Glando and Socrates Versus The Goblin King

 

“What would you like to hear first?”

You don’t know how to answer; in a universe so vast and beautiful, how does one know where to start? Gazing into the flames, you are reminded of a simpler time, when even the smallest details of the world were a gem to discover. You want to hear a story like that.

“Can you tell me a wholesome story? One about community, and friendship?”

“I know just the story! It is a beautiful tale, filled with twists and intrigue, about a group of strangers who formed bonds to stand the test of time. And the best part about it is, every word of it is true. Buckle up kid, cause this is the story of how one hero found himself.”

                                                            ***

As summer falls, and dead leaves paint the earth with their rotting, beautiful corpses, the kingdom of Parada comes to life. Paladins quest for undiscovered miracles, wizards breathe life into dead arts, and thieves buzz around their Guild like a hive.

This story takes place in the two hundred eighty-fifth year of the good King’s Peace, in such a time of bounty. All was well in Parada… but there are two sides to every coin, and we oft forget the kingdom of goblins, resting on the verge of Paradise. The goblins, ever peaceful, were admittedly a primitive people, and could not reap the bounty of paradise. Yet the goblins had riches of their own, and the Thieves Guild had made it their mission to deny the creatures their fair share. 

Our story begins with one such thief, sent to wander the goblin kingdom stealing anything of value. Deep in the goblins’ forest, in a mysterious temple, he had found an intricately carved wooden key. What mysteries would it reveal? What treasures would it unlock? The possibilities swirled in his mind, a maelstrom of the future, any future. As the thief stepped out into the brisk autumn breeze, he knew that this would be the season of discovery.

Emerging from the decaying temple, the thief found himself in the company of others. A band of goblins in tattered rags who happened to be passing by were forced to confront him. “I-i-it’s one of King Herald’s humans!” their leader stuttered. “P-p-please tell me you have a visa!”

The thief, of course, did not have a visa… but he had other tricks. Our cunning rogue archetype withdrew a throwing knife from his hefty sack and sent it spinning toward the goblin’s chest. Without waiting to see the aftermath, the thief ran laughing through the trees.

The goblins, naturally, sounded their alarm; and the joyous thief found himself flanked by dozens of the miniature green warriors. Yet the thief was quick, and had knives to spare. As he bounded through the dying forest, goblin blood painted the leaves in his wake. The thief had never experienced such a high. Gaining speed, the thief quickly left his pursuers behind.

It was not long before the rogue ground to a halt, startled by the sound of rushing water beneath him. He found himself at the foot of a rickety bridge, swaying in the breeze. A well-clad goblin guarded the far side, the human side of the river, and turned around shocked at the sound of the intruder.

“W-w-what were you doing back there?” mumbled the armored goblin. He appeared to be a paladin, although the thief had never seen a goblin be made a paladin. “Y-y-you’re not allowed to be back there!”

The thief stepped forward. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he spoke, for the first time since leaving the town of Regalon. “The name’s Glando d’Arby. I’m just visiting,” he lied.

The goblin stared him down with trepidation, hoping to judge his intentions. He took a tentative step backwards off the bridge, onto the high ground. Glando discreetly grasped a throwing knife in his pouch, readying for the kill. Yet the goblin was too quick; in a swift motion, the diminutive hero cut the ropes of the bridge, sending Glando into the icy water, running violently down into the valley. And in an instant, a good friend, hero, and father, was dead.

Right?

                                                           ***

There are two sides to every coin. There are six sides to every die. And there are twelve sides to every dodecahedron.

Are you taking notes, kid?

The lesson is, all stories have facets… and it would be dishonest of me to focus my narrative solely on the dashing rogue. So, allow me to direct you to the other side of the coin.

Riches, fame, glory, heroism, amity. These are the ambitions that drive all men. Yet the one known as Socrates was no man. The dark elf was driven only by the dice; no order was to be determined from the things he’d done. The elf knew not why he was ambling through the goblinland, but if he had any goal at all, it did not matter in the end. So when Socrates found a gaping hole in the earth, he did not think twice before jumping in. He had time to spare.

Socrates fell for quite a while, but naturally survived, because great falls cannot kill a hero. He found himself knee-deep in water, in a dank smelly cavern, not that he expected anything more. A miniature lantern, burning fiercely on the wall beside him, illuminated only the narrowest area around Socrates. Alone in the black abyss, Socrates could only imagine how far the cavern extended.

“Welp,” the dark elf spoke, to no one in particular. “This is my life now.” He spun the lantern clockwise to pass the time. Without much effort, the decaying hook that held the lantern snapped. The tiny lantern shattered against a rock and fell into the water around the elf’s feet.

“Oh dear,” said Socrates, frenetically scooping up the shattered glass in his hands. “I suppose everything crumbles in the end.” The elf held the mess of glass and wax in his palms. And then, Socrates performed his first miracle.

Life bubbled up from the abyss, order arose from chaos. The entropy of the universe decreased. The glass fragments drifted in the stale air and encased the wax, forming the figure of a small man. The candle lit, burning brightly, indefinitely. And the lantern felt the breath of life.

The littlest lantern golem gazed at its creator with amazement in its tiny eyes. “Did you… make me?” it spoke.

Socrates chuckled. “Yes I did, little one. My name is Damastes. And I am the Christ figure.”

Wait, his name is Damastes? Why, what did I say it was?

Anyway, the lantern glowed brighter, having recognized its lord and savior. “I don’t know what a Christ figure is,” spoke the lantern, “but I will follow your commands, my lord.”

Damastes smiled. “Oh Dantern… can I call you Dantern? Dantern the lantern golem… I quite like that. Dantern, you have a lot to learn about this world.”

Dantern beamed, determined to learn everything there was to know about his new paradise. The world to him was nothing more than the circle he illuminated, yet he would soon discover the true majesty of the universe.

“Illuminate the darkness,” Damastes commanded. Dantern willed his flame to shine; the shadows waned and the water coruscated as the cavern came into view. The world was revealed to Dantern, and it was splendid- a microcosm of majesty.

Several feet from the adventurers, a steady stream of water dripped from a hole in the ceiling. Damastes wondered if, with a little ingenuity, the hole could be a way out of the cavern. He approached the falling water and looked up, when he heard a rumble from above.

In an instant, a body hit the ground in front of him.

                                                           ***

The water ran red that fateful day when two titans met. Poor Dantern looked on in horror as the sight of the body impressed on his young mind, and Damastes (if that is his name) grinned. The damaged body of an adventurer twitched… possibly his dying tremors? But of course, the adventurer was not dead; the fallen man was, of course, Glando. And besides, I already told you that great falls cannot kill a hero.

The thief tried to stand, fighting against his terrible agony, but quickly slumped back into the water. He turned, finally noticing his company. “Oh… hi,” he muttered weakly.

“That was quite the fall!” spoke Damastes jovially. “Are you going to be alright?”

“Nothing seems to be broken,” the thief said, trying once more to stand. “The name’s Glando d’Arby, thief in the- AGH!” the thief fell once more.

“Interesting,” Damastes pondered. “You can call me Damocles.”

“Damocles?” Dantern spoke. “You told me your name was-”

“Dantern!” Damocles shouted. Dantern looked up expectantly at his master, whatever his name may be. Damocles paused, eyeing the thief and frankly making him quite uncomfortable. “Dantern…” the dark elf repeated. “Bring me our friend’s small intestine… w-without killing him, if possible.”

The littlest lantern golem, confused yet ever loyal, jumped from Damocles’ shoulder into the water. He began wading through the water, well over his head, toward the injured thief. “N-n-nonononono!” said Glando, inching away from Dantern. “D-don’t do that!”

Damocles facepalmed. “Dantern, come back.” The obedient lantern immediately turned around. “Dantern, I was joking. It was a jest, get it? Christ, you have so much to learn about this world.” If lanterns could blush, Dantern would have done so; the slightly abashed golem returned to his master’s hand.

“So what’s the plan?” Damocles grinned, addressing his dying companion. “Shall we just sit here until something interesting happens?”

“We could… try to escape?” Glando suggested. “You know… so we don’t die in some goblins’ sewers?”
“These are sewers?!” Damocles screamed.

“Well, probably not, I was just-”

“Why didn’t you warn me?! We need to get out of here!” The dark elf dragged his injured companion out of the water; Glando yelped in pain as his ribcage collapsed. “Oh stop being such a baby,” Damocles taunted. “You’ll be fine- my brother is a very talented surgeon!”

“That would be very helpful if he were here-”

“Look, a way out!” the dark elf interrupted. Damocles was, of course, referring to the ornate tunnel that pierced the cavern mere feet from the adventurers the entire time they were talking. “Come on, friends!” he cheered, setting Dantern down in the water. The elf ambled down the tunnel, while his lantern desperately tried to swim toward him. Glando, feeling uncomfortable about the exchange, lifted Dantern out of the water and followed Damocles.

The dark elf whirled around and glared at the thief. “Gainzo!” he roared.

“My name’s Glando, but  that doesn’t-”

“Give me that!” Damocles snatched his lantern golem from the thief’s hands. “Now that I have my possession back… we can continue!”

Thus, the unlikely trio began their adventure into the great unknown.

                                                              ***

It’s a marvelous thing, isn’t it kid, to watch the pieces come into balance. Again I am reminded of a long walk in the breezy autumn- the dying sun’s final rays meeting the darkening canopy in a kaleidoscope of colors. Chaotic, but meaningful. Vibrant, ordered, pure.

But you wanted to hear about the sewer tunnel.

“Say, Gainzo…” spoke the dark elf, “how did you end up down here anyway?”

“My name’s Glando,” spoke the thief. “You should know that by now. At this point I feel like you’re deliberately trying to anger-”

“Look!” Damocles interrupted. “Something’s happening!” The dark elf was right. The tunnel ahead of the group was narrowing ever so slightly; the adventurers would have to crouch in order to comfortably pass. 

“This is just getting too difficult!” complained Damocles. “I quit!” The elf sat down in the water, soaking his clothes. Glando on the other hand, determined not to die in the goblin sewers, awkwardly climbed over his companion and proceeded forward. Dantern, looking to his master for instruction and receiving none, slowly followed the thief. 

Damocles sat alone in the dark, contemplating everything that had happened since he had woken up just two hours prior. A cool, gentle breeze blew through the tunnel, calming the dark elf and reminding him of a simpler time. “Gainzo always loved long walks in the breezy autumn,” Damocles murmured. He was exactly correct, although he had no way of knowing this. The elf gazed longingly down the tunnel, thinking of his best friend (whom he had known for fifteen minutes), and wondering if his friend was thinking of him too. 

Suddenly, his world went dark; the calming breeze now chilled him to the bone. A horrible omen flooded his mind- a vision of an Eldritch god raining judgment on the heathens. “Oh no,” Damocles mumbled. “No, no, no, no! Gainzo, I have to warn him! I have to warn my friend!” The elf began sprint-crawling down the tunnel, trying desperately to warn his friend before it was too late.

Glando and Dantern, nearing the end of the tunnel, heard the repeated call of “I have to warn Gainzo!” behind them. Damocles burst into sight, alarmingly out of breath, nearly knocking down his companions. “Gainzo, thank the Lord I found you!” he said.

“My name’s Glando, but-”

“Gainzo, there’s something you need to know. I-” the dark elf faltered. “I… haven’t been entirely honest with you. My name’s not actually Damocles. It’s Sophocles.”

Oh my god.

‘Sophocles’ stared at his friends expectantly; Glando stared back in disbelief, while Dantern glanced suspiciously at his master. “That’s what you came to warn me about?” Glando asked.

“I hope it’s not too late,” Sophocles said sheepishly. Not knowing how to respond, Glando simply turned around and continued his journey. Sophocles snatched Dantern from his shoulder and followed.

The tunnel opened up into a large circular room, and the adventurers discovered the source of the calm autumn breeze; in the center of the room, there floated a gently spinning vortex of wind and water. A well-versed adventurer would assume the miniature tornado was magically powered, and that would be concerning in any other scenario… yet the breezy construct did not seem to serve as a trap, or to serve any purpose at all. 

“Is… is that a monster?” Dantern pondered. “Do we have to fight it?”

“Silly Dantern,” laughed Sophocles. “You can’t fight wind.” This was new information to Dantern, and the golem vowed to remember the tidbit. “Of course, wind can fight you…” the dark elf murmured.

Glando knew just what to do- or at least he thought he did. He retrieved his bag of throwing knives and emptied the bag onto the ground. This was the first time his companions had seen this possession; Dantern stared awestruck at the pointy treasures, while Sophocles made a mental note to find a weapon of his own. Confident in his plan, Glando strode to the vortex, and boldly threw the empty bag into the wind.

“Ow, what the fuck?” a foreign voice bounced off the walls. The vortex, temporarily deformed by the empty bag, now grew stronger and… wetter. The adventurers were quite taken aback by this new development, especially young Dantern, who had begun to suspect that wind is a nonliving entity.

“Uh, s-s-sorry…” Glando stuttered. “I didn’t know you were alive, or uh, sentient. Sorry.” The thief awkwardly retrieved his bag, reaching into the titillating dampness of the vortex. He then ran back to the group, where he clumsily began picking up his knives.

“Gainzo,” spoke Sophocles, “I hope you learned your lesson about judging strangers.”

“GAINZO?!” the vortex roared, startling the poor thief. “Is this man Gainzo?”

“Yes, this is Gainzo right here!” Sophocles cheered eagerly. “My new friend!” Glando, now very afraid, began looking for an escape. He saw a grand gilded arch marking an exit behind the vortex, and a modest tunnel on each side of the room. Sophocles, meanwhile, was not done speaking.

“I’m Socra- uh, Sophocles!” the dark elf said. “And this little guy here is my friend Dantern! And what’s your name?” the elf grinned, leaning towards the vortex.

“Hm, I haven’t really spoken at all in a thousand years…” said the wind. “You may call me… oh, I simply don’t know.”

“I, uh… my name’s not Gainzo,” spoke the thief. “It’s Glando, and I- I don’t know why I’m here. I just want to leave, and maybe find some treasure while I’m here.”

“Then why did you throw a damn bag at me?” the vortex demanded. “Oh, whatever. Just get out of here, fleshbag.”

Unfortunately, Sophocles chose that moment to roll the dice, so to speak. With no provocation, the dark elf decided that the wind must die, no matter the cost to himself or his friends. “BURN IN HELL, BASTARD!” he screamed, sprinting at the vortex. Once in range, Sophocles hurled his lantern friend at the wind with all the force he could muster. Dantern, naturally, was deflected by the vortex, and shattered against the ceiling. 

Sophocles was crushed- as was Dantern. His unnecessary and unprovoked suicide mission had led to the death of his closest companion. He knew that the only way to honor Dantern’s memory was to avenge his death, no matter the cost to himself or his one remaining friend. “You killed Dantern, you bastard!” he screamed. 

“I just wanted a nap!” the wind shouted back. Glando, roped into the fight by his friend’s reckless actions, threw himself at the vortex with no regard to his personal safety, or to his already damaged rib cage. Of course, the frail thief was flung from the vortex and smashed against the wall- yet he noticed that the vortex did shrink in size, if only slightly. Glando knew what he had to do, and began the arduous process of repeatedly running into a dangerous air elemental. 

Sophocles, happy to let his friend take a beating for his own misguided action, suddenly had an idea. “I gave life to a lantern once, maybe I can do it again!” he said out loud. The dark elf ran to Dantern’s shattered corpse and held the pieces in his hands. Sophocles performed his second miracle, and the lantern golem rose once more.

Yet Dantern was not the same; he appeared frailer, dimmer, and weaker. “Thank you master,” the humble lantern spoke. “But may I beg you to be more careful in the future? I won’t survive another-” But Dantern was interrupted, as his master had already thrown him at the wind again.

The elemental’s watery tendril grabbed the lantern golem before he collided, and threw Dantern back towards Sophocles. The dark elf pondered for a brief moment whether he should catch Dantern, but ultimately braced the poor golem for impact.

Meanwhile, Glando’s repeated attacks had reduced the air elemental to a vortex no bigger than a man. Sophocles saw his chance, and, resolving to end what he began, tackled the wind. “This shouldn’t even be possible!” wailed the vortex. “I have no physical form!” Dantern looked on with awe, developing a terribly skewed idea of how wind works. With every blow the elf landed, the vortex shrank in size, until it was no bigger than the littlest lantern golem.

“You will rue the day you messed with Socrates of Delveron!” the dark elf taunted, before crushing the tiny elemental under his boot. He looked up and met the eyes of a mildly irritated Glando.

“You just said Socrates,” spoke the thief.

“Yes, I did.”

“But you told me your name is Sophocles.”

“Oh.” Socrates realized that his game was over, and he had lied about his name too many times for his friends to trust him anymore. “I’m truly sorry,” the elf said. “I promise you my real name is Socrates. I hope you can trust me again, because we have to work together to get out of here.”

But Socrates was lying. He was not sorry, Socrates was not his real name, and Glando absolutely could not trust him. Yet the adventurer’s feeble apology was enough for the increasingly weary Glando.

Socrates suddenly felt something hard beneath his boot. He bent down and found the greatest treasure he could hope for: a very tiny treasure chest, no bigger than the metaphorical dice he was always talking about. “Do you see this?” Socrates laughed, showing the chest to Glando. “Now this is a reward. This is the product of hard work, perseverance, and- OW!”

“Ow?” Glando replied.

Ow! Socrates had been too distracted to realize that the chest had two very sharp rows of teeth, which were now devouring his finger. “You fools!” shrieked the chest in between bites. “The wind… was just a trick! This is my real form!” Glando gave Socrates an empty pouch, and Socrates quickly sealed the magical treasure chest away. 

“Beast of the goblins…” Socrates murmured, “Now brought under my control. I name thee: Asshat.”

“Was that a haiku?” asked Glando.

“My name’s not Asshat!” screamed Asshat. “I… don’t remember my name, but it wasn’t that!”

“So, what now?” Socrates asked. “The tunnel ahead of us looks like the way out… but would we be true adventurers if we ignored these side paths? What do you say, Gainzo? You take the left, I take the right?”

Glando was not thrilled with the plan, but it did offer him a brief respite from the dark elf’s company. “Of course!” he responded.

                                                          ***

The heroes split the party- a time-tested strategy which has never failed anyone before. What better way to learn about your peers than to take a step back from them? It is human nature to wear a mask for your friends, but to observe a man when he thinks he is alone is to see who he really is.

Socrates and Dantern found themselves travelling down the right path- and Glando, the correct one. Separately our heroes journeyed, not knowing what they expected to find- ancient goblin treasure, a window into the goblins’ lives, or maybe even just a lead worth caring about. Socrates would find what he deserved soon enough.

“So the wind wasn’t alive at all?” timid Dantern inquired.

“Of course the wind was alive,” Socrates snapped. “All wind is. But we didn’t kill it. It just changed into a treasure chest.”

“I remember that part,” Dantern mumbled. He had been asked to carry the sack in which Asshat was hostage; the bag weighed him down as he slowly dragged it down the tunnel. “I just don’t understand why it changed into a… treasure chest?”

“Everything changes,” Socrates explained. “I’ve changed more than anyone, and someday you will too. Maybe into a treasure chest, and maybe into a pile of dust on some geriatric’s moldy carpet.” This frightened Dantern, who wished to never become dust.

The adventurers crept slowly towards the stone door at the end of the tunnel, both knowing that they would be there already if Socrates hadn’t made Dantern walk. After several excruciating minutes, they arrived, and Socrates threw open the door to make a grand entrance.

No one was behind the door to witness it, although I assure you the entrance was grand. Socrates and Dantern stepped into an underground farm, the likes of which they had never seen. Plots of dirt interspersed the rows of stone walkway, growing carrots, potatoes, grain, and more. The vast room was bathed in a blue light from a strange globe-shaped lantern hanging above, which must allow the crops to grow- even the learned Socrates could not guess what the flame may be. The duo had stumbled upon the secret to the goblins’ survival so far underground, leaving them only to wonder why they made a farm in such a dark, miserable place.

“Can I help you?” squeaked a small voice. The heroes froze, having believed they were alone.

“Who’s there?” Socrates called out. The wheat stalks started to rustle, and a small goblin emerged from the crops. 

“I… heard you come in, and I was just afraid you might be dangerous, or something,” spoke the goblin. “But you look trustworthy. My name is Zyt.” Dantern stared in awe; he had never seen a goblin before. Neither had Socrates, but the dark elf was not enchanted by the finer details. 

“Zyt…” Socrates repeated, “like the thing on your face? Dantern, take a look at this guy! Ha!”

Zyt was slightly hurt. “It’s a family name!” he tried to explain. “It traces its history to one of the earliest kings of-”

“So anyway,” Socrates interrupted, “what can you do for us?”

“Oh, uh, well,” the goblin stammered. “It’s been a rough harvest, and we have many new mouths to feed, but I can give you some fruit?”

“We don’t want fruit!” Socrates screamed. “How insensitive! Dantern here doesn’t even have a mouth! No, we want…” Socrates thought for a moment about how to abuse the goblin’s charity, when suddenly he remembered he had intended to find a weapon. “You’re a farmer, aren’t you? Why don’t you bring us a sickle. Just for the road.”

Zyt looked mildly worried. “What would you do with a sickle?” he asked.

“Just, uh… Zyt, you obviously don’t go aboveground very much. Sometimes when you’re adventuring, you come across a patch of wheat, and if you don’t have a sickle, you can’t loot it!”

“Oh uh, that makes sense.” A wave of relief washed over Zyt’s face. “Follow me and I’ll get you one.” The goblin led them past the wheat plots to a tiny door, the perfect height for a goblin but far too small for Socrates to enter. “This is where we keep the tools,” Zyt explained. “Allow me to get you one.” He disappeared into the small tool shed and soon emerged carrying a sickle, beautifully shaped and coated with a fine layer of gold. 

“An elegant tool,” Socrates murmured in awe, “the perfect fit for my hand. I accept your gift.”

The goblin paused for a moment; he did not hand it over.

“What are you waiting for?” Socrates said impatiently.

“I’m just worried that as soon as I give you this sickle, you’re going to stab me with it.”

“Why would I do that.”

“I don’t know, but you seem the type.”

“...”

“Do you promise you won’t stab me with this sickle?”

“I promise.”

Zyt handed Socrates the tool. The dark elf spun the sickle in his hands, admiring the golden glint. Then he deftly plunged the tool into the goblin’s heart. “Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that!” Zyt gasped, before his lifeless corpse tumbled into the wheat.

Dantern frowned disapprovingly at his master. “Do you have any questions?” Socrates asked his diminutive friend.

“I think I understand,” Dantern spoke gravely. “When you venture into darkness you discover the infallible truth about your own soul. You forget the light; the darkness is all there is. I shudder to imagine what would remain if you stay here too long.”

“I don’t think any of that is true,” Socrates replied. He sheathed his new weapon at his side and carried his companion back to the cistern where they had left the party. 

While Socrates explored the human psyche, Glando had been exploring something more meaningful: the long-lost lore of the goblin kingdom. As he split from the group, he set off alone down an equally long and boring tunnel. Glando grasped the wooden key in his pocket, the key that had sent him off on this long flight. It was carved with such careful attention that Glando knew it could only conceal the greatest treasure the goblins had- and soon it would be stolen. If only Glando could find whatever it unlocked, this entire journey would be worth it. 

Glando reached a grand wooden door at the end of the tunnel. He briefly wondered why the goblins had so many human-sized entryways, but shoved the thought out of his mind and pushed open the door. 

He found himself in a library, one much larger than a community library but with little regard to ambience. Glando had dealt in stolen books before, and knew how to discern which books were worth stealing; his fence in Regalon was fond of dusty old books brimming with deep and unknown lore. Glando walked the rows of shelves, pocketing some tomes that appeared promising: The Crowning: A Secret Ceremony Beneath the Mountain; A Paradise At War: The Fall of Our King At The Hands of Herald; The Dregs of Greatness. As he neared the far side of the library, Glando decided to leave some room in his pack for greater treasures to come. 

Beyond the shelves was a gallery of sorts. The goblins had stored boxes, sculptures, and paintings in the alcove. Nothing jumped out to Glando as being inherently valuable, but he chose to peruse their collection. His eyes were drawn to a locked chest in the center of the alcove, a chest that was rather large for the goblins. Surely such a grand chest would hold something worth taking. Glando retrieved the key that had started his quest. If it fit the lock, Glando would be done wondering what the future holds; he would be free of this place.

The key did not fit. The lock was much too large for the tiny key. Glando was crushed; he banged on the chest, determined to reap its contents, no matter how disappointing. As Glando knocked the chest back and forth, he felt a power surge inside him, a primal desire to take what he couldn’t have.

“You’re wasting your time,” said a voice. Glando whirled around in an instant, gripping a throwing knife. A goblin had approached him from behind, a wise-looking fellow with spectacles and a tattered violet robe. Glando raised his knife in defense, knowing he must not allow the goblin to sound any alarm.

“Whoa, that won’t be necessary!” the goblin cried. “The library is open until sundown!”

“Oh, uh, sorry,” Glando stammered, putting away his knife. “This is embarrassing,” he said, returning the chest upright.

“Don’t worry,” the goblin replied. “I understand your desire to see the unseen. Would you like to see our terrible secret?” Glando nodded; his need to steal the contents of the chest had grown too strong. The goblin produced a keyring and fumbled with the lock until the chest sprung open.

Several dusty jars were carefully stacked inside, each filled to the brim with a dark red liquid. Glando picked up one of the larger jars; on closer inspection, the liquid had the consistency of oil, and seemed to luminesce even in the dim room. 

“Do you know what that is?” the goblin spoke gravely.

“I’m afraid I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s Vorgian fire,” said the goblin. “A terrible solution developed by the druids of the Ruby Hills. The smallest flame will ignite it, causing it to burn hotter than any flame you will ever find in the mortal realm. It sticks to anything, and no amount of water can put it out. If you’re burned by Vorgian fire, you’d best pray you’re still alive by the time it runs its course. I wish it was never made, but once the fire is synthesized, there’s only one way to dispose of it…”

“Why do you have so much, if it’s so dangerous?”

The goblin glared at Glando, and suddenly the thief was almost afraid. “Don’t you remember?” the creature asked. “Nearly three hundred years ago, your king drove us underground and destroyed everything we had built. We were becoming something great, and he reduced us to brutes again. Our king had a plan to get revenge, but ultimately he decided that to scorch the overworld would solve nothing. We sealed the fire in here, as a reminder of what could have been. That’s the difference between our worlds- we learned something from the war, and ever since we have strived to be better, while your king pushes onward in his bloody conquest of the known world.”

“I’m sorry,” Glando said, dumbfounded. “I had no idea you suffered so much.”

“You wouldn’t,” muttered the goblin. “We lost everything, but someday, the goblin kingdom will rise again. You’d better hope the world is ready for us the next time around.” The goblin paced toward the back wall. “I want you to keep that jar,” he continued. “Carry the weight just as we have, all these centuries. Understand the choice you now bear.”

Glando followed the goblin to the wall, which was lined with portraits. “I want you to know some of our history,” the goblin explained. He pointed to the first portrait, a tall hooded figure. Glando could not make out any of the figure’s features; it seemed like an odd choice for a portrait. “That is our prophet Egen,” spoke the goblin. “She crowned our first king, and she warned us when your king was about to invade. She gave us the foresight to evacuate Athomire and Volcross before the cities were razed.”

The pair moved on, stopping in front of the portrait of a familiar face. The next painting depicted a small goblin wearing a suit of armor, with an orange sigil and a matching orange plume. Glando reflected that this must be the same goblin who stopped him on the bridge. “That’s Goodwin,” the goblin explained. “He saved our king a few years ago, and he became our first goblin knight as a reward. He will lead us out of the dark.”

The goblin kept walking, and stopped in front of a very curious painting. This portrait did not show a goblin, but a clown- a twisted mug with beady eyes and horrid rainbowed hair. “That’s Gainzo,” spoke the goblin.

“Wh-what did you just say?” Glando shouted.

“That’s Gainzo,” the goblin repeated. “Clown Prince to the Hellscape? I thought everyone knew his name.”

“Is he evil?” Glando asked, worried. 

“If only it were that simple,” the goblin pondered. “Gainzo is a very ill creature, but he’s far from evil. Still, it’s best not to cross his path; so many people are changed after meeting him.”

“My frie- well, a travelling companion of mine always says that name. What do you suppose that means?”

“It could be harmless,” answered the goblin. “Maybe he doesn’t know who the Clown is either. Or maybe he’s taunting you, simply trying to get a reaction. But maybe his intentions are far more sinister. There are those that believe that Gainzo responds to his name, that he will cross continents just to find those that summon him… hogwash to be sure, but… I suggest you leave this place, human. Move through these ruins swiftly and part with your companion. I’d hate to see what happens if he truly means to invoke the Clown.”

“Thank you for everything you’ve taught me,” Glando responded graciously. “I better hurry.” He turned and jogged through the library, taking a moment to stow the Vorgian fire in his pack. 

“Human,” the goblin called once more. Glando turned back. “The goblin king is governed by reason. He will elevate our position peacefully. But if anyone were to replace him…” the creature trailed off. “Sooner or later, one from your group will have to make a choice. The wrong choice could bring ruin to both of our kingdoms.”

Glando hurried back to the cistern; he no longer had any desire to find treasure. Now he hoped only to make a swift exit. His party was already waiting for him when he returned to the hub. Glando noticed that Socrates had a golden sickle sheathed at his side. He did not wish to know what the dark elf would do with it. 

“Let’s move on,” Glando urged. He led the group to the final tunnel, and the adventurers journeyed into the unknown.

                                                            ***

It was time for the adventure to meet its prompt finale. But the heroes would not be able to leave this place until they met the goblin king they had heard so much about. The trio marched bravely to their end, every step down the tunnel bringing them closer to a swift conclusion. 

The tunnel opened to another circular room, not unlike the one they had left, but much larger and drier. The stone brick floor was meticulously clean, indicating that this room was well-travelled by the goblins. If the adventurers had been paying attention, this might have signalled suspicion. And if the adventurers had been paying attention, they might have noticed the 

“Damnit!” Glando was the first to shout. As the heroes stepped into the room, they heard a familiar twing as the wire they had walked through snapped. Instantly an iron grate slammed furiously shut over the entryway, sealing them inside. The other exits were likewise closed, a resounding clang of metal on stone echoing through the room. Smaller hatches opened all along the wall, much too small to be exits but the perfect height for goblins- a horde of the green creatures shuffled out of the hatches, marching in formation to form an arc around the wall. Glando counted at least four score of the monsters. Finally the armored goblin known as Goodwin emerged and took his place at the center of the room.

“Vandals,” Goodwin announced with only a hint of trepidation, “you are charged with trespassing in the kingdom of Athomire, with stealing from the common folk, with breaking the universal laws of entropy, with kidnapping the beast known as Asshat, and with murdering the farmer Zyt. Come peacefully and be banished forever. Or try to fight us, and you… will d-d-die.”

“Ok, ok!” Glando took the lead, stepping forward and placing his bag of knives on the ground. “That’s very cordial of you. We’ll leave immediately, and never return again. Right?” he added, glaring at Socrates.

“Of course!” Socrates chirped, to Glando’s surprise. “You’ve done enough to us, I don’t want to stay anyway.” 

“Oh, uh, that’s good,” spoke Goodwin, surprised. “My squadron will escort you off the grounds.”

“Hey, what about me?” screamed a small voice from Socrates’ bag. “Let me out of here!” Asshat tried to shout. Socrates fell into a coughing fit, trying to conceal the treasure chest’s cries for help. 

“Right,” Goodwin remembered. “Before you leave, you will have to release the beast known as Asshat.”

“NO!” Socrates boomed. “No way! Do you have any idea what this means to me? When I first came here, I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I found it anyway. Can you guess what it was?” He smiled at his companions.

“A friend,” Dantern answered decidedly. 

“A friend,” the goblins agreed.

“Not at all!” Socrates interjected. “I already had friends,” he laughed nervously. “No, I was looking for this treasure chest!” He waved the tiny monster in the air for all to see. “I didn’t know what form it would take, but I knew I would find a testament to my descent into darkness. And here it is! So tell me why you think you can take it from me!”

“Oh no,” Glando shuddered. He quickly scooped up his bag of knives and had one ready.

“BURN, ALL OF YOU!” Socrates charged the goblins’ line, breaking their formation as he plunged his sickle wherever it found a mark. Blood painted the stone, and goblin wails echoed around the vast room. 

“Fight!” Goodwin urged his companions. “Protect your people!” Goodwin readied his sword and charged at Socrates, who knocked him aside. A trio of goblins confronted Glando, and the thief realized he had been forced into another bloody conflict. With only a little remorse, Glando buried three throwing knives in the goblins’ flesh. 

The fight was a massacre; it could not be called anything less. The goblins, however numerous, were not equipped to even harm the two adventurers. Socrates delighted in the slaughter, but Glando reluctantly participated. Only poor Dantern was forced to be an onlooker. He watched from Socrates’ shoulders as the dying goblins twitched and tremored, coated in the blood of their companions. Dantern no longer wanted to be a part of this place. The world to him was nothing more than the path he illuminated, but everything he illuminated cast wicked shadows. It was a terrible thing, and the singularity of his suffering was suffocating. 

“We are lost!” Goodwin cried, trying to stand. “Fall back!” The surviving goblins scattered, crawling back through the small grates they’d entered from. “Call in the pyros!” Goodwin added.

Two new grates opened. From either side of the room, two heavily armored goblins emerged. Each bore a heavy tank on their back, a tube connecting the tank to a crude nozzle in their hand. The two goblins marched to the center of the room, guarding Goodwin.

“We have no choice!” Goodwin bemoaned. “Burn them!”

Glando now recognized the dark red liquid sloshing in their tanks. The pyros were toting Vorgian fire, and the adventurers were about to die painfully. “Stop them!” Glando screamed at his companions. The pyros bounded forward, and Glando realized his companions had no idea what was coming. The thief carefully aimed a shot, then threw a knife in a graceful arc to take out the first pyro’s knee. The goblin fell to the stones screaming, and a second knife pierced the tube, coating the creature in the sticky red liquid. The hopeless goblin was only feet from Glando; he aimed his nozzle at the thief in anger, probably imagining he could still finish the intruder.

“Don’t” Glando shouted, but it was too late. The liquid ignited. The poor goblin shrieked as he went up in flames, his melting flesh fusing with his armor. “Whyyyy?” he wailed. After an eternity, the goblin finally died. 

The other pyro advanced on Socrates, who finally realized the grave danger he had put himself in. With the littlest lantern golem on his shoulder, Socrates would go up quickly. The hate-filled pyro entered the dark elf’s range, and Socrates drove his sickle through the goblin’s skull without hesitation. The pyro’s corpse fell forward, his tank shattering on contact with the ground. Glando grabbed Dantern off his companion’s shoulder and dragged the dark elf backwards as the dead pyro ignited.

“It wasn’t supposed to go down like this!” Goodwin sobbed, still unable to find his footing. Socrates finally remembered the knight, and advanced on the fallen goblin. “The bad guys aren’t supposed to win!” Goodwin wailed. 

“Shut. Up!” Socrates demanded, swinging his sickle down on the goblin. He could not pierce the knight’s armor; Goodwin’s chestplate absorbed each blow as he despaired the day’s events. Goodwin was right in this regard- bad guys can’t kill the hero.

“Leave him!” Glando hissed, grabbing Socrates’ arm and dragging him away. “It doesn’t matter anymore!” The iron grates ascended, leaving the adventurers with options again. “This way,” Glando said, dragging him to a gilded archway. “This must be the way to the throne room… to our way out.”

                                                                 ***

“Let’s be smart about this,” Glando whispered to the dark elf as they neared the end of the tunnel. The room at the end of the hall was dimly lit, and the adventurers could not make out anything within. Glando hoped that he would be able to sneak forward to his escape without further conflict. He took Asshat from the dark elf’s bag; Socrates did not protest.

“I’ll take Dantern and Asshat,” Glando continued, “and sneak around one side of the room. You will sneak around the other side. If the goblin king is in there, we don’t want him to discover us. Look for a way out, and signal to me if you find one. Do you understand the plan?”

“Of course,” Socrates whispered. Glando slipped into the room, sticking to the numerous shadows as he crept along the wall. Socrates, however, strolled confidently into the room. “Is there anyone in here?” the dark elf called out. 

A magic stirred in that dark place, and the room lit up; rows of candles illuminated a path of their own accord, and Glando recoiled in the shrinking shadows. Socrates could now see a throne at the far side of the room. It was twice his height, but not nearly as grand as he imagined; the throne was made of twisted wood, decaying from years of rot.

But the beast sitting on the throne was far from decaying. This was no ordinary goblin; the king was tall, at least two heads taller than a human. He was green like the other goblins, but that was where the similarities ended. The king was brutish, muscular- he carried no weapon but needed none. His black eyes bore into Socrates, his jagged teeth protruded from his twisted jaw. The king wore a golden crown which scintillated even in the dark- a stark contrast to his formidable steel chestplate, dulled from the ages. An ordinary man would be terrified in his presence. But Socrates was no ordinary man. 

“Welcome,” the king’s voice boomed. The beast grinned, and Socrates wondered if he was aware of the horrible things the trespassers had done. “My name is- DUCK!”

Socrates ducked, rolling forward as he did so. From the shadows, Glando flinched. Yet no danger seemed to materialize; Socrates’ skilled dodge was wasted.

“A pleasure to meet you, Duck!” Socrates chirped as he returned to his feet. “Or should I call you… King Duck?”

“Oh, there’s no need for such formality!” Duck smiled. “And what do they call you?”

“Some call me Socrates,” the dark elf replied, “and I am the Christ figure.”

“I don’t know what a Christ figure is, but I’m pleased to make your acquaintance,” spoke the king. “Now tell me, Socrates… did you come alone?”

Glando flinched, wondering if the dark elf would betray his hiding place. “Not at all!” Socrates grinned. “I came here with my friend Gainzo!”

“GAINZO?!” Duck roared. “And where… is Gainzo right now?”

“He’s in this room, right over there!” Socrates pointed to Glando’s position. Glando was not about to be caught by another volatile enemy, but the king’s attention was on his hiding place. With a brief hesitation, Glando tossed Dantern out into the open.

“Is that Gainzo?” Duck asked, pointing to Dantern.

“Of course not,” Socrates said. “That’s Dantern, the littlest lantern golem. No, Gainzo is behind him.” He pointed to the shadows again. 

I hate him so much, Glando thought. He crept further along the wall, hoping eventually to take cover behind the throne. He opened the pouch containing Asshat and threw the tiny monster into the light.

“Is that him?” Duck asked once more. He peered at the beast as it pattered around on the stone floor. “Wait a second… that creature’s name is Asshat!” Glando cowered, then realized he would have no time for hesitation. He continued his slow creep around the circumference of the room. 

“I suppose I was mistaken,” Socrates pondered. “Gainzo must not be here after all.” At this point, Glando had taken his position behind the massive throne, a fact which Socrates was acutely aware of. The dark elf stared intently at the shadows beyond the throne, until Duck finally noticed his gaze.

“Is… is everything okay?” Duck worried. “Do you see something behind my throne?” Glando cursed. You’ve had your fun, the thief thought to himself. Now let me be. Glando scanned the area for an escape, and saw none- but he saw something infinitely more intriguing. A door was hidden in the nook behind the goblin king’s throne, a pair of stone panels sealed shut by a golden padlock. Could this be what he was looking for? Glando withdrew the wooden key from his pocket, and snuck closer to the door. 

“I don’t think so,” Socrates responded to the king. “I was just looking.” The dark elf did not cease his curious stare, and Duck began to worry. Glando, meanwhile, reached the door and held his key to the lock. It fit! Finally, the key fit. What new adventure could wait behind this door? Anything would be better than the current adventure.

Before Glando could turn the key, he suddenly became aware of some shallow breathing in the darkness, a breath which did not belong to him. Was someone else creeping in the shadows? Too late, the thief saw a set of beady eyes behind the throne, where he had just been standing. He resisted the urge to scream, and instead cowered against the wall. “Quiet, kid,” a gravelly voice whispered from the throne. “You’ll blow my cover!”

“I better check behind the throne!” Socrates loudly announced. “Just in case there’s any intruders back there!”

“Oh, uh, sure…” Duck agreed. Socrates stomped to the back of the room with exaggerated bounds, and Glando cursed his companion. The dark elf arrived at the scene, and grinned wolfishly at Glando. “There’s an assassin back here, here to kill the king!” Socrates shouted. “It’s… Gainzo!” And with a deft plunge, Socrates buried his sickle in Gainzo’s heart.

Glando winced, but only for a moment; for once, he was not the Gainzo that his companion spoke of. The beady eyes that watched Glando were now filled with rage.

“You… bastard!” Gainzo shrieked, surprising even Socrates. The Clown ripped the sickle out of his heart and tossed it aside. He punched Socrates in the jaw, sending him tumbling back into the light. Gainzo pounced toward the dark elf, and Glando scrambled out behind him.

Duck bellowed a hearty laugh. “The Christ figure reveals himself!” he beamed. The goblin king leaped down from his throne, joining the spontaneous battle. He hooked Gainzo in the jaw with a force that would have crippled an ordinary man, but the Clown was persistent. Socrates dove for his sickle and Glando withdrew two knives, unsure which side he was supposed to be on. 

Gainzo stumbled in front of the goblin king, but Socrates was armed again. The dark elf snuck behind the Clown and drove his sickle through the back of Gainzo’s head. The monster crumpled as Socrates shook the tool loose.

“Thank you for helping me, adventurer,” spoke Duck. “I appreciate your- hey!” Socrates had charged at the goblin king, sinking his sickle into Duck’s chestplate. Duck threw him aside and ripped the sickle out of his armor. He roared a dreadful battle cry, then leaped toward Glando. 

“What did I do?” Glando complained. The thief tried to run, but the goblin king was quicker. Glando waved his tiny knives at the monster while Duck tried to swing at him. 

Socrates rose to his feet, stunned. Had he finally picked a fight he could not win? He scanned the room for something, or someone, that he could use. Dantern? No, the lantern golem was anything but a fighter. Asshat would never help him, even if the beast was capable… Socrates glanced at Gainzo’s broken corpse, and remembered the previous miracles he had performed on lifeless matter. He gazed into the abyss, searching for a bubble of life… and the Clown’s corpse stirred once more. Gainzo shambled to his feet, finally under the dark elf’s control. How poetic.

Glando was losing his fight with Duck. The goblin king had cornered the thief, who was desperately trying to keep the monster at arm’s length with his knives. To Duck’s surprise, zombie Gainzo slammed into him from behind, and Glando saw an opening. He threw a knife, driving it into the king’s eye, before rolling aside. Duck screamed, a passionate wail of anger and hate. He turned and slammed the Clown’s undead corpse against a wall.

Socrates ran to Glando’s side. The thief reached for his companion’s hand, but Socrates had no intention to help his friend up- he had come to sever a loose end. The dark elf slashed at Glando, leaving a deep cut across the thief’s chest. Glando gasped, and Socrates swung again. With no other option, Glando blocked the blow with his bag. Socrates swung down on the vials Glando was carrying, and suddenly the duo was coated in a thick red oil. The dark elf recognized the Vorgian fire he had wrought upon himself, and backed off for a moment. 

As the once-friends squabbled, Duck had won his fight. With a final roar, the goblin king snapped zombie Gainzo in half, throwing the Clown against the throne. He then turned his attention back to the human who blinded him. Glando fell to the ground in a puddle of blood and oil, too injured to run.

As Socrates stepped out of the king’s path, he scanned the room for any more matter he could try to animate, but he had exhausted all his options. Except… Glando had left a substantial amount of blood on the stones… Socrates performed his final miracle, and a new golem came to life, an amorphous blob of blood and fire. 

“Blood golem!” Socrates called. “Kill the king!” The littlest blood golem propelled itself at the charging goblin king, but to the dark elf’s dismay, he realized just how small his latest creation was. Duck caught the creature, no larger than a human fist, and tried to shake the surprisingly sticky monster from his grasp. 

While the goblin king was briefly distracted, Dantern ran to the injured thief, hoping to save the man he had almost begun to see as a friend. The littlest lantern golem tried to scoop Glando’s blood back into his wound, mixing the oil into his bloodstream. Glando screamed in pain, then realized Dantern’s flame was dangerously close to the Vorgian fire. “No!” the thief screamed. “Get away! Get away!”

Socrates backed away as Duck grappled with the blood golem. From his side of the battle, it looked like he had won- all his enemies were destroyed. Except the very first enemy, the one he had forgotten about…

“Ow!” Socrates shook his arm, trying to knock loose the treasure chest that had buried its teeth in his fingers. 

“You fool!” Asshat’s muffled voice resounded. “You thought you could contain me? I am unstoppable!” the chest leaped for his jugular, leaving a nasty cut on the dark elf’s neck before he snatched Asshat out of the fight. Socrates grabbed the treasure chest by its maw and tore the creature in half, spraying gold dust in the vicinity.

“Enough of this folly,” the dark elf choked. “Blood golem! Kill. The. King!” Socrates limped toward Glando’s dying body. His neck wound was graver than he had first assumed, and he would need supplies from Glando’s pack.

Duck stepped backward and tripped over the Clown’s corpse. Now the blood golem saw an opportunity, and leaped at the goblin king’s face. The bloody blob washed over Duck’s face, filling his eye, nose, and mouth. Duck knew what was to come, and a wave of hopelessness overcame him. “Oh, I am slain!” he managed to croak. The blood golem oozed into his throat, and the goblin king spasmed as he struggled to breathe. What a terrible way to die. With a final tremor, Duck’s light extinguished, his crown toppling into the bloody mess.

Finally, Glando and Socrates were left only to deal with each other. Socrates stumbled to Glando’s side, rummaging through the thief’s pack, while Dantern watched in horror from feet away. Glando knew that Socrates could save them both, if he chose to… but he also knew the dark elf would never let him live. 

“Dantern…” the thief mustered, “The Vorgian fire…” He managed to gesture to the red oil they were both covered with.

“Oh no,” Socrates murmured gravely. “Don’t you dare… You do not tell Dantern what to do! I am the Christ figure, and he is the servant! Dantern! Kill this man!”

“I now understand that the darkness engulfs this world,” Dantern spoke softly. “The gentle flame fights a losing battle against the shadows.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Socrates said.

“Some say, in a millenium, there lives a dream,” Dantern continued. “A beautiful thing, intertwined with love, and hatred. Peace, and war.”

“What are you trying to say?” Glando asked.

“Are you monologuing?” spoke Socrates. “Who taught you to monologue?”

“It is a balance,” Dantern went on, “and the duality of it all… it is a beautiful thing. The choice is mine; I have made it.” 

What?!” Socrates screamed. The littlest lantern golem ran towards the two titans, two harbingers of darkness who he had once looked up to. Now he saw only the evil in their souls. Dantern reached the dying adventurers and threw himself at their bodies. His frail glass figure shattered against the stone, and the Vorgian fire ignited.

I want to tell you that the heroes died bravely; this was not the case. All three of them wailed as their lives turned to smoke. Socrates recoiled as the flames engulfed him, and Glando squirmed in the impossible heat. Only Dantern grew, his scream rising in a triumphant symphony as his flame grew in size, and then was seen no more. The littlest lantern golem gave his light to extinguish an evil in this corner of the world, and with his dying flickers, he knew his sacrifice was worth it. Perhaps if anyone lived to tell his story, Dantern’s light would burn through the ages, a call for each one of us to find the goodness in our own hearts. Yet the candlelight would not burn forever. The flames subsided in that dark place, and as time marched on, the darkness was all that remained.

                                                            ***

                                                     EPILOGUE

“That story wasn’t wholesome at all!” you must say as the Clown concludes. “It was gruesome, and… a tad contrived.” 

“Thanks for the criticism.” Gainzo rolls his eyes. “What specifically did you dislike?”

“It seems like you inserted yourself into the story without cause… and then killed yourself off, which obviously didn’t happen.”

“I already told you that every word was true!” The Clown pauses. “Well, I might have taken some poetic license.”

“Try to stick to the truth next time,” you say. 

“The spirit of the story is what’s important,” Gainzo argues. “I wanted you to know the tale of light and darkness. And remember, it’s a vast world that we’ve left behind… their story might be relevant again. Should we go on?”

You ponder all you’ve heard so far, and nod. “Let’s hear another story.”

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