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Volume 2, Issue 3, September 30, 2007
The First Casualty
by Steve Goble

        Belar gave scant heed to the carnage around him. This village was nothing to him. Even if he could kill them all, there wasn't vengeance enough in this world to replace his Vella.
        Folt, Belar's second-in-command, waved smoke from his eyes as he approached afoot. "All Severn dead or fled, captain," Folt reported. His face was tinged with ash from the burning huts. A smear of blood on his forehead caused Belar to hiss in concern, but Folt wiped it away. The blood was not his own.
        "And what of Vatch?" Belar asked, continuing to scan the aftermath of the battle.
        "No sign of Prince Vatch," Folt reported, sheathing his sword and summoning his mount.
        "Vatch threw away that title, lieutenant, when he married a Severn witch," Belar barked. "I suggest you toss it aside as well."
        "Aye, captain." Folt's eyes dropped at the reprimand but lifted again as his steed approached, led by a footman. Folt mounted the powerful, shaggy beast, and Belar noted how the man swelled with the pride only a mounted Skorsman could know.
        "Let's purge this place of corpses and assemble the troops, Folt. We'll move upstream a bit, away from the witch stench, before we take our rest."
        "Aye, captain." Folt tugged at his steed's mane and turned it toward the tollem that stood at village center. Belar watched in grim satisfaction as footmen set fire to the pole, carved with the faces of false Severn gods.
        "May we burn all such from our memories," Belar muttered to himself, and kissed his temple ring.
        He prodded his steed to stalk the perimeter of the village. The Severn, typically, had not put up much of a fight. The Severn fought from a distance, with witch spells under the cover of night. They blighted Skor crops, sickened Skor herds, poisoned Skor water. But confront them with strong Skor steel, and they wilted. The Severn had no strong leader, no cohesive battle units, no real discipline.
        But they had their witches. Beautiful, exotic, enticing. Young Skorsmen, heedless of training and temple lectures, were lured away by that intoxicating promise, spurred, no doubt, by Severn incantations under the full moon.
        It was that mixing of the blood, Skor and Severn, that had prompted the campaign to wipe out the witches. For weeks now, Skorsmen had probed further and further into the Wald Valley, killing witches and destroying their tollems.

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