James burst into the Cabin on the Cliff, bumping into Lilly as he entered.
“Sorry!” James apologized.
Lilly released her grasp on James's shoulder after gaining her balance and smiled, “It’s okay. It’s cold out there, huh?”
“Yeah, what's with that?”
Lilly shrugged and finished handing Alex a plank of wood. Alex took it and used it to board up the window. James walked over to the fire, where Noma was sitting in a fur pile. James mentally ticked off investing glass from his to-do list and sat down next to the soul merchant. He originally wanted to wait to cover the window until he found something transparent to do it with, but it was just way too cold out not to cover it. It would stink that they would lose the sunlight, but James was willing to sacrifice it if it meant staying warm.
“Hey, Noma," James said to the Prakx.
Noma turned. “Hello, James."
“Uh, so how are you doing?” James asked hesitantly. The poor Prakx was ejected from the spirit battleground, knocked out, and then enraged enough that he exploded into a hulking behemoth that almost destroyed the cabin. Put simply, Noma had a tough time and James wasn’t sure about the mood he would be in.
“I am well,” Noma replied proudly as he adjusted his fur coat. “It is going to snow soon, huh?”
James blinked. He never considered that it would snow, especially so close to the Great Savanna - which had never even gotten rain until just recently.
“How do you know about snow?” James asked, “I thought it never even rained in this world.”
Noma scoffed. “It might never rain on The Great Savanna, but we have weather elsewhere in this world.”
James was intrigued. He was curious about the world beyond the Great Savanna and had so many questions he didn’t know where to begin. Luckily, Noma noticed and took charge of the conversation.
“You have never been beyond the Great Savanna, have you?” the greenish-brown creature asked.
“No. Have you?” James replied quickly.
Noma looked him in the eyes and raised one of his tiny eyebrows. It bulged slightly, making James think he offended the Prakx.
“I just meant that I thought you were in the spirit battleground for a long time,” James said, doing his best attempt at un-offending the creature.
Noma sighed and scooted closer to the fire. “I forget that there is much you don’t know about this world. When I agreed to join Salmaana’s cause I always thought we were just delaying the evil’s attack on this world. We thought if we could just imprison the evil factions for a little while someone else would be able to come by and save us all. Someone stronger than we were.” Noma paused and considered his words. “You are strong, James, obviously. You are just not what I expected.”
James was surprised at Noma's change of demeanor. In the spirit battleground he had sounded manic and disheveled. Now though, he sounded smart and noble.
James considered where Noma was coming from. The soul merchant sacrificed countless years of his life to protect this world in the hope that he would have reinforcements eventually. No, not even reinforcements, he was waiting on a hero, someone that could take the burden off his shoulders completely. James was sure that every day Noma lived in the spirit battleground was a day where he daydreamed about his savior - someone intelligent, and someone strong. Someone much more experienced than Noma himself. But it wasn’t the person Noma was building up in his head that saved him. It was James and his party. James was sure Noma was still thankful to be released, so he changed the subject, hoping to get rid of the awkwardness.
“How did you know I wasn’t from this world?” he asked.
Noma twisted his torso around and looked around the cabin, “This guy,” Noma answered as he allowed his arm to grow and lengthen, holding his palm in the air a foot away from the ceiling. Patrick deftly returned the high five as he walked by, even jumping up slightly to reach Noma’s fully extended hand.
James blanched. “What happened while I was away?” he asked himself.
“Patrick told me all about you guys. It was an interesting story indeed.” Noma paused, allowing his voice to take on a more serious tone, “My buddy Patrick over there said you were in charge. I wanted to ask what your intentions were with the other spirit vessels. Are you going to hunt them down?”
James looked into the Prakx’s eyes. He recognized the determination inside of them. He could tell that Noma was still dedicated to the mission he had started so many years ago. It was clear that merely being released from the spirit vessel wasn’t the end of Noma’s mission. The devotion that emanated from the small creature was motivating, but James was devoted to something already.
“I cannot right now. I need to make sure the Martyrs are safe. They are like family to me and the only family I ever really had was my brother - who also isn’t doing too well.” James trailed off, gazing into the fire. Noma waited silently. They both sat like that for a while as the party behind them settled into the circle table and draped furs over their backs. “I understand that these evil factions you speak of have the power to destroy everything I want to protect, so my answer to your question is yes. I intend to hunt them down. I just have to build up my base of operations first.”
Alex gave a loud, “Hoo-rah!” at the mention of a military term before returning to the drinking game he, Lilly, and Patrick were playing.
Noma gave a solemn nod. “Then I will help you, James.”
Noma and James sat in their fur piles for the remainder of the night while the rest of the party got rowdy behind them. They both wanted to join in on the fun, but there were things to take care of first. Noma explained everything to James, who sat in rapt attention.
He explained how when he first got out of the portal he was angry at Patrick. He explained how Goblin was a slang term for certain members of his race. In general, the Prakx were proud and intelligent, but some of them gave into their ancestral desires. The ones that did were at constant risk of becoming enraged, losing control of themselves, and becoming large wandering Vagrant Goblins. Noma recited the stories his parents told him about Vagrant Goblins when he was a child. James recognized that the stories Prakx parents told their children were much like the ones human parents did, except the consequences were real and tangible. On Earth, your nose wouldn't actually grow if you lied, but here, Praxk body parts would actually grow if they let their character and values falter. James was surprised at the values Prakx children were taught. Wisdom, acceptance, and empathy were all prevalent in the stories. They were all lessons that humans needed and, unfortunately, often didn’t learn until they were well into their adult years.
When Noma explained all of that to Patrick he understood immediately and apologized. It all made sense now to James. He knew Patrick was picked on a lot in the real world. Soon after, Patrick and Noma became easy friends.
The conversation took on a more serious turn when Noma brought up his homeland. James didn’t think it was possible, but he gave Noma even more of his attention. It seemed to James that the more he discovered about this world the more questions he had, so he greedily soaked up any opportunity he had to learn.
James sensed the longing in Noma’s voice when he described his homeland. He hadn’t been back in ages, and wasn’t sure what it looked like now, but he described it as a place where everyone belonged. Races that were unwelcome elsewhere could find a home there. Noma said it was the only place you could find creatures of all races living in relative harmony. It was at that point his voice turned dark.
Noma described how some Prakx would take up less than honorable jobs or ways of life. He said that is where the term Goblin came from. The term was originally used to describe the Prakx that worked below his city’s surface, taking care of the things other Prakx either didn’t want to take care of or totally took for granted. As his city became more prominent, the well-off Prakx adopted the term and started to use it as a slur. They called everyone that they felt was less than them, a Goblin. The Prakx with undesirable jobs started to become poorer as more and more Prakx undervalued what they did - even if the jobs they did where necessary for a community to exist. As the Goblins became poorer they had to take on even more undesirable jobs, some resorting to crime and giving into the greed that put them in danger of turning into enraged Vagrants. Every Prakx had the racial ability to extend, enlarge, and contort their bodies, but as they lost touch with their values they lost their ability to control it.
Noma described the term Goblin as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more Prakx that used the term, the more of them actually became Vagrant Goblins.
James was appalled at the story and equally surprised at the complexity of the world he now called home - the home that he apparently knew nothing about. Until recently, James thought The Great Savanna WAS the world. It was vast and had enough of its own mysteries that James figured it would take a lifetime just to explore it all.
In a conspiratorial whisper, Noma explained how his race was never to blame. He said even the richest of the Prakxs were being manipulated. Noma reiterated the stories that all Prakx were told as they were kids, regardless of who their families were or what titles they carried. All Prakx were taught the same lessons, passed down from generation to generation. Noma explained how he was once considered a Goblin. How he was looked on with honor for maintaining the facilities under their great city, allowing everyone above to prosper. He explained how he felt when the richer Prakx started to call him a Goblin and how he could tell the meaning of the word changed into something more malicious. He said it took him years until he finally found the cause of it all, which was that the richest and most influential of the Praxk were being manipulated. The Lich King fed the Prakx’s ancestral weakness to greed. The Lich King was smart and patient, always moving from within the shadows, a whisper here and a dropped coin there. He single-handedly undid the years of history and warnings instilled within Prakx children. He took a proud and accomplished race and diminished them so effectively that they began to fight each other.
When James asked why the Lich King targeted Noma’s race he didn’t get an answer. Noma said that as soon as he found out about the Lich King he began his journey to find a way to stop him. He never found the Lich King’s motives, but he did find Salmaana. She was known as the strongest water mage throughout the world. She also happened to be the de facto leader of the other high-mastery mages. With reverie, Noma described how Salmaana corralled the other mages. She gave speeches that resonated with whoever listened, no matter what race or class they happened to be. Salmaana earned her leadership through her personality and dedication to the people, not by sheer power. And yet, she was the most powerful mage at the time. The council that she created through her adventures formulated a plan to stop the evil factions of the world. When the time came to make the ultimate sacrifice, her followers did so willingly and with much pride.
“Including me…” Noma had said.
He explained how Salmaana not only gave him hope for his race but taught him new things about the Prakx that he had never known. She said his ancestors were great and honorable, and she explained to him that long ago the Prakx took it upon themselves to stop the evil factions from sacrificing innocents in order to create soul weapons. His ancestors would hunt down and slaughter anyone that was known to practice that dark magic. She said his ancestors were as revered by the innocent almost as much as they were feared by the corrupt. It was in that moment that Noma discovered why members of his race were often afflicted with greed and why she wanted Noma to help her. His race was the only race that was strong enough to wield soul weapons, besides the races of the evil factions. This ability came at a cost though. Prakx would always be weak to the temptations that gold, loot, and power brought. That is why their tradition of bedtime stories and values were so important to their culture, more so than any other. All Prakxs could wield soul weapons, but only the most stalwart of them could do so and not be corrupted. If they gave into their greed they would eventually go insane. That is why Salmaana needed Noma to travel to the spirit battleground with her. She was powerful, but still she couldn't even touch a soul weapon. The enemies they were fighting would certainly be using soul weapons. If they stood any chance of defeating them, they had to use them as well or at least take them from the enemy’s hands. The only non-evil race that could handle the soul weapons they needed was the Prakx.
Noma stopped telling his story eventually, much to the frustration of James. When James pleaded for him to go on, Noma stated that he was exhausted from his time spent in the spirit battleground. James knew the feeling well, even though he himself had only spent a day there. The rest of the party had passed out around Noma long ago. When they got bored with their drinking game they all joined to listen to Noma's story, eventually falling asleep. So, James let his mind wander to digest all the new information Noma had given him. Before long though, James also fell asleep.