The Swarming in the Dark IX – Paper Goblins

For previous installments, click here. *** Trapped underground, Orsog held the dark at bay with only a guttering torch. He stood in the doorway with his back to an empty chamber, and a horde of

For previous installments, click here.


Trapped underground, Orsog held the dark at bay with only a guttering torch. He stood in the doorway with his back to an empty chamber, and a horde of blood-mad goblins rushing toward him. Orsog held the torch in his left hand, and a short Asentic sword in his right. He could step back and bar the door, but he would have to drop one of them.

He sent a prayer to the Lord of Heaven and stepped back, tossing the torch to the ground behind him. It clattered on the floor and the light dimmed but did not go out. Meanwhile, slick limbs, small as a child’s, slapped against him and gripped with needle-sharp claws.

Rather than fight them off, he used his greater weight to haul the clinging goblins back into the room with him. One sank both teeth and claws into his right forearm. He lifted it into the air and crushed its body against the door, slamming the heavy structure into the leg of another goblin who was still slipping in, splintering the bone. A second crushing blow and the door shut, the goblin on his arm collapsing to the floor in unconsciousness or death. His now free, but bleeding, arm scrambled for the bar and slammed it into place.

Three goblins were still on him.

One clung to his chest, arms wrapping around the outlander’s torso as if in an embrace. It sunk its teeth into Orsog’s shoulder just above the collarbone and aimed a second bite at his throat. The outlander’s big hand seized the creature by the scalp and ripped it backwards, letting it fall onto its broken-legged companion who had barely moved from the doorway.

The second clung to his left leg. Orsog reached down with his hand again, pulled the head back, and plunged the Asentic blade into the softness of neck and shoulder. That demon did not have enough air left to scream.

The third scrambled around to Orsog’s back and clambered its way up. If he had been a civilized man from the heart of the Empire, that would have been the end of him. But the young men of Ha-Rend are trained in a style of wrestling found nowhere else. As much for show as for combat, there are things a Rendic warrior will do that other battle-hardened men would not dare.

For the barest moment, Orsog dropped into a low squat. Then he surged upward, a leaping shadow in the red and black of the torchlight behind him. His legs came forward, his shoulders back, and the full weight of his massive torso crashed down on the spindly body of the scrambling goblin. There was a sickening crunch, then a feeble twitch, before it went still.

The two foes remaining looked on in horror, hesitating for the barest second. Then the uninjured one leapt at its fallen prey. But Orsog knew the dangers of his techniques, and his foot flew out to meet the goblin, sending the creature flying back into the door. He sat up and, while the goblin was still dazed, hurled the Asentic sword at the pit-spawned demon. The blade’s point plunged through the hellish thing, pinning it to the door.

The remaining goblin tried to rise, but its broken leg would not support it. It shrieked and cursed in its unholy tongue, threating the hulking giant who had just killed four of its companions.

“You think I fear you, frog from hell?” Orsog said, rising to his own feet. “Let’s see how you like the taste of fire.”

He went to retrieve the flickering torch. The survivor panicked, leveraging itself up to the wall and scrambling for the bar on the door. Orsog grinned as he lifted the flaming brand.

“Go ahead,” he growled. “Call your friends. They should see this, too.”

Clammy, gnarled fingers slipped the bar from its place. The cacophony behind the door became a writhing mass shoving it open, pushing aside the goblin bodies that lay against it.

Calmly, Orsog picked up the sack of goblin effigies that lay forgotten on the floor. The occult simulacra, used to summon goblin clans from the dark hell in which they belonged, were each crafted from a single, carefully folded sheet of paper. Orsog plunged the torch inside.

Screams of terror turned to pain as bright fire lit up the hallway. Tongues of flame curled up the goblins, burning away toadish skin that suddenly seemed nothing more than a thin shell over an empty hollow. They crumbled in the blaze, twisting, falling apart, leaving nothing behind but embers and ash and the echoing shrieks of an undying hate.

Far away, on a distant battlefield, Markos watched as his beleaguered men disappeared behind a veil of smoke and flying sparks. Several fearful moments later, the wind picked up and revealed the broad, bowl-shaped valley—entirely empty of goblins. As it dawned on the men that they had been delivered, they began to shout, and then to chant a single name. It was a name they had chosen long ago for an outlander whose tongue they did not speak. Now it was the name of their deliverer.

“Bardas! Bardas! Bardas!”

Markos joined in.

Back in that cave, the acclaimed hero made his way through the empty tunnels. His lonely voice muttered in the shadows.

“Curse these frog-brained sorcerers! Three miles down and three miles back, and all it took to kill that hellspawn was a moment’s work!”

But as he muttered imprecations on all practitioners of the black arts, his mind was not on the goblins he had slain, or the warm reception sure to meet him when he returned. It was instead on the Volaki smith and the price to be paid for forbidden knowledge.

Of the day in which Orsog of Ha-Rend, the mighty Bardas Goblin-Slayer of the Asentic legions, paid his price, other tales are told.

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