CHAPTER TWELVE – Into The Caverns

"Are you sure you know the way?" I ask of Kendra. Her ability seemed unusual, and I had to be sure.

"As well as those goblins did, which is pretty darn well." she replies. Or retorts, it was hard to tell when she was addressing me, but I care little – or not at all.

"Very well. Washucktah, stay as a goblin. You won't be noticed as much. Now stay a little, we have to go carefully."

I pause, formulating the plan coldly in my head. The others look at me, some with patience, some with boredom, and one with annoyance.

"Blue, how many can you teleport with?"

Blue shrugs, as unconcerned as ever. "As many as can grab me. But ya need ta be very good vith resisting magic an' stuff ta not puke your guts up."

"Very well. Dhilith and I will go first. Kendra, you follow and guide our path. Washucktah and Krystal, you guard the rear. If things go awry, Blue will teleport you three away and Dhilith and I will fight our way out. Krystal can lead another assault on the entrance to make our escape easier, if needs be."

All nod their assent. Apart from Kendra.

"I'm the one guiding, I should be at the front!"

"And if you turn a corner to see a hundred angry goblins? Who would you rather be in front then?"

Kendra hesitates, but only backs down when Blue chimes in, "He has a point, ya know."

Dhilith retrieves a torch from his pack, and lights it. Of course the dwarf doesn't need such a light, and I need it little more than him. But Kendra is our guide and she needs it to see in the midnight tunnels and caverns.

I glance over everyone one last time, and enter the tunnels.

"And a right here. There'll be a tunnel a hundred feet on our left going down on a slope..." Kendra whispers just behind us. We have been walking through the labyrinth for the better part of an hour at this point, and we were starting to feel the draw of the centre, the sense that we were close by.

Suddenly I stop, dragging Dhilith to a halt by his shoulder. Kendra almost walked straight into us, and began to whisper angrily "Hey, what do you think you're...?!"

"Shush." I whisper softly. This had the effect of not only silencing Kendra but the rest of the companions behind her. "Do you hear that?"

It was a faint, but unmistakable noise – one that I had heard before, as had Dhilith and Krystal. Goblin cavorting.

"Kendra, do we have to go past them to get to your treasure?"

The girl gulps, and nods. "It's in the chamber past them. Down a short tunnel at the far end."

There is a silence as we all comprehend what that means.

Washucktah whispers eventually, the harsh goblin voice of his current form making us all flinch and turn to face him. "We'll... we'll have to fight them?"

Looking at the goblin form in front of me gave me the perfect idea.

Even as the thought coalesced in my mind, the others hurriedly suggested their own ideas.

"I could run in, an teleport to the treasure. Dey'd never catch me."

"Give me a moment to form the right spell and I could incinerate them all in an instant."

"What if there are more in the room with the treasure?"

"I say we charge, take them by surprise!"

"Forget it. You'd never survive such a powerful spell."

"Oh, you doubt my abilities now?!"

"Let us charge them! The last thing they would expect!"

"Well, you did collapse from only a few of them, and now there are way more! Do the maths!"

"And what do you suggest, poke each of them in the forehead?"

"Why don't we charge - ?"

"Shush." I intone again. The collective voices were beginning to grow loud and distinctive enough to be heard even over the loud goblin cavorting.

Silently, I explain my plan to them. It is met with immediate resistance.

"But what if they spot him? It'll be obvious when he runs away from the fight!"

"Yeah, what if they spot me? The knife you gave me won't do any good, I can't use it! And all I have is a staff!"

"Why don't we get Blue to teleport him in? Less risk, surely!"

I explain patiently. And in the end they all agree to my plan.

I nod to the others, and we burst into the cavern, to be immediately confronted by nigh on two hundred greenskins and their collective stench. At our entrance, the goblins nearest the door barely have time to turn their heads before we fall upon them.

Dhilith bellows as loud as he can, a guttural declaration of impending death for those in front of him, and charges forward swinging his great two-handed axe. Three goblins perish at the first stroke, and he wades into the goblins like a great pond, swinging his axe and laughing in the lust of battle.

Kendra and Blue team up and skirt the edges of the horde to the left, fighting tooth and nail. Kendra uses her goblin dagger somewhat clumsily compared to an elf, but efficiently enough, and any goblin that touches her with bare skin for too long suffers from her mysterious curse and falls unconscious anyway. Blue has his work cut out trying to stop her getting swamped, teleporting here and there almost to look like a great blue whirlwind surrounding Kendra – a blur of fists, feet, teeth and elbows.

Krystal also hangs back, working her way to the right. With her every incantation of "Lieg arwe!" the air crackled and was split apart by a flying ball of heat and flame, punching a hole through a goblin's armour, and more often than not out the other side. This is a side of her none of us had ever seen – her eyes blazed and her very presence invoked fear into the goblins foolish enough to be near. She became a force of nature's fury, and twice as deadly.

I leap nimbly forward, running along the heads of the goblins as lightly as so many stepping stones. My bow remains undrawn – the precious arrows would snap on the hard stone walls, and there is no room to fire anyway. Both my blades are unsheathed, stabbing downwards as I run. Goblins fall underneath me as I run from one head to the next, blazing a trail of corpses underneath me.

Washucktah, in his goblin form, skirts around all the fighting. In the confusion and mayhem of the battles on every side, he was able to push past the goblins fleeing one battle, joining other battles, and eventually force a path through the chamber and to the short tunnel leading to his 'treasure'.

As soon as he reaches the tunnel and disappears down it, I focus my attention to stopping any others entering the tunnel.

Minutes might have passed. Hours. Weeks. The battle seemed independent of the flow of time. Krystal, Dhilith, Kendra, Blue and I were all in the calm state of mind that occurs in the fiercest battles – where all that matters is the immediate, and all you care for is the next blow, dodge, spell, parry...

I hear a loud yelp from inside the tunnel. It was distinctive, but even then hard to hear over the din.

It could only be Washucktah. And it was his own voice.

My mind races. Were there more goblins in the treasure room? Had we been found out? Had he fallen prey to some devious trap?

There was no time. I decide to go after him immediately.

I glance to Krystal, who I guessed had heard his cry as well. We nod, agreeing on the same plan wordlessly, and Krystal blasts several goblins from around me. We both run – Krystal to take my place by the door, and I take advantage of the brief respite afforded to me to dash down the alley.

The tunnel is relatively short, and eerily silent as the sound behind me quickly fades. I come out after half a minute of running into a large pillared hall. To each side, behind the pillars, were piles upon piles of looted gold and jewels and weapons of all kinds. I take a moment to briefly scan around me for any possibility of a booby trap. Satisfied I am safe, I walk quietly forwards in search of Washucktah.

I quickly see him, having returned to goblin form, standing in front of a low stone table at the end of the hall. A few yards behind him lay a goblin, clumsily skewered in the throat. The kitchen knife I gave to Washucktah lay next to it, sticky in the pool of blood surrounding the gash in its neck.

I admit I was somewhat impressed. I had not thought that Washucktah would have the willpower to kill another living thing. It was of course most likely that the goblin took him by surprise and he had reacted purely on instinct, which would explain his yell that drew me here in the first place. Even so, it was still technically his first kill.

I move quietly to the side, not wanting to disturb him – he was obviously puzzling over something, and I even heard him mutter "But how do we keep it safe? Destroy it? Throw it into the sea? No... destroy it... but how?" his words echoed in the stone cavern in his gobin voice.

Then I saw the object he held.

To the untrained, it would have looked just like an orb. Shiny and polished, a pleasant rich shade of mahogany. But to those who knew magic, and could feel the magical presence, it was so much more. The faint veins of black within the stone pulsated and twisted with the sheer force of magic held within them, and the glow from them would be enough to illuminate this entire hall. Those who could see it would immediately recognize what it is, and what it meant.

Whether or not Washucktah could see it, or knew about it, did not occur to me. All that occurred to me was a mixture of shock and bewilderment.

And moments later, a cold, raging fury.

I silently step forward, and ever so gently, place the flat of my blade, now slick with the blood of goblins, against Washucktah's back and pin him against the stone table. I feel him freeze in place, not daring to move a muscle. I hear him inhale sharply.

I lean forward, and whisper into his ear.

"Let go of the Cythras Norvys, Changeling, and do not even think of destroying it. It was made by elves, hidden by elves, and belongs to the elves. Set it back down – or I will have no choice but to kill you. Here. And now."