Yutrin squinted up, shaking a little in place. It didn’t look like the sky really existed—there was only the sun, no blue, and if he concentrated, he saw the shifting stars—but it was all he had to navigate. The sun was so vicious that it burned his skin, but he could deal with that. Burnt skin wasn’t so bad next to the eminent threat before him.
He was carefully perched on the windowsill of a house near the edge of the water, trying to re-bandage his feet. The cuts were healing, but the feet themselves were swollen, like something deep within the wounds were forming, and they were warm to touch. It didn’t exactly take his experience as a cleric to know that they were infected.
And he didn’t have any tools to take care of them. He ran the risk of developing gangrene, and if he did, if he was lucky he would only lose his feet. If he wasn’t lucky, he would die.
Fear clutched his heart tightly, but he struggled to push it away, biting his lip hard and trying to imagine Jalyamir standing behind him, her laugh rolling into his ears. “Keep it together. It’s not like running’s going to help. You’ve got a pregnant lady to take care of now, though why you’ll take care of a human when the baby’s not yours is beyond me…”
“It’s the right thing to do.”
“If I turned up pregnant in this wasteland with her husband, do you think he would do even half what you’re doing for her or do you think that I’d be skewered?”
Yutrin sighed, wondering briefly if the sun had made him crack or if he was having a private moral crisis. “The Dark One teaches that we should treat each other with love and respect.”
“Each other. As in, goblins. Not humans. Humans like to stick us full of pointy things and serve us for XP.”
“Humans may be morally corrupt, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be.” Yutrin swallowed hard, making sure his feet were wrapped tight before slipping on a pair of old sandals he had found. “Mijung won’t be able to survive here on her own. I’m going to stay with her for as long as she and the baby needs me. I’m the only one with medical experience who she can trust.”
He carefully stepped to the ground, wincing at the pain a little afraid to look around incase he actually did see Jalyamir standing behind him.
“But can you trust her? Mark my words—if you keep this up, the only thing you’ll get is a knife to the throat once she and the baby get hungry. If you even survive that long.”
“I won’t. I won’t survive that long.” And the thought terrified him.
Gritting his teeth past the agony in his feet, he stepped through the field of glass towards the only place he knew had food—the wild.
Mijung squatted over the ground, careful to keep any of her skin from touching the twisted glass and metal, and took a pinch of dirt between her fingers, only to have it dryly crumble with a feeble huff and fall back to the earth.
There was no way anything could grow in that.
She sighed softly and stood up, looking around at the abandoned homes and wasteland that lay beyond, then glancing at the sky, frowning at how artificial it all looked. The sun was jerking along unevenly, the stars moved around in shapes and forms, uncaring for the laws of physics and astronomy, and the sky itself remained black despite the big ball of fire going across.
This was probably caused by the deities that had been torturing her.
She ran her hands through her hair, banishing thought of anything related to them in her mind, the broken heart locket and the obsidian amulet around her neck heavy against her chest. Maybe she would be able to find out more about them. She had found several books in the houses around theirs—if she could just translate it, then she would be able to see what the people from before knew…
“Mijung? What are you doing out here?”
She turned around to see a familiar goblin with a water skin and a basket staring at her.
“Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean that I can’t be useful, so stop treating me like it.” She scowled irritably and gestured to the land around them. “I’ve been exploring to see if there’s anything else we can salvage. And I’ve confirmed that the land is useless for agriculture, but maybe that can be fixed with work.”
Yutrin’s ears twitched curiously, then he smiled. “Right. I’m sorry—I forget that humans have different ways of taking care of pregnant women than goblins do.”
He walked to the house they had taken up, pushing the door open and putting the water skin and the basket down besides the water and berries he had already brought. “Whenever a woman is pregnant or gives birth, my entire village takes care of her and the baby to make sure they’re safe. We mean no insult towards her ability to look after herself—it’s just the only way goblins can make sure the next generation can survive.”
“You’re whole village?” Mijung’s scowl only deepened, crossing her arms over her chest, a flash of unnecessary anger bursting in her chest. “What about the father? Does he just forget about it or are your goblin women never sure who it is?”
Yutrin turned to look at her, ears twitching, eyes expressionless.
Her stiff shoulders drooped a little and the anger subsided as quickly as it came. “Sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“I don’t expect a human to know much about goblins.” He slipped into the house, and Mijung noticed a limp in his gait. “That’s probably why you’re always clearing us out.”
Mijung winced a little at the bitterness in his voice, inwardly scolding herself before walking in the house. Evil creature or no, this goblin had been doing nothing but help her since they ended up here, and here she was, insulting his culture, his home, and his species without knowing much beyond what her husband had told her.
She leaned on the wall, but he ignored her, focusing on boiling their water at the fireplace.
“So, um, why does the whole village take care of her? Why not the father?” she asked, sitting slowly on the foot of the bed.
His ears twitched, but he didn’t turn to look at her. “It’s hard to live as a goblin for long. The father always takes care of his pregnant mate.” He carefully took a red-hot rock out of the fire with tongs and put it in the water, capping the basket with a cloth to keep the steam inside. “It’s hormonal. But the village is required to protect her and any young children because, without their protection, elves and humans would slaughter them. One man can’t stand against that.”
Mijung crossed her legs, staring at the fire and trying to ignore the frosty pause. “You seem to know a lot about this. Do you have kids?”
That got him to look up at her, albeit with an arched eyebrow. “How young do humans have kids?”
“You’re supposed to wait until your twenties or thirties.”
“How old do you think I am?” Yutrin tossed a rock into the fire. “Mijung, I’m barely old enough to be looking for a mate. I’m sixteen.”
“Wait, seriously? You’re a teenager?” Mijung’s eyebrows shot up.
“Young adult. Sixteen is the very beginning of adulthood for goblins.” He looked back at the flames, concentrating on what he was doing.
“And you’re what level?”
“We learn fast. We get levels quickly. We have to—we only live until we’re fifty at the latest.” He tossed a rock in the water, making sure to keep in all the steam. “Where are you from? I lived in the Elven Lands. There were only a few human settlements there. I’ve never really spoken to someone besides a goblin.”
His ears were perked. He was more curious than he was letting on.
“I’m from Azure City, in the Southern Continent. My husband and I were visiting the Elven Lands as messengers, where I fell into the rift.”
“Do you have children?”
“No.” Mijung rested a hand on her stomach, letting out a nervous chuckle. “This… this’ll be my first.”
Yutrin stared at the fire for a while, then looked back at her, softening. “Come sit next to me. Sunset will be soon, and it’s already cold.”
She sat next to him in front of the flames. They stayed a couple inches apart, still too frightened to touch, but the silence was more comfortable.
“Tell me about Azure City. I’ve never lived anywhere but my village—what’s it like with all the people? And the government? And the schooling?”
Mijung perked, eager in recognizing a fellow curious spirit. “I’ll tell you a bit about mine if you tell me a bit about yours. We can take turns.”
“That sounds good to me. What is it like to have so many people around?”
“Cramped. You’re always rubbing shoulders with someone and you need to be very careful so that you don’t have some pickpocket taking your things, but it’s not without it’s charm. You’re never alone in a city—you can always go to a coffee shop or something for some company.”
“It’s not so different in my village, save for the pickpockets. We’re a very small community—about a hundred members or so, children and elderly included—but we also have a very small space to live, so we’re always stuck together. It’s a bit of a nuisance if you want to be alone, especially if you’re a cleric, like me. Clerics have to stay in the village more often for the wounded.”
Mijung cheerfully hugged her knees, forgetting who she was talking to for a moment. “So you’ve known all the people in your home since birth? Wouldn’t that make getting married a little awkward, since you’ve known all the girls since you were kids?”
“Not always. There are other goblin settlements, though I wouldn’t dream of living there. Our village is very safe. I don’t really know if I want to get married, actually.”
“Yeah. It’s hard to concentrate on being a cleric when you’re married and you have children. If I get a family, I want to give them the attention they deserve. I’m too devoted to the Dark One for that.”
“Huh.” Mijung leaned back, staring at the fire. “I can’t imagine being that devoted to a god, but I’m an arcane caster, so I guess that I wouldn’t know.”
“It’s special for goblins. The Dark One is the only one who protects us.” He smiled, the frostiness forgotten. “My turn to ask a question. Is it frightening to have so many people you don’t know around?”
They kept talking into the night, careful to never ask personal questions, until they had a light dinner and crawled into the bed. This time, they slept with their backs touching, and Mijung didn’t notice how strangely warm her companion was, or how he shivered gently.
None of them heard the quiet hissing outside as someone not quite human peered through their window with narrow eyes.