Prologue to Dance of the Goblins
‘I don’t know why we’re doing this,’ growled Latham. Ten pairs of eyes turned towards him as the ragged group of common men huddled within their cloaks in the damp chill of pre-dawn on the heath. Latham drew his own cloak as close as possible over his hulking frame, pulling the hood down over his dark, greasy hair. He peered at them from within his wrappings to be sure that he had their attention.
‘Since when do we take orders from the women anyway? It’s not like it was the first time Caleb had a fight with his missus and went off for a walk to let off steam.’
‘But he always came back before,’ said the younger man at his side. Latham had always liked Ranalf, but just now he was only irritated by the metalsmith’s apprentice and his reasonable attitude. The boy didn’t even have to be here as he had no wife yet to nag him out of his warm bed. Latham only wished they would find the missing man so that he could get back to his own. But there was no more to be done now except to keep on complaining until the others gave in and they could all go home.
‘We’ve been walking over the heath half the night, we probably missed him in a patch of fog.’
‘What was that?’ The hushed voice of one of the older men had an acute sense of urgency to it. All was silent for a moment. It was Ranalf who next thought he heard a sound, almost like a voice, just on the edge of hearing. He motioned with his hand for the others to follow and crept carefully in the direction that he thought the sound had come from. He knew that sound could be deceptive in the dampness, but his intuition led him on. His trust in the odd sense that he had was quickly rewarded with another sound, like tree branches being pushed aside. The others heard it too this time and moved more quickly towards it despite the potential danger of a misstep in the dim light.
‘There he is!’ shouted the older man. Caleb had seemed to appear suddenly out of the side of a lichen covered hill. The man who had spotted him was almost delirious with the excitement of seeing the missing man alive and apparently unhurt, just when they had begun to give up hope. Then his face quickly changed to an expression of shock and horror.
‘What is that…thing!’ he said in an exclamation of gross disgust.
In the next heartbeat the man took in the sight of the creature that held Caleb by the arm. It seemed small and scrawny, but the muscles visible beneath its sickly green skin spoke of powerful limbs. They held as much threat as the sharp teeth protruding from its slack mouth, hanging open now in an expression of astonishment. It matched those of the humans who stood frozen in a moment of disbelief. The creature was nearly naked, wearing only a loincloth of some unknown animal skin. It was as dark as the unruly hair that hung down its back in a sweeping wave, broken only by its large, pointed ears.
There were blue marks on its upper body which looked like paint imbedded in the skin. Most mesmerising though, were the large yellow eyes that held the man’s gaze for an eternal split second. Then the creature was gone. Caleb stood alone for a moment, then collapsed into unconsciousness. Ranalf leaped to his side, checking quickly for heartbeat and breath. He nodded to the others to confirm that the man was alive, then as if by a signal, the men shouted all at once in an unintelligible war cry that rang through the early morning light. They plunged through the lichen and fell on a depression that might have been an opening once, but had been freshly filled in with loose earth. Latham shouted to Ranalf to run back to the village for help, while the others called orders to each other randomly. They began to dig with their hands or any other tools they could improvise.
On the other side of the freshly filled opening, the creature ran. The others of its kind had acted quickly. Goblins learned from a young age what to do in case of a sighting. There were enough others with him to hold the wall for a few minutes at best on their own, but it would be enough. He leaped down the left hand passage, clearing the pit trap easily. He nodded with an undulation of his upper body as he said just one word to the goblin waiting just beyond the opening in the side wall.
The other goblin’s eyes widened, but he reacted quickly, returning the nod briefly as he began beating a rhythm on the large drum at his side. Now the diggers will come, Darek thought to himself as he continued running down the passage. He stopped anyone he met to spread the message as he ran. In his mind, the young goblin retraced his movements just before the sighting, searching for any hint of carelessness. By the time he reached the deeper levels he was satisfied. There was no breach of procedure. It was just an accident of timing. But one thought terrified him.
Because of that timing, the world is going to change. Forever.
Sample from The Wake of the Dragon
Captain Bonny awoke to the sounds of voices shouting orders and men running to and fro. There was a commotion at the rail. He shivered as his befuddled mind tried to waken and grasp the situation. Bale’s voice stood out among the tumult, distinctively shouting orders to cast off and take to the air. It was still dark, it was foggy. These were no conditions to fly, but Captain Bonny’s trust in his First Mate’s judgement was such that he assumed a crisis was at hand and there was no choice but to be off.
He pulled himself up from the deck, feeling stiff and cold. Part of him wished he had had the sense to be away to his warm bunk for the night, but his own law required that pipes could only be smoked on the open deck. He had been entitled to the tranquillity of an opium stupor after the unsatisfactory turn of events. The men shouting over the rail appeared to be a separated mass of pandemonium from the liveliness besetting the rest of the crew. Bonny staggered over to see what it was all about.
He felt the ship heave as they set aloft and instinctively bent his knees to adjust to air legs. As he drew closer to the rail, the words the men were shouting began to sink into his slowly recovering consciousness and began to make some sense. They were encouraging someone to climb up the rope. Suddenly the captain was alert and picked up his pace, reaching the rail in a few strides.
He had expected to see one of his men desperately climbing a rope as the rapidly rising airship hurtled above the fog to the clouds and darkness where she felt all too much at home. Instead what he found was a cat clinging desperately to the rope with one leg flying loosely in the air, screeching her fear as they gained altitude.
’Haul that rope up men, now!’ Captain Bonny ordered. The cat’s hold on the rope was precarious at best. Her fear prevented her from climbing further on her own. These men were experienced at hand over hand rope hauling for far more heavy cargo and even for each other on occasion. A little cat didn’t lend much weight. The rope was hauled up in just a few seconds. Captain Bonny reached for the cat and pulled it securely into his own coat, along with the rope which she refused to release. The men who had hauled her up applauded.
’She were chasing a rat Cap’n.’ One of the men volunteered. ’We knocked it off, but she wouldn’t jump back down before we was in the air. I don’t think they go backwards.’
Captain Bonny held the shivering cat closely to his chest. She was a small, fluffy tortoiseshell. Probably not yet fully grown. She was also clearly terrified and shivering from fear rather than cold.
’Enough diversion men, get back to your stations.’ The men obeyed immediately, dispersing to various parts of the ship. The captain extracted the rope carefully from the cat’s claws, still holding her securely within his coat. She mewed pathetically.
’There there little rat catcher’, he crooned to her gently. ’You’re safe now. I think you just earned yourself a new career, as ship’s cat.’ He smiled at her, scratching her chin affectionately. Her big golden eyes looked up at him.
’Not yet a goddess of the air I see, so we won’t call you after Aide. I’ll think of another name. But for now, let’s take you below.’
He started towards the stairs down to his cabin, then saw Mister Bale on deck.
’Mister Bale!’ Bonny called to him in his authorative captain’s voice. ’Report please, why are we aloft in fog and darkness.’
Mister Bale looked up from lighting his pipe. He wandered towards the captain leisurely, as if the bustle of the sudden flight had never happened. The scent of opium wafted from the rising smoke.
’It were time to leave Sir. And good riddance to that goddess forsaken swampland. Weren’t no reason to think we’d be goin’ back Sir.’
Bale’s eyes fell on the little cat peering out from within Captain Bonny’s coat. The look he gave her was scathing. Bonny had never seen such an expression of deep loathing on his First Mate’s face.
’Cat’s is bad luck Sir.’
’She’s a ratter, a new volunteer to hold the position of ship’s rat catcher.’ Bonny wasn’t going to be distracted with a conversation about the relative merits of cats. He pressed further on the situation at hand. ’Why the sudden departure?’
Bale pulled his attention away from the reviled beast within his captain’s coat, and settled into his storytelling stance, waving his pipe to emphasise his words.
’It were like this Sir. The ship needed coal for the steam engine. There weren’t no place open until morning to get it and there weren’t no entertainment after supper, no place to go but back to the ship. So the men settled in to have a smoke and get some kip, but they was feelin’ restless. A few of the lads that were in their rum weren’t smokin’ so they just weren’t sleepy. They went out to find some coal. Only they weren’t very quiet about it.’
The captain chuckled.
’I take it then, that the sudden need to get airborne means they were successful?’ Bonny was getting the picture now. Drunken sailors, pirates, scavenging in a sleepy town for supplies…he was surprised he hadn’t seen torches and pitchforks waving from the ground when he had looked over the rail.
’You got the way of it Sir.’ Bale answered without cracking a smile. Only his eyes betrayed his own amusement. ’They sort of borrowed a wagon to get the coal here Sir. It’s still in the field. But there weren’t no horse to be found, so the men dragged it here themselves, looked like a carriage and six when I saw them pushin’ and pullin’ for all they was worth, and the ground still soft from the rain.
At that the captain laughed out loud, startling the little cat. She suddenly pushed her way out of the jacket and climbed up onto his shoulder, perching confidently now that she had had a few moments to recover from her ordeal.
Bale scowled at the offensive creature.
’You ain’t no parrot’, he said to the cat directly, pointing his pipe stem at her accusingly.
Captain Bonny looked at the perched cat with some surprise. He had never seen a cat do that before.
’What do you think Bale’, he asked, still laughing. ’Shall I call her Polly like a proper captain’s parrot?’
Bale wasn’t so easily amused.
’It’s a stowaway, an invader. Might as well call it Genghis Khan.’
Bonny regarded the little creature. She had an air of gentle femininity about her that defied any such warrior name.
’I think she’s a girl. Maybe Genghis Khana, or perhaps, just Khana. Yes, that will do. We’ll call you Khana. My little Amazon warrioress who will take on all rats and invade the skies with impunity like a proper pirate cat.’
Sample from Demoniac Dance
The night was brightly lit by the full moon. The shadows created by the moonlight lent an eerie feeling to the new surroundings that accented the unprecedented experiences that the day had brought. Namah walked slowly across the comforting grass of the heath, the one familiar substance in a world that had changed so completely for her in a single day. She took her time, giving herself a few minutes to assimilate all of the new experiences before rejoining her new friends. It was odd looking around the site. It was obviously a familiar meeting place for the magicians. She wondered for a moment if Count Anton himself would appear soon.
Namah’s eye fell on an object standing erect against the darkened sky. She had not noticed before. It was an abnormally shaped object, tall and striking yet not quite visible in the shadows of moonlight. She walked towards it. When she was quite close she could see that it was a carved wooden post. There were figures carved on it of various animal-like masks. On the top sat a very detailed figure of a gargoyle. It was ugly, with the sort of features she would have expected to see on the goblins. It had broad leathery looking wings that accented its demon-like appearance.
Namah wondered for a moment why the magicians would carve such a frightening figure. The eyes were particularly alarming. They looked predatory, evil. Yet they had a similar quality to the beautiful goblins’ eyes. They were like deep golden pools to draw in the soul, much like those of the musician…a carving with colour? The expression in the eyes changed to one of inquisitiveness as the gargoyle cocked its head to the side, studying the girl who gazed upon it.
Namah began to hyperventilate in absolute, soul encompassing fear. She felt the vibration of the scream as it rose through her diaphragm, then escaped through her throat into the open air in a blood-curdling shriek that might possibly have awakened the dead.
Sample from Power of the Dance
The moonlit sky saw two pair of wings spread across the shaded clouds as Drazek and Jezza enjoyed the pure joy of free flight. A moment later another pair of dragon-like wings joined their aerial dance…it was Khemael, returned from the north.
There would be news and a storytelling, but first the Dragon Dance must express itself in wordless ecstasy. The air currents were pushed into swirls of backwash as wings stroked through them like a swimmer in water. Mind to mind the aerialists became as one, moving through formations of expression that were older than time. It was in this Dance that the descendants of both dragon and goblin knew their reptilian ancestry for what it was. Magic settled over the land as the silent display played out the Dance of Fire.
After a time the dancers split asunder and Jezza flew with Drazek back to their private cavern. Khemael had much to report. What Drazek had seen mind to mind must now be conveyed to Haghuf and the other goblins. The people of the north were many, and they were coming.