(( What MIGHT happen next from my perspective and imagination. ))
As the last hobgoblin guard fell, Brayden flopped to the ground. The fight was over, and the wounds in his shoulders still burned like insects from hell were burrowing their way through his bones. He rolled back and forth, trying to ease the pain. “AGGGhhh… damn, those guys were tough.”
But the good news was that it was over. He sheathed both daggers and sprawled out face-first on the musty, damp floor of the cavern, winded, exhausted and in pain. The cold rock on his sweaty face and neck felt good, despite the dirt and smell. The battle had taken nearly everything that they had.
With almost all of his remaining energy, he rolled over, staring in the dim light at the ceiling, trying to catch his breath and hoping to catch glimpses of the gems that were so valuable to the hobgoblin slavers. What a fine time for Eiraes to have to return to his fort to check in. Brayden was glad to survive, despite being without the odd elf’s uncanny ability to seemingly be in two places at once. The elf was fast, and they had missed his blade and combat strategy.
The cleric knelt next to him and placed one hand on each shoulder. He closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath. Brayden smiled and started to push his hands away. “Listen, I appreciate the help, but I don’t believe that your—”
Suddenly a wave of what felt like warm water flowed all over his body and Brayden’s pain vanished. “You are healed, little one.” Without another word, he stood, turned and attended to the goblin king that had led them in.
Brayden was amazed. His shoulder felt better than it ever had. He stood slowly, still panting to catch his breath as his heart rate returned to normal.
The goblin smiled and nodded with respect to the cleric. “Thank you, sir. Your kindness will not be soon forgotten in my kingdom.”
“Just remember…” Titus spoke up from his sitting position a few feet further away, “your promise to us.”
“Yes.” The Goblin King, Shagrach, nodded. “We will go, never to return to the village of humans.” He walked closer to the deep pit, then knelt and crawled forward, slowly peering down into it. Brayden saw a glint of moisture on the goblin’s face from the nearby campfires. Was that sweat or a tear?
“Free us.” Several slaves chained to the cave walls began chanting. “Free us.”
“Free them?!” Zander laughed. “What good ever came from freeing a goblin?”
“I saved your lives today.” Shagrach looked somberly at the ranger as he returned. “And even without a formal ‘thank you’, I will keep my promise of peace with your village. You should pay my kind more respect.”
The slaves seemed go grow more restless, chains rattling and echoing through the cave.
Brayden looked at their feet, and saw his prey… the gems that were mined from the walls of the cavern. He crept forward, staring intently at the gems, wondering if they were diamonds or precious stone.
“Titus bowed his head in respect. “Thank you, King Shagrach. Your help today was very appreciated. You are a mighty warrior, and we owe our lives to you.”
“Hardly.” Zander chuckled. “I didn’t see what happened, but with the way the smelly goblin ran out of his shackles, I’ll lay money that it was the goblin that got us into this mess. We should have let him die.”
“Wyrmrock!” The slave stepped between Brayden and the gems, wielding his pick as a weapon. The argument between Zander and Titus suddenly forgotten. “No!! WYRMROCK!!!”
Brayden jumped back, his daggers instinctively in his hands. “Hold on! I just want to see the stones that you’re digging up.”
“No.” The goblin continued to protect the pile of gems and dirt at his feet, screaming in a stream of gibberish.
Finally, Shagrach stepped next to Brayden, pulling one arm down from attack position. “He is trying to protect you, Halfling. He says not to touch the stones. Once you do, you are marked for death. The hobgoblins will feed you to the great evil below. That’s why my son … ” The goblin king stepped forward and took the pick from the slave.
“That is why my subjects will not leave the cavern. We believe that since we have disturbed the wyrmrock, our souls are marked. When we die, we will not die. We will live on in shells of ourselves, killing and doing the will of another.”
”’Scuse me?? Say that again?” Brayden couldn’t quite grasp what the Goblin king was talking about. It was a senseless riddle.
Shagrach ignored the halfling and began speaking in hushed tones. The pick head began to glow in an incandescent blue. Using the flat side of the pick he raised it far above his head and brought it down in a deafening crash. The piles of stones and rubble all over the room exploded into tiny shards and flashes of blue light.
He heaved back again and threw the pick against the wall with a ringing crash and growled at no one in particular. “We will not dig up the wyrmrock any more.”
“Hey!” Brayden spun the Goblin king around, ready to punch him, but the glare in those goblin eyes made him stagger backward. There was absolute hatred and anger. Brayden had seen the magic that the little goblin could summon, and the thought of being in the line of that magic anger made him pause. “Why did you do that? Those could have been worth something.”
“They were only worth your soul… Come. Help me free the slaves. I’ve already lost my son. I have likely lost my own life. But I will not lose my kingdom as well.”
“We should rest, Shagrach.” Titus stepped forward and knelt to be at eye-level, placing his large hand gently on the goblin’s shoulder. “We have all battled hard today… we’ve all had our losses, though none as great as yours. While our bodies were healed by the benevolence of the cleric, your heart may never be healed. May you find peace with this, great king.”
“But where can we rest?” The goblin looked around. “Certainly not in here. We’ve seen many guards coming and going throughout the caverns. They change shifts in sets of two or three. We have about six hours before the next shift arrives. We would not have the energy to get far at that rate, and once we are in the open, they would kill us from a distance, before we even knew they were there.”
“The mess hall.” Brayden smiled and lept forward. “It has only one egress and would give us tactical advantage. It would allow us to rest while only having one vantage point to cover. Let’s get the slaves freed and all rest in there. Should the guards come early, there would be more than enough of us to overpower them from our vantage point. With so many, we could keep two or three on guard in rotating shifts as the rest of us regain our strength.”
“It is a possibility, little one.” Titus nodded. The cleric stepped close to his side and nodded as well, still not speaking except as he had to.
“No!” Zander growled. “I will not sleep with goblins at my side.”
“Not just goblins, Zander!” Brayden felt indignant. He could only think of his father, working the fields and possibly becoming a slave like these humans and goblins had become. The elderly men of his own village would not have survived such brutality. His heart ached to see his own people again. He was tired of the land of elves, humans and gnomes … and goblins and hobgoblins.
“We all risked our lives to see the mining operation in here.” Brayden’s voice echoed off of the cavern walls as he spoke in stern tones. “And this room is much too eerie to sleep in. There’s no telling what may decide to ascend from that pit. But we are far too weak and tired to travel far enough away. We are ALL too tired.” Brayden pointed with his daggers around the room indicating the slaves as well. “Sw, we have a puzzle. There are many goblin slaves, but remember that there are also human slaves here. You have freed two of the human slaves, but there may be more.”
“The little one is correct, Zander.” Titus nodded. “Our own kinds may also have become slaves to the hobgoblins, even in other caves or mining operations. Come. Let us free the slaves, take a head count. Those that wish to stay with us for protection may do so—Goblin, human, elf, Dragonborn or otheriwse. If they choose to flee, they are free to do so, as well.”
“Don’t forget halfling.” Brayden said. Feeling a small victory won, he stood next to the tall Dragonborn. He crossed his arms, daggers still at the ready to make a show of force.
“Fine. But if you wake up with a dagger in your back, don’t blame me. I’ll be sleeping with my back against the wall, and my sword at the ready.”
(To be continued… )