I staggered back into the city, exhausted from the trek back. The lack of enemies was a blessing though, as I had too long of a day already. I headed to the barracks, and just caught Khaliss as he was leaving. “Hey there Khaliss, all done for the day?” I asked, trying for cheerful.
“Angus.” He nodded at me, then squinted at my gear. Looking down, I understood. My new chest armor had several noticeable gashes in it, and my leg armor had stitching coming undone. “Rough day?”
“Heh, yeah. Turns out one person versus a goblin raiding party can be hell on your gear.”
“I see. I take it your shield was destroyed in the process?”
“Huh? No, I don’t use a shield. Too hard to hide before an ambush.”
“Ah. So you were overwhelmed, and couldn’t dodge enough blows? Or there were just too many to parry?”
“Neither. What’s with the interrogation Khaliss?”
“You have had that piece of equipment from me for less than a week and it has been abused. Tell me, do you even have the dodge and parry skills?”
“No, I don’t. And this piece of equipment has saved my life, I would never abuse it.”
“You are abusing it!” He said vehemently. “Resources are hard to come by in the Underdark, and you take no care with your equipment. No shield is understandable, but to be lacking in dodge, parry, and counter is unforgiveable. It is a wonder you made it to whatever level you have. It is my failing, as I was in awe of your early successes. That will be rectified. First, you will pay to repair all of your armor. In three days, you will stop by the barracks for training. It just so happens that my newest batch of recruits has progressed to the point where mindless drilling will give them little benefits. You will become their target, and you will learn the skills you are desperately missing. They will have fun with a live target. Everyone benefits, no?”
I was struck by his savageness in addressing my faults, fought my first angry retort down, and realized he was right. “I’ll be there. What will I need to bring?” I asked remorsefully.
“Just yourself. You will not be wearing equipment, and will have no recovery materials. Don’t worry, we will make sure you don’t die. Can’t kill the recruits now, can we?” He said with a mischievous smile.
“Ok then.” I said, immediately uncomfortable with that smile. Nothing to worry about, right? “Well, before we do that can I turn in this quest?”
“Very well, but I am holding on to the equipment portion of it until after your training.”
“That’s fine” I said, irked that I wouldn’t get my gear just yet but knowing that Khaliss wouldn’t budge. Instead I just took the fifteen gold and headed towards the inn. It was too late to get everything repaired, and all I really wanted was dinner, a hot bath, and some sleep. I just wished that the kobolds had hot water technology. Instead I had a few bowls of the kobold version of a seafood stew. I had no idea where Alnoss managed to get the variety of shellfish she did, but it was the highlight of my day. I ate until I was overly stuffed, and headed to bed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I woke up the next morning and headed up to get my gear repaired first. While I was there I got to thinking about a possible trap, and headed in to talk with Dharkiss. Oddly, he was in the front of the store when I walked in for a change.
“Morning there Dharkiss!”
“Angus, it’s never a good thing when you are back this soon. What’ve ya done and how upset am I going to be?”
“Funny you should say that.” I said, drawing out the last word.
“Out with boy, I don’t have all day.”
“Well, your wire trap performed splendidly.” I said to soften the blow, then placed the remnants on the table. “You should be proud, it held against a full goblin raiding party.”
“One day. Some of my best work, and ya broke it in a day.”
“Now hold on there Dharkiss, it did what I needed it to. Not only did it hold back the goblin horde, most of it survived the explosion that took out all of the goblins.”
His dejected look turned to a glare as he practically spat at me, “And just how did you manage to get my trap caught in an explosion, eh? There aren’t any patches of mine gas down here, so it had to be something you did. Tell me the story.”
So I spent the next several minutes telling how I used his wire to group up the goblin horde, and how it held despite them pushing on it. I might have embellished just a wee bit, to make it seem like a few of the goblins actually got cut in half by the blades. Then how I detonated a medium mana crystal nearby and used the shrapnel from the explosion to take out all the remaining goblins.
“I’m sure you’ve heard it before boy, but they say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. From where you are standing in the insanity portion, can you even see the line?”
“Who needs lines? Nothing wrong with a little insanity every now and again. Besides, some of the voices in my head have good ideas.” I said the last line with a little chuckle. “But speaking of insanity, have you ever heard of a tunneling worm?”
Dharkiss took a minute to glare at me, almost to the point where I was uncomfortable. “Yeah, I know about tunneling worms. Why in the hells would you mention a beast like that?”
“Well, I saw a juvenile one the other day and was wondering what it took to kill them.”
“You saw one? What level and did you warn Khaliss?”
“Level 35, and no I didn’t. It was almost an hour trek just to get to where I saw it.”
“Boy, listen here. You can do what you want challenging crazy creatures, I don’t care. But if you come across a threat like a tunneling worm again, the first thing you do is let Khaliss know. That’s one of the greatest threats to underground dwellers like ourselves. Now, leave your trap here and I’ll return it in a few days good as new. You go and tell Khaliss exactly where you found it, and how you escaped. Understand?”
“Sure, and I’m sorry Dharkiss. I didn’t realize how big of a threat they were.”
“Lad, the juvenile is twice your level. What do you think the adults are like? Now go.” He said while shooing me out the door.
After talking with Khaliss, I was glad that he wasn’t holding my lack of knowledge about the worms against me. I did have to spend the rest of the morning taking two of his trainees down with me to where the worm was. I stopped well back from the wall the goblin was mining, pointing out the area where the worm had attacked. I was glad when the trainees agreed that we didn’t need to get any closer, as the pyramidal shape the worm’s bite left in the wall was proof enough for them.
Once we got back to the city, the trainees left to report to Khaliss and I went back to talk with Dharkiss.
“Back again Dharkiss, I had a few more questions about those worms if you are up for it.”
“What’re you wantin’ to know?” He said with a sigh.
“How do most people go about killing them?”
“They don’t. I’m not sure if anyone has actually managed to kill them. People have tried, but the front shields them very well from magic, and does a damn fine job of blocking physical attacks. Their hides resist earth magic, so you can’t crush them in a tunnel and their jaws are big enough they can take a healthy bite out of a cave troll.”
“Want to be the first to take one out then?”
“Did you not hear what I just said? Even if you tried one of your explosions, they would just shrug it off. How are you going to get past its defenses?”
“Simple. I’m going to stab it. With a trap.”
“Simple he says. How are you going to stab it and stop it from running you over then? This’ll be one of them crazy ideas, right?”
“Well, probably. Here, let me run a few things by you, see if we can get what I’m planning reinforced enough.” Dharkiss and I spent the next few hours bent over a piece of paper, arguing about reinforcing, blade shape and position, and overall force. It was definitely some of the best time I had spent in the city, and Dharkiss promised me that he would have a working trap for me by the time Khaliss had finished my extra training.
After discussing things with Dharkiss, I was at a loss with what to do with myself. My head was starting to get that fuzzy feeling like I had been taking tests all day, and I doubt Khaliss would be happy if I tried to go out and kill a few things to ease my frustrations. Instead I started wandering the upper levels, hoping to find a place to carve out a house. Alnoss was a great cook, especially since I had far less time for that than I really wanted, but it was the major drain on my resources right now.
Wandering around, I was looking for a tunnel that didn’t have any residences already. It took far longer than I really wanted, but I came across an empty tunnel. I started with a mana blade, and carve out a doorway, and kept going straight back in a slightly wider hallway for as long as my mana held out. Imagine my surprise when almost ten feet into the rock, the bottom half of the wall I was excavating burst open.
I looked through the opening, and knew I would have to abandon this site. Twenty feet away from where my wall ended was a waterfall, but I was so high up that I couldn’t see it striking the water down below. Carefully I stuck my head out and looked, seeing that I was part of a gently sloping ceiling. I guess in my wanderings I got too close to that swampish room with the trout. Cursing my bad luck, I decided to call it a night and headed back to the inn for dinner. I was looking forward to logging out of the game tomorrow.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Brother, what a pleasant surprise.” The high priest said as I walked in the next morning.
“Good morning brother, how are things at the temple?”
“All is well. I see you are close to reaching the goal Lord Thanatos laid upon you. Since you aren’t here for the quest, are we to be doing more of your anatomy?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind. And technically what we are about to do is an autopsy. Anatomy is, well it’s not something you do. Are you ready?”
The high priest once again led me back to the hidden altar, and I placed a goblin body on it. The first body I went with was the decapitated one, as it had the least amount of damage. Instead of the normal chest exam that you see in shows, I started with his neck as I wanted to see why I could get a decapitation on him but not on the first scout I had tried.
“Huh, would you look at that.” I muttered as I sliced open the back of the neck.
“What’s so interesting?”
“Sorry, forgot you were watching for a second. When I first tried to take out a goblin, my blade got stuck halfway through its neck. Turns out that a goblin’s neck only has one long bone in it, so if you are going to decapitate them you need to strike either the base of the skull on a downward strike or across the shoulders on an even plane.”
I took my time examining the rest of the bodies, and honestly thought the only thing that kept goblins from being the ultimate monster was their lack of health. The sternum was longer and wider than a human’s, completely protecting the heart. I would actually have an advantage in a swing from the scythe end of my weapon as it would curl around the bone to strike the heart. They also had far more ribs than a human, but the last several pairs were ‘floating ribs.’ Instead of connecting directly to the sternum, they were instead connected with cartilage, giving them the protection of bones while still letting them have flexibility. All their internal organs were hidden within the ribs, except for the stomachs. They had three, and a very small portion of intestines. They also had three lungs, with the smallest hidden behind the heart and it had its own trachea. If you wanted to slit their throats, you would have to damn near decapitate them to get both windpipes. Their racial resistance to poison was probably due to their abnormally large livers, which were almost the size of all three lungs combined.
As intelligent and formidable as their torso’s were, the goblin’s extremities we idiotically designed. They lacked a kneecap and had a gap in their bones more than twice the width of my scythe. Instead of their upper arms having a shallow ball and socket joint for maximum mobility, they resembled the legs with a narrow neck leading to a ball. It wasn’t even at an angle like the legs, instead it came out at a right angle. This prevented goblins from lifting their arms too far above the plane of their shoulders. The skull was thick along the top, which when combined with the large eye sockets severely limited the size their brains could grow to. They also had extremely thin bones along the sides and back of those eyes, almost guaranteeing that any piercing attack to the face would punch through to the brain. I made sure to point out my thoughts and notes to the high priest, thoroughly enjoying how my anatomy skill made a jump from beginner level 3 to beginner level 9.
I had taken my time with the autopsies, and by the time I had finished returned to the inn for a leisurely dinner before logging out.
Bio: I'm a chemist that gave writing a try, and loved the results. Everything is mostly for fun right now, though I might try and get some things published eventually. Certain traits of my daughter have made it into bits of my stories, and she sometimes keeps me company when we both have trouble sleeping.