The Misadventures of Morga Skullsplitter – Episode 3: Bloody Treasure Chests
Orctober continues with Episode 3 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! 😉
Every 10 or so episodes, I’ll be popping the episodes together in an omnibus that will be available digitally and as a paperback. And maybe a hardback too… it depends on how fancy I’m feeling! 😁😂
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 3: Bloody Treasure Chests
The Ghostly Grind
Darkness surrounded her. Panic welled in her throat. Here she was, a warrior with nothing to fight. Her hand ached to hold a weapon. She was missing Carnage already. Morga wanted to speak, she wanted to ask what was going on, but the words died on her tongue. What kind of sorcery was this?
A growl met her ears, but nothing penetrated the blanket of darkness. Morga had been in many battles throughout her life, but this was the only time where she really felt out of her depth.
“Ah, she’s almost here,” a gruff voice said.
Although she still couldn’t see a thing, Morga had the impression of space, like she was standing inside a giant cavern.
Other noises came to her ears. Talking. Eating. A familiar smell greeted her. Was that coffee? Snagthorn had introduced her to the beverage a while ago and, while she did enjoy it, she was still more fond of tea. Or ale.
Gradually the darkness faded.
Details started to appear.
Morga stood in front of a bar. Behind it, coffee beans, cups, cakes and all manner of delicious looking treats lined the wall.
“That transition’s always tough,” the gruff voice said. Morga squinted as she took in the figure in front of her. The voice did not match the face. Or the body. It may have suited the grey skin, deathly black eyes, and rows of sharp teeth, but the body was tiny. Graceful and mesmerising, the figure floated on translucent wings.
Morga knew exactly what she was up against.
A fairy fluttered around her head, examining her. Did the voice really come from that delicate little thing?
“Um… hello,” Morga said. Fairies were not something to be trifled with. They were blood-thirsty little beings, always looking for new and exciting ways to inflict pain upon their victims. Throughout her years, Morga had heard many frankly terrifying stories about fairies, but – perhaps oddly – none of them had ever included fairies talking. Fairies didn’t talk.
“I know what you’re thinking,” the fairy said. “Everyone thinks the same thing. Let me put the record straight, us fairies can talk. We talk a lot. It’s just that most people can’t hear us.”
“So how come I can hear you?”
“Don’t worry, you haven’t gone and got yourself cursed or whatever. You’re not special. You couldn’t hear us before because you were in the land of the living.”
That sounded ominous.
“What? And now I’m where? The land of the dead?”
“Woo hoo!” The gruff little fairy said. “Step back, we have a winner! You catch on quick. That’s unusual for an orc. They’re usually more focused on trying to kill me.”
Morga didn’t want to say that the thought had crossed her mind. It was usually better to put an end to a fairy before the fairy put an end to you.
“Oops, nearly forgot, here’s your tea,” the fairy said as a teapot and teacup appeared on the bar. Next to it, a banana split topped with jellybeans popped into existence.
Unable to control her reaction, Morga’s stomach rumbled. Did dead things have stomachs? That was a question for another time, for now she decided to go with: “What…?”
“Tea and a snack. It’s what we do here.”
“Where is here? What is this place?” Morga was about to say that she had no intention of eating or drinking anything the fairy gave her – the consumption of such things was unwise on a multitude of levels – but the tea looked and smelt just the way she liked it… and the sight of that banana split just made her mouth water.
“This place is The Ghostly Grind,” the fairy replied, syrupy pride coating each word. “Do you get it? I came up with that one when I took it over.”
When Morga didn’t answer, the fairy kept talking, apparently enjoying the sound of its own gruff voice. Morga supposed she couldn’t blame it. Fairies were thought to be incapable of speech, so this one was probably making up for lost time. It must have been awful not to have anyone to hear its words.
“Mortvell comes here. He loves it,” the fairy said. “You know you’re doing well when the God of Death pops in for his daily oat milk latte.”
Morga nodded and, against her better judgement, ran a finger through the cream on the banana split. Before her brain could talk her out of it, the finger was in her mouth and her tastebuds were having the time of their lives. Or the time of their death.
“Am I dead?” she asked, after taking a sip of her tea. It was perfect, brewed just the way she liked it.
For a moment, the fairy looked a bit miffed. Maybe it wanted to name drop Mortvell a little more. Maybe it was waiting for a compliment on the banana split. Either way, Morga couldn’t really be arsed with pleasantries; her mind was focused on other things. Like life and death.
“That’s a tough question,” the fairy replied. “You’re neither.”
A bittersweet feeling grew inside her; a reminder of just how tired she was. Tired of fighting, battles, campaigns, and wars. Tired of quests, missions, and adventures. Tired of being interrupted whenever she wanted to read a Hector Cluescavenger novel. If she was being honest with herself, she hadn’t really been scared when she’d found out she was no longer in the land of the living. If anything, she’d felt relief. All the tension she’d been carrying in her shoulders had vanished. For a moment, she’d known what it was like to not have to please anyone. Not her clan leader, not her friends, and not whoever was funding her latest quest. The pressure had gone completely, and Morga had experienced a little taste of what a quiet retirement could have become.
But that ‘neither’ had started piling all that pressure and tension back on. Her muscles groaned as her heart sank. She was getting too old for this shit.
Morga didn’t mention any of this, instead she said, “Neither? Thanks, that’s really helpful.” Morga thought about throwing the banana split in the little creature’s face.
“Pfft. What do I look like? A bloody information service? I run a cafe not directory enquiries.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the fairy replied. Morga hated it when people didn’t explain the things she didn’t understand, but before she could politely encourage the fairy to elaborate, she became aware of another presence.
Sometimes people can sense danger before they see it. Their bodies warn them. At that moment, a shiver not only ran up and down Morga’s spine, but it did a little tap dance. Goosebumps covered the back of her neck.
It was time to run or to fight. And Morga had no idea where she was and therefore had nowhere to run to. That left fighting as her only option.
Unable to tighten her grip around her warhammer (she really was missing Carnage), Morga tightened her grip on the teacup she was holding. The delicate teacup exploded into an uncountable number of tiny fragments, littering the bar and covering the orc with tea. Ignoring all of it, Morga spun around to see the newcomer.
“Oh dear, what a mess,” a cloaked woman said. Her face was barely visible, obscured by her cowl. Her age was anyone’s guess. In the brief moment that Morga had been looking at her, she’d gone from being a young girl to an old crone, before settling somewhere in the middle. “How about we get you another cup of tea. I find tea is the solution to most things.”
“Another tea coming right up!” the little fairy said. Before Morga could say a word, another cup of tea had appeared on the bar.
“Let’s take this over to one of the tables,” the woman said, gesturing behind her at the rest of the cafe. “I believe we have much to talk about, Morga Skullsplitter.”
“How do you know my name?”
“The same way I know many things, my dear. Magic.”
Magic. Shit. That wasn’t good.
“I’m not interested, thanks,” Morga said, casting a look at the fairy as if that little thing could step in and save her. “I’m not really feeling very sociable. Probably because I just died. Maybe we could catch up later?”
The woman laughed. It was a musical sound, like half a dozen tiny bells caught on the breeze.
“You’re not dead. Not yet. Not for a while.”
‘Well,’ Morga thought, ‘that was both comforting and unsettling at the same time.’
“So what am I?” Morga asked.
“You’re in between. The Ghostly Grind is where souls come when they’ve been temporarily removed from their bodies. There’s a lot of comas and near-death experiences knocking around in here.”
“I’m not in a coma,” Morga said.
“No, but you are near death. Do you remember what brought you here?”
“The treasure chest,” Morga said without hesitation.
The woman nodded. “At the moment, that treasure chest is trying its best to devour you. Usually by now, its acidic digestive juices would have broken down your flesh.”
“Then why hasn’t it?”
“Because I’m not letting it,” the woman said. “Despite what my little friend said, you are special, Morga Skullsplitter. And, if you like, I can get you back home.”
Fear still whispered in Morga’s ear, but she’d decided to listen to what the woman had to say. Besides, it wasn’t like she could do much else. If the woman had a way for her to get home, she had to take it. Didn’t she?
“Fine, let’s have a chat,” Morga said.
The woman clicked her fingers and the next thing Morga knew, they were sitting opposite each other at one of the tables. A teapot stood in between them, surrounded by a variety of sweet treats.
The pair sat and ate in near silence, with Morga trying to study the woman hidden by her hood. At times, she could have sworn she was sitting with another orc, but then the woman’s appearance would change. A gnome walked by and tipped his hat to the woman, and she became a gnome until he’d gone. A troll waved from a nearby table, and the woman switched into a troll. Then a human approached and whispered in her ear, and… well, you can guess what happened then.
So enthralled was Morga with this that she all but completely missed when the woman spoke again.
“I’m sorry, what?” Morga said, wondering if that was polite enough. For some reason, she thought she should be polite around the cloaked woman. It was almost a ‘respect your elders’ thing, except the woman appeared to be around Morga’s own age. Or did she?
“I apologise,” the woman said, looking like an orc again. Or, at least, orcish. Now Morga had studied her a little, the woman always looked like herself, but with different features being more pronounced. It wasn’t so much that she changed her face entirely, more that she altered her mask a little bit. “I know I can be distracting. Please say what’s on your mind and then we can discuss my offer.”
Offer? What offer? Morga really hadn’t been paying attention.
“What are you?” Morga asked. “I don’t mean to be rude, but first I thought you were an orc. Then you had pixie features. Then you looked like a gnome. And a troll. Then a human. What’s going on?”
“My dear, you picked up on that fast. I am me. People call me many things, but my name is Selene Nightshade.”
Morga wondered how many of those ‘many things’ were complimentary, but she didn’t interrupt.
“You’re right, I’m not an orc. Nor am I a troll or gnome. One of my many talents is that I’m able to be what others wish to see. For you, I appeared as an orc as I wanted to be appealing to you.”
“It’s very weird for other peoples to call orcs ‘appealing’,” Morga muttered.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. There are plenty of half-orcs running around all over Venari. You folks are obviously pretty to someone. Well, lots of someones.”
Selene was right; there were a lot of half-orcs, but that wasn’t what Morga wanted to talk about.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Morga said, feeling herself grow impatient. Would the Rage work in this place? Did it need a body to function? If Selene didn’t start explaining herself, there was a good chance they were all about to find out; Morga could already feel her blood starting to boil. Her muscles tensed in anticipation. “What are you? How do you know who I am? Why do you think I’m special?”
Selene smiled, the smirk small and understated. It was the look of someone playing a game. Not only that, but it was the look of someone who was used to winning.
“I can answer the first couple of those questions with one answer.” Selene took a sip of tea. It was like she was either trying to build tension or infuriate Morga. Perhaps both. “I’m a witch.”
“An actual witch? Not just a magic user?” Morga didn’t think she’d ever used the phrase ‘just a magic user’ in her entire life. There was nothing ‘just’ about using magic. But witches? They were something else. Magic users could be made. Taught. Anyone could be a magic user with the right guidance.
But witches were born.
And they were born dangerous.
Morga coughed a little to mask her fear.
“Yes, an actual witch,” Selene replied. “And, don’t worry, most are scared of me. I’m used to it now. But there’s really no need to be afraid. I think we’re about to become great friends.”
Morga raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, if not friends then wonderful business partners. After all, I have something you want, and you can get me something I want.”
There are a few things that all inhabitants of Venari know: never trust a goblin (even other goblins follow this one), don’t eat meat unless you know where it came from, a Rage-fuelled orc is best avoided, and never enter a deal with anyone… especially not a witch. For most, following these rules kept them alive.
“What if I’m not interested?” Morga asked.
“Oh, but darling, you haven’t heard the terms yet. I think you’ll find them quite beneficial.”
“Beneficial to who?”
“To both of us, of course. I wouldn’t enter a deal that was no good for me, and I wouldn’t expect for you to enter a deal unless it worked in your favour. With this one, everybody’s happy. Everybody wins.”
The smirk appeared on the witch’s face again. Morga wished she knew the rules to this game. While the people on the tables around them ate cake and enjoyed coffee, Morga felt like she was swimming with a shark.
“Let’s hear it, then,” Morga said as she drummed her fingers on the table, masking her fear with annoyance. To be fair, she was feeling both.
“I need you to do what you were going to do anyway. Well, mostly. I need you to find the Heart of Darkness, but instead of giving it to your clan leader, you give it to me.”
“And what do I get out of this?”
“I’ll pay you. Handsomely. You’d have enough so that you’d never have to work again. You could retire. You could read your mystery novels and eat jellybeans all day if it pleases you.”
“I was getting my retirement anyway-”
“I know,” the witch said, interrupting. “But were you going to be rich?”
“Meh, never cared much for money…”
“But it helps, right?”
Morga had to agree that it did.
“How about I sweeten the deal a little more?” Selene said. “I can transport you to the Heart’s last known location.”
That started to catch Morga’s attention. Why hadn’t the woman started with that? Being transported to wherever this thing was would save an absolute buttload of time. Not to mention that she wouldn’t have to deal with Scratch again. That little weirdo could keep his map… especially if he was the one who had pushed her into the bloody treasure chest in the first place.
“Okay, then.” Morga spat on her hand and held it out towards the witch. “Let’s shake on it.”
Smiling, the witch took her hand and shook it. That was a strange smile. Could Morga trust it? Almost definitely not.
“Let’s go then,” Morga said. “Take me to the Heart of Darkness so I can get this over with.”
“Oh, not quite, my dear,” Selene replied. “I have to send you back first.”
“Why, yes, there’s another little something I need from you.”
“We already shook on it; you can’t add to the deal.”
“Says who? You? I’ll do what I want,” Selene said, totally unfazed with the fact she was going against orcish deal making code. “I need you to bring someone to me. A little chap called Scratch.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Morga muttered. “Can’t you just magic him to you or something?”
“Life and magic do not work that way,” she replied, somewhat cryptically. Morga hated cryptic… unless it was in a Hector Cluescavenger novel.
“Okay, then why not reach out through the entrance I came through and grab the little shit?”
The witch laughed. “Ah, ‘little shit’, I see you know him well.”
“We just met.”
“You clearly know him enough at any rate. I can’t just reach out and grab Scratch because I’m not really here. Neither are you.”
Morga raised an eyebrow.
“You’re fighting for your life inside a ravenous treasure chest, remember? You’d best be getting back, or all of this bargaining would have been for nothing.”
The orc didn’t feel like there had been much bargaining at all. Or, if there had, it had been very one-sided.
“So, fight, my dear. Live. When you escape the treasure chest, my spell to take you to the Heart of Darkness will become clear.”
Not needing to be told twice, Morga fought with all her might.
Carnage woke up. He felt like he’d been chucked on the ground and abandoned, which is no way to treat a glorious warhammer such as himself. It was bloody rude and disrespectful. Carnage should have been held aloft following a battle and worshipped by warriors. He would have said as much if he could remember how to talk. He knew he had to flap his mouth about a bit, but he still struggled to get a noise out that wasn’t the kind of growl that made most people soil themselves. There was also the fact that he didn’t have his mouth at that moment.
From his spot on the ground, the hammer tried to get a sense of where he was – which is hard to do as he had no eyes. The first thing he noticed was that the orc wasn’t there. Her aura was completely missing. That wasn’t good. Carnage liked the orc.
He wasn’t alone though.
There was an aura of a dead thing. All boney. Not much of a threat.
There was a small thing. Jumpy. Skittish. Carnage couldn’t get a read on the dangerousness of that one. It might end up being worth his attention later.
There was the aura of something much like himself. An object with a soul. It was a dark soul. Carnage understood dark souls. But the object seemed distracted, so the hammer didn’t think it was much of a threat.
And then there was one other. He’d met that one before. He’d been in the tavern. He’d been on the outside too. The gnome. He hadn’t seemed like a threat before, but now there was something different about him. The little chap radiated anger, nervousness, and violence. It seemed safe to assume that the gnome was the reason the orc was gone.
He’d have to pay for that.
Carnage willed himself to change. The hammer couldn’t wait to feel the sharp teeth poking through his newly formed gums. The thought of sinking them into some gnome flesh made him giddy. From memory, gnome meat was particularly delicious. Especially when said gnome was terrified.
Something was wrong.
Carnage had tried with all his might, but he wasn’t changing.
‘What normally makes me change?’ he wondered, but no clear answer came to mind. This was mainly because he was a hammer, and this kind of thinking was hard for hammers. The fact he’d thought this much was bloody impressive. ‘I should be awarded some kind of medal for my thinking abilities,’ he thought, before remembering that he was supposed to be using teeth that hadn’t bother to appear to tear apart a bastard gnome.
Frustration burned through him. This wasn’t fair. All he wanted to do was spill some blood. Was that really so much to ask? Why should he be denied his wishes? Were the gods forsaking him because he was a hammer? If so, that was bloody rude too. It was even more rude than dumping him on the floor of a cellar.
While his thoughts were occupied with the fantasy of pummelling out whatever squidgy stuff lurked inside the heads of gods, Carnage noticed a change.
Fire raged through Morga’s veins, and she immediately knew she’d left the Ghostly Grind behind. Gone were the pleasing smells of coffee and cake – those delights had been replaced with a heady mix of bad breath, rotten flesh, and something not unlike the stench from a troll’s latrine.
The Rage that had teased her before, now reigned supreme. She saw red; both figuratively and literally. From what she could tell, she was still in the treasure chest. Its insides seemed far bigger than the outer shell had suggested. No longer lined with luxury cushioned velvet, the inside housed a tongue, gums, and teeth. The sides of the mouth dripped with mucus and saliva. Old bits of whatever meal the thing had consumed last were lodged in between sharp but stained teeth.
A cringe overtook the orc as the tongue lapped against her. Its movements were fast, desperate, and hungry. If Morga hadn’t been consumed with the Rage, she may have wondered when the chest’s last meal was. How long ago had it consumed Hector?
But the Rage had no time for questions. The Rage wanted bloodshed.
The tongue lapped at her again, tasting her. Morga roared, in normal circumstances that deep rumbling war cry would have frozen her opponent in fear, but the treasure chest didn’t care. Why should it? It had already caught its prey.
Morga’s red Rage vision intensified. Her heart beat faster. Her muscles readied themselves. Her ears rang, blocking out any other sound. All that mattered was the fight. Blood had to be spilled.
Seemingly done with delicately tasting its food, the treasure chest attempted to bite. While the inside was most definitely bigger than the outside, there was still little space to move – especially for someone of Morga’s build – and the orc soon felt long jagged teeth trying to bite through her armour. To her delight, a bit of tooth chipped off, eliciting a groan from somewhere deep inside the treasure chest.
While the armour had protected some of her body, Morga had neglected to wear a helmet. Even in the most chaotic of battles, the orcish warrior had chosen to forgo headwear. She’d seen fighters both with and without helmets get beheaded by the enemy or torn apart by ghouls. Helmets rarely even protected the wearer from being pummelled to death with a blunt object. And all that was before one considered the reduction in their field of vision. Until that moment, Morga had never found a compelling argument for wearing a helmet.
Until that moment…
A sharp, jagged tooth was aimed at her head.
Carving a line down from her temple towards her cheek, it seemed determined to open her face.
Enough was enough.
The Rage inside her was at boiling point, and Morga lashed out with everything she had. She focused all her strength and power into her arms and legs, punching and kicking at the wet, warm mouth that surrounded her. Fingers clawed at the inner cheeks. When the tongue came for another taste, Morga tasted it right back, biting deep into the maroon-coloured flesh. It tasted like shit, but it was the most satisfying bite she’d ever taken.
Morga refused to stop. Punches and kicks continued to fly. Teeth sunk into meat. After a while (Morga had no idea how much time had passed), she was rewarded.
The chest opened.
If Morga had expected to be doused in light, she would have been disappointed; the chest opened out into the same dark, damp cellar she’d left behind. While it wasn’t a beach or a forest, the cellar did mean freedom.
Around her, the chest gurgled, and the tongue started to undulate. It had remembered it was hungry.
She had to move.
Not wanting to be chomped on again, Morga burst out of the chest, sending spittle, blood, and the gods knew what else across the room. The wet stuff splattered sickeningly onto whatever surface it encountered. Almost instantly, the cold air of the cellar greeted her skin, caressing it through the layer of treasure chest drool that coated her. That should have been enough to calm her. She was safe now; the danger had gone. But still the Rage persisted.
‘We’ve been betrayed,‘ an inner voice whispered to her. ‘Justice must be served.’
Morga found that she couldn’t agree more. There would be at least two deaths in that cellar, and neither of them would be hers. She wondered if either of them would end up at the Ghostly Grind.
The orc emerged from the treasure chest, dripping with blood, sweat, and other things that Scratch didn’t want to contemplate. At first, he was glad to see her, but then he saw the red glow and glint of murder in her eyes. Scratch had seen orcish Rages before, and he was not a fan.
A bellowing roar echoed around the cellar, so loud that it made Hector’s bones rattle. Scratch’s skeletal friend took a couple of nervous steps back, as if fearing for a life he no longer had. Apparently, even dead things feared orcs and their Rages.
“Wait! Morga! It’s me, Scratch!” Scratch said, even though he knew full well that the Rage didn’t care who it attacked. This was why so many orcish battles often had so many ‘friendly casualties’. Luckily many clans had top-notch healers and armourers, otherwise the orcs would have died out long ago.
To Scratch’s surprise, Morga stopped.
“I know who you are,” she said. “I know who all of you are… and at least one of you betrayed me. One way or another, I’m going to find out who. And, one way or another, the guilty party will pay.”
Scratch gulped, the sound seeming to take up the whole space of the cellar. Somehow, he didn’t think that Morga’s investigation would follow the same process as those Cluescavenger books. Instead, he had the feeling that her enquiries would be rather more torturous.
Morga took another step forward and, collectively, Scratch, the reanimated skeleton, and the gnome took a step back. The orc looked down. Spotting her weapon, she picked it up.
The hammer glowed.
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