Takes place approximately four hundred years before Kal and Ikuno meet.
"You boys are lookin' pretty worn out," said Tarva Fittlegault, a blacksmith with a forge located near the edge of town. The ringing of metal on metal sounded behind him as his son shaped a piece of orange-hot iron.
"We have to return home and report that we lost the knight we were serving," said one of the men while throwing a beaten-up sword and a couple of equally damaged daggers on the counter in front of the forge. "How much to get these repaired enough to get us back to the capital?"
"What happened to him?" asked the blacksmith's son as he used some metal tongs to place the piece he had been hammering back into the coals. "Heyup!" he yelled toward the back of the shop. Out of sight, a donkey tethered to a sturdy pole began walking. The rod was attached to a set of wooden gears and shafts, which ended in a large steel disc. Cupped blades spaced around the outside pulled in air and directed it through the forge as it spun.
"Not our business Devlin," said the blacksmith as he inspected the damaged blades.
"I'm just curious, Dad. What happened to him?" he asked the squire again.
"He was killed."
"He was captured," the men said in unison.
"Well, which one is it?" asked Tarva, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
"Captured," said the man who claimed the knight had been killed, "but if he isn't dead already, he will be soon enough."
"That's a fair point," said the other squire.
"Didn't you try to rescue him?" asked the blacksmith's son.
"Two men against a warren of spear-wielding goblins is suicide," there was an odd moment of hesitation before he pointed at the dented and chipped weapons, "but yes, we did try."
"Goblins? The one's southwest of here?" Devlin asked. Everyone in town knew of the goblin warren, but it was small and far enough away they weren't any kind of threat.
"Aye, that's the one," the squire replied.
"Mind your iron son and quit harassing the customers," grumped his father before addressing the squires. "The sword I can have back to you by tomorrow, but this will be a patch job, so don't go crossing blades with anyone. A heavy blow from good steel might break it. If you aren't in a hurry, I can take a couple of extra days and get it done right. This dagger is scrap. I might be able to use the metal to repair the other one, but..." he applied pressure with a lone finger to one side of the blade and it folded over along a crack starting at the base and ending two-thirds of the way up, "this would be a waste of time and coin."
One of the men sighed, "I liked those daggers too. Is there a chance you have some for sale?"
Tarva smiled and reached under the counter to pull out a large wooden box. Spinning it around, he opened the lid and said, "They aren't the prettiest, but they'll be strong and sharp enough to get you home."
Devlin tuned out his father's conversation with the squires, if they could even be called that. How could two humans fail against a goblin warren? Everyone knew that the small, green women were some of the weakest monsters anywhere.
The air shimmered above the glowing metal bar as he pulled it from the forge and laid it on the anvil. A few strokes with a wire brush removed the scale forming on the surface before he set upon it with his hammer. The sparks flew while he daydreamed of charging into the goblin village and rescuing the knight. When he made his triumphant return, the town would treat him to a hero's welcome. As the iron on the anvil took shape, so did Devlin's plan.
The blacksmith's son quietly snuck into his father's forge that night. The pack on his back contained extra sets of clothes and some dried food from the cupboard. Two heavy blankets rolled up inside an oilskin tent were fastened to the top while a coil of rope and small hatchet hung from loops on the bottom. He wouldn't call himself a 'woodsman,' but he knew enough to keep himself fed and alive if he ever found himself lost or stranded in the forest.
His father's shop held the last two pieces he needed before he left. Hammers.
After helping his father for so long, few things felt more comfortable in his hand than a hammer. Waving one of his father's daggers felt like he was just flopping his hand around in the air. Hammers had a substance and heft that edged weapons lacked. It also didn't matter what side of the hammer struck a goblin woman's head, the result would be the same. It only took him a moment to find the long-handled iron mallets he was looking for, one for each hand. By the moonlight, Devlin also found his smithing belt. Iron loops attached to either side of the wide tool belt kept forging hammers close at hand, one for shaping and one for finer detail work. Strapping the belt on, he gave one of his chosen weapons a toss, spinning it in the air and catching it by the handle before smoothly dropping it into the metal loop. The rasping of metal on metal as the hammer handle slid through the ring ended with a loud clink that made the blacksmith's son freeze in place. He didn't dare breathe as he listened carefully for any noise from his house or those surrounding it. Carefully lifting the hammer out of the ring, Devlin decided maybe it would be better to carry those by hand until he got out of town. Catching movement out the corner of his eye, he saw the glow of the night watchman's lantern illuminating the houses on a side street.
Gripping the hammers beneath their heads, he snuck around his father's sales counter and darted for the edge of town.
Rounding the corner behind him, the watchman raised the pole holding the lantern high. He could have sworn he heard footsteps, but everything beyond the lantern's circle of light was just inky darkness. Stifling a yawn, the watchman hooked the pole into a slot on the horse's saddle before pointing the horse down the street and nudging it forward. By the time the watchman reached the last house and turned back the way he came, Devlin was well on his way.
He stayed on the road until the first rays of dawn began to lighten the landscape, then turned southwest towards the warren. When Devlin grabbed his smithing belt, he didn't consider how noisy the hammers would be as they bounced around inside the metal rings. With wolves and bears and monster girls about, making so much racket could be dangerous. He also didn't take into account the hammer's longer handles. Getting smacked repeatedly in the thigh by the heavy metal rods convinced him to abandon the smithing belt idea. The weapons found a new home tucked into either side of his pack with the heads sticking out the top.
Hiking through the forest used a different set of muscles than wielding tongs and swinging hammers. After tromping through underbrush for half a day, his legs were starting to complain. Devlin ignored the discomfort. Ballads of heroes never talked about sore legs or aching feet.
His first night, he decided against starting a campfire. Instead, Devlin found a tree with large enough branches to sleep upon. The blacksmith's son sat there for a long time, wrapped in his blanket and wide awake. His perch was far from comfortable, but it wasn't the reason sleep eluded him. Feelings of guilt flooded his mind as he peered out into the dark forest. For the first time since he crept out of bed early that morning, he considered what his family must be thinking right now.
His father was probably livid. The man had several orders that needed filling, which might not get done in time without extra hands at the forge. His little brother could run and fetch for Dad, but Dovin was five years younger and hadn't developed the strength needed to shape iron. Thinking of his mother bothered him the most. The way he snuck off without a goodbye, she was probably beside herself with worry, finding some way to blame herself for his disappearance and wondering what had happened to make him run away. His sister likely cried her eyes out. At ten summers, she was eight years his junior and too kind-hearted for her own good. He was also much closer to his sister than his younger brother.
Devlin was guaranteed the forge as the eldest son when Dad retired or passed away, and Dovin resented him for that. His younger brother was guaranteed nothing in the way of inheritance, and their father was already hinting at Dovin learning a different skill, perhaps in farming or becoming a member of the town guard. Once Devlin rescued the knight, the man might take him as a squire. He could certainly do a better job than the two he had before, and his little brother would get his wish of inheriting Dad's forge.
The blacksmith's son nodded off to images of the town folk cheering as he walked into town leading a horse bearing a man in shining armor.
The next day started with a massive cramp in his right leg as he climbed out of the tree. The lingering soreness slowed Devlin down and made him aware of how vulnerable he was alone in the forest. Hobbling along as he was, if a dangerous creature happened upon him, he had no option but to fight as there was little chance of fleeing. By that afternoon, he was walking normally again, though he wasn't feeling up for any long runs, and the rest of the evening passed without incident.
Around noon the next day, he ran into his first real danger in the form of a sweet floral scent. The moment he caught the barest whisper of the fragrance, his cock began swelling in his pants. Pulling his shirt over his mouth and nose, Devlin turned and ran back the way he came. Cautiously pulling his shirt down, he took a couple of deep breaths. Unable to smell anything and encouraged by his prick shrinking to its normal size, he relaxed and took a moment to consider what just happened carefully. The floral aroma and his body's reaction meant only one thing, an alarune.
The plant-girls were easy to avoid once you knew where they were, and for a reason he didn't understand, he knew exactly which direction she was in and approximately how far. Turning due west, he figured a short detour would take him around the plant-woman safely as long as the wind didn't mysteriously change. Devlin caught himself veering off course several times to follow a direct route toward the monster girl for the first few minutes. He breathed a sigh of relief when the subtle desire to visit the plant woman finally faded.
He had an idea where the alarune was, but the distance wasn't as exact as the direction, so it came as no surprise when he caught flashes of reddish-pink through the trees punctuated by flickers of yellow. Cautiously creeping closer, he saw the plant-girl's colors matched the little upside-down flowers with five nectar-filled bulbs at the top. He couldn't hope to count how many of the floral candies he had nibbled on since his mother showed them to him as a child.
The plant girl tended to the large pink and yellow petals that spread out from the knee-deep bulb making up the flower's center. Her legs and lower arms were bright yellow, along with her eyes, hair, and a small patch above her sex. The rest of her torso matched the reddish pink of her petals except for her breasts. Her large nipples were bright yellow, but her breasts were dark red and looked to be translucent when she turned sideways and the sun fell just right. Devlin noticed tube-like structures starting at the lower outside edge of her breasts and running down each side of her belly before meeting just above her sex. It took him a moment to realize her breasts were like the tiny bulbs on the flowers and stored the nectar she produced. Around her waist, five petals matching her torso flared out like a little dress. Two wider and rounder yellow petals dropped down from under her 'dress' on either side of her hips, leaving a clear view of her sex and bottom.
Two light green vines rose from the center of her bulb. One rose high into the air, and Devlin could barely make out what looked like a wisp of smoke coming from the tip getting carried away on the breeze. Thinking back to the scent from earlier and his body's reaction, it wasn't hard to figure out what the vine was for. The other also rose above the bulb but curled over and attached to the woman's back. When the vine lifted her and placed her outside the bulb, he saw that her feet were normal-looking, which didn't quite fit what he had been told. But then, he hadn't heard of an alarune with a vine attached to her back either. He thought it interesting how much she looked like the smaller flowers she was patterned after as she moved to brush off and straighten her large petals' outer tips. Reaching the final petal, she suddenly spun around, her body rising into the air.
"Human? Please come here, human," she called out, her voice carrying a tone of worry. "I have been alone for such a long time. Please come and speak with me." Her answer was the sound of Devlin crashing through the underbrush in his haste to get away. Dejected from the lost opportunity, the plant woman dropped back to the ground and returned to her petals.
As he slowed from his panicked retreat, Devlin frowned at what just happened. He had become so engrossed in observing the woman he didn't notice the shifting breeze which alerted her of his presence. That she could sense him wasn't unexpected, Devlin knew the alarune would detect him as soon as he crossed upwind of her. Also, if he ran like a frightened child from a plant woman that couldn't even chase him, how was he supposed to fight off a whole village of goblins? Steeling his resolve, he continued tromping through the forest on his way to rescue the captured knight.
The next morning he noticed the land around him had become significantly rockier. Lichen covered boulders jutting out of the ground became commonplace, as did bare stone on the sides of steeper hills where the soil eroded away. Devlin took this as a good sign despite thinking he was traveling up and down more than forward through the steep hills and hollows. The goblin warren was rumored to be built into a cliff face, and this was certainly the right terrain for such a dwelling.
Shortly after midday, the forest darkened as clouds rolled in. At the first touch of drizzle, he began looking around for shelter, or at least a place he could quickly set up a tent. A large outcropping on a hill's leeward side offered the perfect place to wait out the weather. Though his tent was waterproofed, he foolishly hadn't brought an oilskin jacket or cloak that would allow him to travel in the rain. As the daylight faded with no sign of the downpour letting up, he grudgingly decided to set up his tent. Since sticks littered the area around him, he figured he could also get a small campfire going. Draping his tent over his back, he grabbed a few of the smaller trees which had fallen nearby and dragged them under the outcropping. After scraping out a shallow fire pit, his hatchet made short work of chopping the trees into short logs, which he stacked nearby. Once the tent was set up, he used some of the dry sticks to start a fire then placed the rain-soaked wood from the trees around the edge in hopes of drying them before use. The crackling of the campfire and soft patter of rain eventually lulled him to sleep.
Morning broke to more dreary skies and rain. Devlin used the early part of the day to practice with his hammers. He imagined deftly parrying an incoming spear before lunging forward and turning a goblin's head to mush, or momentarily dropping a hammer and taking a mighty two-handed swing with the other and sending gouts of the small women flying away from him. His daydreaming came to an abrupt stop when a poorly angled overhead blow glanced off his shin. The next few minutes consisted of the blacksmith's son holding his leg and breathing deeply through gritted teeth. By the time he pulled his pant leg up, the skin where the hammer had struck was already deep purple.
Sunshowers heralded an end to the rain that afternoon, the way the light struck the droplets as they poured down and clung to the trees was something he had never experienced living in town, and he found it quite beautiful. Devlin briefly considered waiting until tomorrow to set out again since he would only be traveling for a few hours before setting up camp again. No sooner did the thought come to him than he began scrambling to break camp. He was on a rescue mission! The goblins could have killed the knight as he sat here moping about because of rain! Berating himself thoroughly, Devlin quickly packed up his bedroll and tent, then kicked the remains of his campfire around, stomping out any places the wood still glowed. Confident he wouldn't set the forest on fire, he took off at a limping jog toward the warren, trying to make up time lost from his foolishness.
As the sun rose the next day, Devlin got the first glimpse of his destination from atop a tall hill near his campsite.
The faraway mountain ridge's base turned into a long plateau, which ended in a jagged line through the forest. He could even see the plateau's yellow sandstone edge when it rose above the trees. A fainter line coming toward him from the mountains indicated a mountain stream-turned-river. Supposedly, the goblin warren was in the cliffs next to the waterfall where the river dropped off the plateau's edge. Still limping, he began carefully making his way down the hill. He would spend one more night in the forest before taking on the goblins tomorrow.
Shortly after dawn the next day, he wrapped his pack in his tent and tied the rope around the bundle before hanging it from a tree. He hadn't been nearly as lucky hunting on the journey as he had expected and there was little left of the dried food he brought from home. Hanging it up seemed like the best way to keep it from hungry critters.
With the sun still low in the sky, Devlin took his hammers in hand and started on the last leg of his rescue mission.
He picked out a tree on the edge of the settlement tall enough to give him a good vantage for observing the entire warren. Tucking his hammers into his regular belt, which was extremely uncomfortable since it pressed their metal heads into his skin, Devlin crept up to the tree and used the strong arms and grip of a blacksmith to climb quickly and quietly. His first good look at goblins revealed creatures very close to what he had expected based on the stories he heard. The green-skinned women were small, barely coming up to his waist, and had voluptuous yet mildly stocky bodies, though there were a few that were thin and willowy. He always imagined a goblin's ears stuck straight out over their shoulders but were actually shorter and laid back against their heads. None of the green-skinned women wore tops, and he saw their nipples were just a darker shade of their skin. Except for a few, most goblins didn't seem to care much about the state of their dull, mud-brown hair.
Most of the goblins also didn't bother wearing a loincloth. Grimacing, he fought back a stirring in his pants at the sight of so many women displaying their bare pussies. If only they weren't goblins. He couldn't blame them much. The temperature had risen steadily after the rain came through a few days ago. Were he back at home working the forge and not about to rescue a knight, he would have at least shed his shirt. Then again, if he were home, he might have taken off his shirt regardless of the weather. The son of a blacksmith out on the edge of town wasn't the most eligible bachelor, but he had gotten a few long looks from girls around his age, and a blacksmith's strength and physique were something to show off. Once he returned with the knight, he wondered if the daughters of the town's more affluent folk might give him a look as well.
Looking out over the goblin warren, he realized it wasn't really a warren anymore. The cliff face was still riddled with holes, each one an entrance to a home at one point, but nothing beyond the second row from the bottom appeared to be occupied as he watched the green women climbing up and down ladders cut into the rock face.