The next morning, I woke up to a startling sight. A wrinkled, green face with large eyes was looking down at me. It didn’t seem to notice I was awake as it loomed. I carefully freed my hands and slowly brought them up to my chest. As the creature leaned closer, just a bit of drool leaking down its lip.
“Rawr!” I shouted, jumping up and grabbing it by the stomach.
“Ahhh, hahahahahaha…” I pushed the small form to the ground and began to tickle it mercilessly.
He first let out a shrill cry but then started to laugh. Several of the nearby goblins had looked over anxiously, but when they saw the small child twisting and laughing on the floor, their expressions grew into smiles.
The noise was enough to wake Olivia, who had chosen to sleep a fair distance away from everyone else. It was clear she was miserable, but when she saw me tickling the goblin child, her expression became thoughtful.
I only tortured him for a few more moments before letting him go. Bent low, I gave the goblin a friendly smile and put his feet back on the ground. As soon as he was released, he lunged forward and kicked my shin.
“Ah!” I grabbed it and fell back.
He stuck out his tongue and then giggled, running away. Two other boys appeared nearby and went with him. They were probably the ones who had dared him. Olivia broke into laughter upon seeing me collapse thanks to the sneak attack of a goblin child. I shot her a glare, but she only giggled harder.
Once I recovered, I glanced at my bag. “That little snot stole my bag of sweets!”
It was the last bag I had of anything approaching sweet since I had left Virdainia. The elf military fort couldn’t be expected to have a lot of sweet things. It was a bag of candied fruit. I had already lost most of it to Saria and my Mother. It was for that reason that I had left it in my bags when I left the fort. However, the reason the goblin was on top of me when I woke up as well as why he was so keen on escaping now became too clear. They were robbers!
“The poor little prince can’t satisfy his sweet tooth?” Olivia stuck her tongue out at me while giving a toothy grin.
I narrowed my eyes at her. Was she the one who had revealed this? How deep did this betrayal go?
“Hey, you!” I saw a goblin child walking by munching on a small piece of fruit.
He gave a shout and then ran. This time, several of the goblin women watching gave chuckles. They admonished the children they could catch, but by the expressions on their faces, it was clear they weren’t that upset. I eventually gave up on trying to get my revenge.
Instead, I snatched my map from my bags and marched away. I met back up with the old goblin, explaining to him my plans for travel. I tried to show him the map, but it was very clear that he didn’t know how to read it. After a few minutes, he shook his head and pushed the map back into my hands.
“Lead… way… we… trust.” He responded, patting my shoulder.
The goblin refugees, I supposed I could call them that at this point, gathered together carefully and began moving. Most of them carried large backpacks and moved with the support of each other. The women depended on the men to help them watch the children. The children aided the elderly as they reached particularly difficult pathways. Essentially, it was a community.
As Olivia watched them travel, her expression gradually softened. She couldn’t help but be moved by the interactions of the family units. As she watched them work together to help the children across a small chasm that was a bit too vast for a child. After everyone had crossed safely, she smiled and crossed her arms, her tail flicking back and forth. It was at this moment that a small child goblin came by and pulled on her tail.
“Nya! What’s the big idea?” She screamed and then chased after the child.
He had been prepared for it and ended up running into a crowd of children who instantly scattered in every direction. Even though she ran down several of them, she was unable to find the one who had originally pulled on her tail. Even if she had, she wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. When she finally came back grouchily, a few of the goblins were watching her with a smile, and even I couldn’t help but let out a soft chuckle.
“You want to start something?” She demanded, showing me her fist.
“It’s just that sister is good with children,” I responded.
I was expecting her to hit me, but instead, her face turned red and she looked away. She didn’t say another word to me until after we stopped for dinner. An entire day of travel passed and we didn’t encounter any more enemies. The goblins who had seemingly been running for years were starting to calm down and relax. The tension that had seemed to have been built-up was slowly unfurling, and there was more talking and laughter compared to the previous night.
I took Olivia out again and had her collapse a few more tunnels. This would make it very clear what direction we were heading, but only after they saw which tunnels were collapsed. By then, we would have bought ourselves an incredible amount of time. At this point, I didn’t think they would continue to chase us. Their plan had been seen through and thoroughly demolished. The second I had put my blood on that slab, the curse was lifted. It might take a week or two, but the plants were likely already recovering.
“Why are you doing this?” Olivia asked this while we were on our way back to the camp after downing our last tunnel.
“Why am I doing what?” I answered calmly.
“Why are you helping them? These goblins? They’re not your people, nya. They’re not humans. You have no allegiance to them. They aren’t even strong enough to make good allies. Why are you going to so much trouble to protect them? Once you resolved the curse, you had no reason to follow through on this journey. That’s what I can’t figure out.
“Didn’t I make a promise?” I responded.
“A promise?” she suddenly snapped, an angry expression on her face. “What good are promises in this world?”
She had said those words with her tail lashing in agitation. She immediately spun, hitting me with her tail before marching off. I glanced at her back with surprise. She was wandering off into the dark ahead of me. I ran to keep up, but it was clear at this point that she was giving me to the cold shoulder. This actually surprised me greatly.
I hadn’t expected to actually make her upset with my words. I started to wonder what promise in her life had been broken that made her so embittered to the concept. For the rest of the journey back to the goblin camp, she didn’t speak to me. In fact, she didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. That night, I sat in silence eating something the goblins had hunted. I didn’t ask what it was, but I was pretty sure it was a rat.
The next morning, I was awoken to a sudden shout and a crash. A smile formed on my lips as I opened my eyes and glanced at my side. A little boy had ended up ensnared in a small snare trap I had set. I had managed to save one sweet that had fallen out of my purse and into the bag. I had left out last night in a particularly obvious spot. When the child had come, he naturally couldn’t help himself and thus ended up in my trap. I stood up over him and chuckled.
“I knew you’d be back!” I responded triumphantly. “This is a lesson for you, child. Never try the same maneuver’s twice, Gah!”
As soon as I had stated this, two more goblin children had leaped out from behind a rock and chucked stones at me. I was alarmed at their sudden attack and was too busy retreating to stop them as they assisted their friend and escaped with my last sweet. I returned to my ransacked bedroll and collapsed to my knees.
“They… really are monsters after all.”
At that moment, I heard someone laughing at full tilt. I narrowed my eyes and glanced over at Olivia who was laughing so hard that she was almost on the floor.
“What’s the matter?” She laughed. “Outwitted by a couple of babies? Hahaha Nyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
Just as she was mocking me, one of the bold children who had remained nearby reached out and bit down on Olivia’s tail. She let out a shriek that was enough to cause the entire goblin tribe to look over. The child in question had already slipped back into the shadows, and even if the goblin women were to punish, they wouldn’t know who was the guilty party.
The pair of us sat in an uncomfortable silence for a few moments, neither daring to tease the other, in case the small children continue to cut us down. Finally, Olivia walked over to me cautiously and then held out her hand.
“They… must pay.”
I looked up at Olivia and then jerked for a second. Her eyes were definitely scary. I slowly nodded and took her hand. If I couldn’t deal with a couple of snot-nose kids, then how could I call myself a prince. The pair of us nodded at each other, and an alliance was formed.
For the remainder of that morning, we walked with our heads held together whispering. A couple goblins could only shoot us worried looks as we remained guarded and worked on our plans. They knew the kids had taken things a bit far, but they were still the parents and worried about what we were planning. The elder even stopped by briefly to speak.
“Not Goblin custom… to kill young.” The elder reminded us. “Please respect?”
“Oh… don’t worry… I’m not going to kill them…” I responded, the rest of my words silently lingering.
After we finished, the two of us parted and we were back to our original relationship, standing distant and aloof.
It was only then that the worry on the parents finally subsided, and a few children even dared to show themselves in front of the pair of us again. Olivia gave them a grin, but the smile didn’t seem to reach her eyes and the children ended up running away.
The result was that the remainder of the day went by very peacefully. Although we traveled with the tribe, they kept their distance from the two of us. When they finally decided on stopping, I walked over to the lead goblin elder and spoke seriously.
“There is a nearby entrance to the surface. This is the last one before the stretch into the mountains. Olivia and I are going to check it out and decide if we need to collapse it.”
The elder nodded. “Do… as must…”
I nodded, and the pair of us left. I hadn’t been lying. The path was actually not that far from where the goblins were resting the night. However, we only headed a few minutes when I started to frown, looking at the walls. They were all covered in white cottony stuff.
“This much dust?” Olivia sniffed. “This must be a truly abandoned entrance. Perhaps collapsing it has no purpose.”
As we continued to walk down the path and the white cotton grew thicker, I shook my head. “I wish this place was abandoned. Please tell me this world has the normal varieties.”
“Eh? Varieties of what?” What do you mean?” Olivia looked around cluelessly.
“This isn’t dust… it’s web. You know what that means, right?”
“S-spiders?” she suddenly clenched her teeth and took a step back. “I h-hate spiders!”
“Yeah, well it looks like the spiders nested right in front of the entrance.” I pointed down the path.
She took another step back. “D-disgusting!”
“Don’t back out on me now. We agreed to this.” I said, grabbing her arm and pulling her with me, “Besides, they’re probably normal spiders.”
“Wh-why do you say that?” Olivia asked, being led but having no energy in her legs.
“Because… I’m really hoping they’re not giant spiders.”
“G-giant? Nya? How giant are we talking about?”
“If they’re giant spiders, they run a risk to the colony. We’ll either have to clear them out or make the colony move. If they’re just regularly spiders… well, they probably won’t be a danger to goblins, let alone us.”
“Even if you say that…”
“In that situation, I’ll need your magic to help clear them out.”
“Nya… Wh-why… why spiders!”
“We might be lucky though,” I responded thoughtfully.
“These webs look old and tattered. Notice how we’re not walking through any of them? That means something big has been through here since the webs were made. In that case, this might even be an abandoned spider nest. We might luck out and not run into any spiders. I mean, we’re already halfway through. If there were spiders, we’d have seen them already, right?”
“C-can you please stop saying spider…”
Olivia’s voice was really quiet, and I realized that she was genuinely very frightened. Her face was white and she was glancing around frantically. Her ears were down against her head and even her tail which normally whipped around aggressively was straight down and unmoving.
“Olivia… would you…”
My question was cut off by a sudden scream behind us. We had come into an open area, surrounded by large webbing. At that point, we noticed movements from behind us. We turned back, Olivia raising her head and instantly chanting a spell with an expression of terror on her face. I had pulled my sword and glared off into the darkness, waiting for whatever was making those high-pitched shouting noises.
Three small forms exploded out of the darkness coming from the way we had just walked. I recognized them instantly. Olivia, in her fearful state, still had her hand raised as mana flowed into it. I grabbed Olivia and broke her spell. The three were actually three of the goblin children.
“It’s the children?” Olivia said as I finally let go of her.
“What are you three doing here?” I demanded with a scowl.
At least one of the three I recognized as the one who had kicked me on the first day. The other two I wouldn’t be surprised if they were involved too. Based on the appearance of an adult, I’d say these guys probably sat at around twelve years of age in development, although I didn’t know how that translated to goblin lifespan.
“F-followed.” He said, his eyes wide with terror.
“Why did you follow us?” I continued to grill the children.
“See… surface…” He said, seeming distracted with something.
“Okay, at least I know why you ran away. However, what are you running from?”
“Saw… ran…” The terror reformed on the goblin’s face.
“What did you see? What…” I stopped as I started to hear rustling noises behind me.
A sudden ominous feeling shot through me. I didn’t need him to answer. It was at that moment that I noticed that the three boys were no longer looking at me, but at something over my shoulder.
Olivia had already turned around, and her white-faced expression and trembling body already told me everything I needed to know. I turned around, gathering the three goblin children behind me. Hanging from the ceiling was a massive creature. At least a dozen more appeared. At first, they were so small as to seem insignificant, but as their bodies came out from their places on the web, their forms seemed to grow.
They had long legs, black bodies, and extremely large fangs. They were hairy and looked just as grotesque as one could imagine if you blew up the image of a spider. Each one, once fully spread out, was about the size of a pony.
The only exception was the one on the ceiling, which was easily five times larger. It was looking at us with hundreds of eyes, not moving as more and more of its kind appeared to form their hiding spots, filling a room that moments ago had appeared completely empty. With the exception of some light rustling, the spiders didn’t make any noise at all. They came as silently as they had rested.
“Shit…” I muttered. “It’s the big ones.”