Deep We Go
I thought I saw, one night at least five years through my confinement, a circle of fat enamel torches, pulsing under each grain of sand in the dunes around us. There was a chattering of their voices, and the mewling of some female thing, and then a dreadful howl. I squatted lower in the cage, forcing my eye through the bars at the base, and saw a gnarled leg, the clack of bone sliding over bone, a slit, damp, dew, and, finally, and I swear this on every Grove, a mannish baby, pink and brown and bleating, fall from the gnashing gape of the goblin bitch.
The elven watcher Caedwen of Hess Grove
The story above is one of thousands like it, many untold and instead dreamed by loved ones left behind. It was once reckoned that one in every twenty families, of every race of Spirits, had at least one ancestor stolen by the hobgoblin slave trains. The beasts, some place between Higher and Lower, have intelligence enough to lash and bind, and even do some work of watching amongst themselves, but their currency is not glod, or knowledge, or ore, or even slaves;, such life and effort matter little to a race with no abode, or cities to call their own. Their meg relies only upon flesh, the various parts that make up a creature, and their captives suffer greatly for the exploration of this art.
How they came to be is a story that is part of a great tradition that has dubbed the hobgoblins, in polite society that does not use that name, the Candle Folk. Monomyths have deposited huge tales of how the hobgoblins are warped by the weather and their own practices into melted, diminished shadows of themselves. Parents tell their naughty children not to fight, not scar themselves or lose blood or teeth, as those parts will flow together in great underground rivers to the desert to grow new hobgoblins. What is more likely, however, is not that the hobgoblins were once noble, diminished by their hubris; such things are too neat. Ugliness breeds ugliness, and with no desire to exceed themselves, they are trapped between the innocence of animals and the cruelty of tribals. “Too clever for their own good”, is what many travellers say, and this fits the best.
Most hobgoblins are confined to Dirrnyg’s Land, or occasionally the plains nourth of that place; the only time they leave the deserts is to raid farmsteads under Winterhaven’s auspice. Some have been seen on the longer roads closer to the Harrow and Swift Osu, but they quickly disappear, and are not seen again.
The Candle Folk are certainly hideous to look upon. They stand upon two legs like most Spirits, at around the height of a mannish. Thick, rubbery skin broiled with moisture covers them, along with acne that ranges in patterns over their shoulders and heads. Their raised spines form a cross, a smaller bone running parallel to the other. If one back is broken, the other may drive the hobgoblin forward They cultivate small patches of black hair all over their body, the highest of them growing it to the ground. Their heads are ruins of feature; three mouths sit in pairs across the breadth of it, nestled in dense bony ridges the colour of pus. Like the orc, they have wide greasy hackles across their back which they raise in anger or arousal. Their cheeks are lined with curved teeth, forged by their geds for war and pleasure. When they do speak it is with a clacking shiver, like a wind moving through hanging sandals.
Most have never seen a hobgoblin up close, but most do not travel through Dirrnyg’s Land; the Hemeroon and other nomad peoples that do move in dense caravans bristling with battle-meg and fierce warriors. The hobgoblins are unkind opponents, and rarely take live captives. When they do, amongst the Hemeroon an uor is killed in their place, to grant them a symbolic death in which they need never suffer what truly awaits them.
Some controversial watchers have professed admiration for hobgoblin Haze-work; it produces little waste or danger of wefting, and it uses only natural materials such as flesh, bone and wood. How it is bound together and given life, it is not known, but many have been arrested and imprisoned for digging up corpses to use in their own experiments.