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Pointing spears, a dozen creatures encircled us, a few growled, but none advanced closer. Despite the meager light sources, our [Darksight] ogre racial enhanced our vision so as to discern the creatures' every minute detail. I narrowed my focus on a single one, and an [Inspect] screen popped up automatically.

[Race: [t1] Kobold; Male]

Like a first contact with aliens I was mesmerized, I couldn't stop staring. They were unlike the ones I seen in video games, a mixture of rust-colored scales and black fur, about the size of a human teenager, their abbreviated alligator-shaped heads imparted a touch of ferocity. Their eyes glowed like gems, speckled with metallic bronze hues, intricately patterned, bug-eyed. It opened its maw, a tongue came out, it licked its own eye.

"Is this the friendly greeting you had in mind?" I chuckled.

She gave me a dirty look. "Oh shut up." She told me that because we were monsters, it meant we'd get along with all other sentient monsters.

"Someone was misinformed." I grinned.

"Don't tell them I can heal," she whispered to me.

“Why, what would happen?”

“Envy would happen. Trust me. Don’t say a word, and don’t share your status screen with anyone.”

“You mean like I did with you? You still haven’t shared yours.”

“And for good reasons. Now, I’d suggest you pretend to be a dumb ogre, but your act is already perfect.” She smiled mischievously.

“Thanks,” I said. She winked.

“Do they understand what we’re saying?” I asked. To which one responded like a yapping dog, that an officer was coming.

Black stone, dark and desolate, formed the floor, sides and the ceiling of the arched tunnel. Despite their immense size, the tunnels felt oppressive.

I hated waiting. Needing to take a piss, I kept shifting from foot to foot. How long was this going to take? According to the map, we were close to their settlement when their patrol ran into us. I was about to ask, when a winged creature emerged.

[Race: [t3] Prime Imp; Female]

Using bejeweled ivory cane, she walked with a limp. Her lavish ensemble of jewelry jingled and glinted with every pained step.

She looked at us, as if peering over a pair of reading glasses. Black leathery wings drooped down her hunched back, a pair of obsidian horns curved over her head, a face more human than kobold hinted at great age.

"You should have waited for me, it's not safe." A deep voice boomed behind her.

"And where is it safe? Hmm?" she said without turning.

A colossal kobold rushed past the encirclement. Hands ready to unsheathe the curved two-handed sword, he studied us intently. His frame loomed over everyone, as bulky as a French-door fridge, his face showed a mixture of human expressiveness with reptilian rigor, a cobra poised to spring. I stared back at him.

[Race: [t3] Prime Dragonkin; Male]

"Hmm. Well, I better take a look at our guest ... guests?" she approached closer, breathing hard as if winded.

The tall dragonkin tried to move in her way, shaking his head, grunting a disapproval. She hushed him with a raised hand and he stepped aside.

"It's ok, they won't attack us," she said.

"What makes you so sure?" I asked, and the prime dragonkin unsheathed his sword in a swift, fluid motion, snarling loudly.

She turned her head to him. "Lan, stop it," she said with a raised voice. He lowered his sword, eyes fixed on us with malice.

"We don't need their kind's help," he said, cutting the air dismissively with his hand.

"Hmm ... but have you considered that they might need ours?"

She turned back to us. "I have never met an ogre with patience and good manners. Judging by how you're squirming ..." Her hearty chuckle took me by surprise. "Any other ogre would just piss where they stood."

I smiled. "Oh, I'm smarter than the average ogre."

She smiled back warmly. "My name is Mahda, I'm the chieftess of the Ozo clan." She swept her hand around, gesturing at those present.

"I'm Kevin. And she's Estra." I motioned with my head to my left.

"Hmm. How odd. What brings you out here?”

Our belly growled. “We’re hungry,” I said.

She tilted her head to the side. “Did the ogre chief, Eruk sent you?”

“Any idea who that is?” I asked Estra.

She snorted. “Why would you assume I know any ogres?”

I turned to Mahda, "I'm afraid not."

"Hmm. Shelter and water we can give, we got plenty of both. Also the warmth of a fire, but your kind don't need-"

"Everybody needs a bit warmth," Estra said.

Mahda's bushy eyebrows rose sharply, she tilted her head and glanced over to Lan.

"As for food ..." her pointy ears drooped low, deep red eyes looking to the ground, "As for food ... I'd be happy to share, if we had some to spare."

"We're not asking for a hand out, we'll be happy to work for it," I said.

Mahda looked up and nodded. "I know just the one for you to work with."

Lan sheathed his sword with a loud clank. He pointed with two fingers to his eyes, and then to us.

"Come ... follow me," Mahda said. The kobold patrol lowered their spears and slinked away. Lan brought up the rear, his eyes burning holes through the back of my head, without a doubt pawing the hilt, ready to strike. She took us to an underground stream by the side of their settlement.

Estra's [Ball of Light] illuminated the subway-like tunnel worn out by rapidly moving water, containing pure mountain snow melt, it produced a soothing burble that set my mind at ease, the lower-most section reeked as bad as a New Jersey Porta-Potty.

An excellent way to dispose of waste, as long as you didn't drink from the water downstream. Such as someone following the river up to the mountain? I looked toward Estra, but no recognition dawned on her face. I hoped that our ogre constitution protected us from water-borne ... everything we drank.

"Drink water from up there." Mahda pointed in the opposite direction, a good distance upstream.

“Will you do it already,” Estra blurted out.

"Relax princess," I said. Her mouth fell open, and our heart skipped a beat. I couldn't imagine what Estra thought, but she was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. Shock? Shame? She looked away.

I walked over to the stream, mindful of what I was stepping on and thought about all the people downstream who may be using this water for drinking. I removed the dirty loincloth - might as well wash it.

She kept ‘her’ left hand well clear of the area, but it didn't matter - she'd feel everything that my right hand was doing. I grabbed the tool and pissed into the stream. She shuddered.

I scrubbed the loincloth in the freezing water and wrung it out. Try as I might to put it back on, it kept falling off. The overhanging belly obscured the work area.

"Let me try," Estra took over with both arms, and though her hand movement lacked in precision, her understanding saved the day. It was breezier, and something may have been hanging out, but it stayed on.

"Good job." I smiled, but she didn't say a word. She had a deer-in-the-headlights look the entire way to their settlement.

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Lord Zaika

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