Chapter 18
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Opal yelped as the Hobgoblin smacked her to the ground. Her gold necklace was in one of his fists and her cutlass was at his hip.

“Why are you doing this? Why help the levelers?” said Opal rubbing her cheek.

The Hobgoblin shrugged. “It’s a life. That us Gobbos are shit to each other makes it easy.”

“We can escape, rise up, get freedom.”

The Hobgoblin picked his nose. “Nah. I’m here cause I get paid. How do you think these clueless adventurers even find Gobbo tribes.” He jabbed a thumb into his chest, still picking his nose.

“But they see you as nothing! Just experience for levels!”

“A Hob like me ain’t worth shit in experience to those high levelers. I got more value than that as a guide and tracker. Economics innit.”

Opal sighed, disappointed that he wasn't going to be persuaded. Not that she expected him to be, if he were then the other enslaved Goblins would have escaped by now.

The levelers that the Hobgoblin served were busy packing up, the Elf had decided he didn’t want to sleep with Rain nearby. Opal considered that a wise move.

Already the Goblins and Kobolds were being shuffled into a line by the Hob, each chained to the next slave in line. Opal was near the end, a chain connected to her collar. The Elf flew around the camp keeping a lookout as the Orc and Eliza packed the last of their stuff away. It all fit in an overly large duffel bag which the Orc swung over one shoulder. Opal eyed her bulging biceps, the Orc really was astonishingly strong. She would need to be killed in her sleep if they were to have a chance.

The procession of slaves set out with the Orc at the head with a chain in the same fist that gripped her hammer. She tugged on it and the row of two dozen slaves stumbled into motion.

“I still think you’re overblowing things,” grumbled the orc.

“Yes I agree, what on earth did you see that spooked you enough to want to decamp?” said Eliza.

“It’s just risk management. You see a monster you’ve never seen nor heard of before and it’s covered from tip to toe in blood, enough blood that it didn't come from one creature alone, well, you get the fuck out of town.”

“That does sound worrying.”

“Pshaw. It’s just some monster. I could break it like a toy.”

The Elf drifted by in the air, his posture as though he were on an invisible couch with his ankle rocking on one knee and his hands behind his head.

“I do wish you would learn from our peers' frequent premature demise Ola. There is a reason that we are still going when so many quite respectable slavers have perished.”

“Yeah, it’s because I’m strong as fuck.”

The Elf covered his face with one hand and shook his head.

“No, my dear Orc. It’s because we don't take risks. We don't go after the truly dangerous monsters and we don't push our luck.”

Eliza raised her hand. “But aren't the dangerous monsters more valuable?”

“Yeah, what she said. Who’s to say that black furred fucker wasn’t worth a million gold?”

“Let me put it this way. The slaver that goes after the truly dangerous monsters dies within a year. The slaver that goes after the less dangerous monsters, but doesn't make as much, lives, and over time they come to own a fortune multiple times the size the risk taker ever had. It’s all about playing the long game. Economics.”

The Orc grumbled but didn't protest, irritably pulling on the slaves’ chain as they left the goat head cavern.

They soon came to the base of a great stair that led between floors of the dungeon. A massive thing made by some unknown civilization eons ago, forty feet wide, with two or three hundred steps going upward and vanishing into the dark, and this was just one floor.

“Right you Goblin and Kobold fucks, try to keep your feet in order. If one of you falls make sure you catch them. Last time we led slaves out of here they all fell down like dominoes after the one at the front slipped over. I dragged the lot of them to the top on their asses. Two of them died on the way. You’ve been warned.”

The slaves looking nervous formed into a relatively straight line behind the Orc as she took to the stairs. They followed meekly after her.

Opal eyed the surroundings and wasn't surprised to see a dark shadow disappear behind a rock. They had a stalker.

She elbowed the Goblin next to her and hissed at them. The forlorn looking Goblin looked up.

“Hey,” she said, “I got someone on the outside looking to break us free. They're strong, if we give them an opportunity they can kill any one of those leveler assholes as long as it's a surprise attack.”

The Goblin stared at Opal. “...Why are you so clean?”

Opal scowled and avoided looking her in the eye.

“I... fell in a lake. Listen, forget that, I’ve got someone who can help who isn’t in chains.”

“Our whole tribe was crushed just by the Orc. What chance does one lone Gobbo stand.”

“He isn't a Gobbo, and he took down my old tribe alone, including our witch goblin and Hobgobbo.”

The Goblin gave her a funny look. “Why is he with you now then?”

“Would you pick teaming up with the dying remains of a Gobbo tribe or the one who beat them but is open to help?”

“Fair. I guess.”

“Anyway, the thing I wanted to ask is, well, you lot have been here longer than me, surely you’ve got something? An escape plan?

The Goblin shrugged. “Not really. But the Kobolds? Yeah, maybe.” The goblin kicked the Kobold in front of them in the tail. She turned around with a scowl.

“What do you want you stinky unwashed goblin?”

The Goblin grinned back at her. “This one says she’s got a friend on the outside.”

The Kobold eyed Opal suspiciously, clearly noting how clean Opal was and raising an eyebrow. “Why did you have a Kobold cutlass and necklace when you got here?”

Uh oh “Oh, that, right. If you really want to know me and my friend came across a dying Kobold leader. The Kobold had found a giant snake’s nest and tried to kill the snake and take the eggs but the snake and the Kobold only managed to kill each other after a great battle. The Kobold impressed my friend so much with his courage that he offered him a boon before his death. He told us to kill this leveler team he said was raiding his tribe. It didn't really go as planned since I’m here and the team isn't dead.” Mostly true, but I don’t think she’s gonna buy it.

“Why would you tell me that? That sounds completely unbelievable.” She was silent for a moment. “This Kobold, did he have green and red scales?”

“Yeah, that's the one, he could breathe fire too.”

“Grexin that pompous scaly asshole, I knew I recognized that cutlass, of course he would get himself killed greeding for sneggs. Alright fine, that’s atleast a little believable.”

“Well, have you got a plan?”

The Kobold sneered.

“She reckons her friend can kill one of the levelers if it’s a sneak attack. Says he took on her old tribe alone and won,” said the Goblin.

The Kobold eyed Opal. “Well you came to complete that boon so I suppose you have motivation you otherwise would not.” She hesitated and then opened her mouth showing a crude solid gold key hidden beneath her tongue.

Opal blinked. “How?”

“It’s gold isn't it. Soft. I had a gold coin and now I have a key because I shaped it with my teeth.”

“Wow, that’s actually legitimately impressive. It works?”

The Kobold seemed pleased and nodded. “Already tested it. Just waiting for them to sleep.”

The line had made it up to the top of the stair by this point and they stumbled onto flat ground. Opal took a moment to peer back down and spotted a black tail sliding behind a pillar on one side of the stair.

The levelers were conversing up ahead and after a moment the Orc sighed and pulled on the chain once more.

“One more floor so the princess can sleep easy.”

The slaves groaned but trudged after the Orc as they made their way over to a second giant stair and began to ascend.

Sometime later they crossed onto the next floor and the elf led them through a number of dark caves until they came to one that was dimly lit by veins of crystal running through the walls. The Elf had the Orc and Eliza make camp and soon they were as they had started, tents, fire, and slaves chained to iron stakes that the Orc rammed into the ground with her hammer.

About an hour later the levelers crawled into their tents and fell asleep. A few hours after that a shadow crept into the cave. Out of the gloom a pair of unsettling yellow eyes approached. Opal had to put a hand over the mouth of the nearest Goblin as they saw Rain and tried to cry out.

“It’s a friend. They’ll help us escape,” she whispered.

The Goblin slowly nodded but looked scared as the shadowy beast moved nearer and then looked like they were going to wet themselves when Rain grinned at Opal.

Opal put a hand on her collar. “I’ve got something for this. Hangon.”

She turned to the Kobold with the key who was watching Rain warily.

“Well?”

“What is that monster?” She shook her head. “Nevermind, not now.” She plucked the key from under her tongue and unlocked her collar then passed it to Opal who did the same, then to the next Goblin in the line and so on, swiftly freeing more and more.

“Hey, whatchu doing?” came a nasaly voice. It was the Hobgoblin who had been crouched near the tents and distractedly carving a bit of wood.

The Goblins and Kobolds froze.

 

 

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