The Misadventures of Morga Skullsplitter – Episode 1: Bloody Hammer
I’m excited to share the first episode of The Misadventures of Morga Skullsplitter. Episodes will be updated (almost) monthly (sometimes more, sometimes less!) and you will have the option of reading them on my website, Ko-Fi page, or you’ll be able to download an ePub for your eReader. Subscribe to my website and/or Ko-Fi page to be notified when new episodes are available… or just wait until I pop the info on social media. I’m pretty sure I won’t keep quiet about it! 😉
I really hope you enjoy hanging out with Morga. I’m going to be taking on her on some fantastic adventures, so please join us! Remember, sometimes she can get a bit violent and sweary. It’s an orc thing.
Thanks for being here!
Until next time…
Episode 1: Bloody Hammer
An Offer You Can’t Refuse
“Ugh, not this shit again,” Morga Skullsplitter muttered as she strolled into the longhall. Excitement (and probably more than a few odors) wafted from the other orcs around her. That was the way it was supposed to be: orcs were meant to get excited about war, battles, and raids. They’re supposed to get all giddy at the prospect of spilling a bit of blood and whacking someone around the head with a blunt object. That was what it meant to be an orc. It was an orc thing. And, up until a few years ago, Morga had been just as keen as the rest of them. But now she was tired. Really fucking tired.
“Ah, come on, don’t tell me you’re bored of the fight,” the orc to her left said. Snagthorn the Mystic leaned heavily on his cane, the old piece of wood somehow still supporting his weight after all these years. Morga was sure that one day it would snap and Snagthorn would land on his face. Or, knowing Snagthorn, he’d find some magical way to levitate and ignore the rules of gravity. The old bastard was full of surprises.
“You’d be bored too if you were roped into every little bout of fisticuffs,” Morga replied, but she wore a smile. It was impossible to be angry with Snagthorn. He was both her oldest and dearest friend, and the oldest member of the Red Scar Clan. Some were willing to bet that ol’ Snaggy had been around when Venari was formed.
The clan leader, Norgretch the Merciless, banged his fist on a table and began to share the details of their latest mission.
“How about a change then?” Snagthorn suggested, happily continuing their conversation while their leader spoke, knowing he’d be free from any repercussions.
Morga motioned towards their clan leader by nodding her head, but Snagthorn only shrugged. “He don’t mind. Besides, I have something to talk to you about that will make him very happy.”
“What about me? Will it make me happy?” She wasn’t convinced.
“Umm… that’s a tough one…” Snagthorn admitted, “but if you’re successful, Norgretch will probably grant you your retirement. It could be the start of that quiet life you’re always harping on about.”
Morga had to admit, it did sound tempting. Morga Skullsplitter had been a warrior since birth. Just like her parents before her…. and their parents before them. And their parents. Besides, with a name like ‘Skullsplitter’ what else was she going to be? An accountant? To be fair, numbers did make her head ache.
“You have my attention,” she said.
“I thought I might. Follow me.” Snagthorn led the way back out of the longhall. Although some of the other orcs – including Norgretch – noticed their departure, no-one uttered a word about it. Whatever Snagthorn was leading her into, it had to be important.
Once they’d entered Snagthorn’s hut, the mystic lit a variety of candles. It was a wonder the whole place hadn’t gone up in flames yet. The old guy probably had a deal with one of the gods to make sure he didn’t burn to a crisp.
“So, what is it then?” Morga asked. “What’s gonna buy my retirement?” She twisted at a lock of her long grey hair in an attempt to appear nonchalant, but they both knew she couldn’t wait to lay down her weapons and do something a little less violent.
“As you know, Norgretch thinks very highly of you. You’re one of the clan’s most experienced and, lets be honest, ruthless fighters. Losing your fists will mean he has to shake up all his attacking strategies…”
“Which is why he won’t let me leave.”
“And that should give you some idea of how difficult this mission will be,” Snagthorn said as he took a seat on the floor opposite her. “Both he and I will understand if you want to refuse. If you decide against taking it on, you can just continue as normal. There’ll be no hard feelings or repercussions.”
“But also no retirement.”
“Exactly. You’ll just fight until you can’t anymore. Just like everyone else.”
“Except for you, of course,” she said.
“Of course. I’m special, you know that.”
“You certainly are different,” she replied. “So, go on then. Tell me. What’s the damage?” While she waited for Snagthorn to fill her in, she reached into the pouch on her belt and pulled out her favourite snack. Concentrating was always easier when she was munching on a jellybean.
“Blimey, you’re keen,” Snagthorn said, before clearing his throat. When he was done, his face had taken on a serious expression; one he rarely wore in Morga’s presence these days. “Norgretch has heard stories about something called the Heart of Darkness. Fuck knows who told him about it. I certainly didn’t. I’ve heard of the blasted thing, but I know nowt but trouble will come from it.”
“What is the Heart of Darkness?” Morga asked. “Why does Norg want it?”
“Both fair questions. From what I can understand, the Heart of Darkness is some old dusty relic that some ancient wizard hid somewhere. If legends are to be believed, it’s supposed to bestow whoever possesses it unimaginable power. Sure, it’s dark power. But it’s power. And I find that people who already have some power – like our Norg – will do whatever they can to get more of it.”
“Whereas those of us without it can see its cost,” Morga said, repeating something Snagthorn had said to her before.
The old orc smiled. “I’ve taught you well.”
“It helps that you’re a fantastic teacher.”
“Yes, yes, now stop sucking up.” The smile still lurked on his lips, but it was fading fast. “So, as I was saying… Norgretch wants this Heart of Darkness for himself. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why.” Snagthorn rolled his eyes. “He just wants to be the biggest, baddest, most powerful orc in all of orcdom.”
“Does he know what the dangers are?” Morga asked, before an idea hit her like a rock to the skull. “Wait… do we know what the dangers are?” She threw more jellybeans into her mouth.
“I can only guess,” Snagthorn said with a sigh. “Some say the Heart of Darkness completely possesses whoever holds it, leading them into all kinds of evil deeds. Others say, it gives the holder a taste for blood. Literally. Others believe it’ll cause someone to eat the brains of their kin-”
“Like a disgusting goblin?”
“Well, in a way,” Snagthorn replied. “But I’d imagine being a goblin would be preferable to whatever the Heart of Darkness turns you into.”
“And Norg knows all this? And he still wants it?”
Snagthorn shrugged, and defeat clouded his features. “We’ve been over it time and time again, but his hunger for power is insatiable. Before, it wasn’t too much of a problem as we didn’t know where the Heart was, or if it even existed. But now… now, some bastard has given him a possible location.”
“So why doesn’t he go and get it himself?”
“I said he was power hungry, not suicidal.”
“Ah,” Morga said, “I guess that means it’s hidden away in a nice friendly place where death is waiting around every corner.”
Snagthorn’s smile returned. “You catch on quick,” he said with a wink. “There’s all kinds of nonsense in the place where this thing is supposed to be.”
“You can count on it.”
“Not for certain, but those little gits get everywhere so I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d also place bets on a curse or two. Not to mention other hostiles who are after this deranged treasure. Honestly, I think it’s a fool’s errand, but if anyone has a chance of getting it done, it’s you. So, what’s it going to be? Yay or nay? Remember, you can refuse. There’s no harm in that.”
Morga weighed up her options. On the one hand, it seemed like a ridiculous quest that would almost certainly kill her. Then again, almost all the quests she went on were ridiculous and dangerous, so what difference did one more make? And, if she was successful, it really would just be one more. The offer of a nice quiet retirement was too good to pass up.
“I’ll do it,” she said, causing Snagthorn to almost choke on his own tongue. It was a good job she hadn’t offered him any jellybeans.
“What?” he said, spluttering. “You did hear all the terrible things I just said, didn’t you? I didn’t imagine saying them?”
“I heard it all, and I understand the risks. But it feels like freedom is within my grasp and I just can’t pass it by. This could be my only chance.”
“Meh…” Snagthorn said. This obviously wasn’t the response he was expecting. “I was hoping you’d say ‘no’ and then I could either forget about the whole thing or give the job to someone I don’t like.”
“There are orcs here that you don’t like?”
“Of course there are. It’s easier to count the ones I do like.” Snagthorn said with a chuckle. “Most of the orcs here are idiots. Sometimes I feel like we’re the only ones with any sense… well, I did. Now I feel like I’m the only one with any sense. You’ve clearly lost the plot.”
This time it was Morga’s turn to sigh. “I know it seems somewhat reckless, but everything our lovely leader has us do is reckless. At least this task has a nice tasty reward at the end of it.”
Snagthorn’s bones creaked as he got to his feet. “There’s no changing your mind is there?”
“No… and didn’t you bring me in here to convince me?”
“I brought you in here to tell you about it, because I told his lordship that I would. I didn’t think you’d go for it. Plus, it got us both out of that tedious battle meeting. Those things do have a tendency to go on a bit.” He walked over to a table where an array of objects awaited him. “I think you’re an idiot for taking it on, but I won’t leave you defenceless. I’ve got you a weapon unlike any other.”
While Morga wanted to leave battle behind, the prospect of a new weapon still made her giddy with excitement. Another handful of jellybeans landed on her tongue.
At first, the new weapon was a little disappointing. It appeared to be a warhammer, much like any one of a gazillion warhammers Morga had used in her lifetime. They were after all, her go-to weapon. Skullsplitter by name, Skullsplitter by nature.
“Oh, don’t look so disappointed,” Snagthorn said, apparently reading her thoughts. Either that, or her face had chosen to give her away. It wasn’t that she wasn’t grateful to be gifted with a new hammer, but how many hammers did one orc really need? Just once she’d like to be treated to something fancy. Although, at that moment she couldn’t think of any fancy weapons that would suit her fighting style. “There’s more to that hammer than what meets the eye.”
Morga turned the weapon in her hands. It was well made; the kind of sturdy that would crack a few skulls with ease. But she couldn’t see anything to get excited about. Well, no more so than with any other hammer.
“So what’s the deal with it, then?” she asked, her tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth as her brain tried to understand why her old friend had decided to give her this specific gift.
Snagthorn grinned. It would have been a toothy grin if he’d had many left, but instead it was a ‘two-tooth grin’. “It changes,” he said simply.
Morga’s mind felt like it was doing cartwheels. That made no sense at all, and she told Snagtooth as much.
“I wish you’d seen it when it first arrived. Seeing is believing, after all.” Snagthorn sat back down, his bones creaking audibly as he got into position, cross-legged on the floor. “It didn’t look like that at all. Just a normal mallet. Y’know, the kind of thing that a carpenter would use… not that I know an awful lot about carpentry. But it certainly wasn’t a warhammer. The hammer that came into my possession looked nothing like the thing you hold in your hands at the moment.”
As Snagthorn’s words were absorbed into her brain, Morga gave the hammer a closer examination. There was nothing to suggest that it could change it’s appearance at any moment, but now that Snagthorn had put the idea in her head, she had to admit that there was something different about the hammer. An aura. Magic.
“Is it enchanted?” she asked.
“Might be. In fact, I’d say it’s more than likely. I don’t know what spell it is, but think of the possibilities. What if it’s not done changing? What if it keeps getting bigger and more powerful? You could end up with your own trebuchet by the end of the week!” If he hadn’t been likely to fall over and break a hip, Snagthorn may have done a little happy dance at that point.
“Do you think it will?” Morga asked. Although she now felt the magic pulsing from the weapon, her hopes didn’t soar as high as her friend’s.
“Who knows? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a useful weapon. I think it’s more likely that the magic will strengthen it. If nothing else, it will help you in your chances of getting the Heart of Darkness.”
Nodding, Morga tore her gaze from the hammer and looked at Snagthorn. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m sure me and this hammer will have many stories to tell you when we return with the Heart.”
“I like your optimism,” Snagtooth said. He was smiling again, but Morga could tell that he didn’t quite share that optimism. “There’s something else I need to tell you about your quest.”
“It’s in the icy north.”
“Of course it would be,” she said, “I hate the cold.”
“Don’t worry, our wonderful leader has already arranged for some purposely built armour for you.”
“That’s thoughtful of him… if a little presumptuous.”
“You took the job, didn’t you? He was just planning ahead. Besides, I’m sure he would have sent a raiding party up into the snow at some point or another. There’s nowhere that orc won’t spill blood.”
“How very true,” she said, wondering how many places she’d been to and how many lives she’d extinguished. While she couldn’t recall every skirmish, her tattoos acted as a reminder as she added to them after every significant battle. Her green skin was adorned with a buttload of red ink.
“When will you go?” Snagthorn asked, interrupting her thoughts.
“In the morning. There’s no sense in dragging this out.”
Snagthorn gave a grim nod, part in agreement and part in resignation. She could tell by his watery eyes that he didn’t expect her to come home.
That night, she took the hammer back to her hut and planned for a quiet evening of relaxation. Or as close to relaxation as she could get. It was hard to unwind when one was about to go on an impossible, and frankly bloody dangerous, quest. At this point, she’d settle for a couple of hours of sleep before hitting the road.
Ignoring her bed, Morga lay on the dirt floor of her hut. A few of the other orcs had suggested that she put floorboards in, but sometimes she liked to feel the dirt on her skin, especially when her mind was racing.
What had she let herself in for? Was her dream of a quiet retirement really worth this price?
And was the magical hammer really as useful as Snagthorn believed? In Morga’s experience, magic-soaked items could be a hindrance as much as a help. What if in an integral moment mid battle, the hammer decided to change form again? She could be surrounded by enemies holding nothing but a dirty damp dishcloth. The thought made her sit up and stare in the direction of the hammer.
It was still a hammer and still exactly where she’d left it. Only now it seemed to be glowing.
“Great, now you’ll make it easier for my enemies to find me,” she muttered, wincing as she realised she was talking to an inanimate object. She really needed to quit working… or take an extended holiday.
Deciding she needed rest more than she needed to worry about the glowing hammer, Morga got comfortable and – against the odds – managed to drift off to a dreamless sleep.
Things That Go Bump in the Night
To say the orc village was silent at night would have been a lie. No matter what time of day it was, the orcs made noise. It wasn’t noise for the sake of noise, but noise as a result of industry. Some built things, some patrolled, and some just liked to have a drink and let off steam. Born into the village, Morga had never known anything else. She’d never known silence and stillness. In fact, she didn’t even realise that such a state existed. So when a muffled thump awoke her, she thought nothing of it and went back to sleep.
Until she heard another one. A bump. From inside her hut.
Someone was moving around.
Trying to remain motionless, Morga frowned. While blood-thirsty, most of her clan-mates were honourable. The village had known of very few thieves – mainly because those who did attempt such a stupid action were used as examples. Their skulls still adorned the village’s gates; a warning to all who lived there and all who entered. Anyone attempting to steal from the orcs would have their life stolen from them. It was only right.
Whoever was there was done being stealthy.
Morga’s eyes shot open and she leapt up onto her feet. Around her, darkness covered everything allowing the intruder to remain hidden.
“Who goes there?” she asked, her voice quiet, but menacing. Every word was a promise of violence. Every syllable a declaration of destruction.
No-one answered. Why would they?
After a few moments, Morga’s eyes adjusted to the darkness and she looked around the room. A chair lay broken on the floor. A couple of plates had been reduced to shards. Someone had bashed a hole into a cupboard door. Who would do this? And for what reason?
“Show yourself,” she said. “Show yourself and I won’t make your punishment as long or as painful as I could.” That should have been enough to make even the most determined of thieves surrender. Morga’s reputation for long, slow, and painful punishments almost surpassed the stories of her battle prowess.
But no-one spoke up.
They didn’t even stop moving around.
Following the sound, Morga walked into the next room. Her weapon room. Whoever was in there was armed now, and she had nothing but her fists, teeth, and anger. ‘I should have picked up the hammer,’ she thought, as she flexed her fingers.
She stepped into the small room she used to store her weapons. Up until that moment, the room had been her sanctuary.
But now it was in ruins.
Mindless destruction had left its mark on every surface. All furniture and fixings had been decimated. Her weapons remained largely undamaged; a testament to orcish workmanship.
Her eyes picked out familiar shapes in the gloom, taking in any abnormalities, as her large hands curled into fists. Whoever did this was about to experience a fistful of justice.
But whoever did this was nowhere to be seen.
How did they manage to get past her? Her mind ran through the possibilities while her eyes continued her search. She came up with three plausible explanations.
The first was that she was being harassed by a spirit. Snagthorn was the only one here capable of tasking a spirit, so this one was either a rogue or had been sent by someone outside the clan. Had she pissed anyone off enough to warrant this? Probably. Actually, that was almost definite. But it didn’t quite feel right. A Tasked Spirit would want her to know it was there. It would want her to know who sent it. This one had told her nothing.
An alternative was that the culprit was simply very short and she just hadn’t noticed them. That seemed reasonable. There were plenty of small pests throughout Venari, and most of them were unhinged thieving little bastards. Fairies and imps had been known to cause all kinds of havoc. It wasn’t so long ago that an imp had stolen Norgretch’s favourite smoking pipe. The whole clan had been tasked with retrieving it, and they’d spent days searching high and low for the item. Morga had been the lucky one to find it… Only to discover that the guilty party had used it as a tiny toilet. Imp shit is impossible to clean, so Norgretch ended up burning the pipe. Even then, the smell of imp excrement had hung in the air around the settlement for weeks afterwards. With that memory fresh in her mind, Morga hesitantly gave the room a little sniff. To her relief, the room lacked the tell-tale funk of imp dung.
The other option was that the culprit was invisible. Those living in Venari are all aware of the people who can make themselves disappear whenever it suits them. Goblins. Morga couldn’t stand goblins. They were sneaky, vile, and wretched creatures. Everything that an orc wasn’t. They lacked honour. They lacked integrity. And they were bloody annoying.
Morga growled, the sound rumbling deep in her throat. If it was possible for her fists to clench any more, that’s what they did.
But something cut through her anger.
She was being watched. While she hunted for whatever little shit was harassing her, the little shit was hunting her. That wasn’t right. No-one hunted Morga.
Eyes watched her. Goosebumps littered her skin. Was it her imagination, or could she feel the intruder’s hot breath on the back of her neck? Those unfamiliar with Morga Skullsplitter may have taken the piss out of her for being scared. After all, what kind of warrior orc got scared? In such an event, after she’d decided that the piss-taker clearly wasn’t using their brains, she’d split their skull and remove them. After that, she’d explain the following to whoever was still left to hear it: Fear was something she could use. If she was afraid of something, it was her body telling her to get ready for a fight. Sometimes her senses picked up on things her conscious mind didn’t. Fear had saved her life more times than she could count. Fear was a powerful ally.
Muscles tense, she turned, ready to face her attacker. As she turned, something came flying towards her head. Grunting, she ducked, just in time for the ‘something’ to fly over the top of her.
That something sure looked familiar.
The thieving bastard was using her new hammer!
But whoever threw the weapon was no longer there. Or they were invisible. “Bloody goblins,” she muttered.
Taking a deep breath to try and focus her anger, she looked around for any signs of her assailant. There was nothing.
“This is getting dull,” she said. “Show yourself or fuck off.”
It was a simple enough request, but still no-one answered. Yep, this was getting really dull. Just as she was about to repeat herself, something latched onto her ankle. A sharp searing pain shot through her flesh and something scraped along bone. Was something biting her?
Not wasting a moment, Morga kicked out and whatever it was lost its grip and flew across the decimated room, crashing unceremoniously into a broken cabinet.
Anger clouded Morga’s vision as she stomped towards the intruder. It didn’t matter what the despicable little creature was, she was going to stamp it right out of existence. Warm blood trickled onto her foot, igniting her determination.
As she got closer, there was movement in the pile of broken furniture. Something small and fast removed itself from the debris and scurried away. Morga followed its tippy-tappy footfalls out of the ruined weapons room and back into her living quarters.
Moonlight danced through an open window, revealing the guilty creature.
This was no goblin.
It wasn’t even an imp.
No, it couldn’t be.
Morga blinked and shook her head. She’d thought she’d avoided the blow to the noggin, but maybe she hadn’t. Maybe this was a fever dream brought on by concussion.
But, when she looked in the direction of the intruder, the image was the same.
“You’re a hammer,” she said, her voice uncertain.
The hammer snarled and spat in response. Rude little shit.
But she had its attention now and it had stopped running around and destroying her stuff (not that there was much of that left), so at least that was something.
Now that it was still, she could take in more details. The hammer resembled the gift Snagthorn had given her, but it now had legs. And arms. And, perhaps least surprisingly considering her wound, a mouth full of sharp teeth. When Snagthorn had told her that this thing might transform, this was the last thing on her mind.
“Okay, hammer, you need to chill. We’re on the same side. You can’t be tearing apart my house like this. That’s not what clan-mates do,” she said as she approached it in the same way she’d approach a wild animal. Her movements were slow, and her voice soft.
The hammer growled in a somewhat sullen, petulant way. It reminded her of a child after it had been told off.
“Let’s start again, shall we?”
Morga bent down and grabbed the hammer. It’s little arms and legs lashed out, punching and kicking. Its teeth snapped at her and it howled and moaned.
“I said you need to chill!” Morga said, holding the hammer as far away from her face and body as she could.
The hammer replied with another series of howls. For a moment, she thought it was trying to tell her something, but then it spat at her again and tried to wrestle its way out of her grip, so maybe it was just telling her to ‘fuck off’.
To Morga’s dismay, it squirmed out of her hand and scampered across the floor, stopping at a cupboard door. What was it up to now?
“What? Did you find something you hadn’t broken yet?”
The hammer lifted a sharp clawed finger as if to silence her. Despite being appalled at its audacity, Morga didn’t say a word. She was far too intrigued. Where was this going?
Seemingly satisfied with her response, the hammer turned to face the cupboard door. Its clawed finger ran across the surface, the sound putting Morga’s teeth on edge. Was that really necessary?
After several moments, the hammer returned its attention to Morga and stepped away from the door, like an artist stepping away from their masterpiece. Despite the pride and accomplishment radiating from the mutant hammer, most would have been hard pressed to describe what it had done as a masterpiece. Rather than a still life or a landscape, it had carved one simple sentence in Venari’s common tongue:
“My name is Carnage.”
Morga looked around at what remained of her house. “Of course it is,” she said with a nod. “So I guess you want me to stop calling you ‘hammer’, then?
The hammer – Carnage – growled and stomped its little feet. Great, her deadly weapon was also a grumpy toddler.
“Got it,” Morga said. “So, Carnage, the plan was for you to come with me on an adventure. It feels weird just taking you as it’s more than likely to be dangerous and filled with peril and since you’re rather more alive than we expected, I thought I’d better give you the choice. Do you want to tag along? I can’t make any promises, but I’m almost certain you’ll be able to destroy some things along the way. What do you say?”
Carnage growled, howled and did a little dance.
“Erm… we’re gonna need to find a better way to communicate. Is that a yes?”
Carnage turned back to the cupboard door. Underneath its previous work it wrote, “YES.”
The strange duo stood in the wreckage of Morga’s home, neither really knowing what to do next. Part of Morga thought she should punish the hammer for what it had done, but since they were leaving in the morning (and possibly leaving forever), there didn’t seem to be much point.
“I guess we just sleep then and make a fresh start in the morning,” she said. “Do you even sleep?”
Carnage made a strange howling noise. If Morga didn’t know better, she thought it sounded like the howled equivalent of someone rolling their eyes. It sounded like the hammer thought she was an idiot. After its little outburst, Carnage pointed at the last word it had carved into the cupboard door.
“Goodnight, then,” Morga said.
Carnage responded with a sing-song howl that could have also been a “Goodnight”.
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