Barbara idly flicked through the pages of the old herbal guide.
She barely read the notes on the plants and their properties, just the names and the prominent quotes about them by experts.
When Scratch took away the goblins to take part in lessons it left her alone and kind of lonely. He would do that every evening for exercise and meditation, and now for his little reading class too.
She wasn't planning on asking to join them, she still had that much pride left, but it did leave her with a spot of time to fill up.
She paused to listen to the class making noise and talking over each other. She believed she could make out the different voices now, her own brood of course, who she spend so much time with, but also the others.
Dumb couldn't keep his voice down, he didn't seem to understand that he was not the alpha male. He would frequently attempt to talk over others.
Quiet, in contrast, was almost never heard. His presence was very non-threatening.
She could hear Kicker or Biter ask questions, but they were very similar. Not just in their voices and manner of speaking, but in personality too.
There were two others that were part of Scratch's main entourage, probably all part of the same litter, Second and Fat they were called. Second wasn't in the other room, his distinctive run-on sentences were notable in their absence. Fat could be, she'd know if she heard some insecure stammering.
The leader's, Scratch's, voice could be heard clearly through the halls. He spoke with the lowest timbre his little body could produce, his voice was still childlike, but he managed to imbue it with a mature and authoritative presence. He was in control of the conversation. She didn't always make out what exactly was being said, but every thread of dialogue was sustained and concluded by that voice.
Scream, Laugh, and Digger, the older, more decrepit goblins usually had to stay in the background of gatherings like these. They weren't part of the family, not really.
A little pang ran across Barbara's heart as she heard Linus answer a question or read something aloud. She knew he had more trouble learning than his brothers, and she had helped him read when together in the living room.
She had birthed many goblins, but never interacted with them. Now that she was forced to take care of them, she began to recognize aspects of herself in them.
So too Linus, who would get insecure about his elder brothers being more athletic and more adept at household tasks.
These creatures, they were not her sons. She would never love them. But Linus, she hated the least.
Not that that'd stop me. She decided, turning to her book again. Next time adventurers break open this place I'll escape, and let the lot get killed.
A loud whistle came from outside and the sounds of the goblin class changed.
"Grab a spear, grab a sling. Let's go!"
What, already? She got a lump in her throat. It'd didn't have to be right now.
"Scream? Scream." Scratch tried to get through to the older goblin, who was stricken down by an enemy projectile.
Scream was clutching the arrow that had entered his body below the shoulder and groaned in pain. He tugged on it, but the wide arrowhead had lodged itself behind the fiber of his muscle, making him spasm from the pain.
"Hold his arm up." Scratch instructed to whoever was near, which happened to be Fyro.
"Scream, can you try breathing in and out really deeply for me?"
Scream tried to do as instructed, but his breathing was constricted by the foreign object in his chest.
Scratch took his knife and cut apart the padded clothing around Scream's wound. The arrow shaft stuck out at a straight angle from his body, the skin around it was starting to change hue from internal bleeding.
"Oh, boy, o boy." Scratch wiped the sweat of his brow with his forearm.
"Pull it out?" Fyro asked, clutching his own painful paw.
"We can't do that, we'd rip his body apart."
"Leave it in."
"We can't do that either, the wound can't heal and will get infected."
By now the entire group had circled around Scream, saying nothing as the goblin clenched his teeth trying to keep from crying.
"Magic." Fat said suddenly.
Barbara snuck up to the entrance. If the adventurers had managed to slay the goblins, they would have commenced in looting the hideout already. It didn't seem like she would be easily rescued, but perhaps she could make use of the chaos to escape, or create a diversion of her own to help them.
She clutched a knife in one hand the toxin in the other, it wouldn't work on regular goblins, but perhaps Scratch...
Through the opening burst Dumb, quickly followed by Scratch. She held the vial over her head to throw it when behind him Kicker and Fyro carried in another goblin, an arrow sticking out of his chest.
Scratch looked at her up and down. He had caught her doing something suspicious, she felt a slight panic at being discovered and, oddly enough, guilt.
But he didn't address it. "Magic, you know magic. Heal him."
Barbara did not know healing magic. Benesant's healing arts were a high discipline, they required education.
On top of that, she had spend all her mana on a candlelight spell only a few days before.
The goblins laid their comrade on a pelt and ordered her to fix him.
What could she do? She dug into herself and strangely did find a significant amount of her mana having replenished in only a few days.
Deciding on the next best thing she chanted a mnemonic to help her complete the steps of a cleaning spell. "Histolf's Grace."
The palm of her hand started to glow in a cleansing light, which she put on the wound.
Scream, the goblin, thrashed from the painful sting.
"H-hey, mom! You're hurting him." Fyro exclaimed.
"I'm disinfecting the wound." She explained. "That's all I can do."
All Barbara's magic could do was remove the filth inside Scream's arrow-wound.
When the procedure was over Scream lay on the ground, panting. The others spread out over the room, to give him space.
"If you don't remove the arrow, he won't survive." Barbara stated coldly. She had no love for the creature.
"Barbara," Scratch stated in a formal manner, "thank you. Kicker, Biter, please escort the lady back to her cell, tie her up this time."
"Why?" Abel asked, a little hurt. "She helped Scream."
"Because I said so. Now go."
After his words Barbara was returned to her prison, the bodies were collected, and the watch was resumed. This time, the amount of goblins on and around the tower was increased.
The crossbow had been broken in battle. It wasn't completely obliterated but it was non-functional at the moment. So Dumb, Linus, Benjamin, and Fat were holding slings, a large pile of pebbles and left over debris from the mine heaped up behind them. Laugh, Kicker, Biter, George and Abel covered them with spears.
Fyro and Scream where in the foyer being looked after by Quiet, with some help from Mac.
That left Scratch and Second to go over the inventory.
The slight cover over the washing basin was a suitable location to inspect the invaders' weapons and the broken crossbow.
"This is the kind of thing buried into Scream." Scratch held up the arrow. "The arrowhead stops you from just pulling it out. Our own bolts did very little to the enemy in that regard."
Second tugged on the string on the longbow. "Ugh. It doesn't work."
"No, I don't think any of us can shoot this thing. That requires a lot of strength. But to go back to the arrowheads, do you think you can make them?"
Second took a moment to adjust his thinking. He had been entrusted with tinkering before, having the most talent for toolmaking of the group, but up till then that had only involved following Scratch's instructions, now he was asked to think creatively. "I think..." He looked at the arrowhead from multiple angles. "...that making it out of stone would make it too heavy for the crossbow, if we can even repair it."
"I was afraid of that." Scratch sighed. "And we wanted to avoid having to cast too much iron... well, maybe during the night..."
"Bones." Second answered. "We've got a lot of bones laying around we're not using, and teeth, and nails of animals, those things are lighter than stone, I think I can make something out of those, we can shoot them, if we get the crossbow working again, I mean."
"And, can we?"
"Maybe, the long side here is splintered, it won't fire 'cause the little pin can't move, if we hold it right, like this, it can go off, we can't hold it right and fire it at the same time, but if we get it to stay like this..."
"I see, so you want to splint it with a plank and some rope."
"If we can do that, it can be used again."
"We can. Let's see what more we have, though."
Both humans had been wearing padded leather, it was of superior quality to that the goblins wore as protection, but not fundamentally different.
Beside that, instead of a weapon, the second adventurer had been holding a musical instrument.
"What is this?" Second tried to figure out the intended use of the wooden object. He swung it through the air a few times trying to see how it would be used as a weapon, but coming up short.
"I'm going to inquire about this." Scratch said. "I'll be right back."
Gubok scratched his snout.
He was starting to get used to this life. That was what annoyed him.
He had been afraid to return to the camp, after Ragar had led them into defeat. So he had lived in isolation for a while, with nothing but humanoids around him.
He contemplated his sorry fate some more while eating one of the creatures' arms.
After escaping the battlefield where they had fought the larger humanoids, he had take refuge among a tribe of the smaller ones. These had been bought by Kubar and Grat before, they could speak and were wielding the tools of a superior civilization, and had used them to drive a flock of social tree nesting birds from their territory in order to make the large nests their homes.
They had been eager to please him, an orc. They had given him a home below one of the lower nests, and had fed him plants and wildlife which could only be hunted with orcen equipment. Until his legs had healed enough for him to walk by himself.
When the tribe was overrun by their larger cousins he had decided to fight them off using Ragar's warhammer. Even though there were six of them they were easily incapacitated.
After that the weaker creatures were able to breed with the females among the stronger, and the tribe started to grow.
As a member of the chosen people Gubok could breed with humanoids too, but now was not the time for that. He would leave soon, and rejoin the horde.
Until that time he was content in letting the creatures feed him, commanding them, and eating those among them that failed him.
The longer he delayed returning to Kubar, the more fearful the prospect, until one day he realized he could never return.
It was humiliating, to live without a horde, purely for oneself. But the most damning thing of all, he thought to himself as he sucked out the bone marrow, was that he could live with it. Insignificance in an orcen horde, or royalty among vermin. Strangely, he seemed very well suited for it.
His stomach grumbled, too much white meat. He grunted and lifted himself up by the hammer. Time to grab a few handfuls of the berries the humanoids had collected.
"Master. Please. No Eat." The eldest of the creatures pleaded with him. Its throat was clearly unsuited for proper language and it strained itself to bring about the words.
Gubok kicked him aside. "If you haven't gotten enough to eat, I'll try slaughtering you a bit quicker, so you won't have as much mouths to feed." He laughed cruelly, before stuffing his mouth.
Perhaps soon he would breed with the females. He wouldn't be able to start his how horde, not with Kubar or the more powerful humanoids around, but he had given up thinking about the future now, all he cared about was satisfying his desires.
He leered at the women, they were kept in a higher nest, with no easy way to climb down. One was already pregnant with the next litter. These little monsters breed fast.
As he looked at them, the youngest seemed to notice something and leaned on the side of the nest.
*Haaaahp* It shrieked.
"Well then, let's see." Scratch lowered himself next to Second with the smoking pipe in his hand.
Second looked up from the stick he was measuring against the crossbow. "What are you doing?"
"If I smoke this I get to talk to the creature digging our cave. Don't ask me how, I don't understand it either." He put down his pouch, now empty of the blue grass.
There are still humans in the forest, if that's what you were going to ask. Cyclophan lead with.
The more I think I understand their movements, the more I'm proven wrong. What's with the ukulele?
It's an magically infused lute.
"Can I try?" Second asked.
Holding his breath to keep the smoke in his lungs Scratch handed him the pipe. Is it a weapon?
Not one a goblin can use. Magical instruments are just slightly more versatile spellrods.
Second coughed and handed him the pipe back, he put on a disgusted expression.
Communion with a god isn't that simple, Scratch. The pipe works because you're my champion, anybody else would need years of practice in mysticism and a bigger amount of mana than you can get puffing a bit of blue grass.
What were you saying about instruments? They're spillrods?
Spellrods. You know. Those wands that cast a spell for you if you put a bit of mana in them.
And humans use these?
Well, I mean. If you have the mana capacity, you might as well learn the spell, right? But an infused lute has some versatility, that makes up for the material costs. And it's a musical practice, so their patron gods can teach them via inspiration.
Hold up, hold up. That's a lot of information to take in. The adventurers, they play music on something like this, and that creates magic?
Of course. I don't know why I'm surprised at anything anymore.
Think of it like this. Music is made up out of harmonies, so is magic. When music touches a person, its because th vibrations are resonating with a part of their soul. It doesn't take a lot of work for magic to touch the mind if its hitches a ride on a medium like that. That's why musical magic is the first and most ancient kind. The gods discovered that they could convey their wisdom to the souls of their followers via divine inspiration, and the songs these bards would sing could soothe and protect the souls of the allies and hurt or confuse the souls of their enemies.
I'm going to stop you here, Cyclophan. I have given up on understanding magic. It all sounds like hokey to me, I assume you need to be able to feel it to understand.
This was your last grass?
Yes, and I'm not going to get more with all these adventurers around.
It's fine. If it's pressing I'll invade your dreams for it.
【Rudy, I think we should be going back now.】
The sun is going down, therefore Xandra wants to go back to uncle. This suppression mission was only supposed to be for today.
【Okay.】I state.【Just one more encounter, then we should call it a day.】
【Rudy... why are you so invested in this all of a sudden?】
I can't tell her about the story, and why the spring amulet is important. Without the amulets of the four seasons the hero will never discover the realm of the gods and defeat Malsidious' true form.
I pause.【Xandra, ano... do you believe in past lives?】
【Past lives? Rudy, what are you talking about?】
【I- I think I might-】
A woman's voice cries out towards us, interrupting me.
We look around and see her trapped on a bird's nest-like platform halfway up the tree on another hill.
【Goblins!】I exclaim as I see her captors climb over her to silence her.
【Rudy, what do we do? Defeating a goblin nest is a promotion quest for a whole party, we can't take them on with just the two of us.】
Really? Goblins are weak though. Why is defeating a bunch of them in one place suddenly a big deal?【Nobody but us is going to help her.】I say.【Remember what uncle said? There are countless captured women, they're not going to seek her out.】
【Then we have to do it.】She responds.【Defying the odds is what being a hero is all about.】
The way she says that actually makes me want to fight them less. Heroes? There were a set number of heroes in 'four realms', and none of them were called Rudy or Xandra. We are mob characters, faces in a crowd. A quiet life on the country is the best, that's what we should aspire for.
【Wait.】I touch her shoulder as we see a dozen or so goblins line up between us and their nest.【I have the rogue class now. Maybe I can do something rogue-ish, instead of fighting them head-on.】
【They've already spotted us!】
【Distract them, lead them away if you have to. I'm going to try to sneak in.】
Xandra nods. It's a risky plan, having a novice adventurer fight so many enemies by herself, even if they are just goblins.
When the goblins approach they're shooting crossbow bolts and swinging with halberds, Xandra shouts a lot and moves back to get them to chase after her.
Meanwhile I hide behind the trees and circle around back to their nest.
There are multiple small nests at various places on the crooked and bendy trees. Perhaps the goblins weaved them themselves, or perhaps they had belonged to some manner of bird before.
I carefully sneak around their camp, the goblins are agitated and excited about seeing another woman, and they're not keeping an eye out for intruders.
I pull myself up various branches and sideways trunks to get up the prisoner's nest.
As it turns out, there are two prisoners. A young woman with blonde hair and a slightly older brunette, the second is pregnant.
The goblin hasn't seen me, it's holding down the blonde girl who had screamed out for help and pulling up her skirt to do something to her.
I carefully let go of the branch with one hand to unsheathe a throwing knife. In order to not alarm the others I have to make the kill quickly and silently.
The pregnant woman has noticed me, I nod, she nods. She knows better than to make a sound.
Just as I jump on to the nest she grabs the goblin from behind, pulling it backwards and exposing its stomach and throat for me. As quickly as possible I stab it in as many places as possible.
It makes a short yelp but then falls down, choking on its own blood.
【We need to burst out of here, while they're distracted.】I quickly explain.
【I can't fight without my saber, the blonde states.【Angela here is carrying a litter.】
【Watch out!】Angela yells.【He's he-】
Before I understand what she's talking about I feel something hooking my leg and pulling me to the ground. As I smack down painfully on the dry earth I see a menacing pig's face snarling at me.
I don't need the adventurer's guild's guide to know what kind of creature that is. It's a staple monster of many fantasy games, the beast-like orc.
Without catching my breath I dodge the warhammer that had been used to pull me off the platform.
The monster was carrying a large hammer and shield, as its weapon impacted the ground it created a cloud of dust with a muffled sound.
Orcs are mid level enemies, not something a starting adventurer should face.
I take one look at the gruff creature about to charge me, and start running the other way. Why? All I wanted was a peaceful life.
【My saber, my saber!】I hear the girl shout.
Sure enough, one of the goblins is holding a weapon that is much more beautiful than the others. The orcs' metal is an evil black, while man made steel is shiny and sleek.
I glance over my shoulder over my shoulder, the orc is still chasing me.
With no other recourse I throw my knife at the goblin with the saber, piercing him in the eye. The other goblins close in on me as I jump roll over the falling body, grabbing the saber and throwing it at the orc.
He casually dodges it.
Now I'm surrounded by goblins with edged weapons and only my throwing knives to defend me.
【Hi-ya!】A goblin thrusts his weapon toward me, but gets his head bashed in by Xandra, who has appeared from behind him.
Xandra you're a hero! Well, not a hero, but a hero to me.
She needs to bash it a few more times before it dies, but draws the enemy's fire on herself while she does it.
I pull the weapon out of the dying goblin's grip and mow it around to force them back.
Just as I do that, I see the blonde and her friend fighting the orc with her saber. So she did manage to grab it after I threw it her way. Good.
In the end, we can only force them back and run away.
I have to throw the stolen halberd at the feet of the orc to stop him from catching up to us.
He's slowed down by his heavy equipment, but so is Angela, by her condition.
【Thank you for saving us.】Says the blonde after we have gotten far enough away from the nest.【I'm Theresa, this is Angela. We're adventurers too. Or we were, I suppose.】
【You were pretty good with that sword.】Xandra states enthusiastically.【Were you here for the culling too?】
【No, my child.】Angela answers for her.【We have been here a wee bit longer. A retrieval mission a few weeks ago, it went horribly wrong as you can well see. We did not expect an orc among these here goblins.】
【Our party members... dead.】Theresa mumbles solemnly.
【We'll take you back.】Xandra says emphatically, looking at Angela's encumbered body.【I'm sure uncle won't mind.】
【Oh, you poor kids, you're all scratched up.】Angela exclaims.
I look at my arms. In the heat of the battle I hadn't noticed it, but many of the hits the goblins took landed. I am covered in gashes and scrapes.【And we couldn't even harvest any of their ears.】
【Let me heal that for you.】She says.【Benesant's mercy!】As soon as she finishes the incantation we are surrounded by specks of light, surrounding or bodies and closing up the wounds.
【Every party needs a healer.】Theresa comments.【I'm a duelist myself.】
【Maybe we can party up with you!】Xandra responds.【Xandra's party could use one of each. If we form a strong enough party, we can come back and take revenge on that orc.】
Theresa gives an awkward smile. We may have saved them but we're just level F kids, playing at being adventurers, they could probably party up with much better.
As we go back the orc is on my mind.
According to the events of the game, the dungeon is inhabited by orcs six years from now. Currently, there is no permanent orc population in these woods. At least, that's what I thought. But here we found an orc mini-boss at the end of a goblin nest. What if that orc is the one that claims the dungeon? Would killing him change the future, or is the future predetermined? I simply don't know.
After it had become sufficiently dark, it was deemed that any adventurers still up and about seeking goblins would have a big disadvantage in terms of sight. It was therefore safe for the goblins to go out and check the traps.
It seemed that most of them had been spotted and circumvented, but one held a dead adventurer. Dumb's idea to include slimes in the trap had been successful, the half digested remains of a human woman where hanging on the spikes of a pit trap.
Abel took the shield she was carrying for himself. It was kind of big for him, but he liked the idea of blocking incoming projectiles.
On of the traps had a large pheasant running around inside a pit. Kicker had been about to kill it, but Scratch stopped him. "It's jungle fowl." He said.
When they came back to the cave more protective walls had been added to the front of the tower. Battlements to protect against enemy fire.
Second and George had created the beginnings of what looked to be a larger, stationary crossbow, using the longbow taken from the dead adventurer.
The adventurers' bodies had been stripped of their clothes and thrown into the slime gulch. Now that the slimes had a purpose, they were eager to feed them and have them multiply.
Inside, the pheasant was added to the bird pen, in the hopes that it would be evolved into a cockatrice.
Fyro had been treated for his wounds, and wasn't allowed to partake in battle until it had healed.
Barbara was sleeping.
And Scream was dying.
Scream had been relocated to a bedroom lower down, where he was being looked after by Quiet, but his whimpering and gasping could still be heard even in the foyer.
"I'm going to take a walk." Scratch stated and went outside.
"What's going on with Scratch?" Fyro wanted to know, scratching at his bandage.
"He's always been like this." Biter answered. "He can't stand screaming."
"I don't want to die." Scream squeezed Digger's hand as he braced himself against the painful pangs.
"If we do not remove the arrow, you will die eventually. If we do, you might die immediately." Quiet stated, his voice more confident and stable than his usual whispers. He cupped the back of Scream's head and layed him down on the prepared sand, which was supposed to absorb the blood.
Digger held Scream's hand tightly. "Be brave. We've been through so much. Remember the cold winter? Remember the hunger with Horns?"
"When I'm gone..." Scream stared at the ceiling. "Who will remember those for me? Who will know we existed?"
"Scream. Come on..." Digger was distraught by Scream's fatalism. He had followed him almost his entire life, and now he was crumbling.
"I'm going to pull it out." Quiet announced, as he was done cleaning the skin around the arrow wound.
"Wait!" Scream was panicky and scared. "Wait. Before that. One more thing."
"So he didn't make it?" Scratch helped carry the body out of the cave. He was a lot more comfortable with current corpses than with imminent corpses. A dead body is just an object, it doesn't feel anything. His animal instincts of empathy and pity weren't triggered by corpses, only living beings did that, no matter how hard he suppressed it.
"...no." Quiet whispered shyly.
"And what is the deal with all this?"
On the side of the wall, in big block letters stood a carving. "SCREAM WAS HERE"
"He was very happy to be taught writing." Quiet eventually managed to bring out, after they had dispose of the body.
"He wanted something about him to survive forever, I think."
"Hhhm." Scratch grumbled. "Let's not make it a habit. Before we'll know it half the surface of our home is going to be covered in aphorisms like this one."
"Unless nobody else dies."
"Unless... haha, yeah. But they will."
Even in his pessimism, Scratch had no idea how true his statement was.
The duelist class is a close combat role, mostly suitable for fighting one-on-one with powerful enemies.
Adventurers registered as duelists have access to dueling weapons from the guild store and personal combat training.
Duelists usually rely on maneuverability, rather than protection, and polish their skill with one specific type of weapon.
Most solo adventurers are duelists, and many of the history's most legendary heroes were duelists as well.