Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XVII: On the Trail of the Boas Constrictor

A cloud passed over the late afternoon sun. Cold wind blew from the north, carrying with it the scent of snow. But though the blizzard raged on the horizon, the skies over the Schoolhouse here in Caelum Mount remained mostly clear for now.

It was almost engaging enough for Gottschalk to forget about the goblins that followed behind him.

“We like kill man-woman-virgin-type-thing! We chew all best parts!” the grey-faced inhuman smiled lasciviously as it spoke. “Give us other-more! OTHER-MORE VIRGINS IN NAME OF GREAT GOD TEZSHNAZ! Mzajshetydty TEZSHNAZ!”

Gorm raised his great axe, a hopeful look upon his face, but Gottschalk only shook his head. He would have loved to let the large barbarian hack the disgusting goblins to death, but he doubted that Salpinx and the other Caelumian leaders would look too fondly on such a summary execution. How could the humans here be so foolish as to let them in?

He sighed and turned his attention back to the Schoolhouse. Ordering the goblins to stand guard outside, he and Gorm entered. They had cultists to catch, not to mention some strange serpent creature that they had brought with them.

The place was quite impressive: tall, arched ceilings hung overhead. It had high quality portraits and sculptures too. The walls were made of exquisite marble and had fine, oaken doors- all looked very expensive. Three classrooms lay to either side, making six for them to search.

But though the place was exceedingly opulent in the local, Olympian style, something was off about it. For one, despite its outside appearance, this was no Schoolhouse for younger pupils, but actually seemed a University Hall for young men and women. And being in Caelum Mount, one would think it would be a place for magical education, but yet the signs here seemed more geared to Indoctrination, rather than uncovering the deeper Mysteries of Reality.

Gottschalk’s initial examination was cut short though when Gorm brazenly strode towards the first classroom.

“Wait!” he whispered loudly, but Gorm only threw open the door.

Gottschalk reached for his miner’s pick, unsure whether any cultists inside would be ready for attack, but his fears seemed unfounded for now. Within were a few students, though they paid no attention to the large, mulleted barbarian breathing heavily through his mouth.

Gottschalk came in quickly and tried to pull Gorm out. Only a few students then turned nonchalantly towards the two. One young woman stared mesmerized at a moderate sized box upon her lap- it danced with fell lights. Gottschalk knew it to be a Ghul-Ghul box: one of the many devices that cults used to distract their converts from the actual truths of the world around them.

The instructor, a middle-aged Caelumian woman continued her lecture despite the interruption, “....Amazon society does face a steep loss of their populace. The only remedy of course is to import more orc manservants to increase the numbers of Amazons again. Now class, get out your coloring scrolls to show what that would look like...”

All the students blindly nodded despite the obvious fact that such a ‘remedy’ would certainly lead to the Amazons being Amazons no more. In a few generations, they would be bred out of existence in order to prevent a ‘steep loss of their populace’.

Gottschalk wondered at how the people of this town would pay so much to have their students learn such vile, anti-human rhetoric. Gorm raised his axe expectantly again, but Gottschalk still shook his head.

The next classroom was more animated. The professor there yelled and railed against ‘Human Privilege’, holding some sort of voodoo doll.  Ironically, it was an orc male and the students mostly humans, though a number of the young women were paired with some younger orc males who bore an uncanny resemblance to the professor! Gottschalk nearly vomited. The books and plaques upon the walls suggested that students had once learned valuable lessons of life, diction, and science here, but it seemed no more.

The professor quickly pointed out the intruders. “Look! Human Supremacists! They trying to Oppress Us!”

The students screamed and ran to the professor, though the other orc males rushed Gorm. The barbarian nearly cheered as he decapitated one and took another through the chest. They howled as they died. The human students’ faces went white.

Gottschalk made ready to chastise them, but they only clung to their professor tighter. He couldn’t believe such foolishness, but Gottschalk had heard some cultists believed that some orcs were ‘magical’. Knowing it wrong to slay them all, he deftly grabbed the voodoo doll and took it hostage. The students and aging orc remained behind, eyeing the two warily.

Gorm opened the third door next, though he did so less brazenly than before. Within was another human woman, but unlike the one from the first classroom they had seen, she appeared foreign, having an arrogant gaze despite her otherwise attractive mien.

“Salpinx couldn’t form a proper sentence together if he had the assistance of Aristophanes himself! Now I have ‘burned’ him, haven’t I?”

The students within, almost all young women, laughed and cheered. The classroom had the accoutrements of magical work, though it seemed they would rather poke fun at the town’s leader than learn such arcane arts.

Gorm turned to Gottschalk, a look of hope upon his face again, but he recognized the instructor. She was the Great J. Kary-Rotter, and she was quite the well-known witch.

Realizing just what a corrupt place this actually was, the duo moved faster now. The fourth door opened to a large gymnasium. Inside were many students led by a hulking man. Unlike Gorm though, he was very effeminate, had a blond bowl cut, and kept bowing before a rainbow banner upon the wall. He turned to look at them, but Gottschalk and Gorm fled before he could see.

Finally, the fifth door opened to a classroom that held the cultists. Gottschalk would have been relieved if not for the gruesome scene within. A victim lay on the floor there. It was hard to tell, but the corpse wore the remains of a professor’s robes.

“No more Human Privilege for you!” the cultists jeered as they kicked the bloodied form.

Gorm’s face went red and he flexed his mighty chest. Still they laughed, though their flimsy rainbow robes, pudgy frames, and short daggers were obviously no match for him. Then he realized what had made them so arrogant.

Arising from the professor’s carcass was a mustached dwarven head, set upon a large and spotted python’s body. It must have been the thing that Gottschalk had heard hissing before: a Boas Constrictor!

It sprang forward, fangs and serpent tongue showing golden and red as it struck at Gorm. The barbarian was quicker though and deflected its poison bite. Still, the monster wrapped its snake body around his neck, squeezing with abominable might.

“It... not... natural!” gasped Gorm.

“NUUUUUUUUUUURTURE,” it hissed. “Not NAAAAAAAAAAATURE!”

Gottschalk moved to help his friend, but the cultists still stood in the way. Sounds in the hall signaled too that the bizarre professors and misled students they had encountered earlier were likely approaching from the other classrooms now.

Even worse, it looked like the Boas Constrictor was crushing Gorm’s head, attempting to reform his skull shape to meet some fell purpose.

What sort of monster would try to do that?

Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XVIII!


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XVI: False Pronoun-ciation!

Gorm stretched his mighty arms as Gottschalk mulled over what course of action to take next. He had heard that Salpinx was a great leader, that he would ‘Make Caelum Mount Great Again’, and yet seemed nearly as corrupted as the cultists themselves. That the ‘patriotic’ goblin levies he had been tasked to command were staring at him didn’t help matters.

“We could kill them?” offered Gorm as he pointed his axe. The goblins only stared back blankly, seeming not to understand a word he said. 

Gottschalk had to chuckle: Equalitarians would claim that ‘Diverse Creatures Strengthen Us All’, but of course, that was nonsense. Unity created strength; Diversity created weakness. Yes, this land hadn’t been destroyed by goblins yet, but it seemed to have been infected with the same fell philosophy that had destroyed his own.

The goblins went back to chattering to themselves in their heinous tongue. They adjusted their ill-fitting hoplite armor, strange upon their grey hides, and bickered over who would get to hold the Caelum Mount flag they had. A number of Caelumian women walked by then and the goblins hooted at them. It seemed goblins were willing to communicate if they wanted to enough. The women frowned, made the sign of the evil eye, and left.

Soon a group of cultists walked by too, roughly ten in number. Their blue-dyed hair showed strangely in the cold afternoon sun and one looked to even have a strange serpent about his neck. Gorm smiled widely, glad that he would finally get to kill something. The cultists didn’t notice him at first and approached Gottschalk.

“Oh, look at the stupid human, Mono-Gendered Fool!” said a female cultist with a ring in her nose. “Are you hoping to Oppress Your Gender Upon Us?” She pointed at his pants and pulled out a knife.

Gottschalk wasn’t sure how best to reply: what the woman said made little sense, even for a cultist. The serpent hissed something from another’s neck, but the cultists only shrieked and raced down the road when they saw Gorm come at them with his axe brandished. Gottschalk grudgingly signaled to the goblins to follow.

Gorm quickly overtook one of them, though whether it was male or female, none could say. The chubby, rainbow-clad person struggled and squirmed under his foot as he steadied his axe for the killing blow.

“Hold still... um...” began Gorm.

“Well, what is it?” demanded the cultist.

Gorm didn’t answer at first, trying instead to find the best angle for his swing.

“Well?!”

“Um... man-woman?”

The cultist grew outraged.

“Bearded lady... he-she?”

“By the Greater Liberators of Chaosada, You Will Not Oppress Me with your False Pronoun-ciation! I am Zie!”

Gorm, being a barbarian, soon had enough of the cultist’s grammatical rant and made ready to strike.

Gottschalk and the goblins arrived then. He gazed down the road to see that the rest of the cultists had fled towards a Schoolhouse. He remembered that snake-thing that was with them and grew concerned. The goblins gawked at the cultist still on the ground and jeered.

“Don’t Jest, Goblin-Friends! The Humans Will Oppress-!”

Gorm swung down before the cultist could finish, but his- her body somehow flowed out of the way. It then quickly formed into something more like a woman.

“I am Gender Fluid, barbarian! Your Body-Shaming-Oppression Has Failed You Again! I am Free To Be Me!”

Gorm growled at the cultist’s insanity, but was taken aback by the man-woman’s unnatural change. It reminded him of the demonic, shrill, nigh, Wise One Guy that they had encountered days before (in Part VII), though this cultist seemed even more perverse.

Capitalizing on his distraction, the cultist then grinned and kicked him repeatedly in the groin, screaming all the while. “You Shall No Longer Oppress My Gender-less!” Gorm doubled over in pain.

The cultist’s body then flowed into something more manlike and leapt up to escape. Gottschalk was quicker though and cracked him-her on the back. The cultist fell to the ground again, screaming. He was glad to have caught it in time; some man-women were known to be great runners. The goblins laughed and readied their spears, knowing enough to wait for permission before attacking.

Gottschalk felt it was wrong, but also knew he had no other choice. He hated letting goblins kill a human, but it was a cultists nonetheless.

Still, he held them back for now. “Where are your friends going? What is that snake-thing they have?” he demanded.

“Oh, this town will never survive the Boas Constrictor! It will put you and all your Gender Oppression into such a hole!” The cultist turned then and ripped off its bloody clothing, revealing both male and female generative organs on its warped form. “Speaking of which, don’t you wish to partake of all I have to offer?”

The goblins’ eyes grew wide and looks of unclean desire came over their grey faces. They lowered their weapons. Gorm, now arising from his injury, lowered himself again only to become sick at seeing the abomination nude.

“You are free to be you, but what about the rest of us?” said Gottschalk. “Must we live under your oppression now?”

The cultist only laughed. “You Mono-Genders are the only ones who can Oppress; Zie cannot!”

Gottschalk strode up then, pushed the goblins out of the way, and wound back for a final strike at the man-woman’s head. He hoped that would slay the creature, no matter what gender it flowed into next.

Listening to it was even worse than listening to the goblins’ heinous tongue...



Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XVII!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XV: Patriotic, but still Equalitarian

Gorm stared past the Caelumian wall; Gottschalk stood by his side. Both shivered.

The clouds were darkening in the cold, late morning sky, but goblins continued to charge and howl at another section of wall, roughly 50 yards to the south. The archers and hoplites there shot and stabbed the inhumans as they tried to climb over, but cultists stamped their feet and howled to let the goblins in.

Both groups yelled from either side of the soldiers, their false-righteous demands to flood this human land thus far being only met with spirited defense. Ironically, the cultists stayed safely away from the goblins as they protested for their entry.

The duo then turned their attention to the north where a winter storm raged. It seemed to have come from nowhere! Gottschalk guessed that it might be the work of cultist too- only they would evoke something so unnatural.

Others soon came up behind them, levies drafted to hold the border of Caelum Mount. With nearby Dinglesfuhr having fallen to the east and Walstock conquered by red dwarves further north, a good number of human refugees had volunteered to fight at the sides of their Olympian cousins here. Being skilled warriors, as well as having made a good impression on Captain Salpinx earlier that day, both Gorm and Gottschalk were tasked with leading these troops.

They soon regretted it.

“Are you Amaranthine? I hope you’re not! Hey you over there: what do you think of Amaranthinists? Aren’t they terrible Racists?!”

Gottschalk glared at the stout man from Walstock who had spoken. He was moving about the other displaced patriot levies, Caelum Mount flag in hand, ostensibly checking to see if they had any sympathies for the fallen wizard who had once ruled Dinglesfuhr, nearly a century ago.  Nowadays though, ‘Amaranthine’ was simply used as a pejorative against any who might be daring enough to fight to keep lands for themselves and their folk.

“Who cares?” Gottschalk shouted down at him. “We’re about to be overrun by goblins and you would challenge what beliefs the men by your side have?”

The stout man fumed, his face turning red. “I won’t work with Amaranthinists!” he declared.

Gottschalk glared back. “You only think they might be Amaranthinists because they’re men of the west! You’re the racist!”

The man, realizing that he had no other words to debate with, then trained his crossbow on Gottschalk.

Another to his side, a ragged man from Dinglesfuhr, struck him in the back and kicked away his weapon. “You sound like a commissar, Walstocker! You’d shoot your own people rather than believe that you might be working with Amaranthinists? Don’t you know that’s just what the red dwarves want? Maybe you’re working for them!”

Gorm leapt down then. He was a simple man, but also a barbarian, so he knew an impending fight when he saw one.

The levies paused for a moment with having their large leader so close by. But the Walstocker arose again and some of his fellows joined with him.

“We don’t care if you’re human or goblin or orc or elf or red dwarf or what have you!” he began.  “We just care about the Righteous Written Law of this Land- any who follow it are fine with us!”

“Death to all red dwarves and those who support them!” countered the Dinglesfuhrian. He too had his countrymen gather around. They were ragged like him, for unlike Walstock, Dinglesfuhr had been devastated, rather than merely conquered and occupied.

Gorm made to silence them both, but then Gottschalk spoke. He turned to the Walstock group first: “How will your precious Written Law save you when the goblins come to burn your homes and slaughter all you love?”

The Walstocker made to blubber out a reply, but could only utter little more than he had before: “Amaranthinist! I’m not an Amaranthinist! My forefathers even fought against the Amaranthine Wizard!”

The Dinglesfuhrians laughed and jeered at him, but then Gottschalk turned, now addressing them too. “And if all the red dwarves were gone tomorrow, we would still face the same threat. They may have started Equalitarianism, but it still has enough human disciples to destroy us all.”

The stout man made to speak, but then Gorm quickly bonked him on the head with the side of his axe. The man fell to the ground, unconscious.

Barbarians weren’t much for political debate, but he had to admit that Gottschalk had made an excellent point, if not a poignant one.

* * *

The clouds cleared somewhat, revealing patches of splendid blue Vale sky beyond. It had warmed a little too, taking the worst of the chill out of the air.

Looking about the street, Gottschalk’s heart stirred. It was good to see people about, men and women, families and tradesfolk happily living in the town, but only a few miles east, in Dinglesfuhr, he knew those who had done the same just weeks ago were either now enslaved or dead. How long before the goblins and cultists would do to Caelum Mount what they had done to his homeland?

Seeing that his friend seemed to be getting moody again, Gorm nudged him and pointed out some pretty Olympian ladies staring back at them in alluring ways.  Their dress and hairstyling were exotic to a Teuton such as he, but they otherwise looked just like Dinglesfuhrians in color and complexion, though perhaps without the pronounced cheekbones that his land was known for.

Gottschalk made to approach the women, but then Captain Salpinx arrived. They giggled and swooned at the presence of a man of such influence being so near, even if he was old enough to be their grandfather. His young son entered the road then too, rumored to be some sort of Baron. The women turned to coddle him.

“Terrific job manning the walls!” he exclaimed. “I think your team gets along really, really well!”

Gottschalk didn’t know what to make of the man’s statements. The levies hadn’t seen any fighting except amongst themselves, though Gorm did have to knock a few more unconscious before they were brought back in line.

His mouth dropped though when he saw who came into the street next.

Flanked by Salpinx’s elite hoplite guards were a number of goblins, unbound and dressed in a similar manner. Gorm raised his axe to attack, but Gottschalk held up his hand: it was obvious that Salpinx wanted them here.

“These goblins have a dream of making Caelum Mount great again- and who am I to tell them no?”

Gottschalk was at a loss for words. There were thousands of goblins, at this very moment, clamoring to breach the gates of Caelum Mount... and he let some of them in?

Seeing his concern, Salpinx added, “Oh no- no! These goblins were born here, right in Caelum Mount. The magic of the soil makes them True Caelumians!”

Gottschalk went pale. Gorm wondered if someone had hit Salpinx on the head too, just like he had done to that foolish Walstock levy earlier that day.

Finally, Gottschalk found the words to speak. “How does that make you any different from the cultists? They would have our lands overrun and us bred out of existence!”

Salpinx shook his head in frustration. “Not all the goblins are so bad! Many of them are just terrific- perfect patriots of Caelum Mount!”

It dawned on Gottschalk then that the insane philosophy that many of the cultists followed, Equalitarianism, had inculcated its foul view into more than just the cultists themselves.

Of course, not all goblins were ‘bad’, but it was never just a few goblins: there was always scores, hundreds, thousands, millions of them! And even if the inevitable evil ones that came in an invasion didn’t destroy all that you held dear, enough of the others would be around to crowd you out and do the same.

Even if they were ‘patriotic’ when they did it.



Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XVI!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XIV: Cultists Are Best Kept Outside Walls

“You Amaranthine Bastards are Ruining My Existence! All I did was try to gouge out the barbarian’s eyes and tear out the Dinglesfuhrian’s tongue... and you tied me up and left me in that swamp! You Broke Me!”

The she-creature finished its shrieking and circled back through the air, bile and murderous desire dripping from its fangs, unrepentant as most Equalitarian creatures were. How it had become a griffin, Gottschalk did not know, but it was here and its sharp claws were closing in on the captain now.

And indeed, it seemed to be going for his head.

The man turned, his aging, blond locks shimmering in the light of the winter dawn. Gottschalk, Gorm, and the captain’s Caelum Mount allies looked on in horror at his impending demise, but he only smiled.

“All these females keep approaching me- but that’s to be expected!” He pulled out a stylized, golden horn that was slung beneath his cape and brought it to his lips in a fluid motion.

The harpy-now-griffin shrieked and began to redirect its flight, but then the horn resounded. It was clear and true and very loud, and the she-creature grabbed its face and hurtled to the ground.

Gottschalk knew then who this captain was: Salpinx, a great leader and hope for the Vale, especially during this dark time of invasions. Hoplites came out from the gates next to escort them in. Gorm looked over at the fallen harpy-griffin who had crashed, now a few dozen yards from the walls.

“Leave it,” said Salpinx. “We built this wall and, by Zeus, it’s high enough to keep such criminals out!”

They all rushed in and secured the gate as another throng of goblins charged. The Caelumians went to the ramparts again to repel them. Some uttered prayers to Janus, god of portals, while others took up spear and bow.

Gottschalk and Gorm rushed up a ladder to help. Now on top of the wall, they could see a number of blue-haired cultists in rainbow garb approach the fallen she-creature in the distance. That sight gave them more horror than even the many, blood-thirsty goblins below.

Cultists could be far more dangerous.

* * *

The pungent taste of smoked fish, feta cheese, and fresh baked pita bread filled Gottschalk’s belly well. Caelumians sat in the Taverna around him and chatted, while others walked by outside happily, wearing wool chitons in the morning chill. Gottschalk couldn’t help but begin to tear up at the sight of a town that still had people and peace and prosperity in it. A town that had not been corrupted by cults, overrun by goblins, and destroyed.

Despite the Olympian character here, it reminded him of what Dinglesfuhr used to be.

Gorm looked over, finishing his own, tenth plate of food and, mistaking his friend’s distress for indigestion, began to clap him on the back in hearty, barbarian fashion. Knowing the potential damage that his strength could do, Gottschalk quickly put up his hands to indicate that he was alright.

Captain Salpinx strode over then, flanked by fair serving maids carrying more plates of food and drink. Gorm smiled wide and motioned for them to bring more.

“Your friend sure eats a lot. It’s better to go big,” said Salpinx

Gottschalk smiled. “We appreciate the cuisine and... safety of Caelum Mount. Much better than what is currently in...”

Salpinx nodded gravely. “Dinglesfuhr, right? That’s a bad, bad situation there.”

“Yes,” replied Gottschalk as he fought back the memories of the invasion... the burnings... the defilements... the slaughter.

“What you had there was a failure of leadership, a failure of the rulers to put Dinglesfuhr first.”

Gottschalk nodded at him then. Even Gorm stopped eating for a moment, realizing that Salpinx might indeed live up to his name and famed tact for inspiration.

Suddenly, a number of blue-haired, rainbow-garbed folk burst into the Taverna. They looked a lot like the cultists that Gorm and Gottschalk had seen approach the harpy-griffin earlier that morning. The normal Caelumians inside seemed to realize it too, for they braced themselves against the impending tirade.

“Stop the Oppression of Caelum Mount! Your Authoritarian Racist Dictatorship Will Not Stand! Tear Down Your Tyrannical Wall!”

The cultists continued to yell the same in unison. Gottschalk could tell that none had endured the hardship that he and his homeland had. One, a young man wearing rainbow face paint and an oath to not produce children written upon his pants, even walked up to Gottschalk and yelled right in his face.

Gottschalk winced and fumed. It never ceased to amaze him how cultists claimed that humans were so oppressive, yet cultists were actually the ones trying to oppress everyone else. They would have all the folk of the Vale be overrun and destroyed, all to satisfy their insane philosophy of making Eternal Amends! Gorm put down his platter of food and reached for his great axe.

Salpinx then whistled loudly and hoplite guards entered the Taverna. Wasting no time, they cudgeled the cultists mercilessly, their bronze armor and majestic capes showing brightly in the morning light. Gottschalk couldn’t help but approve of the beating: he knew that if the cultists got their way here, then Caelum Mount would turn out just like his homeland!

As they were being dragged out, he rushed up to the one who had shouted at him and grabbed the young man by his face. “And what about Dinglesfuhr! Do you know what the goblins did to my homeland? All they slew!?”

The young man only grinned arrogantly. “We Must Carry On. We Pray for Dinglesfuhr.”

Livid, Gottschalk began to kick the cultist repeatedly until Gorm pulled him back.

“Maybe cultists should stay outside walls they hate so much,” began the large barbarian. “That way they get to know goblins better.”


Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XIII: Equalitarian Griffins Always Try to Get a Head!


Night had fallen, cold and still in the Draining Swamp. At first, the captured harpy had stubbornly refused to respond to Gottschalk’s interrogation, but once he had begun to challenge its dedication to the fell Cult of Equalitarianism, it was hard to keep the she-monster quiet.

Gorm had enough of its squawking though. “We need leave. Time to find other land. Dinglesfuhr lost. Equal-i-tarry-ones ruin it.”

Despite his primitive mode of speech, Gottschalk had to agree with the large barbarian. The harpy, of course, didn’t.

“Oh, that would be just fitting!” it exclaimed. “Going to Oppress Another Land with Your Amaranthine Ways? You humans; you males especially! I look forward to the day when we Equalize you all! The Vale Cannot Tolerate Your Kind! Purging you all from Dinglesfuhr is not enough! I call upon Uncle Steel Dwarf to free me now, so that I may gouge out your eyes and suck the blood from their sockets, so that I might silence you and your Hateful Intolerant Oppressive Speech forever! How about I rip off your heads and display it for all to see? That would certainly silence you! Won’t that be artistic?”

It then shook its still-damp and filthy feathers at the two men and made to look like it was holding one of their heads in its clawed hand. The wet stench of the creature was almost as unpleasant as its vitriol words and attempts at intimidation.

They waited for a moment, but despite its Equalitarian entreaty, the she-monster was not saved by its fell deity.

Gorm yawned and pulled out his great axe. He raised it high and readied it for a final, downward arch that would terminate through most of the harpy’s body. Being a barbarian, he was wise enough to stop listening to the creature soon after its tirade had begun. “Me not give you oppression... but me will give you impression!”

Seeing that its doom was nigh, the harpy suddenly began to cry. “I beg your forgiveness, gentle human! I misspoke! I understand now- talking about ripping off your heads and dining on the innards was just... a little too much!”

Gottschalk didn’t know what to make of the pathetic creature. Only moments before, it had been threatening them with horrible violence. Now it was a mewling wreck.

Gorm simply shrugged and made ready to bring his axe quickly down upon the harpy’s head again.

“Wait,” said Gottschalk reluctantly. “It is no bird-lady anymore, nor a cat-lady: it would be wrong to slay it. It is defeated and defenseless.”

Gorm lowered his axe and raised his eyebrow suspiciously. “You think it needs feet... or even fence? It just telling you what it want you to hear!”

Gottschalk smiled at his friend. He got out some rope to tie the creature up. "We should think ahead. Perhaps it's best to not slay it now."

Gorm re-slung his axe and made for the benighted woods. “Me be back in minute. And me hope to not hear harpy anymore when me squat!”

* * *

The pre-dawn light bathed the Olympian ramparts in hues of purple and blue. The two shivered and watched as yet another crowd of goblins broke against the walls. Their crazed, inhuman bodies and wailing stood in stark contrast to the sylvan surroundings.

The monsters did not belong here.

Unlike Dinglesfuhr though, this settlement was not letting the goblins overrun them. On the contrary, the people of Caelum Mount, a land just a few miles to the west, had constructed barriers to keep the invaders out. Though many might scoff at the Mage-Lords that they followed, most reasonable folk would realize how wise these humans were in taking such an approach.

The goblins, for their part, pushed against the white walls that blocked them. They screamed and demanded entry into the lands thus-far kept safe from goblin entry. Valiant defenders, humans dressed in the plumed helms and bronze breastplates noted for in this land, fired their curved bows from atop the walls and fought back the invading inhumans with bronze spear, broad sword, and shield.

One fought especially valiantly. He appeared to be the humans’ captain: his armor was golden and he wore an azure and scarlet cape. The goblins were many though, and soon began to get the upper hand.

Gottschalk looked to Gorm and both realized that they had no more time to lose. The men rushed behind the unsuspecting goblins and hacked into them with their weapons. The foul creatures screamed and flailed as they died.

The other Caelumians cheered when they realized that their captain was saved. The man removed his Olympian helm and shook both Gorm and Gottschalk’s hands.  He was an older fellow, but he was clean-shaven and his head still showed much blond hair.

“Thanks for the save, but even if we had lost this battle, it would still help us to learn how to win the war. That’s what I’m all about!”

Gorm approached the captain and patted him on the back with his mighty hand. “If we not save you, that would have been your last battle... and war!”

The man laughed and gave Gorm a hearty clap on the back in return. The Caelumians bowed and made way to let them enter, when suddenly, a sentry yelled out a warning.

Gottschalk looked up then and, to his shock, he saw that it was the harpy- and yet the she-creature had changed! It was larger and somehow had come to incorporate the lower body of a lion.

“How it escape?” asked Gorm. “Me thought you tied it up and left it in Draining Swamp?”

Gottschalk only shook his head. “It is a griffin now! And it is heading for us!”

“Me told you it was cat-lady, Gott-chalk!” Gorm ducked as the creature flew over him and soared towards the captain.

“And it always tries to get a head!”