Aryk and Althaeas had been running for hours. Their entire bodies were sore, though it was their legs that finally forced them to slow. Aryk thought that they had outrun their pursuers for now, and they believed it was safe to rest, for a while.
"I can't go on like this, Aryk. We might as well just give up. I'm going to sleep."
"No! If you fall asleep, they will definitely kill you! We have to keep going!"
"What's the point? If we run, we die. If we stay, we die. Why prolong the inevitable?"
"Althaeas! We must go on. Don't give up hope! Balthasar would never have wanted us to give up like this," said Aryk, resenting Althaeas for his doubt.
"Balthasar! Balthasar is dead! He died defending you, and…"
"And what?" yelled Aryk, growing angrier at Althaeas.
"If he died to save you, why aren't you safe? It's my fault. He died saving you, and I've done nothing!'
"You've done everything to make a difference!"
"No, I haven't. Not really…"
Aryk and Althaeas sat in silence, waiting for each other to speak. Aryk wondered what was on Althaeas' mind. Althaeas mustered up the courage to propose his plan. Finally, he broke the silence.
"I want you to live. My partner is dead, and I have no reason to go on. I'll only be a hindrance to you. So I've got… that is…"
"Don't be stupid, Althaeas!"
"I'll stay behind. I'll almost definitely die, but it will give you a good chance of making it to Enok."
"I can't ask you to do that, Althaeas."
"I don't need you to. Whether or not you agree, I'm staying here and waiting for them to come. I've made up my mind."
"…Thank you… That's all I can say…"
"Well, don't say any more. The longer you stay here, the more chance they have of catching you. Go. Just be sure to tell my family about this."
"Good luck, Aryk."
"Good luck. May your soul rest in heaven."
At this, Aryk turned, and began to jog away. When he thought of the enormity of Althaeas' sacrifice, he almost turned back to die with him. No, he thought to himself, it's not what he wants. I will accept his sacrifice. My life is in his hands, now.
Aryk didn't look back. He never returned to that spot in his long life. He ran swiftly, knowing that Althaeas' forfeit would be in vain if he didn't. It took him almost a week to reach Enok, and he thought of Althaeas for many an hour of the journey. His thoughts also strayed to Balthasar, who, too, had given up his own life to save him.
Aryk knew without a doubt that if he survived this adventure, his next would be to avenge his friends' demise.
Althaeas was being attacked. Not by goblins, not yet, but by fear and uncertainty. It was day now, Aryk had left hours ago, and Althaeas was hiding in some tall grass. He knew that he was crazy for offering his life to save Aryk's, but he felt he had no other choice. Balthasar, his friend and partner, was dead. He had believed strongly enough in Aryk to sacrifice his life for him, and Althaeas was sure that he had been right. Aryk will be great, thought Althaeas, if he is allowed to live. That is my job.
Just as Althaeas reached this conclusion, he was shocked by a savage howl nearby. The goblins had caught his fresh scent. He let out a fierce yell, drew his short swords, and jumped up out of his hiding place.
There were more goblins than Althaeas had even bothered to imagine. A dozen or so, he had thought, not over thirty! Althaeas knew that he would not last long, but he had to try to save Aryk.
At the sound of his war cry, all of the goblins turned to face him. Shocked that a human would be so bold, they stood for a moment, not knowing what to do. Althaeas was not so hesitant. He rushed over to the nearest creature, waving his blades, and slashed at his torso.
The goblin went down with a shocked cry, clutching his belly. This shocked the others out of their stupor, and the clan rushed at him from all sides. The fighting was short and furious, and Althaeas felled half a dozen goblins before he succumbed to the crooked blades of their comrades.
With a hundred cuts covering his body, Althaeas was dealt a strong blow by an apparent captain. He fell to the ground, dying but not yet dead.
"Stand back! We will make this human wish he had died! No one is allowed to kill members of our clan and die a peaceful death!"
The cluster of goblins stepped back, looking loathingly at Althaeas' savagely beaten body. The goblin leader stepped forward and pulled a dagger from a sheath decorated with snakes.
"Do you know what this is, human?"
"This is a Poisl Knife. Not only does its blade stay ever sharp, but it also bears a curse. Any human flesh touched by this dagger bursts into a slow-burning flame. This flame spreads slowly through the body. Its creator made it for the sole purpose of executing human prisoners. Let me tell you: it's very painful!"
At this, the goblins began to cackle maniacally. The goblin captain brought the knife closer and closer to Althaeas' chest. After a few torturous moments, he let the blade touch, and the skin on Althaeas' chest began to burn away.
Althaeas screamed in pain, but had little strength to resist. He desperately tried to put out the flame.
"Ah, ha!" said the captain, "Our prisoner is trying to resist! No chance, maggot! The curse's flame burns until the victim dies. Prepare to meet your doom!"
The last thing Althaeas knew was the crowd of goblins rushing forward to eat his roasted flesh. God strike them down! he thought. Then he was no more.