History - A Hobgoblin's Dreams

With the battle over, the injured Gruskorb took a moment to catch his breath. He’d nearly died – a few times if he accounted for his fortune with the mist. Yet in the air around him, an aura of conflict remained. Indeed, as he turned about himself, it seemed there were faintly-glowing motes of energy which he could just barely pick-out. They gave him a feeling, reminded him of … the hags?

As the essences orbited him with a radius of but a few feet, he noticed their movements were not smooth, but rather in confict with each other. They seemed to dart closer to him once in a few spins, yet one always appeared to almost bump the other away. It’s as if they are chasing each other.

There was some connection between the rogue and the magical energy flowing around him; he was transfixed. So mesmerized was he by the display beyond his ken the rustling from within his pack escaped his notice. The flap flung open, and a force pressed-off his back, launching itself into the air.

CLANK!

A flash of light exploded as Gruskorb’s bear trap devoured one of the motes, the other quickly departing to be absorbed by the observing hobgoblin.

Tell me that’s not real, Querkus. There’s no way, it…

Oh, I’m plenty real, whelp. Your sniveling these past few days wasn’t for nothing. But don’t worry – it will be over soon!..

With astonishing speed, the thing leapt at him! Reflexes did nothing for the rogue this time, for he was paralyzed with surprise and wonder, fearful as it was. Just before the teeth could snap shut onto his face though, the device was pushed back by some invisible force. It sprang back, its emotions of frustration and rage clearly felt by the thief. This time, his feet responded to sensible direction, and Gruskorb dodged to the left, evading the assailant. The dance continued for a few more bouts until his nimble feet failed him, leaving him supine on the frozen ground. Again the trap sought his demise, yet again it was repelled. It clamored a few more times at his arms, torso, and heels before it halted its efforts. Something was stopping it, but Gruskorb hadn’t the foggiest idea. What could it be?!

I’ve got an idea, but you’re probably not going to like it.

No time for games, Querkus. Spit it out!

Those bits of energy – they were from the hags your group bested. Apparently, they had some connection in life – and not a positive one.

They bickered? That’s why the trap can’t get me?!

Antipathy is something animals can smell, and I’ve gotten used to looking for it, feeling it through you. You’ve got quite a bit for a lot of people for some reason.

This isn’t about me. It’s –

Oh, but it is. The hags are quarreling through the two of you now. While they might want the end of the other beyond anything else, just like a wild beast, they are cagey to risk; they’d rather keep apart and alive.

I’m pretty sure they’re very dead, Querkus.

Are they? It looks like they were circling after each other earlier.

They’re dead. They have no bodies, and they were absorbed. They’re things to be used.

Like me?

Gruskob’s mental bluster came to a halt. He felt shame for the first in a long while. This wasn’t some small faux pas, he knew – he insulted the very core of whatever Querkus existed as now.

Sorry, I –

I know what you meant. Silence – a long pause ensued.

Ask a wizard if you want to know more.

Gruskorb felt Querkus retreating from his mind, yet as he did so, his presence was diminished by another, a new occupant. He felt more distant, more hostile. In his mind, an image formed: A tall, thin, darkly-clothed person sitting at a table. A hood covered his face. On the table was a knife, a plate, and a candlestick. While the sharp blade lay on the wooden surface, the candlestick floated slightly above the table.

Hello, slave.

The deep whisper was amplified – if thoughts could be – in Gruskorb’s ears, making him shudder. Its timbre was black as night, a threat in every syllable. Yet Gruskorb detected something that probably wasn’t meant to be in the voice. Sadness?

Your hands did well to make my jaws, and you’re not free of them yet. Lit as it was, the candlestick’s glow didn’t seem to illuminate the man’s countenance. All you did was change my diet.

On the plate, a succulent pile of fruit slowly faded into being. Apples, berries, grapes, melon … the selection looked as if it had been well-tended in the sun, an expensive feast indeed now. Fresh food! Gruskob felt himself drawn toward the plate. This approach elicited a raspy laugh from the man.

You idiot, this is more than just food. If you’re as dumb as you are clumsy, I must do a better job of picking my hosts.
Taking another look at the honeydew the man had skewered with his knife, Gruskorb was drawn into a memory. A tower, an ooze, a bony thing – the golem! He’d recalled absorbing some of the creature’s potency upon its destruction. That fruit must be the power.

Footsteps approached from behind in his vision. Gruskorb spun about to see Querkus, mad, though solemn. That reaper will consume the energy of your foes. It will gain enough power to break through that hag’s deflection. You are the next course, Gruskorb.

Fear shot into Gruskorb’s heart. As it did, the man at the table seemed to grow in size, and his laughing grew in intensity. No no, dear druid, I was thinking that would be you!

With that, the rogue sprang at the table, one hand reaching for the plate, the other for the man’s knife-hand. Just like the trap though, he was repelled, falling to the ground a few feet away. He regained his height just in time to see the man put the impaled melon into his hood. He heard a bite, and a jolt of energy passed through Gruskorb – from Gruskorb. It was as if his life was being sucked away by the bite.

An empty knife reappeared from under the hood. You can watch if you like. I like entertainment with my meals, and a supper like this is one to savor.

Panicking, the rogue shot his hand out only to have it painfully bash against this invisible wall.

Forgetful too. The world is going to hell though, so pickings are slim.

Querkus lay a hand on the rogue’s shoulder. I forgive you. It seems you’ll get to discover what it’s like soon enough.

Not done, the quick Aegean felt his way around the force field, pressing against it like a animal at a cage. The man’s skewering of the apple slice doubled his “host’s” pace, causing him to pound against the barrier. Showing no sign of slowing, the creature raised the fruit to his hood.

Perhaps it was out of habit, or maybe out of desperate hope, but Gruskorb shot his hand to his waist. In his visions with Querkus, he was unarmed, and so too was he here. The muscle memory was so ingrained in him though, he expected his whip to be there. Somehow, his hand closed around something, and what happened next was pure instinct. He flexed his arm at the elbow, lashed with his wrist, and jerked back after a moment. Astonishingly, the weapon materialized, having coiled itself around the man’s knife. Gruskorb relieved the knife and apple with a tug, palming them in his free hand.

Not nimble enough for you, huh?

He devoured the apple.

A shimmer appeared in the air before him, accompanying an influx of energy. His intuition urged him forward, and he found he could walk through. The man lurched forward, attempting to grab the fruit, yet Gruskorb was swift if anything. He got to the plate first and bashed the man back. Balancing it in one hand, he served away from the stabs of the knife that came after, tripping the man after a few such evasions. He took a moment to consume some berries.

Duels were clearly not the intruder’s forte, for he landed not a single slash on the rogue. Instead, he seemed to be diminishing with size as the skirmish went on. Gruskorb was on his last piece of fruit – a grape – when the man threw his knife to the floor.

You win, came the snarl.

Amused by the turn of events, the rogue chuckled. I know. Victory is ever so sweet, he quipped as he lowered the grape toward his mouth.

But you’ll have to forfeit that grape if you want to live. The hags may have bickered, but they had a pact bound in magic that transcends the grave; if any of them gained such essence as to overpower the other, their mutual demise would be assured.
Not knowing whether the man was bluffing, Gruskorb turned to Querkus, who’d been assisting with positioning during the fray. He wasn’t much of a physical fighter, it seemed. His shrug wasn’t any help.

Gruskorb jerked his head back. I’m not falling for any of your damned tricks. To the nether with you!

It’s not a trick, you fool! But I will face you with my unveiled eyes if you are to be my killer.

The hood, impeccable in its placement during their fight, was drawn back by the man’s bony hand to reveal … a vista. Where his head should have been, a crudely-hewed section of vertebrae found no closure. Above them, however, was a swirling black mist. It drew Gruskorb’s eyes toward the center. They searched, focusing for something sucking their attention. A moment later, a scene came into view. The people … they were known well to Gruskorb.

My family!.. They’re…

A sharp disappearance was caused by the donning of the man’s hood once more, followed by a soft snicker from his smaller form. Change of heart, Gruskorb? His tone became more serious. That wasn’t a trick either, and if you want to see them again, you’d be wise to give me that grape.

Without hesitation, the entranced Gruskorb flung the creature the grape. He caught it unerringly on his knife and consumed it.

Only then did the rogue come to. He was on all-fours in the snow, his face looking down into the trigger of his bear trap, an inch away at the most. The cold had somehow gotten to him through Querkus’s spell though – or maybe it was his nerves – but his joints did not move as expected when he willed himself to stand. Instead, he fell forward onto the device. The teeth snapped closed.

Yet stopped just as they hit his skin.

You keep us fed, and you won’t be on the menu. For now…

Whatever perverse intertwining of fates the man and he had, Gruskorb was relived for the offer of détente over death. He slowly, shakily stood and looked at the others in the group.

Well, there goes any trust I had.


Return to the Main Page

History - A Hobgoblin's Dreams

Talanor, the Bright Tower JohnOB JohnOB