After an uneventful night, Blacknail was woken up early the next morning and sent out to check the rabbit snares. He had done it plenty of times now and was no longer afraid of going out into the woods alone. His fear and been replaced by familiarity, at least as long as he was only making the short trip to the snares and back.
Blacknail yawned as he wandered through the bushes at the edge of the forest. His memories of his old life in the sewers had begun to fade. As dangerous as it was here, the camp had become his new home.
It wasn’t like there was any possible way to get back there anyway. The sewers were many days away through the forest, and that wasn’t a journey he ever planned on making.
His new life did have perks. For one thing, the forest smelled much better than the sewers.
He missed being around other goblins sometimes, especially the females, but in the sewers he’d mostly just fought the other goblins anyway. They’d fought over hierarchy, food, shiny things, mates, and of course just because they’d been bored.
Besides, even though humans were so big and scary they sometimes gave him treats and praised him. No goblin had ever given Blacknail tasty things, unless he’d beaten them up first.
The morning sun was shining sedately through the loose roof of leaves above him. It was a warm clear day without a single cloud visible in the sky. The morning birds sang joyfully in the trees either ignoring or ignorant of the goblin strolling along beneath them.
Blacknail stopped for a second to listen to the bird song and scan the grass and tall plants around him. As he stood motionless his green skin and hide clothes blended into the surrounding, camouflaging him.
After listening attentively for a while, Blacknail heard and saw nothing unusual so he continued his stroll. There didn’t seem to be anything dangerous around.
He moved casually but kept an eye and ear open for anything out of place. If there was one lesson Saeter made sure he never forgot it was that no one was ever truly safe out in the forest. He would hate to let his master down by dying some horrific death.
The wary little goblin soon reached the snares, but just as he was about to get to work he heard an unexpected noise. What was that? Blacknail twitched in surprise and spun around. Was it a terrible monster about to leap out and eat him?
It probably wasn’t; the grass under one of the triggered snares was just rustling. The goblin didn’t think anything really dangerous could hide in so small a patch of grass. It was probably a bird or something.
Blacknail narrowed his eyes and quietly drew his sling anyway. Something might be trying to steal his rabbit! He couldn't see what was making the noise from his position so he circled around a tree to get a better angle.
As Blacknail watched, something started to try and climb the sapling a rabbit hung from. The goblin’s eyes widened as he looked on in surprise. He had no idea what the freakish thing was.
How could it even move? It was just a blob of liquidy stuff! It was like a see though pile of snot with a bunch of weird shapes floating in it. Yet, it was moving and actually managing to slowly work its way up the sapling. It looked really wrong, like water flowing uphill but uglier.
Blacknail hit it with a stone from his sling just on general principles. The blob of slime quivered and froze for a second before falling to the ground with a weird muted splashing noise.
Had he killed it? He hoped so. Well, apparently he hadn’t because as the goblin watched it reformed itself into a round blob and started oozing towards him with surprising speed.
Uh oh, it was headed his way! How could such a weird thing move? He hit it with another stone in the hopes that would stop it.
The slime quivered on impact and the stone sank into the blob but a second later it popped out again with wet slurping noise and fell to the ground. It also kept closing the distance between them so Blacknail swiftly took a nervous step back.
He didn't know how dangerous the freaky booger ball was. He was pretty sure Saeter had never mentioned anything like it to him, or at least not when he’d been paying attention.
Blacknail circled around his mysterious opponent warily. Every once and a while it would put on a burst of speed and ooze towards him over the forest floor but the goblin deftly dodged it every time.
Ha, he was faster than the stupid thing! Now, he just had to find a way to hurt it before it found a way to hurt him.
Suddenly, the blob burst towards him again and he moved to dodge. Or at least he tried.
As he went to jump away something tugged on his neck sharply and choked him. His inconvenient momentum caused his feet to fly out from under him and he landed hard on his tailbone. Ow, his poor ass!
He then watched in wide eyed horror as the large blob of slime descended on him. With a wet smack it crossed the ground and enveloped his arm.
“Eeek, off off,” Blacknail yelled as he flailed and tried to get free but the transparent blob was stuck fast.
The terrified goblin tried to climb to his feet but the slime had a grip on his arm and wouldn't let go, no matter how hard he pulled. He yelped in fear as the thing began to climb up his arm towards his head.
This was not good! Desperately, Blacknail tried to claw at it with his free hand but it just reformed around the cuts. No, that wasn't fair! He began kicking at it with his feet but stopped when one foot sunk into the thing and became stuck as well.
Not his best plan ever... At least it seemed to confuse the thing because it stopped climbing his arm, for the moment anyway.
Blacknail whimpered and frantically tried to think. He wasn't just any stupid goblin. He was Blacknail! What would Saeter or another human do? Come on think! A human would... use a tool. Blacknail felt a flash of hope. That's right, he had a tool.
The goblin reached with his free hand and drew the knife Saeter had given him. Desperately, he stabbed the slime several time but it still didn't do any permanent damage. The ooze just flowed back after he cut it.
What next? He looked his opponent over as the slime begun sucking him in again, this time by both his caught limbs. With a chill, Blacknail realized he was going to die unless he thought of something.
Think! Maybe he should attack the weird things floating in the slime. Frantically, he tried to stab the ones closest to him but they were too deep and the knife couldn't reach them.
To his horror he felt the wet edge of the slime begun to climb his neck. He shivered with dread as he squirmed trapped upon the ground by the slime's weight and sticky hold.
He had a sudden idea, but it was desperate and stupid. He didn't want to do it but he was running out of time. He was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to breathe whatever this thing was made of. The very thought of the slime encasing his head and flowing down his nose and mouth was horrible.
Taking a deep breath Blacknail steeled his resolve and pulled back his arm back. He then stabbed the thing as hard as he could. His arm sank deep into the slime and was caught. He wouldn't be able to get it out or attack the slime again and now he only had a single foot left, which didn't do him a lot of good.
However, much to his relief he saw that the blade of the knife in his hand had managed to reach its target. The blackish sac like thing floating in the slime was impaled on the knife and dark fluid begun to spill out and mix with the transparent slime. Blacknail watched wide eyed and desperately hoped that he had actually done something and that he wouldn't soon be eaten alive.
The blob rippled with small waves then convulsed crazily. To his horror Blacknail was sucked further in and his face was enveloped. Then just as suddenly the goblin was spat out in a splash of slime. He gasped for breath and sucked down air joyously. He was free, and not dead!
As the black liquid spread throughout the rest of the blob it started to dissolve. Blacknail lay on the ground covered in icky weird smelling ooze and watched as the creature expired with a loud gurgling noise. Eventually, only a smelly stain and several weird twisted organs remained.
Blacknail picked himself off the ground and tried to wipe the slime off his skin and clothes. He grinned in excitement. Wow, was he ever glad to be alive. That had been extremely close!
After the goblin gave up cleaning himself off, he turned to look at the remains of the creature. It was mostly just smelly gunk, which he had more than enough of, but he spotted something shiny in among the remains. It was a small crystal!
Blacknail stashed the crystal in one of his pouches and headed back to camp. A few minutes later he remembered he was supposed to be checking the snares and swiftly turned around again.
He collected the rabbit carcasses and hurried back to Saeter. He was already very late. His master would be wondering where he’d gone. He scurried down the path as fast as he could and still maintain a bit of stealth and awareness.
He made it close to the camp without any more trouble. Although he startled one of the bandit scouts as he ran past him on the trail. The man gave him a very surprised look as he passed. Blacknail ignored him and hurried home.
He exited the forest and immediately headed through the camp towards Saeter's tent. He really wanted to brag about his victory!
Several people gave him odd glances as he passed because he was still covered in quite a bit of slime. It dribbled down his as he ran. They didn’t stop him however and he soon arrived at the tent.
Luckily for him, Saeter was seated out front on a stump oiling some of his tools. As Blacknail ran over and threw the rabbit carcasses unceremoniously on the ground Saeter looked up. He examined the goblin with an exasperated expression.
“In the name of all that is holy what have you been up to now?” he asked with troubled tone.
Blacknail was excited to show off so he reached down and pulled the orb from the pouch at his belt and shoved it into Saeter's face.
“I take from bad puddle,” he exclaimed with pride.
Saeter leaned back away from the orb that had been shoved in his face and eyed it carefully. A very confused look came over his features.
“A bad puddle?” he repeated without understanding.
The old scout gave Blacknail a questioning look and took the crystal from him. He rotated in his hands as he examined it.
“Slimy smelly thing,” Blacknail explained excitedly.
He wanted his master to realize how great a hunter and fighter he was.
“Slimy... a slime? You fought a slime, and this is its crystal,” Saeter said with surprise as his brow tightened with concern.
“Where exactly did you fight the slime,” he asked in a serious tone.
Blacknail was more than happy to answer.
“At rabbit traps. Tried to steal but I stop. It grab but I stab good,” Blacknail answered as his backs straightened with pride.
While the goblin talked his master started to look vaguely impressed, this caused Blacknail to grow even happier with himself. Truly, he was great and mighty goblin.
“You beat a slime yourself eh? Must have been a small dud, but good work,” Saeter replied as he stood up.
“Not small, huge. Bigger than me,” Blacknail exaggerated as he extended his arms to show how big it had been.
He still wanted more praise but Saeter just gave him an amused but doubtful look before examining the crystal again.
“What's that?” Blacknail asked his master.
“It's the slime's crystal. They all have one. Slimes only grow in crystal caves. Let's hope there isn't one nearby. They're very dangerous, the only place more dangerous than the forest in the Iron Teeth,” he explained.
“Badder than spiders?” Blacknail asked doubtfully.
“Yes,” Seater replied with a grumble of irritation. “I'm going to have to inform Herad.”
With a command to Blacknail to follow, Saeter marched off towards the old farmhouse that Herad had taken over as her command post. Blacknail usually avoided it because Herad was a scary lady.
The thatch on the roof had been replaced and the door had been reattached. The repairs were crude looking but serviceable. Of course the crudest thing about it was the pair of thugs standing guard out front.
They were two big ugly human brutes who really seemed to be not so much standing guard as hanging out there with bored expressions on their face because they had nowhere better to be. As Saeter approached he addressed one of them.
“Is Herad in?” he asked gruffly.
“Ya, she's in there,” the guard answered him casually.
Neither guard bothered to block them as they approached.
“I'd like to talk to her,” Saeter told them.
The two guards looked at each other and with a sigh the further one turned to the door of the house and knocked.
“Boss, Saeter's here to see you,” he announced to the closed door.
After a minute he stepped out of the way and the door opened to reveal Herad glaring down at them.
She wore her usual leather but her cloak and most her knives were missing. Candlelight flickered behind her illuminating the interior of the dark house. At his master's side Blacknail instinctively slouched down to make himself less noticeable.
“Normally I'd ask if this was important but since it's you Saeter I know you wouldn't show your face without a good reason,” she commented irritably as she stepped out to talk with him.
Saeter watched her as she descended the short steps in front of the door. She met his eyes and gave him an amused smile.
“My goblin Blacknail was out checking the snares this morning,” he told her with a gesture in the goblin’s direction.
“Fascinating, but as much as I love hearing a man brag about his pet please get to the point,” she replied with a roll of her eyes.
“When he came back he was covered in slime and had a crystal core. He told me he fought a small slime that was trying to get at the snares. I thought you would want to know,” Saeter told her. Blacknail huffed in displeasure. It had been a giant monster slime, not a small one! Saeter hadn't even seen it.
Herad frowned and scowled in annoyance when Saeter had finished speaking. However Saeter was clearly not the target of her displeasure.
“You think it's a sign there might be a crystal cave around?” she asked him.
“Yes, there has to be one around somewhere. The question is how close. The slime could have wandered a fair distance. It probably did since we haven't already seen more crystal beasts or mutants,” Saeter told her.
“So then you don't think we have a problem?” she enquired. Saeter shook his head in response and brandished the crystal core he had gotten from Blacknail.
“We could just have gotten lucky. The cave could also be mostly sealed so only things like slimes can slip through. Larger slimes can be very dangerous though. Some even have active cores and magical abilities like mutants. Those can rival Drakes in strength,” he explained as Herad gave him a frustrated look.
“This is obviously your area of expertise, Saeter. Why don't you just explain what you want done so I can approve it?” she asked him with an annoyed tone.
“It's too dangerous to ignore. Tomorrow I'd like to send all the scouts to search the perimeter. Then I'd like for as many men as possible to go after them once it's safer and do a more thorough search. A small crevice will be hard to find but easy enough to seal,” he told her.
“Well, at least you don't want to abandon the camp,” Herad mused aloud as she took a second to think his request over.
“Very well it's not like most the men are doing anything more than lazing around. This will just help keep them out of trouble. I'll inform them tonight,” she added and Saeter nodded in acceptance.
“Then I'll take my leave,” the old scout told her.
Herad just eyed him as she leisurely drew a dagger and lightly pressed her finger against the tip as if testing the sharpness. She continued stroking it for a few seconds before replying.
“What if it's more than a crevice? New types of mana crystals are worth a fortune to the mage guilds, enough to set someone up for life,” she commented dryly.
“Dangerous, you could stir up a monster capable of killing half the band. Maybe even something on the level of the City Killer and then Riverdown would join Coroulis in ruin,” he answered with concern.
Herad gave him a doubtful look.
“To the first I can always get more men, and as for the second it's not only horribly unlikely but also simply not my problem,” she answered him.
“It is if the beast kills us all first, which is pretty damn likely. You also need somewhere to trade your stolen goods,” he replied.
“We can move,” Herad said as she shrugged in response. “Besides, you're the one who is constantly reminding everyone that no one is ever safe out here. A mutant could attack us at any time and it wouldn't be a surprise to either of us. This is the Iron Teeth and we're bloody bandits. Every day we survive is a lucky one. A large payoff is worth a large risk.”
“As you wish,” Saeter replied with a sigh. “I guess we'll see what we find tomorrow.”
“Indeed we will, and if we find the cave I will be one making the call. You can go now,” she told him dismissively in a cold commanding tone.
Saeter simply nodded and quickly withdrew. Blacknail followed his master and thought over what he had just heard. It sounded like tomorrow would be exciting.