Part 5: Jolly Red Caps
Off into the streets once more. I still have questions, and I can't trust that Naros has been at all honest with me. I hate this so very much. I hate the streets here, the darkness, the bastard Naros, the woman I've seen once. All of them. I think she's ahead.
I press against the wall. No sense in walking into something I don't understand. Could be a trap. Probably is. Yet here I am, tripping it. Something is moving. Make that things. She screams again. Something replies. There's giggling, like high-pitched laughter from demented children holding a glass to an anthill.
What in the Dragon's Belly are children doing out here?
I turn the corner, quietly. There's a half-dozen of them clustered around an alleyway. They're all naked, save for loincloths, knives and...Oh. Oh, no. Oh, nonononono. They aren't children. They aren't even human. They're green lizard-skinned goblins with wide ears and needle-toothed smiles. Redcaps!
A thousand childhood terrors well up. Stories told by the other children, by the adults wanting us to keep inside at night. Redcaps murder livestock, attack travelers, steal children from their beds, eat only fresh meat, must dip their caps in blood everyday or die. I don't know how may of the tales are true. I'm not sticking around to find out.
Sorry, lady. You are on your own. I step back. One turns. Oh dung. I try to slip behind a corner, out of sight...it's too late. The goblin giggles, and pokes his buddies. I run.
Oh god. I'm running through a dark city street with a pack of Redcaps howling and laughing behind me. I've had nightmares about this. I try to remember the tales...something there may be helpful. OW! Ran into a barrel...can't do that any more, it slows me down!
One chucks a spear at me. Filthy little goblin. I dodge down an ally. "Come out an' play, Mista Lunch!" one laughs. Then they all start laughing. They chatter. They gibber. They giggle. There's at least six of them. All I have is a glowing dagger. I'm screwed. I'm screwed. I'm screwed.
Another alley. There's three walls there, no opening. FUCK! Can't go back; they run faster than I do. How do they move so fast on such tiny legs?
Nothing for it--I go up. The roofs are flat. I climb like a thief, but they climb like monkeys. I kick one--he goes screaming into space.
Five left. one jabs me with his spear as he clears the rooftop, the spear tip punching through my leg. OUCH! I hop back and wave the dagger. A second makes it over the top. The goblin jabs again, but I knock the spear away from my face just in time. "Peel! Peel! Peel!" he giggles.
Tiny death all around. A third makes it up to the roof. I've been running through this city all night. I'm exhausted, and breathing hurts. I'm going to die! I yank the spear from one of the little demons, then run for the edge of the roof. I leap, hang for an eternity...hit the next roof.
They howl and scream. "Not expecting that, were you?" I chuckle. I stop as reality hits me. I have one spear, one dagger. I'm injured. I'm tired. They, on the other hand, are fresh, hungry, and having fun. This is a game to them...running down prey. They may chase me forever.
All of them are on the opposite roof. They start leaping across. One doesn't quite make it, disappears down to the street. If only... What do I have on me? The dagger, a spear, the clothes on my back, the stuff I stole from...wait. The claws! I pull one out. I wanted to sell these, but dragon claws are as sharp as blade, even if they're brittle once taken from the beast. It's better than nothing.
I hurl a claw at the nearest one who's leaping at me, and it lodges in his eye. He shrieks and loses his balance, and falls. I throw again. The last two wise up. I waste a couple claws as they duck out of the way, and they chuck their spears at me. I have to move or get skewered. I hear scrambling up the sides of the building. Boil and damn. Those must be the ones that fell. I didn't hurt them enough to make them give up.
Time to go. I leap for another roof, misjudge the angle, and slam my shins into the ledge. I pinwheel sickeningly...the sky is the ground...
...and the ground hurts.
I can't breathe, and for a moment I wonder why. And then I remember falling. Then I remember the Redcaps. They grin from the rooftop. "Hey hey, manny-man! Watchoo runnin from!? We's only gonna peel you till you die!" One giggles as he leaps at me.
I roll away, and he misses, but he lands on his feet. I raise the spear as he charges. He impales himself, but another lands. Then another. One slices me with a razorblade. It doesn't hurt, surprisingly, but it's bleeding a lot. I fumble for my dagger. My arm's numb. That's bad. "We's gonna bleed ya, manny-man! We's gonna tear of yer skin and feed it ta ya!" he gibbers. "We's gonna NibbleNibbleNibble you up!" I stumble back.
The others have reached us by now. I have goblins in red caps surrounding me in an alley. Nowhere to run, very little room to fight.
"Make him bleed and bleed and bleed and bleed and…"
"Skin him like a cat! More than one way to skin a manny-man!"
I lunge at one. My blade catches him, tears into his throat. He gurgles as he goes down. Another jabs me with a spear. I turn and tackle. I'm not thinking clearly. I bear him to the ground, then stand and start stomping on him. Bones crack beneath my boots as I stomp his face.
One leaps at me, and I grab his long, pointy ear and yank his head to the side before ripping at his neck with the dagger. Blood gushes. I feel another jab at me, tearing my cloak. I turn to stab, but the dagger slips out of my hand. It goes skittering off down the alley. So I grab him, and stomp on him like I stomped the other one. I kick his face into the wall until he stops trying to move, then whirl about.
Suddenly, I realize I'm alone. No more monsters are coming after me. The adrenaline wears off. The pain hits. I shudder.
I know I killed three, with a fourth wheezing in pain and not long for this world behind me. That leaves one unaccounted for. Did he run? If he did, it was for reinforcements. Still, I've bought myself some time. I take a moment to breathe, and look over my wounds.
I've been stabbed in the leg, and sliced across the arm, and my side is killing me. The leg wound isn't bad, but the arm is bleeding freely. I take what remains of my shirt and wrap my bloody arm as best I can. "You sure got some sharp little knives." I tell the dying one.
"Yeah…" the goblin gurgles back. "Good for…slice and dice."
I jump. I hadn't expected a response. I grab for a weapon, but there's no need.
"Manny-man done killed Robin…yes…he do the Two-Step all over Robin's face, and soon Robin do the dead waltz…" I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
"Yeah, well, if you hadn't chased me all over creation, you wouldn't be in this predicament, would you?" I grumble. There's a wet chuckle.
"A powrie's gotta eat, and manny-mans is fine eats."
I try not to think about that. Instead, I ask, "What happens when the others come back?"
"Robin be taken to medicine person, and if he live, he fight again. If Robin do the dead waltz, into the stew he goes."
I try not to gag. "You don't sound all that broken up about it." I say.
He gurgles as if he's trying to chuckle, then hisses in pain. "What Manny-man care? Manny-man go stab chop to powrie all the time, powrie fill their bellies on manny-man doin de dead waltz. Back forth, till de end a' time."
"You could, you know, not attack people. That might help." I say.
"A powrie's gotta eat. And manny-man is tasty eats." He says again. Ew.
I wonder why I started this conversation in the first place. Perhaps I need someone to talk to who isn't openly manipulating me. The goblin wheezes, and I pity him. "You know, I could slit your throat, make it end quicker."
"Heh. Robin not want to do de dead-waltz." he gurgles. "But Robin thinkin' he haz not much choice. Only, ya gots ta do it the right way."
"Um...what way is that?" Urk. If he thinks I'm going to cook him up and eat him...
"When it done, take a cap an dip it in the kroovy."
I blink. "The what?"
"The kroovy. The red red kroovy. Juice from de inside." Yuck.
At least I don't have to eat him. "I don't have a cap."
"Use Robin's. He won't be needin' it no more."
I pick up the fireglass blade and make it quick. His eyes glaze over. I pick up his cap. This thing is disgusting--leathery, sticky, and smells like a butcher's smock. I have the urge to wash my hands after soaking up the blood.
I set the cap on my head and pnder what to do next. GAH! Why did I do that!? Now the blood's in my hair. Oh, well. No point removing it. What now? The Redcaps will likely be getting reinforcements, so I can't stay here. They've probably killed...FUCK. I forgot about the girl! Wait. There were only six of them before, and I think they all came after me. The girl may still be alive, if more didn't arrive after I ran.
The only way I'm going to find out what this "legend" offer Naros made is about is if the girl is delivered to him before sunrise. Alive.