Alright, so running off into the woods didn’t work out. Shojin and Fayne caught up to me and started trying to bring me back to camp right before I passed out. I woke up back at camp and tried to get them to all understand the story the lady told me.
Sometime in the distant past, I have no real way of knowing how far in the past as the Lady never said anything about when it was, it just like a deeply old story, there lived a Tribe of Goblins unlike those we know in the world today in a jungle valley surrounded by mountains to the south of The Golden Wastes. They lived in a state of isolation from the rest of the world, mostly due to geography and were deeply connected to nature in an almost spiritual way. They called the valley home and they called the tribe family, because the valley was their home and sometimes in very literal ways, other members of the tribe were family. They revered the world around them and the spirits of nearly everything from the elements to the animals.
At the time of the story I was told, the valley was in a drought unlike any drought it had been through for generations. Now, life was hard for the goblins on a good day living so isolated from the world, but the idea that water is life, was an almost mantra of the tribe. Not every member of the tribe was a magic user but every magic user in the tribe knew how to magically make water and in times of drought they were called upon to provide for the tribe. It was their way and it was how they made it through.
Focusing in more and more, the story centered on two members of this unnamed tribe of goblins. Two brothers, Paak and Grit, were worried by the lack of their father’s return from a patrol in the valley. It seems that all members of the tribe when they are of a certain age are required to perform patrols of the valley. These patrols followed a well worn path that made a large almost pointed oval around a majority of valley. Typically taking three to five days, depending on what difficulties were encountered along the way. This patrol filled two functions, the first was to keep the valley safe for the tribe from any predators that roamed the jungle and the second was in helping to provide meat and leather for the tribe through hunting various animals encountered.
Since the story the lady told was from the perspective of the brothers, I will adjust my retelling here to be from the perspective I saw it through.
Dad not coming back wasn’t normal. He was one of a select few that would go on solo patrols. It wasn’t because he thought he was that good. He didn’t have to. The tribe treated him that way. About the only time he would travel with any sort of companions were when he was showing someone newly of age to patrol the ways to make it from start of the path in the village to its end back in the village coming from the other direction. He could easily protect himself easily as well as he could protect the members of the tribe.
The elders refused to let us leave because of the need to make water for the tribe since both my brother and I have the ability to fill the basins used to contain the water we need to live. The thing that pushed my brother and I to a point of haggling over being allowed to leave and the elders finally agreed to allow our departure after I agreed to use one of my few daily spells to make water for the tribe prior to departing. I could not in good conscience leave without doing the tribe this service based of the the way the elders were speaking of this drought. Our normally brightly colored home was muted and browning and it was only fair.
Before we could leave though we caught word that the patrol immediately after our father’s came running back into the camp earlier in the day and word around camp was that something scared them. My brother and I insisted on talking to them to get some idea of what was going on in the valley. And this proved to be an almost entirely useless endeavor. All they would say was that there was some noise that scared them. Nothing more than that. A noise they had never heard before and that they were unable to describe. REally though, who runs from a noise?
And so, no more enlightened we headed out in search of father. He took the higher path and knowing how long he had been gone it made sense to take the lower path. A few hours into our trek we came across the first of many of the tribes pre-made campsites. Each campsite is made roughly the same. A clearing of about 30 paces by 30 paces with a fire pit in the middle. On a tree near the edge of each of these clearings is a platform for sleeping and is reachable by a bit of climbing.
As we settled in for a short rest and to eat, I noticed something, a slight tremble in the earth around me. There one second and gone the next. My brother and his…companion Nocht didn’t seem to notice, but Nocht never seemed to notice anything. Before we moved on from this camp, we checked all the brush around the camp for signs of our father and found some tracks leading off deeper into the trees. It made sense to leave some means of finding our way back to the trail. I told my brother we should do muddy handprints and his solution was to just make a bunch of mud, pile it on the back of his companion and just be anything but quiet as we worked through the trees.
And that was problematic because not long after we lost sight of the path we were ambushed by jungle cats of a size and ferocity that we had never seen before. The elders would talk of a strangeness in our valley home when a drought would be upon us and that sometimes animals out of legend would come near the village. Now while these cats got the jump on us, I was able to call upon my ties to the warrior and fought valiantly with an image of father to help us and all of this despite my brother’s best efforts to stop us. I mean who thinks that the best course of action after shooting a cone of flame into the dried-out foliage is to follow it up by making a sleet storm to put it out at the expense of everyone’s footing?
So after a completely unnecessary bunch of falling on our faces were finally able to best the beasts and drag them back into the camp. We started to alternate between field stripping the meat and firing bolts of fire into the in the hopes that the camp would see and return the mark in kind. It was a kind of agreed to call and response. This call and response and meat cleaning went on into the night and eventually my fire was responded to with two small pops of fire to which I responded with three, which was met with four. Stories are told of a time when the call and response lasted all through a night into numbers that were nearly uncountable.
Eventually, we slept in the tree with Nocht curled up at the tree’s base. Partway through the night I was awakened by the tree shaking and after my initially being concerned that we were once again under attack I discovered that it was once again Nocht up to his shenanigans waking me up again. So I did the one thing I always did in response to his waking me up. I peed on him. After that I was able to get back to sleep and slept peacefully until the morning when I awoke to the most delightful foot of my brother rubbing on my face. I hate my life some days.
As we made our way further down the path we felt the tremor I had felt the prior day and saw off in the distance some movement in the trees. A lot of movement, high up in the trees. My brother decided this was a good time to go for a bug ride, the silly fool, and so he searched for a minute and called on the spirits to make a bumblebee big enough that he could ride on. He flew straight up in the air to a point well above the trees and he came back reporting that he was not able to see what was moving the trees only that whatever it was had to be either really big or really powerful or possibly both. None of those options were all that appealing but forward was the only way to complete our patrol and possibly find our father.
So onward we went, and when we finally got closer to the next camp the trees ahead of us shook violently and were pulled back by the powerful force to reveal the terrifying visage of a lizard the likes and size of which we had never seen before. It stood on its hind legs and had tiny forelimbs pulling back the trees and screaming with a roar that much like its appearance was something so outside of the normal and we were so scared. But this thing made a noise that was terrifying and new so we believed that this must be the thing that killed our father.
And what once again ensued was a comically terrible battle. And while the three of us did the best that we could it was neither easy nor fast and it seemed as though we were going to lose when this giant beast finally scooped me up into its mouth and was proceeding to eat me. It was in this moment of great peril that my brother charged in and in a feat showing his great connection to the spirits ran in front of the terrifying beast and once again loosed his fiery spread directly into the massive beasts stomache and chest. Burning a hole through its skin and causing its insides to no longer be inside. Or so he said. I was too busy falling and trying not to die to really notice. What I did notice when I freed myself from the things jaws, was the clearly dead, and not by my brother’s hand, father sliding out of the beasts insides and onto the dirt with the beasts insides.
Father at last. My heart sank. He was such a strong man and to see him felled by such a thing made no sense. He was easily as strong as my brother and I put together. I was angry and happy at the same time. Angry that this thing killed him and happy that we had finally found him. I resigned myself to the task of putting him to rest and nothing would be more fitting to mark his grave than the top part of the skull of the thing that ate him. My brother thought this was the perfect time to question father on what happened. We argued over whether it was the right thing to do and I finally walked off angry, but as soon as I heard my father begin to respond I was right at my brothers side. My distaste for it aside, this was going to be the last time I could see and talk to my father and I was not going to miss it for anything.
We asked my father a series of questions that left us more puzzled than before. It seemed that this beast may have been the thing that killed him, but it was not the why. There was something else. Something different and something more. He asked that we protect the tribe, and we vowed that day to protect the tribe to our dying breaths. But the thing that broke us was that he said he was proud of us. Two sons of many children. It almost broke us.
When he was done, we heard a voice calling out from the tree. A female goblin voice asking if it was safe to come out. Coming from our village we knew everyone and this was someone we didn’t know. That made us question everything she said. We made her come down from the tree so we could see her and she was an older looking goblin. But we had just lost our father so we didn’t have a whole lot to say to her so my brother took to cleaning up the camp and I just turned my back on her.
And with that I went back to working in silence on cleaning the skull and digging a hole and preparing a grave and it took most of the rest of the day. And it was exhausting and it was rewarding and I felt a great sense of pride of finally laying my father to proper rest. In the process we did find my fathers things which included all of his fetishes, walking stick, dagger, ring, shield and bow. My brother and I split these things between the two of us made a campfire and settled in to eat. We finally decided to question this new person.
She said that her name was Imirth and that she came from outside the valley to the north. This made no sense as we had never had contact with anyone or anything from outside of the valley. It seemed that her tribe did not stick together and she was all that was left. They had over time scattered to seek out their own ways in the world and eventually she got tired of the solitude and struck out looking for a new place to call home. When she arrived in the valley her first experience was in seeing our father running away from something, she claimed not to know what. What he was running from mattered less than what he was running towards and that happened to be the beast we’d only recently killed.
I couldn’t understand how why she wouldn’t help father but she claimed that she arrived as the thing was swallowing him and at that point it was simply too late to do anything to help. My brother, and his somewhat warped sense of humor reformed his spiritual companion to resemble the beast that we’d felled, only smaller of course. The only difference was that any time he remade his “friend” after he fell in battle he would come back with a new white feather on the top of his head. He was up to four or five now. I don’t really know because I never really paid all that much attention.
We decided to settle in for the night and even without completely trusting Imirth, we invited her to share the platform with us. It would be cramped but she appeared to easily be old enough to be one of her tribes elders and it only seemed right. Plus, keeping her close would make it easier to keep an eye on her. I was awakened early the next morning by something hitting the tree. I hate Nocht in the mornings.
Having paid our final respects to our fathers the path forward was the only way. We did still have our patrol and hunt to finish and we would be needed back in camp to help with the production of water for our people. So we set off down the path and continued trying to get a read on this new person. I just had trouble believing her story because it made no sense why anyone would travel over the mountains unarmed, appear to be both old but in great health and was unable to do anything to help our father avoid his fate.
As we traveled down the path and were nearing the midpoint of our patrol we heard so much noise directly ahead of us. It appeared to be some sort of army or maybe a whole tribe of dog men. We’d heard stories of things like this from the tribe elders, but it had been so long since they had been seen in the valley that it was the elders being told by their elders about how their elders had seen them sometime in the past.
And there were so many of them. Some of them looked dead, which was an affront to the spirits. Some of them looked healthier and stronger than the rest. And then there was the leader and his pet. The leader stood easily a head taller than those he barked orders too. He wielded a three-headed flail that look like smaller metal versions of his people’s heads. And from the eyes and mouths poured something smoky. And when he commanded his troops the sound felt like it was touching my soul. But there was also the matter of his pet. His pet was the single most abominable thing I had ever seen in my life. It had the body more or less of a wolf, and was covered with a white patchy fur. The rest of the patches were made up with scales and along the beasts spine were these protrusions that poked up out of the fur and looked lizard-like in appearance. And then there was the matter of this things tail. It was like that of a scorpion with the same sort of stinger, but it was covered in the same patchwork of fur and scales like the rest of its body.
Before we even had the chance to process what we were seeing Imirth took off running towards the gathered enemy force calling over her shoulder to not close the distance to her and that she had a plan. As she ran away from us I could have sworn I heard her counting off her steps as she went. When she was far enough away to do whatever she was planning, the goblin just sort of melted and in its place was a beast that looked like the thing that killed our father, only it shone so brightly in the sun that it hurt to look directly at her. She then turned and opened her mouth and out came a blast of icy air that even as distant as we were still felt a little chilly but did not real damage to us. It did however destroy a majority of the opposition.
While we were getting ourselves set up and our new enemies to close the distance my brother made some more giant bugs after a cursory look around. Four giant size mantis, and it was just as ridiculous as it sounds. It was also kind of amazing. They were instrumental in holding the dog-men off of us while we tried to contend with the scorpion-tailed lizard wolf. Imirth help with that as well, while my brother and I worked on picking off the various dog-men who tried to approach. We knew that if we could thin their ranks before they were able to close to melee range we would may have a chance at survival. We were mostly right.
It didn’t take long for the battle to begin to swing in our favor. A few lucky shots from the bugs and some focused effort on the scorpion wolf saw the enemy ranks thinning out, but there was a cost. It was after the leader closed in after the last of the bugs were killed and the scorpion wolf went down that Imirth was looking a little worse for wear. She had been taking a beating that would have easily destroyed both me and my brother and not once did she cry out or complain. But, that would change when she was finally struck blow by the leader that took her out of the fight.
What happened next happened so quickly that I may have some of the parts mixed up and there was a small bit of this that I was unconscious for and had to rely on my brother telling me what had occurred. He had used father’s staff to cast a regenerative spell on himself at some point in the battle. That was a key component. It was down to us and the leader and it had just hit my brother in the face and he crumpled to the ground, but as it came in on an attack, the attack that would lay me out, I was able to retaliate with my father’s shield at the same time to make him feel a little bit of pain. This in turn was apparently enough to take him down. And so everyone was just laying there bleeding out into the dirt. Except for my brother.
The spell he’d cast on himself, brought him back from the brink almost immediately and he then went to some efforts to try and bring me back, and his fantastic story has him hitting me with father’s shield and using the jolts it made as some life-giving current. Ridiculous, I say, but I owe him my life. As we were preparing to use whatever means we could to help Imirth come back from the brink, she coughed and said weakly that she was ok.
I was happy to be alive and furious a this new revelation. I had a bunch of new questions for her. No, she didn’t know these things were here, but it made sense that father would retreat from this many opponents. No, she really couldn’t have done anything to help him. Yes, she was truly sorry about that. But there was one question that gave me an answer I didn’t really expect. What did she want from us? Home. She wanted a home. She was lonely and she wanted friends and a home. She wanted nothing from us beyond that and she said she could do something that would help us. And with that she sat down, crossed her legs, shut her eyes and it started to rain.
I naturally assumed she was one of the great sky spirits. She laughed and said no. What followed was an explanation of what she was. She was a silver dragon. But everything else was true. She was just looking for a home and to not be lonely. And if she could help with our water problem, then all the better. As much as we wanted to just say yes, right then and there it was not our decision to make. Something of this importance would need to be brought to the tribe. And the elders needed to see this for themselves. She offered to carry us back to our village if we wanted but we still had a job to do. So we cleaned a couple of those dog man skulls, to make some fresh bone helmets, and worked on setting up a camp. We were all beat, battered and very nearly dead. My brother again reformed Nocht into a new beast, this time a Mantis. And now he clung to the underside of the platform as we slept. And he woke me up again. I would kill him someday and not think twice about it.
The next day as we were on the path Imirth remained quiet unless we spoke to her. I think she felt guilty about keeping secrets from us when we met and I also think she genuinely meant it when she said she wished she had been earlier to be able to help father.
We came upon the next patrol around midday and we shared a meal and a story. We told them to be careful up ahead because we had seen more on this patrol than ever before. They thought we were making a good portion of it up but did offer to pay their respects to father when they made that camp. Something about that portion of the story must have rang true. Imirth asked if she should show them what she showed us and we told her no, that was for the whole village and not just a patrol.
We encountered nothing else on our patrol and made really good time getting back to the village. Every night there is a gathering overseen by the elders to honor the spirits and we arrived as it was beginning. We asked the elder if he would indulge us a chance to address our people. Seeing that we were carrying our father’s belongings he nodded solemnly. We regaled them with the tale of our adventure. From the jungle cats to the beast that slew father to the army that appeared to be possibly moving to invade our home. If there were more of those scorpion dogs or leaders with the crazy flails (I kept it by the way) then we we in trouble. But when the talk turned to our new friend Imirth, we asked everyone to back up for a brief demonstration and we promised that it would be both worth it and an answer to all of our prayers.
Imirth went to the center of the gathered people, sat down cross legged and the goblin form slipped off of her, replaced again with her silver dragon form, and in that moment it began to rain. And how my people cheered. I told Imirth to go ahead and look like a goblin again to help push things along. I explained that she was unique in that unlike the rest of her kind she did not want to strike out alone in the world. She wanted a home. She wanted a tribe. And so I asked the elder who in turn asked my people, could we give her a home? They all said yes, and Imirth, protector of the jungle has been with my people ever since.
Shojin just looked at me slack jawed and questioned my grasp of geography. Fayne looked like the embodiment of confusion at my tale. All I could do was say that it’s what the Raven Lady said to me, because it was true. And with that and my story told, I just kind of passed out. I was glad to have a second chance at life and that my first death didn’t take. It was not a death that anyone could really be proud of.