James studied the limp body of the soul merchant. The last time he saw Noma was in the spirit battleground. The odd green creature took in souls and traded them for powerful soul weapons. For some reason, James thought the creature was just a construct of the spirit battleground's magic. It was clear that wasn’t actually the case though. Noma was real and he was here, in James’s small village at the edge of the Great Savanna. The fact that he was here also meant that the portal was messing with him. Noma burst through the portal, but the purple gas made it seem like it was Torunn. James suddenly felt bad for his brother. If the portal to the dungeon was able to manipulate James so easily, he was sure the actual denizens of the realm beyond it could do much worse to someone.
James lowered his ear to Noma’s chest to make sure he was breathing. The creature was alive, just unconscious. James gently shook Noma in an effort to wake him. He figured anyone that wore decadent furs and dealt in the trade of rare equipment wouldn’t take too kindly to being carried like a child. Still, James didn’t want to stay by the portal any longer. He wanted to wake up Patrick and possibly Dreng so they could seal off the cave and thereby the portal.
“Didn’t Salmaana say the Lich wouldn’t be able to exit the portal?” James asked himself, trying to recall her words. He thought nothing at all would be able to exit the portal, not counting anyone that entered it from this side. James gulped at the thought that he might have endangered everything he was trying to protect by allowing the portal to be built in his village. Hopefully, Salmaana just meant that no evil forces would be able to escape the portal. Noma didn’t come across as an evil creature. Possibly a little creepy in the way he would somehow extend his legs to bring his face super close to someone else's face, but definitely not evil.
“Okay, little buddy. Gonna have to carry ya,” James warned the unconscious Noma as he bent over to pick him up.
Noma felt light in James’s arms but was still difficult to carry. His body seemed to undulate, the heaviest part of Noma was his torso, but James swore his center of gravity was constantly changing. This caused James to almost drop Noma multiple times on the way into the cabin as his weight would suddenly shift without warning.
“What are you?” James asked in awe as he laid Noma down in an extra fur pile inside the cabin. James looked around at the perfectly lit cabin and was reminded that he needed to find a way to invent glass or something. Admittedly, it was a task for another day. There were plenty of other things James needed to worry about, and besides, it wasn't like the nights were too cold anyway.
“Let’s be honest here,” Patrick said from behind James, startling him. “That is a goblin.”
James tried to conceal the fact that he jumped at Patrick’s voice but knew he had failed when he saw the smirk on the redhead’s face.
“Jesus, man. It has been a crazy morning; don’t sneak up on me.”
“I am a big dude. If I ever manage to sneak up on anyone it is almost certainly not on purpose.” Patrick laughed heartily.
James nodded. Patrick wasn’t wrong. James was just too lost in his own thoughts about Noma and his growing to-do list to pay any attention to his surroundings.
"So you think he is a goblin?” James asked.
Patrick glanced at Noma and back to James, “I have only ever seen them in movies obviously, but that definitely looks like a goblin.”
“I am not… A GOBLIN!” Noma goblined, causing everyone else in the cabin to wake up.
Patrick and James’s eyes both widened. James put his hands up to shield himself from the fuming not-goblin.
“I didn’t…” James began to say, but his words trailed off as he watched Noma bubble and transform right in front of his eyes.
“How dare you!” Noma belted out, his voice growing considerably deeper as his limbs lengthened and thickened. The soul merchant grew in size, proportionate to his anger.
Suddenly, Torunn, who was nonchalantly stretching in his fur pile just moments ago, leapt on all fours and ran out of the cabin, choosing to jump out the glass-less window instead of slowing down to open the door. James had no time to comment on his game brother’s cowardly choices as Noma was quickly growing too big for the cabin. Patrick tried and failed, to talk Noma down as the rest of the party scrambled to get out of the way of the growing green body.
“What the hell is going on?” Alex yelled out, his confusion and tiredness turning into anger. Lilly grabbed his hand and pulled him to James.
“I think we need to leave,” she said with a glance as she and Alex left the cabin. Patrick and James followed immediately after.
James stood just outside the cabin’s door, looking out over the cliff. His party all stood, facing him. Their body language told James they were angry. He didn’t blame them; he wasn’t exactly having a good morning either, but at least they got an hour or two of sleep more than he did. James ignored their glares and locked on to a motion he caught from the corner of his vision. Frey was running up to the cliff from the lower part of the village. Suddenly, Torunn soared through the air and into the window of the cabin.
James took in a deep breath and let out a long sigh. If Frey was here that means she was saving his ass again. He would have to enter the cabin and see if Torunn needed a hand. Taking one more deep breath, James turned and opened the cabin door.
Inside, Noma’s body was still a pulsing mass of growing and shrinking limbs, but now he took up less room in the cabin. Torunn was reaching into a satchel and pulling out shiny objects, handing them to Noma’s greedy hands. James quietly whistled to get his game brother’s attention, who waved him away. It was clear that Torunn had this under control. Relieved, James left the cabin again.
Frey sat at the edge of the cliff and faced the cabin. She met James’s eyes as soon the door to the cabin closed behind him.
“Where did that Prakx come from?” she inquired gently.
Patrick coughed, “So he’s not a goblin?”
Frey turned her attention to Patrick, “I don’t know what a goblin is, but the creature inside your cabin is a Prakx.”
“His name is Noma. He helped us.” James interjected, “What is happening to him?”
Frey met James’s eyes again, “The Prakx are a… complicated race. They grow larger when they are sick or angry, turning into giant creatures of destruction. If they stay in that form for too long it becomes permanent while they slowly lose their intelligence, often wandering the world with no logical goals in mind. Vagrant Prakx are often destroyed whenever they can be.”
James ignored the comments from Patrick about goblins turning into trolls. “What is Torunn doing to him?”
“Torunn found me and told me about what happened in the spirit battleground. Noma traded you soul items, yes?”
James nodded in confirmation.
“Well, souls and soul weapons are very valuable. They can corrupt a person. I think your Noma is having withdrawals. I instructed Torunn to give him some of our gold.” Frey paused and listened to her surroundings, “Considering the lack of noise coming from the cabin I think it successfully calmed him down.”
James contemplated Frey’s words as everyone else returned to their fur piles. Noma was familiar with his party so he was comfortable letting them mingle, at least for a minute. James walked up to the seated Martyr that welcomed him into the tribe.
“You mentioned that Torunn was giving Noma gold. What did you mean?” James asked. Gold was never mentioned before in the game world. He was curious to see how it was used here.
“Before the Great Exodus, my people were numerous. We lived in a beautiful and sprawling village. It was so large that it would take you a full day to walk from one side to the other, and that was just if you stayed on the ground level. It would take a week if you wanted to visit every building. Mesas grew from the ground at varying heights. We built buildings on top of them and connected them with rope bridges,” Frey trailed off in remembrance.
James stood, listening intently to her story. He knew that the village they lived in before the Oana attacked the first time was large, but he never truly grasped the magnitude.
Frey began again, “Anyway, how do you think we built such a magnificent village?”
James shrugged, not expecting to be asked a question. He honestly, wanted to hear more stories about the great village. He was in no rush to return to his party and explain how Noma got here. Hopefully, if he stayed with Frey long enough Noma would just tell them all what happened. He could always get the story later.
“Humans,” Frey whispered. “Humans traded with us. They helped us build our structures and bridges. They gave us tools and helped us fortify our position within the Great Savanna. That gold is all that is left of our relationship with the humans. It serves no use to us now, other than to be a step-down drug for Noma.”
James tilted his head in confusion, “But don’t you guys usually hate humans?”
Frey nodded, “Dreng certainly does. When the Oana attacked, our elders at the time called upon the humans for aid. They never came, and my people were decimated. Dreng has never forgiven them…”
Suddenly it all made sense. James now understood why it was such a big deal when Dreng accepted him into the tribe. He now understood why the Martyrs never could build up a defensible place to live, “Martyr’s don’t get the town builder skill? Do they?” James asked.
Frey shook her head. “Not as often as humans do. Every race has their strengths and weaknesses, James. That is why I believe it is important to work together. That is why I stood bleeding by my words to adopt you.”
James nodded, soaking up her words into the core of his being. She is wise. And when she defended her claim to adopt me, she was fearsome.