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Kobolds and the Truth

by NonAnalogue

NonAnalogue Research is more dangerous than people give it credit for.
"'The kobold society revolves entirely around thievery, chicanery, deception, and misleading others, which works well enough for kobolds as a whole, even though individual kobolds often find themselves in a field of hungry seedstalkers, to use the vernacular.' - From the journals of Octavius Esry." Lihi flipped back a few pages in the book, then forward a few, then closed the book with a sigh. It looked like that was all the book had to say on the topic of kobolds. Her mentor had given Lihi the book when she was young, and it had proved an invaluable resource; this guy Esry had gone out of his way to document as much as he could about every species in the world.

Granted, as one man could only live so long, this meant that some species, like kobolds, were a touch underrepresented.

Lihi slipped the book back in her satchel. She wore many hats - on most days, this was not a literal statement - at the behest of her patron deity. Thale was the goddess of the truth, and she was also a goddess who believed in somewhat loose definitions of words; as a result, Lihi had several jobs that all somehow tied into that theme. Today, her job was to continue double-checking Esry's records to make sure that they were all relatively accurate. Her journeys had led her to a small canyon in Alzabata on the trail of kobolds.

It stood to reason, Lihi figured, that kobolds would be in Alzabata; practically nothing else could live in the desert, after all. Kobolds were cold-blooded, right? At least, she had heard once that they were. An idle voice in the back of her head chimed in, saying that them being cold-blooded didn't necessarily have anything to do with their temperature.

Lihi almost ran into a sign.

This was not to say that she almost missed, say, some vital clue in a metaphorical way. She was nearing the canyon, and there was in fact a wooden signpost out in the middle of the blasted landscape. She looked around. Yep. There wasn't anything around for miles, save for the canyon itself and a few gnarled trees that were stubbornly hanging onto the last vestiges of life.

Someone had written on the sign using some dark red ink that Lihi didn't really want to dwell on for any length of time. Their script was thick and uneven, as if they weren't used to precision; their words were in what looked like Old Kenban, a language that had fallen out of vogue around the same time that people had realized that pronouncing words that started deep in the throat and ended in the same place after a long and winding road through the mouth was just really not worth the trouble.

This, of course, didn't bother Lihi.

"There are..." she read slowly, her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth partially from effort and partially to nail a few particularly tricky syllables, "no kobolds here."

There was a postscript, added on by a different hand in a different shade of red: "Especially not in the western end of the canyon."

There was a second postscript. Someone had tried to scratch it out, but the words were still quite clear to Lihi: "Really? Then where in the devil are we staying?"

Lihi rolled her eyes and opened Esry's book and began jotting a note in the margins. "Kobolds are either very dumb, or very, very clever." As the prophet of the goddess of truth, Lihi was forbidden to lie. However, she was pretty sure she was in the clear with that one.


Climbing down the walls of a cavern were, at the best of times, a tricky proposition. For Lihi, it was a bit harder than it might have been for the next person; her dress, while comfortable, was not built for scaling rock. She was pleased, however, to note that her boots were holding out. Two years prior, she had traveled through Alzabata's capital, Zerkut, on a different journey; a merchant had stopped her and asked for help in ridding his shop of bull horns. It had, rather predictably, spiraled rather far out from there, and before long, Lihi had found herself talking down a suicidal pair of sirens.

It had been that kind of day. Not that she minded. It was part and parcel of her life.

But the merchant had made her a custom pair of boots as thanks, and gave them his personal guarantee. Two years later, and here she was, climbing down the side of a canyon with them, without so much as a tear. Lihi jumped to the ground once she was close enough, and started for the western end.

There was a wall.

Well, to be fair, there was more than a wall. There were several rocks, for example, and a few shriveled weeds poking through the stone. The wall, however, was by far the main attraction. Lihi looked up at it, then pulled out Esry's tome and flipped through the pages.

She, then, didn't see the kobold sneaking up behind her with an axe.

This didn't stop her from speaking, though. "I wouldn't try that, were I you," Lihi said, bowing her head. Her words were fluent Old Kenban, which is to say that she sounded like she might unexpectedly expectorate at any given moment.

"Yeah?" the kobold said after a moment's thought. It, as a comeback, left something to be desired.

"You don't know who I am, after all."

The kobold thought about that a little more. That hadn't really stopped him in the past.

"I might be a hunter. I could have a weapon trained on you right now, and you wouldn't even know." Lihi did enjoy the use of conditionals in getting around the no-lying rule.

"But you're not even facing me," the kobold said, his gravelly voice naturally suited to Old Kenban.

"Well then! That just goes to show what a good hunter I might be, doesn't it? Or... what if I'm a witch? One wrong move, and I could hex your head clean off of your shoulders!"

That gave the kobold pause.

"Or maybe I'm a general. If you hurt me, you could end up inviting a whole squad of the finest infantry down on little old you."

The kobold squinted, making fine use of the rolls of skin around his eyes. "All right then, I think you're pulling my leg. I think I might just swing this axe, right, at you, and see how my luck goes from there."

Lihi raised her head slightly. "That's not a very elegant plan."

"It's a work in progress, really." The kobold gave a half-shrug, then hefted his blade up on his shoulder and swung it forward.


Two days later, Lihi kicked up her heels in the small town of Lib. It was built inside a mountain, presumably initially to take advantage of the mountain's wealth of jewels and precious minerals. Now that the mountain had mostly been mined through, Lihi supposed people hung around because it was pleasantly cool, and she did have to admit that the few succubi and incubi that lived inside the mountain further on were decently nice when they weren't trying to nick your stuff.

She opened Esry's book, which now sported a trendy cut down the middle as well as a dent in the cover shaped suspiciously like a reptilian head, to the page on kobolds and began writing in the margins.

"Whether kobolds are clever or not, a really good book can help make up the difference."