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Day 59

The two armies met at the foothills leading up towards the mountains of the High Pass. Columns of Drakes and Gnoll [Soldiers] stood at attention as two groups rode to meet each other.

They were not enemies, but even so, Thrissiam Blackwing rode with a heavy escort of his officers and soldiers. Out here in the wilderness, ambushes from monsters and other forces was a very real threat, even for an army. And of course there was the matter of formality. That was just as important as concerns of safety.

As he rode towards the [General] from the other army, Thrissiam made out a few features and placed her at once. The Esdras Coalition or the Earthwatchers, as they were more colloquially known, had sent one of their best. Perhaps their second best, which was their best at the moment since Zel Shivertail had taken a leave of absence.

That jarred with Thrissiam’s plans greatly. He’d expected to take seniority in the effort to hunt down and destroy the Goblin Lord and his army, but the Gnoll riding towards him on a warhorse stallion far larger than his mare was no low-level [General] he could order around.

Drakes had a social hierarchy. More than that, they had a strict way of dealing with the chain of command, even when dealing with opposing factions. Thrissiam was from one of the Walled Cities. He hailed from Pallass, most northern of the six Walled Cities. It had been chosen to lead the suppression effort against the Goblins. As one of its better [Generals], Thrissiam was naturally an important Drake although he was not quite as important as a council member, Lord or Lady of the Wall, or the most elite echelons of Drake nobility.

However, he was damn close. And coming from a Walled City conferred its own authority. Thrissiam would have felt fairly confident of his superiority to another common [General] of the same rank but the Gnoll [General] riding towards him outranked him as one of the lead generals of the coalition of smaller Drake city-states, and probably had a few levels on him as well.

So Thrissiam sighed and bowed his head slightly first as the two [Generals] met in the snow. His officers murmured quietly, but Thrissiam wasn’t here for a conflict. One [General] had to take charge and if he couldn’t state his authority without a struggle, it might as well be her.

Her. Garusa Weatherfur, of the Longstride Clan. She inclined her head towards Thrissiam, giving him the same level of respect. When she spoke, her voice was a clear, deep rumble, which was reassuring. No [General] should ever speak quietly, especially when the roar of battle called for a voice like thunder.

“Hrr. It is good to see you Thrissiam Blackwing. I trust your forces encountered no difficulties on the march here?”

“None, thank you Garusa Weatherfur. We slew four Wyverns on the way, and I hope to recover their corpses on the march back.”

“Hm. You seem to think we shall find and dispose of the Goblin Lord quickly, yes?”

Thrissiam directed his mount left, so he and Garusa could talk where their words were removed from the hearing of others. It was bitingly cold as wind blew down from the mountains, and his stupid mare seemed more interested in flirting with Garusa’s stallion than staying still. He used his tail to gently slap his horse on the side and she, used to the command, stilled.

Drakes sat on a higher saddle than other races, to allow their tails to run down and around the horse. It took a special breed of horse that was used to having a tail resting on it, but Drakes could actually give commands with their legs and tails when their hands were full. But despite his higher seat, Thrissiam still found himself looking up at Garusa. Her fur was a very light brown, almost blonde, and riffled as the wind blew it. Apart from her armor, she wore no clothing against the cold. Thrissiam was covered in cloth by comparison.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t finish this campaign by the end of winter at the latest, no matter how far the Goblin Lord runs. One [General] is overkill for the strongest Goblin Chieftain. Two should be far more than a match for a Goblin Lord, especially given your abilities.”

There. That was a nod to her higher status. Thrissiam had to acknowledge that Garusa was a famous leader in her own right. Gnolls lived in Drake cities of course—they weren’t all tribal wanderers—but it was rare for a Gnoll to achieve high ranking in the Drake-dominated militaries. To be a [General] like her meant she truly was exemplary. Thrissiam had to admit, privately, that no Gnoll would have achieved such honors in a Walled City.

But Garusa surprised Thrissiam by what she said next.

“I do not intend to lead this army, Thrissiam Blackwing. I may be high level, and higher between the two of us, yes, but you are a [Lineholder General], yes? I think your formations would do best against Goblins, if you will leave the attacking to me.”

She was a specialist in brutal assaults, probably one of the reasons why she had been chosen to go up against the disorganized Goblin armies. But to cede command to him? Thrissiam’s eyes widened. It was what he wanted, and what was best, he felt. That she was willing to lower her tail increased his respect for her.

“I shall accept with gratitude, Garusa.”

The tension between the two [Generals] eased now the order of command was established. They were equals, but one now commanded the overall army. Thrissiam would be only too happy to let Garusa lead the attack as well—two generals made for a devastating combination, especially when their natures were opposed, such as in this case. One could use all of his Skills to defend while the other struck out.

They were discussing the compositions of their armies when Garusa said something that made Thrissiam stop his horse dead in its tracks.

“I received a communication from General Shivertail a day ago. He warned me not to underestimate this Goblin Lord. To that end, I have requested several City Runners and more [Scouts] for my army. I hope to keep them in reserve in case things become dire.”

The Drake [General] stared at the Gnoll. What was that? A group to send messages in case of an emergency? That was a last sign of desperation—as if Garusa expected their armies to be overwhelmed! It was also extraordinary because [Mages] could send a [Message] spell just as fast if they weren’t busy.

And Zel Shivertail had told her that? The famous Tidebreaker, hero of the Drakes, was certainly known to Thrissiam. He privately idolized Zel Shivertail and envied Garusa the chance to speak with him as a fellow general in the same alliance. But this? He had to shake his head.

“I hardly think your precautions are appropriate, General Weatherfur. We are two [Generals] in command of armies worthy of any on the continent!”

“Yes. Hrr. Except that the fabled army of Liscor fought in the Second Antinium War and was defeated by a single Goblin Lord’s army. Not by the King, yes? I would hardly like to compare myself to that force of old, although between us we might be close. I simply remember the past, General Blackwing.”

Thrissiam stared at Garusa and shook his head briskly to dispel the uneasy feeling her words had evoked. He put a bit of fire into his words, although neither she nor he were raw recruits.

“Thinking of defeat is a waste of time and energy. Goblin Lord or not, we are two [Generals] and we have over twenty thousand [Soldiers] between us. We’ll do this by the book.”

“Which one?”

Garusa grinned toothily as Thrissiam shot an irritated glance at her. Gnoll humor. He grunted as he surveyed the terrain. He really hoped the Goblins hadn’t retreated into the mountains. They’d die up there, and his forces would too trying to flush them out. But the hills were a more likely bet.

“We’ll take a day to combine armies, and then send out scouts. We forge ahead, and find where their war host is hiding. They can’t stay here forever, not without a food source.”

“Hm. Yes. I defer to your experience.”

The Gnoll [General] inclined her head, which relieved Thrissiam. She sniffed at the air as she turned her head to stare up at the High Passes.

“I wonder why the Goblin Lord took his forces here?”

“He probably found out we were coming and decided to hide. This one’s not a complete fool, although he’s still doomed in the end.”

Thrissiam grunted. He knew Goblin Lords could employ advanced tactics like scouting their enemy, or battle strategy, although he’d never actually faced one in combat. The Tidebreaker himself had warned Garusa? Did that mean he thought this one might be…? No. Focus.

“We’ll establish a camp on one of the larger hills. Somewhere to strike from if we can’t locate any signs of the Goblins at once.”

Garusa nodded as she and Thrissiam began riding back to their officers. It would be busy, coordinating the joint army, but Drake armies were adaptable and disciplined. Far better than Human armies, which could never work together if their [Lords] were at odds. Even the worst Drake enemies could link tails to take on a common foe.

Thrissiam paused as he stared around the dark landscape. A common foe. He glanced at Garusa and sighed.

“And we’ll keep a reserve unit of [Scouts] and Runners if you have them. Spread around the army. Just in case.”

She smiled, and Thrissiam gave her his own nod. He could be reasonable too. The joint suppression armies set out to find the Goblin Lord. They were hunting him.

But they didn’t realize he was also hunting them.

—-

Osthia Blackwing did not, in fact, have black wings. Hers was a dark yellowish-green, which the fanciful [Poets] of the Walled Cities called chartreuse. Since Osthia preferred straightforward words, she called it yellowish-green.

Her scales were a bright yellow, and the spines on the crest of her head were dyed bright blue. It made her stand out, more than her wings already did. In fairness, Osthia could have been the most non-descript green color imaginable and she still would have stood out in any crowd.

Because of the wings. Osthia was a Drake, a Drake [Soldier], in fact, and she had wings. Some Humans might indeed say, ‘a Drake with wings? What’s special about that? Don’t all Drakes have wings?’ and thereby prove to a listener that they were not only ignorant, but had never actually seen a Drake before. Or if they had, they’d only seen Osthia.

Because Drakes didn’t have wings. Most of them didn’t, anyways. Oh, sure, once upon a time when Dragons still flew about and burned cities to the ground and Drakes were young, they had wings. But now Drakes were wingless. They didn’t breathe fire anymore either. At least, most of them didn’t.

Osthia didn’t breathe fire. But she could do something just as unpleasant if she felt like it. Two of the [Soldiers] in her company could breathe fire though, and one could just breathe smoke, which was…something.

Now Osthia stood in the snow, back straight, tail brushing snow off of the ground. She wished she’d put on a tail warmer, but that would have been unprofessional. Tail armor, now, that would be nice. Padded for warmth…Osthia sighed, and then straightened up further as she saw two figures riding towards them in the snow. At last! She took a breath and then shouted.

“Company, attention!

The Drakes around her immediately stood straighter. Each one looked forwards, holding their arms at the ready if they were carrying longer weapons. Osthia held her spear by her side, staring ahead.

Each Drake in Osthia’s company was wearing ornate, embellished armor. Nothing fancy; nothing that would detract from the use of the armor, but each one had a noticeable sigil, crest, or other nod to their bloodline. If the Drake couldn’t afford the armor, they were provided with specialized gear.

Theirs was a unique group. They weren’t necessarily an elite group of high-level warriors, but they were well-trained, well-equipped, and prestigious. You couldn’t just join this company. You had to be born to it.

“At ease, Captain Osthia.”

General Thrissiam dismounted from his gelding and handed the reins to a waiting soldier as he strode over to the company of Drakes. He smiled briefly at Osthia and she returned the smile. They were family and that much was allowed. Then her attention turned to the other [General], the one leading the second army sent to kill the Goblin Lord.

Osthia didn’t know who she’d been expecting, but a Gnoll wasn’t it. She was an officer though, and she immediately recognized one of the more prominent Gnoll [Generals] on the continent.

“General Garusa, this is Captain Osthia Blackwing and the Ancestor Guard company assigned to me. I hope to make use of their abilities to locate and engage the Goblin Lord.”

The tall female Gnoll smiled at Osthia and then sniffed the air as she looked across the ranks of assembled Drakes. A lot of Gnolls did that when first meeting Osthia or someone from her company. They probably smelled something quite unique.

“Ah. Oldblood soldiers. I am impressed, Thrissiam.”

Did it bother Osthia that this Gnoll was speaking so informally with Thrissiam already? A bit. But she didn’t shift her position. She was a soldier, and disciplined. She lead this company—she had worked hard for this place! It wasn’t just because of her heritage that she’d earned her rank, either.

Oldblood. That was the correct term for what Osthia and the rest of the Drakes in her company were. The incorrect term was whatever you wanted it to be, but it was wise to be wary of saying that around any Drake with the old blood. Because you might get a face full of fire or lightning in reply.

Osthia had wings. Most of the Drakes in the Oldblood company didn’t. Some had only vestigial stumps, or half-formed wings. But some had none at all. Those Drakes could breathe fire. Or lightning. Or mist. Or something else entirely. They could do this, what no other Drakes could, because they had more of their ancestor’s blood in their veins. These Drakes, Osthia included, remembered a part of what it was like to be a Dragon.

Less than one in a thousand Drakes had a hint of their ancestry in their veins. Any family could give birth to someone with the old blood, but families with pure bloodlines that went back to the dawn of the Drake species were far more likely to have a child with the old blood. Such individuals were cherished, and the families often given money and aid for simply raising them.

There was prestige in being of the old blood, oh yes. It was easier to get a job in any position, and in some circles having a drop of the old blood was as good as a noble title. Better. And this was a company of the Oldblood Drakes. As good as a company of mages, in theory.

It was one of the things that separated the Walled Cities from the lesser Drake city-states. Only a Walled City had the population and the pure bloodlines to field an entire battalion of such warriors. Only a company had been sent to accompany General Thrissiam, but it was a mark of the trust placed in him by the city of Pallass that they’d sent anyone at all. None of the Oldblood had been sent with Wall Lord Ilvriss in his dispute with Zel Shivertail.

Of course, that also had much to do with the politics and dangers of sending a force against Zel Shivertail, who might well rip apart any group of soldiers sent against him. He was popular among the old families, although he’d taken a position in the Earthwatchers Coalition which often butted heads with the Walled Cities.

In truth, Osthia preferred to fight Goblins anyways. Drakes fighting Drakes left a bad taste in her mouth, even when it was to settle a dispute.

“Blackwing? Hrr. Are you two related, General Thrissiam?”

Garusa addressed Thrissiam as she walked across the ranks of Drakes, inspecting their arms. Thrissiam nodded.

“Osthia is a relation of mine. I knew her growing up, and was pleased to be assigned her company for this campaign. You will not be disappointed with her performance.”

“I have no doubt.”

Osthia listened, watching Thrissiam out of the corner of one eye. She and he were indeed cousins. He was her uncle, technically, but they were only separated by ten years. And they were distant, very distant cousins. Practically strangers. Certainly no issue if they wanted to marry.

Osthia had liked Thrissiam ever since she’d met him as a hatchling. She hadn’t ever told him that of course—but she had made every effort to be assigned to his command, regardless of what he was doing. Now she quelled the butterflies in her stomach as Thrissiam turned towards her.

“We’ll be striking camp soon, Captain Osthia. Have your soldiers ready to move. I would like you to join one of the scouting groups with those under your command able to fly.”

“Yes sir. I would be delighted to.”

She had to stop her tail from twitching as she smiled at General Thrissiam. That would have been a dead giveaway, and very embarrassing as well.

Garusa stopped next to Thrissiam, and Osthia’s smile vanished. She didn’t want the Gnoll to think she was approving of her just yet. In her opinion, Thrissiam should have been appointed command over both armies. He was a [General] from one of the Walled Cities, after all.

The Gnoll General nodded at Osthia, smiling without baring her teeth.

“I have never fought with the Oldblood before. Against them…on occasion. I am honored to fight alongside you, young Blackwing.”

“I hope to have the opportunity, General Garusa.”

The Gnoll nodded, and both she and Thrissiam left. Osthia waited until they were gone and then she and the Oldblood soldiers joined the rest of the army on the march. Osthia called for several names under her command, and then leapt into the air, wings beating. She flew.

It was a sight that made the Gnolls and Drakes in Garusa’s army look up and exclaim. Osthia, wearing chainmail and a helmet, not to mention holding a spear, flew above them, wings laboring to gain altitude in the frozen air.

She flew high into the sky with the six other Drakes who had wings. It was hard, very hard, to stay aloft for long. Osthia could feel the magic burning in her depleting itself with every wing beat. She was far too heavy to fly normally, and unless she sustained her flight with magic as Dragons did, she would be forced to land.

She couldn’t fly long. Nor could she use her breath weapon with impunity. Those with abilities stemming from their blood found it was often a curse as well as a blessing. Some Drakes grew faint of breath when they used their breath weapons, or injured their own throats. Osthia’s heritage was true though, and she could use both her wings and her breath attack without issue.

She flew on, eyes peeled for any Goblins on the landscape below. The foolish creatures probably had no idea that a Drake could fly. But she didn’t see a single Goblin below, although she was high enough to look around for miles.

Perhaps they weren’t there? Goblins didn’t strike Osthia as bright enough to hide or cover their tracks. Had their intelligence been mistaken? Was the Goblin Lord elsewhere?

Time would tell. Osthia was too experienced to trust to a quick view from the sky, although the lack of any signs of Goblins bothered her. It could be they were hiding, or farther away than she thought. And if this was a mistake? Well, she could use the opportunity to get closer to Thrissiam.

She was getting tired after only ten minutes of flight. Very tired. Osthia saw the other soldiers with wings flagging, and turned her head to order them to head back. As she did, she felt something crawl down her spine. A feeling, as if someone was staring at her with an arrow trained on her back.

Instantly, Osthia dove down. The other soldiers did likewise, moving instinctively to avoid an arrow or spell. Osthia turned and scanned the landscape. And saw nothing.

Was it a false alarm? For a minute, and then two she scanned the white slopes of the mountain, the trees, the rocks. And saw nothing. She raised her hand and signaled the other wary Drakes that it was a false alarm. She had seen nothing.

But the feeling remained. Something had been watching her, Osthia was sure of it. But whatever it was, it was already gone. Or hidden from her sight.

Rattled, Osthia flew back with her escort, landing safely among the ranks of her fellow soldiers. She abandoned her thoughts of romance. There was something out there. It was waiting for them. And so she and the army would flush it out.

And kill it.

Day 60

It was cold. Wet. Thrissiam kept the new joint army moving and scouting ahead. There were no signs of Goblins yet, although they’d covered a lot of ground, keeping their [Scouts] and groups of riders moving at all times.

“This damn snow came at the worst time for a Goblin Lord. It falls too heavily each day. Any tracks are being erased. Damn those Winter Sprites!”

He was grousing to Garusa, who he’d found was a worthy companion as they rode their army towards the next place they’d chosen to fortify and explore from. The Gnoll grinned.

“Perhaps the Goblins are having a courtly dance as we wait, hm? What must this Goblin Lord be like? Surely a Lord is a [Lord], Goblin or not.”

She had a weird sense of humor too. Thrissiam snorted despite himself. He knew a [Lord] could be specialized in combat or managing his lands depending on how their Skills were gained. Thus, some Human [Lords] could counter the greatest Drake [Generals], like the Human Lord Tyrion. But most were inferiors to a class dedicated towards battle like his.

“I suppose you think all [Lords] dance? Take it from me, Weatherfur, some of the Lords—and Ladies—of the Wall are just as adept at sword dances as they are at ballroom dancing.”

“Hrr. Then why are they not here? Was there not a Lord of the Wall that fought General Shivertail a month ago? He could be a match for this Goblin Lord.”

“Catch a Lord of the Wall doing a mission like this? Not likely. They’re for quick glory and guts, not a slog or hunt.”

Thrissiam lashed his tail, and Garusa smiled. Their army continued onwards, watchful, vigilant. The first of the [Scouts] began disappearing a few hours later.

Day 61

Osthia flew a patrol with the six Drakes in her command. She flew high as she could, drinking a mana potion to replenish her energy. It was a foul-tasting brew, despite the quality. Osthia hated using it, for all it let her fly longer. She could only do so four times before she’d start throwing up, a sure sign of overdosing on the stuff.

Today she was escorting a group of [Scouts], overseeing three groups in fact, as they roamed the forest searching for signs of life. So far they’d found nothing. No monsters, and there had to have been some about in this wooded area.

But they’d found nothing. And yesterday, twelve of the Gnolls and Drakes sent out had failed to come back over the course of the day. They’d vanished, each time alone, each time far from the main army.

Thrissiam had suspected Goblins, but larger groups hadn’t found any traces of a struggle. So he’d sent Osthia to watch from above. So she did. She flew and watched. One scout group exited the forest and entered a clearing where they paused, investigating something on the ground. Another vanished below a dense canopy of leaves. The third scaled a cliff side.

Watch. Osthia saw the group in the clearing turn away from what they’d been looking at. The group on the cliff headed higher. The group under the canopy…

Didn’t emerge. Osthia waited a minute, and then two. Something was wrong. She immediately put a horn to her lips and blew a horn call. She blew five blasts, attracting both groups of [Scouts]. They signed towards her and she pointed in the direction of the missing group.

Behind her, more horn calls sounded. Osthia listened and heard drumbeats as well, beating out a pattern. A group of riders was already headed for her spot, and the drums were telling her to hold position.

Osthia ignored the order. She turned to the flying Drakes and pointed with her spear.

Down! Be ready for anything. Rass—stay back and watch! If we’re not out in a second—”

She was already diving with the others. Osthia crashed through the branches, ready to use her breath weapon, spear ready. She was expecting anything—

And found nothing. Nothing. Just a messed up section of snow. No [Scouts], no Goblins. Nothing.

They’d been taken in the few minutes it had been take to sound the alarm. Warily, Osthia looked around. She felt something watching her. The Drakes in her command spread out around her. If the Goblins had taken the [Scouts]—

“Up! Into the air!”

She cried out and the Drakes leapt back up, swearing, crashing through branches. Now Osthia circled wide, searching for anything moving in the trees. But she found nothing. Neither did the riders, or the [Scouts]. They combed the landscape, but whatever had taken this group of [Scouts] had just vanished into the air.

Day 62

They knew there were Goblins about. For three days now, their patrols had been ambushed. Smaller ones, ones that strayed too far, simply vanished. The others found nothing. It set all of Thrissiam’s scales on edge, and so he’d refused to budge from the second hilltop. Instead, he was sending out larger scouting groups with [Mages] to look for traces of the Goblins.

Now he stood in his command tent, staring at the map of the landscape, irritated, on edge. His army was camped on the top of the hill, giving them a view of the surroundings. A nearby mountain loomed over them, and a forest surrounded their position to the northwest. He looked up as someone opened the tent flap. Thrissiam was about to order whoever it was out, but he bit his tongue as Garusa entered.

“Any word?”

She shook her head.

“Another patrol came back with no findings. None at all. It is odd, yes? They should have found some sign of what attacked the last, but none did. Not the [Mages] and experienced [Scouts].”

“Magic. Or something else. Damnit!”

Thrissiam pounded the table with his claws, taking care not to damage the map. He wasn’t used to this. Not from Goblins. He’d be wary if another force managed to elude him, but how were Goblins doing this? Was this really all due to a Goblin Lord? Garusa watched him for a moment before speaking.

“I had a thought.”

“Share it.”

“When we met I wondered why the Goblin Lord would retreat here. There is no food for his army, and Goblins devour. It is a bad choice, for one that knows an attack is coming, no?”

“That’s true.”

Thrissiam nodded, still angry but thinking now. Garusa nodded as well.

“Yes, a smarter decision would be to raid other cities, to keep moving, growing an army by collecting other Goblins nearby. So why hide?”

“To buy time, or maybe traverse the mountains? What’s your point?”

Garusa sniffed. She frowned, but kept speaking.

“It makes no sense. Goblin Lords know they will be hunted. So perhaps…”

“Perhaps what?”

Thrissiam looked up at Garusa. Her face was shadowed, her voice low.

“Perhaps the Goblin Lord only retreated to make sure it was we who could not run. I smell Goblins, Thrissiam. I smell them everywhere, but cannot find their scent. And the smell is everywhere.

He stared at her. Her eyes gleamed. Thrissiam opened his mouth, and then heard a horn call in the distance. It was blaring the call to attack. He jerked upright, and then heard another from the west. And another.

And another.

The last one was blowing right outside. Thrissiam stormed out, Garusa following and heard the screams.

“Sound the alarm! We’re under attack!”

He looked out, and suddenly the barren landscape was filled with motion. Goblins boiled down the slopes from the mountains, charged out of the forest, shouting, screaming. Hundreds, thousands of them.

“Recall all forces! Rally on me!”

Thrissiam had his spear in his hands. He ran towards the front as Garusa called for her mount. The Goblins smashed into the fortifications his army had built, screaming. There were Hobs, Goblin [Mages]—the undead!

So many of them. Too many. And where was the Goblin Lord? Thrissiam was too busy fighting to see.

—-

They came out of nowhere. One second Osthia had been resting her wings in camp, the next, the Goblins had poured out of the trees, down the mountain. Some burst out of the snow.

Out of the snow?

To arms! Goblin attack!

The cry went up as Osthia ran towards the front. There was no time to find her company. She just fell into line with the [Soldiers] around her. Drakes had learned to adapt to any situation.

But this was unnerving even so. The Goblins were everywhere. It wasn’t just that they’d snuck up on the army—they’d completely caught them off-guard! As Osthia watched, a completely flattened portion of ground suddenly exploded upwards, and Goblins clawed their way up.

They’d been waiting underground? How? They couldn’t breathe down there! Unless—and then Osthia saw it. The gray skin, the rotten flesh. It wasn’t just Goblins emerging from under the snow, under the ground. It was Drakes too, and Gnolls. They were all pale, flesh gray and rotting, bloodless.

Zombies.

“Undead!”

The cry went up as all the pieces fell into place for Osthia. That was why the [Scouts] had vanished so quickly! That was why the Goblins couldn’t be found! The main force was probably hiding, while the undead waited below, attacking and burying themselves without a trace. The Drake army had marched right into the middle of where they were hiding. And now—

Now the trap was sprung, and they were under assault from all sides.

The first group of living Goblins hit the camp from the west, charging down the mountain. Osthia heard the screams and sound of battle begin, but didn’t falter. A surprise attack it might be, but the Goblins were no match for a Drake [Soldier]. She kept believing that right until she saw a group of eight Hobgoblins charge into the side of the [Soldiers] and start hacking Drakes and Gnolls apart.

Osthia’s eyes widened as the Hobs appeared. There shouldn’t be that many Hobs in a tribe! But there were so many in this army! They towered over the smaller Goblins, standing toe-to-toe with elite warriors.

And then the fighting hit their side. Not living Goblins. Dead ones.

A wave of zombies, several skeletons, and three Ghouls hit the Drakes that Osthia was positioned with. She caught one as it ran onto her spear, and the Drakes around her did the same. As they were fighting, Drakes with swords stepped forwards, cutting as the ones with pikes shoved their enemies back. [Archers] began raining arrows on the undead and a [Mage] unleashed a shower of lightning that made several undead jerkand fall down before getting up.

Lightning magic was a bad idea on the undead. Osthia snarled as she jabbed her spear. There was a strange, grey Goblin walking towards her. Just walking. It looked…different from the rest. Osthia had a bad feeling about it, and stabbed it in the chest. The Goblin didn’t try to stop her, and her spear’s head went right through where its heart should be.

The gray Goblin fell, gaping soundlessly. Then it exploded, sending shockwaves of force and black energy spiraling outwards. Osthia cried out and saw the undead nearest to the exploding Goblin simply vanish as the blast consumed them. The Drakes around her were thrown backwards, and the undead swarmed them. Osthia got up, saw a Ghoul running at her, and opened her mouth.

She didn’t breathe fire. Instead, Osthia spat. That was how she thought of it. The glands in her mouth shot a greenish spray towards the Ghoul. It charged right into the mist, and then began to melt. It felt no pain, but suddenly the Ghoul’s eyes and part of its face were gone. It swung wildly, knocking a skeleton to the ground. Osthia ran the Ghoul through and then turned and spat again.

The undead caught by her attack lurched onwards, melting down, blinded. The Drakes near Osthia seized the opportunity and shakily reformed the battle line. Osthia wiped at her mouth, relieved that her body was immune to her ability. She turned her head and shouted at the nearest Drake [Sergeant].

“Take down the gray Goblins before they reach the camp! Spread the word! I’ll tell the [General]! Hurry!

She leapt into the air, flying back towards the center of camp. Now she could hear the thump as more of the trapped Goblins exploded, sowing chaos among the Drakes and Gnolls. Thrissiam heard her garbled report and immediately called for every [Archer] to prioritize the Goblins. The threat dealt with in part, Osthia found her company.

She led the next charge into the ranks of the living Goblins, who screamed as they felt her acid burn and eat at them. The ones around her fled, but more kept coming. More, and more. They didn’t seem to fear death. They wore black armor and screamed in hatred as they kept coming.

An hour later, Osthia was pulling back, exhausted, barely able to move, when she saw him. As her company retreated and a fresh group of soldiers was rotated in, she caught sight of an oddity in the seething mass of Goblins.

At first, she thought it was just another Hob. But this one was different. He stood on a ledge hundreds of meters away from the fighting, on the mountainside. He was staring at the fighting armies, and as Osthia watched, his gaze passed over her.

For a moment, their eyes met. Osthia got only a glimpse of a Goblin’s face. But something was wrong with his eyes. They weren’t red.

Black eyes with white pupils. A piercing gaze. A hooded face. He stood among a group of Hobgoblins and Goblin [Mages] and [Shamans]. Just watching.

The Goblin Lord. Osthia was transfixed. She knew it was him the instant she saw him. No other Goblin was like him. His presence seemed to make him bigger, although he was only the size of a Human, not a towering mass like some of the Hobgoblins. He was only watching, but his eyes—Osthia felt dread.

Then he raised his arm and a black lance of light struck down one of the Drake [Mages] from behind. Osthia shouted, but the Goblin Lord was already turning away. He retreated out of danger as the Goblins roared and redoubled their efforts.

The Drakes and Gnolls held the line. They bled and died, but they pushed the Goblins and undead back. By the end of the day, the dead had stained the ground red, and churned mud froze overnight. That was the first day.

The second was just as bad.

Day 64

In the mountains, Drakes and Gnolls died. Goblins died. Everything died. Thrissiam led his army with Garusa against the Goblin Lord, cutting apart bodies, blasting enemy positions with magic, grappling with undead—

This was war with a Goblin Lord. And it was far more terrible than Thrissiam could have ever imagined.

The fighting wasn’t a single day’s affair. From morning until dusk, the Goblins assailed their position, fighting at dawn, at night, withdrawing, ambushing, trying to uproot the Drake army’s position.

They hadn’t managed to so far. But neither had the Drake army managed to force them back or deplete their numbers greatly. It was a deadlock. The Goblin Lord’s full army outnumbered them greatly, but Thrissiam’s forces were better equipped, better trained, higher level. It was a battle they could win, in short.

But some things made him uneasy. Garusa pointed it out the day after she’d carried Thrissiam into a bed. She had only shared it for an hour—the [Generals] were alternating shifts to keep up a steady defense. Now she and Thrissiam spoke concisely as Drakes tended to their injured with potions and wrapped wounds too light to warrant proper healing in a lull between the fighting.

“None of our [Mages] can cast the [Message] spell. They have tried each day, again and again, but the highest-level cannot.”

“So? We don’t need reinforcements, and if we did, they’d be too late.”

Garusa nodded.

“Yes. That is true. But that is not what concerns me. To block the spell, so my [Mages] say, you would need a mage specialized in such magic…or a mage of far greater ability. Neither seems at home to a Goblin Lord’s forces, no?”

That was true. Thrissiam frowned, suddenly worried.

“It might be they have an artifact. Or one of their [Shamans]…? You’re right. It seems beyond them.”

“In that case, what is the cause?”

Thrissiam shook his head.

“I don’t know. But we must get word back to the cities, no matter what happens. They have to know the Goblin Lord can use undead—and that he can block spells!”

Garusa nodded. Thrissiam’s claws dug into the table.

“You were right. General Shivertail was right. That Goblin Lord…isn’t ordinary. I see him out there, occasionally. In the trees, leading his forces. Never close enough that our [Marksmen] or [Snipers] could get a clear shot at him. And he blocked every spell my battle mages sent towards him.”

“We must try to hunt him down.”

“Yes. We’ll try for it now. If it means sacrificing a group to have his head—”

“That is my job, no?”

He looked at her. They’d barely said a word in between sleeping together and waking. This was war. But he and she—he shook his head.

“Not yet. Not unless it comes to that. I won’t risk you.”

She grinned at him, as if he’d made a joke.

“You are thinking with your head, not with your second tail, yes? A [General] must be composed and think of victory, not affection.”

Thrissiam went scarlet and looked around, but the tent was empty. He glared at Garusa.

“I’m thinking with my head. You are an asset that can’t be replaced. We’ll need you after this battle.”

He stared at the map as Garusa chuckled. The Goblin Lord’s eyes. Where had he heard of eyes like that before? Necromancy. An uneasy surmise crept into Thrissiam’s mind. He murmured.

“Yes. I think we might need everyone after this. Perhaps the Goblin Lord…isn’t alone.”

Garusa stopped laughing. She met his eyes, and Thrissiam knew she had suddenly thought of the same thing. In the silence, they heard the fighting begin again.

—-

Her eyes blurred with tears, although no one noticed her face in the fighting. Osthia spat acid at the Goblins who charged her, shot the concentrated, corrosive liquid into green faces and red eyes and heard the screams. It felt as though she were spitting the bile and pain out of her own stomach.

She had an endless supply.

Thrissiam and Garusa. Garusa and Thrissiam. It was like one of those silly songs the children sang. Garusa and Thrissiam, tails in a knot!

She lashed out and a Goblin fell, gurgling. This wasn’t the time for such thoughts! And yet, the image followed her. Garusa carrying Thrissiam into the tent after recovering him from the thick of battle and then—not emerging.

Every soldier knew what had happened. No judgment was passed. In fact, there was quite a lot of ribald support, muttered quietly and joked about when neither [General] could hear. Thrissiam because he’d order the jokester punished. Garusa because she might join in.

War made for very intimate choices, and many soldiers left what happened in the heat of things behind. But Osthia couldn’t.

What had she expected? He was her distant relative, a [General] and practically nobility in himself! But she’d hoped, in that secret heart of hers…

Osthia took to the air, ignoring the warning calls from below. The Goblins were firing? Let them. She had practiced to avoid flights of arrows. She dove into the ranks of Goblins, spitting acid, hearing them shriek. Good! Let them die.

Then she saw the Goblin Lord. He was watching again, far away from the fighting. He always did that. He’d appear, blast the lines with magic, and then disappear. Not this time.

Osthia went for him. She knew it was foolhardy. She didn’t care. She made it halfway before a flight of arrows rose up and magic blast a hole straight through her wings.

She fell into the ranks of Goblins. The fall didn’t kill her, but Osthia was trapped behind the lines, desperately spitting acid and sweeping around her with her spear. She would have died there, wanted to die there, but then she heard the horn call.

A Gnoll on horseback charged into the ranks of Goblins with a group of mounted riders, trampling the smaller ones, lashing out left and right. She made straight towards Osthia, cutting a path through her enemies. Garusa Weatherfur’s paws were a blur as she struck left and right, clearing a path for Osthia to survive.

Both she and Thrissiam used a spear. It was just another reason to hate her as Garusa swept the Goblins around her away. She dueled a Hobgoblin, ending it by thrusting her long spear through his helmetless face while Osthia struggled to stand. Then Garusa took Osthia’s clawed hand and pulled her into the saddle. She rode back towards their line as a cheer went up from the Drakes.

It didn’t make Osthia hate her any less. But it did make her respect the Gnoll as a [General]. Garusa was necessary, vital. She was a hero.

Osthia just wished Garusa hadn’t also taken her dream away.

—-

Fool!

Thrissiam struck Osthia across the face. She took the blow, cheek burning, as he shouted at her.

“You endangered your life and cost us good soldiers going to save you! What were you thinking?”

“I have no excuse, sir.”

“Calm yourself, Thrissiam.”

“General Garusa. With respect—”

“She took a chance and went for the Goblin Lord. I might have done so as well were I in her place. Now we know he is waiting for the moment, yes?”

The hole in her wing was mended. The hole in her heart…it hurt more to hear Garusa defend her. That wasn’t why Osthia had gone, but she couldn’t bring herself to say so. Thrissiam calmed himself in the end. When he spoke to her next, it was curtly, but not without affection.

“Rest yourself. I will have orders tomorrow. You are to do nothing that is not ordered, is that understood?”

“Yes, General.”

Officers had been declared treasonous for disobeying orders. Osthia knew she was getting off lucky. But she still felt wretched. After a moment, Thrissiam spoke quietly to her.

“You are a treasure of our people, and of our family as well. I could not bear to see you die in some meaningless charge.”

It was meant for the two of them. Garusa busied herself across the tent, although Osthia knew she could hear everything. It helped, a bit. Osthia smiled weakly at Thrissiam.

“Thank you, sir.”

He studied her, and then nodded. Grimly, Thrissiam turned back to the map.

“I don’t blame you for trying. This Goblin Lord is dangerous. If we don’t stop him now, there’s no telling how dangerous he might get.”

“He is new, yet. But if he gathers more Goblins, or raises more undead.”

“It won’t happen.”

Osthia watched as Garusa and Thrissiam’s eyes met over the table. They were alike, in that way. She stumbled out of the tent and cried for a bit in her tent. Then she woke up and went back to war.

Day 65

“The undead.”

That was what would kill them, Thrissiam knew. Looking at the map of the battlefield, he felt as though he understood the flow of how things would go. Numbers, supplies, levels of soldiers and geography, it all flowed into a picture in his mind. The scales were balanced; he had his advantages, and the Goblin Lord his. But what tipped the balance were the undead.

Because for every Drake and Gnoll that fell, a zombie could rise in its place. Or worse, a Ghoul.

So far, the Goblins and the Goblin Lord had only managed to animate a few of the fallen Drakes and Gnolls of Thrissiam’s force. So far. But as time wore on, the Drake knew that the natural spawning of the undead as well as the efforts of the Goblin Lord and his [Necromancers] would slowly increase that number.

“We can’t make this a battle of attrition any longer. The Goblin Lord overplayed his claw at first, and gave us the opportunity to tear into his forces. But he’s pulling back, wearing us down with numbers rather than commit his Hobs and [Mages] to the front. We need to either pull them out, or take him down.”

Standing across the table from him, Garusa nodded. She had a long gash down one cheek, splitting her fur and exposing red, but she had forgone healing it to save potions. It might damage the morale of the soldiers to see their general injured, but the situation called for it.

“I agree. We must corner him. But how?”

“I propose an ambush. We know he has a forward camp here and here. He alternates between the two before pulling back.”

“True. You suggest ambushing him? We could strike a wedge here, cutting him off—”

“And then encircle his position. Yes.”

Thrissiam had observed the Goblin Lord over the course of the battle. The Goblin had played things safe, attacking only from a distance with magic. But he had shown a predictability in how he moved, and revealed that it was possible to predict where he’d go. In short, he’d given Thrissiam a perfect opportunity to corner him.

“He may be a Goblin Lord, but he’s new to it. An amateur is still an amateur, even with Skills.”

The Drake grinned savagely. Garusa’s smile was no less predatory.

“Tomorrow?”

“No sense waiting for it. Keep up the front; don’t let him think we’re doing anything. I’ll pull together all the elites I can. They’ll be under your command.”

Garusa nodded.

“I will prepare.”

Thrissiam caught her as she was about to leave the tent.

“Don’t fight him if you think he’ll win. We can try again if we must. But I can’t lose you.”

She blinked at him, wide-eyed. Then she smiled.

“Too much thinking with your other tail. I will do what needs to be done. And I will bring you the Goblin Lord’s head tomorrow, my word on it. Unless I squish it by accident, that is.”

She kissed him, and left. Thrissiam turned back to the map, and began to plan for the end.

Day 66

The Goblin Lord never saw the attack coming. In fairness, he did see the feint, and then the charge that went deep into his army’s left flank, aimed at a group of his [Necromancers]. When he appeared and blasted the soldiers with magic from a distance, the Drakes launched two other charges, penetrating the lines of shocked Goblins with an elite group of soldiers. They cut the Goblin Lord’s retreat off, and then the last group formed up, aimed straight for the Goblin Lord’s throat as his retinue struggled to fend off the sudden offensive.

Thrissiam watched Garusa charge. He had committed over half the army to the push in the end, holding the rest of the Goblin Lord’s forces at bay with a thin line of his own. It was a tactic only two [Generals] could pull off and Thrissiam used every Skill to make sure there was a place to return to for Garusa.

Now all he could do was watch. The Gnoll [General] charged through Goblins and Hobgoblins alike, tearing through them with a guard of elite riders, protected by mage spell and raining arrows.

The Goblin Lord’s personal guard met her force with a roar that echoed through the battlefield. Thrissiam watched, as from above, Osthia dove and showered the group with acid. Garusa used that opportunity to strike down a [Mage]. And then—

A black lance of magic. The Gnoll twisted in her saddle, dodging the magic. It killed her stallion, leaving only half of its head. The horse went down, but then Garusa was charging the Goblin Lord.

“Yes. Do it!”

Thrissiam’s claws were clenched. He could see the Goblin Lord’s surprise, see two Hobs barring the way with huge halberds. A [Mage] struck one with lightning—Osthia speared the other in the back from above. And then Garusa was face-to-face with the Goblin Lord.

His eyes were wide, disbelieving. The Goblin Lord’s face was twisted in a snarl. He held a black blade in one hand, shimmering magic in the other as he faced Garusa. The Drakes and Gnolls around Thrissiam were cheering wildly, sure of victory. But there was fear in Thrissiam’s heart. And something else.

Uneasiness. It wasn’t easy. This was the culmination of strategy, of superior planning and teamwork. They had whittled the Goblin Lord’s forces and played on his confidence to come this far.

But something was wrong. Garusa raised her spear, slashing at the Goblin Lord. He stepped back, warily. She twirled her spear and advanced. He lashed out with magic—she dodged. Closer now. She struck out—

And Thrissiam heard a voice.

Fool.

It was a whisper, but it reached across the battlefield. Garusa’s spear struck a white wall that shot from the ground. A wall as smooth and pale as ivory.

Bone.

Something changed. The wall of bone retracted into the ground as Garusa leapt back. When Thrissiam could see the Goblin Lord again, he was standing in the same place.

But something else was wearing his body. The Goblin Lord stood still, and when his lips moved, every Drake and Gnoll and Goblin could hear his voice.

You have disappointed me, my apprentice. I should not have to intercede on your behalf.

Garusa was staring at the Goblin Lord. Thrissiam tried to shout at her, but the dark voice was overpowering everything else. He tried to scream to her to run, but the Gnoll crouched. She came in low, fast—

So be it. I will rectify your mistake.

The Goblin Lord raised a hand. And Garusa—crumpled.

It was just a flash of light. A black bolt of energy that went through her chest. Thrissiam screamed. The Goblin Lord turned his hand. Pointed.

Despair.

A black scythe shot out, cutting through the ranks of soldiers that had followed Garusa. Not just through them, through Goblins as well. Bodies crumpled to the floor, dead. Lifeless. Everybody in two hundred meters in the direction the Goblin Lord had pointed fell. And then—

Rise.

They rose. Unsteadily, getting to their feet. Garusa stood up, and for a second, Thrissiam dared to hope—then her head turned and he saw the hole in her chest. And the light in her eyes.

The undead, half of his army and the Goblin Lord’s—stared towards the remaining soldiers. Their eyes shone, and they began to walk, and then to run. They charged back towards their former comrades.

Now finish this.

The voice spoke once more, and then the Goblin Lord was stumbling as other Goblins rushed to his side. Thrissiam stared at him, and then at the undead.

Thousands of them, ten thousand—twenty—each and every corpse on the battlefield had risen all at once. And now they came for his army. The Drakes and Gnolls, steadfast warriors, cried out and broke ranks, retreating.

“No.”

“Uncle! Uncle!

Someone was screaming his name. Above. Thrissiam looked up. Osthia flew down towards him, wounded, bleeding. Her face was pale, her eyes filled with tears.

“He—it—”

He’d sent all of the Oldblood soldiers with her. Six had gone, none had returned. There was an arrow in one of Osthia’s wings. Now more showered down around Thrissiam as the Goblin army redoubled its attack.

He stared at her blankly. Then at the undead. They were coming. So many. Enough to bury what remained of his army. And Garusa—she was out there too.

“We’ve lost.”

There was nothing hard in saying it. Osthia’s eyes widened. Thrissiam went on.

“We lost the moment we failed to understand. It wasn’t him. We shouldn’t have just feared him. It was who was controlling him. Do you understand?”

He looked at Osthia.

“The Necromancer.”

She paled.

“But he’s dead.”

“Not anymore.”

Thrissiam turned. His officers were staring in shock, paralyzed by what had happened.

Scouts! Runners!

Thrissiam bellowed. He could still do that. His voice snapped some out of their fog. They looked towards him. Thrissiam saw some turning, coming towards him. No time.

“Run!”

They stared at him. Thrissiam pointed, south, the way they had come.

Run! Go to the cities! Warn them! Go! Now!”

No time to tell them. If they were smart, the others would figure it out. Thrissiam pointed and shouted. He saw Drakes and Gnolls dashing for the trees, running past Goblins, trying to escape as the Goblin Lord’s army came from every side.

“Uncle—are you—”

Thrissiam turned to Osthia. Her eyes were wide. She probably didn’t realize she was calling him Uncle. He nearly laughed. He wasn’t old enough to be her uncle.

What a silly thing to think of. Thrissiam smiled at Osthia as he gave her his last order.

“You too, Osthia. Go. Fly away. Tell them who the real enemy is.”

“I can’t! I can’t abandon—”

“Go. There’s no point in dying here. You are the pride of Drakes. My family. You have to tell them.”

She refused, shaking. The undead were coming. Thrissiam’s eyes were on them. On the Goblin Lord. He was falling back, carried by his soldiers. Osthia was trying to stay.

“Go.”

“Drakes do not run!”

He turned to her.

“I know. Hurry up and come back soon.”

He smiled. Osthia’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth to object, and saw the mass of undead charging towards them. For a second she looked into his eyes, and Thrissiam thought she saw his broken heart. Her eyes filled with tears. Without a word, she took wing.

“I’ll be back! Hold out! Retreat!”

She screamed at him as she fled eastward. Thrissiam saw Goblins shouting and some firing on her, others breaking away to chase after the lone flying Drake. He prayed she’d get away. But the cruel, cold part of him knew that she was too obvious a target. The [Scouts] and [Runners] he’d sent might have a chance if the Goblins were distracted.

She was his niece. He had grudgingly played with her and his younger cousins when he visited. When she was older, he had taught her to use a spear. He had accepted her into his army, presented her with her first promotion. He’d never spoken of her eyes on his back, preserved her dreams like a precious thing. And now he had sent her to die.

But that was her duty. And his. For their people, no cost could be so high. Thrissiam saluted Osthia with his spear and then turned to the undead. His [Soldiers]. He looked for Garusa’s body among them. There she was. Leading the charge as always.

Her eyes were glowing. Thrissiam felt something hard grab at his soul, demanding vengeance. Pain was in his blood. He looked at Garusa as she ran like lightning across the ground. Too fast! She was no Ghoul. Her body was infused with more than just unholy quickness and a taste for flesh. She was too strong, sweeping experienced soldiers away, hurling a Gnoll in plate armor into the air and tearing an arm straight off of a Drake [Pikeman].

Not a Wight. Her touch wasn’t paralysis and she was too tough. Thrissiam’s pulse quickened as he realized what she had become.

A Draugr. One of the higher levels of undead. Not one with tricks like a Wight, or an amalgamation of souls like a Crypt Lord, but a version of the undead that was akin to a zombie. But only a truly high-level [Necromancer] could think of animating one.

There was more than one Draug in the ranks of the undead. They smashed into Thrissiam’s remaining army, overrunning groups of pikes, barricades, too strong and tough to stop. The Drake heard cries for help, but he had only eyes for Garusa.

“Go, Osthia. Tell them the Goblin Lord has a master. Tell them. Tell them it’s the Necromancer. He’s still alive. Go. Bring back a hundred armies. Bring back Shivertail. Bring the Tidebreaker! Bring them all and cleanse this land of his taint.”

He met her as she charged at him, mouth agape. She struck him in the chest, and he stabbed through her armor. His enchanted spear met no resistance.

“You should have worn better armor.”

He plunged the spear deep into Garusa’ heart. She kept moving, and tore off something on his leg. Through his armor! Her claws were razors. Thrissiam nearly fell, but he took a grip on his spear.

“[Crescent Arc]!”

His spear tore through her flesh as it moved in the shape of a moon. Garusa stopped moving. Thrissiam looked away, and then forced his eyes down. She—

Something struck him from the side. A Ghoul tore at the [General] and he roared, throwing it off and spearing it through the head. Then he turned his eyes towards a fleeing shape on the horizon. Thrissiam smiled just once.

“Go. I’ll be waiting.”

He stood over Garusa’s corpse, spear whirling. The undead closed around him. Thrissiam killed them one by one, until something tore his spear away. Then he fought with his claws, his teeth. And then they bit him, tore at his flesh, broke his armor.

He fell and died, holding a Gnoll in his broken arms.

An hour later, his corpse rose and walked away, leaving a Gnoll behind, surrounded by corpses too damaged to use. What remained of General Thrissiam slowly lurched after the Goblins as they ransacked his camp, and then headed north. Not to Liscor.

Farther still.

Day 67

They captured Osthia not ten minutes after she left Thrissiam to die. She cursed them, spat acid, tried to fly with arrows and holes in her wings. They grabbed her, muzzled her like a dog and beat her until she saw nothing.

When she woke, it was in a tent. She was shackled, but her gag had been removed. She recognized the tent. It was Thrissiam’s.

But he did not stand there. Instead, the Goblin Lord stood in the center of the tent. Talking.

With himself.

Osthia’s first instinct was to breathe acid, but then she heard the voice. The same voice that had killed Garusa, that had brought the dead to life. It was coming from the Goblin Lord’s mouth.

You are a disappointment. With all that I have taught you, defeating two armies should have been a simple task.

What was happening? Who was speaking? Osthia pretended to be unconscious as she listened. The Goblin Lord growled, spat. Then he spoke, in a voice that was less well-educated, more direct. His voice.

“Strong Drakes. Strong Gnoll. Worthy foes.”

Something like a sigh emanated from his mouth as the other voice spoke. Osthia watched, shuddering.

You alerted them to your greatest weapon and failed to use it to proper effect. You should have placed the Goblins among your own forces and unleashed them deep within the enemy ranks when they least expected it. You could easily have obliterated the army’s most elite warriors in the opening engagement if you had done so. Instead, you wasted them by confining the undead and your Goblins to separate groups.

“Cannot kill own—”

Foolish.

The word sent shivers down her spine.

If you want victory, you must sacrifice. Next time, place the Goblins among your force. Do not fail me this time. Unify the Goblins, my apprentice. Or perish in despair.

The presence receded. The Goblin Lord stumbled as the other person left him. He turned, and hurled the table that Thrissiam had planned the battle over to one side. Osthia sat up.

“You.”

The Goblin Lord turned, eyes widening.

Now. Osthia spat. A stream of acid shot upwards, pressurized liquid spurting into the Goblin Lord’s face. She waited for him to scream, but heard no sound. Instead she saw the liquid splash his body and drip from an invisible surface surrounding his entire body.

Calmly, the Goblin Lord wiped Osthia’s acid away and scattered it to the ground, where the soil steamed and melted. He glanced down at Osthia as she stared wide-eyed at him and then spoke.

“Ring of Protection. And [Ward of Repulsion]. I could have taken the Gnoll’s charge.”

His voice was so normal. That was what was shocking. It was…it wasn’t like the Necromancer’s voice. But it was no guttural mumbling. It was educated, thoughtful. That scared Osthia most of all.

“Kill me. Or do what you want. You’ll get no secrets out of me.”

She was prepared to bite her tongue, to try and attack the Goblin Lord again. Osthia wanted to die. She was ready for it. She wasn’t ready for the Goblin Lord to laugh.

“Kill you? You and I…we have the same enemy. You will help me.”

“Never.”

He grinned at her, his black eyes and white pupils staring into hers. Osthia shuddered. The Goblin Lord noticed and tapped one eye.

“He sees when he looks. He does not look now.”

“The Necromancer.”

“Yes.”

Something twisted the Goblin Lord’s face. He suddenly looked angry. But he was the Necromancer’s apprentice. And yet—

“Tell me about him. All your people know.”

“What?”

She stared at him. Osthia looked into the Goblin Lord’s eyes. She felt the oddity of his question, realized the dissonance in how he acted and spoke before. The same enemy? Did that mean—

The Goblin Lord found a chair and pushed it towards Osthia. He was nothing like she had expected. He looked down at her, tall, gaunt, eyes filled with dark secrets. And fury. He gestured and she saw a dead Goblin standing by the tent’s entrance. She hadn’t noticed him.

Her. It was a female Goblin. A child. The undead zombie swayed in place, lifeless. The Goblin Lord went over to her. He made her turn to Osthia and bared his teeth.

“My subject. My master created her. Killed her to make a weapon. All for me. So tell me. Who is he? What is he? He is my enemy in time. You are. Your people are. But he is most of all. Tell me.”

He stared at her, eyes filled with helpless fury. Osthia felt the certainty of the world begin to shift. The Goblin Lord’s eyes burned.

“Tell me about the Necromancer.”

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A note from pirateaba

I wasn’t planning on making an entire chapter dedicated to Thrissian and the Drakes hunting the Goblin Lord. I was planning on combining it with, well…you’ll see next chapter.

However, I feel like I needed to do this justice. Too often bad writing has an overconfident force get routed by the percieved lesser threat. It’s very common in, well, let’s just say bad mangas and movies and so on.

But I want to make it clear: in my estimation, the Drake armies WOULD HAVE WON the battle, despite being ambushed, despite the Goblin Lord outnumbering them and the undead and so on. At the very least, it would have been far closer a battle if it weren’t for someone interrupting. I call foul, or I would if I were in a position to referee.

Which I’m not. I write the story, not decide where it goes. That’s up to the story to decide. Am I making sense?

I dunno. Those last two chapters were killer. They knocked me out for three days straight almost, writing that much in one go. Bad thing too–I’m starting to sweat at the deadline for the Geneva stuff. But it’s a lesson learned: writing a lot means a bigger downtime, even if it’s one day.

I’ll get it done. We have time. And if not, well, we’ll see if it comes to that. It never has so far. Thanks for reading!


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Rikum @Rikum ago

Thx for the chapter.

mafiapl @mafiapl ago

First emo Flos, now emo evil goblin lord. Meh.

Rikum @Rikum ago

An interesting development, wonder what the necromancers plan is in all of this, hopefully not like the scourge from wow who want to create the perfect dark paradise devoid of life.

    metamuse @metamuse ago

    Most of the living creatures are driven by fear. It is either fear of death or fear of the unknown. Necromancer may have died once or twice, but still he exists. Or should I say 'lives'? What can a being which is no longer afraid of death be afraid of? Something eldritch. Deep below. To the north.

ZEROMER @ZEROMER ago

Cheers mate! Great chapter

14simeonrr @14simeonrr ago

great chapter! altough having a bazillion year old necromancer on your side is kinda cheapt, kinda like spawning in a "how do you turn this off" into age of empires against someone without cheats.

mrel @mrel ago

Which necromancer is this? The only powerful necromancer we have met so far have used most of his time creating an undead whale, so he should not have the time to make a goblin his apprentice? And why would he be interested in a goblin as an apprentice? I hope it is another necromancer since he sounded more like a hermit nerd than a destroyer. The goblin/necromancer made me think Toren and Rags could cooperate, but with the goblin lord's new agenda a new plot twist has appeared.

    datkillerdude @datkillerdude ago

    Considering the Goblin King ended up taking on literally the whole continent back in the 2nd Antinium wars, I'd say having a goblin as an apprentice/underling as candidate for GK might be probably a bit too good for an evil necromancer's agenda, just a bit...

    And the last war was 20 years ago (I think?). So 20 years in which he probably did a lot more than create his undead whale abomination. Like he must like his whale but raising his own Goblin King seems like a worthy endeavor to put some time into seeing it through, so he's turned out to be much craftier than we gave him credit for. And he is a destroyer, literally everyone speaks of Peril Chandler with hate and fear as far as this point in the story, he is not living life as hermit hiding from all sight, I think he is pretty much confirmed to be taking bodies from the Blood Plains, I don't know about you but it seems very clear to me he is just amassing undead forces and creating horrors in preparation for when he comes out of hiding to terrorize the Izzril once again, the Goblin Lord aka possible future Goblin King is another proof The Necromancer means business this time around.

Sloth330 @Sloth330 ago

da fuuuu*k man that was unexpected. another great chapter as always thank you

siver110 @siver110 ago

I think we just lost rags to the Necromancer and his pet [Goblin Lord].

Redwood @Redwood ago

We have only met...3 Necromancers.

Is the eye thing a The Necromancer thing. Or is are friendly neighbourhood handsum nec good at illusions for reasons out side of turning invisible?