Chapter 20 – Expansion
=============== Tagiv’s POV =================
The Direbear Forest was somewhat considered as part of the Dark Forest, despite being close to civilization with its small geographical area as the bears were highly aggressive. The four lumber mills in this mountainous forest were approximately a day’s journey from each other.
The human leader of the mercenaries had taken the lumber mill located in the most western forest called the Hooved Grass Lumbermill. The defeated Subterrane Dwellers brought back the news of the fortress being conquered by humans, and eventually reached the ears of their Elders.
Tagiv, one of the thirteen High Nobles who became a Witch Doctor without training, had skin color that was even darker than the elite warriors. The creature wore a coat woven from Terror Vulture’s long feathers, won from the Underworld’s Dark Elves in a battle.
It sat on a throne covered with a large bear hide without any mood to groom the beautiful feathers. Instead, its long fingers were restlessly stroking a Longstaff. The weapon in his hands was adorned with a skull at the tip with Terror Vulture’s feathers.
Five years ago, Tagiv became the leader of this sub-tribe which splintered off from the main clan. Due to a territorial fight, Tagiv had no choice but to bring its tribe away from the area. It was a habit of the Subterrane Dwellers to move away from trouble. Tagiv eventually and its men discovered a path towards the surface, as it was not a rare thing for the underworld to be connected to the surface.
Rumors had described the surface to be far from the description of paradise, but the Witch Doctor decided to take a risk and led its tribe members to the surface world. It discovered that the human race here was not as terrifying as it had imagined, and thus led its tribe to conquer the four lumber mills within in the forest.
This act naturally caused the territory Lord, Graudin, to be in utter fury. He eventually sent out his men to fight the creatures in the forest twice, but the unsightly human army comprised of undisciplined local men and nobles’ private soldiers were not the match of the Subterrane Dwellers. In the end, the humans did not win anything and were driven out.
Graudin ultimately cast down his pride and met Tagiv for negotiations. The Subterrane Dwellers did not need the lumber from the forest, but he needed them. Trentheim provided the merchant city Ampere Seale’s demand for lumber, and if there were any problems with the delivery, the first person who would demand answers would be from his father, Count Randner.
Even if there was a deficit in the yearly supply of lumber, Graudin had no choice but to find ways to ensure Trentheim provided the minimum amount. The four lumber mills near Firburh supplied a considerable figure, and he did not dare to abandon it lightly. Since he was unable to take them back by force, he had no choice but to establish a transaction.
It was highly unthinkable that a lord had to buy his own commodity that was made from his land, but Graudin at least had a silver mine in Trentheim to pay for it.
Silver was also a currency used in the underworld, and Tagiv required money to bolster his tribe. This outcome was a secret agreement that would supposedly continue, except that Graudin met his death.
Tagiv was highly satisfied with the transaction. Despite the numerous victories against the humans and taking down Graudin’s pride, the fact that its tribe was vastly outnumbered remained. Several thousands of Iron-ranked fighters might sound like a terrifying force, but they were the entirety of the sub-tribe’s population.
Tagiv was highly intelligent, and with the constant interactions with the humans, it had realized the situation it was in in this surface world. Even though no army that could easily drive them away in Trentheim, there was no easy advantage that it could get by staying within this land.
A population of seventy thousand lived around Firburh, and the region Trentheim had several times of that. A strange race like themselves attacking the human cities was likely to gather a retaliation many times stronger than what Graudin had done.
Tagiv understood that the kingdoms of the surface world were similar to the kingdoms in the underworld. This land was merely part of something much bigger, and it was a little fearful and wary of that fact.
Despite knowing that Graudin had a silver mine, it did not attempt to conquer it. As long as they maintained a hold on the lumber mills, they would receive a constant flow of silver. It could expand its tribe until it was ready to return to the underworld with hoarded silver to use for trade.
Within its heart, it still desired to go back. Even though Trentheim appeared like a bountiful place, it was not the Subterrane Dwellers native territory.
After adjusting to a stable peace for months, the Subterrane Dwellers did not favor holding a hostile behavior towards the humans and would rather remain an unknown existence.
But good things did not seem to last, and the creature felt that it had encountered a difficult trouble. The news of the conquered lumber mill arrived in the afternoon, when the defeated Subterrane Dwellers reported the humans had once again invaded the forest—
This time not only did the humans took back one of their lumber mills, they even slaughtered more than a hundred of their tribe members.
Tagiv was in a complete fury when it heard the news. It quickly gave an order to gather the tribe members who could fight, but it calmed down soon after and started to gather more information about its opponents. The Witch Doctor eventually summoned its trusted subordinates in order to hear more opinions about their enemies.
An Elder Subterrane Dweller who had deep wrinkles in its hide, complete with white tattoos, stepped forward with its weak and thin limbs.
This Elder was called ‘Horned Claw’, a rarity amongst Subterrane as the majority of them had no names, and was bestowed by Tagiv; this name originated from a type of lizard bipeds; hunters known for their efficient movements and cunning ways.
Tagiv gave this name to him for his wisdom and experience. Horned Claw had betrayed its rival tribe and escaped from them, before surrendering to Tagiv.
It was a common thing for the Subterrane Dwellers to surrender to another tribe and they did not have the notion of loyalty. Rather, they submitted to the strong. The Subterrane Dwellers did not look down on Horned Claw and even regarded its words with considerable weight.
“According to the descriptions from our defeated tribe members, the humans most likely have a wizard,” the elderly Subterrane Dweller said, “A Silence Spell. In the Underworld, the Dark Elves frequently used it against us. It is unfortunate that we don’t have more Witch Doctors in our army, or we wouldn’t lose so many of our tribe members.”
“How many men do they have?” Tagiv asked.
“Two to three hundred.”
“A mere army with only three hundred at most,” Tagiv said darkly, “the human named Graudin must be tired of living. Does he think that I wouldn’t fight back if he sent out the mercenaries after us?”
It slammed its Longstaff onto the ground and said hatefully: “We will kill these damned mercenaries and then take this useless lord’s head. Then I’ll also lead our army and occupy that silver mine in the south too.”
“But if we do that we will most likely draw the humans’ ire.” Horned Claw said.
“That is fine. They require time to move their armies. When we take over the mine, we will grab as much silver as possible and retreat to the Underworld. I want to see if they dare to pursue us.” Tagiv responded with disdain.
The other Elders also chimed in with their screeches, both agreements and dissents.
“But how should we fight the mercenaries?” One of them asked.
“I’ll lead the army myself. It’s merely magic that’s causing a disadvantage for us,” Tagiv stood up, “Tonight, I want the humans responsible to be killed in order to pay for our tribe’s blood that was spilled today!”
The chieftain’s screech echoed within the room, and the Elders lowered their heads without any disagreement. The humans were indeed fools in their eyes.
Tagiv had intentionally led an army of a thousand Subterrane Dwellers at any given time. With the full force of three thousand Subterrane Dwellers, it was enough to overturn Trentheim’s entire army even if they gathered together. If Graudin knew about this truth, he might have made countermeasures by seeking more forces, but since he did not, there was no possible way for him to gather a bigger army quickly.
The Subterrane Dwellers scouts near Firburh had reported that there was no new influx of any new armies, and there were only mercenaries that gathered there.
There were some strange movements of the undead attacking the city and nearby citizens going to the city to defend it, but that was it. After a day from the undead’s attack, it seemed like Graudin had persuaded the mercenaries to attack the Subterrane Dwellers.
[If this short human believes this insolent act would not be met with retaliation, he must be a complete fool.]
Tagiv would never be able to guess that Graudin had paid the price for his arrogance. The human who was currently standing before them was Brendel, and he knew them as well as they did themselves.
The battles ahead for these creatures were always in a different direction from the very start.
================= Brendel’s POV ==================
The battle within the Hooved Grass Lumbermill ended quickly. The remnants of the Subterrane Dwellers within the makeshift fortress were the sick and elderly. They were completely unable to resist the enemy that invaded them.
Still, the mercenaries paid the biggest price ever since the start of the battle. There were over thirty men who were wounded and ten who were dead from this encounter.
But Jana, Raban, and Cornelius were relaxed when the battle was over. They were leaders who had seen enough death, and the small casualties were something beyond their expectations. No, perhaps it was even a miracle. If Brendel did not make use of the Subterrane Dwellers weakness, even gaining victory was wishful thinking, let alone paying this little price.
But this battle with the Subterrane Dwellers made them uneasy and was out of their expectations. They had nothing to do with Graudin’s antics, but for they were ultimately bound together for strange reasons and had to fight for their new young lord. They could not help but glance at each other, and they saw nothing but their sardonic thoughts in each other’s eyes.