And Then There Were Goblins
It wasn’t until the rumbling subsided that I worked out what it had been. All the pieces came together; the rumbling, the New Queen’s words, the fact that there was a pack of goblins right next to us when she squealed…and even when I explained it, it took a few minutes before the reality set in for everyone else.
“What do you mean ‘she’s sent all of them’?” Vernita snapped. She’d been acting strangely ever since her panicked attack on the New Queen earlier—it was the first moment of weakness I’d ever seen from her, and I suspected that if there was one thing Vernita hated more than weakness in others, it was weakness in herself.
“Exactly what I said; she’s sent all of them. The Queen has sent her goblins.
“All of them.”
The girls paused. Some swore. All of them immediately understood. The tunnel suddenly filled with military chatter; Beatrice making plans, Cameron listing weapons—no one had ever faced what we were facing before, an entire city of goblins after one group. Thousands upon thousands of dedicated, mindless, self-sacrificing creatures against four warriors.
Even when they chase the last few humans out of a city, no Queen sends this many troops. It’s unnecessary to risk such a huge proportion of your army—if the retreating party is lucky enough to have a few land-mines left, sending too many goblins to one location can mean the risk of losing them all.
The official collective noun for goblins has never been officially decided. Soldiers will refer to a ‘mob’ of goblins when the goblins aren’t in battle, a ‘pack’ of goblins when they’re fighting a small group, and a ‘horde’ of goblins when they face a large group. Back home, I’ve heard of people refer to a ‘vomit’ of goblins, but that’s people who have never encountered them, have never felt the effects of the musk, have never seen how sensual a goblin can be…
The discussion stopped, and I tuned back in to see why. Everyone was staring at me, and it took me far too long to work out why. Someone had asked me a question, and I hadn’t noticed. I had been too busy thinking about collective nouns.
“Pardon?” I asked, my cheeks flushed. I was mentally kicking myself—I felt like a child again, disappointing my mother. I wondered if the others resented me, if they were acutely aware of how much I was slowing the team down.
I quickly silenced that train of thought, and paid attention to what Vernita was asking me.
“I asked if the Queen up top could see what this bitch sees??” she asked, gesturing to the New Queen.
I paused, not wanting to answer before I was sure of my response. Vernita glared as I pondered the question, and I wondered how much of that anger I deserved, and how much of it was anger at herself.
“No,” I concluded eventually. “If they knew where we were, she wouldn’t have had to…you know, squeal. That noise she made earlier.”
The New Queen watched the conversation, her purple eyes flicking between Vernita and myself.
“What was that, anyway?” Whip asked.
“The squeal? I think it was…—”
“Not that,” Bea snapped, cutting me off. “The…the thing.
Vernita and Cameron just looked confused, while Whip and Bea waited anxiously for my answer. They’d seen it too.
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.
“You must know!” Bea replied, irritated, but I cut her off before she could finish.
“Well I don’t! I’m sorry! We’ve never seen anything like that before, not in captured goblins, not in dead Queens.” My reply was a little too fast, a little too high-pitched. I sounded hysterical. I took a deep breath and continued.
“That’s why we want to capture a Queen alive. They have abilities beyond normal goblins, and we just don’t have any idea what they’re capable of. They have a psychic link to their servants we don’t understand, they have a second, different type of musk-gland that we’ve never seen on any other kind of goblin…even the fact that their eyes are so different is strange. There’s no reason for it that we can determine. So I don’t know what…what we saw. Hopefully when we get her home, we’ll know.”
I didn’t mention that the New Queen had referred to herself as something new; that conversation felt private, somehow. It was between me and her. Besides, it wouldn’t help the girls even if they knew.
No one asked any more questions. The goblins were probably aware of our general location, even if they didn’t know specifically where we were. We had to work out a plan, fast.
Beatrice, Vernita and Cameron huddled again, and started throwing around terms and acronyms I didn’t understand. Whip rarely joined in these conversations; she was quiet at the best of times, and Whip was no a leader. She wasn’t a tactician, she wasn’t a weapons expert. Whip was…she was someone who did things. She was a doer.
So while everyone else chatted, Whip scouted the perimeter. I admired her lithe body as she disappeared from the group and suddenly appeared at the end of the tunnel, almost as if she could teleport. I watched as she stood completely still, listening, blocking out the conversation between the soldiers, trying to hear just the tiniest hint that there was someone nearby.
I assume she didn’t hear anything, as after a few minutes she visibly relaxed, stopped looking for goblins, and turned to look straight at me. I tried to pretend that I hadn’t been watching her, and tended to the New Queen. Within a few seconds, she was by my side, her hand on my shoulder.
“She’s pretty, hey?” she said, looking at the New Queen’s big, purple eyes. We both stood there, staring into them for a few seconds, before Whip shook her head and turned to me. She stared into my eyes, and for a second, I thought I felt myself get lost in Whip’s deep, dark black eyes. I don’t know if I leaned forward or if Whip did, or perhaps it was all in my head, but for a split second, I could have sworn we were on the brink of kissing.
Instead, Whip took my hand in mine, and spoke a few simple but heartfelt words.
“You’re a part of the team, y’know?”
I nodded, speechless. She gave me a cheeky grin in response.
“Cool.” she said, and skipped away to make sure no goblins had arrived in the few seconds we’d been chatting.