The mouth of the cave sat about fifty feet from the edge of the forest, which gave way to large boulders and rocky, uneven ground. Jack positioned himself behind a tree near the edge of the clearing and waited for a few minutes, not seeing any signs of life. Even though it was near midday, visibility waned a few feet into the dark cavern. Changing to Darkvision mode nearly blinded him,. After releasing Darkvision and getting his weapons ready, he crept toward the cave in a circuitous route, taking advantage of the cover of the forest as long as possible. He ended up a couple hundred feet away from the cave, but next to the same cliff face. Using the natural contours of the rock face as cover, he stealthily advanced until he stood near the entrance, crouched down behind a boulder that reached nearly to his waist. Notification icons were blinking in his vision, but for once he let them be. He would review after he found the pearl.
Gently unsheathing his weapons, he crept closer. Upon further inspection, the entrance was much larger than he originally thought; maybe fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide. He waited next to the entrance for a few more minutes, listening for any signs of activity, but heard nothing. Hmm, maybe Improved Hearing would have been helpful in this situation? With a shake of his head, he walked quietly through the cave’s threshold, making himself as small as possible against the sunlit sky behind him. He knew he’d be easily visible to anyone inside the cave but didn’t have the patience to wait until it was dark.
Jack needed to move about ten feet inside to successfully activate Darkvision. What he saw when he did, horrified him. Farther into the cave, the floors, walls, and ceilings were coated with what he assumed was blood, which looked like liquid mercury in his Darkvision. Child-sized body parts were strewn about. A child—no, what appeared to be a halfling, or some form of hobbit—lay on the rocky ground, beaten and bloody in the middle of the room. He was hog-tied, with eyes that frantically darted around the room until they locked onto Jack. He seemed to be trying to scream something at him, although only a tired whimper escaped his lips.
Quest Offered: “Halfling Rescue.” Rescue the halfling from his goblin captors before it is too late. Reward: 100 experience. Accept? Yes or No.
Immediately accepting the quest, Jack darted in, moving to cut the rope and free him. That’s when he felt a sudden, burning, pain run up his side as a creature he hadn’t seen—Did I just roll a one for Perception? —materialized out of a nook. Its shortsword dripped with Jack’s blood. The creature stood less than four feet tall and featured grey-greenish skin, short-cropped brown hair, flat nose, pointed ears, and wickedly sharp jagged teeth. It looked like every picture he had ever seen of a goblin. It stood there before him, licking Jack’s blood off its shortsword with a malevolent smirk.
Jack brought his sword and dagger up and engaged the sadistic creature. He wasn’t sure about his injury but couldn’t spare time for that now. He yearned to stab that demented grin off the goblin’s ugly face and thrust his bronze shortsword toward its filthy, bloodstained maw while his dagger went low toward the creature’s groin. The creature pulled its head back slightly and used its own shortsword to push Jack’s attack out wide, his sword tip just grazing its asymmetrical nose. However, that allowed his dagger to sink deep into the goblin’s nether region. The goblin’s mirth faded quickly as it began to howl in pain, falling with Jack’s dagger still lodged in the vicinity of its goblinoid manhood.
“I think I got your twig and berries,” Jack growled, taking a step forward to finish off the monstrous creature. That’s when he felt another surprise, this time from behind. Something crashed into his head, dropping him to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
Jack woke up hours later, head throbbing, to someone gently shaking him awake. “Not now, Grandpa, just let me sleep for a few more minutes. Chores can wait,” he mumbled groggily, trying to turn away from his grandpa and on to his side. That’s when he realized his hands were bound behind his back and his feet were bound as well, making any movement painful. He wondered briefly why he was still alive, but not looking a gift horse in the mouth, didn’t dwell on it too long. He wasn’t sure how Earth would fare if their one and only savior died, but he assumed it would be game over or at least no bueno. Forcing his eyes open, he realized he was still in the cave, lying on the cold, unforgiving ground. Next to him stood a person no more than three feet in height, light sandy hair stained dark with dirt and ash. He had a painful-looking collection of bruises covering much of his exposed skin, a number of small cuts, and one of his eyes was swollen shut. Jack spat out a few arcane syllables and cast Analyze on the small creature.
Name: Liam. Race: Halfling. Level 2 Scholar. Hit Points: 3/15. Spell Points: 0/0.
It was odd that Jack could only focus on the fact that this halfling obtained the scholar class and not one of the base classes that he himself was limited to. Not the time to be petty, Jack! He also noticed the small man’s current health and reviewed his own. His health regeneration had been busy while he was knocked out; he had twelve of his fifteen remaining. He also had a number of notifications waiting for him but decided to save them for later. Staring into space with a glazed-over expression for the next hour while he read through them wouldn’t endear himself with the halfling. He scanned the rest of the cave, noticing a large goblin sitting some twenty feet away by the fire eating something. Large was a relative term; he still looked to have the height of a ten-year-old boy, except baby fat was replaced with wiry muscle and stink. Well - boys that age tended to stink, but this was…something worse. Day old rotting meat left out in the sun worse.He turned his attention back to the halfling.
“Hello,” he started in a quiet, calm voice, carefully gauging the reaction of the jittery halfling. “My name is Jack. What is your name?” he asked, already knowing the answer but trying to get conversation rolling.
The halfling stared at him with his one good eye before answering in a foreign tongue which Jack had never heard before. Great, we don’t speak the same language, just like Lily kept telling me before she broke up with me.
Jack tried again. “Me, Jack,” he said pointing at his chest. “You? Come on man, give me something to work with.”
Jack was surprised when the halfling replied in English. “My name is Liam,” he whispered softly, eyes darting to the form of the large goblin.
“You know English?” Jack guffawed.
“My level two scholar perk allows me to learn languages after hearing a few words. If you talk slowly, I can understand.” Amazingly, his English was perfect! It felt so good to have someone else to talk to.
“How did you get caught? And why are we still alive?” Jack questioned his new companion.
“Well,” Liam started, “It’s a bit of a long story, but these foul creatures managed to jump me and my family in the middle of the night. My kids were too young to be used as labor for the mines, so they were killed outright.” He said this with a mix of profound sadness and righteous fury. “They brought my wife and me to the ore mines deep below this mountain and forced us to mine for them. Working us to death, they were! I had given up hope, but one morning my shackles worked their way loose while I was swinging the pickaxe. Goblin’s aren’t known for maintaining gear properly you see,” he stated in a nasally voice, absently making the struggle to free himself even though his bonds were expertly tied. Realizing not for the first time he wasn’t going anywhere, he moved on. “I worked it loose over the next couple of days, hatching a plan where I escaped and came back for my wife and the other halflings with a halfling army at my back. I waited for the moment when the probability of my escape was at its highest. I didn’t have to wait long.
“The day after I had worked the shackles loose, the overseer and his guard detail decided to take an extended lunch break, taking their turns on one of the female captives. As disgusting as that was, I used the distraction to fully remove the shackles and make my way from the camp. I was probably a good four hours away when that nasty one over there finally tracked me down. He . . . was not kind,” Liam finished solemnly, rubbing his backside gently.
Throwing up just a little in his mouth, Jack took a moment to consider the halfling’s words. Apparently, this cave was the entrance to a larger underground system, including a mine of some sort. Jack wasn’t sure how that could be; it looked like the cave ended about thirty feet away. Turning back to Liam he asked, “You seem like the intelligent type. Got another plan to escape from our odiferous overlord? My hands and feet are tied, but if you could free me, I think I could take him one-on-one if I could get my daggers back.” He still had his armor on but noticed that the goblin had taken his daggers and was now using one to clean the grime from under his fingernails. Sure, that will make up for the almost-visible stink-lines, buddy!
“I haven’t had any luck with the knots on my rope, but maybe I can untie yours if you can roll on your side,” he said softly, still looking at the goblin.
With a tremendous amount of effort that left sweat and more than a few tears rolling down his face, Jack managed to flip onto his side. It was times like these he was happy his friends weren’t here to see him. Liam scooted closer and slowly got to work.
“The goblin must have a skill in rope-tying or is really into BDSM because these knots are tricky. But don’t worry, they will give up their secrets to me!” he cried hoarsely, forgetting himself momentarily. The goblin guard turned toward them, thinking he heard something, but only saw two prisoners huddled together for warmth in the classic spoon position.
Jack really didn’t want to know that BDSM was a thing in Rigara, but the mental image of the halfling bound and gagged wasn’t as easily put out of his mind as one would think, given the severity of their situation. After a bit, the halfling’s tiny hands started to make tangible progress. He could feel the blood starting to flow freely back to his hands! Just a little more, snuggle-buddy! And suddenly his hands were free of their bonds. Payback time!