It was dark inside, but thanks to her half-elven vision, Viridiane navigated the hallway without a problem. The corridor headed straight forward and at the end of it, warm orange light scattered out of an open doorway to the left. The walls looked robust and ancient; each finely chiseled boulder was larger than her torso with what looked like old engravings on some of them. She leaned closer to one particularly long row of symbols to check whether they were of elven origin or similar when a large hand grabbed her arm, and she had to suppress a startled cry.
“What are you doing, girlie?”
It was the looming figure of the tiefling, crouched down next to her, pressing himself tightly into the right side of the corridor. His tone seemed more amused than annoyed, but Viridiane couldn’t be sure, because he was whispering.
“I’m following you,” she replied.
And then she could hear it too: voices, filtering out from the chamber at the end of the hallway. She couldn’t understand the words, but judging from the volume, it was quite a heated conversation. And one of the talkers sounded very much like the mysterious woman, their third companion.
“Let’s go and see, shall we?” the tiefling said and continued his stealthy sneak forward, apparently also being able to see in the dimness.
“Wait, what’s your name?” Viridiane hissed.
She felt her face go hot again. Why was it so strange that she wanted to know who her battle partners were? “I don’t know your name yet. I thought, maybe it would be easier if—”
“Charmed. And now, please stop talking. I think something weird is going on here.”
As they crept forward, the darkness dissolved, the flickering light from up ahead slowly embracing them. Axk’hran reached the doorway and stopped, signaling to Viridiane to be quiet. The conversation inside was now entirely audible. There was just one small problem: she still didn’t understand a word of what they were saying, because they were talking in another language.
She pushed past Axk’hran and peeked into the chamber.
The woman, their new friend, was standing only a few meters away, close to the center of the hexagonal room, her back turned to them. The chamber was empty except for a stone pillar in the middle, the lit torches on the moist walls, and a tiny figure standing in front of the only other exit across the room. It was a green-skinned goblin dressed in shaggy leather clothes, shaking a spear and shouting at the woman in clear frustration.
“What is this?” Axk’hran muttered. The goblin took a step forward and raised his spear higher. Viridiane felt the tiefling tense beside her. “No, no, we are not playing this game,” he said and strutted out of the shadows.
Her heart jumped into her throat. This was it. They were walking into a fight.
The goblin was the first to notice the tiefling and released a surprised screech, but by the time the woman turned around, Axk’hran had raised his hand, mumbled something, and a thin gold thread of sparks erupted out of his palm, hitting the goblin in his chest.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the woman exclaimed. The goblin stumbled backward with sheer shock on his face, then looked up at Axk’hran, amazed. His spear dropped onto the ground.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the tiefling threw the question back to her. Viridiane stepped forward hesitantly, half-hiding behind him, clutching the crystal in her neck.
“As I said, I know a lot about goblins! I was trying to get some information out of him!”
“You should have warned us or something,” Viridiane muttered.
The woman glared at her. She spun around towards the goblin, but clearly directed her words to the tiefling. “What have you done to him?”
Axk’hran smirked. “I’m helping you to get that information. Hello, mister!” he greeted the little green creature. “Can you understand me?”
The goblin, who had been silently following their argument with a strange, friendly smile on his wrinkly face, perked up. “Yes, mister! I understand,” he said in accented, but perfectly spoken Common.
“Excellent. Can you tell me your name and where your friends took the human child?”
“My name is Bobbi. And they took her to the Boss!” the goblin provided readily. The woman peered at Axk’hran in suspicion but didn’t say anything.
“The Boss, you say? Who is this Boss, and what do they want to do with the girl?” the tiefling asked.
Bobbi shrugged. “Don’t know. Boss was very angry. We should be behaving ourselves, that’s what the Master said, but we have been here alone for so long! Master didn’t come back, Boss got mad, said we needed to do something.”
That sounded confusing. Viridiane glanced at Axk’hran, hoping that he understood the situation better than her, but the tiefling seemed equally at a loss.
“Where is your boss?” asked the woman, this time in Common.
Bobbi answered instantly. “He’s back there!” He pointed at the door behind him, but he didn’t look away from Axk’hran—whatever the tiefling had done to him made the goblin be nice to him specifically.
“How many of you are there?”
“Uh…” Bobbi paused, silently counting, then held out his hands, his fingers spread out. “This many!”
“Alright, at least ten, that’s…nice,” Axk’hran summarized. “Anyone else have a good question? This thing will hold for a while if we don’t attack the little guy.”
Viridiane stepped forward; this way, she had a line of sight to the open doorway behind the goblin. There was darkness, and maybe another room beyond the threshold, but for now, she didn’t see anything moving.
“Who is this Master?” she asked, but the goblin just shrugged again.
“He is the Master. Boss talks to him. I never met him.”
“What’s his name?”
“He is the Master.”
Axk’hran sighed, then produced a few loops of rope from his bag. “I think we’re done here.”
“I think so too,” the woman mumbled, then walked over to Bobbi. “Look, we’re going to leave you here, but you need to stay really quiet and good. Deal?”
She grabbed ahold of the goblin’s skinny arm. Bobbi looked up to Axk’hran for confirmation, and the tiefling nodded, smiling gently. The woman—whose name Viridiane still didn’t know—dragged Bobbi to the stone pillar in the middle, then she and the tiefling tied him up with hasty movements. Bobbi went along with it as if Axk’hran was his best friend of many, many years, and Viridiane found herself shuddering. That was quite a powerful magic spell.
There was a sound like small feet shuffling on stone ground. Viridiane whipped back around, just to see two figures rushing out of the hallway that led into the depths of the church, weapons in their hands, snarling viciously.
She didn’t have time to shout out a warning. One of the goblins threw himself at Axk’hran and the woman, daggers flashing in his hand, and the other—a tall, dark green creature with yellowed teeth sticking out of her mouth—lifted her hand, a white globule forming in the middle of her palm.
That was magic. She was going to release a spell at her.
Time seemed to stop as Viridiane felt the crystal blaze up in her neck. The blood froze in her veins; she had a hard time breathing. She watched her arm raise as if by its own will. The goblin in front of her focused on her own spell, momentarily distracted.
From the corner of her eyes, Viridiane saw her companions engaged in a fight with the other goblin who zoomed around lightning fast, slicing at them with his daggers. The woman reciprocated, jabbing two short knives in his direction, and Axk’hran hacked his quarterstaff around, trying to get a good whack in on the creature.
No one was paying attention to the enchanter in front of her. She had to protect herself.
A cold, nauseating feeling bloomed inside her chest as she focused on the calm light of the crystal. The energy wrapped itself around her arm, coagulated at the tip of her pointing finger and shot forward in the form of a sickening green beam of light. The spell collided with the goblin’s shoulder, pushing her back towards the doorway.
The creature fell on one knee and hissed in pain. Her face contorted, the skin on her shoulder becoming sickly grey as she heaved, clutching her chest. She looked hollow and diseased as if already on her deathbed.
Viridiane stared at her, heart beating against her ribs like it wanted to break free of her body. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.And that was when the woman appeared out of nowhere and thrust a dagger into the goblin mage’s side.