JiG hated muck duty.
He didn’t mind the actual work. he liked the metallic smell of the distillation room, where week-old blood and toadstool residue dried in their trays. He never complained about having to scrape the pans as clean as possible and mix the residue with boiled fat, spiderwebs, and a dark green broth that smelled of rotting plants. He liked the way it all went from a lumpy soup to a smooth, gelatinous slime as he forced his stirring stick around and around in the giant bowl.
Walking around with the muck pot hanging awkwardly from his shoulder as he doled out gobs of the slow-burning stuff wasn’t so bad either. true, if he got careless, it would be easy to splatter a bit of muck onto his skin. Even when it wasn’t lit, the mixture could raise blisters in a matter of seconds. When burning, the yellow and green flames were almost impossible to extinguish, which was why they used muck to light the lair. But Jig was careful, and unlike most muck workers, he had survived for several years with all his fingers intact.
Jig would have been perfectly happy if he weren’t the only goblin his age who still got stuck with muck duty. it was a job for children. Goblins Jig’s age were supposed to be warriors, but the few times Jig had gone on patrol had only sealed his reputation as the clumsy runt of his generation. He adjusted the thin handle on his shoulder. the goblin lair held forty-six fire bowls. each one was little more than a hole in the dark red obsidian of the walls, with a palm-size depression at the bottom to hold two days’ worth of muck. Jig squinted at the fourth fire bowl, the last in the corridor that led out of the distillation room and into the main cavern.
To Jig the flame was nothing but a blur. he could bring the fire into better focus by squinting, but that required him to put his face closer to the fire than he liked. the triangle of flame flickered as his breath touched it. the bowl was nearly empty. Whoever made the rounds yesterday had been lazy, and Jig would have to relight many of the bowls before he was done.
“Lazy children,” he muttered angrily. he dipped a metal spatula into the muck pot and carefully scooped out a large blob.this he scraped into the dying fire bowl, where the flame whooshed and grew as it touched new fuel. he scraped as much muck from the spatula as he could, then extinguished it in the sack of sand on his belt. it wouldn’t do to return a still-burning spatula to his pot.
He passed into the main cavern, a roughly circular, high-ceilinged cave of hard obsidian. the walls felt greasy to the touch, the polish of the rock hidden beneath years of grime. While the muck fires gave off very little smoke, several centuries of “very little” had led to a blackened, soot-covered ceiling. the sweaty odor of five hundred goblins mixed with the powerful scent of Golaka’s cooking. Jig’s mouth began to water as he smelled a batch of pickled toadstools boiling in Golaka’s great cauldron.
Jig kept close to the wall as he worked.the faster he could finish his duties, the sooner he could eat.
But the other goblins weren’t going to make things easy. Five or six large goblins stood bunched around the closest fire bowl, watching him. Jig’s pointed ears twitched. He was too nearsighted to make out who was waiting there, but he could hear their amused whispers. Porak and his friends. this was going to hurt.
he thought about starting with the other side of the cavern. If he worked his way around to Porak’s spot, which would take at least an hour, maybe they would get bored and go away.
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