The following is not the finalised edition. It hasn’t been formally edited and will likely contain errors. Let me know if you spot any!
The terror of the undanae army was amplified by a shrill scream and large crash that echoed through the tunnel ahead. Seaview turned to Delik, his face flashing orange around a pictogram of a silver circle with a tiny star and another pictogram of an eye. The orange light faded to a slow throb.
“What in the hells is that supposed to mean?”
Seaview showed a detailed picture of the full moon rising above a lonely arch, stars twinkling all around. Mountains loomed on the left and a vast plain stretched to the horizon.
“Where’s this track going? You’re meant to be taking me to Calimska!”
The golem shook his head and applied more force to the drive wheel. The cart raced on, heedless of the screams and deaf to Delik’s curses. The track cut sharply to the left and the cart tipped onto two wheels, scrapping the wall and showering sparks in the tight tunnel. Seaview punched the wall and the cart righted itself just in time to pitched downward. Even with the added haste of their descent Seaview was frantic, pumping the drive wheel to go faster.
“Slow the hell down, blockhead!” Delik yelled into the cold darkness, half in anger and half just to hear the certainty of his own voice. “The undanae are far behind us. Why rush to a new death?”
Seaview didn’t respond. They rounded a wide corner to the right and the wheels lifted again. This time there was no wall beside them to keep the cart from derailing. Delik leaned out the high side of the teetering cart like he would if he were in his skiff. Gods! If only he were in his boat on the bay, the sapphire sky above and emerald sea below. Instead, death’s shroud had him wrapped him in black and dipped him in pitch. He might have been blind in the dark, but he could feel the cart tipping further and Seaview was speeding up.
Delik felt a stoney hand grab him and his stomach dropped. Up into the darkness he soared, wind whipping through his hair, flying straight to his death. He thought it was terror that shook him as he flew, but then he realised he wasn’t flying at all. Seaview was dangling him over the side of the cart for balance so he could speed through the corner.
“You bastard! Put me back or I’ll—”
There was no time to articulate any repercussions before he was hauled back into the cart just as all the wheels connected again. Seaview’s arm tightened like a stone girdle around Delik’s waist and the cart careened into another tight tunnel where light flickered ahead.
They raced into an unnaturally circular chamber with cart tracks splitting off in all directions, each exit signed by glowing orange pictograms. A greasy campfire cast monstrous silhouettes clashing in a brutal melee. Screams and yelps echoed off the low ceiling betraying combatants far smaller than the shadows implied. A handful fought in the centre of the chamber where the ceiling had caved in over the intersection and derailed a cart from a different set of tracks. More lingered in the dark hole above, beady eyes reflecting in torchlight, gibbering in a feverish language Delik didn’t understand.
Without a care for the rocks over the line or being outnumbered by monsters, Seaview charged headlong into the battle. While one of Seaview’s arms pumped the drive wheel, his other two arms thumped his cart like a war drum. They ploughed into the debris and Seaview’s wheels locked up, sending sparks flying in all directions. The sudden stop slammed Delik into Seaview’s back, fortunately not headfirst into a spear.
The five monsters, goblins by the looks of their bone stitched furs and rough hewn spears and cudgels, cowered away from Seaview’s flailing arms. One of the goblins, who wore the skull of some exotic beast over it’s head, took the opportunity to kick another goblin in the groin and snatch away the rock it was holding. The others scrabbled to get it back but the skull-faced goblin kept them at bay, waving a stick at them. Blight them all if it were a shaman. Who knew what evil god would curse them?
While most of the rocks on the track were from the cave in, the rocks the goblins fought over had a feint orange aura about them. They lay scattered about the derailed cart and caused Seaview no end of anguish. The golem quaked and vibrated, each stone in his body grinding together in a harmonic wail. He combined his arm stones into one long limb, but still couldn’t reach the glowing orange rocks.
These few goblins weren’t the only ones to have fought for the stones. Bodies lay all around the scene. More than a dozen of the little bastards had fallen trying to get those rocks. Some were tossed against the wall, blood smears trailing down to a twisted heap. Others were missing limbs. One was crushed beneath a boulder. All victims of an ambush gone terribly wrong.
Seaview made himself two strong arms and took up the rocks beside his wheels. He hurled them up at the goblins lurking in the ceiling, daring them to come down and face him. They shrunk back into the dark above, gibbering and shrieking in terror. Their retreat was short lived. Two dropped out of the hole, falling hard as if they’d lost their grip, or were pushed. More followed, landing on top of their comrades, one didn’t get up, it’s neck at an awful angle. Another shrieked and ran into the shadows of a connecting tunnel.
All in, another dozen goblins dropped from the hole and charged Seaview and Delik. The more that fell from above, the more brazen they were. Delik drew his broken blade and began swinging, using the cart to give him an advantage of height. He relished being the taller one in a battle for once. Unfortunately, his damaged sword proved near useless. A spear narrowly missed Delik’s head and lodged between Seaview’s stone shoulders. Delik thanked Ona for his life and took up the spear, smashing the haft end into one goblin’s head, knocking the cudgel from another’s hands and stabbing the life from one trying to climb into the cart. Seaview’s fists were like war hammers, crushing skulls and snapping the goblin’s spears. As many as they drove off or killed, more came.
Delik thrust the spear until his arms burned. He lost count of how many fell, but they piled against the cart. With a burst of strength driven by frustration, the shankakin pierced through a goblin’s chest and lodged the spear so deep it wouldn’t come out. It was a careless mistake, but there was no time in a battle to dwell on such things. Delik took up his broken sword again, slashing out as best he could in close quarters. While he was locked in combat on the left side of the cart, a stone hit the back of his head and a rush of goblins dragged him out the right. Grotty little fists pummelled him, but Delik thrashed out with his jagged blade till his hands were slick with blood.
“Seaview! Help!” Delik prayed for Seaview to beat them off with his mighty fists, but all he did was clang upon his damned cart and wail like a sorry child.
A cudgel crashed into Delik’s head and all went hazy. The shankakin keeled over, unable to keep his balance. No sooner had he hit the floor, his ears ringing with pain, a burst of fire roared overhead. Either a dragon had descended to end all the clamour or the wrath of hells had come to take him.
Through eyes swimming with pain, and watering with the stench of burning fur and flesh, Delik lay still in the sputtering light. Dead goblins littered the chamber. The few still alive scattered, fleeing down the nearest tunnel. All except one.
The goblin with the beastly skull stood in front of the over-turned cart, pointing its fire stick at Delik. The skull had three horns and six eye sockets, each staring death upon him. This little monster was not to be messed with.
“Why’d you have to go and do that?” asked a young female voice. “I had ‘em good and cornered.”
“My arse you did!” Delik gritted his teeth against the pain in his head. Even talking hurt.
“I can look after myself. See if I don’t roast you worse than them.” The little monster advanced on Delik pointed the still smoking end of the stick at him.
Delik held up his empty hands in peace. “Easy now. I believe you can and pray you don’t.”
“You better.” The creature scratched beneath her bone helmet. “Or else.”
Seaview’s cart thumping battle rage had passed and he paid small interest to Delik’s interrogation. Instead he was focused on moving the rocks over his tracks, determined to clear the intersection.
A shower of dirt fell from the hole in the ceiling followed by guttural whispers.
The goblin shaman huffed. “Ugh! How many are there?” She brought forth the magic of the fire stick and flames roared up the hole like a demon’s chimney. Two smoking bodies fell down and terrified screeches echoed into the chamber. “Don’t come back!”
Seaview nodded his appreciation to the shaman and hurled rocks at the hole too.
“Conserve your magic, if you’re smart.” Delik stood slowly, glad the blood didn’t rush to his head. “That wand won’t last forever.”
“What do you know of such? You a mage?”
“Not on your life.”
“Good, cause I hate mages and if you’d said you were one, you’d be ash.”
“I don’t doubt it!” Delik chuckled even though it hurt. This little mongrel was a right treat to listen to. Of all the alliances he’d made for the rebellion, never had he worked with a goblin, let alone spoke with one. The shaman wore a patchwork tunic of skins. All small prey, but Delik couldn’t identify the critters. Wretched goblins wore all kinds of filth. This one had a stink about her too. Gods knew what manure she’d slept in. No matter the filth of the creature, Delik ought to glean some useful information. Better a friend down here than another enemy.
“So how’s a goblin like you learn to speak Shankan?” Delik asked with a broad smile. “Which tribe you from?”
The shaman glared at Delik through the six sockets of the skull mask and jabbed her fire stick at his nose. “Who’re you callin’ a goblin?”
Delik didn’t know what to say. Guessing wrong again might be one insult too many. These tribal races loved their feuds. The shaman was too small to be an orc or a hobgoblin. Could it be a kobold? A lost undanae? It sure was skinny enough. Whatever it was it sure as shite shouldn’t be speaking his mother tongue.
“I meant no offence. Just err… curious.”
The shaman enjoyed watching Delik squirm. So much so that she started to giggle. A very childish giggle. The little shaman tucked her fire stick into one of the many pockets stitched into her fur tunic and removed the beastly skull from her head.
Beneath the mask was a button nose and a cheeky grin. Beneath a mess of brown hair she had eyes that gleamed like the seaside and pale skin painted in a goodly layer of grime. She was Shankakin. Just a wee sprout with nothing but mischief on her bones.
Delik felt his eyes misting up and quickly cleared his throat, chuckling at himself. “You sure had me fooled, lass. Never have I felt more glad to be wrong.”
“You weren’t wrong. Not really.”
“Just incorrect. It’s different. I was pretending to be a goblin, see? It was make believe.”
“And it worked, hm? Like magic?”
“No. Mages are evil. I’m not evil.”
Delik tried to keep a straight face. “Good then. We can be friends.”
The girl grabbed a fistful of dirt and offered it to Delik as was custom. Delik clasped her hand letting the dirt fall between their fingers and onto the ground.
“You don’t look like a Delik.”
Delik grinned. “Is that so?”
“You look like a Bollik.”
“Gods grace!” Delik laughed heartily. “You’d make a pirate blush. And your mother’d fume I bet. What’s your name then, sprout?”
“Starla,” she said, puffing up her chest and steeling her gaze against any insult.
“A fine name for a bright lass.” Delik nodded his approval. “Well met, Starla. What say we find a way out of here, eh?”
Starla smiled bright enough that Delik forgot his darkness.