“That must be it,” Adela murmured as she paused to look at the twisted cross hanging loose from a concrete wall spider-webbed with vine-filled cracks. The young ranger was tall and slender, with an ample chest and long blonde hair that she wore pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a pair of loose-fitting black leather pants designed to survive several days of traveling, and a brief halter that provided just enough modesty in the sweltering southern heat. Her only equipment was the sword slung over her back and the empty satchel tied to her waist. The rest of her equipment had been stored in the crook of a nearby tree, where it would be relatively safe from thieves and curious animals.
The cross’s warped metal frame still held several jagged shards of red glass and the tangle of rusted wires that had once lit it from the inside. Back before the Rupture there had been stainless steel letters embedded next to the cross, proudly declaring that the building had been the East River General Hospital and Trauma Center. Those letters had long since been ripped away by the weather, so long ago that even their faded imprints had been washed away to blend in with the rest of the dirt and vines. Here and there entire sections of the walls had collapsed, leaving piles of shattered concrete studded by crooked rebar. The glass facade at the hospital’s entrance was a shattered wreck, and the corrugated metal door that had kept the elements out of the garages had long since been stolen to keep them out of some scavenger’s shelter.
Normally, Adela would have avoided such a ruin as best she could. Most places had been picked completely clean in the years shortly after the Rupture, those that hadn’t been immediately infested with monsters from the other world. But the winter had been particularly cruel that year, and several fevers continued to plague Crivedale, the village Adela called home. The witch who served as the village’s healer had sent Adela in search of the old medicines, swearing that they could be restored to their original potency by the witch’s magic. After sending some time studying the maps of the old world, Adela had settled on East River as her best chance. It had been only a small town before the Rupture, quite a distance from any of the known cities or kingdoms, and its hospital had been located on the very edge of the town, far from the highways and rivers most salvagers travelled.
The field where the ranger crouched had once been the hospital’s parking lot, the crumbled asphalt having prevented anything larger from taking root. Instead the grass had grown to nearly waist height, fed by the heavy spring rains. She studied the ruins, looking for any sign that they might have been taken over by some monster looking for a lair, but the birds continued to sing and the crickets continued to chirp. If there was something living in the hospital, it didn’t seem to bother the animals very much. Still, it was better to be safe than to be sorry. Her sword whispered as she drew it from its sheath, holding it down and to the side as she crept up on the hospital.
Adela froze as she neared the hospital’s entrance. Standing in the shadow formed by the corners of the building was a slender pole, roughly shoulder high, on which someone had mounted four skulls, each of which faced one of the cardinal directions. She had seen similar stakes before. Known as potkoli, they were set by goblin tribes at the edge of their camps to ward off evil spirits and to warn the tribe’s shaman of any approaching danger.
But this looked like it hadn’t been cared for in a long time. The leather thongs that held the skulls in place looked to have been chewed on by various animals, and the stake itself had sagged to the side. Judging from the weathered condition of the bones, the potkoli had to have been at least a year old, probably more. Typically a tribe would replace or repair them every few months, to make sure that the totems were as scary looking as possible.
‘So either the moved on, or something chased them away, ‘ Adela decided as she approached the staff. She reached out to test it with her blade, but froze as one of the leather bindings gave way and the top most skull tumbled to the ground. It bounced as it hit the ground, spining end over end before coming to a stop facing her, as if accusing Adela of causing its misfortune.
“Well, fuck you, too, buddy,” Adela muttered as she lowered her sword. She stepped over the warped door frame and into the darkness of the ruined hospital. Thin rays of sunlight managed to filter through cracks in the floor above, just barely providing enough illumination for her to explore by. Various obstacles kept her pace down to a slow crawl, as she often found herself forced to pick her way past piles of crumpled gurneys and other obstacles the goblins had created to defend their new home. She would also stop to occasionally clean some of the dirt from the wall, looking for the directions that had been painted at the corners of each intersection. Sometimes the directions were too faded to follow, but in some places they had survived the years well enough for her to decipher their meaning. The witch had been quite clear with her instructions: Adela had to find the Pharmacy, as that was where most of the medicines would have been kept.
“And of course it would be upstairs,” Adela sighed. The ranger glared at the red arrow pointing to a nearby stairwell, as if that would somehow cause the arrow to change its mind and point in a different direction. Going up in ruined structures was never a good idea, especially in ones that had already started to collapse. There was a good chance that her extra weight would cause the floor to give way, and then she’d be trapped and injured, far from where anyone would be around to rescue her. Easier to just slit her own throat at that point. Not that exploring the ground floor was necessarily much safer, but at least Adela could be confident that if the roof dropped in on her head that it wouldn’t be her fault.
Taking a deep breath, Adela began to climb the stairs, wary of any traps that the goblins might have left to protect it. The stairs double backed before coming out in the middle of a long hallway. Another red arrow pointed to the left, where not twenty feet away the floor had already given out and fallen to the ground below. There was just enough floor left that she could squeeze past the whole by walking with her back flat against the wall. She made it a point not to look down, instead keeping her eyes focused on the far wall until she was past.
Fortunately, the pharmacy wasn’t much farther. Adela’s nose wrinkled as she approached her destination, picking up the stale odor of old death. The door to the pharmacy had been ripped off of its hinges and lay to one side of the hallway, but there was no sign of blood or other indications of violence. Leading with her sword, she stepped into a room filled with corpses.
The bodies of a dozen goblins lay twisted in various positions on the pharmacy floor. They had been reduced almost entirely to skeletons, though the scavengershad left behind the occasional scrap of dessicated flesh and hair. Tiny amber bottles lay scattered around the bodies, some still clutched in small bony hands.
“Must have been one hell of a party,” Adela murmured as she studied one of the bottles. The paper label was faded and crinkled, too far gone to tell her what its contents had once been. She made a mental note to mention this scene to witch. Unless the old woman had some way to tell which pill was which, there was a good chance she could end up poisoning one of her patients the same way the goblins had been.
Adela hopped over a low counter and made her way through several rows of shelves, picking through the various bottles for ones that looked promising. She skipped the ones made of glass or that looked to hold liquids. It was going to be a fairly long trip back to Crivedale, and she needed to make sure that her cargo would survive the trip. She focused instead on plastic bottles holding pills. Where possible, she tried to get ones that still had a readable lable, but the majority were too far gone for that. After abount twenty minutes of searching, the satchel she had brought was reasonably full. She slung it over her shoulder, crossing the sheath of her sword to keep the lumpy bottles from slamming into her back as she moved. Then it was back the way she came.
Adela managed to make it back to the hospital’s lobby without incident, but there her luck ran out. She had already stowed her sword, having mistakenly decided that the ruins held no more danger for her, and was humming an old traveler’s song as she headed for the door. Her only warning was a blur of movement at the edge of her vision. One second she was ambling along and the next she was hammered to the floor by a powerful weight. Her attacker bounced to the left as Adela rolled to the right, but when she reached for her sword she discovered it was gone. Her hand closed over empty air where the hilt should have been.
Her eyes went wide as she spotted it several feet away ... in the hands of the goblin that had attacked her. The creature that had stolen her sword was almost a foot shorter than she was, with wiry muscles and dirty purple skin the color of bruised plums. Crooked teeth crowded its mouth, stretching thin lips, and its yellow eyes almost seemed to glow in the darkness. The goblin jabbed at her with her sword, growling, “Shikshik! Kas! Kas!”
“I ... I don’t know what that means,” Adela answered as calmly as possible. She swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. She took a tentative step towards the door. “I was just leaving-”
“Griv!” The goblin leapt forward, slashing at the space she was about to step into. Adela immediately stepped backwards, away from the cut, and held up her hands. The goblin turned so that he was between her and the door. He jabbed the sword at her again. “Kas!”
“Okay, okay!” Adela’s mind caught on to some of her earliest lessons when she had been training to become a ranger. They’d never covered the goblin language, there were far too many dialects for that according to her instructors, but there were a few common poses that seemed to be universal between the different tribes. She knelt down, both knees against the ground, and crossed her arms over her chest so that her palms were facing outwards. “Kas?”
“Kas,” the goblin grunted with approval. He pointed the sword at her, this time without the extra promise of violance. “Shikshik kas, va shikshik dos navik.”
Adela blinked in confusion. When she didn’t move, the goblin repeated, “Shikshik dos navik!”
Adela shook her head. “I don’t-”
“Navik kree!” the goblin shrieked. He took a step forward and before she realized what he was doing he slashed at her chest. It was a very skilled cut, and the fine edge of her sword cut easily through the thin cloth of her top. One of the straps parted, leaving the side of her breast partially exposed as gravity peeled the garment away from her skin. “Navik kree! Kree!”
Adela blanched as she realized the goblin wanted her to strip. Her hands trembled as she reached for the hem of her top and pulled it over her head. She held her arm out extended and let it go. The goblin watched it fall, grunted in satisfaction, then pointed the sword at her pants. “Kree!”
Adela felt numb as she nodded in acknowledgment and took off her pants, which required removing her boots as well. They all ended up in a pile with her ruined haltar, leaving her standing there completely naked. The goblin was leering at her with obvious delight, paying particular attention to her stiffening nipples, but his grip on her sword never seemed to waver. Instead he wiggled it up and down as he commanded, “Navik fo! Fo!”
Adela nodded again and started to resume her kneeling position. The goblin watched silently as she got back on her knees, but as soon as the ranger started to cross her arms over her chest he let out an angry bark. “Griv!”
Adela froze, remembering that to be the same command he had given the first time he lunged for her. The goblin smiled, and motioned for her place her arms behind her back instead, forcing her to arch her back and thrust out her breasts. He took a step closer and reached out with his free hand to grab one of her tits. Adela shivered as his calloused palm roughly squeezed her tender flesh, and odd mix of horror and pleasure mingling in the pit of her stomach. She looked down, afraid to meet his eyes, and gasped when she saw his cock jutting out from under his loincloth. It had to have been a good eight inches long and nearly as thick as her wrist, topped by a swollen red crown that was already starting to ooze precum.