Fland groaned as he slowly woke. He was sore and from the battle the night before. In particular his left side hurt where a goblin had tried to stab him with a stone knife. He was fortunate that the small monster had not the strength to penetrate his armor. Now it seemed that the sun wished to assault his eyes.
Damage control had ran late into the night. Fires had to be put out and bodies taken care of. It was fortunate that there were more dead goblins than villagers. Almost everyone seemed to bare some kind of wound. A watch was organized to make sure the goblins sneak back for another attack. Fland agreed that it was prudent, though he hoped it would be unnecessary. These goblins had proved braver than most of their kind, but he could not see them returning after being routed.
Fland looked around the room and saw that Elarr’s bed was empty. He was a bit surprised. The elf mage seemed to require little sleep most of the time, but after such draining magics, Fland would have thought that he would sleep the day away. Fland pulled on his tunic and splashed his face with some water from the wash basin. After doing the bare minimum to look presentable, Fland headed for the common room.
He could smell food as he came down the stairs and his stomach growled. The common room was filled, every seat occupied. While people were eating, most were talking. He caught snippets of conversation, all pertaining to the attack the night before. Across the room, seated in the corner by the window was Elarr. Fland started towards his companion. Several people called greetings and thanks to him as he wound his way between the tables. They offered him their seat, but he declined.
“It is good to see that you have finally risen,” Elarr said without looking up from the book he was pursuing.
“I’m amazed you are up at all,” Fland replied as he took a seat. He waved over the serving girl. “You were about dead on your feet after that little trick.”
“Indeed. There is no time for rest, though, I fear,” Elarr said as he finally looked up. He indicated something behind him. Fland glanced down and saw that it was the lead bugbear’s shield from the night before, the one that bore the odd mark. “That rune is carved into all of the goblins and bugbears. Easy to miss in the dark, but I checked several of the bodies this morning to make sure.”
“Alright...so its a tribal mark or something?” Fland asked, unsure of where Elarr was going with all of this.
“No, not unless they were part of the tribe we dealt with ten days ago,” Elarr said.
Fland sat up straighter. They had been commissioned to find the den of goblins that had been raiding farms and villages a while back. What they found had been far more than a few goblins in a cave. It was a putrid wound in the earth housing a small army of goblins. Worse yet, they had found that at the heart of the goblin lair was a foul pit being used to transform lowly goblins into ferocious and deadly bugbears. The pair had barely made it out with their lives intact. They had gathered up the local millitia and helped stamp out the vermin. That was a week back, however, and they had been ridden over two hundred miles since then.
“Now, let me show you what makes this particularly disturbing,” Elarr said as he reached down into his satchel. Fland had a hard time imagining this growing more worrisome until Elarr unwrapped a black rune covered cloth to reveal a shard of the orb from the goblin pit.
The hobgoblin that they presumed to be ruling over the goblin pit had possessed an orb of foul power. He had been using it to empower his magics and to create bugbears. During the battle with the hobgoblin, Fland smashed the orb. The result of this, beyond Fland needing new maces, was the release of a great deal of dark energy.
“I have been examining this,” Elarr started in a lecturing tone. He took out a vial of what appeared to be water and started to sprinkle it onto the shard, “I have discovered that if you pour something pure, such as rain water or powdered silver, onto the shard it has a curious reaction. At first, this seems to just be a piece of broken,” Elarr put a great deal of emphasis on the word broken, making it clear who he blamed for that condition, “black glass, smooth and unadorned. However, you can see that the water is being drawn into a patern on its surface, the focus of power trying, struggling to corrupt the introduced purity.”
Fland watched as the water beaded up and started to slide down the glass. Suddenly, it changed direction, sliding back up the gradient. It formed into thin, liquid lines. His hands tightened into fists as he saw the patterns that had formed. It was the same as the one on the shield. “That can’t be good.”
“No, no it is not,” Elarr said flatly. He covered the shard again with the cloth as he continued, “The goblins were not just from some extended tribe. They were exposed to the orb, or another like it. The runes seem to indicate that it is not a source, but a conduit. I would be able to study it better if someone had not shattered it.”
“Hey! How was I suppose to know we might need that accursed thing in one piece,” Fland shot back. This was not the first time he had gotten a lecture on the subject and was getting tired of it. “I saved both of our lives when I smashed that thing.”
“Our lives would not have been in danger if you had not blundered into that trap, as you always do.”
“And if it were up to you, we never would have made it that far. You never would have gone to the den. Hells, you never would have left your nice cozy room.”
The two stared daggers at each other. While they managed an effective working relationship, the man and elf were as different as night and day on many points. This issue between them highlighted that quite clearly. One was accused of being too rash, the other of being to slow to act. They glared back and forth in a battle of the wills, each convinced that by not being the first to look away they would prove their point superior. In short, two grown men that the just the night before had saved a village had degenerated into petulant children. The angry contest would have likely continued for quite some time had they not been interrupted.
“Ahem, excuse me,” said a man in a blue coat that would have been described as nice if not for the soot stains. The man was of middling years and showed the first signs of grey in his hair. His face was open and friendly, the kind that invites you to discuss the weather. The way he held his hat in both hands was a sure sign that he had come to make a request.
The two broke eye contact at the same time, a cooperative skill that had developed between them to allow arguments to end with no looser, and turned to the man. They let their disagreement fade away, though each catalogued it away in some corner of their mind for later. They appraised the man quickly and it was Fland the first to reply, “Good morning. Is there something we can help with?”
“My name is Dylan, the town mayor,” he explained, “I will be holding a meeting at my home in an hour. The captain of the guard and a few others will be there to discuss last night and what is to be done about it. I was hoping that you two would attend.”
“That would be prudent,” said Elarr, “I think we all have much to discuss.”
“Ah, good,” Dylan replied, obviously pleased, “My house is on the other side of town. There is statue of an eagle I carved in front of it, very hard to miss. Anyone should be able to direct you there. We plan to meet in an hour.” Offering a final bow of his head, the mayor turned and left.
Fland and Elarr made their way through the streets. In the daylight they could take in the toll of the damage better. It seemed that about a third of the buildings bore scorch marks. Fortunately only a few had been destroyed beyond repair. People were busy repairing the damage. They fixed doors and windows, threw out anything broken, and tried to wash away blood stains. The bodies had already been moved early in the morning. Those who had been killed would be buried, the goblins were being burned. The nauseating smell wafted through the air.
Fland had donned his armor and weapons. This mainly included a quiver of javelins in addition to his light maces. Elarr wore a sash lined with little pockets. Each held spell components. Behind them, they led their horses, saddle bags filled with their possessions. They had already concluded that they would be leaving after the meeting, whatever came of it.
The house was not hard to find just as they were promised. Sitting in front of it was an eagle carved from a log. It was rough, but distinct. It was perched on what remained of the log, standing there with its wings folded. The eyes peered down the street as though standing silent guard over the row of houses. A slight bit of blackening showed that one of the goblins had tried to start fire to it, but was interrupted or changed its mind.
“Humans desire art,” Elarr said with disdain, “but they are unwilling to perfect it, just settling for something crude.”
“It’s a project for his free time, not a life’s calling Pointy Ears,” Fland responded as they went to the door. “Not everyone has a century to waste decorating their house.”
The door opened and they were ushered inside by a young woman whose features suggested she was the mayor’s daughter. The main room had a few decoration here and there, other little carvings that Dylan had done. There were a few shelves on the walls with little figurines and a few books.
At the center of the room was a large table. Six men were seated around it on a mix of chairs and stools. The mayor was at the far side from the door. To his left were three guardsmen, one older and two younger. Two his right was a large, burly man that looked to be a smith and then an elderly man with a long beard.
“Ah, the final two have arrived. Please have a seat so we may get started,” Dylan said. As the duo sat, Dylan made introductions, “This is Madoc, Gilden, and Edard,” he said as he indicated the three guardsmen who all offered a polite nod at their name. “That is Cardec, the blacksmith. He is representing the tradesmen,” he indicated to the burly man who only gave a grunt in response. “And this is Hywel, the village elder,” he finished.
“I am Elarrolinas Ulidarrai, son of Lord Yendelis Ulidarrai of the Shin-velis Wood,” Elarr said in a formal and practiced tone that bordered on haughty.
“Just call him Elarr,” Fland said in a deadpan voice before adding, “and I am Fland. Just Fland.”
With the introductions made, the meeting got underway. They started with an assessment of the damages and injuries. Twelve dead and twenty people with injuries that would take time to heal was bad, but better than it could have been. It was also revealed that some of the outlying farms had been raided as well. They were burned down and robbed of all livestock and harvested produce. Cardec demanded to know how the attack happened, how so many goblins could get into past the gates with so little resistance. This of course incensed the guards and lead to a shouting match. Dylan was able to calm tempers down to a low boil.
“Now,” said Dylan, “We need to look to the future. A rider has been sent to Lord Tudwal to request assistance. I hope that he can be convinced to send soldiers to find the goblins that escaped to ensure there is no return.”
“We gave the gobs a thrashing. The cowards will not be coming back,” said Cardec confidently.
“I would not be so sure of that,” replied Fland, “Goblins are cowardly, but those bugbears sure aren’t and the more numbers they have, the bolder they will be.”
“Bah, goblins might breed like rats, but they feast on each other as well,” Cardec said dismissively, “We cut their numbers down and I can’t see them getting back to such a large size again soon.”
“There was likely more of them than what we saw at the attack,” Fland responded with a touch of heat to his voice.
“Goblin raids are on the rise,” Elarr added, “We helped deal with a tribe east of here only a week back and have reason to suspect that attacks like this may soon become more common.”
“They already have,” said Hywel. The old man had been silent for most of the meeting. His low, dry voice attracted everyone’s attention. “I keep in touch with some old acquaintances by pidgeon. Several of them have told me of goblin attacks. They are all a hundred leagues away so I had not felt to concerned. I was going to bring it up at the town meeting at the end of the month. Now I wish I had sooner.”
Cardec looked like he was about to make a sharp remark, but Fland interrupted, “No, there was no way you could know that an attack like this would happen, especially so soon. I really doubt more could have been done to make the town more ready unless you wanted everyone living like they were already under siege.”
Dylan and the guardsmen nodded. Cardec only grunted, but did not add what he had been about to say. Hywel looked relieved. It had weighed heavily on his conscience since last night that he might have averted the disaster.
“This does, however, help confirm my suspicions,” Elarr said in a grim tone, “I think that the goblins are coordinating their efforts.”
“What?! Goblins don’t organize,” said Madoc, the older guard, incredulously, “They can barely get along in their own little tribes and they are as dumb as a rock.”
“Hobgoblins are smart though,” said Elarr, “There was one with the tribe we encountered, and I bet there was one with last night’s as well. Your people may not remember the horrors of the Goblin Wars, but mine do. My grandfather fought in them. He told me of the flood of corrupt little creatures spreading over the land like a disease. It was not easy, but the goblins were beaten back, their numbers decimated. Since then men and elves and dwarves have worked hard to prevent such a thing from happening again.”
The village men all looked pale and nervous at Elarr’s implication. The idea that goblins might overrun the land had never occurred to them. For the most part, goblins had just been something to frighten children. Madoc, Cardec, and others that had faced goblins before knew that they could be dangerous, but even that was only to the unprepared. Last night had changed that view entirely. They had fought for their lives and barely won, and now they had been told that it might be on the frontline of a war with deadly monsters.
“Th-then we must prepare,” Dylan said, breaking the silence, “You must help us if there is a war coming.”
“No, preparations are something that you must attend to yourselves,” Elarr said, “My companion and I will be leaving after this meeting. We intend to discover the true extent of this threat.”
“I’m figuring to track the remnants of last night’s raid,” added Fland, “They might lead us to a larger force or give us a clue where to find whoever is controlling them.”
“But what if they return in a night or two with more forces?” asked one of the younger guards.
“That is not my concern,” said Elarr coldly, “If a goblin army is on the rise it could threaten the borders of Sylana.”
Cardec snorted, “And what about you, ranger? Are humans not your concern either?”
“Some are, and some aren’t,” Fland replied back with a hard stare, “Finding the true threat is likely to save more lives than sitting around here.”
“They are right,” added Dylan, forcing firmness into his voice, “Two men, even skilled ones, will not make much of a difference if an army comes. If they can possibly stop the threat before it gets here, then all the better.
“Madoc, you are the new guard captain. Start looking over our defenses and see to recruiting every man you can. Cardec, start smithing weapons. Get together men to work on reinforcing the walls, and I want that gate repaired and sturdier. Hywel, send pigeons to your friends with news of what has happened here. Maybe others will be spared our troubles if they know to prepare. A town meeting will be this evening, I will inform everyone then of our concerns.”
“That sounds like a good course of action,” said Fland as he stood from the table. “I don’t think that me and Pointy-ears are going to be of any more help here, so I’d like to get going before midday.”
“Of course,” said Dylan as he stood and escorted the pair out the door. He stopped to talk with them alone once they were outside, “I shall say prayers for your safe journey, and that we are all fearing only shadows. If there are any provisions you need before leaving, tell the shop keepers that I will cover it. It is the least that can be done to thank you for all you have done, and all that you may do.”
“Your generousness is appreciated,” Elarr said with politeness then turned to his horse. Fland clasped Dylans forearm and shook, then gave him a parting nod.
The pair made a quick trip to several shops. They procured food for the most part along with a few odds and ends. In almost no time at all they were riding out the front gate. Fland waved at a few of the people that called to them.
“I hope we haven’t started some kind of panic over nothing,” Fland said at last.
“Goblins are creatures of fear. Panic is to be expected when they are involved,” Elarr responded solemnly.”