The stench of the rotting bodies was so strong it was almost a physical blow. Connor had given them a paste that smelled vaguely of mint and something Callindra couldn’t quite identify to smear under their nostrils and that was the only thing that kept her from being violently ill. They had all crept from their hiding places and leaped into the wagons as they rumbled along the road. The pace of the wagons and the possibility of being spotted had meant that they all had to move at once, and as a result they were spread over three different wagons.
They rolled over a bridge made of thick wooden planks that spanned the fetid water backed up behind the dam and she carefully looked around, only moving her eyes just in case someone was watching. They stopped and Callindra heard some ominous creaking and grinding noises from the frame of the wagon. Was it about to give way from the stress of the weight it carried?
Without warning it tipped sideways, dumping the entire contents unceremoniously into a pit. She screamed in surprise, something she immediately regretted as the various fluids of the dead splattered into her face. Although being on top was advantageous in case she’d needed to leap out, she now found herself to be in danger of being buried.
With reflexes born of fighting for her life for years, she flung Shadowsliver point first into the wooden side of the pit. His tips didn’t dig in deep, but it was enough that she was able to swing closer to the wall and out of the way of the tumbling rush of bodies before the wood gave way. A quick tug on his chain brought him back to her.
Callindra put her back to the wall, standing on the unsteady footing of the piles of corpses and watched as Reed used nearly superhuman agility to all but run up the torrent of corpses, using the body of a horse to push himself off in a leap that carried him out of the worst of it. Kain was lucky and had been on the far side, so all he needed to do was choose his moment and jump. Holt managed to roll out of the way of most of the carnage. Connor had simply flickered out of his hiding place, and appeared next to Callindra, seeming calm and unaffected by riding in a wagon of the dead.
Vilhylm wasn’t so lucky. When the wagon he was riding in tipped, he got caught in a tangle of limbs and vanished beneath tons of bodies. Callindra bit back another cry of alarm and started pulling at the pile in a futile attempt to uncover him. Voices drew her attention; she couldn’t tell what they were saying yet, but they were getting closer. They only had a few moments before whoever was approaching would see them.
“We have to stay against the wall.” Connor said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Those goblins will see us otherwise.”
Now that she listened more carefully, Callindra could hear the harsh guttural sounds of the goblin language from above. She knew a few words in goblin, most of them curse words, but managed to follow the general gist. They were here to keep the bodies flowing into wherever they were going. She held a hand up to the others, signaling silence. After a few minutes and a few desultory pokes with some hooked sticks the goblins wandered off. The moment their footsteps faded from hearing, they all rushed to where they thought Vilhylm was buried.
After a few tense minutes of frantic digging, Connor located one of Vil’s boots and after a few more they managed to remove enough of the corpses to get him free. He was dazed from a rising knot where something had smashed his head on the way down, but after they got him up and moving he recovered fairly quickly.
“That was not pleasant.” He said, shaking his cloak in a vain attempt to remove some of the viscera that coated his clothes loose. “What did I miss?”
“It looks like there are patrols of goblins that are doing something for whoever is in charge here.” Callindra said, “Probably trying to make sure that these bodies are going where they’re supposed to I’d guess. I didn’t hear enough of what they were saying to know more than that they’re not taking it too seriously and don’t like it very much.”
“Goblins don’t like doing anything for anyone but themselves very much.” Vilhylm said, “But they won’t do it for someone who is weaker or less clever than they are. While they’re weak as a individuals, they do have the ability to work together to do a lot of damage, so if there are any real number of them here whoever’s in charge must have some amount of power.”
“Do you think their leader is living or Taken?” Callindra asked, looking at her companions. “I can’t imagine any living working for Taken, but then again we saw something similar when we found Holt and Kain.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Reed said, “If they’re working to keep this river fouled then they’re the enemy.”
“It does matter.” She said with more heat in her voice than she had intended. “If we’re going to survive, we need every living thing to work together to defeat the Taken. There is no room for infighting Reed, if some living being is working to create this mess we need to find out why and explain why we need to put a stop to it.”
“If they’re doing THIS then I don’t think I want to meet them with anything but a knife point.” Reed said, but his voice was subdued.
Callindra shivered and looked at the others. “I’m not sure I want to either, but we need to try. For all we know they’re just trying to keep these things from infecting more of the world.”
“A valid point Callindra.” Kain said, “As misguided an attempt as it would be this could be an attempt to do good.”
“You have GOT to be shittin me.” Reed said, looking at them in shock. “They’re goblins! Only thing they’re really good for is the great curse words. Besides, everyone knows that where there’s one of ‘em there’s a hundred or more. One’s no big deal, but fifty gobs with bows will take down just about anyone.”
“If they’re not Taken then they need to be on our side if we’re going to win.” Callindra said grimly. “If you haven’t noticed the Taken seem to be winning.”