This is my first effort at fanfic ever. I feel like such a dork. I hope you will be forgiving. This is a draft and will no doubt be revised in the near future. You may notice some parallels to discussions that have taken place on the official forums - this is all in good fun, just my salvo in the kindhearted back and forth between the old guard and the noob zerg.
Elden Hagen took a deep breath of the fresh pumpkin pie as he carried it from the oven to his windowsill. Steam marked his path, rising from the pie and floating on the thick air. He scraped a minute glob of filling from the pie with his stubby finger, tasted it, and nodded contentedly. Satisfied with his work, Hagen retired to the porch to enjoy his pipe and the sunset.
Moments after the sun disappeared behind the distant majesty of the Widow’s Veil range, Hagen heard rustling in the pumpkin patch north of his home. He rose with agitation and, grasping the gnarled branch that had long been his cane, moved toward the source of the racket.
“I hear you!” he called. “Is it you darned young’uns again?” Hagen glanced at his window to ensure the sanctity of the cooling pie had not been violated, then squinted at his pumpkin patch. The vines were still for several moments, then rustled as a small form sought ineffectively to crawl away from Hagen’s gaze.
“Stop!” Hagen ordered, stepping off the porch and moving toward the patch. “I see you there! You stay right there and stand up and identify yourself and I just might spare you the thrashing you deserve!”
After a pause, a young halfling reluctantly emerged from the vines and sheepishly stared at his feet. A harsh whisper came from the pumpkin patch a few yards to his left, and after he murmured a quiet response a second halfling stood.
“I recognize that dopey mug, Serdon Stibbons,” said Hagen acidly.
“Yes sir,” stuttered the first halfling to stand. He and his companion exchanged glances.
“You’re worse than those blasted ants. Worse than that idiot Osmal was back in his day, even. You and your generation are a blight on the race,” swore Hagen.
“I’m sorry sir,” said Serdon. He began to say more, then thought twice and stopped.
“As if things weren’t bad enough with the insect invasion and our fat mayor and his cronies down at the tavern all night while good farmers see their livelihoods mandibled away,” muttered Hagen, shaking his head. “So tell me, hooligan, how did you know a pie was coming?”
“We smelled it, sir,” said the second halfling.
“I don’t know you,” growled Hagen.
“Sir, Nelton Fielding, sir,” replied the boy meekly.
“Fielding, eh. I believe I know your uncle. Lazy clod, he is. Definitely from the same vine. Go on, olfactory wonder, explain to me how you came to be in my pumpkin patch this night.”
“Well, sir, we was cutting across the field and we smelt the most wonderful thing and we followed our noses here, and then we saw the pie on the windowsill, and Serdon said wait til dark, and . . .” Nelton’s story trailed off under the withering glare of his friend.
“I’ve heard enough. Might I ask, will either of the two of you be judges at the Harvest Fair?” inquired the farmer sarcastically. The boys, looking puzzled, shook their heads.
“Then you’ll not get one taste of my pie!” Hagen exclaimed. Rather than quake in terror, as Hagen had rather hoped they would, Serdon dragged his foot dejectedly in small circles on the ground, while Nelton just frowned, his disappointment overtaking his fear.
“Now get gone, riffraff, and if you move fast enough I may spare you my cane.” Hagen watched as the boys sprinted away through the patch and then over the open field, not pausing until they disappeared over the low ridge that marked the edge of Hagen’s farmstead.
Hagen scowled into the darkness and entered his house, carefully locking the door behind him and securing the window after bringing the pie safely inside. Irritated by the boys’ incursion, Hagen nevertheless took solace in the knowledge that a slice of pie would salvage his night. He carefully sliced a modest piece and settled down in the lone chair at his table to enjoy his latest masterpiece.
* * *
The following day proved uneventful, at least up to a point. Hagen had carefully weeded his pumpkin patch, grimacing every time he encountered a footprint from the prowling children. Hagen took special care weeding the patch around the largest pumpkin in the patch – it was the biggest he had ever seen, and he had high hopes for the pie it would make. He tended his other crops, admittedly with a bit less obsession, and had just settled down on his porch to enjoy a midafternoon smoke when he spied a lone halfling strolling down the path to his house. Eying the stranger with some suspicion, moreso when he saw the package the stranger carried, Hagen made sure his cane was in easy reach and decided to save the pipe until later, when he could smoke without interruption.
The stranger reached the ground below the porch and bowed cheerfully.
“Hello, sir, I’d like to introduce myself – Sebastien Bock’s the name, and I’m your new neighbor,” explained the halfling cheerfully.
“Charmed,” grimaced Hagen, making no move toward his visitor.
“I just moved in to the old Autter farm, what with old Mrs. Autter going to stay with her oldest girl and her family after what happened to . . .”
“Yes, yes, terrible tragedy. Blasted ants. Mind you, Emmett shouldn’t have been in that field to begin with, but if you knew him you’d understand the challenge sense had of getting through that dense skull. But of course it would be wrong to speak ill of the dead.” Hagen’s comments drew an uneasy look from Sebastien, but the visitor quickly regained the innocent grin with which he had arrived.
“Anyway, the children around here tell me you’re quite the pie fancier,” said Sebastien.
“What, like a pervert? Ooooh, those little . . .”
“No, no, nothing like that. They say you have a great appreciation for pies, and are perhaps the best maker of pies between the mountains and Tursh, at least,” said the chipper halfling.
Hagen almost smiled. He could like this new neighbor. “I’ve won the Harvest Fair prize for seven years now, and I’m proud of that. You can take it to the bank that no man can best my pies.”
“Sir, I can feel that I am in the presence of greatness,” agreed Sebastien. “I had hoped the rumors were true.”
“Some are,” said Hagen, suddenly remembering bits and pieces of things he had heard on his occasional forays to town. “Some are not. I do not go by the nickname ‘Booger,’ no matter what those prickly young savages may say.”
Sebastien nodded sympathetically. “I would not expect you to. But lest I forget, I come bearing a gift in an effort to be neighborly from the get-go.” Sebastien handed the package up to Hagen, who reached over the porch to receive it.
“What is it?” asked Hagen, appraising the gift but unwilling to let his guard down.
“I hope you do not take offense, for I know it may be presumptuous, but I enjoy baking a pie myself, and I wanted to share with you my specialty.” Hagen’s eyebrow shot up.
“What kind?” he asked rudely.
“It’s an apple pie, sir, just the way my old gamma taught me so many years ago.”
“Apple. Apple!” Hagen took the gift in both hands and turned his head, holding it as far from his nose as he could until he dropped it ungraciously and let it splat on the ground.
“It’s not even a pie, silly bink!” railed Hagen. “It’s just chopped up apples in a crust! Get the devil off my property, and you should consider yourself lucky I don’t cane you where you stand for such insolence! If there was a volcano in these parts, I’d throw you in it twice!”
Sebastien, looking shocked, made brief attempts to apologize before being harangued away by the angry farmer. He sighed as he walked back toward his own home, knowing that the deterioration of the exchange had not been his fault but nevertheless feeling responsible for the conflict.
Back at the house, Hagen spit off the porch at the remains of the apple pie, now soaking through the brown paper in which it had been wrapped. Then, fearing the sugary sweetness left on the ground could attract the ants to his yet uninfested plot of land, Hagen piled kindling around the gift and burned it, taking care that no sparks ignited his house.
* * *
Several days passed. Hagen had noted from a distance the renewed signs of life in the Autter farmhouse, and occasionally saw his new neighbor assessing the property and making initial attempts at reclaiming his fields from the wild.
A messenger from town had briefly visited Hagen’s farmhouse, warning him that ant scouts had been spotted less than two leagues to the south. But Hagen knew their advance was slow, slower than that of the accursed dead who had driven him and his people from Willowroot so many decades before. Until he could hear distant chittering in the night, Hagen would not fear the ants – not when there were other more immediate threats to his pumpkin patch, young bipedal threats that needed a solid thrashing to make up for years of poor parenting.
One unusual occurrence did attract Hagen’s attention. Ordinarily the morning mist was burned off of Rindol Field by the rich warmth of the sun as it ascended its daily climb. But one morning, before the dew could engage in its routine evaporation, it was supplanted by a pale green fog crawling low along the ground. Hagen worried that this oily cloud might harm his vegetables, and indeed it lingered maliciously around his pumpkin patch much too long for Hagen’s liking, but as the sun arced higher the foul vapor dissipated.
* * *
That night, Hagen had enjoyed a long smoke after sunset – he had been working hard on smoking well, to make up for those sessions with the pipe which had been rudely interrupted – and settled into his cramped bed for sleep. He began to doze off when a rustling outside snatched him from the tenuous beginnings of a dream.
Hagen grabbed his cane and listened. The rustling continued sporadically. The lack of an accompanying chitter reassured Hagen that the culprit was probably not one of the blasted ants, and the troll attacks had been leagues away, besides which the city folk had supposedly ended that threat for the time being. Hagen suspected it was the no good Stibbons boy and his buffoonish friend, and this time they would not escape a caning.
Throwing his door open with authority, Hagen swept the lantern around his property as he circled the house on his porch. He gripped the cane tightly shaking it up and down in a warm-up for a thrashing that he would ensure grew to be as enduring a local legend as his pies.
The rustling in the pumpkin patch continued. Hagen could not see the Halflings, but he knew they were there.
“All right, you little pikers, prepare your rear ends for the unmatched savagery of an angry Hagen!” warned the farmer. The rustling continued unabated, but no Halflings emerged from the patch.
Hagen glared. “The longer you stay in there, the harder it will be on you,” he cautioned. Still no response. Hagen walked down from the porch and strode with great menace toward the patch.
He was about three steps from the porch when a most unusual thing happened. The great pumpkin, his prized squash, erupted from the patch. Even more unusually, noted the part of Hagen’s brain that was still processing things relatively normally, the pumpkin did not come crashing down as one would expect. Rather, it stayed in the air. As Hagen’s poor frazzled brain began to decipher what his senses were telling him, he realized that the pumpkin was perched improbably on its vine.
The pumpkin slowly rotated. Hagen discovered with horror that the pumpkin had developed a face: glowing red eyes and big blocky serrated fangs, huge fangs. Two vines sprung from the main vine a few feet below the pumpkin, and closer to the ground the vine splayed in two. The effect was akin to a stick figure with a face consisting primarily of enormous fangs.
Hagen stared dumbly at the pumpkin creature. The thought foremost in his mind was not survival, or attack, but rather that his continued victory at the Harvest Fair could be in jeopardy and he hoped that at least one or two of the other quality pumpkins was not similarly possessed. The pumpkin creature took an uncertain step toward him, then another, then another, gaining confidence in its mobility as it progressed. The part of Hagen’s brain that should have been in charge in the first place abruptly took over. “Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” he screamed, turning and running onto the porch and into the house. He threw the thick oak bar in place and closed his curtains.
The rustling continued, moving closer from the pumpkin patch. Hagen heard the slippery slapping sound of vines dragging and stepping up onto the porch. The creature had been quite tall; Hagen imagined it must have to be stooped low to get on the porch. He heard the creaking of wood, which rapidly turned to splintering, and then a sound that could only be the porch roof crashing to the ground where the creature had tossed it. Cracks appeared near the ceiling where the roof had been anchored. Hagen thanked as many gods as he could think of that he had not attached the porch roof as securely as he should have to his house.
Not satisfied with a toll of one roof, the pumpkin creature began tearing the roof off the house. Hagen’s eyes widened as the cracks that had appeared near the ceiling rapidly grew and were joined by more cracks. The creature was trying to peel the roof off his house – and it seemed to be succeeding.
Hagen hysterically pondered what he might do. His cane would be useless against the flexible vines; he could bludgeon them all he wanted, but he was certain they would just bend with the blows and snap back to shape. The cane might do some damage to the pumpkin (poor precious pumpkin, though Hagen, still distraught at the loss of his prize), but Hagen was a halfling and the creature was at least nine feet high.
Fire! Hagen’s cooking fire was still smoldering, and he might use his cane as a brand to ignite the monster or at least drive it off. Or not the cane – Hagen loved the cane. He might break his chair for a similar piece of wood, but that would take time and he did not know how much of that he had left. Hagen blew frantically on the fire, tossing on kindling and eventually bringing it back to robust life. He plunged his trusty old cane into the flame and, after some coaxing, lit the thing.
“Alrighty, yon pumpkin beast, I may not cook you into a pie but I’ll cook you all the same!” bellowed Hagen. He burst through his front door just as the creature succeeded in cracking his roof open. The creature turned in apparent surprise at the halfling and recoiled as Hagen swung his fiery cane in a wide arc.
Hagen advanced on the creature, careful to keep the fire between them. The pumpkin creature stumbled backwards, moving awkwardly on vine legs that were still adjusting to locomotion. The angry halfling believed he had the upper hand when a vine arm, apparently more readily adapted to its new purpose, lashed out and circled Hagen around the waist. The vine immediately began squeezing, and Hagen nearly dropped the cane in shock. But the old curmudgeon would not go down that easily, and he brought the fire he carried to bear on the root of the vine that encircled him.
The creature screeched in pain, a hollow but piercing cry of torment that carried far across Rindol Field. Its other vine arm lashed out and knocked the cane out of Hagen’s hand and onto the porch. Hagen did not attempt to retrieve it; instead, he ran as fast as his short legs could carry him, making every effort to put as much distance between himself and the pumpkin creature as possible. His porch, being made of wood, caught fire almost immediately, and soon thereafter the rest of the farmhouse followed suit. Hagen hoped for a moment that the creature had perished in the conflagration, but then he saw, silhouetted against the fire, a floating orb and the hints of dark stringy limbs.
Hagen ran across the field. It took him a moment to orient himself, but he realized he was heading for the old Autter farm. Perhaps if he lured the creature there it would be distracted by Sebastien and his house long enough for Hagen to escape. The silly fool would probably offer it a cake, Hagen thought disdainfully. The pumpkin creature was still having trouble walking, so Hagen gradually increased the distance between them as he ran.
When the Autter farmhouse was perhaps two hundred yards away Hagen began yelling for help. He assumed he had about a minute before the creature caught up to him. A lamp flared in a window in the farmstead and seconds later a nightgown-clad Sebastien Bock stood barefoot on the dirt path leading to his house.
“What’s all this, then?” asked Sebastien innocently. If he was annoyed at the rude awakening, he did not show it.
Hagen pointed back in the direction he had come.
“A fire?” Sebastien said, reaching for the bucket near his door. Hagen shook his head.
“Monster,” he gasped, realizing that his flight had taken quite a toll on his lungs – curse the pipe, he thought.
Sebastien concentrated, between the light of his lantern and the light of the blaze that had once been Hagen’s house, made out an unnatural form.
“Ah, one moment please,” Sebastien said. He disappeared back into his house and Hagen boggled incredulously at the sheer stupidity of his neighbor.
Sebastien reemerged without the lantern. In his right hand he held a short sword with a thick and battered blade. In his left hand, he appeared to be holding a board. As Hagen retreated behind Sebastien, prepared to run while the monster was busy consuming the cheerful dolt, he saw that the board had a nail driven through it.
“This won’t take but a minute,” Sebastien assured Hagen. As the monster approached, its remaining arm flailing in anger, the younger halfling bravely and confidently strode toward it.
“Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak,” screamed the creature, bearing its fangs and lashing its arm vine toward Sebastien. The halfling calmly ducked beneath the swinging vine, stepped forward, and smoothly chopped his sword at one of the leg vines, severing it about halfway down its length. The pumpkin creature tottered and fell to the side. As it collapsed, its arm vine attempted to wrench the sword from Sebastien’s grip, but because it grasped the sword by the blade the vine did little more than injure itself.
Sebastien released the sword to the vine’s grip and held the board with both hands. The bulbous pumpkin head of the creature was on the ground, trying to turn so it could snap its fangs at its assailant. Before it had the chance, Sebastian began savagely but meticulously beating the head with the board. The pumpkin was quickly pulped, and Sebastien scattered the pumpkin chunks with a series of kicks just to be sure.
Hagen stared at the remains of what had until recently been his prized possession and the receptacle for all his hopes, and which had even more recently been a giant monster trying to eat him.
“It’s a shame,” said Sebastien, placing a consoling hand on Hagen’s shoulder. “I bet it would have made a wonderful pie.”
“Aye,” said Hagen, too shocked to be grumpy. “I should thank you.”
“Happy to help, neighbor,” responded Sebastien cheerfully, keeping an eye on the remnants of the pumpkin creature to be sure it was well and truly dispatched. “I have often remarked that there are few problems in life that cannot be resolved by a board with a nail in it.”
“I suspect that was the work of the Verdant Vapors. I read about the phenomenon in the Great Library at New Targonor. I never thought I’d see such a rare thing for myself.” Sebastien marveled at the remains of the pumpkin creature, a fierce predator moments before now splattered across his yard like the first layer of a compost pile. “Come inside,” continued Sebastien. “You can stay with me as long as you need to, and I won’t take no for an answer. Let’s get you taken care of.”
Hagen accompanied Sebastien toward the farmhouse. He was suddenly aware of how exhausted he was, and at the same time how voracious his appetite had become after his desperate flight across the field.
“Got any food?” asked Hagen.
Sebastien looked at his neighbor with sympathy. “I’m afraid,” he said, “that all I can offer you at this hour is my homemade apple pie.”