“We thank you for dealing with the bharghests that infiltrated these lands.” said the lead goblin of the Everwatch tribe’s envoy troupe, an amusingly heavy-set little fellow with fine leather armor reinforced with metal plates.

“Ain’t no problem.” replied Myr casually from where she laid on her bed. “Though one of ‘em got away. A nasty little tier three bugger.”

“We are aware and have already hunted it down.” said the goblin firmly, a deep-set frown as if he’d taken personal offence by the monster’s actions. And perhaps he did. The little fellow didn’t strike Ash as someone who was negligent with his duty, for all that they’d let a pack of monsters into their lands.

“Good. Can sleep soundly without havin’ to worry about it huntin’ us for the rest of our days. Bharghests can be right vengeful bastards.” remarked the woman with an audible sigh.

“Indeed. We would like to again convey the Council’s deepest regrets regarding the damage dealt to you because of our lack of caution, trusted human Myr.” The goblin emphasized his given apology with what felt like to Ash was the fifth bow in about as many minutes. Were goblins big on genuflection, he wondered, or was it just an odd quirk of this individual.

Indeed, he’d seen no sign of regret on the hard faces of the other warriors beside him, though there emotion aplenty there. A thinly veiled look of shame most obvious of all.

Myr waved his apologies away with an easy, diplomatic smile.

“Eh, it happens. Years I’ve lived ‘ere an’ this be the first-time somethin’ like this happens. Ain’t too bad a track record if you ask me.”

The four strong goblin troupe obviously didn’t agree if the frowns on their faces were of any indication.

“It shouldn’t have happened no matter the amount of time. We had multiple contingencies in play to prevent just this kind of event. For the monsters to have wormed their way into our land despite all that means that something else is afoot. Do you, perhaps, know of any strange occurrences that may have caused this?”

Ash felt a nervous flutter bloom in his gut as soon as the goblin’s words left its mouth, and he glanced towards the room within which Calixxa hid. Her words rang again in the depths of his mind, and his fists clenched. The envoy’s arrival had been sudden and unbidden, and Ash hadn’t had the time to take the girl and hide away from the burrow until they left. It was all that they could do to stash her in a far corner and hope that none of the envoys possessed a perception spell nor the intent to use one.

Fortunately for them, Myr proved far more possessed of her own emotions and despite her own fears and suspicions, gave the goblin a simple shrug in answer.

“Nothin’, but I’ll make sure to let you know if anythin’ comes up. This may be your tribe’s land but I’ve lived ‘ere long enough to call it home. Ain’t no monsters gonna wreck that without my say.”

The goblin seemed satisfied with the answer and bowed his head in thanks. “Please, trusted human Myr, take these as a gift to aid you in your recovery.”

The goblin turned to one of his companions who handed the fellow something, which he in turn gave to Myr. It was a simple wooden box, Ash realized, of small size, fashioned of some elegant reddish wood and adorned with a minimal amount of engraving. Myr shot the goblin a surprised quirk of her eyebrow but accepted the gift nonetheless. Her expression brightened by an order of several magnitudes when she flipped the lid on the container and spied inside the four stoppered vials inside.

Ash saw them too and recognized the glistening red liquid contained within almost immediately.

“Healin’ potions.” said Myr in a voice that betrayed her surprise.

“Lesser Healing Potions.” amended the goblin. “But yes. These should prove very useful to you.”

“I don’t doubt it. This is really generous. Send your Council my thanks.”

The goblin nodded and bowed, and the conversation died not too soon after that. The troupe left the burrow a few minutes later and Ash found himself left alone with Myr who was hugging the crate as if it contained the most valuable items in the world. Considering their circumstances, it might as well have.

Still, he was slightly confused.

“Don’t we already have some of these?”

He knew they did seeing as how they’d already used one on Myr a day previously.

“Aye. We got seven. Now we got eleven.” She almost cooed as she rubbed her cheeks against the wood paneling of the box.

“Are they that valuable? You didn’t seem all too fussed when you used one earlier.”

The woman grunted and shot him an annoyed glance. “’Cuz it was necessary, kid. Doesn’t meant that it didn’t hurt me to use ‘em. It took me years to collect those seven. Healin’ potions don’t come cheap to people in our circumstances, so yes, I’d be willin’ to suck on a daemon’s tit for even a single vial more. Four is a damned fortune.”

Ash snickered at the mental image and acquiesced to her. The revelation made him more grateful that he’d declined her offer of one of the potions to use on his own injuries. The medicinal paste was more than enough for him. His debt to her was large enough, and though she’d said that she wasn’t bothered by the damage his decisions had dealt her, the guilt he felt remained a heavy weight on his mind.

He would pay her back, one day. He hoped that day came sooner than not, though.

“Are they gone?” came a soft voice from the other end of the hall.

“Yeah. You can come out.”

Calixxa slowly peered out of her room, an apprehensive look on her face as if she feared that the shadows cast around the burrow contained goblins that would steal her away. He found her actions amusing, and even more so when she immediately ran out once she’d determined that the coast was clear and latched onto his hand.

“Did they come because of Calixxa? Were you in trouble?”

“No, the opposite actually. They came to give us gifts because we did such a good job beating up all the monsters.”

“Really?” she asked, her eyes wide with surprise. “Like toys?”

Ash chuckled and ruffled her hair. “Not toys. Potions, which to us adults are even better.”

“If you say so.” she said, not entirely convinced that there could be anything better than toys. “Calixxa is just happy that nice Ash and scary Myr aren’t in trouble.”

Ash heard an annoyed huff from Myr’s direction at the description that, admittedly, she’d well earned.

“Come, nice Ash! I want to show you a new game I came up with the toys you gave me. It’s really fun, I promise!”

He didn’t doubt it, and though he’d planned to spend some time meditating, he felt that perhaps spending some time with Calixxa would be for the better. For all that the girl seemed upbeat and happy once again, the attack had scared her far more than she was willing to show. He suspected that she still felt no small amount of guilt, as if it were in any way her fault, and he was afraid that she would withdraw back into the terrified little thing he’d first met if not reinforced with a steady shower of kindness.

“Alright, but only for a little while, ‘kay? I need to train some more later.”

“Sure!” the girl beamed and dragged him by his hand to her room. He glanced back to eye Myr and found the woman still engaged in whispering sweet nothings to the box of healing potions, and sighed.

The next hour passed by with light-hearted fun and play, and for a while, Ash allowed himself to forget about all the pains and troubles of the past and future and instead immerse his attention in the simple joy of a little girl and her little games. It was almost therapeutic in its effect on his worries, and Ash left her room with his steps a little lighter and his heart a little freer.

“You done playin’ nanny?” asked Myr from where she laid. The box was no longer in her grip, and Ash could only assume that she’d tucked it away in her little hide-away with the rest of her valuable possessions.

“She’s sleeping.”

“Good. Gives us a chance to talk.” she said severely.

Ash furrowed his brow at her sombre tone. He got the feeling that he wouldn’t like the conversation that was coming. Still, he took a seat by her bedside and motioned for her to continue.

“In as much as I don’t want to admit it, the brat’s grown on me over the past few days. Like a rash, I suppose. So, understan’ that I don’t wanna have to say what I’m about to, but it needs to be said. That girl is dangerous, kid.”

Ash opened his mouth to retort but Myr silenced him with a raised palm.

“Let me say my piece. Bharghests are chiefly beasties of opportunity. They don’t like takin’ chances in a fight unless they know that they got some great advantage. They outnumbered us an’ one of ‘em had a tier advantage sure, but it wasn’t enough for ‘em to stick around for a fight to the death. But they did. Even after half of ‘em were dead, they still stood aroun’. That ain’t normal. Not unless they were starved to the edge of death, an’ those bharghests weren’t so far gone.”

Myr’s brow furrowed deeper and deeper as she spoke, and her tone grew graver still. He knew then where the conversation headed, and he dreaded the confrontation that would be borne as a result.

Still, he would face it nonetheless. It was a consequence of his own actions that he had to own up for.

“You think that it’s Calixxa’s fault, then?”

“I know it, kid. I heard her blamin’ herself after we killed those beasties same as you did. Honestly, I don’t blame ‘er for it. She’s just a brat but at the end of the day, unknowingly or not, she’s doin’ something and it caused this. And you know somethin’ about it, don’tcha?”

It took him a moment to muster the will to nod in the affirmative.

“Were you gonna tell me?” she asked him, and though it could’ve been an accusation in its own way, her tone was soft enough to reveal a semblance of hurt there. Like he’d been lying to her all along. And he supposed that he had been.

“She told me the day she tried to run away. Said that... she was ill fated. Bad luck. That her tribe abandoned her for it. Something to do with her eyes as well, though I’m not too sure about that. I was hoping that it was just superstitious nonsense, especially after a few days had passed and nothing had happened. But after this...”

He glanced at Myr and the woman seemed lost in thought. “Ill fated, huh.” she repeated. “Ain’t heard nothin’ ‘bout anythin’ like that, but I have heard of the opposite. Was an old story that Wixxack told me a few months ago. It was ‘bout a goblin with golden eyes that brought a whole lotta luck, prosperity and all that good stuff to his tribe.” She laughed then though there was no real mirth in her voice. “He’d regarded the birth of a goblin like that as some great boon or somethin’, but I guess the brat’s folks saw it another way. An’ for good reason.”

He was willing to contest that still, but he kept his thoughts to himself then. Leaving her to fend for herself as they had done was an act of supreme cruelty, but as much as he hated to admit it, he wasn’t such a fool that he couldn’t admit that they’d had a good enough reasoning.

He couldn’t imagine having to endure years of ill luck on the scale of the bharghest attack, which only made his dilemma all the worse.

Logically speaking, he knew that they had only one reasonable choice.

“Will you kick her out?” he asked, his voice quietened by a tumult of emotion.

Myr sighed and, much to his relief, shook her head. “Would if I could, kid, but for all that she calls me scary every damn time she sees me, like I’ve said, I’ve gotten attached to the brat. ‘Sides, I don’t think you'd stick around if I did.”

She was right on that account. He couldn’t bear to be as callous as he knew he should be, if only to protect both his and Myr’s health. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he did that again.

Myr seemed to have sensed his line of thought if what she said next was of any indication. “Listen, Ash.” she began, and the fact that she’d used his name for once told him how serious she was. “I’m ain't sure what happened in your old world that turned you into this over-protective saint that goes ‘round protectin’ every stray he comes across, but you gotta get it into that thick head of yours that you don’t owe that kid nothin’. Certainly not your health.”

“My world? You believe me now?” he asked, surprised. He’d thought that she’d believed his story to be a crazy tale still.

“I've believed you for a long while. Hard not to with all the strangeness that keeps poppin’ up around you. But don’t change the subject.”

Ash frowned. “What do you owe me then, Myr?” he retorted with more heat than he’d intended. “Not a thing, but you keep teaching me, sheltering me, saving my ass whenever I’m in trouble. And all at a cost to yourself. Why do you do all that?”

She frowned, and tiredly rose towards a seated position, an annoyed cast to her gaze.

“That’s different.” Was her low reply. Ash found it a pathetic answer. He knew that he had no reason to be angry with her after all that she’d done for him, but he found the hypocrisy grating.

“No, it isn’t. I was lost, alone and terrified when you found me. You gave me shelter and protection and the peace of mind to actually sleep soundly at night.” He still had nightmares about that night that he’d come so close to death still. It was like a dark cloud that hung about him at times though the passage of time had done much to whittle away at it, a hint of it still clung to his mind like a determined pest.

“You did all that despite not knowing me or having any reason to give a damn whether I lived or died. Calixxa, she’s the same. She just needed someone to care, Myr. That’s all I did.”

That’s all he planned to do. That’s what she deserved most of all.

“Caring for her will get you killed the way things are goin’.” Myr retorted, and Ash couldn’t deny it.

“I know. I... know.” He truly did, and he’d known from the moment of the attack what he’d need to do after it was dealt with. What he should have done the day after to be honest. But still, he’d dithered because of comfort and fear and a million other inexcusable reasons. And he would have continued to dither until the next attack came, and Myr was hurt as badly as she’d already been, or worse.

The thought left a sick feeling bubbling in his gut.

And yet, he couldn’t abandon Calixxa. He just couldn’t.

But something needed to change. Something had to be done.

“We need to leave.”

“Leave?” the woman snorted with no small amount of irritation apparent in her icy-blue gaze. “Leave for where? This part of the forest is the safest place for us for leagues ‘round. D’you think we’d be any better off in another neck of the woods? I promise you, we won’t.”

Ash smiled and slowly shook his head. “No. Not we, Myr. We.” He gestured to where Calixxa was fast asleep, and then to himself. “We’ve been a burden on you long enough. Now that I’m close to tier two, I have the strength to actually protect myself and Calixxa. We’ll leave fo-”

“Leave?” the woman growled, and she actually rose to her feet despite the fact that she hadn’t yet regained her full strength left. “You just wanna up an’ leave after all this? Without even repayin’ all my generosity?” she growled.

“I can’t repay you if you’re dead.” he replied with no small amount of anger. He understood her reasoning, but couldn’t she also understand that he was trying to do her a favour?

“An’ you can’t repay me if you’re dead neither, an’ you likely will be if you leave here with the brat in tow. Tier two ain’t shit in the real world, kid.”

“It’ll have to be enough.”

“It won’t be, an’ I don’t plan on lettin’ you get yourself an’ her killed.” she said, her voice low and her eyes ablaze with unwavering determination. Ash clenched his fists, and though her mana bore down on him like an implacable mountain, Ash was no longer the terrified magicless man she’d found all those weeks ago. He met her gaze evenly, his mana primed and his muscles tensed.

He sensed the promise in her words, and for all that she was still wounded, Ash knew that Myr could bring a lot to bear if the situation demanded it. But he had no other choice. Calixxa staying in the burrow wasn’t a tenable long-term situation, no matter how stubborn Myr was about it.

He opened his mouth, hoping to beseech the woman to see reason one last time, when a sudden voice cut through the mounting tension in the hall like a knife through butter.

“Oh my. Is this a bad time?”

Both of their gazes snapped towards the entrance of the burrow where an elderly goblin stood with an eyebrow raised, her eyes shut and a grandmotherly smile on her wrinkled face.

Ash stepped back with surprise and Myr even more so.

“Great and honoured elder Sylaxxa?” she asked, agape.

“Ho. You are beaten and battered, human Myr.” said the goblin bluntly, as was the norm for their people.

“And you are... unexpected.”

The elder cackled as she strode into the burrow with the ease and calm of one absolutely certain in their strength. “I do enjoy being unpredictable. Now, I don’t have the time to waste so let us get to business, mhm?”

“And what business might that be?” Myr asked uneasily.

“I’m here to take the goblin girl you’ve housed here.”

Ash blinked. The burrow descended into pin-drop silence.


About the author

Dev Pain

Bio: I write and I write and I write and then I write some more.

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