1.52 R – The Wandering Inn

1.52 R

On the first day, she saw the Goblins. It was as she ran through the grasslands around Liscor, the Flood Plains, which were a barrier to armies and passage in the spring and empty in the short winter on this continent.

She stopped when she crested the hill and saw them fighting in the small valley below. Ryoka immediately crouched low to avoid their attention. A tribe of Goblins could be outrun, but their bows and slings were still a threat.

Besides, Ryoka couldn’t run as fast. Not today.

Her fire was gone.

This wasn’t a single tribe in the valley below. It was two. And they were fighting. Shrill screams and warcries floated up to where Ryoka hid in the grass. She could see—yes, one of the groups of Goblins was wearing feathers. Some kind of ornamentation.

They were led by a large Goblin—one nearly twice the size of his friends. Still shorter than Ryoka, but heavyset and thick. He had rusted armor patched together on his chest and an axe in one hand. Probably their chieftain.

It was hard to tell where the other Goblins’ chieftain was. There was no Goblin that stood out as particularly bigger than the rest, but this tribe—the defending one—seemed more coordinated than the feathered tribe.

They were holding the other group of Goblins back with a stiff line of clubs and daggers, and their archers and sling-using Goblins were firing over the backs of their friends. It almost looked like an infantry line.

And even as Ryoka watched, another group of Goblins suddenly emerged from the grass and plowed into the right flank of the enemy. The attacking Goblins faltered and reacted slowly as this new group began cutting a line through their foes.

The surprise attack group was comprised of the largest Goblins and the best equipped. A group of heavy infantry? But Goblins didn’t work like that. Except that these ones did. They were organized. They didn’t break ranks as they attacked the other Goblins. They kept in formation and guarded each other’s backs, and the difference showed as they kept gaining ground.

One of these strange Goblins carried a sword and shield that seemed to shine in her hands. They flashed and glowed as she struck and blocked, killing other Goblins, leading the attack. It was a trick of the light. She was tiny—small even for her kind—but she was leading the strange Goblins, Ryoka could tell. The entire battle was coalescing around her, and she was making straight for the enemy chieftain.

He was holding the line as his tribe fell back around him. He roared and raised his axe as the small Goblin approached with a bodyguard of her own. With one blow, he split the head of the Goblin that charged him and struck at the tiny Goblin.

She retreated. He charged towards her, swinging wildly, but she raised her shield and gave ground. Ryoka frowned. The Goblin’s mouth was open, and she looked like she was saying something. And her finger was—glowing?

A flash of light blinded Ryoka for a second. She blinked, rubbing at her eyes. When she could see again, the Goblin chieftain was rolling on the ground, screaming.

He was on fire. And the Goblins around him were being chased by—fire? Yes. It was some kind of spell. It looked like a flickering bird or perhaps fiery insect that landed on its foes and set them alight. The small Goblin had conjured it out of the air.

That was too much. Their leader dead and surrounded by the enemy, the defending Goblins fled or fell to the ground, cowering. Ryoka saw the small Goblin begin rallying her side, pointing to the wounded and shouting orders, staring around at the Goblin who’d run up to her. Turning. Pointing at—

Ryoka blinked. Then her heart began to race. The tiny Goblin was pointing directly at her. How did she know Ryoka was there?

Ryoka stood up. She looked around and only now saw the Goblin sitting on the other hill. A sentry? Goblins using scouts?

He shouted, and all the Goblins stared at Ryoka. The sentry swung a sling, and the first rock barely missed Ryoka’s head.

She ran.

They followed.




She was faster. But her fire had gone out. And Ryoka was still tired. Still—she hadn’t slept. Not since then. She’d just kept running.

So she didn’t outdistance the Goblins quickly enough. That was why they were able to herd her. Different groups kept popping up, trying to ambush her, dashing ahead and pushing her towards the main horde.

She didn’t let them. But Ryoka didn’t know the hills and valleys. When she ran into a grove of strange trees, a team of slingers pelted her with stones, making her run left. And that’s when she saw the small Goblin.

She was surrounded by her elite bodyguard of large Goblins. But the small Goblin was the best-equipped out of all of them. She had the short sword and shield that seemed new. Pristine compared to the other equipment the Goblins were using.

Ryoka had to break through them. She raised her fist and decked the first Goblin that ran at her. Not hard enough to break his skull like last time. Not hard enough to kill.

The Goblins hadn’t been expecting that. Ryoka kicked out and took another one down. They hesitated, and the small Goblin screeched something. She ran forwards and slashed at Ryoka’s leg.

Short. But quick. And her friends were too numerous. Ryoka retreated and sensed the other Goblins converging on her. She had to run.

She bull-rushed the Goblins to the right side, and they fell back. They were still afraid of her, for all they had a competent leader. She kicked, punched. And then as she was nearly free, something slashed at the rucksack at her back.

Ryoka spun, and the blade missed her by inches. The small Goblin. She’d been aiming for the straps on Ryoka’s pack. Clever.

Goblins swarmed her. Ryoka cursed and kicked them away, throwing them down hard. They were trying to take her runner’s backpack. Steal her—

She shook herself like a dog, and the Goblins went flying. Ryoka’s hands flashed, and Goblins fell down.

The small Goblin blocked her way as Ryoka moved forwards again. She and another Goblin were the only things blocking Ryoka, but more of the tribe was screaming as they rushed towards her.

The girl crouched and kicked low. A Goblin took a hit to the groin and folded up silently. For a second, she and the small Goblin were alone. They locked eyes.

The small Goblin smiled. She raised a finger, and Ryoka didn’t hesitate. She lunged forwards and kicked the small Goblin as hard as she could.

Her bare foot met the cold impact of metal rather than flesh. The Goblin had managed to raise her shield, but Ryoka’s kick still catapulted her across the ground.

She didn’t see whether the Goblin was going to get up. Ryoka turned and sprinted away, dodging Goblins as they poured over the hill. She felt something graze her arm and then heat on her back—she juked left, and the fiery bird missed her. Ryoka kept running, and then they were behind her.




After about ten minutes, Ryoka couldn’t hear any more Goblins shouting. She kept running, though. She didn’t trust her ears.

But her body was aching. She was at the end of her tether, and eventually, Ryoka had to slow to a jog. Her legs felt like lead. Like someone was holding onto each foot. She was tired.

But she ran on. The Goblins disappeared, giving up on her or having found a better quarry.

Ryoka ran on.

She had escaped with everything important. The ring Teriarch had given her—the letter—her money pouch—and she still had the potions strapped to her rucksack. She left the Goblins behind and ran on.

She had everything, right? Ryoka felt at her side as her legs pumped and the last Goblins slowed behind her. She thought she felt the smooth glass of the potion bottle and she didn’t have the time to check with them behind her still.

At least she had the wand. Ryoka felt the crystalline warmth from the core. She looked back—but there were so many Goblins, and she didn’t care. It was just a potion. Nothing mattered.

Ryoka ran.




As she bandaged her eighth cut, Ryoka took stock. She unslung her rucksack, relieved it hadn’t been badly damaged by the Goblins. She didn’t have much. But she still carried a lot.

Three healing potions, a wand, a ruby ring, a letter, dry rations, two flasks of water, a change of clothing, a ball of lye soap, a toothbrush wrapped in wax paper, salt, a small lantern, what passed for toilet paper in this world, her iPhone and headphones, a lightweight blanket made of wool, a pouch full of gold coins, and her sins.

The last weighed heaviest. But Ryoka had stopped thinking. She only knew to run. So she did. She ran up and down the rolling hills, finding the road again. Following past the tall gates of Liscor, running down the road where the traffic thinned until the road was barely visible around the grass that had reclaimed it.

Running on. Towards the Blood Fields.




On her fortieth mile, the grasslands changed. The hills stopped rolling, and she felt herself travelling down an incline.

The longest hill in the world.

She would have laughed. Or screamed when the spiders came out of their pits. But she ran on, leaving the deathtraps behind and sticking to the road. The grass was not safe.

And the road was empty.

Because the land beyond Liscor was desolate for miles, even of bandits. Bandits preyed on travellers, and who would travel so far north? Better to take a ship. Or if travel had to be done, it was best done in a caravan armed to the teeth.

The road stretching south from Liscor ran down through the plains and branched into several paths that would lead to major cities, the Gnoll tribe lands, and even the coast. But to get there, every traveller had to pass through the Blood Fields.

And they were death.

Ryoka knew this, and she ran on. The landscape changed under her feet. Grass became sparser, tougher, less pleasant to run on and more full of weeds. She stepped in a patch of something like nettles and had to stop.

By the light of the first campfire, Ryoka stared at her swollen foot and ankles. She used one of her precious healing potions, spreading a bit of the liquid over the worst parts, watching the swelling decrease.

But the itching remained. She didn’t want to waste any more potion, so she stayed awake.

After the two thousand and thirty-fourth sheep, Ryoka drank a few gulps of water, flushed a bit of water out of her system, and slept.




When she found the second stream, Ryoka’s water had nearly run out and it was the third day. She’d run all day on the first day, but the second had seen her walking.

Because of the rocks.

The road and the ground had lost vegetation, except for the most virulent and prickly of bushes and withered roots stubbornly holding on. And without a soft padding, the ground had become gravel. Try as she might, Ryoka couldn’t bring herself to keep running over mile after mile of pain.

She filled her water bottle, hoping the clear water was potable, and walked on. Her feet hurt, but she had to keep going. There was no turning back.




As she popped the fifth blood blister, Ryoka wished she’d brought shoes. But she hadn’t, and the pain was only fitting. So she kept walking. And only now, in the silence of slower motion, could she hear her thoughts again.

She wished she couldn’t. So she ran, trying to lose the thoughts. On and on, day after day until she finally reached the place she had promised to go. Head blank, arms pumping, running without thought, so fast that the three figures dogging her step couldn’t catch up, even by night.


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