The tavern was crowded as travelers of all walks of life filled the bar stools and tables, a large fire danced in the center of the tavern as the flames licked the crisp air that filled the main hall from outside. Of the group of travelers there was a group of freelance mercenaries all sharing old war stories while eating the tavern's famous stew and gulping down mug after mug of ale. Tales of slaying dangerous beast and songs of sieging enemy fortresses rung from their table, each mercenary drunker than the last. The tavern owner grinned at this sight as even in his old age he still enjoyed the busy nights at the tavern, the singing bringing him back to his younger days. The barkeep a man who towered over anyone in the hall stirred the stew slowly, humming lowly along with the bard as he sang a tune about a great battle from many years ago. In the mix of all the yelling and singing you could still hear the howl of the night as the tavern door swung open. A group of seven mercenaries escaped the cold night air and into the somewhat warm hall of the tavern, hoping that a hot meal by the open fire and glass of ale would warm them up.
"You boys with the Crimson Claw?" A bearded mercenary called out from the table closest to the bar, the obvious leader of the freelancers who occupied the circular table. The group of seven mercenaries who had just entered the bar turned to face the bearded mercenary. Of the seven a bald headed man motioned towards the other to grab a table in the far corner of the hall, pinching the bridge of his nose as he approached the bearded mercenary.
The bald headed man flashed the other mercenaries the red claw design on his arm signifying his allegiance with the Crimson Claw mercenary company. A rather new group of freelancers who had been operating in the East. The bald man released a stress filled sigh, "Just got back from Havenport."
"Long trip I see!" The bearded mercenary laughed loudly, knowing the road from Havenport was a long one as he had taken it multiple times back in his day. Offering the bald man an ale and a seat, the two mercenaries embraced each other with a firm handshake. The bald man nearly downed the glass before the bearded man could speak up again, "My men and I are thinking about going out east for some work."
"Wouldn't do that." The bald man groaned.
The bearded man exchanged several looks with his men unsure if the Crimson Claw had claimed the East for their own, "Why is that?"
"Havenport had a decent amount of work, but everywhere in between is nearly out of it." The bald man spat on the ground, gaining an annoyed glare from the barkeep. He'd have to clean that up, "The Baron of that hold has a contract with our group. It basically gives my boys first takes on all contracts, but even with that luxury the only work we can get is protection deal."
"None of those little towns need any goblin control?" A Dwarf mercenary spoke up. It was a known fact that the towns in the southern hold of the East had always had a goblin problem. The problem coming from a large goblin population in an old ruin forest town that had been a casualty in a long forgotten war. Over time clans of goblins made the ruined town a home as the forest slowly swallowed it up, some even said they had a king. For years the people of the hold asked for the army to clear the town out, but each request would be discussed for months by the nobility until the final decision was that the cost for a siege on a small goblin settlement wasn't worth the cost. Not even the church would set foot in the town. It wasn't exactly a secret that the towns hired mercenaries for protection from the goblins, meaning all affiliated mercenary companies with the guild were making a pretty coin and any noblemen who had their hands in the guild's finances were filling their pockets.
The bald man shook his head, "It seems there's a new guy in town who has the goblins pretty shaken up."
"I'm surprised those mindless creatures even know what fear is!" The bearded mercenary laughed loudly, his men all joining in on the laughter.
The bald man forced himself to grin as he wiped ale from his lips, "They say he's some kind of battle mage. His magic is untraceable by any human eye and can be directed by some distance, got better accuracy than the king's top hunter."
"I doubt those country bumpkins know what they're talking about." A mercenary chuckled as he flashed the bald man his bow, "I'd give that battle mage a lesson or two about accuracy."
"I could care less about accurate he is." The bald man shook his head, "He's takig work from us."
The bearded man playfully slapped their company on the back, "The work is for anyone who can complete it. We're freelancers after all!"
"I appreciate the ale." The bald man thanked his newly found company before returning to his group.
The archer spoke up first, "You think this battle mage is as good as the rumors say he is?"
"Not so confident anymore?" The Dwarf chuckled, finishing the last of his stew.
"Not sure." The bearded man shrugged as he eye balled the Crimson Claw mercenaries one last time, "If the rumors are true or not it doesn't much matter. He's made a name for himself though and it's about time someone takes care of those goblins preeminently without the nobles stopping it. He's got my vote, but I don't think the claws like having him around."
"All I need to do is ask him to leave." Mayor Van Carter repeated to himself repeatedly, the elderly man and leader of the small town of Ridgewell nervously made his way across the grassy field just a mile from town. In the distance even in his old age his eyes could see the town, the midday sun high in the sky and the cool air lightly nipping at his red nose. Carter had been the mayor of the small town for nearly thirteen years, once a simple merchant he had been selected by the baron of the hold after the last mayor refused to follow his demands and was relieved of duty. Carter had no prior experience in a leadership position and was simply picked for two reasons, the first being he was the few residents that had an education and the second reason shamefully was that he was extremely submissive. Carter disliked confrontation and the baron knew this, using this to his advantage and pressuring the mayor in quelling any unpleasant feelings on higher taxation.
"That's all I need to do." Carter reassured himself, the elderly man who barely stood over five feet tall came to a halt as he was now greeted by the sight of his destination. Out in the field was a small camp with a makeshift tent surrounded by a defensive perimeter of sharpened sticks and tree branches. Carter gulped weakly at the sight of his crude camp site and slowly approached it, his legs shaking with each step. Carter was no where close to looking threatening meaning most people didn't take him seriously. His mustache was rather large for a man of his size, the tip of his nose was always red as if he was sick constantly, and his clothing seemed a size to big. Carter was not the man for the job, but he was the man who had to complete it.
Carter with a weak and shaky voice spoke up, "Excuse me?"
"I said excuse me!" Carter's voice cracked as he raised his volume, something he rarely ever did.
"I heard you." A voice responded from behind him, Carter's blood nearly stopped flowing as his heart skipped several beats. Gulping loudly Carter raised his hand in a fashion that a soldier would when surrounded by an enemy force, but his stance felt more like a small house cat being confronted by a lager beast. Carter slowly turned around to come face-to-face with a man about twenty-three years old dressed in an unusual dark olive green uniform and holding a club like weapon in an unusual fashion. The man had light brown hair that was wavy as it had out grew its childhood curls and was slicked backwards. His eyes a dark brown as they glared at the mayor suspiciously, his skin lightly tanned, a collection of five o'clock shadow covered the lower part of his face, and a deep scar that ran down the left side of his neck. His clothing resembled an uniform of some sort, but none that Carter had ever seen. A pair of unusual brown boots, dark olive green trousers that looked to be reinforced on the knees however Carter found it odd it was made of cloth and not steel like knights had. He wore a simple shirt with a collection of two dark olive green button up shirts over it, an unusual symbol was located on his upper left sleeve and two curved stripes were located on both mid-sleeves. His hands firmly grasped the unusual club weapon, the stock of it made of a dark wood and the tip along with the upper portion was made of a metallic material.
This was the mysterious man everyone was speaking of.
Carter nearly choked on his words, "Are you the battle mage?"
"Battle what?" The man responded back almost right away.
Carter stuttered, "B-battle mage."
The man exhaled loudly, "If I didn't know what it was the first time repeating isn't gonna help."
Carter nodded as it was a logical point he had, but Carter was terrified and he had no time to process his thoughts for logical points. Clearing his still shaky voice Carter did his best to deepen his voice, "Are you the magic user who has been taking care of the goblin problem here?"
"I don't know about magic, but yes I'm the one who has been killing those gross little creatures." The man spat on the ground, readjusting his hold on the club as if to get more comfortable. Carter looked more closely at him, his height was average for his age and his build was average but fitted more of a runner. His stance was strong most likely disciplined by some sort of training as Carter knew that most battle mages attended some sort of training, but the man also carried himself like a soldier almost.
"I'm Mayor Van Carter of Ridgewell." Carter extended his hand, his body now visible shaking as he was unsure if he'd be welcomed or blowen away by the mage's magic.
The man sighed heavily as if he was relieved himself which Carter found odd, as this man was the one who could cast spells and not him. The man lowered his club and took Carter's greeting, a firm grasp that nearly broke the mayor's tiny hand. The man released Carter's hand and started to make his way towards his makeshift tent, "I'm Corporal Ryker Winters by the way! This whole talk about battle mage makes little sense to me, I'm a soldier with the US Army although I don't expect anyone from this world to know what any that means."
"Oh so you're title is Corporal! Is that nobility or something?" Carter called out, a bit more comfortable now that he knew the man known as Ryker had no plans on killing him.
Ryker shook his head as he now knew that even military ranks were different here, "It's my rank."
Carter titled his head in confusion and Ryker sighed weakly in frustration, "This US Army which country is it loyal towards?"
"Just forget I even mentioned that part." Ryker groaned, taking note that it'd probably be more trouble trying to explain where the United States was in his world and what was going on back in his world.
Carter shuffled awkwardly in place, "Well Corporal you must be important those symbols look prestigious."
Ryker chuckled at the mayor's attempt at small talk. Placing his rifle down he started to throw on his jump jacket, the symbols that the mayor was speaking about also visible on it. Ryker had to admit the patches did mean something to him, but he didn't expect anyone from this backwards world to even give his patches a second glance. The shoulder patch was of the 82nd Airborne Division, meaning he belonged to the elite paratroopers, men who volunteered to jump into battle from a perfectly good airplane and bring the fight to the enemy. The stripes he mentioned was the chevrons of a Corporal, he was never one who wanted to be a leader but after seeing enough action his commanding officer saw him worthy of the promotion. Ryker zipped his jacket halfway up, "Top patch is for my unit the 82nd Airborne and the stripes are for my rank. You're a curious one, aye."
"Airborne?' Carter repeated, unsure what that meant.
Ryker groaned as he ran his hand through his hair, "I'm a soldier who jumps from the sky to attack the enemy from behind." Ryker felt that was simple enough for a person of this outdated world to understand.
"You can fly?" Carter gasped.
"Not exactly." Ryker groaned, "Why are you even here?"
"Oh, yes." Carter jumped, his stomach suddenly turning as he realized he had to get to the impolite business of asking the man to leave. Fumbling with the end of his tunic nervously he spoke slowly, "It seems the duke has noticed your interference with the goblin population and while we the people thank you. Well it has caused problems for his finances."
"Those little creatures were terrorizing a farmer when I first woke up in this backwards world!" Ryker shouted, his sudden voice change nearly making Carter faint. Ryker annoyingly reached into his jacket's breast pocket and after digging around pulled out a pack of luck stripes cigarettes. He didn't have many left, but this situation was frustrating him and he needed a smoke. Using his lighter he lit the end of the cigarette and inhaled deeply.
"Oh, you're a man of the pipe I see." Carter stated noticing he was a smoking man, almost trying to avoid the topic.
"Please don't ever say that again." Ryker groaned, as he couldn't handle the awkward mayor for much longer. "How is me eliminating the threat of these goblins harmful to him?"
"Well you see there's several reasons. The first being the bounty on goblins was ten coins each, you killed nearly twenty in one day." Carter started to explain, for a split moment he could of swore that Ryker almost looked proud over how many goblins he had killed. "The duke also has an agreement with a group of mercenaries known as the Crimson Claw, that he each town will provide them a monthly security fee and they'll protect us."
"Why doesn't he just pay them to clear out the goblins?" Ryker asked curiously.
Carter looked down shamefully.
"So the people pay this mercenary group to sit around and wait for an actual goblin attack instead of ending it. All while the duke probably sits in some estate allowing this, before what reason?" Ryker probed the mayor for answers. Ryker needed the coins from the bounty so he could catch a ride in a wagon to the capital, where after a discussion with a frightened farmer was said that the brightest minds were located in the capital. If Ryker could reach the capital and buy some information, he could possibly find a way back to his own world.
"The mayor banned all formation of a militia and disbanded our town guard." Carter admitted shamefully, "It seems the Crimson Claw hand him a small percentage of their protection fee so they can continue to operate in his hold under the protection of a nobility contract."
"So instead of making a small fortune by clearing the goblins out these mercenaries are making multiple small fortunes every months and the duke gets to sit back with his own personal army in his hold, while making a pretty coin from his own people." Ryker was understanding more clearly what was going on and why someone as skittish like Carter was selected as mayor. Ryker wasn't surprised that even this world had corruption and poor leaders. He just hoped none of that would interfere with him returning home, although he couldn't deny that he had enjoyed the past three weeks out in the field, just enjoying the first time off since his war back home had started.
"That's true, but in the end the duke has all control of this hold." Carter argued, he didn't want to create any problems for his town between the Duke.
Ryker took another puff of his cigarette, "The duke answers to someone right?"
"Of course!" Carter nearly jumped, "All people of this land including nobility answer to the throne of the Alure Kingdom! The royal family has ruled over this land for hundreds of years and this king is the bravest of them all!"
"Brave, eh." Ryker chuckled, "The Germans say the same thing about Hitler but I don't see him on the frontlines."
"Hitler?" Carter asked, but Ryker just waved him off remembering these people knew nothing of his world's problems.
Ryker began to put on his ammo belt. Buckling the ammo belt around his waist and pulling the belt's overalls over his shoulder, making sure each buckle was secured and each pouch was closed. Carter watched in curiosity as Ryker checked his chest holster that had an unusual dark metallic object, it was pointed at one end with what seemed to be a hand sized grip on the other, and an unusual metallic cylinder at the center. Ryker had no time to explain to Carter about his M1 Garand and his M1917 Revolver as he felt like a world of people who still swung swords around would never understand firearms, "Why don't you inform this brave king of this abuse of power?'
Carter shook his head rapidly, "No, no, no! The king is far to busy with the Rift out West."
"The Rift?" Ryker repeated.
The mayor was shocked that someone didn't know about the horrible events that had engulfed their neighboring country just a year ago, however this was the man who also didn't know what a mage was. Carter whimpered weakly at he remember the day the rift appeared just like it was yesterday, "A darkness engulfed our neighboring country just under a year ago. A rift in the sky opened up and demons of all kinds came out of it. Their armies caught off guard they were destroyed and thousands were killed in the waking days, refugees fled for our border and our kind king took them in. However, the rift was huge and the country was swallowed whole in darkness."
"Monsters, you mean like these goblins?" Ryker asked curiously, eyeing the tree line carefully.
"Nothing like them. Goblins, kobolds, golems, and many more are all natives to our land." Carter explained, as their continent was filled with all types of life. His eyes became wide as he was reminded of the horrifying stories he had heard about these creatures from the rift, "The demons from the rift are much terrifying and dangerous."
Ryker sighed as no matter where he went he couldn't avoid a war, "Regardless of this rift you have a problem on your hands."
"Yes, I do!' Carter cried out panicked, "If you don't leave the duke will have my head!"
Ryker shook his head as he dropped his cigarette and used the bottom of his jump boot to put it out, "The tribe of goblins must be tired of me killing their friends. It seems they're planning a full out attack."
Carter nearly fainted, "You've doomed our town."
"Activity throughout the tree lines the past three nights have kept me up." Ryker explained as he checked his rifle carefully, "I think I spotted a few larger ones in their ranks though."
"The goblin would only raid our livestock and occasionally kill a lost traveler!" Carter cried out now in full panic, his little heart nearly ready to burst through his chest. "My village isn't prepared for full out war. Our last mayor refused the protection of the Crimson Claw! We have no protection against the goblins!"
Ryker looked at him slightly annoyed, "None of your men know how to fight?"
Carter was shaking now, "The duke refuses to allow anyone to fight. He thinks if the people get brave enough they all will stop paying the protection fee."
"I can leave if that's what your town wishes for." Ryker sighed as he pulled out a cartridge clip from his ammo belt and began to load his rifle. Carter watched in confusion as Ryker locked the bolt back in place, slipping the clip into the rifle he quickly pulled back his hand just in time to avoid the bolt slamming forward. Any novice who used the M1 Garand would likely get their thumb caught in the bolt and they'd be in for a very nasty surprise. Ryker than turned his attention towards the tree line "But I can't leave tonight."
"Why?" Carter whined, like a kid who had his favorite toy taken away.
"Tell everyone in town who isn't willing to make a stand that they should lock their doors and board up their windows. Look at the tree line real closely." Ryker instructed the mayor, standing at the edge of his makeshift barricade and pointing towards the darkness that engulfed the forest floor. Carter squinted real hard as his old eyes struggled to se some things that were right in front of them. Finally in the dark forest he caught sight of something, movement. Taking a few steps forward he nearly fainted once again as he caught not of sight only goblins, but what looked like a small group of kobold.
"The goblins enlisted the kobolds from the old mine." Carter couldn't believe it. The goblins had only been a small annoyance in the past, but lately they seemed to be operating more effectively. Carter was unsure what it is, were the goblins fueled by revenge on getting back at Ryker or was there some type of sorcery in play.
"Kobolds, aye." Ryker muttered, as he finally had his answer on what the larger creatures were that he saw with the goblins earlier.
"I must warn the town!" Carter cried out, entering a quick paced walk towards the direction of town.
Ryker exhaled loudly, "I'll be here if anyone cares to join me!"
"This is crazy!" Carter cried out, his old age only allowing him to reach the speed of a light jog.
"Not as crazy as being transported to this crazy world." Ryker chuckled to himself, "No one is gonna believe this shit when I get home, but lets focus on making it through the night."