They were called, as it turned out, Melders.

Being new to the region, I had never heard of them before, but when Kleo and I sat down with Velociryx to bring him this latest news, he seemed to know of them.

“Dark tidings indeed.” He murmured. “And yes…to answer the question neither of you have asked yet, but which is writ plainly enough on your faces, I have at least some experience with them. In fact, that’s how I met Machete…I daresay I would not be here now if not for him…he saved my life.”

“Aye, and I’ll not soon let ye forget it, lad!” The great Dwarf said with a rumbling chuckle as he set his tankard of ale on the table where we were all gathered. It gave off an unsettling thud of finality.

“Both of us were marked by the day, we were.” The Dwarf continued, rolling up his sleeves to show me a series of long, ropy scars that traveled up most of the length of his well muscled arms.

Velociryx opened his shirt to reveal similar scaring on his chest, with a central mass that looked eerily like the drawings I had seen of the Heart of Corruption since beginning my research on the matter, and I found myself wondering for the thousandth time who these people were, that I had fallen in with.

“Well, if they’re on the move, there’s nothing for it…nothing we can do, except hope that they don’t decide to stop here. I can tell you that although we would fight valiantly, there would be little hope. I have seen firsthand what their spores do to living tissue, and it isn’t pretty.”

We spoke at length about it, and later that afternoon, were joined by Renn and one of our newest Chimera, Zagar, who all confirmed seeing Melders in the vicinity of their holdings.

Whatever they were doing, there were a lot of them.

“Almost like a migration.” Renn offered. “Like maybe…they did whatever they had intended where the Heart of Corruption was, and now…”

He didn’t finish, and he didn’t need to.

It was unsettling, especially because these creatures…whatever they ultimately were, were so foreign to us. So alien.

At the end though, we all agreed that we would triple the guard on our respective city gates, and pray that they simply passed us by, and this state of affairs continued for nearly the next month.

At its peak, we received the grim news that General Hargreaves had been slain, along with his entire force. Two days later, his body was returned to us in the condition I described previously, and Velociryx, though he had known the likely outcome, was stricken with grief.

“Summon the Priests and Wizards.” He commanded. “I promised him that I’d pull him back from the abyss if he met a bad end, and that is a promise I intend to keep.”

This unsettled me. Renn too, I noted, for he shifted uneasily at the pronouncement. “My Lord…are you sure this is wise? We know little about the Melders, but what we do know suggest that they are highly magical in their nature…a spell of this sort and power, cast while they are agitated, active and so near…”

“There’s little choice, Scribe.” He told me. “Every day he remains as the corpse he is, the spell gets harder to cast, and given that he was returned to us headless, it’s already going to be difficult…Melders be damned, I keep my promises!”

He did, and I helped him.

Much to our collective sorrow.

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