• Published 20th Jun 2013
  • 5,686 Views, 270 Comments

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 2: Serenity

"This place..." Star Glaze swallowed a non-existent lump, her dry mouth making it hard for her to talk.

"I know what you mean..." Cloud Dancer whispered next to her, "It scares the hell out of me too." even now, he could feel the hairs on his back stand up, "What the hell happened here?"

Berryshakes had followed the gnoll's tracks and they had entered the seemingly endless maze of tunnels. The darkness was overwhelming, and the little light Berryshakes could provide barely helped to illuminate the dark walls. It was enough though to spot some things, strange paintings, claw marks... and bones, some of them big enough to remind them of Scar, others small enough to spread sadness over their minds.

"Quiet back there..." Purple Haze spoke up at the front. Throughout their journey down the tunnels she had been more silent than they were used to and unknown to them, she was paying very close attention to every detail of the paintings that surrounded them. She couldn't completely decipher what the paintings represented, but she was sure that they were an account of what had happened here.

"Strange..." Berryshakes suddenly spoke up, causing them to stop, "Marshall, look at this." she pointed to the ground before her.

Purple Haze walked up next to her and followed her gaze. Down in the dust, she could clearly make out footprints that could only belong to Scar, and next to them a new trail appeared. She inspected the strange depression in the sand, and after a moment she realized... the gnoll had started to drag his maul from here on.

"He's dragging his weapon." Berryshakes said next to her, "Why would he do that? The ceiling is high enough to carry it on his shoulders, and he can't be that worn out yet..."

"He's tired." Purple Haze answered with a strange voice.

"Tired?" Vayu spoke up with a raised eyebrow, "He's been sleeping the whole time..."

"Not like that..." Purple Haze replied with a calm voice, "Can't you imagine what this has to feel like for him?" the others felt their hearts sink, "He's not physically tired..." she managed to choke out a small laugh, "He can go for days without sleep if he has to... No, he's mentally exhausted." she let a soft sigh escape her throat, "Come on... we should go on."

As they continued their trek into the darkness, she remembered the story of his clan that he had entrusted to her so long ago. Purple Haze mouthed a small whisper that none of the others could hear, "Scar... please wait for me..."


After what felt like hours, the group exited the tunnel... and stopped dead in their tracks. They were in a huge chamber of stone, the light of the moon falling inside through a small opening in the top and illuminating the chamber in an eery, soft glow. It would have been a beautiful sight, if not for what the light revealed to them.

All over the walls of the chamber more paintings could be seen, and on the ground... huge bones and skulls were scattered everywhere. Purple Haze let her gaze travel over the countless bones, each skull she counted making her heart feel heavier... and then, in the same moment as the rest of them, she saw him.

The gnoll was sitting in the center of the chamber, directly under the small opening of the ceiling and in the soft light of the night moon. To his side, the maul stood silently, one of Scar's hands gripping the handle of the huge weapon as the gnoll sat facing away from them without moving. Only his back rose occasionally whenever the gnoll took a breath in.

"Wait here..." Purple Haze whispered to the others softly, "I don't know how he'll react..." she detached herself from the group and with careful steps, she slowly approached him. There was no need to announce their presence, she knew. The opening in the ceiling caused a constant flow of air to travel through the tunnels and towards the large chamber. She had felt it in her wings the moment they had entered this place. He was likely to have smelled them the moment they had entered.

Still, she felt nervous about approaching him here. She knew nothing of the rites of the gnolls... and she silently cursed herself for never asking him about them. Purple Haze hoped he wouldn't take their presence here as an offense. Gnolls never talked of sad things... and this was definitely one of them.

He did not move even as she reached his side. Purple Haze carefully sat down next to him and searched his features, and was surprised to see him stare straight ahead with an absolutely emotionless face. No sadness, no anger... his face was absolutely still. Even his single, red eye did not move as he stared ahead. For a moment, Purple Haze lost herself in his face... why did he seem so calm? Or was it the opposite?

"Scar?" she finally spoke up quietly, almost afraid to disturb the silence of this place.

The gnoll did not respond at first, but after a moment he opened his mouth, all the while continuing to stare at the walls of the chamber, "Does Purple Haze know what this place is?" his voice sounded softer than usual.

Purple Haze gave a sad nod, "I think I do... did you know this clan?"

The gnoll shook his head with a sigh as he closed his eye, "Scar did not." this time, she could hear how tired he really was. Purple Haze wasn't sure what to say next. One part of her wanted to get him to leave this place as quickly as possible, she herself wanted to leave this place as quickly as possible... but she was also determined to stand by his side during this, no matter how long it would take him to find peace.

"Was strong clan..." Scar finally spoke up, "Large pack with many good hunters..." he pointed to several skeletons to his left, "Sharp claws and strong bones." he pointed to his right, and his voice became grave, "Many cubs too..."

"What happened to them?" Purple Haze somehow managed to ask after she tore her eyes away from the small bones. She already had a terrible suspicion to what had happened, but she dared not to say it.

The gnoll's head dropped a bit, "Black Sleep." he lifted his free hand again and pointed to the far end of the chamber. There, painted onto the wall were the last days of the clan that had once lived here, "Others should come as well..." the gnoll raised his voice so the rest of the squad could hear him, "So they can hear what stories ghosts of past have to tell."

Slowly, the others approached him and Purple Haze, with heads held low and careful steps... as if fearing that any sound they made would draw the wrath of some unseen force upon them. When they had finally gathered around him, the gnoll started to read the paintings on the walls of the chamber, his deep voice echoing softly off the stone walls and bones that surrounded them.

"Clan lived here for many generations..." their eyes followed his hand, spotting paintings of figures that looked like him. There were many of them, small and big... hunting, sleeping... they looked happy. "Then... one day, strange things happen." their gaze followed the painting as it traveled over the wall, "Gnolls started to behave wrong... stopped talking, stopped hunting..." they saw several of the figures sitting apart from one another, their heads turned to stare off into the distance, "Started to forget. Forgot others, then forget themselves."

"In the end..." the gnoll's voice sounded heavy, "Forgot to wake up..." the painted gnolls seemed disappear into the ground, as if they were lying down, "Was Black Sleep... and one by one, all gnolls slept." the figures started grow thin, and then the paintings broke off.

None of those present managed to speak after the gnoll had finished his reading, all of them trying to comprehend what had occurred in this place. They felt disbelief that a whole clan of creatures like him could simply disappear like this... but everything around them told otherwise, and it felt wrong that they had to die like this... terribly wrong.

"Is more though..." the gnoll's voice surprised them, it suddenly sounded very different. Seemingly effortlessly, Scar lifted the maul and pointed to the wall at the other side of the cave, "Look."

Purple Haze stared, first confused but then shocked at what was painted there. She squinted her eyes to make sure she was seeing correctly, but without a doubt... the painting showed rats. Countless twisted little bodies formed a painting that almost looked like a black cloud.

"The izelim?" Purple Haze muttered in disbelief.

"Rats." the gnoll nodded without looking, "Look further up."

Her gaze traveled up further, and she saw something that startled her even more, "Is that a snake?"

Above the ball of dancing rats, a painting of a huge snake could be seen twirling around itself, set in red and black clouds.

"Is snake." the gnoll nodded, "Was drawn badly, Scar can't read very well and isn't sure... but rats dance to movements of snake." he put down his maul with a heavy thump, "Scar does not understand yet, but snake is set in empty dreams... black dreams." a low rumble escaped his throat, "If that is true..." he tightened the grip on his weapon, the joints in his finger starting to crack loudly and making the others shudder, "Then Scar has a lot of work to do."

"This is insane..." Purple Haze whispered, "Just how long have they been here? If this is right, then the izelim have been active for far longer than we have thought..." she looked at Scar, "Do you really think..."

"Scar will find out." he replied before she could finish her question, "But now, it needs to do something..." he stood up from his position, "Everyone, step back to wall... Scar needs space." he started to trail his claws over the soft ground beneath him, etching strange patterns into the earth as the members of the squad quickly backed up.

"What are you doing?" Purple Haze asked with surprise.

"Is written on walls that clan mother was first to sleep..." the gnoll mumbled absentmindedly, "But without shaman, ghosts had no guide to leave." he picked up his head, "Scar intends to help ghosts."

For a moment, Purple Haze did not understand his words but then realization hit her. That strange feeling, that unnerving chill they had all felt since they had entered this place... it weren't just the bones or the darkness, there was more. She felt a cold sweat run down her back, "Everypony, get to the walls... give him space." she turned back to the gnoll, "Have you done this before?"

The gnoll paused to look up, a sad expression on his face, "Once... for mother." before continuing to draw more strange patterns into the ground beneath him. Purple Haze only nodded in response and joined the rest of her squad at the edge of the chamber, anxious at what he would do next.

"Marshall?" Greenfield spoke up with uncertainty, "What's he doing?"

Purple Haze sighed, "You don't know this, but Scar was trained to be a shaman for his clan... and if I understood him correctly, he wants to perform a last rite for the dead." she passed her squad a meaningful look, "So show some respect and keep quiet." she hook her head, "Wait until he's made his peace with this place."

In the center of the chamber, the gnoll gave the patterns in the ground a proving look. They were far from perfect, but they would do. He had honestly hoped he would never have to do this again, but respect demanded it. His mother had done it for his clan members and father, and he had done it for her when the time had come.

Scar let out a heavy sigh as he sat down in the center of the patterns. He had drawn three rings with different symbols, representing the forces of nature that the gnolls recognized as their life givers... water, earth, and air. Scar placed his maul next to him, his hand holding the handle of the weapon in a firm grip. He closed his eye, and started to remember the songs his mother had taught him so long ago.

At the edge of the chamber, the Hunter squad watched in wonder, as a soft whine started to escape the gnoll's throat. Slowly, the gnoll started to lift the maul. For a moment, it hovered above the ground. Then, Scar started to thump it up and down with a slow rhythm, the sounds of his growing voice in tact with the thuds.

The gnoll started to sing.

Purple Haze listened to his voice, captured by the unfamiliar sounds he was creating. It was a strange mix of growls and whines; deep and high sounds alternating constantly, clear tones and rasping huffs filling the chamber and their ears.

Next to her, Vayu suddenly gave off an astonished, fierce whisper, "By the winds! Look!"

Purple Haze was about to scold her, but then she saw it too... and just like the others, her mouth fell open.

All around them, the chamber started to fill with lights. Countless tiny, blue stars started to detach themselves from the skeletons, dancing over their heads and through the air as if they were carried by an unseen current. As the gnoll continued to hum to himself and pound the maul into the ground, the lights started to dance around him, a whirling pool of stars with him at the center.

Purple Haze understood, and a tear ran down her cheek as she realized that these were the souls of those that had once lived here. Never before had she seen something so beautiful, and never before had she witnessed something so sad.

In the center of the chamber, Scar picked up his pace and increased his volume. Responding to his song, the lights started to dance even faster, and slowly... started to travel upwards and towards the ceiling before disappearing in a final burst of light. One by one, all of them started to vanish before their eyes.

In the end, a single blue star hovered before the gnoll for a short moment, as if observing his chanting form with interest. Then it too, disappeared.

The gnoll stopped his meditation and opened his eye, the maul coming to rest on the ground once more. Scar let out a deep breath before starting to get up again, leaning heavily upon his weapon for support as he rose to his feet. He observed the faces of his friends, they seemed to be in a state of complete shock... but he also saw wonder and sadness wash over them.

Scar shook his head with a small chuckle as he started to drag the maul behind him once more, too tired to pick it up. "Didn't think gnoll could do that... did you?" he let out a tired sigh, "Is more wisdom in world than just in books... Scar will teach you sometime."

"That may all be fine and well, master. But could you please stop dragging me around like some piece of luggage? And if I remember correctly, I was promised that there would be rats to smash."

A small smile grew onto the gnoll's face as he passed the still startled squad, "Will smash... will smash them all."

Author's Note:

Here's a little something for a 'what if'. Imagine Scar would somehow suddenly wind up in your room, or you wind up in front of him, either with or without knowledge of his story. How would you react?