“The Black Tide! The Black Tide marches!”
“The Antinium are to the south! Watch the walls!”
“Rally on me!”
Zel Shivertail’s voice was a roar as he turned his soldiers to face the new threat. His heart sank as he saw the waves of black bodies marching towards the city, a seemingly endless mass of Soldiers. Liscor didn’t have the strength to fight two enemies! And even if the Antinium overwhelmed the Necromancer, what then?
There was one desperate shred of hope that Zel clung to. He unfurled the dirty little bit of parchment the Courier had sent him two days ago, the mysterious note from the Drake high command. It had one simple message that had infuriated and puzzled Zel. After his countless requests for assistance, they had sent him a single reply that consisted of one line:
Prepare for irregular reinforcements.
The parchment crumpled as Zel clenched his fist. He stared at the approaching Antinium army. This couldn’t be what they’d meant, could it?
There was someone leading the Antinium, a figure that stood out from the rest. Klbkch the Slayer stood at the head of his army, two silvery swords in his hands. He alone carried weapons; the other Antinium were uniform. He raised his voice as Zel could hear it, amplified by some spell or Skill over the battlefield.
“Our target is Az’kerash, the Necromancer! Soldiers, the Drakes are allies for this battle! Do not injure any Drake soldier for any reason! Now! Target the Necromancer’s position! Destroy his undead army! The first rank will charge!”
The Antinium moved like lightning. Before the Drake army and the undead had quite digested what was happening the Soldiers in the first rank were already charging across the ground towards the Necromancer’s army. The undead turned to meet the Soldiers and the Antinium crashed into them like a breaking wave.
Zombies were crushed in an instant while Draugr held their ground and grappled with the Soldiers. Zel, frozen, saw one of the monstrous hulking undead crush a Soldier before two more bore it down. The Soldiers stomped on the fallen undead, brutally pounding them with their fists. But the undead army was full of horrors and the Soldiers stalled. Again, Klbkch’s voice echoed as he raised one of his swords.
“The second rank will charge!”
Another wave of Soldiers set forth. This one raced towards the undead just like the first. Zel expected them to slow and join the fighting, but the Soldiers didn’t slow down. The Drake gaped.
“Are they insane? They’re going to hit—”
The second wave crashed into the backs of the first wave of Soldiers, not slowing even as they ran into the backs of their comrades. They trampled ally and enemy alike, pushing forwards without regard for casualties on their side. The undead were unprepared for the savage momentum that carried the Soldiers forwards, and their lines began to cave in.
“Dead gods! They’re actually doing it!”
The undead formations that had withstood Zel’s army were crumbling, unprepared for the savagery of the Antinium. Zel could see the Necromancer, shielded by a Bone Giant, turning in surprise. Zel thought he could see Az’kerash’ eyes widening in surprise as the Antinium ignored Zel’s forces altogether.
“The third rank will charge!”
Klbkch’s voice heralded another wave of Antinium. Zel saw them coming, saw the undead buckling and knew this was it. He raised his fist into the air and roared so all his soldiers could hear him.
“All forces, follow me! This is it! Hit the Necromancer! Bring him down!”
He sprinted to the front of the line and smashed into a pair of Draug. The Drakes behind him, caught up in the surge of momentum from the Antinium, roared and poured into the breach. Zel heard Drakes on Liscor’s walls cheering, saw arrows flying from the walls and the spells blasting into the Necromancer’s army.
Az’kerash held his ground, trying to stop the attacks from Zel and Klbkch’s armies. But then Liscor’s gates opened and a group of Drakes poured out. Attacked from three sides his army was engulfed. And Zel, fighting through the undead, found himself face-to-face with the Necromancer for the first and last time in the battle.
Az’kerash was cutting down Drakes and Antinium with black magic, reanimating their corpses and hurling them at his enemies. He snarled as he saw Zel and he turned to run. He fired a jet black beam of energy at Zel’s head.
The Drake ducked and lunged. He shouted as his claws swiped left to right.
His blow caught the Necromancer on the chest and tore through whatever protection the mage had on him. Az’kerash stumbled as Zel laid his chest open. He snarled.
“You fool! Do you really th—”
Zel’s claws went through his chest. The Tidebreaker roared as he tore the Necromancer apart, throwing both halves of Az’kerash to the ground. There was a moment of stunned silence as the fighting Drakes and Antinium saw the Necromancer falling in two bloody halves and stopped.
And then the undead around Az’kerash stumbled and then began to fall. Zel turned and saw one of the remaining Bone Giants begin to crumble, unable to sustain itself without its master’s mana. He heard cheering and raised his bloody claws, roaring in victory. And then he turned and saw Klbkch, standing across the battlefield, his two silvery swords covered in gore. The two locked eyes as Liscor cheered their heroes.
Drake and Antinium. Zel stared at Klbkch the Slayer for all of three seconds and then charged him with a roar. Klbkch charged as well and the two collided in the center of the battlefield, cutting at each other, shouting as their soldiers tried to pull them apart—
Erin sat up suddenly, the empty bowl of popcorn tumbling to the ground. All the Antinium looked at her and Klbkch broke off.
“Is something wrong, Erin?”
“You two fought? I thought you were on the same side! Didn’t you say you went to Liscor because the Grand Queen ordered you to help the Drakes?”
Klbkch hesitated. He raised one finger.
“Nominally. I was ordered to consider the Necromancer a target and assist the Drakes. However, Zel Shivertail and I had clashed on numerous occasions before this. Our animosity was such that we began fighting despite our victory. It still persists to this day, in fact.”
Erin stared at Klbkch. She had noticed how neither Zel nor Klbkch liked being in the same room and how they never met each other’s eyes, but this?
“What did you do? I know you didn’t kill him, but—was it just like hitting each other a few times?”
“No. I believe I stabbed him in the chest before our forces separated us. With this sword.”
Klbkch indicated the sword on his left and then paused. He unsheathed the sword on his right and stared hard at it.
“Or was it this one? I cannot recall.”
He looked at Erin’s gaping mouth and shrugged.
“What? He survived. And he tore off my arm. I was quite upset about that.”
“But you stabbed—”
Erin’s voice rose, but before she could shout someone poked her in the side. She looked over and saw Bird glaring reproachfully at her. The Worker raised a finger to his mandibles.
“You are interrupting the story. Be shush.”
He shushed her, ignoring Pawn, Belgrade, Anand and Garry’s horrified looks. Erin stared at Bird and then looked back at Klbkch. She coughed.
“Sorry. Go ahead, Klbkch.”
The Revalantor nodded and flicked to the next page.
“As I was saying, that battle marked the end of the Necromancer’s threat, as well as the end of hostilities between the Antinium and Drakes. At least for the duration of the war. For our aide against the Necromancer and promise of aide against the Goblin King, we signed a peace treaty. The terms of which included establishing a Hive in Liscor.”
“And they agreed to that? Really?”
Erin raised her voice. Bird reached out to poke her but Pawn slapped his hand. The two Workers stared at each other as Klbkch nodded.
“Neither Zel Shivertail nor I liked the peace, but we did abide by it. Well, eventually…”
The unexpected arrival of the Antinium had saved Liscor and prompted an opportunity to turn the war around for the Drake high command. Against the urgings of Zel Shivertail and a number of Drake [Commanders] they signed a peace treaty with the Grand Queen, giving the Antinium a number of small concessions in return for their aid and an immediate cease to hostilities. This writer believes any peace with the Antinium is foolish, but at the time the Drakes had no choice. And perhaps the Antinium felt the same way. The Goblin King was too great a threat, and so the Peace at Liscor prompted an unlikely alliance.
What is notable about that period is the reaction of the two leaders in the field at Liscor. Klbkch the Slayer and Zel Shivertail both objected to the peace and engaged in several clashes before their armies separated. However, the rest of the Antinium and Drake armies were able to coordinate without the same incidents occurring. While no Drake army ever fought with an Antinium army, the two sides were able to focus solely on the Goblin King’s army and divide targets between themselves.
Now the Goblin King found himself at war with all of Izril, and only now did the tides of fortune begin to turn against him. While the Drakes were occupied with the Necromancer and Antinium they were at the mercy of the Goblins, but now the hammer of the Drake armies was free to march against their foe without needing to guard their tails.
With the Antinium. And the Humans. And some Gnoll tribes. And armies from three other continents who had landed their forces. But it was the Drakes who spearheaded the assaults on the Goblin King’s armies! And it was they who drove the Goblins back at last, winning battles, defeating the Goblin Lords in a series of victories!
But never the Goblin King. Alas, the fortitudes of the Drake armies had been sapped slightly by the two wars they had fought beforehand and even their [Generals] were unable to defeat the Goblin King in a pitched battle. It became clear that the Goblin King was still unassailable in his main army, which continued to win victory after victory, forcing the defending forces to retreat rather than suffer defeats at his hands.
Part of the issue lay in the scattered nature of the forces fighting against the Goblin King. Some, like the Terandrian armies, had joined with Izril’s humans to create a powerful army while other groups like the Balerosian companies fought alone on their fronts. The Antinium were naturally impossible to work with and the cooperative Drake armies suffered from numerous communication failures with other forces, leading to a number of uncoordinated attacks and defeats.
In this writer’s opinion, part or most of the blame can be assigned to the Humans in the north, who had squandered their advantage by separating their strength. The Five Families of Izril who had united in its last defense against the Goblin King did not fight against him together after the battle.
Instead, each of the five houses fought against the Goblin King in their own way. Lord Tyrion Veltras pursued an aggressive campaign against the Goblin King with his forces while Magnolia Reinhart focused on linking up with Niers Astoragon’s forces and maintaining a defensive perimeter to halt the armies of the Goblin Lords. Had they but worked together, the Goblin King might have fallen sooner. Alas, their disunity cost the continent weeks of continued warfare. A typical Human failure of course; putting their own self-interest before the greater good.
“A poor analysis. But I should expect no better from a [Writer], much less a Drake.”
A cold voice interrupted the narrative. Lord Tyrion looked up as he sat in a chair in the dark candle-lit room. A small voice spoke up by his left hand side.
“Father? Did you really fight with the Reinharts?”
Tyrion Veltras, the famous [Lord] and scion of the Veltras family looked over at a young boy of eight or nine. The young boy had dark brown hair and a slightly flushed face. He was caught between youthful energy and sickness, so that it seemed as though his vitality couldn’t be contained with his frail body.
“Lie back down.”
Tyrion ordered his son and the young boy did so, wheezing gently. Tyrion Veltras paused and an expression of distaste crossed his face as he chose how to reply.
“It was an alliance of necessity, Sammial. I would not ally with Magnolia Reinhart for anything less than the safety of Izril, but in that she and I are united. For all her many flaws, Magnolia Reinhart is at least dedicated to the safety of the realm, unlike some of our peers. But the way she pursued that safety during the war was at odds with the way I chose to fight. So we separated our forces. It was not a tactical error so much as a necessity; if we had stayed in one place we might have been crushed by the Goblin King, a fact that this author fails to note.”
He turned his gaze to stare at the book, making the man holding the book flinch. However, if Tyrion had hoped his words had impressed the seriousness of the situation on his son, he was instantly disappointed. Sammial shot back up indignantly and glared at his father.
“My name is Sammy! I keep telling you and you keep forgetting!”
Lord Tyrion sighed slowly and spoke with clear patience in his tone.
“Sammy is not a name appropriate for a [Lord]. Your name is Sammial, a fine name—”
“It’s gross! I want to be Sammy!”
“You will refer to yourself as Sammial. Is that clear?”
Lord Tyrion’s eyes flashed and Sammial hesitated. He bowed his head sulkily and lay back, breathing harder. Tyrion eyed his son and turned his head to look at the other occupant of the bed.
“You would do well to copy your older brother, Sammial. Hethon listens before he speaks. Do you have any questions about my strategy, Hethon?”
The other boy in the bed sat up nervously.
Tyrion nodded at his second son, Hethon, who was perhaps twelve. Hethon didn’t have the same sickly complexion as Sammial, but he was thin and nervous, hardly as imposing a figure as his father. Tyrion turned his head and his son breathed a sigh of relief. The [Lord] nodded and spoke in a crisp, commanding voice.
The man sitting across the bed on a stool jumped. The [Majordomo] of the Veltras estate nervously flicked to the next page and read in a steady voice.
Of course, Lord Tyrion was too busy to read to his sons, which was why he had ordered his [Majordomo] to keep them entertained at all times. That normally meant bedtimes as well, but this was a special occasion.
Lord Tyrion’s rage upon hearing that Magnolia Reinhart, his hated nemesis, had allied herself with Zel Shivertail had led to the destruction of his personal parlor, including the slashed drapes, broken windows, and two complete suits of armor, now looking quite battle-worn. His anger had frightened his two young sons, which was why he had agreed to sit with them for a bedtime reading.
That was uncharacteristic of Lord Tyrion, who had been absent from the household of late. The loss of his late wife had driven a rift between him and his sons. He was not, Ullim reflected, the most intimate of fathers in any case. Even now he sat on a chair next to his son’s beds rather than in them, sharpening a dagger with a whetstone.
The balding Ullim cleared his throat and read out loud as clearly as he could. He had served the Veltras’ for years as had six generations of his family, but he was aware that a single terrible mistake could end in his dismissal. Lord Tyrion valued loyalty, but he did not tolerate incompetence or betrayal.
“The ah, ‘failing Human armies’ had yet to repel the Goblin King, forcing the Drakes to once again come to their rescue. However, it seemed as though Velan the Kind was determined to fight to the bitter end and his Goblin Lords refused to give in, slaying [Assassins] sent to kill them, beheading Human [Lords] and [Generals], and escaping when defeat threatened their armies. While the Goblin King and his Lords lived, there could be no true victory.”
“Father? Is the Goblin Lord going to destroy Invrisil?”’
Ullim stopped reading and Lord Tyrion looked at Hethon. In keeping with his nature, he did not reassure his son, but pondered the question as he would any military matter.
“We shall see if Zel Shivertail’s claws have dulled with age. He was defeated by the Goblin Lord once—I can only trust that he will either repel the Goblin Lord or retreat before the battle is lost.”
He scowled, not reassured by what should have been positive news for his people.
“Either way, I must hope that the Goblin Lord’s army remains strong enough to enact my plan. Curse Reinhart. It’s as if she is determined to ruin all of my designs, even the ones she knows nothing of!”
He slapped his knee and sheathed the dagger at his belt in a brisk motion. Hethon and Sammial watched their father, almost as fearfully as Ulliam. Tyrion strode towards the windows and stared out into the dark night. It was Sammial who asked the next question with all the recklessness of youth.
“If the Goblin Lord is strong, how strong is the Goblin King? Could you beat him, father?”
Ullim flinched and Lord Tyrion turned from the window. His voice was glacial as he replied.
“Most likely not, Sammial. Not without the ancestral relics and more risk than I would care to take. But an intelligent [Lord] would not gamble victory so in any case. The Goblin King was a threat, yes, but he was one that we could deal with. This Drake would have you believe we were struggling to defeat his armies—the truth is that we had a plan and we were enacting it. His forces were pulling back across the continent, giving us concrete targets to strike at, opportunities to rout his forces. We were winning even if we had to sacrifice thousands of soldiers to cut down his own.”
“Why? If he was stronger than everyone else, doesn’t that mean he’d win?”
Sammial wrinkled his nose, confused. Tyrion laughed shortly and shook his head.
“The war was won by numbers and strategy, not the heroics of a single figure, Sammial. The Goblin King had not the strength to fight on so many fronts. Despite his hordes, he left himself exposed. Vulnerable. We could not defeat his main army so we crippled his limbs. We went after his Goblin Lords. Remember that, Sammial, Hethon. If a foe is too strong for you to take on from the front, bleed him to death.”
Lord Tyrion’s eyes blazed fiercely and his children shrank in their beds. Ullim the [Majordomo] thought it was a shame. Even when Tyrion Veltras smiled he still lacked fatherly warmth.
But who better to fight a Goblin King? He had been there, and seen his fall. Ullim gulped and continued reading as Lord Tyrion brooded, recalling the past and the ending of the Second Antinium War.
The strategy that ended the Goblin King was simple: take out his Lords. The Goblin King was, after all, only one Goblin. Like any [King] or [General] he required subordinates to coordinate his massive army efficiently. Additionally, his Goblin Lords were all powerful combatants and their ability to act autonomously had allowed Velan to challenge so many armies at once.
However, with the Antinium and more reinforcements arriving each week, even the Goblin Lords were finally outnumbered. They had to retreat or be overwhelmed from every side. The Goblin King attempted to break through the encircling armies, but Antinium armies advanced from the south, drawing away a good portion of his forces. Wrymvr the Deathless even slew a Goblin Lord in personal combat, further damaging the Goblin King’s leadership.
It was the fall of Tallis Stormbreaker that truly told the world the Goblin King was on the verge of defeat. Three Archmages of Wistram cornered the Goblin Lord’s army with their own and engaged him in a magical battle that lasted for two days and two nights. On the second day, Xrn the Small Queen and an Antinium force attacked from the Goblin Lord’s side. It is thought that the unpredictable magics employed by Xrn combined with the might of the Wistram’s Archmages overwhelmed Tallis the Stormbreaker. As the Goblin [Shaman] fell he unleashed a storm which battered Izril for a week with drenching rain and hurricane winds. But he had fallen.
At this point the Goblin King had a handful of Goblin Lords left. It is hard to tell how many truly existed or remained at this point since his Goblin Chieftains could lead huge armies of his own, but the Goblin King had lost many of his vassals and abandoned his multi-sided war across the continent. He formed his remaining forces into one massive army and marched straight towards the combined armies of the world, meeting them in a battle that would last four days and decide the fate of the Antinium Wars.
Eighteen companies from Baleroes. An army of [Knights] from Terandria. The battle-hardened forces from Rhir. A small detachment from Chandrar’s kingdoms. The might of Wistram. The Humans of Izril and of course, the glorious armies of the Drake cities. This is the force that engaged the Goblin King in the final battle, while smaller forces drew away his Goblin Lords.
It was a daring plan. The Antinium and Niers Astoragon both cut off parts of the Goblin King’s army, forcing several of his Lords to battle them and leaving the Goblin King exposed. In that brief window, the allied armies attacked, aiming for one goal and one alone: the death of the Goblin King.
The battle opened with a direct charge on the Velan the Kind by six [Generals] and an army of [Knights] and mounted adventurers, including three Named Adventurers. They sought to best him by strength of arms—and failed.
The Goblin King slew two of the [Generals], a [Lord] of Terandria and Ironheart Calecum, the Named Adventurer in personal combat, forcing the vanguard to retreat in disarray. The Goblin King chased after the retreating soldiers and found himself in a mage bombardment that cut him off from his army.
Unbeknownst to the Goblin King, a separate detachment had been created apart from the main army that was clashing with his forces. It was led by the three Archmages of Wistram and the majority of the high-level [Mages] and [Archers] began to rain death on his position, attempting to destroy the Goblin King at range.
They too failed.
The Goblin King survived the area of attack spells and arrows meant to take his life. However, his personal invincibility did not extend to his army and his vanguard was wiped out to the last Goblin by the powerful spells concentrated on his position. The Goblin King was now left in a precarious position. His army was being subjected to massive attacks from the detachment led by the Archmages, yet any attempt to charge their position led to destruction.
Without Tallis Stormbreaker the allied world forces had an overwhelming magical advantage that they intended to use to decimate the Goblin King’s forces. There was no one who could survive the magical onslaught even at a distance to close and destroy the mages. The end of Velan the Kind seemed to be on hand at last.
A groan went up from the Goblins clustered around the book. The lieutenants and former Goblin Chieftains in the Goblin Lord’s tent crowded around the open history of the Second Antinium Wars lying on his table. They had found the book faster than Osthia Blackwing had anticipated—raiding cities and libraries for this very copy.
The lone Drake prisoner sat in the Goblin Lord’s tent, watching Goblins read their own history. They did not know it, which surprised her. Oh, they knew the broadest of strokes. They knew their King had been slain, but not how. Now Snapjaw bared her metal teeth, snarling.
“Cowards! They attack from afar! Not fair!”
Fair? Osthia wanted to laugh at her. What was fairness in battle? But she didn’t speak, knowing the mood in the tent was murderous.
And full of grief. The Goblins acted like their King’s death was fresh and personal, which surprised Osthia. They didn’t seem to be acting. But Goblins, grieving over Velan the Kind? It was hard to accept.
“How? How does it happen?”
Another Goblin pushed forwards, a tall Hob. He jabbed at the book. Snapjaw, one of the more literate Hobs in the tent, peered at the book. She read, her face screwing up with the effort.
“It say—Goblins dying. Mages from Wis—Wis Tram attacking. Killing by thousands. Goblin King sees. And he—he—”
She choked on the words. Osthia looked at her, knowing what had happened. But Snapjaw couldn’t say it. Her eyes filled with tears as the others looked at her, prodding her to speak.
“Cannot. Cannot. Too—”
Snapjaw shook her head. A voice interrupted the Goblins as they pestered her.
“Leave her. I know what happened next.”
A Goblin standing apart from the others spoke. Osthia looked around, and saw the Goblin Lord standing, looking out of the tent flaps. Her eyes narrowed. He hadn’t read the book—he’d just listened while the Goblins had torturously read page after page. How could he know?
But he did, somehow. The Goblin Lord turned. His eyes were distant, staring back at another battlefield in the past. All of the Goblins in the tent looked at him. The Goblin Lord’s eyes were filled with tears. Osthia stared.
Tears. They were clear and ran down his face from his white pupils. Ordinary tears, bitter and filled with regret. The Goblin Lord answered in place of Snapjaw.
“What did he do next? What he could. The only thing he could. To save his people, for victory, he did all he could do.”
A tear fell from the Goblin Lord’s eyes and he caught it. It glimmered in his hand. Wet. Memory. The Goblin Lord whispered into the silence.
“He charged alone.”
Alone! Into the heart of the maelstrom, through fields of fire, weathering the spells of three Archmages and bombardment from all sides! The Goblin King advanced on the small army of mages, his forces struggling to come to his aid, his Goblin Lords scattered on the battlefield.
The Archmages of Wistram threw death towards him. They broke the earth and unleashed magics that burned the air itself. They struck him with lightning, they ensnared him with magical nets and the lesser [Mages] and [Archers] filled the skies with fireballs and arrows.
And yet the Goblin King came on. Velan the Kind charged ever onwards, his magical defenses slowly failing in front of the incredible assault. His flesh burned, the spells tore his body apart.
But still he came on. And here we come to one of the mysteries of the Second Antinium Wars, one of the places where history clearly diverged. Because of chance, dear readers. The Goblin King was approaching the first ranks of the mages, unstoppable. And one word separates this history from being a triumph to a tale of despair.
If Velan the Kind had survived to rampage among the mage’s ranks, the battle might have been lost despite the combined armies. His Goblin Lords had yet to begin falling, and the Archmages of Wistram might have well decided to flee rather than confront the Goblin King in person. And if they had, there was no guarantee of their survival, given how Velan had survived their most deadly spells at range. Had he lived, Velan might have rallied his forces and cut apart the allied armies, rallying his Goblins and dooming Izril.
But it was not to be. The Goblin King’s charge that had crushed the finest of soldiers, gone through spell after spell and through an elite group of Gold-rank adventurers stopped before it could cause disaster. And it was stopped by the simplest of things:
A single arrow through the eye.
It was incredible, unprecedented. The Goblin King’s protections had been destroyed by the magical attacks on his person, but his body was still as tough as diamonds, his reflexes unhindered by the damage he had sustained. He was almost upon the first rank when a lone Silver-rank adventurer half-Elf by the name of Elia Arcsinger loosed an arrow that hit the Goblin King in the eye. She used the Skill of [Piercing Shot] and at nearly point-blank range her arrow was able to do what every other arrow and spell could not. The lucky shot pieced the Goblin King’s skull and killed him in an instant.
To this day, the death of Velan the Kind remains a contentious point among [Strategists] and [Tacticians] alike. Many argue that Velan the Kind should not have perished as he did, regardless of luck. While it is a known fact that a stray arrow or blade can kill all but the most well-defended warriors on the battlefield many [Strategists] argue that the Goblin King should have been able to dodge the shot.
That the arrow was capable of killing the Goblin King was not in dispute. Elia Arcsinger was in possession of an enchanted Arrow of Slaying known for its piercing properties and was using a similarly enchanted longbow certified by several Gnoll [Bowmakers] as capable of propelling arrows as far as four hundred meters across the battlefield.
Combined with the [Piercing Shot] Skill, her arrow would have stood a good chance of piercing even the Goblin King’s skin at point-blank rank. That she struck him in the eye resulted in the fatal injury, all of which is understood to be accurate by most who take up this debate. The crux of the issue is that the Goblin King did not avoid the arrow, which most [Strategists] concede he should have been able to do.
The general argument is that the Goblin King had been known to catch arrows and dodge them in other battles. That he failed to do so in this case might have been due to the chaos of the battlefield, or the effects of one of the spells he endured. Nevertheless, there remains a vocal minority who claim that Elia Arcsinger used a special Skill or had some other enchantment on her body she herself may have been unaware of. Or perhaps her latest abilities were the reason for her miraculous shot.
After all, the half-Elf’s fame for killing the Goblin King has resulted in Elia Arcsinger becoming known as one of the greatest Named Adventurers of this age. The title of Kingslayer and her famous [Line-Ender Shot] Skill obtained from killing the Goblin King do seem to indicate that the credit for the Goblin King’s death should lie with Elia Arcsinger and no other. And yet, many [Strategists] still argue the event to this day.
To this writer’s mind there is little purpose speculating overlong as to the cause of the Goblin King’s death. It is enough to say that he died, and the world will ever be grateful to Elia Arcsinger for her steady aim in that last hour of desperation. So let this bring an end to pointless debates. The Goblin King should have dodged. But he did not. And history will note that as fact. There is no point arguing over what occurred, especially when more important issues demand the attention of [Strategists] and their ilk.
“But that’s so suspicious!”
Olesm leapt to his feet, tail thrashing as he forgot where he was and shouted in his small office. He angrily waved the book he was holding about, shouting at it as if his voice could reach Krsysl Wordsmith if only he was loud enough.
“That’s the entire point! If the Goblin King should have survived, why didn’t he? Was it a spell or a Skill or what? Was it betrayal like some theories indicate? Or did an Archmage cast a spell? What about the interview where Elia Arcsinger said herself she doesn’t know why the Goblin King didn’t dodge? Don’t just gloss over all the important details, you egg-headed moron!”
He collapsed into his chair, panting, and held the book open.
“How did it happen? Why? Why did he die there when he should have won? Was it just luck? Really? Or was it something else?”
Olesm stared at the book, and turned the next page.
“This is a terrible historical account. I hope no one takes this seriously.”
He read on, knowing what had happened next. What had happened, yes, but not the why. The why of it was lost to Olesm, a precious secret that no [Strategist] or [Archer] had even been able to puzzle out. Why didn’t Velan the Kind dodge? What did he see? What happened?
Only the Goblins knew the truth. And even then, only a Goblin King could explain why it had happened. But it had. And that was that.
Or so the book said.
The battle finished minutes after the Goblin King’s death. Although only a fraction of the Goblins present had witnessed the event, every Goblin on the field and perhaps every Goblin in the world sensed Velan the Kind die the moment it happened. Witnesses report seeing Goblins falling to their knees or throwing down their arms, allowing the combined armies to cut them down, too grief-stricken to fight back.
While it may be amusing to readers to imagine Goblins exhibiting any kind of grief, it does appear this was the case, as the Goblins fled, their morale broken by their King’s demise. And with that, the last battle of the Second Antinium Wars was won. The Necromancer had been destroyed, the Goblin King slain, and the Antinium had been pacified. At least for the moment.
However, I would urge you good readers to consider this last warning—
The story ended. The Goblin King died on the pages as he had on the battlefield, and across the world, readers closed the book and looked up.
Some wept to hear of the Goblin King’s death. The Goblins around the Goblin Lord bowed in grief, and with that grief harbored their terrible rage against the world. Others, like Tyrion, smiled and promised his sons the same truth in the world—that evil would always be vanquished and good triumph.
And some, like Erin and the Antinium, just closed the book and sat in silence for a while, absorbing this tale of what had been. It was a flawed history, true, but one with grains of truth. Those readers would sit in a moment of introspection, as time flowed strangely around them and they felt, just for a second, as if they could see the very fates that had led to that moment in history.
And then the moment would break and Erin would offer everyone popcorn with yeast, which was, as she claimed, the only way to eat popcorn. And the Antinium would eat and Klbkch would let Erin take over to tell another story—Charlotte’s Web, a story which would cause much emotional distress on the part of every Soldier who had killed Shield Spiders.
Life went on, sometimes informed by the past, other times going on in blissful ignorance of it. Erin Solstice’s attempts to comfort a Soldier and explain that Charlotte was a special spider would be entertaining if confusing, but that story was only a backdrop. The narrative had not ended yet, and one pair of readers continued on. They flipped the page and continued the history, reading the final notes of Krsysl Wordsmith.
However, I would urge you good readers to consider this last warning before closing this book. Yes, the war was over. The last of the Goblin Lords died as they hurled themselves into battle. Without their King, the Goblins fled, only to be cut down to the last Goblin by the victorious armies. The world was at peace again.
And yet, what a hard-won peace! And at such a cost! Velan the Kind’s rampage might not have been as devastating as the last Goblin King’s path of destruction across Terandria, but it was certainly catastrophic to the Humans. More importantly, the battles with the Necromancer, Antinium, and the Goblins had laid waste to the beloved Drake cities and would be the work of years rebuilding.
Unfortunately, that also meant the truce with the Antinium had to be honored. The allied armies declined to attack the Antinium despite the urging of many sensible minds. Foolishly, the various world leaders decided they were sick of war and let the Antinium remain a threat. Worse, they allowed the Antinium to establish a Hive in Liscor, one of the stipulations of the peace treaty!
Why the heroic people of Liscor allowed this is beyond this writer—indeed, the Liscorian army criticized and then resisted this move, leading to a rift between the public and army. Subsequently, the Liscorian army has rarely returned to its home city and spends much time on the campaign. A true shame.
But Liscor’s problems are, alas, the world’s problems. The Antinium are the one enemy side that survived the Second Antinium Wars, and their ‘help’ only highlights their threat as a group. Their victory was forestalled by the greater threats of the Goblin King and the Necromancer, but that does not erase their menace. They surprised us all with their advancements since the First Antinium War—I dread to think of what they might do if given time to prepare again.
It is my hope that this book will serve to warn readers of the Antinium and present them with a greater understanding of Drake sacrifices. We must stand together against the Antinium threat. Alone we are prey to menaces like the Goblins. Let this history be a record: the Antinium have been our enemies once, and our allies of convenience a second time. But they will never be our friends. They remain our invaders and we must resist them. And it falls on the world to lend us their aide, lest the fall of the Drakes herald the death knell of the world.
We have survived Goblins, the undead, and the Antinium in this second great war for Izril. Let there never be another one in this writer’s lifetime. But if there is, I, Krsysl Wordsmith will document the war and history to the best of my ability. History must not be forgotten and I will retell it as it should be again and again. Thank you for reading. I remain yours, most humbly,
At last it was over. Zel Shivertail lowered the book and closed the cover slowly with one claw. Then he looked over at Lady Magnolia.
“What a terrible book. Why did you have me read through it again?”
She smiled sweetly at him and sipped from her cup of sugar and tea.
“Oh, perspective. My dear General Shivertail, don’t tell me you object to such a glorious retelling of Drake history?”
Zel grunted. He felt like he should wash his claws after touching the book. He pushed it across the table towards Lady Magnolia.
“I do, actually. History should be impartial, not biased and certainly not glorifying one species and insulting others. We all fought the Goblin King—to say any one species did more is insulting to all of us.”
“Ah, well, your opinions are not that of Mister Wordsmith’s. I said as much to him when he first published the book, but I’m afraid he didn’t listen to me. A pity you weren’t there; I think he might have listened to a fellow Drake, let alone the famous Tidebreaker. I think he admires you.”
The Drake [General] shuddered and shook his head. He was sitting in a tent—his personal tent—at the small table he’d requested. This wasn’t the command tent so he had little to look at, but he did have a smaller map of Invrisil and the surrounding landscape he was studying.
Lady Magnolia and her [Maid] Ressa were sitting in Zel’s tent as if there was nothing odd about them being there. They had dropped by unannounced earlier that evening and Lady Magnolia had forced the history book on Zel. He wished he’d refused.
“I heard about this book coming out. And I heard how widely it was criticized so I never bothered to pick it up. I understand quite a lot of copies were made—why would you ever fund something like this?”
“I? I wouldn’t put my name on this book if Krsysl Wordsmith paid me.”
Lady Magnolia’s eyebrows shot up. Zel glanced at her.
“I thought you funded this.”
“I funded the first history. Not the second.”
She corrected him. Lady Magnolia frowned and sighed as she put her tea cup on the table. She picked up the book and flipped through it sadly.
“I paid Krsysl Wordsmith to write the history of the First Antinium Wars shortly after it had ended. He was an eager young [Writer] and he did an excellent job of writing the history. It was widely praised as you know.”
“I do know. What went wrong with the second one?”
“The fame went to his head I fear. And he decided to take the money that had made him rich from writing the first book and invest it in the second. He wrote the second as a patriot, thinking it would make him beloved. Instead, it earned him criticism from his own people. Although he does have quite a number of Drakes who still think of him as a good writer. I did try to persuade him to write a more unbiased history, but he detests me I’m afraid.”
Zel grunted. He picked up the book and shook his head as he flipped through pages of commentary, maps of the battlegrounds, sketches of the Goblin Lords—and one of himself. Zel stared at a rather flattering image of himself holding the Necromancer’s head with Liscor in the background. He shook his head in disgust.
“This helps no one. The answer is simple and this author should have seen it. We have to fight together. That’s how we beat the Goblin King. Peace between Humans and Drakes is more important than pride.”
“Some would say that peace with the Antinium is just as important.”
Lady Magnolia spoke cautiously, watching Zel. The [General] looked up.
“If you believed that, why invite me here? No, the Antinium don’t believe in peace. And neither does the Necromancer.”
“True. That is my view as well, which is why I have been preparing ever since the Second Antinium War ended. But some do say such things. And there is a…thought that the Antinium of Liscor might be less dangerous than the rest of their kind.”
The Drake paused. He didn’t know how Magnolia had heard that, but it didn’t surprise him. He thought about Klbkch and his claws clenched into fists. But then he thought about Pawn and shook his head.
“Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. But one Hive is far from all of them.”
“Indeed. It is a thought though, and I want you to be aware of the opportunity that exists there. However, you are correct. The Grand Queen of the Antinium rules over her kind and she…bothers me. She will seize any opportunity she feels is right.”
“So will the Necromancer. I can’t believe he survived me ripping him apart.”
“Mm. Next time we’ll see about using a spell. I intend to make sure he is dead this time. But you can see why I haven’t pursued him yet.”
“Because he’s south of Liscor? A Drake problem?”
“Well, yes. Frankly, the problem is that both he and the Antinium are south of Liscor. Let’s assume the Drakes attacked one. The other would surely seize on that opportunity to force the Drakes into a war on two fronts.”
“Not a problem if we had Human help.”
“Indeed…but I am afraid that Human help might not turn up at all. Many Human [Lords] and [Ladies] would leave your people to fight alone, in the hopes of swooping in and defeating the victor. Or worse, your help might turn into a dagger in the back if Lord Tyrion were to march an army south of Liscor. He still dreams of conquering Izril, you know.”
“Wonderful. No wonder you wanted a Drake [General].”
Zel sighed. He felt old after hearing so much history. He had lived through most of it, true, but it felt like another lifetime. He was so old. He could still remember the First Antinium War. And the Second…Zel wondered if he’d live to see a third one. He didn’t want a third one, but what other choice was there?
A thought occurred to him as he pushed the book around on his table. Zel looked up at Magnolia with a frown.
“Where was your powerful magic-user ally during the Second Antinium War? Did he take part in the fighting at all? Or does he hail from another continent, like Niers Astoragon?”
Magnolia’s expression changed slightly. She pursed her lips together and looked slightly annoyed. She toyed with her teacup as she replied.
“He…excused himself from the war. The Goblins are not his enemy and he refused to battle them, much to my displeasure. He did succeed in stalling the Goblin King for a few days in the High Passes, though. I suppose that I owe him some credit for that.”
“Wonderful. So I can’t expect help against the Goblin Lord?”
“Do you need it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’d like more certainty, but if I can’t have it then I’ll fight and see how it plays out.”
Zel stood up. He paced around his table, looking at the small map. So close. He’d plotted the Goblin Lord’s advance relative to his army. Magnolia Reinhart turned to face him. Her foot was jiggling just the slightest bit as she asked the question that had to be on everyone’s mind.
“The day after tomorrow. Or tomorrow if he really marches his troops. He won’t, though. So it’s the day after tomorrow at some point. Day, night…I’ll force him into a day battle if I have to. I won’t let him play any tricks with the undead this time. It’ll be a straight-up battle.”
Zel Shivertail’s voice sounded loud in his ears. His heart pumped a little faster, thinking of it. So soon. But the Goblin Lord had turned towards Invrisil, against all expectations. He was coming here. And Zel was ready.
“I have given you all the tools at my disposal. We shall go over all of my estate’s resources tomorrow once more. If there is anything you need—”
Magnolia’s voice was brisk as she stood up. Zel turned his head and nodded absently at her.
“Battle Golems, that magical artifact…I’ve reviewed it all. I could use more adventurers if you can hire them.”
Magnolia pursed her lips.
“They don’t want to fight in a battle. This is technically not the defense of Invrisil so I can’t conscript them easily. But I will double the reward for Gold-rank adventurers.”
She paused and looked at Zel.
“Are they so necessary?”
“Necessary? No. I think I can win this. Even without any adventurers. But I like stacking the odds in my favor. Call it the wisdom of age or something.”
Zel sighed. Magnolia stood next to him in silence for a few seconds.
“You will win, won’t you?”
“Probably. I don’t make promises before a battle. But yes, probably.”
“The Goblin Lord—”
“—Is not Velan the Kind. Your history book proves that. He’s a threat, a danger, and one I refuse to underestimate. But he’s no Goblin King.”
Magnolia’s words hung in the silence. Zel shook his head.
“Maybe not ever. A Goblin King is something rare. Something…I saw him during the final battle, you know. From a distance. I was on the front lines against his regular army. Holding the line. I saw him charging minutes before his death. And I thought he seemed so—so—”
“Dangerous? Strange? Frightening? Lonely?”
The Drake shook his head.
“Sad. As if he knew what was going to happen next.”
Magnolia stared at him. Ressa blinked. Zel turned away, embarrassed by the confession.
“It was just a feeling. But it stuck with me. And if that book you read taught me anything, it’s that we don’t know much about Goblins. Not truly. We don’t know why Velan ran berserk, why he died like he did…nothing. And this Goblin Lord is the same. We think he’s allied with the Necromancer, but is that as an equal, or as a servant?”
“Some questions have no answers. At least, none we can discern. I suspect the Goblin Lord is the only one who could answer your questions. Besides Az’kerash, at any rate.”
Zel nodded. His claws tightened on the book and he tossed it to one side. His head turned south, towards the coming battle. Soon. Tomorrow? The day after. Zel felt his heart beating faster. The Second Antinium War was over. The Goblin King was dead, but here was another Goblin Lord. Was he connected to the Necromancer?
“In that case, I’ll ask him when I have a claw around his throat.”
He turned and left the tent. Magnolia Reinhart’s gaze traced the same invisible line in the distance. She tapped a finger to her lips and whispered.
“We’ll see. Nothing is set in stone.”
Then she turned and kicked the book on the floor. Magnolia scowled at the book, rubbing at the tips of her toes and grimacing.
“I truly do hate history books. Honestly, I think I’ll hire a Gnoll to write the next one.”
She stomped out of the tent, leaving The Second Antinium Wars, a History lying on the ground. After a moment Ressa picked it up and followed her mistress and Zel Shivertail outside. The stage was set, the pieces all in place. It was time for another page in the story of the world to begin.