Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 24 (Day 7)

Michael O. Varhola

Read "Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 23"

This vault was larger than the first one the companions had opened, also ten feet wide but about twice as long, and huddled in the back of it were a score of Goblins, immediately identifiable by their lanky, four-foot-tall forms, big heads, and reddish-yellow hides. A horrible stench of uncleanliness wafted through the opened door.

Parthenia hissed instinctively, roughly pushing past Paros and choking up on her greatsword as she prepared to launch herself into a killing frenzy. Ugly little people of this sort had been a big part of the units from the Tetrarchy of Anatolia that had attacked, and attacked, and finally destroyed the hilltop village of her people on the mainland, and she never passed up an opportunity to wreak havoc upon them. The Goblins recoiled, those at the front of the others brandishing their own weapons, and Paros and the savage Elf could hear the little humanoids snarling and muttering amongst each other.

The barbaric woman started to charge and then, two steps into her advance, broke it and came to an uncertain halt ... Only four of the Goblins appeared to be armed and only with a crude collection of picks and wooden spades, none of them were armored, and most appeared to be females, many of which had emaciated brats clinging to them. All were gaunt and clad in rags, and the Elf could see that they were terrified, although the four men were clearly prepared to sell their lives dearly for the women and children. Parthenia backed out of the room, gestured her friends back, and then closed the door.

"Those are the damned Goblins we saw the day we first got here, digging under that obelisk for the Orcs, aren't they?" Paros asked. "They look terrible; I'm surprised they're still alive."

"Yeah ... " Parthenia said uncomfortably. "When I saw they were Goblins I was just going to kill them, but, somehow ... Well, somehow, it just did not seem right." The Elven barbarian hated Goblins, but she also hated Orcs, forced servitude, cruelty to the weak, and any number of other things that were combining to give her very mixed feelings. Pumayo shrugged indifferently, but the others seemed to share her conflicted emotions. Discussion ensued over what options were at their disposal and, with simply slaughtering the generally-wicked little people off the table, suggestions included letting them go, relocking the door and walking away, and ignoring them. It did not go unmentioned that slavery was strictly prohibited under the prevailing laws of Kos and that the Orcs, including at least one resident of the city, were in violation of them.

"You know, we have still got more treasure than we are able to carry ... " Paros started to say, which Parthenia nodded eagerly in response to.

"Yes!" she said. "I was just thinking the same thing myself! We can have them carry back a bunch for us as well! The lot of them can do whatever they want then; join that gaggle that clears tables over at the Minihouse of Broyhoysel." Everyone concurred with this idea, greed being as prevalent among their collective motivations as anything, and a little more conversation followed over the logistics of the proposal. Parthenia then collected a sack of rations, including the most questionable items that remained in their mostly-depleted stocks, and opened the door and then threw it and a waterskin into the vault. She started to close the door and then hesitated, pulled her own wineskin off her belt, and tossed it as well toward the Goblins before withdrawing.

The companions waited about ten minutes and then, leaving their helmets, shields, and biggest weapons in the outer room, opened the door once again and went in to speak with the Goblins. Pumayo, being the only member of the party conversant in the Goblin tongue, led the way and greeted the sullen little folk cordially, and they wiped their mouths with the backs of their ochre-colored little hands and regarded him attentively. The wizard began to speak to the Goblins, explaining to them what the party proposed, and, while they did not stop scowling, they did nod excitedly and then begin to respond in their guttural language.

"What are they saying?" Paros asked, looking at his friend; with his broad, fleshy face, the rogue thought, Pumayo actually looked almost as much like a Goblin as he did like a Human. He was pretty sure, of course, that this was by no means the case.

"They say they lived in some caves at the other end of the island, a bunch of them, but that they got overrun but a band of Humans and some others," Pumayo said distractedly, trying to carry on two conversations and pay attention to what the Goblins were saying. "Most of them were killed but these were let go and made their way here; it's a little unclear to me if they were headed for the city or not. But, as some point, they fell afoul of the Orcs, who held their families hostage and enslaved them."

"Will they help us?" Parthenia asked.

"Yes," Pumayo said, turning to his friends. "They will help us carry back the treasure. Gladly. But they don't want to stay in Kos, and they don't want to bring their women or children. Once they are done helping us they say they are going to come back and get them."

"What!" Parthenia yelped. "They will just come back and take the rest of the treasure!"

"Undoubtedly," Pumayo said with a shrug. "But we will already be carrying out twice as much as we expected, and whatever gets left behind will be worth very little, relatively speaking."

"Yeah, and it would probably be gone by the time we got back anyway, collected up by the Orcs," Paros said. "At least this way it will ... " He hesitated, looking dubiously at the little humanoids. " ... go for the support of women and children."

"The Orcs might get it all yet!" Pumayo said suddenly, his face becoming alert. "Kidna says they are back ... four of them."

"The same four?" Paros asked excitedly.

"She can't tell me that," Pumayo said. "I'm not seeing through her eyes, just sensing her reactions to what she is seeing. But they have reentered the room we fought them in and are coming this way. Kidna is retreating and coming back to join us."

The party members rushed out of the Goblins' cell, pulling the door closed and looping the padlock over the hasp of the door, just to be safe. They took up positions throughout the room, preparing various weapons and spells, and waited to receive the attack of the Orcs. Paros wondered what kind of shape they could be in if they were same ones, as they had been pretty badly beaten up, and was hoping their numbers did not include any fresh reinforcements.

From down the hall, the companions could hear rough voices, but they were too distant to make out, even if they had been able to understand the language they were speaking. They could make out some other noises as well, and after about a minute these included a loud, metallic scraping sound. Then, there was nothing but silence. They waited apprehensively for a band of silent Orcs to appear suddenly in the doorway and rush upon them murderously, glancing nervously at one another, but, after a few more minutes, this assault had not materialized.

Paros got up from the corner where he crouched and, making signals to his companions to remain where they were, slunk to the door and peeked around its edge and into the hallway. Not seeing any sign of their opponents, he slipped through the doorway and disappeared. Parthenia, Pumayo, and Selene grew even more anxious during his absence and were relieved when about two minutes later the rogue reappeared in the doorway.

"They're gone!" Paros said. "And so is that big Orc; they took him away."

"You think he was still alive?" Parthenia asked, a bit of alarm in her voice.

"Maybe," Paros replied uneasily. "I don't know. If he is, they might heal him up and come back. If not, they might turn him into a zombie — a big, armored zombie with a huge sword. Either way, I think we should get out of here before they come back again."

"Hey!" Pumayo said excitedly. "Lady Selene, I know you have power over the undead ... Can you compel those living-dead Dwarves in the pit to serve us? If so, that would allow us to haul back even more treasure back to the city!"

"No!" Selene cried indignantly, displaying more animation than was the norm for her. "No, I cannot do that. Radiant Phoebe gives me the power to drive away or destroy the walking dead, not press them into service! It is only the priests of evil or forbidden deities who are able to do the things you describe."

"Oh, apologies!" Pumayo sputtered, clearly embarrassed. "For some reason I thought all priests were able to do this ... ."

"And I am pretty sure that you do worship a forbidden deity!" Paros thought to himself, fighting to suppress an impish smirk. He could also imagine what a scene it would be if they actually came traipsing back into Kos City with a pack train of Dwarf zombies in tow!

"Let's get going!" Parthenia said, breaking the tension between the cleric and the wizard. "Those Orcs might return at anytime."

The others assented to this and the party proceeded to release the Goblins and begin packing up the treasure, dumping out the contents of their own backpacks and abandoning anything that was worth less than items of equal weight in the hoard. While they did this, Pumayo gave instructions to the Goblins about emptying out the Orc packs and pouches and filling them with the secondary items that the party members would not be personally carrying.

"Keep an eye on them so that they don't pocket anything!" Paros said to Pumayo.

"Hah! What if they do?" the sorcerer replied with a laugh. "No matter what we will be leaving some of it behind and they will surely end up with it, and if they don't those damned Orcs certainly will. Anything we don't take with us now we can count on never seeing again. I don't begrudge them a few baubles of the third water so that they can buy themselves some provisions once we let them go in Kos."

"I think they're going to have plenty of provisions once we leave," Parthenia said. She and the others had already dumped most of their remaining rations and it looked like there were plenty of foodstuffs and other supplies mixed in with the mishmash of equipment in the Orc sleeping chamber. From where they lurked in the doorway to their former cell, the Elf he could see the Goblin women veritably conducting an inventory of the room and its contents.

Paros saw two of the Goblin men sidle up to Pumayo on their bowed little legs and begin importuning him about something and pointing toward the door to the hallway and he walked over to see what they were talking about.

"They say there is a working cart in one of the workrooms nearby and that they can carry on it even more than they would be able to in the Orc backpacks," Pumayo said. "See, they are making a good faith effort, are they not?"

"Yes, that is a good idea," Paros said, nodding. "They are earning their keep."

Pumayo gave the little humanoids his assent and they scuttled off into the darkness. By the time the companions had finished packing up what they were planning on taking, the Goblins were coming back through the doorway, pushing a squeaky wooden conveyance with metal wheels that looked a bit like a small mine cart. They proceeded to retrieve some lamp oil, apply it to the wheels, and otherwise make sure the vehicle was as serviceable as possible.

"Industrious folk," Pumayo said almost uncondescendingly. "They truly have an undeserved reputation. We ought to consider always having a team of them with us for these purposes. I wager you could find ones that cook and perform other camp chores." Parthenia's snorted response to this suggested she was not in favor of having a pack train of Goblins with her, and Paros knew that not just killing them represented a major concession on her part.