The Misadventures of Morga Skullsplitter – Episode 2: Bloody Taverns
Orctober continues with Episode 2 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 2: Bloody Taverns
Before the sun had even had the chance to show itself, Morga Skullsplitter visited Snagthorn the Mystic. Snagthorn was both the clan’s only magic user and the best medical professional they had. Given that the orcs spent a vast amount of time in one battle or another, having resident healers was a must. Out of the many that healed the Red Scar Clan, Snagthorn was the best. If he couldn’t save an orc’s limb through conventional surgery or medicine, he’d whack a spell on it that would usually do the trick. Sure, sometimes that limb would want to do its own thing (usually at the worst possible moment), but Snagthorn got results.
“What brings you here so early?” Snagthorn asked before Morga had even knocked on the door to his hut.
Morga opened the door and entered. Unlike a lot of doors in the settlement, that one didn’t make a sound. That was probably magic. Or some kind of lubricant.
“I thought you’d be gathering your supplies,” he said.
“I will be, but I need you to patch me up first.” Morga rolled her trouser leg up to reveal the bitemark she’d received the night before.
Snagthorn blinked a couple of times, the disbelief an unusual sight on his face. “How did you manage that? I only saw you yesterday and we’ve not been on any skirmishes since then. Have we?” The question was a sincere one. There had been a time or two in recent memory when the clan had gone out on an unplanned skirmish, just because their leader hadn’t been able to sleep. Or because he was in a bad mood. Or because someone had stolen his favourite smoking pipe.
“Of course not. There’s no way you’d be left out of those.” It was true. Although Snagthorn didn’t physically fight (he said his old bones couldn’t hack it, but Morga thought he was tougher than he looked), he was immensely useful. “I did get in a fight though.”
Snagthorn raised an eyebrow. Morga wasn’t the type to start fights willy-nilly (although she did finish them with great efficiency). The elder orc examined Morga’s wound, studying each toothmark as if it held a great secret.
“So what happened?” he asked. “I don’t recognise this bite pattern. Definitely not an orc nor goblin. Certainly not a cave-slug. If I didn’t know better, I might be inclined to suggest you’d been nibbled on by a ghoul or a cryptlicker, but if that was the case you’d be dead. You’re not dead, are you? That would be awkward.”
“No, not dead,” Morga said, trying to make herself look as lively as possible. This translated as a overly large grin and a waving hands dance-like thing. While she wasn’t sure if it proved she was alive, it was certainly something she wouldn’t be caught dead doing. “I wasn’t bitten by a cryptlicker, but by something equally as impossible. The hammer changed.”
While Morga spoke, Snagthorn had cleaned the wound and started to stitch it up. He stabbed his own finger twice as she told the story of Carnage. At her request, he was using somewhat normal medical techniques; magic got her into this mess, but she didn’t trust it to get her out of it.
“And you’ve left the creature alone in your hut?”
“Well, yeah. But it looks like a regular warhammer again now. I don’t know what got it all riled up last night, but whatever it was has passed.”
“It will be good if you can harness that change,” Snagthorn said, as he twizzled the coarse hair on his chin in thought. “Perhaps it was due to the full moon?”
“You mean my hammer is like a werewolf?” Morga asked. “I haven’t got time to take the little shit out for walks or comb it for fleas.”
Snagthorn chuckled. “I’ll miss this,” he said after a time.
“I am coming back,” Morga said, in an attempt to convince both her old friend and herself.
“If anyone can find the Heart of Darkness, it’s you.”
“Yes, and Carnage. But neither of you will be getting anywhere without a decent map.”
Morga expected the elder to pass her a map at that point, but nothing was forthcoming.
Instead, he continued to talk. “You’ll have to pay a visit to Moonwich. It’s a smallish, largely human settlement. I have a contact there who will be able to help. He can usually be found in a tavern called The Waning Gibbous.”
“Contact got a name?”
“Of course, most people do. That’s the way they know they’re being yelled at.” Snagthorn chuckled again, before adding. “Not that he’s really ‘people’. Scratch is a… er…”
“If Scratch is a goblin, I swear to Volkdrow that I will lose my shit.” Morga’s skin crawled at the idea of having to deal with a goblin. Especially when one held something she needed. Something that was vital to her quest.
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Scratch isn’t a goblin.”
Morga waited. There was more to it than this. There always was. Ol’ Snaggy was holding back something that was going to piss her off.
“Out with it,” she said, her patience wearing thin. The sooner she was done with this quest, the better. It would be lovely to have conversations with Snagthorn where he didn’t have to tiptoe around things with her. But what would they even talk about? The weather? Morga would love to just talk about the weather.
“He’s a grunt.” Snagthorn said the words quickly and winced, as if expecting a verbal explosion from Morga. To be fair, she did think that she should be shouting or complaining, but she had no idea why.
“What’s a grunt?”
“Just another people. Like orcs or gnomes.”
Morga raised an eyebrow. There was more to it than that. “But…”
“But what? A grunt is a grunt. Besides, you’ll find out more about grunts when you meet Scratch. I’m sure he’ll be happy to tell you all about his people. I certainly wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.” There was that chuckle again. She wasn’t going to enjoy this, was she?
“So,” she said, resigned to the fact she was going to be pissed off soon, “I go to Moonwich and meet this Scratch to get a map. I don’t suppose that Moonwich is on the way to wherever it is the Heart of Darkness is hidden?”
“I’m not 100% sure. But my gut says no.”
“Nothing’s ever easy, is it?”
“If it was, you’d be bored,” Snagthorn replied. “I suppose there’s no chance in getting you to reconsider? You don’t have to do this. Things could stay as they are.”
To her credit, Morga did give this a moment’s thought before she replied with “No, not a chance. I’m so close to my retirement, I can taste it. I’m not going to throw it all away because this quest might be difficult.”
“Bah, I thought you’d say that. Still, you can’t blame me for trying.” Snagthorn shuffled over to the other side of his hut. “But, I’m not going to let you go unprepared. You’ve got Carnage now, but you’ll also need some other supplies. Here, take this.”
The old orc handed her a bag that was probably even more ancient than he was. It was made from a piece of purple leather that had been bashed about more than a bit. In places, the material looked like it had been chewed on, although Morga couldn’t identify the teeth marks, not even with her tracking abilities and survival skills. She reached out and took the knapsack with the tip of her index finger and thumb. Even though those teeth marks looked like they’d been there for donkey’s years, part of her fully expected the bag to be coated in saliva. To her relief, it wasn’t.
But it was empty.
“I don’t get it,” she said, as she peered into the bag. “What do I need an empty bag for? I’ve got bags and none of them are as wrecked as this.”
“Just like your hammer was more than a hammer, this bag is more than a bag.”
“Okay… that’s nice and cryptic. I don’t suppose you feel like giving me a little more to go on?”
Snagthorn didn’t say anything.
“C’mon, Snaggy. Fart and give me a clue.”
“Fine, it’s a lot like the hammer really,” Snagthorn began. “Just like with the hammer, I know this bag is magic. I just don’t know what it will do.”
“So you thought you’d give it to the orc going on a dangerous mission?”
“Yes… well… I figured it couldn’t make it any worse.” Snagthorn shrugged. Morga could see the logic. As she was going on a deadly quest with a hammer that might grow teeth at any moment, what difference was a magical bag going to make? If she ended up dead, what did the killing didn’t really make a difference.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be your experiment.”
“And you’ll report back on what it does?” Snagthorn asked, not adding ‘if you can’ on the end. He could be tactful when he wanted to be.
Morga agreed, even though she wasn’t sure that the place where this Heart of Darkness thing was would have a reliable postal service. She could worry about that later.
Not trusting her new ‘magic’ bag, Morga had packed all of her essentials into her usual knapsack and had tied the new bag to it. She trusted Carnage in neither of the bags, so she held the hammer tightly in one hand. The hammer hadn’t been anything but a hammer since that fateful night, but Morga had no idea what would set the murderous weapon off again.
The journey to Moonwich was long, but nowhere near as long as she’d expected. It seemed strange to think that a place such as this existed so close to her clan’s village. Where most of the Red Scar Clan’s time was spent on war and conquest, the people of Moonwich used that time to build ridiculous buildings and statues. They walked around in fancy clothes, and not one of them appeared to be holding a warhammer, possessed or otherwise. How foolish. What if someone were to attack them?
Humans and gnomes watched her every move with suspicion, as if she would be the one to attack them. She could understand that. Attacking was, after all, what her clan did. But she still hated to have so many accusing stares aimed in her direction.
“I’m not here to harm you,” she said to a passing gnome, who passed all the faster at the sound of her voice. “I’m just looking for someone.”
Instead of coming to her aid, the people who had been scrutinising her scattered like dust in the wind.
“Charmin’,” she muttered. “I thought humans and gnomes were supposed to be friendly.”
Just as she was about to pick a random street and walk down it, a voice stopped her.
“Some of us are alright,” it said.
She looked around but could see no-one. That didn’t bode well. Her grip tightened on Carnage as she wondered if the voice belonged to a goblin.
“Er… I’m down here. Please don’t swing that hammer at me,” the voice said.
Morga looked down and, to her relief, the voice belonged to a gnome. Then she looked at Carnage. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “I wasn’t gonna swing it at you.”
“Of course not,” the gnome replied, although he didn’t look convinced.
Unlike the gnome who had ran away from her, this one held a confidence that would rival most orcs’. He may have been small in stature, but he wore his shiny suit of armour like he was a giant.
“You’re a knight,” Morga found herself saying, inwardly cursing for saying something so bloody obvious. Of course he was a knight. Who else would wear that stupid outfit? Sure, it provided some protection, but most of the orcs in her clan would just see it as a challenge. The gnome may as well have worn a sign that said “Beat me to a pulp”.
“Indeed I am,” he replied. “Not only that, I’m a Knight of the Green Fire. The first gnome to ever join.”
His pride radiated off him like heat from a campfire.
“Good for you,” she said, before changing the subject. “I’m looking for a place. And a person. I don’t suppose you know where The Waning Gibbous is?”
“Indeed, I do,” the gnome replied, but didn’t offer any more information.
“Would you mind telling me where I can find it?” she asked, trying to keep her voice sounding reasonable, which is extremely fucking difficult as a war-hardened orc.
“Indeed, I would mind.”
That was it. Morga felt the exact moment all sense of civility buggered off. “If you say ‘indeed’ one more time, I will end you.”
To his credit, the fresh-faced gnome didn’t utter a word.
“Now,” Morga said, sounding menacing without even trying. It was easy to intimidate gnomes and humans; they had the collective courage of a wet paper bag. “Tell me where The Waning Gibbous is or I will swing this hammer at your head.
As soon as she’d made her threat, she could have sworn that Carnage pulsed a little in her grip. Morga sent a silent wish that it would remain in normal warhammer form. While she wanted to scare the gnome a little bit, she didn’t want to terrify the poor sod so badly that his ancestors felt it.
“In-” the gnome started, but stopped before he finished that blasted word. “I will… but first it’s my duty to tell you that The Waning Gibbous is not the sort of place you want to go.”
“Oi, gnome,” Morga said, somehow managing to keep her anger in check, and keep the Red Mists of Rage at bay. “Look at me. Do I look like I worry about the kind of places I go to? I am the reason why people don’t want to go to places.”
Finding his confidence again, the gnome had the audacity to look her up and down. Before she could swing Carnage at him, he nodded appraisingly. “I can see that. Perhaps you could help.”
“Why would I want to help you?”
“Because I can take you to where you want to go… which is where the problem is.”
Fine. That made sense. The little runt had a point.
“Alright,” she said.
“Don’t you want to know what the problem is?” the gnome asked.
“I’m sure I’ll figure it out when I get there. If the problem is big enough and ugly enough to need an orc to sort it out, it’s going to be glaringly obvious when we get there, isn’t it?”
The gnome blinked at her as if trying to process this. “Well, it’s a little more subtle than I think you’re expecting…”
“Just fill me in on the way,” Morga replied.
“Great, got it. Follow me,” the gnome said as he started to walk. He picked a street that Morga probably wouldn’t have chosen at first, so if he made true on their deal, at least he’d saved her from wandering around aimlessly.
“I’m Benny Southpaw,” he said, after a while.
“Congratulations,” Morga replied. Around her, people pretended not to stare. At least the little runt was good for something; people weren’t being so blatant with their fear and bigotry now.
“Usually when someone tells you their name, you tell them yours. That’s how introductions work, and how friendships start.”
“Where I’m from, you don’t give your name unless you know full well that the person you gave it to isn’t a nefarious magic user or one of the fae. Or both. And friendships are made when you’ve made it through a battle together, and your muscles ache, and you’ve bathed in the blood of an enemy.”
That wiped the smug look off the little tyke’s face.
“You’re very intense,” he said after a moment. “I like it. We shall be friends.”
“Yes,” the gnome replied. “But first we have to take another left and then we’re at the tavern.”
“What if I don’t want your friendship?”
“You’re stuck with it.”
“Friendships can’t be built on lies. You need trust, little gnome.”
“Then don’t lie to me,” he replied.
“Why not? You’ve already lied to me.”
“When?” Incredulous, the gnome’s eyes almost popped out of his skull.
“When you told me that your name was Benny Whatever.”
“Whatever you said, it isn’t your name.”
The gnome stopped walking before they turned what was apparently the final corner. “It is my name. I should know, it’s mine!”
“I may not live in a fancy place like this, but I’ve met enough gnomes in my time to know that they don’t have two names. Just the one. What’s the deal with you?”
Even in his armour, the gnome’s shoulders slumped. “It’s just easier, okay? It was an administration mistake at Palestone Castle back when I first became a knight. The administrator got my name wrong… and I was too polite to say anything. So that’s my name now.”
Morga had no idea where Palestone Castle was or what an administrator was (she assumed someone who owned either a big axe or a sword or something – otherwise surely the gnome would have spoken up. Politeness be damned), but all that was the kind of thing she could find out at another time.
“What should I call you? What’s your real name?” she asked.
A small smile spread across the gnome’s face. “You’re not fae, are you?”
“Do I look like it?”
He shrugged, but answered anyway. “Behneesarfpor.”
As the syllables felt from his tongue, she could understand how the administrator could have made a mistake.
“But, just call me Benny,” the gnome said. “It’s easier and I’m used to it now.”
“Benny it is,” she replied. “Now, shall we get this problem dealt with?”
Benny nodded, before looking her up and down again. She hated that. “Let’s hope you’re scary enough to get rid of this thing.”
“The problem, silly.”
“I’m not silly.” There was that anger again. Rage tickled the backs of her eyeballs.
“Well, I still don’t know your name, so you can be silly for now.”
“Call me Morga. Morga Skullsplitter. If you keep calling me silly, I won’t be able to keep my Rage in check.”
“And you’ll split my skull?” he asked.
“See, you understand.”
With grim determination lining both their faces – although Morga still did not know what she was about to meet – the gnome and orc entered The Waning Gibbous.
The Waning Gibbous
The Waning Gibbous was different from the taverns back home (even though the orcish village was relatively small, the percentage of taverns was very high). One of the most glaring differences was that it was empty.
There was no-one around. Not even someone to pour her a drink.
“This is certainly a problem,” she said. “Although I’m more likely to scare customers away than entice them in.”
The tempting smell of ale made her wish for a tankard, but before she could request one from the gnome – or take one for herself – he spoke up again. So, she settled for reaching into her pack for a handful of jellybeans instead.
“The Waning Gibbous never used to have trouble attracting customers, but that all changed recently. There’s something not right here.”
Morga may have been a warrior by day (and, actually, most nights), but when she had a moment to chill, she enjoyed mystery novels. The orc got them delivered by messenger imps on a fairly regular basis. (Note: these were not the same imps that had pooped in her clan leader’s favourite smoking pipe. These ones were better behaved, mainly because she fed them.)
Her favourite novels had been about a detective called Hector Cluescavenger. The books never specified what kind of person this Hector was, but Morga liked to think he was an orc. All the best people were usually orcs.
It was her love of mystery novels that made her ears perk up at not only the words coming from Benny’s mouth, but also his tone. He was scared, but intrigued. These were core parts of any great mystery story.
Trying to act how she thought Hector would, she rubbed her chin as she placed Carnage on top of the bar. Once she was sure the hammer looked comfortable, she started pacing back and forth. This was an integral move when it came to solving cases.
“So, what can you tell me about this case?” she asked, still rubbing her chin. Apparently, this was how ideas were generated.
Benny looked a little taken aback, but he answered her question.
“It all started about a week or so ago. The place was rammed as usual. People were drinking, dancing, laughing… and then everything changed…”
“What caused the change?”
“A newcomer entered the tavern,” Benny said as he stared at the door. Perhaps he was imagining said newcomer arriving. “We’re not usually that bothered about strangers here. People pass through all the time. But this was different. This was a pirate.”
“But Moonwich is nowhere near the sea,” Morga pointed out, rather proud of her contribution. That could be a vital clue.
“I didn’t say they were a good pirate,” Benny said, holding up a finger to show that he planned to continue talking. “They certainly looked the part. Eye patch. Weird hat. That kind of thing. But the most piratey thing about them was the whopping great treasure chest they staggered in with.”
Morga stopped pacing.
“What was in the chest?” she asked.
“Death,” Benny replied simply.
Morga rubbed her chin again, but the only idea to come was that she should abandon this mystery and continue with her quest.
“Do you know Scratch?” she asked as casually as she could. Perhaps the gnome would think it was vital to her investigation.
“I do,” Benny replied. “But he’ll be no help.”
“Cos he’s useless and annoying, and because he’s missing. Death took him.”
‘Bugger,’ Morga thought. So much for getting back to her quest. “What makes you think I can help?”
“I dunno, I thought you looked scary enough to scare even Death away.”
Some say flattery will get you everywhere. That was as true for orcs as anyone else. Trying not to blush, Morga said, “Thank you. I’ll do what I can.”
The gnome beamed at her. “I had a feeling I could count on you.”
The orc went back to her pacing, that action proving to be better for thinking than the chin rubbing. She was fast learning that those Hector novels either weren’t completely based in fact, or that chin rubbing didn’t work for everyone. Either way, it was a disappointing revelation.
“So is Death like… y’know, ‘Death Death’?” she asked.
“Certainly looks like Death,” the gnome replied.
“What? Like Mortvell the god of death?”
“Nah, more like the skinny bloke wearing a cloak who takes your soul after you die.”
“Interesting,” she said, thinking the skinny bloke didn’t actually sound that scary. If anything, he was just doing a job. Perhaps he wanted to retire as much as she did. Perhaps he also read Hector Cluescavenger books too.
Even so, it wouldn’t do to underestimate her opponent. Almost instinctively, her hand reached back for Carnage. Could she pummel Death into submission?
“Where did you see him last?” she asked, giving Carnage a few test swings.
“In the cellar.”
Of course it was in the cellar. Almost all mysteries ended up in the cellar. It was the natural order of things.
“That’s where the treasure chest is too. There might be some gold in there. You can have a share of that if you’re successful.”
Morga didn’t care much for gold, but money tended to make things easier, so she mumbled something in thanks.
“Show me how to get to the cellar,” she said. “As I take it you don’t want me to smash a hole in the floor.”
Benny led the way behind the bar and opened a hatch. It was going to be tight, but Morga thought that if she breathed in a little, she should be able to fit into it.
“The cellar’s down there,” Benny said.
“Are you not coming?”
“It’s okay to be scared,” Morga said.
“But I’m a knight, and knights are afraid of nothing!” Benny declared, shaking as he spoke. His teeth were about two seconds away from chattering.
“Then knights are fools,” Morga said. “Fear is useful.”
“Are you afraid?”
Morga laughed, and said “Piss off!” before disappearing into the cellar. The gnome didn’t need to know that she felt fear just like everyone else.
Like most cellars, this one was dark, and Morga cursed herself for not bringing a lantern with her. Actually, that was a lie; she cursed the gnome for not telling her to bring a lantern. He really should have known better.
“It sure would have been nice to have some light down here,” she said, loud enough to make her point.
“Sorry, should I chuck a lantern down?” Benny called through the hatch.
“What? And set this whole place on fire? Don’t be an idiot.”
Benny muttered something along the lines of ‘I was just trying to help’ and ‘there’s no pleasing orcs’ as Morga took another step into the inky black.
Just as she was preparing for her night vision to kick in, a light appeared.
“Apologies, I’m used to sitting in the dark,” a voice said. “I think it’s because I have no eyes.” A lantern was set on the ground.
A figure stepped into the small puddle of light. A very skinny figure.
“It is you,” Morga said as she stared at the skeleton. “Where’s your robe?”
“And it is you,” Death said. “Where’s your robe?”
“What? I don’t have a robe.”
“Oh, sorry. I thought it was a strange greeting. I don’t have a robe either.”
“Of course you do,” Morga said, “You’re Death, aren’t you?”
Before the skeleton could say anything else, Morga swung Carnage at his skull. The hammer thunked into the bone and sent the head flying across the cellar.
‘Well, that was easy,’ Morga thought, feeling more than a little disappointed. There had been no need for mystery solving or a real fight. This hadn’t been much of a side quest at all. Now all she needed to do was find Scratch and get to work.
“Oh, not again,” the skeleton’s voice said from across the room. Morga froze as she watched the body stumble across the room to find its missing part. It would have been impressive if it wasn’t so unsettling.
Snapping out of her reverie, Morga made to swing Carnage at the skeleton again, but stopped when she heard another voice. This one was small and high-pitched.
“Wait!” the voice said. “You’ve this all wrong!”
A small green and furry creature stepped into the same puddle of light that Death had occupied previously. The creature wore dungarees that looked a size or two too big. It’s large ears almost made it as wide as it was tall, and its fluffy clawed feet made little tippy-tappy noises on the flagstone floor. And it was cute. Adorably cute. Unbelievably cute. Morga hated it instantly.
It was also holding Death’s head. So, it was cute and it was aiding the enemy. Morga growled.
“Sorry, sorry!” the little thing said. “It’s not your fault, but you’ve got it wrong. My friend here isn’t the bad thing.”
“Then what is?”
“The treasure chest,” the green thing replied.
That seemed unlikely. Morga was about to say that the chest was an inanimate object and didn’t think for itself, but then she remembered Carnage. If a hammer could do what Carnage could do, then maybe the chest had a trick or two up its sleeve too. Assuming, of course, that treasure chests have sleeves.
Perhaps this was something worthy of her time.
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
“Because,” the skull in the green thing’s hands replied, “that chest will eat anything within tongue-licking distance of it. How do you think I ended up in this state?”
“Don’t you always look like that?” Morga asked, trying to remember everything she’d ever been told about the Grim Reaper.
“Well, I do now,” the skull replied. “I used to be better looking. I had skin and everything. I was quite the catch.”
“So you’re not Death?”
“I’m most definitely dead if that counts… but, no, I’m not Death. I’m Hector.”
Morga could barely contain her excitement. Had all those stories she’d read been real? Was she now in the presence of the great Hector Cluescavenger? She really hoped she wasn’t blushing; she’d never met a celebrity before.
She had been about to ask if he’d died whilst trying to solve a great mystery, instead she blurted out, “Hector like the detective?”
“No, like my father.” If skull’s could wear confused expressions, this one did.
“Was he a detective?”
“Were you?” she asked.
“No, I was a pirate,” the skull replied.
“The same pirate that brought the chest here?”
“Oh, no. I was inside it by that point. Long dead.”
“See,” the cute thing said. “He’s as much of a victim as anyone else.”
“I’m not sure many pirates could be counted as victims,” Morga said. “They’re mostly the ones doing all the crimes.”
“The same could be said for orcs,” the green thing said. For the love of Volkdrow, this little git was annoying. “But, pirate or orc or whatever, I really think we should be getting out of this tavern. It’s not safe here.”
Morga raised an eyebrow.
“Cos of the massive great flesh-eating treasure chest,” the green thing replied.
“It’s okay,” Morga said, giving both Hector and the green thing a good view of Carnage. “I think I can handle it.”
“I’m not so sure,” the annoying little shit said. “It’s pretty gnarly. I think we’d be better off just making a run for it. Y’know, live to fight another day and all that…”
“I’m Morga Skullsplitter and I’ve never walked away from a fight in my entire life,” Morga said. And it was true. She didn’t see the harm in revealing her name as neither of these two gave off fae vibes and, while they may have been recipients of a curse or two, neither of them had the aura of someone with magical talents. They didn’t have the same musk that ol’ Snaggy gave off.
“Well, I’m Scratch, and I always run when it’s an option. I’m smart like that.”
“And I’m Hector, and I’d very much like it if one of you could reunite my head with my body.”
“Just a moment, Hector,” Morga said, before pointing her glare at the little green creature. “You’re Scratch? Scratch? The Scratch?”
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” Scratch said. “How have you heard of me, big orc lady?”
“I was told to find you. You’re supposed to help me with a map for my quest.”
The little thing hopped from foot to foot before remembering it was still holding Hector’s head. Before saying another word, Scratch threw the head towards Hector’s body. Somehow, Hector’s skeletal hands caught hold of the flying skull.
“I can definitely help with that,” Scratch said. “But first we all have to be alive. So, lets make like a tree and leave.”
“While I do find you to be delightful,” Hector said, now fully back together. Well, apart from his flesh and internal organs. “I can’t help but point out that doesn’t make any sense. Shouldn’t it be ‘leaf’?
“Nah, that would make less sense,” Scratch said.
Morga’s head spun. Life was much easier when she was spilling blood or reading a mystery novel. Much easier.
“So, are we ready to make like a banana and split?” Scratch asked.
“Now that one I like,” Morga replied. Although not widely known, banana splits were orcish delicacies. Morga loved them almost as much as she loved jellybeans.
Scratch smiled. It was a smug little expression, like he knew he’d win the orc over to his side eventually. She dashed that belief almost as quickly as she could have smashed his skull.
“But we can’t leave yet,” she said. “I have work to do. There’s a mystery to solve and a killer treasure chest to stop.”
“What mystery?” Scratch asked. “It all seems pretty clear cut to me. Treasure chest is bitey and bad. We should all leave. C’mon, I’ll even treat you to a banana split.”
“The mystery of who brought this treasure chest here and why. I think from now on we should refer to it as The Case of the Killer Treasure Chest.” Morga was proud of that name. It was catchy and described the case perfectly.
“I’ll give you a map for free and TWO banana splits if you get us out of here right now,” Scratch said. All the bravado and attempts at charm had disappeared, and it was clear that this little git was scared shitless. Which was good as Morga wasn’t a fan of other people’s shit. Having a steaming pile of excrement down here along with the annoying little critter and the former detective (Hector could lie all he wanted, she knew it was him), would have put her in a Rage worthy of the most intense of battles.
Scared or not, that offer was pretty good. It would be handy to not have to owe Scratch anything.
She was about to agree to the terms, when an eerie cackle filled the space around them.
“That can’t be good,” the skeleton said.
“No shit, Hector,” Scratch muttered.
Coming from apparently everywhere at once, the cackle surrounded them. It was an unpleasant sound, even making Morga’s skin crawl. She hated when things made her skin crawl, she took it as some would take being called something rude. So, every time her skin crawled, her blood boiled.
And the Rage started to take hold.
It was a gradual process at first. After all, there was no point in going full berserker until she knew what and where the danger was, but the Rage was inevitable. It was just a matter of time.
“We should really get out of here,” Scratch said. There was no pun this time. The little critter definitely wanted to leave. Morga could understand that. But she was a warrior, and the owner of the cackle had made a feel a little bit of fear. For those reasons, she had to see this through. For those reasons, the laughing bastard needed to pay.
The cackling continued.
… which was really weird because they were indoors.
“Does this place always do that?” Morga asked. For all she knew, Moonwich could have been famous for its indoor storms.
“Nope, that’s new,” Scratch replied.
Lightning flashed again, revealing a treasure chest at the foot of the stairs.
“That definitely wasn’t there before,” Hector said. His powers of observation were amazing. Morga was 99% sure that he was the famous detective. He had to be.
Goosebumps covered Morga’s skin as the temperature dropped. So much for her new cold-proof armour. If she ever made it back to the Red Scar Clan after this quest, she’d give the armourer a slap around the back of the head.
Shivering, she tightened her grip on Carnage. The enchanted hammer did absolutely nothing in response. No mouth appeared. No arms ending in a massive fist. Absolutely fuck all.
“What good are you?” she whispered to the hammer. Scratch looked up at her as if she was talking to him, but he didn’t say anything. He was probably afraid that he couldn’t think of anything good to say.
Lightning flashed once again. The treasure chest had moved a step closer.
Cackling surrounded them, echoing off the walls.
If this thing could move every time it got dark, they were screwed.
“Hold up the lantern,” Morga ordered, not caring if the others thought she was bossy. Bossiness was not something the Red Scar Clan concerned themselves with. Back home, you were either assertive, or you got your arse handed to you. Like all Red Scar Clan kids, Morga had learned that lesson quickly – and somewhat painfully.
Hector lifted the lantern as high as he could, sending the flickering light out towards the treasure chest. The small group watched as the chest remained still.
“We just need to keep the light on it,” Morga said.
“That’s a tremendously good idea,” Hector said, “but there is just one small problem.”
“What’s that?” Morga and Scratch asked in chorus. Scratch’s smile suggested he liked the idea of them being in sync. Meanwhile, Morga’s grimace suggested murderous intent.
“Well, it’s a minor thing really…”
“WHAT IS IT?” Again, the massive orc and the tiny whatever-the-fuck Scratch was spoke together.
“I’m terribly sorry about this…”
“WHAT IS IT??”
“It’s just that… well, this puts us in quite the pickle-”
“It’s that we’re almost out of-”
Darkness consumed the cellar.
“Oil. The lantern is out of oil.” Hector finally finished his sentence.
The cackle filled the room again, dancing in through Morga’s ears, and playing with her brain. She hated it when people messed with her brain. It was bloody rude.
“What’s so funny?” she asked the cellar. “What do you want?”
It – whatever it was. The chest? – laughed again, and the strange lightning returned to illuminate the space once more. The chest was closer now.
And it was open.
The lightning continued, allowing Morga the chance to get a good look at what she was faced with.
To her utter confusion, it just looked like a normal chest. It couldn’t really be called a treasure chest now as there was no treasure within it. It was just a normal empty chest.
“What the fuck?” Morga asked. “What’s going on?”
“Beats me,” Scratch replied.
Then there was that laughter again. None of this made sense. Why all the cackling? Why the lightning? It all felt like it was building towards something, but this was a massive anti-climax.
“I don’t get it,” Morga said, before focusing on the chest. “What do you want?”
“Your soul!” someone said from behind her, and she felt two hands push her towards the open chest.
Off balance, there was nothing she could do but fall forwards. As she drew closer, the chest didn’t look quite so normal anymore. Where was the bottom? All she could see was an endless void of darkness.
That couldn’t be good.
Just as she was about to pound the chest with her hammer – after all, what else was she to do? – Carnage was wrenched from her grip.
Alone, Morga plunged into the inky depths of the chest.
Cackling smothered her, cutting off her sight and hearing. There was nothing but the void.
She held up a hand in front of her face, but couldn’t see a thing. Where did she end? Where did the void begin?
“What is this place?” Her voice echoed as if she was inside a large cavern. She’d been in such places before, they were usually full of all kinds of beasts. Was that where she was now? “What kind of cavern is inside a chest?”
It felt like a bizarre riddle. Another puzzle to solve. Another mystery worthy of the great detective. But Hector was back in the cellar, and Morga was rapidly losing her grip on her own logical thoughts. Being trapped in the void/inside a chest/inside a cavern would do that to a person.
“What would Hector do?” her echoing voice asked, but it was answered by a chilling thought.
What if Hector had been the one to push her in here?
Somewhere, something growled. Morga had a feeling it wasn’t her stomach.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” she said.
The void swallowed her words.
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