Chapter 62 – Goblin Village
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The goblin camp was much more sophisticated than I had been expecting. Of course, by Earthen standards, it would barely pass as a small village, but it was amazing by animal standards. They had erected something not quite a wall, but akin to a low wooden fence around a circular clearing. Within the space were almost a dozen ramshackle huts spread around sporadically, with no apparent order or design in placement. Between them, goblins lay about, almost all of them armed the same way as the goblins who had attacked us. Most of them seemed to be lazing about, with only the occasional goblin that seemed to be doing something with any semblance of purpose.

“So,” I whispered to Ren after I’d studied the village long enough. “Where’s this treasure you spoke so highly of?”

Ren grinned at me. “You see that building over there?” he asked in response, pointing subtly at one specific hut. It was the furthest hut from us, and notable because it was the most well-built of the huts. Of course, well built was a relative term, since the building was still just constructed of hollowed dirt and an assortment of sticks and stones.

“Yeah, I see it,” I said. “What about it?”

“The first time I came here, I saw what was probably a hunting group – like the one that we encountered – returning from a trip with some animals. I wasn’t too interested at first, but they started doing something curious with the animals. They split them into two piles, and the way they divided them up seemed almost random. My best guess was that one pile was weaker than the other, but the criteria still seemed super haphazard.

But then, as I kept watching, they finally showed what they were doing. They cut a line directly through the chest of the animals in the stronger pile and took out these glowing blue-ish orbs. They stored them in that hut. Those balls are what I’m after.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And you want them…because they were pretty?” I guessed.

Ren laughed dryly. “Very funny. I want them because I got a pretty strong whiff of Flux from the things, and I wanna know what they are.”

“Really?” I asked, finally interested. “...you think those were Flux Cores?” I asked after a pause. That was the only possible explanation I could think of for that. The fact they were orb-like and came from the center of the animals’ chests fit with the theory too.

Ren nodded. “That’s what I assumed, too, but I’ve never seen one in person, so I can’t say for sure. And I also wanna know what they plan on doing with them too. As far as I know, no one on Earth ever figured out a use for them. Actually, it was a really big taboo to take the Core out of a dead mage’s body. Even the organization I was from didn’t lower themselves to doing that to anyone they killed.”

“Huh, that’s interesting,” I said. I’d never heard of anything like that before, but it made sense. I’d never been near any of the circles where that would be common knowledge. The thugs I'd spent my life with were far too callous to care for the taboos of the elite circles.

“But anyway, what’s the plan?” Ren said, cutting into my dark reminiscence.

I looked at him blankly. “I dunno, I assumed you’d have a plan.”

Ren scoffed. “I can’t do everything now. I’m amazing, I know, but even I have limits.”

“You’re telling me you can’t figure out a way to get us past fifty-odd bloodthirsty goblins and into what’s probably their most guarded hut?” I said, giving him a disappointed look.

“And you can?” Ren responded.

A smug smile spread over my face. “Of course,” I assured, dripping with confidence.

Ren scoffed in obvious disbelief. “Really? You have an idea?”

I grinned. “Remember that little plan I talked about yesterday?”

Ren looked confused for a moment, before he finally caught on. “Ah, you mean your daydream?”

I scoffed at the condescending phrasing. “Plan,” I corrected, “not daydream. And believe it or not, the time for that plan to be executed has already come.”

“Huh? How’s that gonna-ah” Ren began, before realization finally dawned on him. “I see. But are you sure you’ll be able to handle fifty-odd goblins on your own?”

My grin faltered a little, but I quickly reassured the both of us. “Of course. I don’t need to kill them all. I just need to distract them, create havoc and all that. And I’m great at that.”

Ren shrugged. “I mean, if you’re sure, I won’t stop you. If enough of them are distracted, getting into that hut and getting the Cores should be a cinch.”

I nodded happily. “Alright then. Sounds like a plan.”

Ren smiled. “Sounds like it. But before we start…” Ren trailed off, as if unsure of how to word his question.

“Yes?” I asked when he didn’t say anything for a moment.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ren asked finally. “We’re taking something from them for no reason beyond our own interests. This is the first time you are going to be the aggressor, and I want you to be ready for what that entails before we begin.”

I smiled a small smile at him. He was right. This would be the first time I wouldn’t be on the defensive side of a fight. I wasn’t doing this to save my life, or protect my own people. I was doing this purely for greed, not survival.

I’d always known the time for me to face this would come, even when I had been daydreaming of running a world-class gang on Earth. I wasn’t delusional, I knew that I would eventually have to take from others if I wanted to reach great heights, but I’d always avoided thinking about it because the notion had made me uncomfortable. But I was no longer the same Ruby who wanted to achieve greatness while maintaining her childish pacifism. I knew what the world was like now, what undoubtedly the universe would be like as well, and I was ready. For the sake of the people I’d promised to take to incredible heights, and for the person who granted me the freedom to dream of those heights in the first place, I would no longer hesitate when I was presented with opportunities. I was faced with two choices and two choices only: being ruthless and reaching greatness, or being stupid and living a life of servitude and menial work destined to be forgotten by history.

It wasn’t really a choice at all, when I thought about it. Not when I owed so much to so many people.

“Yeah,” I said finally, after a long moment of thought. “I know. It’s about time I stop acting like a child.” I let out a deep breath, my eyes taking on a harder, determined light. “I understand what I need to do.”

Ren smiled at me, a complex, almost indecipherable look in his eye. “Sounds great,” he said, his voice cheery as always. “Let’s go ahead with the plan then. I’m gonna circle around and get closer to the hut. How am I gonna know when I should start?”

I grinned at him, feeling lighter and better by the minute as I revelled in the freedom of having finally dealt with the dilemma that I'd been avoiding for such a long time.

“Trust me, you’ll know when I start,” I said with glee.

Ren chuckled at my words. “Alright then. Good luck.” With that, Ren pushed himself back up to his feet and disappeared back into the thicket.

In the silence that followed, doubts started creeping their way into my mind, trying to make me question if I could actually do what I assured Ren I would. But I banished those thoughts with a firm push, clenching my knuckles till they turned white.

Pushing out a forced breath, I cleared my head of all thoughts aside from my task. There was no time for doubts or second-guessing. I was going to do my job, no matter what.

With a resolute face, I pushed myself up and retreated from where I came. From what I’d seen, there was only one actual entrance to the little village. Their fence had a little break about halfway along its circumference, and there was a relatively wide, cleared path that led to the break in the fence, so it was obviously meant to be the entrance. Of course, the actual fence presented very little protection against me, but sneaking in would defeat the whole purpose.

So instead, I would be taking the main entrance into the village and facing the horde of goblins head-on – like a normal, sensible person would.

Five minutes later, I waltzed right through the entrance of the village with the relaxed gait of someone who owned the place, my pole tapping lightly against the dirt with every step.

The goblins had a moment of utter confusion as they watched the human walk into their territory with no fear or hostility, as if needing a second to remember that I didn’t actually belong in their village.

Then, all in unison, as if they’d planned it out, they all turned hostile as they finally realized that I was an intruder. The lazing goblins all leapt to their feet as they bared their teeth, brandishing the assortment of weapons they clutched in their hands. A hostile goblin on its own was a strange, slightly scary sight, but the feeling of fifty of them staring at you with bloodlust practically dripping out of their eyes was in a league of its own.

However, under the threatening glares of the monsters, the only feeling I felt was elation. A mad grin spread over my face as I lit a ball of fire over my free palm. There was something about facing impossible odds that was just so addicting, so blissfully thrilling, that I knew at that moment that I would never be able to live without it.

The goblins visibly toned down their aggressiveness as they witnessed my magic, but the taunting cackle that left my lips at their cowardice restored their confidence. With a resounding roar, the goblins lifted their weapons in the air and charged at me from all sides, like a green tidal wave crashing down on me from every direction. Seconds away from swallowing me whole.

And in the face of the overwhelming attack, my grin only widened.

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