The moment Alex left the doorway of the dungeon to begin heading toward town something very odd happened. ‘Why can’t I move!?’ He thought to himself in a panic. ‘This is really getting old by now. What is this, the third time? I must have both the best and worst luck.’ He grumbled to himself silently.
He could move his eyes and look around but he didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary and yet he couldn’t move a single muscle apart from darting his eyes back and forth looking for danger.
All of this was processed by Alex in the span of a second but before he could contemplate his current situation more suddenly The Voice boomed out in his ears, the System talking to humanity again for the first time in 200 years.
“One of your own has finally begun their journey to ascension and to bring humanity to a new level of existence. Now that one of the perquisites has been fulfilled however the world will also advance so as to keep pushing you ever forward. Creatures will advance in intellect and strength and new sections will open within the depths of the children of Yggdrasil. Good luck.”
The moment the voice faded from his mind Alex fell to his knees, unprepared to have control of his body back suddenly. ‘The world is advancing? More intelligent monsters? New dungeon sections? This is a catastrophe and I haven’t even had time to figure out how to use my mana properly yet!’ He thought to himself in exasperation.
Alex got back to his feet and began to run through the woods with all pretense of stealth consumed by his worry for the town and what might happen to him as well if he dared to stay out here with these improved monsters.
He darted down the path flowing between the town and dungeon as fast as his legs could carry him. He swatted low hanging branches out of his way and jumped over dips and threw himself around curves and “BAM!” Suddenly Alex’s world was all arms and legs and green childr-‘Wait what!?’ Before he had time to finish that thought he smashed into the ground and went rolling.
‘What happened? I ran into a group of… green children? Goblins!’ Alex realized as his dazed mind started to recover and his thoughts came back into focus. He quickly scrambled to his feet and turned to face the creatures and sucked in his breath at the sight of five small goblins.
They looked somewhat similar to ugly green human children at first glance but as soon as you inspected them more carefully the differences became more and more obvious. They were all around waist height of an adult man and wearing animal hide loin clothes. These ones had crude bows strung over their shoulders and daggers in hand, snarling at him menacingly.
Thankfully for Alex, they were just as startled as him as they were traveling at another angle quickly as well and just all happened to smash into each other. These were goblin scouts though and they were plenty used to surprise encounters at this point and recovered fast.
“Human!” “Kill it!” “Die die die!” The small group of goblins each yelled different things as they jumped up and down in excitement. They seemed to be waiting for a signal from one in particular however and so Alex took his chance while he still had one.
‘I’ve only got one attempt to do this right. I need enough power to stun and maybe kill some but mostly to startle them and give me a head start to run to town. I have to be careful not to use enough power that it tires me out too much to run.’ He quickly thought to himself, mentally trying to calculate how much mana he could use based off of his terribly meager experiments.
Alex reached for the pool of mana and began to draw as much as he thought he reasonably could without straining himself too much. It was a slow process because he did not want to faint right now but he knew he couldn't outrun the goblins in his current state without injuring them as well. At this point he had spent a bit too much time on preparations and the goblins had started spreading out and advancing but at the sight of the glowing orb, they stopped again, wary.
‘Here we go!’ “Flame Blast!” He yelled, igniting the raw mana that he had spread around in a thick cone. He felt the fatigue hit him but not as hard as he expected. 'This will do!' He thought excitedly.
Bright orange flames shot out in a cone from Alex toward the stunned goblins who began screaming as the fire reached them. Some fell to the ground and began rolling around and some of them chose to flee into the woods. Either way, Alex could see he hadn’t put enough power into it to kill them but simply injure and stun. They would be back up and after him again in no time and he needed to be out of here!
Alex took his chance and ran with all his might praying that the town was close. After only a few seconds he could hear the footfalls of several of the goblins behind him. He could easily outrace them when in top condition but he was quite exhausted from his recent ordeals and mana usage. Even being injured the goblins were beginning to catch up to him.
He dredged up some extra energy from nowhere and pumped on with his body covered in sweat and his body aching from the overexertion. ‘Shit shit shit shit’ he repeated in his mind as he ran. ‘Shit shit sh- YES!’
As he rounded the next bend town was finally within sight of the town and he made a mad dash. At this point, the goblins had nearly caught fully up to him but when they came around the corner behind Alex and saw the town they stopped in their pursuit. Goblins might not be the smartest creatures but even they knew not to openly attack a human settlement without a suitable host.
‘Finally! Thank god I am finally back!.’ A wide grin plastered his face as he half ran half stumbled up to the gate. Despite having settled in the ruins of an old world city they had quickly constructed tall wooden walls around the community in the first few years. Over time they had slowly evolved into thick stone walls and that is what they were now left with. So far it had saved them many times over the years from various monster raids or large infestations nearby, especially back before they had the strength and organization to keep the local population culled to a reasonable amount.
“Stop!” Yelled a gruff commanding voice from in front of the gate. One of the muscular city guards was standing post in the standard issue brown leather gear with metal reinforcing some of the important bits. Alex chose to slow to a slow jog but did not stop. As the guard saw this he lowered his spear and opened to his mouth to warn the ragged looking traveler again when recognition flashed in his eyes.
“Alex!? Alex Jones!?” The guard exclaimed while he went slack-jawed and wide-eyed.
“In the flesh, George.” Alex responded as he came to a stop a few paces away from George, panting and covered in sweat. He was thankful it was him out here on guard duty today since it would make things go much quicker. He was the father of Rose and since they were inseparable as children the two knew each other quite well.
“Where have you been? How did you survive? What the hell happened to your eyes!? No, don’t answer that, I can find out later. For now, get inside and go straight to the elder's residence and explain everything to him. Your disappearance in such a manner caused quite a stir and he will want to know that you are safe and what happened out there."
“Yes sir! But first I need to report- wait, what did you say about my eyes!?” Alex asked in a panic.
“Well boy, they look like they have a slight glow to them and little jolts of lightning are shooting around inside. It’s a bit unnerving honestly but if you didn’t even notice hopefully it's not bad.” George responded slowly, trying to make sure he didn’t cause Alex to panic more.
“I was not aware… But as you said it has caused no problems yet. More importantly, I need to report that I was just attacked and chased through the woods by a band of goblin scouts.”
George’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head in shock. “What! Are you sure boy? Goblins this close to town?” George asked just to be sure.
“Yes sir, I would not lie about something this serious. I have never seen one in the flesh before now of course but they were just as the drawings show and as I have heard them described. The only difference was that I thought goblins were incapable of human speech, but these ones spoke.” Alex explained as quickly as he could and then took some more heaving breaths. That run really took it out of him.
“They talked you say? Hm… this must have something to do with the message we received from the System. All the more reason you’d best hurry straight to the elder to explain what you know about all of this. I don’t wanna hear about any side trips, you hear me?” George said sternly. The situation was quite serious and he had to be sure the boy understood that.
“On it now! I’ll catch up with you and Rose later while we eat some of my mother's apple pie.” Alex said with a knowing smile. George could never get enough of his mothers pies and Alex knew he would be looking forward to it until he got some now.
George opened the gate and Alex started to head through but George grabbed him by the shoulder at the last moment. Alex turned back and looked at him with a questioning expression on his face. “Rose is… very torn up about what happened. Be sure to visit her sooner rather than later and… well… just be prepared. Now off with you!”
As he finished speaking he let go of Alex and he gave a nod before turning back around and lightly jogging through town in the direction of the elder's residence. ‘Man I’m gonna collapse if I need to do any more running for a while. Hoo boy.’
As George watched Alex head off on his mission he turned back towards the forest and began scanning it closely, letting no detail go overlooked under his careful gaze. If there were goblins near town he would need to be ready to call more guards to help him out if he spotted any. ‘Hopefully, the elder sends a few more men to each entrance…’ He thought grimly.
As he finished looking over the forest and found nothing suddenly all of the birds in the forest shot into the skies as a loud horn blasted its note far and wide. Three notes it blared out and far off in the distance in various directions George heard several other horns respond.
“Oh no. Gods do I hope what I am thinking is about to happen doesn’t come to pass.” He quietly mumbled under his breath. ‘A goblin war band is not what we need right now.’ He gripped his spear tighter and stood his ground, sure that the right people would take care of the preparations for the coming storm. After a moment of hesitation he flipped open one of his pouches and took out an expensive looking scroll. He turned it over in his hands and the seal holding it closed said ‘Emergency Flare’. He slipped the scroll into his belt where he could access it at a moment’s notice.
‘Better safe than sorry…’