There were few places left in the World Above which remained pure, pristine, unsullied by human squalor. Most of them were cold - humans didn't like cold - but that was all right. Glikkael didn't mind cold. Goblin skins were thick, tough, like armor. A little bit of weather was inconsequential.
Although, at the moment the weather was actually quite nice. There were only a handful of clouds dotting the sky, leaving the sun free to filter down through the leaves in bright, irregular patterns. A few birds chirped overhead, and he could easily locate two dozen animals in the immediate area.
In short, his relatives would hate it. Glikkael found it relaxing and peaceful. Of course, that was probably the reason the rest of his people hated such situations. They despised peace. Glikkael found it rather refreshing, but he also enjoyed a good fight to the death to get his blood pumping.
Not that that was enough for his orthodox family, oh no. Apparently enjoying a peaceful stroll through a forest and not breaking the neck of every innocent bunny he encountered made him weak, despite the fact that he had more kills to his name than half of them put together.
He was out here hunting a dragon - surely that should count for something! Most goblins wouldn't dream of attacking a dragon unless there were at least five of them to outnumber it.
If all went well today, this would be Glikkael's third solo dragon kill.
And, of course, it still would count for naught.
Good mood soured, Glikkael savagely kicked a large stone, watching it arch away through the trees and land with a sharp clang.
Surprised, curious, and a trifle wary, Glikkael followed the path the stone had taken, emerging in a small clearing currently occupied by a large metal cauldron. At its base lay the rock. There was something alive on the far side of it, something not making a very good attempt at stealth.
Something, he amended a moment later, that really shouldn't be attempting to sing while three sheets to the wind.
"Oh O'Malley is dead an -hic- O'Ralley don' know it, O'Ralley is -hic- dead an O'Malley don' know it, -hic- both of 'em dead and the other don' -hic- know it, two of 'em dead in the very same bed -hic!-"
Confused and intrigued - it was a goblin type of song but that had not been a goblin voice - Glikkael cautiously moved around the cauldron with a knife drawn just in case.
He needn't have bothered.
Slumped against the side of the cauldron and waving a bottle around aimlessly was a very small man. He looked as though he'd come up to Glikkael's collar if he was standing; impressive, considering goblins as a whole and Glikkael in particular were not given to height. He was dressed all in green, minus those parts which were torn, stained, and muddied, which were most of them. A few spots looked to have been inexpertly mended, the workmanship so bad that a goblin mother would have boxed his ears for it.
The most interesting part of the little man, however, was his hair. Unlike Glikkael's own ash-grey goblin hair, this man's was a bright, vivid red like garnets, and it tumbled haphazardly to his shoulders in a tangled mass of curls. And mud.
And a few sticks. Apparently the forest didn't agree with him.
Eventually, while Glikkael was counting all the different stains he could easily identify, the man noticed him.
"Oi, who're you?" When not attempting to sing, the voice was actually rather pleasant.
"Glikkael," he replied carefully.
The man eyed him muzzily for a long moment, then he leaned forward. "Yer not a dragon, are ye?"
Glikkael blinked and ran a quick once-over. Green skin, grey hair, tapered ears, sharp teeth... pretty much traditional goblin, even if he was rather ugly, by goblin standards. Only one wart on his entire body, and it was on his toe. Shameful, really.
"No," Glikkael answered after a moment when it became evident that the little man was still waiting for a reply. "I'm a goblin."
The small man looked him over again, having to stop and refocus his eyes several times and listing rather badly to the left. "... y'sure?"
Now what kind of a question was that? He might be an ugly goblin, but he was still a goblin. The man was either stupid, provoking him, or-
-or really, really plastered.
"Yes," Glikkael replied with a sigh, "I'm sure."
"Bollocks," the little man sighed, promptly taking another swig off his bottle. He actually sounded disappointed, which was somewhat bizarre considering he'd mistaken Glikkael for a dragon.
When, three drinks later, the little man showed no sign of even remembering he was there, Glikkael ventured a curious, "Why are you looking for a dragon?"
The man blinked muzzily up at him, his eyes taking even longer than before to focus. "Dragon?" Abruptly he scowled and downed what had to amount to half of the bottle. It was remarkable there was anything left in it at all. "That fucker stole me pot o' gold."
A suspicion seizing him, Glikkael peered up into the large cauldron, confirming that it did, indeed, contain a not inconsiderable amount of gold.
"You mean this pot of gold?"
The red-haired man blinked up at him again, then at the cauldron, then he shook his head in a decidedly disgusted manner. "That's not mine, ye daft bastard. Well, it's mine now, but it ain't mine, see."
No, he didn't see. The strange redhead was looking for a pot of gold stolen by a dragon, and yet there was a pot of gold sitting right here. Glikkael wanted to beat his forehead against it, or maybe beat the little man against it, but he doubted that would do any good.
Although, if the little man was here, looking for a dragon, then it was entirely possible that the dragon he was looking for was the same one that Glikkael was looking for.
"Your dragon, the one that stole your gold, is it green with pink stripes?" he asked curiously.
The odd little man's head jerked up quickly, which had the unfortunate side-effect of unbalancing him and causing him to topple over into the dirt. Fortunately, he was already so dirty that a little bit more wasn't going to make any difference whatsoever. While Glikkael waited, the man managed to pull himself back into a sitting position.
"You've seen it?" the little man asked hopefully, then his eyes narrowed. "Here now, ye sure yer not the dragon in disguise?"
The man held his liquor about as well as Glikkael's second cousin Aramig, which was to say not very well. But Aramig was a goblin and could survive a beating, whereas the little red man would probably break if Glikkael smacked him.
Although the idea was still tempting.
"No, I am not a dragon," Glikkael said, carefully enunciating his words so that they'd make it into the tiny excuse for a brain. "I am hunting a dragon."
The man's eyes widened in fury. "Yer after me gold!"
That was it. Glikkael managed to soften the blow enough not to snap the little man's neck, but he still went tumbling head over heels until a large bush stopped him. He simply lay there for a moment, dazed, and Glikkael stalked over to glare.
"I am not after your gold," he snapped. "I am hunting a dragon because I am a goblin and killing things is what we do. I want the dragon's teeth and claws as my trophy, not some damned pot of gold. Why would I want gold anyway? It's too soft to make good weapons with; you'd have to shove it down someone's throat or bludgeon him with it to kill. Far too much effort."
Throughout Glikkael's tirade, the man's eyes had been gradually widening. Green, Glikkael noticed, like the man's clothing must have been before his little jaunt through the forest. It seemed to take forever for whatever the man's brain was trying to process to actually bubble up past the haze of alcohol, but eventually it made the arduous journey.
"Yer gonna kill the dragon."
"Yes." Glikkael nodded.
"So..." The little man frowned in thought. "The dragon will be dead."
Glikkael nodded again. "Yes."
"And if that scaly cunt is dead, it doesn't have me gold."
"Right." Where was this going?
The little man stared at him for a long moment, then positively beamed. "So yer me hero!"
"I'm a goblin," Glikkael stressed. "Not a hero."
The small man shook his head stubbornly. "Yer gonna kill the dragon and rescue me gold, so that makes ye me hero."
"I... I'm just going to kill the dragon, you rock-brained wyrmbait! I'm nobody's hero!"
Somewhat unsteadily, though impressively considering the alcohol and the blow he'd taken, the little man rose to his feet. "I'm coming with ye."
Glikkael blinked. "You're... no you're not!"
"Yes, I am."
Maybe he really should just bash the man's brains in and be done with him. "You are not following a goblin through a forest to go kill a dragon," Glikkael said firmly. "You look as though the forest has mostly defeated you already! There's no way you could keep up with me."
The little man looked down at himself, nose rumpling as he took in the state of his clothing. "Bollocks, this was me favorite jacket too..."
"There, you see?" Glikkael smiled in triumph.
"Hmm," the man mused, rubbing one of his grimy buttons with an equally grimy sleeve. "Well, ye could wish me a pony."
"I... what?" Glikkael blinked. "Wish you a pony?"
The little man smiled broadly. "Granted."
From just to the right, where there most certainly hadn't been anything before, came a soft nicker. Glikkael drew a dagger and spun, stopping and staring at the sight before him.
The pony was green.
"Now I can keep up with ye," the small man said, walking over and petting the pony's nose.
"How did..." Glikkael frowned. "How did you do that?"
The little man looked surprised. "I granted yer wish."
"But how?" Glikkael pressed. "You're not a genie."
The little man snorted. "O' course not, don't be a gobshite. I'm a leprechaun. Name's Liadan." He held out a hand.
"Leprechaun?" Glikkael repeated, surprised. "Here?"
Liadan scowled. "Fuckin dragon stole me gold. I had to get it back."
"But why?" Glikkael asked, gesturing at the large pot still sitting in the clearing. "You have that one. What makes the one the dragon took so special?"
"It's..." Liadan grimaced, gesturing broadly. "Mine. It's part of me." His face fell, bottom lip sticking out ever so slightly, and for a long moment it almost appeared as though he was going to cry. "I didn't get to say goodbye properly."
Say goodbye? Glikkael snorted. Fairies. "So you're traipsing about in the wilderness in search of a dragon so you can say goodbye to your gold? Fairies really are a bunch of sluagh-loving idiots."
Liadan bristled, stomping his foot on the ground like a little child. "I wouldn't expect ye to understand, gobblie. Yer not a leprechaun."
"Thank Arawn for that," Glikkael muttered, turning and stalking away from clearing, and its maddening leprechaun, at a strong, striding pace that was far too confident to be mistaken for a retreat. Goblins did not retreat.
"Oi!" Liadan called out behind him. "Wait for me, ye bastard!" There was a faint whinny from the green pony, then the sound of hoofbeats rapidly catching up to him.
"You're just going to leave your pot here?" Glikkael asked without so much as turning his head.
"I packed it for traveling," came the reply. Surprised, Glikkael stopped and turned around.
Sure enough, the cauldron was gone. Glikkael eyed Liadan suspiciously for a moment, then snorted and started walking again, pony hoofbeats following along behind. Give it a few hours, a day tops, and the idiot faerie would give up and leave him alone.
Three days later, Glikkael was finding that it might not be quite so easy to rid himself of the leprechaun as he'd expected. Despite the terrain, the pace, the weather, and the general inhospitability of the forest, the man had managed to stick with him.
Or perhaps he should say the pony had managed to stick with him, because more often than not Liadan himself was half slumped over the pony's neck, singing badly to himself or all but passed out. Surely the bottle had to have run out by now, but Liadan showed no signs of sobering up - or running out. Maybe leprechauns had endless bottles of booze.
Hm. If they did, Glikkael would have to see if Liadan would part with one. His family would pay a fortune for such a thing, as would any goblin worth his liver. He'd never heard of such a thing being possible before, but then, leprechauns were a reclusive bunch and who knew what kind of secrets they were keeping in their cairns?
And other than the singing, Liadan really wasn't bad company. He had a tendency to ramble on about obscure subjects, usually changing topic in mid-thought, but Glikkael had mostly learned to ignore him. Mostly.
It was hardest when they stopped to rest, and Liadan would inevitably topple off his green pony, inhale whatever food Glikkael had managed to scrounge up, and pass out on Glikkael's shoulder.
The first night it had been startling, but he'd tolerated fairly well.
The second night it had been somewhat irritating.
The third night, when it happened yet again, he stopped playing nice goblin (which really was an oxymoron) and shook the man hard by the shoulders.
"Wha?" Liadan blinked blearily, peering up at him in confusion. "Is it morning?"
"No," Glikkael said sourly, shoving at him until he fell over. "Get off me, trollbreath."
Liadan frowned, puzzled, and held a hand up in front of his mouth to blow into, then experimentally sniff. "I do not have troll breath," he objected. "I smell like peach cordial."
Glaring, because technically Liadan was right, Glikkael crossed his arms. "You also smell like bog, swamp, manure, rotten fruit-"
"Ye think I don't know that?" Liadan exclaimed indignantly, sitting up and only weaving a little bit. "If you dislike it so much, wish me clean!"
"I-" Glikkael stopped. Blinked. "I wish you clean."
"Granted," Liadan said with no small amount of relief, and snapped his fingers. In the next instant he was perfectly clean, his clothing free of holes and tears, and there wasn't a single stain to be found anywhere. His skin was dirt-free, and his hair was not only clean but tidy. There was also a small green cap perched atop his head that hadn't been there before.
It was... not unpleasant, but distinctly unsettling. Glikkael hadn't realized leprechauns were that powerful. Although...
"Why couldn't you do that before?"
Liadan made a face. "Cause it doesn't work that way, ye arse."
"What doesn't work that way?" Glikkael asked, by now somewhat used to the way Liadan never managed to tell him anything useful the first time.
"The magic," Liadan replied, as though that should be obvious.
Glikkael thought about that. "You can't use your own magic?"
"We can do little things," Liadan grumbled, "but all the big magic is reactionary."
Glikkael arched a brow. "So leprechauns are premade to serve others."
Liadan stared at him for a long moment, then his eyes clouded with fury and he swung at Glikkael's head with his never-ending bottle of alcohol. Naturally, he missed, and Glikkael took the opportunity to capture his wrists. "Ye fuckin gobshite! I'm not a fuckin servant for anyone! Leggo before I kick ye in the fuckin bollocks!"
Quite pleased that he'd finally managed to get a reaction out of the entirely too unflappable faerie, Glikkael simply held onto Liadan's wrists and waited out the tirade. It wasn't very difficult to avoid the kicks aimed at his sensitive parts, considering the one doing the kicking was so plastered that most of them were nowhere near his groin.
Eventually Liadan ran out of steam and settled for simply glaring at him angrily, and Glikkael finally let him go.
"Fuckin gollie," Liadan muttered, rubbing his wrists.
"Goblin," Glikkael corrected, not for the first time.
"Kiss my blarney stone, ye fuckin arse," Liadan spat, and threw his hat at Glikkael's head.
For once, Liadan's aim wasn't completely off, but it was for naught as Glikkael plucked the article neatly out of the air. "Where did this come from anyway? I can understand your clothes getting clean, but you weren't even wearing this before."
"Creative fuckin interpretation," Liadan snapped, holding his arm out. "Give it back."
Glikkael lifted a brow. "You threw it away."
"I threw it at ye, idjit. That doesn't mean ye get to keep it!"
Glikkael smirked. "Oh no, mold spawn. You threw it away, it's mine now."
Liadan all but trembled in fury, green eyes flashing in a way that was rather intriguing for all that it promised dire retribution. He planted his hands on either side of him on the ground, took a deep breath...
... and started singing.
"As I went home on Monday night as drunk as drunk could be, I saw a horse outside the door where me old horse should be!"
It was even more off-key than Liadan had ever been before, and got progressively worse, and louder, with each successive verse. By the fourth verse, Glikkael had to clap his hands over his ears, and he knew he saw a quick, victorious smile flash across Liadan's lips.
That was it. With a snarl, Glikkael abandoned the hat to the ground and launched himself at Liadan, knocking the leprechaun over and clapping a hand over his mouth.
"Shut up, before your caterwauling makes my ears bleed!"
In response, Liadan bit him, hard enough that it hurt even through thick goblin skin. With a blistering oath, Glikkael snatched his hand back. As soon as he could draw in air, Liadan picked back up his song, right where he'd left off.
Growling darkly, Glikkael drew a knife.
Liadan ignored him and kept right on singing.
Glikkael held the knife over the green hat.
Liadan choked in the middle of a word. "Ye wouldn't!"
Glikkael bared his teeth. "Want to bet?"
For a long moment they stared at each other, stalemated, until finally Liadan sighed and seemed to crumple in on himself. "I just want my hat back. I missed it."
"Then you shouldn't have lost it in the first place, keeper of the refuse!" Glikkael snapped.
"I'm lucky that's all I lost," Liadan snapped back. "Fuckin beast was after me head!"
Glikkael started to growl that it would have been better if his head had gone with the hat, but stopped, frowning. "What beast? The dragon?"
"Aye," Liadan agreed morosely, "the overgrown flaming lizard didn't care much for my continued insistence on regaining my possessions." His mouth quirked up slightly. "That, or maybe it was the burrowing spiders I dumped in its den..."
In spite of all intentions, Glikkael was ever so slightly impressed. "You put burrowing spiders in a dragon's den?"
Dragon scales were extremely tough and nearly impossible to penetrate. The only way to get past them was to aim for one of the few spots where the scales were thin, or to angle your attack just right to slide between them. Not an easy thing to do. But burrowing spiders loved to sneak through the cracks in tiny places and burrow into the soft flesh beneath, thus their name.
There was absolutely nothing as painful as a burrowing spider infestation, and the fact that Liadan had managed to find some, capture them, and then use them on the dragon without getting infested himself...
Well. Maybe the faerie wasn't completely hopeless after all.
"Fine," Glikkael said begrudgingly. "I'll give you your hat back, if you swear not to sing again in my presence."
Liadan eyed him warily, then slowly nodded. "Fine."
Slowly, with exaggerated deliberateness, Glikkael handed over the hat. Liadan snatched it up and cuddled it for a moment, then carefully set it back atop his head, tilted just so. They regarded one another for a moment, then Glikkael leaned back against his chosen tree and closed his eyes, figuring that was the end of that.
Not five seconds later, a familiar weight settled against his shoulder. Glikkael's eyes popped open and he looked down to see the silly green hat and the mass of brilliant red curls beneath it. On his shoulder. Again.
He gathered himself to shove Liadan away again, stopping with one hand on the leprechaun's arm. Considering what he'd just gone through, and the fact that the night was rapidly wearing away, did he really want to get into another argument?
Besides, Liadan wasn't that uncomfortable.
With a quiet sigh, Glikkael let himself relax and closed his eyes again. He'd deal with it tomorrow.
Five days into the journey, Glikkael discovered another good reason to throttle Liadan.
They'd been making their way eastward, and their path had become blocked by a fairly steep ravine. Glikkael contemplated for a moment, then elected to head southward in hopes of finding a place to cross. He hadn't made it very far before there came the sound of rapid hoofbeats and then the little green pony was blocking his path.
"Not that way," Liadan protested, pointing toward the north. "That way! Me gold is that way!"
Glikkael stopped, narrowing his eyes as he looked up at the mounted leprechaun. "That way," he repeated flatly. "You've known all along where the dragon's lair is?"
Liadan frowned. "Not exactly. I just know it's somewhere that direction." He waved a hand toward the north again. Or north-east, more precisely.
Glikkael contemplated knocking Liadan off the pony so that Glikkael could beat him. "If you've known all these days where to find the dragon, why have you let me waste time hunting its trail?"
"You haven't led me into any mud pits, or cliffs, or brambles, or bear dens, or-"
Glikkael cut him off with an incredulous snort. "And you couldn't figure out to go around them? You don't have the sense the gods gave slime!"
"You'd be a wee bit singleminded too if it was your ruddy soul that was stolen!" Liadan snapped back, then he abruptly clapped his hands over his mouth.
For his part, Glikkael felt a curious mix of surprise and relief. At least now he knew why Liadan was such an idiot, even if it was by far the strangest thing he'd ever heard of. "Your soul is a pot of gold?"
Liadan lowered his hands to scowl fiercely. "You speak of it as others would speak of pond scum. It may be only metal to you, gollib, but it is my heart, my soul, my life."
Glikkael snorted. "So without your little pot of gold, you'll die."
Liadan lips twisted bitterly. "Aye."
Glikkael blinked. He'd been being sarcastic; he hadn't meant it. "What?"
"What part of that was so hard to understand, ye dense fuck?" Liadan asked, the bitterness still thick in his voice. "Unless I get me pot o' gold back, I'm mortal. I die."
Oh, that was right. Faeries were immortal. He supposed the concept of getting old and dying would be rather frightening if you were supposed to live forever, but Glikkael had never expected to die of old age. He faced death every time he faced down a dragon or walked into a boggart nest. It was just simply part of goblin life. A goblin who died of old age was nothing more than a coward.
Still, one pressing question remained. "So if this tinfoil pot of yours is so important, why do you just leave it lying around to get stolen?"
Liadan scowled. "I didn't. I left it with a mate while I sorted some things. When I got back, he was gone, and so was me gold. Fuckin Riordan."
Glikkael eyed him for a long moment, then made a mental note to go track down this Riordan once the dragon was dealt with and punish him properly for setting in motion those events which had caused Glikkael to be saddled with Liadan's vexing presence. Maybe a full flaying; he hadn't done one of those in years. Start with the toenails, and work his way up from there.
"The new pot of gold doesn't count, I suppose," Glikkael inquired somewhat absently, his mind occupied on various methods of punishment.
Liadan shook his head. "It lets me work some magic, but it's not real so I can't do all that much."
So, if summoning a pony out of thin air and getting clean in an instant weren't 'all that much,' then what could Liadan do at full power? Glikkael knew there was a reason he avoided faeries.
"Fine, then we'll kill the dung-eating dragon, get this slagging pot of yours, and you can go back where you came from and leave me alone," Glikkael said, trying not to sound too hopeful.
Given the face Liadan made, he wasn't entirely successful. "More or less."
Glikkael pointed north. "Then lead the way, and I'll follow and make sure you don't ride straight off a cliff."
"Or into a mud pit, or bramble patch, or animal den or-"
Glikkael cut off Liadan's recitation with a sharp slap to the pony's backside, which had the delightful result of making the thing bolt forward with Liadan clinging to its back for dear life.
The day was looking better already.
"So, this is it?" Liadan looked vaguely disappointed, but also a little anxious. "Where's the dragon?"
Glikkael considered smacking him, then dismissed it as requiring too much effort. "Out hunting, most likely. Right time of day for it."
Liadan perked up. "Then it's not there now? But me treasure is!" He shoved his way through the concealing bushes, striding purposefully toward the gaping entrance to the cave. He made it all of two steps before Glikkael grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked him back.
"Flouncing little orc-fucking idiot!" Glikkael fumed. "You don't just walk into a dragon's den when you don't know where the dragon is!"
Liadan kicked him in the shin. It didn't hurt. "Ye said it was hunting!"
Glikkael gave the idiot a good shake. "It could come back at any time!"
"You didn't fuckin say that!"
They stared mutely at one another for several moments, then Glikkael sighed and let go. "I'd rather not get eaten by an overgrown lizard with heartburn today. Stay here while I go scout, and I'll let you know when it's safe."
For a moment it seemed as though Liadan would argue, then he deflated. "It's so close. I can feel it." He looked miserable.
"You've waited this long. Another hour or so isn't going to make much of a difference."
Liadan glared, but it had too much misery in it to have any heat. "Easy for a gobbler to say."
"You don't think I'd rather get this over with now?" Glikkael demanded irritably. "But being hasty gets a goblin killed, and I prefer my head attached to my body, no matter how much I'd like to be rid of you."
"Fuck you too," Liadan spat. His eyes really did look like emeralds, flashing in fury. If he wasn't so irritating, he'd be attractive.
Of course, the fact that he found a rocks-for-brains faerie attractive was just yet more proof of how ungoblinlike he really was. Somehow, it had to be Liadan's fault. Everything else was.
Shooting the irritating man one more glare for good measure, Glikkael rose and made his way carefully toward the mouth of the cave. By the time he'd gotten there his finely honed instincts had come to the fore, all other thoughts fading away save for the battle which awaited him. Anything less would get him killed.
There was still no sign of the dragon at the cave mouth. A quick scan of the sky showed no dragon there either. Good. He crept in stealthily, sticking to the cave walls, until he emerged in a large cavern. There was no light, of course, but no goblin worth his teeth needed light the way silly faeries and such did.
It was rather a sorry lair, as such things went, with only a bare minimum of hoarded treasure, but then Liadan had mentioned driving the dragon out of its old lair with burrowing spiders. Obviously it hadn't had much opportunity yet to rebuild its nest of spoils. Liadan's pot was easy to spy, propped up on a rock with gold and jewels scattered haphazardly nearby. It looked fairly ordinary at first, but as he moved closer he could make out elaborate engravings across the entire surface of the thing.
Curious, Glikkael looked inside to see a near-overflowing collection of shining gold coins, each decorated with the faces of what he assumed were famous fairies. They looked arrogant enough for it, anyway. And it was certainly shiny enough to have attracted a dragon's attention.
On a whim, he scooped up a couple of coins. They felt normal enough, the right weight and texture for gold, and nothing to show that they were anything more than pieces of lifeless metal. He snorted and tucked them into a pocket, then contemplated the pot itself. Could he get it out before the dragon returned?
Normally, he'd never allow himself to be weaponless in enemy territory, but the picture of how Liadan's face would look was very tempting. So very tempting.
Experimentally, he gave the pot a shove. It rocked, then settled back into place. So the pot itself wasn't magically heavy, which meant that a strong goblin like Glikkael could lift it easily.
Shifting his favorite knife to his left hand and putting the other away, he hoisted the pot up and headed back out of the cave. He paused at the cave mouth - no dragon - and began making his way back toward the spot where Liadan was waiting.
Two things happened at once. Liadan stood, giving a hoarse shout, and overhead a very loud, very angry roar filled the air.
The curse Glikkael uttered would have wilted a troll's ears, had there been any nearby to hear it. He dropped the pot and rolled, feeling a rush of air pass through the space he'd just occupied.
One point to the lizard for surprise, one point to Glikkael for dodging. The fight began on even ground.
Before he was fully back on his feet he had his sword drawn, coming up ready for battle. Fortunate, as the dragon snapped at him as soon as it recovered from the missed strike. He dodged it, along with the follow-up tail sweep, and slashed at the nearest leg. There was a hard clang as his sword connected with the dense scales, then the leg slammed into him in response.
As he rolled and came back up on his feet, Glikkael was already frowning. Even though his sword hadn't been able to cut through the tough scales, the strength of the blow still should have at least given the creature pause. And yet again, almost before he'd really recovered, the damned lizard was snapping and clawing at him again.
He ducked underneath the tail and avoided the kick aimed at his head, trying to get to the soft spot just below the breastbone. The way the thing was lunging madly about wasn't helping; although it hadn't tried to roast him yet.
Which was in itself odd, and only served to reinforce the notion that the dragon was feral. A normal dragon with its wits about it knew that fire was its strongest weapon. It also moved in ways that were relatively predictable, instead of this erratic attack pattern that left Glikkael constantly guessing.
Growling beneath his breath, Glikkael took another tumble to the side to avoid a particularly wicked slash and drew one of his throwing knives on the way up. It wouldn't do any damage unless he managed to hit an eye, but maybe it would distract the thing long enough to get in a proper strike.
Carefully he waited, dodged, waited some more, dodged again, waited for his opening...
It came. Glikkael threw. The dragon's wings beat harshly downward, kicking up dust and rubble in a fierce wind as it rose off the ground. Glikkael didn't manage to see whether or not he hit it before there was dust in his eyes, blinding him.
Blinking furiously to clear the dust, Glikkael made a swift dive and roll, feeling the dragon's talons come so close that they caught the end of one of his braids and yanked it loose, and started running as soon as he was vertical. If he remembered right, he was heading straight for-
Liadan's startled curse confirmed it. Glikkael reached into his pocket and grabbed the coins he'd picked up earlier, flinging them in the direction of Liadan's voice. "Do something, you worthless excuse for a wyrm's dick!"
He didn't get to see Liadan's face, but he did hear the sharp intake of breath. That was all he had time for before the dragon had caught up, and all of his attention went into fending off the vicious attacks by sound and feel alone. He wasn't dead yet, which was the important thing, but if he couldn't get his sight back soon he probably would be.
Really, he was rather proud he'd lasted this long.
His concentration was broken by the sound of Liadan's frantic voice. "What should I do?"
Glikkael swore. "I don't know! Just do someth-" He bit back a cry of pain as the dragon finally scored, his upper arm erupting with searing agony. That was it, he was dead.
"Fuck I wish it wasn't a feral," he swore, gripping his knife as tightly as he could with the arm that still worked.
Dimly, he heard a voice shriek, "Granted!"
The blow he was waiting for never came. Instead he heard and felt the impact of the dragon's body as it hit the ground, bellowing in confusion.
Of course. Leprechaun wishes.
"Liadan! I wish I could see!"
There was a slight pause, followed by Liadan's startled voice. "Uh, granted."
The dragon was still on the ground, shaking its head slowly as though a troll had smacked it with a boulder. It looked up as Glikkael approached, giving a startled bellow and frantically scrambling backwards to get away from him.
Well, that was slightly more normal behavior, even if it did put the beast out of range. Glikkael reached for another throwing knife, wincing at the burn in his arm, and the dragon promptly turned tail and bolted into the sky.
He remained on alert for a long minute, scanning the sky, but the dragon was long gone. Apparently having been un-feralized or whatever Liadan had done had given it the good sense to flee from an irate goblin trying to slay it. So much for the idea of getting another dragon kill to his name.
But he was still alive, and much as it irked him to acknowledge it, he did have Liadan to thank for that. Even if it was probably Liadan's fault he'd been in danger of dying in the first place. No leprechaun, no pot, no distraction.
No throbbing arm. Fuck but that was going to hurt for a while.
"Are ye all right? Is it coming back?"
Glikkael dropped his gaze from the sky to see Liadan watching him, green eyes wide, hands tightly clutching a few golden coins.
"I'm fine. The dragon's gone."
Slowly Glikkael sheathed his weapons, making his way carefully over to where he'd dropped the pot to deal with the dragon. A good portion of the gold had spilled out onto the ground, but that was easily remedied. Especially once Liadan joined him.
Once all the pieces were back in the pot, Liadan ran his fingers slowly across the top, eyes closed, sighing softly in relief. The tension that had been near to bursting inside him since the day they'd met faded, leaving behind only a slight, soft smile that made Glikkael's stomach twist in unpleasant ways.
Damn the man. It would be better once he was gone. And he would be gone, now that he had his bloody pot of gold back. Glikkael wanted him gone. Goodbye. Good riddance.
The pot and all its gold vanished as Liadan opened his eyes, that irritating smile still on his lips. "Thank you."
Glikkael scowled. "You can thank me by fixing my arm so I can go hunt down that fucking lizard."
Liadan snorted and rolled his eyes. "Goblins. Ye have to wish it, remember?" He chuckled. "Though really, yer only supposed to get the first three granted."
Arching a brow and giving the faerie a pointed look, Glikkael uttered flatly, "I wish my arm good as new."
The leprechaun rolled his eyes again. "Granted."
Oh, that was nice. Glikkael tested his arm carefully, but there was no lingering soreness or stiffness, or really anything to show that it had ever been injured. Faerie magic was good for a few things, it seemed.
"Well?" Liadan asked, sounding amused.
"It works," Glikkael replied grudgingly, crossing both arms over his chest. "Are you leaving now?"
Surprise flashed through Liadan's green eyes, to be replaced a moment later with a certain stiffness. "Guess I am. I have me gold, and ye have no use for a leprechaun interfering in your dragon hunt."
"You're annoying, loud, ugly, and distracting," Glikkael stated, "and I have always worked best alone."
Liadan drew in a slow breath, holding it for a pace, then let it out again without speaking. He searched Glikkael's face for a moment before shaking his head and turning away.
"Fuck ye, gobblie."
Glikkael watched him walk away, feeling a peculiar tightness in his chest that felt something like how he imagined Liadan had felt when separated from his soul-pot. Which was just ridiculous, because it was Liadan's pot, not his, and so there was absolutely no reason for Glikkael to feel as if something was being taken away from him.
Irritated with himself, he turned and stormed off in the direction the dragon had gone, determined to catch up to it and take out all of his frustrations on its scaly hide.
One week later, Glikkael was determined to rip the head off of the very next creature to cross his path. He'd never been more out of sorts and irritable in his life, and it was sorely interfering in his hunting. Twice now he'd nearly walked into wyrm ponds, and he had walked straight into a bear.
Fortunately, the bear had been more surprised than he was.
Still, there was no way he was going to be able to fight the dragon like this, even if he could find it. Which, so far, he wasn't having much luck with. It was like something had completely scrambled his ability to concentrate, which was disaster waiting to happen for a goblin in enemy territory. Another day of this and he'd probably start walking off cliffs, like that stupid faerie.
It was all Liadan's fault, he was sure of it. He'd never had problems like this before the idiot leprechaun had pranced drunkenly into his life. It had been a mistake to get mixed up with him in the first place.
When he managed to trip over an obvious rock, Glikkael swore and gave up, throwing himself to the ground and trying to pretend he wasn't sulking. Stupid, irritating, loud-mouthed, empty-headed, perpetually-intoxicated Liadan. Even when he wasn't physically present he was driving Glikkael insane.
He should have just skinned the brat when he had the chance and put them both out of their misery.
Grumbling quietly to himself about should-have's and stupidity, Glikkael rummaged through his pockets for something to eat that hadn't gone bad. There were maggots in his traveler's bread, worms in his figs, and the little bit of jerky he'd tucked away had turned green.
Annoyed all over again, he emptied the contents of his pockets onto the ground. Most of it was weaponry, of course, and various tools required for a solitary goblin's life, but mixed in among those and the sorry bits of foodstuffs was something that glinted.
Frowning, Glikkael brushed aside his smallest carry-sack to reveal a shining golden coin. Huh. Looked like when he'd thrown the coins in his pocket at Liadan, he'd missed one.
He picked it up, turning it over in his hand, staring at the image on it without any of his usual irritation at fluff-headed faeries. The face stamped into it had soft curls framing a narrow face, and the mouth had been fashioned in such a manner as to give the impression that it would be smiling in the next moment.
It reminded him of Liadan. All it needed was a stupid hat and a bottle of booze.
Glikkael stared at it for a long time, then roughly shoved it back into his pocket before gathering up all of his weaponry and equipment and restoring them to their proper places. He did not miss the obnoxious leprechaun or his incessant chatter. He didn't miss the ridiculous hat, or the stupid red curls, or the sparkling green eyes, or the way they could never settle down for the night without Liadan somehow managing to fall asleep on him.
Which was what he kept telling himself as he resumed his hunt, managing to keep from running into any bears or falling into any bogs or meeting up with any brambles. And if his hand occasionally stole into his pocket to curl around the bit of metal, well, no one had to know but him.
Although really, that was bad enough.
He thought he'd finally managed to pick up the dragon's trail again sometime in late afternoon when he heard the sound of something coming through the brush with absolutely no attempt at stealth. It sounded like a sick caribou, or a drugged moose, or-
-or a drunk leprechaun.
"Glikk! Ye fuckin gobshite!"
How Liadan had managed to catch up in the first place was questionable, considering his steps were weaving rather badly and there was no sign of the green pony. He fell down twice before reaching Glikkael, despite the fact that Glikkael had helpfully stopped and waited for him.
"Give it back!" Liadan demanded once he was, more or less, on his feet.
Glikkael frowned. "Give what back?"
Liadan kicked him, or attempted to, given that his aim was wildly off and only Glikkael's quick snag of his wrist kept him from falling over onto his butt. "Me gold, ye bastard! Ye kept one!"
Glikkael blinked in surprise. "How'd you know that? I only found it this morning."
Of course, Liadan attempted to kick him again. And missed, again, despite the fact that Glikkael was keeping him upright. "I told ye, ye fuckin gollib! It's my soul! If I don't say goodbye proper-like, it stays a part of me!"
Huh. Well that was interesting.
"You didn't notice when you stormed off," Glikkael pointed out.
"Wasn't far enough away yet," Liadan growled, staring down at Glikkael's knees as though the visual aid would allow him to kick them more accurately. It didn't.
"So, you aren't noticing it now, since you're close?" Glikkael inquired curiously, stealing a hand into his pocket to wrap around the little piece of gold.
Liadan blinked somewhat fuzzily at him, frowning, then gave a shrug that threatened to topple him over again. "Not really, no."
Glikkael felt a slow smile spreading across his face. He felt better already, and he knew exactly how to make it perfect.
"Well then, I suppose you're just going to have to follow me around, little faerie servant."
Those glittering emerald eyes opened wide for a single moment before narrowing in pure fury. It was beautiful.
"Ye... ye fuckin bastard! If ye think I'm gonna-"
Rather than listen to the rest of Liadan's furious ranting, Glikkael took the expedient method of shutting him up.
It was no surprise that Liadan tasted of booze, although the sheer variety of alcohol flavors to be found in the leprechaun's mouth left him wondering anew at the powers of that bottomless bottle. It was interesting, but more interesting still was the taste of Liadan underneath all of it. He tasted nothing like a goblin; if anything, he tasted rather like what Glikkael imagined magic might taste like, if magic had a taste. Bright and sparkling and entirely too addictive for the sanity of a lone, self-respecting goblin.
For a moment Glikkael was certain Liadan was going to kick him again, then the leprechaun all but melted against him, kissing back with a skill that no one who was that plastered should be able to display. Glikkael might have to keep him around just for that alone. And really, between the talent displayed by that mouth and the simple fact that kissing him had the side-effect of shutting Liadan up, the faerie was almost tolerable.
Liadan gave a vague protesting murmur when Glikkael broke the kiss, Glikkael's arms around his waist the only thing keeping him on his feet at all. He looked dazed, those bright eyes blinking slowly at him while his brain attempted to re-engage, then he scowled.
"If ye wanted me to stay, ye fuckin gobshite, all ye had to do was say so."
"I'm a goblin," Glikkael pointed out. "And you annoy me."
Liadan snorted. "I annoy ye. Is that goblin-speak for 'I want to throw ye down and have me way with ye right here?'" he asked.
Glikkael blinked. Considered. Liadan's eyes widened.
"Oh no, ye damned fuckin goblin! That was not a sug-"
Liadan really was almost enjoyable when his mouth was occupied. Maybe Glikkael was going to have to invest in a gag. Or find other, more creative uses for that wicked tongue.
Glikkael licked his lips once he let Liadan up for air again. "I wish you'd stay, brainless loudmouthed faerie."
Liadan's mouth opened, then closed again as he stared. When it opened again he bit his bottom lip.
"Granted." It was so quiet that only a goblin, or a creature with goblin hearing, would have heard it.
Glikkael smirked. "And I wish for oil."
Liadan's cheeks colored, but he nevertheless pressed close against Glikkael, leaving absolutely no doubt as to what he wanted.