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The pair of us were ushered out from our hidden place in the hallway out into a small den-like area. It was smaller than the place where we encountered the cave troll but was full of several dozen goblins. They were all clothed, but it rarely was more than a loincloth. Shockingly, I saw female goblins as well as male goblins, and some of them were even carrying several babies. These groups were kept in the far back of the den with several armed goblins in between. They were protecting their young.

I had never read a book about goblins in this world. I had honestly never thought of them as a large enough worry that they needed studying. However, from what I understood from fantasy stories I’ve read, goblins are a single sex. They carried back and violated women which they used as a breeding stock for more goblins. Their entire lives were an endless cycle of violence and rape. Babies would grow to adulthood in mere weeks, and they were a bit like cockroaches of the fantasy world.

However, These goblins had makeshift clothing, makeshift weapons, and even some kind of concept such as protect the young. That showed that they had an intelligence that went beyond simple monsters. As a result, I didn’t want to instantly dismiss them as monsters. That didn’t mean our lives were any less threatened though. Man or monster, if it stood in my way or threatened my life, then death was the most likely outcome.

“Nya… I should cast a spell, Nya.” Olivia seemed scared.

Rumors had it that goblins were the type to rape captured women. They were turned into a breed stock and used to make goblin babies. That was how it was understood in most fantasy books I read, and this world explained it in the same way. However, the moment I had seen the female goblins clutching their babies, I began to have a distinct feeling that whoever wrote negatively about goblins likely had never seen one and was only repeating stories and wives’ tales.

The fact that those holding their spears had fear and desperation in their eyes only solidified that belief. They were scared of us, even though they were in control. Once again, that suggested an intelligence that outstripped my original expectations.

“I’ll burn them all up…” Olivia said, raising her hand slowly.

The goblin’s made noises, and the ones with the spears struck forward, but not in killing blows. Rather, it looked more like they were trying to threaten us. A few of them seemed to have understood Olivia or had at least understood her intent. As they shouted at her, she finally froze her hand halfway up. They probably didn’t know it, but that alone was enough for her to cast a spell and incinerate the goblin in front of her.

Whether they knew how dangerous she was or not, they at least knew that we could be a threat to their lives. Yet, rather than striking us dead, they were still trying to intimidate us. That’s when I realized the truth of their actions. It was all a show. They didn’t want to hurt us at all, but they were afraid and pushed into a corner.

“Stop, you’ll collapse the ceiling again,” I responded to Olivia before she could chant something under her breath.

“Nya… we’ll die if we don’t do something!” She shot back.

Yet, she had put her hand down. It was strange to see her suddenly listening to me. Perhaps her mistake of bringing down the cave had hit her emotionally more than I gave it credit. Either way, it made her erratic and emotional behavior a bit easier to deal with.

“Hello.” I said, “I’m Prince David.”

“What are you doing?” Olivia whispered in my direction.

“I’m trying to talk.”

“They’re goblins! They don’t talk! You just kill them!”

“I mean you no harm.” Saying that after Olivia just said she’d kill them gave me a headache, but I went forward anyway. “Please excuse my silly sister, she doesn’t know what she’s saying!”

“Nya!” Olivia shot me a glare.

I was originally going to call her my idiot sister, but I managed to bite my tongue and change the words before it was too late. After saying the words, I saw very little understanding in the expressions of the goblins. The situation didn’t seem to change at all. Had I guessed wrong? Olivia was starting to shoot me a gloating expression until she realized that being wrong meant we were still in trouble.

“You… devil. She… beast. How is sister?” An old, gravely voice appeared from the back of the goblins.

The goblins looked back behind and then started to part ways. The ones in front pointing the spears gritted their teeth and then moved to the side. An old goblin which even used a small stick as a cane walked up. He was hunched over and walked very slowly and deliberately. He was withered and green, and looked a bit like Yoda, although a bit bigger, with ears closer to his head.  The group seemed to be looking at him reverently. He must have been the elder of this goblin tribe. His words were a bit tough to understand, and he cleared his throat a lot as he spoke, but they were words. Olivia had a surprised expression on her face, while I felt relieved.

“My father was a human, my mother was a fairy. I assure you, she is my sister, even if we look nothing alike.”

“I… see…” He cleared his throat again, an awkward expression on his face. “Why… here?”

I considered lying to them, but a part of me felt like the lies wouldn’t serve any purpose and would only complicate things. It wasn’t that the goblins were too smart for lies or I felt like I could trust them. It was more like I felt the communication barrier would cause any elaborate fiction to only confuse them.

“There is a fort above us,” I explained. “There is a curse down here. The grass is dying. Nightmares become reality. The elves are in pain.”

I fought my best to come up with simple and easy to follow sentences. The old goblin still stared at me for a minute before he nodded.

“Un-fort-unate. If you… elves… we kill first.”

“Why would you kill the elves! Nya?” Olivia demanded angrily.

“Elves… kill us.” He said slowly after licking his lips. “Beastkin, no better.”

Olivia blinked at his words. “That’s…”

“Only reason… alive… devil, good to us.”

It was my turn to be surprised. It was the first time since being to this world that anyone had said anything positive about devilkin. Well, I supposed the devilkin got along with the demons, and the demons were only a few steps away from being monsters themselves. So, maybe devils got along with some of the monster races that held sentience. Olivia looked like she didn’t buy it though.

I had doubts as well, but mine came from a different place. Devils were a deceptive lot. It was literally encoded in our blood. I suspected that the kindness the devils showed the goblins was to gain something for themselves. This didn’t necessarily mean the devilkin were evil. Compared to senselessly wiping out a species, even just using them could be considered a kindness. I just found it hard to believe that the devils were good. Then again, I had already found numerous misconceptions about goblins, so perhaps my opinion about devils was the same. Even I grew up on a world where the word devil was to be feared, hated, and associated with darkness. You can’t even spell devil without evil.

“We’re both closer to humans,” I said.

Olivia shot me a look as if she wanted to refute it. She saw herself as a sister to the elves, so the thought of being close to humans could even be considered repulsive to her. However, I wouldn’t allow her to forget that bond. In fact, I would remind her of it every chance I got. I had to make Olivia understand the implications and to concede her part of the kingdom. I had no choice.

“Humans… no experience. Heard… worst of all. Yet… still devil.”

“I’ve faced a lot of hatred because of that,” I admitted.

“We… understand. Prince… like goblins.” The goblin licked his lips again and then nodded, making a low hum with his throat.

Olivia looked back and forth between the goblins and me. Her eyes were furrowed and she wore a complicated look like she wanted to say something, but was finding it increasingly difficult.

“I guess so…” I said, not necessarily agreeing, but not wanting to argue either.

“Why… here?”

At first, I thought he was old and senile and just repeating himself, but I realized by his tone he was asking why specifically we were underground. After a moment, I nodded in understanding. He wanted me to further explain my rather vague initial statement. I was only keeping it simple so as to not confuse him, but perhaps despite the language barrier, he was smarter than I gave him credit for.

“The curse, we found it was coming from underground. We found the cave system, but we ran into a cave troll.”

“We avoid troll,” The goblin’s eyes widened. “We felt… rumble. You?”

I nodded. “We defeated the troll, but the tunnel collapsed, leaving us lost.”

“Defeat?” This time, he said something to the other goblins and they all started gasping and whispering. “Mmm… powerful.”

“In the right circumstances,” I admitted. “Anyone can be powerful. Right now, we’re just lost.”

I was hoping the modesty would put the old goblin in a better mood. I had a feeling his species was used to being looked down upon. I wasn’t above showing some humility, even if it seemed to slightly annoy my sister. The old creature simply nodded, as if he was accepting what I said but had nothing to say about it.

“Come… I show…” He said, slowly turning around and walking the other way.

The goblins put down their spears at this point, backing up to allow us through. Olivia once again glanced at me as if she was asking me what I wanted to do. I took a step forward and started following the goblin. She sighed and followed behind me. We ended up entering a pathway that was too small for me to stand, so I had to crouch over. The goblin was slow, and his throat kept making humming noises as he walked, making it feel especially long.

“May I ask what the goblins are doing under the elvish territory?”

“Mm… not know… elvish…” He answered after a second.

I looked back to Olivia, but she had an expression on her face as if she was reluctant to believe the goblin. I also found it hard to believe that he was completely unaware. This wasn’t the border. They were nearly in the middle of the country.

“How did you get here then?” I continued to press for information.

“Ran… hid… yet came…”

“Are you saying you’re fleeing something?”

“Flee? Yes… danger, run.” He came to an intersection, stopped, looked both ways, and then seemed to choose one at random.

Although he was going a distance, I could still make out goblin patrols down the hallways. In other words, their colony down here was very extensive.

“Whatever is chasing you… it might be the source of our problems. Can you explain who it is?”

“Don’t know… none who saw… survived.” His voice sounded slightly sad when he said that last part.

“The goblins must have been through something awful. If they had to flee this far…” That was Olivia speaking.

She talked in a whisper, but sound carried in this underground place and the old goblin heard her words.

“Yes, flee. Many lost.”

I also wore a frown as I thought about it, but once again, my mind was in a different spot. The goblins were chased, but who was the chaser? Just like the cave troll, was this another trap set by our enemies?

“Where did you start out?” I asked.

“Mountains. Lived, peacefully, in cave. Hard life, but… good life.”

“And then something chased you into the caves?”

“Mm…” He nodded, finally walking into a chamber about as large as the one the cave troll had been in.

“The beastkin…”

Could it really be them again? I knew that they had set their sights on the human realm, and even went so far as to send an army, but were they doing something similar here? The beastkin actually neighbored the elves, but the impassible mountains protected them, just as we thought it would protect Virdainia. Yet, they had managed to forge across. Perhaps, these underground tunnels were what they were using to make it.

Did that mean that another army was on the way to the elf country, or that the goblins were an army onto themselves? There were still far too many unknown variables here.

“The beastkin would nyaver do such a thing!” Olivia declared, incidentally overhearing me.

“I’m not so sure,” I responded back.

I wasn’t sure they did it either. After all, their attack on the human realm had a lot more finesse. If this was a beastkin plot, wasn’t it a bit too open? Comparatively, this time it all seemed to point to them. That made me instantly think that it probably wasn’t. However, if the question was, would they do something like this, I already knew the answer to that.

Of course, I didn’t tell Olivia about Lucy’s actions, or what the beastkin had done. She wouldn’t believe me anyway, and it may lead to some unnecessary complications.

As we entered the big room, I noticed a pedestal in the center. The old goblin hobbled over to that pedestal and picked up an item sitting in its center. He looked at it for a few moments, but then with a sigh, turned and walked back to us. He handed it to me, yet Olivia reached over and swiped it from my hands before I had a chance to inspect it.

“This… the magic… this is the curse!”

I blinked. Although I wasn’t holding the artifact, my magic wasn’t so great that I could tell something like that so quickly. However, now that she said it, I did feel something akin to shadow and illusion magic emanating from the device.

“Is it…”

“It’s devil magic!” She shot me a defiant glare, but then remembering that it was in the hands of the goblin, glanced over at him uncertainly.

“Where did you get this item?” I asked the old goblin.

“Mmm… given. Stranger. Protect goblins. Give blood. Keeps safe.”

“What is it though?” This question was directed back toward Olivia.

“Hmph… I guess you don’t know everything!’ She responded snobbishly, but when I stared at her without expression, she blushed and continued. “It’s a devil magic item. A particularly powerful one. Definitely high tier. It would have had to be made by someone very powerful in illusion and shadow magic. Only devils would be that powerful.”

She seemed determined to point out every piece of evidence that pointed to its origin being devils. Just as I didn’t jump on beastkin, I also expected devils to be a bit too simple of an answer.

“I get it, but what does it do?” I let a bit of irritation reach my voice.

Olivia was an airhead at times, but the one thing she was knowledgeable about was magic. Had I not met Baba first, I might have even been impressed by her magical ability.

“Ah…” she shook her head, narrowing her eyes. “It seems to absorb life energy during the day, and use it to release the illusion magic at night!”

“How has this helped you?” I asked the goblin.

“Repels… monsters, and others…”

“Of course, it does! It’s a mana suck! Monsters would be instantly repelled by it!” Olivia responded angrily.

Now that I was close to it, I could actually feel my mana being leaked out. In the short term, it wasn’t dangerous, but over the course of weeks, one would probably turn lethargic, paranoid, sleep-deprived… exactly like the soldiers in the fort above. That was beside the vivid nightmares that it caused at night.

“Then, why does it not affect the goblins?” I asked, trying to understand the entire situation before I moved forward.

“We must destroy this. Once this artifact is destroyed, the natural order will be returned. Then, the king will finally be quiet about that engageme- ah…. Cough…”

It wasn’t that I didn’t hear the last part, but I was more worried about the expression on her face like she was just about to smash it on the ground. It was made of stone, and I had no doubt it would shatter if struck hard enough.

“W-wait!” I took the item from her just as the goblin stepped forward, a distressed look on his face.

“Say… no harm… Cannot destroy.”

“Did you… do something, with this item?” I asked.

“Some… suffer nightmares. Beginning. He said, we… bleed. Item, no longer… hurt us.” He responded, anxiously reaching out for the artifact.

“Brother… give it, we must destroy it.”

“N-no!” The goblin cried out, looking anxious.

“Don’t you understand, sister.” I shot back, irritation in my expression. “You missed one fact about how this works.”

“Wh-what?”

The damage… it’s too widespread to come from just this artifact. Rather, when someone bleeds on it, they are connected to it. Every goblin who has bled on this artifact has become bound to it. That act as a conduit, spreading the life force absorption and strengthening the protective curse.”

“A-all the more reason…”

“If you destroy this artifact, what do you think happens to the conduits,” I demanded angrily, causing her eyes to widen. “If we destroy this now, then all of the goblins die!”

Just before she could come up with a response, two goblins ran into the room. “Elder! They’re back! They’re attacking again!”

The true culprits behind this were making their next move, and we were stuck in the middle.

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