[Lieutenant] Gershal of Vaunt was an unhappy man. He was not an important man, which factored into his present unhappiness. He was a low-level officer from a small city north of Invrisil. He commanded a group of disciplined but fairly low-level [Archers] and [Swordsmen], and he liked to think of himself as a decent soldier, albeit one who hadn’t fought in any wars.
He and his men fought monsters, patrolled, kept the peace, and occasionally went to aid other cities, usually in suppressing a Goblin tribe or dealing with a monster infestation. They had never been levied for one of the annual battles against the Drakes, and Gershal hoped they never would be. When he’d heard about the Goblin Lord he’d been concerned for the other cities of course, but he’d assumed the Goblin threat would be taken care of long before they got close to his city.
What he’d never expected was to be part of the solution. When the levy request had come from Lady Magnolia Reinhart to Vaunt, the city [Mayor] had panicked. When another request came hours later from Lord Tyrion Veltras, Gershal had known there would be trouble. When two important nobles wanted the same thing, appeasing one and not the other could have terrible consequences, and yet, both requests had demanded a large force be sent, making appeasing both an impossibility.
Vaunt had made the logical choice. They’d sent four hundred [Soldiers] to Lord Tyrion Veltras, who, after all, was known as a battle-ready [Lord] and who would probably return most of the soldiers in one piece. They’d sent Gershal with two hundred of his men to Lady Magnolia.
The sacrificial lamb. Vaunt strode about the camp he’d been assigned to, nervously tightening his sword belt and eyeing the other soldiers and officers milling about. Lines of orderly tents ran in every direction, each one inhabited by an officer from a different Human city.
“Dead gods, what a hodgepodge collection of units this is. Lady Reinhart wants to stop the Goblin Lord with this?”
Gershal groused to himself as he walked past a group of officers dicing and drinking wine together. His throat cried out for a taste, but the [Lieutenant] moved past them. Drinking on duty? That wasn’t a custom in his army.
And that was the thing. Magnolia’s requests had drawn in so many disparate groups of soldiers from across the continent. Gershal was amazed their arrival to the camp just outside of Invrisil hadn’t been a disaster with them all arriving at once. Somehow he’d found there was a space ready for his soldiers to camp and a personal tent. That was something at least. But now he was waiting for orders and impatient with it. So Gershal walked through the camp, looking for anyone he might recognize.
As luck had it, he was recognized first.
A woman’s voice made Gershal turn. He saw a woman in armor striding up to him. She raised a fist and Gershal, knowing what was coming, winced as he put up his own.
The sound of two gauntleted fists colliding made several officers look up. Gershal shook out his stinging knuckles and looked at the other officer who’d given him her city’s unique greeting.
“Lieutenant Salvia. I should have known you’d be assigned here. Who did you offend to get this duty?”
“It’s [Captain] Salvia, you dour oaf! I specifically requested to come here—might as well be first to fight the Goblin Lord, eh? How’s Vaunt? Still making cheeses all year? How many soldiers did you send? Two hundred? Three?”
“Two. Half [Archers] and half [Swordsmen].”
“What, you mean those Level 5 [Farmers] who’ve barely trained with a bow more than a month? Poor show!”
“Better than a bunch of [Riders] who spend all their time looking after a bunch of flea-ridden nags all day.”
Gershal and Salvia stared at each other for a second, and then she laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.
“You don’t change, do you? Come on, let’s have a drink!”
“I shouldn’t. We are on duty…”
“Don’t be like that! There’s no commander about and unless Magnolia Reinhart graces us with her presence in person, we’ve nothing to do but talk. I have a bottle of wine in my tent. Let’s take it out and drink something. Pshaw! This weather’s not warming fast enough for my taste!”
In short order, Gershal found himself sitting with Salvia at a table, drinking cheap wine from equally cheap tin cups. It wasn’t what Gershal would have preferred, but he was too polite to say otherwise.
Besides, he knew Salvia. Her city, Nonelmar, was close to his and they’d gotten to know each other over the years. Nonelmar was more prosperous owing to its richer soil which provided it with grazing pastures and bountiful fields alike, but Vaunt could pride itself on producing some of the best cheeses on the continent. In fact, Gershal had some of his city’s famous cheese with him and soon he and Salvia were sharing slices of the spicy cheese known as Peppermort, exceptionally fragrant and long-lasting. It also went well with wine, even cheap wine.
“Good stuff! I can’t tell you how much I miss your city’s cheeses. I tried to buy some in Invrisil as soon as my soldiers settled in, but you wouldn’t believe the prices!”
“They are high right before spring. You’re lucky you met me—I hear some of our cheeses are going for eight silver pieces per pound at the moment.”
Salvia swore and Gershal smiled, although he was slightly jealous. He hadn’t even contemplated a trip into Invrisil, for all it was a few miles away from the officer’s camp. Vaunt couldn’t afford to pay its [Lieutenants] that much, and a [Captain]’s salary allowed for far more luxuries.
Rather than ask how Salvia had gotten her promotion, which would be polite, Gershal looked around the camp.
“You say your soldiers got here yesterday? We only arrived this morning. Do you think we’ll be waiting long to see what Lady Reinhart does with us?”
Salvia bit into a slice of cheese and sipped some wine, shrugging.
“Can’t say. Your group is one of the last to arrive or so it seems. We’re nearly full in the camps, and the soldiers are restless. Could be we’ll just sit here until the Goblin Lord arrives and if he attacks, we’ll do our bits. Otherwise…”
Gershal frowned, worried. He leaned forwards over the low wooden table towards Salvia.
“She won’t order us into battle, would she? Lady Reinhart has to know that a force like this won’t stand up to a regular army—even a Goblin Lord’s. Without a commander of some sort…”
“She might have one. Invrisil has a few [Strategists] and it’s not like she couldn’t send for a [Commander] from one of the larger cities.”
“Be reasonable Salvia. A local [Commander] is no match for a Goblin Lord. If it comes to a battle, I could see our groups holding the line in the city with adventurers. But an offensive is suicide! Lord Tyrion is gathering an army of his own, and it’s going to be twice as large as this one. Let him take care of the Goblin Lord. Not Lady Reinhart, who is, with all respect, not a general.”
Gershal looked around as he said this. It wasn’t wise to badmouth Lady Magnolia, but he had to state his opinions, which were close to fact in this case. Salvia made a face.
“I know. I know. I have orders not to participate in any assaults on the Goblin Lord unless I’m sure I can pull my boys out safely. And I’ll bet half the officers here won’t commit to an assault either. You’re not alone Gershal—just don’t say it anywhere Lady Reinhart’s people might hear.”
“They’re not here, are they?”
The [Lieutenant] looked around, worried. Salvia shook her head and pointed to a pair of two [Knights] in pinkish-red armor who were striding through the camp.
“Not her people exactly, but see those two. They’re [Knights] in service to Lady Bethal.”
Gershal knew that Lady Bethal Walchaís and her house were strongly aligned with the Reinhart family. Still, the two [Knights] did little to strike fear into his heart.
“Aren’t those the Knights of the Flower or something? I’ve heard about them. Arrogant hotheads or so I’ve been led to believe. All the more reason why this army lacks cohesion. If I have to fight with those eyesores—”
Salvia kicked Gershal under the table, making him wince and clutch at his leg. She glared at him, tin cup held tensely in her hand.
“Don’t say that within earshot, you fool! The Knights of the Petal take any insult against their [Lady] or their order to heart. They’ve thrashed officers who’ve laughed at them and they’ll break bones if you insult Lady Bethal.”
Gershal shut up. Salvia put down her cup and reached for the wine bottle to refill it.
“They might dress like pink flowers, but they’re the real deal on the battlefield, Gershal. I hear their armor is all custom-made Dwarf work, enchanted by Wistram mages. They’re nigh-invincible against mundane arms and they all have magical weapons. If there’s any group I’d want to be charging into the Goblin Lord’s ranks, it’s them.”
Instantly Gershal reevaluated his opinion of the two Rose Knights. Dwarf-made armor? His armor was iron, and not exactly top-rate iron at that. He’d be grateful for some high-quality steel, let alone a piece of armor from the Dwarf forges of Terandria. Yet the presence of Lady Bethal’s knights still didn’t assuage his concerns.
“That’s one elite group. But I don’t see any other notable force. By all accounts Lord Veltras has gathered a far larger army—he called for six thousand horse from the Terland family and they sent it! At least a quarter were [Knights], whereas I can count the number of crests here in the hundreds.”
“Yes, yes. I get what you’re saying Gershal. But we were called here to protect Invrisil from the Goblin Lord.”
“I have no problems with that. But doing it alone—”
Gershal broke off, knowing he was belaboring the point. His heart ached for the villages and towns that had already been destroyed by the Goblin Lord. But he was, if nothing else, a pragmatist. Without a true leader—or twice as many soldiers, he feared that any attempt to do battle with the Goblin Lord would only level up his Goblins and create more undead.
He was worried and unhappy, and unfortunately, the alcohol only made his mood worse. Gershal and Salvia had finished half the bottle and were sharing his cheese and her wine with some other officers they’d met when they heard a horn blowing to the east of camp. Everyone looked up.
“That’s odd. They haven’t announced anyone since Lady Bethal and her escort rode in.”
“Might be a small [Lord] leading his soldiers personally. Poor fellow if he is—I doubt he’ll see much battle on defensive duty.”
“Hang on—listen. There are more horns. This is no local lord.”
Indeed, more horns were blowing, heralding the arrival of someone important. Gershal rose to his feet and saw a man on horseback riding through the camp.
“All officers! Assemble at the center of camp! Lady Magnolia Reinhart has arrived in person! She will be discussing the coming battle against the Goblin Lord!”
“Oh, dead gods.”
Salvia paled and Gershal felt his heart jump in his chest. Coming battle? He looked around at the other officers. They were all looking uneasy.
“We’ll—just have to see what she says. Perhaps she intends to hold the city.”
“No problems there. But he said ‘coming battle’. If she wants us to attack…”
“We’ll just have to tell her it’s not feasible. There’s a few [Captains] and some [Lords] among us—they can say it to her face.”
Salvia looked pale at the idea, and the officer who’d suggested it paused.
“Well, we’ll just have to say it together. She can’t object to all of us stating the truth.”
Silence followed his words. Gershal stopped himself from pointing out that Lady Magnolia Reinhart could do what she very well pleased. If she grew angry at all of the officers present…he sighed.
“We’d better see what she wants.”
The officers began moving in a mass towards the center of the camp, where a wooden stage had been placed. Gershal had wondered what it was for—now he realized it was for the Lady Reinhart. He prayed she wouldn’t make the wrong decision.
“Someone has to destroy the Goblin Lord.”
Salvia muttered to Gershal as they walked. Gershal nodded. He’d wrapped his cheese carefully in wax paper and was tucking it into his armor. Cheese. It was a local superstition among his city. A cheese had once stopped an arrow that had gone through a [Soldier]’s armor. Now all of the young men and women who left Vaunt carried a cheese when they went into battle. It was a good field ration and it reminded them of home.
He wondered what the traditions of the villages and cities around Invrisil were like. Gershal felt a pang as he imagined the Goblin Lord’s army laying waste to them. Someone had to stop the Goblin Lord, indeed. But—
Not this army. Not them. They were too small. Gershal closed his eyes. And then he heard a susurration, saw the ranks of men and women parting, and knew Lady Magnolia Reinhart was approaching. He had never met her before in his life, but Gershal knew the rumors surrounding her. She was cunning, deadly, manipulative, and, it was said, cold-hearted as the snow itself. But she had never been called a fool.
He hoped that today wouldn’t prove the rumors wrong.
“Lady Reinhart? General Shivertail? We have arrived.”
Reynold’s voice came from the front of the carriage, slightly muffled. He guided the pink magical carriage to a stop as the camp full of officers came into view. It was the smaller camp to the sprawling campgrounds next to it, where the soldiers from each unit were waiting.
The ground was cleared, and the melted snow had revealed wet but sturdy earth. The growing plant life had been trampled by thousands of boots. Now it was muddy, and Ressa wrinkled her nose as she stepped out into the mud.
“You shouldn’t have brought a dress.”
“Nonsense! How will they know it’s me if I don’t wear a dress? Besides, aren’t these enchanted to resist stains?”
“Your legs aren’t. Step carefully and try not to fall on your face.”
Lady Magnolia scoffed and exited the carriage carefully. She took one step into the mud, grimaced, and turned to Ressa.
“Ah. Perhaps the high heels were a mistake. However, we shall endure. General Shivertail, are you ready? I believe the officers have assembled; once we reach the stage it will truly begin in earnest.”
Zel Shivertail sat in Lady Magnolia’s coach and felt his scales tingling. He looked up, and saw Reynold fussing with the carriage. He looked to one side and saw Lady Magnolia Reinhart standing in the mud, peering up at him.
It felt like he was dreaming. Only, as he ducked his head and stepped from the carriage, he knew he wasn’t. He could see Humans in the distance, hundreds of them. All gathered around a wooden platform. They’d seen Lady Magnolia’s carriage of course, and now their faces were turned to him.
Humans. And here he was, a Drake [General], about to lead them. Of course, Zel knew that was the plan. It had been the plan ever since Magnolia had sent him a letter suggesting just that weeks ago. But though he’d replied, though he’d thought of the Necromancer and the Goblin Lord and thought about the need for a Drake-Human alliance…
It still felt like he was dreaming.
“Are you alright, General Shivertail?”
Magnolia might have had a Skill, or else she could see his unease on his face. Zel straightened and felt at his armor. It was light as a feather, yet the fiery-gold metal shone as if internally ablaze. The Heartflame Breastplate made Zel feel warm in the chill air. A relic of his people and he was wearing it.
“I’m fine, Reinhart. Let’s do this.”
She nodded. They began to walk towards the center of the camp, Ressa and Reynold following a few steps behind. Zel scrutinized the closest Humans to him. They looked like officers, sure enough. Soldiers were the same the world over. But this?
It wouldn’t be the first time a Drake had gone north. There were quite a few Drakes who’d decided to live in Human lands, for all they were actively discouraged from doing so by the Drake cities. But while they hadn’t invaded each other in decades, the Humans and Drakes were still nominally at war.
If a Drake [General] led his soldiers past Liscor, or a Human [Lord] moved past the Blood Fields it might be war again. And yet here he was. And already, the Humans had begun to notice him. Some were pointing, others turning.
Zel strode forwards with Lady Magnolia at his side. He spoke to her as he walked, still feeling as though someone else was taking every step. The world felt like it was…echoing…around him. It was a dream.
But it was real, too. Zel’s heart beat faster than it had in years.
“It feels surreal.”
“Oh? What part?”
Magnolia looked up towards Zel. Her face was composed as she walked across the muddy ground. Many eyes were on her too. Waiting. She had to feel the momentous nature of what was occurring. But she looked calm. Zel hoped he did, too.
“All of it. You know that my people won’t accept this. And yours will probably riot as well. The continent could change from this.”
“Of course it will. That is the point, General.”
Zel shivered but kept his head high. Now all the Humans were turning and some had recognized him. He heard muffled exclamations in the crowd. His heart was beating too fast.
“Two days ago I was in a small inn outside of Liscor. I ate, I drank…it was peaceful. I could forget I was a [General], then. Here…”
Magnolia looked sideways at Zel as they approached the stage in the center of the camp. The Drake was silent for a moment.
“What will happen after I speak, I wonder?”
She shrugged, smilingly slightly.
“I believe I will find out. Spies and so forth. But it depends on what you say. They are waiting for you, General. Are you ready?”
Now all the Humans were looking at him. Zel put his foot on the first wooden step. The wooden stage was simple, but solidly built. Good. That was all he needed. He looked at Magnolia and thought he saw her hands tremble. Just for a second. But then it was gone. She looked him in the eye, fearless. He grinned then, and felt the dream break.
This was reality. Zel offered Magnolia a claw and she took it. They ascended to the top of the stage together. Zel looked over a sea of faces. Human faces. He thought of a young woman named Erin Solstice, of a [Barmaid] named Lyonette. Of an inn. Of a girl named Ryoka Griffin. Of the Necromancer. Zel’s tail curled slightly and then straightened. He nodded.
“Nothing will be the same. Good. Let’s do this.”
This is what the officers saw. Lady Magnolia and a tall Drake wearing shining armor stood on the stage, flanked by a [Maid] and a [Butler]. It was Lady Magnolia Reinhart who spoke first. She took a step forwards and spoke in a loud, cheerful voice.
Her words were amplified by a spell she carried, or a Skill because they were clearly audible even in the back of the crowd. The officers waited, some seeing her for the first time.
Magnolia Reinhart was neither tall nor thin and lithe. She was not, by her own admission, a dashing beauty, although she was quite pretty. But she did have a presence that eclipsed her body. When she spoke, every eye was on her.
“I am Magnolia Reinhart. No doubt you all know why you have been called here from your respective cities. A Goblin Lord threatens the north. He marches towards Invrisil as we speak, with an army of tens of thousands. Worse, he raises the undead from each city he destroys. He has slaughtered our people, my people for too long. He must be stopped.”
A sound ran through the crowd. No one dared speak, but there was a sighing, a sense of unease. Stop the Goblin Lord? Magnolia gazed from face to face, hers betraying no fear.
“Yes, Lord Tyrion Veltras is assembling his own forces elsewhere. Yes, the Goblin Lord’s army is considerable. It has destroyed two Drake armies already. However, Invrisil is no plum ripe for the picking. Its people will not be prey to Goblin swords, and nor shall it come under attack while I live. That is why you are here. You will repulse the Goblin Lord and destroy his army.”
Now there were voices of dissent. Murmurs—those speaking feared to do more than groan aloud. Ressa shifted in place, her gaze finding those who made noise and piercing them with her glare. Magnolia raised her hand and there was silence.
“I realize many of you have reservations. Only naturally. The army assembled here is, alas, smaller than I had hoped. You all hail from different cities; it is only natural you would feel concern about going into battle against another army without leadership. I am aware of the problem.”
Magnolia paused and Zel waited. His heart had grown calm in his chest—either that, or he could no longer hear it. He waited, knowing what was to come.
“To that end I have asked a suitable [General] to lead this army against the Goblin Lord. He stands before you now. I present to you your commander who will lead you against the Goblin Lord.”
Lady Magnolia stepped to one side. She gestured simply at Zel. He stood, waiting. For a second there was shock, then silence. And then someone began to shout.
Faces paled, turned red, or changed into expressions of fury as the officers realized what Magnolia was implying. One, a huge man got to his feet. He was shaking as he pointed at Lady Magnolia.
“You asked for a Drake to lead us? Have you no shame!? Outrageous! How dare—”
He was cut off as his friends dragged him down. But the discontent was evident in the faces of the soldiers and officers alike. Magnolia concealed her inner emotions as she smiled graciously and nodded to Zel. She raised her voice again, cutting over the shouting from the crowd.
“I will let the General speak for himself. And I will have silence until he finishes speaking, is that clear?”
This time her request was not honored. There were still voices sounding off. Magnolia frowned and clapped her hands. The sound her hands made was soft and suddenly there was silence. No one could speak. They stared up at Magnolia. She looked around, eyes glittering dangerously. Then she smiled.
“Thank you. Now, General, I cede the floor to you.”
She bowed ever so slightly, making the Humans blink and shift in surprise. Zel took two steps forwards and took a breath. This was it. He realized now, dimly, that he hadn’t really prepared a speech. Oh well. He knew what to say. He looked over the ranks of outraged, confused, and skeptical Humans and began.
“Many of you may not recognize who I am. I realize all Drakes look alike to most Humans. However, I am no ordinary Drake. I am a [General]. And as Lady Magnolia has said, I am here to lead you against the Goblin Lord.”
The crowd shifted. Zel could see they were resistant, hostile even. He went on, his voice raised. He needed no Skills or spells to speak to the crowd. He had addressed larger armies, shouted over the roar of the battlefield. This? This was easy.
“To those of who you who do not know me: I fought in the First Antinium War and the Second, side by side with Human armies, with Gnoll tribes and pushed the Antinium back into their Hives. I battled the Goblin King’s armies. I have fought longer than some of you have been alive. Perhaps my history means little to you, but you may know me for one of my deeds. I fought the Necromancer at Liscor. I slew him.”
He thought he had. Zel remembered grabbing Az’kerash, remembered the sensation of tearing him apart—a lie. But of all his feats, this was the one Humans recognized. The one the world had recognized him for. Now all the eyes on him were filled with comprehension. He could hear murmurs, despite Magnolia’s invocation of silence. Yes, they knew him.
“My name is Zel Shivertail.”
A gasp ran through the crowd. And a cry went up, short and sudden. Some of the officers took a step back, others looked around in disbelief. Some appeared stunned. They had heard his name before, yes, but few had expected to ever meet him. He was a figure from history, someone whose name had been shouted from the rooftops during the first and second Antinium Wars. Zel heard the name shouted again and closed his eyes.
Tidebreaker. The Drake [General] who had broken the Antinium advance. Zel Shivertail, the hero of the Antinium Wars. Here, on Human lands.
Now there was true silence, as everyone stared at Zel, wondering what he would say next. Zel looked across the ranks of faces and nodded.
“I am here at Lady Magnolia Reinhart’s request. To do battle against the Goblin Lord.”
The shout came almost at once. Zel saw a man in poor armor shouting up at him. Of course. He was a Human and Zel was a Drake general, an enemy [General]. It didn’t matter that he was a low-level officer. Humans had their pride, like Drakes. They wouldn’t suffer an enemy [General] leading them, even if Magnolia ordered them. It was Zel’s job to convince them otherwise.
So Zel answered the man simply.
“The Goblin Lord is here. He is coming. Perhaps not for your city, sir, but for Invrisil. He has destroyed villages and towns and cities already. His army grows. You have heard that he defeated two Drake armies? Well, we sent two armies against him, both led by high-level [Generals]. Both were destroyed down to the last [Soldier].”
Silence. Zel looked around.
“I don’t have to tell you all what that means. An army grows from its victories, and the Goblin Lord has only won his battles. He also has an army of the undead that has grown with every slaughter. And he is coming. Why am I here? Because he must be stopped.”
Now Zel’s voice rose. He walked down the wooden stage, looking from face to face.
“I am a Drake. You are Humans. I understand that. But when I looked north, after the Goblin Lord had passed Liscor, I saw no Humans rushing to destroy him. I hear Lord Tyrion Veltras is forming a grand army. If so, that is commendable. But he is too late. And he is too far. He is not here. In a day or two, the Goblin Lord’s army will be upon Invrisil. Will Lord Tyrion wait and watch another Human city destroyed? Will he allow tens, no, hundreds of thousands of civilians to be slaughtered?”
No one responded. Of course, that was what would happen if they didn’t defeat the Goblin Lord here. Invrisil was Magnolia’s holding. If it was attacked she would lose influence and Tyrion would gain. That was politics. And it was shameful. Zel put all the scorn he could into his voice.
“That is not right. It is not acceptable. Drakes defend their own when they are attacked. So do Humans. And when Lady Reinhart asked me to lead the defense of her city, I agreed. Not because I am abandoning my people, or because I will be paid. No. Because it is the right thing to do. This is Human land, yes. But this is my continent. This is our home. And I will defend it to my death.”
Face to face. Zel looked into eyes and saw they were like Drake eyes. Different yes, but his words struck some chord in his audience. He went on.
“Drakes do not run. That was a…favorite saying of a friend of mine. It seems it’s become the expression that defines my people. But from what I’ve seen, Humans don’t run either. When the Goblin King landed on your shores, you didn’t flee his armies. Over a million Goblins invaded Izril and still, your people refused to run. You fought. And you were not alone. From every continent other nations, other people sent their armies to fight. You fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Gnolls, Drakes, half-Elves, Dwarves…together. And when we fought together, Izril was undefeatable! I should know. I saw it all. I was there.”
Memory. The Second Antinium War. Burning skies filled with smoke and flame. Goblins, the undead, the Antinium marching from every corner of the continent. Some of the men and women below had lived through those times, or had grown up in them. He saw them shudder, and then saw the burning in their eyes. Yes, that was what he wanted. Zel stopped and pointed at them. He roared across the crowd, his voice thunder.
“This is your home! This city may not be yours, but every city here was built by Humans. You claimed these lands. You spilled blood for them and held them against Drakes, Goblins, the Antinium, and every other threat that sought to claim them for thousands of years. Now the Goblin Lord marches north, his armies growing with every victory. Will you give him another city, the lives of your people? The Humans I know would not do that! The Humans I know would drive his army into the sea and fight till their dying breaths before they gave ground to their enemy!”
There was a growing momentum in the crowd, a shifting. Backs straightened, eyes locked on Zel’s. He looked at them. Soldiers. That was all. They were all the same.
“Drakes squabble. Human nobility argue. But [Soldiers] fight. We do our duty and then we go home. Well, I am no [Lord]. My own people think I’m troublesome because I think we shouldn’t be at war with your people. I’m no politician; I’m a soldier like you all. And I see the enemy. Now, I don’t know what you think of me, but there’s no Tyrion Veltras here. No other [Lord] or [General]. Just me. And I won’t retreat until the Goblin Lord’s army is shattered and his undead are buried in the ground again! I will fight! But I cannot do it alone! Will you do the same?”
Zel raised one fist and stared across the sea of Humans. He waited. He had given them no grand speech, no rousing promise of victory. He had spoken to them like soldiers and now he waited. What if they said nothing? What if they refused? Would it all fail? Were they too alike? What if—
A voice rose in the crowd. At the back, Zel saw a man in battered iron armor raise his voice. He shouted as heads turned, his eyes blazing with emotion.
“I am [Lieutenant] Gershal of Vaunt! I will fight with you, General Shivertail! We do not run from Goblins! I will protect Invrisil with my men if you will lead us!”
His voice rang out in the silence, proud and alone. It was what Zel had been waiting for. Because on the heels of his declaration came another voice. A woman, standing next to him raised her fists.
“My cavalry will ride with any man, Drake or Gnoll against a common foe! I pledge my unit to your command!”
An officer next to her unsheathed his sword, nearly cutting the man beside him. More Humans spoke up. A [Lord] stood and shouted.
“For Invrisil! I will fight to defend the city! I pledge my warriors to Lady Reinhart’s army!”
“I will follow any [General], Drake or Human to defeat the Goblin Lord!”
And then the voices became a shout. Zel waited, standing atop the podium, as the officers and soldiers gathered began to shout his name.
And last, but most importantly, a word. Not his name, not a word that represented Zel or Magnolia. The word Zel had been waiting for.
“Izril! The Dragonlands! The unconquered!”
And then there was cheering. Officers shouted, swept up in a fury to defend their homes. Zel stood on the platform, absorbing their energy. This was the key. They had been disunited before. Now they had a common enemy. They were an army, however disparate. He waited until the cheering had settled and then gave orders.
“Prepare for battle. We will engage the Goblin Lord if he comes any closer to the city. If he goes around, we will pursue and drive him into a corner. But I promise you this: he will burn no more villages, despoil no more lands. This army will be his end. Officers, I will begin assembling you into groups within the hour. Prepare yourselves; I will assign commands based on rank and level. When we go into battle, it will be as one united force.”
Zel turned as the cheering began again. That didn’t matter. The fact that they’d accepted his command, that they’d agreed to be led by him was all that mattered. He could sort the rest out later. Now…
He walked towards Magnolia, Ressa, and Reynold. They were applauding him with the others. Zel glanced at Magnolia and she descended the wooden platform with him. They walked through ranks of officers, Zel exchanging words with them, reassuring, standing tall, showing them he was worthy of being followed, until they had a moment to speak.
“I’ll stay here. I’m leading this army now; I’ll stay in the camp.”
“I thought you’d say that. There is a tent waiting and I believe Reynold has a number of lists for you. I will retire to my estate for a while to let you sort things out. Well done, General. Did you use a Skill to impress the crowd so?”
Magnolia paused as she got into her carriage with Ressa driving. Zel shook his head.
“I did not. A Skill might let me drag the army blindly into battle, but it won’t last. I need an army willing to fight, not a bunch of unwilling soldiers.”
“Hm. Interesting. Well, it was quite a rousing speech you gave. Lord Tyrion is not here. I would quite like to see his face when he hears that.”
Magnolia chuckled. Then she paused.
“Still, I do think you could have given a more rousing speech. All the quiet moments and the pauses—I should have liked a bit more vim to it all. A bit of shouting perhaps? What do you think, Ressa? I give it six points.”
Zel stared at Magnolia as she turned to her maid. Ressa tilted her head, thinking. She nodded at Zel as she replied.
“Four out of five. Not the sort of speech you give on the precipice of a battle, but stirring enough.”
Both women looked at Reynold. The [Butler] flushed and stroked his mustache furiously.
“I’d ah, give it a hundred points out of a hundred, milady, Miss Ressa.”
He avoided their accusatory looks with his eyes and bowed slightly to Zel, speaking to the Drake [General].
“You said what they needed to hear. None of the soldiers here want to risk their lives for glory or believe in noble causes. But defending home and family? They understand that. I felt…inspired myself.”
“Typical. I suppose I’d have to be a [Soldier] to appreciate a speech like that. Come on Ressa, let’s leave General Shivertail to his work. I will speak to you tonight, General.”
“I’ll look forwards to it.”
Zel lied as he watched the carriage drive away. He turned and saw Reynold waiting for him, as well as a number of officers.
“I never expected to be cheered. I hoped I wouldn’t be shouted off the stage. If this was a Drake army, I’d have been wary about being dragged off were I a Human.”
Reynold smiled at Zel.
“We Humans are a bit more impressed by titles, sir. And you are a hero. When I was younger, I heard of the Tidebreaker slaying the Necromancer in battle. There were celebrations in the streets when it was announced. We remember, sir.”
He coughed, turning a bit red and Zel smiled. Then his smile faded. The Necromancer. The Drake shook his head.
“I’ll try to live up to expectations, Reynold. Now, let’s meet these officers. We have a lot of work to do.”
He strode forwards. And the Humans came to meet him. And even as Magnolia’s coach drove away, rumors were already flying by [Message] spell and people running towards the city. There was a Drake [General] leading Humans. And not just any Drake.
Zel Shivertail, the Tidebreaker.
The world might never be the same.
Lady Magnolia sat in her carriage, scraping mud off her high heels onto a cushion. Ressa, sitting in the driver’s seat, frowned over her shoulder.
“Stop that. Maids will have to clean all that up.”
“I hate mud, Ressa.”
“Don’t make me come back there.”
“Fine. What did you think of General Shivertail’s speech, Ressa? Truly?”
The [Maid] turned back to the road and twitched the reins. The carriage dodged around a convoy of wagons as the [Wagon Driver] in front screamed and raised his hand as if that could stop the oncoming impact.
“Just what I said. It wasn’t a flashy speech, but it did the job.”
“Mm. I still prefer his famous ‘Defiance on the Roshharn Plains’ speech, or the ‘Liscorian Address’. ”
Magnolia was unconvinced. She grumbled to herself as she settled back into her seat. But then she brightened as she glanced over her shoulder.
“I say, there’s a woman on horseback racing towards Invrisil. Do you think they’re already starting to gossip?”
“I imagine so. I saw several using artifacts. Word is probably already spreading about Zel Shivertail’s speech.”
“Oh good. I do so love an enthusiastic audience. Speaking which…you have the recording?”
“On the cushion. The spell caught most of his words perfectly, although the angle was slightly off.”
Magnolia found the small crystal Ressa had mentioned and touched it. Instantly, a projection of Zel sprang into life, and his voice echoed throughout the carriage. She stopped the magical memory with a finger and sighed happily.
“I think I’ll put this one in my personal collection. After we copy the spell and sell it of course. How much do you think I should tell my agents to charge for it? A thousand gold pieces for each copy?”
“The first one will earn the most.”
“Mm. I wonder who pays most for this sort of information? Ah, well, I suppose any worthwhile [Informant] would sell to multiple sides at once. Hurry up now Ressa; I want to be the first to sell the information about Zel!”
“I’m hurrying. I can’t control this thing as well as Reynold, though. I nearly killed that man on the road just there.”
The coach drove onwards. Magnolia settled back into her seat, already plotting how to disseminate the information about this new alliance in ways that would profit her. But she broke off from her calculations and looked out the window back towards the camp.
“A Drake [General] leading a Human army. Isn’t that something? It’s like a story. Or a dream, I suppose.”
Ressa’s voice was muffled from her position in the front, but it still conveyed a bit of emotion in her words.
“Yes. You did it, Magnolia.”
“At last. We finally took a step. At last.”
Magnolia smiled with genuine happiness. Then she laughed.
“And what will they say about it? Oh Ressa, the world is changing.”
And within the hour, word was spreading by spell and bird and foot. And the world took notice.
Important events were subjective across the world. Obviously news like the return of the King of Destruction was worthy of worldwide reporting, but even then, the news of his return was not nearly so vital in Rhir as it was in Chandrar. Thus, gossip about the latest marriage between royals or wars won or magical artifacts unearthed travelled at varying speeds depending on how useful it was.
But in certain circles any news of political value was transmitted instantly from nation to nation. The latest developments in the world stage could be worth hundreds or thousands of gold pieces—but of course, such news decreased exponentially in value every minute. And again, few individuals in Baleros were willing to pay for news about Terandrian politics, however dramatic.
But news about a Drake allying with a Human? Much less a Drake whose name was known around the world and a Human woman who could boast the same? That was news worth thousands of gold pieces to some. And Magnolia Reinhart’s informants earned a lion’s share in the hours after Zel had addressed his army.
And as luck would have it, one of those informants spread word to Olesm. Of course he couldn’t afford to pay in gold for the news; he could only afford silver. But he still got the news by [Message] spell, and within ten minutes he’d called an emergency meeting of Liscor’s council.
Watch Captain Zevara strode into the room at the same time as Wall Lord Ilvriss. Olesm was already there, having beaten them by about a minute. He was panting, his eyes wide, and when he turned to them both Drakes knew the news was serious.
“Out with it.”
Ilvriss didn’t wait for the rest of the Council to assemble. He was dressed in armor and looking more alert than Olesm had seen him in days, if slightly hung over. Olesm was grateful for that. The Drake nervously lifted the folded bit of parchment and read out loud from it.
“T-this is the news I just received from Invrisil. It came by one of my informants—I’m sure it’s trustworthy. Here’s what it says. Zel Shivertail, the famous Lineholder General, the Tidebreaker and hero of two Antinium Wars…has formed an alliance with Lady Magnolia Reinhart. He has assumed command of a Human army gathered around Invrisil and is preparing to destroy the Goblin Lord’s army—”
Olesm choked on his words. Ilvriss gaped at him. Zevara went to go sit down and missed her chair. She landed with a crash on the ground. Olesm winced as the Watch Captain stared at him. Then Zevara shouted.
“It’s what it says!”
Olesm flinched as Zevara leapt to her feet. The Watch Captain grabbed the parchment and read it herself. Ilvriss didn’t come over. Instead, he stared at Olesm with a pale face. He seemed almost…calm, which put him at odds with Olesm’s state of near-panic.
“You’re sure of this?”
“I can’t imagine my informant would lie or exaggerate something like this. They’d never be trusted again—the news is everywhere, Wall Lord! That’s what General Shivertail meant when he left—what do we do?”
“Do? He’s gone to the Humans! There’s nothing to do Olesm, he—he’s allied with Magnolia Reinhart? Why would he—just for the Goblin Lord?”
Zevara crumpled the parchment with her fist, looking confused and distraught. Ilvriss looked at her, and then at the first Drakes filing into the room.
“This situation is serious. Olesm, brief the other council members. I am returning to my inn. I need to retrieve a magical artifact.”
“Why? Uh, I mean, why, sir?”
Ilvriss paused, his claw already on the doorframe.
“This requires direct consultation with my peers. And I think, the rest of the continent. Prepare yourself and get me every map and piece of information you can on the Goblin Lord and Reinhart’s forces. This will be a long meeting.”
Then he disappeared out the door. Olesm looked at Zevara, and then he ran for his office.
“This is Ilvriss. Do you hear me?”
“We hear you…Wall Lord. We have an image of you, but it is unstable. The spell seems to be working however. Proceed.”
Ten minutes later, Wall Lord Ilvriss was standing in the meeting room, speaking into a crystal orb the size of his fist that had been placed on the table. Olesm stood against the wall clutching rolls of parchment. He stared into the orb with wide eyes. The magical ball was reflecting another room, a grand chamber that kept wavering in and out of focus. But what it showed was clear enough.
A room full of sixty or so Drakes were all seated in a round chamber, on benches arranged into a semi-circle. They were all dressed in rich clothing or armor, and each one of them was looking towards Ilvriss. Olesm was scared to even breathe. These were the nobility of Salazsar, the ruling elite of the Walled City. Each one was a Lord of the Wall or a Lady of the Wall, and they were all staring at him. Well, not at him, but at Ilvriss, but the pressure alone was making Olesm nervous.
Ilvriss seemed at ease talking with his peers. Indeed, his voice was the only calm one in the room at the moment. He walked back and forth in front of the orb, speaking loudly.
“There isn’t much else I can elaborate on. Zel Shivertail is gone. I mentioned as much by [Message] spell, and you received the news about his alliance with Magnolia Reinhart before me.”
“But you were with him two days ago, Ilvriss! You have to know why he changed sides!”
The voice that came through the orb was angry, but distorted. Ilvriss grimaced and shifted the orb and the voice warped and warbled. Olesm looked at him and Ilvriss shook his head. Zevara muttered into his ear.
“Bad connection. Looks like the magic spells are faded or there’s some interference. This is as good as we’ll get.”
Magical communication was very tricky. [Message] spells were common, true, but actual real-time conferences were extremely difficult to organize. And while Wistram could devise any number of complex spells to facilitate conversations, everyone else had to get inventive.
The way Ilvriss spoke to the other Lords and Ladies of the Wall in his city of Salazsar was by using a scrying orb. It gave him a view of their conference room while they did the same to him. Both orbs were extremely expensive and it had to be said, annoying to use. Ilvriss already had a headache as he stared into the small orb and saw a distorted, fish-eye view of a room full of Drake nobility staring back at him.
“I can’t speak to Shivertail’s thoughts. You know he came north pursuing information about the Goblin Lord. And he was delayed in Liscor due to the Antinium…situation.”
“Ah yes. Was his departure related to that, do you think?”
Ilvriss paused before he replied. Another issue was that the use of two scrying spells meant that their conversations were completely public if anyone wanted to listen in. Ilvriss kept his replies as devoid of confidential information as possible.
“Our findings with the Antinium were unusual and troubling…but not unduly so. Whatever threat they might pose, it’s clear that General Shivertail thought the Goblin Lord was a far more important threat.”
“I see. But then why would he ally with Humans? And with her of all people?”
“I don’t know. But it seems futile to speculate. These are the facts, Wall Lord Menoss. What we should be focusing on is what will happen next.”
Ilvriss gritted his teeth and kept his tail from lashing. Zel Shivertail’s alliance with Lady Magnolia wasn’t an issue solely important to the Drakes in Salazsar of course. No doubt every Walled City was in a panic right now. And for good reason!
“He really went over to Magnolia Reinhart’s side? This isn’t some—some ruse of hers, is it?”
“All indications are that it is not. Zel Shivertail has decided to ally himself with Humans. He has defected, Wall Lady Rizzia.”
There was a pause from the other end. Ilvriss subtly adjusted the orb and a few Drake faces swam into focus. One spoke up, looking worried.
“He can’t do that. Shivertail’s always been an agitator, but this? We must have him back.”
“Have him back? That traitor?”
“Well, he is a [General]. He’s one of ours, he can’t just—”
“He’s not ours. He’s part of the Trisstral Alliance. I wonder what those cities think of this. If they authorized his departure, they’ll have another thing coming—”
The other Drakes were arguing amongst themselves. Ilvriss ground his teeth together. They were missing the point! He slapped a claw on the table and there was a sudden silence.
“Lords and Ladies, please! Forget about the reasons. Instead of thinking of Zel Shivertail’s actions as a matter of dissent, look at it another way. The highest-level Drake [General] in the entire world has just gone over to the Human’s side.”
The room—both rooms—fell silent. Ilvriss stared around at the suddenly grey faces and nodded.
“Zel Shivertail has never gotten himself involved in politics. He’s a career soldier and one of the reasons why we can afford to fight amongst ourselves. If he starts leading Human armies or worse, participates in battles on their side—”
“He wouldn’t do that.”
“Wouldn’t he? Why not? He has nothing to lose here! We’ve refused to hear him more times than I can count. What’s stopping him from joining with Humans who will give him an army and backing? Face the facts! We have just lost our best [General]! We shouldn’t be arguing over the politics, but looking to our safety!”
Ilvriss’ words caused a hush. Olesm held his breath, thinking of all the ramifications. True, no one [General] was influential enough to define the Drake cities or weaken them too much in their absence, but on the other hand…if the Antinium attacked or another nation invaded, it was widely assumed Zel Shivertail would be the first to lead Drake armies in defense. More than that, he was a symbol. People felt reassured—he had beaten the Antinium in two wars after all! If he was gone…
Ilvriss was speaking. Olesm wrenched himself back into listening mode. The Wall Lord was the voice of reason today, which was surprising. Had he really changed that much from his time at Erin’s inn?
“Well if anyone could do it, it would be Erin.”
Olesm mumbled to himself and got a jab from Zevara for speaking. Ilvriss went on.
“I suggest we first contact the other Walled Cities to hear their reaction. And then we reach out to General Shivertail. Otherwise he may decide to stay in the north after he’s finished crushing the Goblin Lord.”
There was a pause as the nobles in Salazsar considered his words and then one of the Wall Lords closest to the orbs spoke.
“We shall reach out to the other cities and attempt to begin a larger discussion. Wall Lord Ilvriss, please hold.”
“I will do so.”
The orb went dark and Ilvriss sighed. There was an audible exhaling of breath around the room and Ilvriss looked at Liscor’s city council. They were [Merchants] and low-level officials, and they looked to Olesm like they were going to be sick. Discussions of this level were several grades about them. However, Ilvriss seemed to regard Olesm and Zevara as worthy sources of input. He turned to them.
“Shivertail’s absence is panicking my people. No doubt it will cause trouble elsewhere, but the question is how much damage it will do abroad. Thoughts?”
“No one’s going to invade Izril just because Zel Shivertail is gone. We’re most at risk of trouble coming from the Humans. However, we might be pressured by foreign powers. We need a united front.”
Zevara replied first and Olesm nodded. Ilvriss nodded as well absently and Olesm dared ask the question that was probably bubbling at the top of everyone’s minds.
“Do you know why General Shivertail would work with the Humans, Wall Lord?”
Ilvriss blinked, looked up, and shrugged.
“Why not? That idiot has talked for years about the need for an army to fight the Antinium for a united front with the Humans. It shouldn’t surprise you that he’d do this.”
“But the Humans—he’ll be called a traitor! And he’s a hero! I just can’t see why…”
Olesm trailed off. Ilvriss looked at the young [Tactician] and shook his head.
“A hero. I forget I’m in Liscor. The facts aren’t so straightforward, young Swifttail. True, Zel Shivertail is a hero of the Antinium Wars., No one denies that. But as to his influence among our people…he’s been the target of a number of smear campaigns among the Walled Cities over the years. He’s been called a rabble-rouser, a traitor for opposing the war with the Humans, and more. Not in Liscor; your city would probably hang anyone who spoke a word against him here. But he’s been a target for years by politicians.”
“But that’s just—”
Olesm broke off before he said something that could get him in trouble. Ilvriss smiled bitterly, sensing what Olesm was going to say.
“It’s funny. After all these years, he may be more popular among Humans than he is among Drakes. And now, having lost him, every city in the south is looking over their tails nervously.”
He shook his head and looked back towards the orb. He muttered under his breath, loud enough for Olesm and Zevara to hear.
“What a mess. Periss was right. We can’t keep doing this.”
Ilvriss looked up, and he was all business again. He nodded to the orb.
“Shivertail’s out of touch for now. I doubt he’ll respond to any [Message] spells at the moment…what we can do is work on things from our own end. Getting idiots to do what we want is a good start. Fear and paranoia move politics far faster than anything else, Swifttail. Give them a few more minutes to stew before you open the communication spell again.”
Olesm busied himself with laying out maps on the table, just in case. Ilvriss sighed, reached for a goblet full of wine, and stopped himself at the last moment. He looked around, found a cup full of water and picked it up. He stared gloomily into it and then turned as the orb flickered into life. He bared his teeth as Olesm backed away from the orb.
“Time to get to work, Swifttail. There’s no room for error or weakness here. The world is watching.”
And indeed, the world was paying attention. Although how each group reacted was a separate matter entirely.
In Rhir, the news of Zel Shivertail’s alliance with Lady Magnolia hit the court of the Blighted King just past lunch. Most of the diners were in the banquet hall and received the news from the [Herald] with polite amazement or frowns. But a group of Drake [Soldiers] sitting at a table reacted explosively to the news.
“He did what?”
One of the Drake [Commanders] leapt up from his table, ignoring the eyes on him. He roared in outrage as the trembling [Herald] repeated the announcement.
“That traitor! He’d ally with Humans? And for what? To stop a Goblin Lord? Let the Humans take care of it! That tailless, backstabbing—”
“Shut up you newt!”
A fist smacked the first Drake in the face as another Drake rose. He knocked the first Drake down with a punch and raised his voice.
“General Shivertail’s a hero! If the Tidebreaker’s a traitor than your entire damned Walled City is full of backstabbing worms! Zel Shivertail is doing what he’s always done—protecting our home!”
“Protecting it by siding with the Humans!”
“Yes! Yes! This is what I’ve been saying all along! We need to fight together! The Humans aren’t a threat! If we work together, we can eradicate the Antinium. And a Goblin Lord? Ancestors, does anyone want another Goblin King? Huh? No! Shivertail’s working with Magnolia Reinhart—”
“That traitorous Human can’t be trusted!”
“Better her than the infighting idiots at your city!”
“You take that back!”
“Make me! I’m with the Tidebreaker all the way! He’s got my support!”
The Drake spun and grabbed one of the banners at his table that marked his delegation. He started shouting as he got up on the table and began waving the banner.
“Shivertail! Shivertail! Izril, the greatest continent in the world!”
The rest of the diners in the room stared at the Drake. At the same table Cirille covered her face with her claws.
Across the room, Richard and most of the Humans who’d been summoned to this world sat at a table with some of Rhir’s nobility. They were confused, but the Rhir nobles around them were mainly contemptuous. One [Lord] shook his head as the Drakes shouted across the banquet hall.
“Drakes. They’re so noisy.”
The Drakes argued and fought until they were ejected from the banquet hall. They were all commanders and over two thirds supported Zel Shivertail. As for the rest of Rhir, the news wasn’t as important. Drakes? Humans? They were on another continent. If it meant more aid to Rhir, all the better. Otherwise, it mattered little. On Baleros however, the opinion was sharply different. At least, for one Fraerling.
“Play it again.”
Niers Astoragon was still in his night clothes, but the messenger had dragged both him and Foliana out of their beds. He scrubbed at his face, willing the fatigue to vanish as he listened to the recording of Zel speaking.
“Dead gods. And this is going out across the world? It will upset the entire balance in Izril. What is that Reinhart woman thinking?”
“Mm. Probably that this is a good idea. Tidebreaker vs Goblins. Bad for Goblin Lord. Good for her.”
Foliana perched on a couch, staring at the image of Zel Shivertail. Niers stared too.
“The Tidebreaker. A [General] like that allied with someone with the Reinhart fortune behind her…that’s a dangerous combination.”
“Only if they do bad things.”
“That’s practically a given, isn’t it? Magnolia Reinhart isn’t known for mercy. But Zel Shivertail agreed to help her? Maybe that means he—”
Niers broke off. He stared around. They were in his room and he was sitting on his desk. Unbidden, his eyes went to the gold-encrusted letter that Magnolia had sent him. Foliana noticed the look.
“Magnolia Reinhart sends me letters every month. Mm. Yesterday she sent me a letter and a muffin.”
The Fraerling [Strategist] looked up sharply.
“You didn’t eat it, did you?”
“Foliana! There are more spells and poisons than we can test for—”
“It had blueberries in it. And lots of sugar. And she sends you letters too.”
“Yes, and I don’t eat my letters!”
“So? You read them. Which is worse?”
Niers choked but couldn’t reply. He stared at the letter and listened to Zel speaking in silence.
“Defending home, huh? Doing the right thing. I’d never expect to hear someone allied with Magnolia Reinhart saying that—no, I suppose that’s exactly what she’d say. Only I believe it, coming from him.”
“Reinhart defends her home. Did it in the last Antinium War.”
“Yes, but that was—she’s not the same as him.”
“No. But they both fight for their home. You did, too.”
Foliana turned vaguely accusing eyes to Niers and he looked away.
“Curiosity. That was all, Foliana.”
“Mm. Well, maybe he was curious.”
Foliana pointed at the tiny Drake standing in the magical crystal on the table.
“Him. Maybe he was curious.”
Niers fell silent. He didn’t see Foliana leaving, but he knew she was gone after a while. The Titan sat on his table, replaying the image of Zel speaking again and again, late into the night.
On Chandrar, various individuals took note of the politics in Izril, but only a few were in any position to care. One, the Emperor of the Sands, considered that the move was unfortunate for his nation since it had the potential to strengthen Izril.
The other, the King of Destruction, was mainly confused.
“The Tidebreaker, my King.”
Orthenon spoke in front of Flos’ throne. The King of Destruction frowned.
“Tidebreaker? The title seems vaguely familiar, but I cannot place it. This Tidebreaker is a Drake [General]?”
“Yes, a famous one. You may not recognize him because he rose to prominence after your slumber, my liege. He defeated the Antinium during two wars and fought the Goblin King and the Necromancer himself. He is considered to be the highest-level [General] the Drakes possess.”
Flos’ eyes lit up and a smile crossed his face.
“He sounds fascinating. I suppose this alliance bodes well for Izril, does it?”
“It could be. On the other hand, it could result in turmoil if the Drakes and Humans enter conflict over his switching allegiances. Either way, I do not think this is fortunate news for us. A [General] of his level allied with Magnolia Reinhart is a considerable threat.”
“I am aware. It seems this Goblin Lord is outmatched. A pity. I always wanted to meet a Goblin King.”
“Do not jest please, your majesty.”
“Who says I’m jesting? Ah, come now Orthenon. I missed the Goblin King and they only appear every few centuries! What a disappointment. Come to think of it…be sure to instruct Trey and Teres about the Goblin King, would you? That is an important battle to remember.”
“I shall, your majesty. Now, while the news is important, I do not predict it will affect the situation locally in any significant way. If General Shivertail strengthens his alliance with Magnolia Reinhart we may run into trouble when coming into conflict with Izril, but that is far enough away to be safely ignored for now. For more pressing concerns, we seem to have rats in one of the granaries. I would not trouble you with the news, but it seems these rats can teleport, so I would request…”
Flos sighed as he leaned back on his throne. Chandrar was safe. The other continents listened to the news from Izril, but with no real alarm. Only interest and sometimes scorn.
“It would be one of the Reinharts that would agree to such an alliance.”
“Indeed. Allying with a Drake against Goblins? Has she no shame?”
“Then again, the Reinharts have always been a meddlesome family.”
“I suppose the news is important, however obliquely. I would rather see the Veltras family succeed rather than the Reinhart house. They at least object to the presence of Drakes.”
“True. An embargo may be called for. Tariffs at the least to express our discontent.”
“It will be a matter for debate. Let us see what the other kingdoms do first.”
“Hm. I suppose.”
In Terandria, scorn was everywhere. Not that it was particularly informed scorn; it was more of a neighborly disdain for everything they regarded as inferior. Teriarch sighed as he cut short the conversation between two Terandrian nobles with a wave of his claw.
It wasn’t hard for the Dragon to intercept communications between mages and magical artifacts, even the encrypted ones. That was the problem with mages of today. They were so, so…complacent. Every spell was the same, which meant all the flaws were the same too.
The Dragon sighed. If he tried, he could actually hear the reports about Zel Shivertail’s alliance with Magnolia passing across the world. So much news and over so little! All he’d done was ally with her. It wasn’t the first time Humans and Drakes had worked together.
“But perhaps it is significant for this age. When was the last time they formed an alliance? A hundred years ago? No. Four hundred? Wait, there was that marriage—hrm. Hmf. I suppose it is important. No wonder Reinhart is bothering me so.”
Teriarch flicked a claw, dismissing the [Message] spells he’d received from Magnolia. He sighed and curled up a bit more in his cave.
“What was it she said? A [General], a [Strategist] and me? Pah. That hatchling’s barely a [General]. I suppose he’s of a decent level, but as for his speeches, I’ll pass. Good speeches have more fire to them. When I was young, I heard some good ones. How did the one with the Human in purple armor go again? Something about eating the tails of their foes? Or did the Gnoll say that? Hm…”
The Dragon trailed off blankly and curled up in his cave. Another [Message] spell appeared and he flicked it away with a twitch of his tail.
“Not yet, girl. Not yet. One isn’t two and besides, I promised nothing. You think you can order Dragons around? We’re…very noble species…unacceptable. Going outside is…quite dull…anyways.”
His voice grew lower and sleepier as Teriarch drifted into a nap. He slept, as the world panicked. He had seen it all before and would see it all again. There were no surprises for immortals. Not for those beyond death.
Az’kerash froze, one hand outstretched over the heap of flesh and bones. Ijvani shuffled her feet, disliking the surprise she saw written over her master’s face.
“Zel Shivertail has taken command of an army formed by Magnolia Reinhart, master. He is preparing to defend Invrisil from the Goblin Lord’s attack or pursue his army should the Goblin Lord avoid the city.”
“Shivertail? Ally with a Human? Impossible. How can that—”
Az’kerash abandoned the grisly remains on the table and began to pace back and forth. He was visibly shaken by the information, but as he paced, his agitation disappeared and a calculating look passed over his face instead. The black skeleton was relieved to see that. She waited while the Necromancer mused out loud.
“Is this an opportunity or a trap? No—if Shivertail has given me this opportunity, I must seize it no matter how remote the chances of success are. Thank you, Ijvani. Now—”
He flicked a hand and muttered a spell. The air opened up and Ijvani saw Az’kerash speaking to the air.
“My apprentice. Heed my words now.”
Across the world, the news of Zel’s alliance was heard, but it could be argued it mattered little to most. In Izril, the news sent Lord Tyrion Veltras into a rage and confused a certain blind [Emperor] until the politics of Drakes and Humans were explained to him by a certain Lady Rie Valerund. It reached the ears of Erin Solstice and made her rub them for a while. But the magnitude of what had happened was only understood by a few.
Klbkch of the Antinium and his Queen were silent at the news. They debated what might occur in hushed tones and thought of the past and the future. Ilvriss convinced his people to avoid denouncing Zel Shivertail outright, and to approach him carefully as well.
But that was all politics and it really didn’t matter. For instance, neither Rags and her tribe nor Garen Redfang and Tremborag had any idea of what had occurred. Neither would they have cared, largely. Alliances were all very well, but it was battle that mattered. If an angry Drake [General] was coming their way, no sane Goblin would fight him. They’d just run.
So perhaps the news mattered only to two individuals. A Necromancer and his apprentice. Because as Osthia Blackwing watched the Goblin Lord argue and then kneel in agony to his master, she felt the world change. And as he rose, bitter and furious and tore the map apart, she knew one thing before he turned and spoke.
“We attack Invrisil. We go to slay the one named Zel Shivertail.”
The Goblin Lord spat the words, turning to his lieutenants. The other Goblins stared at him, and Osthia felt her stomach lurch. She spoke and every head turned towards her.
“You won’t defeat him. Not General Shivertail.”
The Goblin Lord looked at her, his black eyes and white pupils dilated with rage. His voice shook—the first real display of emotion she’d seen out of him.
“We are ordered. So we will. Or die.”
And so the world turned. Gossip and rumors floated about, but there was only one certainty. Zel Shivertail sat in his tent and felt the certainty just like the Goblin Lord. He turned his head and the Goblin Lord turned his. Across many miles their gazes locked. And there was only one word on the lips of both.