking up your stories, Peacock, I'm going to get some stew."
Vrili had to bite into her own arm to silence the growls as she listened to these people so casually discuss stealing what belonged to her kin. Oh, how she wanted to call out for her hunters and tear around this building to teach those thieves a lesson they wouldn't forget. She managed to restrain herself, somehow, but only just. Watching the brute leave the bird by the fire, she reached down into her belt and drew her weapon. The gnoll backed up a step and crouched, giving her bar a shake. The chain linking the heavy steel bars rattled. The archer was smart, staying silent, but Vrili could smell her as she got closer.
She had the element of surprise on her side, since gnolls rarely stayed quiet enough to set up an ambush. Her eyes narrowed as the adventurer came closer, using a torch to light the way. Drawing a breath in, the flind waited for a long moment as the torch inched around the corner, followed by an arm. Like a snake, she struck, grabbing onto the arm and jerking it forward. The archer tried to cry out, but the noise was silenced by the weapon the huntress slammed up into the soft throat. The avian's beak worked as she tried to call, the gnoll using her bulk to pin the lighter person.
Vrili growled in the common tongue that the pair had been speaking; "Want a pretty story to take with you? Gnoll-kin move into an area and build a little place. Others get jealous of what the beasts have done, try to force them out. Rockbiters don't make any trouble, keep to themselves. Hunters leave to get food, come back to find their homes being lived in by strangers." She growled as the falconess looked at her with wide, tear-filled eyes, beak working to try and force some sound out of the ruined throat."Now, we will take back what is ours, nothing more." Moving the bars from her throat, Vrili wrapped an arm around the sagging bird. Her other hand came up, grabbing that gasping beak and twisting sharply. The archer jerked as bones cracked, her body twitching as it fell to the ground.
She looked over her shoulder as the falcon crumpled to her feet, seeing the hunters waiting eagerly. Vrili looked over each of them before tilting her head back and letting another haunting laugh. Voices rose from around the village, followed quickly by cries of surprise. She surged around the corner, loping towards the center as her compatriots leapt into action. Chains rattled as she changed her grip, letting one of the steel rods swing freely as she began to twist the other.
A pig lurched from a building to see what the noise was, holding a hatchet in his hand. He saw her and lurched forward with a squeal, raising the weapon up. Vrili brought her shield up, knocking it aside before bringing her bars swinging up. He didn't have time to register the weapon before the twirling metal flashed upwards and crashed against his head with a sickening crack. The porcine male staggered back, blood trickling from his head as the bars came in again. The second blow sent him sprawling on the ground, limbs twisted around awkwardly. She continued past the prone male, leaving him to those that followed. The cackle of a feral hyena signaled the pig's end as the feral beasts lunged at the downed male.
Thanks to the chaos caused by the sudden strike, Vrili had little trouble ranging through the village quickly. The other hunters would be looking for any of their kin that had been captured, but she was looking for her mate. It wasn't too difficult to find the chief, especially since she had been put on display. The matriarch of their tribe was tied to a post, forced to kneel with her hands bound above her. Zawari hung limp in her bonds, dried blood matting the fur of her arms. It was obvious she had put up a fight, wounds scattered across her body. It was obvious what had killed their chief female. Someone had sliced open Zawari's belly, spilling her entrails across the ground. Vrili froze when she saw young cubs, so young that they had still been growing in the matriarch's belly, laying amidst the dried blood.
Tears formed in the flind's eyes as she felt her breath catch in her throat, gasping for air. Her mate, her pups, her life lay here on the bare earth in front of her. A red rage fell over her, forcing a snarl out of her lips. The chain on her bar rattled as she shook, teeth grinding against each other. A voice cried out nearby, drawing her all of her attention. A barbarous howl ripped through the gnoll as she spun on her heel. Foam fell from her lips and rolled across her maw as she leapt at the feline.
She couldn't tell if it was a farmer or a hero, man or woman, child or adult. It wouldn't have made a difference anyway, not now. She could feel the spray of blood and gore as the merciless steel rod crashed against less resilient flesh and bone. Her vision narrowed down, the sounds around her becoming muted. A pain ached deep inside of her body, fueling the blood red rage that surged through her. Every nerve in her body tingled, the very air burned at her lungs, and everything cried for vengeance.
Vrili lurched through the village like a thing possessed, striking blindly at anything that caught her attention. She could feel blows coming at her, but shrugged them off as nothing more than annoyances. The gnoll never stopped moving, only pausing long enough to bring down one target before moving to the next. The leather grip on her flindbar grew slick, and she might have lost it if she didn't have that grip. She felt an arrow pierce her chest, slowing her just for a second, before she let out another howl. Another arrow glanced off her head, spilling blood across her eyes. The berzerker shook her head and blindly lurched towards someone.
Powerful arms wrapped around her from behind, a deep growl sounding against her back as she was lifted off the ground. Vrili snarled, kicking and thrashing in the canine's grip as the warrior lifted her higher. "Feisty one, ain't ya?" he grumbled as he squeezed tighter, driving the breath from her lungs. Red foam dripped from her mouth onto his arms as he squeezed her tighter, the female struggling against his grip. Pain and lack of air began to overtake the all-consuming rage that had held thrall over her until now. Twisting about, she brought her head down to his arm and clamped onto it. Bone cracked under her powerful jaws, blood filling her mouth as the canine howled in pain. A hand crashed against her head, making stars burst in front of her eyes and dance.
As her consciousness was fading from her, she heard another snarl before the arms released her. Vrili fell limply to the ground, tongue hanging from her maw as she wheezed. Two heavy bodies crashed to the ground next to her, trashing about and fighting. The Labrador yelped as Snarly closed his larger jaws around the male's neck. As her mind was fading, the flind saw her old friend twist his head around, tearing a chunk of meat from the canine's throat.
For a time, she wondered if she had died that night. Pain ruled her world for a countless time. When she woke, briefly, she found that her friend had managed to get her to the village's shaman before she faded from this world. Even after being healed by his magics, she could barely move for days. Her muscles screamed with agony when she moved, and her ribs and lungs ached with each breath she took. That was nothing compared to the pain that filled her chest, the emptiness that waited there. Every time she closed her eyes, there was her Matriarch, waiting there, silently wondering why she hadn't been there to save her.
After many days, and countless visits by Snarly, she was well enough to leave her bed. They had placed her in the hut she had shared with Zawari, declaring her to be their new chief. Snarly stood near her as she sat down outside the hut, leaning her head back to enjoy the sun for a moment. "Chief Matriarch?" whispered a voice, coaxing her to open her eyes. Apparently her tribe had been waiting for her, wanting to hear what she would tell them to do next. "What we do now? Village ours again." The speaker was one of the males she had reprimanded only a few days before. He now looked at her with respect, the rest of her Rockbiters having the same admiration in their eyes. It seems that little Vrili, one who had been poked fun at her entire life, had finally shown them her worth. A worth that had come at a price she would have never wished to pay
While she recovered, Snarly had informed her that she felled several of their own hunters in her rage. it was not something that she was proud of, but now she could comprehend those lessons Zawari had tried to teach her over the years. Not every problem could be solved with thought and reason; in a way, those people had been right. Gnolls were savage creatures, but they were honest at the same time. No deceit, no hiding their intentions. If one of her kin didn't like something, they voiced their opinion, only curbing it when made to.
Vrili closed her eyes and leaned her head back, swallowing slowly. "Yes, it is ours again; and those that took it have been dealt with. How long until someone else tries to take what belongs to us?" She could hear her kin, her tribe, muttering amongst themselves as they listened to her. The days spent recovering had given her ample time to reflect, and contemplate, about what should be done now. "We will seek out other tribes, and we will make all we see gnoll lands! Rockbiter lands!" Opening her eyes, she rose to her feet and looked across the eager, grinning faces of her people. "No more will we try to live with those that want what belongs to us, we will take it all, make it all ours!"
Tossing her head back, she cackled madly. Her hunters, hesitant at first, joined in the laugh. They began to dance with their laughter, feet pounding the dirt. Vrili looked over at Snarly, who was chanting a warsong and dancing as well. Her hand fell to her belly, rubbing it slowly. She would not sit idly and wait for others to take what was hers. She would make a home for her tribe, by tooth and by claw, by blood and by pain.