Chapter 39

A hobgoblin's fate is sealed.

Eragoth soared in her dragon form.

It had been a long while since she last felt the freedom – and guilty pleasure – of doing it, but she’d finally taken the plunge and completely transformed at the first sign of the calamity.

The excessive amounts of concentrated ambient mana being released by the Leyline Nexus helped foot the bill of her transformation for some odd reason, and she didn’t need a full circle of shamans channeling mana into her this time.

It was new information, in which she truly revelled.

She’d tried to circle and approach the maddening beawick when she first heard the warhorns, and despite doing her best to fight the madness, she found herself wanting.

Then something strange happened: Ethan West took flight right into the madness, completely nonchalant.

She tried to follow; but again, she could not. It infuriated her. Why could he do these things while everyone else could not? What was so special about him?

It was unfair, really. Even his Goddess was odd, with her outrageous promise… Well, that changed Eragoth’s outlook on life, at least.

She watched him from a distance as he approached the calamity and started releasing insane levels of magic. Eragoth saw him unleash spells with his bare hands whose sheer destructive power brought to her mind memories of the gnomish and dwarven artillery, terrifying secret weapons that were only used by their nations during times of great strife.

When had he learnt such spells, and from where? Did he not admit to a complete lack of magical knowledge when they had first met?

As an elder, Eragoth was aware of certain things, like this Primordial Magic he claimed to have discovered, but this level of power should not have been possible for a Mind Rune user without a significant, well-developed mana pool obtained through constant meditation and high skill levels across the board. Something not attainable at the current low levels of his classes, unless…

It was extremely unlikely, but perhaps possible… and from her experience with this man, the mere possible became inevitable.

Her sensitive eyesight noticed an anomaly and she refocused her thoughts on current events. After legions upon legions of the thralls had died, Ethan’s goal finally became clear.

Why was he doing all of this to protect a goblin? Of all possibilities?

And what was that… blob of energy tethered to him? It seemed to be obeying him and helping the goblin somehow as it… ate the beawick? Was it another new spell?

Eragoth had lived a very long life, so it was always a surprise whenever she encountered a situation that was… new to her. The unexpected proved to her that there was a reason to live and see more.

And this day was full of new, unprecedented things.

She watched the puny goblin eat an unnatural calamity and burp loudly with a sound that shook the heavens.

Then the goblin started shaking, and Ethan backed away quickly with his blob of energy. Was he… talking to his spell? Perhaps it was not a spell at all and she had misjudged the situation…

Rips and tears started appearing all over the goblin’s body, now noticeable from a distance; and it became apparent why Ethan had retreated back to a safe distance so quickly.

The goblin had eaten too much. It was going to blow up, or so it seemed.

For the second time that day, Eragoth sent a desperate prayer to the Goddess.

Then she swooped in and snatched the unconscious body of the creature with her massive claws.

Everything was quiet… perhaps too quiet for the level of noise Adrian was used to in this settlement.

He’d tried to rest in his tent, secure in Giran’s comforting embrace, but sleep eluded him still. He looked back at his status.

Name Adrian Fernwoll Species Human
Class (1st) General (Level 38) Strength (STR) 32
Class (2nd) Armoursmith (Level 32) Vitality (VIT) 51
XP (Deferred) 16871 (0) Dexterity (DEX) 23
AP/SP Available 0 AP / 2 SP Agility (AGI) 21
Health 516/516 (+1.7/min) Intelligence (INT) 19
Mana 182/182 (+1.9/min) Wisdom (WIS) 18

Aside from the unwelcome mention of his surname that reminded him of his birthplace, there was a notable difference that baffled him: he’d somehow retained the classes and stats from his strange dream.

Did that mean that the life he’d lived in the dream was also real? Did he really raise those children and grandchildren?

If so, then life was truly cruel.

Adrian closed his eyes, and tried to remember the faces of his now-lost family. He’d lost them forever, and in that moment, tears streaked down his face as he wished he’d truly died at the end of that dream instead of waking up to this cruel revelation.

Giran didn’t comment, for which he was thankful. She just held him tighter as he sobbed softly. It helped.

He hadn’t told her everything about his experiences in the dream, just the broad strokes of how it turned him into a much wiser and older soul.

If he had to be honest, he’d have explained that it was a trial of sorts; and it made him wonder what would have happened had he failed. Would he still be trapped in that endless loop if he hadn’t made a different choice? He truthfully didn’t want to know.

He was at least thankful for that newfound wisdom, which dulled the edge of his pain at losing everyone he knew over a lifetime of fake memories, despite how real they seemed to him.

He finally calmed down with that thought. He opened his eyes and decided to get up. There was no use crying over spilled milk, and this unusual quiet in the settlement unsettled him greatly.

“Wait! Where are you going?” Giran started to hold him down when he tried to get up, and he almost pushed her away out of old habit before deciding to be more gentle.

“Everything is too quiet, don’t you think?” He nudged her with his shoulder, “Where is everyone? There’s no one outside.”

She seemed to consider this for a bit, before she hesitantly moved to stand and extended a hand to help him up.

He found all his belongings in the corner of the tent, and started getting dressed while Giran peeked outside.

“There are no guards outside. Where did they go?” Giran spoke, before her eyes sparkled with an idea, “This is our chance! We can escape while they’re not here!”

Adrian snorted as he fastened his belt, “What about Milandera and Normand? Are they still outside?” He asked.

“No, but they aren’t exactly hostages right now–” she said as she turned to face him, “–and they can handle themselves,” she insisted.

“And neither are we.” Adrian stated.

“What? That insane Patriarch of theirs almost had you killed just a few hours ago!” She protested.

“Because my goal was to kill him. It was a fair reaction, don’t you think?” Adrian countered.

“Yes, but we don’t know what he’s going to do with us now! We should take this chance to make our escape while they’re busy with whatever is going on!”

Adrian sighed and shook his head.

“I’m now an apostate of the Church of Order. Where would I go? I will be hunted like an animal no matter where I try to go.”

“We could go into hiding.” She seemed not convinced.

“For which we already are at the perfect place,” he smiled as he reminded her, “Where else on the continent are followers of Order unwelcome, if not here?” Adrian finished lacing the boots he found near his belongings, those would do until he got his armour and weapons back, “Besides,” he continued, “I would like to speak to that man.” He finally shrugged.

“Fine, you all-wise ass.” Giran gave up and Adrian nodded.

“Then let us go and find out where everyone went.”

“Was that a fucking dragon?” Ethan cursed.

“Ah, yes. That would be my slayer, Eragoth. I’m surprised that she did not attack you.” Talius’ spirit spoke back.

“Wait, you know Eragoth? Wait, that was Eragoth? She’s the one who killed you? And she can go full dragon mode?” Rapid-fire questions quickly formed on Ethan’s lips.

“Curb your enthusiasm. I’m as clueless as you are.” The formless soul seemed to shrug.

“Where do you think she’s taking Badtooth?” Ethan asked curiously as they followed her from a distance. She was moving fast, but Ethan’s flight spell could thankfully keep up.

“I believe that she fears that he will explode, and is attempting to save everyone by moving him away from the Krell settlement at the Krashi volcano.”

Ethan sighed, and tried to call after her again to no avail. So they followed after her.

Thirty or so minutes into her flight, something changed.

Soon, a cocoon of violet, brilliant light exploded forth, surrounding Badtooth. Eragoth seemed to gradually struggle more and more with the weight of her charge as the cocoon began to gradually grow.

Ethan ordered his implant to record the phenomenon in great detail, and zoomed in to view this strange development.

The cocoon grew rapidly, forcing Eragoth to fly lower and closer to the ground. Until it finally fell from her grasp. As soon as it touched the ground with a big thump, it experienced accelerated growth. It soon grew equal in size to the full-sized dragon that was Eragoth, and kept growing even more.

The dragoness seemed to be frozen in shock, entranced by the changes, and did not come out of it until Ethan flew closer and shouted her name.

She took off and flew to the hill Ethan was standing on, and perched next to him to watch the debacle.

“How did you know it was me?” Eragoth asked in an otherworldly voice. Ethan found himself in awe at the ancient-sounding vocals.

“I don’t see any other dragons around, and you’re the only person I know who can partially transform into a dragon.” Ethan elected not to reveal the presence of [Commander] Talius’ soul just yet.

“You knew this would happen.” She stated, raising a claw and pointing at the goblin cocoon.

“Yes, he’s not exploding like you thought. He’s just [metamorphosing] into a new form.” Ethan said distractedly while glancing at the last page of the book, for the benefit of his AI.

“This word, [metamorphosing],” she pronounced the last utterance with difficulty, in Modern Standard English, just as Ethan had said it, “I have never heard anything like it, what does it mean?” She asked.

“He’s transforming into a new form, a permanent new form, or at least I think so.” Ethan explained with his best guess, “some creatures like insects and lizards go through a similar process in their lives.”

“Does that mean that I will [metamorphose] too and become a dragon permanently? Because of my condition?” She gave Ethan a dirty look, as if blaming him for her predicament.

He’d [Analysed] her without her permission, true; but that look was totally uncalled for. Ethan sighed.

“Look, I don’t think whatever you have is a racial or biological trait. It’s just an affliction, and afflictions can be cured,” he began, and saw her maw smiling crookedly, sharp fangs sticking out, “I mean, the blessing today cured my affliction of [Mana Deficit], so it might have cured you too.”

“Use your skill on me.” She said mischievously, although it came out more on the menacing side in her current form.

“I’m sorry, what?” He asked in shock.

“That skill you used before, [Analyse]. Use it on me.”

“Uhh, last time you almost killed me for it.” Ethan was not willing to go through that again, “So I’ll have to politely decline,” especially now that she was in full dragon form.

She hissed in annoyance, and Ethan quickly got the message.

“Fine!” He acquiesced and cast [Analyse] through his sceptre, but got nothing this time too.

He cast it directly and it worked. What he saw left him flabbergasted.

Name Eragoth Species Human (Dragonkin)
Class (1st) Shapeshifter (Level 80) Strength (STR) 89
Class (2nd) Methodical Administrator (Level 46) Vitality (VIT) 134
XP (Deferred) ??? (??) Dexterity (DEX) 70
AP/SP Available ?? AP / ?? SP Agility (AGI) 84
Health 2483/2483 (+??/min) Intelligence (INT) 121
Mana 1802/2254 (+??/min) Wisdom (WIS) 225
Age 1200 years old Charisma (CHR) 231
Known Form Level Description
Draconian 7 (16%) You can shapeshift into a draconic form, at will, and for a limited time.

From what he could quickly glean, her first class had been upgraded from [Druid] to [Shapeshifter], and her second had transformed from [Leader] to [Methodical Administrator], which he assumed to be the science-touched version of [Leader].

In addition, her original affliction – a draconian mutation – had turned into a shapeshifting form, which possibly meant that she could learn new forms in the future. An interesting development.

“Scintilla’s work, I presume?” Ethan asked slowly after a long pause.

“Yes.” She confirmed happily.

He congratulated her and she thanked him, in an odd display of civility; she seemed hesitant to speak about something else that must have been bothering her, but there was something else on Ethan’s mind, so he didn’t pay it much attention at the time.

This Scintilla was either too clever or too clueless. He was happy that Eragoth’s plight was over, of course. But if Scintilla went about haphazardly changing people, they would eventually resent her for it.

This was part of the reason why Ethan had instructed the elders to assemble a list of new classes obtained by those devoting themselves to Scintilla. Because it was only a matter of time before someone irreversibly got a class they did not like and had to live with for the rest of their lives.

He feared what would happen then, and how people would blame him – her [Harbinger] – for it. It was bound to happen eventually, statistically speaking that is. Thankfully, Eragoth seemed to like her new condition.

The cocoon was still growing, with no end in sight, and the book wasn’t revealing anything new, so Ethan decided to settle in and watch. He sat down near Eragoth as silence reigned for a while, before he spoke up again.

“You never mentioned how you came to be… afflicted.” He pried carefully.

Eragoth hissed in annoyance, which duly notified him of just how much of a terrible idea it was to pry on this subject. She elected to stay silent.

He was not going to relent and let the matter drop, though. Ethan was quite curious about this part, and didn’t feel as threatened by her act as he used to be. He was about to ask again when she spoke up.

“I will tell you, if you tell me of your life in your old world.” She said quietly in the alien voice of a dragoness.

Ethan’s face darkened at the mention of his old life. He supposed it was a fair arrangement, but he wasn’t really interested in digging up old memories he tried to forcibly block every waking moment.

“Then I’ll have to decline.” He stated simply.

“So, you value your personal history more than you value the history of others. Interesting.” She nonchalantly accused.

He turned away and his face reddened.

“Look, I just don’t want to talk about it. It’s a constant reminder of what I might forever lose, if I can’t find my way back in the future,” he said defensively, “and I don’t like having that weight hanging over me all the time.”

“So you plan to go back, given the chance?”

“Yes. I have unresolved business back home.” He said regretfully.

She nodded her big head with a predatory smile.

“Fair enough, I suppose,” she acquiesced, “but let me guess, a lost lover? A loyal wife? A family or children?”

He looked pissed enough to punch her in the face, but given their size disparity it wouldn’t have accomplished much, in hindsight. Might as well punch the mountainside.

“Okay, you’ve made your point. Can we please speak of something else now?”

“Very well, we will speak of this later.” She clearly noticed how she struck a nerve with her questions, and decided to bide her time.

“Or never.” Ethan counter-offered coldly.

“Or never,” She finally let the matter drop.

“You know this is unhealthy? You should talk to someone about this.” Talius – who’d been content in silently observing all this time – spoke up to Ethan, “not her specifically, but you should.”

Eragoth was none the wiser, though. Apparently, only Ethan could understand spirit talk through their mana tether.

Ethan grit his teeth and stayed silent for a while, then Eragoth shifted her weight a little and asked a question that left him speechless.

“Did you love her?”

Ethan exhaled slowly and turned away from her. He kept his silence as he tried to control his shock and outrage, and the ensuing whirlwind of emotions her words evoked in him.

He got his rage under control and turned to confront her. He tightened his fists and uttered the only two words he felt capable of speaking in response to her question.

“Fuck you.”

After piecing together a very fragmented story they’d managed to extract out of those present, Giran and Adrian stood and waited with their companions. Nobody batted an eyelash at Adrian’s presence, although Normand had kept on teasing him until Milandera kicked him in the shin.

Almost everyone with the ability to see far into the distance agreed on one thing, though: a dragon had flown down and picked up the tiny goblin they’d seen Ethan put into the cage earlier, after it defeated the beawick somehow. Ethan had chased after it.

Now they were forming a party and preparing to pursue, as the sounds of terrible explosions and a raging battle echoed over the horizon. It was unsettling after the relative silence of the past two hours.

Everyone in the know had said that the dragon was one of the Krell elders, but Adrian couldn’t just believe that, despite Giran’s claims of having witnessed her transform into a real dragonkin firsthand.

Even if that were the case, and the dragon was not hostile, then who would they be fighting now? The goblin? And how could a mere goblin pose a threat to a full blooded dragoness and a mysterious, powerful [Wizard] like Ethan West?

The situation made no sense to Adrian’s mind, but it did not have to. He was acutely aware of his own ignorance of the circumstances surrounding this matter, and the only solution he could see to rectify that problem was to personally investigate.

He was also vexed by the fact that he’d missed witnessing the calamity in person. A beawick forming was not an event that typically occurred every day, and what made this one special was the miraculous manner in which it was defeated.

He noticed something else, as well. The Krell bore him no ill will at all, and most seemed to be celebrating their salvation from the beawick without a care in the world.

They were safe for today, and that was all that mattered.

Something in that simple life philosophy appealed to Adrian on another level. The simplicity of living from one day to the next, without having to worry about faith, duty, or what the future might hold. The idea of it was… liberating.

Everyone got ready, and they finally set out towards the distant forest in which a battle was raging between unknowns. The Krell warriors moved in organised ranks that evoked pleasant, but fake memories in Adrian’s mind. Those were vivid memories of battles he’d never fought and armies he’d never led, in battles that never took place; but they felt as real as could be.

Adrian held back tears as Giran took his hand and squeezed.

It took them almost 3 hours to cross that distance in the heavily forested northern slopes, and they arrived as the sun was rising on the horizon. They exited the treeline into a hilly area to witness an intensely strange sight that made Adrian gape.

“You.. fucking… bitch!”

A maddened Ethan West was hurling awe-inspiring spells at the dragoness in a fit of blind rage, whilst the weary dragoness passively hid behind a shining cocoon made of pure violet light that kept absorbing his spell to no end. Adrian thought this cocoon would make an excellent defensive measure against magical attacks, and he wondered what it was made of, and its purpose here.

But looking at the man’s behaviour, Adrian couldn’t help but think: was this what this man was truly capable of? Was this why Eterna wanted him dead?

Adrian decided to withhold his negative impression of the man for now, since he wasn’t aware of what was truly going on. He’d understand first and form impressions later.

A Krell shout was heard, and the two dozen warriors accompanying them took position in two orderly lines. They raised their bows at the ready, and to Adrian’s surprise, they took aim at the dragoness’ hiding place.

The strange Fæy woman tried to rush and stop them, and her companions were about to intercept her when a loud shout sounded and froze them all in place.

“Stop!” A strong voice commanded from the side, and the Krell lowered their bows. The man quickly approached them, as the dragoness peeked from her spot behind the cocoon.

“What do you guys think you’re doing?” Kothar asked tiredly.

“Champion! You are here!” A tall Krell saluted and spoke.

“Yes, I raced ahead of you using one of my skills.” Kothar said, “Why were you going to shoot at her?”

“They are fighting, yes? She is forbidden from challenging the Patriarch for leadership for one year and a day.” The man simply stated.

Ah, the Krell and their weird customs again. Adrian thought wryly.

“They are not fighting. Do you see Eragoth fighting back?” Kothar asked.

“No, but why is the Patriarch attacking her, if they are not fighting a challenge?” The squad leader asked.

“She made a stupid remark,” Kothar stated, “and this is her penance.” He shrugged.

The men nodded knowingly.

“Is anyone going to ask what that thing is, and why it’s absorbing spells like a sponge absorbing wine?” Adrian pointed at the violet cocoon.

“Ah, that would be Badtooth, Ethan’s new goblin friend. He can absorb spells, and he’s the one who ate the beawick from earlier.” Kothar informed them, “The beawick was apparently too much of a meal for him, and he is going through some sort of transformation thanks to it.” He explained calmly, as if all of this made perfect sense.

A dwarf from the Fæy’s company was taking notes furiously in a journal, and Adrian sighed as he noticed his noble insignia. A dwarf royal that fancied himself a historian, was it?

Meanwhile, Ethan finished lobbing spells towards the inert cocoon, and slowly started descending to the ground from his position in the air, looking profoundly tired and completely spent.

If anybody else noticed the ball of energy following him around and vibrating, they did not say; but Adrian’s honed eyes homed in on it immediately. He assumed it was another of his peculiar spells though, and thought to ask about it later.

He had conflicting feelings toward this man. Whilst Adrian was grateful for his intervention and subsequent release from Eterna’s grasp, his fake journey had left him bitter. He also resented the method he’d used to liberate him, which could have backfired for Adrian. It was a calculated risk on his part, Adrian knew; but his willingness to toy with something like this left a bad taste in Adrian’s mouth.

Regardless, Adrian would judge the man anew, from a neutral position. He would not let an old enmity he never wanted in the first place colour his judgement now that he was free of Eterna’s influence.

The Fæy woman started rushing to meet him, but what happened next startled everyone and made them stop in their tracks. As Ethan stopped his influx of spells, it seemed that the cocoon was dissatisfied that its food supply had been cut off.

No longer content about its status, there was a sound like breaking glass, and a crack formed near the top.

Ethan backed away and joined them at a safe distance, whilst the dragoness quickly flew away and landed near the crowd, seemingly chagrined at first, but hissing and brazenly making eye contact in unspoken challenge as soon as she noticed the Fæy woman’s presence.

Adrian couldn’t pay attention to her antics, though. A sound of pounding could be heard within the cocoon, and a giant green fist was soon visible as it broke through the top.

“Badtooth!” Ethan tried to hurry towards the cocoon, forgetting about his earlier caution entirely; but Kothar firmly held him back as a very muscular and green-coloured arm broke its way through the top of the crystalline formation. Gasps were heard as shards of iridescent, violet glass fell to the ground in a shower of fragments.

Everyone watched silently as more and more of the thick crystal fragmented, and something ancient climbed out of its birthplace and inhaled a deep breath of fresh air, perhaps for the first time in untold centuries.

Everyone received a notification telling them that a legendary creature had been born.

Ethan looked on in wonder as he witnessed a miraculous sight.

Badtooth had evolved into something unheard of. A Göblis? That wasn’t standard fantasy fare, was it?

Ethan wondered whether this was the natural next step in a hobgoblin’s evolution, or if Badtooth had managed to leapfrog a couple of stages and directly jump all the way to the top. How many evolutions were there to begin with, anyway?

The evo-devo[1] must be strong with this race. Too bad Ethan was not a real biologist. Although he had taken a bioinformatics course in the past as part of his foray into programming, he wasn’t by any means an expert on the subject of evolutionary developmental biology. A real biologist would be having a field day with the discovery of the goblin race though, or so Ethan thought.

As for his external phenotype, well… he was quite tall now, approaching two and a half metres, and his appearance was a mix between an extremely muscular human, and a textbook honest-to-god Tolkienian fantasy Elf, with verdant skin that shone like emerald, that is.

Even his face was symmetrical in proportions and aesthetically pleasing now, a stark contrast from his earlier appearance.

The göblis snapped out of his own daze as he finished contemplating his own body. He looked up at Ethan, and smiled brightly.

“Badtooth! You made it!” Ethan waved excitedly. He was feeling better after his catharsis, and the fact that Badtooth was safe after all of this was a huge relief.

The fact that he wasn’t corrupted or turned into a hostile force by the beawick’s foul magic was another source of elation.

“I did, indeed! Hello there, Ethan West. Thank you for your help!” Badtooth responded.

Both seemed shocked at this, because they both soon realised that the göblis had responded in the common tongue, and not the garbled goblin tongue he previously used to speak and nobody other than Ethan understood.

Badtooth seemed to be the most shocked of the pair, though.

Character Sheet[2]

  1. Evolutionary Developmental Biology. Oh, and I’m leaving this here. Definitely not trying to promote my favourite artist or anything. ↩︎

  2. You may have noticed the new Spells tab in the character sheet, please note that most spells have no descriptions provided by the Wheel, and thus we're seeing Ethan's own descriptions in their place. Also, the settlement screens have not yet been updated because Ethan has not yet slept. ↩︎