Updated: May 20, 2019
I swallowed, taking a step back at the sight of the imposing figure. “Is this a Lord or a Chief?” I hissed at the shield.
“A Chief, but a strong one. Be careful,” it whispered.
“Blood, blood, blood,” murmured the sword.
“Stop talkin’ to yer stupid shield and tell me yer name so’s I can get to cuttin’ you up!” roared the Chief. My eyes widened in surprise—I didn’t expect a Goblin to follow the etiquette of a duel. “I’m Henry, Living Weapon of the Empire. Who are you?”
The Goblin grinned, his mouth filled to the brim with interlocking razors, their steel glinting in the light. “Name’s Gitlog, Chief o’ the Gutterclan.” He raised his massive sword in salute. Again, I was shocked at the display of courtesy. I raised the sword to meet his salute.
“What is this,” asked the sword, “a dick measuring contest? Just start cutting each other to bits!” “Fine wit me!” roared Gitlog.
The Goblin charged forward, his seven-foot-long heavy sword held out before him in a classic rapier stance. I had to scramble to raise my shield, deflecting a powerful thrust. The shield screamed in pain. I cursed, flicking my sword to bat the Goblin’s heavy weapon away.
To my surprise, the Goblin Chief lept back, causing me to stumble slightly from the over-extension. The Goblin grinned and surged forward, thrusting his titanic weapon with a speed which would impress even a fencing master. Hit after heavy hit rang out in tandem with screams of pain as the shield blocked each and every one of them. Finally, I turned his blade to the side, causing it to cleave into the stone floor. I jumped back, using the time to breath. The Goblin effortlessly pulled the sword from the stone. “Gitlog gonna be King one day! Dis proves it!” he proclaimed. I laughed, once more surprised by the Chief. “Was that a reference to King Pendrag?” I asked.
The Goblin grinned his bladed smile. “Wut you think little runt? Gitlog know his classics.”
Gitlog twirled his massive sword above his head, then leveled it back towards me. I positioned my sword at my side, pointed towards the rocky floor. With my off hand I beckoned to the Goblin, inviting him to charge. Gitlog wasted no time in accepting my invitation, charging forward in a mad rush. As he approached, I cleaved the sword into the rocky floor, sending a spray of rock and dirt towards the Goblin’s eyes; his charge changed rapidly into a fall. The bulky Chief smashed into the ground, sliding across the cave floor.
“What in the Hells, Henry!?” exclaimed the sword, “I’m not a fucking pickaxe! Bury me in flesh, not rock.”
“As you wish!” I cried, leaping forward. I reversed my grip on the blade hammering it down towards the back of my now-prone enemy. To my surprise, a barrier flashed to life, stopping the sword in its tracks. The Chief pushed himself up, spinning like a top on the ground, coming to his feet deftly. I jumped back, lifting the shield in front of me, preparing to defend another attack.
The Goblin blurred and was gone.
I stood there, gob smacked. “Is the fight over? Did he-“
I was interrupted by the shield nearly pulling my shoulder out of its socket. “Watch out, Henry!” it called. Pain erupted in my arm as the massive blade smashed against the face of the shield. I managed to twist my body and cleave the sword towards the Chief. Just as I saw the barrier flicker once more into life, I activated ‘Sunder’; the barrier exploded into a shockwave of energy, sending both of us flying. I felt my body smash through a stalagmite, the air immediately driven from my lungs. Gitlog smashed through a group of Goblins who had decided to try and sneak away from the fight.
I rose slowly, spitting out dirt and blood. I saw Gitlog rising from the group of crushed Goblins. Hefting his sword, he walked slowly forward, pain evident on his face. The Goblin once more raised his blade towards me, but just as I was readying to meet him again, he did something truly unexpected—he buried his sword a few inches into the stone floor, and nodded his head towards me.
“I don think I gonna beat ya Henry. You pretty strong for a humie. How bout we do this later? I’ll get more stronger and come kill yous.”
I coughed, hiding the wince of pain I felt from showing on my face. “Sounds fine to me.” I wasn’t particularly eager to continue the fight in my current condition.
Gitlog flashed a steely smile. “Fair ‘nough. Good fight then.” He lifted his sword from the ground and walked away on slightly unsteady legs.
“What a strange Goblin,” I said, somewhat bewildered and decidedly grateful.
“Henry…” wheezed the shield. “I…I need…”
The shield went silent. I frantically unequipped it, my blood running cold at what I saw—a gaping slash ran down the face of the shield. I could see silvery light bleeding out from the wound.
“New plan, guys,” I said., “We need to find a Hob smith as soon as possible.”
I ran after Gitlog, knowing that he was my only chance. I found the hulking Goblin a few hundred feet off. He turned his head to regard me. “Wut you want?”
I bowed to him. “I need a favor. You seem like an honorable Goblin.”
“Why I help you? I gonna kill you one day,” he asked, puzzled.
“If I don’t get your help, I won't be worth fighting. You want to be King one day, right? How can you do that without a worthy enemy?”
The Goblin looked contemplative. “Wut you need?” he asked, guardedly.
“I need to find a Hobgoblin smith. My gear has been damaged in the fighting.”
Gitlog’s face split in a shining smile. “That all? Yea, yous can use my smith. Yous gonna hafta come round the back of the camp though. Donna want da King knowin’ that I helped yous.”
Relief flooded into me. “Thank you. I’ll pay you back for this.”
“You just gotta stay strong so I can kill ya later,” he said, his voice casual.
I reached into my rucksack and pulled out a folded cloak; the material was light and thin, colored in an ever-shifting pattern. As I unfolded the garment, its color solidified to match the stone around us. I didn't want to use the item, but I felt that I had little choice. The cloak had a limited charge; if I used it for too long, it would become useless after a short while.
I draped the cloak over my shoulders, knowing I would now match my environment almost perfectly. In the low-light condition, I was sure to avoid detection.
I followed behind the massive Goblin, marveling at him. I had always considered Goblins to be little more than pests. The Academy had always taught that Goblins were low-intellect, barely-conscious lifeforms. Typically, they were rounded up by the hundreds and used as training fodder for the first and second years. I wondered just how much of it had been a lie. Moreover, if that had been a lie, what else was? Were Giants actually friendly? Did Dragons really eat townspeople and livestock from the edges of the Empire? Hell, were Demons actually just rather nice blokes who baked bread for the poor in their spare time? Probably not, I decided.
It's more likely that Humans just didn't know nearly enough about them. It seemed that these Goblins were a cautious lot—they kept their raiding to the Eastern side of the Red Mountains, avoiding the larger settlements of the Empire. They actively avoided letting their lords out into the world, avoiding the attention of the great races.
Looking up from my musings, I saw a party of Goblins approaching from ahead of us in the tunnel. The party was formed up of around twenty standard Goblins. At their lead was a Shaman bedecked in feathers and robes. He carried a stave with what looked to be the head of a raven affixed to its head. The party pressed themselves to the floor at Gitlog's passing. Gitlog, for his part, barely glanced their way. I avoided breathing. While this party of Goblins posed little threat, I didn't want to cause any trouble; the shield's recovery was paramount.
Unfortunately, others disagreed.
"Let me kill them. Kill, kill, kill," whispered the sword.
The Shaman looked up in a snap. I ducked behind Gitlog, who then turned to look at the prostrated magic-caster.
"You lookin' at me?" he growled.
The Shaman looked to be about to speak, but then thought better of it.
"Chief, I was just wantin' to see what a powerful Goblin looked like. You are amazin'." I rolled my eyes. Looks like kissing up to the boss is a universal trait.
"Can I kill the smarmy bastard? I hate kiss asses," hissed the sword.
The air suddenly froze. Gitlog fingered the handle of his over-sized sword.
"My sword wansta' kill yous. Says yous a kiss ass. What you say to that?" he asked casually.
The Shaman slammed his head against the floor of the cave. The crack of bone against stone rang out in a chorus as the remaining Goblins followed his lead.
"No, sir. Sorry sir. Please, let us leave, let us live. We will leave now, promise," he stammered.
Gitlog hefted his sword, he looked to be weighing the options.
"Nah," he said, apparently coming to a decision. In a single movement, he slammed his sword into the stone where the Shaman had lain prone. I say had lain prone, because the sword cleaved into the rock instead of the Goblin. A shimmering after-image slowly faded into mist. Apparently the Shaman had managed some kind of illusion spell to sneak off.
The other Goblins hadn't been so prepared—the panic-stricken creatures had little time to process before the sword was ripped from the stone and sent whirling into the group. A dozen were killed in a single swing. Before the others could run, I unsheathed the sword and danced into the fleeing greenskins. My blade carved into the throat of one, then whirled into the chest of the other. A fountain of blood flowed from a dozen corpses into the sword. I was the center of a vortex of red mist.
In moments, it was over. The twenty or so Goblins were desiccated corpses on the cave floor.
"Blood, delicious, delicious, mmmhhhmmm..." purred the blade.
"Why did you kill them?" I asked Gitlog. "We're trying to not be noticed. Won't killing a patrol of Goblins call attention to us?"
Gitlog turned on me casually, again fingering his sword. "Goblins not work that way. Caves dangerous, Goblins die all da time. Those," he flicked his head towards the dead bodies, "were barely worth bein' called Goblin. Only strong matter." He started to turn away, then stopped. "The Shaman was pretty good though."
"Is it alright that he got away? Shouldn't we try to track him?" I asked.
"Nah," he said dismissively. "That Shaman prolly miles way. That tele...telep..."
"Teleportation spell?" I asked, surprised.
"Yeah! Only strong can use, but dey go back to base. Can't track em'."
"Where I come from, teleportation magic is incredibly uncommon. Maybe one in a hundred mages can manage it." I wondered if it were a special ability the shamans were given.
We continued down the tunnel, eventually coming to see a rising structure in the distance. I stopped where I stood; a castle made from black stone stood in a small clearing. While it was small, it was definitely a castle. Two small towers overlooked the clearing approaching the fortification. At its center was a manor bespoke with carvings and gargoyles. Most petty lords back in the Empire wouldn't have anything this advanced.
That settled it, if every chief had something like this, the Empire would never be able to root out the Goblins in this cave system.
Gitlog turned and said, "Welcome home humie. Castle Gitlog!"