Gogglepod’s Adventure Part II

Submitted by Noah J. on Sun, 09/08/2019 - 03:27

Crunch! Snap! Crunch! Sturdy, fur-lined boots decimated piles of dead leaves and loose twigs on the forest floor as the large brigade of unruly fumbles trekked through the dense timberland.

Gogglepod turned his head and peered into the dark forest surrounding him. Everywhere branches and leaves protruded from the ancient trunks. Each thick tree shot up straight from the ground to towering heights, throwing out long thin branches in every direction as far as the eye could see. The trees seemed to brandish twigs and branches against trespassers as a knight would brandish his steel against a foe in his castle.

It was through this gauntlet of darkness and green that the small troop of fumbles trudged. Each unhappy member wore brown buckskin shirts and pants, fringed at the edges for tactical camouflage in the dense growth of the forest floor; large sturdy boots lined with rabbit hair to keep out the biting wisps of cold, night air; and wooly mittens. Every fumble finished his outfit with a custom-designed fur hat. Coonskin caps, featuring long coon tails that hung off the back of the hat, were a common favorite.

Mud splattered and noise abounded as the heavy boots crashed through stagnant puddles, climbed over twisting roots of decaying oaks, and tromped across now completely overgrown trails through the never ending woods. The soldiers knew their goal; nothing would stop them from attaining it, whether the barriers be grand tree trunks, massive boulders, or seemingly unbeatable ravines.

According to the scouts, the Southern fumbilian hunting party had last camped in Gillanod’s Gorge, a large depression in the forest landscape hiding a small lake. The lake, drawing talking and non-talking beasts alike to its spring of fresh water, proved to be the best hunting area in the region. Knowing this, the Southern fumbilian party always made for the location before the end of winter in order to return to the village with the finest game. However, just two days ago, the hunters had reportedly been ambushed by one of the largest groupings of Gorban’s folk yet seen that season. The casualties were completely unknown as of yet.

“But not for long,” Gogglepod told himself as he trudged through the undergrowth. “Soon, I am going to teach those fiends a lesson they will never forget.”

After volunteering for the expedition the previous morning, Gogglepod’s courage had grown all the more, his resolve amplified to overpowering, and his anger swelled to bursting.

“Those traitors! I always detested those beasts! They care for no one! They hate everyone! They murder without reason! I wish—! I wish I could kill them all!” his mind shouted frantically.

“What’s the matter Gogglepod?” came a soft voice from behind him.

Gogglepod’s minds snapped back to reality, and his head whirled around to see the questioner. It was Ripplezack, one of his neighbors hiking alongside him.

“I am infuriated with those beasts! You would think they would apply common sense and not be so treacherous as to exterminate an innocent hunting party…and right on the verge of winter!”

Ripplezack thought for a moment, staring at his muddy boots tramping beneath him. His outfit was not nearly as finely-fitted as the clothes of those surrounding him. Unlike many of the fumbles among the expedition, Ripplezack had no family, but remained a young bachelor in his small isolated bee-hive-like dwelling. He was a decent fellow, willing to join in causes such as this to protect the security of his village, friends, and the families of others. Yet, wars with the talking-beasts seemed far from his personal interest. If Ripplezack were left to himself, Gogglepod figured Ripplezack would simply live a quiet life, completely uninvolved in bloody, hate-filled wars against Gorban’s folk.

It was this character that Gogglepod partly admired, but mostly detested. How could a fumble willingly not allow his anger to control his actions? “I don’t understand,” thought Gogglepod.“Doesn’t the noblest fumble fight for the lives of the innocent? Doesn’t the bravest fumble fight no matter the costs? Doesn’t the noblest fumble only survive the battle through overwhelming hatred of the enemy?”

As if Ripplezack had read Gogglepod’s mind, Ripplezack responded. “I would be careful and make sure to control your emotions, Gogglepod. We have yet to determine whether Gorban’s folk were the ones to attack the Southern fumbilian hunting party. We had best address this situation with coolness and collectiveness, but ready for a battle if that be needed.”

The logic made sense to Gogglepod, but he was not at all ready to admit it. His anger was on the edge of bursting. He wanted there to be a battle. He wanted to brandish the short sword dangling from his belt against the evil talking-beasts. He was prepared to lay all blame on Gorban’s folk whether he’d seen the evidence of their evil deeds or not.

“I am sure they are at fault,” he muttered to himself.

The fumbles kept walking, mostly in silence. The minutes dragged into hours and the day progressed without any sign of Gorban’s folk as the expedition made their way to Gillanod’s Gorge. In fact, there was no sign of life anywhere. Even the speechless beasts and birds seem to have fled the immediate forest around the company.

Suddenly, Trippen, the old army veteran leading the company, shot up his fist to silence those behind him, and then quickly dropped to his hands and knees. Gogglepod, Ripplezack, and the others followed suit.

Slowly the company crept forward up a steep, tree-covered hill. Trippen led the way, carefully avoiding branches and twigs so as to not cause a sound.

Gogglepod’s heart was racing. Gillanod’s Gorge laid on the other side of the steep hill. There—he concluded—must remain the evidence of the skirmish with the talking beasts.

He climbed stealthily over a smooth boulder and then proceeded to crawl through a long stretch of grass covering the incline. Prickly weeds stuck to his buckskin clothes and dirt soiled his wooly boots and fluffy mittens as the troop neared the hill’s crest.

Trippen stopped just shy of the top of the hill and laid down in a section of tall grass. His body became as limp and motionless as the surrounding forest growth. The others took similar positions on the edge of top of the hill.

Gogglepod laid down quietly next to a large oak tree. Its shade darkened the ground beneath it so deeply that he could very well have stood beneath the limbs of the tree without fear of being seen. Nonetheless, Gogglepod, with his right hand gripping the short sword at his side, laid down and waited, staring at Gillanod’s Gorge in front of him.

A wide open stretch of treeless land covered nearly two square miles. Trees circled the edges of the plain like a line of armored soldiers denying light any access to the forest beyond. It was in this circle of trees that the troop of fumbles now rested.

Directly in the middle of the sunlit space was a small freshwater lake. The evening rays skipped across its smooth surface, ricocheting back into the woods and temporarily blinding Gogglepod with its brilliant light. Aside from small ripples upon the surface of the lake, no life seemed to inhabit the small, enclosed paradise. The wind swooshed through the pines and oaks, sending a shower of needles across the plain, and to Gogglepod’s right, a thin stream trickled down the hill to feed the massive lake. Only the soft-blowing wind and the quietly flowing stream broke the stillness of that peaceful valley.

As he gazed at the brilliant display before him, Gogglepod felt an unexplainable emotion. It was as if he were having a glimpse of something otherworldly. The beauty of the sight diametrically opposed his stone heart, crashing into his obstinate spirit and begging him to see something new…something deeper. He shook his head, and tightened his fists, remembering his rage and determination. But the feeling remained, poking at his heart like a needle.

Gogglepod felt awkward and confused. “Where are Gorban’s folk? Where is the missing Southern hunting party?” The water was undisturbed and the valley looked completely peaceful. Thoughts and questions swirled in Gogglepod’s overwhelmed mind. He was just about to ask Trippen about moving onward when he noticed Trippen had left.

“He’s probably gone to scout out the area,” thought Gogglepod.

Suddenly, his muscles tensed. A creature was rustling in the grass not far from him. The unexplainable feeling vanished like vaporized liquid. Twirling around and drawing his short sword instinctively, Gogglepod stared at the cause of the rustling.

His eyes met the gaze of Ripplezack watching him curiously from halfway down the incline. Relieved, Goggplod sheathed his blade and breathed freely, waiting for Ripplezack to finish climbing to the crest of the hill.

“Why did you move over here Ripplezack?” Gogglepod whispered as his friend laid in the grass just a few feet from himself.

“I couldn’t help but get a better view of the lake. Golden rays of sunshine are beautiful in a fumbilian home, but no sight in the region compares to the scene before us now.” Ripplezack inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, seeming to enjoy the fresh breeze. Then, he turned again to his friend. “Beauty moves the soul, Gogglepod, and there are few fumbles now who take the time to enjoy that feeling. We must be careful lest we lose the ability to feel it altogether.”

Little of this made sense to Gogglepod. So, he decided to quickly redirect the quiet conversation. “All the same, I think we should probably ask Trippen why we are camped on this hill. I don’t see the remnants of a skirmish. In fact, I see no evidence of Gorban’s folk or the Southern fumbilian hunting party.”

“I agree,” said Ripplezack. “Perhaps the fight occurred within the forest on the other side of the lake?”

“I doubt it. The hunting party would not have ventured far from the lake and Gorban’s folk always make a scene out of every attack. The fight—if one occurred—would have taken place directly on the far shore,” replied Gogglepod, pointing to the far end of the lake.

Ripplezack gazed in the same direction. A confused expression formed on his face as he considered the facts. Something did not seem right. They had heard the report of the attack, they had prepared for battle, and now they had positioned themselves on the hill directly overlooking the valley where the skirmish should have taken place. Yet, there was no evidence of a conflict whatsoever.

Hours seemed to roll by as the two fumbles remained gazing at the motionless lake and continued to analyze the situation. The sun slowly moved downward across the western sky, and the companions began realizing just how silent the wood had become. The wind that had been blowing quite steadily when they first arrived had died. Even the slow ripple of the nearby stream seemed to have dropped immensely. The forest was quiet...“too quiet” thought Gogglepod.

Just then, his body tensed again as he heard another rustling in the bushes behind him near the bottom of the hill. Turning quickly, he slid halfway down the incline and stopped at the foot of the hill to face the intruder. Ripplezack followed and was just joining Gogglepod at the base when the instigator of the rustling noise revealed itself.

A fumbilian scout crashed through the trees, panting breathlessly, and nearly collapsed from exhaustion right in front of the Gogglepod. The fumble was clearly out of breath and gasping for air due to his run. However, it was the blank look in his eyes and the pale complexion of his face that trapped Gogglepod’s attention.

“What happened?” Gogglepod asked half commandingly and half anxiously.

“Something….something is coming!” gasped the terrified scout.

Gogglepod was about to ask for more of an explanation when the young warrior poured it out in fragmented statements.

“I and…and three others went to scout the far side of the lake by circling the valley through the forest on the Western side. Trippen was leading us. We…we were walking, and entered a plot of thick trees. There was….there was…darkness everywhere. I saw an opening in the thick trees and made for it. That’s when I realized I was alone….completely alone.

“Well… what happened to Trippen and the others?” prodded Gogglepod.

The scout stopped trembling for a second and just stared at Gogglepod directly in the eyes.

“They just vanished. I…I looked everywhere for them. At one moment we were walking right next to each other…then next minute…well…I was alone…like I said earlier.”

“And that’s when you ran back here?”

“No. I ran back as soon as I saw the tracks around me,” answered the scout.
Ripplezack and Gogglepod leaned to in to hear better.

The scout’s eyes widened in terror as he exclaimed, “I saw…I saw weeblow tracks, sir!…Huge ones…”

Gogglepod’s heart jumped and his mind began to race with unanswered questions. “What did all of this mean? Why would weeblows be this deep in the forest? They didn’t even work with Gorban’s folk. They weren’t even talking beasts at all!”

The weeblow was the most dreaded and dangerous beast that inhabited the country, second only to one creature: a nameless evil which no fumble ever dared to fight—or apparently name. No living fumble had ever succeeded in killing a weeblow or the nameless beast.

While Gogglepod’s mind raced with unanswered questions, one question stood out above the others: “Where did Trippen go?”

Before he could ask this question again, however, his mind was once again snapped back to reality by Ripplezack, who was now questioning to the scout.

“How old were the tracks you saw?”

“They were fresh! As if the monster had just passed through!” the terrified scout blurted.

Ripplezack’s face paled as he turned to face Gogglepod. “If what the scout says is true, we have to move…we have to move right now!”

Gogglepod quickly gathered his wits. If Trippen was gone and dangerous creatures—talking or not—were on the loose, then the rest of the troop needed to act quickly. Gorban’s folk were ruthless, but Weeblows were completely wild and unpredictable. The situation had rapidly become an emergency.

“Your right Ripplezack. Let’s get out of here.”

Gogglepod took a quick look around and noticed that nearly seven more fumbles had emerged from the trees, undoubtedly curious about the commotion. He motioned with his hand for them to quietly join Ripplezack, the scout, and himself. The seven slowly made their way down the hill and through the foliage and undergrowth.

When all had arrived, Gogglepod quickly explained the situation. After mentioning the Weeblow tracks and the vanishing of Trippen, the company unanimously agreed to move out.

Gogglepod was just wondering whether they should move forward, in search
of the the missing Trippen, or double back to where they came from when he noticed the silence and darkness enveloping the small troop. Despair seemed to climb up their trembling legs and sink cold talons into their hearts. They were miles from home, missing a leader, and potentially surrounded by the some of the most feared beasts in the country. Each fumble looked from tree to tree, expecting a hideous creature to spring out unexpectedly. Every breaking of a stray twig made one’s heart jump.

The fear was overwhelming. The once bright sun was now nearly hidden behind the far off mountains. Dusk had fallen, and the shadows were taking back their lost ground. Gogglepod tightened his fists and attempted to focus his mind on the task at hand. They had to run, but they also had to stay together. If they searched for Trippen, and there were indeed surrounding creatures, then they would be slaughtered one by one. But, traveling back together would make them an obvious target to any hungry or angry beast.

Gogglepod weighed pros and cons and dreaded each move. Sweat dripped down his face as he furiously battled his thoughts in search of the right answer.

Finally, he drew the short sword at his side. He had made up his mind. They would all turn back together and hope for the best. “At least some of us could make it back home to acquire help,” he thought.

Quickly and decisively, Gogglepod moved to the front of the group and was about to give the command to move out when the coldest chill he had ever felt rippled down his spine. Every voice stopped as they listened to what was unmistakably the deep, bellowing roar of a hungry beast in trees behind them.

Author's age when written