The Adventures of Mochaki

The adventures of Mochaki the goblin – Chapter VI

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Izenal lead them to a glowing clearing. Mochaki struggled to keep up with scrambling over logs and pushing through some of the denser undergrowth. He envied Cat who, despite being rather short herself, could gracefully hop through the treeline one branch at a time. It took him several moments longer than it took the rest to reach the light of the clearing.

Blinded by the light at first, it took a moment for Mochaki’s eyes to adjust enough that he could squint past the treeline. Once he did, he couldn’t help but stare in wonder. The thick undergrowth of the forest around them looked like it had suddenly been torn from existence. A massive chunk of trees and shrubbery had been replaced with a greyish rocky landscape. There was a strange rippling effect that made it look like Mochaki was viewing the rocky landscape through a reflection in a puddle. Everything was covered in an eerie purple glow that, as it rippled, cast blinding reflections on the surrounds. A strong coppery scent permeated the air around the portal, fiercely at odds with the normal smells of the forest.
It was a moment before Mochaki realized that his companions were not as awestruck as he was.
“I see tracks, it came through here.” Barret’s voice was gruff from where he had hunkered down to study large skid marks in the dust.
“The portal is like the others,” Cat called from the edge of where the grass and the rocks were melded together. “The lines are clean, like the magic just cut away everything that was here before.”

Mochaki crept closer. The effect of the portal was strange, it made the air wavy as if it gave off heat, but when he reached for it, it felt more like a cold river current flowing over his fingers.
“Careful there, kid,” Barrett warned. “Those portals don’t last too long, no telling what will happen if it closes on you.”

Mochaki jerked his hand away just in time, as the portal suddenly blinked out of existence. Just like that, the eerie light, the rocky landscape, all of it was gone and Mochaki was staring at more forest. Mochaki whipped around to look at his party members. Cat was already turning back to Lord Farleigh, unconcerned with the sudden disappearance of the portal. Barrett sighed heavily and shared a meaningful look with Izenal. “I wish we could see one come into existence so we knew how long it took.” Izenal, quiet as ever, simply nodded.
“W-what happened?” Mochaki stammered.
Barrett turned to him and crouched down, carefully studying Mochaki. The keen stare was unnerving.

Guess if you’re traveling with us, you should know. Any objections?” He called the last bit over his shoulder. A couple of voices murmured negatives.

We’ve been hunting down the source of these portals. Recently adventuring has become more dangerous than it should be. Portals like this one open and let in creatures like the giant bug we saw. They go on a rampage, most parties don’t know how to deal with them, and before we know it the guild has suffered casualties. We’ve been lucky enough that no towns have been destroyed, but it’s only a matter of time before something more dangerous walks through one of these portals.”

Mochaki gaped at him.

T-t-that sounds really dangerous. How do you know if a portal is going to-” Mochaki gestured at the spot where the portal had been shining only moments before.

Barrett scratched the back of his neck, before responding.

No real way to tell. Far as we could figure out it happens randomly, though usually out of sight. Like they’re more likely to appear in the wilds than anywhere else.”

So not in a town?” Mochaki could picture it. A portal in their small village. The clan torn apart by some nameless violent beast. Akta’s lifeless body on the ground. The smell of burnt flesh – one he had smelled before in the aftermath of a raided village. Fear curled around his heart. It coiled, an icy snake, squeezing his chest until his breaths came in short gasps.

Take it easy, kid,” Reika said as she elbowed Barrett out of the way and hunkered down in front of Mochaki. “Take a deep breath, you’ll get through it. Look, we’re going to find a way to shut these portals down for good. Your… goblin cookie factory won’t be in any danger. Just relax.”

Mochaki focused on her voice, tried to block out the images flashing through his mind. Her face swam into view, as his breathing started to slow. Mochaki realised with a start that he was shivering.

There you go. No need to look so worried, Izenal is going to find a way to track the portals.”

Mochaki involuntarily looked at Izenal, whose rocky face remained impassive as the half-elemental met his gaze.

You can track them?” He didn’t think that his whisper would have reached Izenal’s ears, but he received a small nod in answer.

The magic is unique, not something from this realm,” his voice floated toward them. “With enough time, I could attune to it and locate the portals with that link.”

Now see, kid, there is a small problem. No one else knows about these portals – or at least, no reports have made it to the guild. That means either no party survives finding them, or none of them are willing to make the report.”

Mochaki glanced at Reika, who was still crouched in front of him with that intense stare.

How do you know they haven’t been reported?”
“Think about it, if the guild knew about these portals they would put every adventuring party on high alert. Any information about the portals would be highly sought after – and rewards for killing the portal beasts would skyrocket.”

When Mochaki offered nothing more than a blank look, Reika rolled her eyes.

If we’ve come across these portals, other parties have too. Why do you think they haven’t reported them yet?”

To… to find out more about how they work?” Mochaki asked.

Exactly. The more we know about them by the time the guild starts offering rewards, the more likely we are to beat any other party to the punch. If we can track the portals and figure out how to safely deal with them, the guild would pay us a fortune.”

“But every party will be doing that,” Mochaki pointed out.

“Which is why we need to move faster than they do. Plus we’re the only party with a half-elemental. Other magic users will struggle to attune to the portals because of their unnusual nature, but Izenal’s magic is sourced from nature itself.”

“So you’re looking for portals to make more money?”

“Adventuring aint a charity, kid,” Reika snapped.

“Indeed,” Barrett intervened with a sharp look at Reika. “Weapons, armour and provisions all cost quite a bit. Plus we risk our lives for those who can’t do the job themselves. A reward is to be expected. More importantly, it is only fair that we let you know about the risks in facing those portal beasts while you are in our party.”

An uneasy feeling slid through Mochaki as he looked at the party. Cat was feigning disinterest, but he had a feeling that she was listening closely to the conversation because she was drifting closer, not bothering to play a game with Lord Farleigh. Reika was still hunkered down, not even attempting to hide the fact that she was watching his every move. Both Barrett and Izenal were staring at him too. With so many pairs of eyes watching him, it felt like he was back before the clan Elders – when they had asked him to go sell their cookies. Was the party asking him if he wanted to stay with them?

“I-I… I just want to sell my cookies.”

Barrett smiled and shook his head.

“Of course if you travel with us we will do everything we can to help with your sales. However, we cannot guarantee that you will not face immense danger as we hunt for the source of these portals.”

Mochaki considered his words for a moment.

“It’s true that the portals sound dangerous, but for my kind going anywhere away from the clan is already dangerous,” Mochaki deliberated. A thought occurred to him, one which sent a jolt of excitement through him.

“D-d-do you think, if the portals open places to monsters, they can also open to places with other people?”

His question was directed at Barrett, but it was Reika who answered with barely suppressed laughter.
“It is possible, kid. Don’t tell me you’re that ambitious?”

“What?” Barrett asked, casting his frown between the two of them.

“W-well if there are more people in other places, then we could… sell to them. Cookies, I mean. Maybe they would like the recipes, or even have some new ingredients. I think Akta would-” Mochaki’s muttering was drowned out by a shocked guffaw. He was surprised to find the noise had come from Izenal, who was staring at him with equal shock.

“What type of goblin are you?” the half-elemental clucked his tongue, the laughter in his face melting away to something Mochaki could not identify.

“N-normal?” Mochaki ventured. No one argued, but Barrett chuckled and placed a large hand on Mochaki’s head, flattening his ears. The gesture was strange, but it felt friendly. Mochaki glanced up to find Barrett watching him with an approving smile.
“A brave goblin, no doubt.”

With that, the party decided to return to camp, an all the way Mochaki could not help but bask in the warm feeling of his party’s approval. The small glimmer of pride kept his thoughts away from the cold fear that the portal had instilled in him.

In the days that followed, Mochaki learned plenty about his companions. He used one of the blank pages in his survey book to scribble down important details in his best common. Cat likes games – sore loser. Lord Farleigh eats dandelion, mango and lizard scale cookies. Barrett is a hunter – his knife is good for skinning. Reika is not a morning person. Izenal sleeps with his toes in the campfire.

Mochaki carefully collected information on his party members, filing away habits and preferences in his mind. It was the same way he had learned to speak the human tongue – by watching and learning. He soon noticed them greeting him with smiles or casually patting him on the head. The part of him that ached for his clan felt smaller, less imposing.

There were no futher portal encounters, and traveling became tedious much sooner than Mochaki had expected. Once, he had believed that every bush and tree hid danger, now he realized that for the most part, the world was not as scary as he had believed.

Perhaps it was because of how boring the travel was, or because of how comfortable the party was together, but several days after they had set out into the wilderness Barrett brought to party to a sudden halt. Mochaki, who had been explaining to Cat how rat tails could be cured as a goblin delicacy, slammed face first into Barrett’s legs.

Something is wrong,” Barrett grumbled, his voice strained.

What d’ya mean?” Reika’s voice floated from somewhere to there right. Mochaki had learned not to look for her – if Reika wanted to disappear into the shadows there was no way of finding her. So instead, Mochaki stared up at Barrett’s broad figure. Barrett rarely relaxed or messed around the way the others did. His focus was always on where to go, or what to do next. He was also the one who seemed to know which direction to head into and how best to make us of natural trails for safe shortcuts. They had left the road entirely a day ago and had been following Barrett’s unfaltering footsteps to where the next town on their journey was supposed to be. But now, looking up at him, Mochaki was surprised to find that Barrett looked uncertain.

I don’t know.” Barrett peered into the undergrowth, then squinted up at the canopy where a thin trail of sunlight was making its way down to them.

Cat, quiet for once, walked to one of the closest bushes and inspected its leaves. A moment later her pale fingers snatched at the bush and snapped off a small branch. Mochaki sneezed at the tangy smell from several feet away.

Have a look, Bar.”

Barrett took the branch carefully, sniffed it, then gagged.

What is this?” He finally asked to Cat, who only shrugged.

I do not recognize it. We have been through these woods enough to recognize the local flora.”

Mochaki wandered closer. His eyes and nose burned as he neared the bush that Cat had been studying. There was something familiar about it. Something that made his stomach uneasy.

It kind of looks like Elderberry, but it smells rancid,” Barrett mused. “Could it be a sickness of some kind?”

These ones smell normal,” Reika pointed out unhelpfully from the shadows. Izenal wandered over the where her voice had come from, seemingly zoning in on her location with very little effort.

Mochaki looked at the bush again. He did not know what elderberry looked like, but the bush itself had such a strange scent he could almost imagine he saw wavy lines emanating from it.

No sickness that I have heard of could change the smell of it. It is almost as though the bush is bleeding.”

Blood. Copper. Realization dawned. Mochaki screeched and flung himself at Cat, whose slim frail was easily bowled over by the unexpected attack. He tugged her with him, away from the bush. Her startled yelp drew the party’s attention seconds before the world around Mochaki blurred. Cold rippled over him. The air was knocked from his lungs for a moment before they fell back onto the forest floor, Cat’s hand still tightly gripping his. Mochaki was suddenly picked up by the scruff of his neck and yanked back. He clung to Cat as Barrett pulled them further from the portal that was now looming inches from their feet. Once they had a little distance between them and the portal, Mochaki dared a glance. The forest had been replaced with a cliff edge. From the portal they could see grassy plains stretched out down, down, down – hundreds of feet below where they had been moments before.

Mochaki gulped heavily for air, barely aware that Cat was clinging to him with cold fingers.

How did you-”

The words were drowned out by a sudden thundering caw. Mochaki watched in horror as the winged creature on the other side turned to face them.



To be continued – Teddy

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