The three travelers walked slowly down the forest path. All were armed, as if there were some imminent danger in the surrounding woods. One held a strung bow in his hand, with a long knife sheathed on his belt. Another bore two short swords and wore a leather hauberk. The third, and the obvious leader, wore a lavishly decorated broadsword, with a green and silver brooch on his cloak.

Suddenly, the leader stopped, and held out a hand for the other two to do likewise.

"Quietly," he whispered, "There are strange things in this forest, and I do not think it wise to follow the path any longer. We must walk with neither sound nor trail in the brush."

His two companions followed their master quietly into the undergrowth; both of them thinking that there must be a good explanation for this delay. They proceeded a little while longer, but were stopped once again by their captain. This time, one of them objected.

"We'll never get through this forest if we keep stopping!"

"Silence! Do you hear something?" the leader quietly asked. His followers fell absolutely silent.

"Yes, I do…" One said, the two followers just now understanding their leader's caution. "Footsteps! There are many feet tramping toward us, away to the north. What should we do, Aryk?"

"That's what I thought!" He said to himself. Then to the others "We must move, swiftly. Our hunters will not bother with silence, and will gain on us quickly. Follow me, and take great care not to leave a track for them to follow."

The three companions were soon away, and running as quickly as silence would allow. Still, they knew that their pursuers were behind them, crashing and hacking through the forest that they had fled through. They had only run a mile or so when they came to an abrupt halt. The forest had ended, and there was only open plain as far as they could see.

Aryk swore.

"They must have known that we were near the edge of the woods! Ready your weapons, for we cannot escape a skirmish now. Balthasar, take up a post over in that thicket. Althaeas and I will attack the enemy head on."

Balthasar, the bowman, concealed himself behind a gnarled oak in a thicket set off a ways from the main body of the forest. Althaeas and Aryk crouched in the bushes on the edge of the wood. The three companions waited in silent suspense to hear the stamping of their foes' feet. They did not have to wait long.

It was Balthasar that heard them first. He made a signal to his allies, and knocked an arrow on his bowstring. Althaeas and Aryk made ready to spring out at their attackers. Apprehension built in the air as the three listened to their enemies drawing closer to where they were hiding.

Finally, a half a dozen bent, black-skinned creatures rushed out of the forest and onto the plain. They squinted and shielded their eyes, obviously loathing the sunlight that the forest had shielded them from. The three adventurers saw for the first time the identities of their pursuers.

Goblins! Thought Aryk, Small wonder they were able to track us! Their noses could detect a fly a mile away!

One of the goblins, the apparent leader, spoke in a gruff, vulgar voice. "I smell man-flesh nearby. They are hiding in the brush near here. Find them! Kill the followers, but let the captain live." As the goblins spread out, searching the area using their eyes and their keen sense of smell, Aryk and his companions prepared for the battle that was imminent.

Just as one of the goblins had reached the edge of the forest near where Aryk had hidden, Balthasar loosed his arrow, penetrating the unfortunate creature's thick hide in the neck, just above the collarbone. The unfortunate creature let out a garbled screech before falling to the ground, dead. Three of the monsters rushed over to where the goblin lay dead, while the leader and another underling headed towards where Balthasar had let fly his shaft.

Aryk waited until the three goblins were standing around the dead body, examining the wound. The goblin captain shouted at the three fighters, "Fools! There are dangerous warriors hidden nearby! Don't let your guard down!" but it was too late. Aryk sprang out of his hiding place with a flash of his sword, and lopped off the head of the nearest goblin. In the same clean stroke, he thrust his blade through the second goblin's torso, but fell off balance when his blade stuck in the creature's armor.

Meanwhile, Althaeas had jumped out of his hiding place and was rushing toward Balthasar's hiding place to defend the archer. The goblin captain and his cohort would soon be upon Balthasar, and his long knife was no match for two of their angled blades.

The head goblin raised his blade and rushed at Balthasar, who had stepped out of hiding to get a better shot. Balthasar fired an arrow at the leader, but it struck him in his chain shirt and bounced off harmlessly. Balthasar had just enough time to draw his dagger before the goblin was upon him.

He dodged the first slash at his torso, and the torrent of blows that followed were somehow avoided, but he was not fast enough to even aim a single blow at the goblin leader's body. Then, the goblin soldier that had run after his captain entered the fray. Distracted by the leader's flurry of attacks, Balthasar did not see the second goblin until it was too late. The minion snuck up behind the archer and thrust his dagger into Balthasar's upper back.

Balthasar sputtered and coughed, a red liquid streaming from where the knife protruded from his chest. He fell onto the ground, mortally wounded and gasping for air, while the goblins stood over him, laughing cruelly at the pain that they had inflicted.

Althaeas raged at the sight of the goblins gloating over his ally's dying body. He sprinted faster than he ever had to exact revenge for their heinous act. He raised his short swords and sprang into the air, coming down with the two swords aimed at the heads of the goblins. They went limp when the short swords penetrated their skulls and pierced their brains. The leader fell on top of Balthasar's body, and their blood mixed to soak the ground. The other goblin collapsed in a heap, his hand grasping for the knife embedded in Balthasar's body.

Aryk stumbled forward, pulling his blade from the goblin's torso with a grunt, then whirled to face the only remaining goblin. The creature swung a quick blow at Aryk's head. Aryk easily parried it, and then slashed at the monster's chest. The goblin was too slow, and went down with a curse.

Aryk grabbed the collar of the creature's vest, and pulled him up to eye level. "Who sent you? Which clan do you belong to?" He shouted in the thing's face, mad with anger at the death of Balthasar.

"I won't tell you anything, human!" the goblin grunted. "I will soon be dead, like your friend, so threats do not worry me."

At this, Aryk hurled the goblin into the trunk of a thick elm. He whipped his sword out and, before the goblin slumped to the ground, he pinned him to the tree.

"You and your race deserve all of the suffering that you endure and more, Satan-spawn! Go and meet the Devil in your true home!"

Aryk walked slowly over to where Althaeas stood by Balthasar's body.

"We must give him and honorable burial, deep enough to protect his body from wolves and hidden enough to protect his body from goblins. We must move quickly, though. We have until nightfall before these goblins' clan brethren come searching for them."

The two fighters found a suitable place in the thicket, and buried Balthasar there. By the time they had paid their last respects, the daylight had turned into dusk. The two set out across the plain to Enok, the nearest city not other side of the forest, where the goblins' clan was likely to be.

Aryk and Althaeas had only traveled a mile or so when they heard an angry, mournful howl from the direction of the forest.

"That would be the clan finding their kin. I did not think that they would be found so soon. Our trail will be plain to them, and the night gives them the advantage, on the run or in a battle. We must be on the watch, and we must stay on the run."

"So our only hope is to outrun a horde of goblins until sunrise?"

"Essentially, yes…"

"We would have been better off dead. We cannot outrun them, and we cannot outfight them. We aren't able to hide from them, and we know that they will come after us."

"Don't be so pessimistic. We can outrun them, because we must. Now come, and hurry!"