As we rise up out of the darkness, already I hear the new set of excited ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ come from behind me as the intensity of the orange glow becomes brighter and brighter like the rays of a rising sun heralding the dawn of a fresh day. I take the final step and then they do in my wake and look around in surprise at the crumbling stone corridor filled with mountains of gold coins that seem to create a light all on their own. As if piling coins together triggered some ancient dungeon magic that made them glow and illuminate this dark corner of the world.
I’ll have to try to remember that one. Maybe I can make use of a pile of glowing coins sometime?
“Coins?” asks Gil’zal.
“Worthless, useless, gold coins.” I answer. “This is grand-treasury. There many coins here. They like rocks. They trash.”
“Aaaah” they all let out a collective understanding sound, apparently awestruck by my seemingly never ending wisdom. Can’t blame them really, I’m pretty nifty if I do say so myself. “Come, we must hurry” I say and turn around. Their exhaustion from the journey so far dissipates as the excitement offered by exploring this new place fills them with fresh vigor. Ah, to be young.
“Many coins,” says Dil’den.
“Is there coin-king?” asks Nix-dem.
“What? That’s dumb,” says Pil’pal.
“Shut up. You dumb!” shouts Gil’zal jumping to her defense.
I roll my eyes.
“If there’s no rock-king, why would there be coin-king? Dumb dumbs!” says Rif’ral.
I tell all of them to shut up and pay attention. I tell them if they see any boxes not to touch them. It’s dangerous. They look at each other somewhat perplexed but then nod to me in affirmation.
We walk on in silence for a moment apart from the odd grumble or two. Just as we round the second corner I hear a loud jingling shatter and turn around to look at the disaster unfolding before me. One of them trips over a stacked mound of coins sending the others just behind them, who weren’t paying attention either, tumbling forwards as they trip over each other. Within seconds there is a twelve goblin strong pile-up. All of their metal armor and weapons clanking and clashing together as they tumble and roll over the spilled piles of gold.
“You dumb dumb!”
“No! You dumb dumb!”
They begin fighting amongst each other, rolling around on the ground and creating even more noise. I pinch the bridge of my nose and wait for them to stop and act like professionals. They don’t. A moment later a proudly mischievous cackle comes out from the distance as the noise of tossing gold and metal continues. Some mimic more than proud of its work as its listening to the chaos unfold down the way. They finally got somebody. Wait. Did I say twelve before?
I look over the troop just barely managing to separate their now entangled armor. Gil’zal and Phil are stuck together like brood mates. Nix’dem and Hil’zal find this hilarious and are holding each other laughing, each tone just as loud as the mimic’s. One… two… uh… I go over each head with a finger counting to make sure they’re all here. I stop, realizing we’re one short.
“Where’s Jin’jim?” I ask abruptly. The others look around to see if he can be found. But the young goblin is nowhere in the mix.
“Jin’jim was just here. Just saw him minute ago," says Pil’pal. But nobody else knows anything. The room is quiet as we all try to think where he could be.
A second, excited giggle breaks the silence; echoing down the halls from the distance ahead.
I turn and run as fast as I can now, down the spiral hallway towards the sub-boss arena. Did he go off on his own? That dumb dumb! The others, having seen me run, are now in hot pursuit and then quickly overtake my old bones as they now assume the same, that he has run forward alone. That there is some danger. What they don’t know however is the specific danger he’s probably walking towards now, curious and unaware in his childish hopes to find out; what’s in this box?
A sound shoots through the world, down the corridors; screeching as it bites into my ears, bites into my heart. Bites. Bites. The screams.
Now the last one in the group, I round the corner just behind them and see the red in the distance. See the thick, misty cloud of blood spraying through the air in the distance as the mimic tears into him. Tears through him, the little box clamped tightly around his neck, the writhing, gnawing fleshy creature inside ripping into him with the razor sharp teeth lining the edges. Tearing. Biting. Nibble-nibble.
The others are already there and rip the box off of him and begin pummeling the little creature. The poor mimic never stood a chance. Poor Jin’jim never stood a chance. I watch in abject horror from afar, walking only in a steady, slow pace towards them as the chaos unfolds. I watch the beating and the chopping and the stabbing. I watch the bleeding. I watch the screaming and I watch the red drip down the walls, Drip down them. Drip-drip.
My staff thunks against the floor as I slowly approach the site. As the air grows quiet as the fight, if it could be called that, is over. There is screaming. It’s not from Jin’jim. He doesn’t scream anymore. I break into the circle of goblins surrounding him and look down at the mess. An ache shoots through me. A pain I’m vaguely familiar with. It hurts. Why?
I look around to the others, they are crying. Why? Gil’zal is kneeling at the dead goblin’s side, trying to stop the bleeding. Trying to attach pieces of him back on, pieces that aren’t attached anymore. It doesn’t work. There are disgusting noises from the others. Howls. Wrenching wordless shouts and grunts. I look at them, what are they feeling? Is it this? Is it this hurt I’m feeling too? I look down to the body. Not of the goblin, but the mimic. A memory returns to me. A red memory of the priestess. Of the hero-party surrounding her as she lay by the befouled water. I feel sick. I feel a nausea grow in me.
Is that what this is? I look to the goblins who are distraught. The elite of goblin society. The best of the best. Defeated at the death of a single comrade. Groveling. Crying. Aching. Kneeling and rolling in the puddles of red. Have they ever even seen battle before? Do they know what it is to fight outside of training? No. No they don’t. They’ve never fought an adventurer. They’ve never seen a mimic. They’ve never seen death that isn’t a rats. Why didn’t I keep a closer eye on them? I knew what was coming. I could have known that one of them would be curious enough to try and open one. I saw how excited they were just before. So why didn’t I pay closer attention?
Hands clutch my robe. Gil’zal, proud leader of the group clings to me with his red hands that stain me, that stick to me as if they were my own. “Elder help Jin’jim! Please!” he asks between raspy, snotty breaths. His eyes are wet. His face is wet. His hands are wet. Mixtures of tears, snot and blood cover him from head to toe. His metal armor lacquered with the goo. I shake my head.
“There is nothing I can do. He’s gone.”
More wretched cries erupt now from the group who fall together into a heap. Who hold each other, who hold the body. The sight of them, the sound of them. I feel sick. I feel… an ache. They look worried. Sad. Terrified. Angry. Scared. I’m jealous. Why? Why do I feel like this even if I don’t want to?
All of them are together. Except for me. I stand apart from them. Apart from the mourning. The last metaphorical man standing, I feel lonely as I watch the bloodied mess before me. I feel like I should be down there with them. But I know I don’t deserve to be. I don’t belong. I’m not one of them. I’m not a part of this, am I?
So why does it ache? I walk away alone further down the way and let them grieve. As I pass by the mimic I place a hand on its head and stroke the body once in passing, as a gesture of… respect? Mourning? Solidarity? I don’t know. The mimic was just doing what it does. I’m just doing what I do. I clutch my hands around the staff, my dirty, grubby fingernails digging into the material.
Maybe this is why the hero is so protective of his friends. If this is what he feels. This ache. Then I understand. I understand I think as I listen to the wailing in the distance.
Something is wet on my face.