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The mountain was silent when Garen found Tremborag. The Hobgoblin had to pass by numerous patrols of warriors who moved in grim silence, weapons drawn and ready for a fight. But their attentiveness was in vain.

The battle was long over. It had been over before Garen had been awoken, and what he was seeing now was the aftermath.

Surprisingly few Goblin bodies lay in his path. Garen noted a few cut down here and there, usually in clumps—the losers of the rapid pitched battles in the night—but not many. True, some were being hauled away to be used as food even now, but it had been bloodless for what had occurred.

Rebellion. Or perhaps it was a choice, paid for in blood. When Garen saw Tremborag’s face, he knew what the Great Goblin of the North would have called it.

Tremborag stood in front of two double doors, staring into a room Garen recognized. The armory. Approaching carefully, Garen saw the four Hobs at the doors were all dead. Two had been felled by blows with amazing strength. He suspected an axe. The other two were cut to death, probably from multiple blades all at once.

“They took everything of value.”

That was what Tremborag said when Garen joined him. The Hobgoblin stared into the empty armory and nodded.

It was empty.

Oh, a few of the racks still held arms in them, but they weren’t magical, only steel. Everything else had been looted, stripped away by the Goblins who’d fled the mountain.

Rags’ tribe. And not just her tribe—

“How many?”

Tremborag shrugged, face blank as he stared into the armory. He kept looking at the empty racks, and Garen wondered how powerful some of the enchanted blades had been. Probably very.

“Two thousand. Four thousand? Six thousand? I did not count the non-warriors. But her tribe followed her, and much of yours, Redfang. And she took several hundred of my warriors and some of my Hobs with her.”

“Mm. Bad.”

Garen was no linguist, even though he spoke the common language. He saw Tremborag turn towards him.

“Is that all you have to say?”

The Hob nodded towards the armory.

“Took weapons. Anything else?”

“Food. Supplies. Most of your wolves—the ones who belonged to the warriors who left—and the women.”

That made Garen smile. Tremborag stared at him.

“You think it is funny? They are all gone, Redfang. One of the Hobs—one of the ones you brought here—killed all the Goblins there and let the women free.”

Garen Redfang just shrugged.

“Human females are not important. Less important than the arms.”

“Oh, but they’ve taken arms! And killed my Goblins! They have rebelled against me, Garen Redfang! For that they will die.”

Garen held back from pointing out that only a few had rebelled against Tremborag. Most had just followed Rags as she was their Chieftain. But Tremborag was looking back into his precious armory. His body was quivering with rage, and Garen watched with interest the way it made his fat wobble.

“Tell me, Redfang—”

And here Tremborag turned. Garen tensed as he saw the depths of fury that spilled from the Goblin’s crimson eyes. The Great Goblin seemed to grow larger in front of Garen. No—not seemed—his appearance took on the other form Rags had seen in the Human town. He stared down at Garen.

“Tell me. Give me one reason why I should not kill you now. You brought that little Goblin here, that Rags. Why shouldn’t I kill you since she has taken more than you have given me?”

It was a question that would lead to one of the two’s deaths if answered incorrectly. Garen grinned fiercely, grasping tightly the hilt of his sword.

“If you could. I have my fang.”

“Your magic sword does not scare me. Without your wolf to ride, you are slow. And your warriors have left you. Why should I not kill you?”

“Because I have the key. And I know where the other is.”

Tremborag paused. He stared down at Garen and the two locked eyes. Then Tremborag stood on his two feet, fat, angry, no longer the being he had been before. Garen was disappointed to see that, but it was better than dying.

“You knew? Then why have you waited, Redfang? Tell me, and I will take it, no matter if it lies in the heart of Invrisil, behind one of the Walled Cities, or at the bottom of the sea.”

“It is in a worse place than that.”

Garen told Tremborag where the key was. He saw the Great Chieftain sigh.

“That is worse. Far worse. But I will take it all the same. As soon as I hunt down the small Goblin and eat her alive.”

It wasn’t a threat. It was a quiet promise, and Garen knew that Tremborag meant every word. He said nothing. But he hoped that wherever Rags was, she was running far and fast. She could still be useful.

But what a waste. That was what Garen thought, and it was why he remained in the mountain. One kind of Goblin had left, the other stayed. Which group was right? Who was truly Goblin?

There was no one to care. The Goblins lived and died. The other races paid little attention to them, save for when the Goblins became a threat. No one remembered who the Goblins had once been.

Not even them. But some dreamed. Some looked back as the past called to them. But only the Kings knew the truth of it.

—-

Death. Death and blood and sometimes fire. It was what followed her wherever she went. Rags accepted that fact. It was her nature, the nature of Goblins. She led the Goblins following her through the mountain, fighting any groups of warriors they came across. But the Goblins of Tremborag’s tribe were lazy, secure in this place. The alarm hadn’t even begun to spread as she met with Pyrite and the Goblins she’d sent to them.

Some carried magical weapons. Others, bundles of supplies. But the largest group was leading hundreds of Human women, most naked or wearing practically nothing. Rags shouted at Pyrite to find clothes now—not for decency’s sake but because it was cold outside.

She began ordering the Goblins around her, taking command and organizing her Goblins, fighting for each second so they could flee before Tremborag’s forces awoke and overwhelmed them. Then they were running, dashing out into the snow as the Redfang warriors whooped and shouted, and their wolves howled, breaking a path through the snow—

When Rags woke up, her tribe was still on the move. This did not surprise her.

Goblins were perhaps unique among all the races of the world in that when they wanted to move, they could cover distances most armies could only dream of. Every Goblin learned to run away quick, and even if they weren’t as fast as a horse or Human in the short term, they easily outdistanced everything in the long term.

How it worked was like this: if a tribe had a wagon and animals to ride or pull it, some would sleep on such vehicles, waking up to give other Goblins a turn. The animals had to rest occasionally of course; when they did they were normally eaten if the Goblins were in a real hurry. Otherwise, other Goblins would just push the wagons, sometimes with the horses crammed on top of it.

On foot it was different. Goblins would just collapse where they were and sleep, before waking and running to rejoin the tribe. That way they slowed their pursuers by offering free targets and a snack if the pursuers were monsters or other Goblins. Either way, the tribe would keep moving. They could cook, eat, pee, and do whatever they needed do while marching.

And it worked well when it came to outrunning pursuers. So well that as Rags sat up in the crowded wagon, digging herself out from a pile of Goblin bodies, she saw the mountain was a good distance behind them.

How long had she slept? Probably at least six hours, Rags guessed. One of the benefits of being a Chieftain was that no one poked you awake and made you keep walking. It didn’t stop other Goblins from lying on top of you and farting in your face, but no Chieftain could prevent that.

Stretching on top of the piled up Goblins, Rags yawned and ignored the grumbling under her. Someone tried to shove her leg off their face—she stomped and then climbed off the wagon.

The instant her feet touched snow, Rags realized it had snowed again. How annoying! But when she looked up she had to smile. Because it was a wonderful day.

The sky was very blue. Rags stared up into the winter morning, breathing in and smiling faintly as the sun rose overhead, warming her from head to toe. It felt like it had been a very long season, full of cold and wet. But in a month or two it would be the shortest day of winter. And then the frost would end.

And a good thing too, because Rags had a tribe to lead. An even bigger one than before. Rags stared around. Goblins shambled past her, moving quick but all clearly on autopilot. She remembered what it was like, and considerately didn’t disturb them except to get pointed towards food.

The Goblin approach to ingenuity was always effective, if not entirely sane. That was how Rags found a cooking pot bouncing along on top of a wagon, over a burning pile of wood on top of the wagon. In fairness, the Goblins hadn’t set the actual wagon on fire, preferring to spread a layer of dirt to build a cooking fire on top of, but every now and then they had to put out fires caused by errant sparks.

All that meant was that Rags got a hot bowl of porridge seasoned with cinnamon, butter, and sugar of all things. She frowned, but ate three bowls greedily as befitted any Chieftain. Apparently, her Goblins had seized a lot of strange foods from Tremborag’s stores in their mad bid to escape the mountain.

Sugar was a delicacy. One Rags had only really tried at Erin’s inn. But it was also fairly useless to keep since it wasn’t filling like grain or meat. Thus, Rags wholeheartedly approved of using it now.

Belly full, Rags turned to the next important thing on her agenda: finding out where the heck they were. She walked towards the head of the tribe of sleepy Goblins and soon found the Hob who’d taken charge while she was asleep.

Pyrite looked pretty much like he always did, albeit wounded. Several deep slashes had cut into his flesh—two around his belly, one on his arm. But none were too bad, and his fat had shielded his internal organs from harm. Even so, Rags resolved to find Pyrite a healing potion once they had sorted out their supplies. She’d always had an emergency stash in her old tribe’s setup.

“Trouble?”

She asked Pyrite as she fell into step behind him. The Hob glanced at her and shook his head. He wasn’t eating anything for once. Rather, he had a stick in his mouth. He was chewing on that and spitting out pieces of wood now and then. Rags supposed he like to feel like he was eating even when he wasn’t.

“No one follows yet.”

“Good.”

They still spoke in the common tongue. It was just…easier. Some ideas were expressible in that language whereas the Goblin’s tongue always felt like it had holes in its vocabulary. But even in this language, body language, facial expressions, and context made up a lot of the conversation.

Rags turned to stare at the winding trail of Goblins following in their wake.

“Spread out.”

The Gold Stone Ch—Pyrite just shrugged. He took the stick out of his mouth and pointed with it to each side. Rags saw riders on the infamous rust-red wolves pacing alongside the Goblins. Scouts. She nodded, feeling reassured.

“Humans?”

That was the next issue on her mind. Rags assumed they were around somewhere. Again Pyrite pointed and she saw they were marching separate from the Goblins. She frowned; most were riding in wagons pulled by the animals the Goblins had liberated.

“Slow.”

They were keeping pace, but what she meant was that they were taking away resources her tribe could use. It was a criticism as well, but Pyrite just shrugged.

“Cannot survive alone. Must take. Too hurt to move, many.”

Rags glanced again at the Human women. She couldn’t see much, bundled up as they were with whatever the Goblins had managed to take but—she believed him. She scowled, but made no further objections. She glanced at Pyrite. There was a lot she could have said. Thank you, for one thing. But Goblins didn’t really do that. So she just nodded at him.

“Tired?”

He shrugged.

“Walking.”

She nodded. Hobs were tough, and he was fairly tough even for a Hob. She could respect that.

“You keep walking. I…think.”

He smiled, once.

“Yes, Chieftain.”

Rags grinned as he put the stick back in his mouth. He always knew what to say, even if it was nothing. She walked next to Pyrite, the two moving in silence. It was easy. Rags just let her feet take her forwards while her mind wandered.

What did she have to do now? Well, she’d established that there was no immediate danger, so she had to start planning for the non-immediate danger. That meant Tremborag’s fury, the issue of them being exposed and in the wilderness where they might run into Humans, monsters, or something else, finding a new food source, a base, managing her new Goblin recruits, figuring out what to do with her tribe next…

Ah, it was good to be a Chieftain again! Rags smiled, even as she thought of all the things she had to do. It was hard work, yes, but she was certain that she could handle it. And if she couldn’t, probably no other Goblin could. She was Chieftain, and part of being Chieftain was believing you were the best.

By her calculations, they had only one or two more hours at most before Tremborag’s forces would be in hot pursuit of them, if they weren’t already. The Great Chieftain might have a vast following, but it was slow to mobilize for the same reason. Getting together enough supplies and warriors would be tough, and they wouldn’t be much faster than her tribe.

Then again, they didn’t have to be. They would easily be able to follow Rags’ tribe from the wake they’d left in the snow, and Goblin warriors could march longer than normal Goblins. It would come down to a battle sooner or later, and she had to find the best place for it.

Or did she? Rags frowned. What she really needed was a place to rest her tribe. Just for a little while. Her Goblins were used to rough travel, but the Human women were not. Plus, some of her warriors were injured and had to be exhausted after last night.

Last night. Rags remembered it clearly. She’d walked into the hall, afraid she’d be cut to pieces, that no one would follow her. She’d raised her sword and called for Goblins to follow her—

And they had. Oh, they had. Some had fought, but the majority had seen what Rags had. They had made a choice and chosen to be a tribe that lived and died free. They had chosen a Chieftain, rather than a faction under a Goblin who didn’t care for their lives.

They had fought.

And they had won. From the mess hall, Rags had taken her Goblins, now a sizeable force and rampaged through the unguarded halls of Tremborag’s mountain. That late at night they had been able to overwhelm what few soldiers were up. And such was the clamor of a Goblin mountain that the fighting hadn’t actually woken that many. They’d grabbed food, tools, even fought their way to the place where the animals had been kept.

It had been a nightmare trying to get the Redfang warriors to control their wolves and prevent them from going on a rampage or eating the other animals. For that matter, trying to get a horse in the presence of wolves to behave was a bad idea. But Rags had done it. And then she’d linked up with Pyrite, who’d met her with hundreds of Human women and the loot from Tremborag’s armory.

Rags had planned the entire thing. If she was going to break away from Tremborag, then she was going to do it in the most Goblin style possible. And that meant a raid. She’d sent Pyrite many of the warriors she was sure of, to help him free the captives and take weapons out of the armory. That was a prize too good to pass up.

Then they’d fled. They’d run into the snow, the mountain only now coming alive behind them. Some Goblins had tried to pursue them, but the Redfang warriors had covered their retreat. Out in the open they were ideally suited to engaging the enemy and retreating to join the others.

A victory. It was a great one, and now Rags just had to make it stick. And to that end…

She glanced at Pyrite. He was nearly down to the end of his stick. She watched, wondering what he would do when he’d chewed it to bits. Sure enough, the Hob spat the pieces into the snow as he passed. Then he reached into a bag at his side…

And pulled out another stick to chew. Rags gave up. She poked him and he looked down.

“Chieftain?”

“Who is…local? Who lives here?”

The language Humans and other species used was so much more precise, even if it wasn’t theirs. Pyrite considered this and found a Goblin to poke. That Goblin wandered off and poked some other Goblins who all did the same…in a few minutes Rags had a Hob and two yawning Goblins in front of her.

She recognized them. One was the Goblin with no ears. Another was the leader of the female Goblin raiding party who’d joined Rags. And the last was the old Hobgoblin who grinned at Rags and the others, looking not the least bothered by their forced march.

“Chieftain.”

The old Goblin said it first, bowing his head deeply to Rags. She saw Noears hesitate, then nod deferentially to her. The female Goblin hesitated, then copied Noears.

“Stop that. No bow.”

She pointed to the old Goblin. She was not Tremborag, to demand such things. But a nod was appropriate. He straightened and grinned at her.

“Where place to rest?”

She looked at the three. The female Goblin was first to answer. She knew the landscape and told Rags of a nearby place that might be good. Rags nodded. She called out to Pyrite. He listened to the female Goblin’s directions, found a messenger to poke, and in minutes the entire Goblin convoy was changing course.

It was easy. One Goblin poked another, both Goblins poked another, and so on and so forth. Within twelve pokes you generally had all the tribe’s attention. And the Goblins at the front were the only ones who had to know which way to go, so if you had a halfway intelligent Hob up there, things ran smoothly.

Only the Human women failed to get the message. Some of them who were awake looked alarmed as the Goblins seemed to turn right as one. They stopped in their wagons, some pulling at the horse’s reigns to wake the others up. That was pointless in Rags’ opinion, but then she saw some of the ones who looked like warriors were holding weapons under their blankets and clothing.

She frowned. Humans could be a problem. But to her surprise she saw Pyrite stump over to the Humans in the snow. He they let approach—some of the women clearly recognized him and others knew he’d freed them. It took Pyrite a few minutes, but the Humans followed the Goblins quickly enough when they realized what was going on.

And where had the Goblins gone? Their destination was already in sight, albeit camouflaged against the horizon. They were walking towards a hill.

The hill was just a hill. It was a nice workout for the legs to climb to the top, and it afforded a good view of the surrounding landscape, but that was all. The Goblins being Goblins, declined to bother to summit the hill and instead camped in the lee of it, sheltered from the wind. Rags still made a few Goblins go to the top to keep a lookout, but she was more interested in just letting everyone get a few hour’s rest while she planned things out.

She had to figure out a way to deal with Tremborag’s forces. This wasn’t a good place for a stand, but Rags still wondered if she had to fight. She might lose a pitched battle even with the new weapons from his armory—especially since she had no idea how any of the magical ones worked. Obviously you could just use one as a weapon, but what if it’s magical effect was emitting an aura of flame, or creating some kind of special effect? One wrong swing and you’d fry your side.

How could she get rid of Tremborag’s retaliation force? Rags went through all the Goblin fallbacks. Fighting was no good, she couldn’t outrun them, she doubted she could hide their tracks or her tribe…bribing wasn’t going to work. Surrender meant death. But what if she—

“Chieftain.”

Rags looked up with a scowl as she sat in a patch of cleared dirt. Who was bothering her? She saw six Goblins waiting for her and immediately sat straighter.

These weren’t any ordinary Goblins. If the tribe Rags had led out of the mountain had factions—and if it did she’d get rid of them soon enough—these were it. More accurately, they were the factions from the mountain.

Six Goblins. Rags saw Pyrite, looking impassive as ever, Noears, the female Goblin leader, and the old Goblin. But two other Goblins had joined them.

One was a Hob that Rags recognized. He was – had been one of Tremborag’s warriors who sat at the high table. He was a good warrior as far as she knew, but not outstanding. He was at the bottom of the rung since he didn’t have a huge faction behind him, and she suspected he had joined her simply because he didn’t want to have to fight for influence with the others Hobs. He probably represented the Hobs who’d lived in the mountain.

The other warrior was a normal-sized Goblin with a scar over his face. He was one of the elite Redfang warriors and Rags had already privately dubbed him Redscar. Of all the Goblins present, she was only really concerned about his faction. The others were smaller or behind her all the way like Pyrite. But the Redfang warriors were an independent lot and she didn’t know if they trusted her or she could trust them.

Rags stood. The Goblins waited for her to speak. She nodded, and then spoke in their tongue.

I am Chieftain.

It needed to be said. The other Goblins nodded, the mountain Hob and Redscar slowest of the lot. Rags noted this, and went on.

This tribe is Goblin.

Another easy statement, and all the nods were quick this time. This tribe was Goblin. They’d fought for it. Only Rags’ leadership was disputed. She thought about this, and then pointed in a random direction.

“If you not like…go over there.”

All the Goblins turned and looked. Rags shook her head.

“Not there. Go away.”

It was an unusual statement. Normally Goblins didn’t abandon their tribes no matter what. If they had an issue they challenged the Chieftain or left with as many Goblins as they could gather to form a new tribe. However, since this was in itself a challenge the breakaway Goblins usually had to fight to leave their tribe. But Rags was telling the others to just go if they had their differences.

All the Goblins present considered this. Rags looked from face to face, frowning when she saw the old Goblin. Why was he even here? But maybe Pyrite had brought him. He seemed to know the old one. And after meeting Noears, Rags realized some Goblins were hiding their true natures.

Noears. There was another thing to think about. Rags knew nothing about him other than that he could cast powerful spells and he had once been targeted by Tremborag. Was he loyal?

Time would tell. Rags pointed to Pyrite.

“He is big Hob. He tell my orders.”

Pyrite looked vaguely surprised, but the other Goblins looked willing to accept this, even Redscar. Every Chieftain needed a few Hobs who were competent enough to follow orders. Pyrite was the best choice.

That done, Rags waited for the other Goblins to speak. Something had brought them here. At last, the mountain Hob spoke.

“Chieftain. Will we fight Tremborag’s forces?”

He had the same clear diction of the other Goblins from Tremborag’s tribe. It was too Human-sounding for Rags’ taste. She scowled.

“Hope not.”

“Chieftain. Where are we going?”

“Away.”

“What will we be doing?”

“Goblin thing.”

This answer clearly didn’t please the Goblins who’d lived in Tremborag’s tribe. But what did he expect? Pyrite just smiled and the old Goblin cackled. Even Redscar grinned.

“This is how Goblins act. She is true Goblin, Goblin Chieftain Rags!”

The old Goblin slapped the younger Hob on the back. He turned and glared, but Rags just nodded.

“I am Chieftain. I decide. You go. I think!”

This was how Goblins worked. The Chieftain made decisions—sometimes at random, and the tribe adapted. Some Chieftains were better than others—Rags knew Garen was famous for his split-second decisions which forced his Hobs to scramble to keep up. But she would have a plan. A good one.

If only she could figure out what it was.

While she waited for one to appear, Rags took a circuit of the camp. The stolen weapons were piled in a wagon, not touched by any Goblins yet although she saw some warriors eying them. But they were smart enough to realize that they would probably get weapons in the end and that stealing them would earn a thumping from one of the Hobs who had an eye on the wagon.

Next? Cooking. Rags found a brunch being cooked up from one of the horses who’s broken an ankle in the snow. She regretted losing such a valuable animal, but it did taste good.

And last? Rags went to see the Human women.

They’d entrenched themselves a way away from the Goblins. They were a bit pathetic, in Rags’ opinion. They huddled together, sitting at one of the fires that the Goblins had had to build for them. And they didn’t want any Goblins coming near them, especially not any males. The only ones who could approach were female Goblins with food…or Pyrite.

Rags approached them now. She saw one of them—a Human adventurer by the looks of her—holding her sword, but she didn’t flinch. She walked up to her, as she seemed to be the one in charge.

She was battered. She must have been captured in the attack on the town. Rags had no idea if she was a Gold-rank adventurer, but she’d been attacked by the Goblin warriors who’d hit her repeatedly. She was still recovering, although Rags thought some Hob might have given her a potion for her injuries.

The woman stared at her warily with the rest of the women. Rags stopped in front of her and held out her bare hands. The woman saw she was unarmed and released the grip on her sword hilt.

“Mm. Understand me?”

All the Humans jumped. Rags rolled her eyes. How could they not know Goblins could speak? The adventurer stared at her.

“I…do. Who are you?”

Her voice was hoarse and she had to cough as she spoke. Rags pointed at her chest.

“Chieftain.”

Another incredulous look. They stared at Rags, and then at Pyrite, sitting and eating fried horse meat by a fire. The Goblin sighed again. Humans. Did they think biggest was always best?

She gestured to the camp, speaking slowly so they could understand.

“Not harm. No harm. Follow. Eat. Live.”

“Why?”

The adventurer stared at Rags, wanting to hope, but not quite daring to. Rags smiled. She tapped her chest.

“I am Goblin. True Goblin.”

They stared at her as if they didn’t understand, but Rags was used to that. She’d dealt with Erin more than enough times. She stood up and left. So long as they didn’t cause trouble, that was fine.

Human women. After meeting them Rags was decided. She had to ditch them as soon as possible. She was aware of what they’d gone through and even sympathetic—saving them had been the right move. But they were slow, suspicious, and they ate food Rags’ tribe would need. In short, they were fairly useless to Goblins.

But they would be useful because they were Humans. And Rags’ tribe hadn’t harmed them. In fact, they’d rescued them. The beginnings of an idea stole into the young Goblin’s mind and she smiled.

It was time for a daring plan. She went to Pyrite. He was sleeping. So Rags found Noears instead. He was busy eating and chattering to another Goblin with a band of feathers tied to a staff. Another magic-user? Rags would investigate later. She pointed at Noears.

“Where Human cities?”

He stood up and showed her. It turned out that Noears had taken a detour from the others when fleeing the mountain. He hadn’t gone for supplies or anything else—instead, he’d gone to the war room where the Goblins planned their attacks and stolen all the maps. Rags cackled with glee as he spread them out on a wagon.

“Here, here, and here, Chieftain.”

The map was the first real picture Rags had ever seen of the continent. She stared avidly at it, noting how the Human cities were all dispersed a good distance away from each other—except in the north, where they were quite clustered in some places. There were far less cities the closer they came to the High Passes, indicative no doubt of how far the Humans had settled.

There were several cities close to them. Rags looked at Noears. He was watching her intently, gauging her, she guessed.

“Most dangerous?”

He thought and pointed. Rags looked at the cities nearest to their position, shaking her head at some, nodding at others.

“What kind of death?”

That was a very Goblin question. Noears answered it in a very Human way.

“[Knights] and [Riders], Chieftain. Very fast. They run down Goblins with lances. Strong mages, but not many leave walls. Cities have armies. Riding patrols are common.”

Rags frowned. That was a lot more than she’d grown accustomed to around Liscor. Patrols were regularly sent from the city, but only to weed out monsters. They didn’t have mobile forces.

Still, if her idea worked they wouldn’t need to fight any Humans. And if they did…Rags patted at her pouch. She still had the gem of [Terror]. She hadn’t had much call to use it against Goblins—it was ineffective—but it could give the Humans a good scare.

“Good. We move soon! Go tell others!”

She gave Noears the task of poking the others awake and getting the tribe moving. It was time to put her idea into action. They headed straight for the nearest Human city, a few hour’s march away. It was going to be a dangerous plan, but almost all Goblin plans were dangerous.

Behind her, a vast army of Goblins was no doubt on its way to kill Rags and her tribe. Well, so what? She sneered at Tremborag’s might. He could kill Gold-rank adventurers in seconds…which was really scary and impressive. But she didn’t need lots of muscles. She was going to beat all his elite warriors with her head.

—-

The Human city was named Merendia, or perhaps Balum. Or was it Ostegrast? Rags didn’t know, and she was annoyed by the way the other Goblins from Tremborag’s tribe argued about it. Who cared what it was called? It was a Human city. That was all the context you needed.

And it had a lot of Humans in it. And high walls. And as Rags stared up at it, she couldn’t help but notice all the Humans with bows who shouted and raised the alarm as they saw the Goblin tribe appearing out of the plains and marching towards them.

They thought it was an attack. And even as Rags watched, a mounted force rode out of the gates. Men and women in armor, armed with the long lances she’d heard of but never seen in person. A mobile force, quite unlike the forces Drakes employed. They didn’t get along as well with horses.

It was a formidable force, even without the adventurers Rags spotted on the walls, practically aglow with magic. More than one Goblin in Rags’ tribe gulped, especially the ones who weren’t actually warriors. But Rags ordered them to move forwards without fear.

In the ordinary way of things Rags guessed the Humans would have let them approach while they blasted them with spells and rained arrows on their heads. The cavalry would hit the tribe from the flanks and the adventurers would kill scores of Goblins and all the Hobs themselves.

It would be a massacre. If Rags were stupid enough to attack the city. Which she wasn’t.

She laughed with delight as the Humans stared at her tribe crossing the main road leading out of the city. Why did the Goblin army cross the road? Quite literally to get to the other side. But why hadn’t they done that away from the city? Already the Humans were reconsidering their approach. The mounted force was circling Rags’ tribe at a distance. They weren’t about to let this many Goblins get away where they could attack smaller villages or settlements.

A [Mage] on the walls was getting ready for a big spell, Rags could tell. She tensed, wondering if the Humans hadn’t seen yet. She didn’t want her tribe to lose any Goblins today—

A cry went up from the mounted force as they circled Rags’ marching Goblins. A cluster of them raced towards the town, their riders standing up in their stirrups and shouting at the Humans on the walls. In Rags’ vision the [Mage] stopped casting the spell and she sighed in relief.

Why did the Humans not attack this tribe? The answer was simple. From their perspective, the Goblins had hostages.

Hundreds of Human women, no doubt captives of the Goblins, made to do unspeakable things. That was broadly true, and Rags did consider the Humans as valuable shields. But not a shield in the sense of having hostages.

The Humans had stirred when seeing the city. They’d begun to look hopeful, but as they’d seen the army pouring out of the gates, they’d begun staring at the Goblins, wondering if they were going to be held captive. Rags saw the female adventurer leading them looking at the Goblins and at the cavalry, clearly wondering if she and her friends could make a break for it.

That was why Rags had positioned her tribe so they were in front of the Humans in the city. She rode towards the women on her Carn Wolf as they halted in place. They stared at her in fear and the adventurer gripped her sword.

“Goblin. We wish to go to that city. Do you understand? If you let us go, we will promise not to attack your tribe.”

The woman called out to Rags, looking from her to the walls again. Rags stared down at her, and then nodded genially.

“Good. Do.”

The adventurer’s head turned back to towards Rags and her face went slack as if she couldn’t quite believe what she’d heard. She clearly hadn’t expected Rags to agree that easily. She looked at Rags.

“Do you want…money? Food? A ransom?”

“No. Go. But off wagons.”

Rags had no intention of letting the Human women keep the horses or the wagons. She made gentle shooing gestures even as the adventurer stared at her.

“Go, go. No need for Humans. Too slow. Eat too much. Also ugly. Go, go.”

Half the women stirred at that, but Rags just kept waving her hands, repeating her gestures. The adventurer stared at Rags, but after a moment she seemed to realize that the Goblin was being genuine, even if the reasons escaped her.

What must the Humans on the walls of the city think, to see the Human captives dismounting and slowly forming a group which marched towards them, away from the evil Goblin tribe? Rags had no idea. But she had her tribe march double-time, crossing the road and moving further into the wilderness.

It was purely a diversionary tactic. Distracted by the Humans, the city was only too willing to avoid a fight. As soon as a good bit of distance had been put between the tribe and the women, the cavalry immediately closed in. They formed a wall between the tribe and the captives, which handily let Rags’ tribe go on its merry way. The Humans on the walls were shouting, rushing about, no doubt preparing to receive these women.

But another cry went up when they saw the lone Goblin turn from the already distant tribe of Goblins and ride towards the women. Humans gripped their bows, but they didn’t fire. Because, of course, this was one lone Goblin, hardly a threat even if she was riding a Carn Wolf. And the Humans were gripped by a trait of their species, which was curiosity.

Rags rode back towards the Human women, ignoring the mounted warriors who spread out, encircling her. They might have tried to pull her off her mount—in which case Rags had the gem of [Terror] clutched in one sweaty hand ready to use—but the adventurer called out and stopped them.

“See? Humans go.”

That was what the Goblin said as she pulled her Carn Wolf to a stop a few paces away from the Human woman. The wolf huffed and sniffed at the adventurer, but she looked up at Rags without fear.

“You let us go. And the other Goblin—he liberated us in that mountain. Why?”

“True Goblins.”

Rags said it again and this time the adventurer seemed to understand. She hesitated, and then bowed her head.

“We owe you a debt. But you are Goblins…”

In short, still scum to be exterminated from the face of the earth. Rags nodded, still genial. Then she pointed at the Human adventurer, at her bruised face.

“Bad Goblin did this. Bad Goblin.”

The woman stiffened. Then she nodded. Hatred burned in her eyes.

“Yes. He lives in the mountain. I will remember his face.”

Rags pointed the way they’d come.

“Mountain Goblins. Yes. Big tribe. Big leader. Great Chieftain. Tremborag.”

The woman started.

Tremborag? A Goblin with a name?”

“Yes.”

Rags nodded energetically. She waved her arms to show the other Humans—warrior types who’d drawn closer out of curiosity and their squad’s leader, who looked fiercely interested in what she was saying.

“Tremborag. Very scary. Strong. Fought in Goblin war. With Goblin King.”

A susurration went through the Humans. Rags liked that word. Susurration. It was a word that meant gasping and muttering and meaningful looks to one another. The adventurer looked pale.

“Thank you for telling me this. He will be…we will do what is necessary.”

They’d make a big army and attack him. But Rags wasn’t done. She pointed in the direction of the mountain, visible in the distance.

“Mountain. Great Chieftain.”

“Yes?”

The woman frowned, clearly wondering why Rags was repeating herself. Rags grinned and pointed south.

“Goblin Lord.”

Another gasp, but this time there was less surprise. Rags saw the Human woman frowning, and then reaching a conclusion.

“They’re…going to join forces?”

Close enough. The look on the other Human’s faces was priceless. Rags nodded, pretending to look concerned. Then she waved at Human.

“Goodbye.”

“What? Oh—you’re going?”

Rags nodded. She eyed the riders. They clearly weren’t sure if they should let her go. Honor was one thing, but she was a Goblin after all. The adventurer looked from Rags to the mounted warriors and called out.

“Please, let her go. She rescued us. I don’t think she’s…hostile.”

“But Miss—”

“You heard her. I’ll make an exception. I take full responsibility for this decision. Part ranks!”

Their leader called out. The riders moved aside and Rags nodded to the adventurer. The woman stared at Rags, searching her eyes.

“Before you go—who are you? Do you have a name?”

Rags paused. She turned as she guided her Carn Wolf around and grinned at the woman. She pointed at herself.

“Rags. Chieftain of the Flooded Waters tribe.”

Then she kicked her wolf and after he glared at her, he shot away. She left the city behind as the gates opened and the Humans rushed out, demanding to know what had happened. Much was happening back there, much drama and crying and confused explanations no doubt. But that was the Human’s problem. Rags had done what she came for.

She caught up to her tribe a few miles past the city. They were still marching, headed towards a forest on the map. It looked like it had a lake nearby, which would be good for water and fish. There might be monsters, but it was a good place to set up for a few days.

And they had a few days! Rags rode her wolf through the ranks of Goblins. As she did, a huge cheer went up that made the wolf snort in surprise. But the Goblins understood.

Rags had done it! Without a single shot loosed, without a single Goblin dead, she’d managed to lose whatever force Tremborag had sent after them. Tremborag’s Goblins might be fierce, but even they’d hesitate to go right past a city. A battle would be inevitable, and even if they overcame the city’s walls and defenders—and they might—it would be costly and attract too much attention from the Humans.

For that matter, now that Rags had let the Human women go, there would be serious repercussion for Tremborag anyways. His mountain was exposed; the Humans had seen the inside, seen how many Goblins there were. And if they thought he was going to help the Goblin Lord—a Great Chieftain of the Goblins who’d fought with the Goblin King? What could be more dangerous? They’d send out a force to attack him right away.

He’d probably survive. But in the meantime Rags would be free. So she sat on her wolf’s back and laughed and laughed in the cold air. If there was anything Goblins liked to do, it was gloat since they seldom had a chance to try it.

“Time to make tribe better.”

That was what she said to Pyrite as she rode up beside him and hopped off to walk. Her crotch and butt hurt when she rode the wolf for too long. He nodded at her, smiling faintly as he crunched on something. Rags stared at him.

“Rocks?”

Pyrite spat the bits of stone out and shrugged.

“Tastes like rock.”

“Why?”

“Keeps teeth sharp.”

That was true enough. And it wasn’t like he was in danger of losing any; Goblin teeth fell out and regrew anyways. Rags shrugged.

“Forest. We organize properly.”

He nodded.

“Good.”

“And get healing potion. For you.”

He shrugged.

—-

There was a reason why Rags was a Chieftain so young. There was a reason why even Garen Redfang needed her. True, part of that reason was very confusing and involved a girl named Erin Solstice, but mostly it was due to Rags being smart.

Everyone knew this was true. Rags was a genius. If they knew the word for prodigy, the Goblins might have referred to her as one. But they didn’t, so she was just smart.

Very smart, as it turned out. As soon as the Flooded Waters tribe arrived at their destination, Rags began organizing the tribe, much to the surprise of Tremborag’s former Goblins.

Normally a tribe just let any Goblin do what needed doing. Hobs rounded up Goblins who were close to them for tasks, without any particular rhyme or reason unless the Goblin was known to be good at that particular task. But Rags disapproved of such inefficiencies. She craved order, so she created it.

Division of labor. Rags already had the practice of dividing Goblins by skills, but now she formed multiple groups that would work in the day and night. Like the warriors. They were by nature fairly lazy when not fighting in order to conserve strength, but Rags put them on rotating patrols, day and night shifts, and assigned them to groups she could call upon on demand.

It was very complicated, but only for the one in charge. The individual Goblins only had to look up to one particular leader and hang out with one group, so it was simple and easy for them. Rags immediately set about fortifying this location, spreading out her camp so that the warriors had places around the outside while the largest camp was in the inside. She ordered the Redfang warriors to scout the area while she had another group of Goblins check out the lake.

When the warriors reported that the most dangerous creature living nearby were a few Mothbears, quite able to kill any other intruders into their domain, Rags sent a group of warriors to hunt the bears while she sent foraging teams in every direction. While she did that, she pondered what to do with the mages.

There were four of them, including Noears. They weren’t really warriors in the sense that Rags wanted them on patrol, but they had useful abilities. Some could start fires. Noears was good at shooting lightning, but all the [Mages] wanted was to practice magic and eat. Rags eventually decided to attach them to warrior groups, which went pretty well with them.

The Redfang warriors were delighted to have something to fight. They came back with only a few wounds and six Mothbears ready to be skinned and eaten. Rags had already decided they were going to be a core of her fighting force…

If she could figure out what that fighting force would be.

Here was the problem. Rags sat in the middle of her camp where all her Goblins were busily cooking, eating, sleeping, or doing all the important tasks she’d set them to. The only issue was that there wasn’t actually that much to do. She hadn’t sent out raiding parties and cooking and scavenging only took a small part of the tribe.

The rest needed direction, and Rags needed better warriors. She knew it. She’d left Tremborag’s mountain with essentially her same tribe plus Garen’s warriors. Well, they were certainly stronger for the inclusion of all the Redfang warriors, but the rest of her forces were just…Goblins. That was to say, they could probably overwhelm a small village, but without the Redfang warriors they had all the fighting ability of a squishy sponge.

And that was bad, especially up north. Rags had already seen that Gold-rank adventurers were far more common here, and the Human forces were nasty and well-armed and trained. She needed to give her Goblins an edge.

Thus, her dilemma. What Rags had were a lot of resources, a lot of Goblins, and a lot of enemies. All of that theoretically translated into a strong tribe to fight said enemies, but Rags had to work out how to get to that point.

What could she give her warriors? Rags already had some warriors testing out the weapons they’d stolen from Tremborag, which mainly involved one Goblin hitting things while the other Goblins stood far away and ducked whenever something happened. But magical arms did not make instant warriors, Rags knew.

Something else. What did Rags have? Well…she had crossbows.

Rags stared around at her Goblins. Many of them still had the crossbows she’d constructed with the goods taken from the Human city. Yes, that was a good thing.

She’d come up with the stone crossbow to provide her Goblins with an easy weapons to use both for hunting and fighting. It was the perfect tool for a weak Goblin tribe with limited resources, and she still kept the crossbows around for her foragers.

But what Rags needed were good weapons now, something to add to the regular force of Goblins. She could…build more crossbows?

They certainly had the parts. Right now they had around a hundred crossbows, but Rags grew excited as she thought about what would happen if they had five hundred, or a thousand. She didn’t need to give them to her warriors either—the best idea would be to give them to all her Goblins who didn’t normally fight! Crossbows were easy to use and aim. Why, she could have a thousand bolts raining down on her enemies before the battle had even begun!

The idea burned bright in Rags’ mind. She immediately ordered Goblins to start chopping down the tall fir and pine trees of the forest so she could make more crossbows. They’d have to get a lot of metal parts and things like screws of course, but she had a lot of tools already. Rags went to Pyrite excitedly and told him her idea.

He was sitting with Redscar and the old Goblin, overseeing the work while they ate from a small pot. Rags stared into it. It looked like they’d found a few squirrels. She took a bowl and chattered to them, explaining what she wanted.

Redscar looked intrigued by the possibilities, but the old Goblin—Rags was going to call him Whitebeard since that was what he had—scratched his chin, looking amused. And Pyrite just frowned.

“Arrows.”

That was all he said. But it immediately shattered Rags’ grand plans.

Arrows. Or more accurately, bolts. Crossbows used a different sort of ammunition than regular bows, that was fair enough. But making said ammunition wasn’t exactly easy, especially since you needed a good fletcher and glue.

Rags knew her Goblins could make a lot of bolts, especially with all these trees around. But they’d be wooden ones, not as powerful and would probably break after the first shot. Plus, what about fletching? A couple of thousand of birds didn’t just sit around waiting for you to pluck them. And there was the issue of glue…

And the bigger issue, the one that made Rags grind her teeth as she bit into the hot meat in her stew, was carrying all the ammunition everywhere. It would be cumbersome, and they’d run out fast if they had to keep resupplying a thousand crossbows at once.

A few hundred? Very doable. Smart. But a thousand? It might work for a Human army, but Goblins didn’t have an industry capable of supporting them. Rags scowled at Pyrite, but knew he was right.

“Less crossbows.”

But enough to pound her enemy. Rags wanted at least a few hundred Goblins capable of firing into her enemies in every battle. Pyrite nodded, but Redscar looked up.

“Chieftain. Need better warriors.”

He was stating the obvious. Rags scowled at him. But Redscar just jerked a thumb back towards the city they’d passed, far away.

“Strong Humans. Cavalry is…”

He hesitated. Rags saw he didn’t want to say they were as good as or better than the Redfang warriors. She stared at Whitebeard. Perhaps Greybeard was a better name.

“Cavalry. Better than wolves?”

“Mm.”

Greybeard smacked his lips appreciatively as Pyrite filled his bowl with more squirrel stew. He looked thoughtfully at Redscar and Rags as he chewed.

“Dangerous, Chieftain. Very. Wolves is good for surprise and raiding. Horses is good for charging. Hard to stop.”

Pyrite nodded at that. Redscar looked upset, but he had to agree.

“Have to have way to stop if fight, Chieftain.”

That was all he said, and thrust the how onto Rags. She scowled. She had no idea how these mounted warriors fought, that was the problem! She was too young, too inexperienced for all her intelligence.

Then Greybeard looked up from his bowl and stared at Rags.

“Can remember, Chieftain.”

She paused and all the Goblins looked at him. Greybeard poked a nail into one ear, looking casual.

“Is big tribe. Probably can remember.”

That was right! Rags could use the memory of Chieftains! She was surprised she hadn’t thought about it herself—and slightly surprised Greybeard knew about the Chieftian’s memories. Then again, he was old.

That night, Rags lay on her back around snoring Goblins and closed her eyes. She had found something for the Goblins to do after all—she’d had them begin felling trees. It was tough work, especially since the trees were hard. But the magical axes were wonderful in that regard. Many were enchanted not to break or to be resistant to damage, and so they made wonderful tools for her woodcutters.

Rags had the idea they could build a fortress here, or maybe a village. It was just an idea, but more wood never hurt to have, especially since she was going to have her Goblins build some more crossbows anyways.

But the memory. Rags frowned as she concentrated. She knew how to recall the past, although sometimes it came to her unbidden. All she had to do was go back—

He was a warrior, a Hob Chieftain of the Biting Blade Tribe, one of the strongest tribes of the northern plains. He stood on the open battlefield, roaring as his tribe clashed with the force of Humans. They were strong. All the Humans in the north were strong. They had come to his tribe, his lands to take it from the Goblins who lived here. Some tribes had fled, the cowards. But so long as he lived, he would resist them.

A flash of light off of metal caught the Goblin’s attention. He turned and saw the [Knight] riding towards him.

Yaltes Byres. One of the great [Knights] who had slain countless Goblins. He wore silver armor, just like the rest of his famed house did. The Hob Chieftain bared his teeth. He had a big hide shield in one hand and javelins in the other. Even as the [Knight] charged him, the Hob cast his first javelin.

It was a powerful throw, one boosted by his Skills. It could kill even a normal Hob at range and pierce armor. But the [Knight] avoided the throw, urging his horse to gallop left. A miss. The Chieftain roared and threw another javelin.

This time the [Knight] took the impact with his shield. It was heavy—the Hob saw the mount falter briefly. But Yaltes came on. He was a worthy foe.

This was it. No time to throw again. The Chieftain briefly regretted not hitting the mount. But the [Knight] was so agile! His riding Skills let him dodge around a group of Goblins who came to protect their Chieftain, and mounted as he was, he was out of reach for all but Hobs. And his warhorse was armored as well.

Damn him. There was more to a warrior than just the quality of their armor. The Chieftain raised his javelin, roaring as he charged. He just had to take the first charge. He could see the silver lance pointed at his heart. He raised his shield—

And Rags sat up the next day, heard pounding, listening to the birds singing in the trees. They stopped singing fast as Goblins shot at them and claimed the eggs out of their nests. She rubbed at her eyes and cursed in Goblin.

She hated to remember her ancestors dying. It didn’t hurt, but it was scary. And real.

So, even a Hob Chieftain had fallen to a mounted warrior? Rags was under no illusions as to why he’d lost. Regardless of level or equipment, the truth was that the lance was a deadly weapon. She saw that now.

All that reach! On horseback it was capable of hitting anything with so much force that Rags doubted even Garen was capable to blocking it. Your only option was to dodge or take the rider out first. But if they had armor that was hard. And what if you were fighting in a huge group? Then you were a pretty stationary target, ready to be run through.

No wonder Redscar had been so concerned. Rags immediately got to work thinking of countermeasures as her tribe woke up and got back to work scavenging, cutting down trees, and in the warrior’s case, training.

Rags watched with interest as the Redfang warriors sparred and even did odd things like exercise before they ate. No wonder they were different from regular Goblins.

She should probably train too—it had been a while since Rags had trained with Garen. But later. She found Redscar and got him and a few other Redfang warriors—and Pyrite, the female Goblin and Greybeard—together for a thinking session.

Their conclusions were fairly simple. The time-honored way to stop a horseman was with a long, pointy stick, preferably in great numbers. Pikemen were a common sight in armies, and if you backed that up with a shield wall you could counter a lot of things.

Rags was only too willing to get her Goblins to start fashioning long, wooden pikes out of the trees they’d felled, but she had a feeling she was making some sort of mistake. Yes, pikes were good and useful and they’d stop a charge. But the easy counter to that was to shoot the pike holders, blast them with magic, or just sent a bunch of infantry at the pikes and shields and break them up so you could ride them down.

That might not be a problem if Rags had a Human army—she’d just make sure they were the best around and won’t break no matter what you sent at them, and keep a group of archers in reserve. But she didn’t have Humans. She had Goblins. And they couldn’t deal with a face-to-face pitched battle with Humans on foot.

There had to be a better way. Rags supervised her Goblins with carpentry Skills cutting the trees into pikes. She scowled when the best [Woodworkers] among them started competing with the one [Carpenter] to see who could make the longest pikes.

Twenty-foot long pikes? Rags kicked the Goblin who smugly showed it to her. No Goblin could carry that! She doubted most Humans would be able to use it effectively!

But then Rags paused and reconsidered. No lance was going to beat a pike that long. And if two Goblins carried it…

It still didn’t help with the issue of the pikes being stationary and weak to ranged attacks. Plus, the gloomy Rags saw that a group of ten pikes all lined up was great and pointy—but only in one direction. She sighed. It took three or two Goblins to lift each pike, too.

They were giggling and nudging each other as they held the pikes in place. They weren’t warriors. Rags snapped at them and pointed. She told them to put the pikes with the other weapons. The Goblins grumbled, but swung the pikes up and then let them fall in the right direction. Then began running with them held horizontally—probably because that was a lot easier than holding them straight up and catching them on the branches of the few trees that still stood.

And they nearly killed a score of Goblins on the way. Rags watched all the Goblins in her camp shouting in panic as a—a wall of pointy death came straight at them. The Goblins holding the pikes laughed merrily, running full-tilt as Goblins dove out of the way. Everyone was shouting at the Goblins to stop, but no one could quite manage it. A Hob found himself in the path of the pikes and even he was forced to dive aside or risk being skewered.

And Rags stared at the Goblins causing havoc until Noears walked over and tripped them all up. In the ensuing confusion—where the offending Goblins were beat up by everyone they’d scared—Rags had another great thought.

—-

Later that day, the Redfang warriors were intrigued and amused to be ordered to spar against a force of regular Goblins in a mock battle. Their new Chieftain, Rags, had apparently come up with a new weapon or formation she wanted to try against them.

A group of sixty elites lined up, laughing and joking. They held blunted practice weapons—bundles of sticks or crude swords made of wood—while another group mounted Carn Wolves.

It would be a slaughter, no matter what Rags had done. They had many levels and Skills on the other warriors, and even if they had real weapons, the Redfang Warriors would beat them into a pulp with sticks alone. Unless they were carrying the magical artifacts, that was. But that would be cheating.

To their amusement, the Redfang warriors saw Rags had created a traditional wall of pikes, about forty in a tight wall of Goblins. There were two Goblins or more to every pike out of necessity—they were so heavy only a Hob could lift them!

The Redfang warriors laughed hard. The pikes were dangerous, yes, but all they needed to do was fight past the tips of the pikes or flank them. If you got past the tip of the pike—which was dangerous, granted, a good [Pikeman] could run you through with one solid thrust—then you were fighting in close quarters and the pikes were useless.

Lazily, the Redfang warriors advanced while the mounted warriors sat back on their Carn Wolves. They had no desire to charge that.

The Redfang warriors were still joking when they realized something was wrong. The pikes were moving. Towards them. And not just slow—the warriors blinked and then got worried when they saw the wall of pointy pikes was coming at them at a dead run.

The Goblins were charging! That wasn’t fair! And they were moving in pretty good formation—it was easy for Goblins to move together. The Redfang warriors faltered, and then moved quickly to the left.

The pikes swung left to target them. Now the Redfang warriors were getting really worried. They backed up, tried to form a shield wall. But just one look at the twenty foot long pikes rushing at them and they had a terrible premonition of how well that would work.

The Redfang warriors hesitated, turned. They tried to split up, but the pikes just split up to follow them. They were coming closer, closer—

The warriors broke and ran. The Goblins cheered as the other Goblins fled the prodding pikes, cursing. It was at this moment the mounted Redfang warriors, irate at their companions’ disgrace, leapt into action.

The Carn Wolves howled as they charged around the pikes, seeking their rear. Fast they might be, but these cocky Goblins wouldn’t laugh so hard when they got a few sets of teeth to their backs—

The pikes, which had been pointed in the opposite direction, rose up as the riding Redfang warriors watched. The two or three or even four Goblins assigned to each pike hauled it up fast, and then lowered it towards the riders. The riders immediately pulled their mounts away—the wolves were already shying away from the new wall of points that had appeared in front of them.

The riders broke up, circled. But the pikes came up, and suddenly they had formed a square with pikes in every direction. And then one wall of pikes came at a rider, making him curse and the Carn Wolf run yelping—

Sitting on a felled stump, Rags grinned as she stared down at the mock battle. In the end, the Redfang warriors won. The pikes were susceptible to a charge from the side if the enemy surrounded them. But this was a new group, after all, barely trained. What if you had multiple groups of pikes, all ready to charge in any direction? You could turn them fast if you trained hard enough, Rags was sure.

She glanced over at Redscar and Pyrite. The Redfang warrior was clearly unhappy, but Pyrite was smiling slightly.

“Well?”

They turned to her. Redscar grumbled.

“Weak to arrows. And magic.”

Pyrite nodded. But he looked at the Goblins. They weren’t hardened warriors like the Redfang warriors. They weren’t even proper warriors, most of them. They were just Goblins. They ran as one and moved together because that was natural to them as breathing. He looked at Rags and she knew he was seeing what she was seeing.

“Lots of pikes?”

She nodded at him. Rags stared around at the lovely forest she’d chosen to settle in. Tall trees created a canopy of pines, dusted with snow. It was a tranquil place, a place to rest and find oneself. A place where animals could live, where nature was peaceful.

A nice place. Rags eyed the trees and grinned at Pyrite.

“Get chopping.”

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A note from pirateaba

Did I mention Rags is tough to write? I did? Well I’m saying it again.

One more chapter. That’s what I feel. One more chapter and then…on to another perspective! I really do wonder if there are too many side stories sometimes, but this IS a web serial. So long as I can keep things entertaining and moving, I feel like it’s more acceptable than a book with a finite limit.

Still, I know everyone wants to get back to Laken. Or Erin. Or find out what happened to Toren. Or revisit Geneva or Tom or…

You know what? I’ve got a lot of stories. But happily, I’ve been combining narratives. Not sure if anyone noticed it, but soon there will be fewer plotlines because people will be geographically in the same place. There is a plan. I do have one.

I just wish it were a good plan. Some days I operate like Rags. But I’m grateful for your support and I hope this less-intense chapter is well received. Goblins entertain me.

Thanks for reading!


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pirateaba

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Kencade @Kencade ago

Thanks for the new chapter :)

wayfarer @wayfarer ago

Hmm nice move by Rags, wonder whose POV the next chapter will be from though!

jesam11 @jesam11 ago

Loving these! I have to say, while I love Kaleb's story, it would also be great to get back to Geneva a bit. I'm not completely sure what specifically, but I really enjoy the idea of a proper doctor/surgeon (and her semi-living assistant) in a world of levels, magic, and health potions!

mrel @mrel ago

I love Rags chapters and will look forward to the next epic Rags chapter Very Happy

Sniter @Sniter ago

You are doing an amazing job making the progression feel natural. Keep it up!

Yfirkonungur @Yfirkonungur ago

I really feel biased against the goblins POV, I still love gobs but I feel too full from blacknail.

Toren2 @Toren2 ago

“You knew? Then why have you waited, Redfang? Tell me, and I will take it, no matter if it lies in the heart of Invrisil, behind one of the Walled Cities, or at the bottom of the sea.”

“It is in a worse place than that.”
---
Any ideas which place that might be?
1.
Invrisil is the "Adventurer City", making it likely that several strong adventurers reside there. More importantly, home to Magnolia, one of the most powerful person in the world, who would very likely spend a lot to prevent the Goblins from invading her home.

2.
The Walled Cities, said to be nigh impossible to invade with their ancient magical walls that are even able to repair themselves, given enough time.

What could be even more dangerous?

I can only think of Teriarch's cave, but does Garen really know about it. If Teriarch doesn't kill his intruders, he likely casts a spell on them to make them forget their encounter, as he intended to do with Ryoka.

The Irregular @The Irregular ago

Did you just turn goblins into a charging phalanx? That's scary shit from a tactical POV xD

    CamChow @CamChow ago

    only IRL with no magical fireblasts.. The chapter just talked about one single mage getting ready to launcha large attack so I'm thinking they're really squishy.

      The Irregular @The Irregular ago

      But imagine the ambush possibilities, you hide goblins in leaf blankets on the forest floor. Wait for the enemy to get drawn into the forest, then charge from multiple sides with suddenly appearing charing phalanxes.

Optio @Optio ago

>Still, I know everyone wants to get back to Laken. Or Erin. Or find out what happened to Toren. Or revisit Geneva or Tom or…

I love all of your characters but Rags is definetly my favourite!

NathanChase @NathanChase ago

You could do slings, or small ballista or scorpion? You could try tower shields made from wrapped up sticks