The Town of Hollowin'
It all started on a turn like any other, a stack of friends having a fun hike to see what new treasures and friends they could find on the happy world of Erf. This journey however would be a particularly interesting one for a very special unit that would accomplish both and also learn the secret of Hollowin' Town.
Mike was so happy. It was always fun to wander through the woods with his buddies looking for new folks to play with but when everyone else was too good at hiding he would have to camp for the night with no fresh rations or XP and that could be kind of sad. Yesterturn looked like it would end that way but as they were setting camp Mike's stackmate Johnny C. came running in from the woods to gleefully share that he had found new playmates in the hex!
The rest of the slashers, his best friends, were all very excited to find a stack of unaligned spikers to play with. Everyone quickly gathered their belongings and followed Johnny C. to the new friends they were going to surprise. With the campfire spotted they surrounded them. When no one in the camp looked up they officially gained a point for winning Hide and Seek.
Next up it was time to play tag and Johnny C. challenged Mike! They moved to opposite sides of the camp and moved in using all the sneaking they could muster while the rest shifted into a supporting hex formation. The goal here was to see who could tag more spikers before they were spotted and the other team tried to tag them all back. Even if he lost the challenge he'd be right in the middle tagging folks and getting points before the others could even reach!
Spikers weren't great at tag, at least up close, so beating them wasn't very hard. He'd gotten two all by himself before it was over but only one before the game switched to loud time. He lost the challenge but still had fun and that's what the Eisenwald was really about, fun with your friends. Unfortunately his best friends were all napping now, just like the stacks of new friends they had found. Mike's team had been blinded by the campfire and didn't realize one of the shadows it made was actually a dark cave entrance where the spikers had even more pals that charged out to join in the fun.
Wearing tough leather uniforms and holding both shields and spiked clubs, they were much better at tag than spikers but they were new to the game and the slashers had played for a long time. When it was all over Mike was was the only one that wasn't too tired to keep playing. Well he was a little tired and his leg was pretty sore where a jagged warrior's spiked club had tagged him right down to the bone. Nothing looked broken and he could see most of the bone so it was probably ok... wait there were only nine sleeping jag-warriors when there should be ten. Someone else was still playing tag and it would be bad sportsmanship not to properly finish the game so off Mike went to find his newest friend.
New friend wasn't a good player, his trail ended at the hex edge and Mikes turn was over already. All there was to do was sit down, have some of his fresh rations and have a snooze till dawn brought his move back so he did just that. When the sun came back and reset all his points Mike started round two of Hide and Seek to find his lost friend.
After several hexes and a creeping fear that he'd lost his friend Mike stumbled upon him standing with his club raised and a few hitpoints down, like he'd won a game of tag already this turn. Mike smiled beneath his mask at how nice and fair Erf was being to him, he'd been surprised after a game and now he got to do the same.
It was a brief tussle and once again Mike stood in victory and basked in his new level, he was a Three now. Three was a very important level for a slasher, it meant you could discard the white mask you popped with and get yourself a real FaceMask. It only seemed right to honor the friend that helped him get here so after a little bit of work he'd successfully made the leather face to proudly wear on his way back home and tossed aside his friends head.
That was when something really strange happened, the head was caught by a roughly 2 foot tall injured orange and green gourdian. This new little friend had a facemask of his own and it looked like he had been playing a game of tag until Mike interrupted. Now gourdians usually want to play immediately and Mike stood ready but the little fellow just stood staring at him.
After a moment it pointed at his face and then it's own. It picked up the jag-warrior's head and motioned for Mike to get the body and turned to waddle away. After a few steps it stopped and beckoned him to follow and so with curiosity Mike did just that, although he didn't put away his tag playing knife just in case.
Not much farther into the hex they came to the edge of a reaping brillow tree. The little plant person picked up a long stick and waved it through the brillow branches catching the little hooks and moving them safely aside for Mike to walk through and then followed him under.
Hidden under the branches was a whole village of gourdians! They had a high (to them) wall encircling the open space under the huge tree. The wall was all crafted of vines tightly woven into overlapping knots of all sizes. It was also rather close to the iron laced curtain of brillow branches. It would be very hard to play king of the hill with this town without getting hooked by the tree before even getting inside.
The guard gourds rushed over to him with spears out but slowed when his rotund new friend called out to them. They made a lot of funny sounds at one another somewhat like ropes being tied too tightly or a tree branch bending just before it snapped. They all seemed happy enough at seeing his old friends head and were so impressed by his facemask that the even put on their own.
Once they were all well masked (theirs were nice but Mike felt sure he had the best one) the new friends brought him to the largest know in the wall. They made a series of taps against the knot very quickly and it unraveled to show the village within. Small huts made of bone and leather formed a circle around the inside of the wall and gourdians wandered the spaces all in facemasks of various units. Two bright orange ones greeted them wearing rubbery TireWolf masks and took the remains of oldfriend away to the hut by the entrance where they busily began hollowing him out.
The chief of the tribe, the only heavy gourdian Mike had ever heard of rapidly approached Mike before he could get through to see the village too well. It had a massive orange body and a frowning face carve into him. He looks for all the Erf like he was stomping over to start a game of tag the Mike had no chance of winning. The small injured friend friend stepped behind Mike seemingly out of fear but shoved something into his hand. He grabbed it and pulled forward the head of Old Friend, holding it up in front of the Great Big Pumpkin as it was raised a hammer to lay a titanic tag on him. Great Big Pumpkin stopped the replaced the hammer in it's loop at his belt. The deep frown shifted into a big happy grin as he accepted the head, held it over his and turned to face the gathered gourdians. They all clapped and went back to their business as the Great Big Pumpkin made a powerball and shoved it into Old Friend. He patted Mike on the shoulder and walked back to his throne at the trunk of the brillow tree and sat Old Friend next to a line of other head all glowing from powerballs hidden within.
The town was filled with hollowed out units of all kinds, some gourdians were on scaffolds tying preserved dark fuzzy doombats and shiny polished aloombats to appear in flight. Others had strings of gleaming fireflies illuminating their hut entrances. One gourdian, a fairly short one was having trouble trying to stack a bone pyramid with a skull on top so Mike decided to lend a hand. After seeing how easily he rebalanced the pyramid no less than a dozen gourdians rushed over tugging his sleeves this way and that for help with their own preparations.
After hours spent helping them set up remains of various creature to look alive and threatening throughout the village he sat down to watch the roasting meats. This was a happy place, a good place and one he would return to as often as he could. Everyone gathered around the roasting pits and shared white veiled deer skewers and wrong pig ribs and chatted in their odd version of language while he happily ate his supper.
As a horn sounded and the day was officially done they all got up and excitedly milled around before breaking into groups and going to the various stuffed units. The gourdians then broke into groups, those with masks matching a stuffed creature went into the hut it was in front of. Groups of those with regular facemasks would approach the doorway and throw a rock at the flap causing the gourdian inside to burst out and mimic the creature it wore a mask of. There would be a feigned scuffle and if the gourdian group used the right tactics to make the real creature fall asleep the defender would dramatically fall to the ground throwing small bits bones jerky and candy to the winning invaders.
Mike was pulled along by his green and orange friend and went through the motions of playing fake rounds of tag. Even though he couldn't gain any points from these fake games of tag the sugary treats and smoked jerky he got made up for that rather well although he could do without the teeth. When all the houses were visited he saw that most gourdians had favorite prizes as they sat and traded bits of their winnings with one another he found his companion was more than willing to take all those teeth and trade him more jerky for them.
Mike walked away from the wonderful little town in the morning with happy memories and pockets full of treats. The smile he wore under his leather face was as bright as the morning sun and he had a wonderful story to tell all the new slashers he'd meet when he got back home. He'd learned the secrets of Hollowin' Town; Offer your hosts a present, make yourself helpful and always have a nifty mask. He had been told about the gourdians and how they liked to play mean tricks on wandering units but if you know the proper etiquette spending time with them can be a real treat.
Edits for some spellings
It was carefree all the way through, but that line about rations/XP set the tone of underlying gruesomeness. The implied nature of the Facemask was another creepout (and it also clued me into Mike's identity -- slashers are a rare genre for me).
The gourdian portrayals were a distilled form of all of the above. (though slight delay on catching one joke after one misspell of "knot") Their whole celebration -- especially that hollowing tradition -- hit all the notes of cutesy-boop merging with horrific.