4.48

Time was peculiar. Lady Magnolia knew that well. Some days, some moments could seem to last forever while entire years could flash by. It was all a matter of how much was happening. When it seemed like the world was ending and dire news was the headline of each morning, time could be at a standstill as every day became an unfolding disaster. By the same token though, when there was too much to do and time was precious, it slipped away like shadows in the sun.

She planned with Zel Shivertail, letting the [General] take command of his forces, assisting where she could without getting in the way. Magnolia pulled strings, marshalled all the resources at her immediate disposal, flattened gossip in places and encouraged it in others, and heard reports from [Scouts]. A day passed like that and then it was time.

The Goblins were here.

The first sign of their presence was the distant drum beats that echoed across the grasslands like thunder. The last of the winter’s cold fled with their arrival, and the dark skies and overcast day heralded a wet, if temperate battlefield.

“Muddy. Bad footing. I wish we could have had better weather for today’s battle.”

Magnolia Reinhart turned her head as she stood on those same fields. She had been staring at a black mass in the distance. Now she looked at an armored woman by her side. The woman was dressed so she looked nothing like the [Maid] she was—wearing thick metal armor and carrying an enchanted mace, she was the spitting image of Odveig, the former leader of the Celestial Trackers. But Sacra had many disguises, many faces. And Magnolia appreciated the depth of her knowledge in moments like these.

“Why is mud disadvantageous, Sacra? Aside from the obvious reasons. I would assume that the danger of slipping applies to Goblins as equally as Humans.”

Sacra bowed her head slightly, not taking her eyes off of the distant Goblin host.

“Your pardon Lady Reinhart. But Goblins are experienced in fighting in almost all forms of weather and terrain. Humans are not. Some of the soldiers here won’t have practiced in these conditions. They’ll be at a slight disadvantage.”

“I see. Hopefully General Shivertail will be able to compensate.”

Magnolia turned her gaze back towards the Goblins. They had been marching steadily towards Invrisil for two hours now, across the plains outside of Invrisil. The Human army had decided to meet them four miles outside of Invrisil’s suburbs. Any closer and the Goblins might use the houses and buildings as cover, or worse, scale the outermost walls and threaten the city itself.

Invrisil had not come under attack since the Second Antinium Wars. It had grown without fear, safe from [Bandits] and monsters due to the high number of adventurers who lived within its confines. But now, in the face of the Goblin Lord’s armies those same adventurers were in hiding.

All but a few. Magnolia shifted her gaze and stared at the army of Humans that had formed up ahead of her, in the path of the approaching army. The armor of thousands of [Soldiers] gleamed in the light drizzle from overhead, and Magnolia could see hundreds, maybe thousands of banners, each proclaiming a unit from a different village, town or city.

Just over forty thousand soldiers. A vast army. And yet the Goblin Lord’s forces were reported to be almost double that number. True, his forces would be comprised of noncombatants as well, children, pregnant Goblins, the elderly…and a good half of his army was the undead horde.

Even so, the numbers alone made Magnolia’s heart beat quicker. She stared at the Goblins until another voice spoke up.

“It’s not right.”

“What is?”

Lady Bethal stared at the Goblin Lord’s army. It was spreading out across the grasslands, growing larger by the second. So many. Magnolia tried to count and gave up. Bethal’s voice was pained, the only sound in the silence.

“We should have brought twice as many soldiers to this battlefield. Three times. These are Goblins. Why hasn’t every city within a thousand miles turned out their garrisons to support us? This isn’t a matter of politics! Why are we so divided? But instead Lord Tyrion siphons off soldiers we need, and so we have to send a Drake legend in with a half-formed army—”

“I know.”

Magnolia cut her friend off. She sighed.

“I know, Bethal. But we Humans do not always act in the best interests of our people. We are selfish, paranoid, petty…I should have known my enemies would fight me even in this. They would let a city of hundreds of thousands burn to hurt me.”

“Fools.”

“Not fools. Not entirely. Just…uncaring, I think. To his credit, Zel Shivertail realized how lackluster a force he had been given. But he chose to lead it anyways. He thinks he can win, not just defend, Bethal.”

Magnolia stared out across the ranks of Human soldiers, at the lone figure standing on the front lines. Zel Shivertail’s armor glowed in the dim light, a beacon for all those who looked for such things. Bethal shook her head.

“I pray he’s right, Magnolia. My Thomast is out there and almost all of my Knights of the Petal. If they are lost—”

Her eyes flicked to her husband, lost in the seas of soldiers. Magnolia could spot the iconic [Knights] in their light pink and red armor. She tried to soothe Bethal, although she didn’t feel that calm herself.

“Your husband is quite competent Bethal. As for your [Knights]—they are the most elite force on the field, bar none. We must commit all we can to this battle. And remember, if you should see Thomast in trouble, you have given me your word not to go into the battle.”

“I know.”

Bethal sighed loudly and Magnolia eyed her. That had been the condition she’d imposed on Bethal before she’d let the other [Lady] observe the battle. Magnolia and her small retinue stood at a distance from the army and battlefield itself. Close enough to observe, but far enough in theory that the Goblin Lord would not trouble himself with them. And if he did…

Sacra stood with both feet planted on the ground, mace by her side. She was joined by eighteen other [Maids] and [Servants]…none of whom were wearing their usual uniforms today. They were all former spellcasters and warriors and they were all armed with magical artifacts.

A small guard. Magnolia had put her faith in Zel Shivertail. She wasn’t here to fight herself; she was an observer in this battle. Well, an observer with a small role to play. Magnolia’s flicked her gaze to the two huge covered wagons parked by her small escort. Both lacked mounts to pull them anywhere and were sinking slightly into the ground at the moment. Each one was large enough to hold several horses if you managed to get them up into such a confined space, and they were large enough to take shelter behind.

But again, if it came to that then something had gone wrong. Magnolia trusted Zel Shivertail to win this battle. And as if her thoughts had summoned him, she saw his figure heading her way.

Zel Shivertail rode a horse briskly towards Magnolia and her escort, and Magnolia walked forwards to meet him. She had been only vaguely surprised to learn Zel Shivertail was a competent rider—he never rode horses when fighting, so it was rare that he got a chance to show off his skills.

“Is there something wrong?”

“No. I’m changing the plan, though. Hold the secret weapons until the Goblin Lord makes his move. Don’t unleash them unless you think you have a shot at him.”

“Why, pray tell? They could cause extensive damage—”

Magnolia bit her tongue as she realized she was asking questions of a [General]. She was no [General]; she should just let him do his work. Zel answered her curtly as he eyed the distant Goblin Lord’s army.

“I don’t like the looks of the Goblin Lord’s vanguard. I took a look at them with a spyglass—it seems like he has a very strong escort and he’s entrenched himself in his army. It will be hard to get a clear shot at him unless it’s by surprise.”

“I understand. I will wait for the opportunity, then.”

Magnolia smoothed her skirts, glad the magical fabric couldn’t get dirty or wet. She looked at the Drake [General] and couldn’t help but ask a few more questions.

“Do you believe you’re prepared? There are still a few more contingency measures we could take. The magical artifact my grandfather gave me—”

“That thing?”

Zel turned his head and eyed the strange tube-like object that Magnolia had brought with her. It was resting on a small pedestal, guarded by two of her [Maids]. He shook his head.

“Unless the battle turns badly, don’t use it. I’d rather save that for the Great Chieftain you were talking about. And I’d rather not risk collateral damage since we don’t know exactly what it does.”

“Very well. And I see you have equipped the artifacts I gave you. Excellent.”

Zel frowned as he scratched at the pair of rings on his fingers. Magnolia knew he also had a pendant around his neck. They seemed to be annoying the Drake.

“Yes. I’m grateful, really, but I don’t like rings. I fight with my claws you know. These things can catch when I hit something.”

Magnolia pursed her lips, unsympathetic.

“I should imagine their effects outweigh whatever awkwardness you feel, General. They will protect you from unfortunate teleportation, curses, metal attack spells…they should be standard fare to someone of your rank. I can’t understand how you survived this long without them!”

“Probably because everyone thought I had them on and never bothered to test whether I had them or not. And I’ve survived nasty spells before. One time I got teleported off of a cliff…”

Zel grunted. His eyes were going back to the Goblin army. They were coming so slowly. Magnolia tried to keep her voice light and bantering. She and Zel were both icons after all. They had to pretend to be calm for the sake of others.

“I suppose Drakes don’t bother with magical protections, then? You, what, trust the strength of your scales?”

“Hardly. You should see some of them. I know a Lord of the Wall that has rings on every finger. No, I was never supported by the Walled Cities so I had to make do without. And any artifacts I used I returned. Well, I’ll try to get these ones back to you in one piece.”

“Please, consider them a gift. It would hardly do for me to be seen as stingy and I have quite a few ugly rings in my collection.”

“Thank you.”

They traded words like that for a few more minutes, both keeping their eyes on the Goblin Lord’s army. And then Zel nodded towards the black host in the distance.

“It’s time. Remember what I said. Wait for the Goblin Lord to be exposed. And as for the rest…”

He paused. Magnolia waited, her heart beating fast, her face composed. Zel Shivertail just shrugged.

“It’s time.”

“Fortune in battle!”

Magnolia called after Zel’s back as he turned his horse. She heard Sacra and the others around her saying something similar. Magnolia shook her head. Such old sayings. Such trite words. As if that would help one whit.

This was a battle. And as the Goblins came close enough for Magnolia to see their faces in the distance, she heard the drum beats striking louder now, the thumping in rhythm with her chest.

Doom. Doom.

The sound was like the steps of a giant. Only this giant was made of tens of thousands of black-armored Goblins, hordes of shambling undead. Magnolia stared across the ranks of Human swordsmen, mounted riders, archers, nervously staring at their foe. She wondered how they could look at that massive army and not run. There were so many! But the Humans were numerous too. The Goblins approached, spreading out like a breaking wave. Closer, closer—

And then the drumbeats ceased. Magnolia’s heart skipped a beat as the absence of sound affected her more powerfully than the noise. She stared at the Goblins and then saw him.

A Goblin sitting on a massive Shield Spider. A figure dressed in robes. He didn’t shine with an aura or radiate malice, but there was no mistaking him. The Goblin Lord rode his mount to the head of his army and raised his hand.

“Sacra, what is he—”

Magnolia turned to Sacra, about to ask her opinion. Without Ressa she was acting as commentator and analyst of the battle. But she never got a chance to voice her question. Because as the Goblin Lord raised his hand the Goblins around him raised their weapons and shouted one word.

Goblin.

The noise broke the silence and rippled across the plains, causing a physical ripple in the army of Humans. Magnolia’s ears rang and she saw the servants around her wince. Only Sacra, Bethal, and Magnolia didn’t flinch.

The effect on the Human army was just as effective. Magnolia could see ranks of Soldiers waver for a second before standing straight. Just one word had caused their morale to waver.

And it wasn’t over. The Goblin Lord raised his hand again and the Goblins shouted.

Goblin!

The noise was fury and bloodshed, monstrous, the very definitions of what Goblins could be. Magnolia calmed herself with a Skill, looking across her army. They weren’t breaking, but the Human soldiers were clearly unnerved by the sound.

“He’s trying to shatter our morale!”

Sacra shouted at Magnolia, explaining the obvious. Magnolia nodded, noting that Sacra had taken the mace from her belt. Again, the Goblin Lord raised his hand and the sound rolled forth.

Goblin!

Again the massed voices of the Goblins struck the Humans. Magnolia had to admire the simplicity of it. It was like being attacked, but there was no way to fight back. A few of the Human officers tried to raise their own cheers, and Magnolia heard the cries taken up, but only by a small percentage of the army. And the wavering voices made the Goblin’s earth-shattering chant all the more terrifying.

“Idiots. You can’t beat Goblins in a shouting contest.”

Sacra shook her head as she twirled the mace in her hands, eying the Goblin army restlessly. Magnolia raised her voice to be heard.

“How do you do it, then?”

What?

How do you beat them?

“Like that!”

Sacra pointed. Magnolia stared until she saw the lone figure standing at the head of the Human army. Zel Shivertail. He had advanced a few paces ahead of the front rank of swords and pikes so he was visible by most of his army. He stood, his armor shining, arms folded as the Goblins shouted again.

Goblin!

They had spotted him, Humans and Goblins alike. The Goblins were screaming, their noise filling the air and the Humans were shouting too. They wanted Zel to raise his hands, to fight sound with sound. But Zel did nothing.

He just stood. Waiting. And as Magnolia watched the Goblin Lord exalting his army again she realized what Sacra meant.

The Goblins roared at him, screaming, tens of thousands of Goblin voices howling their rage and fury. And still, Zel stood with arms folded. Waiting. And as they screamed, the Goblins stared at him. And their voices began to falter.

They all knew him. Foolishly, the Goblin Lord had studied Zel Shivertail, had read his stories. Tidebreaker, [General of the Line], hero of two Antinium Wars. The greatest [General] of the Drakes. And so rumors had spread. Zel Shivertail had trickled into the Goblin consciousness like poison. And now he was here, and that knowledge was magnified by his presence.

Zel Shivertail was huge. It wasn’t just his physical appearance, which was already imposing. He was like a giant shrunken down and contained within a much smaller body. He dominated the attention of the battlefield.

And he stood there, listening to the Goblins cheering, staring at the Goblin Lord. Just stood. But as Magnolia stared at his back she felt the apprehension from the Goblin’s chanting vanish. The Humans standing behind Zel stood straighter. His armor shone like fire and Zel waited.

Slowly, the Goblin chanting stopped. They stared at Zel, frustrated, angry, and perhaps, afraid. Because of what he was. What he represented.

There stood one who had fought the Goblin King, had fought his Goblin Lords. He was right there. And he was terrifying.

The silence had regained the battlefield. Magnolia saw the Goblin Lord waving his hands, shouting, frustration clear in his motions as the Goblins advanced again. By her side, Sacra nodded approvingly.

“We might not have won the battle of morale, but we certainly didn’t lose.”

“And now it begins.”

Bethal stared at the Goblins as they began to march rapidly on the Human army. Magnolia waited, her heart beating loudly, her eyes scanning the battlefield. She realized that the waiting, the chanting, all of it, had just been the most basic of preludes. The battle began in earnest as the Goblins streamed towards the Humans, shouting, marching in black ranks.

The arrows came first. Magnolia saw a company of [Archers] led by one of the few Gold-rank adventurers raise their bows. The highest-level [Markswomen] and [Snipers] among them had the Skills and enchanted weapons to fire across hundreds of feet and began loosing arrows into the front rank of Goblins. Black bodies tumbled downwards, just a handful, and the Goblins raised their shields higher, snarling and trampling over their fallen.

And they had archers of their own. Magnolia saw arrows flying back towards the Human army—just a few at first, but more and more as the two armies closed in distance. The Gold-rank adventurer in the archer’s group—a Gnoll woman with a longbow—dodged as an arrow shot towards her head. She nocked an arrow and loosed it—Magnolia saw the Goblin who’d aimed at her fall, clawing at an arrow in his chest.

The duel between archers halted abruptly as the Goblins came within a hundred feet. Now Magnolia heard [Captains] calling out orders.

“Hold! Draw! Wait for it—loose!

A rain of deadly projectiles shot across the muddy ground towards the front rank of Goblins. Several fell, but the black armor the Goblins wore shielded them from the worst of it, as did their shields. They were coming faster now. The Goblin Lord pointed and his voice snapped an order. The front rank of Goblins surged towards the Human army.

And now Magnolia could see the Hobs. A line of over a hundred Hobs charged towards Zel Shivertail and his army, giant green warriors coated in black armor, holding massive weapons and roaring as they came. The Human [Archers] were aiming at them, trying to bring them down but for every one they, felled ten more came on.

“Dead gods. They’re going to be overrun!”

Bethal stared at the front rank. The Humans there were low-level. They weren’t [Lineholders] or experienced warriors! Hobs were a Silver-rank threat! Magnolia watched as well. She bit her lip and whispered.

“Come now, General Shivertail. Tell me you know how to deal with this.”

 

—-

 

“Oh, dead gods.”

Lieutenant Gershal of Vaunt felt his heart stop as he saw the Goblins charging. He had been assigned to the front ranks with his unit and had lamented the fact with the other sympathetic officers. But he hadn’t realized what it meant until this moment.

A wave of Goblins was coming at him, as endless as the sea. And at the head of them—

Hobgoblins. The closest one was a head taller than Gershal and three times as wide. Gershal could see the flecks of spit, see the frenzied crimson eyes staring at him, the gigantic maul in the Goblin’s hands—

“Steady.”

A voice snapped Gershal out of his trance. He looked to one side and saw another officer, the [Captain] assigned to the area speaking to him. Gershal realized he’d taken a step back. The soldiers around him were doing the same. Horrified, Gershal realized the entire front was pulling back in face of the Goblin’s charge. He shouted at his men, ashamed and terrified.

Hold your positions! Hold, damn your cheese-rotted heads!

Cheese-rotted heads. It was a petty insult children used in Vaunt. But it worked. The soldiers jumped and half-looked towards Gershal before snapping out of their fear. They reformed the line, men and women holding shields, pikes trained on the Goblins, swords ready for when they broke past the pikes.

Gershal carried a sword and shield as well. He breathed heavily, his eyes on the Drake in shining armor ahead of him. If he stared at Zel Shivertail he could hold his ground. But the Hobs! They were seconds away. What was going to happen when they hit? They’d be swept away, all of them!

Zel Shivertail hadn’t moved in the face of the Goblin’s charge. Now, as they were about to hit the front line he shifted. He raised one claw and spoke. Gershal barely heard his voice over the roar of the Goblins.

“[Stonewall Formation]. [Chargebreaker Guard].”

Something filled Gershal and he gasped as his shield felt warm. His footing on the slippery mud and grass felt firmer. But he couldn’t analyze the feeling. The Goblins hit his line and the entire army in a roar and crash of metal on metal that dwarfed every sound Gershal had heard in his life.

The first wave of Goblins smashed into the soldiers around Gershal. He saw a gigantic Hob charging towards him. The [Lieutenant] raised his shield, heart pounding. The Hob had a massive hammer and swung towards Gershal. It was too late to dodge, but Gershal knew he’d never block the blow. He braced—

And the hammer glanced off his shield. Gershal gaped and the Hob staggered. Gershal stumbled back. The blow had been incredibly strong, but it hadn’t smashed through his iron and wood shield! Both Human and Goblin were so surprised that they stared at each other for a moment.

And then instinct took over. Gershal swung his sword desperately as the Hob raised his hammer. His sword glanced off the Hob’s gauntleted arm and again the hammer came down! And again, it was blocked.

Gershal staggered under the force of the blow. It was tremendous! He could feel the incredible impact, and yet his shield and body held. No—more than that! With one arm he thrust the hammer away and the Hob stumbled backwards. Gershal charged into the Hob, screaming and thrust his sword towards the gap between his chest plate and leg armor.

The Hob howled as Gershal’s blade struck him in the thigh, glancing off bone. He swung his hammer and Gershal darted back. The two traded blows and again, Gershal found his shield could handle each of the Hob’s devastating attacks! But the Hob was quick and powerful. He blocked each of Gershal’s thrusts, snarling, trying to strike around Gershal’s shield with his slower weapon.

So caught up were the two in their duel that neither one realized where they were. Gershal backed up from the Hob’s swing and collided with something from behind. He turned—

And another Hob twisted around, her axe covered with blood. This Hob was taller than both Gershal and the hammer-wielding Hob. She was standing over a Human soldier, or what remained of them. The pike in their hands had been hacked in two from the Hob’s blows. Now both Hobs closed in on Gershal from either side.

He jabbed at them with his sword, trying to back up. But the Hobs were fearless. The female Hob swung her axe and only Gershal’s shield saved his head from being split open. The hammer-wielding Hob charged, roaring, his weapon aimed at Gershal’s back—

And a flash of green charged into him. Gershal spun and saw the Hob falling. Gershal stared.

The Hob was falling to the ground. His black armor, impervious to Gershal’s iron sword, was torn open and his chest was a bloody mass. And standing over him was a Drake in shining armor.

Zel Shivertail.

Gershal stared. He heard the female Hob scream and Zel turned. The Drake caught the blade of the axe as it swung towards his face and his left hand slashed across the female Hob’s chest. His claws were long and cut through the Hob’s armor like it wasn’t there. Gershal stared as the female Hob sagged. Zel dropped her and turned towards Gershal.

“You’re out of line! Get back!”

He roared and Gershal thought he was reprimanding him for a second. Then he realized—he was out of line! His duel with the Hob had carried him out of the line of Human soldiers and into the Goblin army. He backed up as Goblin soldiers streamed forwards around him, jabbing at him with spears, swinging swords he barely blocked with his armor and shield—

Zel Shivertail turned. He kicked a Goblin into eight of his friends, so hard the black metal bent and the Goblin screamed, and then slashed with his claws. Left, right, left! Each time a Goblin fell, their armor rent and torn open by Zel’s claws. He caught their weapons with his bare hands, impervious to the cutting edges and cleared a space around him, cutting down Goblins while Gershal found his unit.

Hold your ground!

The Drake roared as the Humans pushed back the first line of Goblins. He turned and charged towards a Hob—seconds later the Hob was dead and Zel was finding his next target. The Human [Soldiers] and Gershal himself roared in response to their [General]’s heroics. Gershal felt like his arm was ablaze with energy—he blocked a Goblin’s thrust as if it was nothing and cut the Goblin down, shouting. They could win this! They could win!

And then the arrows came and more Goblins. Gershal held the line with his soldiers, fighting, falling, dragging wounded friends to safety while more [Soldiers] rushed forwards to fill the gaps.

That was the first five minutes of the battle.

 

—-

 

“It’s working! They’re doing it!”

Bethal clutched at Magnolia, shaking her shoulder as they watched the battle from afar. Magnolia endured the shaking. She was a [Lady] and she couldn’t display an undignified countenance.

Of course, Bethal was a [Lady] as well, but they were quite, quite different. Magnolia eventually got Bethal to let go by grabbing her hands.

“I see that Bethal. Sacra, it looks like the Goblin charge has failed.”

“For now.”

Sacra eyed the Goblins as they clashed with the front rank of Humans, led by Zel. It was a slaughter on both sides, but one that was definitely favoring the Humans. They were holding, reinforcing gaps in their lines while their soldiers cut down wave after wave of the Goblins. The Goblin Lord’s Hobs, his elite shock troopers that gave him an advantage over the Human soldiers were being stalemated by Zel’s defensive Skills.

But that was only the beginning of the battle. Magnolia saw the mass of Goblins that had crashed against Zel’s front line moving left and right, trying to flank the Humans. Correspondingly, battalions of Human soldiers were racing across the ground.

“We don’t have the numbers to keep spreading out like this, surely?”

Magnolia pointed the extending front line out to Sacra, worried. The Goblins were racing to encircle Zel’s army. Sacra shook her head.

“We don’t have to. Look—we’re holding them off across this line while our archers hit them. Our mages are slowing their advance—”

Fireballs and lightning were blasting ranks of Goblins apart where they clustered most heavily. The Goblins were answering in kind—Magnolia saw flashes of magic blasting into Humans soldiers, shards of ice splintering off shields and acidic splashes causing some to drop their weapons and claw at their faces.

“—And our cavalry’s moving. If the Goblin Lord splits his forces too far trying to encircle us—yes, there they go!”

Magnolia followed Sacra’s gaze and saw a wedge of mounted Humans smash into a section of the Goblin line where they’d extended themselves too far. She saw the mounted riders hacking their way through, cutting off that group of Goblins from their main army. Surrounded, the Goblins quickly succumbed to the encircling Humans as the riders broke away.

 

—-

 

“That’s right! Hit them and away! On me!”

Captain Salvia laughed and shouted as her [Riders] cut into the Goblins. She raised her sword and whirled it, spraying Goblin blood. At once, the mounted warriors under her command wheeled their horses. The Goblins were already surging after them, loosing arrows and trying to catch her soldiers. Salvia grimaced as she saw an arrow pierce a horse’s side and both animal and rider went down. The Goblins on foot charged the fallen soldier, intent on tearing him to shreds.

Not yet. She galloped past the man and caught his outstretched hand. Her own stallion slowed as Salvia pulled the man into her saddle. She patted him and prayed he could hold their weight. Just a little further!

Break away! Back to the lines! Move it, move it!

Her soldiers streamed away too quickly for the Goblins to catch. Salvia let the horseless man drop as soon as they were close to their lines—he sprinted towards the back where more warhorses were ready to go. She turned her mount, listening for the next order from General Shivertail or a [Strategist].

The Goblins were floundering, surprised by their inability to break the Human front line, unprepared for the lightning-fast attacks. Their own spider riders were too slow to catch up with the Humans and that meant they were prey to Salvia’s forces. She grinned, her heart still pumping fast in her chest.

This is the way to fight a battle! Come on lads, let’s hit the Goblins again!”

She spotted an opening—a gap in the Goblin lines at the same time a [Messenger] rode towards her, pointing and shouting. Salvia kicked her horse into a gallop and she rode towards the break, her soldiers screaming war cries behind her. She hoped Gershal and his cheese-eating lot were alright. But then the battle overtook her and Salvia’s only thoughts were to cut and block and turn her mount.

They were winning! At least—for the moment.

 

—-

 

“Too fast!”

Goblins. Osthia Blackwing was chained and muzzled as she stood by the Goblin Lord’s personal guard. He’d dragged her onto the battlefield although she’d fought her captors. She wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or curse; he was using her as a tool to gauge the enemy’s tactics. Now she watched as the Goblin Lord gave rapid orders, trying to overtake Zel Shivertail’s forces and hammer them from all sides.

She’d watched his disastrous first charge with grim satisfaction. The Goblin Lord had known Zel Shivertail was a defensive [General], but hearing that and seeing a Hob being bested by a low-level [Soldier] with a shield and spear was something else entirely. Now the Goblin Lord was raging as the Human cavalry stymied his force’s advance.

Move! Order undead—there!”

He pointed and a ripple went through the Goblins around him. Goblin [Necromancers] and [Shamans] began pointing and chanting and Osthia saw the undead horde move at last.

Tens of thousands of zombies, some halfway towards skeletons themselves, lurched into motion. They’d been circling the Human army, ignoring the arrows and spells that had cut down their number by the hundreds with each passing minute, and now they advanced on the Humans from the left.

Slowly. Only a few of the zombies were ‘fresh’ enough to run, and only the Goblin Lord could make them do that. A few hundred Ghouls raced out of the ranks of undead and surged towards a group of Humans who’d formed a line to meet them.

The Ghouls lunged into the ranks of Humans, tearing, biting with unnatural speed. They were outnumbered and quickly dispatched, but they’d dragged down quite a number of soldiers before they fell. And they were just the first wave. The zombies met the Humans and died as the soldiers sliced the slower undead apart.

But a second wave was already crawling over the first, grabbing at shields and advancing despite being speared through the chest. They threatened to overwhelm the Humans by sheer numbers, and Osthia saw a giant Crypt Lord belching bile over a group of Humans, making them vomit and fall to the ground—

“Good! Now. Break lines.”

The Goblin Lord was pushing on two fronts. The undead were now threatening Zel Shivertail’s left and he had to pull his forces back. [Archers] and [Mages] began hitting the undead, easing up pressure on the Goblins from the front. Osthia saw the Humans begin to struggle a bit as they fought the Goblins without support. Still, Zel’s Skills were holding the ground and creating a wall of steel the Goblins struggled to break. If that was all—

A Hob was on the front lines, fighting a knot of Humans with pikes. He was unable to break their shields with his large club despite his massive strength and as Osthia watched, a pike pierced the crude black iron armor on his chest. He stumbled backwards, mortally wounded.

The Hob stared at the blood gushing from the wound on his chest and looked up. His eyes flickered—he reached behind him and grabbed something. Osthia saw the Hob lift a small figure onto his back and charged the pikes, roaring.

They speared him halfway. The Hob sagged and Osthia saw the Humans cheering. But that small figure on the Hob’s back was moving. It slipped from his body and stumbled towards the Humans. Osthia saw a Human with a sword turn, puzzled by the tiny Goblin. She shouted, her words lost by distance and the leather restraining her mouth.

No! But it was too late. The Human impaled the Goblin with his sword. No, not the Goblin. The Goblin child. The undead Goblin child.

The undead Goblin exploded. Osthia heard the roar of the blast from her position near the Goblin Lord. She had to look away as the explosion engulfed the Humans and nearby Goblins—when she could see again the entire group of Humans was gone and Goblins were flooding into the gaps.

Exploding undead. The Goblin Lord’s secret weapon, courtesy of Az’kerash. Osthia turned her head and stared at the Goblin Lord with pure hatred. She saw the Goblin Lord staring towards the sight of the blast, claws clenched into fists.

His hands were bleeding. Osthia stared as his claws dug into his flesh, red rivulets of blood dripping down his hands. The Goblin Lord turned, and the pain and fury in his gaze found her. He stared at Osthia for a second and then pointed. His voice was cold.

“Destroy the front lines.”

Osthia turned and saw more explosions. The undead Goblin children were slipping through the ranks of struggling Goblin and Humans and detonating themselves or being killed. They destroyed the Human’s lines, turning them into chaotic battles as Goblins capitalized on the broken formations and charged ahead. Osthia stared in silent despair.

The exploding undead! Zel Shivertail had known about this, surely! He had to have heard the reports—but how could you deal with such a tactic? He couldn’t just retreat, and yet, each time the Goblins detonated his army was thrown into disarray! She saw Zel Shivertail turning, shouting orders as the Humans scattered to reform their lines. And then she saw the first pink [Knight] striding forwards.

“What is that?”

The Goblin Lord’s eyes narrowed as he spotted the first Rose Knight. The armored warrior stepped into place where a Goblin child had detonated. The Goblins were charging into the gap, trying to fill the space before the Humans could replenish their ranks. They ran at the pink knight as he raised a halberd. The [Knight] swung—

And a row of Goblins disappeared in a blaze of flames. Osthia’s eyes widened and the Goblin Lord sat up on his mount. The Rose Knight twirled his halberd and stabbed—flames shot from the blade and burned through a group of Goblins, making them scream and roll on the ground to quench the magical flames. The [Knight] calmly held his ground as regular Human [Soldiers] pushed forwards, resetting their lines.

And across the battlefield, more Rose Knights were on the front. They stood on the front, calmly cutting down the Goblins. Holding the line. Osthia saw one Rose Knight strike down a Goblin and then crush an undead Goblin with his foot. He vanished in an explosion, but when the smoke cleared he was getting back on his feet, stunned, but still alive.

“Pink-armored warriors too strong! Cannot kill!”

The Goblin Lord snarled as a Goblin cried out. He narrowed his eyes as a group of Human [Archers] began sniping at the explosive undead Goblins scattered in his ranks. One shot took an undead Goblin through the throat—the blast eradicated a pair of Hobs and a group of Goblins in the back lines of his army.

“No more undead! Move to left!”

He pointed, and Osthia saw the undead children lurching away, joining the mass of undead. Osthia grinned. His tactics were failing. The Goblin Lord stared at the Rose Knight with the halberd. He was cutting down a Hob, unscathed, his armor painted red with Goblin blood. The Goblin Lord made a sound of outrage. Then he stood up and pointed.

“[Deathbolt].”

 

—-

 

Magnolia was listening to the cheering from the Human army when she saw the black bolt of magic fly across the battlefield and strike the Rose Knight in the chest. She saw the armored man stumble as the magic splashed across his armor, almost like a liquid. He raised his halberd and struck down a nearby Goblin, but his movements were palpably slower. And the Goblin Lord wasn’t done. He pointed and another black bolt flew across the battlefield.

This time the Rose Knight tried to dodge. But a group of Goblins surrounded him and seized him, weighing him down. The black magic struck the Rose Knight twice more in the chest, splashing across the pink armor in quick succession. The [Knight] wavered, stumbled, and as the third spell struck his head he collapsed.

“No!”

Bethal stared in horror as one of her elite [Knights] fell, struck dead by the Goblin Lord’s magic. The Goblins swarmed over his body, cheering, seizing his halberd and using it against the Humans around him.

“Sacra, what was that?”

Magnolia snapped at Sacra. The [Maid] shook her head.

“I know what that was.”

A voice spoke up. The three women turned and saw Reynold, dismounting from Magnolia’s pink carriage. He was breathless—he must have just arrived because the tracks in the mud were still oozing back into place.

“Reynold, do you know—”

“One company of Gold-rank adventurers, the Fire Fingers and a Silver-rank team, Embryion’s Delight agreed to your terms Lady Reinhart. I just dropped them off. They’re fighting the undead.”

Reynold pointed and Magnolia saw a group of Dwarves and [Mages] fighting their way into the undead from the left. She nodded in approval. A few adventurers had been enticed by her offers and Magnolia had quadrupled the gold reward in the last hour. Reynold had been assigned to deliver whomever was willing to fight to the battlefield.

“Thank you, Reynold. Now, what happened to Lady Bethal’s knight?”

“Sir Evimore.”

Bethal whispered through pale lips. Reynold clenched his jaw grimly.

“I’ve seen that spell before. It’s death magic. The Necromancer used a similar one. It’s instant death to anyone below Level 20. That might not be the same spell—maybe a weaker one, but it’s powerful enough. Look, he’s going to continue casting.”

The [Butler]’s face was grave as he pointed. The Goblin Lord was drinking from a bottle and as he downed the last dregs of the mana potion one of the [Archers] shot an arrow at him. The arrow swerved as it neared the Goblin Lord and bounced off his Shield Spider’s carapace. The Goblin Lord turned his head and casually pointed a finger. The black magic shot across the battlefield and the archer and four of his fellows fell over, dead in an instant.

“He’s taking out our high-level soldiers!”

Magnolia exclaimed in horror. The Goblin Lord was casting the [Deathbolt] spell rapidly now, and another Rose Knight found himself under attack. The armored woman was forced to dodge the black magic, which left her open to a Hob. He smashed her across the head with a glowing mace and her helmet bowed in slightly. The Rose Knight stumbled, another [Deathbolt] hit her from the side and she fell.

“Why isn’t that armor working! I thought it was supposed to protect those knights from practically anything!”

Magnolia turned to Lady Bethal. The [Lady] shook her head. Her face was white as a second of her prized [Knights] fell, the second in minutes.

“There’s no armor in the world that will protect against every kind of magic. Magnolia, tell that Drake to pull my knights back before they’re slaughtered!”

She grabbed Magnolia, pointing to Zel as the [General] turned, seeing the effects the Goblin Lord’s magic was having on the battlefield. Magnolia shook her head.

“I am in no position to tell Zel Shivertail anything. He must see the issue—yes, look!”

The Rose Knights were retreating from the front. Faced with this separate threat they were regrouping. A wall of forty or so took up positions on the right flank of the battlefield and Magnolia saw the Goblins backing up fast rather than charge their position. The Goblin Lord pointed and another [Deathbolt] flew, but this time it failed to strike down a Rose Knight.

One of the armored pink knights raised his shield and the magic burst against the shield. He failed to catch the second bolt that struck him in the chest, but as he staggered his fellows dragged him back. They shielded the [Knight] with their bodies as he staggered upright and opened his visor to down a potion. The Rose Knights locked formation, anchoring themselves against further death magic.

“That’s good! We won’t lose any more of them.”

Sacra was approving, but Reynold frowned.

“True, but we’ve just lost our advantage on the front.”

Sure enough, the concentration of Rose Knights on one side of the battlefield meant that the Goblins could now push forwards while they stalled the Rose Knights with expendable infantry and undead. A group of Hobs was rampaging towards the front, through the Soldiers who had lost the benefits of Zel’s Skill or were just too low-level to stop them.

The Hobs were cutting a line straight through the humans, trying to separate an entire group of them to be overrun. Magnolia saw eight Hobs, fighting in step. They turned as the Humans surged against them. Eight—no, was it seven? Magnolia blinked. Seven Hobs, wait, there were only six—

Another Hob fell as she watched. Magnolia gaped, seeing the Hob falling without spotting what had caused his death. Then she saw a shape moving around another Hob with a greataxe. The Hob turned, snarling, but Thomast was too quick. The [Duelist] ran his opponent through from behind, his enchanted rapier spearing the Hobgoblin in an instant. Quick as lightning, Thomast turned and his blade cut the air, wounding two Hobs from afar as they tried to encircle him.

Thomast!

Bethal’s voice made Magnolia’s ears ring. The [Lady] Walchaís was beside herself as her husband took down all eight Hobs and began rallying the Soldiers around him.

“We have the higher-level warriors it seems.”

“We do, but far less numbers. And the Goblin Lord is eager to reduce our count of elites.”

Sacra and Reynold were debating the battle amongst themselves. Magnolia turned her gaze across the battlefield, searching for the Goblin Lord once more. He was pushing to the front, but still entrenched well behind his army. Not yet. She spotted him at the same time Bethal did.

“What is he—no! Thomast! He’s aiming towards you!

The Goblin Lord had spotted Thomast’s heroics on the front and his finger was aimed, black magic swirling around his hands and arm as he carefully targeted Thomast’s location.

Thomast!

Bethal would have run forwards, into the battlefield herself to warn her husband. He was too far away to hear Bethal’s screams as Magnolia and Sacra had to hold her back with their combined strength. It was too late anyways. The Goblin Lord fired another [Deathbolt] as Thomast was fighting on the front.

The black streak of magic was streaking through the air, fast as an arrow, towards Thomast’s back. He was dueling a Hob, and he stepped forwards to pierce the Hob through his unarmored neck.

The Goblin Lord’s spell flashed towards Thomast’s back as he stepped forwards. The Chevalier pierced the Hob’s throat, and then spun out of the way, sidestepping the bolt of magic and letting it pierce the Hobgoblin instead. His foe fell, lifeless and bleeding from a hole in his throat. Thomast flicked his rapier, spraying the Goblin’s blood across another foe’s face and turned towards the Goblin Lord.

He bowed slightly and raised a hand and coolly beckoned to the Goblin Lord across the battlefield. Magnolia saw the black-eyed Goblin’s gaze widen slightly in incredulous anger. Lady Bethal stopped fighting Magnolia and Sacra and made a besmitten sound. Magnolia dropped her.

The Goblin Lord declined to answer Thomast’s challenge and instead turned his magic towards other targets. Again he blasted a group of archers, taking out the unprotected Humans in small knots. They were helpless to defend themselves. However, the Goblin Lord’s spells were only a single factor in a battle where thousands of arrows and spells were flying every minute. If that had been all he would have done nothing. But then he pointed and Magnolia saw a group of eighteen bodies rise where they had fallen. The Humans turned in horror as eighteen Ghouls got up and began tearing into their unguarded ranks.

“Dead gods! He’s starting to reanimate the undead behind our lines! Our archers and mages will be slaughtered!”

Reynold was aghast as he saw the undead begin to stir all across the back ranks of the Human army. Zombies and Ghouls were indeed rising as the Goblin Lord and his own [Necromancers] began to raise the dead. Sacra grabbed Reynold’s arm as he started forwards.

“Calm down! General Shivertail planned for this!”

“How—”

Reynold was pointing at the carnage as the Ghouls began fighting the archers at close range. Then his eyes widened. He saw the flicker of black at the same time Magnolia did. She spotted a shape moving out of the shadows behind a Ghoul, stabbing it in the back, and another, slicing a Ghoul across the neck. Reynold gaped.

“Miss Ressa?”

 

—-

 

The first Ghoul was an easy kill. It didn’t notice Ressa as she stabbed it in the back. Her magical dagger, the Vision of Grasses, went into the undead’s body with ease. It froze up as she pulled the dagger out.

The dagger that she had been given by Regis Reinhart wasn’t meant for combat against the undead, but at least one of the myriad poisons it had been coated with still worked on an undead’s nervous system. The Ghoul fell, paralyzed, and Ressa turned. She slashed across the face of another Ghoul as the archers around her shouted, surprised by both the undead and her appearance.

By her side, a man in black sliced across a Ghoul’s throat. It was a good cut, but the undead was still alive. He had to hack at its neck as it fought to slash him. Only when he’d severed most of its head from its body did it fall.

“This is not how [Assassins] are meant to be used!”

Theofore the luckless [Assassin] screamed at Ressa as he turned his blades, slashing at one of the reanimated Ghouls. She grunted as she slid around another Ghoul and beheaded him with a slice with her dagger. Enchanted weapons were very nice to use. Theofore had to struggle as he repeatedly knifed another Ghoul in the chest.

“None of my Skills work on Ghouls! I can’t poison or paralyze something that’s already dead!”

“Shut up and stab.”

The two turned as more undead began to rise. Ressa moved like a shadow, flicking from target to target as Theofore struggled to keep up. Across the battlefield more disguised [Maids] and [Butlers] appeared. Not all of Magnolia Reinhart’s staff were good at domestic help. True, few of them were [Assassins], but they were high-level and enough to turn the tides.

For now. Ressa’s eyes narrowed as she gazed around the battlefield. She was no [Strategist], but she had a sense of how the battle was going. They weren’t losing, but she wasn’t sure they were pulling that far ahead of the Goblins anymore. And then she heard the Goblin drums begin to beat and heard the shout.

Commander charge!

 

—-

 

Commander charge. It was a term common to this world. It meant at least two [Commander] class leaders were leading a charge. And that mattered because such leaders were always high-level. When they charged a line, they could cut holes right through an enemy army.

And this time the Goblin Lord had sent all of his commanders. Former Goblin Chieftains, now his lieutenants, charged into the Human lines with their personal vanguards. And where they charged, Humans died.

Snapjaw, leading a group of Goblins on horses. Her teeth sank into a Human [Captain]’s throat, bearing him down as her Goblins charged through the broken Human unit. Eater of Spears, towering over the Hobs around him, breaking a group of seasoned [Lancers] as their weapons broke on his tough skin.

A Goblin with no face blasted ranks of Humans with fire as a [Beastmaster] Goblin rode a Shield Spider as large as the Goblin Lord’s mount into battle, his spider snatching up Humans and tossing them screaming into the air. Across the battlefield the Goblin commanders were charging, and the Humans lines began to buckle at last. Snapjaw grinned, raising her bloody head, turning her head to survey the landscape of despairing Human faces. Across from her, Noface was blasting Humans with fire magic. On her other side, Illbreath was leading his Hobs forwards. This massive Hob had once swallowed an artifact that produced poison. Rather than die from ingesting it, he’d begun to breathe poisonous vapors. Now he advanced in a toxic cloud, the Humans ahead of him coughing and gagging, unable to put up a fight.

Push! Push Humans!

Snapjaw raised her sword, her teeth gnashing together. In front of her, the Humans were retreating! They were winning! She saw Goblins pushing forwards. Illbreath’s unit was pursuing a group of fleeing Humans, cutting them down one by one—

And then Snapjaw got a bad feeling. A bad feeling. The kind she only had when death was imminent. Warned by her [Dangersense], the Hobgoblin turned and saw a blur heading her way. She screamed a warning to Illbreath.

Tidebreaker!

He turned. Zel Shivertail charged through the ranks of Goblins, trampling them, ignoring the blades that glanced off his armor and body. He collided with Illbreath in a clash of claws on steel. Snapjaw wheeled her mount, shouting, and saw other Goblin Chieftains running to the Hob’s aid.

There was only thirty feet between her and Illbreath, no distance at all! Snapjaw saw the Hob breathing poison in Zel’s face, raising his mace. The Drake [General] turned his head, coughing, was struck by the mace—

And then he grabbed Illbreath’s head and tore it off his body. Snapjaw froze. Zel tossed the head to one side as Illbreath’s corpse collapsed. He wiped at his eyes, sighed, and then blocked Snapjaw’s sword with one hand.

Casually. Just like that. She screamed at him, lashing at the Drake with her sword, but his arms and claws were harder than steel! He punched her mount and the horse screamed and fell. Snapjaw tumbled off the side, losing her grip on her sword. She saw the Drake [General] appear over her. His claw shot towards her face. She sat up and bit.

Her teeth had bitten through steel, through weak enchanted armor—even through a Wyvern’s hide! Snapjaw’s jaw engulfed Zel Shivertail’s hand with a snap, just like how she’d earned her name. She felt her teeth digging into his scales, piercing the General’s tough hide! Then she heard his voice.

“Ow.”

Zel Shivertail lifted his hand. Snapjaw rose, trying to bite into his tough skin. He punched her so hard her head rang, and then threw her. Snapjaw flew screaming through the air and hit a group of Goblins. She landed on their armor, shields, and a sword. The Hob rolled off the groaning Goblins and reached for the healing potion at her belt, gasping. She downed it and her vision cleared and the wound on her back closed. And then she looked towards Zel Shivertail and saw despair.

He was holding Noface’s head. The Drake [General] raised the faceless Goblin’s head, giving Snapjaw a clear view of the scar tissue that had replaced the Goblin’s entire face, the legacy of an encounter with a Human [Pyromancer]. He showed the Goblins their dead officer and then threw the head to the ground. The Goblins howled at him in rage. Zel waited.

And they did not advance. The Goblins held their ground, screaming, some daring to loose arrows at him or cast spells, but all too afraid to get in range of those deadly claws. Zel Shivertail towered over the Goblins, staring at them. Snapjaw froze in place, fear holding her heart. The Humans were one thing. But this?

The Tidebreaker turned away. He charged into another group of Goblins where the Human lines were faltering and Snapjaw heard her people screaming. The Humans regained ground, shouting. Where the Tidebreaker went Goblins retreated.

He could not be stopped! Snapjaw found another horse, shoving a Goblin out of the saddle. She rode back towards the Goblin Lord, retreating. She had to let him know.

They could not kill Zel Shivertail. So they’d have to kill his army. That was the only way. Then they could surround him, beat him to death. But kill him with smaller numbers, with an army at his back?

Impossible. That knowledge was bitter on Snapjaw’s tongue.

 

—-

 

“They’re pulling back! Look! I think General Shivertail’s taken out another one of their commanders!”

The Humans standing and watching the battle cheered as Zel Shivertail downed another Hob. Where he went, the Human lines surged forwards and the Goblins retreated. He was truly inspiring, and Magnolia understood now how one [General] could defeat any number of [Strategists] or lesser officers. If you couldn’t slay the [General], you couldn’t stop him from tearing apart your army.

And yet, that was also a weakness. Sacra was the first to spot it.

“We’re starting to buckle. Our lines are beginning to collapse.”

“Surely not. We’re winning on the front.”

Magnolia pointed to the spot where Zel was fighting. Sacra nodded.

“Yes we are. And where the Rose Knights are fighting. But everywhere else—Sir Thomast is holding his side with General Shivertail’s support, but our left flank is being overrun by the undead!”

She indicated the left and Magnolia saw for the first time how far they’d been pushed by the undead. The overwhelming tide of bodies was thrusting the Humans back. The zombies didn’t care if their fellows were dying like flies—they’d push past their fallen friends and tear out a Human’s eyes while he was occupied with three more undead. And now some of the highest-level undead were advancing.

A Draug Drake was throwing [Soldiers] around, ignoring the arrows a battalion was sending into his body. He’d taken several cuts to his body, but nothing short of a solid axe blow would slow him. He was a juggernaut, and the other Crypt Lords, Draug, and higher undead were similarly hard to kill. Even the few Gold-rank adventurers were hard pressed to fight with them as undead crowded around from every angle.

“There’s just too many! The Goblins can push us on all sides and we can’t crush them in any one spot for fear of being overrun!”

“But we are winning, yes?”

Magnolia sharply looked at Sacra and the [Maid] nodded slowly, twirling her mace.

“If it’s a count of how many we’ve killed compared to how many they’ve killed, we are. But Lady Reinhart, numbers aren’t everything in a battle. A superior position could reverse all our gains in a moment.”

And as if her words were prophetic, Magnolia saw a disaster unfold right before her eyes.

The Human cavalry, some six thousand horse in total, had been a pivotal part of the battle despite their fewer numbers. The Human cavalry was a famous part of their fighting force, and they had employed their superior mobility to great advantage, circling around the Goblins, striking from the rear and then moving away before they could be caught.

Now the Goblin Lord had focused on them. And Magnolia saw his [Deathbolts] begin to strike the cavalry at the same time two groups of Goblins on horseback and Goblins riding Shield Spiders set out to encircle them.

If they had been free from attack, the cavalry might have been able to make their escape. But a wall of seemingly preoccupied Goblin pikes shifted and revealed a battalion of hidden Goblin [Archers] that cut off one escape route with a deadly hail of arrows. Reynold groaned aloud as he saw the riders being cut down by the hundreds.

“Those idiots! Evade! Don’t they know how to dodge?”

 

—-

 

Incoming fire!

Captain Salvia saw the Goblin Lord’s death magic strike the first group of [Riders] and turned her horse, trying to present as narrow a target as possible. She saw arrows and other magical spells blasting into the riders around her and screamed.

“Break formation! [Scatter Gallop]! Weave and dodge—don’t stay in one place!”

Her unit of [Riders] immediately broke out of their wedge formation and began to scatter, moving in unpredictable ways left and right as they fled. However, the rest of the cavalry had never trained in such techniques and fell prey to the arrows and spells hitting from the side.

And then the Goblins charged into their flank. Salvia saw a Goblin with gleaming metal teeth and another Goblin riding an enormous Shield Spider leading the charge. They began tearing up the lines of her fellow riders, encircling them, threatening to tear their entire force apart!

That couldn’t be allowed to happen. Salvia screamed an order and turned her horse.

“This way! Break up those Goblins! Keep moving! Hurry!

She led her unit back towards the Goblins on horseback, trying to cut a path free. But the Goblins had the riders well and truly encircled now, and they were cutting the helpless riders down by the dozens with each passing second.

 

—-

 

“Those fools! We’re going to lose our horse! If they don’t break out of that encirclement now—where are the [Commanders]? They should know how to escape!”

Reynold groaned aloud as he stared at the entrapped cavalry in the distance. Magnolia’s hands were clenched. She glanced at the two covered wagons and then at the destructive tube artifact.

“Sacra, is there anything we can…?”

“Nothing we have will reach that far Lady Reinhart. And General Shivertail most likely doesn’t have the Skills to help them that far away. I’m afraid they’re lost.”

Sacra’s face was pale as she stared at the slaughter. Reynold turned. Magnolia stared at him anxiously.

“Reynold, you were a [Lieutenant] once. Do you know what they could do?”

“They need to pick a weak spot and break out! There’s ways to slow down a pursuing force while escaping—I could do it myself if I—”

The [Butler]’s hands were clenched helplessly as he stared at the cavalry and then he broke off. His face changed and he turned to Magnolia with a curious, desperate light in his eyes.

“I may be able to save them. Lady Reinhart, may I have your permission to escort these good [Soldiers] to a safe spot? I fear I might place your transportation in jeopardy however.”

Magnolia’s eyes widened. She stared at her carriage.

“Escort them? Go, man! Run!”

He ran. And as he threw himself into the chair and flapped the reins, Magnolia saw the pink carriage shoot across the battlefield. Sacra stared at her mistress, worried.

“Lady Reinhart, is this wise? If we lose the carriage—”

“Sacra. Desperate times call for running people over. With an enchanted carriage.”

Magnolia interrupted her [Maid]. She watched Reynold streak across the battlefield as heads turns and the Goblins noticed him.

“Besides, I’m sure that Reynold will be perfectly civil to the Goblins. He does have a way with monsters. I think we’ve scraped off more [Bandits] from the sides of the carriage since he began driving than we ever did with all my other drivers. He does have a knack.”

 

—-

 

Snapjaw was cutting down Humans on horseback, biting the necks of horses, when she heard a Goblin’s voice.

Fast-fast magic pink death thing coming this way!

That was a loose translation and Snapjaw’s head turned, in confusion. She realized at once what the Goblins meant. The pink carriage of nightmares hurtled towards her group of Goblins and Snapjaw screamed an order.

“Run!”

The Goblins turned too late. The pink carriage moved hundreds of miles per hour, faster than anything else on the battlefield. It splattered the first rank of Goblins and curved through their lines, headed straight for Eggsnatcher, the Goblin [Beastmaster] on top of his giant spider.

The collision between pink carriage and Eggsnatcher’s mount was tremendous. Snapjaw saw several Goblins go flying, thrown by the impact, and then saw the Human [Butler] in the front of the carriage hacking at Eggsnatcher with a gleaming sword. The two traded blows as the carriage turned and sped away. Snapjaw breathed a sigh of relief for all of two seconds until she realized the horrible truth.

The carriage was coming back.

 

—-

 

“This way! Move your mounts you flea-bitten slugs!

Salvia’s head jerked around as she heard the roar of an officer’s voice. But it was coming from the well-dressed [Butler] riding the pink carriage! In any other situation she might have had a few questions to ask, but here the voice of authority was a light in the darkness. She turned her mount and rode desperately.

Behind her the cavalry streamed out of the gap Reynold’s attacks had opened. The [Butler] drover his carriage around the horses, effortlessly weaving the massive vehicle through them, shouting.

Break up! Stop galloping in a cluster or I’ll pull your damned helmets off and feed them to you! Move! I’ve seen wheelbarrows that rolled faster than you worthless sacks of shite!”

The profanity was nonsensical, abusive, exactly what the soldiers needed to hear. They moved, ignoring the Goblin death that was hot on their heels. Captain Salvia saw the [Butler] shift his grip on the reins and then spin the carriage. Quick as a flash he rammed into a group of Goblins that had nearly caught up to her unit and scattered horses and Goblins onto the ground. In pieces.

The impacts had to be taking a toll on the carriage, but the [Butler] kept it moving. He circled the Goblins, hitting the giant spider repeatedly but failing to knock it over. His attacks saved the cavalry, but the Goblins, frustrated by his attacks on them, began to circle the carriage instead.

Salvia was about to order her [Riders] to go back for the [Butler] when she heard him scream a word as he raced away from the Goblins towards an oncoming group of Goblin pikes.

“[Flying Wheels]!”

She turned her head and gaped as the pink carriage began to fly. It soared over the Goblin pikes as they gaped in amazement, up high over the battlefield. It was heading back away from the front lines. Salvia cheered as she saw the pink carriage make its escape, and then saw the Goblin Lord raise his hand.

He pointed, and a midnight bolt struck the [Butler] in the chest. He slumped in his chair and the carriage plummeted into the ground, scattering Humans and Goblins alike as it crashed across the front lines.

 

—-

 

Reynold!

Sacra screamed as Magnolia’s heart stopped. She stared at the [Butler], slumped across the front of the pink carriage as Humans and Goblins alike surged around him.

He wasn’t moving. The Human [Soldiers] were valiantly trying to shield the [Butler] as the Goblins tried to climb onto the carriage. Magnolia’s hands dug into her palms. Was Reynold alive? The Goblin Lord’s spell had hit him squarely in the chest. But he was a high-level warrior and [Butler]! Maybe—

She could see Zel turning towards the [Butler], aware of Reynold’s plight. But the Goblin Lord was closer. And as Magnolia Reinhart watched, he began to move.

“The Goblin Lord is charging!”

A cry went up across the battlefield. The Goblin Lord and his vanguard began charging towards Reynold’s position on the field. Over a thousand Hobs and the Goblin Lord’s personal Shield Spider tore through a group of Humans, overrunning three Rose Knights and burying the Human lines in a sea of green. He was coming for Reynold. He wanted that carriage.

“It’s time.”

Magnolia took a breath. She pointed towards the Goblin Lord and her voice snapped across the battlefield.

In the name of the Reinharts, I order you to slay that Goblin!

To the side, the two covered wagons that had been so curiously abandoned in the mud exploded. Magnolia, Sacra, and Bethal ducked and a [Butler] held a parasol up as chunks of wood rained down around them. And standing in the remains of both wagons, two giants of metal unfolded. A glowing white eye turned to Lady Magnolia and a faceless Golem stood. His hands extended and his ‘fingers’ spread. Five razors splayed out and the War Golem, a full twelve feet of towering magical metal, stormed towards the lines of Goblins and Humans.

Screaming.

Magnolia Reinhart hadn’t been prepared for that. The War Golem emitted a terrifying shrieking sound as it ran—on all fours, like some demented dog—emitting a sound like a hundred shrieking children filled with pain and rage. It drew the Goblin’s attention. And as both Golems rammed into the Goblin’s ranks from the side, they began to fight.

War Golems. Behemoths made from another era. These weren’t Archmage Zelkyr’s personal creations, but they had been made during the same era his Golems had dominated the world stage. They had been made to slaughter enemy armies by the thousands. And that’s what they did.

The first Golem swung a hand full of razors as it crashed into a group of Goblins. It beheaded a group of them and then the glowing white light in its ‘mouth’, the only actual feature on its face turned red. It spat a beam of blazing red light across a rank of Goblins, incinerating everything it touched in an instant. By its side, the other Golem’s body glowed and it began to arc bolts of lightning, which struck nearby Goblins and Humans alike and earthed themselves on their armor.

Goblins fell as the two Golems raced through their lines, straight towards the Goblin Lord. He turned, and Magnolia was glad to see his eyes widen in fear or horror for the first time. He raised a hand and a black [Deathbolt] struck one of the Golems squarely in the chest—

And did nothing. The Golems were neither alive nor dead. They raced towards the Goblin Lord, overrunning even Hobs with their sheer size. He was turning his mount, retreating, but too late. The first Golem was about to leap on him when a gigantic Hob tackled it.

Eater of Spears, one of the Goblin Lords’ lieutenants knocked the first War Golem off-balance. The huge Hob snarled. He was actually shorter than the War Golem was by a few feet! But he began trading blows with the metal behemoth, ignoring the crimson beam that set his body afire. He roared as he fought and the second Golem found itself surrounded by Hobs who beat at the metal monster as it fought to get at the Goblin Lord.

“He’s going to get away!”

Magnolia’s hands clenched. The Goblin Lord was retreating, scattering the Humans who were pursuing him with his black magic as his warriors screened him from the two War Golems. Soon he was well behind enemy lines and Magnolia had to call the War Golems back or risk them becoming overwhelmed in the sea of Goblins. The Goblins weren’t idiots—they were trying to pull the Golems down with ropes and crack their metal bodies with mauls and sledgehammers.

“It looks like General Shivertail’s reached Reynold!”

Sacra cried out as Zel Shivertail reached Reynold’s coach. With the War Golems screening him, the Drake shook Reynold. Magnolia and the others cried out in relief as the [Butler] woke up, looking disoriented. He weakly drank the potion that Zel offered him and then sped away from the battlefield. To Magnolia’s surprise, Zel Shivertail rode with him.

“General! Are you alright?”

Magnolia strode towards Zel, concerned, as Sacra and Bethal helped Reynold down. The [Butler] was very pale, but he was alive, and so Magnolia focused all her attention on Zel.

“I’m fine, Magnolia.”

Zel panted as he wiped sweat and blood from his face. He uncorked a second potion and downed half the bottle, grimacing.

“I’m exhausted. Been fighting—if this goes longer we’ll have to rotate groups, feed the soldiers—but it shouldn’t.”

“How is the battle going?”

Magnolia watched the Drake’s face carefully. Zel turned back towards the battlefield and grimaced. He pointed with one claw.

“It’s still too even for my liking! That damned Goblin Lord—he’s forced us to withdraw those pink [Knights] and he keeps aiming for our high-level warriors! We’re getting pushed too far by the undead—there’s too many of them! [Surge of Strength]! [Scything Arms]!”

He pointed to a group of struggling Soldiers and they began to push forwards, their blades suddenly hacking apart zombies with ease. Zel sighed.

“I’m using my Skills, but it’s a draw so far. I can keep cutting down Goblins all day, but the Goblin Lord’s doing the same and they have more Goblins…those two War Golems are tearing up their flanks, though.”

“I’m ashamed to say I might have used them too early. If I had waited—I was concerned for my [Butler], General Shivertail. I do apologize.”

The Drake shook his head, pouring water over his face and chest as a [Maid] handed him a canteen.

“It was the right call. That carriage was too powerful to fall into their hands. I’d question using it, but your butler saved all our remaining horse—good man. Drop the honorifics, Magnolia. Call me Zel when we’re in the field.”

She smiled, surprised by the sudden change in attitude. Zel looked around, dripping, and his eyes narrowed as he found the Goblin Lord’s form, again entrenched behind his soldiers.

“I don’t like this.”

“We are winning, aren’t we?”

The Drake shrugged.

“We’re cutting down more of them then they are of us…but that doesn’t matter since they outnumber us two to one, does it? I don’t want this to become a battle of attrition, but the Goblin Lord’s realized I’m hunting down his lieutenants. If I can’t get to him or the other important Goblins, this could get ugly.”

He sighed, his eyes focusing on the War Golems as they held a section of the line, tearing up the Goblins around them.

“We should have unleashed the Golems earlier. That was my fault. I didn’t think the Goblin Lord would hesitate to charge in for so long. But if they had gotten him—”

“How do you wish to proceed? Is there a way to corner the Goblin Lord? Or must we simply eradicate his army first?”

“I’m thinking. That trick with the carriage—can you make it fly again?”

Zel addressed Reynold, who had come over. The [Butler] saluted, pale-faced.

“I can, General. But I’m wary of flying it once more—that Goblin Lord is an expert shot. I was attempting to dodge but—”

“I understand. Magnolia, if I propose a dangerous strategy would you lend me Reynold? I can’t guarantee either he or I will survive, but it might end the battle now.”

Magnolia hesitated. She looked at Zel and at Reynold.

“Do you think it will work? Is it worth the risk? What am I saying; it must be if you’re asking. Go! We will support you as best we can!”

“Thank you. Reynold, I need you to drop me off by Thomast’s position first.”

“Yes sir!”

The carriage spun back across the battlefield. Magnolia watched them go and turned to Sacra.

“Do you agree with General Zel’s assessment?”

Sacra ducked her head.

“I do milady. This battle’s had its turns, but neither side is crushing the other. If there’s a way to end it faster, I’d agree with General Shivertail that it’s worth attempting. The longer this goes on the more exhausted our forces become, and the Goblin Lord can start rotating fresh troops in or use his undead. We can’t.”

“I see. Then we must trust—”

Magnolia broke off. There was a group of Goblins approaching her small escort, and she could see more Goblin archers turning towards them.

“Oh dear. It looks like the Goblin Lord has finally noticed us.”

Indeed, Reynolds’s contribution to the battle, not to mention the appearance of the War Golems and Zel Shivertail’s impromptu conference had drawn the ire of the Goblin Lord. His archers sent a shower of arrows flying through the air towards Magnolia’s position. She sighed.

“Bethal? It’s time.”

Both [Ladies] straightened, and as the arrows flew downwards, Magnolia lightly gritted her teeth and whispered a Skill.

“[Deft Hand].”

She reached up and pushed the arrows out of the sky with a flick of her wrist as Bethal used her [Tranquil Skies] Skill to the same effect. It was a thousand times harder than nudging someone across the ballroom or accidentally pushing a [Waiter] so he spilled a drink at the right moment, but Magnolia was a high-level [Lady]. She saw the flight of arrows hit the ground a good twenty paces to her right and sighed in relief.

“Now for the cavalry. Oh, I see we have some of our own coming to our rescue.”

Indeed, a group of riders led by Captain Salvia was racing towards them, but the Goblins would arrive first. Magnolia sighed again, and this time as the Goblins were about to trample over them she raised one hand and flicked it.

“[Polite Deflection]. Shoo.”

The Goblins swerved before colliding with the [Lady] and her escort, much like an unfortunate suitor deflected on the dance floor. Magnolia saw their charge slow, and then her [Maids] and [Butlers] charged into their number with Sacra at their head at the same time the Human [Riders] hit them from behind. The Goblins were routed in a matter of moments and Magnolia enjoyed seeing the Goblin Lord’s baleful stare.

She was a bit disappointed he didn’t try casting magic at her—she’d never reflected a spell with [Deft Hands] before, but she was sure she could send it right back at him with a bit of practice.

“Milady, are you unharmed?”

Sacra returned with blood on her mace and Magnolia gently pushed Sacra back with the tip of her finger before the woman could get blood on her dress. It wasn’t for vanity’s sake either.

“I’m fine Sacra. I know you’d rather have me run around in armor and a shield, but my Skills as a [Lady] only work if I am sufficiently ladylike. And while Bethal may run about in the nude and keep her Skills, I am, alas, a bit more genteel than that.”

“You used to run about naked with me, Magnolia. Don’t act so prim and proper.”

Bethal scowled at Magnolia and both ladies watched the servants push away the corpses of the Goblins with some satisfaction. A [Lady] might be a rose, but a rose had thorns. The Goblins had learned that during the last Antinium War as well.

“Well, enough of this. I want to see what Zel Shivertail has in mind.”

Magnolia turned her head across the battlefield, forgetting about the dead Goblins around her. She spotted Zel as he cut a path towards Thomast. Her eyes narrowed as the two conferred and then Zel headed back towards the carriage.

This was it. Magnolia knew that the Drake was planning something that would end up with the Goblin Lord’s head. It could be a simple ploy or a complex one, but her intuition told her that simple might work far better than complex. Either way, the battle hinged on Zel Shivertail’s ploy.

They were winning. She kept telling herself that. For all his strength, the Goblin Lord had declined to meet Zel Shivertail in battle and none of his best warriors had slowed the Drake [General]. So long as Zel Shivertail remained standing there was hope. No, more than hope, they could win!

So why was she so vaguely uneasy. Magnolia Reinhart didn’t know. She stared at the battlefield as it reached its most critical moment and she edged just slightly to the left. Towards the pedestal with the magical artifact her grandfather had given her on it. A magical tube. It made things explode, or so he’d said. Very dangerous. You could kill a Great Chieftain of the Goblins with it. Or—if need be—

A Goblin Lord. Magnolia waited. It wasn’t as though she had to use it. It was just in case things went south. She just hoped her aim was good. Well, even if it wasn’t it would probably be spectacular.

 


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27 thoughts on “4.48

  1. (I am now on break. I will post the next chapter on the 6th of July. See you then!)

    So here we are. I’m publishing this a day early because I am literally hours away from my flight and I don’t generally fly and write well. You won’t see me for a while, and I’ll be busy doing…stuff.

    I’m unclear on how much of a break I’ll actually get, but I hope to be a least partially invigorated by the time I get back. Either way, I think I’ll have a good chapter ready–unless that jet-lag hits me harder. Ooh, maybe I should get a bit ahead while I’m on break…

    But I think I did an okay job on this chapter at least. It’s funny–some writers won’t describe battles at all, and I think I understand why. It’s hard and I’m not sure if I did the scenes justice, but I tried to give the perspective from multiple angles. It’s one of those things that definitely works better as a picture or movie, though.

    And I was planning on ending this in a much more clfifhanger-y place. I know, THIS is suspenseful, but if you knew what I’d planned…ask me about it! When I get back. I might be completely radio-silent until the 6th of July, so if I don’t see you all, I hope you have a good time reading the story! Please don’t all unsubscribe from Patreon.

    Just kidding. I trust you. Besides, we have to know how this ends! Hope I don’t get on an exploding plane and see you all in a week’s time!

  2. Leave a typo if you hate flying! Not the act of flying, but going through security, waiting for hours for your flight, airplane food…I can’t wait for teleporters to be invented.

    (Grounded readers: Jarwain, Greckle, MrWiggles, 1024dp, AVR)

  3. Bloody hell, Reynolds is gonna fly Zel right to the Goblin’s Lord door? I suppose Zel’s armor can hold the Deathbolts, but I fear Az’kerash won’t let things end as planned…

    My general expectations (pun intended): Zel will not die (I’m guessing pirateaba has big plans for him). But the outcome will be more costly than anyone’s expecting.

    • I mean, Zel foguth Az himself, so I can bet you that he tasted far more potent deathbolts then the goblin lord can dish.

      • Its possible Az has since amped them up and taught the superior version of the spell to his apprentice, but the [commanders] seem to think not, so we’ll assume for now that they are weaker.

    • It’s funny what can make you blink and think twice. For me it was seeing the term ‘walking tank’. The word tank was originally a code name for the WW1 project developing armored vehicles to hide what they really were. This world might never have had the same, but aside from the square brackets there’s no sign they’re not speaking English and plenty of signs that they are.

      Typos

      visible by most
      visible to most

      as Human’s and Goblins
      as Humans and Goblins

  4. “she’d led the other [Lady]” –> let

    “Magnolia’s flicked her gaze” –> Magnolia

    “curses, metal attack spells” –> mental (?)

    “The soldier around him” –> soldiers

    “blasting into Humans soldiers” –> Human

    “caught his outstretched and” –> hand

    “the Human’s lines” –> Humans’

    “opened is visor” –> his

    “when he’s severed” –> he’d

    “pulling that far of the Goblins” –> far ahead(?)

    “and the Humans lines” –> Humans’

    “arrows a battalions was sending” –> battalion

    “Those fool!” –> fools

    “lose our horse!” –> horses

    “HE ran.” –> He

    “heads turns and the Goblins” –> turned

    “else of the battlefield” –> on the

    “Goblin Lords’ lieutenants” –> Lord’s

    “and down half the bottle” –> downed

  5. I do agree, you could have given us a much worse break between chapters. A good chapter, and I feel that as you did in the last few chapters, telling battles and stories from the view of people in them as opposed to a third person makes it much more engaging. Good job on the battle so far! I love the way that even now, you could take the battle in several different directions, or have my number of interesting parties show up to suprise everyone. While unlikely, Laken could send his army to earn favor with Magnolia, his new [Lady] subject advising. And there are two goblin tribes out there that hate the Goblin Lord and would love to help end him… or there is the fun theory of Niers showing up… The possibilities are nearly limitless!! But whatever happens, I think I/we will be okay as long as Zel and Reynolds don’t die. But then again, Brunkr happened. Sorry for the ramble. ARGH. A week is so long. Have a fun break!

  6. Petition to bring the goblin lord back to life in case he ends up dying despite the flags towards the end, with the same trick Necromancer used to trick Zel. Bonus petition to make the trick trick Necromancer as well so our slave lord can be free.
    I want (the goblin lord) to break free. (Dead) God(s) knows i want (the goblin lord) to break free.

  7. Enjoy your trip. Don’t let TSA find your exploding zombies. Take a week, take two weeks, or take a month if you need it. I read a lot of serial literature on line, and no one updates as fast as you.

  8. Shame that neither Magnolia’s trainee adventurers, Ryoka, or Erin are around to see Magnolia using a Boomstick against an army of the undead.

  9. I’ve been reading Running away from the Hero so I may have been influenced, no one in this world has any idea regarding Kinetic Bombardmant right? Have Cryomancers make chunks of ice at near-orbital height and it will result in a true “rain of terror”.

    • At the risk of also killing their own men, and probably the countryside around Invrisil and Invrisil itself. That is if the heat of re-entry doesn’t evaporate the ice first.

    • How would they do that exactly? Cryomancers produce cold, not mass. At that height they might not have the moisture they need to create ice of any size and even if they could they’d either need better range than we’ve ever seen in the story or the ability to fly well above the point where they would freeze and asphyxiate. There’s also the issue of aiming. Things don’t just fall straight from that distance, and you could easily be off by a dozen miles in any direction.

      I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, just that its no easy solution. The amount of time, effort, and resources needed to make it work would be extreme, and likely give equally impressive results if you invested them somewhere else.

  10. The battle was a little hard for me to follow. Maybe a short paragraph describing the terrain and the army’s position could have helped. Just a suggestion though.

    Your writing is one of my week’s highlights. Thanks for it.

  11. The way Zel could hold the line, tearing through enemy commanders and forcing them to retreat whenever he personally drew near, reminded me of the description of the Goblin King’s contributions to battle.

    I thought the battle wasn’t too hard to follow, and the writing had a good mix between individual heroics and army tactics. Which I imagine is a pretty accurate representation of large battles in Innworld anyway.

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