The goblins boiled from the ground in a tide of gnashing fangs.
I nocked an arrow, drew and loosed. The first goblin fell, black blood welling from the arrow wound in its chest. The second clawed over its brother, running on all fours, and leaped.
"Not on my watch, laddie," shouted Berk and swung a high blow with his hammer. Dwarf strength is a formidable thing, and the goblin's head exploded. Its body smashed broken against the nearest tree and crumpled to the ground.
I loosed a second arrow and almost in the same instant a third. Two more goblins dropped dead, wooden shafts quivering in their steaming flesh.
"By the Hidden Moons of Eglor!" cried Uialon and fire washed passed Berk and I. It burnt the goblins, driving them back, but by then the other burrows were opening.
The maw of a second burrow erupted in the trees to the left and then a third just behind me. The goblin hoard bore from all directions. Bestial, darting shapes moved in the trees. The dense foliage robbed me of easy shots. I spun, bow drawn, looking for something to kill.
Uialon sent a dozen glowing magical projectiles into the chest of a goblin. Berk bellowed war cries to the ancestor gods of his people and knocked back a big scarred monster, with only a single eye. And Adrian—
A goblin leaped straight down at Adrian from the gnarled branches of a tree, talon like claws bared and needle sharp fangs gleaming in a bloody smile. I shot without thinking, as only an elf could.
The arrow thrummed and took the goblin right between its beady black eyes. The beast fell twitching to the ground.
Adrian sent me one of his quirky smiles and saluted with his quicksilver sword before turning to meet the next member of the on rushing hoard.
The smile stayed with me, even as I sent an arrow into the heart of a charging goblin, and a wave of heat washed through my cheeks. Adrian. Adrian the warrior. Adrian my companion. Adrian my lover. Adrian my soul mate. I loved him more than life itself. I'd die to see him happy but today that wasn't required. Today I needed to murder instead.
More goblins fell, some to my arrows, some to Berk's hammer, some to Uialon's wizardry and some to Adrian's darting silver blade.
Finally it was over. We stood panting in a charnel forest of goblin corpses as the light of day slowly died. Broken bodies, burnt bodies, ruptured bodies. Noxious black blood dripped from weapons and pooled on the ground. Nothing lived save for the four of us.
"Foul varmints, aren't they," said Berk and gave the nearest corpse a kick with his armoured boot. It made a squishing sound and rolled half over, revealing a brown-green bestial face slashed half in two. He spat, picked a piece of exploded goblin from his beard and flicked it away.
Uialon made a sour expression. "They are a plague most vexatious. We have done a good thing by cleansing this burrow." Uialon was human but dressed in the style of an elven wizard — beardless, with his long silvery hair pulled back so as to flow down his back. He held up a hand and whispered a word under his breath. A silvery orb of light flickered into existence.
Under its ghostly light, the true carnage of our murder lay revealed.
Perhaps sensing my emotions, Adrian threw an arm over my shoulders and pulled me close. I nuzzled into him. His body was warm and smelled sweat and power. Humans burn hot compared to us elves, and I revelled in his heat.
"We should turn back," said Adrian and I felt the rumble of his words in his chest. "We can spend the night at an inn and begin our journey again tomorrow." His grey eyes swept over the goblins. "Perhaps this time we will have more luck."
"Lets," I murmured into his chest. "I want a proper bed tonight." I let my hand play along his chest and added in a whisper, "Perhaps we can even have some fun in it together."
Using the last of the daylight and Uialon's spectral lantern, I set to recovering my arrows and Berk moved from corpse to corpse, searching for anything valuable. Goblins weren't crafters, not even in the crude way of orcs or kobolds, but they would scavenge their kills for trinkets which pricked their evil little minds. A well established band might have grimy jewellery still smeared in its owner's blood or weapons yet new enough to be serviceable despite the wet and squalid conditions of a goblin borrow.
In the end, he didn't find much. This goblin burrow seemed new, which explained why the local villages hadn't warned us. While Berk scrubbed away at a twisted copper necklace and a knife mostly gone to rust, I held up one of my recovered arrows and checked the shaft remained true. The red light of the sun shone down the shaft and I smiled. Still good.
It was dark by the time we reached the village of Better's End. The others trudged down the road of packed earth. I had a bit more spring in my step. Call it an elf thing or call it Adrian still clutching me tight, I don't know. God I loved my man. He was far, far more than I deserved.
This was our second visit to Better's End. We had passed through the village around mid-afternoon earlier that day, so we knew the layout. Uialon and his bobbing lantern led the way through the shadowed streets to a large stone and timber inn by the name of the Monk's Repose. A hundred years past, it had been a pilgrimage house for the local monastery. That monastery was gone now, little more than a ghost haunted ruin lurking on a nearby hill, but the inn still stood and maintained a tradition of strong doors, good food and soft beds.
The light above the door still burned and from inside my keen elf ears picked up the sound of laughter, drinking and song. Berk shoved the great slab of iron banded wood open and we moved inside.
The door and common room were separated by a narrow foyer, running left to right. The guest book sat on a white linen cloth inside a stone nook on the far wall. Above it hung the founding bull. We each went through the process of signing the monk's peace.
'Berk Berk's Son, ' wrote Berk.
'Master Uialon, ' wrote Uialon.
'Adrian of Redwine, ' wrote Adrian.
I went last. 'Ilmaquen vix Altorno va Airwë vo Mistë.' Translated into Common that means something like Dancing Rain from the line of the Red Lady of the Forest Tribe and the Starlight People. You can see why I tend to just go by Mistë. Such an abbreviation saves a lot of time.
The peace signed, we all stamped along the corridor to the inn proper. Berk was positively salivating with desire and rubbed his hands together. "Nothing like a little action to get the fires of hunger brewing, eh lass?"
In truth food was near the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to go to bed, make love to Adrian until I forgot all about today and then sleep until morning. But from his face I could see Adrian was hungry and that was enough for me.
"Drinks and keep them coming," shouted Berk, nose just level with the bar top, and slapped down a palm full of coins. "We are bonafide travelers, you ken?"
"Yes, yes," said the barmaid, a rotund matronly woman, whose greying hair was held in a tight bun. "You'll be wanting food too, I'd wager."
"If you would please," said Adrian with a slight bow, hand resting on the pommel of his sword. It showed a silver lion head, the features worn soft by frequent handling. "We have had a full day."
We ate food by the roaring wall fire. It was some sort of mutton stew, the tastes harsh and brutal by the refined standards of elvish cooking but I had long ago grown use to such succour. Around us other travellers drank, ate and sang along to the slightly out-of-tune minstrel on a high stool by the bar.
There was talk too. I heard snippets of conversation, pulled at random from the chaotic noise of the inn. Farmer Bradshaw had built his cowshed from stone salvaged from the old monastery and now all his milk was sour. The house-girl up at Rock End's farm had run off with the butcher's boy to become adventurers. Brown John's wife was pregnant again despite John being dead these last six months.
I made an effort to leave the outside world alone and focus on my companions.
Berk alternated great gulps of stew and the dark local beer. Uialon was more dignified. He picked at his stew and the husk of bread that came with it like a fisher bird. The description suit him, with his reserved, dignified expression and hard aquiline nose, not to mention the way he'd suddenly spear out with his knife to skewer a choice morsel. I fell somewhere in between the two extremes. Eating, yes, but slowly. I made sure to enjoy the meal and company. The local beer even had something too it.
As the night aged, I grew bolder. I reached across Adrian and in doing so rubbed up against him, my athletic elf body pressed against his powerful human form. I scraped my chest down his arm and stole tiny kisses when I thought no one was looking. Adrian certainly didn't object to my actions and a somewhat lecherous grin spread across his face.
I flushed too and wore a smile of my own. How wicked was I? How bold? Could I be bolder still?
Heart pounding in my chest, I let my hand drift down his body until it settled on his crotch. For a while I just let it sit there, but there was more I could do. I started to push down with my fingers and I soon felt him responding to my ministrations.
.... There is more of this story ...