When the attack came neither Grunvan nor Argwin were ready for it. To be fair, they could have been given years to train and they still wouldn’t have been ready for a contingent of octopodial soldiers with razor teeth on their tentacles to split from the main force of the Consortium troops and come tearing towards the [Goblins] hastily assembled fortifications.
The sight of the horrid monsters flailing across the field towards her hit Grunvan not with a wave of terror but rather a profound sense of disconnection. They couldn’t be attacking. Not something like that. It was too unreal. Too ridiculous. This wasn’t something that could be part of her world. She just wasn’t ready for it.
Then the [Octopires] let loose the unearthly warbling which passed for…Grunvan couldn’t even tell? A battle cry? A wail of despair? A child’s night terror? None of those were right, mostly because the [Octopires] were making a noise that was nothing but wrong.
“Been nice knowing you,” Argwin said.
“I’ll remind you you admitted that for the rest of our lives,” Grunvan said.
She wasn’t calm. She wasn’t brave. She was just too scared to process her fear, so it got to sit over to the side while some other part of her took the reigns.
The [Octopires] didn’t take long to reach them. Writhing tentacles covered the open ground faster than any [Goblin] could sprint.
And they could leap.
Which was a whole other bucket of “I’ll take none of those please” in Grunvan’s mind.
To her immense self-credit, she didn’t scream, or duck, or run. None of those would have done a thing to save her, but still, she felt a fierce pride in the fact that she stood ready to meet the [Octopire’s] razor tentacles with a spiked club of her own.
She was ready to swing the moment any of them came in range of herself or Argwin, reasoning that she wanted to make sure she didn’t she her friend come to any harm and the best method to ensure that was to be the one they killed first. It wasn’t a cheerful though, but after several hours of staring at a horde of monsters that couldn’t help to kill her and everyone she knew, Grunvan was fresh out of cheer.
Shock and surprise she could still manage though.
The [Octopire’s] first few leaps were little more than hops. Small jumps to let them clear the roots and shrubs in the field they were charging through. By the time they reached the fortifications though, they had gained speed and, at the last moment, enough height that Grunvan had to wonder if they could fly in addition to the rest of their alien powers.
They couldn’t. The arc of their final jumps were designed to clear the [Goblins] defensive line and land them well behind the fighters who were waiting to engage them.
As a tactical move, it wasn’t exactly brilliant, the [Octopires] were badly overextended, but given that they were horrible killing machines and the [Goblins] were [Farmers] and [Wagon Drivers], tactical supremacy wasn’t really a requirement for them to win the battle handily.
Except they weren’t fighting.
“Help! Help us!” the nearest [Octopire] said and placed all of its tentacles firmly on the ground in a move that made it clear it was not taking an attack posture.
“Wha?” Argwin couldn’t even finish her question. Grunvan understood. Her mind was jamming up too.
“They’re coming! Save us!” the [Octopire] said.
Looking away from the alien monsters was the worst possible idea Grunvan could imagine. They would obviously whip her to pieces and eat all of those pieces after dipping them in hot sauce. But despite not having much of a face, they were managing to give every impression of being in mortal fear for their lives.
Which, seriously? How was that Grunvan’s problem?
And what in the nether pits of the [Sunless Deeps] was she supposed to do about it?
She didn’t have razors on her tentacles! She didn’t even have tentacles! She was a bite sized morsel. Bit sized morsels were not what you turned to for protection against mortal dread!
It was unbelievably stupid. So of course, she turned to look in the direction the one she was talking to was gazing.
And there were a bunch of [Goblins] who were following the [Octopire’s] path.
No, not [Goblins]
Grunvan’s sense of disorientation ebbed as she saw something familiar that her mind could latch onto, only to notice that the [Goblins] who were charging after the [Octopires] were just as wrong as everything else that happening around her.
“What is happening!” Argwin took up a cry that was lurking behind the lips of every [Goblin] on the defensive lines.
Grunvan had no idea.
Or, rather, she knew exactly what was happening and she very much did not want to face it.
“Attack! We’re under attack!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Those aren’t our people anymore! They’re Consortium things! Don’t let them pass!”
She wasn’t brave. She wasn’t brilliant. She was just there. In that moment. Doing what she could.
A roar went up from her fellow defenders. It wasn’t the most impressive bellow in the history of warfare. It didn’t strike any fear in the hearts of their foes. It didn’t summon unexpected allies to match the might of the force against them. All it did was allow the defenders of [Apple Plate] to join in something bigger than themselves.
All it did was remind them they weren’t alone.
With a wave goodbye to the last bit of her sanity, Grunvan turned to the [Octopires] and pointed to the empty section of the wall beside her.
“Come on,” she said. “Get up here and fight with us.”
The news that [Wagon Town] wasn’t going to receive help from the its neighboring kingdoms didn’t surprise Cambrell in the slightest. It was disappointing to be sure. With the [Grand Coalitions] successes in reclaiming territory and cities which had been lost, it seemed like there would have to be some forces available to prevent the largest [Goblin] city on the planet from being wiped off the map.
From within the [High Commands] headquarters, Cambrell could see the tactical charts which showed the ever changing positions of the armies of the [Grand Coalition]. Teleportation networks allowed for redeployments far faster than any army could march which should have meant that saving [Wagon Town] was not only viable but strategically imperative.
If left unchecked the Consortium forces would take the town, slaughter the inhabitants, and establish a foothold that very few of the [Grand Coalitions] troops would be equipped to dislodge them from.
Except there were two important factors which seemed to be governing the choice of the leaders of the Coalition, though they were left entirely unspoken.
The first was the [Goblin] part of [Wagon Town] being a [Goblin City] and the second was that there would be a period of time, right towards the end of the Consortium’s sacking of [Wagon Town] when almost all of the inhabitants would be dead, but the Consortium’s forces were at their most extended and hadn’t yet had the chance to dig in and setup their own fortifications.
“That’s when they’ll strike,” Cambrel said, as he explained the situation to Damnazon. “It’ll mean the least loss of life in the army they send against the Consortium.”
“And the most loss of civilian lives!” Damnazon said, outrage making her grip on her axe turn white knuckled.
“That’s what the leaders are going to call a win-win scenario,” Cambrell said. “See it’s mostly [Goblins] in [Wagon Town], and a world where theres a lot fewer of us is a world a lot of people seem like they’d be really happy to live in.”
“That’s monstrous,” Damnazon said.
“It’s not exactly unhead of in our world either,” Hailey said. “Even without a formal factions system, our history’s got a ridiculous number of examples of one group of people deciding that some other group would be a lot better as fertilizer.”
Cambrell wasn’t sure if he should feel relieved that the other world his companions spoke of was one that was as bad as their current shared one. On the one hand, it meant the people he associated with weren’t uniquely terrible. On the other, it meant pretty much everywhere seemed to be generally rotten.
“That doesn’t make it right,” Damnazon said. “On Earth or here.”
“You can try telling them that, the Kings and Queens and Senior Councilors,” Cambrell said. “You’ll here the most verbose arguments about why it’s both right, and reasonable, and really the only proper thing they can do given their responsibilities.”
“How could they possibly justify letting that many innocent people die without doing anything?” Damnazon said.
“The usual lines are something like ‘I am pledged to protect the lives of my people’, who are of course not [Goblins],” Hailey said. “And sometimes they’ll throw in the ‘and are they really innocent, we all know what [Goblins] are like’. You know, if they’re feeling especially racist.”
“I wish they were hiding it even that well,” Penswell said as she joined the group.
Cambrell had seen her arrive at the command station a few minutes earlier and immediately begin fissioning into separate copies of herself. The “Penny” who was speaking with them was probably one of a few hundred but, as far as Cambrell could tell, they had her full attention.
“Some of the idiots are calling for moving an ‘expeditionary’ force in once [Wagon Town] is recaptured to ensure that the area is ‘properly defended in the future’,” Penny said.
“Defended from [Goblins] I take it?” Cambrell said.
“From [Goblin] rule,” Penny said., “[Goblins] would be allowed to live there still. Under ‘certain conditions’.”
“Nope,” Damnazon said and stood up.
“Nope?” Mellisandra asked. She didn’t stand but Cambrell saw her back tensing in the suggestion that she was ready to.
“Nope,” Damnazon said again. “That’s not happening.”
“There’s an army of Consortium forces that says at least the first part of it is,” Hailey said.
“We have the Coalitions chief [Strategist] right here,” Damnazon said, gesturing to Penny with both hands. “Make that not happen. Send them the help they need.”
“Sadly, I’m only the Coalition’s [Strategist], not it’s direct commander,” Penny said. “I’m explaining to them as we speak why they have to prevent loss of life at [Wagon Town]. I’m using the best selfish, and rational arguments I can. And the ones with the armies that I need are just not listening.”
Cambrell could hear the undisguised frustration in Penny’s voice. He’d been part of diplomatic delegations before and knew the stone walls that the powerful surrounded their minds with when threatened by an idea which didn’t serve to increase their power or prestige.
“I could kill a few of them if you need?” he offered. He didn’t like working for free, even for a good cause, but under the circumstances he felt the enjoyment factor might outweigh the loss of revenue.
“I have been keeping your talents in mind,” Penny said. “And thank you for the direct offer. For the time being however I believe that sort of pressure would yield worse results.”
“Worse than [Wagon Town] dying?” Damnazon asked.
“Using murder as a coercion tactic is emotionally appealing at the moment, but it would lead to a solidarity in nations who are in favor of eliminating countries under [Goblin] rule,” Penny said. “We could save [Wagon Town] today at the cost of a thousand times as many [Goblin] lives within the year.”
“Then we do it without them,” Damnazon said.
“Stop an army?” Mellisandra said. “That’s a lot for the three of us, isn’t it?”
“Good thing it’s not just the three of you then isn’t it?” Feral Fang said.
Filing into the room were a steady stream of adventurers.
The nations of the [Fallen Kingdoms] might not be willing to save [Wagon Town], but the world is made of more the nations. At its heart, the [Fallen Kingdoms], and every other world, is made of people and as Cambrell watched the stream of [Adventurers] pour in he began to wonder if he’d discounted just how many good ones there were out there.