Weisbauch Reports: Why Kiss a Mortog?
Mortog Kissing: it is a pastime that has been practiced in Meridell since the days of old, and, even now, it remains ever-popular, consistently keeping near the top of the Meridell Tourist Board's attractions list. A simple game, Kiss the Mortog revolves around the premise of, basically, kissing one of several Mortogs, with one of two possible outcomes: turning said Mortog into a prince or princess, or suffering the indignity that is having a Mortog literally explode in repulsion. Riddled with doubt and scepticism over the fun that can be derived from puckering up and smooching a slimy, green petpet, this reporter decided to pay a visit to Meridell to witness first-hand why this archaic sport is still played, and whether there really is any appeal.
Meridell is beautiful: endless green meadows, quaint striped tents and the ever-present smell of a delicious outdoor spit roast wafting through the atmosphere. Arriving at the Mortog Pond, I find this expanse of still, clear water is no exception, the surface almost covered with little green lily pads, some with charming flowers just budding, many with a stoic Mortog sat serenely, croaking gently and enjoying the mild, late-afternoon sun. A few Draphlies buzz around the air, amidst the bulrushes and tall fronds, and, beneath the pads, I think I can see the occasional orange sheen of a passing Goldy. Lost in the serenity, I almost forget my purpose, until a rippling catches my eye. Two odd-looking green stalks suddenly rise from the depths, with them a sparkling, whimsical crown and a pair of big, red eyes, and suddenly, flicking the moisture off his bright clothing, there stands a Grundo, who extends a dripping hand in welcome.
Tentatively I shake it, then wipe my own hand thoroughly upon my trousers whilst he busies himself with the unenviable task of pulling his feet out of the mud and untangling his toes from the weeds that lurk below. As he grunts and strains, really quite comically, I ask him whether he thought the visual gag was worth the end result.
"Absolutely!" He is adamant on this point, even as clouds of murky brown swell to the surface, and bubbles of fetid pond gas burst, sending the nearby Mortogs diving for safety. "It gets the customers every time. Just like the puns, I always throw in a pun, something like, I dunno, hopping mad, that's a classic. And it sticks in their minds, quite unforgettable – which is great for business!"
Unforgettable, yes, but in the way he had intended? As I smother guilty laughs with my hand whilst simultaneously battling the wave of pond stench that drifts towards me, I cannot help but doubt this, and I almost feel a degree of sympathy as I stand by and watch him wading out of the water and wiping his bare feet upon the grass beneath, once the same vivid green as the rest of the famed Meridellian meadows, now a rather unappealing dirt brown. With his attentions finally focused upon me and the article, I choose to digress rapidly, whipping out my pen and parchment (waterproofed as a safety measure, of course) and formally beginning the interview. My first question for the kiss-peddling Grundo: what's so fun about Mortog kissing?
He thinks for a moment, wide, crimson gaze tilting to the skies, before answering, with an upbeat tone to his voice: "The unpredictability! The excitement! The contrast! How many games can you name – honestly, how many – where you can get one of two outcomes: an eternally grateful prince or princess, or a hilarious explosion of green goo? You can't!" – he cuts me off before I even have a chance to think of a response – "There are none! It's simple, but it's timeless!"
Then, without me even asking, he lunges for a pair of unfortunate Mortogs and pushes them unsettlingly close to my face, to the point where I can make out every glistening pustule upon their damp, shiny skin. He instructs me to kiss one – "On the house!" he offers, which, funnily enough, makes the prospect no more appealing – and, not wanting to be rude, I wrinkle my nose, purse my lips and lean in towards one of the Mortogs, trying desperately not to think too much about what I am actually doing. Even with my stomach churning and my mind screaming, begging for me to stop, I go for it, barely making physical contact with the thing for more than a split second, before withdrawing rapidly, my eyes wide with expectation.
The Mortog does nothing for a moment. Then it stirs, a gurgling sound coming from the back of its throat, and the Grundo's eyes light up with anticipation. Have I done it? Have I freed some poor princess from a curse? Will I be rewarded with riches and treasures beyond my wildest dreams for my task? Caught up in the moment, I actually start to enjoy myself, now fully expecting a burst of sparkles and gratuitous thank-yous and hand-shakings, and parades and ceremonies, and the joy of a family reunited by its saviour, and –
The Mortog promptly explodes with a sudden loud pop, and I am left covered in the sticky remnants of a game of Kiss the Mortog well and truly lost. My eyes show nothing but disdain, and, slowly and most definitely not amusedly, I flick the ooze off my person in disgust, somewhat scarred by my first experience with this game. The Grundo host, meanwhile, is in stitches, hooting with laughter as he enthusiastically whacks my shoulder, not quite sharing in my horror, great big tears of mirth rolling out of his eyes. At least he enjoyed it, I tell myself desperately as I wave goodbye to my last scrap of dignity, dignity I sold to a Mortog. The things we do for a good article.
"You should have seen the look on your face!" he giggles, now composing himself – just about – as he helpfully brushes a stray piece of Mortog off my shoulder.
"Quite," I mutter, although I have a fairly good idea of how embarrassingly scared I must have looked – in fact, I'm almost certain I might have screamed, just a little, but I very deliberately choose not to dwell on this, moving things back to business. "It's, um, hilarious – really, it is – but isn't it, well, a little cruel?"
I trust the Grundo knows what I am referring to. Recently there have been reports of members of the Petpet Protection League being pressured by certain activists to bring swift action against the enduring popularity of Kiss the Mortog, with picket-fence signs and chants aplenty to be found outside the PPL HQ: "Mortogs don't enjoy exploding!", "Down with the kissing!" and, my personal favourite, vague and ill-thought out as it is, "Happy warts, not nasty sports!" King Skarl has been characteristically stubborn on the matter, I am told, refusing to ban the game in his kingdom ("in case he ever gets turned into a Mortog himself," my sources tell me), but as the main proprietor of Mortog kissing, I am keen to hear the opinion of this Grundo.
"Of course not!" He seems aghast at the very idea, his eyes theatrically wide with disbelief. "Mortogs explode. It's a fact of life! You know, I bet, even if we weren't here, they'd explode at exactly the same rate, you know? Plus, plus, it's not all bad – think of how many princes and princesses we save this way. And, let's not forget, if Mortogs are so opposed to the idea of exploding, they shouldn't be so sensitive about being kissed! If you ask me, they're just being snobby, right? And so what if we make Mortog stew with the leftovers – whoops, I've said too much, but my point still remains."
Half-baked ideas embedded in an almost nonsensical rant, but I can see his passion and belief in his game, and I choose to honour that. After all, who am I – or, perhaps, anyone shouting outside the PPL HQ – to challenge the age-old traditions of Meridell? Besides, something he's mentioned has piqued my curiosity and has brought another question to mind. Indeed, Kiss the Mortog does free an unimaginably large number of trapped princes and princesses from their Mortog-bound state, breaking a spell and lifting a curse. But with Edna and Sophie hardly ever resorting to Mortog-transformation as a punishment for pesky intruders these days, I can't help but wonder: where exactly do they manage to find so many enchanted Mortogs? I put the question to the Grundo, who suddenly becomes very flustered as he tries to cobble together something resembling an answer.
"I don't know! Why are you asking me? There are just a lot of enchanted Mortogs in Meridell! Or maybe it's Illusen, you know how grumpy she gets if you fail her quests, right? Right? I mean, It's not like I'm turning pets into Mortogs and keeping them in my pond, if that's what you're implying, that's just ridiculous. How would I even do that? I'd need a lot of Mortog Serum, that's for sure." I look at him dubiously, and, in a panic, he adds a clumsy afterthought – "But it's not like I'd know it turns you into a Mortog if it's specially concentrated!"
Follow-up questions flood my mind, but amidst swathes of nervous laughter and worried perspiration, the Grundo tries to distract me and shoves yet another Mortog in my face, inviting me to take another go, free of charge, as a demonstration of goodwill. I feel repulsed by the idea of experiencing yet another Mortog explosion, but before I can voice my objections, he physically pushes the petpet against my face – probably quite a bit harder than necessary, for all I can taste is rubbery, nauseating Mortog skin for a good few seconds – before pulling it away, leaving me spitting and spluttering, trying in vain to wipe the less-than-pleasant flavour from my tongue. Suddenly I realise what has just happened – effectively, I have kissed a Mortog against my will – and, follow-up questions now forgotten, I cower behind my arm as I await the rain of Mortog slurry that will undoubtedly come hailing down momentarily.
There is a pop. And something does fall upon my waistcoat. But through squinting eyes, I see it is not green sludge, but a glittery sparkle of magic that lingers for just a moment before fading, and, as I tentatively lower my forearm to see what has happened, I am greeted by the sight of a startled green Aisha standing before me, clad in royal finery, a gradual look of realisation spreading across her features. Looking at her fingers, looking at her feet, running her hands through her locks with a level of delight I have never seen before, she squeals with happiness before she unexpectedly launches herself at me, pulling me into a bone-crushing hug of appreciation, which, sweet as it is, might have suffocated me were I not already a ghost. Caught in this headlock of thanks, the Aisha princess screeching words of praise right into my ear, her clothes still quite damp, cold pond water soaking me slowly, I decide – for my sanity – that I have enough material for my article, and the interview is over.
"I do love a hoppy ending!" cries the Grundo over the noise. I can only make strangled sounds of exasperation in response.
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"First things first," she muttered to herself as she walked through the alleys of Moltara. "I've got to see Jimmi's empire. I just can't imagine him conquering anything."