Prologue: The Black KingEdit
In the throne room of Karouk, capital of Armesia, sat the monarch of the land, King Nardek. Nardek was not the true king; he was but the adopted son of the last king, Elias. Elias had found the boy outside the gates of Karouk after Nardek had been orphaned and abandoned by a mob of undead. As he had grown, he had become jealous of the king and his sons, totally ungrateful for Elias's kind treatment of him. Eventually, he had dared to ask the king for dominion of the land.
"The kingdom shall pass to my eldest son, Zake," Elias had answered. "You shall be a duke in the northern division." Most young men would have been quite satisfied with that reply, but Nardek, filled with anger, drove himself to murder the king and his sons that very night. But then the strangest thing happened; an army of goblins from the east appeared at the gates of the capital city the next morning and swore allegiance to Nardek. Drunk with his newfound power (and a good amount of wine), the youth took the throne that day.
Now, as he sat on his throne, the great euphoria of his victory decades ago had left him. He was worried, for he had heard rumors of an uprising in the north. The northern division of the kingdom, Galantan, had remained loyal to King Elias and his family, and so they housed a rebellion, known as the Eastern Resistance (the name was meant purely to fool Nardek, but it hadn't worked very well). Many of the members of this rebel group had been prominent officials in Elias's service. The leader, Suluth, had been Elias's head advisor. He, through some mysterious power, had sensed the evil in Nardek's heart and foreseen his murder of the king. Therefore, they took Elias's youngest child, and hid him in the capital of Galantan for a time.
Through the years, Nardek had grown in his terrible powers, even being able to sense the minds of others; it was all fueled by the Darkforce, black magic which flowed from the Shadow, an evil entity that lay in the east. But becuase of this his body was deteriorating. Now it had gotten so bad, that he had donned a hooded robe which concealed his features. His face could no longer be seen under it. He wore black boots and a pair of spiked metal gloves. It was known to the members of the Eastern Resistance that he was possessed by the Shadow.
And that could very well be true. His closest advisers had grown wary of him, realizing that some sinister change had crept on him. Now he was surrounded by a different set of advisers, all hooded, and an aura of terror spread throughout his palace. Many of the most famous and well-liked had died unnatural deaths, and almost all were accredited to him. Even the very groves that surrounded the capital city were dying off. It seemed everything natural was complaining against his corrupted rule, maybe with the sole exception of the people in his palace, who at any rate were too afraid to say a word against his reign.
For they had another name for this terrible being: The Black King.
"Gerlak!" The foul breath of the Black King hissed under his hood. At his command, a tall, man-like creature entered the courtroom. Aside from its basic shape and features, it was hardly human. Its long, black hair hung from its scarred black head unevenly. Its eyes were red, and its teeth were brown. Its breath was not to be spoken of. It was a goblin. "Bring the prisoners here to me," Nardek ordered.
The particularly large goblin bowed and left the courtroom. Nardek turned to one of his advisors, a tall, hideous creature that looked rather like a half-bat, half-human. This was Jabnul, a Vampire and the most powerful of the Black King's servants. Jabnul looked at his lord, his horrible reddish-yellow eyes flickering. His mouth opened, and a black slime dripped from his sharp fangs.
"Jabnul," the Black King said, "Soon I shall crush all resistance in this land, and then I shall control it utterly. Then I shall invade the other kingdoms, and soon, I shall destroy all who oppose me! Gaela shall be mine." The Black King laughed, which sounded more like a cat's claws scratching the surface of a blackboard. Jabnul gave a hideous chuckle.
Suddenly Gerlak returned, dragging the three prisoners with him. They were leaders of the Eastern Resistance, captured during Gerlak's last campaign against the rebels. Nardek pointed to the floor by his feet, and the three men were thrown on their faces. They had been bound, hand and foot, with powerful chains. They were wet; they had just been taken from Nardek's horrible water dungeons. Now, festering sores had broken out all over their bodies because of the filthy water they had been chained in for several days. Yet they did not groan or writhe in pain.
Nardek spoke. "Look around you," he told them. None of them moved their heads. The king laughed again. "You don't need to see. My power is too great for your pitiful "army" to fight against! Can you not see?"
"We can see," replied the middle prisoner. "We can see that you are a fool who thinks that the Darkforce will always avail you! The Shadow is treacherous! Can you not see?"
The horrible being gave a hiss. "I shall overthrow him soon," he said. "He was a fool to think that by granting me all this, I would serve him! When the time comes, he shall be my servant!" He laughed again. "You need not go back in the water dungeons," he said. "If you would but give me the location of the rebel base, I would free you and grant you great powers. You could each be generals of armies!"
"We would not serve you for all the power in the world," said the man on the left. "Understand that! We will as soon spend the rest of our lives rotting in your filthy dungeons than give away the location of our comrades!"
The dark ruler shook his head, sadly. "I cannot understand what drives you to suffer so much. Yet I suppose that is the way it will be! Gerlak," he said to his general, "Take these insolent little insects to the torture chambers! We will see who loses their will in the end!"
As the three were dragged off, the middle one called back, "The King's son will return! He will destroy you!"
Nardek stood up. "He has no son," the dark one hissed. "I killed them all!"
The door slammed. The prisoners were gone. Nardek sat back down. Turning to Jabnul, he said, "I sensed no insanity in his claim. He must be telling the truth!" He pounded his metal-gloved fist on the armrest of his black throne. "How could I have missed one? It isn't possible! But if he is still alive, I will destroy him." Jabnul faced him and said, "If it be your will, sire, I will hunt this rat down and squash him like a bug!"
Nardek shook his head. "I will have a party of my best goblins seek him out. They can smell a half-Elf anywhere. Gerlak!" he shouted. Within a minute the goblin was back. "Yes, my lord?" he said, his mouth dripping saliva.
"Send out Captain Oruk," ordered the Black King. "Tell him to find Elias's son at all costs." Gerlak saluted. "It shall be done, my lord," he said, and departed.
"Gaela shall be mine!" Nardek's horrible laughter echoed throughout the fortress, sending rumbles through the dark clouds that perpetually covered the skies above Carouk. "Gaela will be mine!"
Chapter One: First StrikeEdit
Dawn was coming. The sun was rising on the eastern horizon, sending its golden rays out across the great peninsula of Shiorta. On the western tip of Shiorta, the Brama mountains stood tall and proud, their peaks capped with glistening snow. Winter was coming, and as the peninsula was in the northern regions it would be quite cold. The village of Cirta, located in a small valley surrounded by the Bramans, was getting ready for the onset of the cold season.
The rays of the sun finally peeked over the edges of the mountains and into the window of a small farmhouse not far from the village and touched the back of a seventeen-year-old who was getting ready to go into the foothills to hunt deer. This was the best time to do it, as the deer were now on their way down from the colder regions into the valley. Opening the door of his bedroom, Ezra slipped past his father's door and hurried downstairs. In the kitchen, he took a satchel and packed some meat and biscuits. Then he went back upstairs and roused his eighteen-year-old brother. "Come on, Silas," he said, shaking him, "Let's get out as early as possible!"
Silas slowly sat up, stretched, and smoothed out his bushy hair. "Is everything ready?" he asked. "We should get going quickly."
"I've got our food packed," Ezra replied. "Now let's go!"
Soon the two of them were out the door and heading toward the forest. The sun was shining brightly, and a frost was on the ground. "Good thing we got the crops in early," remarked Ezra. "Now all we have to do is get some meat to store, and we're set." Neither of them realized that danger was coming close to their small valley.
As the ground began to ascend, Ezra looked back at the farmhouse. Smoke was rising from the chimney, and he could see the figure of his father Jonas going outside to hitch up the wagon. He would be going into the village to buy some hay for their steer and two sows. Jonas and his sons had worked their small farm as serfs for pretty much all their lives, serving the lord Ceeziak who was a former knight.
After travelling about two hours, the two hunters finally reached a good hunting spot. A fairly large clearing was in sight, surrounded by the pine woods. There was a pool of water in the center, and there was a herd of deer there. "What luck!" said Ezra in delight. "C'mon, I see a nice buck. Let's get him!" Silas nodded and the two split up. Silas went to the other side of the clearing, while Ezra stayed here. This way, they had a better chance of getting a deer.
Suddenly the buck looked up, as if sensing danger. "Great," said Ezra, annoyed. "How could he have sensed us so soon? We're downwind!" All of a sudden, the buck took off, with the rest of the herd following suit. Ezra swore, then suddenly an arrow embedded itself in a tree right next to his head. He examined it; it hadn't come from Silas. Not only was it not one of his brother's arrows, but it had come from the north edge of the clearing. It was a goblin arrow.
He whirled around to see where it had come from, and saw one of the hideous creatures deeper in the woods, notching another arrow to its bow. It growled at him, showing its filthy brownish teeth. It seemed about to say, "I've got you now; you're dead!".
Quick as greased lightning, Ezra fitted an arrow to his bow and let it loose.
It shot out straight at its target, the goblin, whooshing past Ezra's ear as the bowstring gave a resounding bounce.
A fulfilling spanking sound, and the goblin's arm stopped midway from releasing his bow. His eyes seemed almost to bulge out; his cry of pain was silent; his nerves, stricken and overridden by the force of the signals of pain that they were sending, could process nothing else.
Then, after two or three seconds, it finally, slowly toppled down into the blood-stained grass.
Ezra stood stock still for a moment, unsure of what to do next. If there were more, then he and Silas should run to the valley and alert the villagers of the danger.
Ezra felt a tingling sensation behind him, and paused, not knowing if he should turn around. The next moment he heart a gasping sound behind him, a gasp that was cut short.
He whirled around. Behind him was another goblin, eyes staring at him but with the specter of death hidden inside, of extreme torment. It stood motionless, both hands raised above him holding a scimitar ready to strike, and tumbled forward. Ezra leaped back a step, just in time to avoid the collapsing weapon. The goblin fell on its face, a solitary quivering arrow protruding from its back, all painted with a foul black liquid oozing out from the wound.
Ezra looked up, and saw Silas, his brother, lowering an empty bow, smiling back. He then walked up beside him, after taking a furtive glance on both sides to check for more goblins. Satisfied, he told Ezra, "There's a cave further up the mountain. Those devils had infested it, and now we've got them stirred up." Ezra shook his head in disgust. "How'd they find the valley anyway?"
"I get the feeling that they've been here for a while," replied his brother. "Though how they got here I have no clue."
"I do!" said a voice behind. Whirling around, they found themselves face to face with a strange old man. He had a long, white beard that was tucked neatly into his tunic. His white hair was long and went past his shoulders. However, his eyebrows were dark gray. He carried a long, stout ash staff and a sheath which housed a long-bladed sword.
Ezra stood in shock for a minute. Finally he asked, "Who are you?"
"Who am I?" the stranger asked with incredulosity. "I have many names wherever I go. You can call me Kyle, though," he said. "At any rate, you wanted to know about the goblins?" The two brothers looked at each other. "What do you know of them?" asked Silas.
"They arrived here just two days ago," said Kyle, matter-of-factly. Then he seemed to be talking about another matter entirely. "Well, since I've found you two, strong fellows, I guess the three of us make a good hunting team."
"What? All the game will have long been gone by now," replied Silas.
"Oh no," Kyle challenged. "I mean we go hunt for goblins--in the cave." He said it with a stiff resolve: he meant it.
Ezra smiled half-heartedly. He had never been a warrior. He tried to back away from Kyle.
"What's the matter? Afraid of a few goblins who are out for your head? Oh come on now, they're just goblins, right?"
"What makes you think they're just goblins? There could be a werewolf there too!"
Kyle became almost exasperated. "Watch this," he told the two. He turned around to a nearby tree, sucked in as much air as he could, and then breathed out--and from his mouth came a tremendous gout of fire--the very air had ignited. Like the breath of a dragon, Kyle's breath swirled around the tree, burning it to a crisp within moments.
"That's why," Kyle said at last. The other two just stood in amazement.
"So, are you fellows behind me, or not?" Kyle asked after a pause. Then he began walking up the mountain, all by himself.
The two brothers followed, afraid to disobey his invitation. Ezra added, "Yes we are behind you--way behind you."
Kyle didn't seem to note the irony of that reply.
Chapter Two: Into the DarknessEdit
Kyle was the first to reach the entrance to the cave in the mountains where, he said, some goblins were waiting. Then Silas and his brother Ezra came in.
At the edge of the cave, Kyle beckoned them to come closer, and whispered to them. "Okay, they're in there somewhere, but where exactly is hard to say. That cave is quite large, and there are plenty of passageways, plenty of places to hide behind and launch an arrow."
The others nodded. They were frankly worried about the prospect of challenging a gang of goblins, but Kyle seemed to know what they were doing, and after all, if they didn't kill the goblins now when the goblins might be sleeping, they would have to defend the village below from them when they were wide awake, eventually.
Kyle continued: "So here's the plan: we sneak in silently, and assume that they're asleep. We go all the way inside the cave to where it's dark, and where we have a good view of the cave entrance. Then any goblins trying to escape, we'll get them as they're fleeing. Every now and then I'll use my flame breath spell, and when the place lights up that's your chance to see and shoot at the goblins. Got it?"
"Yeah, I guess so," replied Ezra, still not sure if this was going to work.
They snuck into the cave, silently but not too slowly either. The interior was moist, and dark. The gloomy air hung about, unwilling to wake up. Silas found a niche in the cavern right next to the cave exit, readied a bow, and sat so that he would have a good aim to the target. The other three ventured forth, deeper and deeper along one path, then another. In each case they got to a dead end without encountering any evidence of the goblins. But the goblins were definitely in the cave, because the entire place had their stench. The twosome soon came to breathing through their mouth rather than their nose, just to avoid that smell.
Then they came upon a cavern where they found the first two goblins in the mountain. All was quiet now. The goblins were fast asleep, and the two adventurers dared not make a sound. They both readied their bows so that they could fire at once. Though they were grappling around, they could make out in the dim torchlight where the goblins rested... and then they fired.
There was a mild groan from one, and a soft grunt from another. Both goblins in the first chamber had been hit in the heart, and they remained on the ground, dead, not making a sound.
Then the two proceeded to the next room, where the vast majority of the goblins were, it seemed. Almost fifty goblins were lying asleep, and about five were standing guard.
And they saw the newcomers immediately.
Immediately Ezra let his arrow fly, and it hit the first guard goblin. The goblin toppled over, its nerves fried by the pain of the arrow searing into its flesh. Right beside him, Kyle let out a burst of flame into two other guards who had rushed up to challenge them. Both goblins were incinerated within seconds, and their fried remains fell to the ground.
The alarm was sounded, and the goblins were stirring awake. Ezra fired another shot, while Kyle incinerated several more goblins while they were still attempting to get up. "Okay, time to back up," Kyle declared. The two retreated out of the inmost cavern, the first goblins hot on their track, their spears and swords raised. Primordial screams issued from the depths of the chamber, and clanging sounds could be heard: weapons were being brandished.
Ezra ran past the lit torch in the atrium, then returned to seize it. The goblins were fast approaching, so he brandished the torch as a weapon, against the onslaught of the goblins.
"NO!" shouted Kyle, but to no avail. Ezra was going to fend off the goblins now. He stabbed at the first one with the burning embers, forcing the goblins back; then another strike came in and slashed the torch in two. Charged with anger, Ezra picked up the two halves of the torches and flung them back at the charging goblins, but they did almost nothing. Meanwhile, another bow was flexed, and the whizzing of an arrow marked the coming of Silas to the atrium.
Ezra realized that his time was running out, so he dashed for the exit paths. On and on the three ran, turning occasionally to shoot their arrows at the enemies. All too soon, they had arrived at the entrance to the cave, and were about to rush out. "No, wait here, it's dark," Kyle told the other two, and pulled them into the shadows. "They won't see us," he whispered to them, as the goblins entered the cavern.
The goblins roared past: fully thirty of them, trampling their vile feet over the cavern and spreading the nasty smell of whatever it was they carried with them.
The goblins, not realizing that the trio were waiting in ambush, rushed toward the entrance, where they were clearly visible. Then Kyle let out a stream of fire, and the conflagration halted the onrush of the goblins, turning them into burnt corpses within seconds. The first few goblins fell down, and the rest were stunned, facing Kyle face on--who let out another steady stream of billowing flame, forcing the goblins to back away. Meanwhile, Silas and Ezra let their arrows fly---------and two more goblins came crashing to a halt into the floor of the dim cavern. The goblins were in disorder now, and fled back from where they had come.
"Okay, now let's go back."
"Huh?" Ezra couldn't believe Kyle's suggestion.
The trio walked back into the depths of the cave, still silently. Every few feet they encountered another goblin; they finished off those who had been wounded. It was common practice in these parts not to leave wounded enemies alive; there were enough here as it were. So amidst all the wails of the goblins in pain, the trio trodded forth.
They returned to the ventricle--that last room where the goblins had been sleeping--and there they found five goblins who had been left behind, dazed by the stampede. So of course it didn't take much time for Kyle, Ezra, and Silas to finish them all off. The place was reeking with blood by now.
The trio walked to the end of the ventricle, and noticed that it led indeed to an exit. They went out, out into the brilliant sunshine. First Ezra, then Silas--and suddenly, from above them, an array of spears enclosed around their necks, trapping them. Suddenly, the goblins appeared in full view. "If that wizard friend of yours does anything now, you're both dead," one of the more aged goblins said nastily. "We're not stupid, you know."
"Oh Zamn," Kyle said from below back in the cave, after he realized what fate had befallen those above. It was meant as a curse-word against adversity, and was a reference to the god of justice and the Midworld, Zamn. Then he turned around, and rushed back to the front entrance of the cave. If he were to be caught as well, then Ezra and Silas would be in real trouble.
The dazed Ezra could scarcely believe it. Goblins acting intelligent--as if all the accounts he heard at the Cirta tavern of cowardly goblins and stupid goblins were utter lies!