• Published 20th Jun 2013
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The Reader: Book Two - GnollReader



Scar the gnoll and the newly-formed squad arrive in the Griffon Kingdoms, eager to hunt the hated Izelim from their hiding places but unaware of what sinister plans lie hidden in the dark.

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Chapter 1: On the border

"Guard duty sucks..." Shera complained as she stretched her wings in the evening sun, "How did we even get stuck with this?"

"Lord Blackbeak commanded we should take our share of the work..." Krovas replied next to her, the griffon stifling a yawn as he did, "But I agree... this is just plain boring."

The two griffons watched the deck of the airship as it gently hovered over the forest beneath, tied to the surrounding trees with several ropes. They still had enough supplies loaded to keep them in the air for a week, but the next portion of their journey would require them to cross the Avian mountain range, something far too dangerous to do during night.

Behind the mountain range, the city of Pisa would await them, and from there... they would head towards the capital city, Gryphus.

For now though... they had to wait.

"Hey... what's the gnoll doing?" Shera was pulled from her thoughts as Krovas spoke up next to her.

Her gaze traveled towards the stern of the airship and indeed, there was Scar standing next to his maul. His huge form cast a long shadow over the deck as the setting sun basked his face with its light. Shera raised an eyebrow as she observed his still form, "That's new... he's never walked that close to the rim before. I wonder what he's up to..."

---

Scar slowly tilted his head as his good eye carefully searched the forest below. Something had waken him from his sleep... but what was it? The forest didn't look unusual, and the height still made him feel queasy... nothing to hold on to should he fall. The gnoll idly scratched the other side of his face, his claws running over the scarred flesh surrounding his blind eye.

"Master, is everything alright? You seem... anxious." Tag spoke up softly next to him, feeling the troubled emotions of the gnoll like they were his own.

"Doesn't know that word, anxious... Quiet now..." Scar replied, trying to find the reason for his unrest. He shifted his weight on his hind legs, trying to find a position that would grant him protection from the constant swaying of the airship under his feet. The gnoll closed his good eye and took a deep breath, the air filling his lungs as his nose started to pick up the countless scents in the air.

Bunny, to the east... tasty, but not tempting enough to raise him from his sleep let alone pull him this near to the edge of the deck. Water to the west, muddy... Purple Haze would have his hide if he came back to their cabin fresh from a mud bath. Featherclaws behind him... he almost chuckled to himself as he recognized the two watching him. They still flinched whenever he would show up from some dark corner beneath deck... he shook his head and carried on.

To the north, night flowers... pretty, good for coughs as well. Further... snow on the mountains. He felt a grumble start to rise in his throat, there was nothing here that he wouldn't expect so why couldn't he sleep? The gnoll was about to go back to his cabin when he picked up another scent.

It was weak... distant and almost covered by the cold air coming from the north, but it was there and it immediately caught his attention. The scent was strangely familiar, like something he had forgotten a long time ago... but where? Or even when, for that matter? His eye shot open and a whisper escaped his mouth, "Impossible..." Scar turned his head towards the north, letting his gaze travel over the forest as it crawled up the mountains.

Somewhere at the foot of the mountain range, the origin of the scent was waiting for him... even here the faint smell served to fill him with an urge to go and find the source.

Without even noticing it until he was already in the air, the gnoll picked up his maul, stepped up to the railing of the airship and...

---

The two griffons stared at the railing where Scar had been only a moment ago with open beaks and wide eyes, utterly speechless at what had just happened.

After what seemed like minutes, Krovas finally managed to stammer, "Did the gnoll just jump off the ship?!"

Shera did not turn to him, still too shocked to find an appropriate response, "He did..."

"While we were on guard duty?" the griffon asked.

Shera only managed to nod as she swallowed down a non-existent lump.

After another moment of silence, Krovas spoke up again, "Shouldn't we... you know, tell the Marshall?"

"Yeah... probably." Shera hung her head with a groan, "She's going to go nuts when she hears this..."

---

The drop from the airship had not been far, the first leaves had met his face after a mere second and the gnoll had skidded down branches and tree trunks from there, his sharp claws easily finding hold within the wood. Once on the ground, he had taken a moment to orientate himself before heading north with quick strides. Every now and then Scar would stop to take in the scents around him, as if fearing that the faint note would disappear. But it was still there... and it continued to lead him north.

As the gnoll continued to head further towards the mountains, he felt strangely at home. The thick underbrush, the tall trees and dark shadows... it felt like a good place to hunt. Even now, while carrying his heavy weapon and not actually caring for game, the gnoll blended in perfectly with the dark shadows of the forest.

It felt good to move between trees again. Even the earth under his feet seemed to welcome his presence. It was a welcome change of environment for him after all these weeks, were it not for the scent that gave him no rest.

"Master?" the maul spoke up carefully, "Where are we going?"

The gnoll did not respond, but instead stopped at a small rock covered with moss. Slowly, Scar bent down and started to remove the plant life from the stone, and what he found beneath them confirmed his suspicion... his nose had been correct. In his other hand, Tag gave off an astonished whisper, "Oh my... is that what I think it is?"

Scar placed his hand on the small rock, comparing the size of the claw marks in the stone to his own. After a short moment of contemplation, the gnoll stood up again, "Maybe... is old, faint too... but Scar will see for itself." he hefted the maul onto his shoulder and continued to head north at a slower pace.

This forest, the gnoll knew by now, had once been or still was the territory of another pack... he'd have to be careful of the path from here on. Scar tightened the grip on his weapon... Or at least... he would have to show his respect to those that had passed before him.

---

"What the hell has gotten into him?" Purple Haze mumbled to herself, her leathery wings twitching with her annoyance, "Just getting off like that without even telling me..." she paused, "Lieutenant Berryshakes! Which direction?"

"He's still heading north!" the unicorn replied as she kept her eyes glued to the ground and used her magic for illumination. Scar's lessons were paying off, she had gotten a lot better as a tracker but still... she had seen sparrows that left more signs of their passing than the gnoll.

While the other members of the squad had used the time to train fighting, Berryshakes had visited the grumbling gnoll on a daily basis... and had nagged him until he had given her more tracking lessons. Unlike the last time though, she had learned to listen. Scar's lessons never took long, especially when the wind made the airship shake, but whenever the gnoll did share his knowledge... she was there to listen.

Though she still refused the whole 'learn by tasting' idea with her whole being.

Tracking had gotten easier, more natural to her... but tracking the gnoll himself? That was something different. Even with his weight and size, he barely left any marks of his presence. "It doesn't seem like he's hunting anything..." Berryshakes commented, "Strange... he's not even making any turns at all..."

At the back of the small group, a female griffon huffed, "Can't you track any faster? We've been going for hours now!"

"Shut it, Vayu." Purple Haze snapped, "We're lucky Berryshakes is able to track him at all... but where is he going all alone?" she mumbled the last part to herself. He had never just run off like that before, and it unnerved her greatly that Scar would just...

Greenfield leaned closer to Whistler, "Marshall's missing her teddy..." the two earth ponies leaned on their spears and shared a quiet chuckle over the whispered joke, "Watch out, she gets cranky without him..."

"Care to repeat that, soldier?" two golden eyes gleamed at them as Purple Haze hovered in the air above them.

Both Greenfield's and Whistler's faces turned pale as snow, "NO, SIR!"

Purple Haze's eyes narrowed, "Are you two sure? I could have sworn I heard..."

"Marshall!" she was interrupted as two pegasi dropped through the trees close to them.

"Cloud Dancer, Star Glaze." Purple Haze greeted them, "Have you been able to spot him?"

Cloud Dancer shook his head, "No, but we've found something interesting..." he turned to Berryshakes, "Did he head north from here?"

Berryshakes did a double check, "Seems like it."

Star Glaze turned to Purple Haze, "Then I think we know where he went..."

---

A short walk later, Purple Haze wasn't sure what she was seeing.

The forest had started to wear thin as they continued to head north and up the base of the mountain range, and after a short walk... they had arrived at a large canyon. The canyon itself was nothing surprising, the whole mountain range was full of them. What was unusual, was that there were countless holes in the walls of this one.

"What is this place?" Vayu asked next to Purple Haze, "Are those caves?"

"Looks like it..." Purple Haze's gaze searched the canyon walls, "But what would Scar be looking for down there?"

"Uhhmm... guys?" the squad turned to see Berryshakes walk up to them from behind a large rock with a worried expression on her face, "Scar passed through here, I'm sure of it..." she paused, "And I think I know why he came here as well."

Purple Haze gave her a quizzical look, "What did you find?"

"I..." Berryshakes started, but then shook her head with a sigh, "You better see it for yourself, Marshall."

Without another word spoken, Berryshakes led them around the large rock and down a small path that took them down into the canyon. There, deep in the shadows of the stone cliffs, half hidden under the dust and dirt with what could only be Scar's footprints next to it, Purple Haze spotted something that sent a chill down her spine.

It was a skull... the size, shape and many sharp teeth remaining in its upper jaw telling her all too well what this place was. By the looks of things, it had been here for a long time. Purple Haze felt a gut-wrenching feeling wash over her.

"Everypony..." she spoke up while the others still stared at the huge skull, "Don't touch anything and keep quiet." a sad expression spread over her features, "This is a graveyard."