Day One. The First Hunt.
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. It was so bright I couldn’t see for a while, like sticking my 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 open...place. 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 so...green. 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.
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.
Day 2. The Upworld
It’s true what they say about the sky torch or rather, the Sun. That’s what it’s called. It slowly sunk behind the trees and now the world is dark. Not as dark as I’m used to, but at least I can see. As it fell behind the trees the colossal dome that covers the Upworld changed colors. It went from blue to purple. Then it got redder and redder. I worried the trees were going to catch fire, but somehow they didn’t. I guess the Sun is further away than it looks. That will be my goal, I suppose. I’ll hunt down the Sun. It’s hot enough to set the world on fire, I reckon, but as long as I don’t get too close I should be able to bring it down with some well placed arrows. Heck, the dang thing ain’t even got claws. I bet that shadewolf was tougher than some stupid old sky torch.
Speaking of the wolf. I’m almost out of meat. I took what I could of the pelt, but it ain’t like I got the means of curing it. The head was going to be my trophy, but I don’t want to carry that thing around. So what I did was pop the teeth out and made them into a necklace. The black teeth of a shadewolf are supposed to be good luck for hunters.
So, I managed the climb down the face of the cliff without too much trouble. Now, here I am setting actual foot down on Upworld territory. I don’t see any Updwellers about. I hear tell that they mostly operate when the Sun comes up. Their eyes ain’t natural, see. They need a world flooded in light just so they don’t stumble around blind as a mole. If any do come around I suspect I’ll be able to see and hear them before they get anywhere near me. Between the torches and the big stomping boots they wear Updwellers are hard to miss.
I’m a dang good climber, but I sure wish I had Drucilla with me. Not just because she makes getting around easier, but also when it comes time to sleep, her big fuzzy hide is as comfy as it gets.
The floor of the Upworld feels mighty strange, by the way. It’s kind of soft, like walking on top of a giant mushroom. I’m used to the hard rock floor of the caverns. Why do Updwellers wear those big honking boots if the ground is so soft? Maybe they have weak feet.
Small plants cover the world. They tickle my feet as I strut around in my new home. Most are green but some of them have bright colored bits popping out here and there. A lot of them have a real sweet smell, too. I kind of like the look of them. Can’t put my finger on why. It’s like when you see your first skull bashed in or hold an axe in your hand for the first time, except different. I just get a good feeling in my heart looking at these colorful plant bits. I don’t think there’s a word for the way they look or how it makes you feel. Not in Goblin tongue, anyways.
When the light from the Sun faded away a bunch more lights came into being. They’re amazing to look at. Countless little pinpricks glowing through the dome above. So many that you could never count them all. And in the middle of it all is a tooth...or maybe a claw. It’s just floating there in the sky. Maybe that’s the Sun’s tooth. I better be careful when I try to kill it. A tooth or a claw that size could probably cut me in half.
Looking at those little lights gives me a feeling sort of like the colorful plants. Like I could just gaze and gaze forever. I get lost in it. It’s so magnificent. Maybe Updwellers have a word for what I’m feeling. Then again, they probably don’t. They get to see this stuff all the time. They probably don’t even notice it.
Anyway, I can’t spend all night looking at wonders. I need to figure out what I’ll be filling my belly with.
I’m not as good at trapmaking as Pa is, but I caught me a critter. It looks like a dire pika except a lot smaller. It’s got two funny long ears to boot. Not much meat on this thing. I guess I’ll have to catch a lot of them.
I don’t want to attract attention so I probably shouldn’t start a cook fire. I think I’ll have to eat this thing raw. Goblins have tough stomachs. We can eat stuff that would make an Updweller’s stomach come out his nose. There’s some mushrooms in the cave too. I kind of wish Gurk was here to help me figure out which ones I can eat.
I took a chance and ate the fungus. Guess what? I’m still alive! The critter tasted ok too, but I really miss the flavor of roasted meat. I can’t wait to catch the Sun. I wonder what its meat tastes like. Do you have to cook Sun meat? Or is it already cooked since it’s always on fire. I hope it isn’t too burned up to eat.
I reckon there must be more than one Sun. It gets loose every day and runs around the sky-dome. Then maybe someone catches it or it just fizzles out. If there was only one Sun someone would have hunted it down by now for certain.
In the old books I remember it saying that the Sun always comes up on one side of the world and goes down on the other. So I’ll trek over to the side where it comes out. If I’m quick I should be there before it wakes up.
I’m heading off now. I’ll check back in later, Diary.
I found my first Updweller settlement. I have been travelling quietly but swiftly through the trees of the Upworld. I came to a clearing. It’s an odd sensation not having a ceiling over my head, but I’m getting used to it. Those pinholes in the sky and that giant tooth thing shed a lot of light. I don’t need it to see, of course, but it sure is pretty. Everything has a silvery glow cast upon it. I wish Ma could see this. I am trying not to think of the folks back home too much. Ma, Pa, Gurk...even Drucilla must all be worried sick about me. But this is more important than that. I am an explorer now. I guess, I’m an adventurer just like the Updwellers are. I hope they don’t have traps set for me.
The settlement seems pretty small, just two structures. Up here they build caves out of the trees. Sounds like a waste of time to me when caves already exist aplenty and stone is way stronger than wood, but maybe they have their reasons. I guess Updwellers wouldn’t survive too long since their eyes are so terrible. Probably because of that Sun. It must burn their eyes so much that they can’t even see when they come down to the darkness. Maybe they’ll call me a hero when I finally slay it for them. Unless there really is more than one Sun. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
The two artificial caves are separate from each other by about thirty bow-lengths. I measure everything by my bow. It’s almost as tall as me and made of Norsu tusk. Pa carved it himself.
Anyway, I got as close I dared to them. A low fence surrounds most of the clearing where the structures stand. Large, slow-moving critters ramble about and make low noises. They must be foodstock for the updwellers. I reckon the fence keeps them in because it sure wouldn’t keep anything else out. I got half a mind to slice one up and cart the meat off. I’m mighty curious what Updweller food tastes like, but I don’t want to attract any attention right now. It’s probably best if I stick to the outer perimeter of the settlement. Once I kill the Sun for them I can probably have all the food I want from the Updwellers. They might even make me their queen.
I admit I’m curious to see inside their caves, but I’m being cautious for now. My shoulder is still sore from that tussle with the shadewolf and I ain’t really looking for trouble. I best keep on toward the Sun and get ready to take that thing by surprise.
I’ve been travelling a long ways and I still haven’t seen anywhere near the edge of the world. I reckon that’s how the Sun gets up every morning. It pops up over the edge, right? What if I’m wrong about that? What if it lives in a hole or a cave and just burroughs its way underground in the night time. That can’t be it, though. I would have heard tell about it if that were the case. Goblins see everything that happens in the caverns.
It must go over the edge and come back up the other side. That’s the only way that makes sense. I just ain’t travelled far enough yet. I’ll get there. No hurry.
I caught a few more of those long-eared varmints. They’re quick, but tend to stand still real long if they think you might see them. Stupid beasties. Must be used to the blind eyes of the Updwellers. Didn’t count on me. So at least my belly is full. I took a chance and built a small fire this time. I got to admit they taste better cooked. Too bad I’m all out of mushrooms, but it doesn’t look like I’ll go hungry up here.
You won’t believe this, but the Sun is coming up. It still looks awful far away. No way I can hit it from here even if I am the best shot around. Looks like I’m going to have to find a place to get some shuteye. I’ll set out again when it’s proper dark out. That dang Sun must have gone all the way around the whole world while I was walking over just a small portion of it. It don’t look like it’s moving that fast, though. Must be some sort of magic involved. I’ll have to use my lucky arrows on it. I keep two in the quiver. They sport flights made of Nightraptor feathers. If they can’t take the Sun down, nothing can.
I wonder what it’s like on the underbelly of the world when the Sun makes its go-around. It gets bright there when it’s dark here, obviously, but what does the land look like? Is it all weird and green like this place? Or is it nice and cozy with lots of rocks and stalagmites to hide behind? Well, after I conquer this world maybe I’ll head over to the flipside. That would be a true epic journey I bet. For now I just need to keep oriented, though.
I’m going to make a temporary camp underneath some of those stumpy, low-to-the-ground trees. That should be safe enough for now.
Sleep tight, Diary. I’ll be back soon enough.
Sorry that I haven’t written in so long. Much has happened. I’ve travelled for days and days and that stupid ball of fire in the sky stays the same size. There is only one explanation. It must be getting farther away as I move toward it. It’s hard to tell how big the sky is or where the exact edge of it lies. But the Sun can only fly so far before it is pushed up against that enormous dome. It may take me several days more, but I will reach the edge of the world and I will put an arrow through that thing.
I noticed that a lot of the Updwellers ain’t hunters at all. I spied a few. Just before the Sun shows up they appear in the woods. I bet they think they’re being silent, but Updwellers are big and clumsy. Them fellows make more noise than a rutting cavern boar.
Most of the big folk grow food in pens around their wooden caves. Some of them have plants of all kinds and some keep animals for slaughter like those big hunks of meat on legs I mentioned before. I saw some critters that looked like short-haired boars. They were the color of rotworm larva. The pen they were being kept in sat about two hundred bow-lengths away from the dwellings. Those pink critters were just rolling around in the mud. Now, I ain’t no thief, but I had a hankering for something other than long-ear meat. I waited until the lights in the Updweller cave went out and crept up to those defenseless things. I reckoned a well placed arrow would take one down right quick. After a deep breath I nocked, aimed, and let fly. The beast dropped.
The others didn’t even snort. That was a might shocking. You’d think they’d be scared but it was almost like they were used to it. I pulled the dead critter out of the enclosure and dragged it toward the trees to carve it up. The thing spread out on its back when I pulled my knife. Just as I went to skin it the fat little animal kicked me right in the chest. Darn did that hurt! I think a rib bone got cracked. The varmint was still moving. I jumped on his belly to hold those hind legs still and brought my knife down swift on his chest. Hot blood flew out of the beastie and it squealed high and loud. Then it stopped moving. I could finally get to butchering it.
A noise coming from the Updweller’s cave interrupted me. I looked up and saw a lantern had been lit. The folk who owned the pen coming to investigate the noise no doubt. I sheathed my knife and dragged the critter way off into the darkness where no Updweller would follow me. Boy was I wrong. The Updwellers sure do love to get animals to do unnatural things. Penning critters up for food is one thing, but what happened next...
I made it nearly a thousand bow-lengths into the trees when I heard them. It was like a pack of tiny shadewolves tearing through the woods. Snarling and gnashing their teeth, the things raced straight at me. They had little chains hanging from their necks that rattled as they ran. They were the Updweller’s beasts I reckoned and they were trained to catch thieves like me.
I would have paid for the beastie, I swear. Once I finished butchering and filling my pack with meat I would leave some feathers and a sparklestone. I think that’s a fair trade, right? But there was no reasoning with those wolves. They looked dead set on doing me in.
I scampered up the nearest tree and the pack stood still at the bottom, barking and growling at me. The critter I killed lay right beside them. They sniffed it once and paid it no mind. Fresh meat free for the taking and those things didn’t care. All they wanted was me.
I managed to leap to another tree and then another, but those things followed me. They were keeping an eye on me while they waited for the master to come.
I never got a real good look at him, the Updweller. The branches blocked my sight from his face, but I could tell he was huge. Almost the size of a cave bear. He knelt down by the slaughtered critter and inspected it. He set a metal tube he’d been holding onto the ground. About half a bow long, it looked like a weapon of some sort, but I’d never seen anything like it.
“Pig thief.” he said to himself.
A pig. That must be what the Updwellers call those critters. But I ain’t no thief. I’m a hunter.
“Lead me to, him, boys.” the Updweller said and his wolves ran to the tree where I hid.
Day of Rest
Diary, It is getting harder and harder to keep you up to date on all my happenings. I am so lost right now I don’t even know where to begin. I found another Updweller cave that seems to be abandoned and I’m hiding out in it while I get some rest. It’s been a wild time of late.
Last time I wrote I had gotten away from the pig master. I meant to tell you how I did that, but I got all caught up in another heap of trouble before I could finish much. So, let me get back to that tale before I tell you about my various other scrapes.
I won’t lie to you when I say that man had me right scared. I mean, sure, I killed a shadewolf once, but between you and me that was half on accident. Killing an Updweller is a whole other thing. I mean, he ain’t exactly a person like goblins are, but it’s right close I suspect. Hunting is something you gotta do if you want to eat. Shooting a fellow that walks on two legs is downright murder.
There I was up a tree with his wolves ( l later learned that kind of wolf is called a “dog”) snarling at me from down below. Mister Updweller didn’t even stand. He stayed all crouched down like and grabbed that tube thing. He pointed it right in my direction like he was aiming a bow, except he held it all wrong.
“Good work, boys!” he said to his pack followed by a roar louder than a Tunnel Brute protecting its brood. I never heard anything like it. My ears were deaf from the sound and beside me half the tree got blown away. That’s when I realized what a terrible weapon that tube was.
In the silence after the roar the Updweller peered up through the trees at me. I reeled from the shock but I saw him stand as he pointed his weapon at me again. I don’t think he would have missed that time if what happened next hadn’t happened.
Time froze up like the whole world was covered in Husk Bee treacle. I tried to reach for my bow. Maybe I could place an arrow down that tube and stop it from blowing me to bits. Maybe I could place it between the Updweller’s eyes. I don’t know for sure what I would have done to tell the truth. I didn’t get the chance to find out.
The pig master seemed to move in slow motion as he aimed right at me. I got ready to kiss oblivion in the face when a black shadow wrapped around him in a hot second. His weapon roared again as it dropped from his hands. This time my deaf ears muffled the sound. The dogs turned tail and ran as the shadow pounced and tore at the Updweller.
He would have been done for if I hadn’t realized what was happening.
“Dru!”, I yelled. My own voice silent to me. There she stood, my spider mount. Darn girl must have been following my scent all along.
When I called her name Drucilla turned all eight of her eyes on me. How I missed her venom-dripped face. She scuttled up the tree and nuzzled me with her fuzzy ol’ head. I was right joyful.
It was a few seconds before I remembered the Updweller, but when I looked he had run off. He left a trail of blood and his roaring tube behind.
Once I was sure he wasn’t coming back Drucilla and I got reacquainted. She still had the saddle on her back even though it was hanging loose. I adjusted her straps and checked the saddle bags. Gashwhisker be praised I found a pack of jerky and a bottle of Gurk’s soup. It was only a few days old. Still good to eat, so I did that right away. I didn’t even bother to heat it up. It was the best dang soup I ever swallowed.
I felt powerfully certain that Updweller would be back and probably with his kin. I took his weapon and strapped it to Dru. I doubt I’d ever figure out how to use the thing, but I knew at least that he wouldn’t have it to use against me. Besides, a good hunter always takes trophies.
It was dead night and i figured to put some distance between myself and the pig master. Drucilla and I moved on out of there right quick.
We bustled through the trees for hours. It felt so right to have a companion again. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Diary. You’re fun to talk to, but Drucilla is warm and can cuddle me back.
Before sunrise we found a good enough spot to make camp. After a full night’s travel between me and the Updwellers I felt pretty secure. Little did I know that you ain’t never safe in the Upworld.
Day of Camp
Before the sun barely even went down I was awoken by voices from a nearby clearing. I told Dru to be still while I checked it out.
“OK girls, this is where we make camp!” said a female Updweller. I crept as close as I could without fear of being seen. It was a small hunting band. One full grown and five young’ns, all female. They must have been out on their first hunt just like I was not so long ago. I listened in.
“Red, Miri, Kerry, put up the tent. Belle and Abigail come with me to gather firewood.” said the mama as she took two of the young and marched off down a slim trail. Two of the others laid a tarp on the ground while the third was picking up stones.
“Ker,” said one of them, “you’re supposed to be helping us. Get the poles!”
The one called Ker responded, “I’m gathering more pebbles for my collection. You wouldn’t understand.”
“It’s ok, Red,” said the one who I reckon is called Miri, “We got this.” the two small Updwellers stuck some thin rods into the tarp and like magic it popped up into a shape like a small version of an Updweller cave. It was thin and light like spider silk. My eyes grew wide at the sight of it.
I was so enthralled I almost didn’t notice that Drucilla had scuttled around to the other side of the clearing. She must have thought I was stalking the young’ns and was fixing to help me flank them. Such a clever and dutiful spider she is, but that wasn’t my plan at all.
“Did you hear something?” said the one called Red. All three of them turned on their heels toward the forest and Miri shouted.
“Look there!” she said, “There’s a giant bug!”
I admit I was a might offended. Dru ain’t no bug. She’s an arachnid. But Updwellers can’t see much in the dark so I forgave her.
All three girls screamed and ran into their silk cave. They sealed it shut with some sort of magic from the inside. It looked like a wide mouth with tiny teeth closing in on one another. I don’t know what kind of protection that small cave was supposed to provide, but it didn’t seem to do much.
Branches cracked and fell as Drucilla pounced on them from the trees and the silk structure collapsed to the ground. The young ones hollered in fear. Maybe they weren’t hunters at all. Or maybe “Oh God he’s gonna eat us!” is an Updweller war cry. I whistled harsh and Dru looked up at me. I beckoned her back into the forest and she left the girls alone. I led her off into the woods quite a ways before I stopped. I fastened the spider to a tree real good and tight. Then I carefully sneaked back to the campsite. The mama Updweller was back.
“I swear it was real.” said Red, “Miri saw it too.”
“I didn’t see anything.” said Ker, “I just ran into the tent because that’s what you both did.”
“Well,” said the grown one, “It was probably just an odd-shaped tree branch. Look, there’s a bunch of them on the ground here. They were probably rotten and ready to fall when we got here. A few fell on the tent and knocked it down. No big deal. Nothing to be scared of.”
“No, Miss Sharry, it was a giant spider. I saw it for real.” said Miri, but Miss Sharry refused to buy it. I guess riding spiders like Dru are pretty rare in the Upworld.
“Anyway girls,” said Miss Sharry, “it’s getting dark so let’s get this fire started.” They must have set up a fire pit while I tied up Drucilla, but they hadn’t gotten it burning yet.
The big one walked over to the pit and pulled something out of her pack. I expected a bow drill or maybe some flint and steel, but no. She held in her hand a tiny tube, sort of like the one I’d gotten from the pig master except she held it in one hand and the end of it was very thin. With a flick of her thumb a tiny flame shot out the end of it. My eyes bugged out at the sight. First the toothy door on their silk cave and now fire in the palms of their hands. Updwellers were full of surprises. In a hot minute the kindling was burning and it didn’t take long before a proper cook fire was up in front of the young’ns.
“Where are the marshmallows?” said Red.
“You should eat a hot dog first.” said Miss Sharry.
The six of them pulled little tubes of meat- was everything tubes to the Updwellers? I don’t know what kind of animal is shaped like that, but it didn’t have any bones or anything. It smelled delicious when they cooked it over the fire. My stomach grumbled and I figured I should get back to Dru and rustle up some grub for us both.
“Let me tell you all the story of the goblin of the woods!” said Miri and I was transfixed. I never heard of a goblin living in the woods. We live in caverns. Everybody knows that. Still, maybe there were other goblinkind here in the Upworld. How could I know? I’d love to meet them if they exist.
I tiptoed just a little bit closer to hear.
Miri unfolded a tale of a bunch of girls just like this one and they were out in the woods just like she and her friends were. The girls in her story were sitting around a campfire eating...marshmallows...and telling stories. They laughed and played and screamed at all the scary bits, but one by one the girls in Miri’s story disappeared. Each time one was gone the laughter and the playing got less and less. But somehow the screams got louder. The remaining girls in the story suspected that he others were just wandering off to do their business or maybe playing tricks on them, until finally there was only one girl left. She looked around into the darkness and said, “Is anyone there.”
“Only me!” said the story goblin and she leapt on the girl and ate her face right off!
Ker screamed for real when Miri got to that part of the story. The other girls gasped.
I said, “WHAT?”
I didn’t mean to talk. It was an accident, but I was so angry at the way the goblin was described in the story. Attacking Updweller kids and eating their faces? Come on, that ain’t true.
Red must have heard me because she looked right up at my face and said, “What is that in the woods?”
Ker looked up too and shouted, “Oh my God! It’s the GOBLIN!” and the entire hunting party turned to face me.
Day of Camp Part Two
Diary. This is the part where I really started to understand the hue-men. That’s what the Updwellers call themselves I learned. I think it’s because they come in so many hues. When I was there I saw pink ones and brown ones and...well, that’s all, but I bet they come in other colors. Maybe some of them are ordinary green like me. I hope so.
I found out lots of stuff about them around that time and yet I’m still a might confused about most of what they do and what they say. One hue-man can be as kind as your own mother on Gashwhisker day and another could be more ornery and dangerous than a mondohusk with a sore tooth. The worst part is you can never tell which is which until it’s too late.
Anyway, there I was in the forest shooting my mouth off at the girls. I said before, I just couldn’t help myself to hear them disparage goblinkind like that. I know it was just a story. Updwellers probably know as little about us as we do about them, but it still got me all riled.
Red was the first to speak up, “Ker! don’t be rude.” she said, “It’s probably just a girl from one of the other campsites that got lost.”
The adult hue-man, or maybe it’s hue-woman, looked up at me through the fire. I could tell the light was in her eyes by the way she held her hand over her face to get a better look at me.
“It’s okay, honey.” she said, “Are you lost?”
Red stood up and walked over to me. It was too late for me to dive back into the brush, so I stood there gape jawed. Her eyebrows got all scrunched up when she was close, but she didn’t say anything. The light from their fire made it hard for me to see just like how the darkness made it hard on them. With red up close to me in the shadows I could make her out more clearly. Her skin was a light pink color and her face had little brown dots on it. She had hair the color of sand and her eyes were covered in a weird little mask. It was no good at hiding her face. It was just a hard little frame that rested on her nose and ears. The eye holes were covered in thin stone- so thin that I could see right through them like they were made of water. More Updweller magic, I reckon. They eyes behind them were a grayish-blue color, not a normal color like red, yellow, or even green.
She walked right up to my face and held out her hand. It held one of those meat tubes wrapped in a thicker, beige tube that almost looked like a rolled-up mushroom.
“Are you hungry?” asked Red.
I grabbed that tube and shoved it into my face hole faster than wingtooth snatching up a korbi chick. I almost swallowed it whole. The dang thing was so soft it barely warranted any chewing.
“I guess we answered that question.” said Red, smiling. “I’m Red, what’s your name?”
“Wa-Wartha.” I croaked. I almost forgot how to speak, being on my own all those days.
The hue-woman stood up and said, “Miri and Red, why don’t you girls take Wartha back to her camp? I’m sure her troop-leader is worried sick.” She handed yet another tube to Miri who stood up and walked right over to Red and me.
“Do you know which way it is?” she asked as she held the tube out in front of me. She clicked on something with her thumb and a cone of light spat out of the end of it almost as bright as the sun.
“Gah!” I yelled and covered my face. I was afraid that if they got a good look at me they’d know I wasn’t really like them at all.
Red stood between me and Miri and said, “Jeez Mir, you’ll blind her like that! Her eyes aren’t used to the light after walking around in the dark.” She had no idea how right she was.
“Oh sorry!” said Miri as she turned her magical cone of light toward the forest. “I didn’t mean to stick my flashlight in your face. This way, right? I remember passing the other troop on the way in. We can find it.”
“Be sure you stick together, girls, and come right back here!” said the big one as the two hue-girls led me off into the forest.
We got a ways into the forest. Miri led and Red and I hung back a ways.
“It’s ok,” said Red quietly to me, “I know what you are and we won’t hurt you.”
I looked at her. “What do you mean?”
“You’re a goblin, aren’t you? Like in the story? My dad told me all about you. He said you don’t hurt kids and that you really live underground. Is that true?”
I nodded my head in silence.
“I knew it. You’re safe with me. Are we going the right way to get to your cave?”
“No,” I whispered back to her, “but that’s ok. I’m not going to my cave.”
“I can hear everything you guys are saying.” said Miri from about ten feet ahead.
“No you can’t!” said Red.
“Uh-huh. You called her a goblin and she didn’t say anything but she must have nodded because you said, ‘I knew it.’ Then you told her she was safe with you. Jeez Red, you don’t whisper very soft.”
“Miri,” said Red, “you promise not to tell anyone, right?”
“Are you kidding me?” Miri said, “She’s a Woods Girl, just like us. Even if she’s not hue-man. We take care of each other.”
Miri slowed down a bit and Red and I caught up with her. She shined the flashlight on me, but not directly in my face. Her eyes got as big as soup-bowls when she saw my green skin and big pointy ears.
“Oh wow.” she said, “You truly are a goblin! You’re for real!”
“It’s ok,” said Red, “She’s friendly and she’s a Woods Girl. Let’s get her home.”
“I’m not going home.” I said, “ I just need to get back to my...friend.”
“We can take you to your friend.” Red said
I wasn’t so keen on that. They already flipped out the first time they saw Drucilla.
“Maybe I should go the rest of the way alone so you girls don’t get lost.”
“No way.” said Miri, “There’s a giant cockroach running around in the forest. We saw it!”
I realized then that I couldn’t be secretive with these girls anymore.
“Miri, Red,” I said, “do you promise not to scream if I show you something.”
“Yes, Girl’s honor!” they said in unison.
“Ok. Stand right there.” I said and I stepped further into the woods a bit and whistled.
Silent as a stalactite Drucilla crept out of the trees, the leash still around her from when I tied her up.
“Oh my God!” gasped Miri. Red didn’t say anything, but she stared at Dru like she was a shadewolf with two heads.
“This is Drucilla, my spider mount.” I told them, “She didn’t mean to scare you earlier, she was just curious.” It was a little bit of a lie, but not too much.
“Hi Drucilla.” said Red and she held out her hand for a second but thought better of it. “Does she bite?”
“No.” I told her, “Even if she did her venom sacs were removed when she was a pupa.”
“I don’t really like, bugs.” said Miri. “No offense. They just gross me out a little.”
I was about to correct her on the difference between insects and arachnids, but then Red said, “Actually, she’s kind of cute! Very fluffy. Can I pet her?”
“Sure!” I said, leading Dru toward the girls on her leash. “She likes it best right in the middle of her thorax.”
Both girls tentatively rubbed Dru’s back with their hands. Miri looked away and scrunched up her nose like she was putting her hand in a pile of sick, but she was a good sport about it.
“Oh wow,” she said, “It’s actually soft and warm. Like a puppy.”
“What’s a puppy?” I asked and they both laughed out loud.
“It’s like a-” started Red, but she stopped in mid sentence when she noticed light coming up from their camp. “Oh crap!” she said, “Looks like they sent someone else after us. It’s probably Ker! You should probably go. She CANNOT keep a secret.”
I hopped on top of Drucilla and unfastened her leash from the tree.
“Thank you so much for being so kind to me.” I said to them. “Here.” I reached into my pouches and pulled out two nightraptor feathers. They were nearly as long as my forearm.
“They’re beautiful!” said Red. She took one and handed the other to Miri. “I love how they sparkle in the flashlight!”
“RED! MIRI? Where are you?” came the voice of Ker from the woods.
“Goodbye friends!” I said, “May the Dark Hob look over you!”
“Bye Wartha!” they said together. Dru and I slipped off into the night before Ker came close.
I wish all hue-men could be as kind as those girls were.
Days and Days
Diary. I’m still in the abandoned Updweller cave. This one is made mostly of little red rectangular stones stuck together somehow. It’s pretty old, and doesn’t look like it’s been inhabited in a long time. I reckon it ain’t a dwelling, though. It looks like some sort of old meeting place. The hue-men like to build lots of caves to live in near one another and sometimes they make ones like this that ain’t for living in. I think it might have been a school or something like that. The inside was mostly bare, but most of the rooms contained a black wall with faint writing on it just like the slates goblins use in school to take notes and do sums.
The rest of the settlement must have been taken into the forest a long time ago because I couldn’t find any other Updweller caves about. I guess they made this one of red stones to make it last longer than the others. As it is the stones are dry and crumbling. The cave has holes in it that the hue-men tried to cover up with big pieces of that clear stone Red wore on her face. Most of the clear stone is broken though. It’s a might chilly in here, but Dru and I can keep one another warm.
I wonder how old this place is even.
Anyway. Like I said before. I’m lost. It’s been days and days since I met those girl hue-men. After I said my goodbyes to Red and Miri I scuttled on down to a river on Dru’s back. We trekked along it until morning time and found a nice shady spot to hide out until it got dark again. We did this every day for a dang long time (sorry for cussing if you ever read this, Ma). One night we came to a great wide path. It was smooth and black with lines the color of the Sun painted right down the middle of it. The lines and the path looked like they went on forever. It crossed right over the river on a massive bridge made of stone and metal.
Off a ways to my left I saw a glowing light sort of like a pair of those “flashlights” the girls had except bigger and brighter. They sped toward Dru and me like a nightraptor chasing a korbi. We ducked behind the brush so as not to be seen. Those lights were attached to something big, bigger than a pregnant mondohusk. It zoomed at us and passed by along the black path with a rush of wind. The sound of it made Drucilla act skittish and I had to drag her down into the trees with me so she’d calm down a bit.
We waited there a long time before venturing out again. Dru acted a might fretful but she’s a loyal girl and skittered out at my command. We were only halfway across when I saw a pair of lights again. Coming from the other direction. I urged Dru to get to the other side before it reached us and she sped up, but dang (sorry) if the thing was faster than I could imagine. It nearly knocked flat into us as we dashed to the side of the path and ducked under some trees.
I rode ol’ Dru along the river a ways before I noticed something was up.
She walked a smidgen uneasy. It’s hard to notice with arachnids on account of all the legs they got to spare, but she was limping a tad. I dismounted and took a gander at her. Sure enough the left rear tarsus had been hit. I had trouble telling through all the bristles but it looked like she got nailed pretty bad by that fast moving wahtcha-whosit.
I patched her up as best I could with the remainder of my bandages and decided to rest for a night and a day. Game had grown scarcer, but I managed to catch enough long-ears to get us through it. Occasionally those lights would come by again and I got a better look at them. They were some sort of contraption, not a beastie. They looked like carts but instead of pushing or pulling the things the Updwellers sit on the inside and pick their noses. Maybe nose picking is what makes them go.
The next evening I checked Dru’s wound. It wasn’t infected at least. The carapace was cracked but not broken. Dru’s a tough girl.
We travelled along for a couple of hours along that river. After a ways we came along another path running alongside it. It looked exactly like the one we’d crossed. A patch of trees stood between the path and the water which made for the perfect place to stay hidden from those hue-men carts. I started to feel like we’d be getting close soon. We’d been journeying toward the Sun for so long. I lost track of time a while back. I figured we must be close to the edge of the world.
I thought about Ma back home and Pa and Gurk too. I hoped they weren’t too worried for me. Ma taught me well, though. She should know how good I am at staying alive out in the world. Of course she never trained me for this world. I wondered what she’d say when I came home with the Sun trussed up like a cavern boar.
I was so caught up in my thoughts I didn’t even notice Dru’s labored walking until it was too late.
She stumbled and next thing I knew we were falling over into the river.
Day in the Sun
I hit the water hard and clumsy. It felt like slamming against a stone floor except I kept falling and falling. I kicked and flailed, but my right leg was tangled in Dru’s stirrup. The icy rush of the river filled my nose and mouth. I didn’t have a chance to catch my breath. The current yanked Drucilla downstream and me with her. My ankle twisted and almost felt like it would snap. My lungs were on fire and for the first time in my life I was surrounded by penetrating darkness. This is it, I thought to myself. This is where my journey ends. Some mighty hunter, I am, huh? Drowned to death because I was too stupid to check make sure my mount was fit before I rode.
I thought of all the things I’d miss like Gurk’s stew, Dad’s tales of the great goblin warriors of old taking down giant Updwellers, and the look of pride in Mom’s eyes when I was to come home with the Sun on Dru’s back.
At least the folks back home will never know how it happened, I thought. That stuck up prig, Twylla won’t have a chance to turn her nose up and mock me for being stupid enough to fall in a river and die.
The blackness around me got even blacker somehow. My fingers and toes were numb. It felt like they didn’t even exist, like they’d fallen off or simply never been there to begin with. I tried to scream but couldn’t make a sound. My mouth filled with more water and my chest burned searingly hot.
The sensation that I was being pulled down river like a piece of driftwood continued for a million lifetimes and suddenly stopped.
I was barely conscious as my body dragged along a bed of stones and mud. The night air bit at my body. I tried to roll over onto my side, tried to push myself up, but my muscles did not respond.
I decided to embrace the cold and rest. I sank into the inky world that surrounded me. The pain in my chest faded. This is good, I thought, this is right. I can just lie here and sleep. Sleep forever.
My eternal slumber didn’t last long. A brand new pain came crashing down on my belly like a hammer blow. My mouth popped open and I vomited half a river onto the ground. I don’t remember feeling anything, but my arms and legs were moving again. I panicked.
Wildly I swung a fist at whoever had struck me in the stomach. My knuckles dug deep into something big and soft and warm. I felt the coarse hairs of Drucilla’s hide envelope my hand. I tried to stand but my knees gave way and I collapsed on the bank. Little by little my body began to feel again. Everything hurt.
I shivered uncontrollably and cried. Water continued to pour out of my nostrils, my mouth, and now my eyes. Drucilla wrapped all of her legs around me. She shielded me from the cold. I eventually stopped convulsing and grew calm.
The next thing I knew the Sun was overhead. I don’t have a clue how long I’d slept. That blasted fireball stared down, mocking me. If I had my bow in hand I would have taken a shot right then and there. The darn thing was way too far for me to hit. Close to a mile away I reckon.
My chest ached. My head was full of broken glass and my ankle was sprained. I was warm, though. Dru’s hulking form heated me up nicely. I sat up and shook the old girl. She didn’t respond. I pushed harder. Nothing.
“Dru!” I yelled. “Dru, no!”
She stirred. Thank Gashwhisker, I thought. Drucilla turned most of her eyes toward me and clicked her mandibles. That was her way of saying she was pleased to see me. I wrapped my arms around her thorax and squeezed tight.
“You had me worried, girl.” I told her. She clicked rapidly. I kissed her bristly head.
I got up uneasy and surveyed the damage. I limped a little, but the pain wasn’t the worst I’d ever felt. I’m Wartha the Hunter. Wartha the Wolfslayer. Wartha Who Stalks the Sun. I can handle a sprained ankle.
I nearly fell over on top of Dru but I caught myself as I reached for the saddle bags. Everything was soaked, but nothing seemed lost. I considered making a fire to dry my things out, but I realized I could just lay it all out in the heat of the Sun. It’s not dishonorable to use the power of your enemy to help yourself, is it? I hope not. I laid everything I could out on some dry rocks away from the shore.
Drucilla wasn’t looking too shiny. Once I had myself straightened out more or less I checked out her leg. It was worse than before. Bits of carapace were broken off altogether. Oh Dru, I thought, This is all my fault.
I didn’t have anything dry to make a bandage with. All of my stuff was drying out in the light of that confounded sky orb.
I could barely see for all the brightness. How do Updwellers make it in this world of light? That must be why they all have such tiny eyes. Maybe that’s why most of them are so angry all the time too.
I laid back down beside Dru. This time I decided to give her my warmth while we waited for the Sun to restore our belongings. I rested my eyes for a minute.
When I opened them it was nearly dark out again.
Day of Goodbye
I sliced off part of my tunic and patched Dru up as best I could. Then I led her by the reigns along the river a ways. I figured it was best not to ride her until she was feeling better.
After only an hour of travel she and I were both pretty wrecked. I scouted around for a good spot to hole up and I found this old hue-men cave. Neither one of us felt like wandering the Upworld any more at that point.
Diary, I can tell you this. I’m worried. Drucilla just ain’t herself anymore. She tries to put on a good show for me, but I don’t think she knows how busted up she looks. She doesn’t seem to be losing any more fluid, but that leg is raw and nasty. I wonder what an infection looks like.
I caught us some food and she barely touched hers. The Sun will be up soon. I’m going to watch it rise through the square shaped cave holes in the higher levels of this place. Maybe I can spy its lair from up there. Then I’m going to snuggle up with Dru.
If anything happens to her it will be my fault. I don’t know what I’ll do without the old girl. I had just been learning how to live alone in this messed up world when she found me. I almost wish she hadn’t. It’s really terrible to fear losing her twice.
It’s kind of beautiful, The Sun. I never stopped to watch it float up above the world like this. The ordinary blue black dome above me starts as a bright crack along the edge of the trees. Slowly it opens and the line becomes more and more brilliant. The light trickles out like blood from the wound made by a sharp blade. I can feel the heat from its fire as it illuminates the land around me. The split between the night dome and the land is growing as it emerges, pushing back the darkness. I was so wrong. This isn’t a creature emerging from its den. This is light itself being born. This happens every day here, doesn’t it, Diary? Brighter than ten thousand campfires this flaming beast crawls across the ceiling of the world. It’s floating past the clouds and changing their colors to purple, pink, and gold.
What does it eat, I wonder. Where is it going? I’m still unclear if it is the same Sun each day or if a new one is born. If I can find more kindly hue-men like Red and Miri maybe I can ask them. It’s so gorgeous I can’t believe that the Updwellers aren’t up worshipping it every time it rises (sorry Gashwhisker- no disrespect meant). Maybe they do. I’ll check and see.
What will happen when I kill it? Do the Updwellers fear it or love it? Will they curse me for killing their god? Or thank me for slaying their monster?
I’m going to sleep now. If Drucilla is feeling better I’ll head in that direction tomorrow. It can’t be more than a few days away. I’m going to make it. I just know it.
Diary. The worst has happened! It’s been a few days. I haven’t eaten. I’ve barely slept. I’m sorry to burden you with this, but you’re the only one I can talk to.
Drucilla and I slept so deeply. We were both so hurt and tired. We didn’t hear them coming. I didn’t know until it was too late.
Hue-men wolves. Those creatures the pig-master had with him. Not the same ones. Different ones. A whole pack. They surrounded us while we were out cold. I didn’t know until they were upon us. One was tearing at my boot and I awoke startled.
I kicked at it only to realize there were a half dozen more all over us. I managed to unsheathe my knife, but there was so much light coming in through the cave holes that I could barely see. I slashed and kicked at two of them as they pounced on me.
They weren’t as strong as a shadewolf, but there were so many. Claws and teeth all around us.
I wasn’t able to stand before I was covered in fur and blood. I don’t recall exactly what I did, it was so fast. They yelped and whined as I cut at them. You might think they were just poor beasties out for a meal, but I didn’t want it to be me. When I struggled out from under their carcasses I saw two more still standing before me and realized that Dru was fighting off three more of the dang things.
I couldn’t get to her without getting past those two. I growled. They growled back. I cursed and spit at them. They leapt. The stupid Updweller cave floor was made of wood and it must have been weakened by the years. The creatures fell on me and the boards cracked beneath our weight. I landed on my feet, but it wasn’t graceful. Bleeding, nearly crippled and covered in splinters of wood I tried to fend off the animals. One of them bit my weakened ankle and knocked me to the ground. The other jumped on my chest and bit into my face.
I stabbed at it twice before I realized I must have dropped my knife.
I punched and kicked the critter as hard as I could. It released it’s jaws.
Drucilla had saved me once more.
In the blackness of the lower cavern I could see clearly again. She had slain the other two beasts and then jumped down to rescue me. The final attacker ran off once his fellows were dead.
Diary. Then came the worst moment in my life.
I was hurt but nothing permanent. Maybe a scar down my face, but that only makes me more of a goblin.
But Dru. Oh sweet Drucilla. One of her legs had been torn clean off by those things. Spiders can’t scream in pain. Spiders don’t cry. She just looked at me with all of her eyes.
I stroked her fur one last time. I kissed her bristled head and patted her thorax right where she likes it.
The light in her eyes faded slowly. I hugged her and squeezed.
She could not cry but I made up for it. I wept and wept for hours. Long after she was still I cradled Drucilla in my arms.
Eventually the Sun faded as it always does. I looked around the cave. It was littered with broken hue-men furniture. All of it was made of dry and ancient wood. I would give Dru a proper goblin funeral.
I gathered the planks and other bits into a pyre. I spoke a prayer to Gashwhisker. I spoke a promise to The Sun. I set the fire.
I climbed out of the lower cavern into the area that had probably been a school. I glanced behind me for one last goodbye.
I gathered my things and marched out of the cave and into the Upworld forest as the school burned behind me.
Day in the City
Diary. It’s been awhile again. I’m sorry. I feel a little better now. I had started on some other entries, but I tore them out. Sorry about the ripped pages. I threw them in the river. Maybe someone will find them some day and wonder. They were mostly bad poetry and me feeling sorry for myself.
I miss Drucilla something awful, Diary, but it’s ok. My journey is all that matters now. I’m going to kill The Sun. It’s what Dru would have wanted.
I don’t know how many days it’s been since I last wrote a serious update. I passed through some more hue-men villages. Their false caves are everywhere in this part of the land. I’ve been going on foot so it takes a lot longer to get anywhere. I climbed the tallest tree I could find and looked out to the edge of the world. It never seems to get any closer. Is the Upworld messing with me? Does it just grow bigger and bigger the more I march? Will I ever get to the place where The Sun makes its nest?
I’ve come too far to turn back now. I don’t think I could even make it back to the tunnels if I tried. This hue-men world is so big and wide. I don’t know the way back to the cave I entered it through. I should have made a dang map. What was I thinking.
Anyway, Diary, it’s late. I’m going to watch The Sun rise and then I’m going to sleep for the day.
Diary. You won’t believe what I saw today. A whole dang city of hue-men. It’s massive! The caves- I don’t even think that’s the right word for them...more like towering spires of metal and stone- they reach toward the sky. I can’t believe Updwellers built all of this. I’m still in the woods near the city. I followed the river all the way here. It seems to go right through the heart of it.
I’m going to wait until nightfall then see if I can make my way through it. Gashwhisker alone knows if there’s any way to get around this thing.
Diary, the hue-men never seem to sleep here. I have to be very careful here. I don’t know how they’ll react if one of them sees me. The Updwellers have some messed up ideas about goblinkind if the story that Miri told is any indication. I’m laying low, but it ain’t easy. The river cuts right through this city and the forest around it has thinned out to nothing. I’m sitting behind the last tree before a huge clearing. Around me are countless Updweller caves. They stand up straight and tall. Most of them are blocky and rectangular. Some have artistic flourishes and sculptures around them, but most are pretty plain. It’s a little unnerving, I tell you. Caves are supposed to go down, not up. Updwellers are so backwards.
Paths crisscross the city. Some of them are for walking on but most are dedicated to those big metal hue-men carts. Nonstop they dart around the place. I guess that’s just how Updwellers get about. Must be nice.
It’s really dark out now and I don’t see too many carts about. I think the city is mostly asleep finally. I’m going to head out and see how far I can get into this place. Maybe I can make it to the other side and back into a forest or maybe even some proper caves (not hue-men caves) before The Sun comes around again. If I don’t make it then I’ll find a place to hunker down until it gets dark again.
I’m deep in the heart of the hue-men city. It’s like a maze of towers built upon towers that seems to go on forever. I’ve never been to the goblin city, Witherburg, but I’ve read about it and even seen drawings. It’s not like this. Everything in Witherburg is carved out of the stone of the tunnels. It sits just beside the pit of the Downlow. Have I ever told you about the Downlow, Diary? It’s an infinite hole filled with all sorts of monsters and ancient civilizations. The only goblin who’s ever gone there and returned is Gashwhisker. That’s how he got to be the Dark Hob, watcher of us all. Gashwhisker was the only goblin brave enough to face the fearsome spirits and eldritch terrors of the Downlow. But even Gashwhisker has never been to the Upworld. There are no tales of him visiting a hue-men city.
Look at me. Comparing myself to the Dark Hob. If Ma read this she’d scold me. I don’t mean any disrespect, Gashwhisker (I know you can read on account of you see everything). I’m just writing the facts as I see them.
Diary. I heard something. I found a place to hide- I think. It’s a hue-men carved stair that goes down to a door alongside one of the cave towers. The door is boarded up so I don’t think hue-men are likely to be coming down here. I just hope that they blocked it off to keep beings out and not to keep something terrible in.
I’m going to rest. The sky is turning purple. That means soon The Sun will be back and the Updwellers will start moving about. I’ll just hide out here a bit.
The noise is unbearable, Diary. I can’t sleep. There must be hundreds or thousands of hue-men stomping and shouting up there in the canyons between their tower caves. I pulled my hood over my face but I can still hear it. And those carts make a load of noise too. They roar and hum and sometimes make a strange noise like a snorting honkerbeast.
Diary. I think someone is coming. Down the steps. I’ll try to hide in the corner of this hole, but I don’t think there is any way to avoid getting caught. I got to put you away for now, ok? Don’t be scared, Diary.
Hi, This Is Sam.
Or should I say, Dear Diary,
I don’t know if it’s cool for me to be writing here, but I found this book in the stairwell below my apartment building. The one with the boarded up door. It looks like someone’s diary, but there wasn’t anyone around. Why would someone throw it down the stairs like that? I don’t know how old it is. It looks like a real old-timey book, but it’s in pretty good shape. I mean, it looks like it’s been through the laundry once or twice, but the binding is holding together and the pages are made out of some real sturdy paper. Is it paper? I don’t know really. It’s thick and the ink has a little sheen to it, like the rainbow in an oil puddle.
If I find the owner I hope she doesn’t mind if I use it a little. I probably shouldn’t read it, though. That would be wrong, wouldn’t it? I won’t peek. I’ll just use a few pages. I’m sure Wartha won’t mind. This book is very thick. She probably won’t even notice a couple of sheets missing.
And no, I didn’t read it if that’s what you’re thinking. Her name was on the cover. That’s how I know it. I never heard of anyone named Wartha around here. I wonder if she goes to a different school.
Anyway. My name is Sam. I’m thirteen years old and life sucks. Not much more to say I guess. Well, I suppose I should come up with something, though. Otherwise I totally wasted a page of this girl’s diary. I assume she’s a girl. Wartha sounds like a girl’s name right? Of course most people can’t tell by my name if I’m a boy or a girl, so who the heck knows? Who the HELL knows? Diary’s are secret so it’s ok if I swear, right?
I’m just waiting for the school bus. I happened to glance down the stairs and saw a book. I’m not a thief. When I get to school I’ll ask around. Maybe someone knows a girl named Wartha and I can return it to her. I should probably tear these pages out then, huh? What was I thinking? She’ll probably be mad. Well, no sense stopping now. I might as well finish out the page I’m on.
There are some other kids here too. Not my friends, though. Liam and Maia are nice I guess, but they don’t really talk to me. Then there’s Jason. He’s not a bully. Not exactly. He just needles me. That’s what I call it. He doesn’t actually hit me, but he makes remarks and sometimes pokes at me when he thinks I’m not looking. I know it’s him. Like one time in assembly he kept poking the back of my neck with a pencil and whispering rude words under his breath. I turned around but he was sitting with a bunch of his cronies (vocabulary word!). They all acted like they didn’t know why I was looking at them even though I’m sure they saw him bugging me. But I can’t really prove anything, can I?
Look here, diary. I’m not saying I hate Jason and I’m not some lonely loser looking for a friend. I just want to be left alone already. Is that too much to ask? Shit (swears!). Here he comes now. He’s going to ask me why I have a book that isn’t for school probably. I’m going to put you in my backpack, diary. Don’t get scared in there. That green thing is just a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich I keep forgetting to throw away.
Diary. Hi. Glad you’re still here. I’m in study hall right now so I can get away with writing in you. Does it tickle? Just kidding. I know you’re an inanimate object. This is my sense of humor. You’re going to have to get used to it if you’re going to be my diary.
I was going to ask around about Wartha, I swear, but the problem is I don’t really have any friends. I mean, don’t you think it would be weird if I randomly spoke to Paul Baxter or Emily Young out of the blue asking about some girl they’ve probably never heard of? Besides, it’s hard for me, diary. I have trouble talking to other kids. Like when Kyanna Newman said hi to me in gym class yesterday. I looked at her and opened my mouth but all that came out was a dry little frog noise. I just wasn’t ready. I can speak fine when I know I have to, like if the teacher asks a question or if I’m talking to my cousin, Dale. But if someone just pounces on me unaware like that I freeze up. You probably wouldn’t understand. I’m sure that being shy and unable to talk to people isn’t a problem that inanimate piles of paper have to worry about.
Do you miss your old owner, diary? Wartha Gormley is an odd name. Is she a White girl or is she Black like me? Or maybe she’s Asian or Latino or some other race I never heard of. What does she look like, I wonder. Did she grow up around here or was she just passing through? Would we get along if we met? I really don’t think so. I don’t usually get along with other kids. They think I’m too weird or too quiet. Except sometimes they think I’m too boring or too loud too. I can’t win.
Maybe I should read a little of her pages from you, diary. I don’t want to snoop, but if I don’t at least try to learn a little about her so I can return you to her then doesn’t that make me a thief?
Ok. I’m just going to read the first page of “The Diary of Wartha Gormley”. How personal can the first page be, anyway? Probably just a little about herself, like maybe her address or something. That will make it easier to find her. It’s the right thing to do.
Here goes nothing :)
Holy wow. Diary. Why didn’t you tell me? Wartha must be a writer, right? I mean this whole book is just a story. All day I was worried that I had someone’s personal journal on my hands and it turns out that Wartha or whoever is just made up. Right?
I’m going to read more to make certain, but I have to go to Language Arts. Mister Roshem doesn’t like it when we read books in his class. That’s irony, by the way. It’s a vocabulary word.
Be back soon, diary.
Holy Wow, Indeed.
Hey diary, it’s me again. Sam. Remember? I’m on the bus headed home from school and just now have a moment to catch you up.
I hope you don’t mind, but I read it. I read all of it. I don’t know if it’s funny or scary. I don’t know if it’s fun or sad. I’m not afraid to admit I cried a little when Drucilla died. And I think it’s funny how Wartha thinks that the sun is a monster she can hunt and destroy. I take science classes at my school, you know. It’s like almost a hundred million miles away in space. No way you can hit the sun with an arrow.
I still don’t know what to think about Wartha, though. Is she a real person? Is she just a story? Her story felt real to me when I was reading it, but maybe it’s all in my head. What do I know? I’m just a kid. I mean, if I lose you again and someone else picks you up how will they even know that I’m real? To them the things I write will seem just as much a story as Wartha’s. I guess maybe I’m more realistic because I don’t ride a giant spider (rest in peace, Dru) and I don’t fight giant wolf monsters and win. Still, to anyone who reads this I would just be a bunch of words in a book and nothing more. I could be making it all up. But if I was making up a story I’d probably make it about something more interesting than my life. Maybe a time machine or a ghost or something. Maybe I’d make up a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend, who knows? I’m young. I don’t know what I want in life. Do old people know what they want? Does my mom know? My dad? I don’t see him much anymore, but I doubt he thinks about this sort of thing. My mom just wants me to be happy and do well in school and go to college. That’s what she says anyway. Oh jeez, diary. I’m babbling, huh?
Jason was actually kind of nice to me today which is weird. When I got a question wrong in science class he didn’t laugh for once and helped me with the right answer. So now I know the difference between meiosis and mitosis for what it’s worth. He’s still mostly a jerk in my book, but given time I might consider him to be a decent human being.
This is probably uninteresting to you, diary. I’m sorry. I bet you miss having adventures with Wartha, even if she isn’t real. Or maybe I’m not real and someone else is writing these words. How would you know? You’re just a book.
Maybe I should address the person reading this instead of the inanimate object I’m writing into. You, reader, what do you think? Am I real? Or did Wartha or whoever made her up just make me up too? You’ll probably never know for sure. I hope you don’t mind if I continue to believe in myself. It’s the only way I can make it through the day.
As a matter of fact, I should do the same for Wartha, shouldn’t I? It’s only fair. If I expect you to treat me like I’m real I should offer her the same courtesy. I know I’m real, but Wartha Gormley probably knows she’s real too.
So it’s decided then. From here on out I will assume that Wartha is a real person. Is she a girl who is pretending to be a goblin or is she a real live creature from a cave deep below the earth? I don’t know. I have lots of questions, though. If she really is a goblin, then how come she speaks and writes in English? That doesn’t make any sense, does it? Also, how is it possible that no one has ever heard of her species. What about all the other creatures she mentions in her book? How could she be the only one from her world that’s ever entered into ours? It doesn’t make any sense. At some point in history someone would have entered that cave she came out of. Or someone would have come out of it. Or something. There would be evidence of an entire civilization beneath our feet, right?
Maybe I can find her and figure out the truth. If Wartha is a regular girl who makes up stories then it will all make sense and I can let it rest. If she’s a green-skinned goblin from beneath the world, then nothing makes sense. If she’s real does that mean that unicorns are real? Santa Claus? GOD? If Wartha is real then anything can happen and everything we know about the world might be wrong.
That’s just crazy talk. I’m sure I will figure out who wrote this story and when I meet her I’ll see that she’s just a normal person with a big imagination.
I’ll go to the stairwell again. The one with the boarded-up door below my apartment. I’ll knock on the wood. I’ll peer in with a flashlight. I hope there aren’t rats down there. Or homeless people. My mom tells me I should be nice to homeless people because they’re just folks having a rough time. I know she’s right, but that doesn’t make me any less scared of them sometimes.
Well, here I am. Mom isn’t home from work yet. I have about an hour. I’m sitting on the front stoop. It’s chilly out, but not quite winter yet. There’s one tree on my block and it’s leaves are dark brown now and falling. Any day and they’ll be completely gone. It’s pitch black down in the stairwell. This morning the sun was shining right into it like a beacon. That’s how I found you in the first place, diary. Now the sky is turning gray and I can’t see anything down there. I’m going to run in and grab a flashlight.
OK. It’s not that scary, right? The sun isn’t even down yet. Shadows are getting long, though. The sidewalk looks like a picture of a world where streetlights and mailboxes are stretched out like silly putty.
I’m going to walk to the bottom of the stairs.
Here I am. I’m right where I was when I found you, little diary. I’m going to do it. I’m going to knock on this boarded-up old door.
Oh jeez. Oh man. I did it and I heard something.
I knocked and I shouted, “Wartha! Are you in there? I have your book!”
I did it three times. On the third time I heard someone move.
“Are you ok in there?” I asked. In my mind I was thinking, “Please don’t be a creepy man. PLEASE.”
Then I heard a thin dry whisper.
“How do you know my name.” it said.
She’s in there. Wartha’s in there. I’m going to talk to her now and try to convince her to come out.
Wish me luck, diary.
All about Sam
I’m so glad I have you back. I ducked behind an old door into an Updweller cave when I heard someone coming. The boards that covered it were actually pretty loose so I slipped between a couple and through a large hole at the bottom of the door.
The cave looked abandoned and dusty and filled with old boxes full of Updweller junk. Hue-men sure do leave a lot of stuff lying around when they’re done with it. Mostly I found old clothes, but other things too. I don’t reckon I know enough about the Hue-men to tell you what was what, but some of it looked to be busted up toys or some sort of weapons and tools. They were mostly made of the same material as Miri’s flashlight. It looked smooth like stone, but kind of soft and came in all sorts of colors.
It got pretty bright outside so I figured it was as good a time as any to get cozy in my new hole. The boxes of old garments made for some pretty good bedding and before I knew it I conked out.
When I awoke The Sun still loomed above the city in its frightful brilliance. My throat felt drier than Gurk’s beetle bread so I reached into my pack for the waterskin. That’s when I noticed you were gone, Diary.
I’m sorry. I must have dropped you when I hid. I didn’t mean to. I flipped out for a while. I mean, I know you’re just a bunch of paper, but you’re kind of like my only friend, too- you know? I lost Dru. I didn’t want to lose you too.
I tossed open my pack and went through its contents over and over, but you weren’t there. I’ll admit it, Diary. I cried. OK? It’s stupid. You’re just a book, but you’re the only thing I have right now.
After crying and searching pointlessly for you among the Updweller crap that litters this musty old cave for what seemed like forever I just fell to the floor, exhausted.
Then I heard a knock at the door.
An Updweller called my name. They said they had my book. You, Diary. They had YOU!
I got up onto my knees and listened at the door. I didn’t understand why someone was talking at me. The voice confused me at first. It was a person. Well, an Updweller anyway. They talked through the door like they knew me. Like I was a friend of theirs.
I managed to answer. I asked how they knew my name. The stranger looked in through a crack in the boards. All I could see was their eyes. They looked like kind eyes; the eyes of a concerned person, not an angry or hateful one.
“Is it really you?” they said, “And are you ok in there?”
I was a little confused at all the questions the Updweller was asking me. Of course I’m really me. Who else would I be? They acted like they knew me. That was before I learned that they had been reading you, Diary.
“I’m not hurt, if that’s what you mean.” I said back to them.
“Well, that’s good.” they said, “My name is Sam, by the way. Can I come in?”
And that’s how I met Sam. They’re about my age and have darker skin than the other hue-men I have met. Sam has a really soft voice and their hair is in tight little black curls that they wear cropped really close to their head. Between the two of us we were able to knock the boards off the door enough to open it. By then the Sun had started to duck over the edge of the Upworld.
“Oh no.” said Sam, “My mom will be home soon.”
I winced a little at that word, “mom”. Probably because I hadn’t seen mine in so long.
“Wartha,” Sam said, “would you like to come up to my apartment? I have sandwiches and we can hang out a bit. You’ll have to hide in my room so my mom doesn’t know you’re there. You don’t have to stay long, but I just have a lot I want to talk about.”
I started to feel weird. Like there was nothing I’d rather do than grab you and run past Sam. They were nice to me, but I’d been on my own so long. I wasn’t sure I could deal with getting to know another being. What if they turned out to be terrible? Or what if they were great and we became best friends and then something horrible happened and I lost them. I don’t know if I could bear that.
I didn’t really think all of those things at once. I just kind of felt wary for a second. But my curiosity won over in the end.
“Sure. I’ll come up to your...apart-meant. I don’t know if I am strong enough to fight any sand witches, though.”
“You don’t fight sandwiches, Wartha. You eat them.” said Sam. When they saw my face they added, “Oh, no. They’re just a kind of food. Not real witches!” Sam laughed really hard at that part and so I smiled a little.
“Well then.” I said, “Let’s go!”