Just like that, there’s a whole month since my last update. Time flies when you’ve got other responsibilities, responsibilities that haven’t ended so don’t expect the chapter pace to pick up again I’m afraid. But I’d say we’re at the last chapter before the action begins.
Chapter 10: Forming alliances and breaking apart
A lone, battered rider is standing in the hall, trying to pant and wheeze as little as possible. Quite ironically he’s more successful at it then that fat, alcoholic Sos. Even going thre flights down instead of up taxes the guy significantly. Porky looks at the rider, and at the sabre he’s holding.
‘No sir.’ The rider replies. ‘We have seen him but he was already reanimated with too many undead between him and us. His sabre was the only thing we could get our hands on without certain doom.’
‘And the other two?’
‘One dead, the other dragged inside by his warg and currently being treated. The doctors weren’t promising any miracles.’
‘I see. And you are absolutely sure that you saw Thallal?’
‘Yes sir. His attire confirmed his identity even if I wouldn’t know his face.’
‘Very well, dismissed.’ Porky says. Once the rider leaves, Sos coughs and tries to take the sword out of Porky’s hands.
Porky doesn’t let go, and Sos tries jerking it a bit. He looks up with anger, and Porky stares back with empty disapproval.
‘Come on, let me see the sword.’ Sos says. ‘I know what it looks like, I want to check if it’s really Thallal’s.’
‘The blacksmith can do that more reliably.’
Sos tries jerking the sword again, this time putting his weight behind it. Knowing very well what’s going on here, Porky doesn’t let go. If Sos thinks he can take over the tribe this easily, he won’t be much of a problem.
Porky bends over and whispers as quietly as his booming voice can: ‘I’ll never allow a puny aristocrat like you to rule the Wilds.’
‘And I won’t let a brute like you ruin our lands with needless war.’ Sos whispers back angrily.
‘Do you even grasp the situation? We are at war, the kind where our enemy won’t be vulnerable to your little party tricks, fatso.’
‘And where they are vastly outnumbering your overconfident strength, brute.’
‘Let go. Your chubby fingers can’t even fit through the handle anyway.’
‘And your chubby everything can’t lift the sword up high enough, let alone kill an Immortal with it.’
Porky and Sos continue staring at each other with deadly intent, both clamping on to their fallen leader’s sword and trying to read one another’s mind. How many men do they have at their back and call? How many are they willing to sacrifice to this internal struggle with the undead knocking on their door?
How is he planning to overthrow me and take command of the tribe before Baoc arrives?
Dahra looks at the people marching. She really hopes to get lucky this time, and that there are only pilgrims in that group. Quietly she sneaks further.
The previous three groups she approached also had Wilds among them. She had expected one or two groups with a diplomatic guest but to run into three of them out of three was ridiculous. And strangely enough it didn’t seem like the Wilds were of the diplomatic sort, they seemed more like upper middle-class citizens. Immigration?
But, regardless of the situation, it was too much of a problem. A wild was a wild, and she couldn’t join a group with a Wild one among them. Not when she was a fugitive trying to escape the outskirt.
Dahra curses. Again? Only just in time had she spotted the Wild crest on the clothes of one of the men. From the looks of it there were even more Wilds amongst this group than the last, a family and at least three lone Wilds with what seemed like an unpractical pack with their belongings.
Well, at least it was fun to see how these Wilds had no idea how to pack for a longer journey. She briefly wonders why none of these Wilds brought a Nihilist to carry their luggage for them, but then waves away her concerns. Who cares?
Dahra crawls back to her hiding spot and starts waiting for the next pilgrim group again. If the next one isn’t Wild-free she’d have to take her chances regardless, there would only be so many pilgrim groups coming by before the festival stream would run dry.
Amon crumples up the letter he was reading just moments ago, throwing the paper ball away carelessly and waving at a servant with agitated signs to bring a rag. When the poor servant arrives, Amon rips the napkin from their hands to rub away the wax left by the letter’s seal.
No one needs to ask what the response of House Gerens was, nor is anyone stupid enough to speak when Amon is in this kind of mood. The Grand Duke does not take rejection kindly after the years of bad experiences.
The answer was no surprise. Blight was popping up everywhere these days and there were a lot of plagued lands that were a whole lot worse off than Park. Compared to the many peaceful rural areas and war-exhausted kingdoms that were like kindling for the undead to spread through uncontrolled, the situation in the outskirt seemed well-manageable.
In fact, Mammon thought so too himself. The undead were stuck behind a formidable fortress inhabited by a tribe with an ample amount of warriors. In between the undead and Park, massive as these invading forces might be, were three tribes to stall the march. And Park was far from an under-defended town, after years of perpetual war without help or progress the dukedom was a more prepared for the Blight than many Blight-surviving country.
Yes, Mammon made a good choice staying. The quartermasters and merchants gave their inventory estimates and the city’s reserves were checked. With some barter and confiscating, Park had enough food to last the entire population for two years on rations despite the many provisions that were being sent elsewhere lately, and that was without the pantries that the villagers would bring.
Villagers that were, due to the occasional Wild rampages, well drilled in evacuating or holing up in their town centre. No frantic migration to the city was expected, they were all taught on how to gather and move orderly. And those who were unable to migrate could seek refuge in their town centres which had a fortified basement bunker rather than just being a big building for them to be slaughtered in.
So, no. Other countries saw no reason to send troops to Park now when they could do so a year later when the undead were swarming around the city gates and their position would be much stronger. Not when Park had so much mercenaries that Amon might prevent a siege entirely. Not when those kingdoms were already lending aid to other countries while fearing that the Blight could appear in theirs at any moment.
Even Amon knew this. He knew that the asking of aid was merely a political gesture, not doing so could offend their allies or make him seem short-sighted. The terms that they phrased in giving no real reward or favour for the help said as much. And a rejection now could validate approval with a later request. But it appeared that the Duke was taking the rejections personally nonetheless.
‘Mercenaries.’ Amon said begrudgingly.
‘Over three hundred already signed in.’ Belphegor says. ‘Word on the street is that many are still waiting for the situation to develop, though. Either the situation gets more dire and they’re waiting for us to increase the signing bonus, or they think that signing in now will result in being sent out rather than having to defend the city.’
‘Even higher?’ Amon says.
‘I agree, it’s unlikely that we’ll raise the signing bonus considering how much it is already.’ Belphegor says. ‘We might lower it when things go well and they’ll come crawling for scraps, but I doubt that we’ll raise it before the undead reach our lands. But it’s to be expected, mercenaries are an opportunistic folk. More will join with time.’
‘No one is happy with the steep increase, noble and commoner alike. A lot of people saying we’re doing it too early to line our pockets.’ Asmodeus says. ‘But no word of riot yet. They know the situation.’
‘No word back from the villages yet, my Lord.’ Kristal says. ‘No doubt they are aware of the situation but they’re not quick with decisions.’
‘Send another letter to both just in case.’ Amon says. ‘What about our forces?’
‘We’ve already started recruiting the more enthusiastic volunteers. Now that it’s not against the Wilds there’s a new wave of eager youth. It will take a few weeks before we’ll run out of actual volunteers and have to turn to conscripting.’ General Beelze says. ‘And our own armies will be ready in a few days.’
‘At least my own country can be relied upon, unlike others.’ Amon says with a little smile on his face. ‘Dismissed.’
Some advisors and noblemen stay while others leave. Mammon sees his aide standing outside making eye contact and leaves the room as well. The moment he enters the halls, his aide gives him a report from the disheartening stack balancing on his other arm.
‘House Papis sends word that they’re willing to lend 2000 men in cavalry if you need them.’ The aide says. ‘In exchange for shares.’
‘Tell house Papis that by sending his men, he can claim the same signing bonus as the mercenaries with the additional bonus for cavalry, military training and the group bonus. The monetary compensation should be more than sufficient.’ Mammon replies.
‘There are four more houses with similar offers.’ The aide says.
‘Then send them the same answer.’ Mammon says. ‘I have no intention to sell shares of the backroom for any gift of aid. At this point, there is no point in just handing over our power in the long term for short-term gain against the undead.’
‘Shall I also send the same reply to any future offers?’ The aide asks.
‘Yes, I’ll let you know once the situation becomes dire enough to give away some of our financial power and influence for favours. Until then I’ll leave the barter to Lord Amon to handle. Right now the undead might not even get past Thugs wall.’ Mammon says. ’And the other papers?’
‘The regular, sir.’ The aide says. ‘Although the incoming Blight has an influence on the amount, of course. A lot of merchants trying to move their goods safer haven.’
‘And that’s where the real problems lie.’ Mammon sighs. ‘Very well, let’s do some damage control, then.’
Tael heard the angry Wild approach long before Baoc would arrive. For a moment he panicked, wondering if the brute found out about Mael’s mission already. But he forced himself to calm down, either Baoc did and there was nothing he could do, or Baoc didn’t and being afraid would only tip him off.
It seemed that Baoc’s sound wouldn’t just announce his arrival, his presence wouldn’t even come in itself.
‘Get out here, you lazy bum!’
Tael sighed and left his chambers. The massive orc seemed to be absolutely fuming and for a moment he was sure that Mael’s mission had been compromised, but he forced his calm demeanour to remain plastered to his face. Baoc was pissed quite often, it could be something else.
‘Yes, what is it?’ Tael asked.
‘Where are the men you’re preparing? We’re leaving right away!’ Baoc shouts.
‘Excuse me? I thought…’
‘How many did you prepare?!’
’85 thus far, but I still have more than a day before…’
‘Gather them and any grunt you can get ready to move out in the next half hour!’
‘Surely we can wait just…’
Boac grabs Tael by the collar and hoists him up with ease, ramming him against the wall.
‘No time for your games, Sheep! The undead are coming!’
‘The und… What? But I thought… Has Thugs wall already fallen?’
‘The undead already got across before the horn sounded! Everything up to Mysterious scorch has already fallen!’ Baoc shouts in Tael’s face.
The corners of Tael’s lips twitch again, the only sign of supressing his emotions from showing once again. This time however he doesn’t have to supress fear but a smile.
The very heart of the Wild’s territory has already fallen and Thugs wall is isolated between two Blighted lands? Useful.
Tael feels a pang of disappointment when he realises that Mael doesn’t know this, and he quickly sends a prayer that word will travel faster than his brother does.
It is only then, with a bitter taste of self-loathing for it being the third concern he had, that Tael realises the consequences for his own tribe. If the undead were already this far, they’d reach Sheepdust territory in no time.
‘How many undead are already coming this way? Any hordes bound for us specifically?’ He asks.
Baoc lets go and Tael slumps to the ground. ‘Never mind that, get those men as quickly as possible.’
‘So we can fight our way through to Thugs wall.’
‘Even now?’ Tael can’t help but mutter, his neutral expression crackling. The comment was mostly surprise, but the tone of loathing and resistance was more than audible. ‘But Thugs wall is one of the best defended places to be right now. Our villages are…’
‘Do you even know what’s going on right now? I need to be at Thugs wall as quickly as possible, lest you want the main horde to be upon us soon.’
‘Half the Wild army is at Thugs wall already, they must be over-encumbered with men already. If we send even more, it would only lead to them running out of rations faster. Rations they can’t recover from blighted lands.’
‘Half an hour to assemble those men, end of discussion.’ With that, Baoc leaves.
‘My kingdom, my kingdom. My kingdom for something exciting.’
Rakshasi absentmindedly nibbles on the orc finger, neither out of hunger nor taste. This sundried piece of meat could sate neither anyway.
Sick and tired of the finger, Rakshasi throws it overboard. The finger falls onto the desert sand and mere seconds later one of the fins in the sand turns into a large gaping gap of teeth and horror. Seconds later, the sand shark has already returned to a mere fin in the sand, just as drowsily moving along with the ship as before.
Rakshasi looks at her lieutenant. Being a male Rakshasa, he didn’t bother looking like an existing race on his own ship. Her male counterparts were neither intelligent nor sophisticated enough for that. Instead, he looked like a fat and bulky red demon with large fangs and burning yellow eyes. How unoriginal.
Then again, male Rakshasa weren’t known for their originality. They were just all little alpha males trying to look stronger and more intimidating then the others.
‘What is it, Lth?’
‘A runaway.’ The demon growled. His answer more than the contents of it annoyed her. Trying to sound as deep and rumbling as he could, Lth. Only succeeded in being almost incomprehensible.
‘Just shoot him then, you know that.’
‘Did that. Arrow through heart. Keeps walking.’
‘If you struck him, he bleeds and the sand sharks will take care of things.’
‘They don’t. Sand sharks no come near orc. Will soon reach us.’
Rakshasi feels a pang of interest at that last part. While the Lth. and his unbound stupidity is just infuriatingly inferior, that last part was uncommon. The runaway was headed towards the ship rather than away from it?
‘There.’ Lth. points at the portside of the ship. Then, he stretches his hands out to grab Rakshasi and drag her there.
He howls in agony when Rakshasi turns her hand into a sharp bone blade and cuts off his arm. His arm falls onto the ground and flops around while Lth. tries to control his rage and pain. Morphing his bleeding wound into a stomp, he grabs his arm and starts devouring it.
Male Rakshasa are so disgusting, the very idea of letting them touch you is one that is only rarely allowed. And Rakshasi had no intention of baring a female Rakshasa right now.
No, she had no intention of increasing the Rakshasa population as was. That’s why there were no women other than her on board, as a male Rakshasa could produce other dim-witted male Rakshasa with pretty much any sentient race.
Elegantly, Rakshasi walked portside and looked at this runaway. Lth. wasn’t lying, the orc looked absolutely ravished to the point where the arrow sticking out of his chest was the least of his problems. A being this badly injured couldn’t possibly be alive. Yet it was still walking straight for the ship.
‘Men, haul that thing up here. I want to take a closer look at it.’