Weaselbottom

Thomas was a drifter by nature. Travelling from town to town, he would never settle long. By profession Thomas sought out areas of conflict and ensured he would arrive conveniently late to help out whichever presiding Lord occupied the land. Once there he would search through the bodies and remains of the fallen. His aim was never to steal the possessions those who had died in search of Moonstones, oh no! He was a recycler, an expert in repurposing half drunk potions, used explosive powder and damaged weapons and armour. The fact that Thomas would then sell these items on for enough coin to get him to the next town was simply convenient for all. Few locals knew of Thomas, but that was not surprising. When communication usually happened as literal word of mouth, very few inter-town discussions occurred. This allowed Thomas to travel as he saw fit, and fence his wares without too much bother. Thomas was by nature, a fencer, a grifter, but most importantly, a salesman.

The most recent area of Thomas’ interest was the sleepy hamlet of Weaselbottom. A small area owned by a Lord who while wealthier than Thomas, was nothing but a pauper when compared to the likes of the houses of Fancyhat or Longshanks. Weaselbottom had very little in the form of agriculture. They had no farms, no grain, and no cattle. Within their square the only thing of interest was the tavern, the Seven Whistles, and that was hardly a well coveted site. Located north and east of Weaselbottom was dense forest nicknamed by the locals as the Wyldwoods, and in turn occupied by a large number of Faeries, and a small selection of Goblins. To most it would appear that Weaselbottom was situated in a bad location with little, if any, reason for visiting. Those people would be wrong.

South and west of Weaselbottom stretching on for as far as the eye could see, was an almost endless line of jagged rocks that marked the coastline of the region. At Weaselbottom however, there was little but soft white sandy beaches. This gave Weaselbottom an advantage over nearby towns and settlements, for anyone travelling by sea from the northern lands would need to dock at Weaselbottom for rest and supplies as the journey south would require a minimum of two weeks sailing before reaching another port, and not even the most crazy of captains would dream of docking within the Wyldwoods.

***

The sun had recently risen over Weaselbottom, and Thomas had found himself once again scurrying around the site of another clash between the Commonwealth and Dominion. Already Thomas had established a good idea of what had happened. How overnight a clutch of Moonstones had sprouted within the hamlet’s limits, the call from it’s inhabitants had roused it’s people from their beds, and with sore heads and puffy eyes, they had tried to grab what stones they could before dawn’s light. From tracks to the north-east, Thomas had established that the call had been heard by the Faerie-folk, and from the southern coast a small band of pirates, presumably goblins with a troll in tow, had also tried to stake their claim on the mystical rocks.

What had transpired was clear to Thomas, how the Dominion had worked together to overwhelm the Commonwealth defenders, but in time had split over differences and left with what little they could lay claim to. But what had remained was what interested Thomas the most. Just outside the centre of Weaselbottom, Thomas had found a site where it was obvious a great amount of fighting had occurred. Great muddy Troll-sized footprints could be seen, complete with a splattering of a foul smelling liquid. Thomas knew that further investigation was unnecessary, he knew exactly what it was, Troll blood. But it was the glinting material just further north of this site that interested Thomas the most.
Thomas hurried across to investigate his new discovery, and reaching down with a leather gloved hand, the scavenger picked up a small cloth coin purse. It was a dark brown in colour, with a thick golden-thread embroidery. Carefully teasing the purse open, Thomas was delighted to see a small collection of coins themselves. Clearly a Lord had fallen here, possibly by the hands of the injured Troll, and the Weaselbottom locals had missed his downed currency in their rescue attempt to retrieve his body. Thomas was both delighted and cautious, if a Lord had fallen here, the site would not remain empty for long, and his entire job relied on people not knowing where he collected his goods from. The coin however was a sizeable sum, and Thomas resides himself to the knowledge that it would get him to the next town, with enough spare to pay for a drink or two at the Seven Whistles.

***

The tavern itself was damp, that was the only way Thomas could describe it. Small paintings hung from the walls, thick wisps of tobacco smoke flittered in the air, and it appeared that almost all of Weaselbottom had come out for the night. But damp was the word he would prefer to use, as if the decades of ale poured from barrels had seeped into the very walls and floor, lingering within it’s premises like a stray phantom. Thomas didn’t recognise any of the patrons, he had spent less than a day in the hamlet and had yet to even procure a room for the night. He spied the usual people one would find in a place like this, the heavily drunk old man, with eyes that had seen horrors his tongue could not articulate, the buxom bar wench, wearing her frock as tight as possible to grab attention from all, the hard working but exhausted tradesmen, and of course, the young scrappy adolescent, determined to prove his worth, but lacking the intelligence or linguistics to actually perform.
It was the young adolescent who caught Thomas’ attention the most. A scrappy boy with a barrel chest, hulking arms and a seemingly small head. As the young man talked and laughed, the man smashed his fists down on the table, the metal tankards rattling against the warm wooden basing, as if providing punctuation to his words. It was not the appearance or volume of this man that Thomas was interested in, but rather the rough shaped cloth that had been placed squarely on the table. The young man had already declared it to be a Moonstone recovered from the morning before, but Thomas had never seen one before, as a scavenger in profession, Moonstones were not things that were left for long for fear that the rays of dawn would hit the stone forcing it to dissolve on the spot.

Throughout the night the young man continued his boasting, all the while paying for round after round of drink, after all with a stone in his possession it would only be a matter of time before he too rose to the ranks of Lord, and what would be a few rounds of ale at the Seven Whistles to a Lord? The behaviour continued, as did the drink, with every round the young man becoming more, and more relaxed in both tongue and posture. Before not too long, with the cloth wrapped stone still on the table, the young man fell into a stupor, his head falling with a wet thud against the slate flooring. Everyone within the Seven Whistles ran to the young man’s aid, the bar maid who nestled his head on her lap, the old Gnome matron who scurried from out back, a bowl of hot soup and a ladle in hand, even the grizzled veteran with only a single good eye offered his walking pole for support.

All except Thomas. Thomas had seized the opportunity presented to him. A door had been opened to the scavenger, and he had walked through it boldly. As everyone’s attention was focused on the poor bruised boy, amidst the commotion, Thomas had joined the congregation and quickly but quietly snatched the clothed stone before fleeing into the night air.

Thomas knew that he could not remain within Weaselbottom, in a matter of moments they would discover that the stone was missing, and he knew all to well that they would blame the outsider. For this reason and many more there was only way to venture, through the Wyldwood.

***

Thomas regretted his decision almost instantly. He had stolen a Moonstone from a hard working defender of Weaslebottom, and fled for the only place he knew the inhabitants of the hamlet wouldn’t dare follow, the Wyldwood. Thomas knew that it was risky, that the dangers he faced in the Wyldwood were almost certainly worse than a few disgruntled drunk strong arms, but he had no choice. Thomas knew he could not return the Moonstone, they were far too valuable, and to the right buyer it would mean he would never need to salvage or scavenge ever again. With a heavy heart and a lump in his throat, Thomas pushed further into the Wyldwood.
The Wyldwood was unlike anywhere Thomas had ever been before. For every one foot forward, the scavenger was required to brace his steps. Surrounding him on all sides, Thomas was almost smothered by the sheer volume of dense woodlands, where thick trucked trees sprouted, and barrelled skywards towards the open sky above, their branches by contrast were thin, and spiralled in all directions reminding Thomas less of vegetation, and more of a strange land based squid. The undergrowth was equally unusual, with a dense thistle-like mass that clung to him as if trying to pull him deeper into it’s own bushy mass. Despite this unusual flora, it was the mushrooms that perplexed Thomas the most. Sprouting from every surface that was not already covered by moss or other plants, the mushrooms had grown to an uncanny size, each one easily the size of a Giant’s hand. These mushrooms cast an unsettling glow on their surroundings, a ghost light which allowed the man to see clearly despite the time of night, and the shadows cast by the great foliage above.

Thomas did not know how long he had travelled. He knew he was heading north, but within the Wyldwood he had no sense of time. He could not see the stars, nor the moon, and the engorged mushrooms continued to cast the same eerie light, illuminating his progress regardless of how far he had journied. Thomas assumed it must have been a good few hours since leading the tavern at Weaselbottom when he heard a noise from behind him.

Spinning on the spot he searched for it’s origin. Within that moment Thomas’ fears raced through his mind, perhaps the tavern goers had caught up with him, pitchforks in hand, or maybe it was a troll with fetid breath and stone-like fists, or worse, the Faeries, horrid, viscous folk, all pointy claws, bright red eyes, and needle-point teeth. What greeted Thomas was something perhaps all the more surprising.

Stood before the man was a small creature. It’s skin a pale yellow-green, it’s nose a cold blue, it’s eyes glowing a vibrant yellow in the dark of the woodlands. It was no more than three feet high, and it was dressed in the most unusual of clothes, with an oversized dirt-covered shirt, and loose baggy trousers, it’s head strapped in a dark red skullcap, the straps pushing out the creature’s plump cheeks so they resembled a set of buttocks more than that of a face.

Thomas stared down at the small creature, and tilted his head in curiosity. In one hand it held what looked like a makeshift weapon, possibly a blunderbuss, but the weapon was being used more as a walking stick, the creature resting it’s weight across the weapon’s shaft. The creature stared up at him, and as if looking within a mirror, tilted it’s head in the same manner as Thomas had only moments before.
“What are you?” Thomas asked, more to himself than the creature.

“Wat arre yoo?” The creature replied, it’s voice high pitched, almost shrill to Thomas’ ears.

Thomas was surprised, and bewildered. He had heard stories of the creatures of the Wyldwood, how they ate humans as a food source, and lived as savages, but here, before him was one, a goblin he could only presume, that not only attempted to dress like a man, but imitate him in conversation. Thomas placed an open palm on his chest, breathing deeply he slowly spoke.

“Thomas, friend”. Thomas didn’t know if he was friend to this creature, but he hoped it would keep it’s blunderbuss being used as a walking pole and not a weapon.

The goblin continued to look at Thomas from it’s cocked head angle, but opening it’s mouth slightly it smiled revealing a row of small but pointed teeth, complete with a tongue a deep dark blue. With an almost glint in it’s eye it responded.

“Redcap!”

Thomas noted that the creature didn’t follow it’s declaration with the word ‘friend’. Thomas knelt down before the goblin, his head inline with the creature’s.

“Redcap?” Thomas asked inquisitively “is that your name?”

The goblin nodded frantically, it’s deep blue tongue lolling by the side of it’s mouth.

“Redcap! Name!” It reached towards Thomas’ chest and placed an open palm on him, it’s fingers long and slender, with jagged unkept finger nails tipping each one. “Tomass!” The goblin continued before putting the same hand back on it’s own chest “Redcap!”. Thomas seemed delighted. All of the stories he had heard of the foul creatures that dwelled within the Wyldwood, and here he was talking to one who was no more feral than the drunks at the bar.

Redcap grabbed hold of Thomas’ sleeve and tugged it in the opposite direction of where Thomas had been previously been travelling. “Tomass! Come! Follow Redcap! Take to Beaky! Beaky help!” Thomas looked down at the diminutive goblin, pulling fruitlessly at his shirt sleeve.

“Ok Redcap, lead the way!” The words flowed from Thomas with a surprising confidence. The scavenger had never been one to trust people, always expecting them to double cross him, but he was riding an almost euphoric high. In his shirt pocket, wrapped in a thick cloth, he held a Moonstone, and a large one by the weight of it, and before him was a guide, a friendly little goblin who appeared more than happy to take him back to it’s village, or town or cave, or wherever it was that goblins lived, and no doubt at first light Thomas would be shown the way out of the Wyldwood far away from Weaslebottom.

The two travelled through the Wyldwoods faster than Thomas had expected, Redcap almost leaping and vaulting over heavy established roots that jutted out of the floor bed like spear traps. Thomas however was not as agile as the goblin, instead his movement involved being tugged and dragged around the vegetation, it’s hard wooden features rubbing and scratching his sensitive skin. Thomas did catch himself wondering about how the tiny creature was suddenly able to pull and drag him, a man almost twice it’s height, through the woodlands, but he was making good time, so with a dry throat and a nagging pang at the back of his mind, Thomas ignored it.

Thomas didn’t know what to expect from where the Goblin was taking him, but what he finally saw took him heavily by surprise. Deep within the Wyldwoods, the two had happened upon a small clearing. Nestled within were row upon row of large wooden barrels, the sort he had seen being used countless times to hold ale. Near the barrels stood another goblin, this one a good foot taller, wrapped in tattered robes, a long tattered hood, and from behind the hood, a small leather mask poked out. The mask itself looked almost grotesque, a malformed nose that resembled a bird like beak. The masked goblin turned to face him fully, glowing yellow eyes shining from behind the matted leather face-covering.

“Beaky!” Shouted Redcap in it’s shrill voice “Looky wat I bring yoo!”

Thomas could only assume that the masked creature was the one Redcap called Beaky, a reference no doubt to the mask worn. Thomas observed as the creature grunted something back at Redcap, the words a snarling mesh of snorts and snaps that he could only assume was the goblin language. Beaky held it’s robes tightly around itself as it quickly shuffled across the clearing to a ramshackle style table covered in beakers, tubes, and all manner of strange and unrecognisable utensils. With a gnarled hand, Beaky reached out for just one utensil, it appeared to be a strange thin tube at one end, with an engorged balloon on the other. Thomas was almost ashamed to admit that he did not know it’s purpose, but he could imagine, and a deep dread began to permeate it’s way into his mind once again.

***

The goblin called Beaky stepped gingerly around it’s crudely constructed table before stopping behind the far side on which a malformed beaker sat as a container for a strange luminous green liquid. Somehow the fluid bubbled and boiled despite a total lack of applied heat. Beaky stood over the beaker, in the goblin’s hand the strange device was still being clutched. It squeezed gently on the ballon end and dipped the tube into the fluid before releasing the balloon. A small amount of fluid rose up inside the tube and filled the balloon. Beaky observed all of this from behind his mask, his yellow eyes smiling with acknowledgement.

Once Beaky was happy with the device being filled, the goblin shuffled towards Thomas, and with long fingers gestured towards the open skyline from which the glow of a thousand stars lit their presence within the Wyldwood clearing. Thomas glanced skyward, and for a moment he was overcome with the sight of beauty. Never before in his life had the scavenger ever seen a night so clear, were the stars and moons seemed notably closer than ever before. With a glad smile he thanked Beaky for the opportunity to share their time. Beaky responded with a quick nod before holding the liquid filled device up to Thomas’ face and violently squeezing the balloon.
The bright green liquid that the device held splashed across Thomas’ face. It seeped into his eyes, and forced it’s way up into his nostrils. For a brief moment Thomas was confused, he didn’t understand what had happened, so far these goblins had been nothing but kind to him, and now they were squirting who knows what into his face. It was shortly after that the liquid began to react. Thomas couldn’t describe the sensation, his face felt numb, he couldn’t move his eyes, and his tongue felt about two times too large for his mouth. With a heavy thump Thomas collapsed onto the floor, his skin beginning to bubble and blister. Thomas tried to scream out in pain but his throat would not respond. With an agony that grew with every moment, the goblin known as Beaky knelt down towards Thomas’ face and gently pulled off it’s tattered leather mask.

From behind the mask a truly horrific face leered out at Thomas. It was haggard with age, it’s nose distended to the same length as the mask’s terrible beak-like shape. The creature’s face was covered in open sores and blisters and as it opened it’s mouth a foul smell erupted from within as if the creature’s diet consisted of rotten fish seasoned with sulphur. It leaned towards Thomas, placing a hand gently against the top of the man’s hair, it’s fingers running jagged across his scalp. When it’s hideous face was no more than an inch or two away from his ear the creature spluttered words in it’s croaky inhuman voice.

“Take… Your… Medicine…”

With filthy fingers, the goblin rifled through Thomas’ shirt pockets before withdrawing, a wrap of cloth in it’s claws. Ever so carefully it unwrapped the cloth revealing a rock the size of the goblin’s fist. It was dark, it’s surface the colour of the night sky, but from it’s core emanated an illumination of bright white-blue light that lit up the goblin’s face in all of it’s cackling glory. The goblin held the stone high above it’s head, a throaty laugh roaring across the Wyldwood clearing that rode across the southern winds, back all the way to Weaselbottom, to the drunk veteran now unconscious outside the tavern, to the buxom bar wench who lay awake in her bed, the strong armed young man asleep next to her, and even the gnome matron, who stood in front of her cooking pot stirring all manner of delights in preparation for the morning’s breakfast.

The gnome shook her head slowly. She had heard that sound before, and she knew what would soon come to the hamlet of Weaslebottom as a result. She pursed her old lips and tutted to herself, “Goblins…”

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