The goblin swung her new cutlass experimentally and admired her new gold necklace as they walked.
Rain worked a green scale free from his teeth with a claw. The Kobold leader had posessed a much tougher body to chew on than the other Kobolds, another sign that it would have been a bad idea to fight him when he was unwounded.
“Rock shaped like a goat?” muttered Rain, turning over what the Kobold had said.
“Yeah, I sometimes went there when scouting for the tribe. A lot of the time it would have levelers camped by it so it was dangerous. They like the spot for some reason, I guess it’s a convenient safe place near the stairs to a higher floor of the dungeon.” She shrugged and pointed with her new cutlass. “It’s right there, follow me.”
She led the way through a crack in the wall and they shuffled through until they came out on a shelf of rock overlooking a vast cavern which had in the centre what seemed a monolithic upright cuboid rock formation. The formation had apparently been carved in some distant time past as the top quarter was loosely shaped like a goat’s head. A cluster of trees grew on top of the rock formation draping greenery down its side.
The rest of the cavern was relatively barren with only a number of rocks spread sparsely around the sands, as such it was easy to see the campfire and rising pillar of smoke at the base of the formation.
“Oh shit, they really are there,” exclaimed Opal.
“We don't know if it's the same group that the Kobold mentioned, we need to get closer.”
They climbed down from the shelf and wandered into the cavern proper. It didn't make for good cover and the pair were wary with how they approached and carefully hid from sight.
The campfire as it came into view was surrounded by more people than any single adventuring team Rain had ever known. It wasn't until they got closer that he realised why that was. A number of Goblins and Kobolds were chained around the edge of the camp while a skinny Hobgoblin oversaw them.
The actual adventuring team sat around the fire. A tall Elf with black hair, an even taller female Orc who looked to be nearly seven foot tall, and beside her a Human woman. The woman had wavy blonde hair and wore form fitting hunting leathers under a loose cloak, a staff lay by her side.
“I know why you want this Brax person, he was one of your old slavers, wasn't he?” Opal nodded at the Elf.
“No. I have no idea who that Elf is. But the woman, that’s Eliza. I don't know why she is with a shady group like this but that isn't going to stop me from killing her.”
“Well you aren't getting at her like this surrounded by her allies.”
Rain gnawed on his lip. “We should get closer, maybe if we hear their plans we can figure something out.”
They crept to the edge of the camp, maybe too close, a chained Goblin spotted Rain and he froze unsure what to do until Opal raised her finger to her lip in a shushing motion and the Goblin quite deliberately looked away from them. Rain hurried to get out of sight behind a boulder.
“Lucky. That Gobbo could have called out.”
“Maybe we can free the Goblins without being noticed and then when they are chasing them down I get Eliza.”
“I’m not sure I’d be able to get near without being noticed to free them, you definetly can't.”
Rain frowned but remained quiet to listen. Voices drifted over and they peeked around the stone.
“Here, Eliza, warm my meat.”
“No! I’m not that kind of mage! How many times have I told you, I don't do fire. If you want it warmed stick it down your pants you stupid Orc.”
“Bwahahah! Ola, quit being a tease, you’ll just get slapped down again.”
“Not my fault she has a stick up her arse and can’t take a joke,” the Orc grumbled.
“Hey, relax, we got a good haul, plenty of throwaway slaves we can sell off. Just think of the money.”
“Eurgh, don’t say that. I feel dirty enough working with you two.”
“You’ll change your tune with a fat stack of coin in your hands, don’t you worry.”
“No way! I wouldn't be doing this if I weren't in so much debt for buying this stupid staff. Soon as we’re done we’re parting ways.”
“Ola here said something similar back in the day and now she’s my reliable partner in business.”
The Orc nodded. “Honour and all that is bullshit. Strength is the only virtue, everything else is meaningless, you know that, it’s the same with leveling. The strong stand on the weak and relish every moment of it. Someone ten levels above you can lean on you, someone twenty levels above you can take everything you own and make you their bitch and you won't be able to do a thing about it. Same shit we do with these level-less monsters. You can think of them as level one if you like, it’s not our fault they are so weak.”
“Oh… I knew someone who was level one… as an adult.”
“Really? Bet they got squashed like a bug hah!”
“It… It wasn’t like that.”
“But they were squashed in the end no? You see my point.”
“Oih! Your high and mighty levelernesses!”
The Orc narrowed her eyes in annoyance. “What is it Hob?”
The weedling voice that had spoken up belonged to the skinny Hobgoblin who had been walking amongst the slaves and seeing to their chains.
He held up a Goblin by the scruff. “This one says we got a Gobbo stalker. Probly followed us from that little tribe we raided.”
“Oh?,” said the Elf. He rose from sitting and unsheathed a rapier at his side. Wind seemed to come from nowhere and blew out the tail of his coat dramatically. “An after dinner hunt to settle the stomach, I’ll enjoy this.”
He began to slowly float into the air.
“Hey, don't piss off and leave me alone with the Human,” growled the Orc standing and heaving up what appeared to be an actual fullsized blacksmiths anvil on the end of a squared steel rod partly wrapped in cloth for grip.
“Fine, but it’s none of my concern if you can’t keep up.”
As his eyes turned outward and scanned the area Opal and Rain panicked.
“What do we do?!” hissed Opal.
“I don’t know, that Orc looks strong enough to snap me over her knee, and I don't even know what that Elf is capable of.”
“We run, we gotta run.”
Rain nodded. “No choice, it's our only shot.” He looked down at her legs. “You’re okay to do that right? You’ve got your strength back?”
“Yes, yes, I’ve been fine for ages now, worry about yourself,” she said, stretching her legs as though readying for a race.
“Alright, on one. Two. Three!”
They bolted from behind the rock and fled back to where they had entered into the cavern.
“There! I see the Goblin! And something else! What the fuck is that? Ola, care!”
The Elf swooped through the air quickly gaining on them and Rain glanced behind to see the Orc was sprinting from the camp, her muscular legs pounding the ground like pistons, each step causing an explosion of sand behind her.
Fortunately their entry point was nearing, a crack In the cavern wall on a slightly raised shelf of stone.
Lightning exploded to one side and Rain yelped as speckles of molten sand rained over him.
“Missed! Damn it! Stay still so I can shoot you Goblin girl!” came a scornful voice from above.
“Leave some for me you stupid Elf!” bellowed a voice further behind.
Rain zigzagged hoping to avoid being hit, but no more attacks came and he succesfully made it to the rock shelf and scrambled up its side to the crack. It was only then he turned and realised Opal wasn't with him. She was far behind, half running on shaky legs, half jogging, as he watched she weakly sunk to the ground before getting control of herself and rising to run again.
The Elf was casually floating above looking down at her with amusement. She ran, but the end was inevitable. The Elf flourished his hand and the Goblin was slammed into the ground as though buffeted by a gale force wind. As she hit the sand the Orc stomped up behind them.
“What is that?” said the Orc staring at Rain. “Is it drenched in blood? It’s like some kind of bipedal wolf thing.”
“I’m not sure. It’s like no monster I’ve seen or heard off before and I’ve come across quite a number.”
“Some kind of leveler, an intelligent higher species that's not well known? Most levelers are bipedal.”
“Doubt it, it looks feral. Just look at its eyes, there’s something wrong with it. Unsettling.” The Elf shivered despite himself.
“Bet I could take it.”
“Don’t be stupid Ola. It’s a complete unknown. There are old slavers and there are bold slavers, but there are no old bold slavers. You know that.”
“Hmpph. Fuck that noise. Hey, black and bloody! Come get some!”
“Shh! Don’t provoke it!”
Ola held up a thick finger at him. “Listen closely Elf. Go find a pair of rocks about the size of my fist, get that stupid scarf you wear, tie those rocks up, and then dangle them from your crotch. Hopefully that will inspire you to grow a pair.”
The Elf shot a bolt of lightning beside the Orc causing her to yelp and drop her anvil hammer.
“Stop being a fool. This is a Dungeon not an Orcish brawling house.”
The Orc glowered at the floating Elf. “Fuck you!”
The Elf ignored her and drifted down to the ground beside Opal. He produced a steel collar from his coat and snapped it around her neck. Rain could only watch, frozen in place. His instincts were screaming at him to run and leap at the Elf and kill him but his reason earned in his previous life warred back in a panic telling him he stood no chance at all against someone high level enough to freaking fly and someone who could wield what must have been an entire four or five hundred pound anvil as a hammer.
“I won't be a slave!” screamed Opal clutching at the collar. Her eyes caught Rain’s for a moment and that one look alone was enough to communicate all of her intent. She had said ‘slave’ to tell him that she would not die immediately and not to risk himself yet. She had said ‘won’t’ because she intended to escape at some point in the future, he need only follow and wait for the opportunity to help.
He grit his teeth until it felt like they would crack. He wanted Opal back. He had never expected to feel so covetous and possessive over the Goblin. She was his. He managed to control himself with difficulty and then forced himself to move to the shadowed crack in the cavern wall. With one last glance behind he disappeared inside.