Gold coins fly around us, rolling and falling down to the floor below as we dig into the heap of treasure that is piled high against the wall. Soon enough I see it, the tip of the dark-metal spear buried in the mound of treasure beneath us. Together we both grab the weapon by the neck just beneath the blade and pull, struggling to release it free from the grave it found itself in. This was a lot easier when I was a minotaur. This thing is pretty heavy.
But as my second hand reaches the pole of the weapon I feel a familiar sensation, a familiarity with the weapon as if I’ve held it before. Used it before. I mean, yeah, technically I have? But it’s different. I suppose it’s because of my class, of me being a lancer, whatever that means on paper. I’m good with all sorts of pole-arms, spears, halberds. Anything long and attached to the end of a stick and I’m ready to go honestly. There’s just one issue here that’s going to be difficult.
Unsheathing the spear from the mound below I hold it upright and look at the magnificent weapon that is far too long for me to use as is. Not only from its own length, but because of my own. My frail stature isn’t exactly lancer-worthy. No, that’s not my part today as sad as it makes me to admit. I admire the weapon in a way I hadn’t taken the time to do last time. It’s beautifully crafted. The metal is a dark-blue variant of some kind of dungeon-ore that shimmers with a lustrous gleam, like the mischievous eyes of a mimic laying in wait. There’s something about it I like a lot. Something about the sparkle of the golden light bouncing off of the dark, sleek, pristine surface that brings me a deep childlike joy. What a magnificent weapon. If the hero wasn’t so set on wearing gold all the time he would look great with this too. Some people are just too sunnily disposed to appreciate a good piece of darkly themed equipment, you know?
I wish I could have seen demon-miasma in action. Bet he looked pretty sweet, tell you what. Heck. Maybe I did but it’s just so long ago I can’t remember? Ah whatever. Priorities. I shake my head and look at the young goblin I took with me. Looking over to the side to make sure there are no prying ears, I grab his shoulder and whisper my plan to him. As I do so I watch his expressions carefully, his gestures, his body language. I need to know he understands, I need to know that he’s ready to do what needs to be done. He seems wary at first, shocked. But then I see his gaze return to the group below us standing around the great-mimic. As his gaze washes over them I see the resolve behind his eyes grow stronger with every pass over every body. He gets it. Why this has to happen.
Looking back at me he nods with a look on his face I can only say I’m proud of seeing as a mentor. No matter what dumb name your parents give you, it doesn’t define you as a person, friend. No matter what your upbringing, social status, background, any of that nonsense. None of that defines what you decide to do after getting up every morning. None of that decides how you go out in the end. Those choices are your own and don’t ever let anyone tell you different. Remember that, friend. Taking the much too long spear from me, he slides down the pile of gold in fashion I can only describe as cool, as the back end of the long weapon drags behind the goblin now making his way forward.
I make my way after them too and approach Nix’dem who turns to me, having finished shortening the cape. She hands it over to me curiously but I raise my hand and tell her no. Give it to him. I point to the goblin with the spear. She seems confused, but nods in affirmation and goes over to the goblin who wears it as we discussed before. I can hear Gil’zal and some of the others snicker as Phil puts on the cape. Goblins tend to think capes are kind of lame, honestly? But he’s quickly silenced after the girl tells him how well it suits him. That he looks like a hero.
I smile, that’s exactly my plan.
Already I hear the first explosions echo down the long hallway, they’re going to be here soon. As the shock-wave tears through the room, sending coins jangling down all around us and filling the air with flying dust, the group tenses up and gets ready. Ten of them here with me. Two of them in the tunnels south-east of us, waiting to ambush the hero-party from behind. One of us still lying ten minutes back the other way. A lone cackle rings out in the distance and is quickly silenced by another explosion before it can even finish, the wizard-girl apparently not having any of it today.
Getting ready in advance I begin to cast my fire-barrier and place one in front of each of the goblins. Just doing that drains most of my mana and I feel a deep exhaustion already begin to set in. I’m about bone-dry. Maybe I have a fireball or two left in me at best. That’s fine. That’s all I need today I think, smiling to myself with a sinful amount of pride. Ducking to the side and throwing my staff away, I hide behind a pile of gold against the left wall, close to the entrance and I crawl inside as far as I can, digging like a rat making a nest. I peer through a tiny gap in the coins that cover me. Watching the entrance.
They come. The familiar unsynchronized thudding of their boots against the dank stone floors echoes out in the silence. In the heavy air filling the room, each slap cutting the tension as if with a knife only for more to pour out after to fill the space, like a bleeding gash. All of them, together as always enter the sub-boss arena and look at what awaits them today. The monk seems to be in good spirits again today. Good for her.
The rest of them are the same as always I would say. The hero looks hero’y. The priestess is doting on the tiny scratches the others have like a plush, frightened mama bird. The wizard looks a little frazzled, maybe she got too close to one of her own spells? But apart from that fine I would estimate aaaaand-
I double check to make sure, I mean, there’s not a lot to double check. But after looking twice I am positive that the thief-girl isn’t here with them. Hmm. Bad. But not unexpected. That means she’s off stalking somewhere, doing whatever creepy thiefy things it is she does on her own. And so they all stand there. The goblins stand by the great-mimic who doesn’t have a care in the world. The hero-party stands by the door, making small-talk and vague preparations as they are waiting for something. Something…
Two tiny shrieks fill the air and it takes everything I have in me not to explode out of my hiding spot at the sound of murder. As the two of my pupils who were hiding in the south-east corridor have encountered some terrible fate. I guess I know where the thief-girl is. Taking a deep breath I remind myself, this isn’t real. None of this matters. To them at least. They’ll be back tomorrow. But me? This matters to me. I won’t find a new floor today. I won’t escape the dungeon today. But I can do something that matters. That will help me feel better if nothing else. That will make a point. Also I can get a level-up, if everything goes to pla-
As the two screams are silenced the goblin group loses their calm, Gil’zal loses his calm. Eager to prove himself, eager to be the leader, to establish his position and to protect the rest of his friends he charges forward like a dumb-dumb. The rest of them follow because they too are dumb-dumbs. All of them follow but Phil, who stands there in silence just before the great-mimic like I had ordered. Spear in hand, cape around his neck he stands there defiant. He closes his eyes, just like I told him to do. It’s better seeing them dead than watching them die if you have to choose after all.
The sounds of violence scream out into the air, making themselves known to all that the confrontation has started. Metal against metal as the leader of the troop meets the hero head on who almost seems to be humoring him. The wizard-girl shoots a fireball off into the group behind them with no remorse and a shock-wave bursts through the room. Engulfing all of them in a magical fire that expands out like the stretching wings of a phoenix being reborn from an eruption. For a moment I see the hero-party relax, as they think the fight is already over. I see the wizard-girl lower her arms, the priestess patting the monk on the back who looks annoyed that she didn’t even get to fight this time.
And then they emerge. Ten screaming, angry little forms rushing out of the fire with weapons in hand. Their armor, their skin, their hands covered in a blaze that doesn’t burn them. A flame that fills their eyes, fills their hearts as they charge forward, surrounding the entire hero-party in an instant; letting it be known through their shouts, through their raging glares that they are still here. I see the shock on the hero’s face as they slip past him. Only just in time does the monk catch a couple of them on the right before they get to the priestess. The left flank however is open and another four little flaming goblins rush in to fill the gap, weapons at the ready as they charge the now unprepared wizard.
There is a whistle and one of them falls over as the arrow shoots from the darkness of the south-east corner. The remaining three press forward that last foot and they strike true. Two old rusty axes, and one spiked cudgel reaching the wizard who lets out a sound I can only describe as a wounded animal’s. A pained scream as the blades sink into flesh, into bone, into her waist and leg on the side. There’s another loud shout and the hero turns around and swipes once with his blade, three goblins fall over and move no more. I twitch, but I stay where I am.
I am proud of them though. They might be the first goblins to ever hurt an adventurer. Those are my kids! Gil’zal who was still holding the hero before him now lunges and swipes once. A gong rings out and for a moment I think the hero is ready to activate his ability already. But no. I feel a tingle on my skin, my hairs stand on end as I realize. As I see that his weapon has struck the hero. That his dinky little goblin axe has made contact with the pristine golden armor, leaving a tiny knick in the material. Proof. I am so proud! The hero turns around in an instant, returning his blade forward and in that second Gil’zal is no more.
Looking to the side I see Phil, still standing there by the great-mimic. I can see his hand shivering, his body shivering. But he stands firm. His eyes aren’t closed anymore. He was watching the whole time. Two more whistles ring out and the fight is silenced.
Gil’zil and Zig’nal and Nix’dim and Pil’pal and Rif’ral and Tin’fel, Min’man and Hil’zal and Rip’wan and Dil’den and Jin’jim and Lil’pal. All of them are at rest. Having done their part for the day. My students, guy. My students hurt an adventurer, hit the hero! Dungeon-master? Are you watching? Did you see them? I’m so proud of them and a part of me hurts, but I know that it’s just going to hurt for today. Just for now. Tomorrow they’ll be back. Tomorrow they’ll be alive again, happily running around the palace as naive and asleep to the truths of the dungeon as ever. Safe.
The priestess is already wrestling with the wizard-girl who is on the ground, trying to pry her off. Apparently trying to drink a potion, but the priestess is fighting her over it. Perhaps insisting she’ll do it herself? I can see a deep red streak stain the wizard’s robes, a deep red stream trickle down her body onto the stone floor she’s laying on. The hero looks back to them, angry. One of his friends was hurt. That’s unacceptable to him of course.
His gaze returns forward to the lone goblin standing in the middle of the room. The man with the spear. I see her as well, the thief, skulking in the background. Stalking. Eying the goblin up and down. Does she know it’s not me? It seems like something I would do. But I’m sure she knows it’s not me. What she doesn’t know is why he’s there. What my plan is. My stupid. Simple. Easy plan. Go for it kid. Do your best I wish silently out to the last-man standing. Make a good show.
Phil looks to the hero and does exactly as he was told. He raises a single hand forward, palm facing up. He rests his other hand behind himself, assuming the duelist’s pose. The hero stiffens up. The air fills with tension as they all watch the spectacle unfold. Then the hero steps forward once, realizing what this is. A challenge.
The hero can never turn down a challenge. A swordsman will never turn down a challenge. It’s their one biggest weaknesses. Maybe the only one. Pride. Honor. Things like that can be a real problem in the dungeon, guy. I see her, she’s getting closer now. Gold jangles from the pile next to me as she digs, searches for something desperately. Something she thinks is hidden somewhere in the gold.
Already I see the arguing starting. His group yelling at him, telling him not to be stupid. There’s no point. It’s just a goblin. Why risk it? Oh hero. We love you. Don’t abandon us, hero. We’re clingy and desperate, hero! Hero, fulfill my raging abandonment issues because mama and papa never loved me! Fill the void in my heart hero! I’m socially awkward, hero, but around you I’m cool! That’s what I imagine they’re saying with maybe only a tiny bits of artistic embellishment to my thoughts. Just a few. Do I sound jealous?
In classic hero style, he ignores what his close friends are saying to go do what solely he thinks is right and meets eyes with Phil, nodding in acknowledgment. Phil nods back and they step forward to meet each other. I wonder. Does he question how a goblin knows about such things? Such human rituals? Does he care? Does he even think that far ahead? I guess not. I suppose you don’t have to be the brains of the operation if you’re the strongest one in the room. The fight starts and it's as slow and awkward as you might imagine. Phil is doing his best, but the weapon is just too long. Too impractical. But it’s serving its purpose. Spectacle. Keeping their eyes and minds off of the fact that twelve goblins survived a fireball.
I need all eyes on him. All suspicions on him. Even if this isn’t about him this time, the hero. No. He’s not what I’m after today. I let the mana loose, all of the mana I have left I let flow into my hands, into my fingers as a fire begins to bud. As the gold around me begins to radiate heat back at me, the shine of the flame buried beneath the mass. More. I let more mana leave my body and I feel the exhaustion come close to overtaking me, feel my eyes grow heavy and sag. Feel my body run dry as everything I have goes into my magic, into my hands.
More. The energy pulses and crashes in my being, the skin on my hands
Burning and singing. The coins above me jingle and jangle as two soft, pale hands dig through them. Pushing them away and digging, clawing, searching like a starving animal for some morsel buried beneath. A swipe of her green sleeve sends a wave of coins splashing down away onto the ground and I see light. And I see her.
Our faces meet, her surprised eyes looking into mine which shine back with mischievous intent.
This is for squishing me.
I release the mana and we explode together.