Gregor tugged the reigns of his horse, slowing its pace as to not get too far in front of his traveling companion, who rode a slower-moving strider. Most circle messengers preferred to use striders that, while generally slower than horses, could be coaxed into extreme speeds when necessary. But not Gregor. He was, after all, the only human member of the Messenger corps, and his horsemanship was second to none – it had been even when he still lived with his family in Sarnghaver, before the Draksar attack that leveled his village and left him an orphan at the tender age of 10.
Gregor was thrilled when the Circle chose him to recall the Outcast D’elim. D’elim was the hero of the battle of Emerald Lake, in which the smaller K’thras forces had annihilated an invading Myx army, bringing prominence to what was once just an obscure tribe of K’thir. The prospect of the long journey with D’elim, bane of the Draksar’s Myx allies, seemed like a dream come true.
But the dream turned into a nightmare as Gregor neared D’elim’s army. The K’thras force had cut a trail of destruction through the countryside in their march toward Valdac. Every village was burned to the ground, every crop field salted, and the dead were left to rot in the open air of the Fragile Expanses. But the worst moment of this journey had been upon arriving to D’elim’s camp. The Outcast’s army was finishing a massacre of a Hyaenid village. These Hyaenids were not warriors, but even their pups had been put to the sword, arrow, or flame. D’elim himself was at the front of his army – cold, expressionless – as he watched two Hyaenid elders huddled in the center of a straw hut hugging each other and trembling in fear. The Outcast lifted his burning staff and put the hut to the torch. As the flames shot up and the smoke blackened the sky, the trapped Hyaenid couple began singing to their gods in tortured howls. The singing continued after their fur caught on fire. The singing continued as the smell of burning flesh filled Gregor’s nostrils.
The trip back to the Circle had been silent, but now, less than an hour’s ride from their destination, the Hero of Emerald Lake finally spoke.
“You disapprove of my methods. I can see it in your expression, human. In your eyes when you look at me. I can hear it in your whimpers while you sleep.”
Gregor said nothing. His grip on the reins tightened and he nudged his horse forward to pick up the pace.
“You know as well as I do that this recall can mean only one thing – I am to rejoin the Circle as a full member. Even those political fools are wise enough to realize that the so-called forbidden elemental arts are going to be K’thras’ salvation. In time you will agree with me as well.”
Gregor bit into his cheek. He tasted blood.
“But keep hold of your tender morality for now. I am a patient man. Soon, every neophyte wizard will learn the elemental arts, and even Vindrax himself will tremble at our might.”
Friend or Foe
Klub did not like surprises. He prided himself on his deep planning of every aspect of combat - every maneuver, every tactic, every variable – no detail was too small to escape his notice.
Klub’s obsession with the details of battle had taken him from an unknown warrior in the Voil Queen’s army to a position of supreme command. His rise had been earned many times over. Unlike Lance Admiral Sceian, he did not have a royal lineage that gave him instant access to the upper ranks. As a Cyclops, he had faced unrelenting hostility and suspicion among the Voil aristocracy. Not that he minded. Every Voil kit was taught to believe Cyclops were nothing but brutes with no brains, and so they constantly underestimated him. Eventually, Klub’s unbroken string of victories became so impressive that the Queen herself chose him over the Lance Admiral to become Supreme Commander, much to the displeasure of the Voil nobility.
Looking out from the open flap of his kanen-hide tent, Klub watched the Hyaenid army camp, enjoying a victory feast. The occasional howl or loud chewing of roasted moga gave the only pauses from the constant cackling. This was not the scene he predicted.
Shallaxy, a courier and the only Voil Klub truly considered a friend, stretched out her wings, then wrapped them around her body like a cloak. She looked at the Cyclops general with a half grin.
Klub finally spoke to his Voil friend. “Tell me again how the Hyaenids defeated the Snaptooth army.”
The Voil took a moment to breathe in, and then cleared her throat.
“We attacked the Murkwater forces as you instructed. At first, the Snaptooth rabble was easily getting the best of the Hyaenid warriors. Then, just as I was about to order the retreat, an explosion rocked the Snaptooth left flank. The Hyaenids’ allies, called ‘Djinns’ I was later told, descended on the Snaptooth berserkers, striking them down with furious attacks. The Hyaenids, who only moments before looked to be on the verge of panic, became emboldened by their ostentatious allies and lost all fear. And then, just as suddenly, it was Folgar’s murkwater allies who were in full retreat.”
Klub sat silently frowning, his beefy hand rubbing his chin.
“I would have expected you to be more pleased at winning not one, but two victories in a single day.” The Voil’s voice was raspy voice trailed off for a moment. “I understand your simultaneous attack on Kartch’s army was also successful.”
“And yet I am not happy.”
Klub had spent weeks preparing for this day. The plan was simple – use the Hyaenid forces as a lump of meat to keep the Snaptooth army busy chewing while he led the main force against the Finlord’s outnumbered host. The second part of the plan had gone exactly as expected. But the meat appeared to have choked the Snaptooth. Worse still, the meat had done it with unknown and unexpected help.
For several minutes, both the Voil and the Cyclops sat in silence. The only sound was the Hyaenid cackling in the distance.
Finally, Klub planted his mammoth hammer on the ground and leaned against it pulling himself up.
“We leave tonight for the Voil Queen’s roost.”
Shallaxy leaned her head slightly to the side, yawned, and gave him a quizzical look.
“Now? Are you in such a hurry to tell the Queen about these powerful new Djinn allies?”
"They are powerful, but the Queen will not be pleased. These Hyaenids have been hiding much from us."