Chapter 59 — Gnolls
As the sun peeked over the horizon, a shadow was already dashing through the dense forest. This was a really undeveloped area; there were no signs of any roads or paths inside the forest. If not for his sturdy clothes, he might receive scratches here and there from the thorns and bushes. There were all sorts of wild animals in the forest, the most common being squirrels, rabbits, and various birds. Places undisturbed by humans were indeed teeming with vitality and life; it was understandable why druids loved the forests to the point they hunted down and even waged several wars against people who excessively damaged the natural environment.
Following the captain’s instructions, Soran reached the edge of the forest around noon.
There were stumps of trees which had been chopped down. Intelligent creatures would build settlements and camps just like humans, and those that lived in large groups would even build their own barracks.
Soran did not dare to go too close, as his sneaking ability could not completely conceal him. At best, it could make his figure hazy and inconspicuous in the shadows, making him hard to notice. In order to sneak behind his enemies, he had to rely on both skill and the environment, especially with monsters that held hostility to humans. In fact, even the spell Invisibility did not completely erase a person’s traces; enemies who had sharp senses could still detect the concealed person's presence within a certain range. Naturally, Sneak couldn't erase all traces of the user either, but it was still useful in that the user could disappear into the shadows at any time, provided that there were shadows in the surroundings. Once out of the enemies’ sights, it was hard to spot the user's location.
Soran hid in the shadows as he walked around. Soon, he discovered three gnoll guards protecting a plain and simple settlement; it was basically just a plot of land surrounded by a wall made with logs. They did not have the techniques to build houses like humans, but they still knew how to start fires and produce leather equipment. Female gnolls would skin the prey brought back by the hunters and make crude leather items from the skin.
In combat, some gnolls would use weapons, but many used their teeth and claws due to their low levels.
"Three guards, huh. There should be quite a handful of them in the pack."
Soran took out his enhanced crossbow and loaded a poisoned bolt. As it was daytime, there were only a few small shadows for him to hide in, and the gnolls would most likely discover his presence immediately. To achieve similar results as the spell Invisibility, at least in the dark or shadows, one had to have at least 150 points in Sneak; Soran was still dozens of points away from that threshold. The effects were mainly limited to vision, meaning the sounds produced and changes of air flow could still be detected if people focused and sharpened their senses. For such reasons, one had to have a lot of points in Sneak for it to have an effect on enemies who had sharp perceptions or the ability Blind Fight.
Soran's goal was to gain Slaughter EXP, not clear out the gnolls, thus there was no need to launch a frontal assault on their settlement. He circled around and hid in a bush, then laid prone and crawled toward his targets. If one entered through the main entrance, even Invisibility would be rendered useless; the footprints would give away their position. To compensate for the limitations of Invisibility, wizards would often pair it up with Lighten Object and apply oil to the soles of their shoes to dampen the sounds.
The gnoll he was targeting wore leather armor. If he failed to hit any vital parts, the damage dealt by the bolt would be considerably lowered due to the leather armor. Even if he was not trying to kill it solely using the crossbow, he had to ensure that the poison entered its body.
Soran crept closer and finally fired the bolt.
The target gnoll shrieked in pain, alerting the nearby guards. The gnolls inside the settlement were shouting and running around, trying to sort things out. Not letting the chance go, Soran swiftly reloaded the crossbow and shot at another gnoll.
The wyvern poison would soon take effect. Soran unsheathed his sword and charged in; these gnolls were Level 3 creatures, and probably Level 1 to 3 warriors on top of that. They were rather tough and by no means easy targets.
Even under Soran's surprise attack, the gnolls did not panickedly rush toward the attacker, but instead howled to call for reinforcements.
Gnolls did not stay in their settlements all the time. Instead, they would go hunting beasts and other humanoid monsters in the day. For the former, they would try and kill their prey on the spot, while they would sneakily follow the latter to the prey’s base and attack at night. As carnivores, gnolls had large appetites, similar to adult tigers; there was no such thing as too much food for these monsters. Under dire circumstances, they would resort to grass and mushrooms, but that was only if they failed to catch any prey for a long while. They were basically the greediest monsters in the wilderness.
Soran was up against three adult gnolls: one using claws and teeth, one using a cranium basher, and the final one equipped with a crude spiked mace. His advantage was only minimal in this situation.
Gnolls could reach up to 2.2 meters tall and weigh over 300 pounds. They had mostly grey skin, while their fur was mainly dark brown. They were not the smartest monsters, being only comparable to coyotes in that regard. Their Strength and Dexterity, however, were generally higher than humans’, reaching up to over 15. On the other hand, with their relatively low Intelligence, the chances of gnoll priests appearing were slim, and it was likewise exceedingly rare for gnolls to become wizards or sorcerers.
From somewhere beyond the tree line, the howls of other gnolls could be heard.
Soran lifted his weapon and slashed at one of the three enemies, slicing off a claw. Sensing the slight breeze of a gnoll approaching behind him, he quickly rolled forward, slashing at the ankles of another gnoll. He had applied wyvern poison to his blade beforehand, leaving him with only one third of the vial left.
The spiked mace struck the ground behind him, creating a large crater; if it had landed on his head, it would have sent his brain scattering everywhere. Gnolls liked to use heavy and blunt weapons that allowed them to easily crush bones, making it more convenient to extract bone marrow, their favourite food.
A relatively smaller gnoll rushed out, along with two coyotes behind it.
Soran had already estimated the number of gnolls before combat. With a swift spin, he slashed and killed the gnoll, which had been poisoned by his preemptive attack.
“Successfully killed Gnoll Warrior!”
“Extracting soul energy from target… Received 270 Slaughter Experience Points.”
Soran intentionally blocked the incoming attack instead of parrying it with his sword, forcing him back a little. Using that force, he half-knelt on the ground, then launched himself at the chest of the gnoll whose attack he’d blocked. A horrendous and pungent smell entered his nostrils, but he endured it and stabbed his curved sword into his target’s stomach. Soran twisted his weapon sideways and turned his waist, opening a twenty-centimeter wound on the gnoll's stomach. Blood gushed out, and intestines dangled out of the grave wound, but surprisingly, the gnoll was not dead yet. It tucked its intestines back into its stomach cavity with its claws, then attacked Soran with the cranium basher in its hand.
A throwing knife flew through the air.
It struck the gnoll right in the throat. The gnoll growled and dropped to its knees, then finally lay motionless on the ground.
Blood continued to gush out from the large wound on its stomach, and this time, there was nothing to stop the intestines from slithering out.
The coyotes howled and lunged at Soran's legs. He sent one of them flying away with a kick, but was then forced to block with his sword as a gnoll attacked his flank. The heavy attack was forcing him onto the ground. Before that happened, he slanted his sword to divert the gnoll's weapon away from his body and sliced its leg while repositioning himself.
Another coyote aimed for his throat with its jaws wide open, but Soran struck it on the nose with the hilt of his sword before it could bite him. It was by no means a fatal wound, but the intense pain sent the coyote retreating while howling.
The shouts and howls in the forest were getting louder; the gnolls who were out hunting should be back soon. The fight had also drawn out onlookers from within the settlement; five gnoll pups watched excitedly, anticipating Soran’s death.
Soran lunged at the last gnoll warrior standing; the wyvern poison was already taking a toll on its body, its movements and reactions noticeably slower than before.
As the two dashed past one another, Soran evaded the incoming spiked mace by sliding on the ground on both knees. He held his weapon in both hands and hacked at the gnoll's leg, severing it.
The rushing gnoll instantly lost balance as one of its legs was gone, and blood poured out of the stump like a fountain.
Just as Soran was about to stand up, a small female coyote leapt onto him and pushed him onto the ground. It bared its fangs and tried to bite Soran's throat, but he threw his head sideways just in time to evade it. The coyote bit him on the shoulder instead, its sharp fangs puncturing the leather armor. It was just a light wound though, as the leather armor stopped the bite from dealing further damage.
Blood sprayed through the air the next instant. Soran kicked the coyote away and beheaded it with a slash.
He calmly reloaded his enhanced crossbow and killed the injured gnoll guard who was crawling on the ground. A coyote tried to escape, yet it did not manage to run far before having a crossbow bolt pierce straight through its torso.
The gnolls who had been hunting had now returned and were only five hundred or so meters away from the settlement. Soran rushed at the gnoll pups who were glaring at him while growling and killed all five of them with a single slash; he had to make the gnolls lose their heads in order to draw them out and kill them for precious EXP. He then dashed into the forest, merging himself with the shadows.
The battle had just begun.
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