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In the grandest Goblin style, the Goblins of Old Norcrost held their convocation.

Whereas Men and Elves built majestic stadiums from gleaming rocks, o en to the sun, !ith intricate, larger"than"life renditions of their heroes carved from marble or scul ted in co er, silver, and gold, the Goblins dug their stadiums out under the mountains, dee and dark, !ith rough"he!n, moss"covered rocks for seats and stands, and life"si#ed but e$aggerated likenesses of their heroes carved from sandstone and granite. Whereas Men and Elves came to their meetings % s iritual, olitical, communal % !ith an air of soberness and grace, the Goblins assembled !ith crashes, bangs, shouts, and harsh language. &hey laughed, tram led, got drunk, and occasionally killed each other. It didn't matter !ho killed !hom. (ll !as forgotten and forgiven )by those still alive to forget and forgive* right after. &his convocation !as no different. (fter an hour or so that bordered on riot, the acting leader of the Goblins, +ark % ,eneschal of his most -latulent, the .ing of the Goblins, Gorg % took his lace at the to of the dais he!n at the north end of the /it. 0e raised his s indly, !art"covered arms. 1,ilence, you mongrels23 he ho!led. 0is face glo!ed orange in the torchlight and in the bonfires that raged in s ots around the vast s ace. &he light flickered and illuminated his face 4 !ith its narro!, slitted eyes, its !art"covered forehead, and its !ide, toothy mouth 4 the same as it reflected a sinister gleam in each eye of every onlooker in the stadium. 15uiet, you igs' asses23 he screamed again. &here !as silence for a moment, then another burst of catcalls, screeches, and laughter. 1&his is im ortant, you little shits2 &his is about the king2 &he king is dying and you're all laughing like it doesn't matter. 0e might be dead already % I haven't checked. Is he dead already6 No6 Good. &hen listen u , you !ee bitty fucks. &he king is gonna die and !e kno! ho! to save him. It's im ortant to save the king. 7ou remember him6 Gorg6 &he one !ho's ulled at least 899 of you out of a gods"damned s:uish"you situation6 7ou remember63

Indeed, the king of the Goblins lay dying. 0e lay in his chamber belo!, !hich !as carved out in the driest ortion of the Goblins' com le$ )some Goblins sle t !ith murky !ater er etually dri ing into their faces*. 0e lay on his brass bed, stolen during a raid on human lands above, the only actual bed in all the Goblin kingdom ),eneschal +ark once had a !ooden one, but it !as s lintered into fire!ood one colder"than"comfortable !inter*. (nd he !as surrounded, attended, by t!enty"four of his best concubines; the ones !ho had given birth to offs ring that actually survived to fight in at least one of the king's !ars.

,trange thing !as, .ing Gorg had not fallen to the s!ords or s ears of his human enemies; most Men he'd encountered had long since been d!elling in the resence of their god. Gorg had not fallen to the arro!s or magic of the Elves; he eluded the best of their hunters and even had the skull of one of their best !i#ards hung around his neck as a charm. 0e had not fallen to a rival; most Goblins recogni#ed Gorg for !hat he !as % the greatest, most successful, most virile king the Goblins had ever had. &he fe! !ho thought they could su lant him no! hung as skull"charms around the necks of Gorg's fiercest su orters. No. What did in old, great Gorg at the venerable age of thirty"four !as not s ear or s!ord, arro! or magic, or treachery. What !as killing him, slo!ly and ainfully, !as the flu.

1In the highest to!er of the grandest castle of the Elves, hangs a crystal,3 +ark screeched. 1It is legendary % the Essence of Healing, !hich those ointy"eared bastards use to sto the bleeding of their !ounded, kee their sick infection"free, and kee themselves alive ,O -<E(.ING =ONG23 ( hiss eru ted among the Goblin host. &heir eyes lit u % crimson fireflies of s ite glo!ing in an underground nighttime of malice. 1&o save our king, the greatest king of the Goblins !ho has ever lived23 +ark raised his gnarled fist, and if anyone noticed that he held .ing Gorg's sce ter in it, they didn't sho! any concern. 1&he greatest king thus far23 +ark bello!ed. <oars. 0oots. ( beating of s ear butts on the cavern floor. 1&o save the greatest king of the Goblins !ho, so far, has ever lived, !e must ut together a great force23 +ark raged. 1We must ut forth a mighty throng of strength and !ill, and march across the desert to the -orest of the Elves2 &here, !e must burn every elven village that lies bet!een us and the >astle2 We must ra#e the -orest and the >astle and ca ture this a!esome crystal2 With it, !e !ill save our king23 >ries filled the chamber, bouncing off the !alls and filling the hot, smoky air like bats. 1With it, !e !ill make our o!n eo le, the Goblin folk, the mightiest in the land23 +ark snarled. ,ome of the cries continued to raise and su ro osed. 1We !ill crush the Elves23 +ark stom ed. More cries from both cam s. &hose !ho cried, 1>rush2 >rush2 >rush23 vied to dro!n out those !ho cried, 1We are the mightiest23 1We !ill ra e and illage the !orld of Men23 +ark !aved his arms in a fury. Grou s of Goblins clustered together. ,ome lo!ered their s ears into a fighting stance. ort +ark's tirade. Others, though, declared that the Goblins already were the mightiest in the land. None, though, :uestioned the !isdom of !hat great +ark

1We !ill subjugate them all23 +ark screamed to the high ceiling. (nd !ith that, he sto ed, crossed his arms over his uffed"u chest, and smirked a smug smirk, leased !ith his stunning vocabulary. 0e didn't have long to feel full of himself, though. (n arro! !hi##ed ast his ear, and then the /it eru ted into a real riot of Goblins fighting each other. 1>rush them and !e !ill be the mightiest23 some roared. 1We already are the mightiest3 others roared back.

( !hile later, in a little side"chamber a fe! levels do!n from the /it, a little Goblin named Emys sat on her bed allet made of stra! and bones, and thought. ,he thought about everything she'd just seen u in the underground stadium; +ark's s eech, the call to arms, the riot. Emys's father !as .ord. .ord !as a huge Goblin, covered in battle scars that made his skin like leather armor, hard as late steel in s ots. 0e !as ca able of !ielding a man"s ear and a shield at the same time, and though he had not yet been given the honor of fighting in one of Gorg's elite com anies, he headed his o!n, and talk and rumors had come every fe! days that Gorg's eye !as on .ord % until the flu had laid Gorg lo!. (s such, it !as in .ord's best interest that Gorg recover, and soon. ,o it !as that .ord !as re aring for the fight of his life, the cam aign of his career. .ord !anted nothing more than to !ra his o!erful fingers around the elven crystal, to return it to his king and claim the glory it !ould bring. Emys understood her father's desire, and even sa! the necessity of using the elven artifact to cure the great king, !ho !as indeed the greatest leader the Goblins had kno!n. >ertainly greater than that jerk +ark ever !ould be if he became king. ?ut there !as something she did not understand, and since Emys !as as in:uisitive as she !as small, she felt over!helmed !ith a need to understand. 0er father came home to their cavern a artment, soon after his meeting !ith his com any, !here they no doubt had laid lans of ho! they !ere going to cross the desert, enter the forest, best the Elves, and take the crystal. 0e burst through the tattered green cloth, a modest sheen of rivacy that hung bet!een the cavern entrance and the assage!ay outside. 0e smelled of smoke and li:uor and blood, and his eyes glo!ed !ith e$citement and ire. 0is !ives and concubines, and all the young Goblins he'd sired over the ast years , backed a!ay from his truculent entry, shrinking into the shado!s to !ait for him to calm, to become the lucid and calculating master and father !ho rotected them rather than threatened them.

0e came in, thre! the s iked club he'd been carrying into a corner, nearly braining the Goblin boy !ho !as co!ering there. 0e roared e ithets at the stalactites above him, and shook his head so that globs of s ittle tossed off of him and s lattered the stone floor. Emys !as not afraid of him, though 4for good reason4and !hen she heard him come home, she left her room and !alked do!n her hall!ay and right u to him. ,he lanted her bare, green"bro!n feet shoulder"!idth a art and beamed u at him. Even !ith the !ideness of her mouth, the shar ness of her teeth, and the tiny future"!arts s rinkling her nose and chin, a human might have found her cute. .ord certainly did. Immediately, he sto ed s!earing. 0e sto ed shaking. 0e sto ed com letely, standing, stoo "shouldered and trembling, a light s!eat on his rominent bro! and volu tuous li s, his enormous arms, goose"bum ed ylons, bracketing his o!erful chest. &he glo! in his eyes dimmed. (nd he smiled. 1My darling Emys,3 he said. 0is voice, though amiable and hushed, still boomed throughout the cavern. 17ou !ant something63 Emys cocked her head to one side. 1If you !ant to use the Elves' crystal to heal .ing Gorg, !hy don't you just ask them if you can borro! it63

@ays later, .ord sat do!n on a rock, a iece of granite that stubbornly refused to erode or even be covered by the miles and miles of yello!"!hite sand that surrounded it. 0e !as s!eating more than he ever had in his life. 0e'd made forays into the desert before, to raid human caravans for fruit and steel and oil, but he'd never tried to cross the damnable e$ anse before. -ortunately, his constitution !as u to it. Anfortunately, there !ere others among the Goblin troo s !ho !ere not so hysically re ared; a veritable line of Goblin cor ses tracked the sand behind him and the rest of the surviving troo s, their bodies already desiccating in the dry heat, the sand already covering their limbs, erasing them from sight and memory. -or a moment, he !ondered if they !ould have enough goblin o!er left to engage the Elves or take the elven fortress. ?ut then he looked out across the desert, first to either side of the trail of dried cor ses behind him, then to!ard the lain immediately in front of his rocky vantage. &here, tens of thousands of surviving Goblins milled and cro!ded, the noise of their encam ments causing the very sand to shudder, the glint of their steel armor a second sun on the face of the desert. .ord smiled a !ry smile.

When Emys had asked him about borro!ing the crystal, .ord had at first been s eechless. &he same flicker of intelligence that made him reconsider his crossing the desert had also made him consider Emys' suggestion. &hat assed, though, and then .ord had been amused. 1Emys, Emys, Emys,3 he said, s!ee ing the littlest Goblin in his enclave u into his massive arms. 0e sat do!n on a stony edestal much like the one in the desert )e$ce t this one had been !orn smooth by seated Goblins !hile the one in the desert !as jagged and rough*. 0e stroked her under her ale green chin and smiled do!n at her !ith a tenderness and good humor he sho!ed no one else. 1We are Goblins,3 he said and licked his li s in a fatherly fashion. 1(s Goblins, !e have three things that can never be denied. -irst, !e have the strength to do anything !e !ant % strength of arms, strength in numbers, strength in s irit.3 0e cradled Emys and beamed at her, his voice gro!ing softer and softer until he !as !his ering. 1Ne$t, !e have a destiny. (ll the ancient !ritings and all the teachings of our ancestors say that !e, the Goblins, are destined to rule the !hole continent, even the !hole !orld.3 (s .ord s oke, the other Goblins in the enclave slo!ly came out from hiding, sure that once again Emys had managed to tem er their master, soothe their father's ire. Goblin eyes glo!ed in the dim torchlight around .ord and Emys. /ointed Goblin ears ricked u and t!itched as the o!erful Goblin s oke. 1-inally,3 .ord said, 1because of our strength and the inevit% , the uh, inev%, the er, uh, theB theB because of our destiny, !e Goblins have a ride !e can't deny, a ride !hich !ill not let us sim ly ask, like beggars on some human city's streets, for the use of the Elves' crystal. It is our destiny, our right, sim ly to take it.3 Emys furro!ed her eyebro!s at him. Whenever she did this, .ord gras ed some!here in his dim cunning that she !as thinking dee er than he ever could. In much the same uncanny !ay he could sense !hen someone !as sneaking u behind him on a battlefield, he could sense that he needed to sto Emys from ressing him further. 1In truth, little one,3 he said, un!avering, 1that crystal is ours by right, and it !ould actually do a disservice to the gods and to destiny, not to just reach out and seize !hat is rightfully ours.3 Emys had looked at him and blinkedC and then he'd stood u , lo ed her back do!n on the hard stone floor of the cavern, !inked at her, turned, and bello!ed to the other female Goblins still hiding in the recesses and the dark, 1Gods be damned, !here is the dinner I re:uire6 What have you (== been doing !hile I've been gone63

Even as her father )although sometimes she failed to see a likeness* !as sitting on a rock in the middle of the desert, thinking about her, Emys sat do!n on a half"rotted log that jutted from the loamy dirt at the edge of the -orest of the Elves. ,ome!here to the north!est of !here she sat, she could see trails of smoke from the Goblin army's various cam s. ?et!een her and them lay a cou le hundred miles

of desert. ,he kne! that the terrain they !ere advancing across !ould sometime soon begin to get rocky and hilly, then become grassy and moist, almost s!am y in the lo! laces )but still hot*, and finally !ould begin to slo e u !ard, a!ay from the desert, u , u , u to the edge of the -orest !here she no! sat. ,he felt a little sad for the foliage, ho!ever s arse, that her father and his cronies !ould soon be ravaging and des oiling. ,he !as miles ahead of them for t!o reasons; she !as alone, and alone she moved much faster than Goblin hordeC she also rose earlier than they did. &he morning they had all set out, in fact, she !as u and out !ell before the sun, !ell before the first Goblin soldier stirred or o ened his eyes. (nd !hen she got u each day, she started !alking immediately. ,he could imagine the other Goblins getting u , making their nasty breakfasts )she ate her cereal and cold ham as she !alked*, donning their armor, erha s fighting !ith each other a little, looting the bodies of those !ho'd died during the night, and then finally hearing, if not heeding the call to move out. 0o! long it robably took for them to actually get moving made her shake her head. (lone, she also didn't have to !ait for stragglersC and she !asn't !earing any armor, just a canvas sli , a belt from !hich hung a bunch of ouches, a kna sack, and some tough"soled !alking shoes. ,he'd thought about bringing along a short s!ord or a dagger, but decided against it. If something attacked her, she !ould be dead regardless, given ho! small she !as, therefore it made no sense to rovoke anyone by looking hostile in any !ay. ,o here she !as, sitting and eating a :uick lunch, ga#ing into the eaves of the elven !ood. ,he recogni#ed it as a forest because of the descri tions of forests that she'd overheard or read )mostly overheardC there !eren't many books !here she lived*. ,he'd never seen this many trees together in one lace. ,he !as ama#ed at ho! the overhang of leaves cast shado!s much like the ones that ermeated the Goblin caverns. (nd yet, the verdure of it made it less o ressive, and the hint of sunlight that beamed occasionally through the leaves, or illuminated some of the leaves from !ithin like flat, veiny, vibrant torches, made the forest seem to scintillate like some great hulking creature full of life and light. Which, Emys su for days. &hen, !hen she finished it, s!allo!ing the last bite, she stood and !i ed her hands on her sli . ,he !as nervous, she had to admit, but she !as determined to see this thing through. (nd finally, follo!ing !hat a eared to be a foot ath into the forest, Emys took a dee breath, s:uared her narro! shoulders, and lunged into the !oods. osed, !as !hat the forest !as. 0er eyes never left the !ood as she che!ed on the cold, salted, and cured ham that had sustained her

.ord roared as he s!ung his olea$ at the tree. &he a$'s blade !as dull, though, so instead of severing the trunk neatly, it instead shattered the tree into thousands of s lintery, some!hat !et ieces that fell, little !ooden raindro s, onto .ord and the Goblins around him. ,ome of the shar er s linters dre! blood. (nother s!ing and another felled tree. &he sound of it !as like thunder, accom anied by e$ losions of leafy green rather than bursts of lightning. (nother roar and s!ing. (nd another. &he Goblins !ho had made it to the edge of the forest, a little under D9,999 of them, had s read in a line miles long and ranks thick !hen they came to the !ood. (t an order from +ark, !hich echoed u and do!n the line, the Goblins had charged into the trees, bludgeoning, severing, and tram ling them. No!, the line surged for!ard % the Goblins had come a hundred yards in mere minutes, leaving a stri of stum s and s linters behind them. 0ere and there, small fires s uttered. &he original lan % to burn the !ood before them % had been all but abandoned. &he flora of the !oods !as much !etter than they'd antici ated, a sur rising number of the dead Goblins behind them in the desert !ere the ones !ho'd brought tinderbo$es )and looters had mostly disregarded these in favor of more !ea ons and food*. .ord s!ung at another tree, a tall, foot"thick elm. ?ut this time, the tree didn't give, didn't s linter or break. Instead, it s!ayed a little, a fe! leaves fell from it, and the iron"bound, cured oak shaft of .ord's a$ cracked, sending an a!ful shudder u to his elbo!s. 0is eyes and mouth o ened !ide in sur rise. 0e s!ore aloud and held the a$ shaft u to his face, s:uinting no! at the lace !here the thick !ood had been com romised. <ight at that moment, a strange sound filled .ord's large, missha en, ointed, and ierced ears. It sounded like a cross bet!een a !histle and a hiss, a brief sound that crescendoed and then faded in the s an of a second. (nother sound like it follo!ed, then another, then another. &he sounds seemed to be coming from different laces dee er !ithin the forest. .ord glanced a!ay from his broken olea$ to!ard the lace !here one of the noises ended. +ust in time, he sa! one of his soldiers, a hardy, broad"shouldered brute named Nik, sto in his tracks, dro his broads!ord, and reach to!ard his face. ( silver"shafted, !hite"fletched arro! oked out of Nik's eye socket. &he big Goblin fell to his knees, and then knelt there, still. 0is arms fell motionless by his sides, so that his knuckles sank into the soft earth. &h!i . &h!i . &he strange sound no! surrounded .ord, and he looked around himself des erately. Every!here, his fello! Goblins !ere falling like the trees themselves, fleshy trees !ith limbs of muscle

and sine!, blooming !ith flo!ers of silver arro! and oo#ing a sa of blood. &hey iled higher and higher around him, bristling !ith countless arro! shafts. .ord glanced do!n the line to his left and sa! mayhem, glanced do!n the line to his right and sa! the same. No! the edge of the forest !as in layers % the grasslands gave !ay to the ra#ed trees, !hich gave !ay to the felled bodies, !hich gave !ay at last to the darkened eaves of the forest itself. 0ere and there, .ord could see a lone Goblin, still standing knee"dee in a ile of his comrades. &his lasted for less than a minute. &hen, almost simultaneously, every one of them fell as !ell. (nd then there !as silence. .ord stood, alone, his broken a$ still clutched in both hands, the shock of hitting the ungiving elm still aching in his funny bones. ,lo!ly, he became a!are of his o!n labored breathing rising and falling, rising and falling in his ears. &hen, above this, he heard groans, at first seemingly distant, but then nearer, nearer, until he reali#ed that they came from all around him. 0is ga#e shifted do!n, and he sa! that the Goblins closest to him % those of his o!n troo % had not been killed by the rain of arro!s )!ith the e$ce tion of Nik*. &hey !ere ierced, torn, maimed, and cri very much alive. 1.ord,3 one moaned at him from a fe! feet a!ay. 1.ord.3 &he !ounded Goblin lay against a half" to led tree, three arro!s sticking out of each of his forearms and three out of each of his thighs % t!elve in all. &he Goblin coughed blood. 1.ord63 he re eated. (nother voice then said his name. (nd !hereas the !ounded Goblin's voice !as !eak and gruff, full of gravel and blood, this voice sounded noble, strong, and velvety. It seemed to come from the trees themselves % each individual tree, and all of them together. It filled .ord's malformed ears, resonated in his brain. 1.ord of the Goblins.3 0e sco!led and looked around. 0e !as not afraid. Whatever had ha ha Mostly, .ord !as just angry. 1.ord, father of Emys,3 the voice said. (nd then he !as confused. (nd !ith that confusion, and !ith the utterance of his favorite daughter's name, .ord faltered a little, lo!ering his useless a$. ,ome of his anger left him. 1.ord, you have been s ared because of your daughter,3 the voice said. 1What nonsense is this63 .ord demanded. 1Where is she6 Where is Emys63 1,he is on her !ay home already, accom anied by an entourage of elven !arriors, !ho carry !ith them the >rystal of ,alameric, !hich your army sought. &hey !ill deliver it to your eo le, use it to heal your king and any others among you !ho are ill, then return !ith it here.3 ened, !hatever !as ening, it did not frightened him % no death or torture or ain could do that. led, but they !ere all, some thirty strong,

1What63 .ord raged. (nd to reiterate, he said, 1What6 What6 What63 17ou and your army came far in your effort to achieve the crystal, but !e could have !arned you sim ly to stay at home. On our lands, under our stars and the leaves of our trees, you cannot stand against us. We kne! you !ere coming since you set out, and !e !ere ready.3 .ord ans!ered !ith a roar, and s!ung his a$ through the air so hard that it !histled. When he jerked it to a halt, inches above a fallen tree limb on the ground, the inertia of his action finished the job the elm had begun, and the a$ sna ed in half. 1Never23 .ord screamed. 1We could have taken you23 ( tiny chorus of chuckles, like tinkling bells, filled his ears. 1No,3 the voice re lied. 17ou could not. &ake another look around you, .ord. &here is a dead Goblin for every dead tree. 7ou !ere s ared any harm for your daughter's sake, and your closest friends !ere s ared their lives for your sake, so that you might all go home and bear !itness to everything you've seen and heard. &he Goblins are a strong race, but foolish. &his is a lesson long in coming.3 .ord huffed. .ord seethed. &hen .ord looked around again, and this time he sa!, some distance a!ay from him, +ark. +ark's neck !as ringed !ith a collar of arro!s, !hich ierced his throat at even intervals. 0is eyes stared, em ty, back at .ord. One of his gnarled fists clutched a severed tree limb. 1Go no!, .ord,3 the voice said. 1&ake your life, take your friends, and return to your daughter and your eo le. (nd don't come back, unless you come as your daughter did, su Goblins !ould try.3 .ord stood there for a long time, !atching the edge of the !oods for some movement, some object that he could hurl insults and hate at. Nothing moved, and the groans of his comrades, a bloody car et at his feet, soon gre! louder. .ord o ened his mouth to say one last thing to the forest and the voice, but thought better of it, erha s finally finding some of his daughter's !isdom. &hen he stoo ed over, grabbed one of his fello!s, and slung the oor creature over his shoulder. 1Get u , you Goblins that can !alk23 he yelled. 1Our mission is a success. We're going home.3 (nd !ithout a glance behind him to see if anyone !as follo!ing his lead, he !alked a!ay into the desert. EEE -or more from Will .enyon, visit; &!itter; htt ;FFt!itter.comFE2F!illiamkenyon ,mash!ords; htt ;FF!!!.smash!ords.comF rofileFvie!F!illkenyon Will .enyon's =ittle >orner of the Aniverse; htt ;FF!!!.! licant, genuine, and kno!ledgeable of her lace and !hat it !as she !as asking. We can live in eace, if only you and the

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