As a child, goblins fascinated me. I imagined them deep beneath a valley filled with oak and pine, populating a vast underground city. The city stood on the edge of a subterranean lake, glimmering green, lit by a ceiling of luminescent fungi. Their city was Smogbotten, a place of smoke, shadow, and music. There are tales to be told, I’m sure – maybe they’ll make their way here.
The goblins had not built Smogbotten by choice. They had been driven there by the cruelty of the high elves, who found them ugly, apelike, and crude. The elves had lost their respect for the Unseelie fae, and, in their quest to bind the magick of the world to their whims, they began to enslave the goblins.
Marching into their forests, the high elves began to chain whole villages to their will, turning them into servants, janitors, slaves… “house elves”. The wildest of the goblins, of course, could not be tamed in such a way, and fled to the deeper wilds, to cower in darkness where the high elves could not see.
But the elves did not brook disobedience, and as long as there was a tribe of goblins their “house elves” could flee too, their control was threatened. What began as slave hunting parties became great brutal raids into the depths of the forest.
The goblins were not strong enough to face the elves in open battle, but under the dark boughs of the trees and the grasping underbrush, they waged a guerrilla resistance of bestial savagery. They learned to be as cruel as their oppressors, and unleashed deep, dark magicks to help their cause. They delved deep into the caves beneath the forest, teaching themselves the magick of fire, iron, steel, and smoke.
The elves realized that as long as the forest stood, they would never subjugate the goblins, who now, armed with steel and explosives, smoke and steam – were now becoming a match for the knights in their silver armor and golden lances.
The elves decided that the forest had to die. They cast a great magick, bright, blazing. They burnt a hole in the sky above the forest, and the sun beat down unrelentingly, turning the meadows into gravel, drying the pine and oak and bay laurel into dead trunks that held no leaves. By the end of the first year after the elves spell, half the forest was dead. By the end of the fifth, it was a desert of dried sticks.
And that’s when the elves gathered their forces, and marched their great host into the forest, slaughtering any goblin caught in their path.
When the elves reached the center of the dead forest, beneath the mountain gates leading into the goblin city, they called out a demand for surrender with the blaring of bronze trumpets.
The goblins answered with the beating of deep, deep drums, echoing up from below the mountain.
They had begun a terrible summoning of their own, calling upon a beast serpentine, ancient, and full of fire. A beast not seen on the surface in thousands of thousands of years.
And as the elves pulled their great battering ram up to the mountain gate, it burst open, knocking them aside, and the dragon soared up into the air in a blaze of black scale, copper claws, and a flame so hot it shimmered blue against the rising twilight.
It soared upwards, far far above the reach of the elves’ arrows, spears, and magick, spun in a spiral against the full moon, green eyes glinting with the terrible, delightful, joyous rage of justice.
And swooped downwards, a streak of living flame hurling earthwards, a living comet, a falling star.
No elf survived that day. The forest leapt into a whirlwind of flame with the first spark of dragon fire, and as the wildfire rose as the dragon swooped and swirled and burned with divine justice, the goblins kept drumming, summoning the Ifrit and all matter of fire up from the blossoming flames.
The sky turned to flame. Flesh was whisked into ash. Bone was scorched into dust. The dead trunks of the tortured trees were melted into obsidian sentries, forever marking the battle.
There was nothing left but a dead forest of blackened, glass trees, slowly blanketed by the falling ash, drifting down like snow.
Beneath the forest, deep in their caves, the goblins had been wise as they sat safe from the firestorm. They had filled the caverns with every kind of seed that had grown above them. They had given shelter to the animals and fed them, they had even saved beehives.
And when the ash stopped falling, the goblins, under cover of darkness, came out and began the hard work of replanting.
Today, the elven empire is nothing but ruins – pillars and broken statues, some scarred with touches of flame. But Smogbotten persists. The obsidian tree trunks were reinforced, and are now chimneys that let the smoke up from the forges below the mountain, which mixes with the fog, the bones of the old forest forever protecting the regrown forest from elvish eyes.
Story and metaphor it may be, I see what the goblins faced facing many of us. I see a greedy and avaricious empire dedicated to enslaving all who are different, one that will kill the world to maintain its control.
And just like the goblins, I see our best hope is to build our fortress, prepare for the storm, and be ready to replant after the world burns.
This is why Smogbotten has always been important in my own mythology, and why, regardless of it being told as a fantasy tale, it served as a template for building this place a long time ago.
Today, I see a hope to bring the safety of Smogbotten into reality, because of the incredible people who inspired me – both old friends and new. If I’ve invited you here, it’s because I wish to thank you, give you hope, and return in some small part the love you entrusted to me.