None of the three things they had escaped with was worth as much to them as the slim pouch. Not the lives that allowed them to covet the gems, not the clothes that kept the unrelenting sun from peeling their hides off, not even the hides that had stopped sweating hours ago and if they had been allowed thoughts of their own would have been grateful just for being intact.
It had been day when the raiders had struck the caravan. The waste had seemed featureless but they had known where to hide and popped up out the ground like some unwanted weeds in a garden. And the harvest was grim indeed. The pair, who had lived their lives following a strict policy of self interest had stuck to that policy and fled the scene of rapine. They had immediately fallen into some sort of arroyo that had allowed them to flee the carnage unobserved. They wouldn't have been anything but a tidbit after the feast of the caravan mind you. But the raiders weren't the types to leave any crumbs behind. They always licked their plates clean.
The pair had fled mindlessly from the horrible sounds until they had finally gotten out of earshot. They had been wandering ever since cursing their luck (and lack of water) ever since. And now night had fallen and they were well and truly lost. The sky was clear and the stars clearly spoke of the road back home if they had only possessed the knowledge to decipher their tongue. But then in the distance the fat one spotted the fire. He excitedly pointed it out to his thin friend and the pair started stumbling across the desert to the beacon.
Scenarios of rescue involving stalwart fighting men and nubile maidens bearing pitchers of water filled their imaginations. The thought that even bandits and broos used fires at night never crossed their minds. The ground grew ever rougher as they fumbled their ways towards the fire and the thin one stopped flailing about and panting to point out the cliff rising behind the fire. The fat one ignored this observation and kept stumbling along drawn like a moth to the flame. But then he stopped too. "What was that?", he whispered. The thin one hadn't heard anything but the laboured breaths coming from his own chest but then he stopped too as he heard the whispering. He spun around but he couldn't see anything other than the night. Or had that been a movement there behind him? Had he seen something darker than the night scuttling among the rocks and shadows? He shuddered. "Let us hurry to the fire", the fat one urged and the thin one could think of no argument against this.
They hastened along falling occasionally and skinning their knees and shins. Leaving a trail of blood behind them in the desert. They kept hearing things and kept thinking they saw scuttlers in the shadows but could never be absolutely positive. And then, just as they felt that they couldn't go on they finally reached the fire. The fire was a disappointment. (Though nothing could have lived up to the things they had imagined). No stalwart warriors or nubile maidens and most disappointingly no sign of pitchers of water. Just a small fire made from dried cacti and one huddled, robed figure. The figure didn't greet them nor did it seem surprised by their sudden appearance out of the dark. They collapsed panting by the fire and lay there until they caught their breath.
"Help us", the fat one demanded. The thin one nodded his agreement. "There's something out there in the darkness", he added. The robed figure chuckled drily at this. "Yes there is", he added in a voice as dry and crackly as his fuel. "What is it?" asked the fat one. "The goblins come down off of the Plateau in the dark," he replied. "The goblins? What are goblins?" quavered the thin one. "They are creatures of the underworld, dwellers in Darkness. They are cowardly skulkers who fear the light and have no eyes of their own. They envy us our vision and live to pluck the eyes from our sockets so that they can see through our ruined sockets. No man is said to have ever seen them". "I've never heard of these goblins", scoffed the fat one trembling fearfully on the inside. "That's because they cannot roam far on the surface world. Only at special places like Than Ulbar that are close to the underworld." The robed one gestured at the cliff behind him. The pair shuddered at the sound of that dreadful name. The fat one shook himself and ripping the pouch from its hiding place said, "You may have all of these if you help us. If you love the gods and have any water we would be eternally grateful." He spilled the contents on the ground and the thin one gasped at the revealed gems. The robed one stood slowly and pulled a fat skin that sloshed from beneath his robes. He started to pull the stopper out as he spoke, "The stones you throw to the ground are worthless. The slinkers in the darkness, the tall, thin grey ones with their nimble fingers creep ever closer". The thin one was near paralysed with terror by this point but something had stuck in his mind. He almost screamed the question. "How do you know what they look like? You said no man had ever seen them!" "How could I ever forget the last thing I ever saw?" said the robed one as he simultaneously threw back his cowl revealing the empty sockets and unerringly tossed the skin's contents onto the small fire. In the darkness that followed all that could be heard was scuttling, plucking and screaming.
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