Within the ruins of the great city they made camp. Each
company occupied its assigned area, every squad found its proper place, and
individual soldiers settled amongst the broken stones and rotting timbers with
an ease and familiarity only goblins could have accomplished in such
surroundings. They were sprung from corruption and decay, their minds and
spirits as twisted and broken as the landscape they occupied. They found
comfort in devastation. Guttural voices echoed through
the vaulting cavern and the harsh syllables of the Common Goblin tongue
disturbed the endless night of the underworld. Sentries climbed to the top of
broken walls and collapsed buildings, their eyes searching beyond the ring of
harsh light from the torches and pitch pots that illuminated the goblin camp.
There was always danger at the bottom of the world; unspeakable things hid
among the deeps. Cooking fires blazed up
throughout the bivouac and soon the pungent aroma of roasting cave boar and hot
gholjaka overpowered the accompanying stench of the Grey Goblin horde. The
encampment settled into the easy rhythm of practiced routine.
The goblins had come from many
places, had gathered from many Clans, lured by the promise of blood, plunder,
and fame. They had achieved much of that grim ambition, but on the surface of
the world, at a place called Clon Miarth, human men had stopped them. Now their
harsh leader led them through the trackless wastes beneath the world toward the
ageless volcanic catacombs of the Du Maen. It wasn’t a retreat. They had
been defeated, not destroyed. But there was nothing more to be gained at the
man city of Gwenferew, so the goblins withdrew beneath the mountain where most
were content to revel in the plunder they had amassed. Their commander,
however, had other plans. He gathered his army and began the long march south. Some opposed the idea, but a few
gruesome executions had convinced the rest that the price of mutiny was too
high. So they abandoned the sick and crippled, she-goblins, and children to
capricious fate and followed their leader into the great ruined city of
Westerfeld. Klabaga scowled as he strode
through the encampment. The soldiers kept their distance-- everyone knew the
Red Goblin’s temper and the consequences of his displeasure. He was cruel,
treacherous, and unforgiving; their respect for him was absolute. Among the squat grey shapes,
amidst their long arms and short legs, flat faces and pale orange eyes, Klabaga
stood out as though he were an entirely different species. His limbs were
powerful and man-like and his flesh shone a dull copper-red in the torchlight.
He was a Red Goblin, the last of his clan, perhaps the last of his kind.
The crack of a whip and a scream
drew Klabaga’s attention to the huddle of human slaves corralled nearby. He had
dragged the pitiful, useless wretches all the way from Gwenferew. In other
circumstances he might have already killed them, but they were necessary for
what he had in mind. He had tried to impress this upon the Grey Goblins that
guarded the prisoners, but already twelve humans had died just getting them
this far. The Red Goblin stalked away cursing. Greys were stupid, cowardly,
and difficult to lead. Without constant attention they were wont to stray in
any direction. Now they followed the direction of Klabaga’s cruel ambition and
moved toward the fulfillment of a dark desire that had long fermented in the
Red Goblin’s mind: the destruction of mankind.
To accomplish that goal he needed
to learn all he could about his enemies. He had developed a rudimentary
understanding of human language and careful questioning of his prisoners had
provided much useful information. But the more he knew about humans, the more
he realized that his greatest enemy, Evan MacKeth, was cut from different
cloth. Klabaga threaded his way through
the ruins searching for a place embedded in his memory. He had visited this
desolation only once before, but he was drawn to the spot as though he had
known it all his life. Goblin bones littered the ground before a narrow,
crumbling stairway. As he climbed the steps his flesh tingled with remembrance. At the summit, a small landing
lay covered with crumbling bricks and dust. Evan MacKeth once stood there—he
had killed the goblins whose bones marked the path to this forgotten place.
Here, Klabaga had faced him for the first time, and the memory remained
powerful and unsettling.
Evan MacKeth was no ordinary foe.
The Glamorth had known it. That evil spirit tried to destroy the human boy in
single combat, but instead the shadow creature fell. Then at Clon Miarth,
Klabaga fought Evan to a bloody draw.
He recalled the desperation of that battle, the pain and exhaustion, the
sense that Evan MacKeth would always stand in his way.
The Red Goblin’s hand strayed to
his chest where beneath the maille a barely healed wound throbbed to the rhythm
of his pulse. The human boy had left him that reminder of his strength and
skill, yet Klabaga knew Evan possessed more than physical prowess. Something
anointed him, a power, a Light, and Klabaga was convinced that without that
Light, the humans would never have defeated the goblin army. He suspected that
the Light was responsible for the unexpected stampede of horses that had
shattered the goblin host on that terrible day. He processed the memory of the
event once more, each distinct occurrence building to the improbable end
result: Evan MacKeth, the Light, and horses. These elements transcended
strategy or tactics and he would have to deal with each to succeed. Evan MacKeth had to be destroyed.
If he remained alive he would find a way to upset Klabaga’s plans. But the
goblin recognized the danger of precipitous action. The Glamorth tried to kill
the boy unaided and failed. At Clon Miarth Klabaga abandoned the command of his
army to fight a personal duel with Evan, and victory slipped from his grasp.
The human boy could wait. The Red Goblin would see to the horses first.
Klabaga knew goblins could never
utilize horses. The animals simply couldn’t function beneath the earth. But the
idea was cavalry, not horses, and among the volcanic vents of the Du
Maen he hoped to find the answer to that puzzle. He had the dark presentiment
that there he would find a solution for the Light too.