“Retreat!” The old goblin instantly cried out, grabbing the precious artifact from my hand.
He had shown us this item in earnest, and now that we talked about destroying it, he naturally had a frustrated and angry look on his face.
“Why did you show me this artifact?” I could only ask in earnest.
“Artifact given… by same… that’s why…” He said and then glowered. “Mistake. More human…”
“Same? A devilkin!” Olivia shot me a defiant glare, “See? It was the devilkin.”
I didn’t look in her direction. Instead, I was looking hard at the goblin. However, what he said appeared to be true. I couldn’t see any ounce of deception. In the end, it really was a devil who gave him this device. That meant, it was a devil plot! I still wanted more proof. I heard the directions of the screaming.
“You’re retreating?” I asked the obvious question.
“Enemy, hunt… too strong. We just… want peace.” The goblin elder responded, turning away. “If devil, no help… then, must keep running.”
“What if we can help?”
“David!” Olivia snapped.
The goblin turned back, allowing his own temptation to overcome his sense. “How?”
“Look, this artifact is important for your clan. It’s a double-edged blade. It protects you, but it also binds you to it. If we can just relocate all of you someplace safe, someplace away from the forests and the elves, then you can remain there peacefully.
“Tried… already. Enemy… came.”
“I know that!” I said, feeling just a bit of frustration. “However, what if we can find a safe place. Someplace they can’t follow. Would you stay there?”
“If safe… we will stay.” The old goblin finally answered after thinking about it for a moment.
“In that case, meet up with me in a bit.” I pulled out a sword. “Olivia, come with me.”
“I’m going to hold back your enemies.” I said, “And then, we’ll find a place for you to be safe.”
“We’re doing what?” Olivia stared at me with her mouth open.
The goblin shook his head. “Trust… isn’t there. We must protect our own.”
“This world has reached a point where it is no longer enough to worry about anyone’s species.” I sighed. “I feel it, can’t you? War is coming. The races all must fight together, or be ground to dust. If we allow such thoughts as racial superiority rule us, the balance will be broken, and this world will fall.”
Olivia’s expression grew even more terrified. Meanwhile, the goblin’s brow was furrowed in thought. However, even after thinking about it, he shook his head.
I grimaced and then pulled out a knife. The goblin took a defensive step back, putting up his hand.
Olivia reached for me, but I was already on top of the goblin. I sliced my dagger across my hand, and then I slapped it against the object in the old goblin’s hand. Some of the blood splattered across the stone. It shimmered unevenly for a second and then the runes went dark.
“You…” The goblin opened his eyes and looked down at the print on the stone.
I lifted up my bloodied hand to the goblin. “Now, our fates are tied. If I fail to protect you, then I fall beside you.”
The goblin’s entire body shook as he heard those words. His expression turned to one that was touched. It looked like he didn’t know what to say. As for Olivia, she had her hand over her mouth, and her eyes were wet. She was looking at me like I was someone she had never met before. I would rather not have gone this far, but I had no other option.
“You’re… devil…” The goblin said.
“I’m a human.” I corrected him.
“No, devil!” He shook his head and then grabbed my hand. “Friend…”
It was a devil who had given him that artifact in the first place. They considered that person a friend. In that case, calling me a devil wasn’t an insult for them. In fact, coming from the old goblin, it was considered the highest compliment.
“We… gather… wait… we… trust…” He finally let go of my hand.
As he turned and hobbled away, he turned back twice as if he wanted to return and follow me. That gesture had completely changed his impression of me.
“Brother…” Olivia looked like she was about to cry.
“Not you too…”
“Nya… why would you go so far! They’re goblins!” An angry expression appeared on her face.
I began heading towards the sound of battle, causing Olivia to follow me while wearing her obstinate expression.
“They’re living beings. Everyone deserves to live happily and peacefully, as long as they don’t threaten the lives of others.”
“Even if you say that… he could trip, break that stone, and brother would be de… dead…” Her voice gave out with that last word.
“Then you would have a reason to celebrate.” I snorted.
“Brother, I’m being serious nya!”
“I did what I had to do so that he gained his faith in me. I planned to help him from the beginning. Now, I just need to take it a little seriously.”
“Even so…betting with your life…” She crossed her arms and her tail bristled.
“If my sister was in jeopardy, I might even bet more,” I said.
“Hmph, don’t expect that flattery you used on sister Saria to work on me!” Olivia growled, but she still couldn’t keep a small blush from appearing on her cheeks. “What do you need from me anyway?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I responded, “I need you to do what you do best! Collapse the tunnel.”
“That was an accident, Nya!”
“No matter. We need to cut off the enemy’s route and buy us enough time to get away with the goblins.”
“And where do you plan to take them?” She said with an exasperated voice.
“I was hoping you’d know a good spot.”
“You… how would I know what would work with a goblin.”
“I imagine just about anywhere…”
As we were speaking, we were getting closer and closer to the source of the noises. Finally, we began to see fleeing goblins. They seemed to be ignoring us, running for their lives. There were a few bodies on the floor as well. All of them were goblin too. At that moment, I saw a movement and shoved Olivia to the side.
“Nya! Watch it!” She cried out as she fell against the wall of the underground tunnel.
Where she had been standing, and an arrow flew past, harmlessly flying down the tunnel. Olivia’s eyes followed it and then went wide. I could see the fear in them, even in the low lighting. However, I didn’t have any time to say anything, as a moment later, a form emerged from the darkness. The person’s features were hidden in shadows, and they appeared to be wearing a black cloak that covered everything.
The only feature that stood out in the darkness were pointed ears, not unlike my own. Was this another devil? This is the first time I had encountered one of my own kind in this world. Even though I called myself a human, I still understood that devil was my true species.
I didn’t hesitate to launch myself at the man, drawing my sword and attacking using will. The cloaked figure leaped back, avoiding my slash.
“What are you doing here?” The cloaked figure demanded in a harsh, whispery voice.
“One could ask the same about you!” I shot back, taking another swipe which he skillfully dodged. “You know, it’s rude to hide your face when you’re talking to someone.”
“Heh… and why should I reveal my identity to the likes of you?” he responded haughtily.
“I’m Prince David,” I responded in kind.
“Prince?” he seemed surprised for a moment.
“Nya… scary…” Olivia had stood up and approached us, wiping off the dust on her dress while glancing around warily for any more arrows.
“Princess…” His eyes flashed to Olivia.
“Eh? Who are you?” Olivia glanced at the cloaked man as if it was the first time she had noticed him.
The man turned to me. “Give me the Princess now, and maybe I’ll let you live!”
“I’ll take her!” he took a step forward.
“Ah!” His sudden movement caused Olivia to make a noise of shock and then grab the hem of my shirt from behind as if by instinct.
The man’s eyes seemed sharp in the dark, and he instantly noticed her holding on to me. Suddenly, the darkness around him seemed to become even thicker.
“I see… so this is how it is…”
“How what is?” I said, readjusting the grip on my blade while feeling like there was something off about this guy. “Why are you attacking the goblins?”
“Heh…” The guy laughed. “Is there a reason not to slaughter goblins?”
“They’re innocents!” Olivia suddenly shouted, shooting him a defiant look over my shoulder.
Her opinion about the goblins seemed to have shifted before she knew it. With two dead goblins lying near the invader’s feet, one of them a woman, it was possible her entire view on who was right and wrong had shifted. Thus, she wore an angry expression as she faced down the person who seemed to be willing to cut down goblins so casually. Even though she was being confrontational, she was literally using me as a human shield in the process. I didn’t know how I felt about that.
“There is no innocence in this world.” The man responded. “Only the corrupted, and the soon to be corrupted!”
“What fortune cookie did you read that off of?” I shot back.
“I’m no seer, devil, but I can say I’ve already seen your death!”
“Olivia, get back!” I ordered as I prepared for his attack.
The man came forward again, and this time our blades struck and parried. I put a bit of will into my attacks, and he appeared to be able to keep up with it. When I added more will, he still managed to hold his own. He wasn’t using will of his own, yet he was still able to keep me at bay. This was the first time I had met a swordsman who didn’t use will.
“Hmph, you’re sloppy and pathetic.” He snorted, breaking off his attack.
“Aren’t we about even?” I responded, trying to keep my breathing under control.
“I was just feeling you out at first, but I must say, I am disappointed. Then again, you’re exactly as I had imagined you’d be.”
“Useless!” He launched forward this time.
I used my will to block him, but suddenly, will shot from his body, he moved like lightning. The sudden change caught me off guard, and a blade slashed across my gut. I let out a cry as I leaped back. Even though I hadn’t planned for this wound, I had hoped to see the blood splash on him, but it regrettably didn’t at all. He seemed to be wary of it.
However, I realized a devil shouldn’t have been wary of my blood. He would have been immune to it. This guy, on the other hand, distinctly avoided it.
“Olivia…” I said, grabbing my gut as I stood up.
“Y-yes!” Olivia called out.
Of course, I was telling her to collapse the cavern now. It was a bad time, but I was afraid if I allowed it to drag out any further, it would end up far worse. I didn’t want to die like this. Unfortunately, if I said this, he would know the plan and stop it. Rather, I had to hope that Olivia knew what I wanted with only a word and a look. Unfortunately, she was looking at me with a tilted head, which told me she didn’t understand anything. I gritted my teeth and raised my sword back up toward the black-robed man.
“Only this much…” The other man shook his head, looking at me scornfully. “You’re not even worth my time.”
Two more men, similarly garbed in black robes, came out of the darkness. The color of my face turned white and my expression dropped. If it was hopeless just against him, now that it was three on one, I had no chance of even escaping. The two newcomers looked to the other man for orders. It appeared that he was in charge.
“Kill the prince. Leave… her…” He turned and left without another word.
I blinked, completely surprised he’d just take off like that. He was going to take the princess originally, but he suddenly changed what he was doing. That definitely left me confused and wondering. Who were these guys and what did they want? The two men attacked me. They were will users as well. Thankfully, they were not as good as the first guy. However, that put them at about my level. I was already injured, and there were two of them.
The tunnel was narrow, and I did my best to hold them off. However, I was taking cut after nick. It was starting to add up. My sword finally flew from my hand, and I stumbled back. I could only look on in horror as the two men descended on me. Having gotten so far, it felt frustrating and embarrassing to be defeated now. I still had things I needed to accomplish. I couldn’t die here.
“Vortex!” Olivia sudden cried out.
This time, she aimed high, right above the heads of the two men. They let out cries of shock as a massive explosion erupted. The wind tossed me back several meters. I could hear rumbling once again as the ceiling collapsed down. This time, she had controlled it a bit better, and the collapse occurred away from us. Although a wave of dust and dirt flew over me, no heavy rocks damaged my body. Unfortunately, after taking so many hits during the battle, I felt just as bad.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a health potion I had stored and drank it. With that, I waited and healed as the tunnel finally cleared to the point where I could actually see more than a few feet in front of me. I glanced over to see Olivia lying next to me. When our eyes met, she burst into laughter.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Your face…” She smirked. “It’s all grey…”
“Isn’t my face always grey?” I asked in confusion.
“It is! Nya hahaha!” She grabbed her stomach and broke into laughter.
I didn’t get the joke, so I could only shake my head. When she was done laughing, I glanced over at her with a serious expression.
“You saved my life,” I said.
She turned away. “They wanted me… he scared me a bit.”
“He said to leave you alone. You could have run. You could have left me to die.”
“You’re my brother! How could I ever…” She stopped in the middle of that, blinking for a second, and then looking down, speaking with a pout. “I just didn’t want to be alone, okay.”
Most of my wounds had healed, although the gash on my stomach was still open. It wasn’t to the point my guts could be seen, so I was probably alright. I downed another potion just in case and then walked over to the pile of dirt and debris. One of the cloaked men had fallen under the rubble and was crushed. However, his upper half was still visible, despite the fact he was immobile and clearly dead.
“H-he’s dead|” Olivia had gotten up and followed, keeping back a few feet and looking cautious.
“He is.” I nodded, “Now let’s see who he is.”
I reached down and pulled back his hood. The pointed ears were there. He also had very pale skin. However, directly comparing his face with my hands, it was clear it wasn’t the same color. He had no horns on his head either. Naturally, I instantly knew what race he was.
“An elf…” Olivia breathed.
“It appears so…”
“The elves? The elves have been chasing the goblins?” Olivia asked. “Why would they attack their own?”
“To get to me. To get to you. Political rivals. Take your pick.” I shook my head. “Elves are no different than humans in that respect.”
I was remembering the betrayer, Lord Stebes. It wasn’t that surprising that some elf was hoping to cause distress in order to aid in their own rise.
“But… the goblin said that the device was given to him by the devils!” She responded defensively, still not able to accept what she was seeing in front of her.
“The old goblin never said when he had been handed that artifact.”
“You got the impression he got it while being harrowed by the elves, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. If I had to guess, the goblins had received this artifact a long time ago. That’s how they were able to live peacefully in the mountains despite so many high-level monsters there. Then, someone found out about their cursed tablet and decided to use the goblins. They chased them into the caves and kept chasing them until they created a web of death across half the elvish nation. They might even be capturing and imprisoning goblins all across the country to spread that web of death deliberately.”
As I said this, I was looking through the robes of the elf. I found a couple of things on him, but a rolled-up parchment caught my interest the most. I opened it up, and immediately let out a whistle.
“What is it?” Olivia asked, her face still scrunched up in thought.
“They wouldn’t have been able to harrow and spread the goblins so efficiently if they didn’t know these underground caverns well. This is a map. It looks like this stuff spreads all across the country. That’s why the goblins didn’t even know they were in the elvish nation. They entered the cave system way before getting here.”
“It really was the elves…” Olivia said as if only now starting to accept it.
“Well, this is what I need. I’ll be going back to catch up with the goblins. If you make a left down here and a right, you should approach the exit.”
“Wait?” Olivia blinked, “What are you saying?”
“The map… Naturally, I see the closest exit too. You need to go. Return to Ayda quickly.”
“But… the elves are after me!”
“You’re a princess too. Even that guy didn’t look like he wanted to hurt you.” I responded.
Actually, my current guess was that he was one of the princes. By the look of it, it was one who had a crush on Olivia. However, I wasn’t going to tell Olivia that.
“Even so… what about the goblins.”
“I already gave them my blood. My life is on the line as well as theirs. I’ll take care of it.”
Olivia shook her head, reaching out and grabbing my shirt again. “I’m worried about yo- the goblins. What if they keep coming? I might need to collapse more tunnels. I’ll help you find them a place.”
“Are you sure about this?” I asked.
She looked down at her feet, but she still gave a nod. “I’m going to stick with brother.”
“Then, let’s get going. We have a bit of a journey ahead of us.”