Regular Romp is an interactive fiction activity over on our Twitch stream where I ask a regular a series of questions before turning their answers and a corruption of their username into a short story. Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d like to participate.
All of his dreams had to be stored in the mysterious forest beyond the farmstead. The young man had to keep them there, safe with buried nuts of the innumerable squirrels, because there was absolutely no room in his regular life. The elders and his employers filled it with labor, chores, and social obligations. Why, that day alone he was supposed to work the fields for five hours, help lay some stone on the exterior walls, and then show up for a bonfire dance where his partner was already selected for him. She was cute, but that was beside the point.
Incredible Wolfy was born just a little too late to see the world. The evidence was everywhere, as the names of the farmstead folk reflected traditions from numerous countries and continents, yet they never had family to visit elsewhere. They had all settled in to this extremely fertile valley and cast aside their desire to explore or fight. Not Wolfy. There was an itch in his hand, only satisfied when he was swinging a blade.
Escape would have to wait for another day, because he needed to pluck some vegetables if he wanted to get paid. The sun was still on its way up and there were still a few yawns living in his chest, but he stretched his arms toward the sky as he walked, trying to wring them out.
Someone else skipped past him, seeming oddly chipper given the time. Given the person. Wolfy recognized them as Iocan Dorll, one of the farmstead smiths. That wasn’t the way he defined himself though; he was a profoundly religious man who wore a robe at all times, even when its long sleeves were at risk of catching fire in his smithing work. He tossed prayers that sounded more like curses at any rambunctious youth that crossed his path.
At that moment he was guilty of being as giddy as any child he’d scolded. He wore a new robe, darker than his usual, with some kind of hat forming a lump under the hood. The old man skipped along, bounced, practically hopped toward the farmstead gates. It was almost as if he’d forgotten how to walk normally. Wolfy thought of asking if anything was wrong, but it was too early to get yelled at. Such questions were more of an evening affair.
A few minutes later, he arrived at the radish patch of Ember, Stroden, and Northpoint, one of the larger agricultural firms in the farmstead. Stroden and Northpoint were workers of the land themselves, but Chopper Ember was more of an agricultural lawyer. Each strain of each crop was taken very seriously, and their purity sometimes had to be defended in court, especially when cross-pollination was involved. Wolfy stayed out of such affairs; he was just supposed to harvest the radishes and turn them in to the barn.
He fetched a wheelbarrow, a pair of work gloves, a trowel, and dragged it all out into the field. One by one he plucked the purple and white vegetables from the ground and tossed them into the wheelbarrow. There was a rush of an earthy scent each time, a reminder of just how fertile these lands were. In fact, they seemed to be getting even better lately. Some of the radishes took two hands for him to rip free; they were the size of human heads and roots stretching three feet.
Wolfy wondered if something was down there in the darkness. An image popped into his head of a shimmering fountain of nutrients tickling roots hanging from a cavern ceiling. Maybe he should move his dreams out of the forest and bury them. They could grow, as everything else was. He tugged on a bunch of four wide leaves. It didn’t give, not even a little. Wolfy sighed and squatted down, adjusting all ten fingers around the top of the radish.
He pulled with all his might, loosening it after ten seconds. Roots snapped, the sound barely muffled by the layers of loam. The radish broke free, showing Wolfy in dirt clods and making him tumble backward. The vegetable, easily the biggest he’d ever seen, smacked him in the face and squashed his nose.
“Say you’re alright,” a high voice squeaked. Wolfy jumped up and whirled around, but there was nobody there. The field was as empty as ever. All the farmers and lawyers were busy in the barncourt, arguing over turnip tariffs.
“Who said that?” he asked, wielding his trowel like a dagger.
“Down here,” the squeak answered. Wolfy leaned forward. The voice came from the hole created by the giant turnip. It was large enough for him to stick his head down and then some, but he kept a safe distance. His eyes adjusted, discerning the details of the voice’s owner. The face was fuzzy and white, with two large front teeth and wiggling little chin. Two great floppy ears were bent backward, pressed against the side of the hole. It was a bunny, but its eyes shone with a strange reflective light, like the moon off a disturbed pond.
“You’re a… talking bunny?” The animal rolled its eyes, another odd sight to add to the list.
“Actually I’m an earth spirit wrapped in the flesh of a bunny, but as far as you’re concerned, yes, a bunny. I’ve come looking for someone brave and adventurous. There’s no adventure around here, so I’ve had to judge you by your tenacity in claiming that turnip.”
“Whatever. My name is Chimwhisker. My land is far below and steeped in magic. Some of it rises up here from time to time, granting you your bounties. I am here because something else has risen. One of my kin seeks to use this peaceful farmstead. I need you to stop them.”
“There’s a magical bunny kingdom under my feet?” Wolfy repeated. Chimwhisker rolled her eyes again.
“There’s no king,” she said exasperatedly, “and we’re not all bunnies, but yes there are a lot of bunnies. We multiply like… never mind. Not important. What is your name?”
“Incredible Wolfy,” he answered proudly, “and you’re right. I seek to do incredible things.”
“Wow, that name is… also not important,” Chimwhisker mumbled. “There is another spirit, as bunny as me, already influencing the people of your town. His name is Danvertail and he seeks to overpower your minds and recruit you as soldiers in his conquest down here. Neither of us dares rise above the dirt, so we must fight through you.”
“Why can’t you come up here?”
“Hawks… also owls.”
“Alright!” Wolfy blurted. He had no reason to turn down such an opportunity. The creature could’ve been lying, but he was already thinking up a few ways to make sure of the truth. “What do I have to do, little bunny god Chimwhisker?”
“You must find the magic I sent up here last night. I lost it. There is a sword. It does not cut flesh; it slices dark magic instead. Find it and touch it to everyone who has fallen under Danvertail’s spell. The sword will have taken root like any other vegetable. Pull at as you did the turnip…”
“Whatever! Pull it and claim it. Save your farmstead.”
“Ho do I know who has been infected by the evil?” he asked in a hush.
“They will think like Danvertail, and so will hop like him as well. Also, do not eat any of the vegetables for the time being. He may have hexed them as well. Now go!” Chimwhisker’s face fell out of sight, as if the bunny was suddenly dropped down a well. Wolfy was left standing there in the gentle breeze. It was still very early, but he felt new energy coursing in his limbs. Now was his chance to prove himself, to avoid a life of limp leek litigation. First, he had to confirm that Chimwhisker was not a trickster as well. He snatched up the giant radish and made a run across the fields for the home of his older friend: Rickard ‘Potato’ Soma.
On the way there he was disturbed to see some sort meeting adjourning from the barncourt. The doors were thrown wide open, and Iocan Dorll was the first one to emerge, face even more hidden by the hood of his robe. Wolfy slowed down, pretending nothing was wrong, glancing every other moment at the crowd. They weren’t normal. They hopped up and down with each step, their hands perched close to their chests and their eyes vacant. Dorll was spreading the hex, growing his cult of Danvertail. By sundown he could have the whole farmstead.
Luckily, good old Potato was right where he always was, and that was behind closed doors. He was a very large man with a gut that infuriated every belt maker in town. Nothing seemed capable of containing it completely, and it was always peeking at social events, peeking that turned into pouring until everyone was put off their supper. That was fine by Potato, because he always had room for more supper.
He was sitting in a custom-built rocking chair that squeaked louder than Chimwhisker whenever it moved. He was so engrossed in a book that he didn’t even notice Wolfy enter and slam the door. Potato licked his finger, turned the page, and licked his finger again. He seemed to be tasting the book more than reading it, which made a strange sort of sense, given that it was a cookbook rather than a novel.
“Two tablespoons of butter,” he chuckled to himself. “Only two. Oh, Wolfy. Goodness, that’s a fantastic radish you have there. What do I have to do to make it mine?”
“You can have it!” Wolfy declared, rushing over to him and holding it just of reach. Potato sat there calmly; this was nothing worth standing over, not yet anyway. Perhaps if it had a sauce. “There’s a catch though. I’m on a quest and I need to know if the quest-giver is trustworthy. She told me our vegetables our cursed! Some dark magic bunny god below the Earth’s crust is using our food to hypnotize us! Even now, there’s a hopping cult outside, recruiting anyone they find.”
“So what do you need from me?” He didn’t seem particularly disturbed by the news; his eyes were still glued to the radish.
“I want you to eat this,” Wolfy instructed. “Then tell me if tastes like bad magic. You could be recruited, but you’ll be too slow to chase me down, so… no offense… I just need to see if it’s real.”
“None taken. Now let me take that,” he reached for the radish. Wolfy handed it over and stepped back. Potato was a glutton for food culture as well as the stuff itself, so he took his sweet time rolling ti around in his hands, smelling it, and licking the dirt off its exterior. When Wolfy was about shout for him to hurry, Potato took a giant bite out of its side. The crunch was enough to make Wolfy flinch, as if it was the sound of the roof beams collapsing.
“Rich yet sharp,” Potato said. “Perfect for a salad, but only a giant salad, the kind made for festivals that someone your size might be able to swim in.” He took another bite. “Oh, delightful. Thank you for this.” Another bite.
“What about the hex?”
“Oh this is definitely hexed,” he said, going in for a fourth bite. “That’s the distinct moldy peppercorn aftertaste, but I can life with that.”
“Wait, so, do you feel like worshiping a dark bunny god and committing atrocities for him?”
“But… you’re not hopping.”
“I’m not standing up for any of this. Danvertail is a wonderful leader; he should take over the world, but it’ll take a lot more than that to get a man like me to hop. I’d shake the whole farmstead. Go on now. Let me finish my treat in peace.” Wolfy didn’t need to be told twice. He fled the building, careful to close the door quietly this time.
It was late enough in the day that everyone was out doing errands and chores. Several of them were hopping, and when he got some harsh stares he decided to hop as well, just to blend in. There was still no point in going for the sword. The farmstead had hundreds of crops growing in batches all over. He needed yet more information to hone in on it. He needed another specialist. He turned mid-hop toward the smithing yard.
He was almost immediately stopped by the swell of a crowd. Several wore dark robes just like Dorll. They were gathered around the fire pit. The bonfire wasn’t scheduled to start until sundown, but the bloodthirsty bunny worshipers cared not. The flame was already blazing, higher than they’d ever built it before. Carrots and parsnips were roasting over its edge, and Wolfy couldn’t help but picture the townsfolk skewered there instead.
The girl he was assigned to dance with that evening was there. He could tell by the way that she stood still, feet not even tapping, that the hex hadn’t claimed her yet. It was about to; she opened her mouth and brought a roast carrot, blackened and steaming, to her tongue.
“No! Wolfy cried, lunging, not hopping in a respectable fashion, and knocked the hot vegetable from her hands. All heads turned to him before it even hit the ground.
“Is there a problem with the food?” Iocan Dorll asked, emerging from the crowd, bouncing on his toes. “Upset that it comes from a different firm little Wolfy?” Something twitched under his hood.
“It… it looked to hot,” he stuttered. He noticed a younger child about to eat another one of the carrots. Again he lunged and smacked it out of their hand. They immediately started to cry. “That one too.” Dorll’s sneer soured into a grimace. He jumped in place, wordlessly. Others joined him, drawing confused looks from those who hadn’t been absorbed yet.
This was a test. He needed to match their hops. The young man tried, but his jump was clearly to a different rhythm. It was the jump of Chimwhisker, and Dorll recognized it as such. He shrieked, pulling back his hood. A pair of black thorny bunny ears popped up, shocking much of the crowd. They tried to scatter, but hopping cultists grabbed them here and there, tried shoving steaming carrots in their mouths.
Wolfy turned and made a run for it. Dorll pursued. The hex forced him to hop, but his dark god granted him inhuman strength. He had twenty feet to a single bound. It was impossible to outrun for him long, but the smithing yard was right there. A few guards, startled by the commotion at the fire, rushed to meet him, spears in hand.
“Evilbunnycursedeveryonehavetofindmagicswordstopguybehindmyplease!” Wolfy shouted as quickly as he could. The statement stopped them in their tracks, but they let him pass. They clashed with Dorll, holding their spears over him in an X pattern so he couldn’t bound away.
Wolfy found his next expert hard at work, hammering away on a white hot ax blade. She was Hey Xunni, greatest smith of the farmstead. Like Potato, she seemed lost in her work, as if the world around her was just a place for her to weapons to cool, as if every body that offended her was just a scabbard for a piece of her work. There was no time for pleasantries.
“Hey! There’s magic sword around here, growing like a vegetable. I need to know where it is!” Hey stopped hammering. She took one look at Wolfy and one look at the distant guards holding Dorll down. She had plenty of experience with magic in her time; it was the main reason she settled down in the farmstead and left her old life of bloodshed behind. Magic was the plaything of fools, but answering his question was the quickest way to get him out of her hair.
“Go to the hill overlooking the creek,” she advised. “The soil is rich in metals there. Plus, a magician once took his own life and spilled magical blood under the tree growing at its peak. If there’s a rooted sword hiding anywhere among your produce, it’s there.” She went back to hammering, clearly out of words for whatever had befallen the farmstead.
Wolfy was tempted to snag one of the weapons off her wall, but it would only slow him down. There was a loud snarl as Dorll broke free of the guards, tossing them away and hopping more than thirty feet in the air. From his apex, the sun blazing behind him, he pointed at Wolfy and shrieked like a rabbit with the blood-lust of a gorilla in heat.
He turned and ran for the creek, hopefully the last stop in this whirlwind of cult magic. His lungs were on fire, but he could already see it. The farmstead was a densely packed place: people atop their homes atop their crops. Everyone looking out for each other, but keeping them from getting too far. If the sword could stop Danvertail, it could stop that too.
There was a small patch of lettuce heads under the tree that had seen magical blood. Wolfy flagged at the start of the incline, nearly tripping. He braced himself, hands against the hill, pretending the magic under the ground was like fire. He had stay off it, had to keep going.
“I will claim you, lettuce-blade!” He yelled, just for an extra puff of motivation. One of the heads twitched in response, shaking off dew. Maybe it was the innate magic of it, or Chimwhisker shaping to from the roots, but his eyes were locked on it either way. He collapsed on the head of lettuce at the same time as Dorll. They both clawed at it, trying to claim the sword for their respective rabbit gods.
Dorll squealed and stabbed at Wolfy with his thorny ears, but he persevered. Each puncture sent blood dripping down his hands, transferring it to the leaves of the lettuce-blade. Each of them thought they had a grip, but they ended up tearing a leaf away, getting closer to the magical center. Leaf after leaf was torn and thrown, like a frenzied game of ‘does he love me, does he love me not?’
Wolfy grabbed the last leaf, but it didn’t crumple under the pressure. It wrapped around a hilt. He had it! Wolfy yanked again, pumping fire into his veins. He couldn’t feel the thorns because he was just the thrill of adventure and the burn of sacrifice. The dirt shifted. Roots snapped, the sound turning into his name in his ears. Wolfy! Wolfy!
The force of its plucking tossed them both away, rolling them down opposite sides of the hill. Wolfy landed in the creek, but the blade shot up out of the water immediately. The lettuce blade was his to command, and it felt as light as a midday salad… without dressing. Dorll reappeared, limbs splayed, bounding over the hill in a single leap. He came down on Wolfy with full force, but was touched, right in the heart, by the feathered tip of the lettuce blade.
The older man collapsed into the creek, sputtering as his human voice returned. Wolfy wanted to wait and see the humanity shine in his eyes once more, wanted to hear him beg for forgiveness, but there was no time. Danvertail’s magic was still afoot. When he rose he found that all the fire from his efforts had concentrated in his feet. Chimwhisker was giving him a chance to close the gap, before Danvertail’s followers hopped away and lost themselves in the woods.
Wolfy jumped, soaring so high that he could see the whole farmstead. There was someone in a dark robe hopping beneath him, trying to flee. He landed with such power that a wave of dust was produced. The lettuce blade struck, piercing only the foul magic. Their nose stopped twitching as they passed out. No time to linger. Wolfy leapt onto the next fleeing cultist. And the next. And the next.
One by one he rid the farmstead of the infection from deep below. When all was done, when the bonfire was burning out, turning to nothing but but a lazy gray worm in the sky, Incredible Wolfy rested on the hill that had tasted magical blood and now the wave of sweat rolling off his neck and arms.
So that was what adventure felt like. He couldn’t help himself; he lifted the leafy pommel of the lettuce blade and took a hearty bite. So that was what adventure tasted like. He could hear people gathering at the foot of the hill, splashing about in the creek, demanding an explanation from the now-chained Dorll. Wolfy couldn’t bring himself turn his head away from the foliage and look down at them.
There would be plenty of time for that when he was back to his chairs, when the trowel was glued to his hand. A thought struck, like lightning at the top of that hill. He was staring in the wrong direction. Wolfy flipped over and stuck his head down the hole the lettuce blade was born from.
He couldn’t see anything yet, but he knew it was down there. Chimwhisker’s battle with Danvertail. A hundred other earth spirits multiplying and fighting. True adventure. It wan’t beyond the stone walls, or lost in the forest; it was right under his nose. All he had to do was dig.