Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day Seven-Sixty-Three: Thump

Logan discovered much when he entered Pubton. 

The entry itself was not, in fact, a cake walk. Having spent the last two years sneaking into heavily-fortified Imperium cities, Logan underestimated the ingenuity of the goblins. Their defensive wall sported hundreds of secretive traps - traps upon traps upon traps, in some cases - that could not be detected by an amateur. These, combined with the eagle eyes, ears, and noses of the goblin sentries far above, stymied Logan for a good long while.

But only a while.

One lengthy session of creeping, leaping, sneaking, and back-attacks later, Logan landed in one of Pubton’s three public parks, dropping almost thirty feet down from the wall. He tucked and rolled behind a half-carved statue of Gok, wincing both at the poor craftsmanship and the ugliness of its subject. He’d met Gok several times as a child, and the goblin never failed to exude an air of unpleasant, shrewd perversion - especially when Queen Daena was present.

Gonna find you, mom, Logan vowed to himself, rising into a crouch. But we’ve got a few things to do first. Hold on, okay?

Logan crouched on the edge of what appeared to be a market, though one currently bereft of life. Market stalls, all looking quite rough and barren of supplies, stood abandoned in the early morning half-darkness. Logan thought this rather odd - merchants typically used the morning to set up their wares for the coming shopping day - but he shook the thought away, instead focusing on the benefits. Grabbing a ragged green tarp from one of the stalls, he pulled it around himself to camouflage his identity and ran for the nearest building. Soon he was zig-zagging through empty streets, drinking in as much detail as he could.

Only once in Logan’s life had he ever visited Goblinoster, and that was during his father’s shaky tenure as king. He’d disliked everything about it: the food sucked, the rain ruined the atmosphere, the architecture screamed ‘oppressive’, and Gok’s tower was about as comfortable for humans as a shoebox would be for a greyhound. Yet Logan’s greatest misgiving stemmed from the people themselves - Grylock aside he’d never liked goblins, as they always seemed capable of sniffing out pranks… or even the potential for pranks. They were far too sly, and Logan didn’t like dealing with sly opponents. He preferred idiots.

Dragomir had told Logan many stories of Pubton on the Matriarch. It sounded like a town of good, decent, and, largely, stupid folk. This Pubton, though… it oozed intelligence. Not book smarts, perhaps, but street smarts. Logan knew all too well how dangerous street smarts could be, and so he moved with calculated caution - starting with a short dip in a basket of rotten fruit. The worse he smelled, the better.

Pubton’s streets were long, winding, narrow, and altogether imposing. Logan moved from house to house, noting their smaller-than-average construction as he cut through alleys, hopped fences, and dove into piles of hay to avoid detection. Inhabitants proved rather scant, though, and despite the perpetual feeling of paranoia, Logan only spotted a few goblins going about their business. All were guards, and all appeared to be headed to sections of the wall, faces grim and grimy. Two led a chained troll down one street; the smell it gave off nearly overwhelmed Logan as he hid inside a shed.

Fuck me, that’s worse’n Traveller when he forgets to use a toilet. Logan breathed liberally through his mouth until the beast rounded a corner and disappeared. Still, this is weird. Lots of houses… but no people. And where’re the humans? Gok can’t have killed everyone, he’s not that vindictive… or stupid…

Logan got his answer after half an hour of quietly weaving through Pubton, heading towards Gok’s massive tower. It stood on a low hill, not far from what appeared to be a massive military barracks, and a huge crowd of people - human and goblin alike - waited at its base. More goblins gradually filled out the crowd as Logan watched from a distance, but the humans appeared to have been gathered in their entirety, all of them penned in place by goblin spears. Most, Logan noted, wore ankle bracelets, and to a person they were bruised, clearly mistreated, and depressed.

Yet these apparent prisoners, numbering in the hundreds, were not the worst off. Down the street from the goblin tower was what appeared to be a massive town square, and like the last it was filled with abandoned market stalls. Yet unlike the last it had one rather obvious occupant, a man Logan had only seen once, yet a man Logan would probably never forget. He was, after all, a brusque, terrible asshole, and one who stood out among the many assholes of the world.

Oswald the Farmer was seated upon a wooden platform in the middle of the square, raised high on rough stone steps for all to see. A thick, locked, iron belt encircled his broad waist, chained to the ground in four places - yet Logan could see no reason for the extra effort, as Oswald’s arms and legs had been severed from his body. He was nothing more than torso and head, a gag shoved into his mouth and looped through his shaggy hair. At first Logan thought he must be dead, but Oswald’s chest rose and fell rhythmically, and Logan soon realized that he was asleep. Upright, trapped outside, dirty as hell, and horribly mangled… but asleep.

Logan grimaced at the sight of Oswald. Gods. That’s Dragomir’s dad. Don’t have a great relationship, but… hells. Dragomir won’t like to hear this. Hope his mom is okay, she sounds nicer…

Forcing the enormous prisoner out of his mind for the moment, Logan made for the tower. He was forced to seek refuge in one of the market stalls, as the area in front of the tower had been kept clear for mass gatherings… such as the one Logan had, quite luckily, stumbled upon. It didn’t take long to find out why the people of Pubton were here, either.

At an unseen signal, slaver whips cracked. The clustered groups of chained humans, almost as one, rattled to attention and stared up the length of the tower. The goblins, a little more grudgingly, followed suit. They all looked to the glass enclosure at the top of the tower… and, more specifically, to the large balcony jutting out of its side, overlooking the meeting ground. A small figure stood upon the balcony, and Logan guessed who it must be at once.

“Greetings, people of New Gob,” said Gok. His voice echoed grandly throughout Pubton, and Logan suspected he was using some form of loudspeaker. “It warms my heart that ye’ve come out te treat with me on this fine mornin’. Very fine. How are ye?”

The goblins shouted intermittent comments varying in pitch and enthusiasm. Most, in fact, still seemed half asleep. The humans, on the other hand, screamed ‘WE ARE VERY FINE!’ in a single, pained voice. Logan noticed one man on the edge of the pack take a strong lick from a whip when he failed to speak up in time, and Logan wished he could target the goblin slaver with his blowgun. Alas, he’d left it with his father.

“That’s good,” Gok continued. “Ye’ve all come out bright ’n early te listen te me, so I’d best bring news, eh? Unfortunately, it’s more o’ the same: the blasted darkies ‘ve swept up another kingdom to the east. Grimsbane. Not terribly distinct, mind, but that happens with human colonies, eh? Haven’t the fortitude te remain standin’ in times o’ adversity.”

Fucking hypocrite, Logan thought, clenching his fists.

“But be ye not bothered!” Gok spread his hands, but his voice remained amplified; Logan realized that someone was holding the loudspeaker for him. “We goblins ‘re much tougher ’n that! We shan’t allow this fine city of New Gob te be overrun by those oilers! We’ll protect everyone inside these stone walls, ’n by doin’ so, protect our investment! Do ye acknowledge this as true, my fine wards?”

The humans yelled “WE DO, OUR MIGHTY AND POWERFUL LIEGE!” back to Gok.

A hearty clap blasted through the loudspeaker. “Good! Ye’ve become dutiful little wards. I’m always glad te see yer pale faces starin’ up at me, ’n I’ll endeavour te keep you safe… so long as you keep up yer end o’ the bargain. ’n you all know what that means, eh?”

For the first time, the humans in the crowd became animated. Faces, now perplexed and fearful, turned to look at one another. The goblin guards didn’t quell the sudden unrest, and the few Logan could see properly from his hiding spot appeared to be grinning.

After a moment of confusion, Logan realized that there was more movement on the balcony. He couldn’t see much from his vantage point, but he knew, at the very least, that several figures had joined Gok. One looked taller than the rest, and Logan dimly recognized the large, white frill around the man’s neck.

“Ye humans down there may know this man,” Gok continued. “His name is Lonnie. Lonnie the Noble. ‘e’s tried more ’n once to shirk his duties to the state, ’n just yesterday it was discovered that he’s engaged in subversive activities against my crown. ‘e’s a rebel, ’n we know how well that goes over when I’m king, don’t we? Clear the ground!”

Goblin guards at the base of the tower flew into action. Those shepherding their fellow goblins moved spectators with words; those watching over humans simply employed their whips and fury. Soon there was a sizeable patch of ground in front of the tower’s front doors.

“We don’t abide rebels here!” Gok’s voice grew harsh. “They’re a menace! They destabilize peace! I willna have such a thing in times o’ trouble such as these! And so, Lonnie the Noble, I proclaim a reckoning upon ye! Do ye have anything te say te that?”

A second human-sized figure rose on the balcony. Logan thought it might be a woman, but at such a great distance he couldn’t tell for sure. A bleached-white cylinder rose to the face of the first man, and the tone of his voice hinted at a harsh beating in the near past. At the very least Gok’s soldiers had caused a significant amount of swelling to his face.

“I… I… pleath… I di… I didn’t… I jutht…” The man began to cough, the sound wet and horrible.

Gok reclaimed the loudspeaker. “Ye seem tongue-tied, boyo. Ye just what?”

“I… I… ahhh… I… ”

“Ye’ve no future as a politician, lad,” Gok advised, tutting. “Nor as an instigator. Ye provided aid te elements determined te end my rule. I’ll nae have such a thing in my realm. Be warned, all who watch this reckoning: the same fate awaits ye for crossin’ yer benefactor.”

The loudspeaker dropped, and the smaller figures cleared the balcony, leaving the man in the frill and the other large figure by themselves. The frill shook as the man quavered visibly -

- and, abruptly, he was hurled from the balcony, tumbling over the railing as though pushed from behind. His body cartwheeled several times before hitting the ground, cutting his terrified scream abruptly short. 

“Thank ye, Evangelina,” Gok said from inside his tower. “Someone clean that up!”

Moments later, the crowd began to break up. Goblins slowly filtered back into the city, heading towards homes, businesses, and the wall. The humans shambled east, led by merciless whips. And Logan, shaking hard, could not move from his stall for a full three minutes. His legs refused to budge.