he ruins were
silent today, even the ravens were quiet. Gradush raised a fist, motioning for
his comrades to halt their slow advance through the broken and crumbling ruins
of Phlan. The eerie hush worried him. It was just a few hours before dusk and a
gentle breeze came in from the docks carrying with it the fetid stink of the
fish mongers a half mile away. Gradush spun his heavy war hammer in his hands,
comforted by the familiar weight of the bone crushing implement he'd carried
since his clan decided he was old enough for his first true weapon.
In the distance he could see the ruined hulk of the Golden Pearl, once
Phlan's finest tavern and now nothing more than a burned out shell home to the
Blue Tusk tribe. Something dislodged a rock a few feet from him, Gradush watched
the stone as it scuttled past a pile of garbage in the streets. His eyes easily
pierced the twilight gloom to find a goblin sentry. Its deep purplish skin
marked it as one of the Blue Tusks.
Gradush took a few halting steps forward, he wasn't accustomed to sneaking up
on a foe. He preferred a direct fight, the thrill that shook his arms as his
hammer splattered his foes-but tonight's mission was important to his clan's
safety. It had to be quiet until he arrived at their destination-then the
killing could start.
All the same, he couldn't resist having some fun. His hammy fist lightly
tapped the goblin on the shoulder, and its red eyes turned sullenly toward him
only to widen in terror as Gradush's hand wrapped around its throat cutting off
its desperate screams. Gradush pulled the struggling goblin closer head butting
it ferociously, foul black ichor oozed from its shattered nose as its rusty
dagger fell clattering to the ground. He let the stunned goblin slip to the
floor and smiled to himself as he brought his heavy weapon crushing down on its
skull. Most his clan favored battle axes, but Gradush didn't think anything was
as viscerally pleasing as watching a head explode like a ripe melon.
The worst of all goblins, the Blue Tusks were physically weak and rumored to
be touched by dark spirits. Their rulers were smaller than most goblins, with a
velvety blue fur that easily made them stand out against the darker purple hue
of their warriors. The Blue's maintained their authority with magic and mental
domination and Gradush shuddered against his will to be this close to their
territory. As a warrior, he detested magic-if you could not do with your hands
it wasn't worth doing, but the Blues did worse than use magic they ensnared the
minds of their victims making them worse than slaves. This was why he was here
he reminded himself.
Blue Tusks were trying to form an alliance with the Yellow Bellies, the Golden
Goblins as they called themselves. Cursed by Maglubiyet himself, for showing
cowardice beneath the contempt of even other goblins--the Yellow Bellies took to
magic with the same unholy fascination the Blues took to mind control only the
Bellies didn't trust mortal races as slaves. They'd claimed the old Phlan prison
decades ago and they'd found things there; dark magics used by prisoners that
the old royal family of Phlan feared would only grow more powerful in death and
who then were held prisoners in dank cells for decades tongues cut out and hands
crippled. If an alliance formed between them though, the two tribes would gain
enough power to rival the Iron Claw kobolds.
Gradush could enjoy the thought of the goblins and kobolds going to war after
that, but he knew all of Phlan would be caught up in such a battle. The Iron
Claws were ruled by an arrogant king who refused to enter Phlan until the entire
city acknowledged him as its rightful sovereign; he was powerful but no one
except the kobolds bowed to him in the ruins and the humans who'd reclaimed New
Phlan surely never would give in to the Kobold King's delusions. Yet Gradush
knew his Elders believed the Blues had already made an uneasy alliance with the
Kobold King, if the Yellows joined it things would go bad quickly.
old square was just ahead. He'd expected more resistance before now; not this
unsettling quiet. He couldn't even hear the voices of the Blue Tusk and Yellow
Belly tribes who were suppose to be meeting in the old Executioner's Square
where Phlan's worst criminals met their tortured ends. Then the breeze died down
for a moment, with the scent of fish out of his nostrils Gradush could smell the
stench of death in the air here. He waved the rest of his clan warriors forward
and looked over the square. The twisted and broken bodies of over thirty
goblins, some with the soft blue velvet fur of the Blue Tusk's leaders and
others with the sullen jaundiced skin of the Yellow Bellies-but all dead. Who
else would have sought to disrupt their alliance?
A sudden stinging pain in his calf disrupted Gradush's thoughts while giving an
answer. Gradush focused on the sickly green flesh of a goblin's hand reaching
from a sewer entrance; its claws deep into his flesh trying to pull him off
Reacting with faster initiative than Gradush, the clan warriors gave a
resounding battle cry. "Blood Grinders!" It echoed in the empty allies, and his
warriors rushed forward axes and sharp knives glinting in the half-light of the
moon. He watched a axe sever the goblin's hand from at the elbow, although the
claws remained dug into his flesh.
"Muckrackers here boys, be alert!" Gradush called out a warning as he pried
the dead limb from his leg and tossed it back down the sewer opening in hopes
he'd at least strike the coward that ambushed him with its own severed hand. It
made sense to him, as his warriors drew up ranks around him. "They must not of
liked the idea of a Yellow-Blue alliance neither!"
The Muckracker tribe claimed Phlan's sewer system as their home, they'd dwelt
there probably before the Fall even. Gradush's clan had tried for years to
dislodge the vermin, but they were so numerous even his warriors suffered
inglorious defeat on every
killing dozens of Muckrackers for every loss his clan suffered.
The sickly green goblins were starting to appear in greater numbers, pouring
out of back alleys and crawling wetly out of sewer entrances. They stank worse
than the fish mongers wares as the breeze picked up again. Short curved daggers,
some black with poison glistened in their malformed hands as they surrounded him
and his warriors.
"Blood Grinders!" He gave the call and pounded his war hammer against his heavy
shield. His warriors gave the ancient response this time "Bring Thunder!" The
steady beat of their weapons on their shields kept rhythm to his rapidly beating
heart, it wasn't fear that caused it to race though but anticipation for battle.
Gradush hadn't realized how much it disappointed him to arrive at the
Executioner's Square only to find his prey dead. Now he'd still return to tell
the Elders of a victory.
His eyes scanned the assembled foes, thirty goblins maybe and here he was
with six warriors. Pity. All the same, this fight would be over in minutes.
"Strike!" His raspy voice called a charge, he knew
his warriors wouldn't have held ranks defensively, its not how Blood Grinders
fought. Acksel, one of the Elder's elite guardians who'd accompanied Gradush on
this mission rushed forward first. Wielding a battle axe in each of his hands,
the powerfully built hobgoblin hacked his way through the Muckrackers laughing.
Gradush looked around at the rest of the goblins in his warrior band, their red
faces were flushed an even darker crimson than normal with the joy of impending
blood sport. Blood Grinders lived for war, it was why they'd inhabited the
Stojanow Gates-the strongest fortress left in Phlan.
The chilling laughter that echoed from their throats as they rushed their
rival tribe would have frightened any onlooker. Wading into his rival
Muchrackers his heavy maul swinging, Gradush knew this was his purpose, his
meaning in life was fulfilled with each shiver that race up his arm as his war
hammer connected with a skull. The thick hot blood, black as any goblins
splashed his face and he knew joy. The Blood Grinders were warriors, it was
their destiny to rule Phlan not some frightened kobold or thrice cursed Blue
Tusk. He'd been raised for nothing other than war and battle, the humans thought
they'd reclaim Phlan but the fools didn't realize yet that the Elders of
Maglubiyet and the Blood Grinders planned to build the foundation of their
empire from human bones. First though, he'd dull his lust for the kill on the
scum that was pouring in even greater numbers from the sewers.