Furrowing his brow he nudged the Kobold beside him, the second Kobold startled and looked up from where he was fiddling with a metal puzzle toy.
"Hey, do you mind? I think I almost got it."
"Stop messing around with that, I think I saw something. You know what they said, keep an eye out for anything strange."
The second Kobold blinked at him then turned and looked over the parapet. Below the wall and across the bridge over the bottomless chasm there was an entrance to a cave system.
"I... I don't see anything. I think you're losing it."
"I'll make you lose it in a second if you give me any more lip. Look."
The Kobold jabbed out with a claw, pointing. The second Kobold stared, then after a moment, a flash of red appeared from around the edge of a rock.
"What was that? I thought I saw a... tail?"
"That's what I thought. Some idiot Kobold on the outside, dunno why they're not coming forward though."
"Why would anyone be on the outside? We're in lockdown after the chief freaked."
"Do you know why we're in lockdown?"
"Mm, well I heard talk. You know that Half-goblin tribe down a floor?"
"Oh yeah, they tried to raid us a while back, fat chance that was going to work with these walls."
"Well apparently one of our scouts we placed to keep an eye on them threw a fit. He came back raving about some new monster he'd never seen before, said he saw it make its way inside their base, and then nothing."
"What do you mean nothing?"
"I mean they're all gone. He watched and waited and the new monster left and then he crept inside their base and there was nothing left. No goblins, no half goblins, no nothing except a massive lake of blood in the center of the cavern."
"Wha- That's a joke right?"
"No, not the way I heard it. He came screaming back up here terrified out of his mind and babbling incoherently. Had to ply him with a few drinks before they could get the story straight, once they heard it though, and sent someone down to check its truth, they were real disturbed like. And here we are. Buckled up tight. Hey, Hold on, looks like our friend out there is making a move."
The two Kobolds leaned over the parapet and stared intently as a red Kobold stumbled reluctantly from behind the rock. He looked around unsure for a moment before he focused on the wall the two Kobolds stood upon. The wall was across a bridge and set access the entrance to a large cavern. It featured a heavy iron door. The wall around the door was riddled with arrow slits from which dozens of bows were being aimed. The top of the wall bristled with Kobolds carrying spears.
He blinked in surprise seemingly caught unawares by just how fearsome a defence it presented.
A stick wobbled from behind the rock and poked him in the tail. The Kobold jumped and seemed to collect himself. He produced a piece of paper and held it up. He squinted at it then cleared his throat.
"I- uh, I've come with news! There's a uh, terrifying! Monster on the prowl, and uhm, it can dig through stone like swimming through water! My tribe, uh, Kobold tribe, has d-died! All dead! We underestimated the beast and it came up from under our feet! It is only I who survived! I come here now to beg you to follow me! Flee from behind your safe walls before it is too late! Come with me if you wish to live!" His head turned to the side and he whispered loudly. "I-Is that okay? I thought that went okay." The stick prodded him in the tail again and he shut his mouth and turned back to the wall.
"Who the fuck are you?!" yelled a Kobold.
"Me?! Oh I'm just a survivor, I've had a, truly, dreadful time, you would not believe it. Uhm, but I hope you will listen! Heed my warning!"
"What if he's telling the truth?"
"Oh shut up. He's clearly trying to get one over on us.
"Hey, it could be true, I swear I heard scratching in the walls last night, what if it's this monster?"
"That was your girl tickling my balls."
"Fuck you Folen, that's not funny."
"Whoever said I was joking?"
A short lived fight broke out on the wall.
"Uhm," said the red Kobold. "Do you think any of you will be coming out?"
"Hell no! You're probably with the monster!"
"I am most certainly not! I would never voluntarily-"
"Hey, is that a slave collar around that Kobold's neck?"
"It fucking is as well. Hey, this Kobold's being puppeted!"
"Th-this? This is a-a fashion accessory!"
"It's attached to a bloody chain!"
"Oh, that's the necklace part! It's long because it's fashionable of course! It's really popular on the bottom floor of the dungeon!"
An arrow zipped out of one of the arrow slits and struck the stone by his foot with a shower of sparks. The red Kobold leapt into the air in fright.
"You almost shot me! Scale rot you! Do you have any idea what I've been through? My own kind having the audacity to shoot an arrow at me? Have some decency you cretinous-!"
Three more arrows struck the stone around him and the red Kobold was abruptly yanked behind the rock with a tug on his chain.
An annoyed looking Goblin met his eyes.
"You suck at acting."
"No I don't, it's just that you gave me an impossible act to follow!"
"Nonsense, my plan was fine."
Rain moved away from the wall. "It was not very likely to work Opal, let's be serious."
"They somehow heard about what happened."
Opal scowled. Then sighed and her shoulders slumped. "It's my fault. My old tribe posted scouts on the Half-goblin tribe, I should have realized that other tribes would do the same. Half-goblin tribes are dangerous so it's smart to do that."
This was the fourth tribe that Opal had brought them to, and the second on the floor above the Half-goblin tribe. They had left the Half-goblin tribe intent on finding a regular goblin tribe and repeating the same plan, unfortunately each time Opal brought them to one of the nearby small Goblin tribe's home caverns they found it devoid of Goblins, with only a few signs that a tribe had recently been there. What had happened to the Half-goblins had spooked them enough to go to ground and vanish into the dungeons extensive cave systems. After the second time they found nothing Opal had suggested they take the stair up a floor, they did so only to be met with another tribe's deserted cavern. Word had apparently spread far. This had led to Opal wanting to test the local Kobold tribe, if unenthusiastically, as the Kobolds were clearly entrenched and impossible to attack.
"It happens. We just need to adapt."
Opal bit her lip and shivered. Rain noted her knees were slightly turned inward. He looked over the Goblin carefully. He could sense something was off with her since she had run away while he ate the Half-goblin tribe yesterday but he couldn't precisely say what. She'd stayed away from him until they'd made to look for more food and then he kept catching moments where she was looking at him nervously.
"Adapt, right, uhm, well we don't need to go after tribes."
"We can kill other monsters, monsters that hunt alone or in small packs. Monsters that aren't sapient. Larger monsters."
Opal tapped her lip. "Larger monsters might work, you're waaay stronger now, I bet you could take down something pretty big with some tricks, and if they are big that means lots to eat."
"That's true, but how do we find something like that?"
"I know of a potential place, maybe. Follow me."
She tugged on the red Kobold's chain and entered into the tunnel. She paused for a moment as she walked and trembled, her breath hitching. Rain narrowed his eyes but after seeing nothing more he followed.
She took them on a winding route through the caves until the ground began to be covered with the verdant moss of a new biome. Small green and white flowers speckled the walls as they went deeper. The scent of plant life filled the air and golden pollen floated lazily about them. The twisting winding tunnel eventually came to an end and the trio exited into a vast crystal lit cavern that was segmented into several broad tiers covered in verdant greenery, trees, and grassy moss and flowers. Giant flower bulbs hung from the ceiling unbloomed. The air was full of pollen.
"Smells like I'm sitting in a bath full of flowers."
"It's blooming season, it also tends to attract a certain monster species that come here to feed. A scary monster that likes to crawl through tunnels and hunt Gobbo tribes."
"Well, it is big."
She yanked on the Kobold's chain and made her way to the edge of the tier they stood upon, a crescent moon that's inner curve dropped off as a cliff down to lower tiers. Below them, ancient gnarled trees dotted the mossy grassy ground.
"There, do you see it? It's called a Panthara in Common."
Rain peered over the edge. A yellow, white, and black-spotted furred creature was moving below the treetops, tall enough to push aside branches. It took Rain a minute to figure out what he was looking at. It was like a giant sized leopard, except, like a centaur, where the head would normally be there was the upper body of a humanoid leopard. Two six foot long scaled tentacle barbels emerged from its muzzle and floated behind its head. It's four feet and two hands weren't like a normal leopard's, instead transitioning from fur to scale with large eagle-like talons on each digit. Its eyes were a solid flat blue that glowed eerily in the pollen filled air.
"That looks... Dangerous."
"Yeah... Don't worry though, I have something in mind."
She walked along the cliff edge until she came to a large rock. She rested a palm on it, it was nearly as tall as Rain and looked immensely heavy.
"We're going to drop this on it."
Rain eyed the rock and then eyed the Panthara a fair distance away and definitely not directly below the cliff.
"You know I can't pick that up and throw it right?"
"We just need to get it over here and then you push the rock over the edge."
Opal let slip an evil grin and her eyes slid over to the Kobold.
"W-wait, why are you looking at me? What's with that look? H-hold on now," said the Kobold slowly backing away.
Opal tossed the end of the chain to Rain and lunged at the Kobold who let out a high pitched scream. After a moment of struggle the Kobold stumbled forward and Opal dodged to the side, she cackled and a foot impacted with his rear. He yelped and then to his horror he went over the cliff, his eyes wide and mouth open he fell until with a choked gargle he hit the limit of the chain hanging ten feet or so above the ground. He scrabbled at the collar and chain and managed to get enough of a grip to hold himself up.
"You ASSHOLE! You tried to hang me!" he yelled up at them.
"Oh hush, you're a Kobold, as tough as an old boot."
"I could have died!"
"Yes, keep making noises like that, you're attracting the Panthara."
"I- Damn you!"
"Oh, it's looking over here now!"
The Kobold made a choked off scream of rage and stilled himself trying to avoid attention.
Too late, the Panthara was prowling through the trees, shifting branches aside to peer at the dangling Kobold. Its barbels twitched and snaked in the air as it narrowed its eyes.
The Kobold who was frozen in fright began to bounce up and down, he looked up in horror to see Rain dangling him around like bait on a hook.
"S-Stop damn you!" he furiously whisper hissed.
"Wiggle around more you scaly worm!" yelled down Opal with her hand cupped to the side of her mouth.
"Nuuuu!" he cried, tears forming in the corner of his eyes.
Opal sighed and glared at the Panthara that remained watching with idle interest from the trees.
"Is this really not enough? Fine."
She turned around and dropped her shorts and with a whip crack slapped her rear.
"Come and get me you ugly shitty pussy cat!"
The Panthara glared up at her from the trees and let out a snarl of irritation. It parted the branches and rushed straight toward the Kobold who proceeded to freak out.
Rain dropped the chain and the Kobold fell with a scream, he then leapt behind the rock and rammed into it, his feet scouring the ground and his claws tearing up the earth as he torqued forward with all his strength, straining to his utmost limit. For a moment he feared he didn't have it in him to move it, but with a grinding sound it began to shift, tip, and then fall over the edge of the cliff. The rock plummeted downward, amazingly on target with the Panthara who was standing over the Kobold who had curled up on the ground in the fetal position. Unfortunately, the creature seemed far more aware of the situation than they had given credit and when the rock began to fall the Panthara simply took a step backwards. The rock landed with a boom, spraying dirt in all directions along with a screaming Kobold. The Kobold's sudden flight came to an abrupt halt as the chain now trapped under the rock choked him off.
The Panthara held its arm up to protect its eyes from the dust, then once it had settled scowled up at Rain and Opal who were peering over the edge.
"Nothing. Things too smart to fall for such basic traps it seems." She sighed. "It's fine," she said, turning away from the edge.
A distant voice from below pleaded "Don't leave meeeee!"
"I know some other place we could try I-"
The swift sound of claw on stone came from below. Opal's eyes widened and she whipped around as a huge taloned hand came over the edge of the cliff and the Panthara hauled itself up.
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