Mat pulled the daggers from the goblins skull as he tore the small loincloth from the body and wiped his blades clean. Sheathing his daggers, he went over to where Devon lay in a fetal position crying; he’d finally stopped retching. Mat sat down and took his friends head in his lap. “There, there, it’s over.”
Devon looked up, his eyes poufy, “I killed something, a living breathing thinking something.” His sobs started anew as he looked over, “…and in such a brutal and painful way.”
Inclining his head as he stroked Devon’s hair, “I’ll give you that, it must have hurt.” He took the renewed tears as an indication he wasn’t helping and added, “You reacted, your mind found something that could save you, and you reacted. That’s is the very training they told us we needed to develop.”
Devon sat up, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his tunic. Still, with his head hung low, “I froze. Nothing. My mind went completely blank. All I could hear was them telling us we would live or die by our own merit and how little I had.”
Shaking his head, “Devon, don’t even start. You didn’t lose your merit. You never had any.” Devon’s shot Mat a look who just shrugged, “neither of us do. We’re new to this world. We came from a place where it was only in video games that goblins attacked us, and there you could reset. Here, they attack, and there's no reset, there's no do-over. That's what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“I know but…”
“There’s no but, Devon. We agreed to come here. We wanted to find adventure, live a magical life. Well, that magical life and the ability to have adventures means there aren’t as many rules. Out here in the wild, and I mean the wild, its kill or be killed, fight or be beaten. We've been here for a while and still, we know no more about this world than we did when we woke up under that tree.” Pointing down to the two dead goblins, “these are the first intelligent creatures we’ve seen that we didn’t create ourselves. We must get to a city. Pull our heads out of the sand and admit we’ve made this choice. I hope you're not rethinking the decision, not like there's anything you can do, but still, this is our dreams come true. Become the Devon you always wanted to be, the one I saw in those video games. That goblin would’ve killed you and never thought twice about it. You can have a conscience but have it within the scope of where you are. Be that good man, that caring, giving person, to those who deserve it. But here you must understand that some people don’t deserve it, and they will try to kill you. I talked you into this, my friend; I will not allow anyone to harm you. No matter what.”
Devon sat up, “Are you that angry?”
Mat laughed, “No, Devon, I’m not. We see two fundamentally different sides of the same coin. You hope for the best and want to see the best in things. I plan for the worst. I’m probably too cautious, but it’s the only way I can be until I have a better frame of reference. Those two shits would’ve killed you; then it would’ve been all over. I feel until we become surer of ourselves we have to plan for the worst. Hey, I’m not angry, I’m just cynical. But don’t get me wrong I would’ve been caught off guard today as well. But ask yourself, what could you have done differently? Nothing. You just faced your first, yes, your very first, attack and within seconds you passed through shock, fear, and surprise and melted the guy’s head. I think you kicked ass.”
Devon shrugged, “Yea, I guess I did, didn’t I. You know, I don’t think this killing thing, in cases like this, will be a huge issue. It was the shock of the first one; it all became real.” Walking over and nudging one of the dead goblins with his foot, “This was a living, sentient creature and I took its life. How can that not be a shock? Should that ever not be a shock?” Turning back to Mat, “And you're telling me you didn't feel anything when you did it?”
“It took all the strength I had not to throw up as well. It's one thing to talk about; it's another to do it. But I can also tell you I’m already past it. If someone tries to hurt, injure or in any way negatively affect you or me, I won't hesitate to destroy them. I’ve had longer to think about this than you did, remember. I had to decide if I was willing to come here. Then I had to decide to ask you and the ramifications of that decision. I spent every waking moment thinking about all of this, over and over.”
Devon rolled his eyes, “It means you were right, and we probably need to get moving and find this city. You're right…” pausing and making a serious face, “…but don’t think that means you're always right.”
Giving a self-important smile, “Oh, of course not. I never assumed such. Though you have had to admit that's twice in as many days, as we both know I’m not the type of person to point that out.”
They pulled the two bodies into a pile a short distance from camp. Mat went to his pack and retrieved his book; he wanted to reread the fireball spell. With all he’d learned about controlling the intensity of his castings, he wanted to try something. The first lesson was not to cook his hands. Casting a shield to protect them he walked towards the corpses forming a single blazing orb between his palms about the size of a soccer ball. Devon watched as it grew in brightness and intensity. “What are you doing?” Devon yelled over the roar of the blazing orb.
“I’m keeping the size down while increasing its strength, stand back.”
“That isn’t what I meant, what are you doing with a fireball?”
“Isn’t it obvious, toasting goblins. We can’t just leave them out here, other goblins might find them, which make us enemies and I don’t particularly want to see some wild animal running around with a half-melted goblin head,” explained Mat as Devon put his hand over his mouth trying not to throw up. He just waved Mat on as he moved back about 50 yards towards the camp.
Mat continued walking towards the corpses. When he reached the goblins, he suspended the orb about three feet above the ground and removed his hands. It floated there. He rushed back to where Devon was and pulled him behind a tree as he muttered the word to break the containment.
With a thunderous whoosh, the detonation replaced the night with a sea of light sending out shockwaves across the tundra as animals stampeded in fear. When finally, the night dimmed Devon glanced around the trunk they’d hidden behind and screamed as he raced towards the spreading fire yelling an incantation. He’d not tested this spell and had no idea how it worked, but then that seemed to be the theme of the evening. As he chanted the humidity slowly increased, and his skin grew moist. He could sense it, the pressure building, pressing in on all sides, he couldn’t see the clouds forming overhead but noticed the stars slowly disappearing. Then the night turned silent and with an almost imperceptible pop rain began to pour down upon the 100-foot diameter blaze which was quickly spreading across the grassland. He increased the power of the spell causing the downpour to flood the area until finally the last embers of the fire went out.
Together they walked to the center of the burned-out area where the charred remains of the two goblins lay. All that was left were bones; even those were nothing but coal. Mat looked over with his eyebrows raised, “Okay, maybe just a bit too much energy. Hey, how was I supposed to know?”
“Too much energy! You think…” Devon barked as he started laughing. “Can I make one suggestion moving forward? Let's only practice spells like that when we’re traveling and not in a town. Far away…far, far away…from any civilized area.”
“Probably a good idea. I think that’s why they gave use the cave and a way to get back to it. They don’t want us burning down the planet either,” added Mat as he walked around the muddy epicenter. “Wow, that was a hell of a thing.”
Walking around as well, Devon added, “ya think.”
When they made it back to camp Devon plopped down on his bedroll, “That spell wore me out, I’m exhausted.”
“I can imagine, the mana it must’ve taken to summon a weather event. Christ, that was incredible,” exclaimed Matsugo as he fell back on his pack.
Together they sat in silence until Devon asked, “Ok, now what? As I recall you’re the party leader, so what are we doing boss?”
“Oh sure, I see that becoming a convenient excuse when you want me to make a decision you can later say was a bad idea.”
“Now that we have that straight, what's the plan, Stan?”
Rolling his eyes, Mat made a scene of deep thought, tapping his chin with a finger. “I guess we go back home, home meaning the cave. Collect our stuff and head to the city they mentioned. As I recall, it’s only a two-day walk. We’ll need to keep our eyes open; they did say we’d be tested though this might’ve been the test, who knows. When we get to town, we find an Inn, get a room and go from there.”
Mildly impressed Devon says, “Anything else, you seem to have thought this through?”
“Oh yea, and get falling down drunk, hell, maybe even get you laid. We can take that thing out for a test drive and see if you can get it to work.”
“Now that's a plan I can get on top of,” answered Devon as they both started laughing.
They ate a light dinner as the sky started to show pink off into the distance. Devon, with barely enough energy, cast the ignoring spell around their camp as they both collapsed into their sleeping bags. They were relieved when they woke around noon to see the spell had worked and they hadn’t been disturbed. Rested and more optimistic the spent the next few hours swimming, discussing and often discarding various plans and ideas. As the sun started to sink towards the mountains the encounter with the goblins began to grow heavy on their minds. Not so much in a bad way, just the continued realization of what their new lives entailed. With little more than a glance the two friends agreed it was time to return to the cave.