Sometimes in Fantasy, there are places your protagonists just don’t go, but of course circumstances will make it necessary for them to go there anyway. In Dance of the Goblins, I established early on that although Count Anton had limited access to a friendly goblin cavern, there was one grotto that he had been vehemently warned off.
He wondered a moment if perhaps she had recognised the way to Lirrewot which was nearby. Creeping stealthily through the shadows by habit, he came to where the opening had always been and immediately noticed that the sign was gone. The opening itself seemed unchanged, but if he had not known exactly where it was, he could easily have walked right by it without noticing.
He dare not venture far inside. The goblins here would know of him, but they didn’t know him as Haghuf and his lot did. Haghuf had warned him long ago not to enter these particular tunnels. Apparently there was strong anti-human sentiment here at the best of times.
Just in case the reader hasn’t imprinted that piece of information, another character (Talla) gives Count Anton a similar warning’
‘The signs are gone now,’ he continued, ‘I think your people have taken them because I told Haghuf how the magicians recognise the ways. This one is very familiar to me, as it is so near my own castle. This is the way to Lirrewot.’
Suddenly she gripped his arm and spoke very seriously.
‘You must not come through this passage, Count Anton. There has always been anti-human sentiment among the goblins there. Now may be a bad time.’
Oh dear. We’ll learn eventually why humans simply don’t enter Lirrewot, but for now Count Anton has only the explanation of “anti-human sentiment.” We must keep in mind that we’re talking about goblins here. They can be extremely dangerous. You wouldn’t walk into a biker bar in a meter maid’s outfit and announce that all the motorcycles outside were illegally parked and about to be towed away, would you? Sometimes self-preservation requires a little common sense.
Having established that Lirrewot is a no go place, the rules of character abuse decree that Anton has to be given little choice about the matter later on. Skip ahead to page 184 and Anton finds himself in trouble with a group of revolting peasants who think he’s been protecting demons, because of his friendship with a goblin.
The shouts roused the other groups of men that had been patrolling the area. The Count had not realised how many there were, but from the vantage point of the small hill he could see men running towards him from all directions brandishing sharp weapons and shouting for his blood. He wondered for a moment where his guards were and whether the shouts would alert his own people within the castle. But there was no time. The southerners were closing on him. They were too much of an angry mob to expect other than to be torn limb from limb.
With no other choices before him, he leaped down to the entrance and ran into the moonlit shadows of Lirrewot cavern. His only thought was concealment. If he didn’t go too far in, perhaps he would not be noticed. It was possible that some of the men would search until they found the entrance as well, but would they be foolish enough to enter?
He knew the tricks of goblins well enough to find an alcove where men would be unlikely to look for him. Such hiding places were common near the entrances in particular, so that if an enemy entered the caverns they would find goblins both in front and behind them if they came in very far. Anton was grateful that he didn’t find a goblin already hiding in this one.
He closed his eyes, acknowledging to himself that he was afraid. It wasn’t death that frightened him, but the pain of a violent death at the hands of humans or goblins did not appeal. Given a choice between being ripped apart or eaten alive, he wondered if his magical disciplines would hold in such a situation enough to leave his body and travel into the astral realms before the worst of the violence. Neither promised to be an easy death.
He heard a few men run past his hiding place. Fools indeed. They ran without thought, too caught up in the chase either to notice the concealed prey or to consider the danger they ran towards. He heard the screams as they ran down the first stair, which came to an abrupt halt all too quickly. The goblins were indeed patrolling near the surface. Hopefully the blood-curdling shrieks would be enough to dissuade the others from following. The acoustics of the cavern were like a giant echo chamber which would reverberate the horrifying sounds out through the entrance, chilling the blood of any who stood outside.
Anton waited patiently, but there was no other sound. An eternity seemed to pass, yet there was nothing. At last he was reasonably sure that the men must have given up the chase, perhaps assuming him dead like their comrades. He consciously relaxed his shoulders, releasing the tension that the fear had raised in him. Slowly, he opened his eyes. He hoped to see nothing more than the empty cavern, still lit by the soft moonlight that spilt through the doorway just a few steps away.
Despite his optimism that he had managed to escape, he wasn’t entirely surprised to see the shadows before him broken by the reflection of moonlight from two pairs of large yellow eyes, looking directly at him. He almost chuckled as he thought to himself that they were far too big to belong to cats.
The cat reference is one for the humour topic as it refers to an earlier amusing incident. Oh there’s more. The topic at hand is ‘mortal peril’ is it not? With that in mind, we can’t let Count Anton simply talk his way out of a tight situation. Certainly not in Lirrewot, where no human must go.
Anton’s mind raced through his limited options. All of them demanded that he come out of his hiding place willingly. To wait for them to come in after him would mean certain death.
‘I am Count Anton,’ he said clearly in the goblin language. He hoped that identifying himself would at least make them hesitate to attack, although the two large goblins were certainly of the kind called Those Who Protect. They were very unlikely to extend the status of guest to him, even in these circumstances. Still, if he could stall their movements by talking to them, he might be able to get into a position where turning into Wolf would allow him to run for the door swiftly enough to escape. He dared not attack them, even in defence. That would be the one move that would make him goblin enemy forever, and even Haghuf himself might hunt him down for such a transgression.
‘I apologise for invading your realm uninvited,’ he continued, holding their gaze as he moved slowly to a more advantageous position, ‘but the humans were hunting me, intending to kill me for my friendship with your people…’
Suddenly his breath was knocked out of him by a powerful arm that scooped him unceremoniously into a clinch that defied the act of breathing at all.
‘No humans in the caverns!’ asserted the very large and muscular goblin who had come up from behind Anton.
Jiggling about like a rag doll in the grip of the goblin as the flapping feet ran down a passage, Anton was so surprised and disoriented that he could not react at first. The journey must have been very short or the goblin’s running was very fast. In the few seconds it took him to regain perspective so that he was able to determine which way was up, the goblin had reached his goal. Anton was twisted around once again as the goblin’s powerful arms lifted him above his head with no apparent strain, and casually threw him into a fissure.
He was immediately engulfed in complete darkness. In his mind’s eye, he remembered the pits that Haghuf had warned him to avoid. He had got the impression before that they were very deep, which was reinforced now as he continued to fall for what seemed an eternity. He supposed that he should count himself lucky that it was a particularly large opening, as all the flailing about that his unruly limbs could manage only met with open air, rather than with potentially very damaging abrasions from the sides of the pit. He tried not to think of the inevitable force of the landing, or what he might be landing on, when at last he reached the bottom. He must have fallen a great distance already, far more than he could expect to survive through the impact when at last he hit solid ground.
He was even more surprised when the fall ended in a sudden rush of changed air in a dimly lit open space and a splash, which held an impact of its own as he plunged deep within the unexpected body of water. Until that moment, he had managed to maintain his equilibrium. Now as he rolled helplessly through the torrents of water caused by his own momentum through its depths, he wondered if the darker conditions within the water would allow just a glimpse of which way the bubbles from his breath floated so that he could determine which direction led to the surface. Whether there was any chance of reaching it before he drowned was another matter.
His will to live had carried him a long way through the series of events that brought him to this juncture, but it was beginning to fade as his attempts to blow bubbles in the dark water only resulted in less air in his lungs and no clue as to which way he should swim. He began to float helplessly, having run out of options… and of air. He had begun to accept that at least drowning was reported to be a peaceful death.
Then he felt something sharp on his ankle and thought he heard a high-pitched sound pierce the water. This was followed by something snaking around his waist yet again. It felt to be about the diameter of an arm, but certainly longer. Anton had a vision of some form of horrifying tentacled beast. There’s something in the water.
We’ve heard that phrase before in the book. There’s something in the water. Whatever it is has feeding frenzies and even the more friendly goblins won’t talk about it. But we’re only 2/3 through the book so despite having been thrown down a pitch black pit into an underground lake full of some unnamed horror that eats flesh, surely Anton will have to survive, won’t he? I wonder…