The goblin seat of government was about as ostentatious and over-the-top as I’d expected. It looked like the kind of thing that would make Louis XIV take a glance around and decide that maybe the decorator had gone just a little too far.
The walls were lined with pure gold. Gold alcoves contained statues that appeared to me made of goblinsteel. The fact that goblinsteel was being used for the actual statues while the gold was just background decorating gave me an idea of just how valuable that stuff was within the game economy.
The whole place was the kind of ostentatious display of wealth that was clearly meant to impress, but all the ostentation merely came across as insecurity writ large to me. I figured that could only mean good things if I was going to negotiate a deal with the kind of asshole leader who thought the French monarchy was the height of interior decorating and not a cautionary tale for how not to get your head removed after a few generations.
Though, to be fair, I guess these goblins had no way of knowing about the French monarchy or how they’d eventually had a sudden and traumatic height reduction. Shame on whatever hack scenario designer had come up with this place, though.
"So this is where your leader lives?" I asked.
"No," one of the spear-wielding goblin guards said. "This is the Regent for the Kthonopolis,” he said. "Not close to the king."
“What about all that stuff about calling him the Chief?” I asked.
“His title is Regent of the Kthonopolis,” Rezzik said. “But everyone calls him the Chief. Easier to say.”
“Got it,” I muttered, looking at our surroundings again. "If this is where your regent lives then I'd hate to see how ostentatious the king's palace is."
"It is far more impressive than this," Rezzik said, completely missing the sarcasm. That or he chose to ignore it, but I would've put money on Rezzik not being able to detect sarcasm.
"So the regent is running things while the king is trapped in the mines?" Keia asked.
"The king still rules us," Rezzik said.
It was a simple statement of fact, though I was willing to bet it wasn't exactly how the goblin government was working right now. No, I was willing to bet that this Regent for the Kthonopolis, talk about an imaginative naming convention there, was the one who was really running the show while the goblin king was trapped in his dungeon.
Heck, I wondered if the regent would even want the goblin king to make a return. If there was one thing an usurper exploiting a power vacuum hated, it was the real power coming back to run things again.
A goblin dressed in an outfit that was just as ostentatious as the decor around us blinked a few times as we approached a set of massive gaudy doors covered in jewels that were probably supposed to be impressive, but it just made the thing look like it’d been bedazzled by a tween.
“What are you doing here?” the goblin asked, distaste curling its lips into a frown as it took in me, Keia, and Kristoph.
“These humans request an audience with the regent,” one of the goblin guards said, bowing deeply.
The guard turned and glared at us like we were supposed to be bowing right along with him. I merely crossed my arms and glared at him. He sighed, and the goblin he was bowing for looked even more irritated.
Whatever. I wasn’t bowing and scraping for anybody.
“This is highly irregular,” the glittery goblin said.
“The situation calls for it,” the guard said.
“We will speak of this,” glitter said. “Come with me.”
The guard shot us one last irritated look, and then disappeared with the glittery goblin through the doors. That left us with one guard, the two nameless goblins we’d saved along with Rezzik, and of course there was Rezzik.
"How long does it usually take for the regent to decide to see someone?” I asked. “When they’re not threatening to blow shit up, that is.”
That earned me some more irritated looks from our three remaining escorts, but they kept their mouths shut.
"Depends," Rezzik said. “It’s been some time since we’ve had humans visit. You’re not exactly in favor right now considering what you’ve done to our mines.”
"Great," I said with a roll of my eyes. "Just what I need. Another goblin who hates humans because of what Horizon Dawn did."
I glanced at Keia, and she held her hands up.
"Don't look at me!" she said. "I got away from those assholes as soon as I realized what they were doing."
"I know," I said. "It's just frustrating what those pricks have done."
"Look on the bright side," Keia said. "If those assholes hadn't been complete and total pricks to the goblins then you wouldn't be in a place where you could negotiate with them in the first place, right?"
I had to concede that point. It didn't make the waiting any less irritating, though. I also couldn’t shake the worry that this was going to end with a bunch of armed goblins streaming through that door and trying to poke holes in us.
If they pulled something like that then I was sprinting for the exit and chucking myself off the edge. Assuming I didn’t get surrounded. Though I really needed to come up with a way to defend myself that didn’t involve suicide bombing with a crafting fail state.
Luckily that didn’t seem necessary this time. The bedazzled goblin majordomo reappeared, his frown even deeper this time, and motioned for them to follow him. I wasn't sure if it was good news or bad news that the goblin guards we’d come in with didn’t follow.
Probably good news considering I had to threaten them to get this audience in the first place. Threatening was effective, but it tended to piss off the people you threatened. Not the kind of thing I needed with a group I was trying to get on my side.
I’d like to go into this meeting with as clean a slate as I could manage.
"You can come in now," the goblin said, bowing a couple of times which seemed like a hell of an improvement.
"Bowing looks promising," Kristoph said in party chat.
"I don't know about that," Keia said. "That seems like something their higher level functionaries do when they feel threatened by something."
"What would give you that idea?" I asked.
"That's what they always did right before we started killing them in the mines," she said, deadpan. I double checked that she put that into party chat. I didn’t want to piss off the stabby murder machines when we were surrounded by a city full of the things.
"Great," I said, not liking the reminder that Keia had been part of the indiscriminate goblin slaughter. Even if she had repented of her sins.
The regent’s room was even more spectacularly tacky than anything we’d seen so far, which was quite an accomplishment considering what we’d seen so far. It was wall-to-wall gold, and gems lined the walls providing steady illumination that reflected off of that gold in so many directions that it was almost blinding.
I thought I could almost sense something coming off of some of those gems. A magical pulsing energy that drew me. I walked over to one of the gems rather than going up to present myself to the goblin regent as I was no doubt supposed to as part of this meeting.
“Conlan?” Keia hissed. "What the hell are you doing? We're supposed to be having a meeting with the big goblin guy."
"Yeah, give me a minute here," I said, absentmindedly waving a hand at her.
"You might as well give up," Kristoph said. "There's no getting around it when he gets this way."
"Great," Keia said.
"Excuse me human," the goblin who'd announced us said, not bothering to hide his irritation this time around. "But what do you think you're doing?"
"Having a look at your crystals," I said. "There's something about these that…"
"You aren't allowed to touch those!" the goblin said. "They were specially crafted by our ancient goblin brethren and…"
I reached out and touched one. Which I probably wasn’t supposed to do and I realized that touch could totally result in my untimely demise, but whatever. Fortune favored the bold and all that.
Warmth pulsed inside the crystal that felt similar to the spell infusions I’d put into gems, but it was weaker. It didn’t burn with the rage of, say, a fire infusion that’d been put into the wrong gem. Or even with the power of an infusion put into a proper gem.
Then a window popped up.
Examining the light crystal has unlocked the secret of light infusions!
Huh. I guess that was some scenario designer’s way of telling me I’d just figured out the fantasy world equivalent of being able to create a flashlight.
I figured that could be useful. Those gems had been damn handy moving through those dark tunnels, after all. And as I looked around the room I realized there were a couple of lights that’d gone out.
I walked over to one of them. Meanwhile the goblin majordomo was getting more and more apoplectic.
"What do you think you're doing? The regent will see you now!"
I glanced at the regent, aka the chief. He looked like an older and fatter version of all the other goblins I’d seen since coming to this world. And while he probably looked suitably impressive to all the goblins what with all the gold he had arrayed about his person, he also didn’t strike me as being nearly as dangerous as, say, the armed guards I’d also scandalized. Like I wasn’t particularly worried that the fat old goblin was suddenly going to stand up and reveal himself to be a dungeon boss of some sort who could do something about me messing with their pretty goblin lights.
Then again I’d seen stranger bosses over the years. I even recalled playing an ancient Nintendo game where a wedding cake of all things had been a boss. Which made no sense to me, but then again the strangest things always came from Japan.
The regent didn't look like he was going to stop my tinkering for the moment. Mostly out of shock that I’d ignore him, but whatever. No, he simply stared, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open, as though he couldn't believe I was puttering with lights rather than walking over to address him directly.
Then again I figured I didn't have much to lose. These goblins had already been on the verge of throwing me into the clink, so why not have a little fun and maybe learn something while I was here? I’d already learned a useful spell infusion, after all, and knowledge was one thing they wouldn't be able to take away from me if they killed . Assuming they killed us, which was admittedly still up in the air.
"You will not to touch those gems!” the majordomo spat at me. “They were made by our ancient craftsmen and they are of the utmost quality. They are priceless. We cannot replace them and…"
I rolled my eyes. "You can't replace them and yet you have a couple of goblins going out to the mines where you know they’ll run into Horizon Dawn and they carry the gems on them making them nice and easy to steal? Forgive me if I ask you to cry me a river about how rare and precious these are. How many have you given over to Horizon Dawn because you’ve been sending your people out there to get slaughtered?”
That sounded like exactly the kind of ridiculous game design versus story scenario that was always a tension in games like this. On the one hand they would want to have something that seemed all awesome and amazing, but on the other hand something like lights that didn't go out would be so frightfully useful that every player and their mother, and a lot of NPCs as well, would want to have one of their own.
I’d be very surprised if Lotus bucked the MMO trend of letting everyone in the game have a super rare item that was supposed to be an item of prophecy or destiny or something. The needs of the paying subscribers outweighed the needs of the scenario designers who wanted awesome unique items of power in the game.
Still, it’d be nice if something like that was possible. Though I guess for the moment I was living out that scenario, sort of, with some of the crafting stuff I was doing.
Still, the whole thing had the whiff of the old chestnut of the ridiculous notion of permanent death in an MMO where resurrection spells and healing spells were a thing that happened on the regular. Game design versus story. They were always in tension with one another, and this was one place where the narrative was breaking just a little.
Though if I could get that narrative to break in my favor then I wasn't above playing with it. Just a little. Just enough to finagle an advantage out of it.
So I reached out and touched one of the gems that’d gone dark. It seemed empty, but that was it. If something was empty it was just a matter of filling it with what it was designed to carry. In this case, a spell infusion.
Just as I’d suspected, it was a simple matter of exploiting some of the underlying game mechanics to get the damned ancient object of prophecy and adoration working again. It's not like it was really some ancient secret or something that the goblins couldn't replicate. It was simply something they couldn’t replicate on their own because of the game narrative holding them back from doing something mind bogglingly.
They needed a player to come along and fix their problems, because that’s how games like this worked. It seemed ridiculously simple to do fix these things, but that’s because I was the first player to come along with the right set of skills.
Again, if the narrative was going to break in my favor by throwing me an easy fix that would impress these goblins then I’d take it.
So I touched the crystal and added the spell infusion I’d just learned. A moment later the gem lit up to gasps of amazement from a bunch of goblins who really should’ve known how to do this themselves.
I grinned despite myself. They should’ve known better, but they didn’t. And now a player character had come along to fix all their problems.
That was a promising thought, for all that we were still trapped in the depths of a goblin city under threat from above by Horizon Dawn and from below by some eldritch horror, with armed goblins all around us who seemed like they’d just as soon stab me as welcome me as their new leader.
It was time to fix that though. All of that. So I wheeled on the goblin regent, ready to work some magic.
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!