And Then There Were Goblins
Vernita’s reaction was almost exactly the same as Cameron’s, almost down to the facial expression. It was as they had them handed out at training, at the same time as they got their boots.
Whip, however…I don’t know. She didn’t look sad, she didn’t look happy. She heard the news, nodded, and then stared out over the battlefield.
Maybe she’d missed that day.
After her few seconds of mourning, Vernita was all business.
“Drew,” she barked, snapping me out of my reverie. I hadn’t expecting to be needed for a while, and was staring at Whip. When it came to giving orders, I was normally last, if not forgotten altogether.
“Knock her out.”
My arms moved, almost instinctively, to embrace the New Queen protectively. I stopped before it was obvious what was happening, but I don’t know how well I hid it.
“We can’t knock her out,” I replied nervously. Vernita had already started discussing Whip’s role in our next steps, and I wasn’t sure if she’d hear me. A tiny part of me hoped that she wouldn’t.
Vernita stopped mid-sentence and turned to me, her face a picture of disbelief.
“We can’t knock her out,” I repeated.
I’ll always remember that moment—the cold of Denver’s sewer system, its smell tempered only by the smell of goblin blood around us. the dim light provided by Cameron’s torch, reflecting off the New Queen’s eyes as she looked up at the two of us.
I’d never stood up to an authority figure before, not even my mother, and I wouldn’t be surprised if no one had ever stood up to Vernita before in her life. It was a terrifying idea, but…somehow empowering. After all, this was why I’d been brought on the mission; to stop them from doing anything that could damage my Queen.
I was doing my part. I was doing what I was here for.
“We don’t know what will happen if she’s unconscious. She’s the reason we’re doing this in the first place—if we bring her home damaged, the whole mission was pointless. She has to be perfect.”
“If we don’t knock her out,” Cameron interjected, “we may not get home at all.”
I shook my head.
“As long as we don’t let her get loose again. We know that she can untie herself; we’ll just keep her handcuffed from now on. We’ll keep her gagged. And as long as we make sure that no one but me is left alone with her, there’s nothing we can do.”
Whip looked like she was going to say something, but before she could, Vernita spoke up again.
“It’s not worth the risk.”
I was perhaps a bit too fast with what I said next; it was true, of course, and had to be said, but I perhaps should have been a bit more delicate about it, and attempted to sound less like a petulant teenager.
“You know I’m right. Bea would have said the same thing.”
There was a pause. Whip turned her head away, as if again watching out for oncoming goblins. Cameron stood there, impassive—I couldn’t see any emotion on her face, but I wasn’t really looking. My eyes were on Vernita.
Vernita’s were lips drawn back, her pupils narrow and angry, staring straight at me. For a moment, I wondered if she was going to attack me, weaponless, use her hands and teeth to pierce my skin and draw blood.
Cameron leaned forwards, as if ready to step in, as if thinking the same thing.
But just as quickly as her mourning for Bea had passed, the look on Vernita’s face disappeared as well.
“We don’t have time for this,” she said shortly. “Whip, I need you to find a new route. Bea knew exactly where we were going and how we were going to get there. We can’t change our destination, but we can make sure she doesn’t bring any goblins and ambush us on the way.
“Cameron, how many do you think we took out? Let’s leave some land-mines for when the next wave come looking for us.
“Drew…—” Vernita turned to me once more. I started when I heard my name, and realised that every muscle in my body had been tensed, prepared to protect the Queen. “Can Bea…can the New Queen’s goblins talk to the Old Queen’s goblins?”
I thought for a moment, then answered confidently. “No. We don’t think they can even communicate to one another—their thoughts go to the Queen, and she controls all of them. They’re hive—”
“Cameron,” Vernita said, cutting me off. “If you see the New Queen’s goblin, take it out. Everything Bea knew she knows, and Drew’s friend here will already know as well.”
“Then why—” I began, but Vernita continued, answering my question without pause, without looking at me.
“Once she’s dead, we won’t have to worry about the New Queen having a second pair of legs running around.”
I know I should have held my tongue. I know it definitely wasn’t my place to say anything; these girls are trained warriors, experienced. But I couldn’t help myself.
“But…it’s Bea!” I replied softly.
Vernita turned to face me, her face emotionless. Whip was long gone, scouting ahead, and Cameron had already started setting mines.
“No,” she replied shortly. “Bea’s dead. You talk about what Bea would have wanted?”
And just as I suspected Vernita had noticed instinctive twitch of protection earlier, I saw Vernita’s eyes flick towards the New Queen as she spoke.
“She would have wanted us to kill the thing that took her body.”