Aug 4, 2022

My father sold our land lease back to Darn, and used the money to move us to the more relative safety of inside the walls. The city was still not exactly well fortified, but I suppose it gave him a greater sense of protection. The few remaining farm hands were given a copper each, and mostly went to join the army of construction workers that now made up most of the population. Our family was officially out of the agriculture game.

At first, this left my father with a lot of time on his hands, and a rapidly dwindling pool of money. After some thought, he decided to open a small tavern. He used the last of our savings to convert the bottom of our house into a little pub, and borrowed a few more silvers from a friend to buy some casks of cheap ale.

Not surprisingly, it worked. It wasn’t like this was the first tavern in Allunis to open in the last two years, but it was still far from a saturated market. My father had spent most of the last two years hearing stories from Fynnis of the men wandering about with nowhere to get a drink after work. It wasn’t the most pleasant crowd, but they had plenty of money to get rid of. As soon as it started getting around there was a new pub in town, people started flooding in the front door.

It didn’t take long for my father to pay back the silvers he’d borrowed, and not long again to start putting away a small profit each month. At least for now, it seemed like our future was secured.

Meanwhile, the whole goblin thing wasn’t moving in any one direction or another.

The morning after the attack, Fynnis went to the temporary military headquarters to scream about Goblins to Bertrand, who apparently had been unlucky enough to be around at the time. I’m not clear on what she was hoping for, but Bertrand quickly shut down extermination focused missions she proposed. The army was not in the business of hunting monsters. At least not monsters like goblins, who in the Bestiary were ranked as “vermin”.

“Then what are we supposed to do?” Fynnis threw her arms in the air.

“We can take care of them if they wander into town, otherwise nothing.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Not kidding. Goblins are too hard to track down. We’d use all our resources and there’d still be pockets out there. Anyway, even if you wipe them out once they’ll be back in a few months.”

“We can’t just leave them be.”

Bertrand shrugged. “We’ll do something about them. Just not directly.”

“Then how?”

The how became apparent when, a few weeks or so later, an adventurer’s guild opened in Allunis.

To begin with, the place remained conspicuously empty. An adventurer’s guild might sound exciting, but at that point nobody wanted to get involved. Adventuring, famously, was a good way to get killed. Most of the folk who had come to Allunis had done so specifically for the construction work, of which there was plenty, and better paying than anything the Guild would have been able to offer. Why risk losing an arm for a few coppers when you could make almost that much for a day’s worth of hammering nails?

It wasn’t until almost a month after the Guild had opened its doors that the first adventurers showed up. There was only three of them, and it was unclear if they’d seen better days never seen them in the first place, but they were adventurers. The first thing the army had done when the guild opened its doors was to start funding quests to bring back goblin ears. And for whatever reason that this was how these men seemed to have decided to make a name for themselves.

After they’d been in town for a few nights, they finally made it to our tavern. They sauntered in and sat about the bar, eyeing my father until he finally made his way over to see what they wanted.

“You, you’re the one who saw them goblins, right?” One of them asked.

“I saw them,” my father nodded. “What’s it to you?”

“What it is to us, is we took the quest to get rid of them, ain’t it?”

“I don’t know. Is it?”

“My name’s Rob, this is Carl and Jonno. We need someone to guide us to where the goblins is. Heard you was the one saw them in the first place so figured we’d ask you.”

“I’ll pass,” my father shook his head. “No way I’m going anywhere near those things. They bit off one of my son’s fingers, you know.”

Jonno chuckled. “He’s still got the other nine, don’t he? You’re lucky. Goblins are vicious little buggers.”

Carl elbowed his teammate in the ribs. “Never you mind him. What Rob means to say is we’ll pay you to show us where they is. Split the reward with you four ways. Listen, army’s paying two coppers an ear. That’s basically giving money away for free!”

“Four ways, is it?” My father looked at them through narrowed eyes, then shook his head. “No, not worth it. I’m no adventurer, those things are dangerous.”

“Don’t you worry about the goblins!” Rob clapped his hand on his sword, a cheap little cutlass banded to his waist on a leather belt. “We’ll take care of them. You just take us to where you found them, and stand back while we do the hard work. Easiest coin you’ll ever make in your life.”

“Why don’t you ask Fynnis?” My father asked. “She was the one who actually tracked them. I just came along.”

A gloomy cloud fell over the three men. “You talking about the elf?” Jonno sneered. Obviously they’d been doing their research. “We don’t need one of their kind showing us about.”

“You got a problem with elves?” My father sneered back.

“He don’t mean it like that!” Rob quickly covered. “What he means is, army’s not allowed to stick its nose into guild business, isn’t that right?”

They looked like the sort who wouldn’t have said as much if Fynnis were actually around, but at the time she happened to be back in Darn on army business.

“That’s right,” agreed Carl. “Come on, just a day out and back again.”

“You’ll be completely safe,” Rob smiled a gap tooth grin. “Trust us.”

It was at that point my father should have told them to take a hike, but as we’ve already established, my father was pathologically inclined to make terrible decisions. In this case, having recently made a string of good choices, it seemed like his nature decided the scales needed to be balanced.

He heaved a sighed, and leaned forward over the bar.

“I’ll take you where we found them last time. But I doubt they’re still there. I don’t know any more than that. And you’ll pay me either way. Up front.”

The three adventurers looked a little put out, but finally Rob nodded. “All we need is the general area, after that Jonno can track them. But we’ll pay you after we get back.”

And so Rob and my father shook hands, and agreed to meet the next morning. My mother was furious when she found out, but my father got into one of his moods and that was the end of it.

The next day, true to their word, the three adventurers were waiting for my father outside the makeshift city walls. They headed out across the fields, and back to the forest where my father and Fynnis had first followed the goblins. While the adventurers boasted about how many goblins they’d kill once they found some worth killing, my father took them through the forest as best he could. Finally, with much less back and forth than he’d been planning, they found the little camp site where the goblin had bitten off my finger.

“Here,” my father said. It looked as though the goblins had come back afterwards to collect their things. There was still a burned black pit in the middle of the clearing, ashes scattered by rain, and the small logs arranged into makeshift benches, but all the other signs of life were gone.

“This is it?” Rob looked at my father suspiciously.

“I told you, it was a while back. And this is as far as we went. They ran off in that direction,” he gestured through the woods.

“That’s not very helpful!” Carl complained.

“I thought one of you was supposed to be a tracker?” My father countered. “What happened to being able to figure it out once we got here?”

“Well, even a tracker like me can’t be expected to follow on a trail that’s so old…” Jonno started coyly.

“If you’re not satisfied, I’ll be on my way,” my father shrugged and turned to leave.

“Now now! Let’s not be too hasty!” Rob held his hands up. “You’ve been living here a while haven’t you? And in town they was saying you used to come out hunting here, isn’t that right? You must know this place pretty well.”

“Well enough.”

“Alright, well enough is well enough. Goblins are disgusting little buggers, but even they don’t like having the rain fall on their head at night. Are there any caves about? Places they could take shelter?”

“Caves?” My father frowned. “If it’s caves, then the mountains to the west are where you’d go looking. But that’s at least a week’s hike from here.”

Jonno shook his head. “Too far out. Goblins don’t like to go scouting about too far from home. Isn’t there anything closer?”

“Not caves, no, but…” My father looked at the adventures warily.

“Go on, spit it out!” Roban urged him.

“Not caves, but there is the Labyrinth, and I suppose you could take shelter in there.”

“The Labyrinth?” Carl made an uncertain noise. “I don’t know about that.”

“It does make sense though, don’t it?” Rob mused. “Will you take us there?”

“Not a chance. I’m not stepping foot in that place.”

“Come on! You don’t have to go inside, just take us there, and we’ll go have a look.”

“Actually,” Carl made a pained expression, “Roban, you never said nothing about going inside the Labyrinth.”

Jonno, though he looked loath to say it, nodded and muttered something which sounded more or less like an agreement.

Rob shook his head. “What are you all so scared of? It’s not like I’m saying we should go down a hundred levels or nothing! We probably won’t even have to look around too much to find the goblins! Look, five heads. That’s all we need to come out of this with more money than we started. We could do that with our eyes closed!”

“I… I suppose so,” Carl said, not sounding all that convinced.

For my father, who had seen the goblins that took me with his own eyes, there was something about the easy way Rob talked about killing them that didn’t sit well with him. If Bertrand or Fynnis had said it, he’d have believed them, but there was a kind of cloying desperation that stuck to Rob, sapping his credibility.

Probably, going off this feeling, my father should have turned and headed back to town, but maybe spurred on by his earlier bad decision, or maybe by the idea of few extra coins, said “I’ll take you close to the entrance. Close enough you can walk in a straight line and find it. But I won’t go nearer than that, and you’d best be paying me the money you promised.”

“Of course! Of course!” Rob rubbed his hands together. “See? Even the old man here says he’ll take us. He ain’t even an adventurer and he’s got more backbone than you two.”

Jonno and Carl exchanged an uneasy look, but raised no more complaints. The four men started hiking even deeper into the forest.

They hadn’t even gotten half way there before my father started to notice something wasn’t quite right. Everything was a little quieter than it should have been. The air hung a little heavier. He could feel the hairs standing on the back of his neck at that unplaceable feeling of being watched.

As the sun began to crawl closer to the horizon, and the light that made it through the thick canopy became colder and gloomier, even Rob grew quiet. Before long the men were walking in silence.

“D-did you hear something?” Jonno said, breaking the silence.

“No?” Rob looked at him quizzically, and then three goblins flew out of the bushes and pulled him down to the ground.

The other three were so surprised that for a few seconds they just stood there in horror as Rob screamed and flailed his arms, and the goblins tore into him with their saw-blade teeth. It’s one thing to boast about killing goblins, but another thing entirely to actually do it. Goblins might have been ranked as “vermin” in the Bestiary, but that didn’t mean they were push overs.

Jonno came to his senses first. With a shaking hand he drew his sword. He took one uneasy step forward, raising his trembling blade as though to strike at the goblins who were still ripping apart what was left of Roban. Before he could do anything, two more of the green skinned things ran out from where they’d been hiding and clambered up him as though her were a tree. Jonno screamed and fell where he stood.

“Jonno!” Carl yelled. He made to run towards his friend, but found himself held in place. It was my father. He had grabbed tightly onto Carl’s arm and was pulling him back.

“We have to go!” My father yelled.

“But Jonno!” Carl looked desperately between the still struggling Jonno and my father.

My father shook his head, “He’s dead!”

“Let go of me!” Carl screamed, and pulled backwards.

“Come on!” My father screamed back.

And then the two of them fell away from each other, landing roughly on the ground, staring at each other from where they sat.

It took my father’s brain a few extra moments to realize he was still holding on to Carl’s arm. The rest of Carl had fallen backwards into a circle of goblins. They fell in on him, and Carl’s screams were quickly replaced by a wet gargling.

My father sat staring numbly at the gore quickly spreading out in front of him. He heard a low rumbling laughter to the side, and when he turned, he saw something standing there. Its hands were on its waist, its head tilted to one side. It looked down at him, grinning. It was not a goblin. It was far too large, too muscular, too tall. But it had something of that species to it. The way its purple lips creaked open, the double rows of jagged teeth, the pale grey-green pallor of its skin. It was holding a long, heavy weapon on its shoulder. More like a cleaver than a sword. The edge was rusted and chipped, but still more than sharp enough to have cut off Carl’s arm.

Had it moved faster than my father had noticed? Or had he been too distracted by everything else? This stray thought made its way to the top of my father’s head, then his long dormant survival instinct finally started calling the shots. He scrambled to his feet and sprinted through the woods as fast as he could.

Maybe they were satisfied with the three men they’d already taken. Maybe they just found the sight of my father pelting through the woods holding onto that arm so amusing that they gave it up at that. Maybe they figured they could catch him some other day. Whatever it was, they did not follow him. My father made it back out of the woods alive.

He ran until he got to the temporary city gates. If you believe the story the way my father used to tell it, he stormed up to the guild and threw Carl’s arm onto the counter before retreating to the tavern.

Honestly I’m not sure if I believe that the arm actually made it all the way back through the forest, or if there was even an arm to begin with. It all seems pretty far-fetched. I suppose that if there really was an arm, then what really happened was he dropped it some time before that. In any case, that’s the story of how the very first quest issued by the Adventurer’s Guild of Allunus came to a close. Of Jonno, Carl, or Rob, never was any trace found.