Battle in the Cave
The first spear Jason threw hit one of the goblins squatting over the butchered boy. He saw the goblin next to it go down too, Henry’s greenwood spear sticking out of its back. Jason felt tears run down his cheeks as he screamed in defiance and fear.
The goblins were caught completely off guard; most of their weapons were stacked in the corner of the room. Jason thanked God for small favors. He knew that without the element of surprise, he and Henry would have probably been dead already.
After the first two goblins went down, Henry ran forward to the goblin on top of the woman and nearly decapitated it with a mighty swing of his machete. The goblin died, pawing at its neck while blood drenched its filthy clothing. Then Henry spun and used his remaining spear in one hand and his machete in the other to hold off the two goblins that had been holding the woman down.
Jason found himself facing off against the boss goblin. In any other circumstance, he would have been hesitant and nervous about a life or death battle with a capable looking fantasy monster, but the horror of the butchered boy gave him crystal clear focus. Just like he’d always done in training, he slightly unfocused his eyes and watched the movements of his opponent.
The goblin boss was about four feet tall. Its armor looked primarily made of bones held together with sinew and Jason knew that his improvised wooden spears wouldn’t be much use against it. This meant he had to aim for unprotected areas like the head and arms.
The goblin carried an old looking, tarnished bronze sword and a shield made of hide. The goblin shrieked something at Jason, spittle foaming at the corner of its mouth. Jason kept calm and jabbed at its exposed areas while parrying with the two spears he still held in his other hand.
The goblins were nimble and surprisingly strong. Jason saw that the two creatures Henry was fighting were both armed with long knives and his friend was about to be overwhelmed. Jason made a split second decision and took a risk. He threw a spear at the goblin boss to get some breathing room, stepped back and threw his bronze knife at one of Henry’s opponents. The knife hit point first but Jason’s aim was off; he only managed to impale its thigh. It was enough, though.
The wounded goblin slowed down noticeably from the wound and Henry was able to stab it in the chest with the flint spear. Then Henry withdrew the spear, blocked a wild swing, and used his machete to finish the other goblin too.
The goblin boss would have probably killed Jason if he hadn’t been wearing his HEMA armor, but the training gear gave just enough protection to stop the bronze sword from cutting him into ribbons. His arm holding his blocking spear was still numb and he was covered in bruises, though. He had to grit his teeth and fight through the pain.
After Henry ruthlessly chopped each of the goblins on the floor to ensure they were down for good, he circled behind the goblin boss. Henry and Jason worked together to kill the leader, but it was still one hell of a fight. The goblin boss was surprisingly skilled and the bronze sword it used might have looked old, but was still dangerous. By the time the boss went down, Jason’s remaining spear was just one more chip away from being cut through.
Then all the goblins were dead. The only sounds in the dank, bloody, horrifying cave were Jason and Henry’s labored breathing. The woman on the ground had long since stopped screaming and was watching them with huge eyes, eyes that now carried a glimmer of hope. Henry shook his head and mumbled, “What kind of fucked up world is this?”
Jason slowly approached the traumatized woman and knelt down so he could talk to her at eye level. This close, he noticed that she was younger than he had originally thought and might be pretty under all the grime and filth. Her dusky skin was scratched all over. The woman’s ambiguous racial background gave her an exotic look. “Are you okay?” he asked.
The woman scrunched up her nose and responded in a language Jason had never heard before. He shook his head and asked, “Do you speak English?” As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he knew how stupid he sounded. He was on another planet, apparently somehow a sword and sorcery planet, and he just asked a local if she spoke English. Stupid stupid stupid, awkward Jason. At this rate I’ll have to change my name to Daniel Jackson.
The woman looked down, “Yes, I speak but I not perfect.” Jason’s jaw dropped. He glanced back at Henry who was trying to wake the injured old man with no success. When he turned back to the woman, she was also gazing at the old man with concern and obvious distress. “Man is grandfather. Please let help.”
Jason nodded dumbly and helped the woman to her feet while she tried to hold the tatters of her clothing together. She knelt down next to the old man, closed her eyes, and placed a hand on his head. Jason gasped as her palm suddenly began to glow.
He watched in fascination as the woman’s hand continued to glow and the old man’s injuries healed before his eyes. He’d never seen anything like it before. Based on the letter Dolos gave them coupled with his experiences so far, Jason was willing to believe magic existed on this world. Still, actually seeing it in person was amazing.
After the woman was done, the old, tawny skinned man no longer had any visible wounds and he began to breathe easier. The woman looked exhausted and sat limply on the cave floor. She obviously didn’t have the energy anymore to care about her destroyed clothes. As Henry began gathering up all the weapons, Jason sat down near the woman and gathered his thoughts.
He respectfully avoided looking directly at the woman due to her exposed body and asked, “How do you know English?”
The woman replied and pointed at the old man on the floor, “Grandfather from Africa.” Well, that explained some things but the implications were disturbing. It seemed Dolos might have been telling truth.
“My name is Jason. What is your name?”
“My name Mareen.”
Jason struggled with how to ask his next question, “Mareen, how did you heal that man?”
Mareen didn’t understand the question, evidenced by a shake of her head. Jason tried again, “Man sick now not sick. You did?”
“Ah!” nodded Mareen. “Grandfather.” She shrugged, “I am magic.”
“You mean you used magic?”
“I use magic. Body magic.”
“Mareen, can you help that boy over there?” Jason pointed to the corpse of the boy on the floor of the cave.
Mareen glanced over but quickly looked away and began to sob quietly. Jason let her have a few moments. Mareen shook her head. “Boy gone.”
Jason wanted to ask more questions, but he glanced at Henry and saw they were both thinking the same thing. They needed to get away from cave. Fast. There was no telling whether more goblins might show up.
After the men gathered anything that looked useful including the boss goblin’s bronze sword, Mareen helped them haul their makeshift weapons while Jason carried her grandfather in a fireman’s carry.
They made pretty good time at first, probably because their bodies were still pumped full of adrenaline. Henry lead the way back the way they’d come on the goblin trail. Jason was confused why they were going back the way they came and looked a question at Henry. His friend whispered, “Tracks. We can’t make a new trail from the cave.” Jason nodded.
Luckily, they didn’t see any more goblins. They turned off the path into the forest a little past the clearing where Henry and Jason first found the goblin trail. Then they walked about a quarter mile before lying down to watch the way they’d come. Mareen busied herself tending to her grandfather behind them.
Jason was still shaky but he gradually forced himself to calm down by approaching the situation like a programming problem. He needed to frame everything in logic so he could rationally process what happened. He glanced over at Henry who looked bored. That figures. Nothing ever seemed to affect Henry in any way other than temporarily pissing him off. He sighed.
Jason still felt like a bucket of raw nerves, but he managed to slow his breathing. It was quiet in the forest other than the sound of Mareen whispering to her grandfather. They waited for about half an hour in breathless anticipation, Jason and Henry tightly gripping spears, but nothing happened. No new goblins came screaming out of the trees.
Eventually, Henry tapped Jason on the shoulder and whispered, “We should get going. Mareen says her home is probably a few miles from here going downhill.” Jason nodded tiredly.
Once again, the two men and Mareen gathered everything up and Jason carried Mareen’s grandfather. It was slow going. Walking downhill while carrying heavy weight, especially over uneven terrain was exhausting. After about a mile, Jason switched carrying the old man with Henry. Then they switched off every mile or so.
Through his exhaustion, Jason blearily wondered if the day had gotten dark or whether the trees were just blocking most of the light. He could hardly see where he was going. In fact, the next two hours were a blur. Jason concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. He was so tired. So very, very tired. He just wanted to lay down and rest.
But he had to keep going. He knew the woman with them and the old man he was carrying were depending on him. He wouldn’t let them down. He’d never let anyone down again. He already let his mom down enough when he was a kid. He had to take that shame to his grave but he refused to add any more than was already there.
By the time the old man woke up, Jason was so tired he was practically sleep walking. He couldn’t remember if anything was said. He might have heard people talking, he might have even said something himself, but he couldn’t remember. The only thing he could recall before passing out was excited people carrying lights (maybe torches? He wasn’t sure) and helping him the rest of the way to where he was finally able to collapse into a heap and sleep.