MARIN CLUTCHED at his side, trying unsuccessfully to stem the flow of blood. He could no longer hear the small band of goblins that had ambushed him, but the little bastards were irritatingly persistent when they traveled in packs. Alone they were sniveling cowards. Regardless, he couldn’t stop moving. If they picked up his trail again, he was dead, and he had no desire to visit that state of nonexistence.

Stumbling forward, he caught himself against a tree, groaning in pain. Taking a moment to attempt breathing, Marin looked around. It took him a few minutes to realize he had absolutely no idea where he was. It took several more minutes to figure out there was magic at work around him, a serious oversight Marin attributed to blood loss. Closing his eyes, he tried to study the energy, see what its purpose was. It was subtle, pushing creatures away. Whoever had cast it didn’t want visitors. He was yanked from the study of his surroundings by the strident cries of his goblin attackers. They burst through the underbrush, waving their bloody, rusted weapons and shouting in triumph.

“Shit,” he muttered, struggling to his feet. A wave of dizziness swept over him as he made to run once more. Marin’s vision blurred and distorted just as a cloaked figure stepped from the shadows of a clump of ash trees. The newcomer swept his hand in an outward arch, and a rush of cold magic passed Marin, followed by shocked goblin screeches and the creaking of ice.

Then Marin collapsed to the ground. At least that had been the intended destination. His rescuer apparently had other ideas. Strong arms caught him, and then Marin gave himself over to blackness.