Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
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Six Thegn Quean

Episode Five

by David Ulnar-Slew




DEDICATION

This is dedicated to the readers. The reader makes the writer relevant. Thank you.



Destiny Beckons

The Ogrim were surprised at the hidden wealth of the other chamber. A good portion of it was the entire worth of a Shen noble transported north with the family. The twins' parents had come with servants, uncles, aunts, cousins, even a grandfather who was a grandmaster warrior in his day. The fact that they had all perished spoke of the depths of the Eoten's treachery. It also hinted at him having assistance and nefarious sponsorship. He had a pack, or maybe even two, of dire wolves back then, but it still was not enough to take out a whole nomadic village of Shen warriors and priests. The twins sat sorting the items that they had recovered, which ranged from weapons to personal effects, and a substantial amount of mineral wealth in precious metals and jewels. Their folk were not some low level missionary group. They were most likely after that thing in the other room, on a holy mission. Raz didn't know everything there was to know about the Shen, but that seemed most likely from the bits he had gleaned about their faith. It also would explain how they crossed paths with the Eoten. If he was charged to hide the vile entity, that would explain much.

The half-dead giant was in the corner where Raz had dragged him to be out of the way. Breath still rose and sank in his chest shallowly. The twins had refused requests both to bandage him and finish him. Some of his wounds looked healed slightly like Raz's own, except not as well or completely. The Ogrim suspected perhaps Eve had healed him just enough to suffer more and continue dying. Snigin had left them to procure a wagon by any means necessary, at the request of the twins. Raz and Cammi had discussed that, given his utter devotion to the twins and enthusiasm for the amount of their new-found wealth, they could only hope he found a wagon without having to do something malevolent.

Raz caught Lilith's attention and signaled. 'You going to let him die soon?'

'No. When Snigin comes back we will load the wagon and then drag him behind it all the way back to the village. Then we will mount his corpse on a pole outside the village as a warning to the coming horde. If they are wise they will take a road away and we can get to the business of hunting the abomination you saw in the other room.' Even her hand signals seemed more formal now. If it was speech it would have seemed regal.

Eve stood over a table on which a piece of parchment was spread. It was a picture of a noble looking Shen man and his wife. Each had a girl on their lap to pose for the charcoal drawing. It had come from a tube that was sealed and with the books and maps that were plentiful in this part of the room. She signaled to Raz. 'My parents. Father was training Lilith to be a warrior.' She spoke one word: "wa'Shen." Then she switched back to hand-speak. 'Mother wanted me to be a priestess, but she was a war priestess, not a temple cleric, so she taught me what she knew.' She said one other word, "ha'Shen." Tears were rolling down her cheeks. 'We will continue our training the best we can with what we find here. Some of it was just a matter of being reminded of some of the words for me and a bit for her. The fighting skills never stopped. We must kill that evil thing that was brought here, then return home to announce that our family succeeded.'

The big man nodded his great head. "I understand having something to prove before going home, but I cannot imagine your pain at losing everyone when you were children."

Lilith came over and flicked her hand nonchalantly. 'We are Shen. We remember what that means more each minute we spend here. We are duty to the one God incarnate. We do not have time for pain and weeping. Come, let us begin bringing this up top to wait for Snigin.' She grabbed a large bag in each hand and started down the corridor. Eve looked sympathetically at him and did likewise.

It was strange that now that they had found some of their past, each was a bit more individual, or so it seemed to him. Cammi came back into the room. She had gone to look around the other directions a bit. After fighting the Nek, they figured not much else down here would be able to scare them, but there may be other good salvage.

If she was not developing into a beautiful shade of purple, Raz would have thought she looked a bit green. It upset him none the less. "Raz, come see this. I think I know how all this got here."

She led him down the tunnel in the one direction that none of the others had been down yet. At the end of the tunnel was a door which was ajar. Inside the room were barracks with twelve beds. Eleven of the beds had skeletons on mattresses as if they had been killed sleeping. They were human child sized, which he assumed was what was troubling Cammi. He noticed something odd, though. The structure of the face was odd. These things would have been inhuman for sure, possibly with rat or lizard features. He was pretty sure what he was looking at, though he had yet to see a living specimen. These were most likely Kobals. "They aren't children."

"What ... how?" She grasped his arm.

"They are not structured right to be humans, never mind children. They are most likely another of the inhuman races, called Kobals. The structure would be right, as well as the size. I can't be positive, though; I have never seen a living one. There is a desiccated sample in the library of my home, and it seems to match these skeletons, as best as I can tell."

She seemed relieved. "Well if you are sure. I have other questions, though. Why are they all in bed? Why does that bed have no corpse or mattress?"

"That, my dearest, is quite simple. One of the little buggers is alive, and he and the vile giant dying in the other room did not want to share the loot after everyone worked so hard to get it here and hide it. So I would imagine they poisoned them or cut their throats while they slept, then just left them where they lay and moved elsewhere to sleep." He shook his head reproachfully.

"Dear gods, that is brutal."

Raz nodded his assent to her judgement. "Eoten are not known for their kindness or trustworthiness. Kobals are rather primitive, vicious, yet crafty fellows, from what I have read. I would assume a pack of them in the company of an Eoten transporting an undead monstrosity across oceans and kingdoms was not a grave loss to the world, regardless of the unpleasant end they met."

She stuck her lower lip out and crinkled her brow thoughtfully. "I suppose you are right about that. Well, there doesn't seem to be anything left in here I want. We better go help the twins before they get out of sorts."

They both went back to the treasure room and grabbed as much as they could carry. When they got to the ground level, Snigin was there with the girls, loading a wagon which was quite large. Raz couldn't help himself, despite the fact he may not like the answer.

"You steal that?"

"Nay, big fella. I overpaid, in fact. Plenty of gold to spread around now. Besides, the girls might be vicious to the unworthy and evil, but they are clergy now. They wouldn't want me robbing potential converts, now, would they?" The twins both glared at him but it was obvious they forgave him relatively quickly, or at least that they didn't want to stop working to reprimand him. "I will stay up here with the wagon while you all keep hauling stuff up. I don't think I could carry what any of you could, anyway. We should be ready to go by nightfall. Looks like the girls are ready to bring the Eoten up now."

Eve handed Lilith one of her ceremonial hooks. The two exchanged a glance and ventured back down. It was pretty clear they did not intend to carry Kre up the stairs. Raz considered once again that it might have been better off for the giant if he had just let the Ogrim kill him on that first encounter. The girls were not exactly well known for their even-tempered mercy before they found out it was responsible for their family's deaths. Now he could only hope the giant died accidentally and too quickly for them to pull him back from the brink. He never thought a day would come where he would ever meet one of those cursed monsters, never mind actually feel sympathy for such a fiend.

Sunshine on a Vermin's Back

Ugle woke in a dark room. There was just a crack of light peeking through the gap at the top of the door. It let him see that he had been supplied with a pillow and blanket to go with the mat he was lying on across the floor of this small room. If he was a prisoner, then his cell was almost as comfortable as his current home. It smelled cleaner, too. It wasn't easy serving Kre, but he was alive; the others were dead. Alive is better than dead, no matter how dire the circumstances. He had been crafty enough to make sure he was the one Kre kept. That meant murdering his brothers and sisters. They weren't very nice Kobal anyway. Survival of the most fit was always the Kobal way. He did it to them. Any of them would have done it to him and all the others. When Ugle realized that Kre wasn't about to share, and actually was slightly concerned about twelve Kobals trying to take a share, he made a plan. Over the course of weeks he let Kre know he wanted no treasure, just wanted to use the books and keep living in the cave. It was also pup's play to make Kre think the others were just about to demand their share. Kre was not stable or bright, even for an Eoten, according to the Master. The giant bought his plan and even took the initiative to suggest poison, so they wouldn't have to fight eleven Kobal. They were small, but on the average the little creatures were vicious, and highly accomplished spear fighters. They killed at a distance both with throws and melee styles. This served them well in regard to size and agility. Most considered Kobal lower, stupid things because of the bestial appearance in comparison to the human structure and their guttural speech. The truth was they were crafty and brilliant creatures who just preferred to live tribally and behave a bit savagely. If they stopped betraying each other as a society and acquired the means and technology, they could probably rule the world, all things being equal.

The blue rat-faced man sat up when a tray of food slid through an opening on the bottom of the door, which quickly closed afterward.

"Heoy maan. Cohm bahk."

Tril wasn't sure what he had heard at first, but he stopped out of pure curiosity and answered back. "What now?"

"Oi sahd. Cohm bahk. Oi wahni tahk wit uv. Nut gud wiv yer wurds. Kobals speek Kobal nut yer freeky wurds."

The soldier got the gist if he listened closely. He actually gave it credit for speaking that well with its face shaped the way it was. It must be difficult, just with those jaws and teeth alone. "What you want then?"

"Hwher um oi? Hwhi mhy heer?"

"You was watching us by the caves. Warrant Officer Poke knew you would come back once we set off. He dropped off the wagon, doubled back and bushwhacked ya when ya came out. Now we got you locked up in the village in a room we made into a cell." Tril leaned on the doorjamb outside, speaking at the door.

"Oi dina du anyting tu uv en im. Lemme gu."

Tril kicked the door lightly with his foot. "I think Mus might disagree with that sentiment if he were here now."

"Oi not kill yer fren. Yer fren wen en moi hum. E gut wut e zervd. Freeky uman rubber takin moi ztuf."

"Your stuff, huh? So you didn't take that stuff from anyone else then?" The young soldier's voice was growing a bit angry.

"Zo cus ima rubber en hee dyed rubbin mi um da baad goi?"

Tril had no answer so he just pounded his fist on the door and walked away. Ugle went at the food in the dish that was left. It was meager slop even in this village, but better than he had most days living with Kre. That was on the days he ate at all. Some days he had to scavenge through the bones and scraps the cat left to have any food at all. He could just sit here like this as a prisoner, all things being equal, for some time comfortably. Unfortunately, his Kobal logic made him very uncomfortable with being held against his will. His people had a very concrete world view, and captivity was ranked below death. This had quite a bit to do with the amount of time they spent being abused and enslaved by other races, particularly humans, especially the Masters. As long as he was at a disadvantage, he would mind his manners. The minute an opportunity presented itself though, he would escape, even if he had to kill his way out. The way other parties kept Kobals in chains, real or theoretical, was to never entirely trust them or turn their back on them. Ugle had a feeling this particular pack of humans had not learned that yet; it might just be to his advantage at some point soon.

He would have approved of the very Kobal-like sharpness of Warrant Officer Poke, who sat just to the side of the cell door watching a mirror, which had just the right angle to view the entirety of the cell through the crack in the door. It could not be seen this time of day due to the sun shining right through the crack and was easily taken down and remounted when needed. Through this mirror, the senior officer had sat and watched the whole exchange between the soldier and the interesting little creature. He had the benefit of seeing expressions and movements on the cell side of the door. Even with having to guess a bit due to a quite different face, Poke was pretty sure he had a better measure of the creature than it thought its captors had. That thing might be ugly, but it wasn't stupid by a far measure. It was planning, and gathering intelligence. Those weren't the actions of an animal, for sure.

A Town in Waiting

Nana Crowley walked in the sunshine of a beautiful end-of-summer day. The village was coming along wonderfully. Barricades had been put up, walls built and a number of other wonderful additions. Honestly, other than the fact that it made for a bit of a military aesthetic, she wondered why such functional things had not been done ages ago. Sure, they didn't extend out to go around people's fields and most homes, but when everyone congregated in the village and the harvest was stored within the walls, it felt like a veritable fortress. She was almost believing they might be safe. All these things had been accomplished so well and quickly. Everyone jumped on board when the naysayers suddenly developed diarrhea, either because no one was there to speak against the other side, or because they had the sense to realize they didn't want to suddenly be bedridden as well. With the entirety of the village in agreement, the dissenters even gave in, because they did not want to be in such a ridiculously small minority in such a close community. The able-bodied were trained better than she could have ever imagined was possible.

She was encouraged to see the remaining members of the band that was her home's salvation coming, just to the edge of the town's defenses. They were driving a huge wagon that they had not left with. The Ogrim was with them, but most villagers were much more flexible minded than they were in the recent past. She also now noticed that, for all intents, it was two Ogrim, as the big girl was almost as purple as the big man. The two young feral warrior girls rode on the wagon with the bandit. They seemed odd though, not as skittish, fixing their gazes more, mouths clamped in serious expressions. They looked older, as well. Perhaps it was just an old woman's imagination. She might be pushing ideas where they don't belong. Noise signals alerted the village of approaching people even if those on guard knew them for who they were. The rules that guards operated under were clear from this point on. They were more outpost than village now. It suited the old woman fine; better to live in and around an outpost than to die in a village for cabbages and potatoes.

Many were headed out to greet them as they returned, the two officers, all the remaining women in the band surrounding the trader Naomi when she returned, and a few of the bandits. Another alarm sounded.

A wall guard shouted back at the village. "Good gods! They are dragging a giant behind that wagon, and it looks dead."

At the edge of the defenses where a wall of pikes had been placed to deter charging horses, the wagon stopped. The twins got down off the wagon and went around to the corpse. Lilith cut the rope with her blade and then sheathed it. The pair of women grabbed the body, legs and arms, dragged it to the spikes, then hoisted it under its arms and threw it on the spikes so it was impaled through the back viciously. It ended up looking as if it was standing, with the exception of some of the spikes making it cleanly through the torso. It was quite a gruesome effect. Not Nana Crowley's exact cup of tea, but most certainly a good test of the spikes, and bound to have some effect on the desire to charge the wall on anyone previously so inclined. Once they were done, the girls hopped back onto the wagon and continued in to the outpost. Predictably, there was quite a bit of cheering once the shock was over. When some of the people who intend to save your village throw the corpse of a two headed giant on a pike by your gates as a warning to anyone who would do you harm, that tended to bolster the spirits some.

Pyn was standing off to the side. "Hey. We aren't going to let ogres in here now, are we?" Nana crept up the rest of the way right behind him and slapped him in the back of the head quite forcefully for a woman of her advanced years. He turned indignantly. When he faced her he shrank back.

She leaned into him slightly. "We most certainly are. Then he will live here with her for as long as they choose. Another word from you and I shall ask them if they have any skill with pastry, cause this outpost will need a new baker."

Pyn skulked off to return to his shop.

As the population greeted the returning heroes, she considered how things were in motion that seemed well beyond this little village. It seemed almost as if large things were in the works which signaled the beginning or the end of an age of some sort.

"Indeed." Father Relchior had moved up next to her so silently. Quite stealthy for the only other resident as ancient as her.

"Indeed what, Grayson?" She pouted at him, vexed that it seemed he was commenting on her inner thoughts.

"I thoroughly concur with your scolding of Pyn." This made her feel a bit relieved. Though she had known him for an age, he was always a touch mysterious, and even more so lately. She would most definitely take exception if he could read thoughts somehow in a recent turn of events.

He started off back towards his hut. "Don't worry. I will tell no one."

"Wha...." She was again taken aback.

"That you struck him. I saw nothing." He smiled over his shoulder and winked, then continued walking.

Grayson Relchior was up to something, and knew at least one thing that most of the rest of the participants in this little play of the gods did not know. It was unsettling.

She had no idea, but Grayson Relchior agreed wholeheartedly with her about it being unsettling. When you were a priest for sixty-nine winters with piety and resolute faith, it mucked everything all up when the gods started speaking to you over your stew one evening. Now they just about never went a day without bothering him. The things they told him were wonderful, yet troublesome. Actually, they were more troublesome than wonderful, but the faith of a lifelong priest forced him to feel some sense of wonder when his gods made him chosen in any way. He would have been quite content if they chose someone else instead, though. Ignorance would have certainly been bliss in this case.

More Than Meets the Eye

Raz crowded himself into the outer room of the makeshift jail. He was asked to come speak to the little creature, because he was the closest thing to an expert on the inhuman races they had in the village. They had the little blue fellow stick his hands through the food slot at the bottom of the door so he could be shackled before they opened the door. It seemed to be a bit much given that an Ogrim, a warrant officer, and a commander of the King's Guard were there. Poke had insisted, as he believed there was more to this little creature than met the eye.

The Kobal stuck his hands through the hole in the door and Poke clipped on the shackles. The hands disappeared again. Then Poke used his official-type voice. "Stand five paces back from the door, prisoner." He was watching through the gap to see that he was obeyed. The Kobal did as he was told.

When the door opened, he bolted straight out. Raz caught him with one hand and lifted him clear off his feet by the shackle chain. Ugle hung helplessly with his hands over his head. The look on his face was one of overwhelming surprise. It was one part from being six feet in the air, the other factor was he was taken aback at who was doing the holding. "Oi be maad smaked. Ah purple Ugar." Seeing the distressed look on Raz's face he quickly spoke again. "Na. Na. Na. Oi zory. You a Ugrim. Oi now dis, zory, zory. Oi bey ztil gu don niw." Raz put him down and leaned his face close to Ugle.

"That is a Kobal. I am sure of that. He is also most likely the owner of the missing mattress from the catacombs where the other eleven skeletons are."

Ugle began to shake. "Na. Na. Na. Yu nut go dere. Kre wil be maad killa un us al. Lemme go pleez for e kums to murda ya."

Raz shook his head. "What is your name?"

"Ugle."

Poke interrupted. "Your name is Ugly?"

"Na. Na. Na. Ugle, Ugle. Yu saz it rong."

Raz waved his big hand to bring Ugle's focus back on him. "First of all, Ugle, drop the accent. We both know you are playing it up for maximum effect. Second, Kre is dead and his corpse is on a pike outside the walls of this village."

"Yu kilt Kre. Yay a. Oi fink yu wunnerful."

Raz glowered at him. "I said stop it, or I will remove one of your arms."

Ugle stood a little straighter. "Fine. Fine. Don't get in a wad. Once oi start up like dat it's hard ta stop, is all." He still had an accent as would be expected with jaws like that but he was extremely more understandable to everyone in the room.

The commander looked at the Ogrim. "How did you know about that?"

"Kobals don't need to talk like that. They are actually extremely intelligent and are used by the Masters as skilled assistants for science, alchemy, and arcane matters. They do that to make themselves seem more harmless and common, so you underestimate them. For some reason the accent is off-putting, and creates false assumptions of inferiority on the part of humans. It also keeps the Masters happy, as it makes them feel superior. Malik wrote in his notes that he refused to let his Kobal speak like that, as he found it disingenuous. Also, it said in his notes, they do it so you spend an excessive amount of time trying to follow their speech pattern and are less likely to notice when they pick your pocket or stab you."

Commander Miller seemed confused. "I thought you said they were intelligent folk."

The Ogrim shared a grin with the Kobal at this. "I said intelligent, not kind, nice, pleasant, trustworthy, peaceful, or compassionate. Everything I know of them suggests the best place for them is at the end of a rope hanging from a tree. They are self-serving creatures who only serve others when they are at a disadvantage or when it suits their purposes in some other way. There probably isn't an altruistic member of their entire race."

Poke chimed in at this point. "So we should kill it?"

"Gods no! He is half a world away from the nearest Kobal clutch, and on a continent which barely has another member of any inhuman race. The giant that he served is dead, and he is all alone. I think he knows what he needs to do. Go ahead and take the shackles off and just see if I am right."

Poke looked at him strangely but did as he was told. The Kobal shook his hands slightly after he was released, glanced around and got on his knees in front of the Ogrim. "Oim with you, big fella. I will serve the Ogrim master. Oi promise."

"Yes you will, for now. Or else I will squash your head like a fruit." The Ogrim nodded and the Kobal nodded.

Commander Miller looked aghast at the exchange. "That's it? You trust him? And the terms are you will kill him if he doesn't listen?"

"Yes, I told you, highly intelligent and self-serving. It wasn't the Eoten reading all those books and maps, you can be sure of that. Besides, he will mind the bond we just made as long as it suits him. If the situation changes, the onus is on me as the master to be aware that I am in jeopardy. Have I got it essentially right, Ugle?

The little rat face smiled up at him. "Ezzentials are there, boz. You know da stuff."

The Ogrim grinned at him and the soldiers. "Besides I don't really have the stomach for this kind of deal and its consequences. I only plan to keep him till I can brief the twins on the details of Kobal loyalty, then I will give him to the girls."

The soldiers laughed audibly. Ugle didn't understand how serving girls could be worse or less advantageous than being in servitude to an Ogre. He thought things were already looking up. He did wonder why they thought it was funny, though.

The Horde Comes

Tuhn Brid looked over the Horde of the Jackal as it rode like a serpent across the land. They had added small bands, then tribes of nomads, then entire villages, and eventually cities. Everyone was conscripted and everything picked clean. You came with the horde or you died. He no longer even fostered the desire to resupply at municipalities and add bandits and warriors to his horde. Now he insisted on claiming everything. They were a nation unto themselves. The small southern kingdoms could have possibly defeated him if all three banded together and attacked. Instead, he took in the mercenaries that one sent when they feared to send their own troops. Then he toppled them. He sent an envoy to the remaining two, making his claim to everything within the borders of the conquered kingdom. He promised death to any who violated his land. Just to reinforce his point, he claimed all the disputed borders that the three kingdoms had in common, and emptied out all the people living there to add to the horde. The cowards stayed where they were. He could have easily had the entirety of the southern part of this continent in another season. Could have, but he had business to the north. A king there was going to die for his sins, and a woman was going to pay dearly for hers if she still lived somewhere up there. Then he would return to finish with the south. Afterwards he would take this massive horde of misbegotten men up to overwhelm the Thegns, even. Only when the continent was his would he settle in one place, then he would see what lay elsewhere on the oceans.

There were other lands. He knew this because there was now a little man in his horde who swaddled himself in cloth from head to toe, covering even his eyes with fogged goggles. This diminutive warrior, who wielded spears to throw and to thrust with, was from across the ocean. He could have been a small freak from this place, but his companion, nay, his pet, was most definitely foreign. He called it a Trull. The little man's opinion was it did not deserve a name, so he had taken it from it. It was huge, well over seven feet tall when standing straight. It was thin and gangly though, and never stood erect, squatting with knees bent and hands out in front of it, leaning on its knuckles. Most strange of all, it was blue as the summer sky and slightly rat-faced. It most likely submitted to the little man because of his prowess, which was formidable, but it also seemed as if it had its spirit broken at some point. The small man had no fear of turning his back to it, and it would likely kill anyone attempting to harm its master. They had joined after the kingdom campaign, and pledged their unwavering aid. He only wanted one thing, if and when it was plundered: a funerary box of very intricate description. He would accept no other terms and offer no explanation. Tuhn accepted; they were unmitigated assets. There would always be time for betrayal later. For now they were shock troops beyond compare.

Ret Unif was about to pass. Now that the horde had grown so large, his duties as second kept him busier than any Thegn chieftain. "Tuhn, we are prisoners of this as much as rulers."

Tuhn remained stoic. "Aye. This horde has a life almost its own. It still obeys me, though, and I will use it to have that young king in the middle lands' head. Then I will consider the future. How many do we have now?"

Ret glanced up and down the moving line. "Probably five thousand folk, two thousand of them fighting men, maybe another five hundred, tops, that could be put to fighting if need be. The little foreigner scoffed and said that was barely half a legion."

Tuhn looked bothered. "A legion of men is five thousand where he hails from? This is the biggest force on this land since the Thegns formed a horde in ancient times. It may even be bigger than that was. Those other southern kingdoms could barely field a thousand and a half each if they armed boys and old men. The middle kingdom may have a thousand sturdy troops left, but I doubt it. If he has that many, half will have done no more than collect taxes, whore, drink and ride around the land."

Ret nodded. "I agree, and so does our little friend. He says we may only have half a legion, but there are three cohorts that are worth piss in the rest of the land."

"Cohort..."

"Is about five hundred men, Tuhn."

Tuhn looked pensively at Ret. "It concerns me that he has words for large groups of armed men. He doesn't speak of a legion, which is twice what we have, as if it is an impressive amount. He may not want to speak about his prize up here, but I think we need to ask him more about his home, soon."

"Agreed. I have things to tend to. I will eat with you later if you care to have me join you, Tuhn. Goodbye." Ret rode off into the horde to do his duty.

Tuhn remained still. That man was more good to him as a general and second here than he ever could have been in the tribe. It was truly strange how the gods had moved him down this path. He was no longer a chief, but a king in his own right, even though his tribe was gone. It seemed as if something greater than even his destiny was swirling around. He could not shake the feeling that something even larger than this horde swept across the land. They were in sight of the mountains. Another week, and they would be in the middle kingdom. He wondered how the harvest was in Mulish. He smirked and rode back into formation.

Near the back of the massive snake of humanity stood a little figure, every inch of flesh covered by black cloth. His goggles were specially made for him to reduce the sun's brightness during the day and with a minor adjustment harvest the moonlight to make what little light there was ten times more useful to him. He held the leash which was connected to the Trull's collar. It was an obedient beast, an absolutely bloodthirsty rabid killer, but useful, and obedient to him. That was all that mattered. He joined this horde--he couldn't call it an army or any other word inferring a useful military force--because it fit his purposes. He had to kill his entire family to be what he had become. He was not only free, he was the master. He had Trull, Warves, and even an Uger in his stables at home. He answered only to the Master in the high city. He would find the Nek and arrange to have it brought back, even if he had to have his Trull drag it to the ocean while he killed his way across this continent. Till then, hiding in this massive pile of vile humans suited his purposes, and even if he was better than any other in history, being an opportunist was what being a Kobal was all about.

Right Where I Belong

Raz came walking down the lane toward the drill area. Ugle trailed along at his heels slightly to the left at a respectful pace. He had taken great pains to cooperate with a new master who fed him well and let him read everything he wanted. He had access to his things from the cave, which the others were always looking at too, but he was still allowed to read them. Then there were all the books which just happened to be in the village, which weren't many, but they were new to him. There were cookbooks, weather logs, planting schedules, and a town census. The Ogrim even got him access to the things that they brought back from the cave. Kre had never let him touch those. Raz had said the twins had no problem with anyone reading their sacred texts; the word of their god was for everyone. If you wanted to learn, you were given the chance. Speaking of the girls, Ugle was finally going to meet them, and the Ogrim said he was going to let him serve the girls. Frankly, Ugle didn't think it could get better than it already was, but he envisioned working for a couple of human women would be an even cushier servitude. Then he saw the sisters assisting in the training. There was no mistaking who they were. He swallowed the lump that stuck in his throat.

Lilith and Eve were sparring together to demonstrate sword techniques while also going over small blade parrying. Eve's hooks used essentially the same blocks as any dirk or dagger. The sisters insisted that learning one weapon at a time was a waste of valuable energy. They expected the folks watching, which were made up of villagers, but also bandits and soldiers, to be ready to demonstrate both the sword work and the dagger defenses when they were done. They wrapped up their demonstration just as the odd couple of inhuman men arrived.

The girls were wiping sweat off themselves with rags. Lilith saw Ugle and turned to Eve. "Thuru os shu losslu inu wu huaurk aulies. I sauw wu uaus hom whun hu os iers." Which roughly translated would be 'There is the little one we heard about. I say we eat him when he is ours.' Of course it was in Shen, so no one other than the sisters was supposed to get the jest.

Ugle was hoping it was a joke, at least. So he hopefully piped back, "Thuru osn's mech muaus huru. Onlw inu if wie woll lu aullu si uaus." Which he was pretty sure, at least hopefully meant 'There isn't much meat here. Only one of you will be able to eat.'

Both sisters froze. Eve signaled Raz in handspeak, 'That thing speaks Shen!'

Before Raz could respond Ugle signaled a little roughly. 'Aye, and a fair bit of handspeak.'

Lilith and Eve both chortled. If Raz had not been standing there he would have called others out later as liars if told it happened. They may actually have smiled slightly as well. "Well then, Ugle, you know the drill, and the girls have been briefed on the situation. Do it."

He kneeled in front of the twins. "Oim with you ladies. I will serve the Shen masters. Oi promise."

Lilith and Eve gave him their prepared response in handspeak. 'We will kill you long before you kill us. You know this to be true?'

Ugle nodded solemnly. Now with the formalities over he fell in slightly behind the girls in a servile posture.

Lilith signaled to Raz. 'He reads and writes and has tongues. Will he fight? We don't need to be dragging dead weight around.'

Raz told them, "He won't fight you unless he plans to betray you and break away, under his own choice. If you tell him to spar with you he will stop when told, but until you order him to stop he will try to kill you. It is the nature of the agreement. Any advantage you give him is fair game."

Lilith smiled and Eve signed. 'Excellent.' Then Lilith signed vehemently. 'Me first. Arm yourself, ugly.'

The Kobal didn't seem to mind the sign for ugly half as much as he took exception to the word. He smiled and walked over to a pile of weapons. He picked up a small axe and tested its weight. This made Raz slightly confused for a moment. Then the Kobal grabbed a spear and used the axe to cleanly cut off a foot and a half of shaft. It was now quite the right size. He walked out into the middle of the training area and nodded at Lilith.

She charged in. Her opening was a controlled flurry of martial art that did not leave her vulnerable. It was quite possible she just might kill her new retainer in her zeal to test him. Possible was not probable, though, as he was simply not wherever her blade was. The Kobal had not betrayed this kind of speed anytime previously in his captivity. It was more than inhuman, it was near god-like. He had not even gone on the attack yet. Raz caught himself wondering how many times he would get stabbed before he could lay his hands on a Kobal solidly enough to crush it. He still felt he would come out on the winning side against one; he would probably even stand a chance against upward of half a dozen because of his size advantage and ability to break spears and just outright step on his opponents randomly. It was clear now, though, why Kre did not want a dozen of these plotting against him when they had outlived their usefulness.

Ugle truly did not want to escape at this point. He was happy. He had a good thing going here. These girls seemed even more interesting, if not more dangerous, than the ogre. Sadly though, a pact was a pact, and he had to try to kill her; it was what was expected. He reluctantly brought the point of the spear up and went into his practiced forms. He never liked this part; he preferred to be learning, but he was good at this, so time and time again he had to kill. There was hardly one other Kobal who even could keep up with him. This girl was probably a good fighter, but she was no Kobal. He would just stab her in the heart and be done with it. Here was hoping the other sister understood the terms of the pact and he didn't have to fight her to her death, too. If it came to that, eventually he would have to run, but to where? Oh well!

The spear broke through Lilith's defense. The point was going right for her heart. Eve yelled out, "Shoulk." The point stopped. Lilith stood looking down at the point less than an inch from her breast. Oddly enough, there also seemed to be the same force keeping her blade from removing the Kobal's head from his shoulders. Eve's magic was getting good, two targets simultaneously.

Eve spoke to both of them in Shen. "Ssiph. Yie auru kinu." 'Stop. You are done.'

Ugle backed off and surprisingly, so did Lilith. Then she smirked at Ugle and smirked at her sister. Her hands signaled joyfully. 'I like him. We should keep him. He can kill people with us and carry things.'

This made Ugle smirk too. This was perhaps the next best thing to being home in the tunnels again. Speaking of home, odd, how he thought of home when he was fighting. There was always a chance that the gods would have him meet up with Kobals again. That might be pleasant, then again, maybe not. Kobals were sneaky, untrustworthy, deadly things. Perhaps he should just not tempt fate by wishing to see any other Kobal ever again. That would probably be best for everyone.

Thy King Done Come

The entire mobilized army of the kingdom arrived that morning. The lookouts on duty in Mulish took a moment to notice as they started over the hill. After all, they were coming from the north. Most people were looking to the south and worrying about a horde. No one expected an army from the north. King Stephen had led his army of one thousand down to the south to vanquish these savages and bandits personally. He had received the message from the commander pro tempore. The savages and the bandits they joined with would be coming this way, and he would put an end to them once and for all. As for the young officer's fear that the band would be some kind of horde, well that was ridiculous. His was the most powerful kingdom on this continent, and he had a thousand men behind him, which allowed him to still leave the palace guards themselves and two platoons in the city. No ragged band of thieves and snow barbarians would have a force near as large as his. He did have concern that the young lieutenant had known enough to claim command of the south for himself. Perhaps he would even validate the young man's claim. Guarding the border to the south was a young man's game, as it was the main passage of trade and had the only other kingdoms below its borders.

First, he would deal with the savages. The village was below. He signaled for the army to break camp on the plains, and let his attendants know to make his personal camp ready. He signaled his honor guard and cadre of officers. He had brought along his eastern and western commanders, as well as several other lower ranking generals and command officers. The commander of the north remained at his post with the few platoons not called away from him for this venture. His request had a point. They still had savages to the north, and it would not do to have the remaining Thegn raiding the border while he was away.

Stephen rode down with his entourage in tow. He kept riding, despite the ominous look of the outpost. When they neared, a voice called out from the wall. "Hold."

Mazur, the commander of the east, surged forward. "Are you daft? This is your King!" An arrow shot out from some unseen location.

"Aye and that is an arrow. If you need a better look at one, take another step and we will oblige."

Stephen yelled at the wall, "Do you know who I am? I am your king. I can have you executed for this."

"Apparently you don't know who you are speaking to either. Do you know who I am?"

The king was confused. "No, who are you? I will need your name for the death warrant."

"I am the guy with the arrows. After that I sure will never tell." This was followed by quite a bit of laughter in the direction of the voice. "Stay there. The war council is coming to you."

Mazur rode back to the king's side. "War council? What kind of village has a war council?"

Stephen was snobbish and pampered, but not stupid. "Apparently, General, this one. It looks like they at least believe that a large band is going to attack, and have believed it for some time."

The gate opened, and out rode possibly the most impressive collection of warriors seen in the middle kingdom for a long time. Four females dressed as Thegn warriors--one of whom was purple, followed by a purple giant--were in the front. What seemed to the king to be two Shen priestesses came next, accompanied by a blue half-man. Then came an entire platoon of his men, led by a young officer. There were also a few villagers on horseback following along.

This had almost everyone in the king's party taken aback. Stephen was not. He was royal and knew things others did not. His family had kept knowledge for generations, that even the military had no access to. He knew from family books that those two were Shen according to clothing and markings he could see as they got closer. He also was surprised to see an Ogrim. Occasionally, over the generations, there were isolated sightings of one that had left their far northern citadels, enough to keep myths of ogres alive, at least. The little man was a Kobal, according to his books. That was strange, as they were not from there in any way, and had no reason to cross oceans to come there. He had the advantage, in that he had at least seen pictures of what others were finding exotic and alarming. It would allow him to retain his regal bearing and not be at a disadvantage. Mazur tapped him gently on the shoulder and pointed near the gate.

Mazur whispered, "What is that, my king, on the spikes?"

What indeed? It was a giant bloated red corpse with two heads. It would have towered over even the Ogrim coming toward him. An Eoten here? Dead? That made seeing a Kobal almost bland.

The party stopped and the Thegn woman came forward.

Naomi nodded her head and addressed him. "We speak for the people of Mulish outpost. We are grateful for you coming to aid us, your highness, but must respectfully ask that you keep your forces a distance from the outpost, as most folks here are a bit skittish about large groups of armed men bearing down on them without invitation."

"Nonsense," Stephen waived his hand around nonchalantly, "you will admit me at once. You are actually already in my custody and did not even know it. My southern commander sits right there behind you, with troops loyal to the crown. You are in effect surrounded."

She laughed. "First, I don't think you should be so sure of those men being with you as you seem to be. Second, for us to be surrounded we would have to have a threat in front. Those two Shen could kill the lot of you by themselves. I don't even want to think about what the Ogrim and Kobal would add to that. Yeah, and the rest of us aren't too bad in a fight. I imagine you all would be dead before help could ride down that hill even if there weren't twelve archers with arrows nocked, looking at this spot right now."

Stephen pouted, not used to being bested by a woman in theatric maneuvering. "I have a thousand men. I could take this village and then still crush the ragtag group of thieves and barbarians riding this way from the pissant little kingdoms below me."

It was then that one of the villagers on horseback lowered his hood. "But you won't. You will help these people and not behave badly in any way or else I will come over there and knock you personally off that damn horse."

Stephen looked horrified. "Liam. Dammit all, I should have known. I hate you so much. Maybe I will just have them destroy the village with you in it, big brother."

The band from the village looked fairly surprised too, when the man rode forward and got very close to the king. "You will do no such thing. Dead, I am a martyr for your opposition; alive and so inclined, I am the king. If I stay away and express no interest in ruling, then I am just another bandit living in the forest, as we agreed, and no bother to you at all. And do not call me Liam. If I wanted to keep that name you would be addressing me as your highness. My name is Snigin."

Snigin stuck his hand out in a welcoming gesture to his brother the king. The king seemed pensive then took it and held it for a moment. "Tell me, Li ... Snigin, is there really a horde coming?"

"Brother, there is much worse happening than that, even. Come into town, bring the generals, but tell the soldiers to go. I guarantee your safety. We have much to discuss." Snigin turned and rode back to the gates, followed by a group of very perplexed friends about to surely ask for an explanation momentarily.

The king turned to his party, "Guards, go make your camp. Generals, with me." At this he turned and followed his brother, who he had not seen in ten years, into a village he had never visited yet most definitely ruled, because that man did not want a crown.

In the distant edge of the forest the Nek looked out from the shadows of the tree cover with his second. Eker made an excellent nek. He was a true warrior, and very shortly into their time together stopped needing to be controlled by his powers. When Eker realized the power and immortality he now had, he willingly followed the Nek.

Now the Nek would build an army to conquer this continent for the Master. Building an army would normally be a daunting task, but fortune favored him. Someone had delivered an army to him in a fashion very much like a name day party. All he had to do was start spreading his contagion through and allow it to spread like wildfire through that army, and he would have half conquered the land already. He felt ready to be known in this age. He started with Eker. "From now on I will be known as Inom the Vile. It was my name before the Master prepared me and sealed me in that box. It will be my name again."

Death Comes at Night

Inom watched Eker leave and loop around the long way back towards the camp followers of the King's army. There were only a few hundred of them, as they were in their home kingdom. Cooks, a few smiths, a farrier or two, some squires and an occasional whore made up most of the entourage. No real use in a fight, but all the necessary folks to keep an army on its feet. Soon they would fight. His army needed no support; they all fought and fed themselves; in fact the tasks were simultaneous. Eker would begin converting the civilians into killing machines, and they would spread the contagion among themselves before turning on the nearest troops to the northern edge of the camp. Meanwhile he would come from the east and begin his conversion there. Before they had any idea, before they even woke, most would be his. Then he would use the village to feed his new minion army. The kingdom would be his by the end of the week, the continent within a matter of a few months. The only delay being how long it took to move to the next victims. The nek soldiers did not tire or rest, but they did not ride, either. Animals could be turned, but controlling them was beyond most nek for well longer than it would take to claim victory here. He could ride, and he suspected soon Eker may be able to manage it through sheer willpower and the advantage of having direct lessons from a master Nek.

Their black skin made the perfect night camouflage for approaching in the night. The newly made would not want to be in the plains for their first day. The daylight was not a detriment to his kind, but was an annoyance beyond what it was to humankind. Generally it took a lunar cycle to adapt. He could command them to do anything, and they would obey, but he needed no hesitance when the time came. Better to hide in the forest while they adapt.

He skulked along on his hands, toes and knees across the remaining bit of the plains once he got close. This was a tactic he used long ago in a forgotten war of the Masters when he was a living warrior. It worked then when he was unable to bring the stillness of death into it, now he was like a silent black patch slithering along the ground. He came to the first outlying watch fire, a team of three. One with his back to him, one sitting and resting against a log, the last was eating. Getting behind the man with his back to him was simple enough. He reached up and grabbed the man's arm and pulled it down and quickly bit him. Normally biting was beneath a master Nek. There was no question though; saliva always brought the change faster, and his saliva was the most virulent possible. The man dropped like he had fallen off the log, twitched for five seconds and then was up and on his eating friend. Inom scratched the sleeping one, then turned and scratched the one grappling with his newly made servant. Mere seconds passed and then there were three. He commanded them in the directions best to sow the seeds quickly. Even if one failed, the attack would soon have so many prongs, it would not matter.

He went in an entirely different direction. There was what he wanted just one hundred feet in, a barracks tent. It was a small one, possibly a special platoon which wanted to be able to be ready and out without having to go through an entire camp to get to battle. Inom opened the flap and saw one lone soldier on the far end, awake, reading by a lantern. This was not the kind of unit to not have their own watch. They would make excellent additions. There were twenty sleeping mats and kits laid out ten on each side, one in the middle of the left side empty. He ran on dead legs that did not fatigue or fail, with supernatural speed down the right side, dragging his nails across ten sleeping faces. The guard realized there was a problem just as Inom bit his face, again a necessary breech of his station. The Nek rushed down the left side and got three more before the other six were standing. The fact that those six were up with weapons before he finished was relatively phenomenal. He might have just crippled the most elite unit in this army. They were also good with surprises and capable of independent decisions, as they had taken the heads off of three of their former peers without debate when it seemed they had turned on them and looked wrong. So eleven remaining nek, who were the elite guard of the king, took the remaining six and turned them at the cost of four more. Twenty were now thirteen. Inom liked that number, it suited his new elite guard. These, he would keep with him. Now he could hear the alarms.

Inom addressed his shock troop guard, "Convert all you can but do not savage and separate needlessly. You thirteen will prove very valuable once your skilled minds complete converting. Come now."

Eker seemed to have fared just as well, as the attack seemed to be coming from many sides at once. He already saw some civilians changed rushing around the area. It was chaos. His kind thrived on chaos, so they had the advantage. Only calm, coordinated efforts usually put nek down, so as long as they fought frantically they would most likely all die and rise. It was inevitable that some would fall to feeding, but the psychic commands he and now Eker put off, insisting on conversion, not feeding, would be enough to contain most.

Inom walked now in the midst of his guard, who became more lethal by the second as their minds acclimated to the change and they combined their living skills with the new deathly state they now inhabited. Coming from across the field was Eker, who also had made himself an entourage. He had two giant smiths, holding their largest hammers, to either side of him, and an undead whore holding a fierce-looking curved dagger. He approved of his first more and more as time went on.

Inom addressed him first as was appropriate, "You seem to have done well. I approve of your choices for an honor guard, given that you had the civilians to start with."

Eker bowed his head. "I see you found yourself some worthy companions, master. It should only be a short while and then we should be able to march out of here." This was true, as the noise was already quieting, which signaled only one side remained: theirs.

The whole process had taken less time than it would have to feed a camp this size. Inom ordered his army to retreat into the woods, and the order was relayed through minds and words, so all obeyed, even those made just seconds ago.

The guards at the village wondered what the commotion from the king's camp was, but put off their fears because they saw no one approaching, and the king himself was staying in the village with his advisors, so an attack would not be likely. Still, though, it would be worth a mention to Warrant Officer Poke in the morning. The warrant officer always claimed that everything worth observing was worth reporting. He said if privates knew what was relevant we wouldn't need sergeants, and if sergeants knew what to do with relevant information, the sergeant majors would be out of a job.

Plains of Void

Snigin sat on a horse next to his brother, a king without an army. Stephan was alternating between looking a bit red with anger, and a bit green with nausea. It all depended on whether he was currently angry at his army being missing, or queasy because he was quite a bit farther from the capitol than he cared to be with just a bunch of fat old advisors for protection.

"Armies just don't disappear," Stephan shook his head vehemently. "I want them found."

"By whom?" Snigin figured that was a fairly relevant question, considering that the group of missing numbered over six times the population of the village.

The entire group of their associates on the council sat in silence behind them, as well as his generals. One of the commander's men returned from scouting the camp, dragging a body, and stopped to speak with the warrant officer. Poke looked upset and turned briskly to speed over to them.

The old veteran looked taken aback, which didn't bode well. "The few remaining corpses, which aren't many, have been fed upon. It does not look like the work of scavengers. Each one of them, regardless of what was chewed away, has one thing in common."

The king did not care to wait long for the answer. "Which is?"

Poke glanced at Snigin. "They all have had their brains harvested, or more likely, consumed."

Several hushed utterances sounded out just clearly enough for all to hear. "The Nek."

Lilith whistled to get Snigin's attention and signaled. 'If it came and they are missing, then there are hundreds of them, possibly a thousand somewhere."

Grenda cleared her throat to get everyone's attention. "I think perhaps our problems just got quite a bit worse, friends. Perhaps we should head back to the village to speak more about this. I suddenly feel a bit exposed."

Mazur, the east commander, nodded in agreement. "Your majesty, as modest as the outpost's defenses are, it is all we have. We need to regroup there and debate our strategy."

A lot of nodding and concurring took place while horses were already turning around and heading back.

A fairly great distance away, a minute figure hid near a small outcrop of rocks. It wasn't reasonable to think that anyone could hide there, but no one expected a Kobal to be there, nor for the Trull that was with him to be able to lay stock still on its belly under a woven grass mat for an entire day. He used his distance lens glass to watch the whole scene play out. The lens let him see quite far away reliably while standing relatively still. It was an invaluable tool. The Master himself had given it to him as a gift. Such a favor of a scientific instrument was lavish praise by itself from one of the Masters. He could see enough to know that the Nek was loose and had multiplied. It would assume it was supposed to multiply and conquer. The Master did not want it out so soon, and did not want it ravaging the simple kingdoms. If the other Masters got wind of this and traced it back to its source, it could mean another great war. They had to be put down, all of them. He would have to sway the barbarian horde properly to accomplish this. He needed fodder, and there was not time to bring proper troops here to die, so he would improvise. As he watched the party of villagers ride and walk back to the village, he was almost caught off-guard by seeing an Uger-no, wrong color-one of the northern ogres, Ogrim. Malik's people being here was bad news. News would now get back to Malik. The Ogrim would have to be dealt with eventually, as well. He continued to watch. Make that two Ogrim; a female, as well. Two Shen rode along with them. What in the name of the gods was going on in that blasted village? It was continuing to get stranger. Finally, he saw something that did in fact surprise him, and that took some doing. A Kobal was with the Shen, but not just any Kobal.

Snit smiled mischievously. "Well hello, big brother. It seems a family reunion is impending. How nice!"

A Pause Before Battle

Eker had counseled Inom to wait another day to attack. He wanted the dead troops to scavenge their gear from the abandoned campsite in the dark of night. The villagers had not taken much and what they took was of little use: food and perishables. The arms they took were spears and arrows, things his troops neither needed nor overly feared in the hands of most men. Airborne weapons with range rarely inflicted the kind of wound that mattered to a nek warrior. What they did reclaim, though, was brilliant. The swords and axes would come in handy, but the armor, that was the master stroke. He had chosen well with Eker. Just because their troops were disposable and meaningless to them in the grand scheme did not mean they should not be harder to kill. So he had them wait and collect much of what was left. The mounts had scattered for the most part during the initial attack. His minions came back with one massive charger in tow. It was frantic due to its instincts telling it that they were unnatural. It bucked and kicked to no avail. Inom approached it.

It flailed at him. He smiled with black, stained teeth. "You are a fine beast. It takes plenty of concentration to hold control over an animal made nek. Perhaps just having you with me will put another level of fear in them. Be mine. I name you Plague." He scratched the animal down the neck with a long filthy claw. It dropped and convulsed violently for several seconds then sprang up and stood still as the grave. Inom climbed on his mount.

He rode through the forest with his army gathering behind him. When he reached the center, he turned in circles on horseback to seem as if he addressed all equally. They let out a chant that was as much groan and wail as cheer, a death whisper that was his name. He raised his hand to quiet them.

"Tomorrow," Inom began, "we shall attack that village and feed on every last person there. Then we will sweep across this land and turn, subdue or feed on every living thing from ocean to ocean. We will establish a kingdom of the dead, a nek empire, with me as the first emperor. There is another I am beholden to, but I will deal with him when the time comes. We are the new master race of this world. It will submit or it will burn!"

The army of the dead groaned their approval of their master's plan. They would gladly share the glory of living death with everyone they encountered. It was in them now, the need to spread the seed of the nek inside them.

Two figures watched from the trees, taking note, then scuttling away from top to top where even dead eyes failed to look.

Miles to the south and hours later, Snit returned to the camp of the oncoming horde. He had made exceptional time on his return. Only a horse at full gallop could out run a full-grown Trull. Of course, the average man did not have the option of riding on the back of a Trull. The Trull would probably be strong enough, but his size would interfere with the beast's strange trotting gallop, which had it going back and forth from two legs down to all fours. It would be argued that even a Kobal would have trouble staying on. He had worked hard with his Trull, though. It was beast of burden, war mount, and bodyguard, all in one entity. His affection for it was so deep that some days he considered letting it have a name again. Usually he got over such sentimentality quickly, but perhaps after this endeavor he would relent.

He jumped off its back just out of sight of the massive camp. The less anyone knew of his capabilities and those of his pet, the better. Walking through the camp bothered him immensely. The legions of the Master were so much more efficient and purposeful. This was still true even though there had not been a true war in possibly hundreds of years. Only the Masters remembered the last war of any true size. He saw the erstwhile leaders of this horde sitting at a great table eating breakfast.

"Tuhn Brid," the Kobal approached without being invited, "we have a situation. We need to be on the move now, and move throughout the night."

The big man laughed and smacked his second-in-command on the shoulder forcefully. "He tells me what needs to be done. What makes you think you can give the orders, little man?"

Snit did not take the bait to get angry in return. "The king's army is at the village."

Tuhn choked slightly on his next bite and his eyes grew wide. "The entirety of them? We will only have to attack them there and we have won the kingdom? They won't even have the capital behind them? We ride tonight!"

Snit waved his hand at the barbarian. "Sit down, one more moment. It is more complicated than that. They have turned sides, and now serve another master, who intends to rule the entire land."

"He will not," Tuhn screamed. "I will kill them all. This entire continent is mine and mine alone!"

Snit nodded to show he agreed publicly with the sentiment, though he could actually care less. "The impostor and his horde will take the village at daybreak. It will be his first claim on this land. If he takes even that, his claim on this kingdom, at least, will be superior to yours."

"He will take NOTHING!" Tuhn smashed his fist on the table. "Ret, everyone is ready to ride within the hour. Women, children, and those who don't make war can follow later. We will kill them all, and the village will be our first conquest."

The entire camp went to work preparing to leave. They would most certainly make it to the plains befor daybreak. The battle would be monumental, many would die. Some would die for the second time in one day, possibly. Snit could care less about either side. He needed to return with the Nek or its head. The second looked more probable, now that it was out of the box. The village did interest him, though. Lots of interesting things were there: inhumans, Thegn, Shen, and his dear sweet brother. He was under no obligation to find out what was going on there, but his instincts told him that it was worth knowing. He went to gather what little he had here at the camp so he could march with the horde to the battlefield. He would watch them die till the opportunity came to get to the Nek, then he would side with whoever he felt better met his interest between the surviving parties.

Dawn of Dire Omen--Epilogue

As the sun rose, the village was also prepared for something, though they didn't know what. The guards could see that the army's camp had been picked clean of equipment and reported it immediately. They stood on a platform which had been built in the center of the outpost, allowing them to see miles in each direction. The entire war council was up there. The elders of the village had at this point just given up trying to lead in any way, and just openly asked the women, soldiers, inhumans, and royals to save them. The king's generals made suggestions for the defenses, which had even the warrant officer nodding in agreement. They were old and soft, but had years of experience in soldiering, which could make some difference. Traps were set and barricades were placed to create kill zones at different intervals outside the walls. They would still be overrun, but it would be a much smaller horde that did so. If it was the dead that came, they would be forced to come through the channels of the defender's choice, or slow to a standstill while going up over obstacles. The time for battle was imminent. Everything was still.

Too still.


Seriously, If you have hung in there this long, can you really afford to not know how this ends?

Episode 6, the season finale, is up next!


Copyright 2015, David Ulnar-Slew

Bio: David Ulnar-Slew was born in Innsmouth, MA, to Dutch immigrant parents of the famous Diepeen family, grew up in Newburyport, MA, and moved to an undisclosed location in the woods of VT in 2010. For ten years he taught Dark Magic to cannibal dwarves in the American Southwest. His first book, "Possible Flash Damage" is what he calls, "the beginning of Humankind's indoctrination into the ways the Elder Gods want us to think."

The truth:

David Ulnar-Slew is the nom-de-plume of Ed Sullivan. He is the former flash fiction editor at Aphelion: The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Editor-in-Chief at Cheapjack Pulp. He needs a pseudonym because his given name is not terribly good for him in terms of search engine placement.

He would also be pleased if you were to visit:

http://www.cheapjackpulp.com

E-mail: David Ulnar-Slew

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