Jack hiked for nearly eight hours before he once again reached the edge of the clearing facing the cave, his thoughts centered around Liam and hoping he was still alive. He disliked hiking already, and nude hiking was up there with being staked to an anthill covered in maple syrup. There was a lot of jostling and he was on constant watch for thorns, briars, twigs, or anything else that could neuter him. His luck continued and he avoided further encounters along the way. With his debuffs expired, he was nearly back to full power, with full power being an out of shape level two Rogue man-child. He now knew how John McClane felt in Die Hard; his feet were a bloody mess after walking through trails of sharp rocks and hard, poky sticks.

He sat down in the clearing with his back to a large tree and began applying some of the healing moss he’d found along the way to the bottoms of his feet. The results were immediate as the healing and pain relief properties of the moss closed the numerous cuts and gashes, leaving only a few scabs. Aloe vera has nothing on this stuff.

On the hike back to the cave, he had found two solid oak branches that he planned to use as rough fighting batons, which, given the poor quality of his shortsword and dagger, might not be that much of a downgrade. While he had never trained in fighting with baton-type weapons, he had played baseball in school and hoped some of that knowledge would overlap.

Naked, cold, tired, hungry, and sore from all the hiking, the last thing he wanted to do was go and fight more goblins. But there was a chance that the halfling had survived, and with some luck he could save him. Besides, he needed his weapons, armor, and other equipment. No way would he let those d-bag goblins keep his adventuring backpack! However, he would go into this battle without a survival token; this death would be final. But if he couldn’t manage to cull a goblin or two, both worlds were doomed.

Standing up, he surveyed his surroundings. It was nighttime, with the only light provided by the above; a red pale light reflected off one moon, while its twin provided a more traditional silvery light. The twin moons served to remind Jack that he was on an alien world with a new set of rules. It was easy to slip into the mindset that he was still in the woods of Wisconsin. However much it made him long for his home, it was plenty to see by when using Darkvision.

He began creeping closer, using the same route as before until he stopped within a few feet of the cavern entrance. Breathing slowly for a few heartbeats, he listened intently for any signs of movement from within. After a minute of hearing nothing and again cursing himself for not taking Improved Senses, he slowly made his way into the cavern, clinging to the cave wall, using shadows from every nook and cranny—compliments of the pale moons outside—as cover.

Moving with agonizing slowness, he crept closer to where the halfling had been bound and gagged, pausing to look for goblins or other hidden creatures. Up ahead, he saw the outline of Dingesklys, the goblin from earlier, sitting with its back to the cavern wall. It wore Jack’s armor, although it was multiple sizes too big for it, and it reminded him of a child wearing his parent’s clothes because “he was a big kid now!” The goblin held on to a thigh bone, using its sharp teeth to dig for the marrow within. Jack didn’t see any signs of Liam and started to guess at where the thigh bone had come from.

A red notification appeared in his vision.

Quest Alert: “Halfling Rescue.” You failed to rescue the halfling, Liam, from his captors. Note: Quest failures may have dire consequences. Each failed quest increases your chance to receive negative conditions. These include and are not limited to the loss of experience, stats, perks, and reputation.

Alexa chimed in, much too pleasantly for Jack’s taste. “Congratulations, Jack. You successfully mitigated the negative aspect of this quest failure. Avoidance of quest penalties is calculated based on quest difficulty, character level, the luck attribute, and other situational modifiers.”

Jack, who was typically slow to anger, now boiled over in rage. He couldn’t care less about penalties this system did or did not give to him for failing his quest. He had been too slow, and Liam died because of it. This goblin needed to be put down like the rabid dog it was. Unlike when he’d watched Old Yeller, there would be no tears.

He cautiously moved closer to the Dingesklys, who remained fixated on eking out every drop of marrow in the gnawed bone. Jack was nearly in melee range when he stepped awkwardly on a bone, making a loud cracking sound.

“Well, shit,” he sighed, launching himself at the goblin. The goblin, alerted by the noise, jumped up and brought the thigh bone around in a vicious swing at Jack’s head. Jack used the oak stick in his left hand to block the bone, the impact sending vibrations through his arm and into his shoulder, causing him to nearly drop his stick. He swung the stick in his right hand and heard a satisfying thwack as it impacted the goblin’s unprotected head.

The goblin staggered and fell down to the ground, dazed. Jack didn’t hesitate, stepping over the goblin and delivering strike after strike, venting his anger and frustration out on this evil creature. “How could you!” he screamed, tears rolling down his face, the goblin a blurry mess beneath him. A strong tingling sensation in the frontal lobe area of his brain startled him out of his berserker rage and he immediately dropped down to the ground. He felt, more than heard, a weapon pass above him, cutting a few hairs off his head.

Rolling quickly to the side, he nearly avoided a second dagger strike from a new goblin, but he wasn’t quick enough. Happy that he had someone else to fight, he welcomed the pain as a rusty, tetanus-delivering dagger opened a long shallow gash on his right arm. He kicked up at the goblin with both feet, catching the small creature under the ribs, sending it flying, and buying him enough time to stand up and ready his weapons.

“Let’s dance, pretty boy,” Jack muttered angrily, cracking his neck to the left and right. The orange-haired goblin was happy to oblige and rushed back in, his dagger leading the charge. Jack batted the dagger aside with one of his sticks, the other swinging for the goblin’s head. The goblin deftly leaned its head back, and the oaken branch whistled past.

Strike One. He pulled both of his sticks back defensively. The goblin pushed forward again, feinting high with his dagger before plunging it toward Jack’s very visible pendulating manhood. He fell for the feint, sending one stick high to block where he thought the dagger would be, while his other stick landed a solid blow on the goblin’s offhand shoulder. He heard the goblin’s bone snap as Jack turned his hips at the last second so the dagger would plunge into his right hip instead of his bait and tackle. He spared a glance at his hit point total and saw he was down to twelve.

With a roar, he lined up the goblin like the world’s biggest baseball, sidestepping and swinging with both weapons. Instinctively summoning his baseball knowledge, he transferred weight from one leg to the other and connected solidly with the goblin, sending it flying. “Home run!” Jack yelled, arm extended and already forming a fist bump whenticking out of his stomach. The goblin didn’t seem to be moving from where it had crashed, so he put his hand around the dagger, trying to staunch the bleeding, and moved toward his adventurer’s backpack, which lay beside the first goblin. Fumbling with the opening, he retrieved the healing moss and began applying it to his stomach wound while he removed the dagger. Letting out a loud scream of pain, he blessedly passed out.


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