1.1 Three is a Crowd

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Before Viridiane could have moved an inch, a woman jumped up at one of the tables closer to the door.  

“Did you just say goblins, my friend?” she asked in a clear, almost jovial voice. She was young and fairly short with long, curly brown hair and a thin face with an angled nose, sharp features, and close-set eyes. She wore common leather and linen clothes, and her entire appearance would have been quite forgettable if it wasn’t for her strange attitude at this time of distress. 

The man nodded sheepishly, then opened his mouth, probably to start explaining the situation, when the innkeeper, a muscular guy with a seemingly ever-lit pipe in his mouth, hollered to him. “Gerry, the town guards are literally next door! Don’t you think you should ask them, rather than expecting help from a bunch of random folks?”

“C’mon, Ralf, you know I wouldn’t trust those fools to fight off a tree!” Gerry replied, his face reddening from anger. “Useless idiots, the lot of them! I am looking for a capable person to save my daughter’s life, and I’m willing to pay whatever it costs!”

The innkeeper shook his head in resignation. Then he turned to one of the waitresses; a shorter, stout woman who was filling flagons with a dark, foamy beverage beside him. “Nilla, please run and get a guard before that poor child perishes.”

“No, no, no!” protested the woman who had offered her help. She marched over to Gerry, slapped him on the shoulder, and shouted back to Ralf. “I am very knowledgeable about goblins! I can quickly deal with the situation.” 

Viridiane frowned. The town guards really did seem like the better option. Why was this woman in such a hurry to convince everyone she was in control? Nevertheless, it looked like the innkeeper and most of the people in the tavern had already turned back to their duties, foods, and drinks, resigned to the thought that someone would eventually help this poor fellow.

She stood, surprising herself with the sudden decision. What was she thinking? Her newfound magic was potent, clearly, but it might have caused more problems than it was worth, for now. Especially in the case of such delicate matters as a kidnapped child.

But, she realized with a start, she was not ready to give up. She was not ready to flee and forget. At the very least, this was a chance to get to know more about this new power. And if it didn’t work out, the least she could do is to offer her meager supply of healing balms and herbs if anyone got hurt during this rescue mission.

By the time she walked up to them, Gerry was already animatedly reciting the events to the woman. “—then Lene ran back to me, screaming, saying that she could get away, but Annika was taken! Those little monsters dragged her off towards the old church, that’s all I know!” He paused, noticing Viridiane. “Are you a fighter too?”

“Well, I…” Viridiane hesitated. Both Gerry and the woman sized her up, one face showing relief, the other suspicion. She felt her cheeks flame up in embarrassment. “Yes. If I can help with anything, please let me!”

The woman snorted, and it looked like she wanted to comment on the impossible nature of the claim, but Gerry grabbed Viridiane’s hand. “They will kill my daughter if we don’t do something!” he wailed. “She must be so scared! Please!”

But before she could have answered, a third voice boomed up from behind her. “Ladies, gentleman? Can I offer my assistance?”

Viridiane had seen the large hooded figure sitting alone in the corner of the room the moment she’d stepped into the establishment. However, he had seemed like someone who didn’t want to show off his face, so even if natural curiosity had commanded her to peer at him a few times purely because of his sheer size, she’d stopped herself and taken a seat far away from him. There was nothing that could be seen of him under his black cloak before, but now, turning towards him, she could observe the red skin, white eyes, and the two horns peeking out from under his hood. The figure loomed above the group, casting a large shadow over them.

She had only read about this race before, although she thought she’d seen one of them in Hollowhold once. She couldn’t be sure, though, because Jarven had steered her away from the figure, muttering something about “dangerous folk” under his breath. He had refused to answer her questions and only kept repeating that it was better if she didn’t concern herself with those people. Ostians clearly kept away from tieflings, usually, but Viridiane remembered from her studies that in Thasal, the empire bordering Ostia from the south, they were quite an everyday sight, and some of the most powerful families living there had been blessed, or cursed, with infernal blood.

“Uh…” Gerry started, looking up at the huge man with a sheepish face. “I… I guess, I—”

“We will save your daughter,” the tiefling promised. His voice was warm and encouraging, but then he glanced at Viridiane and the woman hesitantly. “Right?”

“Yes, sure, of course,” the woman replied eagerly. “Lead us to that church!”

Gerry nodded, seemingly not needing much to be convinced. He waved for them to follow and rushed out of the tavern. Viridiane watched, eyes wide and heart pumping wildly as the woman and the tiefling started off too.

She took a deep breath and trailed after them.

The air was chilly outside and smelled of rain, with dark grey clouds gathering above. The four of them trudged along the main road of Lost Horn between sparsely built shabby stone shacks, headed towards the eastern outskirts of the town. Gerry was constantly talking, going on and on about the damn goblin hordes that just couldn’t stop raiding the surrounding towns since the beginning of time, and the useless guards who didn’t even pretend anymore that they tried to keep up order and protect their people. It was probably an attempt to distract himself from his worries about his daughter, and Viridiane would have felt really bad for him if it wasn’t for the numbing fear drumming at the back of her head that seemed to resonate through her whole being. 

She tried to steal a glance at the tiefling and the woman who were stomping on the muddy road in front of her, to gauge how they felt, whether they were excited, nervous, confident, or fearful, but if they noticed her hesitance, they didn’t react. They were completely silent, not talking to, and not even looking at each other or Viridiane.

Why had she signed up for this again? These people probably didn’t even need her—the tiefling looked like he could fight off three dozen goblins with one hand! Why did she have to lie about being a warrior? She never had been one. She’d only gone out a few times with the huntsmen of Enley a few years back, because her father insisted she learned how to deal with threats from the wildlife and how to survive.

However, she didn’t have enough time to convince herself to slink away from the group in shame. The old church loomed ahead; an imposing sight, even more so due to its deteriorated and neglected state. 

Monumental grey walls reached towards the sky with large windows that had been long emptied of glass and crumbled to disfigured holes. Four slender towers emerged from the four corners, more or less still intact. The structure was largely unadorned, made of simple, sturdy boulders, and this only added to its haunted atmosphere. There wasn’t a soul nearby, apart from them. The area was silent, and Viridiane only heard the rustle of the wind through the grass below and the leaves above. 

They stopped before a set of massive dark wood double doors, seemingly the front entrance of the building.

“In there,” Gerry said, his voice barely more than a whisper. “They took her inside.”

“Do you know anything else about what happened?” the tiefling asked. “How many goblins? What kind of weapons?”

Gerry shook his head. “I don’t know. Annika’s friend, Lene, said there were many. And they were talking about…about taking her to the Boss, or something similar.” He stopped, his eyes full of tears. “She’s my only treasure in this whole world, dear Annika. Please, save her!”

“That is why we are here,” the tiefling said, peering up at the silent walls. “Do you know what kind of church this was? Any relevant god or cult?”

Gerry sniffed, a confused expression sitting on his face. “N-no, I have no idea. It’s very old. It’s been here since forever.”

“We can see that,” the woman said, impatient. She kept looking around, then glancing at the tiefling and Gerry as if afraid that they would notice something that she didn’t. “I will circle around. Maybe there’s another entrance we can use.” 

And like that, she was gone, soundlessly and in a fraction of a second. The tiefling raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Less than a minute passed, and the woman was back, sneaking towards them from the other direction.

“Nothing,” she said. “This is our only way in. Let’s go!” And without waiting for a reaction, she cracked the double doors open and disappeared inside.

“Hey, wait for us!” the tiefling exclaimed, careful not to raise his voice too much. There was no answer from inside. He turned to Viridiane, his face annoyed. “That’s nice of her. Shall we?”

And he too entered the church.

Viridiane glanced at Gerry, the man’s face still teary, but hopeful. She could just stay outside, play the role of a sentinel; that could be important too. She sighed, frustrated. Those two couldn’t have been more eager to get started with this thing. She didn’t even know their names yet! Did it really matter whether she was in there with them or not? 

Hordes of goblins, though. She couldn’t let them deal with that alone, could she? Maybe they would need her help after all, no matter how little she could offer. 

She grasped the grey crystal hanging around her neck, and a strange, calm feeling flooded her. It was going to work out. This was something she had to do. 

She gave a reassuring smile to Gerry, then squeezed herself through the gap between the two door wings into the darkness of the church.

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