Caleb tried to curl into a foetal position in the absolute darkness, but a sharp object prodded him, forcing him to roll to his knees. A guttural voice barked what sounded like an order to him in a language that he could not understand. The words sounded angry.
"Dnats dna thgif namuh!" the voice repeated.
Several more sharp objects thrust at him in a random series of jabs, though none broke his skin. He heard a rumble of deep voices in laughter, surrounding him. Caleb could not count how many of the creatures blocked his path to freedom... assuming he could find the doorway through which he had been brought into this dark Hell hole.
The objects prodding him pushed him upwards, forcing him to stand. He staggered onto first one foot then the other. Still the weapons stabbed his flesh, but not as hard now. Caleb got the impression that they were only meant to taunt him at the present rather than to nudge him in any particular direction.
The laughter continued in random bursts between grunts from his tormenters. Caleb tried to remember what had happened, as well as the route that had brought him here. He had been walking in the early morning mist, near the castle, and had discovered a strange opening to a place underground. It was a place made by men, perhaps in a time when more people could read. Posters lined the walls showing other places above ground that resembled parts of the city, before it had been ruined in the cataclysm so many generations ago.
Some of the walls in corridors had been lined with tiles and Caleb found steps that led even deeper underground. A musty smell grew stronger the further that he traveled. He had found it all very strange and had stopped at the top of a long descent where metal steps of an awkward, jagged design led deeper... much deeper. He had felt afraid then. Some instinct stopped him from going any further on his own. The pungent smell, stronger in the abandoned underground rooms, seemed wrong somehow, as if the very air around him vibrated with movement of something unseen in the darkness at the bottom of the long stairs.
He had thought that perhaps he should get some of the men together to explore further and had turned to walk back out into the morning light, when suddenly two roughly man-shaped creatures silently blocked his way. The dim light that penetrated the underground passages was just enough to determine that whatever stood before him, they were not human. They stood the height of a man, but their features were contorted and ugly, and they had large, pointed ears. A glint of green reflected from the skin of one when he moved and Caleb quickly determined that the creatures both had a dark green skin. Then he turned and found that two more of them had appeared from the long, deep stairs behind him. They had carried long, pointed staves, and Caleb assumed that those were what were poking him in the dark now.
His memory was unclear from the point when he had first seen the creatures. He had felt his entire body prickling, as if it would explode with unexpended energy, but his thoughts of bolting out of there had been expunged when the creatures attacked and grabbed him, then went running impossibly fast down the deep metal stairs into the unknown pit of darkness below. All four of the creatures carried him in what felt like a practiced formation. Caleb remembered that the ground had seemed flat when they reached the bottom of the stairs and his impression was that they were still in man-made territory. There had been almost no light, but the slightest glow from above was just enough to make out shapes and a smoothly cut tunnel at the end of the platform. The creatures had jumped off the platform and run into the tunnel, then quickly turned into some sort of side passage.
From that moment, all had been absolute darkness. If the place he had been was some remnant from a time when men had technology and mass transportation, it had been long forgotten and they had gone beyond it now. The moments had passed excruciatingly slowly while the creatures carried Caleb to his unknown destination. Oddly, he had begun to sense walls and turns, though his eyes detected nothing. He tried squirming a few times, but the hands that held him were too strong for him to move far.
The grunts of his captors and the sound of their feet flapping on the hard dirt seemed to echo off the walls ever so slightly, giving Caleb a sense of space. He worked out that he was in some sort of labyrinth of underground caverns. The stale smell he had caught at the top of the long stairs was strong here, interspersed by other aromas. One of them was of cooking meat and Caleb wondered if he was to become food for these creatures out of legend. The thought brought a new wave of panic. He had heard tales of goblins in his childhood, but had never believed them to be real. Now that he had seen the creatures, albeit briefly and in dim light, he believed that they could be nothing else. Perhaps demons, but demons would not seem so solid. These were creatures of muscle and earthiness. They had dark hair and some had golden rings in their huge ears that matched the menacing golden glow of their eyes in the darkness. Caleb wondered if the musty smell had been of the goblins themselves, just before he lost consciousness.
Then he had awakened here, in the pitch blackness, feeling himself prodded by sharp objects which he assumed were the staves he had seen the goblins carrying when he could still see them in the faint light. The low laughter continued and unintelligible words passed among the circle of unseen persecutors in the harsh language until suddenly, Caleb heard the sound of a female voice.
"Ebyam evah nuf tiw numah, sey?"
Soft hands reached inside the open neck of his shirt and stroked the flesh on his chest. Her hands felt warm against skin that had become chilled in the cool air underground. Caleb had not felt the cold through his fear, but now he became very aware of it by means of the contrast of the female goblin's heated breath, close to his ear, and the touch of her caress. To his dismay, Caleb felt his groin reacting to her sensual touch.
God help me! he thought. He tried to control the involuntary response, to no avail. If the female intended to have her way with him right here, in front of her circle of fellow goblins, he would be helpless to prevent it. Instead, to his relief... and frustration, the hands withdrew and he was roughly shoved so hard that he fell back onto his knees. His first thought was that he was grateful for the softer dirt floor of the cavern. Hard rock or even the solid trodden paths the goblins had brought him by might have cracked his kneecaps painfully.
To his surprise, Caleb caught a glint of something white in the darkness. Even more astonishing was that he was able to determine that it was the swish of the female's hair as she turned her head to speak to one of the other goblins in the darkness, somehow reflected by tiny points of light that glittered from the walls. Despite the seemingly complete darkness, his eyes had adjusted so that the smallest amount of light passing from one quartz encrusted stone to another was enough to at least make out moving shapes. The figure of the female seemed almost luminescent in the darkness, so that Caleb speculated that she might be albino. He wondered then how much the goblins, whose eyes would be accustomed to these dark conditions, could see in the miniscule light of the glittering sparkles.
Before he could think further, someone pinched Caleb's nose roughly and pulled it upwards so that his mouth instinctively opened to breathe. A nasty tasting liquid was poured down his throat. It reminded him of the dirt that might be washed off of mushrooms. Caleb tried to cough it out, but he was held firmly by more than one goblin, including the one who continued to squeeze his nose shut tightly, and forced to either swallow or drown. He felt the ground spin and the darkness closed in once more, enveloping him into blissful unconsciousness.
The next thing Caleb knew was the searing pain of light in his eyes and a rough push from behind that made him fall forward onto wet grass. He was in daylight, though it was still misty. He heard people shouting in words he could understand, though he could not determine what was going on. He remembered nothing except walking in the mist, then something he couldn't quite remember had distracted his attention. Voices he knew fired questions at him, but he could only shake his head in confusion. He did not remember who, or what, had pushed him or where he had been.
Men continued shouting and Caleb heard a familiar voice calling for the others to help dig out demons from under the ground. Caleb recognized the words and slowly began to place names with the voices, but he knew nothing of demons or why everyone had become so excitable. He only wanted to sleep.
When he awoke next, his wife was sitting next to his bed, trying to get him to eat some broth. She told him that the men in the village had gone looking for him and found him being pushed out of a hillside by a demon. The whole thing sounded nonsensical. Caleb rolled over and returned to the blissful oblivion and darkness of unconsciousness, while the chaos of inevitable destruction carried on in the waking world.When he awakened again, he learned that a search party had happened to be in the right place at the right time to see a hideous, green creature push Caleb back into the daylight and having decided that underground caverns harbored 'demons', the entire village had turned out to help dig the creatures out of their dark sanctuary, never considering the possibility that they might be starting a war that could lead to the final extinguishment of what remained of the human race.
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