Chapter no 12

Forgotten Ruin

I didn’t tell them what it meant. What the witch had said. The brujita, another Ranger had called her. Little witch. I just stood there in the quiet forest and considered the implications while we finished our smokes.

Sims the old man and Matthews the young one didn’t need to know. Didn’t need that on their plate along with the double helping of Ranger Alamo we just got served. What was coming at us next, by all indications, and even just by the feel of the air, was going to be a junkyard dog fight for our lives in the night hours ahead. They didn’t need to think about curses and witches that turned into smoke when it came time for round three.

Another helping.

I told them Chief Rapp probably had a shot that would make it better. That didn’t make them happy. Rangers felt that every time someone had to get a shot it was probably pretty bad. I could see the look in their eyes. It verged on superstitious paranoia. I added that maybe just a drip would straighten Sims out, and they seemed to grab onto that like it was a piece of drifting debris in the river of fear they were currently in.

For me, the details bore more significance than what was just on the surface. First off… Spanish. A witch, human-like and mixed in and supporting the attacks of these orc monsters as assault infantry, was using Spanish. And Spanish from Spain, not Latin or South America. She didn’t use bastardo, which was far more common.

She’d used gilipollas.

The Spanish from Spain version of the word bastard.

Combine this with the HVT sorcerer speaking some kind of Hui dialect, and things were starting to get interesting for my particular military occupational specialty. Languages. The Chinese characters on the recovered documents and tattoos on his severed head also stood out.

Yeah, I get it, we were all about to get our throats cut here at Ranger Alamo, but still, the language thing was fascinating. To me at least. Probably not to Captain Knife Hand or the command sergeant major. Or the rest of the Rangers.

But me… I was practically riveted. Pins and needles. Maybe PFC Kennedy would appreciate the nuances…

Stepping back now to view the larger picture as I was doing, making my way once more toward Sergeant Kurtz and the heavy weapons squad, the really exciting part about all this was there might be something more for me to do here ten thousand years later than we’d intended. A way for me to be of use in this waking nightmare of a fantasy world that was out to kill us as fast as it could. Until this moment I’d wondered if maybe we’d gone some other place not our own. If the languages here were so different that all my available ones were made useless. No problem, I could learn a new one. It’s all just code and there are tricks. And that was exciting in its own way. But…

“Talker,” Sergeant Kurtz barked. Like my acquired tag was a slur reserved for the unclean who were not Ranger or even Airborne. To be used on the great unwashed of Leg Infantry.

“Yes, Sergeant!” I replied as fast as I could jerk myself out of my reverie about how I might possibly spend the rest of my life here in the future. I have to admit, I was pretty excited about being useful.

“He’s down there in the gully!” shouted the sergeant before turning back to his work at the firing pit. They were dragging trees and deadfall across their position to improve it in the time that remained to them. “Tell Tanner to stay with you and don’t get too close,” he barked over his shoulder. And finally, “Thing’s got a set o’ teeth that’d probably take a chunk out of someone. I’m telling you…” He turned back to face me and pointed his own version of the knife hand at me. I guess he was practicing at one day being as matchless a killer as the captain. “He’s dangerous, Talker. Watch out. You been warned.”

That sobered me a bit.

I went off toward the gully behind the squad’s machine-gun pit. It was nothing more than a dry portion of the riverbed that had been cut off from the river at some point in the past. It was filled with loose sand and rock, and a giant hunk of dead wood lay in the middle of the open space. Tied to that hunk of tree, with paracord and then zip ties and some chain… was a goblin.

Just like the ones we’d seen the night before.

Smaller than the orcs. Green-gray skin. Large ears. Eyes like half- moons. Claws opening and closing and scrabbling about as I approached. Worrying one another. This one didn’t have the loincloth and spear the

others had. This one wore a sort of crude armor. A leather cuirass. A tattered kilt. Over-large boots. He eyed me fearfully as I came down into his space.

Tanner, who’d been leaning against the embankment a little farther down the gully, weapon ready, moved on an intercept course to cut me off before I got too close.

“He’s…” began the Ranger private.

I held up a hand. “I know… dangerous. Kurtz shouted at me.”

Tanner stood back and watched the little thing try to hop and move about defensively as we gathered near it. It couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. If.

I said hi. In Spanish at that.

The thing cocked its head and looked at me quizzically. But it was clear it didn’t understand even though I repeated this five or six times.

Then I tried Chinese several times. I was working with the languages we’d encountered so far. I figured that was a good starting point.

Tanner looked at me like I was a lunatic, and frankly, for a moment, I felt like one standing there and trying to talk to…

Just embrace it, I told myself.

… to a… goblin.

It was either that or hairless little malevolent monkey.

I attempted a few other languages, but it wasn’t until I tried some phrases in Turkic that I got a recognition response from the thing.

The positive response came when I asked it, “What’s your name?” I said it fast because I was just trying out a bunch of stuff and the thing wasn’t responding to anything. But when I asked it that, when I asked it what its name was, in Turkic—Isminiz ne?—it answered without guile and seemed just as surprised as I was.

Apparently, its name was Jabba. And using some German, some Turkic, some Arabic, and a language I just was beginning to discover as… well, Jabba’s description for it was Orc War Talk… we were able to have us a big old conversation.

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