“You want to... talk... to the monsters that attacked us,” Avilla said, slowly, trying to wrap her mind around that idea. She turned to Cerise, taking her hands and looking at her pleadingly.
“You're not really going to let him do that, are you?”
“I kinda wanna see where this goes,” Cerise said apologetically, “We can always go back to killing them if his idea doesn't work out.”
“Hey, I said no killing!” I protested.
“You also said that you could keep us safe without killing them,” Cerise pointed out, “Well, this is your chance to prove that.”
I sighed, but she did have a point. I couldn't claim to have the power to protect them without excessive violence and then not back that claim up. Their lives were at stake, after all. I took a deep breath, and then beckoned one of the goblins to me. The air around her swirled and obediently moved her in my direction. My language sorcery provided my with knowledge of the goblin's language.
Then I paused, and glanced at the two women looking at the little creature with a mixture of hatred, disgust and fascination.
“Do you two know how to speak goblin?” I asked.
“Some few phrases I should be able to figure out,” Cerise said, “Their language shares some similarities with trollish and demonic languages. At best I'll speak with a heavy accent, though.”
That... was a lot more than I would have expected. If she knew that they had a language... how could Cerise still consider goblins as monsters, to be killed on sight? Was it just because they had attacked this house now? No, there was something deeper than that, something that I was still missing. But there would be time for that later, because there were other puzzle pieces as well. Such as why the goblins were attacking in the first place. And where better to get that information than directly from the source? Still... better to keep Cerise and Avilla in the loop. Otherwise they might get suspicious when I went off talking in goblin.
Giving Cerise temporary knowledge of goblin was easy, since I already had a mental connection. I just tagged the translation spell onto that, and that was it. Avilla... well, that was a bit more complicated. I could either modify the sound, so that she would hear everything in her own language. It would mean casting a spell around her, but not on her. It also would mean that she would still be speaking another language, and not goblin. I kinda feared that there might be nuances lost in such a translation. The other option was to change her mind, allowing it to understand goblin. Much cleaner, but it would require her permission.
“Would you mind if I made you capable of speaking goblin, at least for now?” I asked Avilla.
Avilla immediately glanced at her friend, but Cerise just shrugged. Through my mental link, I got that she didn't think it would be dangerous, so there was nothing to protect Avilla from. And beyond that, it was Avilla's choice.
“It is mind magic,” I added, feeling that I should be up front before magically altering somebody's mind, “But it should be temporary. Though the mind is a fickle thing, so there may be some lingering effects.”
“Well, if you ever do decide to learn goblin the slow way, it should be faster.”
Avilla took a deep breath, and squeezed her eyes shut.
“... fine,” she spat out the word, “I don't want to miss this conversation. Who knows what dark pacts you could make with goblins if I weren't there to keep an eye on you. But if I feel you do anything to my mind beyond what you said you would do, you are dead.”
“Noted,” I said, hardly worried. After all, I had no intention to do anything else. I called upon my sorceries, Mind, Language, Translation and Understanding, and let them weave my magic into a spell which coalesced in the palm of my hand. I brought my glowing hand up and lightly touched Avilla. The magic slowly soaked into her, gaining speed as she reluctantly relaxed when she felt nothing untoward. The spell took hold, but the bond did not break. Avilla's body kept drawing magic from me, greedily drinking in as much as she could. I got the sense that she was magically starved. Since I seemed to have an ample supply, I didn't see the harm in giving her some of my magic, so I created a proper flow towards her rather than the passive leeching she had been doing.
Instead of a trickle, there was now a rushing river. Avilla could not absorb it as quickly, so some of my magic flowed into her before becoming hers, and that gave me a sense of her body. It was... intriguing, made up of baking ingredients and held together with magic. But I was drawn out of my fascinated musing my a sense of alarm from Cerise. Through the mental link, she had sensed what I was doing, and gotten some idea of just how much magic I was giving her. From experience, Cerise knew that Avilla would get tipsy from magic, and drunk if she got more. And that was just from what Cerise could spare, which I had handily exceeded. Luckily we had that mental bond, and the whole exchange happened within moments.
I felt the effect that Cerise had described, now that I knew what to look for. Avilla was absorbing the magic, sure, but integrating it took time. Until she could do so, there was raw magic buzzing around her system and basically causing the drunkenness effect. And sure, I could have just stopped the flow of magic. Instead, I decided to see what I could do to just avoid the negative side effects. Raw magic was making Avilla drunk, but magic was just patterns and potential. So I wove some basic pattern into the flow of magic, stabilizing it. The magic would still be easy to draw upon, but it wouldn't act on its own and just sit there waiting for Avilla to fully process it. The pattern latched on to the magic already in her system, making that behave nicely as well.
And so Avilla was suddenly sober again, looking at me with confusion.
“What... did you do?” she asked, “You were giving me magic, and it felt so nice, and now... it's... it's still there, but I feel...”
She held out a hand, and light smell of homemade cookies and rosemary emanated from her and spread throughout the house. With my magic sense, I could see that she was renewing a subtle spell covering the cabin, giving inhabitants a sense of comfort and aiding in recovery. Doing so cost her more magic by far that she'd had before I touched her, but a mere fraction of what she held now. A grin slowly appeared on her face. And still I was pouring magic into her, there didn't seem to be any reasonable limit to how much she could hold. Well, there probably was, my Magic sorcery supplied, since too high concentrations of magic would literally rip apart the world. But while there was a theoretical limit, it was also ridiculously high.
Avilla considered the goblin contemplatively.
“I could probably take him now,” she said, and runes appeared on the blade of her knife, glowing ominously to underscore her point, “Your barrier won't hold against this.”
That was true, though I could likely summon a stronger barrier. Or teleport her away, disintegrate the dagger, drop her out of accelerated time... there was a lot I could do. Still, just stopping her with force would mean that I'd always have to pay attention to her to make sure she didn't kill anybody. I waited, tense, to see what she would do.
Avilla kept staring at the goblin for a long time. Eventually she sighed, and lowered the knife. The runes dimmed until they were invisible.
“Cerise said she wanted to see where this goes,” she ground out, “Far be it from me to deprive her of entertainment.”
“Aww, thank you, that is so sweet of you,” Cerise said, and went to hug Avilla. I did my best to ignore the sensations of the hug that I got both through the mental link with Cerise and the magic I was still pouring into Avilla.
“So... there is a goblin to question?” I said, and thankfully they broke the hug to watch. I extended the acceleration effect to cover the goblin as well. Immediately, she slashed with her knife wildly around herself. It didn't really do much because she was still held by the air, and nobody was within reach.
<Hey,> I said, <I am Daniel Black. May I have the honor of knowing your name?>
The goblin stopped, and tilted her head to consider me. Then she ignored me, and looked around. She saw her companions, seemingly frozen, and Cerise and Avilla, both of whom were not. Avilla glared at the goblin, and the runes on her knife flared to life for a moment.
<I will not break, no matter what you do to me,> the goblin said proudly. My sorceries helpfully supplied enough context to know that she was expecting to be tortured for information. I frowned. That wasn't at all what I had intended, and it would make my goal quite a lot harder. After all, I did want information, even if I had no desire to take it by force.
<I do not intend to hurt you,> I said, <But I cannot allow you to hurt my charges, either.>
<I fought her,> the goblin said, and waved in the direction of Avilla, <She did not seem to need any protecting.>
<It's Ragnarok,> I said, and grimaced, <I think everybody will need all the protection they can get.>
That gave the goblin pause. But then she shook her head, and crossed her arms, clearly dismissing my outlandish claims.
<He speaks the truth. My Goddess informed me personally that Ragnarok is coming,> Cerise added. The goblin cocked her head, and her expression became grim.
<You would not dare to lie about the word of a Goddess,> she said, <But still I find your story unbelievable. If I find out that you lied, then I will make it my personal mission to make you suffer for that affront. Simple death would be too good for you.>
<Duly noted, but there is no need for such threats,> Cerise said, and held out her hand, palm up. A symbol made of three interlocking circles appeared there and slowly rotated, <As you can see, I am a priestess. I cannot lie about my Goddess.>
The goblin glanced around the room once more, at her frozen companions and at the blade that Avilla had shown glowing with runes. Finally she looked back at me.
<The final battle has begun, then,> the goblin said, now talking happily and freely, rather than guardedly spitting out each word, <Why would you declare that you wish me no harm rather than simply kill me? There is a lot of fighting to be done before this will all be over, and no time to be wasted with idle talk.>
I blinked. That was not a direction I had expected this conversation to go. Raknarok was a terrible tragedy, prophesied to end with everybody but two people dead. It was something that I had thought everybody would instinctively want to avoid and work against. Yet the manic anticipation that shone from the goblin's face clearly indicated something else. Then again, if you'd grown up with tales of the final battle... of great heroes and epic last stands... great charges... I could see how that might have gotten into your head over time. I wasn't sure how to deal with that, so I decided to focus on something else.
<If you didn't know, then why did you attack this house?>
<Oh, that. Well, they build this house on our farm, so we assumed that it was some sort of forward fortification. Given the amount of magical protection, I would say we were correct. I guessed that a bigger attack would be following, but Ragnarok itself... I would never have guessed that. Oh, that I get to experience this.>
<And you would just assume that this was a hostile act?>
<You are humans,> the goblin shrugged, <Violence is in your nature.>
That... sounded suspiciously like the opinion that Cerise and Avilla had of goblins, just reversed. They simply assigned to an entire species characteristics without thinking there might be differences between individuals. Yet I knew that humans could be peaceful, and if goblins had farms then they could be so too. There was something more here, something driving people to fight each other, I could feel it, if I could just...
There was a touch on my shoulder, and I turned to see Cerise smiling amused.
“How are you going to deal with that?” she whispered, “Hah. A lying crazy bloodthirsty monster. Remember, you said you'd have her doing housework.”
“Relax,” I said, “I have a plan.”
And indeed, I did. It just had nothing to do with the goblin. The plan was to just sit down somewhere comfortable with a cup of hot tea, curl up with a book and just forget about the fact that I had probably doomed nine worlds worth of people to a fight to the death.
Except... I couldn't forget about that fact. It was my fault, my responsibility. And so I would do something about it.
<So... Ragnarok,> I said, turning back to the goblin, <Tell me more about what you plan to do. Just fight whomever you happen to come across?>
<Well, no. The point is to fight the most glorious and epic battles, to defeat the greatest of foes. So you can ignore small-fry if there is something bigger you are chasing.>
<Hmm... what about working with others? Is that something you'd consider?>
<Oh, sure, why not. Finding somebody whom you can trust not to turn on you would be tricky, but if you can do that...>
<What about working with me?>
The goblin considered this offer for a while, but shook her head. She strained a bit against the air holding her, but my magic kept her in place.
<It is an interesting offer, given how easily you could kill me right now. I do not know what you hope to gain. But I must decline, for you are the greatest opponent that I am likely to meet. I will fight you, though I don't know how yet.>
I started pacing, trying to think this through. There were more powerful opponents than me, of course. I myself – or rather my other mes – were currently fighting pretty much all of the Gods and Goddesses of these Nine Realms. But bringing a goblin or anyone short of a Goddess like Hecate into that fight probably wasn't a good idea.
And even if I did find somebody else for this goblin to fight, that would defeat the point of getting her to not fight. That was a whole lot more difficult... I stopped with sudden realization.
<There is a greater challenge than any opponent that you could find in the entire world,> I said.
She didn't look convinced, so I pressed on.
<The Nine Realms are crashing into each other, blending together. That would probably be why there is a house on your farm now. The farm from your Realm and the house from this Realm were pushed into the same spot. The same will be happening everywhere, and soon people from all Realms who were in separate worlds before will be facing each other. It will look to everybody like hostiles appeared in their own backyard, just like you think this house was invading your farm, and Cerise and Avilla think you invaded their home. Even without knowing that this is Ragnarok, there will be brutal fights, and that is before food gets short because of Fimbulwinter. And I intend to stop it. I will not let anybody die.>
There was a brief silence, as the goblin thought this through. Then her eyes went wide.
<You talk about defying prophecy. About fighting Ragnarok itself,> the goblin said with awe in her voice. Not quite the way I would have put it, but if that made her understand my point, it was good enough.
<Yes. That is exactly what I intend to do.>
There were some strangled noises coming from Cerise... or Avilla... I was too focused on the goblin to pay much attention to them. I could see indecision on her face, which changed into resolve after a few moments.
<I... actually, could you let me down?> she asked.
I nodded after a moment, and lowered the her to the floor, dismissed the wind magic keeping her constrained. She stretched a bit, before turning back to me and giving me a grin.
<Excellent. Then I can do this properly. I am Viola Olden. I pledge myself to your cause. I will aid and protect you. I would give my life, if necessary, but that seems contrary to the cause. Should you stray from your cause... well, again, the usual promise would be to kill you for the good of the cause you'd abandoned, but in this case that is unsuitable. So I will promise that if you stray to beat sense back into you until you see reason once more. By my name, my blood and my kin I give this promise. I will see Ragnarok undone, and all it represents fail. All this I pledge to you, if you will have it.>
She knelt in front of me, and I was struck with the sudden realization that no more than a day ago I had been in a hospital bed. I'd been in a world where an oath like that would have been unthinkable, or merely in jest. Yet this was definitely serious, far more so than anything I'd ever encountered in the world I grew up. I supposed I had grown up sheltered, in a part of the world that did not know true strife. I had never known hunger or war, never lacked shelter. I had lived in a luxury that was unimaginable by medieval standards, and so in this world only through great magic. And so I had never had to make a choice of this magnitude, been offered a commitment of this gravity. I took a deep breath to calm myself. This was the path I had chosen, and I would see it through. To save those I had put in danger, to atone for the damage I had inflicted upon these realms. But even more than that just because it was the right thing to do to help people if you had the power to do so.
<I accept,> I said, and felt the oath create a bond between us much in the way that the deal with Hecate was binding me. It was a weak bond initially, but attaching to my vast reserves of magic strengthened it until it shone to my magic sight like the bond godly Me had with said Goddess. Radiating out from Viola, lesser bonds that had been near invisible started to glow as well, connecting her to the other goblins.
One by one they started to move as well, brought into the accelerated time by the bonds. I was concerned, and readied to block any attacks. But none came. Instead, they all just watched Viola with confused expressions.
The walked over from the others rooms, and crowded around Viola. Avilla glared at them, and made sure to step between the gathering goblins and Cerise.
<Why do you feel like a chieftain?>
<What is going on?>
<Did you freeze the knives in the air?>
<How are you suddenly so powerful?>
They were talking over each other, not giving Viola any time to answer. But then one voice cut through the din and made everybody shut up and listen.
<Does this mean that you are challenging me for leadership of our tribe, sister?>
Viola wavered and squirmed under the gaze of the goblin who had stepped forwards. He wore the same clothes as the others, but held himself with an authority and confidence that the others lacked. Viola glanced at me, and found something there. She stared back at her brother.
<Challenge you? No. There will be no challenge. If I wanted to take control of the tribe, you would not contest it. I am powerful enough to beat you now, but that hardly matters. What matters is that I have purpose for us beyond anything you can imagine. Ragnarok has begun, and I have been shown a target so great, all others pale in comparison, even among the final battle. But I am not here to take over the tribe. To accomplish the goal I have sworn to work towards, I will need... more. Yes, you may lead this tribe, but it will still follow me. As will all other tribes, for I shall become Goblin Queen, ruler of all goblins.>