Sorry it took so long to get this chapter out. A combination of work, and trying out drawing some of these characters. I’ll let all of you know how that works out. I’m planning on including the drawings in my site.
This chapter is probably twice as long as the the others. I hope you all enjoy.
3 years later
The Strong Horns had returned to Rom’s inn. Over the last three years, they have grown from a force of 30 to over 1000 members.
They have also gained notoriety as one of the strongest mercenary groups in the Demon Territories, even though they weren’t the largest.
This was in large part due to Modryn’s influence. He taught the warriors the same training regimen and tactics that had been used by Clan Rashee’s personal forces, and the mages were taught the Rashee’s most advanced magical theory and knowledge. The tactics and strategies that he taught to the Strong Horns’ leaders were also a unique blend of noble and adventurer that managed to confound the enemy most times, while also being flexible enough to account for unexpected developments.
As they approached the end of the third year since meeting Modryn, Tristan claimed that he had something important to say and said it would be better to do it at Rom’s inn.
That was how the six leaders of the Strong Horns came to be sitting at a table in a back room of the inn alongside Rom.
Modryn looked at Tristan expectantly, “Ok, Boss, what did you have to say that was so important? Couldn’t be your retirement, right?” He joked, with a wide grin on his face.
There were chuckles in response, but the looks on everyone’s faces made Modryn uneasy. ‘They all have those grins on their faces. As if they know something and their barely able to contain their laughter.’ Modryn looked towards Cu’thar, who he knew was the worst at keeping secrets, but he could see nothing that told him just what was causing the bad feeling.
“It’s funny you should mention that, Modryn, cause that is similar to what I mean to say.” Tristan responded. “I have decided to step down as overall commander of the Strong Horns.”
Modryn was openly shocked.”Wait, where did this come from? Where are you planning to go? Who’s going to take your place?” He asked with a disbelieving look on his face.
That last question brought snickers from the Troll and the Orc. Modryn looked to them and saw they were covering their mouths around their tusks, barely suppressing their laughter.
“Heheh, I’ve actually been thinking about this for a few months now. I’ve found someone who is much more suited to being commander than me. As for where I’m going, I never said I would leave, just step down. And for my replacement…” As Tristan finished speaking, he looked at Modryn with a wide, shit-eating grin on his face, and Modryn felt his stomach drop through the floor.
At that point, the other four leaders gave up their losing battles, and the room was filled with their laughter. Cu’thar actually fell out of his chair, and lay there on the floor. Modryn looked at all of them incredulously, “You all knew? And you support this?”
Angela answered, “Tristan talked to us about this on the way here. We all agreed to it.”
“The soldiers aren’t going to complain. They already know that you’re the driving force behind the Strong Horns. You might not have been with us from the beginning, but they treat you the same as the five of us. Oh, and Gortuk is the one who thought it would be funny to keep you in the dark.” Gretchen chipped in, cutting off the objections she knew would be his first words, and thoroughly ensuring that Gortuk would be the target for retribution.
Filing that last bit away for later, Modryn looked towards the only one who hasn’t said anything since entering the room. Rom was watching the rest of them with his mug of ale, completely enjoying the situation. “Rom, this can’t be a good move. All of our clients know that Tristan is the commander. If someone else becomes the commander, our credibility is going to be in question as to wether or not I can be trusted!” He said, starting to get desperate.
“Actually, that’s where you were a little too clever for your own good, kid. You see, because of the Strong Horns’ people getting drunk and telling stories about you, and the fact that Tristan is to inexperienced to be as good a commander in only a few years as he seems to be, there’s a rumor spreading around that Tristan is just the acting commander, and the true commander either has a large amount of experience, or a very thorough education in the matters of war, and are hiding it for whatever reason. This change would simply confirm that rumor.” Rom responded with a smirk on his face.
Modryn looked around at all of them. “Are all of you serious? I wasn’t even able to lead my adventurer party. I can’t lead an army.”
Gortuk finally got himself under control, and said, “Why not? Leading an adventurer group and an army are two different things. We’ve seen how you work. If we say you’ll be a good commander, then you’ll be a good commander.” He finished with a shrug.
Modryn looked at each of them again. He saw that they were all certain of this. “Why? Why are all of you so certain that this is the best choice?”
Cu’thar pulled himself up off the floor, saying as he did so, “We don’t. But we know you. We know we can trust you to take care of everyone, listen to the advice of others, and still be decisive enough to get the job done.”
Gretchen said, “If Cu’thar is speaking wisdom, it’d be best to listen to him. It’s either a sign of the apocalypse, or a foretelling from the gods.”
That brought another round of laughter, this time at the Troll’s expense. Modryn shook his head. “If we do this, there won’t be any going back. You all aren’t going to decide to change it back without reason later? And if I start acting crazy, or doing things I shouldn’t, you’ll beat some sense into me?”
“Don’t worry so much. That’s what family’s for after all.” Angela replied gently.
Modryn once again checked their resolve before nodding. “Alright. Then I’ll do it.”
“Excellent. We’ll leave for the nearest city to find you some new armor and clothes tomorrow. Should take us a week.” Gretchen clapped her hands and said.
“Wait wait wait. Clothes? Armor? I’m fine with what I have. We don’t need to waste money like that.” Modryn immediately objected.
Angela and Gretchen looked at him like he said he was going to jump off a cliff and then fight a dragon. “You’re going to greet clients and nobles in the stuff we give to the others? No no no. You used to be a noble, what would you think of a mercenarary commander of 1000 men who showed up like that? No. New armor and clothes. No arguments. We have plenty of money to afford it easily.” Gretchen quickly rebutted him with Angela nodding beside her.
Modryn looked to the other men for help, but found that they were extremely interested in the layout of the room, while having their faces split with grins. ‘Damned traitors.’ He cursed and resigned himself to his fate.
Afterwards, the group went their separate ways for the night. Modryn and the girls turned in so they can leave early the next day, with Modryn taking a few minutes to settle some business first. Meanwhile, the others stayed up and drank some more before calling it a night.
With the exception of a metal pail of boiling water falling on Gortuk’s head as he entered his room, the night was peaceful.
The next morning, Tristan, Rom, and Gortuk saw off Modryn, Cu’thar, Gretchen, and Angela.
Excepting Gortuk, who was giving Modryn and Gretchen a sour look while rubbing the impressive lump on his head, everyone were in rather good moods, with Modryn and Gretchen suppressing laughter every time Gortuk looked their way.
“Have a safe trip you four, and hurry back, the men are going to want to celebrate as soon as possible, wether their new commander is here or not.” Tristan said, clapping Modryn on the shoulder.
“Yeah, they better not drink all the alcohol before we get back.” Modryn replied.
With that, the four of them headed out to the city of Felyor.
After two days travel, the four of them made it to Felyor before the gates closed at sunset and found an inn with two double rooms. The four companions met in the men’s room to discuss their plans for the next day. Quickly agreeing to a plan, they went to bed.
The next day, the first place they went was a tailor. Gretchen and Angela agreed that Modryn looked best in black and red, and helped the shopkeeper with the measurements, leaving Modryn feeling like some sort of toy and Cu’thar laughing in the corner until the three women shot him a look and ordered him to run errands.
After being told to return in a few days, the four of them went to the next destination, a well known smithy in the area with a Dwarven owner.
As they entered into the smithy’s shop area, they saw sets of armor and weapons scattered around of varying qualities. As they approached the counter in the back of the shop they found a Dwarf, which they assumed was the owner.
He was fairly young as far as Dwarves go. It can be difficult to judge a Dwarf’s age considering their youth doesn’t leave them and their hair doesn’t start turning gray until they’re at least 1000 years old, but Modryn judged this man to be at most 300 years. ‘To be driven to the Demon Territories this young, he must only be able to make a living as a smith because he’s a Dwarf. With that natural talent and his race’s reputation, added to the fact that he probably doesn’t have much in the way of competition, if someone who knows what they’re doing were to come along, he’ll be out of business in no time.’ Modryn mused as they reached the counter.
He was polishing the plate armor on display at the back wall, so the four of them waited for him to finish. After a few minutes, Gretchen cleared her throat. As it became obvious he was ignoring them, Gretchen tried asking politely for his attention. When he still didn’t respond, Modryn spoke up in Dwarven “Oi, is this how your master taught you how to treat customers?”
This caused a reaction. Every head turned to Modryn. His three companions knew that he would be able to speak the Shee’s tongue, but they had only heard him speak in the Common language that the Humans created and every other race used to communicate between each other. It was rare for someone to be able to speak the languages spoken exclusively by other races, mostly because those languages are specifically made for the shapes of that race’s mouths and vocal chords.
The Dwarf was even more surprised, because the Dwarven tongue was never taught to outsiders, unless under extreme circumstances which are so rare, most younger Dwarves believe it to be illegal to teach outsiders. Not to mention the fact that Modryn implied the Dwarf’s master was a poor teacher, an insult guaranteed to get a Dwarf’s attention. He immediately responded with “How do you know this language?! It’s forbidden!”
“Rare, maybe. But not forbidden.” Modryn calmly responded. “Now if you would be so kind as to respond to my friend in Common, we can finish our business and let you get on with endlessly polishing the polished armor.” He added with narrowed eyes, where the usual warmth was replaced with a deep chill.
The Dwarf became nervous looking at his reaction. Most wouldn’t provoke a Dwarf in close quarters, not even Alvs. If he was a couple centuries older than his 268, he’d have recognized the Alv standing in front of him as an experienced warrior that could rip him apart. But as it was, he just put in more bravado to cover up his nerves and looked at the Hobgoblin. “Just go around and find what you want. Bring it here when you’re ready.”
Modryn urged them to leave it at that, and they went to the other side of the store.
“I didn’t know you could speak Dwarven. Who taught you?” Angela excitedly asked.
Modryn chuckled, “My father. Apparently the current Dwarf King taught him after a wild Warg hunt 600 years ago. He also said that it was important to learn as many languages as possible.”
“Wow. That’s amazing.”
The four of them separated to look through the store. Modryn saw a small figure moving some armor in a corner. It appeared to be a young female Kobold, but what caught his attention was the armor.
He quickly walked over and picked up one of the gauntlets. It was made of unusual iron, pitch black and gave off an odd chilling sensation. Its was shaped like claws, and Modryn knew that the whole set would be very imposing.
As he looked at the gauntlet, the Kobold said shyly in broken Common, “S-sir, this a-ar-mor not to sell.”
Modryn looked kindly at her. “Oh? And why is that?” He responded in the Kobold’s language.
“*gasp* You speak Kobold?!” She responded with shock.
Modryn chuckled at her response. “Yes. It’s a shame I don’t get to speak it more often, but I do.” He kneeled down to be able to look her in the eye. “What’s your name?”
“Kha’la, Sir.” She replied, fidgeting with her dress.
“That’s a pretty name. How old are you?”
The answer shocked Modryn. He didn’t think she was that young. “15? Isn’t that young to be away from your tribe?”
Kha’la’s scaly, dog-like ears flattened against her head as she became worried her answers had angered the kind man. “My tribe killed my clan. I don’t know why. Me and Mother escaped, but she was injured. She begged the Master to take me in.”
“The Master? Does he treat you like a slave?” Modryn asked, catching that word.
Kha’la quickly shook her head, “No. I am his apprentice. But he always complains about me being here.”
Modryn nodded. He was beginning to understand the situation here. “I see. Dwarves are an honorable race. They won’t turn away someone injured or deny their last wish without good reason. Many mistake that as them being kind-hearted. Your mother unknowingly forced him to take care of you. Are you happy here?”
Kha’la looked to see if anyone was looking, then shook her head, “No, Sir.”
“I see…about the armor, why is it not for sell?” Modryn asked, changing the subject.
Kha’la started to become depressed. This kind man who could speak the language of her childhood that she missed so much, she wanted to give him the answers he was looking for, but if she sold this armor to him, her Master would become angry with her, and she would be punished. Her eyes started to tear up. “I’m sorry. I made it without permission. Master has tried to make other things from the strange iron that this is made from, but it would never come out right. Master dismissed it as poor ore. I don’t know why, but I felt the urge to try. I didn’t use any of the techniques Master taught me. They didn’t seem right for the iron. I was in a daze. I don’t remember exactly what I did. When I came out of it, the armor had only the breastplate and gauntlets finished and I was going to retrieve more ore. Master woke me from the daze by yelling at me about wasting resources. He was so certain that the ore was useless that he dismissed my work without looking at it. The only reason the armor is out here is because one of the other apprentices moved it out here by mistake. Please, don’t be mad at me.” She finished, whispering near hysterically.
Modryn quickly raised his hand, rubbing her head. Her glossy scales were smooth, and cool to the touch. The young Kobold was surprised at first, but she quickly began to calm down as Modryn spoke soothingly, “Why would I be mad at you?”
“B-because I’m not telling you what you want to hear.”
Modryn smiled gently at her, “I would prefer to have you speak the truth. Others might like to be told what they want to hear, but I prefer the truth over a pretty lie.”
He quickly gathered up the armor that the Kobold had made. “Come. You might enjoy what’s about to take place.” He said to Kha’la, and walked up to the counter where the others were looking over what they found deciding what to buy, with the little Kobold following behind him.
Modryn placed the armor on the counter. “I’ll take this. How much?” He said to the Dwarf.
The owner looked over the armor, then glared at Kha’la, who started trembling. Modryn stepped in between them. “Kha’la was moving the armor, just as you ordered. I’m the one who decided to bring it over. She tried to stop me. How much?” He said with a hint of ice in his voice.
“I can’t sell it. I can’t approve of its make because the Kobold was never supposed to start forging on her own.” The owner said, expecting the arrogant Alv in front of him to lose interest in the armor once he knew a Kobold made it.
“Then don’t approve it. It doesn’t need your mark. The girl made it herself.” Modryn smoothly responded.
The owner’s eyes quickly opened as he realized that Modryn already knew who made the armor. “How did you-“
“Kha’la told me.”
“Speak Common? No, not well, something you should have remedied by the way, but I can speak Kobold. It’s not to different from some Shee languages.”
Beryl looked at the Dok Alv standing in front of him. Something didn’t seem right here. Alvs never deigned to learn anything beyond Alvan Shee and Common, and sometimes they felt that learning Common was a waste of time because it was a lesser race’s language. But this man knew not only Dwarven, but also Kobold? If he was an adventurer, then it would make sense if he knew a few words of Dwarven, but to be fluent in that and Kobold is another matter altogether.
As he came to this realization a chill ran up his back. This man’s attitude, his demeanor, and his knowledge and skills. All of these oddities are telling Beryl that he is well out of his depth. He decided then that he didn’t want anything to do with these people. They were to unknown, to dangerous. He wanted them out of his shop as soon as possible.
“Fine! Have it your damn way! One gold for the entire set. Just don’t come crying when something goes wrong.”
Modryn shook his head, “To high. 50 silver.”
“Half a gold?! How am I going to make a profit?!”
“You’re not going to find anyone else who wants it. This is the best it gets.” Modryn responded.
Those words made Beryl realize he was correct. He was just going to melt it down otherwise, and he’d still be stuck with the useless ore. He was so flustered and busy trying to get these four out of his shop, he didn’t think to ask, if no one else was going to buy it, why did he want it? Kha’la on the other hand was able to realize this. She couldn’t speak Common, but she understood enough to know what was going on. ‘Why does this man want this armor? What’s going on?’
Everyone else in the room was still trying to catch up with Modryn’s pace. All they knew was that Modryn wanted the chest plate and gauntlets and was putting pressure on the Dwarf. Something he only does when he’s bartering for something valuable.
“Fine, 50 silver. Now get out.” Beryl finally said.
“Wait, there’s some other things that I want.”
“For the love of the Gods, what?!” Beryl was really starting to feel fidgety. He didn’t know it, but the subtle pressure that Modryn was putting on his consciousness was exacerbating the unease he was already feeling about this mysterious Alv.
“All of the ore that was used to make this armor, it’s useless to you anyways, and the right to buy the girl out of her apprenticeship. And that black leather long-coat, as well.” Modryn said, throwing in the coat he just noticed as an after thought, “I’ll give you 5 gold for the girl and the ore, to deliver the ore to the village two days walking distance to the south, and another 30 silver for the coat.”
As he mentioned Kha’la, Beryl glanced at her. “I’ll give you everything, but I swore to the girl’s mother on her death bed that I’d take care of her.”
“I know, and I also know how seriously Dwarves take their oaths. I swear to you on my family’s graves that I will take care of her.”
Beryl nodded and held out his hand to Modryn. “Deal.”
Modryn turned to Kha’la, and said in Kobold, “Go and gather your things.”
Kha’la looked at Modryn with a hopeful expression, “Will I be able to go with you?”
“If you wish.” Modryn replied with a smile.
Kha’la squealed happily, and rushed out of the room.
Everyone was looking at Modryn, with stunned expressions on their faces. Beryl, who was giving instructions to his other apprentices, had even stopped to stare at him.
Cu’thar broke the silence with, “It’s one thing to hear about it, but to actually see you speaking Kobold is shocking.”
Modryn replied with a grin, “I told you, my father wanted us to learn many languages. My brother always said that Alvs shouldn’t need to learn lesser languages, but I’ve always been fascinated with other race’s cultures and languages.” With that, he grabbed the coat he bought from the stand and placed it on the counter.
As they were finishing packing up the newly bought armor and coat, Kha’la returned with a small sack across her back.
“Got everything?” Angela asked.
“Good, lets head back to the inn then.” Modryn said.
And with that the five of them walked out of Beryl’s store, ‘Hopefully they’ll never return,’ he thought to himself.
As the five of them entered the men’s room at the inn, Angela quickly cast an enchantment to prevent eavesdropping.
Once that was finished, Gretchen finally let loose with all of the questions she had been sitting on ever since Modryn flashed them the sign they use when an area is to unsecure to speak freely.
“Okay, Modryn, what’s with the armor? Who’s the kid? Why’d you bring her? Why did you buy all of that ore? And, why the coat?”
Modryn chuckled. “Please, give me a second. I’ll explain everything.”
As everyone settled down in a seat, with Kha’la attempting to sit on the floor only to be grabbed by Angela and placed in her lap, Modryn began explaining.
“Try not to interrupt with further questions until the end please. Now, the reasons for the armor and ore are the same. All of you are aware of an underground river that flows throughout the world never reaches the surface, with its waters colored black, correct? It’s common knowledge that it’s called the River Styx. What isn’t common knowledge is that there can sometimes be ores found near the banks of this river, usually iron. Its appearance hints that it absorbed some of the properties of the river, namely its pitch black coloring and tendency to radiate cold energy. This is called Stygian Iron. It is a magical metal on par, or even superior to, Mithril and Orichalcum. It’s main strength is to cause damage to ethereal beings and those on the astral plane. And yes, that is the material the armor and ores are. It’s also one part of the alloy that makes up Dragon’s Wrath, which is how I know so much about it. Another interesting trait of it is that it is difficult to use singularly. Meaning it needs to become a part of an alloy with another magical metal. Otherwise, it has a tendency to cause slight frost burn on the body of the one using it. By some genetic quirk, Clan Rashee can use it without much issue, but it is still preferable to use alloys. It is also notoriously difficult to shape. Even Dwarves have trouble forging it into usable materials. That’s why it’s often considered a trash ore.”
“If it’s that difficult to shape, why’d we buy it?” asked Cu’thar.
Angela quickly slapped the back of his head, and said, “Shh.”
“Go on, Modryn.” Gretchen said. Modryn could tell that she was beginning to see where this was going, while Kha’la was still confused.
“3000 years ago, a group of Dwarves started pumping out weapons and armor made of Stygian Iron and either Mithril, or Orichalcum. Dragon’s Wrath was one of those weapons. Shortly afterwards, production stopped and the Dwarves refused all orders for Stygian Iron items.”
“Why?” Came from Kha’la, still sitting in Angela’s lap, seemingly enthralled by the story being told.
“They refused to admit why. But at the time, there was a rebellion of slaves in the Dwarves’ country. At the end of the rebellion, all slaves either escaped, or died holding the Dwarves off. The race all of the slaves belong to was the Kobolds. My father had a theory. He believed that the Kobolds were the ones who were forging the weapons, while the Dwarves profit. And I’m pretty sure what I learned from Kha’la today verifies it.”
“So that’s why you brought the kid. To protect her.” Concluded Gretchen.
“Yes, eventually her inborn talent would be discovered, so I wanted to bring her with us to protect her.” At this, Modryn looked to Kha’la. “I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t want. If you wish to leave and go to where there are more Kobolds, I will take you myself. But you are free to chose to leave or stay.”
Kha’la thought for a moment then looked at everyone, “I stay.”