The southern continent of Aeras, known as Tamador, was for many ages a land unknown to civilized man. Its dense forests and jagged mountain ranges were the home of countless tribes and bands of men that through constant warfare and the struggle to survive had been kept in a state of barbarism while the nations of men on the northern continent had evolved to more advanced levels of society. The elder races were of course present on Tamador, as they were to some degree in all places, but they had no interest in interacting with the primitive men of that place.

It was to this land that the first civilized man laid eyes on Tamador, a mere two hundred years before the start of our story. The man who first discovered Tamador for the northern nations was a man named Carl Hothbreg who was a captain in the navy of King Elthrod of Jukar. Hothbreg’s ship was caught in a fierce storm near its own shores, and though the competent captain was able to save his vessel, he could not help being blown hundreds of leagues out to sea into uncharted waters. Disoriented, Hothbreg sailed for days before finally sighting land to their south. He beached his craft on the sands of Tamador, and the history of that continent was changed forever.

After word of Hothbreg’s discovery, and his tales of lush untouched land, almost all of the northern nations sent ships south to explore the new lands and see what opportunities lay there for them. They found a land almost wholly uninhabited, and filled with natural resources.

Soon the first settlement sprang up at Gaelsmouth, not far from Hothbreg’s original landing site. It wasn’t long before there were settlements all along the coast, and working inland, the nations raced to gain more over their rivals.

The entire northern coast of Tamador became flooded with a myriad of mixed cultures and languages as all the northern nations tried to colonize much of the same space. Soon, this intermixing led to conflicts, and while the northern nations had been relatively peaceful, the newfound southern lands strained relations between them.

Soon the coast of Tamador burst out into bloody conflict, the colonies trying to rid the land of one another, and therefore secure the continent for themselves. The great nations of the north sent armies south across the sea, and soon Tamador was the battleground for some of the largest battles in the history of man. Thousands of knights and warriors from Tausend fought the pikemen of the city of Aetheak at the battle of Redhills, and the armies of King Joakim slaughtered the Formortik defenders in Ziene.

The fire in Tamador soon spread to the north itself, and a vast and bloody war broke out between all the nations of the north. Nations which had weathered the ages were smashed in months, and the eternal borders of the great peoples were erased and redrawn over and over again. The learning and culture of the civilized nations were crushed and ground to dust under the iron boot of kings and councils maddened with greed.

As individual men are flexible and bounce back from adversity, so do the societies of men. And as some people are made better and more pure by undergoing the greatest of hardships, so it may also be with groups of people. This was the case on the central plain of Tamador, where then sprung up the greatest of all nations in the history of man. Several towns and villages banded together along the frontier which was at the time the furthest limit of the settlement by civilized men. Led by a local trapper by the name of Demlik Churlson, the frontier settlements banded together for the protection and freedom of their own families and land. These men fought for no great nation across the sea, they fought for no imperial glory, they fought for their lives, and they fought for their freedom.

Churlson was a natural born leader, and was a second generation settler, having been born on the southern continent itself. He had never been to the old world, and after seeing the misery which had been projected across the sea, he felt little loyalty to its institutions. He rallied the people of the central plains to stand against all colonial powers, and he gave them the hope of having a land of their own.

Churlson’s knowledge of the territory, and his inborn savvy and common sense made his band of local hunters and farmers into a force to be reckoned with. Generals from the great nations began to give the frontier a wider and wider berth. To venture too far from the sea meant a relentless harassing attack from men who melted away back into the land that they sprung from. The frontier held very little to gain, and the generals had to conserve all their forces to fight against the other mighty armies that roamed the coast in those days.

After time the union of frontier communities began to expand as towns called on Demlik Churlson and his men to protect their communities from the rampaging armies of the great nations. Churlson’s numbers swelled and he marched out to liberate settlement after settlement from the clutches of the northern armies.

Finally the northern commanders realized the threat posed by the liberating forces, and they massed together to defeat Churlson once and for all. Better to fight among themselves for the prize than to have an outsider throw them all into the sea.

Churlson met the northern armies on the coastal plains before Gaelsmouth itself. The generals from the great nations scoffed at the small raggedy force that Churlson brought to the field. They saw the numbers he had, and they saw their armaments and equipment. What they failed to see were the hardened and determined men beneath the armaments. While the northern commanders brought thousands of heavily armed horse and foot to the field of battle, Churlson brought hardened men. These were men who had lived in a war their entire lives. Men who had spent decades battling for survival, amidst the greed and destruction brought by the nations of the north.

Churlson took the field that day, and started a rout that drove the northern armies into the sea. The central plains were free of the interests of the great nations of the north, and the people were free. They named Churlson their King, and gave him the honorific Faerntir, which means “Great Father” in their dialect. Churlson was wary of the crown, and only accepted with the creation of a charter of rights and laws of the King and of the people. The new nation then became known as Faerntia, which means “The Father’s Land”, and the people began to be known as Faerntians.

While the rise of Faerntia ended the war on Tamador, the great nations continued their bloody feud on the old continent. The wars raged on for nearly two generations, and when they finally came to an end, the great nations had been so ravaged, that Faerntia was left as the preeminent nation of men on the face of the earth.

The rulers of the men of Faerntia led their hardy people to great prosperity during the generations following the birth of their nation. They expanded both south and to the east and west, creating a vast and prosperous society of men across the face of Tamador.

One should understand that by using the term “Man” we speak of both sexes of the human race. The term “Man” is used for the whole race to delineate them from the elder races such as the elves and dwarves which had inhabited the land since long before the creation of the first man.

With the expansion of the nation of Faerntia the men of the south continent eventually came into contact with the elder races of the continent. Being a generally peaceful and honest society, the Faerntians were greeted with goodwill from first the elves of the Wood King Nathan, and then later as Faerntian society spread to the base of the great mountains to the south, from the Dain of the dwarf-realm.

The Faerntians were an honest and a hardy people. Tempered by warfare, they had found only the best that was to come from struggle, and lifted upon the wings of their victory and their freedom, they founded a prosperous nation that as we said before was the greatest of all nations in the history of man.

Our story takes place several generations after the founding of the great nation of Faerntia. Seemingly endless peace had transformed the harsh frontier lands into lush farmland, and the distant horizons were now dotted with thriving settlements which were the hallmark of Faerntian civilization. The Faerntians became a well educated people as a strong academia grew up in the rich cities along the coast and along the major waterways. Faerntian artwork was known around the world for its beauty and elegance, and Faerntian craftsmanship was second to none in the realms of man. Faerntian society was the preeminent in the world, and many other nations tried with varying degrees of success to emulate the Faerntians.

It was to this world that our main character was born. Amidst the endless miles of corn and wheat of the central plains. Our hero was a boy born to be a farmer. His father worked a farm that was given to him by his father, who received it from his own father, who had carved it out of the wilderness itself. Our hero knew the land, and he could tell the quality of the soil by taste and smell. He knew how to handle animals, and he could accurately predict the weather a week in advance.

His name was Ellis Tortar, and he was the third, and youngest, son of Malachi Tortar. Ellis was a fairly regular looking young man. He was of medium height and medium build, more strongly built than many, but not overly so. He had thick dark hair which he kept cut very short, and dark eyes which were brown throughout with small specks of green which occasionally became more prominent than the brown. He was handsome and liked by the local girls, but not exceptionally so. He had a quick mind, and an extraordinary intelligence, but this more often went unnoticed because of a tendency to get distracted from a job coupled with a bit of youthful laziness.

Overall, Ellis was a slightly above average young man. Not the kind of person that people would hear about in surrounding towns, the kind of celebrity that people expect the world of. Ellis was instead the kind of young man that was well loved and admired by his own family and those who were close enough to truly appreciate his good character. His elders looked at him as the future leader of their family, and his younger relatives looked up to him with awe.

Ellis was the youngest of his brothers, and so the family farm would not pass to him. It was customary in Faerntian society for young men to leave the protection of the family and strike out on their own. So, it was with no few tears and no small bit of pride that the Tortar family wished Ellis farewell on his way south towards the new farms near the frontier. Ellis hired himself out as a farmhand, and worked his way across the country following the harvest.

At the start of our story we find Ellis in a tavern in a small village named Southtausend. It’s a little misleading to say the tavern was “in” the village. The tavern, named the Southtausend Inn, more or less was the entire village. Seas of golden fields stretched out along the plains for as far as the eye could see, with individual farms dotting the horizon here and there. The “village” was the place where all the farmers came to sell their crops, and where the traders from the larger settlements to the north came to buy up the results of the harvest. In actuality the village consisted of the Southtausend Inn, Nortrop Farm which was across the street from the Inn, and a large grass field where the farmers set up their market once a week. The dirt road which ran through the center of the village went north to Greily in one direction, and ran south towards the mountains for about a days ride before petering off into nothing after passing the limits of man’s settlements.

The Inn was always an interesting place, travelers coming from the frontier, or from the cities of the north could often be found there at night. As the only Inn in the entire region, it tended to be a nexus for those traveling through the area.

Ellis liked coming to the Inn every night after working in the fields all day. Though they had been provided with a bed and supper by his employer across the street at the Nortrop Farm, he and the other farmhands enjoyed coming to the Inn to meet the travelers and hear about the rest of the world.

On this evening there were two groups of travelers who had stopped at the Inn. The first group was a band of six Norsemen who were originally from Dainelind which was in the far reaches of the northern continent. They were hulking monsters of men with wildly overgrown beards who laughed often and from the belly, loud enough to be heard far out into the cornfields around Southtausend.

The other travelers were three Dwarves, which was quite rare this far from the mountains. The chief Dwarf was dressed as a noble in rare furs and silks. His good nature (and generosity with the bar tab) made him an immediate favorite of the Norsemen, and made it a very happy gathering between the Dwarves, the Norsemen, and all the local farmhands.

Ellis sat entranced, watching the scene. He was listening intently to the leader of the Norsemen who was telling him about battles he had seen and the far away lands that he had traveled through. Meanwhile, across the great table, one of the Dwarves was teaching a Dwarven battle hymn to a group of very inebriated farmers. Soon farmers and Norsemen were terribly butchering the ancient language, “Tu Dora, Nai Yehora…”

The words may have been all but incomprehensible to an actual Dwarf, but none the less, the leader of the Dwarves was moved, and he stood on his chair and silenced the gathering for a toast. He thanked Moradin, the god of the Dwarves, for new friendships and good ale, and told the Innkeeper that all the drinks tonight would be courtesy of his master, “The Dain of the Valley and the Mountain.”

There was much applause, and the room broke out in song, “Tu Dora, Nai Yehora. Moradii Nug Sorte Mayii.” A farmer picked up the tune on his guitar, and a pair of massive bearded men leapt up on the table and started dancing a sort of hornpipe to it.

The Innkeeper’s wife came over and chastised the big men for abusing her table, and one of the Norsemen made an exceedingly crude comment to the woman which set everyone to laughing. The laughter reached a true roar when they heard the woman’s response which turned the offender several shades of red.

The singing and dancing continued far into the night, and when the merry party finally broke up and the patrons went stumbling back to their bedchambers, each one thought that he had made fast friends for life. Ellis crossed back over the road with the other farmhands, and fell asleep in exactly the same position that he landed in the hay in the loft of the barn.



Ellis woke up to the sound of rain on the roof of the barn. A thunderstorm moved in during the early hours of the morning, and looked to keep up all day. Seeing that there would be no work getting done in this kind of weather, Elmer Nortrop released all the farmhands for the day.

Ellis and the others made a sarcastic show of being sorely disappointed at having the day off work, and then they headed with much enthusiasm across the road to the Inn. With Ellis were four other young men who were traveling with the harvest across the plains: Demlik woods, Shamus Cooper, and the twins Tory and Mory Churslick.

Demlik Woods was named after the great and powerful Demlik Churlson, founder of their nation. This Demlik however didn’t quite live up to his namesake. Demlik Woods was a small, slightly effeminate young man with small eyes and a great fear of spiders. Demlik did have a sharp mind however, and he was hoping to earn enough working the harvest to pay his way into the new university at Harpersford.

The second young farmhand traveling with Ellis was, at least on appearance alone, the extreme opposite of Demlik. His name was Shamus Cooper, and though only sixteen years old at the time, he was easily the largest person in the whole county. He was a hulking mass of a man, head and shoulders taller than Ellis or any of the others, and even the massive Daenelinners looked up to meet eyes with him. Despite his great size, as is the case with many of the largest men around, he was nervous and unsure of himself, and like his companion Demlik, he was also quite afraid of spiders.

The other two of Ellis’s companions were the Churlslick twins. Though it was well known that they were twins, someone without any knowledge of the two wouldn’t believe they were even related to each other. Tory was short and barrel-chested, looking almost more like one of the dwarves than a man, he had almost white blond hair, and his face was always red as though he had just been running. Mory on the other hand was tall and thin, his ribs could easily be seen through his skin, and he had a fair olive complexion and dark brown hair. While they didn’t look alike, they were of identical minds, and to hear one speak was to hear the opinion of both.

The five young men, including Ellis, had been traveling together for a little over a month, and had become a pretty tight knit group of friends. They were all five between their sixteenth and nineteenth years, and all came from similar backgrounds, being younger sons in farming families.

The young men entered the Inn and were happy to see that the travelers from the night before decided to stay another day on account of the weather. Within the great chamber of the Inn breakfast was being served, and the five young men found places at the long table which filled almost the entire room.

After breakfast the party spent the day carousing in the main parlor of the Inn. The Innkeeper’s wife Dana kept the party well stocked with cakes and beer as they whiled away the day playing droughts and telling stories.

The Daenelinners were the main attraction of the day. They were loud and boisterous but eternally good natured. As the day wore on they consumed more beer than the Inn usually went through in a month, and with every pint they grew louder and jollier.

Their leader was a man that would inspire confidence in the weakest of hearts. His name was Hogarik, and though not the largest or the strongest of the Norsemen, from the tales told by his comrades, in combat he had no equal. His great black beard was specked with gray in places, showing that he was mature and experienced, but not by any means old, and his eyes were a cold blue that seemed to pierce through to any mans heart.

Hogarik was followed by five of his clansmen. First among them was old one-eyed Naherik, his other eye lost many years before during a battle with the militia of Haxenville. Now in its place there was only a depression in the skin between his cheek and brow, and a wide scar which ran vertically from his hairline through his eye socket, and then continued down and was lost in his beard. His long white beard and his patient wisdom attested to his wisdom, and made him the valued companion of Hogarik who turned to him often for advice.

Next came Helmsbar who had served in and been educated in the court of King Leonardi of Turtia, and spoke like the cultured men of that place, which earned him much ribbing from his uncouth companions (it would have gone much worse for him with his comrades except that his arm was second only to Hogarik, and the others knew through experience that any that pushed him too far would likely end up with a split lip and a black eye). Helmsbar was always accompanied by his brother Carlslin who was the largest of the group and possessed of limitless strength. Erlegh and Torgli rounded out the party being two brothers that though not twins were so similar in appearance and attitude that they were often thought to be so.

Not to be forgotten amongst the group in the Inn on that fair rainy day were the three dwarves. The leader of the three introduced himself as “Bimbar, son of Bombar, son of Bellor, son of Torak Baelatik.” He was obviously a very important dwarf (all the men in the Inn were convinced of this by his long name alone), and he seemed to be somewhat frustrated by the rain which delayed his travels. Though he was friendly and provided good company for all of those in the Inn, it was obvious that he would rather be traveling on to his destination again. He was often seen looking out the window for a break in the storm.

The two younger dwarves traveling with Bimbar seemed to be in no hurry to leave the merry gathering in the inn. They were two brothers, Nogri and Salmsar, both of who introduced themselves as sons of Tallin Kord. They spent the day drinking with the Daenelinners and exchanging stories of battles.

The Norsemen told stories about fierce battles on the icy northern seas which sent shivers down the backs of the Dwarves who all shared a wariness about the oceans. The Dwarves in their turn related battles fought in the pitch dark in long forgotten crypts deep beneath the mountains against creatures of unknowable horror. In the end they all agreed that each wouldn’t like to fight in the others place.

As the day wore on towards supper, the larger assembly broke down into smaller groups.

The mighty Hogarik and the regal Bimbar squared off again and again over the chessboard against the wall. Fierce battles were fought that day between the two hard faced competitors, and though they hardly spoke a word out loud, they learned more about each other than anyone could imagine.

Helmsbar sat at a table surrounded by Demlik Woods and the Dwarf Nogri. Helmsbar had found a large piece of parchment and was drawing them a map of the greater world which none of them had seen in their own education. As he drew the individual nations of man on the map he related information about their history and their leaders, and answered questions from his three students. Demlik decided that day that he would study geography and history once he got to Harpersford.

Naherik sat quietly in a corner, smoking a pipe and watching the room with his one eye while the rest of the group was spread around the huge table in the center of the room. They played draughts and cards or whatever else came to mind. They started drinking early in the day. After breakfast, but well before the midday meal as well. Shamus Cooper became a favorite within the group because though he quickly lost his good sense to the Ale, his massive body refused to reject what he was consuming, and he was therefore able to consume massive quantities throughout the day. The clumsy and nervous giant became a jolly and friendly companion that the Daenelinners decided they needed to take under their wing.

The rain kept up, and as the evening meal approached, every one moved to the great table. The Innkeeper decided to put on a grand banquet for his guests that night, and had his son Goric slaughter a lamb for a roast earlier in the day. The dinner was marvelous and memorable, especially to Ellis and the other farmhands who had never been exposed to real opulence. Hogarik and Bimbar sat at the head of the great table, and the others sat intermixed around.

The innkeeper soon had the table covered in a true feast, and the different dishes were passed around time and again. Goric kept the tankards full of ale, and dinner wound on merrily for several hours.

By the end everyone was happy and full and quite drunk. Bimbar gave a blessing that all should meet again before their souls return to the great forge, and then dinner was ended. People started to disperse then, slipping off away from the common room of the inn until late in the night when all that was left was the innkeeper and his wife cleaning up for the night.

Ellis left and walked over to the barn to find his place in the loft. The sky was clear of clouds by now, and a cool wind blew from the mountains far to the south. He knew that there would be no rain the next day, and that he would be working again and the visitors would be gone. He stopped for a second in the road and looked up at the stars. He prayed to his ancestors and the gods thanking them for the chance to make such wonderful friends. He prayed that he might someday meet them again, and perhaps go with them across the earth on some great adventure.

He entered the barn and climbed carefully up to the loft. His friends all slept below because they couldn’t manage the ladder in their drunkenness. Ellis made a bed in the hay, and lay down facing out the large open window of the loft. He drifted off to sleep with the gentle vision of the Southtausend Inn before him amidst the endless fields and the infinite star filled sky.




Ellis had always been a very heavy sleeper (a trait which he would soon lose), and so the noise outside the barn didn’t wake him up at first. He gradually came to from his slumber and the strange light from outside the window of the loft mixed in his consciousness with the shouting voices outside the barn. Ellis pulled himself to his feet and walked over to the window. What he saw sobered him immediately.

He could see that the Inn and the farmhouse were on fire. He could also see that there was a mess of running bodies below him on the road. There was shouting and screaming, and the sound of steel clashing against steel. As his head cleared he could perceive that the village was flooded with people fighting. There were small dark skinned people everywhere, setting fire to the buildings and attacking those villagers who were already out in the street. Around the front entrance of the Inn Ellis saw the huge Norse warriors in a tight pack standing head and shoulders taller than the invaders.

Ellis quickly took out his bow from amidst his belongings in the loft. In his anxious rush to string the bow he messed up the job and had to try three times before finally having his bow strung and ready to use. He grabbed his quiver and to his dismay saw that he only had eight arrows. When hunting this had seldom been a problem, but he had the notion that he might need more tonight.

He stepped up to the window and took aim at one of the invaders who had stopped in the street nearby. He released the string and the bow thrummed as the arrow was shot down at the unwitting victim. The arrow slapped into the road and bounced away harmlessly. Damn thought Ellis, have to relax and take my time, I don’t have many arrows.

He had succeeded in scaring away his proposed target and so had to look for another. He spotted a man who was slightly larger than the others who was standing in one place screaming at the others in guttural words that Ellis couldn‘t understand. Ellis decided instantly that this was a leader, and carefully drew back and aimed an arrow at him. The bow thrummed, and the force of the arrow made the leader stumble and fall.

Ellis stopped for a moment as he stared awestruck at the dying man. From this distance in the dark he couldn’t make out the look on the man’s face, but he knew that he must be in great pain. The arrow had made a loud thwack when it penetrated the man’s chest, and the sound made Ellis sick to his stomach.

The Dwarves were now visible from the barn window as they battled their way across the street towards the barn. A dark form charged out of the crowd toward the blind side of one of the Dwarves. The dark form raised a wicked-looking axe above his head, and lunged towards his victim who was too occupied with others to notice the attack.



The dark form fell.

A Norsemen is tripped and a dark form pounces upon him.



A dark form stands astride a prone farmer, beating him with a club as he curls into a ball trying to protect his head.



Two dark forms are dragging the struggling innkeeper’s wife into the street.





Ellis reached back to his quiver and found only one arrow left. He paused a second to decide where best to use his last missile.

In his pause he noticed a flicker of light coming from the inside of the barn behind him. He turned around to see that the inside of the barn was on fire, and the hay in the loft with him was starting to ignite. He also noticed that one of the attackers had been trying to sneak up on him.

The small man with the dark skin and pig-like eyes charged at Ellis once he was discovered, covering the short distance and raising a rusted blade above his head in attack. Ellis stepped into the attack and tackled the smaller man. The rusted sword skittered away into the hay.

Ellis fell on top of the little man, but was quickly tossed off. The little man’s strength was unbelievable, it was like that of a wild animal. The animal-man was on top of Ellis, its long and filthy claws scratching for eyes and throat. Another shift and the animal-man was beneath him. Even though he was twice the size of the smaller man it took all his strength just to hold him.

The small man tried once again to throw Ellis, but this time he held firm. He reached to his belt for his hunting knife, and then it was over. Ellis brought himself to his feet and stood somewhat in awe of what he had done. The ugly little animal-man lay gasping for breath, his hands straining for his opponent, but his body no longer able to follow his commands because of the six inch piece of steel lodged in his heart.

The fire from the barn was quickly spreading through the straw in the loft, and Ellis found himself surrounded by an inferno of flames. He grabbed his pack and his bow, and after a look at the drop to the outside and a look back at the flames he jumped from the window.

He landed feet first with a jolt and a pain that made him cry out involuntarily as his right ankle twisted up at an odd angle beneath him. He rolled over onto his back and bent his right knee into his chest while grabbing his ankle with both hands, a growl coming out from between his clenched teeth. He thought about the vulnerability of his current state and he rolled over and tried to get gingerly up onto his feet. He hit the ground again and saw stars from the pain.

Ellis saw through the stars in his vision Bimbar the Dwarven noble fighting nearby. His comrades fallen, the Dwarf lord dealt out crushing blows to the enemies that came near him. He was keeping all his foes at bay with wide sweeps of his shining axe and striking down any that dared to draw too near. The beast-men drew back in fear from his fury.

Then the hairs on the back of Ellis’s neck started to stand up, and he felt almost like another presence had come nearby. The Dwarf lord seemed to sense something too. His triumphant smile melted, and the color drained away from his cheeks.

The Dwarf dropped his great axe, and brought his hands up to cover his eyes. When he removed his hands Ellis saw that the Dwarf lord’s eyes were bleeding down his cheeks and into his beard. The Dwarf let out a long agonizing cry, and his attackers took their chance and struck him down to the ground and started chopping at him with their weapons like a block of wood.

The power that Ellis had felt before was suddenly magnified to the point that his head hurt and he had to cringe and close his eyes. Even though his eyes were closed, he somehow saw the Dwarf stand up and go walking off towards the south, completely oblivious to those battling around him. He was following another man who seemed to look like a taller version of the beast-men that were battling all around. The man had wide eyes that were almost completely black, and he had thin wisps of hair that stuck out from the dark gray skin atop his head. The two walked out beyond the edge of the cornfields and disappeared beyond. As they left, so did the pain in Ellis’s head.

When he opened his eyes, the Dwarf was lying once again on the ground beneath his murderers, his body being mutilated in their fury. He tried to get back up onto his feet once again, this time with more success as he pulled himself up on his left leg.

Some of the little beast-men took notice of Ellis’s rising and started to come his way. They were intercepted mid-course by Hogarik, the leader of the Norsemen, who quickly spilled their innards on the ground. Hogarik took wide strokes against the group, his heavy iron sword slicing through the rusty blades and the arms beyond. Soon Hogarik and Ellis were alone and Hogarik took the injured man’s arm and helped him hobble back to the group of warriors by the entrance to the door.

The group of warriors had cleared the area of enemies, and those that could be seen in the distance appeared to be retiring back to the south. Ellis took a seat on the front step and stretched his leg out ahead of him. A hodge-podge of Norse warriors and farmers leaned up against posts and walls breathing heavily, the product of their hard work evident in the small, gray skinned bodies littering the road before them.

It was then that Ellis noticed the terrible smell that these creatures had brought with them.

Seeing Ellis crinkling his nose in distaste, Hogarik said one word, “Goblins.”

At the sound of the word, the other Norsemen brought their hands to their foreheads in some sort of ritualistic sign and spit in the dirt in disgust.


As the morning darkness turned to dawn, the survivors of the goblin raid worked like madmen trying to put out the fires that had been set. The barn was a lost cause, all the straw inside turning the building quickly into a giant torch. The Nortrop family farmhouse was the next hardest hit, flames gutting the entire house and burning the walls on the road side down to the foundation. The Inn by comparison was lightly damaged, the defenders being able to keep most of the goblins away, it had lost its stables and a couple guest rooms on the south side of the building.

Once the last of the fires was quenched, the exhausted villagers sat down upon the ground to rest. They saw a horrible scene in the peaceful morning light. Bodies of men and goblins lay strewn across the ground, their blood still wet upon the ground. The villagers could hear the wheezing and groaning of a few men with serious wounds, any wounded goblins left on the field had long since been put out of their misery. Smoke still drifted up from the charred remains of the barn and the farmhouse.

All told there were nineteen dead from the village including Ellis’s employers, Mr. and Mrs. Nortrop. There were also four missing, all of them young girls from the Nortrop Household. Along with the girls the goblins had taken all of the cattle and the horses from the farm.

There was an immediate desire to pursue the goblins among the young farmhands, who’s numbers had greatly swelled in the past hours as many came from the surrounding farms to help fight the fire. The innkeeper convinced them however to take the day and bury the dead and start off the next morning in pursuit. Hogarik assured everyone that he would have no trouble tracking the goblins, even after a day the signs made by so large a force would be obvious.

The day was spent burying the dead and mourning for their loss. When it came time to bury the Dwarves, everyone who was at the inn the previous two nights sang together over their graves, “Tu Dora, Nai Yehora. Moradii Nug Sorte Mayii.”

The weapons from the Dwarves were taken by Hogarik who then gave them out to a few of the farmhands who didn’t have any kind of weapon other than their pocket-knife. The goblin weapons were in such bad condition that they were discarded.

Ellis had his hunting bow which had proved its worth in battle, but he still found himself envious of the boys who now held finely made Dwarven axes. Ellis especially liked the one that fell to Goric, the innkeepers son. It was the axe that had belonged to the Dwarf lord, and it was a masterpiece of metalwork. It was a large axe, with a wide blade that was counterbalanced by a deadly spike. Its handle was finely wrought silver and copper with many jewels adorning the pommel. Once cleaned of the dried blood of the goblins, small Dwarven runes could be seen etched in all across both faces of the blade. In the center of one of the faces of the blade was etched a symbol of a circle that had inside it a hammer with a dragon coiled around its handle.

Ellis had his bow, but he no longer had his hunting knife which was lost in the fire, and he was only able to salvage seven of his eight arrows. He found an odd piece of steel that some goblin had used for a weapon, and stuck it in his pack, planning to turn the steel into arrow-heads when he had a chance.

Ellis had one other problem, his right ankle had swollen up to the point where he dared not take off his boots lest he not get them on again. He tightened up his boots to give him some support, and he was able to limp around effectively. He was very glad when some of the local farmers came with horses that they were donating to the posse which was being created.

The posse was a hodgepodge of every unmarried man in the area. Hogarik, who was unanimously named leader of the posse, insisted that the married men should remain behind with their families in case of another raid. With much grumbling, the married men obeyed. Less the married men, the posse consisted of Hogarik and the five other Daenelinners, and twelve young men from the area including Ellis and his four companions.

The posse left with first light the next morning upon the horses which had been donated.

Hogarik was the guide and tracker, but the goblins had left such a mess that Ellis was certain that any man in the group could have followed the trail. The goblins had left piles of feces littering the route. Either from the livestock that they had stolen, or from the goblins themselves, the horses were constantly stepping in the leavings of their quarry. The smell was terrible, and the flies were a serious nuisance.

After about three hours on the trail, the posse found the place where the goblins had made their first camp. The goblins had stripped a whole cow down to the bone in some kind of feast. As there was no sign of a fire, the goblins must have ripped the beef from the cow and eaten it raw. The smell of urine was so strong that it was almost unendurable, and they made haste from that place.

Ellis thought that it was strange that the goblins would make camp only a few hours away from the village. Either they were extremely confident in their strength, or they were extraordinarily dimwitted and didn’t see the need to be further away.

He mentioned this to Hogarik, who commented that “Goblins aren’t stupid. They are very cunning.” Ellis still wasn’t convinced. The complete lack of sanitation he had seen along their path didn’t seem to him as a sign of a culture which handles themselves in an intelligent way.

They continued on throughout the day, and passed from well-settled country to more wild land. As dusk started to come on the party had moved into a land where the pastures were lightly wooded, and cultivated land more commonly gave way to natural growth.

Against the wishes of most of the young men in the posse, Hogarik called a halt for the night. They were mounted, and so probably catching up to the goblins, but they would fare better overall if they rested themselves and their horses for the night. A fresh mount in the morning would more than make up for the distance that they might make stumbling along in the dark.

Ellis and the other pursuers dropped their packs in a copse of trees atop a small rise in the land. The trees provided some concealment, and the spot received a fresh breeze which cleared the air of the stench of the goblins.

A watch was set and Ellis volunteered for the first hour. Ellis thought that he wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway, the anticipation and excitement were too great. His mind was awhirl picturing first images of him and his companions heroically riding down filthy goblins, and then switching to images of the blood and suffering in the village.

Ellis was not the only one who was uneasy, he was soon joined by the huge shadow of Shamus Cooper who said that he couldn’t sleep and so would help Ellis out with the watch. Shamus sat silently for the better part of a minute before he asked Ellis in a low voice, “So, how many do you think there are Ellis?” When Ellis replied that he didn’t know, but he thought at least fifty Shamus continued, “Its not that I’m scared or anything, not with Hogarik here and all, but don’t you think that its bad for eighteen to go chasing after fifty? I mean, what if there are more, what are we to do?”

Another voice came from nearby, “Stay by me or my cousin Hogarik and it won’t matter to you if there be fifty thousand of those miserable creatures.” The voice was from Helmsbar, one of the Norsemen who was following Hogarik. He was carrying a small flask of strong smelling liquor which he took a sip of. “I’m not tired enough to sleep just yet, and if you don’t mind I’ll sit by you here for a bit.” The clear enunciation and cultured speech of Helmsbar seemed totally out of place with his barbarous appearance.

He was known to the two young men, but he was still learning the names of all his new traveling companions, so he introduced himself as “Helmsbar son of Hothranc, Clan Hothbreg.”, and asked them their names and where they came from. Ellis came first with “Ellis Tortar, my father was Malachi, and I come from up north by the three creeks.” Shamus came stuttering next with, “Sh-Shamus Cooper, and I come from the village of Oak Hill -that’s by three creeks-, and oh, my pa’s name was Shamus. That makes me Shamus Junior.”

“Well young masters Tortar and Cooper, its very nice to make your acquaintance.” Said Helmsbar very properly.

Ellis didn’t know about Helmsbar’s unique education, and he just couldn’t believe that his senses of sight and hearing were both working correctly. He heard a voice that spoke like a schoolmaster, but what he saw was a huge hulking mass of man, fur, and steel rings with a wild black beard and a necklace of teeth and bones around its neck. He finally asked, “Why don’t you talk like the others? You don‘t sound like you look.”

“That, my young friend,” replied Helmsbar, “Is because I was educated at the Maunne in Pistillia the seat of the throne of King Leonardi of Turtia.”

A mocking imitation came from the shadow of one of the other resting Daenelinners, “Oh, Phillip, won’t you please pass me some of the soap, I feel ever so dirty.” Another dark blanketed mass picked up the joke with, “Oh! I bet you do! I’ll be over there in just a second lover!” Helmsbar sat silent for a minute but didn’t reply to the jokester. He took a long swig from his flask.

After a moment of muffled giggling from the surrounding shadows the joke was ended and Shamus spoke again, “Why do you think that the goblins attacked the village?”

“It could be any number of reasons,” answered Helmsbar, “They could have come for cattle, plunder, slaves, even for the spilling of blood itself.” The comment brought an image to Ellis’s mind of the crowd of goblins hacking at the Dwarf Lord as he lay lying prone beneath them. He also pictured a tall goblin with wild eyes and thin wisps of hair leading the Dwarf away to the south.

When Ellis came out of his thoughts Shamus was still talking to Helmsbar, “But we’ve never seen goblins before, and if there are so many what happens if there are too many for you and Hogarik?”

“We can handle ourselves, and we can teach you to do the same. On the islands of Kul-Daara my companions and I slaughtered whole tribes of savage goblins. Not these pathetic creatures, but great mountain orcs of the Glut-Dahr clans. The smallest of those tribes still stood a head taller than even mighty Carlslin my brother sleeping there. With arms like tree trunks and fangs like daggers! Those were hard days indeed!”

“Goblins grow that big?” Shamus stammered, wide eyed, “How did you survive? How many were there? Only the six of you?”

“There were more of us then. We traveled by ship with Erik Bluemeth who was a Jarl to King Johir. We landed looking for freshwater on one of the great mountainous islands of the Northern sea and were waylaid by a vicious tribe of mountain orcs who took us captive to be slaves in their mines.

“We would all still be wasting away in the choking darkness under a mountain somewhere if it weren’t for Hogarik. Even though his hands were shackled together, he attacked the goblin chief and spilled his brains by slamming his head against a rock. In the confusion we seized our weapons and smashed our chains to pieces. We cut our way out of their cavern and all the way back down to our ship upon the beach.

“Goblins do not easily forgive the murder of their chieftain, and they met us on the beach in broad daylight in order to stop our escape. Many brave warriors earned their passage to Valhalla that day, but scores more goblins were sent back to their wicked creator.” Helmsbar Ended his story and took another long swig of liquor from his flask. Ellis and Shamus sat by totally in awe of his story.

“Well,” continued Helmsbar, “that was a day a long time ago, and it is passed now. We are in Faerntia, a land of peace. Your village was unlucky to have been attacked. Goblins are few and very far between in this land, even in the mountains to the south. The tribes that do exist here are weaker and smaller breeds that pose little threat to an armed band of men. The only real threat they pose is to undefended farmers and ranchers living out on their own.”

Ellis and Shamus nodded their agreement, though they knew nothing about goblins. After a minute or two of silence Helmsbar concluded the conversation, “Well, I’m feeling a little tired now, and I think I’m distracting young master Tortar here from his job of watching-out. I’m going to get some rest before tomorrow dawns.”

Helmsbar slipped away into the darkness and found his place to sleep. Shamus followed soon after, although he would still find it hard to sleep. Ellis was left alone in the darkness for the remainder of his shift imagining battles with goblins. He kept picturing Hogarik smashing the goblin-chieftain’s head open upon a rock, and also the Dwarf Lord’s eyes bleeding blood before the goblins struck him down.

Ellis’s shift finally ended and he awoke Mory Churlslick who had the next watch. Ellis left his boots on and curled up under a blanket and slipped into a fitful sleep.

The Group was up and moving with the sunrise, the jagged mountains before them and the gentle plains behind. Ellis caught his breath at the sight of the sun shining off the beautiful white range ahead of them. This was the furthest he had ever been south, and the mountains which had always been for him a white lining to the distant southern horizon were now ahead of them as distinct individuals. As Ellis had worked his way south with the harvest, the mountains had grown from the horizon. Now the great mountains seemed to loom above them, and even though they were still a week’s journey away, they seemed to be right before them.

They were on the trail again, and soon Ellis was brought back from his mountains by the putrid signs of the goblins which had passed before them. They came to a second goblin encampment, this one more thoroughly polluted than the last. Feeling safer further from the human settlement, the dirty creatures had rested here longer.

Ellis and the rest of the group braved the stench of the campsite to search it for any useful information. At this campsite they found a large fire pit which had been dug, and the remains of two large pigs which had been roasted over the fire. The goblins hadn’t bothered to gut the animals before roasting, and so the stench that the two carcasses gave off was a sharp smell which cut through the normal scent of urine and feces which the travelers had by now almost become used to. Also, the goblins must have had bigger eyes than they had stomachs, as both pigs still had a substantial amount of meat on them. When the travelers arrived, the pigs were almost black with flies, and a pair of crows sat perched atop the larger of the two.

Looking at the two pig carcasses, Hogarik consulted wise old Naherik, and the two sat discussing them and the surrounding camp for about ten minutes before coming to some kind of conclusion. Whatever the conclusion was they didn’t share it with the rest of the party.

The group quickly took stock of the goblin encampment and continued on down the trail, happily leaving that foul place behind.

The trail continued to climb in the direction of the mountains. The hills they crossed grew larger and the vegetation grew sparse over the rocky soil.

Ellis was left with a lot of time to admire the increasingly foreign landscape, and as talk was scarce in the grim posse, he was left with a lot of time to think. He would play over again and again the events of two nights before. He would try to remember every moment of his battle from up in the loft with the goblin, and of how he had found such calm to fire arrows with such deadly accuracy into the goblins below.

Most of all though, he would think about the death of the Dwarf Lord. No one else had mentioned the goblin-man with the wild eyes, and Ellis was a little afraid to mention the experience that apparently only he had had. Ellis gave himself the chills when he pictured the goblin-man’s eyes. They were opened wider than is possible for a man’s eyes to open, and they were glossed over and unblinking. Ellis thought he could almost feel a kind of power coming from those wide eyes, the same kind of power that had made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Ellis was usually brought back from his daydreams by the sharp pain coming from his ankle. Ever since his fall from the loft, his ankle had continued to swell up. It had become so sensitive that every time his leg bumped into a branch, or his horse picked up into a canter, pain seemed to shoot through his entire body.

As they made their camp on the second night Hogarik noticed the way that Ellis winced as he put weight on his right leg. “Whoa there boy, let me have a look at that leg.” Ellis sat down obediently on a nearby log and very gingerly removed his boot. His ankle and the top of his foot were swollen up to twice their normal size. Hogarik let out a little whistle, “I’ll get some water from one of the local streams. The water hereabouts runs down from the mountain, and should be cold enough to help with the swelling.”

Hogarik returned about four minutes later with a small jug of water. He poured the water onto a rag and then placed the ice-cold fabric on to the swollen ankle. Ellis drew in his breath at the shock of the cold rag, but also was grateful for the numbing effect of the cold.

Hogarik took a long look at the younger man and said, “You really can’t be much help in a fight in the condition you are in. You should head back to Southtausend. In your condition you are likely to get yourself or someone else killed. You don’t have to do this.”

Ellis thought long and hard at the proposition before him. “No, I want to continue on with you. I didn’t come all this way for nothing. Besides, my ankle shouldn’t affect my aim with my bow too badly.”

“Aye, I saw your aim with the bow the other night. Deadly accurate.”

“I’ve hunted a little, but I’ve seen a lot of bowmen much better than me.”

“Good aim is one thing, but to be able to shoot a man dead is something else entirely. Better men than you or I haven‘t been able to do it.”

“It scared me a little, but I knew I had to do it.”

Hogarik looked into Ellis’s eyes, and the younger man felt like those intense blue eyes were reading the writing on the parchment of his soul. Finally coming to a decision inside his head, Hogarik spoke again, “You’ll come with us, but stay to the rear when we get into the scrape.”

“You don’t have to worry about me.” said Ellis solidly.

Hogarik gave a little grunt of a laugh and then returned to his own place to bed down for the night. It made Ellis feel good to get personal attention from the leader of their group. Ellis had thought that a true hero like Hogarik wouldn’t have time to be tending to the sprained ankle of one of his followers. He appreciated the attention, and soon he appreciated it even more as the swelling and the pain died down in his ankle.

Ellis didn’t have to pull watch this night, and was therefore able to bed down immediately. He had another troubled night of sleep. First he dreamed of Hogarik smashing the goblin-chieftain’s head, then he dreamed about the Dwarf lord with bleeding eyes beckoning to him and handing him his axe. After that he dreamed that he was wielding the beautiful shining axe, and he dreamed he was like Hogarik, and he was splitting open goblin heads. The dwarf-runes on the axe blade were glowing orange and red, and it was as though an army of Dwarven warriors were singing, “Tu Dora, Nai Yehora. Moradii Nug Sorte Mayii.” Ellis was cutting down scores of goblins with each stroke of the great axe, and their black blood was bursting into fire when the blade passed through them. Then Ellis saw the wild eyes of the goblin-man with the wisps of hair, and he dropped his axe and blood flowed from his eyes.

Ellis awoke with a start in the pale blue pre-dawn. There was a layer of dew covering him and his blanket and he was chilled to his bone. He put his palms to his eyes and was relieved when they came away without any blood.

He relaxed and lay back flat on his back. He turned his head to the side and looked at the sleeping form of Goric, the Inkeeper’s son, beside him. Right before his eyes Ellis saw the axe of the Dwarf lord lying beside Goric. As Ellis stared at the plain looking axe the runes seemed to flash a dull orange, and Ellis thought he heard a solitary voice in his the back of his head sing faintly and sadly “Tu Dora, Nai Yehora...”

Ellis blinked his eyes and then it was over, the axe was just lying there, a plain piece of metal. Ellis didn’t know whether he had been dreaming or not. The dawn was coming, and others were waking now and were starting to break camp. Ellis decided that what happened was probably a dream and he tried his best to forget it ever happened.


“They’re asleep. Probably drunk.”

“How can you tell, and if they are guards, then why would they be drunk?”

“Goblins. All day we’ve been gaining ground on them, I’d bet they’ve only been here for a few hours. They are probably still celebrating their great success.”

Ellis was puzzled by how the goblins could be so careless, but Hogarik was right, the two guards sitting outside the entrance to the cave looked to be passed out very soundly asleep.

The group had traveled straight through the day, not stopping to eat, and pushing their horses to the point that they were on the edge of collapsing. They knew they were getting closer, and dusk was stripping the rocky hills of color when they finally spotted the goblin lair. They had just crested a ridge, and they spotted two goblin sentries standing outside a cave on the face of the next hill. While the flat light of dusk had turned the rocky face of the hill to a dull gray color, the mouth of the cave glowed orange from the light of the torches inside.

Hogarik led the band up a gully which brought them considerably closer to the lair. As they came nearer they could hear the noises of music and voices from inside the cave.

The group stopped where the gully bent closest to the entrance to the cave. Ellis watched as Hogarik crawled to the top of the gully and peered over the top. After a few seconds he slid back down with the rest of the group and conversed in whispers with the brothers Erlegh and Torgli. The three then made signs for everyone else to wait where they were and stay quiet as they climbed out of the gully and crawled away towards the cave.

Ellis waited for what seemed like an eternity there in the ditch. Everyone was staying deadly quiet, wondering exactly what was going on. Finally, Torgli returned and motioned for them all to come along. The group climbed out of the ditch and walked across a small clearing to the entrance of the cave where Hogarik and Erlegh were waiting. The two goblin guards were laying face up on the ground, now dead, in much the same position that they had been sleeping. As Ellis came closer, he could detect the smell of sweet liquor over the ever-present stench of the goblins.

Music echoed out from the cave before them, and the men hesitated at the entrance of the cave listening to the sound of the drums, and the chanting of what sounded like hundreds of voices. Through the chorus of the goblins, they could hear what sounded like a woman’s voice. Her voice carried above the low voices of the goblins as she wailed and moaned. She wasn’t shrieking, but she sounded as one might after being submitted to hours of constant pain. Any second thoughts about entering the cave were now ended.

The blue sky above was darkening steadily towards blackness as the band of men moved into the warm light of the cave. The Daenelinners led the way, followed closely by the nervous farmhands. Everyone clutched their weapons so tightly that the skin on their knuckles turned white from the pressure.

Ellis limped along behind the group, his ankle by now was swollen to the point that he could hardly stand to touch his foot to the ground. He pulled out the first of his seven arrows, and knocked it to his bowstring. He hoped that he wouldn’t personally face more enemies than he had arrows. Once he was out of arrows he would have to resort to his bare hands, and injured as he was, he would be at a serious disadvantage.

The eighteen men of the posse advanced slowly down the rough tunnel into the heart of the hill, with the Daenelinners in the lead. The tunnel was wide enough for four men to walk abreast, but as they went deeper into the hill the ceiling became lower and lower so that the taller members of the group had to stoop so as not to bump their heads. The music became louder, and with it was the sound of the woman moaning and wailing. The music was a frenzied beating of deep drums and steel clashing in rhythm. Ellis’s heart was pounding in his head with the beat of the drums, and the pain from his ankle was shooting up his body. Every step he took down the passageway caused more pain, and the pounding in his head moved him closer and closer to passing out.

The tunnel went down over one hundred paces into the hill before making a sharp right turn. As the group rounded the corner, they saw a scene which they could never forget.

Immediately after making the turn, the tunnel opened up into a wide, roughly circular cavern at least forty paces across. Within the cavern was the whole of the goblin tribe in the midst of a grotesque black magic ceremony. The goblins were arranged in a circle kneeling on the ground and swaying back and forth as they chanted their verses. On the opposite end of the circle from the entrance was a large throne upon which was seated what appeared to be the largest goblin in the tribe.

It was what they saw inside the circle that the men would remember, however. There was a goblin within the circle who was naked except for body paint which was made to look like a skeleton. The goblin was swaying back and forth and chanting to a human woman who was swaying on her knees before him. She had been stripped naked and covered with calf’s blood. Her eyes were locked on those of the skeleton-goblin, and she was moaning with whatever kind of sensation she was feeling. Around the center of the chamber were arranged the mutilated carcasses or several animals, and the arrangement was crowned by the dissected bodies of the other three girls taken from the Nortrop farm spaced evenly around the center of the circle with their feet pointing towards the living girl and the shaman.

This sight touched off a good deal of fear in the hearts of the young men who were now witnessing this event, but it also aroused their rage and hatred. Hogarik and the other Daenelinners let forth a loud war-cry and charged headfirst into the chamber. The farmhands followed the lead of the Norsemen and lunged for the nearest goblin at hand. Ellis limped quickly forward to find a good field of fire.

Hogarik dove straight into the mass of goblins that was rising to meet the attack. He wielded his heavy-bladed sword single-handedly, and it rose again and again like a hatchet cutting wood. Every time it rose it was covered in more blood, and every time it fell another foe was sent to hell.

Hogarik cut a path through the goblins straight for the chieftain sitting upon his throne. The brothers Erlegh and Torgli went with Hogarik and protected his back and flanks as the goblins pressed in on all sides.

The goblins were drunk and clumsy under the effects of their liquor, but they were also very keyed up and enraged during the middle of their ceremony. The party cut into them. Daenelinners crushed the creatures with heavy iron swords, and the farmhands enjoyed mixed success attacking with spears, hatchets, and a few Dwarven axes.

At first Ellis stood motionless, the only targets available being the backs of his companions. The heat in the room and the smell of blood were having bad effects on Ellis, and he caught himself passing out on his feet. Like the long days of school as a child when he wouldn’t even know he was falling asleep until he woke up with a start, Ellis found himself nodding off as he stood with the battle raging before him.

Ellis saw an opening, and he raised his bow to fire. The ceiling was too low where he was standing, so he went to a knee to give himself room to fire. This was an instant relief to him as it took weight off his bad ankle, and his head cleared significantly. He raised his bow again, and drew down on the first enemy that he had a shot at. His release was smooth, and the goblin fell with a shaft stuck through his throat.

Ellis fired again and again, and two more goblins fell to the floor clutching at arrows which penetrated where they could not reach them on their backs.

Ellis saw Shamus Cooper getting swarmed over by goblins. The largest man of the group was therefore the biggest target for the goblins, and Ellis watched as a goblin scrambled up his back and wrapped his arms around Shamus’s head, trying to scratch out his eyes.

Ellis aimed for a second and let fly. He was trying to aim high to keep from hitting Shamus, but had overcompensated, and the arrow ricocheted harmlessly off the ceiling beyond.

Ellis was notching another arrow when the hulking mass of Carlslin moved to the aid of the young farmhand. While still gripping his sword, Carlslin grabbed the goblin with his off hand and ripped him from Shamus’s back. Carlslin then heaved the creature like a sack of grain against the wall near Ellis. The goblin started to right itself and get back onto its feet, but Ellis put an arrow into it from less than two paces away.

The mass of the battle had moved further into the chamber, so Ellis got back to his feet and stepped out of the low-ceilinged entrance into the main chamber where he could stand and fire his bow. He winced with pain, but the rest on one knee had helped him regain his stamina.

Ellis saw one of the farmhands fall, it was Ellis’s friend Tory Churlslick, and a large goblin leapt upon him. Ellis fired at the creature which was bent over his friend, and the goblin howled as the arrow pierced its buttocks. Seeing that he hadn’t given a fatal blow to the goblin, Ellis fired again and the goblin fell from his friend who was helped to his feet by his brother and continued to fight.

The battle was raging around the sides of the chamber where the goblins were still resisting, but the center of the cavern was still empty except for the girl and the shaman. The girl was writhing absently on the ground like a child having a nightmare, and the shaman was standing perfectly still with his eyes wide open but staring at nothing at all.

Ellis decided he would put an end to the twisted creature standing in the center of the room, and he took a step forward for a better shot.

Pain shot up from his ankle, and his leg buckled under him. Ellis struggled to right himself, and he pulled himself once more to one knee. He looked to the center of the chamber, and saw that the shaman was no longer standing still but was on top of the girl strangling her and trying to rape her at the same time. Ellis was filled with rage that such an innocent beauty could be violated by such a foul creature, and before he knew it he had loosed an arrow that hit the shaman with such force that it knocked him off the girl and sprawled him flat on his back.

After making this shot, Ellis felt totally spent, and passed out on the ground in a pile on top of his bow.


The bodies of the goblins littered the ground. Some of Ellis’s companions had fallen during the fighting; Goric the Innkeeper’s son, and Malachi Walker one of the locals who had come to join the posse. Malachi had come with his two brothers Lucas and Ezekiel, and they were crying in grief over their brother. The red blood of the fallen men mixed with the goblins’ black ochre that was coating the floor. Hogarik was controlling the survivors, sending scouts down attaching tunnels, and setting guards at the entrances to the chamber. Two farmhands were in the center of the room helping the woman. She was crying and wailing and throwing herself on the bodies of the women who were sacrificed before her.

Ellis left his place by the wall to retrieve his arrows. When he came to the body of the shaman he was sorely confused. The shaman lay on the ground, stone dead, but Ellis could find no arrow, or even a wound from an arrow.

He finally gave up trying to figure out what had happened to the witch doctor, and went around collecting his other missiles. The shot that had skipped against the ceiling had splintered the shaft of one of his arrows, and when Ellis counted them, that brought his count down to six useable arrows.

Six! thought Ellis. He counted again. He had six arrows plus the one broken arrow. That accounted for all seven of his original arrows. Ellis thought back, and he was sure that he should not have had any arrows left when he shot the shaman through the chest.

Ellis went back to the shaman’s body, and felt the wicked creature’s chest where he had seen the arrow enter. The chest felt soft, as though the ribs and breastbone had been smashed. As the body was moved by his prodding, he noticed that a black trickle of blood drained out from the creature’s ears.

Ellis’s investigation was interrupted by the sound of a struggle coming from one of the smaller tunnels leading off from the main chamber. Soon Erlegh emerged from the tunnel, and he was dragging a kicking and screaming goblin by the hair on the back of his head. The whole party gathered around as Erlegh brought the little creature into the center of the chamber. Erlegh shoved the pathetic creature down onto the floor, and struck him across the jaw with his fist when the goblin tried to get back onto his feet. Sufficiently subdued, the goblin contented himself to sit up facing Erlegh, and started spitting out words in his own tongue.

Hogarik listened intently for a second with his brow wrinkled together. “Helmsbar,” he said, “You know some of the goblin tongue. What does this one say?”

Helmsbar shook his head slowly. “I can’t make it all out.” He listened again for a second to the creature’s foul noise, “Tor Kay. Grummsh Kaz Gor Manchkt! Grummshaz-hat tor Hu-dar-haht!”

“He’s threatening us. Saying we will all die.” Translated Helmsbar, “I don’t understand it all, but that’s pretty much what it means.”

“I heard him say ‘Grummsh’,” said Ellis limping up to the group. The word sent shivers up his spine. “What does that word mean?”

“Grummsh is the God of the goblins.” said Helmsbar. “He says the normal things: ‘Grummsh will kill us’, ‘Grummsh will drink our blood’, ‘The Army of Grummsh will kill all humans’.”

“Ask what ‘Army’ he’s talking about.” Commanded Hogarik.

“Mas-haht?” said Helmsbar in the harsh tongue.

“Grummsh-haht! Grummsh-haht tor Hu-dar-haht!”

“Mas-haht!” repeated Helmsbar, but the goblin gave the same response.

“He keeps saying its the ‘Army of Grummsh’.” Helmsbar said.

When Hogarik heard this he fell upon the miserable creature, and his heavy hands landed on the small creatures face and body over and over. He was hitting the goblin so hard that it was hitting the ground, and its head would rebound slightly off the stone floor. Soon the creature’s eyes were closed shut, and blood was running from several parts of the goblin’s head.

“Ask him again.” commanded Hogarik, who’s chest was heaving after his effort.

Helmsbar asked again, but got the same response as before. Hogarik didn’t wait for the translation, but fell back in to blackening his knuckles with the goblin’s blood.

Ellis didn’t want to see anymore. He wanted to get some fresh air, and get away from all the carnage of the battle. He limped his way back up the tunnel to the cave’s entrance, and sat on a rock outside in the fresh air.

The fresh breeze felt good on his face, and his sweat-dampened back was quickly cooled. He was lost in thought gazing out over the plains beyond when someone walked up behind him.

Ellis jumped up from where he was sitting in surprise, but was relieved to see that behind him stood the young woman who had been saved from the goblins. She had come out of the cave for the same reason as Ellis, and she really looked like a mess. Her hair was still slicked with blood which stained her temples and forehead, and she had no clothes except for a dirty goblin blanket which she had wrapped around her body to cover herself. Her hollow eyes stared sadly at Ellis as she stood at the entrance to the cave.

Ellis sat back down on the rock and left room for her to sit down beside him. She sat down and looked out over the plains ahead of them.. Ellis was silent, and she looked over at him.

“I’m sorry about what happened to you.” It was all Ellis could think to say.

The two sat staring out over the plains, lost in their own thoughts. After a minute, something dawned on the girl, and she looked fearfully out upon the distant hills.

Ellis felt her fear and came back to his senses. He was staring out over the plains without thinking about what he saw. There were small fires all over the hills beneath them, and to either side. They stretched out as far as the eye could see to their left and right, and quite a way out into the plains beneath them as well. Ellis had been in such a state of shock that he hadn’t realized what he was looking at.

“Grummsh-haht...” murmured Ellis, realizing what he was looking at.

A chill ran up the girl’s spine at the sound of that word. She seemed to shrink away from Ellis in fear.

“The Army of Grummsh!” said Ellis, getting more exited, and a little more afraid now. “That’s what the prisoner kept saying. I have to tell the others.” He turned down the tunnel and called for Hogarik and the others to come out quickly.

Thinking that Ellis and the girl were under attack from more goblins, the whole group came charging up the tunnel with weapons drawn. They stood confused for a second seeing Ellis and the girl sitting safe upon the rock, and then they saw the fires on the hills all around them, and they stood in awe with mouths agape.

“Grummsh-haht.” said Ellis.

“Grummsh-haht” repeated Hogarik, nodding his head.

“How many do you think there are?” asked Ellis.

“Like the sands of Coper-Lar.” spoke up Naherik. “This looks like an invasion army, and it looks like they are on the march.”

“We have to get back to Southtausend to warn the people.” said Shamus Cooper, a touch of emotion choking up his voice.

“Aye, but I don’t know if it will do any good, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to get through to them.” said Hogarik, gazing at the countless fires.

“We have to try, we have to do something!” Cooper’s voice was rising, “They are already ahead of us, we have to hurry.”

“We have dead and wounded.” Hogarik weighed options in his head. He watched Ellis as he tried to get up from his seat by the cave entrance and nearly fell down. “Helmsbar. You, and your brother Carlslin will stay here with Ellis and the girl. He’s hurt too bad for serious riding, and she’s in no shape for any kind of traveling at all. Stay hidden here until we return.”

“And what if you don’t return?” asked Helmsbar.

“If we don’t return in a fortnight, then you make your own path. You can try to strike north through this army or you might make for Dain’s Gate, I can’t imagine anywhere else that might be safe from this horde.” said Hogarik.

“The Dain gives sanctuary to no man.” said Helmsbar.

“Aye, but I understand that he’s not fond of goblins either.” replied Hogarik.

“You must return.” Helmsbar stared at Hogarik with a grim look on his face.

“I will not forget you here, clansman.” said Hogarik, and the two clasped forearms and stared deep into each other’s eyes, burning them into their memory in case it be their last meeting.

“If you meet goblins keep the honor of clan Hothbreg.” warned Helmsbar.

“It won’t take the honor of the clan for such as these.” said Hogarik, and he brought his hand to his forehead, making the same sign that Ellis had seen the morning of the goblin raid on Southtausend. Helmsbar spit on the ground, then the two exchanged a wide grin.

“We need to go with all haste.” said Hogarik, and he and the others went and retrieved the horses.

They left the five horses that they weren’t riding with those staying behind in the cave, and then rode off into the early night, determined to outdistance the invading Army.

Ellis and the girl sat by the entrance to the cave, and watched them go. They were a ghostly sight, those eleven men slipping into the dark forest atop milky white horses with Hogarik at their head, a huge dark shadow atop his white mare.

They watched the group leave, and then sat in silence for a long while. Finally, Ellis came back to reality and looked over at the girl beside him. She was really in bad shape. Smeared with blood, and wrapped in goblin cloth she looked like something from a slaughterhouse.

“I have some extra clothes you can wear.” Ellis said, his heart filled with pity for the young girl. “There’s a stream in the bottom of that gully there. You can wash up, and I’ll get a fresh set of clothes out of my bag.”

She nodded her head, it seemed like a painful thought to her, and moved off towards the gully. Ellis meanwhile got to his feet and hobbled over towards his horse. His ankle was throbbing and swollen, and he knew that in the excitement of the battle he had hurt himself worse.

Ellis’s horse was a white filly that he had named “Duchess” because of her willfulness. Ellis knew that her willfulness had a direct correlation to him being a pushover and letting her have her own way. Now she was quite scared, she could sense the grimness and urgency of the humans, and she could smell the semi-metallic odor of blood everywhere. When Ellis walked up to her, her eyes rolled with fear, and though her bridle was tied to a tree, she did everything she could to get away from him.

Ellis gently laid his hands on her head, and spoke to her in a very soft and calming voice. It seemed to him like he could almost see the fear itself in the horse. He could see the images in her head and smell large fanged animals which she feared. He thought of things which might be pleasant for a horse, such as apples and the warm sun, and amazingly Duchess stopped trying to get away from him.

She was finally calmed down sufficiently, and Ellis was able to fetch his fresh set of clothes from his pack which was secured behind her saddle. He closed up his pack again, and limped back towards the stream where the girl was washing up.

As he came to the edge of the bushes by the creek bed, he got a sight that he would not be able to get out of his mind for a long time to come. She was standing there in the stream with her back to him washing herself. She had abandoned the goblin-cloth, and Ellis could see the moonlight glistening in the water on her well-formed hips and rear. Ellis had never in his adult life seen a woman totally nude, as the society he was raised in was a more conservative one. His heart leapt up in his throat, and he quickly forgot all his tiredness and pain.

Ellis stood dumbfounded watching her. She turned slightly and bent for more water, and Ellis could see the silhouette of her breast outlined by the moonlight reflecting off the rocks on the opposite bank. Ellis felt a desire like none other before in his life, and thought that she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The stress and adrenaline of the pursuit and the battle mixed with this new feeling and multiplied it.

Ellis heard Duchess whiny behind him, and was awakened from his trance. He suddenly felt a little embarrassed, and felt as though he really shouldn’t be watching her. He left the clean clothes neatly folded on the bank, and hobbled his way back to Duchess.

Ellis limped gingerly back to the horse which looked at him in a way that made him feel as though she were jealous. He laughed to himself, and then went about taking off her saddle and putting her on a longer tether for the night. By the time he finished he was sweating, and very tired again. He decided to go back inside the cave where Helmsbar and Carlslin were preparing things for the night.

It was a long way down the cave for Ellis in his state. He was breathing very heavily, and he was soaked with sweat by the time he got back into the main chamber of the goblin lair.

Helmsbar was by the pit trying to start a fire, and Carlslin was searching the goblin bodies and then dragging them outside. Ellis sat down heavily on top of a small barrel near Helmsbar. He loosened his shirt, and could feel the heat coming off his body.

Helmsbar looked at him and said, “You look like you are in pretty bad shape, are you all right?”

Ellis saw the look of concern on his face and said, “Oh, I’m all right, just a little winded from limping around like this.”

“Well, hopefully we’ll have a few days here where you can rest that ankle.” Helmsbar said encouragingly, “We’ve got plenty of food here, and it looks like we’ve got plenty of spirits too!” Helmsbar pointed at the small barrel that Ellis was sitting on. Ellis looked around and saw that there was a large stack of at least twenty of the same kind of barrels. “Those, my dear Master Tortar, are kegs of goblin whiskey,” continued Helmsbar, “and though the goblins don’t take a care in the world about anything else that they make, their whiskey exceeds all others in the world. This will cure what ails you, and will help us pass the time over the next fortnight.”

“What if more goblins come?” asked Ellis.

“Not likely from this tribe at least.” replied Helmsbar, “For a big ceremony like the one that we caught them in, the whole tribe would be present. They all get fired up on their fine whiskey and ‘receive visions’ from their god.” Helmsbar continued, “They keep their lairs pretty secretive too, its not likely that goblins from other tribes know where this place is.”

“But what if they do?” asked Ellis.

“We’ll keep a watch between the three of us at the cave entrance.” said Helmsbar, “You can see a long way off in any direction from there.”

Ellis was satisfied for the time being, and accepted a cup of whiskey that Helmsbar offered him. The fire was roaring pretty well now, and Ellis moved closer too it since he was feeling a little chill from all the sweat on his body. The whiskey brought a smooth warmth to Ellis that seemed to pass through his whole body, and he was soon feeling much better.

Carlslin dragged the last of the goblin bodies outside the cave and sat down by the fire. “We’ll have to bury those bloody things tommorrow.” said Carlslin, “They’ll start to stinking and we’ll never be rid of it.”

“That’s a lot of digging,” said Helmsbar, “and the ground is pretty rocky here. Could we just burn them?”

“With all them nasties out there? The smoke would attract something for sure.” said Carlslin, “Hey farmer,” he addressed Ellis, “you well enough to help dig a ditch?”

“I’ll make do.” said Ellis.

“Our young friend had better take the day off tomorrow.” interjected Helmsbar, “Take a look at the size of his ankle.”

Carlslin looked down at Ellis’s ankle, and pulled the pant-leg up a little for a better view. “Ouch,” he said as though it hurt him to just look at the swelling, “You stay off that ankle and let ol‘ Carlslin do the digging. Between me and my brother we‘ll be able to do without you.”

“Thanks.” said Ellis.

Ellis was totally depleted, and he bedded down to sleep while the others were still up and talking. Ellis started dreaming almost as soon as he laid his head down. He dreamed first about the girl naked in the stream, and then he dreamt that he was the shaman on top of her. His dream shifted, and he was still the shaman, but he saw himself coming after him with his great bow and a flaming arrow. The bow was gone and it was the Dwarven axe, and Ellis was holding it in his hand. He was standing in the cavern amongst his sleeping companions, and waves of painted shamans and black wizards were coming down upon them from all sides. His companions slept, but he battled the endless hordes of enemies. He chopped them down with the axe, or destroyed them with lightning and fire surging from his fingertips.



The next day Ellis’s companions found him writhing in his blanket with the fever upon him. He was completely delirious, and was so hot that they all feared at first that he wouldn’t make it through the day. Helmsbar’s knowledge of medicine, coupled with the girls silent but diligent ministrations were able to lower his fever, but the delirium continued day after day.

The girl seldom spoke, but Helmsbar and Carlslin were eventually able to find out that her name was Johanna Nortrop, and she was the daughter of the late Elmer Nortrop who died trying to defend his family on the night of the goblin raid. It was obvious that she was feeling a lot of pain from all that she had gone through, but she kept her feelings to herself, and wouldn’t answer the questions of the two warriors.

She seemed to be almost completely numb to the world outside. The only thing that brought her out of her own dark memories was caring for Ellis. The amount of worry and care that she showered upon the sleeping Ellis was incredible, and she was the best nurse that he could have possibly had in the situation.

Helmsbar and Carlslin spent their first days burying the dead and cleaning out the goblins’ lair. The two young farmhands, Goric Innsman and Malachi Walker, were buried in a clearing nearby the lair, and Helmsbar said a few words over their graves to speed their spirits to the gods. The bodies of the goblins were tossed unceremoniously into a large pit dug by the two Norsemen. The pit took almost an entire day for the two to dig in the rocky soil. The effort made them tired and sore, and they cursed the evil creatures that needed to be buried.

When Carlslin tossed the last corpse into the pit he said with a sigh, “The mess we made with this killing makes me curse my own blade. We‘ve spent two days digging and burying these damned orcs.”

“Maybe you should have taken a different career. Been a baker maybe.” Said Helmsbar with a grin as he started to heap dirt back into the pit.

“Aye, and I could eat sweet rolls and punchtiks all day long and no one would try to kill me for it.”

“I think you’ve been eating a few too many sweet rolls as it is, your belly’s getting so big I don’t know how you see to lace your boots.” joked Helmsbar.

Helmsbar looked down at his belly, which didn’t protrude a single inch and then smiled at his cousin. “Remind me when we get out of this filthy hole to go to a baker and see if he needs an apprentice.”

The two laughed at each other, and then continued the arduous task of filling the grave back in.

That night, in celebration of finishing such a large task, the two brothers decided to break open a cask of the sweet goblin whiskey that was down in the lair.

They offered some whiskey to the girl, but she wouldn’t have any. No matter to them, said the two, and soon they were as merry as they’d ever felt, sitting beside each other laughing about old stories and friends from long ago.

After an hour or two they were both quite drunk, spilling their whiskey on themselves as they sang. Their loud voices rang in the cavernous chamber and drifted outside over the rocky hills.

Helmsbar stopped during the middle of an old seaman’s song to let out a loud belch. Halfway through his throaty exclamation a surprised look came to his face and he closed his mouth and covered it with his hand. Helmsbar was a salty old hand who could easily hold his liquor, but something in the sweet whiskey suddenly turned his stomach on this night. Helmsbar was on his feet stumbling up the passage of the tunnel before Carlslin even realized what was going on.

Carlslin heard his cousin wretching and emptying his stomach outside the entrance of the cave and roared with laughter. His head was thrown back and his massive hand was slapping against an equally massive knee as he laughed at his dear cousin. He laughed until he fell from the cask that he was sitting on with a loud thud. Then he laughed at himself for a long time after.

Finally getting a hold of himself he slowly hoisted his great bulk back up to his seat upon the cask and giggled to himself. He sat by himself sipping out of a cup of whiskey for a few minutes.

Finally deciding that his cousin probably wasn’t likely to return soon he looked for a way to relieve his growing boredom.

The girl was sitting quietly against the wall by where Ellis was fitfully sleeping. Carlslin looked at her and slurred out, “Why don’t you come over here and have a drink with Carlslin?”

The girl didn’t say a word, but just stayed where she was against the wall and looked at him nervously.

Carlslin, undaunted, said, “Okay, I go sit by you and have a drink.” He then stumbled over with his tumbler of whiskey and sat down with a thud next to her against the wall.

He was sitting pressed up against her, and she tried to edge away, but he quickly wrapped a great tree trunk of an arm around her shoulders and said, “You know,” his wide square face leaning in so close that his round reddened nose was almost touching her face and his breath reeked in her nostrils, “I think you a very pretty girl. You and Carlslin be good friends soon.”

She tried to squirm out of his grasp, but he held her tight and became slightly unnerved. “Now you be rude to Carlslin. Maybe you don’t know what fun Carlslin can be. I think I need to show the pretty girl some fun.”

She was really struggling now, but that just seemed to excite him more. “You wait and see. You thank me when I’m through.” He pushed her to the ground and pressed himself on top of her.

She tried to hold him away, but he was easily more than twice her size. She hit him in the face again and again, but the whiskey was in his head, and he didn’t feel a thing. His hands were groping over her body now, and he forced a great callused hand between her legs. In desperation she scratched at his eyes with her nails. Her nails bit deep into the skin on his face, and cut deep grooves across his cheeks down to his thick beard. Carlslin cried out and pushed himself out of her reach. He touched a hand to his face and when he pulled it away he saw his own blood.

His eyes opened wide and he screamed at Johanna. He spoke no words, but she understood his meaning. She tried to cover her face, but not in time as his massive fists rained down on her.

Her body went limp beneath him, and Carlslin smiled as his clouded eyes looked down on her still form. He set back to work with the task that he had started, his hands groping her breasts and buttocks. She was no longer resisting his touch, so Carlslin took his time as he clumsily pulled off her pants and exposed her body.

Johanna’s head was swimming. Although she was aware of what was happening to her, she had no control of her body, and no way to fight back. She could see the shape of Ellis lying nearby, lost in his own fevered dreams, and she wished that he could somehow help her.

Having uncovered the girl’s body, Carlslin laid his great mass upon her. He spread her numb legs, and settled down in between them. She had soiled herself when she lost control of her body, but he was too drunk to care as he groped her body and unfastened his pants.

Suddenly Carlslin was kicked in the ribs as he kneeled above Johanna’s limp unresponsive body. The heavy foot knocked Carlslin off his helpless victim, and rolled him across the rocky floor.

Carlslin had the wind knocked out of him, but he was steaming with anger, and he pulled himself quickly to his feet. Carlslin stood and swayed on his feet as he forced his whiskey dimmed eyes to focus on his attacker. Ellis stood before him, his eyes wide and crazed with the fever that was still on him.

Carlslin recognized the smaller man who now stood between him and what he desired, and a smirk came across his face. “Go away farmer,” he slurred, “before I teach you a lesson.”

Ellis showed no sign of moving out of the way.

“Or stay here, boy, and watch what a man does with your little friend.” threatened the huge beast of a man.

Ellis still stood without showing any sign of movement. His eyes were open wide, and he locked glances with Carlslin. Ellis’s eyes seemed to burn into Carlslin’s mind, and the great man stopped for a second enthralled.

Finally Carlslin broke his glance with Ellis and shook his head to clear it. He stepped forward to move Ellis out of his way. Carlslin reached out a pair of big hands and laid them on Ellis’s shoulders. He was about to throw the smaller man to the floor when Ellis stepped forward and struck him in the stomach with a well placed elbow. The force of the blow was incredible, and Carlslin’s vision flashed white for an instant before he found himself stumbling backward before falling flat on his back on the smooth floor.

Helmsbar walked shakily down the tunnel back into the chamber just in time to see Carlslin spring from the floor and charge at Ellis while letting out a throaty growl. He tackled the smaller man, and the two fell to the ground and rolled back and forth grappling.

Helmsbar stood dumbfounded. He saw the girl naked on the ground, blood running out of her nose and mouth, and he saw the two men struggling nearby. He looked at the two men, but didn’t know what to do. Helmsbar couldn’t believe that Ellis was awake and fighting Carlslin.

Carlslin was much larger than Ellis, and had limitless strength, but to Helmsbar’s amazement Ellis flipped over on top of the huge warrior and pinned him to the ground. Carlslin tried to break free, but Ellis had him with a grip of steel. Carlslin spat in Ellis’s face and said, “I’ll kill you boy, and your woman will be mine.”

Ellis held the gigantic man fast, and fixing his gaze on his opponent’s eyes said, “Leave this place.”

Carlslin started shaking and twisting in the smaller man’s grasp, but kept his angry gaze locked with the fever crazed eyes of Ellis. Ellis spoke again, but his voice didn’t sound the same. It was clear and grim and sounded like an echo from the caverns beneath the earth, “Moradak-az! Ka-Uzuul kol. Ahkalorum!”

A gurgling scream came from Carlslin, and then Helmsbar saw that Carlslin was spitting up liquid from his mouth. Carlslin spoke in a high choked voice that sounded totally unnatural for him, “Tor gluk! Hishka ngak!”

Helmsbar stood paralyzed watching the scene before him. He was amazed to hear the strange voices and words coming from Ellis and his cousin. Helmsbar didn’t understand what Ellis had said, but he thought it sounded like Dwarvish. Carlslin, however, Helmsbar understood all too well. He had spoke the wicked tongue of the mountain orcs, and he had spoken magic words of power.

Ellis’s eyes were wide, and as they bore into Carlslin’s soul, they quivered as though a great force were behind them and only barely held within. Carlslin tried to struggle away and avert his eyes, but found that he was trapped. His eyes stayed open and locked with Ellis’s, but his lip quivered with fear, and he started to shake violently trying to throw Ellis off of him.

Ellis stayed on top of the huge body of Carlslin, and his eyes seemed to be burning points of light. Carlslin started screaming in the same unnatural voice as before, but there were no words this time, just screams and howls that sounded like an animal being scorched and burned alive. The screaming crescendoed, and more liquid gurgled out of Carlslin’s mouth and down his cheeks to the floor. Carlslin’s body then went totally stiff, the screaming stopped, and Carlsin’s face blanched as he stared into Ellis’s.

Then Carlslin’s eyes closed and his body went limp. Helmsbar thought at first that his cousin might be dead, but then Ellis took his hands off the large man, and Carlslin rolled onto his side and wretched onto the floor beside him. Carlslin then started whimpering and crying, something that Helmsbar had never seen him do before, and Ellis gently comforted him with a hand on his shoulder.

After a minute, Ellis stood up shakily and scanned the room. His eyes briefly took note of Helmsbar, then settled on the girl still lying uncovered on the floor. Her eyes were clouded and empty, and she was completely motionless except for the slow rising and falling of her chest. Ellis kneeled down beside her, and covered her as well as he could.

Then after a long look at her he reached out his hand and laid it on her forehead. Johanna’s eyes closed and she took in a deep breath and held it for a second. Ellis looked compassionately at the girl and leaned in close and whispered the word “Sleep.” gently in her ear. She let out her breath, and settled back down on the ground with a faint smile on her lips. She squirmed a little to get more comfortable, and then all that could be heard from her was the deep breathing of peaceful sleep.

Ellis turned and looked at Helmsbar. Ellis looked tired and calm, and the vacant look in his eyes told Helmsbar that he was still under the shadow of the fever. Ellis slowly and shakily tried to pull himself up to his feet. His knees buckled under him and he fell to the ground and lied there still.

Helmsbar stood still, gaping for a second longer, and then finally walked over to where the other three were lying of the floor. He walked slowly and deliberately because he was still drunk, but he made his way across the room without any incident, and came to where they were.

Carlsin was lying curled up on his side and was sobbing quietly to himself, his eyes were puffy and swollen shut. The other two were lying peacefully by each other’s side. Helmsbar pulled out two blankets from their packs and gently covered the two young people with one, and his cousin with the other. He then sat down against the wall a little ways away and drifted off to sleep.


Helmsbar awoke the next morning to find Ellis and Carlslin still sleeping peacefully where they had lay the night before, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. Fearing that she had run away after what happened the night before, Helmsbar shook the sleep from his head and quickly got to his feat and started out to see if he could find her.

Helmsbar walked to the mouth of the cave and was greatly relieved to see her walking up the hill towards him with an armful of firewood that she had collected. She gave him a good looking-over, and gave a hint of a smile when she saw the sword ready in his hand. It was the first time that Helmsbar had seen her with anything other than a worried frown on her face, and he returned her smile. It is good to see that, Helmsbar thought, maybe I dreamed it all.

She walked past him into the cave, and he followed her back down to where the other two were still sleeping. Johanna started to make a fire for cooking, and Helmsbar squatted down on his haunches against the wall watching.

It all seemed so real, Helmsbar thought, but what I saw doesn’t make any sense. Maybe it was the whiskey. The goblins use an oil from a certain type of tree in their whiskey that I‘ve heard sometimes makes people see things that aren‘t real. Its that oil that gives the whiskey its green color. Maybe I imagined it all. The girl seems fine, actually she looks better than I’ve ever seen her.

Helmsbar looked apprehensively over at the sleeping form of Ellis. He may have been hallucinating, but the memories of Ellis wielding seemingly magical powers were still fresh in his head. Like many people from his homeland and most places around the world, Helmsbar had a great fear of magic, usually associating all magic with dark rituals and powerful evils.

Was it real? Helmsbar asked himself. Is this boy a witch? Has he been possessed by demons? Helmsbar walked slowly over to where Ellis lay, his hand gripping unconsciously at the hilt of the sword hanging at his side. Helmsbar searched the face of the peacefully sleeping young man for some clue of whether or not what he had seen the night before was real. If he is in league with demons, I’ll have to kill him now before he awakens.

Helmsbar stood hesitating over what he should do as Ellis awakened and opened his eyes. Helmsbar’s heart leaped up into his throat, but then he relaxed as he saw that Ellis’s eyes were the same innocent eyes of the youth that he had met in Southtausend a week before. He relaxed and let his hand fall from the hilt of his sword.

Ellis’s fever had broken, and he looked up at Helmsbar and smiled. “Helmsbar, you won’t believe the dreams that I have had. They were so vivid, and so bizarre.” Ellis said.

“How are you feeling, young master Tortar?” asked Helmsbar, his fear washing out of him and being replaced by the happiness of seeing his young friend better again.

“I’m a little sore, and very thirsty, but let me tell you about these dreams before I forget them,” said Ellis, “There were goblin witch doctors that kept coming into the cave in droves, and you three were all asleep, and I was fighting them off with that axe.” Ellis pointed to the axe on the floor nearby.

“They were coming for the girl, but I was defeating them all.” Continued Ellis, “Sometimes I was myself, and sometimes I was a dwarf. And sometimes I fought them with the axe, and other times they fell just from me thinking about them falling. Isn’t that a strange dream Helmsbar? What do you suppose it means?”

“Very strange, my young friend, but I haven‘t a clue what it could mean. You’ve been with the fever for the last three days, and the fever can do strange things to your mind.” Explained Helmsbar.

“Three days?” Ellis said incredulously, “No wonder I’m so hungry.”

Ellis’s hunger was soon satiated as Johanna finished the breakfast she was preparing for them. Johanna still didn’t talk much, but she seemed very happy to see Ellis, and she made sure that he got plenty to eat.

Carlslin, on the other hand, Johanna was visibly uneasy around; sitting as far away from him as possible when he awoke and came over to the fire. Carlslin also seemed out of sorts. He looked depressed and maybe somewhat ashamed, and he seemed almost fearful of Ellis who sat chatting happily with the other two. Helmsbar became more and more convinced that what he witnessed the night before did in fact happen.

Ellis was feeling better within a few hours, and his improved health removed a lot of the tension from the other three companions. Even Carlslin, who was at first sullen and maybe even afraid around Ellis found it impossible to stay that way around the energetic youth who held no ill feelings towards him.

There was still no sign of Hogarik’s return, and the four companions tried to make the best use of their time. Ellis’s ankle was almost completely healed, and the two older men began giving him lessons in fighting in the clearing before the cave’s entrance. Ellis spent most of his time learning to fight with the Dwarven axe which he had claimed as his own, but the two brothers also taught him to fight with a sword if need be.

Johanna also received some instruction in how to use a blade if she needed to defend herself. She would not allow Carlslin near her, but Helmsbar was able to find a decently made short sword amongst the goblin’s belongings that wasn‘t too heavy for her, and he set about teaching her to use it. Johanna was a quick learner, and though not as enthusiastic about learning as Ellis, she understood how important it might become.

The four spent a lot of time watching the plains ahead of them and discussing what they should do in the ever more likely scenario that Hogarik didn’t return for them. Columns of goblins marched past their hideout every night on the way to the plains, and they could see the army’s campfires blanketing the plains to the north.

There would be no escape the way they had come from, so they decided that the best option would be to head to the east skirting the bottom of the mountains. In doing so they could either look for a gap in the goblin armies to travel north through, or they might be able to find safe haven when they reached the borders of the lands of the Dwarven Dain. After the first week in their hideout they were further convinced in this course of action because the frequency of the columns of goblins coming out of the mountains had lessened, and they would therefore be able to pass safely behind the army as it moved further north into the plains.

As their second week at their camp drew to a close, they made their preparations to depart. They rode out with the dawn on the fifteenth day and headed east through the foothills.

They tried to ride in the low ground between the hills as much as possible in order to stay hidden from anyone who might be watching the hills from the north. This was not always possible though, as the mountains to their south sent long spurs stretching far to the north like great roots from a tree. It was impossible for the travelers to go around these ridges without traveling several days to the north, so they made these crossings as quickly and as carefully as possible.

They were able to use these crossings as times to look out to the north over the plains for a chance to escape past the goblin army. They were always disappointed however, and they became more and more disheartened as it appeared that the goblins were so numerous that their armies covered the whole horizon from east to west.

The goblins were impossibly numerous, and the travelers doubted that there were half as many men on the continent of Tamador as there were goblins in the armies marching across the plains to the north. More goblins marched north out of the mountains each night to make the situation even darker. Apparently there was an endless supply of the fearsome creatures.

The four humans rode by day and spent their nights sleeping in sheltered areas while the sound of marching and singing goblins could be heard moving past them towards the north. They ate from the provisions that they had brought with them from the goblin lair using the extra horse to carry the supplies, and Ellis kept his bow at the ready to shoot any game that they ran across. Ellis had found a quiver of arrows in the goblin cave that were similar in size to his own and now had nearly two dozen arrows, but the pickings were very slim after so many thousands of goblins had already passed through the area.

Conversation was sparse as they began their journey, but as the miles passed by and the threat of immediate danger seemed more remote the four companions opened up. Helmsbar and Carlslin talked about battles and journeys and about the kingdoms of the northern continent. Every now and then Ellis would display his knowledge of the land and the weather, but mainly he hung on their every word and asked questions about the wondrous things that they had seen.

Johanna was the only one of the group that didn’t open up much during their journey eastward from the goblin cave. She would ride beside the three men listening to them, but she would rarely speak herself. She gave short answers to any questions directed at her, and kept herself somewhat apart from the others.

The three men didn’t take any offense at her distance. They knew that she had suffered greatly, and they did everything they could to make her journey easier. Carlslin especially tried to



The tall poles stood up starkly against the otherwise barren rocky hills. They could see as they came closer that the poles were covered in intricate carvings which spiraled up the length of the columns. The poles ranged in height from that of a tall man to the height of a dozen men stacked end to end. As far as Ellis could tell all the poles were exactly the same thickness, and to the touch they seemed hard like rock.

“There aren’t any trees around here,” said Carlslin, “I wonder where these came from.”

Ellis had some knowledge of plants, and he studied the grain of the wood for a minute before speaking. “I think these were Halber trees like the ones that grow in patches on the plains. They’ve come a long way.”

“This wood is hard as stone!” exclaimed Helmsbar who had tried to test the wood with his knife.

“It must have been treated somehow.” said Ellis while running his hand across the carvings. “We don’t use the wood for anything because it is too soft and rots quickly.”

The four travelers stood staring silently at the forest of carved poles for some time, each one lost in their own thoughts. Ellis was examining an intricate carving of a man hunting a deer with a short spear. “I wonder who made all these,” Ellis thought out loud, “it must have taken forever.”

“It was the Anuk.” Johanna had spoken, and the others almost jumped when they heard her speak, so used were they to her perpetual silence.

She was slowly tracing an intricate carving with her fingertips. “My father used to talk about them. When he was younger he used to walk these hills, and he would visit them.”

Ellis had known Johanna’s father, Elmer Nortrop, if only briefly, but couldn’t imagine the portly little man trekking across this harsh landscape. Elmer had seemed like a definite homebody to Ellis, but he reminded himself that people weren’t always what they appeared to be.

“Would these men give us shelter?” Helmsbar asked Johanna.

“My father said that the Anuk were a peaceful tribe and welcomed strangers.”

They quickly decided to search for the Anuk, and the possibility of some sanctuary. They continued into the forest of carved poles and soon came to a wide avenue lined with poles of uniform size about the height of a man. They turned on to this avenue and followed it for about a half hour before they crested a ridge and saw the Anuk village in a valley before them.

The village was a group of about twenty wooden buildings built in a rough circle around an open center area. As they got closer to the village they saw that the houses were all burned and blackened. Some still stood with their walls and roof intact, but most were just piles of char and rubble tracing the shapes of houses on the ground.

There were no people and no bodies visible in the village, but they found several blood stains on the hard ground within the houses. Their noses told them that goblins had been here also, the smell of urine and decay still lingered faintly in the air.

They all knew what had happened to the Anuk, and after searching the village to ensure there was nothing left behind that they could use, they left and headed east again. Helmsbar wisely advised them that goblins could be watching the village even then in case someone came to check on the village, and they made all haste to put as much distance as possible between them and the village.

They walked east for several hours across the foothills of the Tor-Gal’s before finding a place to rest for the night.

As they sat down to eat a cold supper from their packs, they looked out north over the plains at the black smoke which blanketed the horizon. They thought about the cities of men to the north. Were they fighting? Did the cities still stand? Are the armies of Faerntia marching south even now? The unanswered questions swam through their heads. They thought about friends and relatives to the north; maybe dead, maybe slaves, maybe great heroes even now. There was no way of knowing, and they hungered for contact with human beings. Hungered for news on what was happening.

Surely in the north they knew. There were probably criers in the streets of the cities keeping the people informed of how the war was going at the front. Or maybe the streets of the cities were already filled with orcs, the armies of Faerntia crushed before they knew what was upon them. Was Faerntia, the greatest nation to ever spread across Aeras, gone? Were the soldiers crushed quickly into the ground after such a long and lazy peace?

There was no way for them to know the answers to their questions, and each of them wished to be in the north, to know what was going on.

They did have one thing at least to be thankful for, and that was that they were still alive and still free. They didn’t know if they could say as much if they were in the north then, taking the force of the blow that the orc warlords were sending north.

They finished their supper in silence and then bedded down for the night.


Ellis awoke in the night, cold sweat covered his body, and he felt like the darkness was pressing in around him. He looked around him and saw the shadow of Helmsbar sitting nearby on watch. That comforted him a little, but something still felt wrong. He looked into the darkness around him, but his eyes could see nothing, and the only noises were the breathing of his sleeping companions, and the wind whistling over the hills.

Ellis settled back down under his blanket and tried to get some sleep. He had gotten into the habit of sleeping with the axe under his blanket with him, and it felt very cold against his leg. It was somewhat comforting to know that it was close at hand, but uncomfortably cold at the moment. He waited a moment for his body heat to warm the metal of the axe, but his leg only seemed to get colder instead of the other way around.

He finally decided that he could spend the rest of the night without the axe so close at hand, and he reached down and pulled it out from beneath his blanket. He was completely astonished to see that the runes on the blade of the axe were glowing with a dull orange light. An image came to his mind of how he had been in his dreams, wielding his flaming axe and spilling whole seas of black goblin blood.

He saw his hand moving involuntarily to the shaft of the axe, and then he could see them. Dozens of them crawling stealthily towards their camp from all directions. They were larger than the other goblins Ellis had seen. They seemed to be as large as men, but hunched over and hugging the ground as they stalked forward.

Ellis stood straight up to his feet, and the Dwarven axe shone brightly in his right hand. He felt an overwhelming lust for blood, and... revenge? He knew that he wasn’t entirely acting of his own free will, but he didn’t resist. He knew what he was being pushed to do, and a shiver of anticipation ran down his body.

The orcs nearby knew they had been seen by Ellis, and as one they stood up and charged over the last few paces to the camp.

Helmsbar was looking curiously at Ellis, and didn’t see the dark shadows rushing at him. A thick solid body slammed into him and tackled him. Callous hands with long nails crabbed at him and pinned him to the ground. There were more than one of them on top of him, and his great strength was useless against so many opponents.

Ellis was more ready for his attackers. He swung his fine Dwarven axe, which seemed light in his hand, and split an orc open from ear to ear. He swung again and another orc stumbled to the ground gushing blood. He swung back at a third orc who narrowly escaped the wide blade and scrambled a few feet away.

Ellis turned to see his friends with dark forms on top of them, and he raised his axe again.

Right then a heavy net was thrown over Ellis from behind. The net was weighted at the ends, and had fishhooks sewn into the fibers which tangled into his clothes and skin. He was instantly tangled in the net, and one of the attackers grabbed the lower part of the net and yanked Ellis off his feet. The orc then twisted the net until it tightened around Ellis and held him completely immobile.

Now, these orcs were all of the same tribe, and though the goblin races are not known for their affection towards each other, even with close relations, they are moved by a primal instinct to protect their own and to exact revenge on those who hurt their tribe. So, once the other humans were tied up (no small feat against the powerful men), the entire war band turned to beating and kicking Ellis as he lay entangled on the ground.

All goblins have experience with pain and torture, and they thrilled in having the power to inflict pain on others instead of being hurt themselves. They ripped his skin and cracked his bones, and they rubbed salt in his cuts to wake him up after he passed out.

These orcs had orders to take prisoners though, and their leader knew how important orders were. He stopped his warriors from killing Ellis, and had them take him out of the net. The leader took the axe, and though it was a wicked thing to him, he knew that his commander would want it, so he stowed it in his pack.

They had a long way to go before dawn, and they needed to start quickly. He had his warriors chain the humans together with Ellis in the lead.

He couldn’t kill Ellis, but he could still torture and shame the man. In the traditional ritual of shaming a conquered opponent, the orc-leader had his warriors stuff Ellis’s mouth full of offal from the horses. Then they tied a rag over Ellis’s mouth to keep the offensive matter in, and ripped his clothing from his broken body, leaving him naked against the elements.

Hardly able to stand up, a broken Ellis Tortar was tied with his hands to his sides next to his companions, and the whole group was driven on away to the north.

Goblins have incredible stamina, and they travel on foot at a steady rhythmic trot. When a war band goes on the march they often sing wicked songs to the rhythm of their never ending footfalls. This group was a band of trackers however, and they sang no songs as they passed quietly through the night. The only sounds that could be heard from these orcs were the sounds of the prisoners that they pulled behind them who stumbled in the dark and struggled for breath to keep up with their captors.

Things were worst for Ellis who had his mouth gagged and full of the horrible matter. Though he tried his hardest not to he ended up swallowing most of what was in his mouth as he tried to suck more air into his lungs. Breathing itself became more and more painful as well as many of his ribs had been broken when he was beaten . He would fall down often because his hands were tied down to his side, and his companions would pick him up or carry him before the orcs applied the whips which they all carried.

At long last the band came around a hill and into a grotto which was overgrown with trees and bushes. The sky was starting to lighten with the coming dawn, but within the shelter of the grotto it was still dark as night.

There was a small spring in the center of the grotto, and the orcs refreshed themselves, and then signaled that their prisoners should do the same. When his companions tried to help Ellis however, the orcs lashed at them with their whips, and then finally pulled Ellis a little ways away from the others.

So it was that Ellis spent the length of the day while his captors rested laying in a broken heap on the ground before them. He was allowed no water, and his lips burned and cracked beneath his gag. Although aching and quite ill, Ellis was able to pass out for a few hours of broken and fitful sleep.

Ellis was awoken with the others as the sun was sinking below the horizon, and the orcs pulled their prisoners to their feet and ordered them to start moving. Ellis however fell right back down to the ground, since his broken limbs had seized up after laying in the same place for several hours. The orcs wasted no time in brandishing their whips, and soon he was forcing his legs to move to escape the hail of lashes that he was receiving.

The band was moving again through the colorless dusk, and the tired and sore humans were soon struggling again to keep up with their monstrous captors. Ellis was having a particularly hard time, and in spite of a superhuman force of will, Ellis found that his body was not following his commands and he fell time and again onto the ground.

At first the orcs whipped him until he drug himself back up to his feet, but after the third time that Ellis fell staggering to the ground, they consented to let his friends help him. Carlslin took Ellis first, swinging Ellis’s broken body heavily up across his wide shoulders.

The band ran through the night over countless miles. The moon rose on their right, and lit up their path so that they stumbled less and received the whip less as well. Carlslin and Helmsbar took turns carrying Ellis, and at times he was able to stumble along on his own.

The hills flattened out, and before long the humans felt the rocky soil of the foothills gradually giving way to the rich earth of the plains beneath their feet. They came to the bank of a wide river, and the orcs stopped for a minute to rest and refill their water skins. The humans were allowed to drink as well, and the orcs appeared to be too tired to protest when they removed Ellis’s gag and let him drink his fill of the water. Ellis was half delirious by this time, and passed out after gulping down some of the cold water.

Then the orcs were up with their whips, and the party was moving along following the bank of the river north. Ellis started out on his own feet, but after less than twenty minutes he was retching out all the water that he had so hastily swallowed. This made Ellis dizzy, and the other three had to grab him and support him as they ran so that he didn’t fall down and incur the wrath of their captors again.

The moon climbed high in the sky, and they continued on, if anything at a faster pace. The long miles were starting to take a toll on the humans. Ellis was completely spent, and seemed to be delusional as he stumbled along mumbling to himself. Helmsbar and Carlslin were also feeling the toil of the miles on their bodies. The powerful Norsemen had strode across many lands, but never at a pace such as this. The unceasing endurance of the orc trackers was well beyond anything that the two men had ever experienced, and their thick and heavy bodies weren’t suited for it at all.

Johanna alone seemed amazingly to be holding up with the pace of the goblins. She almost seemed like one of them in the dark as she padded along resolutely following the rhythm of their feet with her own.

Helmsbar thought it very odd when he noticed her outstanding endurance. He also wondered at the fact that she had been left alone by the orcs. Orcs are notorious for raping any human females that they come across, in fact it was a belief of theirs that to take a human woman was the greatest treat in war. These orcs however had done no such thing to Johanna. In fact they gave her a wide berth at all times and almost seemed to be afraid of the young girl. Helmsbar wondered at this strange occurrence, but the trials of their journey were so harsh that he soon forgot about it entirely.

The sky was starting to lighten on their right when they came in sight of what appeared to be a sprawling city of tents on the plains before them. Smoke billowed out from hundreds of cooking fires in this tent city, and turned the lightening sky above the tent-city into a thick haze.

As they neared the vast encampment on the plains Helmsbar and the others could make out the individual tents and some of the orcs of the camp who were still milling about before turning in to rest for the day. The tents were of a variety of shapes and sizes, but were all stained the same gray color from the soot of the cooking fires, and they were all neatly aligned in a very organized and military fashion.

From a distance they could tell that the orcs themselves were large examples of the species. As they got closer and entered the camp they saw that these orcs were in fact huge. They all appeared to be at least as tall as Helmsbar or Carlslin, with tiny slanted eyes and large protruding lower jaws which displayed large tusks like a boar’s. They wore suits of thick leather armor with an emblem of a bull’s head painted on the upper left portion of their chests.

These large orcs apparently weren’t on good terms with the orcs that had captured Ellis and his friends. As they trotted into the camp along a wide avenue between the tents there were many harsh growls and taunts directed at Ellis’s captors, and the orc trackers threatened the humans to pick up their pace and move faster.

The avenue they were on widened as it was joined by other smaller paths, and finally emerged into a great central clearing with a large round pavilion tent in the center. The tent was gigantic, at least one hundred paces across, and it was the same gray color as the other tents. The entrance of the tent was guarded by two orcs dressed in mail with plumed helmets who though smaller than the bull-marked orcs looked if anything more fearsome.

Above the entrance to the tent were three round shields. The first was a dark brown shield with the emblem of the bulls head in red. The second was a black shield with a chalky white skull painted on it, and the third shield which was elevated above the other two was a red shield with a black bar painted vertically down the center which had a spike sticking out each side.

The humans’ captors advanced and spoke quickly with the two guards in front of the tent and motioned to their prisoners. The guards came to some sort of agreement with the trackers, and they advanced forward and laid hands on Johanna and started to pull her towards the tent.

The two huge men immediately attacked the guards who were trying to take Johanna away. Helmsbar ripped the spear from the hand of the first, and Carlslin knocked the second flat on his back and sent him sliding a few feet across the ground as well.

They were outnumbered by far too many however, and their captors wrestled the two to the ground and beat them into submission with clubs. They then dragged the two dazed men and the limp and half-conscious Ellis into a nearby pen and locked them inside.

Johanna looked at them sadly, but there was something else in her eyes as well as she turned around and seemed to go willingly with the orcs into the tent. Helmsbar and Ellis stared quietly at her as she was led away, and Carlslin stood up and shook the bars of their pen in fury.

When she was gone inside the pavilion, Carlslin stood howling for a few minutes longer, and then slid down to his knees and began sobbing and praying to the gods for forgiveness. Helmsbar sat for a second, and then moved over and put a hand on his brother’s shoulder to comfort him as his body was wracked with his bawling. A few weeks before Helmsbar would have been shocked to see his brother acting this way, and might have scolded him for his weakness. Now things were different however. Helmsbar knew that his brother damned himself for what he had done that night back in the goblin lair, and that his emotions toward the girl were very strong and very confused. Helmsbar knew that Carlslin had pledged to repay his debt to Johanna, and so he held his brother as he sobbed like a young child.

“Helmsbar.” came the voice of Ellis from the rear of the pen.

Helmsbar turned toward his young companion who a second before was laying delirious on the ground. Now he was sitting up and calmly looking at Helmsbar with eyes which were as awake and sane as Helmsbar had ever seen them.

“Helmsbar, I knew.” said the young man.

“Knew what, Ellis?” croaked the older man, his throat dry after not talking for so long.

“I saw it in her, Helmsbar, I saw it and I knew, but I didn’t want to see it and I didn’t want to know.”

“What did you see in her, boy?” pleaded Helmsbar, but it was already too late, and his young companion was drifting back into his delirium, and was speaking gibberish again. Helmsbar sat down heavily to rest between his two companions.

“Who speaks of Helmsbar?” croaked a voice from the far end of the pen. Helmsbar started involuntarily in surprise as he didn’t realize that there were any other prisoners in the pen with him. When he turned around he saw that there was indeed another prisoner in the pen with them. A one-eyed, gray-bearded face was sticking out from under a blanket, and in the soft light of dawn Helmsbar recognized him immediately.

“Naherik!” Helmsbar exclaimed, a smile coming to his face with the first good turn of events in days. Carlslin pulled himself together at the sound of the name and turned to see if it could truly be him.

Indeed, there was gray old Naherik now sitting up in the pen with them and looking at them. As his one eye adjusted to the light of day he said incredulously, “Helmsbar, Carlslin! But how’d you get caught? I hoped you’d found a way past these monsters.”

“Ah, they surprised us in the night. No matter now though. With all of us together we’re sure to break out of here. Where are the others? Where is Hogarik?” asked Helmsbar excitedly.

“I wish I knew, clansmen. We were split up on the second night after we left you.” replied Naherik.

“Well, tell me everything that happened, old man.” pleaded Helmsbar, “Everything that happened to you, and all that you know about the war. We’ve been alone in the hills, and are dying for some information.”

Naherik looked at their eager faces and he felt a little lighter himself as he started his tale. “Well, we rode straight north on the night that we left you. We went as fast as we dared push the horses through those hills, and we were back on flatland by the next midday. We pushed the horses on until sunset, and we were lucky none of them came up lame from such a long and hard ride.

“We had passed the day without hardly a sign of a goblin, but once that second night fell we ran into trouble. Goblin patrols were tracking us, and we spilled a lot of their blood. Each time we met there were more of them, and eventually we ended up barricading ourselves inside an abandoned cabin while they attacked us.

“We had the horses tied up inside with us, and they were stamping and going crazy with goblins trying to force their way in everywhere. They were at the door and the windows, and there were even some that were using axes on the roof to try to get in at us.

“Remember those chicken-hearted farmers that we had with us? You should have seen the tigers they became that night! If all the farmers in Faerntia fight like those sons of Hedras these little imps in this camp might have more on their hands than they planned for! Hey, that one there is the one we left with you isn’t it? The one with the bow? How’s he done for himself?”

“Indeed very well.” said Helmsbar, proudly beaming on his young companion who was now getting some much deserved sleep with an old blanket pulled over him, “we’ll get to that later though, first you finish with your story.”

“Well, where was I?” asked Naherik, and then continued a second later, “Oh, yes. So, there must have been a couple hundred of the little beasties, but we were holding them out, when we see that they’re bringing up torches and mean to burn the house with us in it.

“Well, the next thing I know, Hogarik is out the door and charging down on the goblins with the torches. He kills the lot of them with the torches before they can even believe that any of us are out of the house. Then he goes charging into the biggest crowd of ’em hacking and slashing like I’ve never seen before. Why, I almost didn’t believe it, but I remember seeing him as he stuck a goblin through the belly, lifted him off the ground on the end of his sword like a piece of roast in the fire, and then threw his open carcass into a crowd of goblins that were coming up, and they were so scared that they just turned and ran.

“Well, before we knew what had happened, we were all standing inside, and Hogarik was outside all by himself with the goblins all running and screaming down the path away from him like he were a dragon and not a man.

“Next Hogarik comes back into the house and says to me, ‘How d’ya like that old man?’, and I said that I liked it just fine, but that now they was more than likely to go and find some of their big brothers to come and try to get us back for what we did to the little ones.

“It wasn’t a second later that we started hearing the howling of wolves, and then I knew we were in for it. We saw more goblins coming in the moonlight, bigger ones, real ‘orcs’ this time. The howling was getting closer now too, and we didn’t like that at all.

“Real quick Hogarik decided that I should take all the farmers and try to make a break for it on our horses while he and Torgli and Erlegh held off the orcs and made a distraction.

“We could hear the sound of metal ringing behind us as we sped away through the darkness. Our horses must have been on the edge of collapse, but they didn’t complain at all. They wanted to get away just as much as we did.

“We kept going all through the night, going just slow enough so that our horses could find footing in the fields that we were now crossing. The farmers said that we were getting closer to their land as they made out familiar hills and trees in the moonlight. The howling of the wolves kept with us all night though, always coming from the south and sometimes coming from the east and the west.

“The sky started to lighten and we thought that we might finally be safe. That’s just when they came at us. They must have thought that it was their last chance to catch us before daybreak. They came in two groups riding wolves, one from the west and a smaller group from the south.

“We rode hard to the north, hoping to be able to keep out of distance until the sun came over the horizon. Those wolves were wicked fast. I’d never seen goblins riding wolves, or ‘worgs’ as they sometimes call them, but I’d heard the stories. I didn’t think they’d be able to catch us, but I was wrong. The wolf-riders were on us within minutes, the two groups met, and we were in a swarm of wolves and goblins.

“The horses were going crazy. The damn worgs were barking and growling and trying to bite the horses. The horses were starting to buck, and I saw a couple of the farmers get thrown. Then a wolf got a hold of my horse, and it went down with me on top of it.

“I was knocked out when I hit the ground, and the next thing I remember is waking up with my hands and feet tied, laying in the middle of a pack of sleeping wolves. I was handed off to a group of those huge orcs that wear the symbol of the bull, and they brought me here five days ago. I’ve been waiting in this pen ever since.” Finished Naherik.

“So what happened to Hogarik?” asked Carlslin, now once again fully in control of his emotions, “You think he’s dead?”

“I’ve heard some things since I’ve been here,” said Naherik, “and I think him and the two brothers are still alive. They’re telling stories about three giant bearded men that are killing any goblins that travel north of here in groups of less than twenty.”

“Where do you hear news from?” asked Hogarik who knew that Naherik didn’t understand a single word of goblin.

“They have men that they use as guards during the day.” Naherik spat in disgust. “You’ll see them soon enough with the sun up now. The traitors are like dogs that grovel at the feet of these disgusting creatures.”

Just then, as if on call, a tall and gaunt looking man came walking out from one of the smaller tents nearby. He saw the new occupants of the cage that he was charged with guarding, and he walked over to get a better look at the newcomers.

“Big ones this time.” said the man, “You’ll make a good stew for me and the bosses.”

“Why don’t you open up this pen and try a sample of the dinner, goblin-bitch.” taunted Naherik.

“You know that they let me eat with them,” stammered the guard, trying to act like Naherik’s insult didn’t get to him. Hoping to find an advantage he addressed the newcomers who he guessed would be afraid of their new environment. “I get to gnaw the bones of pathetic men like you. I can do that because they need me, and they know how loyal I am. Yes, they make me much better than you. Maybe I’ll get to eat the meat off your bones.” he said, speaking to Helmsbar.

“I know why they really keep you around, goblin-bitch,” broke in Naherik who probably understood the guard better after knowing him for five days than the guard could ever understand himself, “They keep you around to clean their shit-pots, and more importantly as their bitch for when they get lonely. Oh, I know what you let them do to you. I may be missing one eye, but it only takes one to see what they do to you. I’d rather end up in the stew.”

The guard’s face flustered in shame and embarrassment, showing that Naherik’s guess was probably not far from the mark. His shame turning to anger the guard picked up a small plank laying nearby and walked towards the cage.

“I’ll teach you to respect your betters.” the guard said, waving the plank threateningly.

Now firmly grasping the nature of their jailer, Helmsbar decided to join in the tormenting of the traitor When the man approached close to the bars, Helmsbar sprang suddenly to life, throwing himself at the bars and barking like a dog. The startled guard was so overcome by fear that he backpedaled a full five steps backwards before tripping and falling down in the mud with a resounding splat.

Helmsbar gesticulated madly behind the bars, snarling and growling comically while Naherik laughed loudly and called further insults at the guard. The ashamed guard pulled himself out of the mud and stood for a second pulling clumps of heavy red-brown mud from his breeches while trying to get a handle on his emotions. Finally pulling himself together he managed to mutter, “You’ll see. You’ll see tonight when Su Gor returns. Su Gor is the master of the eastern army and is the second lord of Chug-haht. You’ll side with me after you see Su Gor .”

Seeing that his words didn’t seem to have any effect on the large men within the cage the guard turned his back on them and walked away to the far side of the pavilion to do his rounds.

“Just give me five minutes with that rat, and I’d knock every tooth out of his greasy head.” said Carlslin to no one in particular as the guard passed behind the pavilion.

“I don’t think it’d do him any good,” said Naherik, “The orcs’d do nastier things to him than you or I’d ever do. We’re men, and men can’t ever match a goblin for cruelty. We’ve got souls, all of us, even that dog over there, he’s just forgot.”

“I don’t care about him, but my soul’d sure feel better after pounding the soul out of him.” said Carlslin, although no smile came to his face.

“So who is this ‘Su Gor’?” asked Helmsbar, “That one seems to be pretty impressed by him.”

“Su Gor is the most important orc around and he’s in charge of all the orcs in this camp.” Naherik explained, “Apparently that’s some kind of special feet because there are two tribes here that don’t normally get along so well, the Bull Clan and the Skulls, and Su Gor is from a third clan. There aren’t many of Su Gor’s tribe here in the camp, but its obvious that they’re in charge. Those guards by the pavilion are part of his tribe.” He gestured to the two orc guards who continued to pull watch at the entrance to the pavillion, though they now stood inside the entrance out of the morning sun. Their yellow eyes shined evilly out of the shadows.

“So his tribe is the Chug-haht that the bitch was bragging about?” asked Helmsbar.

“Right, the Spike Clan. The names of these clans are the only goblin words I’ve learned.” explained Naherik, “Its impossible not to learn them with them shouting them all the time. All night long they march around here with those Bull clan ones chanting ‘Tar-haht! Tar-haht! Tar-haht!’, and that just makes the Skulls want to shout their own louder. All night all I hear is ‘Tar-haht! Tar-haht! Ska Shi! Ska Shi!’ its hard to get a decent bit of sleep around here at night.

“Those other ones though, you won’t here them yelling. When you here them talking about Chug-haht its always in whispers, and fear lies behind the word. The Chug-haht must have one hell of a reputation.”

After a pause Naherik asked them what their story had been over the past few weeks, and Helmsbar recounted the events since the night when they were left at the goblin lair. Helmsbar told the whole story in full, leaving out only the part about what Carlslin had tried to do to Johanna in the cave and how Ellis had been when he awoke and attacked Carlslin.

The three Daenelinners stood silent for a while taking in all the news that they had learned. Helmsbar and Carlslin had hoped that Naherik would know more, but the information he gave them was still uplifting. Hogarik hadn’t been caught, and apparently was not far away to the north based on what Naherik had heard.

Without breaking stride they spread out and advanced through the trees toward the campfire. They had been doing this so much lately that it seemed like an almost natural and instinctual action. Like a pack of wolves spreading out for the hunt.

A mid sized orc was sitting guard in their path. He stared at them for a second without reacting, they were advancing so swiftly and deliberately that it didn’t dawn on him immediately what was happening. Comprehension coming to his features, the orc scrambled to his feet and turned to his companions screaming in alarm.

Carlslin swung his long straight sword overhanded in his right hand, and the sentry’s scream was cut short as the sword sunk down between his neck and shoulder and continued until finally lodging itself in one of his lower ribs.

Carlslin yanked the sword from the dying sentry with his left hand braced against his victim’s back, and continued moving forward in one motion.

The orcs around the fire scrambled quickly to their feet and drew their weapons, but they were unprepared for the speed of the attack. The four humans acted without hesitation, their blades flashing quickly into their opponents and leaving them clutching at wounds as their attackers stepped past them. Ellis and the two Daenelinners struck twice and Johanna’s long knife slashed three times, leaving 9 goblins lying around the crackling fire, each at various stages of dying.

Ellis and his companions were oblivious to the gasping and weeping of their victims in their death throws as they rifled through their clothing for valuables. Having gathered the few bits of silver that the orcs were carrying, they moved on to a number of large sacks which were a short distance away. Most of the sacks were filled with bread and other foodstuffs plundered from the local villages, and they chose a few things which they stuffed in the small packs they carried slung crosswise across their bodies.

As they were dumping out the sacks to get a better accounting of what they contained in the dark, Helmsbar gave a grunt of surprise. The others quickly dropped their sacks and came over to see what he had found. He was looking inside a heavy canvas sack, and when they approached he opened the sack to show them what was inside.

Within the sack was a long-bearded dwarf tied with cord and gagged with a hankerchief. The dwarf was breathing and unconscious, and they couldn’t wake him up no matter what they tried.

Johanna looked around warily at the dark shadows of the surrounding forest, and Helmsbar cut the sleeping dwarf’s binding and then slung the whole sack up upon his shoulder. The four travelers were striding off silently into the forest a second later.

They walked for the rest of the night back towards the west along the base of the mountains. Their trail went constantly up and down, crossing the spurs of the mountains, and each time they crested another ridge they would look over the plains to the north for the torches and fires of goblin armies. The armies covered the plains, and they saw no opening to head north past the goblins and back towards the cities of Faerntia.

Dawn finally broke over the eastern horizon, and they all breathed a sigh of relief at the coming of the relatively safe daytime and some much needed rest.

Daylight also saw the awakening of their new companion. The dwarf awoke while still inside the sack which Helmsbar had used to carry him, and started yelling and struggling against the canvas. The four tired humans sat quietly where they were and watched the writhing and swearing sack with interest.

Finally the dwarf managed to find the opening of the sack and pulled himself halfway out. The sun hurt his eyes after spending so long in the dark sack, and when he looked around through squinted eyes he could hardly see anything at all. The humans were still sitting quietly by him, and when he looked there way he just made out their shapes against the dawn and assumed that they were his former captors. Fear overcame the dwarf, and he tried to escape, but his feet were still entangled in the canvas sack, and he ended up falling down flat on his face.

The four stared blank faced at the stumbling dwarf, and then it started with Johanna. She started giggling. The morose and distant woman was letting out a very girlish giggle, and her three male companions looked quickly at her, truly surprised. The giggle became a laugh as the dwarf struggled harder, assuming that the laughing was that of the cruel monsters who had captured him. Soon all four of the companions were laughing hysterically, the pent-up emotions of the last week released themselves in rolling fits of laughter.

The disoriented dwarf had meanwhile decided that whatever trap held him was insurmountable, and he gave up hope of escape and lay on his stomach with his hands over the back of his head in defense. The four humans were even more amused at this change of tactics, and peals of laughter continued to fill the air.

The dwarf stayed where he was for a long minute in anticipation of the coming beating, but when none came he became curious as to what was going on. He listened more closely to the laughing voices and it struck him almost immediately that these were not the harsh choked voices of orcs. Elves! he thought, It would be natural for the deceitful elves to align themselves with orcs or any other creatures opposed to the order and learning of Dwarven society!

The dwarf gained control of himself, and steeled himself anew to meet the coming attack of his Elven captors and to meet out vengeance on them. He was just about to try to spring back to his feet and break his bonds again when it occurred to him that the voices laughing at him didn’t quite sound like elves either. At least this isn’t how I imagined elves would sound, everyone’s always said that their voices are all like women’s. ‘Course I could have it all wrong, but to Tur-Batan with me if they don’t sound like men. the dwarf reasoned, But why would men be in league with orcs? I watched as the orcs burned Berefith to the ground.

“What do you want with me?” demanded the dwarf as he sat up and recognized through squinted eyes that they were in fact men.

The only response that the dwarf got was renewed fits of laughter from the four humans sitting nearby. The dwarf started to feel somewhat self-conscious, and a little embarrassed, as he began to have the feeling that there was something that he didn’t quite grasp that made him the butt of some joke.

He didn’t feel like joking at all, and with his eyes now fully adjusted to the morning sun, he saw that the only thing binding him was a canvas sack. He quickly freed himself and scrambled to his feet. Throwing all caution to the wind in his growing embarrassment and anger, he strode right up to the four laughing humans.

“Who are you? What’s this all about?” demanded the red-faced dwarf, but the only response he got was more laughter.

The dwarf stood in their midst, and he was so obviously mad that Ellis could have sworn that he saw smoke coming out of his ears. All this only made the situation funnier, but finally Helmsbar felt some pity for the dwarf and spoke to him. “Calm down, Dwarf, and laugh along with us. You might feel better.”

The dwarf did seem to calm down a little, and the humans finally got the last of their mirth out of their systems. Once all the laughing had died down, the dwarf asked them, “Could somebody please explain who you all are, and what happened to the orcs?”

“We ran into your orcs last night,” said Helmsbar, “and found you in that sack after we had dealt with your captors.”

“So, who are you?” asked the dwarf, wondering if these four alone killed the whole band which had captured him.

“I am Helmsbar, and this is my cousin Carlslin, and our companions Ellis Tortar and Johanna Nortrop

Tall wicked peaks looked down on them and watched them as they slowly crawled up the narrow pass higher into the snow-covered mountains. The canyon they were ascending became narrower as they traveled, and the walls of the gorge became steeper and higher. The horses could not handle the rocky terrain, and the travelers were forced to abandon them, carrying their own gear stacked high upon their backs as the Dwarves do. Ellis rubbed Duchess’s neck in a final goodbye, and wished her the luck of the gods in escaping from the hungry army of goblins that was coming up the mountain behind them.

They traveled ever higher along the rocky path and the canyon soon became nothing more than a cleft in the mountain before them. The walls of the canyon grew higher, and closer together, and the stream trickled down to almost nothing as they moved higher towards its source. A tall man could cross the stream at this point without having to jump, and Ellis thought that if he stretched his arms out he might be able to touch the cliff walls on both sides of the gorge at the same time.

Mogli the dwarf led the band as they marched single file up the narrow path. He seemed nervous, and was always sniffing at the air, or making everyone freeze and be silent as he listened with his ear upon one of the cliff walls. He spoke little as they ascended, and the rest of the group followed his example, and spoke with low voices only when necessary. They breathed heavily as they climbed hour upon our up the pass, and the sound of their breathing echoed in the silence of the gorge

The silence of the canyon was like the silence and calm before a storm. Ellis felt as though the silence was a wicked one, a silence that was evil gathering strength for a sudden maelstrom.

The rest of the group had similar feelings to Ellis. Mogli was obviously afraid of what was behind them down the mountain, and he hastened the pace of the group so that sweat ran down their backs in the cold mountain air, and their heads were dizzy from their exertions in the thin atmosphere.

Ellis was at the back of the group, urging forward Johanna and Gorath who were having a lot of trouble keeping up with the pace. Ellis stopped for a second waiting for Gorath to climb over a large rock that had fallen in the path. While waiting, Ellis looked back down the canyon and saw in the distance a lone goblin come around a bend in the rock and stop, obviously seeing Ellis and his companions.

The goblin was seated astride a fearsome looking dark gray wolf which was larger than any wolf that Ellis had ever seen. The wolf was one of the great worgs of Glut-Gal which were raised by the goblins and orcs as deadly mounts that they used to run down their foes and their prey. The rider was a wild looking goblin, much larger than those that Ellis had seen before. His wiry black hair was pulled tight and high off his head, and his dark face was powdered with a ghostly white chalk. He carried a long black spear, and wore nothing but a cloth around his waist, and a thick brass ring through both nostrils of his nose like a bull.

Ellis locked glances with the distant rider, and then his mount lifted its head and gave out a long and ghostly howl that was answered a second later by a whole cacophony of howls and barks further down the canyon.

The whole group of travelers now saw what Ellis saw, and they stood frozen in fear at what this one lone rider foreboded. Finally Mogli took control again and gave the order, “Quick, let’s move, there’s little time.”

This woke the group from their shock, and the tired group of travelers found added energy to hurry up the steep incline. Gorath was swiftly over the previously insurmountable obstacle, and then Ellis was over and the whole group was hurrying to higher altitudes.

The goblin scout rode on towards the group as fast as he could in order to win the honor of killing them himself. Ellis turned back and saw the mount and rider leap over the stone in the trail in a single bound. The goblin raised his spear as he rushed towards them, and let out a high voiced gurgling scream as he came on. At this distance Ellis could see the goblin’s distorted and hateful facial expression beneath the white chalk.

Ellis stopped as the party moved ahead and drew his bow smoothly with an arrow already knocked on the string. The goblin charged nearer, bouncing fiercely up and down as his mount churned up the ground in his fervor. Ellis released the string and the goblin snapped down off the wolf’s back and fell behind the deadly beast.

Ellis hadn’t foreseen what happened next. The dire worg, undeterred by the loss of its master leapt forward and pounced upon Ellis, knocking him flat on his back and pinning him down to the trail.

Ellis wrestled with the gigantic beast, dodging the worg’s jaws, and trying to push him away by pushing his bow out against the creature’s throat. Ellis saw the wolf’s cold yellow eyes, and was almost lost within the winding black depths of the creature’s pupils. The worg was growling and snarling fiercely as it bared its fangs, and Ellis heard a soft whisper in his ears saying, “Die, man-creature, that I may drink of your blood and eat of your liver.” Ellis fought on in horror as he heard, “I can smell your female on you man-creature. I and my brothers will make of her a bloody piece after I take your throat between my jaws.”

Suddenly the wolf was knocked off of Ellis as Mogli came to his friend’s rescue. The worg gave a yelp as Mogli’s hammer impacted on its head and the monster was rolled a few paces down the trail by the power of the blow. Ellis quickly regained his feet and brought his bow up in the defense.

The wolf got slowly to its feet, one leg at a time, and stood shakily. Blood ran down the side of the monster’s head, and part of its skull could be seen where the fur had been torn away by Mogli’s hammer. The wolf tried to walk towards the group, but stumbled and fell over on its side. Mogli approached the wounded beast and crushed its skull entirely with an overhand swing of his hammer. He lifted the hammer out of the mush of the wolf’s skull, and raised it high over his head giving an exultation to his god saying, “Morada Hakta!”

Ellis was panting, and he stood shakily with the adrenaline still pumping through his veins. His shirt was torn from the wolf, and his face was blanched nearly as white as the goblin’s had been when covered in chalk. He stammered, “It said it was going to kill me. It talked to me. I heard it whispering in my ear…”

The others stared at him like he was mad. Mogli, who knew well the stories of goblins speaking the language of the wolves, gulped hard and then ran to the front of the group again and told them to make haste.

The travelers ran now when they could, and their heads reeled from the lack of air. There was snow in patches in the shade behind rocks here, and the air was getting very cold even in the clear sunlight. They were gaining altitude quickly, but they knew that they were not moving quick enough by the sound of the howls from further down the canyon that seemed to be getting closer every minute. The howls would drift up the canyon and Ellis and the others would stop for a second and look back down the canyon with fear.

Mogli was the only one who didn’t turn around at the sound of the howling. He was at the head of the group, and whenever the howls were heard, he was seen anxiously scanning the canyon ahead of them and watching the tops of the canyon walls.

Finally the goblins could be seen behind the travelers. They filled the entire gorge, and rode three abreast upon monstrous worgs that were frothing at the mouth and had their tongues hanging far down towards the ground. The wolves let out loud howls and barks, and mixed with the war-cries of the goblins, the narrow gully was filled with a cacophony of sound. The sound mixed together in the echoes off the walls of the gully, and turned to a roar that sounded like it was coming at the party from every direction.

Mogli was digging in his pack for something, and Helmsbar and Carlslin were setting up to take on the brunt of the charge from the goblin attackers. Ellis readied his bow, and the others prepared themselves for battle. Ellis saw Mogli pull out a coil of rope from his pack.

Ellis scanned the canyon beneath him and imagined the way that the goblins would come upon them in a couple short minutes. He picked out likely places to fire on them at, and he tried to gauge their odds versus the black mass of enemies that were filling the canyon below. The place where they were at was narrow enough that only a couple at a time could fight. He knew the strength of the arms of the Daenlinners, and he knew that they could take on many times their number of goblins.

He was also thinking about the goblin that he had shot just before. Every time that they had encountered goblins in the past they had been cowardly creatures that attacked only in mass, and were easily intimidated and beaten. The goblin that had charged them earlier was obviously of a different breed than those others, he had been bold and confident even when alone. If all the goblins that Ellis saw upon wolves behind them were like that goblin, then they would have no chance.

Ellis felt something cold run over his left foot and looked down to see that he had stood to close to the stream and it was now running over his foot. He stepped aside and was about to draw down with his first arrow on the approaching riders when Mogli grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him towards the wall of the gorge. Mogli said something to him, but Ellis couldn’t hear him over the roar of the echoes from the goblins. Mogli thrust a rope into his hand and Ellis saw that it was leading a small way up the wall of the gorge.

Mogli was frantic, and Ellis confusedly grabbed the rope and started climbing. When he neared the top, he was pulled up onto the top of a ledge by Gorath and Johanna. Once safely on the ledge he turned around and helped Carlslin and then Helmsbar get up onto the now cramped ledge. He still didn’t understand why they had climbed up to this place, and couldn’t hear anything that anyone said to him over the roaring in the canyon.

As Mogli finally made it up onto the crowded ledge, the goblins were beneath them, and arrows skipped off the rock behind their heads. Ellis and the others laid prone on top of each other on the small ledge to shelter from the arrows and spears that the first goblins were hurling at them.

The sound in the canyon was like thunder now, and Ellis had to cover his ears from it. Small rocks fell from the walls of the gorge on top of them, and large chunks of snow and ice fell from the top of the canyon. Ellis was certain that the ledge itself was shaking with the noise.

Mogli was pointing up the canyon, and it was then that Ellis understood what was happening. The stream was surging and filling the whole bottom of the gorge, and the thundering noise was coming from further up the canyon.

Suddenly a wall of whiteness came surging around the corner of the canyon above them and raced down upon them. It filled the entire gorge and seemed to swallow everything in sight in its descent down the canyon. The goblins on the ground below were scurrying around frantically trying to find cover, Mogli was screaming for everyone to hold on, and Ellis was staring straight ahead at the avalanche that was surging right at them.

The ledge was not high enough. Ellis watched the wall of snow racing at him and the deafening roar drowned out all other sounds. Then there was the impact, and all was whiteness. The roar of the avalanche was replaced by the sound of crunching snow all around. Ellis felt himself slide along the surface of the ledge, but then it was all over.

He lay motionless, seeing nothing but whiteness, and hearing nothing but his own breathing and the beating of his heart. He started to mentally inventory the parts of his body to see if he felt any pain.

Ellis seemed to be all right. He could move his limbs slightly under the snow, and he was satisfied that nothing appeared broken. The whole group was lying atop one another on the ledge when the avalanche hit, and Ellis could feel something against his leg that he felt sure was one of his companions.

Ellis could breathe through the snow, but he wasn’t sure how long that would last. He started digging with his hands an inch at a time, and then taking larger scoops as he made more room for himself to work. The snow was thick and wet, but it was light enough that he could move it fairly easily.

Ellis was greatly relieved when his hand burst through the snow into open air.



Mogli came back to the party, and his face looked gaunt in the torchlight. “we need to find another passage.” he said. When they asked him what was ahead he wouldn’t say, but whatever it was shook him up quite a bit. His steps were now hesitant as they crept back the way they had come.

They searched back and forth trying to find another way. Backtracking further and further along their track they had to stop from exhaustion to rest. They had spent hours crawling down small branching tunnels and then backtracking to their original path again and again.

After seeing the look of fear on Mogli’s face, no one had questioned their search for an alternate route, but now the exhaustion of crawling down the endless tunnels was taking its toll on the travelers. As they lay down heavily to rest, Helmsbar spoke up and asked what Mogli had seen that he was so afraid of.


Ellis’s head hurt at his temples, and he had trouble keeping his eyes open. He saw the dragon before him, and the waves of power emanating from the omnipotent beast were visible to Ellis as they snaked out and wrapped around Ellis and his companions. Ellis moved his hands and found that he could grasp the strands of power and untangle himself from the dragon’s power.

The beast raised its head from its prey and turned towards Ellis. Its head snaked forward on its long neck and came up close to Ellis. Its lips curled back and its eyes opened with interest. The dragon knew that only a man with powers of magic would be able to release himself from such a spell, and only a powerful wizard would seek out a dragon. Dragons are by nature cautious, and this one knew that it could be dangerous to deal with wizards who might lay a curse on a being for the rest of eternity.

“So, wizard,” the beast said in its echoing and rich voice, “what brings you here to my lair?”

Ellis stood stark still in fear with the monster right before him.

The dragon eyed him suspiciously, waiting for an answer. Ellis didn’t know about dealing with dragons, otherwise he would have spoken and pressed his momentary advantage.

“Speak wizard. Why have you sought me out?” asked the dragon with growing impatience.

Ellis started to say something, but couldn’t think of anything to say, the idea of seeking out such a monster being totally ludicrous to him.

“Perhaps you have not sought me out at all, but have just stumbled upon my home by accident? How very interesting.” The dragon licked his lips in amusement at the preposterous idea that a wizard would find him by accident. “Tell me what your name is so that I might know you.”

Something back deep in Ellis warned him against this, but not wanting to anger the omnipotent creature he turned the question around, “But I don’t even know your name, mighty one, I’m sure it is very famous.”

The dragon cocked his head to the side to more clearly scrutinize his visitor, turning so only one great orange eye faced Ellis. A twinkle came into this eye as he recognized the form that their conversation was taking. “I suppose that I do have you at a disadvantage, mortal, wizard though you be. I am he that rips the air with fire, and he that makes the earth shake.”

Ellis found himself naturally slipping into the form of the conversation. “Fair words, greatness, but you still have told me nothing which isn’t painfully obvious at the first glance.”

“Aha,” said the dragon, beaming at the compliment that his terrible power was so obvious, “then I am he that ripped the mountains and bathed the halls of King Bal-Hirad with fire. I ended a dynasty and raped a nation. Your Dwarf friend will know the rest.”

The dragon looked at the dwarf who was still lying on the ground bound in the dragon’s spell. Ellis reached out in his mind and removed the binding from Mogli’s mouth. The Dwarf screamed out, “Voctox! Flame Tongue and Gold Fang!” The binding shut back upon Mogli’s mouth, and he was frozen speechless again.

Voctox turned back towards Ellis again, and his lips parted in his own version of a smile, one giant golden fang prominent towards the front. Ellis knew instinctively that this wasn’t the dragon’s true name, the name of power, but it was the best he would get.

Ellis spoke again, “My name Ellis, and I am merely a traveler.”

“El-Liss.” the dragon spoke, separating the consonants. His supernatural voice made the name sound somewhat regal, though he could not remember any wizard of power by that name. A thousand years is a long time, and keeping track of the rise and fall of mortals is so tiring Voctox thought, and believed that it was possible that one wizard of power could have come to him unknown in his home beneath the mountains.

“Very well El-Liss, wizard, what do you wish of me?” asked Voctox again, still believing that it was impossible for a wizard to come to his lair by accident.

Guessing at the power of the vanity of the dragon, Ellis decided to make up something which might make it look more favorably on him and his companions. “I know of the wisdom of great and ancient dragons like yourself.” That’s good thought Ellis compliment his less violent attributes. “I know that you know secrets hidden from mortal eyes. I have come to find answers to questions beyond my limited vision.”

The compliment was a good one, but Ellis didn’t realize that it would have worked far better to compliment Voctox’s more physical attributes which dragons by nature value above all else. The dragon’s mind being always more preoccupied with such things, Voctox guessed that Ellis was lying, and assumed that Ellis wanted other things from him.

“This all sounds very noble, little wizard, but I think it far more likely that you have come seeking other things. I can smell goblins on you. You practically reek of it. Likely you are one of those who has learned from their black arts.” Now the dragon began to know his adversary. “My hide would be worth much to you in your incantations. I know how sought after my very organs are by your kind,” a sudden thought struck Voctox and his great eye narrowed suspiciously, “or perhaps you have come for my famous treasure!”

If there is anything that could possibly anger a dragon more than threatening its life, that is threatening its treasure. Dragons are greedy beings, and they guard their treasures as most other species guard their young. In fact, in many ways threatening a dragon’s horde angers them more than threatening their own skin because while it seems a natural thing to them that others would want to test their might against the mightiest, stealing from their treasures is thought of as underhanded and unfair. This is not to say that a dragon wouldn’t steal the treasure right out from underneath another dragon, which they are known to do whenever the opportunity arises, just that stealing against them is possibly the most offensive idea that could cross their mind.

To fully understand a dragon, first imagine the most selfish and ruthless sociopath to ever live among men. A wicked man with no conscience. Now imagine this man being forty paces long, two stories tall, with wings the size of cornfields, and the ability to breath fire.

Now take this imaginary man and threaten what he holds most dear, and you see what Ellis was faced with at that second.

Voctox’s head reared up in the air like a giant snake preparing to strike, towering above Ellis. The dragon’s lips curled back in a kind of growl and the golden fang sparkled in the dim light of the lair. He knew that he could handle any of the variants of the goblin magic that El-Liss might attack him with. Voctox drew magical energy to himself forming a protective shield, and Ellis could feel the inflow of power into the cavern and almost see it forming a protective shield around the dragon.

“Wait, we came here by accident while evading the goblin army.” Ellis quickly spat out while holding his hand up before pleadingly. When all else fails try the truth after all.

“Changing your story now, wizard? I say that you lie, and that the flesh of liars often tastes sweeter than that of the righteous.” said Voctox as he prepared for their confrontation.

Their conversation was interrupted by a loud warbling cry, and Ellis dodged aside only just in time as a slim and sharp looking spear arced through the space that he had just occupied.

Orcs had entered the chamber and were pouring forth like water from the passageway. They had entered the large chamber from the same passage that Ellis and his companions had, and just as Ellis could not see the dragon upon entering the chamber, all these newcomers could see was Ellis and a few of his companions standing before them.

Voctox turned his attention away from Ellis and upon these newcomers. As the first orc rushed in close to Ellis, Voctox’s head shot forward like a striking cobra, and the orc was snatched up from in front of his companions impossibly fast.

The first orcs turned and tried to flee when they saw the awesome beast before them, but they found only a solid mass of bodies who were now charging forward and screaming in their attack on Ellis and his companions. Hundreds or possibly thousands of orcs were flooding down the passage behind them, and they were an unstoppable pressure that was designed to push reluctant front elements into battle.

Voctox seemed to grow before them, and the chamber seemed to be engulfed in bright light. The orcs held their arms over their eyes as they were driven forward around the dragon.

Ellis’s companions found themselves suddenly free of Voctox’s magical bindings, and they raised their weapons in attack against the oncoming wave of orcs.

The dragon loomed above the battle of smaller beings beneath him, and suddenly waves of orcs started butchering each other. Chaos and confusion ran through the chamber as the orcs sunk their blades into their companions or themselves. New waves of orcs were pouring in at the same time, battling against their demented compatriots and trying to get out of the way of the crushing pressure of the army behind them.

Fire shot down from Voctox’s dominating perspective, and a huge swath of orcs were incinerated in the blast. Smoke rose from fire of the attack and filled the room in a thick gray fog.

More orcs surged in over the bodies of the fallen, and the battle was utter confusion as bodies rushed around in the smoke with their hands over their eyes to shield them from the bright light above while battling against other bodies or trying to stuff gold from the dragon’s horde within their purses.

The only points of any order in the lair were the small knot of humans and the towering presence of Voctox. Voctox was an amazing army all to himself. His legs and tail struck out with a supernatural coordination striking down scores of orcs at lightning speed while his head stayed perched atop his long neck, dominating his private battlefield.

The dragon’s eyes were cold and focused as he fought his battle, and Ellis could almost see the power coming from them as one of Voctox’s most deadly weapons. Orcs fell to the floor writhing in pain, and some transformed into hideous beasts that attacked others. Yet others just fell dead to the floor, their souls pulled from their mortal bodies. Ellis watched as these powers manifested themselves, and it was all he could do to keep from swooning in the charged air around the magical creature.

The humans were holding a tight defensive circle against the chaos around them, but they knew that they needed to escape the area while Voctox was distracted.

“Look,” Johanna said as she pointed past the dragon, “There’s a passage there.” A small tunnel lead off into the wall behind a shallow pool of water.

The group ran through the confusion in a tight knot towards the passage.

“Wait!” cried Helmsbar, “The Dwarf!” Mogli was still pinned beneath the foot of the dragon. Though Voctox had released his magical bindings, he had not let go of the dwarf while he fought effectively with his other feet.

“I’ll get him!” Yelled Carlslin as he went sprinting towards the great monster. Ellis hesitated a moment, and then followed the reckless Norseman.

Carlslin was hacking a path through the sea of orcs before them, but Ellis had his attention fixed on the dragon. Voctox’s eyes were shut now, apparently in concentration, and Ellis’s hair started to stand on end with the amount of power filling the air.

They reached the struggling dwarf, but were unable to pull him free. The dragon’s talons formed a small cage around him, and no amount of pulling pushing could move the talons of the dragon who’s many tons had pressed them a good distance into the stone of the floor.

Ellis looked up and saw that Voctox was completely impervious to their efforts in his concentration with whatever magic he was preparing. Ellis looked back down and had time to scream “Wait!”, but it was already too late, Carlslin’s blade whistled through the air towards the nearest claw, and amazingly the Dwarven steel of the blade from the tomb in Bad-Uhr sliced neatly through the wyrm’s talon.

The dragon let out a piercing shriek that shook the walls of the cavern and momentarily silenced the din of the battle around them. Then he reared up on his hind legs leaving the severed end of his claw behind.

Mogli scrambled to his feet with Carlslin’s help, and the two took off as fast as they could to join the others by the passage. Ellis started to join them, but then a strange impulse took him, and he stooped down and wiggled the claw free from the ground. He looked to Voctox to see if the dragon saw him, but the orcs had rushed against the monster while it was distracted, and now the dragon was occupied with freeing himself from the hundreds of bodies swarming over him.

Ellis started to flee towards his companions, but he tripped over a bump in the floor and fell down, dropping the claw from his hand at the same time. He looked behind him and saw that the bump in the ground was quickly rising, and a second later it was a pillar as tall as Ellis.

Ellis stayed where he was, amazed, a second longer as the pillar quickly formed arms and then split near the bottom into two legs. The creature was now a bipedal mass of stone that looked like a rough statue of a man without a head.

Ellis almost paid the price for his curiosity with his life as the rock-man swung a heavy slab of an arm at him. Ellis rolled sideways as the shapeless arm smashed into the floor, and he grabbed up his axe in his right hand and the claw in his left and escaped from the creature. Ellis ran to rejoin his companions, and saw that many other, identical, creatures had sprung from the rock and were now attacking the orcs around them.

Ellis dodged past many battling orcs and rock-creatures and rejoined the group by the pool of water. They fled together across a waist-deep pool of water, and then ran down a passage with a stream of water running down the center.

El-Liss, Ellis heard inside his head as he ran, I think now that you told me the truth, but I still won’t let you escape. None who see my lair may ever escape.

Ellis kept running down the tunnel with the rest of the group, and he sensed surges of magical power passing them in the rock of the walls on either side. Helmsbar was in the lead, and a second later he stopped as a huge rock creature formed out of the floor in front of them. This creature was like the ones that Ellis had seen form before, except that it was larger and more well defined, with huge hammers for hands.

Helmsbar wasted no time, and he lunged into the attack, swinging his heavy sword two-handed at the creature. The creature moved quicker than the eye could follow. It blocked Helmsbar’s blow with its right arm, shattering the sword about six inches above the hilt, and then struck him quickly in the body with the other hand. Helmsbar slammed against the near wall with the force, and then fell to the ground lifelessly.

The creature turned away from Helmsbar, and Carlslin launched himself at the creature while screaming. The rock-creature readied itself for Carlslin, but before Carlslin covered the distance separating them, Ellis took hold of some of the magical force flowing all around this highly charged place and willed it to hurtle at the creature. There was a bright flash, and a bolt of orange light visible to the whole party shot from Ellis’s hand and hit the creature. The monster exploded and showered the group with bits of rock and dust.

Carlslin’s momentum carried him through the space previously occupied by the monster, and he fell to the ground beyond it. Not questioning the method of the group’s victory, Carlslin quickly scrambled over to his brother lying on the floor.

“He’s alive!” said Carlslin, almost crying with joy.

Ellis felt powerful after his success with the rock-monster, and hungered for the chance to use more magic. “Quickly,” Ellis said, “we have to keep moving. Carlslin, grab his sword.”

Carlslin obediently picked up the shattered remains of his brother’s sword, and looked quizzically at Ellis. Ellis felt the power surge from his hands as he once again harnessed the power around him and willed it to lift the body and send it speeding along in the direction that they needed to travel to escape. The others figured it was no time to be questioning Ellis’s new powers, and so they just ran to keep up with their unconscious companion.

After about one hundred paces, the passage came to an end in a chamber that contained a small pool of water that fed the stream which eventually led to the shallow pool in Voctox’s lair. The walls were the smoothed down living stone of the mountain, and after a quick search it was determined that there were no cleverly hidden passages that might provide them with an escape route.

They all stood for a few seconds trying to think of a way out of this situation. None of them talked, and the only noises were the distant cries of agony from the orcs dying in Voctox’s lair and the babbling of the small stream that ran from the calm pool of water before them.

Carlslin splashed cold water from the pool onto Helmsbar’s face and brought him groggily back to consciousness. Helmsbar pulled himself shakily up to his feet and asked for what was left of his sword. The screams of the orcs in the cavern behind them seemed to die down somewhat, and there was a sound like the whistling of wind.

“In the water!” shouted Ellis frantically. When his companions stared blankly at him he pushed first a surprised Carlslin, then Helmsbar before the others jumped into the cold water out of fear of whatever had given Ellis such a fright.

Ellis was getting into the water himself, and was in the process of saying, “Get your heads under water.” when they all heard a rumbling noise, and then a blast of dragon fire engulfed the whole chamber.

Ellis was at the water’s edge, and was luckily blown into the water with the force of the blast. He felt a searing pain along all the exposed skin of his hands neck and face along his right side where the blast had hit him, but the ice-cold water of the pool felt good.

Ice-cold, or was that luke-warm? Or was that really quite warm water, maybe even uncomfortably hot water and getting hotter. Ellis had to think quickly. Ellis opened his eyes and looked around under water. The dragon fire actually lit the clear water of the pool up so well that he could see quite well.

There was a large dark hole in the rock in the side of the pool below the waterline, and Ellis turned to motion for the rest of his companions to swim through it. When Ellis turned he saw that Johanna was the only one of his companions still left in the pool with him, and she was already trying to get him to go through the hole. Their other companions had already swim to safety. Ellis wondered if he hadn’t blacked out for a minute after the dragon blast hit him.

Ellis swam through the hole with Johanna, and found himself instantly in a stream of cooler, fast flowing water. Ellis was able to surface almost immediately and catch his breath. The current was very fast and he found himself falling over short waterfalls and rapids right away. Once he righted himself Ellis called out and found Johanna who was floating nearby in the dark. He grabbed a hold of the back of her shirt to keep them from getting separated, and they treaded water together as they rode along with the current, occasionally calling out to see if they could find their other companions.