It felt like running for a while. It was Arryn who was leading the escape. We all hoped that she knew where we were going. After her was Bill, then Alice, and finally me.
“Alright, I think we’re safe,” Arryn finally said as she stopped, breathing heavily. We all were.
“Bloody fucking hell,” Bill said out, taking few steps towards the nearby tree and vomited past it.
For my surprise, Alice didn’t show any signs of being tired. She just stood there, looking at all of us.
“Aren’t you tired?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“N-no. I-I’m fine. I-I’ve always been pretty good at running. I-I run regularly,” she said, looking at me. “E-even though it has been mostly running away,” she said a lot more silently, a smile still on her face.
“Nice,” I muttered. That was the day when I learned not to judge a book by its cover. Which was strange - I of all people should know that.
It took us a good few minutes to finally calm down and get ourselves circled. It was also to make sure that there was nobody following us and we were truly alone.
“So, what’s our plan? Get back to Kirkwall and ask for help?” Bill asked.
“Don’t pussy out now,” Arryn said, giving Bill a smirk.
Bill crossed his hands. “Come on. I’m taking your side now.”
Alice looked at me. I could see in her eyes that she was begging me to step in. I frowned, visibly. “Let’s do like we talked before. Information first. Then let’s decide. We know the general direction where they normally are. We just have to capture one of them and ask them, nicely, or just follow them until their hideout.”
“T-they are too smart, though,” Alice muttered. “A-and that’s unusual.”
“I agree,” I said, nodding. “Which can mean only one thing...” - everyone looked at me, expecting me to tell them the answer - “Their leader is someone smart. He has given exact orders, and has enough intimidation to make goblins fear them more than death,” I said. As we talked, we didn’t really look at each other. We all looked past each other, eyeing every direction, making sure that there was nobody around.
“G-give me a second!” Alice said, removing her backpack and searching for something within. She removed a book, opening it.
“What’s that?” Bill asked.
“G-goblins 101,” she said, reading through the book. “I-in the history, there have been many cases of goblins being or at least seeming to be a lot stronger and smarter than average. I-in all of those cases, their leader has never been a goblin, and not even a hobgoblin. U-usually it was some kind of other magical beasts. B-but there’s one time when it was the worst,” she said, paging through the book. She finally stopped, releasing a sigh.
“And...?” Bill asked.
“I-it was human.”
“Human?” Bill muttered. “How can human control those beings?”
“J-just because it says it was a human, once, we shouldn’t assume that it could...” - Alice got silent as we all heard noises coming from afar.
“Hide,” Arryn said. Perhaps it was our luck or maybe Arryn had stopped here for that very reason, but we all followed Arryn to hide behind a nearby gully that was the size of a bit over half of my body. Roots were hanging above and behind our bodies while larger roots were spreading at the above of the gully itself.
The noise got closer. No, not noise, but the talking. And I knew that language very well - goblin.
“We are wasting our time,” a slightly lower pitched goblin said. Their every step felt heavier than any other goblin.
“Hobgoblin,” Arryn whispered, eyes slightly widened. That alone got a chill to go through my body. Hobgoblins are like goblins, just a lot larger, and a lot stronger, and a lot smarter. They are basically a stronger version of Goblin. But they’re also grown from simple goblins. They are more like a small chance. That’s why when a nest grows larger, there are more hobgoblins involved as well. Or that’s why goblin nests often grow around a rare hobgoblin. Many wild goblins are ready to join nest just to follow hobgoblin. They are often like our heroes.
“We need to find them so we can report to our master what we know. Right now we don’t know enough. All we know is that four of our own are dead. Maybe they are backup? Maybe they were just passer-by’s and they’re long gone. But we should always assume the worst. Not every passer-by could kill four of our own.” A slightly quieter and higher pitched goblin responded. It was obvious that it was just a normal goblin. That part, however, wasn’t a surprise. Hobgoblins always surround themselves with more intelligent goblins, and order the dumb to go out and do their deeds. Everyone looked at me, waiting for me to translate. I could only raise my finger and push it in front of my mouth to keep them silent.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re alive. Four of them can’t do anything. Everything is going according to our master’s plan. When the full moon is highest, it’ll be done. Now go. Tell the master about this small incident. Everyone else, go and keep an eye on that village!”
“But-” the higher pitched goblin barely began.
A loud echo traveled throughout the forest. We could only hear gasps of many other goblins. It was followed by the sound of something large pulled out of something sticky. “Any questions?”
Many footsteps traveled away, including the heavy steps. But something came closer to us.
“D-do we…?” Alice whispered.
“Just follow that goblin. He leads us to their base. But kill him before he gets to others, though. Can you do it, Arryn?”
Arryn looked at me, worried.
“Arryn?” I stage whispered, putting my hand on her shoulder. “You can do it. I believe in you!” I whispered. She gave me a slight nod.
A shadow jumped over us, landing in front of us on his two feet. We all looked at the tiny goblin’s back, still hearing the hobgoblin’s steps. But the tiny goblin’s clothing was lightweight. It was apparent that he was a messenger, and that’s it. It was a thought out system, which made the whole situation even more unusual. Thankfully for us - and the fact that we all didn’t even breath - the goblin didn’t think of looking back and just kept running forward.
“Go!” I hissed, following the goblin as soon as he was a bit more further away.
It was hard to keep the distance. We needed to be ready to shoot an arrow at the goblin any moment, but we also had to keep our footsteps light enough to not create any unwanted attention. Perhaps we got lucky that the goblin didn’t try to spot us either. They weren’t trained for anything else than running and delivering the messages. The sounds he made was possibly stronger than any of us, suppressing our sounds.
The travel wasn’t too long. But the speed was intense, which means that in normal speed, it would’ve taken a lot longer time. As we traveled, we all began to breathe more heavily, except Alice… again. I was thankful for carrying all that heavy armor before today’s running, otherwise, I wouldn’t have made it that far.
To be fair, none of us couldn’t pay enough attention, before Arryn suddenly shot her arrow. It was a miss, hitting a tree in front of the goblin. We were lucky because the goblin did a huge mistake of stopping and looking back at us, eyes widening. Rookie mistake.
“Easy target,” Arryn muttered, letting already a new arrow go. A lifeless goblin’s body landed on the roots, arrow on their head. “Quickly, drag him back!”
It was Bill who reached him first and pulled the body back. Perhaps I was lucky to notice that, but both of them had looked past the tree that arrow had hit very intensely. So I did one thing none of them hadn’t expected me to do. I ran towards the tree.
“What are you doing?” Bill hissed as I ran past him. I didn’t answer.
As soon as I reached the tree, I took hold of an arrow and pulled it out.
Someone was coming towards me. Their every step was announced by the noise of leaves that he was stepping on. They were probably checking out the weird sound they had heard. But thankfully for us, they didn’t try to hide their own presence. Quietly I got myself to lie down, trying to not make the same mistake as that someone. I pushed myself against a larger root that was next to me, hiding me from the other side of the tree.
A goblin’s foot landed on the root above me. He was scanning the area, including the place where the arrow had been landed. But because of the angle, he didn’t see the hole itself the arrow had created. I could see the goblin’s every head moment, since his head was directly above me, looking around. My hand was tightly around the arrow, as I was ready to stick the arrow up if the goblin did decide to look down. That’s all it would take - look down, and see me.
The goblin snorted. “Told you it was nothing,” they said in a goblin, frowning. He turned around and began walking back. Every further step echoed more silently than the previous. All I could do was crawl away, crouch, and walk back to others as silently as possible.
“You’re crazy!” Arryn muttered.
“T-that was cool!” Alice said. “Y-you saved us!”
“Thank you, Alice. Want to go out with me?” I said, smiling.
Alice turned red, making some quiet unrecognizable noises.
“Dangerous move. She might give us away,” Bill muttered.
It was cute. First, she looked everyone else, finally deciding to confront me, looking deep into my eyes. It was even cuter because her cheeks were visibly red, and there were tears at the edge of her eyes. “N-no. I-I’m sorry. W-we only met today!” she said, quietly. “A-and it’s really inappropriate place and time. A-and-”
“He’s teasing you,” Bill said, smiling as well.
“O-oh. O-okay. Y-yeah, that makes sense,” she said, taking in deep breaths. Suddenly her eyes were squinting. “You’re mean!”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I couldn’t resist. But your loss.” It only made me look forward to the moment they find out that I’m the hero. Of course, only if we survived this.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated myself.
“Alright. So, we found out their hideout, now what? Report this place to Kirkwall?”
I shook my head. “Sadly it’ll be too late by then. When that hobgoblin talked before, he leaked something huge. Whatever they’re planning, it’ll happen when - and let me quote - the full moon is highest. It’ll be done then. So, we’re the only ones who can do something about it.”
“Alice,” Arryn suddenly whispered.
“You need to learn a spell that sends messages.”
Alice’s eyebrows lowered quite a lot. “T-there's no such spell! I-I can send a bird, though!”
It was a sad known fact. There were no spells that could send a message directly to someone’s mind unless it was some kind of a special creature. There are a few known ones, but super rare. Of course, it could also mean that such spell wasn’t discovered yet.”
“Well, that would be a start,” I muttered.
“Y-you need to write a message, though,” Alice said, taking out her backpack and searching for a small piece of paper and a quill with ink.
“I’ll do it,” Bill said. “You’ll figure out the plan.” He took the paper and quill and began writing.
“I-I’ll also need some money later to pay for the gem,” Alice muttered.
“We’ll all pitch in,” I said, nodding. Others followed my lead.
“T-thank you! Gems ain’t cheap!”
“So, what’s our plan?” Arryn said, looking me, instinctively.
“Wait. Why are you looking at me?” I muttered.
“I don’t know. You’re the one with all the great ideas so far. And Erica said you’re useless for any other stuff. So, talk.”
I sighed, thinking. “We can’t count on help, so we need to get inside. There were only three goblin guards. Taking them out with surprise shouldn’t be a problem. After that comes the difficult part since we have no idea what we are going against.”
“We can’t burn them out either. They might have a lot of hostages inside,” Arryn noted.
“A-and their leader must be either hobgoblin or someone even more intelligent!”
I sighed. “Probably someone more intelligent. They are too organized. I’d assume a human or someone similar.”
“I agree,” Arryn said, nodding.
I released a long sigh. “We have three options,” I said, looking at each of them. Even Bill stopped writing a message for a moment and focused on me.
“We might try to take them out now, get inside and test our luck. But we have no idea what to expect, and what’s going on. Other goblins we saw might return at any moment, and we’ll have them on our back as well. But we’ll have more time,” I explained, looking each other one at the time. “But this means we can’t make more proper tactics and plans.”
“We get back, wait for the sundown, prepare ourselves, think some basic things we could do for any encounter we’ll have. Since whatever they are planning is happening after midnight, I think, it means they will be more prepared or preparing for whatever they are doing, giving us possibly more freedom to look around or save everyone. But that means we’re risking of acting too late.” - I turned to look at Alice - “How well goblins see in the dark?”
“A-a slightly better than us, but not that much either. H-hobgoblins see really well, though,” Alice explained.
I nodded. “That’s good enough. There are few of us, and many of them, so we’ll have an advantage while sneaking around. Of course, that depends what’s their hideout.”
Arryn opened her mouth. “As far as I managed to see before we backed off, it seems like some kind of ruins, not a cave.”
“That’s good,” I said. “That probably gives us room to move around.”
“And the third?” Bill asked.
“W-we can’t do that!” Alice muttered.
“Why not?” Bill asked. “Whatever this is, It’s definitely a lot bigger than us.”
“I-isn’t that your village, Bill? D-don’t you care? P-people are counting on us!”
There was a moment of silence. It was obvious that Bill was thinking whether he should say something or keep his mouth shut. “I don’t care about this village. It’s full of assholes and bullies. And all they do is their secrets. There’s a reason why me and my family left here.”
“Backstory thickens,” I said, smiling.
“Shut up,” Bill muttered. “We don’t have to take the third option. It’s not like I hate them. As an adventurer, I need to be ready to help anyone, even if I don’t like it. But for me, third is also an option.”
“So, let’s vote,” I said. “Arryn.” I looked at her.
“Wait for the night, check the place out then. We can still retreat at any point. Plus, I can see in the dark very well, so I’ll be your eyes.”
“Alice?” I said, gaze moving to her.
“I-I agree with Arryn,” she said, nodding. “W-we can’t run away. W-we’ve run away too many times already. A-at least let’s try to save the prisoners!”
I looked at Bill.
“I think we should go, but it doesn’t matter what I think anymore, right?”
“It does. Now we know what you’re thinking. Plus it’s still an option we might take. I personally agree with Arryn and Alice. So it’s decided. Let’s get back for now. Let’s go back to the gully?”
They all gave me a sharp nod, as we sneaked away
As we had walked for a short time, Bill finally walked to Alice. “I got the letter,” he said, showing a small scroll.
Alice nodded. “Please don’t tell anyone,” she muttered, looking at all of us.
Her hand went into her hair, searching for something. Soon she pulled out a hairpin. Then she began searching something from her backpack, taking out a small green looking gem piece, putting it on top of the hairpin. She put her other hand on top of the hairpin and gem and pushed both of her hands together, almost as there was no longer anything between her hands.
We all had stopped to look at her.
She began pulling her hands away from each other almost as they were glued together and she had a hard time doing that. And as there was a distance, something black was stretching out between both her hands.
Arryn was the first one to gasp. “I have never seen that magic.”
I had heard of that magic as well. It was described in many books, so it was only obvious that this was it.
As her hands were five or so inches away, the blackness - almost like a shadow - began to take shape, turning into a crow. As there was a shape, Alice removed her top hand easily, forehead slightly sweaty.
The black shape looked like a crow, acted like a crow, but there was no voice or visual details besides the shape itself. It was truly impressive.
“Shadow magic,” Arryn said, smiling. “You can cast two types of magic?”
“P-please don’t tell anyone,” Alice said immediately.
“Why not?” Arryn asked. “Just the fact alone that you can cast two magical elements is super rare.”
I coughed, quietly. “Shadow magic is often seen as a curse, bad omen, ill will or just evil. There’s a reason that there’s another more popular name for it - the void magic, or the cursed magic. It’s mostly you elves who call it shadow magic.”
“Isn’t that like super rare?” Bill asked.
“I-it is,” Alice said, nodding, connecting the scroll on black crow’s leg. She moved her mouth near the crow’s ear and whispered something. Like a real crow, it widened its wings and burst into flight towards Kirkwall. “B-but I prefer not to use it, if possible,” she said, finally putting her hairpin back in her hair. “It’s hard magic, and expensive.”
“That’s an interesting catalyst, though,” Bill muttered.
Alice shook her head. “I’d say a lucky one.”
We continued walking, finally reaching the gully. It was the perfect place to hide for now.
As we had put our equipment down, Bill turned towards me. “So, Hiro. Let me teach you how to swing that sword!” he said.
I wasn’t prepared for that. “Sure,” I said, going towards the shield that I had placed down. “I’ll be back. You two should think about tonight. Maybe there are some good ideas you can brainstorm.”
“Sure?” Arryn said, looking at Bill. She took a few steps toward me. “I don’t know you well, but Bill seems to be okay with you. Please look out for him. I’m a bit worried,” she whispered.
I gave her a nod. “It’s really up to him what he tells me.”
She sighed. “You’ll be fine,” she said. After a sharp pat on my shoulder, she turned around and walked back to Alice.
“Bill?” I said, turning around and looking at him.
“Hiro,” Bill responded, a wide smile appearing on his face.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
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