Longest Update Yet! Getting into the meat of the quest. I appreciate those of you who are checking this out!
The war camp had doubled in size with the addition of the goblin slaves. They were eager to fight back against their former masters and though many were not capable enough for a close up skirmish, they could still draw and fire a bow. Those too injured or unskilled to fight worked around the camp to cook and repair weapons and armor.
Luther and Argent stood over a large flat stone that doubled as a table. Spread out on the surface between them was a sheet of parchment bearing a crude drawing. Luther pointed to a blocky shape at the end of a meandering line. “This is the first fortress. Like I told our little green friend, it’s not likely to have many troops left there. It wasn’t very large to begin with. Our scouts have reported that they’ve got a large kennel and a lot of cages. That means warhounds.”
Argent pointed to the map. “Is that what this is supposed to be? A dog?” The drawing was so crude that it looked more like a horse or a crawling man.
Luther shrugged. “Artistic renderings were never my strong suit.”
A third voice intruded on their conversation. “So what do you bring to the table, old man?” Greblek stepped into view. He had armed himself with a bow and his armor looked as if had been upgraded as well. Luther scowled and looked like he was about to respond angrily, but the goblin continued with a placating gesture. “No offense, general. It’s just that I’ve seen the young pup here in action twice and the only thing I’ve seen you do is ride around and shout orders.”
Luther relaxed as he removed his hand from the hilt of his weapon. Argent, on the other hand, was seething at being called a “pup”, but he held his temper in check and let the other two talk. Luther glared as he responded. “I’m skilled with a blade from horseback or on foot, and I’ve seen more fights than you have sunsets. I’ve commanded in battles ranging from skirmishes to full scale wars.”
Greblek nodded, seeming satisfied with the answer. “I’ll leave you two to your planning. You just tell me where to send my boys.” With that, he stalked away and was quickly out of view.
“Where do we send them?” Argent asked.
“Assaulting a fortress isn’t something that we do with cavalry. It usually requires a siege. We’re going to need more information. You up for another scouting mission?”
“Always. I’ll report back soon.”
Less than an hour later, Argent was crouched in a small stand of trees within sight of the fortress walls. It was generous to call this a fortress. The construction was mostly wood and stacked stone. The walls were burnt or crumbling in places and he could see numerous areas where a small force could slip in unnoticed. Only a handful of sentries manned the walls and the gate was completely missing. A ramshackle wooden structure was put in place but it looked barely capable of standing up to a strong wind.
“What a dump.” A soft voice from behind made Argent almost cry out. He whirled around to see Greblek crouching behind a rock, staring out at the fortress. The goblin didn’t seem to notice Argent’s alarmed look. “It’s going to be dark soon. You wanna sneak in to see if the inside as shoddy as the outside?”
Argent let his heart rate and breathing settle before replying. “I’ve heard the hounds inside. Sounds like a pretty large number. There’s not much coming and going. That gate is not set up to open and close easily. It’s also not large enough for wagons.”
Greblek was nodding and scanning the walls. He looked up in the sky and squinted. “Is the scaly one up there?”
Argent shook his head and pointed to the tallest spot in the fortress, a sentry tower. Sitting on top of the structure, looking completely at ease, was the tiny dragon. He was looking down into the courtyard inside the walls. None of the fortress’ inhabitants took any more notice of him than they would of a crow or a pigeon.
“Clever little guy,” Greblek said with a grin. "Too bad you can’t see through his eyes or talk to him. I hear some of the sorcerers from Karakoth can do that with the little demons they summon.”
The thought appealed to Argent. He had heard of familiars and they sounded extremely useful. He had also heard of hunters using birds like owls or hawks to aid them in combat. He shook away the distracting thoughts and turned his attention to the fortress.
“I have an idea,” he said after watching for a few more minutes. Greblek looked at him with a quizzical expression but didn’t say anything. “We sneak in and take out some of the sentries and find whoever is guarding the dog pens. We release all of the animals. In the dark and with the scent of blood in the air, they should go into a frenzy and attack the ogres. If we stay out of the way and do whatever we can to add to the confusion, we can let them do the work for us.”
An appreciative grin played over the goblin’s face and he said, “I like the way you think. Only thing I would change: don’t release all the hounds. They could be really useful if we’re going to be fighting more of their masters in the days to come.”
Soon after the sun had set, Argent and his companion moved quickly across the open ground toward the walls. They had picked one of the partially collapsed sections of stone as their entry point. The wall was too unstable to have any of the ogres watching that point so they were able to approach undetected. They scrambled over the rubble and entered the courtyard. The scent of dogs was very strong inside and they could see dozens of wooden pens scattered around the area. A large stable was used as a pen for a pack of the growling, yipping animals.
The largest pen held close to a dozen hounds, each as large as Greblek and some even larger. That would be their main target, but first, they had to stir some trouble. They moved silently to a small building where they had spotted a pair of ogres sitting and eating a meal. A dog sat in the open doorway of the structure. It was lying down with its shaggy head resting on its paws. Greblek moved quietly around to an open window while Argent readied himself with three arrows held in the hand gripping his bow. He moved slowly and kept himself in the shadows until he could see one of the ogres seated inside.
Greblek made a quick motion with his blade and then leaped into the window. At the same moment, Argent release his first arrow, followed quickly by his second and third. Each one found their mark and ogre barely knew what had happened before he was dead. The target of Greblek’s attack started to move as his dining partner died in front of him but the goblin’s sword slashed deeply across his throat and then plunged the weapon down into the spot where his shoulder met his neck.
The dog took note of the sound and the sudden smell of blood. It turned around in the doorway but Greblek was already back out of the window and moving into the shadows toward the large dog pen. Argent was moving in the opposite direction toward the front gate. He was already pulling two more arrows from his quiver and when the ogre stationed at the gate came into view, he knelt and fired both shots. The first thudded into giant-kin’s abdomen. The second shot slammed into a steel plate covering his right shoulder.
Argent cursed as his target gave out a shout of alarm. He drew and fired another arrow and this one found its mark and it sank it the ogre’s fleshy neck. It choked and gurgled but he reached up to snap the arrow shaft as he reached for his weapon. Argent was already charging forward, his sword drawn now and with a burst of speed, he closed the distance and slashed across the ogre’s stomach. The large humanoid died a messy, though silent death. The damage, however was done.
“Ah well,” he said with a grumble. He waved a hand over his head and made a loud yipping sound. Pyre launched himself from his perch on the watchtower and dove down toward the wargare. Argent pointed to the gate and said in a clear voice, “Burn it!”
The little dragon unleashed a blast of flame on the crude wooden construction. In seconds it was blazing, but Argent was already on the move again, this time toward the large stables. He heard shouts of alarm and a chorus of howling and barking as the warhounds charged around the courtyard attacking anything that moved. Between the smell of blood and smoke and the disorienting mix of darkness and flames, they were in a frenzy. Argent could only hope that Greblek was not in the middle of that.
He couldn’t take the time to look for him. He had his own mission and it had just emerged from the stables. The ogre that came into view was massive in both height and weight. He stood well over ten feet tall and his body was thick with both muscle and fat. He was covered in furs and had large canine skulls attached to each of his broad shoulders. There were a number of smaller skulls attached to his belt, some canine and others more human-like.
As he stepped forward, he was flanked by two of the largest hounds Argent had ever seen. Shaggy dark brown fur covered their powerfully built frames and they looked around intently for prey. Argent slipped into the shadows to his left and watched them for a few moments. The houndmaster strode toward the chaos and drew out a hefty club of wood and bone. He bellowed out commands in the language of giants and though Argent didn’t know the words, he could tell the intent. He wanted order and to find whoever was responsible.
Ogres and hounds were still fighting but as the leader approached, they fell into line and began to follow his orders. Argent knew he had to do something or their efforts would be for nothing. Drawing his sword, charged the trio from behind. Pyre flew just over his right shoulder and as the wargare leaped at the houndmaster’s exposed back, the dragon dove toward the hound to his right. Argent’s strike was solid and blood welled from the cut he delivered, but unable to check his momentum, he slammed into a wall of muscle and bone and dropped to the ground, dazed.
Prye raked his claws at the hound and snapped his teeth into the back of the beast’s neck. It yelped in pain and surprise, but it recovered enough to whirl around and lash out with a vicious bite that just barely missed the dragon. Pyre flapped his wings frantically and moved out of range of the hound’s teeth. Unfortunately, the houndmaster swung his club around to smack into the little flyer and send him tumbling away to crash into the ground.
Argent didn’t have time to see how the dragon fared as the club was now whirling around toward his head. He was still picking himself up from the bone-jarring collision but instead of standing, he dove to his left and scrambled across the dusty ground. The club missed but the second hound leaped onto him, biting and snarling. Teeth clamped down onto his armored forearm and though the thick leather held, the beast thrashed his head back and forth, the movement threatening to rip his shoulder from the socket. He lost his sword in the process but he moved onto his back and kicked at the hound’s chest and forelegs. He couldn’t land a solid strike, but he did get his arm free and was able to scramble to freedom. The houndmaster loomed over him, a bestial snarl rumbling in his chest as he hefted the club and his hounds moved to flanking positions. One of the beasts was injured from Pyre’s attack, but it was still healthy enough to assist its master.
Argent looked to his right where his sword lay in the dirt. As the ogre started to swing his club, Argent dove toward the weapon. The swipe missed him by mere inches and he managed to grasp the hilt of the sword and complete the roll to end up back on his feet. He whirled with the blade, slashing it just in time to catch one of the hounds across the face. He beast howled in pain but still lunged toward him, teeth gleaming in the dim light.
Suddenly there was a solid impact of an arrow in the hound’s flank and it yelped loudly. A second arrow flashed out of the darkness and the beast fell limply to the ground. The ogre turned to look in the direction that the arrow came from and Argent used the distraction to lash out with his weapon. He delivered a serious gash across the ogre’s thigh but he was forced to leap backward as the remaining hound snapped at him. Teeth scraped across his sword arm and Argent hissed with pain. He dodged another blow from the ogre’s club while shifting to his right to square off against the hound.
There was a burst of flame and a flash of golden scales as Pyre clawed and bit at the ogre’s back. The giant-kin roared with anger and tried to swat the dragon with a meaty hand, but Pyre was too quick. He flapped upward out of reach but the distraction was enough for Greblek to get into position. The goblin slashed twice at the back of the houndmaster’s legs, severing the tendons behind his knees.
Now that he had allies once more, Argent was able to focus more on offense. He swept his sword in an upward arc, cleaving deeply into the chest and shoulder of the hound. The beast crumpled in a lifeless heap but Argent was already spinning to face its master. Continuing the momentum of his spin, he moved to the ogre who thudded to a kneeling position. He felt of rush of heat surge through his body as a red haze settled over his vision. Shouting with rage, he drove the blade forward in a powerful lunge. It sank into the ogre’s chest, piercing armor, flesh, and bone as if it were paper. He looked up at the at the ogre’s shocked face and watched as the life faded from his eyes.
Stepping back, he felt the heat and rage subside as the houndmaster collapsed to the ground with a thud. There was a low whistle to his left and he looked up to see Greblek grinning at him. “That was a nice piece of work there. Re-attuned yourself did ya?” Argent looked at him with a confused expression. The goblin shook his head and chuckled. “You don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, do ya? Well never mind that now. We should be getting back to camp. They’re gonna wanna send out some folks to secure the area and start cleaning up.”
“But the fire? Is it under control?”
“What fire?” Greblek waved a hand around and Argent saw that all of the flames were extinguished. A haze of smoke covered the area and the air felt strangely chilled. Argent felt a wave of exhaustion flow over him like nothing he had ever experienced before. Every wound flared with numbing, icy pain and he wavered on his feet.
Pyre settled onto his shoulder and the warmth of the little dragon seemed to drive away the cold slightly. He took a few steps away from the blood-soaked ground and sat down heavily against the stable wall. He had never been so tired. His eyes fluttered and closed as he lost consciousness.
Greblek nodded and spoke softly, “Keep an eye on him, wyrmling. I’ll be gone for an hour at most. You did good.” The little dragon puffed up his chest and made a soft chirping growl. He settled onto the ground next to the sleeping wargare while the goblin slipped away into the night.