by Casey Nash
The Lord of Oblivion returns home, finding two dead armies at the foot of his kingdom.
A bright yellow sun shone in an azure sky, sending its warm, golden radiance toward a positively resplendent castle overlooking a valley. That radiance did not reach that castle, due largely to the black masses of storm clouds that drifted in hot, wind-driven swirls between the sun and the castle.
Had the golden radiance succeeded in penetrating the clouds, it would have illuminated a remarkable scene in the valley: corpses, in numbers far greater than could be estimated here, strewn in every which way, each a testament to an entirely unique brand of internecine. The ground was completely obscured by the enormous quantities of debris. Debris here included weapons, bodies, fragments of weapons and bodies, and, most notably, blood. All things considered, it was perhaps all for the best that the sun remained hidden by the storm clouds.
The hot winds rushing past the mess of shattered blades and bodies produced a shrill, eerie song that serenaded the fallen. These fallen were of several races. There were the tall, lordly bodies of the elves, whose corpses were the minority by far in comparison to the rest, and clad not in armor but leather-padded vests. The elvish portion of the carnage was concentrated in a small alcove in the eastern side of the mountain walls that enclosed the valley. There was a thin, barely noticeable path that wound through and out of the mountains leading immediately up to this alcove. In the southern half of the valley, there lay the much greater numbers of the brutish, low-browed and thick-bodied savages whose cadavers retained their feral snarls and otherwise manic facial contortions. And finally, the small, twisted mockeries of life that cluttered every area of this outdoor charnel in quantities outdoing all the others combined by at least threefold.
It was to this latter group, the goblins, that the attentions of a lone individual were now directed. This individual, a human male, strode leisurely through the devastation. He paused here and there, seemingly at random, his booted feet treading indifferently over broken weapons and bodies. His expression was that of detached interest, with perhaps a hint of disappointment; he may as well have been perusing faintly displeasing literature. Every now and then he would nod his head slightly with something of a brief compression of the lips that, given the time, might eventually work its way into a frown, and move on a bit farther into the corporal wreckage, where he would again halt and let his gaze drift about the ground.
An observer, had there been one, might have thought he was some type of thief, appraising the property of the dead, but for the rich and lordly clothes draping his slender frame: long blue and red robes whose hems were slowly gathering blood, minute gemstones glittering on his lithe fingers, and the intricately crafted circlet of silver and red atop his sporadically nodding head, all of which clearly denoted a person of high or even royal status.
Ceravic was not searching for items of value; he had all that he could ever need. He was reading the battlefield, inferring from the positions of the bodies how the battle must have gone, for he had had the bad luck to have been unable to attend it himself. He examined the corpse of one of the elves, then picked up the implement it had died holding, his lip curling in an expression of distaste as he slammed it down over his knee, fragmentizing it with a sound like glass shattering.
He shook his head. He had never been able to comprehend whatever quixotic fixation of the elves it was that possessed them to craft such absurdly fragile weapons. He moved on to a patch of goblins and stopped again. As he regarded the bloodied scales and torn claws of the diminutive monsters, his face darkened. His unlined face, normally devoid of any lasting expression, compressed into a grimace that could have indicated sadness, anger, or a bit of both.
"I'm so sorry, my friends," he said to the dead goblins. He spoke with the air of one unaware that he is speaking. His voice that was both soft and sharp, like silk stretched over a blade. He prodded a supine goblin with the toe of his now blood-drenched boot. "I chose a bad day to be away." He leaned down, as if about to share a secret with the body. "But what I learned..."
It was at this point that the presumed corpse, wrenched its mangled face up from the bloody dirt. Bulging red eyes bulged all the more, and the dislocated jaw moved.
"Sire!" the goblin forced out.
The man thusly addressed (conceivably a king) widened his eyes slightly; he had been quite sure that he was the only being in the vicinity still capable of breathing (besides the overhead vultures). He offered his arm to the goblin. Its clawed hand trembled up to meet the richly robed arm being offered. He pulled the goblin to its feet and examined the mutilated body, then looked the goblin in its pinkish, swollen eyes. In them, he saw hope. A fervent, tremulous, ludicrous hope.
He crushed it immediately. "You're going to die, Reket," he said tonelessly.
The doomed being--whose name was Reket--stared back into this human's aquatic, green-flecked blue eyes with unblinking incomprehension. "Your Majesty...?" it gurgled pitifully. "You... you're here... you can save me."
His Majesty stared back. A distant anger, a pain he was not truly allowing himself to feel, smoked in the eyes of his otherwise composed face. Swallowing, he said, with just a tinge of bitterness, "I can't help you." Hope faded from the wretch's eyes. "You can help, me, though," this man who had been addressed as "Your Majesty" said.
The miserable being's eyes went from despair to rapturous resolution, finding solace in being able to be of further purpose to his King before the imminent end. "What do you need, my Lord?"
"I need you to come with me," his Lordship answered, and together they hobbled deeper into their morbid surroundings. As they went, the goblin regaled his master with the memorable feats he had performed in battle, the number of barbarians' knees he had bashed in, the throats he had slit from behind, the foes he had dispatched by feigning death and then attacking them with their guard down. The king lauded all his accomplishments with many a "My word," and "You don't say," which the goblin accepted as extravagant praise.
He was just narrating a momentous battle which had pitted a barbarian enemy against himself and twelve of his fellow goblins, which had been going fairly well, when they were interrupted.
Ceravic and the broken Reket stopped when a pile of goblin bodies exploded off of a rising barbarian, who forced his ponderous body upright with an ear-slapping roar.
Ceravic's lordly features compressed in a wince at the sudden eruption of sound.
"Noisy brutes," he muttered with irritation.
The sight of an enemy seemed to fill his goblin friend with new strength. Reket loosed his hold on his Lord's arm and stood on his own two feet.
"Blykstoks gect uglrushneft! Gaf grantatch!" he shrieked with unbelievable power for so damaged a creature. Sinking into a combat stance, Reket shot a questing look over one torn shoulder.
The crown atop Ceravic's head gleamed as he nodded the goblin forward.
"Show no mercy."
The delight that often overtook goblins when they entered battle possessed Reket, and he charged forward with the signature heedlessness of the goblin horde. A jump launched him straight at the towering savage's face. Behind the goblin's back, Ceravic made a quick, almost invisible gesture. Red light flared as quickly as any flash of lightning, and the enemy fell backwards, dead.
Ceravic waved his head in appreciation.
"Well done, Reket," he said.
He sheathed his ruby-encrusted sword before the goblin turned back around.
"Blykstoks gect uglrushneft!" The goblin said proudly.
"Gaf grantatch," Ceravic answered. The harsh words sounded strange coming from his lordly lips.
He went and joined the goblin once more, and the two went on their way.
They reached their destination. An enormous black streak marred the battlefield, traversing from one end to the other. It was filled with charred skeletons and black powder that had presumably once been skeletons, and was wide enough for the goblin and his twelve heroic comrades to have lain in side by side.
Ceravic, who was known by such titles as "Goblin King," and "Lord of Oblivion," glanced down at his subordinate and waited for an explanation. When the goblin said nothing, but merely stood staring somberly at this new brand of obliteration, its eyes oddly blank, he let out a slight sigh, followed by a prompting cough.
"Reket?" The goblin sank to the ground, apparently overwhelmed by the wreckage and remained there, transfixed.
With the slightest trace of exasperation in his voice, the Goblin King asked the question that he had assumed was already implied, "Did you see how this happened?"
Reket responded by dying.
The King, swearing irritably, stood over him a moment more, glaring at the corpse with what he perhaps thought was enough intensity to revive it. When this proved ineffective, he turned northward, heading back to the castle from whence he had come, leaving the vultures to their feast.