[Wagon Drivers] were not heroes. That was one of the things Grunvan liked most about being one.
Heroes led exciting lives! Which Grunvan knew meant miserable ones.
Heroes enjoyed fame and renown! Which Grunvan knew meant everyone and their fifth cousin would come bother you when anything went wrong.
Heroes left legends that would last for ages! And that was the worst, in Grunvan’s eyes. Becoming a legend involved first becoming a corpse. Grunvan, by contrast, had what she felt was a perfectly healthy attachment to retaining a pulse.
“Still sounds pretty heroic to me,” Kolovin the [Octopire] said.
The opinion of a [Vampiric], land-based, octopus monster wasn’t something Grunvan would normally have argued with. Normally, she would have been running screaming at the sight of one, like any other sensible Goblin. In this case though, she settled for a grumbling sigh.
“I thought you could just tell them,” Argwin said. “It’s weird that they want to see you in person, isn’t it?”
“How do I know?” Grunvan said. “I don’t go marching up to [Kings] and [Queens] every day with world shaking secrets. I thought they’d wanted to talk to Kolvin, not me.”
“I’m not sure why they want to talk with me even,” Kolovin said. “I’m just a [Delivery Man]. I don’t think there’s all that much I can tell.”
Grunvan looked at the [Guards] who were posted at the single door that led out of the room. They were [Goblins] too. In theory that meant they were on her side. In practice, the people holding the nicely made pointy sticks tended to be on the side of the people who put gold in their purses and, even on her best hauling day, Grunvan had never made enough coin to high [Guards] of their caliber.
“It’s at least a nice room they dropped us in,” Argwin said, gingerly lifting a pastry from the tray on low table in front of them.
The wide couch had plenty of room for all three of them, but Kolovin had elected to sit opposite Argwin and Grunvan, curling his tentacles into an odd, makeshift chair beneath him. It didn’t look particularly comfortable, but he was able to move his free tentacles effortlessly so Grunvan supposed it was some natural posture his people adopted.
She snagged one of the pastries too, drawn by the lovely apricot aroma it gave off. To her delight, the flavor was even richer than the aroma had been.
A last treat for the condemned?
She had no idea why that thought bubble up in her brain. She hadn’t done anything wrong that she needed to worry about being punished for.
Well, not in the last twenty four hours at least.
And she was here to help!
She knew she was doing a good thing.
Which is probably why I’m expecting the punishment to show up before to long.
[Golbins] weren’t particularly punitive against those who tried to be helpful. In general, when someone stepped up the expectation was that they would be rewarded.
That was true with all the peoples of the [Fallen Kingdoms] as far as Grunvan knew.
It was also true though that bringing problems to light wasn’t always something those in power wanted to have to deal with. Or acknowledge. Or have revealed to any living soul.
The last part was the worrisome element for Grunvan.
Telling the grand high muckety mucks in charge of defending [Wagon Town] and the rest of the world that they needed to maybe not kill the hordes of enemy forces they were facing since most of those enemies were mind controlled and could be liberated instead of being murdered wasn’t, Grunvan guessed, the sort of thing that military strategists would be overly delighted to learn.
It was doubtless hard enough to plan for a battle with the Consortium’s forces. Doing so with the restriction of using non-lethal force only had to be completely impractical.
On the other hand, if the troops of the [Fallen Kingdoms] learned that they were slaughtering people who were effectively innocent of any real wrong doing, morale would plummet when the defenders needed it the most.
So much easier, perhaps, to simply erase the messengers and the message so they they could claim later than it was a real tragedy the Consortium forces had been killed rather than freed, but it was all in the past so what could they do?
Grunvan had just about worked up the courage to charge the door, and knock the [Guards] down in a bid for freedom when the door opened to admit two plate armored [Goblins].
“My apologies for the delay,” General Mowdi said, addressing Grunvan who bit back a curse.
She’d waited too long. Escape from a couple of regular guards wasn’t that daunting. [Wagon Drivers] built up some good muscles, Even if they were much higher level than she was, their levels didn’t add to their weight, so Grunvan had been certain she could toss them aside.
Not Mowdi though.
Mowdi was the sort of [Goblin] you didn’t overbear or run from. He was faster. He was stronger. And irritatingly, he was also nicer.
“We’re sorry to bring you away from the celebrations but the news that was relayed to me seemed to be of the utmost important,” Mowdi said.
“I don’t know how many of your questions we can answer,” Grunvan said. “We don’t know much more than what we told [Captain] Jipo.”
“It’s not my questions that we need answers to,” Mowdi said. “I’m just the go between here.”
He nodded to the other [Goblin] who stepped forward and began speaking in a language more ancient than the entire [Goblin] race.
Grunvan braced herself, fully aware that her ability to resist whatever horrifying enchantment was being cast on her was essentially nonexistent.
When the other [Goblin] stopped speaking though, Grunvan wasn’t a toad. Or a mouse. Or an ugly stain on the carpet.
The spell hadn’t been directed at her at all.
Instead, the walls of the room shimmered with a brilliant silver light and on the unoccupied side of the low table, a woman stood, her body a cascade of light.
Penny sometimes wondered if the world was designed expressly to keep her on her toes. With her multitasking abilities managing two or three crises at a time wasn’t all that impractical.
So of course it was never two or three. More like two or three thousand.
There was a pattern she’d noticed though. The biggest and baddest of the crises were rarely the hardest to deal with.
Certainly the city of [Oceanus] being overrun by a surprise attack from an army that was supposed to be five hundred miles away was terrible. The defenders had been caught unaware and the citizens unprepared to flee. Worse, [Oceanus] held a stockpile of incredibly powerful artifacts in their [Central Keep]. If that fell too, the strength of the attacking army would grow by an order of magnitude.
It was a calamity. It was a small apocalypse waiting inside the much larger that had engulfed the planet.
And it was something Penny already had plans for.
[King] Merwill had been obstinate that his city was in no danger and that the threat of the Consortium’s forces was overrated. Furthermore, his [Birthday Gala] was the social event of the year, and could not be cancelled or delayed.
Saving the city from that level of willful oversight was beyond even Penny’s talents.
Or perhaps just beyond her ability to care.
The key to preventing [Oceanus’s] fall from becoming the rest of the world’s problem was to prevent the [Treasury] from being looted.
By the Consortium that is.
Penny’s team of max level [Rogues] would be able to clean out the [Treasury] and replace its contents with the carefully crafted fakes that she’d commissioned before the [King’s] next call.
A call Penny would take, and answer.
She wasn’t completely heartless.
A plan to liberate [Oceanus] would be delivered to [King] Merwill. He wouldn’t agree to it, and so no help would officially be dispatched.
Unofficially, Penny already had a trio of [Adventuring Teams] infiltrating the city to rescue the citizens and help them escape to a temporary camp that was as secure as she could provide. With luck, the Consortium only wanted the [Treasury] and would leave the city once it was looted. If they wanted the city itself as a defensible position, that would become a problem to be dealt with once an army or two were free to maneuver into position.
All of that drama and intrigue and scheming though? None of it was going to change the overall course of the war against the Consortium. It had the barest fraction of a percent of Penny’s interest.
A random report from [Wagon Town] though that originated with a simple [Goblin] of no particular military standing? It was something that should have been overlooked. Thrown out in the mad rush to sort through a tsunami of voices from around the world. To minor. Too unimportant to bother anyone with. Or at least anyone with a broader reach than the small company of soldier who were defending the village the [Goblin] Grunvan had been caught in.
It was the small stories though, the ones that “simple” people told, that often seemed to hold truths that were precious beyond measure.
“You are Grunvan?” Penny asked, looking through the eyes of her secure projection to see two [Goblins] and an [Octopire] seated in the room along with [General] Mowdi and [Battle Speaker] Cassel.
“Uh, yes?” The poor [Goblin] looked so overwhelmed she might be legitimately confused as to what her own name was.
“And you are Kolovin?” Penny asked.
“I am,” the [Octopire] said.
“And Argwin?” Penny said, to which the other [Goblin] nodded. “Thank you so much. I’ve been looking for someone to bring forward the story you have since the fighting started.”
“You knew what was happening already?” Grunvan asked.
“No, and that’s what I needed,” Penny said. “That the Consortium conscripted their troops was easy to confirm. That they were bound in loyalty via enchantments however was trickier, especially after we tried to dispel the enchantments in the first encounters and met with nothing but failure.”
“Wait, you tried to free the guys like Kolovin here already?” Grunvan asked.
“On multiple battlefronts, and with a variety of spells and enchantment breaking items,” Penny said. “Given the ferocity and singular focus the Consortium forces fought with the simplest explanation was that there were compulsions in place to compel obedience and enforce discipline. Breaking those would have been our easiest course to victory.”
“Oh. So, this is no good then,” Grunvan said. “We can’t free them after all? We’ve just got to kill them all unless their bosses let them go like they did with Kolovin?”
“Oh no, not at all,” Penny said. “You saw what Kolovin was like after being freed of the loyalty constraints. You’re the witness that I need.”
“Wouldn’t Kolovin but the one who could tell you the helpful stuff though?” Grunvan asked. “Not to throw you under the wagon there Kol.”
“His story is important too,” Penny said. “I need to see hs escape from both sides though.”
“See his escape?” Grunvan asked.
“If you’re willing to share them, I can make your memories manifest,” Penny said. “We can watch them play out in real time, forward them and reverse them, and extrapolate other perspectives based on fragments of perception you’re not even consciously aware of.”
“How would you do that?” Grunvan asked.
“It’s a simple spell, related to the one I’m using now to communicate with you in fact.”
“Will it hurt? Or, will I lose the memories if you take them out of my head?” Grunvan asked.
“It can be disorienting,” Penny said. “Any mind magic can have lingering effects too.”
“You must do this,” [Battle Speaker] Cassel said. “We must have the information you possess.”
“No [Battle Speaker],” Penny said. “They are all free to refuse this. What they’ve done already puts us far ahead of where we were. I will absolutely not allow them to be subjected to any mind magic against their will. That would definitely inflict lasting harm on them.”
“But the situation is dire,” Cassel said.
“You need to believe in own strength more,” Penny said. “And believe in your people.”
She nodded to Grunvan who’d risen to her feet.
Grunvan’s hands were shaking, but the [Goblin] clenched them tight and looked up to meet Penny’s eyes.
“I can’t say I want the inside of my brains projected from everyone to see, but I came this far, so let’s do what’s got to be done,” Grunvan said, just like the hero Penny knew she was.