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It took Viridiane approximately two minutes to ruin the plan of attack.
To be fair, it wasn’t much of a plan anyway. Her only job was to stay quiet so they could sneak up on their opponents and execute a surprise attack. Susan was going to go in daggers sharpened and Axk’hran prepared his quarterstaff in one hand and the glowing blue-green ball of a forming spell in the other. Viridiane wanted to ask what his background in magic was (actually, also, what the woman’s deal was, although it was harder to force herself to address her than the tiefling) but the two of them didn’t seem talkative after eating a bit and getting healed up.
They crept through the tunnel beyond the room soundlessly and gathered around the door at the far end. Susan peeked through the keyhole, but shook her head a second later.
“Too dark,” she mouthed. She procured a set of lockpicks from her pocket, leaned over the lock, and after working on it for a few seconds, gave a triumphant, low hiss and pushed in the door in half an inch.
Slinking inside, Viridiane crouched behind the first pillar she could reach to stay hidden from the forms that could only be vaguely seen at the other end of the low-lit hall. This space must have been some sort of central sanctuary of the church back in its heyday: several tall columns stood to the sides framing the large rectangular room, but in the middle, only rock debris and broken, warped wooden structures resembling benches and collapsed platforms hinted at the purpose of the chamber.
Nevertheless, the heaps of rubble and trash have been seemingly repurposed into small hovels and burrows at some point in the past. She could see rags and tattered leather scraps that the goblins scattered about to make their dwellings more comfortable, while half-eaten, revolting leftovers from meals she didn’t want to imagine littered the ground everywhere. Barely any light was filtering through the windows placed high on the walls towards the back—the frames yawned empty, letting in the cold air from outside, but the dark grey contours of clouds did little to illuminate the scene.
The only section of the place in decent shape was a large stone chair and a long slab of rock at the back of the room which had probably been dragged inside to serve as a table. A hulking form that Viridiane couldn’t see well sat on the throne with another, even bigger figure standing guard behind. The two were engaged in a heated, quick conversation in the squawking language of the goblins, and there was at least one more voice coming from somewhere around, although its owner stayed in shadow.
Viridiane whirled around to check where her companions went—and that was when the sleeve of her tunic got caught in the sharp side of a stone sticking out of the pillar behind her. The old rock crumbled, a big piece of it tumbling to the ground with a clatter.
The hulking figures jumped, and one of them gave a few curt, shouted commands. Viridiane heard a muffled “Gods damnit!” not far off from her right. When the bigger, beastly form of the thing behind the throne started off towards them, Axk’hran’s quarterstaff lit up, and the tiefling stepped out of the shadows.
Booming steps approached from the direction of the throne, but all Viridiane saw was a lumbering mass of flesh and coated brownish fur. Long claws gleamed in the light of the torches, and the—bear? Wolf? Whatever it was, it lunged at Axk’hran with all its might, and the tiefling tried to grapple back, bracing himself against it, his heels digging into the ground.
A shout resounded from the other direction, and Viridiane turned, just able to make out the lightning-dextrous, lean body of Susan catching the large goblin in the back with a dagger. Other voices screeched up from the shadows gathering next to the walls, and two shining balls zoomed at Viridiane’s head so fast that she barely had enough time to duck behind cover.
She swallowed the bile climbing up her throat. Four opponents with at least two magic-users among them. And she screwed up their surprise attack.
Something slammed into the pillar she was hiding behind and she cringed, falling to her hands and knees on the grimy floor. She couldn’t hide here forever. She had to do something.
If one of her companions died here today, it was going to be her fault.
Viridiane stood, grabbing for the crystal on her chest, turning towards where she suspected the enchanters were hiding. From the corner of her eyes, she spotted Susan and a big goblin (maybe the Boss who Bobbi had referred to) dancing a deadly waltz around the throne, sword against dagger. And beside them, at the far end of the chamber, two small figures huddled together with hands cuffed and leashed to a pillar.
One of them had to be Gerry’s daughter. The other, maybe another unfortunate victim.
There was a whistle and a fizz, then a sharp pain biting into her shoulder. Viridiane clutched at the wound, stunned for a moment, turning back just quick enough to see a form drawing back behind a pillar on the opposite side. The burning feeling spread down her arm. Some kind of fire magic?
She didn’t have time to think. The furry creature that had attacked Axk’hran was barreling towards her through the chamber.
No, wait. Two furry creatures. And not running, but…wrestling each other?
The large animal bodies slammed into the columns beside her, and she jumped to the side, avoiding the scattering rock and rubble. She could see it more clearly now: one of them was a goblin-like but taller, hairy monster, the other an oversized, red-and-white furred, raccoon-like animal that might have been cute if it wasn’t currently gnashing its teeth and gripping the body of the goblinoid with its knife-sharp claws.
Did Axk’hran…turn into this red raccoon creature?
More flashes of light came from the direction of the shadowy pillars; the mages were attacking raccoon-Axk’hran now, and he wailed in pain. He didn’t let go of the goblinoid though, biting and scratching at its hide viciously.
There was a sharp cursing from the other side, and Viridiane whipped around, scrambling on the ground to see Susan crumple at the foot of the wall, a red blotch of blood blooming on her stomach.
As Viridiane’s throat tightened in panic, the big goblin turned around and fixed his eyes on her.
It was a bloated, sickly green creature wrapped in a worn, colourful textile that might have been a rug at some point. He also wore jewellery; necklaces and rings made of faded, rusted pieces of what looked like silverware and invaluable trinkets adorned his chest, arms, and fingers. His body looked wounded in many places, but he stomped towards Viridiane now, wielding a large sword and a shield, clearly trying to finish off the fight. Susan shouted at the monster in Goblin, desperately trying to clamber up, but she collapsed, too weak to stand.
The bloody mass of fighting furry creatures slammed against another pillar, and Viridiane saw one of the goblin mages stumble and get half-buried under the falling rubble. But she couldn’t follow the events anymore. The goblin king was upon her, lifting his sword, a pained but cruel grin on his face.
There was no one to help her. She was going to die here.
She fell on her behind, backing away as the large goblin advanced on her. Her hand flew up on instinct. The next moment, a cold, biting sensation grasped her body.
Something flashed white; so bright that she had to close her eyes. The big goblin howled.
Viridiane opened her eyes to a faded green spear of light shooting out of the middle of her left palm. The light hit the monstrous goblin in the chest, and he was already withering, skin bubbling up then shriveling to grey. As Viridiane watched on in horror, he fell to one knee, shaking, giving out an unholy scream.
Then a feeling emerged again from the center of her, without her even wanting it. There was a white flash, and suddenly, another strand of light erupted from her hand, this time, shooting out towards the shadows. A distant scream resounded, and a body toppled to the ground noisily.
Viridiane trembled, feeling sick, barely able to follow what was happening. The big goblin’s sword clattered to the ground, and he fell too, like a big sack of flour, and stayed unmoving on the ground.
She closed her eyes again. She felt tired, so tired. The cold feeling disappeared and only left behind painful emptiness, and she was teetering on the edge of some great, black void she didn’t particularly feel like falling into. But she had little control over it as her body shook like wanting to expel some dangerous sickness from the inside.
Minutes passed, or hours; she didn’t know. Floating in the dark, numb, mute, and deaf, she was almost satisfied. Until something warm and bright folded around her and brought her back to reality.
Her eyelids flew open. She sat with her back to a pillar, still in the middle of the old church’s central chamber, her hands wrapped around a crystal bottle and drinking the last drops of the red, shining liquid from it with Axk’hran helping to keep her upper body straight. “Don’t move yet,” he said, kneeling down from his crouch, voice weak but calming. “We’re safe. You need to heal up, though.”
She nodded, unable to speak yet. Through the hazy fog in front of her eyes, she saw Susan, leaning down to the two small figures at the back of the room.
She breathed in shakily. Susan was alive. Axk’hran was okay. They saved the hostages; everything was fine.
But as she looked upon the corpses of the goblin boss, his bodyguard, and the two magic-users strewn around the room, motionless and dead, she shivered, nausea gripping her once again. They succeeded in their mission, and she managed to help and use her magic again.
So why did she feel more miserable than ever?