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Chapter Three:  Progress and Regression

CHAPTER THREE: Progress and Regression

There are dozens of ways by which a Goblin might acquire power within the ranks of its race, but the three most common are via finding and defending a claim to a Big, via being considered the most traitorous and crafty, and via accumulating the most material wealth.  Larger members of the race tend to be victimized and culled early, especially by those who perceive them to be enemies.  

Goblins are one of the few Hard Races to lay eggs.  These are very soft and only set out for about ten days before hatching and are laid in clusters of between five and thirty.  A female goblin can lay these eggs approximately five times per year and each egg laid may have a different sire.  Goblins do not differentiate lineage, and young goblins are given only passing care before being treated as any of their adult counterparts.  They are physically fully mature at five years and mentally mature at about nine, though their brains remain highly plastic for the entirety of their two to four decades of life. />;;

Ptielieren awoke to the faint sound of singing. The human Natia, still in shackles, was sitting with the other two human females and the three were singing some kind of cannon together. The elf mutt Tieregre was humming along with them, tapping the tempo out with a foot. The three grown elves were looking properly disdainful, though the six year old kept breaking with proper etiquette to stare longingly at the three humans. Ptielieren picked himself up and sat glaring into the middle distance.

His body was angry with him. He had been forced to run a great distance while injured, then beaten and mentally abused for days after. There hadn’t really been a period for recovery and his body now demanded, not requested, rest. His connection to his element had been severed and his mind kept searching for it, like a human seeking a lost and beloved sheepdog. He had denied his body sustenance and as such had been forced to swallow unholy and uncooked pre-food. He had allowed himself to be drugged and the effects, while mostly having faded, still seemed to make the lights blurry. His nose had been broken and, if the pain emanating from it presently was any indication, had been reset. But mostly his torso was pissed. Hand to hand combat with a bugbear had been a lousy idea and his body was trying very hard to deliver unto him the black spot of wholesale mutiny.

His ward glanced over and Ptielieren hefted his chin as a reminder to the young lad that pride was the right of all Elvish races and the noble obligation of the best. Traisyelianiel seemed to take heart and sat a little straighter. Ptielieren nodded his approval, hiding the many tight spots in his neck, and turned back to studying his enemy. Outside, it was late afternoon and the sound of the young bugbears romping in a most undignified manner could be heard over the off-key singing. A few bugbears loitered about the cave but mostly they seemed keen to spend the afternoon outside.

Ptielieren remembered that from his training in the watch. Bugbears were crepuscular, which meant they were awake in the early morning and in the afternoon and evening, generally sleeping at noon and during the latest part of the night. It basically meant the race was designed to be lazy. This den appeared to follow the normal convention and Ptielieren smiled. It was good to establish an enemy’s patterns.

Next, he tried to pick out name sounds for the various individuals. It was difficult, as the race spoke in a peculiar Vexra heavy with growls, purrs, little barks, and small movements. If memory served, the tongue specific to bugbears was called Krawral. He managed to pick out that the leader, the one he had fought, was called Karrurrahr and that the beast’s go to flunky was called something like Dirrorz.

Tamachat was picked up by the same ancient bugbear it tended to sleep with and the halfling called it Gvrarrik. Ptielieren smiled. By this time it was growing quite dark. He had observed the monsters for several hours and his muscles, degenerates that they were, wanted very much for him to shift positions or at least to for him to urinate. It had been days and his body was not able to properly cleanse itself now that it was devoid of arcana.

Ptielieren watched as his fellow prisoners were unchained and hauled out of the cave. When Jaioeyaollaieraineilyen returned, she skipped and sang a child’s song. Ptielieren rolled his eyes. The creature was young, it was true, but she was also an heir to the spiral throne. Lacking dignity was a disgrace to the line and therefore to be shunned until such time as she earned back her honor. One of the pregnant bugbears clipped the babe’s shackles back into place and Ptielieren turned his gaze pointedly away. From the edge of his peripheral vision he noted the rest followed his lead, taking the familiar stance that exuberance was a sin.

Finally, the bugbears came to him. There had been a double escort for Bieyshiealelleinue, but all the other captives were unshackled and led briefly outside by but a single bugbear. Natia had mostly been just unshackled and watched from a distance of about ten feet: a clear sign that she did not struggle enough. Ptielieren, still bruised and with legs that had yet to release their lactic acid buildup, was approached by three of the beasts. One of them was the slightly smaller bugbear called Dirrorz, one was Tamachat’s Gvrarrik and the final one was the larger bugbear with a name that still eluded him. Ptielieren glared up at this beast, noting the small nuances to his face and ears that differentiated him from the others.

His bonds were struck and he waited patiently. The bugbears grabbed both his upper arms and hauled him to his feet. He stood tall and proud and walked calmly forth, striding somewhat faster than the beasts’ normal gait. The creatures had to lengthen their strides to keep up with him and this was proper. The whole while, they spoke in that inferior tongue favored by the race. It was indecipherable. Most of the words were variants on the same few growls with a few outlier words clearly pilfered from superior races.

He kept his head high as they took him to a kind of communal latrine and released him. He turned so they could not see him and relieved himself. Somehow, it was imperative that they not know how desperately his body had needed this release, how close to shame he had come. Once empty, he turned and faced his captors. They eyed him warily and one began a kind of slow approach, a single hand open and empty.

Ptielieren took a stance. Now that his body had one less compliant, he would not let himself be so easily recaptured. He began circling slowly, watching this new set of opponents. One of the creatures stopped for a moment and looked over its shoulder to its companion. Ptielieren launched his attack.

The elf awoke to the soft crackling of a torch. He was back in the rear of the cave, bound hand and foot with limited mobility. A few of the monsters’ young were watching him. He gave them a look of scorn. Unabashed at their rudeness, they began growling at each other in their infernal tongue. Ptielieren rolled his eyes and sat up, balancing awkwardly. His head ached.

The den was rousing. He realized with a start that he had slept through most of the night. He vaguely remembered the assault the day before. His opponent had disrespected him when it looked away and then again when, as Ptielieren started the duel, several of its companions had joined the fray. He sighed and began a restorative meditation. Without access to his arcane elements, he didn’t think it would do much good, but it was better than trusting simply to time to mend his wounds.

He noted that a few of the adults were watching him. He glared at them pointedly before looking off into the middle distance. Such lowly scum were not worth his time. One of the children, bold as brass, came right up to him and sniffed the air in front of his face.

“What, you want a crystalline sugar cake?” He knew the beast wouldn’t understand Elvish but he hoped the ire carried in his pitch. The creature pulled back, then made a strange series of noises and began sniffing his hair again. Its attempts grew more animated and it continued to repeat the same sequence of sounds.

The halfling, slender creature that it was, strode over and leaned against a nearby wall. He spoke in the nation’s legal common, in Nieltre, his accent strangely untraceable, darting from region to region with wanton abandon. “It wants you to do it again. That’s what the sounds mean.” The little man smiled almost condescendingly. “Y’know, even I can smell you. What is that, some crazy magic elf cologne? Heh, no wonder they’re interested.”

Ptielieren glared at the halfling, privately marking him for personal enmity. While his attention was averted the child just up and licked him across the nose and cheek. Ptielieren turned and unleashed a flurry of invectives. The little creature stood up quickly and backed off. Ptielieren cast his gaze to the side. He had yelled at a child. He felt a twinge of shame at this.

After a few minutes of wide-eyed trepidation, the child returned and repeated that half-chirped and half-barked phrase. Ptielieren tried another tact, offering cutesie insults in an almost friendly tone of voice. “Ah, did you make a rump biscuit and eat it? That’s what it smells like. Your breath extols all the virtues issued beneath a mastiff’s raised tail.” The phrases apparently sounded interesting to the little creature, in-eloquent though they were. It became excited and repeated the series of chirping growls any time Ptielieren paused for more time than it took to draw breath. Ptielieren rolled his eyes often but resolved not to lose his temper at a toddler again. From the corner of his eye, he noted the halfling’s approval as it occupied itself with some pointlessly mundane activity.

As dawn came and faded, the cubs began to spend more and more time with him. He made no sudden movements and mostly just ignored them, though if they pestered him enough he would look them dead in the eye and, with his tone completely blank, instruct them to go away. The adults kept an insultingly close eye on him and he found it hard not to sulk. He was not so uncultured as to harm the young and found the implication abhorrent.

When one of the littlest, who as far as he could tell was called Ryerer, crawled into his lap, he raised his hands away from the little beast and scowled. About six of the adults turned and began to advance on him, slowly. He glared and looked up and away. One of the females came in very close. Ptielieren glared pure hatred at her but made no move to jeopardize the child.

The creature spoke in somewhat broken Nieltre. “Do go no you to hit at cub.” Ptielieren scoffed and turned to her without fear. He spoke in like tongue, substituting Elvish where he did not recall the words. He spoke slowly so the ignorant creature might understand him.

“Madam, that you are careless with your young is none of my concern. Do not speak to me of harming your children when they are just as likely, from your warding, to step on a snake.” He rose his head imperiously and stared down his nose at her. She glowered and tensed every single muscle, baring her teeth and creating a deep rumbling sound. Ptielieren arched a brow, looked at her, and smiled sarcastically. “Typical barbarian reaction.”

The child, apparently called a cub by these creatures, rolled off of his lap and made small noises, almost like chirping barks. The female ran a heavily calloused hand through its mane and stalked off. The rest of the cubs had scampered away as well and appeared to be scrapping for no readily discernible reason. Ptielieren shook his head and gave a delicate sniff of disdain.

The halfling, having returned to lean against the same wall, had been joined by the gnome at some point. Ptielieren found the gnome the more insufferable of the two. From his comments the feeling was mutual. The gnome, Boloborolo if memory served, gave a low whistle. “Tamachat, I do believe you have won this particular wager. I was convinced we were about to see the insides of an elf. Again.”

The foul, round featured creature gave a sidelong glance to Ptielieren. It’s presently crimson and azure hair glistened wetly, the dyes having only just been reapplied. The elf, for his part, slung a pebble he’d managed to pry loose at the ill-mannered lout. In his hands, it was a weapon and hit the gnome squarely in the throat. As the little man scrabbled at his neck and coughed wildly, gasping for air against a slightly dented larynx, Ptielieren took the opportunity to chuck a pebble at one of the torches. Some of the hot pitch splashed onto a pile of random leathers and began to smolder. Tamachat backed away and then darted as a somewhat chunky monster came over to the gnome, checked him briefly to ascertain if the blow was lethal, and then stalked over and beat on Ptielieren.

When the elf could struggle no more and his body was screaming at him to make the punishment stop he resorted to slinging as many low insults as he was able but otherwise initiating no fresh movements. His left arm felt broken, his foot had deep punctures from where the feral thing had bit him and his kidneys promised he’d be seeing red at the communal latrine for at least a few days. The only pleasing pain was in his lungs. It had taken two other bugbears to put out the little fire he had started and the acrid smoke stood testament to this small victory.

As he lay still, his mind screamed at this latest outrage. The nerve of some creature beating on a bound prisoner! He felt his baleful rage settle at his core as another bugbear, Dirrorz if he was to guess, though they all looked mostly the same, came over and pinned him. The shackles were removed and he was hauled out to the large stone and bound as Niequesyllaine had been, though with his stomach pressed flat against the stone instead of exposed.

His shirt was ripped open in the back and he mentally prepared himself for the kiss of a whip. He’d trained to withstand this kind of torture in the watch. He would persevere, with or without the aid of his body. One of the monsters laid a hand almost tenderly over his skin and seemed to feel it, caressing. Ptielieren snarled over his shoulder at his captor, dropping back to the more familiar Elvish. “What, can’t make up your mind how many lashes? Does decorum call for five or was it ten? Oh, but I overestimate your ability to count, so perhaps you will flail until you blind one of your own with your lack of grace.”

The leader strode over and began speaking heatedly with the beast that had dragged him out. The two articulated their points with various grunts and barks, the lesser beast stepping back and lowering its head as it spoke. Ptielieren noted these subtleties and disregarded them. They were the niceties of an inferior culture.

The leader finally seemed to relent and sent the other to retrieve something. A few moments later, the same alpha bugbear applied a thin layer of some kind of sticky gunk over his right shoulder. His left arm was splinted crudely and, as he craned his very sore neck around, a small black and green wasp-like insect, about two inches long and a half an inch thick, was held close to his face. It was held by its wings and kept trying to sting Dirrorz but wasn’t quite able to reach.

“Ah, I see I am called to discipline you yet again, little xiezjiit. Do not fear, I admire your courage, idiotic though your antics are. This insect, however, this you may well come to fear.” The leader stepped back as it was planted firmly on Ptielieren’s shoulder. The stuff that had been applied now seemed to be some sort of adhesive. This was the last cognizant thought the elf had before his world erupted in pain.

The sun came and went and still all the world was agony. Ptielieren knew his body was wracked with spasms, knew he was lucky not to have broken any bones as a result of his writhing and knew he had shattered two of his molars when he gritted his teeth. These facts were secondary to the incandescent pain that arced out from his shoulder. The torches seemed to burn purple and then blinding white. His retinas strained against the unending strain of sight and the grueling fight against madness closing his lids induced. He could feel each and every time the angry little creature struck him. He could feel the poison spreading outward from each puncture and the screams that pulled loose from his jaw -- despite his fierce determination to hold them in -- raked his very soul on their release.

His body writhed anew with each sting. There was no other thought to consider, just the interminable periods when the pain lessened while he tried in vain to keep from twitching, from letting the sun beat down, from doing anything that might provoke that tiny little hellion riding close to his skin. He lost all sense of time and was only vaguely aware of the same alpha bugbear approaching and removing the creature. His eyes were not his own to control but he forced the issue, baring all of his will to turn and unleash a glare. His neck’s spasms increased tenfold but it was worth it to imprint on his foe the unquestionable fact that, despite the sensations that dogged him, he was not yet broken.

As soon as the beast walked away, his body betrayed him implicitly. He sagged into his bonds, his feet holding none of his weight. He was glad then that the bindings were such that his feet only barely touched the ground, that his arms seemed to be at the best angle for holding his weight.

He was vaguely aware that his left arm was more painful than his right, but everything hurt and such minor things as fractured bones were simply background sensation. The sky swirled in a rush of incomprehensible chartreuse and vermillion as his body continued to twitch, the muscles still reacting to the venom. A part of his mind walled itself off from all the world had hurled at him and an odd kind of resolve formed.

He was stronger than anything these monsters could throw at him, and his sacrifice bought time for Bieyshiealelleinue to come up with some sort of plan. The coward might be yielding his honor, but at least he was seasoned and his ward, Feyaodaiazoyeeniesia d’Syvaeleyne, was known for creating challenging scenarios in the low down bars and taverns with the more bestial races. This rarely ended in any kind of shared friendship, instead engendering a need for rapid escapes. It encouraged creativity on the part of the irresponsible heir’s guardian, however, a skill which might prove useful here.

Ptielieren wasn’t sure of how much time passed but he figured a safe bet was at least one entire night in agony and a following night as he recovered from the venom. He tried standing, supporting his own weight, and found it a task of decreasing probability. When at last the sky was a proper hue and the stone seemed solid, he pushed himself and stood on the balls of his feet. As he felt himself steady, he sent a quiet vow up into the air. He would not break and he would bring Traisyelianiel safely back to his kingdom, to his throne, just as soon as the region was secured from the rebellious curs that had sought to supplant the rightful rulers. He swore this and could almost hear a deity laugh in response.

About an hour later, the lead bugbear released his shackles. The elf’s hands were deeply etched with bruises from where he had pulled against his restraints, scraping halfway up his hand. His feet had been more loosely restrained and these bindings were unlocked first. His tendons almost immediately rebelled when they were given his weight and it was with more than sane resolve that he steadied himself. The bindings on his wrists were pulled off next and Ptielieren stepped away from the rock. A light pressure was applied to his left shoulder. He shook the hand off and gave a sharp shove. His left arm, clearly broken, implored he cease this behavior and simply lay down and ask for some kind of sedative. He ignored it.

The bugbear that had been about to drag him back to the cave withdrew with a slight grin. Ptielieren stood straight and proud. He turned slowly, glowering with righteous disdain, and looked down his nose at his captor. He took a step forward and his body quit. He was aware of the guards all just stepping back as he fell forward and hit the sandstone, his broken arm bracing him against the fall.

Next Chapter: A Small Concession