by Casey Nash
The Lord of Oblivion plans his next move in the game that the rulers of the world play.
The aquatic, warm, beautiful eyes in question were currently locked onto those of a clearly uncomfortable goblin, who did not seem to have the faintest appreciation for how beautiful or aquatic they looked. The goblin was one of an assemblage of figures seated around a table that was the predominant furnishing in the Goblin King's throne room. It (the table, not the goblin) loosely resembled a circle, but one point of it extended itself in a tapered expanse that reached to the king's throne, allowing His Majesty to both partake in the meetings and impress upon all present that he was a king (for it would never do for them to forget it).
One way to describe the table's shape would be to use Ceravic's personal moniker for it. He may have called himself by the rather fearful title of 'Lord of Oblivion,' but that in no way implied that he did not have a sense of humor. He did, and it typically presented itself by means of stating the absurd in perfectly modulated tones, so as to leave all those who heard it to wonder for days afterward if he had been joking or not. It was in this manner that he, without fail, and without ever the slightest jocular implication, referred to the table as the Drumstick.
The goblin who was nervously shifting under the singular intensity of his master's gaze manifested his discomfiture by means of a truly horrific odor, an acrid pervasion of the senses that caused a momentary reeling of even the most disciplined of minds: the goblin was sweating.
The intensity of Ceravic's gaze was belied by his voice, which was used in nothing more severe than its usual soft, sharp tone. It was, in fact, downright friendly.
"As head of my goblin intelligence--" here the Goblin King paused to glance at a black-robed figure who sat in the chair closest to the throne itself, and his face underwent a brief contortion that could (arguably) have been termed a smile, "--you were no doubt aware of the barbarians' march on the valley that lies at the foot of this castle."
Perceptibly agitated, the goblin responded shakily, "Yes, I was very much aware of them, Your Majesty." Here professionalism, and a scintilla of confusion, entered his voice, pushing aside what had sounded very much like fear. "You will recall that it was I who deployed the army into the valley with instructions for the generals to remain hidden until the savages arrived. And I am very much dismayed, and very much confused, to receive the report that I did: that the army was wholly annihilated!"
"Distressing news, to be sure." The Lord of Oblivion picked up a hammer that lay for no immediately apparent reason on one of the arms of his throne, and examined it idly. "But may I ask when you received it? It seems to have been a surprise attack. I myself wouldn't have known anything about it if I had not just returned from examining that debacle."
"I was contacted by scouts who had been given instructions to observe the start of the encounter, and then report back to me," the goblin answered promptly.
The black-robed figure seated closest to the throne shared a glance with its occupant and slowly shook his hooded head.
The king nodded with another ephemeral smile, as though a reasonably entertaining joke had just been shared, and spoke to the goblin, just the faintest trace of that smile still lingering on his face, as though forgotten. "So the scouts who took their leave at the beginning of the battle--" he laid an amused emphasis on beginning-- "returned to tell you how it ended." He laid a similar emphasis on the antonym. "That is absolutely astounding, Glate."
Glate stared uncertainly at his king. As head of goblin intelligence, he was blessed with perhaps an iota more brainpower than a typical representative of his race. That is to say, he was capable of coherent, semi-sophisticated speech, had a rudimentary understanding of the concept of manners, and was capable of issuing several consecutive sentences of dialogue without forgetting what he was saying. It was thanks to the slightly higher level of phrenic faculties of which he was possessed that he had been able to deduce that something was amiss. He put his already strained mind to work at identifying it. The man to his left, a heavily armored, very large man, wheezed, stood up, and moved several spaces down the table; Glate's mental exertions were causing an increase in his already profuse sweating.
"Ceravic, if I may," began the black-robed figure in a voice that was as sardonically inflected at the moment as it was at any given time. "To spare you all the exposure to Glate's ... stress, and to put aside the positively nightmarish idea of time-traveling goblins, I propose the possibility that Glate was present at the battle, but did not, perhaps, feel like subjecting himself to the fates to which he had the misfortune of witnessing others succumb."
"You mean the possibility that he turned tail and fled like a coward."
"I mean the certainty that he turned tail and fled like a coward."
"Ah. I see."
Glate was still deep in thought for the majority of this exchange, but he managed to catch the end of the black-robed one's statement. In high dudgeon, he stood up and demanded "Did Nex just call me a coward?!"
"More or less, yes," replied Ceravic, "so did I, in fact. And he is properly referred to as the sorcerer, or if you choose to address him directly, Magus," he finished in mild admonishment.
"Magus, sir, my lord... Your Grandest Eminence... any will do," the sorcerer amended with a negligent wave of a pale, slender hand. "Your Godliness," he added musingly, as an afterthought.
In tones of great outrage, Glate declared, "The sorcerer may call me a coward, but I--" the goblin paused to add the proper amount of dire import to his words "--I call him a murderer!" He glanced about, perhaps awaiting an astonished gasp or two. When none were forthcoming, he supplied one himself, then choked on the noxious fumes that he himself was exuding.
"A taker of lives? Me? Well, I never. Is my Lordship going to permit such a preposterous accusation to stand?" The face beneath the hood's shadows was indiscernible, so the mocking sneer he was wearing had to be conveyed via a sardonic drawl, heavy with satire and underlying laughter.
"The only thing preposterous about it is the fact that Glate states it as though it's some kind of surprise, when we are all perfectly aware that you consider holocaust to be an answer to boredom," answered the Goblin King dryly.
"Your Majesty has never expressed the slightest objection to my hobbies before; they are, after all, directed exclusively towards your enemies."
"My King, if I may," said Glate hurriedly, "he says he limits his targets to your enemies only, but, you were at the battlefield, you said. Did you not see the blackened corpses of thousands and wonder how it happened?" The goblin glared over in the sorcerer's direction. "Well, I saw how it happened, and the terror it inspired was the cause of my retreat. A low chant echoed through the valley, in a voice we are all familiar with, not to mention sick of, and brought with it a colossal torrent of fire that ripped its way through barbarians and goblins alike--"
"Very few goblins," Nex interrupted with mild vestiges of apology in his voice, "I tried my very best, but..." the mage paused thoughtfully, then said with a shrug, "Fire doesn't discriminate."
The Lord of Oblivion looked at the sorcerer, and when he spoke, it was with enough heated incredulity to possibly be interpreted as anger. "That was you?"
There was a ripple around the Drumstick as heads recoiled from the King.
Alone in being unmoved, Nex reiterated, "Very few goblins were caught in it. Less than ten, I should imagine. Hundreds of the enemy were incinerated. Without my intervention, those hundreds would have been free to beat your even more of your goblins to pulp." The sorcerer returned Ceravic's searching look unrepentantly, and the King let the matter drop.
"Well, with that cleared up, I have another matter to discuss, which may or may not be of interest to you all," the Goblin King said, and something in his tone caused the seated nobles to tense.
"Marin is dead."
The tension in the room only increased.
The nobility in the room exchanged looks of confusion and worry and disbelief. The royalty in the room watched the nobility. The sorcerer watched the royalty.
Finally, Sobgib, a Duke, and the leader under Ceravic, asked, "How?"
"It was Teth," Ceravic said darkly. "It had to have been Teth."
"So you don't know," Nex said leadingly. "You are guessing."
"I am deducing. No one else would dare break the Rules," Ceravic said confidently.
"I do believe Teth was Marin's ally," Nex pointed out.
"Teth only makes alliances to later break them. Something Vishesque should really keep in mind." Ceravic looked then at Draven, the elven emissary from Hope Forest.
Somewhat stiffly, Draven said, "I believe the Lord of Hope can handle himself."
"Your beliefs do not interest me," Ceravic said, quite dismissively. "By the way, while it's on my mind, what would a squad of elves have been doing in the southern valley?"
Draven evinced confusion.
"There were at least twenty elven corpses in that mess out there," Ceravic said, for the sake of clarity.
Draven evinced shock. Rather numbly, he said, "The Lord of Hope frequently sends scouting parties out to preempt surprise attacks."
"How's that working out for him?" Nex asked. The nobles ignored him. Or, at least tried to. But they could not hide their tightening faces and clenching hands from Nex's keen eyes, which were always on the lookout for weakness.
"It was a bad day all around, then," Ceravic said. "Elves, goblins, barbarians..."
"Marin," Nex added.
"I didn't care in the slightest about Marin."
"You brought him up."
"His death has inspired me."
"Teth has inspired you, then," Nex said. "That can't be good."
Ceravic smiled ephemerally. "By killing Marin, Teth has changed the rules of the Game. We are going to play by the new rules." Another smile came and went. "We are going to end the Game." He met every pair of eyes in the room. "And, by end, I mean, win."
"If we win, we will be winners," Nex observed uselessly. The remark got him one exasperated look after another. Someone muttered, "Well put."
A human named Mane spoke up. "Your Majesty? Win the Game? What about the other Players?"
"They're going to lose," Ceravic said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Which it was, really.
"And when you say lose," Nex said leadingly, "you mean... die."
"Calm down, Draven," Ceravic said suddenly, as the elf rose to his feet angrily.
Draven shot Ceravic a scathing look of disbelief.
"Vishesque and I don't even Play against each other. We never have. His death is not in the works."
"How reassuring," Draven said. He said it sarcastically, but he sat back down, suggesting he was, in fact, reassured.
"Sobgib. Ferus. I'll need the two of you in the Board Room momentarily. Everyone else is dismissed."
Everyone rose and went their separate ways, with two exceptions.
Nex watched them go, a sneer curling his shade-shrouded lips as they left. Shaking his head slowly to clear out his thoughts, he pulled back his hood and ran a white hand through dark, tousled hair. He blinked, then locked brilliant green eyes onto those of the Goblin King's, his superior, and his friend.
The King eyed him for a moment and said with the type of insincere mockery often used among friends, "'Your Grandest Eminence'?"
"I was joking," the sorcerer said dismissively.
"Hmm." Ceravic waved this off, and then began anew. "Your antics today,"
"Yes, my antics today. What did you think of them? Because I have some ideas that I'd like to run by you." Nex's face and voice were earnest, almost excited, revealing a level of genuine emotion that few saw.
Ceravic surveyed his friend coolly. Then, he rose, and Nex rose, and the two walked off together.