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                            Excerpt from Fire From the Earth


   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.