May 29, 2022

Allunis started to change almost as soon as Fyniss bore the news of the entrance to the Labyrinth opening. After she told Bertrand what she’d seen, he’d immediately rounded up the other recruits and, even though it was now quite late, set off immediately back to Darn with barely any explanation. He told Fynnis, who was beyond exhausted at that point, to stay in the village in case anything else was drawn to the entrance. My father insisted that Fynnis stay with us, much to the delight of my older sisters, who had never seen an elf in person.

Despite being twice as old as Zellet, my oldest sister, Fynnis looked around the same age as Melem, the youngest of the girls. Which is to say she was well into her thirties, but she easily could have blended in with a group of school children. Elves are much longer lived than humans, and as a result of that they appear to age much slower than humans. The girls were endlessly fascinated by the slightly pointed ears, her almost-white hair, and her sharp teeth.

My mother had, with me suckling on her breast, endlessly apologized and told the girls off, but Fynnis shook her head and smiled patiently.

“Not too long ago, children threw rocks at elves and thought we’d sneak up to eat them while they sleep. This kind of thing isn’t at all terrible.”

She ate with us, and before long she succumbed to sleep in a pile with the other girls.

Fyniss stayed in the village for a while. Without any real instructions from Bertrand asides from hanging around, she spent most of her time training, or she made herself useful wherever she could. Despite knowing her age, the farmers didn’t feel right having what looked like a little girl out doing field work, so she usually stayed in the village and helped with any odd jobs she could. At night, she stayed with our family.

Truth be told, my parents liked having Fynnis in the house. It wasn’t just that the girls loved her, or that she could carry me around when my mother got tired. I think they were happy to have somebody around who understood, if only a little, what was going on.

When the novelty of having an elf around had worn off enough that the girls were able to fall asleep again, my father took the opportunity to ask her again about the entrance, and if it really was so terrible.

“I’m afraid it is. Before now, you probably had a few monster attacks a year. I’ll bet all of them about the same level as the Horned Pigs. An annoyance, to be sure, but nothing you couldn’t take care of yourselves. Now the entrance is open, it’s going to start acting like a beacon. All kinds of things are going to start appearing, drawn to the magical residue. And that’s to say nothing of the things that might crawl up out of there.”

“But it’ll get better again? Like it was? Can’t you close it up?”

Fyniss shook her head. “A Labyrinth is a living thing. If we seal up that entrance I’m sure before long another will open up somewhere else. At least we know where it is now. As for the monsters, if anything it’ll get worse with time, as the Labyrinth grows in power.”

Her words were given a lot more weight when Bertrand finally came back a few months later at the head of an army. Not only of soldiers, but of workers and supply laden wagons.
Again, my father met Bertrand at the entrance of the village to demand what was going on, though this time he was merely shocked and worried rather than angry and confused.

“What’s all this? Bertrand, why are these people here?”

Bertrand had let out a long, pent-up breath, and shook his head. “It’s that entrance. I’m sure Fyniss told you about it. My liege has decided that we must fortify Allunis.”

“Fortify?” My father looked back at the dozens of workers, obviously gathered at the last minute from wherever they could be found. No doubt he was worried about the impact of bringing in so many strangers to a small village.

“I know, this is not at all something you would be pleased to hear. But sooner or later, monsters will be drawn to that entrance, and they will start overrunning the village. If we do nothing then when that happens there’ll be nothing left at all. Rather than let this place become a battlefield, the count intends to throw up walls, and exploit the entrance in other ways. I also believe that, when you balance it out, this is the right thing to do. The thing that will result in less people dying.”

If anybody else had said it, my father might have started screaming and patrolling with a pitchfork. But Bertrand had cut off a giant pig’s head in front of him, and that was the sort of thing my father put a lot of stock in.

And so, things started happening in fast succession.

The first was that all manner of construction began to spring up, all over the place. Around the centre of the village, dozens of buildings were thrown together, and a temporary wall was erected. All the new people who had shown up needed some place to sleep. Countless temporary dwellings started springing up outside the wall, too. Including on land that had previously been used for farming.

More worryingly, the second thing that started happening was that the village, which until now been a relatively peaceful kind of place, started to see a rise in the instances of crime.

It started with burglary. Things going missing, windows broken. After a few months it started escalating to robbery and assault. The workers brought in to build all those walls and temporary housing would idle about at night drinking, and take out their boredom on whoever happened to pass by.

As you might imagine, none of this went down well, and Bertrand was called in more than a few times to settle disputes, which by all accounts he did swiftly and almost always on the side of the original villagers. But while that helped keep the first inhabitants happy, it only aggravated the newcomers, who felt they were being treated unfairly. Things just weren’t good, and the trend did not look like it would get better.

Other changes started to happen.

A few families who had been farming in Allunis for generations decided to leave. One day, they’d be plowing the fields, and the next they’d be gone, leaving their workers to go join the seemingly endless ranks of builders constantly hammering or sawing about the outskirts of town.

Bertrand had promised that there was a benefit of going down this route, but the longer it went without another monster attack, the harder it was for those of the original inhabitants who remained to see it that way.

The villagers were now far outnumbered by the previously itinerant workers. And since there was never a shortage of things to build, people looking for work were drawn there, pushing that balance even further out. For a while it looked like Fynnis’ prediction was coming true, just not in the sense she had meant. All kinds of monsters did start appearing, only they weren’t the type that bore fangs or claws.

People started to question if the entrance opening was really such a bad thing, or anything to worry about at all. More to the point, if the cost of whatever the Count of Darn was doing was worth it.

The answer came after two years.

It was just before my second birthday, and Fynnis, who had been staying with us for a few weeks, was seated at the table with mother and father while the children, me included, slept in the other room.

Over the last year or so, Fynnis had been spending more and more time with our family whenever she came from Darn to Allunis, to the point that my parents started thinking of her as another of their daughters. In these last few months especially, as the soldiers of Darn were called in to resolve more and more disputes as they arose, she seemed to be staying at our little house more often than not.

The last two years had not been particularly kind on Fyniss, who still looked like a child at this point. The monsters that were supposed to make their appearance never came, and instead she was dealing with more and more human conflict. None of which was made easier by having the outward appearance of a young girl. For somebody who had joined the army to fight monsters and get away from that kind of prejudice, it was particularly exhausting.

As Fyniss and my parents talked, one of my sisters ran in, pale as a sheet.

“It’s Etwin!” She cried, voice strangled.

Immediately, the three adults jumped to their feet.

“What is it?” My father pressed her.

“It… it took…” was as much as she could get out, and pointed back towards the children’s bedroom.

Fynnis leapt ahead of my parents, her eyes gleaming. What was waiting for them was the kind of thing that no parent would ever want to see. The two youngest girls huddled in one corner of the room. The window smashed, glass shards strewn about the floor, and me nowhere in sight.

“It took Etwin!” One of the girls cried again.

Before she had finished, Fynnis had already leapt out of the broken window, and was pelting away from the house.

By the time my father scrambled outside she was already halfway across the fields. The only reason he was able to catch up at all was that she seemed to be scanning the ground as she went. When he was finally close enough he could have asked her what was happening, he bit his tongue and let her move forward.

Even though there was a big wall around the middle of Allunis, our farm, and our house, was well outside that protective barricade. From our window you could clearly see all the way to the edge of the forest that my father now stood facing. And presumably, anything in the forest would have been able to see the orange glow from our windows.

My father followed Fynnis until they were at the edge of the forest, where our tilled land came to an end, and the elf finally paused.

“I didn’t bring any weapons…” she muttered. “There’s just one that took Etwin, but there’s more in there. Three or four, I think.”

Then she carefully began to advance into the thick wall of trees. My father stayed close, doing his best not to catch his feet on the gnarled roots that seemed to reach up out of nowhere to grab at his ankles.

As they left the farm farther behind, he began to hear ever more clearly a snickering laughter cutting through the bent over tree trunks and thick curtains of leaves. The sound of it left him feeling nauseous.

It did not sound human.

Fynnis crept forward, almost painfully slowly, but with an agitation to her movements that told my father she was resisting the urge to bolt through the woods. The further in they went, the louder the cackling laughter grew, until it was as if it were coming from all around them. And then, both her movement and the laughter stopped, and the night air was filled only with the sound of my father’s nervous breathing.

They had come to a little open clearing, just large enough to afford for a small camp. A little smoldering fire, rudimentary enough, but displaying an intention that did not belong to wild animals.

Standing on the other side of the camp were three boys. Held roughly by one, deathly still, with a terrified expression, was me.

Only after he saw my petrified face did it slowly dawn on him that these weren’t boys. At least not like he imagined boys should be. It was the smell that made him realize first off. They did not smell right. Not dirty or unwashed, the way a farmhand would smell after days of working without bathing. They smelled like animals. The same gritty smell as a goat or a horse. They looked at him with gleaming yellow eyes that never blinked. Their skin was mottled, green and grey. Their proportions were off. The arms slightly too thin, the fingers slightly too long, the jaws slightly too big.

“What…” my father heard himself say, very quietly.

The goblins looked at him, and at Fynnis, and the one holding me uttered a few words in some language my father did not recognize, then a little chuckle.

They started backing into the woods, me still in their arms. When Fynnis made to follow, the one holding me snapped out a few impatient sounding words, and pulled my arm tight. One of the others motioned for my father and Fynnis to leave.

Without understanding what they were saying, the meaning was clear. The child is ours. You two can go.

My father was rooted to the spot. He had hunted beasts and monsters before, but never anything like this.

“Let him go,” Fynnis said, voice level.

She took another step forward, but the goblin holding me tutted at her and pulled my arm tight again, enough that I squeaked in pain. He chuckled at the expressions Fyniss and my father made.

And then, the goblin pulled my hand towards its mouth. It put my little finger between its teeth. And bit down.

Did they want to goad my father or Fynnis? Or just show them they weren’t messing around? I think it might ultimately have been that they believed they saw two humans standing around looking terrified, and decided to mess around with them. I think it’s in large part because they thought Fynnis was just a human child.

My father, recalling this night, told me that, above all the other things that swirled though his head at that moment, this was the point at which he remembered that Fynnis was not, in fact, a child. Or human.

One moment, Fynnis was standing next to my father. And then she wasn’t. There was a clap like thunder. She plowed into the goblin that had been holding me, and pushed her fingers like a spread of spears into its head.

A pillar of meat, the goblin began to collapse, and Fynnis caught me in her arms. She bared her pointed teeth at the other monsters, daring them to come closer.

She needn’t have bothered. Goblins aren’t brave creatures. As soon as their fellow started to slide to the ground, it only took about as much time for them to realize what was happening before the lot of them turned and sprinted wordlessly into the forest.

Fynnis stared hard into the trees, and as soon as she was satisfied they wouldn’t be back any time soon she lay me on the ground and held my hand, one finger short and covered with blood.

Quietly, she began to recite a prayer under her breath, over and over, until a soft green glow began to surround spiral around my mutilated hand. A spell of healing to close the wound. When she was finished, my father says her eyes shone brightly, as though from within.

I don’t remember any of this. Maybe my mind locked those memories away somewhere.

Fynnis carried me home. As they walked back through the fields my father said he could hear a howling from the forest. It felt to him that the goblins were letting him know that this wasn’t over.

It really wasn’t. Not by a long shot.