Lilliana and Stella moved quietly towards the groups of goblins.
The pouring rain prevented them from seeing anything, so they had no choice but to get closer.
At first, the ground was still passable, though muddy from the rain. But the further the little group went into the hills, the more pronounced the swampy aspect became.
They managed to make their way to the main mountain after walking for nearly an hour. There, the ground was so muddy that with every step the young adventurers were at least knee-deep in it.
Lilliana and Stella helped each other, while Thore was on his own, refusing to accept help from the girls, as he didn't need any help from low-ranked people in his opinion.
It took them as long to climb that hill as it did to travel the rest of the land. When they reached the top of the hill, a beautiful view, very familiar to the two young teenage girls in the group, lay before them. Although the distant landscape was not visible, the devastated surroundings were distinguishable. .
Crevices stretched here and there, marking the ground and leading the daylight deep into the bowels of the earth. Regularly, small flows of mud fell into these cracks, making the area around them dangerous. Despite this, many goblins wandered around.
Most of the goblins were just wandering. But others seemed to be working: crates were being carried, lightly hidden under tarps. Thore shivered at the sight of the crates.
"What the hell is going on here? Since when do goblins know how to craft such advanced items?"
Lilliana and Stella remained silent. They were not as familiar with goblins as Thore was, so their technological ability was unknown to them.
Sometimes some goblins would fall into the crevices, disappearing into the darkness. Their howls were sometimes so loud that not even the driving rain could completely disguise them.
Yet their fellows did not stop to help them, nor did anyone care. At most, some of them gave them a very furtive look.
At a cursory glance, one would think that all these monsters were working in confusion, with no organization in place. They were still monsters after all. But the reality was different. Among the goblins, some of them had an unusual physique. Their color was lighter, their posture was more human, and they were much taller.
They were so big that even most humans and elves couldn't compete in size. They also usually carried very heavy weapons, which matched their powerful physique. Each of these goblins had a position and commanded their less powerful brethren.
The three adventurers could not believe their eyes. It was hard to believe that they were watching a goblin yard. While Lilliana and Thore watched in horror, Stella tried to get her comrade's attention, nudging her.
"Lilliana, look," she whispered in her friend's ear while pointing a direction with her index finger.
The young swordswoman turned her gaze to the targeted area and was horrified at what she saw: dozens of goblins were emerging from the bowels of the earth every second. These monsters were being spread directly into different areas by a single entity: a huge creature at least twice the size of an adult man, carrying a gigantic staff adorned with a stone even darker than the night. Thore's eyes darkened at the sight of the creature. He grabbed the two girls with him and stepped back.
"We need to leave, and quickly. He's a goblin wizard, we could be spotted."
Lilliana and Stella's faces looked quizzical, but they did not argue. Thore was, after all, far more experienced than they were.
"All right, let's go home. We'll be late for the meeting anyway if we stay any longer."
The three adventurers came out of hiding. However, when they turned around, they came face to face with one of their enemies.
The goblin was there, sniffing around. It looked left and right, feeling around. The three adventurers were paralyzed, not knowing how to react. Getting rid of a goblin was an easy thing to do, but they were afraid that doing so would alert the rest of the army, which could be fatal.
Fortunately for them, after feeling around, the goblin turned and walked away, completely ignoring the three scouts.
"What just happened?"
Stella thought she was going to have to run for her life again, after being spotted. Instead, the goblin was gone as if nothing had happened.
"No idea. He should have noticed us! We were right in front of him."
"Maybe that goblin was blind, I can't think of any other explanation for his behavior. But I wonder if..."
"What is it, Thore?"
"Nothing important, let's go home, we'll be late otherwise."
The three adventurers set off in the direction of the city.
It had been raining non-stop for over twelve hours. The ground was beginning to saturate with water, and the lower streets were already showing signs of flooding. More and more people stayed at home, keeping themselves busy as best they could. Some decided that prevention was better than cure, and insulated their doors, windows, and other possible entrances as best they could.
On the main street, three figures were running in the rain. They were heading straight for the Adventurer's Guild building.
Today, the interior of this gigantic building was quite empty. Adventurers often worked in the rain, but when it lasted too long or was too heavy, it could make exploring and fighting difficult and dangerous.
That's why most of the adventurers preferred to take a day off at the sight of such rain. The few people present were the employees and a few daring adventurers. Lilliana, Stella, and Thore did not linger on the ground floor and went up to the upper floors to the meeting room.
Contrary to what they thought, they were not the last to arrive. Of the six teams, four were present in the room, for a total of seven men and four women. One of them was crying. They had to wait another ten minutes before the doors of the room opened again.
It was a three-man team. The one leading the way seemed to be the leader. He exuded a presence that Lilliana had never seen before. Not even the guild leader had such a presence.
Quickly, a man called out to the approaching group.
"Jin, you almost kept us waiting! All that's left is Flora's team and we'll be complete."
"No, we're already full, Flora's not coming."
The man was surprised by this answer. He naturally wanted to know more, but was interrupted by Jin:
"Let's wait for the master, he shouldn't be long now."
Just then, the doors opened again, letting in one man: the guild master.
Every man and woman in the room stood up, even Thore, and greeted him. Lilliana and Stella, a little embarrassed, did the same. The master approached the large round table that separated each of the adventurers and sat down at one of the chairs surrounding it. Once seated, all the other adventurers did the same.
"Well, you'll have a chance to tell me everything you've learned about the situation. But first, Nora, where is your sister, Lena? And where the hell is Flora's team? Don't tell me that..."
"Yes, sir... Lena has left us."
It wasn't Nora who answered, not being able to, but the man with her who was also trying to hold back his tears.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Nora, Vilen. And for Flora."
Jin reached into his bag and pulled out something. He placed the object on the table. Soon the whole room was filled with a feeling of disgust and sadness as they realized what Jin had just put on the table: a head.
"This is all we could save from their group, Flora's head. The rest was eaten by the goblins."
Jin had to pause, even he had trouble putting such things into words.
"It's okay, I get it, no need to go any further. We should pay our respects to Lena, Flora, Irene, and Shuna. I'll ensure that a beautiful burial is provided for them, and I'll preside over the ceremony myself. I hope their deaths will not have been in vain, what have you found out."
Jin put Flora's head back in the bag, and spoke up:
"From what our group knows, the enemy has an army of several hundred thousand goblins, perhaps exceeding a million within a few days. At the head of this army are several hobgoblins, themselves led by a few goblin wizards. I don't know much more than that, but it would be natural to think that a goblin king leads the army."
The guild master lowered his head, thinking. He began to think aloud:
"A goblin king... It's an S-rank creature. It's not that strong, several of our adventurers could get rid of it in a duel. The problem is the army around it. The goblins may be G-ranked, in large numbers even B- or A-ranked could be at a disadvantage. Led by D rank hobgoblins, it's even worse. But the real problem is those A rank goblin wizards."
"It's even worse than I thought. Eighty percent of our adventurers are G or H rank. We only have a few A and S ranks, and only Jin is SS rank. And on top of that, we'll have to fight in this rain... Right. I'll gather the groups of A-rank and above, and we'll strategize within the week. Do you have any other information?"
Jin spoke again, but this time the atmosphere was much darker than before.
"I think every scout will have noticed, but these goblins are different... It's as if they're sentient. They've created some sort of society. I would even say that these goblins are more like elves than monsters."
"I see... So, they have developed some intelligence."
A heavy silence fell over the room. Fighting simple monsters is one thing, but fighting intelligent creatures is different. Generally speaking, creatures below B rank were rarely intelligent. But this time, they had to face a full army of these intelligent goblins.
When the silence had already reigned for a few seconds, a relatively deep voice broke it.
"I also think goblins are blind."
Most people were lost in thought, so few heard what Thore had just announced.
"Excuse me, Thore, could you repeat that?"
"I was saying that goblins are blind. I think. We faced a goblin, but even though he was less than ten meters away from us, he didn't notice us. But I can't tell if he was the only one or if all goblins are like that. They lived in complete darkness, after all, considering they came from underground... "
Most of the other groups were skeptical. Indeed, this was too big to be true. After all, if they were blind, it could be a very big advantage for them.
"Wait... I think that's true!"
"What is it, Vilen?"
"Well, when the goblins attacked Lena, they all pounced on her. On the other hand, they never touched Nora and me. But I don't know how to explain then why Lena got attacked..."
The guild master pondered the question, but it was Jin who found the answer.
"I think I know. Vilen, Nora, you're both B-rank, right? Lena, on the other hand, was A ranked. We know that goblin wizards can spot their enemies by the aura they emit. Perhaps the loss of sight and lack of enemies has deteriorated their detection ability, and they find themselves unable to spot enemies with a lower rank than them?"
"If this is true, then the lower ranks could infiltrate the camp undetected. Good. Let's end this meeting, we have enough information. I wish we had more information, but the situation is serious. I think we should act quickly. You may go. I will call the relevant groups for the strategy meeting in the coming days."