Chapter 15 - Tooth and Nail
Flies had already made their home in some of the remains. I watched one of them crawl out of a dead hunter's mouth, then lazily float over to another body. Fighting back the urge to vomit, I grabbed Gina's hand and walked away from the gruesome scene.
"We need to leave. Now."
Why? Why are they here?
This is all wrong. No matter how elusive the monster hordes may be, they've never been able to penetrate this deeply into any territory before. Every attack has been on isolated frontier settlements or small patrols. How were they able to get into one of Elswain's inner provinces without sounding any alarms!? And why were we targeted? There are at least a dozen castles, forts, and cities in between us and the border.
Confusion. Fear. Disbelief. A maelstrom of emotions welled up inside me.
Gina, the normally headstrong girl, was fighting back sobs. She was even more shaken up than I was. While the girl was officially part of our village's second hunting party, I'm sure she was on good terms with the other ones too. Seeing her seniors brutally torn apart like that... it's amazing that she's holding it together at all.
"Thomas... the village?" She asked faintly.
I nodded. We needed to get back to Southcreek immediately. Staying in these woods was suicide, and the village would probably be attacked soon as well. We had to get back, tell everyone what happened, and ride the fastest workhorses we had to Bask. Only there would we have any chance. The logistics of evacuating three hundred people would be a nightmare, though... we didn't have nearly enough horses for everyone, and using carts would make us a big, slow moving target.
But as I was pondering what to do once we got back, Gina tugged on my sleeve.
"I'm sorry, I didn't notice right away. They're here." She said, her voice filled with tension and anxiety.
Right on cue, nasal snarls emerged from behind the surrounding trees. Small, green-skinned creatures that I've heard plenty about, but have never seen in person until now.
There were seven goblins. Four in front of us, three behind, spread out wide enough to prevent us from making an easy escape. Each of them was armed with a hatchet or short blade. This was a dangerous situation... but why was my mind so calm? Perhaps I was still in shock from the carnage I just saw. Regardless, all that mattered was to get myself and Gina out of this mess in one piece.
Without a word, Gina immediately shot an arrow at one of the closest goblins. It pierced the creature's heart with enough force to knock it backwards, killing it instantly. Seemingly unfazed by their companion's death, the other goblins took that attack as the sign to charge, waving their crude weapons and letting out guttural cries.
Gina let another arrow loose, but this one only nicked the face of the closest goblin. The monster let out a high pitched screech, distracting my friend enough that she fumbled while pulling out her next arrow. Right as the nearby goblin jumped at her, though, I positioned myself between them and held out my spear, bracing it tightly against my body. With the goblin's momentum working against it, the spearhead sank right into its fragile chest. The monster struggled weakly for a bit, then let out a death rattle before slipping off my spear.
"Just keep shooting. I won't let any of them near you!" I shouted, trying to ignore the disgust I felt at killing an intelligent being for the first time.
"O-okay!" She nodded with determination, nocking another arrow.
Gina fired at the third goblin; it tried to dodge, but the projectile tore a hole in its throat. The monster fell to the ground wheezing as it clutched its rapidly bleeding neck. Three down, four to go. But the rest were right on top of us now.
Stay calm. There are more of them, but I have longer reach. Plus...
I grabbed a potion from my pack and threw it at one of the goblins. Luckily, it was stupid enough to swing its weapon at the bottle, shattering it in mid-air. Two of the creatures were drenched by the solution inside, and their movements became noticeably sluggish. Hah! The Nervekiller Brew is a strong enough anaesthetic that even getting it on your skin will have a mild paralysis effect. It should wear off in a few minutes, but that will hopefully be more than enough time.
Without giving me a chance to pull anything else out from my pack, the two unaffected goblins attacked me in a frenzied rage. I used my spear to try and get some distance between us, but I could barely keep them at bay with my clumsy swings and thrusts. Every time I blocked one of their attacks with my spear shaft, the other one would be right there to capitalize on it, making me stagger back awkwardly to dodge. Thank god for my high agility and steady footing; I would have died three times by now otherwise. Gina didn't want to risk hitting me, so her next shot took down one of the semi-paralyzed goblins instead.
"Thomas! Hold on, I'll be right there." Gina was about to draw a hunting knife to help me.
"Stay back, I've got this under control!" Call it arrogance, but I didn't want to put her at risk, even while I'm being overwhelmed.
One slash found its mark on my left leg. It was a shallow cut, but god damn did it hurt. Am I really going to die to these low level mobs!? Feeling unreasonably angry, I decided to throw caution to the wind and switched to offense, attacking the left goblin with a flurry of thrusts, leaving myself completely open. I grit my teeth as the right goblin's hatchet sank into the side of my body, but I was prepared for the blow and it didn't do much damage.
Warning: Moderate injury sustained! You have been afflicted with 'Bleeding'.
Current HP: 27/41
Bugger off, System, I know. It's just a flesh wound.
The left goblin did not expect me to focus exclusively on it and was flustered by my attacks. Finally, my spear pierced right through its torso and came out its back. Get shish kebabed, you vermin. But when I tried to pull my weapon out to defend myself against the other, still very much alive monster, there was an unexpected snagging sensation.
Fuck. My spear was stuck.
Seeing my crisis, Gina immediately fired at the goblin closing in on me, but missed since she was trying not to hit my back.
I avoided the first hatchet slash by a hair's breadth, and then somehow blocked the second one with the stuck spear's shaft. The ironwood finally snapped underneath the impact; I kicked the dead goblin away, then used the spear's bottom half I was left with to defend myself.
"Officer's weapon my ass, who designed this piece of crap!?" I roared in frustration.
Of course, it was actually my fault for not knowing how to wield it properly. If it weren't for my high agility, or if I was using a flimsier weapon, I'd already be dead by now. Why didn't I ask Whitelaw to teach me proper spearmanship? I had only asked him once, and he angrily brushed it off by saying I was too young. If only I had insisted more... no, that's the least of my mistakes, isn't it?
The frenzied goblin continued swinging its axe, but missed again and hit a tree right behind me. Seeing the opportunity, I stabbed the creature's stomach with the broken spear's iron buttspike. While not as effective of a weapon as the spearhead, it was still sharp enough to pierce into the goblin's soft abdomen - the monster let out a screech, spraying me in the face with its foul saliva.
"Ugh!" I staggered backwards, fatally distracted.
I instinctively obeyed her shout and dropped to the ground, my eyes still closed due to the goblin's mildly acidic spittle. There was an uncomfortably close whistling sound above my head, as if a weapon had narrowly missed decapitating me. Then there was the familliar sound of an arrow being let loose, followed by a high pitched scream. I quickly wiped the remaining spit off my face using my shirt, then looked around. The goblin I had stabbed with the buttspike was on the ground, moaning in pain, while there was another one of the green skinned bastards nearby with an arrow sticking out of its left eyesocket. It was the second goblin that I had hit with the Nervekiller Brew. He was dead now, of course.
Damn, Gina. Nice job.
There were no other goblins in sight, so I unconsciously let my guard down at that moment. But when I heard the faint sound of something tunneling through the ground, I quickly remembered something very important.
Goblins can burrow.
Emerging from the earth like some hideous Jack-in-the-Box, the goblin pounced on my companion. Gina had managed to draw her hunting knife in time, but was too shocked by the monster's sudden appearance; her swing missed, and she was brought to the ground by the flailing mass. She screamed as the goblin began viciously clawing at her, its sharp nails tearing into skin and flesh.
"GET OFF HER!"
I picked up a dead goblin's weapon from the ground - a crude falchion covered in dried bloodstains - and ran forward faster than I've ever moved before. The dumb creature momentarily stopped its onslaught to stare as my sword whistled towards its neck. Its throat was slashed... not good enough. I shoved the bastard off Gina and began violently hacking away at anything I could hit. The goblin's shrieks came out gurgled because of the neck wound I inflicted. Finally, after my blade cleaved its head open, the monster fell limp.
"Gina!" I quickly dropped the falchion and held onto her shoulders.
Her face had several long gashes from the goblin's relentless scratching. Small bits of flesh had been torn from her arms too while she was trying to defend herself. As bloody and horrific as it may look, it was nothing life threatening or crippling. But to think that I promised I wouldn't let any of them get close to her...
"Ahaha, thanks Thomas. You were so cool back th- aahHHhh......" She couldn't finish her sentence before letting out a pain-filled whimper.
"Shit, I'm so sorry. I wasn't cautious enough."
"Silly, what are you apologizing for? It doesn't hurt at all." She lied.
"...Come on, let me heal you."
I could only be thankful that the burrowing goblin did not have any weapons. If it had somehow stolen the knife...
After a quick look around to make sure that there were no other threats, I pulled out several items from my pack. Gotta clean the wounds first, then disenfect them with a cleansing powder. After that, I made her drink a healing potion to recover her strength and greatly speed up her body's natural regeneration. I carefully dressed the injuries while making sure that it wouldn't affect her vision. The first aid treatment was finished. There's no telling what kind of foul toxins might be in a goblin's claws, though, so we still needed to get back home as soon as possible so that Hyacinth could take a look at her too. Those deep scratches on her face will definitely leave scars... shit, I can't afford to feel guilty right now. Blaming myself can wait until after I get this girl to safety.
Like some sick joke, a System notification appeared the moment I finished bandaging her arms.
[Gained Novice Proficiency in Wound Treatment!]
[Healing speed and effectiveness increased by 10%]
[Treated wounds are much less likely to be infected. Treated poisons become less effective.]
[Main Quest “Learn to Survive” completed! 25 Karma has been awarded. Congratulations, Ascendant!]
The completion of the Main Quest was even accompanied by a celebratory tune. At that moment, I could only feel an overwhelming amount of hate towards whoever designed this System.
"Thank you. That feels a lot better." Gina sighed in relief as she leaned on me. The girl was mentally exhausted.
"I'm sorry, Gina, but we have to move. These things are probably just scouts." I said gently.
"Don't worry, your big sister is totally fine now." She answered, forcing a grin. "Let's go. Ah, wait, your wound!"
I felt confused for a second, but then noticed the large amount of blood that was still seeping out from my abdomen. Oh right, that wound. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, all of the pain and exhaustion hit me at once. I bit my tongue to regain my focus, then started pulling out more healing supplies from my pack. After quickly treating and bandaging that injury (plus all the little cuts on my body), another notification appeared.
'Bleeding' status cured. 'Weak Health Regeneration' status gained.
Current HP: 24/41 (Regaining 5 to 7 HP per hour).
Okay, finally done. I still felt like vomiting somewhere, but that would just waste what little was left of my energy.
Since my spear was useless now, I picked up the falchion again - it was made for a goblin's small, clumsy hands so it wasn't too hard for me to wield. I gave it a few test swings, then grabbed Gina's hand as we began walking back home.
Should we run as fast as possible? We were both tired, and it would be equivalent to announcing our presence to any nearby monsters in this forest. But at the same time, trying to be stealthy might just doom us too. If there are any kobolds around, they'd be able to smell us no matter how silently we stalked through the woods. Not to mention any other monster types with strong tracking abilities or senses.
As I was about to tell her, however, another System message appeared.
Main Quest Acquired: "Escape NOW!"
Do not return to Southcreek Village and go to Bask on foot.
Reward: 30 Karma points
Bonus Objective: Keep Gina alive.
Bonus Objective: Use Gina as a distraction.
Reward: 15 Karma points
...Is the System telling me to abandon the village and let everyone there die?