“I have nothing to trade,” I croaked, impatient to get to the point, “besides my relative freedom to travel the fortress. You will have to imagine a use for it.”
The shaman turned away towards Ashirk, nudging him with a crudely shod foot.
“I gots plenneyer ajunts up above, ’ooman. But they’s unreliable. Sumfink… ’appened to dem ‘obgobs. Turned ’em away from dere blood, an’ now look attem. No, I don’t needs yer to be anuvver set of eyes an’ ears,” he sighed gloomily. “I needs yer to sort out da wuns I alreddy got.”
“These greenskins are like none I have known or studied. They are not beasts such as I can tame. I can offer little to change them.”
The twisted, crooked frame of the goblin leaned in close to me, and I smelt the most astonishingly awful breath I had yet encountered. As he exhaled, strength seemed to sap from him, and the ruby glow of his eyes dimmed with it. He leaned heavily on his crooked staff.
“I durn’t fink y’unnerstan’, ’ooman. See, they’s - they’s not right. I gotsta get ’em back on the right way. Mork tol’ me so. But dey’s sumfink - dey’s not right. Inna head, fine. Gobbos is never right inna head. But in dey’s harts, ’ooman. Dey durn’t wanna scrap propa. Dey durn’t even wanna tear down tha stunties, savvy?” He fixed me with a squinting eye, and there was something pleading behind it, something set with despair. “So I gots ta fixit. Mork’ll fixit. Always ’as, always will.”
With a sickening crack of bones, he straightened up, and the grimacing sneer spread once more across his jester’s features.
“I’m gonna lead ’em outta dis ’ovel, outta dis misrubble place. Get ’em back out onna steppes where dey know wot’s best. Ya shudda seen ’em, ’oomie - dey’s magniffy-sent out onna steppes. Vicious gits! Massive ’ordz! Wolfboyz from ’orizon t’orizon! Da great Khan!” As he spoke, he stretched out his arms and turned in a frantic circle, and greenish-yellow visions burst out in the air between his outstretched hands. I saw shimmering images of barren plains, just as he described, great legions of vicious warriors in wolfskin hats and with wolfskin capes, riding upon slavering beasts and swinging high the heads of their enemies. Wide, shallow eyes and long, flowing moustaches and beards knotted in elaborate braids - fearsome armour of leather, of lacquer, of brutally beaten metal. Their faces were a little less like the Hobgoblins of the Dark Lands, but their proportions were clear as day - the height of a man, the hue of a greenskin, the sneer of a warrior.
“Deez lot… lost they way. Thass what ol’ Mork shown me.”
The images in the air dissolved into shadows of ashen grey. The shapes and forms twisted to the familiar bare faces and wide eyes of the Hobgoblins I saw about me at Mourngard. They trudged in long lines, bound by chains; coveted scraps of coin and dove into the dirt after carved stone dice; I saw them cracking whips over the backs of goblins, all in the shadow of heavily armoured dwarven spectres. I saw their knives, endlessly plunging into their own backs, and then I saw the strangest thing of all - vast, armoured orcs being brutally murdered, set about from all sides with knives and clubs and teeth and claws, endlessly falling into the oblivion of dust. Where the khans had been in crackling greenish light, all of these images seemed to be conjured in the deathly black of the ash-wastes.
“Dey sold blood down da river. Not trechurry like ’ow a gobbo duz it. Not even like how da Khan’s wolfboyz duz it. Cowardly-like, sellin’ ’emselves. An’ now wot - dey whip gobbos an’ fetch water for stunties? Iss pafettick. I’d nail an orc’s mouf shut soon as look at ’im but not for no stunty, no matter da price.”
“It’s more than their greed that compels them. They are bound by the sorcery of the dawi, I feel it across the bridge between our souls. Some bond or pact. There is power in such things. A wicked magic, I know not what,” I trailed off.
“Magic?!” spat the incredulous creature, eyes bulging obscenely. “Magic! Wot u gots ter tell me ’bout magic! Me who pulled a spider outchoor nose soon as I saw yer, me ’ooz tricks an’ traps got da bigjob stunty Proffit fooled! Me! Me ’ooz got da powah ta pull down the ‘ole mountain!” Crackles of bright green lightning spread across his flesh erratically and he looked again like he would swell up impossibly. But the power soon faded, and he looked more defeated than he had before. He turned away again, grumbling, towards one of the ruined chests that lay beneath piles of seemingly random detritus in the ruined workshop. Rummaging for a few anarchic seconds, he retrieved what I took at first to be a crude rotted plank.
“Dere’s magic, ’ooman, an den dere’s magic. Da shrine ta Grunmunter. It ent a giant wobbly purple ball ov deff, but iss potent magic. Him as ’olds dat banna aloft could lead dese filfy turds ta glory inna heartbeat, if ony dey had da will. Dass wat I want. Giv ol’ two knives ’ere dis mask when da moment’s right,” he said softly, “you’ll know soon enuff.”
Waving the bat staff, a great arc of green thunder peeled in the ruined workshop, and ripped open a ragged green portal.
“Dass my price. Now up ya get an’ outta ere,” he said, loosening my bonds and kicking Ashirk in the ribs one last time, “an’ your little dog too.”