Ami watched the goblins hesitate, shaking their weapons and distorting their ugly faces into grimaces as they bickered among themselves. She hoped the plan would work, even though the way Jered was holding her up and ducking behind her was most displeasing. If she got the chance, she'd tell him what she thought about that later.

"Is bad plan!"

"Is not!"

"Is TOO!" the shouting goblin finally managed to win the debate, by virtue of grabbing his opponent by his long, triangular right ear and swinging him around until his face slammed into the knotty bark of the nearest tree. The little humanoid took a more rigid posture, puffing out its black-armoured chest, and clapping its hands together as if to clean them. "We kill big ones, leave red-eye alone. She rescued, maybe get reward!"

The other goblins cheered. This made sense to them.

"Oh good going Jered. Great negotiation skills." Cathy had made her way over to where Ami and Jered were, and was protecting his back, sword held ready. At her feet lay the injured acolyte, groaning softly from time to time, forming a mound that would serve as a minor obstacle to the small attackers. The only one still separated from the group was Boris, who had managed to position a large pine to his back and was glowering at the goblins surrounding him with the fury of a black bear.

"Not so fast," Jered's voice went steely, and Ami suddenly felt something cold against her throat. "Do you really think the Keeper would care whose fault it is she got hurt, rather than destroying everyone involved? Back off!"

Obviously I would! Ami thought, taken aback by this turn of events. Jered didn't make much sense. Could she get out of this fast enough if she tried? Feeling that dagger against the skin of her neck was frightening.

The goblins hesitated in their advance and let out some cranky growls, looking at each other questioningly. Finally, the one that had disagreed before croaked with a maniacal gleam in his blood- shot eyes "What odds that Keeper even watching? We kill all, we loot, we go away!"

Uh oh, this was bad. Ami could feel the brown-haired man tighten his grip on her, and didn't dare gulp for fear of cutting herself on the sharp steel. Well, my secret is out anyway, so... She considered her options. Reaper? Inappropriate, and she didn't want to set him free. Beetle? She mentally snatched the biggest, meanest looking of her chitinous minions and pulled it in her direction, then felt something wrench it from her immaterial grasp at the borders of her territory. The bug was hurled forward on its trajectory until it spread its wings and arrested its fall with an agitated buzzing sound. What the... ? Ack, goblins getting close, try again, worry later!

Everything froze when suddenly, the lead goblin went down under the weight of a bug-eyed creature just a little smaller than himself that had appeared out of mid-air. The imp gave a squeal of glee as it stood up and did a little jig on the hapless attacker's head.

"Holy crap!" the blonde swordswoman boggled, staring at the creature with wide, blue eyes. "You were actually right about her!"

"Don't panic now," Jered commanded. "Nothing has changed! Now you know we aren't bluffing!" he added, a hint of hysteria vibrating in his voice. He hadn't actually expected a Keeper to be scrying on them. Had anyone paid attention to Boris, they would have seen that the black-bearded giant was scowling fiercely at the newcomer, and then transferring this scowl to Ami. The imp itself had turned its huge black eyes on Jered and bared its teeth at the rodent-featured man. It let out an outraged squeak and started advancing, waving its pick back and forth threateningly.

"Keeper is watching!" the goblins cried. "We stuck again now! What we do?"

"Control your creature, Keeper," Jered hissed as the imp approached. With luck, he and his team would still get out of this situation unharmed. Well, mostly unharmed, he added mentally considering the arrows sticking out of his barbarian ally and the slumped form of Snyder on the ground. It was nice to have the value of the girl confirmed though. As Ami didn't think her health would be served by the man holding a knife to her throat having to fend of an irate minion, she ordered the imp to stop.

The goblins were still discussing the recent development.

"...get Gold! Keepers pay good!"

"Dungeon not here! How we find?"

While the little green things argued, Cathy was kneeling down next to the fallen priest-in-training, checking up on his injuries, looking grim. Ami, listening in to the goblin chatter, realised that they wanted to find employment with her. While the idea of having a tribe of bloodthirsty little savages to go with her bloodthirsty huge savage wasn't entirely to her taste, she figured that they'd at least be out of the way and not endangering any innocents in her dungeon. It wasn't as if she didn't have enough room for them. She craned her neck to get away from the blade, and said "Go with the imp."

The heroes looked at her, as if surprised she had spoken up. The goblins just looked clueless and suspicious. "How we know this not trap?"

Ami figured that she could safely transport one imp plus whatever cargo it was carrying Fortunately, goblins were small. Shrugging its shoulders at its strange new orders, the servile minion scuttled over to the unconscious warrior it had landed on, and unceremoniously stuffed him into its pack. With a high-pitched groan, it strained to lift the body, which was still hanging half out of the sack, and disappeared. The worried glances of his companions turned to angry mutters. Back at the dungeon heart, the imp reappeared, and dumped the unconscious body on the ground as if it was garbage.

Attracted by the noise, the Horned Reaper stomped over. He snorted in disdain upon spotting the sprawled-out form. "Wake up, trash!" A kick from his huge hoofed bounced the creature off of one of the pillars of the heart's superstructure. It did the job.

"Who dare kick Gruk? You die!" the goblin pulled with two hands at its helmet that had once been a cooking pot, now stuck over his eyes from having an imp drop on it. With a plop, the piece of armour was finally dislodged, and the belligerent face of the huge-eared being appeared. He looked at the legs of his tormentor. Then he looked up. And up. The red-skinned demon grinned toothily down at him, watching in amusement as the green creature's face flinched away. "Gruk think feeling mercyful today," it stammered.

"If you are going to join the Keeper, get it over with. I don't have all day!" the Reaper growled, twirling his scythe in anticipation.

"Gruk is joining!" the goblin quickly agreed, scampering toward the heart and conveying its wish to join the Keeper. Nearly as soon as he was done, an imp sneaked up on him from behind, pounced, and put its bag over his head and upper torso. Ami transferred the two of them back to the battlefield, where her disoriented new underling struggled to get out of the pack, while the imp just giggled to itself.

"Tell them that it's safe to go!" Ami demanded.

Gruk freed himself and surveyed his surroundings, disoriented. "Not completely safe," he finally concluded. "Gruk got kicked by giant red monster. Keeper hiring, though."

A little cheer accompanied that announcement. A moment later, the imp was buried under a heap of goblins, all vying to be the first to be ferried over to the dungeon. Huh. Ami hadn't expected that being hired by a dungeon keeper was so coveted. Looking closer, she noted that the small monsters did look somewhat starved, in as far as she could judge. The waylaying business must have been going poorly, then.

One by one, the goblins disappeared, which left Ami with the travelling group only. Jered let out a long-held breath and let go of her. "Well, that was certainly interesting. Cathy, how's Snyder doing?"

The blonde looked up, face pale. "Not good. He's coughing up blood. I think a broken rib punctured his lung. At this rate, he's not going to make it."

"Damn. Accursed goblins. And he's our healer, too. Can you bandage him up?"

"I can help!" Ami shouted, stepping closer. While the young man had caused her much embarrassment so far, he didn't deserve to die. "Just get those chains off me!"

"Forget about that!" Boris roared, stomping towards her. "We have seen the witch is in cahoots with a Keeper! We should string her up right now!"

Ami backed away from the angry barbarian. They still think I'm a witch? But... did Jered simply bluff and I made a huge mistake? She'd fret over that later. She turned to Cathy, asking imploringly. "Please, let me help! He doesn't have to die just because you don't trust me! I won't do anything!" She briefly considered disappearing the chains to the dungeons - they were on her, so they were hers - but didn't trust her control enough to do so without flaying her skin from her arms too. Boris was still advancing on her, and Jered was kneading his chin, considering his options.

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Chapter 12: Ambush Chapter 14: Intra-Party Conflict



Attached comments:

  • The explanation is actually much simpler than that: the ward is working, but it doesn't affect her Keeper powers. Why? Well, the heart is part of her, but there's no ward on it.
    And yes, the magic items on her were dispelled by the specially blessed water. I also have never mentioned anything about her dungeon heart's power, and she was moving that imp herself - imps can go to neutral territory for some reason, probably because they are imbued with so much of the dungeon's own power.
  • On an unrelated note: If Ami's hands are unbound, can she reach and remove the amulet herself? Or is it one of those that can only be removed from the wearer by certain people? (Priestly types or whoever knows the right incantations, small children and the pure of heart, etc.)
    Yes. It's kind of sticky, in the same way that a magnet sticks to metal. It's entirely possible to just rip it off, though.
  • I think by this point Ami should realized the 'heros' of this world are mostly self rightious fools willing to do more evil then most Dungeon keepers for the greater good.
    Certainly. No Keeper would ever consider doing evil for the greater good. ;)
    On a more serious note, that statement is silly. Keepers routinely do stuff like torturing people, massacring villages for the fun of it, killing off their own creatures to produce skeletons or vampires, putting their minions' dining room next to the prison so they can watch the prisoners starve while they gorge themselves, and sacrificing their followers to the dark gods for personal gain. All for no better reason than because they can. Even the most shady hero is a saint compared to most Keepers.