I tucked the phial of cave slime into my rucksack, careful to keep it in a padded area. I took stock of my inventory while I was at it—I had four gold, twenty silvers, thirty coppers, and a handful of shaved pennies. I 'tsked'—at the rate I was going, I definitely would need to find a source of funds.
"Hey, shield. Are Goblins likely to keep any coinage around?" I asked.
The shield let out a pitiful cough, reminding me that it was still very much wounded. "Yes. They use the coins to trade with the Dark Elves and Minotaur tribes. At least, they did when I was still with the Hobs."
I nodded, taking further stock—there were five phials of healing potion, ten stamina potions, one sleep potion, and one potion of frenzy. I would have to make sure to use that last potion well, as it had cost me five gold. I also made a note to throw the sleeping potion much, much harder the next time it was necessary. Lastly, I checked on my inventory of gems. It looked like I would be fine on diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires, but I would need to find a new source of rubies soon.
I looked up from the rucksack upon hearing the sound of distant footsteps. It sounded like whatever the group was, they were significant in number. I activated the boots' ability, 'Nightcrawler', stepping behind a stalagmite for cover. The shadows of the cave slid over me like a cloak, my ordinarily amber eyes were now black spheres in my head.
I peaked out at the procession as they approached. There had to have been just over a hundred goblins marching in a surprisingly organized column. At their center was a goblin who stood at a titanic 6' tall. He wore a helmet which looked to be carved from the skull of a dragon. In his hands, he held a massive staff of carved ebony, at its head was a ruby the size of my fist.
Behind the mountainous goblin was a party of fifteen or so tiny goblins, their skin a light tan. They looked to be completely at ease walking behind the behemoth.
The monstrosity spoke in a voice which rumbled like an avalanche. "Continue forward, my host. We will reach Goblik Torra soon. Feasting and women await us there."
A small cheer met the hulking goblin's words, but was silenced quickly. At some invisible sign, the goblins closed their formation and unsheathed swords. I swallowed when I saw the weapons they were carrying—ten percent or so of their hands grasped shimmering, enchanted swords. They were likely no more than sharpness buffs, but even that was terrifying.
A massive figure stepped forward—the beast which had attacked me earlier. It was covered in blood, and had a severed head speared on two of its sword-like claws. It looked at the goblins and roared. I felt chills running up my spine, the urge to flee nearly overwhelming my senses. I felt cool rationality reassert itself as the shield activated the 'Lion's Heart' ability.
The goblins, however, weren't so well-equipped. The first three lines broke, trampling each other to flee the monster. The large goblin swung his obsidian staff, smashing the goblins in front of him to the side.
"I am Lord Ballug Blackstaff! You dare stand before my august presence?" The massive goblin lord leveled his staff at the monster. The creature howled and charged the goblin in a mad rush. Lord Ballug chanted words of arcane power. I felt my heart freeze over—I recognized the spell. A colossal bolt of lightning ripped from the staff, striking the monster square in the chest. The sound was deafening, like a lightning storm occurring all at once within an enclosed space.
To my surprise, and the surprise of the goblin lord, the monster was still standing, a smoldering patch on the creature's thick, silver fur. The monster charged again, pouncing at the goblin lord. With almost contemptuous ease, Ballug batted the monster from mid-air with his stave. The beast smashed through a stone pillar, shattering it with its body.
The monster jumped back up, glaring daggers at the goblin lord. It shot a glance towards my hiding spot, and I felt my blood nearly freeze. 'Lion's Heart' or not, that look carried death. The monster looked back at the lord and ran.
Despite myself, I let out a relieved breath. Lord Ballug whipped his head in the rough direction I was hiding. "Warriors! Return to me!" he roared.
Several goblins stepped out from the stalagmites surrounding me, returning to the goblin lord with their heads down. When the group of goblins finally had reformed ranks, their leader stalked up and down their rows. His face was obscured by the skull he wore on his head, but I could still feel the malice radiating from him.
"You ran," he said, voice nearly a whisper. He turned to a goblin who stood taller than the others. "You, shaman. You turned and fled. You, who would be a chief, fled." He turned and gestured expansively with his staff. "I expect such cowardice from you lot. The creature used an ability, you had no choice," he turned on the cowering shaman, "But you..." his voice was a hiss, "You weren't affected. You ran from pure cowardice."
The shaman quaked before the venom which practically dripped from Ballug's words. "I am sorry, my Lord. Please, be merci-" the voice was cut off by the wet crunch of the obsidian staff cracking the shaman's skull in one heavy blow.
The goblin lord lifted his staff, blood and brains dripping from its head. "Let that be a lesson to you all," he said, "We do not tolerate weakness in the strong. Now, let's get going, leave this creature for the beast."
He lead the way now, the rows of goblins following behind closely. I could see them still looking from side to side in fear.
As their noise finally faded in the distance, I stalked out from my hiding place to inspect the corpse of the shaman. I found a wand on his body; much to my surprise, it was of considerably high quality. I reckoned it would fetch five silvers in the outside world. I also found a small pouch of gemstones, containing a ruby, two diamonds, and a small sapphire. I pocketed the haul and shook my head in wonder.
"Why would they not loot the body before leaving?" I asked.
The shield spoke up in a wheeze of a voice. "The goblin lord said to leave him. None would dare disobey an order from one such as he."
"Can I drink the blood?" asked the sword.
I stabbed the sword into the corpse, allowing the blade to drink the freshly-killed goblin.
I waited as the sword finished draining the Goblin shaman, then sheathed the purring blade. I noticed again that the sword seemed to be a tad bit sharper and just a hair longer, yet at the same time, it seemed to somehow weigh less after the meal. I decided to shelve the obvious question until the blade woke up from its blood-soaked stupor.
"Alright," I said, "we need to keep going, it seems like this tunnel has a lot of traffic. Plus, I don't want to be anywhere near whatever that thing is which fought the Goblin Lord."
"I hate to admit it, but the Goblin Lord had some fairly advanced magiks...I don't think we can afford to cross him any time soon. You simply aren't up to it, Henry."
"Well, I'm not going to argue with you there. My magic needs work," I said.
"You could always assassinate him," whispered the boots.
I started, surprised at the dark twisted words. "Wow, alright, I guess we're being creepy today. How would you suggest we do that? High level magic users usually have barriers and defenses against sneak attacks, and I'll bet he has a food taster as a Lord-" A cough from the shield interrupted what I was going to say next.
"Goblin Lords view displays of power as proof against assassination plots. Often, they take poison resistance potions before eating, even things they know to be poisoned," wheezed the shield.
I looked at the shield, a frown creasing my brow. "I'll try to get you repaired as soon as I can. I just need to find a hob to do the work." I looked at my boots. "Do you have any suggestions?"
The boots whispered to itself in a voice too low to hear. After a moment its voice picked up. "When I belonged to Thomas Bloodbane, he regularly had to kill high-level magic casters. Once, he even killed an Arch-mage," the book harrumphed at this, "I have an ability which can enter warded spaces for a period of two minutes before an alarm will sound. This ability works up to a Master-level warder. As for actually killing one? A sundering dagger was my old master's weapon of choice. Can the sword sunder magical barriers?"
The sword still mumbled incoherently, sated by the recent feeding. I rattled it in its sheath harshly. It coughed and snorted as it awoke, "What? What? Oh, yes. I can if you want me to. It's one option for upgrading."
I stood there, my mouth agape. "Upgrade?" I asked dumbly.
"Yes," it spoke like it was talking to a toddler, a slow toddler. "When I drink enough blood, an upgrade becomes available. We've finally gathered enough to use it."
I considered my next words carefully. "Did you not think this was important information to give the Living Weapons Assembly before they assigned you to someone?"
"No, I didn't. I just wanted to get out and drink blood. They practically starved me in that armory of theirs."
"Just because you're a glutton, doesn't mean they were starving you," sneered the book.
"Please pick the sundering option, Henry," hissed the sword, "Then I'd finally be able to cut that book into something more useful. Like confetti."
"What are the other options?" I asked, hoping to steer them away from bickering.
"You can choose to have me light on fire whenever I'm drawn," it said.
"Like Lightbringer?" I asked.
"No, not like Lightbringer. I shared a space with that do-gooder in the armory. Always talked nonsense about 'the night being dark and full of mirrors' or some such."
"I don't think that would be good in a cave. It would blind me in dark areas. Anything else?" I asked.
"I can gain the ability to transform into a two-handed great-sword with cleave—might be handy for collecting blood, wink wink," said the sword.
"Did you just say wink wink?" I asked.
"Well, I'm a fucking sword, Henry. I can't actually wink. Thanks for reminding me of that fact."
"He has a point, Henry," said the shield, "It was pretty insensitive."
"Okay, okay," I said, putting my hands up in a warding gesture. "So, anything else?"
"No, that's about all for now. What do you choose?" asked the sword impatiently.
"Let's go with sundering—getting through magical armor and barriers is bloody hard. Plus, we need a Goblin-Lord heart for the poison we intend to make. Seems like we can kill two birds with one stone."
The sword shown bright blue, filling the tunnel with a ghostly light. After a moment, the light faded. The sword now had a slight shimmer of blue around its hilt. I unsheathed the weapon, shocked at the change—it was now single-edged, with wicked-looking spines on the back of the blade. They looked like sword breakers which could double as serration.
"I'm pretty hot, huh?" it asked.
"No, we didn't go with the fire option, remember?" said the shield.
"Shut up," it replied.
"Alright, let's keep going. We need to find the poison components," I said.
I turned and started stalking my way through the tunnel. Thankfully, the rest of the trip was more-or-less uneventful—that is, until we exited. We were met with the sight of a band of goblins standing guard at the flanks of the mouth of the tunnel. For a long moment, no one moved. The goblins seemingly stunned by the sudden arrival of an armored Human.
"Attack! Kill the Humie!" screamed a goblin in a feathered headdress. He carried a large staff with a humanoid skull at its end. I assumed he was both a shaman and a leader.
I raised my hand, closing my eyes tight. "Illuminae!" A flash of blinding light seared the eyes of those who hadn't been on guard. I opened my eyes, charging directly at the shaman. I was surprised to see that he hadn't been effected. The words of a chant snapped off, the air crackled with arcane power. A bolt of black lightning struck forward in a flash. The shield raised itself, summoning a barrier. The lightning struck the barrier, causing a crack to form in the ethereal substance. I struck with the sword, activating its sundering ability just in case the Goblin had defenses.
I felt a satisfying crack as the barrier shattered against my blow. The sword cleaved through the collar bone of the short goblin, spraying blood out in a fountain, which was mostly absorbed into the blade. Surprise was the last expression on the Goblin's face as it died.
I pulled the weapon out and whirled around to face the other Goblins. To my surprise, they all lay bowed on the floor of the cave. With dread in my heart, I turned to see what they were bowing at.
A five-foot-tall Goblin stood behind me, with a seven-foot-long sword gripped easily in one hand.
"Was all dis den?" he growled.