Lonny you jerk!

Huh, I wondered if you were going to go with Lonny or Hill to shorten my name. What's up?

I don't know how you did it but I know you're responsible!

For. What? I swear if Laginn dumped Toad in your-

No, the little fungus thing has kept clear of my work stations after the last ... Mishap. I'm talking about the goblins GN has been loaning out. They're talking some kind of Toki Poni and it's absolutely your fault!

Toki- Look Just because I was raised by linguists in another life does *not* make me guilty of teaching the goblins a conlang. Plus I'm actually starting to get the hang of what they're saying. It's only Poni based. Wider vocabulary, greater depth in Noun-verb transition and context. Plus it's clear they can count past Two.

Herbie internally grumbled at the connection. Lonny was, ultimately, raising a fair point. While he found it odd that the goblins under their banner didn't speak the common trade language the delvers seemed to use, he had to admit that their having a language had been useful.

Example of such benefit currently included a six pack of goblins working the kitchen at Lonny's little eatery. He had been opposed to this. They were Dungeons, not Diners. Yet it represented a revenue draw for their little corner of this 'Stroadsborg' they were apparently part of.

So long as they don't write in Emoji. That starts up I'm taking Goliath and the Gravel Brigade to smash that heart/throne thing they hooked you to.

Dungeon Please. I have Standards. It uses an alphabet system, but since they're writing things anyway I nudged them towards a Korean styling for a more specialized script. Might end up biting us later, but it's based on the latin alphabet rather than glyphs. So it's adaptable, and it's new enough we can discuss standards if anything crops up. The more regular delvers are even incorporating it into their maps when going out to get a look at the rest of the place for us.

Herbie mentally grunted as his attention drifted from communications to review Goliath. His largest and oldest creation. Getting the beetles to work stone had been tricky, but the stone grotesque's chiseled and weathered frame showed that it had yielded results.

<Yes lord?> Its voice was a low rumble that was too low frequency for the delver races to hear. Goliath lived up to his biblical name by being easily large enough that he had to hunch and ease his way through. As he exited Herbie's territory into what was technically held by both all three dungeons yet belonged to none of them.

<I see them.> Goliath called out to his kin that were stationed along the outer stone walls of the alliance's territory as he walked.

GN, it's safe to rotate out the watch from around our trader friends. Brigade spotters aren't seeing any immediate trouble.

Gotcha Herbie. Maik's been a handful. One of the newer delvers is a smith.

Lovely. I'll have Lilith on standby to pull him away.

Goliath snorted and went still. <I feel fraternizing with Delvers will only lead to a reduced readiness state.>

Not the first time Goliath responded to communications between dungeons. there had been no immediate response from Herbie. Instead what intruded on Goliath were noises from the brigade stations near the trader's stable and bunkhouse. <Intruders?>

There was unsureness in the return calls. Goliath cursed. <Of course trouble would wait until the guard cycles out. Be at the ready. The dungeon Lords have dictated they are to be defended at all costs.>

Goliath's picked something up Lonny.

Putting Nyx, Erebus, and Shinji's squad on standby. Keep me posted.

Goliath growled until there was silence just as his stone ears swiveled and wings flared, angling to catch stray noises much like a satellite dish might gather weak signals for a receiver. He was too far to hear the sound itself, but he could hear the brigade at the walls.

His wings swiveled, causing his voice to gain a level of directionality it wouldn't otherwise have. <Report!>

Faint low-frequency noises. <It's keeping outside of our senses. More than one, but they are attempting to either sound alike enough to mask their number, or it is one being that can move incredibly fast.>

Another growl from Goliath as he relayed this.

Thank you. Nyx and Erebus will be dispatched to aid in the night watch. Shinji's going out with a team.

<Orders my lord?> Goliath's voice held an uncertainty to it. he had known that the surrounding environs had other dungeons. That is why the delvers were being gifted items for going out to have a look. Was this one of them probing?


His wings flared as his legs bent. It wasn't true flight. He was far too heavy. Yet he was able to use these gliding leaps to cover more ground than running would.

⁂ ⁂ ⁂

Corwin snarled at the walls separating his pack from Kronos's keep. His fur was gone, leaving him pale-skinned with black veins. He served a master against his will. This was a humiliation too far. To be denied entry because the statues warned those inside of his movements.

It had started well. His pack was sent to probe for an entry point after spies had found a caravan entering the keep's domain. They stole through enemy territories unmolested. There was much ground to cover overland between Midori's holdings and here. Many dungeons. Too many to consume or cow if there was a buildup.

These interlopers. These so-called 'Delvers' were an annoyance though. a goblinoid rogue had managed to cull the Omega of the pack. Ral would rise again, but the loss of him left their formation incomplete, and the dungeons between home holdings and here would be on alert, making it unlikely for Ral to rejoin them in time to meaningfully contribute.

He hissed as the delver seemed to melt into shadows, only for a slight dwarven woman to step from those same shadows to throw a tomahawk at him. At first, he thought she was leifalen, but no. the axe was of dwarven make, and the leifalen favored magic anyhow.

The slim comfort of this accursed growth that coursed through his pack's body was that wounds healed fast, leaving him with a line of black across his chest rather than a potentially debilitating wound. He flipped the weapon in his off-hand as he mused over the day's events. If nothing else it was a fine weapon. It wasn't enchanted, but it was a solidly constructed blade.

In another life he would wish to track these rogues down, both to test his skill as a hunter, and theirs at evasion. In that life, he might have even let them live if they posed no threat to his master. In that life, he might consider them friends.

In this life?

They were prey to be found, flushed and finished.

Now how to get past these cursed things that somehow sounded alarm whenever his pack drew near. He could not hear this alarm, but he could feel it deep in his bones. The fungal invader coursing through his body screamed at the noise.

They were stone or at least had the seeming of stone. Nightfall was normally when his pack shone brightest. Yet he has no way to know if it would be enough.

Darkness came. His pack crept closer.

There was not the sound of alarm.

Nor was there the feeling of vibration beneath his skin.

Go! Go go Go GO!

The pack went up and over. Corwin could not afford the luxury of thinking at this point. They were exposed, in transition. His Right and Left hands were already over. Either they all made it over the wall or the pack was as good as splintered.

He took a running leap. Grabbed the outstretched hand. Only when he was across did Corwin look, finding the hand attached to a shadowed figure clad in robes.

Nyx hissed at the intruder. "You intrude on these lands and domains that are mine to ward."

Corwin saw her hands empty. No weapon is yet drawn. He reached for his short sword. A long gently curved knife.

Nyx raised her hands. A black staff seemed to materialize out of the night to deflect the blow.

Corwin's ears swiveled, only now hearing his pack fighting their own battle. His second sword, a twin to the first, was drawn. His jaws snapped as he lunged at the spectre.

Nyx twirled, her robe obscuring the exact motion as she engaged Corwin. Her voice was soft. "I smell decay within you. Invader. Parasite."

Corwin snarled then his jaws unhinged as his mouth opened wide. When he howled a gale of wind blew, shredding Nyx's robes, and leaving them in tatters. her staff blown free, landing butt-down into the ground.

Her left hand rose, two fingers held together, the rest curled down.

The purple gem blazed to life. Dazzling Corwin. The light faded, allowing shadows to lengthen and grab at Corwin's limbs. He snarled, twisting, biting, then finally kicking free.

There was a sound from nearby. Not from Corwin's pack. Nyx shrieked, a banshee wail in the dark as her attention turned from her opponent. Allowing Corwin to sink both blades into the spectre's back.

her form dissolved.

Her robes fell.

Corwin's nose wrinkled before he lunged at the hands that fell to the ground. grabbing each and, with a violent shake, caused each to fall limp.

His pack had patches of black icor spreading from fresh wounds, knitting new lines across their bodies as they regrouped around their leader.

Their objective was within sight.


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