The cart rattled along the dirt road to the crematorium, jostling Simon and Seoc amongst the corpses each time the wheels hit a bump. Seoc squinted upwards at the late afternoon sky, realizing that this was the first time he had felt the warmth of the sun in three long years. The stench of death was overpowering, but every once in a while he was able to catch a whiff of fresh air as it played over his face, and this was enough to start hope pulsing through his veins, hope that he had not dared to allow himself since the start of his imprisonment. He had not believed that he would ever see sunlight again; now here it was, so gently burning his light-deprived skin.
Soon, however, the blue sky was blotted out by the smoke of burning flesh, and he was quickly reminded of the riskiness of this endeavor. How did he know he could trust their strange savior? Perhaps she intended to trick them and have them burned alive.
But what did the merrow woman stand to gain from such an enterprise? He could think of no reason, unless she was acting under orders. And anyway, they were both close to death as it was. She would have been doing them a favor by putting them out of their misery. Seoc relaxed, content to go along with whatever sort of adventure this turned out to be. There was no point in worrying, no point at all.
The corpse-cart came to a halt in front of the crematorium. "Out," the merrow woman hissed at them. "Carefully, before anyone sees."
They climbed quickly out of the cart and ducked beneath it, hiding from the view of the guards patrolling the prison gates. Their rescuer pushed it further another pace, so that its end was partially inside the structure, and tipped it so that the actual corpses slid out and emptied into the pit below to be engulfed in flames. Thick clouds of foul-smelling smoke billowed out through the opening and swallowed the merrow woman and the two young human men. It concealed them for long enough that the merrow was able to seize them both by the wrists and dart with them to the far side of the crematorium tower.
"When I give the word," the merrow instructed them, 'her' voice dropping half an octave, "Make for the trees as fast as your emaciated little legs will carry you, understand? But if you would be so kind as to wait a moment..."
Off came the ragged dress, off came the wig, and off came the layer of wrinkled pseudo-skin, which peeled off in one piece, becoming a mask and a pair of gloves, and there before them stood a slender, young male of the same species.
"What?" he demanded as they stared at him. "There was no way in hell I was going to run in THAT get-up!"