Oliver lost count of the platforms they passed before the swaying cart slowed. Ahead the overhead lights grew in size, brightening the area with an unnatural glare. For the third time he tried to get some information on what was going on. “Sirs, where are we going? Have I done something wrong?”
Stony, expressionless faces looked through him and no reply was forthcoming. Oliver sighed, slumped back in his seat and watched a large gold- en hued wall and massive gate creep into view as they slowed. They came to a stop on what seemed to be the bottom of the chasm, a flat stony surface covered in rock dust. Here, the rail line ended.
A cheerful looking goblin strolled up and en- gaged the cart’s braking system before looking the occupants over. “Welcome be to you young friend.” He said to Oliver. “What brings you to the ‘Floor of the Sea’ as we call it?”
Before Oliver could reply one of the armored goblins spoke sharply in their grating language and the rail worker quickly backed away, his cheerful look fading into something closer to apprehension.
Oliver was led to the large metal door. Two torches stood on either side of an inscribed plate embedded in the wall. Just above the plate hung a rope. The leader of the soldiers reached up and pulled hard on the rope once and stepped back to join the other two soldiers. Nothing happened at first, then a low rumble of sound came from be- hind the wall and then silence once again.
Oliver started when the gate began to open. Slowly, the heavy door swung on silent hinges, opening into darkness. As the group moved through the gateway, small pinpricks of light flamed to life. Candles, hundreds of candles standing on narrow stone pillars, lit the space beyond the wall. Behind each candle stood a young goblin, alternating male and female. They were spaced every ten or so paces.
The illuminated area showed that they were moving through a cleft in the cliff face, winding as it followed the natural curves of the rock. A cold draft of air made Oliver shiver as they walked. The silence was just about to make him crazy when the trail widened and the line of candles ceased.
Ahead was a solid wall of darkness. The soldiers halted and stood quietly. Oliver waited with them, shivering in the subterranean cold, glancing at the solemn candle bearers around them.
The sudden boom of a drum shattered the silence as more candles flared to life. Oliver drew his breath in sharply. The group stood at the entrance to a long natural cavern, not unlike the one underneath Sun Fire Citadel. The floor was not smooth, jagged rock shot up in all directions, making the room look as if a giant mouth had opened. At the far side of the cavern a score or more goblins stood gathered around a single goblin seated on what appeared to be a throne. The hall was formed out of living rock, the throne itself little more than a shelf of stone bordered on each side by two round boulders.
Waved forward by another armored goblin that stood next to the throne, Oliver’s group crossed the distance between the entrance and the rough dais. The three goblins that had brought him knelt on one knee, plate armor folding smoothly as they moved. Oliver quickly did likewise, returning to stand upright with the guards. Only then did he meet the eyes of the goblin sitting on the throne.
He was old, not old like Oliver understood, more ancient than any human he had seen. He seemed a part of the stone chair that held him. The gray skin was creased and cracked, the features loose. His hair was but wisps of white strands that stuck out of the simple iron circlet on his brow. The eyes were different. Alive, even young, they pierced through Oliver and made him lower his gaze and redden in shyness.
“Welcome to the Deep Fallows young human.” The voice grated like millstones. “I am Bosgar, leader of the Goblin race. It is my great honor to meet you. I had grown worried I may not last until this day.”
Oliver stumbled through his reply. “Good sir, it is I who should be honored. Is there something that I have done wrong?”
The room erupted in coarse laughter, the sound reverberating off the rock walls as even the candle bearers joined in. “Nay, tall one! You have done nothing wrong and I am sorry for the secrecy of your journey here. My captain enjoys putting fear into outsiders in general and he had to be talked into allowing you this deep.” Bosgar pointed with a smile to the leader of the three goblins that had escorted Oliver.
With a hearty bellow of laughter the accused turned to Oliver and embraced him, squeezing the breath out of him. “You be a right solemn human, and it did me good to see you not quake in your boots!”
Released, Oliver stood in relieved confusion, a smile breaking out as the laughter and conversation continued unabated. The goblin leader raised a hand above his head and all fell silent. “Now as to why you are here, we must talk. We do not allow humans access to this place for sport. My scouts have reported that the Citadel called Sun Fire is destroyed and that you were the only one seen leaving the island.” At Oliver’s startled look Bosgar raised his hand reassuringly. “They followed you to protect you until you could come before me. I have need of understanding what danger is on our threshold. I understand loved ones may have perished, but please tell us what transpired on that dark island as time may be of great importance.”
Oliver spoke haltingly. “Sir, it is as you say, I am from Sun Fire. I had never left until yesterday.” Bosgar bade him and the others nearby take seats and then nodded to Oliver to continue. Oliver then spoke of what he had seen, relating the events as best he could remember, hiding only the details of the cavern and its secrets. Throughout his tale the goblins looked at one another and made whispered comments back and forth.
When Oliver finished his story, the goblin Leader stood and clasped his arms with an iron grip. “Child, you will be from this day, a part of my people, a son of a lost island. We weep with you in your loss and rejoice in your life. You are welcome to stay here and need only ask for anything.”
Mark E. Lein grew up in small towns across the country, spending most of his childhood in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains of Northwestern Arkansas. Throughout his life, his favorite books have been sci-fi and fantasy, anything Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Terry Brooks and a little Isaac Azimov. Graduating from college in 2004, he became an Army Infantry and Intelligence Officer and continues to serve to this day. While deployed to Iraq for 14 months back in 2007-09, he began writing with this book in mind. His civilian work includes Intelligence Analysis and providing expertise with military training programs. He now lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife of 9 years, Emily, and his three children, Oliver, Lucy, and Alexander.
Buy the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Emerging-Threat-Seekers-Burden-Book-ebook/dp/B00G4LS6AK/