Sunday, April 5, 2015

Behind Enemy Lines

Tlon Formchanger cruised through the sky. He flapped his wings as he flew above one of Koteph's camps.
For what must have been months, monsters from the four corners of the world had been congregating around the Black Tower. Tlon had only been observing for a few days, but he guessed they numbered in the thousands, with dozens more arriving every day. Add that to the rate at which Koteph created new palemen, and you got quite a large force.
The monsters were, of course, a very diverse group. But there seemed to be three main types. There were the Giants. Twice as tall as a man. Ten times as strong. They were organized, under the leadership of King Gurgal Stonecrusher.
There were the Sassiles. Venomous, almost reptilian beings. Their legs had claws that could kill a man with a graze, and their blood was acidic enough to dissolve lead (although they might suffer from heavy metal poisoning afterwards). They were inherently pack animals, and arrived in large groups.
The last group was something Tlon hadn't seen for a very long time. Stoneflows. Beings of liquid rock. They could merge together and separate at will. They didn't need to breath (or if they did, they could do it just as well in air, water, or under the ground). They had no speech, as far as Tlon knew, yet they seemed to always work in perfect unison.
In addition, there was a flock of Touchkillers. Tlon had almost taken them for owls, until he saw one of them get into a dispute with a Giant. It had just taken one tap to bring the Giant down.
There was an individual named Lunul, who was so fearsome even Koteph respected him. Tlon didn't know what Lunul was. Tlon had never caught a glimpse of him. Nobody had ever caught a glimpse of him. But, one night, he had heard screaming from the Sassiles. The next day, there had been a hole in the ground ten paces across. Tlon overheard the giants blaming Lunul. Saying that he had gotten hungry.

Lunul wasn't the only one worrying about food. Koteph was spending far too much of his time thinking about the logistics of feeding his troops.
Giants required an incredible amount of feed. And the Sassiles weren't light eaters. The local population of deer and rabbits was now depleted. He was sending out foraging missions to nearby woodlands. He was considering launching attacks on farmland. Either that or start eating the palemen.
Part of Koteph thought that it was time to start marching. True, every day that went by was another spirit he could control, another level added to the depths of his Shadely power. But every day that went by was also another Name that Dragoneyes would learn. Another layer of defenses the sorcerers of the Green Tower could put up. And another day he would have to feed this army of mouths.

The Giants, too, were concerned with the issue of food. Gurgal was holding a meeting so that the Giants could together decide what to do. Which meant that everyone else would complain about the problem for a while, and then Gurgal what do whatever he pleased, with the rest of the Giants following along.
One Giant was especially vocal in the day's complaining. "It's the Sassile's fault. They go, volunteer to do the hunting, and what happens when they bring food back? It's poison. Three good Giants died because of them." Durd's voice was very loud. Among Giants, that made him a master of rhetoric. He was also tall. This meant that he was a natural leader. Gurgal had never heard of his tribe in the Land of the Giants, but presumably, he had had followers there, and was using the turmoil of war to seek advancement. "Here we are, leaving our homes in order to save Ochekol'kan, and what happens to us? We're forced to play second string to a race of lizards."
"I'm hungry."
"So am I."
"I'm hungry too."
"Enough," Gurgal said. "I didn't hold this meeting to listen to your pathetic whining." Debatable. "I held it because I have a solution. I will speak to Koteph. He will begin a march to more bounteous territory, with plenty of human settlements to raid."
"And what if he says 'no'?"
"You heard me," Durd said. "What if Koteph doesn't do what you ask. What if he decides that as long as his precious Sassiles have food, we can stay right here?"
Gurgal knew what to do when challenged. Threaten violence. "Then we'll see if Sassiles are good to eat." This was empty rhetoric. Sassiles were poisonous.

The Sassiles, too were growing resentful. Whisperings were forming in their camp. "Did you hear about the Giantsss latesst missssdeed? They have sssslain three of our young."
"Thatssss terrible. Why would sssssomeone do ssssuch a thing?"
"Nobody can ssssay. Ssssome ssussspect it was for ssssport. Othersss sssssupossse that it wasss an attempt to deny usss the extra rationssss."
"They kill our young and exssspect to take our feed? We should resssieve recompensssse from them."
"Indeed. Perhapssss it should be usss who learn the tasssste of Giantsss flesh."
"Mossst likely, it tassstesss of greed and sssstupidity."
In case you couldn't tell, tensions were on the rise.     

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