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It began with gambling.
Numbtongue was sipping from a cup of Blue Tea while he read the morning’s newspaper. The Liscorian Gazette delivered to The Wandering Inn, and he’d gotten to love reading it, especially with the crosswords that Erin had helped Olesm make. There had been an incident with a [Librarian] in Pallass—but that was below the level of ordinary events in The Wandering Inn. He was relaxing.
Blue Tea—an Erin invention that only someone like Magnolia could love.
At least it was blue. Also, possibly poisonous. Previous experiments had not gone well.
It was a low-effort addition to her ‘magical foods’ menu. Blue Tea…gave you a super-blue tongue for about a day. Erin had made it to prank Lasica. The [Chef] had not been amused. Saliss, and many others, had.
As the Hobgoblin drank, someone walked up to him and handed him a card. Mrsha. The Hobgoblin [Soulbard] took it and read.
He turned the card over and looked at Mrsha. The Gnoll girl scowled up at him. She was holding her head, which still hurt. She glared up at him and the Hobgoblin saw two more little glares from Visma and Ekirra.
“You asked for it.”
He gave Mrsha a singularly unsympathetic look. As was her wont, the Gnoll had decided that along with being a [Druid] and [Wizard] and possibly a [Princess], she also wanted to be a fabulous [Warrior].
She had asked Numbtongue to train her. Which he had, in the way of the Redfangs. He had gently hit Mrsha and her friends until they decided that they really didn’t want to level that badly.
“[Warrior] class is not for you. Redfang Goblins hit and get hit. Cute Gnolls are too weak.”
Mrsha glowered at Numbtongue. She walked off in a huff as the [Bard] went back to his post-breakfast reading and drink.
He was getting soft. Used to the comforts of the inn. For instance—Numbtongue of last year would have been on edge all the time. Even with Headscratcher, Badarrow, Bugear…
No, Bugear had never made it here. Numbtongue blinked. Even with Rabbiteater and Shorthilt—he had never been completely relaxed. But these days?
He didn’t even blink when the Silver-Rank adventurer slid into a seat across from him. It was still rare, but Captain Earlia of Gemhammer wasn’t exactly new to The Wandering Inn.
“Hey Numbtongue…er, you have a minute?”
He put down his newspaper. The former [Mining Leader] shifted in her seat. She looked—embarrassed, but she came out with it quickly, looking around for watching eyes. Few people gave Numbtongue a second glance except for the newcomers. They tended to be directed to the dozen or so signs that hung around the inn that all said the same thing.
“Er—it’s just that we’re on break. From the dungeon, I mean. Fea slipped when we were removing this trap; laid her arm open to the bone and we ran into some Armorbite slimes. Nasty. Our gear’s getting repaired, so we’re sick of the dungeon for a while.”
“So…we were thinking about doing some old-fashioned mining. There’s plenty of deposits if we stick to the area around Liscor’s valley. Uh—we were wondering if you had any good spots?”
The [Bard] blinked. He glanced at Earlia. The Human woman looked embarrassed.
They had traded mining talk a few times. Gemhammer, along with a small group, was aware of Numbtongue’s uncanny mining ability. Well—anyone who saw Mrsha’s silver ball, which was literally silver, or Numbtongue tossing uncut rubies at Octavia knew the Hobgoblin had talent.
Pyrite’s talent. Decades of knowledge given to Numbtongue. Earlia swallowed.
“We’d uh, give you a fifteen—twenty percent cut of what we mine. And if we could borrow that door of yours…”
“Sure. Good vein in the cave next to door. Watch out for something in the cave. Think it’s acid maggots or something.”
Earlia blinked at Numbtongue. The Hobgoblin nodded to her.
“Wh—really? We’ll go in hard. Might not leave you much. Twenty percent?”
“Sure. I can always find another cave.”
The Silver-rank Captain blinked, but then she was rising, shaking Numbtongue’s hand. He repeated the warning about the maggots—he thought they were the junior version of Acid Flies and he’d been watching out for the Acid Fly Mother, which was apparently…big. But a team of adventurers could handle that, especially [Miners] who knew the dangers.
Earlia promised to tell him what they found later that day and headed off. Numbtongue sipped from his tea. He saw Mrsha sticking her tongue out at him. He stuck out his blue tongue and she giggled so hard she fell onto the floor.
His days were like this. Placid. But Numbtongue had…ambitions of his own. He had developed a hobby. An expensive one, such that he actually wanted 20% of whatever Earlia dug up. After he finished his leisurely cup of tea, the Hobgoblin rose.
And walked into the inn’s new recreation room.
The rec room had been one of the unused rooms, formerly just a private dining area that Lyonette had asked for when the inn was built. Like Octavia, it now had a purpose.
There was a weights room, a private chapel for the Antinium, Stitchworks, an in-progress small bathing room, if only for the aforementioned workouts and so Mrsha stopped bathing in the garden’s pond, and the rec room.
The rec room had a pool table. No ping pong table yet. But a pool table, and a table where cards, dice, was all encouraged. No magical cards yet. Erin had commissioned a deck based on Earth’s world, as well as some lovely bone dice. The rec room had a pair of Humans from Celum in it this morning, playing a Drake—Menolit.
The Humans gave Numbtongue an odd look, but just watched him go over to the table. Menolit ignored Numbtongue as he lined up a shot. Numbtongue sat at the gambling table. And he opened a purse and dropped an ante into the center.
Two silver coins and a rough sapphire sat on the table. The Human’s eyes locked onto the gems and some of the guests in the hallways were drawn by the glitter. Numbtongue smiled to himself.
Gambling was his new hobby. He was no [Gambler]—yet. He was unlikely to get the class, although he was open to it—for him it was an expensive pastime. Not because Numbtongue loved games of probability either. Erin was more suited to the games than he was, for all she didn’t like it. She had taught him all about how to play poker, or count cards, all the unsporting tricks of someone who wanted to win.
Money was of no object. Numbtongue waited for his first opponents, who weren’t long in coming. He reassured them he was fine with downgrading to a four-copper ante—but he left the sapphire in. For ‘fun’.
And soon—he had a game. With Humans. Drakes. Gnolls. Even Dullahans and Garuda from Pallass, on the rare occasions they came in. That was the secret.
Even now, people rarely approached Numbtongue. Earlia was a good example of that. He had few friends, and most of the people he knew weren’t regulars. The Horns were far away. The Hobgoblin was fine with that, but he sometimes wished for Erin’s instant approachability, or Mrsha’s way of endearing herself to people even when she stole food.
He was a Goblin so it was harder. The [Bard] had thought about the issue and he had borrowed a trick from the famous Golden Goblin of the High Passes.
He lost the sapphire in the first bet, but the others stayed in the game. Because every dozen rounds, Numbtongue would add a lump of something—silver, some ore he’d picked up—the iron interested [Smiths]—and in doing so, bought company.
Everyone wanted to win money off the Goblin, who obviously didn’t know how to gamble or what money was worth if he was just throwing it around. They became friendlier, whether genuinely or just so they could sit around. They chatted, and Numbtongue usually won more than he lost.
“So—you’ve been staying here a few months. Er—ever tried Rock Crab?”
A Drake coughed as he looked at the Hobgoblin. Numbtongue regarded his three 2’s and raised his brows.
“Mm. Once. Not very good.”
“Ah, well, they’re not like saltwater crabs. The trick is the blood. Blue, right? You have to bleed ‘em or it’s as foul as Shield Spiders.”
A Gnoll sat back, looking interested. Numbtongue made a note to try some. The Drake launched into a story as he upped the ante. Numbtongue was fairly certain he would win. And he liked this table so he wasn’t going to cheat.
Sometimes he cheated.
At the same time as Numbtongue was enjoying his new pastime, a duo with hats entered The Wandering Inn from Invrisil. They were both yawning; they’d had a late night of it.
“Oh! Ratici and Wilovan, right? I can sit you down—anything to eat?”
“Er…perhaps some tea with a sandwich, Miss? And we should be exceptionally grateful for the strongest pot you have.”
Wilovan tipped his hat to the Gnoll [Server]. She knew him; the Gnoll and Drake were regulars at this point. Ratici did the same, despite his foul mood and exhaustion. There was such a thing as good manners and no excuse for lacking them.
The two Gentlemen Callers seated themselves. Ratici yawned into a claw. Wilovan sniffed the air. It was the Drake who said it.
“Wilovan, you know I’m not one to complain…so I’d appreciate it if you were to take my next words with that in mind.”
“I have seen you stabbed and say nary a word, Ratici. Go on.”
The Drake [Thief] nodded, looking reassured. He drummed a claw on the table as their food arrived, hot, fresh, and fast. He enjoyed that.
“I have to say this inn is a fine place, Wilovan. A fine place. One I’d not mind visiting on our regular rounds about Izril. However—a fine place can grate on the nerves, especially with nothing to do but sit and eat.”
Wilovan adjusted his tall hat as he looked around.
“I take your point, Ratici.”
They were…bored. They had to sit here, day in and day out. They could engage in extracurricular activities, as they had last night in Invrisil. But their time was mostly devoted to getting fat and sitting here.
“Of course, we are being remunerated in no small way to sit and eat, Ratici. One might feel that it’s unfair to complain.”
Ratici made an uncharitable noise.
“[Lords] get paid to sit and eat, Wilovan. Are we that sort? I’m saying—the Tallman is paying well, but this is ridiculous.”
The Gnoll [Thug] had to agree. The pay was good, excellent, even, but the problem was…
“If we could just split up, and make this a proper security operation, I’d be fine with leaving a Brother here. Even five. But…”
The Drake nodded. They looked around for Erin Solstice; the young woman wasn’t immediately visible. And they shared a thought which was too ungentlemanly to voice aloud.
But this inn was insane.
When they’d accepted the Tallman of Baleros’ invitation to guard the inn, the Gentlemen Callers had assumed there was some ongoing threat. Monsters? No problem. Rival gangs? Well, they’d done for that small group in Liscor. But the two had learned to their displeasure that the problem wasn’t one thing—it was Erin Solstice.
She…attracted trouble. Normally, the callers would leave the inn, stay in the city, and only come running if someone screamed for help. But in The Wandering Inn—trouble could appear in five seconds, especially with the magic door.
“Perhaps we should tell the Tallman we’re cancelling the contract. Return the remainder of his fee.”
“It’s a thought, Ratici. Let’s eat first. No sense deciding on an empty stomach.”
The Drake nodded restlessly. He had vouched his displeasure and his partnership with Wilovan was such that the Gnoll took it seriously. They’d make a decision today. They weren’t ones to wait about.
The cup of tea woke both men up—and their bladders. Ratici stood.
“Excuse me. Be back in a moment. Wilovan, if you’d care to trade off, we could take turns having a nap…”
“I wouldn’t say no.”
The Drake [Thief] nodded and walked out of the inn. These days they had to have one person right in the inn at all times. The riots had proved that Erin Solstice was beyond willing to risk her neck. It hadn’t gotten to the point where they wanted to sleep under the same roof; they could attract trouble themselves. But it was boring.
The [Thief] noticed everything as he walked past the other guests, through the inn. He was a master-class, a [Gentleman Thief] beyond compare. He could tag almost everything.
Concealed acid jar in that table leg. Better not break it in a fight.
Crossbow in the hidden wall-compartment there. And there.
Block of cheese the Gnoll had hidden and forgotten. Ants were into it. Actual ants. A pity.
Dagger under the floorboards. Dead gods, that Goblin was paranoid.
He sensed these things. He couldn’t help it. The only thing Ratici couldn’t see through was the door to the Garden of Sanctuary. It drove him crazy. That—and the Named Adventurer’s bag of holding. Ratici was frankly amazed at some of the levels of people who came through this inn. But boredom was b—
Gold nugget on the table. He backtracked and stared through the open door. He saw Numbtongue tossing down his cards.
“Anyone for another game?”
Menolit collected the gold nugget with relish. Numbtongue reached for his bag of holding for something else to offer. Some of the others were rising too, grumbling and checking their money pouches.
He looked around—and there was a Drake with a cap.
“Me, sir. If you’re willing to play a game, I should be quite delighted to play cards. What’s the game?”
Ratici appeared at the table before the rest of the gamblers had even made up their minds. He smiled at Numbtongue and didn’t look at the Hobgoblin’s bag of holding, which had—
If it was possible for a [Thief] to be in hell, it was Ratici, knowing he couldn’t steal that bag of holding the Goblin was carrying. But, dead gods, he was going to get some of that if he had to win it! The Drake produced a worn set of magical cards and Numbtongue sat forwards.
“You have magic cards?”
“I do indeed. And you are…Numbtongue?”
They had never really met. The Hobgoblin nodded.
“I don’t know magic card games. But I can play…”
He placed a silver coin on the table. And after a moment, added a little stoppered vial.
Full of gold dust. Instantly, the table was full. Ratici’s grin widened. He was going to get that gold. And the blue diamond the Hobgoblin was carrying. To that end, he showed the Hobgoblin all the cards.
“Let’s play Seaman’s Vault. You know all the cards? Same commands. You say Ivet to activate this one—see? Invisible card in your hand, free to play…you can keep it between rounds…”
He was so engaged in drawing the Hobgoblin in that Ratici made one mistake. Numbtongue glanced at how relaxed the Drake [Thief] was around him, even with the softener of the gold dust vial. He smiled himself. Until the Drake won the next three rounds of cards.
Wilovan found Ratici cheating on the fourth round. The [Thug] sighed.
“Room for one more? Excuse me, gentlemen. And you, sir? I believe we’ve seen each other about. My name is Wilovan, sir.”
The Hobgoblin nodded as the Gnoll tipped his cap. But he was distracted. Ratici smiled as he checked his cards. He had…nothing. But he shifted and subtly checked the other cards. One glowed to him—well, not exactly, but it had an aura. Two cards down in the deck—
Everyone was distracted as a crowing Menolit won another game of pool. Ratici’s clawed hand moved so fast only Wilovan saw it return.
Suddenly, he had a pair. And he had switched one of the cards in his hand with the one he wanted.
A master [Thief] could win against people who didn’t know he was playing. Wilovan scowled at Ratici. His friend hadn’t come back to the table, so Wilovan had tipped and gone after him. Now he was being unsporting.
It was as close to violating their personal code of conduct as either got. Wilovan sighed as he was dealt in.
“Mister Numbtongue, I have to warn you, my companion, Ratici here, is something of a [Gambler]. He should have announced it.”
“No wonder. He swept the table three times! I’m out!”
A Human player threw down her cards in disgust. Fea; she’d been convalescing after her injury. Numbtongue frowned, but he nodded cautiously at Wilovan.
The hat-Gnoll was just as convivial to Numbtongue as Ratici. Or rather—there was no wariness in either. That made them more approachable.
“I’m not a [Gambler]. Is it a good class?”
“Focused. One finds one lives on the odds. I personally find it tiring, but it’s more common in big cities. There have even been adventurers who gamble using luck-Skills. Such as Ratici loves to employ.”
“How is that fair? Raise one silver.”
A Drake grumbled. Ratici matched the bet. Wilovan sighed. Ratici couldn’t win everything, but he could always figure out how to steal himself a pair, or even two-pair. He couldn’t tell what card he stole—just that it was something he wanted. He checked his hand.
“Nothing. Fold. And to answer your question, Miss…”
“Drassi. I came here to relax, not lose everything.”
She glowered. Wilovan raised his brows.
“Aren’t you the new [Reporter] on the broadcast?”
“That’s right! No autographs. Especially not to him.”
Drassi glared at Ratici. Wilovan tipped his hat.
“My pardons, Miss. To answer your question—a good [Gambler] is checked by his opponents. [Mages] and their predictive spells, a good [Rogue] might steal—quite uncouth, but it happens.”
“All is fair in the nature of the game, Wilovan. If there was a cap on Skills it should have been announced.”
Ratici was shameless. The Gnoll and other Human both folded. Numbtongue…hesitated.
The Drake had won the last three games and even if money didn’t matter, Numbtongue still liked winning. So he narrowed his eyes.
“He stole a second card. He’s been stealing the entire time.”
Reiss folded his arms. The Goblin Lord did not appreciate being used in this way. But he had no real choice; Numbtongue bound him here. Reiss—and Pyrite—both believed that the [Bard] himself had summoned them. Perhaps, as Pyrite had mused in his minute of time in this world, they were not the original article, but a copy—a memory that Numbtongue utilized.
Either way—Reiss was useful.
“His pair loses to yours. Don’t look away from the deck; that’s when he steals.”
Numbtongue listened to the advice. He matched the bet and stayed in. Ratici coughed; one of the pool player’s daggers dropped off his belt with a loud clatter.
Numbtongue kept his eyes on the table as everyone else looked around. Wilovan raised his brows in delight.
“Alright, show ‘em…aw, damn. Numbtongue wins. And I am out!”
The Hobgoblin chortled as he swept up the pot. Drassi stood with a sigh. Ratici narrowed his eyes and Wilovan smiled.
“Well, even a [Gambler]’s luck runs out, eh, Ratici.”
“That might be, Wilovan. That might be. You can’t win them all. Another round, Mister Numbtongue? I’d be willing to put money back. Even that gold dust vial.”
Wilovan’s brows shot up. Gold dust vial? He was not immune to the lure of lucre either. He leaned forwards as Numbtongue grinned. The [Thief] locked eyes with the cheating Hobgoblin.
Reiss sighed as Wilovan palmed the invisible card Ratici had slipped him.
The game was afoot in earnest.
Eight rounds later, Numbtongue threw down his cards in disgust and pushed over a gold coin. He’d lost that one. But he’d won three.
“You’re quite a fine player, sir.”
Wilovan and Ratici grinned at the Goblin. They were still in the game—everyone else wised up after a hand or two.
Both sides were cheating nonstop. Numbtongue was impressed. The [Thief] could steal a card even while being stared at. And the other fellow—the burly Gnoll—memorized his cards after one look and played them face down, so Reiss couldn’t tell what they were.
For their parts, Ratici and Wilovan were enjoying themselves. They loved to gamble so this room was a wonderful diversion. But what made them interested was the Hobgoblin. They had no idea how the hell he was reading the other hands. They’d assumed—correctly—it was a Skill, rather than magic, but they couldn’t sense it.
“One more round?”
Ratici wheedled. Numbtongue still hadn’t produced the blue diamond. The Hobgoblin hesitated.
“I might stop.”
He had a limit on how much he gambled each day since he had to go out and find more precious minerals. The [Thief] was visibly disappointed.
“What about a drink? We could get back to it…”
He practically followed Numbtongue back into the inn. It was so surprising Numbtongue immediately acquiesced.
He went over to the bar and helped himself to an ale. No one stopped him and Ratici and Wilovan took a mug after a moment. They sat together at a table. Numbtongue looked from face to face.
“You don’t mind Goblins?”
The two blinked as if only realizing he was a Hobgoblin now. Ratici shrugged. Wilovan touched his hat with a furry finger.
“Let’s just say it doesn’t bother us insofar as we’re all able to play a game together, sir. If you were a menacing sort on the road we might be justifiably leery.”
But they didn’t look like it. And Numbtongue, now free of the concentration of the game and having Reiss help him figure out his odds of winning based on the cards at play, realized something.
The hats were familiar. He narrowed his crimson eyes as Ratici ordered some snacks to go with the drinks. The two were so relaxed, so fearless…where had he seen the hats before? He felt like the duo’s way of talking was familiar too. But from where?
“You’re getting soft. They’re the same as the ones from Celum.”
Reiss stood there. Numbtongue’s eyes widened.
They were friends of the [Enforcer]. The hat-men! He looked up, suddenly tense. He saw Wilovan pause in drinking and Ratici’s eyes narrow. They were too perceptive.
“Something we say alarm you, sir? I was just asking if you preferred an ale…”
“No. Not that. You two are…Brothers? Why are you here?”
Numbtongue’s hand slowly fell towards his waist. Towards the glorious new sword Pelt had made for him. He could cut steel in twain with it. But suddenly—the [Bard] didn’t feel safe.
Wilovan didn’t move. He just eyed Numbtongue. He had a polished little club at his side, a rather harmless weapon for a world in which a sword was an ordinary sidearm. But Numbtongue suddenly felt he was in great danger.
Look at the way he moves. Both of them. The [Thief] is so fast you can’t see him steal cards. He can steal your sword at this range and put a dagger in your chest. If you have to fight—the only way to kill someone like that is to grab him and never let go. Bite his throat out and pray he underestimates you. The other one’s strong, though. [Enhanced Strength] looks like that. Kill the [Thief] and use the sword on him…
Pyrite’s memories were precise. Numbtongue tensed. Neither Gentleman Caller moved.
“We seem to have alarmed you, sir.”
Wilovan very slowly reached for his belt. Numbtongue froze—and saw the Gnoll slowly pull out something.
A pipe. Wilovan lit it, puffed a few times. Erin had grudgingly reversed her ban on smoking indoors so long as people sat next to an opened window due to Palt-pressure.
“Now, why would someone think that, Wilovan?”
Ratici sat back, looking equally calm. The Gnoll blew a bit of smoke out the window, past the bee who was collecting some nectar. Apista waved an antennae at Numbtongue. He didn’t notice. Rude Goblin.
Wilovan spoke to the ceiling.
“Well now. We may have happened upon a report concerning a fellow who, insofar as we understand it, ran afoul of our group. But since such a fellow would be understandably at odds with most folks, we did not hold him accountable for that particular bit of unpleasantness. That might be why, wouldn’t it, Ratici? But such a fellow wouldn’t have cause to be nervous, I expect.”
The Drake took over, nodding and looking past Numbtongue.
“Not at all. Our issue would be with whomever led our group to such an unfortunate incident. Which we have, in fact, settled with. Of course, if such a fellow were to keep doing things that were inconveniencing, well, our understanding would become rapidly unpleasant on our side, so to speak.”
When he finally understood what they were saying, the [Bard] relaxed slightly. The two Gentlemen Callers winked at him. The Hobgoblin looked at them.
“Why are you here every day, then?”
“Let’s just say we’re here on business. Business which involves nothing of harm to you or this inn and a great deal of help if the need should arise. Swear on a truth stone if you have one. Why don’t we drink and if you’re so uncomfortable, we go our separate ways with nothing more said of it?”
The Gnoll met his eyes. Numbtongue hesitated.
By rights he should tell Erin and…let her do her thing. But then again—the two could be serious trouble. Let it slide? The Hobgoblin hesitated.
Something made him ask a question rather than go find Erin and trigger an event. The way the two were so casual.
“Why…are you two not afraid of me?”
Ratici snorted. Wilovan blinked.
“Should we be, sir? Ah—then again…”
He studied Numbtongue casually.
“Let’s just say we’ve met good folks like yourself before, Mister Numbtongue.”
The [Bard]’s jaw dropped. Reiss’ jaw dropped. Pyrite wasn’t surprised. The Gnoll closed one eye.
“If you understand the peculiarities of where my companion, Ratici and I work, sir, you’d understand that our sort doesn’t always stand by the law. Not sure if you do; Goblins er, don’t know much of other societies. Most of them.”
“I know a…bit.”
Numbtongue hesitated. He knew they were criminals. But the [Bard] knew only a bit more than your average Antinium. Crime among Goblins was different. Ratici chewed on a fry.
“Let’s just say this, friend. Where we work, all sorts can find employment. Even types most’d call ‘monsters’. Those who do not level can sometimes still think. And Goblins can do both.”
“Really? Then in cities—there are Goblins?”
The two Gentlemen Callers exchanged a glance. They rather liked this odd Goblin. But they might have said too much. Wilovan sighed as he adjusted his hat and gave Numbtongue a grave look.
“The sort whom you might meet in a bustling city ain’t the sort you’d want to make friends with, Mister Numbtongue. No indeed.”
“But—but they exist? In cities?”
The Hobgoblin was awestruck. He had grown up in the sewers of a city, but that had been the closest any Goblin had gotten to living in a city aside from Garen Redfang’s legendary exploits. Or so he thought.
But the world was vast. And Wilovan’s gaze was steady and honest—as honest as a crook got as he smiled. He raised a mug in a toast to a new friend as Ratici chuckled.
“Well now, haven’t you heard the old saying? Goblins can be found everywhere. Funny that you’d not believe it yourself. Believe me, friend. Everywhere means everywhere. ”
There were three types of Goblins in this world. They w—
Actually, there were lots more than three types of Goblins. Even if you divided along the most basic lines, they differed. And that wasn’t even going into the differences between a Cave Goblin or a Mountain Goblin.
Goblins came in so many different kinds of forms. Why, even their basic…forms came in more than three kinds. You had your basic Goblin, Hobgoblins, Fomirelins—although Goblins forgot or differed in what they called them; Great Goblin was another word for them—and…
There were three ways you could arbitrarily categorize Goblins in this world. In a manner that mattered to Goblins, of course.
The first kind of Goblin was rare. Unheard of, as alien to Numbtongue as organized crime—no—even more incomprehensible.
A ship of them sailed across the ocean, through dark waters. A ship crewed by Goblins. The same one that [Strategists] had once met over Kraken’s Pass.
Even amid the myriad of sights on the sea, this was a rare one. And if you knew why they sailed—any non-Goblin ship would be twice as afraid.
The Goblins on the ship were decent sailors. ‘Decent’ in that they knew everything about how ships worked, the sails, navigating the currents—but only a handful had classes in sailing.
The rest were different. Passengers who helped out and followed orders with that uncanny Goblin teamwork that allowed them to be competent at sea.
Even so—they had gone a long way. To avoid major shipping lanes and other ships or stay out of range they could be identified was no easy mission. They sailed at night, through fog, even dangerous areas like Kraken’s Pass.
But it would be wrong to say the Goblins were afraid of a fight. Very wrong. They were just wary. And as it happened—their circuitous route had created a very unusual event, that even they took note of.
Their [Shaman]’s shoulders was covered with moss which actually grew on his green skin. Some of the other Hobgoblins had similar markings; lichen had actually become a second skin or armor. They were among the best the crew had to offer; and it was almost half-Hobgoblin, half-Goblin.
Now, one of the most elite Hobgoblin warriors offered the best rations they had taken from the last ship they’d sunk. Wine, vittles—even [Pirates] relied on stored goods, even with bags of holding unless they were really high-level. But the old Goblin who snatched the food ate the dried food in good humor and washed it down with wine which ran into his beard.
“Lord Greydath. What else do you want?”
The [Shaman] addressed Greydath of Blades respectfully. He was still wet from the sea. They had found him swimming across the ocean.
“A map. Forgot where the island was. Where is it moving?”
The Goblins looked at each other. The [Shaman] called out in their language and a crude map was made. Not found; the Goblins needed no map, and the [Captain] of the ship navigated by memory alone.
“Hrr. Stupid island. Moving here, moving there…was going to swim to Isle of Minos and wait.”
Greydath grunted. He sat cross-legged, the ancient blade his only possession. He had been eating fish. The other Goblins stood wide of him, staring in awe. They knew who he was. The [Shaman] glanced past Greydath.
The moss-covered Goblins were staring at the Goblin Lord.
“Goblin Lord Greydath. We cannot bring you to home. We go to Baleros. If you wait…the ship returns.”
Greydath’s crimson eyes glinted. He was smiling—as he had when they’d pulled him up at the unexpected encounter. But it was with an edge. The [Shaman] bowed his head.
“Tribes died. Lizardfolk killed three. She tells us to go there.”
“I see. I will swim. I need practice.”
Greydath’s greatsword shifted on his back. The [Shaman] nodded. Then he looked past Greydath.
“The warriors want to challenge you, Goblin Lord. To see strength.”
The Goblin Lord sat there. His red eyes glinted as he looked up from his food and the wine.
“I am in a bad mood. Do they want to die?”
He shifted. The Goblins standing behind him saw his head turn. The Goblin Lord stared at them. The [Shaman] hesitated.
“No, Lord. What happened on Izril? She said you stayed there—”
He stopped as Greydath looked at him.
The Goblin Lord bit into his food and drank savagely.
He sat there, moody. The ship sailed on as the [Shaman] asked what questions he dared. He might have asked as much as he dared; it was unlikely the two would meet again. But then a Goblin on the crow’s nest made a sound.
The other Goblins looked up.
Ship passing. They fell silent. Greydath made no sound, but that was because he kept drinking from the wine flask.
The Goblins had been told to avoid conflict. So they waited for the ship to pass them at night. But—then there was another sound.
The [Captain] spun the wheel. The ship turned, slipping quietly away. But within a minute the watcher spoke again.
The Goblin crew stirred. Some ship had sighted them despite the dark and distance and was bearing down. Poor luck for the [Pirates] or whomever they were.
“Outrun it. Her orders.”
The [Shaman] ordered. The Goblin [Captain] tried to obey. But in the distance—the other ship was following. And despite the wind which the [Shaman] conjured to their sails—the other ship was gaining.
The [Shaman] stared over the port-side towards the ship. It was too dark to see—but as the other ship pursued the Goblin vessel at incredible speed, he saw a flash in the darkness.
Light. It poured from the other ship suddenly. The hull glowed. And the ship began to move faster.
Only one ship in the entire sea did that. The [Shaman] bared his teeth.
“Her. Hero-death comes. Stop the ship.”
The Goblin ship slowed. There was no outrunning one of the most famous ships in the sea. The Illuminary. And as it drew closer, the famous [Pirate Captain] herself stood at the prow.
Rasea Zecrew, the Drowned Woman whose body was half-Angler. Glowing like her ship.
Greydath stirred. But as he slowly stirred—the Goblins on the ship walked forwards.
Both ships slowed until they drifted closer. In silence. Rasea’s crew, one of the most feared [Pirate] crews on the seas, stood behind her.
They saw crimson eyes staring back. The Goblins waited. Hobgoblins standing with arms folded beside smaller Goblins. Then—
They smiled. They were waiting.
The first type of Goblin in this world had never known fear. Never learned to hide and run from the other species of this world. The crew of the Goblin ship waited. The Illuminary’s crew stirred.
But it was the [Pirate Captain] herself who called out.
“Raise the flag!”
She bellowed. The [Shaman] stirred as he saw a familiar color rising above the Illuminary’s colors.
A white flag. Parlay? He raised a hand. [Pirates] obeyed the laws of the sea surprisingly well.
Greydath watched Rasea. Her eyes were flicking across the deck. She had spotted Greydath. But she was looking across the crew.
“Ahoy! You’re one of the Goblin ships from the fabled Isle of Goblins, aren’t you?”
Rasea bellowed as their ships drifted alongside one another. The Goblins did not reply. They waited for their [Shaman] to speak. He just watched Rasea. She pointed at him, grinning.
“I heard your ship had been seen at Kraken’s Pass! Well—it’s been a while since then and my crew’s been dancing with Admiral Seagrass. He holds a grudge!”
Her [Pirates] laughed. Still—the Goblins were silent. Rasea looked past them. She stood amid the backlight coming from her ship.
“I’m looking for a larger battle still. And I need the best and fiercest warriors of the sea to fight with me. What about it? Any of your lot interested in crewing with the Illuminary?”
The [Shaman] blinked. Rasea grinned, waiting. She had found them and sailed up to ask them to join her crew?
The Goblins stirred at last. Some looked interested, but none of them responded. They were a different kind of Goblin. Rasea looked past them and sighed.
“Damn Goblins. But what about you?”
She pointed at Greydath. He looked at her. The Goblin Lord was drinking again while seated. He eyed Rasea and laughed contemptuously.
“Me? Leave, little Human. I’ve killed a thousand of your kind.”
The Illuminary’s crew muttered. Rasea’s shine glinted.
“Really? I’ve never heard a Goblin lie before. That just makes me want to fight you.”
She drew her sword slowly. The [Shaman] stirred. It was Rasea’s crew who held her back.
“Captain—we don’t have time for this. Or the people to spare.”
Rasea threw off the hands holding her from swinging across and jumping at Greydath. She scowled, but her smile returned.
“We’re after larger quarry and I can’t take a fight now. Shame. Think any Goblins from your island would join me?”
At last, one of the Goblins spoke.
“Try to land.”
They laughed, high-pitched, falling over. Rasea’s glowing eye on the fish-side of her face narrowed. She smiled.
“Someday. I will.”
She met the [Shaman]’s eyes and then turned.
“Waste of time, lads! To Savere! Maybe there’s someone good among the rabble! Onwards!”
The Illuminary moved away, accelerating with a speed no other ship could match. The [Shaman] watched the water rippling after the ship. Then he nodded.
The [Captain] spun the wheel. The Goblin ship sailed on through the night. Carrying Goblins who had never left their island before to their new home. You could call them…
The second kind of Goblin was common. They were Goblins who knew fear. Fear, for a world that hated them. Fear, for all the kinds of death.
He saw them now. Adventurer-death. Even now—they made the Hobgoblin’s stomach twist.
They didn’t see him; he was several thousand feet away and only his keen eyes allowed him to pick them out in detail. Badarrow still kept low, only glancing now and then. The Gold-ranks could have vision Skills or spells like his.
Downwind, camouflaged. The small team of Goblins were eight in number. They hid in the High Passes, the others keeping an eye out for threats sneaking up on them.
That was the real danger here. As you waited to ambush, an Eater Goat herd could come at you, or a Gargoyle you were sitting on decided to have a snack. A Frost Wyvern—
Well…most of the Frost Wyverns were hiding. The adventurers combing the High Passes had cut a swathe through them. They were everywhere. Gold-ranks, Silver-ranks, even a few very stupid Bronze-rank teams who’d been eaten.
Some idiot had put a huge bounty on Wyverns. Badarrow had learned that through the Goblin’s intelligence networks of eavesdropping on Humans. They were mad with gold-lust to kill even a single Wyvern; they’d even abandon the valuable carcass to take the head back, or just swear on truth spell they’d killed one.
It didn’t matter, to be honest. The adventurers were combing the High Passes. Mostly the lower elevations at first, but to pursue the Wyverns who were flying higher, the adventurers were climbing. Mostly, they missed the one spot where Goblins had made their fortress.
But this group was too close. Badarrow did not like them. There were twelve and they were Gold-ranks. Probably a Gold-ranked team rather than all individual Gold-ranks. But far too many.
And that was the first team. The second was a group of thirty! Thirty—probably multiple teams working together. Both were equipped for serious air-combat. The [Sniper] had seen a Wyvern dive at them and practically vanish in the face of all the spells and munitions they had.
They were climbing right towards Goblinhome. Any higher and they’d discover one of the passes to the valley. Goblinhome wasn’t exactly unobtrusive; if they reached that spot, they’d see the fort and it would be a fight.
So they had to be stopped. Badarrow had a longbow. He took one last look. He was waiting. Both teams were climbing and neither had sighted the other. But if he was right—as soon as the team of twelve passed by that large rock down there, they’d see the team of thirty-two below.
He whispered. A Cave Goblin put it into his clawed hand. It was a special arrow. The tip glowed; it was hollowed ruby, filled with a bit of liquid that exploded on contact with air.
An enchanted arrow. Badarrow put it to his bow and lined up his shot in his head. He had to place it perfectly…
Now. The [Sniper] rose, loosed, and dove down in one moment. He had already known where to aim and loosed exactly at the right moment. The adventurers never saw him. But one cried out as the arrow sped towards its destination.
“Hold up! My [Dangersense] just—”
Boom. The Goblins had covered their ears. Badarrow heard what was happening. The arrow had detonated as it struck an overpass just ahead of the team of thirty. Rocks were showering down; the overpass might collapse. If they had been any closer…
“Dead gods! What was that?”
Badarrow listened to the shouting. From both teams. The group of thirty were screaming at each other, checking for injuries.
“Hey! Are you okay? What was that?”
The Gold-rank team shouted at the second group. They were answered by curses.
“What? You shot that arrow, you bastards!”
One of the adventurers below aimed her staff upwards. The Gold-rank team was confused.
“We shot nothing!”
“Salamander shit! Get down here! I’ve heard other teams are attacking us! You try that again and we’ll erase you!”
“Shut up, Silver-ranks! We don’t need to ambush you! Go home and behave yourselves and stop fouling us up!”
The Gold-ranks heard a roar of fury from below. They looked around in confusion.
“Who said that? Andry—”
“It wasn’t me!”
Badarrow saw the Goblin camouflaged against the rocks slipping backwards as curses drifted upwards. The Goblin was an expert in voice tricks like that. One of Numbtongue’s disciples, actually. Now both teams were screaming at each other.
The luckless Gold-rank team, who were in fact Todi’s Elites, back for round two, were in a stand-off with the adventurers below. Todi’s attempts with the other level-headed adventurers turned to chaos when someone hurled a rock.
Again—a Goblin. But the arrow that nearly hit Todi was all-adventurer. Badarrow slipped away with his team, sighing in relief.
It had worked. Sometimes it didn’t. The arrow-trick, the Goblins with their shouts and rocks—it was all a huge risk. Badarrow’s squad had analyzed the adventurers, tested their detection capabilities to make sure they could pull this off.
Halrac wouldn’t have been fooled. Adventurers who were already angry and looking for a fight on the other hand…Badarrow just wished the adventurers would leave.
But apparently there was some kind of route they were taking from Invrisil all the way to the High Passes that make the adventurers more inclined to rotate in and out. Badarrow cursed whatever new trick the adventurers were using. He hurried off to check another trap. It was a busy day.
A third team was climbing up towards Goblinhome. There weren’t that many routes, but one of the captured Wyverns had been sighted flying too high, and they were checking out the nest. Badarrow found more Goblins finishing their prep.
“Okay. Is good?”
The second Goblin-leader raised a thumb. Not Snapjaw; she was with Rags in the negotiations. The Hob in charge of the Goblins was in fact, Calescent, the [Cook] who made everything too damn spicy.
But he had worked his magic here. The [Cook], Badarrow, and the other Goblins ran for it as they heard the adventurers coming up the slopes. Far away, Badarrow listened to them coming up.
“Keep low. We’re not letting Todi take another Wyvern. Wish we could find the Wyvern Lord.”
“We’re not fighting a damn Greater Wyvern, you idiots. That’s suicide. Hold up—I see something ahead. Mendel, check it out.”
The team sent ahead a Gnoll [Tracker]. He sniffed the air, but the Goblins were good at hiding their scent. And what the Gnoll saw made him go running back.
“Dead gods! Dead gods!”
“Mendel, what is—Rhir’s fucking hells! Back! Back! Oh, Selphid’s tits, there are hundreds of them!”
The sniggering Goblins tried to keep quiet. Calescent felt Badarrow nudging him proudly. The [Cook] offered one of the spares he’d kept for Badarrow to inspect. The [Sniper] took a look and sniffed before taking a bite.
Not great. But that wasn’t the point. He swallowed the special egg and watched the adventurers panicking.
Calescent had worked hard on them. He’d taken your basic egg and actually hollowed the interior while leaving a transparent outer layer just solid enough to hold a gel. He’d made the gel too, out of a few ingredients.
Sage’s Grass, some orange dye, and water and voila. The Goblins had made a glowing nest of eggs which the adventurers were freaking out over.
“Crelers! Do you see any living?”
“No—but if they’re out in the open?”
The Goblins had artistically piled them up near an overhang, as if spilling outwards. The adventurers were debating what to do. Badarrow was worried—until he heard their leader whispering.
“No! No, no, no! We’re not fighting a nest that size! You want to end up like those guys at the Bloodfields? I heard it was a multi-party wipe! We call it in, and someone else can burn the nest to hell and back. Evacuate now! Spread the word!”
They practically sprinted away from the deadly eggs. Badarrow slapped Calescent on the back. Another team distracted and hopefully this one would spread the news.
“Chieftain has good ideas. Anyone want spare eggs?”
Badarrow shook his head. Calescent chewed on his creations good naturedly as he shared them around. Honestly, the hardest part had been getting that many eggs. They’d had to use all kinds of pilfered eggs now that Rabbiteater couldn’t easily get food and supplies. Actually—they had some livestock too. But they’d used goose eggs, chicken eggs, duck eggs…
It was Rags’ idea, the traps. She had come up with all these deterrents, borrowing from Pyrite for some tactics but improving her own. Badarrow’s favorite was the poo technique. They hadn’t had to employ that one; that was higher up.
It was nothing fancy. It was just a matter of spreading a week’s worth of Goblin and Wyvern excrement over an area where the adventurers might conceivably climb towards Goblinhome.
They…tended to turn around and go elsewhere when the wind blew the perfume at them or they saw the issue covering—well, everything. The only problem was that you had to reapply whenever it rained, but there was always a supply, as it were.
Launching wasp nests, planting traps some other adventurer had ‘accidentally’ left behind…oh, there were wonderful things you could do. All of it had kept Goblinhome safe. Not every adventurer was fooled of course…but none had ever lived to talk about Goblinhome.
The last defense between adventurers and Goblinhome was simple. If they made it past all the deterrents for whatever reason, the trap-hill with the crossbow Cave Goblins waited. And—from the cliffs—a single Hobgoblin [Greatbow Sniper], certified by Badarrow himself. The Hobgoblin would be sitting in front of a Thunderbow. And the oversized crossbow-ballista had claimed exactly three adventurer’s lives. One had been a Gold-rank.
It didn’t make Badarrow feel good, killing adventurers. Nor did the Redfangs in general like it; attacking them in an ambush wasn’t sporting. But Goblinhome was undetected—for now—and most of the adventurers never had to meet Goblin snipers for the first and last time.
He trudged home with Calescent. All this because some idiot had flown a Wyvern too high. Well—they were temperamental animals. Badarrow had no idea why Snapjaw adored her mount so much.
“Badarrow. Going to go now? Can distract adventurers now.”
Calescent pointed out. He looked down the High Passes. Towards Liscor. Badarrow scratched at his head. The adventurer-influx had certainly taken up his time. But he had had something to do. The [Sniper] had a hunch that the ‘magic door’ some of the adventurers had been talking about might be in a place he knew.
None of them talked about a Goblin in an inn, but that wasn’t exactly a huge conversation topic. He had to know.
The [Archer] nodded slowly.
“Soon, Calescent. Just need spare Wyvern. When Chieftain returns. How long?”
The [Cook] counted on his fingers.
“Hmm. Six days. So…bit longer. Talk long with them. Negotiations go well?”
“Maybe. Stupid talking.”
Badarrow grumped. He missed Snapjaw. Calescent patted him on the shoulder.
“Make cheer up. Let’s throw gold and watch adventurers beat each other up.”
Badarrow brightened. He did enjoy that. He wished that Chieftain Rags would return with the others so he could use one of the tamed Wyverns, of which there were exactly three. She had left with Redscar, Snapjaw, and a dozen other of the best Redfangs despite the risk to Goblinhome.
Well—he couldn’t even fault her on taking so long. It was important to negotiate. They might have allies. And while it had taken the emissary weeks to arrive, the Goblins had been able to reply thanks to the Wyverns, even if they did have to move out of sight to reach the hills. Badarrow just couldn’t imagine it, though.
The range of hills that covered hundreds of miles northeast of Invrisil belonged to Ogres. The massive humanoid people had a history of clashing with the Humans who lived in the low-lands. Ogres were dangerous. Tough, intelligent enough to use weapons and fight with crude tactics—their Clans could wipe out weaker armies when enough Ogres massed together.
Yet they had no ability to level. Which was a good thing frankly; the natural strength and resilience of Ogres meant that one with [Warrior] levels would be an unstoppable force. Even without levels, some ruled over Goblins, subjugating them, or took other species as slaves.
When the other species weren’t strong enough, that was.
This Ogre was among the largest Rags had ever seen. Eleven feet tall. And to make him even more fearsome, his already-tough skin which was like leather, was covered by hide-and-iron armor.
It was thick. It might not be steel, but no javelin would ever piece the armor without a Skill. The Ogre himself used a two-handed club to deadly effect. He was fast, lethal—the champion of his clan. He roared behind the crude helmet he wore.
Rags wouldn’t have fought the Ogre. But the Goblin who stood in front of the Ogre was barely taller than she was. He had two swords in his hand. His wolf, Thunderfur, watched from the side.
The Ogre champion charged with a roar. He brought his club up and then feinted—he swung across the ground horizontally. It should have blown the dodging Goblin away. The Ogre halted his backswing, ready for another blow as he raised a fist—
The Goblin was gone. The Ogre’s head swiveled, eyes wide. He brought his club up. Too late—he saw the figure swing off the club. Redscar had lodged one of his blades into the wood and metal.
Now, he leapt into the Ogre’s guard. He raised the crimson blade and cut. The Ogre cried out as the enchanted sword cut through hide and flesh with ease. He backed up, swinging desperately, kicking—
Redscar dodged, keeping close to the Ogre. Within his guard. He didn’t do anything flashy. More importantly—he didn’t use a Skill. He just stuck next to the Ogre, slashing, evading—
The Ogre fell to one knee after the sixth cut. Redscar cleaned his blades and put them away as the other Ogres roared insults at their champion. The smart ones were just silent.
A voice muttered. Rags turned her head and saw the leader of the clan watching Redscar. It was a female Ogre, not as tall as some, but equipped with a large double-sided axe, a tomahawk-type weapon which was enchanted to return to her hand. She was an excellent thrower.
Rags corrected the female Chieftain. She saw the female Ogre scowl, but there was no denying it. Rags had asked Redscar to win without Skills if possible. The [Blademaster] had proved just how good he was.
The Ogress spoke challengingly. Rags narrowed her eyes.
“Could have done it without. Want to see?”
For a moment Invek seemed about to demand it. But then the leader of the Ogre Clan of Tormek Al turned her head away.
“No. Redscar Goblin proves. Tormek Al makes peace with Flood Water Tribe. Work together.”
Rags exhaled slowly. It was done. Invek had spoken loud enough to be heard around the circle where the other Ogres—nearly two hundred in all—sat.
It had taken six days of negotiations since the Ogre had chanced upon Goblinhome. To be more accurate—a patrol had run into them and both sides had nearly killed each other until the Ogre had seen reinforcement coming out of the fortress and spoken. He had known Goblins and demanded to speak to Rags.
“So. Tormek Al comes to the High Passes?”
Rags looked at Invek for confirmation. The Ogress grunted.
It was very far to the High Passes. Rags turned her head. The Wyverns had flown for nights to get here. But Ogres moved fast; their long stride was complimented by their endurance. Hills and mountains were natural homes for them. Invek nodded. She gestured at the lowland below. Beautiful, green lands stretched downwards if Rags stood just right. But it was the world of Humans. Hostile to their kind, hence the peace-negotiations.
“Humans come. Killing Ogres. Too many. These. Want to leave.”
Another Ogre volunteered. His manner of speech was even cruder than Invek’s, but it was perfectly understandable to Rags. She nodded.
Ogres had been raiding Human lands, which had provoked an inevitable response. The clans who had gone to war were depleted. Invek’s own mate was dead, killed by the [Lady] of House Ulta. The Ogres wanted to escape, but not if they had to go to war with Goblins.
Ogres were tricky. Rags had been wary because Invek’s tribe, despite being numerous, could slaughter ten times their number of Goblins without elites or Hobs. She knew from the Redfangs that Ogres sometimes took Goblins as slaves like the Raskghar or preyed on them.
But each clan was different. Rags looked at Invek.
“Will more tr—clans come to High Passes?”
The Clan Leader gave Rags a blank look. The Goblin scratched at her head. Their negotiations had been like this. At least Invek wasn’t getting offended as she had at the start whenever Rags asked for clarification; apparently her mastery of the common tongue was best among all the Ogres.
“How many clans live here?”
“More? Over there.”
Invek pointed vaguely to the north. Rags’ head turned. She saw Snapjaw rolling her eyes and sliced a claw across her neck. The [Biter] sighed.
Ogres were simpler in speech than even Goblins, but not stupid. No, not by any means. Rags heard one of the Ogres mutter something to another. In…their language.
Her ears perked up. Rags casually watched as Redscar was approached by more Ogres who wanted to see his sword. And she distinctly heard a few Ogres glancing at him and muttering. It—was not the common language. It sounded like—
“Tourek tal something something Tourek…”
They stopped when Invek made a sound and the Ogres realized Rags was watching. They weren’t stupid. Oh no. They were watching the Goblins. Communicating in a language outside of the common tongue.
Rags had thought only Goblins did that. But then—this was her first encounter with another species that wasn’t ‘civilized’. Who were monsters, like her.
But could the Ogres be trusted? That was what had given Rags all the headaches. The agreement with Invek was verbal and the Ogres wanted to move to the High Passes to get away from the Humans. They liked the idea of Goblins being there because it meant an ally against monsters.
Unless they wanted to take Goblinhome for themselves. They’d be in for a world of hurt if they tried of course, but Rags wanted to be certain. The problem was that she was no [Diplomat] or even a [Negotiator].
She’d negotiated and dealt with a total of two major Goblin factions—three if you counted Reiss’ forces for the short period she had known them. Maybe Cave Goblins made four? Either way, Rags wasn’t sure what trustworthy looked like. Each tribe had been different.
“Who is Tourek?”
Rags spoke up. Invek and the Ogres in her inner circle jumped.
“You know how to speak proper language?”
Invek scowled suspiciously at the little Goblin Chieftain. Rags smiled inwardly. But she kept her face smooth. She had learned that from Pyrite. She grunted in an approximation of the Goldstone Chieftain.
“Hrm. Some. Tourek?”
The Ogress hesitated.
“Clan Leader. Before. Died. Best warrior. Killed Gold-Humans.”
Gold-ranks. Rags wondered if Redscar could have beaten this Tourek. Well—the Ogres could speculate. She was glad it was Invek she had met; the Ogress was reasonable, not like some of the Ogres who looked down on the much smaller Goblins; the smallest Ogre was six feet at least.
“Goblins no fight Ogres. Ogres no fight Goblins. Is good. Tonight—eat. Tomorrow—gifts! Peace!”
Invek raised her voice and shouted. The Ogres echoed her words. Rags blinked. She started sweating again.
Gifts? She saw Redscar and Snapjaw turn to look at her. There was nothing for it. Invek saw Rags hesitate, but unwilling to show ignorance, the Chieftain smiled and nodded. After all—she was a [Great Chieftain] now.
She had a few tricks. That night, Rags slept in the tents as the Wyverns curled up around the Goblin camp. Redscar kept an eye out in case the Ogres tried anything funny with his Redfang elites. And Rags took the tincture one of the Goblin [Herb Mixers] had made for her and fell asleep.
She dreamed of Ogres.
It was easier, now, to dive backwards. Her class had made her more adept. Rags could now think in dreams. She still felt and experienced what the previous Goblins had.
Ogres. As always—her first memory was of him.
Velan had fought Ogres—but dealt with them seldom. Rags saw flashes of them kneeling, of the Goblin Chieftain sparing them, the Goblin Lord being too fearful for their small claims to attack. No—
This was the wrong memory. Rags wrenched her mind away. She delved away from Velan. The Goblin King’s memories were too strong. She cast about, searching….searching through her history. For—
There. Rags reached out and—
She was the greatest of her clan, a giant as tall as Tremborag. Carefully, she walked among the smaller Hobgoblins and Goblins, who were like children to her. One of six.
Kerra, that was who she was. Her tribe had six Great Goblins. Their Chieftain had another name for them. Fomirelin. What that meant Kerra didn’t know, but the Chieftain could look back and see many things.
Not that it mattered to Kerra. She didn’t want to become Chieftain. She was a proud warrior! Her tribe needed her only to win every battle. And oh—that wasn’t given. Because Kerra was a giant, but her foes could be just as vast.
She brought her axe down on an Ogre’s shield, grunting as they traded blows. The Ogre roared, but a Great Goblin was stronger than an Ogre. Faster! They could level and Ogres could not!
But Ogres were stronger naturally. Kerra roared a Skill and the Ogre backed up too slowly; her next blow pulverized his face and half of his torso.
The other Ogres ran when they saw that. Kerra’s tribe, the Valley’s Pact tribe, won. But the Ogres raided every spring.
The Chieftain was sick of it. He was a [Mage], as powerful as their tribe had ever known. He led Kerra and the best Goblins on a battle to end this once and for all. Kerra fought the Ogre’s best warriors as spells collapsed the Ogre clan’s bases on the hills, raining death upon them—
Until the world shook. The Keeper of the Valley had seen the fighting. He expressed his displeasure. Goblins and Ogres both halted their battle. The Keeper of the Valley demanded an end to the raiding.
Kerra’s Chieftain obeyed. So did the Ogres. They came with two of their spellcasters to make peace. The Goblin [Shamans] were wary, but they made peace at last, and it was a pact made in blood.
For years thereafter, there was peace. Ogres and Goblins were wary. They fought. But they had made peace and both side’s wisest honored and enforced the bargain. Kerra learned to like Ogres. She made friends among their people.
Even slept with them. Some of them joined her tribe. The Ogres were prideful, more solitary than Goblins. They came and went, unlike Goblins who stuck together unless their tribe itself failed.
Kerra met Ogres, then a colony of Trolls, who were doughty fighters. Able to heal and endure even what Ogres and Great Goblins could not. They preferred the more marshy areas though.
Trolls. Ogres. Goblins. Even a Cyclops all lived there. Different species, in the hidden valley.
So passed decades. Kerra was over fifty years old when the peace ended. The Keeper of the Valley called all the peoples to him. Each one, whom he had allowed to reside in his lands.
They gathered. Goblin, Troll, Cyclops, Ogre, even other species, fewer, but united. The Keeper of the Valley looked down at them all and spoke.
“The Humans come. They come for my children. They come for me. Will you fight with me?”
For nearly a century, the Valley Pact Tribe had known his peace. They answered the Keeper’s plea and so did the Ogres, the Trolls…almost every race. The Keeper charged the Cyclops with a single order—he told them to take the children of each race and lead them to safety with his children if death came.
And they came. Humans. A vast army of them, bearing the banners of over a dozen kingdoms.
Rags realized they were Terandrians. She saw [Knights] marching in ranks. She felt Kerra’s despair as she beheld their numbers.
But no Goblin fled. They went to war for the Giant of the Valley. Kerra saw the Humans throwing rocks up the mountain as the valley-dwellers charged towards the arrows and spells. She crashed through a line of Humans coated in armor, tearing their weak metal-coated bodies apart with her bone axe.
But there were so many. And one with a spear like the night itself threw the spear up and the Keeper of the Valley cried out. Kerra looked up and lost track of a Human below—
Pain. Rags woke gasping as she felt Kerra die. The Giant still fell in her vision, bringing his hand down towards the Human who had slain him. She was crying.
She hated remembering dying. And oh, they died.
But that was a Goblin thing. And Rags knew now what gifts Invek wanted. She went outside, grateful she had brought as much as the bags of holding could fit.
The next day, Rags presented Invek with a pile of nuggets of gold and cut gems, taken from Goblinhome’s stash generated by the Goldstone Tribe. Not gold dust or the smaller, equally precious gems, but the largest, most magnificent specimens.
Invek was delighted. Rags knew from Kerra’s memories that these treasures were an excellent gift for Ogres, who prized the gems. They were not natural miners, being too big for cave-work. Rags could have also offered weapons or food, those being common objects.
And sure enough—Invek offered her a pile of Goblin-sized weapons. Excellent steel daggers, armor too small for Ogres—and to complete the bargain, three full sets of plate armor.
It felt like Rags was getting the better deal, but she knew better than to show it. She had to kick the Redfangs to stop them from showing their excitement. Invek was happier to get the gold and gems; Rags was well aware that the Ogres had no use for chainmail or the weapons they had given the Goblins.
It was goodwill on both sides. Rags was very happy about the haul which more than justified her time spent. Unfortunately—a huge complication came up shortly after the exchange.
A group of sixteen Ogres approached Rags. They were all young, some not even full-grown, but all warriors armed with the lowest-grade of weaponry. Stone or bone weapons, not the coveted steel or enchanted weapons. They had no armor, forced to rely on their bare skin which was still very tough.
They did not beat about the bush.
“Chieftain Goblin. Want to join tribe.”
The biggest Ogre announced. Invek stopped smiling. Every Ogre turned to the sixteen. Rags stared up at the Ogre, who was female. She knew what she was doing. Her eyes were keen as she stared at Rags.
The female Ogre glanced at Invek, and then spoke loudly. She pointed at Redscar.
“Strong small Goblin. Has good metal. We fight for good metal if give. And potions.”
The other Ogres nodded rapidly. Potions? Rags knew the Ogres had plenty of potions; they looted Humans for potions too. But when she turned to Invek for clarification she made the biggest discovery yet.
Rags turned to the scowling Invek. She was not pleased by this development. From Kerra’s memories, Rags knew that Ogres abandoning a clan wasn’t the terrible indictment it usually was among Goblin tribes.
But it wasn’t great. To buy time, Rags turned to Snapjaw.
The [Biter] looked pained as she dug out more of Calescent’s snacks. The spicy, mouth-watering bits of the large-tailed rodents he fried up were excellent meals for Goblins—or snacks for the huge Ogres.
That quieted everyone down as they went to find water or milk; only Snapjaw could eat them without leaking from most orifices. Rags turned to the Ogres who wanted to come with her.
“Ogres can’t fly on Wyverns. Too heavy. Too many Goblins.”
The younger female Ogre looked blankly at Rags. The vast distance to the High Passes didn’t seem to deter her. Rags chewed on her lip.
In theory, a single Ogre might be able to ride an adult-Wyvern. And it was certainly possible to find a route back towards the High Passes for the Ogres. But why?
“Want potions? What kind of potions? Healing potions?”
Rags gave the Ogress a dubious look. Instantly, she shook her head and slapped her chest.
“Ogres too strong! Not healing. Other potion. All clans need for live.”
Seeing Rags’ totally blank expression, the Ogre scratched at her head. She turned to the others. After some conferring, they produced something. A nearly-empty bottle. Rags took it, opened it, sniffed it.
It was…violet. Which told her nothing. Potions were all kinds of colors because each [Alchemist] had a different recipe. This one shimmered with bits of glowing red. Rags narrowed her eyes. That looked like Sage’s Grass. Which meant this potion might be—
She took a tiny sip as the Ogres watched carefully. Rags felt the energy run through her. Weak—but it recharged her. The [Steelflame Tactician] lowered the bottle and exhaled a small gout of flame with the excess magic she’d taken in. The Ogres nodded. Rags looked at them.
A few questions later, it was clear. The what. Not the why, not just yet. But the Ogres were adamant. They didn’t want paying in steel—weapons their size. They’d happily take mana potions over that.
They fought Humans for mana potions. Not just—treasure or slaves or any other reason. Rags was astounded.
“Very need. Is bad…bad without many.”
“Why? Ogres need magic to live?”
Another shake of the head. Invek had consented to talk despite her clear annoyance with the situation. Rags scratched at her head. Invek sighed impatiently.
“Magic makes magic.”
No kidding? Rags gave her the same annoyed look. She saw Invek gesture.
“Look. Clan Shaman.”
An Ogre with a crude staff had been sitting among the others. Rags had noticed Invek listening to this Ogre now and then. He was clearly not a warrior. Now, he rose and walked over as Invek deferentially gestured.
“This Dolom. Great spellcaster of Tormek Al. Came from smaller tribe for many gold. Potions.”
Ah, so they were in great demand. Rags inclined her head. Dolom eyed her, then nodded.
“Rags Goblin casts spells. We—kin.”
He lowered the staff and touched Rags’ chest gently. Rags felt the power in the staff and swatted it away. Dolom was watching her. She had the distinct impression he’d just checked her magical abilities.
“Touch again and I cast [Fireball].”
She warned him. Dolom grinned toothily.
“Human magic. Ogres have magic too. Need potions. I was Ogre. Stupid. Drink many potions. Now, magic is mine.”
That explained it. Rags blinked.
“You…got magic powers from potions?”
For answer, Dolom pointed his staff towards the smoldering fire from last night. He spoke.
Rags recognized the root word. Falgut was fire—her eyes widened as a huge flame roared from the embers. The other Ogres moved back, looking at Dolom with envy and awe.
“Ogres have little magic. Potions give. Many potions. Many drink, slowly.”
Dolom bent over and whispered to Rags, as if imparting some great secret. And perhaps—it was. She had never heard of this.
“Magic comes from potions?”
The other Ogres nodded. It was an ambition they all had. From Invek to the Ogress who wanted to join Rags’ Tribe. Dolom sat cross-legged.
“Magic. Drank many, many. Learned words of power from others.”
The process of becoming an Ogre Shaman was arduous. You had to get many potions. Not just dozens, but up to a hundred and drink them slowly. Too fast and you’d die of fever and madness. But just drink them—until the magic in the potions became yours. Even now, Dolom gathered more potions and drank them. Not when he needed them, when his natural magic was low, but when he was healthy, at his vital prime.
It was adding to his mana pool somehow. The Ogre touched Rags again and she recoiled as she felt that his reserves exceeded hers! She wondered what Noears would have made of this.
“Ogre Shamans stronger than Human [Mages]. Strongest in world. Why Humans can’t kill Ogres.”
Dolom had refused to go on the clan’s rampages, but he’d halted some of the counterattacks. Still—they wanted to leave before Named Ranks took up the call to exterminate them. It revealed much.
However, Invek seemed to think this differential made Ogres superior. She was smirking and Rags decided it was time for some pushback.
“Can make fire too. All Goblins can. Snapjaw, show.”
The Hobgoblin raised her sword. The Ogres looked at her suspiciously and Snapjaw spoke.
Her sword burst into fire along the metal. The Ogres gasped. Invek looked dismissive, though.
“Not big fire.”
“All Goblins, though. Redscar?”
The Goblin waved one of his swords as he combed Thunderfur with his other hand. His blade burst into light as well. The Ogres saw the other Redfangs do the same and gasped.
Dolom had more magic, but no Skills. Fire was easy. A basic spell that Rags’ entire tribe could do thanks to her Skill. The Ogres, upon hearing that, were shocked. Rags smiled, keeping her inner thoughts to herself.
The revelation about mana potions was important. She’d have to experiment. For now—she wanted the female Ogress and the fourteen others who wanted to leave. They’d be good additions to the tribe if they could be trusted, and Rags would see just how good they were before Invek’s tribe arrived.
The pageantry was over. Rags turned to Invek and saw the Clan Leader’s grumpy face. It could have been dicey—but Rags had insight thanks to Kerra, again. She clapped her hands.
This time she gave a different sort of gift to the Ogre clan.
Meat. Eight Ogre’s weight of meat put a huge smile on Invek’s face and she practically ushered the mates and children out of her camp along with the warriors. Rags had depleted the stores of food she’d brought for the Wyverns and Goblins, but she had the hang of this now.
“Good gift. Good meat. Better than weak warriors. Goblins and Ogres still friends!”
Rags nodded with a smile on her face. Casually, she produced something from their stores. She had only two, but Invek’s eyes locked onto the mana potions only Rags needed.
“Would give more gifts.”
Invek and Dolom both jostled to see the medium-grade mana potions. Rags pulled them back before they could be snatched away.
“Gifts for gifts, right? What does Clan Tormek Al have?”
Instantly, the Ogres opened their supplies. Rags walked around, looking without trying to focus on anything. She spotted something dirty, lying among Dolom’s stash and pointed to it.
“Mm. Good fuel and wiping. Also—pictures. Want? What give?”
For a single mana potion, Dolom turned over half a dozen books. Clearly, not an equal trade. Rags gave the other mana potion over to Invek, who was glaring.
“Friendship. Got more books?”
She received them—most torn, used for kindling or other purposes. But the Ogres had cleverly saved pictures, even diagrams and maps. They had no use for histories or stories.
So that was how you traded with Ogres. Always something given and taken. Rags sensed it was more than materialistic need or greed itself. There was ritual there.
The last trades completed, Rags stepped back. She saw the Ogres milling about, disappointed there were no more potions. But a good deal had been wrought on both sides; Invek was already drinking her potion and Dolom had spirited his away. The Ogres were looking at the Goblins with equal parts avarice and interest.
One of the Redfangs was arguing with a young Ogre who wanted to trade for his steel sword, under the wrongful impression that all of the Goblin’s blades were enchanted. Rags saw the two gesticulating as the Redfang tried to rip off the Ogre for a dagger that was enchanted. She made an annoyed sound. The young Ogre swiped for the sword, wanting to try the enchantment himself—
And was cut across the chest as the Redfang refused to let go. Red blood ran into the ground. The Ogre cried out, clutching his chest. Rags’ eyes widened as the Redfang warrior leapt away.
Invek was as good a leader in her way as Rags. She bellowed before the other Ogres could take offense. She raced over and Rags saw her smack the badly-bleeding Ogre on the head. The young warrior fell down from the heavy blow.
“Goblins friends. Cause trouble? Idiot!”
Rags was more concerned that the Ogre would die from the blood loss. She pointed at the guilty Redfang.
The Redfang fumbled for his healing potion, a mark of his elite status that he carried one. But Dolom moved faster than the Goblin. He shoved other Ogres aside and stopped Rags and the Redfang.
“No need. I Shaman. Watch.”
He flexed one huge hand, and Rags sensed him gathering magical power. The Ogre was bleeding deeply; he had worn no armor and the Redfang had honed his sword with Skills until it was a razor. But he waited, looking expectant.
Dolom reached out. His eyes glowed and he inhaled hard.
“Hm! Merrha doon!”
He put his hand over the cut, pressed hard. The smaller Ogre hissed and Rags saw steam rising. But when the Ogre Mage took his huge hand away—all that was left was closed, fresh skin.
Redscar’s jaw dropped. Rags stared as Dolom kicked the healed Ogre. She pointed.
“Potions no need. Magic potions better. Give true power.”
Dolom gave her a triumphant look. Rags had heard no spell. That was…Ogre magic. Her eyes narrowed.
Why did Ogres have abilities most [Mages] could only dream of? But she didn’t ask that question. The fifteen Ogres pledged to the Flooded Waters tribe prepared to move with their families. Redscar would get the task of navigating them back towards Goblinhome if Wyverns couldn’t help with the journey.
“Let us meet again. And give gifts. Okay?”
“In the Highest Mountains. Yes.”
Invek touched her fist to Rags’ tiny one. The Goblins got on their Wyverns and the Ogres waited. They didn’t wave. But they nodded, watching the Goblins take flight. Rags looked back. It was done. The pact established. She closed her eyes. So surprised that another race could be—
Friendly to Goblins.
[Great Chieftain Level 34!]
[Skill – Natural Allies: Ogres learned!]
[Spell – Ogre’s Strength obtained!]
She didn’t miss the unusual word there.
In Riverfarm, there was an uneasy meeting of…liminal groups. Peoples who stood on the edge.
And [Witches]. Both were welcome here. More [Witches] were coming; a school had already been set up. Or rather, a semi-permanent coven.
Laken Godart was aware the [Witches] had wanted the pact with him badly, but not why. Now he understood. They wanted a base. Somewhere [Witches] could go to for safety and aid, to trade, to meet more of their kind.
There were…more such bases. Not just on Izril. But predictably, the [Witches] were close-lipped about the entire thing. They had loyalty—but only to their own kind.
“We need safe places like everyone else, your Majesty. We had more areas like this before—based around places of power. They’ve waned. But that’s why the covens wanted the pact. Do the numbers of [Witches] bother you?”
Wiskeria consulted with the [Emperor]. He sighed.
“Not at all. I agreed to this. I regard [Witches] as a boon, not anything else. I’m just curious, that’s all.”
He was rewarded with a smile from Wiskeria—one he heard in her voice.
“Well, you’ve impressed Witch Agratha, as well as the others. Most of the new [Witches] are low-level; if any of the…serious ones come, I’ll let you know at once.”
“How many are like Belavierr?”
Laken turned his head and felt Wiskeria hesitate.
“…My mother is unique. Even among other [Witches], she’d stand at the very top. But if you mean—like Mavika?”
“Ah. So she’d be second-best? Yes, how many like her?”
Wiskeria counted on her fingers, biting her lips.
“Mavika’s one of the strongest. And oldest. It’s close to the same thing for [Witches]. I know of about five more between Izril and Terandria, but a lot of the old ones stay to themselves. Mavika is one of the more social [Witches], if you can believe that.”
“Well…yes. The only other [Witch] who matched her besides mother was Califor. And she…”
The two fell silent.
“Who is taking care of Nanette? Hedag and Eloise still?”
“I help. But…mostly Eloise. Mavika offered, but I don’t think Nanette wants to walk down that road. She could—but it would change her. She needs to leave Riverfarm for a while, I think.”
Laken nodded. He hadn’t heard Nanette much. But he sensed her, a quiet [Witch] who stood alone even from the ones her age. There wasn’t much…he could do for her. Even with all of Riverfarm’s resources at his disposal.
“Whatever she needs. One last thing, Wiskeria. Mavika. Do you know where she’s got to? Her flock is still flying about Riverfarm keeping the farms clear. But she herself is missing. Someone said she was seen entering the Goblinlands yesterday.”
Wiskeria made a sound.
“I don’t know. Mavika comes and goes. What did she do? Er—I don’t know what she did, your Majesty. Eloise and Hedag might.”
“Ask them. I don’t know either.”
They didn’t know. Or at least, refused to speculate. Laken was left to wonder and the Goblins weren’t cooperative, for all they were trading the ore they mined for luxuries the Humans could provide. Steel nails, potions, soap—Ulvama wanted that—cooking supplies.
But they weren’t the point. The answer as to where Mavika was—well, only Ulvama could have answered that.
The air was hot. The land cracked with heat. Not dry though; the volcanic activity of this region of Izril was something that would give most geologists from Earth conniptions.
If there had been eruptions in the past, they were few and far between these days. But the igneous rock remained. As did lava.
Something—converted magicore and stones affected by the intense heat—had created a semi-permanent river of molten rock in this region, which in parts was accessible from the surface. The entire region was thus far hotter than the rest of Izril.
Largely barren closer to the dangerous hotspots for the same reason. Flora and fauna adapted to the heat, the boiling hot springs—which weren’t pleasant to reside in given all the detritus and soot—had reclaimed this place. [Alchemists] demanded a number of heat-resistant ingredients from this place.
But few people lingered. Which was how the real inhabitants preferred it. Now—a figure landed out of the skies filled with smoke and ash.
Shapes flew higher, cawing. But the crows of Mavika’s flock kept back, out of the toxic fumes. This was not a place for them.
Mavika landed alone. Alone, but for the raven who flew with her. For a moment—a huge bird, some ancient crow-creature of an age when they had been a true predator—folded its wings.
Then the [Witch] hobbled forwards on two feet as her raven perched on her shoulder.
She walked into a pit hollowed by some huge impact. In the center was the remnants of cooled lava that had blasted upwards centuries ago. A volcano with only traces of the fury that had shaped it. The [Witch] walked slowly.
She knew she was being watched. But the [Witch] did not look around. Her pointed hat, her beady eyes and hunched, bird-like figure…the watchers lowered their bows and withdrew.
They knew better than to attack a [Witch] of her caliber.
The obsidian volcano was a fortress of kinds. Nothing moved and no one had constructed anything on the outside that was immediately visible. Safety first lay in the remote nature of this place, the fact that it was so unobtrusive. Death came for the inquisitive. Like the Flooded Waters tribe, the Molten Stone tribe preferred to hide first.
Mavika had made this journey before. She was expected. Even so—the [Witch] was on her guard.
Wisely so. Because as she entered the Goblin tribe’s base, she raised her head.
A Goblin with a pointed, black hat lined with bits of fiery gemstones sat in an alcove. Watching her.
“Tell her I am coming.”
Mavika looked at the little Goblin [Witch]. The Goblin had been holding a wand, aiming it challengingly at Mavika. The older [Witch]’s eyes flashed and the little Goblin fled.
A child. It was rare to see a Goblin who took to witchcraft. But now there were at least…six. Mavika counted six. Five smaller ones, the best of Wiskeria or Alevica’s level at most.
One fiery power who knew she was coming. But predictably, she let Mavika walk with no signs of greeting.
They were both [Witches]. And it was only a fool who considered that [Witches] could only be Human. But a Goblin [Witch]?
There was exactly one great [Witch] among the Goblins. Normally she sat on her throne. Mavika knew more of Goblins than most due to the connection between [Witch] and Goblin. She had never met the Great Chieftain of the Mountain, but the comparison between the Goblin [Witch] of fire and Tremborag would have been somewhat accurate—
And aroused the ire of both. The Molten Stone tribe’s base became much more livable once Mavika had passed the threshold. But unlike the Mountain City tribe—very little of what they had was pilfered.
They had created the hammocks that kept them off the hot stone floor at night, the vents in their fortress that was essential to let the toxic fumes rise higher. Indeed—this tribe had adapted themselves with the uniqueness most Goblin tribes enjoyed if given the chance to survive for decades.
The Molten Stone tribe wore masks. Wood, or even stone or bits of metal combined with the strongest of reeds. They could cover the mouth and nose or entire face; they were decorated to look like biting fangs or menacing helmets.
It protected them from the toxins in the air. Let them breathe, even deep underwater. Master ambushers. Deadly poison users that even Poisonbite would have been in awe of. Archers—few great warriors, though.
Magic-users. [Shamans] stood among [Mages] and yes, two [Witches] in pointed hats, watching Mavika pass.
She ignored them all. Goblins had little her flock wanted, even if the crows could have lived here. Her raven cawed once.
“Where is your Chieftain? I seek Witch Anazurhe.”
The Goblins looked at Mavika. They slowly pointed. The [Witch] turned her head. Walked on.
She ran into trouble before the grand room where the Goblin [Witch] worked, ruled, and cast her spells. A group of huge Goblins were standing in front of the entrance. And they were not of the Molten Stone tribe.
One whirled. Mavika stopped. This Goblin was…not…a Hobgoblin. He was far too large. She knew his kind.
“Goblin, step aside. I seek the [Witch] of the Molten Stone tribe. Answer me with violence and die.”
The Goblin warrior was one of half a dozen. For answer, they reached for their weapons. The one who had seen her didn’t even have an enchanted blade. Like his Chieftain—he used his bare fists.
Mavika made a sound. The raven, Sephraic, cawed, flapping his wings. Growing larger. The shadows…flapped their wings. The Great Goblin hesitated as the smaller Hobs warily checked their flanks.
The [Witch]’s fingers were like talons. She was growing too. The Goblins watched her, warily, not afraid. They were the third type of Goblin. But before either side could do battle—
The doors blew open. The largest Goblin that Mavika had ever seen charged out of the doorway and rushed at her.
The [Witch]’s eyes widened. She leapt, fluttering backwards. The Chieftain threw a punch. Sephraic dove from Mavika’s shoulder.
The air shuddered with the impact. The raven fell, stunned, and the Chieftain recoiled. Mavika made a sound. This Goblin was dangerous. She reached for him as the shadows leapt—
Fire shot from the open doors the Great Goblin had come charging through. Arrows made of purple fire lanced into his back. The huge Goblin warrior turned. Grunted.
“She is my guest.”
A voice from beyond. Mavika landed, still furious. She saw the Goblin Chieftain reply in their language. She heard another reply. He grunted impatiently. Without another word he stomped off.
The [Witch] had a guest. Two Chieftains waited for Mavika as she entered the private lair of the [Witch] of the Goblins. The giant Chieftain eyed her.
Two powers of the north. The last two great tribes, with the end of the Redfang and Mountain City tribe. Mavika hissed at the Chieftain.
“Anazurhe. You play too many games.”
The Goblin turned her head. Her eyes gleamed crimson. Like her kind—she had a hat. She bared her sharp teeth.
“I am Goblin as well as [Witch].”
She spoke clearly, with a perfect mastery of the common tongue. The huge Goblin [Warrior] was not so eloquent.
“You trade with Humans?”
He scowled at Mavika, completely unafraid of her. Just…annoyed. Anazurhe corrected the other Chieftain.
“With a [Witch]. Do not anger her or she will eat your eyes. Now. Mavika, why do you come?”
Mavika and the Goblin traded looks. The Chieftain rumbled.
“I was here first.”
Annoyance crossed the Goblin [Witch]’s face.
“You are not a [Witch]. You come to me for a favor. Be silent. Mavika?”
The crow-[Witch] suppressed her annoyance. It was always like this, treating with Anazurhe. She was strong. Wiskeria did not know her, but she would have named her with Califor and Mavika in the same breath. But Anazurhe had not gone to Riverfarm. What might have happened then? Well—the Goblin [Witch] preferred secrecy and the [Witches] had been understandably reluctant to bring a Goblin to negotiations with an [Emperor] they wanted the favor of.
“I bring you two things. Anazurhe. The lesser is a message.”
“The [Shaman] of the Mountain City tribe.”
Mavika offered Anazurhe a letter written on parchment. The [Witch] took the scroll. She opened it, read. After less than a minute she laughed.
Fire blossomed from her hands and ate the parchment away. The [Witch] turned away.
“One [Shaman] does not interest me. Worthless. Why did you really come?”
The huge male Chieftain grunted; whether that was an affirmation or condemnation was unclear. He was impatiently staring into the basin of black liquid in the center of Anazurhe’s lair. Potions, ingredients lined the throne/workroom that the [Witch] possessed.
Mavika nodded. She had done that as a favor. The second thing was just as simple, if…far more urgent.
“The second thing I bring is news for all [Witches] this world over to hear: Belavierr the Stitch Witch has betrayed her kind. She has slain Califor for her own ends, unprovoked. She is a [Witch] alone. Let no one give her aid. Hound her wherever she hides. The Spider has transgressed.”
The Goblin [Witch] swung around slowly. This time—there was no mocking smile, no relaxed look.
“Califor is dead? Belavierr killed her?”
“Yes. If she comes to you—drive her away or kill her. She has lost many of her protections. But she is still Belavierr. A second thing—Riverfarm is now friend to [Witches]. The pact is made. There is also a colony of Goblins there. Treated…well. For Goblins.”
“Ah. So that was why the [Shaman] begged.”
Anazurhe smiled. The other Chieftain looked interested.
“Goblins in Riverfarm. Which tribe?”
Mavika ignored him. Anazurhe did too. She tipped her hat.
“Stay a day, Mavika. My tribe welcomes you. Tell me how Califor died.”
Mavika nodded. She produced a single bag and offered it to Anazurhe. With ritual and spell, she offered the gift. Old magic—just to make the value more.
“I will tell you of her death and what came after. Of an [Emperor] who sees nothing and all. Of Belavierr’s death that Califor took for her child. We will speak for a day, Anazurhe, then I leave you to your tribe. But first, a gift from the [Witches] of the Human tribes.”
The Goblin’s eyes brightened. She took the little sack and opened it. The Goblin [Warrior] wrinkled his nose. He sniffed.
It was tea.
“Ah. Eloise’s tea. Good. This is a good gift.”
The Chieftain had lost his patience. He brought one fist down on the basin containing the black liquid. It jumped and both [Witches] turned.
The Goblin [Witch]’s eyes flashed with fury. Fire roared around the Great Goblin, but he was unmoved. It burned at him, but his skin was like steel.
“Cast your spell for me now. Or I will become angry.”
Anazurhe pursed her lips, but she nodded. Mavika stepped back. She had come on [Witch] business. But this…this was a Goblin’s matter with [Witch]’s magic.
“Give me my price.”
The [Witch] addressed the Chieftain. He curtly pulled something out of his bag of holding, tossed it at her.
Three magical rings, each of strong power. Anazurhe made a sound of delight. She inspected each one and then nodded.
“For you, one ritual. What do you want?”
“My tribe was captured in battle. Warriors. Show them to me.”
The Goblin [Witch] walked over to her basin and peered into it. A shape emerged as the Chieftain described them. The [Witch] nodded as Mavika waited.
“There they are. Far and not far. What is your wish? My magic is not limitless. I can cast one thing. Do you want their freedom? Safety? Location?”
The warrior folded his arms. His eyes glowed as he thought for a second.
He waited as Anazurhe cast her spell, drawing on the power of her tribe. Then he turned and walked away, satisfied. His tribe left with him; they had marched for over a hundred miles for this one purpose.
Mavika watched him go. Then she saw the Goblin [Witch] massage her back. The two looked at each other. Then they sat to have tea while Mavika told Anazurhe all that had passed.
They said nothing of what had happened. Nor did they interfere with each other’s business overlong. Their species mattered, and did not matter.
After all. They were both [Witches].
You could arbitrarily categorize Goblins into three types. The first, was the Goblin that had not learned fear.
The second was the Goblin who had learned to be afraid. And the last…
The menagerie came to Invrisil with fanfare and as part of a larger circus. Of course, they didn’t call themselves that. Igil’s Illustrious Izrilian Illusories was a known troupe which toured with ‘wonders’ on display, and a lot of alliterative references.
It was the kind of thing that attracted money from people who hadn’t the coin to go out and see all these amazing things in person. The production had everything from a caged Griffin to [Mages] specializing in illusions, [Acrobats], [Bards]…
Of late, the fair had been doing well. If they toured correctly, north Izril had enough money to keep them going and visiting cities which had never seen (or forgotten) the fair. Everything had been going really well in fact, and Igil the 3rd had been counting his coins and looking forwards to this leg of the trip.
…Right up until he ran into the Players of Celum.
The turnout for the travelling fair was low. Invrisil was more used to the fair, but the population of the city should have earned quite a large number of attendees with the show of setting up. But—something was wrong.
“Where are all the guests?”
Igil demanded in bewildered hurt. For answer, he was directed to the Players of Celum and the Season’s Theatre, which now had three different teams of [Actors] all dedicated towards putting on shows nonstop.
“Theatre? Well, we have [Bards]. Let’s put on a performance! Better yet—what if we combined our businesses? Some kind of joint effort? Dead gods, I’ll buy them if they’re that popular.”
That statement made everyone within earshot of the [Fairmaster] burst into uproarious guffaws and earned him eighteen coppers and two silvers in tips for the joke. Igil stomped off.
The truth was that the fair had a lot to offer—but the play was new, and new trumped Igil’s performers. Added to that—some of the ‘exotic sights’ like the winged Garuda performer who flew with some of the [Acrobats] and [Tumblers] performing death-defying stunts at altitude, even from rooftop to rooftop…didn’t impress Invrisil’s people.
“We have Garuda in Invrisil. And I visited Pallass just yesterday to see what the fuss was about those skating boards. Garuda everywhere.”
One of the visitors was singularly unimpressed. Igil stared at him.
“Pallass? Yesterday? Do you have a magical carpet or something?”
A lot had changed that he wasn’t aware of. The magical door, for one. But—it wasn’t really important. Igil’s woes, the circus coming to grips with acting…
What mattered was that as the [Fairmaster] cut the price of admission and desperately advertised with his fair just outside the city proper, he had some of the caged ‘wonders’, which were actually monsters, brought into the city to show off. Among the wagons were the monster train, which had horrifying creatures designed to terrify those who saw them.
No Crelers. There had been…an incident. But huge bug-monsters, colorful slimes. The Griffin, an exceptionally angry natural Ice Golem who needed magically-reinforced bars—
And the Goblins.
They sat in the caged wagon, unmoving, shielding their faces from the rocks and other things the fair offered people to throw at them. The announcer who was advertising shouted.
“Captured in battle near First Landing! Fierce Goblins—look at the Hobs, but stay back! Don’t throw rocks—don’t give ‘em anything to throw back!”
The Goblins didn’t move. The menagerie keepers were quick to remove anything the Goblins could use as a weapon, but the Goblins just sat there. There were eighteen of them, five Hobs. All of the same tribe. Their heads were bowed and even when someone drew blood, they didn’t move.
They were waiting. And they were a third kind of Goblin. In fact—the pedestrians grew tired of venting their fury onto the unmoving monsters and moved on. There were plays to see, and the Goblins refused to do anything, even when the keepers tried to rouse them with spells or sticks from afar.
The Goblins waited, patiently. They had waited for a long time but they knew they would have a chance. They knew about the Molten Stone tribe. They were a third kind of Goblin. And then—
The smallest of them was a full-grown Goblin adult. Just small. He was picking at some dried blood on his side when his ears heard something. Something so quiet that none of the other menagerie keepers or audience detected.
The slight click of the tumblers turning in the strong lock on the cage he’d been unable to open. The Goblin’s head rose. He nudged the others.
Numbtongue found that Wilovan and Ratici were quite affable. They chatted for a while about weapons. Wilovan claimed that a good club could beat a sword or spear or anything else—in the right circumstances. Numbtongue had debated asking him to prove it—and decided against.
It was a peaceful day for him. Right until someone mentioned the menagerie.
It was a thoughtless comment. Erin Solstice was debating going into Invrisil. She still had yet to use the Solstice Booth herself and Grev was bored.
“Wesle and Jasi’re preparing to perform for all the hoity-toity nobles. Well, nuts to ‘em. Why don’t you let me show you around Invrisil? It’ll probably be hil—I mean, fun! Honest. I wouldn’t let you get into trouble. Not with me about.”
“Yeah, you say that, Grev, but didn’t you lead me into an ambush with [Thugs] the first time we met?”
Grev looked hurt and guilty. His eyes shifted sideways as Numbtongue, Lyonette, and Mrsha all peered at him.
“That was ages ago. I’m changed, Miss Erin! I owe the world to you! Tell you what—why don’t we go to the menagerie? The fair’s in town. Igil’s Illusory…something.”
“The what? The fair?”
Mrsha perked up. Grev began to explain.
“It’s got [Tumblers], [Acrobats]—all kinds of shows! Mind you, I don’t think it beats the Players, but it used to be the biggest thing a small village’d see. There’s even the menagerie! All kinds of monsters in it. A wild Griffin, slimes, other things…”
“I’ve seen slimes. Poo slimes especially.”
Grev grimaced and picked at an ear.
“Right. I forgot you lived near Liscor. Er…but there’s always new monsters. Hey—anyone know what the fair in Invrisil has in the menagerie? Any new acts?”
He shouted around the inn. There were murmurs.
“The Ice Golem? They feed it water and you can get shavings.”
“There’s a Garuda doing an act…”
No one wanted to say the obvious bit. However—Ratici did. He called out as he looked at Numbtongue.
“They have some Goblins from up north. In cages.”
The Hobgoblin dropped the cloth he’d been using to polish the sword Pelt had made. He nearly cut himself. Erin looked up.
The [Thief] tipped his hat. Wilovan smacked him on the shoulder. But it was too late. Erin Solstice’s eyes narrowed.
“They have Goblins in cages?”
“Er…why don’t we not visit Invrisil? It’s boring. I’ve been there too often. Tell you what, I’ll take a look, report back…”
Grev tried to soothe Erin. Lyonette walked over. She looked at Numbtongue, Erin, and then addressed them both.
“You two cannot cause an incident. Whatever you do—think about it first.”
“What? I would never cause an incident. You know me. I’m calm, right, Numbtongue? Calm Erin. That’s what they call me. Yup, yup. Where’s my frying pan?”
Erin got up. Lyonette looked around for reinforcements. Numbtongue was caught in indecision. But—again—
It wasn’t his call to start what happened next. He was just an observer. As Lyonette tried to drag Erin back with Ishkr and some of the staff and Erin just ‘wanted to go for a walk’ while Wilovan hit Ratici again on the shoulder—
They heard the first call to alarm coming from Invrisil.
Their tribe was small. There were eighteen of them. Five Hobs, thirteen Goblins. Malnourished. Unarmed.
They casually stood up and stretched. Some of the bored audience brightened. A few more objects flew. A Hob batted a stone out of the air with an ease that unnerved some of the Humans. He looked around as the [Beast Tamers] and other workers stirred themselves.
“Hey. They’re getting restless. Make sure they don’t have anything to throw.”
One of the senior workers poked a junior member forwards. Grumbling, the young man walked around the cage, safely out of arm’s range with a long stick. He saw a Goblin, one of the smaller ones, standing by the door.
It was staring at him.
“Hey, get back you damned Goblin.”
The man poked at it with the stick. Calmly, the Goblin grabbed the stick mid-poke and snapped it against the bars of the cage. It regarded the pointed stick.
“Hey! Watch out! Drop the stick you fucking Goblin.”
One of the guards pointed a wand at the Goblin. They’d blast it down before it got a chance to throw the stick. The Goblin regarded the wand. Then it casually pushed at the door to the wagon.
The wagon hadn’t been opened since they’d been tossed inside so it stuck slightly. But the door…swung open.
The Humans froze. The Goblin calmly stepped out of the wagon. It looked at the young man who’d tried to poke him with the stick.
The Goblin grinned. He planted the stick in the Human’s eye and grabbed the dagger at his belt.
The scream—the shocked silence was broken as one of the Hobs stepped out of the wagon. He took the blast of magic on his chest and then lunged. The Goblins leapt from the wagon as the audience fled. The guards rushed forwards—
The eighteen Goblins stood in silence a minute later. Now they were armed, albeit with the menagerie’s limited weapons. The Goblin who had used the stick looked around.
“Coming that way.”
He pointed. One of the Hobs shouldered the sword he’d taken, and nodded at the others. They walked down the street.
A group of Invrisil’s [Guards] were first on the scene. They saw the Goblins walking towards them. Five Hobs and thirteen Goblins. The Humans were twenty in all—equal numbers. They faltered as half of them felt their [Dangersenses] go off.
The Hob in front grinned. Now they had armor and weapons.
“The Goblins have escaped! They’ve killed the guards and they’re slaughtering the Watch!”
Someone shouted from Invrisil’s side of the door. Everyone stopped restraining Erin and turned to look at her. Erin hesitated.
“That wasn’t me. P-probably.”
Numbtongue felt a surge in his chest. Yes! But—then he heard more screams, horn-calls in the distance. And he realized—something was off.
These Goblins weren’t running. They were—
Advancing. Thirteen Goblins were left after two clashes with the Watch. It made no sense—if you understood Goblins.
They should have waited for nightfall and quietly made a run for it after exacting vengeance. That was what Numbtongue, most Goblins would have done.
But this group had attacked in broad daylight. They were heading further into the city, having escaped before even being wheeled back to the fair.
They did not care about running. Nor had their Chieftain paid the [Witch]’s price for mere flight.
All five Hobs walked down the street, backed up by the smaller Goblins. They were banging their weapons on their shields, roaring. They were—speaking.
The people fled ahead of them as one of the Goblins shot a crossbow, reloading. The Hobs stopped as the first team appeared.
Silver-ranks. One of the Hobs raised his stolen shield.
The [Fireball] detonated. The other Goblins braced. But the fire had stopped; the blast only travelled in front of the Hob. The [Mage] lowered her staff. A bolt appeared in her forehead and she fell down.
The Goblins charged. The five remaining adventurers saw the first Hob swing his sword up and bring it down on their leader’s head.
One Goblin died. The rest moved ahead. Further into the city. Looking for the Adventurer’s Guild, the Mage’s Guild—or the gates. Whichever came first.
They were so relaxed. Vengeance didn’t move them. They were…
Unafraid. But they halted when the screams took on a different note. One of the Hobs spotted a unit of more elite [Guards] pulling back from a pincer move. He held up a hand, sensing something.
And there she was. The twelve Goblins saw her round the corner down the street. Just one face among many. But the sight of her made fear flicker in their minds. In their souls.
Elia Arcsinger raised her bow. The Goblins shuddered. The Hob saw her team spreading out behind her. The Named Adventurer’s hair was like distant gold.
The people were cheering her. They turned, waiting for the monsters to die. And Elia Arcsinger drew a glittering arrow.
The Goblins wavered. Fear ran through them. There stood the half-Elf who had slain the Goblin King. A legend. The Hob took a step back. Then—lifted his shield. He bellowed as he raised his guard.
The other Goblins took up the chant. They shouted, stomping the ground. Advancing.
Arcsinger. They knew her name. Of course they did. They had never forgotten.
The Hob turned to the smaller Goblins. They didn’t have the levels for this. They bared their teeth and split to the right.
The younger half-Elf ordered as her mother sighted on the first Hob. He was advancing.
“[Great Enemy: Goblin]. [Greenbane Arrow].”
The first arrow struck the Hob’s shield as he bellowed a Skill. It—detonated. The Hob stared at his stump of an arm. He had blocked it.
But there stood the death of Goblins. Elia Arcsinger drew another arrow. The Hob began to charge with the four others.
It was something Elia’s team had rarely seen. They braced themselves, uneasily. But here came the third type of Goblin.
The ones who had learned to fear and—mastered it. The warrior tribe of the north. Elia aimed a second arrow. This time she sighted. Whispered.
There were seven smaller Goblins. They heard the Hobs die. So they fled. Not because fear had overtaken them, but because the Named Adventurer was too hard to kill. For now.
But the city closed around them. They fought the first group of Invrisil’s [Guard] that they met—clashing and escaping. No time to slaughter. They managed to break through using Goblin-tactics—but there were only four left.
The first one to leave the cages tossed aside his burden contemptuously. The Humans were coming with wrath and fury. So was the [Archer]. His death…he just had to choose where.
He walked on with the last three Goblins, hunting for a place to do the most damage. That was when he sensed it.
Something…called to him. The Goblin’s eyes widened. He turned to the others.
They nodded. It had appeared—suddenly, in their heads. A…certainty. As if they had seen a pillar of light from afar, amid the darkness. That was how strongly it called to them.
The Goblin cast about as he checked the alley behind them for pursuers. He felt—
“That way. Follow.”
They ran. It was something they had never felt before, ever. Not even in the midst of Goblin territory. Something told the Goblin [Warrior]—if you go this way, you will find someone.
It was not a guarantee of safety. But it told him, instinctively—this.
A friend is there. An ally.
A friend to Goblins? He had to see. The Goblins, four, ran into an empty street.
The last female Goblin fell as an arrow struck her in the chest. The female half-Elf—not Arcsinger—lowered her bow. Leading the chase. The other three ran. Another went down as a [Guardsman] charged out of a doorway. Two left—the other got tangled as he hamstrung the Human and planted his sword in the chest. An arrow struck him.
Dead, instantly. Arcsinger lowered her bow as the last Goblin flung himself around the corner of the street.
He ran towards an inn, thrust the door open. The Goblin looked around and saw an open door. He lunged for it, bleeding.
They struck at him. He landed, dagger raised. To slash until he died. His Chieftain demanded nothing less! He heard shouting—someone grabbed him. The Goblin raised his blade to kill whoever it was.
And stopped. He looked at the young woman, who stared down at him.
Shouting. The Goblin saw a figure standing in the doorway, sword drawn. It shone—a crystal blade. But the young woman—the [Warrior] hesitated.
He could kill her. But…it was her. The Goblins lowered the blade as the [Innkeeper] offered him something. A healing potion. He took it, drank. Then looked up.
But he knew before Erin Solstice told him.
Invrisil was in chaos. The Player’s Retreat was under siege. The Watch had pursued the last Goblin. And they wanted him dead.
A half-Elf—a girl with a bow—was trying to aim it into the inn. She’d nearly loosed on the Hobgoblin before he’d ducked back. Now—Numbtongue stood to the side, out of view.
But his master-crafted longsword blocked the doorway, threatening to cut down anyone who came through. And it was Erin Solstice who blocked the door with knife in hand.
“Back up. No one’s killing that Goblin. Someone get me the sign!”
She slashed as one of the [Senior Guards] tried to move forwards. He backed up, cursing.
“That Goblin is dead! They cut their way here! Let us through or—”
“This is my inn. You want him? You’d better be prepared for a fight.”
“We’re Arcsinger’s Bows! A Named Rank team! Don’t make us hurt you!”
The half-Elf scoffed. She aimed her bow—but only as a threat. The [Innkeeeper] lifted the knife.
“Anyone steps through and if I don’t smack you, Numbtongue will. He’s a Goblin. You try hurting him and I’ll kill you.”
The Watch hesitated. This was unprecedented! One reached for the door—Erin kicked at him and slashed.
“You can’t do this! We’ll arrest you!”
“Oh yeah? I’m on Liscor’s lands. You don’t have jurisdiction here.”
“Juris—what? Open that door or we’ll use force!”
Erin Solstice’s eyes narrowed. Slowly, she backed up. The Watch advanced. But—the Goblin was out of sight. And there was a hallway that made those with [Dangersense] or intuition Skills uneasy.
The [Innkeeper] smiled nastily at them. Her eyes flickered.
“You want him? Come and get him.”
She slammed the door. With a shout of fury, the half-Elf [Archer] leapt forwards. She swung the door open, charged—
And smacked into the wall.
That wasn’t the end of it, of course. Numbtongue knew it. So long as Erin wanted the door to Invrisil to remain open…they would want the Goblin.
He could hear her arguing with Lyonette, with the [Guards] and people on Liscor’s side of the door. For now it was closed.
They were safe. In theory. But to be extra-certain, the Goblins—both of them—were in the [Garden of Sanctuary].
Safety within safety. The smaller Goblin was staring about. He had looted some leather armor along with the two daggers. They, like him, were covered in blood.
He had fought his way through Invrisil, taking down Human warriors with his small group. Even Redfangs would have been impressed. Now, the Goblin stared into the inn.
“No, absolutely not.”
A [Princess] snatched Mrsha back as the Gnoll peeked at the Goblin through the door. He blinked, and then turned to Numbtongue. Erin was waving a fist in Zevara’s face and the Drake was pointing and shouting at the two—
The door closed. Numbtongue stood there, with the strange Goblin. He was not from a tribe Numbtongue knew; he had some tattoos on his skin, in dark ink. The Goblin stopped wiping blood from his healed skin and looked at him.
They stood there. Two Goblins. Different. Instantly familiar. Numbtongue saw the smaller Goblin grin as he pointed at something.
Warpaint. Numbtongue still kept some, although there would never be enough skin for all the markings.
“You. You Redfang?”
The [Bard]’s lips turned into a smile. He tapped his chest.
“Yes. I Numbtongue.”
“Careful. You don’t know what tribe he’s from. This is a mess.”
Reiss sat there. Numbtongue ignored him. It was…harder to ignore Pyrite’s voice though. The Hobgoblin was telling him something and in Pyrite’s way, he had attached a big warning sign to it.
Tattoos. His ability in fighting. Not a Redfang, clearly. This Goblin can only come from one tribe. Be careful.
The smaller Goblin slapped his chest as he put one of the daggers in his belt.
“Nolocks. [Deadly Skulker]. You save me. You are here? In this…safe place?”
He stared around the Garden wonderingly. Numbtongue nodded. How did he even explain Erin to someone? But Nolocks had sensed the inn.
“Yes. This is a safe place. The—owner is a friend to Goblins.”
“Friend to Goblins. Hah! Good joke!”
Nolocks chortled and slapped his thigh. Then he stared back to where the door had been.
“Yes. You…Nolocks, what is your tribe? I never seen that before. Where?”
Numbtongue touched the Goblin’s tattoos gently. The [Skulker] grinned. He tapped the one right above a bicep. It was…a fish? The tattoos were cruder than the ones Wailant had, stylized.
“Kraken Eater Tribe. Chieftain is Naumel. Naumel, biggest Goblin in the world. Strongest! He come.”
Kraken Eater Tribe? Pyrite’s memories sang. He knew that tribe! One of the strongest in the north. Along with the Molten Stone tribe and Mountain City tribe. Their Chieftain was huge, a fighting maniac. He’d once come to fight Pyrite and nearly killed the Goldstone Chieftain.
He had killed more adventurers than most Goblins ever met. And his tribe moved around the coast—even across the sea to evade pursuit.
“Your Chieftain is coming?”
Nolocks shrugged. He switched to the Goblin tongue to explain.
“Big-big fight. Warriors captured. North. Chieftain knows. Chieftain lived—sent magic from Molten Stone tribe. Will come if I don’t go. Always fights. Fight here, fight there…doesn’t matter. Someday, Chieftain come to Invrisil.”
For war. Numbtongue saw Reiss shift. The Goblin Lord stared at Nolocks. He spoke.
“I sent emissaries to both Chieftains, along with Tremborag. All three refused. They refused Velan the Kind as well. Well—the [Witch] did, and Tremborag. This Kraken Eater’s Chieftain might be too young. But I have heard rumors he is as large as Tremborag.”
Nolocks was oblivious to the commentary. He swung his free dagger, excited by the idea. The loss of his fellow Goblins didn’t seem to bother him.
“Saw Arcsinger. Elia Arcsinger.”
Numbtongue felt a chill. Her. He nodded. Nolocks grinned.
“When Chieftain hears—he will come. To Invrisil. He come and kill Humans. Kill adventurers.”
Numbtongue reached out, pushed Nolocks slightly. The [Skulker] blinked.
“No killing Humans. This inn—it has a rule. ‘No Killing Goblins’. So—no killing Humans. Or Gnolls. Or Antinium.”
“Huh. No kill?”
The [Bard] batted the dagger down. Hob to Goblin, he explained.
“No killing anyone. I—am Numbtongue. Former Redfang. I protect this place. Kill only people who attack. Monsters. Human [Innkeeper] who is friend? That is Erin Solstice. I protect her.”
Nolock’s eyes flickered to the door.
“Strange. You like?”
He grinned at Numbtongue; the [Bard] had forgotten how perceptive fellow Goblins were. Nolocks made a gesture.
“Human for babies?”
“No! Stop that!”
The Redfang smacked Nolocks on the head. The [Skulker] growled, then laughed.
“Okay. No kill! No kill! Promise. Promise by Chieftain.”
That was…reassuring. Reiss was still frowning but Pyrite opined that the Kraken Eaters were generally trustworthy. Just fight maniacs.
As bad as Redfangs. Numbtongue frowned and punched his head lightly. Nolocks glanced at him.
“What you? [Warrior]? What that?”
He pointed at the guitar. Numbtongue pulled it off and played a few chords. His claws sparked with electricity.
Nolocks was instantly interested. His face fell when he failed to produce either the same sound or electricity. He relaxed, grinning.
“Okay. Good! I sit here. Behave. You Hob—you boss! What next?”
Numbtongue wasn’t sure. He was sure…it was going to be trouble.
Sure enough, when he opened the door, Erin was arguing. This time with Invrisil’s side.
“No, you can’t have him. I get that he killed people. Well—you took him prisoner.”
“He’s a damned Goblin! That monster killed more people than most [Murderers] we string up! And—dead gods, another one’s escaped!”
The shouting person caught sight of Numbtongue. Erin raised her voice.
“That’s Numbtongue! Put that bow down! Put it down or I’ll hit you with an acid jar and you don’t wanna turn into a laughing clown-dude!”
No one understood that reference, especially Numbtongue. But Erin waving around the highly-caustic acid made everyone back up. Numbtongue looked back and Nolocks grinned.
Fearless. Or rather—he had mastered fear. He was a pure warrior. Something in Numbtongue said that Garen would have loved Nolocks.
She was going to protect them. The other side was threatening everything from sending the guards to destroying the door. Erin didn’t care.
“Do it. I said no killing Goblins. And I mean it! Destroy the door!”
“Hold on, hold on! I’m on the wrong side!”
Grev yelped and tried to push forwards. Erin was adamant. She’d do it. Numbtongue hesitated, unsure of what to say. He saw her turn, ignoring Lyonette’s grievances which she was airing. She gave Numbtongue a thumbs-up.
“I mean it. No one’s killing him. He’s a Goblin. You killed his people. He killed you guys. That’s not right, but—”
“He didn’t kill just warriors.”
A voice from the other side of the door. Numbtongue saw—
Pointed ears. Blonde-golden hair.
Elia Arcsinger. He stumbled backwards as fear took him. The Named Adventurer looked at Erin Solstice. Erin blocked the door, but wavered.
“Huh? What does that mean?”
The half-Elf pointed. Straight past Numbtongue. Towards the Goblin who bared his teeth in the garden. She knocked aside her daughter as the half-Elf strung the bow.
“I was too late. While I defeated the Hobgoblins—eight Goblins escaped. They fought past the Watch. But they wouldn’t have gotten this far if they hadn’t taken hostages. They took children hostage to escape. Then—they killed them.”
Goblin tactics. Erin Solstice froze. Numbtongue’s hair stood on end. He turned his head and Nolocks, now standing as every eye turned towards him—
Laughed. He slapped his thighs and grinned.
“Sure did. Killed them easy-dead. Humans kill Goblin children. We kill Human children. Same, same. I—”
He dove as someone loosed an arrow. The inn erupted into chaos. Numbtongue saw the door close.
And then there was true silence. Erin stood there, and her confidence was gone. She looked at Numbtongue and the Hob realized she didn’t know what to do.
It fell to him.
No—it fell to three Goblins. They stood there in conference. One spoke out loud. One spoke in his head, his soul. One thought.
“He is a Goblin. A warrior. He did what Goblins do.”
Reiss said only that. Pyrite was more direct. The Goldstone Chieftain sat there, calmly chewing on acorns or something. He looked at Numbtongue.
Yes, he did. Goblins kill Humans. Humans kill Goblins. Even so.
He showed Numbtongue images of the Goblins of the Mountain City Tribe. The ones who took Human women—or men for fun. Pyrite’s vision was simple. There were things he, as a Goblin alone, disagreed with.
Numbtongue sat there. Nolocks stood in the Garden of Sanctuary, urinating in a corner. He wasn’t afraid. He was ready to fight and die.
In the end…it was simple. Numbtongue was Numbtongue. He had been a Redfang, a Goblin who had met a Human who was able to trust them—and only after that, he had met Erin. He had seen his tribe wiped out by Humans, seen Goblin fighting Goblin.
Now—he walked over to the door to Invrisil. They could have shot him. But they didn’t. He looked at Elia Arcsinger, the [Watch]—back at Erin and the others—
And closed the door. The Wandering Inn waited as Numbtongue adjusted the dial. He opened the door again.
The place where Earlia and the others had gone through was higher in the mountains. Nolocks peered into it as Numbtongue made him leave the Garden. The Hobgoblin pointed.
“North is that way. Run. They will follow you.”
The Goblin looked up at Numbtongue.
“Not going to protect?”
The [Skulker] shrugged.
He walked towards the door, unconcerned. Mrsha hid behind Lyonette. Numbtongue waited until Nolocks was passing by and then grabbed him.
“Give me daggers. And armor.”
Nolocks tensed. His hand came up—and Pyrite casually swung him against the wall. Just hard enough to stun him.
“Give me the weapons. Or I will kill you.”
The Goblin growled. But he felt Pyrite’s strength. Silently, he dropped the daggers. Numbtongue tore the armor off him.
Now Nolocks just stood there. He glared at Numbtongue, then grinned.
“Probably going to die. That okay?”
“Yup. You killed little children. No Redfang ever did that. You have no honor.”
Nolock’s eyes narrowed as Numbtongue tossed the weapons back. He tilted his head back and forth and Numbtongue waited for him to attack or try something. Instead, Nolocks just laughed.
“Strange Goblin. Chieftain wants to meet your Chieftain to battle.”
He grinned—then leapt for Mrsha. Numbtongue kicked Nolocks out of the air. He’d been waiting for that. He grabbed the Goblin and threw him.
Nolocks flew through the door, crashed into the wall of the cave’s entrance and got up, wheezing. Numbtongue had cracked something. The Hob pointed at him.
“My Chieftain is here. Tell your Chieftain to stay away from Invrisil.”
The [Skulker] got to his feet. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Earlia’s mining team coming after a day of hard work. Numbtongue had forgotten about them. Nolocks jumped to his feet. He looked at Numbtongue—laughed—
The inn was quiet, then. Numbtongue closed the door after Earlia’s team came through, asking what had happened. He opened the door.
“He’s through this door. Five minutes ahead.”
He didn’t say ‘good luck’ because he didn’t believe in that. Arcsinger’s Bows stared at the Hobgoblin, but half went through with a [Tracker]. For vengeance.
Neither good nor evil had been done there. But Numbtongue was exhausted. He walked away as Erin settled things for him. She was kind like that. The Hobgoblin only raised his head when Erin knocked on his door.
“Numbtongue? Can I come in?”
She entered his room and sat on a bed.
“They got him.”
It had been eighteen minutes. Numbtongue opened his eyes.
“Did he run?”
“No. Apparently he stayed around and attacked them.”
Numbtongue imagined it. Nolocks, a [Skulker]—perhaps with Skills—but unarmed. Versus a Named Team. But he’d chosen that. He could have run; he might have escaped.
They had had a choice when they escaped the cages. Numbtongue understood that. That was why he’d given Nolocks the same choice.
Erin fell silent. She sat there, looking at the [Bard]. He stared at the ceiling.
“Did you agree with what he did? Did you understand…what did he say?”
The [Bard] thought about this.
“He was a Goblin. Not like me. Just a kind of Goblin.”
“Right. I’m sorry.”
Erin hugged him. She sniffed, as if she had done something wrong or if there was anything she could have done that she hadn’t. The [Bard] hesitated. Then hugged her back and sat there for a while.
Goblins. Goblins here, Goblins there. Goblins everywhere. And the same stories continued. Despite triumph—that. This.
Numbtongue left the inn and sat on a hill a bit away from the inn. A hill covered with flowers. There were graves here.
A few proper ones. There had been nothing to bury for the others. But there were two more tentative graves. Perhaps their owners didn’t need them yet, but it made Numbtongue almost smile.
A Goblin making a grave so they could rest just in case they died where no one could bury them. Badarrow and Rabbiteater would approve that.
But Reiss, Headscratcher, Eater of Spears, Pyrite…so many lay here. Not enough. Numbtongue thought about the two other Redfangs.
“Do you want to find them?”
Reiss stood over him. The Goblin Lord waited. Numbtongue looked up at him.
“I hate you. Because of you—all this happened.”
He pointed at the markers. Reiss nodded.
“But you need me. Without me—you cannot stop them. I am stronger than you. Until I am not—use me! What Redfang has ever turned down a blade?”
That was true. Numbtongue found a little bit of dirt and threw it through Reiss.
He realized he was lonely. He had not liked Nolocks. But it reminded him that there were no Cave Goblins. He was alone, for all he made some friends. And Reiss knew that. He pointed south.
“Do you want to know where they are? The nearest Goblin tribe south of Liscor is within reach of your door. They live hidden, in peace.”
He knew. Numbtongue knew there was no reason except his dislike of Reiss to stop him. He looked at the two graves.
If he was strong, he’d dare to find them. That was…part of the reason he kept mining higher and higher. Maybe if he went high enough, he’d find a trace. A clue. A hint.
“Rabbiteater. Badarrow. Maybe…”
“I can see the living. I can walk the High Passes better than you or Pyrite. Take my hand.”
The Goblin Lord urged him. The [Bard] was alone. Pyrite…he wondered if he leveled up, maybe. Perhaps.
“Take. My. Hand.”
The ghost reached for him. Numbtongue hesitated.
“No. Take mine.”
Numbtongue heard another voice. Reiss recoiled. The [Bard] spun. And he saw…
A Goblin. He sat there, cross-legged. Patiently staring at Reiss. At Numbtongue. A Hob—he grinned at his friend and then looked at his side.
“Nice sword. Can I see it?”
The [Bard] stared with wide eyes. He slowly reached out. Disbelieving. But…his friend extended a clawed-hand for Numbtongue.
He reached out and took Shorthilt’s hand. Reiss heard Numbtongue laugh. The Goblin Lord shook his head.
[Gambler Class Obtained!]
[Gambler Level 4!]
[Skill – Sense Trickery obtained!]
[Skill – Weak Lucky Draw obtained!]
[Goblin Soulbard Level 34!]
[Memory – Shorthilt, Redfang Tribe obtained!]
[Skill – Flash Cut obtained!]
After Chapter Thoughts: Back from the break! Well, it’s been a long two weeks, hasn’t it? I got rest! But—not for two weeks. I had stuff to do! If you didn’t see it—there’s now a Twitter for The Wandering inn!
It’s been suggested that there is an untapped audience in Twitter and Facebook, where the story is nonexistent. So https://twitter.com/WanderingInn is now the official place to hear about releases and maybe see some fanart!
This has been a weird week. I hope you like the Goblin chapter you voted on! Look forwards to the story until my next break! Thanks for reading!
Today’s art is all-Goblin, all-amazing! It’s Rags by AuspiciousOctopi, delivering amazingly cute Goblins who could still be scary, Dr. Replig8r who’s made two more amazing images of Az’kerash and Numbtongue eating fries with an appropriate level of evil-Mrsha, and a picture of Numbtongue’s ghosts by ArtsyNada that is just beautiful! Also, a funny Klbkch. Thanks for all of them!
Rags and Goblins by AuspiciousOctopi!
Fries and Az’kerash by Dr.Replig8r!
ArtsyNada’s Goblins and Plbpch!