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210. Commune

“I’m Mngrph, the [Shaman] of this little village you’ve stumbled upon. And one of the few Goblins stupid enough to evolve into a [Gremlin] rather than a [Hobgoblin]. How may I help you today?”

I stared at Mngrph. He drew back, still smiling. I blinked.

“Wait, but how are you…?”

I glanced between the Gremlin and the Orc woman. She breathed out, almost grunting. I pointed an accusing finger at her.

“Can you talk too?”

She said nothing. Mngrph laughed.

“Unfortunately, Crkrs isn’t capable of speech. At least, not in the same way I am. Orcs don’t get that evolution choice, not that it really matters. They can communicate without words just fine.”

“But can’t Goblins communicate without words too?”

I cocked my head. Every other Goblin I’d seen interacted with each other without even uttering a single word, and they did so quite effectively. Why was Mngrph any different?

“It is simply a difference between Species. It is the same with Demons, yes? To choose a new Subspecies at each evolution. So, at Level 100, I became a [Gremlin] and gained the [Racial Skill: Advanced Language Comprehension].”

“Huh. I didn’t know other Species had a Skill like that too.”

“It’s nothing as complex and intricate as your very own [Universal Language Comprehension]. But that’s enough about me. Tell me about you: who are you and why are you here in our humble commune?”

Mngrph smiled, and it wasn’t really a kind smile. He looked just like any other Goblin. Short, gray skin, and beady eyes. But for whatever reason, his face was more… Human than not. And I meant that he really looked kind of like a Human— not like a Kobold or an Elf of a Cyclops. The way his lips curled up while his brows remained the same, that was really Human-like.

It was quite obviously a threat and not a threat at the same time. I didn’t want to fight him. I found this commune of monsters quite interesting. So, I just said what I came here for.

“I’m Salvos, and I need your help. I’m searching for a [Lux Golmi]— a specific type of Golem. Or any Golems, really.”

His eyes flickered. There was a subtle flash. Not anything physical, but magical. Did he cast a spell? I frowned, and he nodded.

“I see. I have to say that what you’re looking for is not something too elusive. I know of a Dungeon or two that may hold what you need. However, why should I help you?”

“Because, um… actually, that’s a good question. Why should you help me?”

I tapped my finger on my chin. Mngrph started past me, grabbing a bowl of violet liquid.

“Well, if you have no reason to give me for me to help you, then I shall be on my way.”

I watched him go. Even Crkrs seemed confused. She blinked, and I turned to her.

“Um, what? But didn’t you show me to him to get him to help me?”

The Orc woman made a whimpering sound. She clearly wasn’t aware why the Gremlin turned me down either. I ran past her, heading out of the room. Mngrph stood over a pair of Goblin children, applying the violet liquid on their heads as they quivered and shook under a large leaf.

“Hey, I really need your help. This is for something important!”

“What’s important to you may not be what’s important to me. For me, what’s important is making sure these kids recover soon.”

“What’s wrong with them?”

I narrowed my eyes, and the violet liquid almost seemed to seep into their skin. It was an odd concoction— it didn’t look like anything that would be made from alchemy. It was far too… crude to be proper alchemy.

“It’s nothing too bad. They simply strayed too close to a Cursed Thicket. The effects should wear off with time for the higher-leveled, but for those at such low levels, additional care is needed to keep them from dying.”

The Goblin children tensed and their gray skin grew discolored. They grunted, turning beneath their large leaves in discomfort. I snapped my fingers.

“I know! I can help you gather what you need to help them recover! If I do that, will you help me in return?”

Mngrph drew away from the Goblin children, facing me with a grin.

“That would be a fair trade… if I needed your assistance. As it is right now, I have all the ingredients necessary to continue making this tincture for the next decade.”

“Huh.”

My shoulders sagged as he left the Goblin children alone, even as they made garbled noises. That didn’t work. That always worked when Humans were involved. For whatever reason, they were always in need of help, so they’d offer to help me if I helped them. But things worked differently here in the Rainforest of Monsters.

Mngrph walked off, and I scowled. He really wanted me to convince him somehow to help me. I tapped a finger on my chin, trying to come up with any reason. Then I remembered something I was told before.

“I know— I’ll be your friend if you help me!”

I ran up beside the Gremlin, waving my hands. He gave me a flat stare.

“No.”

“What? Aw.”

Shaking his head, he lowered the bowl of violet liquid onto a makeshift table. He snapped his fingers and the flames in his boiling cauldron went out. The suddenness of it startled Crkrs who was standing in the corner of the room.

“First of all— friends? How very Human of you. I didn’t expect a Demon such as yourself to be interested in making friends.”

“Hey! I’m not just a Demon. I’m Salvos, I told you!”

“That is true. And you lack a summoning collar too. How peculiar.”

He nodded, hefting his cauldron over away from the fireplace.

“Yep, and that’s because… wait.”

I paused. My eyes narrowed.

“How do you know so much about Demons? Didn’t you grow up here in the Rainforest of Monsters or something?”

“First of all, rude.”

Mngrph feigned being upset. I rolled my eyes, and he continued.

“Second of all, not all of us here grew up and lived in this same commune all our lives. Most of us here, like Crkrs there, grew up in different communes. We simply moved into this commune at some point after losing our previous homes. As for me, I grew up in the so-called ‘Human lands’.”

“You did?”

I cocked my head. He nodded.

“Yes. I was… a slave.”

“A slave?”

“Or rather, not even a slave to them. I was a dog in their dog fights. Pitted against other supposed ‘monsters’ far larger and stronger than me in underground gambling matches at Odra. Fighting for the entertainment of Humans.”

The Gremlin placed his cauldron down at the corner of the room, stirring it, casting a spell to let the heat simmer down. I peered over his shoulder, and he waved a spoon in the air. I saw a marking on his forearm— a symbol of a sword in a desert dune. A slave’s mark.

“I managed to break free and kill all my captors before coming here. That’s how I became a [Gremlin]. They thought just because I was a tiny Goblin, I was harmless. That I survived on luck, not wit. When they woke up with their necks being slit, they learned otherwise.”

He scoffed as I stared at him.

“Woah. Good job. I’m glad you escaped though!”

“Thank you.”

He dipped the spoon in the bubbling liquid and paused. He faced me with a wry smile.

“I’m still not going to help you.”

“Aw, come on!”

He drank from his cauldron. Was it soup? It smelled like some foul food that I’d hate, and I wasn’t particularly interested in consuming it. But to my surprise, he didn’t begin divvying it out and giving it to the children Goblins gathered outside. He started eating it all on his own.

“Um, what are you doing?”

“I’m eating.”

“Aren’t you going to share it with… anyone? Your, um, village?”

“Nope.”

He slurped up a spoonful of soup, taking a deep breath after.

“This is all for me. I made it myself, after all. I’m the only [Shaman] here. I’m the only one who can cook. Everyone else will have to make do with their grubs. Why should I give them what I made for myself?”

The Gremlin spat and snorted. I opened my mouth, but cut myself off. I took a moment to massage my temples, trying to understand his logic.

“Wait, so why are you even helping those children?”

“Because they need my help.”

He spoke simply. I blinked.

“But you said that you won’t…”

“I won’t share my food with them because they don’t need it. They have their scraps to live off of. But if I left those children afflicted with their curses alone, they’d die.”

“Huh.”

I stared at him, my confusion was evident on my face. I raised a clawed hand.

“So you should help me! I need your help!”

“No you don’t. You can find your [Lux Golmi] yourself. You don’t need my help. My help will only be of some help to you.”

“But—”

“Nope.”

He spun away from me, greedily scarfing down his soup.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m a little busy eating. If you can give me a good reason to help you, come again later.”

Mngrph spoke with finality in his voice, and I scowled. I drew away from him, huffing.

“Fine!”

I stomped out of the room, pausing right by Crkrs. I glared accusingly at the Orc woman.

“Didn’t you bring me here because he could help me?”

She just backed up, looking at the ground. I groaned.

“Ugh, I can’t even be mad at you.”

Crkrs seemed nice. But Mngrph on the other hand? He was a jerk!

 

—--

 

I left the hut and hopped down from the tree, landing right on top of some spindly roots protruding from the muddied group. I grumbled to myself as I marched on, arms crossed. The monster commune wasn’t exactly crowded— there were a few dozen Orcs and Goblins out and about, working on their crops, and the Trolls were wading through the mud-lake as the rain above died down. And so, my presence drew a lot of eyes.

A few of the Orcs growled as I passed by them, although when I looked their way, they immediately quietened. A few of the Goblins, on the other hand, just charged at me. They screamed incoherent sounds, only to be ushered pulled back by some of the other Goblins or Orcs. One of them, a young Goblin, slipped away and nearly reached me. I narrowed my eyes, but a large gray armor swooped out of the air.

A Troll grabbed the Goblin before she could attack me, holding her up by the arm as she frantically thrashed in the air. I looked up at the Troll, arms crossed, as he settled the Goblin down and pushed her away.

“What do you want?”

[Mountain Troll - Lvl. 95]

He didn’t speak. He didn’t have any words, just like most of the Goblins and the Orcs. But unlike them, he didn’t even have a tongue to make a sound. The Trolls— all of the ones in this commune— lacked a mouth.

The [Mountain Troll] looked at me inquisitively, and I sighed.

“I’m leaving, I’m leaving, alright? That stupid Mngrph won’t help me— not unless I could give him something. What kind of logic is that?”

I walked away from the [Mountain Troll], still glowering. Then I stopped when I heard the splash. He pulled himself out of the water, his body covered in brown liquid, and looming over me at over five times my height. But he wasn’t being intimidating. He just stood right behind me.

“What?”

He cocked his head. I rolled my eyes.

“Mngrph’s logic doesn’t make sense. He’s like…”

I paused as I thought about it. It was just weird! And yet, it wasn’t exactly illogical either. It wasn’t like I didn’t quite get what he was saying, it was just very… different. Different compared to the logic of Humans or Kobolds.

I glanced around the commune, seeing Orcs sit atop tree branches, cleaning the backs of one another, mostly in small groups. Meanwhile, Goblins formed large clumps together. They were also very aggressive, even to each other. And yet, they weren’t doing much. They were just… idly living their days.

Despite their high levels.

I frowned, then I looked over at the [Mountain Troll]. He kneeled over, still silent, still not speaking.

“Look, I know you all have to look out for each other or you’ll die. That’s why you’re all high-leveled, right? In a place as dangerous as this, you can’t afford to be low-leveled. But he could just give me a little bit of help. Why did he have to be so stingy? When people ask for my help, I—”

The longer I thought about it, I realized what Mngrph said was honestly not that bad. It did make sense. It almost reminded me of… myself.

I turned to the [Mountain Troll] with a glare.

“He’s nothing like me, ok? He’s mean and selfish! At least I have friends and companions! No, you’re not his companion. You’re just his… colleague? Fellow students? Something like that! He doesn’t like you guys!”

The [Mountain Troll] took a step back, suddenly wary. The other Trolls behind him, still in the water, paused. They dropped everything they had gathered onto their arms back into the water, facing me with apprehension. I shrunk back apologetically.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t actually mean to get mad at you. You’re just curious about me, right? Of course you are. Everything in this rainforest is so aggressive! They’re always attacking me wherever I fly! And me? I’m nice. Unlike that dumb Gremlin.”

He pointed at my back, and I blinked.

“Do you want to see my wings?”

He immediately grew nervous. I wrinkled my brows.

“Oh, so you don’t want me to use my wings? But why? Is it because it’s dangerous?”

The [Mountain Troll] grew tense for a moment. I nodded, still slightly perplexed.

“Huh. I wonder why that is? Although, I did find myself getting into a lot more fights when flying than I was walking.”

I placed a hand on my chin, in thought. Then I looked up as the [Mountain Troll] straightened, moving almost without a sound, which was quite odd for a giant such as him. He stopped, facing me again.

“It’s because I attract too much attention from flying?”

His gaze simply bore into me. I found myself sighing.

“Well, that’d be even more difficult for me to find some Golems then!”

The [Mountain Troll]’s gaze turned up. He was looking at a hut— the one I had just exited.

“Mngrph? You want me to turn to him for help? I just tried! He’s mean! He won’t help me!”

I grumbled, and the [Mountain Troll] stared down at me. I blinked, pointing at myself. He just continued looking at me. I pursed my lips.

“I should still try to convince him, shouldn’t I? After all, searching the Rainforest of Monsters for a single type of monster is… it’s going to be nearly impossible, isn’t it?”

The [Mountain Troll] didn’t break away.

“I knew that even before I came here! That’s why I kept asking around! But Humans are mean too!”

He looked back towards the same hut as before.

“Mngrph isn’t mean? He seems kind of mean to me. But—”

I drew my lips into a thin line.

“Maybe some people think I’m mean too. And Mngrph is nice to you guys. So, I just have to give him a proper reason. Offer him some kind of a trade. That sounds… troublesome.”

A garbled cry drew my attention. A Goblin charged at me, but the [Mountain Troll] moved to stop it. He looked slightly annoyed at the Goblin, and yet he acted. When he returned, he met my gaze.

“Y-yes it’s necessary! It’s going to be annoying. But…”

He stared at me, and I closed my eyes.

“It’s necessary. I’ll do it, alright? Now stop giving me that look!”

I pointed accusingly at the [Mountain Troll]. He finally looked away. Then I smiled.

“Thank you, though. For your help.”

The [Mountain Troll] straightened once more, looking slightly pleased with himself. I called out to him before he could returned to the mud-lake.

“What’s your name, by the way? I’m Salvos!”

He stared at me again. I paused.

“Oh, right.”

“That was a joke.”

He didn’t believe me.

 

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