Excerpt from Demoniac Dance
Fear. Heat. There
were no words, only emotions as Haghuf watched his own image torn limb from
limb in the searing reflection of volcanic fires. The claws, rending and
tearing. The other, his twin, shredded into nothing but meat for the dragon’s
feast. Blood everywhere. Fear. No words, just emotion. Fear. Run,
Haghuf awoke with a start. His eyes opened. His body flinched as if he would run, but he lay safely among the sleeping furs in the coolness of his familiar cavern. There were no dragons here. No fires. The world of the Foringen had been left behind long ago. Haghuf had never gone back to his mother’s people again.
The dream had been more than a dream... it was a memory. For a moment, Haghuf lay still, shivering. For the first time in a very, very long time, he allowed himself to remember what life had been like in the Foringen caverns. It was accepted among them that some would be lost to the dragon’s feast, just as many of the dragon’s eggs would feed the goblins, but this did not prepare Haghuf to actually watch his twin being eaten.
Twin birth was very rare among goblins. Haghuf wondered if his grotto had allowed themselves to mourn that loss. Unlike other deaths, feeding the dragons was accepted as part of the cycle of life and death. For this, they were more fertile than many of the other species, yet Haghuf was still seldom chosen in the Dance. Talla had once told him that it was because the females found him too distant and unapproachable. Haghuf accepted that having been a part of the grotto at Krapneerg for many generations, his bloodlines already filled the veins of many of the younger goblins.
Haghuf had never been one for conversation beyond necessity. Among the Foringen, there were no names, no verbal language. Haghuf didn’t remember how long it had taken him to learn to speak when he first came among the Deep Dwellers. The first noises he was able to form were no more than guttural grunts, which is how he gained the name that was the only sound he was able to utter for long after his acceptance within what had become his grotto amidst the Deep Dwellers.
He had been accepted easily among them. Haghuf had the look of the ancient earthen goblins, enough to suggest that his mother had likely been seeded by one of them. Sometimes the Foringen were known to travel to other levels, to bring weapons among the fighting goblins and collect gifts of food to take back with them. Dragon eggs would be a stale diet on their own. All forms of goblins did as they needed to for survival. That had no doubt been how the symbiotic relationship between dragon and goblin had started. Goblins needed underground fire to forge weapons to protect them from humans. Both dragons and goblins needed food.
Now Haghuf was not sure if he would be able to tolerate the heat. So much time had gone by. To go among a people who had no names, no language to speak aloud, was his task alone. He knew their unspoken language still, as he had remembered when the Foringen had brought the sword to Count Anton. Some terms he had to struggle to remember, but the knowledge was still there, as was the fear.
Much time had passed since the sword had been bestowed on the human... an unprecedented event. Those who had been younglings then were nearly grown now. Haghuf had never understood the reason for the gift. He wanted answers. His resolve to seek them among the Foringen had remained since that day, but still his feet did not travel the deepest passages.
It came down to this: He was afraid of the dragons.
The nightmare had not been his first, but there was only one way to make it his last. It was time to conquer the fear and to go among the people of the dragons, the Foringen. Weapon forgers, fire goblins... his mother’s people.
Haghuf roused himself from the sleeping furs and took the first step. That one was hardest. The rest would follow more easily, but not too easily. As he passed the opening to his sleeping space, his instincts cried out to turn left, not right. So it was with every choice where passages converged. Haghuf knew these caverns as well as anyone - better than many. Every junction gave him visions of possible destinations and imaginary business that he must attend to that would distract him from his path. He had, in fact, tried this route twice before and had allowed himself to be distracted by other diversions.
Not this time. For this journey he allowed himself only one detour, to collect a bag of apples to take with him as a gift to the Foringen. The golden apples that the goblins grew specially on an island that only one human had ever seen and lived to remember. These would be a welcomed gift indeed.
By force of will, Haghuf kept himself on the path that would take him to the deepest places. Nothing was going to distract him this time. No excuse would be allowed to stop the journey that must come. He had delayed it far too long already.
He needed to know. And that drove him forward. Forward and down, down narrow passages that grew warmer and noisier as he drew closer and closer. The walls themselves seemed to change as he travelled, growing redder in hue. The sound of sizzling and bubbling things permeated his consciousness increasingly, as did the smell of sulphur. It was no wonder that the humans thought of the deepest places in the Earth as a place of punishment in their mythologies. If only they knew the truth.
Sweating, feeling the heat too strongly as his destination drew near, Haghuf began to wonder if he was on a fool’s errand. What matter was it if the Foringen should choose to bestow gifts on a human? The sword could never be used on a goblin anyway. Let the creatures kill each other more efficiently. What was it to goblin kind?
But that was exactly the point. Haghuf knew well that ‘goblin kind’ did nothing without reason. It had been too long a journey to the surface just to bestow a gift on a creature that was of no importance to the forgers of metal. A human would not have thought to offer food in return. Only the goblins kept the metal forgers supplied with food besides their staple diet of giant eggs. Haghuf was grimly aware that the dragons must not be allowed to die out, or the forgers would starve.
The rhythm of the earth had changed steadily during his journey. Now suddenly the intermixing of the rhythms of hammers echoing off of volcanic rock became noticeable. He was near the world of the forgers. The heat was almost unbearable. How had he lived here as a youngling? The larger cavern openings reminded him all too well of his fears. He felt exposed, more here even than on the surface world. There was much more room in the spacious passages here than in the comforting enclosed caverns of his adopted grotto. Room for a dragon to move about.
Even as the thought occurred, Haghuf turned a corner and found himself face to face with a pair of huge, fiery golden eyes. He froze in place. Thoughts of retreat mixed with realisation of futility… there was no escape. But the dragon turned and ambled away nonchalantly. It had obviously eaten recently.
It was then that Haghuf identified the blood stench mixed with the sulphur on its breath. He clutched the wall for support. His knees wobbled shamefully. Such abject terror was unfitting to a goblin, especially one of his mother’s people, but it was in the nature of all living things to fear death at the claws of such a beast. He wondered for a moment how many of his people knew such fear when the dragon actually took them. It was too easy to be philosophical about something that happened to someone else.
A few more turns and suddenly he was amongst them - the forgers. Dozens of the dark, fire toughened goblins were to be seen working among the cacophony of noisy hammering that had been the only sound Haghuf had known in his youth. One of them broke away from an assembly line to greet him. They bowed to each other casually, then Haghuf handed the bag of apples to the Foringen. The dark goblin bowed again in thanks.Then the dance began. Haghuf remembered the movements he needed. He had indeed run them through his mind many times over as he had descended the paths to this realm. The Foringen answered in his own dance of communication. The explanation was straight-forward. No riddles this time, only answers. At last, Haghuf understood.