Chapter 24 The Final Trap
Kegan managed to escape the camp pursuers after a few hours of hide and seek. He couldn’t easily outrun everything in the camp. There were hogs that had undergone the bone knight conversion process, and they were surprisingly fast. There were still plenty of traps remaining in the woods. So after losing a dozen of the hogs to spike pits, the bone sorceress’ troops became more cautious with using the hog cavalry. This allowed Kegan to make a run for it and finally escape. He had been awake for longer than normal, and decided now was the time to get some rest.
When he awoke a few hours later and left his hiding spot he saw tall pillars of smoke rising in the distance. He snuck closer to investigate. He didn’t have to get too close to realize what was happening. They were clear cutting the forest and burning the wood in large pits. This would make it harder for Kegan to engage in sneak attacks at night, but they wouldn’t be able to cut down the whole forest. Even with thousands of goblins and hundreds of bone knights it would take them more than a year to clear cut the entire valley.
After a few days of just being cautious and going unseen Kegan decided to go back to his old routine of hunting goblins. They were roaming about the valley in groups of ten to twenty. Sometimes there would be a single bone knight thrall with them. That strategy didn’t last long when Kegan started systematically targeting those groups. Even with the bone sorceress here they seemed very reluctant to sacrifice bone knights.
More goblins were arriving into the valley every day, along with more food and supplies. They were going to flood the valley with goblins, and there was little he could do to stop them. He killed dozens every day, but they brought hundreds to replace them.
He spent a few weeks hunting stragglers down, but eventually they became too dense. Combat with one group would immediately draw attention from too many surrounding groups. None of the goblins were ever trying to kill him, they were instead just trying to delay him and slow him down. Bone knights would eventually arrive if Kegan got stuck for too long. After just a single close call, Kegan decided to play it safe and avoid protracted combat.
The game of cat and mouse ended when a group of goblins managed to spot Kegan retreating into the tunnels early in the morning. When Kegan awoke from his four hour sleep the caves he had been hiding in were surrounded by hundreds of goblins and dozens of bone knights.
This was Kegan’s last line of defense. He had built his home in a side cave near the entrance. The door to his hideout was a removable piece of stone wall. He had dug another tunnel upwards and built a small observation room. From there he could look out at the entrances to the caves, and see what was going on.
He took a staggered napping cycle of sleeping every four hours, and then observing for one hour. They were sending in groups of goblins to find him. Most of the goblins were returning after pitifully short trips into the caves, while other groups weren’t returning at all. The caves were dangerous, and easy to get lost in. Kegan hadn’t bothered even setting up traps in the caves, the caves themselves were the trap.
Two days later the bone sorceress arrived, yelling out orders and riding on her bone pedestal.
The goblins had begun lighting up the tunnel with torches, and their groups penetrated deeper into the cave system. They were further back than Kegan had ever been. He was trying to think of a way to lure her into the tunnels when a group of goblins did it for him. They seemed excited as if they had discovered something. Bone knights followed them in. An hour later some of the bone knights returned and seemed to confirm whatever story that the goblins had.
She entered the tunnel and Kegan moved up the observation room and dug his way out as quickly as he could. The exit was high up on the slope. The grass grew in tufts, enough to give him cover if he moved slowly in a grass suit with his camouflage active. An hour passed by the time he made it up the slope to the rock scree.
He’d built barriers to hold back the earth. Barriers that could be removed. The work went quickly and the camp only noticed once a slow rumble had started. The hillside overlooking the mine was rumbling and moving slowly towards.
As the earth continued moving down the slope more and more of the ground was stripped and picked up to move with the flow.
Kegan was surprised at the effectiveness. He’d only tried to build up enough earth that it would lightly cover the entrances, and he hadn’t expected half of the mountainside to come down with it.
He crawled down the mountain, still disguised and unnoticed by the camp below. They were starting to clear away some of the rubble blocking the caves. That wouldn’t do.
Once Kegan had snuck down to the forest surrounding the camp he made his way to the buried cache of pitch and pine sap. He only had one opportunity to burn down the entire forest, and this seemed like the best time to do it.
Ash crunched beneath Kegan’s feet as he walked towards the caves. The valley had burned for two full days, he’d escaped out his hidden climbing path to watch from a safe distance. The goblin caravans that were supplying the army had all fled at the sight of the forest fire.
The air felt light down here, as if he had to take extra breaths just to keep moving. A piece of cloth he’d stolen from the abandoned camp covered his face to filter out the ash. Some thicker stumps still smoked and burned slowly. Smoke and ash hovered in the air creating a light fog. A gust of wind would clear the smoke but whip more ash into the air.
There was such an eerie quiet walking through the valley. None of the normal animal sounds filled the forest. Even the sounds of goblins shouting would have been better than this silence. There were just his hide boots crunching through the ash.
Kegan saw the camp through a clearing in the smoke, it was almost a relief from the dead landscape around him. He tensed up and crouched low as he approached. There was a ditch dug around the entire camp. They must have done that when they saw the fire.
Parts of the camp looked burned out, but most of it looked intact. There was not a single soul visible in the camp. Like they had just suddenly abandoned it.
He crept cautiously through the camp. Parts of the camp looked neat and tidy, while other areas had items strewn about. A few burnt tents suggested that parts of the fire had managed to spread here, but those fires hadn’t spread far.
There was a faint rotting smell in the air. Kegan thought their food stores shouldn’t have rotted that quickly. It was usually a bunch of grains and vegetables.
As he got further in the camp he could see the mountain slope rising up. ‘Could they have escaped into the caves?’ he thought. There wasn’t a single dead body around him. He made his way towards the caves again, the grass from the slope must have burnt as well. There was no green visible on the slope.
A gust of wind came down the slope clearing some of the smoke, but also blasting the smell of rotting bodies into his face. He gagged and threw up onto the ground, trying to cough out the stench filling his mouth.
The smoke had cleared off the slope. They hadn’t escaped. Piles upon piles of dead goblins and orcs littered the slope. Their bodies beginning to decay and filling the air with a foul stench. There were orcs among the dead bodies that must have been bone knights. The goblins surrounding them had been sucked clean of their bones. It wasn’t enough. Thousands were dead.
Kegan escaped back through the camp, coughing from the stench, the ash, and vomit in his throat. He was once again surprised at just how effective his trap would be. He thought that maybe he shouldn’t have buried the bone sorceress before lighting the forest on fire.
He laughed to himself, but it caused him to start coughing again. The coughing wouldn’t stop this time. Kegan’s vision went dark. He felt himself land on his knees, still coughing. He gasped for air some of his vision returning.
Kegan sat on the ground slowly recovering for the next few minutes, looking at the pile of bodies on the slope, he realized how their last moments must have felt. Struggling for clean air while coughing up ash and smoke. “A terrible way to die, they should have picked a different side.” with that thought his momentary guilt was gone. He walked back out of the valley to escape the ash and smoke.
Kegan waited a few more days for the smoke and ash to clear out. A rainstorm came through and made the ash much more bearable. All the bodies on the slope were washed down into a few large piles. The stench had somehow gotten worse. Kegan took whatever burnable materials he could find in the camp and started a fire on top of the corpses. However, there was too much water for all the corpses to burn.
He left the valley and lived just on the other side of the mountain. Every day he would check back on the cave entrance. Kegan knew that she was not dead. She was like a wounded animal, bleeding out and slowly dying. All he had to do was be patient.
Months went by and the pile of bodies decayed into bones. Kegan promptly took away the bones and burned them. Meanwhile the forest made a surprisingly quick recovery. A layer of green covered the entire valley within just a few weeks. And after a few months Kegan had to hack some paths through the dense growth.
Kegan built two homes outside of the valley. One was a log cabin in the old campsite clearing. It was obvious and easy to find. Kegan used it as his workshop spending half of his daylight hours recrafting his arsenal of weapons. Nearby in a secluded grove and dense thicket he dug out a small hovel and camouflaged it well. He slept and ate in the novel, getting his homeowner perks at the hovel.
He wasn’t sure if the goblins would return, or if more bone knights might show up. And he would prefer if they didn’t find him while he was sleeping and surround him.
As the leaves turned colors Kegan decided it was time to confirm his kill. He began clearing out the rubble from a cave entrance. It took him a few days, and it seemed that more of the cave had collapsed than he realized. The hideout he’d made inside the cave system had also collapsed. One of his original plans had been to try and trigger the landslide while he was still in his hideout, he was glad he hadn’t stuck with that plan.
It took him a few more weeks of careful exploring before he found her. The sound of a pitiful and painful moaning was what lead him to her.
She was in a section of the cavern that opened up. With ceilings fifty feet in the air, and the entire room itself about eighty feet in diameter. It was either a new section of cavern or an artificially constructed area, because there were no stalagmites or stalactites.
She was in the middle of the cave surrounded by pieces of metal and clothing that must have come from the others that were in the cave. Next to her was also a piece of blue crystal that looked perfectly square and totally out of place within the cave. There were no signs of rotting bodies. She must have consumed them all as well as the bones from their corpses. Her body was thin and emaciated and she looked decades older with a head of grey hair and wrinkled skin. There was a pedestal of bone beneath her, the size of her body. But Kegan could see it slowly, visibly shrinking on the edges.
He was going to sneak up on her, but it was impossible. She immediately realized there was light in the cavern. Even shielding her eyes from the pitiful amount of light coming off of his torch.
Suddenly half of the bone pedestal turned liquid and sucked into her body, filling out her frame, changing her hair color, and smoothing her skin. The rest turned into a thin armor and a shield. She crouched behind the shield only her shoulders and head peeking out from above it.
Kegan tensed up, ready to throw a harpoon. But the sorceress didn’t move towards him. Instead she started laughing. An eerie cackle that suggested her mind was lost. She started speaking in orcish at him. He recognized some of the words as insults and curses.
‘Enough’ he thought and hurled the harpoon. She didn’t even move. It sailed over her shield pierced her shoulder throwing her back onto the ground.
There was a moment of silence and stillness, until he heard a quiet sobbing. He cautiously approached, wary of a trap. As he got closer he could see that there was liquid bone flowing toward the wound. But it was minimal, only stabilizing the wound rather than trying to push out the harpoon.
She was softly crying and repeating the same phrase in orcish over and over again. Kegan recognized the words. “Please stop father it hurts, it hurts.”
From twenty feet away another harpoon pierced her skull. The sounds stopped. The bone armor all turned liquid trying to heal the wounds but it ran out without pushing either of the harpoons out of her. She was dead. Kegan set the corpse aside, ready to burn it later just to be sure.
He inspected the square blue crystal that she had died next to. He reached out and touched the crystal. Where his fingers connected it looked like a small stream of smoke entered the inside of the crystal. The smoke swirled inside towards the center of the crystal. As the smoke coalesced into the center of the crystal it grew brighter. Suddenly there was a bright flash and Kegan was gone.
He woke up in the dream world. The voice of the blue spirit reaching him from outside “Congratulations adventurer Kegan, you have reached a world generation stone. Your progress on the world has been saved and you can return at any time. You’ve unlocked the ability to change the world generation parameters by spending your experience points.”
Even with his emotions muted by the dream world he felt a sense of satisfaction and relief wash over him. Things were finally starting to work out.