Six Companies. Twelve Hundred individuals. Corwin was no general, but this was an army. Celest and Lun flanked him as the trio marched to the border of Midori's holdings. There would be no hiding this. No way to be stealthy or sneaky.
Corwin Hated it. This farcical bloated display of power. For What? A few buildings? Books? Send in his pack and a few other teams with explosives if they truly wanted to keep the library from Kronos.
Then, as they passed from Midori's holdings onto the roads that none dared claim, Corwin had a thought. Roads that served as convenient borders between Dungeons. What of the caverns beneath? Midori hadn't seen fit to tell him of those that he had taken from his proper master.
His head shook, the thought dispersing. Now was when he needed to be alert, not clouded by resentment. He couldn't afford either, especially with the borders of Midori's closest neighbors bristling with defenders.
A dwarf lead a party from one of these armed camps, that was then joined by an elf leading another party from their neighbor. Corwin raised his left fist and the formation slowed to a stop as the signal propagated rearward.
He and his two closest pack-mates would go meet with them. He saw Elf and Dwarf eye each other with an amount of unease before nodding and turning to face Corwin's pack. Each eld a flag of truce, a flag that Midori had respected in the past when these borders had been negociated.
The Dwarf was the first to speak as everyone arrived approximately at the middle point between Armies, and spoke. "Yer master is, as always, unkind t'ye Corwin."
A nod from him and the Elven lady spoke. "We have heard rumor your lord was building up his forces. Do you intend on battering your armies against our walls?"
Corwin snorted at the pair attempting to deflect their fears. "Stand aside. My master seeks to prevent Kronos from taking the Library as his own."
Elf and Dwarf exchanged looks then the Dwarf spoke. "I was given to understand that Kronos is dead, and the dungeon that has taken his place has been far more open with outsiders."
Lun gave a dismissive snort, "And if you believe that a mewling whelp of a dungeon could unseat Damala's heir with its eyes barely open you're more a fool than we'd taken you for."
Celest then spoke. "We ask that you stay within your borders. We will stay to the roads and agreed upon spaces between our holdings."
Corwin looked at the pair carefully. "We march regardless of your answer. We simply do not wish to waste resources or time. Consider your own lives and lords well before you do anything stupid."
Then his right fist raised, causing Midori's forces to slowly advance.
Elf and Dwarf exchanged looks and they fell back to their respective holdings, entourages in tow, none daring to take their eyes from the army advancing.
When the pair had retreated Lun looked to Corwin, "You believe they will stay to their holdings?"
"No," Corwin replied before they resumed their march at the head of Midori's forces. "Send word to split two companies of Orcs to hold them to their lands. Their orders are to remain outside of enemy holdings unless provoked. Their primary job is to keep the way clear for unit replenishment."
Before either of his subordinates could comment, Corwin continued. "We haven't the forces to subjugate or consume everyone between here and our target. If we perform a rolling conquest too much time will have passed, and Midori fears that will give Kronos time enough to pillage the library, and add its holdings to his own. Assuming stories hold true of working examples of weapons and spell books being held there in. This cannot be allowed."
Both Celest and Lun nodded as they continued marching. Orcs peeled off from the main formation to line up at either border. Most of these orcs having weathered and scarred completions, but otherwise seemed healthy. Some, however, held the too-pale completion that Corwin had. Their bodies riddled with black lines of fungal corruption, their eyes solid white yet still seeing.
No further orders were given to these troops. They knew their tasks and Corwin knew those commands would be followed.
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
"Rise and Report." Corwin heard Midori's voice. His head hurt as he rose from the lair that acted as his respawn point. Midori sounded not happy, but not displeased. Concern? Was the being that so blighted him even able to feel concern?
Corwin shook such thoughts away, "Initial progress proceeded well. The two nearest dungeons had let us pass through neutral roads as had been predicted and by the time we had come to the parkland separating us from the Toymaker's holdings I was reviewing our options for egress, as a new dungeon had appeared between last incursion and now. I do not know what felled me."
Corwin's ears drooped as his shoulders sagged. "What other casualties have there been?"
"So far you are the only one." Midori paused, then added. "Correction. Celest and Lun are down."
Then Midori's voice grew angrier, "Correction, your entire pack along with other senior staff have been killed."
Corwin slammed a fist against the brickwork of the dimly lit room he spawned in. "The Toymaker picked a damned fine time to bare fangs."
Midori's presence hummed thoughtfully. "This does not feel like his work. I am riding the senses of an ogre that's taken reigns and is trying to restore order."
In spite of the situation and the leash upon his neck, Corwin couldn't help but feel a small measure of pride. The Ogre had shown promise and was so promoted in spite of protests from his packmates. That pride was soon quashed at the next words from Midori's mouth.
"A ... Water elemental? Here? How?" Was that fear in Midori's voice? "I will send Lun and Celest out when they recover. For now take Lutz with you. Peel a company of orcs from those units holding our neighbors. If this baby wishes to fight. I have no qualms in strangling it in its crib."
Corwin paused at the wording of Midori's orders.
And so, Corwin went.
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
As they ran, Corwin looked to this Lutz. A goblin with weapons and armor marking him as a fighter. His ear flicked. He Knew this creature.
Lutz wore a grimace as he ran, unwilling to take his eyes from the road. "Your master made a mistake infecting me."
"Oh?" Corwin made several signs as he passed differing orcs, causing them to fall in line with he and the goblin beside him. "While I have no love loss for my master, I fail to see the error."
"beyond the wider problem of the Dungeioneer Confederation not just posting sanctions, but sending forces to cage your forces so none may enter, starving him?"
That caught Corwin's attention. "The land provides. Midori's forces are largely capable of subsisting and sustaining through natural means."
He noticed Orcs giving signal ahead of his advance, allowing them to decide among themselves which left the picket lines that were still being assembled. It seemed to him that the Orcs themselves would rather fight than stand at post.
Lutz spat, "Your master's-"
"Our master," Corwin snapped.
"Your master," Lutz continued, "Is deluded and unwilling to see the situation for what it is. Kronos not only got eaten, but the new guys in charge are playing smart. Multi-species units, unorthidox use of material." He then chuckled darkly. "I hope he's paying attention because we're fast approaching the point where he can't stop this. Though considering what he did to me I suspect Ally and Stone Soup are going to try smashing him to bits on sheer principle."
"What of it?" Corwin scoffed. The Orcs were falling in orderly lines. Minimal fuss. Good. Those that were left behind grumbled, made literal chest pounding grunts and rude gestures to the enemy dungeons, but they were staying on their sides of the line. Good.
"Don't you get it?" Lutz said in exasperation. "There is no Throne. there is going to be no taking this by force. That dungeon, alone, and maybe a month old if Keystone's notes were right, took out Kronos. A dungeon that had set itself up at the last known spot Damala's core was."
Gears turned in Corwin's mind.
Lutz continued not giving the lupine time to process. "My party's mage is good. Not great, but damned solid. Our rogue?" He grinned, showing the split running down his chin where Midori's 'gift' had altered him. "The lady remembers her past lives. Her other half from nearly all of them is one of your enemy's heavy hitters."
Corwin's ears slowly swiveled, betraying his interest even as he refused to look to Lutz.
"The dungeon itself knew both.that's three lives together here and now." Lutz stopped, grabbing Corwin and forcing the lupine to look him in the eyes.
Both sets of milky white eyes looked to each other. "From what I'd been told. Kronos was the big bad hoodoo that caused the end of the last age. And Your enemy Ate him. Your only course is to sue for peace and pray they do not call The Raven on our heads out of sheer spite."
Corwin's ears flattened, a whine in the back of his throat as he processed this. As the orcs that followed them watched on he jerked away from Lutz's grip. "I follow because I have no choice, and neither do you. Now." The roughness in his voice was marred by shades of fear, and regret. "March."
As Lutz started to move, largely against his own will, to fall in beside and slightly beside Corwin he let out a bitter laugh. "Onward into the Jaws of Death march the Two Hundred."
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