Reek lead us onwards through the streets into a commercial district and joyous little me, wouldn’t you know it? There was a carnival going on! People were hopping and dancing around, stalls were selling cheap sweets and liquor and I am pretty sure I saw a gnome and a half-orc kiss. The accident with the cart didn’t seem to have stirred these revelers one bit – they probably hadn’t heard the explosions over the music, or had assumed it was fireworks.
The Swamplight Inn turns out to be a halfling establishment; it was about as tall as the two buildings that sandwiched it, but, judging from the amount of windows, had twice as many stories.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some halflings – great cooks, fantastic poets, beautiful language – but I’m not exactly keen on their architecture. Particularly the height of it. I didn’t express my worries to my comrades, however. “Halfling establishment: Half the size, double the fun!” and I meant it, somewhat. I nursed some of my worst hangovers with halfling ale.
Reek seems to be a regular here, or at least a familiar, as the barkeep greeted him most amiably, as one might expect from the halfling in charge of a merry establishment. His inn seemed to be booming, as most tables were filled with various petite-sized patrons with the odd human-sized giant bending the neck to fit in.
Even though Deesan seemed to unnerve the poor grey-whiskered barkeep, the imp insisted on leading the conversation and I must admit that he spoke most elegantly “Hello, good sir! We have been employed by the fabulous guard of the city to help you with your goat problem. Is there anything we can do?”
The barkeep informed us that the inn kept a goat in the backyard to provide milk “and stuff”. Regrettably, the poor thing just vanished. Nobody has any idea where it could have gone. “We need it!” the hapless halfling pleaded, “We need it! We really would like it back! Find it!”
Deesan understood. “Everybody would hate to lose a goat.” Might he feel some kinship for horned mammals, on account of his own spikes?
Before we jumped into the thick of it, Reek was kind of enough to treat us to light refreshments. You would be surprised how much standing in front of an inferno makes one thirsty, so we were all too eager to accept. I had me a mug of some pale ale; clear and sweet, very tasty. Of course Deesan tried to haggle with Reek’s generosity and order half the menu. That pink tyke got quite the appetite for a creature his size.
Our chaperone had some disheartening words for us to wash down the drinks. “I’ll be honest here. The captain doesn’t send people like you to do jobs unless there’s a significant risk that it might get a bit dicey.” Dicey, huh? I like those odds. Or any odds, really. I’m a fan of odds. Still, I do think it odd Reek would warn us out of the blue like this, since we are dealing with a missing goat. You’d think that would hardly be a dangerous mission on the outset. He would be proven right, of course; Reek usually is.
We had no time to mull over phantom fears, however; we had a goat to find. Barring the possibility of some hungry bird of prey swooping in for a snack, who else could have taken her? Do the halflings have any enemies in the city? According to Reek, there is lots of villainy afoot in the “Soggy Bottom,” a colony of linked-together flotillas on the eastern side of town. The “Soggy Bottom Boys” (great name) run the show there, lead by two orcish brothers. There’s a chance one of these boys could have goatnapped our princess. The guards don’t have jurisdiction there, so it would be a prime opportunity for us to deliver some heroic vigilante justice, which would certainly look good on my résumé.
While Baggin and I were still enjoying our refreshments, Deesan and Lynea went to talk to the barkeep. Now, there was quite the healthy hubbub in the tavern, so I didn’t quite catch their conversation, until the taverner started shrieking about goblins. I decided to echo his spirited “Damn goblins!” with my own and the whole tavern joined in. Apparently the grubby green rats aren’t well-loved around here. We had our primary suspects – now came the legwork.
The backyard was a cozy little pasture enclosed on all sides by walls. The whole square was nicely carpeted by fresh grass, except for one bit where it had been nibbled off. Besides the missing goat’s pin there was a lovely little outhouse – classic design, wooden with a heart engraved in the door – but little else of note.
Clever Lynea saw tracks leading from the pin to the outhouse, so I rushed up to knock. We may be a roguish party of criminals forced to work for The Man, but that is no reason to forget our manners.
There was no response, so I swung the door open; the tracks lead straight down so I naturally plunged in without looking and landed butt-first in a puddle of poo. My bottoms had gotten soggy without ever having touched upon the Soggy Bottom. It was damp and dark down there, but Reek was kind enough to lend me his glowing pebble so I could see. I spotted a few loose bricks in the corner and I immediately started working on pulling them loose, uncovering a crack I dug open with my bare hands. Good thing I wear gloves.
While I was working, Reek encouraged my companions to join, but Deesan had his doubts. “I don’t know – it reeks down there.” If you think that’s funny, wait for the comeback: “You’re not a very original bard, are you?” Scathing! Who knew paladins had a sense of humor?
Poor Babbin couldn’t follow us down in the dumps; she was barely able to fit in a halfling tavern, so dark outhouse tunnels were definitely out of the question. She and Reek would have to find another way down.
By the time Deesan and Lynea joined me, I had widened the hole enough to allow us to slip through, revealing a dare I say goblin-sized tunnel. Since Deesan was the only one that could stand, he took the lead and carried the by now poo-covered pebble with his magic third hand. Nifty trick! I wonder where he learned that.
After sludging a surprisingly short while the tunnel opened into room. A pungent waft met us as we entered, powerful enough to drown out the smell of feces completely; it would have made for a fearful stinkbomb.
The room looked to be a cellar with an arched ceiling; there were stairs going up a hatch so there was definitely someone’s house up there. Were there little green cretins scurrying around people’s cellars smuggling goats? A disturbing thought, to be sure. I don’t think this particular cellar was still in use, however, at least not by the upper resident, since there were multiple holes like the one we came from, leading to perhaps shops, taverns and other cellars.
I pried my pointy ears and picked up the distressed bleating of a far-away goat. If we listened to each hole, we would definitely be able to tell which one the sound was coming from. As I tiptoed from hole to hole, I heard a distinctly non-goat yelp. Turning around to face the room, I saw a big pile of gooey garbage bubble towards Lynea. So that’s what the smell was coming from! I threw one of my juggling pins at it, but the hungry puddle just swallowed it whole and even let out a satisfied burp.If I had known those pins were that tasty, I would have snacked on them years ago.
There was no time for comedic relief, however. The hungry puddles were encroaching on us and as soon as we found the right hole we hightailed out of there. Poor Deesan had to sacrifice his best boot to the Trash Gods. Well, better his boot than his foot, I suppose. He took his loss with the grace we’ve come to expect of him:
“My fucking boot!”
His mouth is dirtier than the tunnels we crawled through, Thaliar; I don’t want you adopting such language. But since I’m against censoring, I’ll leave it in to preserve his character in earnest. Just don’t copy his behavior!
We moved on, leaving the garbage behind. I’m against littering, but something tells me that it would take highly trained garbagemen to clean up these piles. It’s not something that can be left to amateurs like us.
As we approached the next room, we could hear scurrying in the distance. I peeked in to try and discern what was skulking around down there when I heard a monster roar at our backs. I launched myself forward as fast as I could and as I zoomed into the darkness I could hear tiny feet scuttling for safety. When I was safely hid, I turned to see if Lynea and Deesan were all right. Much to my confusion, they were just standing there, giving me a most judgemental stare; it turned out that Lynea had no need to run from any monster, since she was the monster, or the source of the roar, anyhow; that girl’s got some pipes! We should get her to sing lead vocals in our inevitable band. I felt a little silly, having run from in imaginary monster. No matter; I would be sure to compensate my cowardice with plenty of reckless bravery.
We pressed onwards and stalwartly marched straight into a trap. In the ultimate unforeseen twist, our original suspicions were confirmed when we were attacked by goblins. An unseen assailant flung a jar of mosquitoes at me, just barely missing me and hitting the wall as I saw another jump behind a crate. Before I realised what was going on I had jumped after him and skewered him on my rapier, my body acting out of reflex. Played him out on the kazoo, too. This seemed to scare the others off, as I saw a few of them running away; I tried to hit a runner with one of my juggling pins, but I accidently knocked down a support beam instead, burying a good chunk of the cellar under rubble. Whoopsie!
Lynea had been hit hard by the ambush. Thankfully, Deesan still had a healing spell prepared, so he was able to take care of her wounds. As we were catching our breath, a human face appeared in one of the new openings in the ceiling I so graciously created. I believed he said, and I quote: “What the fuck?”
His confusion was understandable. I explained to him that we were with goblin pest control; the poor chap was very disheartened that his cellar was infested with goblins. You see, he was unaware that he even had a cellar, until I opened it up for him. Think of it as a chance, good man! You could keep wine down here, as long as you can keep the goblins from nabbing it.
The poor man was still very confused when Reek and Babbin showed up to explain the rest to him. As always I am an expert at drawing attention; they must have heard the ruckus from the cave-in. They assured us that they were covering all other angles and left us to pursue our ambushers through the tunnels, where they had us at an advantage. What fun!
We follow a trail of blood left behind by one of the ambushes who I presume got hit by Lynea’s crossbow. Praise the muses, it lead down a well! Wells are great for puns. “Well, well, well, what do we have here?” and “Since last time went so well, maybe I should jump down this hole as well?” I could keep going, but we’ve got a story to finish.
I dropped my last juggling pin down the well and after a short fall it landed with a disturbingly familiar “scchrlp”. An ooze ate it. Blast it! There was another one of those boogers down there and it ate my last juggling pin. Now how am I supposed to practise? I was so upset I demanded Lynea zap the damn thing, but she refused, something about not knowing what these things are and spells being volatile when interacting with unknown substances blablabla…Dull wizardtalk. Long story short: We went down the well – the ooze was walled off and couldn’t reach us, but as soon as the last of us landed we were ambushed by goblins, who had evidently been expecting us.
Deesan was struck in the head by another one of those pesky jars. I retaliated by throwing my knife at one of the goblins I just imagined his head was the apple/. T’was about the right size.. The others darted off – except for one particularly scrawny one, who remained with us grinning like a goof. Confused as I was, I seized the opportunity to tend to Deesan, plucking the glass out of his forehead and stopping the bleeding. Poor fella was hit hard.
Meanwhile, Lynea appeared to be…”talking” with the goblin. I put that in scare quotes because while the goblin was prattling along in his incomprehensible jibber-tongue, Lynea was just staring at him intently, not moving her lips but evidently communicating somehow, like she did with me back when we faced Armstrong. She wasn’t just sending messages to the goblin, however – she was somehow controlling him. I admit such magicks send a chill down my spine, Thaliar – how can you trust someone who can force you to trust them, even if you have been fighting only moments before?
Lynea’s new “friend” told her that he and his buddies had been hauling food to a supposed “goblin queen”. Goatsy should be with her. Once Deesan felt well enough to walk, we pressed on.
Was that little goblin leading us into a trap? Absolutely, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s springing traps. Down at this level there were actual tunnels, reinforced with crude support. It was all rather soggy and everything smelled of mildew, but we were clearly tracking the arteries of this operation straight to the heart.
Our goblin “ally” lead us into a big room; big in width but sadly not in height; I could barely stand upright. There were several cooking fires spread around and a dozen of goblins tending to them. Much to our relief, we saw Goatsy was yet unharmed; yet, there was the aforementioned goblin queen lurking over her, still dramatically hid in shadows as we entered her lair.
Our little green guide seemed all too eager to introduce his new crush to his friends, but said friends weren’t as happy to see us. As soon as that sneaky little tyke succeeded in leading Lynea away from Deesan and I, the whole pack jumped us. Deesan retaliated with a shocking pelvic thrust, sending the charging hordes flying across the room with a crackling surge, killing at least half instantly. Electrifying performance! As he duck to hide, I assumed his place; Deesan is a fragile little creature and if those fiends managed to get close to him it could very well mean he had played his last gig, so it was up to me to upstage him and provide the prestige.
The Goblin Queen roared from her hiding place in the shadows. “What’s going on?”
I was all too eager to exclaim our intent: We were well-known goblin-slayers, here to exterminate an infestation, but Lynea, the faint-hearted wench, had fallen in love with a goblin and had turned on us. I hoped this little ruse would allow Lynea to move about unchallenged by the cretins, to secure the goat and hopefully stab the Queen in the back at the opportune moment. I challenged the Queen directly, taunting her and brandishing my rapier.
I’ll be honest, Thaliar, I was scared. O, sure, I had gotten into plenty of tavern brawls during my illustrious career as a bard – tough crowds and all – but I never actually got into a serious duel to the death. Sérgio, that old swashbuckling sword-swallower taught me plenty of tricks – how to juggle knives and spin a rapier – but never how to win. Nevertheless, a performer must never show his nerves. Waiting’s the worst part – waiting before you have to get on stage, or waiting for your adversary to dramatically reveal themselves. There’s nothing scarier than waiting in the spotlight when your unknown opponent is still backstage.
My anxiety was vindicated when the “Goblin Queen” turned out to be a rather fat and really angry green dragonborn with a huge sword. It was immediately apparent that I was in way over my big head, but I couldn’t back down now. We exchanged blows, my rapier somehow finding its way past her defenses and me somehow able to dodge her attacks. Deesan – bless his cowardly little heart – helped, sending his magical sword to strike at the dragon’s back. I tried to pass it off as my own trick, but my adversary wasn’t convinced: “You think this is the first time I’ve seen a magic weapon?”
“Yes,” I answered.
This made her even madder, of course. She belched some green goo over me, some of which I managed to evade. I laughed it off, taunting her some more, even though the acid stung something fierce. Let this be a lesson, Thaliar: Anger and frustration can weaken your opponent. They get careless and show more openings.
…of course, it can also make them stronger; just ask any barbarian.
During all of this chaos Lynea somehow managed to nab the goat and ran towards the exit. Deesan followed suit, but the two were overtaken by the “Goblin Queen,” who promptly blocked the way out. I kept stabbing her in the back, but my blows didn’t seem to accomplish much. Blasted scales! Since the exit had been blocked, we had no choice but to fight and Lynea hit the dragon with some sort of blast I cannot find the words to describe. It wasn’t quite a ‘zoom,’ nor quite a ‘zap’ and it certainly wasn’t a wholesome ‘kapow’ or ‘schlabang’. I didn’t like it.
The queen was feeling the heat and she called upon her “children” to come to her aid. Deesan offered a counterproposal: Did they want to serve under her, or under us?
They looked at their queen.
They looked at us.
They looked at one another.
“O NO MY CHILDREN!” the forsaken queen wailed.
“Probably adopted,” I quipped back.
That quip was the last thing I remembered before passing out. It must have angered her something fierce, because she hit me with a force that punched all the giggles out of me. Just before I lost consciousness, I thought of you, Thaliar – I thought about what would happen to you if I should come to perish. With no one to write about my death, how would you find out that I had died?
I was at death’s door and I couldn’t think of any good knock-knock jokes. There were no angels with lyres to play me off, but there was a devil – my guardian demon Deesan brought me back from the brink and I thank the muses for it, for dying in this place would have been a very anticlimactic way to end the tale of this sorry clown.
When I awoke my whole ungainly body felt sore. I hadn’t taken off my hat in ages and my scalp was itching terribly, so I decided to let my hair out. Let them see it – I nearly died, so I wasn’t too concerned with keeping up facades. I hope my friends got a good look at my luscious blonde locks and pointy ears.
I saw the ‘Goblin Queen’ sitting in a corner, back facing us, looking morose. Now, I’m not sure how badly Deesan and Lynea beat her up, but apparently it wasn’t bad enough to result in her death, but just bad enough to leave her pacified, unable to flee.
As I saw her sulking there, I thought of the many freaks I called – still call – family, back home.. Nezumi, the rat-girl with the huge teeth; Yaga, the mute crone that somehow taught a raven to speak for her; Sérgio, with his colorful patchwork of mismatched scales; and me, with my impossibly good looks, quite the freak of nature myself. I couldn’t just leave the Queen here without her kingdom. She called these goblins her family, but she couldn’t follow them down their tiny tunnels. Offering her ‘mercy’ by keeping her alive while she had no place to go would be crueler than killing her.
I approached her with my long arms up and introduced myself properly. She was hostile at first, but when I showed her genuine sympathy, she was willing to listen. I learned that, during what must have been a lonely life, she had never even left this small and cramped room. Had she been flushed down a toilet after shortly after she had been born, like some trashy sewergator? She had grown up here in a place too small for her and had gotten too big to leave.
That’s when I remembered Slippy and her enthusiasm for what Albus degenerately referred to as ‘wilders,’ freaks by definition. The Queen would probably be allowed to enjoy sanctuary in the parts of town Reek admitted were outside of his jurisdiction: The Soggy Bottom. If we could somehow spirit this poor soul away to those parts, she would be safe and, more importantly, amongst kin.
I promised the Queen that I would get her help, but now that I think about it I am uncertain that I will be able to deliver upon this promise. How was I supposed to sneak this monster past the guards? They would definitely want to arrest her for theft. I would have to get help, but Armstrong and Hush were tracking our every move.. I would have to get an excuse to visit the Soggy Bottom, and fast, before Albus sent in the exterminators to purge these tunnels. I could imagine the sparkle in the Queen’s eyes as she perks up at the sound of footfalls in the tunnels, only for it to be revealed to belong to her killers, as the last conscious thought she has is resentment towards that damn clown that gave her false hope.
No. Not this time, Thaliar. The circus is in town.