Leonara

Prelude
All's quiet on the Western Front

The last banner of Leonara’s 3rd Regiment disappeared behind a grassy hill, and Colonel Malphite turned his attention back to the map. It hadn’t changed since the commands had come down the chain early the previous morning, unless you count the removal of most of his fighting force. The veterans. He cursed silently to himself.

The 3rd, 5th, and 9th Regiments of Leonara’s Inter-City Army had done well. When they arrived last year, huge stretches of Elder Empire territory had been overrun by Goblins. Given the task of preventing the loss of any more territory in the western provinces of their allies, the Leonaran army had instead liberated nearly every town and village, freed many slaves, and kept the Goblin army in barely controlled retreat. Malphite smiled – but only on the inside – when he thought about the goblins he had personally crushed beneath his stony heel, or hacked to pieces with his magic axe “Balefire.” Colonel Malphite missed his days on the front line dearly, but his role today was at the western base camp, miles from anything threatening.

Unfortunately the Royal Elder Army did not fare so well against the Orc invasion to the east. Malphite knew in his secret heart that the Orcs, with their “tamed” monsters and superior individual prowess, were the harder fight, but it galled him that Leonara’s successes had been cut short by their ally’s needs. His beloved 3rd Regiment was in the hands of his most trusted Lieutenant, marching off to face the Orcs, and now he had… this.

He assessed the camp around him. The tents were new, in much straighter lines than his veteran 3rd, but the discipline stopped there. Soldiers walked around with smiles instead of vigilance, believing that the goblins were already defeated. The men of the newly-arrived 14th Regiment believed they would simply mop up the remainder and take home the glory. They were mistaken. The goblins were smart. They learned. The goblins had not been accustomed to fighting as a large force, and whoever or whatever had taught them to overcome their hatred of each other, not to mention their orcish allies, had not bothered to expand their lessons into strategy or tactics. But a string of terrible defeats at Leonara’s hands had taught them harshly. It had also completely redirected their hate. To Malphite. This, too, made him smile… this time on the outside as well.

A nearby aide perked up. The sand-colored, grim visage of his Colonel had intimidated every single member of the 14th, and this smile was a welcome crack in the facade. It was brief. Colonel Malphite began talking a moment later – his Goliath heritage manifested in the gravely boom of his speech, “Lieutenant Prusya, please give me your personal assessment of the fighting capabilities of the 14th.” Lorakain Prusya, gnomish veteran of the Treefoe Uprising and a decorated hero in her home city of New Gaiapod, knew Malphite personally from the aforementioned incident. She was therefore even more terrified of Malphite than the rest of his retinue. Still, she answered truthfully. “Good for a newly raised Regiment, bad for this campaign. We have a dozen experienced captains. A few of the veteran sergeants that trained the soldiers also shipped off with them. The rank and file are untested but promising. The goblins outnumber us five to one though, and we have too much ground to defend. We also…” Prusya hesitated a moment, “We also sorely lack support. Sir.” Malphite sighed to himself. He knew. All of the elite units that made Leonara’s army truly special – The Gaiapod Beetle Knights, the Vaskalt Boneguard, the Erdahome Sappers, and his own city of Solsune’s matchless Dunestriders – they were all heading east. Even the useless Garmport Marines were better than green recruits.

Ambassador Waveharp chimed in, “What about the mercenaries? The Elder Empire certainly didn’t want to abandon the west! They have nearly doubled our army’s strength, and some of these companies are renowned from the Primordial Chaos to the Astral Sea!” Malphite simply glared, so Prusya answered for him, “Mr. Ambassador, uh, with all due respect, they are mercenaries. We may soon be outnumbered six to one.”

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Birth of the Troll Slayers

Colonel Malphite was grim. This was generally a redundancy that went without saying, but today even he felt the weight of it pressing down on his rocky shoulders. This was the first real action most of the 14th had seen, and they were bloodied badly. He hated to do it, but it was now necessary to consolidate his troops in the truly vital strategic locations – this would leave villages recently reclaimed open to further pillaging by the Goblin hordes, but it was unavoidable. The populations that had so gratefully welcomed the Leonorans had gotten used to enjoying their protection, and he knew that despair and resentment would soon settle back in across the population of the western Elder Empire.

Looking down at his map, alone in his tent, one forward base held his attention. The mining and lumber camp crossroads at the front lines – one of the few success stories from yesterday’s mess – was also one of the most vital locations he had left. Troops were flowing towards it as fast as he could manage, although they were no doubt trailing far behind his most important agent of the moment. As if his thoughts summoned her, his comm-stone began to glow softly in its cradle on his desk. He picked it up and spoke as softly as he was physically able. “Major,” his voice was still a rumbling growl, “were you successful in your quest?”

“Yes… and so the Troll Slayers have begun theirs. You may be interested to know that your questionable decision has paid off after all – the Goliath has proven to be very effective. I am sending you a dossier on the others as well. The cleric seems harmless enough; I was surprised at how capable he was in combat. I’ve had an eye on the bounty hunter for a while already; he has been quite an asset. There is something about the sergeant, though… I do not know why he rubs me the wrong way, but my instincts are rarely wrong.”

“From all accounts, he was most courageous in putting his body directly in the path of the Troll’s club, Major. Whatever secrets he may have, I feel we can trust him here.”

“Either way, it is done.”

“Good, stay at the camp. I need to know instantly if they are successful.”

“Of course. Wherever, whenever, and however you need me.”

The glow faded, and Malphite set his stone back in the cradle. He was bemused by the spy’s lack of formal language. He could tell she was teasing him with her lack of proper military deference. She was technically without rank – “Major” was a meaningless affectation – but most spies still managed to find their way to the word “sir” when they were addressing such an imposing figure as Malphite. He wasn’t used to being actively teased, and he was surprised to find he enjoyed it. He didn’t even know her home city! Or, for that matter, her real name…

The Colonel snapped out of it. Focusing on the map again, he breathed a prayer to his Solsune Corpse-God. He would need all the help that he could receive, even as little as he could get this far from his home desert… for regardless of whether the Troll Slayers were successful, regardless of the monsters arrayed against them, the 14th Regiment would soon have to mount an assault.

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