This is what she heard in the silence of the night.
[Tactician Level 16!]
[Leader Level 15!]
[Conditions Met: Leader → Chieftain Class!]
[Class Consolidation: Scavenger removed.]
[Class Consolidation: Tinkerer removed.]
[Skill – Tribe: Fleet Foot obtained!]
[Skill – Lesser Tinkering obtained!]
It was like thunder in her mind. The words thundered in Rags head, waking her up instantly from her deep sleep. Unlike other times she’d leveled up, this announcement came towards the end of her rest. But once she had awoken, sleep was only a memory.
She had leveled up. Not only that, she had changed classes. She was a different person than she had been last night. Rags felt it. She was now a Chieftain, both among Goblins and in the eyes of the world.
Oh, sweetness. Rags made herself smile toothily as she sat up next to her personal campfire. She had been waiting a long time to hear those words.
In this world, leveling up was more important than a birthday. It was far more special than any holiday, and in fact constituted an occasion for rejoicing in itself. And so Rags told the rest of her tribe what had happened, knowing full well what would occur next.
Even Goblins partied, rare though such occasions were. It was a mark of a tribe’s wealth that they could celebrate anything. As wrong as Tremborag’s Goblins had been, they’d captured something in their huge banquets that represented Goblin society as a whole.
As dawn broke, the Flooded Waters tribe opened their stores of plundered food and piled wood on the embers of their fires. Goblins ran about, ate, drank what alcohol was available, had sex…
There really wasn’t much to a Goblin party. But it was a time when they could all relax, except for those few unhappy souls who had to keep watch. Rags sat in the center of her camp, content to eat and do little else. That was what being a Goblin was like she reflected; a happy moment was one where you didn’t have to do anything.
Of course, there was some attention paid to her as the center of this celebration. Rags was offered the choicest cut of meat and the best cooked food—although as Chieftain she generally got that anyways. She had her own seat which wasn’t crowded and other Goblins made way for her—again, standard for any Chieftain. But it was enough and appropriate. The only other thing Goblins did was stare at Rags and pat her approvingly as she passed—that got annoying fast for her.
Tremborag’s former Goblins were a bit more formal, however. Rags entertained several groups of Goblins who all congratulated her briefly and gave her small trinkets or choice bits of food. It was ceremony and she scowled at that, but made no comment.
It was just—Rags didn’t feel that good. She sat next to Pyrite, letting him munch on the food she’d been given, trying not to glare as a group of Goblins ran past her, fighting over a large kebab one of the Goblins in front was trying to keep away from the others. She longed to shout at them to share and stop running in case one of the Goblins lost an eye on the poking stick—Goblin parties could have casualties if they got too wild—but she knew that would be pointless.
Rags felt bad and couldn’t explain why. She knew there was reason to celebrate and liked the change in her class. It wasn’t as if she was officially a Chieftain thanks to getting the class, but the Skills and title did help. It was a good thing.
She didn’t feel happy, though. Accomplished—yes. Triumphant—yes. But happy?
No. Rags couldn’t bring herself to smile and rejoice over it like the other Goblins. Not today. She just felt…
Tired. A bit tired, and almost melancholy, which was an odd emotion for a Goblin to have. But whatever feeling was in her, it overwhelmed whatever euphoria Rags should have had.
Why? Perhaps it was because for all this day was a triumph, it wasn’t enough.
Creating crossbows, rebelling against Tremborag, learning how to use pikes, gaining the [Chieftain] class…today Rags could only think how small each of her accomplishments were. She stared moodily into the fire and didn’t gorge herself.
And other Goblins noticed.
It was the consequence of being around so many people who knew you so well, from the way you walked to how you smiled and breathed. Rags could see Pyrite eyeing her as he sat and ate, and she had noticed how other Goblins looked at her before going back to celebrating. They knew their Chieftain was upset, even if they didn’t know why.
But where Goblins differed from Humans and other species with similar characteristics was how they treated Rags. No Goblins went over to hug Rags or ask her how she felt. They left her alone to brood, and that made Rags feel better in itself. It was her problem, and Goblins didn’t like to get involved in problems.
The party lasted for around three hours until it ended all at once. Goblins stopped eating, mainly because they were full, and the mood in the camp returned to normal in minutes. Sensing the change, Rags stood up and began to shout orders. It was time to get to work.
The first order of the day, which she’d been planning on without the addition of her [Chieftain] class was testing out her tribe’s warriors. Rags had a new tribe, forged out of many disparate groups. She had to know who she could trust to fight or go hunting, and who she had to keep an eye on and command directly.
So Rags organized a fight. Other races might have called it a sparring session, or a test of arms, or a mock battle. But Goblins knew a brawl when they saw one.
The rules were simple. Rags told all the Goblins to get rid of their armor, their weapons, and grab a stick or non-jagged rock. They formed into whatever groups suited them—some Goblins because they belonged to a group like the Redfang warriors, others because they were friends or family. Then Rags gave the command and all the various groups of Goblins ran at each other and started fighting.
It was not training. Training involved deliberately honing skills or practicing with weapons to become better in combat. Most Goblins didn’t bother to train, although the Redfang warriors were an exception. But this was just a chance for Goblins to settle grudges without killing anyone and a chance for Rags to observe.
She sat on a tree stump as Pyrite sat next to her, chewing on some leftover gristle from the morning. She’d exempted him from the fighting and so he organized Goblins who dropped out of the brawl.
In this case dropping out meant the Goblins had had enough of being pounded on and walked away. Or they were carried if they’d been knocked out. Some of the pregnant female Goblins and younger ones—and ones not inclined to fighting—helped with this. The rest just hit each other.
Rags nodded to herself as she stared into the seething mass of green bodies. Her keen eyes could pick out individual Goblin’s faces in the mass and so she saw what few others could.
The Redfang warriors were in the center of the battle, laying about with sticks and enjoying themselves immensely by the looks of it. They were dominating any other Goblins who came at them with ease. However, they were outnumbered and so part of their group got split up. The Redfang warriors bashed their way through the Goblins, aiming for the edge of the fray where they could defend themselves easier and wait to regroup with their friends.
Rags saw them reach another competent group of fighters. The all-female Goblin group was doing well against regular warriors, fighting with ferocity if not the same skill as the Redfang warriors. Rags paused though, as she saw a familiar head standing out among the rest of the Goblins.
The old Goblin. Rags frowned as she stared at the Goblin with the white beard who was happily tripping other Goblins up and kicking them while they were down. She’d told Pyrite to forbid Hobs from joining in the fight since they were too strong.
She reached over and poked Pyrite. He grunted—she’d gotten close to one of his potion-healed belly wounds. Rags glared at him and pointed at the old Goblin.
“Why he there? Hob.”
“He is old. Doesn’t fight fully.”
That was all Pyrite said. It wasn’t a full explanation, but Rags took it to mean Pyrite was looking out for Greybeard. She shrugged and watched his group. Her ears were good enough to hear him. He was pointing and talking to the female Goblin warrior who lead the group.
“Mm. Go this way, leader? Is good way.”
Rags narrowed her eyes as the female Goblin warrior hesitated, and then led her Goblins left as the old Goblin had suggested. In the chaotic melee, her band of female Goblins somehow ended up in a perfect flanking position to the Redfang warriors. They helped another band of Goblins drub the elite Goblins until some more Redfang warriors ran into the backs of the Goblins and drove them apart.
That was odd. Had he known which way to go in that chaos? Or was it luck? For that matter , why did he belong with the female Goblins anyways? Rags knew he’d been in their faction in the mountain to survive, but it seemed odd their leader would accept his suggestions.
“He is smart.”
Pyrite told Rags when she asked, and the female Goblin said the same thing as she and her warriors stumbled away from the battle.
“Crafty old one. Worth feeding.”
That was that. Rags watched as the other Goblins kept fighting. It looked like the warriors from Tremborag’s tribe who’d joined her were a bit above her regular warriors in skill, but only just. It still ended with a loss for every Goblin but the Redfang warriors, at least in the sense of who had the most bruises. But Rags was pleased to see Garen Redfang’s best didn’t get out completely unharmed.
That done, Rags let the Hobs do the same thing, only this time they had to fight completely unarmed and all the other Goblins watched. Pyrite declined to fight, but almost all the other Hobs were up for scrap. Rags watched them beat each other energetically and privately agreed with Pyrite’s decision; the old Goblin would have gotten smushed battling these ones.
Hobs were strong. They had to be to be Hobs. Whether they were fat or thin, adept at long-ranged weapons or comfortable with a club, they were simply on a different level than normal Goblins. It bothered Rags a bit, as she watched them. Any one of these Hobs could kill her. If she had her crossbow and sword and shield she might have a chance, but if she missed—
She was a bit weak, wasn’t she?
Troubled, Rags watched the Hobs hit each other until they got bored. She let everyone break and eat lunch while she thought on her seat.
She now had a good idea who her best fighters and leaders were, and which units of Goblins excelled at what. So without further ado, Rags decided to divvy up Tremborag’s cache of weapons and armor right then and there.
Her Goblins hadn’t been idle testing out their new weapons. More than one sword had been blunted by hitting things, which was a pity, but a good whetstone would fix that. More importantly, Rags had an idea of which weapons were truly powerful.
There were only five. A wooden shield with faded paint showing some sort of flower on a field was unbreakable as far as her Goblins had been able to tell. They’d tried to burn it by dropping it in a campfire, had a Hob hit it, and let one of the felled trees drop on it. It didn’t break.
Another sword shocked anyone that touched the blade, fairly badly. It wasn’t a powerful enchantment per se, but it never stopped shocking and never ran out of magic. Any warrior with metal armor trying to block that would soon be numb.
A mace seemed to have the weight of a sledgehammer behind it. Another sword threw molten fire when you swung it hard—Rags eyed a badly burnt group of Goblins and decided not to give that one out. And one chest plate seemed to fracture any non-magical weapon that struck it, breaking the blades badly on impact.
Of course, there were plenty of other lesser magical artifacts. Some were sharper than they should be, others seemed unbreakable or burned or froze or in one case, made whatever they cut really itch. But the best artifacts were those five.
Rags was only slightly disappointed. She knew Tremborag had probably given the best artifacts out, but these were plenty good enough. They were of a higher quality than steel, which meant her warriors were outfitted as good as or better than most city militias. Even Liscor’s City Watch didn’t have magical weapons.
Dividing up the weapons among all of her eager warriors was a chore, though. Rags ended up giving both the shocking sword and the set of armor to Redscar, mainly because he was the highest-leveled warrior. He needed good equipment and besides, none of the Hobs could wear the chest plate. It was big on Redscar, but he could wear it more or less easily.
She would have given the armor to Pyrite if she could. Rags offered him the mace instead, or the sword, but Pyrite declined both. He preferred his axe. So she gave him the shield and he seemed quite pleased.
The last mace went to one of Rags’ Hobs, not one of the Redfang Warrior Hobs. This was purely to appease the Goblins who were upset the Redfang warriors got the bulk of the magical gear. Shields, high-quality armor, swords, and so on went to the delighted warriors. It made sense; they were Rags’ best fighters, but the other Goblins were unhappy.
There were still factions. Or perhaps the Goblins would have been unhappy in any case, but Rags appeased them by making the Redfang warriors give up their original gear and share it with her other warriors. That way, they still received an upgrade in their equipment.
That done, Rags finally let herself have lunch. She took a block of cheese and melted it over some meat and slapped some bread on it and ate it messily by her fire. While she did, Rags gauged the mood of the camp.
The Goblins who’d been upset about not getting magical weapons…were only upset. They sulked for a few minutes and then brightened up at their shiny new steel ones. The Redfang warriors were happy, and Tremborag’s former Goblins…
Seemed content. Some looked a bit disgruntled as they eyed the empty cart where only a few weapons remained—the molten fire sword and a shield that seemed to give any Goblin who held it a rash. Also, a spear that sprouted thorns everywhere except two specific handholds; none of the Goblins could remember where they were and kept getting their hands spiked. But Tremborag’s Goblins understood that giving the weapons away was better than locking them up.
And Noears? Rags saw him eating happily and shooting lightning to impress a female Goblin—he hadn’t cared about the weapons at all. Mages were like that.
Then Rags turned and saw the old Goblin. He was sitting next to Pyrite. Her eyes narrowed as she focused on him, the one oddity out of an otherwise predictable day.
He only acted stupid, Rags felt. She watched as he chattered to Pyrite, eating and laughing hugely as the other Hob ate in silence. That informed her next decision, much to the surprise of all Goblins.
Rags found that Goblins were best when they were led directly. Even under supervision, she required local group leaders to implement her orders. So she took her Hobs and divided them among her various groups. Some Hobs were in charge of leading hunting groups, others took over control of various warrior Groups.
A few Goblins were capable of leading too, of course. Redscar commanded the Redfang warriors as Rags’ mobile attack force and vanguard. And the female Goblin warrior—Rags had learned her nickname was Poisonbite thanks to the two poisoned daggers she wielded—Rags put in command of another group.
Her tribe had order. It had leaders. But Rags felt she needed one last thing. She was restless. And after watching the brawl…angry for no reason she could explain. So after a brief consultation with Noears and Poisonbite she struck camp.
Goblins usually organized fast, but all of Rags’ new policies and grouping caused delays. Still, it was best to iron out problems now and get her people used to the new system rather than later, so Rags gritted her teeth and dealt with the slow pace.
It was just hard to get everyone moving in the right formation. Rags wanted order when her tribe marched. Warriors would surround the noncombatants and valuable supplies and move in their units, rather than mix with non-warrior Goblins. It was a good idea, but hard to implement.
The new pikes proved to be another problem. The tribe had felled countless trees and fashioned hundreds of them, but they were just cumbersome to carry. They were obviously long and though they were actually lighter than they looked for being so tall—Rags guessed they were only around thirteen pounds in weight—they were still far heavier than a sword. Goblins had to work to carry them together, or if they were strapped to a wagon, they were so long they were in good danger of smacking Hobs or other obstacles as the wagons moved.
Rags sorted it out. Some Goblins could carry, and she had a few wagons modified to carry hundreds of pikes at one time. She yelled and bossed Goblins about and in the end she got her tribe moving.
They had to keep moving. It was just what Rags felt was right. She was missing something important. Their tribe finally set off, moving fast. Half again as fast as normal, in fact. To Rags’ delight, her skill [Fleet Foot] made her tribe move across the snowy ground with ease. She immediately tried to figure out how to use it to outmaneuver her enemies while marveling at how quickly her tribe could go.
And it meant they would definitely get where she wanted by tonight. Their destination was a well-known location to all of Tremborag’s Goblins, an area relatively uninhabited by Human settlements. For good reason. When Rags had heard of this place—a small village—she’d immediately wanted to see it for herself.
All of Tremborag’s former Goblins had objected, Poisonbite and Noears most stridently of all. But Rags had been adamant.
“Want to see.”
That was all she told them, and Rags overruled all the objections. But she was lying and she knew it. Rags just wanted to kill something today.
On the march, Rags summoned Noears and made him tell her and Pyrite all he could about the surrounding area. He was happy to do it and Rags found she liked how intelligent he was and the breath of his knowledge.
“Learned much while acting stupid, Chieftain.”
He grinned at her and then pretended to be dumb, eyes losing focus, letting his mouth fall open as he drooled on himself. Pyrite grunted and grinned as he chewed on some frozen tree sap. Rags smiled despite her mood.
“Good. Other tribes?”
Noears nodded. He counted on his fingers, listing off several big Goblin tribes.
“Tremborag is biggest by far. But strong Chieftains live here.”
“Have to be strong. Or run or die.”
Pyrite added. Noears and Rags both nodded.
“Strong Chieftains. Not run. One—big Hob with tribe of many Hobs. Another—[Witch]. Knows fire magic. And a tribe with many thieves. Sneaks into places and steals…”
Rags listened, nodding appreciatively at the information. These tribes certainly were a cut above the ones around Liscor. She wondered if there were Goblin tribes in the south who were just as strong, besides the two she knew of. Had the Goblin Lord absorbed all of them into his army?
She was also curious about one of the Chieftains Noears had mentioned. A Chieftain who was also a [Witch]? Rags would love to meet her, but they were too far away. Going to visit their territory would mean a long journey, careful planning, scouting and fighting against monsters and Humans…and besides, after Tremborag, Rags was a bit tired of meeting new tribes.
That was how Rags occupied herself on the first part of the march. The second part as they crossed an open section of ground filled with untouched snow was devoted to fighting and avoiding monsters.
The cry went up among the Goblins. Rags immediately kicked her Carn Wolf and shot forwards. She saw Redfang Warriors racing towards her waving their arms, at the same time she saw the Snow Golem.
It was…about the size of a hill. That was to say, it was around two hundred…two hundred and sixty feet high. And it was nearly as wide as it was tall. The massive abomination of snow groaned, the sound echoing for miles, the product of shifting tones of snow and dirt and rock.
Rags stared at the Snow Golem. It was no classic snowman built by Human kids anymore. It was more like a squat, vaguely pyramidal horror with long arms that scythed around aimlessly as it moved. Slowly.
It hadn’t noticed the Flooded Waters tribe yet. Rags immediately shouted and her Goblins changed course, moving perpendicular to the Snow Golem to keep well away from it.
Snow Golems. Goblins knew countless monsters thanks to their tribal memory and experience living in the wilderness. But Snow Golems were usually one of the few monsters Goblins didn’t fear. After all, a normal one wasn’t that big unless the kids that made it were really ambitious and all they could do was smack you with their twig arms.
True, they could hit you hard enough to draw blood, but they were just snow. Hardly a threat unless they smothered you. Of the Golem species, Snow Golems were weaker than Mud Golems or Sand Golems, which was…embarrassing, really.
It was only when they got this big when Snow Golems got less funny. In the Winter, Snow Golems could get very big very fast, and hill-sized ones like these were to be avoided at all costs. So long as you kept your distance though, you were still pretty safe. All a Snow Golem could do at range was hurl part of itself at you. That was a concern with such a huge one, but they had terrible aim.
Giant Snow Golems weren’t too dangerous…unless you happened to walk past one while it wasn’t moving. Then the Snow Golem would grab you and swallow you whole. The stones, shards of ice, and crushing pressure of the Golem’s body would grind you into paste quite quickly.
Oh, and cities, Rags supposed. If a Snow Golem found a city or village it would have to be slain quickly or lured away. Otherwise the city would be destroyed.
But all in all, it wasn’t a threat. Rags was just relaxing as the Snow Golem became a distant mound slowly moving on the horizon when she heard another call go up.
It was Noears who delivered this report. Rags turned left and saw something coming at her tribe through the snow, leaving a geyser in its wake.
Yes, most monsters usually fled a huge force of Goblins. No lone Mothbear would attack a vast tribe, even if it was starving. But some monsters could prey on Goblin tribes, attacking fast and taking away their victims. Other monsters were just insane.
Which kind was this? Rags couldn’t see the monster amid the churning snow, but she shouted and the nearest group of warriors rushed forwards. They all had pikes she was glad to see, and they formed a wall, aimed at the approaching monster.
Rags waited, tense, astride her snarling wolf. More Goblins were rushing towards her, but they’d get here after the monster. She had to weather the first assault. And now, as the monster charged her Goblins she saw what it was.
Half of a thing. At least, that’s what Rags thought. The creature was dark green, skin full of crags. It looked…like half of a body. The upper half.
Huge, terribly long and powerful arms with massive claws that dragged it forwards. A torso of some dark green hide armored with what looked like scales of metal. But no lower half. And no head. Rags saw a gaping mouth where the neck should be, but no eyes.
It was some kind of horror, some monstrosity. Rags felt her Goblins shudder, but she shouted at them to hold position. There was no time to load her crossbow—Rags pointed at the thing and cast [Firefly].
The flaming insect-bird burned at it struck the monster, but the searing heat seemed to do nothing to the monster’s thick hide. Rags pulled the gem of [Terror] from her belt and held it up. Only briefly—it would affect her Goblin warriors too. But though they shuddered as the effects struck them, the crawling thing only dragged itself forwards again, ignoring the magic.
Rags screamed it at her warriors, and then the crawling monster crashed into the rows of pikes. It didn’t slow, and it didn’t stop. Rags saw the wooden tips of the pikes breaking as they snapped under the monster’s charge.
But some stuck into the creature. It jerked as two rammed deep into it, drawing viscous green blood. But it still kept coming.
Goblins screamed and the formation broke as the pikes failed. The crawling thing snatched up five Goblins and pressed them against it’s oval mouth full of teeth. Rags saw the Goblins screaming, flailing—then only blood.
Lighting struck the crawler as it dropped the remains and crawled towards Rags. She pulled her mount back as Noears ran forwards and zapped the crawler. It didn’t flinch as it kept coming.
Another cry. Redfang warriors on Carn Wolves sped forwards, slashing at the dark green hide of the crawler’s back, drawing blood. But their weapons failed to cut deep as well, and the crawler swung at them, knocking one Goblin off his wolf.
“Surround! More pikes! Get Hobs!”
Rags screamed at her Goblins, trying to organize them. She brought every pike she could to bear on the thing—giving her Goblins a chance to hurt it as it charged them. She had crossbows pelting it, but still the crawler kept charging into the ranks of her warriors, heedless of the horrible injuries it was taking.
In the end, her Hobs had to wade in and bash it to death. The one with the mace managed to break something in one of the arms, and the others held the second down while Pyrite and the strongest Hobs beat at the thing. It took a long time to die.
When it was over, Rags counted the dead. Thirty five Goblins had died, eight of them Redfang warriors. She felt disgusted at herself and angry at the thing—when Noears told her it was a good battle she nearly struck him.
“Killed too many!”
He just shrugged. He was sweaty from casting so many spells, but he looked better than her Hobs. All of them had taken wounds, especially the ones who’d had to hold down the thing’s good arm. Rags shouted at one to get a potion and the Hob gratefully went to get one from one of the wagons. She glared at Noears.
He shook his head as he stared at the dead green thing, lying in a puddle of its own gore in the stained snow.
“Crawler. Armored one.”
Rags eyed the dead monstrosity. None of the Goblins were willing to get near it, although a few with pikes kept poking it to make sure it wasn’t faking.
He didn’t know. Some kind of failed mage experiment maybe? Whatever the original had been, it had found a way to multiply over the years. It was just one monster among the ones around Invrisil, if a rare breed. The crawlers were suicidally aggressive. They’d attack anything edible, regardless of the danger. That they were still around was a testament to how hard they were to kill.
Rags stared at the dead Goblins, already going to a wagon to be chopped up later for food. She looked away.
She hadn’t participated in the battle. Oh, she’d organized her tribe, but Rags had only cast one spell. She’d had to lead, not fight. And her Goblins were dead because of it. It made Rags feel sick to her stomach, but she could only move on.
The Goblins left the crawler behind. None of them wanted to try eating it, and Rags wasn’t sure if it would be safe. She had the Goblins who’d gotten blood on them scrub the places clean with hot water, and then she marched on. They weren’t far from the village now.
It was late in the evening when Rags saw the village, a collection of rundown buildings in the snow, looking for all the world like an abandoned settlement.
She wasn’t fooled, though. As soon as she saw the village Rags immediately ordered all the non-warriors to pull back a few hundred feet with a good-sized detachment of warriors to guard them. The rest of her warriors she took with her.
The Goblins who lived in this part of the continent shuddered as they approached. They knew what this place was. The other Goblins picked up on the mood, but Rags kept them going.
And as they approached the village, the keen eyes of the Goblins began to pick out the inhabitants. They wandered among the ruins of their home, shambling, ignoring the freezing snow.
It seemed like the light was darker around this place, or maybe the sun was just setting quicker. But this was a famous spot. A village of the dead. A place where the dead could not die.
Zombie villages weren’t unheard of. If a horde killed off an entire village, they could soon all become shambling undead creatures. But this one was…unique. Because these zombies didn’t move from this village. They guarded their former home in death as they had in life.
No one knew why. But though adventuring teams had been sent and monsters had clashed with the undead, no one had been able to raze the village once and for all. There were simply too many zombies. With each death, a new one rose to join their ranks so that this village was small, but Rags knew hundreds or more than a thousand zombies had to be hiding in the snow, or in the houses.
No one came here. There was too much death. Overwhelming death. That was the consensus among Goblins and Humans, it seemed. This village of the dead was a beehive waiting to be disturbed. And once it was, it would consume whomever was foolish enough to trespass here.
But Rags wanted a fight. She had her sword and buckler out and she was leading her Goblins herself—against her commander’s objections. Pyrite was walking next to her, axe on his shoulder. He’d only nodded when she said she wanted to test her forces against this village.
Rags called a halt as she saw the zombies take notice of her warriors. She began organizing them, putting pikes out front, having her crossbows move to the center while she pulled the wolf riders back for quick attacks. She was going to attack this army of the dead with her new formation and see how well it held up.
It felt wrong to make her Goblins fight after the crawling thing, but Rags had decided to do it anyways. The way they’d broken when it had gotten past the pikes proved that she needed to drill them, to make them into a unified fighting force.
The zombies came in a shambling mass. They didn’t run, but they moved faster than Rags would have liked. She eyed them, watching for the telltale sign of Ghouls or other undead stalking along the mass of zombies, but found none around the outskirts of the village.
More were rising from the snow. Rags looked at her Goblins warriors. She had a good box formation—a phalanx if Rags had known the word—going on. But she didn’t want to remain stationary.
They stiffened as Rags raised her voice. The Goblins warriors holding the pikes were not elites. They didn’t like being in front without Hobs, but Rags wanted to prove to them her new tactics would work. She shouted at them and they tensed, leveling their spears at the sea of dead bodies coming at them.
Rags pointed her sword and the Goblins around her ran forwards, screaming in both fear and rage. She ran too.
The pike Goblins hit the zombies hard. Rags saw countless bodies being impaled on the spears, and those that survived ran into the Goblins in the formation with swords who hacked at them. Rags shouted, and the pikes fought for a few seconds before attempting to disengage.
It was hard. She ran forwards, cutting and found Pyrite and other Goblin warriors were at her side. They forced the zombies back and the Goblins ran, some abandoning their pikes despite Rags shouting.
Rags thrust her short sword into a zombie’s head and watched as it fell. But only seconds after it had fallen she saw it trying to get back up. She cursed. This wasn’t what she’d thought would happen at all!
This village of the dead refused to die. Zombies came back to life…in a manner of speaking. When killed, they would reattach their severed limbs, regenerate burned skin. Rags had heard it was possible to kill them by disintegrating them or chopping them up into really small bits, but it was hard to do that when countless more of them were attacking you.
She’d thought it would be a good group to test her warriors on. But these zombies came to back life fast. Rags burned the corpse with [Firefly] and shouted at her warriors to retreat.
They did so, the Hobs moving back last. They were far stronger than zombies and easily cut the dead apart. But they kept coming back.
This truly was a village that no one could use. Necromancers couldn’t control these strange zombies, and it was pointless to try and eradicate the bodies. They just kept reforming, making the dead villagers and countless victims over the years into a truly immortal force. And if it were just zombies it would be fine. However…
Rags heard the cry go out. She looked over and saw Poisonbite shouting. Crossbows loosed and Rags saw darting shapes streaming out of the village stumbling, but more came on. She shouted and the Goblins around her started running in a true retreat.
Rags heard Pyrite and turned to see a Ghoul leaping at her from the left. She cut at it and dodged it. The Ghoul landed, one arm dangling uselessly. Rags stabbed at it. She got it in the throat, but the Ghoul just impaled itself further on her blade as it rushed at her. Rags bashed it with her buckler, but the Ghoul cut her. It ripped at the leather armor on her stomach and Rags gasped as she felt something slice her belly. Then it struck her on the head and the world went dark.
Something shook the ground around Rags. She stumbled, flailing with the buckler but the Ghoul was gone. Rags fell back. So. She couldn’t kill one Ghoul? She really was…
She felt someone pulling her back. Away…
When Rags woke up, her tribe was marching quickly. She sat up groggily, but it was dark. She realized they were marching away from the village and dropped her head back to whatever she was lying on.
When he was young, the Goblin King often caught the many varieties of insects in his jungle home. He would study each one he caught before eating them. Some were brightly colored beetles, others worms with wings, or biting insects made far too large. Many were poisonous and kept him sick. Others were actually tasty, or had beneficial effects.
The Goblin King learned which were good and taught his friends and tribe. So it was that he became a [Healer] long before he became a Chieftain of his tribe. And he never forgot, even when his [Healer] class was merged into his [Chieftain] class…
Rags sat up. She covered her aching head in her hands and then realized she was healed. She was healed—
And she was in camp. It was late at night, very late. Goblins were camped…where? Rags looked around.
They were sitting in the middle of the snowy plains. Far, a few miles away from the village. Far enough that Pyrite must have decided they were safe. He’d saved her.
Rags remembered what had happened in jolts as she struggled to her feet. She felt tired—weak. And ashamed.
Someone came towards her. A huge shape. Pyrite. He saw Rags was up and immediately called out. A Goblin ran over with hot meat on a stick. Rags tore at it greedily as Pyrite led her to a fire where the ground had been cleared to sit.
Goblins were lying or sitting in small groups in the cold night. Many of them glanced up at Rags passed by and then looked down. She couldn’t meet their eyes and the food in her hands cooled as she lost her appetite.
Pyrite sat Rags down. She found herself sitting at a small fire with the Hob and one other Goblin. Greybeard smiled at Rags as he chewed on some tough meat.
There was something in Rags’ eyes. It made her stare at the fire and it was in Pyrite’s gaze and Greybeard’s as well. Not reproach; that would have been easier.
“How many dead?”
That was all Rags asked. Pyrite thought.
“Less than a hundred.”
He didn’t lie, but Rags didn’t want to know how many less than a hundred really was. Ninety nine? She stared into the fire.
None of the Goblins around her replied. They knew it was true. Rags had made a mistake. She’d taken her Goblins here to fight—because she’d wanted to fight. She’d wanted to prove she was a good warrior and a Chieftain. All she’d done was get Goblins killed.
“Chieftain wants to be a warrior. Is not one.”
Greybeard cackled and Pyrite poked him hard, making the older Goblin yelp. Rags said nothing. She bowed her head.
A bit of envy. A bit of frustration. She did want to be a better warrior than she was. She liked being a Chieftain, but it hadn’t been enough, had it? So she’d killed over a hundred Goblins today with her pride.
It was painful. And yet Rags still felt the same desire in her chest. The urge.
“Too weak. I am weak.”
She looked at Pyrite. He paused, and nodded.
“Best leader is smart. But strong is also good.”
“I must be strong.”
Greybeard nodded. Pyrite nodded. Rags knew the Goblins pretending to slumber around her agreed. A Chieftain could be cunning, but she had to be strong enough too. Strong with her head, strong with her body—Rags desired both.
“Tell me about the Goblin King.”
Rags said it suddenly. She looked at Greybeard and the old Goblin froze. Pyrite looked at Rags.
“Long time ago.”
Long for a Goblin. But not for a Human. Many had been alive when the last Goblin King had, and Tremborag had fought with him. Surely this old Goblin knew the King. Rags remembered the Goblin King as a small Goblin, foraging in a jungle and was suddenly consumed by curiosity.
“Who was he? Why did he kill? What does it mean to be Goblin?”
The Goblins fell silent. What few that had been eating paused, and Rags knew that they weren’t pretending to look away. All eyes turned to Greybeard.
And he—lost his usual grin. He stopped eating and stared into the fire. And when he spoke, his voice was deeper. It wasn’t crackling and merry, but somber. Quiet.
“The Goblin King was a peaceful King for many years. Six years he ruled and we lived without fighting.”
Rags stared at him. She had never known that.
Greybeard tossed an unchewed bone into the fire and watched it crack.
“We made peace with the Humans, Gnolls, even Drakes. On this continent. On Baleros we forged alliances. While he lived, Goblins were only hunted in a few places, and most of us prospered.”
He only acted stupid. Rags stared at the old Hobgoblin and looked at Pyrite. He looked at her, calm and unsurprised. He knew Greyberad was smart. How?
Rags saw Greybeard turn. His face was caught by the dim firelight and she saw a younger Goblin there. How old did you have to be to have your hair turn white? He grinned at her, exposing his remaining yellow teeth.
“Know him? I saw him die. I was there. I remember the Goblin King, Velan. And as the Humans and other races named him: Velan the Kind. And I remember the King before that. Curulac of a Hundred Days.”
Silence. Perfect, so quiet you could hear the snow fall. No Goblin here had known the last Goblin King. And Rags had never known the one before him.
Curulac. Who had he been? The oldest memory she had experienced hadn’t hinted of him. She could only look back to the Goblin King’s youth now.
“What were they like?”
Greybeard paused. Then he pointed up and smiled.
Rags looked up at the night sky. She stared as some clouds shifted and the stars emerged. She understood. Distant, radiant things, untouchable. Unreachable.
“How can I become a better Chieftain?”
That was all Graybeard said. Pyrite stared at Rags and shrugged. He fished the bone out of the fire, cooled it in some snow, and began to chew it to bits.
Rags got up and walked away from the fire. She walked around her camp once, twice. She checked on the wounded, but Pyrite had given potions to those that needed it. She watched the sun rise, and then found the Redfang warriors.
They were quiet too from last night’s battle. But few of them had died, and they were already beginning to train as the sun slowly rose. Rags stopped before Redscar with her buckler and sword. He was doing pushups. He paused, and then turned his head sideways as Rags got down on the ground and copied him.
“Chieftain. Bad form.”
He corrected her arms, made her place her hands wider, straighten her back. Rags grunted as she struggled to hold that position. She was fit, but not like he was. After a while her arms began to hurt, but she kept lowering herself to the ground and lifting herself up slowly.
“Good. Slow. Do twenty more.”
Redscar supervised her as Rags did more pushups, determined not to cry out. She knew other Redfang warriors were watching her. When she was done, she was sweating with exhaustion in the cold.
“Now—other exercises. Want to try?”
Rags followed Redscar as he performed various stretches and moves which made her muscles burn. When he was done Rags felt as if she’d never been more tired. She hadn’t known just doing things like lifting her legs over her head could get so tiring.
“Chieftain is not bad.”
Redscar grinned at Rags. He had a sword in his hand. She eyed it as she sat up.
“Now? Sparring unless moving.”
Rags made a face. She hated sparring. She’d done it with Garen and leveled up, but only a bit. She pointed at the other Redfang warriors. They were locking blades, letting each other parry blows, strike at each other. When they were actually intending to hit each other they used dull, wood weapons.
“Does it work?”
“Works. You will level.”
Rags caught a tossed practice sword and hopped back as Redscar slashed at her. She held her buckler up and jabbed at him, keeping him away. He slid forwards and nearly broke her guard with a heavy blow.
“Garen Redfang only beat you up. Training means winning too.”
Pyrite and Greybeard found Rags training with another Redfang warrior as the rest of the Goblins finished packing up the camp. Rags was exhausted. She’d lost to Redscar every time they’d sparred, but won twice against some of the weaker Redfang warriors.
Greybeard cackled as he saw Rags bash a Redfang warrior in the head and then poke him hard in the gut with her wooden sword.
“Hah! Chieftain is strong! For Goblin.”
“Not for Hob.”
Redscar watched approvingly from the side. He and the other Redfang warriors had observed Rags’ progress and she felt they were more accepting of her than they had been. She wasn’t nearly as good as they were, but she had kept up with them.
“Will train every day?”
Pyrite glanced at one of the Redfang Hobs who was dueling four Goblins at once. Rags nodded. She saw Poisonbite and Noears had come by as well. Poisonbite was watching some of the male Redfang warriors who’d stripped down to almost nothing with interest. Noears was watching the female ones with interest.
“Will train. Pyrite, you will too. All warriors will.”
Rags nodded appreciatively at him, but Poisonbite scowled. She folded her arms, looking unhappy at the idea of that kind of exercise.
“Goblins do not train.”
Rubbing her sore arms, Rags eyed her. Poisonbite was one of the typical Goblin warriors. She liked fighting, but didn’t like practicing fighting. You either fought or rested. She answered the female Goblin shortly.
“My Goblins will.”
“Is it Goblin?”
The challenge came as Rags was picking up her short sword. Rags whirled, fury in her eyes. It wasn’t a direct attack, but it was as close as any Goblin had come. Poisonbite flinched a bit, but she didn’t back down from Rags.
“It is Goblin. Goblins must be strong.”
“Training is not Goblin.”
Poisonbite didn’t quite dare meet Rags’ eyes. Rags hissed. Why were Goblins like Poisonbite so small? So…?
She had her sword in one hand. Rags longed to raise it, but someone hurried in front of her. Greybeard. He had a bowl of soup in his hands and cackled at her in that deceptive tone of his.
“No angry, Chieftain. Calm, yes. Eat food. Is tasty. Eat.”
She stared at him. Two innocent eyes stared back. Greybeard was pretending to be…senile again. With a noise of disgust Rags seized the bowl. She found she did feel better after a few mouthfuls of food, but she still eyed Poisonbite angrily.
“Did the Goblin Kings do that?”
“Do what, Chieftain?”
Greybeard stared at Rags innocently. She stared back.
“Did they do it? Train?”
“If they did, it was Goblin.”
It was a non-answer. Rags made a noise of disgust and hurled the empty bowl at Greybeard. He caught it and cackled.
“Training is good! Makes Goblins strong! If Chieftain says so, is it not Goblin?”
“It is good. And it will make Goblins live.”
That was all Rags said. She stared at Poisonbite—the other Goblins refused to meet her eyes. But Noears calmly nodded.
That would have to do. Rags nodded. But Redscar intercepted her as she went back for a second helping of food.
“Chieftain. Where now?”
Rags stared at him blankly. Then she remembered. They were camped out here, with provisions depleting with each meal. What should they do now?
She only had a vague idea. Rags hesitated, then pointed south.
“Go home. Fight Goblin Lord. Make base.”
“Old Redfang base? Good. Defensive.”
Rags pondered. She was more concerned about the immediate march.
“Must hunt. Get food. Also—Humans.”
The Goblin bared his teeth, making the scar on his face twist.
“Lots of Humans, Chieftain. To kill?”
Rags hesitated. That certainly seemed to be their only choice. But…
Too weak. Rags felt the same pang in her chest. How could she lead her tribe when she couldn’t be fighting in the front? No—how could she order them to fight Human adventurers, who might kill hundreds of them?
She was not Tremborag. But she was a Chieftain now. She had the class. Rags felt it. The thing she’d felt since waking yesterday.
Pressure. And a bit of fear that she wasn’t good enough.
But she was Chieftain. Rags squared her shoulder and stood tall. She looked down at Redscar, though he was physically taller than she was. But Rags stood ten feet tall. She was a Chieftain. And inspiration flickered in her mind as she stared across her vast tribe, thousands strong now.
“We will go south. And Humans? I will beat them all.”
“You, Chieftain? How?”
“With head. Not arm.”
Redscar stared at her. Then, he smiled.
“Good. That is why we follow you.”
Rags grinned in reply.
It was a large adventuring group that found the Furgather Tribe in their home. Over forty Bronze-rank adventurers and six Silver-rank adventurers attacked the tribe’s camp at midday. They slew the Chieftain and fought the Hobs with overwhelming numbers while the others held the Goblins at bay.
They had come to wipe out the tribe. The Goblins were pressed up against a cliff wall, unable to escape. Old Goblins and children fled the adventurers with blades, who cut down all Goblins without distinction. If some hesitated when they saw the infants, well, they were new. The Silver-rank ones had taken more than one extermination request.
The Furgather tribe wasn’t a strong one. They had preyed on villages, stolen rather than killed. They were weak, the weakest of monsters in a place where only the strong survived. Now, the remaining Goblins cried out as they formed an ever-shrinking core, trying to defend their friends and families.
They cried out for someone to save them, knowing that no one would come. Knowing there were no gods, and certainly none for Goblins. But someone did hear them.
A wolf howled. The adventurers heard the sound and some turned to look. They saw a wolf sitting on a distant hill. One of the adventurers with [Keen Eyes] cried out and pointed.
There was indeed a Goblin mounted on the back of the Carn Wolf. She had a crossbow in her hands and she was aiming it at the adventurers. Instantly, they turned—ten Bronze rank adventurers keeping the remaining Furgather Goblins pinned while the rest spread out. Where there was one Goblin, they knew there would be more.
But they were not prepared for the army that came over the hill. Goblins, a huge mass of them, flooded over the hill. Not just any wild Goblins either; the adventurers saw a row of pikes forming a wall aimed at them, while the rest took positions behind them.
Thousands of Goblins. Some sat on the backs of huge red wolves, others were the dreaded Hob variants, tall as any Human and far stronger than most. And the Goblins standing on the hill all had crossbows trained on the adventurers.
They had height, numbers, and everything else on their side. The adventurers froze with fear. They saw huge Hobs, a match for any Silver-rank adventurer among the Goblins’ number.
They were going to die.
But the Goblins didn’t attack. They held position, waiting. And then the Goblin the adventurers had first seen rode slowly towards the tribe. She was small. Young. But she was their Chieftain.
And she saw what the adventurers had done. The Goblin looked at the dead bodies of the Furgather tribe’s warriors and sighed. Then she looked at the adventurers. There was something cold in her eyes. But all she said to them were two things.
The adventurers stared at her. Rags pointed at one of them—a Silver-rank [Ranger] with a bow.
“Drop. Or die.”
She hesitated. The other adventurers waited for her cue. Did they fight and surely die, or surrender and…? They knew what Goblins did to women.
The [Ranger] chose to fight. She swung her bow up, but lightning struck her and eight arrows struck her before she could draw the arrow in her bow. She fell, and the other adventurers cried out—eight arrows had struck the [Ranger], but stray shots had landed among them.
That was all the small Goblin said. The adventurers threw down their weapons, realizing they had no chance. The Furgather Goblins rushed forwards, crying out with rage, but the Goblin on the wolf shouted something at them in their own language.
It was a strange group of forty nearly naked adventurers who ran from the place where the Furgather Goblins had lived. Their armor was gone, as were their weapons. But they were alive, which was more than could be said for many of the Furgather tribe. They sat, mourning their dead as some were made into food.
Rags found the one of the Goblins who might be in charge. He stared up at her, afraid of her Carn Wolf and her strange tribe. She nodded to him.
I am Rags. Flooded Waters Chieftain.
He gabbled his thanks at her. Rags cut him off. She pointed at his tribe.
“Can rebuild. Or follow.”
Then she turned and rode away. Her tribe followed. The Furgather Goblin stared at her back for a second, and then called out. His Goblins followed Rags’ tribe.
An hour later, a large caravan moved down the road, headed towards the city of Ostegrast. It was a large caravan as they went. Over thirty laden wagons rumbled down the road, protected by a force of nearly a hundred [Guards] and [Mercenaries]. Around these lands, there was safety in such numbers. The [Traders] and [Merchants] in the convoy sat comfortably on their mounts, secure in the knowledge that few monsters would dare attack them.
But then they heard the drumbeats. At first, it was just an odd sound that made some of the Humans pick at their ears, wondering if they were hearing things. But then they heard the sound grow louder, and knew it was no illusion.
The [Merchant] in charge of the caravan rode up beside the [Mercenary Captain], a tall man who used a broadsword and shield. The man frowned as he looked towards the horizon.
“I haven’t heard of one. And they wouldn’t be beating the drums. There’s no war going on!”
The question went unasked. The drums suddenly grew louder, and more sounded from the opposite direction of the caravan. It slowed as all of those riding had a terrible premonition.
“Can we get off the road?”
The mercenary drew his sword and shouted orders. The caravan moved into a circular formation and the guards spread out to guard their charges. And all the while the heavy beats grew louder and louder.
The drums thundered. They sounded more like crashing metal than a conventional drum. The rhythmic thumping went through the bones of the Humans who stared around in fear.
Then they saw the Goblins. Hundreds of them. Thousands. They seemed to appear from nowhere out of the snow. And indeed—some of them were sitting up and brushing snow off of their bodies. They had been lying there, waiting for the caravan.
It was a trap! The [Guards] closed ranks around the frightened [Merchants] and [Traders]. They held their weapons up as an act of defiance more than anything else; against so many Goblins and surrounded as they were, there was no hope of survival.
A Goblin rode forwards. Rags had the gem of [Terror] in one hand, but she didn’t want to use it. She wanted those horses and the cargo—intact.
The Humans were waiting for death, but they weren’t prepared for the Goblins on the other side of the road to part ranks. They stared at the opening formed and at Rags with suspicion and fear.
“Leave wagons. Run. Live.”
Rags grinned at them, her black crossbow resting on her Carn Wolf’s head, much to the beast’s annoyance. The Humans hesitated.
Goblins? Acting like bandits? It was unheard of. Goblins would rather just slaughter all of them, surely. But this Goblin was giving them a way out.
The mercenary captain was first to move. He cautiously called out, and his soldiers shuffled towards the gap. The [Merchants] and [Traders] shouted at them to stay, but no one in the convoy was going to die for nothing. Soon, all the Humans were standing away from the wagons. They stared at Rags, as if afraid she was going to order her Goblins to attack now.
“We can leave? You swear it?”
One of the Humans called out uncertainly. Rags rolled her eyes she waved her hands.
“Shoo. Go away.”
She gestured, and the Humans slowly backed away towards freedom. Only when they were past the last Goblins and dared to race away on their horses did Rags signal her Goblins to move in.
The cargo was full of food and other goods, a bountiful shipment meant to keep the Human city well supplied and make the [Merchants] and [Traders] rich. Rags grinned as she and Pyrite inspected the boxes.
“Lots of horses.”
She liked horses. They were good at pulling things and tasty, too. Pyrite was also smiling. There was some dried jerky in the crates that he was already testing.
Rags nodded. She figured she had one day before word got out. Goblins raiding the roads was bad for business, and surely an army would be sent to destroy them. But by that point she’d be going south, to war with the Goblin Lord.
And perhaps…perhaps the army sent would be slower than most. Because Rags had only killed five Humans today. Only the ones who would rather die than give up their goods or throw down their weapons.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was her plan. Goblins could be like bandits, who were more like people than Goblins. And she could win battles with her head and without losing a single Goblin, which was better than them dying.
She smiled at Pyrite. He chewed some jerky and offered her some. She waved it away.
“Is this good Chieftain thing?”
“Scare the Humans. Good plan. Is fun.”
Rags nodded. She stared towards the sky. It was daytime, so the stars weren’t visible. But she wondered if the Goblin King had been like this. Once upon a time. Had he wondered if what he was doing was right? Had he made so many bad mistakes?
She didn’t know. Rags could only trust herself. So she called out and her Goblins cleared the road. They could raid one more caravan. Then they’d be heading south. Towards Liscor. Towards war and death, Rags knew. But also to a small inn she’d missed. And an innkeeper that Rags wanted to speak with, to talk with. To ask her questions and hear her reply.