38: Warbeasts


The moment it happened, the war beasts of the region knew of the mad creature of the castle’s demise. Its death cry rang out through military frequencies of both sides for miles around. All now recognized the power-vacuum which its death left in the castle’s vicinity. Planning for the realignment of resources on both sides began immediately.

The Ilidi beasts had feared the creature which had once belonged to the Gireid and remembered its old loyalties sufficiently to attack Ilidi on sight. The Gireidil beasts simply stayed away from it for fear of catching whatever dread infection had driven it mad. Until this new turn of events, the castle had been its private empire which it had defended vigorously using all its war-making skills and strange additional powers that nobody recognized nor knew how to counter.

During the previous day, it had ventured much farther from those grounds during the daytime than it normally would have done, causing ample speculation that something critical had changed. But both sides knew better than to try to take the castle in its absence. They didn’t know the reason for its sudden, agitated trips around its home. Was it looking for something? Was it chasing something? It no longer communicated with the Gireidil command, so they had no means to know.

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In response, Command on both sides had sent in additional reconnaissance units, who deployed their subunits into the area with care. They could not risk losing such vital resources, with the supply chain for replacement systems cut. The only source for replenishment now, the occasional weapons dealers such as the one who frequented the mad beast’s lair with puzzling impunity, could rarely obtain such specialized items.

But the intelligence the reconnaissance harvested had shown that it became agitated after sunset and began pursuing something through the woods, then back toward its home. And there it had done battle with fearsome opponents nobody in the region recognized nor had noticed until the fight began.

And now it lay dead, defeated by an unknown threat.

And now that it lay dead, the contest over the new no-man’s-land would soon begin. Once the commanders of the region had assessed the tiny humans which had overcome the beast and were now in de facto control of the site, the debate began. They seemed far too few in number to have accomplished this feat. But more to the point, were they too few in number to hold their new possession? And did they theoretically represent one side or another of the ancient conflict? Did their win constitute a successful realignment of territory, or the action of an unknown third party?

It was vital to resolve this question. Dispositions were critical when the numbers that each side could bring to bear were as depleted as they had become. They must bring to bear only the precise numbers required, to avoid risking losses elsewhere.

Based upon the reports of the same recon specialists of their observations using remotes close to the scene, they had identified two of them as Gireid, but they were strangers, not members of the few military garrisons that still clung to native strongholds on-world. Furthermore, both were unusually powerful Artists even for that powerful race.

And the third human now smelled uncomfortably similar to the mad beast itself.

Both sides reached the same conclusion, and sent the same order to their subordinates at nearly the same moment.

Stay clear of the newcomers!

However, that order did not prevent a particular massive Ilidi interdiction model, a squadron leader, from carrying out its secret contract regarding the beast of the castle. It prepared its clandestine report per a long-standing agreement, including a reminder of the promised reward for the service.

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- my thoughts:

I included this chapter in order to reveal the nature of some of the wider danger surrounding our protagonists. I've since debated several times whether to keep it. In the end, I decided to leave it in for the worldbuilding it provides.

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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