I sat against the wall, my heart matching the frenetic drumming. This was extremely bad—if a King was present, that meant there would be hobgoblins, goblin lords, chiefs...
"The presence of a King suggests a force in excess of thirteen-thousand goblins. While I believe that we could make a serious dent in their number, I do not think we would survive in any kind of direct confrontation," the book, for once, sounded slightly less than sure of itself.
"So, we try and sneak away?" asked the boots cautiously.
"We should fight them. Charge into their ranks and drown them in blood and marrow!"
"This isn't the time for your rambling, go back to chanting about blood or something," the shield's voice was strained, stress evident in the tight pronunciation of each syllable, "We need to be cautious. We can't afford unnecessary risks."
"Blood, blood, blood," said the sword, sullenly.
I rested my head against the lichen-covered wall. "I know we can't fight them all, but we can't just leave these goblins unharmed. The Empire is in no position to deal with a goblin invasion, we're already stretched too thin against the Deep Dwarves and Traitor Nations-"
"You can't be serious, Henry!" interjected the shield, "If you die, the Empire wouldn't get any warning at all. They might be pressed on all sides, but a strike without early warning would doom the Empire."
I tightened my hand into a fist, smashing it against the cave wall. "I know the risks. I don't propose we follow the sword's advice, but we have to do something!"
"What do you suggest, boy? Will we work great magiks together? Shall we render these foul, green-skinned pests into puddles of boiling lipids?"
I shook my head, "No. I think caution is the better part of wisdom in this case. I've seen a few poisonous plants in this cave, I think we should practice what the old geezer at the Guild taught us."
A collective groan escaped from my loyal gear.
"I know it's not anyone's idea of a good time, but if we poison even a dozen cook-pots, we can cripple their offensive and defensive potential."
"Can we at least cut their throats while they writhe in pain?" muttered the sword.
"No. We do this by the numbers. I'll use 'Nightcrawler'—the boots' stealth ability to increase my chances of going undetected. I'll use the spell 'Muffle' to soften my footfalls, and I'll use the shield's ability 'Shadow's Aegis' to mask my passage. Together, we should go completely undetected."
"And what will I do? Will I dangle at your hip like that useless book?" hissed the sword.
I sighed, "You have the most important job, my loyal blade. If everyone else fails, you will cut me a path to safety."
The sword's voice was a purr, "I will await their incompetence eagerly."
The others' voices burned with wordless outrage. I raised my hands and asked them for quiet, "Prove my caution needless, my friends. I trust that you will not fail me, but you have to admit, having a plan B is never a bad thing."
That seemed to quiet them down, "Now, I need to gather some ingredients," I picked up the book and leafed through its pages, stopping as I came to the spell I needed, 'Magelight'. I raised my hand above my head, "Illuminae Persist!". An orb of soft white light hovered a couple feet above my head. As I pushed myself to my feet, the orb maintained its distance. Now that I could properly see the cave, I was mildly astonished by the carnage we had wrought—mounds of goblins lay strewn throughout the cavern, their bodies were bifurcated and blackened by fire. As always, there was surprisingly little blood—the sword typically drank greedily as it cut. I shook my head, averting my eyes from the carnage.
I scanned the cave floor, looking for the patch of mushrooms I had seen earlier. After a few moments of searching, I spotted the telltale white and red spots peeking out from underneath the torso of a goblin. I grimaced, picking up the goblin's body by its scrawny throat, and tossing it to the side. It landed with a wet thud a few feet away.
I knelt to the ground, pulling out my sword. Carefully, I severed the stalk of the mushrooms. "What the hell is this?!" howled the sword, "This isn't flesh! This isn't blood!"
"Oh, be quiet. I need you to drain these of moisture. These will work best dried."
"Besides, fungi are technically more closely related to animals than plants. If it makes you feel better, you are still killing something living," commented the book.
"These working conditions are unfair..." mumbled the sword, relenting to its unsavory task.
Moments later, the mushrooms were dry enough to grind into a powder. I stood from the harvest, fungi in hand. "This is mors flore, one of the more poisonous mushrooms around. That being said, I don't think that this alone will be enough to overwhelm the natural resistances that goblins have."
"We may be able to find fungos dolor in these caves. They are knows to grow in this region. We would need to delve deeper into the caves, however, as they typically only thrive at depths in excess of five-thousand feet."
"Oh Gods, we have to wander around these caves looking for mushrooms? Can we just leave? The Emperor's forces can handle a few goblins. Let's just leave..." the boots spoke in a mild whine.
I stuffed the dried mushrooms into my rucksack, and spoke the command word to dismiss the 'Magelight'.
I activated 'Nightcrawler' and carefully stalked down the fork in the cave the goblins had utilized to ambush me.
The tunnel was littered with bones and half-rotted excrement; apparently, the goblins used this area as some sort of storage area for refuse. Another alert flashed to life in the corner of my eye, ‘Oh Gods, the Smell -5 to perception’. I gagged as a draft drove the smell into me. It felt almost like hitting a physical wall, such was the stench. I placed the shield on my back, securing it to a leather strap kept there for such a purpose. My hand now free, I pinched my nose securely shut, though it hardly helped, as I could actually taste the stench in the foul air, but any relief was better than nothing.
The book must have been paying attention to the carvings on the wall, as it piped up in a smug know-it-all voice, “Did you know—goblins are wont to carve records in the walls of their caves? They actually have a fairly complex society despite their generally dull dispositions. Here, we find that the Goblins of this clan have deposited roughly thirty Human corpses, seventeen horses, and over one-hundred vole-like creatures.”
I shushed the book, hissing a hushed reply, “We’re supposed to be quiet, we don’t want to alert any patrols,” I glanced at the walls, “Do they really keep records like that? How would you know something like that, anyway?”
“Blood, blood, blood,” whispered the sword.
The book sneered at the sword, “Can you please stop with the chanting? Or at least add some variety to your vernacular? It’s getting quite old,” I could feel its attention settling back on me, “One of my owners in times past was Arch-mage Veritas. He was a prominent scholar on Human-like monsters, and an avid researcher on Goblin culture. Most of what we know about their inner workings today is mainly due to his studies.”
I nodded my head, “Well, do you have any information which would help me to kill the Goblins here?”
The book declared pridefully, “Yes, in fact, I do. Goblins have extremely high resistances to dark magik, and a weakness to light magik—this is mostly owed to the fact that Goblins are either subterranean or deep-forest dwelling creatures. Dark magiks have actually interwoven the essence of Goblinkin as a whole.”
“So, are they inherently evil then?” I asked, stepping over what looked to be the skull of a small humanoid. I hoped it wasn’t Human.
The book 'tsked' loudly, “Now, now. I thought we’d covered this earlier in our relationship-”
“Remind me,” I interjected.
“Fine, fine. No, Goblinkin and other dark races are not inherently evil. In fact, there was a Dark Elf not more than a hundred years back who allied with a couple humans and a dwarf—they were considered to be great heroes. They had a large cat which came and went as well.”
“A Dark Elf?” I asked, incredulous.
The sword hissed in distaste, “His people are strong and bloodthirsty. He was a disgrace.”
“Anyway,” the book continued, “dark magiks aren’t evil, they are merely a different side to the same coin. Dark magiks are predatory, powerful, and hungry. That being said, does not fire fit the same description? A fire will consume a forest whole, killing every life within, but is it evil?”
“No,” I whispered, “fire just does what fire does. There is no evil or malicious intent.”
“And so it is with dark magik,” concluded the book, “Without the influences of dark magik in the world, very few things would exist. Humans, for one—you all have at least a sliver of dark-mana in your bodies. You have a sliver of all forms of magik in your vessels.”
“I hate to interrupt the lesson, but there’s something up ahead,” whispered the shield.
It was right; I could just make out a snuffling noise against the backdrop of distant drumming. I cursed the -5 to perception debuff, knowing that I should have noticed the sound earlier. I moved my hand away from my nose, staggering for a moment at the renewed power of the stench. I unclasped the shield, and slowly moved it to my side. I stalked forward, moving inch by interminable inch. Finally, I rounded the slight curve in the cave, and stilled to take in the sight. Three goblins stood next to their own massive tusked boars, each affixed with a rough harness. I began calculating my odds of success—the goblins would be little trouble, but the boars posed more of an issue. I considered using magic, but I was loath to alert any others to our presence in the cave. I decided to try and incapacitate them with a sleeping gas. I pulled a phial from my rucksack, the thick grey liquid sloshed heavily in the crystal container. I was hesitant to use such a valuable item, but I was pretty sure this could keep me from being killed outright…it was a whole gold piece, though…still, if I lived, my reward would be worth the expense.
I sucked in a deep, vile breath of air and threw the bottle directly between the goblins. The bottle clinked against the stone floor…and nothing else. It didn’t break. The goblins walked towards the source of the noise, picking the bottle up, making curious sounding grunts. I shrugged my shoulders, and snuck up behind one of the distracted goblins, readying my sword—I could feel the weapon practically vibrating with anticipation. As I came within three paces of the goblin, a thundering sound erupted from where the boars were foraging—one of the beasts was charging right for me.