The children mill about the clearing, with Charlie badly wounded and bleeding from the ears from Little Boy Blue’s horn attack. Bei comes in, and discovers that just by thinking happy thoughts – and getting Charlie to do so as well – she can heal him of some of his wounds. After some miscounts, they realize that one of their number – the outsider, Chris, whom Bei and Llewelyn had tried to save – is missing.
Chris comes to, stuffed in a cage with his imaginary friend, the giant swashbuckling badger Clive. Smooshed to the bottom of his cage, he struggles to see around him. From his limited field of view, he finds himself in the midst of a large number of hanging cages, each holding a child in various stages of misery.
The children – Bei, Charlie, Llewelyn (NPC), Reyna (NPC), and Wilbur set out to find Chris. Fortunately, Wilbur’s time in boy scouts gave him the skill to pick out the trail trampled by dozens of ensorceled children following the boy in blue. They strike off the road through the forest.
Chris overhears a teenage boy and girl talking. “Blue, I’m exhausted!” “But think of all the little lost sheep we’re saving. Besides, Peep, the king pays good gold for them!” He sees them walk past. “And Jack was right when he warned us to expect many more than usual.”
The trampled trail ends at one of the dirt roads cutting through the forest. Again, Wilbur notices the dirt is more widely disturbed to the north, and leads them that way. They soon meet with a man, struggling to replace the wheel on his ox-cart.
“A group of children? Why yes, I did be seeing a group of kids, following a tall blond lad, right? Yep, they walked right on by, not offering a lick of help, nor even the time of day. Downright rude they was! Not a talkative bunch, either.”
The children speak with the man, and find that he’s an aleman, on his way to deliver his wares to the king in the north. “Not a savory fella, but he pays good gold.”
The children help him fix his cart, and briefly debate having him cart Reyna (still injured) to a village for rest. They decide against this, however, choosing not to risk separating. They quickly outpace the ox-cart, despite their many limps.
Chris notices a child in a nearby cage looking at him. “Hello,” he manages to utter. “Shh, keep it down! You don’t want to attract their attention!” replies the other kid. That of course just emboldens Chris. “What is this place?”
The boy whispers to Chris that he’s not sure, but that a group of kids were carted off recently, and that Chris is one of the replacements. They stop whispering when they see the tall boy in Blue arguing with one of the short, gnarly creatures, like the ones the children saw leading the dwarf and witch down the road.
“While we appreciate your assistance in improving our facilities, the issue of your pay and meals is the responsibility of the king.”
“Well, without food we’ll be no use in making those improvements. Why don’t you just let us have one of them kids. Howabout this juicy looking one, here?” The goblin is pointing at a chubby kid in a cage near Chris. The boy, wide eyed and white as a sheet, begins trembling.
“We’ll require payment. The usual price.” Gold exchanges hands, and Chris can just barely turn his head enough (as he still has Clive sitting on him) to see Blue manipulate something on the far side of a post. The chubby boy’s cage descends to the ground, Blue returns, and unlocks the heavy padlock.
The boy, crying for his mommy, is dragged away, kicking and screaming, by a pair of goblins.
“We HAVE to get out of here, Clive,” Chris whispers, as a wonderful smell suffuses the camp. “Where’s my pack?”
“I don’t know. I can’t feel it with my bum.”
Chris’ attempts to reach around and feel for his pack in the crowded cage causes he and Clive to begin swinging. Peep notices this, and walks over. “Stop that, stop that now! Behave like the rest of the flock!”
Chris ignores this, and now intentionally swings the cage in wider and wider arcs. The cage strikes Peep, knocking her down. Purpling in rage, she swings her crook, sparkling with electricity, and knocks Chris unconscious.
The children reach a point where a small side trail sets off from the road. A quick inspection reveals that Blue and his flock went down the side trail. Once more, they debate who should go. Bei and Charlie strike off to rescue Chris, with Wilbur saying, “I believe it will be safer here.” Reyna and Llewelyn look at each other, look at Bei and Charlie’s receding backs, then at Wilbur. They turn and follow Bei and Charlie down the trail.
“Well, I suppose there is safety in numbers,” he murmers, as he follows the others.
Chris awakens to find he’s no longer squished into the bottom of his cage by a massive badger. “Clive? Clive?!” he calls out. The sun has moved well towards setting, and a quick inspection reveals a bowl of gruel set in the corner of the cage.
“Tallyho, Chris!” Clive calls out from below. “How’d you get out there?”
“I don’t know. I was knocked out by that girl, and I awoke out here!”
“Clive, can you find my bag?”
The badger swaggers off, and returns some time later with Chris’ bag. “This does seem to be quite a large facility! Fortunately, you’re near the edge.” On the tip of his toes, he hands the bag up to Chris, who looks through it for something to use to pick the lock.
“I guess a lawn dart is my best bet,” he mumbles as he looks at the large keyhole on the even larger padlock. He wiggles the tip of the dart in the keyhole… one pin… two pins… and he drops the dart, almost into Clive’s head!
“Watch out what you’re doing!” Having almost been skewered, Clive reluctantly hands the dart back up to Chris. “Wait, Chris… guards!” Clive warns as he ducks away, leaving Chris to hurredly hide his bag.
Two goblins in armor, with spears, come marching by. “This one looks good,” says one, eyeing Chris. “Eh, not enough meat on him.” They continue on their rounds.
Not long after sunset (when the forest transitioned from gray and gloomy to dark and gloomy), the children reach the edge of a clearing. In the pale moonlight, they can see a few campfires, and a hut with flickering candlelight in the windows. The hut has a short metal tower next to it, with a slowly nodding figure holding a spear, and closer to the campfires is a taller, but rickety, wooden tower. Between the hut and the trees is a low stone well, and on the other side of the hut is some structure they can’t make out in the failing light.
In a quickly whispered conference, Bei and Charlie decide to sneak out to house. Wilbur opts to walk along the edge of the clearing, just within the treeline, while Reyna and Llewelyn wait among the trees.
Bei and Charlie make it, unnoticed, to the hut. Sitting beneath the window, they think they hear voices inside… and then the hear the sounds of a pair of marching goblins. With only a moment’s hesitation, they sidle around the house, but are a moment too slow.
“I think I saw something go around the house.” They hear the clang clang clang of armored joggers. “Get behind me!” whispers Charlie to Bei, and he readies his brass knuckles and his spear head.
This time, Charlie succeeds in opening the lock on his cage. He lowers himself down, hanging by his fingertips, then drops the several more feet to the ground.
“Time to cause some trouble,” he whispers to himself, eyeing the post where he’d earlier seen Blue cause a cage to drop.
Picking his way through the trees, Wilbur happens to glance at the hut in time to see Charlie and Bei duck around the corner, with two goblins jogging along, one behind the other. “Well, I can do something about this!” he says to himself, chanting the rhyme he learned from the witches book to daze an opponent. He stuns the first of the goblins, who halts in mid step. The following goblin trips over him, tumbling to the ground in front of Charlie. With a “Whump!” Charlie knocks him out cold.
He and Bei circle around the front of the house, and sitting beneath a window listen to the conversation within.
“With this new influx of children, we should probably contact the Pigs for more cages. We have more than enough gold to pick up more.”
Bei stops listening to the conversation, as she has now noticed motion ahead of her. A shadowy shape is moving near a post, next to a cage on the ground which contains a lumpy shape.
Looking over the top of the post, Chris sees a panel covered in levers. As he contemplates what to do, he notices a pair of eyes staring at him from next to the hut. “Well, times up!”
He runs his arm across the board, flipping all the levers. Behind him, the hundreds of cages crash to the ground, simultaneously.
“What the…?!” a male voice cries from inside the hut. The door flies open, and light stabs out into the night, illuminating a goat in the cage on the ground. A tall blond youth, in blue leather, steps out slowly scanning from left to right.
Charlie, seeing his opportunity, tackles Blue, driving his spear point into the youth’s side – again.
Chris makes a break for the treeline, tumbling over Bei who has started to retreat from the front of the house. Hearing the noise of the crashing cages, and shouts of “Wake up, wake up you mangy dogs! Form up!” from the campfires, Wilbur heads in that direction.
Bei begins retreating, but realizes that Charlie’s not with them. She looks around the corner, and sees him wrestling with the boy in blue. She sees the goat ramming against his cage door, and shouting in a gruff voice, “Come on, lemme out of here! I’ll murderize ya! Murderize ya!”
Bei sprints out to the cage, examining the lock. “Are you gonna get me outta here or what?” asks the goat. “I’m trying!” Bei looks around. “If only I could find the key! If only it could have been knocked from Blue’s belt when Charlie tackled him!”
In the light streaming from the open doorway, she sees a gleaming, large brass key. As she reaches out for it, it’s shadowed by the form of a teenage girl with tight curly hair, carrying a shephardess’ crook.
“Form up, you, form up!” Wilbur sees the goblin commander gets the last of his troops – 10 goblins – in line. “Forward…”
He never finishes his command, as Wilbur quickly uses his daze spell on him. The commander stands in place, mouth open. And his soldiers stand, at attention, waiting for him to finish.
“That seems to have stopped them, for now,” Wilbur thinks to himself. “Now let’s see if their tents contain anything useful.”
A quick inspection of the closest tent reveals a pair of cots, a half-eaten bowl of stew with some unrecognizable meat in it, and a few empty packs. “Hrm… I suppose I can cause a little trouble behind their backs.” He pulls a log from one of the campfires, and begins lighting the tents. The goblins stand at attention, waiting for their commander’s order.
With a cry of rage, Peep swings her crook at Bei, knocking her aside. Struggling to her feet, Bei tries to run past Charlie and Blue, hoping Peep will stumble over the two combatants, but she’s pulled back and thrown to the ground by the crook. Her backpack spills open, the contents, including her beloved stuffed puppy, scattering.
Blue throws Charlie off of him with a hard punch to the gut. Charlie stumbles to his feet, and his eyes open wide in fear when he sees Blue reaching for his horn.
Wilbur heads along the outskirts of the camp towards the hut. As he passes the wooden tower, he’s brought up short by one of the goblins, just reaching the bottom of the ladder. “Quick! Get in formation!” he shouts at the goblin, who rushes off without hesitation.
“Hehe, now to see what’s in the house…” Wilbur thinks.
“I must cull the bad sheep from the herd!” Peep shouts as she stands over Bei’s prostrate form. She raises the crook over her head, glistening with electricity… when she’s tackled from the side by a giant green dog.
“Puppy!” Bei sits up, looking over at where Puppy has come to life (larger-than-life, even!) and stands over Peep, snapping at her face. Her crook has snapped, and she’s covering her face with her arms.
“Now I can free Mr. Goat, here…” she says, turning her attention to looking for the key again. “Aha! There it is…” she reaches for the key in the grass.
Wilbur hears the shouted, “March!” off to his left as he approaches the house. “Well, that’s not good,” he thinks as he sees two columns of goblins approaching the front of the house. “Don’t fail me now!” he thinks as he chants, again, the rhyme to daze the front most member of a column. The row of goblins moving at speed, tumble to the ground.
“And now I can inspect this hut.” Inside, he finds a few furniture – a bed, a table with spilled soup, a few cabinets – and a locked chest. With a three letter combination lock, he quickly surmises that the password must be “BAA” – the favorite word of both Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep. Within the chest, he finds a few books with painted portraits, spare clothing…
and bags of gold.
Charlie quickly steps forward, aiming a swift kick at Blue’s crotch. Seeing this attack coming, however, Blue turns his hip to the side, and retaliates by blowing his horn in Charlie’s face. Knowing what’s coming, however, Charlie manages to step partially out of the blast and cover his ears, saving himself from the worst damage, but is still staggering. Bei, as well, is in the blast area, but notices what’s happening and covers her ears. Peep, trying to protect herself from Puppy, is not so lucky.
“Key… key…” Bei races to unlock the padlock, seeing Blue raise the horn to his lips again.
The padlock falls to the ground, and the goat goes bounding out of the cage.
Blue takes a deep breath, turning to squarely face Charlie.
And the goat strikes Blue, hard, launching him out of sight.
Charlie picks up Blue’s horn from where it fell. Seeing the small group of approaching goblins, plus another dozen or more marching into sight from the far side of the clearing, Charlie and the goat look at other and say, “I think it’s time to go!”
Bei picks herself up from the ground. She spots Puppy, reverted to a stuffed animal, lying next to the quiet Little Bo Peep. Scooping Puppy up, she heads past the house and towards the edge of the forest. She runs past Chris, who is removing a lawn dart from the hand of a goblin, crumpled at the base of the ladder to the metal tower.
In the forest, they find Wilbur handing bags of gold to Reyna and Llewelyn to carry, and looking back at the hut as flames begin to lick at its walls.