Hendra’s World • Book One • Part One
“Some Truths, Some Half-truths, and Many Lies of Course”
After he recovered from the blow to his groin, the Goblin was true to his word, and showed them the way through the forest, though the way would not have been not difficult to find without him.
His cliven had made little attempt to cover their tracks in the days leading up to their deaths. Small though they are, these creatures can be very destructive. They seemed to enjoy breaking branches off trees, overturning rocks, and stomping through Faerie circles.
Not long into their journey, the Dwarves came across another of their dirty campsites, and soon after that another. It seemed as though these Goblins were in no hurry to get anywhere in particular once they had gained access to Hen’lin. They meandered, they lingered, they left every clue imaginable as to their whereabouts. Hendra recalled her sister’s words back on the mountainside. Could it be that these Goblins were indeed trying to be found?
“Bring me the prisoner,” Hendra told one of the men.
Soon after, Senhendra appeared with the one-eyed captive struggling meekly at the end of her catcher.
“Why are you in Hen’lin? What are you doing here?” Hendra said to the ugly little man stuck in the cruel trap. ”Tell us true, or this will surely be your end. What is your goal? Why are you in Hen’lin?”
“No goal!” he croaked, “No reason!”
Dinha stepped forward.
“No no no no no!” the Goblin whined and cowered, covering his crotch with both hands, “It was just rats! Rats rats rats! Big old rats! We was just chasing big juicy rats to eat is all!”
His voice was thin and rasping from the device snapped tightly around his neck. His voice was thin and weak, nought but a rasping whisper.
Hendra sensed that a small part of what he said was rooted in truth.
“Tell me more about these rats.”
“Big fat black ones!” he wheezed, “Found ‘em too! Look out! There’s one right now!” He pointed directly at Hendra, and began laughing again.
Senhen lifted him off the ground with the long Goblin-catcher. His feet kicked and thrashed wildly in the air. The collar bit into his flesh, blood flowed, and he grasped at it to no avail, screeching and sputtering. His remaining eye bulged, and blood seeped through the bandage where the other had until recently been. He spat foam and bile from his damaged mouth, and bubbles began to froth anew at his nostrils
“Lower him,” Hendra commanded calmly. “Hold him.”
Senhendra did as she was told.
Hendra wanted very much to kill this awful creature on the spot. She put down her spear and shield, and drew her sword, the incongruously named Kalthammer. Upon being unsheathed, the sword began to hum, although Hendra was the only one who could hear its song.
She took one of the Goblin’s small, wiry wrists in her jett-gloved hand, and stretched his arm out straight, perpendicular to his body. Raising Kalthammer, she stared hard into her helpless captive’s face.
“I ask again, and if you do not answer true, I promise that I will begin removing pieces of you.” Her voice was low and menacing, her eyes burned red, her grip on the Goblin’s wrist tightened as Kalthammer hummed in her ears, buzzing in her head like a distant storm of wasps.
“Fuck you!” screeched the Goblin.
Without trying or meaning to, Hendra crushed his wrist.
She heard crunching, then his screams echoed throughout the forest, and faded as Kalthammer’s jett-song grew louder. There may have been more crunching, more screaming, but Hendra heard nothing save the hum.
Kalthammer’s song ended instantly.
“HUMANS!!!” Screeched the Goblin in agony.
Some truth at last.
“More,” she said in a voice like cold gravel.
“Humans! Humans! Humans! Please! Good Sir Dwarf! Please! By the Demon Mother! Hurt me no longer!”
“Keep talking about humans.”
“We followed some filthy fucking Human weakies through the tunnel! We didn’t know the way, but they knew the way! We followed ‘em! We wanted ‘em, y’know to fuck and eat! We meant no harm, Good Dwarf!”
Hendra let go of his arm, now broken in three places, it fell useless to his side.
From their captive, the Dwarves learned that his cliven had been part of a larger group of Goblins sent to the Northern border of Hel to hunt for Humans who had been observed making crude settlements along the Goblin side of the river.
According to his story, he and his grub-kin found a small group of Human families, and killed all the adults in their sleep.
“Spiked ‘em, just like you did us,” the Goblin chuckled to himself.
While the cliven was feasting on the flesh of the parents and defiling that of their children, two of the young Humans managed to escape, and run into an old Dwarf tunnel that the Goblins had not previously known of.
He and his Cliven were sent to follow the Humankinder through the tunnel, and when they emerged out the other end, they discovered that they had passed under the river, though he claimed that they did not realize that they were in Hen’lin.
“We would not have stayed, Sir Dwarf! Had we only known!”
An obvious lie, but Hendra let it pass.
His story ended with him and his cliven still searching for their Human quarry, and about to give up, when Hendra’s company arrived and killed them all, but him.
He claimed that the other clivens, two and a half of them to be exact, still remain on the South side of the river, waiting for him and his grubs to return with the two run-away kinder.
“Bring me back to my brothers,” he begged on his knees, “and I will warn them to stay away! We meant no mal-intent, Good Dwarf! We are simply harmless adventurers, out hunting Humans.”
“Silence,” said Hendra.
She closed her eyes. If this so-called “rotten old cave” is indeed an abandoned Dwarven tunnel, it was one that she was entirely unaware of.
Hendra had memorized the historic maps of Hen’lin quite well, so this passageway under the river could be original to House Hel, and therefore ancient, secret, and long forgotten.
Every Dwarven House had secret tunnels, known only to them, and no house had more than Hel.
So much of their history and records had become lost all these many ages after The Fall, even to a scholar such as Hendra. Therefore, it was absolutely possible that more than one secret Helian tunnel still exists, and is currently being exploited by Humans and Goblins, and perhaps other evil beings.
Hendra herself broke the silence by instructing her daughter to stake the Goblin-catcher to the ground, anchoring their captive securely. Then she gathered her entire company into a tight circle, to speak in hushed tones, far away enough from their captive so that he could not hear.
“I believe this Goblin tells some truths, some half-truths, and many lies of course. If there is, as he says, a way under the river, whether a natural cave or old Dwarf tunnel, it is an open wound that could lead to an infection of our lands by Goblins and much worse. We must find and occlude this opening completely, and as soon as possible.
“The creature also seemed to confirm that which we already suspected: There are Humans in Hen’lin right now. He says they are children, but as you know, we think not. Adult Humans making settlements in Gobland may have found their way onto our side of the river through this forgotten tunnel. They may even be attempting to settle here.
“Fully grown Humans, as we discussed, are exceptionally dangerous. Their weapons cannot penetrate or stand against our jett, but they have other means. They have cunning, they are ruthless, and they know drug magic, fire magic, speaking-spells, and other dark arts.’
The Dwarves murmured among themselves.
Dinha spoke directly to her sister, calling her by her masculine name, lest Goblin ears be sharper than they knew.
“Hendra’haim, My Lord, shall we hunt down and eliminate these Human spell-talkers first? Cut out the infection in our woods, then go back to stanch the wound?”
“Both tasks are of equal import,” said Hendra, “We will split our company into two parties. I will take Fossahana, Sen’haim, and the Stalwarts of my house with me to find this tunnel. You will lead The Beewolf and other Dinians to run down these Humans. If you find them, throw spears first, engage with sword and shield only if needed. Keep your distance, remain unseen. Kill them all.”
“Maiter! These are the first Humans to ever step foot in our lands, and I…” Senhendra began.
“Shhh! Call me ‘Lord!’ Or ‘Father,’ if you must,” scolded Hendra, looking over at the Goblin, who appeared to be asleep, or unconscious.
“Sorry. Father. But, I just don’t think we should murder the very first Humans to walk into Hen’lin. What if they’re friendly? What if they’re just afraid? Shouldn’t we first attempt to build an alliance with them against our known and mutual enemies? It’s entirely possible that their kin were just raped and eaten by Goblins!”
Hendra’s eyes began to glow. The men were silent.
“We will throw spears first and make friends later,” said Dinha. “As The King commands. Stalwarts of Din’lin, with me! Let’s run these Humans to earth. I can smell them already!”
Dinha, Sendi, and the men of their house took up arms, formed a line, and struck out swiftly and silently into the forest on foot.
“Awaken the Goblin,” said Hendra when they were gone.
“He’s dead,” said one of her men.
“Is that so? Let’s make sure,” said Hendra, approaching their prone captive and raising her spear. “With a pike to the head.”
“NO!” screeched the Goblin, his eye opened wide with fear as he struggled at the end of the long Goblin-catcher still staked to the ground.
Hendra was done with this vermin. She drove her spear downward, aiming directly for the center of his face, meaning to end his miserable life, but he jerked so suddenly and violently that the catcher came loose from the ground, and she missed!
Her jett metal spear cut right through the steel collar around his neck like it was made of tin-foil, and Goblin catcher fell away. He was free! He jumped to his feet, and ran into the woods!
Once dislodged from the earth, Hendra hurled her spear into the thick trees in which he had disappeared. It was an angry, futile act that she regretted immediately. Her men raised their spears to follow suit, and she held her hand up.
“Stay your weapons! We have no time to waste on one Goblin, we must make haste to this tunnel. I fear an invasion may be afoot! Perhaps more than one! Fossi!” she called, ”To me!”
The great badger came forward.
“Let us find this forgotten entrance to our sacred lands, and kill the filthy scum who have encroached upon our sovereignty!”
The men tapped their spears on the ground. The great badger bowed its head low, and Hendra sprang upon its back, taking up two handfuls of its thick black and white pelt, and leaning forward.
“Follow me!“ she said. “Double time! Fossi, to the river!”
The badger took off running through the forest, sleek and silent, with the greatest living Dwarfmaid hunkered down low atop its broad shoulders.
The rest fell in line behind their Maitron at a full sprint, led by Senhen. Their jett armor was light, and nearly silent, though giving up their position in favor of haste was a risk that Hendra was willing to take.
As Fossi raced through the trees, deftly ducking branch and bough, Hendra recalled a cautionary chant taught to all Dwarf children.
An incursion into Hel,
An infection without answer,
An invasion soon did follow,
Now Darkness is its lord
The Greatest Maitron fell
To the ever-growing cancer
Now Hel is cold and sallow
Held by the Goblin horde
Every Dwarfkinder learned this chant in their First Year, along with the tragic history of Hel, the once great, ruling House of all D’waiv’lin, from which the proudest, most powerful, and beautiful Maitrons in Dwarven history reigned openly as women, high atop Mount Hel, and peace was known in all of D’waiv’lin for eons.
Then Goblins appeared, followed by Gremlins, Trolls, and Humans, as well as other creatures of unspeakably evil nature.
By the time the Helian Dwarves even noticed the Goblin incursion, it was already too late, and despite many centuries of fighting, all of the Maidens in Hel were eventually lost, and what was left of their men were either hunted down, or dispersed throughout D’Waiv’lin, where eventually they all died out, along with the House, its name, and any sense of safety and well-being that any Dwarf had ever felt, or could ever hope to feel again.
Currently, the entirety of what was once called Hel is a sick and ruined wasteland, completely lawless, save for the terrifying and chaotic rule of Goblins, who dominate the other fell beings, even those more powerful, with the sheer force of their greater numbers, and unmatched cruelty.
Hel is home to darkness now. It is a place of evil deeds and ruthless practices, where many malevolent entities reside, and The Demon Mother is the ultimate monarch.
As Fossahana raced through the clean, brisk, twilighted wood, Hendra smelled water, clean, bright, fresh, and fearsome. She soon heard the steady roar grow louder, and as they existed the thickness of the wood, the river became visible below them. Wide, dark, rushing infinitely onward, the great O’Weh’lia had defined and protected their border since the founding of Hen’lin.
The remains of several massive stone bridges, many miles apart, could be seen receding into the distance in both directions along the river. They had once connected Hen’lin to Helia, but all had been deliberately brought down by Hendra’s great-ancestors long before she was born. As had all known tunnels been collapsed and occluded at the time, so that the river, which was itself too wide and wild for boats and rafts to traverse, was rendered completely impassable.
Thus the O’Weh’lia river, and the N’ahadrian wastelands protect Hen’lin’s Southern border, while the vast Kaltkravass guards the East. To the North, the endless No’lia Permafrost provides an almost impenetrable barrier, and to the West the Great Black Sea itself presents an extremely dangerous passage and a coastline that is beyond unfriendly to any ships not hulled in jett.
Hen’lin shares a border with the D’waivinhood of Min’lin to the South-West that amounts to one huge tunnel through the giant Mount Min, which is used for trade and travel.
Din’lin is Hen’lin’s closest neighbor. Located to the East-South-East, the two sisterlands are connected through many tunnels, both great and small.
Being the largest of all the D’waivenhoods, Hen’lin also includes the unoccupied land of Greater No’lia, which borders Din’lin and Halia, as well as far-eastern parts of the Human Wilds that are so remote, not even Hendra had ventured to see them yet. She has heard tales that there are grand and sophisticated Human cities there, made entirely of ice.
It is said that Hen’lin is so large, that if one were to travel far enough East, eventually the extreme far Western side of the Great Black Sea would be reached, and if one continued North, that the Southern end of the Wilds would eventually be found. Hendra hoped to one day discover these things for herself.
At the moment, however, Fossi had slowed to a stop in front of the base of a ruined bridge, where she sniffed and sneezed at a dirty black hole in the ground.
Hendra dismounted, to examine the hole.
The great badger had taken them directly to it, and although it was not what Hendra had expected, it was very apparent that this was the well-worn access point through which Goblins, Humans, and Hel knows what other horrors, had gained access to their sacred lands, at will, unchecked and unabated, for an unknown period of time.
“Disturbing,” she said aloud.
“This is no Dwarf-tunnel,” said Senhendra as she and the men joined her mother and Fossi in front of the trampled, mud-hole. “Could a wurm, or a honey badger have done this?”
“There’s more here than we can see,” said Hendra, “Fossi, clear the dirt and bramble from around this hole, and let’s have a real look.”
The badger’s massive claws took little time to scrape away earth, rock, and root from around the hole, which grew larger and larger until a huge, round, stone entranceway was revealed. Heavily damaged, but still passable, it was ornately adorned with ancient graven images and an unfamiliar language that Hendra wished she had the time to examine.
On the other side of the broken, circular threshold lay a stone stairway, wide, smooth, and deftly crafted, that descended quickly to be swallowed by the opaque darkness of the long-forgotten tunnel, which, though it was certainly not named on any map Hendra had ever seen, did in fact exist and presumably led straight to Hel, just as the Goblin had said.
The muffled roar of the river running over it emanated from the tunnel, and sounded like distant hooves of wild beasts, frightened into an endless stampede.
There was another sound as well. Faint. A higher pitch, an uneven cadence.
Hendra leaned in close, and cupped her hand to her ear.
She strained to hear them, to make out words. Such small voices, they were. Hard to tell how far away, hard to tell…
Are they just Humankinder after all? Children? Lost and frightened?
“Maiter,” Senhendra started.
Then came screaming from inside the tunnel.