November 25, 1999
"Never see my village now," muttered the Gnome ruefully as low hanging branches nearly took his hat away. The forest thinned down heavily as he approached the edge of the woodlands and he paused for breath while cover was still available. This area was unfamiliar to him as he distrusted the areas where humans had made their mark - without the thick green canopy of branches he could see the occasional pointed spire of the large human city glinting golden in the sun, far to the north. The Gnome listened carefully to catch any sounds of pursuit, trying to catch any sounds over the beating of his heart.
Within a minute the familiar crashing noise of a Troll in pursuit came through the trunks and the Gnome stiffened in renewed fear. Yet the noise did not seem to be coming towards him - instead it seemed to be heading directly towards the east from where similar sounds where coming. Frowning, the Gnome waited until the noises had passed him at roughly a hundred yards distance and waited yet again. He considered following but that would be inviting death as no one in their right mind hunted a Troll, especially not its prey.
But what could have distracted his foe from pursuit? A Gnome made a tasty dinner for a Troll and dinners were welcome when you had a Troll's size - there must have been something more attractive to him and some fellows. Grasping the hilt of his belt knife he steeled his nerves, straightened his cap and began to follow the dissipating noises with all the stealth he could muster. Curiosity had conquered caution!
The trees thinned even further as he scurried along, pausing at regular intervals. In this area he remembered there being many humans at one time when they had made an exposed area for their wagons to travel on. Exposure could be death to one so small and the Gnome and his fellows generally avoided this area completely. Still, it must be something very interesting down this way and if it would make a Troll forget his prey it may help to remove any attention from an incautious Gnome.
Nearing the area of the trails, the Gnome heard a noise as if of several Trolls and began to worry more. "Insane," he muttered to himself, yet he kept on advancing. A handy rise in the ground sheltered him from the view of the tracks and he flattened himself against the mound as he crawled to the top.
Poking his head above the brow of the small mound he was surpised to see nearly a dozen Trolls stood on the main human trail - they were stood in a huddle and seemed to be discussing something with occasional waves of paws and weapons. The Gnome had not had chance to observe a Troll properly yet he was only mildly interested in the details he had a chance to see. The thick pelt of fur looked to have been groomed rather than matted and unkempt, the brutish face looked around with disturbing intelligence and the way they held themselves almost erect was somehow very...worrying. This information was lost to the Gnome as he realised that these Trolls were properly talking, not just grunting as he had supposed before, and they were organising as a disciplined group. Surely Trolls were stupid, malformed creatures with evil attitudes and rarely sated hunger?
Frowning the Gnome watched as the Trolls finished their discussion. None of the words (which seemed to be mostly growls) made any sense to him, but the evident leader pointed south along the track and a few of his followers departed that direction. The rest just stood together and watched them go. The minutes passed as the main group of Trolls merely watched the trail exectantly until a sudden shriek of noise and explosion of magic came from the direction the small group had gone. The Trolls suddenly sprang into action, forming a thick line across the trail, barring the passage to anyone with a barrier of flesh and fur. Saliva dripped from more than one set of tusks and the Gnome found himself panting yet again.
It could only have been a minute or so but time feels different when your pulse is threatening to attract unwelcome attention. From the southern direction of the trail came the sound of wagon wheels and panting beasts, shortly followed by the sight of a group of humans mounted on huge draft Lizards. After a moment's pause the humans charged at full speed at the line of waiting Trolls, beating the flanks of their mounts viciously, which impressed the Gnome immensely. The humans were at least three times his own height while the Trolls must have been four or five - and yet the humans charged on, outnumbered and outsized. The Gnome looked hard at the humans and saw a small shimmering field around them all, glowing pale white in the day's sun - a protection of some kind?
The front few humans were all encased in armor of differing types - two were encased in thick steel while another human seemed to prefer the manoeuverability of lighter leather armor. Behind these three came a few robed humans who stayed somewhat to the rear of the main chargers, one holding a gnarled staff while the other two bore some form of massive mace. The armoured humans kicked their mounts hard, forcing them straight towards the line of Trolls and met them with a sickening crash. Weapons swung wildly on both sides, jabbing and thrusting - screams resounded as flesh was torn and bones were smashed.
The humans who had held back now joined in the wildly surging melee - the mace wielders darted to the fight and, chanting strange words, caused glows to appear around their comrades' bodies which caused cuts and bruises to disappear. The robed figure with the staff stood well back and hurled balls of lightning that arced from side to side, striking each Troll in turn. The confidence of these humans was now understandable, mused the Gnome as he watched the melee below. A sudden pain in his hand made him look down and he found that, in the excitement, he was gripping his knife handle far too heavily for comfort.
The battle continued, with Trolls bellowing and the humans renewing their strength easily. However, despite their wounds the Trolls kept up their defence of the trail and one of their number managed to sneak around to the rear of the humans to the wagons. Grabbing the reins of the frightened wagon horse, it began loping back down the trail with its prize, bellowing loudly with laughter.
The humans ignored this for the moment as their white glowing auras melted slowly into the air. Suddenly the Trollish blows fell harder upon their bodies, knocking them back several paces while their own assaults were still blunted by the thick pelts growing from the Trolls' bodies. A warrior fell beneath Trollish clubs while the leather clad human was hurled from his Lizard and into a nearby tree stump. A mace wielder came to the fore to join his remaining comrade but was beaten back under the combined forces of three Trolls. The last steel clad human was soon overwhelmed and blood flowed from between his armor as he lay on the floor.
The two mace wielding humans tried to shield the staff wielder as he chanted out his magic but they were quickly beaten to the floor. Grinning, the Trolls began to advance on the human whose face, already drained from the efforts he had made, took on a desperate air. The leading Troll seemed to take no heed of the magics that the human sent his way, ignoring the pain and the smell of the burning of his own flesh as his bloodlust forced him onwards. His companions ignored their own wounds as they turned towards the bodies of the humans nearby, each snarling with hunger and need.
The Gnome felt himself stand and move round the side of the mound. To his dying breath he could not explain why he ran at the leader Troll which was advancing on the robed human - it was as if he was under control like a string puppet. The human sent a weakened bolt of magic at the Troll which suddenly paused and screamed as the Gnome's knife sank deep into his ankle, hamstringing him. The Gnome dragged out his knife and ran desperately as the Troll tried to keep its balance on its one remaining usable leg.
Back within the nearby trees, the Gnome paused briefly, chest rising and falling as it panted. It dared to look back at the Troll, half expecting it to have ordered a pursuit of its tiny nemesis and saw the Troll lying on the floor with its chest wide open to the sky. The human was dismounted and wove a spell to create a shimmering blue field around his body, immediately following this with an incantation that bathed this shield in deep, red flames. All in all, he looked a lot healthier than he had done before the Troll had fallen.
A quick chant and liquid flew from his fingers at the remaining trolls, causing them to howl as it quickly dissolved their fur and seared the flesh underneath. They began to rush at him underneath a fusillade of lightning, fire and more burning liquid and some fell as they ran. Two of the Trolls reached the human and began to beat at him with their clubs- the red flames flicked back out at them as they struck and the blue shield held firm enabling the human to ignore their efforts. A few seconds later the remaining Trolls began to flee but all too late - the human's magics pursued them and felled them one by one. Soon, the only living thing on the trail was the human who stood in the middle - looking directly at the Gnome's hiding position.
The Gnome stepped out from behind the tree he was hiding behind, gave a cheerful wave, a smile, turned and began to jog away.
The trade post was busy at this time of year and the traders had to queue for a while before the porters could unload their wagons. One of the mages in the queue was chatting idly to an old friend that he had met there.
"Good run?" asked the friend.
"It was until a group of Trolls showed up and gave us a beating," he replied. "Looked like the only reason I survived was that a Gnomish villager joined in on my side. Of course I fried him..." the mage explained, grinning evilly.
"A Gnome? Timid creatures usually - odd that he joined in. How come you fried him though?"
"Well, would you pass up an easy kill?" shrugged the mage. "Besides, I needed the mana kickback..."