Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Girl with a Bird for a Heart - Chapter 1

The girl with a bird for a heart walked alone on the road to Kudra Kai. She had been travelling a long time. The bottoms of her bare feet had blackened and calloused by days of roaming. They were as hard as the ground she tread upon. Her gray-brown clothes hung torn and ragged from her bony frame. Her skin was as tan and tough as the walking stick she carried. She was young, but her face had been wind-beaten and her hair a knotted mess.
A cart drawn by two paksi approached her on the left. She did not turn to look at it. A boy her age was driving. The bed of the cart was filled with barrels. The sweet smell of wine wafted from them.
“Ho there!” shouted the boy. “You there! Hop in! I’m headed the same way! I can take you if you like!”
She did not turn.
“Do you not hear me?” said the boy as he passed by her. He yanked on the reins that steered the paksi and the enormous birds halted beside the girl. They were beautiful specimens with black feathers and crowns of white and blue. Each stood half a head taller than the girl beside them. Paksi were common beasts of burden in this part of Vatrus. Horses and other such creatures had been long thought extinct.
“I’m trying to offer you a ride, you filthy hen!” the boy said to the girl, frustrated at her silence. He glanced down at her from his cart. Through her torn blouse he caught sight of something on her chest. It looked like a semi-spherical box of black metal. “What’s that you have there?” he asked.
She said nothing.
The boy gave up and urged his paksi to move on and put distance between him and this uncivil mute girl. He was busy making an important delivery and had no cause to be wasting time helping some unappreciative outcast. He took one more peek at the object under her blouse and realized it was not exactly a box, but rather a small metal cage.
His heart sank and he made a sign with his hand to his heart. It was a gesture his grandmother had taught him to ward off curses.
“I beg your pardon miss. I see now what ails you.” said the boy. “You seek the Muck Witch, do you not?”
The girl did not even look up.
“Well,” the boy continued, “I know the rules. You cannot accept any help. I understand. Just so you know, you are on the right path. I’ll be leaving now, wanderer. I wish you good luck on your journey. It is almost over I hope.” He smiled nervously and urged his birds to move on quickly.
Before long he was a speck in the distance.

The girl continued with no aid besides her stick.

The Diary of Wartha Gormley - Day One. The First Hunt.

 Dear Diary,
 My name is Wartha and I live in the tunnels. It ain’t bad, I guess. I mean, if you like eating fungus and grubs then you would love our burrows. It’s actually pretty cozy down here. The luminescent lichen adds a warm, homey glow to everything we see and my brother and I have plenty of free time to play between school and chores. Yeah, goblins go to school. I bet you didn’t know that. There’s a lot you don’t know about us. We learn all kinds of things in school, like which type of fungus will kill you or how to ride a cave spider. I’m one of the best spider-mounts in my class. My brother, Gurk rides about as well as a blind mole-rat. He falls off a lot and gets tangled in the webs all the time. To his credit, though, he’s turning out to be a pretty good cook. I mix up poison mushrooms with safe ones all the time.
So you better not let me make the soup.

 Life here in the tunnels is pretty sweet, except for one thing. IT’S BORING AS SNOT!
Sure, once in awhile some fool adventurers will come tramping through our burrows looking for gold. Most of the time they ignore us because we’re a peaceful tribe and they know that the real treasures are deep in The Downlow. Occasionally, though some self-righteous knight or even a band of explorers looking to prove themselves will raid our settlement in search of what little we have.

 But my Pa and his brothers are always ready for them. Pa is head trapmaker and he has more skulls in his collection than any goblin I know. You may think it’s wrong that we keep trophies of the Updwellers who invade our homes. But it helps as a warning to some of them and keeps them from bothering us TOO much. Besides, what would you do?  They do the same to us, I bet.

 Anyway. Today is the first day I’ve been excited for in forever. Ma is taking me on my first real hunt! I can’t wait to saddle up my spider, Drucilla. This is going to be absolutely immense! I’ve been practicing my archery every day for a year now. I can’t wait to bag my first rotworm or maybe even a cavern boar. Sure, those are rare, and tough to kill, but I’m the best shot in the burrow. Best shot among the young goblins anyway. Ma is the best hunter of all. That’s why I know I’m going to be great. Maybe one day they’ll write a song about me and Ma. Maybe we’ll be the first to ever kill a mondohusk or perhaps the Dark Hob himself, old Gashwhisker will declare us the fiercest goblins of all time! That would be a saga for sure.

 I have to run to breakfast now. I hope Gurk makes korbi eggs. I know we have some left. I’m so sick of rotworm stew every morning.


 Hi diary. I’m back. Finished breakfast and the males are cleaning up. I’m mounted on Drucilla and getting ready to ride into the Shadow Rift with Ma. It’s a pretty lush hunting ground. I’m sure we’ll find a boar or at least some dire pikas. Ma doesn’t like me always having my face in a book so I have to tuck this diary away once she’s done checking her supplies and saddling up. Don’t worry. I’ll give you a full report as soon as I can!


 Ok. I can only write real quick while Ma scouts ahead. She smelled one! A cavern boar! Oh man, we are going to feast tonight! I can’t wait till Twylla sees us riding into the burrow with that beast strapped to Drucilla’s back. She thinks she’s so great because her Ma is second cousin to Gashwhisker. Twylla can barely even ride! I’ll show her. Ok. Back into my pack with you, diary. Can’t let Ma see.


 I messed up, diary. I messed up bad. Ma is really furious with me. I only looked away for a second and somehow that exact moment the boar came bursting out of his den.
I should have paid better attention but I was too busy daydreaming or whatever. By the time I took a shot he had dashed into a dark tunnel. Ma took chase and told me to stay put. I know she’ll catch that boar. She’s the best in all the tunnels. But she’ll do it without me now. I lost Ma’s respect. Gurk and Pa were really excited for me hunting today. They believed in me something fierce. I was so sure I wouldn’t let everyone down. And now Twylla will see me come home empty handed. She’ll lift her perfect green nose up in the air and say “I told you so!”.

 How could I let this happen?


 Diary. Guess what? I heard something. I’m going to check it out. Ma has been gone a while, but from one of the side tunnels I heard a noise. It sounded like snoring. It must be something big. Oh wow. If I bag a cave bear or a shadewolf...well, that’s way better than a cavern boar. Ma will be proud of me again and everyone will know that I, Wartha Gormley am the very BEST hunter.

 All right, diary. Back in the pack. I’ll report again when I am triumphant.


 I did it! You won’t believe this. I killed the shadewolf! Not the biggest one I’ve ever seen, but he was a nasty cuss. Let me tell you how I did it!

 I had to dismount Drucilla and sneak into his den on foot. Lucky for me I’m about as silent as they come. I nocked an arrow and held my bow in front of me as I investigated the darkness. Another thing you may not know about goblins is that we have amazing night vision. Well, I’m not sure if night vision is the word for it since it’s dark here in the daytime too. But we can see better than any dumb Updweller. They always stomp around our caverns in their heavy boots with torches ablaze. We only use fire for warmth or cooking. That’s why we can see them coming- if we don’t smell them coming first.

 Anyway, I kept my bow before me so that as soon as I saw my prey- snap! And that’s exactly what I did. The wolf took it in the shoulder and pounced on my faster than I could nock another arrow. Next thing I knew I was on the cave floor with his hot breath on my face.
 I managed to tuck my legs up under his belly and kicked the beast away before he could  bite my face off. He didn’t stay away though. The shadewolf lunged at me again, but this time I was ready. Bam! The second arrow landed square in his chest.

 Would you believe he kept coming? All fur and claws and teeth everywhere. He had me pinned against a rock and his claws were digging into my left shoulder. It hurt awful, but I wasn’t going to let him do me in. I managed to wrap my left hand around his throat enough to keep his jaws from cracking open my skull, but he had dreadful strength and I my grip weakened. His hind quarters were on top of my legs this time, but my right arm broke free. I reached for the knife strapped to my belt. He dug deeper into my shoulder so that his throat could slip free. I admit I yelped a little, but I got the knife in hand. I felt  grievous pain, diary. I let go of his throat and he dropped down on top of me like a bag of skulls. My knife went straight into his black heart. He howled a howl like I ain’t never heard. Then he dropped dead over my body. It took a while to push his carcass off.

 First I cleaned up my wounds. Mostly just scratches and one big gash in my shoulder. Lucky for me Ma made sure I packed some bandages. She’s always prepared for anything.

 Then I set to work on the wolf. I couldn’t carry his whole body, but I cut up his haunches with my knife and took the head. It would make a heck of a trophy. Maybe I’ll give it to Ma as a gift.

 Speaking of Ma, where is she? She’s been gone an awful while and I ain’t heard her coming back yet. I better head back out to the main tunnel.


  Diary, it’s getting late and I’m in some trouble. I must have got turned around in them tunnels. Stupid wolf. He had more than one exit I reckon. Ma is going to right mad at me when I finally figure out how to get home from here. Wolf head or no, I am going to face a punishment for sure.


 Diary. It’s me again. I’m really lost. And I’m really hungry. I think I ought to find a place to hunker down. Build a fire. At least I got plenty to eat. I’ll rest up and get home in the morning. Maybe Ma won’t kill me.


 Diary. I am so far from home. I must have gone in the total opposite direction. So I turned around, but then I was sure I’d gone to far and turned around again. These darn tunnels are starting to look the same. I still got enough wolf to hold me over for a few days, but this is scary. I ain’t never been alone in the tunnels this long before.


 Dear Diary. I saw something. Something I only read about.

 There was a light at the end of a tunnel. I thought maybe it was a cook fire at best, or at worst some fool adventurers with one of their magic swords looking to get themselves killed. Wrong on both counts. I sneaked up close to it. As I got there I heard the sound of running water.

 The bright light shined steady, not flickery like a fire and not the pleasant green of a nice glowing lichen. Sunlight.

 I know I should be scared because that’s the light of the big torch that the Updwellers use to heat the whole world, but I ventured forth. I guess I’m just real brave. Anyway, I got close to the opening the light was coming from. The light was so bright I couldn’t see for a while. It was like sticking your whole face in a fire except it didn’t burn.

 The water noise grew louder too. After a while my eyes adjusted to the light. I thought I’d see a cavern with maybe a crack leading up to the UpworId, but no. It was the whole world. The crack let out into a rock wall over a whole I don’t have a word for it.  I looked out from a cliff into the biggest cave ever, except the cave didn’t have any walls or ceiling. As far as I could see were new shapes and colors. Everything was It was a different green from the lichen, though. A dark, rich green, almost like the color of goblin skin. The sound of rushing water came from a waterfall over the side of the cliff.  It fell off a ways to my left, but a gargantuan amount of clear blue water cascaded into a river below.

 I’m looking at it all now as I write. The whole view before me spreads out with clumps of green and brown. There are giant dark-colored sticks covered in little thin slips the color of emeralds. That’s what most of the world above seems to be. I remember reading about them in a book that an Updweller lost in the caverns. Trees. That’s what the sticks are called. I never thought I’d actually see one.

 I have no idea where I am or how to get home, Diary.


 Dear Diary,

 I’ve been thinking it over and I know what I’m going to do. Go forward. I know you think I’m crazy, but this could be my destiny. I, Wartha Gormley, will be the first goblin ever to explore the Upworld. I will make careful notes of what I see. What dangers I encounter. What friends I make (if any). I have read that the giant torch in the sky isn’t always watching. When it goes to sleep I will make my move. I’ll climb down into the...trees. I will find my way around the Upworld.

 Someday I will return to the burrows and tell everyone of my travels.

 Wish me luck, Diary.