“So do you boys know anything about any ancient demigods lurking in the depths below?” Keia asked, turning and talking to our friends outside of party chat.
The two goblins who’d been escorting us exchanged glances, but kept quiet. If they did know about something lurking down there and they’d built a city here anyway they were idiots. That was exactly the kind of reckless behavior I’d expect to see in a fantasy species who would eventually have their asses handed to them by said eldritch horror lurking in the darkness below.
Besides, I could think about how the goblins were being idiots all I wanted, but in the end it was the game scenario designers who were the real reason the goblins had built a city over the potential nest of an eldritch horror. The fact that it was scenario designers who came up with all this only made the eldritch horror scenario that much more likely.
Besides, there were plenty of examples of idiot humans building their cities in the shadows of volcanoes and other natural disasters waiting to happen, so it’s not like I could get on the goblins too much for building on top of an eldritch god.
“The Kthonopolis is safe,” Rezzik said, casting some nervous glances towards the giant pit.
“The Kthonopolis?” I asked, staring with my mouth open. “Like you’re seriously telling me the name of this place as Kthonic in it?”
“What does that mean?” Kristoph asked.
“It means there’s definitely something scary and ancient lurking down there waiting to turn every goblin in this city into a snack, and the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is the scenario designers had to make it wait for player characters to get in here,” I said.
“Player characters?” Rezzik asked, his ear twitching.
“Nothing,” I muttered, realizing I’d said that last bit outside of party chat. Oops.
“Enough about this,” one of our goblin escorts said. “You need to go talk to the Chief, and he’ll decide what to do with you. You can ask him any questions, too.”
There was something about the way he encouraged me to ask that question, something about his tone, that said maybe it wouldn’t b a good idea for me to go asking the wrong sorts of questions.
“Actually a meeting with the Chief would be great!” I said.
The goblins glanced at each other again. Clearly they were confused. I wasn’t supposed to want to see someone who was supposed to want to kill me, after all.
“What’s your game?” the goblin asked.
“No game,” I said. “I just need to talk to him.”
Eldritch horrors lurking in the deep were all well and good, but right now I was far more interested in figuring out how the hell I could get these goblins to work for me.
I’d been studying my Spellcraft skill tree more and more intently as we walked through the darkness, and I thought I had an offer the mercantile goblins wouldn't be able to refuse.
At least I hoped they wouldn’t refuse it. If they did it would probably mean we were all about to die a messy painful death at the hands of these NPCs. Not to mention the goblins would eventually die a messy and painful death at the hands of Horizon Dawn.
Or maybe even at the hands of that whatever it was lurking in the depths. Maybe at the hands of whoever came along to kill whatever that was in the depths. Either way we needed each other, otherwise we were collectively fucked.
Sure the Horizon Dawn raid might not come in the next few days, but given enough time even those inept assholes would be able to figure out how to get down here, and they’d do some serious damage to the local goblin population when they did.
"Come on," the goblin escorts said. "We need to get a move on if this is going to happen."
That was a new voice. One of the goblins near the entrance hefted a spear at us and glowered at Rezzik and our two escorts. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“They want to meet the Chief,” our escort said. “And I think meeting the Chief is just what they need.”
Again there was an undercurrent of menace to what it said that left me thinking this goblin wasn’t taking us to meet the Chief out of the goodness of its little green heart.
“Not happening,” the guard said. “Not without prior authorization from the Chief himself. These three have to go to the jail while we sort this out.”
“Um, how long do you typically stay in jail while waiting for the Chief to see you?” Keia asked.
“For humans like you? Might get through to the Chief in a week or two,” the guard said, grinning an unpleasant grin.
“Yeah, I don't think so," I said.
The guard turned to me and put his hands on his hips. Stared up at me and eyed me critically. It also helped the intimidation factor that he held his spear up. The thing was nice and pointy, and it was clear the goblins were sticklers for maintaining their weapons.
Though that threat wasn't going to change what I was about to do if these NPC assholes persisted in thinking they were going to drag any of my party off to jail.
"Is that right?" the guard asked. "And do you mind telling me who died and made you king of the Kthonopolis? Because last I checked he was still trapped by you humans.”
"No one did," I said. "But I have a business arrangement to suggest to you guys. I need to see your Chief immediately. Come on. Work with me here."
"Can't think of a good reason to volunteer to work with a human," the second goblin guard said. "It's off to the jail with the three of you, and that's that. You can rot in there until the Chief decides he has time for you. Unless, of course, you'd like us to throw you over the edge?"
Yeah, the reputation grind for the goblins down here was definitely different than whatever I’d been grinding up on the surface. I looked to our goblin escorts. They sort of shrugged, but their grins told me they were enjoying this conversation.
Rezzik, at least, had the good grace to look annoyed by the turn this conversation was taking. Not that I thought it was going to do us a damn bit of good.
"Now listen here," I said. “We’ve established we both hate Horizon Dawn. Maybe we could…"
The goblins held their spears out. Keia tensed, and I saw her making the motions that meant she’d be pulling out her bow in a moment. Kristoph hefted his hammer.
I sighed. "Fine. I didn’t want it to come to this, but…”
The goblin guards blinked and lowered their spears ever so slightly. They seemed genuinely surprised that he’d give up so easily.
"Fine?" they asked, incredulity dripping from their voices.
"Yeah," I said. "Totally fine."
I pulled a water gem out of my inventory. Hefted it as I looked at the massive yawning darkness below. I sort of felt like I was becoming a one trick pony, but if it was a trick that worked…
"What are you doing?" one of the goblin guards asked, his spear going all the way to the floor this time around.
Again I figured there was going to be a day when this stopped working, but so far it looked like that day wasn’t today. It’s not like the goblins could search me and take my stuff. Not without killing me, at least, and it would seem they were interested in keeping me alive for the moment.
Which meant I could pull water gems out of my inventory and do the same old same old I’d been doing. I figured there was no need for fancy combat abilities when I could keep blowing shit up if it got in my way on the path to success.
"This is a water gem," I said. "How much do you guys know about Spellcrafting?"
“Enough to know you shouldn't be playing with that stuff around here kid," one of the goblin guards said. Even our escorts were starting to slink away down the path.
"Really?" I asked, tossing it from hand to hand. "What if I infused it with a fire spell and threw it over the edge? See what happens if there was suddenly a massive explosion down there over whatever is lurking in those depths?”
Now the goblins looked really nervous. Like they would rather be anywhere but standing on this ledge over that yawning darkness where I was about to wake up whatever they knew was lurking down there but didn’t want to tell me about considering it was clearly part of the game that hadn’t been properly unlocked yet.
"You don’t want to do that," the goblin guard said.
I glanced at Rezzik to see how I was doing. He seemed to be from the town faction, at least. Or us saving his ass had him a lot more predisposed to like us. He grinned and nodded.
I took that to mean I was on the right track here.
I shrugged. "Want to try me? Because there have been a lot of people in Horizon Dawn who said the same thing recently, and they all wound up getting blown to bits."
One nice thing about this exploding gem routine was I could use it again and again with different crowds. The goblins were definitely a different crew than the Horizon Dawn people I’d been using my one trick against so far.
"You seriously don't want to do that," the goblin guard said.
"What are you doing?" Keia hissed. "If you throw it down there and you do wake something up it’s going to kill us too!”
“Yeah, but we’re dead no matter what we do,” I said. “Either the goblins kill us, or I do this and we take this goblin city with us.”
“Mutually assured destruction,” she said, and for a surprise she stepped closer to me and squeezed in nice and tight. “That’s so hot.”
I turned and cocked an eyebrow at Kristoph who didn't seem to care what happened as long as he got a chance to use his warhammer. There was something devastatingly simple about the way Kristoph looked at the world, and there were times I envied him that single-minded view of the world.
I turned back to the goblins. "So what do you say? Do I toss a big explosive gem down there and see what it stirs up? Or do you take me to your Chief now and we forget about the whole jail thing?”
"What if we just throw you over the edge right now and be done with it?" one of the guards snapped, sounding even more irritable than they'd already been. Oh yeah. I’d definitely struck a nerve.
"Then I have plenty of these gems ready to go, and it looks like there's going to be plenty of time during the fall to infuse every gem in my inventory to explode. I’ll be my own cluster bomb!”
“Cluster what?” a goblin guard asked, cocking its head to the side.
“Big bomb that drops a bunch of little bombs,” Kristoph said.
“Bomb?” the other goblin guard asked.
“Thing that makes a big boom,” Keia helpfully provided.
“Yup. Might as well blow up every gem in my inventory since it’s not like I’m going to be able to do a corpse run down there. You can bet your ass that if there is something lurking down there you don't want to wake up I'm going to do my best to do exactly that before I'm killed. Are we clear?"
The goblins let out a few choice curses in what I presumed was their native language, and then turned around. Started stalking up the path.
"I assume this is the way to whoever's running this place?" I asked.
"It is," Rezzik said, that grin still splitting his face. He looked likehe was trying very hard not to laugh, and not doing a very good job of it.
"So is there really something down there?" I asked, glancing into the darkness again.
Again I was hit with the overwhelming urge to jump into that darkness. Though I was in no hurry to meet whatever eldritch horror was waiting down there. Not until I had reinforcements.
"Ancient One," Rezzik said, making that symbol over his chest.
"Right," I said, figuring that was all the confirmation I needed. “Good to know."
There was definitely something lurking down there, and if the goblin was talking about it in terms like “Ancient One” that probably meant the scenario designer had been high on the less racist parts of H.P. Lovecraft’s works when designing this scenario, which meant there was almost certainly an eldritch horror of some sort lurking down there.
“No one has threatened to wake the Ancient One in centuries!" Rezzik said, finally letting loose with a laugh.
"Shut up!" one of the goblin guards snapped.
We walked in silence after that. I figured I’d gotten what I wanted, after all, and there was no point in continuing to antagonize our guards any more than I already had by threatening to visit an ancient horror on their city.
It was good to know I had that option if the goblins started causing trouble, though!
Hi! I'm a working writer who's been doing this full time since early 2015. I got my start in the Kindle romance boom, and I'm finally getting around to publishing stories under my own name!
I live in the Midwest with my wife, kids, and cats. Most days find me sitting in front of my computer typing out stories for your enjoyment!
I'm currently releasing Spellcraft. The tale of Conlan, a gamer who loves finding ways to exploit game systems, and how he uses those unique skills to battle a soulless multinational entertainment conglomerate who killed his sister and is trying to take over the gaming world!
Spellcraft is currently released on a chapter a day schedule.
I hope you enjoy my work. Thanks for reading!