NEW DANTIMOSIAN OUTPOST
90 MILES SOUTH OF WAYN-FHARH
January 796 TR
General Ervin Dathmoor's first thought upon stepping from his lavish coach was how stunningly alien the terrain seemed in contrast with the Azhul valley of his youth. His new command post was granted through bureaucratic apathy, and not by an objective assessment of Dathmoor's leadership abilities. Indeed, the bulk of his pedestrian military career had taken place in Justice Keep behind a desk and a small army of adjutants and civil guards. Somehow, he imagined perhaps at one of the government's bloated social functions, he had drawn the ire of one of his senior commanders who in turn saw to this sudden reassignment. Still, the General thought, no transgression was worth this.
The most remote outpost in the Kingdom lay some 20 leagues* north of the modest encampment Dathmoor now surveyed. The setting sun made a thorough inspection impossible, but he was not in any hurry. Tomorrow he would review the troops and the engineers would begin construction of the newly christened Fort Pioneer. Dathmoor grunted and took a long drink from his watersack. He noted that his chief aide, Captain Rice, had not yet exited the coach.
"Captain?" he inquired.
"Yes sir, be just a moment sir." For a few seconds papers rustled loudly, then a lock snapped shut and Captain Rice bounded out of the coach. The Captain had only been assigned to Dathmoor's command for a month, and he had yet to adjust to the younger man's vigor and what he deemed profound overexcitement. "Do you plan to conduct the review tonight, sir?"
General Dathmoor stared out across the horizon for several seconds without speaking. He watched the soldiers busily working in the encampment below him to erect their tents and reorganize into their proper squads. Most of the men were cavalry scouts and horse-archers, since their fortress was to be the new bastion of Dantimosian authority in this region, and the speed and range of cavalry was necessary to achieve that goal. They were located on the southeasternmost peninsula of the continent that shared their mother country's name; Few human settlers have been recorded in the region, and it has long been a fear of the Dantimosian government that the mighty Kobold Empire may one day attempt an invasion along this route. General Ervin Dathmoor had, at the very least, been a goodly scholar of military and political affairs (his father was of very high standing in a previous administration) and knew that that was unlikely in the extreme. The Kobolds had more than enough resources and treasure upon their own great island, and lacked the equipment and materiél to maintain a campaign of invasion that far away. His new post was, for all intents and purposes, a darkened closet in which to throw an unwanted commander so the high society in Justice Keep can continue its parties and balls uninterrupted.
"No time now. Let's hope the officer's tents have been set up, and we'll take care of the brigade in the morning." The General lumbered down the path while his coach's driver snapped the horses into motion.
Halfway to the center of the encampment, another figure scurried up the path towards General Dathmoor and the Captain. The General did not recognize the man at first but his insignia indicated that he was one of the engineering troops. "Sir!" he said, with a quick salute upon closing with the general.
"At ease, soldier."
"I am Lieutenant Martine, chief Fort engineer. I was told you'd be arriving this afternoon and have prepared a site overview and blueprints copy. We've already got preliminary survey teams working the field in a three-league radius to develop proper field maps. All temporary officers' quarters are already set up at the rear of the camp," he indicated their destination and returned to his summary sheet. The General grunted in acknowledgement but paid the engineer little attention. "Tomorrow we will lay the groundwork for the inner walls of the fort, and we should have all essential structures for C&C underway within a week. With our supply shipments from Loebar arriving on schedule, the final project overview calls for the Fortress to be completed in less than six months. Until that time we will maintain the temporary camp here and run patrols from the stables as per our advance orders. The stables will be completed first; until such time we plan to run shortened patrols to a distance of five leagues to a southern radius and establish a defensive perimeter. We estimate 50% combat effectiveness within two months, once we have installed the latest energy shield and catapult MED** units from Planarth."
"Good, good," the General said, his attention elsewhere. The anxious engineer handed his reports to Captain Rice, who filed them into his commander's briefcase.
"Now if you'll follow me, sir, I'll show you to your quarters…" Lieutenant Martine lead the trio towards a particularly large and well-lit tent complex, with guards already posted outside. The sun dipped below the mountains above the lower D'ner lakes to the west, and darkness overtook the camp shortly thereafter.
* * *
The following day, General Dathmoor and his aides conducted a cursory troop review. All three hundred sixty soldiers formed into ten rows and performed basic commands as the Fortress commander and his staff looked on. A modest crew of engineers continued their daunting task in the background, carving out large sections of ground to place the mighty support pillars of the Fortress walls. The general spent the bulk of his day listening to early scout reports, uniformly devoid of any interesting information, while the engineers and soldiers worked like a massive well-oiled machine to construct their new home.
And so the pattern continued for several days afterward. It was one week later; a day when the wind howled and a hailstorm most unusual for the climate pummeled the site of Fort Pioneer, that the first truly important piece of information crossed General Dathmoor's makeshift desk.
"Kobold units, you said?"
"Yes, sir." Captain Rice read from the dispatch. "At half past nine this morning, our 7th scout team - lead by lieutenant Rolst - sighted a small kobold force on foot, estimate troop strength at less than platoon size, no equipment or heavy units present. The scout team was not sighted and believes the Kobolds to be moving on a southerly course."
"A scout group of their own, heading home?"
"That's the lieutenant's conclusion as well, sir." Rice handed the dispatch over to his commander.
"Hmm," he said. Several seconds later he placed the dispatch in one of his top desk drawers. "I want you to double the patrol strength in that sector, and extend their range. The Kobolds wouldn't dare try anything, but I want us to maintain a visible presence to send a message." The general examined another piece of paper and looked up at Rice again. "Bring in the 13th team under lieutenant Hatherson, have him and Rolst redeploy into the area at once. I want a full report on my desk in three days."
General Dathmoor had no idea that he had just sent sixteen men to their deaths.
* * *
The hailstorm continued on through the night. The 7th and 13th scout teams mounted and rode out of camp early in the morning, grateful that the hailstones were considerably smaller and less frequent than the previous day's. By noon they both arrived at the site of the 7th's first Kobold encounter and struck camp to eat lunch and compare notes. The men were in generally high spirits; unlike the general, they perceived this assignment as a great honor, a chance to bear the will and might of Dantimos to the barbarous Southlands. The lieutenants in charge, Akan Rolst and Dar Hatherson were the only soldiers senior enough to have even seen combat before. Rolst delighted his teammates with a tale of the charnel finale of the Black Monolith War, where he received his rank as well as a deep scar along his back and shoulders.
The hailstorm began to increase in intensity once again as the scout teams finished their meals. No one noticed the normally indifferent horses buck and pace anxiously, thinking it to be an effect of the storm on animals accustomed to milder weather. Unfortunately, none of the human soldiers present had a sense of smell as developed as their mounts'.
Another half-hour of riding under the steady hailstorm brought the two scout teams to a cluttered ravine at the edge of a desolate-looking forest. Deciding to seek some shelter, they entered the ravine single file and attempted to update their maps to indicate the unfamiliar territory.
Lieutenant Rolst took the point position and journeyed several hundred paces into the ravine without noticing anything unusual. His horse became uncharacteristically difficult to control and began bucking wildly. The lieutenant did his best to keep control but was thrown to the ground, landing deftly on two feet. The horse did not gallop away as expected but remained frozen to the spot, kicking and whinnying madly.
"What's wrong, girl?" the lieutenant said calm, trying to rein in his mount. It was at this point he noticed an odd, noxious scent hanging thickly in the air.
Suddenly, a slight whistle filled the air, and a single arrow entered lieutenant Akan Rolst's skull on one side, passed through his brain, and poked its tip through the opposite side. He fell to the ground in a heap; the last thought crossing his mind that he'd smelled that smell before.
The thick hailstones kept the second scout in line from discerning exactly what happened to his commander, but within seconds a pair of arrows flew in from the sky and embedded in his chest. The scout tumbled from his horse but managed to shout "Ambush!" on the way down.
From there, panic erupted among the Dantimosian troops. A rain of projectiles battled with the hail for dominance among their ranks and several men fell within only a span of seconds. The rear elements of the scouting team turned to run but were blocked on the other side by a small army of tiny, warped humanoids in armor with short spears. The able soldiers immediately recognized their opponents as Kobolds and prepared to dismount and do battle.
The arrows continued to find their marks, however, and less than a scout team managed to enter the fray with their diminutive opponents. Wave after wave of Kobolds entered the ravine, lieutenant Hatherson saw, at least five dozen in number, not counting the large group of archers that surrounded them on both sides. Soon the Kobolds swarmed over and killed every last member of the scout team, and the hailstorm died off across the entire region.
* * *
Three days later, General Dathmoor began to worry, although he made certain not to let it show. The teams led by Rolst and Hatherson were due to report the day before, and given the relatively short distance of their patrol (even with its normal range doubled), it should've taken very little time at all had they not run into trouble. The absence of the lieutenants could mean only one thing, the General thought; a sizable Kobold force indeed lay just outside his arms' reach.
The question puzzled him throughout the day. Why would the Kobolds position a force of such size on mainland Dantimos? He already knew the answer, and the dread of it caused him to break out in a cold sweat on more than one occasion.
When he spoke to Captain Rice of organizing patrols that evening, he did not mention his fears but made a specific note to pull back the patrol radius in the area of lieutenant Rolst's sightings, and ordered the Captain to request the engineers to hurry their completion of the Fortress's defenses.
(* 1 league = about 3 miles)
(** MED: Magically Enhanced Device)
This isn't the entire Chapter III, but it is what I have completed thus far. More coming soon...I've had some great difficulties lately finding time to work on the computer, and stories in particular.