It was a beautiful morning. The sky was deep blue, and the sun shone down pleasantly. The inn felt so quiet, only one panting, ragged breath could be heard. It smelled like mold and faint dust. The floorboards, worn smooth by age, were slick with sweat from Erin’s palms. For a second, it seemed so peaceful.
The front door had a single locking bar of wood on it. The stout door and the band of metal around it splintered inwards as something struck it. Louder than she could imagine anything sounding. A crash of wood. It barely lasted seconds as a second foot broke the rotted, weakened section of the door. A second—and the Goblin Chieftain burst through the door, charging into the inn.
His eyes were burning red orbs, swiveling as he lifted a pair of axes. He wore ragged fur armor, rusted chainmail, and he stood a head over the young woman, who flinched as he howled. Erin stood up and grabbed a chair, arms shaking so badly she could barely hold it up.
The Chieftain grinned as he whirled and spotted her. He glanced at the chair Erin was holding and then dismissed it. His eyes lingered on Erin. Her face, her body—she didn’t like the way he was looking at her.
There was worse than malice there. Hatred. All the intent in the world. Hatred and a shaking rage. Erin hesitated. The chair was in her hands, and she’d raised it to throw. The Goblin Chieftain was looking at her with all these terrible things behind those eyes.
But why was water leaking down from the corners of his eyes? She spoke, the words escaping through the tightness in her chest, like a balloon filled to bursting with fear.
“I don’t want to hurt—”
The Goblin Chieftain roared and charged Erin. So fast. He put his shoulder down and hit her before she could even throw the chair. Erin barely felt the impact. She did feel it as she smashed through the table behind her. The chair she was holding flew out of her hands. She felt something in her body crack.
The Goblin lifted one of his axes. Erin lay on the ground gaping like a fish. He swung down. She rolled left, and the axe splintered the floorboards.
Away. Erin threw herself over another table and felt the other axe miss her by an inch. She picked up a chair and hurled it at the Goblin. He swatted it down with one armored hand contemptuously.
The table was between them. Erin tensed to dodge left or right, but the Chieftain grabbed the table and pushed. He rammed the heavy table into Erin’s midsection like a cannonball and then flipped the table.
A wall of wood came up and crashed down on her. Erin lay under the table, stunned, until she felt a thick hand grab her by one ankle and drag her out.
The Goblin pulled Erin from under the table and laughed at her. She lay on her back, eyes unfocused. He pulled aside his loincloth and pulled her towards him. Erin looked up at him and felt horror beating in her chest. He bent down to rip her clothes off—
She kicked up, right at his groin, with all her strength.
The Goblin caught her leg easily. He grinned at her again. With his other hand, he grabbed her other leg—
Erin sat up. Her legs were caught, but her hands weren’t. She punched the dangling target right between the Goblin’s legs.
His eyes bulged, and the huge Goblin roared and threw her away. Erin tumbled over and got to her feet. He was clutching at his private parts. She grabbed a chair, and this time, she didn’t hesitate.
Erin brought the chair down on the Goblin’s head with a heavy thump. Once. Twice. Then the Goblin punched at her.
She saw the punch coming and tried to block with the chair. The Goblin’s fist smashed through the wood and knocked Erin off her feet again. She got up and felt her mouth filling with blood. The world was swimming crazily to one side. She had to…
The Chieftain picked up his axe, cursing her in a language she didn’t know. Erin scrambled away. She was near the kitchen. The kitchen. She dashed inside and slammed the door shut.
There. The pot was sitting over the fire, and black smoke was coming out of the lid. Erin reached for it and felt the burning heat. Gloves. There was a rolling pin on the counter but no gloves or oven mitts. Where were—
The door exploded inwards with a terrific crash. Erin turned and saw the Goblin Chieftain. He lifted his hand again, a blurred gleam of metal—
She ducked. The axe whistled through the air and struck the wall. The second hand came up, and she swung the rolling pin. It cracked across his face.
His nose broke. Erin felt it break, but she lifted the rolling pin and hit him again. His other axe dropped from his hand, clattering to the floor. Erin didn’t reach for it; her burning arms just lifted the rolling pin higher and brought it down. Hit him. She had to hit him while he was stunned. Blood rolled down his face as he stared at her. Hit him. Hit—
Something heavy hit Erin in the midriff and pushed her back. She stumbled back a bit and regained her footing. Something was weighing her down though. Something was…Erin looked down.
A knife was sticking out of her stomach, just above her waist. Her kitchen knife that she used to gut the fish. It was too far on the left side. It wasn’t symmetrical. And it was in her. In her.
Erin tugged at the knife. It was stuck. She pulled and felt—the skin around her stomach tried to pull itself out with the knife. She clenched her stomach muscles and pulled—
The knife came out with another terrible tearing of flesh. Erin stared at the blood on the blade. She dropped it, and the knife fell with a heavy thump to the ground. It should have clattered.
Blood. It was running from her stomach. Erin held her hand over the wound and tried to make it stop. But she was bleeding now, faster and faster. And the Goblin Chieftain was getting up.
Erin wasn’t making any words. It was just a half-choked scream. She stumbled towards the fireplace, pain tearing up her insides with each step.
Smoke billowed from the pot. The contents boiled and spat at her. There was no time for gloves. She grabbed the pot by the handles.
The metal burned her. Erin screamed as her hands blistered and the skin burned away. The pain was unbearable. But she held the pot and turned.
The Chieftain was on his feet. He snarled at her through his broken nose and bloody face. He had the kitchen knife in his hands. He lunged at her.
Erin tossed the contents of the pot at the Goblin Chieftain. The boiling oil splashed the Goblin’s face and ran down his chest.
He screamed. The Chieftain dropped the kitchen knife and screamed so loud Erin went deaf. She dropped the cooking pot and stumbled away from him.
She held her shaking hands out. Already, her skin was burnt black and white in places. Large blisters were forming out of her ruined skin. But it was only half. Only half of the pain in the world.
The Goblin Chieftain clawed at his face and sank to the floor. He was screaming still, but the sound he made was so very small. She heard him choking. Screaming quietly in agony. She understood. There wasn’t enough sound in the world to convey it all, and the screaming would make the pain worse. But still, he had to scream, so he did it quietly.
Erin sat on the ground and stared at him. He lay on the floor, steam rising from a face running with oil and dripping skin. Erin was bleeding. The wound in her stomach bled without stopping. But her hands—
They weren’t the same. And the agony of both was too much to bear. So Erin forgot the pain. She stared at the Chieftain as he lay on the floor. He was smoking.
Parts of his face were sloughing off. The boiling oil had…melted him. He was still alive. But he was dying.
Erin heard him breathing. Short, sharp bursts and whimpered pain. He lay on the ground and did not move. The fight was over. She’d won.
Slowly, Erin began to cry.
The girl sat in the ruined kitchen with the Goblin. Both were silent. One was dying. The other, dead inside.
A haze of burned smoke filled the room. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air. Oil dripped off the counter, ran down across the floor and seeped into the cracks with the blood and flesh.
Eventually, the girl moved. Slowly, so slowly, she stood. Staggering, clutching at the hole in her stomach, she walked over to a large cloth bag filled with food. She picked up a kitchen knife lying on the ground.
With the knife, she began slicing the cloth bag apart. The pain as she tightened the bandages over her stomach nearly made her faint. Her fingers and palms bled, and the world grew black. But she gripped the bandages tightly and tied a knot.
Then she looked behind her.
A dark shape lay on the floor, still dying. Steam rose from what remained of a face. The odor of cooked meat hung heavy in the air, wrongly appetizing. A face of ruined green flesh charred black stared up at her. What remained of lips moved as a chest rose in short, labored breaths.
The girl still had the knife. She almost raised it, almost ran—and then she went to sit down next to the body. The oil was still hot enough to scald, but she barely felt it. She sat with the Goblin. He stared back, and she looked at what remained of his eyes. Hollow pits. Not enough of a face left to do anything but breathe.
The oil dripping down his face still looked like tears. Why was he crying?
The lips moved. Did he speak? Only she knew.
A dark shape lay on the floor. The girl sat with it and waited. In time, the breathing stopped.
Through the narrow window in the kitchen, the sun shone down amidst blue skies, a ray of light into the kitchen, filtering through smoke. It wasn’t even midday yet, and a cool breath blew down from the mountains, stirring across the inn and rattling some of the shutters.
But for that, the world was so silent.
The girl sat back against the counter and closed her eyes. Her blood dripped to the floor along with her tears.
[Innkeeper Level 9!]
[Skill – Bar Fighting obtained!]
[Skill – Unerring Throw obtained!]