††††††††††††††††††††††† If you're ever on Armistice you've landed in hell

††††††††††††††††††††††† The lair of the goblins; a vast prison cell

††††††††††††††††††††††† With mountains of fire, and oceans of ice

††††††††††††††††††††††† Visitors be warned, and always look twice

 

 

 

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Chapter Four

 

 

††††††††††† Once, centuries past, the goblinkin had had a considerable presence in space.Although disorganized, their forces were feared, as they preyed on vessels traveling through the Flow, and launched raids on far-flung outposts.This had ended in the Unhuman Wars, when the Imperial Elven Navy had waged an all out campaign against goblinkin everywhere.

††††††††††† In almost every sphere of known space, the disorganized and disjointed goblin forces were completely routed, crushed by the superior elven fleets.The elves systematically decimated the goblin forces, meeting virtually no real resistance.Except in Roguespace.

††††††††††† The goblinkin of Roguespace did somethingunheard of.They put aside their petty feuds with each other and united their forces under one leader, a half-orc who called himself Gralnakh Longtooth. Longtooth proved more than capable, and the elven fleets were handed their first (and only) major defeats of the First Unhuman War.

††††††††††† The Combined Goblin Fleet (as Longtooth named it) was doomed from the first, however.As the other goblin fleets were destroyed piecemeal, the elves were able to throw more and more of their forces against Longtooth's beleaguered command.Despite this, Longtooth was able to fight on for years.The sphere Longtooth had chosen for his battlefield was thick with small planetoids and moonlets, and therefore rife with places to hide, repair ships, and ambush elven vessels.

††††††††††† Eventually the admiral of the elven navy(at that time an ex-battlepoet named Aldyn Leafbower) arranged an individual parlay with Longtooth, and offered an official cease-fire.Longtooth, understanding the hopelessness of his position, accepted Leafbower's offer, with the provision that he and his followers be given a world of their own, unmolested by elven interference.Leafbower, considering this a small price to pay for victory, agreed.

††††††††††† The Fleet kept the letter, if not the spirit, of the agreement, and, in what many considered to be a decision driven solely by spite, Longtooth and his men were shipped off to the most inhospitable planet the Fleet could find.

††††††††††† They named it Armistice.

††††††††††† Armistice was a cold, brutal world, encased mostly in ice and snow.A perpetual storm encircled the planet, scouring the surface with gale force winds.Armistice was also heavily volcanic, and in many places great gouts of fire and magma thundered up into the air, adding to the fury of the storm.

††††††††††† In between the fiery volcanoes and the vast plains of ice lived the goblinkin, surviving and shielding themselves from the elements by excavating tunnels under the rocky ground and living in the passages of dead volcanoes.

††††††††††† It was a difficult life, and as the generations passed since Longtooth's death, the various clans and tribes broken into continual war with each other.The elves, who monitored the planet closely for the first few centuries of the goblin's residency, were encouraged by the warfare.The one thing that struck fear into the heart of every elven officer was the thought of any group of goblinkin combining into a cohesive force again.

††††††††††† And so matters stood for nearly seven hundred years, until the Wayfarer set up residence on Vesta, Armistice's second moon.

††††††††††† By the time he arrived, the warring goblinkin were divided into clan groups of thirty or less.There was no knowledge of spelljamming technology or spacefarers, beyond a few vague legends.Writing was unknown, and even verbal communication was in sharp decline.

††††††††††† It took him less then two generations to change everything.

 

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† *††††††††† *††††††††† *

 

††††††††††† Reanyn and Tianna lifted from Minos V without further incident.His ship, a tiny two-man vessel with no name that Tianna could discover, was sparsely furnished and bare of ornamentation.There were no books to read, no games to play, and nothing to look at but the distant stars and the black void.

††††††††††† It was the most frustrating journey of Tianna's life.

††††††††††† During the entire voyage, Tianna saw Reanyn only twice, once on deck and once in her room - the only two places aboard ship not restricted to her.On neither occasion had she been able to pry any information from him concerning where they were going or what his plans might be.And, although it was obvious that there must have been someone piloting the ship, Tianna saw no other crewmembers.

††††††††††† She had no luck exploring the resticted portions of the ship, either.There were no locks on any of the other doors and hatches; they just simply wouldn't open for her.If there was a galley aboard (and she doubted there was; the ship was too small) she never saw it.Reanyn brought her meals to her room.And usually he brought them when she was on deck, so that she would find them waiting for her when she retired.

††††††††††† Three days into the voyage he appeared in her door, unannounced.

††††††††††† "We've arrived," he said.

††††††††††† "What?" she managed, but he was already gone.

††††††††††† She hurried up on deck, and found him standing by the forward rail, looking out.

††††††††††† She moved to join him, and found herself gazing down on a large world, swathed in angry gray clouds which glowed with flickers of lightning.

††††††††††† "That's not Gwydion's Rock," she said."Is it Brythune?"

††††††††††† "Armistice," he said simply.

††††††††††† "Armistice?" she asked in disbelief."Why did you bring us here?"

††††††††††† He was silent for so long that she was afraid he might not have heard her.Only when she was on the verge of repeating her question did he speak."I have my reasons."

††††††††††† She waited."That's it?"

††††††††††† He said nothing.

††††††††††† Anger threatened to overwhelm her, and she fought for control."Look, I'm in no mood to be trifled with!You have taken me prisoner and dragged me halfway across this sphere, and never once said anything about where we were going or why!"She took a deep breath, calming herself."We're never going to find Windhook if we don't work together.The way I see it, that makes us partners.Now, are you going to trust me or not?"

††††††††††† He stared at her."We are not partners, and I do not trust you.If I hadn't taken you 'prisoner' you would be dead.You are alive only because you are under my protection and I'm protecting you only because you may be valuable to me."He turned away from her."In any case, neither you nor Windhook is my primary concern at the moment.It may surprise you to learn that the multiverse doesn't revolve around the interests of the Imperial Fleet.I have items of greater importance which must be attended to."He gave her a level look."Is the situation clear?"

††††††††††† "You are the most difficult person I have ever met."

††††††††††† He shrugged, and turned back to the view of the planet below."Probably.You'd better get below.Things will get rough when we enter the atmosphere."

 

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† *††††††††† *††††††††† *

 

††††††††††† Describing the atmosphere of Armistice as 'rough' was like saying a crystal sphere was 'large' or that a fireworld was 'hot'.Early in the voyage from Minos V Tianna had noticed straps attached to either side of her bunk which buckled in the middle.She had wondered many times before what their purpose might be, but during the descent she was left with no doubts.

††††††††††† She managed to strap herself down before the worst of it hit.

 

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† *††††††††† *††††††††† *

 

††††††††††† She was not aware of losing consciousness until she regained it.Her eyes opened to the sight of a small creature bending over her.

††††††††††† It stood only about four feet high, and was dressed in flowing silks.Covered in fur, it's head an face were shaped very much like a dog's, with two furry ears that jutted up over its head, a small canine snout, and deep brown eyes.There was something about the way it stood which suggested to Tianna that it was male, though she could not be certain.

††††††††††† It made a deep bow as she sat up.The flowing silk headband it wore and the ornamental earring dangling from its left ear caught her eye as it did so.Tianna noticed that the screaming storm winds had subsided to a dull murmur.Too, she felt no motion."Who are you?" she asked."Where is Reanyn?"

††††††††††† "Madame Snowmantle," the creature said, "the ship has landed.The Kitchva-lanrac awaits.I am to guide you."It spoke strangely, as if common were not its native tongue, and with an accent Tianna had never heard before.

††††††††††† She untangled herself from the straps, taking stock of herself.She was thoroughly bruised, but her injuries were minor.The worst she had recieved were a few scratches when the porthole had exploded inward and the shrieking winds had turned the cabin into a madhouse.She looked at the creature."Kitchva-lanrac?"

††††††††††† It bowed again, so somberly and formally that it almost seemed comical.She saw now that in addition to its bright blue tunic and floor-length skirt, it had a large dagger shoved through its sash.

††††††††††† The creature turned, indicating the doorway, and bowed again.

††††††††††† "Who or what is Kitchva-lanrac?" she asked, thinking she had been misunderstood.

††††††††††† The creature shrugged."He is Kitchva-lanrac," it answered, as if that explained everything.He indicated the doorway again."You follow now.I am to guide."With a swirl of its skirt it departed.

††††††††††† Tianna hurried to follow.

††††††††††† When she emerged on deck she found that the ship was docked inside an enormous torchlit cavern filled with all manner of other spelljamming vessels.Tianna looked about her in wonder.It was dark, but she saw ships of almost every class.Hammerships, angelships, tradesmen, dragonflys, and, of course, a great number of flitters.All quiet and abandoned."What is this place?" she murmured.

††††††††††† The ceiling to the great room stretched up into the darkness at least four hundred feet, and the the place was at least twice that in length and width.Directly across the room to her left stood a gigantic gate, sealed against the storm that raged outside by two formidable-looking doors of some dark metal.

††††††††††† The creature was waiting for her at the landing rail, watching her in silence as she surveyed her surroundings.It suddenly struck her that; although she had never encountered its like before, she had seen creatures like it, in elven guidebooks.Her eyes narrowed in suspicion."You're a kobold, aren't you?Where is Reanyn Al'Nuoth?"

††††††††††† The kobold, if that was what it was, was unperturbed."You come now," it said."I will take you to Kitchva-lanrac."

††††††††††† Tianna considered for a moment before following.Certainly the little creature seemed harmless.Still, kobolds were not to be trusted.

††††††††††† It waited for her at the bottom of the boarding ladder until she was down, then turned and hastened off.

††††††††††† As they wound their way through the abandoned ships, Tianna got a closer look at her surroundings.The cavern couldn't be natural, she now saw.the walls, floor, and ceiling were too smooth; there were no rock formations of any kind.As they neared the far wall, she saw that there were intricate carvings in the stone.She wondered at the stonecrafting.It wasn't human or elvish work, and although dwarves were skilled in shaping stone, the designs were too delicate to have been wrought by them.The place had an alien feel to it.

††††††††††† There was a low vibration which ran through the floor, emitting a subtle hum.It was warm here, she realized.Not very warm, of course, but warmer than such a large stone room had any right to be, especially considering the storm raging outside.

††††††††††† All the other ships were in excellant repair, and she revised her estimate that they were abandoned.She and her companion were the only two present, however, and it felt a little strange, like walking through a graveyard.

††††††††††† Her guide led her to a large corridor set in the far wall, and, pausing only long enough to see that she followed, led on.For such a small creature, it moved quickly, and Tianna had to hurry to keep up.

††††††††††† The corridor they entered was large and wide, about fourteen feet in height and eight in width, and all the doorways they passed were of the same dimensions.Tianna found herself wondering why a race as small as kobolds would need such space.Perhaps this place wasn't populated entirely by creatures of such small proportions.

††††††††††† The corridor curved gently, and, although the grade was slight, she had the distinct impression that they were moving upwards.It grew warmer the farther they went.

††††††††††† She walked in silence for some time.They passed other corridors which intersected this one, and Tianna had lost track of how many doorways they had passed, yet not once had she seen evidence of another living being.Is this place abandoned? she wondered.

††††††††††† The creature led on, never looking back.Finally she decided to make another attempt at communication.If polite inquiry had failed earlier, perhaps intimidation would succeed.She put on her best annoyed expression and halted.

††††††††††† The creature walked on for several feet, then, sensing she had stopped, turned back.

††††††††††† "Where is Reanyn Al'Nuoth?" she demanded.

††††††††††† Silence.

††††††††††† "I'm not following you any further until you answer.I demand to know where you are taking me."

††††††††††† Still the little creature said nothing.

††††††††††† She tried again."Who are you?Do kobolds have names?"

††††††††††† "I am Natach-redic, the Keeper of the Stone and member of the wravvish.I am no kobold.You follow."It whirled on its heel.

††††††††††† Tianna couldn't be certain, but she thought she heard a measure of disgust in its tone at the idea that it should be mistaken for a kobold.

††††††††††† Tianna was considering whether or not she should continue to follow when, several paces ahead, the little kobold veered to one of the doors, and she realized they had already reached their destination.She gathered her courage, and followed him in.

††††††††††† The room they entered was large on the same scale with the corridor.In form it was designed much the same as the cavern where the ships were docked, with gently sloping walls and ceiling, marble white and cut in curving angles which her eyes seemed to slide off of.A window of sorts was set into the far wall, constructed of some sort of thick dark glass and overlooking the snowy wastes of Armistice.From where she stood she couldn't see much beyond it, just that the view was fairly high up, much higher than she thought she and the kobold had ascended.

††††††††††† The room was illuminated by a single oil lantern, but through some trick of the architecture it was not dim or murky.The lantern was set in the center of a small table which stood only a foot high.Around the table several other creatures were seated cross-legged on some of the plump silken cushions wich carpeted nearly every foot of the floor.There were no other kobolds present, though Tianna did recognize some of the other races.There were two goblins (one much larger than the other), a bugbear, and a trio of what could only be orcs.Each of the creatures was clothed in variously colored silken robes, and each appeared to be sipping tea.They were all immaculately groomed and civilized.

††††††††††† At the head of the table sat Reanyn Al'Nuoth..He also was clothed in flowing silk, and held a tiny porcelain teacup between two fingers.

††††††††††† The kobold who had led her bowed deeply towards the table as she entered, and Reanyn inclined his head.He did not seem surprised to see her.He motioned her to the table and, after a momentís hesitation, she approached, determined not to appear weak.

††††††††††† The kobold waited politely until she was seated before sitting himself.Without instruction he poured her a cup of tea.She took it but did not drink.

††††††††††† Reanyn nodded, and turned back to the creatures, speaking to them in a language unlike any Tianna was familiar with, sibilant and flowing yet crisp and succinct.

††††††††††† The creatures responded in the same tongue, and whatever discussion Tianna's entrance had interrupted resumed.Even the kobold joined in.

††††††††††† Tianna watched, trying to understand what was happening.She was fairly certain the creatures were arguing about something, both with Reanyn and among themselves; although their tones were quietly respectful, something in their eyes and gestures indicated it.She heard the name Kitchva-lanrac several times, always spoken with the greatest reverence and always spoken by one of the creatures, never by Reanyn.Is that their name for him? she wondered.

††††††††††† She sat quietly, sipping.The tea, although unfamiliar, was quite good, hot and brightly herbal.

††††††††††† As the creatures and Reanyn droned on, she looked again at the window.It was hung with exotic golden curtains, made of silk and fringed with red tassle.There wasn't much to see beyond the glass except for a few whirling flakes of snow.She realized for the first time that she couldn't actually hear the moaning of the wind.The window must have been strong, well-built, and very thick.

††††††††††† There were a few paintings on the walls, too, that she hadn't immediately noticed before.They were all of nothing she could recognize; swirling colors and incomprehensible shapes.She had never liked esoteric art, and knew nothing at all about it, but even to her untrained eye it looked like good material.

††††††††††† The conversation had shifted subtly while her attention had wandered.The creatures were still arguing about something with Reanyn, but now they were no longer disagreeing among themselves.Whatever they were discussing, they were universally opposed to Reanyn's point of view.Occasionally they would gesture or look down to where she sat, and Tianna suddenly realized that they must be discussing her.From the tone of their voices and the cold looks they cast her way, she could tell they weren't friendly.They murmured the word 'jalhadi' several times in tones of disdain, gesturing towards her.She found herself wondering whether Reanyn could protect her from them if they decided to do her harm.

††††††††††† Reanyn met all their arguments and protests with quiet and firm resistance, and eventually the matter passed.Some of the orcs still glared balefully down the table at Tianna, but they held their peace.

††††††††††† Eventually the little meeting broke up, and, bowing formally, each of the goblinkin made their exits, one by one, until only the little kobold that had guided her remained.

††††††††††† Reanyn took sipped his tea for a moment, and stood, moving to the window.

††††††††††† Tianna waited a few minutes for the kobold to depart, but the little creature only positioned himself at the door, standing with his hands clasped as if waiting.

††††††††††† Tianna stood and made her way to where Reanyn was standing.As she approached, she could see more clearly what lay on far side of the window.It let out upon a barren plain, covered by stretches of ice and drifts of snow, and broken by jagged rock outcroppings.Far off in the distance a tiny spume of lava jetted up into the sky continually, its source unknown.Even standing this close to the glasse, the storm was noiseless.

††††††††††† "What is this place?" she asked.

††††††††††† Reanyn turned from his contemplation."Did anyone ever tell you that you are irritating?"

††††††††††† "That makes two of us," she snapped."I saw spelljamming ships here!Hundreds of them!Spelljamming technology is expressly forbidden to natives of Armistice!"

††††††††††† "One hundred and twenty-two ships, to be exact," he corrected."And none of your concern."

††††††††††† "I'm concerned!And I think the Fleet would be very concerned!Who are these creatures?What have you to do with them?"

††††††††††† "These 'creatures', as you have the ill grace to term them, are the Wravvish, and my responsibility."

††††††††††† "You're responsibility?They're goblinkin!"

††††††††††† Reanyn looked wearied."They are not goblinkin.They are Wravvish."

††††††††††† "So far," she hissed, "I've seen goblins, bugbears, orcs, and a kobold.That's goblinkin, in my book!"She glanced back to where the kobold was standing and lowered her voice."They're less than animals."

††††††††††† "No doubt they are, in your book.But here they are Wravvish, as different from goblinkin as elves are from dwarves."

††††††††††† "They look the same to me."

††††††††††† He stared at her."Do they?"His voice was penetrating, and Tianna was forced to consider.Goblins were dirty, smelly, and ignorant; uncultured and violent - the scum of the universe.These 'Wravvish' hardly seemed to share those traits.

††††††††††† She was unwilling to concede point completely, though."So someone's trained them.That doesn't make them something other than goblins."

††††††††††† "Yes it does.It makes them a great deal different.They don't appreciate being referred to as goblinkin either.You've already offended Natach mortally by referring to him as a kobold; he wanted to challenge you to a death duel.In the future, I expect you to be a little more polite.I cannot protect you all the time."

††††††††††† Tianna was surprised.Of all the goblinkin present the little kobold had been the most courteous towards her."Wravvish," she said at last, as though the very sound of the word was distasteful, "what does it mean?"

††††††††††† "It means 'the People'," answered Reanyn.

††††††††††† "And Kitchva-lanrac?"

††††††††††† "'Honored One'."

††††††††††† She mulled that over for a moment."Does that mean they consider you their ruler?Is this your planet?"

††††††††††† Reanyn shook his head."No-one owns a planet.But Safehaven is mine after a fashion, yes."

††††††††††† "Safehaven?"

††††††††††† He nodded."This place.It is both a city and a nation. I built it into the mountain myself."

††††††††††† "You've turned the goblinkin of Armistice into a civilized cohesive society?"She shivered involuntarily."Do you realize how dangerous that is?"

††††††††††† "Not all of them, no."He pointed through the window."The vast majority of them are out there, living underground.Those are the true goblinkin; the Wravvish hunt them on sight.The term goblin has come to mean 'honorless one'."

††††††††††† "Incredible," murmured Tianna."You're insane."

††††††††††† "Hardly that," said Reanyn."They are a peaceful race, mainly.But there is, of course, some racial hatred for elves."

††††††††††† "'Jalhadi'?" asked Tianna.

††††††††††† "Jalhadi," affirmed Reanyn."It doesn't translate easily.It means something between 'ancient enemy' and 'those who try to bend honor'."

††††††††††† "Honor-bound goblinkin," mused Tianna."I never thought the multiverse was that big.You realize, of course, that I'll have to report this once I return."

††††††††††† He shrugged."The Fleet would never believe you."

††††††††††† "They would investigate."

††††††††††† He nodded."And they would find nothing.Safehaven is hidden well.From space it looks like just another mountain of broken rock.And Armistice is covered with such mountains."He looked at her."I'm leaving on the morrow.Natach will look after you."

††††††††††† She was dumbstruck."You're leaving me here?You can't leave me here, surrounded by goblinkin!"

††††††††††† "You'll be safe enough.I would work on improving my manners, though."

††††††††††† She gestured to the kobold."You're leaving me with him.The one who wanted to challenge me to a 'death duel'?"

††††††††††† "Natach may not enjoy your company, but he values his honor more than his life.You will come to no harm under his protection.It is insulting to him that you should question his restraint, though.As I said, you should work on your manners."

††††††††††† Tianna looked back at the kobold.It was clear from the look in its eyes that it had heard her statement.She lowered her voice."I thought I was going with you!"

††††††††††† Reanyn considered her."Why did you think that?What do you have to offer me?"

††††††††††† Tianna thought."What about what I know?You said that was why you were taking me with you in the first place."

††††††††††† Reanyn shook his head."I'm protecting you for what you might know.You're safer here than anywhere else in the multiverse, including with me. I can return at any time and sift through your memories.Better, some of your assassins will trail me, hoping to get to you.That's probably the best way of learning who wants to kill you, and why.Besides, if I take you with me you'll see more things I don't want you to see.Already you have seen more than I would like."

††††††††††† Tianna considered for a moment, thinking furiously."Is my word good?"

††††††††††† There was a beat of silence."What do you mean?"

††††††††††† "Have I given you any reason to doubt my word?"

††††††††††† Reanyn pondered."I suppose not."

††††††††††† "Then I swear myself to silence on anything I might see."

††††††††††† Reanyn contemplated the idea."I don't see how I would benefit.I stand only to lose, if you break your word.Unless..."

††††††††††† "What?"

††††††††††† "Swear to silence on everything.Even what you've seen already.Safehaven, the Wravvish, the spelljamming ships."

††††††††††† "The spelljamming ships are in clear violation of the Armistice treaty, and a clear and present danger to the elven presence," protested Tianna."You can't expect me to keep silent about that!"

††††††††††† Reanyn nodded as if that were the answer he expected."Very well, then."

††††††††††† "I can go?"

††††††††††† He shook his head."You stay.I will instruct Natach to give you a crash course on the rules and traditions which govern Safehaven."

††††††††††† "Wait a minute!" she protested."I don't want to be left here!"

††††††††††† "Your word of silence, then," he insisted."I will accept nothing less."

††††††††††† Tianna sighed."Very well then," she said, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth, "you have my word."

††††††††††† Reanyn gave a brisk nod to show the affair was settled, then turned back to the window."Natach will show you to your quarters.Get some rest.Time is of the essence; we leave at dawn."

††††††††††† "Don't concern yourself with me," Tianna snapped, deciding she would do him one better."Why not leave now?"

††††††††††† Reanyn shook his head, giving her a grim smile."Have you ever seen the nights on Armistice?They are not as gentle as the days."