Continued from The Giant’s Shield (Part III).
The silence niggled at Ask’s mind for what felt like hours. Slowly, he looked back downward. Even from the distance, he could see the creature’s red eyes. It somehow looked larger as it stared up at him. The goblin tried to swallow his fear as his eyes and the creature’s locked together. He flexed his claws into the stone in front of him, and it cracked. He looked in horror at the stone, then reached forward desperately to grab the face again.
Slam! A column of stone shot from the side of the cliff he was climbing, right where his belly was. He tried to hold on, but it happened too fast. His scream filled the area as he shot away from the side, out into the air. He watched as cliff and sky and shield seemed to zoom away from him, and then he began to fall.
He couldn’t breathe.
The air was moving too fast.
Soft, colorful leaves slowed the impact, and then twigs, branches, and mossy ground. He couldn’t breathe. He tried to lift his head, and then let it fall as blackness found him again.
He dreamed of the vague shapes of those he left behind, high above. Horse was pacing at the edge of the Drop, and Evoxe was trying to lead her back to the stable. “Come on, you damn horse. Come on.” His voice was more gentle than his words. “I’m going to find him, calm down.” The words seemed hazy, and only to fade the more Evoxe spoke.
Ask wished he could tell them how to find him. He wished he could talk to them. He wished he was back home with them.
Even his wishes seemed strangely abstract, and he let go of them as he woke to the sight of dimming light, and the sensation of an empty belly.
He hurriedly sat and ate the rest of his meat stores before he looked around. On the cliffs, it would have been fine to have food out in the open, but in the forest, meat might draw in the wrong types of animals. So, covered in blood, he finally stood and looked around. The dimming light was making it harder to see. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, things seemed less dark as they adjusted to the dimming light.
Shelter. He looked around, and found a burrow that looked abandoned. Without a single thought, he crawled in, and found it empty, roomy, and a nice temperature. He fell asleep quickly, and woke to darkness. He rolled over and fell back asleep, to be visited by strange dreams of potatoes, cut into strips. Each cut made Dream-Ask scream and clutch his ears, like it was some sort of affront to reality. Finally, the long strips were slowly, lovingly poured into a pan of oil with a wooden spoon. His scream split the heavens, and salt fell from the sky.
He woke covered in sweat, and hurried out of the burrow.
It felt like he walked into a wall of cold as his hand sank into crackling moss. The frost here was a deep white, and far thicker than up on the plains. The sky above was light, despite shadow filling the forest. Sleepy animal sounds filled the air as they began to slowly wake.
Ask hugged himself and rubbed his bare arms for warmth a few moments before he looked down at his outfit. His leather pants were too loose to hold any heat, and his vest had no arms to it, and was too small to close properly. With winter coming, he needed something better, unless he could climb out of this vale.
He looked around quickly for the cliff walls. He could barely make out the tops, shining in the sunlight. He began to head that way, but stopped as the sounds suddenly became loud, then stopped. Frantically, he dove back into the den and hugged himself. He kept himself hidden, and tried not to shake.
He was going to die, and that weird lizard was going to eat him! He held back a sob. He didn’t know why he was so scared, and that frightened him all the more as a half-stifled sob escaped.
The crunch of feet on fallen leaves approached. They sounded light. “That didn’t sound much like a badger, did it?”
“No, it didn’t.”
One female voice, one male. The female voice was inquisitive, while the male’s was a wheeze. For a moment, Ask hoped it was Korenila and Evoxe, but the female sounded too young, and the male too old. Regardless, he slowly poked his head out.
An elderly goblin and a female elf in strange clothing were staring back at him.
For a long time, the three stared. The old goblin spoke first. “What idiot wears those in winter?”
Ask opened his mouth, ready to defend himself, but yelped as the older goblin grabbed him and hauled him bodily from his shelter.
“And living in a hole.”
“Ah. I…” Ask felt like he was just run over by twelve wagons filled with fat humans. “I was hiding from the quiet lizard.”
“Quiet lizard?” The old man frowned. “Explain later. You must be cold.”
Ask nodded. “Very.” He squinted up. “I need to go back up top. To the plains.” His voice slowly dropped as the old man stared at him.
The elf spoke first, cutting off the old man. “That’s a longer trip than it looks like. The only safe way is fifty miles south, and it’s going to be too cold soon.”
“I have to get back. Horse is up there!” It came out before Ask could stop it, and the pair looked at him with clear confusion.
“He’s gone stupid from being in the open too long.” The old man grunted and grabbed Ask’s arm. “Let’s go back. He might make more sense after he’s warmed and fed.”
The female elf nodded in mute agreement and hurried along after the deceptively fast old goblin.