Night of the Bright Blue Bems
By: Walter G. Esselman
The military commander, Regent, has dragged the boys, Gideon and Pavataro the dragon, out into the woods, because they were caught rough-housing in the castle. That night, some fuzzy blue creatures called Bems show up at the campsite, but unfortunately something very dangerous is following them.
Beyond the edge of the firelight, a harsh noise suddenly pierced through the dark wood. It sounded like a saw scraping across rusty metal armor. Everyone, including the fuzzy blue Bems, turned west towards the sound. The Bems froze, and their fur vibrated in terror.
The young dragon, Pavataro, blinked awake. "Was that me?"
"If these are the Bems ?" started the boy, Gideon.
"Everyone in the cave!" called out Regent.
The commander straightened and backed towards the cave. His movement made the Bems jump, but they were too scared to run.
Sergeant Angus ran around the campfire, but he stopped next to Regent near the cave entrance. Both drew their swords.
By the campfire, Pavataro yawned. "What's happenin'?"
Gideon got up and made his book disappear inside his many pocketed coat. He moved over to the dragon and nudged Pavataro's tail with his foot. "We got bad guys. Fallin' back to cave."
Grabbing his staff, which was still by the firewood, Gideon watched the tree line around the clearing. Pavataro gave a long suffering groan as he got up. He sauntered past Gideon.
"I was dreaming of that last castle feast. Roast beast. Roast razor deer." grumbled Pavataro, and he fixed a glare at Gideon. "Should've had roast boy as well."
"You lazy Lima bean," smirked Gideon, and he leaned toward the scorching campfire. Angus was about to shout out when the boy plunged his free hand into the blaze. Gideon picked up a long piece of wood that was completely on fire. Angus looked in shock because the boy's hand seemed unharmed.
"What?" asked Angus weakly.
"Oh," said Regent offhandedly. "The boy had dragon's milk as a child. It made some changes."
Regent watched as Gideon backed carefully to the cave. The boy looked over the campsite and saw it free of everyone, except for the Bems.
"Dragon's milk? And he didn't die horribly?" asked Angus aghast.
"Still kicking!" said Gideon with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, but he kept his eyes forward.
"Sadly," grumbled the young dragon as he went into the cave and headed towards the Cook, who eyed him wearily.
As Gideon reached the cave entrance, Regent took a moment to look back into the cave and take a quick headcount of people. All of Regent's squad, and Pavataro, were now inside.
But Gideon noticed the Bems still cowering by the campfire. The noise in the wood was getting closer, but then it just stopped. The boy's chest clenched tightly as he glanced from the woods to the blue creatures.
One of the Bems looked up and caught the boy's eyes.
"Well, don't just stand there," bellowed Gideon as he nodded toward the cave entrance. "Everyone in!"
The Bems hesitated for a moment, and then ran toward the cave entrance. Both Regent and Angus stood aside in surprise as the small blue creatures barreled into the cave.
As cries of surprise came from the cave, Gideon called after the Bems. "They're with us!"
"They are?" asked Regent icily. And Gideon looked up in confusion at the hard look on the commander's face.
"Um, you said 'everyone'," replied Gideon tentatively.
Regent opened his mouth to retort, but then he stopped. "I did, didn't I?"
"And ," started Gideon defensively when he faltered. His eyes were caught by something on the edge of the firelight, and Regent followed that gaze.
What was at the edge of the firelight was long, wiry and coiled for violence. Moving on four legs, its powerful jaw hung slightly open showing a full set of sharp teeth. It's close set eyes glowed a sharp purple in the beast's skull.
"Now that ," said Gideon in a fearful whisper. "That is a predator's eyes."
"I'm willing to go with that," nodded Regent solemnly. "And those are the Snikt."
"The what?" asked the boy.
Regent repeated the name. "I wouldn't leave anyone outside this cave to them." And then he gave a little smirk. "Even you or Pav."
Glancing back into the cave, Regent saw the Bems huddled at the far back wall. Pavataro was poking his nose in the food stores, much to the Cook's annoyance. And rest of the Nymphari soldiers had their hands on their swords.
"Angus?" called out Regent. "You sure there is no way out of this cave?"
Angus stamped on the floor again and spoke a little regretfully. "Solid."
Gideon saw one of the Snikt slink low around the edge of the campsite. It moved as if it were made of liquid, just flowing in and out of the darkness. All the time it was watching Gideon as it moved closer.
"Regent?" said Gideon nervously.
"Steady," said Regent patiently, as if he were talking to a new recruit.
Slowly, the Snikt closed on Gideon while sizing up the boy. Gideon lunged when it got too close and waved the burning wood in its face. It backed up two steps contemplating the fire, and Gideon could see it thinking.
Waving the burning wood again, Gideon barked at the beast. "Back!"
The Snikt backed up again, and the knot of worry in Gideon's stomach started to unravel. It's afraid of fire, he thought with relief.
Suddenly, the Snikt shot forward and slammed its jaws on the end of the burning wood. The boy felt the snap all the way through to his teeth. Instinctively, Gideon let go and moved back into the cave opening in front of Angus. The Snikt shredded the burning wood before returning its attention to the boy.
"Um Regent, fire is out" said Gideon in a soft voice.
"I can see that," replied the commander thoughtfully at the boy's side. Gideon felt someone take the back of his coat and try to tug him further into the cave.
"Stop it," hissed Gideon as the campsite began to fill with Snikt.
"Get back boy," said Angus urgently behind him. "I have cold iron."
Gideon reached up to the top of his fighting staff and twisted something. A blue and silver blade sprung out of the end making it into a spear.
"And mine can cut through iron," replied the boy without taking his eyes off the Snikt.
"Well, I'll be," whispered Angus from behind.
"The boy's full of surprises, isn't he," beamed Regent with pride.
Gideon poked the blade at the nearby Snikt who backed up only a little to eye him. Regent, similarly, had his sword ready. However, he did not wave his about, but waited to draw blood.
"Angus," ordered Regent. "Take my place."
With practiced ease, Regent moved back and Angus was immediately in his place ready to fight. Regent turned to look over the cave. Pavataro and the Nymphari soldiers were bunched towards the front of the cave. Further in, the Bems were huddled against the very back of the cave. Stomping on the rock floor, Regent shook his head in annoyance.
"Sir, they're getting bolder," said Angus in a cool voice from the entrance.
"Steady on," said Regent. "Be ready to fall back after the first wave so that "
There was a surprised popping noise from the back of the cave. The back wall started swung open but hit the mob of Bems. The blue creatures bunched up and popped in annoyance because they did not want to move from their safe place.
"Angus! Did you check the back wall?" asked Regent in a perturbed voice.
"Um " asked Angus.
"'Um' is not a word," said Gideon automatically. And then he realized who he had said it to. "Sorry, something my teacher always says."
There was a stronger push on the back wall. The Bems scattered around the cave as a dozen goblin ambushers came out of a hidden tunnel. The goblins started to give a war cry when one of the Bems shot under their feet, and the others immediately followed their leader into a downward sloping tunnel. The confused goblins tried to keep their footing during the Bem stampede.
As the Bems were going down the hidden tunnel, Regent had already turned to the dragon.
"PAV! Distraction!" cried Regent, and Pavataro blinked for a moment in surprise at the order. Regent gestured hurriedly at the goblin ambushers who were reforming their lines with the intention of attacking.
Pavataro lifted his head over the Nymphari soldiers. The young dragon let out a tremendous burp that came out as a fireball. The fiery sphere floated just under the cave roof towards the goblins. It hit a stalactite above the goblin's heads and popped, which produced a brief fire that was more razzle-dazzle than heat.
As the goblins became thoroughly rattled, Regent shot towards them and pushed the ambushers toward one side of the cave. Some toppled over, while others just managed to keep their footing.
Regent was already shouting and pointing toward the hidden tunnel.
"Everybody IN IN IN!" he ordered.
The Nymphari soldiers quickly shot into the tunnel and Pavataro obediently followed the Cook. Regent grabbed Angus and Gideon.
"Retreat!" ordered Regent.
"Going, said Angus immediately.
"But ," started Gideon.
"MOVE!" bellowed Regent.
"Moving!" squeaked Gideon, and he high-tailed it toward the tunnel at the back of the cave.
With Gideon and Angus ducking out, Regent fended off a confused attack from one of the goblins and hopped into the tunnel himself. Behind him, the goblin warriors cried out in frustration at their running away. One of them, most likely the leader of the ambush, was bellowing at the rest. While trying to see if he could close the cave door, movement at the cave entrance caught Regent's attention. The first of the Snikt were boiling into the cave like a dark tide.
As the goblin leader started shouting louder and faster, Regent jogged down the sloping tunnel. He ducked out of sight around a bend in the tunnel. Soon, he heard screams of panic. Gideon was waiting just past the bend looking anxious, but the boy suddenly deflated.
"I was worried," he said upon seeing Regent. But the soldier just grabbed the boy's shoulder and tugged him further down the sloping tunnel. Gideon looked back as the goblin screams turned to ones of desperation and pain.
"Um, should we leave them ," started Gideon as he was, somewhat reluctantly, towed along.
"They were going to ambush us," replied Regent in a flinty voice as he let the boy go. "It couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of fellows."
"Oh," said Gideon simply, and as he paced the commander. "Still ."
Up ahead, they heard fighting. The tunnel opened up into a stone ledge inside an enormous cave system. Gideon stumbled a moment in awe. Across a great chasm, wooden bridges crisscrossed the immense cave, but they were not ordinary bridges. In the middle of these great bridges, two story houses had been built. Bright clear jars hung from the cave ceiling lighting up the community.
But Regent was focused on the scuffle ahead. It was barely a fight because the goblins had only left a tiny group to guard the mouth of the tunnel, and those guards had not expected a squad of professional Nymphari soldiers. As the last goblin guard fell under Angus' sword, Regent made sure his soldiers were safe, but everyone seemed unharmed, at least so far.
Regent started to look around and he glanced over the Bems who were huddled in one corner. The ledge that they were on had several stone bridges which were spaced out like an outspread hand. These bridges led away in different directions over the dark chasm.
Behind them, the terrible screams of Snikt echoed out of the tunnel like a piercing mass of sound.
"We gotta go," ordered Regent.
"Up or down?" asked Gideon as he pointed to stone bridges that went up and down towards wooden homes.
"High ground," said Regent pointing his sword at an ascending bridge. "Always fight from the high ground."
"Right," said Angus as he ran up the bridge indicated. "Feet up laddies!"
As the troops, the cook and Pavataro followed, Gideon looked around. He waved at the Bems.
"Hurry!" he said and urged them up the bridge too. Regent just shook his head as he and the boy brought up the rear.
There was a small two story house at the end of the stone bridge, but no way to go around. Angus glanced at a small door and then he looked back at Regent who nodded.
Kicking in the door, Angus stepped in and then stood aside to usher everyone else inside. Once the last person was in, Angus turned to close the door, but he saw the Snikt boiling out of the tunnel.
Slamming the door shut, Angus threw his back into it.
"We got trouble," rumbled Angus, but then he noticed the Bems.
The Bems had kept running right through the two story house and then knocked open the back door. Everyone watched as they disappeared over a wooden bridge.
"Maybe we should follow," suggested Pavataro thoughtfully.
"We don't know where we are, and we'd be run down one by ," started Regent, and then he stopped. He focused on a little kitchen at the back of the house, which was right before the stairs to the second level. Regent nodded his chin in that direction, and everyone followed his gaze.
A goblin woman was standing in the kitchen. She was indeterminate age, but her wide blue eyes held fear and defiance. In one bony hand, she held a squirming two year old goblin child, and in the other she held up a large bronze kitchen knife. The knife was old, but well cared for.
"Do you speak Commerce?" asked Regent, referring to the continent's primary language.
But the goblin woman did not understand, so she waved the bronze knife more vigorously.
Angus reached for his sword and Gideon saw it. The boy thought of the fear in the goblin woman's eyes and stepped forward. He touched his fighting staff and the blade disappeared inside, which got everyone's attention.
"I got this," said Gideon quickly. He reached towards his coat with his free hand, but the goblin woman turned the knife towards him.
"Lunchmeat?" asked Pavataro of Gideon.
"It's okay," said Gideon calmly. The boy reached more slowly into his coat of many pockets and carefully pulled out a book.
"Interesting choice of weapon," muttered Angus.
Leaning his staff against his shoulder, Gideon flipped quickly through the book and muttered. "Where is it?"
Regent looked over Gideon's shoulder, which was easy because the boy was so short.
"Dictionary of other languages?" asked Regent out loud.
"Didn't know the Gob's had their own language," growled Angus.
"Keep that talk to yourself," snapped Regent to his sergeant. "The Nymphari aren't exactly well-loved either."
"Shhh," hissed Gideon. "I'll try Lesser Gobley because it's widely used, and they have lots and lots of dialects." The boy found the right page. "Finally!"
Luckily, the book including phonetic pronunciations, but they did not make much sense to Regent.
"Danger," said Gideon in Lesser Gobley, and the goblin woman looked in surprise at him. He pointed to the door past Angus. "Danger. Outside. Hide."
The goblin woman spoke quickly back at him, but he was just baffled.
Suddenly, the Snikt hit the door and Angus tried to keep the door closed as it bucked. With another hit, the door opened a little. A Snikt stuck its front leg, with those wicked claws, inside.
"Help!" cried Angus as he tried to get the door closed.
Other Nymphari soldier tried to push on the door to close it, while the sentry Viss stabbed at the Snikt's front leg. The creature finally pulled its leg out and they got the door shut once again.
Gideon, who had been distracted, looked back at the goblin woman.
"Danger! Hide!" he called out again in Lesser Gobley. The goblin woman picked up the male child, who was almost too big to carry, and went upstairs. But she kept the knife.
The Snikt hit the door again, and it began to buckle.
"Not going to hold," called out Angus. Regent moved to look through a crack in the door. Several of the creatures were backing up to charge the door. Their claws dug into the stone bridge.
"When I say," whispered Regent. "Everyone back."
"Sir?" asked Angus.
The Snikt charged the door.
"Now!" cried Regent as he jumped back. The squad, including Angus, followed his lead. The Snikt, who were expecting more resistance, crashed through the door in surprise and stumbled.
"Attack!" cried Regent as the commander plunged his sword into the first Snikt. But the other Snikt had had time to recover and boiled into the house. The creatures ran in between the soldiers, the dragon and the boy forcing the group apart. Gideon stumbled back in confusion. The sentry, Viss, tripped over a chair and a Snikt leapt at him. Viss barely rolled away in time.
Another Snikt scampered in between the violence and angled its teeth at Angus' back. Gideon blinked and then lunged forward. He smacked the creature's leg with his staff. Twisting, the Snikt turned, but the boy touched his staff and the blade sprung out. Swiping quickly with the blade, Gideon got the creature to back away from Angus, but it was proving too fast to hit.
A small figure appeared out of the corner of his eye and Gideon saw the goblin child. The two year old child was at the foot of the stairs, by the kitchen, with a look of unbridled awe. He was watching as Regent easily fought off two creatures at once.
But another Snikt shot right past that fight and zeroed in, straight for the child. Flecks of drool hit the wooden floor.
"Ohno," said Gideon with a small voice.