Chapter 62
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*Important note: this week will be the final week of chapters before I start summer vacation. I will be heading home to see my family from June 16th to July 8th. There will be no new chapters during this time. Patreon billing will be paused. Book 1 of Fantasy General will be pretty much wrapped up on Patreon by this week's end.

Thanks for all your support on this story. This is my longest vacation in the year, I promise. I'll be using this time also to polish up all of book one and plan for the rest of the series - because this is a story I love to write, and I want it to go the distance.

Now, on with the chapter:

Marcus sat pensively in the war-council chamber of Castel Carfaxx, his quill tapping incessantly on his notebook as he waited for King Shrykul to attend the meeting.

It struck him as odd that the King would be late, but considering the multiple duties his position required (and those extra ones demanded by his voluptuous Queen) Marcus wasn’t in the mood to complain. Beside him sat Skeever and Deekius in similarly quiet contemplation. This, too, struck him as odd. Here they were on the verge of victory, and a grim specter hung over the assembly.

The only one who’d said anything at all was the sickly Deekius, who had whispered to Marcus conspirationally when he took his seat beside him.

“Our friend’s toughness is finally peeling away,” he said. “After this, there is something she shall be telling you.”

Marcus’s eyes widened at the admission. If Yeeva finally had the information he needed…maybe his way out of here would come sooner than he thought. The time couldn’t be more perfect. The war was close to being over – was all but won, in fact. This meeting would be just a formality. The resignation of the rats beside him, and those of the palace soldiers, was testament to the fact that things were finally going to calm down around here.

Perhaps, he wrote in his diary/historical documentation. They too are becoming weary of constant war. Movement, battle, movement, planning – it must tire out even a seasoned veteran like Skeever.

Deekius, however is another story.

Marcus looked with growing concern at the sniveling rat-priest, noticing how his furred lips were flecked with crimson.

Something’s happening to him ever since he performed his Incantation at Razor-Ridge, erecting the Wall of the Unclean as the rats are calling it. From now on, the only way to Grindlefecht will be through Black Gulch, all thanks to the tiny creature sitting beside me.

I can’t lose him – not when he’s got such power in his hands. After this meeting, I’ll have to figure out what the problem is. And why he’s keeping it from me.

Marcus then decided to take the time to note down a few of the newest developments in Fleapit since his triumphant return.

The biggest changes being made around here concern the newest additions to the Fleapit standing forces. Now these rats have two entirely new pieces of technology they’ve never even employed before: the arquebus, and the 12-pound cannon.

I took some time to inspect them once we were back here and confirmed that the designs are eerily similar to those of the early-modern period of human history, with a few notable exceptions. Dwarf craftmanship is clearly beyond anything else down here, as evidenced by the internal workings of their firing mechanisms. For example, they’ve figured out the concept of spin-stabilization and factored this in to the rifling of their arquebus gun barrels. The result is a firearm with much-improved accuracy to what was seen in the early Ottoman matchlocks of 1465. The standardized bore of the gun furthermore allows the bullets to be loaded much faster – in a similar fashion to the 16th century caliver musket. An elegant weapon, to be sure, but one which is far beyond the ratman foundry’s capacity to replicate, at least not without years of study and experimentation.

It is not, however, impossible for them to learn how to cast the ammunition. Both the arquebus and the 12-pounders use standard iron projectiles. It’s a simple process to reproduce such metallic projectiles through casting, and down in the Fleapit foundries the directors and blacksmiths seemed to understand the basics of how to cast a rough sphere (after I spent an inordinate amount of time detailing the process). I estimate that within the next week or so a production line will be set up and these bullets will soon be rolled out en masse. This isn’t to say it will be easy, mind – we’re still talking about producing metal alloys capable of maintaining the grooves of the arquebus’ rifled barrels. It will take them far longer to perfect this art. But if there’s one thing I’ve seen in these rats – it’s that they’re quick learners.

The advantages are, of course, innumerable. We’re talking about an entirely new perspective on ranged combat – something that the rats of Marrow certainly seem to scoff at. But even they can’t deny the effectiveness of cannon shot against the fortifications of the Underkingdom. Down here, the most advanced defensive walls seem to be of timbre, stone, and at best earthwork – easy pickings for our dense metal projectiles. In the future, they might even consider casting grapeshot or shrapnel for the cannons. I can just imagine their joy in seeing the carnage wrought by an army charging them in an open field.

Of course, Ix is out there training the new ranged units right now. They’re getting there – but the accuracy concerns are a problem. Perhaps a fork rest could be employed at least initially, till the men get to grips with how to handle the elongated barrel of their newest weapons. I’ve imparted to our versatile little Yip that there are plenty of advanced strategies one can use to make rifle-bearing soldiers more effective. He was at first skeptical, but I saw his little eyes light up when I explained to him the concept of Volley Fire – something the Dwarves of Corvaughn had already seemed familiar with judging by their disciplined firring lines. Setting up something similar will of course take time and allowances will have to be made for the ratmen to understand more advanced line-formations, but I’m certain they can pick it up, especially if its explained to them that it will compensate for the slow reload time of their rifles (we’re talking about at the very least a 15 second delay in firing time after a successful volley. I have no idea how the dwarves were able to do it faster, and only now do I regret not being able to inspect that old sniper’s crushed rifle…)

But such reflections will have to wait, Marcus finished writing. I have a King to see.

Shrykul burst through the double doors of the council chamber looking considerably older than he did the last time Marcus set eyes on him.

The three soldiers rose, even though the King rat didn’t seem particularly interested in their display of fealty.

“Be at ease,” he told them as he took his appointed seat at the opposite end of the table and began rubbing his tired temples. “We are having much business. Many changes are happening to the Kingdom. Such changes must be occurring with care.”

I almost feel sorry for him, Marcus thought.

“Which is exactly why I don’t wish to take up too much of your time, Sire,” he said aloud. “The final stage of our plan is already progressing without our direct intervention. With your permission…”

The King simply waved him to continue. Marcus nodded to Skeever.

“We are hearing reports that Skegga’s Kobolds are rebelling,” the rat said, pointing a curled finger at their North Warrens map spread out on the table. “His perimeter villages are seeing him weak and are taking the chance to flee to our camp beyond Black Gulch. They are resisting his soldiers when they come to collect food for his palace. They are stockpiling supplies and rejecting him as God. They are joining their Brothers we are converting.”

“Kovesh is doing good job,” King Shrykul said. “But we should be cautious. Not all Kobolds should be allowed into army. Some may still be spies for Boss Skegga. We should be imprisoning them in Fort Greenwatch.”

“Sire,” Marcus interjected. “I thought we discussed this? More Kobold conscripts means more manpower to send against the walls of Grindlefecht when the time comes. With our new ranged support units, ratman causalities should be minimal in the final assault.”

“And then what is happening after?” Kign Shrykul pressed. “Kobolds will want their own cities in our kingdom. Kobolds will want their own forts in our lands. Day may come when they rebel against us. No matter how much you are telling us, Shai-Alud, they are not being like us.”

Marcus grit his teeth. Where was this coming from, all of a sudden?

“This is why we will install leaders whose loyalty to us is unquestionable,” Marcus said. “Ix and his men have proven themselves through and through. They will ensure the Kobolds in your Kingdom stay in line.”

The King was not to be dissuaded. “Marcus, we are already seeing what Kobolds do when they are thinking their rulers are not effective. When they are being presented with other options that are offering them more strength. One day, this Ix may be having delusions of grandeur on a scale similar to the fat toad he is once following – and would still be following, if you had not spared his life.”

The King’s outburst seemed to strike at the two other rats, who looked from him to Marcus as though watching a duel unfold before their beady eyes.

Marcus felt his hand scribbling away of its own accord, taking notes to assay his growing frustration.

This is becoming a theme. Every war-council seems to be more about ratman supremacy than about really establishing a true empire. This kind of rhetoric though…is this really the King speaking? The same feeble King that normally just smiled and waved, when he wasn’t serving his Queen?

“I cannot turn our operations in the North into a plan to create Kobold-internment camps,” Marcus said. “I will not reward their service to our cause with captivity. Then,” Marcus added gravely. “You really will have a rebellion on your hands.”

“My King,” Skeever broke in cooly. “Perhaps we should be proceeding with the Shai-Alud’s plan. His duty is to be ending war. What happens after is being another concern.”

“A concern that is becoming more and more pressing,” Shrykul replied, eyeing all three of them with gravitas, as though a hidden sword was poised at his neck. “If we cannot be showing that we are strong enough to hold the North, then there will be others who shall be taking it from us. Dark eyes watch Grindelfecht, my children. We are being on the eve of the greatest triumph in our history. I will not let our glory be taken away.”

Taken away…

What the hell are you talking about?

“Sire Shrykul,” Marcus said. “Once this war is over, you shall have more power than any of your Brother Kings. Once the North is won you will be as a God to your people, second only to He-Who-Festers. None would dare oppose you.”

The King flashed his tongue at his First-Talon, his face twisting into a macabre smile while he shook his head slowly, like a father listening to his errant son.

“Marcus,” he said. “You are still not having eyes to see what even the smallest infant can...”


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