The reason I didn’t show any mercy to Stella was because it was a conflict of interest. She had clearly said she wanted me to take responsibility and reduce her to a slab of quivering meat who was incapable of processing any difficult unwanted thoughts I had forced her to deal with due to my violating her. She might be pissed off at me when she finally comes around, but I did exactly as she instructed.
Women can be interesting creatures at times with their desires. While human women conceal and beguile to achieve theirs, conversely, goblins are completely upfront. Whether Human or Goblin though, one thing they do share in common is the honesty of their bodies. Lying next to me on the right is the somewhat immobile form of a female goblin who was nearly chosen last among her peers, and in a desperate bid to hold anything but the last rank in the goblin hierarchy of who had been chosen to receive my seed, had granted me an incredibly desirable item I thought long gone. On my left was the immobile form of a human who was uneducated, had unrealistic ambitions, and who, like me, was nothing more than a pawn in some bigger scheme of things that neither of us could see from our dark cavern prison.
The only things those two shared right now was a slit between their legs, a peaceful smile on their faces, and a belly full of my little swimmers.
I turned on my side and stroked the cheeks of the finder goblin who had brought me the magic lantern. She began to stir, turning her head to look at me.
“Welcome back, Crow.”
“Crow. You are Crow.”
“I had a little trouble settling on a name for you, but I think this one is a good fit.”
“Crow… like name. Knees to milkies sore. Crow belly is full-full.”
I rolled her onto her side and pulled her right up against me, holding her snugly in place.
“Just relax and keep warm with me.”
I put my hand on her belly.
“If you feel like you want more big seed, just say so. I will give you all you want tonight.”
“More seed now!?”
“If you want.”
“Later. Now sleepy. Husband warm.”
“Then you can go back to sleep, I won’t go anywhere.”
“Crow… will have big strong ones.”
No sooner than she said that, I found that we were being visited by a goblin that I wasn’t on the best of terms with. The Old One was standing over Crow and I, but staring right at me.
“Human. Come, now.”
“Do you need something?”
“No time for putting on ropes, you must come with me, now!”
I gently rubbed Crow’s limp arm and sighed.
“I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Husband go. Not make Old One angry.”
I wondered what the Old One wanted, because she seemed to be in quite a hurry. Eschewing underwear in lieu of haste, I followed her out of the breeding room and we walked towards the entrance of goblin-home. When we passed beyond Jewel’s room, I became concerned.
“I can’t go further than this without ropes.” I told her.
“Be quiet and follow, human.”
I sighed. Was the Old One trying to set me up? As it turns out, she wasn’t, but I only understood why she had dragged me out of my room once I stepped food out of the cave. Lying on the ground in front of the fire pit was the body of the final goblin I had yet to impregnate… was, being the operative word. There were deep gashes from several claw marks all over her bloody body, and it didn’t look like she was still breathing.
“What’s going on, Old One?”
“I don’t know, exactly. Guardian found her in the forest. The claw marks look like they came from the Black-claw tribe. I do not possess the magic which can restore her, but perhaps you have human magic which can?”
In the hand of the Old One was my quartz focus orb. It wouldn’t do any good, however. Healing magic is outside of the domain of arcane magic. It’s divine in origin.
“I can’t use healing magic, Old One. But, I will see what I can do for her.”
I dropped to my knees and put my ear to her chest, listening for anything like a heartbeat. But there wasn’t one. Her body was already cold, and not from the temperature outside. I wasn’t a practitioner of necromancy, and light magic is not healing magic. There was nothing I could do for this one short of making a shovel and digging a hole. I had taken a course in cardio-pulminary resuscitation in my previous life, so I put my hands on her chest and tried giving her some compressions in the hopes that maybe it would work. It didn’t, but at least I tried something.
“She’s dead, Old One. I… can’t bring the dead back to life. If she had even a little breath in her, or if her heart still beat even a little, maybe… I could have done something for her.”
“I know of the human ones who wear white rags…”
“Saints.” I answered her, “They use the gods' blessings to heal, It’s… different from the magic I can use.”
“What of the other human?
“She is good with a bow, and not much else, I’m afraid…”
Old One’s face looked like she was prepared for that answer already. I think I was just the last holdout of hope until the Great Protector arrived. The Old One had already summoned it.
“I’m… sorry I can’t do anything for her.”
“It is the way of goblins.” She looked stoic as she said it, but I know enough about goblins now to know she must have felt a great sadness seeing one of her tribe dead. “Strong ones live, weak ones die.”
“Beast-talker was the only one I hadn’t given big seed to. I was going to choose her tomorrow…” I added.
The Old One slowly lowered her head to confirm.
“Here.” She lobbed my quartz focus orb at me, which I caught carefully.
“Why are you giving this to me…?”
The answer came in an unexpected manner.
“Husband hunt with me.”
I didn’t need to turn my head to know the voice of my eldest daughter who stood behind me.
“Diana Artemis track. Find Prima, make sure safe. Husband adventurer. Together strong. We hunt, protect tribe.”
Diana was armed only with her long knife, tucked away in her loincloth. My daughter had a look of determination on her face.
“You want us both to go out there at night?”
“Human. The Great Protector has charged us with hunting only until the black trees, the big rock, and the stream. Do not go past those boundaries, no matter the cost.”
“Are you telling me to go… with Diana and with my focus orb?”
“Old One not tell Husband. Diana Artemis tell Husband. Tell Old One bring, give shiny stone.”
“Diana, I can’t go past the trees. Prima said–”
“Diana next guardian! Prima not here, danger. Diana say Husband go!”
I cast my gaze at the Old One.
“I have lost most of my tribe once before. Tonight, I might lose many more of my tribe again. While I do not trust you, Human, your child, Huntress, does. She believes your human magic and her ability as a hunter will be enough to rescue the others. She has resolved herself to fight the Black-claws alone if necessary, even if it means she may die. Do you have the same resolve to return her trust in you?”
Old One sat down and placed her hand on the body of the dead goblin.
I could only sigh at how fucked shit sounded right now.
“Jewel, Doll, Prima all hunt Black-claw hunt Beast-talker.”
“Then why are we going?” I asked Diana. “If it’s those three already hunting, why are we even talking about going out into the forest at night?”
“Black-claw many. Hunt together, big-strong. More Black-claw than goblin. Diana Artemis know Husband strong. Come, we go.”
Fuck. I am completely naked and all I have is my quartz focus orb in hand. I am not at all prepared to go traipsing through a goddamn forest late at night. But I sure as hell won’t be letting my little drop goblin go out into the equivalent of Jurassic Park by her lonesome. I’d never be able to live with myself, or ever be able to face Berry for as long as I live.
Using the force magic through my personally attuned focus orb, I raised up the land around my feet, up to my ankles and compressed the dirt into form-fitting stone shoes. At least with shoes on I won’t be dragging blood around from stepping on an unseen sharp branch or plant and becoming more of a liability than I already am.
I squatted down.
“Diana, climb on my back.”
She did so at once without question.
“Baby, you can see way better in the dark than I can. I want you to point the safest way as fast as you can. Tell me to stop if you need to hop off and check anything. We’re going to be moving fast with daddy’s wind magic.”
“Diana Artemis ready.”
My daughter firmly attached herself onto my back. Acting as my navigator, her legs wrapped around my chest and one tiny clawed hand gripped my shoulder tightly. She pointed due south from the cave opening. Holding the quartz focus orb tight in my hand, I channeled the magic of the wind element and activated a hasting spell over my body.
We took off like a spooked deer on the run, and my eldest daughter was like a compass needle pointing steady towards the direction we needed to go. Even though I was moving fast and my steps were light, the stone shoes I had made still crunched loudly on dried leaves and thin fallen branches. I had been running long enough to feel the burn in my calves, and twice Diana had called for me to stop in order to check a few things that between the two of us, only she could see properly.
Before long, we came to a final stop near a clearing with a large tree.
“Husband, quiet. Walk quiet, no talk. Black-claw here, hunt.”
Got it, this was their territory or they at least held the advantage. I did my best not to make noise, but I couldn’t hope to beat my barefoot daughter who moved like a silent shadow, signaling me with special hunting signs I didn’t know, to move at certain times where she directed.
There were about ten large black wolves howling and circling a tree a bit of a distance away. We were thankfully behind enough foliage not to be detected easily. From what I could make out, there was a spear lodged in the ground near to the tree, and there was a single arrow sticking out from one of the hind legs of the large black wolves.
Diana pointed up at the tree.
She didn’t say anything, and my vision wasn’t good enough to see what she was pointing at, so I had to assume Prima and the others were up there. Diana drew a rectangle on the ground with a tree at the center and used her finger to poke holes in the ground in the same areas where the black wolves were all occupying.
Did she want me to make a pitfall trap?
I shook my head. I couldn’t do it from this far away and make it deep enough in time for them not to be able to jump out of it easily, or dodge it completely, putting them on alert for us.
I pointed to her and then to me, and drew what I felt was a relative distance around where we were in proximity to them, showing her the range of my magic. If it was a wind shot or a fireball, I could shoot it further and maybe contact one of them. She might have had some faith in me, but I was only a second-circle mage. I’m not some cheat character blessed by the gods. It took a lot of effort on my part over the years to even reach the second circle. Can’t even call yourself a real mage in this world until breaking through the first circle to the second.
Diana then began digging a hole in the box I made based on our positions, then pointed at the tree.
She’s a little fucking genius!
I began channeling mana through my body, softening the dirt around us and trying to snap the root layer underneath the ground from all the trees and foliage out here until I made a space leading about six feet below. I hopped down and used my focus orb to dimly light the way as I began to excavate a tunnel directly towards the tree. When I found the main root base of the tree, I began to dig in a close circle around it until I had completed the loop. Diana was with me and kept putting her ear to the walls of dirt and pointed up at times. Was she giving me their positions?
I had thought about making a spike rise up, but without a proper line of sight, it wouldn’t be effective. Diana, now free to talk, spoke quietly, wanting me to collapse the ground out from underneath them, and she would kill them as they hit the ground.
I was worried, because these Black-claws or whatever were huge fuckin’ wolves.
But, my daughter killed a bear bigger than them. She was a daughter recognized by Prima whom I knew was a capable hunter, and her mother, and she wanted… to prove herself. To the rest of her tribe, her sisters, and probably even… to me, who made a big scene and paraded her around for being a bear-killer.
I made a small inverted column-like kill chamber, thinning out as much of the dirt above our heads as I could, and then created a small series of sharp stone spikes which rose up out of the ground where the wolf in question would presumably land. I pointed at the spikes and she nodded her understanding. The reason I didn’t make large spikes was because packed dirt would be falling down and would potentially break them. Having many small spikes allowed time for the mass of dirt to displace itself and still stick upward enough to injure but not kill the wolves. Diana would have to deal the finishing blow.
Magic isn’t omnipotent, it can bend physics locally but doesn’t remove them entirely.
She had her ear against the wall and her long knife out.
She flashed me a signal for when I was to drop the ground above us and cut off the light from the orb. She gave the signal and I used gravity magic to pull the thin layer of land above us downward into the kill column. I heard the first large wolf howl as it fell, landing on the ground with a thud, yelping in pain as it was stabbed in about eight or nine places on its body successfully, but still far from dead.
Diana moved quickly, to which a high pitched wine echoed for again, but for only a second or two. Then my daughter quickly returned to my side.
I closed off the wall passage quickly.
We had done this about five more times in different places before Diana began shaking her head after putting her ears against the dirt. The wolves had figured out not to get too close to the tree now, but they hadn’t left. Prima’s spear, which was now being held by my daughter in her other hand, must have accidentally fallen into one of the kill chambers and recovered.
“Husband. Go up.”
At the base of the tree, where the roots began to spread laterally, I cut through some of them with magic and opened up another rectangular hole above us. Nothing fell, so I drew a wide rectangle on the ground belowus and told Diana not to hold on to me and not move a step outside of it. I would use land magic to raise us upward from this spot very quickly to the tree’s branches. Diana hooked one arm around my leg, and slung her bloody long knife into her loin cloth to rest against her small leg, while barely being able to clutch Prima’s spear in her other hand.
“Ready, Diana?” I whispered.
“Okay, here goes…”
I used a significant chunk of mana to force the ground to rise quickly and a little unsteadily. We shot up from the ground faster than the large wolves could react, target, and pounce at us before we were already too high for them to reach.
Prima and Jewel were both up in the tree but there was no sign of Doll anywhere.
“Husband! Why here…?” It wasn’t a question Jewel asked in surprise. Both Prima and Jewel had seen me and Diana from their position in the tree, and also saw that I had my quartz focus orb in hand.
“Diana Artemis bring Husband. Beast-talker not live. Four black-claw left hunt. Rest, kill.”
Diana handed over the spear to Prima.
“Prima, where’s Doll?” I asked her quickly.
“Run. Black-claw split, three hunt Doll, rest hunt us. Jewel not have arrow, Prima need drop spear, climb tree.”
I nodded, getting the gist of it.
“What should we do now?” I asked, since I was an adventurer and not a naked hunter by trade.
“Easy have more arrow.” Jewel said, gesturing to her empty quiver and lightly plucking her bow’s string.
“Do they have to be wood arrows?” I asked.
“Arrow not wood?”
“Diana, can you hop off onto the tree branch? I want to see if Jewel can use an arrow made from my land magic.”
Diana easily leapt over to it and freed up some space for me to get to work. I made a somewhat shoddy etching into the dirt elevator I was standing on with force magic, and began to make dirt compacted stone arrows from it one by one. I forgot to include a notch, but Jewel wasn’t complaining. She began firing arrows as quickly as I could create them and hand them over to her, and she had already managed to kill one wolf. The remaining three howled and began to move erratically to dodge, but a crazy launch of the spear from Prima had skewered one right though the spine and stuck it firmly in place to the ground where the spearhead pierced deep into the soil.
I leaned back a little against the tree’s trunk. If I had been using the topaz stone instead of my quartz focus orb, I would have had mana exhaustion back when I dug the first hole before this whole operation started.
“Husband, are you okay?” Prima asked me.
“I’ll manage. Just give me a few moments to rest. Any ideas where you think Doll headed to?”
Jewel and Prima looked at each other and nodded.
“Stream. Black-claw not hunt Doll water easy. Doll have axe.” Prima said.
“Husband, why have shiny white stone?” Jewel asked, not taking her eyes off of it for a second.
“I’ll give it back when this is over,” I promised, “for now, can you let me keep it long enough to help you rescue Doll? Without it, I’m dead weight in our hunting party.”
Jewel didn’t put up a fight, and Prima said nothing. Jewel and Prima climbed down the tree, while Diana and I took the dirt elevator down to the ground. We had to dodge the holes I made earlier all around the tree, but as soon as we cleared the pitfall area, Diana was ready to climb on my back once more. Prima retrieved her spear from the large wolf’s corpse she had killed, and Jewel collected a few of the stone arrows for good measure.
“Alright you two. Lead on. Diana and I will be right behind you.”
I wasn’t going to use any haste magic. I had to conserve what little mana I had left to be of any use if there were going to be more of these wolves. It was tough to keep up with those two. They moved fast even while barefoot and my feet weren’t exactly comfortable in stone shoes. We had run for many more minutes until Prima and Jewel had finally come to a stop.
There was one wolf already dead in the water, Doll was in the middle of the stream with a large bloody scratch on her arm, and brandishing her bloody axe, ready to swing at the next wolf to come close.
There were four wolves on the edge of the water, all waiting for the right moment.
“Not tree near water. Attack one, all leap goblins. Kill one… two before die.” Prima was making an attack assessment.
“What… if they were thrown into the water?” I asked Prima.
“Black-claw move slow water. Kill easy.”
I had Diana climb down off my back.
“Can either of you signal Doll to let her know we’re here?”
“Doll know here.” Jewel answered me.
“Then, can you signal her to go underwater for a short moment when I tell you to?”
“Husband use magic?” Prima asked.
“My strongest wind magic. I’m going to blow those four wolves into the water. After that… it’ll be up to you four to kill them. I’ll probably pass out from mana exhaustion.”
Diana put her hand on my shoulder. “Husband say when. Goblins attack after stone magic.”
I began to close my eyes and draw on pretty much the last of my mana reserves. I channeled the intent through my high quality focus orb and opened my eyes.
“Now!” I said.
“DOLL, GET UNDER WATER OR DIE!” Jewel yelled as loud as goblin-ly possible.
I should have told her to do it silently with their hunting signals, but that’s my fault here. It was already too late to change anything, as the spell was manifesting and a huge vortex of air manifested from my palm as the origin point and I swept it from left to right with a single motion of my arm, causing all the wolves to be blown forwards off their feet with great intensity and land right in the middle of the stream.
“GO!” Prima yelled, and all three of the girls dashed forward, weapons drawn.
I would have liked to see what happened, but I was teetering. I fell backwards on my ass and just did what I could to hold on to my consciousness for as long as I could while I felt my mana get sufficiently low enough to affect me. I definitely heard goblin battle cries and whimpering yelps from the large wolves. Then, silence. It was a bit shameful for me to have ended up immobilized. I was brought back to the cave by Prima, Jewel, and Doll who were taking turns dragging my barely conscious body through the forest. I didn’t even see Diana anywhere after the battle. I figured she was trying to be a brave goblin and was keeping a vanguard or scouting position since I would have been too heavy for her to move.
When we arrived back at the cave, it was to find that thing there, waiting.
I was deposited near the corpse of the beast-talker goblin. Looking up, I saw the horned head of the being with supremely powerful magic looking down at me. It reached out with a claw and put it on my head.
“Rest.” It said, and I felt like that… was a very good idea.