The room suddenly went silent, and the Captain leaned back, looking very uncomfortable.
"The answer is yes. A lot of very nasty things. We usually wait to tell the newcomers these things, but there's no point in lying now."
Darien sighed. "There are two other intelligent races in Exile, as far as we know. You may have heard of the Nephilim."
Kadis had. They were an intelligent race of felines. The Empire had subjugated them and started enslaving them or sending them to Exile. They tended to be tough opponents, but poorly-organized.
"There's a large clan of them to the north. They're not technically in an open state of war with the Kingdom, but Nephilim raiders have hit the city of Formello and Silvar almost since their founding. But they aren't Exile's biggest problem."
He pushed his plate back and swigged his water.
"Along the river that bisects our section of Exile and far to the north, there's a race of intelligent lizard-people. Big critters, about eight feet tall on average and tending to be as strong as they are tall. They're called the Slithzerakai. Don't ask what it means, it's their name. They were friendly to us until about twenty years ago, when a new leader came into power, by the name of Siss-Thiss."
At his name, everyone in the mess hall tapped the table three times.
"About a year ago, he launched an all-out assault on Exile, burning Fort Saffron to the ground and laying siege to Formello. Most of the troops manning Fort Exile were sent north, to Fort Duvno to amass for a counter-attack."
Kadis interrupted. "Fort Duvno? Formello? You got a map or something?"
"Yes, actually." The Captain nodded at one of the troops, who ran out the door. He came back a moment later with a parchment map. The Captain laid it out on the table so that they could see it.
"Anyway, that's when things started going really badly. We've either got someone with a lot of information feeding information to the lizards, or Siss-Thiss is a strategic genius. Any attempt at breaking the siege on Formello has been defeated, and any strikes into Slithzerakai territory to draw his forces off have been halted before we even get close. Right now, we're trying to enlist the aid of the Nephilim, but most of them don't want to talk and the ones who do are afraid of bringing down the wrath of the Slithzerakai."
The captain started to continue with his litany of bad to worse, when the door slammed open, a heavily-breathing man standing in the doorway.
The Captain jumped out of his chair. "Formello?"
"No, sir. Duvno's been hit, the lizards overran them. They're on their way here now."
If it were possible, the Captain got even paler. "Sound the alarm. Get every man on the walls and prepare for battle. You, newcomers."
Kadis stood. "I can fight."
Darien shook his head. "No. Somebody needs to make their way to Silvar and get reinforcements, or Siss-Thiss is going to be in control of the Portal." Darien tossed Kadis the map. "We're not going to win this fight without reinforcements! Go! The gate guard will open it up to let you out, but you have to be quick before we get encircled!"
Kadis nodded. "Come on, you three, before we get our heads on pikes!"