My ninth story for the game - in which Skittleskull, Carver and Needler embark on a mission so secret, they don’t even know what it is.
"Always you cause trouble. Always!"
Nashto the Baker swatted her apron at Korva, shooing him away from her biscuits. She scowled at the boy as he cavorted away, before turning her attention back to her cooking.
“Stealing. Joking. Always mischief. Those boys will be the death of me! Verde, what did I do?!” Nashto spread her arms wide and gazed up into the treetops, but the green canopy of trees was forever silent.
“Today, stealing biscuits. Tomorrow, babies. Who knows.”
Korva grinned at his own brilliance. He’d climbed out over Nashto’s treehouse and waited till she was turned. Then he’d swung down on a vine, snatched the tray and swung out of sight. So quick! He was Korva but they should call him Colibra - hummingbird!
The diminutive, green skinned goblin dashed along the forest floor, humming to himself. He started to take a bite of one of his stolen biscuits when a voice from one of the other boles startled him.
"…and then Korva! That boy. Always stealing! We should -" He saw two figures emerge from the tree, and knew he had to hide. On an overhead branch weave, Drajo was teaching basic lore to a group of students, and Korva hopped up to hide in the crowd. He was twice the size of the other students, but that didn’t stop him - he squatted next to a tiny green-skinned girl and tried to look invisible. She glanced at him, her blue eyes twinkling, and he passed her a piece of a biscuit. The girl gobbled in down and looked hopefully for more.
“Now, class,” Drajo the teacher said, “who can tell me where we live?”
“Here!” two students chorused, to much laughter.
"Yes, but where is here?"
A taller - for a goblin - boy stood up and cleared his throat. His beaklike nose was hooked sharply down, and he stared straight ahead as he recited. His shrill, reedy voice had a touch of bass.
“The Verde is our home. We live in the Verde, it is the green forest all around us. The Verde was created by Skola the Nimble, many generations ago. He coaxed the trees to grow as big as the sky, the rivers to flow like… rivers. Um, Yeah. The Verde is our home, invisible to outsiders. We shape our houses from boles in the tree, we eat the fruits they bear. Families grow like the branches, spread far and wide. The Verde is our home.” He gave a small, nervous bow and sat down.
"Well done, Krolaka! And who can tell me, who is Skola the Nimble?"
Even though he wasn’t actually a student, Korva stood up. He knew all about Skola.
“Skola the Nimble was the First Goblin. He created himself out of green leaves and mischief. He stole the sunlight from behind the clouds, and the water from the deep earth. When the sun wasn’t watching, he stole magic from the lightning, he is so quick! Skola taught raccoon to steal and crow to laugh. He is the trickster, he teaches us to learn from other people’s mistakes. He made the Verde so his people could grow, hidden from the eyes of others.”
“Well done! But Korva, shouldn’t you be in school as well?”
“I, um, well I am!” he said proudly. Korva congratulated himself on his brilliance.
“Very good, yes you are. I meant the school for older children. Your age.”
“Class, did you like my lesson?” he asked, diverting the question. As the children cheered, he tore the last biscuit up into little pieces and threw them into the air, letting them scramble over each other to get a piece, and ducked away under the chaos of laughter and small bodies.
Korva followed the Verde floor past Sky Oak and Mother Birch, all the way to a tangle of moss and roots that had be nursed into a living bridge across the river. As he skipped along the roots, daring himself to slip off into the torrent, he felt the unmistakable whiz of a dart past his elbow.
“Almost got you! I’d have hit if I wanted to!”
“I’d have dodged it easily,” Korva shot back.
“Would not. I can hit anything!” As Korva watched, another goblin emerged from his perch under the root bridge. The newcomer stood about four feet high, with a long, beaked nose and piercing eyes. “Neela,” he said proudly, “can hit anything!”
“Hit the clouds, then,” Korva challenged him, “make it rain.”
“Don’t want to,” Neela said after a pause, "I like sunlight."
He glanced up at the roof of the Verde, where the highest leaves of the canopy created a lattice of green shade. “When I can see it,” he amended.
“Guess where I’m going!” Korva said, “go on, guess. You’ll never guess.”
“You’re off to meet with Skittleskull for an important mission outside the Verde,” Neela said easily.
“What - how did you know that? It’s a secret!”
“Easy. Korva never shuts up.”
“Wanna come along? It’s a secret mission!”
"Do roses have thorns?!"
The two slender, green figures laughed shrilly and continued their way across the root bridge.
Skittleskull the Shaman was considered tall for a goblin, even though, like many goblins, he was usually hunched over. He was allowed that, though; he’d lived a long time - not even he remembered how long - and had left the Verde a dozen times on missions to the human world. Or the Orcs. Or maybe the Pandas. Someone. They were all big and not green, he couldn’t tell them apart.
He set his crown on his head - the long tusks from a huge boar and the skull of a kobold child, symbolising ferocity and wisdom - or was it wisdom and ferocity? Were kobold children fierce? Maybe it was hunger and, and curiosity. Maybe the boar ate the kobold child. It didn’t matter, they were his crown and when he wore them people knew he was important! - and picked up his staff. He liked the wyvern skull on his staff, he’d slain the wyvern himself - seen the wyvern get killed and stole the skull - won the skull in a card game - nicked it from a passing necromancer - anyway, it was his Princess and it made people know he had power.
Skittleskull set his staff down and counted the gems in his small hand.
“Look, Princess! Gems! And more, so many more where they came from! The humans will mine them, we will claim them.” He picked his staff up again and showed the wyvern skull the gems in his small hand. "Gems! Ge… Oh never mind. Don’t know why I keep you around, Princess. I should sell you to another necromancer, then you’ll talk."
Skittleskull hopped down a row of three branches and made his way along the floor of the Verde. A pair of young girls bowed and curtsied as he passed, and giggled and blushed when he made a leering gesture at them. See? Bony hat. Authority. Works every time.
Skittleskull skipped his way down the Verde to where two younger goblins were waiting for him - Korva was almost as tall as he was, have to do something about that, maybe lop him off at the knees, and Neela was always eating. You’d think he’d weigh a ton but he packed it away somehow.
“Skittleskull has a job for you young goblins,” he said. Refer to yourself in third person. Authority. Goes with having the bony hat.
“Secret mission, yeah?” Korva said excitedly.
“Not so loud, boy!” Skittleskull hissed, “you want everyone to know?!”
“Hey!” someone called out from the upper branches, "Skittleskull going on a secret mission!"
The shaman glared at Korva, who shrugged and grinned apologetically.
"So, yeah. Follow me to my secret lair, we’ll talk plans.“
Korva danced ahead and lifted the low-sweeping branch of a yew tree to reveal a large hollow in the trunk. Someone had crudely scratched out the words ‘Skittleskull’z Secret Place, Keep You Out’ over the door.
“How did - oh never mind. Follow me.” He ducked into the trunk and down a flight of stairs dug into the roots, the two young goblins hot on his heels. A large room below had been cleared away and maps of the Verde and the continent were tacked up on the walls.
Korva bounded over to peer at the map of the Verde, while Neela looked around for something edible.
“Now, this secret mission,” Skittleskull said furtively, “I need you two as a distraction. Me, I have the real secret mission. You need to make me invisiblablable. Abable. I’m never sure where that word ends.”
“Invisilibilibility potion? Yeah?”
“No, just make people see you. If they see you, they won’t see me. Distraction.
He let the two mull this over a moment before continuing.
“Now, secret mission, we need code names. I learned this from an Orc. I think it was an Orc. Maybe a Panda. Big guy. So secret code names so they won’t know it’s us.”
“Oooh, what’s my code name?” the boys asked in unison.
“Korva. You are good with a blade. Your secret code name is…” He paused for dramatic effect, until Neela stubbed his toe on a root, “Carver.”
“Carver,” Korva said, trying it out. “Wait, that sounds just like Korva!”
“But it isn’t, is it? It’s a secret.”
“And you, with your little bow, Neela, you are Needler.”
“Needler. That’s like, oh I get it,” Korva said, “it’s like the name so people won’t think it’s the name but when you say it they’ll think it’s the name but it can’t be the name because it’s a code name so they know it must be a different name so they don’t think…huh?”
“Exactly,” Skittleskull said with a wink.
“But, I don’t shoot needles, I shoot arrows. My name should be Arowa!”
“But then people would know it’s a code name!” Korva said, again proud of his innate brilliance. “Skittleskull, what’s your code name gonna be?”
“Myyyyy… code naaame…” he stretched the words out for emphasis, “is…”
“Wow, that sounds exactly like…wait… no that IS your name! How is that a code name?” Neela demanded.
“Easy, simplenut,” the green-skinned shaman said, “Skittleskull is a famous shaman, yeah? Everybody in the Verde knows Skittleskull. Everybody everywhere knows Skittleskull! So if Skittleskull went on a secret mission, he wouldn’t use his OWN name, right? So anyone claiming to be Skittleskull can’t possibly be the real Skittleskull because the real Skittleskull would be back in the Verde shamani - err - shamming - err - shimmying - err - doing shaman stuff!”
“Oh, yeah,” Neela said quietly, “when you put it like that…”
“Now go gather your things, we leave in one hour.”
“Okay,” the boys chorused, both standing perfectly still.
“Well? Things? Gather?”
“Got 'em! My sword…”
”…and my bow and, hee hee, needles!”
“Good, good, but how about, you know, clothes, food, bed stuff?”
“Clothes? Pfeh, what you think we are, humans?! I need clothes, the Verde provides. Like your moss cloak. I wear leaves, vines, you know, I go all-natural.”
“Me too,” Neela said, glad to be part of a conversation he could understand.
Two hours later, after meeting at the wrong door twice, the three goblins stood together at a secret entrance to the Verde.
“Remember, secret mission. Speak to nobody. Unless they ask you first. Then act casual. But not too casual or people will know you’re acting casual.”
“Good. What’s the secret mission again?”
“Can you keep a secret?”
“So can I.”
“Skittleskull,” Korva said, wiping a tear, "you’re the best shaman ever."
The goblin shaman adjusted his headpiece and stood tall with Princess the wyvern-topped staff at his side. He knocked three times on a branch - he knew it didn’t do anything, he just thought it’s something you should do before going somewhere important. And the boys were impressed by it.
A swath of leaves swung to one side and the three goblins stepped through the opening, to stand blinking in the sunlight outside the Verde. Their eyes quickly grew accustomed to the bright light, and they’d covered half a mile before Korva realized he’d forgotten his sword and Neela stepped on a rabbit and decided to eat it.
“We’ll get you another sword, Carver,” Skittleskull said, using the code name, “humans have swords, we’ll steal one.“
Neela turned around, picking a fuzzy ear from his teeth. “I don’t get it. How can you say the Verde is invisiblablable? I mean, it’s right there!” He speed his arms wide to show the huge, verdant - which is why it was called the Verde - forest, so green and vibrant it almost glowed.
“Watch,” Skittleskull said. He pointed to two humans who were walking with a donkey and a cart. They approached the Verde, nowhere near a door, and disappeared into it.
“But they just walked in! Not even a door!”
“Yes, but they don’t see the Verde. All they see is another forest. It’s all they expect to see, so it’s all they ever see.”
“But, I’ve never seen humans in the Verde…”
“Well would you expect to?”
“Quid pro quo.” Skittleskull liked throwing important sounding phrases in, and he generally thought he knew what they meant.
Korva and Skittleskull walked forward while Neela walked backward, gazing at the Verde and marveling at how such a beautiful place could be so easily ignored. After a while the shaman tapped Korva with Princess’s snout.
“There, that’s our human contact,” Skittleskull whispered. He motioned to a tall, stern-looking woman in platemail, and a stout, red faced man in simple green and brown leather armor.
“The shiny woman or the fat one?” Korva asked, peering.
“Prisca,” Brogan said, “it’s been ages since we stopped… breakfast was so long ago…” He tried to look pitiful, but just ended up looking like a somewhat deflated sausage.
“And it’ll be ages again if you don’t stop whining,” she said curtly. “Passage from Stonegate to Lakeside, all I ask. You know the way. Move.” She marched ahead and let the large man catch up.
“Lakeside is…” he said, huffing along side her, "eleven miles to… Stonegate… that’s over three hours walking… the average person shouldn’t go… more than two hours… exertion… without food or…"
Prisca stopped in her tracks and spun on her heel.
“If you don’t stop whining about your STUPID stomach I will bleeding STAB you to DEATH!”
“And see who these idiots are. They look like goblins.”
Brogan stood and waited as Skittleskull, Korva and Neela approached. The three green-skinned creatures walked, hopped and sauntered their way across the field, rarely standing still or walking upright. One wore a crown of skulls and carried a short staff, one had a crudely made bow and a quiver of arrows, and one seemed to be looking for something.
The one with the bones, who seemed to be in charge, stopped before Prisca and Brogan.
“Greetings and felicitatoes,” he said, his voice high and reedy, “I am Skittleskull. I am not a shaman. But I could be. But I’m not.”
“He could be,” Korva added.
“Or he might not be,” Neela said, getting in on the game.
“We are looking for a human named… named…” he paused, thinking. “What’s a good human name?” he whispered to Korva.
“Perpetual the Flatulent,” Korva said. It certainly sounded official.
“Perpetinal the Flaming,” Skittleskull repeated, “have you seen him?”
“I don’t know anyone by that name…” Brogan said.
“That’s a ludicrous name. There is no such person,” Prisca said sharply.
“Oooh, look who knows about names!” Skittleskull chided, “I think you do know him, you’re just pretending.”
“I think you’re delusional.”
“That’s right, I am,” Skittleskull said proudly, “and by my delugant crown, you will take me to your Chief!” He paused while Prisca regarded him with a look of incredulity. "Ahhh, see? My crown of bones, it makes you recognize my authority. You see, Carver?"
Korva watched Prisca as she stood awestruck before the small goblin, mesmerized by his attire.
“Wow,” he whispered to Neela, “it really works…”
“Now, since I am in charge and you are under my power, you will take me to your Chief. Lead! We will talk business.”
“We’re going to Lakeside…” Brogan said.
“Where the chief lives?”
“Where the Chief of Lakeside lives,” he replied.
“Brogan?” Prisca said with a sigh.
“I’m starting to feel very stabby.”
The two humans and three goblins had managed an hour’s walk in just over twenty minutes, and Prisca was practically shaking with rage. She walked ten paces ahead of the idiots, while Brogan and the goblins talked among themselves and concluded that (a) raw apples are better than stewed; (b) when you pull the wings off a fly it should be called a walk, and © anyone who makes you walk more than twenty minutes without stopping for a drink is probably in league with the Titans.
“Enough!” she barked. “I can find Lakeside by myself! Brogan, you and the idiot triplets can go your own way.”
"We’re not triplets."
She turned and stalked off, heading down towards an obvious town by an obvious lake.
“Bet she gets lost,” Neela said.
It was half an hour later that a largish dragon flew overhead. Skittleskull weighed his chances of defeating it in battle, and decided it was probably not worth the trouble.
Two minutes later there was a shout and the sounds of a fight, then the largish dragon was flying the other way.
“Hey look,” Brogan said.
“It’s carrying something.”
“That’s not a something. That’s a someone.”
“Oh, yeah. So it is.”
“Oh, it’s the stabby lady. Told you she was working with 'em.”
“By ‘working with’, do you mean ‘clutched in one claw and doing a lot of shouting’?”
“Not as such, no.”
“Should we help her?”
“She’ll only get mad if we interfere.”
“She’ll be madder if we dont.”
“Good point. Needler, make it drop her.”
"Oh, yeah, right."
Needler drew his bow and took aim, while Skittleskull stood and watched, fishing something out of the pouch at his side.
Five well-aimed darts lanced into the dragon’s claw, making the beast flex and drop Prisca from it’s grasp. Skittleskull tossed a seed into the air and whacked it with Princess like a tennis racquet.
Years of working as the Shaman of the Verde were not without merit - the small green goblin had learned which seeds to eat and which to avoid, how to tell the weather - although tell it what, he was never sure - and which seeds create huge tangled vines when you crack them open.
It was one of these seeds he tossed into the air, and hitting it with Princess did two things, which to the untrained eye would seem like magic. The seed cracked, and a stream of vines shot out from Princess, hurtling towards Prisca as she fell to earth. They snagged her and quickly grew further around her, wrapping the annoyed woman in a ball of springy, bouncy, tangled vines. When she landed, she bounced in the ball of moss and vine until rolling to a gentle stop. Brogan, meanwhile, raised his club and charged the dragon, hoping to smash a claw. The dragon saw an easy opportunity, scooped the man up and continued on its way.
“See that over there? The shiny thing.”
“Pick it up, simplenut.”
“Oh! A sword! Yes!”
“Now cut her out of the ball.”
“Oh, right.” Carver started slicing the vines with the sword, when he had a better idea. “How about we leave her in there and just roll her down to see the Chief.”
“What - wait! Oh for the love of…” Prisca started to say, “look, you obviously have some skill. Let’s go to the Stronghold, I’ll introduce you to the REAL Chief. His name is… Will you cut me out of this wretched thing?”
“No stabbing anyone?”
“I promise not to stab anyone. Here.”
“Hey Skittleskull?” Needler said.
“This is the best secret mission ever!!”