“Jaly, we’re going to get caught…”
The goblin girl looked back at him, black hair moving gently in the breeze, tusks gleaming with a smile. “Yutrin, don’t be such a mouse. The elves don’t have a settlement for miles.”
Sun filtered through the leaves, making the dewdrops on the grass sparkle like diamonds. They came to a stream with a small trail of stepping stones through it. The goblin girl hopped to one rock, then to the next.
“But the humans have a watchtower nearby!”
She hopped to the next rock, her feet molding easily despite the slippery moss breathing softly on the stone. “They don’t care about two little goblins on the stream. There’s, what, five humans there in all?” She spun, the water swelling so that it almost had the rock she stood on submerged, making the mossy flutter underneath the surface like a trapped fish. She was walking on water. “Are you coming or not?”
Yutrin hesitated, visions of being brutally attacked by hulking humans with big round teeth and monstrous multi-colored eyes dancing in his mind.
The goblin girl smiled at him.
He jumped to the first rock.
“Hey, wake up.”
Something poked him in the side.
“Seriously. We’ve been waiting for gods-know how long for some answers.”
“It’s hard to get answers from you if you’re unconscious.”
“Why don’t we just wake them up again?”
“We’re supposed to keep from using power for little things, remember? We don’t want to blow their heads off by accident.”
Yutrin groaned softly, curling up in pain.
“Oh, right. I should probably do something about those broken bones. Hey, sis, next time, why don’t you to not destroy the floor to get them here?”
“You were the one who did that.”
“No, you see, when I pin the blame on you, you’re supposed to take it.”
There was a frustrated sigh and a hand brushed against Yutrin’s forehead. Power that felt vaguely familiar yet overwhelmingly foreign rushed through his blood, rising to his skin and sinking into his bones, mending the sources of his pain and smoothing out his body. He was pulled out of a pain-induced hallucination he didn’t want to leave. The smiling face of a goblin girl was fading from his sight. His heart ached. Jalyamir…
Yutrin jerked, forcing his eyes open and squinting at whoever was talking to him.
Two non-human humans. Neither were the woman who nursed him. One was a man with bronze skin and hair the color of dark honey, eyes the same shade twinkling amusedly. A crown of laurels was fixed on his head, giving a shocking level of green for someone whose color palate seemed to only consist of shades of gold.
At his side, there was a woman, sharp contrast from her companion. Her skin was at vampiric levels of pale (Yutrin discreetly felt his neck for holes just to make sure) and her hair looked like it had been snipped from complete darkness and formed into strands. Her eyes were night blue, her pupil almost lost in the iris, and they focused on him with an uncomfortable intensity.
Both of them glowed with the inner radiance of the hearth-tender, but unlike her, they had bows and arrows on their backs and the air of danger around them. Yutrin’s heart started to race. He was the prey again. They the hunters. They would take draw their weapons and skewer him where he sat, and he wouldn’t be able to do a thing.
Somewhere inside himself, he could tell that he wouldn’t stand a chance against them.
“Calm down. We’re not going to kill you.” The man straightened, giving an extraordinarily dashing smile, his teeth gleaming like perfect pearls and his inhuman muscles rippling under his skin. “Yet. You know, sis, I think that you’re the one who does this to people. You know, a ripped girl. They think you’re going to drag them off and rape them Amazon-style.”
The woman scowled at the man, straightening up herself. Yutrin was shocked to find that he found these non-human humans attractive despite their lack of tusks. That was weird. It wasn’t even the gentle, glowing beauty of the hearth-tender. This was stark and wild.
He swallowed hard.
He considered asking after Kraagor, but he didn’t like the dwarf much. But he was a patient. He really should ask.
“And the dwarf?”
“They’re still unconscious.”
Yutrin swallowed nervously, standing up tentatively and backing away. “Where are they?”
“I think that it’s our turn to ask questions.” The non-human man grinned, merriment looking more and more fake with the dangerous gleam shimmering in his eye, and slipped forward, wrapping a dominating arm around Yutrin’s shoulders. The cleric’s skin felt like it was being burnt where the non-human touched it, but he didn’t jerk away. If he moved away, the non-human would get angry.
Instead, he swallowed the whimpers of pain in his throat and shrunk a little. “Can I just make sure that they’re not dying? I’m a cleric, it’ll only take a moment…”
“Hey, I’m a healer too, kid.” The non-human man’s smile became more dangerous. “Don’t think you’re better than me. That right there would be hubris, and I don’t like hubris in little green rats.”
He snatched Yutrin’s ear, skin burning the sensitive green flesh, and pulled it hard enough to elicit a yelp of pain. “Got that?”
“Yes! I got it!” Yutrin squirmed, keeping some of the more pathetic sounds down, and the non-human man let his ear go with a smile.
“Alright, then. What are you? Last time I checked, there weren’t any green people running around.” The non-human man’s grin started getting dangerous again. “And care to tell me what that god of yours is up to?”
His hand zipped out, snapping Yutrin’s holy symbol from his neck in one swift movement, twirling it in the air to reflect the light of the marble temple they were in.
Something in Yutrin jumped at attention. “Give that back!” He reached out and snatched the symbol from the non-human man, holding it close to his chest and letting the reassuring warmth run through him. “You have no right to bully me like this!”
…Then his brain caught up with him and realized, as the non-human man’s eyes narrowed, that he had just screwed himself over.
He closed his eyes and got ready for death.
“You little green rat.”
The man grabbed his ear in a strong fist, burning and yanking simultaneously. Yutrin stifled a shout of pain, tightening his grip on his holy symbol and reflexively grabbing the man’s hand, digging his claws in the burning skin.
The non-human’s face twisted in an ugly expression, eyes glowing, voice dark and smooth. “I have the right to what I want, when I want. And I don’t like little upstart rats disrespecting me.” The non-human man twisted Yutrin’s ear, getting closer and closer to tearing it off completely. “I should make sure that you can’t do that again.”
The non-human man looked up at the non-human woman, scowling.
“He has answers.”
The man paused, then let the cleric’s ear go. Yutrin stifled a sigh of relief and skipped back a few steps.
“Alright then, rat. You’re not human. Neither is that short hairy guy you fell in here with. What are you?”
Yutrin shifted nervously, tying his holy symbol back around his neck. “I… I’m a goblin. He’s a dwarf.”
“Really? Huh. They changed the design.” The non-human man was smiling again, teeth practically glowing. “Tell me what a goblin is. I’m dying to know.”
Yutrin stifled the urge to ask how anyone could not know what a goblin was. He liked his ears firmly on his head, thank you very much.
“I… well… we’re green,” he started lamely. “We have tusks. And… and pointy ears.” He reached up, fingering his burnt ear and wincing. “We’re sort of on the lowest rung, if you know what I mean. We all live on the worst land for some reason. And apparently, we’re supposed to be evil from birth to death. Most of the other races like hunting us down and killing us.” He rubbed his burnt arm nervously. “It’s… it’s not that pleasant…”
The non-human humans glanced at each other, frowning.
“Brother, didn’t Thor talk about creating a race solely for our favored warriors to kill?”
Yutrin’s ears perked curiously.
“Yeah. Odin too. And Pig. And Rooster. And Tiger. And Dragon. And the whole Western Pantheon…” The non-human man scratched his head, frowning. “Big Sister shot them down, though. She got Father and the rest of the oldest behind her and shut down the whole idea. I mean, it was pretty stupid to make a race of sapient beings just to be target practice… I mean, your going to piss a lot of people off that way, and they’re the ones who give us power and belief…”
“I guess that they just went ahead with it when she was gone.”
Yutrin’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, studying the non-humans closer, but he was still too frightened to say anything.
“Then what’s your god, rat? It only feels like one.”
The goblin winced, involuntarily jumping to answer the question. “He is the only god in our pantheon.” Yutrin’s hands automatically went to his holy symbol. “The Dark One. He united the goblinoid people like no one else. He protects us when no other god will.”
The non-human woman twisted a tendril of black hair around her finger. “He must be young, Brother. I can sense it.”
“Well, then I guess it doesn’t matter. We don’t have any issues with him, and even if we did, it’s not like he’d be powerful enough to do anything.”
The non-humans frowned at each other for a while, and Yutrin allowed hope for his freedom filter into his mind.
He hesitated to speak.
“May I see Mijung and the dwarf now?”
The non-human man absently snapped his fingers without looking towards the cleric.
There was a soft groaning sound among the debris scattered across the temple floor. Yutrin’s burnt ears perked and he immediately scrambled towards it, climbing over the broken chunks of marble to see a small white-clad body in a fetal position behind the rock. “Mijung!”
He slid down the rock, going to her side and checking for any wounds. “Mijung?”
“Yutrin?” Mijung cracked an eye open, sitting up with a little difficulty. “Ow… what happened to you?”
Yutrin self-consciously fingered his burnt ears, hand, and shoulders, wincing with every touch. “Nothing. Just don’t let anyone touch you directly. What about you? Did you break anything?”
Mijung checked herself over. “A couple of bruises, but that’s the worst of it. Where’s Kraagor?”
Yutrin spun around, reflexively jumping away when the dwarf climbed over a slab of marble and joined them, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What happened to you?”
Green fingers went to burnt skin again. “Nothing.”
Everyone jumped in surprise, looking up sharply to see the non-humans sitting on a giant slab of marble they were huddled under. That was weird. Yutrin had to struggle over the debris, and the non-humans were able to climb the slab in less than a moment.
The pale woman was scowling, eyes boring into the misfits like lasers. She was scanning them the same way Yutrin had always seen humans and elves scan him. She was measuring her prey. Preparing for the hunt. “Brother, wouldn’t the dwarf do well for our half-brother?”
“Mmm. The human would have been nice for our aunt.”
“Would have been.”
“We’ll have to make due with the kids.”
The man leaned forward, eyes glowing, face looking vaguely like a really bad mask.
Kraagor was the first to realize something was very, very wrong.
The two non-humans straightened up, sandals molding perfectly to their feet, but Kraagor was already in front of Mijung and Yutrin, taking out his ax and provoking a startled yelp from the goblin. Yutrin’s instinct as prey was tripped and his muscles tensed to run, eyes wide.
He should run. He should run away and let the human and dwarf deal with the non-humans. He was a goblin. They all would kill him if he stayed. The human and dwarf had a chance.
His feet wouldn’t move.
The non-human man’s face darkened and the non-human woman’s eyes sharpened, a hunter zeroing on her prey.
“I suggest you put down the weapon, dwarf.”
“Goblin, get Mijung out. If I hear word of you leaving her to die or hurting her, I swear that I’m going to feed you to these upstarts.”
Mijung bristled furiously at the implications of that order, opening her mouth to speak, but the non-humans got there first.
The marble under them cracked and the air got hot, the two non-humans furiously drawing their bows and arrows, eyes glowing like fire. “Your disrespect shall be the death of you, dwarf!”
That was when Yutrin’s instincts fully kicked in. He barely had the presence of mind to grab Mijung’s arm before turning tail and running away from the temple into the dark landscape beyond. The woman let out a shout of protest, clawing at his hand, but he didn’t pause. He ran like there was a band of angry humans and elves behind. There was an animalistic roar and he could see his and Mijung’s shadows stretch over the barren ground, the light from behind them was so bright. Kraagor was dead.
He kept running.