Ben and the Great Turmaculus
Once upon a time in Meridell, the town was bustling with activity preparing for the annual Turmaculus Feast. For years now, Turmaculus, dubbed King of Petpets, had been terrorizing the citizens of Meridell by making off with their beloved petpets. He was also quite a nuisance around the farms, able to devour an entire field in just hours. The beast's appetite could not be fed, but there was no power strong enough to match the mammoth petpet, so the villagers tried the next best thing.
Each year they would hold a giant feast for Turmaculus, whereupon wheelbarrows and wagons of food were offered to him in town square. Naturally the week leading to the feast was very busy, as pets ran to and fro, frantically collecting food to appease the beast. One such pet was Ben Berry, an industrious but poor Blumaroo who curiously did not farm berries, but marrows. The week prior to the Feast, Ben spent hours in the hot sun, carrying marrow after heavy marrow from his field to the fleet of wagons in town.
It was now only days before the Turmaculus Feast and Ben was quite sour. It was almost dinner time and there was still work to be done, still heavy marrows to collect. Not only that, but now he'd have to wait for the next harvest to get paid- Turmaculus never paid for the food he ate. How could he, he was only a petpet. Here I am, Ben thought, slaving away to feed MY dinner to a terrorizing petpet!
It was time for a stand, Ben had made up his mind. Resolutely he loaded his last marrow and made his way north of his little farm to a much larger one. Straightening his burlap sack, Ben knocked on the door to the big house.
He was greeted by a dashing Wocky in a feathered green cap. The Wocky smiled wide and patted his stomach.
"Ben, how nice to see you! Not heard from you since the Marrow Festival..." he trailed off. "Eh, no hard feelings, right?"
"I've got other business tonight, Rory." The Blumaroo bounced into the threshold without waiting for response. "I need you to tell me about Turmaculus."
Rory the Wocky tugged a bit at his collar, following Ben into his own sitting room. He didn't speak until they were both seated.
"Oh, well, yes, what would you like to know?"
"Everything, start from the beginning. Where did you get him, how did you lose control?"
Reluctantly, the Wocky began his tale. He'd gotten Turmaculus as a youth, when the petpet was quite a tame size. It quickly grew, however, on the diet of tremendous marrows grown on Rory's family farm, and soon enough his appetite could not be sated by the Wocky's efforts. Turmaculus grew huge and wild, by that time more than the young Rory could ever hope to manage. By the end of his story, Rory could scarcely keep his voice from cracking.
"I do miss 'im, you know," he said, dabbing under his eye, "And when I see the things he does I feel responsible. He wasn't always a terror; he used to be so gentle. I mean, I admit I should have 'spected something'd go wrong...."
Ben, who had been listening silently during the Wocky's story, perked at this mention.
"Why?" Ben's eyes narrowed when he asked.
At this question Rory looked even more reluctant than when first asked to divulge about his former petpet. His eyes flitted across the room and his fingers tapped together, but in the end decided his secret was too good not to share.
"Now you can't tell anyone," he leaned into his words, "but there's a witch outside of town, in Burgundy Woods. Morguss, they call her, and she may have been the one to give me the ol' chap. She traded him to me, for... marrows." This time he shifted in his chair uncomfortably.
"Just marrows?" Ben asked skeptically.
"Yes, yes, well, everyone's gotta eat, right?" Rory answered a bit too happily, almost bounding from his seat to stand. "Is that all you needed, Ben? I'd invite you to dinner but no doubt you're awaiting a banquet at home."
Ben stood too and thanked the Wocky for his time, considering what he'd heard on his way home.
The next day Ben started work collecting his marrows early, and finished with enough sun in the sky for some exploring. The Burgundy Woods were rumored to be cursed and Ben had never actually been in them before. He armed himself with a torch and his burlap cap, which he fancied an adequate helmet for exploring, and made off for the site.
His first impression of the place was that it was wet and dark. With each bounce his tail squished a bit in mud and leaves, and he swore he could hear a perpetual, heavy dripping echo all around. Next he noticed how many creatures lived in these woods, creatures he'd never seen and only now by catching the flash of their eyes in shadows. Still, he noticed, if he went east the creatures were less, quieter, larger. He decided this would be the path to follow, where the lesser inhabitants of Burgundy Woods dared not linger.
After what seemed like hours of travel, when Ben had to light his torch to see and where the ground became marshy and thick, he found what he was looking for. A modest but ominous moss-covered cottage stood before him, shrouded in the swirling mists. Slowly he plodded forward, finding himself shaking a bit as he knocked on the door.
"Who dares disturb Morguss?!" a shrill voice demanded from inside the cottage.
"My name is Ben, hag, and I come on business." The Blumaroo did his best to sound confident. By reflex his back straightened when the heavy wooden door swung open.
Standing there, a hunched bundle of robe, the witch Morguss ground her staff into the floor.
"What business could you possibly have with me?" she demanded, startling Ben when she looked up, showing awful yellow tusks and bloodshot eyes.
Keeping his chest puffed and chin high, Ben regarded the terrible hag. "It's about Turmaculus."
"Ooh! Now there's a name I haven't heard in years! Why didn't you say so, youngling, come in."
The witch hobbled back to her spot beside a rotting wooden desk, piled high with curled parchment and thick tombs. Opposite her desk a giant cauldron bubbled noisily on the fire, and at the far corner a shelf displaying oddities Ben had no name for. Shaking his head, he forced himself to focus and followed the hag inside, careful not to touch anything or inhale through his nose.
Once inside, Ben told the witch everything, how Turmaculus had grown out of control and insatiable. He told her how the town's petpets were going missing, how their fields were being destroyed. He told her how even now pets were awake and working to provide enough food for his Feast. By the end of his recounting, Ben's chin finally dropped. Staring at the floor he made his appeal.
"Please, hag, we need your help. Turmaculus is destroying Meridell."
Morguss ground her staff in thought. "If the beast has grown as large as you say," she started, "then it will be a test of my abilities to take him down. Now!" She threw a sharp hoof in the air. "I won't destroy him, if that's what you're asking, but I can do the next best thing. For a price, I can doom the great Turmaculus to 300 years of deep sleep."
Ben looked up eagerly. "What is your price?"
The witch's mouth curled into something akin to a smile. She stood and walked to the Blumaroo.
"You wish me to destroy one of my children, Ben Berry. In exchange you will bring me a suitable replacement." Her grin spread wider.
"You don't mean--! Please, anything else!" Ben was aghast. He couldn't believe the witch was smiling; how could she ask such a thing?
"Nothing else!" Morguss' jowls began to tremble, "Bring me a hatchling that I might forget the 300 year loss of my pride and joy. Until you meet my price, expect no help from this witch!"
With this last bellow, Morguss thrust her staff at Ben's stomach, pushing him back and out the door, back into the sopping marsh. Before he could stand she'd slammed the door shut and Ben was faced with only the dark, echoing forest. Only faint sparkles of sunlight shown past the treetops and Ben made fast back through the forest, following his tail's trail through the mud by light of his torch.
By the time he made it back to Meridell, Ben was exhausted and worse, defeated. How was he to meet the witch's impossible price? The whole journey wasted and still no closer to ridding Meridellians of their plague.
He had trouble sleeping that night and rose with the sun. He thought a quick hop into town might raise his spirits, so he set off into the early morning. Not halfway to town, however, did Ben find a whispering crowd of pets, a circle formed around something he couldn't see. Curious, the Blumaroo ventured closer.
"Have you ever seen anything like it?"
"It's a monster!"
"Jessy, don't touch it!"
Pets could barely contain their morbid excitement over the spectacle, hissing and glaring into the center of the mob. When Ben had finally squeezed through to the center, he gasped and almost lost balance. There, on the ground, was a small bundle, and it was moving. Wriggling, really, and before Ben could get a closer look, two purple Aisha tendrils slipped back the cloth, revealing large red eyes. It was an Aisha, alright, but nothing like Ben had ever seen, its tiny developed fangs gnashing experimentally. When the crowd hissed at it, the Aisha hissed right back.
Ben didn't have time to think before Rory made himself known, pushing too to the center of the circle. As a highly respected farmer, most everyone hushed when he began to speak.
"My friends, I think it's clear what we must do. We must rid ourselves of this monster, before it's too late." He turned to the crowd behind him, raising both arms. "Does Meridell need another beast to feed? Can we afford any more destruction? It must be gone- today!"
To Ben's alarm, the crowd began to cheer.
"No more monsters in Meridell!"
Around him, Ben could feel the crowd pushing in. He had to act fast.
"Let me do it!" he yelled above the crowd. "Let me handle the monster!"
The crowd quieted to a murmur with everyone's attention on the Blumaroo. Most of them didn't recognize Ben.
"I'll take it to the Burgundy Woods," he said, more calmly. "Where it can be with its own kind. We need the monsters of Burgundy to protect us in the north," he reminded them, in case of protest. The murmur settled to near silence before the crowd erupted again.
"Let him take it!"
"Off with you then!"
They remained, craning their neck, while Ben scooped the bundle in his arms. He was quite unhappy to find it had sharp spines down its back and could not be cradled, and he struggled to hold it comfortably, a fact that made the baby gurgle and purr. The crowd parted in the direction of the Burgundy Woods, all staring expectantly at Ben. He'd have no time, then, it was straight off into the marsh. Ben could feel the villagers' eyes until he was too deep in the Woods to be seen.
It was easier finding his way through last night's trail this time. His journey was no easier, however, as with each bounce his guilt weighed on him heavier. Monster or not, the Aisha was just a baby and he was about to turn it over to a wicked witch. Still, he told himself, a home with a witch is better than no home at all, and this he repeated to himself until once again he found himself in front of the cottage.
The door was open and Morguss sat crossed legged in the center of the room, eyes closed.
"Ahh, Ben Berry, back so soon?" She sniffed the air once and her eyes shot open. "And what have you got there!"
With surprising speed and grace, Morguss stood and made her way to Ben at the doorway. Before he could protest she snatched the child from his arms, apparently oblivious to its spines and sharp teeth. The witch held it out and length, brought it close to her face and finally clutched it close to her in a hug.
"Yes, youngling, this is a fine babe. I'm very pleased, yes, very pleased," Morguss cooed.
Fighting his gut reactions to the sight, Ben steadied himself.
"Good, then I'll take what I came for."
"Over there." She pointed her hoof vaguely in the direction of an uneven side table. Already she was distracted by the wriggling and gurgling Aisha, taking the child to her stool.
On the table was a small vial, the viscous blue contents of which cast light all around it. When Ben took it, he could feel heat and energy radiating, and tucked it quickly in his satchel in case it was dangerous.
The witch was preoccupied and seemed to forget he was in the room, so he slowly backed out through the open door and as quickly as he could bounded back for the village.
As far as anyone knew, Ben had only left the Aisha in the Woods that day, and with the Feast approaching this was enough to settle everyone's mind and return their focus to Turmaculus. It was finally time to present him with their offerings in hope of his mercy in the coming year.
That morning, Ben went to his field and selected a particularly large marrow, which he hollowed shallowly with a spoon. Flinching as he did, he uncorked the vial and emptied the contents inside the marrow, stopping the fruit with the same cork. This marrow he carried all the way to town on his back, til he reached the spot near the Symol Hole where Turmaculus had settled in expectance of his annual buffet. Already pets were unloading barrels of loveberries and wagons of stale bread, piles of food which Turmaculus inhaled promptly.
Ben had already delivered his several loads of marrow to the site, and only stepped forward to place this spiked one on a pile of others. For a while he looked at Turmaculus, watching the petpet in animation for what he hoped to be the last time. Before the King had reached Ben's marrow, the Blumaroo tore himself away and back to the farm, the only one prepared for what would happen to the bloated beast. No one, after all, needed to know he'd consorted with a wicked witch, or that he'd traded their peace for a child. His secrets and his marrows would be safe forever after...
Or at least for 300 years.