As you can probably tell, the idea for this story came when I was writing a role-play game scenario. In the original version, the ending was quite different. But while thinking of alternate endings I thought of this one. I did come up with others, but this was the strongest and most suited to a short story, so this is the one you get! Of course, in a role-play game setting, the outcome is decided by player actions and the clickety-click of the randomising polyhedrons of fate, or dice. When writing a story, I am in full control.
* * *
Being adventurers, they were, of course, a mixed bunch. There were seven of them; a mage, a cleric, and an assortment of fighters. Officially, the leader of the party was called Groop, which was hilarious to some folks. They’d navigated along a trade route and then left the beaten path to pass through a wild forest and had finally arrived at the entrance to what looked like the burrow of some large creature.
“This is it?” Mostil said in disbelief. He was the scout, dressed in dark leather armour.
Groop smiled. “I know it doesn’t look much, but this is the back door. Once we get inside we’ll find the buried temple and so much treasure we’ll have to come back three times to get it all.”
Doutzen moved closer and sniffed. “What’s in there, smells like gobbos,” she said, hands on her twin short swords.
“Yep, just some goblins between us and the treasure.”
The mage, Sandinforn, moved closer. “When you say ‘some’ how many, exactly?”
Groop gave him a look. “Exactly, I don’t know, but they’re only goblins. When have we ever had a problem dealing with goblins?”
“So far, we haven’t, but that’s no indication of future success,” Sandinforn pointed out.
Groop drew his axe and headed down into the burrow, the head of his weapon glowing with yellow light. “Let’s just go, time’s wasting.”
The others dutifully followed, a similar glow on helmets, blades and shield bosses.
As Groop had promised, the burrow twisted and turned until it led the party to a blank stone wall. A few paces above their heads was an opening, not much more than a narrow slot between huge pieces of cut stone. With practised ease, the party helped each other up and, with various degrees of trepidation, they crawled between the blocks and emerged into a long corridor. The route to their left was blocked with stone and soil, so they turned right and headed along it. They found a doorway at the end, the walls around it carved with interlocking designs.
The cleric, a tall woman called Grace, moved up to examine it. “Hmm, well, yes. Interesting. These designs are ancient Yecish, indicating this temple is – was – dedicated to Goboth. No one worships him now, probably why the temple was abandoned.”
“Very good Grace,” Groop smiled. “Let’s keep moving.”
They navigated through a series of small rooms, encountering nothing more dangerous than a few flat snakes and a giant bomb beetle. Shortly after, they saw the first sign of goblins, nothing more than bones and discarded refuse. A couple of rooms later, something moved up ahead; a shadow turning a corner and footsteps rapidly fading.
“See, I told you. Just a few goblins who are running away from us.” Groop gloated.
“You know why this place is empty?” Sandinforn asked. “Because it’s empty.”
“What?” Kryborne asked, lowering his shield to the ground. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Slingshot, the archer, explained: “There’s no treasure, so nothing to guard, so no guards.”
“Ahh, right, got it.” Kryborne nodded.
“Come on, let’s keep moving,” Groop ordered. “Follow the footsteps, they’ll lead us to where we need to be.”
Sometime later they emerged into a huge central chamber accessed by ascending suitably dramatic stairs. They’d found several small footprints in the dust, some goblin-sized arrows, and more typically goblin rubbish piles. Apart from a few shadows they’d seen no sign of the little creatures.
The party hesitated just outside the ornate doorway, suspecting a trap. They could see the edges of huge metal doors that could easily be swung shut once they’d entered. Sandinforn produced a large orb of light and floated it towards the altar at the opposite end as Mostil checked around for pressure plates or tripwires. Before the orb even reached the altar they noticed something glinting in the magical light.
“Is that gold I see?” Groop laughed.
“Looks like it,” Mostil whispered. “I can’t find any traps, so let’s go.”
Groop led the party along the centre of the chamber, all of them looking around for anything suspicious. All of the stealth and awareness were forgotten when they reached the altar. The base of it was a tree stump, fixed into the ground. Above this was a flat circular surface, bare apart from a layer of gathered dust. It was as high as Groops waist and made from solid gold.
“I told you!” Groop said. “This thing will set us up for life. No more smelly dungeon runs for us.”
“How do we get it home?” Sandinforn said, running his hands across the glossy surface.
“Looks like it’s fixed into the ground, probably why it’s still here,” Grace said.
“Let’s break out the rope and the wood axes, we’ll soon have it loose.” Groop sounded very confident. “Mostil, watch the door.”
Mostil turned and froze. “Boss. There’s a goblin here.”
“Well get rid of it, we’re busy.”
“Boss, you better look.”
“What now? Oh, ok, yes. That’s a goblin.”
They all turned around one by one, their mouths falling open. Inside the chamber, beside the door, stood a goblin. Its head almost reached the roof twenty paces above the floor. In all other ways, it looked like and smelled like a goblin. It was carrying a crude club with nails in the end, was wearing a mismatched selection of dirty and rusty armour pieces and its teeth were black as it smiled.
“Don’t worry, it’s an illusion,” Groop said uncertainly. “Find the real one, it’s probably hiding somewhere.”
Sandinforn, who was concentrating on the goblin, whispered “I don’t think it is.”
“Of course it is!” Groop insisted.
At this point, the goblin spoke. “You mans come with dark magic. Bad you mans, bad magic! All die!”
It reached down and closed the heavy doors with a casual flick. They slammed together with a crash of doom. The goblin advanced towards them, club held high.
“Well Groop,” Sandinforn said, “you were wrong about there being a few goblins, there’s only one.”
“But you were right about something,” Grace added. “No more smelly dungeon runs for us.”